Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Maverick Philospher's quest for objective morality

Many theists believe there is an objective morality to be discovered. However, since you can't uncover such a morality in the same way you can lift a stone and find a pill bug, empirical systems are not use for this process. Instead, many rely on various works that they give implicit trust to, except when the advice of such books goes against their innate beliefs. Hence, we see homosexuals barred from military service, but don't see single women non-virgins barred in such a fashion, much less executed for being a single non-virgin.

Some attempt a seemingly more sophisticated approach of creating a morality based upon a few accepted notions and creating a formal system to reflect it. That's when you see people like the Maverick Philosopher examining the details on what their basic positions entail when examined in detail. Below the fold, I'll go into why I think this helps to pinpoint the inherent lack of objectivity in this construction of a moral system.

I'm not really concerned with the particular argument that Dr. Vallicella is making in his post, rather, I want to highlight what happens when he finds his argument is inadequate. In particular, he doesn't like the breadth of the conclusion of the argument, so he proposes a new starting point. That is, in creating this supposedly objective moral position, he changed his starting point to get the conclusion that he felt was the right one.

Now, I have no objections to this activity per se. In fact, this is one of the better advantages of operating strictly within a formal system. If the starting positions lead you to a situation you can't use, changing the starting positions is to be expected. If you are tracking the movements of ships on the surface of the earth, you don't pretend that the surface of the earth matches Euclid's parallel postulate; instead you assume that no lines (aka great circles) are parallel and use a Riemannian geometry. It will have the tools you need to look at ship movements around a globe.

However, the process of choosing these starting positions is strictly based on the conclusions you want to derive. That makes the starting positions arbitrary, and those positions will be carefully chosen so the results conform to the desired outcome. So, far from getting some objective morality that can be applied to all, you get a tailored morality designed to support a specific set of positions. Some of these systems, like natural law, were debated for hundreds of years before they were codified, and even then still generate disagreements around the edges.

When people come up with another method of knowing things that can exhibit certainty, reality, and demonstrability, that method of know may indeed lead to an objective morality. Until that time, there will be no such creature. All the construction within formal systems will not be able alter the shaky foundation upon which they rest.

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