• TheHedoMinimalist
    288
    The moral argument is a popular argument in favor of theism and against atheism and it has 2 premises:

    P1: Moral realism can only be true if some form of theism is true.

    P2: Moral realism is true

    C: Thus, some form of theism is true and by extension atheism is false.

    Like most arguments, theists and atheists tend to debate the soundness of this argument by talking about whether or not the premises of the argument are likely to be true. I tend to think that the argument has a fundamental problem which makes the argument a kind of red herring even if the argument was sound and all the premises of the argument happen to be true.

    The reason why I would regard this argument as a kind of red herring is because I don’t see how any reasonable person could be persuaded to think that theism is more plausible after accepting any additional premise of the argument. For example, suppose you have an atheist who accepts P2 but rejects P1 until a particular theist philosopher persuades him that P1 is true. Well, the atheist philosopher presumably has a reason for believing that P2 is true. If he does not have a reason for believing that P2 is true then he shouldn’t really be too confident in the truthfulness of P2 since it would seem more reasonable to have a mere leaning towards thinking that P2 is true if you have not a single decent argument to support P2. In that case, the atheist shouldn’t really change his stance on the theism/atheism debate because his arguments against theism are probably more convincing to him than his arguments in favor of moral realism. Thus, it would be more reasonable for him to just reject moral realism to maintain a consistent belief system as he really wasn’t strongly convinced about the truthfulness of moral realism in the first place.

    But, let’s suppose that the atheist does have a sophisticated reason or argument for why he believes in moral realism and we shall refer to this hypothetical strong reason to believe in moral realism as Reason X. Presumably, the atheist believes that Reason X shows that P2 is true despite the fact that Reason X doesn’t require theism to be true. Given this, Reason X seems to be in conflict with P1. If Reason X is a good reason to accept P2, then we have pretty good reason to doubt P1 because Reason X doesn’t require any form of theism to be true. Thus, it would imply that you don’t need theism to be true for moral realism to be true. Similarly, if we know that P1 is definitely true then that seems to give us a good reason to doubt that Reason X could be used to effectively defend P2 because any reason used to defend P2 must appeal to theism being true if P1 is true.

    The defenders of the moral argument might argue in response that the argument wasn’t designed for atheists but rather for theists that are starting to doubt theism. Unfortunately, this argument would do nothing to convince a reasonable theist to have more confidence that theism is true. This is because P1 implies that theism must be true or else you should reject P2. Thus, if a theist thinks that it’s obvious that P2 is true then he would seemingly either just be begging the question against his growing doubts about theism by implying that P2 is obviously true because theism is obviously true or he would have to appeal to secular reasoning for accepting P2 which would seemingly either undermine P1 or get undermined by P1.

    I hope this argument was reasonably easy to follow but feel free to ask questions and I always appreciate comments and critiques of the argument.
  • TheMadFool
    8.4k
    I thought Euthypro's dilemma had decisively undermined the relationship between morality and god. Either god is or isn't the authority on morality. If god is then whatever god commands must be good, including murder if so decreed. That's unacceptable. Ergo, god isn't the moral authority. This being so, whether objective moral truths exist (moral realism) or not (moral anti-realism), god has little to no say in the matter.

    Given that the moral argument for god completely depends on god as an authority on morals which, as it turns out above, is untenable, we have no choice but to reject premise P1.
  • SophistiCat
    1.5k
    It seems that your reasoning would apply equally to any argument (including your own!) Did you pick the Moral argument as an illustration, or do you think there is something about that argument that makes it particularly vulnerable to this attack?
  • ChatteringMonkey
    811


    I mostly agree with your analysis but...

    In that case, the atheist shouldn’t really change his stance on the theism/atheism debate because his arguments against theism are probably more convincing to him than his arguments in favor of moral realism. Thus, it would be more reasonable for him to just reject moral realism to maintain a consistent belief system as he really wasn’t strongly convinced about the truthfulness of moral realism in the first place.TheHedoMinimalist

    It may be more reasonable to reject moral realism, but I don't think it's about reason for most people. They feel like and assume moral realism must be true.... and so presumably if they already hold that belief, they are susceptible to P1.
  • TheHedoMinimalist
    288
    Given that the moral argument for god completely depends on god as an authority on morals which, as it turns out above, is untenable, we have no choice but to reject premise P1.TheMadFool

    I don’t know if I would say that the moral argument even depends on God existing. You could imagine a godless form of theism that believes that there are supernatural forces that make moral realism true and that without these supernatural forces we would have no reason to think that murder is wrong. Of course, many theists might also argue that if God commanded people to murder then murder would be right and they just don’t see this as an arbitrary form of morality like the way that atheists typically do. Theists might think it’s more arbitrary to base morality of an abstract concept with seemingly no authority like the concept of maximizing happiness for sentient creatures.
  • TheHedoMinimalist
    288
    There is something about this argument that makes it especially vulnerable to this attack. If you try attacking other popular arguments like this, then you will probably have no luck. Here is an example of a popular theist argument that doesn’t have this weakness:

    The Kalam Cosmological Argument:

    P1: Everything that isn’t infinite must have a cause

    P2: The Universe isn’t infinite

    C: Therefore, the universe must have a cause

    Let’s say someone accepts P2 because they reject the existence of actual infinities and they point to various thought experiments to illuminate their intuitions. P1 does not conflict with the reasons that they have for accepting P2 and neither premise of the argument implies that the other premise is less likely to be true than the conclusion that the argument is trying to provide evidence for. In contrast, P1 in the moral argument implies that the conclusion of the argument is more likely to be true than P2 of the argument. This kinda just brings up the question about what the whole point of the argument is supposed to be if one premise of the argument just handicaps the reasons your intended audience had for accepting the other premise of the argument.
  • TheHedoMinimalist
    288
    It may be more reasonable to reject moral realism, but I don't think it's about reason for most people. They feel like and assume moral realism must be true.... and so presumably if they already hold that belief, they are susceptible to P1.ChatteringMonkey

    I agree that the argument can be persuasive to some people. But, my point is that no atheist would be persuaded by this argument for the right reasons. Atheists should realize that if they have no good reason to accept moral realism then they shouldn’t be too devoted to defending this position as they can only justify believing that moral realism is slightly more likely to be true on raw intuition alone.
  • TheMadFool
    8.4k
    I don’t know if I would say that the moral argument even depends on God existing. You could imagine a godless form of theism that believes that there are supernatural forces that make moral realism true and that without these supernatural forces we would have no reason to think that murder is wrong. Of course, many theists might also argue that if God commanded people to murder then murder would be right and they just don’t see this as an arbitrary form of morality like the way that atheists typically do. Theists might think it’s more arbitrary to base morality of an abstract concept with seemingly no authority like the concept of maximizing happiness for sentient creaturesTheHedoMinimalist

    "...that are supernatural forces that make moral realism true..." is just a variation on the theme of divine morality. You're deferring moral authority to a being, god or "...supernatural forces..." rather than some set of moral principles that are true independent of such "forces".

    In my humble opinion, the moral argument for god is critically dependent on god's authority on moral matters and this not in the sense that god knows moral truths, truths which we too can, in principle, know but that good is what god commands.

    Otherwise, the moral argument wouldn't make sense, right?

    If god refers to a set of moral doctrines like judges refer to the constitution before god issues commands of a moral nature, then god becomes redundant to the moral cause and the moral argument is blown clean out of the water.
  • TheHedoMinimalist
    288

    I would say that it’s a fair critique that theists who use the moral argument think that morality has to grounded in something concrete rather than a set of abstract principles. Though, that concrete entity could be anything supernatural rather than something that necessarily has intelligence like a god. I can understand that many atheists find that way of thinking about morality counterintuitive and I find it counterintuitive as well. Nonetheless, I don’t really have an argument to give to a theist of why it makes more sense to ground morality within a set of abstract moral principles rather than a concrete entity like a god or a spiritual force.
  • ChatteringMonkey
    811
    It may be more reasonable to reject moral realism, but I don't think it's about reason for most people. They feel like and assume moral realism must be true.... and so presumably if they already hold that belief, they are susceptible to P1.
    — ChatteringMonkey

    I agree that the argument can be persuasive to some people. But, my point is that no atheist would be persuaded by this argument for the right reasons. Atheists should realize that if they have no good reason to accept moral realism then they shouldn’t be too devoted to defending this position as they can only justify believing that moral realism is slightly more likely to be true on raw intuition alone.
    TheHedoMinimalist

    Yes, I agree that it would be more reasonable, but I don't think there is a moral obligation that they should. Because it's not merely about defending an abstract philosophical position, it is their whole way of relating to the world that is at stake here. One shouldn't underestimate the importance moral convictions play in the human psyche, in the words of Nietzsche :

    "It has gradually become clear to me what every great philosophy up till now has consisted of—namely, the confession of its originator, and a species of involuntary and unconscious auto-biography; and moreover that the moral (or immoral) purpose in every philosophy has constituted the true vital germ out of which the entire plant has always grown."
  • TheMadFool
    8.4k
    I would say that it’s a fair critique that theists who use the moral argument think that morality has to grounded in something concrete rather than a set of abstract principles. Though, that concrete entity could be anything supernatural rather than something that necessarily has intelligence like a god. I can understand that many atheists find that way of thinking about morality counterintuitive and I find it counterintuitive as well. Nonetheless, I don’t really have an argument to give to a theist of why it makes more sense to ground morality within a set of abstract moral principles rather than a concrete entity like a god or a spiritual force.TheHedoMinimalist

    Well, if I were to offer an option it would have to do with the intuition that actions can't be moral just because god commands it. There's a reflexive resistance to the notion of god's commands being good no matter what the commands are and that points to a vague idea, in the depths of our psyche, that morality must be based on, as you said, "...abstract principles..." Nevertheless, you're right, there's a conspicuous absence of arguments in favor of basing morality on "...abstract principles..." unless, of course, you put stock in Euthyphro's dilemma and what that points to in terms of our gut feelings on the matter.
  • SophistiCat
    1.5k
    There is something about this argument that makes it especially vulnerable to this attack. If you try attacking other popular arguments like this, then you will probably have no luck.TheHedoMinimalist

    Deductive arguments, especially simple ones, are all subject to this seeming challenge: if you had good reasons to accept all the premises, then you should have accepted the conclusion at the same time. Conversely, if you had good reasons to reject the conclusion, you must have had good reasons to reject at least some of the premises (or if you didn't, then you will surely find them when your more certain commitments are threatened).

    Abstracting from the specifics, let's consider a general case:

    P1
    P2
    C

    You say, in the first place, that if you didn't have good reasons to accept P2, but seemed to have good reasons to reject C, then it should be easy for you to dump P2 when ¬C is threatened. On the other hand, if you had good reasons to both accept P2 and reject C, that can only mean that you have good reasons to reject P1. Note that I didn't even say anything about what the premises and the conclusion were, and yet I came to the same conclusions that you did.

    The Kalam Cosmological Argument:

    P1: Everything that isn’t infinite must have a cause

    P2: The Universe isn’t infinite

    C: Therefore, the universe must have a cause

    Let’s say someone accepts P2 because they reject the existence of actual infinities and they point to various thought experiments to illuminate their intuitions. P1 does not conflict with the reasons that they have for accepting P2 and neither premise of the argument implies that the other premise is less likely to be true than the conclusion that the argument is trying to provide evidence for.
    TheHedoMinimalist

    You are right in that the premises in the Moral argument are more tightly linked than in the Cosmological argument. P1 in the Cosmological argument makes a a general statement that happens to include P2, whereas P1 in the Moral argument makes a statement specifically about P2. But this is a difference in degree, not kind. The three propositions in a syllogism are like communicating vessels: if you apply pressure to one, it is immediately transmitted to the other two.

    The fact is that when such arguments succeed, they don't succeed in stages. It is not like you are first persuaded to accept the premises, and then - oh dear, I guess I have no choice but to accept the conclusion, like it or not! No, if the argument succeeds, then by the time you are ready to accept the premises, you are just as ready to accept the conclusion. That is because the logical connection between the premises and the conclusion is so transparent that you cannot help but be aware of it, even as you consider one proposition at a time.
  • Philosophim
    529
    P1: Everything that isn’t infinite must have a causeTheHedoMinimalist

    This is an assumption, not a proof. In fact, I've argued elsewhere that this is actually impossible. Any time you start with an unproven statement, it is open to these kinds of attacks. I don't think the cosmological argument is any better.
  • Constance
    82


    There is a way, HedoMinimalist, to make this "work": It would require a serious reconstrual of theism, not a popular frivolous one. It can be reasonably argued that religion's essence lies in material foundation from whence it springs, which is the moral dimension of existence. It is questions like, why are we born to suffer and die? and, what is the nature of the ethical good and bad? as opposed to contingent good and bad, as in, "My what a good couch" where in the goodness can be discussed, issues from context. Ethical good and bad (see Wittgenstein's Lecture on Ethics. He is right on this) turns to metaethical good and bad: the badness and goodness that issues directly from the pains and joys of Being. This latter, W says, cannot be discussed, metavalue cannot be discussed, for the rub lies in the nature of language and logic's delimitations. But this is the source of a defensible moral realism and it is, as well, the authentic basis of religion.
  • TheHedoMinimalist
    288
    Deductive arguments, especially simple ones, are all subject to this seeming challenge: if you had good reasons to accept all the premises, then you should have accepted the conclusion at the same time.SophistiCat

    Well, it’s possible for one to simply fail to see the connection between the premises and how they necessarily lead to the conclusion. Sometimes, seeing that connection may just give them reason to reject one of the premises of the argument but sometimes someone may reasonably just accept the conclusion. The problem with the moral argument is that seeing the connection between P1 and P2 implies that P2 can only be defended by reasons that assume C. Thus, it seems no reasonable philosopher could just accept C after acknowledging the connection between the premises. I don’t think that’s necessarily true for other arguments.

    Conversely, if you had good reasons to reject the conclusion, you must have had good reasons to reject at least some of the premises (or if you didn't, then you will surely find them when your more certain commitments are threatened).SophistiCat

    Not necessarily, there are plenty of atheists that might have some arguments against theism but they don’t have any arguments or reasons for rejecting P1 or P2 of any given theistic argument. For example, I don’t have an argument for any of the premises of the Kalam Cosmological argument but I’m just not necessarily convinced the premises of the argument are true either and I have arguments against the existence of specific kinds of gods like the Judeo-Christian god. Of course, it’s unlikely that I would become a theist if accepted the Kalam argument but it would make think that theism is more plausible. The conflict between the reasons supporting P1 and having secular reasons for supporting P2 is what I think makes the moral argument inferior to the other arguments for theism. Other arguments for theism might not be immediately persuasive because an atheist might have other reasons for being an atheist but they can at the very least make the atheist view theism as a more plausible viewpoint. I don’t see how the moral argument can make a reasonable atheist see theism as any more plausible than it was before.

    On the other hand, if you had good reasons to both accept P2 and reject C, that can only mean that you have good reasons to reject P1.SophistiCat

    I would disagree, if you just reject P1 because you disagree with the conclusion of the argument then I think you would just be begging the question that the conclusion is wrong. If a particular philosopher doesn’t have good reasons to accept P1 and doesn’t have an argument against P1 then the argument should still give that philosopher slightly more confidence that C is true but he obviously wouldn’t have to think that C being true is more probable than C being false. This is because he isn’t entirely convinced by P1 yet.

    The three propositions in a syllogism are like communicating vessels: if you apply pressure to one, it is immediately transmitted to the other two.SophistiCat

    But do all syllogism have this problem to an equal extent? My whole point is that the moral argument is especially vulnerable to these conflicts and thus it should be regarded as inferior to other theistic argument.
  • TheHedoMinimalist
    288
    This is an assumption, not a proof. In fact, I've argued elsewhere that this is actually impossible. Any time you start with an unproven statement, it is open to these kinds of attacks. I don't think the cosmological argument is any better.Philosophim

    Well, you can’t prove that any philosophical claim is true. The best you can do is provide additional evidence for that claim. The reasons for supporting any philosophical conclusion require some assumptions on the deepest level of analysis and those assumptions are usually just defended with raw intuition. Hence why there is so much disagreement in philosophy.
  • TheHedoMinimalist
    288
    Because it's not merely about defending an abstract philosophical position, it is their whole way of relating to the world that is at stake here. One shouldn't underestimate the importance moral convictions play in the human psyche, in the words of Nietzsche :ChatteringMonkey

    Well, the atheist could simply pretend that moral realism is true to make themselves feel better. I pretend to believe something that I don’t actually believe all the time to make myself feel better and this doesn’t really require me to actually be deluded. For example, I sometimes pretend that I was sexually intimate with a particular woman even if I actually wasn’t ever sexually intimate with that particular woman. I also sometimes pretend that I have singing skills that I don’t actually have. I think it’s instrumentally rational to make yourself believe some things for a temporary period of time to make yourself feel better and it doesn’t actually require you to sacrifice your epistemic rationality. On another note, the atheist could also just believe for emotional reasons that P1 of the moral argument is false and so there’s no reason to prefer accepting P2 and the conclusion of the argument for emotional reasons over accepting P2 and then rejecting P1 of the argument and thus also rejecting the conclusion of the argument.
  • TheHedoMinimalist
    288

    The argument that you are presenting is not the moral argument that I am referring to. Of course, you might choose to refer to your argument as the moral argument as well but my thread is discussing the particular argument that is frequently made for theism and I wasn’t trying to suggest that all arguments for theism fail.
  • ChatteringMonkey
    811
    On another note, the atheist could also just believe for emotional reasons that P1 of the moral argument is false and so there’s no reason to prefer accepting P2 and the conclusion of the argument for emotional reasons over accepting P2 and then rejecting P1 of the argument and thus also rejecting the conclusion of the argument.TheHedoMinimalist

    That's what I think a lot of atheist do to some extend, i.e. P1 is false because there is some other nebulous non-specified reason why moral realism is true. And that probably works ok until you actively try to find that reason, and find out that it isn't that easy. It think it would be harder to knowingly hold contradicting beliefs, because generally we dislike cognitive dissonance.

    Edit: That's what Kant tried to do, if not God then morality flows straight out of pure reason.
  • Constance
    82


    I guess I don't understand this. The whole idea here rests with theism, but it is not open to a discussion to what this can meaningfully be about? Doesn't this trivialize the argument down to a simple logical play?
  • SophistiCat
    1.5k
    Well, it’s possible for one to simply fail to see the connection between the premises and how they necessarily lead to the conclusion. Sometimes, seeing that connection may just give them reason to reject one of the premises of the argument but sometimes someone may reasonably just accept the conclusion.TheHedoMinimalist

    That is certainly true with more complex arguments (or else mathematics would start and end with setting out axioms).

    The problem with the moral argument is that seeing the connection between P1 and P2 implies that P2 can only be defended by reasons that assume C.TheHedoMinimalist

    Or the other way around, depending on which of the premises moves you most. Those who reject moral realism, especially former theists, sometimes associate it with theism, thereby acknowledging P1. But yes, if you already accept one of the two premises, acceptance of the other premise will go in lockstep with accepting the conclusion. Not saying that this cannot happen, but it's really a two-step process, not three.

    But do all syllogism have this problem to an equal extent? My whole point is that the moral argument is especially vulnerable to these conflicts and thus it should be regarded as inferior to other theistic argument.TheHedoMinimalist

    I would agree that the argument, as presented in the OP, is weaker than others. It is a structural weakness. I actually mislabeled it as a syllogism above; a classical syllogism includes a general proposition (major premise) together with a specific proposition (minor premise), while this argument has just two minor premises.
  • TheHedoMinimalist
    288
    That's what I think a lot of atheist do to some extend, i.e. P1 is false because there is some other nebulous non-specified reason why moral realism is true. And that probably works ok until you actively try to find that reason, and find out that it isn't that easy.ChatteringMonkey

    Well, let me ask you a question. Why do theist always seem to think that the existence of a god or a supernatural force gives them reason to think that moral realism is true? I personally don’t understand how grounding morality in a concrete entity is necessarily more intuitive than grounding morality in some abstract concept. I actually believe that some forms of theism are pretty plausible but I’m not a moral realist so I just don’t understand how theistic moral realism is any more plausible than atheistic moral realism.

    It think it would be harder to knowingly hold contradicting beliefs, because generally we dislike cognitive dissonance.ChatteringMonkey

    Well, I don’t think one should necessarily think of this as holding contradictory beliefs but rather as temporarily suspending judgement and pretending to believe something for an instrumental benefit. For example, when there’s music playing inside of a movie, you don’t think about where the music is coming from or how the music is made. You just let the music move you as you watch the movie scene. Similarly, maybe people can just stop thinking about where morality comes from or how morality came about and just enjoy moral pursuits simply because it gives psychological satisfaction like the movie soundtrack does.
  • TheHedoMinimalist
    288
    Or the other way around, depending on which of the premises moves you most. Those who reject moral realism, especially former theists, sometimes associate it with theism, thereby acknowledging P1.SophistiCat

    Well, the anti-realist version of this argument seems much more sturdy to me. It goes something like this:

    P1: Moral realism is false if theism is false.

    P2: Theism is false.

    C: Therefore, moral realism is false

    In this argument, P1 does not imply that the conclusion of the argument is more likely to be true than P2. This means that the reasons that an atheistic moral realist has for rejecting theism doesn’t require them to believe that moral anti-realism is true ahead of time. This means that if they are convinced by P1, then they have a pretty good reason to reject their moral realism. In contrast, P1 of the moral argument implies that you must accept the conclusion of the argument before you can accept P2. This means that the reasons that an atheistic moral realist has to accept moral realism are only sound if they appeal to the truthfulness of theism ahead of time. Thus, it’s not clear why any atheistic moral realist would have more reason to reject their atheism than the reasons they would have to reject their moral realism if they accepted P1 of the moral argument. It seems like they would much more rational to abandon their moral realism given P1 of the moral argument
  • TheHedoMinimalist
    288

    Well, maybe I was too quick to limit this discussion to just the argument that I had originally intended to discuss. Let me ask you some questions about your views on this topic....

    It can be reasonably argued that religion's essence lies in material foundation from whence it springs, which is the moral dimension of existence. It is questions like, why are we born to suffer and die? and, what is the nature of the ethical good and bad? as opposed to contingent good and bad, as in, "My what a good couch" where in the goodness can be discussed, issues from context.Constance

    Are you implying that one cannot talk about questions like the question of why are we born to suffer and die if we don’t hold theistic views? That’s my best guess as to what this passage that you wrote would be implying so I’d like to know if I’m understanding your point correctly here.

    Ethical good and bad (see Wittgenstein's Lecture on Ethics. He is right on this) turns to metaethical good and bad: the badness and goodness that issues directly from the pains and joys of Being.Constance

    You seem to be implying that morality stems from pleasure and pain. Doesn’t this assume a hedonic view of morality? Should we just exclude talking about non-hedonic foundations for morality?

    This latter, W says, cannot be discussed, metavalue cannot be discussed, for the rub lies in the nature of language and logic's delimitations. But this is the source of a defensible moral realism and it is, as well, the authentic basis of religion.Constance

    What are you referring to when you speak of metavalue? Are you talking about the debate surrounding value realism and value anti-realism? It’s seems like plenty of philosophers have discussed that sort of metavalue in the numerous philosophy journals that I have read on this topic. I don’t see how that requires theism or how that is even remotely related to theism
  • ChatteringMonkey
    811
    Well, let me ask you a question. Why do theist always seem to think that the existence of a god or a supernatural force gives them reason to think that moral realism is true? I personally don’t understand how grounding morality in a concrete entity is necessarily more intuitive than grounding morality in some abstract concept. I actually believe that some forms of theism are pretty plausible but I’m not a moral realist so I just don’t understand how theistic moral realism is any more plausible than atheistic moral realism.TheHedoMinimalist

    Because theism allows for a purposeful being having created the universe. And if you have that, you have meaning from the start, fused into the descriptive, because a purposeful being presumably creates something with a purpose. An objective, a 'true' morality can directly flow from what 'is'. And that is the important part for moral realism, not the label or idea, but the fact that it can be derived from the descriptive, that it can be true (and the same for everybody).

    The problem for the atheist moral realist is that we came to be by non-teleological processes, physical mechanical processes and evolution. If no meaning can be found in the universe itself, we are the ones that bring it into the world, that create it. Grounding it in some abstract concept just pushes the problem one step further, there's no way of verifying or proving whether we should accept that abstract principle as a basis for morality.

    Well, I don’t think one should necessarily think of this as holding contradictory beliefs but rather as temporarily suspending judgement and pretending to believe something for an instrumental benefit. For example, when there’s music playing inside of a movie, you don’t think about where the music is coming from or how the music is made. You just let the music move you as you watch the movie scene. Similarly, maybe people can just stop thinking about where morality comes from or how morality came about and just enjoy moral pursuits simply because it gives psychological satisfaction like the movie soundtrack does.TheHedoMinimalist

    Yeah I'm not saying it can't be done, just that we tend to want to avoid cognitive dissonance. Forgetting about the whole idea of grounding morality, would be another way of avoiding it. I will say that pretending to believe something for instrumental benefit, is maybe easier said than done, because typically moral ideas hang together in a complex of ideas about identity, meaning and the like. Hanging your whole raison d'etre on suspension of disbelief seems rather fragile... then again a lot of people seem to do exactly that, so maybe it works.
  • TheHedoMinimalist
    288
    Because theism allows for a purposeful being having created the universe. And if you have that, you have meaning from the start, fused into the descriptive, because a purposeful being presumably creates something with a purpose.ChatteringMonkey

    Well, let me ask you another question. Why does the whole universe have to be created for a particular purpose in order for us to have meaning from the start? After all, if one’s biological parents have created them for a particular purpose such as the purpose of making the aforementioned parents happier, then why wouldn’t this kind of purpose give the same sort of meaning as the meaning that would be granted by a purpose that started from the beginning of the universe? How is a meaning-granting purpose that occurs on a cosmological level more important than a purpose that might occur at a more local level like the level of the purpose that your parents had for creating you? Of course, just as one might reasonably reject the purpose that one’s parents had for creating them, couldn’t one reasonably reject the purpose that a divine entity had for them? Does a belief in a divine entity actually strongly imply that you should just go along with any purpose that they might have for you regardless of how arbitrary that purpose might seem to be?

    An objective, a 'true' morality can directly flow from what 'is'. And that is the important part for moral realism, not the label or idea, but the fact that it can be derived from the descriptive, that it can be true (and the same for everybody).ChatteringMonkey

    Couldn’t you have descriptive statements about abstract concepts as well though. For example, I think one could reasonably argue that “it is” the case that suffering is harms people and “it is” the case that we have moral reasons to avoid causing harm to people unless it would prevent more harm or provide enough benefit to justify the harm. It’s still not clear to me why morality has to be grounded in something that is concrete when it seems like the abstract can be just as factual and just as descriptive and “real” as concrete phenomena.

    The problem for the atheist moral realist is that we came to be by non-teleological processes, physical mechanical processes and evolution.ChatteringMonkey

    On a macro level, that may be the case but your parents might have had very clear teleological reasons for deciding to conceive you nonetheless. For example, they might have wanted to conceive you in order to have an heir to an antique shop that they worked hard to establish. Nonetheless, the fact that one might have been conceived for the purpose of becoming a future antique shop owner does not imply that one has any reason to actually take over one’s family’s antique business once they pass away much less have a moral obligation to do so. So, why does one have more moral reason to follow a purpose given to them by a divine entity than a purpose given to them by their biological parents if your biological parents are also responsible for your creation and they also may have teleological reasons for creating you.

    If no meaning can be found in the universe itself, we are the ones that bring it into the world, that create it.ChatteringMonkey

    That seems to be the key assumption made by most existentialist philosophers and I tend to disagree with that assumption. One could also believe that meaning is derived from a certain kind of abstract understanding like the understanding that suffering harms people and the understanding that harming people is bad. One could also believe that meaning is derived from the intentions that their parents had for conceiving them. This view is pretty unpopular in Western cultures but it has a decent acceptance in Asian Neo-Confucian cultures like China, Japan, and Korea. Ancestor worship is still a pretty big thing in many cultures and many people say that they derive meaning from that as well even though their ancestor worship does not require them to believe that their ancestors were actually supernatural in any way or were responsible for creating the universe.

    Grounding it in some abstract concept just pushes the problem one step further, there's no way of verifying or proving whether we should accept that abstract principle as a basis for morality.ChatteringMonkey

    Well, it’s impossible to verify and prove anything even well established scientific theories cannot be proven. It’s also impossible to prove that we can ground morality in a god or a spiritual force(even if such entities exist.). I can always just question why I should care what some god thinks or why I should care about what purpose the universe has or why I should regard the purpose that the universe has for my species as more important than the purpose I have created for myself. So, I don’t understand how this shows that morality predicated on abstract principles is less plausible.
  • ChatteringMonkey
    811
    Well, let me ask you another question. Why does the whole universe have to be created for a particular purpose in order for us to have meaning from the start? After all, if one’s biological parents have created them for a particular purpose such as the purpose of making the aforementioned parents happier, then why wouldn’t this kind of purpose give the same sort of meaning as the meaning that would be granted by a purpose that started from the beginning of the universe? How is a meaning-granting purpose that occurs on a cosmological level more important than a purpose that might occur at a more local level like the level of the purpose that your parents had for creating you? Of course, just as one might reasonably reject the purpose that one’s parents had for creating them, couldn’t one reasonably reject the purpose that a divine entity had for them? Does a belief in a divine entity actually strongly imply that you should just go along with any purpose that they might have for you regardless of how arbitrary that purpose might seem to be?TheHedoMinimalist

    On a macro level, that may be the case but your parents might have had very clear teleological reasons for deciding to conceive you nonetheless. For example, they might have wanted to conceive you in order to have an heir to an antique shop that they worked hard to establish. Nonetheless, the fact that one might have been conceived for the purpose of becoming a future antique shop owner does not imply that one has any reason to actually take over one’s family’s antique business once they pass away much less have a moral obligation to do so. So, why does one have more moral reason to follow a purpose given to them by a divine entity than a purpose given to them by their biological parents if your biological parents are also responsible for your creation and they also may have teleological reasons for creating you.TheHedoMinimalist

    First let me say, I'm not a theist and not necessarily committed to the idea that it is all that convincing. I can see some reasons though why it would be convincing, and this is not a matter of black or white either, but more a matter of degree to which it would be convincing.

    Your parents may have a purpose in mind, but as a matter of fact they don't have that much agency in how the creation will go, other than making it possible. Parents are also essentially equal to you when you grow up and when the question of meaning starts to become relevant. God is different in that he, having attributes like ominipotence and omniscience, has a lot more agency over his creation... and probably more important, he is on an entirely different level compared to human beings. It's easier to accept something from a being infinitely more powerful than you than from a being that is equally flawed as you. And then you also have heaven and hell if all of this wouldn't be enough...

    Couldn’t you have descriptive statements about abstract concepts as well though. For example, I think one could reasonably argue that “it is” the case that suffering is harms people and “it is” the case that we have moral reasons to avoid causing harm to people unless it would prevent more harm or provide enough benefit to justify the harm. It’s still not clear to me why morality has to be grounded in something that is concrete when it seems like the abstract can be just as factual and just as descriptive and “real” as concrete phenomena.TheHedoMinimalist
    That seems to be the key assumption made by most existentialist philosophers and I tend to disagree with that assumption. One could also believe that meaning is derived from a certain kind of abstract understanding like the understanding that suffering harms people and the understanding that harming people is bad. One could also believe that meaning is derived from the intentions that their parents had for conceiving them. This view is pretty unpopular in Western cultures but it has a decent acceptance in Asian Neo-Confucian cultures like China, Japan, and Korea. Ancestor worship is still a pretty big thing in many cultures and many people say that they derive meaning from that as well even though their ancestor worship does not require them to believe that their ancestors were actually supernatural in any way or were responsible for creating the universe.TheHedoMinimalist

    The idea that harming people is bad is not an understanding or something we 'discover', but a valuation is the problem. There is no basis for the ought in the descriptive. And people do disagree about this, not necessarily avout harming people being bad by itself, but more whether that should be the only criterium for morality.... I don't see how you could objectively settle such a disagreement.

    But to be clear I don't have a particular problem with it not being grounded either, so maybe i'm not the best person to answer that question.

    The idea of ancestor worship is interesting, haven't put much thought into it, but the general consensus among historians is that this was the basis for most religions, right? I wouldn't know exactly why it wasn't enough anymore at some point...

    Well, it’s impossible to verify and prove anything even well established scientific theories cannot be proven. It’s also impossible to prove that we can ground morality in a god or a spiritual force(even if such entities exist.). I can always just question why I should care what some god thinks or why I should care about what purpose the universe has or why I should regard the purpose that the universe has for my species as more important than the purpose I have created for myself. So, I don’t understand how this shows that morality predicated on abstract principles is less plausible.TheHedoMinimalist

    The epistemic difference is that God is per definition outside of the universe and so unprovable and unverifiable. There is nothing that can even in principle shed light on it, so it's a matter of believing in him or not... faith. For other things we typically would expect some kind of evidence because they are within the empirical realm.

    And you should care because God is awesome and powerful, and you go to hell suffering for all eternity if you don't... Other than that I agree with you.
  • TheHedoMinimalist
    288
    God is different in that he, having attributes like ominipotence and omniscience, has a lot more agency over his creation... and probably more important, he is on an entirely different level compared to human beings. It's easier to accept something from a being infinitely more powerful than you than from a being that is equally flawed as you.ChatteringMonkey

    Well, I don’t think that God’s power would be relevant here as being powerful has nothing to do with holding the objectively correct moral opinions. I also don’t think that omniscience is possible as I don’t see how God could know for sure that he really knows everything or what it would actually mean for God to know that he knows everything for sure. Nonetheless, God can be pretty smart and knowledgeable. The fact that God may be much smarter than us does seem to matter as that would make it more likely that he holds the correct moral opinions. Though, he wouldn’t really be responsible for making moral realism true through his power then. Rather, he would just happen to have a very well-educated belief that moral realism is true and moral realism would actually be grounded in something abstract. One might think that God could use his omnipotence to make moral realism true but I think that would be as absurd as God being able to create a stone so big that he cannot lift it. Presumably, God’s omnipotence is still bound by logic and he cannot do what is logically impossible. Given that moral realism is an abstract theory, it’s not clear how having more power could alter its truth status. It seems to me that moral realism is either necessarily true or necessarily false and it cannot be contingent on the existence of God just like a simple mathematical claim like “2+2=5” cannot have its truth status altered with omnipotence.

    The idea that harming people is bad is not an understanding or something we 'discover', but a valuation is the problem. There is no basis for the ought in the descriptive.ChatteringMonkey

    Do we really need to discover something for it to be a kind of understanding? It seems like we have plenty of things that we understand that no one has discovered per se. For example, I can have an understanding of various philosophical theories and philosophical movements even if these things were constructed rather than discovered. I can also have an understanding of characteristics and motives of fictional characters. I can also have an understanding of how to read sheet music and so on.

    Also, why not think that ought statements are just another type of descriptive statements? Are they not describing something like the nature of oughtness? If it just seems weird to think that harming people is bad can be descriptive then it’s worth pointing out that there are a lot of weird types of descriptive statements that do not seem to predicated on anything obviously concrete. For example, in music theory, you will likely be taught that the key of C Major doesn’t have any sharp or flat notes. This seems to be a descriptive statement but it’s obviously predicated on a purely abstract understanding. If that statement about music theory can be descriptive then it’s not clear why normative statements can’t just be considered as another type of a descriptive statement.

    And people do disagree about this, not necessarily that harming people is bad by itself, but more whether that should be the only criterium for morality.... I don't see how you could objectively settle such a disagreement.ChatteringMonkey

    Yes and religious people also disagree about what God thinks is morally right and wrong as well. 2 Christians might disagree about whether or not the Christian God condemns suicide or abortion. 2 Muslims might disagree about whether or not the Muslim God condemns women driving or walking the streets without their husbands and so on. Unless God could come from the sky and settle all the moral disagreements among religious people, it seems like they have the same problem when it comes to settling moral disagreements in any meaningful way.

    The epistemic difference is that God is per definition outside of the universe and so unprovable and unverifiable. There is nothing that can even in principle shed light on it, so it's a matter of believing in him or not... faith. For other things we typically would expect some kind of evidence because they are within the empirical realm.ChatteringMonkey

    If there’s nothing that can shed light about the existence of God then why are there so many arguments made by theists in favor of God’s existence like The Kalam Cosmological Argument and The Fine Tuning argument? Those arguments seem to provide evidence for God’s existence even if they don’t prove it outright. I would still call that shedding a light on the issue of God’s existence. It seems to me like a lot of theists believe in God because they think it’s the most plausible worldview. At least that would be the most charitable way of thinking about theism. I also have come up with some arguments against the existence of a God that is eternal, omnipresent, and omniscient as I think those aforementioned features seem to be logically impossible.

    And you should care because God is awesome and powerful, and you go to hell suffering for all eternity if you don't..ChatteringMonkey

    Regarding the issue of hell, that would only give me prudential reasons to obey God but it wouldn’t entail that moral realism is true because God exists. I do think that I have normative reasons to improve my own welfare but I wouldn’t go as far as calling myself a moral realist because I’m not convinced that I have reason to avoid harming others if there’s no conceivable way that harming others would make me worse off. I don’t think I would consider my ethical egoism as a moral theory per se. I think only prudential normative reasons seems to exist objectively. Though, realistically I do think that being a kind person and having a good moral reputation is beneficial to you like 99% of the time.
  • ChatteringMonkey
    811
    Well, I don’t think that God’s power would be relevant here as being powerful has nothing to do with holding the objectively correct moral opinions. I also don’t think that omniscience is possible as I don’t see how God could know for sure that he really knows everything or what it would actually mean for God to know that he knows everything for sure. Nonetheless, God can be pretty smart and knowledgeable. The fact that God may be much smarter than us does seem to matter as that would make it more likely that he holds the correct moral opinions. Though, he wouldn’t really be responsible for making moral realism true through his power then. Rather, he would just happen to have a very well-educated belief that moral realism is true and moral realism would actually be grounded in something abstract. One might think that God could use his omnipotence to make moral realism true but I think that would be as absurd as God being able to create a stone so big that he cannot lift it. Presumably, God’s omnipotence is still bound by logic and he cannot do what is logically impossible. Given that moral realism is an abstract theory, it’s not clear how having more power could alter its truth status. It seems to me that moral realism is either necessarily true or necessarily false and it cannot be contingent on the existence of God just like a simple mathematical claim like “2+2=5” cannot have its truth status altered with omnipotence.TheHedoMinimalist

    It seems rather strange to me that you would make a distinction between Gods idea of morality and objectively correct moral opinions. God having created the universe with a purpose is the reason we would have moral realism in the first place. Wouldn't Gods idea just be what is objectively correct then? To what other objective standard would we be evaluating Gods idea of morality then?

    Do we really need to discover something for it to be a kind of understanding? It seems like we have plenty of things that we understand that no one has discovered per se. For example, I can have an understanding of various philosophical theories and philosophical movements even if these things were constructed rather than discovered. I can also have an understanding of characteristics and motives of fictional characters. I can also have an understanding of how to read sheet music and so on.

    Also, why not think that ought statements are just another type of descriptive statements? Are they not describing something like the nature of oughtness? If it just seems weird to think that harming people is bad can be descriptive then it’s worth pointing out that there are a lot of weird types of descriptive statements that do not seem to predicated on anything obviously concrete. For example, in music theory, you will likely be taught that the key of C Major doesn’t have any sharp or flat notes. This seems to be a descriptive statement but it’s obviously predicated on a purely abstract understanding. If that statement about music theory can be descriptive then it’s not clear why normative statements can’t just be considered as another type of a descriptive statement.
    TheHedoMinimalist

    I didn't want to imply that you need to discover something to be able to understand it. My point was just that I think there needs to be some value-judgement at base of moral judgments which isn't found or discovered, but that we bring to it or create... because of certain affects we have. Understanding is certainly possible in that you can derive all kinds of logical ramifications from these value judgments. Even the value judgement themselves can be subject to logical analysis and empirical testing, but there is still some affect we have to bring to it that isn't found or discovered i'd say.

    I don't quite understand how it can make sense to say that normative statements are another type of descriptive statements, considering that distinction presumably was made precisely to separate those different kinds of statements. Wouldn't that then just collapse the whole distinction, and we'd left with just 'statements'... if normative statements are another type of descriptive statements then there would be no need for the distinction, right? I mean, sure, I'm open to the idea that there is some fundamental problem with the distinction from the start, but I'm not sure where that would lead us.

    If there’s nothing that can shed light about the existence of God then why are there so many arguments made by theists in favor of God’s existence like The Kalam Cosmological Argument and The Fine Tuning argument? Those arguments seem to provide evidence for God’s existence even if they don’t prove it outright. I would still call that shedding a light on the issue of God’s existence. It seems to me like a lot of theists believe in God because they think it’s the most plausible worldview. At least that would be the most charitable way of thinking about theism. I also have come up with some arguments against the existence of a God that is eternal, omnipresent, and omniscient as I think those aforementioned features seem to be logically impossible.TheHedoMinimalist

    Yeah I think all those efforts are misguided, my maybe too simple take on it is that concerning God you either have faith or you don't.... because it's outside of the realm of empirical verification. And I think empirical verification is the only way to knowledge. Logic on its own cannot yield new knowledge, you need some data to test your theories to.

    Take the fine tuning argument for instance. We have no access to another set of universes to compare our universe to, and so we just don't know what a typical universe would look like or what the likelihood of certain parameters being a certain value would be. It all seems purely speculative if you lack any data.

    People did and do try to prove or provide evidence for it, but that is mostly for rhetorical purposes it seems to me.... to convince people or post hoc rationalization of something already believed.

    Regarding the issue of hell, that would only give me prudential reasons to obey God but it wouldn’t entail that moral realism is true because God exists. I do think that I have normative reasons to improve my own welfare but I wouldn’t go as far as calling myself a moral realist because I’m not convinced that I have reason to avoid harming others if there’s no conceivable way that harming others would make me worse off. I don’t think I would consider my ethical egoism as a moral theory per se. I think only prudential normative reasons seems to exist objectively. Though, realistically I do think that being a kind person and having a good moral reputation is beneficial to you like 99% of the time.TheHedoMinimalist

    Normative reasons are not objective I'd say. Even the most apparently evident and basic principles, like say "harm to myself is bad", already implies some value judgement. Take sports as an example, you literally damage the cells in your muscles in the process of sporting and you feel pain, yet most people would say that sport is good for you. So either you would have to conclude that not all harm is bad for you, or you would have to define harm in such a way that it doesn't include physical damage and pain from sports. And if you do define it in such a way, you have to already make the value-judgement in deciding what constitutes harm and what doesn't. I don't see how you get around this.
  • ChatteringMonkey
    811
    Yes and religious people also disagree about what God thinks is morally right and wrong as well. 2 Christians might disagree about whether or not the Christian God condemns suicide or abortion. 2 Muslims might disagree about whether or not the Muslim God condemns women driving or walking the streets without their husbands and so on. Unless God could come from the sky and settle all the moral disagreements among religious people, it seems like they have the same problem when it comes to settling moral disagreements in any meaningful way.TheHedoMinimalist

    I forgot this one...

    I mostly agree with you here, that in practice it does have some of the same problems... but you do have revelation, and popes and imams. Disagreements are more a matter of difference in interpretation of an objective morality, an imperfect understanding, than a lack of objective morality.
  • baker
    241

    This reasoning is tailored after Christian theism. But there are other theisms apart from Christianity (and other Abrahamic religions), for example in Hinduism. In those other theisms, atheism is conceived of differently than in Christianity, and the requirements put forward in favor of theism are different.

    In discussions of God and atheism, why give supremacy to Christianity, as if it would have monopoly over theism and all things related to it?
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