So the other day I was engaged in an argument with a fellow poster. A nice guy who knew what he was talking about. So we come to the old question about Morality. His responses are in Italics.
I think subjectivity is simply inconsistent so I rejected subjective morality early on. He however was in the opposite corner. In between our conversation, I said “Stealing is wrong”. Now listen to this, he says:
If I define stealing as ‘wrongfully taking what doesn’t belong to you’, then it’s wrong by definition. Then, the problem is reduced to our theory of good or our idea of what makes something right or wrong. And also, it helps to establish what qualifies as ownership.
When we assert ‘stealing is not good’, there is a lot going on. There is the arduous task of defining each of those words and ascribing meaning (what does it ‘mean’ to have meaning?). Is it wrong for a lion to steal from a lion? What if a plant steals sunlight from a plant? We should examine the actors, doesn’t it matter if they are morally relevant actors? What does it mean to steal? What does it mean to own? How do we ascribe ownership to a ‘thing’? What is a thing? The obvious problems of then deciding what ‘good’ means. Layers upon layers of complexity, ideas, and abstractions to arrive at ‘stealing is not good’.
And to that, I’ll have to say.. ‘well, it depends.’
All good and valid points for sure. I asked him, that in his opinion, would this explanation work if I am standing in the court on the charge of theft and I repeat the above statement in my defense? To which he replied:
You ask, “is stealing wrong?” to which I’d say, yes. It is wrong, or bad, by definition. The only ambiguity left would be can we define and set a concrete border on all actions that constitute stealing? That seems difficult. Can we set a concrete and inflexible value to the harm of stealing? Why is stealing a car worse than stealing a bag of chips? Is it even worse? The harm of stealing would seem to be very complex and depend on a lot of different variables, and we can even approach an objective harm without even denying subjective values exist (by the method I described above). Could stealing then be justifiable if it was, say, to steal food for your starving family? There is so much context to consider that I have trouble making absolute blanket statements. This makes morality very difficult when when don’t want it to be, and intuitively, these things feel so obvious. I think ethics is a good way to simplify morality in some cases, but we also have to agree on what morality is (what is right and wrong?). Lots of issues to tackle. Morality may be objective in a way we didn’t realize, though.
I understand his side, I really do. And he had the guts to take his argument to its logical end even if that ended at an awkward end. I appreciate that.
I realize that there are indeed problems with regards to morals. There are problems which lie deep within at the heart of the issue. And yet this is precisely why I reject subjectivity.
Now before you think I am a heartless chap, let me expound on one bit of what he said, the part about stealing food for your starving family. Now this is a very tender subject and I can just say that if you have a starving wife and child, you do what it takes to feed them, after all nothing is precious than life itself. I sympathize with anyone who is in that position.
But regardless of whether you steal or not, ask yourself this, does this suddenly make stealing a “good” act? Just because you have been wronged, or you have hard times, does not grant you the liberty to do another wrong. No one has the right to do that.
Should people just start stealing because they are out of a job or having hard times? Don’t you think its kind of a wrong mentality to have? Do you understand where this leads? What if you steal from someone to provide food for your family and the guy you stole from needed that money to buy his child’s medicine? Don’t you think you just exchanged one evil for another.
You see, the thing about morals and logic is, that they have to be consistent or else we have serious problems. I think objective morality exists because the simple rules of logic, by deductive reasoning demand it. It is also one of the same reasons I think evolution is the best model, not because of how much evidence we have but rather without evolution, biology simply does not make sense.
The second rule of logic is that two opposite things can not be both true at the same time, hence the Law of non-contradiction.
Now, my proposition is “stealing is not good”. So lets scrap out objective and subjective morality, lets start from zero.
How many states of reality does this proposition holds to? Only two in my opinion. Either my statement is true, or it is not true. To say we do not know whether it is true or not is irrelevant since what we believe can not alter the nature of the act in question. To say it is both true and false at all given time and space is also wrong because it is inconsistent with the the first rule of formal logic.
To say it is true in some instances and false at others is what we call subjectivity, it is to evade the question partially because now we are defining true or false as we see fit and even that may change from our understanding over time. But why I do not find this work around impressive, is because it does not address the nature of the act in question rather it judges the act according to how it is perceived by the beholders or observers. But see here the problem arises again it now appears to have broken the law of non-contradiction.
This is why I believe OM exists, two opposite things can not both be true, and if SM is true than the rules of of formal logic are also null and void. But if OM is true than the rules of logic hold and they are consistent. Subjective morality simply can not stand consistency. Objective morality can.
Even to say that subjective Morality exists, would be an act of attributing a fundamental objective property to the statement. The fact remains, relativity has no direct impact on the inherent nature of an act. I am not discussing here how we get the knowledge of something. Things exists without our knowledge of them, that is why we discover them.
Ultimately, what do you think? What qualifies as ownership? Is stealing inherently bad, or is it just relative to your situation?