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Tough Questions about Objective Morality


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 submit three questions to his counterpart regarding his opening statement and rebuttal. If you're an atheist commenter, consider sharing your answers to Joe's questions in the comment box, and if you're a Catholic commenter consider answering Steven's.

Joe's Questions for Steven

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

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?

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”?

Steven's Questions for Joe

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?

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 may lead to exceeding the word count we agreed upon, but if we could just see the argument itself it’d give us a better idea of where you’re coming from.

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?)

(Image credit: All Things D)

Brandon Vogt

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Brandon Vogt is a bestselling author and 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 ten books, including The Church and New Media (Our Sunday Visitor, 2011), Saints and Social Justice (Our Sunday Visitor, 2014), and Why I Am Catholic (And You Should Be Too) (Ave Maria Press, 2017). He works as the Senior Publishing Director for Bishop Robert Barron's Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. Brandon lives with his wife, Kathleen, and their seven children in Central Florida. Follow him at BrandonVogt.com.

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