Do you believe in "absolute and objective" truth?

Discussion in 'Politics, Religion, Social Issues' started by mscriv, Dec 3, 2011.

  1. mscriv macrumors 601

    mscriv

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    #1
    Some comments in another thread caught my attention and I thought it would make for a good discussion.

    Do you believe in an absolute or objective standard or truth that applies to all of us? A lot of discussions about various issues boil down to this one question. In the quote from Penn Jillette above he criticizes one belief system's objective standard, but then states his own objective standard, the ideal of selfless love.

    Call it what you want, right vs. wrong, faith, morality, philosophy, truth, human evolution, etc., etc.. Is there a standard or objective truth by which we all should be measured and toward which we all should strive? If you believe there is a standard then please state it and if you don't believe there is any such standard then please explain what, if any, impact not having a standard has upon our world.
     
  2. (marc) macrumors 6502a

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    #2
    One such standard could be the human rights – I guess nobody who would voluntarily give up any human right for themselves. On the other hand, there are plenty of people who are not willing to grant those rights to others.
     
  3. chris200x9 macrumors 6502a

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  4. mobilehaathi macrumors G3

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    #4
    No, and I think it is the basis for all human conflict.
     
  5. EricNau Moderator emeritus

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    #5
    It so happens that I've been doing quite a bit of research on this topic lately. :)

    I do think there is a universal, though internal standard, of morality consistent with moral realism. To drastically summarize, I think all humans capable of reason should reach the same moral conclusions, and any disagreement reflects a failure to follow perfect reasoning by one or more parties. This, sort of, is a neo-Kantian view.

    I also think that these truths can be determined empirically by comparing consequences against human intuition. Similar to science this yields putative truths. This follows a line of reasoning inspired by Richard Boyd, though I get off the bus early when it comes to his theory.

    I like a lot of what Korsgaard says, but her theory seems to imply (to me) that torturing babies is wrong because I wouldn't be able to live with myself after. It seems to me morality should be more directly linked to the feelings of the baby, not the baby torturer.

    Well, there you have it. My views on morality posted so concisely that they're probably misleading. :eek: :p
     
  6. mscriv thread starter macrumors 601

    mscriv

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    #6
    But the answer you give presents another question. Saying human rights is a standard is built upon the presumption that human life has intrinsic value and therefore should be honored, respected and protected.

    Others would argue that human life only has value in relation to how that life is used. I've heard many people in other threads argue that such and such person doesn't deserve to live based on the choices they have made. This line of thinking would therefore postulate that human life, and in turn human rights, have subjective and consequential limits.

    I just point this out to demonstrate that many times people deny the existence of objective truth or standard, but then pose an argument that is actually built upon it. In fact, every time someone says we must do something because it's "right" or we must not do something because it's "wrong" they are actually posing an argument in favor of an objective and absolute standard.
     
  7. calderone macrumors 68040

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    #7
    The reason we get what seems to be an obvious contradiction is due to the how we consider the question. In other words, there are at least two ways we can ask this question:

    Are there absolute and objective (moral) truths in the universe? Meaning, ignoring humans and life, can we objectively find "the good."

    The other question is: Are there absolute and objective (moral) truths we can find when looking at life (specifically life on earth)?

    One can, without contradiction, hold that there are no objective and absolute (moral) truths in the universe while holding that there may be absolute and objective truths in regards to life (whether that be contractual or evolutionary).
     
  8. mscriv, Dec 3, 2011
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2011

    mscriv thread starter macrumors 601

    mscriv

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    #8
    You can ask the question however you want or compartmentalize the answer however you want, the fact still remains, you either choose to believe in a standard or deny the presence of one. The choice you make will not just have a great impact on your world view, it will pretty much define it.

    In my opinion people tend to really straddle the fence on this one choosing to take what they want from either side. This usually results in an inconsistent and "situational" worldview towards life, ethics, morality, truth, etc.
     
  9. calderone macrumors 68040

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    #9
    Again, the point is, you can deny the existence in one sense while acknowledging in another.

    To answer the question being posed. Are there absolute and objective moral truths that can be determined by looking at the universe? No.

    However, from a human (and life) perspective, we have made our own absolute truths... To a degree. Much of that comes from evolution. If you study evolutionary psychology, much of our moral "sense" has been built into us by evolution.

    Yet, even these aren't absolute nor objective. The reason we have such trouble and have these inconsistent world views as you call them, is precisely because there is nothing we can look at in the universe from which to derive absolute moral truths in an objective way.

    In other words, there is no "good meter" we can point at an action, thing, person, etc and determine their "goodness." So morality will always be relative, however, what we can do is work together to make the world a decent place to live in by agreeing on what we want morality to look like.
     
  10. iJohnHenry macrumors P6

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    #10
    Not now, Sidney.



    But I would suggest enlightened self-interest.
     

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  11. Heilage macrumors 68030

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    #11
    I do sort of believe that taking another persons life forcefully, no matter what the reason, is kinda wrong.

    And it seems that holds true for pretty much every person on the planet. However, what constitutes a person is what differs.

    (People somehow don't want to kill someone they find of equal or greater value than themselves. However, it's never that black and white.)
     
  12. Sydde macrumors 68020

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    #12
    Perhaps one of the very nastiest villains in the history of fiction put it best,

    There is no good or evil, only power ...

    This expresses the most useful metric I can find for moral absoluteness. There can be no "evil" in the absence of power. That which is wrong involves one party exerting force upon another to their own advantage. ("Force" is a slight overstatement, inasmuch as the action could be subtle manipulation, but the end result of harming another for personal advantage or gain is the ultimate measure.) One can entertain vile notions, but without the desire and power to act, they mean nothing.
     
  13. waloshin macrumors 68040

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  14. iStudentUK macrumors 65816

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    #14
    Tough question! I can't think of an answer I'm happy with...

    We could say "right" and "wrong" come from what the majority of people think, but if the majority of people said murder was ok would that make it right? Doesn't sit well with me.

    Some say "God" tell us, but what right would He have to dictate that? And why should what He thinks is "right" form the basis of an absolute right and wrong? So again not a satisfying answer.

    We could say that as some of our most basic behaviour comes from our genes that indicates right and wrong... but this is just a product of random mutation. Still no good answer!
     
  15. EricNau Moderator emeritus

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    #15
    This is essentially the theory of morality that Hume suggested. Though, Charles Stevenson (I think rightly) pointed out that such a theory doesn't allow for disagreement; we could essentially answer all moral questions with a Gallup poll. And that doesn't seem right. Even if there are moral truths, it seems we should be able to have a disagreement about them. And I think you're also right to suggest that it just feels wrong. Slavery was once accepted by the majority, but certainly is was still immoral at that time (not just currently).

    The Divine Command Theory. Though this one brings us Plato's Euthyphro Objection. In summary, it has a big problem: Either God commands that which is moral because it is good, or that which is moral is good because God commands it. If the former, God’s command is irrelevant to moral judgments because it does not address the question, “what makes an action immoral or moral?” This contradicts the DCT’s claim that morality relies on God’s command. If the latter, then morality is arbitrary.
     
  16. mscriv thread starter macrumors 601

    mscriv

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    #16
    Thank you for honestly wrestling with the question. I think too often people simply spout what they have been told all of their life or minimize and rationalize the inconsistencies within their own position.
     
  17. kavika411 macrumors 6502a

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    #17
    You raise a good point. I imagine there are many, many people who agree with you - that taking another person's life forcefully, no matter what the reason, is wrong. My guess is that many of those people (although I am not saying "you" as I don't know your position) are rather vociferously against the death penalty. My guess is that of those that are (1) in agreement that forcibly taking a life is wrong, and (2) are against the death penalty, are (3) against the notion of "absolute and objective truth", which No. 1 falls squarely within.
     
  18. calderone, Dec 4, 2011
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2011

    calderone macrumors 68040

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    #18
    Majority rule does indeed have that issue however your example has a few flaw. A majority agreeing that murder is "ok" is not in any individuals best interest as I am ripe for murder at that point.

    Murder or stealing would likely never be agreed on by a majority.

    To consider the example EricNau gave, slavery, I think we need to unpack that idea. As in the example above, if the majority (purely from a population standpoint, not on race or other lines) agreed that slavery was ok this would indicate that anyone could be made a slave and could not complain.

    This again, is not something likely to be agreed upon when it puts your butt on the line.

    When we unpack the historical accounts of slavery, what we really find is oppression, discrimination and exploitation based upon some inferiority claimed by the "ruling majority." So in reality, it was not really slavery in and of itself that was agreed upon by the majority nor is that really what we subsequently deemed appalling (there was more than just slavery at play, consider the events between the abolishment of slavery and the civil rights movement).

    This is not to say that majority decisions on morality are the answer, far from it. There are misfires to be had there as well. Absent the discovery of moral truths, that is pretty much how we have been operating.

    The key piece to self-correcting majority rule is the 'veil of ignorance' proposed by Rawls and others, which is essentially the reason why the above accounts of slavery and murder did not work; getting one to agree that slavery is ok when they themselves would be eligible for it is very unlikely for a number of reasons.

    EricNau covered the DCT pretty well.

    Not quite...

    Random mutation is but a small piece in Evolution by Natural Selection. Consider this for example:

    Imaginary species creator activate: Flunkeys.

    The flunkeys, are a pretty chill species living in the jungle. Random mutation produces a flunkey that has will kill its own kind with no remorse. This flunkey is not likely to last long in the herd. We can substitute anything here with one condition: it impacts the survival of the species. Food hoarding, stealing, infanticide, etc. This is where Natural Selection kicks in; these behaviors are not conducive to survival and will be removed from the species.

    We are ignoring things like genetic drift here.

    In other words; we want to live, things that impact our ability to do so are no good. Whether it be Natural Selection removing or us agreeing that something is no good, the idea behind it is the same: survival.

    There is no single source of morality, just as there is no one moral system that avoids problems. Our inability to take a firm position is because 1. There is no objective and absolute moral truth or 2. We just can't figure out how to determine it if it does exists.


    As I noted in a previous post here, there is no contradiction in such a statement. Depending on how the question is asked.

    (1) and (2) can be explained by Evolution by NS without the need for accepting that there are absolute and objective moral facts.
     
  19. EricNau Moderator emeritus

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    #19
    I see where you're going with that, but what if a majority population (culture, society, country, world, etc.) determined that murder was ok? Would that make unjustified killing moral?

    Or what about an example the excludes humans as the victim group: bullfighting. Let's suppose, through an extraordinary propaganda campaign, that for a short time in the year 2014 that every human considers bullfighting to be perfectly moral, without exception. Does that make it so? And, if at a later date the majority once again disproved of bullfighting, should that indicate that everyone in 2014 was mistaken, or that morality itself changed?

    I realize you weren't suggesting that we adopt such a metaethical view, but I think it has far too many inconsistencies to even be considered (also, I think it suggests a few reasons why there are moral, external truths).

    I agree that it's largely how we operate in modern society, but I find this rather unfortunate, to be honest. The majority so regularly gets it wrong, as history has told us.
     
  20. calderone macrumors 68040

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    #20
    Here again, I think we are looking at something other than the act in question: bullfighting. Such as in the case of slavery, we aren't really looking at slavery but instead what is it that allows us to accept that slavery is alright. What we find is that there are other factors weighing in.

    So we may find that we simply do not value the lives of bulls. Which I would consider the real moral question at hand. This is again where we can augment morality with tools like the veil of ignorance; I concede that is far more difficult in cross species cases. This leads us down a path that I really don't want to get into on a forum.

    The answers to your questions largely depend on whether or not the view is held that the majority should determine morality. I personally do not think it should be the sole determinator, but it is no less a tool in our arsenal. And you are right, the apparent misfire of such a proposition might suggest some overarching ethical force. Yet, the question must be asked: Does such a proposition misfire to everyone? Many may in fact hold that majority rules; where would that leave us?

    I agree that there are issues with majority determination of morality, but those issues can be mitigated by a properly educated society. In practice, we rely on many methods by which to determine the moral polarity of some thing. What we really need to do is come up with is a meta-ethical framework that we can all agree on (haha) by which to guide us in determining that polarity.

    I think one thing is quite clear however; God is not the answer nor are we going to find these things by developing a "moral polarity tester" and pointing it at the universe. The concept of morality is unique to life and we are the ones that have to come up with something.
     
  21. EricNau Moderator emeritus

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    #21
    Well... Shouldn't the morality of bullfighting depend on more than just the value we place on the lives of bulls? Presumably, shouldn't the value the bull places on his own life also matter (to the extent that bulls are able)?

    Let's briefly examine abortion. It seems to me that there are two aspects to the debate. Many oppose abortion because of the value they place on the fetus. However, it seems the larger (and more credible) debate surrounds the question of whether or not the fetus can place value in itself (by feeling pain, having awareness, etc.).

    I agree, majority opinion can be a tool. Problem is, many times it's a minority who needs to inform a majority that the majority is acting amorally.

    So, it seems this tool is far from accurate. Sort of like using a screwdriver to pound in a nail. It tells us something, but I'm not sure it tells us what's moral and what isn't.

    :D
     
  22. Iscariot macrumors 68030

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    #22
    Assuming it is even possible for something like absolute and objective truth to exist, I would wager that human beings have yet to develop the tools necessary to comprehend it. Perhaps of more importance than the existence of absolute truth is that we keep endeavouring to discover it.
     
  23. cshearer macrumors regular

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    #23
    My quotation made the OP, I feel honored. :)

    Penn made the point in layman's terms tht I was trying to make in a different thread. There's a myriad of evidence in the world of biology that shows we have good behavior in our genetics. Granted, some people stray away from this rule of thumb for a number of reasons, but most will agree the best way to survive as a species is to not kill each other.

    As per the topic of the thread, I believe whole are born inherently good for just that reason, not because some deity created us in their image. Because over the millions of years humans have had to evolve, we've been such a beautifully successful species because of our inherent drive towards the welfare and survival of the human race. We learn to form relationships in order to accomplish together. Mothers instinctively risk their lives to save their child. Even atheists donate to charity because we feel empathy towards others in our species, knowing we could be in their shoes.

    There's a whole discipline within psychology dedicated to explaining human behavior by means of evolution, and it is well worth reading into whether you pursue the field or not. When we free our minds and rreally examine and question, step out of our comfort zone, we can grow to understand one another and the world as a whole.
     
  24. calderone macrumors 68040

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    #24
    Of course, that wasn't meant to be an exhaustive list. And I wholly agree.

    However, I think what we are doing is regressing. I failed to determine the true cause: Maybe the reason we don't value bulls is because they aren't saying "Hey, I value my own life." Which leads us to potentially the intelligence of the bull being the underlying factor.

    This isn't to say that there is going to be a single reason, but as we work through we should come to a meta-ethical viewpoint which needs to be analyzed. See the next bit.

    I think of it less as telling us what is moral but instead telling us what many people think about some new moral consideration, which we can use as a simple diagnostic. What we lack in society is doing an introspective: I feel this way, but why? So in cases where we are getting a misfire (maybe the minority raising a red flag), we can get to the root of why a majority may hold a certain position.

    From there we can have an intelligent discussion on what we find. Essentially in many of these cases we can reduce to some meta-ethical concept that is guiding the majority. This could be Evolution, social contract, tradition, etc.

    I am not saying we need to hold a vote and in your hypothetical where everyone agreed that bullfighting was cool, there is no one to raise the red flag. So it would seem that yes, bullfighting is cool. I don't think there is a problem with this however, as again, we are the ones determining what is moral as this whole notion is a uniquely human concept (as far as we know).

    So as I said; we have to find some meta-ethical framework to avoid these types of misfires. That will be a combination of methods and ideas.

    Whatever we decide however is not absolute. If done right, it could approach objectivity but we aren't going to find any notion of it independent of ourselves, which I think is what this thread is ultimately about.
     
  25. mscriv thread starter macrumors 601

    mscriv

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    #25
    Hmmm.... I'm afraid I'll have to disagree. Try telling the person who's a victim of (take your pick) that they should be encouraged because the person who perpetrated (said crime or abuse) upon them is actually an outlier in an overall evolutionary system that has established humanity, on the whole, is "inherently good" and driven "towards the welfare and survival of the human race".

    Sure it's anecdotal, but in my experience humans, at our base core, are selfish as opposed to altruistic. In fact, I would argue that most people who do seek to serve others, do so because at the root of it all, they hold to some system of moral or objective standard (the greater good, love, faith, etc.). And, that system, usually external to them, is a source of encouragement or balance that drives them to act contrary to the self preservation and self centeredness that comes so naturally.

    In fact, we must always keep in mind that it's not easy to comprehend or determine someone true motives in any given situation. Often what is veiled in a disguise of being "beneficial to others" is in the end ultimately an act of self interest.
     

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