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My right, your right, our right: what is morality?

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  • My right, your right, our right: what is morality?

    This is a spinoff from the Presidential debate thread, where a few of us were discussing the nature of good and evil (in relation to "are some countries more evil/good than others?"). But, broadening out the question - how do you define good and evil? What do you base your ideas on? Do you believe there is such a thing as good and evil (or good and bad, if evil seems too loaded with religious or other Buffyish implications)? How do you deal with arguing with someone who seems to think that morality means something different from the way you see it? And that was a really clumsy sentence. Excuse me, there has only been one coffee in my day so far.

    I'll come back and edit in some quotes from the Presidential thread so you can get an idea of where all this is coming from, but feel free to start discussing before that (or if anyone else wants to bring their posts across, do).


    -- Robofrakkinawesome BANNER BY FRANCY --

  • #2
    Good question;


    It's easy to use your own believings as the right one. But I try not to do that too much. Another culture, religion is not wrong to me, even if I have trouble understanding it.

    That said; the 'Human Rights' are important for me, I think that some rules must be above some other rules, and this rights are probably the most important of all. Too bad that there is not one country in the world that can say that they don't betray those rights. But of course there are countries who do it more often than other, and in my eyes ... those countries are worse. Not because they think different or because they have another religion. But because they can't value human life.


    Morality will always be a blurry subject, there are of course the ethical rules. But even those are in the most cases subjective.
    Last edited by Nina; 01-10-08, 12:54 PM.

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    • #3
      Nina, I agree with you there, morality cannot be defined clearly and may strongly differ.

      What bothers me about this debate is that some people go on about great length about how one country (namely the United States, in that case) are pure good and their opponents are evil. A country is neither good or evil, for whichever deity's sake! We can merely judge the actions of a government, and even those can't be categorised so easily.

      While morality is not unimportant in law, for example, to offer guidelines in the interpretation of contracts, for instance, it can be vastly abused by ideology. People are indoctrinated that nothing their country does can be evil because it is pure good, the sole protector of justice and liberty etc etc etc, and if you don't believe it you're a bad patriot because that would be so immoral of you. Well, there is a word for this, and it is nationalism, and it has brought us Europeans much grief at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.
      Last edited by Bloodsucker; 02-10-08, 10:40 AM. Reason: typo
      Sin is what I feast upon
      I'm forging my crematorium
      Your tomb is waiting here for you
      Welcome to my ritual

      -Judas Priest, Death

      Comment


      • #4
        A short reply for now:

        I don't think I'd define the terms; I might use them intuitively (right, wrong, bad, good), or speculate about morality as a psychological phenomenon (or speculate on metaethics too, but I don't think I could give a definition for the terms, though I could give arguments against some proposed definitions).

        Side note:
        Spoiler:

        Then again, there are philosophers who claim that the words can't be defined in terms of simpler concepts (because they support value expressivism, or because they believe they're irreducible concepts), or more generally, that there's no theory of meaning, metaphysics, metaethics, etc., (global expressivists), but theories of moral talk (i.e., what people do when they make moral judgments), truth talk, etc.

        Anyway, just a side-note.


        Of course, one doesn't need to have any knowledge of metaethics in order to make ethical (i.e., moral) judgments. Everyone does the latter, or almost everyone.

        As for the meanings of "morality" (not of "good", "bad", etc.), the word is used in more than one way (a good article can be found here, but there are yet more uses - like morality as a psychological phenomenon).

        So, how do I deal with arguing?
        I usually don't argue.

        I mean, I don't debate ethical issues often; and when there's an ethical issue involved, I usually prefer to debate the related non-value matters instead, or try to clarify matters when I think that there's confusion, etc.

        But other than that, changing someone's mind in a debate is, in my experience, extremely difficult (I'd say almost impossible).
        Last edited by EvilVampire; 01-10-08, 06:37 PM.

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        • #5
          I don't believe there are any Good or Evil countries, or even Good or Evil people. Good and Evil are indoctrinations of time period, culture, government, religion, and parents/family. Throw in psychological pitfalls, and to judge anyone as Good or Evil seems kneejerk and pointless. Most people are exactly the same all over the world: they work for whatever it is that supports themselves and/or their family, they love themselves and/or their family, and they think as little as possible about the doings of their government. That's true in America, it's true in Russia, it's true in North Korea, and it's true in Iran.

          Things considered evil today were once considered virtues, and vise versa. Greed is the basis of American culture, but it was once a deadly sin. Sex is no longer evil, nor are women. Homelessness and poverty are great evils, but Jesus was homeless and taught that every person should sell all their possessions and live in absolute poverty. If I were to have a child, but refuse to teach him or her to read or to send them to school I would most likely be accused of child abuse and have him or her taken from me. Maybe even locked in jail. But 90+% of the human beings who have ever existed didn't know how to read or write and would have found it pointless to do so. They still invented the wheel, discovered agriculture, developed civilization, etc.

          Things that started out as protective forces become inevitably oppressive. Civilization started out as a way to increase food production, promote egalitarianism, and protect those within it from those cultures around them that liked to go around raping, stealing, and killing. It eventually resulted in the first real social stratification, slavery, organized warfare, and it became the invaders who like to steal and kill, leading to several genocides of indigenous peoples. Christianity started off as a way for people to transcend the restrictive rules of civilization and religion and even family, a theory for an absolute new way of human relations, but it resulted in the Catholic Church of the middle ages, one of the most oppressive and dogmatic organizations in human history. Law started off as a simple set of rules to protect widows and orphans and other powerless individuals from being exploited, and has morphed into something so complex that not even those that deal with it understand it completely and which mostly punishes the powerless and is exploited by the powerful. Then the oppressive forces that have resulted lead to newly devised protective forces, and it goes on and on.

          A person who acts in a way you consider evil or bad will almost always consider themselves in the right, or will at least continue to think of themselves as basically good. Everyone, from somebody's point of view, is doing something bad always. Even us sitting her on computers talking about the nature of good and evil could easily be construed as an evil by many people. We're rich enough to afford a computer, have enough leisure to spend good amounts of time on the internet discussing something as inane as a television show, and educated enough to have spent at least twelve years in schools; all the millions of poor, starving, illiterate masses in the world would probably look at the fact that we're doing nothing with all our advantages but what it is we're doing as something inherently bad. They would even be right, from a certain point of view.

          They would also be wrong, from a certain point of view.
          Last edited by XavierZane; 01-10-08, 08:58 PM.

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          • #6
            In stories there sometimes is Absolute Good and Absolute Evil. Yet in real life, there is no black and white. There only are different shades of grey.
            Sin is what I feast upon
            I'm forging my crematorium
            Your tomb is waiting here for you
            Welcome to my ritual

            -Judas Priest, Death

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            • #7
              Like others have said, I do not believe in good and evil countries. Countries are both good and evil at the same time. Countries are full of wonderful individuals...but in every country there is evil. Its a fact of life. You can not say one country is good and say another is evil, unless you know every single person in that country and know for a fact that every single person is absolutely good.

              Originally posted by XavierZane View Post
              A person who acts in a way you consider evil or bad will almost always consider themselves in the right, or will at least continue to think of themselves as basically good. Everyone, from somebody's point of view, is doing something bad always. Even us sitting her on computers talking about the nature of good and evil could easily be construed as an evil by many people. We're rich enough to afford a computer, have enough leisure to spend good amounts of time on the internet discussing something as inane as a television show, and educated enough to have spent at least twelve years in schools; all the millions of poor, starving, illiterate masses in the world would probably look at the fact that we're doing nothing with all our advantages but what it is we're doing as something inherently bad. They would even be right, from a certain point of view.

              They would also be wrong, from a certain point of view.
              I do believe in evil and good people. A sociopath is an example of an evil person. I once heard a very simple definition of a sociopath and psychopath. A psychopath is someone that does something bad and thinks it is right. A sociopath is someone who does something bad, knows its bad, and does not care. That would be an evil person to me. They know what they are doing is wrong and they still do it.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Risa View Post
                I do believe in evil and good people. A sociopath is an example of an evil person. I once heard a very simple definition of a sociopath and psychopath. A psychopath is someone that does something bad and thinks it is right. A sociopath is someone who does something bad, knows its bad, and does not care. That would be an evil person to me. They know what they are doing is wrong and they still do it.
                Ah, but sociopathy and psychopathy are, by definition, psychological disorders. Something happened to those people in their lives, either they were born with a chemical imbalance or they were abused until they knew nothing else or any number of things, to rob them of their 'humanity'. They no more chose to be sociopaths than you or I chose not to be.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Bloodsucker View Post
                  In stories there sometimes is Absolute Good and Absolute Evil. Yet in real life, there is no black and white. There only are different shades of grey.
                  Oh dear god yes. Thats why I worry when certain political parties both here and abroad bang on about 'absolutes' in their attitudes to others and the kind of policy's they draw up, for as you say there ain't no such animal.

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                  • #10
                    It makes me highly suspicious too, to say the very least, because we had plenty of that the last century, and we definitely don't want it again.

                    And people actually repeating this with conviction... I sometimes wonder if some are just unable to think for themselves.
                    Sin is what I feast upon
                    I'm forging my crematorium
                    Your tomb is waiting here for you
                    Welcome to my ritual

                    -Judas Priest, Death

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      And people actually repeating this with conviction... I sometimes wonder if some are just unable to think for themselves.
                      Yeah, I get that feeling too. *shudder*

                      In this day and age where accesses to information via such things as the net, there is no excuse for people not to think for themselves and just take what political parties at face value.

                      Politics by it's very nature is littered with very, shall we say, very 'morally grey' folks at the best of times, so It's better not to take anything you see, read or here at face value, but instead delve further into it and then see if you still agree with that they're 'selling' you after that.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by sueworld View Post
                        Yeah, I get that feeling too. *shudder*

                        In this day and age where accesses to information via such things as the net, there is no excuse for people not to think for themselves and just take what political parties at face value.

                        Politics by it's very nature is littered with very, shall we say, very 'morally grey' folks at the best of times, so It's better not to take anything you see, read or here at face value, but instead delve further into it and then see if you still agree with that they're 'selling' you after that.
                        Either people are lazy or they just can't determine things such as right and wrong for themselves. It also doesn't help when people fail to make the distinction between not being able to justify something and it being some sort of 'objective value' that acts as some kind of law of nature. Morality is full of grey areas and right and wrong are largely determined by majority rule. Even if someone doesn't view something as wrong, if the majority disagree with them, they can take action to overrule the minority and make it so that it is still wrong.

                        I think in the presidential debate thread, there was someone who didn't quite understand what I meant by the above. For another example, think about a 'week'. There is no such thing as a 'week' anywhere in nature. It doesn't correspond to anything whatsoever. However, because everyone lives their lives around the same seven day cycles, a week has actually become a real concept that has impact on everyone in society. For morals it is the same. If everyone treats something as right or wrong, then despite there being no such thing as right or wrong in nature, said thing will become right or wrong simply because it is widely treated that way.

                        The other thing that came up was about being a 'good guy'. If you want to be regarded as a 'good guy' then it is important that you abide by generally accepted moral codes. You have to try and keep within them wherever possible. If you start ignoring them whenever it suits you, you cease to be a 'good guy', and depending on how far you go, you can actually become a 'bad guy'. In the same way, if you claim to champion a set of values such as human rights, you should do your very best to abide by those values.
                        Last edited by Anon; 02-10-08, 06:22 PM.

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                        • #13
                          I'd like to propose a question. Can anyone explain to me why, if I don't personally find it morally wrong, in fact, i think it's morally acceptable, I shouldn't throw you out of your car and drive off with it?

                          For the sake of argument, let's say that our state last year unanimously passed the Carjacking Is Okay Law, and that the law of the land now permits that behavior.

                          So, why (without any reliance on any objective moral premise) should I not throw you out of your car and drive off with it?
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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by KingofCretins
                            I'd like to propose a question. Can anyone explain to me why, if I don't personally find it morally wrong, in fact, i think it's morally acceptable, I shouldn't throw you out of your car and drive off with it?

                            For the sake of argument, let's say that our state last year unanimously passed the Carjacking Is Okay Law, and that the law of the land now permits that behavior.

                            So, why (without any reliance on any objective moral premise) should I not throw you out of your car and drive off with it?
                            I have a question for you as well.
                            Could you please tell me what you mean by having an "objective moral premise"?

                            As for your scenario, I can try to speculate...though it's difficult without knowing what you mean, but I'll try to consider a few different possibilities.

                            First, though, I'll point out that there seems to be a serious problem with that scenario:

                            You're assuming a certain state passed the Carjacking Is Okay Law, and that the law of the land now permits that behavior. However, in reality that will not happen. That's not one of the cases where there's wide moral divergence. So, when you present that scenario, you're talking about entities who don't behave in the way people usually do behave, so perhaps it's difficult to predict their reaction to your carjacking.


                            That said, is that a moral "should", or a practical "should"?

                            If it's a practical should, I can tell you - for instance - that if you attempt to do so, I might resist getting thrown out of the car, which would result in a confrontation of unpredictable results. That might be an unnecessary risk for you to take, and you might consider it's not worth taking it.

                            Ok, so let's we're talking about someone who can't fight back for whatever reason. Well, they might have friends or just third parties who will find your actions as morally wrong, and might well take action against you - especially if they find the action of taking action against you as morally right.
                            So, again, you act at your peril (Then again, the fact that these entities seem to be so much unlike people make difficult to predict an outcome. )

                            Anyway, if that does not convince you, well it doesn't. Some people do engage in carjacking after all, so not everyone is deterred when someone gives them prudential reasons not to. In that case, I guess you would do the hijacking.

                            If that's a moral "should", then that's another matter...but a little side note before go on:
                            Spoiler:
                            Is there a difference between "you shouldn't do X", and "it's wrong for you to do X" (that "should" is a moral one)?
                            If there's no difference (as some would say), answering your question with "because it's wrong" would be like saying that that you shouldn't do it because you shouldn't do it.
                            Perhaps, a solution (based on my interpretation of Stephen Barker's analisys of moral talk), would be that "because it's wrong" means "because it's wrong in general, so it's wrong for you (i.e., so you shouldn't do it)".


                            It seems clear to me that answering "you shouldn't do it because it's wrong", will not fly. It won't, because you think it's morally acceptable, not wrong. However, I should point out that that's also the case regardless of your metaethical position (i.e., what does an "objective moral premise" (whatever that is) have to do with it?)

                            In general, suppose someone (say, A) does not think that a conduct, X, is morally wrong.

                            Suppose B tells A "don't do X", and A and asks, in the moral sense, "why shouldn't I do X?"

                            The answer "because it's wrong" won't work, simply because (by hypothesis) A does not find X to be morally wrong - and again, that's independent of any metaethical stance A might take. Usually, people just don't take any metaethical stance at all - they engage in moral talk sometimes, but not in metaethical speculation.

                            What A is asking for is reasons that might - or might not - get them to change their stance.

                            So, why shouldn't you throw gramma out of her car and drive off with it?

                            I've already given practical, prudential reasons (not related to morality).

                            I can try reasons that will, perhaps, result in your finding the behavior morally wrong: if you do that, you're going to make some person suffer. They will lose their car, and perhaps have a serious psychological trauma as a result of your actions.

                            Consider the following scenario: 4 heavily armed thugs do the same to you. What would you do? How would you feel?

                            In light of that, do you still find the action in question morally acceptable?

                            Or do you find it morally wrong?

                            If you now think it's wrong, well, that's your answer - and further, you have a motivation not to.

                            If you still find it acceptable, then I suppose that argument (I'm using "argument" loosely here, including but not limited to formal arguments; appeals to your moral sense, evidence, etc., count as well) won't work on you.

                            But, alas, the problem would seem to be the same regardless of your metaethical position: If you think it's morally acceptable and I can't convince you otherwise, and you have some motivation for engaging in hijacking, how do I convince you not to?

                            It's a tough one, I admit. But I'm not sure how this relates to the issue of "objective moral premises" (but then, I'm not sure what that is), so I'd appreciate a clarification.
                            Last edited by EvilVampire; 02-10-08, 08:40 PM.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by EvilVampire View Post
                              You're assuming a certain state passed the Carjacking Is Okay Law, and that the law of the land now permits that behavior. However, in reality that will not happen. That's not one of the cases where there's wide moral divergence. So, when you present that scenario, you're talking about entities who don't behave in the way people usually do behave, so perhaps it's difficult to predict their reaction to your carjacking.
                              If your moral philosophy cannot be applied in an abstract, it really has no meaning, does it?

                              Without any objective moral component, as objective and "mind-independent" (I honestly find most of the semanticism you engage in pretty spurious, no offense. I can't imagine you don't know exactly what I mean) as gravity, there is no morality *at all* between two people that don't agree. I'll buy that you could make an argument that all morality is individualized and tailored to a social definition blah blah blah Nietzschecakes, but you can't abstract that -- if you end up with two or three people alone on a desert island with no social moral context and they don't have moral consensus, then there literally *is* no such thing as morality anymore. What kind of moral philosophy is that, that only has meaning if it can be socially constructed? If it can offer no guidance when one starving man has the choice to kill and eat another?

                              That said, is that a moral "should", or a practical "should"?
                              "Ought" is always moral, "is" is always practical in moral philosophy. "Should" is a moral term. It can be couched in practical contexts, but it's

                              So, why shouldn't you throw you out of your car and drive off with it?
                              I've already given practical, prudential reasons (not related to morality).
                              I can try reasons that will, perhaps, result in your finding the behavior morally wrong: if you do that, you're going to make some person suffer. They will lose their car, and perhaps have a serious psychological trauma as a result of your actions.
                              If the laws of society don't disapprove, and if there is no metaphysical moral authority outside your own determination of what's right and wrong, then why should you care about their psychological trauma? We already established that I *want* to throw you out of your car and drive off with it. There is no cognitive dissonance forthcoming. There is no social penalty for doing so. So, again... why shouldn't I?

                              The beauty of moral philosophy is that, even in the context of *discussing* relativism, it's still a language of absolutes. To say "there's no objective morality" is to implicitly say "there's never any kind of objective morality under any circumstance". So, to reject the premise, I only need one instance, and it can be as cooked and parsed out as is needed. Either the moral assertion can hold up without being edited or it can't.
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                              • #16
                                Originally posted by KingofCretins View Post
                                If your moral philosophy cannot be applied in an abstract, it really has no meaning, does it?
                                On the contrary. An action has moral values only when given a specific context. Otherwise all you have are guidelines. Attempting to apply guidelines to an abstract situation is futile.

                                Without any objective moral component, as objective and "mind-independent" (I honestly find most of the semanticism you engage in pretty spurious, no offense. I can't imagine you don't know exactly what I mean) as gravity, there is no morality *at all* between two people that don't agree. I'll buy that you could make an argument that all morality is individualized and tailored to a social definition blah blah blah Nietzschecakes, but you can't abstract that -- if you end up with two or three people alone on a desert island with no social moral context and they don't have moral consensus, then there literally *is* no such thing as morality anymore. What kind of moral philosophy is that, that only has meaning if it can be socially constructed? If it can offer no guidance when one starving man has the choice to kill and eat another?
                                Each one may have their own guidelines and means of applying them, but if none of these things exist, well, the chances are they won't last very long. Morality has survival value but it isn't compulsory.

                                If the laws of society don't disapprove, and if there is no metaphysical moral authority outside your own determination of what's right and wrong, then why should you care about their psychological trauma? We already established that I *want* to throw you out of your car and drive off with it. There is no cognitive dissonance forthcoming. There is no social penalty for doing so. So, again... why shouldn't I?
                                You probably wouldn't be able to think of any, but if everyone was able to arbitrarily car jack others, the impact on society would mean that it soon became impractical to do this anyway. People would just stop using cars. Problem solved.

                                The beauty of moral philosophy is that, even in the context of *discussing* relativism, it's still a language of absolutes. To say "there's no objective morality" is to implicitly say "there's never any kind of objective morality under any circumstance". So, to reject the premise, I only need one instance, and it can be as cooked and parsed out as is needed. Either the moral assertion can hold up without being edited or it can't.
                                To call morality 'objective' is to imply that it is some sort of external force. A fact of life rather than an intellectual construct. In this sense then yes, there is never any kind of 'objective' morality under any circumstance. Morality may not be compulsory, and there is nothing that must be right or wrong, but without any morals, survival in any number larger than one is going to be all but impossible.
                                Last edited by Anon; 02-10-08, 09:20 PM.

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                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by KingofCretins View Post
                                  I'd like to propose a question. Can anyone explain to me why, if I don't personally find it morally wrong, in fact, i think it's morally acceptable, I shouldn't throw you out of your car and drive off with it?

                                  For the sake of argument, let's say that our state last year unanimously passed the Carjacking Is Okay Law, and that the law of the land now permits that behavior.

                                  So, why (without any reliance on any objective moral premise) should I not throw you out of your car and drive off with it?
                                  Why shouldn't you? Your argument seems dependent upon the idea that we must scurry to find a reason to protect our car. I can't think of any, beyond the idea that I find it personally intrusive and annoying, and maybe I like my car. It certainly isn't morally wrong for you to throw me out of my car, nor is there any deficit of scenarios I can imagine where you throwing me out of my car would be perfectly understandable. It could even be argued that, in some of the following, that me fighting you for my car would be the more 'wrong' action.

                                  -Your wife is pregnant and had just gone into labor
                                  -Some family member is across down being attacked or in some other distress and you have no car or your car is broken down
                                  -You are on the verge of starvation, or homeless, and you're stealing my car to secure food or maybe even as a place to sleep
                                  -There is some third party somewhere who, unless you deliver them a car, or the worth of a car, will end your life or the lives of those close to you
                                  -Maybe you're a literal kleptomaniac.

                                  I mean, if a person is driven to the point of a desperate act such as that, I would most likely assume that there is some reason and part with my car as graciously as someone can in that situation. The question could be brought up, "Well, what if you were in one of the situations above and the theft of your car would cause your family to die." If that were the case then I would most definitely fight for my car and try to stop it's theft, but it would be motivated purely by self interest, not any objective morality.
                                  Especially if it were a case of 'my family v. your family' there's no morality there, only self-interest.

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                                  • #18
                                    Originally posted by KingofCretins
                                    If your moral philosophy cannot be applied in an abstract, it really has no meaning, does it?
                                    Does that question have any meaning? (apart from expressing a broad condemnation of my stance)

                                    If so, please explain:

                                    What do you mean by "the abstract"?

                                    You presented a scenario. The scenario is not only counter-factual (which wouldn't be a problem), but seriously underspecified because it's not clear how people could come to pass the law accepting carjacking.

                                    If you had presented a different scenario - say, one resembling certain society, present or past -, that's one thing. However, your scenario (in which there's a general rule for carjacking) does not seem to resemble any social structure I'm familiar with, so it'd be difficult for me to predict these people's behavior.

                                    And it would be for everyone, regardless of their theories, because of the underspecification of the scenario.

                                    Second, what do you mean by "your moral philosophy"?

                                    Are you talking about my metaethical stance?
                                    Actually, while I have some ideas on metaethics, and in fact reject some stances, I'm not married to any particular one. There are plenty of open questions to me.

                                    Of course, I don't need to be tied to a metaethical stance to engage in ethical discourse, or even to discuss metaethics, let alone moral psychology.

                                    Originally posted by KingofCretins
                                    Without any objective moral component, as objective and "mind-independent" (I honestly find most of the semanticism you engage in pretty spurious, no offense. I can't imagine you don't know exactly what I mean) as gravity, there is no morality *at all* between two people that don't agree.
                                    None taken.

                                    Actually (and I mean no offense, either) I find the semanticism you engage in ("objective") spurious as well - to be more precise, I find your metaphysical claims to be so, at least.

                                    What does it mean that there's "no morality at all" if they do not agree, if morality is not mind-independent?

                                    I have to point out what I said in the other thread.

                                    If mathematical objects are not mind-independent, that won't change the fact there's mathematics as a psychological phenomenon, and meaningful mathematical talk between people.

                                    I'll use spoiler tags here, not to make these debates too repetitive for those who read it already:
                                    Spoiler:
                                    And yet, it could be argued that 2 and 4 and, in general, mathematical objects are mind-dependent, and thus so are propositions about them.

                                    Would that mean that, if we want 2 + 2 = 3, then that will be the case?

                                    Of course not!

                                    Further, I think it may be a category error to say "2 + 2 was 4, and will be 4", unless what we want to say is that we're not talking about a temporal domain.

                                    Else, in my philosophical view at least, the "is" in "2 + 2 is 4" is not a temporal one; it's just that our language uses the same "is" for identity relations in non-temporal domains, so to say that 2 + 2 is 4 is to say "2 + 2 = 4", which more clearly has no temporal perspective.

                                    Let's consider other scenarios.

                                    Suppose, say, that we want to discuss whether life on a planet orbiting a red dwarf is possible, and what characteristics it would have. So, we propose a scenario. We describe the red dwarf in question, the planets orbiting it, and so on. Then, we assume that there's life in one of them, and we talk about whether the lifeforms would have one or another property, etc.

                                    Or, we could discuss whether life would be possible in a universe that behaves in a different way. So, we set up the constants of our simulation, and discuss the characteristics of that universe.

                                    Of course, all the objects in question are mind-dependent (though they might be mind-independent with respect to the scenarios, the scenarios themselves are mind-dependent).
                                    They don't have any mind-independent existence in our universe; but that does not mean that whether objects there (in those universes) have some properties or some other properties depends on what we want them to have: we may want object O to have property P, but it turns out that it doesn't (because we already fixed the conditions of the scenario, including interactions of different objects, etc., and it turns out that in that world, O does not have property P, much to our dislike).

                                    Mathematical objects are different in many ways: For instance, they're not temporal; there's no cause-effect relations between them; also, we can't present any scenario and say it's mathematics; the word "mathematics" seems to be reserved to some abstract scenarios, that are (of course) partly based on the world we interact with in the sense that we come up with those abstraction by observing the (mind-independent) world around us - and partly based on our own intuitions and mental capabilities, as always.

                                    However, the point is that there's no need for the scenarios in question to have a mind-independent existence. In fact, I have doubts about the meaningfulness of the claim, at least in the way(s) Platonists usually put it. We're not going to bump into a "6" out there, are we?


                                    Of course, there's a psychological phenomenon, morality.

                                    And of course, two people who disagree about moral issues can give reasons and try to convince each other that some action is morally right or wrong. Given that they're both human, there's a good degree of similarity between them, so each of them can try to make arguments that would appeal to the other person's moral intuitions.

                                    That won't always work, of course. Is it not always like that?

                                    But why would you need mind-independence?

                                    People even discuss events in the Jossverse for that matter, or whether ATS is better than BTVS. To be clear, I'm not saying that morality talk is just like TV-show talk, but that there's no need for mind-independence in order for meaningful human discourse to take place.

                                    Originally posted by KingofCretins
                                    I'll buy that you could make an argument that all morality is individualized and tailored to a social definition blah blah blah Nietzschecakes, but you can't abstract that -- if you end up with two or three people alone on a desert island with no social moral context and they don't have moral consensus, then there literally *is* no such thing as morality anymore. What kind of moral philosophy is that, that only has meaning if it can be socially constructed? If it can offer no guidance when one starving man has the choice to kill and eat another?
                                    Ah, but that's another issue altogether - or rather, you seem to conflate several.

                                    First, you're assuming that if morality is not mind-independent, then it's socially constructed. I'm not sure what you mean by "socially constructed", but it seems to be a claim about how people's moral intuitions came to be. Mind-independence or mind-dependence is a metaphysical claim about the nature of moral properties, which is independent of the issue of how people's moral intuitions come to be.

                                    Second, you seem to be arguing that if morality is socially constructed, then there's no morality.

                                    What does "there's no morality" mean here?
                                    The psychological phenomenon we call "morality" would still exist.

                                    Regardless, I'm not claiming that morality is socially constructed. I'm not even sure what you mean by that. In fact, I've made no claim about the origin of morality. I'm just expressing disagreement with your claim about mind-independence.

                                    Third, you seem to be conflating metaethical and ethical issues. This thread is a thread about metaethics. Now you ask " What kind of moral philosophy is that, that only has meaning if it can be socially constructed? If it can offer no guidance when one starving man has the choice to kill and eat another?"

                                    Actually, no metaethical theory is meant to give any guidance for action. This article is a good reference on the matter.

                                    Originally posted by KingofCretins
                                    "Ought" is always moral, "is" is always practical in moral philosophy. "Should" is a moral term. It can be couched in practical contexts, but it's
                                    You could say "you ought to do more exercise if you want to win the race", for instance (the "if" clause may be implicit), but let's not get into the meaning of "ought" for now. You said "should", and I was asking a question about that.

                                    Originally posted by KingofCretins
                                    If the laws of society don't disapprove, and if there is no metaphysical moral authority outside your own determination of what's right and wrong, then why should you care about their psychological trauma? We already established that I *want* to throw you out of your car and drive off with it. There is no cognitive dissonance forthcoming. There is no social penalty for doing so. So, again... why shouldn't I?
                                    Actually, that you want to do X does not mean that you don't want to do, say, Y, and they might be incompatible. In other words, you may have incompatible wants - incompatible desires; you may want to throw me out of the car, but you may want to avoid a confrontation - or do what you think is right.

                                    You said that you actually think that it's morally acceptable to throw me out of the car, so you're making a moral issue out of it; that means that you do have moral motivations (as nearly all humans do, with the possible exception of sociopaths), so I can try to convince you that it's not morally acceptable.

                                    That said, what is a "metaphysical authority", I wonder, and how would that change matters in the least?

                                    Why would you even care about it, if the laws of society do disapprove, or if there's some "metaphysical authority" (whatever that means)?

                                    Why do you care about what the authorities (metaphysical or otherwise) want?

                                    Is it a matter of not doing it out of fear of retribution?

                                    If not, then what?

                                    Here, you seem to be presenting this "abstract" scenario, and ignoring human psychology. You do have moral intuitions. Nearly everyone does. Our moral intuitions are motivating - i.e., we do have a motivation to do what we think is morally right.

                                    Not that someone can't have other motivations, and then act on those other, non-moral motivations. But your moral intuitions give you at least some motivations regardless of metaethical issues. It's a matter of moral psychology.

                                    Originally posted by KingofCretins
                                    The beauty of moral philosophy is that, even in the context of *discussing* relativism, it's still a language of absolutes. To say "there's no objective morality" is to implicitly say "there's never any kind of objective morality under any circumstance". So, to reject the premise, I only need one instance, and it can be as cooked and parsed out as is needed. Either the moral assertion can hold up without being edited or it can't.
                                    First, now you conflate the objective/subjective distinction, and the absolute/relative distinction.

                                    I'll re-post, again, what I said in another thread.
                                    Spoiler:

                                    But to be a bit more concrete regarding usages of the word, here you can find a (very short ) discussion on the objective/subjective vs. absolute/relative distinctions in metaethics.

                                    Side note:
                                    Spoiler:
                                    Personally, I think that the characterization of relativism should not mention indexicality. Even though most metaethical relativist views today are what's called "indexical views" (technically, moral terms would be a combination of indexicals and anaphors, but anyway), there are more ways in which truth-values could (potentially, I'm not taking a stance for relativism of any kind) be relativized, not just indexicality.


                                    Anyway, the essential point of relativism would be the following:

                                    Originally posted by article
                                    According to such a view, it is possible that when John asserts “Stealing is wrong” he is saying something true, but that when Jenny asserts “Stealing is wrong” she is saying something false.
                                    That poses problems like the "problem of disagreement" that haunts relativisms - at least naive ones; I think most sophisticated versions of relativism can deal with that and allow for meaningful debate, even if limited to some extent; but that's a side note, and again, I'm not saying any such stance is true.

                                    On the other hand, metaethical absolutism would deny that the above could ever happen.

                                    As for the distinction between objective and subjective, it's a distinction based on whether moral properties (assuming there are) are mind-independent (objective) or mind-dependent (subjective). Then again, the concepts of mind-dependence and mind-independence are also (alas :eek controversial in philosophy.

                                    As for an example of non-relativistic absolutism (going by the distinction above), we have Divine Command Theory and similar ones:

                                    Originally posted by article
                                    Conversely, the subjectivist need not be a relativist. Suppose the moral facts depend on the attitudes or opinions of a particular group or individual (e.g., “X is good” means “Caesar approves of X,” or “The Supreme Court rules in favor of X” or “God commands X,” etc.), and thus moral truth is an entirely mind-dependent affair. Since, in this case, all speakers' moral utterances are made true or false by the same mental activity, then this is not strictly speaking a version of relativism, but is, rather, a relation-designating account of moral terms (see Stevenson 1963: 74 for this distinction).
                                    So, for instance (assuming meaningfulness of "God", and that there can be only one by definition), the theory that "X is morally wrong" means "God disapproves of X" would be a form of moral subjectivism (because wrongness would be a mind-dependent property, in this case, depending on God's mind), but a form of moral absolutism, not moral relativism, since it's not possible that when John asserts “God disapproves of X” he is saying something true, but that when Jenny asserts “God disapproves of X” she is saying something false.


                                    Second, whether (some type of) moral relativism is an accurate description of moral discourse is another matter. I do not claim it is, but even relativism wouldn't prevent meaningful moral discourse (there are more sophisticated forms of relativism than the simple ones you seem to have in mind).

                                    Third, you seem to be confusing two levels of discourse again: ethics and metaethics. Relativism is a metaethical claim, but of course, the claim "moral statements are relative" does not have to be, in turn, relative. In fact, it is not. But that's not contradictory or even problematic.

                                    It would be like challenging gustatory-taste relativism on the grounds that the claim that "judgments like 'this cake is yummy' are relative" is, in fact, an absolute claim. Well, of course it is! So what?

                                    The claim "judgments like 'this cake is yummy' are relative" is not a gustatory judgment. It's a meta-gustatory claim. And it's consistent to make an absolute meta-gustatory claim that gustatory judgments are relative, just as it is consistent to make an absolute metaethical claim that ethical (i.e., moral) judgments are relative.

                                    In other words, it's consistent to claim "judgments like 'X is morally wrong' are relative.". To repeat, I'm not claiming that ethical claims are relative. I'm just pointing out that it's consistent to claim so, and thus your argument against moral relativism fails (which, of course, does not support moral relativism, either).
                                    Last edited by EvilVampire; 02-10-08, 10:51 PM.

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                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by XavierZane View Post
                                      Ah, but sociopathy and psychopathy are, by definition, psychological disorders. Something happened to those people in their lives, either they were born with a chemical imbalance or they were abused until they knew nothing else or any number of things, to rob them of their 'humanity'. They no more chose to be sociopaths than you or I chose not to be.
                                      Sociopathy and psychopathy are by definition personality disorders...not pyschological disorders. There is a difference. And while abuse and other circumstances can affect these, they do not cause psychopathic and sociopathic personality disorders. These kinds of people could grow up in a loving home and still end up being sociopaths or psychopaths. My point is, in my opinion, some of these people I would consider evil. They have no respect for laws, ethics, morals...they do not care about anyone or anything. Sometimes they will hurt others for their own gratification. Sure, genetics may or may not make this choice for them...but I still can think of them as evil.

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                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by Risa View Post
                                        Sociopathy and psychopathy are by definition personality disorders...not pyschological disorders. There is a difference. And while abuse and other circumstances can affect these, they do not cause psychopathic and sociopathic personality disorders. These kinds of people could grow up in a loving home and still end up being sociopaths or psychopaths. My point is, in my opinion, some of these people I would consider evil. They have no respect for laws, ethics, morals...they do not care about anyone or anything. Sometimes they will hurt others for their own gratification. Sure, genetics may or may not make this choice for them...but I still can think of them as evil.
                                        Personality disorders still fall under the realm of psychology/mental health, so the difference is slight. You have every right to think of them as evil, I wasn't suggesting otherwise. I was just explaining why I don't.

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