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-   -   Worldwise: Crisis in Syria (Elias Muhanna & Michael Young) (http://bloggingheads.tv/forum/showthread.php?t=6950)

sugarkang 08-11-2011 08:45 PM

Re: Worldwise: Crisis in Syria (Elias Muhanna & Michael Young)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by apple (Post 221333)
It was not a slam against you in any way, but being an atheist libertarian, I thought you might want proof.

No problem. I meant that I don't need proof because I'm just not knee deep into this topic like you are with other folks. I think we both know where our agreements and disagreements lie.

Florian 08-12-2011 07:17 AM

Re: Worldwise: Crisis in Syria (Elias Muhanna & Michael Young)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by apple (Post 221330)
Actually, I use the word objective in the same way that ethicists use the word. On the other hand, your idea that that all non-scientific claims are equally valid is known as 'scientism'.

You are just playing with words. So far we have: objective = true = valid = justified. Perhaps you would like to add next: Because I say so?

What do you mean by valid? That which is true everywhere and always, regardless of what we think, i.e. objectively true, a valid law of nature like e=mc2? Or that which all human beings have always regarded as just, fair, right, moral? These are two very different senses of valid, objective, justified.

A moral prohibition or injunction is not a claim or a truth about the universe. It is a law or a command (nomos) that enjoins us to do or not to do something. It is valid because a community has so decided that it is valid, and for no other reason.

That does not mean, imo, that a community can enjoin or prohibit anything, n'importe quoi, that it is all a matter of "taste" and "whim." I happen to believe in a modest version of natural law (jus naturale), but I am for that very reason sceptical of claims that the positive law is everywhere and always (ubique et semper) the same. I know enough history to know that norms have varied over time, that "murder" has meant different things at different times and in different cultures. In the ancient world killing a slave was not considered murder; in European and Anglo-Saxon common law the definition of murder has changed over time, today we have "degrees" of murder etc. I said in my first post that all civilizations have condemned murder as a crime and distinguished it from killing in war, which is not a crime. So I suppose you could say that if any norm comes near to being universal, it is the prohibition of murder.

Quote:

It is strange that you are surprised. I never denied that some killing is justified, I merely denied that killing people for apostasy is justified. Hence, such unjustified killings are murder, even if they are considered lawful and legitimate in the culture carrying out the murders.
You can repeat as often as you like that this particular law is unjustified in your eyes, invalid or whatever, that it is really "murder" in disguise. All you really mean is: that as a modern, secular western liberal, living under a system of law in which the separation of church and state is absolute, you cannot "justify" executions for apostasy. I agree, but the fact remains that in certain Muslim jurisdictions apostasy is "justified" as a capital crime.

Quote:

I also find it strange that you keep harping on the frequency with which people are murdered for apostasy. Presumably, killing Jews is wrong, regardless of whether you are killing 20 or 6 million. It's impossible to say that killing 20 Jews is not murder, but killing 6 million is.
Of course I would call the killing of 20 Jews murder if it was in fact murder. Just as I would call the killing of 6 million Jews murder or genocide. What is your point?

Quote:

You also ignored my other point, preferring to chide me for comparing murdering people for apostasy with Stalin and Saddam murdering people for disagreeing with them. But by your standards, what Stalin and Saddam did is not murder. After all, they defined their crimes as defined by Soviet and Iraqi law respectively. Why are their unjustified killings murder, but not the unjustified killings of Islamic theocratic regimes?
Stalin and Saddam were tyrants, and tyrants do not rule by law; they rule by fear and terror in order to stay in power. The murder of enemies has always been the way of tyrants, whatever spurious legal justification they may give it.

Quote:

I do not call objective whatever happens to be the norm in Western countries, though in this case, Western countries have one thing right. Still, Western countries are wrong about many things. I do think that there are objective norms, which in no way depend on the actions of Western countries, that not everything is taste, that it is not true that I like flowers, and someone else likes genocide, and that both these likings are objectively equally valid.
No one has ever made such an absurd claim.

Quote:

Question: do you think the idea that the actions of Stalin and Saddam constitute "horrendous crimes" is objective, or that it is dependent on the whims of individuals, to either agree or disagree with it, and that both opinions are equally valid (because they do not rest on science)?
I think that when a tyrant violates the laws of his own people, either the secular or religious laws (in Islam there is no distinction), killing them and brutalizing them in order to stay in power, he commits horrendous crimes.

And that is not a whim on my part.

piscivorous 08-14-2011 03:37 AM

Re: Worldwise: Crisis in Syria (Elias Muhanna & Michael Young)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by apple (Post 220715)
Thank Jimmy Carter for the mullahcracy in Iran, and thank Bush and Obama for the future Islamic Republic of Egypt. The people of Egypt do not want freedom, they want religious despotism.

http://pewresearch.org/assets/datatr...mbers/1184.gif

Assad may be a thug, but he's miles and miles better than 80% of the people in Syria.

Would have to agree that President Carter has a some responsibility for the ascension of the theocracy in Iran, the more pertinent question is could US have supported the tactics, now being used in Syria, by our ally the Shah of Iran. From what I remember that's what it would have likely taken.

As to the Islamic Republic of Egypt here is a somewhat different take on whats happening there politically; The Muslim Brotherhood’s Discontents (Michael J. Totten) His interviews are generally an interesting read and this one is with a couple of guys that recently quit the Brotherhood. A Mohammad Adel who used to work for the Brotherhood’s Web site and Abdul-Jalil al-Sharnouby who was the editor-in-chief of the Brotherhood’s Web site, Ikhwan Online.

Yes can't argue with the accuracy of the polling data from the Middle East where freedom to speak your mind is so ingrained now can we?

apple 08-14-2011 07:47 PM

Re: Worldwise: Crisis in Syria (Elias Muhanna & Michael Young)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by piscivorous (Post 221650)
Would have to agree that President Carter has a some responsibility for the ascension of the theocracy in Iran, the more pertinent question is could US have supported the tactics, now being used in Syria, by our ally the Shah of Iran. From what I remember that's what it would have likely taken.

Thus far, Assad has killed a few thousand people. Could the United States support that? Well, Suharto was wholeheartedly supported by the United States, and he murdered hundreds of thousands of communists. Innocent civilians, not people who were rebelling, not people who were trying to overthrow the regime, but ordinary people who happened to be communists.

The shah served his people, and he was also very honest about what he was. When asked why he did not 'rule' like the king of Sweden, his answer was that he would be, if the people of Iran were like the people of Sweden. The honesty of the shah contrasts sharply with the hypocrisy of the United States. It is a shame that he did not have the guts to provide the greatest service to his people by crushing the revolution.

Quote:

Originally Posted by piscivorous (Post 221650)
Yes can't argue with the accuracy of the polling data from the Middle East where freedom to speak your mind is so ingrained now can we?

This poll was conducted when Mubarak was still in power. Are you saying that people in Egypt under the secular Hosni Mubarak would feel pressured to give Islamist answers to questions? This sounds ridiculous on its face, and even if you were right, and people do not feel free to speak their minds, this poll would actually understate the percentage of people who are Islamists.

apple 08-14-2011 08:00 PM

Re: Worldwise: Crisis in Syria (Elias Muhanna & Michael Young)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Florian (Post 221388)
What do you mean by valid? That which is true everywhere and always, regardless of what we think, i.e. objectively true, a valid law of nature like e=mc2? Or that which all human beings have always regarded as just, fair, right, moral? These are two very different senses of valid, objective, justified.

Obviously the former. I've stated many times that it does not matter what people believe. Moral standards do not have to be universally held to be universally applicable.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Florian (Post 221388)
That does not mean, imo, that a community can enjoin or prohibit anything, n'importe quoi, that it is all a matter of "taste" and "whim." I happen to believe in a modest version of natural law (jus naturale), but I am for that very reason sceptical of claims that the positive law is everywhere and always (ubique et semper) the same. I know enough history to know that norms have varied over time, that "murder" has meant different things at different times and in different cultures.

And I have not disputed this. However, we apparently disagree about whether this is of any importance. I do not believe that the fact that a person does not believe that he is committing murder, or that he is doing something wrong, lessens the person's culpability at all. Thus, the Nazis were murderers, even though they did not think that murdering Jews was murder - because Jews were sub-human scum.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Florian (Post 221388)
You can repeat as often as you like that this particular law is unjustified in your eyes, invalid or whatever, that it is really "murder" in disguise. All you really mean is: that as a modern, secular western liberal, living under a system of law in which the separation of church and state is absolute, you cannot "justify" executions for apostasy. I agree, but the fact remains that in certain Muslim jurisdictions apostasy is "justified" as a capital crime.

Well, you yourself have called the murders of Saddam, Stalin and Hitler murders, even though their actions were "justified" in their respective jurisdictions. Unless you want to relativize their actions, and say that they are not objectively wrong, but merely not according to your tastes and whims, you really don't have a ground to criticize me for extending your line of argument to Islamic murders for apostasy.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Florian (Post 221388)
Of course I would call the killing of 20 Jews murder if it was in fact murder. Just as I would call the killing of 6 million Jews murder or genocide. What is your point?

The point I have made many times, that the fact that "very few" executions are carried out for apostasy is irrelevant to whether it is a moral thing to do or not.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Florian (Post 221388)
Stalin and Saddam were tyrants, and tyrants do not rule by law; they rule by fear and terror in order to stay in power. The murder of enemies has always been the way of tyrants, whatever spurious legal justification they may give it.

Abu Afak, a distinguished Jewish poet and the oldest man in Arabia, learned that the hard way. Note that his murder was entirely legal under the "laws" of the Islamic community. After all, the Prophet's word was (and is) law.

Muhammad was a tyrant, someone who commanded that his religion be spread by the sword, and that believers be kept in line with the sword. 1400 years after his death, his tyranny still holds sway over the House of Islam. It is absurd to exempt this tyranny from your definition of murder and tyranny.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Florian (Post 221388)
No one has ever made such an absurd claim.

You came dangerously close to it when you said that stoning is not barbaric, but just something that I subjectively dislike (i.e., something that is not to my taste).

Quote:

Originally Posted by Florian (Post 221388)
I think that when a tyrant violates the laws of his own people, either the secular or religious laws (in Islam there is no distinction), killing them and brutalizing them in order to stay in power, he commits horrendous crimes.

And that is not a whim on my part.

According to the Enabling Act, Hitler's actions were entirely legal. So his actions definitely did not violate the "secular... laws". Are Hitler's actions therefore not criminal?

Florian 08-15-2011 07:34 AM

Re: Worldwise: Crisis in Syria (Elias Muhanna & Michael Young)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by apple (Post 221726)
Obviously the former. I've stated many times that it does not matter what people believe. Moral standards do not have to be universally held to be universally applicable.?

Of course it matters. If people didn't believe that some act is right or wrong, how could they know whether they are acting rightly or wrongly?

Universally applicable? What does that mean? A law or a "standard" is applicable when it exists as the law of a particular political community and is applied or enforced by that community. It is universally applicable when it is the law or the standard of every political community and enforced by every political community.

Universally applicable law= natural law= jus naturale.

How do you know, anyway, that there are universally applicable laws (or standards in your words) apart from the particular laws of existing political communities?

Quote:

And I have not disputed this. However, we apparently disagree about whether this is of any importance. I do not believe that the fact that a person does not believe that he is committing murder, or that he is doing something wrong, lessens the person's culpability at all. Thus, the Nazis were murderers, even though they did not think that murdering Jews was murder - because Jews were sub-human scum.?
Nor did I say anything so ridiculous as that thinking an act is right, when it is wrong, makes it right. The prohibition of murder, as I have repeatedly said, is a universal, cross-cultural norm (standard), although the definition of what constitutes murder has changed over time.

Quote:

Well, you yourself have called the murders of Saddam, Stalin and Hitler murders, even though their actions were "justified" in their respective jurisdictions. Unless you want to relativize their actions, and say that they are not objectively wrong, but merely not according to your tastes and whims, you really don't have a ground to criticize me for extending your line of argument to Islamic murders for apostasy. ?
I most certainly did not say that the actions of Saddam, Stalin and Hitler were "justified" in their respective jurisdictions. I said exactly the opposite: that they were tyrants who ruled by terror, not by law. They certainly did not rule by the established laws of Europe and Islam, which have always regarded murder as a capital crime.

Before Hitler could carry out the "final solution," he had to convince himself and his fellow Germans, on the basis of pseudo-scientific, racist doctrines that the Jews were sub-human "enemies" of the Ayrian race. This extra-legal justification for genocide, like Stalin's extra-legal justification for the murder of "class enemies" of the proletariat, was contrary to all European legal doctrines and traditions.

Quote:

The point I have made many times, that the fact that "very few" executions are carried out for apostasy is irrelevant to whether it is a moral thing to do or not.
Islamic law defines apostasy as a capital crime. The Holy Roman Catholic Church, for much of its history, took a similarly dim view of heresy and had heretics put to death by the state, the secular arm of the Church. I am willing to concede that Islamic law is "immoral" if you are willing to concede that Church is (or was) immoral.

But I am not willing to say that either Islam or the Church is (was) guilty of murder since I do not think that most people, even today, consider capital punishment to fall under the rubric of murder.

Quote:

Muhammad was a tyrant, someone who commanded that his religion be spread by the sword, and that believers be kept in line with the sword. 1400 years after his death, his tyranny still holds sway over the House of Islam. It is absurd to exempt this tyranny from your definition of murder and tyranny?

Yes, it is utterly absurd. The history of Islam is long and complex, like the history of every other civilization. To say that every Islamic regime since the time of Muhammad has been a "tyranny" would not stand up to the most elementary historical scrutiny.

Quote:

You came dangerously close to it when you said that stoning is not barbaric, but just something that I subjectively dislike (i.e., something that is not to my taste).
If you understand what barbarism and civilization mean, you cannot possibly confuse this antithesis with a question of "taste." But that is a long discussion.

I didn't say that stoning is not barbaric. In fact, I said the exact opposite: I said that executions for apostasy are barbaric by our contemporary European notions of the separation of church and state.

Quote:

According to the Enabling Act, Hitler's actions were entirely legal. So his actions definitely did not violate the "secular... laws". Are Hitler's actions therefore not criminal?
See above.

TwinSwords 08-15-2011 08:25 AM

Re: Worldwise: Crisis in Syria (Elias Muhanna & Michael Young)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by apple (Post 221724)
Thus far, Assad has killed a few thousand people. Could the United States support that? Well, Suharto was wholeheartedly supported by the United States, and he murdered hundreds of thousands of communists. Innocent civilians, not people who were rebelling, not people who were trying to overthrow the regime, but ordinary people who happened to be communists.

You're right: The United States did support it -- Suharto's murder of half a million to one million people. And later, the United States supported Indonesia's genocide in East Timor, where 200,000 people -- more than a quarter of the entire population -- were exterminated.

The question, though, isn't whether the United States supported these things, but whether we should support them, and their contemporary equivalent in various Islamic states.

What do you think?


Quote:

Originally Posted by apple (Post 221724)
The shah served his people, and he was also very honest about what he was. When asked why he did not 'rule' like the king of Sweden, his answer was that he would be, if the people of Iran were like the people of Sweden. The honesty of the shah contrasts sharply with the hypocrisy of the United States. It is a shame that he did not have the guts to provide the greatest service to his people by crushing the revolution.

I'll admit, you're not being overly subtle. Your support for despotism and mass state-sponsor murder could not be more clear.

Truly terrifying. Especially since your endorsement of genocide is so casual; something you have so little personal stake in. One can imagine someone living in Iran during the Islamic Revolution, or in Indonesia during Suharto's purge, might be swept up in the passions of the time to support the purges. But for you, this is purely academic. And without any emotional foundation at all, you have no trouble endorsing mass murder.

apple 08-15-2011 11:53 AM

Re: Worldwise: Crisis in Syria (Elias Muhanna & Michael Young)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by TwinSwords (Post 221790)
You're right: The United States did support it -- Suharto's murder of half a million to one million people. And later, the United States supported Indonesia's genocide in East Timor, where 200,000 people -- more than a quarter of the entire population -- were exterminated.

The question, though, isn't whether the United States supported these things, but whether we should support them, and their contemporary equivalent in various Islamic states.

What do you think?

Actually, the question was whether the US would have supported a Syria-style crackdown in Iran. Also, I did not approve of Suharto's mass murders, I strongly disapprove of them.

Quote:

Originally Posted by TwinSwords (Post 221790)
I'll admit, you're not being overly subtle. Your support for despotism and mass state-sponsor murder could not be more clear.

Truly terrifying. Especially since your endorsement of genocide is so casual; something you have so little personal stake in. One can imagine someone living in Iran during the Islamic Revolution, or in Indonesia during Suharto's purge, might be swept up in the passions of the time to support the purges. But for you, this is purely academic. And without any emotional foundation at all, you have no trouble endorsing mass murder.

A crackdown in Iran would not have been genocide, it would have been a legitimate exercise of state power designed to prevent the government from falling to the miscreants who today rule Iran. In fact, many of my Persian friends (who all supported the revolution at the time) regret that the shah did not crack down on the revolution. And with good reason: the mullah takeover led to a war that killed half a million Iranians, and they themselves killed hundreds of thousands and are oppressing an entire nation, and one with a great and glorious history at that.

apple 08-16-2011 09:47 PM

Re: Worldwise: Crisis in Syria (Elias Muhanna & Michael Young)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Florian (Post 221784)
Of course it matters. If people didn't believe that some act is right or wrong, how could they know whether they are acting rightly or wrongly?

We're not discussing their knowledge of whether something is wrong, we're discussing our knowledge of whether something is wrong. Also, I will point you to the fact that the legal system never takes into account whether someone "knows" that the murder they commit is wrong. If they don't know, they should know. And that is my philosophy.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Florian (Post 221784)
Universally applicable? What does that mean? A law or a "standard" is applicable when it exists as the law of a particular political community and is applied or enforced by that community. It is universally applicable when it is the law or the standard of every political community and enforced by every political community.

I never said 'law', I said standard. I am a legal positivist, I do believe that whatever the legislator decides on is the law. As you no doubt know, natural law theorists believe, in the words of Thomas, that lex iniusta non lex est. I disagree. That does not mean that the law can't be wrong, and when the law is wrong, we have a duty to disobey it.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Florian (Post 221784)
Nor did I say anything so ridiculous as that thinking an act is right, when it is wrong, makes it right. The prohibition of murder, as I have repeatedly said, is a universal, cross-cultural norm (standard), although the definition of what constitutes murder has changed over time.

But we are not bound by cultural conceptions of murder, are we? If a particular culture decides (yes, I know this is simplistic, don't make an issue out of it) that killing spiders is murder, and just as bad as killing actual humans, we are under no obligation to take this into account when we judge spider-killers. Similarly, when a culture decides that an unjustified (not according to them, according to us) killing of a human being is not murder, then that culture happens to be wrong, and such killings still count as murder.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Florian (Post 221784)
I most certainly did not say that the actions of Saddam, Stalin and Hitler were "justified" in their respective jurisdictions. I said exactly the opposite: that they were tyrants who ruled by terror, not by law. They certainly did not rule by the established laws of Europe and Islam, which have always regarded murder as a capital crime.

Europe did not have laws, as it was not a legal jurisdiction. Thus, Hitler was not acting in violation of any European law. The only applicable law, was German law, and German law authorized the chancellor to take whatever measures he thought appropriate. After deciding that Jews were not citizens, but subjects of the German Empire, the measure he thought appropriate was that all Jews needed to be gassed. This was not in violation of any European or German law, and none of the people prosecuted in Nuremburg were prosecuted under any European or German law.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Florian (Post 221784)
Before Hitler could carry out the "final solution," he had to convince himself and his fellow Germans, on the basis of pseudo-scientific, racist doctrines that the Jews were sub-human "enemies" of the Ayrian race. This extra-legal justification for genocide, like Stalin's extra-legal justification for the murder of "class enemies" of the proletariat, was contrary to all European legal doctrines and traditions.

So you're saying that what Hitler did was murder, because it was in violation of all European legal doctrines and traditions (I disagree, see the previous paragraph). What if these legal doctrines and traditions did not exist? Could these same actions then not be counted as murders? This seems odd and very relativistic.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Florian (Post 221784)
Islamic law defines apostasy as a capital crime. The Holy Roman Catholic Church, for much of its history, took a similarly dim view of heresy and had heretics put to death by the state, the secular arm of the Church. I am willing to concede that Islamic law is "immoral" if you are willing to concede that Church is (or was) immoral.

But I am not willing to say that either Islam or the Church is (was) guilty of murder since I do not think that most people, even today, consider capital punishment to fall under the rubric of murder.

Obviously. Why would I even bring it up, if I didn't think that this was extremely immoral. But not only was it immoral, it was in fact murder. Your statement that executions for whatever offense cannot be murder, because people do not regard capital punishment as murder, makes little sense, as we are not discussing whether capital punishment in general is murder. We are discussing whether unjustified capital punishment is murder. So executing a murderer is not murder, but if Rick Perry knowingly executed an innocent man, he committed murder. Similarly, medieval executions for murder were not murder, but executions for heresy were, because they were unjustified.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Florian (Post 221784)
Yes, it is utterly absurd. The history of Islam is long and complex, like the history of every other civilization. To say that every Islamic regime since the time of Muhammad has been a "tyranny" would not stand up to the most elementary historical scrutiny.

Well, you call a regime killing its opponents a tyranny that rules by terror. Why would a religion that kills people who want to leave it not count as a tyranny that rules by terror? Whether or not the history of Islam is long and complex is irrelevant in this matter.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Florian (Post 221784)
If you understand what barbarism and civilization mean, you cannot possibly confuse this antithesis with a question of "taste." But that is a long discussion. I didn't say that stoning is not barbaric.

Actually, I am not arguing that civilization and barbarism are a matter of taste, you seem to be. After all, you said that I only call Egyptians barbarians because of my own subjective views. What does that mean? That I call Egyptians barbarians, because I (subjectively) do not like stoning. Stoning is not according to my taste, and that's all there is to it. Someone else might like it, and his opinion is just as good. Neither one of us is objectively right.

And yes, I know that you strongly oppose stoning. The point is not that you are a secret supporter of stoning, the point is that you wrongly choose to relativize something that is an absolute.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Florian (Post 221784)
In fact, I said the exact opposite: I said that executions for apostasy are barbaric by our contemporary European notions of the separation of church and state.

This descriptive statement does not mean anything, as even a Muslim could agree with this. I could say that: killing people for apostasy is right by Islamic standards of justice. I am looking for a normative statement. Killing people for apostasy is wrong, period. It does not matter who does it, it is wrong for everyone, in all places, in all times.

Florian 08-17-2011 09:21 AM

Re: Worldwise: Crisis in Syria (Elias Muhanna & Michael Young)
 
I doubt if we could agree on anything even if we were using the same vocabulary and had similar philosophical views.

So I will let you have the last word.

apple 08-17-2011 10:18 AM

Re: Worldwise: Crisis in Syria (Elias Muhanna & Michael Young)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Florian (Post 222111)
I doubt if we could agree on anything even if we were using the same vocabulary and had similar philosophical views.

So I will let you have the last word.

Well, I have it on good authority that you are a Kantian, which would mean that you do believe in objective moral standards. In fact, standards that are more rigid and inflexible than those of a Platonist like myself. So it's a bit strange that we're having this debate to begin with, you should be criticizing me for being too lax.

We can continue this debate at another time, because I'm very interested. There seems to be a fundamental inconsistency in your views. The idea of "murder relativity" appeals to you, you do not simply want to call any killing you disapprove of "murder". But at the same time, you can't bear to say that all sorts of atrocities were not actually murders, so you introduce an inconsistency. It is not at all clear to me why the presence of such traditions inweighing against a particular killing would make a killing a murder, unless we want to say that killing is only murder if it takes place in a society of culture where it is considered unjustified. Of course, this also opens a can of unpleasantness.

Florian 08-18-2011 05:22 AM

Re: Worldwise: Crisis in Syria (Elias Muhanna & Michael Young)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by apple (Post 222115)
Well, I have it on good authority that you are a Kantian, which would mean that you do believe in objective moral standards. In fact, standards that are more rigid and inflexible than those of a Platonist like myself. So it's a bit strange that we're having this debate to begin with, you should be criticizing me for being too lax.

I explained in an earlier post why I think the term "objective" is inappropriate in talking about moral standards/laws/prohibitions/injunctions (the word is unimportant). I will quote myself:

Quote:

What do you mean by valid, objective? That which is true everywhere and always, regardless of what we think, i.e. objectively true, a valid law of nature like e=mc2? Or that which all human beings have always regarded as just, fair, right, moral? These are two very different senses of valid, objective, justified.

A moral prohibition or injunction is not a claim or a truth about the universe. It is a law or a command (nomos) that enjoins us to do or not to do something. It is valid because a community has so decided that it is valid, and for no other reason..
This statement of mine is perfectly compatible with your "legal positivism," which you endorse here:

Quote:

I never said 'law', I said standard. I am a legal positivist, I do believe that whatever the legislator decides on is the law. As you no doubt know, natural law theorists believe, in the words of Thomas, that lex iniusta non lex est. I disagree. That does not mean that the law can't be wrong, and when the law is wrong, we have a duty to disobey it.
Now I shall repeat my question:

Quote:

How do you know that there are universally applicable laws (or standards in your words) apart from the particular laws of existing political communities?
Forget about Islam etc.. Just tell me how it is that you know that a particular law, now or in the past, is "wrong" (or unjust) and that we (or they) have (or had) a "duty" to disobey it.

apple 08-19-2011 10:56 PM

Re: Worldwise: Crisis in Syria (Elias Muhanna & Michael Young)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Florian (Post 222282)
I explained in an earlier post why I think the term "objective" is inappropriate in talking about moral standards/laws/prohibitions/injunctions (the word is unimportant). I will quote myself:

This statement of mine is perfectly compatible with your "legal positivism," which you endorse here:

If "[a law] is valid because a community has so decided that it is valid, and for no other reason" means that a law is technically valid, but not necessarily morally right, then yes. But if you mean to imply that legality implies substantive legitimacy, then no.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Florian (Post 222282)
How do you know that there are universally applicable laws (or standards in your words) apart from the particular laws of existing political communities?

Forget about Islam etc.. Just tell me how it is that you know that a particular law, now or in the past, is "wrong" (or unjust) and that we (or they) have (or had) a "duty" to disobey it.

Well, let me first make one thing clear, this is not something that one can prove. I couldn't prove to you that I exist, or that the world exists. Or that you are not a soul held in bondage by an evil demon putting thoughts into your head. I could potentially convince you of the existence of objective moral standards, but consider it unlikely.

We have two options. Either there are objective standards, or there are not. If there are no objective standards, then morality is subjective, and when morality is subjective, one cannot make definite statements. I cannot say that murder is wrong, I can only say that it is wrong for me, and for Florian, because this is what we happen to (subjectively) believe. Murder may be very good for Charles Manson, as he disagrees with us on the morality of murder. As there are no objective ways to determine who is right or wrong, we can't say that Charles Manson is wrong, only that we subjectively believe him to be wrong. And of course, subjective belief tells us something about the subject, not the object (the actions), and is thus without any value.

I find this to be deeply troubling, and also dangerous. Of the two alternatives, the idea of objective moral standards, determined through the best use of dialectic and the human reason of worthy people, is greatly superior.

Florian 08-23-2011 09:04 AM

Re: Worldwise: Crisis in Syria (Elias Muhanna & Michael Young)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by apple (Post 222575)
If "[a law] is valid because a community has so decided that it is valid, and for no other reason" means that a law is technically valid, but not necessarily morally right, then yes. But if you mean to imply that legality implies substantive legitimacy, then no..

You will have to define legitimacy, avoiding circularity. Both words, after all, derive from the same Latin root, lex (leges). How do you determine when a law is legitimate or illegitimate?

You have repeatedly said, in your remarks about Islamic states/governments, that they have all been tyrannical since the time of Muhammad. I assume you mean that they have all been illegitimate? The only ground that you have ever given for this truly extraordinary opinion is that Muslims execute apostates. Or have I missed something?

So, if I understand you correctly you are saying this: legitimate = objective; illegitimate = subjective?

I will address your other remarks when you have answered my question.

apple 08-24-2011 08:54 PM

Re: Worldwise: Crisis in Syria (Elias Muhanna & Michael Young)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Florian (Post 223023)
You will have to define legitimacy, avoiding circularity. Both words, after all, derive from the same Latin root, lex (leges). How do you determine when a law is legitimate or illegitimate?

Moral legitimacy, or justice, and it is determined by the use of the reason of a worthy individual. It may share a root with the word legal, but that does not make the two words synonyms, that's what is called the etymological fallacy - a word is more than its etymology.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Florian (Post 223023)
You have repeatedly said, in your remarks about Islamic states/governments, that they have all been tyrannical since the time of Muhammad.

I actually meant the religion itself, not the states/governments (nor do I say that these were not tyrannies, just that I have not opined on the matter in this discussion). After all, you said that Stalin is a tyrant for killing his opponents to stay in power. Well, Islam is an ideology that stays in power by killing its opponents, like people who try to liberate themselves from the ideology.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Florian (Post 223023)
I assume you mean that they have all been illegitimate? The only ground that you have ever given for this truly extraordinary opinion is that Muslims execute apostates. Or have I missed something?

Well, if you recall where this discussion started, I called the people of Egypt barbarians for supporting three barbaric practices. I actually only called these practices illegitimate (morally illegitimate), and in fact, I said that killing for apostasy was and is murder. State support for an illegitimate practice does not necessarily mean that the state itself is illegitimate, as even very legitimate states can pass and enforce illegitimate laws.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Florian (Post 223023)
So, if I understand you correctly you are saying this: legitimate = objective; illegitimate = subjective?

This would be a logical contradiction, and I don't know where you got the idea that I would say something like this.

Florian 08-25-2011 02:31 AM

Re: Worldwise: Crisis in Syria (Elias Muhanna & Michael Young)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by apple (Post 223168)
Moral legitimacy, or justice, and it is determined by the use of the reason of a worthy individual. It may share a root with the word legal, but that does not make the two words synonyms, that's what is called the etymological fallacy - a word is more than its etymology..

True, a word is more than its etymology, but the difference between legality and legitimacy is not self-evident. I repeat my question: How do you know whether a given law is legitimate or illegitimate? You have not answered the question by tacking on the adjective "moral." You have simply added another undefined word to your chain of terms:

Justified = objective = legitimate = morally legitimate

I still don't have the foggiest idea why you think that executions for apostasy are unjustified, illegitimate and immoral. Even less do I understand why this single law condemns Islam in your eyes.

Quote:

Well, if you recall where this discussion started, I called the people of Egypt barbarians for supporting three barbaric practices. I actually only called these practices illegitimate (morally illegitimate), and in fact, I said that killing for apostasy was and is murder. State support for an illegitimate practice does not necessarily mean that the state itself is illegitimate, as even very legitimate states can pass and enforce illegitimate laws..
But you have not said why this particular law is morally illegitimate. I agreed with you very early on that it is a barbaric practice---from our modern, European, secular, perspective. But that merely reflects our historical situation. Our laws no longer allow the state to execute apostates (or heretics).

Quote:

This would be a logical contradiction, and I don't know where you got the idea that I would say something like this.
No, it is not a logical contradition. It follows logically from your previous remarks. The opposite of objective is subjective in everyday and in philosophical usage. You have repeatedly said that you know what is "justified," what is "objectively" right, what is "legitimate," and now you say that you know what is "morally" legitimate. But you have yet to explain why executions for apostasy are unjustified, objectively wrong, illegitmate, or morally illegitimate.

apple 08-25-2011 10:26 AM

Re: Worldwise: Crisis in Syria (Elias Muhanna & Michael Young)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Florian (Post 223204)
I repeat my question: How do you know whether a given law is legitimate or illegitimate? You have not answered the question by tacking on the adjective "moral." You have simply added another undefined word to your chain of terms:

Justified = objective = legitimate = morally legitimate

I still don't have the foggiest idea why you think that executions for apostasy are unjustified, illegitimate and immoral.

Well, you don't believe in any objective moral norm, only in the whims and tastes of individuals, so you'll dismiss any argument as: "well, that's just your subjective opinion". There's not much of a point to make an argument.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Florian (Post 223204)
Even less do I understand why this single law condemns Islam in your eyes.

If I told you that there was a cult that threatened to kill anyone who tried to leave it, what would you say? Would you say that this cult is perfectly respectable?

Quote:

Originally Posted by Florian (Post 223204)
But you have not said why this particular law is morally illegitimate. I agreed with you very early on that it is a barbaric practice---from our modern, European, secular, perspective. But that merely reflects our historical situation. Our laws no longer allow the state to execute apostates (or heretics).

You claim that the idea that this practice is barbaric is "subjective". That there's nothing inherently wrong with it, but that it's just not according to my taste. If it is subjective, then another person can legitimately disagree with me, and say that such practices are right, and have the same moral standing as you and I do, as people who condemn this practice. Hence, you say that it's not murder, but killing. I think you yourself realize that you can't universally apply this standard, because you refuse to apply it to the Holocaust, and to Stalin's killings. Why? Because they somehow violate accepted legal norms in Europe at the time - as if that makes something objectively wrong. If that's the case, then you should condemn count Raymond as being objectively wrong for not persecuting the Cathars, as that violated accepted legal norms in Europe at the time, that secular rulers should combat heresy.

You want to be a relativist, but you can't. You simply can't bear the thought of calling the Holocaust "simple killings" as opposed to "murders", because you know that the cold-blooded slaughter of Europe's Jews was so obviously wrong. Not subjectively according to apple and Florian, but objectively wrong. If the Holocaust is only subjectively wrong, then a Nazi could call it morally right, and both opinions would be equally valid. If the Holocaust is only objectively wrong because of the accepted legal norms in Europe at the time, then similar actions elsewhere might be called objectively right. Or if the legal norms in Europe differed, and imposed on rulers an obligation to kill all Jews, it would be, in fact, objectively right.

I find this to be unacceptable. And you don't like the fact that I can't give a definition of what's moral and immoral, but even Plato realized that such abstract concepts often can't be encapsulated in a definition. I think we need to find what is right or wrong, by the use of reason and the dialectic. I realize that it's easier to just deny the existence of objective moral norms, but it leads to unacceptable outcomes, as you no doubt know.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Florian (Post 223204)
No, it is not a logical contradition. It follows logically from your previous remarks. The opposite of objective is subjective in everyday and in philosophical usage. You have repeatedly said that you know what is "justified," what is "objectively" right, what is "legitimate," and now you say that you know what is "morally" legitimate. But you have yet to explain why executions for apostasy are unjustified, objectively wrong, illegitmate, or morally illegitimate.

I can't give you a definition that a computer could apply, which is what you demand. I can't prove to you that objective moral norms do exist, any more than I can prove to you solipsism is not true.

AemJeff 08-25-2011 11:08 AM

Re: Worldwise: Crisis in Syria (Elias Muhanna & Michael Young)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by apple (Post 223214)
...
I can't give you a definition that a computer could apply, which is what you demand. I can't prove to you that objective moral norms do exist, any more than I can prove to you solipsism is not true.

Of course you can't. This is the subject of a profound unresolved debate and people can legitimately disagree. My own feeling is that the burden of proof is on those who want to assert the existence of objective moral standards. (How can a normative standard also be be an objective one by the way?)

apple 08-25-2011 11:32 AM

Re: Worldwise: Crisis in Syria (Elias Muhanna & Michael Young)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by AemJeff (Post 223228)
Of course you can't. This is the subject of a profound unresolved debate and people can legitimately disagree. My own feeling is that the burden of proof is on those who want to assert the existence of objective moral standards.

Well, my main 'proof' is that relativism and nihilism are so unsatisfactory (and their popular versions, self-contradictory), that we are left with objectivism as the only viable basis for morality.

Quote:

Originally Posted by AemJeff (Post 223228)
(How can a normative standard also be be an objective one by the way?)

How can an objective standard not be a normative one? Suppose that we assume of an objective moral standard that murder is wrong? It follows that this is a normative standard that everyone should follow.

AemJeff 08-25-2011 11:48 AM

Re: Worldwise: Crisis in Syria (Elias Muhanna & Michael Young)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by apple (Post 223234)
Well, my main 'proof' is that relativism and nihilism are so unsatisfactory (and their popular versions, self-contradictory), that we are left with objectivism as the only viable basis for morality.



How can an objective standard not be a normative one? Suppose that we assume of an objective moral standard that murder is wrong? It follows that this is a normative standard that everyone should follow.

It's good that you included the irony quotes around "proof."

"Objective" means something that's true regardless of context - by tautology or by definition.

o 2 + 2 = 4
o "To run" is an English verb.

"Normative" implies judgments in regard to what's typical within a given context.

o Humans are smarter than dogs.
o Killing people is wrong.

The terms really don't have overlapping meanings.

Florian 08-25-2011 12:45 PM

Re: Worldwise: Crisis in Syria (Elias Muhanna & Michael Young)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by apple (Post 223214)
Well, you don't believe in any objective moral norm, only in the whims and tastes of individuals, so you'll dismiss any argument as: "well, that's just your subjective opinion". There's not much of a point to make an argument. .

I said absolutely nothing of the kind. I certainly don't believe that laws are subjective whims. In fact, I told you at the beginning of this exchange that I believe in a minimalist version of natural law (jus naturale).

I asked you to answer the question:How do you know whether a particular law (the law against apostasy) is legitimate or illegitimate? To answer that question you would first have to explain what you mean by legitimate, and whether there is a distinction between legitimacy and legality. (And if you think that is an easy question, think again!). Then, assuming there is a real distinction, you would have to explain why this particular law is indeed illegitimate, despite its "legality" in the eyes of some if not all Muslims.

I also asked you, because you equated "legitimate" and "objective," to explain what you mean by saying that laws/moral norms/standards are "objectively" true. You then jumped to the conclusion that I must believe that laws/moral norms are merely "subjective" because I doubt if they can be called objective. Non-sequitur. They could be neither. I see that in your next paragraph you add another word to your series of verbal equations and ask me if the Muslim law (cult) regarding apostates is perfectly "respectable."

Justified = objective = legitimate = morally legitimate = respectable

So now I am even more confused. "Respectable," to my mind, has nothing to do with scientific objectivity, although I can see how it has a connection with legality or legitimacy. Generally, people in any society believe that the laws/norms/standards by which they live are "respectable," and that those who abide by them are respectable. Members of other societies of course may have a different understanding of respectability....

If you want to answer my original question: how do you know that a particular law is legitimate or illegitimate, we can "perhaps" continue this dialogue........ Notice I am not asking you to answer the question how you know that this particular Muslim law regarding apostasy is legitimate or illegitimate, but how we can know whether any law is legitimate or illegitimate.

stephanie 08-25-2011 12:57 PM

Re: Worldwise: Crisis in Syria (Elias Muhanna & Michael Young)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by apple (Post 223214)
Well, you don't believe in any objective moral norm, only in the whims and tastes of individuals, so you'll dismiss any argument as: "well, that's just your subjective opinion". There's not much of a point to make an argument.

It makes sense to start by defining "objective moral norm." You did so somewhat in another thread, but it seems missing from this discussion.

I think there's a confusion between two uses of the term.

First, one could use "objective" to refer to a claim that something is right or wrong without reference to the circumstances or the society in which the person lives or what the person thinks about the action. The action is, in and of itself, either right or wrong. The problem, of course, is asserting that you believe that moral claims can have this kind of status doesn't tell us how to identify whether a particular action is right or wrong or get us away from the fact that we are going to be influenced by subjective factors in reasoning about these things, because we reason about them with our minds. So unless you are really precise, it just sounds like you are countering a position no one holds (that it's all just a matter of taste) or asserting that your dislike of particular claims (objectively wrong!) is more intense than others, who don't think the O word fits here.

Second, one can use objective to talk about how one determines that a claim is true or false -- the evidence demonstrates X -- but this doesn't seem to fit moral claims at all. We are by necessity talking about arguments based on reason alone, and not results. Once you start getting into empirical factors -- what are traditionally considered the basis for objective claims, because they refer to the world itself and not what our minds can perceive of it -- then you move away from the ability to make pure moral claims (X is always right or wrong).

Of course, there are various problems, one being that however much we want to focus on empirical evidence we don't know whether what we perceive is real. Another is that there's no grounding for conclusions based on reason. You have to start with assumptions. And if you think I'm wrong about either of these, I'm interested in the arguments.

Quote:

If I told you that there was a cult that threatened to kill anyone who tried to leave it, what would you say? Would you say that this cult is perfectly respectable?
This is an example of how the language used has nothing to do with normal notions of objective/subjective. Saying something is not respectable is merely a claim about how it fits in with the mores of the society.

Quote:

You claim that the idea that this practice is barbaric is "subjective".
Similarly, your use of the term "barbaric" seems peculiar, since barbarism also seems related to the mores of your society, which is what I see Florian saying.

Quote:

That there's nothing inherently wrong with it, but that it's just not according to my taste. If it is subjective, then another person can legitimately disagree with me, and say that such practices are right, and have the same moral standing as you and I do, as people who condemn this practice.
The last sentence is not necessarily true (not generally true at all).

Even if I can't prove that murdering someone based on a difference of religion is objectively wrong, I can certainly believe that it is wrong, and not something on which people can legitimately disagree. I base this on certain prior views from which the statement "murdering someone for their religion is wrong" are based, views that are generally accepted in our society.

You say that that doesn't do much, since what about societies where people don't accept those views, of which there have been many. This ignores the fact that in saying my views about freedom of religion, about individual rights which a state must respect, are ones that are widely accepted in our society, I'm not saying that they are only correct because they are widely accepted. I think they are also correct, period.

But the problem, which seems obvious, is how one proves that and on what basis one can assert that it's "objective" (in the first sense). The easiest way to prove a moral claim is to find a prior assumption on which those with whom you are talking will agree and show how it follows from that. That, of course, is not always possible, because you may not be able to find such an agreed-upon assumption. Beyond that, you can assert moral laws, but I'm not sure on what ground you would do that.

Quote:

I think we need to find what is right or wrong, by the use of reason and the dialectic. I realize that it's easier to just deny the existence of objective moral norms, but it leads to unacceptable outcomes, as you no doubt know.
I don't agree with you here, because (as we discussed before), I just don't think humans decide, eh, just a matter of taste, about these things. I think we usually can find agreed upon prior claims, assumptions, and reason from those. But you are getting pushback to the claim that it's a matter of subjective vs. objective not because people want to be relativists in the way you mean, but because you can't just overlook the problem with grounding the claims.

And in part you can't because we need to be able to reason about the claims, and you aren't reasoning when you say "don't you think X is bad" (X being something that someone of our cultures is certainly going to think is bad). You are reasoning about it when you are able to show the common moral principles on which we agree that lead to that conclusion.

Indeed, merely asserting that one believes in objective morality gets one nowhere, since any reasonable person with the knowledge that people today should have must know that believing objective standards exist and thinking we know what they are are separate questions. That's why many religious people may claim they believe in some objective moral claims, but nonetheless apply a reasonable skepticism in making assertions about what they are.

apple 08-27-2011 12:52 PM

Re: Worldwise: Crisis in Syria (Elias Muhanna & Michael Young)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by AemJeff (Post 223236)
It's good that you included the irony quotes around "proof."

"Objective" means something that's true regardless of context - by tautology or by definition.

o 2 + 2 = 4
o "To run" is an English verb.

"Normative" implies judgments in regard to what's typical within a given context.

o Humans are smarter than dogs.
o Killing people is wrong.

The terms really don't have overlapping meanings.

This is actually not true, at least, in the context of ethical philosophy, where objectivism refers to the idea that one can come to objectively valid moral truths. Presumably, unless one is an immoralist, one would seek to abide by objective moral truths, which would make them normative (prescriptive).

apple 08-27-2011 01:04 PM

Re: Worldwise: Crisis in Syria (Elias Muhanna & Michael Young)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Florian (Post 223240)
I said absolutely nothing of the kind. I certainly don't believe that laws are subjective whims. In fact, I told you at the beginning of this exchange that I believe in a minimalist version of natural law (jus naturale).

Yes, I remember, but that is why why I am very surprised to hear you say things that (on their face) seem to be incompatible with belief in even a minimalist version of natural law.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Florian (Post 223240)
I asked you to answer the question:How do you know whether a particular law (the law against apostasy) is legitimate or illegitimate? To answer that question you would first have to explain what you mean by legitimate, and whether there is a distinction between legitimacy and legality. (And if you think that is an easy question, think again!). Then, assuming there is a real distinction, you would have to explain why this particular law is indeed illegitimate, despite its "legality" in the eyes of some if not all Muslims.

So what is it that you want to know? This last question I have already answered - legality, whether real or perceived, is completely irrelevant to questions of moral legitimacy. I acknowledge that stoning people to death for adultery is legal in Iran and Saudi-Arabia. No question about it. However, it is also the case that this is morally illegitimate.

You might ask: is it morally illegitimate, just because you say that it is? I do not mean to make an argument by assertion, but unless you believe in objective moral truths, any support that I do provide for this argument can be summarily dismissed by you as being my "subjective" opinion - and then I've just wasted my time..

Quote:

Originally Posted by Florian (Post 223240)
I also asked you, because you equated "legitimate" and "objective," to explain what you mean by saying that laws/moral norms/standards are "objectively" true.

I've never said that laws are objectively true. Laws are simply laws, they can neither be true or false. On the other hand, moral norms can be true or false, or perhaps you would prefer the word 'valid'. Also, I have not claimed that the word legitimate is synonymous with objective, only that moral legitimacy is objective and not in the eye of any beholder.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Florian (Post 223240)
You then jumped to the conclusion that I must believe that laws/moral norms are merely "subjective" because I doubt if they can be called objective. Non-sequitur. They could be neither.

Alright, now that's interesting. What third option can there be? Even if you were to postulate the existence of absolute moral values, these are still objective. An absolutist would not deny the existence of objective moral truth, but he would go further, by claiming that these objective moral truths are in fact absolute. So even absolutism does not break the objective-subjective dichotomy. Do you propose any?

Quote:

Originally Posted by Florian (Post 223240)
So now I am even more confused. "Respectable," to my mind, has nothing to do with scientific objectivity, although I can see how it has a connection with legality or legitimacy. Generally, people in any society believe that the laws/norms/standards by which they live are "respectable," and that those who abide by them are respectable. Members of other societies of course may have a different understanding of respectability....

If you want to answer my original question: how do you know that a particular law is legitimate or illegitimate, we can "perhaps" continue this dialogue........ Notice I am not asking you to answer the question how you know that this particular Muslim law regarding apostasy is legitimate or illegitimate, but how we can know whether any law is legitimate or illegitimate.

I do tend to use synonyms too loosely, which might be confusing. A law is morally legitimate when it conforms to objective moral standards. And I mean 'objective' in a philosophical and not in a scientific sense. Ethics is not a branch of science, but of philosophy. These objective moral standards should be determined by the use of reason and dialectic by worthy people.

apple 08-27-2011 01:33 PM

Re: Worldwise: Crisis in Syria (Elias Muhanna & Michael Young)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by stephanie (Post 223244)
Second, one can use objective to talk about how one determines that a claim is true or false -- the evidence demonstrates X -- but this doesn't seem to fit moral claims at all. We are by necessity talking about arguments based on reason alone, and not results. Once you start getting into empirical factors -- what are traditionally considered the basis for objective claims, because they refer to the world itself and not what our minds can perceive of it -- then you move away from the ability to make pure moral claims (X is always right or wrong).

Perhaps so, but I don't think that it's a death knell for objective moral claims. Moral claims will almost always have to refer to some aspect of the "real" world. For example, is it wrong to jail innocent people? First, you need to know what a jail is (and you can't get there by reason alone), and whether it is regarded as pleasant to be jailed (common sense is based on empirical data). Only then can you say that it is wrong, because a jail is for people who have committed crimes (innocents haven't), because it is supposed to be unpleasant.

The same thing goes for killing. Killing is a bad thing, but it's not always morally wrong to kill. So how does one determine whether a particular killing was right or wrong? With reference to the outside world.

Quote:

Originally Posted by stephanie (Post 223244)
Of course, there are various problems, one being that however much we want to focus on empirical evidence we don't know whether what we perceive is real. Another is that there's no grounding for conclusions based on reason. You have to start with assumptions. And if you think I'm wrong about either of these, I'm interested in the arguments.

There are some assumptions that you'll just have to make. For example, I can't prove to you that there actually is an outside world, or that I'm real. And yet very few people are solipsists, even though there is absolutely no evidence that would actually refute it. Because it is inherently implausible? Because it leads to unacceptable results (i.e., I can mistreat anyone else, because they are not real anyway)? I'd say that the same is true for objective moral truths.

Quote:

Originally Posted by stephanie (Post 223244)
This is an example of how the language used has nothing to do with normal notions of objective/subjective. Saying something is not respectable is merely a claim about how it fits in with the mores of the society.

I've been somewhat imprecise with language, but I meant 'morally right' when I said 'respectable'. I only regard what is morally right as respectable, regardless of the norms of society, and I will say: "I don't think that's respectable" to indicate that something is morally wrong.

Quote:

Originally Posted by stephanie (Post 223244)
Similarly, your use of the term "barbaric" seems peculiar, since barbarism also seems related to the mores of your society, which is what I see Florian saying.

Actually, I think he said the opposite. He objected when I said that he was reducing "barbaric" to something subjective, at which point he said that if I knew the rather specific definitions of barbaric and civilized, I would not say that.

Quote:

Originally Posted by stephanie (Post 223244)
Even if I can't prove that murdering someone based on a difference of religion is objectively wrong, I can certainly believe that it is wrong, and not something on which people can legitimately disagree. I base this on certain prior views from which the statement "murdering someone for their religion is wrong" are based, views that are generally accepted in our society.

You say that that doesn't do much, since what about societies where people don't accept those views, of which there have been many. This ignores the fact that in saying my views about freedom of religion, about individual rights which a state must respect, are ones that are widely accepted in our society, I'm not saying that they are only correct because they are widely accepted. I think they are also correct, period.

Ah, but here's the problem. You try to infuse this moral belief with legitimacy by saying that it is based on views generally accepted in our society. At the same time, you say that you don't blindly follow your society, but that they just happen to be correct in this instance. Well, if that is the case, then why would you say that this is a matter on which people cannot legitimately disagree? After all, your reason for that is that these views are generally accepted in society.

Of course people who believe that all moral judgments are subjective usually do not abandon their own sense of right and wrong. They will continue to call 'wrong' whatever they regard as wrong. But they take the sting out of that by saying that it's comparable to the flavor of ice cream one likes. After all, there is no right and wrong, only subjective opinion. The fact that I am outraged about something, says something about me, not about the something. The something is neither right or wrong in itself.

Quote:

Originally Posted by stephanie (Post 223244)
But the problem, which seems obvious, is how one proves that and on what basis one can assert that it's "objective" (in the first sense). The easiest way to prove a moral claim is to find a prior assumption on which those with whom you are talking will agree and show how it follows from that. That, of course, is not always possible, because you may not be able to find such an agreed-upon assumption. Beyond that, you can assert moral laws, but I'm not sure on what ground you would do that.

First things first. It's not good for much to make an argument that X is an objective moral truth, if one is faced with an outright denial of objective moral standards.

Quote:

Originally Posted by stephanie (Post 223244)
I don't agree with you here, because (as we discussed before), I just don't think humans decide, eh, just a matter of taste, about these things. I think we usually can find agreed upon prior claims, assumptions, and reason from those. But you are getting pushback to the claim that it's a matter of subjective vs. objective not because people want to be relativists in the way you mean, but because you can't just overlook the problem with grounding the claims.

Perhaps not, but I can't see how one can believe that moral claims are inherently subjective, and only that, without believing that it is a matter of taste. If Florian believed that my claims about stoning being barbaric were not sufficiently well-grounded, then he could have argued that. But he didn't. Instead, he said that my views are subjective.

Quote:

Originally Posted by stephanie (Post 223244)
Indeed, merely asserting that one believes in objective morality gets one nowhere, since any reasonable person with the knowledge that people today should have must know that believing objective standards exist and thinking we know what they are are separate questions.

Actually, I think that the acceptance that there are objective moral standards is the main part. I do not believe that this will automatically lead to people blindly accepting what I believe to be objective moral standards, but at least then we can talk about it.

AemJeff 08-27-2011 02:07 PM

Re: Worldwise: Crisis in Syria (Elias Muhanna & Michael Young)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by apple (Post 223435)
This is actually not true, at least, in the context of ethical philosophy, where objectivism refers to the idea that one can come to objectively valid moral truths. Presumably, unless one is an immoralist, one would seek to abide by objective moral truths, which would make them normative (prescriptive).

All right, every time I get into the weeds on this issue I seem to leave a mess behind. Ethical objectivism seems self-evidently inconsistent to me, but I lack the chops to make that case coherently. I will say that I'd have thought an apparently aggressive secularist would have more obvious regard for Hume's fork, particularly the is/ought distinction. I conflated analytic truth and objective truth above, but I fail to see a useful distinction (and that might admittedly be due to my own limitations.)

Florian 08-27-2011 03:19 PM

Re: Worldwise: Crisis in Syria (Elias Muhanna & Michael Young)
 
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Originally Posted by apple (Post 223438)
So what is it that you want to know? This last question I have already answered - legality, whether real or perceived, is completely irrelevant to questions of moral legitimacy. I acknowledge that stoning people to death for adultery is legal in Iran and Saudi-Arabia. No question about it. However, it is also the case that this is morally illegitimate..

Have we changed the subject? I thought we were talking about laws against apostasy. Mais peu importe...

Maybe such laws are "illegitimate," but you have not even begun to make an argument for their illegitimacy. To do so, as I said above, you would have to explain how it is that we know, in general, that a particular law (=any law of any legal order) is illegitimate. Since "legitimate" means "in accordance with the laws, established legal forms or standards of a society" and illegitimate means the opposite, to say that a law is "morally illegitimate" is equivalent to saying that there are universal, timeless moral norms independent of any existing legal orders.

That is true. There are no doubt some such universal, timeless norms, as I believe. But religion, sex and punishment have always been governed to a certain extent by caprice, imagination, and absurdity.

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You might ask: is it morally illegitimate, just because you say that it is? I do not mean to make an argument by assertion, but unless you believe in objective moral truths, any support that I do provide for this argument can be summarily dismissed by you as being my "subjective" opinion - and then I've just wasted my time...

No, I did not dismiss your opinion as "subjective." You dismissed my question about the objectivity of laws/moral norms as implying that I believe laws/moral norms are subjective. As a pointed out, that is a non-sequitur.

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I've never said that laws are objectively true. Laws are simply laws, they can neither be true or false. On the other hand, moral norms can be true or false, or perhaps you would prefer the word 'valid'. Also, I have not claimed that the word legitimate is synonymous with objective, only that moral legitimacy is objective and not in the eye of any beholder...

The distinction between laws and moral norms may seem self-evident to you. To me, it is not.

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Alright, now that's interesting. What third option can there be? Even if you were to postulate the existence of absolute moral values, these are still objective. An absolutist would not deny the existence of objective moral truth, but he would go further, by claiming that these objective moral truths are in fact absolute. So even absolutism does not break the objective-subjective dichotomy. Do you propose any?
The objective-subjective dichotomy is an unfortunate inheritance of modern science. It is related to the is/ought dichotomy (Hume's fork--see AemJeff). I would suggest that "intersubjective" might be better category for discussing law and morality, or culture and civilization (vs barbarism), i.e. history.

Since your motto from Urban II mentions "barbarians," perhaps you can agree with this?

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I do tend to use synonyms too loosely, which might be confusing. A law is morally legitimate when it conforms to objective moral standards. And I mean 'objective' in a philosophical and not in a scientific sense. Ethics is not a branch of science, but of philosophy. These objective moral standards should be determined by the use of reason and dialectic by worthy people.
True, ethics is not a branch of science, and that is why there is no point in reasoning about objective moral standards as if they could have the same universal validity as scientific truths. But I am all in favor of dialectic, either in the Platonic or the Hegelian sense.

apple 08-28-2011 10:52 PM

Re: Worldwise: Crisis in Syria (Elias Muhanna & Michael Young)
 
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Originally Posted by AemJeff (Post 223450)
All right, every time I get into the weeds on this issue I seem to leave a mess behind. Ethical objectivism seems self-evidently inconsistent to me, but I lack the chops to make that case coherently. I will say that I'd have thought an apparently aggressive secularist would have more obvious regard for Hume's fork, particularly the is/ought distinction. I conflated analytic truth and objective truth above, but I fail to see a useful distinction (and that might admittedly be due to my own limitations.)

I did not collapse the is/ought distinction. I would not say that an unjust law is not a law, but I would say that it is an unjust law and that it therefore ought not to be.

apple 08-28-2011 11:11 PM

Re: Worldwise: Crisis in Syria (Elias Muhanna & Michael Young)
 
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Originally Posted by Florian (Post 223457)
Have we changed the subject? I thought we were talking about laws against apostasy. Mais peu importe...

They are only examples.

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Originally Posted by Florian (Post 223457)
Maybe such laws are "illegitimate," but you have not even begun to make an argument for their illegitimacy. To do so, as I said above, you would have to explain how it is that we know, in general, that a particular law (=any law of any legal order) is illegitimate. Since "legitimate" means "in accordance with the laws, established legal forms or standards of a society" and illegitimate means the opposite, to say that a law is "morally illegitimate" is equivalent to saying that there are universal, timeless moral norms independent of any existing legal orders.

That is true. There are no doubt some such universal, timeless norms, as I believe.

Well, as you yourself have pointed out, there are precious few universal moral norms. One can find an exception to every "universal" moral norms.

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Originally Posted by Florian (Post 223457)
But religion, sex and punishment have always been governed to a certain extent by caprice, imagination, and absurdity.

Of course, but does this make it just, or morally right? You would say: no, not according to my principles and our Western legal order. But that's relativizing it again, as one is merely saying that such things are morally wrong when judged by your principles or the Western legal order. What can one say about whether such things are right and just independent of these matters?

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Originally Posted by Florian (Post 223457)
No, I did not dismiss your opinion as "subjective." You dismissed my question about the objectivity of laws/moral norms as implying that I believe laws/moral norms are subjective. As a pointed out, that is a non-sequitur.

I'm talking about this: "It has not been "established" that Egyptians and Jordanians are "backward savages." It has been repeatedly asserted by you---as if your subjective dislike of certain customs were the touchstone of the truth. As Montaigne famously said in the 16th century: "Truth on this side of the Pyrenees, falsehood on the other." Oh, and Montaigne also thought that cannibals were not nearly as nasty and savage as some Europeans...."

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Originally Posted by Florian (Post 223457)
The distinction between laws and moral norms may seem self-evident to you. To me, it is not.

A law is an edict issued by a sovereign (a monarch, or the people, through their elected representatives). A moral norm is a standard for right and wrong, which has nothing to do with laws. Laws do not declare certain conduct to be right or wrong, only criminal, regardless of the underlying motivation.

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Originally Posted by Florian (Post 223457)
The objective-subjective dichotomy is an unfortunate inheritance of modern science. It is related to the is/ought dichotomy (Hume's fork--see AemJeff). I would suggest that "intersubjective" might be better category for discussing law and morality, or culture and civilization (vs barbarism), i.e. history.

Since your motto from Urban II mentions "barbarians," perhaps you can agree with this?

Maybe, if it does not reduce morality to matters of taste.

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Originally Posted by Florian (Post 223457)
True, ethics is not a branch of science, and that is why there is no point in reasoning about objective moral standards as if they could have the same universal validity as scientific truths. But I am all in favor of dialectic, either in the Platonic or the Hegelian sense.

It's not as if scientific truths have universal validity. Of course, they could be wrong. But we don't say that scientific truths depend on universal assent for their universal validity. If a particular culture does not accept Einstein's theories of relativity, there would be no reason to say that these theories are not true for them. On the other hand, ethics is much more important than science (as science has to be done and used ethically), so why should our sense of ethics be any different? In other words, why is it hard to accept that people can be wrong about ethical matters?

Florian 08-29-2011 06:02 AM

Re: Worldwise: Crisis in Syria (Elias Muhanna & Michael Young)
 
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Originally Posted by apple (Post 223579)
Well, as you yourself have pointed out, there are precious few universal moral norms. One can find an exception to every "universal" moral norms.?

Precious few but they are precious. I believe that there are a few universal moral norms or principles that are embodied in every legal order, whatever the form of government. Even tyrants govern by laws.... to some extent. The mere respect for established laws expresses a moral principle: Nulla poena sine lege--you cannot punish someone for an action unless there is an existing law prohibiting it.

When you say that a particular law, such as the law against apostasy, is "morally illegitimate," you are really not saying anything until you specify what moral principle(s) it violates. So what moral principle(s) does it violate?

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Of course, but does this make it just, or morally right? You would say: no, not according to my principles and our Western legal order. But that's relativizing it again, as one is merely saying that such things are morally wrong when judged by your principles or the Western legal order. What can one say about whether such things are right and just independent of these matters?
The answer to your question is obvious: You consider morallywrong what most or many Muslims consider to be religiously right. Am I relativizing? Yes, so what? You are the beneficiary of the European, western secularized legal order which makes a clear distinction between Church and State and between crimes and "sins." The secularization of law, the eventual separation of "Church and State", forshadowed by the medieval European distinction between the "spiritual" power of the Church and the "temporal" power of the State (Empire), has never occurred in Islamic countries (except in Turkey).

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I'm talking about this: "It has not been "established" that Egyptians and Jordanians are "backward savages." It has been repeatedly asserted by you---as if your subjective dislike of certain customs were the touchstone of the truth. As Montaigne famously said in the 16th century: "Truth on this side of the Pyrenees, falsehood on the other." Oh, and Montaigne also thought that cannibals were not nearly as nasty and savage as some Europeans...."
When someone asserts, as you did, that "it has been established" (by whom? on what grounds?) that Egyptians and Jordanians are "backward savages," a little humor is in order. Besides, Montaigne was right about the cannibals: Eating your enemy shows greater respect for him than torturing him.

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A law is an edict issued by a sovereign (a monarch, or the people, through their elected representatives). A moral norm is a standard for right and wrong, which has nothing to do with laws. Laws do not declare certain conduct to be right or wrong, only criminal, regardless of the underlying motivation.
Some laws are nothing but edicts etc, but the vast body of laws that have come down to us and which are the basis of both European and American law and jurisprudence (going all the way back to the corpus juris civilis--the Justinian code) most definitedly do declare conduct to be right or wrong, just or unjust, fair or unfair etc.

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Maybe, if it does not reduce morality to matters of taste.?
I never said morality is a matter of taste. Nor did I say:

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It's not as if scientific truths have universal validity. Of course, they could be wrong. But we don't say that scientific truths depend on universal assent for their universal validity. If a particular culture does not accept Einstein's theories of relativity, there would be no reason to say that these theories are not true for them.
We say that scientific theories are correct or incorrect, that they are true (about some aspect of the universe, nature) until the relevant scientific community decides that they are no longer true, or in need of modification etc. Their validity, I agree, doesn't depend on universal assent, but their truth or falsehood depends on objective data.

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On the other hand, ethics is much more important than science (as science has to be done and used ethically), so why should our sense of ethics be any different? In other words, why is it hard to accept that people can be wrong about ethical matters?
Could you clarify what you mean by "wrong" here? I agree that moral philosophers and others who think about ethical matters can be wrong, i.e. mistaken, in their reasonings. But you seem to be saying that it is possible for an entire civilization to be wrong about everything!

stephanie 08-29-2011 09:39 PM

Re: Worldwise: Crisis in Syria (Elias Muhanna & Michael Young)
 
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Originally Posted by apple (Post 223441)
Perhaps so, but I don't think that it's a death knell for objective moral claims. Moral claims will almost always have to refer to some aspect of the "real" world. For example, is it wrong to jail innocent people? First, you need to know what a jail is (and you can't get there by reason alone), and whether it is regarded as pleasant to be jailed (common sense is based on empirical data). Only then can you say that it is wrong, because a jail is for people who have committed crimes (innocents haven't), because it is supposed to be unpleasant.

But none of that requires an empirical analysis. Is prison X inhumane would. It depends on the real world nature of that prison. But the question "is it wrong to jail innocent people" merely requires a definition of terms. The fact that jail is more or less unpleasant doesn't so much matter. It's a violation of liberty and thus a problem here, even if the person in question would prefer being in jail to having to deal with all that unpleasant responsibility of the outside world.

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The same thing goes for killing. Killing is a bad thing, but it's not always morally wrong to kill. So how does one determine whether a particular killing was right or wrong? With reference to the outside world.
I don't think so, not necessarily anyway, but this is the interesting question. So I'll ask how so? How does one determine the proper definition of murder vs. justified killing? (My asking this is to discuss how one would do this, not because I think it's impossible or don't have my own ideas.)

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I'd say that the same is true for objective moral truths.
That's actually how I tend to think of it, but it's not especially satisfying.

It's also not quite the same, so I am more swayed by arguments to the contrary than with the others. There's a clear usefulness to just assuming that we exist and going on that there is not in assuming that there are objective moral truths. The reason is, among other things, that assuming they exist isn't a fact, about the real world and its connection to us, in the same way. Also, once again, assuming they exist doesn't tell you what they are. I'd say the better comparison is that assuming we exist is like assuming certain axioms which form the basis for one's understanding of morality. It doesn't seem to me so important that we apply the term "objective" to them, and seems like a problem just in terms of the use of language.

On "morally right" vs. respectable, okay. On barbaric vs. civilized, okay again, but I think that makes "barbaric" different than morally wrong, much as "civilized" is different than morally correct. There may well be substantial overlap in both cases, but it seems an eccentric way to use the terms.

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Ah, but here's the problem. You try to infuse this moral belief with legitimacy by saying that it is based on views generally accepted in our society.
I don't think so. I recognize that that's why I hold it, probably, sure, but I'm not saying that's why it's illegitimate. In fact, I think I said the opposite.

But when engaging in a moral argument about such things, given the impossibility of a concrete grounding, it's easier if we can start with agreed positions and then reason from them. Within a society, that's going to be easier. There will likely be many agreed positions, and as a result we may not need to prove why it is, in fact, true that killing someone based on their religion or lack thereof is wrong. We can agree on it and reason from it.

If someone disagrees on something, it's a helpful first step to reason back to where the disagreement exists. Maybe it's a a disagreement as to what follows from something which is agreed. There's a way to convince each other. Maybe it's contradictory axioms. If so, there's not anywhere to go. I don't know that the assertion that the axiom in question is actually objectively true gets you anywhere, although I'm willing to go there.

As we've discussed, I don't agree with you about people who reject the term "objective" for these kinds of questions considering them analogous to ice cream preferences, but I don't know that there's much to say about that part of the argument beyond I disagree.

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First things first. It's not good for much to make an argument that X is an objective moral truth, if one is faced with an outright denial of objective moral standards.
Real first things first would be understanding what it means to have objective moral standards. How is a moral standard that is asserted to be objective different than one asserted to be subjective if I admit I can't have access to complete or certain knowledge of what the objective standards are, if I don't have a way of arguing convincingly, with reason alone and not depending on differences in perceptions of reality, what is and is not moral?

Or if you think you do have the latter, wouldn't that be where to start? If there are objective moral standards, how can I know them?

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Perhaps not, but I can't see how one can believe that moral claims are inherently subjective, and only that, without believing that it is a matter of taste.
This would be something to ask those questioning objective morality. I'd be interested in the answer. I always hang up on the fact that even if I accept a concept of objective morality, which I do, I don't know it, so can't be as certain in my pronouncements as you seem to assume the claim would make one.

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Actually, I think that the acceptance that there are objective moral standards is the main part. I do not believe that this will automatically lead to people blindly accepting what I believe to be objective moral standards, but at least then we can talk about it.
I just don't see why this would be.

apple 08-29-2011 09:53 PM

Re: Worldwise: Crisis in Syria (Elias Muhanna & Michael Young)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Florian (Post 223601)
Precious few but they are precious. I believe that there are a few universal moral norms or principles that are embodied in every legal order, whatever the form of government. Even tyrants govern by laws.... to some extent. The mere respect for established laws expresses a moral principle: Nulla poena sine lege--you cannot punish someone for an action unless there is an existing law prohibiting it.

And yet the nefarious deeds that dictators carry out are generally not provided for in laws. Or they adopt laws which are so overly broad (unconstitutionally vague, we might say) that they allow the dictator to do anything he wants.

Now, this is not really a moral norm, only a legal, technical one. And as you pointed out, tyrants often violate this legal, technical norm. On the other hand, I don't think there is even one moral principle that will have no dissenters, either individuals or societies. So it's a fool's errand to search for universal moral values, if what makes those values universal is universal assent - as we are never getting universal assent, on moral issues, or anything else.

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Originally Posted by Florian (Post 223601)
When you say that a particular law, such as the law against apostasy, is "morally illegitimate," you are really not saying anything until you specify what moral principle(s) it violates. So what moral principle(s) does it violate?

The one that comes to mind immediately is 'freedom of conscience', established in France since 1560, notwithstanding later events.

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Originally Posted by Florian (Post 223601)
The answer to your question is obvious: You consider morallywrong what most or many Muslims consider to be religiously right.

But previously, you had said that a person need not realize that what he is doing is morally wrong, for his action to be morally wrong. So it should not matter whether Muslims consider this matter to be religiously right. If thinking that what you are doing is right were to exculpate one, there would be precious few morally wrong actions in history.

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Originally Posted by Florian (Post 223601)
Am I relativizing? Yes, so what? You are the beneficiary of the European, western secularized legal order which makes a clear distinction between Church and State and between crimes and "sins." The secularization of law, the eventual separation of "Church and State", forshadowed by the medieval European distinction between the "spiritual" power of the Church and the "temporal" power of the State (Empire), has never occurred in Islamic countries (except in Turkey).

Acknowledged. We have developed further than Islamic societies. But does this mean that what they consider to be right cannot be morally wrong (not 'according to us', but morally wrong, period)? If a particular group of hunter gatherers in Guinea did not know that the Earth revolves around the Sun, would it be incorrect to say that they are wrong about geocentrism? Of course, you could say: you are looking at the world with the benefit of modern science, which they don't have. Sure, but does that mean that they are not wrong?

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Originally Posted by Florian (Post 223601)
When someone asserts, as you did, that "it has been established" (by whom? on what grounds?) that Egyptians and Jordanians are "backward savages," a little humor is in order. Besides, Montaigne was right about the cannibals: Eating your enemy shows greater respect for him than torturing him.

Well, my problem was not with the Montaigne-bit, but with what you stated before, that my judgment of these Islamic practices is just "subjective dislike of certain customs". Now, you could say that I have not provided enough evidence to establish that these practices are morally wrong, but I do not see any legitimate point to saying that judgment of these practices constitutes "subjective dislike", as if it's a color I don't like.

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Originally Posted by Florian (Post 223601)
Some laws are nothing but edicts etc, but the vast body of laws that have come down to us and which are the basis of both European and American law and jurisprudence (going all the way back to the corpus juris civilis--the Justinian code) most definitedly do declare conduct to be right or wrong, just or unjust, fair or unfair etc.

Suppose a particular law said that: "drinking wine is wrong". What would the effect of this law be? Of course, it would have no effect, because the purpose of a law is not to declare conduct to be right or wrong, or anything else, but to provide for the organization of society. Of course, laws were sometimes accompanied by (legally null) language declaring conduct to be morally wrong, but the law would have had its effect with or without that language.

So there's a pretty sharp divide between a law and a moral norm. A law may reflect a moral norm, a moral norm may be the long-term result of a law (for example, the American love for free speech in all its forms is founded in the First Amendment), but that does not mean that they are one and the same, or that there are similarities between the two.

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Originally Posted by Florian (Post 223601)
I never said morality is a matter of taste.

You didn't say that explicitly. But you said that moral judgment is merely "subjective dislike", which comes pretty close.

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Originally Posted by Florian (Post 223601)
We say that scientific theories are correct or incorrect, that they are true (about some aspect of the universe, nature) until the relevant scientific community decides that they are no longer true, or in need of modification etc. Their validity, I agree, doesn't depend on universal assent, but their truth or falsehood depends on objective data.

Could you clarify what you mean by "wrong" here? I agree that moral philosophers and others who think about ethical matters can be wrong, i.e. mistaken, in their reasonings. But you seem to be saying that it is possible for an entire civilization to be wrong about everything!

Not about everything. For example, Islamic 'civilization' realizes that drinking liquids is essential for staying alive. And there are some matters of morality on which Islam is right, so I would not even say that Islam is wrong about all moral matters. But I am arguing that it, or a society, or an individual, can be wrong about something or some things.

Florian 08-30-2011 08:55 AM

Re: Worldwise: Crisis in Syria (Elias Muhanna & Michael Young)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by apple (Post 223696)
So it's a fool's errand to search for universal moral values, if what makes those values universal is universal assent - as we are never getting universal assent, on moral issues, or anything else..

What makes "moral values or norms" universal is their embodiment in the positive law of all societies, past and present, or at least in all civilized societies. If all societies, for example, prohibit killing and define it as murder, the prohibition of murder would be a universal moral norm (even if there are variations in the definition of murder). If all societies institute certain rules regarding property and prohibit theft, then the protection of property would be a universal norm (even if property and theft are variously defined). If all societies institute courts of law (or independent arbiters) to settle disputes between citizens or between citizens and foreigners, then justice or a certain ideal of justice would be a universal norm.

Did I introduce the expression "universal assent?" If I did, I take it back. The more appropriate expression would be universal consensus, what Grotius calls consensus gentium, the consensus of nations, peoples. Grotius added to this formula, the consensus of all the more "civilized" nations.

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The one that comes to mind immediately is 'freedom of conscience', established in France since 1560, notwithstanding later events..
Freedom of conscience is a good example of a moral norm that evolved out of a unique historical situation before it became law: the conflicts between the spiritual and temporal powers in the Middle Ages, the wars of religion of the 16th and 17th centuries, the persecution of religious minorities. It only became a reality, or started to become a reality, when European states made it into law in order to promote civil peace.

Is the value that we in the west today attach to freedom of conscience the result of this unique historical development, or is it, as you are saying, the result of a moral intuition into right and wrong?

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But previously, you had said that a person need not realize that what he is doing is morally wrong, for his action to be morally wrong. So it should not matter whether Muslims consider this matter to be religiously right. If thinking that what you are doing is right were to exculpate one, there would be precious few morally wrong actions in history..
Are your referring to the punishment for apostasy (adultery) as being morally wrong? Or to the law against apostasy (adultery) as being morally wrong?

I would of course agree that the punishment in both cases is unduly harsh, therefore "morally wrong" by our more lenient standards of punitive justice. But I am at a loss to understand what you mean when you say that we have a moral intuition (knowledge) that tells us that it is wrong (unjust) to prohibit apostasy and adultery. Freedom of religion, like freedom to be unfaithful in marriage, are the result of the same historical development---the separation of church and state and the distinction between crime and sin.

And even today some Christians would probably say that they are regrettable developments.

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Acknowledged. We have developed further than Islamic societies. But does this mean that what they consider to be right cannot be morally wrong (not 'according to us', but morally wrong, period)? If a particular group of hunter gatherers in Guinea did not know that the Earth revolves around the Sun, would it be incorrect to say that they are wrong about geocentrism? Of course, you could say: you are looking at the world with the benefit of modern science, which they don't have. Sure, but does that mean that they are not wrong?.
I think you are once again fudging the two senses of "wrong" in English---mistaken and morally wrong or unjust. Perhaps as a francophone I am more sensitive to this because there is no exact equivalent in French.

With the benefit of hindsight the hunter-gatherers of Guinea were wrong (mistaken) about the sun and the earth. Were they wrong to be cannibals--- if indeed they were cannibals? Or, to take an example somewhat closer to our civilization, were the Greeks and Romans wrong to accept pederasty (sexual relations between adult men and adolescent boys) as normal or were the Christians right to condemn it?

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Well, my problem was not with the Montaigne-bit, but with what you stated before, that my judgment of these Islamic practices is just "subjective dislike of certain customs". Now, you could say that I have not provided enough evidence to establish that these practices are morally wrong, but I do not see any legitimate point to saying that judgment of these practices constitutes "subjective dislike", as if it's a color I don't like..
All right, I will take back the word "subjective." But only if you will take back the word "objective."

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Suppose a particular law said that: "drinking wine is wrong". What would the effect of this law be? Of course, it would have no effect, because the purpose of a law is not to declare conduct to be right or wrong, or anything else, but to provide for the organization of society. Of course, laws were sometimes accompanied by (legally null) language declaring conduct to be morally wrong, but the law would have had its effect with or without that language..
I disagree. A law against drinking wine or alcohol (as in Islam) is inspired by moral concerns, just as "Prohibition" was inspired by moral concerns in the US. Without the legal prohibition, some especially virtuous people might still be teetotallers, but how about all the others? I really do not think it is possible to separate law and morality.

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So there's a pretty sharp divide between a law and a moral norm. A law may reflect a moral norm, a moral norm may be the long-term result of a law (for example, the American love for free speech in all its forms is founded in the First Amendment), but that does not mean that they are one and the same, or that there are similarities between the two..
Yes, but without the First Amendment I doubt very much that Americans would declare money to be a form of free speech.....

There are certainly independent factors in the history of the US that make Americans freer in their speech than the citizens of some other countries, so you are right to say that laws and moral norms or customs ("moeurs" in French) are not one and the same, but they are mutually re-enforcing, wouldn't you agree?

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Not about everything. For example, Islamic 'civilization' realizes that drinking liquids is essential for staying alive. And there are some matters of morality on which Islam is right, so I would not even say that Islam is wrong about all moral matters. But I am arguing that it, or a society, or an individual, can be wrong about something or some things.
Perhaps we should leave at that then, unless you want to respond to any of remarks above.


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