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What is your fundamental moral compass?

 
 
Reply Sun 9 May, 2010 06:24 pm
As a kid I was once discussing medical ethics with a Brazilian surgeon when he told me something that changed my life forever.

"What is your ultimate criteria?" he asked me. He went on to explain that any ethical issue boils down to core values, and depending on what you consider your "golden rule" your ethical calculations can produce different results.

It's very true, but few people bother to codify their core moral philosophy. Here is an example that inspired this thread:

My personal moral code boils down to the ideal of least amount of suffering. Obviously quantifying suffering is subjective and so is opinions about how best to minimize it but this is still a moral compass that sets my moral bearings to the best that I can interpret these subjective issues.

So when someone says they value American life (or Mexican life) more than those suffering more it clearly violates my own moral code. In a choice between helping a starving foreigner and an unemployed American I'd not choose my nationality over the one who is suffering the most. My ideal is to minimize the most suffering and it's clear where my aid should go in that situation.

I was trying to imagine what kind of moral compass would produce the tribalism I disdain, and really began to wonder if it wasn't just the typical absence of an "ultimate criteria", as Dr. Edson put it, at all. Most people don't bother thinking about it this far, but I would invite those here at a2k to give it a try.

What is the core values in your moral compass? And how does that work in practice for you?

If you don't have one yet, try to codify one. Ideally they are generic (not too specific) as they should be core values that can apply to ANY situation to produce a theoretical ideal.
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Type: Discussion • Score: 40 • Views: 13,999 • Replies: 376

 
Ionus
 
  1  
Reply Sun 9 May, 2010 07:34 pm
@Robert Gentel,
Strength to protect the weak.
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Sun 9 May, 2010 08:06 pm
minimizing suffering is right up there for me - like stop with the suffering... but that is like yet another woman waving her hands.

I'll posit that suffering is the genesis of war. Never mind all the speech.

0 Replies
 
dyslexia
 
  1  
Reply Sun 9 May, 2010 08:09 pm
existence precedes essence, which is to say---what we are is what we become by the manner of how we live our lives. a slight modification of "do unto others"
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edgarblythe
 
  1  
Reply Sun 9 May, 2010 08:13 pm
Mine might be described much as you describe yours, robert. The devil is in the details. My judgement might tell me go half way here, full speed there; yours just the reverse.
0 Replies
 
tsarstepan
 
  2  
Reply Sun 9 May, 2010 08:18 pm
@Robert Gentel,
Robert Gentel wrote:

As a kid I was once discussing medical ethics with a Brazilian surgeon when he told me something that changed my life forever.

Not to derail your thread but as a kid?! Could you be more specific? Were you a precocious 7 year old having this deep philosophic conversation? Rolling Eyes Or is this just some kind of fantasy based/imaginary opening to an open ended discussion? Razz

Quote:
... "golden rule" ....

I don't have any golden rule. They're really empty paradoxical boondoggles used to sound good but really don't mean anything.

The cliche actions speak louder then words (in this case words are the golden rule) is quite appropriate here.

Quote:
So when someone says they value American life (or Mexican life) more than those suffering more it clearly violates my own moral code. In a choice between helping a starving foreigner and an unemployed American I'd not choose my nationality over the one who is suffering the most. My ideal is to minimize the most suffering and it's clear where my aid should go in that situation.

Good for you. If you can afford the financial and emotional support to end the suffering of both starving foreigner and unemployed American, then all means, spend away. Most everyone I know doesn't not have the financial or emotional or intellectual resources to save everyone in the world so they must limit their generosity to a self determined set of self imposed guidelines. For the most part, most people who try to save EVERYONE tend to suffer some kind of severe undiagnosed delusional disorder. Even the great and generous Bill Gates has to limit how and whom he helps. 6+ billion people? An impossible task for this generation or the next dozen or so generations. Money and the capitalist system has to be thrown out to end the suffering of every person on the planet.

Still, one needs to be realistic. Even if you can personally save 10 people a day for an entire year, there still will be hundreds and hundreds and thousands and thousands of people starving and living in poverty and dying in squalor... out of reach of your help.

Quote:
I was trying to imagine what kind of moral compass would produce the tribalism I disdain,

Tribalism is the proverbial two sided sword. It can be an effective tool in growing a community. It can also be a source of violent opportunism and fear mongering if manipulated by an ambitious and selfish charismatic leader.

Quote:
What is the core values in your moral compass? And how does that work in practice for you?

If you don't have one yet, try to codify one. Ideally they are generic (not too specific) as they should be core values that can apply to ANY situation to produce a theoretical ideal.

I'm afraid I don't understand what you're asking here. Can you give some context to help me start peculating a response to this formula your providing us to formulate? Philosophy ISN'T one of my strengths.

I already given up on the idealist notion that we'll live in a global Roddenberrian Utopia where everyone is deserving of shelter, food, medicine, education, and freedom from fear and intolerance. Sorry for the ubercynical response.
Sglass
 
  1  
Reply Sun 9 May, 2010 08:22 pm
my moral compass is east by northeast
tsarstepan
 
  1  
Reply Sun 9 May, 2010 08:25 pm
@Sglass,
Pheww! At least you're not of the sinister Hitchcockian school of the North by Northwest hivemind! Shocked They're pretty scary ya know!!
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dlowan
 
  2  
Reply Mon 10 May, 2010 02:05 am
Fascinating question!

Probably to try not to INCREASE suffering is my first precept (would that I followed it) given that suffering is a given part of life, and I speak of that precept re all species, not just humans.

Does it work in practice?

Yes and no. I allow myself to do certain things (like be mean to people sometimes, or use items/eat things that have caused something suffering/not give as much as I could away) but I do abide by this precept at other times.

Professionally it works reasonably often (in the "first do no harm" kind of way) but not always because I do dumb things and make honest mistakes and such.

I think there's something underlying it though, which I suspect is something like the New Testament Golden Rule, but more a "respect and value the experiences of other beings as much as you do your own...take their experience extremely seriously."

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dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Mon 10 May, 2010 02:35 am
@Robert Gentel,
Re the alleviating of suffering: yes, it's a biggie, but I am not sure I can do it, beyond piffling fiddling at the margins. Do I know how?

Quote:
So when someone says they value American life (or Mexican life) more than those suffering more it clearly violates my own moral code. In a choice between helping a starving foreigner and an unemployed American I'd not choose my nationality over the one who is suffering the most. My ideal is to minimize the most suffering and it's clear where my aid should go in that situation.


That's one I am kind of struggling with a bit.

Here's why:

I certainly do not, rationally, (not sure I can speak fully for the "foul rag and bone shop of the heart") privilege Australian life and suffering over that of any other human's. You know what I THINK of nationalism (but you have pointed out, doubtlessly correctly, that I DISPLAY it, to my horror)....but there sure is a hell here (one that I am currently working with)...can I justify looking beyond the hell in my backyard to that far away?

Well, I can help in my backyard hell in other ways than via money, thank heavens (what a privilege that is!)...but I do feel more RESPONSIBLE for that hell. There's a Dickens character who focuses upon the far away hell and neglects her own children to do so (I think it's in Little Dorrit)...I don't want to be THAT stupid.

Do you think we have more RESPONSIBILITY for our own backyard, whoever is in it? Or should we respond to the worst hell?

I choose to try to alleviate suffering out of OZ via micro-credit...but I also give money to Ozzian hells.

I may well be violating my own principles that way...because nobody in Oz HAS to starve nor do without medical care.






saab
 
  2  
Reply Mon 10 May, 2010 04:22 am
It is dilemma.
I need three T-shirts for this summer so I`ll buy them - made in China. Good for the Chinese economy, but not for the Swedish.
Summer is over and they were no good quality so I thrugh them out. Not good for our enviroment.
If I buy something in good quality and then when I am tired of them I give them to some cloth collecting. They send them off to Africa or South America. There someone sells them to a cheaper prize at a market than a new one in a store.
This is not good for the economy in that country.
There was a news paper article about cloth from Europe being sold in Peru to cheaper prizes than what the people made in Peru and even European tourists came shopping there in the stores selling the cloth given to the country. An almost new suit for maybe 5-10 dollars.
We ship lots of cloth to these countries by air which pollutes.

It seems like every time I think I do something good it will have a bad side to it too.
Of course I will continue to help where I think it will be of good use, but I am more careful about what I do.
Of course tourism is good for a country. Do we really have to fly around theworld all the time to be able to say we have been here or there? We also pollute when we travel and leave a lot of junk behind us.
dadpad
 
  1  
Reply Mon 10 May, 2010 04:38 am
Mine is probably "Do what you can without hurting yourself"
Its a little selfish I guess, but the idea of giving away all that I own does not appeal to me. I can justfiy that by saying I can give more another time or doing more at another time.
"Work for what you want" or "You need to do something for yourself" is another. I'm tired of people holding their hand out when its plain (to me) that they havn't tried.
edgarblythe
 
  1  
Reply Mon 10 May, 2010 04:45 am
@dadpad,
Well, I don't think any of us responding here gives away everything we own. But, for me, doing what we can to alleviate suffering means keeping ourselves going so we can be in a position to do what we can.
0 Replies
 
Ionus
 
  1  
Reply Mon 10 May, 2010 04:46 am
@saab,
There is one charity that I havent seen a bad side to, and that involves giving your old push bike away. It is fixed up by volunteers and sold to a tradesman in a third world country who can then work in a wider area. More things get fixed cheaper and the tradesman makes more money to spend locally.
0 Replies
 
djjd62
 
  1  
Reply Mon 10 May, 2010 04:57 am
if you cut out all the voodoo, the words of jesus from the new testament offer some good advice (i look at the following passages as more doing these things or not doing them, reflecting on your own karma)

For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in. Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat. I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink.I was a stranger, and ye took me not in, naked, and ye clothed me not, sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
tsarstepan
 
  0  
Reply Mon 10 May, 2010 05:07 am
@saab,
saab? Your neuroticism makes Woody Allen seem like a healthy and mentally stable/balanced individual. Rolling Eyes

I hope you're not internally debating dairy products: if I eat this goat cheese from France, how many goat farmers in China will starve to death?

Quote:
Good for the Chinese economy, but not for the Swedish.
Summer is over and they were no good quality so I [throw] them out. Not good for our enviroment.

Why would you need to throw them out in the first place? If you're that picky about quality then buy a more expensive brand of t-shirt. I'm certain there is a European country that manufactures quality t-shirts.

Quote:
Of course tourism is good for a country. Do we really have to fly around theworld all the time to be able to say we have been here or there?

Is that the only reason you do anything? To brag about it? Not to learn anything about other cultures? Not to intermingle and try to understand other societies and culture? Not to branch out and make friends in honest face to face interactions?

Quote:
We also pollute when we travel and leave a lot of junk behind us.

I hate to break it to you but when you breath and live? You're polluting and changing your immediate environment. And as for the latter part of your neurotic statement? Just don't leave excessive amounts of trash behind? For that matter, don't throw out t-shirts after 1 or 2 uses. Rolling Eyes

Phoenix32890
 
  2  
Reply Mon 10 May, 2010 05:45 am
My philosophy? "The right to swing your arm ends at the other fellow's nose".

I have no interest, ability or inclination in saving the world. As others have said, it is an impossible task, and is best discussed by the young who still have not as yet encountered LIFE in all its various and sundry facets.

I want to be the best person that I can be, to show empathy to others, and honest in all my dealings.
Letty
 
  2  
Reply Mon 10 May, 2010 05:58 am
@Robert Gentel,
Robert, I realize that it is quite difficult to define abstract nouns, but would you explain what you mean by "moral compass"? My sense of a literal compass is so poor that I frequently get lost.
shewolfnm
 
  1  
Reply Mon 10 May, 2010 06:19 am
@Robert Gentel,
Springing off of your initial post, and not reading any of the responses I will use your example of starvation to try to explain mine.

When I think of people who are in desperate need, I notice my code tends to go to the younger. I pictured what it would be to have to really choose between two people if all I had was one bite of food ( essentially fantasizing that I didnt have enough to share..) and my mind created the image of a grown man, white (Not that it matters , just explaining what I pictured to be able to answer) and a young child of about 6 or so. My initial gut reaction was to feed and save the child.

I tried to picture two starving adults and again.. I notice that I lean to the younger of the two. Not that when I pictured them I GAVE them an age, thats just what popped into my head.

But, when I think about and look at the things I have done to help people in my life and I look at the times I have had to REALLY respond I act to the older crowd. I have not been in a situation where a child was starving at my feet.

When I lived in the apartments just before moving here, the neighborhood was poor. The children dressed in torn clothes, everyone living on barely enough. And sometimes when I would let jillian out to play the kids would flock to her snack and her food like crazy. I would , a lot of times , just buy extra and hand it out freely. Not starving kids, but obviously they didnt get enough. No real gut reaction there.. it was just WHAT you would do when you knew that was going on. That is the only time I have had to deal with some what hungry children. Not much to go on I know, but still..

When it came to real action in my life, and what I choose to do and how, even my initial life career was to and for the older population.
I worked with alzheimers/dementia patients for years. I tried working trauma, basic er, even pediatrics. Nothing.. i mean NOTHING.. struck me and kept me like working with the dementia patients did.

My very feeling then was that I was sort of carrying an embarrassment for them to a certain extent. They had no idea anymore that they were not even behaving as humans would. They had no idea they could not be understood. No care to clothes or being covered and no memory to even feed themselves.
I fired TONS of nurses for not being respectful , not giving dignity and not giving a **** frankly. There was no question in my mind and no room to move when it came to how they should be treated.

I think if I were to label my moral code, it isnt to race, background, or even situation , like an accident for example. I may not always run to the most bloddy of victims.
I think I run to the most helpless.

0 Replies
 
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Mon 10 May, 2010 06:20 am
Interesting question. I guess mine is something like, do one's best to figure out how others would like to be done unto, then act accordingly. While marshalling resources. Balance.

I do think there is a sort of concentric circles situation, with the majority of my resources going to my immediate family, then the next circle is my community, then the next circle is probably my country (thinking of activity like working to get Obama elected -- that probably best belongs in the "nation" category though it has worldwide implications, and also really comes down to the first circle since fundamentally I thought he was more likely than Clinton or McCain to use his 4-8 years to make the world a better place for my daughter), and on outward until the whole world is encompassed, and on to space too.

It's not a strict hierarchy -- some circles take precedence over others at given times. And I italicize "balance" because that's a governing principle. If I'm doing very important work to alleviate poverty for 100 people in India but I'm neglecting my daughter in the process, that is not moral IMO.
 

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