Moral foundations - Objective, Subjective & etc: The forever topic

(Peaceful Science) #21

I do want to direct your attention tot his…

I just did a Veritas Forum where this came up. I explained that part of what it means to be human is to enter into grief. Our grief is different than animals, because we can grieve, for example, the death of MLK 50 years ago, and the segregation of St Louis, and the death of Michael Brown. We are more human for entering into these abstract types of grief.

In response, my atheist counterpart argued that everything we do is constructed (including morality). This is a classic subjectivist argument.

At the 45 minute mark in the video, the Q&A time begins. I asked him if he thought racial injustice was a subjective construct or if it was objectively wrong. What his response. He could not say that was a construct. He really believed it was objectively wrong. He did not think my grief about injustice was a mere construction, but an entry into truth.

That is the point. Moral truth is objective, even if we have difficulty agreeing upon it and defining it. We know it is derived from something outside ourselves. In our real world of brokenness we face, it is a dangerous sort of collaboration with evil things to deny they are really wrong. Everyone knows this, which is why even my subjectivist friend won’t live that way. To do so would be denying a truly self-evident reality.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #22

It may also be worth noting that hundreds [maybe thousands] of times in my life I’ve been tempted to lie to make myself look better (or less bad) than I am or to greedily get myself an unfair advantage in some situation. Alas that I cannot say I made the upright choices in all those situations – maybe not even a majority of them! I’m not looking forward to the judgment accounting that would look impartially and omnisciently at my actual record in this. But one thing that has never happened to me in my 50+ years of life is that I’ve never been tied to a chair by a killer and asked to reveal where my family was hiding.

With all due respect to those very real figures in history who have faced such dire choices, it is nonetheless revealing to me how deeply we have to dig to find our exceptions that we so wish to “sweat over” while the actual reality of our lives seems to have 99.9% to 100% cases where … we should just tell the truth and there really is not any good reason we can offer as to why we shouldn’t. It begins to look as if we’re just shopping for reasons to feel better about our own indisputable moral failure by wanting to dwell on imaginative border-land cases.


None of the 10 Commandments says not to lie.

And the “moral argument” does not say “since God is the source of morality we can be moral,” it says that “since morality is universal, God must exist.”

(Mervin Bitikofer) #24

Christian moralists’ appeal to “the Ten Commandments” as a special set to be given special consideration seems to me to be a sign of trouble. There are a lot of things that failed to make “the ten” – thou shalt not take revenge isn’t in there, so is revenge fair game? Hardly.

Just because “thou shalt not lie” is not specifically one of the ten is hardly a significant detraction for it – as much as truth is exemplified as a good quality of God (and by association, God’s followers), and … does anybody remember anything good said about “liars” in the New Testament? I don’t think so.

So taking note of what made “the ten” may make for interesting Bible study; maybe it could lead to some good insights. But as to whether it highlights a big ten that is going to be appealed to for what it lacks rather than what it has – that will be a fool’s game. Christ pretty much made mince meat out of the arguments of those who wanted to build their righteousness on the technicalities of legalisms.

(Peaceful Science) #25

I’m not sure about that argument. That does not sound like what it is meant to be.

Rather, the moral argument is that science does not give us access to moral truth (e.g. is segregation unjust?), even though moral facts are a real and self-evident feature of the world. Yes there is disagreement on what they are, but it is self evident that they exist.

But America, as I look at you from afar, I wonder whether your moral and spiritual progress has been commensurate with your scientific progress. It seems to me that your moral progress lags behind your scientific progress. – MLK

This is good evidence that science alone does not give us a complete view of the world. At the the very least, we must look beyond science to deal with the most pressing problems we face.

Taking this a step forward, a view of the world rooted in “theology,” in contrast, can make sense of both science and moral facts.

This is how I distinguish dreaming and waking. When I am awake I can, in some degree, account for and
study my dream…

The waking world is judged more real because it can thus contain the dreaming world; the dreaming world is judged less real because it cannot contain the waking one. For the same reason I am certain that in passing from the scientific points of view to the theological, I have passed from dream to waking. Christian theology can fit in science, art, morality, and [other religions]. The scientific point of view cannot fit in any of these things, not even science itself. I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
– CS Lewis, Is Theology Poetry

That is the moral argument. Science as total worldview cannot make sense of art, morality, and religious experience. It cannot even make sense of itself. The ways of seeing the world that make sense of all these things together should be judged more real.


Well, that’s C.S. Lewis’s version of the argument as articulated in Mere Christianity.

(John Dalton) #27

I’ve been thinking lately that the objective/subjective morality divide can be best understood as an aspect of God belief/disbelief. If one believes in a fully good, omniscient God, it follows that God has a total knowledge of what is good and moral, and that this is an essentially objective standard for us to aspire to understand and follow. If not, then it isn’t apparent that that kind of standard exists. It’s interesting that logically either conception should apply to all humanity, regardless of one’s individual stance.

I agree. I would say we can base such determinations on our knowledge of the human condition (supplemented by various moral codes and ideas). These determinations won’t be objective in the fullest sense (hey, an asteroid could hit tomorrow and wipe out human life, and it wouldn’t seem to matter in a cosmic sense) but they aren’t truly “subjective” either–we’re not making them up on the fly.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #28

But actually … we kind of are. We make up movies about asteroids ending life as we know it on earth, or scenarios about ourselves being tied up in chairs and forced to make challenging ethical decisions. As plausible as these scenarios may seem to us, they are … at least so far … part of our imaginations on the fly, no? Very real, and very much more mundane moral decisions are thrust upon us every day, though, that are not nearly so titillating for the intellect, but yet end up defeating us handily all the same.

(GJDS) #29

Instead of speaking of subjective or objective moral foundations, the Christian faith brings an intrinsic aspect of morals and ethics. This perhaps most clearly shown in the following:

Galatians 5:19-26 (KJV)
Gal 19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,
20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,
21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
24 And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.
25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.
26 Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.

These verses show that a Christian is called to reject the works of the flesh and by rebirth bring forth the fruits (or attributes) of the Spirit. Once this is done, there is no law that can work against us.

Thus the question should be stated otherwise - how does a human being become a Christian? Once this is answered, the rest of the matter becomes clear.

(John Dalton) #30

In my understanding, an asteroid strike is recognized as a real possibility! I didn’t mean it to be any kind of ethical dilemma. I was attempting to highlight the all-encompassing sense of “objective” missing from what I would consider to be “objective” moral determinations that people make. Maybe it was a poor way of stating it, but that was my intent.

When we make such determinations, I don’t think we are really making things up on the fly. The more morally clear the situation is, the truer that will be. Say Tommy hits Sally, with nothing else having transpired between them (not too challenging I think). I’m not going to say “hey I feel like hitting people is okay today, but I might think differently tomorrow” or something. What’s going to happen first of all is I’m going to have a gut reaction to it. But if I do choose to consider it more philosophically, my opinions are going to be grounded in the realities of the situation and experiences, with a relatively narrow range of moral conclusions as possible outcomes. If I subjectively decide to leave the range of moral opinion grounded in the realities of the situation, other people are going to consider me immoral or worse.

More ambiguous situations will likely find people disagreeing considerably on possible moral conclusions. But I doubt you’ll find a situation where any and every opinion might be equally likely :man_shrugging:

(Mervin Bitikofer) #31

But that would be quite challenging … with nothing having ever transpired between them?! You are trying to remove all other variables so that we can concentrate on one ostensibly “pure” act of moral failure. I don’t doubt there are random acts of violence (especially where guns are involved) where there are many victims that had no connection whatsoever to the perpetrator. But even then, the perpetrator is never performing his act of cowardly terror in a pure vacuum. Something brought him to that point. Nobody wakes up and casually thinks: “I think I’ll go shoot up a school today.” Tommy (in 99.9% of cases I should think) never just up and hits Sally for no reason. Understanding why he might have been provoked does not make it right, of course. It might give us more insight into what all is going on.

(John Dalton) #32

What do you mean. It happens all the time!

I don’t think so. It’s just a basic example of a morally significant situation.

Sure, and unless we’re being really weird, we won’t pluck our determinations about it out of thin air. We’ll make determinations based on the realities of the situation. That’s my point here.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #33

Well — okay. So Tommy up and hits Sally, a random person he does not know at all and never had any prior interactions with … Since this scenario is itself plucked out of thin air, so our judgment about it can also be plucked out of thin air: Tommy is morally wrong.

But it’s because this rarefied situation would be so unusual, that your last statement makes a lot of sense. In reality there are many facets of any situation that we should consider. If that’s your point; I’m happy to agree.

(John Dalton) #34

But that’s not plucked out of thin air. That’s my point. Ask 100 people to give you an answer, and what do you think 100 people will most likely say?

I don’t think so. Have you heard of the knockout game?

It wasn’t, but I certainly do agree.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #35

I think nearly 100 out of 100 people would say that it is wrong for somebody just just haul off and hit somebody for no reason. Any outliers that answered otherwise would be set upon by the others for reasons why they would give such a crazy answer, at which point it would be revealed they were just being contrarian (unable to tolerate giving any answer that seems so boringly called for). The majority would prevail with many good reasons why Tommy is wrong, while the contrarian would have nothing to offer except their own determined non-conformity (which is nothing more than brainless conformity to something else).

I hadn’t. I see that it was news-worthy in its own way when it was discovered – which tells you how rare it is. Maybe it is becoming less rare. But I’ll bet it’s still news worthy when it’s discovered; precisely because so much of the population is rightly disturbed by people acting in such ways.

(Lynn Munter) #36

The contrarian in me can’t resist: I think we should examine Tommy for mental illness before leaping to moral conclusions.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #37

Ahh – but to call it a “mental illness” is to use the language of pathology, and therefore (I would argue) a kind of moral opproprium. There is something “wrong” with Tommy for acting as he did.

The world would be a boring place without contrarians, I suppose. Won’t stop me from bellyaching about them, though! :neutral_face:

(Lynn Munter) #38

I don’t think any contrarian could seriously ask you to!

I’ll quit for now, though.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #39

Speaking of mental illness – this reminds me of C.S. Lewis’ book “Abolition of Man”.

As I recall he saw ominous warning signs about sin and responsibility being shuffled off into the clinician’s world of prescription and (perhaps ominously mandatory) treatment. To Lewis this seemed to be a most dehumanizing process. To be told that “you cannot be held responsible for what the chemicals in your brain are causing you to do, and therefore, I, the expert here, will set about making the chemicals in your brain behave in the manner that is prescribed by society” --to be told that is an ultimate act of cruel tyranny wrapped up in the soft packaging of compassion. This is not to demean mental illness as a very real problem in need of very real compassion [complete with clinically warranted treatment]. But it is something for us to ponder. What if someday your politics or your religion is deemed by the professionals to be an aberration in need of treatment? If one was to take some of the anti-theistic writings of recent decades seriously, it doesn’t seem so far-fetched. But personally, I think Lewis was being more than a bit paranoid in all this, as we (theists anyway) are nowhere close to all this being reality. In fact we have been more busy inflicting persecutions on others than being subject to them ourselves (at least in the U.S.). So once again, I only want to deprive that fire of its fuel.

My thought here, is that it is an interesting thought experiment: what if Tommy was your child in school. The teacher informs you that Tommy hit someone for no reason. Would you want to teach Tommy that hitting is wrong and to learn to be responsible for his actions? Or would you want the school to jump right to the “let’s inject Tommy with something” option? Which would you consider to be the most humane option for yourself or your child?

[clarifying edits added]


At the same time, most of us would view a complete ban on candy as being immoral. We think that personal freedoms (those subjective morals) trump well being in this case.