Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Objective Morality

There are many people that say one cannot have an objective moral standard without god. I, naturally, disagree completely. I think that for a moral standard to be objective, it cannot be relative to a supposed god.

It is necessary to consider what it means for a standard to be objective. It means that, once set, it does not change. An old standard could be discarded and a new one used in its place; but the old standard would give the same measurements as it always did. As an example, the standard meter is defined as the distance between 2 marks on a specific platinum bar housed somewhere in Europe. It is objective, or nearly so, because the spacing of the marks does not change. (Actually, it does change slightly with temperature, so it is not completely objective.)

In the same way, we can get a sense for what would be an objective moral standard. For example a standard that says "It is always wrong to kill" would be objective. It would also have to be rejected because survival requires that we kill plants and/or animals. A standard that says "It is wrong to kill unless god commands the killing" would not be objective. Such a standard changes with the whims of the god -- or, more likely, whoever is claiming to speak for him.

I believe that there is an absolute objective moral standard, though I do not pretend to posess it. Such a standard is what we endeavor to approach as our knowledge of how actions affect other beings increases.


Techskeptic said...

Ive said this on other blogs, but what the hell.

Atheists do not need a list of morals to guide them, they only need one guiding sentence, I realize its a bit of a run on..

Make your actions and reactions such that they result in increased happiness or decreased suffering for the community, while maintaining or expanding free will.

no nonsense about subservients to pretend sky daddies. nothing about which animals you can eat or which materials you can wear or how you must wear your beard or what you must do to your sons penis.

This guide leads directly to debate. Abortion, does it increase happiness or increase suffering? Does it expand or limit free will, for whom? Gun control, gay marriage, death penalty. etc etc.

It forces the people who are going to make a claim about the effect of one policy or another to get data to support that claim rather that say "God says so".

It allows us to make mistakes. We can try a policy with the idea that it may reduce suffering, but the measures by which suffering is defined must be delineated to the efficacy of a program or law can be reveiewed.

It would be a far better way to run a country. Data driven.

Sye TenB said...

Make your actions and reactions such that they result in increased happiness or decreased suffering for the community,


while maintaining or expanding free will.

Free will does not comport with any evolutionary model. If our thoughts are the mere by-products of the electrochemical processes in our evolved brains, then they amount to brain-barf determined by those chemicals, not free will. You could no more choose your thoughts than a can of pop could choose its fizz when you shake it and open it.



Xian said...

I disagree with your definition of "objective" as "unchanging".

I agree that morality should be objective, and I further think that only atheists have a shot at generating objective morality.

Objective means: based upon facts of reality. Facts which are integrated in consciousness by reason, and unaffected by bias, emotion, or whim.

By this definition, objective morality is unlikely to change, but need not be be frozen for all time. For example, if new facts come to light, the moral decisions based upon those facts could change. As long as the morality is still firmly grounded in those objective facts, it remains objective, despite having changed.

This puts the ethicist in a similar place as the scientist: all theories, no matter how well-tested, are open to revision based upon new evidence. And, just as in science, the more thoroughly verified the theory is, the more resistant it is to change. Not only is this the only way to produce useful, reliable, objective morality -- it's a far sight better than morality handed down as absolute by a holy book (and the interpreters of that book).