Some presuppositions:

Premise 1. "Wrong" means the reasoning used in an argument was flawed. Another notion of "wrong" is wrong method. Misknowledge how.

Definition 2. Wishes are not produced by reason. Neither they are in scope of methodology.

Conclusion 3. From 1 and 2: Wishes can't be wrong. If someone likes white chocolate, he is not wrong even if you don't like white chocolate. If a misanthrope wants the whole of humanity to cease to exist just because he hates humans, he is not wrong. That does not mean you should not oppose him if you don't want humanity to cease to exist.

Conclusion 4. Sound normative theories can't set wishes. They can't tell which wishes are right and wrong. This follows from 3. Ethics tries to answer what is right and wrong. Since wishes can't be right or wrong they are out of the scope of ethics. So, ethics can only set means for given wishes. It follows that almost all normative theories so far were unsound, starting from commandments and CI, utilitarianism, virtue and ethics included.

But here comes the difference. If a person wants humanity to cease to exist because he believes humanity is causing harm to nature (where the wish in this case is to protect nature, for example) and not because he simply hates humans, this belongs to ethics. You can convince that person otherwise without any coercion or reward, in theory.

As far as I am aware most philosophers somehow think that "murder is wrong" is a moral rule in the sense that "no one should murder". However, if we ask them "why?", sometimes they will just refuse to answer, or they will say that these actions are wrong, but "wrong" only applies to reason. So, they should show what fallacy has been committed. Sometimes they will be able to produce a further reason, but there either will be a point when they can't or they will use circular reasoning. This makes me think this treatment of morality is hopeless.

Why are the majority of philosophers moral universalists then? Doesn't my argument show they are wrong? If not, what is a possible response? Do their theories of logic allow them to say that wishes, which are not produced by reason, can be wrong? Or is there another explanation?

I do not argue that two wishes can't be incompatible. I don't even argue that a single wish might be unpractical. One can be wrong in thinking he can fly to the Moon right now. But one can't be wrong in wishing to fly to the Moon right now.

P.S. The question has no meaning at all. Because it is playing with words. Those which have no meaning. Should remain closed.

  • I think the basic question here is: Is Ethics fundamentally based on Logic or Is the logic of Ethics created to conform to contemporary moral norms? – christo183 Sep 25 '18 at 12:30
  • What does CI stand for? – Frank Hubeny Sep 25 '18 at 13:00
  • @FrankHubeny, Categorical Imperative. – rus9384 Sep 25 '18 at 13:02
  • Wrong does not mean that. I can make a wrong turn without involving any logic. It can be wrong because I intended otherwise. So your very first premise makes no sense, and nothing can be expected of the resulting deduction. If intention is the criterion, an we have competing intentions, some of them can be wrong because others are more important. – user9166 Sep 25 '18 at 14:48
  • Your assumptions (and your insistence on them in the comments) make this impossible to answer. As @jobermark said, your first assumption is incorrect, and I can't think of anyone in traditional moral philosophy who would accept that. Same for your second premise (especially regarding ends). – Eliran Sep 25 '18 at 15:25

Moral foundations theory may offer an answer to the question Why are the majority of philosophers moral universalists then? since they take an opposing position offering multiple, innate moral foundations not grounded in rationality.

Wikipedia describes moral foundations theory as:

Moral foundations theory is a social psychological theory intended to explain the origins of and variation in human moral reasoning on the basis of innate, modular foundations. It was first proposed by the psychologists Jonathan Haidt and Jesse Graham, building on the work of cultural anthropologist Richard Shweder; and subsequently developed by a diverse group of collaborators, and popularized in Haidt's book The Righteous Mind.

Jonathan Haidt uses the concept of the "rationalist delusion" to approach questions similar to this.


Haidt, J. (2012). The righteous mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion. Vintage.

Lecture published by the Hear the Reasons channel, "Jonathan Haidt - The Rationalist Delusion in Moral Philosophy" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kI1wQswRVaU

Moral Foundations website: https://www.moralfoundations.org/

Wikipedia, "Moral foundations theory" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_foundations_theory


Premise 1. "Wrong" means the reasoning used in an argument was flawed. Another notion of "wrong" is wrong method. Misknowledge how.

This is your problem - you are choosing to use a definition of "wrong" that is a narrowed one from general usage of the word. Then you attempt to evaluate others' premises through the filter of that definition.

murder is wrong

without knowing who you are referring to saying this or what definition of "wrong" they were using when they said it there is no way to be certain but interpreting from the context their use of "wrong" would be implying that it was using "wrong" as a moral comparitive not as an evaluation of a reasoning or method.

In essence what you are doing is the equivilent of:

Premise 1. "Wrong" means the seasoning used in a recipie was flawed.

and then saying that:

"murder is wrong"

somehow implies that

"murder is applying incorrect seasoning in a recipe"

and wondering why the statement appears to make no sense to you.

  • This only positively answers the question. Many people say "murder is wrong" only because they wish murder not to be. Or can you show me a different explanation? I'm not sure you even read the question entirely. – rus9384 Oct 1 '18 at 12:47
  • @rus9384 I'm not attempting to address the question of "is murder wrong?" but instead pointing out that your whole line of reasoning starts with a faulty premise. – motosubatsu Oct 1 '18 at 12:56
  • But don't you assume people often say something is morally wrong only because it contradicts their wishes, which cannot be explained by reason internally (only through psychology and neuroscience)? This is what I'm saying, that sooner or later every reasoning will rest on these wishes. – rus9384 Oct 1 '18 at 13:10
  • @rus9384 No I don't. Your initial premise is an unsound foundation and your 'definition' of "wishes" is nothing more than proof by assertion. So your whole line of reasoning is flawed. – motosubatsu Oct 1 '18 at 13:17
  • Then I don't understand. Do philosopher only want to discuss things they are amused by? – rus9384 Oct 1 '18 at 13:19

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