Moral Objectivity, C. S. Lewis, Victor Reppert, Edward T. Babinski

Dear Vic (Victor Reppert for the sake of blog search engines *smile*),

I enjoyed reading your discussion at your blog on moral objectivity, along with comments left by others.

Is it me, or are you asking more philosophical questions concerning moral objectivity than you have in the past? Asking questions and analyzing the answers (interminably so, especially when such questions are large overarching ones) appears to be what philosophy does best.

On the question of "moral objectivity," I think that the most objective thing any of us can say with anything near certainty as fellow philosophical debaters is that we each like being liked and hate being hated.

We certainly like having our particular thoughts appreciated by others. And we are a bit perturbed when others don't "get" what we're saying, so we continue trying to communicate our views in ways we hope others might understand.

I also assume each of us generally prefers not having lives nor property taken from them, and generally prefer not being abused either psychologically nor physically.

I also assume that when one person has something in common with another, be it a love of a game (chess, golf, soccer), a song, the sight of a sunset/sunrise, a philosophical point of view concerning the big questions, or a religion, that liking the same thing tends to bring people together and increase their joys.

Therefore, I'm not sure that "objectivity" is necessarily what I am primarily after, nor what most people are primarily after.

But I will say that there is a marvelous article in this week's Discover about animals with feelings. One anecdote...

...from the article involved a magpie (freshly deceased from an accident with a car) that lay by the side of the road surruonded by four live magpies that went up and pecked gently at it, then two flew off and came back with some tufts of grass in their beaks and laid it beside the dead magpie. Then they stood beside it for a while until one by one the four magpies flew off.

This anecdote sparked my own memory of another one that I read in a turn of the century book titled Mutual Aid by the Russian evolutionist, Kropotkin (his theory of evolution emphasized the benefits of mutual aid & cooperation). Kropotkin cited Australian naturalists and farmers who observed the way parrots cooperated to denude a farmer's field of crops. The parrots sent out scouts, then rallied the other birds, and they would swoop down quickly and devour the crops, but sometimes some of them got shot, and rather than simply fly off altogether the birds "comrades" (remember, this is a russian biologist speaking) would squawk in a fashion of bereavement, trying to remain as long as possible fluttering near the fallen friend and group member.

I also have read stories about the intelligence of crows, even their sense of humor. One naturalist mentioned seeing three crows on a wire, and one of them slipped, seemingly intentionally, and held himself upside down by one claw, which apparently amused the others. (I'd also read about experiments and anedcotes involving birds with amazing memories and vocabularies, even speaking and acting in ways one would consider appropriate for brief human-to-human exchanges.)

Elephants and llamas were some of the other animals mentioned in the Discover piece that reacted strongly to the death of members of their own species. Elephants have come back a year later to the spot where another elephant has died (as seen on Animal Planet) and they react strongly to the bones. I also recall reading in a Jan Goodall book about a young chimp (fully grown, not a baby) reacting so strongly to the death of his mother, that he simply climbed a tree and wouldn't come down and eat until he himself had died, apparently of grief.

The works of Frans de Waal (a famed primatologist), contain some touching stories about the compassionate behaviors of primates, notably of the most peace loving chimp species, the bonobo. When Frans took his own baby son (who was sitting in a forward facing harness strapped round Frans's chest) to visit some chimps at a zoo where Frans had gotten to know the chimps well, a mother chimp with her own young one saw Frans holding his baby up to the viewing glass, and the mother took her own baby's arms and twisted her baby around in a single movement so it was facing outward, and held her baby up to the glass so that the two babys could eye each other. Frans and the mother chimp also exchanged glances. Frans mentioned a case of a female photographing chimps on their little chimp island that had a moat around it. They were bonobos, a female dominated society, and food had just been given them, and they were portioning it out amongst themselves. The photographer wanted to get a shot but the chimps had their backs to the camera and were facing the food that had been delivered instead of facing the moat with the photographer on the other side, so the photographer started to wave her hands and scream and jump up and down to get the attention of the chimps. The other chimps looked round, except one who was suspicious and didn't turn around. So the female photographer continued waving her hands and shouting until finally that last female chimp turned around, and tossed the photographer a handful of food! The chimp apparently thought she was being asked to share her food! And well, she did.

In another case I've read about, Washoe the chimp was on a chimp island with other chimps, one of which climbed the fence and started wadding out into the moat surrounding the island (chimps can't swim, they sink, their bodies are denser than human beings since they have far less body fat). This chimp started to flail around in the water, drowning. Washoe saw this, clambored over the fence, and held onto some tall grass with one hand while extending the other to the drowning chimp, who was saved.

Meanwhile Robert Hauser (Harvard prof and author of Moral Minds) has asked a lot of people a lot of tough moral questions and found out how similar their responses were across the board regardless of whether the person was religious or not.

I have responded to the question of "moral objectivity" elsewhere on Victor Reppert's Dangerous Idea blog, and cited statements by philosophers and primatologists from Mary Midgley to Frans de Waal to Einstein. Anyone can view my responses by clicking here and here and here and here.
Ed (Edward T. Babinski for the sake of blog search engines *smile*)

25 comments:

exapologist said...

Christians often (though not always) pose the nature and foundation of morality as a problem for non-theists. What I find interesting about this is the assumption that it's *not* a problem for christians. But the fact is, the issue of giving an account is perhaps even *more* of a problem for christians. I wonder why this isn't brought up more often.

So I'd like to ask christians this question: what is the nature and ultimate foundation of morality? My worry is that I'll receive a series of accounts that will fall apart under scrutiny. Perhaps I'm wrong though. If so, I'd be happy to be disabused of my ignorance.

Blair in KC said...

Suppose I don't give a damn what our prefer?

Say I like, instead, Nietzsche's idea of the "Will to Power"?

You don't like that?

Tough.

Anonymous said...

So I'd like to ask christians this question: what is the nature and ultimate foundation of morality? ( I noticed that you spelled Christians with a lower case C. Was this on purpose? Why? Is it to show contempt?)

You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All other commandments and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commands.

exapologist said...

Hi Anon,

I understand, but that's not quite what I'm looking for. I'm not asking for the *content* of morality, but rather its *basis*.

adam s said...

thats not answering the question at all. the funny thing is, the existence of morality negates the existence of an eternal omniscient being. If morality is objective, then god is subjected to it, he could not have created something that he is subjected to therefore proving he has limits and is not all powerful or eternal. the bible says "god cannot lie." which came first, the principle or the creator? you cant answer it because they cancel each other out.

Anonymous said...

Morality is an idea.

In the Christian understanding, there is God's will which is perfect and then there is contrary to God's will or our own will which is flawed.

People who are not "religious" govern themselves by morals, they establish taboos and norms and so on. They judge each other and compare themselves. Often atheists say this, I know i am a better person than most Christians. But you are comparing peoples actions and lives to your own standard of what is good.

Christians live by faith and according to the will of God believing that God knows what is best for them.

Each society may have their own idea of what is moral. Morality is a man made social construct depending on the norms and values and taboos of the society.

As I said before, Christians are not concerned with being moral according to the standards of men and this world. We are sinners, we are not perfect, we make mistakes, we are weak etc. We need the grace of God.

Those who talk of morality try and trap people into debates on their terms. I see through these things.

Discussing morality and Christianity is irrelevant. Christianity is a prophetic tradition based on things hoped for or things to come. A new heaven and earth.

Jesus forgives. Jesus is the variable in your equation, he cancels out our sin.

david ellis said...

To say there is no reason to be moral/altruistic if there is no God is to say that love has no intrinsic value in and of itself---that it must draw its value from something else (in this case, a deity).

This, it seems to me, presents quite a problem for theistic arguments against atheism on the grounds that it can have no basis for morality.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you are right, but what I am proposing is that Christians are not claiming any basis for morality.

We are claiming faith as a basis for living a certain way. It is a value judgment as to whether the way we live is moral or not.

We understand that morality is a man made thing, an idea. Or to go out on a limb, morality is not real. Therefore, something that is not real, can not cancel out or pose a problem for something that is.

Do you understand the irrelevancy of the morality issue as it applies to Christianity?

Christians would actually agree that there is no basis for morality. For the purpose of morals is so that people can be moral, people can have a standard to live by. Christians understand that to do this is vanity. We say that if we were perfect, and able to live by these standards we would not need God. But we do need God for these reasons.

exapologist said...

Hi Anon,

Is this really the Christian view? I'm not sure that most theologians would agree. It sure doesn't seem like it when one reads the Scriptures. Also, if, as you put it, "morality isn't real", then on what basis can God judge and punish sinners, and why did Jesus have to die?

Anonymous said...

Again, It is this morality thing. Jesus did not die because we were not moral. Morality is a cultural societal construct.
He died because we sinned. He died and was resurrected so that we might believe. Christianity is not a system of morals to get people to be nice to one another.
That may be a consequence but it is a reconciliation of people with God.
He died so that we may live.

Anonymous said...

Also, much of the scriptures illustrate people missing the mark or trying to govern themselves by worldly measures. First they had God leading them but they turned away, they made false idols because that was what everyone else was doing, then came the priests, then the judges, then the kings, and after all that failed came Jesus who took all of that away, no more priests, kings or false idols, no more temple curtain. Booyah baby!
In case you are wondering, I'm an ex-atheist Bhuddist.

Ruffkin said...

Christ asked us "Why do we entertain evil thoughts in our hearts?" Christ also said in this same expression that he desired mercy and not sacrifice. What are thoughts in a persons heart but desire? So perhaps desire is the basis for "morality" if that is the term we are using for what makes people behave themselves or do good things for each other. I am interested to here some of your thoughts on desire. I understand what Anon, is trying to say. Perhaps he needs to take more time when responding. There is a difference between desiring to be a "moral person" and being moral for morals sake. Morality as a man made thing is interesting. I don't know if I am convinced. Perhaps Anon, was referring to what Christ said about works without faith being nothing. Then faith would be the basis and of course this is not an adequate answer for skeptics. But it is the answer Christians will give them if they like it or not.

T.S. said...

What does God know about morals? What do Christians know about morals?
Ryan S. said that children give him the basis for being moral? What about the children from the O.T. that God ordered executed?

Ruffkin said...

Yes the old testament is full of cruel happenings and often times people are being punished or destroyed for their actions. The people who Israel would war with were a threat to the nation and also lived and worshiped contrary to Gods law. THESE PEOPLE WERE KILLING THEIR OWN CHILDREN. Also we need to be careful that we do not put Moses' words in God's mouth ans vice versa. Also in the flood many people died. However usually things are much more complicated than the way T.S. stated them.

Bill said...

On Mark 2:23-8

Once again Jesus cut right across the scribal rules and regulations. When he and his disciples were going through the corn fields one Sabbath day, his disciples began to pluck the ears of corn and to eat them. On any ordinary day, the disciples were doing what was freely permitted 9Deuteronomy 23:25). So long as the traveler did not put a sickle into the field, he was free to pluck the corn. But this was done on the Sabbath, and the Sabbath was hedged around with literally thousands of petty rules and regulations. All work was forbidden. Work had been classified under thirty-nine different heads, and four of these heads were reaping, winnowing, threshing and preparing a meal. By their action, the disciples had technically broken all these four rules and were to be classified as law-breakers. It seems fantastic to us; but to the Jewish Rabbi it was a matter of deadly sin and of life and death.

The Pharisees immediately launched their accusations and pointed out that Jesus' disciples were breaking the law. They obviously expected him to stop them on the spot. Jesus answered then in their own language. He cited the story which is told in 1 Samuel 21:1-6. David was fleeing for his life; he came to the tabernacle in Nob; he demanded food and there was none except the shewbread. It consisted of twelve loaves placed on a golden table three feet long, one and a half feet wide, in front of the Holy of Holies, and the bread was a kind of offering to God. It was changed once a week; when it was changed it became the property of the priests and of the priests alone, and no one else might eat it (Leviticus 24:9). Yet n his time of need David took and ate that bread. Jesus showed that Scripture itself supplies a precedent in which human need took precedence over human and divine law.

'The Sabbath', he said, 'was made for the sake of man and not man for the sake of the Sabbath.' That was self evident. Human life was created before ever the elaborate Sabbath law came into existence. Human beings were not created to be the victims and slaves of Sabbath rules and regulations, which were in the beginning created to make life fuller and better for them. men and women are not to be enslaved by the Sabbath; the Sabbath exists to make their lives better.

This passage confronts us with certain essential truths which we forget at our peril.

1) Christianity does not consist in rules and regulations. To take the matter in question - Sunday observance is important, but there is a great deal more to Christianity than Sunday observance. If it were possible to become a Christian simply by abstaining from work and pleasure on the Sunday, and by attending church on that day, and saying prayers and reading the Bible, being a Christian would be a very easy thing. Whenever we forget the love and the forgiveness and the service and the mercy that are at the heart of Christianity and replace them by performance of rules and regualtions, Christianity is in a decline. Christianity has at all times consisted far more in doing things than in refraining from doing things.

2) The first claim on anyone is the claim of human need. Even the catechisms and the confessions of the Catholics admit that works of necessity and MERCY are quite legal on the Sabbath. If ever the performance of idea of Christianity stops us helping someone who is in need, our idea of Christianity is not Christianity at all. People matter far more than systems and ideas. Persons are far more important than rituals. The best way to worship God is to help people.

3) The best way to use sacred things is to use them to help one another. That, in fact, is the only way to give them to God.

The best way to use sacred things is to use them for others. It can be that a church is more concerned with the elaboration of its services than with the help of its community and the relief of its poor. But the sacred things are only truly sacred when they are used for human benefit. The shewbread was never so sacred as when it was used to feed a starving man. The Sabbath was never so sacred as when it was used to help those who needed help. The decisive factor in the use of all things is LOVE and not law.

JC said...

Trouble is, I see no evidence that atheists have offered the world anything that should convince us that they have anything better to offer.

Every time they get power, they fill the society with Gulgas, "re-education" centers, and brainwashing camps.

Who ya kiddin?

Benny said...

Trouble is, I see no evidence that atheists have offered the world anything that should convince us that they have anything better to offer.

"The 2004 United Nations' Human Development Report, which ranks 177 countries on a "Human Development Index," measures such indicators of societal health as life expectancy, adult literacy, per-capita income, educational attainment, and so on. According to this report, the five top nations were Norway, Sweden, Australia, Canada, and the Netherlands. All had notably high degrees of organic atheism. Furthermore, of the top twenty-five nations, all but Ireland and the United States were top-ranking nonbelieving nations with some of the highest percentages of organic atheism on earth. Conversely, the bottom fifty countries of the "Human Development Index" lacked statistically significant levels of organic atheism."

"Regarding homicide rates, Oablo Fajnzylber et al., in a study reported in the Journal of Law and Economics (2002), looked at thirty-eight non-African nations and found that the ten with the highest homicide rates were highly religious, with minimal or statistically insignificant levels of organic atheism. Conversely, of the ten nations with the lowest homicide rates, all but Ireland were secular nations with high levels of atheism. James Fox and Jack Levin, in The Will to Kill, looked at thirty-seven non-African nations and found that, of the ten nations with the highest homicide rates, all but Estonia and Taiwan were highly religious, with statistically insignificant levels of organic atheism. Conversely, of the ten nations with the lowest homicide rates, all but Ireland and Kuwait were relatively secular nations, with high levels of organic atheism."

"In regard to rates of AIDS and HIV infection, the most religious nations on earth-particularly those in Africa-fared the worst. (Botswana suffers from the highest rate of HIV infection in the world; see http://www.avert.org/aroundworld. htm.) Conversely, the highly irreligious nations of Western Europe, such as those of Scandinavia-where public sex education is supported and birth control is widely accessible-fared the best, experiencing among the lowest rates of AIDS and HIV infection in the world."

http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=library&page=pzuckerman_26_5

The article provides references for cited statistics, if you wish to challenge them.

Every time they get power, they fill the society with Gulgas, "re-education" centers, and brainwashing camps.

I would agree that a government that forcibly represses religions is no better than a religious government. But what I (and most atheists) endorse is not an officially atheist government, but a secular one that allows people freedom of religion or lack thereof. Are there a lot of secular governments that have created gulags, re-education centers, or brain-washing camps?

On the other hand, Bush gave us Guantanamo, and American evangelists are doing their best to fill our society with Jesus camps.

Michael Ejercito said...

What about the children from the O.T. that God ordered executed?
Morality = obedience to God

Immorality = disobedience to God.

Benny said...

So...

It would be moral to force a female war captives to be your wife, and immoral not to do so. (Deuteronomy 21:10-14)

It would be moral to stone both the rapist and victim to death, and immoral not to do so. (Deuteronomy 22:23-24)

It would be moral to make a rape victim marry her attacker for life, and immoral not to do so. (Deuteronomy 22:28-29)

Interesting.

Anonymous said...

"According to this report, the five top nations were Norway, Sweden, Australia, Canada, and the Netherlands. All had notably high degrees of organic atheism. Furthermore, of the top twenty-five nations, all but Ireland and the United States were top-ranking nonbelieving nations with some of the highest percentages of organic atheism on earth. Conversely, the bottom fifty countries of the "Human Development Index" lacked statistically significant levels of organic atheism."

How can anyone even know this. This is a bogus study.

Anonymous said...

"So...

It would be moral to force a female war captives to be your wife, and immoral not to do so. (Deuteronomy 21:10-14)

It would be moral to stone both the rapist and victim to death, and immoral not to do so. (Deuteronomy 22:23-24)

It would be moral to make a rape victim marry her attacker for life, and immoral not to do so. (Deuteronomy 22:28-29)"

You just misinterpreted the Bible. Don't try and debate something that you don't understand.

Anonymous said...

Your all ugly inside.

Benny said...

Anon @ 3:06 pm sez:

How can anyone even know this. This is a bogus study.

As I wrote above, the article gave references for cited statistics, but I'll provide them for you here, for convenience's sake.

Organic atheism in different countries: Ronald Inglehart, Miguel Basanez, Jaime Diez-Medrano, Loek Halman, and Ruud Luijkx, Human Beliefs and Values: A Cross-Cultural Sourcebook Based on the 1999-2002 Value Surveys, (Beunos Aires, Argentina: Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 2004).

Nations ranked by Human Development Index: United Nations, Human Development Report (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).

Let us know what methodological problems you find with these studies. Or you can keep your ears plugged and keep saying "la la la" to inconvenient facts. Your choice.

Anon @ 3:08 pm sez:

You just misinterpreted the Bible. Don't try and debate something that you don't understand.

Enlighten us, then, with your "correct" interpretation of the bible verses I listed.

Anonymous said...

Where do they get their information from? Some secret bat cave computer?
The study is bogus! I don't care how many old men's names you attach to it. The findings, the figure are bogus. Again how can anyone possibly know these things. Surveys are proven to be biased. Statistics are proven to be biased. I am not arguing that they have results, I am arguing that the way the gathered the information was very flawed and very biased. In other words it was bogus. I don't remember anyone coming to my door and asking me what faith I belonged to or if I was an atheist, neither does nay one on my street or my town for that matter. These findings are inconclusive they are bogus because what they claim to know can not be known and the ways they used for knowing them are not adequate or absolute. Again my friend. It is a bogus study. You are using deceptive tactics and propaganda to prove your arguments and that is proof of the fallacy of your arguments. My father was in the military and he was a propagandist, the news papers are now and were then full of studies professing facts and figures and statistics meant to sway the reader one way or the other and he had first hand knowledge of this craft.
I know B.S. when I smell it. Enough with your bogus studies already. It is not helping you that you use them.

Benny said...

anon sez:

"la la la la la..."

Well, ok.

*shrug*