Thursday, April 20, 2006

Kill Moral Relativism



This entry is part of the perpetual War on Moral Relativism.

What is moral relativism? It is the belief that there is no factual moral standard, and that any given moral system is as "valid" as the other (or depending on how you look at it, none of them are valid). Moral relativism violates so many logical rules that it’s hard to know where to begin killing it. I have decided that the best place for me to start is at the individual (self-ownership) level.

First, we need to take a quick look at fact-based individualistic morality, and the best way to familiarize oneself with that is by reading the wonderfully illustrated entry from Hellbound Alleee called "Sally and Cy: Morality in Action!"

Now that you've read the illustrated tale of Sally and Cy, let's review: Morality is about making good or bad choices. Good choices fulfill one's values, while bad choices do not. Since reality is based on fact, values are also based on fact. For example, if you value your cat, you cannot fulfill that value without taking care of said cat. And taking care of a cat requires actions based on facts: cats need certain kinds of food; cats need a suitable place to poop, and cats need affection and stimulation. Only certain actions can fulfill the cat's needs, like providing cat food and a clean litter box and cat toys. Doing these things is the only way to fulfill one's pet cat values.

Values are contextual, but they are still fact-based. Some moral relativists mistake the fact that people have different values for moral relativism, when in fact it is simply contextualism. While many values are shared by all humans, some are not. That means that while Sally may value her cat Cy, Aaron Kinney (that's me!) may value his Mustang GT instead. Just because Sally and Aaron don't have all the same values doesn't mean that morality is relative. Both Sally's cat value and Aaron's Mustang value require specific fact-based actions in order for those values to be fulfilled. Sally's cat needs food, and Aaron's Mustang needs gasoline.

There is another important aspect to a fact-based morality: individualism. Individualism is based on self-ownership. In other words, you own yourself because you are yourself. Individualism rejects other-ownership because you are not anyone other than yourself. Kind of self-explanatory, right? But you'd be surprised how often people fail to recognize such a basic concept when moral issues are discussed. With individualism, every individual is sovereign. While an individual has every right to make himself fulfill his own values, he does not have a right to force any other person to fulfill his values.

With individualism, consent is paramount. Forcing an individual to do something without his consent is immoral, because morality is about individual value fulfillment, and forcing another against their will violates their values. It is immoral for Aaron to force Sally to pay for his Mustang just as it is immoral for Sally to force Aaron to take care of her cat, because in both situations, an individual's value fulfillment is being restricted or denied.

Some moral relativists will protest, and say "but it isn't immoral in Sally's morality for her to force Aaron to take care of her cat, and therefore morality is relative!" But that is a totally erroneous statement because it violates the law of identity. Sally only owns herself; she does not own Aaron. Similarly, Aaron only owns himself; he does not own Sally. Both Aaron and Sally only have the right to make decisions about their own actions, not anybody else’s, because they only own their individual selves.

In a fact-based individualist morality, just about the only thing immoral is coercion. Coercion is the forcing of one's values onto another: things like theft, cheating, murder, threats, etc. are all coercive. Coercion is wrong because it violates individualism; it is the attempt to force, or effectively "own," someone else (or at least their values). Since you are only you, and not someone else, you only inherently own yourself. You do not inherently own anyone else, and have no right to coerce them to do anything or violate their consent.

Fact-based individualistic morality is not based on whether a cat or a Mustang is a better value. To claim that a Mustang is a better value than a cat disregards contextuality. In other words, valuable to whom? What it is based on is principles or rules, namely, the principles and rules that I described above. Think of values as variables in an algebra equation. Value "X" can be a cat or a Mustang, but that doesn't make morality any more relative than the laws of mathematics are relative. These variables (or values) must still operate along the universal, fact-based laws of mathematics (or moral rules).

These principles are all universal in the same way that the laws of physics are universal. A very important tool for use in determining the universality of morality is the Moral Razor.

The Moral Razor states: A moral principle or system, or a political principle or system, is invalid if it is asymmetrical in application (to locations, times or persons).

This Moral Razor makes use of universality the same way that logic and physics make use of universality. If the laws of thermodynamics exist on Earth, then they exist everywhere. If the laws of logic exist on Earth, then they exist everywhere.

Where do we stand now? We have recognized self-ownership (and rejected other-ownership), we have recognized that values are based on facts, and we have recognized the universality of moral rules. This brings us to a fact-based individualistic morality, where each individual is as sovereign as the next, consent is paramount, and coercion is immoral.

So kiss moral relativity goodbye! Say goodbye to moral systems based on asymmetrical sets of dictates from cosmic slave drivers. Say goodbye to coercion, force, and anything that violates the sovereignty of the individual. Say goodbye to lame-duck attempts at justifying different sets of moral rules for different individuals.

Kill Moral Relativism.

23 comments:

TheJollyNihilist said...

Hey Aaron.

As you know, for all the things we agree on, this is one where we have differing views. I do classify myself as a moral relativist (though not in cultural context; rather, I think morality is relative from individual to individual, regardless of culture).

I'm going to go through a few of your paragraphs and highlight our disagreements on this issue.

Now that you've read the illustrated tale of Sally and Cy, let's review: Morality is about making good or bad choices. Good choices fulfill one's values, while bad choices do not. Since reality is based on fact, values are also based on fact. For example, if you value your cat, you cannot fulfill that value without taking care of said cat. And taking care of a cat requires actions based on facts: cats need certain kinds of food; cats need a suitable place to poop, and cats need affection and stimulation. Only certain actions can fulfill the cat's needs, like providing cat food and a clean litter box and cat toys. Doing these things is the only way to fulfill one's pet cat values.

I will get to the notion that morality is about fulfilling values later on.

I object to the words "good" and "bad" being used with respect to choices. I think you are presupposing that fulfilling one's values is "good" while not fulfilling them is "bad." However, that can't really be proven - "good" and "bad" are opinion words, as in "That was a good movie." Nothing is inherently good or bad. But this might be getting away from the point. I will certainly grant you that some choices fulfill one's values while other choices do not. I will also grant that fulfilling the value of caring for a cat is based upon facts. Cats need food, water, shelter, etc. - those are indisputable facts. From here, we move on...

There is another important aspect to a fact-based morality: individualism. Individualism is based on self-ownership. In other words, you own yourself because you are yourself. Individualism rejects other-ownership because you are not anyone other than yourself. Kind of self-explanatory, right? But you'd be surprised how often people fail to recognize such a basic concept when moral issues are discussed. With individualism, every individual is sovereign. While an individual has every right to make himself fulfill his own values, he does not have a right to force any other person to fulfill his values.

Here is where we begin to part company more dramatically. The idea that "You own yourself because you are yourself" can't be proven. It's an assumption (an assumption, I must add, that I totally accept). If somebody walked up to you on the street and demanded proof that you own yourself, you couldn't really provide it other than to assert it. That's because "ownership" is an intangible concept, unless it's in the form of a contract or other paper-based transaction. Similarly, proving that I don't own you is also impossible. Indeed, there is no more hard evidence that you own you than there is hard evidence that I own you.

I personally accept self-ownership. I defend it vehemently. But, I defend it from the perspective of my opinion, because there are no tangible facts whatsoever to substantiate the concept.

Additionally, from where does this self-ownership come? Does it only apply to humans? Did it apply to Neandertals? Does my ownership of a dog infringe on the dog's self-ownership? If not, why do you isolate the concept to homo sapiens sapiens? Is there scientific data with which one can justify such discrimation?

With individualism, consent is paramount. Forcing an individual to do something without his consent is immoral, because morality is about individual value fulfillment, and forcing another against their will violates their values. It is immoral for Aaron to force Sally to pay for his Mustang just as it is immoral for Sally to force Aaron to take care of her cat, because in both situations, an individual's value fulfillment is being restricted or denied.

What hard evidence is there that demonstrates morality is about individual value fulfillment? To me, that's another assumption. Why isn't morality about communal value fulfillment? That is, why isn't morality centered around that which is best for the society in which we live? Since morality is an intangible notion, one cannot factually speak of its inherent character; thus, defining it as individual value fulfillment is a presupposition, no more valid than defining it as communal value fulfillment. Or, maybe morality has nothing to do with value fulfillment at all. One of my most basic objections--despite the fact that it is buried here in my reply--is that you are presupposing a relationship between value fulfillment and morality. On what chart, and based upon what data, can this alleged relationship be substantiated?

If the relationship between morality and individual value fulfillment is based upon acceptance of the individualist philosophy, then morality is indeed relative; there's nothing inherently true about individualism anymore than communism or any other social philosophy. As such, individualists have their definition of morality, communists have their definition, and morality is relative in the overall sense.

Where do we stand now? We have recognized self-ownership (and rejected other-ownership), we have recognized that values are based on facts, and we have recognized the universality of moral rules. This brings us to a fact-based individualistic morality, where each individual is as sovereign as the next, consent is paramount, and coercion is immoral.

So kiss moral relativity goodbye! Say goodbye to moral systems based on asymmetrical sets of dictates from cosmic slave drivers. Say goodbye to coercion, force, and anything that violates the sovereignty of the individual. Say goodbye to lame-duck attempts at justifying different sets of moral rules for different individuals.


To conclude, I think your moral code is based upon several assumptions:

1. That morality and individual value fulfillment have a relationship. If that is just your definition of the word "morality," then morality is indeed relative because others are free to define the term differently.

2. That individuals own themselves, but don't own others. I have seen no hard evidence for this, only an assertion. I also question why this only applies to humans, and not the rest of animalia. If it does apply to the rest of animalia, then I question if owning a dog is in fact engaging in coercion against the dog.

3. That individual value fulfillment is somehow inherently superior to communal value fulfillment. I think this is only true if you happen to be an individualist, and I see no proof that individualism is somehow inherently correct, while communalism is inherently incorrect.

Of course, I mean no disrespect. But, I sincerely disagree with you on this issue, and don't want to back away from a potentially interesting discussion.

Anonymous said...

Aaron: Your post is funny because it's arbitrary conjecture under the facade of objectivism. Anyone whose not a Randriod can see right through your leaps in logic.

P.S. Mustang GTs suck big time.

Aaron Kinney said...

Anonymous,

1) Support your assertions. Dont just make empty claims.

2) I'm not a Randroid, or even an objectivist.

3) I'll race you any time. I run 13.3 @105 mph in the quarter mile. Have you ever even been to a race track?

Aaron Kinney said...

Frances,

Thanks fo the feedback. Unlike the dumbass anonymous who posted in here, you actually provide sepcific arguments and responses to what I wrote. I appreciate it.

I will respond in detail to your arguments later on, possibly in a follow-up post.

TheJollyNihilist said...

Sounds good. Glad to help kickstart what is sure to be an interesting discussion.

I approach this issue with an open mind; I could potentially be convinced that I am in error. After all, through debate, I have been convinced to oppose the death penalty and oppose gun control. So, for that reason specifically, I am interested in reading your response.

breakerslion said...

Hi Aaron. I look forward to this discussion. Franc and Alleee convinced me a while ago that morality is not relative, but I'm not sure that I agree on what morality is.

As for anon, that wasn't me. I've always been a Mopar man myself, but Caroll Shelby was nobody's fool.

Frances - Food for thought: People formed groups and societies in the first place in order to leverage their ability to survive. We still get more out of specialization of work than we would by the do-it-yourself method. Since group behavior and the adoption of group values (in order not to be ostracized) are in one's self-interest, does that automatically make that behavior right?

BlackSun said...

Hey Aaron, good post. Like with Alleee's cat example, I think the facts of human morality flow from evolutionary imperatives. (Maslow's hierarchy of needs, etc.)

To study human evolution is to learn the basis for morality. I would include ev psych, anthropology, and to a lesser extent political science. Too often these disciplines get watered down with opinions and social agendas.

Why not just stick with the realities of survival, competition, and hierarchy? These are the factors that form the backdrop for any moral system.

Too often, relativists deny competition and hierarchy, and look at survival as some sort of "right" to be ensured by governments. Yech.

A great discussion, Aaron.

FTM, as usual, I think you get too bogged down in what you claim is unprovable ontology. You need to start somewhere, and I have no problem accepting things like self-ownership for example, or as we talked about before, the inherent superiority of human life. It seems like you could spend your life debating these minutiae.

Why isn't morality about communal value fulfillment? That is, why isn't morality centered around that which is best for the society in which we live?

You even introduce a note of utilitarianism in your argument. Yikes. Are you a closet collectivist? ;-)

I prefer to accept certain premises as proven and move on. Raising an objection to self-ownership is just silly, clouds the issue and wastes time. I guess we will just have to agree to disagree.

TheJollyNihilist said...

Basically, here's my stance:

I accept NOTHING as self-evident. Unless there is actual evidence to substantiate a notion, I consider the notion doubtful. There is no actual evidence that I own myself; the best one can do is make an assertion that it is so. Therefore, to me, self-ownership is doubtful. Therefore, I cannot build a moral framework upon it. Indeed, a moral framework built upon a foundation of suppositions is itself a supposition.

As a libertarian, I detest collectivism. However, I don't think that, somehow, libertarianism is demonstrably correct while collectivism is demonstrably wrong. Moreover, I do not accept the premise that morality is based upon individual value fulfillment because there is no hard evidence that morality is based upon individual value fulfillment. I bring up communal value fulfillment because it's just as plausible, and equally lacking in hard evidence.

As I said, I accept nothing as self-evident. Perhaps that's why I consider myself a skeptic, in the true philosophical sense.

Francois Tremblay said...

"However, I don't think that, somehow, libertarianism is demonstrably correct while collectivism is demonstrably wrong. Moreover, I do not accept the premise that morality is based upon individual value fulfillment because there is no hard evidence that morality is based upon individual value fulfillment."

What the fuck standard of proof do you use then, buddy ?

TheJollyNihilist said...

That's the thing: "Morality" is just as intangible a concept as "spirituality." Perhaps you define morality as individual value fulfillment. Another person might define morality as communal value fulfillment. Another person might define morality as that which is good for the environment, while immorality is that which is bad for the environment. I have seen absolutely no hard evidence that any single definition is correct, while the others are demonstrably incorrect.

Can you provide data, or hard evidence of any kind, that demonstrably proves morality has something to do with individual value fulfillment? If not, I would say that is an assumption, just as the notion of self-ownership is also an assumption. And, a moral framework built upon a foundation of assumptions is itself an assumption.

Given that I accept NOTHING to be self-evident, I am not willing to "grant" anyone anything unless proper evidence is presented.

Aaron Kinney said...

Wow, 5 new comments since I last checked!

Thank you for the comments BlackSun. I didn't introduce the things you mentioned because 1) Although I've heard of Maslow's Heirarchy, I never read him, and 2) I like to argue morality from individualism, which relies on provables like "you own you cause you are you" etc...

Im honestly suprised that Francesthemagnificent would argue that I cant prove that I own myself! But thats ok.

FTM I will respond to the statements you made soon. Hopefully I will be able to bring you closer to my side hehe.

I just have to record a few Vox Populi clips and then I will start another post. In the meantime, I am about to post a pic of something I got in the mail the other day ;)

TheJollyNihilist said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
TheJollyNihilist said...

I'm honestly suprised that Francesthemagnificent would argue that I cant prove that I own myself! But thats ok.

Because the evidence I'm looking for probably isn't possible.

Let's use my computer as an example. How can I prove that I own this computer? I still have the receipt. I can look in my credit card records and find a listing, indicating the purchase. I'm registered with Dell as a PC owner. Those are bits of hard evidence that help to prove I own my computer.

Where is the hard evidence that I own myself?

Aaron Kinney said...

Frances, you nihilist! :P

BaconEating AtheistJew said...

Frances, the Fundies like your work here. They want you to destroy the theory of evolution now:)

TheJollyNihilist said...

Aaron,

I think that label is absolutely correct. I probably am a nihilist.

Anonymous said...

Your argument is very interesting however i would have to dissagree with the axiomns that you base your argument upon.

Firstly you assume that morality is based on protecting out values, but would you not think it wrong to kill someone on another planet who could not influence your life?
This could not affect anything you value as it has no influence on you.

Also the individualistic viewpoint assumes that the person isnt self harming, hence making there life worse increases their happiness and hence the values that they have.
This would mean that protecting there values would actually be immoral to them according to your argument, which would therfore lead to a logical contradiction.

You also assume all values are fact based, yet blaspheming is immoral in many cultures and god is based purely on faith.

Also the moral razor shouldn't be used as an argument in itself due to that fact it is an assumption as it is based on the ideas of universality which I know in physics at least are an assumption.

beepbeepitsme said...

Moral absolutists claim a god as their source. (shakey ground if you ask me as an atheist) What if your god is a head hunter for example? What moral absolutists mean when they claim god as their source is that they claim THEIR VERSION OF GOD FROM THEIR RELIGION, not the god that some tribe in papua new guinea worships.

Moral relativists claim the diversity of culture and the evolution of morals as evidence. (as an atheist I consider this to be the logical position)

The reality is that it has been moral to collect heads and still IS not too far from where I live. The highlands of papua new guinea as not too far from australia and certainly it was and still is in isolated tribes considered quite moral according to their culture to collect heads and to eat people.

That I consider it inappropriate doesn't mean that there exists a moral absolute. What it does mean is that as cultures and societies change and evolve, behaviours such as head hunting and cannabalism become human rights issues.

It is difficult for some modern people from modern cultures to understand how another culture can consider head hunting to be moral. But then, the head hunters probably find it hard to understand how it is moral to kill people you do not intend to eat.

Francois Tremblay said...

beepbeepitsme : So your argument is "other people believe it, so it must be true" ? What a profound thinker you are. Do you often believe other people for no reason at all ?

TheJollyNihilist said...

I looked up the word "nihilism" on Wikipedia to get a more complete definition, and see if it truly does apply to me.

Nihilism is a philosophical position which argues that the world, and especially human existence, is without objective meaning, purpose, comprehensible truth, or essential value. Nihilists generally believe all of the following: God does not exist, traditional morality is false, and secular ethics are impossible; therefore, life has no meaning, and no action is preferable to any other.

Yeah, I'm definitely a nihilist.

Vic said...

Regarding frances' question about self-ownership:


Where is the hard evidence that I own myself?


perhaps the 'ownership' part of the term 'self-ownership' is misleading, but I take self-ownership as simply a restatement of the identity property. Consider: when we speak of owning other things, as in your computer example, you are talking about the relationship between two separate things: me, my computer. Self-ownership is only a restatement that I am me; Just as I think my own thoughts and decide my own values, and since consciousness is just a part of being this type of bodily person we call 'human', why is it such a stretch to say that my arm is mine or my leg is mine - or my kidney, or my womb (if I were a woman)?

Anonymous said...

Hellbound allee,

Prove the existence of objective morality. All you've done is try to connect physical reality with requirements for maintaining that physical reality (a cat, and the need to provide the cat with a litterbox, cat toys, food etc.). How does that equate morality?

Aaron Kinney said...

Anonymous,

Can you not see the logic? Physical reality leads to objective morality.

A person has values. In this instance, the cat is the value. To keep said value, things must be done factually in accordance with reality. The cat needs food. The person feeds the cat.

It means morality is objective because one cannot keep their value by doing any damn thing they please. One cannot keep their cat unless they care for it. One cannot fulfill their values unless they do objective fact based things that correspond to the reality of the situation.