A Critique on Objective Morality

Should you think about your duty, or about the consequences of your actions? Or should you concentrate on becoming a good person?

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Immanuel Can
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Re: A Critique on Objective Morality

Post by Immanuel Can » Mon Oct 24, 2016 6:21 pm

Gary Childress wrote:When you say "it is subject/relative to historical, cultural and familial particlars" is that to say that one set of morals practiced by one historial, cultural or familial group is just as good as any other? Or that there is/can be no universal morality (or "code of conduct" as you phrase it)?
Very good question, Gary.

You've given us a few really good pieces of the "Ethics" puzzle. Namely, that whatever it is, it's got to:

1. Be between a plurality of persons or agents, and hence, not a merely solipsistic concern.

2. Be able to adjudicate between cultures or ideologies that value different things.

To which we might add,

3. It's redundant if it only involves rationalizing what we do already, rather than what we "ought" to do instead.

Now, of course people can always argue about what that "ought" might be, but absent ANY "oughtness," we have, perhaps, sociological description but no prescription, and hence, no field of study anyone can reasonably call Ethics. So some kind of "oughtness," that is, a stipulation to act in a way different from mere personal inclination, is essential as well.

To illustrate, there has never been a commandment or Ethics precept that goes, "Thou shalt collect thy winnings from gambling." The reason for that is probably twofold: firstly, if you don't do it, you're the only one who will suffer, and secondly, everybody is strongly inclined to do it anyway. So that precept is Ethically unnecessary.

In contrast, the reason we have a precept like "Thou shalt not kill" is precisely because although it is not an attractive act, there are plenty of circumstances under which people have been inclined to do it.

In short, we need no Ethics for things we already naturally want to do; we need it only for things that are not (in some yet-to-be-defined sense) "good," but that (some) people still want to do (like murder or theft) -- or, on the other hand, for things they are inclined NOT to do, but which we believe they ought to do anyway (say, charity or longsuffering).

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Gary Childress
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Re: A Critique on Objective Morality

Post by Gary Childress » Mon Oct 24, 2016 7:39 pm

Immanuel Can wrote:
Gary Childress wrote:When you say "it is subject/relative to historical, cultural and familial particlars" is that to say that one set of morals practiced by one historial, cultural or familial group is just as good as any other? Or that there is/can be no universal morality (or "code of conduct" as you phrase it)?
Very good question, Gary.

You've given us a few really good pieces of the "Ethics" puzzle. Namely, that whatever it is, it's got to:

1. Be between a plurality of persons or agents, and hence, not a merely solipsistic concern.

2. Be able to adjudicate between cultures or ideologies that value different things.

To which we might add,

3. It's redundant if it only involves rationalizing what we do already, rather than what we "ought" to do instead.

Now, of course people can always argue about what that "ought" might be, but absent ANY "oughtness," we have, perhaps, sociological description but no prescription, and hence, no field of study anyone can reasonably call Ethics. So some kind of "oughtness," that is, a stipulation to act in a way different from mere personal inclination, is essential as well.

To illustrate, there has never been a commandment or Ethics precept that goes, "Thou shalt collect thy winnings from gambling." The reason for that is probably twofold: firstly, if you don't do it, you're the only one who will suffer, and secondly, everybody is strongly inclined to do it anyway. So that precept is Ethically unnecessary.

In contrast, the reason we have a precept like "Thou shalt not kill" is precisely because although it is not an attractive act, there are plenty of circumstances under which people have been inclined to do it.

In short, we need no Ethics for things we already naturally want to do; we need it only for things that are not (in some yet-to-be-defined sense) "good," but that (some) people still want to do (like murder or theft) -- or, on the other hand, for things they are inclined NOT to do, but which we believe they ought to do anyway (say, charity or longsuffering).
Thank you Immanuel Can! I hadn't thought of the aspect concerning "redundancy" but that's a really good point.

I often get overwhelmed by all the different terms and labels applied in philosophy. But when it comes down to it I think your 3 points above pretty much capture much of the essence of Ethics/Morality (or whatever) as I have perceived it and in a very straighforward no-nonsense way. Very well stated.

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Immanuel Can
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Re: A Critique on Objective Morality

Post by Immanuel Can » Mon Oct 24, 2016 9:44 pm

Gary Childress wrote:Thank you Immanuel Can! I hadn't thought of the aspect concerning "redundancy" but that's a really good point.

I often get overwhelmed by all the different terms and labels applied in philosophy. But when it comes down to it I think your 3 points above pretty much capture much of the essence of Ethics/Morality (or whatever) as I have perceived it and in a very straighforward no-nonsense way. Very well stated.
You're welcome, Gary. I appreciate your clear thinking on this.

I'm always amazed how often I hear people say something to the effect of, "Well what's 'ethical' is relative: everybody has a different opinion, and nobody is more right than anybody else."

Of course, if that were true there would BE no Ethics: what would be the point? To say, "It's ethical for me to...X," would simply be redundant with the statement, "I want to do....X," and the latter would actually be more precise than the former! Moreover, as you rightly point out, there would be no possible way to pass any ethical assessment if it crossed cultural, or even personal barriers. That would seem to render Ethics entirely useless; it would actually describe nothing in particular at all.

The dark side of a world without Ethics should be apparent to anyone, though. I think it's a luxury of wealthy Westerners, whose desires and "rights" are already protected by a healthy central government and its associated agencies, to imagine that life under absolute ethical relativism would be desirable -- or even possible. People who've lived under predatory and exploitative regimes, or been in places with no effective government at all, know better.

I'm interested to see where your line of inquiry takes us next. Roll on.

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Hobbes' Choice
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Re: A Critique on Objective Morality

Post by Hobbes' Choice » Mon Oct 24, 2016 10:57 pm

Gary Childress wrote:
Hobbes' Choice wrote:
Gary Childress wrote:
For starters what exactly is "subjective" morality? Morality is something that occurs between more than one person. Inwardly I may think that I "ought" to be king of the universe, does that mean it's "moral" in my "subjective" world or whatever that I be king of the universe? Is doing what we can "get away with" "moral" or is that more like "amoral" or "immoral"? Apologies if I am misunderstanding your response.
What is 'subjective morality"?
Listen buddy - its your phrase not mine!! :D
Yes morality requires more than one person, but "IT" cannot exist between them. It has to reside as an idea within us.
I don't know where "in" or "outside" of us plays in the realm of ideas in a "physical" world. I suppose all ideas are in a sense "within" us. I apologize if maybe I'm misunderstanding what is meant by moral "objectivity" and "subjectivity". I thought moral "objectivity" meant a morality that is universally applicable to all individuals, groups or cultures as opposed to the notion that morality is relative to a particular individual, group or culture (or what I was thinking meant "subjective"). So for example I thought a "moral subjectivist" might believe that if a particular group of people all think that X were morally acceptable, then they are no more right or wrong than a group of people who think X is not. A moral "objectivist" would think that there are universal ideals that can be applied across all individuals, cultures and groups. Maybe I'm confused in the terminology.
Can you hear yourself?
A morality that is universally applicable to all; HOW?
Says who? DO you believe in God?

The simple existence of different moral systems across cultures and across history is a simple fact, unproblematic. These systems were sustained by social relations that applied across an ever diversifying and changing social reality.

Now tell me what would sustain a universally applicable one?

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Re: A Critique on Objective Morality

Post by Hobbes' Choice » Mon Oct 24, 2016 10:58 pm

creativesoul wrote:
Hobbes' Choice wrote:
creativesoul wrote:
This totally misses the point being made.

Properly setting out what counts as being universal is subject to rules of language, which is to say that it is subject to the rules regarding what counts as being meaningful. Those rules are not the same as the ones setting out what counts as acceptable and/or unacceptable behaviour(morality).
Rubbish.
You said "I would argue in favor of universal morality, if what counts as being universal is properly set out."
What would that morality look like?
And who would make the rules?
We make the rules of morality. We do not make the rules governing what language acquisition requires. Both of those claims are true regardless of individual particulars.
"WE" - who the fuck is "we"?
It is exactly about particular and particulars change, so must morality.

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Hobbes' Choice
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Re: A Critique on Objective Morality

Post by Hobbes' Choice » Mon Oct 24, 2016 10:59 pm

Gary Childress wrote:
creativesoul wrote:We make the rules of morality.
Do we really? Can we be certain? If quantum physics is correct then many of our common sense conceptions of reality are essentially wrong. We can maybe understand the world through mathematics and numbers but outside of that it seems like we humans are pretty clueless. And morality is not something that can be derived through mathematics. I encounter morality as something imposed upon me by encountering others, not something either I or the other person "creates". When I encounter someone we seldom seem to sit down and sign a social contract or proceed to engage in a philosophical discourse beforehand. Usually the encounter is one where we are either in some agreement over morality or else we sort of slowly work things out somehow (when there is good will present between us).
If not people, then who?

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Gary Childress
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Re: A Critique on Objective Morality

Post by Gary Childress » Tue Oct 25, 2016 2:23 am

Hobbes' Choice wrote:
Gary Childress wrote:
Hobbes' Choice wrote:
What is 'subjective morality"?
Listen buddy - its your phrase not mine!! :D
Yes morality requires more than one person, but "IT" cannot exist between them. It has to reside as an idea within us.
I don't know where "in" or "outside" of us plays in the realm of ideas in a "physical" world. I suppose all ideas are in a sense "within" us. I apologize if maybe I'm misunderstanding what is meant by moral "objectivity" and "subjectivity". I thought moral "objectivity" meant a morality that is universally applicable to all individuals, groups or cultures as opposed to the notion that morality is relative to a particular individual, group or culture (or what I was thinking meant "subjective"). So for example I thought a "moral subjectivist" might believe that if a particular group of people all think that X were morally acceptable, then they are no more right or wrong than a group of people who think X is not. A moral "objectivist" would think that there are universal ideals that can be applied across all individuals, cultures and groups. Maybe I'm confused in the terminology.
Can you hear yourself?
A morality that is universally applicable to all; HOW?
Says who? DO you believe in God?

The simple existence of different moral systems across cultures and across history is a simple fact, unproblematic. These systems were sustained by social relations that applied across an ever diversifying and changing social reality.

Now tell me what would sustain a universally applicable one?
Re: God (or spirituality or whatever), I'm agnostic.

Re: a universally applicable morality, I don't see any logical barrier to developing one. The UN’s UDHR is a step in that direction. Maybe it still has kinks to work out, I don’t know. But I think most occasions (except maybe the Internet) when people come together morality comes into play and we figure out what we ought to and ought not to do eventually. If someone abducted a random sampling of peoples from all over the world and threw us all together in a large room and kept us there over time some sort of rules of conduct would emerge eventually (maybe not overnight).

I’m not sure what you mean by the statement: “The simple existence of different moral systems across cultures and across history is a simple fact, unproblematic.” Are you saying that diversity of moral systems is “unproblematic”? If so, how is it not problematic? Isn’t “diversity” in moral systems sort of like a room full of individuals all of whom disagree on how to treat each other? I think the reason we have (however many) different moral systems today is that peoples were once more isolated from each other. With innovations in transportation and communication people seem to be less and less isolated from each other. Some sort of universally applicable rules of conduct would probably be beneficial. Again, we have the UN’s UDHR moving in that direction.

To answer the question, “says who”; says whoever might be able to codify or else inspire a universal morality. When Jesus Christ came on the scene, eventually the number of people who said, “so says you” dwindled until vast populations began to listen to what he had to say; Same with the Buddha, Socrates and other “charismatic” (for lack of a better word) figures.

I’m not saying that a universal morality WILL necessarily happen. A lot of other things could happen too but it’s not something I rule out for the reasons expressed above.

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Gary Childress
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Re: A Critique on Objective Morality

Post by Gary Childress » Tue Oct 25, 2016 2:27 am

Hobbes' Choice wrote:
Gary Childress wrote:
creativesoul wrote:We make the rules of morality.
Do we really? Can we be certain? If quantum physics is correct then many of our common sense conceptions of reality are essentially wrong. We can maybe understand the world through mathematics and numbers but outside of that it seems like we humans are pretty clueless. And morality is not something that can be derived through mathematics. I encounter morality as something imposed upon me by encountering others, not something either I or the other person "creates". When I encounter someone we seldom seem to sit down and sign a social contract or proceed to engage in a philosophical discourse beforehand. Usually the encounter is one where we are either in some agreement over morality or else we sort of slowly work things out somehow (when there is good will present between us).
If not people, then who?
Maybe a god or some sort of spiritual entity? I don't know. I don't think I "make" the rules (at least not the moral ones). I just try to follow them.

RWStanding
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Re: A Critique on Objective Morality

Post by RWStanding » Tue Oct 25, 2016 7:11 am

Ethical values can be imposed on us by the plain logic of how things are.
What does it mean for something to be outside and yet connected.

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Re: A Critique on Objective Morality

Post by RWStanding » Tue Oct 25, 2016 7:14 am

Pigmentation and DNA - colour and race - are not in themselves ethical values. They are components of culture. It is the way culture is used that is an ethical matter.
Therefore the term racism is an ethical value. It stands opposed to the ambivalence of anti-racism.
Clearly enough, to categorise people by race as a form of class or caste, is consonant with the end-value of tyranny. Typically placing one 'race' above all others with little concern for how the lower orders mix. Not that tyranny or an authoritarian society need necessarily be so on the basis of race, but not doing so would make it that much more of a society with mixed or intermediate end-values.
Anti-racism signifies racial equality. But this has to be considered together with other values.
Equality as a universal value on the basis of the individual ego, would signify the end-value of anarchism. It would assume one global society, with culture seen through the individual. The eventual outcome in the loss of regional diversity, and a global pottage of culture based largely on fashion. There would be one variable race.
The alternative egalitarian end-value is altruism. In this diversity is an associated value, but essentially based on society, rather than the personal ego. Such a universal value would preserve regional or local diversity in culture and therefore by race. The individual owing loyalty and identity to - in todays terms - his national country, in harmony with other countries. Competitive harmony it may be. Then altruist would mourn a loss of black, yellow, white, brown and other identities evolved over ten thousand years.

creativesoul
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Re: A Critique on Objective Morality

Post by creativesoul » Tue Oct 25, 2016 7:58 am

Gary Childress wrote:
creativesoul wrote:Well, morality is defined in today's convention as a code of conduct. By definition it is subject/relative to historical, cultural, and familial particulars.
When you say "it is subject/relative to historical, cultural and familial particlars" is that to say that one set of morals practiced by one historial, cultural or familial group is just as good as any other? Or that there is/can be no universal morality (or "code of conduct" as you phrase it)?

Or maybe I'm just on a differnt page?
I'm not saying that all sets of morals are equally good. I'm not saying that there can be and/or is no such a thing as universal morality. I'm saying that it is universally true that all codes of conduct are relative/subject to historical, cultural, and/or familial particulars.

:mrgreen:

creativesoul
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Re: A Critique on Objective Morality

Post by creativesoul » Tue Oct 25, 2016 8:03 am

Hobbes' Choice wrote:
creativesoul wrote:
Hobbes' Choice wrote:
Rubbish.
You said "I would argue in favor of universal morality, if what counts as being universal is properly set out."
What would that morality look like?
And who would make the rules?
We make the rules of morality. We do not make the rules governing what language acquisition requires. Both of those claims are true regardless of individual particulars.
"WE" - who the fuck is "we"?
The people who decide what counts as acceptable/unacceptable behaviour... evidently, you're not wunuvus.

:mrgreen:

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Immanuel Can
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Re: A Critique on Objective Morality

Post by Immanuel Can » Tue Oct 25, 2016 12:40 pm

creativesoul wrote:I'm not saying that all sets of morals are equally good. I'm not saying that there can be and/or is no such a thing as universal morality. I'm saying that it is universally true that all codes of conduct are relative/subject to historical, cultural, and/or familial particulars.
This is an interesting claim. "All codes of conduct are relative/subject to historical, cultural and/or familial particulars."

Firstly, if I may ask, how did you arrive at it?

Was it by an empirical investigation you did? Was it by some sort of logical deduction you could explain? Was it by way of the authority of an expert you trusted, or common axiom you heard repeated? Or are you making a claim of what you guess/hope/believe to be true, but without the support of such things?

Secondly, to me, it looks very much like a universal axiom itself. It seems to me that if it's not, then it would read, "Many codes of conduct are...etc." or perhaps, "This or that historical, cultural or familial perspective is that all codes of conduct...etc." But it looks very much like you intend it as a pure universal, since you start it with "all."

In that case, it might be a very short one, but it looks like a one-precept "code" of how one should conduct one's belief, and it looks like it is not anticipated to be "relative/subject to historical, cultural and/or familiar particulars."

Is that right?

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Re: A Critique on Objective Morality

Post by Londoner » Tue Oct 25, 2016 3:29 pm

Immanuel Can wrote: This is an interesting claim. "All codes of conduct are relative/subject to historical, cultural and/or familial particulars."
I think it is true, in the sense that all our conduct takes place within some social context. Even somebody marooned alone on a desert island is conducting themselves in that historical, cultural and/or familial particular.

So a true claim...but not interesting.

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Immanuel Can
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Re: A Critique on Objective Morality

Post by Immanuel Can » Tue Oct 25, 2016 5:02 pm

Londoner wrote:I think it is true, in the sense that all our conduct takes place within some social context. Even somebody marooned alone on a desert island is conducting themselves in that historical, cultural and/or familial particular.

So a true claim...but not interesting.
I think he/she means more than that, though. I think he/she means that it is only applicable in a "relative," "cultural" or "familial" particular way.

The two aren't identical. I could discover the precept "Thou shalt not kill" out of a Jewish background, or out of a different one...say a Christian background. But where I had discovered it would not take step one toward answering the question as to whether or not it had reference to a universal, objective moral value.

It could be both. So I would need some way to prove to a rational person that it was merely "familial," "relative" or "cultural," and NOT also universal.

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