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

 
 
BoGoWo
 
  1  
Reply Tue 18 May, 2004 10:12 am
to use the most hackneyed of vernacular 'prattle':

the buck stops here! :wink:

in a 'free' country, you are only 'free' to be 'responsible', in whatever manner you deem as 'correct'!
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Relative
 
  1  
Reply Tue 18 May, 2004 10:14 am
JLNobody : there is also the inter-family moral relativism, which is especially important for neighbour relations. Last time that me and my father threw a party...

Relative
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JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Tue 18 May, 2004 10:31 am
Yes, Relative. It's a fine point, but the difference is not only between societies and individuals; there is also the difference between sub-groupings within societies (e.g., clans, parties, families, gangs, etc. etc.).
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Relative
 
  1  
Reply Tue 18 May, 2004 10:34 am
JL : exactly that was my point : 'society' is a fractal structure, down to the units within us.
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JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Tue 18 May, 2004 06:25 pm
Indubitably.
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Greyfan
 
  1  
Reply Wed 19 May, 2004 03:22 pm
joefromchicage wrote:

Quote:
Upon what evidence do you base this assertion?


Perhaps I misunderstood your point. I took your meaning to be that a "real" moral system can be found in reality, or else it isn't "real". If this is the case, it seems to me that the claim I am making, that moral systems are not "real", in the sense that they are not rooted in absolute principles that are independent of culture, is self-evident. If, on the other hand, you meant that it is not a real system of morality because it is not a system of morality, then I guess I would have to agree. But it still strikes me as an accurate description of reality, at least more accurate than any other system of morality.

Quote:
Since you already deny the existence of systems of morality, I would imagine that you have already decided that any basis is arbitrary.


I haven't denied the existence of systems of morality. There are many. But I do believe the basis of all of them is arbitrary. If this is not the case, a single example would work wonders.

Quote:
I think you're far too optimistic. As long as tolerance is not accepted as an objective moral standard, people are free to practice intolerance with moral impunity.


That may very well be true. On the other hand, if tolerance is an objective moral standard, doesn't it -tolerance- contradict nearly every other objective moral standard? If we know what constitutes "correct" behavior, why be tolerant?

Quote:
If morality is culturally based, then there is an obligation on the part of the culture's members to adhere to that morality. That's not descriptive, it's prescriptive (at least for members of that society). And that, in turn, is an objective standard of morality.


Members of a given society have an inclination to adhere to the morality of their culture, but, obviously, some (criminals) will defy it regardless of their perception of its mutability, even if they think the rules were handed down by God, with the numbers growing in times of social change. "Objective" standards are overthrown with regularity. Perception of objectivity does not equate with objectivity; what moral relativity is describing here is not what people believe, but what is actually the case.
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Wed 19 May, 2004 08:20 pm
Greyfan wrote:
Perhaps I misunderstood your point. I took your meaning to be that a "real" moral system can be found in reality, or else it isn't "real". If this is the case, it seems to me that the claim I am making, that moral systems are not "real", in the sense that they are not rooted in absolute principles that are independent of culture, is self-evident. If, on the other hand, you meant that it is not a real system of morality because it is not a system of morality, then I guess I would have to agree. But it still strikes me as an accurate description of reality, at least more accurate than any other system of morality.

I would contend that systems of morality are "real" to the same extent that customs are real, traditions are real, rules of etiquette are real, and rules of thumb are real. If you are insisting upon some sort of physical existence, then, of course, none of these is "real."

Greyfan wrote:
I haven't denied the existence of systems of morality. There are many. But I do believe the basis of all of them is arbitrary. If this is not the case, a single example would work wonders.

You had said previously: "...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.)" To which I replied: "What if I say you're wrong." In response, you asked me to identify one system of morality that wasn't arbitrary. Very well: your system.

After all, you've already admitted to an objective standard of right and wrong (or, more accurately, correctness and incorrectness): otherwise, you wouldn't have asked for proof that you were wrong. And if one can be objectively correct regarding a fact, presumably one can be objectively correct regarding morality. If, however, that's not the case, then you need to explain how one can be objectively correct about some things but not objectively correct regarding morality.

Greyfan wrote:
That may very well be true. On the other hand, if tolerance is an objective moral standard, doesn't it -tolerance- contradict nearly every other objective moral standard? If we know what constitutes "correct" behavior, why be tolerant?

If "toleration" is a higher-order good than something else, then toleration is morally preferred. For instance, if I have a duty to denounce lies, but I have a higher-order duty to tolerate liars in certain circumstances, then there I am being morally consistent by not denouncing a lie in that circumstance.

Greyfan wrote:
Members of a given society have an inclination to adhere to the morality of their culture, but, obviously, some (criminals) will defy it regardless of their perception of its mutability, even if they think the rules were handed down by God, with the numbers growing in times of social change. "Objective" standards are overthrown with regularity. Perception of objectivity does not equate with objectivity; what moral relativity is describing here is not what people believe, but what is actually the case.

But that's not philosophy. What you're describing is, at best, sociology. The moral relativist doesn't merely say "this is what is done" but rather states "this is what should be done." Moral relativism is, at its core, prescriptive, not descriptive.
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cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Wed 19 May, 2004 08:35 pm
You guys are going too deep into this subject. It's really very simple. Treat all living things with respect and dignity. All else falls into place.
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JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Wed 19 May, 2004 09:35 pm
Aw, come on C.I. that's no fun. Go be grown up somewhere else. Let them play in the mud.
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ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Wed 19 May, 2004 10:07 pm
Always the learner here.

mmm, lend me the post to lean on............. oh, thank you.
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Neoquixote
 
  1  
Reply Thu 20 May, 2004 12:52 am
cicerone imposter wrote:
You guys are going too deep into this subject. It's really very simple. Treat all living things with respect and dignity. All else falls into place.

according to relativism, this is your way to resolve the disputation, and there are some ways else. Smile
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Greyfan
 
  1  
Reply Thu 20 May, 2004 06:17 am
Quote:
I would contend that systems of morality are "real" to the same extent that customs are real, traditions are real, rules of etiquette are real, and rules of thumb are real. If you are insisting upon some sort of physical existence, then, of course, none of these is "real."


None of them are "real". All have the same basis, with the possible exception of rules of thumb. Morality, customs, traditions, and rules of etiquette are established by tradition, and cannot be established other than by common agreement that they are "true". Which, in the sense of having a physical reality, they are not; and because they are not "real", principles of morality (or custom, or tradition, or etiquette) become impossible to establish except by common agreement.

Quote:
You had said previously: "...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.)" To which I replied: "What if I say you're wrong." In response, you asked me to identify one system of morality that wasn't arbitrary. Very well: your system.


Except my system is not a system. As I said (and you agreed), moral relativity offers no means within itself by which a moral system may be evaluated.

Quote:
After all, you've already admitted to an objective standard of right and wrong (or, more accurately, correctness and incorrectness): otherwise, you wouldn't have asked for proof that you were wrong. And if one can be objectively correct regarding a fact, presumably one can be objectively correct regarding morality. If, however, that's not the case, then you need to explain how one can be objectively correct about some things but not objectively correct regarding morality.


I agree there are objective standards in many disciplines. I don't happen to think morality is one of them. If you can establish an objective standard for a moral principle, then I am wrong. But I don't think you can do it. And I don't believe it is incumbent upon me to establish that moral laws should have the same footing as physical laws when its clear to me they don't.

Quote:
If "toleration" is a higher-order good than something else, then toleration is morally preferred. For instance, if I have a duty to denounce lies, but I have a higher-order duty to tolerate liars in certain circumstances, then there I am being morally consistent by not denouncing a lie in that circumstance.


This sounds like situational ethics to me, but also something of a corruption of the concept of tolerance. How would you state your principle of tolerance so that an ordinary citizen would know when to apply it, and when not to?

Quote:
But that's not philosophy. What you're describing is, at best, sociology.


This is really the heart of the matter. For those who accept the concept of moral relativity, philosophy needs to take a back seat, because sociology and anthropology are more relevant.

Quote:
The moral relativist doesn't merely say "this is what is done" but rather states "this is what should be done." Moral relativism is, at its core, prescriptive, not descriptive.


I have no clue what should be done; and, in spite of centuries of philosophical systems that claim otherwise, neither does anyone else, at least in terms of establishing an objective system. We have moral guidelines established through trial and error, by custom, and by tradition; and, in a world which is becoming more unified, some movement toward a unified code, which, like all the disparate codes it may come to replace, will be arbitrary, based on the needs and perceptions of the people who follow it, and subject to change as conditions and fashions change. Philosophers are merely the tail trying to wag the dog, along with religious leaders, politicians, and social activists, but the beast will defy all attempts at finality, just as hidebound conservatives will resist all attempts to assert that it is not already finalized.



---as my schedule will preclude spending much time here for the next two or three weeks, I cede the final reply to you, joe, unless someone else wishes to take up the cause in my stead. I've enjoyed our exchanges. Although I'm sure no opinions have been changed, no one have been hurt by the process either.

---Although apparently some of the other natives are a little restless...I'm hopping down from the soapbox now.
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Thu 20 May, 2004 08:25 am
Greyfan wrote:
I agree there are objective standards in many disciplines. I don't happen to think morality is one of them. If you can establish an objective standard for a moral principle, then I am wrong. But I don't think you can do it.

Why not?

Greyfan wrote:
And I don't believe it is incumbent upon me to establish that moral laws should have the same footing as physical laws when its clear to me they don't.

It is only incumbent upon you to explain why it is "clear" that moral laws cannot be objective. Absent an explanation, your assertion is a mere ipse dixit.

Greyfan wrote:
This sounds like situational ethics to me, but also something of a corruption of the concept of tolerance. How would you state your principle of tolerance so that an ordinary citizen would know when to apply it, and when not to?

It would not be situational ethics if the relevant parameters were more fully laid out (something that is impossible to do in the space of a single post). For instance, I may hold that lying, in general, is immoral, but may allow that, in certain circumstances, it is acceptable because lying would serve a higher-order good. Thus, I may not lie to get out of a bad bargain, but I may lie to save someone's life.

As for the ordinary citizens, I am largely unconcerned with how they learn about morality: that is, for the most part, a practical matter, not a philosophical one.

Greyfan wrote:
I have no clue what should be done; and, in spite of centuries of philosophical systems that claim otherwise, neither does anyone else, at least in terms of establishing an objective system.

The moral relativists would disagree. That has been my point all along.

Greyfan wrote:
---as my schedule will preclude spending much time here for the next two or three weeks, I cede the final reply to you, joe, unless someone else wishes to take up the cause in my stead. I've enjoyed our exchanges. Although I'm sure no opinions have been changed, no one have been hurt by the process either.

As you think that morality is more a matter of sociology than philosophy, I think our discussion is at an end.
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JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Thu 20 May, 2004 11:32 am
Joe, I think you put your finger on the central problem--indeed an impasse--between you and Greyfan (and myself for that matter). I agree with Greyfan that this is a sociological (or anthropological) matter. Morality has to do with behavior. This includes both the way people comply with, rebel against, or modify their societies' moral codes, and the very historical development and institutionalization of those codes. It's all behavior. This is the foundation of all moral action, and such action is always situationally constrained. The problem seems to rest on the fact that rules are general while the situations in which they take their reality are particular. There's a natural tension here. Two individuals can interpret a moral rule differently and they can elect to apply competing moral rules to the same situation. Indeed, they can interpret the situations differently as well. The reality is practical, not philosophical in any absolute sense. Moral laws do not exist in a platonic sphere of absolute objective existence; they exist by virtue of human construction and utilization. If they were not humanly constructed, they would not exist, and if humans ceased to orient their action in terms of them, they would disappear from the human scene. It is all practical and dynamic, a living process full of ambiguities and movement. A "puristic" philosophical approach that treats them as absolute entities suffers from rigour mortis.
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Ibn kumuna
 
  1  
Reply Thu 20 May, 2004 06:25 pm
Reply
Salaam Alaikum!

"Moral laws do not exist in a platonic sphere of absolute objective existence; they exist by virtue of human construction and utilization."

So far, this is the best explanation I've seen written! I would like to add further that, morals only exist due to human construction. For, reality is shaped by where we "sit in life. Sadly, most arguments against this view are argued on the character of sensibilities--not reason. If humans did not exist, who could constitute right or wrong, and how? When and where does something become essentially "evil" or "immoral?"

--Ibn (yes, I'm Muslim)
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cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Thu 20 May, 2004 06:49 pm
Moral codes are imposed by the society in which we live. We can observe the extremes in human history, and attempt to evaluate very subjectively what seems to work best and worst in human moral imperatives. The difficulty is in attempting to remove our preconceived ideas to work with a blank page. The law of the jungle works for many animals. Maybe that would be a good starting point.
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Fri 21 May, 2004 08:36 am
JLNobody wrote:
Moral laws do not exist in a platonic sphere of absolute objective existence; they exist by virtue of human construction and utilization. If they were not humanly constructed, they would not exist, and if humans ceased to orient their action in terms of them, they would disappear from the human scene. It is all practical and dynamic, a living process full of ambiguities and movement. A "puristic" philosophical approach that treats them as absolute entities suffers from rigour mortis.

This may be a good opportunity to dispell some misconceptions about objective morality (although I use JLN's remarks as a starting-point, my comments should be understood as general observations, not necessarily related to JLN's posts).

1. Moral absolutes are "Platonic forms": I'm not sure how this notion got started, but it's simply not true. A moral absolute (e.g. "lying is wrong") can be the result of a number of different methods of analysis (e.g. the categorical imperative, the command of a deity, utilitarian calculus, etc.), but a moral absolute itself has no more "existence" than the number 5. On the other hand, it is "real" in the same way that the number 5 is real, or that ideas are real, or that emotions are real.

2. Moral absolutes entail moral "absolutism": There really should be no need to address this kind of strawman argument, but it's clear from some of the posts here that it needs to be mentioned. Maintaining that morality rests on at least some objective principles does not make every person who believes in such moral objectivity a moral "dictator." Just because, for instance, one might maintain that lying is wrong does not necessarily mean that one is obliged to punish severely all liars. Spare us, then, the references to terrorists, the Spanish Inquisition, police states, etc.

3. Objective morality denies the human foundation of morality: Again, there really should be no need to address this kind of misguided argument. I'll simply state, then, that morality cannot be divorced from society. A totally isolated person has no need of morality, not even a wholly personal one.

4. Objective morality denies the possibility of change: That is true only if the moral code has no mechanism for change. For instance, a moral code that holds God commanded men to tell the truth admits only one possible mechanism for change: God reconsidering his position. On the other hand, a moral code that permitted humankind to reconsider its position (e.g. based on the accumulation of new facts or the invention of new technologies) would also permit a change in the moral code.

5. Objective morality insists that all morals be objective: This is the strawman argument used most by the moral relativists. Yet it is clear that objective morality can recognize, and respect, different moralities across cultures, or even individuals. For example (as I have explained earlier), if a moral code holds that tolerance for others is moral, then other forms of morality can exist under that one moral absolute. Objective morality does not rest upon the premise that all morality is absolute, it only recognizes that some morality must be absolute.
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Neoquixote
 
  1  
Reply Sun 23 May, 2004 02:23 am
joefromchicago wrote:
"]Joe,

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.

Joe, i suppose you have mad the most systematic and logically consistent argument on this topic here, and i admire the rigor of your ratiocination and your precise enunciation. But any way, i got a bug in your argument.
if we agree your foregoing statement that a belief unrelated to conduct is not a moral belief, we can resolve the paradox you got in your previous argument by regarding moral relativism as only such kind of belief. thus moral relativism can work well without being rebuked as an objective moral principle that contradicts with itself.



.
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Neoquixote
 
  1  
Reply Sun 23 May, 2004 03:20 am
rufio wrote:
Greyfan, that's all very well - but where is the natural selection proccess that roots out bad morality? How is it rooted out? If a culture comes up with a less-than-perfect morality, how does it evolve, exactly? Sure, they change, but it is not neccessarily an "evolution"..

rufio :
evolution does not select for the best, but select against the worst. In organismical evolution, only those traits that are vitally harmful would be eliminated by virtue of losing the opportunity to be transmitted to later generations, and the rest would be inherited for ever unless they cast some significant negative influence to the possessor of such traits.
therefore, a culture with a less-than-perfect morality could come up by chance---just as the way new genes come up in organisms by random mutation---and until such culture become vitally harmful, it would not disappear.
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Neoquixote
 
  1  
Reply Sun 23 May, 2004 03:27 am
rufio wrote:
The point is that property is NOT defined, at least not universally.


I suppose even the thief himself knows that to steal is morally incorrect. if they don't think so, they would try to persuade the legislators to legalize the behavior of theft.
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