This entry is part of the perpetual War on Moral Relativism.
This post is long overdue. It is a reply to the objections and questions raised by Francesthemagnificent in this post.
One of the first things I noticed is that Frances and I seem to be on disagreement about definitions of certain things. Lets see what Frances says about "good" and "bad":
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...
Is it really an unjustified stretch to say that the word "good" refers to that which brings an individual closer to value fulfillment, while "bad" is that which takes an individual farther away from value fulfillment, even if said values are opinions, like a favorite movie?
I think Frances betrayed his own objection in his "That was a good movie," example. Even if "good" and "bad" are only opinion statements, isn't it still true that fulfilling one's values is factually good for them? I mean, if I liked V for Vendetta, and said "That was a good movie," isn't it still true that I'm using the word "good" to represent value fulfillment, in this case a movie that entertained me? If Frances hated the movie V for Vendetta, would he use the word "good" or "bad" to describe it? In this way, the words "good" and "bad" are fact based, because they relate to value fulfillment, and values are fact based (a point that Frances seems to agree on).
Frances then addresses my individualism and self-ownership claims:
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 any 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.
While Frances personally accepts my self-ownership position, he argues that it is an unprovable one. I, of course, totally disagree. Why? Because self-ownership is based on the law of identity. A = A. You are you. Frances is Frances; he is not Aaron. Because Frances is Frances, only Frances owns himself. Self-ownership is somewhat of a tautology because it is virtually identical to the law of identity. Aaron is Aaron, and Aaron owns Aaron.
Frances claims that I cannot prove that he does not own me, and in doing so, Frances confuses the burden of proof. It is Frances' burden to prove that he does own me, not the other way around. It is, of course, also my burden to prove the principle of self-ownership. Thanks to the law of identity, I can say that an individual inherently owns what it inherently is: itself. Is there really much of a difference between saying, "Aaron is himself" and "Aaron owns himself"?
Unfortunately, Frances does not have these logical tools at his disposal to support his claim that he owns me. Can Frances, by sheer force of will, make me comply with all of his demands and agree with all of his values? No, he must use physical force to comply with his demands (he can't do it with mere thought), and he cannot get me to agree with all of his values no matter what physical force he applies to me. That is because, like Frances, I am my own separate individual entity with my own individual values and I have my own direct control over my own body.
Frances then compares and contrasts morality and value fulfillment between individuals and a collectivist society:
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?
Individuals exist as singular conscious entities. Societies don't. A society is just a collection of individuals with no singular consciousness. Morality is about individual value fulfillment because morality applies to the actions of a conscious entity, and only individuals are conscious entities. Defining morality as individual value fulfillment is no more of a presupposition than it is to "presuppose" that individual humans have individual and separate consciousnesses. It is honestly not that difficult to observe that, factually, individuals are singular, conscious entities and a collective society is not.
Frances then asks me to prove factually that morality and value fulfillment have a relationship. This is a definitional problem regarding the very word "morality"? It seems that Frances wants me to define "morality" and prove that the definition is valid. May I just say that a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet? Can't we just agree on a dictionary definition or something? Whatever concept you want to assign the word "morality" to is irrelevant. That is because the concepts of right and wrong behavior, and value fulfillment, will always exist, regardless of what we call them. We can use the word "blark" for all I care.
But is there a relationship between value fulfillment and right and wrong behavior? Of course! That is because values are fact-based, as Frances conceded earlier. "Right" or "good" relates to fulfilling a value, and "wrong" or "bad" relates to not fulfilling that value, or fulfilling an anti-value. Certain factual things must be performed to fulfill a value. And to fulfill a value is "good" for the value holder, while not fulfilling the value is "bad". Right and wrong are definite things because values are definite things that require definite actions. I cannot fulfill my food value by eating rusty nails, or by refusing to eat altogether! Eating rusty nails or refusing to eat is "bad" if obtaining sustenance is a value that I hold.
Frances continues to attack individualism and defend collectivism:
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.
The acceptance of individualist philosophy does not make said philosophy relative anymore than the acceptance of the law of gravity makes gravity relative. Anyone can define morality any way they want, but the concepts of right and wrong behavior, and the factual nature of values, will remain constant, regardless of what word is used to describe them, and regardless of the refusal of one to accept their truths.
Just because I reject that individuals exist doesn't make them cease to exist, does it? Just because I refuse to recognize that a high-speed metal projectile will destroy my brain if my skull intercepts it's path, doesn't mean that my head won't be blown off when someone shoots me, does it?
We can scientifically and factually prove that an individual human has a singular consciousness and direct control over itself. We cannot do the same for a collective group of people. In fact, we can even use science to factually prove that a collective group of humans in fact does not have a singular consciousness and direct control over itself. Analysis of observable facts will most definitely support the claim that an individual exists as a singular self-directing entity, while a collective society does not.
Frances then offers his conclusion in three points:
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.
That is a nice sum up of his points. I'm not going to address them directly in this paragraph because I feel that I addressed all these points directly in earlier paragraphs. I feel that I refuted them adequately and defended my individualist position adequately, but I imagine that not everyone will agree with me on that.
I find it interesting that while Frances seems to agree with individualism on a personal level, he disagrees with it on a factual, principle-based, universal level. Why? Oh yeah, because Frances says:
I looked up the word "nihilism" on Wikipedia to get a more complete definition, and see if it truly does apply to me.
[From Wikipedia] 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.
Gross! I hate nihilism. But you know what they say, "hate the nihilism, not the nihilist."
Frances was also kind enough to provide a closing remark:
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.
I feel the exact same way. I hope this post didn't seem harsh. Understanding the truth of individual self-ownership and a fact-based morality isn't always easy, especially in the world we Westerners are raised in. At the risk of sounding too evangelical or presumptuous, I do hope that I can convince Frances to adopt self-ownership not only on a personal level, but also on a universal one. Frances, you should look me up on Skype, where we can talk about these things much more quickly and efficiently than through blog posts and comments. There have been some very enlightening conversations on Skype as of late. Anyone interested in talking about these kinds of intellectual issues in real-time should download the software and then look me up.