Is there no right/wrong? Is it only perception?

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    Hello all, brand new member here. Happy to join and educate myself with the liberty-minded folk. Right before joining, I was having a discussion with an acquaintance who presented an argument I had not yet considered and it gave me pause. He said to me “There is no right and wrong. Only Perceptions”. This was his reply for having me expressed my interest in the philosophy of liberty and how I was confident that it is the most humanitarian approach I have ever run into. I admit, this shook my confidence. So goes my question, which I direct mostly to Dr. Gerard Casey (on Tom Woods’ suggestion) is there such a thing as right and wrong, or is it really all just human perception? Please consider I’m new, but I felt I needed to address this before I dove into the lectures. Thank you for reading.

    Jason Jewell

    I wonder if your acquaintance lives his life as though there were no right and wrong, only perceptions. I suspect he doesn’t.


    Well, he’s actually a semi-known political activist who defends the right to photograph police officers… was arrested for doing so… and documents police brutality. So I was a little confused by this and also because I was caught off guard by this, and I realized I had not asked myself how I determine what is right and what is wrong, other than the culture I grew up in… which he argued is all relative, like right and wrong.


    Back to logic 101 for me, I suppose … in the meantime, I posed him this question “So if there is no right and wrong, why do you fight for your ‘right’ to photograph? Do you fight to preserve your mere perception?” Am I beginning to understand?


    Libertypunk, here is my two cents:

    (1) It appears you are struggling over the question of whether there exists OBJECTIVE right and wrong. By OBJECTIVE, I mean “independent of human opinion.” There is no point in quibbling over SUBJECTIVE right and wrong. By SUBJECTIVE, I mean “dependent upon human judgment or opinion.”

    (2) Either OBJECTIVE right and wrong exist or they do not. If GOD exists [the God of Christianity, Islam, or Judaism], then OBJECTIVE right and wrong certainly do exist. If GOD does not exist, then OBJECTIVE right and wrong do not exist.

    (3) Regardless of whether OBJECTIVE right and wrong exist, humans are hard-wired to behave AS THOUGH they do exist. As Dr. J alluded to above, “ALL” people live their lives as though things are OBJECTIVELY right or OBJECTIVELY wrong.

    (4) Even if OBJECTIVE right and wrong do not exist, it has been agreed upon by society to behave as though certain things are OBJECTIVELY right and wrong. Undoubtedly, this is linked to what makes us feel good [physical and non-physical] and what causes us pain [physical and non-physical]. This intuitive sense of justice has made morality an essential aspect of society, and those societies that disregard it will not last very long.

    Jason Jewell

    Per Logic 101, your friend’s failure to live as though there were no right or wrong doesn’t disprove his assertion by itself (if we argued that, we’d be committing the tu quoque fallacy). But I would think raising this point might at least get him to reconsider his position.

    Regarding JohnD’s comment above, a number of authors have pointed out the curious fact that all human societies throughout history have recognized certain things as right or wrong. In the West the notion of natural law is (in part) built on this observation. C.S. Lewis famously referred to this body of shared morality across cultures as the Tao in his book The Abolition of Man.


    I’d like to come at this issue from an evolutionary perspective.

    As Dr J, I also do believe we can observe a common sense of morality across humanity. Moreover, I don’t think it’s limited to humanity. Even though our natural moral code is probably the most advanced, I’d say any species that relies heavily on a social structure can display similar treats.

    Why? Because it’s benificial for the individual to get along with the group, and it’s benificial for the group not to kill and steal from each other.

    Evolution and markets really work in the same way. There is variation, and there is selection. Just as advanced technology and wealth is the result of companies competing for the patron of their customer, courtesy and morality is the result of competition an cooperation among peoples and cultures.

    But the evolution of morality is not only working on a biological, inter-generational scale, it’s also working on a cultural and individual scale. Acting moral will most times yield the best results, thus through personal trial and error, and observing people we value and/or admire, morality adapts to forms that fit the modern framework.

    I’d definitly say that right and wrong are only matters of perception – but I would also say that those perceptions are very well grounden and non the less real.

    Richard Dawkins is very good on the explenation of values and morality from an evolutionary perspective, I’d recommend him for further reading.


    I’d ask – when exactly can a ‘right’ or a ‘wrong’ escape from being perceived by at least someone? If one particular ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ is not perceived by anybody (in his/hers heart/mind) then… does it even exist on earth? Where would it exist, in some metaphysical depository beyond humanity? And if they do, can we even talk about them? Is this a metaphysics discussion board?

    I’d think that until a ‘right’ or a ‘wrong’ is perceived by at least one living person, it is completely irrelevant for consideration. And it doesn’t have to be objective, it could be subjective too…. I can imagine a lonely man feeling something to be ‘right’ without anyone else sharing. This is historically what a hero figure does anyhow. But then he needs to get others to share that feeling/perception.

    My point is, I guess, that inasmuch as rights and wrongs are something beyond perception (even some very limited, symbolic, perception) they are irrelevant for human discussion. They can be subject of prayer and eastern meditation, maybe. Rights and wrongs lose nothing by being called ‘only perceptions’ because perceptions are the very foundation of human action, and that’s what we are talking about here.

    Sure, there may exist metaphysical origins totally beyond any human perception but what can we say about such abstract, transcendent, unobservable entities? Let’s wait until at least someone starts perceiving them, then do something about it.

    So, in a way, ‘is there right or wrong or there are only perceptions?’ sounds to me as this: ‘is there life on earth or there are only material objects we call bodies?’ Yes, both is true, there is life on earth and there are bodies, and they are pretty much inseparable because life never comes without a vehicle called ‘the body’. So also, a right or a wrong never comes without a vehicle called ‘perception’.


    OskarStaleberg, I definitely agree with your comments to an extent. Especially this, “It’s beneficial for the individual to get along with the group, and it’s beneficial for the group not to kill and steal from each other.”

    But I think the solely evolutionary view of morality falls short because it concludes that nothing is OBJECTIVELY right or wrong. As you say, “right and wrong are only matters of perception.”

    The problematic question you then have to answer is: upon what basis can we declare any action RIGHT or WRONG?



    You are saying that my argument fall short because it concludes that there is no objective morality. With this you could be saying one of the following 2 things:

    Either you know for a fact that there is objective morality, and an argument disproving that fact must therefore be false, in which case I would like you to present the evidence or theory behind this fact.

    Or you are saying that my conclusion is wrong because you would want there to be an objective morality, ie my conclusion is wrong because you want it to be wrong. I don’t know if this is what you are saying, but I if it is, I don’t think thats a logical standpoint.

    Now to your question “upon what basis can we declare any action RIGHT or WRONG?”

    I don’t think we can declare actions right or wrong. I can declare actions right or wrong, and you can declare actions right or wrong, and if our moral framworks are reasonably compatible, we can have succesfull peaceful interaction.

    My moral framework is a result of my upbringing, my political views and, to a quite large degree, my biological composition. That is the basis upon which I, not we, declare actions right or wrong.

    ps. I hope this does not sound to unfriendly. English is not my first language, and my tone might be more harsh than I mean it to be.


    Good stuff. And the tone is not harsh. It is very impressive that you can articulate ideas clearly in a 2nd language. That is much more than my brain can do.

    If WE cannot declare anything right or wrong, then upon what basis do we promote free markets over socialism? Upon what basis do we promote the non-aggression principle.

    Example: I think murder is wrong. Some dictators have thought it was right to murder in order to subdue certain parts of the population. Do WE have a basis upon which we can say my moral view is better than that of the dictators’?

    My argument is basically this;
    (1) Either OBJECTIVE right and wrong exist, or they do not.
    (2) Suppose they do not. This leads to clear absurdity [e.g. dictator example above] and contradicts our intuition and experience of reality.
    (3) Therefore, I presuppose that OBJECTIVE right and wrong do exist.

    I believe OBJECTIVE right and wrong exist and do not know how to believe otherwise.


    Thanks, I’d like to point out though thats it’s not as impressive as it sounds. It’s maybe more of a first-and-a-half language, as nearly all culture we consume here from an early age is in English. I’m just not used to having written academic arguments in English.

    Henceforth I will refer to “right and wrong” as “morality”, since it makes the prose flow better, so to speak – I’d say those terms are interchangeable, let me know if you disagree.

    I think what you are trying to do is to turn objective morality into a praxiological axiom, but I don’t think that works.

    You say that you don’t know how not to believe in objective morality. If the source of this morality is your inability not to believe in it, what makes it objective?

    Let me explain my moral basis and adress the example of the murderous dictator:

    My subjective moral basis can be simplified into two categories: emotional and rational.

    My emotional morality is my biological reward system. I feel bad when some things happen, and I feel good when other things happen – just like physical pain, but more geared to the long term. These feelings are hard wired in to me and I can and do act upon them without knowing in detail how they work.

    My rational morality is my own rules and perscriptions on how to live my life and treat others in order to best cater to my emotional morality. My rational morality is more or less conciously re-evalutated over time trough reason and trial and error.

    I emotionaly condemn the dictator because his actions make my stomach turn.
    I rationaly condemn the dictator because I would not like to live in a society that shared his morality.

    I’d say your objective view raises much harder questions. First of all there is the huge task of finding what this objective moral is. Next you have to ask: Does it apply to other animals? Would it apply to other animals if they where smarter? Does it apply to mentaly retarded humans? Does it apply to featuses? Does it apply to sperm?


    I’m still very impressed by your” first and a half” language skills. Here’s my response:

    1. I never said “The source of my morality is my inability to believe it.” The argument I presented in my last post is for the EXISTENCE of objective morality not the SOURCE of objective morality.

    2. I already know YOU would condemn the dictator. But do we really have no basis for saying to the dictator that his actions are wrong, independent of what YOU or I think?

    3. There is the task of figuring out what is objectively right and wrong. Dr. J hinted at looking across cultures and societies to discover common moral beliefs as one way of judging right and wrong [no method is fool proof and exhaustive]. If you are Christian, Jewish, or Muslim, you would look to interpret the Holy Scriptures to determine right and wrong.

    4. The difficult questions you raise at the end are problems for people who believe in subjective morality as well.

    5. On an interesting side note, Sam Harris, a very popular atheist, indeed believes both in evolution and objective morality.


    “The problematic question you then have to answer is: upon what basis can we declare any action RIGHT or WRONG?”

    How does the non-evolutionary answer resolve this question? It seems the evolutionary answer is that we call something wrong that harms the individual or group and something else right because it promotes the individual or group. For example, feeding substance X to children is bad because it kills them. But for some aliens feeding them substance X maybe be good because it nourishes them.


    ^^”How does the non-evolutionary answer resolve this question?”^^

    1. I apologize if I’ve been unclear, but the position I am taking does not necessarily entail a denial of evolution by any means. I was just saying the evolutionary by itself cannot give us a proper basis for right and wrong. So, I am not saying “the non-evolutionary answer resolves the question” but rather that the question is not resolvable with the evolutionary answer alone.

    2. “Harming an individual or group” sounds like a good basis, but then there is the problem of the dictator who likes harming people as I posted a few times ago.

    3. The example you bring up is interesting. It almost sounds like you are saying killing innocents is objectively bad and nourishing innocents is objectively good?

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