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Answering the Tough Questions about Objective Morality

Answers

EDITOR'S NOTE: Today continues our eight-part debate on the resolution, "Does objective morality depend on the existence of God?" We'll hear from two sharp young thinkers. Joe Heschmeyer, a Catholic seminarian in Kansas City, Kansas, will argue the affirmative view. Steven Dillon, a gifted philosopher and a former Catholic seminarian, will argue the negative. The eight parts will run as follows:

Monday (11/4) - Joe's opening statement (affirmative)
Tuesday (11/5) - Steven's opening statement (negative)
Wednesday (11/6) - Joe's rebuttal (affirmative)
Thursday (11/7) - Steven's rebuttal (negative)
Friday (11/8) - Questions exchanged (three questions each)
Saturday (11/9) - Answers (Joe and Steven answer each other's questions)
Sunday (11/10) - Joe's closing statement (affirmative)
Monday (11/11) - Steven's closing statement (negative)

Both Joe and Steven have agreed to be present in the comment boxes, so if you have a specific question for them, ask away!
 


 

Today, each of our two participants answer the three questions submitted yesterday by his counterpart.

Joe's Answers to Steven's Questions

 

Question #1: I was a little surprised at how ambiguous you found the proposition "Agony is intrinsically bad". It seems to me that we all know what agony is and can recognize that experiences such as agony are bad. Furthermore, you linked to a Wikipedia page about intrinsic value in your opening statement, providing several standardized ways to interpret my proposition, but didn't make use of them. Be that as it may, I'm curious about what you think of the proposition on its more usual meaning. So, my first question is:
 
Q#1: Where it just means that agony is a bad thing because of what it involves, do you agree that agony is intrinsically bad?

Answer #1: Unfortunately, the background doesn’t clear up the ambiguity that I pointed out in my original response, so let me give two answers.

If, by “agony is intrinsically bad,” you mean that it’s intrinsically painful or unpleasant, then yes, I agree. That’s tautologically true: very painful things are painful. But that’s not a moral claim (any more than saying that scalding things are hot), and it’s not a particularly helpful claim.

If, by “agony is intrinsically bad,” you mean that it’s intrinsically evil, then no, I disagree. I gave the examples of childbirth and surgery for things that can be agonizingly painful that aren’t morally evil. For the world’s billion Christians, one of the things that we embrace is the Cross: “we preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23), an event preceded by Jesus’ Agony in the Garden. The fact that Our Savior was willing to freely take on so much agony for us is something that endears us to Him.

Furthermore, there are contexts in which describing agony as morally evil wouldn’t seem to make sense. For example, Aron Ralston was trapped under a boulder for over five days, eventually having to cut off his own arm to get free. That sounds positively agonizing, but it seems strange to me to claim that either Ralston or the boulder was acting evilly.

If you mean something other than either painful/unpleasant or evil, then I’ll need more clarification.
 

Question #2: On your view, the moral fact that there is goodness is not grounded in or by anything because God is goodness and God is not grounded in or by anything.
 
Yet, in reaction to the position that there are moral facts so fundamental they're in no need of being grounded, you indicate that this is a cop out. To say there are such facts is to say they're there "just because."
 
This is a self-defeating argument unless you're not taking issue with the position that objective morality is ultimately ungrounded, but with the non-theist's adoption of it.
 
One may wonder why it’s a cop out for the non-theist to believe in ultimately ungrounded objective morality but not for the theist, and as best as I can tell, your answer is that while theists have good reasons to believe in such morality via arguments that God exists and is goodness, non-theists do not. So, my second question is as follows:
 
Q#2: Would you present an argument in premise/conclusion format for the conclusion that God is goodness?
 
I understand properly defending the premises would lead to exceeding the word count, but if we could just see the argument itself it’d give us a better idea of where you’re coming from.

Answer #2: First, a minor protest: I don’t think that this is necessary to resolve the debate. My point here isn’t that God, understood in the Thomistic sense, exists. It’s that if God, subsistent Goodness, exists, that provides a perfectly logical account for the existence of objective morality.

To prove the resolution, I must show two things: (1) a system of objective morality is possible with God; and (2) a system of objective morality is impossible without God. You just have to refute either of these, by showing either (1) objective morality is impossible, even if theism is correct; or (2) objective morality is possible without God.

Of course, if I’m right, this does mean that if objective morality exists, then God exists. But that argument requires a premise (objective goodness exists) that I didn’t prove. That said, you end up giving me that premise, and making arguments for it.

Second, your background mischaracterizes my position. I’m not claiming that goodness is ungrounded. What I’m claiming is the furthest thing from that: I’m claiming that goodness is grounded in pure Being. It is unimaginable for goodness to be more grounded.

Your characterization sounded like God was a branch on a Porphyrian tree below goodness. My argument is that God is the trunk of that tree, so to speak. Anselm rightly defined God as “that which nothing greater can be conceived.” If you’re imagining a god capable of doing evil things, you’re not imaging God, but something infinitely less than Him.

---

Having said that, let me modify Aquinas’ Fourth Way slightly into two distinct-but-related arguments:

Part A
Step 1: Diversity in perfections is found in things. Some things are more good, true, and beautiful than other things. The perfections we’re talking about here are what are called non-essential and non-material perfections.

Step 2: The intelligibility of diverse perfections depends on their approaching a maximum of that kind. Ex: “good” and “better” are only coherent terms in relation to some (perhaps implicit) “best.” I can say 80˚F is a hotter temperature than 30˚F with no further referent. But if I say 80˚F is a better temperature than 30˚F, you’d rightly ask, “better for what?”

Step 3: No infinite regress. The maximum rules out the possibility of an infinite regress in more and more perfect beings.

Step 4: Preliminary conclusion. God as maximum being and therefore, being itself, as well as the exemplary and efficient cause of all other beings.

Part B
Step 1: Whatever is maximally such in any genus is the cause of all which are of that genus.
Whatever belongs to one thing less than to others belongs to it not by virtue of its own nature along but through some other cause. This cannot go on to infinity. Thus, the cause of a transcendental perfection in any genus must be that which is that perfection unlimitedly, wholly, and essentially—which is called here the maximum. If you take infinite regress off the table, you need to find something unlimited.

Step 2: The maximum being is the maximum in the genus of transcendental perfections. In other words, you can’t have a Perfect Good as the cause of all good things, and a separate Perfect Beauty as a cause of all beautiful things, and so on. That would give you multiple First Causes of the same set of beings (since the same being are good, true, beautiful, etc., in different respects).

Step 3: Therefore, there is something which is the cause of the being, goodness, and whatever perfections of every being. And this, we call “God.”
 

Question #3: Finally, you infer that Moral Intuitionism is not an objective moral code because intuitions differ. But, intuition would just be a means of coming to know objective moral codes. Other proposed means include ‘conscience’, inference to the best explanation, and revelation. My third question is as follows:
 
Q#3: Does your proposed means of coming to know objective moral codes not differ among anyone? (E.g. If it’s conscience or reason, do no one’s consciences or reasoning differ?)

Answer #3: If moral intuition is understood as a means to an end, I’m completely onboard with your argument. Yes, we have moral intuitions. And yes, this points to object moral truth outside of ourselves. And it’s no serious problem that, as a tool we use to grasp reality, it may perform better in some than others. After all, this is the case with eyesight, memory, intellect, etc. But if you and I disagree about something we see off in the distance, at least one of us is wrong, because there is an objective thing that we individually perceive.

What I reject is moral intuition as an end—that something is morally good or evil simply because I intuit that it’s morally good or evil. If our subjective moral intuition isn’t open to any correction, and if it doesn’t correspond to some objective system of moral truths (capable of resolving moral dilemmas or value-disputes), then it isn’t an objective morality at all.

We actually agree on quite a bit. We both agree that moral intuition exists, and that it’s of the nature that it calls out for objective moral truths (that is, we don’t feel “this is wrong for me,” but “this is wrong, period”). My argument is that this objective moral system can only exist if there’s a God, for all of the reasons that I cited in my rebuttal. I don’t see anything in either of your posts so far that would suggest otherwise.
 

Steven's Answers to Joe's Questions

 

Question #1: Why ought we to be opposed to the suffering of others?

Answer #1: In so far as suffering is intrinsically bad and we should be opposed to what is bad, we should be opposed to the suffering of others. That is, we should prefer that others not suffer because their suffering is a bad thing.

However, the badness of suffering only constitutes a prima facie reason for being opposed to the suffering of others because there could be greater goods at stake.

For example, if a woman has to endure the excruciating pain of child-birth so that the child may be born, we should permit the suffering, otherwise a child dies. By no means am I suggesting that we look upon the suffering of others with pleasure or apathy. Permitting the lesser of two evils does not require you to view either evil in a favorable light.
 

Question #2: In your rebuttal, you suggest that I leave the door open for “ungrounded” objective morality. What do you mean by this? If a moral system has no foundation, how is it objective?

Answer #2: You and I have stipulated that morality is objective on the condition that some things are good, bad, right or wrong regardless of what people think. We did not further stipulate that morality is objective on the condition that every moral value or duty is grounded in or by something. So, it is permissible within the parameters we’ve drawn for morality to be objective and yet not grounded in or by anything.

To say that objective morality is not grounded in or by anything is not to say that objective morality is arbitrary. Think of a tall skyscraper. What grounds it? Well, you might say its foundation. And what grounds its foundation? You could say the land in which it is built in or upon. And what grounds the land? You could continue asking of each proposed grounding structure what grounds it. Assuming this cannot continue on indefinitely, you’ll reach a point where there simply is no deeper grounding structure: you’ve struck rock bottom. I’m saying that moral facts are grounded by other moral facts, and so on until we reach moral facts so foundational there’s just no further to go. This is radically different from saying that there is no rock bottom, and moral facts just sort of...free-float.
 

Question #3: You defined normative theories of ethics as “theories which discuss what is good, bad, right and wrong.” Given that, what is your basis for your assertion that “you don't need to hold a normative theory in order to endorse moral objectivism”?

Answer #3: A discussion on whether morality is objective is primarily concerned with whether an existent morality satisfies an objectivity condition. It is not primarily concerned with whether morality exists.

And herein lays the distinction between normative ethics and metaethics. Normative ethics is primarily concerned with what is good, bad, right and wrong. But, metaethics takes it for granted that morality exists. It is primarily concerned with whether what is good, bad, right or wrong satisfy various conditions such as that for objectivity.

Moral objectivism is a metaethical thesis. While it presupposes that some things are moral or immoral, it doesn’t really commit you to any particular normative theory, it just rules out those that are incompatible with the objectivity condition.

Our debate has been about whether objective morality satisfies a dependence condition. Thus, the resolution takes it for granted that there is objective morality. To avoid conceding this, I think we’d have to state the resolution as ‘If morality were objective, then it would depend upon God’s existence’.

 
 
(Image credit: Venture Burn)

Brandon Vogt

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Brandon Vogt is a bestselling author, blogger, and speaker. He's also the founder of StrangeNotions.com. Brandon has been featured by several media outlets including NPR, CBS, FoxNews, SiriusXM, and EWTN. He converted to Catholicism in 2008, and since then has released several books, including The Church and New Media (Our Sunday Visitor, 2011), Saints and Social Justice (Our Sunday Visitor, 2014), and RETURN (Numinous Books, 2015). He works as the Content Director for Bishop Robert Barron's Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. Brandon lives with his wife, Kathleen, and their five children in Central Florida. Follow him at BrandonVogt.com or connect through Twitter at @BrandonVogt.

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  • Adeodatus

    This debate has been riveting. I'm starting to understand how university students in the Medieval Paris could take such pleasure in debates of this kind. I appreciate both debaters for showing such respect to one another, and responding to one another so intelligently--if only our politicians could do the same.

    This part of the debate cleared up some of Steven's points, which flew over my head. I wish he wouldn't convolute his arguments with so much philosophy-speak. To me, this comes off like a defensive gesture, a form of stalling. While Joe will also bog down his points with Thomistic theology, I appreciate that he tries to clarify some of these arguments. Right now, Joe's arguments hold up better to the question of objective morality; Steven's arguments seem a few nuances away from relativism and drift too often into semantics.

    Nevertheless, I look forward to how this debate develops. Both these men continue to deftly handle such massively complex ideas. This is a real treat for the mind.

    • So glad you're enjoying it, Adeodatus! Thanks for the comment.

    • Steven Dillon

      Thanks for the comment Adeodatus, I can only imagine listening to those debates, especially with Aquinas in the spot light! I apologize for any unnecessary jargon. You should know that I detest the overly-formalized language that some quarters of philosophy seem hellbent on making use of :P May as well be legalese! I do my best to distance myself from that, but I'm not knowledgable enough to replace some of these terms yet. Just let me know if I can unravel any knots I've tied.

  • Loreen Lee

    These questions have thrown my mind into a quagmire of philosophic speculation with temptations to go beyond my ken into theological speculation. But I appreciate Adeodatus' comment with respect to philosophizing 'too much' especially when I must admit to my academic non-qualifications. But what is interesting is the contrasts presented in approaches: the difference between normative and meta-ethics, various possible interpretations of what is meant by objective, a possible overlap between the thoughts regarding morality and the ontological aspect. I just have so many questions and speculative answers at the moment, I wouldn't know where to begin, and my mind is racing such that it doesn't seem to want to 'stop'.

    I can even see where it would be possible to regard 'everything' as ethical, that is to ascribe a value to everything that 'is'. Indeed does not genesis say that God created the world/cosmos whatever and found it good.
    Yes I am indeed rethinking the ascriptions to God as being omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent. But I still am having difficulty with Kant, particularly his application of the term transcendental idealism to rational thought. I have to ask can ideas/ideals be real? Is our normative thinking actually limited to thinking of the good in terms of 'as if', which characterizes the perspective of his categorical imperative.

    God is also said to be omnipresent. Yes, I agree with Joe we need him around, especially with this new found perspective that I have 'idling' in my brain at the moment. Looking forward to reading the comments..

  • Geena Safire

    Heschmeyer seems almost incapable of answering a direct question without resorting to abstruse arguments and esoteric, convoluted redefinitions of everyday words. Or his alternative is to commit a straw man fallacy and thus avoid the question. I'm not sure which I dislike more, but at least the latter takes less time to parse. Either way, he seems determined not to play fair and, if I were the debate moderator, I would, at this point, hand it to Dillon by default.

    His response to Dillon's question #1 was an example of the latter:

    Dillon: It seems to me that we all know what agony is and can recognize that experiences such as agony are bad. Be that as it may, I'm curious about what you think of the proposition on its more usual meaning. ... So, my first
    question is: Q#1: Where it just means that agony is a bad thing because of what it involves, do you agree that agony is intrinsically bad?

    Heschmeyer: If, by “agony is intrinsically bad,” you mean that it’s intrinsically painful or unpleasant, then yes, I agree. That’s tautologically true: very painful things are painful. ... If, by “agony is intrinsically bad,” you mean that it’s intrinsically evil, then no, I disagree.

    This is almost an exact repeat of what he said in his rebuttal.

    However, it is clear that Heschmeyer is being deliberately obtuse in this case, because he himself defined 'good' in a comment: "I've seen a few requests for a definition of 'good.' We can define goodness as 'what all desire' or 'what is desirable.' Good is the object of the will: the sake of which a thing is sought."

    It might not be too much to ask, then, for him to recall from kindergarten that 'good' and 'bad' are antonyms and actually answer the question.

    But I guess we should also fault Dillon a bit for not recognizing that Heschmeyer wouldn't answer any differently without Dillon reining in his obstreperous counterpart with definitions. "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."

    Perhaps, if Heschmeyer is still following the online reactions to this debate, he might, here in the comments, deign to actually answer Dillon's question, if only in a single word such as "yes" or "no". To assist him, I provide a few definitions.

    bad: "not such as to be hoped for or desired; unpleasant or unwelcome"

    Venkman: I'm fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing. What do you mean, "bad"?
    Spengler: Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.
    Stantz: Total protonic reversal.
    Venkman: Right. That's bad. Okay. All right.

  • Geena Safire

    Heschmeyer failed to directly answer Dillon's question #1:

    Dillon: It seems to me that we all know what agony is and can recognize that experiences such as agony are bad. Be that as it may, I'm curious about what you think of the proposition on its more usual meaning. ...
    So, my first question is: Q#1: Where it just means that agony is a bad thing because of what it involves, do you agree that agony is intrinsically bad?

    Heschmeyer: If, by “agony is intrinsically bad,” you mean that it’s intrinsically painful or unpleasant, then yes, I agree. That’s tautologically true: very painful things are painful. ... If, by “agony is intrinsically bad,” you mean that it’s intrinsically evil, then no, I disagree.

    This is almost an exact repeat of what Heschmeyer said in his rebuttal.

    But Heschmeyer himself defined 'good' in a comment: "I've seen a few requests for a definition of 'good.' We can define goodness as 'what all desire' or 'what is desirable.' Good is the object of the will: the sake of which a thing is sought."

    As we all know 'good' and 'bad' are antonyms.

    Perhaps, if Heschmeyer is still following the online reactions to this debate, he might, here in the comments, answer the question.

    To assist him, I provide a few definitions:

    bad: "not such as to be hoped for or desired; unpleasant or unwelcome"

    Venkman: I'm fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing. What do you mean, "bad"?
    Spengler: Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and
    every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.
    Stantz: Total protonic reversal.
    Venkman: Right. That's bad. Okay. All right.

    • Raphael

      There are several definitions for bad. Steve does not specify which one in his statement about agony.

      • Geena Safire

        Below I've included the description of 'agony' and 'bad' that Dillon gave in his opening statement. It seems that this description would inform any reasonable person that Dillon's meaning of 'bad' is the first (most commonly used) definition in the dictionary, which I provided above.

        Since Heschmeyer was deliberately obtuse fhe first time around, I agree with you that Dillon should have provided a definition of 'bad.' But that's only because Heschmeyer should be expected to repeat his evasion again, not because Dillon's meaning was unclear. "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."

        We all know what [agony] is: it’s an intense and extreme amount of pain. It could be anything from searing burns and shattered bones to a parent losing its child on a hospital bed in the ICU. We’re not talking about paper cuts here, this is the kind of pain that can ruin someone’s life.

        What about badness? Here are some paradigmatic examples of bad things: it is bad when a young and vulnerable child is bullied until she commits suicide. It’s bad when parents have to live their lives in worry and stress because of inopportunity and an unfair society. Racism, animal cruelty, human trafficking, all of these things are bad.

        With these concepts in mind, let’s return to the experience of agony. Is this harrowing level of pain in and of itself a bad thing? I hope you find the question a little ridiculous. Is a pain so consuming that it leads some to think their life isn’t worth living any more a bad thing? Of course! It’s horrible. I’m not asking whether agony is good for certain things. I’m asking about the experience itself.I think the answer has to be yes.

        Asking why agony is intrinsically bad is like asking why we ought to do what we ought to do: the answer is that if it’s true that
        we ought to do something, then that’s why! Likewise, if something really is agonizing, then that’s why it’s bad! How could anything further explain the badness of agony? It’s not like you have these two things: agony and badness, and something has to add badness to agony.

        • Raphael

          Steven gives a few examples of bad things but he does not actually define “bad.” He’s also making an appeal to emotion.

          While bad does mean “not such as to be hoped for or desired; unpleasant or unwelcome,” another definition is “morally depraved; wicked.” A reasonable person would realize that this definition is more relevant to this discussion on morality. It is #6 on Google’s list of 8 definitions for bad. (To compare, Merriam-Webster has 10, Dictionary.com has 36.) In addition, your definition of bad is not the first on Google’s list. The first one is “of poor quality; inferior or defective.”

          Steven’s question can then be asked two ways: “Is extreme pain, in and of itself, unpleasant?” and “Is extreme pain, in and of itself, morally depraved?” Joe has answered both questions because Steven's question is not specific enough (Joe uses the word “evil” where I have used “morally depraved”).

          To use an example from Steven, is a shattered bone unpleasant? Yes. Is it evil? No.

          • Geena Safire

            I didn't say Dillon "defined" bad. I said he gave descriptions of them. I agree that he should have provided a definition.

            Dillon was asking Heschmeyer if he agreed that agony is bad. This is a debate regarding ethics, and it is absolutely clear to anyone in discussing ethics that 'evil' is not a synonym for 'bad.' They are two completely separate concepts in moral philosophy. Different. Not the same. Ever.

            The only valid answer to this question, which Heschmeyer did not answer, is either: "yes, it is bad" or "no, it is not bad."

            Heschmeyer instead answered two different questions. He answered that agony is painful (pain = pain), which is, as he said, tautological, and agony is not morally evil.

            He specifically did NOT write that agony is unpleasant, which is a synonym for bad. Heschmeyer was specifically AVOIDING saying whether agony was good or bad. He AVOIDED answering the question.

            He’s also making an appeal to emotion.

            No, he is not. He is asking a very clear and basic question. (Significant. But basic.)

          • Raphael

            This debate is about morality, and the definition of bad regarding moral deprivation is more appropriate than the ones you gave regarding unpleasantness and exploding molecules:

            ”bad: "not such as to be hoped for or desired; unpleasant or unwelcome"

            Venkman: I'm fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing. What do you mean, "bad"?
            Spengler: Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.

            Speaking of which, Joe does write that agony is unpleasant:

            If, by “agony is intrinsically bad,” you mean that it’s intrinsically painful or unpleasant, then yes, I agree.

            As pointed out, there are many definitions of bad. This makes answering Steven’s question awkward because it is a loaded question, relying on the fallacy of ambiguity and the conflating of different meanings.

            To use an example from Joe, is childbirth intrinsically bad?

          • Geena Safire

            This debate is about morality, and the definition of bad regarding moral deprivation is more appropriate than the ones you gave

            Dillon himself states otherwise. As Dillon says, while he contends that agony is bad, it cannot be said to be intrinsically wrong.

            In his opening statement, Dillon writes:

            "I’m not asking whether agony is good for certain things. I’m asking about the experience itself. I think the answer has to be yes."

            In one of his comments to his own article, Dillon wrote:

            "it's a fundamental truth that good is to be pursued and badness to be avoided. To say otherwise (or even to question this) is, it seems to me, to remove the normativity that *characterizes* goodness and badness. But, without that normativity, I'm not sure what 'goodness' and 'badness' are."

            In another comment there, Dillon wrote:

            "Hm, if you're suggesting that a statement is 'moral' only if it concerns actions performed by moral agents, then I think we're just equivocating on the word 'moral'. Moreover, I wholeheartedly agree that sensations like agony cannot be right or wrong, but I think that's because only intentional actions can be right or wrong."

          • Geena Safire

            This debate is about morality, and the definition of bad regarding moral deprivation is more appropriate than the ones you gave

            First, in moral philosophy, there is a vast difference between whether something is intrinsically good or bad and whether an action is moral or immoral. That's a central issue in moral philosophy. Even though something may be intrinsically bad, like agony, ceterus paribus, experiencing it or allowing it to be experienced may be morally right, such as pain suffered while giving birth (if no pain medication is available) or allowing a child to receive chemotherapy to treat a deadly cancer.

            Second, Dillon himself states otherwise. As Dillon says, while he contends that agony is bad, it cannot be said to be intrinsically wrong. Sometimes it is necessary to accept or experience something bad in the course of acting morally (right).

            In his opening statement, Dillon writes:

            "I’m not asking whether agony is good for certain things. I’m asking about the experience itself. I think the answer has to be yes."

            In one of his comments to his own article, Dillon wrote:

            "it's a fundamental truth that good is to be pursued and badness to be avoided. To say otherwise (or even to question this) is, it seems to me, to remove the normativity that *characterizes* goodness and badness.
            But, without that normativity, I'm not sure what 'goodness' and 'badness' are."

            In another comment there, Dillon wrote:

            "[I]f you're suggesting that a statement is 'moral' only if it concerns actions performed by moral agents, then I think we're just equivocating on the word 'moral'. Moreover, I wholeheartedly agree that sensations like agony cannot be right or wrong, but I think that's because only intentional actions can be right or wrong."

            Third, in case you are interested, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has this to say about Intrinsic and Extrinsic Values:

            Many philosophers have followed Plato's lead in declaring pleasure intrinsically good and pain intrinsically bad. ... One of the most comprehensive lists of intrinsic goods that anyone has suggested is that given by William Frankena [1908–1994]. It is this: life, consciousness, and activity; health and strength; pleasures and satisfactions of all or certain kinds; happiness, beatitude, contentment, etc.; truth; knowledge and true opinions of various kinds, understanding, wisdom; beauty, harmony, proportion in objects contemplated; aesthetic experience; morally good dispositions or virtues; mutual affection, love, friendship, cooperation; just distribution of goods and evils; harmony and proportion in one's own life; power and experiences of achievement; self-expression; freedom; peace, security; adventure and novelty; and good reputation, honor,
            esteem, etc.

          • English Catholic

            "First, in moral philosophy, there is a vast difference between whether something is intrinsically good or bad and whether an action is moral or immoral.

            Just to confirm I understand (and apologies if I don't -- I'm a little late to this discussion): Do you mean the morality of any given action is vastly different from that action's goodness? Or is it vastly different from the goodness (or badness) of things that result from that action?

            It seems to me your example illustrates the second proposition (which I happily agree with), rather than the first:

            Even though something may be intrinsically bad, like agony, ceterus paribus, experiencing it or allowing it to be experienced may be morally right, such as pain suffered while giving birth (if no pain medication is available) or allowing a child to receive chemotherapy to treat a deadly cancer.

            I suggest the action of prescribing chemo (with the intention of fighting cancer) is good, both morally and 'intrinsically' (the two being one and the same in the case of an action deliberately chosen). The pain that results from it is bad, and even evil in the sense of being 'an evil'.

            I therefore suggest the first proposition -- that an action's moral goodness/evil is a different feature from its intrinsic goodness/badness -- is not illustrated by this statement.

          • Geena Safire

            Do you mean the morality of any given action is a different thing from that action's goodness?

            No, that's not what I meant. The agony is the thing that is bad.

            The context of the action -- including the ability of the actors to be moral agents -- can render an action morally right or wrong.

            The chemo treatment can help cure cancer, but it makes one horribly ill for several extended periods of time. It is the experience of being "horribly ill," of being in agony, from chemo that is bad.

            But the child with cancer and the parents and the medical staff that administers the chemo and the doctor who prescribes the chemo are all performing morally right actions.

            (Except if the doctor is prescribing the chemo in order to defraud the insurance company because it has no chance of being successful for this child's cancer. Then that doctor's prescribing chemo would be morally wrong, both for the greed as a motive and for causing the child unnecessary agony.)

          • English Catholic

            Thanks for your reply -- makes perfect sense.

  • kuroisekai

    If I understand Steven right, then moral facts are grounded on other moral facts as in they hold each other together... So it's not a scyscraper but more like a spiderweb. Is that right?

    If so, I find it a bit disconcerting. Just my opinion though - I don't have the eloquence to defend this, but again, it's quite unsettling to me that morality is "freely flowing". Or am I understanding this incorrectly?