Thursday, July 24, 2014

Objective Moral Values - A Response to Neil Shenvi 3

Shenvi claims that "it is incredibly hard to envision a scenario in which it is genetically advantageous to... adopt and raise children of another race."  I disagree.

Children can be a source of cheap labor.  For a struggling farmer, adopting a child or two, no matter their race, can be advantageous to the farmer, his wife, the children themselves, and perhaps even their community - if the farmer can produce enough to sell at a good price to his neighbors.

Adopting children is not always advantageous, however, as in the times when they become too burdensome and not help out on the farm.  There are situations when adopting children would be beneficial, and when it would not.  But the fact that it would sometimes be beneficial, however, is enough for the human desire to adopt children to persist through time and not be "weeded out of the human population by natural selection eons ago" as Shenvi would expect.

If there are other behaviors that may not be explained evolutionarily, I'd like to know about them.

Keep in mind, I'm not arguing evolution can tell us what is moral.  Rather, I'm arguing there are better explanations for Shenvi's evidence.  I'm explaining Shenvi's evidence without invoking objective morality.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Objective Moral Values - A Response to Neil Shenvi 2

Let's grant the truth of the statement that I critiqued in my last post.  So, there exists the same basic standards of morality across cultures.  Let's call this proposition E.

According to Shenvi, E is likely due to the existence of objective moral values.  In other words, E is explained by, or consistent with, the existence of objective moral values.

And I agree -- this is aligns with his theory.  But that doesn't mean there's not a better explanation for E.

A better explanation is that humans generally have the same desires, and these desires resulted in E.

Take the desire not to be murdered, for example.  Ancient humans who desired not to be murdered were more likely to survive and have children with the same desire, while ancient humans without that desire were less likely to survive and have children because they were murdered more often.  Therefore, as this scenario played out over generations, most humans (and any species, for that matter) eventually had the desire not to be murdered.

The reason we find cultures with rules against murder is because cultures without those rules died out.

The same could be said for lots of the basic rules within the "standard morality" found across cultures -- those rules fulfill common human desires.  All cultures share the same basic desires.  Therefore, all cultures have the same basic rules.

To be fair, Shenvi mentions several moral actions that are more difficult to explain.  For example, he mentions throwing oneself onto a live grenade to save ones' platoon.  According to Shenvi, this is best explained by objective moral values.  However, Shenvi has not shown that this act is universally considered to be morally good.  Therefore, by Shenvi's criterion of objective morality being universal, it doesn't not count as evidence toward objective morality.  But even if it was universal, is there a better explanation for it?

I think a better explanation is that the desire for survival can be fulfilled in a variety of complex ways.

If there's a live grenade threatening ones' platoon, the most prudent option, given the various ways one can promote survival, might be to jump on the grenade.  For example, if the result of jumping on the grenade is that ones' platoon stays strong, wins the war, and ones' community to thrives (which all promote survival), then one might jump on the grenade.  Though the one individual would die, the survival and the thriving of ones' family and community would be more likely.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Objective Moral Values - A Response to Neil Shenvi

Neil Shenvi has a website where he argues for one interpretation of "good" and "bad," which is that these words describe something objective -- something that's true independent of the beliefs of humans.  He says that "moral facts" exist (in philosophy, this qualifies him as a "moral realist"), and he gives what he sees as evidence for their existence. (While Neil is a Christian, his evidence is not based in Christianity.  So,  I'll not need to respond to anything uniquely Christian, or even theistic.)

The first piece of evidence is that "Nearly universally across human cultures, there exist the same basic standards of morality."

My first response is to question how true this statement is.  Sure, there are certain morals that most cultures agree upon presently and even throughout history.  For example, killing somebody for no reason is, and may have always been, considered to be wrong.   However, there are other morals issues that cultures have disagreed upon.  For example, capital punishment is disagreed upon.  So, while killing is generally viewed as wrong, it's often disagreed upon regarding when killing may be permissible.  I think this could be said for pretty much all the popular moral issues, like lying, stealing, raping, etc.  While they are generally viewed as wrong, they are disagreed upon over when it may be OK to do these things.  So, I'm saying that while there is significant agreement over certain morals, there's also significant disagreement.

(before I continue, I just want to note that even if his statement is true, and it may very well be, I'm not sure how this would be evidence for "objective good" and "objective evil", but more on that at a later time.)

Now, Neil could respond by saying that, while there is significant moral disagreement throughout cultures, there's also significant disagreement among scientists over the nature of the external universe, and that doesn't mean the external universe doesn't exist (objectively).  Further, Neil could say that even considering scientists' views on the external universe have changed over time (like cultures' views on morality have changed over time), that doesn't mean the external universe doesn't exist, and therefore, neither do objective morals not exist.  Well, to me, comparing the existence of objective moral values to the existence of the objective universe is not a good comparison.

Take a wooden chair, for example (which is part of the objective, external universe).  We can test the chair, examine it scientifically, compare it to other chairs, see how it reacts in different environments, repeat all of our tests and see how consistently we get the same results, and so forth.  The chair can be observed in many ways that do not rely on our opinions alone, thus showing that the chair most likely objectively exists.  (This is why scientists generally don't disagree over the existence of the external universe, only it's nature.)  However, we cannot perform these tests on "objective good".  It is not an object.  It has no material existence for us to test, and so it is not comparable to the external universe.

However, it could be argued that the objective, external universe does not consist solely of material objects, but also abstract objects, and, like morality, these abstract objects exist objectively.  For example, numbers are said (by some philosophers) to be abstract objects that exist objectively (i.e. independent of human opinion).  To that, I would respond with questioning the objective existence of numbers.

To what extent do numbers really exist objectively?  Sure, numbers can be used to refer to material objects  -- like, to describe things.  For example, there is "one" chair.  But to what extent does the number "one" exist without the chair?

Neil might agree, and say that "one" does not exist without the chair, just like "objective morality" wouldn't exist without that to which "objective morality" refers!  To that, I would ask, "to what does 'objective morality' refer?"  If it's something material, then we could compare it to the external universe -- and it would be something we could test.  But if it's something abstract, then I would question that thing's existence, as well.

On the other hand, Neil might disagree and say that "one" does exist without the chair.  For example, it exist in our minds.  However, but that's not objective, but rather subjective.  So, it seems that numbers, apart from the material things to which they refer, may not objectively exist.  (Now, I'm far from a philosopher or theoretical mathematician, or whoever would be an expert in these questions about the objective existence of numbers, but I'd be interested in knowing if I'm wrong about all this).

So, while there is significant agreement about morality throughout cultures, there's also significant disagreement.  And while there is disagreement among scientists about the nature of the external universe, and this disagreement doesn't threaten the objective existence of it, the existence of the external universe cannot be compared to the existence of objective morality.