Can Moral Nihilism Be Successfully Refuted?

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Reply Mon 19 Apr, 2010 09:38 pm
Lately, I have found myself attracted to moral nihilism, as espoused by Mackie and Joyce. I define moral nihilism as the denial of the existence of objective moral truth. However, as moral nihilism is both counterintuitive and uncomfortable, I would like to ask whether any of you are aware of any convincing arguments that refute this position. As I am an atheist, please keep in mind that any arguments that invoke God would not be convincing. In the following, I will summarize the case for moral nihilism:

The only evidence for the existence of objective moral truth is our so-called moral intuition. However, this intuition is unreliable, and it may be alternatively explained by natural selection. It is unreliable because there is wide disagreement over the actual content of objective moral truth (Mackie's "argument from relativity"). It may be explained by natural selection by noting that empathy (the basis, in my view, of moral intuition) would likely promote group coherence and cooperation for mutual benefit, thereby enabling those with empathy to survive and reproduce more successfully than those who are non-empathetic. Furthermore, if objective moral truth existed, it would be a strange metaphysical entity indeed (Mackie's "argument from queerness"), as it would be intrinsically motivating, yet not confirmable by sense-data. Therefore, applying Occam's Razor, one should not posit such a strange entity if the only evidence for it (so-called moral intuition) is unreliable and may be explained instead by a scientific theory (natural selection) that is widely accepted.

For those who reject moral nihilism, I propose the following challenge: How would one motivate a non-empathetic atheist--who is convinced that he will not get caught--to refrain from a harmful action (such as torturing a child for fun)? And if one cannot do so, how can one posit the existence of objective moral truth (objective in the sense that it applies to everyone, and moral truth in the sense that it should provide at least some motivational force)?

Again, I am looking for convincing arguments against moral nihilism. Thank you for your time.
 
wayne
 
Reply Mon 19 Apr, 2010 09:54 pm
@chap9898,
Moral nihilism seems more like moral self-centeredness to me.
I have a hard time believing that anyone would think that it is just fine and dandy for someone to rape and pillage them anytime they like.
Having a moral society does not mean that you don't need laws and enforcement. Most people who act immorally have a different idea when it's done to them.
Sociopathic personalities may be an exception but I doubt that's really true.
Mentally hiding pain and outrage from yourself is not the same as not feeling any.
 
GoshisDead
 
Reply Tue 20 Apr, 2010 11:32 am
@wayne,
If a certain maleable set of morals are hardwired into a species, or even if the simple need for morals is hard wired into the species, how does this not refute nihlism? <-- not a rhetorical question BTW.
 
chap9898
 
Reply Tue 20 Apr, 2010 12:35 pm
@GoshisDead,
GoshisDead;154544 wrote:
If a certain maleable set of morals are hardwired into a species, or even if the simple need for morals is hard wired into the species, how does this not refute nihlism? <-- not a rhetorical question BTW.


If either of the conditions you mention are actually the case, then this actually strengthens the case for moral nihilism, as it provides an alternative explanation for the only evidence (our so-called moral intuition) that might support the existence of objective moral truth. Or can you think of any other types of evidence that might support the existence of objective moral truth?

---------- Post added 04-20-2010 at 11:40 AM ----------

wayne;154287 wrote:
Moral nihilism seems more like moral self-centeredness to me.
I have a hard time believing that anyone would think that it is just fine and dandy for someone to rape and pillage them anytime they like.
Having a moral society does not mean that you don't need laws and enforcement. Most people who act immorally have a different idea when it's done to them.
Sociopathic personalities may be an exception but I doubt that's really true.
Mentally hiding pain and outrage from yourself is not the same as not feeling any.


I agree with everything you say. However, you have not provided any argument against moral nihilism. If you can provide any argument for the existence of objective moral truth, I would be all ears.
 
Wisdom Seeker
 
Reply Tue 20 Apr, 2010 12:42 pm
@chap9898,
Moral nihilism is same to those who don't know morality, they have nothing, but moral nihilism let you believe on something to be nothing.

whether morality exist or it exist as an abstract idea it does not matter at least it greatly change the world, morality gives great advantage than to those who are not.

because of morality we learn to love, share, unite, work, help, etc.
morality just guide us to do the best for the greater good of humanity.
 
GoshisDead
 
Reply Tue 20 Apr, 2010 12:54 pm
@Wisdom Seeker,
Isn't a genetic mandate the ultimate in objective?
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Tue 20 Apr, 2010 02:52 pm
@chap9898,
chap9898;154563 wrote:



I agree with everything you say. However, you have not provided any argument against moral nihilism. If you can provide any argument for the existence of objective moral truth, I would be all ears.


The choice is not between nihilism and "objective moral truth" or moral realism. There are other possibilities like Hume's quasi-realism, for example. To think that the choice is only between moral nihilism, and moral realism, is to commit the black or white fallacy.
 
Khethil
 
Reply Tue 20 Apr, 2010 03:29 pm
@kennethamy,
As phrased, which sounds like a catch, I wouldn't try to refute it. There is no absolute moral truth that I'm aware of. But let's back up: In saying so, you might want to first define what you consider an absolute moral truth to be, lest we be chasing our tails on a term designed to have no substance.

But as I understand it, whether or not there is any objective morality isn't a pertinent question. We have morals (or not) based on a myriad of factors; our interaction with others, innate or ingrained need for cooperation (to some lesser or greater extent), what we've been taught (both explicitly and implicitly through example) and much more. These are the types of sources of each individual's morality and each person's vary according to their disposition; cultures vary, as do nations. This all in spite of any absolute anything.

Besides, "absolute moral"-anything is a paper tiger. Can you show an absolute.. anything? Nothing within the conceptional realm is absolute... and all this before we toss in the word "truth"; which this forum alone has no doubt dedicated terabytes discussion to no avail.

So no, I wouldn't refute it; but so what.

... hoping this adds.
 
chap9898
 
Reply Tue 20 Apr, 2010 03:40 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;154594 wrote:
The choice is not between nihilism and "objective moral truth" or moral realism. There are other possibilities like Hume's quasi-realism, for example. To think that the choice is only between moral nihilism, and moral realism, is to commit the black or white fallacy.


Thank you for your response. However, I'm not convinced that I am committing such a fallacy. I think that it is fair to say that either objective moral truth exists, or it doesn't. If there is truly a middle ground between existence and non-existence, I would greatly appreciate it if you could elaborate on what such a middle ground would consist.

Regarding quasi-realism, the following is a quote from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

"Quasi-realism is best thought of not as a philosophical position but as a philosophical program. The quasi-realist is someone who endorses an anti-realist metaphysical stance...but who seeks, through philosophical maneuvering, to earn the right for moral discourse to enjoy all the trappings of realist talk."

If quasi-realism is an anti-realist metaphysical stance, then it denies the existence of objective moral truth, and is therefore consistent with moral nihilism (the way I have defined it).

---------- Post added 04-20-2010 at 02:45 PM ----------

GoshisDead;154573 wrote:
Isn't a genetic mandate the ultimate in objective?


It depends on from where the "mandate" comes. I have argued that such a "mandate" may simply be the result of natural selection--and therefore there is no reason to posit the existence of objective moral truth. Also, natural selection (a process that includes randomness) would better account for the wide range of moral disagreement in the world. If the "mandate" came from the actual existence of objective moral truth, one would expect that moral disagreement between individuals would be much less severe and widespread.

---------- Post added 04-20-2010 at 03:01 PM ----------

Khethil;154599 wrote:
As phrased, which sounds like a catch, I wouldn't try to refute it. There is no absolute moral truth that I'm aware of. But let's back up: In saying so, you might want to first define what you consider an absolute moral truth to be, lest we be chasing our tails on a term designed to have no substance.

But as I understand it, whether or not there is any objective morality isn't a pertinent question. We have morals (or not) based on a myriad of factors; our interaction with others, innate or ingrained need for cooperation (to some lesser or greater extent), what we've been taught (both explicitly and implicitly through example) and much more. These are the types of sources of each individual's morality and each person's vary according to their disposition; cultures vary, as do nations. This all in spite of any absolute anything.

Besides, "absolute moral"-anything is a paper tiger. Can you show an absolute.. anything? Nothing within the conceptional realm is absolute... and all this before we toss in the word "truth"; which this forum alone has no doubt dedicated terabytes discussion to no avail.

So no, I wouldn't refute it; but so what.

... hoping this adds.


Thank you for your thoughtful post. I would define the "objective" in "objective moral truth" as "applying to all persons, in all places, at all times." An intuitive example would be: "Torturing innocent children for fun is wrong." Objective moral truth would be useful if it existed, as it would enable us to roundly condemn such atrocities as the Holocaust--and to know that such actions are objectively impermissible, period. As a moral nihilist, I am unable to do this--despite the fact that I do have empathy for the victims, and the fact that I would have done everything in my power to help prevent the Holocaust if I had lived during that time. If cultural relativism (which you seem to support) were true, then one could say that for the Nazis, the Holocaust was actually good. This is why I say that moral nihilism is counterintuitive and uncomfortable. Thus, a refutation of moral nihilism would be helpful.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Tue 20 Apr, 2010 05:48 pm
@chap9898,
chap9898;154601 wrote:
Thank you for your response. However, I'm not convinced that I am committing such a fallacy. I think that it is fair to say that either objective moral truth exists, or it doesn't. If there is truly a middle ground between existence and non-existence, I would greatly appreciate it if you could elaborate on what such a middle ground would consist.

Regarding quasi-realism, the following is a quote from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

"Quasi-realism is best thought of not as a philosophical position but as a philosophical program. The quasi-realist is someone who endorses an anti-realist metaphysical stance...but who seeks, through philosophical maneuvering, to earn the right for moral discourse to enjoy all the trappings of realist talk."

If quasi-realism is an anti-realist metaphysical stance, then it denies the existence of objective moral truth, and is therefore consistent with moral nihilism (the way I have defined it).

---------- Post added 04-20-2010 at 02:45 PM ----------



.


Well yes, either there is objective moral truth or there isn't. But, then of course, that does not mean that either there is objective moral truth, or there is nihilism. No more than because it is true that either horses are mammals or they are not mammals, that the only choice is between horses and reptiles. There are other kinds of animals besides horses or reptiles. And there are other kinds of positions besides objectivism and nihilism. Although objectivism and non-objectivism are exclusive alternatives, and there is no middle ground between them, objectivism and nihilism are not exclusive alternatives, since nihilism is not the only kind of non-objectivism. Now, as between objectivism and nihilism, those are not exclusive either, since although objectivism says all values are objective, and nihilism say that there is no value, it might very well be that there are values, but they are not objective values. That position would be a middle ground. For example, there might be a very modified objectivism like Hume's view of value as a kind of interaction between the world and people. And quasi-realism might deny the existence of moral facts, but that does not mean it is nihilistic, since it does make room for value judgments, and so it is not consistent with nihilism. For example, an Aristotelian might say that when we say that a watch is a good watch, we are making a value judgment about that watch. And there are criteria for whether a watch is a good watch. For example, that it keeps time accurately, or that it is comfortable to wear, and that it looks good.
 
GoshisDead
 
Reply Tue 20 Apr, 2010 06:00 pm
@chap9898,
chap9898;154601 wrote:

It depends on from where the "mandate" comes. I have argued that such a "mandate" may simply be the result of natural selection--and therefore there is no reason to posit the existence of objective moral truth. Also, natural selection (a process that includes randomness) would better account for the wide range of moral disagreement in the world. If the "mandate" came from the actual existence of objective moral truth, one would expect that moral disagreement between individuals would be much less severe and widespread.


For something to be objective it just has to be. It is objectifyable. This would effectively remove the subject/agent as anything but the practical observer. If morals or rather the need for morals are genetic, the route they came to be is irrelivent, the fact that they are is what matters. The randomness of the evolutionary system is not as random as one would think, especially since it is an objective system itself. Its randomness follows a set of rules within the system. For it to be subjective, the genes themselves would have to be endowed with agentive properties not reactionary properties.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Tue 20 Apr, 2010 06:12 pm
@GoshisDead,
GoshisDead;154664 wrote:
For something to be objective it just has to be. It is objectifyable. This would effectively remove the subject/agent as anything but the practical observer. If morals or rather the need for morals are genetic, the route they came to be is irrelivent, the fact that they are is what matters. The randomness of the evolutionary system is not as random as one would think, especially since it is an objective system itself. Its randomness follows a set of rules within the system. For it to be subjective, the genes themselves would have to be endowed with agentive properties not reactionary properties.


I don't think I know what you mean by "objective". According to you, chairs and tables would be objective, and that makes no sense. We say that people are objective when they make objective judgments, and we mean that they can (or try to) minimize their attitudes and prejudices when they make the judgments. Or we say that value judgments are objective, by which we mean that they correspond to certain kinds of facts about the world. For example, we may judge that abortion is morally wrong, and if that judgment is an objective judgment, then there is a "wrong making" property that abortion has. There are, of course, questions as to how we know or detect that abortion has this "wrong-making" property. And people who deny that value judgments are objective, will, of course, deny that there are such properties. But that is what I understand by the view that values are objective.
 
Mentally Ill
 
Reply Tue 20 Apr, 2010 06:16 pm
@GoshisDead,
GoshisDead;154573 wrote:
Isn't a genetic mandate the ultimate in objective?


Everyone's genetic code is different. Perhaps it's the ultimate in subjective?
 
chap9898
 
Reply Tue 20 Apr, 2010 06:17 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;154658 wrote:
Well yes, either there is objective moral truth or there isn't. But, then of course, that does not mean that either there is objective moral truth, or there is nihilism. No more than because it is true that either horses are mammals or they are not mammals, that the only choice is between horses and reptiles. There are other kinds of animals besides horses or reptiles. And there are other kinds of positions besides objectivism and nihilism. Although objectivism and non-objectivism are exclusive alternatives, and there is no middle ground between them, objectivism and nihilism are not exclusive alternatives, since nihilism is not the only kind of non-objectivism. Now, as between objectivism and nihilism, those are not exclusive either, since although objectivism says all values are objective, and nihilism say that there is no value, it might very well be that there are values, but they are not objective values. That position would be a middle ground. For example, there might be a very modified objectivism like Hume's view of value as a kind of interaction between the world and people. And quasi-realism might deny the existence of moral facts, but that does not mean it is nihilistic, since it does make room for value judgments, and so it is not consistent with nihilism. For example, an Aristotelian might say that when we say that a watch is a good watch, we are making a value judgment about that watch. And there are criteria for whether a watch is a good watch. For example, that it keeps time accurately, or that it is comfortable to wear, and that it looks good.


Thank you for the clarification. However, I as I am defining moral nihilism simply as the denial of the existence of objective moral truth, that means (I think) that I am defining moral nihilism as non-objectivism. Under my definition of nihilism, value judgments may be made, but such judgments do not correspond to any objective moral truth. I'll grant you, then, that my definition of moral nihilism may be more inclusive than is conventional.
 
GoshisDead
 
Reply Tue 20 Apr, 2010 06:17 pm
@kennethamy,
Ken:
An aboslute of human behavior for it to be absolute must have the agentive removed completely or else it is subjective. Whatever it is must be an object like a chair or a process, a system, or method that can be somehow rheified, measured, and standardized. So if the need for morals is genetic, it has had its agency removed. Now a specific moral code the actual behavior or a specific moral, that I doubt could ever be objective.

---------- Post added 04-20-2010 at 05:22 PM ----------

Mentally Ill;154670 wrote:
Everyone's genetic code is different. Perhaps it's the ultimate in subjective?


And everyone's genetic code is the same. To be homo sapiens sapiens the gentic code must make a person so, if this were built into the genetic code of humanity it would be a mandate.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Tue 20 Apr, 2010 06:28 pm
@GoshisDead,
GoshisDead;154672 wrote:
Ken:
An aboslute of human behavior for it to be absolute must have the agentive removed completely or else it is subjective. Whatever it is must be an object like a chair or a process, a system, or method that can be somehow rheified, measured, and standardized. So if the need for morals is genetic, it has had its agency removed. Now a specific moral code the actual behavior or a specific moral, that I doubt could ever be objective.

---------- Post added 04-20-2010 at 05:22 PM ----------





I am sorry, I understand very little of what you wrote. I don't know the term, "agentive", and what you wrote is written is socialease. Can you please translate it into plain ordinary language? What, for example, does "an absolute of human behavior" mean? I have no idea what is means for human behavior to be absolute.
 
chap9898
 
Reply Tue 20 Apr, 2010 06:29 pm
@GoshisDead,
GoshisDead;154664 wrote:
For something to be objective it just has to be. It is objectifyable. This would effectively remove the subject/agent as anything but the practical observer. If morals or rather the need for morals are genetic, the route they came to be is irrelivent, the fact that they are is what matters. The randomness of the evolutionary system is not as random as one would think, especially since it is an objective system itself. Its randomness follows a set of rules within the system. For it to be subjective, the genes themselves would have to be endowed with agentive properties not reactionary properties.


I think you're saying that moral judgments and moral codes are "objective" in the sense that they do, in fact, exist. I agree. However, the existence of moral judgments and moral codes (or "morals") does not show that objective moral truth exists. And all I claim is that objective moral truth does not exist.
 
Mentally Ill
 
Reply Tue 20 Apr, 2010 06:31 pm
@GoshisDead,
I don't believe there is an objective morality. Within this existence, lacking objective rightness & wrongness, it becomes our responsibility to create a system of ethics.
I think we do this through our use of reason, exemplified by a moral theory like Kant's Categorical Imperative.
Moral Nihilism stands as the foundation for this.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Tue 20 Apr, 2010 06:33 pm
@chap9898,
chap9898;154677 wrote:
I think you're saying that moral judgments and moral codes are "objective" in the sense that they do, in fact, exist. I agree. However, the existence of moral judgments and moral codes (or "morals") does not show that objective moral truth exists. And all I claim is that objective moral truth does not exist.


Of course moral codes and judgments exist. But that is not the issue. The issue is whether moral judgments are true or false, and if they are, what that means. The view that moral judgments are true or false is called, "moral cognitivism". It is a different question whether moral cognitivism implies moral objectivism.
 
Mentally Ill
 
Reply Tue 20 Apr, 2010 06:40 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;154679 wrote:
Of course moral codes and judgments exist. But that is not the issue. The issue is whether moral judgments are true or false, and if they are, what that means. The view that moral judgments are true or false is called, "moral cognitivism". It is a different question whether moral cognitivism implies moral objectivism.


A moral judgment can't be true or false without an objective moral truth to compare it against.
Attempting to validate a moral claim as true assumes moral objectivity.
 
 

 
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