After many years of trying to reason with those thinkers who claim that ethics are "subjective," that good and bad are relative, that there are no rights, no equality,
it has become clear that one can't reason to what ought to be, to what is true, to justice, and so forth.
This is because from the get-go, those who reject moral realism and claim "it is impossible to figure out ethical truth," that all ethics are "subjective," "nothing but your personal preference," that the Enlightenment is "subjective in the same way,"
do so as presuppositions, not as a conclusion.
When they state, "there is no basis for objective morality," no basis for the abolition of slavery, that slavery is "only wrong if we say its wrong," that opposition to some actions and many behaviors is only an "opinion"--
they are stating all of those points as presuppositions,
not as a conclusion!
Furthermore, many Enlightenment leaders and abolitionists and human rights leaders have the totally contrary presuppositions, from the get-go:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights..."
Even if all conscious life disappeared,
justice, truth, goodness would still exist in the same way that
mathematics would still exist even if there was no one to compute.
Steven Pinker, though, not taking a strong stance on this whole topic in his book, Better Angels of Our Nature, does show how the Enlightenment Declaration of Natural Rights has transformed our world in the last several hundred years.
"I think that the humanitarian movements that have gathered momentum since the Enlightenment will continue to make progress. The burning of heretics, gruesome executions, blood sports, slavery, debtors’ prisons, foot-binding, eunuchism, and wars between developed states won’t make a comeback any time soon."
"Most likely capital punishment, violence against women, human trafficking, the beating and bullying of children, and the persecution of homosexuals will continue to decline, albeit bumpily and unevenly, over a span of decades."
"...complex, instinctive and worldwide moral intuitions — led Hauser and John Mikhail (a legal scholar) to revive an analogy from the philosopher John Rawls between the moral sense and language."
"According to Noam Chomsky, we are born with a “universal grammar” that forces us to analyze speech in terms of its grammatical structure, with no conscious awareness of the rules in play."
"By analogy, we are born with a universal moral grammar that forces us to analyze human action in terms of its moral structure, with just as little awareness."
"The idea that the moral sense is an innate part of human nature is not far-fetched. A list of human universals collected by the anthropologist Donald E. Brown includes many moral concepts and emotions, including a distinction between
right and wrong; empathy; fairness; admiration of generosity; rights and obligations; proscription of murder, rape and other forms of violence; redress of wrongs; sanctions for wrongs against the community; shame; and taboos."
"The stirrings of morality emerge early in childhood. Toddlers spontaneously offer toys and help to others and try to comfort people they see in distress."
"And according to the psychologists Elliot Turiel and Judith Smetana, preschoolers have an inkling of the difference between societal conventions and moral principles. Four-year-olds say that it is not O.K. to wear pajamas to school (a convention) and also not O.K. to hit a little girl for no reason (a moral principle)."
"But when asked whether these actions would be O.K. if the teacher allowed them, most of the children said that wearing pajamas would now be fine but that hitting a little girl would still not be."
"The only other option is that moral truths exist in some abstract Platonic realm, there for us to discover, perhaps in the same way that mathematical truths (according to most mathematicians) are there for us to discover."
"On this analogy, we are born with a rudimentary concept of number, but as soon as we build on it with formal mathematical reasoning, the nature of mathematical reality forces us to discover some truths and not others."
"(No one who understands the concept of two, the concept of four and the concept of addition can come to any conclusion but that 2 + 2 = 4.)"
"Perhaps we are born with a rudimentary moral sense, and as soon as we build on it with moral reasoning, the nature of moral reality forces us to some conclusions but not others."
"Moral realism, as this idea is called, is too rich for many philosophers’ blood. Yet a diluted version of the idea...is not crazy."
"Two features of reality point any rational, self-preserving social agent in a moral direction. And they could provide a benchmark for determining when the judgments of our moral sense are aligned with morality itself."
"The Moral Instinct" by Steven Pinker
"Though I have always had a vague sense that a scientific understanding of human nature was compatible with a robust secular morality, it was only through the intellectual influence of my wife, the philosopher and novelist Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, that I understood the logic connecting them."
"She explained to me how morality can be grounded in rationality, and how secular humanism is just a modern term for the world view that grew out of the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment..."
"...it’s this set of ideas, which I call Enlightenment humanism (pp. 180–183), which has driven it, and it offers the closest thing we have to a unified theory of the decline of violence (pp. 694–696).
But, relavitists immediately reject Pinker's evidence in Better Angels, pointing out that some minority figures of the Enlightenment, such as Jeremy Benthan, rejected the "Declaration of Human Rights."
Benthan called such rights "nonsense on stilts."
In a short essay, Benthan attacked the philosophy of the "Declaration of Independence."
His view was utilitarianism: "It is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong."
Tragically, this view has been used to justify the bombing of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, the use of torture, capital punishment, first-strike war, slavery, and many other forms of injustice.
"We must rid ourselves once and for all of the Quaker...babble about the sanctity of human life."
And I suppose Benthan's utilitarianism could be used for almost any action, if the greatest number of humans would be happier and only a lesser number of losers.
In contrast, the presupposition of innate rights,
holds the view that even if the entire human population
of the globe would be happier by the death of one child
or the torture of one human, such immoral actions wouldn't be justified,
but on the contrary would be inherently unjust, indeed, evil.
Secondly, Benthan wrote in The Principles of Morals and Legislation:
"Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do."
"On the one hand the standard of right and wrong, on the other the chain of causes and effects, are fastened to their throne. They govern us in all we do..."
But "Nature" hasn't placed humankind..." That is personification.
According to nearly all biologists, evolution has no purpose, no direction, no meaning. It is an unthinking process that can't "place mankind under the governeance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure."
Again, we see that what rules is one's presuppositions.
And I point out the danger when they say, "If a group of people come together and find that they all agree to a common set of moral beliefs, that's a good foundation for building a society" and "The problem is that there's no evidence for objective morality.”
On the contrary, the whole basis of human rights is that equality, justice, etc. aren't based in what any society decides, but on what is true for everyone, universally.
Rights and ethics are, as many Enlightenment leaders stated, "unalienable."
For instance, over 80% of Egyptian parents have agreed that female mutilation of little girls is good and right, but that doesn't make it so.
For hundreds of years Christian and Islamic societies legalized slavery. Mauritania didn't outlaw slavery until 1981. But all of them were founding their actions on views contrary to human rights. Heck, we just sent a letter to Mauritania because it has arrested anti-slavery protesters (allegedly, slavery still is going on there).
That's not a good foundation for any society!
If every human in every society declared, that slavery, rape, mutilation of little girls, inequality, mass slaughter, etc. were right, that wouldn't make it so.
I do admit, however, that equality, justice, rights, and so forth are my presuppositions.
We humans can't get "oughts" from what "is."
Ought by definition is transcendent.
And that is a presupposition.
The Beginning and the End.
In the Light,