Objective Morality – Part 2

I was contacted by Neil Shenvi in part because I linked to his article regarding Objective Moral Values. He has esquired on my thoughts on his post. I had used it originally as an example of how the topic is treated in several basic ways. Neil makes a thoughtful case for the existence of objective morality. His comment and challenge to me can be found in the comments on my first post.

His is not a short post nor haphazardly written so I will attempt to give the reply at least as much care in return, in a point by point manner. Neil will probably think me a nihilist. I don’t claim the title. I only know what has come to make sense to me as I question what I’ve been told about the world and life. If you think I’m misrepresenting some ?-ists world view you are wrong. Here I represent only my world view. I’m not representing the atheist community, humanists, nihilists etc. I guess I’m a Z-ist. I don’t care to wear a label even though I understand how important they can be for conveying a lot of information quickly. Here we go….

In the first section Neil describes what he understands is the meaning of the second premise of the deductive form of ‘the moral argument‘. I don’t really have any problem with the definition of ‘objective’ as he describes it but there are a couple of nitpicks I’ll put forward as a premise to some of my later statements.

What we missed here is the definition of a ‘moral value’ so lets dive into that for a minute:

  • merriam-webster.com – defines value as: something (as a principle or quality) intrinsically valuable or desirable
  • dictionary.reference.com – defines value as: Ethics . any object or quality desirable as a means or as an end in itself.

We might well then conclude that a value is some quality that is intrinsically desirable, or which is an end to itself.

The first major relativist philosopher was Protagoras (c.490 – c.420 BCE). His book Truth contains his most famous statement; “Humans are the measure of all things.” To measure something is to give it a value and Protagoras regarded all values – truth, good, beauty, even existence – as dependent upon the human observer. That is, the value of everything is relative to the observer. (Edit: forgot where I grabbed this statement from … mea culpa, but it is written well)

The moral relativist’s view matches up with a general definition of ‘value’ as we understand it. It is a quality of desirableness or worthiness of something as assigned by an observer, in as much as one can observe moral qualities. To be certain, the word value has many uses, and thus many contextual meanings. I’ve tried to stay focused on the context of morality here. I do not think that Neil is attempting to redefine ‘value’ in his post. That leaves us with: objective moral (subjective desired quality) going once again to the dictionaries we find that ‘moral’ is an adjective with the meaning of ‘relating to the principles of right and wrong in behavior. That might leave us with: objective principle of right/wrong behavior with a subjective desired quality. Objective and value are not words that fit well together. So lets just expand ‘moral value’ as a modifier of value: subjective desired quality. That leaves us with objective subjective desired quality. They don’t fit well that way either. I will state that the discussion is off to a bad start. We have a problem with definitions before the gun is fired. It troubles me but I think this is what Neil actually means: there is a subset of desired subjective qualities which are actually objective in nature. This is troubling for two reasons mainly. First, what tools do we have to separate subjective quality from objective quality? Second, if such a tool existed we would not be having this discussion. I believe that more aptly defines the framework for this discussion, so lets get on with it.

Neil’s first section: I. What are “objective moral values”?

Paragraph one jumps straight to Hitler. How awesome is that? Here he also discusses objective value as objective fact and uses some examples. Note that this is meant to be equal to the idea that 2+2=4 is an objective fact regardless of who does the addition, where they do it, or what they do it with. There is no contextual modifiers which will change this objective fact. Consequently we are now talking about an ‘objective subjective desired quality’ which is either always true or always false regardless of context. We can also note that ‘murder is evil’ is not such a thing. Context changes its evaluation. Murder is evil unless done in self defense, in which case it’s good unless you are defending yourself from police shooters because you robbed a bank. Murder is evil unless you are wanting steak for dinner. Context changes it. So we are looking for “objective subjective desired qualities” which do not change depending on context. Lets say ‘giving to charity is good’ and see how that pans out. Well, it is good unless you are giving away your rent money. Okay, context changes  that. We begin to see the depth of the issue here because the only tools we have to judge with are subjective by their very nature. In paragraph 3 of section 1 Neil basically states that we don’t have any reliable tools to determine objective from subjective. I agree.

In paragraph 4 of section 1 Neil confirms that even if objective moral values do exist, they are not necessary for us to live our lives. We can be good without them, or choose to be bad even if we believe they exist. We both agree that if they do exist, they are not necessary for life or even for human happiness. At this point it would be easy to argue that it is difficult to then see what purpose such objective moral values would have. They are clearly superfluous to human existence if subjective values can over-ride them, or replace them. Please note that this is not practical for objective facts. We cannot replace 2+2=4 with something else at a whim or personal preference.If you are confused at this point, don’t worry. I don’t think there is any good understanding. Those claiming the existence of objective moral values don’t seem to make themselves clear on what they are, never mind if they exist.

On to section 2: II. Evidence that objective moral values exist

In this section Neil starts out by admitting that he will not prove the existence of objective moral values, but will instead attempt to show them more likely to exist than the evidence that shows them likely to not exist. This is a flee-flicker play. We do not have credible evidence for the existence of objective moral values, therefore those claiming that they exist bear the burden of proof. Neil himself admits this lack of credible evidence. I’m not responsible to prove they do not exist. I can only state my reasons for not believing his evidence that they do exist. If his evidence isn’t credible, then his claim fails. I do not have to do anything. The burden of proof is on the claimant.

Keeping these issues in mind, let’s look at the five pieces of evidence that objective moral values exist.

  1. The existence of objective moral values explains the near-universal existence of basic standards of morality, even those that disfavor personal or genetic benefit.
  2. The existence of objective moral values explains why those who explicitly deny the existence of objective morality still act as if objective morality exists
  3. The existence of objective moral values explains the nearly universal human intuition that certain things are objectively right or wrong.
  4. The existence of objective moral values explains why the majority of philosophers recognize the existence of objective moral facts.
  5. The existence of objective moral values explains why naturalists (e.g. Sam Harris ot Shelley Kagan) affirm the existence of objective moral facts, despite the problems inherent in grounding these facts in the natural world.

Oh, fun! Lets look at evidence #1 – The existence of objective moral values explains the near-universal existence of basic standards of morality, even those that disfavor personal or genetic benefit.

It doesn’t take super intelligence to observe that seemingly all cultures across the globe seem to adhere to a basic set of moral values. Neil expresses this with gusto but then goes on to talk about altruism as some special aspect of morality that is only human and is further special because it is found in all populations.

What puzzles me most is why –on this view– true altruism persists in the human race. Shouldn’t altruistic acts like self-sacrifice or adoption have been weeded out of the human population by natural selection eons ago? How could the pressures of natural selection have tuned the eye to detect single photons yet have failed to prevent people from rushing into burning buildings or diving into icy water to save others?

Well, clearly this is a question that many have asked or thought about. Neil seems unable to understand how evolution could have created such a situation. This also indicates that Neil is not arguing against evolution here. The evidence shows that all human populations and cultures are derived from a single human population and culture. It is not difficult to then understand that any useful and dependable value, tradition, action, or behavior would follow on to all other cultures and populations, being passed down from generation to generation without interruption. It befuddles me that altruism is such a difficult concept for Neil to understand. Defense of one’s ‘in-group’ does infer genetic self interest. Protecting your offspring is a biological imperative. It is easy to infer protecting the weak to ensure their survival. You should already know where I’m going with this. Protecting the weak is biologically programmed. The ‘accident’ part is transferring this from offspring to in-group members. Once that is done it’s easy to transfer it to other beings. From there we can now go to the Google: Lets see what the other animals on this planet have to say about altruism, shall we? Oh, there it is: Wild Animal Heroes! Altruistic behavior is not the sole purview of humans. This would give reason to hypothesize that such behavior is genetically derived via evolution.

Lets take Occam’s razor to this one. On the one hand we have an argument from ignorance and on the other we have a fact based process which shows evidence of producing this behavior in many populations derived from a much earlier one.  Oh, wait for it… there is news about this. Scientists have discovered what might actually be the mechanism for passing on altruistic behaviors.

Lets look at evidence #2 – The existence of objective moral values explains why those who explicitly deny the existence of objective morality still act as if objective morality exists

Hold on, we started this discussion saying that objective moral values must be some subset of subjective moral values that are also objective, and that they are superfluous to human existence and happiness. That is to say that humans can live life as they do whether objective moral values exist or not, and they do live so. This point contradicts Neil’s earlier statements without reasonable justification. That many people choose to act a certain way does not mean they are compelled to do so. If it compelled them to do so, it should also compel all others to do so and this simply is not the case.This is not evidence. I don’t even think it qualifies as argument.

Lets look at evidence #3 – The existence of objective moral values explains the nearly universal human intuition that certain things are objectively right or wrong

Seriously? We covered this in evidence #1. Ok, we’ll do it again.

I have recently seen first-hand evidence of this fact in interacting with my two-and-a-half year old son. As parents, we have to teach him to share, to be kind, to be gentle, and to do what is good. Often, teaching him to do what is good is a difficult task. But he has not once asked me what I mean by “good”. Indeed, he takes it perfectly for granted that some things are objectively good and some things are objectively bad. He does not occasionally confuse “good” with “whatever Mommy and Daddy impose on me by force” or “what will eventually lead to my own benefit.”

The human brain is a decision making machine, taking in all available information, sensory data, and knowledge to make decisions which benefit the self. A child of 2.5 years has only two main sources of information and knowledge: self discovery and observation of those around them – normally only its parents. The child’s brain has not yet formed the neural pathways which could lead to questioning the truth or value of what the parents say. Another argument from ignorance. Childhood development and learning are well studied. The human mind progresses through steps to get to adult qualification. Neil’s supposition that a 2.5 year old child is equivalent to an adult brain is fallacious and misleading.

Another equally important point is that I can’t even begin to conceive of how a true moral relativist would raise a child. If a child asks his parent why he should not hit his sister, I find it hard to believe that the moral relativist would answer “Because of self-interest. If you hit her, then she might hit you back.” Nor would the parent say “Because I am bigger than you and will punish you if you disobey.” Even the most committed moral relativist will find himself answering “Hitting is wrong. Stealing is wrong. Love and generosity and kindness are good.” Now the moral relativist might console himself with the thought that he is merely introducing a fictional short-hand to be replaced with the bracing truth of moral relativism once the child is old enough to understand. But I find it extremely interesting that thinking in objective moral terms is nearly unavoidable for both children and parents.

The emphasis above is mine. I find it unthinkable that a parent might scold a child with threats from an invisible sky daddy to produce desired behaviors, or worse, resort to biblical child rearing techniques. In any case, “because I don’t want you to” or “it’s nicer to be kind” are better than “god doesn’t want you to do it” etc.  Furthermore, neither child nor parent has to resort to thinking in objective moral terms. Remember, just a few short paragraphs ago we were in agreement that objective moral values are superfluous to human existence and happiness. They are also superfluous to child rearing. This evidence is neither evidence or credible argument. It was a non-starter.

Lets look at evidence #4 – The existence of objective moral values explains why the majority of philosophers recognize the existence of objective moral facts

This too is a fallacious argument. What constitutes a “majority of philosophers” ? Where is the score board? What does recognize mean in this case. If more than half of the US population believes in UFO’s does that mean they exist? That many people share a common value does not mean such a value is sourced from outside the human mind. Again, refer to my comments about evidence #1. Clearly evolution has a method to pass on biologically bound behaviors. Occam’s razor shreds this evidence #4 quite quickly as well.  If the reader will remember, Occam’s razor is basically what Neil said was the test for the evidence to be believable. He did not mention Occam or the razor, but explained it in an equivalent manner, at least to my mind.

Lets look at evidence #5 – The existence of objective moral values explains why naturalists (e.g. Sam Harris ot Shelley Kagan) affirm the existence of objective moral facts, despite the problems inherent in grounding these facts in the natural world

Wow! Just because naturalists seem to agree with your hypothesis does not mean that they agree with your conclusion nor that your hypothesis is right. Another fallacious argument.

The conclusion:

Here Neil asks the reader to question all the ‘evidence’ provided and think about and determine which possibility is more probable for each of the five presented evidences.

What I’ve seen here is not evidence. It’s nothing but rhetoric and fallacious argument. There is nothing in Neil’s arguments that seems credible never mind it being enough to make me think that he might be right about objective subjective desirable qualities. Sam Harris is wrong too. There are no moral values which are always true or always false regardless of context. Find one of those and Neil might have something to work with. This is just wishful thinking as far as I can tell.

Further, even if someone agrees with Neil, this does not posit authority to assume his argument proves the existence of a god. Even if it did prove the existence of a god, it does not posit that the god it proves is the one Neil believes in. Even if it did posit that Neil’s deity existed, it does not posit what that deity says is moral. Even if I give Neil a pass on all five points, there is no link between the supposed objective moral values and his deity of choice, nor that his deity is responsible for them.

What Neil has presented in his post is just wishful thinking. It fails to get anywhere near his stated objective. In fact, such argument augments my list of reasons to further doubt such argument from others. One bad apple may not spoil the whole basket, but if you see the bad apple before choosing one to eat,  you’ll move on to another basket for your food.

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  1. Well, I’m not sure where to even begin. I think we’ll have to start with the basic assumption that allows you to absolve yourself of any responsibility to provide an alternative explanation. You write:
    “I do not have to do anything. The burden of proof is on the claimant.”
    This is simply false. What I am arguing for is an inference to the best explanation. This is known as “abductive reasoning” and is used in many disciplines including many of the historical sciences. In abductive reasoning, we look for the best explanation of the evidence. Saying “I don’t know and I don’t care” is not an option.

    So before we even discuss the pieces of evidence I offer, we need to decide what kind of claim you are making. Are you claiming that OMVs do not exist? If so, then you are making a positive claim and do bear a burden of proof. You have to offer an alternative explanation for the five points I listed. Or are simply agnostic? Are you saying “I don’t know if OMVs exist. I don’t care if OMVs exist. Your evidence is unconvincing to me. I don’t have to provide an alternative explanation, nor do I feel like doing so. I prefer to ignore this issue.”? If so, then we don’t have much to talk about.
    -Neil

  2. Neil,

    To quote myself from my original post

    “The premise that there is objective moral values is simply without evidence or proof. No matter what argument is used in favor of believing this, there is no evidence.”

    I have maintained the very same position through both posts. I started this off by saying that the arguments for believing in objective moral values are not convincing, not compelling, and definitely not evidence.

    You said you had some argument and would like my opinion. Well, you got it. I did in fact elaborate on why I think your arguments are not convincing or compelling.

    Note that I did not denigrate you, only your argument. Even at that the worst of my comment was to call it wishful thinking. If you want to feel slighted, be my guest. It sort of stops the conversation though.

    I also offered up a ‘best’ explanation for the phenomena you describe but as a result of the natural world and human biology… and yes evolution, and using Occams Razor these are better explanations than what you offered.

    Z

  3. I don’t feel slighted and I’m sorry if I’ve offended you. I shouldn’t have been so harsh. But I am genuinely confused. You write:
    “No matter what argument is used in favor of believing this, there is no evidence”
    and
    “I started this off by saying that the arguments for believing in objective moral values are not convincing, not compelling, and definitely not evidence”

    What exactly do you mean by “evidence”? A standard criterion like Bayesian confirmation would define evidence as any factor which increases the likelihood of a hypothesis over its background probability. For instance, let’s say I had a shuffled deck of cards. The background probability that a given card is the ace of spades is 1/52. But if I told you that the card was a spade, then the probability that the hypothesis “The card is the ace of spades” is true increases to 1/13. Therefore, the observation that “the card is a spade” is evidence in favor of the hypothesis that “the card is the ace of spades.” Obviously, evidence is not the same thing as proof. And this evidence is not compelling. But it is still evidence.

    If we use that very standard definition of evidence, then I don’t understand how you can argue that the arguments I present are “definitely not evidence.” Do they increase the probability that the hypothesis “OMVs exist” over the probability of the hypothesis “OMVs do not exist”? If so, they are evidence. They may not be convincing or compelling. But they are still evidence.

    So could you clarify what you mean by ‘evidence’?

    • Neil, I’m not offended at all. I’m not arguing that objective moral values do not exist, only that all evidence or argument for their existence (such phenomena as you cited) is better explained by the natural world, biology, and evolution. These fact based premises for such phenomena are much more likely than an argument such as you offer – one which requires faith, or belief without evidence of any kind. The phenomena you use as ‘evidence’ that suggests your hypothesis is valid are not used in a valid way because you ignore the more natural and testable explanation for them in favor of using them as evidence for things which we cannot test.

      To clarify: When we ignore the natural world and physics and biology etc. –
      – The existence of lightning becomes plausible evidence to suggest that there are gods and Zeus is one
      – The fact of floods becomes plausible evidence to suggest that a god of the sea exists

      An extension of the principles of Occam’s Razor suggests that only when there are no plausible natural explanations should it be even considered valid to invoke the untestable hypothesis. Since you yourself admit it is untestable, it is fallacious to use the untestable and ignore the testable hypothesis and facts.

      That the natural world offers much more likely explanations means that whatever validity you thought you had is not enough to overcome the natural explanations without stronger evidence that the proposed natural explanations are wrong. Your argument is the equivalent of saying that lightning proves the existence of Zeus, or suggests the existence of Zeus is possible.

      You might say lightning comes from the sky where the gods live. I’ll say that it is static electrical discharge from the clouds, or at least most likely to be thus. We can test my hypothesis but not yours. The more we test it the more my explanation seems valid and yours doesn’t ever gain any more validity than when you first spoke it.

      So, summary by memory: we can’t test your hypothesis, objective moral values are superfluous to life by your own admission, there are natural explanations for the phenomena you cite. Why would I find your argument credible? You haven’t offered anything I can test or measure against. You have offered no tools or mechanisms for me to see the truth of what you are suggesting. How can I think your argument is credible?

      When I test the natural world explanations and see that yes, it is quite likely that this could cause these phenomena – even without proof that it did I will need stronger evidence to think otherwise. We have very strong evidence that evolution is real. It will require stronger evidence to show that it is not and that would include evidence that proves the current evidence for evolution false. So, if you can falsify the notion that these phenomena were caused by the natural world, you can then use them as evidence for the untestable… or try.

      Instead, you suggest objective moral values exist without evidence, that they cannot be shown to look different than subjective values, that they are not required for life, that they do not compel anyone to act in accordance with them, that they in fact have all the hallmarks/looks/evidence of something that does not exist.

      I still see no credible evidence for the existence of objective values – moral or otherwise.

      • I’m still confused. You write:
        “that all evidence or argument for their existence (such phenomena as you cited) is better explained by the natural world, biology, and evolution.”
        and
        “That the natural world offers much more likely explanations means that whatever validity you thought you had is not enough to overcome the natural explanations without stronger evidence that the proposed natural explanations are wrong.”

        But then you conclude by writing:
        “Instead, you suggest objective moral values exist without evidence”

        This seems like a contradiction. I list five observations. The question is whether the probability of the truth of the hypothesis “OMVs exist and are directly perceptible” increases or decreases given these observations. If it increases, then these observations are evidence that OMVs exist, whether or not you consider the evidence sufficiently convincing. You can only argue that these observations are “no evidence at all” if you can argue that the probability of the hypothesis “OMVs exist” does not increase _at all_ given these observations. Is that what you’re arguing?

        As I said in the essay, the existence and direct perception of OMVs explains these five observations quite well. Can you provide a similarly plausible naturalistic explanation for these observations? In your post, you simply say that you don’t have to do so because you bear no burden of proof. But if you are now claiming that “these observations are not evidence at all” then you are making a positive claim that there is a perfectly satisfactory naturalistic explanation and must provide one.

        • Neil,

          When you say

          As I said in the essay, the existence and direct perception of OMVs explains these five observations quite well. Can you provide a similarly plausible naturalistic explanation for these observations? In your post, you simply say that you don’t have to do so because you bear no burden of proof. But if you are now claiming that “these observations are not evidence at all” then you are making a positive claim that there is a perfectly satisfactory naturalistic explanation and must provide one.

          You’re asking me to repeat myself as if you had not even read my post or replies. I don’t see a need to repeat myself again and again. Your assertion that the five observations are well explained by the existence of objective moral values is no different nor any better than saying storm phenomena are well explained by the existence of Zeus or Thor. If you cannot understand that I do not know how to help you.

          • The reason that the existence of lightning provides no evidence for the existence of Zeus or Thor is that we have a completely satisfactory and plausible alternative explanation of lightning which does not require the existence of Thor. If someone were to claim that lightning were evidence for the existence of Thor, we could tell them about electrostatics, charge accumulation, static electricity, and lightning rods. We could provide them a complete, simple explanation with great explanatory power and explanatory scope. That is why we could argue that the existence of lightning is “no evidence at all” of the existence of Thor; because we have a perfectly satisfactory alternative explanation.

            I am arguing that we do not have such an alternative explanation for the five observations I made. If you are going to argue that the five observations I made are “not evidence at all” for the existence and immediate perception of OMVs, then you need to provide an alternative explanation, just as we would do in the case of lightning. Since you repeatedly affirm that I have provided “no evidence at all”, then what is your alternative explanation for each of the five points I list? Once you give it, we can compare the two explanations.

            • Neil,
              Seriously, read my post!

              • I did read your post. I just reread it. There are many issues that need to be addressed, but I am currently focusing on your initial claim that “I do not have to do anything. The burden of proof is on the claimant” and trying to show that this is false. You are making a positive claim that my five observations are “no evidence at all.” You can only make this claim if you can offer a plausible alternative explanation of my five observations. If you have such an alternative explanation, why not state it here?

                • Neil, I’m beginning to believe that you are doing this just to be argumentative. My post was exactly what you asked for. Bloody hell! scroll up! I don’t need to type it all again for you. I won’t. Either have the courtesy I showed you or there isn’t much point in continuing this discussion.

  4. Ok, let me try to reconstruct your alternative explanations from your essay. But keep in mind that you initially claimed that you bore no burden of proof and therefore were not obliged to provide any alternative explanation. Hence the sparsity of your explanations.

    Observation 1: altruistic behavior
    Explanation A: OMVs exist and are immediately perceptible to human beings. The perception of the objective goodness of altruism leads to altruistic behavior

    Explanation B: “You should already know where I’m going with this. Protecting the weak is biologically programmed. The ‘accident’ part is transferring this from offspring to in-group members.” So some evolutionary accident turned reciprocal altruism (which Jerry Coyne calls “false altruism”) into true altruism, like throwing yourself in front of a train to save a stranger despite the destruction of your genetic material and all changes of reproduction. So your explanation here is “altruism is an evolutionary accident”

    Observation 2: the moral behavior of moral relativists
    Explanation A: OMVs exist and are immediately perceptible to human beings. The perception of the objective morality leads to generally moral behavior even by those who intellectually deny that it exists and even when it is detrimental to self-interest

    Explanation B: “That many people choose to act a certain way does not mean they are compelled to do so.” This is not an explanation. Obviously, I am not arguing that we are compelled to act morally by OMVs. I am merely arguing that their existence and perception explains otherwise strange behavior. If we see a moral relativist returning lost money to a stranger despite the fact that he would like to keep the money and does not believe that OMVs exist, this is a very odd behavior. Why would he choose to act in accordance with what he claims to believe is an illusion?

    Observation 3 – the nearly universal human intuition that certain things are objectively right or wrong

    Explanation A: OMVs exist and are immediately perceptible to human beings. The perception of the objective morality explains why human beings have the belief that they exist

    Explanation B: “We covered this in evidence #1.” So you seem to again be appealing to an “evolutionary accident”. You then write: “Neil’s supposition that a 2.5 year old child is equivalent to an adult brain is fallacious and misleading.” I did not make this supposition. I stated that even young children seem to have innate moral categories like “good” and “evil” hard-wired into them. The fact that their brains are even less developed than adults makes this observation more compelling, not less. Categories that appear in a toddler (hot/cold, light/dark) are clearly extremely basic categories in human development. You then write: “OMVs are also superfluous to child rearing.” But you’re missing the point. The question before us is whether it is odd that even moral relativists cannot help but teach their children in ‘moralistic’ terms. If OMVs do not exist, isn’t it odd that even relatavistic parents can’t help but use terms like ‘good’ and ‘bad’? It would be like a parent adamantly denying the existence of the Boogeyman and then locking the child’s closet door at bedtime every night.

    Observation 4: the majority of philosophers recognize the existence
    of OMVs. Here is the survey: http://philpapers.org/surveys/results.pl Look under meta-ethics

    Explanation A: OMVs exist and are immediately perceptible to human beings. Even philosophers who are aware of all other explanations (evolution, relativism, etc…) still conclude that OMVs exist.

    Explanation B: “Again, refer to my comments about evidence #1.” So again, you appeal to an “evolutionary accident.” What’s difficult here is that philosophers are obviously quite aware of the “evolutionary accident” explanation and for various reasons still conclude that OMVs exist. Why would they do so? You also say: “Occam’s razor shreds this evidence #4 quite quickly as well” but do not explain how. Occam’s razor is also known as the principle of parsimony, which states that we should not multiply entities beyond necessity. Can you explain how this applies here?

    Observation 5: the moral realism of naturalists (e.g. Sam Harris ot Shelley Kagan) despite the problems inherent in grounding these facts in the natural world

    Explanation A: OMVs exist and are immediately perceptible to human beings. Even philosophers whose worldview makes this affirmation very problematic still make this affirmation because their perception of their existence is so strong

    Explanation B: “Just because naturalists seem to agree with your hypothesis does not mean that they agree with your conclusion nor that your hypothesis is right.” But this is not an explanation at all. I am not saying that because Sam Harris affirms moral realism, it must be true. I am saying that the affirmation of moral realism by Sam Harris is very odd given how routinely his position is trashed by philosophers. This cries out for an explanation. Can you explain why he continues to hold it?

    Look over these five points again and see if I have fairly summarized your explanations.

    In brief, my explanation for all five points is:
    Explanation A: OMVs exist and are directly perceived

    In contrast your explanation for the five points is:
    1. Altruism? An evolutionary accident
    2. the moral behavior of moral relativists? Unclear
    3. The universal existence of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ as basic cognitive categories? An evolutionary accident
    4. The majority opinion of philosophers? An evolutionary accident
    5. The opinion of naturalists like Sam Harris? They are wrong

    My argument is that all five of these observations cry out for an explanation. If OMVs do not exist, then these observations are extremely odd. Why would altruism exist? Why would moral relativists behave morally even when they know it does not benefit them to do so and even though they deny that good and evil exist? Why are ‘good’ and ‘evil’ such basic, fundamental categories that appear in infancy and continue to be used in parenting even by moral relativists? Why do the majority of professional philosophers who are aware of all the alternative explanations still adhere to moral realism? And why do naturalists like Sam Harris adhere to moral realism despite how problematic and inconsistent their views are?

    My claim is that the existence and perception of OMVs provides a single, powerful, consistent explanation of these phenomena. On the other hand, you have not provided a good explanation of any of these phenomena. If you are going to claim that I have provided “no evidence” at all for the existence of OMVs, then you must provide such an explanation.

    • First, misquoting or removing context does not shine a good light on the person who does so.

      I started by explaining to you why I think the words objective and values should not be in the same sentence, never mind linked to one another. I explained why values are never possible outside the subjective view of the observer. You have ignored this and the fact that you yourself claim to not be able to prove objective moral values exist. You also went to some lengths to show that we do not have the tools necessary to separate objective moral values from subjective moral values even if objective moral values did exist. Even more interesting is that you further claimed that objective moral values have no compelling impact on human life or happiness.

      Having stated (by inference) that it is not possible to determine if the 5 observations are objective moral values or just subjective moral values which are held by many you continue to tell me these 5 observations are evidence of the existence of objective moral values. Can you not see the contradiction here?

      On altruistic behavior: I gave you information on why altruistic behavior can be genetically beneficial and is biologically derived. I also gave you information about how altruistic behaviors are exhibited by other mammals. And finally I gave a link to a study which shows a scientific explanation for altruistic behaviors. With all that available as an explanation it is silly at best to say that such behavior must be due to some untestable, undetectable objective moral value. There is no true altruism, so they say, but there are altruistic behaviors. They are explainable via natural causes. There is no need for magic or untestable and undetectable laws.

      On the moral behavior of moral relativists. Given the explanation I gave for observation #1, there is no need to think that moral behavior is something special. It’s a natural thing. Evolution gave it to us. That many people choose to act morally does not infer there is a compelling objective moral value at work, only that the way our minds have evolved gives us a lot in common. Saying that objective moral behaviors do not exist is not saying that the subjective moral value which looks identical is a bad choice. Remember, my post explains that if you can’t tell the difference between subjective moral values and objective moral values with identical look and feel, then you can’t reach the conclusion that you have here.

      On observation #3, again, that many choose a behavior does not mean that there is an objective moral value driving it. The explanation from biology and evolution explains this adequately. To argue that it does not would require more effort than stating that it must be objective moral values.

      On Observation 4: the majority of philosophers recognize the existence of OMVs. Here is the survey: http://philpapers.org/surveys/results.pl Look under meta-ethics
      I think you are going to have to explain how that study of 187 people explains your statements. I’m not seeing what you did apparently. I did not conclude that objective moral values exist from that, not even that many people of the 187 think so.

      From: http://www.skepdic.com/occam.html
      “Occam’s razor is also called the principle of parsimony. These days it is usually interpreted to mean something like “the simpler the explanation, the better” or “don’t multiply hypotheses unnecessarily.” In any case, Occam’s razor is a principle which is frequently used outside of ontology, e.g., by philosophers of science in an effort to establish criteria for choosing from among theories with equal explanatory power. When giving explanatory reasons for something, don’t posit more than is necessary. Von Däniken could be right: maybe extraterrestrials did teach ancient people art and engineering, but we don’t need to posit alien visitations in order to explain the feats of ancient people. Why posit pluralities unnecessarily? Or, as most would put it today, don’t make any more assumptions than you have to. We can posit the ether to explain action at a distance, but we don’t need ether to explain it, so why assume an ethereal ether? ”

      There is no need to invent objective moral values to explain what can be explained by the natural world. Objective moral values cannot be detected and do not look any different than subjective moral values. There is no need to invoke the objective form of a subjective moral value that has otherwise been explained.

      On observation #5: That many people hold a similar value does not infer that more is involved than natural explanations can explain. All it says is that among humans this value is widely accepted as profitable to the self. I repeat, Sam Harris is wrong too. Being smart does not make you right. Being in the majority does not make you right.

      You have written your post explaining why you think these five observations are only explainable by the existence of objective moral values. I have told you twice now why I think that you are wrong; why your thoughts miss the mark and ignore observable alternative explanations. I do not have to explain WHY objective moral values do not exist. All I have claimed is that there is no credible or compelling evidence presented or observable to support such a statement. Therefor the burden of proof of objective moral values is on those who claim they exists. Truly, I have nothing to prove. I would be trying to prove a negative… not going to happen.

      While you may feel that all five of those observations cry out for explanation, it’s clear that you only want to accept one explanation… your own.

      Your claim that “the existence and perception of OMVs provides a single, powerful, consistent explanation of these phenomena” is unnecessary in view of available natural explanations. Further your claim is not consistent with reality unless you admit that if such objective moral values exist they are superfluous to human existence and happiness. In which case, what need of them do we have?

      You asked for my opinion. I gave it. You do not have to accept it. Until you show proof or compelling evidence of your claim I will decline to believe in the existence of objective moral values. This was my original position. It remains my position. I do not believe your claim that objective moral values must exist because of those five observations. I don’t believe they exist despite anyone’s evidence or suggestion that they do, not even Sam Harris. There has been no compelling evidence ever presented for such a claim.

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