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Good and Evil (Moral Philosophy)
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TFBW
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 05, 2008 1:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Bezman wrote:
I just got a life view (errmm... that's not what its called in English...) named in my honor!

"World view." Sometimes the German Weltanschauung is used directly in English (and can be found in some English dictionaries).

Bezman wrote:
The answer to the question is "by coincidence" to be found in - the bible.
Genesis (1 Mos) 3:5.

"...for God knows that in the day you eat it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

So you're taking the knowledge of good and evil to be an external truth, like knowledge of mathematics, or knowledge of the laws of physics. Morality is an objective thing that exists independently of our minds. We can think about it, but we do not alter it with our thinking. There are moral facts, and our thinking on moral subjects can be right or wrong, depending on what the facts actually are.

Contrast this with erikjust's relativism -- a view that holds morality as a subjective thing, like a matter of taste or opinion. In his view there are no absolute or universal moral facts -- only opinions or attitudes that people can hold in relation to moral statements.

There are many different variations on the theme within each of these views, but the contrast between objectivism and subjectivism is a good "first cut" when it comes to dividing people into schools of thought on the matter. I haven't been able to classify Caldazar into one or the other of these categories yet, though.

Caldazar wrote:
I believe there is such a thing as a moral basepoint, a foundation if you will.

Fair enough, but you phrase all your examples in terms of what people think. That leaves your explanation open to the same kind of ambiguity that I was trying to avoid with Bezman. I agree with all your observations about common moral ground, innate feeling for morality, and the tendency of that to be shaped by cultural influences. The question remains, are moral truths things that we define, or things we discover?

Another (simpler, perhaps) way of asking this question is to ask, "if everyone in the world said X was not evil, could they still be wrong?" If you think they could be wrong, then you're in the objectivist school of thought: you think that good and evil are like mathematics or physics, where we can discover truths but not invent them. Conversely, if you think that the fact that everyone believes "X is not evil" makes it so, then you are in the subjectivist school of thought.

Most people are objectivist when it comes to morality. Intuitively they think that there are certain actions which are indisputably evil, no matter how many people claim otherwise. People may differ in what they consider to be indisputably evil, but they tend to agree that some cases of good and evil are not matters of opinion.

So, with that clarification out of the way, who wants to claim a stance of moral objectivism? I think Bezman does. (I do too.)
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Caldazar
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 05, 2008 12:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well...as I said in my conclusion I think there is a moral basepoint, a sence of right and wrong that we are all born with but that those basepoints are shaped by the society and culture we live in.
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TFBW
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 05, 2008 12:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

But is that moral basepoint just a common characteristic, or does it relate to something external? A common moral basepoint could be the product of common genetics which just happens to cause us all to have generally similar moral tastes, the same way that nearly everyone likes chocolate. On the other hand, it could be that we have a common moral sense, and that we share similar moral views because we are sensing the same moral truths. Which do you think it is?
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Caldazar
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PostPosted: Sat Sep 06, 2008 1:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

To be honest I could go either way. I understand the difference but I'm not sure if it makes that big a difference if it comes from within or from without because the result is the same. Even if it comes from within it is a taste all (or most) humans share making it universal. Sure it might not be as definite or unchangable as an external sense of morality but then again that obviously doesn't matter since our morality obviously is suceptible to change anyway (otherwise different societies wouldn't have alternating moral views).
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TFBW
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PostPosted: Sat Sep 06, 2008 10:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Caldazar wrote:
I understand the difference but I'm not sure if it makes that big a difference if it comes from within or from without because the result is the same.

The difference lies in whether a society as a whole can be evil. If good and evil are defined by human attitudes, then "good" is just a majority view (or similar). If, on the other hand, they are defined by an external standard, then majority behaviour is irrelevant. This has a big impact on whether a typical childish excuse like, "but everyone is doing it," is valid or not. It also has a big impact on your own attitude towards right and wrong: if you believe in an external standard, then you might try to determine what the standard says about specific situations; if you think it's an internal matter, then "being a good person" means "going with the flow".

The result is the same only in the sense that we can classify some things as good and other things as evil: the rationale for the classification is totally different.

Caldazar wrote:
Sure it might not be as definite or unchangable as an external sense of morality but then again that obviously doesn't matter since our morality obviously is suceptible to change anyway (otherwise different societies wouldn't have alternating moral views).

The variation in moral views is interesting -- as is the lack of variation. The significance of this variation differs widely depending on whether you consider it a taste or a sense, however. Differing tastes are only slightly interesting: big deal if the Indians like strong curries and the Americans like a lot of sugar. If it's a sense, however, then why do we have such variation at all? Furthermore, why are we as individuals typically adamant that our own sense of right and wrong is veridical, and that everyone else is mistaken when they disagree? This behaviour is consistent with the view that morality is a sense rather than a taste, but it's unreasonable to insist that our own moral sense is reliable when there is obviously so much variation in it.

In short, I think this is a very important distinction, and it's important to know which view of things the parties in an argument hold, so that we can know whether they are arguing about the same thing or not. It makes a huge difference to one's arguments whether morality is a matter of taste or sense.
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Caldazar
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 09, 2008 7:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

well I'm definatly going by sense although I believe our sense is corrupted. I mean as I've been saying we have a foundation and a sense of what is right and wrong yet we still manage to twist it to fit our world view. And I'm not pointing fingers at any specific culture that i think got things all wrong but as humankind as a whole. we tend to shape raw material into things that suits us the best and get rid of things that have no use to us.
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lacavin
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PostPosted: Sun Nov 30, 2008 8:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I hope you don't mind if i try to revive this somewhat old (actually, almost as old as philosophy Smile) thread... it is very interesting, the more so thanks to TFBW that has he very ordered way of streamlining the discussion.

TFBW wrote:
The major point of difference is as to whether there is an absolute moral standard against which moral truths are decided. On the one hand we have erikjust, who takes a relativist point of view. He says that there is no absolute moral standard: all moral judgements are subjective. In his view, a claim that "X is evil" is no different to the claim "I seriously disapprove of X". On the other hand we have Bezman, who takes the view that there are certain moral absolutes or universal moral truths: certain actions which are inherently good or evil regardless of who approves or disapproves. We might call Bezman's position a universalist view.


I would like to comment on this, without any supporting research, just my 2 cents of opinions:

I see morals as having 3 potential sources, complementing the two sources of TFBW: External Morals ("universalist view"), Natural Morals ("naturalist view"), and Subjective Morals ("relativist view").

Let us discuss those sources:
* External ("universalist view") to the society and mankind, absolute. This requires an external source, which is for instance God - specifically a God with a personality and values. To keep it short: If you don't believe in such a God (see the God's existence thread), then in my opinion the universalist view cannot be defended.

* Natural (I propose "naturalist view"), which means that Good and Bad result mostly from our nature as humans, perhaps as far as our biology or as our evolution as a successul social creature. Let me give some examples:
- Our biological drive encourage us ("the tribe") to have children that are fit. Therefore the killing of fit children is viewed as Bad in most societies. Note that the killing of unfit children is viewed in some societies as Good (e.g. Sparta in antiquity), or at least as not Bad (e.g. abortion of trisomic baby, in Europe nowadays).
- Killing in general? Well, it's mostly "Bad" when it applies to someone in your own tribe (you weaken the tribe) but actually "Good" when it applies to someone in a competitor's tribe (weaken the ennemy) - murder is heroic on the other side of the boundary! What are your feelings when James Bond shoot a soviet soldier?
- Incest give statistically birth to more unfit children, therefore it is frown upon by most societies (weaken the tribe, again) with few selected exeptions (e.g. Pharaoh in ancient Egypt). While we could discuss that incest should also cover cousins, this is not a taboo (too difficult not to marry a cousin in a small tribe or a small medieval village?) limiting the taboo to parents, grandparents and brother/sisters.

I could give many, many other examples and find (a posteriori, i.e. no "proofs") evolutionary/biological justification for almost our whole moral code.
While this "natural" moral seems also a "given", such as the external, it has some major differences: it can change, albeight slowly, as the conditions of our live change. Let me try to give an example: in a dangerous world, it was very important that chidren behave correctly - thus education by force was acceptable (it was morally right). Nowadays, in a tame but competitive world, more thinking came to educate your kid to be successful by being creative, and think by himself. Therefore beating children is now considered "wrong".

* Subjective ("relativist view") moral is as mentioned "I seriously disapprove". Because we live in a society, it is actually "most seriously disapprove", your own opinion being secondary at least with regards to the consequences of acting against society's moral. This moral is the most versatlie, of course: slavery was accetable during most of mankind's history; now with the "human rights" trend of thoughts, it is not moral anymore.
Note that you can rational the subjective moral by saying "immoral is doing onto others what you would not like done unto you" - theft is not moral, because if you worked hard to gain something, it would be "unfair" for another to steal it from you.

One could argue that the empathy (understanding the feeling of others) may have also evolve and hence the subjective moral is similar to the natural one. I think personally that our moral is a combination of age-old natural moral and taboos completed by subjective moral elements depending on the actual view of the society.

Any thoughts about this?
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TFBW
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PostPosted: Sun Nov 30, 2008 8:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Here's a challenge to your opinion that an "external" view requires a personal god. Does the existence of mathematical truths require any sort of god? If so, why? If not, why can't morality be like mathematics in this way?

In relation to the "natural" view, are you suggesting a realist model, in which good and evil are real things defined by their relationship with evolution? Specifically, do these moral goods express a way the world ought to be, rather than simply describing a natural tendency for the world to be a certain way? Or are you suggesting an anti-realist model, where good and evil are illusions which we experience as a result of evolutionary pressures? That is, for example, we see the killing of healthy infants as morally wrong because natural selection has favoured those with a tendency to hold this view.

Also, I see a problem with your "natural" view in terms of the observations on which it is based. Abortion of unborn infants (without regard to the health of the infant -- purely on the whim of the mother) is very common practice in some cultures. This would seem to carry a powerfully selective disadvantage in evolutionary terms, and yet the moral shift has been towards the acceptance of this behaviour (legalisation), even if there is back-pressure in some places. Can this anomaly be explained in terms of the natural view?
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lacavin
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PostPosted: Sun Nov 30, 2008 9:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

TFBW wrote:
Here's a challenge to your opinion that an "external" view requires a personal god. Does the existence of mathematical truths require any sort of god? If so, why? If not, why can't morality be like mathematics in this way?


Excellent argument - I cannot answer it; It seems like there is a difference, however:
I would say that IF moral would be an universal law of nature, like mathematics, it would ALWAYS apply. 2+2 is always equal to 4, be it 2 apples, 2 stars or 2 minutes; it applies if I do it, or if you do it, or if a mouse bring 2+2nuts in its hole; it applied yesterday and will apply tomorrow.
But "moral" laws apply mostly only for a subset of humankind in a limited time. A universal law should apply to all animals? (Lions routinely kill fit kids of other males) At least it should apply to the whole mankind? (what about anthropophagism?) It should apply at all time? (what about the morality of slavery?).

TFBW wrote:
In relation to the "natural" view, [...] do these moral goods express a way the world ought to be, rather than simply describing a natural tendency for the world to be a certain way? Or are you suggesting an anti-realist model, where good and evil are illusions which we experience as a result of evolutionary pressures?


I certainly don't see it as how it "ought to be", as this would directly lead to the external standard. Of course it is how it "happened" to be based on the situation we lived in.
It is by the way not at all an illusion - it is a necessary frame of mind for the best survival of the specie or (depending on which moral decision) the individual even.
In the "natural moral" the rules are a product of the situation however, not a constant for all thinkable species, nor for all time - therefore it is perhaps an "illusion" to think such moral rules as anything deeper than that...

TFBW wrote:
Also, I see a problem with your "natural" view in terms of the observations on which it is based. Abortion of unborn infants (without regard to the health of the infant -- purely on the whim of the mother) is very common practice in some cultures. This would seem to carry a powerfully selective disadvantage in evolutionary terms, and yet the moral shift has been towards the acceptance of this behaviour (legalisation), even if there is back-pressure in some places. Can this anomaly be explained in terms of the natural view?


This is actually quite easy. We live in a society which do not need so many children anymore. Actually, the demographic increase is more a burden than an advantage nowadays.
Abortion was seen as immoral in almost the whole human history (I am not aware of exceptions) because children were important for the group (which is why in difficult birth, at the question "save the child or the mother?", the normal, moral answer was to save the kid and let the mother die).
Now the value of having children decreased, and the value of childless women increased (assuming that childless women have a higher tendency to work (at least compared to women with many children) and because the life is longer and therefore the value of educated, experienced women is now "economically" high), all leading to the fact that women (as men don't count...) without children are actually a benefit for society (as long as enough other have kids). Therefore it is now acceptable to abort, and at the question: save the child or the mother, the moral answer nowadays is "save the mother!"...

I know abortion is shaky, morally: it is widely accepted in Europe (so for me, it is absolutely not shocking), still widely debated in US, status unknown in the rest of the world. Perhaps because this social change (less important to have children, higher societal value of educated experienced women) is too recent? Perhaps our grand-children will laugh at us and say: "look, in the past these guys thought slavery was moral and abortion immoral!" Shocked ...
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TFBW
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 01, 2008 12:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

lacavin wrote:
But "moral" laws apply mostly only for a subset of humankind in a limited time. A universal law should apply to all animals? (Lions routinely kill fit kids of other males) At least it should apply to the whole mankind? (what about anthropophagism?) It should apply at all time? (what about the morality of slavery?).

Mathematical laws are universal, but the result of any sum still depends on the numbers you are adding, and not every axiom of the Rationals is also an axiom of the Integers. Furthermore, I don't see how these questions are more easily answered given a personal God. I can only make a distinction between an abstract moral law (akin to mathematics) and the morality of a personal God if the God in question behaves inconsistently. Even then, consistency is a hard thing to determine in a moral context, because moral contexts aren't as simple as numbers.

lacavin wrote:
I certainly don't see it as how it "ought to be", as this would directly lead to the external standard. Of course it is how it "happened" to be based on the situation we lived in.

Isn't every outcome necessarily a good outcome under this interpretation (since whatever happens happens)? Or is there yet some abstract ideal, separate from what actually happens, which allows us to classify some happenings as good (compatible with the ideal) or bad (conflicting with the ideal)? If the ideal is a separate entity, then it must be some form of external thing, surely. If there is no ideal, then how can anything be bad?

lacavin wrote:
It is by the way not at all an illusion - it is a necessary frame of mind for the best survival of the specie or (depending on which moral decision) the individual even.

The behaviour is undoubtedly real. The "goodness" and "badness" part appears to be an illusion -- as demonstrated by the dilemma I pose above. I don't see how "good" and "bad" can be anything other than superfluous nonsense in a strictly naturalist view. Moral assertions (like "it's wrong to kill healthy babies") are neither true nor false under the naturalist scheme; rather, moral assertions are pointless attempts to rationalise behavioural inclinations by reference to an imaginary ideal. (That is, unless by "wrong" you only mean "selectively disadvantageous", in which case I submit that "wrong" is a very poor choice of words.)

I have additional problems with the explanatory part of your post, but I'd like clarification on these philosophical matters first.
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 01, 2008 9:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

TFBW, I cannot explain why mathematical laws should apply universally. There are the usual theories (math exist and we discover it, math is a creation of our brain or a consequence of our nature) which indeed make it similar to our discussion about the origin of morals. So I am forced to agree that an absolute moral may exist independently from a personal God. This does not change my classification, nor of course my opinion about which explanation is the most valid, however.
While I find it easy to imagine that 2+2=4 is a universal law, somehow, I have however personally a difficulty to understanding why "Good" and "Bad" should apply universally without an external reference (such as a God).
But let it be written that it is my gut feeling and that I cannot defend logically this assertion.

TFBW wrote:
Mathematical laws are universal, but the result of any sum still depends on the numbers you are adding, and not every axiom of the Rationals is also an axiom of the Integers.
I do not see the pertinence of those arguments - the morality of, say, theft and property is not the same as the morality of sexual behavior - same as natural or rational numbers have different rules, or different numbers summing up to different results. Just different topics there!

TFBW wrote:
Furthermore, I don't see how these questions are more easily answered given a personal God.
While I had to agree that I cannot exclude an external moral without personal God, I insist that it makes it more easily answered - conversely, if a personal God do exist, then obviously there is a moral external (it may be compatible, but it was there first and hence is the foundation) to our biology or our society, and no further explanation is required; whether this moral is inherent to the God or to the abstract moral law is irrelevant as they will be the same, God being all-powerful and hence the abstract moral law will "fit" the God's moral.
Therefore if one believes in a personal God, then he should rationally believe in the "universalism" origin of morals. Unless an amoral (I did not say immoral, but amoral) God exist, but such a God does not fit at least the christian Job description!


I don't understand what you want to prove with the remarks below as obviously there is by definition no absolute Good and Bad outside of the universalist view, only relative Good and Bad in the context of our biology or society.

TFBW wrote:
Isn't every outcome necessarily a good outcome under this interpretation (since whatever happens happens)? [...] If there is no ideal, then how can anything be bad?
Something can be Bad because of the free will, i.e. the fact that (at least humans) can act against the interest of the population (in case of "naturalist view") or the subjective view of the majority of the society's members (in case of "relativist view"). I agree that animals without free will cannot be immoral, as they follow their nature.

TFBW wrote:
The "goodness" and "badness" part appears to be an illusion -- as demonstrated by the dilemma I pose above. I don't see how "good" and "bad" can be anything other than superfluous nonsense in a strictly naturalist view.
Correct. Good and Bad have no absolute meaning (they have one ONLY in the universalist view) - That's it!!! BUT they have a real relative meaning within a biological/social context.

TFBW wrote:
Moral assertions (like "it's wrong to kill healthy babies") are neither true nor false under the naturalist scheme; rather, moral assertions are pointless attempts to rationalise behavioural inclinations by reference to an imaginary ideal.
It is WRONG in the biological/social context. It is not a rationalization by reference to an imaginary ideal as there is... NO IMAGINARY IDEAL!

I repeat that all those last arguments, unless I misunderstood, are mistargeted, as obviously there is an absolute "Bad" or "Good" only in the universalist view, by definition the naturalist and relativist views have no absolute, which is why they change with time (and may potentially be different in other species if other self-aware species would/do exist somewhere in the universe).

The best argument against the universalist view is that being absolute, it is by definition immuable. But moral does change: What about slavery? was it not considered moral not that long ago... and is not nowadays considered immoral?
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TFBW
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 02, 2008 12:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

lacavin wrote:
So I am forced to agree that an absolute moral may exist independently from a personal God. This does not change my classification, nor of course my opinion about which explanation is the most valid, however.
While I find it easy to imagine that 2+2=4 is a universal law, somehow, I have however personally a difficulty to understanding why "Good" and "Bad" should apply universally without an external reference (such as a God).
But let it be written that it is my gut feeling and that I cannot defend logically this assertion.

Good. I think we're clear on that point, then. You may want to go and think about it some more, just to see if you can clear it up for yourself, but I'm done asking questions on this front.

We're not clear on this thing you call a "naturalist view", however. I think this arises primarily from misunderstanding of terminology, so I'll attempt to clarify some terms.

lacavin wrote:
I don't understand what you want to prove with the remarks below as obviously there is by definition no absolute Good and Bad outside of the universalist view, only relative Good and Bad in the context of our biology or society.

Consider the similarity between the "universalist" view and the others you mention. If moral rights and wrongs are defined by God, then something can be Bad because of free will, i.e. the fact that humans can act in a manner contrary to that which God has commanded. You characterise the other models in a similar manner, as follows.

lacavin wrote:
Something can be Bad because of the free will, i.e. the fact that (at least humans) can act against the interest of the population (in case of "naturalist view") or the subjective view of the majority of the society's members (in case of "relativist view").

In the three models you've offered, right and wrong are defined by three different things: the will of God, the interests of the population, and the majority view of the society. If one obeys the perfect will of God, or acts in the perfect interests of the population, or acts perfectly in accordance with the opinion of the majority, then one is a perfectly good person as judged by the model in question. Each of these can be absolute systems of morality.

They can also be relative systems of morality, in which "right" and "wrong" are indeterminate until placed in a frame of reference (just as "it is 6pm" is of indeterminate truth until you specify a location). This requires a degree of freedom, such as the existence of more than one god, or more than one species, or more than one society. In addition, it requires that multiple frames of reference be equally valid.

Let me see if I can make that distinction clear. Imagine that society A says spamming is wrong, whereas society B says that spamming is a valid exercise of free speech. These two contradict each other, but we can still have absolute right and wrong if we say that a person's actions are either right or wrong depending on the society to which he belongs. In that case, a spammer in society A is a bad person, whereas a spammer in society B is not. In this scheme, the opinions of society A do not apply to persons in society B, and vice versa.

On the other hand, we could say that the opinions of society A and society B are equally valid and equally universal. That is, any spammer is bad person by the standards of society A, but blameless by the standards of society B. A spammer is simultaneously bad and not-bad, just as it is simultaneously 6pm and not-6pm on Earth right now. The wrongness of the spammer's actions can't be decided in this system without specifying the frame of reference. That's relativism.

In a relativist system, it's not enough to have all the facts about the act itself: you must also specify a point of view. In an absolute system, points of view are irrelevant: the circumstances of the act itself decide whether the action is right or wrong. Many people object intuitively to relativism. Their intuition demands that if something is a genuine wrong, then it is an absolute wrong, and any party holding a contradictory opinion as to the wrongness is simply in error.

lacavin wrote:
Good and Bad have no absolute meaning (they have one ONLY in the universalist view) - That's it!!! BUT they have a real relative meaning within a biological/social context.

They have an absolute meaning within a context. All "right" and "wrong" depend on context, even in a monotheistic universalist morality. The question of whether it is wrong to kill another human being, for example, can depend on the circumstances in all the above systems. It may even be the case that God judges us by how well we obey the laws of our own society!

lacavin wrote:
It is WRONG in the biological/social context. It is not a rationalization by reference to an imaginary ideal as there is... NO IMAGINARY IDEAL!

If an action is genuinely wrong in a biological or social context, that is because it violates the ideal of "act in the interests of your species" or "act in accordance with the opinion of the majority", respectively, you see? This is no different (in principle) than the monotheistic universalist ideal: "act in accordance with the will of God". These ideals are the determinants of right and wrong in each of the systems.

lacavin wrote:
The best argument against the universalist view is that being absolute, it is by definition immuable. But moral does change: What about slavery? was it not considered moral not that long ago... and is not nowadays considered immoral?

Oh, there are several possible answers to this objection.
  • Perhaps the morality of slavery hasn't changed: all we can say for sure is that people's beliefs about the morality of slavery have changed.
  • Perhaps the morality of slavery depends in part on laws regarding slavery, and the laws have changed. (Even if slavery is morally acceptable under some conditions, it may not be acceptable if the law forbids it.)
  • "Absolute" doesn't imply "immutable" in any case -- not even if you assume an unchanging God on which morality is based. All "absolute" implies is that morality is not subject to multiple interpretations.
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 03, 2009 12:31 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sorry for my long absence... lot's to do and to travel around.
Back on topic, however...

TFBW wrote:
Good. I think we're clear on that point, then. You may want to go and think about it some more, just to see if you can clear it up for yourself, but I'm done asking questions on this front.
Well, after some thinking, I have the feeling that mathematical laws are a special type of physical laws (and theoretical constructs with an inherent logic based on said basic laws) and that those laws could be the consequence of the structure of our universe. Moral laws could similarly be the consequence of the structure of our universe, in which case they would be absolute without requiring an external standard.
While therefore I accept the possibility of universal moral, as opposed as relative (=social) or natural (=biology-based) ones, it seems still very shaky for me, as I cannot imagine that if we would be thinking fishes (those that spread zillions of eggs and sperma in the sea to have a statistically some of them meeting and becoming children), we would have the same views on adultery, abortion or incest...
To accept it, this means that this universal moral will cover different biological cases, for instance - "for bisexual mamifer species" something would be universally right, while "for mono-sexual partogenetic species" something else would be universally right... but then it relativize a lot and does not really allow for an efficient definition (see below)...

TFBW wrote:
We're not clear on this thing you call a "naturalist view", however. I think this arises primarily from misunderstanding of terminology, so I'll attempt to clarify some terms.
We seem to have a real problem understanding each other... as I mentioned, I am not native english speaking, so I may use wrongly some expression, but to summarize:
  • Universal = Given by a God/Religion or perhaps inherent to the universe and attached to an act itself. Hold for every thinkable species with free-will, for all period of histories. A given act is just "right" or "wrong" inherently to the act forever, independantly of the time and in all situations. Note that the rules may be complex and cover differentiated cases - murder is wrong, but murder in self defense is less wrong and murder in defense of the weak may be right - being universal does not mean being "simple".
  • Natural = consequence of the biological situation; it is different from the universal in the sense that the resulting rules are different from species to species, and may evolve as the necessities of the species evolves. An act is inherently "right" or "wrong" in the given biological context at a given point of time.
  • Social = consequence of the social situation, i.e. the opinion of the social environment. An act is not inherently "right" or "wrong", but is judged "right" or "wrong" by the majority of the people. It is very versatile, changes with the moods and the historical events.
With keywords:
  • Universal: inherent to an act; absolute
  • Natural: inherent to an act; relative to a (e.g. biological) context
  • Social: not inherent to an act but to a (majority) opinion; relative

Of course, the reality could be a combination - for instance the social opinion is strongly affected by the natural situation (obviously our fishes above would not even understand adultery).

So by my definitions, these are not all "absolute systems of morality"; the natural is relative to the species and its present survival situation and the social is just a matter of opinion. Both assume indeed that there may exist "multiple frames of reference [that are] equally valid" and hence require a point of view on top of the description of the act.

Only the universal moral does not require such qualification or context, the description of the act is sufficient. Of course, one could imagine that the description of the act covers the biological definition of the specie and the social situation and that therefore is does not require a point of view, but this goes to far as it relativize this absolute morals to an infinity of possible situation (and relativize it with regards to time as different rules will apply at different times as the situation evolves). If this is what you mean, than I really don't see the point of this discussion, because then it does not make any difference!

Indeed the discussion makes sense if it allows us to have an efficient definition of morals, efficient meaning "which allow acting".

This is the reason for those 3 categories - they make a big difference: I can impose a universal moral indistinctly to the whole universe; I can impose a natural moral to the whole human race; I cannot impose a social moral to another social group!
All-in-all it is important to know whether there is an absolute, a natural or no moral (only a social view on things) in oder to know how to act when confronted to divergent moral assessments:
  • I can judge according to the greater good of the human race in the natural case (e.g. incest = bad),
  • I cannot judge globally but only make local laws in the social case (e.g. in my country, incest is bad, what you do in another country is not my problem),
  • I would need a revelation of some sort to judge in the universalist case. Without this revelation, I cannot judge at all (not even based on what seems best for me or my specie) and I may only give my opinion and hope I am not doing it all wrong...


Of course, having had no revelation, my personal opinion is that the moral is "natural", but that many things people say as being "moral" is actually just a matter of opinion.
Protecting the children is a necessity for our species, therefore molesting/raping/killing fit children is immoral.
A gay minority does not put our specie in danger (it may even be positive, it is at least biologically neutral as children need heterosexual intercourse so it does not spread) therefore it is not a moral question.


TFBW wrote:
Many people object intuitively to relativism. Their intuition demands that if something is a genuine wrong, then it is an absolute wrong, and any party holding a contradictory opinion as to the wrongness is simply in error.
hmmm... "many people" is a weasel word, but anyway - do the people you know really object to relativism? Many people I know, in a region which is not dominantly religious, are going very far in the relativism (called "open-mind" or "tolerance towards other cultures"), in my experience...

TFBW wrote:
Oh, there are several possible answers to this objection.
  • Perhaps the morality of slavery hasn't changed: all we can say for sure is that people's beliefs about the morality of slavery have changed.
  • Perhaps the morality of slavery depends in part on laws regarding slavery, and the laws have changed. (Even if slavery is morally acceptable under some conditions, it may not be acceptable if the law forbids it.)
  • "Absolute" doesn't imply "immutable" in any case -- not even if you assume an unchanging God on which morality is based. All "absolute" implies is that morality is not subject to multiple interpretations.

  • I agree that theoretically the moral may be constant but that only the understanding/belief did change over time. But again, this is not an efficient definition, as it does not help us to determine how to act morally if the "absolute" moral is... unknown to us. An absolute law which does not inherently apply (we can violate it, not like e.g. gravity) and which is unknown is basically... a nice concept like the week with four thursdays...
  • If the universal moral implies following the (changing, and based on the current social opinion) laws, then sorry, but the universal moral is again equal to exactly nothing - only the laws count and hence the moral is "social".
  • In my opinion, "absolute" does imply "immutable" as it is not subject to multiple interpretation and hence a given act is and remains forever moral or immoral. The absolute rules may be complex enough to deal with the specifics of the situation, however, which may lead to apparent changes - e.g. "slavery is wrong BUT better then murder", so if the alternative is slavery or death, slavery becomes acceptable (but should be stopped as soon as death is not the only alternative anymore).


Just a question: 2008 was the "birthday" of the human rights - should I start a new thread on the question whether humans rights are "universal" or do we want to discuss it here as it is related?
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kurowoofwoof111
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Joined: 17 Oct 2007
Posts: 156

PostPosted: Fri Jan 09, 2009 3:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hamlet kind of brings up a argument involving the Good and Evil debate through it's theme of Appearance vs. Reality.
Shakespeare Hamlet, scene ii wrote:

HAMLET

Denmark's a prison.

ROSENCRANTZ

Then is the world one.

HAMLET

A goodly one; in which there are many confines,
wards and dungeons, Denmark being one o' the worst.

ROSENCRANTZ

We think not so, my lord.

HAMLET

Why, then, 'tis none to you; for there is nothing
either good or bad, but thinking makes it so: to me
it is a prison.

ROSENCRANTZ

Why then, your ambition makes it one; 'tis too
narrow for your mind.

HAMLET

O God, I could be bounded in a nut shell and count
myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I
have bad dreams.
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phillip1882
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Joined: 14 Sep 2009
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 17, 2009 9:59 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

i'd say "good and bad" exist, but not necessaryly "good and evil". what do I mean? let's take the example of stealing. if everyone stole, then there would be no real reason to "earn" a living, just fight to the death for whatever you can get your hands on. obviously this would quickly degenerate into a bad society, one that becomes self destructive. however when people chose not to steal they are practising good behaviour, they under stand that if they steal, they are subverting society as a whole. when you enslave another, you create a bad society, as you yourself would not want to be enslaved in general. you want to be able to keep the fruits of your labor, and not be forced to give them up. if everyone enslaved everyone, this would quickly lead to chaos as questions of who owns who abound. when people agree to treat each other as people and not property, this creates a good society. murder is bad, but is it evil? its certainly detrimental to society, but to classify it as evil you have to define what exactly evil is, and why murder fits this category.
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TFBW
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 17, 2009 12:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

phillip1882 wrote:
i'd say "good and bad" exist, but not necessaryly "good and evil". ... obviously this would quickly degenerate into a bad society, one that becomes self destructive.

So you think that "good" and "bad" are given by an action's effect on society? As in, "what would society be like if everyone did it?"
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 17, 2009 4:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

not nessicarily, more of the "do unto others " philosophy combined with its effects on society.
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