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Is Morality Relative?
Posted: 06 August 2011 09:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]
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mid atlantic - 06 August 2011 08:10 AM

In other words, the very act of disrupting their culture is a moral violation.

Almost as if we are supposed to follow the non-interference directive.

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Posted: 06 August 2011 04:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]
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john76 - 05 August 2011 04:25 PM
brightfut - 05 August 2011 03:53 PM
john76 - 05 August 2011 03:27 PM

  Thought experiment time: What if God exists, and the thing He likes the most is when someone murders someone else?  Your reasoning is circular.

If God liked murder and God defines good, then God would be defining destructiveness as good.  A society based on such a god, if it was possible to exist in the first place, would quickly destroy itself.

Not if this society bred a certain class of people whose sole purpose in the society was to be murdered when they reached the age of thirty.  You could grow a certain group of people just to kill them and leave the others alone.  But you could do this thought experiment with other values.  The highest value in a society could be stealing a rich person’s fortune to demonstrate cunning.

Ah, instead of a sacrificial cows, we have a system of sacrificial humans.  Now that is kinda difficult to equate with humanism.

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Posted: 06 August 2011 07:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]
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brightfut - 06 August 2011 09:06 AM
mid atlantic - 06 August 2011 08:10 AM

In other words, the very act of disrupting their culture is a moral violation.

Almost as if we are supposed to follow the non-interference directive.

  LOL Is that the star trek thing?

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Posted: 29 September 2011 03:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]
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Occam. - 03 August 2011 06:10 PM

As I’ve said before on prior threads discussing this same topic, I believe morality is absolute, but in a relative manner.

Occam

You can be horribly offended that the Romans fed the Christians to the lions for the entertainment of the crowd, but still understand that if you were brought up in those times and in that culture you probably would have cheered along with everyone else in the stadium.  You can be offended at something without taking the “holier than thou” stance that you have the authority and right to pass judgement.

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Posted: 29 September 2011 04:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]
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mid atlantic - 06 August 2011 08:10 AM
brightfut - 06 August 2011 07:51 AM
mid atlantic - 05 August 2011 10:45 PM

Example:To me, killing somebody because you think they are possessed by the spirit of a dead enemy, is wasteful and tragic, but the New Guinea headhunters don’t feel the same. That is a good reason for them. And then there is the added headache of rationalists trying to challange that behavior without seeming like racist imperialists, even if it is bad to us it is “their thing” so we have no right to wreck it. The fact that people don’t share morality all over is unavoidable.

Their moral reasoning is based on the idea that spirits of dead enemies exist.  Rational arguments can be made that they don’t exist, so that gives us the right to challenge their morals in the public square of debate.  If we had no rational arguments based on reality then we could not challenge their morals.  It would just be our culture vs their culture.

Yes, but many progressive people would argue that it is immoral to challenge them at all, even if we can give good reason why they are wrong.  In other words, the very act of disrupting their culture is a moral violation. Ultimately one is still making a right/wrong judgement against another.

And therein lies the rub. Any civilization which has lasted for thousands of years has strong roots and the acquiescence of the population, is very difficult to change. These civilizations emerged as an evolutionary byproduct of community survival skills. Even the current trend toward democracy in the middle east is not founded on religious considerations.

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Posted: 30 September 2011 01:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]
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I wonder if a non-abstract example would help:  FGM.  I am not aware of anybody who is against programs that aim to eradicate FGM on ‘non-interventionist’ grounds.  While we may tolerate some practices we would consider immoral in ‘quaint and interesting’ of a small tribe in the middle of the Papuan jungle, non-intervention in such cases is derived from a desire to preserve ‘cultural diversity’ than a genuine belief in moral relativism.  While one can be a believer in moral relativism in theory, in practice it very hard not believe that some things are ‘just plain wrong’.

A moral relativist faces a dilemma:  If morality is relative, then we have no reason to eradicate FGM, so presumably a moral relativist would actually oppose a program aimed at doing so.  That would seem to place dogmatic adherence to an abstract principle (moral relativism) above human suffering.  Whatever the arguments for that position, I think if a system of thought brings about that conclusion we should have serious doubts about that system! 

I think I am taking an unconventional view that the reason moral relativism appears to be rational is not that moral absolutes to do not exist.  Rather it is that we lack the tools to discover and ascertain such absolutes in a formal way.  It is my view that FGM and genocide are not evil only a given frame of reference but absolute evils - you know that, I know that, but we just can’t prove it!

Were we to find an Amazonian tribe that believed the earth was flat, we would not think “ok, for us the world is round, for them the world is flat”.  The fact is that the world is round, and we are right and they are ‘simply wrong’.  IMO a culture that believes FGM or slavery are not evil is ‘simply wrong’.

Sheer arrogance and cultural imperialism did I hear someone say?  I have given some support to organisation that strive to eradicate FGM, but I don’t think ‘arrogant cultural imperialism’ was what inspired me.  I am prepared to stick my neck out and assume that that FGM is an evil without being able to prove it Euclid-style, and that what could be labelled ‘cultural imperialism’ is more properly labelled ‘eradicating an evil’, and as such as justifiable as eradicating a disease.

I don’t think relying on one’s subjective moral judgement is ideal.  I think that such things as FGM, slavery and genocide are self-evidently ‘absolute evils’ so there is no need to wait for someone to invent a way of demonstrating it.  But there are other things where I am less sure as to my judgement - is capitalism evil?  Is communism?  As we can’t (formally) prove FGM is bad, it is obviously going to be hard to prove the moral status of rival economic systems!  But I see it, if moral relativism can’t show things like FGM and genocide are evil then we should conclude moral relativism is bunk, not that genocide could be ok!

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Posted: 30 September 2011 03:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]
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While I agree with you in all you posit, this dilemma is a peculiar human emotion. It reaches beyond the natural imperative of survival and natural selection.
In nature such morals do not exist. There is only successful adaptation or perish. There is no good or evil per se.
So, the evil is a human construct.

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Posted: 30 September 2011 03:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]
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keithprosser2 - 30 September 2011 01:55 PM

I wonder if a non-abstract example would help:  FGM.  I am not aware of anybody who is against programs that aim to eradicate FGM on ‘non-interventionist’ grounds.  While we may tolerate some practices we would consider immoral in ‘quaint and interesting’ of a small tribe in the middle of the Papuan jungle, non-intervention in such cases is derived from a desire to preserve ‘cultural diversity’ than a genuine belief in moral relativism.  While one can be a believer in moral relativism in theory, in practice it very hard not believe that some things are ‘just plain wrong’.

A moral relativist faces a dilemma:  If morality is relative, then we have no reason to eradicate FGM, so presumably a moral relativist would actually oppose a program aimed at doing so.  That would seem to place dogmatic adherence to an abstract principle (moral relativism) above human suffering.  Whatever the arguments for that position, I think if a system of thought brings about that conclusion we should have serious doubts about that system! 

I think I am taking an unconventional view that the reason moral relativism appears to be rational is not that moral absolutes to do not exist.  Rather it is that we lack the tools to discover and ascertain such absolutes in a formal way.  It is my view that FGM and genocide are not evil only a given frame of reference but absolute evils - you know that, I know that, but we just can’t prove it!

Were we to find an Amazonian tribe that believed the earth was flat, we would not think “ok, for us the world is round, for them the world is flat”.  The fact is that the world is round, and we are right and they are ‘simply wrong’.  IMO a culture that believes FGM or slavery are not evil is ‘simply wrong’.

Sheer arrogance and cultural imperialism did I hear someone say?  I have given some support to organisation that strive to eradicate FGM, but I don’t think ‘arrogant cultural imperialism’ was what inspired me.  I am prepared to stick my neck out and assume that that FGM is an evil without being able to prove it Euclid-style, and that what could be labelled ‘cultural imperialism’ is more properly labelled ‘eradicating an evil’, and as such as justifiable as eradicating a disease.

I don’t think relying on one’s subjective moral judgement is ideal.  I think that such things as FGM, slavery and genocide are self-evidently ‘absolute evils’ so there is no need to wait for someone to invent a way of demonstrating it.  But there are other things where I am less sure as to my judgement - is capitalism evil?  Is communism?  As we can’t (formally) prove FGM is bad, it is obviously going to be hard to prove the moral status of rival economic systems!  But I see it, if moral relativism can’t show things like FGM and genocide are evil then we should conclude moral relativism is bunk, not that genocide could be ok!

I disagree; it remains that you find those things repuslive so to you they are 100% evil/wrong/immoral, somebody else may not.  FGM doesn’t mean much to me at all, I don’t care what those people do to their children, If I had a daughter I wouldn’t want it done to her, but I don’t live in that culture so I’m not worried about it.

[ Edited: 30 September 2011 03:58 PM by mid atlantic ]
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Posted: 30 September 2011 03:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]
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Vampires are “morally wrong” creatures, the undead, unable to live at day….. they feed on sucking the blood or emotions, the very soul from humans.
But a vampire-bat is just a cute and evolutionary remarkable adaptation….and they feed on sucking the blood from anything that will let them…..... cheese

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Posted: 30 September 2011 04:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]
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I disagree; it remains that you find those things repuslive so to you they are 100% evil/wrong/immoral, somebody else may not.

I think that is rather stating the obvious.  Certainly there are people who do not find FGM repuslive.  My post puts forward the idea that just because there are such people does not mean that morality is relative - such people could be ‘simply wrong’.  I remind you of the flat-earth example.  It is possible that some people believe the earth is flat.  That does mean that their opinion is right, or even ‘right for them’.  It is ‘simply wrong’.

As I said in my post, we lack a formalism by which I can demonstrate the ‘absoluteness’ of an evil like FGM so I cannot prove FGM is an absolute evil.  But there is ‘circumstantial’ evidence for not rejecting the idea of absolute morality out of hand.  One (admitedly weak) is the intuition most people have about things like FGM, slavery and genocide.  Another is the seeming ‘one-way’ nature of changing moral perspectives.  Many former FGM practitioners give it up, but not many opponents FGM convert to supporting it.  When slavery is abolished, it does not return.  The last piece of suggestive evidence is that moral relativism leads to the (I think) absurd conclusion, such as that genocide has to be considered as not necessarily evil.

I am quite aware that my ‘moral sense’ is not infallible. But I am prepared to trust it when it comes to FGM (to the extent of actively supporting attempts to eradicate it), but I find it hard to come down solely on one side or other of the abortion debate.  But that does not mean that morality is relative, and nor does the obvious fact that people disagree about things like FGM and abortion.  It still remains possible that people can be ‘simply wrong’.

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Posted: 30 September 2011 04:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]
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keithprosser2 - 30 September 2011 04:06 PM

I disagree; it remains that you find those things repuslive so to you they are 100% evil/wrong/immoral, somebody else may not.

I think that is rather stating the obvious.  Certainly there are people who do not find FGM repuslive.  My post puts forward the idea that just because there are such people does not mean that morality is relative - such people could be ‘simply wrong’.  I remind you of the flat-earth example.  It is possible that some people believe the earth is flat.  That does mean that their opinion is right, or even ‘right for them’.  It is ‘simply wrong’.

As I said in my post, we lack a formalism by which I can demonstrate the ‘absoluteness’ of an evil like FGM so I cannot prove FGM is an absolute evil.  But there is ‘circumstantial’ evidence for not rejecting the idea of absolute morality out of hand.  One (admitedly weak) is the intuition most people have about things like FGM, slavery and genocide.  Another is the seeming ‘one-way’ nature of changing moral perspectives.  Many former FGM practitioners give it up, but not many opponents FGM convert to supporting it.  When slavery is abolished, it does not return.  The last piece of suggestive evidence is that moral relativism leads to the (I think) absurd conclusion, such as that genocide has to be considered as not necessarily evil.

I am quite aware that my ‘moral sense’ is not infallible. But I am prepared to trust it when it comes to FGM (to the extent of actively supporting attempts to eradicate it), but I find it hard to come down solely on one side or other of the abortion debate.  But that does not mean that morality is relative, and nor does the obvious fact that people disagree about things like FGM and abortion.  It still remains possible that people can be ‘simply wrong’.

I’m not sure if I follow, if someone is “simply wrong” about some behavior what do we use to measure the possible accuracy of that?  The flat earth example is good but that’s something different;  we can establish physical evidence of the earth not being flat, but we can’t really establish evidence that genocide, slavery, genital mutilation are morally wrong. The one way nature of changing moral perspectives does not exist; slavery has come and gone and come and gone in many societies thoughout history.It still exists today in most of the world.

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Posted: 01 October 2011 12:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]
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I’m not sure if I follow, if someone is “simply wrong” about some behavior what do we use to measure the possible accuracy of that?

My post is all about the lack of such a measure.  I am suggesting that instead of concluding from that lack that morality is relative (which is the conventional thing to conclude) there is the alternative of concluding that we simply lack knowledge of such a measure.  Does such a measure exist?  Well, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, to recycle a cliche.

I am not in a position to suggest a rigorous formalism to determining whether FGM is indeed an absolute evil.  There have been many attempts at producing such measures. Utilitarianism is such an attempt - it attempts to ‘objectify’ what is good and bad.  The defect of such systems is that they are not completely objective.  ‘The greatest good of the greatest number’ is a good start, but how do you measure how ‘great’ a good is?  Most real situations seem to involve a compromise - what ever you do there will be winners and losers.  How do you compare the ‘upside’ of the winners with the downside of the losers?  Subjectivity still has a big role to play even in utilitarianism.  (Trolleyology relies on the simplification of making the upside and downside the same (life or death) so it comes down to simple arithmetic, but in most cases the upside of the winners is not the same as the downside of the losers)

It would be my guess that a suitable formalism would resemble utilitarianism, but with the subjective element removed (somehow - I don’t profess to know how!) .  I think I understand the arguments for moral relativism, but I cannot escape my intuition that any system that can’t demonstrate an obvious truth - e.g ‘genocide is wrong’ - can’t be the whole truth.

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Posted: 01 October 2011 08:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]
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One things I find interesting related to this topic, is how people respond to the assumption that morality is a law. There are people who not only believe they know how others ought to behave, but who also like to be told how they ought to behave. I never understood that. The moment anybody even hints on what they think it’s the “right” thing to do, I quickly lose interest, and that includes even things I might agree with.

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Posted: 01 October 2011 01:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]
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keithprosser2 - 30 September 2011 04:06 PM

  As I said in my post, we lack a formalism by which I can demonstrate the ‘absoluteness’ of an evil like FGM so I cannot prove FGM is an absolute evil.  But there is ‘circumstantial’ evidence for not rejecting the idea of absolute morality out of hand.  One (admitedly weak) is the intuition most people have about things like FGM, slavery and genocide.

We can demonstrate that slavery, genocide, and murder are absolutely morally wrong because they are defined as morally wrong.  If the act we were referring to was not immoral then we would use a different term.  The Allies killed millions of Germans and Japanese in WWII.  This was not called genocide.  Using a rat to run maze experiments is not called “slavery” because the rat is not considered a self-conscious, person.  Slavery only applies to forcing self-conscious persons to work against their will.  The definition of an absolutely immoral act always contains a negative, abusive, or destructive description.  The definition is clearly not of a positive or a neutral act.  FGM sounds like a physically abusive act by definition.  It has no medical benefits.

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Posted: 01 October 2011 11:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]
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We can demonstrate that slavery, genocide, and murder are absolutely morally wrong because they are defined as morally wrong.

I think that doesn’t work quite.  If this was the old deep south, someone might say that we can can demonstrate that slavery is morally good because we define it as morally good.  Does a plantation owners definition of slavery as morally good demonstrate that slavery is an absolute good? Or does his definitino demonstrate that he is ‘simply wrong’?

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