Hume’s law says, in short, that one cannot derive an “ought” (a prescriptive claim) from an “is” (a descriptive claim). In other words, there is no such thing as objective morality because volitional behavior (the engagement of will being how we classify behavior as moral, immoral, or amoral) is always predicated upon purely subjective “if” premises. See the following:
The moral formula presumed by Hume’s Law is: “Because A is this or that (descriptive), you ought do behavior B (prescriptive)”. Now, implicit in this formula is an “if” upon which the subjectivity of volitional action is predicated—“You ought do B if you desire outcome C”. For example, “Because God is the wisest and most powerful being in the universe, you ought obey his commands”, with the implied “if” being—“If you wish to honor Him” or “If you wish not to be punished by Him”, etcetera. The “ought”, you see, is purely subjective because it is dependent upon a subjective valuing of the objective description. The fact that God is the wisest and most powerful being in the Universe cannot objectively demand that one choose to value that fact to this or that degree and then act upon it in this or that way. Only if they happen to value it ought they act this or that way. Yet whether or not they value the fact, to whatever degree, and whether or not they act according to that value, doesn’t change objective reality…it doesn’t change the objective description. “God is the wisest and most powerful being in the universe” is the description…the fact…the objective reality…the “is”. Whether that ought compel one to choose this or that action is utterly dependent upon the degree to which one decides that fact matters to them. What one ought do with a given truth claim always depends on the degree to which a they value it. If they value it, then they ought do this or that. That’s why morality, what one ought (or ought not) do, is only ever subjective. Morality (prescriptive) is purely an “if”, where reality (descriptive) is an “is”.
Here is my response to the assertion that objective morality is impossible, due to the ethical is-ought dichotomy:
That there is no such thing as objective morality—that there cannot exist objectively good and bad volitional actions—is an assertion which contains many rational errors, and all of them rooted in the following presumptive premise, implicit to Hume’s Law: that observation is at root passive, meaning that truth, and therefore by extension, knowledge, is in essence purely a description of reality which is entirely dictated to the observer from outside himself.
This is the premise, I submit, which has ushered in the demise of every argument heretofore attempting to debunk Hume’s Law, because virtually everyone either explicitly or implicitly accepts it on its face. Consciousness is passive; reality dictates its description wholesale to the observer who simply regurgitates it in some manner. In other words, there are no objective acts of will because will is a function of consciousness, and consciousness is merely an illusion of reality, or at best an epiphenomenal mirror which reflects it, but is not real, itself. Human behavior is merely the regurgitation of objective reality back onto itself. Human action is thus determined; consciousness, if it exists in any sense at all, is merely a bystander, an epiphenomenon, and thus fundamentally irrelevant to objective reality. Even Christian doctrine, the place where some of the most ardent defense of objective morality stems, ultimately concedes that truth, and thus knowledge, and thus the volitional application of knowledge, is strictly the purview of God; and that even if it were possible for man to commit moral acts, they must ineluctably be infinitely inferior in morality to God’s acts, rendering them only relatively moral, meaning only subjectively moral, and thus not truly moral at all. Yet I submit that, according to prevailing Christian dogma, even God’s morality is utterly relative to Himself, because He alone is the moral standard, making anything he chooses to do moral, thereby making objective morality a direct function of God’s subjective whim, which again means that morality is only purely subjective.
All of this makes every Christian argument affirming the existence of objective morality an exercise in rank hypocrisy. Indeed, Christian doctrine professes that Christ is the only one who can keep the Law of Moses perfectly—He is God; men are mere mortals, fallen, and immutably wicked in their root nature. Even after salvation (and why anyone gets saved at all is an object mystery, because men cannot earn it, as their very nature is evil, and thus there can be no reason anyone should be saved in the first place) morality isn’t theirs, but the “work of the Holy Spirit through them”. Jesus is the only man who can truly act morally, and thus the only one who can keep the Law. This is because He is God, and only God is capable of keeping his own moral standards. However, what is meant by “standards” is “whatever He feels like doing”, because he is God. This of course isn’t “standards” at all, but pure whim; and “objective whim” is a contradiction in terms.
At any rate…
Since the premise of Hume’s Law is virtually always conceded a priori, all criticism ultimately fails. In other words, if one builds his argument against Hume’s Law upon the very same epistemological premise that Hume presumes, then one must necessarily fail. One doesn’t win a debate by agreeing with his opponent before the debate even begins.
Let us consider a different premise, then.
I submit that observation is not passive, but active; that truth is not dictated to the observer but is, in fact, a function of observation, and thus a function of the observer. It is not reality which describes itself to the observer, it is the observer who describes reality for himself; and it is the observer who describes what is true, from himself, in order that he may promote himself truthfully in his environment.
Yet this is not relativistic or subjective truth. Truth finds articulation and meaning in language, and language is purely a function of the ability of the observer to conceptualize what he observes. What is extremely important to understand, and critical to objective morality, is that language implies communication, and communication implies that there are other observers with whom a given observer shall communicate, which means that truth is shared…it is not relativistic or solipsistic. In order that truth be objectively shared (that truth be shared truthfully, so to speak), it must be shared consistently. Truth is not “relative truth” or “subjective truth”—these are contradictions—but objective truth. This means truth is a matter of conceptual consistency, and conceptualization itself is the foundation of language. Thus, conceptual consistency is the only way truth, and thus actual, objective knowledge, can be shared. I cannot declare to you that I have created a square circle (and no, I don’t mean a bunch of squares set up in a circular fashion…as cheeky as that may be) because that is an entirely meaningless claim, containing a synthesis of concepts, “square” and “circle” which in such a relationship are contradictory…that is, conceptually inconsistent. You have no frame of reference for “square circle” because you simply cannot have one, because the very ability to conceptualize, which is the root of your consciousness, and that from which we form language, precludes it; and since language is necessarily shared because it ineluctably implies communication, and is, again, rooted in conceptualization, conceptualization must be consistent among all observers. If you have no conceptual frame of reference for contradiction then neither do I, and thus you know objectively that I am not speaking the truth. It may not be that I am necessarily lying—it could be that I am deluded or mistaken—but I am certainly not speaking the truth. It is an object falsity to claim that there is any such thing as a square circle, because this claim is conceptually inconsistent, and thus violates truth, meaning it violates a consistent conceptual description of reality; and it is impossible for the observer observe reality this way; and further, impossible for him to share it as truth.
The idea that observation is fundamentally passive means that the observer’s knowledge about that which he observes can only ever be of that which is utterly outside himself, meaning outside of his consciousness, meaning outside of his conscious frame of reference as the observer. Therefore the observer can never truly posses knowledge in and of himself because the sum and substance of reality has absolutely nothing to do with him qua him at all, making observation entirely moot. This makes it impossible that there is actual observation occurring, since an observer who possesses no real conscious knowledge, because he is entirely irrelevant to the “objective reality” he observes, is an observer who is entirely obsolete, and therefore so is observation. Meaning that as far as reality is concerned, it is not actually being observed.
Without an observer, there is no observation, by definition. I submit that it follows then that a reality which is unobserved cannot be said to exist at all, let alone objectively, since there is no means and no frame of reference by which it can be defined…that is, described…in the first place. It is, absent an active, conscious observer, entirely meaningless, entirely purposeless, and therefor entirely irrelevant, all of which renders its existence null, since the question “What objectively exists?” or “What is objectively real?” can have no answer. With no observer, there is nothing to say—to describe—what it is or is not, which means that there can be no it in the first place.
Without an observer, reality cannot be described, and therefore it can have no description, and therefore there can be no descriptive claim, no “is” from which the observer can derive his “ought”. Objective reality, you see, cannot describe itself to itself…this is a redundancy which makes description null. With no active observer and thus no one and nothing to derive any knowledge of or meaning, purpose, and relevance from reality, that is, to describe reality to form knowledge and thus establish the actual truth of reality, reality remains necessarily undefinable, meaningless, purposeless, and irrelevant, and thus can never be described as being anything at all, and thus cannot be said to be a thing which actually exists and is real in the first place. The corollary relationship between the observer and the observed is simply ineluctable.
Further, the implicit (or even explicit) assumption that observation is fundamentally passive (and it is a fundamental assumption, dealing with the nature of observation at its metaphysical root) is false because that which is fundamentally passive is by definition not doing anything, including observing, and thus “passive observation” is the antithesis of observation. “Passive observation”, in other words, means “not observing”. An observer to whom reality dictates itself—or “describes” itself—is a passive observer, meaning an unconscious observer, and is thus not actually observing,
The problem with the implicit-to-Hume’s Law assumption of passive observation and dictated description is that it is simply an impossibility.
Dictated truth—dictated description about what actually is real—to the observer by reality is impossible because this suggests observation without any objective meaning nor any objective use to the one doing the actual observing. In which case, observation itself is utterly pointless and irrelevant. The observer is not real, you see. He is outside of reality, or it is outside of him, in which case “observation” is nothing more than reality simply dictating its own description of itself to itself. Which is just another way of saying that there is no observation at all, and therefore no observer. The sum total of knowledge then is purely a meaningless, pointless description of that which has nothing whatsoever to do with the one who supposedly knows—the observer.
As far as reality is concerned, the observer doesn’t exist. You qua YOU, conscious you, have no true existence, only subjective, relative existence. Whether you live or die, objective reality remains fully objective reality. Indeed, this is the root of all “empirical” and “rational” philosophies: Even if you did not exist or never existed, objective reality is always objective reality. There is an infinite and eternal ontological chasm between the transient, fleeting observer—his consciousness blipping in and out of existence at random with birth and death, possessing no real meaning nor effect—and eternal, immutable reality. There is no corollary relationship between the observer and the observed except that of mutual exclusivity…which of course is no relationship at all.
If we accept that such a claim like “the sky is blue” is objectively true because it is an accurate and consistent description of reality, then we must accept that the observer who observes this possesses objective observation, and by declaring it—by describing reality in language—possesses objective knowledge. Knowledge, I submit, implies meaning and purpose, and thus must be something the observer can apply to such purpose. Which means that there is in fact an objectively correct way to apply knowledge and an objectively incorrect way—there are objectively right behaviors, and objectively wrong behaviors. In other words, that there is such a thing as volitional action which can be objectively valued, which means there is such a thing as objective morality.
The observer is active, meaning he is conscious. He is aware of the the distinction between himself qua himself, the Conscious Self—he, himself, being not merely a body, but an observational constant, so to speak—and that which he is observing—that is, his environment—and understands that the distinction is corollary, not mutually exclusive. Observation is thus relevant, meaningful, and purposeful, which means that observation is knowledge which the conscious, active observer thus applies in order to orient, manifest, and promote himself in the environment. In short, objective reality is objectively observed by an objective observer who possesses objective knowledge by which he makes objective decisions about how to objectively act in order to objectively promote himself in the environment.
Or, we could say it this way:
He who observes objective reality is by definition an objective observer (he, himself qua himself, is objectively real), and he is fully capable therefore of observing objectively and thus acquiring objective knowledge, which is called truth. This objective knowledge he then uses to make objective decisions about how he shall objectively manifest and promote his existence in the environment. In doing so, he acts in accordance with objective truth and thereby acts objectively good, or, morally.
Hume’s Law erroneously presumes that morality is fundamentally about something that one “ought” do. This is incorrect.
Hume’s Law presumes that “oughts” are purely subjective, and depend upon explicit or implicit “ifs”. This is correct, and would be relevant if morality were fundamentally about “oughts”, which it is not.
The logical extension of the assumption that morality is purely a function “oughts”, which are subjective, is that objective morality then must be devoid of things one ought do and instead contain things one must do. Of course if they are things one must do then they are not choices, in which case there is no volition involved, and thus we are no longer talking about morality. If one must perform certain acts then they are not volitional…they are not acts of will, and therefore these choices and behaviors cannot be said to possess any moral value.
So you see, If one does not get a choice, because there is no volition involved, because it’s about what one must do, then it’s not morality. Yet if one does get a choice, and thus does engage the will, then one does not have to make a specific choice, for this is the nature of choice—whether they do or not has no bearing on, nor anything to do with, objective reality. The “is” descriptive premise is neither obligated to nor dependent upon the “ought” prescriptive premise—and thus the behavior can only ever be subjectively moral. In short, you either have subjective morality or no morality at all.
Hence the reason why Hume’s Law is often informally rendered “Hume’s Guillotine”, the metaphor being that of a blade which decapitates any argument in favor of objective morality. Any appeal to objective morality necessarily terminates in a self-nullifying contradiction.
However I submit that this is not so, because the implicit premise of Hume’s Law—that morality is entirely predicated on what one “ought” do (a premise upon which the validity of Hume’s Law entirely rests)—is completely false, and fails to consider the more obvious ethical root of morality, which is not “ought” but rather “shall”.
“Shall”, in terms of moral ethics, is simply this: What one shall do are those actions which rationally and therefore necessarily follow from the epistemological premise, in this case, that truth exists as a function of the conscious observer and is rooted in his description of objective reality. In other words, what one Shall do is that behavior which is implied by the Truth.
“Shall” should not be confused with “will” or “must” which are entirely different concepts, ethically speaking. Objective morality is certainly a matter of volition, but this volition is a function of what the observer, as his metaphysical root implies. shall do because he is what he is. That is, what he shall do in the capacity of actually being that which he is: the observer. His choices and behavior shall be rationally consistent with himself, and to do not what he shall do is a fundamental denial and rejection of himself, which renders his volition a lie, because it denies the very source of volition—himself qua himself. In other words he cannot by his will deny that he has will. He cannot by his existence deny his existence.
Morality is not at root about what one ought or ought not do—not about making good or bad choices—it is about engaging the will in a manner consistent with the truth…the truth which exists in the first place because it is a function of the the observer; and that for one to attempt to act in manner inconsistent with the truth is a denial of one’s own self and is a contradiction. One cannot deny that he IS by an act of his will.
Morality is simply man acting out the truth that he objectively exists as himself qua himself. It is about valuing choices and actions according to how they validate man’s objective existence at his metaphysical root, and it’s about valuing consequences of actions according to the degree to which they validate him.
An immoral act is an act of self-rejection at the very metaphysical root, and the result is chaos, and, inevitably, suffering for the perpetrator, his victims, and those who choose to indulge him and his lies. The consequences for immoral actions are not “punishment”—this is a term and concept relevant only to legal ethics, not moral ethics (and, yes, they are mutually exclusive)—but the response of reality and truth to a metaphysical aberration. A man who attempts to murder another man has fundamentally presumed to own that other man’s life, which, this idea being wholly irrational and a lie, becomes in fact a rejection by the murderer of his own life. The intended victim is entirely justified then in using deadly force to defend himself. He is not obligated to respect the life of the murderer who refuses to rationally acknowledge his own, and will act out his lie by attempting to murder his fellow man instead of affirming him.
The correct way to render the ethical “shall” premise is this way: You are, therefore you shall. Meaning that to attempt to do what you shall not do is a fundamental denial of you—“You shall do X if you want to deny yourself”, is an obvious error. The denial of you of course means that you couldn’t possibly do or have done X in the first place. Thus, to attempt to reduce “shall” to some form of ethical subjectivity results in a meaningless, contradictory assertion.
Knowledge must be consciously applied, which means purposefully, which means volitionally, which means that volitional action is a fundamental function of the possessor of knowledge…that is, the observer. If what is observed is objective, then observation must also be objective, because the “purely subjective observation of objective reality” makes observation and reality mutually exclusive. So if observation is objective then knowledge thus is likewise objective, and thus there must be an objective way to apply that knowledge. This objective application is objective morality—what one shall objectively do because one objectively is. To attempt to do other than what one shall do is an attempt to consciously deny oneself—that is, consciously deny one’s own consciousness; willfully deny will; choose to deny choice. This is meaningless and null.
If the observer observes objective reality, then observation itself is necessarily objective. Subjective observation of objective reality is a contradiction in terms when we are speaking in fundamental terms. The observer, in order to be in a position to observe objective reality, must himself be objectively real. Both the observer and his observation, which is at root his consciousness, possess equal ontological value to that which is observed. The observer and his consciousness—the means by which he actively observes—are as objectively real as objective reality.
Observation necessarily spawns knowledge of and about that which is observed; knowledge is necessarily meaningful to the observer; and meaning implies relevance; and relevance implies purpose. Knowledge therefore is practical, and its practicality is manifest and realized through application.
Application of knowledge must be volitional…it must be an act of the will. Non-volitional application of knowledge is impossible—if what is known cannot be willfully applied, then knowledge is irrelevant, and therefore meaningless. “Meaningless knowledge” is a contradiction and is thus null. Knowledge which is not willfully applied is not consciously applied, and therefore it cannot truly be called knowledge. Without knowledge there is no observation; without observation there is no observer. If there is no observer of reality, then there is no one to define what reality actually is. Reality which cannot be defined cannot exist, “What is real? or “What exists?” or “What is?” are impossible questions because they can have no answer. That which cannot be defined cannot be declared to be anything, and thus cannot actually be anything at all. If objective reality is not true to that which can conceptualize it, and translate its existence into something with purpose, meaning, relevance, and value, then it is existentially redundant. Without an observer, what something is is entirely irrelevant; and irrelevancy at the root metaphysical level means that there is no difference between a thing existing and not existing. It is fundamentally irrelevant…whatever it does, including exist, amounts to the very same degree of meaning and value as if it did not. It’s existence—its place in reality—is of the same root metaphysical value as non-existence. It exists as though it did not. This is a contradiction to reality and thus is null.
The truth is that not only is there no existential mutual exclusivity between the observer and the observed, they are inexorably corollary. One always implies the other. This would seem obvious—transparently axiomatic based upon the overt terms—“observer” and “observed”; “consciousness” and “that which consciousness is conscious of”. Yet Hume’s Law, as I have illustrated in this missive, implicitly and fundamentally bifurcates them to the point where not only does one not imply the other, but “objectively reality” implies that there, in fact, can be no such thing as an observer at all, because consciousness is nothing more than reality projecting itself back onto itself. This is a contradiction and is thus null.
Thus: No volitional observer, no conscious observer, no observation, nothing observed, nothing defined, nothing meaningful, nothing relevant, nothing at all. No will, no observer, no reality. Or, put most succinctly: No morality = no reality.
If what is observed is objective, then observation is, in fact, observation of the objective, which means that observation is not exclusive of objective reality and thus is likewise objective. This means that knowledge of the observed objective reality is also objective. Knowledge must be applicable to be meaningful and relevant, and application means volition, which makes the observer a volitional observer, which means he is a conscious observer (is naturally aware of the distinction between that which he is and that which he observers). Thus knowledge, being objective and implying willful application, implies that there must be an objective way to apply knowledge. There must be an objectively correct way to apply knowledge and therefore an objectively incorrect way; an objectively good way and an objectively bad way; an objectively moral way and an objectively immoral way; objectively moral actions and objectively immoral actions.
Objective Reality = Objective Observation = Objective Knowledge = Objective Application = Objective Morality
Reality = Observation = Knowledge = Application = Morality
Metaphysics (Observed, Observer) = Epistemology (Knowledge) = Ethics (Application of Knowledge)
Metaphysics = Epistemology = Ethics
It seems that the truth of objective morality has been staring us in the face for several millennia now. Who would have thought?
The purpose of this post was not to elaborate upon which specific behaviors are moral or immoral, it was simply to prove that objective morality is both possible and necessary, and that Hume’s law rests upon false presumptions concerning the nature of the the observer and observation, the nature of reality, and the nature of morality. These false assumptions are a.) That observation is fundamentally passive, and b.) That volitional action is a purely subjective matter of what one “ought” do based upon information entirely dictated to the observer by an objective reality which exists utterly outside (meaning, entirely exclusive of) his conscious frame of reference. A further flaw of Hume’s Law is its failure to recognize that the assumption that knowledge is objective but the application of knowledge is subjective is in fact a contradiction and is therefore null.