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Moral Relativism. It may be right but it must be wrong.

 
 
Reply Tue 4 Aug, 2009 09:58 pm
Take any deed deemed immoral. Spend enough time investigating and contemplating the circumstances around said deed and you can make a plausible argument for why it was understandable, if not justified, and that the perpetrator of the deed was, in some way, as much a victim as his or her victims.

Most abusive pedophiles were abused as children.

Many violent crimes are perpetrated by people who, themselves, were the long time victims of violence.

If you and your family are starving, is it immoral to steal bread?

If someone is convincingly threatening the lives of your family, is it immoral to proactively resolve the threat by killing the person you legitimately fear?

Anyone with any intelligence appreciates that not-with-standing our desire for a black and white world, reality is represented in shades of grey.

Fortunately or unfortunately (depending upon your point of view) Society cannot exist under the tenants of moral relativism.

With thousands and millions of people living with one another, Society cannot afford to surrender to grey. There must be hard and fast rules.

Accepting that any behavior can be right is asserting that no behavior can be wrong.

This mindset is in direct contrast to the concepts of society.

In a certain way, moral relativism is akin to quantum physics and, indeed, it was this theoretical breakthrough that contributed to post-modernist thought.

Reality is dependent upon the observer.

If this is the case, then the opinions of any particular observer are as valid as any other (even for a nano-second) in determining what reality might be.

There is a (currently) unfathomable paradox between Quantum Physics and General Relativity Physics. Clearly, this doesn't mean that one cannot be so, but it does challenge us who must operate in the "real" world rather than the "theoretical" world to attempt to reconcile what we can perceive with our senses and what we can imagine with our minds. The Holy Grail of a TOE still eludes us.

In building a bridge, developing computers, or putting a man on the moon, we have given, predominately, our collective nod to the physics of Newton and Einstein rather than Bohrs and Heisenberg.

There are actually solid, as opposed to simply theoretical, reasons to believe the latter, but for 99.9% of the earth's population, the former rules, in practice, over the latter, and yet we appreciate that Quantum Physics represents "truth" too.

Eventually there may be a TOE we can comprehend, and eventually there may be a reconciliation between moral-relativism and societal imperatives, but both are mighty challenges we may not solve for decades if not centuries to come, and in any case we will have to be wiser as well as smarter to do so.

In the mean-time, we must live within the framework of what actually works, not what should work.

Moral relativism is a great topic for discussion but it doesn't work in the currently "real" world.











 
fresco
 
  1  
Reply Wed 5 Aug, 2009 12:37 am
@Finn dAbuzz,
I agree, Moral relativism doesn't work in "the real world" because such a world is one of social decisions made in "real time". That is why we attempt to objectify and sanitise those decisions via the court system. Although such a system is ostensibly set up to administer that nebulous concept we call "justice", in actuality, all the system does is make the pragmatic decision "what happens next".
0 Replies
 
Diest TKO
 
  0  
Reply Wed 5 Aug, 2009 01:38 am
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Amigo
 
  1  
Reply Wed 5 Aug, 2009 04:16 am
I am reading a book on ethics that is covering the same topics and subject matter. It is very perplexing.

I also think it (ethics/morality) may be the crux of an approaching epoch/revolution.

Or i'm just crazy.
0 Replies
 
rosborne979
 
  2  
Reply Wed 5 Aug, 2009 05:18 am
@Finn dAbuzz,
I tend to agree. I've always looked at it in a more general way: At a deep philosophical level we (humans) can't know anything for certain, yet in our day to day lives we must make the assumption that we not only know what's real, but that our own viewpoint is probably the right one.

I think it is this dichotomy between functional reality and perceived ambiguity which allows us to supersede our instincts. Moths fly toward the light, they can't help it. We think about the light, and wonder if that's really the way we should go.
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ebrown p
 
  7  
Reply Wed 5 Aug, 2009 05:58 am
You completely misunderstand Moral Relativism. Every example you are giving takes a modern American view on these actions, their reasons and their morality.

The point of "relative morality" is that our views of morality (what is right and wrong) are so integrated with our society... that it is very difficult for us to accept (or even understand) any other point of view.

Your feelings on each of these issues are examples of relative morality.
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ebrown p
 
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Reply Wed 5 Aug, 2009 06:00 am
Here is the real question...

There are many ways that modern American views on what is right and wrong are dramatically different from the views of other cultures either past or present.

Is there any reason to believe that modern American beliefs are superior to the beliefs of other cultures (other then the fact that they are, not surprisingly, widely in line with my personal beliefs) ?
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DrewDad
 
  5  
Reply Wed 5 Aug, 2009 06:44 am
It might also be noted that attempting to understand someone else's point of view is not he same as trying to excuse their actions.

If we can understand it, we have a better chance of changing it.

Continuing your analogy about quantum mechanics, quantum mechanics has many real-world applications. Chemistry, for example, benefited tremendously from understanding the various electron shells. Diplomacy benefits from understanding other points of view.
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ebrown p
 
  3  
Reply Wed 5 Aug, 2009 06:58 am
I would like to keep Physics out of this. Finn's understanding of Quantum Mechanics is deeply flawed. But this is irrelevant... a mathematical model describing how elementary particles behave has no place in a discussion about a sociological phenomenon.

Unless you are proposing a mathematical model of morality (actually that would be kind of fun).
DrewDad
 
  1  
Reply Wed 5 Aug, 2009 07:39 am
@ebrown p,
ebrown p wrote:
But this is irrelevant... a mathematical model describing how elementary particles behave has no place in a discussion about a sociological phenomenon.

That kinda depends on how you think consciousness works. It might have everything to do with sociological phenomenons.
DrewDad
 
  1  
Reply Wed 5 Aug, 2009 07:43 am
@Finn dAbuzz,
Finn dAbuzz wrote:
Accepting that any behavior can be right is asserting that no behavior can be wrong.

This is incorrect. "Right" and "wrong" has to do with context. An action that is right (moral) in one context can be wrong (immoral) in another context.
0 Replies
 
ebrown p
 
  2  
Reply Wed 5 Aug, 2009 07:45 am
@DrewDad,
I think that the idea that the mathematical rules determining how elementary particles work (i.e. quantum physics) can give you any insight into human nature or religious truth is pure hogwash.

But this is the topic of another thread.

0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  2  
Reply Wed 5 Aug, 2009 08:13 am
@Finn dAbuzz,
Finn dAbuzz wrote:
Eventually there may be a TOE we can comprehend, and eventually there may be a reconciliation between moral-relativism and societal imperatives, but both are mighty challenges we may not solve for decades if not centuries to come, and in any case we will have to be wiser as well as smarter to do so.

Actually, moral relativism cannot be reconciled with its own inherent contradictions, let alone with "social imperatives."

Finn dAbuzz wrote:
In the mean-time, we must live within the framework of what actually works, not what should work.

Are you suggesting that morality is "whatever works?"
ebrown p
 
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Reply Wed 5 Aug, 2009 08:34 am
@joefromchicago,
Quote:
Actually, moral relativism cannot be reconciled with its own inherent contradictions


I don't believe this is true (although I would like you to define what you mean by "moral relativism" in this case).

There can be competing views of morality, based on the society they are a part of, each of which is perfectly internally consistent. There is no contradiction here unless there is an individual trying to live in both societies.

Many societies (including the one that followed laws written by God himself on stone tablets) thought polygamy, with child brides, was a perfectly good thing. Most of us now find this practice immoral.

For an ancient Hebrew, child polygamy was perfectly acceptable even though almost all of us, this practice is immoral. Are you really willing to, based on your 21st century American view, judge his moral beliefs?

Sure they are different than yours.... but show me how they are internally inconsistent.

RexRed
 
  2  
Reply Wed 5 Aug, 2009 09:38 am
@Finn dAbuzz,
Over the top?
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  2  
Reply Wed 5 Aug, 2009 10:12 am
@ebrown p,
ebrown p wrote:

Quote:
Actually, moral relativism cannot be reconciled with its own inherent contradictions


I don't believe this is true (although I would like you to define what you mean by "moral relativism" in this case).

Read this post.
ebrown p
 
  1  
Reply Wed 5 Aug, 2009 10:52 am
@joefromchicago,
That is an interesting post Joe... but if I understand you correctly (and please correct me if I am wrong), it seems to imply that the only morality is an absolute morality. The contradictions inherent in an absolute morality are far more intractable.

Since a moral system is an integral part of functioning societies-- looking at examples of individuals is not useful. These are cases of deviance (an interesting topic in itself). Morality should be viewed as values that are accepted by the vast majority of members of a cultural group.

Morality viewed as a social construct does not have any internal contradictions. It is defined by culture and deeply integrated with a specific society. Of course this carries the implication that there is no basis for an absolute morality.

If you want to argue that there is a basis for an absolute morality, you will need to suggest what that basis might be-- and why there are so many different views on the subject among the different human societies.
Robert Gentel
 
  2  
Reply Wed 5 Aug, 2009 11:22 am
@ebrown p,
ebrown p wrote:
The contradictions inherent in an absolute morality are far more intractable.


Moral relativism seeks to answer a legitimate problem, in that culture shapes behavior and that the behavior of one person in one culture isn't directly comparable to the behavior of another in another culture. However the answer is not moral relativism, which makes no sense at all. The answer is a more inclusive view of morality that takes more contributing factors into account.

So if there's a culture that allows for rape of women, it doesn't make it right but it is a contributing factor to each individual occurrence of rape. If there's a culture or era that accepts slavery it doesn't make it right, but its influence on individual behavior needs to be taken into account.

A very simple example is if a child hits another child at school (for no reason etc) it is wrong. However if the child comes from a family that teaches the child this is right then the contributing factors to the act change the degree to which the child acted wrongly, as they are also expected to obey their parents.

Likewise in society, if the society is telling everyone slavery is fine, an individual act of slavery contravenes fewer morals than in a society that correctly recognizes that it is wrong. But it doesn't mean that slavery is right if it is culturally accepted.
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joefromchicago
 
  2  
Reply Wed 5 Aug, 2009 11:46 am
@ebrown p,
ebrown p wrote:

That is an interesting post Joe... but if I understand you correctly (and please correct me if I am wrong), it seems to imply that the only morality is an absolute morality.

I hope I didn't imply that. I meant to state it explicitly. If there such a thing as "morality," it must be an objective morality.

ebrown p wrote:
The contradictions inherent in an absolute morality are far more intractable.

Since a moral system is an integral part of functioning societies-- looking at examples of individuals is not useful. These are cases of deviance (an interesting topic in itself). Morality should be viewed as values that are accepted by the vast majority of members of a cultural group.

As I said in my linked post, it really doesn't matter whether one believes in moral relativism for individuals or for societies: the insoluble contradictions remain the same.

ebrown p wrote:
Morality viewed as a social construct does not have any internal contradictions. It is defined by culture and deeply integrated with a specific society. Of course this carries the implication that there is no basis for an absolute morality.

Whether or not a system of morality has internal contradictions is beside the point when it comes to questions of moral relativism. The contradictions that matter are those inherent in the concept of moral relativism itself, not in any particular system of morality.

ebrown p wrote:
If you want to argue that there is a basis for an absolute morality, you will need to suggest what that basis might be-- and why there are so many different views on the subject among the different human societies.

I don't have to propose any system of absolute morality in order to show that moral relativism is inherently contradictory. Moral relativism fails on its own terms -- there's no need to establish that there's something better.
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  2  
Reply Wed 5 Aug, 2009 12:53 pm
@ebrown p,
ebrown p wrote:
Since a moral system is an integral part of functioning societies-- looking at examples of individuals is not useful. These are cases of deviance (an interesting topic in itself). Morality should be viewed as values that are accepted by the vast majority of members of a cultural group.

I disagree. Let me suggest a counterexample to you.

In 1780, when Jeremy Bentham developed the theory we now call Utilitarianism, and published it in a book called Principles of Morals and Legislation, he didn't just state the theory in the abstract. Instead, applying his theory, he identified at least two significant issues where it strongly disagreed with values accepted by the vast majority of Englishmen -- and confidently sided with the theory against the norms of his society.

Reasonable people like you and I can disagree what that means for the standing of moral relativists vs. believers in moral facts. But before we get there, I would like to establish a weaker claim: Although Bentham's statements were completely at odds with the values accepted in his society, he is nevertheless asserting principles of morality here. Let me describe what Bentham wrote, and then ask you a question.

First, in the Principles themselves, Bentham stated that the welfare of animals deserved greater ethical consideration that the common mores of the time would grant it. In a passage that has since become famous, he proclaimed this:

Jeremy Bentham wrote:
The French have already discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor.* It may come one day to be recognized, that the number of the legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum, are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason, or, perhaps, the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day, or a week, or even a month, old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?

(Source)

Bentham's second issue may have been even more at odds with what the values most Englishmen accepted at the time he wrote. In a 1785 article titled Offenses against one's self, he argued that punishing gay sex was morally indefensible. (It was a capital crime then.) The article is too long to quote here, but basically he is saying that gay sex, no matter how offensive one may find it, doesn't harm anyone except those who participate in it. And it evidently doesn't harm the participants either, as judged by their voluntary choice to participate in it. Therefore, gay sex (aka buggery) should be legalized, on the Utilitarian principle that humans ought to strive for the greatest happiness of the greatest number.

***

So my question to you, ebrown p, is this: How is Bentham not laying down moral judgments here? Alternatively, how is the content of Bentham's moral judgments not completely at odds with the values almost universally accepted in his society?
 

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