Sunday, July 1, 2018

Can Objective Morality be Subjectively Perceived?

The Objection



One objection I’ve seen to objective morality on the internet, in one form or another, goes something like this: we use subjectively experienced intuition to believe in objective morality. This, somehow, is supposed to argue against objective morality or at least our justification for it. If belief in objective morality relies on subjective intuition, how can morality be objective if it’s subjectively perceived? Doesn’t the fact that supposedly objective morality is subjectively perceived mean we don’t really have any justification for accepting moral objectivism?

The answer to both questions is, “No.”

Responses



First, note that in practice, everything we know about is subjectively perceived; our own perceptions (intuitive and sensory) are all we have to go on. Yes, we can ask other people to see if they share our experiences, but the perception that there even are other people relies on, you guessed it, our own subjective experiences. At the end of the day, subjective experiences, i.e. the experiences of the self, are used to justify all of our beliefs. The fact that something is subjectively perceived thus doesn’t imply that it isn’t objectively real; e.g. my subjective experiences can report a tree existing with that tree being objectively real.

Second, some perceived truth being believed on the basis of subjectively experienced intuition doesn’t imply that the truth isn’t objective, even when people have disagreeing intuitions. If for example someone’s logic intuition told them there could be a married bachelor despite the self-contradiction, whereas your rational intuition says such a self-contradictory thing cannot exist, you’re still justified in believing that There can’t be any married bachelors is objectively true.

Or to use an example perhaps closer to real life, suppose a creationist and evolutionist look at the same data, but have differing intuitive perceptions about where that evidence points (the evolutionist thinks it’s evidence for evolution, the creationist disagrees). Does that mean there’s no objective fact of the matter about whether the data is evidence for evolution? Clearly not. Disagreeing, subjectively experienced intuitions do not imply that the intuitively perceived truths are not objective, nor do such disagreeing intuitions imply that we can’t be justified in believing them to be objectively true.

How?



So how do confused objections like, “Morality is subjectively perceived, so it’s not objective” arise? Perhaps one reason for the confusion is a conflation between moral epistemology (how moral truths are known) with moral ontology (the reality of morality; e.g. whether it’s objective or subjective). The moral epistemology may, in one sense, be subjective. But it doesn’t follow that the moral truths themselves are not objective.

Friday, June 15, 2018

A Quick Argument for Objective Morality

Here’s a quick deductive argument for moral objectivism, where by moral truths being “objective” I mean that they hold independently of human opinion.

The Argument

  1. It is morally wrong for a man to torture an infant just for fun.
  2. It would remain morally wrong to torture an infant just for fun even if a baby torturer thought otherwise and killed everyone who disagreed with him.
  3. If (1) and (2) are true, then objective morality exists.
  4. Therefore, objective morality exists.
Justification for (3): in the scenario depicted in (2) it’s morally wrong for a man to torture infants just for fun even though all human opinion thinks otherwise (since the torturer killed off everyone who disagrees with him), in which case the moral truth “It’s morally wrong for a man to torture infants just for fun” would be holding despite human opinion, in which case it seems we have an example of an objective moral truth (i.e. holding true independently of human opinion) thereby giving us objective morality.

You could deny premise (1). Do you believe there’s nothing morally wrong with torturing infants just for fun?

You could bite the bullet and deny premise (2), say it’s not morally wrong for a man to torture infants just for fun as long as he believes otherwise and kills everyone who disagrees with him. Do you think that’s a reasonable belief?

Why I Like It



I think this is a good deductive argument for moral objectivism because it quickly reveals how intellectually pricey it is to deny objective morality. It’s not reasonable to believe that there’s nothing morally wrong with torturing infants just for fun, so premise (1) is not plausibly false. Likewise, it’s not reasonable to believe that it’s not morally wrong for a man to torture infants just for fun as long as he believes otherwise and kills everyone who disagrees with him; so premise (2) is not plausibly false.

This forces the disbeliever of moral objectivism in a very intellectually uncomfortable position, especially in a debate, because even if the disbeliever is willing to bite a bullet and reject a premise, most people won’t find the disbeliever’s premise rejection tenable.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Fine-Tuning: Barnes vs Malpass (p. 3)

Fine-Tuning: Barnes vs Malpass
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An Alleged Inconsistency



It seems Malpass’s reasoning was that a timeless being cannot change, and a timeless being causing something requires that timeless being change. Malpass, unfortunately, offered no argument for why a timeless being causing something would require that timeless being to change. To unpack why Malpass’s claims aren’t necessarily correct, a bit of philosophical background will be helpful.

If A depends upon B for its existence then A is said to be ontologically dependent on B. Many theists believe the physical universe is ontologically dependent on God.

There are two major theories of time (though hybrid scenarios have been proposed). On one view of time, called the B-theory of time (also called tenseless theory of time or the static view of time), all moments in time are equally real. This contrasts with the A-theory of time (also called the tensed theory of time or dynamic view of time) in which only the present is real, and things go out of existence when they existed in the past but no longer do (similarly, things can also come into existence as time progresses). One way to think about it is that the B-theory is more permitting of time travel than the A-theory; on the A-theory you can’t time travel to the future because the future hasn’t been made yet, and you can’t go back into the past because the past doesn’t exist anymore; only the present moment is real. On the B-theory of time however, the past, present, and future are all equally real.

One view of God being timeless is that the B-theory of time is true and God transcends space and time, seeing all of the past, present, and future at once. For a timeless entity, there is no change; only being and nonbeing. Since God is outside time, he himself experiences no change and (at least in a metaphorical sense) everything happens “all at once” to him (God’s thoughts, intentions, beliefs, experiences, powers, etc. do not have phases of existence ordered by the relations “earlier than” and “later than”). God can causally interact with the physical space-time of our universe, including creating the universe, but he is not subsumed by it. Call a theist who accepts this view a timeless theist.

If there is a contradiction for a timeless God creating the universe, one idea is to try to justify this idea using conceptual analysis (basically, breaking up a concept into simpler, constituent parts). In philosophy, one can use conceptual analysis to discuss philosophical issues just as I did when I argued that mental states are causally irrelevant on naturalism with the help of symbolic logic. Could Malpass via conceptual analysis of “timeless” and “change” etc. derive a self-contradiction with such a deity interacting with the physical space-time of our universe in this manner? Maybe, but there’s a catch.

In my blog article where I argued that mental states are causally irrelevant on naturalism I used conceptual analysis of what I meant by mental states being causally irrelevant on naturalism and used symbolic logic to prove the validity of an argument (such that it’s self-contradictory to have true premises and a false conclusion) for the conclusion that mental states are causally irrelevant if naturalism were true. And yet the answer to whether mental states are causally irrelevant on naturalism is actually something like, “In one sense mental states are causally irrelevant, but in another sense that’s not necessarily true.” The catch is that my analysis of “mental states are causally irrelevant on naturalism” won’t necessarily match how a naturalist might understand the phrase. Similarly, it might be that an objector’s analysis of “timeless” and “change” won’t quite match what a theist has in mind.

To illustrate, an argument against a timeless God causing things that someone could make is to define “timeless” in a sense similar to that provided earlier (not having phases of existence ordered by relations “earlier than” and “later than”) while also adding that a timeless being cannot change, where “an entity changes” is defined to mean something like, “an entity creating something at a time t that did not exist in a previous time.” On these definitions of “timeless” and “change,” a timeless entity (one who cannot change) cannot create anything in physical spacetime because “change” is defined in such a way that a timeless being cannot create anything in physical spacetime that did not exist before.

The problem with this objection is that these definitions of a “timeless being” and “an entity changes” don’t seem to be what a timeless theist believes when she says that a timeless God cannot change. A theist might instead define “timeless” as “not having phases of existence related to each other by earlier and later.”[3] A theist might define an entity “changing” in much the same way: different phases of existence related to each other by earlier and later, with there also being some difference between the two phases. This is of course different from the idiosyncratic definition of the earlier example (“an entity changes” is defined to mean “an entity creating something at a time t that did not exist in a previous time”).

Consider what would happen if a timeless God interacted with the physical spacetime of the universe on a B-theory of time, ceteris paribus. Unlike temporal beings who have different intentions, experiences etc. at different times, everything would be happening to God “all at once” in terms of beliefs, thoughts, and experiences vis-à-vis physical spacetime. From God’s perspective, multiple instances of causally interacting with the universe at different times would be analogous to having multiple fingers simultaneously submerged in different places in a flowing creek; and instead of having different experiences at different times, God would experience the universe as a whole just as an animator can see all the frames of a short cartoon all at once. Just as an animator can causally affect each frame of the animation without being fully in the animation, God would causally interact with physical spacetime without being wholly subsumed by it. On this scenario, God and his thoughts, intentions, beliefs, experiences, powers, etc. would to him exist “all at once” and not have phases of existence related to each other by earlier and later. God in this sense would still be timeless even if he causally interacts with physical spacetime at different, multiple points. The instances where God causes things to happen might be considered a sort of “change” (in the sense that those instances are related to each other by earlier and later) but God himself would not change (his beliefs, intentions, experiences etc. still happen “all at once” to him). Even if this conception of God and the universe is false, it doesn’t appear to be self-contradictory.

Another view of God and eternity is that God is timeless sans the universe, and that the A-theory of time is correct. God creates the universe (and physical spacetime itself) at time t0 and enters into time at t0, but God did not exist before t0 since there was no “before” time t0. This can get pretty tricky to wrap one’s head around but one way to look at it is this: if God did not have the intention to create universe, God would have existed eternally in a timeless state with no change. But since God did have the intention to create the universe (I’m using terms like “did have” for lack of a better terminology; sans the universe God had this intention timelessly and there was no prior time in which he did not have it), God did so at t0. God is ontologically prior to the universe but not temporally prior to the universe at t0, since there was nothing temporally prior to t0. For what it’s worth, this is the view of God creating the universe that I and a number of other theists adhere to.

This view of God might also be false, but again it’s hard to see how it’s self-contradictory. If Malpass wishes to argue that it is, I would recommend to him an analytical approach:
  1. Giving an analysis of “timeless” what sort of “change” he is talking about;
  2. why a Creator who is timeless sans creation would require it; and
  3. how exactly this generates an inconsistency in the scenario I described.
Unless and until he does that (or provides some other sufficient explanation), I think we have reason to be skeptical that a bona fide contradiction exists here.

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[3] Christian philosopher of time William Lane Craig defines God being “timeless” in much the same way.

Craig, William Lane; Time and Eternity: Exploring God’s Relationship To Time (Illinois: Wheaton, 2001)