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Moral Relativity: Where moral values come from?

 
 
maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2013 12:44 pm
@Thomas,
Quote:
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.


I am trying to understand your point. This logic doesn't follow.

I would consider a diamond valuable because of its societal value. They don't have much personal value to me (for either adornment or for cutting). This is a cultural relativist view. The value to me is only based on the value to the society at large.

Take an equivalent moral value... for example equality. I am a fairly wealthy, educated, white male. Equality doesn't have much personal value to me. As our society has become more equal, wealthy white males have lost privilege. I value equality because of the type of society I want to live in. This is a cultural value.

Every American understands the value of a diamond or a dollar. These are societal values. This is equivalent to the widely accepted American values like liberty or justice.
maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2013 12:56 pm
Quote:
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.


Hmmm... rereading...

The value of human life is not an independent variable, nor is the value of equality or liberty. All of these things have fluctuated across societies and throughout history.
maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2013 12:58 pm
@Germlat,
I want to respond, Germlat. I am not quite sure what you are saying here.
Thomas
 
  2  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2013 01:01 pm
@maxdancona,
maxdancona wrote:
I would consider a diamond valuable because of its societal value. They don't have much personal value to me (for either adornment or for cutting). This is a cultural relativist view.

If that's how the analogy works for you, then you should be an absolutist. The societal value of diamonds is measured by their market price, and we observe that their market price is the same* in every society on the planet.

______________
* Well, more or less the same, which is why I qualify the appropriate absolutism with the adjective "faint-hearted". But I'll leave away this disclaimer from now on because it's too tedious to write in every post.
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  2  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2013 01:06 pm
@maxdancona,
1) It's your analogy. I'm merely running with it. If your analogy doesn't work for you any more, that's your problem, not mine.

2) Yes. That's why your absolutism should be faint of heart rather than aggressive.
Thomas
 
  5  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2013 01:10 pm
@Thomas,
3) The value of human life etc doesn't just change among societies. It also changes among individuals within each society. For example, some Americans order hit jobs on the lives of other Americans, some don't. Some Americans wear seatbelts, some don't. Some Americans commit suicide, some don't. If you want to be relativistic about the value of life, fine. But why not make it a personal relativism rather than just a cultural one?
maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2013 01:20 pm
@Thomas,
1. The analogy is holding just fine. I am questioning your analysis. I think that both the value of diamonds and the value of moral concepts are societal (I thought you were challenging that idea)

2. Hmmm.... do we need to agree on a definition of the word "absolutism"? You are using the word in a different way then I use it.

Take modern views of human rights. As we have a connected world with a marketplace of ideas, human rights are gaining currency world wide.

The value human rights don't stem from any universal truth, any more than the value of diamonds stem from some universal truth.

Still, human rights have a real moral value the same way that diamonds have a real economic value.
maxdancona
 
  0  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2013 01:23 pm
@Thomas,
Quote:
The value of human life etc doesn't just change among societies.


Of course it does. Some societies allow capital punishment, others don't. Some societies provide a social safety net to keep poor people from dying, others don't. Some societies allow elective abortion, others don't. Some societies invest huge amounts on public safety, others don't. Some societies pass restrictive speed limit, seat belt and drunk driving laws to keep people from dying.

A society that allows people to die of poverty (as our own society has done in the past) unquestionably places a lower value on human life then we do now.

We as a society (in modern Western cultures) place a much higher value on human life then most other societies in history. This is clearly a societal value based in both law and social mores.
Germlat
 
  3  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2013 01:37 pm
@maxdancona,
I'm saying this elemental theory of moral relativity has as many holes as mine
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2013 01:59 pm
@maxdancona,
maxdancona wrote:
Take modern views of human rights. As we have a connected world with a marketplace of ideas, human rights are gaining currency world wide.

Because humans are getting more productive worldwide, and killing, maiming, and confining them is consequently getting more expensive worldwide. That's an objective, measurable truth.

maxdancona wrote:
The value human rights don't stem from any universal truth, any more than the value of diamonds stem from some universal truth.

The value of lives, just as the value of diamonds, can be measured by the uses to which they are put, as well as the effort people expend to get or keep them. These measurements are as objective as any observation in the natural sciences. Just because the facts of the weather change, that doesn't mean our physical theory of the weather are somehow relative to a society. So even if the value of human life changes, that doesn't mean the ethical theory about the value of human life is relative to a society.
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  3  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2013 02:02 pm
@maxdancona,
maxdancona wrote:

Quote:
The value of human life etc doesn't just change among societies.


Of course it does. Some societies allow capital punishment, others don't.

You overlooked my words "just" and "also". If you insist on being a relativist, fine, but then I don't understand why you're stopping halfway. Why be just a cultural relativist and not a personal relativist, too?
coldjoint
 
  2  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2013 02:09 pm
Quote:
The value of human life etc doesn't just change among societies.


The Hell it doesn't. Are you going to tell me Islamic culture values human life like Western civilization? There are too many facts that say completely different.
0 Replies
 
maxdancona
 
  0  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2013 02:10 pm
@Thomas,
Quote:
Why be just a cultural relativist and not a personal relativist?


Because I am human, and humans are cultural relativists (in practice if not in belief).

We tend, for the most part, to base our personal moral values greatly on the morals of our society. Clearly the greatest influence (by far) of our personal moral values is the culture and time that we were raised.

Of course this makes sense given our understanding that humans, as social animals, evolved with the propensity for moral thinking (in all of the ways it is expressed by very different cultures).
Thomas
 
  3  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2013 02:17 pm
@maxdancona,
maxdancona wrote:
Quote:
Why be just a cultural relativist and not a personal relativist?


Because I am human, and humans are cultural relativists (in practice if not in belief).

Speak for yourself. I have lived in different societies, and my values have not changed as a result of moving from one to the other. Nevertheless, my values do differ from those of other individual Germans, and other individual Americans, just as the values of any two Germans and any two Americans do. This flies in the face of your theory. If humans are cultural relativists in practice, my values should have changed from conformance with German society to conformance with American society.
maxdancona
 
  0  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2013 03:00 pm
@Thomas,
Quote:
Speak for yourself. I have lived in different societies, and my values have not changed as a result of moving from one to the other. Nevertheless, my values do differ from those of other individual Germans, and other individual Americans, just as the values of any two Germans and any two Americans do


No. It does not fly in the face of my theory.

I am proposing that your values are largely based on your upbringing. There is no reason to think that your core values would change based on moving from one culture to another (once your core values have been formed).

I also think you are greatly overestimating individual differences in moral values. I don't know you, but I am pretty confident in stating (based only on knowing that you are a German living in America) that you are not a cannibal, think that having sex with a 13 year old is wrong, believe the institution of slavery is evil and believe that rape is a serious crime. If you were from other cultures... I would be able to make different valid assumptions with an equal degree of confidence.

There are minor difference in personal morality, but you can't deny the fact that your overall understanding of morality is right in line with the general views of modern Western cultures.
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2013 03:11 pm
@Germlat,
Diamonds are valuable objects, take immense labor to get, and when on the market, are considered for their hardness and beauty. On the labor, just look at some Sebastiano Salgado photographs. On the market, de Beers is rather famous for pushing all that up the wazoo. Then there is the whole wedding merchandising industry, diamonds being a big part of that.

I take them as valuable in themselves for their significant attributes, but that culture pumps that up royally.
Thomas
 
  4  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2013 03:31 pm
@maxdancona,
maxdancona wrote:
There are minor difference in personal morality, but you can't deny the fact that your overall understanding of morality is right in line with the general views of modern Western cultures.

You don't know enough about me to say that. Personally, I'd say that my personal morality differs from the average German's and the average American's about as much as the average American's differs from the average Chinese's or the average Egyptian's.
maxdancona
 
  0  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2013 03:32 pm
@Thomas,
Quote:
You don't know enough about me to say that.


Quite the contrary. I believe I do know enough about you to say that. Was I wrong? Allowing for minor differences, looking at the large range of moral ideas that humans have held through history, humans in modern western societies have a very homogenous view of right and wrong. Our differences seem large, but compared to the big picture they are actually quite minor.

Quote:
'd say that my personal morality differs from the average German's and the average American's about as much as the average American's differs from the average Chinese's or the average Egyptian's.


I doubt this is true. And I bet that the difference between your modern moral sense and that of an American from 1800, or an Fijian from 1200 would be even greater.

But please, tell me if my assessment of your moral values was wrong in any way (I would be very amused to hear you are a cannibal).
Thomas
 
  4  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2013 04:15 pm
@maxdancona,
Thomas wrote:
I'd say that my personal morality differs from the average German's and the average American's about as much as the average American's differs from the average Chinese's or the average Egyptian's.

maxdancona wrote:
I doubt this is true.

It is true. Yes, you are wrong, and no, you don't know enough about my values to compare them to the average American's. Alternatively, you don't know enough about the average Chinese and the average Egyptian to judge how different their values are from the average American's.

Max Dancona wrote:
(I would be very amused to hear you are a cannibal).

I don't see how that matters. My claim, which you doubted was true, was that my values are about as different from the average American's than the average American's are to the average Egyptian's or the average Chinese's. Neither of us four are cannibals.
maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2013 04:35 pm
@Thomas,
We are arguing details that I am not sure are relevant to my main point to this thread (not that they aren't interesting).

My thesis for this thread is that moral values don't have to stem from a objective universal truth to be real values. (I am rewording "absolute" to avoid the earlier confusion).

My moral values are just as sincere, important and just as much a part of how I see the world as yours are. The only difference is that I accept that my values don't depend on, or represent any universal truth.

I think I disagree with the importance you are giving to the difference between cultural values and personal values. I think I understand what you are getting at... I don't know that it matters really to the core of our discussion.

I could certainly imagine a world where humans weren't social animals. Each human could have a different set of moral values independent of every other human. I think this form of moral relativism would lead to a quite a different human experience.

But the fact is that human cultures do come with culturally defined moral belief systems that matter. That there is a general consensus in my culture that rape is a serious crime (and should be treated as such) certainly gives power to my belief that rape is a serious crime. If I were the only one that felt that way, there wouldn't be much I could do about it, but the fact that it is a general understanding has a practical impact on the society I live in.

 

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