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

 
 
JLNobody
 
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Reply Wed 2 Jun, 2004 12:22 am
O.K.
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joefromchicago
 
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Reply Wed 2 Jun, 2004 08:36 am
JLN: How can you talk of "moral obligation" if you believe that all morality is fundamentally social and based on guilt? Wouldn't that more accurately be termed a psychological compulsion rather than a moral obligation?
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JLNobody
 
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Reply Wed 2 Jun, 2004 09:28 am
Joe, it seems to me that the "moral obligation" has to do with compliance with norms of the culture and obedience to the moral authorities (internalized norms) of society. Subjective "psychological compulsion" is the internalization of objective "social compulsion." Both are usually felt by people to be reflections of objective moral principles, often, but not always, with supernatural sanction. This does not, of course, make it so, philosophically speaking. I can understand why morality was a philosophical concern in the days of, say, Aristotle (.e.g., the study of The Good), but I can't see why it is not now just turned over to the social sciences.
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Ibn kumuna
 
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Reply Wed 2 Jun, 2004 04:21 pm
I wanted to know what you all thought about Ayn Rand and her "objective" ethics.

--Ibn
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rufio
 
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Reply Wed 2 Jun, 2004 05:56 pm
Ayn Rand's objectivism doesn't really have anything to do with moral relativism. Start another thread.
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rufio
 
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Reply Wed 2 Jun, 2004 05:59 pm
Why can't post without posting again?
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joefromchicago
 
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Reply Wed 2 Jun, 2004 07:59 pm
JLNobody wrote:
Joe, it seems to me that the "moral obligation" has to do with compliance with norms of the culture and obedience to the moral authorities (internalized norms) of society.

Then your use of the term "obligation" is, to say the least, confusing. If "moral obligation" is, in fact, a type of social conformance, then any notion of "obligation" is strictly psychological, not moral. It is, in other words, an obligation that the psyche imposes upon itself. One might be psychologically compelled to act in a certain fashion that, outwardly, passes for "moral" behavior, but there can be no notion of "obligation" in the sense of obeying an externally imposed system of morality.
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joefromchicago
 
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Reply Wed 2 Jun, 2004 08:02 pm
Ibn_kumuna wrote:
I wanted to know what you all thought about Ayn Rand and her "objective" ethics.

--Ibn

I think there are similarities between Randian "objectivism" and moral relativism. But to narrow the focus and attract more attention to this interesting subject, I'd encourage you to start a new thread.
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JLNobody
 
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Reply Wed 2 Jun, 2004 08:30 pm
That's right, Joe. I don't think of moral compliance as a simple dispassionate obedience with external (non-internalized) norms. I think of it as a more deeply motivated urge/drive to behave in a manner that promotes "ego euphonia" (self esteem based on a sense of personal value or virtue) and the avoidance of "ego dysphonia" (guilt and/or shame). Morality is much more psychological than is law. We can break the law with emotional impunity much more easily than we can transgress internalized morals. And if morals are not internalized they are easily ignored, except when our moral audience is watching (then it is shame rather than guilt that is evaded).
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joefromchicago
 
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Reply Thu 3 Jun, 2004 08:31 am
JLN: What you suggest isn't even moral relativism -- it's amoral absolutism.

Permit me to propose a hypothetical to see where your position leads us. Let's say that a person, the ubiquitous X, has a highly developed internalized belief system that holds that theft is immoral. Yet X is also in desperate need of money. One day X happens upon a suitcase that is filled with $100,000. Now, it is clear to X that the suitcase (and its contents) belong to someone else, and that taking the money would be theft. But X's need is so great that he will, without question, be able to formulate some sort of justification that will reconcile this isolated act of thievery with his overall belief system, such that there will, in the end, be no psychological conflict. In other words, through rationalization, X will be able to reach a point where there is no contradiction within his internalized belief system between his condemnation of theft in general and his approval of this theft in particular.

X, having resolved this internal conflict, steals the money.

Now, the question: did X act immorally?
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JLNobody
 
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Reply Thu 3 Jun, 2004 11:59 am
Nice, Joe. Yes X did act "immorally" by his own understanding. That is why he had to rationalize the act; in doing so he tried to convince himself that he did not violate his own moral standards. Now you ask me if he in fact violated an OBJECTIVE and absolute moral precept. I say he violated his internalized standards which he obtained from others who obtained them from others, etc. etc. He violated moral precepts according to anyone in his society, well most everyone in his moral community. I might not think it was immoral, in terms of situational ethics. The "theft" might have saved his children from starvation, but inconvenienced a billionaire who could have done quite well without it. Absolute morality, apart from learned constructed social understandings which need to be fitted to concrete situations? Bah!
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cicerone imposter
 
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Reply Thu 3 Jun, 2004 12:25 pm
Stealing bread from a billionaire is still wrong in every case. Why not just ask the billionaire for food?
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joefromchicago
 
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Reply Thu 3 Jun, 2004 12:51 pm
JLNobody wrote:
Nice, Joe. Yes X did act "immorally" by his own understanding.

How can you assert that? After all, according to you, morality is entirely internal -- a matter of guilt and shame and nothing more. Thus, if X did not feel either guilt or shame, how can his act be considered in any way "immoral"?

JLNobody wrote:
That is why he had to rationalize the act; in doing so he tried to convince himself that he did not violate his own moral standards.

But, according to my hypothetical, X arrived at that rationalization before he stole the money. He had already internalized an exception to his general rule that allowed him to steal in that particular instance. Thus, at the moment that he acted, he was, by his own standards, not acting contrary to his own beliefs. There was no contradiction, no psychic "dysphonia." In short, there was no internal moral conflict. He stole, and he stole with a clear conscience. How can you then assert that he acted "immorally"?

JLNobody wrote:
The "theft" might have saved his children from starvation, but inconvenienced a billionaire who could have done quite well without it.

What if he stole the money in order to buy some much-needed heroin?
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JLNobody
 
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Reply Thu 3 Jun, 2004 01:54 pm
Joe, I just spent more than twenty minutes responding to you and my PC froze, causing me to lose it. So, while I can assure you that I won the argument, I must confess that God is on your side. Maybe I'll try it again, in definance of the Almighty.
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joefromchicago
 
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Reply Thu 3 Jun, 2004 02:58 pm
JLN: Don't blame God -- blame Bill Gates. Unless, of course, you equate the two.
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cicerone imposter
 
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Reply Thu 3 Jun, 2004 06:52 pm
Shocked





Laughing
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JLNobody
 
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Reply Thu 3 Jun, 2004 09:26 pm
I'm back. I was kidding; the argument was not too good. I will back down a bit. While I think that morality, insofar as it is policed by shame and guilt, is a psychological and cultural matter, I do acknowledge that some of the rules, norms, mores, etc. can exist for each individual in an "external" sense. That is to say, the individual can perceive them as rules of the social order that are held by others. And given that, his strategies of social action may take into account THEIR internalized morals because of the reactions they may have to his actions. So, an individual may act in a manner reflecting his internalized norms or in a manner taking into account the internalized norms of others. But if NOBODY has internalized a particular norm, I suspect it will either not be complied with and/or it will dissappear from the cultural inventory.
Let me post this in case my PC freezes again. I'll continue.
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JLNobody
 
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Reply Thu 3 Jun, 2004 09:41 pm
Joe, in your hypothetical you assume that X's rationalization preceded the theft--it was what they call a prefigured justification. Fine. It's your hypothetical case. But I was assuming an individual who out of need stole contrary to his moral values. He stole because he and/or his kids had to eat. (and C.I., maybe he asked everyone and no-one would help him Cool) . He would perhaps then draw upon his cultural normative inventory a rule that would justify or at least soften the negative value of his act. Cultural systems are complex systems. They contain many rules, some of which are contradictory, giving the individual many opportunities to choose, to rationalize, and to recombine elements resulting sometimes--if others pick up on his innovation--in culture change. In fact it's probably one of the reasons that the more complex the culture of a society the more prone it is to change (and at a faster rate), while the simpler cultures are more likely to change more slowly, the so-called "traditional" societies. The individual's rationalization may be to alleviate the dysphonia resulting from guilt or from the shame resulting from social disapproval. In any case, morality consists of rules that must be seen in the light of individual consciousness, of individuals coping with internalized standards and with the potential responses of others. Morals are in people's heads, so to speak. The fact that I am concerned with what's in another person's head means, perhaps, that the norms are inter-subjective. But nevertheless they are ultimately subjective, essentially ambiguous, involving degrees of internalization and ambivalence. etc. etc.
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cicerone imposter
 
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Reply Thu 3 Jun, 2004 09:46 pm
JLN, I would never believe that nobody would help anybody that is trying to feed their kids. I truly believe there are many good people on this planet, both rich and poor, that would help anybody in need.
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JLNobody
 
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Reply Thu 3 Jun, 2004 09:50 pm
Oh, and if X stole in order to buy dope, I would condemn him. But I would do so with respect to norms in my head. And I might be ambivalent in my condemnation for a number of possible psychological reasons. I forgot what our point of disagreement was. I acknowledge a public aspect to morality. It is a system of norms held within a society. But I do believe that the system is distributed unevenly across the population of social members. Not everyone has the same pattern of internalized norms, even though every member knows of the normative inventory (its public aspect). In other words its reality lies in the subjective role it plays in guiding and motivating individual behavior. The exception is the psychopath.
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