General Question

dopeguru's avatar

If gravity is a fact, is morality objective?

Asked by dopeguru (1738points) 2 weeks ago

The wording may confuse you but why are there some things that we accept as true, because of knowledge and knowledge counts, yet many people are moral subjectivists?

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65 Answers

elbanditoroso's avatar

Gravity is a provable, scientific fact that can be reproduced.

Morality is not objective, because it doesn’t have a standard definition, it can’t be proven, it is not scientifically measurable. It is a wiggle-term that means whatever the speaker wants it to.

Morality cannot be objective.

josie's avatar

Ayn Rand makes a better argument that it is objective than those who argue that it is subjective. She offers a standard against which to measure moral evaluation.

LostInParadise's avatar

@dopeguru , @josie How would you solve the two trolley problems They may not be realistic but they are representative of moral dilemmas?

If you would pull the lever in the first problem, what if we changed the numbers? Suppose 100 people would be in danger and on 99 if you switched the lever? Does that change things?

If you would not push the man in the second problem, what if pushing him would save 100 lives? Would you still refrain?

When is it okay to tell a lie? Kant said it is never okay, and the Utilitarians said it is okay provided there is a net gain to society. Who is right? Should the people who were hiding Anne Frank have told the authorities where she was when they were asked if they knew the whereabouts of any Jews?

Dutchess_III's avatar

GA @LostInParadise

One thing to consider, though, “morality” is a human / social construct. It’s not a tangible thing. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing, it’s not. We humans need checks and balances.

gorillapaws's avatar

Gravity is also a human construct. It’s a tool for describing how objects behave. The same can be said for morality.

josie's avatar

The trolley problems are dilemmas but not true moral questions.

The fact that you can create what appears to be a dilemma with no good choice does not prove moral subjectivity.

In the trolley problems, the runaway train is not the fault of the observer. Somebody is going to get killed either way, even if the observer does nothing. It is simply a matter of trying to decide which choice would make you feel best in the circumstance. There is no abstract moral code that can determine the answer to that. Most people you and I know will be bothered by any outcome.

Kant thought that lying was bad because it corrupted the reasoning facility of the liar, and commits fraud against the recipient of the lie.
That assumes that the liar is deliberately evading an essential self truth or that the recipient is rational. In those cases, he would be correct.
But if you lie to the Nazi’s it’s probably because you are aware of a truth (they are murderers), you are not evading that truth (they are probably nice guys) , and they are not rational anyway so their entire moral code is already a fraud.. Thus your lie does not pass the “Kant test”

Neither of these addresses my original point. Any Rand makes the objective argument for morality that does not use ethical parlor games as a straw man.

Just sayin

Dutchess_III's avatar

Well all words are human constructs @gorillapaws! The difference is one describes a physical fact, the other describes a nebulous concept.

gorillapaws's avatar

@Dutchess_III I don’t think morality is a nebulous concept. Rape is wrong. The gravitational force between two objects ≈ 6.67 * (Mass of Object 1 * Mass of Object 2 / distance between the objects^2).

Both of those statements are man made descriptions that explain actual phenomena in the universe. I would argue that rape being wrong is just as factual/true/real as gravity.

Zaku's avatar

People love explanations and to feel certain about answers. So much, that even our scientific communities and fans tend to severely over-exaggerate how much we know for fact, and how much we know and understand things.

To continue with your example, that gravity is a phenomenon is accepted, but not everything about it is understood, as this pointed (and once banned!) TED talk about delusional scientific certainty discusses.

But morality is not the same sort of thing as gravity, at all, is it?

Morality is about what is right and wrong, and that comes down to ideas. The universe doesn’t have an opinion about whether it’s even harmful or positive (nor do I, far too often, given human society’s behaviors) whether humans suffer, die, or are wiped out by plague, each other, or a lucky asteroid strike. Many wild animal species on the verge of extinction due to human land overuse and poaching etc would probably benefit tremendously if humans all dropped dead (or their land use were hugely reduced for whatever reason), and that seems like a net good to me for life as we know it on earth.

Never mind Oompa Loompas

Morality requires agreement on values, and many of the values humans have are pretty arbitrary or at least cultural/personal and vary greatly. Humans severely disagree (and often violently, even to the point of committing acts of violence they’d otherwise deplore) on values and significance of all sorts of things.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I agree @gorillapaws. But there are those who honestly don’t think rape is wrong, especially in the past and in other cultures. And male animals rape all the time.

The Inuits used to leave newborns out to freeze to death if they didn’t have the resources to take care of them. I think that was murder, and that murder is wrong. They don’t.

gorillapaws's avatar

@Dutchess_III ”...there are those who honestly don’t think rape is wrong…”
There are people who think the world is flat. The world isn’t flat, rape is wrong. Just because some people are mistaken doesn’t alter reality.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Again, you’re comparing apples and oranges. The world is not flat and it can be proven.
Humans decided rape was a crime. You can’t PROVE that it is wrong.

There was a time when in was immoral for a woman to show her knees. Was that right, wrong, or simply an opinion?

gorillapaws's avatar

@Dutchess_III I would argue there is as much proof that rape is wrong as there is that the world is not flat.

Dutchess_III's avatar

What proof would you offer?

gorillapaws's avatar

@Dutchess_III How do you know the world is not flat? Have you been to space?

LostInParadise's avatar

@gorillapaws , Scientific facts are ultimately decided upon by scientific method. You set up experiments to test the validity of a hypothesis. If the experimental results support the hypothesis then it is tentatively accepted until such time that there are experiments that contradict it. For example, the laws of gravity and friction can be tested by measuring the velocities of falling objects. There is nothing comparable for morality. How would you test for it? Kant said that lying is always immoral. Is he right? What experiment can you devise to support or refute it? Morality is fundamentally different from science.

Dutchess_lll's avatar

Well said @LostInParadise

And no. Lying is not always wrong.

gorillapaws's avatar

@LostInParadise How do you know that you can trust your sense when conducting an experiment?

The point is if we reduce what we know down to it’s most fundamental level we arrive at the epistemological problem of the regress argument. There are many approaches to addressing this problem, but they all require a leap of faith to some degree (they take different approaches to this) based on our innate intuitions about the universe (except for the radical skeptic who claims we can never know anything because we can’t prove that we’re not in a matrix). I would argue that our moral intuition for certain fundamental moral knowledge such as “rape is wrong” is equivalent to the assumption that you’re not being deceived by something when you conduct an experiment. Ergo, I would argue that we have as much proof that rape is wrong as we do that the world isn’t flat.

Dutchess_lll's avatar

In science you have multiple people doing the same experiment and comparing results.

Morality is defined by nebulous, personal philosophy that is arrived at by individuals and can vary from person to person.
It can also change over time.

LostInParadise's avatar

@gorillapaws , There are certain assumptions that we must make when doing science, but they are really fundamental. We could not live without making them. For example, we have to assume that we can make measurements that agree with one another up to some small measurement error. And we have to assume that we are not living in something like the Matrix with some programmer varying natural laws.

Even if we could all agree that rape is wrong, there are other moral matters where you will find differences of opinion..It is only recently in historical terms that it was decided that slavery is considered immoral. Aristotle supported it and there is nothing in the Bible opposing it. Were people in the past all immoral because they accepted slavery? And even today you will find people arguing that it is not necessarily immoral.

gorillapaws's avatar

@LostInParadise “Even if we could all agree that rape is wrong”

We don’t need to all agree. A blind person can’t tell you what color the chair is, but that doesn’t mean the chair doesn’t have a color. A color-blind person may think the color of the chair is something that it isn’t. There are universal moral principles (even if some people’s moral intuition is damaged in the same way that the vision of a color-blind person is), just as there is gravity. And then there are an infinite number of edge cases (just as I’m sure there exist with Physics) that require thought, reason and argument to make moral decisions about.

Yes, slavery is immoral. People who practiced slavery were behaving immorally.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Regarding slavery, many of them didn’t think it was immoral at all. Many of them thought it was ordained by God.
And you can’t prove that it is or isn’t. All you have is your opinion, which happens to be the same as mine.

I watched a documentary about a rite of passage in the Amazon. Boys as young as 8 or 9 stick their hands into gloves that have fire ants sewn in them. They can’t take them back out until someone takes them off. The pain is horrifying. It is horrifying. The children are screaming in agony. We in America would call it child abuse.
The tribesmen believe it makes them stronger.
The boys are proud of themselves afterward.

Who is right? Us for calling it abuse, or the tribe members?

Dutchess_III's avatar

From the article I linked to about the Amazon tribe ritual, ”the bullet ant’s sting is supposed to be 30 times more painful than that of a bee, and each of those gloves contain dozens of ants. ”

flo's avatar

Athiests say “You don’t need religion because all you have to do is just ....” What is the rest of that statement? So, do atheists believe that it’s objective or not?

Dutchess_III's avatar

”...just do the right thing.” Of course it’s objective. What the right thing for one person is may not be the right thing for another person.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

This question is interesting, and the discussion is too.

When I think of dilemmas like the one discussed here, I try to relate it back to Euclid and his geometry. Most of the ideas he was credited with were not original to him. What he did that was remarkable was use the ideas to construct a comprehensive view of the universe.

Let’s look at where he started with definitions. He writes some things and says that we are going to accept them as true in order to build on them. His first definition is “A point is that which has no parts.” How can any thing have no parts? How can there be something with no parts? How can that thing be?

Do we accept it on a kind of faith in order to be able to then build a whole system to give order to the universe? Is that faith? I hesitate to use that word, because of the system that results. The fact that the resultant system works says something about the validity of the first definition. Is that faith then?

I can see that it’s possible to call that faith. I can think of definitions of “faith” that would include accepting Euclid’s first definition, but I want to call it something else. I don’t exactly have a word for what I want to call it. “Logical acceptance”? Can I use a phrase for it that implies some type of acceptance based on mental exercises that can be understood?

I think this is directly relatable to the idea of the immorality of rape being somehow objective. Is it possible to say it is immoral because we logically accept it? Is that faith, or is that something else?

There is a lot of life open for individual interpretation. The answer to whether I prefer apples or oranges is for individual interpretation. However, there seems – to me at least – a lot about life that simply is true regardless of individual ideas. Rape is wrong in all circumstances and at all times. Still, I have to use some type of mental jump to make that statement. What is that mental jump?

Zaku's avatar

@gorillapaws Anyone with a half-way competent understanding of any of geometry, astronomy, geography, or history, should be able to prove that this planet is roughly globular.

flo's avatar

For example, to the rapists raping is not objectively wrong. To those who know it’s wrong it’s objective.

Dutchess_lll's avatar

You have to know the difference between subjective and objective @flo. I’m on my phone so no links to definitions. Sorry.

gorillapaws's avatar

This is my understanding of how modern philosophers look at Moral Theory. Basically there are certain innate moral axioms that appear to be self-evident and true that we can assume to be true based on our moral intuition (just as @Hawaii_Jake mentions with Euclid’s first 5 postulates). For example, rape is wrong; it’s wrong to hurt or kill someone for no reason; it’s wrong to enslave people; it’s wrong to mutilate a woman’s genitals against her will, etc. We observe these phenomena in the universe and try to come up with a theory to explain WHY those axioms are true (just as a Physicist may come up with a theory of gravity to explain why objects behave in a certain way). Then the Philosopher engages in thought experiments and work through logical arguments that examine the outcomes of that theory (just as a Physicist might conduct experiments in a lab to test the validity of a hypothesis). If the theory results in self-contradictions or there are logical consequences that seem to contradict our moral axioms then we can find problems with that theory.

There is no perfect moral theory that I’m aware of. But there are moral theories that seem to do a good job of explaining certain moral intuitions in some situations. This is analogous to how General Relativity is good for explaining physical phenomena on the macro scale and not as well on the micro scale, and the opposite is true for Quantum Field Theory. Neither of these theories are perfect, but both are useful, meanwhile Physicists continue to search for a unified “Theory of Everything.” Moral philosophers are engaging in a similar process.

@Dutchess_lll If we approach moral theory as basically being determined by each culture (moral cultural relativism) or even worse by each individual (moral subjectivism) then the term morality ultimately becomes meaningless. If we can’t say Hitler was wrong for committing genocide (because it was ok in Nazi culture), then what the hell is the point of moral theory? This is a pretty simple article explaining why moral relativism doesn’t hold water. It is my understanding that no modern academic philosophers support this theory.

Dutchess_lll's avatar

@gorillapaws here is the thing. If you, I, and the very vast majority of Homo Sapiens on the earth agree with you that genocide is wrong, that rape is wrong, that murder is wrong (except in “certain circumstances”,) does that make it the truth?

gorillapaws's avatar

@Dutchess_lll Was E = MC^2 true before Einstein discovered relativity?

Universal truths exist independently from people believing in them. I would say that no, those truths are true, not because a majority of people agree, but because they are universal truths. For example, chimps have an innate understanding of fairness: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/chimps-sense-of-justice-f. Where does that come from?

Zaku's avatar

@gorillapaws At least ¾, maybe 4/4 of your examples of things you assume universally wrong, are culturally and legally endorsed at least in certain circumstances, in some other countries.

gorillapaws's avatar

@Zaku Humanity thought the Sun revolved around the Earth for millennia. People can create inaccurate theories to describe phenomena in the Universe.

Zaku's avatar

So you think cultural moral differences are matters of not having discovered the moral truth yet? Really?

gorillapaws's avatar

@Zaku For the most part, yes. I’m sure there also are plenty of historical examples where people did understand these moral truths and they disregard them for various reasons (for personal gain, or misguided religious/superstitious interpretations as examples).

Zaku's avatar

Wow so how far have philosophers gotten in proving which cultures’ morals are correct and which are wrong yet?

gorillapaws's avatar

@Zaku I personally like John Rawls.

gorillapaws's avatar

Let me also add that I have an undergrad level of understanding of these subjects and it’s been nearly 2 decades since I’ve studied these subjects, so I’m probably not the best person to ask. People write dissertations on this stuff and dedicate their lives to puzzling through topics like epistemology, meta-ethics and moral theory.

gorillapaws's avatar

I found a good resource that goes much more in depth than I have the time or expertise to cover. This is an article that covers an overview of meta-ethics: https://www.iep.utm.edu/metaethi/, and this one has an overview of moral epistemology: https://www.iep.utm.edu/mor-epis/. These seem to be the main areas we’ve been discussing.

dopeguru's avatar

@gorillapaws I am close to agreeing with you on this but just to play the devil’s advocate -

For one thing we are limited by the scope of our senses so any facts we uncover are subject to differences in the perceptions of our senses.. which happens all the time like some people see different colors than others and that’s a reality of the cone and rod cells in their eyes for instance. And it’s a different arena when we are talking about things that are measurable in some agreed upon way. Like we as humans have devised systems to measure things across all cultural barriers with minimal disagreement but in instances that are without agreed upon measures…like morality… It’s a toss up.

I might believe one thing to be correct and have evidence for it but that’s probably not going to change the mind of anyone whose morality system is wholly different bc humans don’t Operate rationally in most circumstances.

We are emotional, habitual, impressionable smart monkeys.
Everything about us is malleable, suggestable, and subjective.

LostInParadise's avatar

@gorillapaws , You still have not explained why slavery was accepted for so long. Before the Enlightenment there are no writings condemning it. The Bible even has rules for how slaves should be treated. How is that possible if slavery is immoral?

Demosthenes's avatar

We keep using the extreme examples of rape and genocide, but what about, say, homosexuality? Something that many (but not all) cultures and societies regard as immoral. Does that suggest that homosexuality is objectively immoral? Is morality defined by consensus? How great of a consensus?

Dutchess_III's avatar

Thank you @Demosthenes. Exactly.
Interracial relationships is another example. Unthinkable just a generation or two ago.
Morals change, ergo, they are simply objective.

flo's avatar

To respond to a post above, regarding rape and genocide ”(except in “certain circumstances”.) there is no right circumstance for rape and genocide, and a lot of other things.

josie's avatar

The thread demonstrates how easy it is to confuse morality with social convention. The classic example is when people start discussing homosexuality as a moral issue. When consensual gay sex goes from unacceptable to acceptable it is not because the concept of morality has been transformed into something different. It is because of a recognition that the objective standard of moral judgement was not, is not or should not be consensual gay sex between rational human beings.

Zaku's avatar

@flo I would tend to agree, but the Christian Bible (“prince of peace”, “god of love”) seems to advocate for genocide, e.g.:

“Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” (1 Samuel 15:3)

flo's avatar

According to someone above atheists are wrong.

flo's avatar

@Zaku Are you saying everything in the Bible is right?

Zaku's avatar

@flo I’ve no idea how you’d infer that. No, as I wrote “I would tend to agree” (that “there is no right circumstance for rape and genocide”). I am just continuing to point out that there has not been a lot of cultural agreement about morality from humans, and there still isn’t.

That’s just one small example, but there are countless examples. It’s hard for me to understand any Americans not being painfully aware of how divided people can be about their opinions of what it right and wrong.

flo's avatar

@Zaku Ok, then. I still don’t understand this debate as a whole. It is clear as a bell what is moral and what isn’t even if people can be divided.

Zaku's avatar

It may be clear as a bell to many people, but if many of those people disagree diametrically about what the clear bell says?

flo's avatar

I’m leaving it here. All I’m saying.

Caravanfan's avatar

I think I agree with @josie and @gorillapaws
I am not qualified to comment on moral philosphy except to say that I think that moral relativism is absolute bullshit.

General Relativity is much more in my comfort zone.

Demosthenes's avatar

@josie On what grounds is homosexuality “not a moral issue”? That seems evasive to me. If morality is concerned with proper actions and homosexual sex is regarded as an improper action by some, that would seem to make it a moral issue.

You’re saying that homosexuality is a matter of social convention and not morality, thus changing attitudes toward homosexuality are not an argument against objective morality, but what motivates the differentiation in the first place?

Dutchess_III's avatar

@flo Is lying wrong?

@Demosthenes Sex itself doesn’t deserve to be a moral issue, as long as it’s between two consenting adult human beings.

josie's avatar

@Demosthenes
You can’t say what is a proper action unless you say what motivates the action and what the result is. It’s all one thing.
Not that I am an Ayn Rand disciple but that is what she did, and that is why her objective morality is a better solution to moral questions than the futile dog chasing its tail that is typical of debates about morality, which has created universal moral uncertainty, and is exemplified in this thread.
Which was my whole point back at the top.

Zaku's avatar

I expect that almost people who think there are many clear moral absolutes also think their own moral conclusions are the correct ones…

… and I also expect that those people very much do not agree on a very large number of moral issues.

SmartAZ's avatar

When two or more people live in the same area they have to adopt some rules about who does what to whom. Any such rule is called a more’, French accented e pronounced “mor-ay”. The adjective form is moral, and the habit of following more’s is morality.

More’s are arbitrary: they do not have to be right, only accepted. Another group on the other side of the river might have very different more’s. A collection of more’s defines a culture.

Dutchess_III's avatar

^^^ Yep. Or, as the French would say, “WEEEEEE!!!”

flo's avatar

@Zaku When we don’t think our own ideas are the correct ones what does it mean? We haven’t made up our minds yet? Otherwise doesn’t each person think that he/she has the correct idea?

Dutchess_III's avatar

It means we are open to other points of view.

Pazza's avatar

Ultimately, there is no objective morality. But there are logical assumptions which can be used to underpin universal morals. Ie. Life is preferable to death. Pain free is preferable to in pain. Though these arent absolute.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Life is not always preferable to death and that has nothing to do with morals. Just instinct.

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