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

 
 
Finn dAbuzz
 
  1  
Reply Sun 11 Jul, 2010 08:18 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs wrote:

Quote:
Because a rather large number of individuals will not voluntarily abide by an agreed upon set of ethical standards and if left to their own devices will set for themselves those which do not recognize the rights of others, there must be laws --- hard and fast rules.


You are mixing up ethical standards and laws. You can impose a legal code, but can you impose ethics? You can force people to obey the law but can you force them to be good?

Incidentally, regarding the fearfulness of American society, I think this is epitomized by the passionate defence in all strata of society of the right to bear arms. If the citizens were not fearful of attack, then they would have no requirements for being armed. As it is, death and injuries by gunfire in America are exponentially higher than in any other developed nation.


Ethics are rules of conduct based on moral principles. Laws are rules of conduct and while they need not be based on moral principles, in a just society they are. Irrespective of their basis, any set of rules can be imposed given sufficent authority.

The definition of "good" is at the precise core of this discussion and my original premise was that irrespective of how ambiguous the concept may seem or actually be, a well functioning society requires the definition be based on behavior that promotes and preserves the health and stability of the society. In that sense, given sufficent authority, a just and healthy society can and will enforce goodness at the same time it enforces the law.

Gun ownership and usage in America being proof of a general state of widespread fear is yet is another example of facile conventional wisdom.

First of all, there are many reasons other than fear of personal attack for owning a gun: hunting, sport, criminal intent, desire to feel powerful, status within a group and professional requirement are a few. I do not personally own a gun, but this is not proof that I am fearless any more than my owning one would prove me to be fearful.

Secondly, Americans have been allowed to own firearms for our entire history. That we take advantage of this right is in no way an indication that we, as a people, are any more fearful than the population of a country where personal gun ownership is outlawed.

Finally, an equally valid (albeit equally facile) argument can be made that the extent of gun ownership in America is proof that we, as a people, are less fearful than other peoples in the world. If I own a gun, I have less reason to fear a personal attack than someone who does not.

Americans have the right to bear arms because, historically, one of the first rules of the tyrant is to outlaw the personal ownership of weapons. This makes perfect sense if you are a tyrant, but it's not very helpful if you do not want to live under someone else's tyranny. One need not fear a future tyrant if the people have the means to prevent or overthrow his rule.



Jebediah
 
  2  
Reply Sun 11 Jul, 2010 08:56 pm
@ebrown p,
ebrown p wrote:

I have no idea what the term "moral realist" means. I am arguing against moral absolutism-- a black or white, right or wrong view of morality where one view is right and all others are wrong. Is "realism" a euphemism for "absolutism"?


Probably we have been arguing past each other then! I'm very pleased if that's the case. The problem here is that relativism has a variety of forms. So, first:

Moral Realism:


1. Ethical sentences express propositions.
2. Some such propositions are true.
3. Those propositions are made true by objective features of the world, independent of subjective opinion.

Contrast with Moral Absolutism:

Moral absolutism is the ethical view that certain actions are absolutely right or wrong, regardless of other contexts such as their consequences or the intentions behind them.

And Moral Universalism:

Moral absolutism is not the same as moral universalism (also called moral objectivism). Universalism holds merely that what is right or wrong is independent of custom or opinion (as opposed to relativism), but not necessarily that what is right or wrong is independent of context or consequences (as in absolutism).

Now, the somewhat confusing thing is that Moral Relativism has different forms.

This form:

Normative relativism, further still, is the prescriptive or normative position that as there is no universal moral standard by which to judge others, we ought to tolerate the behavior of others even when it runs counter to our personal or cultural moral standards.

Which I'm pleased to notice you don't believe. Although some people do.

And this one:

Meta-ethical relativism, on the other hand, is the meta-ethical position that the truth or falsity of moral judgments, or their justification, is not objective or universal but instead relative to the traditions, convictions, or practices of a group of people.

Which as I said earlier, is true for some moral positions, but not others. Because people don't vary enough for all rules to be true or false relative to their positions, and because many rules are in the if->then justification format and traditions often are based on false information.


So basically, I would say that some rules are objectively factual, and that these are the most basic rules. The smaller rules can be relative at least temporarily. This is, I think, the common sense position that most people take.

Ebrown, I consider myself a liberal and in fact know many liberal people who are moral realists. It is not a conservative, prejudiced position. Very religious people tend to be morally absolutist* it's true, but a great many (certainly the majority) of liberals are moral realists, it tends to be the fringe who are far into relativist territory. I really do think it's something you can go too far with.

*Although I've noticed that some steadfast christians take a very relativist view of islamic practices, even the misogynist ones, because they feel that their own religious traditions are being threatened and they have decided to support all religious traditions.


Quote:
Anyway...

I have strong opinions about the world want to live in, and stronger opinions about the society I want to live in. I have no problem arguing and working to move society according to what I think is best according to my own values.

This is certainly appropriate in a democratic society (such as the one we have in the US). This society belongs to the individuals that make it up. I have as much a say in the values and direction of society as anyone else-- and I have the right to use my voice.

I feel the same way in my citizenship of the world. I have a voice and in some cases I can help make the world more like the world in which I want to live. The key point is how we consider people with different view and different goals. Do we consider them equals... or do we consider people who disagree with us "barbarians".

I certainly consider my adversaries (be they Iranians, or Republicans) as human beings with the same right to a voice as I have. I also understand that they have the same sincerity that I have... and I even admit that my disagreements with them are based on values and beliefs that that are untestable. The fact that I don't truly consider anyone who disagrees with me as "barbarian" allows me some liberty to evolve in my own understanding, and to work together with adversaries when we have complementary goals.

I don't have to claim to have access to any absolute truth or morality... and I am suspicious of anyone who does-- be the tea party members, or anarchist rioters.

I do claim to have as much of a role, voice and desire to make the world more fair and humane as I understand fair and humane as anyone.

You don't have to have a absolute lock on "right" and "wrong" to work to make the world a better place on a global scale, or to make life better for the people around you.


I think that this really is the common sense "some moral facts are true, some are relative" approach that I have. But two things.

1) Some people are really really bad. Sentencing women to be stoned to death for adultery is barbaric. You can't not say that. The wrongness of that has to be acknowledged.
2) What do you mean by "I admit that my values and beliefs aren't testable"? They are based on observed facts and reasoning aren't they? You can't put people on a petri dish or a spectrometer, by they do scientific studies all the time that are based on observation and reasoning. Most of psychology.
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Sun 11 Jul, 2010 09:05 pm
@Finn dAbuzz,
Quote:
Americans have the right to bear arms because, historically, one of the first rules of the tyrant is to outlaw the personal ownership of weapons.


And as a result, a US citizen is more likely to be killed in their own country by gunfire than anyone outside a war zone or a third world getto.

Ironic, eh?

Quote:
n that sense, given sufficent authority, a just and healthy society can and will enforce goodness at the same time it enforces the law.


All I can say is thank goodness I don't have to be under the thumb of your 'enforced goodness'. Again, I ask you, how can goodness be enforced or imposed? How is this different from a theocracy? Is that what you envisage?
0 Replies
 
Jebediah
 
  1  
Reply Sun 11 Jul, 2010 09:46 pm
Jebediah wrote:
2) What do you mean by "I admit that my values and beliefs aren't testable"? They are based on observed facts and reasoning aren't they? You can't put people on a petri dish or a spectrometer, by they do scientific studies all the time that are based on observation and reasoning. Most of psychology.


Coincidentally:

SEP article on Moral Realism wrote:
These considerations highlight a crucial difficulty moral realists face even if one grants the existence of moral facts: they need some account of how we might justify our moral claims. Otherwise, whatever the moral facts are, we would have reasonable grounds for worrying that what we count as evidence for any particular claim is no evidence at all.

In light of this concern, it is worth noting that the challenge posed here for our moral claims actually plagues a huge range of other claims we take ourselves to be justified in making. For instance, just as no collection of nonmoral premises will alone entail a moral conclusion, no collection of nonpsychological premises will alone entail a psychological conclusion, and no collection of nonbiological premises will alone entail a biological conclusion. In each case the premises will entail the conclusions only if, at least surreptitiously, psychological or biological premises, respectively, are introduced. Yet no one supposes that this means we can never justify claims concerning psychology or biology.
ebrown p
 
  1  
Reply Sun 11 Jul, 2010 10:02 pm
@Jebediah,
Jebediah,

1. Common Sense is another word for prejudices (or as Einstein said "common sense is the set of prejudices you acquire by age 18"). There is no question that common sense is a function of where and when you were born. People born in the US 100 years ago would have vastly different common sense then you do, as would people born in Iran.

2. The term objective, to me, is useless unless it refers to facts that are empirically tested. "Facts" that can't be empirically tested are opinion... they may be strong opinions, they may be beliefs, but they are not objective. Instinct is not objective. Common sense is not objective.

3. You are basing your "realism" on propositions that are not testable. These are subjective opinions. The fact you have a gut level "instinct" doesn't change this. The fact that this is "common sense" to you doesn't change the fact that you are basing these on "facts" that you have not tested, and are untestable.

4. Humans are social creatures. Early humans (and their primate direct ancestors) lived in tribes. We evolved with tribal behavior. It is not surprising that our instincts (which come from our evolution) are shaped, to this day, by tribalism. A trait of tribalism is the feeling that we represent the true society, and the the "other" are not one of us.

The fact that human instinctual think of themselves as good, and others as wrong is perfectly in line with human nature, and with our evolutionary past.

5. You claim that stoning women for adultery is "barbaric". I am probably from a very similar cultural background to you... it is not surprising that I have the opinion. But you don't the word "barbaric". You don't provide any way to test a behavior to determine empirically which actions are barbaric, and which actions aren't

Is abortion, which is the killing of an unborn human, barbaric? Provide me an empirical measure of "barbarism" that answers both the stoning and the abortion questions (then we will apply it to capital punishment, and eating meat).



ebrown p
 
  1  
Reply Sun 11 Jul, 2010 10:08 pm
@Jebediah,
Biological claims can be tested empirically. In fact they are tested. We take 1,000 people give 500 of them a medical treatment and 500 of them a placebo: it can be proven empirically that a medical treatment is effective. Biology is constantly making predictions, and confirming them in repeatable ways.

Moral systems are based on non-testable premises.

Biologists don't make conclusions on instinct.
0 Replies
 
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Sun 11 Jul, 2010 10:10 pm
@ebrown p,
Question for you, even though your response was directed at Jebediah:

Quote:
2. The term objective, to me, is useless unless it refers to facts that are empirically tested. "Facts" that can't be empirically tested are opinion... they may be strong opinions, they may be beliefs, but they are not objective. Instinct is not objective. Common sense is not objective.


If such a fact or viewpoint is not objective, is it then subjective?

Are there facts which are neither objective nor subjective, or do these two adjectives describe the whole domain of truth?
ebrown p
 
  1  
Reply Sun 11 Jul, 2010 10:28 pm
@jeeprs,
My current position is that if a moral "fact" is not empirically testable (or tested), then it is subjective in this sense.

Humans evolved as "tribal" creatures. It is part of human nature, as creatures that lived in tribes for a large part of our history, for us to think that our own culture is the "correct" culture and that people who don't share are culture are "barbaric" in inferior.

Our belief that our moral system is correct in some universal sense is expected in this sense-- our brains evolved to think in terms of "us" and "them". In this sense, or morality is not only subject... but our tendency to think that our morality is the one true morality is subject to how our brains evolved.

The idea that our viewpoint could be something other then "subjective" (rather then objective) is intriguing. What else could our viewpoint be, other then objective or subjective?
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Sun 11 Jul, 2010 10:45 pm
@ebrown p,
Thanks for your answer.

It is a difficult question but an important one. Interestingly there is one domain of truth which I would propose is neither objective nor subjective, and that is math. Numbers don't appear anywhere in the objective realm, but at the same time, they are not matters of opinion.

But that is a subject for the Metaphysics thread. It is related to the idea of mathematical realism. Mathematical realism is supported by a number of mathematicians and philosophers, but is hotly contested by others. But the nature of number is a difficult question.
0 Replies
 
Jebediah
 
  1  
Reply Sun 11 Jul, 2010 11:17 pm
Eww, you're back to being silly again. Also you brought up about a million different and sometimes tangential issues.

1.Common sense is not another word for prejudice, don't be ridiculous. It's a vague phrase so we needn't debate semantics. But some people vastly underrate it when it comes to philosophical/ethical matters. That would be a whole nother thread though.

2. However, that is not what objective means. And objective facts can clearly be common sense. For example, it is (these days) common sense that the earth is round as opposed to flat, and that is indeed an objective fact. Don't make up your own definitions when you agreed with the real definition earlier. I mean don't do it at all, but, you know, especially.

3. I suppose you mean that they aren't falsifiable. But this is an issue with coming to know facts, not with whether there are facts. We are justified in believing many things that aren't falsifiable. You are also confused. We cannot test whether the greeks sailed with a 1000 ships to attack troy. But, they either did or did not. It is not subjective opinion.

4. Why are you continuing this tribalism? You are insisting that people in other countries are inherently vastly different from us. That is tribalism. I don't think they are very different from us.

5. Barbaric means something about savage and primitive. Stoning as a punishment for adultery is savage and primitive. Tell me I don't need to follow the rest of the train here. This is a simple matter of definition. Barbarism is, in fact, not a moral judgment so I don't know why you are focusing on it.

Quote:
Biological claims can be tested empirically. In fact they are tested. We take 1,000 people give 500 of them a medical treatment and 500 of them a placebo: it can be proven empirically that a medical treatment is effective.


What does this has to do with the bit I quoted? Although that was a tangent too I suppose. You seem hung up on the empirical test thing though. But you are missing the point (probably due to insisting on using your personal definition of objective).

Sciences role in determining moral rules is solely involved in providing information that is needed. Most of that info is common sense so I'm not surprised that the only scientific testing that I've heard about with regards to morality is when they test to see what causes people to have certain opinions. Well, they can find things like "people make bad snap judgments if they are distracted" which would have applications I suppose.

Quote:
Moral systems are based on non-testable premises.


Isn't this exactly what you were saying 20 posts ago? I suppose I could just quote myself. Actually I think I made use of a very similar comparison. How do the biologists pick which medicine is better? The better medicine is defined as the one that cures the disease better, etc. How would you test that premise? Please don't be silly. These are definitions we are talking about.

Statement: It is wrong to murder innocent children for fun

If you don't see that this is factually correct, then you don't know what the word "morality" means. You agree that I cannot, for example, say that it is wrong for hydrogen and oxygen atoms to form together to make H2O? That would be factually incorrect, I hope you agree. But perhaps if you didn't know what morality meant you might say that it was true.





jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Sun 11 Jul, 2010 11:22 pm
@Jebediah,
Quote:
Also you brought up about a million different and sometimes tangential issues.


Not at all. 'Objectivity' is vastly over-rated as a criterion of what is true. Objectivity is useful in fieldworkers, jurists, journalists and historians, but it is also radically limited. This is one of the reasons why moral relativism is ubiquitous. We have science on one side, and subjectivity on the other. As a result, you are forced to give examples like the murder of children or the stoning of women as 'examples of un-moral actions'. But what kind of basis is that for a moral code?
Jebediah
 
  1  
Reply Sun 11 Jul, 2010 11:24 pm
Well, to sum up what I guess is the key point.

You test to see what methods for growing crops works best. But you don't need to test in order to determine whether it is a good idea to eat. You test which medicines heal the best. But you don't need to to test whether it is better to be in chronic pain or not. Do you see how it would be ludicrous to say that which medical procedure was better was purely subjective?

It's sad that we're rehashing this.
Jebediah
 
  1  
Reply Sun 11 Jul, 2010 11:25 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs wrote:

Quote:
Also you brought up about a million different and sometimes tangential issues.


Not at all. 'Objectivity' is vastly over-rated as a criterion of what is true. Objectivity is useful in fieldworkers, jurists, journalists and historians, but it is also radically limited. This is one of the reasons why moral relativism is ubiquitous. We have science on one side, and subjectivity on the other. As a result, you are forced to give examples like the murder of children or the stoning of women as 'examples of un-moral actions'. But what kind of basis is that for a moral code?


I was thinking of the common sense and barbarism and empirical testing tangents.

It is difficult to achieve I suppose you mean. But somehow people don't doubt that there are objective historical facts even though it is hard to uncover them.
0 Replies
 
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Sun 11 Jul, 2010 11:26 pm
@Jebediah,
we're not rehashing anything. Aside fromthe idea that 'goodness can be imposed' no practical basis for ethical judgement had been made yet.

Sure we don't need a test to know whether it is a good idea to eat. But how are we in the rich countries going to decide how many people to let starve every day for want of food? Now there's a real ethical question.
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Sun 11 Jul, 2010 11:33 pm
@ebrown p,
ebrown p wrote:

My current position is that if a moral "fact" is not empirically testable (or tested), then it is subjective in this sense.

The problem with your position is that you believe that all morality is subjective but you still believe in "morality."

Let's say there are two people, A and B. A believes that lying in situation X is moral. B believes that lying in situation X is immoral. Are both of them right?
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Sun 11 Jul, 2010 11:35 pm
I'll stop beating around the bush with this, where I am going is that there can be no ethical system of any kind without containing some moral choices which are (1) not a matter of individual opinion and (2) not subject to, or requiring of, 'scientific' verification. Traditionally, these have always been associated with one or another of the religious and cultural traditions. If we are to discard those traditions, we have a lot of work to do to put something in their place which has any kind of credibility and robustness. Alternatively, if we are to uphold one or more of them, we need to be able to adopt a pluralistic viewpoint which recognizes that there are moral and ethical absolutes, without falling into absolutism on that account. In other words, we all have to learn to get along, and respect the views of others, even while maintaining the view that there are some moral absolutes.

In my view, they are the only two choices, and they are both difficult. And I think the second of the two is the only one that has a ghost of a chance.
hawkeye10
 
  1  
Reply Sun 11 Jul, 2010 11:42 pm
@jeeprs,
Quote:
If we are to discard those traditions, we have a lot of work to do to put something in their place which has any kind of credibility and robustness.
I think when America abolishes Christmas in favor of the "happy holiday" that ship of tradition has already left the dock. I saw an argument a few weeks back that "holiday" has to go too, as it has as a root the word "holy", and so is unacceptably exclusionary (I am not shitting you).

I think also that modern America is a lesson in what happens when a peoples fails to preserve any sense of shared experience. The glue no longer works, it is impossible to get anything done until we find out way back to working together for a common cause.
0 Replies
 
ebrown p
 
  1  
Reply Mon 12 Jul, 2010 12:12 am
@joefromchicago,
Quote:

The problem with your position is that you believe that all morality is subjective but you still believe in "morality."

Let's say there are two people, A and B. A believes that lying in situation X is moral. B believes that lying in situation X is immoral. Are both of them right?


I believe in beauty. The fact that beauty is in the eye of the beholder doesn't mean that beauty doesn't exist-- and it doesn't mean that I can't find true enjoyment or meaning in what is beautiful to me.



ebrown p
 
  1  
Reply Mon 12 Jul, 2010 12:15 am
@Jebediah,
Quote:
2. However, that is not what objective means. And objective facts can clearly be common sense. For example, it is (these days) common sense that the earth is round as opposed to flat, and that is indeed an objective fact. Don't make up your own definitions when you agreed with the real definition earlier. I mean don't do it at all, but, you know, especially.


You have got this backwards. It was common sense that the earth was flat which is why for a long time most people accepted it without question.

We now accept that the earth is round because this is empirically testable.
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Mon 12 Jul, 2010 12:16 am
@ebrown p,
ebrown p wrote:

Quote:

The problem with your position is that you believe that all morality is subjective but you still believe in "morality."

Let's say there are two people, A and B. A believes that lying in situation X is moral. B believes that lying in situation X is immoral. Are both of them right?


I believe in beauty. The fact that beauty is in the eye of the beholder doesn't mean that beauty doesn't exist-- and it doesn't mean that I can't find true enjoyment or meaning in what is beautiful to me.

That's a lovely sentiment, but it doesn't answer my question.
 

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