Week 3 of classes, featuring the theories of moral nihilism versus moral absolutism and an empty cup of hot cocoa.
I wouldn’t respond to them at all, there is no point engaging in a moral debate with someone who rejects even the fundamental principle that we should be ethical. Besides, since w genuine moral nihilist believes no act is right or wrong, so I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near that kind of person. Fortunately, I’ve never met a real one; the ones who claim that title are usually just edgelords who have no real conception of what it means or what it’s implications would be. Ask them about child abuse, murder, their favourite game developer being shut down… They usually drop the pretence pretty quickly.
There is no way you can appeal to an amoral person by using moral arguments, you can convince someone that in order to be moral they need to do A, B and C, but you cannot easily convince someone that they should be moral if they don’t think they should be. I certainly have never found a way to do it, and these people are generally a waste of your time, you would be better served moving on to someone who may actually listen to you. All we can really do is plant seeds, some people just won’t hear the message and there is nothing we can do about that. Fortunately, I find that people claiming to be amoral or nihilistic seldom actually are, nine times out of ten it’s the person convincing themselves that they are as a defence mechanism.
you, a moronic individual: murder is wrong
me, an intellectual: morality is a human made construct therefore irrelevant and untrue. any moral claims you make are automatically false, morality isn’t real.
So moving on to another form of nihilism, we encounter moral nihilism.
What is moral nihilism?
This is undoubtedly the most touchy and controversial material within all forms of nihilism.
Moral nihilism is the meta-ethical view that nothing is intrinsically moral or immoral. That there is no right or wrong, and that morality is a construct of laws and codes that may be applicable to individual adherents, but otherwise have no universal, or even relative, truth.
So what to make of these assertions? Well, it does seem to be a degeneration of sorts, to arrive at this kind of conclusion. Just because there isn’t any kind of objective truth to morality, that is to say, a morality that would be in place independent of sentient life, doesn’t mean that there still cannot be a universal morality relative to sentience. I would say yes, there are factors supporting moral relativism. Some rights and wrongs vary from culture to culture and maybe even from individual to individual, to a certain extent. And to some degree, there could be said to be a moral universalism, that is, certain principles that can be considered right or wrong for everyone everywhere. But these are just general ideas painted with a very broad brush; so to really get to the meat of the matter, and clear away a lot of faulty misconceptions, these ideological proposals need to be parsed and perhaps brought to some sort of ubiquitous conclusion.
First, it’s probably fitting to point out that, if morality is indeed anything, that it is an exclusively intrinsic factor. There isn’t any morality to be found out there existing independently of sentience. In other words, there isn’t an extrinsic component to morality. No God out there that has laid down a rule book, no feature of the universe that has any absolute moral bearing before the advent of a subject. Morality can only be morality as per it’s relativity to a subject. Indeed, morality would be meaningless and without application without a sentient subject to apply unto.
So by what measuring stick is morality established? The most common instinctive response is to say that it has to do with suffering and applied harm. But if we analyze this contention a little closer, we can see that this is not necessarily always the case, nor is it even close to something resembling a universal ethic. Moral relativism shows us this. The values of seeking, or avoiding, pain, harm and suffering, vary, not only from culture to culture, but even from individual to individual. Harm, pain and suffering in and of themselves does not constitute a moral violation if the subjects that these stimuluses are applied to, don’t concur. You cannot rightly say that whipping someone is morally wrong if that person wants to be whipped. The masochist is a good example of such. Whether or not you decide to dismiss this condition as an illness or not, doesn’t really matter as to the raw facts. To each his own. It may not float your boat, but your disagreement with it is merely an opinion. Just as someone who thinks pain is pleasurable has their own opinion about it. To inject a moral principle into this subjective matter would be to force an opinion onto to someone who disagrees.
Now, THAT is morally wrong. It’s not up to you to decide what’s BEST, or what’s right or wrong, for another person. Each individual can decide this for themselves, and it needn’t go any further then this, as long as each individual is making the decision only for themselves, or for someone in their care incapable of making a mature sound decision. In these specific cases, wherein individuals are not in a position to make certain choices, or not mature enough to be completely independent, such as the case with children, the elderly, or people with varying mental and physical disabilities, a utilitarian approach would be sufficient.
But if the reduction of harm, pain and suffering isn’t the fundamental basis on which to construct a universal morality, then what is? Well, the key lies in that which was used to clarify the ungrounded moral assumption of reducing harm, pain and suffering: Choice. What else could it be? If different cultures and different individuals have different preferences concerning certain practices, then morality cannot be grounded in trying to judge the right or wrong of practices, as long as those practices are chosen by all who are involved. This idea would be the closest thing to a moral universalism that could be conceived. This doesn’t leave any wiggle room. Do you or do you not give permission to whatever X-factor practice is being applied to your person or to the belongings held in your care?
Now, I say, “to the belongings held in your care” because it’s gets a little tricky and sticky when it comes to what’s called personal or public property. What you do with your own body and mind is your own decision, for a body and mind are the autonomy of an individual, and no one can claim ownership of such without the use of force against free will, unless of course one grants such permission, but even with any such permission granted, the ownership should not last longer a duration then the individual deciding to withdraw consent.
But public or personal property is a different matter, and is not as easily resolved. That is a whole topic unto itself and should be reserved for another time, in perhaps a future video. Today, we’ll stick to discussing morality only as it applies to individuals.
So it’s not up to anyone to decide what’s right or wrong, or what’s best or worse, for any other individual, despite certain assumptions that seem to make sense or to support commonly held values. What’s most morally important is the autonomy of free will, as long as your autonomy of free will is not used to violate the autonomy of free will of another. It’s pretty simple.
We’ve all heard of the golden rule, right?
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.“
But this assumes that others would want for themselves what you chose for yourself. It’s presumptuous and not very mindful. So with this in mind, I propose an update to the golden rule, the golden rule 2.0:
“Don’t do unto others anything, unless you have their permission first.”
A freely extended courtesy is one thing, it can be accepted or rejected freely. But the suggestion to "do” something to another, implies a directed action done without consent, that may or may not be agreeable to the target. So taking out the right and wrong of any circumstance or practice, and resting the morality of these conditions solely on whether or not the subject consents to the circumstances or practice, produces a moral relativistic universalism. No one wants to be victimized, unless one gives their permission for such a victimization. This is true of all sentience. It’s an absolute ethical principle of all subjects, whether or not they even consciously are aware of it. All crimes, or violations of moral law, are trespasses of approbation. Theft, deception, rape, and murder are all offenses against the free will. Whatever one chooses for themselves, however, as long as it isn’t a wrong doing against someone else’s free will, is morally correct.
Now this is where some might say that people consent to all sorts of counter productive things due to sheer ignorance or malevolent deception, so how does this wash against the idea that morality is found with granted permission? Well, it’s not up to you to force something upon someone else, even if they are ignorant and you think that you know better then them. Everyone should have the freedom to make their own mistakes and learn from them. Even, if it means that they will experience harm or death. You can do everything you can to help, just don’t apply force. And as for someone giving permission due to deception, this in itself is a violation of someone’s consent. If permission is granted under false pretenses, the moral wrong is found with the deceiver. This can be corrected through morally correct behavior and actions, that is, the disclosure of the deceit to the deceived, and the free will for the deceived to have the information and make new choices as per necessary.
So moral nihilism that’s been represented to mean that “nothing is morally wrong” is incorrect. We are existentially aware, and morality is indeed relative and subjective to the context of existential sentience, but that doesn’t mean that since it’s all relative and subjective that it doesn’t exist. To say such would be to deny existentiality, which is foolish and false due to the prerequisite of having to have an existence to assert such a denial. It’s all made up, yes, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have momentary existential applicability.
It could be argued that the free will of existentiality is it’s foundational instrumentation, so any proposed morality would have to have it’s roots grounded in this agency. Morality is not a feature of any world. And this is the problem when it comes to error theory..
The 3 principles are:
1. There are no moral features in this world, nothing is right or wrong.
2. Therefor, no moral judgement are true, however.
3. Our sincere moral judgements try, but always fail, to describe the moral features of things.
These principles are based on the false premise that there can be no moral truth, but perhaps this is because the error theory nihilists were looking in the wrong place. The moral feature in question is found within sentience itself, not as an externalized material item of any world. The moral truth isn’t a feature of a thing. There is no thing. Moral truths have to do with the free will of existential awareness. To use force against a free will is wrong, unless such force is being used to stop force from being used against free will. That’s why a killing might not necessarily be morally right or wrong, depending on the moral particulars of the situation. To kill someone who is innocent for fun, or for monetary gain, is obviously immoral. To kill someone who is in the process of killing another for fun or monetary gain, is not wrong, and perhaps even morally correct. Based on the freedom of free will and the choice of how to utilize free will, moral judgments and moral ethics can be established. There is no failure in identifying, judging and describing morality in these terms. The moral truth lies with the existential free will. This is a truth that knowledge can be built on, and thus, values based on these aspects, established. The error theory fails to make it’s case for error.
Global falsity? Perhaps moral beliefs and assertions are false in that they claim that certain moral facts exist that, in fact, do not exist, because there are no moral properties that are intrinsically motivating? What kind of a soul dead zombie would make such an argument? Are you saying you can’t recognize your own awareness, and how that awareness doesn’t want to be victimized against it’s will? Having your head bashed in against your wishes isn’t enough of a moral property to find intrinsically motivating? I mean, I hate to use such a heavy handed example, but, c'mon.
What about presupposition failure? The claim that moral beliefs are not true because they are neither true nor false. Again, having your head bashed in against your will only presupposes that you wouldn’t appreciate that happening to you? Or maybe the morality of such an event would only be truth apt? Maybe there is some other kind of circumstance where you would enjoy having your head bashed in against your will?
So, as you can see, a lot of this can get quite ridiculous. Everyone has a line that, if crossed, will violate their permission. If one claims that they don’t have any such line, then they must be Jesus Christ, but even if that was the case, you are still allowing the violation of your consent by your own free will. So there’s no way around it.
The major original reason for moral nihilism, before it became absurdly misconstrued and taken to such extremes as to deny what’s blatantly obvious, was to reject religious authoritarianism. That, morality was ordained by an external force, in this case being God, and that the truth of this god’s morality was laid down by law in the form of dogmatic absolutism. And what could possibly be wrong with a morality that came straight from the very lips of a god himself?
Well, eventually, people with a little sense began to realize that these rules didn’t come from a God at all, and that’s not necessarily a problem, but for, that some of them were actually being used as more of a tool of manipulation and disempowerment, utilized by those that wished to exercise control over others, to their own ends. And it continues to this very day.
That’s why we still have factions that wanna legislate your personal choices. They wanna tell you what you can or cannot eat, drink, smoke, or introduce into your bloodstream, by rule of law, and punishable by forcible containment. They wanna tell you what is and what is not an acceptable receptacle to put your penis in. Can you imagine that? As if anyone else would know any better then you about what you want to put your penis in. Or that, they know the more morally correct way to apply a penis. The more morally erect application.
Can you see where this is going? You know who I’m talking about. The value junkies. Captain “rescue you against your will”, man. Heroes in spandex that are here to force help upon you. As damn well they should. After all, you don’t know any better. They are gonna helllllp you, oh god dammit they are gonna help you, even if it requires locking you in a cage for several years, they’re gonna help you, damn it!
And so some of you may be wondering:
“Sage, does that mean you are in support of controversial positions such as the right to die, alternative sexuality, the legalization of drugs, gambling and prostitution?”
You know what? It doesn’t even matter if I support it or not because it’s none of my business. I’m not against any of those activities because they are victimless crimes, and it doesn’t matter if they are responsible for influencing secondary crime or not. If that’s the case, then let them crack down on that secondary crime. But the evidence for secondary crime due to the legalization of these activities in countries where they are currently legal doesn’t support this assertion. It’s none of your business.
And this is where nihilism becomes a useful tool, in the fight against moral crusaders and value junkies, that want to be invasive and intrusive in people’s private beliefs and practices. And is that any surprise? Let’s not forget that it used to be a whole lot worse. The church had every authority to murder you if you didn’t adhere to its dominance. So moral nihilism was formed in response to this autocratic force that imposed itself under the guise of morality and ruled with unquestionable authority.
Moral nihilism: There is no morality existing other then the morality that was created by man, and even this man made morality doesn’t even exist, outside of the relative subjective existential utility of it.
It’s not an objective external force, but nor is it a void.
It is immoral to use free will against the free will of another, unless said person is using their free will against the free will of another, or unless you are given permission to use your free will against the free will of another, by the other.
using nihilism to justify treating people equally
using nihilism to justify making edgy racist jokes
treating everyone the same without caring to cause offence is the nihilist position -going out of your way to cause offence based on racism means you obviously care about the reaction you get and also assign a sort of meaningless value to the genetic traits of the people you are attention seeking from
nihilism is a belief that all life has no inherent value, but when you make edgy racist jokes you are taking part in a system that puts different values on the different races. if you don’t care about the consequences of your actions, why do you care so much about carrying out such actions and receiving a response?
it’s not really nihilism to act like this, because obviously you must divine some sort of meaning to attention seeking and the validation you get. it’s much closer to absurdism to do this - however even from an absurdist point of view assigning this theoretical value to the races of others still doesn’t make sense, because the universe is meaningless and people of all races will die the same way, and all will spend their lives looking for meaning in spite of the absurd.
even from a totally moral nihilist perspective, attention seeking through racist jokes still makes no sense - in the absence of morals there is still no justifiable reason to go to the effort of making racial distinctions between people and acting on them.
don’t fake like you care about nothing if you still do this shit.
We are extraordinarily complex physical systems that are always operating lawfully in accordance with some as-yet-unknown equation.
A macroscropic fact about us is that we have mental states that correspond in some as-yet-unknown way to the physical details of our nervous systems.
There is a useful distinction between different types of mental states that goes under the phrase ‘direction of fit’. The idea is basically this: Some of our mental states are meant to fit the world, and others are meant to make the world fit them. A belief attempts to match the structure of reality to our minds, to truly represent the world. A desire means to make the world conform to it.
In this broad class of world-fit-mind mental states, we have our ethical feelings. When somebody draws back to kick a puppy, my moral reaction wants their foot to stop in its track, to make the world such that the puppy does not feel any pain.
There is, I think, no clear line between our ethical feelings and the rest of our world-fit-mind feelings. Some people prefer to exclude their retributive feelings and reactions of disgust from what they label their ethical feelings, and others do not. Much of ethical philosophy comes down to arguing about where we should draw this non-existent line in our normative feelings.
Many people become convinced that our ethical feelings are not just feelings, not just subjective preferences, but that they are also representing some truth. Not a truth about how the world is, but a truth about how the world should be. I am unsure of what the psychological explanation for this tendency to want to back our ethical feelings with objectivity, and would be very interested to learn more about it.
Despite this, it is clear that by the very nature of ethical feelings, as being the world-fit-mind type of mental state, they do not represent reality.
Our beliefs are about physical objects that have causal power, that can make things happen and allow us to make predictions to test their accuracy. But truths of ethics, if there were any, would not make anything happen. They would not be able to 'nudge’ particles in any way. Even if it were objectively true that I should not kick a puppy, this truth will not somehow jump into the world and stop my foot from making contact with the puppy. What will stop my foot is my moral psychology, which is ultimately a matter of physics in action.
Moral realists have a problem here, and I think it is an insuperable one. It is a deep epistemological problem that can be summarized in the following slogan: If your beliefs are independent of their content, then your beliefs are unjustified.
Even if we grant that there are objective normative truths, we could not ever come to have justified beliefs in them. After all, these moral facts could not in any way influence our moral beliefs, which are fully explainable in principle as properties that emerge from the underlying laws of physics.
Inquisitor: Do you believe in the existence of moral truths?
I: And what experiences do you anticipate on the basis of this belief?
I: Well, in what way does this belief affect your predictions of future experiences?
- It doesn’t.
I: In that case, I am uninterested in your belief. As far as I can tell, it is utterly devoid of content.
So much for moral realism. But I think there is still a puzzle to be resolved.
Given that our ethical beliefs are entirely unconstrained by any moral reality, we should expect that any discussions/debates on moral issues will run their course entirely independent of any factual ethical content. That is, if you witness two people arguing over the ethicality of abortion, then you can be sure that their discussion is in no way guided by the factual truth about the ethicality of abortion. But anybody who has been involved in an ethical discussion has felt the tug of compelling rational argumentation. Is there a way to retain this notion of compelling rational ethical argumentation in the light of moral nihilism?
In case this is unclear, there is a fundamental problem with the notion of rational responses to ethical arguments. Rationality is the attempt to move towards truth. How can one have rational responses to arguments about a subject matter in which there is no truth content?
Perhaps there is some subtle way to retain a notion of rationality in ethics. Or perhaps this must be tossed out as well as the hope of moral truth.
so i don’t really understand why i get so upset when i see people behave in ways that are contradictory to my own personal morals
who am i to say that my morals are superior to theirs
who are they to say their morals are superior to mine
since we’re all going to die anyway
why do we care so much about what is morally right and what is morally wrong
when you call yourself a moral nihilist but you still have standards
I was listening to “Let it Go” because I ran out of skips on Spotify and therefore was forced to listen to that godforsaken song for the billionth time. Anyways, I’m listening to the song and I hear the lyrics “No right, no wrong, no rules for me I’m free!” Elsa has just escaped a society where she has been oppressed by the rules and societal expectations, so it makes sense that she would feel liberated after leaving such a society, but once she has left society, there still is right and wrong, right? Just because she isn’t in Arendelle anymore doesn’t mean she can straight up kill a guy; the definitions of right and wrong still apply… unless Elsa is a moral nihilist. Moral nihilists don’t believe in the existence of morals, often believing that morals only ‘exist’ in the presence of society. This is exactly what Elsa describes in “Let it Go”. As she leaves Arendelle, she leaves society, and therefore morals, hence the previously quoted lyrics.
Went on a Wikipedia trip and discovered I’m an existential, moral, and political nihilist with some contradictory logotherapy thrown in.
Now that I’ve seen how the rest of the world thinks of it, it’s the only proper thing to describe me now.
For so long I’ve been pondering that word, whether it applies to me or not. But all it takes is one look in the right place, and you know. One google search of “nihilist” and a stumbling over to the tumblr tag of it, seeing what people say, and I know for sure that this is me.
I am a nihilist.
Error theory is built by three principles:
- There are no moral features in this world; nothing is right or wrong.
- Therefore no moral judgments are true; however,
- Our sincere moral judgments try, but always fail, to describe the moral features of things.
Someone who knows a bit about nihilism (either existential or moral) should message me because I’m really confused here…
Every child knows that play is nobler than work. He knows too that the worth or merit of a game is not inherent in the game itself but rather in the value of that which is put at hazard. Games of chance require a wager to have meaning at all. Games of sport involve the skill and strength of the opponents and the humiliation of defeat and the pride of victory are in themselves sufficient stake because they inhere in the worth of the principals and define them. But the trial of chance or trial of worth all games aspire to the condition of war for here that which is wagered swallows up the game, player, all.
Suppose two men at cards with nothing to wager save their lives. Who has not heard such a tale? A turn of the card. The whole universe for such a player had labored clanking to this moment which will tell if he is to die at that man’s hand or that man at his. What more certain validation of a man’s worth could there be? This enhancement of the game game to its ultimate state admits no argument concerning the notion of fate. The selection of one man over another is a preference absolute and irrevocable and it is a dull man indeed who could reckon so profound a decision without agency or significance either one. In such games as have for their stake the annihilation of the defeated the decisions are quite clear. This man holding this particular arrangement of cards in his hands is thereby removed from existence. This is the nature of war, whose stake is at once the game and the authority and the justification. Seen so, war is the truest form of divination. It is the testing of one’s will and the will of another within that larger will which because it binds them is therefore forced to select. War is the ultimate game because war is at last a forcing of the unity of existence. War is god.
Brown studied the Judge. You’re crazy Holden. Crazy at last.
The judge smiled.
Might does not make right, said Irving. The man that wins in some combat is not vindicated morally.
Moral law is an invention of mankind for the disenfranchisement of the powerful in favor of the weak. Historical law subverts it at every turn. A moral view can never be proven right or wrong by any ultimate test. A man falling dead in a duel is not thought thereby to be proven in error as to his views. His very involvement in such a trial gives evidence of a new and broader view. The willingness of the principals to forgo further argument as the triviality which it in fact is and to petition directly the chambers of the historical absolute clearly indicates of how little moment are the opinions and of what great moment the divergences thereof. For the argument is indeed trivial, but not so the separate wills thereby made manifest. Man’s vanity may well approach the infinite in capacity but his knowledge remains imperfect and however much he comes to value his judgements ultimately he must submit them before a higher court. Here there can be no special pleading. Here are considerations of equity and rectitude and moral right rendered void and without warrant and here are the views of the litigants despised. Decisions of life and death, of what shall be and what shall not, beggar all question of right. In elections of these magnitudes are all lesser ones subsumed, moral, spiritual, natural.
The judge searched out the circle for disputants. But what says the priest? he said.
Tobin looked up. The priest does not say.
The priest does not say, said the judge. Nihil decit. But the priest has said. For the priest has put by the robes of his craft and taken up the tools of that higher calling which all men honor. The priest also would be no godserver but a god himself.
Tobin shook his head. You’ve a blasphemous tongue, Holden. And in truth, I was never a priest but only a novitiate to the order.
Journeyman priest or apprentice priest, said the judge. Men of god and men of war have strange affinities.
I’ll not second say you in your notions, said Tobin. Don’t ask it.
Ah Priest, said the judge. What could I ask of you that you’ve not already given?