Do objective moral values exist for non-believers?

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Re: Do objective moral values exist for non-believers?

Post  Aught3 on Thu Dec 24, 2009 5:43 am

I object to the phrasing of the opening question. It should be "Do objective moral values exist?". These values either exist or they do not, it does not matter whether one is a non-believer, but I know what you mean Wink

Subjective values can certainly exist. I might have a preference for vanilla ice-cream over chocolate and I therefore value vanilla over chocolate. These types of values aren't very useful for morality unless the ethical theory relies on making yourself happy - Randian objectivism might be one example of this type of morality. There are other types of values that are objective. Something could have instrumental value, where it's value lies in allowing us to accomplish other tasks. However, the most important type of objective moral values are those that are intrinsically valuable. These values are valued purely for itself. Examples include happiness, life, and freedom/liberty. From these intrinsic values an objective morality can be built.

On the other hand, if morality did come from god then it appears to be subjective - dependent on the mind of god for its value.

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Re: Do objective moral values exist for non-believers?

Post  thecatslunch on Sat Dec 26, 2009 3:46 am

Objectivitees wrote:
Reciprocity would be one such basis.

How does "reciprocity" explain the 'wrongness' of an act, without implying the need of an absolute standard?

One, two ... one, two ... is this thing on?

I really would like to see your reply to the problem of 'objective' morality. That is, how is God's morality objective? If God chooses to be moral, then morality exists at least as a concept prior to God, and we still have the problem of where morality comes from. If morality originates with God by the definition that anything God does is moral, then morality is subject to the whim of God and has no objective meaning.

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Re: Do objective moral values exist for non-believers?

Post  Objectivitees on Sat Dec 26, 2009 3:22 pm

And I went on to explain how our interior sense of 'wrongness' is the result of culture (with a little genetics) and based on pragmatism.

But that doesn't explain why it's "wrong" it only explains how you got your values.

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Re: Do objective moral values exist for non-believers?

Post  NH Baritone on Sat Dec 26, 2009 8:11 pm

"...There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." (Hamlet, William Shakespeare)

Something is problematic when it is harmful. It is better to cause as little harm as possible.

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Re: Do objective moral values exist for non-believers?

Post  thecatslunch on Sat Dec 26, 2009 8:27 pm

Objectivitees wrote:
And I went on to explain how our interior sense of 'wrongness' is the result of culture (with a little genetics) and based on pragmatism.

But that doesn't explain why it's "wrong" it only explains how you got your values.

'Wrong' is the value label we give to actions that cause harm in our ethical system. May I recommend you read of the many philosophical systems of ethics produced since the enlightenment?

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Re: Do objective moral values exist for non-believers?

Post  Objectivitees on Mon Dec 28, 2009 1:53 pm


'Wrong' is the value label we give to actions that cause harm in our ethical system. May I recommend you read of the many philosophical systems of ethics produced since the enlightenment?

Which part of that only explains how not why did you not get? All of the "systems" explain how and why we adopt on pragmatic terms. They don't explain how you get moral rightness or wrongness from them. They can't, philosophically speaking, because they have no absolute basis upon which to compare their assessment. When you say as an example, it's "bad" because it hurts people, you are only repeating the idea that it's bad, and not explaining what "bad" is. My question to you is (and was) is how do you determine what "bad" is? Why is hurting people "bad"? With no standard to compare against, you can't define "wrong".

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Re: Do objective moral values exist for non-believers?

Post  thecatslunch on Mon Dec 28, 2009 6:31 pm

Objectivitees wrote:

'Wrong' is the value label we give to actions that cause harm in our ethical system. May I recommend you read of the many philosophical systems of ethics produced since the enlightenment?

Which part of that only explains how not why did you not get? All of the "systems" explain how and why we adopt on pragmatic terms. They don't explain how you get moral rightness or wrongness from them. They can't, philosophically speaking, because they have no absolute basis upon which to compare their assessment. When you say as an example, it's "bad" because it hurts people, you are only repeating the idea that it's bad, and not explaining what "bad" is. My question to you is (and was) is how do you determine what "bad" is? Why is hurting people "bad"? With no standard to compare against, you can't define "wrong".

Why is it bad? Because, on purely pragmatic grounds, it results in a society that is less pleasant or safe to be in. That's WHY.

And I'd really appreciate it if you addressed the question I've asked twice now about how morality can be objective in your world view.

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Re: Do objective moral values exist for non-believers?

Post  Objectivitees on Tue Dec 29, 2009 1:38 pm

Because, on purely pragmatic grounds, it results in a society that is less pleasant or safe to be in.

Not till you answer mine. "Pleasant" and "safe" are subjective terms which help explain yet again why you chose such a system, but they don't explain why something is "wrong". They only explain the pragmatism of your choice and add clarity to why you chose them. (How you got your values) You still have not answered my question, why is it "wrong"? Reciprocity does not obtain 'wrongness'. It only obtains practicality. I want you to explain why something is wrong in your view. Why should I ascribe to your system of ethics as being better (or "right") than mine where mine is worse? (or "wrong")

What makes you think pragmatism is moral? Because that is essentially what you are claiming. When you say there are many fine systems of ethics which don't appeal to an absolute standard, you throw out all standards, and cannot define morality at all. So I'll rephrase the question for you again. Why is pragmatism moral?

When you are able to answer my question, you will understand my "system", and I won't need to answer your question.

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Re: Do objective moral values exist for non-believers?

Post  thecatslunch on Tue Dec 29, 2009 7:49 pm

Objectivitees wrote:
Because, on purely pragmatic grounds, it results in a society that is less pleasant or safe to be in.

Not till you answer mine. ...

When you are able to answer my question, you will understand my "system", and I won't need to answer your question.

I believe I have answered your question. The answer to a question that begins with 'why' begins its reply with 'because'. I suspect you don't think I have answered your question because you are presupposing your world view of an 'objective' morality (which I believe is fundamentally flawed as I have demonstrated) rather than a set of subjective values based on pragmatism. Never mind. I have no wish to be combative. The matter is closed as far as I am concerned.

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Re: Do objective moral values exist for non-believers?

Post  Neon Genesis on Tue Dec 29, 2009 8:36 pm

If Objectivees does not believe pragmatism is moral, is he admitting Christianity is an impractical religion?

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Ramble

Post  MatthewOfCanberra on Mon Jan 04, 2010 2:26 am

I have no particular beef with christianity, but the claim that a belief in god produces an objective sense of right and wrong seems to completely ignore history.

Once upon a time, christians condoned african slavery (in fact, it could be argued that slavery was a founding principle of the US commonwealth). Was that the objective morality that god revealed, or is our modern less-slavery-based sense of morality closer to the mark? How about violence against non-christians? Obviously, christians have never had any sort of monopoly on violence, but once upon a time that objective morality condoned the use of torture and persecution against heretics and jews purely on the basis of their beliefs. If it was objectively moral then, why isn't it moral now? What revelation happened in the meantime?

And how can I tell which of the competing christian moralities is really the objective one? Is it just the most conservative version that's right? If so, that doesn't say much for the rights of women. Should women have a first-class place in society, with rights to vote and own property? If I look to history for that answer, I won't get the same one I'd expect from most christians now. And how about the question of contraception - is it moral or immoral to wear a condom, or encourage others to do so? I'm not getting a clear message about that from objective morality.

The great thing about history is being able to play it forward. Eventually, homosexuals ARE going to get marriage rights in most western countries. A few generations after that, only the most isolated and angry christians are going to have a serious problem with it (or, at least, attitudes will vary wildly across continents). All christians will believe that their point of view is reflected in the teachings of god. All of them. It might take a while - I wouldn't suggest otherwise - but the objective morality of western christians 100 years from now will differ completely on the subject from the objective morality of western christians today.

I think we're born with certain biologically innate qualities - normal people have (or develop) a basic built-in sense of emphathy. I don't really think it's much more than an ability to understand the pain or happiness of others, and there seem to be brain structures (mirror neurons?) linked to its operation. Empathy itself doesn't necessarily make me not harm people (I might just not like them, in which case my sense of empathy would be a terrific source of ideas for hurting them) - but it does provide a basis for judging my actions toward others according to whatever outcomes I'm after.

The golden rule isn't just a nice idea - it's basically essential for living in a group, where no individual has enough power to avoid the consequences of their actions forever. If you don't apply it at some level, you learn pretty quickly that the other kids won't want to play with you. For most people, it's not just "moral" to be honest, treat others with basic respect, live by the rules etc. Most of us just don't have the resources to do otherwise - I (for example) am not good at lying, not brilliant, tough or sexy enough to get away with treating people like dirt, not lucky or devious enough to get away with breaking the law. It actually pays off better for me to be "nice". There are times when I would love to be able to be a creep or a thug, but I can't - I'm rubbish at it. And I didn't always understand that - I actually remember making those decisions (quite late, I admit).

Ok. Ranted long enough. :-)

Great show, by the way!

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Re: Do objective moral values exist for non-believers?

Post  snafu on Mon Jan 04, 2010 7:12 am

I am reading Dan Barker's Godless over the holiday break and he gives a short coverage of this issue on p213.

"Most atheists think moral values are real, but that does not mean they are objective. They can't be. A value is not a "thing" - it is a function of a mind (which is itself a function). To be objective is to exist independently of a mind. So an "objective value" is an oxymoron: the existence in the mind of something that is independent of the mind"

For what it's worth.
Happy new year all.

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Re: Do objective moral values exist for non-believers?

Post  Objectivitees on Mon Jan 04, 2010 3:01 pm

I believe I have answered your question.

Yes, I know you think you did, but you didn't. Your claim "because it is pragmatic", does not explain how "pragmatic" is "morally right". You have completely missed the nature of my query.

Notwithstanding your sarcastic writing style of how your "answer" begins with the word "because".


Last edited by Objectivitees on Mon Jan 04, 2010 3:25 pm; edited 4 times in total

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Re: Do objective moral values exist for non-believers?

Post  Objectivitees on Mon Jan 04, 2010 3:08 pm

Neon Genesis wrote:If Objectivees does not believe pragmatism is moral, is he admitting Christianity is an impractical religion?

No. Neither you nor thecatslunch have explained how pragmatism = moral. Believing pragmatism is moral or not moral is not a prerequisite to believing Christianity is practical. (it's not necessary)Your attempt to challenge what you think Christianity is by assuming thecatslunch explanation is sufficient to equate pragmatism with morality jumps to an unwarranted conclusion of the impracticality of Christianity. One has nothing to do with the other. Non-sequitir.

Until either of you can equate Pragmatic with Moral you have not answered my question.

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Re: Do objective moral values exist for non-believers?

Post  Objectivitees on Mon Jan 04, 2010 3:16 pm

Once upon a time, christians condoned african slavery

Matt... Christians condoned it, yes. Christianity never did. This is a common equivocation used by people to try and discredit the moral basis of Christianity by showing how immoral Christians are. It's an equivocation in Logic, and not a good argument as it rather tends to support the validity of Christianity instead of knocking it down, because it utilizes a central claim of Christianity in order to try and defeat it, the claim that that "none of us are perfect." A person's mistakes in life, (supporting chattel slavery, or claiming Christianity does) do not invalidate the religion itself, they only invalidate the individual's claim to be telling "truly" what Christianity claims.

but the claim that a belief in god produces an objective sense of right and wrong...

Christianity does not claim belief in God "produces an objective sense of morality", they believe God provides one. Now, that being said, a debate about what that provision is and whether anyone has heard it correctly, is the real nature of the disagreement.

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Re: Do objective moral values exist for non-believers?

Post  Nicholas on Tue Jan 05, 2010 1:12 am

Objectivitees wrote:Matt... Christians condoned it, yes. Christianity never did. This is a common equivocation used by people to try and discredit the moral basis of Christianity by showing how immoral Christians are. It's an equivocation in Logic, and not a good argument as it rather tends to support the validity of Christianity instead of knocking it down, because it utilizes a central claim of Christianity in order to try and defeat it, the claim that that "none of us are perfect." A person's mistakes in life, (supporting chattel slavery, or claiming Christianity does) do not invalidate the religion itself, they only invalidate the individual's claim to be telling "truly" what Christianity claims.

Nice run-around. Must be winded after that one. Though after reading your posts, I can see you're quite used to such.

The bible does indeed condone slavery (both the old and new testaments) and thus, by immediate extension, so does Christianity. As social norms changed (by way of many secular sources, I might point out) so did the mind of Christians in regards to such in order to keep up with social progress. So Christians did what Christians do best, and that's create elaborate and wordy work-arounds to the obvious contradictions and social backwardness of the scriptures. Christianity does enough to invalidate itself, as does all religion. This is but one example.

And thecatslunch did indeed answer your question, Obj (at least to the best of his ability given your penchant for semantics and wanton disregard for actual logic). I even read it over twice; he made his point quite clearly and concisely.

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Re: Do objective moral values exist for non-believers?

Post  Neon Genesis on Tue Jan 05, 2010 1:42 am

Objectivitees wrote:

No. Neither you nor thecatslunch have explained how pragmatism = moral.
Here's a simple way to explain it. If God commanded you to murder an innocent child, would you do it or not?

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Re: Do objective moral values exist for non-believers?

Post  Objectivitees on Wed Jan 06, 2010 3:31 pm

Nice run-around. Must be winded after that one. Though after reading your posts, I can see you're quite used to such.

You mean like the nice run around here where you avoid the actual question and go ad hominem by claiming I am "used to such"?

The bible does indeed condone slavery (both the old and new testaments) and thus, by immediate extension, so does Christianity.
No it doesn't. Only your out of context, agenda biased self interpretations of it do.

As social norms changed (by way of many secular sources, I might point out) so did the mind of Christians in regards to such in order to keep up with social progress. So Christians did what Christians do best, and that's create elaborate and wordy work-arounds to the obvious contradictions and social backwardness of the scriptures. Christianity does enough to invalidate itself, as does all religion. This is but one example.

I see your closed mind is made up.

And thecatslunch did indeed answer your question, Obj (at least to the best of his ability given your penchant for semantics and wanton disregard for actual logic). I even read it over twice; he made his point quite clearly and concisely.

No, he didn't. Why don't you cut and paste the section you think explains how pragmatism = moral.

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Re: Do objective moral values exist for non-believers?

Post  Objectivitees on Wed Jan 06, 2010 3:41 pm

Here's a simple way to explain it. If God commanded you to murder an innocent child, would you do it or not?

That doesn't explain how pragmatism = moral, neon. It's just another pathetic attempt to shift the discussion to what you think my beliefs are, and trick me into defending a straw man. Have the courage to actually answer my question. Have an honest discussion. I'm not afraid of not changing your mind, I already know I won't. But at least have the guts to argue the actual claims you and 'tcl' are positing as truth, rather than trying to shift to a different subject.

How does pragmatic = moral? I have clearly asked several times now, because claiming a pragmatic basis for behavior does not make the behavior moral, but you can't admit that, because you'd have to lose the argument to do so. That's why you keep trying to switch the terms of the discussion to me defending your interpretation of where you think I think morality comes from. I'd think you'd have noticed by now that I'm not falling for it.

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Re: Do objective moral values exist for non-believers?

Post  snafu on Wed Jan 06, 2010 6:49 pm

In the highlands of papua new guinea, you would not traditionally be able to find any natives with down syndrome. I was a missionary child there in the 70's and am told it was the case then. They made a pragmatic choice to cull out these little ones at birth, because they represent a load on the subsistence based society deemed too large to accept. But is this moral? Have a think about it. We may say yes or no. They said yes (i am told). This highlights the hopelessly subjective nature of morality - it is so contextually and culturally dependent that to ask for an answer in terms such as "does pragmatic=moral" is simplistic.

And I'm not sure it's even appropriate to even ask for an objective morality anyway. It seems like being asked whether someone has objective feelings. An oxymoron in both cases. Morality is a value placed on behaviour, and this can only occur in someone's mind, hence cannot be objective by definition. So an objective morality can't exist. But what would this prove?


The bible does indeed condone slavery (both the old and new testaments) and thus, by immediate extension, so does Christianity.
Only if you equate the bible with christianity.
There are many of christians who do not. They have a christian belief which extends beyond a fundamendalist view of the bible.
For example, many liberal christians (in the religious sense, not political) would call themselves a christian, but condemn the slavery passages of the bible.
Objectivees has a point here.

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Re: Do objective moral values exist for non-believers?

Post  MatthewOfCanberra on Wed Jan 06, 2010 11:05 pm

"Only if you equate the bible with christianity. There are many of christians who do not. They have a christian belief which extends beyond a fundamendalist view of the bible. For example, many liberal christians (in the religious sense, not political) would call themselves a christian, but condemn the slavery passages of the bible."

If there are christians with differing views on the interpretation of the bible, how does christianity provide an objective morality? If it's objective, then it's at least notionally universal. It doesn't do any good to claim that "without god there's no absolute right or wrong" if absolute right or wrong doesn't exist for christians either. Take the condom issue - for some (I doubt most) catholics, condom use really is immoral. The pope even said so. For (most?) protestants, that's an absolutely ridiculous position, not founded by scripture or common sense. That's a pretty simple example, and quite fundamental. From a rational point of view, condom use is very, very good - it reduces the spread of disease and reduces unwanted pregnancies. I.e. it massively reduces harm to people. And (if I believe the claims on the packaging) condoms apparently provide all manner of assorted benefits to women. So it's a no-brainer.

And I still reckon that a few decades from now (i.e. probably within my lifetime ... I hope) we'll see christians who believe that allowing gay marriage is consistent with their religion. I think that's a good thing - but it's utterly inconsistent with their existing objective morality. So if I'm right, that piece of morality is not objective at all.

Most christian morality agrees with reason, but I reckon the egg of common sense came before the christian chicken. Dawkins is right when he says that christians have to interpret scripture through the lens of reason and culture because there's no other way to know which verses are right (i.e. don't murder, don't lust after your neighbor's cow) and which ones are wrong (kill your kids if they stray from the path, don't re-use wine-bottles). Culture (IMHO) is the ultimate arbiter - and culture is based largely on reason (if faulty) and experience.

So why not just dispense with the scripture and run with reason and experience? Yes it does lead to varying conclusions, but so does (apparently) religion. And I'm not convinced that religion is leading culture toward better outcomes. I think it's the other way around. Most christians are good people, no doubt about it. But most NON-christians are good people too.

The one area where I accept that I'm stumped for a response is charity. There's no doubt that christianity (and I assume other religions too) is responsible for an enormous amount of charity and good works. The non-religious can point to government, but I don't think it's exactly the same thing.

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Re: Do objective moral values exist for non-believers?

Post  Nicholas on Wed Jan 06, 2010 11:30 pm

Objectivitees - Like I said, fancy footwork. But you're fooling no one. Have a nice day.

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Re: Do objective moral values exist for non-believers?

Post  LonghWynn on Thu Jan 07, 2010 2:27 am

MatthewOfCanberra wrote:The one area where I accept that I'm stumped for a response is charity. There's no doubt that christianity (and I assume other religions too) is responsible for an enormous amount of charity and good works. The non-religious can point to government, but I don't think it's exactly the same thing.

Religious people have a community that observes their actions, and acts as constant reminders. I would suspect that if most non-religious people were to be of such a group, you would see similar results. But to raise up a point, a strong body of psychological studies have shown us that when it comes to spontaneous acts of kindness, without pre-planning, or without the pressure of a group to observe your actions, religious people help about as much as everyone else, and in some specific cases, even less...

I would recommend searching for a psych. of religion prof. or social psych. prof to confirm this. I do not have the relevant studies' names off the top of my head, but they are out there, and numerously so.

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Re: Do objective moral values exist for non-believers?

Post  Neon Genesis on Thu Jan 07, 2010 1:17 pm

MatthewOfCanberra wrote:

And I still reckon that a few decades from now (i.e. probably within my lifetime ... I hope) we'll see christians who believe that allowing gay marriage is consistent with their religion. I think that's a good thing - but it's utterly inconsistent with their existing objective morality. So if I'm right, that piece of morality is not objective at all.



There already are Christians who are doing that: http://gaychristian.net/greatdebate.php

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Re: Do objective moral values exist for non-believers?

Post  Objectivitees on Thu Jan 07, 2010 2:06 pm

Nicholas wrote:Objectivitees - Like I said, fancy footwork. But you're fooling no one. Have a nice day.
Yeah, I knew you didn't have the guts to actually cut and paste where tcl actually equated pragmatic with morality. Seems your fancy footwork doesn't include words at all, you just run for the door to avoid the problem. You make the claim he "explained" it, but you run when challenged to show it. You have a nice day too.

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