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Are All Values Subjective?

  1. Jun 25, 2007 #1
    It is clearly possible to say that someone like Hitler was wrong in moral terms
    without reference to religious dogma or political ideology.

    Do you think that all values are subjective?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 25, 2007 #2


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    Yes, of course. It's just not possible without some moral basis- which is not necessarily connected to either religion or politics. (Which doesn't say it's not subjective- that's a whole different matter.)
  4. Jun 25, 2007 #3


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    I agree. Morals stem from ethics which stem from actual practical methods of sustaining the individuals that make up a society. Hitler may have lasted longer as the ruler of an ant colony (though I can't say how much longer) but when it comes to humans there are so many variables to consider when you're serving as a head of state.

    Values are conditions that are "valued" by humans. Each person will value a condition that the next doesn't. That is some evidence that leans in the direction of the subjectivity of values.
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2007
  5. Jun 26, 2007 #4


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    If you look at my thread on altruism (https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=174792) you will see that there is a theory in the works that puts the value of altruism at the genetic level.

    In other words, the value of altruism could be out of the control of subjectivity.

    The theory contends that genetic material has incorporated the condition/arrangement of co-operation as a trait and utilized it in the "program" of survival of the species. When genes arrange in such a way as to continue a trait this can signal that a survival "value" has been assigned to the genetic code. Not by the subjective decision of a cognitive selection but by the trial and error of natural selection.
  6. Jun 26, 2007 #5
    I would also agree that moral awareness has been selected over time and that various ethical values have stemmed from it.

    Assume an initial genetic variation among behavioral traits.


    In this scenario, cooperation would be selected over time and deceiving behavior would not be.
  7. Jun 26, 2007 #6


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    Not necessarily. Deception has been selected in cases where camoflage is evident as well as in the case where spots appear to other animals as "big eyes" :bugeye:.

  8. Jul 19, 2007 #7
    Morals are just rules abstracted or generalized from actions or incidents that effect us in positive and negative ways. How we assess the impact of these things determines our morality. This is how religions and political ideologies are created. Is what Hitler did wrong, sure most would agree, but did it teach the world a huge lesson, absolutely. How does one balance such things? You can't, you simply make a choice, based on what is important to your situation.

    Even the Hitler thing is subjective. We can look back on history and assess his actions, but that is from a 'certain point of view'.

    Human beings are limited to a subjective reality. This is different from saying no objective standard, or objective reality exists. The latter, if it exists, is simply not 'knowable' from our subjective 'point of view'.

    Is it wrong to kill babies?
    Is it wrong to kill babies for food?

    Sounds horrible unless you are talking about Veal. Then its yummy.

    We consider ourselves sufficiently more intelligent than cows, so we take precedence, but if an alien race, equally more intelligent than ourselves, than we are to cows, came down from space and enjoyed eating human babies, would that be wrong?

    From our perspective, it sure would. But we like our babies to live. We have an interest.
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2007
  9. Jul 19, 2007 #8
    Depends on what you mean by subjective. I would say that morals are instinctive, similar to the things that cause us to violate our morals.

    But also, extra morals are socially programmed, or sometimes instinctive morals are believed to be wrong because of social training.
  10. Jul 19, 2007 #9


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  11. Jul 19, 2007 #10
    We certainly have instincts, but a 'moral' is on a level of abstraction above that. Its a function of intellect. We develop morals based on our instincts and experience, going from specific to general.

    'Thou shalt not kill' is not an instinct, in fact, it sometimes runs counter to our instinct for violent action, and it certainly doesn't apply to food, be you a vegetarian or not.

    We have an instinct to procreate, but some people would rather spend their lives doing other things. The fact that we have an instinct for something doesn't make it moral(in fact, throughout history instincts have been considered the immoral part of our nature... eg sex). Morals are based on value judgments. We decide what is important to us, and also what is acceptable, generally, based on arbitrary, circumstantial criteria.

    What is an instinctive moral?
    It sounds like what you are saying is that 'instincts' you find appropriate are the moral ones, which in my view is backwards. Instincts exist because of natural selection, nothing more, we value the instincts that benefit us most, call them moral, and call those that do not serve us, or serve us badly, immoral.
  12. Sep 26, 2007 #11

    Yes but what if we just bold this ....

    Originally Posted by JoeDawg
    But we like our babies to live. We have an interest.

    Or to put it in rather ugly, but clear, categorical statements.

    All babies that are ours are babies we have interest in.

    Some babies that are not ours are babies that we have no interest in.
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2007
  13. Sep 28, 2007 #12
    I think that there are degrees of moral wrong and right.
    Killing an innocent baby is seen as wrong by most people, but in some cases, if let's say the baby is the son of the devil and will kill all of humanity if it is allowed to grow up, then killing that baby might not be seen as morally wrong by some people.

    What I think is happening there is that the brain is basically giving values to several things, like the value of humanity as a whole, the value of their own life, their family and friends and the value of the baby.
    Then the brain processes this and makes a decision right?
    If several people grow up around the same type of people, or with the same environment, then their values will differ, but some will be the same, and this will guide their further morality.

    Furthermore, I think that humans do a lot of things that are not morally justified, like killing other animals for food, but we still do them.
    If you think about it there's no real moral justification for killing anything else, even if it threatens the lives of others or yourself.
    Fundamentally it is your /choice/ and /your/ justification, based on /your/ values.
    Even if a guy attacks you with a knife, you don't have an objective justification to kill that person.
    Some people act as if it's obvious that you do, but I firmly believe it is not.
    The reason you feel it is your right to kill that person, is because you want to live, if say you were suicidal at the time and were lucky enough to have the guiy attack you, you would be happy he did and had you been alive after death you may have thanked him for 'saving' you from your life.

    The situation didn't change, only your perception of it.
    Like all values, they are fundamentally based on the perception, and your brains processing of them.
  14. Sep 28, 2007 #13


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    "we have no interest in"... how many of you are there?
  15. Nov 24, 2007 #14
    It depends on what you mean by subjective. Subject to different human beings? Subject to different societies? Subject to different species? If you choose your definition of subjective to mean subjective within the human race, I would say that we all share some fundamental values (i.e. human life, especially friends and family). We all like different types of music, movies, and books, and also differ with respect to more important values like our hobbies, political values and religious values, but human life is something that nearly all of us value as it is programmed into our biology. We are programmed to value our lives, and the lives of others, and I would consider this a universal value. We can see that it is valued across different cultures. Cultural values are largely reflected by the laws effective in their respective political system, and as nearly every civilization has penalties for taking a human life, we can deduce that they all value human life. Along with human life, every culture values knowledge, morality (in various forms) and social order, as reflected in their educational and political systems. There are other values that are widely shared, like civil liberties, legal equality, property rights, freedom of thought, individuality, etc., but these aren't reflected in all societies and are even discouraged in some. I believe that the majority of our values differ depending on our culture and our personality, and that human life, morality and knowledge are the only true universal human values shared between cultures and individuals.
    However, this raises a question....are these universal values anthropocentric? Well, let's look and see if other animals can even have values. One definition of value is simply "a liking or affection". Using this definition, values can operate at the instinctive level, below the realm of conscious thought, and we can say that other animals have values as well, but not necessarily our same values. I don't think that a pig values a human life too much, nor does a horse. I'm also not so sure that an ant is concerned with knowledge or morality, being too primitive to conceive of such a thing. Are there any true interspecial values? The only one I can think of is existence. Every creature values its own existence, and will try to preserve it unless there is an altruistic motive to die, with the exception of suicide in humans (it's possible that there are motives to this at a genetic level, but it's too complicated to elaborate on).

    Edit: When I speak of universal values, I don't mean values that are shared by every single human being, just values that are shared by the vast majority of human beings.
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2007
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