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Old 10-22-2006, 02:23 AM   #1
Totenkopf
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moral relativism

Here's a topic that might cause as many potential headaches as abortion, religion, war, etc. Where do you come down on the issue of moral relativism and why?
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Old 10-22-2006, 08:55 AM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Totenkopf
Here's a topic that might cause as many potential headaches as abortion, religion, war, etc. Where do you come down on the issue of moral relativism and why?
The principles of right and wrong that all criteria of judgment are relative to the individuals and situations involved.
Well this is very complex, I believe knowlege is relative.

I put it like this, the first forms of knowlege had to go through trial and error and difficult and intense scrutiny before it was accepted by the larger system, which I mean the greater number of people who was debating if to accept it as fact respect other forms of the similar knowlege.
This scrutiny still is in process today it is with science mostly but the laymen use this process too.
Like for example, will new words(slang words) or social knowlege will be accepted as fact or discarded.


The principles of right and wrong is depended on the bigger system of the society for a generalisation of the principles.

I also believe individual experiences are relative.
As the saying goes, "Everything thing is relative."

In a another universe for example, evil maybe encourage and good is look apon with distain.
Of course I don't see the logic in a universe existing when destuction is the norm.
But because I believe that absolutely nothing is impossible, I guest I will have to abandon the use of logic in that case.

Last edited by windu6; 10-25-2006 at 04:18 PM.
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Old 10-22-2006, 11:26 AM   #3
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There is no single absolute set of morals that can apply to every single individual in every possible situation. Period.

There are a number of commonly accepted guidelines that most of us try to stick to in order to exist in a heavily populated civilized society... but these tend to break down under periods of great stress.

I've been told that equates to "moral relativism." I prefer to think of it as the messy reality of human life on Earth.

I'm not sure if I really want to get super deep into this discussion though... I've already been pretty far down that road before.

But if you can find a single set of rules that will be universally agreed upon by every person born and raised in radically different circumstances in different societies in every single possible circumstance around the planet, I'd like to hear it.

Chances are, you won't be able to get 2 people raised under the same roof under otherwise identical circumstances to totally agree on every deep moral dilemma... you'll never be able to get 2 people in different cultures to see eye-to-eye.

Is there one single moral code that covers everyone from an elderly nun living in a small French village, to a young radical Sunni Muslim in Fallujah, a middle-aged atheist in London, a homosexual Japanese businessman, an Evangelical teen in rural Kansas, a Tibetan monk, and a head-hunting tribesman in the deepest, nearly unexplored jungles of South America?

I really doubt it. Our morals are formed by the ways and circumstances in which we were raised.
Since nobody has the exact same experiences growing up, it's impossible for them to have the exact same moral code.

What you see as a sin and/ or an outrageous violation against human rights may simply be life as usual for someone else.

There are no absolutes when it comes to the human experience.


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Old 10-22-2006, 11:51 AM   #4
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Good thread topic, Totenkopf

I must say that I agree with Windu6 up to a point. The world is made up of billions of individuals each of whom observes his/her environment from within his/her own unique frame of reference, each in his/her own unique way.

The only thing that I know of that is NOT relative is truth, but as to what that truth is, I haven't a clue.
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Old 10-22-2006, 08:05 PM   #5
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Question

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Originally Posted by Qliveur
The only thing that I know of that is NOT relative is truth, but as to what that truth is, I haven't a clue.
Maybe in this universe it maybe so but we have no damn idea with that reasoning in other universes will lead to.

I believe also that truth is relative,
maybe not scientific but other truths are relative.
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Old 10-22-2006, 08:13 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by windu6
I believe also that truth is relative,
maybe not scientific but other truths are relative.
How could the truth be relative? Can 2+2=5 as well as 4?
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Old 10-22-2006, 08:21 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Qliveur
How could the truth be relative? Can 2+2=5 as well as 4?
Yes, I know how hard it will be to grasp that 2+2=5 to mathematicians on this planet but I believe that it will be the case in some other universes.
I believe absolutely nothing is impossible.
So that is my reasoning for that.
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Old 10-22-2006, 08:22 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by windu6
I believe also that truth is relative,
maybe not scientific but other truths are relative.
Maybe if you're on LSD. But since most of us don't live inside a Hunter S. Thompson novel, I'm going to have to disagree.
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Old 10-22-2006, 08:27 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by windu6
Yes, I know how hard it will be to grasp that 2+2=5 to mathematicians on this planet but I believe that it will be the case in some other universes.
I believe absolutely nothing is impossible.
So that is my reasoning for that.
OK: I certainly can't argue with your reasoning. I agree with you that nothing is impossible.
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Old 10-22-2006, 08:32 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by Samnmax221
Maybe if you're on LSD. But since most of us don't live inside a Hunter S. Thompson novel, I'm going to have to disagree.
Disagree then, you fail to grasp the complexity of existence.
There are infinitely many universes out there.
and also infinitely many possible forms of creations:meaning cartoons maybe be real out there you don't know I don't no one one this planet knows.
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Old 10-22-2006, 08:35 PM   #11
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Morality is, in the final analysis, about right and wrong. It is about having a moral standard which applies both to oneself, and to all other people. To be moral one must not do what one WANTS to do, but instead what one feels is morally right. Therefore for morality to function at all, it must contain starkly drawn lines between "right" and "wrong".

If we believe that our course of action is moral, it is because we believe it to be morally right, instead of morally wrong. Therefore we believe that we know right from wrong, and that there is a clear distinction between the two. The moral ideal therefore, is to use reason and logic to determine what is morally right, and then go and do it.

However, we are human and therefore fallible. Someone may believe that what they are doing is morally right, but they may be incorrect. This does NOT mean that morals are in some way "subjective". It just means that when a person who considers themselves to be moral does something immoral, they got it wrong.

Therefore morality is an absolute. There is a right way to do things, and a wrong way. A moral way, and an immoral way.

But our execution of morality may be flawed. Our "rating" of morality as individuals is limited by our ability to determine right from wrong, in short, our reasoning ability, our capacity for logic, our capacity to put ourselves in the shoes of others, our sheer intelligence and empathy.

Morals are not relative. Some people are better at being moral than others, that's all.


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Old 10-22-2006, 08:46 PM   #12
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I'm just curious, AL: Where is this moral standard supposed to come from? Who determines what is moral and what is not? What one person thinks is moral, others will not and so on, so what is the absolute standard?

I hope this didn't sound sarcastic or otherwise derogatory, because that's not my intention.
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Old 10-22-2006, 09:24 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Qliveur:

I'm just curious, AL: Where is this moral standard supposed to come from?
I'm glad you asked. Morality first starts with empathy. I will explain:

People have claimed that morality is based on not doing anything to others that you wouldn't want done to yourself. This is incorrect. It is insufficient, and subjective. A masochist doesn't mind pain, because he likes pain. But it's clearly not right on that basis for him to go around inflicting pain on others, because they won't like it the way he does.

So we start, not with "do unto others as you would have them do unto you", which is subjective. Instead, we start with the quality of empathy, which you will possess if you are not a psychopath. It is the ability to put yourself in the shoes of another, and to realise that others feel pain and distress just as you do.

So empathy shows us that people other than ourselves have feelings. Then we mix the "do unto others" principle with our innate empathy, and we get... "Every organism feels distress, just as we do. Therefore, we must not inflict anything onto other organisms that causes them distress, unless absolutely necessary for our own self preservation". (I have a right to live, too.)

Thus, through the quality of empathy, we arrive at the first basic principles of morality. That others have as much value as we do. That we all feel distress.

In short, morality stems from empathy.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Qliveur:

Who determines what is moral and what is not?
Ah, no "person" determines what is moral, morality is an absolute, independent of individual opinion. I will explain:

We started with empathy, the desire not to inflict distress on others, and the universal value of life.

But now, in order to define what is SPECIFICALLY MORAL, we must use our reasoning power, and logic. Remember, this isn't about "creating" our own morality, it's about uncovering the truth that already exists independent of us.

My logic tells me that in order to behave morally towards another lifeform, I have to first determine what will cause it distress. Then, I must not do such things.

If I am already causing a lifeform distress by accident, I must determine what it is that I am doing that is causing the distress, and desist from that action.

If I have caused distress in the past, I must make what reparations I can.

For all animals the basic stuff is easy. Don't wound, don't frighten, don't kill. Don't steal their stuff, don't threaten them, don't cause distress, in other words.

Let's take an issue like abortion. In order to behave morally to the foetus, ideally we would have a method of determining on a case-by-case basis whether the foetus can feel pain and distress. From that point on, we would not abort. But in order to behave morally to the mother who doesn't want to have a child, we should abort before that critical time.

However, case-by-case tests are not currently available, so as moral people we look to experts to give us a rough time frame in which we can act.

That's functional morality. We use our reason and logic to determine the most empathic way to act, and then we do it.

But as I said before, we are limited in our perception of morality by our intellectual limits. If we're unable to reason out the truth, then we will be immoral unintentionally. Thus the moral man exercises his reasoning faculties regularly, so that he can always do the very best he can.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Qliveur:

What one person thinks is moral, others will not and so on, so what is the absolute standard?
What individuals think is irrelevant. Morality is an absolute. But we as humans are fallible and may, as I stated earlier, sometimes accidentally do the wrong thing. But it's up to us to always TRY to do the right thing. That too, is basic morality.


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Old 10-22-2006, 10:05 PM   #14
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The very flippant answer for the moment because I had a long weekend of meetings, hanging out with friends til nearly 3am this morning, and a little too much imbibing on Friday night in Memphis while enjoying fabulous BBQ and Blues (Beale St. rocks!):

Let's see. I decide to embrace moral relativism. Then I decide to enjoy hot puppies sauteed in a warm caramel sauce. Cruelty to animals? Naw, it's 'right' for me, and who are you to say any different?

I feel like cleaving spoiled little brats in 2 with a greatsword because they annoy me. Right for me? Sure! Wrong for you? Who cares! Moral relativism FTW!

A more serious and far weightier argument later after some sleep and a return to sanity....


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Old 10-22-2006, 10:08 PM   #15
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An informed and enlightened answer, AL. That's the one I was looking for: empathy. We could all use a lot more of that in the world. Thanks for your answer. I couldn't agree with you more.
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Old 10-22-2006, 11:52 PM   #16
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Pretty basic. There's things that are morally wrong (sex outside of marrige for example) but if you're not hurting anyone I really couldn't give a stuff. No actually that's not quite true, I think for example women shouldn't be portrayed the way they are or feel they should portray themselves the way the media says to, but it's their choice whether or not to do so. If your actions hurt people however then it's something that needs to be addressed, and deliberately setting out to harm others is a line you never want to cross. There are times when that's justified though, a good example is my 'should the Jews be wiped out' thread that made people tackle the issue of anti semitism head on, but any premeditated move to hurt others in my opinion is to be met with a swift and decisive response.
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Old 10-23-2006, 12:08 AM   #17
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^^^
No way. Tell me you did NOT start a thread on that subject. I did a forum search and didn't find it. Surely you jest. Unless you're talking about the Holocaust thread that digressed into a comparison of Stalin and Hitler, and didn't involve the question of whether or not the Jews should be exterminated.
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Old 10-23-2006, 12:16 AM   #18
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Nup. And yeah, people reacted a lot worse than you did. It was in reply to all the bull**** the Jews cop and intended to get the issue out in the open, as people even here were advocating the removal of the Jews and the elimination of Israel. What happened was I was branded worse than Hitler, and still am to this day, and people got banned because they wouldn't stop attacking me on the topic. Yeah, it was provocative, it was meant to be, and it was done in support of the Jews. You can find the thread, edited because of the flame war, here and several related threads here and here.
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Old 10-23-2006, 12:19 AM   #19
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I've gotta see this. I'm checking it out now.

EDIT: DAAAMN, that's a lot of reading! I didn't even begin to read it all, but I got the gist of why you posted a thread with such an inflammatory title. Chaos in the making can be cool to watch.

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Old 10-23-2006, 12:47 AM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Spider AL
I'm glad you asked...
And I'm glad you answered. Very nice post AL; it was quite interesting.

My position is in the same thread that edlib posted, but opposite his. We seem to disagree just a tad.


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Old 10-23-2006, 02:21 AM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jae Onasi
Then I decide to enjoy hot puppies sauteed in a warm caramel sauce. Cruelty to animals? Naw, it's 'right' for me, and who are you to say any different?
Well, in some cultures eating puppies is just as acceptable as eating cows. And in some other ones, eating cows is worse than puppies. It's a matter of perspective.

That's an example of moral relativism for you. People around the world are extremely different, and there can't be universal standards that apply to all.

I await the day there will, but I'll be dust by then.


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Old 10-23-2006, 02:24 AM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Qliveur
I've gotta see this. I'm checking it out now.

EDIT: DAAAMN, that's a lot of reading! I didn't even begin to read it all, but I got the gist of why you posted a thread with such an inflammatory title. Chaos in the making can be cool to watch.
Well...more like Revan waging war on the Republic so they can be prepared to face the true theat she knew was coming.
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Old 10-23-2006, 07:11 AM   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Samuel Dravis
My position is in the same thread that edlib posted, but opposite his. We seem to disagree just a tad.
True enough.

But that's what makes life interesting, isn't it?


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Old 10-23-2006, 12:45 PM   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by edlib
But that's what makes life interesting, isn't it?
Yep! It was very informative for me as well. Thanks for that.


"Words are deeds." - Wittgenstein
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Old 10-23-2006, 08:24 PM   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Emperor Devon
Well, in some cultures eating puppies is just as acceptable as eating cows. And in some other ones, eating cows is worse than puppies. It's a matter of perspective.
I was talking about sauteing them live, rather like Hannibal did with that one guy. (altogether now, Eeeuuuwww, Jae! That's sick and wrong!)


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Old 10-24-2006, 01:30 AM   #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jae Onasi
I was talking about sauteing them live, rather like Hannibal did with that one guy. (altogether now, Eeeuuuwww, Jae! That's sick and wrong!)
Okay, that wouldn't be very moral.

Still, I think I provided a fair example of moral relativism today. We can't have completely universal standards.


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Old 10-24-2006, 09:44 AM   #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Emperor Devon:

Still, I think I provided a fair example of moral relativism today. We can't have completely universal standards.
Sorry, that's not true, and for some pretty basic reasons. First, your example:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Emperor Devon:

Well, in some cultures eating puppies is just as acceptable as eating cows. And in some other ones, eating cows is worse than puppies. It's a matter of perspective.

That's an example of moral relativism for you. People around the world are extremely different, and there can't be universal standards that apply to all.
The example you've used is that standard subjectivist fallacy that everyone always digs out. It is the erroneous idea that if amoral things are considered socially acceptable in another culture, that makes them in some way "moral". It does not. Morality is independent of individual likes and dislikes, or national character, religion or social customs.

Many cultures or social groups have both throughout history and in contemporary times, condoned acts which are CLEARLY immoral by any generally applied moral standard. Did the fact that those groups or cultures condoned the immoral acts make them any less immoral? clearly not. I'll give some simple examples:

1. Nazi death camps. The nazis thought they were okay.
2. Battery farming techniques. A lot of farmers still think it's okay.
3. Pacification by force of Australian Aboriginals. The European settlers thought it was okay.

So the fact that something is socially acceptable or even generally considered to be moral... doesn't make it moral. Therefore logically the standard of morality must be independent of personal opinions, social custom etc. etc.

As for the specifics of your example, killing and eating any animal is technically immoral if its death was unneccesary, i.e: you are only eating it for the taste of its flesh, not to sustain your own life. The REASON it's immoral is that causing any unneccesary suffering or death is immoral. This is a universal principle, independent of religion or social custom. I won't get too far into the debate over the moral question of vegetarianism, suffice it to say that it is the responsibility of a moral person that he at the very least minimise the death or suffering that he directly or indirectly causes to other beings. Eating free-range meat is a far more moral course of action than eating battery-farmed meat, for instance.

The reason the moral principle is universal is twofold: First, it is derived from the quality of empathy and is then logically distilled into a set of moral principles. Secondly, it is applied to ourselves as well as others, universally. To hold others to a more stringent standard to that which you hold yourself to is intrinsically immoral, because it is hypocritically self-serving. To hold others to a LESS stringent standard is- while morally preferable- arguably to violate your own sovereign rights as a living, feeling being.

Morality is one standard for everyone. Or it is not morality.


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Old 10-24-2006, 10:56 AM   #28
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I was actually going to start a thread like this awhile ago, but never got around to it.
I actually wrote a paper for my ethics class criticizing moral relativity, I suppose I'll post that up here.
Quote:
Originally Posted by My paper
Moral relativity can be defined as “The view that there are no absolute moral principles. What is morally the right thing to do and what is morally the wrong thing to do depend on the time and place in which people live” (Morality Matters, p 650). In this paper I will refute the idea of moral relativity, by arguing that moral relativity is, itself a contradicting ideal, and secondly, that the moral relativists arguments against moral absolutism do not hold up under scrutiny.
To understand the flaws inherent to moral relativity, one must first understand more than a simple definition of it. The moral relativist does not believe in any universal set of principles with which to assess the truth or value of any set of morals. They believe that the morality of any given action is governed by the time and society that the action occurs in. Further, because the morality of an action cannot be weighed against any kind of universal rule, there is no method for determining what morals are good and bad outside of your own culture. The general idea is that what is right in your group is the right morality.
At first glance, there doesn't seem to be anything inherently wrong with this. However, taking this basic idea to it's logical conclusion, the contradiction becomes evident. To truly believe that any morality is relative, you have to accept that all morality of any person is relative, and to say otherwise is a contradiction. But if each person's morality can be relative, then the very concept of morality itself becomes unnecessary. wordnet.princeton.edu defines morality as “concern with the distinction between good and evil or right and wrong; right or good conduct.”1 But if morality itself is relative, then the ideas of right and wrong cannot apply, because what is right for one person can easily be wrong for another.
A common counter to that argument is that such an outlook is an over simplification of moral relativism, and there are cultural boundaries that differentiate what is morally good and bad. But this itself is also a contradiction. The moral relativist rejects absolutism, but to determine some manner of boundary is to say that there is some absolute way of determining whose morals are the correct ones in any given cultural group. This is an inescapable contradiction.
There are two common arguments against moral absolutism. The most common one is that no absolute morality has been discovered. Taking a sample from all cultures of all times one cannot find a single ideal that has always been held as true. Even such startling things as child abuse, murder, and torture have not been universally reviled. Our own culture held slavery to be morally acceptable less than two hundred years ago.
The key problem with that argument is that it assumes that simply because certain moral principles aren't held universally means that they aren't absolute, or correct. This is akin to saying that as long as there are groups of people who don't believe that the Earth is round, or that it travels around the Sun in it's orbit, then neither of those things are absolute truths. Or to argue that since we don't know how to cure cancer we never will. Just because we have not discovered absolute morals, doesn't mean they don't exist.
The other argument is that for there to be an absolute set of codes, there must be some kind of authority which governs what these moral laws are. W. T. Stace explains it well. “Now a command implies a commander. An obligation implies some authority which obliges. Who is this commander, what is this authority?” (Morality Matters, p 106). To accept that morality is absolute is to accept that there is some authority to determine what these morals are.
While many would argue that there is no such authority, I disagree. There is also no need to appeal to a higher being or power to find this authority. The authority rests within humans. I know it seems pretentious, but there is no other rational source. Because morality itself is a human construct, it is illogical to assume that there is some outside source to determine what that morality is. This is not to say that morals should be decided by individuals, rather by collaboration between large groups of diverse individuals. While it is impossible for an individual to achieve objectivity, extremely large groups of very diverse people can come to some measure of it.
I personally feel more aligned with the Kantian perspective on the source of morality, that being logic, and the use of his Categorical Imperative. "Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it would become a universal law." By combining this dictum with mankinds logical abilities, we can come to a set of universal moral truths.

Not to say that I think empathy is irrelevant when it comes to morality, rather I find it to be a very important aspect. But one's sympathies and morality don't ALWAYS coincide.



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Old 10-24-2006, 12:09 PM   #29
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Originally Posted by ET Warrior:

I actually wrote a paper for my ethics class criticizing moral relativity, I suppose I'll post that up here.
That's a fine paper, bet it was well received. Bearing in mind that the important thing is that we both agree on the central issue, that morality must be a universal standard, I'd like to address a couple of specific points:

Quote:
Originally Posted by ET Warrior:

This is not to say that morals should be decided by individuals, rather by collaboration between large groups of diverse individuals. While it is impossible for an individual to achieve objectivity, extremely large groups of very diverse people can come to some measure of it.
Couldn't disagree more with this as a principle, or even as a rough general rule. I'm sure we could both cite many examples of how majorities (diverse or not) have held views which were immoral, and examples in which minorities have held views which were moral. Often the individual of greater reasoning capacity and/or greater capacity for empathy will discern the moral path, while enormous swathes of ill-begotten proles will hold amoral views in opposition to his.

In fact, since clarity of morality is functionally limited by each individual's reasoning power, I'd say that it's axiomatic that most people will be comparitively amoral, and few people (the more intelligent) will be comparitively moral. Call that standpoint elitist if you will, but I don't see it as unfairly elitist. Intelligence has very little to do with educational standard or class, after all.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ET Warrior:

I personally feel more aligned with the Kantian perspective on the source of morality, that being logic, and the use of his Categorical Imperative. "Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it would become a universal law." By combining this dictum with mankinds logical abilities, we can come to a set of universal moral truths.

Not to say that I think empathy is irrelevant when it comes to morality, rather I find it to be a very important aspect. But one's sympathies and morality don't ALWAYS coincide.
As much as I sympathise with Kant's oft-alleged desire to logically persuade even the self-interested to act in a moral fashion, I have to say that it was a futile endeavour. There is no strictly, completely logical reason to be a moralist. I wish there were. I've said that morality stems directly from empathy, because without the first principle that the life and feelings of others have value comparitive to one's own, there is no cause to impel one to be moral.

Without the first principle of empathy, one has no interest in applying a universal principle to oneself and others. Far from it, without empathy one is only interested in applying one standard- an extremely forgiving standard- to oneself, and a harsh standard to others! Without empathy, one may as well shoot for pure financial gain, stepping on as many toes as necessary on the way up the ladder. One may as well eat all the tasty endangered animals one wishes to.

Logic and the senses are enough to tell you that others feel pain. But that kind of dry knowledge is not sufficient to breed moral sensibilities. Only empathy can make you feel the pain of others, in a dimly reflected way. And that's the spur that turns people into moralists.

Sadly, psychopaths or even people with very little empathy... will never be moral people. It is however up to those of us who are moralists to apply moral justice to such nefarious people. Possibly with a heavy stick.


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Old 10-24-2006, 05:25 PM   #30
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Originally Posted by edlib
There are no absolutes when it comes to the human experience.
Isn't saying "there are no absolutes" itself an absolute?


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Old 10-24-2006, 09:27 PM   #31
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Yes, that's right. For me it is.

My personal moral code is absolute... for me, and me alone.
I just don't expect everyone else to agree with it completely. Or at all.


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Old 10-26-2006, 06:22 AM   #32
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Yes, that's right. For me it is.

My personal moral code is absolute... for me, and me alone.
I just don't expect everyone else to agree with it completely. Or at all.
I'd personally like to read your reasoning on this subject. Why do you believe morality can function as a relative concept, rather than a universally applied standard?


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Old 10-26-2006, 08:40 AM   #33
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Well, I don't have time to get super deep into it right now, but...

I just don't see that any hard-and-fast moral stance you take won't have some kind of exception somewhere, sometime, by somebody.

Your example about killing an endangered animal, for instance:

I take it that you are opposed to any killing of endangered animals. So am I.

However: What if you were on a photo safari with your family to take pictures of a group of very endangered,.. oh I don't know... say, tigers. This group was down to the last couple in their particular species.
Now let's say your young child somehow gets out of the truck and wanders into the bush without anybody noticing. One of the tigers zeros in on it, and starts to rush in to attack. You see it just before the tiger reaches the child. There is a rifle in the truck.
Do you make the assessment that "Hey, these animals are really endangered... and after all, human children are not. Besides, I'm still young, and can always have another. But if I take a shot I may be personally responsible for putting this species into extinction."
Or you could take a warning shot to try to scare the animal,.. but if that doesn't work there's no time to reload, and all you will be able to do is observe the carnage.
Or... you could (and my guess what you would probably do...) is to squeeze of the most accurate shot of your life and take down that tiger, extinction be damned.
And why not? That is the parental protection instinct taking over for the survival of your genetic line. It's totally natural, and nobody would ever fault you for taking that action.
But it is an instant, relative moral judgement: that the life of you child is worth more than the life of an endangered animal.

What if it wasn't your child? Would that make it easier? Would your reaction be different?

OK... What if instead of being a wealthy, pampered westerner of safari, you were an African tribesman, scraping out the barest of existences on land butting up to the wildlife reserve, and the tigers have been killing off the few livestock you have and occasionally attacking the people in your village. Is it OK to try to kill an endangered animal in that instance? (Especially if you have never heard the words or understand the concept of "Endangered Species?")
Or perhaps you are that same tribesman, but you have been taught about endangered species. But you have also been approached by representatives of wealthy Chinese businessmen that have made you an offer for the body of even one of these tigers that could set your family ahead for years... and even allow you to move away from this land to somewhere more fertile and less dangerous?

Is the life of a single endangered animal worth the protection (or even the mere semi-permanent betterment) of how many human lives, even if it's not an immediate life-or-death situation?

Or how about human cannibalism? It's wrong in every instance, right?... except, of course, when it's not.
We've all heard the stories about folks stranded in the mountains in winter, or adrift at sea, that have to resort to consuming the remains of companions that have already succumbed when there is absolutely no hope of a speedy rescue and all other sources of food is gone. Is it an immoral act when it comes down to sheer survival?
Then how about the jungle tribesman who is raised from birth to believe that not only is cannibalism not wrong,. but to kill and eat the bodies of the enemies of your tribe is just about the holiest thing you can do. Is it still immoral for that person, who has absolutely ZERO concept of the taboo placed on that activity by other cultures?

To me that seems like a western intellectual conceit that someone like that would know and understand that there is something immoral in the act.

Therefore: I say that for me to do it would be an outrageous violation of my morals and of those around me... unless desperate circumstances dictate otherwise.
But for that tribesman to do it, it is not.

Different cultures; different moral standards. No single, universal human standard of morals that always apply to everyone, all the time, in every possible situation. Can't be done.

The best you can hope to do is come up with you own code that matches you life and circumstances and the common practices of mores around you in your culture (except for those instances where you find conventional wisdom is wrong, like racism...) and try to stick to that the best you can, adapting to meet the situation.

You can try to teach and inspire others to follow your morals... but you can't enforce them to.

Which is a moral dilemma of it's own for me: If there is an absolute morality, and someone chooses not to believe in it, or not to comply, can you take action to try to force them to change their minds? Wouldn't that be an immoral act in itself to try to take away some one's freedom of thought?

Seems to me that whenever an absolute moral code is enforced, suffering inevitably follows. Seems to me that is essentially what happened in the Inquisition, and is happening today with Sharia Law.
Except that coercion by fear of torture and death should fall outside the absolute moral code, if there is one.

So,.. if there is no practical way to enforce an absolute moral code to those that choose not to believe in it or to exist outside of it, is there any difference between that and saying that all morality is relative?


I'll try to post more later... after work...


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Old 10-26-2006, 12:15 PM   #34
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Well I'm indebted that you took the time to make your views clearer, but I have to say I disagree on a fundamental level. Let me explain:

Your first example regarding endangered animals:

Quote:
Originally Posted by edlib:

However: What if you were on a photo safari with your family to take pictures of a group of very endangered,.. oh I don't know... say, tigers. This group was down to the last couple in their particular species.
Now let's say your young child somehow gets out of the truck and wanders into the bush without anybody noticing. One of the tigers zeros in on it, and starts to rush in to attack. You see it just before the tiger reaches the child. There is a rifle in the truck.
Do you make the assessment that "Hey, these animals are really endangered... and after all, human children are not. Besides, I'm still young, and can always have another. But if I take a shot I may be personally responsible for putting this species into extinction."
Or you could take a warning shot to try to scare the animal,.. but if that doesn't work there's no time to reload, and all you will be able to do is observe the carnage.
Or... you could (and my guess what you would probably do...) is to squeeze of the most accurate shot of your life and take down that tiger, extinction be damned.
Your argument boils down to a statement that if a decision is difficult for whatever reason, that makes the morality of the situation in some way... "fuzzy". It does not. The moral course of action may be difficult to follow in MANY situations. It may even be difficult to reason out what the moral course of action is. But that doesn't mean that the moral course of action is in any way relative.

The decision would be difficult in this specific hypothetical case due to one's instinctive response to save one's child. But the responsibility of the moralist is to apply his or her universal moral principles to every situation, and if necessary to disregard his or her instinctive gut reaction.

First of all it's your moral duty as a parent to watch your child. Morally speaking the child is an extension of you until it is old enough to make informed adult decisions of its own. All your child's actions are quite literally your responsibility. So if it got out of the car and went over to the big cats... it would be your fault. YOU would be morally responsible for the danger the child was in, not the big cats. So would it be moral to kill the cat for a situation which is entirely YOUR fault? The cat's operating on instinct. The child doesn't know any better. (Presumably because you hadn't TAUGHT your child any better, once again your fault.) So it's your fault, your responsibility, a problem of your making.

In this hypothetical case you have drawn out, the moral course of action is certainly to avoid killing the big cat... whether it was endangered or not. The fact that it's endangered is merely ANOTHER reason not to injure it.

So there we have it. A logical, moral course of action presents itself, based on honesty, responsibility and dispassionate analysis. Fire the non-lethal warning shot, then live with the consequences of your own actions.

Would you be able to do this? That's a different question. But your inability to make yourself follow the moral course doesn't affect the morality of the situation. The morality is clear, waiting to be reasoned out and acted upon... or not. Just because your base animal instincts drive you to act in an amoral fashion, doesn't mean that morality is in some way made subjective.

Quote:
Originally Posted by edlib:

And why not? That is the parental protection instinct taking over for the survival of your genetic line. It's totally natural, and nobody would ever fault you for taking that action.
But it is an instant, relative moral judgement: that the life of you child is worth more than the life of an endangered animal.
First of all I WOULD fault the person who shot the endangered animal. Oh not for shooting the animal and protecting their child, that's quite human, quite understandable. But instead, I would berate them for all the other bad decisions that led up to that point. The short-sighted decisions that created the situation in the first place. I would certainly demand that they spend time and money making reparations for their actions. Perhaps I would demand that they fund research that would save other species. And if they were a moral person, they would admit culpability and do whatever was in their power to make amends.

Secondly the action you're describing (taking the shot) isn't a moral judgement. It's an instinctive response, not based on logically tempered empathy.

Quote:
Originally Posted by edlib:

OK... What if instead of being a wealthy, pampered westerner of safari, you were an African tribesman, scraping out the barest of existences on land butting up to the wildlife reserve, and the tigers have been killing off the few livestock you have and occasionally attacking the people in your village. Is it OK to try to kill an endangered animal in that instance? (Especially if you have never heard the words or understand the concept of "Endangered Species?")
Ignorance breeds immoral behaviour. Just because your hypothetical tribesman doesn't KNOW that the tiger is endangered, doesn't mean it's moral for him to dispose of the species. It's the responsibility of moral men to educate themselves, especially on the topic of the consequences of their own actions. Even if his ignorance is out of his control, his action in killing the tiger is still not "moral". It is to be expected, considering his human nature, but the amoral pressure exerted by human nature- as I've said time and time again in this post- is nothing to do with morality.

Quote:
Originally Posted by edlib:

Or perhaps you are that same tribesman, but you have been taught about endangered species. But you have also been approached by representatives of wealthy Chinese businessmen that have made you an offer for the body of even one of these tigers that could set your family ahead for years... and even allow you to move away from this land to somewhere more fertile and less dangerous?

Is the life of a single endangered animal worth the protection (or even the mere semi-permanent betterment) of how many human lives, even if it's not an immediate life-or-death situation?
Now this one isn't even a difficult question. You're describing a situation where a man does something he KNOWS to be amoral, for money. That's doubly amoral. To destroy a species just to increase your own comfort level. Ugh, the very thought of it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by edlib:

Or how about human cannibalism? It's wrong in every instance, right?...
Uh, wrong. Why would cannibalism be wrong in every instance? That's not a moral judgement you've made, it's a social judgement.

Morality is based on not inflicting suffering to others. So eating the flesh of a comrade who has already died of some natural cause is NEVER amoral. Why would it be? It might be socially frowned upon, but society isn't based on morality, more's the pity.

Killing and/or eating ANY animal is only moral if it's directly necessary for your own survival. That includes humans. Humans shouldn't be any different, morally speaking.

Quote:
Originally Posted by edlib:

Different cultures; different moral standards. No single, universal human standard of morals that always apply to everyone, all the time, in every possible situation. Can't be done.
Once again, there's a problem with your terminology. To correct your statement: Different cultures; different cultural expectations. Cultural differences don't imply a difference in morality. The nazi culture was geared towards quite a few evils. The fact that it was their culture didn't make it moral. Two different things, independent of each other. Read my second post for a more detailed examination of the differences between culture and morality.

Quote:
Originally Posted by edlib:

Which is a moral dilemma of it's own for me: If there is an absolute morality, and someone chooses not to believe in it, or not to comply, can you take action to try to force them to change their minds? Wouldn't that be an immoral act in itself to try to take away some one's freedom of thought?
Freedom of thought cannot be taken away, short of lobotomising someone. Your question isn't about freedom of thought. It's about freedom of action. We're all free to act in a moral way, or an immoral way. If someone chooses to act in an immoral way, then yes, there should be severe penalties. We own our own actions, they are our responsibility. We should be made to pay for our misdeeds. It's a moral truism.

Quote:
Originally Posted by edlib:

Seems to me that whenever an absolute moral code is enforced, suffering inevitably follows. Seems to me that is essentially what happened in the Inquisition, and is happening today with Sharia Law.
Except that coercion by fear of torture and death should fall outside the absolute moral code, if there is one.
That's a severe logical error, because the Inquisition and Sharia law are both RELIGIOUSLY BASED concepts/institutions. Not morally based. When the universal moral standard is applied to both of those, they're found to be immoral. End of story.

Quote:
Originally Posted by edlib:

So,.. if there is no practical way to enforce an absolute moral code to those that choose not to believe in it or to exist outside of it, is there any difference between that and saying that all morality is relative?
Of course there's a way to enforce an edict to behave morally. One uses the same method of crime and punishment that already exists. If someone breaks a law, they pay the penalty. All we have to do is make sure that all our laws are moral, and that case-by-case uniquenesses are taken into account. Heck, cases are already decided on their own unique merits in our courts.

But many of our laws are currently inherently immoral. It's up to moralists to campaign against these immoral laws.

And secondly, just because people can choose to be amoral, doesn't mean morality is relative. Just means they've chosen to be amoral. I don't see any logic to support your view.

Lastly, morality is necessarily a universally applied standard. Why? Well as a moralist one wishes to do the right thing. But one must also expect no more of others than one expects of oneself. That's the universal standard. You must be as moral or MORE moral than the rest of the world, otherwise you're being self-serving. Which is immoral. However, the reverse is also true to a certain degree. That if you behave in a moral fashion in your own life, you have a right to ask others to behave morally too. Otherwise, you're violating your OWN moral rights.

So the ideal is to have a world in which you behave at least as morally as everyone else, preferably more so, and in which you have a right to demand moral treatment in return. That means there is a universal standard of morality that we should all strive to live up to. It's the same for everyone. Whether people choose to be moral is their choice. Whether people are educated enough to be moral is also their responsibility.


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Old 10-27-2006, 10:13 AM   #35
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I think I tend to combine the views of Spider AL and ed here. I generally think of the concept of morality just as Spider AL does. However, I find it morally useless to apply my very honest morality to someone who gives a damn about it, over and over again. If someone keeps stealing my pants, I'll strike the p, and the next time he'll reaches for my pants, there will be ants. That easy. I however strictly apply what I expect from others to myself, and I expect what they expect from me. That also means, I am fully aware of the fact, that if I ever keep on stealing pants, I am supposed to expect ants at some point, too.

I call that absolute morality, applied relative.


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Old 10-28-2006, 01:05 AM   #36
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There is no way for moral relativists to avoid making absolute statements themselves. Moral relativism is logically indefensible.


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Show me a man who is forty and not a conservative, and I will show you a man with no brain.

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Old 10-28-2006, 03:24 AM   #37
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Well, in some cultures eating puppies is just as acceptable as eating cows. And in some other ones, eating cows is worse than puppies. It's a matter of perspective.
Well, this is just disgusting, eating puppies sick people. And I don't mean disgusting only a little.
I mean this disgusting, disgusting, disgusting and even more disgusting.

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Originally Posted by Emperor Devon
That's an example of moral relativism for you. People around the world are extremely different, and there can't be universal standards that apply to all.
A good example, Devon.
But not in good taste though.
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Old 10-28-2006, 03:40 AM   #38
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My brain's fried from eight hours of a debate tournament, windu. Though I'd normally be very opinionated about that statement, I'm in no mood to argue anything right now.


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Old 10-28-2006, 01:44 PM   #39
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You have made quite a few very good points, Spider, and have given me quite a bit to think about.
Unfortunately, it's clear we both see the world in completely different ways. And although I see the validity of many of your points, I cannot bring myself to see the world in an absolutist viewpoint. And it also not to say I haven't tried on many occasions in my life to do just that.

The fact that it's possible to debate the nature of morality, and see it from such different perspectives... and that such debates have been taking place for millennia, and perhaps since the concept of "morality" was first conceived, is evidence enough for me that human life is a messy affair, and morality is something that changes from individual to individual, and not universal and absolute.
A lot of folks, (mostly philosophers,) who were far more educated, intelligent, and articulate than I, have debated this subject for centuries, and yet this has hardly swayed anybody's position who chooses to see it otherwise.

I suspect that despite all efforts to convince us otherwise, that I will still die a "relativist" and you will die an "absolutist." But, I don't see a problem with that.
Again, I think it's the clash of differing viewpoints that make life on Earth worth living. If we all saw it exactly the same it would get horribly boring quickly,.. wouldn't it?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Spider AL
Well I'm indebted that you took the time to make your views clearer, but I have to say I disagree on a fundamental level. Let me explain:

Your first example regarding endangered animals:

Your argument boils down to a statement that if a decision is difficult for whatever reason, that makes the morality of the situation in some way... "fuzzy". It does not. The moral course of action may be difficult to follow in MANY situations. It may even be difficult to reason out what the moral course of action is. But that doesn't mean that the moral course of action is in any way relative.

The decision would be difficult in this specific hypothetical case due to one's instinctive response to save one's child. But the responsibility of the moralist is to apply his or her universal moral principles to every situation, and if necessary to disregard his or her instinctive gut reaction.
Such a thing is, as I see it, utterly impossible, as we are still creatures of emotion and instinct in crisis situations. I don't see how we can ignore that side of us and say that all reactions can be totally rational in every situation. We are not Vulcans.
We are barely evolved primates, and as such special consideration must be given to the fact that we will occasionally react in a less-than-rational way.

Quote:
First of all it's your moral duty as a parent to watch your child. Morally speaking the child is an extension of you until it is old enough to make informed adult decisions of its own. All your child's actions are quite literally your responsibility. So if it got out of the car and went over to the big cats... it would be your fault. YOU would be morally responsible for the danger the child was in, not the big cats. So would it be moral to kill the cat for a situation which is entirely YOUR fault? The cat's operating on instinct. The child doesn't know any better. (Presumably because you hadn't TAUGHT your child any better, once again your fault.) So it's your fault, your responsibility, a problem of your making.
It's human to have lapses in judgment that result in crisis situations. Every year I hear of some parent who gets distracted for a second, turns their back to deal with something else, and their toddler takes that opportunity to wander off and do some exploring on their own, only to be injured or killed (drowning in the pool, hit on the train tracks behind the house, etc...)
Does that make that parent evil, immoral, or even merely a bad parent? Not as I see it. It makes them very much a fallible human, just like me, who has been placed in a situation that I wouldn't wish on anybody. I simply can't bring myself to judge them, their motivations, or the circumstances.

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In this hypothetical case you have drawn out, the moral course of action is certainly to avoid killing the big cat... whether it was endangered or not. The fact that it's endangered is merely ANOTHER reason not to injure it.

So there we have it. A logical, moral course of action presents itself, based on honesty, responsibility and dispassionate analysis. Fire the non-lethal warning shot, then live with the consequences of your own actions.
Would you be able to do this? That's a different question. But your inability to make yourself follow the moral course doesn't affect the morality of the situation. The morality is clear, waiting to be reasoned out and acted upon... or not. Just because your base animal instincts drive you to act in an amoral fashion, doesn't mean that morality is in some way made subjective.
First of all I WOULD fault the person who shot the endangered animal. Oh not for shooting the animal and protecting their child, that's quite human, quite understandable. But instead, I would berate them for all the other bad decisions that led up to that point. The short-sighted decisions that created the situation in the first place. I would certainly demand that they spend time and money making reparations for their actions. Perhaps I would demand that they fund research that would save other species. And if they were a moral person, they would admit culpability and do whatever was in their power to make amends.
Secondly the action you're describing (taking the shot) isn't a moral judgment. It's an instinctive response, not based on logically tempered empathy.

Ignorance breeds immoral behavior. Just because your hypothetical tribesman doesn't KNOW that the tiger is endangered, doesn't mean it's moral for him to dispose of the species. It's the responsibility of moral men to educate themselves, especially on the topic of the consequences of their own actions. Even if his ignorance is out of his control, his action in killing the tiger is still not "moral". It is to be expected, considering his human nature, but the amoral pressure exerted by human nature- as I've said time and time again in this post- is nothing to do with morality.
Then that has to be where we must always part ways. I don't see how a persons actions they take under extreme emotion distress (protecting his family and loved ones from harm) can ever be seen as less than moral, even if I see the action he takes is something I see as immoral from my point of view.

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Now this one isn't even a difficult question. You're describing a situation where a man does something he KNOWS to be amoral, for money. That's doubly amoral. To destroy a species just to increase your own comfort level. Ugh, the very thought of it.
I refuse to view someone's actions as absolutely wrong if I have never been personally placed in that situation and emotional state.
A man wanting to remove his family to a better, far less dangerous place (where the possibility of suffering and/or death from wild animal attack, drought, famine, warring tribes in the area, etc... is far, far lower) but with zero chance of being able to do that on his own, has, in my mind, a perfectly valid motivation for his actions. If presented with the opportunity to remove himself and his loved ones from a horribly desperate situation to a better one by performing one act that someone like me may find immoral, but he has no personal moral problem with, it's difficult for me to judge his action. even though I personally disagree with them.
If I were in his exact position, with his background, level of education, life experiences, current emotional state, and early moral training, can I honestly say that I would never make the exact same decision? I can't.
As myself I would never do such a thing... but as a poverty-stricken dirt farmer in Africa, I just might. And feel absolutely no remorse for it either.

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Uh, wrong. Why would cannibalism be wrong in every instance? That's not a moral judgment you've made, it's a social judgment.
Uh, really?!?? Cannibalism? I'm pretty sure most westerners you asked would find the idea of eating the body of another human being, no matter what the circumstances of their deaths, highly immoral.

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Morality is based on not inflicting suffering to others. So eating the flesh of a comrade who has already died of some natural cause is NEVER amoral. Why would it be? It might be socially frowned upon, but society isn't based on morality, more's the pity.
But you are causing suffering to the psyches of their loved ones and families who will see the desecration of the bodies of their loved ones far, far more horrible than the circumstances of their death.
I know of people who have objections to cremation. I pretty sure these folks would be horrified beyond belief at the thought of the earthly remains of a family member being consumed by other folks, even if it were to save lives in a desperate situation.
Disregarding someone's emotional reactions to this situation, then perhaps you are technically correct.
However: If the basis for morality is to be empathy, then is it possible to ignore the powerful emotions that someone may (understandably, in my view) feel about this situation.
Can someone's emotional state come into play when calculating a moral question? Well, if empathy is to be the standard, then don't we also have to be empathic on emotional terms as well.
The problem as I see it is that emotional reactions vary from person to person, and are often entirely unpredictable even in a single individual.

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Killing and/or eating ANY animal is only moral if it's directly necessary for your own survival. That includes humans. Humans shouldn't be any different, morally speaking.
Again, in terms of pure rationality, that is correct.
Nobody will ever view such a thing in terms of pure rationality, however. Which is exactly why I view these situations as so messy.

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Once again, there's a problem with your terminology. To correct your statement: Different cultures; different cultural expectations. Cultural differences don't imply a difference in morality. The Nazi culture was geared towards quite a few evils. The fact that it was their culture didn't make it moral. Two different things, independent of each other. Read my second post for a more detailed examination of the differences between culture and morality.
But the German culture and morality shouldn't have been ANY different from the rest of Europe at the time. The culture and moral code should have been exactly the same as the British, for instance. The fact that they chose to turn away from the accepted moral and cultural code of the area, and the rest of western civilization at the time is what brought the rest of the world into action.
I can see how the Hitler and Nazis were found to be so very, very wrong... but at the same time I have trouble holding Ghengis Khan and his hordes to the exact same standard, and finding the same level of outrage over their actions. Differing cultural and historical standards are in play. I don't know how else to explain it.

The example of the Nazis bring into question another problem I have with seeing the world in absolutes: If it was possible to stop Hitler came into power, is it morally OK to do so... even if that meant assassination, or killing him in cold blood?
As what point would the suffering or death of a single human become necessary, even acceptable, if it ends up saving the lives of millions of others?
If the alternatives are taking that action if opportunity is presented; or choosing inaction that lets him live, that leads to the suffering and death of millions of others, which is the moral position?
Personally, I would say that choosing inaction is typically the less morally justifiable position. However, in the interest of full self-disclosure, this conflicts with my own stance taken before the Iraq invasion, when this was presented as the 2 choices leading up to that conflict. It's a contradiction, I know... but not one that keeps me awake at night.

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Freedom of thought cannot be taken away, short of lobotomizing someone. Your question isn't about freedom of thought. It's about freedom of action. We're all free to act in a moral way, or an immoral way. If someone chooses to act in an immoral way, then yes, there should be severe penalties. We own our own actions, they are our responsibility. We should be made to pay for our misdeeds. It's a moral truism.
Thought leads to action. If a law is passed that doesn't agree with your personal moral code, you will most likely break it, and risk the punishment.
Most people I know have zero moral objections to the sale and use of marijuana. So they buy and use it, in clear violation of the law of the land. Or travel somewhere else, ehere it is not illegal.
I don't personally have any issue with pot, but I also don't buy or use it. If it were legalized, my behavior wouldn't change.
That goes for many other things as well,.. like prostitution, for instance...

Likewise, if, as we discussed in the thread I linked to earlier, abortion were banned throughout the country, I have no doubt that many people who have no moral objections to it would continue the practice, going underground and risking punishment from the enforcement of the law of the land. Again, since I have my own personal moral objections to it even now, I would make every attempt to not be placed in a position where this action were a possibility.
But since I also have a moral objection to judging someone's character and motivations based on actions they choose to take in a moment of extreme emotional distress and personal crisis, I am politically opposed to removing the choice from people who may make a decision that personally wouldn't. In other words: Having never been a desperate young woman faced with an unwanted pregnancy as the result of a momentary lapse in judgment, or perhaps sheer ignorance,.. I simply don't feel qualified to judge her motivations based solely upon her actions.
I would hope she would make a different decision, and I would try act to make sure she was properly educated before it became an issue, or offered a comprehensive set of social programs to give her far better alternatives after the fact... but forcing my personal moral code on someone by using legislation to limit the choices that they are presented also totally goes against every fiber of my being.
Using the law to make someone see things the way I personally see them is in my view just as immoral, if not more than the action that person should be allowed to make of their own free will.

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That's a severe logical error, because the Inquisition and Sharia law are both RELIGIOUSLY BASED concepts/institutions. Not morally based. When the universal moral standard is applied to both of those, they're found to be immoral. End of story.
They are religious examples of people who see the world in absolutes. As soon as you say "that doing 'X' is wrong, has always been wrong, and will always be wrong, and there are no circumstances where it could ever be right, no matter the the motivations and consequences"; you have set up a situation where anyone who may believe that 'X' is not always wrong, and can in some situations be right,.. is therefore immoral, perhaps even evil, and as such is perhaps less than human, not worthy of our empathy, and probably must be removed from society for the good of everyone else.
I'm not saying that you would ever do that personally, but when you set up a group that thinks alike on the matter, then the moral objections to the actions you would have to take to bring anybody who even just believes 'X' isn't always bad, let alone practitioners of 'X', seem to disappear, and actions that are typically wrong in your moral code suddenly become far more justifiable.
History shows this to be the case. Our current situation of torture in American offshore prisons is just the latest example I can cite.

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Of course there's a way to enforce an edict to behave morally. One uses the same method of crime and punishment that already exists. If someone breaks a law, they pay the penalty. All we have to do is make sure that all our laws are moral, and that case-by-case uniqueness are taken into account. Heck, cases are already decided on their own unique merits in our courts.
What about those cases where we don't all agree on what's moral or not? The examples of pot smoking and abortion, as well as gay marriage, stem cells and forcing religion into the public schools and a thousand other examples.
These are all attempts to use legislation to not only change peoples actions and behaviors, but in most cases also their minds. To me that is distasteful.

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But many of our laws are currently inherently immoral. It's up to moralists to campaign against these immoral laws.
But if people can't agree on what is morality, it must ultimately be put to a vote. The problem is if my neighbor and I disagree what is moral (he may believe it is totally moral for all kids in public school to be forced to get a comprehensive religious training in order to form their morals, while I see it as a systematic brain-washing campaign, immoral in it's own right) neither of us will be satisfied with whatever result a vote brings, will we? Just because the law of the land decrees a certain behavior, that doesn't mean that those that oppose will automatically comply.
If you can't change someone's belief systems, then there will never be agreement, and therefore people will always take actions that somebody else deems to be immoral.
The only hope is to find a societal consensus that most people can live with that doesn't satisfy all, but is close enough to live with.
But that takes compromise and negotiation... things that simply don't exist in a world of absolutes.
There is no negotiation with an absolute code. There is complying, or there is non-compliance.
But experience has told me that life doesn't work that way. There is always room to fudge a little, to compromise principals in a way that isn't overly offensive to either party that allows people of radically different viewpoints to exist together.

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And secondly, just because people can choose to be amoral, doesn't mean morality is relative. Just means they've chosen to be amoral. I don't see any logic to support your view.
Lastly, morality is necessarily a universally applied standard. Why? Well as a moralist one wishes to do the right thing. But one must also expect no more of others than one expects of oneself. That's the universal standard. You must be as moral or MORE moral than the rest of the world, otherwise you're being self-serving. Which is immoral. However, the reverse is also true to a certain degree. That if you behave in a moral fashion in your own life, you have a right to ask others to behave morally too. Otherwise, you're violating your OWN moral rights.
So the ideal is to have a world in which you behave at least as morally as everyone else, preferably more so, and in which you have a right to demand moral treatment in return. That means there is a universal standard of morality that we should all strive to live up to. It's the same for everyone. Whether people choose to be moral is their choice. Whether people are educated enough to be moral is also their responsibility.
Such a world seems impossibly utopian to me, and clearly doesn't reflect the reality I see. It doesn't take into consideration the messy reality of emotions, ignorance, lapses in judgment by otherwise informed people, and the fact that someone raised in a situation where they don't have the time or opportunity to ponder moral dilemmas that we in the wealthy, well educated west do. (Like one of these young kids born and raised in a war-zone somewhere, who carried his first AK-47 as soon as he could walk, and forced to kill before his 10th birthday. Something tells me he's not pondering the deep moral signifigance of his actions and decisions... he's fighting for survival. Should he be in that situation? No. But it's reality. The people who couldn't find a compromise in order to avert the war in the first place are the ones morally guilty. But that kid is just doing what he knows.)

Should we try to make the world morally better? Yes. I believe I have the moral obligation to do that. Using education and social programs to get people to see that there are alternatives to taking actions that I personally belive, and we have as a collective agreed are found to be harmful to society as a whole.
Do I have the right to try to force someone who fundamentally disagrees with me on a case by case moral basis to see things my way? To judge that person's heart and motivations when they do something I personally find offensive?
No, I simply can't believe I do. If I ever found myself in the same situation, I have to believe there is a possibility that I may just behave in the same way. And I wouldn't want to be judged by someone else who doesn't understand my motivations.

If someone breaks the law of the land, (the societal code that we have all agreed to, in order to make it possible for us all to exist together,) then they should be punished in the way the collective has prescribed, as long as no extenuating circumstances can be found that might be seen as justification to go outside the common law in that one particular and unique instance.

Ray: As I see it, my viewpoint really isn't different than yours. I have a hard and fast code that applies to me that I would have a difficult time going against (except that I don't believe that such a thing is impossible... there will always exist a situation where I may have to go against my personal code. I hope I never come up against such a situation in my lifetime.)
I can see that most of the people around me also have hard and fast viewpoints as well. They just aren't always totally compatible. So you just try to find common ground on the stuff we agree totally on, make the mildest of compromises on the stuff we don't, and try to make it all work somehow without being totally judgmental of the other person's viewpoints and forcing them to see things your way.

And Jimbo: Yes, its a contradiction... but one I can live with. Human life is full of contradictions. In a utopia such contradictions wouldn't exist. I also know that I don't live there. I suspect that none of us do.



POSTSCRIPT:
So much for not getting too deeply involved with this thread.

This may have to be my last post on the matter, for a while... work has been crazy stupid busy, and I just may not be able to find time to keep up. But I do look forward to reading any responses.


Native XWA.Netter (Nutter?)

Last edited by edlib; 10-28-2006 at 02:34 PM.
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Old 10-28-2006, 04:27 PM   #40
Spider AL
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I'd like to preface this post with a re-iteration that I appreciate the unusual quality of debate in this thread particularly. And though I disagree with much of what's said, I appreciate the thoughtful and mature... and most importantly detailed way that most of it has been presented. In contrast to other somewhat less illustrious threads that have sprung up on the board in the past few days, this is an interesting topic.

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Originally Posted by edlib:

The fact that it's possible to debate the nature of morality, and see it from such different perspectives... and that such debates have been taking place for millennia, and perhaps since the concept of "morality" was first conceived, is evidence enough for me that human life is a messy affair, and morality is something that changes from individual to individual, and not universal and absolute.
Once again, logically, morality is a universally applied standard. The thing that changes from individual to individual, is each individual's ability to comprehend/observe/uphold that standard. It's not that morality is in some way "relative" (which would mean that there is no right/wrong in ANY situation, which is clearly fallacious) it is that some people are unwilling to be moral, and still more people are incapable of being moral. Due to a lack of reasoning power, lack of empathy, etcetera.

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Originally Posted by edlib:

Such a thing is, as I see it, utterly impossible, as we are still creatures of emotion and instinct in crisis situations.
On the contrary, we routinely override our own "animal instincts". Sometimes consciously, sometimes subconsciously. Either through training or natural ability, we routinely successfully override impulses brought on by pain, hunger, lust, anger and fear. People who want to run away and instead stand and fight. People who want to fight but instead take a deep breath and walk away. Crisis situations may make it tougher to make good decisions, but that doesn't excuse you from blame when you make a bad decision under stress. Do we excuse the man who beats his wife because he was really really angry and stressed at the time? No, of course we don't.

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Originally Posted by edlib:

I don't see how we can ignore that side of us and say that all reactions can be totally rational in every situation. We are not Vulcans.
I don't think you'll find anywhere in my posts that I've said that I "ignore" the irrational side of human nature. Nor will you find a post in which I've said that I "expect people to be totally rational in every situation". On the contrary, you will find that such concerns are irrelevant to the question of whether morality is universal. Just because some people choose to act in an immoral fashion when they're under stress, doesn't mean that their acts are made any less immoral.

I'd be indebted if you'd make clear to me how you think the presence of a high stress level makes an immoral act "more moral".

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Originally Posted by edlib:

It's human to have lapses in judgment that result in crisis situations.
Doesn't mean that we should excuse every lazy, stupid, poor decision on the grounds that the person who made it was "only human". We're all human. But some of us expend more effort in divining the RIGHT decisions to make, than others do.

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Originally Posted by edlib:

Every year I hear of some parent who gets distracted for a second, turns their back to deal with something else, and their toddler takes that opportunity to wander off and do some exploring on their own, only to be injured or killed (drowning in the pool, hit on the train tracks behind the house, etc...)
And there comes a time when you have to ask "why wasn't the parent watching their child"? and "Why didn't they anticipate possible dangers like the pool in the yard, like the train tracks just outside. Many parents fit security gates and/or erect fences around potential hazards within the home and garden. Why didn't these parents do that?

It's tangential, but this question is very similar to the questions asked in self-defence. When someone claims self-defence they have to prove to a reasonable standard that the violent situation they found themselves in wasn't of their own making. It's all very well claiming self-defence after beating a guy up in a bar, but after the dust settles the law will ask the perfectly valid questions: "why did you choose to have an argument with this guy?" "when the situation degenerated, why didn't you leave the bar?" "When he shoved you in the chest, why did you choose to knock him out instead of escaping?"

More often than not, people claiming "self-defence" weren't defending their safety, their property or their life, but were instead defending their own fragile ego. And that isn't proper legal nor moral grounds for claiming self-defence.

So back to the parent example, WHY didn't they prevent their child from gaining access to these dangers? So they have failed to foresee potential dangers to their child, failed to block potential dangers, and THEN they've turned their back on the child long enough for it to wander off a long distance and get run over by a train.

Cut it how you like, it's their fault. It's not the child's fault. It could have been avoided. It's not just "one of those things". It could have been avoided.

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Originally Posted by edlib:

Does that make that parent evil, immoral, or even merely a bad parent? Not as I see it. It makes them very much a fallible human, just like me, who has been placed in a situation that I wouldn't wish on anybody. I simply can't bring myself to judge them, their motivations, or the circumstances.
Does it make them evil? Well if ignorance is the only sin, then perhaps it does. But if by "evil" you mean "intentionally malicious", then no. But a lack of malice doesn't imply the presence of morality. As we've seen, people can act in an amoral way simply through ignorance, apathy, self-interest and/or faulty reasoning.

So are they evil? Not necessarily. Do they bear a large chunk of responsibility? Yes. Oohhhh yes.

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Originally Posted by edlib:

Then that has to be where we must always part ways. I don't see how a persons actions they take under extreme emotion distress (protecting his family and loved ones from harm) can ever be seen as less than moral, even if I see the action he takes is something I see as immoral from my point of view.
And once again I'd like to ask you to detail your reasoning on this point. How is it that you think the presence of high stress levels makes immoral behaviour "more moral"?

One can expect those under stress to make poor decisions. But the fact that they're stressed doesn't magically make those poor decisions "good", does it. Predictable, maybe. But "moral"? Hardly.

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Originally Posted by edlib:

I refuse to view someone's actions as absolutely wrong if I have never been personally placed in that situation and emotional state.
That's a fallacious attitude. You look at clearly amoral behaviour and state "I might do the same things if I were placed in the same position, therefore those acts cannot be immoral".

I look at the same situation and say "Those acts are clearly immoral by any universally applied moral standard. And I might act in an amoral fashion too, if I were in that situation. I cannot say".

Two different reactions, and I'm not trying to be insulting when I say that I consider the latter statement to be more self-aware, and based on better logic.

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Originally Posted by edlib:

Uh, really?!?? Cannibalism? I'm pretty sure most westerners you asked would find the idea of eating the body of another human being, no matter what the circumstances of their deaths, highly immoral.
Explain why it's immoral! Morality is about not causing suffering to other beings. Eating the flesh of an animal which has died through some natural cause... CANNOT be immoral. Not by any logical standard.

People who claim that cannibalism is "always amoral" are making a social judgement, a religious judgement... in other words, an arbitrary judgement.

Morality can never be arbitrary, or it ceases to be morality.

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Originally Posted by edlib:

But you are causing suffering to the psyches of their loved ones and families who will see the desecration of the bodies of their loved ones far, far more horrible than the circumstances of their death.
Not strictly correct. Morality is dependent on logic, therefore the concept of "desecration" is a religious irrelevance to any question of morality. If you're dead, you're dead. You don't need your flesh anymore. That is why moral people should in an ideal world offer their organs for transplant, their bodies to science, give blood, etcetera etcetera. (Of course, there is currently a legitimate concern that one's organs may be harvested by unscrupulous surgeons when there is still a chance of recovery... also there is a legitimate concern regarding the giving of blood in the form of blood-borne diseases and poor hygiene standards in donation clinics. That's why I wouldn't demand on moral grounds that anyone do these things.) Therefore you're not "causing" the family's suffering by eating their loved one. They themselves are "causing" their own suffering, through ignorant religious dogmatism.

If say... my brother went on a mountaneering expedition with a friend, and then the friend returns and admits that to survive, he was forced to eat my brother's calf muscle (or whatever) after my brother died from hypothermia. In that hypothetical situation, my brother's friend acted in a completely moral fashion. COMPLETELY.

Some people at home might ostracise him for being a "cannibal", but those people wouldn't be behaving in a moral fashion. If my calf muscle could save a friend's life after I die, I know I'd be glad to have it morally gnawed off forthwith.

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Originally Posted by edlib:

Disregarding someone's emotional reactions to this situation, then perhaps you are technically correct.
However: If the basis for morality is to be empathy, then is it possible to ignore the powerful emotions that someone may (understandably, in my view) feel about this situation.
Can someone's emotional state come into play when calculating a moral question? Well, if empathy is to be the standard, then don't we also have to be empathic on emotional terms as well.
The problem as I see it is that emotional reactions vary from person to person, and are often entirely unpredictable even in a single individual.
Empathy is the root of morality. But as I've said maybe a dozen times in this thread so far, empathy must be logically tempered to BECOME morality. Empathy shows us that others feel pain and suffering, and that the lives of others- not merely our own life- has intrinsic value. But that is not enough. Without logic, it remains useless.

Once logic is applied to these basic truisms evinced by empathy, morality emerges. A universal standard of moral behaviour, that one can choose to observe, or not. If one chooses to be moral, one accepts the consequences of one's own actions. One doesn't make excuses for oneself, EVER. Excuses like: "I was angry, so I kicked that kitten". Excuses like "I was afraid, so it's okay that I drove away after running that old lady over".

And since the standard is universal, i.e: one MUST apply the same standards to oneself as one applies to others and vice versa, it is necessary to accept that ALL people bear responsibility for their own actions, regardless of their emotional states at the time.

I can pity the killer who has paranoid delusions and is terrified of everyone and everything. But does his fear excuse his actions? No. They make his actions easier to understand. But do they make his actions moral? No.

It is the human ability to OVERRIDE emotional responses that is the major tool in the battle to be a moral man. Every day, I feel like doing amoral things. Sometimes I feel like shouting at my co-worker. Sometimes I feel like punching the obnoxious pedestrian who shoves in front of me in a queue. But I choose not to do these things. If I am capable of choosing to be moral, so are others. What one man can do, another can do, etcetera, cliches ahoy.

As I've said before, some people may be literally incapable of being moral. Maybe they're incapable of empathy, maybe they have no self-control whatsoever. But that doesn't make their actions moral, instead it makes them amoral. Devoid of morality.

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Originally Posted by edlib:

Nobody will ever view such a thing in terms of pure rationality, however. Which is exactly why I view these situations as so messy.
Well clearly I at least do view such things in terms of pure rationality. And I view it as a moral duty to strive to view all situations in a dispassionate and logical manner.

Quote:
Originally Posted by edlib:

But the German culture and morality shouldn't have been ANY different from the rest of Europe at the time. The culture and moral code should have been exactly the same as the British, for instance. The fact that they chose to turn away from the accepted moral and cultural code of the area, and the rest of western civilization at the time is what brought the rest of the world into action.
The example of the Nazis bring into question another problem I have with seeing the world in absolutes: If it was possible to stop Hitler came into power, is it morally OK to do so... even if that meant assassination, or killing him in cold blood?
As what point would the suffering or death of a single human become necessary, even acceptable, if it ends up saving the lives of millions of others?
If the alternatives are taking that action if opportunity is presented; or choosing inaction that lets him live, that leads to the suffering and death of millions of others, which is the moral position?
Personally, I would say that choosing inaction is typically the less morally justifiable position. However, in the interest of full self-disclosure, this conflicts with my own stance taken before the Iraq invasion, when this was presented as the 2 choices leading up to that conflict.
First of all, it was not the fact that the Nazis' culture was immoral that brought "rest of the world into action" against them. It was either being attacked, or being at risk of attack that brought other nations into the war. Not to mention any and all financial and strategic concerns that must have contributed to many decisions to enter the conflict.

Secondly regarding the assassination of Hitler... It's debatable whether assassination of one man would have prevented any or all of the bloodshed committed by the Nazis. He was, after all, only one human male, and not a fire-breathing demon, nor an immortal, farseeing necromancer. Having said that, assassination of any or all of the high-ranking Nazi officials could probably be said to be morally superior as a course of action than a large-scale land war which claimed so many more lives.

And in fact, it's axiomatic that while assassination and targeted covert strikes are worse than pure diplomacy, they're certainly preferable to war. Which many people regard (erroneously) as the same thing, only louder.

I'm paraphrasing Terry Pratchett there, by the way.

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Originally Posted by edlib:

If a law is passed that doesn't agree with your personal moral code, you will most likely break it, and risk the punishment.
That's the responsibility of the moral man. If a law is immoral it MUST be challenged by moral men.

But once again you use the term "personal moral code". Which is a regularly carted out subjectivist nonsense. Morality is morality. Some people will be MORE moral than others, but there is no "personal morality", any more than there can be a "personal method of respiration".

Unless you find a technique allowing you to breathe through your ears, which many men would pay good money to learn.

Quote:
Originally Posted by edlib:

Using the law to make someone see things the way I personally see them is as immoral, if not more than the action that person should be allowed to make of their own free will.
That's a rather strange, illogical statement. If you could compel a thrill-killer to stop killing, I'm sure you would. If you could compel an animal-abuser to stop abusing animals, I'm sure you would.

Once again I'm going to have to ask you to clarify: Why do you think that using the justice system to compel amoral people to act in a moral way... would be immoral?

Quote:
Originally Posted by edlib:

They are religious examples of people who see the world in absolutes. As soon as you say "that doing 'X' is wrong, has always been wrong, and will always be wrong, and there are no circumstances where it could ever be right, no matter the the motivations and consequences" you have set up a situation where anyone who believes 'X' is not always wrong, and can in some situations be right,.. is therefore immoral, perhaps even evil, and as such is probably less than human, not worthy of our empathy, and perhaps must be removed from society for the good of everyone else.
I'm not saying that you would ever do that personally, but when you set up a group that thinks alike on the matter, then the moral objections to the actions you would have to take to bring anybody who even just believes 'X' isn't always bad, let alone practitioners of 'X', seem to disappear, and actions that are typically wrong in your moral code suddenly become far more justifiable.
History shows this to be the case. Our current situation of torture in American offshore prisons is just the latest example I can cite.
You're incorrect. History shows that religious and politically dogmatic institutions of the type you describe (inquisition, sharia law, "war on terror") are immoral. But morality has NEVER been applied on the scale that religion has. We have literally NO IDEA how successful a doctrine based on true morality (i.e: a logically arrived at universal standard of moral behaviour, motivated and stemming from basic principles provided by simple empathy) would be. Because there has never been a large collective based on such a doctrine.

No offence, but throughout this thread you've confused morality with religious dogma, confused morality with socially acceptable behaviour and confused morality with governmental ideologies. Morality isn't any of these things.

Quote:
Originally Posted by edlib:

But if people can't agree on what is morality, it must ultimately be put to a vote.
Nope. As I detailed earlier in the thread, it's axiomatic that the majority of people will be comparitively immoral, while the more intelligent minority will be comparitively moral. Because moral capacity is largely based on reasoning power, intellect and wisdom. Those who are able to reason out the truly moral course of action in complex situations with many variables involved... will ALWAYS be in the minority.

A vote by all people would inevitably result in immoral laws and self-interested rules, therefore.

Quote:
Originally Posted by edlib:

Such a world seems utopian to me, and clearly doesn't reflect the reality I see. It doesn't take into consideration the messy reality of emotions, ignorance, lapses in judgment by otherwise informed people, and the fact that someone raised in a situation where they don't have the time or opportunity to ponder moral dilemmas that we in the wealthy, well educated west do (like a young kid born and raised in a war-zone somewhere, who carried his first AK-47 as soon as he could walk, and forced to kill before his 10th birthday.)
Once again, I don't think you've understood what I'm trying to say. Which may be my fault, I don't know. In this thread, I am not describing and have NEVER described a world in which everyone is moral. I have not described a world in which everyone WANTS to be moral. I have not even described a world in which many people are CAPABLE of being moral.

No, I have described the world as it is. With the proviso that those people who wish to be moral AND are capable of being moral, must apply morality as a universal standard, or they are simply not being moral.

Quote:
Originally Posted by edlib:

Should we try to make the world morally better? Yes, I believe I have the moral obligation to do that. Using education and social programs to get people to see that there are alternatives to taking actions that we have agreed are harmful to society as a whole.
Do I have the right to try to force someone who fundamentally disagrees with me on a case by case moral basis to see things my way? To judge that person's heart and motivations when they do something I personally find offensive?
No, I simply don't believe I do. If I find myself in the same situation, I have to believe there is a possibility that I may just behave in the same way.
And as I remarked earlier, that attitude is fallacious, and logically bankrupt. Because once again you are saying: "I think that this person's actions are immoral. But if I were in his shoes, I might act the same way. Therefore his actions are not immoral, because I might engage in them."

Whereas I say: "I think that this person's actions are immoral. If I were in his shoes, I might act the same immoral way, because I am human and fallible. But it would still be immoral."

I have to apply the moral standard universally, or I am not being moral.

It may seem superficially that "relative morality" is charitable to others... but in many ways it's really charitable to oneself. That's a big problem with it as a concept.

If the previous post will indeed be your last post in this thread edlib, very nice discussing with you.


[FW] Spider AL
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