RA007: Irreducibly Normative Truths?


Cory Markum joins Ben Watkins to discuss some questions about normativity. Many apologists put forward moral arguments for the existence of God which claim that atheism implies some form of moral nihilism. While both Ben and Cory do not find these arguments persuasive, Cory is not so sure about the view that is often called “moral realism.” This view states that there are mind independent moral truths about what actions are good and bad, right and wrong, and virtuous and vicious. Ben, on the other hand, is a moral realist, because he accepts a realist view about normativity in general. In an effort to convince Cory of moral realism, Ben defends the view that some things matter in the sense that we have reasons to care about things for their own sake. Such truths are ‘irreducibly normative.’ Ben holds that there are some irreducibly normative truths about what we have reason to believe, to desire, and to do, and that some of these truths are moral truths.

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2 Responses to RA007: Irreducibly Normative Truths?

  1. Dan Stenning says:

    I really enjoyed this particular podcast. Although maybe Ben could go head to head with some others on this same weighty theme – maybe you – and a theist like Josh..


  2. I clearly need to understand some things here, because objective morality seems so obviously wrong that I can’t believe that it’s still debated by atheists. Please direct me to the foundations I lack. But what I heard Ben say was, in essence, that bad things are bad and that those bad things are not subject to human whim. Don’t philosophers do the real-world in past or present?

    If objective morals exist, where do we find them? We find the rules of logic and mathematics by engaging in those pursuits. Where are the morals? And if they exist in the ether, gathered by reason and our senses, are they not empirical in some fashion?

    Ben says we shouldn’t kill. He says that freedom is intrinsically good. Even if it is, the Chinese government can say they value freedom, but not the freedom of assembly, free speech, and access to information. I’m sure they have their reasons. He also says that we shouldn’t disable other people. These are evident. No. He’s using words we’ve equated with bad to say that bad things are bad. Still subjective. What if we use his disable example? Of course he doesn’t mean it’s immoral if we make a mistake or if the person was doing something wrong. But then we’ve changed the definition of the word to be something less bad. What if we change the word to “alter”?

    Because William Lane Craig would say that we all know it’s bad to torture. Heard him say it myself. But what if we change it to “enhanced interrogation techniques”? Is it wrong to get vital, life–saving information out of people? We define the word as “bad” or “good” then we apply it where we will. This is not objective.

    The Bible should denote the objective moral truths, yes? Look at the unchanging moral stances of God regarding slavery, the subjugation of women, treating women and children as property, slaughtering infants and the elderly, and stoning disobedient children. When were slavery and herem abolished? Never? Curious. Christians abandoned those ideas. Christians especially are the great moral relativists, changing their morals as they see fit. Ever look up usury, for example? The worship of wealth? You’re soaking in it, prosperity gospel.

    The Bible has always been against child sacrifice…except when it wasn’t. The story of Abraham and Isaac probably points to the time when the decision was made to stop child sacrifices. Exodus
    13.13 states that the firstborn of every womb is to be given in sacrifice, though in another passage it allows for the substitution of an animal. However, if one assumes an unstated escape clause for one law, can’t one assume whatever they want whenever? I think so. The unchanging God changed his mind, probably due to public pressure or his advertisers were pulling out.

    Rape is an obvious one, right? What about people of some Middle Eastern cultures who believe that a wronged man may rape the virgin daughter of the man who wronged him in order to have justice. This “works” because the girl is the criminal’s property from which he can expect a dowry when he sells her off in marriage. But this, we can intuit, is just wrong;, right?

    Well, at some point, we had to come to the moral conclusion that other people have their own autonomy, right to pursue their own happiness, and are not someone else’s property. But it wasn’t obvious to them. Still isn’t. It wasn’t obvious to the many other cultures in the past, including our own. It isn’t obvious to us now whether we should allow women to terminate pregnancies or allow people to eat meat or play violent sports. In time we’ll have to address it. We’re against child sacrifice. But is there a difference in sending our young men and women into wars we started? Guess child sacrifice is okay. Unless we call it honor and duty.

    Our morals are clearly subjective, even if we don’t know when they were determined by humans. To say that they are obvious is to say that they simply agree with our own sensibilities. Pretty arrogant. God always agrees with me and my moral truths are the real ones. Nice. Morality is also a matter of the terms we choose to use. I think I would accept Matt Dillahunty’s definition of objective truth, if I’m defining here correctly, that these are the truths we come to and decide in advance of them having a direct influence on ourselves. Probably butchered that. So they are not strictly relative (decided in the instant that they would affect us) or nihilistic (they do indeed exist and we should obey them). But they can and do change with evidence. And we can reasonably obey them because we have agreed that we are better off doing so. If we think we are *progressing* toward *moral perfection* or the *best* life, we fool ourselves in the same way as theists do. That is perhaps another long comment I will resist at this moment. We appeal to a standard outside of ourselves that gives us the illusion of certainty that we are right.


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