Featured image is an iconic photo of the Nazi parade through Brandenburg Gate.
Usually the passion with which I hold a position is directly proportional to how concrete the stakes are. Defending moral realism/objectivism is an exception to this. It’s incredibly abstract, but nothing spurs me to the barricades like someone saying morality is subjective. To further incriminate myself, I’ll admit at the outset that I’m not terribly well versed in the topic. So with this post I want to lay out some ideas about moral objectivism because I keep thinking about them. In part this will be a reference for myself to come back to as I learn more, but I also want to submit these ideas to criticism. I’ll start with a naïve kernel morality that takes objective moral truth for granted based on intuition. I’ll then tack on various serious qualifications to the naïve kernel that, I believe, preserve objectivism. I use the term objectivism instead of realism because I think some people understand realism to imply some kind of spooky objects in some Platonic realm that I’ll have no part of.
Skepticism and the burden of proof
I don’t think there’s a formal burden of proof in this debate. That is, there’s no strictly logical reason to start as a(n) (non)-objectivist and then resist persuasion by the other camp until your defenses are overrun. But in my case, I begin as an objectivist based on some powerful intuitions. Intuition demands we be able to condemn certain beliefs and actions as evil. To name a few obvious ones: slavery, genocide, torture, and oppression as exemplified by the American Confederacy, Hitler’s Nazis, and various 20th century communist regimes. On a smaller scale, murder, rape, theft, and abuse without overriding justification are widely condemned as immoral actions. These provisional commitments are nearly universal across human societies, and I take this as a good reason to begin with the belief that these evaluations are true with a confidence similar to my confidence in the truth of complex scientific theories like quantum mechanics or biological evolution. Continue reading “A modest moral objectivism”