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Moral Relativism ?? Good, Bad, or ...... ?

 
 
Acquiunk
 
  1  
Reply Sat 15 May, 2004 02:57 pm
Morals are generally agreed upon ways of acting or not acting that are perceived to have positive value. They are upheld by sanction. That is if you violate them something happens to you to remind you not to do it again. Moral relativism does not occur within a culture/society unless things are changing so rapidly that people are unsure of what is acceptable behavior. Western culture, particularly American culture, would qualify as an example. Moral relativism occurs between cultures/societies. That is. when society A agrees that the standards of society B are not their own, and they will not intervene to make it otherwise.

I would suspect that the reason this is such a current and heated topic is that American's, in particular, are truly at sea over what is acceptable behavior. This state of affairs can not last forever and either a new set of agreed upon standards will emerge or the country will split into multiple, although hopefully not antagonistic, cultural and political segments.
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BoGoWo
 
  1  
Reply Sat 15 May, 2004 03:38 pm
enter the dichotomy between ethics, the code of right and wrong governing the assessment of morality; and morals, the rules of behaviour derived from ethical 'truths'.

i see moral relativity as a red herring providing a basis for a society to act in a manner that is 'questionable' by declaring such actions acceptable.

an ethical code is a personal set of concepts, held by an individual, which are learned by experience, handed down by ancestors, and imposed by the society in which the individual chooses, or simply 'happens to' live.

one most important ethical axiom is that if an individual disagrees with the moral choices of their society, it is their 'responsibility' to voice this disagreement, and work actively for the retraction of those moral choices.

while this is rarely 'done', it is a more or less universally held belief.
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JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Sat 15 May, 2004 04:14 pm
I have found it vitually impossible to enter this fray ever since the tone was set by Joe's jesuitical attempt to establish order by means of rather rigid (what he would call merely clear) definitions. I do not mean "jesuitical", Joe, in the deprecatory sense of tricky; I refer only to your cognitive style, a style in which the terms of discourse must be agreed upon in advance, and in which a kind of logical fundamentalism must dominate. I have not been able to muster the energy to address the many points of disagreement I have with you. No matter, your points were thoughtful and well--very well--enunciated. I know how you think on the matter. That's good enough. Personally, I would include reference to process, construction, situational ethics, moral ambivalence, etc. I see cultural relativism as having nothing to do with disagreements between individuals within a complex society; I see it only in terms of DIFFERENCES between the cultural systems of distinct societies. Morality refers, as far I'm concerned, to the moral code of a cultural system (this is on the decline now that homogeneous systems are becoming virtually extinct--if they ever really existed at all). To me, situational ethics refers to the dynamic operation of tacit or explicit and not always clear and unambiguous moral principles within actual situations. The resolutions of moral differences within or between socities by means of, what Rufio calls "overarching" (or, I guess, meta) principles only begs the question. The issue is terribly complex and, perhaps even, fluid. I don't know how to contribute to it.
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Sat 15 May, 2004 05:18 pm
fresco wrote:
Joe,

It was argued at length (on Abuzz) that "respect for the beliefs of others was vacuous.

Never having been on Abuzz, I'll have to take your word for it.

fresco wrote:
Basically this is equivalent to respect for the holder of the beliefs, not for the beliefs themselves. As a matter of interest, would this not resolve your "paradox" in that we have moved the focus of "morality" to actions as opposed to positions?

Read what I wrote. I said: "I'll simply define 'morality' as a system of beliefs regarding right and wrong conduct." In other words, I am already focused on conduct rather than beliefs. To the extent that someone holds a belief that is completely unrelated to conduct (e.g. one's belief in the inherent goodness of benevolent spirits) I would contend that such a belief is not a moral belief.

fresco wrote:
....and thinking further, "moral relativism" can be applied when different beliefs give rise to non-conflicting actions. I submit that problems only arise when actions are considered "wrong" not beliefs.

Non-conflicting actions? Do you mean "non-conflicting" as between the action and the motivating belief? And if so, doesn't that presuppose an objective moral standard in favor of consistency?
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Sat 15 May, 2004 05:25 pm
rufio wrote:
But people are necessarily consistent in their morals, and as long as they are consistent, they are right for themselves. There is not overarching right or wrong, just consistency or inconsistency. That's not relativisim though, because it holds everyone to the same standard.

Frankly, I'm at a complete loss to respond to your posts, rufio, since I can't make out what position you are taking. Are you saying that moral relativism is logically impossible, but that it's possible for everyone to have their own, individual morality?
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Sat 15 May, 2004 05:36 pm
JLNobody wrote:
I have found it vitually impossible to enter this fray ever since the tone was set by Joe's jesuitical attempt to establish order by means of rather rigid (what he would call merely clear) definitions. I do not mean "jesuitical", Joe, in the deprecatory sense of tricky; I refer only to your cognitive style, a style in which the terms of discourse must be agreed upon in advance, and in which a kind of logical fundamentalism must dominate.

That, I humbly submit, is nonsense. Now, I do not mean "nonsense," JLN, in a dismissive sense; I refer only to your cognitive style.

Frankly, I set forth definitions in advance because I want to make sure that everyone understands what I'm talking about. If you disagree with the definitions, then come up with some of your own. Furthermore, I do not claim that my definitions must be agreed upon in advance -- indeed, I specifically noted that my definition of "morality" was simply a working definition. Rather, I suggest only that some definition must be agreed upon at some point. Otherwise, we are left talking past one another.

If, on the other hand, you don't like any definitions, then I'm afraid I can't help you. And if you don't like threads in which "logical fundamentalism" dominates, then I suppose you're free to attempt to hijack it on behalf of the illogical fundamentalists.
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JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Sat 15 May, 2004 06:24 pm
JOe, I guess I stand corrected. Embarrassed
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cavfancier
 
  1  
Reply Sat 15 May, 2004 06:57 pm
Joe is clearly a very good lawyer.
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L R R Hood
 
  1  
Reply Sat 15 May, 2004 07:17 pm
I can only speak for myself here...

I think the golden rule is worth following, and that is not relative.

My 2 cents.
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Greyfan
 
  1  
Reply Sat 15 May, 2004 09:08 pm
I think of moral relativism not as a system of morality to be subscribed to or defended, but rather as the most accurate description of reality we have. Ethical and moral systems have evolved, through trial and error, and clearly are not and have not been the same in all places and all times. From this simple observation, we can surmise that if there is a "true" moral system, it is not or has not been known and practiced by all cultures, which raises the question how a "true" moral system could be discovered or known. Outside of the creation of a God who hands down edicts, I find no compelling arguments for the rightness or wrongness of any particular principle; a precept is right or wrong merely because we say so. (Or because God says so.)

The "flaw" in moral relativism is that it offers no solution to the problem of discovering moral principles; one cannot deduce a "true" system of moral law beginning with the premise that no such system exists. However, if the premise IS correct, it is pointless to pursue a discussion of moral systems without acknowledging the cultural or religious basis of the systems being advocated.

Moral relativism has the possible benefit of promoting more tolerance between cultures, as well as less resistance to evolving changes within them. An open, tolerant mind can adapt to changing ideas on issues like slavery, child labor, women's rights, and gay rights far more readily than one which is schooled in a system of absolute morality "deduced" by logic or handed down by God.

I object most strongly to the claim that moral relativity means anything goes; each of us comes from a culture or blend of cultures from which we derive our ideas of moral behavior, and upon which the laws of our nations are based. Regardless of our individual beliefs, these laws impose punishments for disregarding commonly accepted morality, and we defy them at our peril, and only to the extent our personal courage and/or convictions allow. Defiance is seldom carried out on a whim.
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rufio
 
  1  
Reply Sun 16 May, 2004 12:02 am
Joe, there is a difference between the underlying reasons and the surface morality. Surface morality differs from person to person. culture to culture, etc. No one has quite the same surface morality, I'd wager to say. But the underlying reasons that everyone has for their unique surface morality are all the same. This is why surface morality differs more between people brought up in different environment, who equate different surface actions and beliefs with different underlying reasons.

I met a guy once who said he was a conservative. I am liberal, so I ended up having a lot of debates with him over various politics. The funny thing was, we tended to agree, once we got around the issues and got down to what was important about the matter. Finally, I got to asking him - how do you define conservative? He said he just supported the people who are "conservative" with money and who let people act on their own free will as long as they don't harm others. Well, ****, that's pretty similar to how I define liberal. The surface effects can be totally opposite, and the underlying ones identical.

Another thing, about the abortion debate. The question is not one of underlying morals, it is of surface definition. No pro-choicer would kill a living baby and no pro-lifer would rule that womens' uterouses should be the private property of their husbands. It's all about how one defines a fetus.
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Sun 16 May, 2004 01:01 am
Greyfan wrote:
I think of moral relativism not as a system of morality to be subscribed to or defended, but rather as the most accurate description of reality we have.

If we are attempting to describe a real moral system, and moral relativism is not a system of morality, then how can it be an accurate description of reality

Greyfan wrote:
Outside of the creation of a God who hands down edicts, I find no compelling arguments for the rightness or wrongness of any particular principle; a precept is right or wrong merely because we say so. (Or because God says so.)

And what if I say you're wrong?

Greyfan wrote:
The "flaw" in moral relativism is that it offers no solution to the problem of discovering moral principles; one cannot deduce a "true" system of moral law beginning with the premise that no such system exists.

Very well put.

Greyfan wrote:
Moral relativism has the possible benefit of promoting more tolerance between cultures, as well as less resistance to evolving changes within them. An open, tolerant mind can adapt to changing ideas on issues like slavery, child labor, women's rights, and gay rights far more readily than one which is schooled in a system of absolute morality "deduced" by logic or handed down by God.

How can moral relativism promote tolerance if tolerance is not an objective standard of morality?

Greyfan wrote:
I object most strongly to the claim that moral relativity means anything goes...

But this sets up an objective standard. For the moral relativist, not only does "everything go," but everything must go.
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Sun 16 May, 2004 01:09 am
rufio wrote:
Joe, there is a difference between the underlying reasons and the surface morality. Surface morality differs from person to person. culture to culture, etc. No one has quite the same surface morality, I'd wager to say. But the underlying reasons that everyone has for their unique surface morality are all the same.

How do you know that?

rufio wrote:
Another thing, about the abortion debate. The question is not one of underlying morals, it is of surface definition. No pro-choicer would kill a living baby and no pro-lifer would rule that womens' uterouses should be the private property of their husbands. It's all about how one defines a fetus.

Just as the debate about "theft" is all about how one defines "property." Most debates are carried on at the definitional level. But since definitions are fundamental, it can hardly be said that such debates are over "surface effects."
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BoGoWo
 
  1  
Reply Sun 16 May, 2004 08:04 am
these concepts could prove useful in assessing the 'mess' in Iraq;

it seems that the American (U.S.) psyche cannot get it's head around the fact that "perhaps the Iraqis don't want a democracy?".

and perhaps this is less amazing, judging by the 'example' they are being 'hammered' with!

Changes in moral 'direction' cannot happen overnight, they take time, and 'grooming'; and the instigator must always be considerate of the possibility that 'their own moral direction' is "wrong"! [or at least, not ecumenical.]
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JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Sun 16 May, 2004 10:54 am
Rufio, I think your notion of surface morality (as opposed, I assume, to some kind of deep morality) is insightful and suggestive for further investigation. Surface morality does not require a rigid definition at this stage. Definitions, unless they are working definitions--initial orienting or sensitizing instruments--may actually be the goal of investigation. To finally come to an understanding of something is to finally be able to define it (more or less "definitively, as it were). There is nothing superficial or "surfacy" about your notion of a superficial or surface level of moral attitude or belief.
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rufio
 
  1  
Reply Sun 16 May, 2004 02:29 pm
Joe, definitions are semantics. It's the glue we apply to reality in order to stick our deeper convictions on it, because reality doesn't HAVE any meaning until we stick it on.

And theft is about how one defines property. There's generally less dispute there, because laws define it, not individuals. But still, look at the intellectual property dispute.

JL - Smile
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Sun 16 May, 2004 09:07 pm
rufio wrote:
Joe, definitions are semantics. It's the glue we apply to reality in order to stick our deeper convictions on it, because reality doesn't HAVE any meaning until we stick it on.

It's always a special treat when someone defends semantic laxity by proclaiming "it's all semantics." That kind of rich meta-irony is seldom encountered these days.
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rufio
 
  1  
Reply Mon 17 May, 2004 01:16 am
Can you give an example of a definition that somehow trancends superficial semantics?
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Neoquixote
 
  1  
Reply Mon 17 May, 2004 06:31 am
Greyfan wrote:
......Ethical and moral systems have evolved, through trial and error, and clearly are not and have not been the same in all places and all times. From this simple observation, we can surmise that if there is a "true" moral system, it is not or has not been known and practiced by all cultures, which raises the question how a "true" moral system could be discovered or known. Outside of the creation of a God who hands down edicts, I find no compelling arguments for the rightness or wrongness of any particular principle; a precept is right or wrong merely because we say so. (Or because God says so.)

The "flaw" in moral relativism is that it offers no solution to the problem of discovering moral principles; one cannot deduce a "true" system of moral law beginning with the premise that no such system exists. However, if the premise IS correct, it is pointless to pursue a discussion of moral systems without acknowledging the cultural or religious basis of the systems being advocated.

Moral relativism has the possible benefit of promoting more tolerance between cultures, as well as less resistance to evolving changes within them. An open, tolerant mind can adapt to changing ideas on issues like slavery, child labor, women's rights, and gay rights far more readily than one which is schooled in a system of absolute morality "deduced" by logic or handed down by God.

I object most strongly to the claim that moral relativity means anything goes; each of us comes from a culture or blend of cultures from which we derive our ideas of moral behavior, and upon which the laws of our nations are based. .......

nice job, i admire your argumentation
In essence, morals are set up to regulate people's behavior so there would be some advantage either to the person who follows this moral or to the group the follower belongs to. I suppose moral relativism didn't rise until last century, which is relative late in human history, because in the past, the most disastrous pressure on human life came form the out, say the natural environment, therefore the society need such kind of morals that if people follow them, the society as a whole would get most of the benefits for improved power against the natural or enemies out of the society. When it comes to the time when moral relativism emerged, i think it was last century in america, there were little pressure from the nature and seldom agencies out of America could cast threat on people live in this society. Thus the most negative factors for individual development cames from the competitors in the same society, so traditional morals lost their ground, and moral relativism rose to allow people chose their own moral forms to benefit only themselves.
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Mon 17 May, 2004 06:35 am
rufio wrote:
Can you give an example of a definition that somehow trancends superficial semantics?

Your definition of "superficial semantics."
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