Morality vs Logic in debate

Posted by on April 24, 2010 in Thoughts | 8 comments

As a follow-up to my post Objectivity vs Subjectivity in debate I thought it might be interesting to extend this idea of explaining what makes a compelling argument worth it weight in words by extending the idea to Morality and Logic.

We all know it’s very difficult at times to remain rational in debates about one’s beliefs, and rationality seems at times to be at odds with emotion. But as I tried to describe in my last post “Objectivity vs Subjectivity in debate part 2” emotions are a by-product of coping mechanisms which have evolved in humans over eons, so thereby are not always rational.

But what of morality?

This is a great sticking point for debate, because morality IS relative to each person/society/culture, and is thereby subjective. That throws a spanner in the works for a debate right away, as objectivity is already compromised. But debates about belief will always come around to this topic. Theists often say “How can you be moral without God?” The answer to this is simple, but can be complicated to the nth degree once you introduce religious doctrine into the answer.

The theist claim that all morality comes from the scriptures can be immediately proven false when you look from an atheist’s perspective. I have never been Christian, so where do my morals come from? Well for starters I had a good balanced upbringing, which allowed me over time to develop a set of morals and values that fit into my life. You got your morals from whatever the influencing factors in your upbringing were.

So does this mean that morality can’t be used as a point for argument, because of its subjective nature?

Religious morality is even more subjective than personal moralities. One man’s morals can be seen as another man’s sin, so where from here for morality?

I’d like to say that morality is what drives to do right in all circumstances. But circumstances are tricky, and when in a time of stress, such as wartime, what is the morally right thing to do? Tricky I know.

For me a lot of my morals come from my logic, combined with a healthy dose of empathy. By being aware of those around us, we can make moral decisions based on what is best for ourselves and all parties involved. Unfortunately, self-preservation dictates that we tend to want what’s best for ourselves first, sometimes at the expense of others. So is selfishness at odds with morality? Some would say no, but given an empathic model to draw from, I’d tend to say yes. That is another topic altogether.

So how does logic relate to morality? Like I said, my morality stems from a combination of my upbringing and cultural factors, and in practice is an empathic response using logic as a guide. This is not so for all people, in fact, when following the doctrine of religion or politics, the factors of empathy and logic can go out the window in favour of a dogmatic response to a situation.

I am not a philosophy major, so I am just speaking from experience. So I’d be interested, what are your thoughts on this?

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It seems biology (not religion) equals morality

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  1. I would like to just say one thing. It is in my opinion that morality stems not only from our upbringing but our environment in general. We as intellectual beings are constantly learning morality. For example, something that is expectable in one culture may not be acceptable in another. As a small child we observe our surrounding, and from our surroundings we draw conclusions about what is acceptable to the particular community. We build (if you will) a moral code, to which we follow in our everyday life. From that code we draw conclusions about spacific situations that we may or may not have encounterd yet. For example if I were to see someone, that I did not know, being attacked by another, I would draw the conclusion that I should step in and protect this unknown person, because I have observed from past events that harming another human being is unexceptable.

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  2. I hope that I was able to answer some questions before they even come into play in this argument. And if all i did was confuse the argument well I apologizes for that.

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  3. As an atheist I want to suggest that morals are not relative. Nor do they have to be subjective. It’s worth watching Sam Harris’s recent videos on this 

    I reckon human morality is objectively based. Based in the facts of our objective existence as an intelligent, social, empathetic and sentient species. This enables us to logically develop a moral or ethical outlook and come to a large amount of agreement on this despite different nationality, race, culture and ideology/religion.

    Religious people do the same – how else could they decide which bits of their scriptures to cherry pick?

    However, special interests and subjective instincts can lead to moral decisions which are objectivley wrong. Slavery, colonialism, discrimination against women and gays, apartheid, etc. Religion provides a way of protecting and advancing such imoral outlooks.

    The supernatural justifications of religion actually leads to moral relativism of the worst sort because it can conflict with the objective interests of our species.

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    • Yes, that’s right, however it might be more in the enactment of morals where relativity and subjectivity is shown. For inatance, someone can say “homosexuality is immoral”. I see nothing immoral about it. Is it me or them who is being subjective? Or is it that they are using “morals” as a word to boject against something they have a bias towards?

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  4. Subjectivity is always an issue – even in the most scientific endeavours. But starting with the objective facts of our existence and nature we can conclude that discrimination against gays is wrong.

    Alternatively we can base our moral outlook on prejudice, perhaps intuitive feelings, perhaps upbringing, and te justify that wrong moral outlook by claiming it is hof given.

    But by basing our outlook on objective facts we can argue against existing moral views and hopefully reach agreement with others who are prepared to be more objective.

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  5. Folks,yes! Supernaturalists use our morality- covenant morality for humanity- when they use reason and facts and empathy rather than their mindless one.
    I find it paradoxical that wide-reflective subjectivism underpins objective morality1 The former means that our reasoned judgments override our wishes and tastes.Bu objective, I mean the intersubjectivity that one finds as with science, and with science, it is provisional and debatable. It is contextual, and one principle can trump others as when we ought to lie when someone threatens others.
    It is universal in that all societies have similar virtues and it is universal as opposed to being egoistic.
    Yes, it is our evolved moral sense- empathy- that we have to refine and extent across the planet as that great skeptic Paul Kurtz ever admonishes.
    Remember that Plato eviscerates divine command morality, and despite Aquinas, one begs the question- the supernaturalist tendency at work- to aver that His nature is good. That is indeed the point at issue.
    Furthermore, we ignostics find that supernaturalists beg the question of His definition as they give no evidence for it! Their it must be’s and it might be’s of guesswork remains incoherent and contradictory for His attributes, and so He can no more exist than that married bachelor or square circle ! Analysis, rather than space travel and omniscience illuminate that1 Thus, t’is not dogmatic to find no God. Indeed, contrary to the supercilious, science illuminates no role for Him as Victor Stenger notes and Lamberth’s argument from intent [ the ateclic or teleonomic argument- no planned outcomes for the Bog Bang and evolution!
    Creation evolution contradicts natural causes then rather than complimenting them!
    Checkout Jerry Coyne’s and Amiel Rossow’s essays @ Talk Reason for powerful evidence against creation evolution.

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  6. It is impossible to place the word “morality” in any logical sense without appealing to the basis by which you conceive your understanding of words and concepts you use. It is these words and concepts that either do or do not have value to you. The Individual appeals to these same source as their authority and basis which they use to conceive and understand the application of these morals to their own behavior. Theists – appeal to cummulative learning garnered from the experience of others from the past that wish to pass along what they learned vicariously to the next generation, some recognize the teachings have been a step wise progression. Humanists – appeal to the feelings and emotions of the current crop of people to decide what they will or will not believe about either the past or the present with little thought of the future.

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  7. I would venture to state that in order to use “morality” in the context of morality versus logic, they would need to “speak the same language”.  Likely, the language of logic is more objective and universal than the language of morality, especially used by the untrained philosopher.  However, when discussing morality one who is proficient at philosophy must either 1) commit to a system of ethics previously defined elsewhere (e.g, Kantianism, Feminism, Utilitarianism , etc…) or define a system of morality for the purposes of the argument.   The problem with either option is different for each.  In the first case, the conclusions reached by the use of one system or the other might not coincide with other systems if applied to the same situation..  In the second case, building a system of morality is no easy task even for the greatest of philosophers.  Anything constructed for the purposes of a single argument would likely be rudimentary and full of problems.  Thus, in this case, and in more ways than one, universalizability is one of the most crucial factors to the development of cogent theories…perhaps even premises as well… the language of logic as it already exists has already been demonstrated to meld well with the science of ethics.

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  1. Science vs Religion? « Atheist Climber - [...] a past article I talked about the nature of morality, and how it is subjective to cultures and people.…

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