Is morality just something trivial...?

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Is morality just something trivial...?

Postby Pax Vitae » Thu Nov 07, 2002 12:54 pm

This is a post I put on alt.philosophy. What do you guys make of it???

Is morality just something trivial, a case of what we like or don’t like?

What we like, is Good.
What we dislike, is Evil.

A couple of examples:

I don’t like the idea of sex outside of marriage, so it’s evil.
I do like the idea of sex outside of marriage, so it’s good.

I don’t like people having abortions, so it’s evil.
I like the right to choose, so abortion is good.

Life is filled with subjective morality. The Ancient Greek Sophists believed that "man is the measure of all things," meaning everything will have to be judged by human reason and there is nothing beyond it. So Socrates understanding this proposition that "if man is the measure of all things," then he certainly would believe that to "know thyself" is the only why to know the world. But it means that morality is tied up in our own reason, not something external and “greater”. While on the other hand Christian religion has a base outside human reason, revelation. So evidentially "man is not the measure of all things," but God is the measure speaking through Scripture. Then morality is just a case of religious interpretation of dogma.

So, where does this leave us? Is morality just a case of what I like and dislike, or is it what Priests like or dislike? Either way, to me it looks like “Man is still the measure of Morality.”

Or do you think morality is more like, (as Jesus puts it) "Do to other as you would have them do to you?" But this is still just a slight modification of the original premises. Morality is now treating others, as we ourselves want to be treated. Again this comes back to what’s good is what I like done to me, while what’s evil is what I don’t like done to me?


Any thoughts???


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Postby BluTGI » Thu Nov 07, 2002 5:12 pm

If one does not belive in the moral repricusions of doing something imoral, then it no longer is imoral.

Morals are based on fear. Morals are the basic way to control something.

At first they sound like a good idea. Who wants to see incest, or other taboo's reguarly. But then they stretched to other things.

Thou Shall not Steal. This enforces Ecnomy.

Thou Shall not murder this creates justice.

So basically morals are good, but in higher extentions they become what form society in a whole. And they are created by what "society" in a whole wants.

So basically you sir are correct in saying that its what we want. but it is also what we fear. Also we have to deal what collectively we want and dont want vs what the indiviuals want and dont want.

A better example of this, sad as it is, President clinton at the time did a supposed imoral thing. He did it because he did not fear the repricusions. But because the rest of society reinforced the repricussions and showed him that he could still be punished it was once again an imoral thing to do.
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Postby Johan » Sat Nov 16, 2002 11:10 pm

Could it be:

If there should be a real substance to what we call moral there must also be right and wrong. Right and wrong can only be if there are objective laws that we have to relate to. Those laws can not be made up by humans. They excist in the nature/universe, and in the inner nature of humans, not in our minds. To discover those laws is the highest goal, and the only way towards harmony. Right = harmony.

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Postby Polemarchus » Sun Nov 17, 2002 1:42 am

Hej Johan,

Welcome to the group!
Right and wrong can only be if there are objective laws that we have to relate to. Those laws can not be made up by humans. They excist in the nature/universe, and in the inner nature of humans, not in our minds.

Do you mean these moral laws would exist even if there were no humans? If moral laws cannot exist in my mind, then how is it possible for me to follow them? How can I obey a law that I can know nothing about?

I believe that morality exists only because we live in communities. If there were no people there would be no morality. If there was only one person there would be no need for morality. Morality only becomes necessary when two or more people interact.

Johan, I agree with you that good moral behavior promotes harmony among men. But I think humans invent moral laws rather than discover them.

Tack så mycket,
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Future of Morality?

Postby Pax Vitae » Sun Nov 17, 2002 3:03 am

From reading the above post it might be implied that Religion was a first attempt at getting people who live together, to cooperated together. A kind of Government / Police / “Heaven & Hell” Prison system. Designed by people who had the foresight to see how the fear of superstitions could be used for their and the people’s benefit.

Polemarchus wrote:I believe that morality exists only because we live in communities. If there were no people there would be no morality. If there was only one person there would be no need for morality. Morality only becomes necessary when two or more people interact.


So in a world with more people living together in less space, how does morality relate to us today? Has the Law of the State over taken the need for Morality as our code of conduct? Should the Laws of the State dictate the Morality for its people, or should a Code of Morality dictate what Laws are fair and Just? This option of course leads to the question, who would be that Guardian of Morality for the world? As no religion should be given that title for they must be true to their dogma, yet there are moral lessons to be learned from religion. Should the UN, which has its Charter of Human Rights also have its Charter of Human Morality?

Morality still has a very important role to play in the development of humanity. But how do we get it back on track, now the traditional Moral values are under so much fire. How do you convince a generation to be considerate of each other when there is no obvious benefit for them? Or should we just practice the letter of the law, and be wise in its use and abuse?

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Postby Johan » Sun Nov 17, 2002 3:28 am

I which my English was better, so that I could tell you exactly how I mean, but I try without using the correct English philosophical terms.

Yes; it's correct that humans create morality as we se it today, but the source of right and wrong that morality is built on or (here comes the point) should be built on are the laws of nature and the universe. Only then will they be righteous and not illusions. You can not build morality upon collective subjectivism and then call it righteous if it does not harmonize with larger structures.

If there is no morality without humans It's like saying: If there were no society there would be no nature. The problem is that humans see themselves as separated from the nature.

Do you mean these moral laws would exist even if there were no humans?


Yes; moral laws does exist without humans as long as there are other existences that follow them.

If moral laws cannot exist in my mind, then how is it possible for me to follow them?


I'm sorry I did not write this correct. Moral laws can ofcourse exist in your mind, but it's not up to us to make them up. Laws can not be made up. We can just applicate the excising laws on our behavior.

How can I obey a law that I can know nothing about?


You cannot do this. This is one of the biggest challenges we have to face.
There are laws, but in our limitation we can not discover all those aspects.
We just get glances, and out of this we (or at least some) try to build morality. But we can get better by studying the nature around us and within us.

Most morality today is however built upon other premises then nature. Morality is mostly based on necessary laws to keep a society functional in a form that is intended by collective agreements.

If there was only one person there would be no need for morality.


Imagine that this one person could not swim and was living on a island. He had enough food from a small garden he had and year after year he took care of this garden. Then one year he decided not to keep any seed so that he could set new plants when the new spring came. As a result of this he run out of food and because he could not swim he starved to death on this island.

This is also immorality in my opinion, and it's also a metaphor for a bigger perspective.

But I think humans invent moral laws rather than discover them.


Yes I agree, but I don't agree that this is the correct way. It cannot be if there is such things as an objective existence. Subjectivists will perhaps argue against this.

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Postby inward » Sun Nov 17, 2002 7:40 am

I totally agree with you, Johan.
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Postby Polemarchus » Sun Nov 17, 2002 12:17 pm

Hey Pax,

Thanks for the excellent reply and welcome to the forum.

From reading the above post it might be implied that Religion was a first attempt at getting people who live together, to cooperated together.

Gosh, I hope I haven't implied as much! In an article titled, Morality and the Churches, the British philosopher, A.C. Grayling, writes:

"...religious fundamentalists and fanatics incarcerate women, mutilate genitals, amputate hands, murder, bomb and terrorize in the name of their faith. It is a mistake to think that our own milk-and-water clerics would never conceive of doing likewise; it is not long in historical terms since Christian priests were burning people at the stake if they did not believe that wine turns to blood when a priest prays over it, and that the earth sits immovably at the universe's centre, or – more to the present point – since they were whipping people and slitting their noses and ears for having sex outside marriage, or preaching that masturbation is worse than rape because at least the latter can result in pregnancy. To this day adulterers are stoned to death in certain Muslim countries; if the priests were still on top in the once-Christian world, who can say it would be different?"

So in a world with more people living together in less space, how does morality relate to us today?

Higher population densities simply force us to be ever more heedful of the implications of our behavior. For example, when I hike alone in the forest I'm free to walk where I please. When I walk across someone's cow pasture I have to remember to close the gates behind me. When I walk down in the village I have to be careful not to tread across someone's flower bed. But when I walk on a city street I must keep to the sidewalks, I have to obey the traffic lights, and I have to be careful not to bump into other pedestrians. The more people there are on the street the more careful I must be to accommodate them.

Should the Laws of the State dictate the Morality for its people...?

State laws typically represent only the most minimal of moral dictums. Good men live their lives so far above laws that they rarely need take heed of them.

Morality still has a very important role to play in the development of humanity.

I can't think of a time when morality was other than of preeminent importance to humans.

But how do we get it back on track, now the traditional Moral values are under so much fire.

Pax, I don't understand what values we have to get back on-track? Which traditional moral values are under fire?

I've just finished reading, The Perfect Heresy: The Revolutionary Life and Death of the Medieval Cathars, by Stephen O'Shea. This book describes the 13th century Crusades organized by Pope Innocent III against a Southern French Christian sect known as the Cathars (they called themselves, The Good Christians). Innocent's (Jeeze, that's rich) Crusaders placed city after city under siege, and when these cities fell their entire Christian population was often put to the sword; men, women, and children. In the city of Beziérs alone, all 20,000 inhabitants were put to death in a spree of rapine and murder.

I recently finished a book by Victor Davis Hanson titled, Carnage and Culture. Hanson begins with a narrative of the trek of ten thousand destitute Greek mercenaries (among them was Socrates’ former pupil, Xenophone) into Persia where they brought incredible carnage to the local population. They did it for money. Xenophone recorded the details of his adventure in his Anabasis. Hanson writes of the Greek mercenaries:

"They were dumbfounded by the Taochians, whose women and children jumped off the high cliffs of their village in a ritual mass suicide. They found the barbaric white-skinned Mossynoecians, who engaged in sexual intercourse openly in public, equally baffling. The Chalybians traveled with the heads of their slain opponents..."

Last year I read philosopher Jonathan Glover's, Humanity; A Moral History of the 20th Century. It was filled with the dreadful details of Stalin's Gulags, Hitler's concentration camps, and Poi Pot's Killing Fields.

Traditional values were almost uniformly awful. Every period in mankind's recorded history is filled with similar narratives of man's inhumanity to man. 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. In relation to mankind's horrific past violence I can only marvel at my good fortune to have been allowed to live a good and peaceful life.

How do you convince a generation to be considerate of each other when there is no obvious benefit for them?

This is a very good question Pax! I’ve considered a number of possible answers to this question over the years. A favorite answer in the past was prompted by Jean-Paul Sartre’s contention that since man is condemned to be free, the full responsibility of his actions rests alone upon his shoulders. In his Existentialism and Human Emotions, he soberly writes:

“We are alone with no excuses. Man must choose. Not to choose is also to choose...Man cannot find an omen in this world by which to orient himself, because a man will always interpret an omen to suit himself...There is a universality of man; but it is not given, it is perpetually being made. I build the universe in choosing myself.”

Immanuel Kant calls upon our sense of duty. He asks us to appreciate that the actions of each individual combine to produce a society. Plato made a similar observation in Book Eight of his Republic:

”Societies are not made of sticks and stones, but of men whose individual characters, by turning scale one way or the other, determine the direction of the whole.”

All right, I understand this much. Still I have to wonder why I shouldn’t simply let other men do the heavy lifting in creating a good society. Why not let all the other fools keep to “the straight and narrow,” while I go about exploiting their society for personal profit? When called upon to assist my neighbor at a barn-raising, why should I risk hurting my back lifting the timbers? No one could tell if I’m lifting my share of the load or if I’m actually resting on the load. As long as the wall goes up, what does it matter if I make a personal effort? Why not let the other chumps hurt their backs? A hawk among hawks starves, yet a hawk among doves will grow fat. Since most men are doves, wouldn’t I be a fool not to exploit their softness? Petty criminals and organized crime bosses alike, share this view.

While thinking of the analogy of the barn raising, I remembered that a friend told me that as a young woman she was made to study the violin. Her heart wasn’t in it though. She especially hated to practice. Unfortunately she belonged to an orchestra. A girl who sat next to her in this orchestra was in the same predicament. This girl taught my friend to lift her bow ever-so-slightly over the strings. As long as their bowing was visually convincing, since they didn’t make a sound the conductor / teacher couldn’t single them out for their poor performance. Since the overall sound of the orchestra was little diminished, what difference did it make that they were not contributing?

The thought of playing a musical instrument brought to mind a passage from another book I read titled, Reverence, by Paul Woodruff. Woodruff considers the virtue of reverence; a virtue he believes has been recently neglected. The passage from this book that comes to my mind is:

”Why should I be reverent? If you have to ask, you are hopeless. You are like a cellist who begins to play the Bach suites, stops suddenly and asks, ‘Why should I play the right notes’?”

Hmm…interesting. Is this a fitting analogy for one who asks, “Why should I be good”? Woodruff remarks that one cannot step outside a practice that one is engaged in. One easily could play the wrong notes, but then one ceases to produce a Bach suite. Unlike my friend, we can’t go through our lives with our bow slightly lifted. As Sartre said, “Not to choose is to choose.” As long as man lives, he must choose his actions. If we play the correct notes we produce a thing of beauty. We produce a beautiful life. Should we choose to play the wrong notes, beyond the assault on the ears of others, we squander the pleasure we might have from creating a thing of beauty.

J.S. Bach once humorously said that organ playing, "...is nothing remarkable..., all one has to do is hit the right notes at the right time and the instrument plays itself." Yet we’ve all heard the results of such music. Though technically correct, we often think such a performance is missing emotion. An ethical life might also be achieved by mechanically hitting the right notes at the right times. We may go though our lives never actually hitting the wrong notes, yet a life spent merely avoiding debt or prison is not one I consider particularly inspiring or beautiful. It isn’t enough that we merely abide by the law. It isn’t enough that we avoid doing harm to others. Benevolent men transcend the law and find ways to bring joy to the lives of others. Benevolent men lovingly hit the correct keys at the correct time; they play the notes with emotion, and they take joy from creating this beauty.

Michael
Last edited by Polemarchus on Sun Nov 17, 2002 3:55 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby Polemarchus » Sun Nov 17, 2002 3:02 pm

Hej Johan,

I very much liked your example of the man living alone on the island. I'm also fond of using Robinson Crusoe in my moral arguments. In your example Robinson commits suicide by deliberately choosing not to save the seed from his garden. Each man must decide for himself if his life is worth living. He alone must decide if his happiness outweighs his suffering. But this is not a moral decision, this is a personal decision. If society commands a man to live; if they remove his shoelaces so that he might not hang himself and put a feeding tube into his stomach so that he cannot starve himself, then society has taken from the man what only rightfully belongs to him. My life is my own to do with as I please. I alone assign value to my life. Morality does not exist for a man living alone. Morality has to do with how our actions affect the lives of others. Morality is exclusively a social issue.

Think of this analogy. If I were the only driver on the road then it wouldn't matter which side of the road I decided to drive on. I could drive on the left or the right side. I could even drive down the middle of the road if I wanted to. There simply would be no right or wrong side. In this hypothetical world there would be no automobile morality.

But automobile morality is created the moment a second driver wants to share the road with me. We must now both agree to remain on one side or the other. It doesn't matter if we agree to drive on the left or the right side, the only important thing is that we both make and adhere to some equitable agreement on the matter. As with all agreements this one is based upon trust. We decide to call the breaking of this agreement, an immoral act.

Now, suppose I don't like the idea of limiting myself to drive on one side of the road. I decide to solve my problem by mounting a machine gun on my car. I then tell you that whenever I'm on the road you have to park your car. But inevitably, you will mount a rocket launcher on your car. Now we have a war in which neither side wants to compromise. A war normally produces a winner-take-all solution in which one side lose few of their freedoms while the other side lose almost all of their freedoms. Suppose I win the war. If you survive you'll go away licking your wounds while plotting your revenge. It might come in the way of an ambush or a landmine. So I can never feel at-ease while driving. I install bullet proof glass and am forced to drive slowly enough so that I might spot possible land mines. I stop driving at night altogether for fear of an ambush. But haven't I given up far more freedoms than I would have been called upon to yield in the initial negotiations?

The mutual solution, that is to say, the moral solution, requires that we back up to the point before we brought out the heavy weaponry. 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. This is morality in a nut-shell.

...but the source of right and wrong that morality is built on or (here comes the point) should be built on are the laws of nature and the universe.

It would be wonderful if this were true, for we would no longer have to wring our hands when presented with difficult moral decisions. Unfortunately, as I wrote in an earlier post, Jean-Paul Sartre reminds us:

"Man cannot find an omen in this world by which to orient himself, "Because...man will always interpret this omen to suit himself."

So, even if moral principles could be found in nature, man would still interpret them as it pleases him.

The Christians, for example, believe that moral laws were given to them by their God, and they believe these sacred laws may be found in the Bible. But it's well known that Christians have tortured and killed each other for two thousand years in disagreements over the interpretation of the the Bible. No matter where we might find moral laws, we would still have to interpret their meaning. And if we take the Christians for our example, interpretation is a very dangerous business.

There is a rich and interesting history in philosophy of debating your assertion that moral laws exist in nature. For example, if the moral laws do exist "out there," David Hume asked how exactly does one derive "ought from is"? Hume thought it impossible. The British philosopher, G.E. Moore, went so far as to claim that it is impossible to define "goodness" in terms of some natural property. He invokes his famous "open question argument" to support this claim.

Having told you why I disagree with you, I'd like now to tell you how I think I could agree with you. I don't think we can find moral laws by looking through a telescope, but I think we might find them by looking inside of ourselves. Humans evolved together from the same origins. We understand each other because we are brothers. We might have different individual thoughts, but our minds work according to the same principles. I think it's possible to derive at least some semi-objective moral laws from this common link that binds us together as one people.

I think this common moral link might arise in our love. The French philosopher, Andre Comte Sponville has written a wonderful book, A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues, that I enjoy reading over, and over again. He writes:

"... parents love their children before knowing them, before being loved by them, regardless of what they are or what they become. Love is first...it precedes all value: what is valuable is what we love. No doubt it is in this respect that love is the supreme value, the Alpha and the Omega of living...the starting point and the destination of all our judgements."

Spinoza similarly wrote,

"We do not desire something because we deem it good, we deem something to be good because we desire it."

And we have Nietzsche saying,

"The capacity to generate value is the power of desire to make jewels and treasure out of esteemed things."

Again, Sponville eloquently writes:

"How can we not love, even if only a little, someone who resembles us, who lives and suffers as we do, and who like us, will die? Friends and enemies, lovers or rivals, we are all brothers in the face of life, all brothers in the face of death...Charity then is like a light of joy and gentleness shining on all men, known and unknown, near and far, in the name of a common humanity, a common life, a common fragility."

Finally, Andre Comte Sponville gives us a beautifully simple moral maxim:

"Act as though you loved."

Sponville explains that "Love commits us to morality and frees us from it." Christ instructed us to love all men. Sponville says that it isn't necessary to go that far. We only need to act as though we loved. But he says that when we do love, we can simply forget the moral and legal arguments altogether.

Michael
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Postby Pax Vitae » Sun Nov 17, 2002 8:51 pm

But how do we get it back on track, now the traditional Moral values are under so much fire.


Pax, I don't understand what values we have to get back on-track? Which traditional moral values are under fire?


I didn’t express what I was trying to say correctly. Traditional Moral Values, as I meant them were: Kindness towards each other for no other sake than it’s the right thing to do. Of course this is what most religious texts preach but it was rarely enacted correctly. All religions have a lot of problems at the moment caused by fundamentalism, scandal / corruption, beliefs that most would find oppressive (in our current age). Morality is very closely linked to religion and to some it’s hard to separate the two. With religion having lost its sanctity, and so called authority to teach Morality, how do we keep and teach the idea of Morality to the next generation? Because like you said, “State laws typically represent only the most minimal of moral dictums.” But will Morality be left to the discretion of Parents to teach? Or will the State who demands Law abiding citizens, realize that Moral citizens are better?

Polemarchus, you make some very convincing points, I agree with you about the barn raising, and the hawk amongst dove’s analogies. Like the movie version of Don Quixote puts it, “How do you fix a world where evil brings profit, and virtue none at all?” But to use the hawks’ analogy again, it won’t be till everybody’s a hawk that the hawks will worry about being kind, because at that stage it will be their only way to survive.

Plato wrote of Socrates thought that, “To hurt another is to hurt ourselves.” This was his basis for living a virtuous life. But is it still possible to believe this even when most of the evidence that surrounds us implies the opposite? I choose to believe that Socrates is right but am looking for a warrant for my belief.

Unless morality can be seen to benefit a society, most will choose to ignore it, or maybe we have evolved to the point where morality holds no more purpose. We have reach the enlightened state where brother no longer needs brother to survive in the world, as the Laws of the State protect and the police serve us. We can choose the friends we wish, and ignore the people we despise. Individuals can shun their responsibilities allowing the state to take the full moral burden of watching over the homeless and the weak of our society. Life is now a matter of consuming all that we can afford in the search for pleasure. The moral ways only become a tool, useful when impressing an individual(s) seen to be in a position advantageous to our own. The moral music will lack the spark of emotion found in Bach, we will have replaced it by a siren’s song sung by Brittany. The idea that our existence could come to this, saddens me, for no other reason than we have underachieved our true potential. :cry:


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Postby Johan » Sun Nov 17, 2002 9:56 pm

Very god answers, but they are retoric limited to a human/collective level. I really enjoy this however, and I experiencing a great flow. I'm a little disaponted though that I'm not able to write exactly what I think.

In your example Robinson commits suicide by deliberately choosing not to save the seed from his garden.


I may agree if his intention was to commit suicide, (but probably not because I think that most suicides depend on a missunderstanding how the individual relate to it's surronding. In this case a suicide may have to do with that this person was alone and felt that his life was meaningless. Building a boat would have been a better solution. Or at least learn how to swim). But what if he wanted to live and decided not too keep the seed because he wanted to use it to feed some birds. He did not think of the fact - did not know or forgot - that he must keep the seed so that he could plant them. Then there is an error that results in his death.
Thinking like this tells us that immorality from a subjectivistic perspective is more the term we use when we know what is right and do not follow this path because we think some other path can benefit us more(?). We place a new right in place of the first right. When we (collectively) do not know what is best for us we are still acting immoral, but noone blames us for this until finally the laws of nature outside and within strikes us with the final word of truth. Terms like unawareness, immorality, illwill, illusion, ETC, can all be replaced by the term "wrong". The nature does not care and it will judge every "wrong" the same. It's only humans that separate crimes and unawareness. There are no crimes, there are just missinformed people. So the term immorality should never be used to blame people.

You are resonating as a subjectivist like there is no laws in nature and that no other structures around us have any goals. One obvious immorality is if humans would cut down all trees in the world (that is what the island example takes us in a larger perspective). This tell us that we can not do as we please because it will effect us negatively.

Without laws we can not say that a person is wrong or that a culture/society is wrong. We can not say if the attacks of the WTC are right or not, because without laws in universe and the nature one culture do not have more right then another. We can simply not justify moral laws upon collective agreements and make this an maxim.
Our intention must follow the natures intention the same way our cells must follow our body if we should remain healthy. Just don't ask me if cells that develop cancer act immorally. As far as I know does interpretation require free will, and I don't know if cells have that.

Here is my philosophical statement that I have tried to translate to English:
-----------------------------------------------------------
The individual is judged by the structural complexity that surrounds the individual.

The individual is also judged by the level of integration the sorrunding structure have towards larger complex.

From this perspective there are no ultimate laws from a subjective point but a journey through illusions where the individual moral is judged by the level of integration with the total complexity.
-------------------------------------------------------------
No matter where we might find moral laws, we would still have to interpret their meaning.


Yes this is a subjective dilemma, but it does not makes the objective laws less real. The fact that we can not see beyond our limitations does not make the laws less real, it just makes it difficult for humans to practise them.

This is however the forbidden fruit. This fact would take away all authority from the world's leaders. The reason why we in history have created moral laws and signed them by Gods hand is to give authorities the ability to direct other people. Without this it's is not possible. The reason the human society is falling apart today is also because of this. We are shifting paradigm and have not yet adapted the new laws.

what is valuable is what we love. No doubt it is in this respect that love is the supreme value.


I do not agree with Andre Comte. The value before love is meaning. Without meaning there exist no love. The value before meaning is estheticism and the supreme value is function. Estheticism is the expression of functionality. Functionality in it's turn is judged by the laws of nature.

"We do not desire something because we deem it good, we deem something to be good because we desire it."


Right, but desire is ofcourse not an indication that it's moral/right.

"The capacity to generate value is the power of desire to make jewels and treasure out of esteemed things."


This tells us nothing because the "jewel" is maybe not a jewel after all. The real value of a apple is higher for a human then a jewel. However diamonds are also used to cut glass and similar so in many cases it may a higher value then an apple, it all depend on the situation. A bottle of water have no value if you are near a lake with crystal clear water, but if you are in a desert it might be the different between life and death. A separate thing have no value unless its valued by it's function. In the "jewel case" the value is created by humans and given an illusory value. With a shifting focus we can make jewels valueless, but we can not make air valueless with a shifting focus.

I have tried to explain that moral is tied to "right and wrong". If moral should have substance there must also be right and wrong. Right and wrong can be judged by humans, but only righteous if it follow the universal laws. Universal laws may not be totally discovered but it does not make them less real. The path to higher morality is to discover those laws.

So the question is not from where we are judged but how we can know this more. It is possible to know some aspects today so we can not say that it's impossible. The limitation are within us humans.

Johan
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Postby Johan » Sun Nov 17, 2002 10:20 pm

Think of this analogy. If I were the only driver on the road then it wouldn't matter which side of the road I decided to drive on. I could drive on the left or the right side. I could even drive down the middle of the road if I wanted to. There simply would be no right or wrong side. In this hypothetical world there would be no automobile morality.


Right; no morality. There must always be a relation for morality to be. A single car can not relate to left or right because it have no real value unless we put in more objects. This hypothetical world only have one ingredience and therefore no morality.
Alternative the car can be judged by the road but only if you give the road some caracteristics in this hypothetical world. If the road have a lot of cracks and bumps (or other cars) on the left side then it might be better to drive on the right side. This is not true ofcource if the cars intention is to wear out the tires as fast as possible. But then the car must ask itself if it's right or wrong to wear out the tires as fast as possible. This car probably have a driver that decides this, and that it's best to spare the tires by driving on the smothest side of the road, it's the right thing to do, and thinking different would me immoral. Or simplier: it would be wrong.

A real world on the other hand have a few more relations, and the car will be judged by a lot of aspects.

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Postby Polemarchus » Tue Nov 19, 2002 7:40 pm

Hello again Pax,

I share your wish that men would treat each other better. I work for a television station, and I invariably shudder at the content of the evening news. My network (CBS) does not make this stuff up; the bombs that shred innocent people's lives are real; the bodies of the abducted children that turn up in a ditch are real as well. But it's important to keep this in mind.

A medical specialist that treats rare diseases has his waiting room filled with people suffering from these rare diseases. Day in and day out, nearly everyone this physician meets suffers from this rare disease. Would it be correct to infer from his experience that this rare disease must be epidemic in the population? Of course not, it would be silly to form such a conclusion. It's just that his sampling of the population is biased.

It's the same with the evening news. We have a network of organizations whose specific job is to sort through all the daily activity of six billion humans in order to ferret out the worst behavior, the most tragic accidents, and the most sensational scandals. At the end of this daily freak and horror show, the news anchor calmly closes with, "And this was a look at our world today." Meanwhile, we're sitting in our chair with our fingernails dug into the armrests; shaken out of our wits at what we've just seen. Is there any wonder that people think that the world has gone to hell? We often hear old people say, "It wasn't like that in my day." And they are right. It wasn't like that in their day, it was worse. They just didn't hear about it.

In the year 1800 the earth's population was one-sixth what it is today. There were one-sixth as many people to make the news; to rape and murder. Yet, at the turn of the 19th century the Napoleonic wars were raging across Europe. The Canadian writer, John Ralston Saul, remarked in his book, Voltaire's Bastards, that Napoleon indirectly killed nearly as many men as did Hitler. I remember reading that in the days of Napoleon's terror, a dust cloud was sighted on the horizon of a city in Eastern Europe (I forget which city). The city fathers, fearing it was Napoleon’s armies set their own city aflame to deny it to the enemy. It turned out that the dust was from a large herd of cattle being moved to market. Tough times, those.

Traditional Moral Values, as I meant them were: Kindness towards each other for no other sake than it’s the right thing to do. Of course this is what most religious texts preach..."

As I understand it, Christians (for example) teach that we should obey God's edicts not for the sake of goodness itself, but for reason of personal gain. Having myself endured 12 years of Catholic schools, the phrase, "The wages of sin is death," springs readily to mind. Christian dogma would have us act so as to please God. If God is pleased with us we gain Paradise. If he is displeased with us we suffer eternal damnation. Pax, I simply don't recollect hearing much about being good for the sake of goodness. I remember it being about saving one's own soul.
Morality is very closely linked to religion and to some it’s hard to separate the two.

Well yes, and theists are quite pleased with this linkage. I think Arthur C. Clark only slightly overstated the point when he wrote:

"The greatest tragedy in mankind's entire history may be the hijacking of morality by religion."

Men have acted horribly in the past despite believing that they would indeed suffer eternal damnation for their acts. Wicked men will act badly no matter what the prevailing beliefs. I recently came upon this quote by the physicist, Steven Weinberg:

"With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil - that takes religion."

I'm still trying to make up my mind whether to agree with him or not.

The moral music will lack the spark of emotion found in Bach, we will have replaced it by a siren’s song sung by Brittany.

Franz Kafka wrote, "Now the sirens have a still more fatal weapon then their song, namely their silence..." Hmm...that's easy for Kafka to say, he never had to endure Britney Spears. :)

Plato wrote of Socrates thought that, “To hurt another is to hurt ourselves.” ... I choose to believe that Socrates is right but am looking for a warrant for my belief."

This is an especially fine thing to write, Pax. For some time I've had this very same idea on my mental "backburner." Is it possible that what we do to another we do to ourselves? In a recent exchange Brad and I skirted this idea. I quoted Thomas W. Clark:
"We are simply variations on a theme of subjectivity which is in no danger of being extinguished by our passing."

Is there only one "I" in the universe? This question has often reoccurred in my mind since I was quite young. It began as a theological speculation, but it's since taken on various guises. This question might be worth its own thread. What do you think?

It's wonderful to hear that you choose to accept this idea while you search for a convincing grounding for your ethics. Since we need a working theory at this very moment, until we discover the "perfect" moral theory why not let's adopt this unproven possibility; that what we do to others we do to ourselves? For lack of nothing better, let's adopt Sponville's little maxim, "Act as though you loved." Someday, if and when philosophers find the "perfect" moral theory they might say, "Oh look, our foolish ancestors went around acting as though they loved each other," but now we see that they didn't have to be that good." These future philosophers might lament the fact that we needlessly wasted so much goodness on each other. But would it really be a shame that you and I squandered more goodness on each other than the "perfect" moral theory required of us? If there is anything else so worthy of squandering, I for one can't think of it.

Michael
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Postby Marshall McDaniel » Sun Nov 24, 2002 7:06 am

-----I think you can derive morality from nature, Without the possibility of death, things start to lose their value. Only a living organism can have values. Only a living organism is faced with the constant CHOICE life or death. The philosopher Ayn Rand talked about this.
-----My lights say that my morality should not derive exclusively from a social context, maybe due in part from my individualistic culture, but certainly from the thinkers whom i have studied. Having other people on the road to contend with can certainly lend credulity to moral DON'Ts,
(which unfortunately is almost all that morality focused on for many years in it's infancy) but to summon the veritable wellspring of moral DOs requires ego, desire, passion, and love. If i don't have these already, i seriously doubt that my noble brethren will have much to work with. To lament about people who just won't obey the rules is to see the whole of philosophy as a top down affair. Either people for the most part accept the rules, or they don't. The people that don't under a top down system, end up seeing morality as an arbitrary social contrivance of little value and import.
-----As far as the social don'ts alluded to earlier, i think that Peter Singer's rule of equal consideration of the interests of all sentient creatures affected by one's actions is useful. (This is only stretching the golden rule a bit.)
-----Unless philosophy (or religion) becomes a personal, ennobling force within one's own bosom, all of the religious tracts and philosophical treatise in the world won't suffice. A selfless sacrifice done out of duty? or The impassioned embrace of one who has found the hero in his own, or another's soul, the choice is ours my friends.
"..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 » Sun Nov 24, 2002 10:37 pm

Johan wrote:
...no one blames us for this until finally the laws of nature outside and within strikes us with the final word of truth. Terms like unawareness, immorality, illwill, illusion, ETC, can all be replaced by the term "wrong". "

Ethics is unique in philosophy inasmuch as it requires that we should first decide how we ought to act, and second we should follow this theory by our actions. The most perfect moral theory is perfectly useless if we choose to ignore it.

How many convicted murderers do not understand that murder is wrong? Well, the criminally insane might think that murder is a good thing, but I suspect that many, if not most murderers understand that murder is wrong. These men committed murder while believing that it is wrong to murder. This gulf between moral theory and practice leads me to think that even if philosophers could devise a perfect ethical theory, men would still choose to ignore it.

The American philosopher (from Vermont no less!) John Dewey wrote:

"A moral judgement, however intellectual it may be, must be at least colored with feeling if it is to influence behavior."

Dewey is saying that the perfect moral theory must be more than technically flawless. It must be emotionally as well as intellectually persuasive. Most of the people can be forced to obey the laws by threatening them with prison. But people cannot be forced to treat each other well. They must also feel that what they are doing is good.

Now, I've already said that I believe morality is a social phenomenon. I've said that the need for morality only arises when two or more humans interact. I deny that rules of human conduct could exist without humans to write these rules.

But consider that Lions and Thompson's Gazelles are strictly amoral creatures. The Lion that kills a Gazelle is prevented from starving. The Gazelle that successfully eludes an attacking Lion helps to starve the Lion. If laws are written in nature for humans where are the laws for Lions and Gazelles? I think you might answer that Lions and Gazelles actually do follow the moral laws of nature; the law of kill or be killed. You might say that the Lions mostly kill the old and sick Gazelles and this helps to keep the population strong. But notice that Lions are just as happy to kill a strong newborn Gazelle. If they didn't eat this baby it could grow to become a strong member of the herd. So, it would be better for all the animals if the Lions would refrain from eating the young and weak Gazelles. If the moral laws for animals are written by nature, then nature has gotten the laws wrong.

Now the same laws - that only the fittest shall survive - apply to men as well as amoral animals. Some men argue that "might makes right." This is a basic natural law. I can't argue that it isn't effective, but is it humane? Can men do better than this? Where in nature might we look for guidance to decide if we should kill a mentally retarded human child rather than waste the food on it that could be used to nourish a healthy child? How would nature answer such a question?

Of course it's incorrect to think of men as living outside of nature. Men are a part of nature, so if men create moral rules these rules, technically speaking, are from nature. But I understand that Johan and Marshall mean to imply that higher moral rules (higher rules than "the survival of the fittest") of human conduct somehow exist in the world apart from men. I just can't understand how this could be true.

Michael
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Postby Marshall McDaniel » Mon Nov 25, 2002 2:36 am

----- Well said Polemarchus. I am not sure that morality can be considered in a context separate from women (or men), but i do feel that it can be considered from more than a purely social context.

How many convicted murderers do not understand that murder is wrong? Well, the criminally insane might think that murder is a good thing, but I suspect that many, if not most murderers understand that murder is wrong. These men committed murder while believing that it is wrong to murder. This gulf between moral theory and practice leads me to think that even if philosophers could devise a perfect ethical theory, men would still choose to ignore it.


----- An excellent point that has been brought up here before. Socrates thought that if men knew to do better, they would, that only knowledge of the correct way was needed. Aristotle distinguished between those who do wrong knowing they do wrong, and those who do wrong not knowing. Obviously the person who does wrong, knowing so is the more guilty.

----- Lions must kill gazelles to survive, man is under no such duress. Even so, when i say that man can get a sense of ethics from nature i definitely am not referring to social darwinism. There have been numerous advances in socio-biology that give me hope. Reciprocal altruism, kinship altruism in the higher social animals and primates. E.G. Wolves will frequently bring meat back to the cave to wolves too sick to be in on the hunt. Chimpanzees "groom" each other to remove parasites; and even between species: there is the example of the alligators that willingly (without biting down) let the birds ( a specific species) clean their teeth. The birds get fat, and the gators don't have to go to the dentist as often. We owe more to nature for our morality than may at first be expected. I believe Kropotkin may have been one of the first ones here (but i am hardly familiar with his work). I have also read The Expanding Circle: Ethics & Sociobiology by Peter Singer. (albeit an old book, surely there is something more recent someone can show me).
"..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 Pax Vitae » Tue Nov 26, 2002 6:42 am

Polemarchus
"The wages of sin is death," springs readily to mind. Christian dogma would have us act so as to please God. If God is pleased with us we gain Paradise. If he is displeased with us we suffer eternal damnation. Pax, I simply don't recollect hearing much about being good for the sake of goodness. I remember it being about saving one's own soul.


Yes your right, I have a habit of taking what I like from something and leaving out the bad stuff. I believe if we took all the best bits from the world religions, we would have something that is closer to what “God” would want, then what we have in any single religion. It would also make more sense as a truly loving God would want us to work together and not against one another, (i.e. killing in his name to convert the unbelievers). Also in my study of religions over the years, normally fear and reward are at the centre. Except for the eastern thought, which I find more closely relates to nature, then any of the western religions. The idea of Ying and Yang were opposites work against each other to “create” life. Meaning from paradox comes life.

From reading the posts I’m starting to get the impression that Morality needs a God figure, and Fear of that figure to work effectively. As Love is not a motivation that seems to work as well as fear on both kind and “evil” people (“evil” from a moral perspective).

I agree with ‘Marshall McDaniel’ that if people knew why hurting one another was wrong they would stop. But it would have to be because it was a wrong to themselves and not just a wrong to that other person. We are still not in a general population, civil enough to be able to relate to one another out of altruistic kindness. It might also be fair to assume that if we could do this we would all have reached a state of moral enlightenment. Which of course means that no State Laws would be required, and would almost be a lawless society, were everybody knows what they should and shouldn’t do. Yet on examining nature this would seem to go against the natural order, which is the strong survive and the weak perish. This to me means that morality is not something that we can hope to find in nature. Morality has to be of transcendental origin. Good people don’t need good reasons to do good things, but others do.

Polemarchus
Well yes, and theists are quite pleased with this linkage. I think Arthur C. Clark only slightly overstated the point when he wrote:

"The greatest tragedy in mankind's entire history may be the hijacking of morality by religion."


While I feel this statement is true, I don’t think you can actually have a moral code without some from of reward / fear to drive people into accepting and living such a code. This doesn’t mean in the future it wouldn’t be possible. But humanity at the moment is still, as Rousseau would but it, a “noble savage”. I believe we are currently going through the pains of waking up from our dogmatic slumber. While Kant did this years ago, I think the rest of us, are only beginning to wake up. I believe the gods of religion are going to pass away like Zeus and his brethren, and a new concept of God will come into being. What exactly it will be I don’t know, but it will not be like “religion,” as we currently understand them. (Mmm, this sounds like a madman ranting). But I do think the future of morality if it’s to survive, (hehe) that is if it’s the fittest of ways for people to be governed will need to evolve beyond the old dogmatic gods.

Polemarchus
Is there only one "I" in the universe? This question has often reoccurred in my mind since I was quite young. It began as a theological speculation, but it's since taken on various guises. This question might be worth its own thread. What do you think?


I’d say “yes” to both questions. But like everything spiritual, how do you go about showing a proof or that this new way is better then the current. This is also were I’m going with the above paragraph. I’m reading and still reading Kant, since your first post. I like Kant’s idea that there are experiences beyond our experience, which we can’t relate to, because they don’t stimulate one of the 5 senses we possess. So they can never be known to us. But to me it begs the question: Could we build a machine to interpret these experiences, (assuming something outside are 5 senses existed). Almost like trying to build a new Tower of Babel, if I wanted to express it biblically. But back to your question about “I in the Universe,” I would be very interested in sharing ideas about such a concept.


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Postby Polemarchus » Fri Nov 29, 2002 12:55 am

Hi Marshall,

It’s good to hear that you also enjoy reading Peter Singer. The very mention of his name drives some people into a rage but I often agree with his arguments; sometimes grudgingly, sometimes unreservedly. Singer doesn’t appear to mind his status as a “lightning rod” as long as he can goad folks into re-evaluating (or all too often, into evaluating) their moral beliefs. The people that most scare me are those that either don’t care about their moral beliefs or those that are certain of their moral beliefs. By the way, to those unfamiliar with Singer I’d recommend they begin with his recent anthology, Writings on an Ethical Life.
Socrates thought that if men knew to do better, they would, that only knowledge of the correct way was needed.

Socrates supposedly said, “The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance.” But a contemporary of Socrates, the Greek dramatist Euripides, complained in his Hippolytus:

”We know the good but we do not practice it.”

Knowing “the good” is not the same as doing good. For example, the knowledge that my car needs some minor repair is more often an irritant than it is a prompt for certain action. David Hume said as much:

“Tis one thing to know virtue, and another to conform the will to it.”

”Lions must kill gazelles to survive, man is under no such duress.”

I disagree. Just think of the famous “overloaded lifeboat” thought-experiment. If you prefer an actual example, consider this quote by E.O. Wilson (the guy that coined the term “sociobiology”) from his book, Consilience:

“Between 1950 and 1994 the population of Rwanda, favored by better health care and temporarily improved food supply more than tripled, from 2.5 million to 8.5 million. In 1992 Rwanda had the highest growth rate in the world, an average of 8 children per every woman becoming the most overpopulated country in the world. The teenage soldiers of the Hutu and Tutsi then set out to solve the overpopulation in the most direct possible way.”

The Press reports I’ve seen suggested that ethnic hatred led to this genocide. But Wilson implies that this horror had more to do with Lion versus Gazelle than Hutu versus Tutsi.

Marshall, I’m pleased that you mentioned symbiotic relationships. A surprising number of political situations can be modeled, at least to a first order approximation, by the use of game theory. The prisoner’s dilemma, for example, appears to be a particularly useful model of relationships when costs are involved. It’s true that Chimpanzees groom each other. And it appears that Chimps that return the favor are more likely to be groomed in the future. Primate specialists schooled in game theory recognize this behavior as an example of the classic “tit-for-tat” response pattern. This is not to say that Chimpanzees are not complex creatures. In their book, Demonic Males, Wrangham and Peterson observed:

”Chimpanzee gang assault and murder is marked by a gratuitous cruelty - tearing of pieces of skin, for example, twisting limbs until they break, or drinking a victim’s blood - reminiscent of acts that among humans are regarded as unspeakable crimes during peacetime and atrocities during war.”

Chimps are behaviorally complex enough to exhibit “gratuitous cruelty,” but not quite complex enough to feel remorse for having done so. Chimpanzees are guiltless; moments after participating in a gang murder they return to their “innocent” play. To them it’s all equally innocent behavior. Life would be much simpler if we too could innocently bash a man’s brains from his skull; if we could blithely continue to eat our meal while another of our kind is ripped apart by a predator, or if we could force sex upon a woman without regrets. But we are such complex creatures that we're able to overcome our natural dispositions. In other words, humans make moral choices. Richard Dawkins wrote:

"Homo sapiens is the only species that can rebel against the otherwise universally selfish Darwinian impulse."

A moral conscience complicates our lives. We’re weakened by our remorse, saddened when we see harm come to others, and generally confused by questions of how we ought to act. But the "luxury" of having no conscience is only afforded to the simple minded. Should we envy the earthworms their uncomplicated and amoral lives?

Only a sufficiently complex creature could hope to understand its own behavior. But this sufficiently complex creature will have an equally complex behavior. As we become more sophisticated so does our behavior. I wonder if we shall ever be able to catch our tails.
I am not sure that morality can be considered in a context separate from women (or men), but I do feel that it can be considered from more than a purely social context

To convince me you only need to produce a single instance of a non-social moral dilemma.
It’s my present belief that a man consigned to exist alone on a planet inhabited by no other life is released (or deprived) entirely from moral issues. Imagine that he’s been stranded on this planet since birth with a machine to synthesize his food from starlight, water, and carbon dioxide (all of which are plentiful). The closest I’ve come in allowing this isolated man a moral character is by thinking of his “self” in the context of the Hume / Parfit / Buddhist “bundle theory.” If a man were actually a bundle of competing interests then the prospect for abuse might arise. A second idea is that the man might change so much in time as to be thought of as successively different persons. If this were true, then to deliberately damage his bodily health (perhaps by smoking or taking drugs) in his youth would be to harm the man he would become in his later life. But both of these ideas require that the man is sophisticated enough to think of himself as a bundle of competing interests, or as a chronological succession of different persons. If he were oblivious to these possibilities then no matter how he/they acted, he/they would remain as morally innocent as Chimpanzees.

You might be wondering why it matters that morality is purely a social phenomenon. Well, if goodness only comes about through our contact with others then we must acknowledge that it’s impossible for a man to be good, honorable, or to have dignity outside of his relationships. A man alone might have a number of other qualities such as intelligence, curiosity, and humor, but the traditional view that goodness is entirely an internal quality appears to be mistaken. We need others and we need to act with benevolence towards others in order to complete our sense of ourselves.

Michael
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Postby Polemarchus » Fri Nov 29, 2002 1:01 am

Hello Pax,

...I have a habit of taking what I like from something and leaving out the bad stuff.

Nice habit!

...I’m starting to get the impression that morality needs a God figure, and fear of that figure to work effectively. As love in not a motivation that seems to work as well as fear on both kind and “evil” people.

Pax, is your impression perhaps based on an assumption that men treated each other with more respect in the days when they truly feared the wrath of God? My reading of history leads me inescapably to the opposite conclusion. In the days when men predominately feared God they had an even better reasons to fear other men. The generic prayer in those days must have been:

“Oh Lord, save me from your followers.”

A Chinese proverb says, “No man can have more peace than his neighbor allows.” Leon Trotsky similarly noted, “While you may not be interested in war, war is interested in you.” Both of these quotes hint at the reason we so desperately want men to be moral. Ethical society relieves men from having to live in fear and delivers good men from the threat of punishment. But Pax, you’re proposing that moral men should live in fear of God and his threats. This is entirely contrary to the reason for wanting moral behavior in the first place! Only slaves submit to threats of punishment; noble and free men defy such threats.

History is filled with the sorry details of man’s unquestioned subservience to “higher” authority. The Enlightenment was about our throwing off these chains. What a shame it would be for us to refasten the leg-irons so soon after freeing themselves of them. The British philosopher, A.C. Grayling wrote:

”Humanity’s sense of beauty, and decency, our power to love, our creativity - all the best things about us - belong to us, to human experience in the real world. They neither need, not benefit from, some alleged connection with supernatural agencies of one kind or another. They are ours, just as much as the evil, stupidity, greed and cruelty which they oppose.”

Friendship doesn't require the threat of divine wrath in order to flourish; love is quite sufficient. But the love I'm speaking of is the ancient Greek notion of agape, a fraternal and altruistic love. I'm saying that we should all become an amicus humani generis; we should all be a friend to the human race.

Pax, it’s good to hear that you’re reading Kant. For a number of years I’ve kept a running journal of my thoughts and my reading. I recovered this lovely, almost poetic quote from Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason, from one of my early journals:

”Morality is not properly the doctrine of how we make ourselves happy, but how we make ourselves worthy of happiness.”

...there are experiences beyond our experience, which we can’t relate to, because they don’t stimulate one of the 5 senses we possess...Could we build a machine to interpret these experiences...(?)

This reminds me of a passage from Anton Checkhov's play, Three Sisters, where Baron Tuzenbach replies to Vershinin's utopian dreams:

"Well, maybe we'll fly in balloons, the cut of jackets will be different, we'll have discovered a sixth sense, maybe even developed it - I don't know. But life will be the same - difficult, full of unknowns, and happy."

Of course we already build all manner of machines to translate information normally unavailable to our senses; radio and x-ray telescopes, gravity wave detectors, etc. But you said interpret an experience. A machine would have to be conscious in order to experience. I think that if our current rate of technological acceleration continues we’ll be capable of creating conscious machines within fifty years.

Hmm...do you remember NASA’s Cosmic Background Explorer Satellite (COBE)? It created a sensation back in the 1990’s when its data helped confirm that all the stuff in the universe was once hotter than our Sun’s central core. The ubiquitous cosmic background microwave radiation it detected is the “smoking gun” that confirms the Big Bang theory. Anyway Pax, your idea of building machines to interpret experiences gave me a pleasant thought. Suppose we could build a conscious space probe and educate it in both physics and the humanities. We’d couple it to various microwave and x-ray detectors. Now, remember, Hal, the rouge computer from the film version of Arthur C. Clark’s 2001, A Space Odyssey? Well, we’d give our probe Hal’s soothing voice, but instead of Hal’s psycho-personality we’d create it to be curious about the world. We’d talk to it as it sailed out into deep space. It wouldn’t just sent telemetry data back to earth, but as you suggested, it would interpret the data though its experience. It would give us answers instead of data. It would not merely sense, but perceive. It would propose new questions on the basis of its experience. It would compose poetry and occasionally we’d hear it singing from the joy of it all. Well, it’s getting late here Pax, but this pipe-dream reminds me of something James Trefil said:

“The goal of humanity is to build machines that will be proud of us.”

Best wishes,
Michael
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Postby Johan » Fri Nov 29, 2002 2:32 am

To convince me you only need to produce a single instance of a non-social moral dilemma.

Polemarchus,

If I understand you right you are saying that moral laws only can be formed by humans. This also means that right and wrong only can be formed by humans. Because morality is about acting right and wrong. If you are acting wrong because of false moral then the moral law is false. But from what I understand from you: A human collective can not act wrong, because there is nothing that judges the human collective (then perhaps a larger human collective?)

How about my example where humans would cut down all trees, or any other attack on the global environment; poisoning land and sea. That's immoral but it does not require a social complex or more then one person. You might answer that it's up to him to destroy the earth if he is the only person on it, because it's only humans that have value.

When it comes to reasons why humans should not kill, harm or in any other way take from others to gain benefits it's easier to ask the question "why they should", and from that answer see if it's rational. What are the benefits, and does the nature justify them? Maybe I should kill all my concurrence, steal all their money and property and take their woman, mate by force to reproduce my genes. After that I use the money I got to start building an army to secure my race. (I create a religion so that they will follow me without any questions). If that's the true moral of nature I will follow it. I'm thankful that I've found an alternative to this. But if human collectives start to build moral upon their own precognition then we are in danger, and we are.

Human collective moral fails. And I will show you why it's dangerous. I will take a hypothetical example even if there are concrete examples to use:

On a planet there are three countries. Two of those countries have grown their own separate cultures and have made up their own rules from collective agreements. They have two moral system that works well to control the people in each country. At a point the two countries become aware of each other and they came in conflict because their moral system were different. To defend their rights they started war against each other. The two countries both hold strong on their moral, and the most sad thing was that the two countries were both right because they have based their morality on collective agreement. The people in the third country thought that they were the only humans on the planet and that the planet was in the center of the universe. One day they had a visitor from another country and they believed that this person was a god. The visitor took advantage of this and brought over all his people that all were treated like gods. The native humans became their slaves and they worked very hard to please their gods. They also enjoyed this because they believed that they would be rewarded in heaven (so they have been told). Their number one moral law was to always please their gods, everyone agreed about this, and a person that did not agree was a sinner and was punished hard.

1. Can anything show either of the two first countries that the other is wrong?

2. Can you say that the moral laws in the third country were right?

It's not true that moral laws rightfully can be made up by collective agreement. Moral laws are made up by collective agreements but if they are not based on truth they can not be called rightful.

Yes or no?

If yes: Where should we look for moral laws?

If no: Do you want to live in a world without right and wrong, where you can do anything you want as long as enough people agree with you?

If this is a total missunderstanding please explain:

1. On what ground do we build moral laws?

2. On what ground should we build moral laws?

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Postby Polemarchus » Fri Nov 29, 2002 5:48 am

Hello Johan,

Let me consider your first example. Suppose I poisoned all the water on a planet. If I was the only life on this planet then it would either be a very stupid act, or else it would be a deliberate act of suicide. But is it immoral to kill myself either by stupidity or by suicide? Is it immoral to accidentally hit your own thumb with a hammer? Is it immoral to commit suicide? I believe a man has the right to his own life. Do you agree?

Now suppose I poison the drinking water in my city. This is a very different situation because I have presumed to make the choice for other people. Even if everyone in my city desperately wanted to die, unless each person in the city can convince me that it is better for him or her to die, then it was immoral for me to kill them. Morality is a social concern. It only arises when living things interact.

Now let me consider your second example. It is not immoral for a woman to hurt her own body by smoking. But if she expects society to treat her smoking related illness then there is a moral dimension to this issue. If this woman is pregnant and she knows that her smoking might hurt her baby then she obviously must make a moral decision. It is clearly a moral decision because more than one person is involved.

Johan, neither of your two examples makes me think that moral decisions exist for less than two living things.

But if human collectives start to build moral upon their own precognition then we are in danger, and we are.

Humans have always been in danger from other humans. There was more inhumanity in the days when humans believed that God wrote the moral codes.

Suppose I'm an Irish monk living in the Middle Ages. Suppose you are a Viking warrior that has just sailed over to Ireland. When you appear in my Abbey with an Irish girl tossed over your shoulder and demanding gold, I bring out the Bible instead. I explain that this book contains God's commandments that apply to everyone in the world, and these commandments forbid you to act in this way. Now, how do you think this story ends?

Practically speaking, it doesn't matter if our moral standards were written by God or by humans. The problem is not how to make good men act good, the problem is how to make bad men act good. Laws are not written to protect us from good men. No matter how our moral standards arise some men will always choose to ignore them. A hundred reasons might not suffice a bad man to be good, but no reason at all is sufficient for a good man to be good. Good men need no external reasons to be good. There is no law that makes me treat you with kindness. Kindness comes from inside the heart, not from external threats. Kind and compassionate men free themselves from all moral restraints.

Johan, I should make it clear that I am not a moral relativist. There are standards of behavior, but humans write these standards. If we are to have any standards at all they must be written by humans. Who else could write them?

Regards,
Michael
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Postby Marshall McDaniel » Fri Nov 29, 2002 11:10 am

----- Hello Pax_vitae, Polemarchus, Johan. Polemarchus thank you for your useful riPOSTe. It has stimulated my individual brain.
--
-----
Knowing “the good” is not the same as doing good. For example, the knowledge that my car needs some minor repair is more often an irritant than it is a prompt for certain action.

--
----- Yes. "no is implies an ought.". I never said i espoused Socrates opinion, i was only reporting it. I agree, it is not good to be absolutely certain of one's morality.
--
-----

”Lions must kill gazelles to survive, man is under no such duress.”

I disagree. Just think of the famous “overloaded lifeboat” thought-experiment. If you prefer an actual example, consider this quote by E.O. Wilson (the guy that coined the term “sociobiology”) from his book, Consilience:

“Between 1950 and 1994 the population of Rwanda, favored by better health care and temporarily improved food supply more than tripled, from 2.5 million to 8.5 million. In 1992 Rwanda had the highest growth rate in the world, an average of 8 children per every woman becoming the most overpopulated country in the world. The teenage soldiers of the Hutu and Tutsi then set out to solve the overpopulation in the most direct possible way.”

The Press reports I’ve seen suggested that ethnic hatred led to this genocide. But Wilson implies that this horror had more to do with Lion versus Gazelle than Hutu versus Tutsi.


1. Man does not have to kill the higher animals for his nutritional intake.
2. Man has more options, including (but not limited to) birth control and migration, options that lions can not exercise.
3. Your counter-example contrasts a man-made overpopulation (and thus one that did not have to occur) with my example of natural starvation.
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----- I submit that situations in which woman must kill to survive are rare. War would be a good example.
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-----
”Chimpanzee gang assault and murder is marked by a gratuitous cruelty - tearing of pieces of skin, for example, twisting limbs until they break, or drinking a victim’s blood - reminiscent of acts that among humans are regarded as unspeakable crimes during peacetime and atrocities during war.”

--
----- Point taken. Although the bestiality of chimpanzees is extremely cruel at times, man is much crueler, but in a higher, more subtle clever kind of way. Thus we see the average CEO in the USA making $13,000,000 annually while poor africans starve to death on less than $200 during the same time period. In man the capacity for cruelty is simply magnified.
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----- Morality is an intensely individual phenomena, although one can view it from a social context. If morality is of no concern for an individual, how can it ever be of concern to society which is comprised of individuals? If i don't first care about myself, how will i ever begin to care about other people? And conscience, which you rightly seem to value, would be of NO value from a purely collective viewpoint. Show me where morals reside, if not in individuals. When we all share the same stomache and the same brain i might be inclined otherwise.
--
-----
You might be wondering why it matters that morality is purely a social phenomenon. Well, if goodness only comes about through our contact with others then we must acknowledge that it’s impossible for a man to be good, honorable, or to have dignity outside of his relationships. A man alone might have a number of other qualities such as intelligence, curiosity, and humor, but the traditional view that goodness is entirely an internal quality appears to be mistaken. We need others and we need to act with benevolence towards others in order to complete our sense of ourselves.

--
----- I do not hold the traditional view that goodness is an entirely internal quality. As i stated "I am not sure that morality can be considered in a context separate from women (or men), but I do feel that it can be considered from more than a purely social context. Balance is critical. Often, competing theories both have truths. And yes, we need others, and we need to act with benevolence towards others, but this in no way implies that morality is a purely social phenomena. Just because one of the effects is social does'nt mean that the cause is also.
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----- Your thesis: A man can't be good, honorable, or have dignity outside of his relationships. So you are telling me that a man's relation to himself is of no consequence in his affairs with others. Most psychologists would disagree.
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-----If Robinson Crusoe (before he meets Friday) has a value conflict as whether to remain in his hut or gather coconuts, that is morality. If a woman awakens in the morning, and consciously decides that today is worth living, that is morality.
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----- I do not think that we would still be human if we were anything less than a "bundle of competing interests". This gives us life, depth, clarity. Without inner conflict we could not learn, grow, etc. It does'nt matter whether we consciously think of ourselves as having differing interests or no, the fact is that we do. If we did'nt, as Polemarchus put it "[we] would remain as morally innocent as chimpanzees." In this, i submit that you, yourself, Polemarchus have given us an example of a moral di-lemma that is not purely social.
--
-----"One must have chaos in oneself to give birth to a dancing star."
Friedrich Nietzsche.
-----
"..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 » Fri Nov 29, 2002 11:16 am

There are ecological systems in the nature that you are a part of the same as the cells in your body are a part of you. I use to call them "larger cycles", and the processes in my body I call "smaller cycles".
The ecological system are in it's turn under influence of larger cycles in form of universal laws. There is not a god that write them down.

From your point of view there were nothing wrong with Nazigermany'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. Only a larger collective could tell them that they were wrong. If they had won the war it would have been a perfect civilization that had started to take place?

Now let me consider your second example. It is not immoral for a woman to hurt her own body by smoking. But if she expects society to treat her smoking related illness then there is a moral dimension to this issue. If this woman is pregnant and she knows that her smoking might hurt her baby then she obviously must make a moral decision. It is clearly a moral decision because more than one person is involved.


You answered a early version of my post before I was ready and I removed #2 (before your answer) because of the same reason as you write in your answer, I'm sorry for this. I will not put up a post again before it is 100% ready. The focus should be on the hypothetical example.

In my opinion there is no other way out of my last post then to agree with one of those two statements:

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?

Is it immoral to accidentally hit your own thumb with a hammer?


Mistakes from accidents are not on the same level as mistakes from misunderstandings. But it is wrong to hit yourself on your own thumb, and there are ways to avoid this by practicing and being able to use the hammer better. But I would not use the world immoral, no. The next step is to ask yourself if it's immoral to be hit by lightning?

Is it immoral to commit suicide? I believe a man has the right to his own life. Do you agree?


Yes I agree but if the person commit suicide for the wrong reason; from a misunderstanding then it also makes the act wrong. And something that is wrong is in my opinion the same as immoral, or else we are just playing with words.

Johan, neither of your two examples makes me think that moral decisions exist for less than two living things.


Are you now including something else then humans?

Humans have always been in danger from other humans. There was more inhumanity in the days when humans believed that God wrote the moral codes.


Yes I agree, and I'm not including a God in my model.

Suppose I'm an Irish monk living in the Middle Ages. Suppose you are a Viking warrior that has just sailed over to Ireland. When you appear in my Abbey with an Irish girl tossed over your shoulder and demanding gold, I bring out the Bible instead. I explain that this book contains God's commandments that apply to everyone in the world, and these commandments forbid you to act in this way. Now, how do you think this story ends?


Well the Vikings became Christians after a while, but I guess this first encounter ended up a little messy. The alternative was to ask them how many they were and accept their morality if there were enough people in their collective. Polemarchus, is one more person enough to make their morality the right one, or do you have any other rules what makes one collective's moral wrong and the other right?

Practically speaking, it doesn't matter if our moral standards were written by God or by humans. The problem is not how to make good men act good, the problem is how to make bad men act good. Laws are not written to protect us from good men. No matter how our moral standards arise some men will always choose to ignore them. A hundred reasons might not suffice a bad man to be good, but no reason at all is sufficient for a good man to be good. Good men need no external reasons to be good. There is no law that makes me treat you with kindness. Kindness comes from inside the heart, not from external threats. Kind and compassionate men free themselves from all moral restraints.


I don't like being practical in a philosophical discussion. Something may feel practical but it does not make it right. To be "good" we must first sort out what good is. "Kindness comes from inside the heart". The so called heart is not a premiere function; the heart (feelings) indicates that you are doing something meaningful in relation to your surrounding, it does not tell you anything about right and wrong I'm afraid. Many lies have been told with a bleeding heart.

Johan, I should make it clear that I am not a moral relativist. There are standards of behavior, but humans write these standards. If we are to have any standards at all they must be written by humans. Who else could write them?


I think you provide a good example of total moral relativism, that's why I find this discussion interesting. You say that humans write the standards of behavior, and that they become rightful if enough humans stand behind them. If enough people told you that the earth was flat again and that they should avoid to go out on the sea because they can fall over the borders, then you would believe them and act as if it was true? And if everyone claims that the earth is in the center of the universe and the sun rotates around the earth and it was a sin to think differently, and that doing so was punished by death, then you would agree with this morality?

Best regards,

Johan
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Postby Pax Vitae » Fri Nov 29, 2002 11:51 am

...I’m starting to get the impression that morality needs a God figure, and fear of that figure to work effectively. As love in not a motivation that seems to work as well as fear on both kind and “evil” people.


Pax, is your impression perhaps based on an assumption that men treated each other with more respect in the days when they truly feared the wrath of God?


There have always been “evil” people who didn’t care about religion. I know it would be naive to believe that religion somehow automatically makes for kind and gentle people. Some will never be swayed by the “fear of God.” But there was a surface veneer to the relationships between people back then, at all levels in society, because that is what God demanded. Well I should really say the Catholic Church. But partly because of people’s lack of fear in God, and the fact the Church had so much power, the State developed their own Laws to protect their interests.

We as a civilisation live on two levels (although some only on one): The law of the Land, and the Law of God. How you choose to live is made up by the combination of the two. Nearly all will acknowledge the first, knowing if they break them, they will have to spend time in Jail. While in the case of the second its more about fear of the “Afterlife”. Which from reading another one of your posts is no more then a superstition held in the fear of facing non-existence.

I think your use of the word ‘Truly’ is meant in sarcasm. While back then people might have had the fear of God in them, they still acted the way they wished to a large extent. When talking about a God figure I mean it as a hypothetical statement. The God figure would be undeniable, not of imaginary origin. But even if this deity were true, you would still have to be moral, either because of love or fear of God. Love makes us do selfless acts willingly, fear makes us do almost anything but through coercion.

To me, Morality and its’ original need has been superseded by the State Laws. So the only way we could get the idea of humanity’s fellowship is by displaying to them the bigger picture. Like the way you said the Astronaut looked out the window back at earth and covering it with his thumb. Realising that humanity’s destiny has to be intertwined. While the world seems so big when you’re sitting on it, from space it’s just another speck in the horizon. Maybe if we can see the world like it really is from space, we can hope to educate kindness for the sake of kindness. But when we can’t even get local communities to live to getter in relative peace, I don’t know how long we might have to wait.


But Pax, you’re proposing that moral men should live in fear of God and his threats. This is entirely contrary to the reason for wanting moral behavior in the first place!


Yes, fear if people didn’t want to love him. You can choose to love him or fear him; it doesn’t matter as long as you do what he says. I think this is the Catholic line. I know this is not right, and was making a point about the weakness of humanity. People will always choose to do what they wish. So they need to be convinced that Morality is what they need most in life, not anything else.

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.


Only slaves submit to threats of punishment; noble and free men defy such threats.


As for slaves, we’re all slaves to our body; we must eat, drink, and sleep, as it needs. But the body is also a slave to the mind. I (my mind) must be slave to the body for all my life if I wish to experience anything. While the mind might have most of the perceived control, when it really comes down to it, it’s the body that makes it all happen. Without this slavery could I exist? For me to exist it’s the price I must pay.

Like following the Laws of the State and paying my Taxes. All life is a prostitution of ourselves, which enables us to gain benefits in this world. I work because I want to live a comfortable life. I choose work that I find interesting but as undemanding as possible. While I work for about 8 hours a day, so in the other 8 I’ll have the money to pay for my house, car, girlfriend. These are all things I am a slave too, because I want them to enrich my life. Old-fashioned slavery might not exist to most of us in this current time. We are still slaves, we just get a better deal. I can choose who my master is, but I will always need a master. Capitalism works off the basis you can create something for less then you can sell it. This means you only pay workers the least they will accept to gain more profit. But even the master is a slave to his slaves, he needs them to survive. It’s back to the relationship of opposites that create and sustain life. We have freedom like the deterministic’s would say we have freewill. We just think we do.


Friendship doesn't require the threat of divine wrath in order to flourish; love is quite sufficient. But the love I'm speaking of is the ancient Greek notion of agape, a fraternal and altruistic love. I'm saying that we should all become an amicus humani generis; we should all be a friend to the human race.


How I would love to live in a world like this. But I must say, I don’t see it happening anytime soon (maybe I should also drop my use of the word ‘soon’). My childish optimism has long since passed me by. I agree with Jesus, that if we want to live in a Kingdom of God we need to be innocent like children, but not childish in an immature way. Idealistic because we know no other way of living. This is why the religious love polluting the minds of the young with their beliefs, to gain control over there minds. They become the new pawns in the game of life, to die as martyrs for the cause. Knowing no better they sacrifice their lives because of sins of the sinners. Just look at Palestine, this is the lowest form of struggle. The armchair generals send their suicide children to kill other children. All because they worshiped the God of national hate. Being Irish, I’ve had to watch my own countrymen do the same thing to the English for years. But at least for Ireland this might be drawing to a close soon.


I recovered this lovely, almost poetic quote from Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason, from one of my early journals:

”Morality is not properly the doctrine of how we make ourselves happy, but how we make ourselves worthy of happiness.”


It’s a good quote. But even those who live a moral life don’t get their reward, unless all are moral. While Morality makes us worthy of Happiness, reality will always make us miserable.

Kant
Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one's understanding without guidance from another. This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another. Sapere Aude! [dare to know] "Have courage to use your own understanding!"--that is the motto of enlightenment.


We still are an unenlightened people, yet we call our individualistic selfishness enlightenment. Some day I hope enough people will become philosophers and realise that to have a good country and then a good world, we need to have morally good leaders. It’s the people at the top that set the example for the rest. When we elect scoundrels we should not be surprised to live in a country full of corruption, even the ordinary people will start to say, “Well if he’s doing it, and he’s the one making the laws, then I might as well get in on the action.”

The world needs lots of good-hearted cynical people.


Well, it’s getting late here Pax, but this pipe-dream reminds me of something James Trefil said:

“The goal of humanity is to build machines that will be proud of us.”


Was he talking about the children of the future??? :)


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Postby Polemarchus » Fri Nov 29, 2002 6:02 pm

Hi Marshall,

Wow, the objections made by you, Johan, Pax, and Skeptic are all excellent. I really couldn't ask for better replies.

Although the bestiality of chimpanzees is extremely cruel at times, man is much crueler, but in a higher, more subtle clever kind of way.

I agree that we're capable of far more sophisticated cruelty than the other animals. But I wonder if it isn't because men have one foot in each of two worlds? We've one foot planted firmly in the world of the apes while our other foot is gingerly testing more civilized grounds. The discoveries of our higher intellect are freely available to the ape. No thinking person would hand a loaded automatic pistol to a Chimpanzee, but how could a similar catastrophe be avoided in a species that is simultaneously technologist and ape? How do we keep rocket launchers out of the hands of apes when the technologists are themselves apes?

Technology is a tool that allows us to amplify and concentrate our means. Suppose there is a supremely evil Slug living in my garden. But even if this Slug embarks hell-bent on a destructive rampage, what is the worst it can do? Now think of an Islamic terrorist on a rampage in New York City riding a camel and brandishing a scimitar. He might be able to kill a few people before he is pulled from his camel. But put him at the controls of a Boeing 737 aircraft and he now has an amplified means to deliver his terror. Technology allows us to amplify our means for whatever ends we choose. We can make cancer treatments or we can make nuclear weapons. The great shame is that man stumbled upon advanced technology before he'd been able to throw-off his primitive moral roots.

1. Man does not have to kill the higher animals for his nutritional intake.
2. Man has more options, including (but not limited to) birth control and migration, options that lions can not exercise.
3. Your counter-example contrasts a man-made overpopulation (and thus one that did not have to occur) with my example of natural starvation.

Every analogy has limits to its applicability. Your three points correctly indicate the useful limits of my Lion-Gazelle analogy. The intent of my analogy was to stress that men compete for resources.

If morality is of no concern for an individual, how can it ever be of concern to society which is comprised of individuals?

This reminds me of a comment Francis Crick made about the human brain. If a single neuron is incapable of thought how could a collection of similarly unthinking neurons be capable of thought? The answer has to do with the way unthinking neurons are organized in a complex relationship with other unthinking neurons.

Show me where morals reside, if not in individuals.

Morality, like consciousness itself, is an intangible phenomenon. As such, it does not reside anywhere other than as a relationship. Consciousness arises within a complex relationship among neurons. Morality arises with the complex relationship between discrete "selves." Morality is a concept; it's an invention of our mind. Despite his best intentions, a man can't be good to a stone. For the relationship of goodness to exist at least two "selves" are required.

Living things don't automatically ask themselves how they ought to interact with other living things, this concept is in no way innate to life. Man appears to be unique on this planet in agonizing over how he ought to behave towards other living things. My quote about gratuitous Chimpanzee violence was intended to suggest that these socially complex creatures exist without a well-developed sense of morality.

If I don't first care about myself, how will I ever begin to care about other people?

Well, many folks would argue that caring too much about myself actually inhibits my caring about other people. This reminds me of the story of the Zulu King Shaka (1785-1828). He'd have his own people strangled if they laughed or coughed in his presence. When his mother died, his personal grief was such that he had up to 7,000 of his subjects slaughtered. Shaka had a very high opinion of himself and his feelings, but he had quite a low opinion of the feelings of others.

But to return to the Primates for a moment, remember that both Chimpanzees and Bonobos have passed the mirror-identification test that's supposed to indicate (at least to us) some measure of self-awareness. Chimpanzees seem to care very much about themselves. The males routinely fight to the death in their effort to attain an Alpha social status. So, here's an example of a creature with both self-awareness and self-importance, yet ruefully lacking in moral character.

Now having said as much, you might now be surprised to read that I actually agree with your above assertion. I believe that the extension of the value one gives to ones own life is a necessary, though not a sufficient, requirement for the recognition that the lives of others are similarly valuable. I (obviously) don't think this belief is incongruous with my assertion that morality is fundamentally a social relationship. Chimps and immoral humans alike can highly value their own lives without placing an equal valuation on the life of others. Morality exists as a relationship. Between humans, at least, it requires a trust that the goodwill I extend might be reciprocated.

Suppose we lived in a social system not unlike that of black-widow spiders. Imagine that (other than for the purpose for mating, and even here the consequences for males are rather bleak) whenever two people encountered each other the certain result would be a fight to the death. If everyone is assured that everyone else only means them harm, how could we speak of morality? How could I begin to cultivate the concept of altruism towards other men if I knew that the slightest display of weakness on my part would result in my instant death? My heart might be bursting with the wish that I somehow be able to express my love for others, but still I'd know that if I ever did; Whack! All men's actions would be the same. No matter what thoughts were taking place in our own minds, we'd still try to kill each other the moment we set eyes on each other. If everyone fought to the death the moment they met how could an inherently good man ever be differentiated from an inherently evil man? Mahatma Gandhi said:

"It's impossible to shake hands with a clenched fist."

Indeed, it's impossible to shake hands if the fist of either man is clenched.

If Robinson Crusoe (before he meets Friday) has a value conflict as whether to remain in his hut or gather coconuts, that is morality. If a woman awakens in the morning, and consciously decides that today is worth living, that is morality.

Here we clearly disagree. I believe both examples exhibit the choices people make about their own lives. We decide moment by moment if our life is worth living. I can imagine pilots trapped in the wreckage of their burning aircraft begging to be killed. People suffering with incurable disease similarly ask for help to die. Peter Singer makes some persuasive arguments in this direction. All a man owns in this world is his character plus a bag of bones. Marcus Aurelius noted that Epicurus was fond of saying:

"Thou art a little soul bearing about a corpse"

This is the extent of our dominion. Marcus Aurelius thought as much, even as the Emperor of Rome.

Again Marshall, I've particularly enjoyed this exchange of ideas. I wish learning were always this much fun.

Michael
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Joined: Sat Jul 20, 2002 11:11 pm
Location: Vermont

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