Goal: - Introduction of conceptual analysis and definition terms.
- Many proponents of moral arguments for God advocate an implausible version of moral subjectivism.
- Claims like “You ought to do X” can be used descriptive claims regarding normative facts. And we employ this usage for moral ought-statements.
- Moral obligations and requirements do not conceptually entail a mental requirer.
- Moral statements are best interpreted as non-relativist, non-subjectivist assertions, unless someone engages in an ad hoc and atypical use of moral language.
- We can draw a tri-partite distinction between:
· Words or labels
· The concepts those words or labels place-hold for
(The same word can place-hold for different concepts, and different words can place-hold for the same concept)
· The referents those concepts refer to
(Different concepts can refer to the same referent)
- Conceptual analysis involves both a priori (armchair) and a posteriori (experimental) methods.
- If a given conceptual analysis disagrees with the lay people’s conceptual intuitions regarding a concept with which they remain very familiar, then this counts as defeasible evidence against that conceptual analysis.
- All other things being equal, we should not change the concept a word place-holds in ways that leads to:
1) Begging the question against error theories such that one engages in special pleading when one advocates an error theory on a different topic. And we all have to advocate error theories at some point for some topics (ex: for square circles).
2) Crippling discourse built around the word since the proponent can no longer make the core claims of said discourse
3) Failing to make sense of the practices that come along with the discourse
4) Stalling effective communication, and in extreme cases, preventing communication.
5) Fooling people into thinking they agree/disagree when they actually talk past one another.
6) Incorrectly thinking one has rebutted error theory. This still does not save one from error theory because even though one plays around with words, one still agrees to precisely the same things that define error theory’s meaning. And it is concepts’ and their meaning, not mere words or symbols, which determine agreement and disagreement.
- The claim that “moral requirements conceptually entail a divine moral requirer” suffers from the following flaws:
1) it confuses psychological oughts/should/requirements with normative oughts/should/requirements
2) it commits to either moral subjectivism or moral non-cognitivism, both of which have deep flaws
3) Moore’s Open Question Argument rebuts it
4) a posteriori data suggest even young Christian children reject it as implausible moral subjectivism and instead employ the concept of “moral requirement” in a way that does not require God’s existence
5) numerous people clearly employ the concept of “moral requirements” in a way that does presuppose God’s existence (ex: people who link moral oughts to moral reasons)
6) the argument prevents people from numerous people from agreeing and disagreeing with one another when they use moral language
- God-based ethicists (those who claim God is necessary for moral realism) often advance a very implausible moral subjectivism.
- The Objectivist Argument against God-based Moral Realism
P1: If moral properties are objective properties, then moral properties can exist in the absence of God.
P2: Moral properties are objective properties.
C: Therefore, moral properties can exist in the absence of God.
[from P1 and P2]
(I focus on defending P1 in section I-B-1b-i; I defend P2 in I-C-3 and section III-E-2)
- The Subjectivist Argument against God-based Moral Realism
P3: If moral properties are subjective properties, then moral properties can exist in the absence of God.
P4: Moral properties are subjective properties.
C: Therefore, moral properties can exist in the absence of God.
[from P3 and P4]
(I focus on defending P3 in section I-B-1b-ii and I-B-3; I grant P4 for the sake of argument)
- The conceptual RR argument claims the moral requirements/obligations conceptually entail a communicative God.
- The substantive RR argument says moral requirements/obligations are best explained via a communicative God.
- Moral subjectivism makes the truth or falsity of moral claims depend on a (real or imagined) mind’s view on the matter. Ontologically grounding moral properties in a mind need not commit one to moral subjectivism.
2) it does not fit with standard definition of moral subjectivism
3) virtually every move God-based theists use to avoid moral subjectivism could be employed by prototypical moral subjectivists
4) there is no reason, in principle, why the “subject” in moral subjectivism should be limited to human minds and human views as opposed to non-human minds such as alien minds or the mind of a deity
5) our judgments regarding morality’s “objectivity” include moral truth being independent of any minds views on the matter, including divine minds
- Theistic moral subjectivism fails for at least two reasons:
1) It is a recipe for moral abuse, in the sense of a mind being able to control factors we do not expect it to have control over.
2) Unless we opt for global subjectivism, then there are clear examples of facts that do not depend on a mind’s, divine or otherwise, view on the matter and these facts therefore ground truths that do not change based on a mind’s opinion. Some special argument will thus be needed to show point does not apply to moral facts.
I-B-1b-ii. The Varieties of Moral Subjectivism
God-based moral subjectivism is particularly implausible because it allows moral truth to be determined by an existent mind.
The conceptual RR can be rebutted on five a priori grounds:
1) On most interpretations, it amounts to non-cognitivism or moral subjectivism, neither of which are plausible.
2) It equivocates between normative terminology and psychological terminology.
3) It prevents atheists (and some theists) from coherently disagreeing with conceptual RR advocates when they assert opposing moral claims.
4) Oughts can be grounded in reasons which do not depend on a mental requirer or God.
5) A Moorean OQA shifts the burden of proof onto the conceptual RR proponent to show normative requirements conceptually entail psychological requirements.
- We can distinguish descriptive and expressive modes of communication, and normative and non-normative properties.
- Unfortunately, some people incorrectly think moral statements such as “You morally ought to do X” can only be expressively used, and they therefore think these statements are not descriptive. Thus these statements could not refer to moral properties. However, the Frege-Geach problem and Jorgensen’s Dilemma, among other arguments, show that moral statements such as “You morally ought to do X” are truth-apt and descriptive.
- “You morally ought to do A” and other similar moral statements, should be viewed as descriptive claims regarding normative properties, and must be treated as such if one adopts moral realism and claims obligations/requirements exist.
- Motivation externalism argues against moral subjectivism and moral non-cognitivism.
- The conceptual RR proponent position does not count as moral objectivism. They have the following options regarding “moral ought/required/should” as relating to descriptive and expressive usage:
1) Expression without description: They are only expressions of a mind’s emotions, commands, etc. and thus the proponent denies moral realism by adopting non-cognitivism.
2) Expression with description, version 1: They can be assertions regarding a mind’s will and thus the proponent adopts moral subjectivism.
3) Expression with description, version 2: They are statements regarding facts that do not depend on a mind’s will or opinion (maybe they are ontologically grounded in the requirer’s mind; though this still leads to subjectivism as argued in section IV-D-1b) and thus the proponents gives up on the core idea that a mind demanding/commanding things of people is a necessary component of moral requirements. The expressive usage would also be irrelevant since moral realism requires description, not expression.
4) Description without expression: All moral realism requires, but denies that moral-ought-claims need to be the expressed commands, will, etc. of a mind. If the moral-ought claims are true in virtue of a divine mind’s view on the matter, then that amounts to moral subjectivism.
- The “moral law requires a moral law-giver argument” fails since moral laws are true descriptive statements regarding normative properties, not expressed prescriptions from a mind.
- The claim that “atheism (or moral naturalism or…) cannot provide an objective moral standard” fails since:
· If by “standard” the critic means “an account of the properties which make moral statements true”, then non-theistic moral naturalism provides that.
· If by “standard” the critic means “a moral epistemology for distinguishing true moral claims from false moral claims”, then non-theistic moral naturalism provides that.
· If by “standard” the critic means something else, then they need to provide an explanation for what this third factor is. This third factor will likely amount to an irrelevant addition to moral philosophy, which the critic introduced, ad hoc, since they wanted to argue against non-theistic moral realism. After all, other fields such as science, mathematics, other branches of philosophy, etc. do not require this mysterious third factor. It would special pleading to say otherwise for morality, unless the critic offers some justification for including this third factor in morality.
- Normative reasons (epistemic, moral, and so on) can be grounded in an agent’s recognition of certain facts regarding the world regardless of a mind’s communications to that agent. These normative reason supply normative oughts that do not conceptually imply a mental requirer, contra the conceptual RR.
- Moral reasons are more plausibly grounded in externalistic reasons based on concern for others as opposed to the internalistic reasons associated with a punishing mental requirer.
- Questions relating normative requirements to psychological requirements remain open, which shifts the burden onto the conceptual RR proponent to show the former conceptually entails the latter.
- Even if an atheist is a moral anti-realist, they should address God-based ethics by showing it is a massively implausible version of moral realism and thus even if moral realism is true God-based ethics would still be false (i.e. attack it on realist grounds, as opposed to anti-realist grounds).
I could not find researchers performing exactly the experiments I needed, but the following evidence exists for thinking people employ a concept of normative requirement that does not conceptually entail a mental requirer, contra the conceptual RR argument:
1) Young children (and many adults) reject the idea that moral requirements depend on any mind’s opinion or will.
2) Many atheists and theists base moral requirements in externalistic reasons associated with concern for others, as opposed to mentioning following the will of a mental requirer.
The conceptual RR argument prevents people from morally agreeing or disagreeing with one another when they use terms such as “morally required”, “morally ought to be done”, etc. since one group of people will conceptually commit to a use of these terms that presupposes God’s existence, while other people will not.
I-C. A Posteriori Rebuttal of Relativism, Subjectivism, and Non-cognitivism
The empirical data argues against relativist, subjectivist, and non-cognitivist analyses of moral statements and concepts. If these views turn out to be correct and count as moral success theories, then they will likely need to be offered as synthetic views as opposed to analytic views. And even so, it remains unlikely that these views will meet enough of the moral conceptual platitudes and substantive judgments to count as success theories.
Many people who take themselves to be moral anti-realists make the following mistake: they claim moral statements/concepts refer to one’s personal preferences when this amounts to subjectivist moral realism. They can avoid this problem by offering a non-subjectivist, non-relativist analysis of moral statements/concepts and then arguing these moral statements/concepts refer to properties which do not exist; i.e. moral nihilism. Or they can claim moral statements/concepts are not in the business of referring to anything; i.e. moral non-cognitivism.
Is/ought, as Hume Intended
- Hume did not offer a knock-down argument against moral realism, but instead asked for justification for the move from is-claims to ought-claims.
- Hume thought the “is/ought” distinction was bridgeable since he himself bridged it.
- If Hume’s law rebuts moral realism, then it hits all its forms ranging from the atheistic to the theistic, consequentialism to deontology; though some consequentialists can easily avoid it by rejecting moral ought-claims.
Goal: - The moral realist can easily rebut the supposed “is/ought” gap or “Hume’s law” in at least four ways:
1) Hume provides no argument for the “is/ought” gap. It’s just a question-begging, bare assertion.
[The moral nihilist and moral skeptic Richard Joyce makes a related point in The Evolution of Morality, page 155]
2) The is/ought distinction cannot be about moving from the descriptive to the normative since the normative claims (including moral ought-claims) are descriptive.
[from section I-B-2a; largely supported via the Frege-Geach problem, Jorgensen’s Dilemma, and other such arguments against moral non-cognitivism and in favor of cognitivism regarding moral ought-statements]
3) The following moral realist argument against Hume’s law:
(where examples of “moral ought-statements” include claims such as “You morally ought not rape Susan” and “rape morally ought not be done”):
P1: If moral ought-statements are descriptive, then moral ought-statements refer to properties and are true or false in virtue of the existence or non-existence of those properties.
[from section I-B-2a]
P2: Moral ought-statements are descriptive.
[from section I-B-2a; largely supported via the Frege-Geach problem, Jorgensen’s Dilemma, and other such arguments against moral non-cognitivism and in favor of cognitivism regarding moral ought-statements]
P3: Moral ought-statements refer to properties and are true or false in virtue of the existence or non-existence of those properties.
[from P1 and P3]
- The moral realist can then offer an account of what type of properties moral ought-statements refer to (subjective properties, objective properties, non-natural properties, etc.).
- To further support the argument (or more precisely: characterize the relationship between the “is” properties and the “moral ought” properties), realists can employ one of the following options or opt for something else to connect is-claims to ought-claims:
1) Conceptual truths linking “is” concepts to “ought” concepts
2) Identity theses between “is” properties and “ought” properties (possibly supported via naturalistic supervenience theses between “is” properties and “ought” properties)
3) Some type of supervenience relationship that does not amount to 1 or 2
4) Metaphysically necessary causal laws connecting “is” and “ought” properties
4) The moral realist can provide a plausible moral epistemology for moral judgments, including moral judgments about moral ought-claims and judgments that infer moral ought-claims from moral is-claims
If Hume meant that one could not use pure logic to derive ought-claims from is-claims, his thesis is either false (if one allows for trivial deduction) or uninteresting (if one blocks trivial deduction) since it would not show ought-claims could not be justifiably inferred from is-claims.
- Analytic moral realists might say is-claims conceptually entail ought-claims; i.e. they bridge “is/ought” by saying the is-concepts entail ought-concepts.
- Moore’s OQA shifts the burden of proof against the analytic moral realist by arguing that since the question of the conceptual relationship between an ought-claim and is-claim is always open, then is-claims do not conceptually entail ought-claims.
- Synthetic moral realists might say is-claims and ought-claims refer to the same property.
- Neither Hume’s law nor Moore’s OQA rebut synthetic moral realism, since synthetic moral naturalists do not employ conceptual deductions between the concept of “morally ought to be done” and other “is”-concepts.
- The leveled-view of natural properties asserts that properties of the various sciences occur at different levels. For example, biological properties occur at a higher level than the properties discussed in atomic physics. Higher-level natural properties depend on, or “supervene”, on lower-level natural properties.
- Though we can often specify all the lower-level natural properties a higher-level natural property supervenes upon, we sometimes cannot do this. Call the former position monism and the latter pluralism. But even on pluralism we can still know what types of lower-level natural properties determine the instantiation of the higher-level natural property.
- I advocate naturalistic pluralism regarding moral properties: I think they are higher-level natural properties that naturalistically supervene on lower-level natural properties
Moral non-naturalists might say:
1) Ought-claims supervene on is-claims (or the properties referred to by the former supervene on the latter in a way that does not entail the two properties are identical nor that the moral property is a natural property).
2) The properties referred to by is-claims necessarily cause the properties referred to by ought-claims to exist.
Moral Justification and Knowledge
The output of the moral faculty provides defeasible evidence for moral realism, particularly moral naturalism.
The scientific evidence clearly supports the following:
1) People have cognitive faculties that take in information and produce moral judgments.
2) People take in information regarding natural properties when making moral judgments.
3) There is no evidence people take in evidence from a divine source or a non-natural source.
The real debate in moral psychology is over the role of emotion, culture, reasoning, and other factors in affecting moral judgments.
Based on the data, I advocate naturalistic non-emotionism:
People’s moral faculties track natural properties when making moral judgments. Recognition and analysis (often unconscious analysis) of natural properties, not emotion, acts as the predominant cause of moral judgments
Including existent deities or non-natural moral properties fails to improve this explanation, so scientist usually do not mention such properties in their explanations of moral judgments and moral reasoning. So unless we have some other justification for positing such properties, we should remove them from our explanation via Occam’s razor.
- As with scientific realism, our ability to reason regarding our moral judgments allows those judgments to escape the charge that they merely represent unjustified personal opinion or culturally-relative hegemony. We form judgments about what properties we think exist in science, morality, and other topics we are realists about. And we use these judgments, combined with the epistemic methods of philosophy and science, as evidence for our claims.
- We can characterize this in five steps for addressing whether “X” exists
(where “X” can be virtually any descriptively-used concept, including: “cat”, “witch”, “hat”, “God”, “B cells”, “morally good”, and “morally ought to be done”):
1) We examine how people employ the concept referring to X, to see if the concept is descriptive as opposed to expressive, is meant to refer to objective or subjective properties, etc. This involves the methods from section I-A.
2) If the concept is descriptive, then we gather together examples we think the concept applies to. This can include examples generated from thought experiments, real-world examples, etc. We first start with the clearest and easiest examples.
3) We investigate the examples to see what they have in common. This can involve philosophical/arm-chair/a priori discussion of the examples, examination via the experimental methods of the various sciences, etc. This should help reveal which features the examples share.
4) Knowing which features the examples share will allow us to know what we referred to with our concept; i.e. the instantiation conditions for X, and if X is a natural property, the lower-level natural properties X naturalistically supervenes upon.
5) We provide various philosophical arguments and scientific evidence for thinking the instantiation conditions for X are met or not met in the real world. In some cases they are met (ex: water) and in some cases they are not (ex: witch).
This epistemology fits with the way people actually reason in philosophy, science, theology, etc. So this does not represent an ad hoc epistemology offered from out-of-the blue. I provide examples of this methodology in:
· the “treasure hunt” from the introduction to this paper
· the “God” example from section I-A
· the “witch” example from section I-A and endnote 13
· the “nemea” parable from section I-C-2
· the “cat” and “hurricane” examples from sections III-C, III-E-2 and endnote 11
· the “water” example from sections IV-D-3d and IV-D-3d-i
· the “life” example from section VI-A
- To elaborate on this in another way: in both scientific and moral reasoning, we take various experiences (observations of the external world), thought experiments, etc. and categorize them under various concepts to help explain and discuss them. We think that various things we experience have certain features in common; i.e. they share properties. We use real-world examples and thought experiments to help us understand what property(ies) our concept refers to and the instantiation conditions for said property. This will often involve determining the supervenience relationships between a given higher-order natural property and the lower-level natural properties it naturalistically supervenes upon. Further empirical investigation of said examples can provide precision on the instantiation conditions and help us discover new truths regarding the properties we tracked. We employ this epistemic frame-work in science, theology, philosophy, etc. If one rejects, without further justification, this methodology and epistemology for moral judgments while accepting that it works for science, then one commits the fallacy of special pleading.
- The anti-realist/relativist’s concern that moral judgments may be “subjective opinions based on judging others” carries some force, but the naturalistic moral realist can easily address it.
- The apologist’s concern that non-God-based moral judgments may be “subjective opinions based on judging others” is trite and beneath consideration based on:
1) How these same apologists mischaracterize meta-ethics, moral psychology, and so on.
2) How these same apologists engage in special pleading by not applying the same standards to their own ethical views, unlike the anti-realist/relativist.
The relativist or anti-realist’s objection can be interpreted in five ways:
1) One should not form moral beliefs regarding other cultures.
2) One should not allow moral beliefs to cause us to mistreat other cultures, or impose our views on other people.
3) The fact that people disagree regarding moral claims counts as an argument against moral realism or moral knowledge.
4) Moral beliefs are unjustified because we lack enough information regarding other cultures.
5) Moral beliefs cannot be true or false, are true or false depending on culture/one’s normative outlook (i.e. moral relativism), or are all false.
My replies are as follows:
1) Moral beliefs, as with other beliefs, are not voluntary, so we cannot help ourselves in forming such beliefs.
2) Moral beliefs need not translate into mistreatment/intolerance of others or imposing one’s views on others. Saying, “X is objectively true (or objectively false)” does not imply that one is certain, that one needs to force everyone else to accept this, or that one cannot weigh moral considerations against other considerations such as pragmatic and political concerns.
3) Scientific disagreement does not lead to anti-realism regarding science or scientific knowledge; so why think moral disagreement does so in the moral case? In both cases we have plausible realist explanations for the differences in people’s views, along with having the epistemic tools to reliably distinguish truth from falsity regarding these topics.
4) Anthropologists and other sources can supply the requisite information.
5) My moral faculty (among other lines of evidence) supports my moral judgments. The critic will thus need to provide a counterargument, not a bare assertion that moral beliefs are unjustified.
The apologist’s reply that non-theistic moral judgments are based on subjective human opinion fails because:
1) The same reasons mentioned above to the anti-realist’s objection.
2) The apologist is in no better position; they use all the same moral/human reasoning capacities the rest of us do, yet act as if only they can justifiably use it. That amounts to special pleading.
3) They themselves will undercut moral epistemology when it suits their purposes, so they engage in special pleading when they say atheist moral realists lack a sound moral epistemology.
4) Some variations of the apologist’s criticism (especially those advanced by presuppositionalists) are simply ridiculous; ex: advocating global theistic subjectivism regarding truth.
Rebutting a Theistic Argument Regarding Moral Ontology, and Developing Arguments for Non-theistic Moral Naturalism
Goal: The MF argument seeks to use necessarily true moral statements to argue for a necessarily existent non-human mind; i.e. God.
I rebut the MF argument (and God-based ethics) by showing:
1) All versions of it amount to an implausible variety of moral subjectivism.
2) It cannot account for moral necessity/moral supervenience without borrowing from non-theistic worldviews.
3) If God is important for moral realism, its status as such depends on concepts/properties that obtain even in God does not exists. So the MF argument fails to show God exists.
4) Other non-divine properties serve as more plausible candidates for what make moral statements true or false.
Moral property tracking argues for moral naturalism (i.e. natural properties serve to make moral statements true and moral properties are natural properties) over other moral realist options because moral naturalism best meets the following criteria:
1) Ontological parsimony; its moral properties do not fall to Occam’s razor.
2) An unmysterious, empirically supported causal explanation for moral property tracking.
3) Explanatory power, both in terms of explaining our moral experience and how the appropriate moral judgments historically arose.
4) A robust moral epistemology compatible with and supported by moral property tracking.
5) A plausible account of how moral statements refer to the properties tracked by one’s moral faculties.
6) A well-supported account of appropriate moral motivation and how people successfully achieve it.
Clarifying the MF Argument
- Certain moral statements are necessarily true, even on moral particularism.
- The MF argument claims that since certain moral statements are true in every possible world, a non-human mind must exist in every possible world in order to make those statements true.
- MTMs are the properties that make moral statements true. God-grounded ethics claims facts regarding an existent God serve as the MTMs. If one can show that non-theistic properties, which would exist even if God did not exist, serve as the MTMs refutes the claim that moral realism implies God’s existence (or that God’s existence is required for moral realism).
- If the empirical evidence and philosophical arguments point toward moral anti-realism, then we should adopt moral anti-realism (that includes theists). God, the principle of epistemic conservation, properly basic beliefs, and so on, should not be used as ad hoc stop-gaps for avoiding uncomfortable conclusions.
Confusion Over the Identity of the Mind
The MF argument fails to show God exists since:
1) One could ground the MTMs in a different mind in different possible worlds, and thus one need not posit one necessary mind (i.e. God) to serve as the MTM
2) The argument cannot explain how God grounds truths regarding what is evil, morally forbidden, moral ought not be done, and so on, without admitting that those properties need not be instantiated for us to make true claims about them. And so the MF proponent cannot rebut the counterfactual criticism (see the next section) without engaging in special pleading; i.e. saying evil need not be instantiated for one to make true claims about it while simultaneously saying at least one moral property must be instantiated for moral statements to count as true.
The “Counterfactual Objection” to the MF Argument
- Moral statements can be rendered as counterfactuals and thus be true in a given possible world even if no moral properties exist in that world.
- Rendering moral statements as counterfactuals is not ad hoc since we often employ counterfactuals to model our knowledge regarding different domains and plan for the future; i.e. counterfactuals play a crucial role in any epistemology, especially moral epistemology.
The following claims hold for counterfactuals in general:
1) They may be made true via existent dispositional states.
2) One can use data from the actual world, imaginative ingenuity, and the insights provided by fiction/thought experiments to help determine the truth or falsity of a given counterfactual.
3) One need not posit “lack of X” properties to explain why statements of the form “X does not exist” are true.
Competition between Truth-makers
Facts regarding an existent God cannot be the sole MTMs because:
1) This amounts to moral subjectivism
2) An existent God cannot account for moral necessity without borrowing character traits or concepts from non-theistic worldviews (i.e. employing concepts or properties that do not require God’s existence)
3) The same as 2, except now an existent God cannot even count as morally good, have its commands count as moral requirements, and so on, without borrowing from non-theism
4) Other non-divine properties serve as more plausible MTMs than facts regarding God
Theists can either:
A) Make the truth/falsity of moral statements change in response to an existent God’s opinion/will/commands and thus fall to anti-moral subjectivism arguments.
B) Deny God-based ethics + God-grounded ethics.
Saying God causes moral properties to exist does not support the MF argument nor does it show that facts about God serve to make moral realism true. Causal dependence =/= ontological dependence. It also reduces the moral argument for God to an easily-rebutted, pseudo-first cause argument.
IV-D-1b. Rebutting the “Ontological Dependence” Reply
God-based ethics amounts to moral subjectivism since changes in God’s opinions result in changes in which moral statements are true. This is so even if the God-based proponent only ontologically grounds moral properties in facts regarding God. The God-based proponent cannot employ the preference utilitarian’s counterfactual method for avoiding having to advocate moral subjectivism, since this would require the God-based proponent to accept that God does not have to exist for moral statements to be true.
Saying God is metaphysically necessary does not help defend the theist against anti-subjectivist arguments nor show that moral realism requires God’s existence. The theist must still answer the question of whether the true/false status of moral statements would change in response to changes in God’s opinion.
- God’s moral status as good, granter of moral requirements, etc. would solely depend on its possession of properties borrowed from moral naturalism or other non-theism moral positions.
- The natural properties borrowed could support the truth of moral realism even if God did not exist.
- All the following positions (among many others) remain more plausible than God-based ethics, can critique God-based ethics in unique ways, and imply the truth of moral realism even if God does not exist:
A) Moral naturalism
B) Moral non-naturalism
C) Virtue ethics, Moral rationalism, + Ideal Observer theory
D) God-as-useful atheistic moral realism
The God-grounded proponent can either accept or deny that moral properties supervene on non-divine natural properties. The results are as follows:
1) For MF proponents: denies the central tenet of their argument
2) Leads to paradoxes regarding blame and moral responsibility
3) Undercuts our ability to morally plan for the future
4) Contradicts the evidence provided by the moral faculty
5) Undermines the moral epistemology necessary to support the moral realism the God-grounded proponents needs for their argument
6) Many of the same problems borne by skeptical theism (including being an ad hoc avoidance of an uncomfortable truth)
7) Results in a dialectical shift where non-theistic moral realism becomes more plausible than God-based moral realism
The problems discussed in section
- Moral property tracking involves our physical cognitive apparatus focusing on the properties which serve to make moral statements true; focusing on the MTMs.
- Moral property tracking argues for moral naturalism over other moral realist options, including God-based ethics, since moral naturalism best meets the following criteria:
1) Ontological parsimony
2) An empirically supported causal explanation for moral tracking
3) Best explains our moral experience and how the appropriate moral judgments historically arose
4) A sound moral epistemology compatible with and supported by the empirical evidence regarding moral property tracking
5) A plausible account of how moral statements refer to the properties tracked by one’s moral faculties, as in other referential contexts
6) A sound account of appropriate moral motivation and how most people attain success at it
Moral non-naturalism suffers from ontological, causal, and explanatory failings that moral naturalism does not, while God-based ethics is crippled by these problems. This provides an argument for moral naturalism over other moral realist options
- Moral non-naturalism adds to our ontology and thus is under pressure from Occam’s Razor to justify this addition. Since it is non-natural, it cannot take advantage of science’s causal and explanatory power to explain moral property tracking.
- The moral non-naturalist cannot seek a “partners-in-innocence” defense with property dualism since:
1) The arguments which support and motivate property dualism do not work for moral non-naturalism
2) Physicalism could very well turn out to be correct, at which point the moral non-naturalist’s strategy fails
The God of traditional theism makes God-based ethics metaphysically ludicrous:
1) As a non-physical entity, it cannot take advantage of science’s causal and explanatory power in explaining moral property tracking.
2) It posits an unnecessary and extravagant addition to our ontology and so falls to Occam’s razor.
3) Evidence-driven substance dualism lends no support to the existence of the God of traditional theism; in fact, substance dualists have abundant arguments against the God of traditional theism. As do physicalists and property dualists.
4) It overturns very well-supported empirical generalizations regarding minds without sufficient evidence for doing this.
A God-based meta-ethical theory thus becomes more implausible the more features of God (the one of traditional theism) it includes.
All explanations involving an existent God, including explanations of moral experience, may suffer from the first flaw, but always suffer from the second:
1) God-of-the-gaps reasoning
2) Being worse than every other explanation (except [possibly] explanations logically or metaphysically impossible explanations)
God-of-the-gaps reasoning suffers from at least the following flaws:
1) They are typically ad hoc explanations meant to avoid uncomfortable conclusions and should not be taken any more seriously than the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the like.
2) They evade disconfirmation in a way that prevents any empirical evidence from supporting them unlike other scientific and historical explanations.
3) They suffer from the metaphysical, causal, and explanatory deficiencies discussed in section
4) Including God in a causal explanation makes the explanation worse, not better (argued for more in next sub-section).
God fails as an explanation for moral experience and MTMs, as shown by the deficiencies in the substantive RR:
1) If including God does not improve an explanation, mention of God should be cut out via Occam’s Razor. So any attempt to show God “could have caused that” (as opposed to showing that include God improves the explanation), immediately falls to Occam’s razor.
2) Naturalistic non-emotionism, or Projectivism + Humean Emotionism, can explain the feeling of moral requirement. Including God in these explanations do not make them better, so God’s existence can be cut out of them via Occam’s razor.
3) People’s views on what God is like and the moral information God “communicates” to them are caused by that person’s mental states and likely not by God.
4) Moral experience and the feeling of moral requirements co-varies with things God can (and should want to) overcome. Since God does not bother to overcome them, including God in the explanation actually makes it worse; it adds a component that causes the explanation to make less sense.
5) All of the following serve as better explanations of moral experience than the God of traditional theism:
a) Scientists simulating our world
b) My monotheistic deities: Fran and Kengo
d) A polytheistic cabal of disagreeing deities of roughly equally-power
e) A powerful punishing mind that lacks either omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotence, or omnibenevolence [this includes cruel, morally evil deities]
f) the Flying Spaghetti Monster
6) We can investigate the cognitive systems underlying people’s acceptance of God as a good explanation for phenomena, and thus provide an undercutting defeator for that belief. This does not commit the genetic fallacy.
7) The argument from religious experience cannot overcome any of these alternative causal explanations and arguments, especially since the pattern of religious experience argues for Fran over the God of traditional theism.
8) The idea that “God gives cultures (say the ancient Israelites) moral knowledge that they then disseminate to others” fails as an explanation and should thus be rejected.
Based on the moral tracking data from section III-E-1, God-grounded ethicists must either:
A) Attribute massive moral error to the vast majority of people (i.e. adopt de facto moral skepticism and lose the ability to say their position represents the plausible, common-sense alternative to moral realism) or,
B) Deny God-grounded ethics by saying people track the correct MTMs (i.e. non-divine natural facts)
The moral naturalist offers a better internalistic and externalistic epistemology than the moral non-naturalist or God-grounded proponent. This supplies another argument for moral naturalism over other realist options.
Introduction to epistemic internalism (knowledge requires conscious awareness of one’s justification and evidence) and epistemic externalism (knowledge does not require conscious awareness of one’s justification and evidence).
Evidence from moral tracking and moral psychology suggests many, if not most, people remain unaware of facts regarding God when making moral judgments. The internalist God-grounded ethicist must therefore either:
A) Claim most people lack moral knowledge since they were not aware of the MTMs that justified their moral judgments (a claim the moral naturalist can easily avoid).
B) Accept that most people track the relevant MTMs (natural properties) and thus deny God-grounded meta-ethics.
The externalist has two options:
1) Take moral and theistic beliefs as appropriate starting points based on Christian epistemic standards.
a) Does not obviate the need to address opposing evidence and arguments, and thus bringing up “properly basic belief” is useless when one is presented with such evidence and arguments (such as those I’ve presented).
b) Abuse of this claim to serve as knee-jerk response to all countervailing evidence results in lack of proper functioning and failure to meet Christianity’s epistemic standards.
2) Take moral and theistic beliefs as appropriate due to their being produced by a properly functioning cognitive system (basically: “warrant”).
a) For this not to be an ad hoc dodge, the theist needs to be open to evidence regarding the functioning of their moral cognitive system, including my evidence that it tracks non-divine natural facts. This leaves the externalist God-grounded proponent with the same “skepticism or deny God-grounded ethics” dilemma as their internalist counterpart.
b) Abuse of this claim results in lack of proper functioning and failure to meet Christianity’s epistemic standards.
The moral non-naturalist’s moral epistemology suffers from the following problems:
1) They face the same dilemma as the God-grounded proponent: attribute massive moral error to people by saying they do not track the MTMs when making their moral statements, or say people do track the MTMs and thus adopt moral naturalism.
2) Unlike the moral naturalist, they lack a clear causal account of how moral properties interact with our cognitive apparatus such that we know about them (as per section.
The moral intuitionism many moral non-naturalists advocate suffers from the following problems:
1) The phenomenology it associates with non-natural intuitions also shows up in our knowledge of natural properties and forms the bedrock on which a posteriori investigation rests. So a prioricity does not count as an argument for non-natural intuition.
2) Most of its support comes from the weak, defeasible evidence provided by introspection of how one forms one’s judgments. Scientific investigation can easily overrule this evidence. And this introspective evidence still supports the moral naturalist’s epistemology.
3) Unconscious processing of experience and empirical data more plausibly explains our moral judgments as opposed non-natural, a priori intuition.
- When making correct statements regarding the external world:
1) We assume ourselves to be referring the properties our cognitive systems track (in the appropriate contexts), unless we take ourselves to be in massive error.
2) The referenced property serves as the truth-maker for the uttered statement.
So the God-grounded proponent again has a choice: attribute massive error to people for tracking the property instead of the divine facts to which their moral statements actually refer, or say natural facts serve as the MTMs + that to which moral statements refer and thus deny God-grounded ethics.
- The moral naturalist can offer a better supported account of tracking that is compatible with the tracked property serving as the truth-maker. So this offers another argument for moral naturalism over other moral realist options.
- The “appropriate contexts” can be easily elaborated via a causal theory of reference or using some standard examples of tracking external properties while making statements regarding them.
- Non-naturalists will need to present empirical evidence for how one tracks non-natural MTMs or risk saying we do not track the MTMs when making moral statements (i.e. de facto moral skepticism).
- God-grounded proponents will need to present empirical evidence for how one tracks divine MTMs or risk saying we do not track the MTMs when moral statements (i.e. de facto moral skepticism)
- The God-grounded reply that moral concepts (or properties) represent relational predicates (or properties) that link behaviors or agents to God fails for at least three reasons:
1) I already argued for more plausible conceptions of moral concepts (or properties) that make no relational reference to God.
2) Even if moral concepts were relational, this would fail to show God exist since the concepts could lack a referent in the actual world.
3) One still needs to track both (or all) members involved in the relational predicate/property. Same applies to moral predicates linked to God. So the God-grounded ethicists still needs to provide their empirical account of how we track divine facts.
Please read the relevant sections in order and in full
Please read this sub-section in order and in full
Please read this sub-section in order and in full
Some Closing Remarks
- The New Atheist Movement (outside of Dennett and possibly Harris) did not make great intellectual strides for atheist philosophy; but it did not need to. That was the job of the professional philosophers. And the four Horseman had already done very well for themselves in their own fields, anyway (ex: people forget that Dawkins is a damn fine philosopher of biology and puts Craig’s Intelligent-Design-advocating shenanigans to shame). Instead, what Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, managed to do (and this was even more important than the work done by professional philosophers) was help give many people the courage to point out the obvious deficiencies they saw in religion, especially the ludicrous moral subjectivism advocated by William Lane Craig, while knowing there would be a community there to support them. Let’s continue the tradition.
- The claim “morality requires God” or “morality serves as an argument for God’s existence” remains ludicrously implausible in all its forms, as argued in this paper.
Common Internet Objections
A Common Theistic Objection
- Atheists do not beg the question when they use their moral faculty to argue for moral claims anymore than when everyone else uses their perceptual experiences as evidence for what’s going on in the external world.
- Gone are the days when apologists could act as if “harm, suffering preference satisfaction, the virtues, etc.” did not suffice for morality, but bland claims regarding God’s nature, commands… would. If theists want to run an OQA, atheists will run one right back. And when theists run towards a posteriori, metaphysical identities to save them, section IV of this paper will be there waiting to close the door. And when they look to analytic moral realism, section I will close that door. So to those apologists who insist on offering moral arguments for God’s existence even as they advocate moral subjectivism: moral realism, and normativity in general, does not require God. Please move on.
A Common Nihilist or Relativist Response
- Employing Hume’s is/ought divide as an argument for moral nihilism or moral anti-realism is unsound and misses the point, especially given the prevalence of other, more plausible moral anti-realist arguments.
- Moral anti-realism/subjectivism/relativism is not the default position, so those atheists on the internet who sit back, offer no arguments, and apply absurd burdens of proof to moral realism display incorrect and evasive reasoning.
Synthetic moral naturalism and moral nihilism represent the only two plausible meta-ethical options, thought moral rationalism based on “real” externalistic reasons and moral non-cognitivism still have some fight left in them.