Is morality just something trivial...?

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Postby Polemarchus » Fri Nov 29, 2002 10:25 pm

Hej Johan,

From your point of view there were nothing wrong with Nazi germany's ideology and behavior because it was a collective where the majority agreed about their new morality. Noting in the nature told them that it was wrong.

You spoke earlier about collective moral agreements. I should have objected then to this suggestion, but I'm afraid that it slipped my mind. I do not believe that morality should be decided democratically. A million people can behave just as badly as can one person. In fact, one of my complaints about people is that they too often just imitate the society around them, instead of thinking through the moral issue for themselves. The cognitive neuroscientist, Steven Pinker, says that people tend to calibrate their moral compass to reflect the values they find around them. So, if all your neighbors are Fascists you probably will be a Fascist as well. If most of your neighbors have slaves then you are more apt to own slaves yourself. Again, I think we should all try to decide for ourselves how best to behave. I know that I'm not immune to social pressures, but still, I try to think for myself.

For example, no law prevents me from killing animals. People don't care if I kill animals. But I decided that since I can live without killing animals then I will live without killing animals. But if I were on an airplane that crashed into a mountain in Argentina I would not hesitate to eat the bodies of my dead friends in order to stay alive. I'd probably be the first one in line with my plate and fork. :lol: Still, there is no reward for making my life more difficult by not eating meat. In fact, most people probably think I'm crazy for being a vegetarian.

The second part of your above quote is true. Nature did not tell the Nazi's they were wrong. If everyone on earth died tomorrow morning from the collision of a huge asteroid, the universe would not take the slightest notice. The universe does not care if the atoms in my body form a human or a little cloud of smoke. You asked (humorously) in your last post if it would be immoral if I were hit by lightning. The thing that makes it funny is that we all know that lightning does not care if it hits me or if it hits a pile of rocks. It just doesn't matter to the world if I live or die. There is no morality at all for rocks because no one cares about rocks. Rocks don't even care about rocks. But people care about me, and I care about me. So this is where morality comes from; it comes from humans.

1. Laws can be found outside human collectives. 2. There is no right and wrong, and I can do whatever I want as long as everyone else agree with me. Do you have a third alternative?


Yes, I think so. I wrote it in an earlier post. I said,

"A moral solution requires both of us relinquish some of our personal freedom so that we may both share an equal measure of personal freedom. We make a personal compromise for the good of all persons involved."

Man is a social being. We seek the company of others and we suffer when we are isolated. We define ourselves, in part, through our relationships. Since we all evolved together out of the very same pond scum, it follows that our brains all function very much the same. So, if moral codes are written anywhere, they are written in the way that our brain functions. When men from across the world think about the same problems they most often find the same solutions.

My hobby is to solve mathematical problems that appeared in Japanese temples some hundreds of years ago.

[url]www2.gol.com/users/coynerhm/0598rothman.html[/url]

I sometimes think about a certain geometry problem for weeks until the answer comes to me. When I look at the answer given in the back of my book, I usually discover that the method I used to solve the problem was nearly the same as was used by an ancient Japanese farmer or merchant. So, I have a good reason to think that if men all over the world think of the same moral problem they also might arrive at nearly the same solutions. The most important thing is that men try to find these answers.

Sorry Johan, I've got to run now.

See ya,
Michael
"Deux excès. Exclure la raison, n'admettre que la raison" -- Pascal, Pensées
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Postby Skeptic » Sat Nov 30, 2002 11:34 pm

Polemarchus stated:
As far as I can tell, we treat each other better today than we have at any other time in our history. I don't have to wear a sword at my waist, carry a gun across my arm, or keep a dagger in my boot. People nearly everywhere greet me with a smile and a kind word. I have, thus far, no complaints about my treatment at the hands of my fellow man.


You obviously live in the suburbs Michael. :D This is just not the universal perspective. I'm not knocking the suburbs or any other of the peaceful places to live but you just have to remember that it is not universal. (I am a suburbanite myself)

1. Derivation of Morality?

I must agree with Polemarchus on the derivation of morality but I think that laws of nature played a part in the derivation of humans and the molding by which we are shaped. Human interaction is necessary for the term morality to be used as inanimate objects are not concerned with consequence. So I would suggest that you guys drop the derivation discussion as both of your thoughts concur and ultimately bring about the same concept, moral objectivism.

2. Moral Objectivism

The problem of moral objectivism is that it cannot be revealed except through percieved consequence. Kant would argue against this, but no matter it is true. So if we are to evaluate actions and consequences, we must evaluate by some universal principle. What do all forms of life strive for? Individual freedom and happiness. Right? So we must evaluate an action to either be righteous or unrighteous by this value. Don't worry, I am not a Utilitarian, but I do take a Teleological perspective.

So now that we can add value to an action, what of actions that bring about individual freedom and happiness for myself but bring about enslavement and sorrow for a fellow being? Well, obviously it is deemed unrighteous. Well, is there any way to bring about these positives without subjecting another to the negatives? I don't see why not. Theoretically, we could all live in peace, harmony, and love without adherence to selfish activity.

3. Law and Enforcement

Before I continue with this, I would just like to make the distinction between morality and law. Humans have developed laws throughout the ages based on subjective moral beliefs. Much of it has developed with and stemmed from religion. All of it, however, is based upon fear of consequence, as Pax suggested. The problem with this is that people associate their actions with the lawfully intended consequences rather than the actual consequences. This also leads to the reasoning of many that if I can get away with it, then there are no consequences.

This is why I say that law is a "fix", not a solution. Not only is it a poor fix but law as it is subjective per the law makers, often excludes the much of the population.

4. Ignorance and Enlightment

This is why I liked Pax's reference to Socrates, “To hurt another is to hurt ourselves.” People will do something b/c you tell them to but they won't take it seriously unless they know "why". This is where law fails and education succeeds! The "why" is the most important concept of morality. Like Polemarchus said, we may find out one day that benevolence was not necessary, but until then we should "act as if we loved." That's great and all but it does not work. People want to know why they should love each other. The people that act on this concept of love these days end up getting screwed over by the guy who realizes that it is easier to just steal. Integrity does not pay when you are in a "dog eat dog" world.

So it will continue to be the ignorant "do-gooders"(givers) vs. the ignorant "evil-doers"(takers) and the takers will win almost every time. This leaves even those of us whom are enlightened to choose sides. Although we know that what goes around comes around, we must play the same game that everyone else plays in order to get by. We end up paying the price, though. We have to live in a society where we are in constant fear of terrorists, criminal mischief, financial instability, governmental collapse, and just having to see the sorrow in a young person's eyes when they come to the realization that world is not what they thought it was.

The answer is in education. Sure, the population knows the rules but they won't play the game until they know the why's.

Polemarchus stated:
In fact, most people probably think I'm crazy for being a vegetarian.


You must be crazy! How could you go through Thanksgiving without the Turkey?!? I have to admit that pumpkin pie and sweet potatoe soufle deserve a mention as well but from a utilitarian perspective kill the animals and bring on the feast! :lol:
Last night as I lay in bed looking up at the stars in the sky, I thought to myself,
"Where the heck is the ceiling?!"

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."
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Postby Marshall McDaniel » Sun Dec 01, 2002 11:18 pm

--
----- Excellent post skeptic. The "why" and Education are always important. However i agree with Polemarchus on the vegetarian thing, i am moving in that direction myself.
"..All life is the struggle, the effort to be itself. The difficulties I meet with in order to realise my existence are precisely what awaken and mobilise my activities, my capacities.."GASSET"..For enjoyment and innocence are the most modest things: neither want to be looked for. One should have them-but one should look rather for guilt and pain!.."NIETZSCHE"..The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart.." CAMUS
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Postby Marshall McDaniel » Mon Dec 02, 2002 1:00 am

Great Post Polemarchus!
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----- Surprisingly i agree with much that you said. I am extremely intrigued by your notion of Morality as a formal aspect of relationships, rather than an efficient aspect of individuals. These two are not necessarily incompatible. Please help me to better understand this.
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----- Values about a person's own life are not part of morality? How serendipitous! I just read something similiar to this last night in a Nietzschean critique. READING NIETZSCHE Edited by Robert C. Solomon & Kathleen M. Higgins. THE ESSAY ON page 29 BY FRITHJOF BERGMANN. He cites the Balinese Culture, where most transgressions are simply considered "stupidities". The idea of Freedom, and guilt as we know it is simply absent in these cultures.
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----- This then, begs the question, where is the division line between values and morality? Morality implies free-will, perhaps this it. Perhaps morality only begins with choice. Maybe values are simply subordinate goals to those of Morality. Perhaps there are many more things under the heading amoral, non-moral than i have previously construed. Where is this no-man's land of morality? Where the intrepid explorer who will map it's boundaries? Am i (as Pax_Vitae states) rendering too much unto Caesar? These are questions of much personal import.
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---- Thank you for quoting Ghandi, he is one of my personal heros.
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----- Thanks for the excellent post Pax_Vitae!
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-----
Most people can’t be good for the sake of goodness. It’s a human failing, part of our survival instinct. I think the future of morality is limited, and has become a case of what we like and dislike. God no longer has a role to play in how people live their daily lives, as it could be said he has turned his back to us. While groups of people still believe, this number will get smaller and smaller over time. Education will remove superstition and then the need for God altogether. Fundamentalism will be seen for the power struggle it really is. Like a young child crying on the ground we sit, waiting for a loving parent to pick us up and give comfort. But we sit and wait, and wait. Soon we stop crying and dry are eyes, we stand up and walk off to follow wherever our nose leads us.

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----- When you say that morality has become a case of our likes and dislikes it reminds me of emotivism or the boo-hooray theory. I disagree with emotivism. As a secular person, i continually look for ways to love without invoking God. Your allusion to "[us] waiting for a loving parent to pick us up" is reminiscent of Freud's notion of God, that later in life we substantiate a God for our lost parents.
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---- I think if more of us were "Citizens of the World" as one greek put it, the world would be a better place. There can be no place for hate and intolerance in the future World that i envision.
--
----- "May our differences unite to become greater than the sum of our parts." Sarak on Star Trek.
"..All life is the struggle, the effort to be itself. The difficulties I meet with in order to realise my existence are precisely what awaken and mobilise my activities, my capacities.."GASSET"..For enjoyment and innocence are the most modest things: neither want to be looked for. One should have them-but one should look rather for guilt and pain!.."NIETZSCHE"..The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart.." CAMUS
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Postby Polemarchus » Fri Dec 06, 2002 9:51 pm

Hi Marshall,

I enjoy reading Robert Solomon as well. I thought his, The Passions was especially good.

Morality implies free-will, perhaps this it.

Indeed, in his book Elbow Room, the American philosopher Daniel Dennett wrote:

"As the philosophers' saying goes, 'ought' implies 'can'."

At this moment in some remote galaxy, an advanced form of life is likely suffering wrongfully at the hands of others. But even if I knew the details of this interstellar injustice it still wouldn't make me morally culpable. I am not responsible for events beyond my control. But back here on earth the argument that we're unable to help is usually a cover for the fact that we're actually unwilling to help. "I'd love to help you, but my hands are tied," should normally be translated as, "I'd love to help you, but only if it would cost me nearly nothing to do so."

This then, begs the question, where is the division line between values and morality?

It's here Marshall: Which is more valuable; that I use this computer to debate theoretical Ethics or that I sell this computer and use the money to save the life of a single child in a third world country? Is there anything I could say in this forum that would have more value than a human life? In this respect, how am I different than Socrates, who sat on his arse discussing the essence of Justice while his wine cup was kept full by a slave? "Hypocrisy," noted La Rochefoucauld, "is the homage vice pays to virtue." We moralists are hypocrites by avocation, the only difference is that the best of us know of it before others have to remind us of it.

The Bible passage in Mark 10:21 tells Christians outright how they might follow Jesus' teaching:

"Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, one thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.

This clearly implies that we should be able to recognize Christians on the street by their ragged clothes. So, where are they? Why do well-dressed Christians drive to their worship services in expensive cars? Why do they worship Christ and their God, his father, in vastly opulent churches and cathedrals?

Marshall, it's good to hear that you're leaning towards vegetarianism. However, I should warn you to be sure you're not wearing leather shoes when you announce that you don't eat animals for ethical reasons; else the carnivores will trip over themselves to point out your hypocrisy. There is no man so good that his actions could be entirely above reproach. But if trying to do even a little good in this world only makes us hypocrites, shouldn't we all just admit that men are pigs and be done with it? But another path would be to understand that we don't live in a binary world of black and white choices and perfect moral theories. In this tangled mess of confusion and uncertainty men are bad or good only in relation to other men.

The slave owner that tries to understand justice is, after all, trying to be a better man than the slave owner that doesn't care about justice. Similarly, I'd allow that a Christian giving 5% of his income to the poor, as opposed to 100%, could still think of himself as a Christian. The vegetarian wearing leather shoes lives closer to his beliefs than a beefsteak-eating, leather shoe-wearing vegetarian. I've seen bumper stickers on SUV's bearing Ghandi's message that we should, "Live simply, so that other's may simply live." As much as a bumper sticker seems to make a mockery of his words, who am I to complain of their hypocrisy? I'm a hypocrite as well. The Roman poet, Ovid, might have been referring to me when he wrote:

"Video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor."
"I see what is best and approve of it, but I continue doing what is worst."


I've wondered at times how I ever could laugh when there's so much suffering in the world? How could I ever enjoy a meal when I know that before I've finished with my desert a dozen children will die from hunger? At the end of the film, Schindler's List, Schindler berated himself for not having saved even more Jews. He was gently reminded to look instead at the faces of those he had saved. I must remind myself likewise that if we should wait to laugh until the day there is no more suffering, then there will be no laughter at all. To think myself a good man I don't have to live in barrel, as Diogenes is said to have done. I have no more ability to save every starving child on this planet than I have the ability to save that hypothetical man living in another galaxy. But it's wrong to confuse the fact that I can't save every child with the fact that I might save some child. "Ought" does imply "can," but the fact that we can't do everything does not imply that we ought to do nothing. The smallest of good acts that we do are worth more than the greatest of good acts that we leave undone.
I am extremely intrigued by your notion of Morality as a formal aspect of relationships, rather than an efficient aspect of individuals. These two are not necessarily incompatible. Please help me to better understand this.

Yes, as discrete ideas they're good, but my attempts to construct a complete theory around them have thus far led to inconsistencies. When you push them a bit harder they invariably converge into a form of Contractualism similar to that proposed by David Gauthier or John Rawls (for which excellent counter-arguments already exist). But I'm not surprised when the extension of promising ideas lead to so little. The invention of a complete and consistent moral theory would be a huge accomplishment! But I wonder if the fact that man's attempts to invent such a theory have so far clearly failed isn't telling us something important? Perhaps the hope for a complete and consistent moral theory should go the way of our hopes for a perpetual motion machine?

What interests me more these days is to explain how men should act given that a complete and consistent theory remains as far out of reach today as it was two thousand years ago. This reminds me of the joke about two men stranded on an island. One of them suddenly and excitedly explains that he has thought of a way to refuel their Jet-Skis on what would be a very long ride back to civilization. The other man looks at him blankly and says that the idea is indeed wonderful, or at least it would be if only they had Jet-Skis. Men simply don't possess the "Holy Grail" of moral theories; what we do have is a pressing need to decide how to act at this very moment. Instead of an exclusive search for certainty, I wonder if we should instead be thinking about how we might continue to live with uncertainty.

Michael
"Deux excès. Exclure la raison, n'admettre que la raison" -- Pascal, Pensées
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Postby Marshall McDaniel » Sun Dec 08, 2002 7:31 am

--
----- Excellent! I believe that anyone who improves his life based on ideals and principles must at one time or another be a hypocrite. If i am twixt the self of yesterday and my ideal self, i am already guilty. I am a hypocrite too, like that dude from the Bible (Paul?), "That which i would do, i do not; And that which i would do not. i do" or something like that. I just don't understand those who have no interest in changing for the better. I think it important to be trying. (My wife tells me that i am a very trying person.)
--
----- I will be a vegetarian by the end of the year for at least three reasons.
1.) Eating vegetables is healthier.
2.) I don't create pain and suffering for animals. Chickens will no longer have their beaks snipped off for me. (something akin to ripping out all my fingernails at once).
3.) I will no longer consume inordinate amounts of grain and water that starving people in other countries need.
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---- My primary reasons are to allevate hunger in humans, and pain in animals. If i bought my leather shoes before i became a vegetarian, i will gain nothing by throwing them away. I do not force these beliefs on others, nor do i go to extreme lengths like killing animal trainers.
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-----
I have'nt actually read Solomon, the book i was reading was merely edited by him.
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---- Yes it is important not to exclude the middle. Morality is not just black and white.
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----- I appreciate your post of the japanese puzzles from Scientific American. Mathematics can be very entertaining. I have several Martin gardner books as well as others, and i used to solve puzzles like Rubik's cube.
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-----
What's your take on like a virtue ethic theory like that advocated by Aristotle. Where the individual tries to develop virtuous qualities like justice, fairness, love, compassion.
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----- After reading Nietzsche, Krishnamurti, and others i distrust most systems of morality. Systems are for people too lazy to think for themselves.
--
----- I trust and hope that i have not meandered too far from the original intent of this thread, whatever it was about.
"..All life is the struggle, the effort to be itself. The difficulties I meet with in order to realise my existence are precisely what awaken and mobilise my activities, my capacities.."GASSET"..For enjoyment and innocence are the most modest things: neither want to be looked for. One should have them-but one should look rather for guilt and pain!.."NIETZSCHE"..The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart.." CAMUS
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Postby Johan » Tue Jan 14, 2003 11:44 pm

Sorry Polemarchus for being such a pain about the ground in this discussion. It's been a while.

A million people can behave just as badly as can one person.


How can it be possible that a million people can act wrong?

Is it not true that humans through science gather new information about nature's laws and adjust their behavior thereafter? You must see what I mean by objective laws?

Johan
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