Is Morality Objective?

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Re: Is Morality Objective?

Postby Carleas » Wed Nov 14, 2012 2:18 am

Mo_, the burden question is interesting, I think I took a position on it too quickly. I do think the burden is on the person arguing for objective morality, because I think the empirical evidence makes a universal morality counterintuitive, and only possibly by a counterintuitive explanation (thus my subjective-on-the-bottom-objective-on-top approach). But prior to seeing that evidence, there is a strong intuition that morality is objective.

But even if we grant for that reason that the burden is initially on the person arguing against an objective morality, the existence of things like the stoning you mention should be enough to shift the burden. I might find it repulsive, but I know that to be a culturally-based stance. I know that the people doing the stoning do not think themselves immoral. How is that possible? Are they just wrong? How do we know we aren't wrong? The vehemency of our belief that one shouldn't stone a 13 year old for any reason does not suffice to prove that that belief is objective. While I agree that the stoners are wrong, I think the burden is shifted by that very example.

But this does get to why I agree with you on the prudence-morality connection: I think the answer to why stoning a child is wrong is that it is totally imprudent. It relies on an empirically empty metaphyics, a poor understanding of how the world works that puts a lot of big and unfounded assumptions out there that justify actions that are objectively wrong without them.

To both Anon and O_H, I don't see why a conflict between prudence and morality is a problem. It's just as easy to construct a conflict between morality and morality (If I have one dose of cure and two deathly sick children), or between prudence and prudence (if I can park close to the entrance or close to the exit, and not both). What does a conflict between the two do to show that they aren't different sides of the same spectrum?

phyllo wrote:Now show them another picture and ask if the object is valuable and there will be a much greater variety of responses. And then ask about the value of another abstract concept -love,pain,pleasure,honor - and you will have still greater variety. Introduce another abstract word 'equal' and ask them to balance love and honor and pain and suffering. There will be huge range of opinions. Morality deals largely with these kinds of abstractions. There is a physical act and an evaluation of the act. Iambiguous often posts about that - Mary had an abortion versus the morality of Mary's abortion.

I think Only_Humean did a better job of fleshing out my claim than I did, but I would like to address this directly. As I said, there is fuzziness and errors. For all your examples, there is a well defined core about which people who speak the language will agree. People might have a variety of understandings of love or pain, but they will be nearly unanimous that a picture of war does not depict love and a picture of a blowjob does not depict pain. But the margins are very fuzzy and much more poorly established. Similarly, there's a well established core of immoral killing, but the margins are much fuzzier. But the objectivity of the core isn't questions, and even the degree to which a certain question is fuzzy is objective, in the sense that we can observe and predict the range of feelings and act based on that observation or prediction.

This again mirrors language: I know that a potential mate will understand certain basic facts when I tell them "I love you," and I won't be too let down if they don't mean exactly the same thing when they say it to me. And we may disagree how big a promotion we'd be willing to pass up to keep our love, but neither of use will expect that the other would be willing to pay to escape love.
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Re: Is Morality Objective?

Postby von Rivers » Wed Nov 14, 2012 2:54 am

Carleas wrote:Mo_, the burden question is interesting, I think I took a position on it too quickly. I do think the burden is on the person arguing for objective morality, because I think the empirical evidence makes a universal morality counterintuitive, and only possibly by a counterintuitive explanation (thus my subjective-on-the-bottom-objective-on-top approach). But prior to seeing that evidence, there is a strong intuition that morality is objective.

I think universal moral principles are generally impossible to support, or else useless---because there always seems to be counter-examples to them. But I'm not arguing for universal morality, or universal moral principles, or universal anything---and I never have. Morality is context-dependent---facts pertinent to each new context can make a moral difference. ---Objectivity, not universality. I think everyone's intuition is for the objectivity of morality---and that explains why language and feeling and action presume it.

I know that the people doing the stoning do not think themselves immoral. How is that possible? Are they just wrong? How do we know we aren't wrong?

Yes, they're wrong. We don't need to prove they're wrong just yet---you just need to recognize that you think they're wrong, and thus any burden is not in your court. So you can wait, wait, wait for some kind of burden shift backwards, or some argument (*none ever provided*).
Ok, so you've waited and waited and now you want to figure out who's right or wong for yourself... because the other side isn't saying anything. Fine. Go the Euthyphro route, because clearly they think they're following God's command. Ask yourself on their behalf whether something is good because God says so, or whether God says it's good because it's good. Long story short: it's the latter. And we can be confident about that. So now we need good reasons for thinking something is right or wrong apart from God's command---because the fact that God commanded it isn't itself a reason, (it just implies that God has one). This is all part of growing up---you stop listening to commands of your parents and think for yourself. My hypothesis, friend, is that there will be better reasons against stoning to death a 13 year old girl than reasons for it. Seem reasonable? ---And that's good, right?

The vehemency of our belief that one shouldn't stone a 13 year old for any reason does not suffice to prove that that belief is objective. While I agree that the stoners are wrong, I think the burden is shifted by that very example.
The burden is shifted onto the other side---not mine. And nobody is arguing that the vehemency of a belief makes morality objective.

But this does get to why I agree with you on the prudence-morality connection: I think the answer to why stoning a child is wrong is that it is totally imprudent. It relies on an empirically empty metaphyics, a poor understanding of how the world works that puts a lot of big and unfounded assumptions out there that justify actions that are objectively wrong without them.
And I'd add that it caused pain. Unnecessary and terrible pain.
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Re: Is Morality Objective?

Postby von Rivers » Wed Nov 14, 2012 3:08 am

anon wrote:By the way, according to your logic the only proper moral decision is to not engage with others at all. Absolute prudence. 'Cause I might fuck up...which I stand by. I think this is the end result of Mo's packaging of prudence with morality.


If you are rude to everyone, the proper moral decision is to "learn to be nice"---not to refrain from ever speaking with someone again. Please tell me I've misunderstood your point somehow. And please don't say something like, "yea, but I might slip up and be rude"---because clearly that happens to everyone and the benefits of communication with human beings far outweigh the occassional rudeness.

For the record, I agree with everything I said in the passage that you quoted me as saying (which, btw, I also said in my debate).
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Re: Is Morality Objective?

Postby phyllo » Wed Nov 14, 2012 5:01 am

will agree. People might have a variety of understandings of love or pain, but they will be nearly unanimous that a picture of war does not depict love and a picture of a blowjob does not depict pain.
A picture of war can show self-sacrifice, love of family, love of country, cowardice, honor, friendship, mercy, fear, pain.
A picture of a blowjob can show hate, exploitation, inequality, moral degeneration, love.
Depends on the picture. It depends on the context.
But the margins are very fuzzy and much more poorly established. Similarly, there's a well established core of immoral killing, but the margins are much fuzzier. But the objectivity of the core isn't questions, and even the degree to which a certain question is fuzzy is objective, in the sense that we can observe and predict the range of feelings and act based on that observation or prediction.
About 99% of DNA in humans and chimps is the same. The small details seem to be important.

Part of the problem with this debate is that requirements of objective and subjective morality are never established. Mo often claims that universality is not objectivity. However, without something that can be used as a reference, we are forced to fall back on agreement to demonstrate objective morality. How much agreement is sufficient? If agreement is not the measure then what is?
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Re: Is Morality Objective?

Postby Only_Humean » Wed Nov 14, 2012 11:47 am

Carleas wrote:To both Anon and O_H, I don't see why a conflict between prudence and morality is a problem. It's just as easy to construct a conflict between morality and morality (If I have one dose of cure and two deathly sick children), or between prudence and prudence (if I can park close to the entrance or close to the exit, and not both). What does a conflict between the two do to show that they aren't different sides of the same spectrum?


Those aren't conflicts (except insofar as you might feel conflicted having to make the choice) - you can be moral in one way or another, prudent in one way or another. The choice is between morality and imprudence vs. prudence and (im/a)morality: they don't match up. It's not a conflict to choose between prudence and imprudence - ought I park my car near the exit, or in the central reservation of the highway? Similarly for morality: "ought I steal a pensioner's life savings or raise money for a children's charity?" is not really a conflict, for any normal values of "ought".

You could argue that prudence is one of several moral goods, in that case - moral dilemmas can force us to prioritise, to choose and reject goods over each other. But you can't say that prudence is just the same thing as morality.
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Re: Is Morality Objective?

Postby von Rivers » Wed Nov 14, 2012 6:53 pm

Only_Humean wrote:But you can't say that prudence is just the same thing as morality.


Can, and did, and gave reasons for it. Frankly, I don't think you have an intelligible distinction between them. I don't think you know what you mean by either prudence or morality when you draw an essential distinction. Clearly, thinking prudence is self-interest, and morality is other-interest doesn't work. You have entire moral theories arguing that you ought to pursue your self-interest. You know, ethical egoism. And clearly it's prudent to flat out risk destroying yourself for a cause sometimes. You simply don't know what you mean by the terms. Well, anyways, this was all said in my OP.
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Re: Is Morality Objective?

Postby Only_Humean » Wed Nov 14, 2012 8:30 pm

Mo_ wrote:
Only_Humean wrote:But you can't say that prudence is just the same thing as morality.


Can, and did, and gave reasons for it. Frankly, I don't think you have an intelligible distinction between them. I don't think you know what you mean by either prudence or morality when you draw an essential distinction. Clearly, thinking prudence is self-interest, and morality is other-interest doesn't work. You have entire moral theories arguing that you ought to pursue your self-interest. You know, ethical egoism. And clearly it's prudent to flat out risk destroying yourself for a cause sometimes. You simply don't know what you mean by the terms. Well, anyways, this was all said in my OP.


Since you don't address the reasons I gave, and only address the ones you gave yourself, I'll take this as rhetoric.

I'm not at all drawing a self/other distinction, I'm drawing a distinction between pragmatic and principalled oughts. That the same word happens to be used does not make them the same, and where your in-car navigation tells you which route you ought to take, it is not dispensing moral facts. You might insist that's the case, but you'll stand pretty much alone in that.
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Re: Is Morality Objective?

Postby anon » Wed Nov 14, 2012 8:39 pm

Carleas & Mo,

For the record, I don’t think prudent means self-interested. There’s a wiki entry for “prudence” – it’s pretty straightforward. Prudence is related to good judgment – i.e. is a particular action daring or reckless? It’s moral to save others first when the airplane is in trouble; it’s prudent to put on your own gas mask first. It’s just plain self-interested if you put it on first for your own sake at the expense of others.

Prudence and morality may indeed exist on a spectrum, such that you could subsume prudence under morality, or morality under prudence. But it’s like saying that there is nothing that is artificial – everything is natural. Natural and artificial exist along a spectrum as well, but they are opposites. They don’t mean the same thing, and to treat them as if they do is to abuse language and generally screw things up. It doesn’t help to call perfectly moral behavior immoral, because it strikes a person as imprudent.
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Re: Is Morality Objective?

Postby von Rivers » Wed Nov 14, 2012 8:51 pm

Only_Humean wrote:Since you don't address the reasons I gave, and only address the ones you gave yourself, I'll take this as rhetoric.
You didn't give a reason for thinking there's a distinction, you just said in so many words that there was a distinction. I, on the other hand, did a fair bit about this in my OP.

I'm drawing a distinction between pragmatic and principalled oughts.
And clearly, there is no essential distinction between pragmatic and principalled oughts. For a Consequentialist, any time you have a rule or a principle, the rule or principle itself is justified on pragmatic grounds (i.e., whether it tends toward the better consequences). Even if you are a deontologist, (though this is a source of embarassment for deontologists), your principled oughts are ultimately justified on pragmatic grounds. You know why Kant doesn't think that acting on many universalizable maxims is what you ought to do? ---Because they have bad consequences. He says so himself. Ultimately, I still just don't think you know what you mean by the terms you're drawing a distinction between. It'd be helpful if you tried defining both 'prudence' and then 'morality'... and then tried to justify and make sense of that distinction. As I did at the start of my OP.

That the same word happens to be used does not make them the same, and where your in-car navigation tells you which route you ought to take, it is not dispensing moral facts. You might insist that's the case, but you'll stand pretty much alone in that.
I've already addressed this in the debate, and elsewhere to you specifically. If you need to get where you're going, then your GPS is dispensing morally relevant facts. And if you don't need to get where you're going, then your GPS isn't even dispensing prudential facts, let alone moral ones. And that I have a difference of degree, and that we use language in that way, and apply terms by degree where there's no essential difference, accounts for this. Honestly, how much of the debate did you read? There was a whole part about the difference between adult and child, and degrees, and no essential... anyways, whatever.
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Re: Is Morality Objective?

Postby Carleas » Fri Nov 16, 2012 5:50 pm

Mo_, I meant objective when I say universal. I think a context dependent morality is still universal, in the sense that any two people in the same context are bound by the same morality. If that's not the case, I don't know how it can be objective either.

Mo_ wrote:We don't need to prove they're wrong just yet---you just need to recognize that you think they're wrong, and thus any burden is not in your court.

This statement is much too strong. Why can't someone who would stone their daughter recognize that he thinks I'm wrong, and then put the burden right back on me? We can't both bear the burden, and it's not useful to talk about a burden if who bears it depends on who you ask, so either we can shift the burden back and forth by mere internal recognition of our own beliefs, or that recognition is not sufficient to determine who bears the burden in the first place.

Only_Humean wrote:The choice is between morality and imprudence vs. prudence and (im/a)morality: they don't match up. It's not a conflict to choose between prudence and imprudence

What about the classic case of stealing the cure for your dying wife or child? This seems to be a clear case of a conflict of morality and immorality in the same way that hiding jews during the holocaust was a conflict between morality and imprudence.

I'm not saying that there's no difference between prudence and morality, and I don't think Mo_ is either. We've both argued that they are at different places along the same spectrum, which is to say that they're different in the same way that children and adults are different, or hot and cold are different, or natural and artficial are different. But the ways in which they are the same is significant in all these cases. Moreover, for my position anyway, it's significant that the line between prudence and morality is somewhat arbitrary and subjective, even though to a great degree the spectrum itself is objective.

To this last point, perhaps looking for borderline cases is the best way to make this argument. Is the existence of a "right to choose" in respect to abortion a moral or a prudent question? I think people will come down on either side. Similarly, look at libertarian arguments for minimizing government and taxation. For some, the question is about what's prudent: government just makes people worse off, etc. etc.. For others, it's moral: government has no right to restrict our freedom, etc. etc. Here too, it's not clear cut whether the question is a moral one or a prudential one. It will depend where you draw the line.
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Re: Is Morality Objective?

Postby von Rivers » Sat Nov 17, 2012 2:20 am

Carleas wrote:This statement is much too strong. Why can't someone who would stone their daughter recognize that he thinks I'm wrong, and then put the burden right back on me?
He could, I guess. (I was counting on FJ not doing that). In that case, I guess the burden is in no one's court. And everybody has some explaining to do.
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Re: Is Morality Objective?

Postby Drusus » Sun Nov 18, 2012 6:38 am

MO_ your first post was tooooooooo long, it could easily be halfed.

Per se it seems that there are no major objective morals, but there are a few, that not to lie, steal, randomly kill, etc, such basic kind of behaviours that will make a society stable.

Core morals = yes!
Elevated morals = no.
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Re: Is Morality Objective?

Postby von Rivers » Sun Nov 18, 2012 10:03 am

Drusus wrote:MO_ your first post was tooooooooo long, it could easily be halfed.

Per se it seems that there are no major objective morals, but there are a few, that not to lie, steal, randomly kill, etc, such basic kind of behaviours that will make a society stable.

Core morals = yes!
Elevated morals = no.


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Re: Is Morality Objective?

Postby Drusus » Sun Nov 18, 2012 10:38 am

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Re: Is Morality Objective?

Postby von Rivers » Sun Nov 18, 2012 8:34 pm

Ohhh yyes, of course, I agree with Drusus totally. --What he said. Indeed. Right on the nail head.
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Re: Is Morality Objective?

Postby Stuart » Fri Jan 11, 2013 9:09 pm

From elsewhere:

von Rivers wrote:
Stuartp523 wrote:von Rivers, I misread your post. I went to your link and just quickly looked through it, you seem to be the first person I've ever met who believes in moral objectivity and is willing to go to great lengths to defend that view. I think sometime I'll read through that thread and then see what I have to say.



Cool. I am a river to my people.


I read your opening post and FJ's first post. I doubt there is really much to say about it because it seems too far from my beliefs on the subject of morality. It seems that you and FJ, despite your differences in opinion, started the debate with quite a few fundamental agreements on the subject of morality in general. I’ve been know, for the sake of argument, to refer to morality as relative or subjective, but honestly I don’t even recognize the validity of the term. I didn’t completely understand your opening post, but perhaps it was sufficient for proving morality is objective, assuming it even exists.

Not to make the assumption that this is even an argument you want to get into, but assuming at one time or another it is, I think we’d have to start with an argument on the very existence of objective truths in general. This is a thread on nihilism I made http://www.ilovephilosophy.com/viewtopi ... 1&t=181472.

It is taking the subject of subjectivity farther than I would wish to go here, where I’m only advocating the lack of belief in objectivity not that one nihilate all their subjective beliefs, but in it you can see where I’m coming from. I’d like at least for you, sometime, to answer these two questions; have you ever thought about a subject, concept, idea, etc. so long that it lost all meaning? And, whether or not you did, would you argue that the meaninglessness this over thinking gives to ideas, etc. is just a psychological illusion or could you think of some other argument? It seems to me this is proof of the meaninglessness of truth, but I wonder how you can refute that.
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Re: Is Morality Objective?

Postby Orbie » Sun Jan 20, 2013 6:50 am

Stuartp523 wrote:From elsewhere:

von Rivers wrote:
Stuartp523 wrote:von Rivers, I misread your post. I went to your link and just quickly looked through it, you seem to be the first person I've ever met who believes in moral objectivity and is willing to go to great lengths to defend that view. I think sometime I'll read through that thread and then see what I have to say.



Cool. I am a river to my people.


I read your opening post and FJ's first post. I doubt there is really much to say about it because it seems too far from my beliefs on the subject of morality. It seems that you and FJ, despite your differences in opinion, started the debate with quite a few fundamental agreements on the subject of morality in general. I’ve been know, for the sake of argument, to refer to morality as relative or subjective, but honestly I don’t even recognize the validity of the term. I didn’t completely understand your opening post, but perhaps it was sufficient for proving morality is objective, assuming it even exists.

Not to make the assumption that this is even an argument you want to get into, but assuming at one time or another it is, I think we’d have to start with an argument on the very existence of objective truths in general. This is a thread on nihilism I made viewtopic.php?f=1&t=181472.

It is taking the subject of subjectivity farther than I would wish to go here, where I’m only advocating the lack of belief in objectivity not that one nihilate all their subjective beliefs, but in it you can see where I’m coming from. I’d like at least for you, sometime, to answer these two questions; have you ever thought about a subject, concept, idea, etc. so long that it lost all meaning? And, whether or not you did, would you argue that the meaninglessness this over thinking gives to ideas, etc. is just a psychological illusion or could you think of some other argument? It seems to me this is proof of the meaninglessness of truth, but I wonder how you can refute that.




Stuart, I would think, the meaningfulness or meaninglessness of truths as defined by the lack of substance/value they contain have nothing to do with each other. Purely formal substantive ideas, and "truth" being the idea within your own example, even if TRUTH is nowhere to be found, It still has a possibility, acting as a reservoir for subjective opinions.(As to truth). That said, within a given context 2 people agree on a certain singular definitive value of what that truth is, it gains more objectivity. This implies that absolute objectivity may not even be possible in the same mode, as we were to inquire into the absolute value of "truth". The problem with this type of argument in my opinion, is that we treat objective morality as it were questions of right and wrong on the same plane. There are many sub groups under truth, and seeking the absolute truth is kind of a truism, or ideas based on less generalization. This is where the dichotomy between objective and subjective breaks down, and this is the point where Nietzche tries to dilute the problem with purely objective morality.
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Re: Is Morality Objective?

Postby Moreno » Sun Jan 20, 2013 6:54 am

It seems to me the main proposal here, VRs, is Objective based on subjective criteria.

We use subjective experiences as the axioms, then try to maximize the good ones and minimize the bad ones.

It's an objective morality given subjective metrics.

It is not claiming that stars and meteors and alien civilizations or bacteria should also think that what is good for homo sapiens is objectively good.
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Re: Is Morality Objective?

Postby von Rivers » Mon Jan 21, 2013 5:43 am

Moreno wrote:It seems to me the main proposal here, VRs, is Objective based on subjective criteria.

We use subjective experiences as the axioms, then try to maximize the good ones and minimize the bad ones.


Yea, perhaps. The important distinction is between "subjectivity" and "subject-dependence". Morality is subject-dependent, but not subjective. So, what's the diff?

Analogy: It takes a subject to have physical health. (Physical health is subject-dependent). But whether or not something (e.g., drinking paint) is good for your physical health is not subjective (i.e., it's not a matter of your opinion).

Morality is subject-dependent---there'd be no way you ought to act without a subject who can act. But morality is not subjective---how you ought to act is not always a matter of your opinion.
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Re: Is Morality Objective?

Postby Moreno » Mon Jan 21, 2013 5:51 am

Mine was poorly worded. The scale is based on measuring subjective experiences - to a large degree. But from there the metrics are objective.
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Re: Is Morality Objective?

Postby von Rivers » Mon Jan 21, 2013 5:55 am

Moreno wrote:Mine was poorly worded. The scale is based on measuring subjective experiences - to a large degree. But from there the metrics are objective.


Yea, if "subjective experiences" = "experiences that a subject can have"
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Re: Is Morality Objective?

Postby Daktoria » Fri Jan 25, 2013 10:57 pm

Affirmative opening statement was way too long.

It could have been condensed to the morality-strategy conflation. If morals are subjective, then there's no difference between how one ought to live properly versus how one ought to live successfully. The very reference to morality would be irrelevant.
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Re: Is Morality Objective?

Postby von Rivers » Tue Jan 29, 2013 5:21 am

Daktoria wrote:Affirmative opening statement was way too long.

It could have been condensed to the morality-strategy conflation. If morals are subjective, then there's no difference between how one ought to live properly versus how one ought to live successfully. The very reference to morality would be irrelevant.


If I wanted what I said to be unsupported and incoherent, I would surely have condensed it to whatever you just tried to say...
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Re: Is Morality Objective?

Postby Daktoria » Tue Jan 29, 2013 5:42 am

von Rivers wrote:
Daktoria wrote:Affirmative opening statement was way too long.

It could have been condensed to the morality-strategy conflation. If morals are subjective, then there's no difference between how one ought to live properly versus how one ought to live successfully. The very reference to morality would be irrelevant.


If I wanted what I said to be unsupported and incoherent, I would surely have condensed it to whatever you just tried to say...


It's pretty simple.

First, you acknowledge that morality and strategy are different ideas.

Then, you ask, "What's the difference?"

If morality is subjective, then strategy accounts for it which is defined by the subjective goals it pursues such that morality is unnecessary.

Therefore, morality must not be subjective in order to remain important.
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Re: Is Morality Objective?

Postby Stuart » Tue Jan 29, 2013 11:14 am

Daktoria, I agree in a sense. But, it's not even a question of strategy and "morality" being different. "Morality" is still "important" for most, despite its complete and utter subjectivity, not because of any agreement on the issues, but because for the majority of individuals, they come to the conclusion that thinking in terms of and applying their personal (what else could it be but personal) definition of the word "morality", whatever relation it has to the words root meanings. I have a sense of the word "morality" that I use, it's important to me because I grew up with the term, I can't just get rid of all of its meaning.

Now I like to distinguish between discussions on the subjectivity of the word "morality", which I'm doing here, and discussions on "moral" issues, which I have done on other threads.

In a discussion on "moral" issues the term "moral" doesn't necessarily need to be in quotation marks, just like the word "word" doesn't need to be in quotation marks, because then we wouldn't be discussing the term, but the issues. Nonetheless, I think a productive discussion (that is for me, I let others worry about its productivity themselves) is one where a general outcome is "agreed" upon as being "good" before discussing how to accomplish it, all the while the term "morality" having no place.
Stuart
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