On the Compatibility of Materialism and Moral Realism / Von der Kompatibilität des Materialismus und des moralischen Realismus

Moral realism is the view, held by most humans, that there exists a certain number of objective moral facts which human beings ought to fulfill, like “Don’t steal!”, “Don’t murder!, “Be honest at work!” and so on and so forth.

I believe there is a serious problem trying to reconcile the existence of objective moral facts with God’s will, called the Euthyphro dilemma: is something good because God tells it (in which case morality is arbitrary) or does God say that something is good because it is good (in which case morality is independant of God).

However, there are also two problems concerning a materialist, evolved morality.

The first is ontological and concerns the nature of the things we’re talking about.

I define Reductive Materialism (which I’ll refer to as RM) as the belief that everything which is real is identical with the sum of an ensemble of physical objects and processes involving the interaction of matter and energy.

It is certainly no problem for RM to state that the chair I’m sitting on is reducible to a heap of cellulose and lignite molecule occupying a certain shape in space.

KAUSTBY Stuhl  Massive Kiefer ist ein Naturmaterial, das in Würde altert.

Likewise, I can believe that the computer I’m currently using is identical to a bunch of electrons moving through an appropriate material (Okay, my knowledge of informatics is not particularly good :-) )

Cartoon angry laptop - vector illustration. Stockfoto - 9353091

But what about the fact: “It is always wrong to rape a woman”. It clearly exists, therefore it should be reducible to a bunch of particles.

But I fail completely to see the candidates. Someone might mention the chemicals within her brain associated with pain. I see two problems with that:

  1. this distorts the meaning of the moral imperative: “you ought not to rape a woman” becomes an ensemble of chemicals and electrical currents going on inside her particular brain.
  2. You cannot deduce from that pain that you ought to act against it or avoid it, this is the famous naturalist fallacy described by the Scottish philosopher David Hume
  3. Since for materialism, pain itself is identical to particles in interaction with energy, why ought we to allow certain reactions to happen while avoiding others?
    Remember, a materialist cannot say “because they’re meaningful” or “because they’re painful” for in this case he would either be hopelessly circular or 
    become a dualist, recognizing the difference between the neural processes and the subjective experience.

Materialists like to embarrass theists with the Euthyphro dilemma, which is in fact a problem for believers in God. But they tend to overlook the formidable difficulties facing the grounding of their own morality. Moral facts seem much more at a home in a world where mental facts exist besides matter.

My conclusions are by no means absolute and I welcome all challenges!



Von der Kompatibilität des Materialismus und des moralischen Realismus?

Der moralische Realismus ist die von den meisten menschen angenommene Sicht, dass es eine gewisse Anzahl von objektiven moralischen Tatsachen gibt, die Menschen erfüllen sollen, wie „Stehle nicht!“, „Ermordere nicht!“, „Seie redlich bei der Arbeit!“ und so weiter und so fort.

Ich glaube, dass es ein ernstes Problem gibt, die Existenz von objektiven moralischen Fakten mit Gottes Willen zu versöhnen, das Euthyphro dilemma genannt wird: ist etwas gut, weil Gott es sagt (und so wäre die Moralität willkürlich) oder sagt Gott von etwas, dass es gut ist, weil es gut ist (und so wäre die Moralität unabhängig von Gott).

Dennoch gibt es auch zwei Probleme, die eine materialistische, evolvierte Moralität betreffen.

Das erste ist ontologisch und betrifft die Natur der Sachen, wovon wir reden.

Ich definiere den reduktiven Materialismus (als RM abgekürzt), als den Glauben, dass alles realesidentisch mit der Summe eines Satzes von physikalischen Objekten und Prozessen ist, die die Wechselwirkung von Energie und Materie involvieren.

Es ist ganz bestimmt kein Problem für RM, zu behauptem, dass der Stuhl, worauf ich sitze, auf ein Hauffen von Molekülen von Zellulosen und Ligniten reduzierbar ist, die eine gewisse Form im Raum besetzen.

KAUSTBY Stuhl  Massive Kiefer ist ein Naturmaterial, das in Würde altert.

Genauso kann ich glauben, dass der Computer, den ich gerade benutze, identisch mit einer Versammlung von Elektronen ist, die sich durch ein geeignetes Material bewegen (Ok, meine Kenntnisse in Informatik ist nicht besonders gut :-) )

Cartoon angry laptop - vector illustration. Stockfoto - 9353091

Aber was nun sollten wir über die Tatsache „Es ist immer verkehrt, eine Frau zu vergewaltigen.“ denken. Es ist klar, dass sie existiert, deswegen sollte sie auf ein Bündel von Teilchen reduzierbar sein.

Aber es gelingt mir gar nicht, die Kandidaten einzusehen.Jemand könnte die Chemikalien in ihrem Gehirn erwähnen, die mit ihrem Schmerz verbunden sind.

Ich sehe zwei Probleme mit einem solchen Vorschlag:

  1. Es verzerrt die Bedeutung des moralischen Befehls: „Du sollst eine Frau nicht vergewaltigen.“ wird einen Satz von Chemikalien und elektrischen Strömen, die innerhalb ihres eigenen Gehirns vorgehen.
  2. Man ann nicht aus dem Schmerz ableiten, dass man dagegen handeln oder ihn vermeiden soll, das ist der berühmte naturalistischen Fehlschluss, der vom schottischen Philosoph David Hume beschrieben wurde.
  3. Da für den Materialismus, der Schmerz selber mit Patikeln in Wechselwirkung mit Energie ist, warum sollen wir manche Reaktionen und andere vermeiden?Man muss sich vor den Augen halten, dass ein Materialist nicht sagen kann: „weil sie bedeutungsvoll sind“, oder „ sie sind schmerzhaft“. , denn entweder bewegt er sich im Kreis, oder er anerkannt die Unterschiede zwischen neurale Prozessen und der subjektiven Erfahrung und wird ein Dualist.

Materialisten mögen es, Theisten in Verlegenheit mit der Euthyphro dilemma zu bringen, das in der Tat ein echtes Problem für Gläubiger an Gott ist. Aber sie tendieren dazu, die risiegen Schwierigkeiten bei der Begründung ihrer eigenen Moralität zu übersehen.

Moralische Tatsachen scheinen viel wohler in einer Welt zu wohnen, wo mentale Fakten neben der Materie existieren.

Meine Schlüsse sind keineswegs absolut und ich heiße alle Herausforderungen willkommen!

Lovely greetings from Germany
Liebe Grüße aus Deutschland

Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

7 responses to “On the Compatibility of Materialism and Moral Realism / Von der Kompatibilität des Materialismus und des moralischen Realismus”

  1. MNb says :

    ““It is always wrong to rape a woman””
    This is not a fact, but a value. What’s more, the Bible makes clear that in some cases it’s not wrong at all to rape a woman.
    A fact is that these days the vast majority of human beings think it’s always wrong. That’s not the same.

    • lotharson says :

      Hello MNb.

      First, the Bible is a human book whereby people wrote down and interpreted their experiences (and sometimes lack of experiences) with God, using their own understanding which was hugely influenced by their culture. Alas, women were oftentimes seen as less as valuable in the Ancient Near Eastern.
      The Bible should be understood as a book full of human experiences about the divine, and not as a set of rules to be followed. http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/2013/08/18/on-the-art-of-picking-and-chosing/

      Now, to the second issue. I’m well aware of the distinction between facts and values. And this is the very reason why values cannot exist in a purely material world.
      For instance, the value “It is always wrong for a man to rape a woman.” is either existent or not. But if it is existent, according to the imperialist definition of materialism, IT HAS TO be identical with molecules, atoms, quarcks, and so on and so forth.
      If such a reduction is not succesful, one must either conclude that there exists no moral value, or that materialism is fase.

      Thus, I don’t think my argument was fallacious and a clear sign of lack of sophistication.

      Lovely greetings from Germany
      Liebe Gruesse aus Deutschland

      Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

      • Andrew Ryan says :

        Lotharson, greetings to you in Germans from the UK.

        “It clearly exists, therefore it should be reducible to a bunch of particles.”

        Tuesday exists, or what were we all doing yesterday? And yet Tuesday cannot be reducible to a bunch of particles. Neither can the value of Pi, or the laws of logic. Doesn’t materialism just mean the absence of the supernatural? Is ‘Rape is wrong’ a supernatural fact? If if have a value, then that value exists, by definition. If you’re saying that in a Godless world I could not value something, then what exactly do you mean? By what mechanism is God creating the possibility of values?

        Pain is not supernatural, but neither is the sensation of pain exactly the same as the chemicals and molecules that cause it.

        “The Bible should be understood as a book full of human experiences about the divine, and not as a set of rules to be followed.”

        Tell that to all the apologists arguing that we should set laws based on bible verses! If you do not think the bible should be the source of our morals, where do you believe we should get them from?

        My response: hello Andrew! Strangely enough, I couldn’t reply to your interesting comment, so I was obliged to edit your comment to insert it.
        If you believe that Pi and the laws of logics are not reducible to particles, you might be no supernaturalist, but you’re by no means a materialist.
        The questions as to how God could have created such things is a very complex one. One possibility is that they eternally existed as part of His nature, tough this would get us closer to pantheism.

        These Christian apologists are terribly misguided, since Paul himself told us that the heathens can differentiate between right and wrong through their intuitions without the Bible!
        I present in more details the grounds of ethics in my post “Did Jesus endorse atrocities?”


    • Alan says :

      MNb: While you are correct, you are arguing semantics with a non-English native, but also supporting his point. Morality and ‘ought/ought not’ questions are not reducible, and are not suitable subjects of science, though they are critical issues for mankind.

  2. lotharson says :

    Hello MNb, thanks for your reaction and interesting remarks, I have a meeting right now, but I’ll try to answer you this evening.

    Lovely greetings from Germany
    Liebe Grüße aus Deutschland

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

  3. Andrew Ryan says :

    “If you believe that Pi and the laws of logics are not reducible to particles, you might be no supernaturalist, but you’re by no means a materialist.”

    Then I don’t know of anyone who would qualify for the label materialist as you define it!

  4. Baal Shem Ra says :

    An evolved morality does not necessarily mean that morality has evolved in respect to specific questions in a moral context (“is it okay to rape this person”). Rather, that there is a biological basis upon which we make moral judgments.

    It is “objective” in the sense that we can say beauty is “objective” – there are across cultures certain traits that people will rate, rather consistently, as being more beautiful than the next. Facial symmetry is an example of one. We could say, “a preference for facial symmetry is objectively beautiful beyond chance” but not “a woman who has blonde hair is beautiful.” This is the same with moral issues.

    The issue arises in a religious context when religionists assert something is moral that is widely regarded as immoral, with a justification to slide it in. This is akin to presenting a grossly disfigured face, one that would easily be recognized as not beautiful (and explained easily in the context of a lack of facial symmetry), then creating a post-hoc justification for why it is, in reality, beautiful.

    You don’t need a complete system of normative ethics, nor answers for specific questions, to demonstrate an objective basis for what is really a rather abstract concept.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 222 other followers

%d bloggers like this: