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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Thursday, September 15, 2011

More on God, Craig, and (in this case) debating morality

This is from Martin S. Pribble's blog, as is this.

For myself, I don't see any reason at all to believe that morality is objective in anything like the sense that Craig describes (that's a recurring theme of this blog). Indeed even if morality came from God it would not be objective in the sense that Craig seems to be getting at - moral norms would not be rationally binding on us all independently of our desires, values, etc. No doubt an all-powerful God could give us the desire to obey its commands, either for its own sake or to avoid painful punishments, but that's not the same thing.

There is, however, a social and psychological pressure to think that the "true" morality is rationally binding on us in a way that transcends all desires and has more rational clout than mere social norms or commands from others. Christian apologists often play to this, and there's no doubt that many people find the idea that morality is not, strictly, objective rather disconcerting ... and likewise, many people find the idea that God can somehow deliver an objective morality psychologically attractive. But disconcerting ideas can be true and psychologically attractive ones can be false.

The pressure I refer to provides a Christian apologist with powerful emotional weapons, but not with a sound argument for the existence of God.


josef johann said...

I do love the Kagan/Craig debate. I feel it's one of the few times Craig has lost a debate, though this seems partially due to the fact that Craig was unprepared for the format of the debate for whatever reason.

I still don't get that objectivity must be characterized by independence from desires. You still have objective facts of the matter about which configurations of the world best fit with the totality of desires held by sentient creatures.

This, I think, is the thing that's "out there" which we have social/psychological pressure to address when we act.

Russell Blackford said...

Josef, it's not that it "must" be something. It's just that that is what objectivism means in metaethics, or at least in certain important metaethical debates. And there are reasons for being interested in this idea of morality being "objective".

Sure, there are other senses of objectivity - but I've never denied that morality may be objective in some other sense, such as the one you describe. I'm quite happy with the idea that, regardless of whether we use the term "morality", there really can be a fit between desires, what configurations of the world will fulfil them, and what actions will lead to those configurations. I totally agree with that.

But we have to remember that not all sentient creatures have the same desires, and it may be perfectly rational for one sentient creature to act in a way that is contrary to the desires of the majority. For many people, that's a scary thought. They want morality to be more objective than that. They seem to want us to all be bound - as a matter of reason - to act in the same way in the same circumstances, even if our desires are different.

Arguably, in fact, claims such as "Phi-ing is morally wrong" mean "Phi-ing is forbidden by a standard that inescapably binds you, as a matter of reason, irrespective of your desires." A lot of moral discourse only seems to make sense on the assumption that people think that expressions such as "morally wrong" have a meaning something like that.

Contrast our ordinary value judgments, where people don't seem to assume that the standards they use must bind everyone else.

If it turns out that moral judgments are just ordinary value judgments in a particular domain (such as judgments about people's characters and choices) there's no great problem in one sense. The theoretical problem is solved. But there seems to be a resistance to thinking of moral judgments like that.