Can Moral Nihilism Be Successfully Refuted?

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chap9898
 
Reply Tue 20 Apr, 2010 06:59 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.


Agreed, thanks. So, would you argue that objective moral truth exists?
 
Mentally Ill
 
Reply Tue 27 Apr, 2010 11:37 pm
@chap9898,
Nope. In my opinion, morality is the product of reason.
 
Pyrrho
 
Reply Wed 28 Apr, 2010 08:29 am
@chap9898,
chap9898;154671 wrote:
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.



I don't think it is a good idea to define "moral nihilism" as simply the denial of "objective moral truth" or moral realism. If you do so, you will be using the expression in a manner that is likely to cause confusion when discussing the subject with others who use the expression in accordance with normal usage.

See, for example:

Moral nihilism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

You might also want to look at this:

Meta-ethics - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

There you will find a variety of positions that differ from moral nihilism (as normally defined) and moral realism, as well as both of those ideas discussed, with links to articles discussing the different positions in greater detail.
 
Night Ripper
 
Reply Wed 28 Apr, 2010 09:34 am
@chap9898,
chap9898;154281 wrote:
I am looking for convincing arguments against moral nihilism.


There aren't any.

Saying "abortion is wrong" is like saying "the King of France is bald". There is no King of France and there is no wrongness. The only question left is whether sentences like "abortion is wrong" or "the King of France is bald" are false (error theory) or meaningless (non-cognitivism).
 
Pyrrho
 
Reply Wed 28 Apr, 2010 10:19 am
@chap9898,
chap9898;154281 wrote:
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)?



I am reminded of something that Hume wrote:

Quote:
Treating vice with the greatest candour, and making it all possible concessions, we must acknowledge that there is not, in any instance, the smallest pretext for giving it the preference above virtue, with a view of self-interest; except, perhaps, in the case of justice, where a man, taking things in a certain light, may often seem to be a loser by his integrity. And though it is allowed that, without a regard to property, no society could subsist; yet according to the imperfect way in which human affairs are conducted, a sensible knave, in particular incidents, may think that an act of iniquity or infidelity will make a considerable addition to his fortune, without causing any considerable breach in the social union and confederacy. That honesty is the best policy, may be a good general rule, but is liable to many exceptions; and he, it may perhaps be thought, conducts himself with most wisdom, who observes the general rule, and takes advantage of all the exceptions.

I must confess that, if a man think that this reasoning much requires an answer, it would be a little difficult to find any which will to him appear satisfactory and convincing. If his heart rebel not against such pernicious maxims, if he feel no reluctance to the thoughts of villainy or baseness, he has indeed lost a considerable motive to virtue; and we may expect that this practice will be answerable to his speculation. But in all ingenuous natures, the antipathy to treachery and roguery is too strong to be counterbalanced by any views of profit or pecuniary advantage. Inward peace of mind, consciousness of integrity, a satisfactory review of our own conduct; these are circumstances, very requisite to happiness, and will be cherished and cultivated by every honest man, who feels the importance of them.

Such a one has, besides, the frequent satisfaction of seeing knaves, with all their pretended cunning and abilities, betrayed by their own maxims; and while they purpose to cheat with moderation and secrecy, a tempting incident occurs, nature is frail, and they give into the snare; whence they can never extricate themselves, without a total loss of reputation, and the forfeiture of all future trust and confidence with mankind.

But were they ever so secret and successful, the honest man, if he has any tincture of philosophy, or even common observation and reflection, will discover that they themselves are, in the end, the greatest dupes, and have sacrificed the invaluable enjoyment of a character, with themselves at least, for the acquisition of worthless toys and gewgaws. How little is requisite to supply the necessities of nature? And in a view to pleasure, what comparison between the unbought satisfaction of conversation, society, study, even health and the common beauties of nature, but above all the peaceful reflection on one's own conduct; what comparison, I say, between these and the feverish, empty amusements of luxury and expense? These natural pleasures, indeed, are really without price; both because they are below all price in their attainment, and above it in their enjoyment.

Online Library of Liberty - SECTION IX.: conclusion. - Enquiries Concerning the Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals




chap9898;154281 wrote:
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)?



That is an odd request, as other matters of fact do not, in themselves, generally entail motivational force. It is only when one cares about facts that there is motivational force, which is to say, the facts (that are not facts about caring about things), in themselves, do not contain motivational force. So, if moral statements are also matters of fact, why should they necessarily contain any motivational force?


chap9898;154281 wrote:
Again, I am looking for convincing arguments against moral nihilism. Thank you for your time.



In order to motivate someone, one must appeal to something about which that someone cares. If someone is crossing the road, and there is a car speeding toward that person, that will only motivate one to act if one cares about it. The bare fact of the car speeding toward one does not motivate; it is caring about getting hit by it that gives the motivation to move out of the way. If we were to imagine a being that literally cared about nothing at all, there would be no way to motivate it to act, and it would never act at all. And this would apply even if it were omniscient.
 
amist
 
Reply Wed 28 Apr, 2010 12:13 pm
@chap9898,
Online Library of Liberty - BOOK I.: GROUNDWORK OF THE METAPHYSIC OF ETHICS. 1 - The Metaphysics of Ethics

I'm just going to leave this here.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Wed 28 Apr, 2010 11:19 pm
@chap9898,
chap9898;154281 wrote:
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.


My personal outlook is Buddhist. Here are some basic principles of Buddhism. First every intentional action has consequences. This is what is meant by 'karma'. It is inescapable, and inasmuch as your actions are driven by selfish motives or craving, then suffering will follow, sure as the wheel of the carriage follows the horse which pulls it. Likewise, if your actions arise from positive motivations, then a healthy outlook will naturally flow from that.

Ethics should be based on compassion rather than fear of punishment. Compassion is based on the understanding that other people are just the same as you: all of them seek happiness and fear suffering. When you enlarge your circle of compassion to include all beings, then you are happier, and other people generally respond positively. But even if they don't there is no purpose in hating them. Hatred only creates hatred.

Nihilisim is often a reaction to the idea that there used to be a God, now there isn't, and everything that was based on that premise now has no value. That is a very sad outlook on life. You are feeling what Sartre called 'the God shaped hole in the heart'. This is not a happy outlook.

The Buddhist attitude is not based on the fear of reward and punishment, nor on winning the favour of a parent God. Actually it is based on the realization of the emptiness of all of your objects of craving, which are all transient and ultimately unsatisfying. But it is nothing like nihilism, which is kind of like 'turning away in disgust' or 'rejecting what was previously held dear'. It is more like relinquishing attachments and discovering a greater sense of compassion. It is an effective antidote to nihilism, that doesn't require blind faith in an unseen God.
 
Diogenes phil
 
Reply Sun 9 May, 2010 08:55 pm
@chap9898,
Moral nihilists aren't happy people. I wouldn't want to meet one, nor become one.
 
Bezo
 
Reply Fri 14 May, 2010 01:19 am
@chap9898,
To the OP:

My knowledge of philosophical theories is not great, so forgive me if I do not speak in using the usual terminology.

To start, it is important to remember that whatever you want to call it, there is something innate to human begins which corresponds to particular pattern of beliefs about morality. This is evidenced very clearly by cross-cultural studies and, in particular, studies done of different human civilizations which have had no outside contact with other human civilizations. We can see from these studies that humans generally believe that murder of another human in your own social group is bad, stealing from others in your group is frowned upon, etc. At this point, there is simply no refuting that humans have some preference toward helping others and disfavor killing others. This does not mean there is any true altruism involved. This is just how humans have evolved.

That said, it all depends on how you look at the situation. To the extent that humans are wired to want to help each other in some cases, an objective moral truth can be said to exist. It is certainly true that not all humans (i.e. sociopaths, people who have philosophical objections to acting in such a manner, etc) will act according to these moral truths. Nevertheless, to the extent that there is a general agreement among the species as to the proper (moral) way to deal with certain situations, there is an objective moral truth. From your post, it seems like you do not equate such genetic tendencies as "objective" enough to fit your definition. However, as a previous poster has already pointed out, you are not going to get much more objective than ingrained genetic tendencies.

Something implicit in this discussion is that we are only talking about an objective morality as it applies to humans. I am sure that everyone reading this is aware of this. But if you say that there is an objective moral truth inherent in the genetic tendencies mentioned above, there is also an objective morality for all other species. Chimp morality would certainly exist, and it would be different than ours based on their genetic makeup. The same would apply to our inevitable extra-terrestrial invaders, in all probability, based on their physical makeup. Smile The point is that this is all objective morality only to the degree that it applies specifically to humans.

Of course, if your definition says that genetic tendencies do not constitute objective moral truth, then I have no idea what you are looking for. Human beings cannot be separated from their genetic makeup. While most would say that we have free will to the extent that we have the ability to make certain choices in a moral dilemma, the actions of most individuals in these situations is empirically predictable on the macro level.

Quote:
objective in the sense that it applies to everyone, and moral truth in the sense that it should provide at least some motivational force
Why must this morality apply to everyone (I will assume, all humans) in order to be objective? I really think that you mean 'absolute'. Defined as applying to everyone, there is zero chance that we can ever say that any morality is 'objective'. Defined this way, your definition is without question irrefutable, and it takes this whole discussion into strawmanville. The real question is whether there are any overarching themes that the majority of members of this species cross-culturally hold to. This is at least a question worth arguing over, and I think that it is what you are really trying to get at. Based on my analysis above, I hereby conclude that such a morality exists based upon intra-species genetic tendencies. If we are talking about anything broader than that, I will have a much more time agreeing with it. For example, if we are talking about the universe as a whole, I think the only reasonable position is that morality, in the sense that we are discussing it here, is a petty human concern at which the universe lightly chuckles.

I hope that I have added to the discussion despite my lack of philosophical sophistication. Thanks for reading.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Fri 14 May, 2010 07:30 am
@chap9898,
Excellent argument. If everyone here wrote as well as you do, the standard would be much higher. The only problem is, it is not clear whose argument you are addressing when you say 'you'. Have a look at the video in the Video section about 'quoting' which shows how to quote.

Bezo;164155 wrote:
Something implicit in this discussion is that we are only talking about an objective morality as it applies to humans. I am sure that everyone reading this is aware of this.


And who else might it apply to? I mean, which species, in particular, other than humans, might 'objective morality' apply to?

---------- Post added 05-14-2010 at 11:34 PM ----------

Incidentally, 'strawmanville' would be an excellent name for a film/album/short story. I can see the poster. :bigsmile:
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Fri 14 May, 2010 07:40 am
@Night Ripper,
Night Ripper;157555 wrote:
There aren't any.

Saying "abortion is wrong" is like saying "the King of France is bald". There is no King of France and there is no wrongness. The only question left is whether sentences like "abortion is wrong" or "the King of France is bald" are false (error theory) or meaningless (non-cognitivism).


If what you mean is that we ought not to conflate a moral judgment with a factual judgment, then I agree with you. But to say that all moral judgments are false (or meaningless) is to do exactly that: conflate moral judgments with factual ones.
 
Night Ripper
 
Reply Fri 14 May, 2010 08:27 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;164229 wrote:
But to say that all moral judgments are false (or meaningless) is to do exactly that: conflate moral judgments with factual ones.


Why do you think that? Do you think that the only way to say that all moral judgments are false is to conflate moral judgments with factual ones? That's clearly false though because that's not what I'm doing.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Fri 14 May, 2010 08:39 am
@Night Ripper,
Night Ripper;164241 wrote:
That's clearly false though because that's not what I'm doing.


And that is clearly not much of an argument, since it muchly begs the question.
The point is that if the proposition that all moral judgments are false does not imply that moral judgments are a proper subclass of factual judgments, then what does it mean to call them false? Isn't to call a judgment false to say that it fails to state the facts? If not, then what?
 
Night Ripper
 
Reply Fri 14 May, 2010 08:49 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;164246 wrote:
moral judgments are a proper subclass of factual judgments


Saying that X is a subclass of Y is not the same as conflating X and Y. Do you even know what "conflating" means?

Quote:
Conflation occurs when the identities of two or more individuals, concepts, or places, sharing some characteristics of one another, become confused until there seems to be only a single identity - the differences appear to become lost.


Saying that a F150 truck is a subclass of Ford vehicles is not conflating F150 trucks and Ford vehicles. I'm sure you would have realized that if you took the time to think about what you're typing.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Fri 14 May, 2010 08:54 am
@Night Ripper,
Night Ripper;164250 wrote:
Saying that X is a subclass of Y is not the same as conflating X and Y. Do you even know what "conflating" means?



Saying that a F150 truck is a subclass of Ford vehicles is not conflating F150 trucks and Ford vehicles. I'm sure you would have realized that if you took the time to think about what you're typing.


If X is a proper subclass of Y, then all members of X are members of Y (although, of course, it is not true that all members of Y are members of X). So, to say that the class of moral judgments is a proper subclass of factual judgments, as you are when you say that all moral judgment are false, is to say that all moral judgments are factual judgment (although it is not to say the converse, of course). Is that what you are on about?
 
Night Ripper
 
Reply Fri 14 May, 2010 08:57 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;164252 wrote:
If X is a proper subclass of Y, then all members of X are members of Y (although, of course, it is not true that all members of Y are members of X). So, to say that the class of moral judgments is a proper subclass of factual judgments, as you are when you say that all moral judgment are false, is to say that all moral judgments are factual judgment (although it is not to say the converse, of course). Is that what you are on about?


What I'm on about is that you are wrong. I'm not conflating anything. Once you can admit that you're wrong then we can proceed.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Fri 14 May, 2010 09:06 am
@Night Ripper,
Night Ripper;164254 wrote:
What I'm on about is that you are wrong. I'm not conflating anything. Once you can admit that you're wrong then we can proceed.


Wrong about what? To say that all moral judgments are factual judgments is to conflate the two even if the converse is not true. Is that what you are on about?
 
Night Ripper
 
Reply Fri 14 May, 2010 09:14 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;164257 wrote:
Wrong about what? To say that all moral judgments are factual judgments is to conflate the two even if the converse is not true.


That's false. That's not conflating the two. The fact that the converse is not true means that they are still separable ideas. By your reasoning, to say that all Ford trucks are Ford vehicles is to conflate trucks and vehicles. That's false. That's simply not what the word "conflate" means. If I was actually conflating something, that would be cause for concern. However, I'm not and you haven't provided evidence that I am.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Fri 14 May, 2010 09:31 am
@Night Ripper,
Night Ripper;164262 wrote:
That's false. That's not conflating the two. The fact that the converse is not true means that they are still separable ideas. By your reasoning, to say that all Ford trucks are Ford vehicles is to conflate trucks and vehicles. That's false. That's simply not what the word "conflate" means. If I was actually conflating something, that would be cause for concern. However, I'm not and you haven't provided evidence that I am.


As you like it. This has become a dispute about the meaning of the term, "conflate". It has nothing to do with the original issue. (I think that is one of things people call , "semantics". An irrelevant dispute about a term). Now, back to what we were talking about. If we call a moral judgment false, we are implying it is a factual issue. Right? But that is to say that all moral judgment are factual judgments. Would you care to address this point?

"La politesse, toujours la politesse".
 
Twirlip
 
Reply Fri 14 May, 2010 09:55 am
@Pyrrho,
Quoted from Hume, in article #25 by Pyrrho:
Quote:
But in all ingenuous natures, the antipathy to treachery and roguery is too strong to be counterbalanced by any views of profit or pecuniary advantage. Inward peace of mind, consciousness of integrity, a satisfactory review of our own conduct; these are circumstances, very requisite to happiness, and will be cherished and cultivated by every honest man, who feels the importance of them.
By what standard might Hume imagine that a person might review his own conduct?

When I review my conduct, I don't ask, "Do I approve of my conduct?", I ask, "Was my conduct right?" Is it odd or irrational of me to do so?

The capacity to pass critical judgement on one's own conduct is mysterious, no doubt - at least, I find it deeply mysterious - but is there a coherent alternative to it?

Doesn't morality always involve some kind of self-transcendence?

(Warm thanks to the OP, by the way, for his very clear contributions. I disagree with eight of the philosophical positions taken in your profile, but your clear reasoning obliges people like me to struggle to find good arguments in support of our vague intuitions, which is one of the best things that philosophy can do. Welcome!)
 
 

 
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