Skip to content

Reassessing Morality

by Bill Meacham on October 12th, 2018

(This is the first of a two-part series. The second part will come shortly, so stay tuned.)

Part I: The Ontology of Morality

One of the most intractable sources of conflict in human affairs is clashes of morality. No doubt there are plenty of other sources of conflict, such as resource scarcity, tribal animosity, sexual jealousy, emotional restimulation and more. But a great deal of conflict is based on differing moral intuitions. Here are a few examples:

  • A Taliban tribesman kills his daughter for taking an unsupervised walk with a young man. He thinks he was obliged to do so. We in the West consider this an appalling murder.
  • Some people want to ban all abortions, claiming that abortion is morally wrong because it is murder. Others claim that not only is abortion not murder but a woman’s right to determine the fate of her own body outweighs any other moral claim.
  • Political protesters think it is our moral duty to disobey laws that we find unjust. Their opponents think patriotism, loyalty to one’s nation and obedience to its laws, is supremely obligatory.
  • Animal rights advocates praise “no-kill” animal shelters that minimize euthanasia of unclaimed pets even as costs mount drastically. They think we have a moral obligation to avoid harm to animals. Others lament the diversion of resources that could—and, they say, should—be used to provide health and public safety services to human beings.

All these examples of moral conflict (and there are many more) show certain common features. Researcher Michelle Maiese lists five: misunderstanding, mistrust, strained and hostile communication, negative stereotyping, and non-negotiability.[i] Philosopher Joel Marks describes the defects of our typical sense of morality: it makes us angry; it promotes hypocrisy; it encourages arrogance; it is imprudent, leading us to do things that have obviously bad consequences; and it makes us intransigent, fueling endless strife.[ii]

Of these features, the worst is intransigence or non-negotiability, the refusal to entertain the possibility of coming to some reconciliation, compromise or agreement. Conflicts based on differing moral intuitions are notoriously difficult to resolve.

Why is this so? To find out, we need to take a close look at what morality is and what moral judgments are about. In this essay I discuss the ontology of morality; that is, how its manner of being is like and unlike that of other kinds of things we experience. I note a sort of impasse one can find oneself in once the ontological status of morality is recognized. Then I suggest a way out of the impasse: to think in terms of goodness rather than rightness.

According to psychologist Stephen Pinker, the moral judgment has specific cognitive, behavioral and emotional characteristics. Cognitively, the rules it evokes are taken to apply without exception. Prohibitions against rape and murder are believed to be universal and objective, not matters of local custom; and people who violate the rules are deemed to deserve condemnation. Behaviorally, we do in fact condemn moral offenders and praise those who obey the moral law in ways that do not apply to, for instance, people who merely wear unstylish clothes. Emotionally, when our sense of morality is triggered, we feel a glow of righteousness when we abide by the rules, guilt when we don’t, a sense of anger or resentment at those who violate the rules and a desire to recruit others to allegiance to them.[iii] (This account of moral judgment, by the way, is just a description. It does not itself make any moral claims.)

What is philosophically interesting is the nature of the moral rules. What sorts of things are they, and how do we know them? These are questions of ontology, the study of what exists, and epistemology, the study of how we come to know things. The two questions are closely related, of course, as the way we know things determines what we believe about what they are. My epistemological approach is loosely phenomenological in the Continental sense. In what follows I examine everyday experience of various kinds of entities without prejudging the status of their existence in order to find out how they appear to us. Metaphorically, at the risk of attributing agency where there is none, I investigate how they make themselves known to us. From the results of that inquiry I make judgments about their ontology. I follow Hans Jonas in thinking of ontology as the “manner of being” characteristic of various kinds of entities.[iv]

Most people, I suspect, especially those who intransigently insist that their morality is the right one, are moral realists. Moral realism is the doctrine that there are moral facts, expressible in propositions like “Murder is wrong,” that exist whether or not anyone believes they do. They are taken to be objective and independent of our perception of them and of our beliefs, feelings and attitudes towards them. In this view, if someone asks “Is murder wrong?” there is a correct answer because there really is, out there in the world, a fact of the matter.

But is there? The opposing view, with the somewhat unintuitive name “moral anti-realism,” says there is not. To see why someone might suspect that there are actually no moral facts out there in the world, we can contrast the manners of being of three different kinds of things, physical entities, mathematical/logical entities and moral entities.

We take physical entities to exist independently of us because of how they appear to us and how they behave when we interact with them. (I speak here of physical things of middling size in the everyday world, not the very tiny things of the quantum scale, nor those that are astronomically large.) Things in our ordinary experience appear in perspective. We see one side of an object, a tree, say, but not the other side. We fully expect that if we walk around the tree we will see its other side, and in fact when we walk around it, we do see its other side. If we try to occupy the same space as the tree by walking through it, we find that we can’t. A physical object occupies space and has a certain mass. If moving, it has a certain velocity (with respect to our frame of reference) and perhaps a certain acceleration. Physical objects appear in color, or at least in shades of dark and light. They persist. If we turn our back to the tree or close our eyes, we fully expect to be able to see it if we turn around or open our eyes, and our expectations are fulfilled. Physical objects change over time, and we can predict the changes well enough to take advantage of them, knowing, for instance, the best time to pick fruit from the tree. Physical objects are knowable by more than one person. We can measure the tree’s height and the circumference of its trunk, and anyone else using the same instruments will come up with the same measurements. For all these reasons it makes abundant sense to believe that physical objects exist in their own right, independently of us.

Mathematical/logical entities seem to exist independently of us as well, although they do so differently from physical objects. In contrast to physical objects, they have no perspective, no front and back. They have no mass, do not occupy space and have no velocity, acceleration or color. Unlike physical objects, which change over time, mathematical/logical objects do not. The number three is now, was always and always will be a prime number. But, like physical objects, mathematical/logical objects persist. Whenever we think of them they appear to us just as they did before, somewhat as a tree does when we open our eyes after closing them. And there are established procedures for investigating them, just as there are for physical objects. If someone proves a mathematical theorem, anyone with the requisite knowledge can verify that the proof is correct.

There is quite a philosophical controversy over the exact ontological status of mathematical and logical entities. Do they exist independently of us, or do they depend on us for their existence? Do we discover them, or do we in some sense construct them? I am very much simplifying the debate between Platonism and Nominalism here; the arguments can get very technical and arcane. But it is evident that some things certainly seem like facts: that two plus two equals four, that true premises of a valid argument yield a true conclusion, that an equilateral triangle is also equiangular, and so forth. The reality of these things does not depend on whether we believe in them or not, nor on how we feel about them. If we somehow construct them, we do so within very rigid logical constraints; there is only one possible way for each of them to be. And where does that logical constraint come from? Do we construct it? I find it more reasonable to believe that, like physical objects, mathematical/logical objects exist independently of us.

Moral entities such as the wrongness of murder or the obligation to tell the truth are different. They are neither physical nor mathematical/logical, but have characteristics of both. Like mathematical/logical entities and unlike physical objects, they lack perspective, mass, extension in space, velocity, acceleration and color. Like both mathematical and physical objects, they persist in time. If someone thinks murder is wrong today, he or she will most likely think it wrong tomorrow. Like physical objects, moral entities seem to change over time. Slavery was common and accepted in ancient Greece and Rome; today we find it morally wrong. But does that mean that the moral status of slavery has actually changed over the years, or was it always wrong and it has taken us some time to recognize its wrongness?

The fact that we can ask this question should alert us that there is something a bit strange about moral entities. Physical objects change over time in accordance with well-known natural laws. Mathematical/logical entities don’t. But we don’t have an easy and obvious answer as to whether moral entities do or don’t. Not only that, we don’t have an agreed-upon way to find out. We use the scientific method of experimentation to learn about the physical world. We use formal methods to prove mathematical and logical theorems. In both cases, any competent practitioner can use the method to find the result, a result that is objective in that it is agreed upon by all those who use the method. Objective results can be evaluated in the same way independently of who the evaluator is. In contrast, there is no accepted procedure that enables us to settle moral debate. There is no experiment to determine, for example, whether abortion is or is not morally acceptable. This leads one to suspect that moral entities do not exist objectively and independently of us as physical objects do.

There are other reasons to question the independent existence of moral entities. The late J.L. Mackie calls one of them the argument from relativity. It is an obvious fact that moral codes vary among societies and even among various classes and groups within a single society, as illustrated by the examples given above. Mackie takes these differences as evidence that different moral codes reflect different ways of life, not different apprehensions, “most of them seriously inadequate and badly distorted,” of an objective realm of moral entities.[v]

Mackie also offers the argument from queerness (by which term he means being odd or unusual, not sexual orientation). The argument from queerness, Mackie says,

has two parts, one metaphysical, the other epistemological. If there were objective values, then they would be entities or qualities or relations of a very strange sort, utterly different from anything else in the universe. Correspondingly, if we were aware of them, it would have to be by some special faculty of moral perception or intuition, utterly different from our ordinary ways of knowing everything else.[vi]

Ontologically, moral entities as we experience them do in fact seem to be different from physical and mathematical/logical entities. In addition to the points made above, there is another way they differ: they intrinsically motivate us to act. This assertion, technically known as “motivational internalism,” is not uncontroversial. Internalists believe that there is a logically necessary connection between one’s conviction that something ought to be done and one’s motivation to do it. Externalists deny this assertion and say that an independent desire, such as the desire to do the right thing, is required to motivate us. Rather than argue about concepts, I just want to point out that, empirically, moral judgments do in fact motivate the vast majority of us most of the time.[vii] We find a wallet with money in it and some papers identifying its owner. We know that morally we ought to return the money to the owner and feel some inclination to do so. Even if we keep the money, we feel the obligation, the impulse to do the right thing, and have to make some effort to overcome it.[viii]

In contrast, physical objects and mathematical/logical entities do not motivate us. A tree may be ripe with apples, but we are motivated to pick them not because they are there but because we feel hungry or think it would be nice to make an apple pie or in order to sell them or for some other reason that is intrinsic to us, not to the apples. We may enjoy the beauty of an elegant logical proof, but it does not motivate us to do anything about it unless we have, for instance, some curiosity about its further implications. The curiosity is ours, not the proof’s.

So moral entities do indeed seem to be queer in Mackie’s sense. They are not real in the familiar way that physical objects are, nor in the way that mathematical/logical entities are. They have some characteristics of both and one characteristic, that they inherently motivate us, shared by neither. If moral realism means to be real in the manner of physical objects or of mathematical/logical entities, then moral realism is false and moral anti-realism, true.

But that’s not the whole story. There is another way to be real.

As a way of approaching this other way to be real, consider the epistemological aspect of Mackie’s argument from queerness. He says that to apprehend moral entities that exist independently of us, we would need some special faculty of moral perception or intuition; and he thinks we have no such faculty. But actually, we do.

Philosophers have long debated the rational basis for moral judgments, but in fact most of our moral judgments are not made rationally. They are not carefully thought out; instead, they are the result of intuition. Jonathan Haidt and other researchers in social psychology have found that we humans are equipped, presumably from evolutionary adaptation to living in groups, with instincts for morals, a moral sense that is built into all of us except, perhaps, psychopaths.[ix] Most moral judgments are not the result of conscious deliberation. Instead, they are snap judgments made instantly and automatically. People rely on gut reactions to tell right from wrong and then employ reason afterwards to justify their intuitions. Intuitions, says Haidt, are “the judgments, solutions, and ideas that pop into consciousness without our being aware of the mental processes that led to them.” Moral intuitions are a subset: “Feelings of approval or disapproval pop into awareness as we see or hear about something someone did, or as we consider choices for ourselves.”[x] Feelings of approval and disapproval are cloaked in emotions such as delight, esteem and admiration or anger, contempt and disgust, and each of these motivates us to actions such as praise or blame. The moral sense is analogous to our capacity for language. All humans are able to learn and use language, but different cultures have different languages. Similarly, all humans have a sense of morality that manifests itself in moral intuitions. The details of what is morally approved and disapproved, however, vary from culture to culture, and that is where we find moral conflicts.

Let’s look carefully at an example of making such an intuitive moral judgment. Suppose you came across a person beating a dog. You would, if you are like many people in relatively affluent and polite Western societies, feel revulsion and disapproval. You would feel some impulse to try to get the person to stop; you would feel justified in telling the person to stop, perhaps even obligated to do so; and if asked about it, you would say that beating the dog is wrong. If asked about it further, you would cite a rule to the effect that inflicting needless harm on sentient creatures is morally forbidden.

There is a certain structure to this scenario, a way of describing it that Aristotle would call an explanation in terms of form. The structure is this:

  • There is an action going on out in the public world, an action that anyone can see: the person beating the dog.
  • You have your reaction of moral disgust, with its cognitive, affective and behavioral components. Cognitively you ascribe wrongness to the action. In your view, beating a dog counts as something wrong, something one should not do.
  • Your ascription of wrongness is an instance of a more generalized rule or system of rules to which you can refer in cooler moments, such as “Harming sentient beings needlessly is wrong,” a rule that is shared among others of your society and social class. (But it might not be shared among people of a different society or social class.)

More succinctly, beating a dog counts as wrong in the context of a generally accepted rule constituting it as wrong. Abstracting from the particulars, we can describe the structure of this scenario as “X counts as Y in context C.” Here X stands for the beating of the dog, Y stands for being wrong, and C stands for the general rule, accepted by members of your social class, to avoid needless harm.

That structure, “X counts as Y in context C,” is exactly the structure that philosopher John Searle identifies as the structure of institutional facts, facts that exist only by virtue of collective agreement or acceptance.[xi] Institutional facts are socially constructed, and there are quite a number of them. Searle mentions money, property, marriages, governments, tools, restaurants, schools and many others. They exist only because we believe them to exist, and Searle’s aim is to account for their ontology. To exist only because we believe in them sounds paradoxical. Are they like Tinker Bell? If we quit believing, would they stop existing? If so, why do we believe in them in the first place? But actually, their ontology can be rationally accounted for.

An institutional fact can be described in physical terms, but to describe only the physical aspect misses its essence. Take, for example, money. We take bits of paper with certain markings on them to be media of exchange and stores of value. Historically people have taken many different kinds of things to be money: shells, beads, coins, pieces of paper, bits of data in computer systems. But these things are not money by virtue of their physical properties. Their physical properties alone do not enable them to be used as money, even in the case of precious metals. They are money only because human beings use them as money, accept their use as money and have rules that govern their use as money.[xii] The rules actually constitute money. They do not regulate some preexisting use of bits of material; the use of certain bits of material as money is possible only in the context of the rules. The rules governing money are more like the rules of chess than rules regulating which side of the road to drive on. They create the very possibility of using money to buy and sell things.[xiii]

Searle goes into a great deal of detail about the logical structure of socially constructed facts (logical because language is an essential element in their construction and logic is a feature of language), which need not concern us here. I want only to point out the similarities between his account of such facts and morality.

  • Socially constructed facts are not physical. The markings on a US five-dollar bill are physical, but the fact that it is money is not. Similarly, moral rules are not physical.
  • Socially constructed facts are not mathematical or logical. It is not logically necessary that the piece of paper with five-dollar markings on it be money. It could without contradiction fail to be regarded as money. Similarly, moral rules are not mathematical/logical entities.
  • Socially constructed facts persist in time. The five-dollar bill has been used as money for some time, and we expect its use to continue. Similarly, moral entities persist in time.
  • Socially constructed facts can change over time and space. An 11th-century Chinese bank note is not money today, although we can recognize that it used to be money. A US five-dollar bill is not legal tender in most other countries today, even if it is known to be money in the US. Similarly, moral rules change over time and vary from place to place.
  • Socially constructed facts have normative implications. Searle notes that social institutions such as marriages, property and money entail institutional forms of powers, rights, obligations and duties. These are things that give us reason to act that are independent of whether we are inclined to do so or not.[xiv] Similarly, moral entities do in fact motivate us to action regardless of our inclination otherwise.
  • Socially constructed facts have functions that the underlying physical facts do not. These functions are part of the definition of the social facts. The status of bits of paper as money implies their function as media of exchange. That’s what it means to be money.[xv] Similarly, moral norms have functions. Among members of a society they promote and regulate social cooperation. Within each person they promote order among potentially conflicting motivations, thereby encouraging that person to be a constructive participant in the cooperative life.[xvi]
  • Socially constructed facts have the structure “X counts as Y in context C.” So do moral evaluations of particular actions and of types of action.

Based on these considerations it seems reasonable to say that the manner of being of moral entities is to be socially constructed. They exist independently of any particular person, but they are not independent of conscious agents altogether as physical and (arguably) mathematical/logical entities are. Moral entities are socially constructed within a community of practice, a social group, a culture or a society. Within such a community or society, everybody agrees (more or less) on what they are, everybody treats them the same way and everybody acts as if they are real. Just as there are consequences for the way we deal with physical objects, there are real consequences for the way we abide by moral rules or not, namely the reactions of others in the community. So, for members of such a community they are real. The ontological status of morality is that it is a socially constructed reality.

Is this conclusion morally realist or anti-realist? As with many conceptual issues, it depends on definitions of terms. If “realism” means to be real as physical entities are, then it is anti-realist. If “realism” means to be real in any fashion at all, then it is realist. More important is what it tells us about the source of moral conflict. Moral systems vary among societies, but each society takes its morality to apply to all people universally. Hence, nobody wants to compromise. What our conclusion does not tell us is what to do about such conflict. For that, we need some more consideration.

(To be continued.)


[i] Maiese, “Moral or Value Conflicts.”

[ii] Marks, Ethics without Morals, pp. 40-48.

[iii] Pinker, “The Moral Instinct.”

[iv] Jonas, Mortality and Morality, p. 88.

[v] Mackie, Ethics, p. 37.

[vi] Ibid., p. 38.

[vii] For an account of why this is so based on empirical research see Prinz, “The Emotional Basis of Moral Judgments.”

[viii] This example is specific to a certain culture and a socioeconomic class within that culture, but similar examples obtain mutatis mutandis in other cultures and classes.

[ix] Haidt, The Righteous Mind, pp. 123–127 and pp. 170–176. Haidt and Joseph, “The Moral Mind.” Haidt and Joseph, “Intuitive Ethics.” Pinker, “The Moral Instinct.”

[x] Haidt and Joseph, “Intuitive Ethics,” p. 56.

[xi] Searle, The Construction of Social Reality, pp. 2, 28, 43-45.

[xii] Ibid., pp. 41-45.

[xiii] Ibid., pp. 27-28.

[xiv] Ibid., p. 70.

[xv] Ibid., p. 114.

[xvi] Wong, “Making An Effort To Understand,” p. 13.


Haidt, Jonathan. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. New York: Pantheon Books, 2012.

Haidt, Jonathan, and Craig Joseph. “Intuitive ethics: How Innately Prepared Intuitions Generate Culturally Variable Virtues.” Daedalus, Fall 2004, Vol. 133, No. 4, pp. 55–66. Online publication target=”_blank” as of 12 September 2017.

Haidt, Jonathan, and Craig Joseph. “The Moral Mind: How Five Sets of Innate Intuitions Guide the Development of Many Culture-Specific Virtues, and Perhaps Even Modules.” Carruthers, Peter, et al., Eds. The Innate Mind, Volume 3, pp. 367-391. New York: Oxford Press, 2007. Online publication as of 12 September 2017.

Jonas, Hans. Mortality and Morality: A Search for the Good after Auschwitz. Ed. Lawrence Vogel. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1996.

Mackie, J.L. Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong. London and New York: Penguin Books, 1977.

Maiese, Michelle. “Moral or Value Conflicts.” Beyond Intractability. Ed. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, USA. Online publication as of 6 July 2017.

Marks, Joel. Ethics without Morals: In Defense of Amorality. New York and London: Routledge, 2013.

Pinker, Stephen. “The Moral Instinct.” New York Times, January 13, 2008. Online publication as of 13 January 2008.

Prinz, Jesse. “The Emotional Basis of Moral Judgments.” Philosophical Explorations, Vol. 9, No. 1, March 2006, pp. 29-43. Online publication as of 12 August 2017.

Searle, John R. The Construction of Social Reality. New York: The Free Press, 1995.

Wong, David. “Making An Effort To Understand.” Philosophy Now, Issue 82 (January/February 2011), pp. 10-13. London: Anya Publications, 2011. Online publication as of 12 April 2012.

From → Philosophy

  1. Heidi Preston permalink

    Great read. First off I need to do a disclaimer because I intend to go waaaaaayyy out there….I have not been drinking or using any kind of drugs.
    Having said that; when I read your comments, I kept flashing back to a youtube video I saw about savants.

    When two specific parts of the brain cross activate it is called “synaethesia”. The young man in the video can see numbers in his head as colors, textures, forms and landscapes. He interprets these different shapes, patterns etc. as if they appear as numbers (they don’t explain how he arrived at their association with the numbers). There is the question, if he does not mentally calculate these mathematical equations then how do they appear? Do numbers, colors, shapes meld into a singularity as in our dreams which make no sense to our waking reality but do in the dreaming mind? If so then are these integrations only limited by our physical structure but at one time, say before we were born, did they exist as a blanket of consiousness that is made independent only by our compartmentalized body structure?

    If we go down this singularity path of maybe an ultimate universal consciousness, then morality too has structure in a form yet unrecogized by us mentally except through emotions which are composed of chemical reactions. These reactions often get described by color or texture. We feel blue; there was a black hole in him or her; they made my skin crawl; it gave me goose bumps. Perhaps these colors and textures of morality exist but we just haven’t fine tuned ourselves to be aware of them because they too come naturally and without effort.

    Just a crazy idea I had.


  2. Edward Silha permalink

    Mathematical Objects?

    > The number three is now, was always and always will be a prime number.

    The number three and “prime number” are concepts. Both are based on mathematical rules (concepts) created by men. Attempting to think of them as something more implies something similar to the “forms” that Plato proposed.

    > But, like physical objects, mathematical/logical objects persist.

    What is a mathematical object? Can I weigh it, measure it, pick it up?

    See this blog on whether numbers exist:

    Mathematical objects exist in a fictional world created by mathematicians. For example, in the context of modern abstract algebra I know what it means to ask if finite, simple groups exist. But if you ask whether finite, simple groups existed prior to the establishment of modern abstract algebra, then I don’t know what you mean. It’s like asking if Sherlock Holmes existed prior to the writings of Arthur Conan Doyle.

    The general view of mathematics I am defending is known as fictionalism. Its main rival is Platonism, which holds that mathematical objects exist independently of anyone’s ideas about them.

    My reply to someone who insists that mathematical objects exist in some non-spatiotemporal realm that we come to understand through mathematical research is just to stare at him blankly. I don’t understand what he’s trying to convince me of. The existence of physical objects makes sense to me. The existence of abstract objects that cannot possibly be reduced to some physical phenomenon does not make sense to me. The concept of existence does not seem helpful here.

    A comment at the end of the blog on numbers:

    What we colloquially know as Numbers are, just like you said, just symbols for an abstract idea.

    Likewise, words (collections of symbols) don’t really exist. They just represent the abstract and quite complicated biochemistry in our brains that make us “recognize” a real physical object.
    EG. If i write “You can sit down in that chair”, you cant really do that, because in this case the chair is just some symbols on a webpage or piece of paper. However you instantly recognize the physical object even without me pointing to a real chair.
    [END OF QUOTES from blog]

    The point is—if our mathematics is not objective but rather a construct of one particular species, it doesn’t make much sense to say that mathematical objects as we define them exist in any objective sense.

    > Whenever we think of them they appear to us just as they did before, somewhat as a tree does when we open our eyes after closing them.

    The symbol “thirst” has a meaning in the English language. The meaning Is described in a dictionary We can close our eyes (or even sleep for a while) after which the symbol still has a meaning. Is thirst an object or simply a concept?

    The number 3 is a symbol that has a meaning defined by mathematical axioms.
    Although the term “mathematical object” is used extensively, the use of “mathematical concept” would be more appropriate for a philosophical discussion.

    > Mathematical/logical entities seem to exist independently of us as well, although they do so differently from physical objects.

    Do they? Do they exist independent of the human brain? We may write a string of symbols on paper, but that string has no meaning except when interpreted by a human brain. The symbols themselves are not mathematical objects. The symbol “+” is the symbol interpreted as the addition operation, not the operation itself.

    > Do we construct it? I find it more reasonable to believe that, like physical objects, mathematical/logical objects exist independently of us.

    If I stop thinking about the sum of 2+2, does it continue to exist? Where? In my memory? Is a memory or a thought an object?
    Throughout the history of mathematics and logic, axioms have changed. Do the old “objects” based on obsolete (and usually faulty) axiomatic systems still exist?
    For example: After the discovery of paradoxes in naive set theory, such as Russell’s paradox, numerous axiom systems were proposed in the early twentieth century, of which the Zermelo–Fraenkel axioms are the best-known. A mathematical system is based on a set of axioms that have been created by humans.

    Morality – Objective or Relative?

    Philosophers have long debated the rational basis for moral judgments, but in fact, most of our moral judgments are not made rationally.
    A person’s temperament is strongly determined by inheritance (genetics) but can be somewhat influenced by nurture (environment). Humans, except for a very small percentage, are naturally empathetic. Most culture and religions have some form of the Golden Rule (ethic of reciprocity) which seems to be a rational direction for morality. However, less rational moral strictures have originated from religions, personal biases of authorities, groups with common characteristics and others.

    Relativistic views of morality first found expression in 5th century B.C.E. Greece, but they remained largely dormant until the 19th and 20th centuries. During this time, a number of factors converged to make moral relativism appear plausible. These included a new appreciation of cultural diversity prompted by anthropological discoveries; the declining importance of religion in modernized societies; an increasingly critical attitude toward colonialism and its assumption of moral superiority over the colonized societies; and growing skepticism toward any form of moral objectivism, given the difficulty of proving value judgments the way one proves factual claims.

    A common, albeit negative, reason for embracing moral relativism is simply the perceived untenability of moral objectivism: every attempt to establish a single, objectively valid and universally binding set of moral principles runs up against formidable objections. A more positive argument sometimes advanced in defense of moral relativism is that it promotes tolerance since it encourages us to understand other cultures on their own terms.

    Rorty & Rawls
    Rorty, Richard. Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth: Volume 1: Philosophical Papers.

    On my view, the frequent remark that Rawls’ rational choosers look remarkably like twentieth-century American liberals is perfectly just, but not a criticism of Rawls. It is merely a frank recognition of the ethnocentrism which is essential to serious, nonfantastical thought. I defend this view in “The Priority of Democracy to Philosophy” and “Postmodernist Bourgeois Liberalism” in Part III of this volume.

    The tenets of the Satanic Temple

    These include the concepts of the Golden Rule and Rawls (e.g., John Rawls first principle: Each person is to be granted an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for everyone else.)
    There are seven fundamental tenets.
    1. One should strive to act with compassion and empathy towards all creatures in accordance with reason.
    2. The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
    3. One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.
    4. The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend.
    5. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo one’s own.
    6. Beliefs should conform to our best scientific understanding of the world. We should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs.
    7. People are fallible. If we make a mistake, we should do our best to rectify it and remediate any harm that may have been caused.

    Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought.
    The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word

    • Bill Meacham permalink

      Thanks for your comments, Ed. I am researching the various philosophical positions on whether numbers exist and hope to publish something about it here. The second part of my comments on morality will appear soon.

    • Edward Silha permalink

      The specification of a prime number (i.e., a description of how to identify it) is:
      A prime number is a natural number greater than 1 that cannot be formed by multiplying two smaller natural numbers.

      The Fibonacci numbers are characterized by the fact that every number after the first two is the sum of the two preceding numbers with the first two numbers being 1 and 1.
      The sequence starts as ->
      1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 55, 89, 144

      The donkey sequence (defined by me) is the sequence of numbers where a number N in the sequence is equal to the sum of twice the number preceding N plus 3

      1, 3, 9, 21, 45, 93,

      These number sequences are based on specifications (descriptions created by men) of how to identify valid numbers in the sequence.

      Are these sequences objects?

Leave a Reply

Note: XHTML is allowed. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS