Gary Whittenberger – Toward a Universal Ethics

Gary Whittenberger on Meta Ethics: Toward a Universal Ethics — How Science & Reason Can Give Us Objective Moral Truths Without God:

He starts by defining a moral rule:

A moral rule is any proposition, claim, or assertion which guides or governs the interactions of persons with respect to some end or objective. Moral rules may be properly expressed in at least three different ways:

Normative Way: “Any person X ought not (or should not) rape any person Y.”
Descriptive Way: “It is immoral (or morally wrong) for any person X to rape any person Y.”
Imperative Way: “Don’t rape another person.”

Throughout this essay I will express moral rules in the normative way, all the while keeping in mind that any rule formulated this way can be just as easily formulated in the other two ways. … thout-god/

He defines what is meant by objective:

Craig believes that a moral rule is objective or at least can be objective, but what does this mean? Because “objective” and “subjective” both have different meanings in different contexts, I will set out what meanings I believe they have for the moral realm. A subjective assertion is a claim for which the truth or correctness can be verified only by the person making it, e.g., “I have a headache,” or a claim made solely by one person, or a claim which has not yet been evaluated by anybody else. On the other hand, an objective assertion is a claim for which the truth or correctness can be verified not only by the person making it but also by other persons properly situated, e.g., “The Earth is round, not flat.”

I would disagree with this definition. If Whittenberger defines subjective and objective morality this way, then I agree God is not needed. But objective morality is more than this. An objective assertion is a claim that holds true for everyone, in any context, at any point in history.

We intuitively know certain things are unethical, but why would we all believe this?

Take the moral rule mentioned earlier — “Any person X ought not rape any person Y.” Intuitively, that seems correct, and most persons would probably agree that it is correct, but in what thought process might different persons engage to each reliably reach the same conclusion? To answer this we need to overcome David Hume’s objection that we can’t derive an “ought” statement from an “is” statement.

The question is are moral rules invented or discovered?

I assert that moral rules are cognitive inventions, not discoveries. They exist not in the physical realm, but in the mental realm.

I don’t think objective morality exists in the physical realm any more than numbers exist in the physical realm. They are both a construct that exist, but are neither physical nor mental.

There is no good evidence for a Platonic realm in which moral rules exist. And they don’t exist in nature per se.

I agree.

Without persons, moral rules would not exist at all! They just exist in the minds of individual persons.

I’m not so sure. Suppose an alien lived on another planet. Would it have moral values? Should it abide by the same moral values that we have? Can we rightly judge them to be objectively morally reprehensible if they decide to kill all our babies and rape all our women?

How can we verify a moral truth is correct?

If a moral rule is objective, then its truth or correctness must be subject to verification by many persons, not just one. How can this be done? It’s not easy, but I suggest we follow the scientific or quasi-scientific approach of a number of thinkers working in this area,

Right, it’s not easy. As for evolutionary theores to account for it, I’ve already addressed several articles that delve into this.

There are many which could be chosen for evaluation such as happiness (Jeremy Bentham11) or the wellbeing of sentient creatures (Harris, Pinker, and Shermer). Those have merit, but I propose that we evaluate a little different outcome — the fulfillment of the basic biological values of survival, reproduction, well-being, and advancement for all persons. All or nearly all persons, whom we know to exist and who might exist elsewhere, do value these four things.

One might value these things, but what if another person has another value system? What is to say their value system is wrong? What if their value system is only survival of their tribe and they don’t care about the survival of a competing tribe? What if they only care about their own reproduction and well-being and advancement?

A moral rule is objective if its truth or correctness can be verified not only by the person originally devising it but also by other persons properly situated. Correctness and objectivity are not the same thing.

With his definition, yes.

A consensus is required for objectivity.

With his definition, this is not really required. With his definition, only one other person is required to verify it to make it objective. But even if we grant this, the point of objective morality is it is independent of how many people have a consensus on it. It is entirely possible a consensus would be reached and it is still unethical.

Suppose one scientist does research and concludes that the burning of fossil fuels has caused a warming of the Earth. We would not trust this report without verification. But if nine scientists independently conduct research using the same methods and if at least seven of the nine did agree with the original conclusion, then we have the verification from a consensus. This same approach can and should be used with respect to moral rules.

This is subjective morality, not objective morality. These same scientists can later change their minds and reach a different consensus.

William Lane Craig’s idea of objectivity in morality is different from mine. He says “When I speak of objective moral values, I mean moral values that are valid and binding whether anybody believes in them or not.”

Right, this is what is objective morality. Whittenberger bases his objective morality on a consensus view, but a consensus view can change. Scientists used to think homosexuality was an illness. Now it’s no longer considered to be an illness.

According to Craig’s account, the moral rule “Group N should not exterminate group J” is correct whether anybody believes it is correct or not. But this just can’t be true! Somebody needs to believe that the moral rule is correct. Moral rules do not exist independent of the minds of persons.

The point is not where do moral rules exist. The point is objective moral rules are independent of what people actually believe. There were no German laws against persecuting and exterminating the Jews. It was legal to do it. But a moral law is higher than any laws of a country.

However, the moral rule we are discussing here is both correct and objective because a consensus of thinkers using reason confirms that it is correct.

The Germans likewise can use reason to confirm their view is correct. What’s to say anyone can judge them?

The Nazis, or at least some of their leaders, strongly believed that the converse moral rule was correct, i.e., “Group N should exterminate group J.” This rule, however, was based on at least two false premises — that group J was genetically inferior to group N and was responsible for most or all of the problems in the world.

So would it be OK to forcibly sterilize anyone if we can scientifically show someone is genetically inferior? Think eugenics movement. Or would it be OK to exterminate anyone for causing most of the problems of the world? Think aliens coming to destroy human civilization because we are emitting greenhouse gases.

The Nazi leaders were not properly situated to judge the correctness of their odd moral rule; they were not using reason. They were wrong, and they had to be defeated by force.

They were using reason. We might not agree with them. But by what standard can we say our reasons are better than their reasons?

Whether or not God exists, the moral rule “Any group N should not exterminate any group J” is both correct and objective. God is totally unnecessary for a proper grounding of moral rules.

What is necessary is some higher value system that is above any human laws, reasoning, or consensus. On what basis did the International Military Tribunal convict the Nazi leaders? There was no international law that the Germans violated. They had to invent international criminal law and say they were guilty of it. But on what basis can one retroactively prosecute someone if the laws did not exist when they committed it? What if the Germans won the war? And then they invented laws saying all enemies of Germany would require their execution?

Some moral rules are incorrect, unreasonable, relativistic, and/or nonobjective.

Of course. But that does not mean objective moral values do not exist.

What shall be the future of morality? I propose that we aim towards establishing a Correct Universal Ethics (CUE). CUE would be a comprehensive moral code for all persons devised from the ground up by a qualified panel of persons.

This is not objective morality, but subjective morality. Do we actually trust anybody to come up with this? I don’t.

There are many different possible ways by which such a panel could work.

Many attempts have been made in trying to establish a human utopia. It’s never succeeded.

William Lane Craig has claimed that although atheists might behave in moral ways, they have no grounding for their morality. There is no moral authority to obligate them to follow moral rules. Of course, Craig believes the moral authority to obligate rests in God himself. But as I have demonstrated, God’s existence is not necessary. We just need an authority on which to ground our morality. I suggest that it is simply the community of rational thinking persons.

The fact that he suggests we need a “community of rational thinking persons” to come up with morality shows such morality is not objective, but subjective.

In this essay I have shown that William Lane Craig is mistaken about morality, how to solve the problem of deriving an “ought” from an “is,” and how to provide a foundation for Correct Universal Ethics that is consistent with secular humanism. I think we now have a proper meta-ethics for the 21st century.

So, what he’s suggesting is secular humanists should decide what are the “Correct Universal Ethics” and everyone ought to abide by them. How about this, we can have the National Council of Churches come up a set of rules called “Proper Human Ethics” instead and force all secular humanists to abide by them.