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Good and Evil

 
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Originally posted by Damian Ryan:
The upshot of all this rambling on my part is that I firmly believe that it simply isn't possible to lay out a set of universally agreeable moral absolutes. What's morally right for you now does not define what was, is and always will be morally right for other people in other places at other times. If you can't concede that there is at least some truth in that assertion we have no common ground, and argument is therefore logically impossible.


Is it acceptable for me to crap on your porch or not?
Joe
 
Joe Pluta
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Originally posted by Vinod John:
In my opinion law prohibits it, it should be punished but I don't think it is evil or "EVIL" .


Vinod, I think it is Wrong, not Evil. Subtle distinction. But I'm going to see if I can't start one of my other threads today.
Joe
 
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This is what I've been attempting to use here, because it's usually the most effective approach in civilized philosophical discourse. It has met with less than resounding success on MD, but I'll try one more time.
Joe, I tried to defend you when Ravish spoke in what I construed as "condescending" voice. I will probably quit this business since today.
Regarding rest of your post, you know, I am too busy today to respond. Maybe some other day...
All the best.
Map
 
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I was waiting for the new threadlets
CASE 1:
There is a certian community on this planet that thinks that it is Morally Wrong for a man to rape and murder others. Do you agree with that community? Because they have young girls and women in their homes, they do not want those people as their neighbours who think that rape and murder are morally wrong but not Morally Wrong and they themselves are not absolutists. Do you think the community has a legitimate concern? The community also thinks that since rape and murder are really Morally Wrong, the guilty must be electrocuted to death (Capital punishment). Do you agree with them?
CASE 2:
There is a certian community on this planet that thinks that it is Morally Wrong for a woman to have a child out of wedlock. Do you agree with that community? Because they have young unwed, divorced, or widowed daughters in their homes, they do not want those people as their neighbours who think that child out of wedlock is probably morally wrong but not Morally Wrong and they themselves are not absolutists. Do you think they have a legitimate concern? The community also thinks that since a child out of a wed-lock is really Morally Wrong, the guilty must be STONED TO DEATH by a mob of mouth-frothing absolutists. Do you agree with them?
 
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Is it acceptable for me to crap on your porch or not?
Joe


Depends on whether or not you want a smack in the mouth.
More seriously, though, did you understand my point about your straw man argument? You do a good job of tearing down a "relativist" argument (explaining eloquently how this must inescapably lead to the conclusion that it's ok for you to deposit your ordure on my doorstep or indeed for me to do the same to yours).
But this is NOT the argument I, nor, to the best of my understanding, most of the other posters have been making. We are not trying to espouse a moral vacuum within which to operate as a society, or to say that each person can have his or her own morals and that's all there is to live by. And attacking such a view is beneath you because it is clearly a straw man.
You've presented your case at length, and eloquently, so you're clearly not prevented from understanding mine because of any intellectual deficiency. Following from this it seems logical to conclude that you can do better than tearing down a straw man or offering only sophomoric questions about shitting on doorsteps. You clearly also believe passionately in what you are saying, but can you allow even the tiniest amount of uncertainty in your mind that others might not agree with 100% of what you say and yet not be wrong (and depraved, reprehensible degenerates)?
I have tried to argue that I have a set of morals which I believe I largely share with others in my social group (western 21st century). But I do not believe that those morals are god given, static, or universal. I believe they are man-made, and alter according to the circumstances that a group finds itself in. I certainly do not believe that everyone else on this planet does or even should share my morals.
If they were absolute, how could you explain that other societies seemingly don't share them with us? Are they just plain evil? Or do they just have their own set of morals (which they might be just as liable to believing are as absolute as you seem to believe yours are).
I just worry when I see the espousal of absolutism in any arena, because it seems uncomfortably close to fundamentalism. And, in my opinion, fundamentalism makes it very easy to pass judgment on others who are different, often with horrendous consequences. The position of absolute conviction that one is right (and someother individual or group is wrong) sounds like a good first step justifying anything (extermination, dismissal, etc) against the party that differs, and it seems to me that moral absolutism goes hand in hand with such dangerous arrogance. You may not agree.
[ September 17, 2003: Message edited by: Damian Ryan ]
[ September 17, 2003: Message edited by: Damian Ryan ]
[ September 17, 2003: Message edited by: Damian Ryan ]
 
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Damian Ryan: This even led to some absurd outcomes during the dark ages with animals being tried and executed for "crimes" such as witchcraft, theft, and heresy. It sounds ridiculous now, but it must have made some kind of sense to the people doing it at the time, who absolutely believed there was a right and a wrong, and that animals should jolly well live by these concepts too.
I don't know why I didn't think about this argument before. I wish yo made it earlier in this thread.
Damian Ryan: Take murder as a further example. Several extant quasi-stone age tribal peoples still engage in murder, and receive greater social status, not punishment. I'm not going to get into arguments right now about where's my sources (because I'd need time to track them down again if pressed) but I think one of the tribes mentioned is the Yanomamo in South America. In this tribe (or similar ones) males who have murdered others (usually, though not exclusively, from other tribes) have more sexual partners, more material possessions and more respect than males who have never killed.
Actually, we don't even have to study the tribes to make that observation. The concept of decorating the soldiers for professionally performed murders is well and alive today.
Joe Pluta: There's a technique called reductio ad absurdum that states, in simple terms, that if you take an assumption to its logical conclusion and reach a contradiction, you know the assumption was false.
Notice that in the very first post of this thread, I used exactly the same technique, yet my conclusions were different from yours.
Joe Pluta: Is it acceptable for me to crap on your porch or not?
Wow, this is great, Joe! The last time I've heard an argument of this sort was when I was in the Russian elementary school. Your arguments are becoming progressively weak, Joe. Why don't you take some more time off and come back when you grow up?
 
Joe Pluta
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Originally posted by Damian Ryan:
Depends on whether or not you want a smack in the mouth.


Wait a second here. Striking me is what you consider to be a valid response to me exercising my free will? Thus it is in turn valid for me to shoot you, correct? I am not being facetious here, I am trying as hard as I can to figure out what you believe in.
Somewhere you have a set of rules. Who gave them to you? According to the extremists in this conversation, nobody can tell them waht is right and wrong. So where does this set of rules come from?
This is NOT a straw man. I am simply making sure we get past the issue of extreme moral relativism (you might want to check out the other thread I started).
See, I WANT to discuss the real question, which is "where do we get our values?" You say society, I say partially society, partially from Platonic ideals of Right and Wrong. We are not that different.
But several times in this thread, what has come up is this issue that "nobody can tell me what is right and wrong". Both Map and Eugene have said that at one time or another, in noe way or another. They both want "absolute" (if you will) right to choose their own morals.
I'm saying that's wrong. I am NOT saying your position is wrong, and in fact your position and mine are far closer than yours and the position of extreme moral relativism. I was just trying to cull THAT particular straw mjan out of the discussion.
Joe
[ September 17, 2003: Message edited by: Joe Pluta ]
 
Mapraputa Is
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Map: Joe, I tried to defend you when Ravish spoke in what I construed as "condescending" voice. I will probably quit this business since today.
Ha. Easier to say than to do. Ok, Joe, I will not quit defending you, only quit responding to you.
 
Joe Pluta
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JP: This is what I've been attempting to use here, because it's usually the most effective approach in civilized philosophical discourse. It has met with less than resounding success on MD, but I'll try one more time.
MI: Joe, I tried to defend you when Ravish spoke in what I construed as "condescending" voice. I will probably quit this business since today.
You're kidding, right? With all the crap I take here, and the amount of time I spend building logical, civilized responses to what are sometimes less than high-minded posts, and you're going to take issue with this most trivial of comments, that merely implied that we weren't having an entirely civil dicussion.
How thin skinned can you get?
Good grief.
Actually, you're probably still ticked off because I called you an America basher .
Joe
 
Joe Pluta
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MCB: I was waiting for the new threadlets
Well, they're in place. Give them a look, but remember these are just THEORETICAL threads. The issue of punishment, etc., is for the practical thread.
Joe
 
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[Paul Stevens]: But if all of you feel guilty maybe all of those grey areas are more black and white than you thought.
[Sigh] OK, a little background for the others here. By coincidence, there was a recent thread over in Moderators Only which related to some of the issues here, as someone in MO mentioned that they had learned that a convicted child sex offender had just moved into their neighborhood. Other people in MO naturally expressed sympathy. (Further details omitted as the post was private, and not realy important here anyway. I'll just note for those who may be concerned that nothing has actually happened yet, and if it did there'd be some very prompt community action on the matter.)
Anyway, when I read Paul's earlier post ("Interesting how some posters..."), it didn't really seem to refer to anything in this current thread. But as I looked for "a real situation similar to the hypothetical situations in this thread", I of course thought of the thread which had just been posted in Moderators Only, which Paul has access to as well. In that thread, Andrew Monkhouse and I were the two people who had responded there and also in this thread here. So it was pretty easy to guess that Paul might be making a reference to us.
Paul, you're not a stupid person, I'm sure you could work this out. And so it's disingenuous to suggest that the fact Andrew and I were able to guess what you were talking about is evidence we're "feeling guilty". It's evidence of our ability to read, obviously. Suggesting otherwise is not appreciated; you should know better.
My point was that it is easy to talk about things when it is hypothetical. But when it is real and happens to you or someone close. All of it goes out the window. The whole discussion of ages of girls (I noticed boys were never brought up) with older guys. Place your daughter into the equation and that age changes quickly.
Agreed in general. Note that the reason I brought up all these hypothetical corner cases is that the conversation here did indeed seem (at the time) to be encompassing all cases; I wanted to find out what the limits really were. I was trying to get a handle on what "absolute" means to Joe. Joe then made it reasonably clear that he was interested in cases well within those boundaries, not at the edges. Fine. (Though to me that undermines "absolute", but that just meansn I need to search for a better understanding of what that termmeans to Joe.) I did continue with a few more examples of corner cases, because I didn't want Joe or others thinking I thought violent rape, for example, was ever justified; I wanted him to know that the possible exception I had been thinking about was elsewhere - date rape where consent may be genuinely ambiguous.
In the concrete example we discussed in MO, things were simpler, as no one was bringing up "absolute". We had a concrete example. I googled a certain legal term related to the offender's history and decided that the offense was well within my own personal parameters for "fry the sucker". There was no need to explore boundaries; the case was clear enough at that point. And the MO poster in question wasn't trying to make any general philosophical point - he/she was just concerned for his/her own family. So yeah, I respond differently in different contexts. That's what relativism is all about.
 
Joe Pluta
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Joe then made it reasonably clear that he was interested in cases well within those boundaries, not at the edges.
Not at all true! My point was that your scenarios are WAY at the edges and neither contribute to nor remove from the argument. I think that stretching the edge of the definition doesn't lessen the issue, but simply means that we have to be consistent in our definitions.
Joe
[ September 17, 2003: Message edited by: Joe Pluta ]
 
Mapraputa Is
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Actually, you're probably still ticked off because I called you an America basher
I am devastated. :roll:
But several times in this thread, what has come up is this issue that "nobody can tell me what is right and wrong". Both Map and Eugene have said that at one time or another, in noe way or another. They both want "absolute" (if you will) right to choose their own morals.
You are misreading our posts. I am not a Martian, I was brought up on this planet. As a result, in my young age I uncritically absorbed a lot of human ethics. I do not think I will ever be able to overcome this, if even I wanted (I do not). Now I am an adult, this means I am reading everything critically. In other words, I am giving some thought to it. So do you, Joe. There is really nothing to discuss, nothing to disagree with, nothing to get mad at. It is very far from "our absolute right to choose our own morals". Calm down, try to listen to us without prejudice, then we can talk.
 
Joe Pluta
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JP: But several times in this thread, what has come up is this issue that "nobody can tell me what is right and wrong". Both Map and Eugene have said that at one time or another, in noe way or another. They both want "absolute" (if you will) right to choose their own morals.
MI: You are misreading our posts. I am not a Martian, I was brought up on this planet. As a result, in my young age I uncritically absorbed a lot of human ethics. I do not think I will ever be able to overcome this, if even I wanted (I do not). Now I am an adult, this means I am reading everything critically. In other words, I am giving some thought to it. So do you, Joe. There is really nothing to discuss, nothing to disagree with, nothing to get mad at. It is very far from "our absolute right to choose our own morals".
MI: Do I want a moral compass? The one outside of me? No. This would mean to delegate responsibility for my moral decisions to somebody else, I do not want to do that.
I have a hard time reconciling your two statements, Map. You say you do not want to delegate responsibility for your moral decisions, which is awfully close to wanting to make up your own morals. I realize there is a fine line here, so I want to make sure which side you're on. That's why I am TRYING to define "extreme moral relativism" and get it off the table.
It looks like it may be working! I THINK we're all almost agreeing that it's not the right of each individual to make their own moral calls. That we need at least some societal standards. That's progress!
Joe
 
Bhau Mhatre
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JP: But several times in this thread, what has come up is this issue that "nobody can tell me what is right and wrong". Both Map and Eugene have said that at one time or another, in noe way or another. They both want "absolute" (if you will) right to choose their own morals.
Joe, as far as I could read them, they really meant that "nobody can tell THEM what is right and wrong IF they are in different time-space then you are." Since, Eugene, Map, yourself, and everyone else here are in the same time-space we all do have a set of lot of common rules/laws/Rights and Wrongs. That example about "acceptable for you to crap on others porch" is invalid because we are all in the same time-space right now so have same set of rules and laws based on similar set of beliefs of Right and Wrong.
 
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Originally posted by Damian Ryan:

.


well said. :-|
 
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Jim: By coincidence, there was a recent thread over in Moderators Only which related to some of the issues here, as someone in MO mentioned that they had learned that a convicted child sex offender had just moved into their neighborhood.
I never responded to that thread, as I couldn't figure out how a man officially labeled as "a possible child sex offender" could be ever let out of jail. What am I supposed to say? I do not know.
 
Joe Pluta
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Originally posted by Mumbai cha bhau:
Joe, as far as I could read them, they really meant that "nobody can tell THEM what is right and wrong IF they are in different time-space then you are."


How did you find the time to add a complete prepositional phrase to their statements? You might want to ask them.
Anyway, the whole "space-time" thing is part of what I wanted to discuss in the theoretical thread.
Joe
 
Damian Ryan
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Originally posted by Joe Pluta:
Wait a second here. Striking me is what you consider to be a valid response to me exercising my free will? Thus it is in turn valid for me to shoot you, correct? I am not being facetious here, I am trying as hard as I can to figure out what you believe in.


Sigh...

Originally posted by me:
I have tried to argue that I have a set of morals which I believe I largely share with others in my social group (western 21st century). But I do not believe that those morals are god given, static, or universal. I believe they are man-made, and alter according to the circumstances that a group finds itself in. I certainly do not believe that everyone else on this planet does or even should share my morals.


And in previous posts I think I broadly hinted at my beliefs, if the above quote isn't enough to satisfy your curiosity about what I believe. And if you can't determine them from the context I gave (western, 21st century) I'd suggets that is an argument against your moral absolutes .
As to your further riposte (allegedly in all seriousness) about killing me in retaliation for smacking you in the mouth for your shitting on my doorstep... what in what went before would lead you to believe that I think this is acceptable? I thought I explained I didn't subscribe to this specious "your morals are yours, mine are mine, and never the twain shall meet" straw man.
You throw things Map and Eugene have posted back at me. When did I say I supported everything they've said? I support a lot of it, yes, and differ in my interpretation of some of what they have said compared with you, but I'm as free to have my (perhaps different) opinion as they or you are.

Originally posted by Joe Pluta:
... I am NOT saying your position is wrong, and in fact your position and mine are far closer than yours and the position of extreme moral relativism.


Precisely. So you do understand what I believe, at least to some extent.
To be explicit, where you and I differ is on the question of whether or not what we believe, we believe because some (or all) of the beliefs stem from universal, static, moral absolutes. I believe they do not, and you do.
It's fine for us to disagree (who wants total agreement? That'd be boring) but you seem to be genuinely distressed that some of us won't kowtow to a vision of moral absolutes. I just wanted to ascertain whether or not I'd read this situation correctly, and if I had, to ask you how you could justify, intellectually, that position. I'm not here to attack your belief system, really. Just to see if it allows any doubt that it might not be 100% applicable in every imaginable situation.
 
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By coincidence, there was a recent thread over in Moderators Only which related to some of the issues here, as someone in MO mentioned that they had learned that a convicted child sex offender had just moved into their neighborhood.
From all my theoretical knowledge, rapists are being killed in jails by their fellow inmates, and child rapists without question. How this one escaped his destiny?
[ September 17, 2003: Message edited by: Mapraputa Is ]
 
Joe Pluta
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DR: It's fine for us to disagree (who wants total agreement? That'd be boring) but you seem to be genuinely distressed that some of us won't kowtow to a vision of moral absolutes. I just wanted to ascertain whether or not I'd read this situation correctly, and if I had, to ask you how you could justify, intellectually, that position. I'm not here to attack your belief system, really. Just to see if it allows any doubt that it might not be 100% applicable in every imaginable situation.
And many people misconstrue my position. I am not saying that all morals are absolute; I believe there are some, you believe there are none. I also believe there are some external standards, and whenever I say that, people assume I mean MY standards. I don't! What I really want to discuss is where standars come from - must EVERYTHING be based on societal consensus and thus subject to change as society changes, or are there some things which are simply Wrong. My bet is that if most of us asked our parents, many would say that some things are Wrong. My curiosity is about why in particular this group is so darned sure that there are no absolutes (a pretty absolute position, if I do say so ).
But the issue of extreme moral relativism came into play, then the issue that we're just animals acting on biological urges, and as these extreme opinions kept bouncing through, the discussion got away from what I considered the central question to be: where do our values come from? To put it simplistically, inside, outside, or above?
And that's what the theoretical thread is for.
The practical thread is then going to focus on what happens when someone doesn't agree with those values.

Joe
 
Jim Yingst
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[Jim]: Joe then made it reasonably clear that he was interested in cases well within those boundaries, not at the edges.
[Joe]: Not at all true! My point was that your scenarios are WAY at the edges and neither contribute to nor remove from the argument. I think that stretching the edge of the definition doesn't lessen the issue, but simply means that we have to be consistent in our definitions.

Sorry, I may have given the wrong impression when I said "interested in". What I meant was that you were either only talking about cases well within the boundaries I was questioning, or that you were primarily interested in talking about cases well within those bounaries. I accept that we don't have time to discuss all possible related issues here. My questions and comments were intended, first, to understand what you meant by calling things absolutes, and subsequently to clarify what I had meant by suggesting that there might have been grey areas in what was called "rape" for example. Now I think these are best regarded as dead issues; we're essentially going back and forth with "why were you talking about 17-year-olds?" "Because you were" "I was only talking about it because I though you were" etc. I think the best way to break out of that loop is probably to just stop talking about it. So I'll try to avoid making any further replies about these corner cases.
My next interest would be to try to understand what, then, is meant by "absolute" in these discussions, in terms of how it may affect our behavior in concrete cases since that's what's meaningful to me. Which unfortunately may mean our paths may not cross so much. Perhaps you and Eugene will focus more on the theoretical thread, while Herb and I are more in the practical side. Or not, we'll see. Cheers...
 
Damian Ryan
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Originally posted by Joe Pluta:
where do our values come from? To put it simplistically, inside, outside, or above?


I think you know what my answer would be: inside. And only inside.
I don't see the logical need to require any other source.
 
Jim Yingst
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Hi again, Joe!
[Joe]: There's a technique called reductio ad absurdum that states, in simple terms, that if you take an assumption to its logical conclusion and reach a contradiction, you know the assumption was false. This is what I've been attempting to use here, because it's usually the most effective approach in civilized philosophical discourse. It has met with less than resounding success on MD, but I'll try one more time.
It can certainly be a valid and effective technique. But it only works if when you "take an assumption to its logical conclusion" you (a) correctly understand and state the assumptions of the other side, and (b) use correct logic to get to the "logical conclusion". If you fail in one of these regards, you just piss off the other party by putting words in their mouth that shouldn't be there. I believe that's the case here.
1. The primary tenet of moral relativism (especially as professed by the posters here) is that you don't want to be told what is right and wrong (I won't even bother with caps in this case, because that's too far advanced for this simple discussion). This is why you get upset when I say there are things that are absolutely right and wrong, regardless of your opinion. You want to be able to decide on your own.
Well I can't speak for all moral relativists of course, but right off the bat, this isn't true for me. While I might not like being told what to do by others (who does?) I'm willing to accept it. I derive benefits from living in a society which has certain rules. I accept that I may not agree with all those rules, but I accept that the benefits outweight the costs, and acceed to this majority rule. An important part of my acceptance is the fact that the urles do have mechanisms which allow me to influence the nature of the other rules, and possibly rectify any miscarriages of those rules. If conditions in my society were too intolerable and I saw no reasonable hope of improving them, I might be forced to seek another society elsewhere. But that's not the case.
So, am I really a relativist? I think so, because so far I find no practical use for calling a principle an absolute, and find that some other people may use the term to justify things I disagree with. I don't yet know what else the term is going to mean. I'm not going to sign off on a document saying "yes, that's an absolute" unless I've read more of the fine print on what it means. So thus far I'm identifying myself as a relativist, and thus I get annoyed when someone tells me that this means I must believe something which I do not in fact believe.
 
Joe Pluta
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DR: I think you know what my answer would be: inside. And only inside. I don't see the logical need to require any other source.
Uh oh. You're saying all of your morals are based on your own internal viewpoints. See, that's close to moral relativism, and doesn't jive with this:
I have tried to argue that I have a set of morals which I believe I largely share with others in my social group (western 21st century). But I do not believe that those morals are god given, static, or universal. I believe they are man-made, and alter according to the circumstances that a group finds itself in. I certainly do not believe that everyone else on this planet does or even should share my morals.
I took this to mean that you were willing to submit yourself to the joint mores decided upon by 21st century western civilization. Instead, you insist that you believe on only your internal morals. So, are you saying all of the western 21st century residents agree with your internal morals?
See, this is the crux of the question: where do your morals come from? And how do they differ from, say, those of a crack dealer, also a 21st century resident? Or a hit man? Or a nun? Which 21st century residents to you consider part of your social group? Because I'm sure I can find some of them that don't agree with you on your moral standards.
Joe
 
Joe Pluta
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JY: So, am I really a relativist? I think so, because so far I find no practical use for calling a principle an absolute, and find that some other people may use the term to justify things I disagree with. I don't yet know what else the term is going to mean. I'm not going to sign off on a document saying "yes, that's an absolute" unless I've read more of the fine print on what it means. So thus far I'm identifying myself as a relativist, and thus I get annoyed when someone tells me that this means I must believe something which I do not in fact believe.
Jim, you aren't a moral relativist, really. You're arguing that you want the term moral relativism to mean what you want it to mean. And when I present what it really means, it doesn't fit your view of yourself and that ticks you off. If somebody told me I was a moral relativist, I'd be pretty ticked off, too .

I suggest you read about moral relativism, and then decide whether the term really applies to you:
Moral Relativism
Problems with Moral Relativism
Wikipedia on Moral Relativism
These are a variety of viewpoints, for, against and in the middle. You can find a lot more. If you come back from reading this and continue to insist that you're a moral relativist (for example, that slavery is not wrong if society says its okay), then we have a different discussion.
Personally, I don't think you're a strict moral relativist. I don't think most people are once they realize what the definition is, because moral relativism strictly interpreted leads to those sorts of positions.
I equate moral relativism with situational ethics, as does the wikipedia. On the other hand, am I a moral absolutist? No, because I believe that right and wrong is only absolute in a finite number of very grave situations. Of all of us, I think my position is the LEAST extreme, to be honest, because I apply these principles as is practical.
Joe
[ September 17, 2003: Message edited by: Joe Pluta ]
 
Damian Ryan
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JP: Uh oh. You're saying all of your morals are based on your own internal viewpoints. See, that's close to moral relativism, and doesn't jive with this...


Ah see, now, we have a misunderstanding. That's not what I meant at all. I must have misunderstood what you meant by inside, because what I meant was inside Homo Sapiens Sapiens, the species. Not inside me, a particular instance of the species. (And so logically extrapolating I assumed by above you meant a deity of some sort, and outside meaning anything not covered by the other two).
This removes your objection to my position, I would think, no?
I'm happy to acknowledge that my morals come from the society I live in. I didn't subclass Homo Sapiens Sapiens and then override every single one of its morality methods and properties to my own unique settings.
I just don't believe that there is a static class (or interface) external to Homo Sapiens Sapiens from which it inherits or aggregates any moral properties; rather that all of them (and associated behaviours) are defined for the first time in the class Homo Sapiens Sapiens itself. Some might be abstract. Some might be close to final (which is the nearest I could come to agreeing with you on about anything being absolute - but still only in the context of this class) but I doubt personally that any are truly final.
 
Jim Yingst
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See, that's close to moral relativism, and doesn't jive with this:
Gotta run for now, but just wanted to note that jive (sense 2?) seems to have been confused with jibe (sense 3). I've seen this from a lot of other people too, sometimes here, so thougt it worth reasserting what the word meant. You know, as long as we're using standard definitions. Of course if it was just a typo, well, ignore me. My posts are often full of typos. (My spelling is great, my typing sucks.)
Anyway, I'll read up on standard defiitions of moral relativism. But the first line of the Wikipedia entry seems to include me pretty well, as I believe that our moral rules are indeed social constructs, and I'm OK with that. I accept that I'm probably not part of the group you were referring to however. More later...
 
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I can agree with Beckwith's definition for moral relativism as a state in which "there are no objective moral values which help us to determine what is right or wrong." As long as, that is, we can agree that a moral value is a rule; and that any action or event is right or wrong based on an objective application of that rule.
It's insuffcient to posit a rule. Some act of application that is beyond must be available to enforce it. That act requires an objective authority. And brother, there ain't so such thing as an objective human authority. There are those who come close in the estimation of the people around them, but still, that estimation is subjective and....well, just an estimate.
It's easy work to pick apart the meaning of moral relativism reductio absurdum. Any college freshman who wants her nursing degree and a new car in the next 18 months will tell you that the meaning of William Carlos Williams' "Red Wheelbarrow" can be whatever you want it to mean. That's really an argument for individual relativism: one person measures meaning strictly according to their own position, understanding, goals, interests, and whatever other attributes influence that person's judgment. That position is an easy target for a paper such as Francis Beckwith's, linked in above by Joe, but it seems like a straw target to me.
Moral relativism, as a philosophical position, I would contend, ain't that sloppy. A moral relativist takes for granted that even if there are objectives rules -- which itself is not conceded -- no objective, human application of them is possible unless it is simply asserted (e.g., autocracy, papal infallibility, the King as God's divine representative on Earth, yada yada yada). But if there are objective rules and we accept out own fallibility, we cannot believe we know what those rules are (the argument for a priori knowledge contends otherwise). But this kind of "divine" reception, to the moral relativist, is simply another assertion. So the moral relativist doesn't bother asking if objectives rules exist, but rather by what means we would know them if they did.
A moral relativist would also probably agree that conceding the existence of objectives rules without real knowledge still precludes the idea of knowing what they are, much less whether are many or few of them. Again, human discourse can only assert those values. As an example: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights..." Even that statement accepts one set of truths (a democratic republicanism) by rejecting another (divine authority bestowed on the King) outright, not by disproving them.
In that sense, morality must only relate behavior to society. If not applied to a people and to their environment and history, then to some other large context, such as a "culture." The idea of individual moral relativism is, by contrast, an absurd term, at best a weak paraphrase for anarchic behavior. Like most philosophies, even anarchy doesn't matter much until it a significant number of people come together to share that set of values.
[ September 17, 2003: Message edited by: Michael Ernest ]
 
Joe Pluta
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DR: This removes your objection to my position, I would think, no?
Absolutely. If your opinion is that you get your morals from your society (which in your parlance is actually a subclass of Homo Sapiens Sapiens), then I think your viewpoint fits in the Good and Evil Theoretical thread (and actually doesn't fit in this thread, in which Eugene originally posited that all behavior is simply variations of vibrations on a cosmic string).
I'd be interested to see your viewpoints over on that thread. Because now is the time to address the issues of societal shift, and what happens when society's values shift in a way that is incompatible with the values you currently hold (which is one of the original concepts I wanted to discuss WAYYYY back when).
And just to be clear, I don't "object" to any position, but I find some of them untenable, because they lead to some very (to me) unpleasant social structures, as I've pointed out.

Joe
 
Joe Pluta
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ME: So the question isn't so much whether objectives rules exist, but by what means we would know them.
But Michael, that's exactly what I have been saying, and what is being summarily rejected! I am saying there are some objective rules - some absolute Rights and Wrongs. What are they? I don't know, and I'd love to discuss that! I think "rape is Wrong" is a pretty safe one, but every time I bring up the concept, I get hammered with the idea that nothing is absolute.
Which is exactly opposite of what you are asserting above.

A moral relativist would probably agree as well that conceding the existence of these rules for argument's sake precludes the idea of knowing whether are many or few of them.
Not one of the primary players in this little dialogue has conceded any such thing. Again, that's my point.

"Individual moral relativism," by contrast, is just an absurd term we can effectively replace with anarchy. And like most philosophies, even anarchy doesn't make much difference until it becomes a shared value among a significant number of people.
This is exactly my point. And my fear is that individual moral relativism is becoming trendy. I have no facts or figures to support that fear, so don't ask, but it's why I am so invested in this discussion. Of course, having daughter that just entered high school and a brand new baby on the way makes me a little more sensitive to moral question .
Joe
 
Joe Pluta
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JY: Gotta run for now, but just wanted to note that jive seems to have been confused with jibe.
Yup, you caught me. At least I stopped using "irregardless".
Joe
 
Michael Ernest
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Joe, I don't want to know what happens when matter collides with anti-matter in this universe, but I think you and I agree on the fundamentals.
It's just as arrogant -- in the denotative sense of the term -- to presume there are no absolutes as to presume there are -- we can't know them. We can and do try to infer them, but ultimately it is human, social consensus that acts as the arbiter. All our asserted moral rights and wrongs may in fact map back to an objective state. But it's a happy coincidence at best. We can't know God, we can only believe.
So those of you who have been disagreeing with Joe on this point, my apologies, but you've been wrong all this time.
[ September 17, 2003: Message edited by: Michael Ernest ]
 
Mapraputa Is
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I think "rape is Wrong" is a pretty safe one, but every time I bring up the concept, I get hammered with the idea that nothing is absolute.
Doh! As a female and therefore as a potential target of a crime you described above I can only say "Doh!" I mean RAPE IS WRONG!
Now let's move to something more meaningful, ah?
"RAPE IS WRONG" is too boring even to Meaningless Drivel, you know.
 
Joe Pluta
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MI: Doh! As a female and therefore as a potential target of a crime you described above I can only say "Doh!" I mean RAPE IS WRONG!
Not to a rapist. His internal moral compass tells him women are property, and he can do whatever he wants. So what makes your internal moral compass any better than his?
That's an awfully absolute statement, Map.
Joe
 
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i guess the problem i have with the notion of absolute good and absolute evil is the idea that there are no exceptions. even the courts accept the idea of mitigating circumstances.
suppose you are a soldier in a war and your group has to retreat but one of your friends is captured. lets further assume that it is well known that all prisoners are cruelly tortured to death. your friend cries out begging one of you to shoot him. do you do it? is it evil if you do? is not the intent more important than the action?
 
Michael Ernest
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Originally posted by Joe Pluta:
MI: Doh! As a female and therefore as a potential target of a crime you described above I can only say "Doh!" I mean RAPE IS WRONG!
Not to a rapist. His internal moral compass tells him women are property, and he can do whatever he wants. So what makes your internal moral compass any better than his?


Ah, now I see what you're getting at.
I see these two points as incongruous. We establish, as most societies do, protections to our citizens against harm, among other things. Among those is the protection against sexual coercion. We could infer that rape is wrong, based on a collective "moral compass" that speaks to the majority, but what other objective authority would you cite?
 
Mapraputa Is
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So what makes your internal moral compass any better than his?
Determination, Joe, it's all there is.
Once I walked to my misic lesson (I think I was 16 or something), and a man peacefully walking near me so far said out of a sudden "Let me fuck you. Better me than somebody else" -- I am trying to report his words as precise as I remember them. I can be wrong of course. I said "Should I call the police?" and he disappeared somewhere before I could notice. I wasn't a big hero, I didn't even have enough time to get scared.
And when I was a child (maybe 5 or 6) somebody tried to rape me. He even put his fingers in my pants, um.... deeper than that. So what all this means, Joe? You think me accepting your absolutes will protect me better? Dream up.
 
Damian Ryan
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Originally posted by Michael Ernest:
It's just as arrogant -- in the denotative sense of the term -- to presume there are no absolutes as to presume there are -- we can't know them. We can and do try to infer them, but ultimately it is human, social consensus that acts as the arbiter. All our asserted moral rights and wrongs may in fact map back to an objective state. But it's a happy coincidence at best. We can't know God, we can only believe.
So those of you who have been disagreeing with Joe on this point, my apologies, but you've been wrong all this time.


I don't understand how the second paragraph bears any logical relation to the first.
I don't think I am included in the group mentioned as disagreeing with Joe on the point in question (but to be honest I've kind of lost a grip on which exact point is meant here).
I prefer to believe that, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, there is no set of absolute moral rights and wrongs. That the rights and wrongs we agree upon in a social group are entirely an artifical construct of the group (developed as adaptive responses to the physical and social environment). Not that an unknowable and unprovable divinity imposes them. This does NOT mean that I think the rights and wrongs are all arbitrary. We are all one species despite our global cultural diversity, and so some moral standards are likely to have arisen as beneficial adaptations across the species. You could argue that this makes them absolute, but I don't think it does. They don't and can't apply to anything other than us as humans. It is nonsensical to castigate a rat that mates with its siblings as evil because it has committed "incest", or a male lion that eats the cubs of its mate's previous mate as an evil murderer.
Applying Occam's razor, I see no need to complicate the issue of where my (or anyone elses') mores come from by invoking metaphysical constructs when the answer that they derive from my species' interactions with itself and its environment provides a complete enough answer for me. Perhaps even one that is testable by someone with more wit than me to know how. So I don't feel arrogant in taking my position.
The reason talk of the opposite position (that there is some subset (at least) of our mores which are absolute for all times and all possible situations, that exist without reference to Homo Sapiens Sapiens) discomfits me is that, in my perception (which I ackowledge is mine and not necessarily anyone else's), a conviction that some things just are right or wrong can be the start of a dehumanizing slippery slope of justification for appaling behaviour.
It was probably "self-evident" to Hitler and the fervant Nazis that Jews were subhuman, and so not deserving of the considerations one would normally apply to memebers of the human race, like it not being ok to rape or murder them. It was probably absolutely clear to the Christians who participated in the crusades that the Muslims were heretics who had to be converted or murdered (not that it would have been seen as murder. More likely cast as salvation of their immortal souls). Likewise I would guess it was "clear" to the people who felt justified in hijacking aeroplanes and flying them into the World Trade Center that what they were doing was "right", and no amount of appealing to them to dispassionately examine their views on an intellectual basis would have changed their minds. Because they were convinced of the absolute rectitude of their actions and the absolute evil of their intended victims.
It is the link I perceive between a conviction in moral absolutes and fundamentalism of any denomination that leads me to believe my position is the lesser of the two "arrogances".
 
Joe Pluta
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JP: So what makes your internal moral compass any better than his?
MI: Determination, Joe, it's all there is.
That's not good enough. If you won't submit your actions to outside jurisdiction, then you can't expect someone else to. You can't decide that your moral compass is better than mine or anyone else's, including that rapist. This is the individual moral relativism that leads to anarchy that Michael spoke of.
So, what external jurisidiction do you submit your moral compass to, Map?
Joe
 
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