Why I changed my mind


I don’t remember arguing that moral systems are decided by wars. That was somebody else. I fully support organizations like Amnesty International that try to win hearts through argument instead of war. The UN also uses non-violent strategies to right wrongs. What we need to do is lead by example, showing people how a moral society functions and benefits its citizens.

(John Dalton) #362

I didn’t say it was the only criterion. Of course, those are other valid criteria. That being said, FWIW, they are also rooted in the physical brain in my view, and forms of harm.

Various well known moral problems show that there are other factors at play in our moral assessments besides harm. The famous trolley problems result in equal harm to equal numbers of people, but some options seem morally preferable to us because of issues of agency, etc.

This may be the core issue of our conversation. You seem to feel we need a deeper reason. For me it’s enough to say it’s harmful. I’m capable of seeing and understanding the problems that various forms of harm can cause to me, those close to me, and people in general, and making moral assessments on that basis.


It was the logical argument you were using, saying that the theory of evolution logically led to the conclusion that we should kill the less fit.


Not at all. I’m saying Hitler did that. Again, science doesn’t make those kinds of value judgments.

An argument can be completely logical but incorrect. It is logical if the conclusion follows from the premises, but logic itself doesn’t guarantee that each premise is correct.


An argument can also be illogical which is the case with Hitler’s argument.

(John Dalton) #366

I see I missed the point of this. Many moral situations can be very confusing, and different people may reach different conclusions. They’re something that need to be worked out among the various groups of people who are affected by them. It’s really confusing to me to try to imagine that there somehow could be an “absolute” answer to every such possible situation in minute detail.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #367

Your first sentence above agrees about objective “wrongness”.

Your next one above then denies any basis for your first one above. So which is it? Was the person really objectively wrong to hit you? Or is your second sentence correct --denying the possibility that your first statement could have any basis?

I appreciate that, and agree that our more productive discussion here is about morality and not about God’s existence. Lewis did indeed use the morality argument as one for God, and I’m not trying to bang on that drum here at the moment. I’m just trying to tease apart with you how any real morality can be bereft of any objective basis and still retain any authority whatsoever.

I’m surprised that either you or maybe T didn’t jump all over what I had ventured before (borrowed in part from Christy): that just because something is a cultural construct doesn’t make it less real. It seems to me that there is true middle ground to be found there. Another point of interest (for me) is where Scriptures themselves actually seem to accommodate to something contra what some strict scriptural adherents are comfortable with. And that is Jesus’ discourse with his disciples in Matthew 18 where he tells them “whatever you bind up on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose …” Here he seems to grant an incredible degree of power to the collective fellowship of his followers in determining how things are. Couple that with Romans 14 where some limited relativity among cultures is sanctioned and one begins to sense that it is false to declare that there can never be hint of relativity in any moral system. We tend to insist on exorcising any/all of that “evil relativity” wherever we see it in our enthusiasm to drive home a point about objective morality; but in doing so we (I think) leave Scriptures behind. In this day and age of “no compromise”, it seems our brains have lost the capacity to see any nuance in the world. But our denial of it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

(John Dalton) #368

First, I’m saying is that I don’t believe there’s an independent, objective right and wrong, morality, or call it what you will.

Second, I believe that I can make objective assessments based on criteria decided upon in advance. If we can agree about these criteria, than we can make such assessments in concert. I start by recognizing, for example, that harm has a negative effect on people. That’s a subjective determination, but I hope you won’t disagree with me–I’ll certainly choose to stay away from you if you do. Once we’ve made this determination, we can judge situations objectively on that basis. I call this process objective as opposed to arbitrary. There’s something of an equivocation there, but I think the terminology is valid.


Time for bed here, I’ll come back to the rest tomorrow!


It’s a bit vague, so I don’t feel a need to jump on it. Cultural constructs can run the gamut from driving on the right side of the road to having a panel of judges decide guilt instead of a jury. There are also the concepts of personal freedoms and the sovereignty of states. If morality were easy to figure out it wouldn’t have been the focus of so much debate over the millennia. I think we all do our best to figure out what is moral, and also try to have the humility to realize that we probably don’t have it all right.

With that in mind, I don’t see how an argument over the objectivity or subjectivity really matters. How do you determine if a moral rule is objective or not? What seems important to me is if a moral rule makes sense, is it fair, is it just. We should openly, eagerly, and graciously debate these moral rules and challenge them so that when we do make a decision we can have confidence in that moral rule because we have worked through it. Is that subjective? Is that objective? Frankly, who cares. What matters is if this is really how we, as a society, want things to run.

note: frame everything above with “in my humble opinion” :wink:

(Mervin Bitikofer) #370

Far be it from Anabaptist me to quibble with you on that point! But there are a lot of people (an overwhelming majority I think it’s safe to say) who do make generous allowances for when they think inflicted harm and even death may be morally warranted … self-defense / military actions, abortion, physical discipline / justice system (…even up to capital punishment), how to respond to playground bullies … probably more could be added.

So culturally you may find you have little to no support for a “no harm under any circumstances” moral conviction. And if I follow your lead (that our wider culture is the only adjudicant for all things moral) then I would be forced to agree with them against you. Because whatever the majority says is right must be right. It seems you won’t acknowledge any basis for thinking otherwise. In any case, I think it’s also fair to say you could not have possibly “started” with any such conviction. You almost certainly started by importing a whole lot of other culturally/religiously-embedded premises that led you to that point before you could even think of advancing it as a sort of “moral starting ground”.

More added in here …

Much to agree on above! We all want things to run “well”, so far as we can agree on what even that means. Some of us dare to believe (on past evidence no less!) that we have Divine help and guidance offered us to help do exactly that. You may not see it. We do. I rejoice that our paths coincide in so many efforts.


Well, you would have to say how it is illogical. That it is wrong doesn’t necessarily make it illogical.

Ah, now there I agree with you. I believe (with Lewis) that our universal innate sense of morality points to the existence of God (it doesn’t prove the existence of God, mind you), but that’s different from saying there is (or we have access to) an “absolute answer to every such possible situation.” In fact, I would fear those who would claim such access.

That still leaves the deeper questions of why and how “harm” is a basis for universal or absolute morality… (as opposed to, "I just don’t like it). For example, is it because harm is an obvious and axiomatic negative outcome? Why? Just to people? If I harm an animal is that okay? Is it okay if there is a legitimate reason, say, I need food? You could logically extend the concept of “harm” to the environment. I would agree that it is wrong to “harm” the environment but not to the extent that I wouldn’t live in a house in a suburb (that obviously “harms” the local environment). Is “harm” of humans wrong because humans have innate value? That’s something I would say yes to, but it is not a given that humans have innate value. What makes that true?

(Mervin Bitikofer) #372

I keep forgetting – you seem to be a literalist who doesn’t much “do” metaphor. I wasn’t speaking of literal wars (though too often in history it has been exactly that sort! --‘slavery’ in our own civil war being a poster-child for that) I’m speaking more broadly of cultural conflict in which one worldview vies with another for dominance. Like one soft-drink company wanting culture to identify their drink (and not their competitor’s) as the main preferred beverage. It doesn’t involve any actual tanks or guns – at least we hope not!

[edit added]


It commits the Naturalistic fallacy. Just because something is natural does not make it morally good.


Perhaps you forgot you said this:

“You can call it anything you want, but by your denying its objective correctness you tell me all I need to know about what this “morality” is, and more importantly: what it fails to be. It is really nothing more than “might makes right” and that if the Nazi’s had won WW2 and prevailed in spreading their cultural preferences around the world, then maybe it would be considered okay right now to exterminate any remaining Jews that anybody finds.”

That doesn’t read like a metaphor.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #375

Of course that’s not a metaphor! There I was talking about literal war. Metaphor is the actual use of a word for one thing in place of another to facilitate understanding by analogy. Below is where I used the word “war” in a metaphorical sense.


Based on what? You are presuming some moral basis to decide that “because something is natural does not make it morally good.” And then you are presuming that Hitler must agree with your basis, too, I suppose.


It is natural for children to acquire life threatening infections. Is it moral to let the infection progress unimpeded?


Given that you had already described my position as “might makes right”, perhaps you can understand why I said what I said.


You’re just asking the same question in a different question.

Why is something not necessarily “good” solely because it’s natural?

You’re presuming that I’ll answer the question, no. And, yes, I would answer, no.

So would you, I presume.

The difference is, I can explain why I would answer, no. Can you?


Because there are many things that are natural which we consider to be immoral. Seems pretty obvious to me. It is illogical to argue that something is good because it is natural in one case, but then argue that something is immoral even though it is natural in another case.