RE: ESSAY: 'Debunking Hippy-Dippy moral philosophy'

From: Mike (
Date: Thu Jun 03 2004 - 18:16:10 MDT


Since you used the gravity example, I'll use a similar example. I think
that saying there must be an objective morality is like saying there
must be an objective time system. But in the end it's all relative to
the observer, isn't it?

Remove humans from the universe and where is morality? You can't say
the same thing about gravity. Seems to me the concept of morality is a
human invention. What morality is there in galaxies colliding, animals
in the food chain eating each other, etc?

If you were the last human alive, and the race would die out after you
were gone, is there anything you could do to be immoral?

To answer one of your questions, I think that there is no objective
standard by which you can say that Ghandi is better than Hitler. It's
only your rules of morality that tell you that Hitler is bad (and I
would personally agree). But in some societies, the most vicious
warrior gets the most honor and privilege. By his society, he's a hero.
By their morality, he's doing everything right. And if you ask their
opinion, they would tell you Ghandi is weak, a coward, and not someone
to emulate. One obvious example of this is the Samurai in Japan a few
hundred years ago. If they had to guess at the nature of the "objective
morality", their guess would look nothing like mine. How can our
moralities come from the same source and be so different? The answer
comes when I answer your other questions:

> by what standard would they define 'best'?
> Why would it be good if people thought 'longer or
> faster'? What is 'wisdom'? It would seem that an
> objective morality is still implied.

Doesn't "best" just end up being, in the long run, whatever maximizes
your potential to survive and reproduce? The Samurai think best is
being better with the sword. We think best is thinking faster. It all
depends on where you live.

Mike W.

> -----Original Message-----
> From: [] On Behalf
> Of Marc Geddes
> Sent: Wednesday, June 02, 2004 9:25 PM
> To:
> Subject: ESSAY: 'Debunking Hippy-Dippy moral philosophy'
> 'Debunking Hippy-Dippy moral philosophy'
> Marc Geddes, 2nd June, 2004
> It's fashionable in this post-modern age to say that
> morality is just a matter of opinion, just something
> 'made up'. People just don't think that morality is
> something with objective answers. A lot of it
> probably dates back to the philosopher David Hume, a
> fairly radical skeptic who seriously questioned the
> power of reason. It was Hume who famously said: 'You
> can't derive an ought from an is'. And of course all
> the modern pop-philosophers and moral relativists will
> trot out Hume's tired old dogma to bolster their
> (opinion!) that morality is all just a matter of
> opinion.
> But have the moral subjectivists seriously stopped to
> consider what their philosophy actually implies?
> Consider this question: Whose morality was better:
> Mahatma Gandhi's or Adolph Hitler's? If you believe
> that morality is just personal opinion what you are
> saying is that they are objectively both equivalent.
> It's just a matter of opinion and there is actually no
> real objective moral difference between them. Hitler
> was no better or worse than Gandhi. You may object
> that this is a ridiculous caricature. No it isn't.
> It is exactly what is implied by the idea that
> morality is just something made up. If you believe
> that morality is just something made up, you are
> saying that there is no objective sense in which
> Hitler was worse than Gandhi. But who in their right
> mind seriously believes this?
> The Humean claim that 'You can't derive an ought from
> an is', and therefore you can't reason to objective
> answers about morality is a piece of pop-philosophy
> which has obtained the status of a modern
> superstition. Hume's claim has about as much
> credibility as the idea that the Earth is flat. Hume
> had an extremely limited conception of reason. His
> conception was strictly axiomatic: he thought that
> reasoning consisted of deriving conclusions from
> axioms. Of course modern methods of reasoning (like
> Popperian epistemology or Bayesian reasoning) are not
> confined to axiomatic methods at all. Instead of
> regarding reasoning as a hierarchy, reasoning can be
> considered to be a network, with competing
> probabilistic conjectures which draw on support from
> each other. These powerful modern reasoning methods
> are not subject to Hume's critiques of reason, and
> therefore his claim: 'You can't derive ought from is'
> is a non sequitur. Of course using axiomatic
> reasoning you can't derive ought from is, but
> non-axiomatic methods of reasoning don't need to rely
> on deriving moral ought's from is's. You can
> formulate conjectures about morality, and then weigh
> up competing explanations to see which conjectures
> best fit with other knowledge about world. Objective
> conclusions can be drawn. So the Humean pop-philosophers are wrong.
> Another major objection to the idea that morality
> could be objective is the fact that human morality
> varies greatly from culture to culture. If human
> morality could be so varied, argue the
> pop-philosophers, how could it possibly be objective?
> The mistake here is elementary. If morality is
> objective, then morality and knowledge about morality
> are two different things. There is the objective
> referent 'morality' and then there are the subjective
> human 'theories about morality'. Take gravity as an
> analogy. Gravity is something which objectively
> exists. Prior to understanding gravity, there were
> many different competing ideas about it. Even after
> Isaac Newton understood it, scientists continued to
> refine the theory and argue about different competing
> ideas. Eventually Einstein's General Relatively
> superceded Newton, and to this day competing theories
> of gravity continue to be formulated and improved
> upon. Our knowledge of gravity is what is changing,
> gravity itself does not. And so it can be with
> morality. There might be wide variation in our
> opinions about morality, but the nature of the
> objective referent 'morality' is independent of what
> our opinions about it may be. Thus there is no basis
> for the claim that the variation in human morals
> disproves objective morality.
> Modern subjectivists have another scheme: they might
> concede that morality is not just a matter of
> individual opinion, but then they'll say it's a
> 'Social Construct'. They rightly repudiate moral
> relativism, but then they try to define the referent
> 'morality' as a sort of aggregate feature emerging
> from all the sentient minds on the planet. No longer
> is morality just a matter of personal opinion. The
> scheme superficially looks like it gives some measure
> of objectivity to the 'morality' concept. They can
> now talk about a 'Universal Morality' (the social
> construct of humanity), a referent external to
> individual minds.
> But it's pseudo-objectivity. It's the hippy-dippy
> mistake writ large. If we try to take the opinions of
> humanity as a whole as making up some sort of
> 'Universal Morality', morality is still just a matter
> of opinion, only now it's the aggregate or summation
> of individual opinions. If the Nazis had won World
> War II and say 80% of the world's population was
> eventually indoctrinated into believing Nazi dogma,
> would it be reasonable to regard Nazism as moral?
> Surely not. It's moral philosophy by opinion poll.
> Perhaps subjectivists might counter that by morality
> they mean the best in people, or what people would
> believe if they thought longer or faster, were wiser
> etc. But by what standard would they define 'best'?
> Why would it be good if people thought 'longer or
> faster'? What is 'wisdom'? It would seem that an
> objective morality is still implied.
> We have seen that the hippy-dippy ideas that morality
> is just a matter of opinion or perhaps some kind of
> 'social construct' are incoherent. Reasonable people
> must conclude that morality is something objectively
> real, something that we can use reason to discover.
> The first thing we should objectively declare is: No
> more hippy-dippy moral philosophy please!
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