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Moral Relativity: Where moral values come from?

 
 
Reply Wed 4 Dec, 2013 09:38 pm
I am a moral relativist. I believe that there is no absolute Universal morality. And I believe that moral rules are specific to a cultural context and that the tendency for moral thinking evolved in humans because it happens to have survival value in an advance social animal.

This does not mean that I do not have a strong sense of right or wrong, or a deep felt set of moral values. Relative values are real values. My sense of moral values (like anyone else's) comes from my social context and my upbringing. The fact that I accept that my moral values aren't universal doesn't change anything as far as how I live or make judgements about right and wrong.

The question in any system of moral thinking is the same: Where do moral values come from?

Religious systems of morality have an easy answer. They come from a deity or set of deities. A creator has moral authority. Non-religious systems of absolute morality have, in my opinion, a more difficult time with this question. There is an appeal to "reason", but no way to deal with the fact that different humans appealing to reason come up with very different views of moral truth based on their society.

Moral relativists have a very good answer for this question. Let's look at a similar question.

Where to diamonds get their value?

Diamonds (like morals) only have value to humans. If you give a pile of diamonds to a wolf, or a chicken, it will give it little more than a sniff. There are human cultures that would pass over diamonds.

Yet... if you had a quality diamond you would treat it with great care. In our social context, it has great value.

And Where does money get its value?

I work 50+ hours a week, slaving away for something called a "dollar". A dollar used to be a little green rectangle... but these days you don't even get that. You get a number in some account. They have real value.

Diamonds and dollars, like moral truths, have real value. Their value comes not from any absolute truth of the universe, but from social context and convention. They are valuable because we believe they are valuable. And that makes it a real value.

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Type: Discussion • Score: 19 • Views: 17,617 • Replies: 397

 
coldjoint
 
  -4  
Reply Wed 4 Dec, 2013 09:54 pm
Quote:
I am a moral relativist


You are a pompous ass and morally bankrupt.
coldjoint
 
  -3  
Reply Wed 4 Dec, 2013 09:56 pm
Quote:
Their value comes not from any absolute truth of the universe, but from social context and convention


That's makes easy to tolerate evil, and that easy way out is exactly what you want.
0 Replies
 
raprap
 
  1  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2013 07:34 am
@maxdancona,
Certain moral values add benefit to society as a whole---many of the moral commandments of the Bible aren't unique to the three Moses based religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam). Consequently these moral values must have a rational basis for any social animal that extends well beyond any religious dogma. So; IOW religion is not necessary to provide a moral basis--

In addition some morals are biological--among higher level biological species for the good of the species you don't harm fertile females, you don't have progeny with your sister and you don't practice cannibalism.

As for me 'Moral Absolutes' generally are rationalizations for the less than human individuals that are easily led into the psychosis of bigotry, racism, slavery, murder & genocide. In addition these supposed 'moral absolutes' add nothing to the survival and betterment of the species and the society.

Granted this is a Darwinian interpretation--for instance what is moral to a solitary species, for instance a badger, would be much different from the moral value of a social species such as humans.

Generally, among social humans the nearest thing to a moral absolute is " The good of the many is more important than the good of the individual." Unfortunately this 'moral absolute' is one that is often ignored.

Rap
maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2013 07:44 am
@raprap,
Quote:
" The good of the many is more important than the good of the individual."


I don't think I accept this as a moral absolute, or even as a moral rule. Doing dangerous medical experiments on a few human beings may provide enough good for the many to "justify" doing them on a few individuals. I would still consider these experiments morally wrong.
raprap
 
  1  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2013 07:51 am
@maxdancona,
To me it would depend upon if the individuals were 'volunteers.'

Rap
maxdancona
 
  2  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2013 07:54 am
@raprap,
I agree with you that there are some moral rules that have a biological basis. I don't think this changes the argument.

There are somethings I consider immoral that have a biological basis; for example rape. Biology can't be used as the foundation for any existing modern moral code.

Also, every human culture has the same biological existence meaning that appealing to biology wouldn't be a good way to judge the different moral rules of one successful culture against another. Cultures have vastly different attitudes regarding fertile females, and different views toward cannibalism.





0 Replies
 
maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2013 07:56 am
@raprap,
To me it wouldn't. Our society has outlawed human experimentation outside of a very strict set of laws. I think it is safe to say that the morals of the modern US make it immoral for healthy human beings to be used as guinea pigs in dangerous experiments... even voluntarily.

There are other examples where it is immoral for an individual to be sacrificed (even voluntarily) for a group. This clearly goes against the moral code of most Americans.
0 Replies
 
rosborne979
 
  3  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2013 08:14 am
@maxdancona,
I believe that empathy has a genetic basis in mammals and is selected for because it allows mammals to bond in groups and to raise our young effectively. Both of which are beneficial to survival.

Compassion derives from empathy as groups become more complex, and morality derives from compassion as cultural norms are added into the mix.

So ultimately I see Morality as a result of biological imperatives being merged with cultural necessities.
Germlat
 
  2  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2013 08:55 am
@maxdancona,
I don't believe all morals are relative. There is a difference between morals and values.
maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2013 09:07 am
@rosborne979,
There is a difference between the propensity for morals (which I think we all agree is a human trait) and the specific moral values.

Of coruse empathy has an evolved genetic basis, but so does bigotry. We evolved to care for people inside our social group and hate people outside of our social group. Since we were often competing for resources, there is an evoluationary advantage to be violent toward people outside our group.

If you argue that evolved biology is the basis for an absolute moral code, that moral code would consider bigotry and rape as morally good.

After all, every human behavior has a biological/evolutionary source.
maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2013 09:12 am
@Germlat,
Please give some examples, and for each please explain.

1. Where this moral came from?
2. Why do some humans see it differently than you do?
3. How do you know that you are right and they are wrong?
4. How do they know that they are right and you are wrong?
rosborne979
 
  4  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2013 10:15 am
@maxdancona,
maxdancona wrote:
If you argue that evolved biology is the basis for an absolute moral code, that moral code would consider bigotry and rape as morally good.

I'm saying that evolved biology is the basis for a relative moral code which is modified by cultural norms.
maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2013 10:35 am
@rosborne979,
Then we are in agreement.

coldjoint
 
  -2  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2013 11:11 am
@maxdancona,
Quote:
1. Where this moral came from?
2. Why do some humans see it differently than you do?
3. How do you know that you are right and they are wrong?
4. How do they know that they are right and you are wrong?


How did you get this dumb? You seem to think life is one big excuse. Rationalizing until everything fits is the worst way ever to get any clarity.
0 Replies
 
rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2013 11:13 am
@maxdancona,
maxdancona wrote:
Then we are in agreement.

Unfortunately, yes Smile I think so.
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  3  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2013 11:18 am
@maxdancona,
maxdancona wrote:
Where to diamonds get their value?

First off, I agree that economic value is a good analogy for framing a discussion of moral value.

Second, I think you haven't thought this analogy through enough. If you had, you wouldn't be a cultural relativist. You would either be an personal relativist or a faint-hearted absolutist, depending on the details of your analogy.

To explain why, let me start by answering your question. In the language of economics, diamonds have use value for various reasons: their beauty makes some people happy looking at them, their sharpness helps other people cut things, and so forth. Diamonds also have labor value: digging them out of the ground costs people effort. Finally, diamonds have exchange value, also known as prices: people can exchange them for other things they want. Hence, diamonds get their value in several ways because "value" is a multi-faceted term in economics.

Two observations about these facets: First, it doesn't take a society to determine use value or labor value. All it takes is one person, acting rationally on his or her senses. Robinson Crusoe, alone on his island, could tell you exactly whether the beauty of a one-carat diamond is worth to him the labor of mining one. To be sure, if you polled a hundred different Robinsons on a hundred different islands, you might get a different answer from each. That would depend on the geology of each island, as well as the tastes and skills of each Robinson. But none of the Robinsons would need a society to answer your question. In other words, use value and labor value don't vary from society to society; they vary independently from person to person. That's the first observation.

The second observation is that the exchange value of diamonds, which does presume a society in which people exchange diamonds, is not an independent variable. At market auction, diamond prices adjust to be both high enough that the lowest-bidding producer finds them worth producing, as well as low enough that the highest-bidding consumer finds them worth using. Since every diamond sold is a diamond bought and vice versa, the diamond market will settle at one price. It will be more or less the same worldwide. It will also be more or less stable over time.

So now that we've thought the economic side of your analogy through, where does that leave the moral side? It depends on what's analogous to what. If moral value corresponds to economic use value or labor value, there is no reason to stop at cultural relativism. You should be an personal relativist because values vary from one person to another. On the other hand, if moral value corresponds to prices, to economic exchange value, you should be a faint-hearted absolutist. You should be an absolutist because the price of commodities like diamonds is pretty stable across time and space. And you should be faint-hearted to the extent that prices do fluctuate. Either way, cultural relativism makes no sense under your analogy.
Germlat
 
  2  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2013 11:55 am
@maxdancona,
Speak for yourself ..I care about others outside my circle or world. I have empathy for those who are underprivileged , of a different race or country of origin ( people I know little about ) and even beasts. I think your tone in topic is thought provoking. Somehow it also is lacking. Your parallel concerning diamonds is compelling but ..a diamond is only a material good. The market is manipulated to make people think they are valuable and scarce objects. Yep...this is a learned behavior. What is a universal moral code is to not purchase these items because of the exploitation of human beings behind the scene. Would society punish you for their purchase? Not at all..but in the end diamonds only have societal value.
coldjoint
 
  3  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2013 11:57 am
@Germlat,
Quote:
Not at all..but in the end diamonds only have societal value.


Excellent post.
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  4  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2013 12:06 pm
@maxdancona,
maxdancona wrote:
Non-religious systems of absolute morality have, in my opinion, a more difficult time with this question. There is an appeal to "reason", but no way to deal with the fact that different humans appealing to reason come up with very different views of moral truth based on their society.

Why is that a problem? Rational people disagree about all sorts of things all the time. That doesn't mean they're all right.

maxdancona wrote:
Moral relativists have a very good answer for this question.

I very much doubt that.
 

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