PDA

View Full Version : Is there such a thing as a universal, objective morality?



hamishspence
2009-10-19, 10:20 AM
For example:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolley_problem

experiments have been done (by one John Mikhail)- suggesting that there is a common response across the world, with the majority of people giving the same answer to this kind of ethical dilemma.

Is this an example of "baseline morality"?

A counterclaim, is that these kind of dilemmas produce different answers, depending on how emotionally phrased the dilemma is.

Is this true- and if so, how relevant is it to "universal morality" claims?

Telonius
2009-10-19, 10:23 AM
You'd need to find a race of sapient aliens to find out for sure. If it's truly objective (like gravity, etc), then it exists whether or not humans are there to observe it. It's possible that there's some sort of biological basis to much human morality, so that could be a confounding variable in determining morality on this planet.

Cobra_Ikari
2009-10-19, 10:27 AM
If I remember correctly, you can argue that morality is universal but ethics are subjective. The idea being, no one knows exactly what the true universal morality IS. >.>

hamishspence
2009-10-19, 10:30 AM
I think one of the more commonly claimed baselines is the non-aggression principle- that violence is wrong when initiated against others, but right, when used to defend against violence that has been initiated, or to stop further violence from someone who has initiated it.

Ichneumon
2009-10-19, 10:30 AM
If I remember correctly, you can argue that morality is universal but ethics are subjective. The idea being, no one knows exactly what the true universal morality IS. >.>

That would, if I understand you correctly, be the right view, in my opinion. There is only 1 truth, but many people have different ideas on what the truth is. The fact that gravity is a lot easier to prooth than "right" or "wrong" is the reason why so many people disagree on what it is.

Astrella
2009-10-19, 10:33 AM
In my opinion, morality is purely a social construct to make society run. The product of society, not something distinct which exists independently.

Cobra_Ikari
2009-10-19, 10:34 AM
That would, if I understand you correctly, be the right view, in my opinion. There is only 1 truth, but many people have different ideas on what the truth is. The fact that gravity is a lot easier to prooth than "right" or "wrong" is the reason why so many people disagree on what it is.

That is indeed what I was trying to say. I agree as well.

It's nice to think there's a concrete, true "right" and "wrong", even if we've yet to determine exactly what they are, and have to base our opinions off our own personal interpretations.

Freshmeat
2009-10-19, 10:39 AM
I hate to bring semantics into this, but 'baseline morality' is kind of vague. While I do agree that there are universal moral principles that just about everyone can agree on, I consider most of these a sign of the times. Morality, especially when dealing with things as racism, equality and justice, has changed a lot throughout the ages and it will continue to do so as long as mankind exists. What is commonly accepted as a morally correct choice or opinion now will probably be considered wildly ignorant, intolerant or bigoted several hundreds of years into the future. I feel this applies to many other semi-related topics as well, most of which I can't discuss here.

That said, I do agree with the principle of utilitiarianism as I believe it to be one of the better moral guidelines. Of course, interpretation can vary wildly. Would it be better to save Einstein or ten random farmers? How about a hundred? Is it more ethical to save a Russian than a Bolivian? It ultimately depends on human interpretation which is flawed by design. Therefore I hold that while there may be one correct ethical principle, applying it consistently is just about impossible for us.

Edit: seems like I've been echoing much of what's been said/ninja-posted so far.

Killer Angel
2009-10-19, 10:43 AM
While I do agree that there are universal moral principles that just about everyone can agree on, I consider most of these a sign of the times. Morality, especially when dealing with things as racism, equality and justice, has changed a lot throughout the ages and it will continue to do so as long as mankind exists.

But what are these "universal moral principles"'
Maybe something like the "Golden Rule"? Treat others like you want to be treated?
I't indeed very universal, still, I've some problem also with that: Imagine a country ruled by strenght, not to exalt the bully, but to forge the individual and preserve the society (Spartan-like). The young are taken away from their parents to be raised by someone else, your whole life is imbibed with the exaltation of strenght at the service of the nation.
You treat the others like you want to be (as you were) treated: in a way immoral for our current standard, but fits the "golden rule".

AtomicKitKat
2009-10-19, 10:48 AM
Harm not lest harm come to thee seems to be a near universal tenet across many religions. I'd say that's a fairly good baseline. Almost every thing else stems from this one axiom(Thou shalt not kill, etc), due to the many possible meanings of "harm".

hamishspence
2009-10-19, 10:52 AM
The tricky part is- once somebody else is starting to Cause Harm- a lot of the time, it is impossible to stop them doing it, without harming them in the process.

Hence the "Cause Harm only to those who have initiated harm" bit mentioned earlier.

Of course, there is a great deal of complexity in ensuring the target is the correct one for harming, and the harm is the minimum necessary.

Freshmeat
2009-10-19, 11:06 AM
But what are these "universal moral principles"'
Maybe something like the "Golden Rule"? Treat others like you want to be treated?
I't indeed very universal, still, I've some problem also with that: Imagine a country ruled by strenght, not to exalt the bully, but to forge the individual and preserve the society (Spartan-like). The young are taken away from their parents to be raised by someone else, your whole life is imbibed with the exaltation of strenght at the service of the nation.
You treat the others like you want to be (as you were) treated: in a way immoral for our current standard, but fits the "golden rule".

True, but it'd still be just one country compared to the rest of the world. If we use the above (implied) definition of universality, a universal moral principle can never exist until everyone is in agreement, particularly about the principle's interpretation. Quite frankly, that is a rather unrealistic assumption. In addition, I don't think the 'golden rule' is really all that foolproof and conclusive. One could make a case that even Belkar lives by the "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" principle: he doesn't mind killing people and them trying to kill him back, because he feels confident enough that he can do the former before the latter becomes a problem.

As such, I'm more inclined to equate 'universal' with 'the vast majority of the world's populace agrees with it'. Examples include wanton killing, stealing, rape and slavery. Most people will agree that, barring certain circumstances which might warrant, say, murder or theft), these things are immoral and counter-productive to society as a whole.

So I'd rate them as some of the universal moral principles of our times.

AtomicKitKat
2009-10-19, 11:07 AM
Having been a military policeman(well, regimental, so more limited in power scope), we're always covering how much force is needed to subdue a hypothetical target. As long as a weapon is drawn, and they are within range of a "party member"(fellow soldier), we are allowed to shoot. Of course, only until the fellow is no longer able to reach his weapon/target.

lobablob
2009-10-19, 11:24 AM
There can't really be a universal and objective morality. There are shared principles of morality, but these also vary over time. We would all view slavery as very wrong and as being completely unacceptable no matter what, but some civilisations in the past will have used slavery extensively and no doubt, many things we consider acceptable will be considered terrible by future societies.

There is the theory of natural law, that an objective and universal morality and law does exist and the only way in which we can be fair and right is to follow this. There are different opinions in natural law on where this can come from; such as from a god or from nature. This was once an important theory (and influential on law) But theories on such things have progressed and the natural law theory is no longer truly taken seriously, so I would say that an objective morality can't be found.

hamishspence
2009-10-19, 11:24 AM
As such, I'm more inclined to equate 'universal' with 'the vast majority of the world's populace agrees with it'. Examples include wanton killing, stealing, rape and slavery. Most people will agree that, barring certain circumstances which might warrant, say, murder or theft), these things are immoral and counter-productive to society as a whole.

So I'd rate them as some of the universal moral principles of our times.

I think all of these fall under "initiating harm"

I think the most common "break point" between the various moral philosophies, is how important "preventing harm" is,

and whether it is morally correct to cause harm to the innocent few, in order to prevent harm to the innocent many.

(Very few baulk at causing harm to the guilty few in order to prevent harm to the innocent many. Where "Guilty" means "initiates harm". Causing harm in this context can range from depriving a person of their liberty, up to more serious forms)

It really depends on how much weight a philosophy places, on preventing harm (to innocents), and whether in order to do this, causing harm is justified.

Some say it is only justified to cause harm to the guilty.

Others take a "Failure to prevent harm is equivalent to causing harm" approach, and say "Choose to cause the least harm."

lobablob
2009-10-19, 11:38 AM
I think all of these fall under "initiating harm"

I think the most common "break point" between the various moral philosophies, is how important "preventing harm" is,

and whether it is morally correct to cause harm to the innocent few, in order to prevent harm to the innocent many.

(Very few baulk at causing harm to the guilty few in order to prevent harm to the innocent many. Where "Guilty" means "initiates harm". Causing harm in this context can range from depriving a person of their liberty, up to more serious forms)

It really depends on how much weight a philosophy places, on preventing harm (to innocents), and whether in order to do this, causing harm is justified.

Some say it is only justified to cause harm to the guilty.

Others take a "Failure to prevent harm is equivalent to causing harm" approach, and say "Choose to cause the least harm."

Some philosophies consider harming another as the only justification for having harm caused to yourself. For example, the idea of the harm principle is that the criminal law should only interfere with your liberty (Thereby harming you) is if you have caused harm to others. Of course, harm can be hard to distinguish. What is the importance of consent to harm? What level of harm can you consent to? Does there need to be a valuable outcome from the harm in order to consent to it? The criminal law does consider it justified in some cases to convict where consent was given, or when harm to another is not caused. Given that society does not seem to have a particular problem with this, it could be said that our system of morality does consider it justified to harm someone who has not caused any harm. Of course, this can follow the idea that failing to prevent harm is equivalent to causing harm, as while you may not have harmed anyone, there is a possibility of harm being caused and it is hard to draw a line on where you should and shouldn't punish someone for the possibility of harming another, because any form of punishment by the law affects your liberty.

Icewalker
2009-10-19, 11:48 AM
No, there is no universal morality. I feel I can say this with conviction.

I'll start by saying that maybe there is a universal human morality, that we all feel the same way, and if so I believe that draws from one of two things: established ideas in EARLY society that spread throughout the world, or possibly brain structure with things like neuroethics.

However, take for example, animals. They certainly don't have our ethics, if any at all by our standards, and other sentient races could be greatly different as well, as society could shift greatly.

Perhaps, for a society structured the way ours is, our moral system is the only one which makes it function, but out there in the universe is another race with a society structured in a different fashion, which shares no morals or ethics with us.

hamishspence
2009-10-19, 11:53 AM
Even when a person might say

"Killing innocent people, even to protect a larger number of innocent people, is wrong"

they might also say

"Restricting the liberty of innocent people, in order to prevent harm to a larger number, is permissible"

since restricting liberty is (to many) a much lesser form of harm than killing.

Example- a village is afflicted by a disease. So far, it has not spread beyond that village.

Most people would consider cordening off that village, keeping the people from leaving, to be acceptable- the right of people to move around at their own will must come second to the needs of the population as a whole.

Yet a rather lesser number of people would say it is justified to nuke the village, bomb it, burn it down, etc, with the people, sick and healthy alike, in it, to avoid the risk of the disease spreading.

Myrmex
2009-10-19, 12:06 PM
Morality doesn't exist outside of people, therefore it cannot be universal or objective.

That being said, morality- how one should behave in a social environment- is the natural product of evolving, social creatures. Morality is a descriptor for a certain set of actions given a particular time and place that contribute favorably to the Nash equilibrium. You could say that animals have "morals", but since they are different than ours, we're still not violating their lack of objectivity or universality.

hamishspence
2009-10-19, 12:14 PM
Or it could be, that morality is inherent to life, but the morality of "thinking, social beings" is different to that of animals, because the requirements are different.

As mentioned, different societies tend to have similar rules.

If "thinking, social aliens" are met and they turn out to have a similar basic "toolset" of morality, that might confirm the notion that no society can exist without a certain, basic moral code. (at least not for long).

If "confidence in moral principles" fades- is it likely that societies which suffer this, will collapse?

Myrmex
2009-10-19, 12:23 PM
Or it could be, that morality is inherent to life, but the morality of "thinking, social beings" is different to that of animals, because the requirements are different.

As mentioned, different societies tend to have similar rules.

If "thinking, social aliens" are met and they turn out to have a similar basic "toolset" of morality, that might confirm the notion that no society can exist without a certain, basic moral code. (at least not for long).

Then it's a matter of semantics. Given any environment for an organism, including a social one, there are a set of actions that will result in higher fitness for that organism. If you want to call the set of actions that increases that organism's fitness within an environment "morality", I guess you could. It does poorly to address the issue of non-kin altruism, especially in the case of heroic sacrifice. You can explain that away with evolutionary theory & early human societies, though.


If "confidence in moral principles" fades- is it likely that societies which suffer this, will collapse?

Why would that happen, though? You can have a total lack of belief in any principle, and still behave in predictable ways. You can be a mindless automaton (if anyone still believes that about animals), and so long as you're in the environment you evolved in, you will still take actions that maximize fitness. All social interaction, from ants to vampire bats to humans, is just a big game of Prisoner's Dilemma.

Trog
2009-10-19, 12:39 PM
As to the common thought of harming another being wrong I would say this was basically brought about because we know that doing so to another human will have repercussions which may in turn harm us. Not harming others has its root source in survival. Harming another human will result in our being harmed in return and possibly by more than just the one human we harmed. So as long as there are unacceptable consequences to us we do not do it.

Take away those repercussions and suddenly very "moral" people do "immoral" things. Like that experiment that cast volunteers as either guards or prisoners. Once the consequences were taken away the guards did whatever they wanted to the prisoners. People will do whatever they think they can get away with to get ahead in this world. Which explains not only our basic need to survive but also things like difficulty accepting things which pose limits on us that do not immediately threaten our life. Anything which limits us from getting ahead is considered wrong. Oppression, slavery, limited freedoms, etc.

This basic drive of getting what we need in whatever way we can explains nearly every "moral failing" of humans. It also underlies the need for freedom, the drive to succeed, and other things viewed as positive for not only individuals but for society as well.

In short it's all really about the Darwinian survival of the fittest drive that all creatures seem to have hampered by the negative consequences of pursuing them with the punishment dealt out by either individuals, groups, or the laws which groups have created.

In that sense universal morality does and does not exist, depending on how you really look at it. Or to be a bit more quippy universal immorality exists - in the Darwinian drive to survive and fulfill our needs. Laws and group decisions to curtail these activities vary from group to group, nation to nation, and time to time, however. Simple as that.

Solaris
2009-10-19, 12:43 PM
A Pun-Pun thread last night, a morality thread this morning. Looks like we're getting all our routine topics knocked down in one go.

hamishspence
2009-10-19, 12:50 PM
Why would that happen, though? You can have a total lack of belief in any principle, and still behave in predictable ways. You can be a mindless automaton (if anyone still believes that about animals), and so long as you're in the environment you evolved in, you will still take actions that maximize fitness. All social interaction, from ants to vampire bats to humans, is just a big game of Prisoner's Dilemma.

The point being "maximizing fitness" can actually (in a society) require you to abide by the rules of that society.

Even in the animal world "cheating is punished" so to speak.

A "cheat or rob" strategy may succeed in the short term, but fail in the long term- which might be why animals (including people) have evolved to detect cheats, and societies exert pressure to punish cheats.

Myrmex
2009-10-19, 12:59 PM
The point being "maximizing fitness" can actually (in a society) require you to abide by the rules of that society.

Even in the animal world "cheating is punished" so to speak.

A "cheat or rob" strategy may succeed in the short term, but fail in the long term- which might be why animals (including people) have evolved to detect cheats, and societies exert pressure to punish cheats.

Yeah, that was exactly my point. Amoral organizations don't like being stolen from any less than moral ones. Amoral people don't like being killed any less than moral people.

hamishspence
2009-10-19, 01:04 PM
in which case, they are not completely amoral- they simply have a morality that only works within the organization, and excludes everyone outside it.

Basically, without morality/rules/whatever-you-call-it, organization cannot exist, and people cannot prosper.

The difference between "tribal/organizational morality" and "real morality" is real morality embraces everyone, not just the "in-group"

Myrmex
2009-10-19, 01:11 PM
in which case, they are not completely amoral- they simply have a morality that only works within the organization, and excludes everyone outside it.

Basically, without morality/rules/whatever-you-call-it, organization cannot exist, and people cannot prosper.

The difference between "tribal/organizational morality" and "real morality" is real morality embraces everyone, not just the "in-group"

So you're conflating morality with... I'm not sure what to call it. Optimal social behavior, maybe?

DaedalusMkV
2009-10-19, 01:20 PM
Yeah, that was exactly my point. Amoral organizations don't like being stolen from any less than moral ones. Amoral people don't like being killed any less than moral people.

Semantics: I think you're confusing Amoral with Immoral. Amoral is someone outside morality: Animals, psycopaths, young children (see: psycopaths) and the like. Immoral is someone who undertakes actions which are not moral, like a gangster or theif. /Semantics

Having spent many hours on exactly this subject in philosophy courses, I can say the following things about universal morality:
1. It may or may not exist. Some people say there is a universal moral standard, some people think it's all relative. This is called Metaethics, and it's been a highly debated subject for at least 3000 years. Look it up, it's quite fascinating how we've managed to poke nasty holes in every single possibility.
2. If it did exist, we'd never be able to get more than a general sense of it, because moral standards and ideas vary wildly when it comes to the less clearcut things. Seriously, I've done some studies myself, and tough questions get answers across the board ("Say there's a nuclear device planted in a baby's stomach. It will detonate in three minutes unless you dig it out of the baby using your pocketknife. You're in a heavily populated city. What do you do? What if it were an adult? A convict?" and the like are great for this.).
3. There are a few things that humans have been, generally, considered to be immoral on a wide scale. Premeditated murder, rape, and killing the helpless are ususally viewed as immoral in a wide variety of cultural and historical settings. Many modern standards, such as paedophilia and torture are not on this list, though, and pretty much everything but cold-blooded murder has been excluded by some societies.


You could spend your life studying this without finding a good answer. Indeed, thousands of people throughout history have done exactly that.

Myrmex
2009-10-19, 01:23 PM
Semantics: I think you're confusing Amoral with Immoral. Amoral is someone outside morality: Animals, psycopaths, young children (see: psycopaths) and the like. Immoral is someone who undertakes actions which are not moral, like a gangster or theif. /Semantics

I meant exactly what was posted.


You could spend your life studying this without finding a good answer. Indeed, thousands of people throughout history have done exactly that.

But thinking about it for a few minutes should yield a pretty obvious conclusion. If you approach it with your feelings, of course you're going to get confused.

If I did science with just my emotions, I wouldn't get very good results, either.

Faulty
2009-10-19, 01:24 PM
You'd need to find a race of sapient aliens to find out for sure. If it's truly objective (like gravity, etc), then it exists whether or not humans are there to observe it. It's possible that there's some sort of biological basis to much human morality, so that could be a confounding variable in determining morality on this planet.

Morality involves a relation of beings. Without those beings, there is no morality. I'd argue that there is an objective moral reality that comes out of those relations. What I mean is, there's a moral system (or maybe even a handful) that is right for all people and cultures.

Myrmex
2009-10-19, 01:26 PM
Morality involves a relation of beings. Without those beings, there is no morality. I'd argue that there is an objective moral reality that comes out of those relations. What I mean is, there's a moral system (or maybe even a handful) that is right for all people and cultures.

What do you mean by "right"?
You're making a pretty unqualified statement there.

Do you mean right as in "If people X behave like Y, it would make me feel best?"

Or do you mean "If people X behave like Y, they will obtain the most utility?"

Faulty
2009-10-19, 01:27 PM
I mean correct.

Sneak
2009-10-19, 01:30 PM
I would say that there are some universal moral ideals that humanity as a whole has evolutionarily had to embrace in order to become more complex and intelligent. For example, without the ideals that murder and theft are fundamentally wrong, I would argue that higher order society would not be able to function.

Other than such almost-universally-agreed-upon issues, however, there is no universal moralityŚmorality is individual and determined by various factors including upbringing, societal ideals, and personal experience.

Myrmex
2009-10-19, 01:32 PM
I mean correct.

What makes one set of behaviors more correct than another? Correct grammar is correct due to social conventions. Correct theories are correct because they make accurate predictions. Correct behaviors are correct because they elicit the best social responses.

But I don't think any of these are what you mean. Could you be a little more explicit? Is this a case of "people should do what I think they should do because it makes me feel good?"


I would say that there are some universal moral ideals that humanity as a whole has evolutionarily had to embrace in order to become more complex and intelligent. For example, without the ideals that murder and theft are fundamentally wrong, I would argue that higher order society would not be able to function.

Saying murder is wrong is a tautology, as murder is wrongful killing. Society also embraces righteous killing and righteous stealing, but we call them different things.

Sneak
2009-10-19, 01:41 PM
Perhaps, but I'm not quite sure how to state it any better.

"Some killing is universally regarded as morally wrong," then?

That just seems unwieldy.

DaedalusMkV
2009-10-19, 01:42 PM
But thinking about it for a few minutes should yield a pretty obvious conclusion. If you approach it with your feelings, of course you're going to get confused.

If I did science with just my emotions, I wouldn't get very good results, either.
Really? May I ask what conclusion that is? I have yet to find a philosophy that is universally applicable with no serious faults and gaps of logic. I have yet to find one that satisfies logical requirements in every given situation. Utilitarianism, Deontology, Divine Command, everything has problems. I'd love to hear the perfect conclusion that can be reached in a few minutes of thought. It would sure have made the ethics courses a lot easier, though I do wonder how none of us, including the scientists and the professor, came up with such a perfect result. Or, for that matter, the thousands of philosophers throughout history, many of whom were scientists themselves.

There may or may not be a perfect truth. Whether there is or not, it makes absolutely no difference because we will never know it, much less be able to prove it.



Faulty: Historical studies disagree. Give me any example other than premeditated murder of a friend or neighbor and I will provide a culture that
did not consider it immoral, and that's just a few thousand years of human culture. There may be something that vaguely functions for most societies most of the time, but there will never be something optimal in all situations all of the time for all cultures. At least, not as far as we can tell so far. Hence metaethics being heavily debated for the last 3000 years.

Myrmex
2009-10-19, 01:51 PM
Perhaps, but I'm not quite sure how to state it any better.

"Some killing is universally regarded as morally wrong," then?

That just seems unwieldy.

Every society has murder, but what makes it a murder as opposed to an honor killing or an execution or war or good old fashioned fun, is different.


Really? May I ask what conclusion that is? I have yet to find a philosophy that is universally applicable with no serious faults and gaps of logic. I have yet to find one that satisfies logical requirements in every given situation. Utilitarianism, Deontology, Divine Command, everything has problems. I'd love to hear the perfect conclusion that can be reached in a few minutes of thought. It would sure have made the ethics courses a lot easier, though I do wonder how none of us, including the scientists and the professor, came up with such a perfect result. Or, for that matter, the thousands of philosophers throughout history, many of whom were scientists themselves.

There may or may not be a perfect truth. Whether there is or not, it makes absolutely no difference because we will never know it, much less be able to prove it.

Sorry, I misquoted you. I meant to reply to the bit on metaethics: does universal morality exist? It is abundantly clear that it does not.

In my opinion, moral questions are a waste of time. The "is this action right" question is just a roundabout utility statement/inquiry that we couch in moral talk to convince our neighbors we're not actually monsters.

DaedalusMkV
2009-10-19, 02:07 PM
Sorry, I misquoted you. I meant to reply to the bit on metaethics: does universal morality exist? It is abundantly clear that it does not.

I disagree, sort of. Universal morality may or may not exist, depending on exacly what makes something moral. Hence metaethics (by the way, you're either a Cultural Relativist or a full-blown Moral Relativist, from that one line alone). That said, with one sole, very unlikely exception it simply does not matter. Even if there is a universal standard of right and wrong, we cannot know it and therefore (in my opinion) it is irrelevent. Given that that sole, unlikely exception involves Divine Command theory being right in a very, very specific way and said divinity showing up in person and individually relating the truth of morality to every individual in existence, which itself is something approaching impossible due to the fact that such a mind would be very, very difficult to understand, you can understand why metaethics is not the most useful of ethical studies, and certainly not what gets the most spotlight.

You want an objectively true statement about morality? There's only one: There is nothing about morality that is objectively true. Morality is by its very nature subjective (barring, again, the stupidly unlikely nigh-impossible exception that probably would have happened by now if it were going to). I could put up walls of text explaining this, but I don't think it's really necessary to do so.

Sneak
2009-10-19, 02:07 PM
Every society has murder, but what makes it a murder as opposed to an honor killing or an execution or war or good old fashioned fun, is different.

Perhaps, but once again, I would argue that some forms of killing are universally regarded as immoral. For example, the kind of unhinged, random killing that some mentally deranged serial killers do. Just killing a random person that you don't even know and have had no experience with for no purpose other than to kill.

SDF
2009-10-19, 02:10 PM
Perhaps, but once again, I would argue that some forms of killing are universally regarded as immoral. For example, the kind of unhinged, random killing that some mentally deranged serial killers do. Just killing a random person that you don't even know and have had no experience with for no purpose other than to kill.

That is an anthropogenic viewpoint, not a universally objective one.

blackfox
2009-10-19, 02:43 PM
I don't understand how there possibly could be.
Every human, being unique, has their own (unique) morality, none of which is right, except in their own perception, which may or may not be right, but we don't know what's actually there... only what we're perceiving.

hamishspence
2009-10-19, 02:52 PM
The point I was trying to make is- all societies have some kind of "Causing harm is immoral" rule.

But they tend to differ in the exceptions they allow.

Thats the sort of thing I mean as fundamental.

Similar, for most societies, there is some sort of "harm in response to harm is moral" rule- but differ in the circumstances in which the "defensive harm" or "responsive harm" is permissible.

But societies with an absolute "never harm another- not even if they are harming you" as far as I can tell, are very rare and don't last long.

You can probably visualize the progression from 1 at "bottom level morality" with increasing levels:

1- the person who prevents or avenges harm done to you, is you
2- the people who prevent or avenge harm done to you, are your family
3- the people who prevent or avenge harm done to you, are your tribe
4- the person who prevents or avenges harm done to you, is your king
5- the people who prevent or avenge harm done to you, are your government
6- the people who prevent or avenge harm done to you, are the world government

This may show a bit of personal bias here, but it gives a rough idea- all morality begins, with the prevention- or punishment of harm.

pendell
2009-10-19, 03:22 PM
For example:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolley_problem

experiments have been done (by one John Mikhail)- suggesting that there is a common response across the world, with the majority of people giving the same answer to this kind of ethical dilemma.

Is this an example of "baseline morality"?

A counterclaim, is that these kind of dilemmas produce different answers, depending on how emotionally phrased the dilemma is.

Is this true- and if so, how relevant is it to "universal morality" claims?


I must direct your attention to C.S. Lewis attempts to prove by induction that there is a universal morality in the appendix of 'Abolition' of man: Illustrations of the Tao (http://www.columbia.edu/cu/augustine/arch/lewis/abolition4.htm).

I believe it is possible to prove an objective morality *with respect to other humans* because we humans have certain commonalities that transcend cultural boundaries. We have intelligence. We are tool-using. We work, and expect to receive value for that work. We raise children in families.


This is why, for example, adultery is a crime in every human society. Different cultures have different ideas about what marriage is (some societies are polygamous), some cultures have 'safety outlet' provisions (I understand that in Africa females are allowed to sometimes take male lovers in addition to their husbands), and we disagree on the sanctions for violation of this crime, but there is a common fundamental principle -- people who have sex commit to remain together to care for and raise any children resulting from that union. People who play cuckoos and put their eggs in others' nests generally have a bad time, if caught.

Therefore, there is a universal morality based on those traits that all humans have in common, which is why we are all one species. Theft is not right in Africa and wrong in India -- in any culture, a thief who is caught can expect prison, amputation, death, or debt slavery depending on who he stole from and how much he stole.



In my opinion, morality is purely a social construct to make society run. The product of society, not something distinct which exists independently.


I partly agree .. but since humans are pretty much the same kind of creature the world over, any viable society will have certain constructs and concepts in common. Comparing the world's great civilizations -- Egypt, China, Rome, India -- you will find they have a great deal in common at a baseline level.

Respectfully,

Brian P.

hamishspence
2009-10-19, 03:27 PM
The adultery bit, is basically a subset of "cheating"- trying to get, what hasn't been earned.

Animals punish "cheating" as well.

My guess is that any social creature, has to punish "cheaters" or thieves, or whatever- if the social group is to survive.

Some people claim there are societies where all property is abolished and there is no such thing as theft- is this true, or an oversimplification?

Killer Angel
2009-10-19, 03:35 PM
The point I was trying to make is- all societies have some kind of "Causing harm is immoral" rule.

But they tend to differ in the exceptions they allow.

Thats the sort of thing I mean as fundamental.

Similar, for most societies, there is some sort of "harm in response to harm is moral" rule- but differ in the circumstances in which the "defensive harm" or "responsive harm" is permissible.


For example, we commonly accept as morally justifiable the killing for self defense, or in defense of innocent peoples, but this guy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohandas_Karamchand_Gandhi), surely wasn't a supporter of the "defensive harm".



Animals punish "cheating" as well.


there are notable exceptions (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuckoo#Breeding).

SDF
2009-10-19, 03:43 PM
I must direct your attention to C.S. Lewis attempts to prove by induction that there is a universal morality in the appendix of 'Abolition' of man: Illustrations of the Tao (http://www.columbia.edu/cu/augustine/arch/lewis/abolition4.htm).

I believe it is possible to prove an objective morality *with respect to other humans* because we humans have certain commonalities that transcend cultural boundaries. We have intelligence. We are tool-using. We work, and expect to receive value for that work. We raise children in families.


This is why, for example, adultery is a crime in every human society. Different cultures have different ideas about what marriage is (some societies are polygamous), some cultures have 'safety outlet' provisions (I understand that in Africa females are allowed to sometimes take male lovers in addition to their husbands), and we disagree on the sanctions for violation of this crime, but there is a common fundamental principle -- people who have sex commit to remain together to care for and raise any children resulting from that union. People who play cuckoos and put their eggs in others' nests generally have a bad time, if caught.

Therefore, there is a universal morality based on those traits that all humans have in common, which is why we are all one species. Theft is not right in Africa and wrong in India -- in any culture, a thief who is caught can expect prison, amputation, death, or debt slavery depending on who he stole from and how much he stole.

C.S. Lewis' arguments are all religiously routed and thus I can't debate them. I can state that I generally disagree with them, but those tenants on this board should end there. The adultery example is a social construct and doesn't even necessarily have anything to do with morality at all.

hamishspence
2009-10-19, 03:46 PM
that is more a case of extra-species thing- one species taking advantage of another.

The cuckoo eggs are very close mimics- because ones which weren't close, get chucked out- and the best mimics are the ones that survive, and the victims have gotten better and better at spotting cuckoo eggs, and so on.

Its more highly social species, that tend to have rules, and punish rulebreakers.

the point about social constructs- is that morality is a social construct- but it is one that holds a social order together.

At base, what gets forbidden is what endangers the social order.
Societies may grow, and increase in complexity, and forbid all kinds of things, many not because they threaten the social order, but for other reasons.

But the base rules tend to remain the same.

Do not cheat
Do not steal
Do not attack others (you can defend, though)

pendell
2009-10-19, 03:49 PM
Some people claim there are societies where all property is abolished and there is no such thing as theft- is this true, or an oversimplification?


So far as I know, this has occasionally been made to work with subsistance level stone age technology. I don't believe any society that required any degree of specialization has ever been able to get it to work.

I would argue that you can't have a specialized economy with things like accountants, programmers, soldiers etc. unless you have some way of comparing the value of one service with another. This requires some medium of exchange (gold, salt, jade, silver) which can be used to purchase any service.

All services are not created equal. A janitor earns $5 an hour for a job that requires almost no training. A doctor has to go to school for XX years.

If you also pay a doctor $5 an hour -- you'll have a lot of janitors and not many doctors. There will be a few idealists who believe it is their calling, but as a rule people want to be reimbursed commensurate with the effort they put in.

Thus, it seems to me that any economy above the marginal subsistance level requires the concept of property; because people won't kill themselves without some appropriate level of recompense, and if they can't keep it once they've earned it.

There have been a number of attempts in the twentieth century to abolish private property in technological societies, and these endeavors have so far resulted in 100% failure. I believe it's because, as I explained above, the people who did so were also attempting to maintain a technological civilization, and as explained above you can't have division of labor without an advanced economy and some form of private property.



C.S. Lewis' arguments are all religiously routed and thus I can't debate them. I can state that I generally disagree with them, but those tenants on this board should end there. The adultery example is a social construct and doesn't even necessarily have anything to do with morality at all.


Although it is true a large percentage of C.S. Lewis popular work is religious, I believe you will find 'The Abolition of Man' to be almost pure philosophy. He is arguing for the existence of a universal law -- a Tao -- based on the writings of a number of civilizations. The work can be read and enjoyed without needing to descend to the level of religious discussion.

Respectfully,

Brian P.

hamishspence
2009-10-19, 03:51 PM
Maybe it was the concept of property

"This is mine, and this is yours. You touch mine, and You'll Get Yours"

that was the driver behind the evolution of civilization, in the first place.

hamishspence
2009-10-19, 03:58 PM
For example, we commonly accept as morally justifiable the killing for self defense, or in defense of innocent peoples, but this guy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohandas_Karamchand_Gandhi), surely wasn't a supporter of the "defensive harm".

Doesn't necessarily mean he's right.

It's not too hard to imagine what would happen if the concept of "defensive harm" by individuals, or a government, was abolished- anarchy in the worst way.

a "never strike back" morality has a lot of problems.

It might work in a society where everyone was perfect- but then, it would never come into play, anyway. Because there would be no striking, to decide not to strike back against.

Prak
2009-10-19, 04:06 PM
There is likely a baseline for given species, we have ours, chimpanzee's seem to have some form of morality.

But beyond that, a "universal morality" implies something unified it, or presented a morality. It also implies that it is a part of everyone, and those who act "immorally" are denying it.

This is then a question of belief, we cannot talk about belief in the first case, but I personally believe the second case is false.

Even out species baseline is not rooted within everyone, there are those who question even the baseline, merely because they, for example, place no inherent value on human life. It is possible that this is "meant to be" so that there can be a debate on morality when necessary.
To expand this example:
Say the world has finally done away with the death penalty. It is deemed immoral to kill. Prisons have moved away from punishment and on to rehabilitation of criminals.

What, then, is done with a serial murderer who frequently escapes and continues to kill? He has not been rehabilitated in all the years he's been imprisoned, he has killed a number of prison staff and inmates, and obviously cannot be held reliably. It is clear that he will always escape, and kill.
But the law, and morality, cannot kill him. It has been deemed illegal and immoral.
You can't "exile" him, because that's just giving the problem to someone else, and there's no guarantee that he will not make his way back to you and continue his spree.

At this point, the Immoral, the person who doesn't place inherent value on human life, but has stayed out of trouble, who hasn't killed, who hasn't stolen, so on and so forth, must be allowed to step forward and do what must be done, even if he is reviled for it. Even if it makes him a criminal. There are times when a person must be removed from society.

This is a hypothetical situation that came up when a friend and I last debated over morality.

And it has a very obvious fictional example.

hamishspence
2009-10-19, 04:12 PM
depending on your views, that kind of of problem simply refutes the notion

"It is always, without exception, immoral to kill"

One comment, under a perhaps controversial philosophy, is

"If one values human life- one cannot value its destroyers"

Which is not to say rehabilitation isn't an option, but the right to kill in self defence, is something society can't (IMO) take away, without becoming tyranny.

which is the simplest rationale behind execution- it is "self-defence" against a direct threat to the society, and the people of it.

some societies abolish execution- but not (generally) the right to kill in self-defence (citizens) or defence of others (police).

Telonius
2009-10-19, 04:21 PM
I'd propose two related close-to-universal rules:

- Parents are responsible for taking care of their children until those children reach a certain age. (Exact age, and amount of "care" deemed sufficient, is determined by culture).

- Do not remove a child from the care of its parents without extremely good cause. (What constitutes "extremely good cause" varies by culture).

hamishspence
2009-10-19, 04:32 PM
Pretty much- trying to abolish any kind or "parent-child interaction" by taking the child away and have The State raise it, is the sort of thing only done in sci-fi- and the effects are usually bad.

Which is one reason to disapprove of the prequel-era Jedi.

(though there might be a "mundanes cannot cope with a Force-sensitive child" excuse, the more common one is that emotional attachments of any kind are a Bad Thing.)

Prak
2009-10-19, 04:40 PM
Pretty much- trying to abolish any kind or "parent-child interaction" by taking the child away and have The State raise it, is the sort of thing only done in sci-fi- and the effects are usually bad.

Which is one reason to disapprove of the prequel-era Jedi.

(though there might be a "mundanes cannot cope with a Force-sensitive child" excuse, the more common one is that emotional attachments of any kind are a Bad Thing.)
and hell, if you must take a force sensitive child away from mundane parents, give it force sensitive psued-parents.

But of course that would mean encouraging love and emotion... something the jedi are absolutely averse to.

One of the reasons I like sith...

skywalker
2009-10-19, 05:06 PM
and hell, if you must take a force sensitive child away from mundane parents, give it force sensitive psued-parents.

But of course that would mean encouraging love and emotion... something the jedi are absolutely averse to.

One of the reasons I like sith...

Ok, slow down. The prequel-era Jedi failed because they shunned the Dark Side nearly completely. They fell into the trap of seeing Light and Dark as Good and Evil. They faltered because they failed to embrace natural human emotions, especially love. Anakin and Luke were the greatest Jedi, and it was precisely because they hadn't had their love stamped out. When you look at the EU (I know, I know), you see that Luke embraced love and other emotions. To use Star Wars terms, we are all creatures of Light and Dark. To seal away our Dark side is to be less human. To listen to it and take certain things away from it makes us more human. I dunno. This is all the foundations of an essay I wanted to write last semester, but I wound up writing something else instead, about how Star Wars relates to other, older myths of our world. Suffice to say, I haven't fully developed my argument yet.


Maybe it was the concept of property

"This is mine, and this is yours. You touch mine, and You'll Get Yours"

that was the driver behind the evolution of civilization, in the first place.

I'm surprised no-one has brought up anarchy yet. It is possible that there are no rules at all.

About civilizations without property, I think it is not specialization that keeps it from working, it is scarcity. As long as things are scarce, property will be a basic concept. If we can ever move into a post-scarcity civilization, I think it becomes easier to say "yeah, you can have that. It wasn't mine anyway."

In general about universal morality: No, I don't think there is. There aren't any rules, really. Cultural laws and morals are probably evolutionarily favored, obviously we never would have things like nuclear fusion if Trog banged Einstein on the head with a rock because he wanted Einstein's flank of deer meat.

But no, there is no universal morality, in my opinion. Universal is far too big a word.

Trog
2009-10-19, 07:29 PM
In general about universal morality: No, I don't think there is. There aren't any rules, really. Cultural laws and morals are probably evolutionarily favored, obviously we never would have things like nuclear fusion if Trog banged Einstein on the head with a rock because he wanted Einstein's flank of deer meat.
Who says Trog didn't do just that? He always was bringing the best stuff for lunch into the patent office. Afterwards he kept mostly to himself and wrote a lot into a little notebook for some reason.

Cobra_Ikari
2009-10-19, 08:08 PM
I don't understand how there possibly could be.
Every human, being unique, has their own (unique) morality, none of which is right, except in their own perception, which may or may not be right, but we don't know what's actually there... only what we're perceiving.

It involves a viewpoint. There's a viewpoint that morality is definite, universal, and objective, but not specifically defined. Each person's interpretation of what morality should be and their actions based on this become their code of ethics. So ethics remain subjective.

I believe that's how it goes.

Devils_Advocate
2009-10-19, 09:18 PM
But the base rules tend to remain the same.
You haven't really established that.


Do not cheat
Rephrased: "It is not permissible to break the rules."
Rephrased some more: "It is not permissible to do that which is not permissible."


Do not steal
Rephrased: "It is not permissible to take property without the owner's permission in ways that are not permissible."

Similarly, "Do not murder" means "It is not permissible to kill in ways that are not permissible."

Those are all basically vacuous tautologies. That a several broad types of behavior -- destroying, creating, communicating, attacking, having sex, etc. -- are regulated by all societies doesn't give all societies the same rules except in those cases where all societies regulate something in the same way.


Do not attack others (you can defend, though)
Well, first off, attacking non-human animals and attacking dangerous Other Clumps of humans (http://www.prettyfedup.com/pfu/vocabulary/socialbrain.htm) are frequently seen as acceptable to obligatory, even if the individuals you're attacking weren't attacking anyone else, so "others" would seem to be a bit too vague if not too broad.

Second, it's more like "Don't attack members of Our Group without provocation", with different standards of what constitutes provocation. Or, alternately, stealing or insulting or whatever could be considered an "attack", so that all societies could be said to embrace "Don't attack first", but with different standards as to what constitutes an "attack". Either way. My point here is that different societies regulate physical violence in different ways, just like they regulate other broad types of behavior in different ways.


To look at this from another angle, one could argue as follows: "A typical moral framework consists of a general prohibition against acting to the detriment of other sentient beings, plus a bunch of special pleading saying when screwing others over is OK. The general prohibition is clearly the universal part, so we can identify that as the basic human moral impulse, from which all the special pleading is a deviation. After all, we recognize others' special pleading that we don't agree with as 'evil', so it would seem that a theoretical completely unbiased human would simply regard any act against another being as evil."

One problem with that is that it just doesn't seem to describe what people commonly mean when we talk about morality. A "moral person" is someone who harms others only in ways that we consider acceptable, not necessarily someone who never harms others at all. As an example, you don't think that violence in self-defense is incompatible with being a moral person... although a lot of people would tell you that two wrongs don't make a right. Which gets to my point: Different people have different exceptions to the general "Don't screw anyone over" principle. Or, to put it another way, there isn't a universal set of moral standards shared by everyone.

Another issue: I don't think it's even true that people generally have a problem with acting against others. I think that the default human baseline that a bunch of exceptions get added onto is more like "It's bad to act against others in my group." But "my group" is a relative phrase, so you can get two different moral philosophers from different groups disagreeing about which individuals are important, which means that they can't both be endorsing an objectively correct value system. However, it soon becomes clear that if each of them broadens his definition of "my group" sufficiently, they come to a consensus, at which point they can break for lunch.

pendell
2009-10-19, 09:20 PM
About civilizations without property, I think it is not specialization that keeps it from working, it is scarcity. As long as things are scarce, property will be a basic concept. If we can ever move into a post-scarcity civilization, I think it becomes easier to say "yeah, you can have that. It wasn't mine anyway."



Erm ... but certain societies in this world could already be considered 'post-scarcity'. How many people starve to death in the US or western Europe? In my town, even the homeless people are able to acquire beer, cigarettes, and live a lifestyle above that found in some African villages.

So are we content? Of course not. We simply move up Maslow's hierarchy of needs or whatever it's called. In a society where very few go hungry, hardly anyone is content, because we always find more things to want. If for no other reason, than to display status. Status display seems to be a critical need of the human psyche right above the need for food and sex. And that is the marketer's gift that keeps on giving, because it requires more than subsistence -- it requires ever more things (Rolex watches, Lamborghini cars, Gulfstream Jets) that normal people can't have access to. Regardless of what the 'mean' in society is, there will always be people seeking to put themselves above it. Which means that if luxury goods didn't exist they'd have to be invented.

Respectfully,

Brian P.

skywalker
2009-10-19, 09:45 PM
Who says Trog didn't do just that? He always was bringing the best stuff for lunch into the patent office. Afterwards he kept mostly to himself and wrote a lot into a little notebook for some reason.

I absolutely LOL'd IRL!


Erm ... but certain societies in this world could already be considered 'post-scarcity'. How many people starve to death in the US or western Europe? In my town, even the homeless people are able to acquire beer, cigarettes, and live a lifestyle above that found in some African villages.

So are we content? Of course not. We simply move up Maslow's hierarchy of needs or whatever it's called. In a society where very few go hungry, hardly anyone is content, because we always find more things to want. If for no other reason, than to display status. Status display seems to be a critical need of the human psyche right above the need for food and sex. And that is the marketer's gift that keeps on giving, because it requires more than subsistence -- it requires ever more things (Rolex watches, Lamborghini cars, Gulfstream Jets) that normal people can't have access to. Regardless of what the 'mean' in society is, there will always be people seeking to put themselves above it. Which means that if luxury goods didn't exist they'd have to be invented.

I never said it would fix it (if it even needs to be "fixed")... Only that it could. Of course we will find other things to want, but I was talking about serious post-scarcity. Like plentiful cars at a non-meaningful price. Property right now is still important. You tend to own things that you would miss. If cars become so plentiful or easy to come by that we can leave them unlocked on the street, property could conceivably become unimportant. If food were plentiful enough to be free (or nearly so), etc.

Coidzor
2009-10-19, 09:47 PM
I don't know and neither do you.

Myrmex
2009-10-19, 10:29 PM
I disagree, sort of. Universal morality may or may not exist, depending on exacly what makes something moral. Hence metaethics (by the way, you're either a Cultural Relativist or a full-blown Moral Relativist, from that one line alone). That said, with one sole, very unlikely exception it simply does not matter. Even if there is a universal standard of right and wrong, we cannot know it and therefore (in my opinion) it is irrelevent. Given that that sole, unlikely exception involves Divine Command theory being right in a very, very specific way and said divinity showing up in person and individually relating the truth of morality to every individual in existence, which itself is something approaching impossible due to the fact that such a mind would be very, very difficult to understand, you can understand why metaethics is not the most useful of ethical studies, and certainly not what gets the most spotlight.

You want an objectively true statement about morality? There's only one: There is nothing about morality that is objectively true. Morality is by its very nature subjective (barring, again, the stupidly unlikely nigh-impossible exception that probably would have happened by now if it were going to). I could put up walls of text explaining this, but I don't think it's really necessary to do so.

My views most closely align with Emotivism.
I agree, largely, with all this.

However, the "we can't really know" is, imo, a bogus cop out. We can't really know anything, so invoking is sort of moot.

pendell
2009-10-19, 11:51 PM
t I was talking about serious post-scarcity. Like plentiful cars at a non-meaningful price.


'Plentiful cars' is a need? Somehow, the human race survived for thousands of years without automobiles. In a lot of places an automobile is pointless, because there aren't any roads to drive them on (See: Alaska).

And why is it necessary that *everyone* have one? Wouldn't available mass transit work as well? Both NY and DC are pure hell to get around in using an automobile.

Respectfully,

Brian P.

LuisDantas
2009-10-20, 12:02 AM
About the OP: I would say that there is not yet an universal moral, much as there is no universal language.

It does not at all follow, however, that morals are completely arbitrary. Much of the contrary, really, since after all morals are ultimately calibrated by the effects on so many aspects of our lifes and affect so many other people besides the ones making the choices.

Has Lawrence Kohlberg been mentioned yet?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_Kohlberg

skywalker
2009-10-20, 12:35 AM
'Plentiful cars' is a need? Somehow, the human race survived for thousands of years without automobiles. In a lot of places an automobile is pointless, because there aren't any roads to drive them on (See: Alaska).

And why is it necessary that *everyone* have one? Wouldn't available mass transit work as well? Both NY and DC are pure hell to get around in using an automobile.

Respectfully,

Brian P.

I didn't say it was a need. Just that when enough stuff that is currently important to daily life becomes cheap/free, we might see a non-property based economy.

Ishmael (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ishmael_%28novel%29) is a book that has a lot to say on the subject of property and why we have it. An interesting read, if nothing else.

Killer Angel
2009-10-20, 01:45 AM
I didn't say it was a need. Just that when enough stuff that is currently important to daily life becomes cheap/free, we might see a non-property based economy.


Making one step further, you'll have the society of Kenders.

I'm not joking, at least, not totally: if we can imagine a funtional society when there's no private property and you can "steal" things without moral condemnation, and you didn't expect to have any property yourself, do it means that the concept of "do not steal", can be not universally moral?

hamishspence
2009-10-20, 04:30 AM
The point I was trying to make is murder, cheating, stealing, etc can all be summed up with one phrase:

Initiating harm.

And all the justifications for killing, or confiscating, or some other "usually immoral- except here" act boil down to:

"in response to harm initiated, harm in the process of being initiated, or a plot to initiate harm"

Now the reason, and intent, behind the responsive harm varies.

But as a rule it is "to protect people who have not initiated harm, from being harmed"

Sometimes, it will be necessary to protect a person who has initiated harm- from excessive harm in response.

For example- a thief who has been caught, and is about to be lynched.

But the general rule, is the same.

Devils_Advocate
2009-10-20, 05:31 AM
What constitutes "harm", though? You can define it so broadly that it's considered evil to do anything that anyone dislikes, or so narrowly that it's possible to severely screw people over without "harming" them, or any of numerous places in between. It's not even a simple sliding scale, since it's often subjective which of two treatments is more harmful.

And I really think that plenty of people consider harm acceptable in plenty of cases for reasons other than preventing or punishing harm.

hamishspence
2009-10-20, 06:06 AM
most of those involve "preventing greater harm"

Vaccinating someone involves a small harm (pain) and a small chance of a large harm (adverse reaction) but is a step taken to prevent a very great harm (disease epidemic)

What examples can you give that clearly do not involve at least the belief, that harm is being prevented in some way?

Being imprisoned is a harm (restrictions on freedom) but reduces the risk of a greater harm (more crimes)

And these days, there is a tendency to have rehabilitation programmes- to further reduce the risk of harm- reoffending.

bosssmiley
2009-10-20, 06:25 AM
How about adapting the Three Laws of Robotics to human action?

Do not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
A human must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First Law.
A human must abide by publicly approved and democratically passed local legislation, except where such orders would conflict with the preceding Laws.

Seems like they would be universally applicable from here. Altruism, right of self-protection against force or fraud, no secret tribunals or laws passed in camera...

edit: (sure, I'm talking ethic rather than morality...)

@v: The sublime beauty of their wisdom will probably never be exceeded in human thought. :smallcool:

Totally Guy
2009-10-20, 07:00 AM
How about adapting the Three Laws of Robotics to human action?

How about Bill and Ted?

Be excellent to each other.:smallwink:

hamishspence
2009-10-20, 07:18 AM
How about adapting the Three Laws of Robotics to human action?

Do not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
A human must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First Law.
A human must abide by publicly approved and democratically passed local legislation, except where such orders would conflict with the preceding Laws.

Seems like they would be universally applicable from here. Altruism, right of self-protection against force or fraud, no secret tribunals or laws passed in camera...

I'd reverse 1 and 2- the notion of, if I have to choose between dying, and allowing a human being to come to harm through inaction, I must choose dying, does not sit very well.

Especially not if I run into a human that doesn't follow these laws- if, when forced to choose between dying, and killing in self-defence, I am forced to choose dying, I think there is something amiss.

Concerning objective morality- the usual answer given to "slavery was considered moral by some cultures" is:

"And they were wrong, to consider it so."

One could say, that international law, is a product of the evolution of morality, an attempt at fashioning a few rough rules that apply everywhere.

Illiterate Scribe
2009-10-20, 07:30 AM
If there was an objective morality, don't think we'd necessarily be able to know it at an objective level. Noumenal vs. phenomenal, 'through a mirror, darkly', that sort of thing.

Hadessniper
2009-10-20, 07:31 AM
Morality is highly subjective, it changes based on culture, time, region, and situation.

LuisDantas
2009-10-20, 07:47 AM
Morality is highly subjective, it changes based on culture, time, region, and situation.

That is to say, it depends on sanity and wisdom.

While it may appear that Moral is highly subjective, I dispute that notion. It is in fact circunstancially subjective and ultimately must yield to the objective realities of biology, ecology and economy (among others).

But most of all, it is limited by the lack of knowledge and mental sanity of its subjects. Which is not to say (necessarily) that is shouldn't eventually converge into some common thread of moral, sustentable behavior and will.

Destro_Yersul
2009-10-20, 08:36 AM
How about Bill and Ted?

Be excellent to each other.:smallwink:

And PARTY ON, DUDES!

Toastkart
2009-10-20, 08:44 AM
If by universal, objective morality you mean something like this: 'All countries have laws regarding acceptable behavior. All societies have norms regarding acceptable behavior. There are consequences for choosing to follow or not to follow these rules of acceptable behavior.' then maybe I could say yes.

If not, then the answer is always no. As has been said a lot already in this thread, morality is subjective to the individual, culture, time, and place you're referring to.

To go even further, though, if you're talking about some kind of external objective morality then you're basically asking six billion+ people to be constricted by a morality they know nothing about.

hamishspence
2009-10-20, 09:18 AM
How about adapting the Three Laws of Robotics to human action?
Do not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
A human must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First Law.
A human must abide by publicly approved and democratically passed local legislation, except where such orders would conflict with the preceding Laws.


By far the biggest problem with number 1 though- is that it is 2 separate rules, which can be expected frequently to come into conflict.

You witness a person about to kill another person- the only way available, at the time, to reliably stop them, is to kill them.

So, do you "injure a human being"?
Or do you "allow a human being to come to harm through inaction"?

The result- is that these two must be split up, and which overrides which ends up being dependant on, for example, who is initiating the violence, or how much of a duty you have, to prevent human beings from coming to harm.

One could say, that a police sniper, is a person whose job gives them a
"Do not allow people to come to harm through inaction" rule, that overrides the normal "Do not harm people" rule.

However, it is generally limited to "Do not, through inaction, let people harm people"

bibliophile
2009-10-20, 10:17 AM
Yes, there is.


Many have argued, that since different cultures views of morality have varied over time, there can be no universal moral system, but this does not follow. Different cultures have had different ideas of how the solar system is constructed, yet that does not mean there is not one true way things are.

Likewise, even though poeple can have different perceptions, of say, mathematical truth, there is nevertheless, one truth. 1+1=2 weather or not we agree on it.

Merely because perceptions of a thing change does not mean the thing it self changes.

hamishspence
2009-10-20, 10:41 AM
This may be true.

However, even if it was, its a big leap from "there is a universal morality" to

(Insert Philosopher here) has formulated Universal Morality correctly-

and their teachings must be followed, if one is create the society that minimizes harm to its citizens the most, and maximizes their happiness, and their opportunity to make as much of themselves as they want.

Trog
2009-10-20, 10:41 AM
Yes, there is.


Many have argued, that since different cultures views of morality have varied over time, there can be no universal moral system, but this does not follow. Different cultures have had different ideas of how the solar system is constructed, yet that does not mean there is not one true way things are.

Likewise, even though poeple can have different perceptions, of say, mathematical truth, there is nevertheless, one truth. 1+1=2 weather or not we agree on it.

Merely because perceptions of a thing change does not mean the thing it self changes.
The universe has specific properties which can be measured and thus determined to fairly high degree of accuracy. Likewise with mathematics. This subject does not. Just because one concept can be proved does not mean that all concepts can be proven or even that they have any basis in reality. We are talking about amorphous, changing constructs of society, not absolute unchanging values. Totally different. Perception has little to do with it. Bad comparison.

hamishspence
2009-10-20, 10:45 AM
some writers do suggest morality is rooted in self-interest- and self-interest is rooted in biology- and biology is rooted in physics- and physics is universal.

But these writers tend to be somewhat controversial, and even within the range of writers that suggest this, their formulation of the connection between morality and biology, varies.

Illiterate Scribe
2009-10-20, 10:54 AM
Erm ... but certain societies in this world could already be considered 'post-scarcity'. How many people starve to death in the US or western Europe? In my town, even the homeless people are able to acquire beer, cigarettes, and live a lifestyle above that found in some African villages.

Actually, a fair few. Not large numbers, by a long shot, but to say that the US or Western Europe are 'post-scarcity' is a gross simplification.

kamikasei
2009-10-20, 10:55 AM
Yes, there is.

You critique a particular argument against this statement, but don't support it.

bibliophile
2009-10-20, 10:56 AM
The universe has specific properties which can be measured and thus determined to fairly high degree of accuracy. Likewise with mathematics. This subject does not. Just because one concept can be proved does not mean that all concepts can be proven or even that they have any basis in reality. We are talking about amorphous, changing constructs of society, not absolute unchanging values. Totally different. Perception has little to do with it. Bad comparison.

I was not attempting to prove my statement, merely refute a common misconception.

How exactly does one measure a mathematical object? They are not physical things.

Trog
2009-10-20, 10:56 AM
some writers do suggest morality is rooted in self-interest- and self-interest is rooted in biology- and biology is rooted in physics- and physics is universal.

But these writers tend to be somewhat controversial, and even within the range of writers that suggest this, their formulation of the connection between morality and biology, varies.
Well I had pretty much said something similar that in my previous post. At least to point towards the universal-ness of a darwinian survival tendency towards "immorality" or rather selfishness. But again I would never go saying that this is as cut and dried a thing as say math or the measurement of the universe. To say that there is a constant means that one must be able to define that constant - which, in turn, bears the burden of proving this. Good luck quantifying that one, people have been trying to do it for millennia and still cannot. I say there is no constant as evidenced by the fact that it cannot be quantified.


How exactly does one measure a mathematical object? They are not physical things.
Proofs. Equations. Demonstrable quantites. At its most basic numbers can be merely stand ins for physical objects. One apple plus one apple equals how many apples? You get the idea... I would hope. :smalltongue:

bibliophile
2009-10-20, 11:05 AM
Proofs. Equations. Demonstrable quantites. At its most basic numbers can be merely stand ins for physical objects. One apple plus one apple equals how many apples? You get the idea... I would hope. :smalltongue:

While arithmetic can easily be understood intuitively and empirically, the same is not true of say n-dimensional manifolds, or other high level mathematical objects that have no direct relation to anything physical.

What makes a quantity demonstrable?


I will be unavailable for about half an hour. I shall return.

Trog
2009-10-20, 11:11 AM
While arithmetic can easily be understood intuitively and empirically, the same is not true of say n-dimensional manifolds, or other high level mathematical objects that have no direct relation to anything physical.

What makes a quantity demonstrable?


I will be unavailable for about half an hour. I shall return.
You're avoiding my actual point. Math equations can be proven. Moral constants cannot. If I'm wrong go ahead and prove it. I, and the rest of the world, wait with baited breath. :smallwink:

Telonius
2009-10-20, 11:29 AM
Pretty much- trying to abolish any kind or "parent-child interaction" by taking the child away and have The State raise it, is the sort of thing only done in sci-fi- and the effects are usually bad.


It has happened in the real world too. I know that (at least) the US has rules by which parental rights can be terminated by the state - usually in the case of abuse or neglect, but there have been high-profile cases of allegedly overzealous social workers. If the children are not officially adopted, they're cared for by foster families (who don't have exactly the same rights as adoptive families, but most of the same responsibilities) until they're 18.

Australia had its "stolen generation" of Aborigines as well.

bibliophile
2009-10-20, 11:46 AM
You're avoiding my actual point. Math equations can be proven. Moral constants cannot. If I'm wrong go ahead and prove it. I, and the rest of the world, wait with baited breath. :smallwink:

You prove a mathematical theorem with what? More math.

I am not sure how exactly to go about proving it, however. Would you care to prove that objective morals do not exist?

Trog
2009-10-20, 11:58 AM
I am not sure how exactly to go about proving it, however. Would you care to prove that objective morals do not exist?
Its the "universal" I object to. Obviously coming at morals from an objective point of view would be handy. We can keep arguing semantics here but I'm done. I didn't want to dive into a painfully pointless debate (from my point of view) I only wanted to point out how bad your original comparison was. Perhaps comparing it to mathematics wasn't so far off and I was wrong in that respect but comparing determining it to the measurement of the universe is a bit skewed in my opinion.

bibliophile
2009-10-20, 12:02 PM
Its the "universal" I object to. Obviously coming at morals from an objective point of view would be handy. We can keep arguing semantics here but I'm done. I didn't want to dive into a painfully pointless debate (from my point of view) I only wanted to point out how bad your original comparison was. Perhaps comparing it to mathematics wasn't so far off and I was wrong in that respect but comparing determining it to the measurement of the universe is a bit skewed in my opinion.

Perhaps math was a better comparison than the planets.

As you wish.

hamishspence
2009-10-20, 04:01 PM
It has happened in the real world too. I know that (at least) the US has rules by which parental rights can be terminated by the state - usually in the case of abuse or neglect, but there have been high-profile cases of allegedly overzealous social workers. If the children are not officially adopted, they're cared for by foster families (who don't have exactly the same rights as adoptive families, but most of the same responsibilities) until they're 18.

Australia had its "stolen generation" of Aborigines as well.

These tend to be the exception rather than the rule though.

A society which applied the "all children are raised by the State" principle, right across the board, would be odd- to say the least.

(I think, from what I have read, kibbutz's always have some parental interaction- certainly early on.)

Same would apply to Sparta- only when the children get older- did they get taken away.

Its not all that common, even in sci-fi.

The Jedi are a sci-fi example of everyone from a certain category (the Force-sensitive)- being raised by The Order, from infancy.

Ostien
2009-10-20, 05:19 PM
No.

That is all.

snoopy13a
2009-10-20, 06:12 PM
Yes, yes there is.

Seriously, who knows. Metaphysical questions aren't exactly easy to answer.

Myrmex
2009-10-20, 06:31 PM
Yes, there is.


Many have argued, that since different cultures views of morality have varied over time, there can be no universal moral system, but this does not follow. Different cultures have had different ideas of how the solar system is constructed, yet that does not mean there is not one true way things are.

Likewise, even though poeple can have different perceptions, of say, mathematical truth, there is nevertheless, one truth. 1+1=2 weather or not we agree on it.

Merely because perceptions of a thing change does not mean the thing it self changes.

The solar system exists outside of people, though. Either the earth goes around the sun, or it does not.

But unqualified moral proscriptions have no descriptive worth. They're just statements about feelings, as you can provide absolutely no evidence that anyone should do anything for that thing in and of its self, other than a declarative statement that you think it is so.

Devils_Advocate
2009-10-21, 03:04 PM
I think that some of the terminology being used here could perhaps do with a bit of clarification.

1) If we designate a certain range of wavelengths of light as "red", do we say that redness is an objective quality of light because light objectively has a wavelength in the given range or doesn't? Or do we say that redness is subjective because we chose that range purely based on how humans perceive light?

I think that the answer to this question is fairly straightforward: Redness is objective. All categories are based on how we perceive and conceptualize things. The concept of "two" has been generated by human brains, but that doesn't mean that I only subjectively have two eyes. I objectively have two eyes; the concept of "two" describes my eyes and the concept of "three" does not.

In short: Calling a property "objective" doesn't mean that the concept of the property isn't a way in which we perceive things. Rather, objective qualities are those that we may correctly or incorrectly perceive something to have: The question of whether a given thing has a given objective quality has one right answer and one wrong answer.

On the other hand, to attribute a subjective quality to something is not to make a falsifiable claim simply about the thing, but rather to describe one's own perception of it. So when I say that beauty is subjective, by that I mean that calling something beautiful only describes one's own perception of said thing. E.g. that if Tim says that a painting is beautiful and Tom says that it isn't, they're not actually making incompatible factual claims about the painting, they're just expressing different aesthetic sensibilities.

2) It turns out that wavelength varies with the motion of the observer (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doppler_Effect). Two different observers moving at different velocities will measure different wavelengths for the same wave. So, does that mean that wavelength isn't an objective property, and thus redness is subjective?

Well... sort of. See, for a group of individuals moving towards a light source at the same velocity, there are still right and wrong answers about what wavelengths the observed light has; some results would be deemed incorrect measurements. So we could say that wavelength is objective with regard to a particular frame of reference.

Why not say that beauty is objective with regard to a particular individual? Well, you could. You could say that about any subjective property, really, which is sort of the point. Aren't subjective qualities those for which you have to specify a whole sentient being in order to get an objective statement like "Tom thinks this painting is beautiful"?

Well... it might be theoretically possible to describe Tom's sense of aesthetics independent of other things about Tom, equivalent to describing an observer's position and velocity independent of other things about the observer. Now, fully describing someone's sense of aesthetics would take a whole bunch more information than specifying someone's position and velocity, and it's pretty much beyond what we human beings are presently capable of. But some sort of highly advanced machine intelligence might one day be able to do it. So the difference here looks like a matter of degree to me.

Now, two observers, given complete knowledge of their relative positions, velocities, accelerations, etc. can each accurately predict how the other will perceive an event. In a very real sense, they both have the same information about that event. Nevertheless, the event is still perceived differently. Each knows what color the other will observe some light to be, yet they do each observe the light to be a different color.

Explaining which reference frames that a light is red in gives an objective account. Answering the yes-or-no question "Is this light red?", on the other hand, has to be done with regard to some frame of reference. Whether one answers "Yes" or "No", the answer is only correct within some context; or rather, it is only correct within some collection of contexts.

I would say that discarding the context that gives a statement objective meaning is what turns it into a subjective statement.

3) Y'know, I doubt that you'd actually get a bunch of humans to agree on which exact range of hues makes up red. It seems a lot more likely that there's a lot of overlap in the ranges of wavelengths of light that individuals would classify as "red" than that there's perfect, total overlap. And, of course, some humans don't perceive red at all.

So, does that make redness subjective, even within a given reference frame? Personally, I'd say "Sure, but only a little." There's close to complete overlap, at which point redness would be an objective quality. So it's nearly objective. There are some small "gray areas" (which is a bit of a misleading metaphor in this case, but never mind), which is close to having no gray areas.

If humans agree on what qualifies as "red" in the vast majority of cases, do they all share the same pervasive concept of redness? Or would it be more accurate to say that a group of humans just uses the same word to refer to a variety of concepts that are just slightly different from each other?

4) You probably haven't designated a particular range of wavelengths of light as "red". This is true of most people. A person categorizes an object as having a particular color because of how he or she perceives it. This perception is the result of how the object objectively interacts with light, but the categorization is based on the perception. Does that make color "subjective"?

Do objects become black in the dark? I'd say that the answer to that question depends on an arbitrary choice of definition, but that once the definition is chosen, the answer becomes obvious.

5) Consider the following statements: "For all we know, all of our ideas of redness are wrong. What we call 'blue' could be the real red." "Objective redness may exist, but we have no way of knowing." "Redness is purely subjective. No claim about whether an object is red is any more or less correct than any other." Do these statements strike you as fairly ridiculous?

hamishspence
2009-10-21, 03:13 PM
Now how do we apply this to morality?

If the "reference frame" is defined as "human social systems" then you might say that there is some objectiveness to the morality of societies.

Similarly, if "morally wrong" is a bit like "red" while different people may perceive it differently, there is a very strong commonality.

Making the claim "no-one's idea of morality is any more valid than any other person's idea" the ridiculous one.

Going along with this analogy- some people may be "morally colourblind" unable to perceive wrong, in the same way as some people can't perceive red- despite the fact that it exists (sort of).

This is an interesting thought.

(this is speculation though- and it may not be entirely right).

pendell
2009-10-21, 03:32 PM
Going along with this analogy- some people may be "morally colourblind" unable to perceive wrong, in the same way as some people can't perceive red- despite the fact that it exists (sort of).


There is indeed. Those people, should they find themselves in court, are found 'not guilty by reason of insanity' and hospitalized until they are cured.

I understand 'insanity', in the legal sense, means 'unable to distinguish right and wrong'. Whether there is a 'universal' morality or not, there most definitely is a society-wide morality, defined by its laws. People who know better but break them go to prison. People who don't know better -- and they do exist -- are committed until they improve.

Respectfully,

Brian P.

hamishspence
2009-10-21, 03:51 PM
which is not to say that those laws are always right, but as a general rule, when the laws forbid something, it is for very good reasons- hence the relative similarity of laws and morals across the world.

It is the differences that draw people's attention, and maybe tend to result in claims of "it's all subjective and relative" but maybe the people making those claims, should take a look at the similarities?

hamishspence
2009-10-21, 04:28 PM
There is indeed. Those people, should they find themselves in court, are found 'not guilty by reason of insanity' and hospitalized until they are cured.

Or possible, they learn to cope in the same way as colorblind people do- judging by context.

They might not perceive it the same way- but they can work out how others do, and adjust their behaviour to fit.

This might be the "functioning sociopath" who never actually gets into trouble.

Though maybe I am stretching the metaphor, just a bit.

Toastkart
2009-10-21, 04:34 PM
I think that some of the terminology being used here could perhaps do with a bit of clarification.

1) If we designate a certain range of wavelengths of light as "red", do we say that redness is an objective quality of light because light objectively has a wavelength in the given range or doesn't? Or do we say that redness is subjective because we chose that range purely based on how humans perceive light?

I think that the answer to this question is fairly straightforward: Redness is objective. All categories are based on how we perceive and conceptualize things. The concept of "two" has been generated by human brains, but that doesn't mean that I only subjectively have two eyes. I objectively have two eyes; the concept of "two" describes my eyes and the concept of "three" does not.

In short: Calling a property "objective" doesn't mean that the concept of the property isn't a way in which we perceive things. Rather, objective qualities are those that we may correctly or incorrectly perceive something to have: The question of whether a given thing has a given objective quality has one right answer and one wrong answer.

I agree with you here, however I don't see this as the whole story. You can rig a photoelectric eye so that it reacts to the range of wavelengths of red light, but does it actually see red? Does it see red in the same way that a person sees red?


I would say that discarding the context that gives a statement objective meaning is what turns it into a subjective statement.


Shouldn't that be the opposite? An event without context (a red light) seems to me to have a more objective quality than with context (a red light, but the observer is in motion). Maybe I'm just misunderstanding how you've worded it. Think of it this way. We ordinarily think of a theory as a very objective way of explaining something, but a theory doesn't always apply to the context of a specific lived experience.



If humans agree on what qualifies as "red" in the vast majority of cases, do they all share the same pervasive concept of redness? Or would it be more accurate to say that a group of humans just uses the same word to refer to a variety of concepts that are just slightly different from each other?

No. The concept of redness is just as subjective to the observer as the specific observation. The observer has spent a lifetime developing a concept of redness based on objects seen and the associated meanings, thoughts, feelings, events, and actions that go along with seeing red. Granted, there are going to be commonalities, but given that the observer is dasein (the being who is there) then no two concepts of redness are going to be exactly the same.


4) You probably haven't designated a particular range of wavelengths of light as "red". This is true of most people. A person categorizes an object as having a particular color because of how he or she perceives it. This perception is the result of how the object objectively interacts with light, but the categorization is based on the perception. Does that make color "subjective"?

This is largely because people don't see wavelengths of light on the nanometer scale, but as colours (or not at all if it's outside the visible light spectrum). Does this make colour subjective?


5) Consider the following statements: "For all we know, all of our ideas of redness are wrong. What we call 'blue' could be the real red." "Objective redness may exist, but we have no way of knowing." "Redness is purely subjective. No claim about whether an object is red is any more or less correct than any other." Do these statements strike you as fairly ridiculous?[/QUOTE]

They only strike me as ridiculous if you disregard that commonality of experience approaches as closely as we can get to objective reality. The same doesn't really apply to morality because you're talking about actions that are approved or disapproved by other people who may or may not practice the same behavior.


Similarly, if "morally wrong" is a bit like "red" while different people may perceive it differently, there is a very strong commonality.
Making the claim "no-one's idea of morality is any more valid than any other person's idea" the ridiculous one.
Going along with this analogy- some people may be "morally colourblind" unable to perceive wrong, in the same way as some people can't perceive red- despite the fact that it exists (sort of).


I understand 'insanity', in the legal sense, means 'unable to distinguish right and wrong'. Whether there is a 'universal' morality or not, there most definitely is a society-wide morality, defined by its laws. People who know better but break them go to prison. People who don't know better -- and they do exist -- are committed until they improve.

I'll have to get back to you on these, as I'm actually currently researching the mind-body problem and a few of the articles I have pertain to these ideas. I can already say, though, that insanity doesn't mean much of anything from a psychological viewpoint.

hamishspence
2009-10-21, 04:41 PM
Even if "no two person's concepts of redness are exactly the same" 90+ percent of people, shown a coloured object (in the centre of the range) are going to go "Yup- that's red"

An "I know it when I see it" sort of thing.

Devils_Advocate
2009-10-21, 06:56 PM
I agree with you here, however I don't see this as the whole story. You can rig a photoelectric eye so that it reacts to the range of wavelengths of red light, but does it actually see red? Does it see red in the same way that a person sees red?
Well, this is getting a bit off topic, but I quine qualia (http://ase.tufts.edu/cogstud/papers/quinqual.htm). Let me try to summarize, as best I can:

Some people take the view that it's logically possible that you could have only your subjective perception of color swapped around, replacing black with white, red with cyan, etc, such that you wouldn't know that it happened. You would not only see a completely dark room as white, but you would remember darkness as being white. You'd also remember intensely bright light as an intense black that hurt your eyes. All of your emotional responses to green would now occur when you subjectively experienced magenta, which you would now see when looking at green objects. And of course, you'd use the word "blue" to describe your subjective experience of yellow, because that subjective experience of yellow is what you experience when you look at blue objects, it's what pops into your mind when you hear "blue", etc. Your subjective experience of each color relates, in your mind, to everything (save your subjective experiences of other colors) in the way that the opposite color previously did.

My position is that the above scenario is logically impossible. That is to say, your mind associates a color with objects, and other colors, and feelings, and so on and so forth, in a whole bunch of ways. And covering all the recognitions, associations, emotions, etc. that it evokes gives a full account of your conscious experience of that color. That is to say, there is no "ineffable redness of red" that's left over once you describe everything else about a person's experience of red.

See, some people have the notion that because images fall on our retinas "upside down", our brains have to "flip the images around". I call this nonsense. The bottom of your field of vision is distinguished as the direction you see objects fall in, the direction your feet and the ground are in, etc. "Up" is the direction in my field of vision in which I see my arm moving when I raise it. I seriously doubt that information about the top of an image I see is stored nearer the top of my brain and information about bottom of the image stored nearer the bottom of my brain, or vice versa. It's probably distributed all over the place in some complicated fashion. So what could it conceivably mean for an image to be upside down in my brain? I see things "upside up" when my field of vision is oriented in the way to which I am accustomed. By definition. In what other possible sense could my subjective visual "up" be said to be pointed in a given direction?

Shouldn't that be the opposite? An event without context (a red light) seems to me to have a more objective quality than with context (a red light, but the observer is in motion).
Every observer has a velocity. One is only "at rest" or "in motion" with regard to a frame of reference.

Suppose that observer A and observer B are moving at different velocities. Observer A sees a light as being red, but Observer B sees it as not being red. Observer A and Observer B both know that the light looks red in Observer A's frame of reference, and does not look red in Observer B's frame of reference. So, redness-with-respect-to-a-given-frame-of-reference is objective (everyone can agree on it; there's a right answer) and unqualified-redness is subjective (it depends on your point of view). Does that clarify?

I'm unclear on why you think specifying a context would make a statement more subjective. Do you mean, perhaps, that needing more context to infer facts from a perception means that an experience is more subjective than if the context were unneeded? E.g. that in a hypothetical universe where redness was independent of the relative velocities of a light source and an observer, redness would be more objective? If that's what you mean, then I agree with you. However, in our real universe, redness does depend on velocity, and thus, as discussed above, redness-with-respect-to-a-given-frame-of-reference is objective and unqualified-redness is subjective.


We ordinarily think of a theory as a very objective way of explaining something, but a theory doesn't always apply to the context of a specific lived experience.
Like, for example, the behavior of objects in a dream might violate conservation of momentum? Supply-side economics isn't useful for modeling plant growth? I'm not quite sure what you're saying here.

Specifying the context in which a theory applies would seem to give at least as objective a claim as stating the theory with no context. (If you disagree with that, could you provide a counterexample?)

pendell
2009-10-21, 07:18 PM
Y'know, thinking on the discussion, perhaps it would be advisable to examine a prerequisite premise: Is there an objective *anything*?

If there's no such thing as objective knowledge, then of course there's no objective morality. OTOH, if there is objective knowledge, it is at least *possible* that there is objective -- I do not say universal, but objective -- morality.

That brings up a second point: Assuming that there is such a thing as objective truth, does it therefore follow that *objective* is the same as *universal*?

It occurs to me that ... if there is objective truth ... that a great deal of objective truths are not universal. Take gravity, for instance. The force of gravity effects people quite differently on the moon than on earth. In fact, the force of gravity effects people at different locations on earth very differently (albeit a miniscule amount) by the equation G= g (m1m2/r^2), where g is the gravitational constant, M1 is mass one, M2 is mass 2, and r is the distance between the centers of mass of both objects.

So not only does gravity exist between the earth and people, every object on earth has gravitational pull. Therefore, no one human on earth experiences the exact same force of gravity.

But so what? The earth itself predominates over all the minor influences of all other objects on the planet combined. And so gravity may not be a *universal* truth, in the sense of being experienced by every living individual (including astronauts), in the same way, but the experiences are so remarkably similar you'd never know the difference without very, very sensitive instruments.

So a truth may be *objective* -- in the sense that it holds true for all actors in a given frame of reference -- but not *universal*, in the sense that it holds true in ALL frames of reference. If I recall my physics, the only "universal constant" is c, the speed of light in a vacuum. And I'm not so sure that's so much a truth as a mathematical trick to make the rest of the math work.

The point I'm broadly trying to make is that morality does not have to be 'universal' to be 'objective'. It only has to be experienced to a very high degree of similarity within its frame of reference.

I should think that such 'objective' morality would exist. How else could societies function, if human beings could not agree on some very basic rules on how to get along together? For cryin' out loud, we couldn't even play sports if we couldn't agree on the rules. 'Calvinball' gets old in a hurry.

Respectfully,

Brian P.

Toastkart
2009-10-21, 08:27 PM
Well, this is getting a bit off topic, but I quine qualia (http://ase.tufts.edu/cogstud/papers/quinqual.htm). Let me try to summarize, as best I can:
Yeah, that's getting too far off topic. i have some thoughts on your spoilered section if you want to take it to pm or start another thread.



Like, for example, the behavior of objects in a dream might violate conservation of momentum? Supply-side economics isn't useful for modeling plant growth? I'm not quite sure what you're saying here.

No, that's trying to apply a theory to something that it's not made for.


Specifying the context in which a theory applies would seem to give at least as objective a claim as stating the theory with no context. (If you disagree with that, could you provide a counterexample?)
Here's where I think we ran into a problem. We're using the word context in slightly different ways. Correct me if I'm wrong, but your version of context relates to a situation in which a theory applies. What I mean by context is the specifics of a situation.

As an example, if I were to describe a man who's heart is beating faster than normal, is breathing faster than normal, is sweating slightly, has an elevated body temperature, and his gastrointestinal system is working at diminished capacity. Now, what emotion is this man feeling? You might say anger or fear, but there actually is no way to know without the context of his situation. He could be running for his life or sitting and having an intense conversation with someone he loves. Interestingly, this is why makeup sex can be so powerful. You're already in the same physiological state, you just switch the label from anger to lust and bang...


Hopefully that cleared up that confusion. I understand better where you're coming from. I also could have made more clear in my previous post objective experience and subjective experience are equally valid, which I don't think I did.


Going along with this analogy- some people may be "morally colourblind" unable to perceive wrong, in the same way as some people can't perceive red- despite the fact that it exists (sort of).


I understand 'insanity', in the legal sense, means 'unable to distinguish right and wrong'. Whether there is a 'universal' morality or not, there most definitely is a society-wide morality, defined by its laws. People who know better but break them go to prison. People who don't know better -- and they do exist -- are committed until they improve.

I haven't finished reading those articles yet, but I do have some questions for the thread at large that may be interesting.

Would an objective morality still apply to a person with brain damage to his prefrontal cortex and, as a result, has impairments of volition such that he can't stop himself from engaging in bad decisions or risky behavior that he, prior to the damage, would avoid? Is this an immoral person, or is he merely ruled by his inability to have free agency?

A similar situation, what if the man instead of brain damage had an addiction that similarly impaired his volition? Would it make a difference if the addiction were to a drug or to a behavior?

Prak
2009-10-21, 08:31 PM
You prove a mathematical theorem with what? More math.

I am not sure how exactly to go about proving it, however. Would you care to prove that objective morals do not exist?
well, I'm one of the bigger unrepentant sinners, and I have yet to be struck by lightning...

Devils_Advocate
2009-10-21, 10:53 PM
Yeah, that's getting too far off topic. i have some thoughts on your spoilered section if you want to take it to pm or start another thread.
I'd be interested in a thread on the nature of conscious experience and all that jazz. Feel free to start one.


Correct me if I'm wrong, but your version of context relates to a situation in which a theory applies. What I mean by context is the specifics of a situation.
From your example, it seems to me that it's more the reverse: By "context" I mean details that narrow down which situations are under consideration, and you mean one particular situation.

pendell
2009-10-22, 08:25 AM
Would an objective morality still apply to a person with brain damage to his prefrontal cortex and, as a result, has impairments of volition such that he can't stop himself from engaging in bad decisions or risky behavior that he, prior to the damage, would avoid? Is this an immoral person, or is he merely ruled by his inability to have free agency?


I do not believe the person is immoral. He is, in the original literal sense of the word, an idiot, and no more responsible for his actions than a toddler would be.



A similar situation, what if the man instead of brain damage had an addiction that similarly impaired his volition? Would it make a difference if the addiction were to a drug or to a behavior?

That's a bit more ambiguous because not all addictions are like brain damage. People have quit smoking, lost 77 pounds (done it myself), stayed monogamous, put aside pornography and a whole host of other behaviors that were harmful or the subject deemed undesirable.

I would contend that 'immorality' is directly related to the degree to which a person could have avoided the situation, or helped themselves out of it, but consciously chose not to.

So I would say addiction is a gray area, and would probably need to be decided on a case by case basis. While I certainly cannot say that addicts should be held to the same standards as non-addicts, I am hesitant to treat them as moral idiots, people who have no control over their actions and are helpless before their compulsions. That's part of the glory of being human, that we have the power to rise above our natural inclinations, either alone or with the help of friends, and do what we *choose* to do rather than what our bodies want us to do. Every gold medal athlete has achieved this feat to some extent.

Heck, I'm 'addicted' to sleep. My body hates waking up at 5:30 to be into work by 7, yet somehow I do it, and the more I do it the easier it becomes.

Respectfully,

Brian P.