How Would You Disprove Morality?

propertiesofthings.jpgWhen Isaac Newton developed his Theory of Gravitation for the world to see, he put his theory at risk. It made predictions about the nature of the universe, and if ever human observations contradicted those predictions, his theory would be proven false, or at least, not completely true. Such is the step of uncertainty taken by anyone who ventures to describe the nature of objective reality from a scientific perspective.

Astronomers in the early 19th century made the observation that the planet Mercury's orbit did not agree with predictions made by Newton's Theory of Gravitation. Reality did not fit Newton's theory. Much later, a young patent clerk named Albert Einstein proposed a new theory in which space was curved based on the local distribution of matter and energy. His General Theory of Relativity correctly predicted Mercury's orbit. A better understanding of reality was created, as Newton's older theory was proven to be wrong.

Man's understanding of the nature of the universe has evolved similarly during the Scientific Enlightenment, from Copernicus's ouster of Ptolemy's geocentric universe to Galileo's concepts of impetus and inertia to Kepler's elliptical orbits to Newton's Theory of Gravitation to Einstein's Theory of General Relativity. Each previous theory was proven to be false in some way by observation; yet, the theory that replaced it was more congruent with human observations.

Contast this evolutionary understanding of science to various notions of God. God is said to be an omniscient, omnipotent being residing somewhere outside our senses. Ask the believer to justify God's existence and he points to the world around us and asks, "Where do you think all this came from?" When the harvest fills the silos and storehouses with enough food to last the winter, he sees it as a result of God's grace. When misfortune befalls even his reverent brethren, he sees God testing the faiths of the most pious among us. When tragedy strikes and kills the truly innocent, he claims that there must be some lesson from God in the events that occurred. When confronted with the fact that there are others who have a strikingly differing conception of God, he concludes that they will burn for eternity in the afterlife. The believer sees events around him as verifications of his understanding of reality. Unlike the scientist, he takes no risk of being proven wrong. There can be no event which can falsify a theory of God.


For those who believe in objective morality -

1) Which observations, if ever made by man, would disprove your version of objective morality (non-aggression principle, natural rights, etc)?

2) Is a theory of objective morality more like a theory of science or a theory of God?

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Since I am one of those who

Since I am one of those who accept objective morality:

Disproof can be that a society is found that is thriving while not having rules against killing neighbors (or family members), stealing from each other within the community, etc.

A theory of objective morality should properly be a part of the study of human action. Not exactly a hard science like physics, but one that can be deduced, examined, and to a limited extent tested like economics.

Of topic... I thought

Of topic... I thought Einstein was a patent clerk, not a postal clerk. Your post made me google this.

einstein postal-clerk : 205 hits
einstein patent-clerk : 1640 hits

Anyone know for sure? Was he both?

(Carry on)

I think he was a patent

I think he was a patent clerk.

Well put. Get ready for a

Well put.

Get ready for a bunch of "are you saying rape is not in fact wrong?" posts.

1) Which observations, if

1) Which observations, if ever made by man, would disprove your version of objective morality (non-aggression principle, natural rights, etc)?

A stable, thriving, self-sufficient (and voluntary) society of cannibals.

Know any?

Unfortunately, objective

Unfortunately, objective morality claims don't really help theism very much.

If one claims that there is an objective morality that lies outside of God(s), then that deity is not the arbiter of right and wrong as many proclaim.

If one claims that the objective nature of morality is that "good is what God says it is," then the moral nature of any act is now left to the whims of the deity. Oddly (or not so), this is rather what one sees in comparing the OT Yahweh to the NT Yahweh (stone homosexuals vs. love everyone, for example).

So, the theist is left with: either God isn't much of a god or objective morality is essentially meaningless.

While broad moral tenets have been present to one degree or another (because they work in favor of the species), the deployment and specifics have changed and continue to change based on human reason and the balance of power at any given time and place.

I realize I didn't answer

I realize I didn't answer your questions, but I had a thought and ran with it. :)

oops- thanks. fixed.

oops- thanks. fixed.

One thing to consider: would

One thing to consider: would there be such a thing as morality without sentient, self-aware beings? One can hardly accuse a spider of being cruel and immoral because of its carnivorous nature - it doesn't really have any say.

A key component in morality, I think, is the capacity to make a decision one way or the other. That, coincidentally, is why I think a completely deterministic universe would preclude morality - if you cannot make any decision that hasn't already been preordained, you really aren't that much different from the aforementioned spider.

So, in a nutshell, I don't believe that there is some sort of overwhelming "rules of morality" written into the universe.

But one way to object to an objective morality involving God is the problem of evil:

God is omnipotent and omnibenevolent
Evil exists
Either God is unable to stop evil, in which case he is not omnipotent, or he does not want to, in which case he is not omnibenevolent.

OT rant:
That being said, I think that one can still make a case for an objective (and secular) morality as it pertains to humans. The problem, though, is the fundamental assumptions vary wildly from moral theory to moral theory - whether you start off from "the golden rule" or a more consequetialist base makes a tremendous difference to your end result. A theory of objective morality CAN be like science, which I suppose is why I think so highly of consequentialism, since what matters really are the end results of the application of a moral theory.

If I may recommend a couple

If I may recommend a couple books for those interested in reading speculation/opinion on God-Science-Morality connections (including the usual "Why Does God Let Bad Things Happen to Good People?" type questions), I suggest: The Case For Faith by Lee Strobel, and The Science of God by Gerald Schroeder.

None that I'm aware of, at

None that I'm aware of, at any rate, though I'm no anthropologist. I suppose one might cite the Inuit, but I would suspect that the taboos are already pretty well enforced by the harsh environment.

Since I am one of those who

Since I am one of those who accept objective morality:
Disproof can be that a society is found that is thriving while not having rules against killing neighbors (or family members), stealing from each other within the community, etc.

A theory of objective morality should properly be a part of the study of human action. Not exactly a hard science like physics, but one that can be deduced, examined, and to a limited extent tested like economics.

How is this objective morality as opposed to simple consequentalism? It sounds like you are saying the way to disprove your moral system is demonstrate that a different moral system still leads to good consequences. Which means that consequences are your standard of judgement, not some abstract morality.

Disproof can be that a

Disproof can be that a society is found that is thriving while not having rules against killing neighbors (or family members), stealing from each other within the community, etc.

but there are some tribal cultures that do this, correct?

Scott, not that I am aware

Scott, not that I am aware of but I am not an anthropologist. The closest I am aware of is that many primitive tribes consider killing members of other tribes OK, but not murdering fellow tribesmen. As the society grows the definition of neighbor grows from brother to guy down the street, to gal in the next valley, and so on.

Patri, you are confusing consequentialism with subjectivism.

Physics is plainly objective, yet we only understand it through its consequences. If I jump off a cliff I will fall with an acceleration of 9.8m/s/s. Subjective physics would mean that because I prefer Earth to have lower gravity then I would only fall with an acceleration of 6.0m/s/s while someone else who prefers stronger gravity falls at 12m/s/s.

Even the usual formulation of objective morals: "man's highest values can only be achieved through moral behavior" is ultimately consequential. In this case the consequence of moral behavior is achievement of man's highest values.

David, one thing i can

David, one thing i can recall is that of the acceptance of vaginal mutilation and rape practiced by some tribes. I believe cannibalism is practiced (as well as human sacrifice) but i'm not sure.

Scott, I am reconsidering

Scott, I am reconsidering the disproof bit, as I am not entirely happy with it. I think I have a better formulation, but am still working out the details of communicating it effectively. That being said, are the tribes in question (cannibals, mutilators) thriving - i.e. growing in population and/or increasing their standard of living over several generations?

David, i'm not exactly sure.

David, i'm not exactly sure. my understanding is that these are primitive tribes in africa and thus little else is known about them or their way of life. the concept of improving their standard of living may mean little or nothing to them, and we have no way of telling if it's happening.

Even if we did, however, i see a flaw. First, how does one define such an improvment in living standards, and even if it can be judged, how does one know this improvment or lack thereof is due to their morality? it could be due to other external factors, such as a lack of natural resources (outside of their control) or defensive war.

Scott, exactly why I'm not

Scott, exactly why I'm not happy with my original phrasing. The first is no society has figured out everything with morals, the second being how to measure effects.

One of the difficult things in developing deontological theory is the subjectiveness of value, and the multiple definitions of the word "value". This does not necessarily imply that morals are subjective or objective.

Scott, the second part of

Scott, the second part of your question could perhaps be best answered by pointing to economics. Deduction from simple scenarios may be the best we have for now.

David, i think one issue

David, i think one issue with evaluating societies by using economics is that different people, again, have different ideas as to what constitutes a successfully growing society. libertarians, socialists, and fascists for instance would all view this quite differently. i'm not sure how the deontologist can work with this (nor the consequentialist it would seem). the groups have different moral ideals, and different concepts of what constitutes good consequence.

>>That being said, are the

>>That being said, are the tribes in question (cannibals, mutilators) thriving - i.e. growing in population and/or increasing their standard of living over several generations?

Careful now. This line of reasoning might lead to you concluding that failure to breed rapidly is objectively immoral.

Scott, groups cannot have

Scott, groups cannot have morals. They are not moral agents. Individuals are. Which leads to the positive version of the question and is thence off topic. So I guess I'll have to post it. Thanks for the critiques, they have been quite helpful.

T.J., societies can grow by

T.J., societies can grow by means other than breeding. I offer the U.S. as evidence.

David, perhaps i should have

David, perhaps i should have said the fascist, the socialist, etc.. there are certainly morals in common within each of these groups. i look forward to the next post.

How would you disprove self?

How would you disprove self? How would you disprove consciousness?

If it could not in principle be proven to you that your self and your consciousness do not exist is that a good argument against their existence?

How would you disprove free

How would you disprove free will? That would entail an argument from evidence that would persuade you that you had no free will. But you cannot coherently hold that such persuasion is possible. Thus free will is unfalsifiable.

Should the assumption of free will be rejected on account of unfalsifiability? That would render all of your arguments incoherent. Thus you cannot coherently argue that unfalsifiability is sufficient reason for rejecting anything.

To answer Jonathan's

To answer Jonathan's questions:

1. None. What observations could persuade you that you don't exist, think and choose?

2. It's more like a theory of self than either. Unfalsifiable, yet self evident.

It?s more like a theory of

It?s more like a theory of self than either. Unfalsifiable, yet self evident.

That sounds exactly like a theory of God from the point of view of a believer.

That sounds exactly like a

That sounds exactly like a theory of God from the point of view of a believer.

You can coherently proceed without the assuming God, but can you coherently proceed without assuming self, thought and choice?

Now the question arises: Can one coherently proceed without objective oughts?

I'll first point out that those in these threads who claim that one can do so do not themselves do so. Micha for instance is always explicitly or implicitly prescribing what people ought to do. Isn't it a fundamental purpose of Catallarchy to argue for what people ought to do? That purpose is incoherent in the absence of objective oughts.

The problem, as I see it,

The problem, as I see it, with the concept of morality as an objective natural law is that we have to teach our kids not to break them.

I don't well recall being told, as a child, 'now Bernard, stop defying gravity, we've talked about this before.'

I see morality as a perception of long-term of genetic self-interest. We suffer emotional pangs when there is a clash between what we want to do right now, and the risk to our long-term interest or to the interest of those things we empathise with. The more powerful the urge, or the less capable we are of long-term planning, the more likely we are to act on impulse (for eg. Mike Tyson).

:behead:

:behead:

:furious:

:furious:

:stupid:

:stupid:

minor language quibble.

minor language quibble. Last i checked, benevolent means "all-loving". Now, i know its become fashionable within the last 10 years to say omnibenevolent, but that is about as redundant as "Personal Identification PIN Number" (which sadly i have heard used).

Topically, a moral system can only be evaluated given a values heirarchy. If the moral system is compatible with the values heirarchy, the moral system is good. Now, the values heirarchy could be totally arbitrary, yet i would be willing to bet that there are enough common elements to various individuals values heirarchies that we can at least exclude a large portion of the morality space as being untenable with existing values heirarchies.

Beyond that, we need a way of evaluating values heirarchies before we can proceed. Eg, are there values heirarchies which are unhealthy? Of course, any such claim depends on a values decision of the evaluator, because there is no objective way to say metric x is better than metric y. We have reached an impassable subjective judgement. So the best we can do is limit the solution set, and im still not convinced we've even limited its cardinality... there may still be uncountably many tenable moralities by the most rigorous objective standards we can apply.

On free will. Thought experiment time. Suppose you were a omniscient observer watching the universe. What would free will look like? For a given decision, what would free will look like? Does it count as free will if you have a genetic disposition to make some choices instead of others? I would argue that for freewill to exist, the universe would have to behave such that the probability distribution for any decision was evenly split between all the options. And by all, i dont just mean all perceived options, because not realizing a given choice was an option is just another way to skew the probability distribution. This looks effectively random. Any other distribution of probabilities among choices means the agents decision was not 'free' of controlling factors. Now, i think we can all admit the universe doesnt behave like this, thus there is no free will. A number of mechanisms can be suggested that causes this, but given that things like political party are better than 60% inherited, i would have to argue for a fair amount of genetic determinism. Which renders the whole morality question mute, but does suggest a way in which societal norms (eg, morality, but not necessarily implying choice on the part of the agent) can be objectively evaluated.

Cheers.

Sorry, Nick, benevolent does

Sorry, Nick, benevolent does not mean "all-loving", it simply means "tending to do good". If you start an argument with a language quibble, you ought to at least visit a dictionary.

Nicholas: "I would argue

Nicholas: "I would argue that for freewill to exist, the universe would have to behave such that the probability distribution for any decision was evenly split between all the options. [...] This looks effectively random. Any other distribution of probabilities among choices means the agents decision was not ‘free’ of controlling factors. Now, i think we can all admit the universe doesnt behave like this, thus there is no free will."

Why would you expect free actors to make bad decisions as often as they make good ones? In any given situation, there are generally more possible bad choices than good. If you are defining "free will" to mean making random meaningless decisions, you're talking about something completely different.

[...] ack | Cosmos

[...] ack | Cosmos

Frequent Catallarchy commenter Mark provides his answer of how to disprove morality. Since I posted my moral principles here, som [...]

Qiwi: to quote Miriam

Qiwi: to quote Miriam Webster's unabridged (okay, its not the OED, but im sure its adequate for the task) -

\Be*nev"o*lent\, a. [L. benevolens, -entis; bene well (adv. of bonus good) + volens, p. pr. of volo I will, I wish. See Bounty, and Voluntary.] Having a disposition to do good; possessing or manifesting love to mankind, and a desire to promote their prosperity and happiness; disposed to give to good objects; kind; charitable. -- Be*nev\"o*lent*ly, adv

Now, it may just be me, but the phrase 'possessing or manifesting love to mankind' sounds a lot like 'all-loving', at least from an anthropocentric standpoint. I would also point out that the term 'omnibenevolent' is new, probably last 10 years, and the arguments about the nature of god are much older, and just used the term benevolent. My point was that adding the omni imparts no new meaning, and is redundant, because there is only 1 mankind (or humankind for the PC amongst you). Of course, im sure i won't change people's language usage, so this post is probably in vain.

Andy: Ok, true, i dont expect intelligent actors to make bad choices. But are those choices then free? Eg, isnt evaluation of potential outcomes just another way in which our choices are constrained. How is that (a person will always choose what *seems* most beneficial to him/herself at the time) any less deterministic than having it be foretold. Ie, freewill must be equivalent to random, or we have a contradiction.

Hi. My daughter had this

Hi. My daughter had this saved in our favourites section. Iv'e read some of your arguements and lets face it a lot of them are just hot air. Fancy words and suppositions and the use of repeated textual phrases don't really lead anywhere. The fact is simple. Everyone, everywhere if they are not mentally imbalanced knows the difference between right and wrong (morality) even the smallest children have some understanding. It is the choices we make that determine our actions. We all have a voice inside us that challenges those choices, we make those choices according to many pressures. Previous experience.Social/peer pressure/desire of gain. Fear of consequences. Whatever.....There is always that voice thought. that tells us what the RIGHT choice is...we can ignore it or comply depending on our training/upbringing etc. but no matter how you look at it that voice was there.. I challenge anyone to deny this.
I have nothing but my own reasoning and life experience to go on here.
I say that inside we know what the right or wrong choice is for any given situation no matter how much we debate the issue to seek a resolution that meets an alternative criteria, (as above) to enable us to choose a different solution. This proves that man is inherently moral(at least to me) Hope this gives you egg heads some cause for thought.
and if you don't agree I'll thump ya (Joke :-))

:sleep:

:sleep: