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Author Topic:   A critique of moral relativism
Rahvin
Member (Idle past 1353 days)
Posts: 3964
Joined: 07-01-2005


Message 211 of 219 (567771)
07-02-2010 2:02 PM
Reply to: Message 209 by Hyroglyphx
07-02-2010 1:46 PM


Re: Dredging up the past
And sometimes they pass self-serving laws in their own interests. While I'm certain GWB thought passing the Patriot Act would benefit America, it would not surprise me that his real motivation was to make enacting his own sense of vengence easier.

I don't think it was very likely so malicious. Well, at least not consciously malicious. The bits of the PATRIOT Act I've actually read (it's huge, so I haven't seen it all) do make law enforcement's job easier. From an enforcement and counter-terrorism perspective, the Act was a huge help.

Of course, being allowed to simply up and arrest someone without evidence and hold them indefinitely makes a cop's job really easy, too. Have a murder? Just lock up all the suspects and throw away the key.

There are practical reasons for the PATRIOT Act. The one's I'm aware of even validly address the problem of terrorism. That's not the problem. The problem is that the Act appears to have a skewed cost/benefit ratio, and it certainly has gigantic loopholes for abuse with no possibility of oversight or challenge.

It bears all of the hallmarks of a reactionary law enacted out of absolute terror without any thought as to unintended applications. I think most if not all abuses allowed by the PATRIOT Act are afterthoughts, not the product of malicious planning on behalf of the Bush Administration.

Let's face it: they're just not that smart, and if they had crafted those laws with the intent of abuse, it's very likely they would have used those laws on political opponents and such.

In any case, I agree that many laws serve a practical purpose, but if you keep breaking down the motivation for the law, there is some moral attached to it. I do X to prevent Y because Y is wrong/bad.

The purpose of law is to create and maintain a stable society so that everyone can reap the benefits of communal effort (I prefer the grocery store to hunting for food, myself. Also, electricity, computers, and cars are pretty nice).

From a utilitarian standpoint, this means that law is at least intended to be a benefit. The problem is those laws that cause or allow to be caused more harm than benefit - we have had and continue to have many of those.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 209 by Hyroglyphx, posted 07-02-2010 1:46 PM Hyroglyphx has not yet responded

  
Hyroglyphx
Member
Posts: 5670
From: Austin, TX
Joined: 05-03-2006


Message 212 of 219 (567772)
07-02-2010 2:04 PM
Reply to: Message 206 by Rahvin
07-02-2010 11:56 AM


Re: Dredging up the past
Morality is determined subjectively - it has to be

I agree that for all practical purposes, it is this way. But to even raise the question, one must first have a moral framework in mind.

One culture is saying that you cannot starve your people because it is so tragically immoral, where the other says, who are you interfere in the affairs of our culture? Each side is moralizing to other, appealing to the other in hopes that they will acquiesce to some sort of UNIVERSAL standard that we should all know and adhere to without rebuttle.

One side says it is wrong to starve your own people, and another side says it is wrong to interfere with the affairs of sovereign nations. Ordinarily we might agree with both positions, but at times the two opposing morals clash. Which is more morally right? How do we decide? Doesn't it come down to one opinion vying for supremacy over another one?

When you say, "don't do that, because it's wrong." Well, it may be wrong to you, but right to them. Does it not then come down to mere opinion?

Remember that there is a difference between being allowed to hold an opinion and being allowed to act upon it. Our 1st Amendment boils down to the right to hold and express any opinion your conscience allows, but it doesn't grant the right to act on such opinions.

I'm not disagreeing with you that relative morals exist and that they utilitarian purposes. What I am asking is whether or not absolute morals exist too? What intrinsic principle makes murder universally wrong, even if they don't agree on what constitutes murder?

Being entitled to one's opinion in no way conveys that anyone else needs to treat that opinion with respect - many (most?) opinions are simply wrong.

Do you mean that absolutely?

The moral outlook of individuals is trumped by the outlook of the community all the time.

By the theory of might makes right, absolutely. But is that, in and of itself, morally acceptable?


"Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from mistaken conviction." Blaise Pascal
This message is a reply to:
 Message 206 by Rahvin, posted 07-02-2010 11:56 AM Rahvin has responded

Replies to this message:
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Hyroglyphx
Member
Posts: 5670
From: Austin, TX
Joined: 05-03-2006


Message 213 of 219 (567779)
07-02-2010 2:16 PM
Reply to: Message 208 by DBlevins
07-02-2010 1:43 PM


Re: Dredging up the past
What do you mean my trumped? Do you mean trumped as in 'rightfully' or 'lawfully' superceded by? Or do you mean trumped by the process of acculturation?

I'm talking trumped in terms of sheer numbers (might makes right). Let's face it, during the Holocaust there was of course a lot of objection to the massacre from a moral basis.

One person says it is wrong to kill Jews because they're human beings. Another group says it is not wrong because the Jews infect society. Both have good intentions in mind, but they hold diametrically opposed positions on how to create a greater good.

Which is right? You can't say one is wrong in an absolute sense. you can only say that you think it is wrong. If morals are relative, then they come down to the differing, individual opinions.

If you say, well, obviously Hitler and the Nazi's were wrong, that's still your opinion if morals are always relative. And if they are always relative, then that is an absolute phenomenon.


"Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from mistaken conviction." Blaise Pascal
This message is a reply to:
 Message 208 by DBlevins, posted 07-02-2010 1:43 PM DBlevins has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 214 by DBlevins, posted 07-02-2010 3:20 PM Hyroglyphx has responded

    
DBlevins
Member (Idle past 1941 days)
Posts: 652
From: Puyallup, WA.
Joined: 02-04-2003


Message 214 of 219 (567795)
07-02-2010 3:20 PM
Reply to: Message 213 by Hyroglyphx
07-02-2010 2:16 PM


Re: Dredging up the past
I'm talking trumped in terms of sheer numbers (might makes right).

Okay, then you seem to be talking about acculturation, though I don't believe numbers necessarily affect which 'moral' is adopted.

quote:
Let's face it, during the Holocaust there was of course a lot of objection to the massacre from a moral basis.

I'm not so sure that that is correct. While I believe that there was concern among some about the 'plight' of the jewish populations, there were many who believed that jews had brought some of it upon themselves. It wasn't until after the holocaust was brought out (toward the end of the war) and people saw the horror that had been inflicted, that people felt sympathy for what had happened. Morally, I think many during the holocaust could be said to be ambivilant toward the plight of the jewish populations. I think a good analogy of how many people felt would be the same way that many felt about the genocide in Rwanda: It's not our problem.

Both have good intentions in mind, but they hold diametrically opposed positions on how to create a greater good.

I don't think I can agree with your label 'good' intentions. It was labeled more as a 'final' solution to the problem. The intention wasn't good, and they knew it, otherwise they wouldn't have tried to hide their culpability to it. If it was a 'morally relative' position, then a 'good' intention would have been to deport them, but that was considered too expensive?

Which is right? You can't say one is wrong in an absolute sense. you can only say that you think it is wrong. If morals are relative, then they come down to the differing, individual opinions.

I might be able to agree with that statement. Because I have been raised in a culture that holds genocide as wrong for any reason, I feel that genocide is wrong for any reason. That doesn't mean I can not understand that my morals are relative. There are cultures out there that feel genocide can be reasonably justified. Even the killing or starving of female babies, resulting in the death of countless thousands, is and has been justified. I think it is horid and very repulsive, and would like to see that practice forever stopped, but I understand that there can be various justifications by a culture for the practice.

If I had been raised in such a culture I might likely see nothing wrong with the practice. That is what I think is meant by moral relativity.

If you say, well, obviously Hitler and the Nazi's were wrong, that's still your opinion if morals are always relative. And if they are always relative, then that is an absolute phenomenon.

The relativity lies in the understanding that my view of the world is not absolute. Therefore it is not a contradiction for me to say that I absolutely abhor and am disgusted by certain acts, while at the same time understanding that others might not see them in the same light.

And just to condense my posts in case you missed it:

...but if you keep breaking down the motivation for the law, there is some moral attached to it. I do X to prevent Y because Y is wrong/bad.

Laws are not inherently moral. They can be immoral. Laws can be and have been used to take away the rights of others. As an example : Laws preventing women from voting were not moral in any sense. They simply felt women were too 'simple-minded' to be allowed to vote.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 213 by Hyroglyphx, posted 07-02-2010 2:16 PM Hyroglyphx has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 215 by Hyroglyphx, posted 07-02-2010 3:40 PM DBlevins has responded

  
Hyroglyphx
Member
Posts: 5670
From: Austin, TX
Joined: 05-03-2006


Message 215 of 219 (567799)
07-02-2010 3:40 PM
Reply to: Message 214 by DBlevins
07-02-2010 3:20 PM


Re: Dredging up the past
I'm not so sure that that is correct. While I believe that there was concern among some about the 'plight' of the jewish populations, there were many who believed that jews had brought some of it upon themselves. It wasn't until after the holocaust was brought out (toward the end of the war) and people saw the horror that had been inflicted, that people felt sympathy for what had happened.

I think for most people in the New World, who were by geography far removed, didn't initially realize the extent of the atrocity. That is, until we marched in to Nazi-held territory and it became apparent just how insane the Nazi's really were. We knew some crazy shit was going on, but not to that extent (at least not the general public. The government may have been a different story).

But I'm referring to the Germans who silently objected and risked their lives knowing the full extent of it.

Morally, I think many during the holocaust could be said to be ambivilant toward the plight of the jewish populations.

Most probably were, I'm sure. Hitler couldn't have done that without a very large percentage of the population backing him. Even still, there was a huge underground movement. So much so, that members of his own military attempted to kill Hitler several times. (Operation Valkerie being the closest)

I think a good analogy of how many people felt would be the same way that many felt about the genocide in Rwanda: It's not our problem.

Well, I know for America, we believed in the Monroe Doctrine. But that is precisely what I mean. Is it better to intervene or is it better to respect the soveriengty of others? There is a moral dilemma there.

I don't think I can agree with your label 'good' intentions. It was labeled more as a 'final' solution to the problem. The intention wasn't good, and they knew it, otherwise they wouldn't have tried to hide their culpability to it.

Not necessarily. The Nazi's knew the world would object, they felt they were doing a good that would not be understood until subsequent generations viewed it.

If I had been raised in such a culture I might likely see nothing wrong with the practice. That is what I think is meant by moral relativity.

So the question is, we know how we would respond relatively to a situation like that. But is there an absolute standard?

Laws are not inherently moral. They can be immoral. Laws can be and have been used to take away the rights of others. As an example : Laws preventing women from voting were not moral in any sense. They simply felt women were too 'simple-minded' to be allowed to vote.

Too stupid to vote, and them voting stupidly would have deleterious effects. I think if you really analyze it, there is always some moral attached to it. It doesn't mean I agree with the moral, but the framework seems to be there.


"Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from mistaken conviction." Blaise Pascal
This message is a reply to:
 Message 214 by DBlevins, posted 07-02-2010 3:20 PM DBlevins has responded

Replies to this message:
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Rahvin
Member (Idle past 1353 days)
Posts: 3964
Joined: 07-01-2005


Message 216 of 219 (567823)
07-02-2010 4:45 PM
Reply to: Message 212 by Hyroglyphx
07-02-2010 2:04 PM


Re: Dredging up the past
I'm not disagreeing with you that relative morals exist and that they utilitarian purposes. What I am asking is whether or not absolute morals exist too? What intrinsic principle makes murder universally wrong, even if they don't agree on what constitutes murder?

Moral absolutes are a myth. They don't exist, for the same reason that absolute color preferences don't exist.

Some moral principles seem identical to absolutes for all practical purposes, but this is simply because we all tend to agree very strongly on certain things.

But all it takes is examining a very different culture to see that even our most strongly cherished moral cornerstones are not absolute.

You and I and anyone in the West might agree that homicide is wrong outside of self-defence or legal warfare.

But what about the Aztecs, who regularly practiced human sacrifice? Apparently homicide isn;t an absolute evil - it depends on context.

Even in teh modern West, we divide up different versions of homicide - negligent homicide, manslaughter, 1st/2nd/3rd degree murder, so on and so forth. Nothing is absolute, everything is relative, and the moral relationship between one action and another depends entirely on cultural context.

You and I would agree that violation of a person's free will is a form of harm that should not be done arbitrarily, but is justified when the harm is significantly outweighed by the benefit - ie, I may not want to pay taxes, but the State is justified in enforcing tax law because the community benefit to taxation vastly outweighs the harm done to me as an individual.

But imagine a culture where the free will of the individual is not valued. Think of the American South during the era of slavery - violating the free will of a slave was not considered to be harmful at all.

You and I would agree that genocide is disgustingly evil, and I'm sure that anyone you and I are likely to meet would agree wholeheartedly. But what of the Old Testament authors who wrote about killing every man, woman, and child in various nations and portrayed it as righteous? Regardless of whether the event historically happened, in such cases genocide was viewed as a moral positive, and in fact at God's command a moral imperative.

Moral absolutism is a personally satisfying fantasy, nothing more. It sounds nice to say "the free will of the individual is sacred, and the use of force against that free will is universally wicked," but any examination of the facts shows that this has not been the case, and that in fact it would cripple any potential social structure the moment one person wants to take something that another person doesn't want taken.

I grew up with television programming that frequently stated moral absolutes like "Freedom is the right of all sentient beings," but reality is both more complicated and less emotionally satisfying than Optimus Prime. There comes a time when we need to outgrow our childhood concepts of the world around us, and realize that very little in this world is black and white, and that we need to start questioning why we believe the things we think we believe.

Being entitled to one's opinion in no way conveys that anyone else needs to treat that opinion with respect - many (most?) opinions are simply wrong.

Do you mean that absolutely?

The first part simply means that entitlement to hold an opinion does not necessarily convey entitlement to act upon it - the very opposite of an absolute.

For the second part - I can't be absolutely sure that the Earth is round, but the evidence is strong enough that I feel justified in calling the Flat Earth Society a bunch of idiots.

The moral outlook of individuals is trumped by the outlook of the community all the time.

By the theory of might makes right, absolutely. But is that, in and of itself, morally acceptable?

Depends on your moral system - and those tend to differ.

Under utilitarianism, the popularity of an action is less relevant than the total harm and benefit the action would cause...and as I illustrated above, even the harm and benefit are determined subjectively, not objectively.

Most people don't seem to consider "self-consistency" to be an important part of their ethical systems, or they simply ignore/rationalize cherished beliefs that contradict their moral framework. Cognitive dissonance is such a wonderful thing. And this is where the real problem sets in - "majority rules" starts to break down when a significant proportion of the population inconsistently applies more broadly recognized standards of action. For example, almost everyone you meet today would agree that you or I should not be able to tell anyone else who they can or cannot marry. Yet, ask the same people whether gay people should be able to marry, and a very large portion will be more than happy to contradict the ethical rule they just outlined and tell gay people that they can't marry people of the same gender. They have no basis for this arbitrary distinction - "gay marriage" simply brings up thoughts that they find personally uncomfortable, and so they want to disallow it. This, however, contradicts their previously stated moral rule that people should be allowed to marry according to their own choice - so they rationalize a set of meaningless distinctions that allow them to hold mutually exclusive moral frameworks simultaneously.

It's why true democracies, literal rule-by-majority, don't work quite so well. Human beings are not perfect, and are certainly not perfectly rational, and so we can't trust ourselves to consistently apply our own moral standards. So, we set up things like Constitutions and multiple co-equal branches of government specifically designed to allow majority rule while protecting against tyranny of the majority against the minority. It's still not perfect, but it beats a lot of historical alternatives.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 212 by Hyroglyphx, posted 07-02-2010 2:04 PM Hyroglyphx has not yet responded

  
DBlevins
Member (Idle past 1941 days)
Posts: 652
From: Puyallup, WA.
Joined: 02-04-2003


Message 217 of 219 (567829)
07-02-2010 5:05 PM
Reply to: Message 215 by Hyroglyphx
07-02-2010 3:40 PM


Re: Dredging up the past
But I'm referring to the Germans who silently objected and risked their lives knowing the full extent of it.

I'm sorry, I misunderstood you because it wasn't clear from the context of your statement: [quote]...during the Holocaust there was of course a lot of objection to the massacre from a moral basis.[/qoute]

Even still, there was a huge underground movement. So much so, that members of his own military attempted to kill Hitler several times. (Operation Valkerie being the closest).

I'm reasonably sure that the main reason they were opposed to Hitler was not because of his extermination policy toward the jews. Rather that they were opposed to his system of governance and for various moral reasons having to do with the responsibility that many felt a leader should have for the well-being of his/her subjects. The point being that the plight of the jews was not the moral underpinning of the movement to remove Hitler from power. I don't feel you can reasonably make the argument that attempts to kill Hitler were due to his killing jewish people.

Hyro writes:

I think a good analogy of how many people felt would be the same way that many felt about the genocide in Rwanda: It's not our problem.

Well, I know for America, we believed in the Monroe Doctrine. But that is precisely what I mean. Is it better to intervene or is it better to respect the soveriengty of others? There is a moral dilemma there.

The Monroe doctorine had nothing to due with ambivilance toward the Rwandan genocide. It was plainly something that many people felt was just the 'normal' actions of warring factions among African States and frankly not something to be worried or concerned about, until people were actually confronted with the horror or what happened, through the media. The question of intervention happened after the fact, at least for the majority of the American public. I think many felt that it wasn't worth the danger to our troops to have gotten involved in a genocide that seemed to be the normal course of action for warring factions in African States. Sovereignity was really a minor concern or even an excuse, rather it was just described as a 'local conflict'. The concern expressed among Americans was more along the lines of not wanting a repeat of the events in Somalia, in Mogadishu. Therefore: Not our problem.

The Nazi's knew the world would object, they felt they were doing a good that would not be understood until subsequent generations viewed it.

Again, I'm not sure you can ascribe the Nazi intent as being for a good that would not be understood until later. Do you have any evidence that would back up this claim? They knew it wasn't for 'good' intentions, otherwise they would have not hidden their involvement. It might have been described as being for the greater good (which I would appreciate if you could substantiate), but that would have been ascribing a moral value for public consumtion, to what they felt was a practical dilemna that was inherently immoral. I am trying to explain and make a subtle but important differentiation and perhaps being inarticulate.

So the question is, we know how we would respond relatively to a situation like that. But is there an absolute standard?

No, because different people even having similar cultural values will weigh out different reasonings. The same person can conceivably have different opinions on the relative merits of equally abhorent actions depending on who is doing the action and who the action is being done upon.

Too stupid to vote, and them voting stupidly would have deleterious effects. I think if you really analyze it, there is always some moral attached to it. It doesn't mean I agree with the moral, but the framework seems to be there.

I think that this is my fault for being somewhat wrong and too simplistic. Let me put it this way: There have been laws and still are laws that don't allow someone to vote, simply because they are not a holder of property.

Finally, it might be appreciated if you could do a good search for laws that you couldn't justify morally. I will try to find something that is less ambiguous for you. Hopefully we can then illuminate the answer to whether all laws are inherently moral or not.

Edited by DBlevins, : to fix typing errors

Edited by DBlevins, : more typographical errors spotted. grrr


This message is a reply to:
 Message 215 by Hyroglyphx, posted 07-02-2010 3:40 PM Hyroglyphx has not yet responded

  
DBlevins
Member (Idle past 1941 days)
Posts: 652
From: Puyallup, WA.
Joined: 02-04-2003


Message 218 of 219 (567877)
07-02-2010 11:42 PM
Reply to: Message 215 by Hyroglyphx
07-02-2010 3:40 PM


Re: Dredging up the past
I have a hard time justifying some wage laws as being inherently moral. Laws such as overtime or minimum wage laws. They seem to me to be more about contracts between the employee and employer, and depend ultimately not on what a 'moral' wage should or would be but on what the employee, government and employers agree* is a reasonable rate.

*Depending on the strength and weaknesses of the various groups and government.

If you disagree then I would appreciate your view on why some workers are not allowed overtime or the standard minimum wage whle others within the same culture do enjoy such benefits.


This message is a reply to:
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Replies to this message:
 Message 219 by AdminModulous, posted 07-03-2010 6:44 AM DBlevins has not yet responded

  
AdminModulous
Administrator (Idle past 270 days)
Posts: 897
Joined: 03-02-2006


Message 219 of 219 (567906)
07-03-2010 6:44 AM
Reply to: Message 218 by DBlevins
07-02-2010 11:42 PM


subtitles!
"Dredging up the past" isn't a particularly good one for extended discussions. Let's flex our creativity!
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