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.

7 comments:

  1. In a recent debate with Justin Brierley of Unbelievable, Stephen Woodford (Rationality Rules) said that Genghis Khan “shouldn’t feel that he did anything wrong” by torturing and murdering people (some 40 million, I believe).

    In a debate with theist Phil Robertson, when asked if the Dachau concentration camp was morally wrong, atheist Matt Dillahunty replied, “I don’t know.”

    “When a man refuses to believe in God, he doesn’t believe in nothing, he believes in anything.”

    G.K. Chesterton

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  2. GK, when a man refuses to distinguish his intuitions from facts, he ends up believing the creator of the universe shares his feelings.

    Morals are judgements about behaviors not properties of behaviors. They are subjective.

    To support a claim they are objective requires you demonstrate these properties exist independently of the brains that conceive them. Emotional arguments about child torture merely expose the lack of evidence you have.

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    1. Emotional arguments about child torture merely expose the lack of evidence you have.

      The argument appeals to reason, even if the topic it points to is emotional. For example, if I was arguing for the idea that Hitler was a bad guy, and I point to his atrocities, a response like "Emotional arguments about genocide expose the lack of evidence you have" wouldn't make sense; you'd still have to address the proffered evidence. Similarly, I presented evidence for moral objectivism (a logically valid argument with premises that are plausibly true and implausibly false). Even if the premises trigger you emotionally, that says nothing about the substance of the argument.

      Morals are judgements about behaviors not properties of behaviors. They are subjective.

      Then which premise do you think is false? To copy-and-paste from the blog post you're responding to:

      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?

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  3. Greetings MC,

    As I see it, (3) and (4) do not follow. There are very many sets of morals that can be defined in abstract. These include sets of objective morals, sets of group morals, sets of personal morals. In some of these sets the moral referred to in (1) exists. In some of these sets the moral referred to in (2) exists.

    So while you may be correct that the two morals exist in a particular set of objective morals, they also exist in many other sets of morals. Rgds, Ian.

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    1. As I see it, (3) and (4) do not follow.

      They don't follow from what? (4) follows from (1)-(3), and this can be proven via symbolic logic.

      There are very many sets of morals that can be defined in abstract. These include sets of objective morals, sets of group morals, sets of personal morals. In some of these sets the moral referred to in (1) exists. In some of these sets the moral referred to in (2) exists.

      I don't see how this negates the justification for premise (3).

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    2. Hi MC,

      The reason for my comment is that you do not specify in (1) and (2) where "morally wrong" comes from. Morally wrong according to which set of morals?

      I could prefix (1) and (2) with "According to my subjective morals". In which case (3) and (4) would refer to "my subjective morals" rather than "objective Morals". You can do this for any set of morals that include (1) and (2).

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    3. The reason for my comment is that you do not specify in (1) and (2) where "morally wrong" comes from. Morally wrong according to which set of morals?

      It's not specified, but there are a number of possibilities. Moral subjectivism says that an action A is morally wrong for subject S if and only if S believes it to be so. Cultural moral relativism says that an action A is morally wrong for subject S if and only if S’s culture believes it to be so. Regardless of which standard determines its rightness or wrongness, the important point is that it’s morally wrong in (1).

      Note that it’s not logically coherent to have something like “S doing A is morally wrong” to be both true and false; that leads to an incoherent form of moral relativism, which I talk about here in the “Incoherent Moral Relativism” section: https://www.maverick-christian.org/2015/05/moral-relativism.html.

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