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Is morality objectively derived from the facts of reality?

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tjfields
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Harrison Danneskjold,

 

The definition of objective that I use is the Merriam Webster Dictionary definition: of, relating to, or being an object, phenomenon, or condition in the realm of sensible experience independent of individual thought and perceptible by all observers: having reality independent of the mind.

 

You wrote in post #75, "I think you should reexamine that definition and the way you've applied it. Our own minds set the terms by which we have any chance of understanding reality; if "identity" is mutually exclusive with "consciousness" (which is the meaning of the term "subjective") then there is nothing it could ever actually apply to."

 

If I am going to reexamine the definition of objective, what should the definition be? How should this new definition be applied compared to the dictionary definition that I use?

 

Where are you getting the terms "identity" and "consciousness"? I am using the Merriam Webster Dictionary definition of subjective: characteristic of or belonging to reality as perceived rather than as independent of mind. The terms "identity" and "consciousness" are not used in this definition.

 

As for the hypothetical scenario you wrote in post #75, since I am taking the position that morality is not objectively derived from the facts of reality and is subjective, the answer to your question is that it subjective and can be moral or immoral depending on who is making the moral determination.

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Imagine you find in a book store a "Guide to Making your Vehicle Last" or a "Guide to Keeping your Computer at Maximum Performance"

 

Suppose you determine you want your vehicle to last, or you want your computer to work at maximum performance, a "pre-adoption" choice so to speak.

 

 

How do you know the book is useful? 

 

It also must not be a reflection of mere subjective wishes. You would not want the book to be arbitrary or subjective, if subjective means the advice is not true or is incomplete.  The author may have an unfair bias or a feeling which would make the work inaccurate.  Your hope is that a rational mind not guided by emotionalism or intuition wrote it.

 

That which is described in the book must correspond with reality and must work... i.e. the consequences claimed in the books should obtain when enacted upon the vehicle or the computer.  The books should also be capable of independent validation, anyone can read the book and if knowledgeable enough about the nature of vehicles or computers (or if they were so inclined would be able to perform endless experiments to test the advice of the books) would be able to tell you if the books were valid, true to the claims with respect to consequences if certain actions are taken (in connection with the vehicle or computer).

 

Certainly it cannot be a fantasy, or a floating castle in the sky with no basis in reality.  Anyone who claimed the books reflected an intrinsic prescriptive edict of reality, were written on gold tablets by a ghost or are written in the very fabric of space-time itself should be eyed suspiciously.  You know that the rules in these books are not duplications by revelation of rules and edicts written in the universe somewhere else, they are not an intrinsic additional feature of the universe, no karma or lightening will haunt you, no grade, gauge or status in the universe will change when you follow the actions in the book. 

 

The only connection of the book with reality (if it is true, accurate) is that the book records truths about what would happen if one did certain things.  If one does x with a vehicle or y with a computer it will or will not last longer or respectively perform maximally. 

 

In Summary:

IF the books are accurate, originating from rational thought and knowledge of the nature of vehicles or cars and the nature of reality of consequences specifically what obtains when you take actions in regard to the vehicle or the computer, is it not safe to say that the books are Objective?  The reason why is simply that they are accurate i.e. true.

 

 

Consider a Guidebook for a human "How to Sustain and improve your Life".  Is it not the same?

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StrictlyLogical,

 

I like the analogy you wrote in post #78. And I agree with a lot of it but not all of it.

 

If you wrote a book that told me how to meet the basic requirements of human life then I would agree that the book was capable of independent validation, and anyone can read the book and if knowledgeable enough about the nature of humans (or if they were so inclined would be able to perform endless experiments to test the advice of the book) would be able to tell if the book was valid, true to the claims with respect to consequences if certain actions are taken (in connection with human life).

 

It is when you write a book that tells me how to improve my life that you enter into the realm of the subjective. Once you get past the basic requirements of life, requirements that are universal to humans because it is the result of human nature, what is considered ‘improvement’ is decided by the individual. You may think that something improves your life and you may even think that it will improve my life, but if I do not think it will improve my life, then it will not improve my life.

 

To tie this back to the original post, the consequences of falling from a 10,000 foot high cliff with no means of stopping or slowing the decent is death for all humans (objectively determined from the facts of reality). If part of the book you wrote about sustaining human life included a section that described the consequences of falling from a 10,000 foot high cliff and stated that such action will be immoral if a human values his or her life, then I would agree that your book, or at least that section, was objective.

 

The consequences of killing a man are not known because the consequences are determined by other men after those other men decide how to perceive the action. Therefore, how the consequences of killing a man will affect one human are not necessarily the same for other humans. If part of the book you wrote about improving life included a section that stated to improve your life it would be immoral to kill a man, then I would say that your book was subjective.   

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StrictlyLogical,

 

I like the analogy you wrote in post #78. And I agree with a lot of it but not all of it.

 

If you wrote a book that told me how to meet the basic requirements of human life then I would agree that the book was capable of independent validation, and anyone can read the book and if knowledgeable enough about the nature of humans (or if they were so inclined would be able to perform endless experiments to test the advice of the book) would be able to tell if the book was valid, true to the claims with respect to consequences if certain actions are taken (in connection with human life).

 

It is when you write a book that tells me how to improve my life that you enter into the realm of the subjective. Once you get past the basic requirements of life, requirements that are universal to humans because it is the result of human nature, what is considered ‘improvement’ is decided by the individual. You may think that something improves your life and you may even think that it will improve my life, but if I do not think it will improve my life, then it will not improve my life.

 

To tie this back to the original post, the consequences of falling from a 10,000 foot high cliff with no means of stopping or slowing the decent is death for all humans (objectively determined from the facts of reality). If part of the book you wrote about sustaining human life included a section that described the consequences of falling from a 10,000 foot high cliff and stated that such action will be immoral if a human values his or her life, then I would agree that your book, or at least that section, was objective.

 

The consequences of killing a man are not known because the consequences are determined by other men after those other men decide how to perceive the action. Therefore, how the consequences of killing a man will affect one human are not necessarily the same for other humans. If part of the book you wrote about improving life included a section that stated to improve your life it would be immoral to kill a man, then I would say that your book was subjective.   

 

Good points.  If the book said :

 

"Drinking water is Good"

 

It would not be subjective it would be incorrect.  Why?  Because the statement is too broad.

 

If you are parched and dying of thirst drinking water actually IS good.  If you are drowning, the last thing you should do is whip out your canteen and start drinking.... (technically drinking is not the same as breathing water which is drowning but you get the point...)

 

So, a book with "Drinking water is Good" would not be Objective or correct because it is too general.

 

That said a book which ignored that generally "drinking water is good" would be missing an important fact of reality.

 

Something similar applies to action towards other men.  We are fallible, and we are not omniscient.  We require therefore general principles, AND contextual variations, AND exceptions.  These are not subjective, they reflect reality, and in fact improve the accuracy of the book. 

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Morality: I will be using Ayn Rand’s concept of morality as she presented it in the essay ‘The Objectivist Ethics’ and in "Atlas Shrugged". Ayn Rand stated morality is a code of values accepted by choice, man’s life, which he must choose, is his ultimate value, and all that is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; all that which destroys it is the evil.  This is her, and hence Objectivism’s, starting point and basis for all discussion of morality. Therefore, the concept of morality is:

 

A man’s ultimate value is his life. *

 

...

 

 

Your first premise is wrong. It is not just life that is man's ultimate value, but the life of, "man qua man," as Rand puts it. If you read the second post, you should have seen it:

 

[http://forum.objectivismonline.com/index.php?showtopic=27074#entry320511]

 

"Man has been called a rational being, but rationality is a matter of choice and the alternative his nature offers him is: rational being or suicidal animal. Man has to be man - by choice; he has to hold his life as a value - by choice: he has to learn to sustain it - by choice; he has to discover the values it requires and practice his virtues - by choice. "A code of values accepted by choice is a code of morality."

 

The fact of reality that is the objective basis of moral values is man's nature as a rational/volitional being.

 

No one is forced to be moral, but if one chooses to live successfully and happily in this world, it is objective moral values one must live by. It is because it is a choice that makes it a moral issue.

Edited by Regi F.
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StrictlyLogical,

 

I do not disagree with your “Drinking water is Good” statement in post #80. It is too broad to be of any use. However, once the situation is narrowed e.g. you are parched and dying of thirst or you are drowning, you can make an objective moral determination about the consequences of the action (how the consequences of the action affect your ultimate value) based on the facts of reality.

 

When it comes to “action toward other men”, it is still subjective. It is subjective because, unlike the water example, there are no naturally occurring consequences of actions toward other men only manmade consequences based on man’s perception of the action.

 

Once again consider the action of killing a man. You may claim that the statement is too broad or too general and wish to narrow it in order to make a moral determination. Even the attempt to narrow the action is still based on perception. Let’s say that you kill a man. In your perception of the action, you killed the man because he was trying to kill you and it was an act of self defense. The action preserved your ultimate value therefore the action was moral. If another man, or group of men (like a government), perceive your action of killing the man as murder, then, in his or their perception the act was immoral. Which one is it? If your perception of the action is accepted, there will most likely (but not definitely) be no consequences as a result of the action. If the perception held by others is accepted, there will most likely (but not definitely) be consequences that affect your ultimate value. Because the consequences of the action on the ultimate value are determined by man based on man’s perception of the action, it is subjective.

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When it comes to “action toward other men”, it is still subjective. It is subjective because, unlike the water example, there are no naturally occurring consequences of actions toward other men only manmade consequences based on man’s perception of the action.

If you kill a person, you can't trade with them. That's not a man-made consequence.

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Regi F.,

 

I do not disagree with the quote you provided in post #81. Nor did I disagree with it when dream_weaver posted it or when I read it in Ayn Rand’s work.

 

To sustain his life, his ultimate value, man has to learn what are the basic necessities of life that are objectively determined by the nature of man e.g. water, food, shelter, and he has to act to gain and keep those necessities. If man does not act to gain or keep those necessities, man will die.  Anything that an individual believes is a value, or needed to live as ‘man qua man’, beyond the basic necessities is determined by the individual not objectively derived from the facts of reality.

 

Now if you wish to define ‘living as man qua man’ in a certain way beyond gaining and keeping the basic necessities of life, and you wish to claim that the moral values one should live by can be objectively derived using this definition as a starting point, go ahead.  For example, if you define ‘living as man qua man’ to be: living successfully and happily in this world, you can then objectively derive moral values based on however you define “living successfully” and “living happily”. I have no problem with this. It is only the claim that morality can be objectively derived from the facts of reality that I question.

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tjfields

 

Is it not a fact of reality that human beings are rational volitional beings? Does not that fact mean that human beings must live by conscious choice, that their only means of making choices is by means of knowledge about themselves, their own nature and the nature of the world they live in?

 

Is it not a fact of reality that all living things have a particular nature that determines how they must live, which does not mean simply to survive, but to successfully be the kind of organisms they are? Does living as a human being mean simply keeping the human organsim alive or does it mean living as the kind of being humans are? If you believe that it is merely the perpetuation of protoplasm that "living" means, or Rand meant, than let's make everyone unconscious and put them on life-support systems.

 

If you cannot see that it is the nature of human beings as rational volitional beings that requires them to have a system of moral or ethical principles to live and that same nature that determines what those moral principles must be, than nothing is going to convince you. I'm not trying to convince you either. Just answering you honest questions as honestly as I can.

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Regi F.,

 

In post #86 you wrote, “Is it not a fact of reality that human beings are rational volitional beings? Does not that fact mean that human beings must live by conscious choice, that their only means of making choices is by means of knowledge about themselves, their own nature and the nature of the world they live in?”

 

I agree with your statement.

 

You then wrote, “Is it not a fact of reality that all living things have a particular nature that determines how they must live, which does not mean simply to survive, but to successfully be the kind of organisms they are?”

 

I agree with the first part of paragraph that reads, “Is it not a fact of reality that all living things have a particular nature that determines how they must live...” However, the phrase, “...but to successfully be the kind of organisms they are?” needs some explanation and a definition. What does it mean to successfully be the kind of organisms they are? If it means anything beyond surviving, that is achieving the basic necessities of life as objectively determined by the nature of the organism, then it is not objectively derived from the facts of reality it is subjective.

 

You then wrote, “Does living as a human being mean simply keeping the human organsim [sic] alive or does it mean living as the kind of being humans are? If you believe that it is merely the perpetuation of protoplasm that "living" means, or Rand meant, than let's make everyone unconscious and put them on life-support systems.”

 

I have the same question as I did for the last paragraph, what does “living as the kind of being humans are” mean? Again, if it means anything beyond surviving, that is achieving the basic necessities of life as objectively determined by the nature of humans, then it is not objectively derived from the facts of reality it is subjective.

 

You then wrote, “If you cannot see that it is the nature of human beings as rational volitional beings that requires them to have a system of moral or ethical principles to live and that same nature that determines what those moral principles must be, than nothing is going to convince you. I'm not trying to convince you either. Just answering you honest questions as honestly as I can.”

 

I will direct you back to the original post where I stated: It is the claim that morality is objectively derived from the facts of reality that I am questioning. I am not criticizing Objectivism as a philosophy nor am I claiming the Objectivist moral theory is invalid. I am also not making any claims that there is no such thing as morality or that reality does not exist. All that I am questioning is the Objectivist claim that morality is objectively derived from the facts of reality and is therefore not subjective.

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Am I reading you correctly to suggest trade is a natural phenomenon?

 

No, I'm only saying that you can't acquire anything from a dead person. That's not a man-made consequence. A man-made consequence would be "I don't like to be treated badly, so I'll respond by punching you".

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No, I'm only saying that you can't acquire anything from a dead person. That's not a man-made consequence. A man-made consequence would be "I don't like to be treated badly, so I'll respond by punching you".

 

By "acquire" you mean "obtain by consent", correct?  After all, grave robbers "acquire" things too...

 

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Nope. Think of it this way: some people provide value. Let's say I made awesome music that is value to you. If you killed me out of jealousy or something, there is no way I will make music again. My point is that there are very real consequences that are not man-made when you act to harm others.

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tjfields

 

You wrote, "To sustain his life, his ultimate value, man has to learn what are the basic necessities of life that are objectively determined by the nature of man e.g. water, food, shelter, and he has to act to gain and keep those necessities. If man does not act to gain or keep those necessities, man will die.  Anything that an individual believes is a value, or needed to live as ‘man qua man’, beyond the basic necessities is determined by the individual not objectively derived from the facts of reality. "

 

There is a contradiction here. It is in the sentence, "man has to learn what are the basic necessities of life," which contradicts, "anything that an individaul believes is a value, or needed to live as 'man qua man', beyond the basic necessities is ... not objectively derived from the facts of reality. Since you list the necessities of life as water, food, shelter, your list excludes what your first sentice declares is necessary, to learn what the basic necessities of life are. The first requirement of human life is knowledge determined by that fact of reality which is human nature. Because all human behavior must be consciously chosen (determined by the fact of reality that humans are volitional beings), and no choice is possible without knowing what choices are available and which choices will result in which consequences (will eating this nourish me or kill me?), another fact of reality, and making a choice is a judgement requiring reason (another fact of reality) to fail to learn all one is capable of learning, and using one's best reason to make right choices in all matters of life means to fail in every aspect of life.

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Regi F.,

 

In post #91 you wrote, "Since you list the necessities of life as water, food, shelter, your list excludes what your first sentice [sic] declares is necessary, to learn what the basic necessities of life are. The first requirement of human life is knowledge determined by that fact of reality which is human nature."

 

To be clear, in post #85 I wrote, in part, "... to learn what are the basic necessities of life that are objectively determined by the nature of man e.g. water, food, shelter..." The abbreviation 'e.g.' means 'for example'. So the sentence reads, "... to learn what are the basic necessities of life that are objectively determined by the nature of man, for example water, food, shelter..." It is not an all inclusive list as I could have included other things like oxygen.

 

You then wrote, "Because all human behavior must be consciously chosen (determined by the fact of reality that humans are volitional beings)..."

 

What 'behavior' do you mean? For example, if a man has a fear of dogs, developed since childhood because of multiple psychological reasons, and runs away from any dog that he sees, he is not consciously choosing to be afraid nor is decision to run necessarily a conscious decision as he is acting off of his fight or flight instinct.

 

"...and no choice is possible without knowing what choices are available and which choices will result in which consequences (will eating this nourish me or kill me?), another fact of reality..."

 

I do not agree that one has to know which choices will result in which consequences in order to make a choice. I will make a reasonable guess that the first human to eat a poisonous mushroom did not know the consequences of that action but still made the choice to eat it.

 

"...and making a choice is a judgement [sic] requiring reason (another fact of reality)..."

 

I do not agree that making a choice is a judgment requiring reason. I have personal knowledge of many people making choices that, in addition to having unknown consequences, were made without the use of reason.

 

"...to fail to learn all one is capable of learning, and using one's best reason to make right choices in all matters of life means to fail in every aspect of life."

 

This part does not make sense to me. How much is one capable of learning? Is it a measurable quantity? Does it matter what one is capable of learning, for example, if I am capable of learning to play a musical instrument but choose not to do so thus failing to learn all that I am capable of learning, do I fail in every aspect of life? What does 'fail' mean in this context? What are 'right choices'?

 

You appear to be attempting to explain how morality is objectively derived from the facts of reality but your explanation is full of subjective terms and concepts. How does any of this demonstrate that morality is objectively derived from the facts of reality?

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You appear to be attempting to explain how morality is objectively derived from the facts of reality ...

 

No, I was actually only trying to point out a contradiction in your argument, which is not all that important. I was hoping you might consider it, because I thought it might help you.

 

Reality is what it is. One can either discover all they can about it, and live according to the principles that describe it or not, but living in defiance of reality can only result in disaster, witness most people's lives. Whether you call it "objective" or something else, it is discovering the nature of reality, which includes one's own nature and the nature of the world they live in, and identifying the principles by which one must conform to that reality to be successful and happy in this world that are moral values. To defy reality not only means failure, and ultimatly death.

 

I'm not trying to convince you. If it is not reality, independent of whatever you wish, think, feel, or desire, that determines how you ought to live as a human being, what is it?

 

If your interested in Rand's view of the difference between objective and subjective you might look at this post:

 

http://forum.objectivismonline.com/index.php?showtopic=26950&page=2#entry320925

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Let’s say that you kill a man. In your perception of the action, you killed the man because he was trying to kill you and it was an act of self defense. The action preserved your ultimate value therefore the action was moral. If another man, or group of men (like a government), perceive your action of killing the man as murder, then, in his or their perception the act was immoral. Which one is it? If your perception of the action is accepted, there will most likely (but not definitely) be no consequences as a result of the action. If the perception held by others is accepted, there will most likely (but not definitely) be consequences that affect your ultimate value. Because the consequences of the action on the ultimate value are determined by man based on man’s perception of the action, it is subjective.

 

This is a testament to the importance of Rand's epistemology and objectivity in concept-formation. If you murder someone, then you killed them. If you killed them, you didn't necessarily murder them. The fact is that there is objective criteria to determine whether an act is murder or self-defense. One is immoral, and the other is not. It is either murder or self-defense independent of man's perception of the incident.

 

Now whether or not men come to the correct conclusion is a testament to Man's volitional consciousness. That is why a proper society comes up with a legal structure to deal with these issues in a manner that reduces uncertainty, in which both sides present evidence supporting their claim. If the State, or whoever is arguing, cannot prove their case for murder, then the defendant is set free (properly at least). But that doesn't mean that he didn't commit murder, it just means that they didn't prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. And even if they did prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, it doesn't necessarily mean that he did commit the murder.

 

So who is right?: the one who corresponds with reality. Reality is the objective standard. If others don't see that your action really was self-defense and sentence you to death for murder, then all that means is that they were wrong. That doesn't make your action immoral just because the consequences ended up negatively affecting your life. Man is not omniscient.

Edited by thenelli01
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Eiuol,

 

In post #83 you wrote, “If you kill a person, you can't trade with them. That's not a man-made consequence.”

 

I agree with you that you can’t trade with a dead man. It is an objective fact of reality that it is not possible to interact with a dead person, including trading with them. However, this objective fact applies to all dead people regardless of how they became dead. It doesn’t matter if you killed them, or if they died in an accident, or died of natural causes, it is not possible to interact with a dead person.

 

What are the consequences of not being able to interact with a dead person to your ultimate value? There are no naturally occurring consequences to your ultimate value, only those consequences that you create and/or perceive.

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Regi F.,

 

In post #93 you wrote, “I'm not trying to convince you. If it is not reality, independent of whatever you wish, think, feel, or desire, that determines how you ought to live as a human being, what is it?”

 

Reality, independent of whatever one wishes, thinks, feels, or desires, does determine what you need to do and what you should not do in order to stay alive. Beyond staying alive, reality, independent of whatever one wishes, thinks, feels, or desires, does not tell you how you ought to live. Reality does not tell you how “to live as a human being”; it does not tell you what career to pursue, or what books to read, or who to take as a lover. Beyond staying alive, how “to live as a human being” is up to you.

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Thenelli01,

 

In post #95 you wrote, “The fact is that there is objective criteria to determine whether an act is murder or self-defense.”

 

I agree that there can be objective criteria to determine whether an act is murder or self-defense. However, the criteria are not objectively derived from the facts of reality. Man has created the definition of ‘murder’; it is a manmade concept. By using the manmade concept of ‘murder’ as a starting point, it can be objectively demonstrated whether the act of killing a man meets the manmade definition murder.

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What are the consequences of not being able to interact with a dead person to your ultimate value? There are no naturally occurring consequences to your ultimate value, only those consequences that you create and/or perceive.

Look at my clarification to DA. Some people offer value, which for example may be music they create. I don't need to explain how that impacts your life, unless you think life means mere survival. If you mean that value is something only I create, that's not too far off from right. The thing is, you can for yourself figure out if, objectively, a value really does improve or enable living. Values are my own, but those can be objective, too.

Edited by Eiuol
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Eiuol,

 

In post #99 you wrote, “Look at my clarification to DA. Some people offer value, which for example may be music they create. I don't need to explain how that impacts your life, unless you think life means mere survival. If you mean that value is something only I create, that's not too far off from right. The thing is, you can for yourself figure out if, objectively, a value really does improve or enable living. Values are my own, but those can be objective, too.”

 

I agree with you that what you value is your choice (“Values are my own”). If, for example, you choose to value music, then it is a value to you. However, just because you choose to value something does not mean that anyone else is required to value it. Someone who is deaf, or tone deaf, will not value music as you value it if at all.

 

I will even agree that values can be objective to you. Once you decide upon the criteria that improve and/or enable your life (and beyond the basic necessities required by the nature of humans you make that decision for whatever reasons you want), you can objectively determine whether or not music, or anything else, meets your criteria.

 

I have no issue with this. It is only the claim that morality is objectively derived from the facts of reality that I question.

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