What is right, what is wrong?

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krispykreme's picture
Wait wait wait.... I don't

Wait wait wait.... I don't believe you have adequately defended why the argumentum ad populum fallacy does not apply to social convention. In fact, you completely contradict yourself in your first paragraph by saying that social convention is derived from a consensus of opinion on correct social behavior. That is, by definition, argumentum ad populum, which can certainly encompass moral issues. For example:

1. Is murder wrong
2. The majority believes murder is wrong.
3. Therefore murder is wrong.

This is a textbook example of argumentum ad populum. I would challenge you to defend why argumentum ad populum could not be applied to moral issues. You also assert that morality is "by its nature not objective". Really? How do you know?

The problem with appealing to this sort of logic is that it gives you no right to judge other cultures or societies. Was it wrong to be homosexual fifty years ago in the U.S.? Is it ok to homosexual in the U.S. now?

Was it wrong for Nazi Germany to execute Jews and other minority groups during WWII? From your perspective, and based off what you have said, you cannot answer no.

Also, murder should be defined as the unlawful taking of life, which would exclude most instances of self-defense and war-related deaths to be outside the camp of what murder is.

SeanBreen's picture
Moral issues insofar as legal

Moral issues insofar as legal frameworks (which is not the same as a purely moral issue, since legality is a condition) rely on support of the populace. Most people in America now support legalization of same sex marriage. What did the Supreme Court do? They legalized same sex marriage. Most people in America now don't support the death penalty. The death penalty is illegal in a majority of states. Murder has always been hated by the majority, and in most if not all societies with laws, murder has been illegal.

Argumentum ad populum becomes a true fallacy when the legitimacy of a statement does not depend on its popularity. The reason you can't apply it properly to moral arguments is because subjective moral opinions aren't factual statements, because morality is by its very definition "principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behaviour", and those principles and distinctions differ between cultures. Principles are not the same as facts. I can, by principal, believe in the death penalty, and I can assert "the death penalty is right". Does my making that statement mean that the death penalty is right, objectively, universally and factually? No. It's a personal opinion, not a fact. But if most people believe that the death penalty is right, then that becomes the dominant moral belief of the populace, and as such, it's the moral consensus, and as such, it's very difficult to argue against it, particularly when you're using propositional logical fallacies, because the moral principles of the populace on morals are not scientific, mathematical or any other kind of facts. They're dependent on cultural needs, intelligence levels, and the type of society the people live in. Stupid people 2000 years ago who cared about stealing other tribe's women are gonna have starkly contrasting moral consensuses to some of today's more peaceful societies.

The argumentum ad populum fallacy would be a true fallacy if I were to say "most people believe the Earth is flat, therefore it is flat". That's a stark contradiction of fact. But would the argumentum ad populum fallacy be a true fallacy if I were to say "most people agree that killing should be punished, therefore killing should be punished"? I don't know that it is, because majority rules is pretty much the nature of democratic society and its laws. Morals and their legal consequences are relative and relevant to the society and its overall wants and needs.

Take other social conventions like etiquette. Most people believe it is rude to shit on another human's dinner table. Therefore, it's rude to shit on another person's dinner table. You might try to frame that as an argumentum ad populum fallacy, but it isn't. Social conventions are by their very definition a set of agreed, stipulated or generally accepted standards. And as it is quite clear that moral standards differ between cultures, it is fair to say that morals are a set of agreed, stipulated or generally accepted standards concerning the distinction between right and wrong behaviours. I would add to that though, that they are based on the respective society's needs. And survival is the primary need, which is why things like murder are most commonly (not always) considered wrong.

krispykreme's picture
You assume that morals are

You assume that morals are subjective. Is anything always wrong or always right? Was it wrong to homosexual fifty years ago? It was the consensus that homosexuality was wrong, therefore by your reasoning it was wrong. But now it's not wrong?

SeanBreen's picture
Homosexuality was wrong

Homosexuality was wrong according to those people living in that time. That doesn't mean it's wrong in an objective manner. Just as now, homosexuality is not wrong according to the people living in this time. That doesn't mean it's right in an objective manner; morality isn't objective or factual. We can't logically assert that one period's subjective moral view on homosexuality is actually an objective moral view on homosexulity that should be dichotomized to another period's subjective moral view on homosexuality. It's also wrong to assert that any moral view on homosexuality is objective; lack of consensus on the moral views on it, mean the moral views on it are subjective.


SeanBreen's picture
@ KirspyKreme "Greetings,

@ KirspyKreme "Greetings,

I was hoping to get a discussion started on morals, specifically what they should be based in and if there are moral absolutes that exist or not. If you are an atheist: on what basis do you assert what is right and wrong? If you believe for some reason that there really is no right or wrong, then do you behave consistently with your worldview?"

Moral absolutes generally come from deontological moral philosophies. That's to say, moral absolutes usually lie in the realm of moralities that assert the importance of predefined rules over motive or consequential considerations, but there are an abundance of problems with such moral philosophies.

Take the example of the man, who, not having an education in the ways of the capitalist world and the means of garnering currency, lacks employable skills and lives in a non-welfare state. He begs on the street, but since begging is a social taboo, nobody has given him anything to eat, or any money, for a few days. He's starving, and comes across a street merchant who has a high education, and an abundance of food laid out on his market-stalls. The starving man steals a loaf of bread from a pile of fifty loaves of bred, and an apple from a pile of a hundred apples, but he gets caught. Stealing is against the law.

Moral dilemma: is the responsibility on the thief, because he broke the law? Is the responsibility on the merchant, because in his abundance he should have shared? Is the responsibility on the society, because it ostracizes the uneducated and demands that people be educated in the means of currency-garnering? Is the responsibility on the government for not providing this man with welfare, education or food?

My view is that the least responsible party is the thief, because the conditions of his society, government and upbringing led him to the position he's in, and he acted out of unavoidable, base human instincts. But deontological moral codes like the Judaic Pentateuch put the responsibility wholly on the thief. "Thou shalt not steal". Doesn't matter if your family's starving to death, stealing a loaf leads to the loss of a hand or maybe a spell in prison.

So, if not from deontology, then where did my moral conclusion come from? Pretty simple: human empathy. I understand, cognitively, the conditions of the thief's existence: his place in society, his disadvantages. I also understand his desperation, his helplessness, and his base biological urge, from an empathetic, emotional standpoint (and to assert emotional considerations as invalid is just plain wrong; every single one of us, whether we like to admit it or not, have emotions. Emotions are the reasons for many of the things we do; excitation creates motivation; love creates protectiveness; anger and indignation beget revenge, even if that revenge is only the kind of revenge that is legally enforced through judicial policy). I can put myself in the thief's shoes and know that if I were in those exact circumstances, I would have done exactly as he did. I think we all would.

The thief, in that circumstance, shouldn't be punished. He should be educated and looked after, so that he won't need or desire to steal in future. But people often don't agree with that (stealing's wrong all the time, remember) yet a fat-cat investment banker who rapes the economy of a country can get away scot-free, because that's finance, and that's different, eh?

Morality is at its best when it takes into account objective information, subjective needs, common desires and human empathy. The bible doesn't provide those and to be honest, neither really does law. There are of course things that are wrong nomatter what: rape, murder, child abuse, arson. Those are vindictive crimes that violate the rights of others out of little more than rage, power-grabbing, or sexual gratification at someone else's expense. I think the crux of a good morality (and thereby a good legal framework) is as Christoper Hitchens puts it; human solidarity. I, aside from instances when it is absolutely necessary to save my own life, shouldn't violate anyone else's rights. The only cases I can think of any exceptions for are in cases of self-defense, starvation or thirst. Even then, you don't rape someone in self defense. You fight them off. So there are actions that are never warranted; premeditated murder, rape, huge financial theft, white collar crimes, child abuse, child neglect, domestic abuse.

That's not to say people who commit those crimes should be repaid the same in return. I don't believe purely punitive judicial practices are actually just. People who commit unjustified acts are better off rehabilitated than struck with the lash. Society, actually, is better off with rehabilitated people than with public or private floggings.

Jeff Vella Leone's picture
"Of course I have added

"Of course I have added conditionals, because it is a conditional action. This is the statement: is it always wrong for anyone to torture babies to death merely for one's own personal pleasure. All I'm asking is if you believe that statement is true or false. Can you please answer that?"


Morality is the continuous understanding of reality by comparing two or more situations.

To claim an absolute true or false moral choice, is claiming that no matter what we do not know yet, the answer will always be true or false.

Basically to formulate properly your very naive question:

No matter the time/situation/universe/dimension/knowledge is "torture babies to death merely for one's own personal pleasure always wrong?

You can add how many conditions you like.
I'll make it harder by adding more conditions:
-In this universe
-In this dimension
-On this planet
-Can happen in the next 5 years not more
-All humans have to agree to it to be moral

So basically to prove that it is not always wrong all I need is to imagine a scenario where it would be right to do it compared to something.

If there is new knowledge where the torture of babies to death results in a better situation than if you do not, then it would be right.
EG: an alien race invaded the world and wants to torture a few babies for pleasure else all humans gets wiped out after getting some babies tortured anyway.(only those 2 options are left after all options are excluded)
In that situation it would be morally better choice then extinction.

It would be immoral if humans chose to kill every human instead, and having the babies tortured anyway.

Hope you get the drift.

If you claim that absolute morality exists, you are also claiming you are omniscient, and that you know all possible situations and none can ever change the absolute you are claiming.

If you wish to claim you are omniscient too, then I know a doctor which can help people with omniscience symptoms.

Hope that helps.

krispykreme's picture
Can you give me an example

Can you give me an example where it would be ok for any humans to torture babies to death just because they want to?

CyberLN's picture
Yes. Here is an example: Jo

Yes. Here is an example: Jo wants to torture that baby to death because a bad guy says if she doesn't, he will torture 738 babies to death.

krispykreme's picture
The qualifier was ONLY

The qualifier was ONLY because the person wants to. Perhaps it would be better to say only to bring them personal pleasure.

Jeff Vella Leone's picture

Even if I do not know an example it does not mean there isn't one.

You are claiming you are omniscient when you make an absolute moral judgment.
You can only claim an absolute if you know everything there is to know about it.
You proved to us all that you don't even come close with your very naive reasoning.

So this tells me that you did not get the drift and you are gonna keep adding conditions to infinity.

I will answer this last condition in the hope you grow up and understand the mistake you are making.
It just happens that there is a known solution for that particular question.

"Can you give me an example where it would be ok for any humans to torture babies to death just because they want to?"

If the humanity survival depended on it, yes.(it does not matter if they know about it)
We let animals in the wild kill/rape/etc... for this reason.

Another example is that the "torture of babies by humans because they want to" becomes a requirement by the invading aliens in my first example.

You just failed to even try to understand the concept.

There cannot be an absolute morality unless there is an omniscient person that knows all the possible situations and proves it without any doubt.

So you should not discuss absolute morality, you should start with the claim of existence of an omniscient being first, else you do not have a foundation to even discuss absolute morality.

Nyarlathotep's picture
kirspykreme - "It is always

kirspykreme - "It is always wrong to torture babies to death merely for one's personal pleasure"

I play minecraft (a video game) with the kids in my family. In the video game there are baby villagers, sometimes I burn them to death with lava (a slow process) because I enjoy it. I don't think it is morally wrong.

Travis Hedglin's picture
Ha ha, you monster, those

Ha ha, you monster, those poor innocent bits. You went and put more bits on them, QQ.


Because, you know, obviously absolutes are absolutely conditional.

krispykreme's picture
Please tell me that you don't

Please tell me that you don't actually think this is a good example.

Travis Hedglin's picture
You're just butthurt because

You're just butthurt because he found a way around your conditional, so you can't pretend that the conditional is absolute anymore.

Vincent Paul Tran1's picture
I really don't see the point

I really don't see the point of this conversation. No one, including myself, seems willing to even consider the idea that their beliefs about the world and those in it are wrong. When people are not willing to engage in dialogue, lip flapping devolves into intellectual masturbation and helps no one

Cheers :)

Vincent Paul Tran1's picture
putting conditionals on a

putting conditionals on a statement does not mean the conditional statement cannot be absolute

Nyarlathotep's picture


Moral Absolutism is the ethical belief that there are absolute standards against which moral questions can be judged, and that certain actions are right or wrong, r̲e̲g̲a̲r̲d̲l̲e̲s̲s̲ ̲o̲f̲ ̲t̲h̲e̲ ̲c̲o̲n̲t̲e̲x̲t̲ ̲o̲f̲ ̲t̲h̲e̲ ̲a̲c̲t̲. Thus, actions are inherently moral or immoral, r̲e̲g̲a̲r̲d̲l̲e̲s̲s̲ ̲o̲f̲ ̲t̲h̲e̲ ̲b̲e̲l̲i̲e̲f̲s̲ ̲a̲n̲d̲ ̲g̲o̲a̲l̲s̲ ̲o̲f̲ ̲t̲h̲e̲ ̲i̲n̲d̲i̲v̲i̲d̲u̲a̲l̲, society or culture that engages in the actions. It holds that morals are inherent in the laws of the universe, the nature of humanity, the will of God or some other fundamental source.

Travis Hedglin's picture
It is kind of ironic, those

It is kind of ironic, those proposing Moral Absolutism don't appear to know what it is, and disagree with it quite vigorously when I tell them...

Vincent Paul Tran1's picture
two tennis players disagree

two tennis players disagree on what the point is. two atheists disagree on why they hold to their points. Two racists disagree on why they are racists. what's your fucking point?

Travis Hedglin's picture
That people arguing for moral

That people arguing for moral absolutism do not seem to understand what it actually is, and when presented face-to-face with the actual concept, utterly balk and have to add caveats and conditions that literally undermine their entire position. My entire point was that morals are conditional, that they are not absolute, and that the situation and circumstances dictate the morality of any given action. Despite this, the ONLY type of argument against my position thus far, has been my opponents proving my position by throwing in the very things I argued dictated morality; and they seemingly argue against.

This level of cognitive dissonance is simply astounding, to the point I find it hard to frame a response which doesn't make the opposition look silly, because they have simply cornered themselves THAT badly.

Vincent Paul Tran's picture
.. you people frustrate me.

.. you people frustrate me. you assume you know everything and that the only reason other people exist is to hear you talk . you dont even consider that you might even be wrong about anything. you may as well be the god of your own religion

But whatever. let's start the ad hominem attack. I'll start a new thread and build up my bullshit tolerance factor

Travis Hedglin's picture
Nicely evaded, with nothing

Nicely evaded, with nothing of substance to the conversation. Are you ever going to deal with the actual argument, or merely continue to chase your own tail and growl at anybody else that happens to post?

Travis Hedglin's picture
Care to elaborate?

Care to elaborate?

Nyarlathotep's picture
I should have my head

Vincent Paul Tran: I should have my head examined but I'll try again:

We have two propositions being discussed:
1) conditional morality
2) moral absolutism

These two propositions are mutually exclusive; meaning that if conditional morality is true, then moral absolutism is false (and vice-versa).

Travis has taken the position that conditional morality is true, and therefore he has also taken the position that moral absolutism is false.

kirspykreme has taken the position that moral absolutism is true, and therefore he has also taken the position that conditional morality is false.

You see, we know logically that at LEAST one of those propositions is false (perhaps both are false).

The madness comes when kirspykreme then tries to use conditional morality (a proposition he claims is false!) to argue for moral absolutism. Even if kirspykreme is right that moral absolutism is true, his argument for it is illogical (he would need to come up with a new one, because this dog don't hunt).

Personally, I'm not so sure either one is right, but at least Travis isn't pooping on his own argument :P

Travis Hedglin's picture
Don't worry Nyarl, I

Don't worry Nyarl, I appreciate your effort to teach how logic works, but the fact that you had to go to these lengths to explain it is depressing. Even more depressing, is that I am now having to read posts about myself, instead of my arguments. People apparently can read my thoughts and intentions through the internet, and have concluded that I am an egotistical megalomaniac. My lack of self-aggrandizement and promotion must be proof of my narcissism, and conditional and situational ethics are also proof that morality is absolute and universal.

I've just about given up hope in engaging with these people, no matter what I say, I'm not just wrong; I'm evil.

Vincent Paul Tran1's picture
in my experience, moral

in my experience, moral absolutists who dont subscribe to religion believe it is inherant to the human condition, Nyarlathotep :)


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