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Good and Evil

 
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Also sprach Joe Pluta:
But any further argument just confuses and complicates the simple facts of the case:
  • Rape is Wrong
  • Slavery is Wrong
  • Pedophilia is Wrong
  • Cannibalism is Wrong
  • Torture is Wrong
  • I guess my only question is this: does anybody out there actually agree with me?

    Well, generally. ("Generally?" ) I mean, yes, except I hesitate because I distrust the meaning of the capital "E", and because I'm not sure exactly where you'd draw the borders of what constitutes each of these crimes. E.g. pedophilia. OK, I agree that, for example, an adult having sex with a 10-year-old girl is Wrong. And when I say Wrong, mean I think it's really, really, bad, though if pressed I could probably imagine things that are even worse, but in any event I'm quite happy I live in a society in which the majority of people seem to agree that it's really, really bad and are willing to enforce their will against the minority who may think otherwise. On the other hand, at what age does it become OK? Our society says 18, and that's fine with me. But say another nation says that 17 is acceptable. Are they Evil? I don't think so. I'm uncomfortable with their opinion, but I'd have a hard time arguing that they were clearly Wrong, that there was some moral absolute in play here. What if some other society says 16? Well, I'm getting a lot more uncomfortable, but again, I don't think they're Evil. If we keep decreasing the age, at some point my answer would change to "we should to try to get them to change their ways" (well, 16 was already at that point I suppose) or maybe even "we need to force them to change their ways". (Let's bypass the discussion of exactly how of if this might be acceptably achieved - can we all agree n principle that at some point, for some level of Wrongness, some sort of interference may be justified?) And I doubt we'd all agree on exactly where the cutoff age should be. Here, I believe we need a certain adaptibility, defining morality by consensus. If the question were should we invade country X to force them to stop allowing adults to have sex with children of age Y, then is's not really useful to agree that "pedophilia is Wrong". The question is, depending on the value of Y, how wrong is it? What level of action on our part is justified, or required? Thus, I'm hesitant to assert that "pedophia is Wrong" as an absolute, just because once I call it absolute I fear someone might take that as justification for invading country Z which allows sex with 17-year-olds.
    Simlarly, I can imagine some grey area, somewhere, around most of the other crimes listed. I don't want to get into detailed discussion of each, as for all the listed crimes I will agree that they generally represent something really, really bad which I don't intend to defend. But there may still be ambiguous areas. E.g. for cannibalism, what about the (Peruvian?) soccer team? For torture - what if you know there's a bomb set to go off that will kill 1000000 people in one hour, and you've got the person who set the bomb and knows where it is, but he won't tell you? If that's an accptable evil - what if you're just 99% sure that he's the guy responsible for the bomb? Etc. These things may be Wrong, but if I can imagine a case where I might do something Wrong to avoid something Worse, then I'm saying I don't regard the original Wrongness as absolute. (But I'll still agree it's really, really bad. Probably.)
    I know that this sort of thingking can be very dangerous as it can lead to all sorts of abuse. But I fear that absolutist interpretations of morality can also be very dangerous in some situations. The existence of complexities and extenuating circumstances in some situations should not prevent us from doing what's Right, but the belief that we are Right should not blind us from being able to perceive the complxities and circumstances of the real world. It's a catch-22 I'm afraid.
    So anyway, that's why I'm at least hesitant to embrace a blanket statement that 1-5 above are Wrong, if Wrong is an absolute. Does that make sense?
    [ September 14, 2003: Message edited by: Jim Yingst ]
     
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    Originally posted by Eugene Kononov:
    The point of the article is that "forced copulation, copulation without the female�s consent, can be explained in an evolutionary context as a natural behaviour", -- did you lose track of what our discussion is all about, Joe?


    No, I didn't. You did. My statement:
  • Rape is non-consensual coitus, in either man or animal.
  • Rape is a biological urge for at least some primates
  • Rape is not morally acceptable
  • Thus, man overcomes the biological urges of his primate relatives in achieving morality.

    Nothing from the URL refutes those statements. If anything, it substantiates my claims. Thus my statement. Your implication that I lost track of the conversation is baseless.
    Joe
     
    Joe Pluta
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    Originally posted by Jim Yingst:
    So anyway, that's why I'm at least hesitant to embrace a blanket statement that 1-5 above are Wrong, if Wrong is an absolute. Does that make sense?


    It makes sense, Jim, But I can't agree. I feel there is more danger in the slippery slope of moral relativism than there is in establishing ethical absolutes. Remember, I have said there are situations where performing Wrong can still be Moral. However, there will still be consequences.
    And for most of the above, you had to stretch the bounds VERY much to find situations where torture or cannibalism (much less rape or slavery) are acceptable.
    The pedophilia question is a good one, and I'm surprised no-one came to it quicker. I myself struggle with the age issue, and there is definitely a gray area. But there are also areas where it is NOT gray, and there is no way you can justify such behavior. And we have to I think be able to work together as a society to put a number on that value.
    No, Jim, I'm more afraid of people who argue that there might be a justification for rape than I am of anybody getting put in jail for eating a fellow passenger in a plane wreck. You have to agree that the situations you name are exceedingly rare, whereas the number of times sick, perverted individuals commit these crimes is far, far too high. I think if I am going to err, it is on the side of a society where those individuals rot in jail.
    And that is indeed my last word. I only answered you because yours is a thougthful response. But I'm sorry, I have to choose between moral relativism and moral absolutes, and I choose the absolutes.
    Joe
     
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    The pedophilia question is a good one, and I'm surprised no-one came to it quicker.
    I was tempted to, but tried to stay away from this discussion. Ok, you provoked me.
    I read in "Reading Lolita in Tehran" book that after Islamic revolution official marriage age was 9 (when I checked it on the Internet the first link was that it was recently lifted from 9 to 13). I am not sure how exactly this kind of marriages work, and whether sexual relationships are involved and if yes then what age is considered Ok, but anyway. I remember that in past in Russia for a girl to get married at 12-13 wasn't a big deal either.
    Now this is still different from someone attacking a 9-year old in a dark street and raping her, of course.
    [ September 14, 2003: Message edited by: Mapraputa Is ]
     
    Mapraputa Is
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    Regarding cannibalism, absolutism and relativism...
    A French ambassador in a country were cannibalism occasionally happened was eaten. Naturally, French government sends a note of protest: "What the heck is THIS???" Another party answers: "Um... Sorry guys. Dunno how it happened... Well, Ok, you can eat our ambassador too".
    You know what, people, you all have a veeeeeeery long way to go to catch with my "Absolutes" thread (where this story is borrowed from)
     
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    Originally posted by Eugene Kononov:
    But I just gotta know. How can you post the above URL as proof that there is no rape in the animal kingdom?
    The point of the article is that "forced copulation, copulation without the female�s consent, can be explained in an evolutionary context as a natural behaviour", -- did you lose track of what our discussion is all about, Joe?


    This will be my final post in this thread - I believe I have made all the points I possibly can in defense of my position.

    Precisely. That was my point exactly. Essentially, the male apes of the species are not "morally questioning" themselves as to whether they are committing "rape" (this is absolutely inane based on the observed facts); this is just an instinctual process that is an evolutionary adaptation in that particular species. Examples are given of other species of primates in which this is NOT the case, because that behavior was not a favorable adaptation. Scary as it may sound, for certain species of primates, "rape" is a common adaptation, and there is no "moral" underpinning to it whatsoever, except whatever we choose to ascribe to it. Also, throwing "sh*t" like the yahoos did in Gulliver's Travels was only considered antisocial to Gulliver himself!
    As scientists, it is imperative that we resist the propensity to anthropomorphize what we observe, and when it comes to human populations, we must similarly resist ethnocentrism. As for morality, I do have my own moral compass, fashioned as it were through my own experiences, both personal and cultural. I will leave it at that.
     
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    jim pretty much said what i wanted to say. i met a woman online who got married to a 21 yr old man at 14 and was married to him for 19 years....he must have been very evil. most of us know right from wrong but you cant go around thinking that you know everything or that you can judge other peoples actions when you dont know squat about them.
    [ September 14, 2003: Message edited by: Randall Twede ]
     
    Joe Pluta
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    Originally posted by Randall Twede:
    jim pretty much said what i wanted to say. i met a woman online who got married at 14 and was married to him for 19 years....he must have been very evil. most of us know right from wrong but you cant go around thinking that you know everything.


    Statements like this crack me up. It's amazing how hard it is in this country to say that some things are just Wrong. I never said I know everything, I simply said there are some things that are absolutely Wrong. And how people take my comments out of context, and ignore the substance of my topic, just because I have the audacity to say that some things are just plain Wrong.
    In this case, Randall, I specifically stated that the age issue - that is, at what age sex constitutes pedophilia - was gray. I also said at some ages there was no question. Had the girl been four rather than fourteen you wouldn't be so glib about it, now would you? Or maybe you would, I don't know. Do you think sex with four year olds is okay?
    Joe
     
    Joe Pluta
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    Okay, my last time, really. Gotta go live my life. This thread is just about as dry as an old bone.
    The single concept going through this thread is that basically I'm overstepping my bounds for daring to tell you something is Wrong. Daring to say to your face that there are some things that, if you do them, you are just plain Wrong. Well, I am saying that. No uncertain terms. And here's the proof.
    None of you will argue that anyone should ever be allowed to have sex with a four year old, or rape the postal carrier, or enslave the local gas station attendant, or kill and eat the next door neighbor.
    And if anybody committed one of those crimes, and you were on the jury, you'd sentence that sucker to swing, wouldn't you? (Or at least get some sort of severe punishment.) Yet, you don't want me saying that this stuff is Wrong. Why not?
    Basically, you don't want me telling you that something is Right or Wrong, you reserve the right to make that choice on your own. That's the real issue here. You're just totally ticked off that I have the audacity to tell you that some things are Wrong, and that they're just as Wrong for you as they are for me. How dare I?
    Well, this is how... because they're Wrong, folks. It's real simple stuff. You might not like it, but the truth is there, right in that previous paragraph. Look in your heart and see if there's a place where sex with four year olds is okay. For anyone. Anytime. If there is, then I'm wrong and I will shut up and admit defeat.
    But if you can look in your heart and truly understand that this is something that is just plain Wrong, then you must admit that there really is a concept of absolute morality.
    This isn't about parking in a handicapped zone, or infidelity, or shoplifting, or sexual orientation, or using drugs. This is about real, honest to God moral absolutes. There are some, and we need them.
    Because if not, if there's a place in all of your hearts where people can eat each other, and rape each other, and torture each other - or if there's even a place in your heart where people can CONSIDER these things - then I really just don't want any part of your society.
    Thanks for listening. I'll shut up now.
    Joe
     
    Joe Pluta
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    In closing, I'll say this.
    I am truly disappointed by the content of this thread. Nearly every single post in this thread was attacking my position in one way or another, and every poster said I was wrong. At times I had to carry on four different arguments simultaneously. I heard no end of ludicrously stretched examples of where cannibalism, for example, could be acceptable. Crapola. Even if it was necessary, it was not acceptable, and the people forced to do it lived with those psychological scars forever. Those of you who reserve the right to claim rape acceptable at some later date, well I have nothing more to say to you.
    Because you know what? I asked these questions of normal, everyday people, and not one of them disagreed with me. All these normal, workaday, middle class American people, not one of them was worried about me stepping on their "right to decide". Heck no, they were more worried about the people like those on this thread who would want to be allowed to decide.
    They want to know where you live, and whether they need to protect their children from you.
    And while that might be over-reaction, what really shocked me is that I was the only one on this thread standing up for the concept of Right and Wrong. Not one person was willing to stand with me, and for the belief that some things just aren't Right.
    All my friends understand. Every person I asked these questions of agreed with me, agreed that some things are just Wrong. You people don't. That leads me to think that perhaps I don't belong here. That the population represented by this bulletin board is completely foreign to my system of values.
    And since I have no real desire to convert people, and I get pretty emotionally distraught dealing with the sort of concepts that have been presented in this thread, it's probably best I don't participate anymore.
    But thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for allowing me to crystallize my thought processes. By being forced to explain these things to you people, things that I and all my friends and acquaintances take to be self-evident, to present them in the glare of such bitter animosity, well that made me really appreciate my values.
    It makes me really happy to be me.
    Joe
     
    Mapraputa Is
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    And while that might be over-reaction,
    Indeed.
    what really shocked me is that I was the only one on this thread standing up for the concept of Right and Wrong. Not one person was willing to stand with me, and for the belief that some things just aren't Right.
    Wait until tomorrow, Tom is busy today.
    That leads me to think that perhaps I don't belong here. That the population represented by this bulletin board is completely foreign to my system of values.
    I have this feeling every couple of weeks. It's good that you feel this way, it means you'll get stuck with us.
    ---------------------
    "I'd like to persuade you, If I can, that any such disagreement might be more apparent than real."
    Chris Date
     
    Mapraputa Is
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    Yet, you don't want me saying that this stuff is Wrong. Why not? Basically, you don't want me telling you that something is Right or Wrong, you reserve the right to make that choice on your own.
    Joe, don't you reserve the same right for yourself? If an Imam told you that the best age for a girl to get married is 9, wouldn't you reserve the right to object? Now you are not an Imam, and I believe everybody will agree with you that sex with four (or nine) year olds is NOT okay, but we still decide that we agree with you. So would you, if we started to tell you what we think is Right or Wrong.
    just totally ticked off that I have the audacity to tell you that some things are Wrong, and that they're just as Wrong for you as they are for me.
    I think, we were more concerned that they might be not as Wrong for some other people (in other societies, times, some *very* rare and special circumstances) rather then for us personally, here and now.
    I asked these questions of normal, everyday people, and not one of them disagreed with me. All these normal, workaday, middle class American people, not one of them was worried about me stepping on their "right to decide".
    Well, if somebody came to me and thrown at my face "do you think that rape and cannibalism are OK?" of course, I would say "no". This can be "media" effect, communication via posts allow some time for musing over details and special cases, and we just might be more interested in these intellectually more challenging special cases than in plain clear cases: "sex with four year old".
    They want to know where you live, and whether they need to protect their children from you.
    We will not eat your children, I am positively sure.
    ---------------------
    "I'd like to persuade you, If I can, that any such disagreement might be more apparent than real."
    Chris Date
     
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    Actually Joe, the reason I started getting involved was because you were stating that there were absolutes. As I stated both at the start of my previous response, and towards the end, absolutes cause trouble.
    I happened to pick on the subject of cannibalism, and I think I brought up some cases where we might have to back away from cannibalism being absolutely wrong. I even thought I had you accepting that it was not so easy to be absolute about this. In your response, you said:

    Now, does someone who COMMITS cannibalism automatically get the sociopath tag? No. This is where case by case decisions need to be made. The plane crash in the Andes, certain ritualistic behaviors, there are probably several ways you can "justify" an isolated act of cannibalism. However, in the broader sense (killing people to eat them), there's no way to justify it. This is an absolute to my understanding.


    So you had backed away from an absolute "anyone who ever eats flesh is absolutely wrong", to "anyone who kills someone to eat their flesh is wrong". The later is a subset of cannibalism.
    Jim made the case that defining what constitutes pedophilia may be hard to define. And that brings the issue of what happens when someone who legally marries according to their beliefs and customs in their own country, and then moves to another country with a different definition of pedophilia? I am not talking about the 50 year old marrying the 8 year old, I am talking about say a 20 year old marrying a 17 year old? In some countries that may be acceptable, and in others it may be classified as pedophilia. Have they suddenly become Evil for having changed countries? I suspect your answer will again be that we need "case by case decisions". In which case it is not an absolute.

    This isn't about parking in a handicapped zone, or infidelity, or shoplifting, or sexual orientation, or using drugs.


    Ahhh - now we may be finding out why people are not happy with your stance.
    Personally I am very uneasy whenever anyone tries to tell me that there are no grey areas, only absolutes between right and wrong.
    Where do you stop ruling absolutes? What happens if tomorrow you decide that it is absolutely wrong for someone to become dependant on drugs? Surely we could have an absolute there as well? And if you do want to make an absolute statment on that, then no doubt you will get people arguing against that as well.
    You may very well decide next that underage drinking is Wrong. And you might decide that the American age of 21 is the right drinking age. But in Australia it is legal to drink when you are 18. So do you invade us and get us to change our laws because our laws are Wrong?
    The issue I have is that I want to live in a free society. Not free to rape and kill and torture. But free to democratically decide the rules. And that means that no individual has the right to tell me absolutes. You may tell me your opinion, and I will accept that it is your opinion and you have a right to it. But do not try to tell me that your opinion is the only opinion that matters.

    Because you know what? I asked these questions of normal, everyday people, and not one of them disagreed with me.


    How many of these people actually read this thread? How many of them saw what sorts of debates were going on?
    If you simply asked your wife "Is it OK to kill and eat somebody, because this Andrew person seems to think it is", then of course she is going to agree with you that it is wrong, and that I need to be locked away. But if she saw what I wrote, and what I was trying to get at, then maybe she wouldnt be so convinced that I am criminally insane.
    This has been an interesting discussion. And I am glad that others in the world are willing to look at individual cases rather than deal in absolutes.
    Regards, Andrew
     
    Jim Yingst
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    Joe, thanks for the time you've spent on this. It's been interesting. And sorry about the "gang-up" factor; I agree it's unfair when you're conducting four different arguements simultaneously. On the other hand you make some blanket statements about the population of this forum which force me to clarify my own position. I don't mean these as attacks on you; I mean them as defenses of my own views. As for why didn't others agree more strongly? I think to some extent you were just unlucky, as some of the people who would have been most likely to agree with you just happened to not be around, or distracted by other things. I know I've seen Jason Menard and Thomas Paul assert the existence of moral absolutes, in other threads. Joe, you may want to check out this thread for example. Note that the thread also became convolved with other heated political discussions going on at the time, and ultimately had to be closed; you'll probably want to just stop reading after a while lest you blow a gasket like everyone else did. But there were some interesting points made earlier. I know that this topic has come up other times too, with more balanced discussion (i.e. more folks on your side). Ah well...
    Incidentally, just to further lower your opinion of me, on reflection I'll say I don't really consider cannibalism per se to be Wrong. It's the murder that usually immediately precedes it that's objectionable, IMO. If, hypothetically, there were a society that made a practice of consuming the bodies of those who had passed away from natural causes, I don't see that as inherently immoral. It's quite unappetizing to me, and probably a big health risk unless prepared correctly (which would vary deending on cause of death). And there's a significant danger that allowing cannibalism in some circumstances would end up encouraging murder when food was scarce, and such murder would be Wrong. But to me, the cannibalism itself is not the problem. I don't expect this would be a widely held opinion, and as it happens there's no legitimate need to legalize cannibalism in our society. It's not like food is that scarce for example. And the practical concerns already mentioned would vastly outweigh any possible benefits. So no, I'm not advocating the legalization of cannibalism. I'm just saying that IMO it's not the cannibalism per se that's bad; it's the murder usually associated with it.
    As for some of the other crimes listed... Rape: well, violent rape is always wrong. (Some possible ambiguities here for people doing BDSM role-play, but as long as they work out an escape signal...) But the term "rape" has also been extended to "date rape" which includes a lot of other scenarios, most of them also Wrong, but some are gray. E.g. what if there is "implied" threat of force? What if the woman thinks there may be implied threat of force, but the man doesn't, and didn't realize the woman felt that way? Our consensus in the US has recently changed somewhat here, to where the man is expected to go to some extra lengths to establish that consent is genuine. Point is, there are gray areas here, and they're not that rare. For slavery: well, what about "effective" slavery, esp. in third-world coutries. People in low-paying jobs without viable economic alternatives. Are they enslaved? Depends on how bad the employers policies are I suppose.
    Now I know that all of these scenarios are not what you (Joe) had in mind when you listed rape, slavery, pedophilia, cannibalism, and torture as Wrong. We certainly agree that the "standard" forms of these crimes, the ones most fo us think of first when they are listed, are very, very, bad, and that society should take steps to prevent them and punish transgressors. But it's the existence of these rare exceptions that makes makes the original Absolutes... not so absolute. The exceptions to Newtonian physics are pretty rare too, in our day-to-day experience. But that doesn't change the fact that Einstein was ultimately right (or at least, closer to the truth than Newton was). We still mange to use use Newtonian physics for a huger number of practical applications, even though it's no longer as absolute as it was. Similarly, I have plenty of agreement with you and most of the rest of society in evaluating most things which are called rape, slavery, pedophilia, cannibalism, and torture as really, really, wrong. It's just the absolutism that I disagree with. I've long distrusted people using capital letters for concepts like this - I'm very wary of what, exactly, are they including in each of these capitalized concepts. Your list is OK, except (IMO) for some possible exceptions I noted. But the next absolutist may well include, say, homosexuality. I figure I can certainly join in condemning violent rape and sex with ten-year-olds without opening the door to other things. There are slippery slopes all around.
    By being forced to explain these things to you people, things that I and all my friends and acquaintances take to be self-evident, to present them in the glare of such bitter animosity
    Bitter animosity? Really, I think you're reading most of the people here wrongly. Sorry you feel this way; hope it changes in the future. Cheers...
     
    Joe Pluta
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    Originally posted by Jim Yingst:
    Bitter animosity? Really, I think you're reading most of the people here wrongly. Sorry you feel this way; hope it changes in the future. Cheers...


    Jim, I was feeling pretty put upon when I wrote that. I'm taking time off of this thread (and probably MD in general) in order to digest what you've all said. Regardless of my feelings on the matter, some points were made. I also think most of you got my intentions wrong; I wasn't trying to set MY values on anyone. But rather than go into that in this short post, I'm going to take my time and think about it, and see if I can't address this a little more objectively.
    Joe
    P.S. I agree that my definition of cannibalism involves "killing and eating", not just "eating", and that my aversion to eating the dead is thus probably more cultural than moral. As much as it creeps me out to say it .
     
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    Since all the intelligents have almost stopped posting (was nice to read both sides) i'd like to a few things related to absolutism, relativism, cannibalsim, and these moral right wrong thingies..
    Many people in my native place have been thinking for centuaries that a hen's eggs have life and it is morally Wrong and inherently Evil to take away life from God's creation. Some of the younger generations have no problem having ommlette and french toast thinking that eggs do not have life. But they refuse to let a chicken get killed. That's Morally Wrong to them. For them, it is Absolutely Wrong to hurt or kill anything that has life and is created by God. They would starve themselves to death but refuse to eat any flesh. They think that those who eat steak, beef, pork, etc. are evil merciless killers. That is absolute and self-evidfent for them.
    Similarly, it is amazing that some people are dead against abortion yet advocate capital punishment.
    ------------------------------------------------------
    Your peception of morality is clearly the product of your location in the time-space, and the somewhat trivial electrical activity in your brain.
    - Eugene Kononov
     
    Jim Yingst
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    my aversion to eating the dead is thus probably more cultural than moral. As much as it creeps me out to say it .
    Yeah, it creeps me out too, really. Just trying to be open-minded, which admittedly has its risks. You mentioned Heinlein earlier - you did read Stranger in a Strange Land, didn't you?
    Take care, Joe.
     
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    You mentioned Heinlein earlier - you did read Stranger in a Strange Land, didn't you?
    Another Heinlein's novel is also relevant in the context of this discussion: Job: A Comedy of Justice
    And sorry about the "gang-up" factor; I agree it's unfair when you're conducting four different arguements simultaneously.
    I also wish that we had more participation in this discussion (in terms of the number of posters). Perhaps the cowboys and cowgirls felt that the subject was too heavy and didn't want to take the risk of being ostracized (or maybe even eaten alive). If that's the case, it would be very unfortunate, -- one absolute thing that I am aware of is that we can't find the absolute without searching for one.
     
    Mapraputa Is
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    I think, it's time to reflex on what was said and perhaps to sketch a map of where we stand...
    My general impression is that we look at the same thing (what Joe calls "moral absolutes") and emphasize different parts of the picture.
    Let's summarize our objections to Joe postulates.
    "Absolutes" aren't absolute because:
    1. Reality is always more complicated than clear pure Platonic ideas
    Joe agree: "A Moral action is one which is correct for the situation. Morality is very much conditional and based on the facts at the time of the decision. "
    2. These ideas aren't static, they evolve over time
    Joe agrees again: "My personal belief is that we are slowly moving forward toward a set of enlightened ideals, and that while moral absolutes do change with time."
    3. It's not always clear where to put the line, some areas are gray
    Joe doesn't object: "The pedophilia question is a good one, and I'm surprised no-one came to it quicker. I myself struggle with the age issue, and there is definitely a gray area."
    4. Other societies have different ideas about what is Right and Wrong. What should we do about it?
    Jim: "I'm hesitant to assert that "pedophilia is Wrong" as an absolute, just because once I call it absolute I fear someone might take that as justification for invading country Z which allows sex with 17-year-olds."
    I did not find any reply from Joe on this one, not sure what he thinks.
    Joe's objections to our objections:
    1. Reality is always more complicated than pure clean ideas
    Doesn't mean that there are no clear cases (aka absolutes).
    Joe: "None of you will argue that anyone should ever be allowed to have sex with a four year old, or rape the postal carrier, or enslave the local gas station attendant, or kill and eat the next door neighbor."
    2. These ideas aren't static, they evolve over time
    But they do not evolve chaotically and arbitrary, there is a direction.
    Joe: "we are slowly moving forward toward a set of enlightened ideals, and that while moral absolutes do change with time, they generally change in a particular direction. And this, this is what I mean when I talk about Good and Evil, Right and Wrong. I truly believe humanity can progress to a higher level."
    3. It's not always clear where to put the line, some areas are gray
    And some are not, they are very well black and white.
    Joe: "I specifically stated that the age issue - that is, at what age sex constitutes pedophilia - was gray. I also said at some ages there was no question. Had the girl been four rather than fourteen you wouldn't be so glib about it, now would you?"
    4. Other societies have different ideas about what is Right and Wrong. What should we do about it?
    Again, not sure what Joe's response is.
    [ September 15, 2003: Message edited by: Mapraputa Is ]
     
    Randall Twede
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    taking the question of sex with minors one step further, what about long distance text-based chat sexual relations? is that the same thing as actually having "consentual" sex with a minor? i believe it IS illegal in most, if not all, states. but is it necessarily immoral?
    [ September 15, 2003: Message edited by: Randall Twede ]
     
    Mapraputa Is
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    Now here is a more practical question: why do we decide to emphasize different parts of the picture? Why Joe prefers to emphasize "absoluteness" and we prefer to emphasize "relativeness"?
    Joe worries:
    1. without clear moral absolutes we cannot make any progress.
    Joe: "if things are all relative and society and individuals are free to choose whatever morality suits them at the moment, then anything goes, and anarchy ensues, a no-holds-barred anarchy where anything goes."
    I do not think we ever addressed this concern, but here is my attempt. This scenario doesn’t look realistic because "society and individuals are free to choose whatever morality suits them at the moment" stretches a notion of relativeness beyond limits. Individuals are products of their societies and aren't totally free to choose their morality, and societies cannot change their morality arbitrarily either. Jim: morality is "the gradual product of human evolution, which is now more memetic than genetic." Evolution is far from anarchy.
    2. Emphasis on justified exceptions is practically unwise and dangerous, because unjustified abuses are far more frequent than exceptions that can be justified
    Joe: "No, Jim, I'm more afraid of people who argue that there might be a justification for rape than I am of anybody getting put in jail for eating a fellow passenger in a plane wreck. You have to agree that the situations you name are exceedingly rare, whereas the number of times sick, perverted individuals commit these crimes is far, far too high. I think if I am going to err, it is on the side of a society where those individuals rot in jail."
    That's a good point. Can heighten attention to rare, complex and "interesting" cases spread to less complex, typical abuses and somehow romanticize them in mass consciousness? This is at least a valid concern.
    Relativist gang worries:
    1. If absolutes exist, who is to decide what they are?
    Andrew has a very good point:
    "The issue I have is that I want to live in a free society. Not free to rape and kill and torture. But free to democratically decide the rules. And that means that no individual has the right to tell me absolutes. You may tell me your opinion, and I will accept that it is your opinion and you have a right to it. But do not try to tell me that your opinion is the only opinion that matters."
    I do not think Joe disagree too much: "They are moral absolutes that we agree upon and hold dear as we evolve as a species"
    "And we have to I think be able to work together as a society to put a number on that value."
    2. There are lots of subtle cases where "absolutes" aren't absolute
    Andrew again: "You may very well decide next that underage drinking is Wrong. And you might decide that the American age of 21 is the right drinking age. But in Australia it is legal to drink when you are 18. So do you invade us and get us to change our laws because our laws are Wrong?"
    I think, Joe differentiates between various "degrees of absoluteness":
    "Certain things simply fall into those categories naturally. Pedophilia and cannibalism are two I chose as examples of Wrong. Other things are Right or Wrong based on societal norms; smoking in public or walking naked through the streets. Others still are based on personal values. Sex outside of marriage fits here, I think."
    3. "Humanitarian invasions" problem again
    Andrew: "And that labeling of someone (or a group of people) as being evil, leads to prejudice. And having predudices about people makes it easy to justify war against them. How many civilizations have been destroyed because they simply had different views/beliefs than their conquerors?"
    I am leaving it up to Joe to clarify his views on this...
    Did I miss something?
     
    Joe Pluta
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    I'm not ready to return to this conversation yet, but I'll provide a preview. I think a huge part of the difference here lies in this statement:
    just because once I call it absolute I fear someone might take that as justification for invading country Z
    Please note that I am in no way suggesting that an absolute Wrong is a reason to invade a country, and that's not the question. Using that fear as an argument really taints the issue, and if I were a judge I'd admonish the jury to disregard that statement.
    You guys are always telling me to separate the issues; can you do so here? Whether people are sentenced to jail or countries go to war because of a moral stance is not a part of this question, and is inadmissible as part of the argument.
    Agreed or not? (This is important in my formulation of any future responses.)
    Joe
     
    John Smith
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    JP: You guys are always telling me to separate the issues; can you do so here? Whether people are sentenced to jail or countries go to war because of a moral stance is not a part of this question, and is inadmissible as part of the argument.
    Yes, I agree that it is irrelevant and inadmissible for the purposes of this debate (although the evidence is certainly there and it is by itself a good subject to discuss).
    Now, would you not agree, Joe, that your central line of evidence is also inadmissible? Your main agrument, essentially, is that since evil is easily recognized by the vast majority of people (in the form of pedophilia, rape, cannibalism, and murder), then it must be evil on the extraterrestial level, that it is intrinsically evil. A qualitatively similar argument would be this: "If humans on Earth need oxygen to breath and exist, then any intelligent life form requires oxygen."
    That's exactly what has been the source of our disagreement. The question that I am asking, metaphorically speaking, is "Why would an intelligent life form require oxygen, what is so good about it?" It's just an attempt to unplug from the reality in order to understand the reality.
     
    Joe Pluta
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    Eugene, please have the decency to recognize that I'm not returning to the conversation, only trying to agree on a ground rule. I don't have the time or the energy to decipher your mental convolutions. It's primarily because of the strain of dealing with logic like yours that I'm taking time off. You see, I'm not talking about extraterrestrials, and thus your line of reasoning doesn't even have a logic that I can follow.
    So please let ME unplug from the conversation for a little bit. You're draining what brain cells I have left.
    Joe
     
    John Smith
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    Map: Reality is always more complicated than clear pure Platonic ideas.
    Actually, Plato would would be split between the "gang" and Joe. On one hand, Plato would argue that the perfect (mathematical kind of) order exists in the Universe, and that there are indestructable ideals that exists on their own, no matter how they are interpreted by people. This would indeed be in line with Joe's ideas (unless I am reading Joe wrong).
    On the other hand, Plato would talk about "The Myth of the Cave", a symbolic form of his view that people are imprisoned in their own bodies and all they can see are the shadows of the reality on the wall of the cave. Due to their sensory and experiential limitations, people are delusioned into thinking that the reality is what they see, hear, and think.

    Joe: Eugene, please have the decency to recognize that I'm not returning to the conversation, only trying to agree on a ground rule.
    Well, you can't have it both ways, Joe. Even establishing the ground rule requires a conversation.
     
    Jim Yingst
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    Please note that I am in no way suggesting that an absolute Wrong is a reason to invade a country, and that's not the question. Using that fear as an argument really taints the issue, and if I were a judge I'd admonish the jury to disregard that statement
    You guys are always telling me to separate the issues; can you do so here? Whether people are sentenced to jail or countries go to war because of a moral stance is not a part of this question, and is inadmissible as part of the argument.

    OK, I can agree to that, for now at least. (Meaning, unless someone else opens that issue and forces me to address it again.) That may end up limiting the relevance of the discussion for me, since if I can't see a tangible effect of something, it tends not to have much meaning for me. (And even if it does have meaning to me, I'll always be wondering if it means the same thing to someone else.) But Ok, I gan at least give it a try.
     
    John Smith
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    You see, I'm not talking about extraterrestrials, and thus your line of reasoning doesn't even have a logic that I can follow.
    Well, although the gang took the reductionist approach to the problem in question, I actually hoped to resolve from the "Theory Of Everything" point of view. I thought I indicated my intent clearly in the opening post of this thread, but apparently it was buried in the annals of this wonderful discussion. For that, please accept my apologies. Now that you can apply everything that I said to cosmic matters, would you agree with me?
     
    Mapraputa Is
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    Agreed or not? (This is important in my formulation of any future responses.)
    Let's vote? Map: agree.
    Here is something for Eugene (and other theoreticians and aesthetes) to consider while Joe will take a rest and prepare a new attack.
    I was thinking about "prototype theory" while reading this thread, but was too lazy to check. Or maybe there wasn't enough data...
    Ok, now I checked and it seems like there is some potential for insight.
    "Understanding Semantics" book on how humans make categories (moral categories as a particular case):
    "The traditional view of categorization is shaped by the model of 'necessary and sufficient conditions' (NSC model for short) that goes back to Aristotle. According to NSC model, a category is defined by a set of necessary conditions, which together are sufficient.
    The Aristotelian model can be characterized by the following points:
  • Categorization depends on a fixed set of conditions and features
  • Each condition is absolutely necessary
  • The conditions are binary (yes-or-no) condition
  • Category membership is a binary (yes-or-no) issue
  • Categories have clear boundaries
  • All members of a category are of equal status "


  • When cognitive scientists started to investigate how humans really categorize things, each point of NSC model was challenged. As a result, we have the Prototype Theory.
    In the most famous experiment participants had "to rate on a scale 1-7 the 'goodness-as-example' of different kinds of birds. The results were surprisingly consistent. Robins were considered the best examples, <...> while penguins and ostriches ranked lowest. Similar results were obtained for categories FRUIT, CLOTHING etc."
    Here is a summary of Prototype theory:
  • Graded structure. The members of a category are not of equal status
  • Prototypes are best examples. There are prototypical members that are consistently considered the best example of the category
  • No set of necessary conditions
  • Family resemblance. Category members are connected by family resemblance
  • Prototypes are reference points. Category membership is a matter of similarity to the prototype
  • Graded membership. Category membership is a matter of degree.
  • Fuzzy boundaries. Categories have fuzzy boundaries.


  • In this parlance, what Joe sees as "absolutes" are "best examples" that helps us to define categories (and this may very well be the only way to define them). Accidentally, the fervor with which Joe defended his vision made us mistaken it for what is closer to Aristotelian model, and attack him mostly on this ground. ("I have the audacity to tell you..." kind of things are just emotional outbursts and cannot be considered a central element of Joe's worldview).
    On the other hand, our attempts to claim that absolutes do not exist, or "aren't absolute" was naturally interpreted by Joe as we are saying there are no categories at all, no Right or Wrong, (RIGHT and WRONG in linguistic tradition) and "everything goes", which is, as it should be clear by this moment, not correct.
    Ok, now I exhausted myself and going to shut up (for a while).
     
    Joe Pluta
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    That may end up limiting the relevance of the discussion for me, since if I can't see a tangible effect of something, it tends not to have much meaning for me.
    Interesting. The primary reason I'm having this conversation is to address the intangibles - those things with which I measure personal growth, which are the things with the most meaning for me. Discussing how those are used to create laws or decide foreign policy is certainly important. But since foreign policy is something I will at best only tangentially have any control over, it is less substantial to me than my own internal growth. All I truly have control over is what I say and do, and so it's important that I use that ability to the greatest possible good, and that in turn requires living my life as well as possible.
    Amazing by how many different directions we come to these discussions, isn't it?
    Joe
     
    John Smith
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    Map: On the other hand, our attempts to claim that absolutes do not exist, or "aren't absolute" was naturally interpreted by Joe as we are saying there are no categories at all, no Right or Wrong, (RIGHT and WRONG in linguistic tradition) and "everything goes", which is, as it should be clear by this moment, not correct.
    Well, now I am confused, along with Joe. Maybe we should abandon this thread, forget evrything that we said, and start from scratch. Better yet, we should all meet as a group, face to face, and resolve the communication problems. "Everything goes" (from the nature's point of view) is exactly what I've argued and that's how I stated my case. And I thought that you agreed with me, Map!
    More specifically, I refered to the modern String Theory, with my idea that what we consider evil is just a certain frequency of string vibration, of which the matter (including the human brain) is made of. Similarly, "the good" is just another frequency of string vibration.
    But forget the strings, let's think as macroscopically as possible. The Big Bang was evidently a very evil event, -- the matter (or whatever was there) just rested there, in its concentrated harmony and beauty, minding its own business, and then, boom!, some evil act destroyed it all. Never mind the Holocaust, -- we are talking Evil of the cosmic proportions here, with 100 billion capital "E"s.
    Of course, the opposite theory is equally logical, -- the Big Band was the ultimate and the infinite "Good", -- it destroyed the Evil by trasforming it to good and by spreading it billions of light years in all directions, and the good keeps expanding to this day.
    Well, according to my theory, The Big Bang was neither good nor evil. Instead, it was just motion, the action and the reaction. And from here it follows easily and effortlessly, -- there is no good or evil on any scale, be it macro- or microcscale, relative or absolute, -- there are just perceptions, opinions, and interpretations of vibrations.
    Coming back to Earth, do I think that cannibalism and murder are evil? Yes, in human interpretations (and I am human). Just like the iron is attracted to magnet, the humans are attracted by kindness, honesty, and love. But just like qualifying the iron attraction to magnet as "good" is meaningless from the physical point of view, so are kindness, honesty, and love, from the metaphysical point of view.
    [ September 15, 2003: Message edited by: Eugene Kononov ]
     
    Mapraputa Is
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    "Everything goes" (from the microspopic point of view) is exactly what I've argued and that's how I stated my case. And I thought that you agreed with me!
    It depends on how to understand "everything goes". When I said this is an incorrect perception of "our" views (if there is such thing as "our views"), I meant everything dosn't go from human point of view. But let's clarify. As a human being, as a member of society, do you see any difference between, say, saving a little girl and raping her? Do you have the same feeling toward two events?
    What you have argued, as I understand, is that "everything goes" from POV of the humanless world (indifferent nature). "... my theory is that it was neither good nor evil. Instead, it was just motion, the action and the reaction. And from here it follows easily and effortlessly, -- there is no good or evil on any scale, be it macro- or microcscale, -- there are just perceptions, opinions, and interpretations of vibrations."
    Mmmm... I agree that moral judgments are nothing more than just perceptions, opinions, and interpretations. But there is still some difference between Big Band and human actions. As we possess something that sets us apart from the rest of the Universe -- consciousness -- our social actions (as opposed to, say, physiological) acquire a new dimension, which is moral dimension. The scale of this dimension, it's direction, where the zero point is etc, are somewhat arbitrary, but the dimension itself is here.
    Not sure if it's any clearer now...
    [ September 15, 2003: Message edited by: Mapraputa Is ]
     
    Jim Yingst
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    All I truly have control over is what I say and do, and so it's important that I use that ability to the greatest possible good, and that in turn requires living my life as well as possible.
    Well, to the extent that the ideas you discuss can influence your own behavior, and might influence mine if I agree with you, then we'll probably have something to talk about. E.g. "sex with a 10-year-old girl is Wrong" - well, dunno yet what the capital W really means, and I'm not sure what it means to call this an "absolute", but (limiting discussion to how it might affect my own behavior) I'm not going to ever do it, nor advocate or tolerate anyone who does. OK. Not sure if that means I agree with you or not, but I will look forward to your return.
    Amazing by how many different directions we come to these discussions, isn't it?
    Yup.
     
    Mapraputa Is
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    Eugene: Well, although the gang took the reductionist approach to the problem in question, I actually hoped to resolve from the "Theory Of Everything" point of view.
    How about "Good and Evil step-by-step"?
    Let's wait until Joe says what he wants to say, meanwhile we can work on our questions for the next round.
    List of unresolved questions so far (not for Joe, for us to collect):
    1. [Eugene]: Do moral absolutes exist in Plato's sense, as "indestructable ideals that exists on their own, no matter how they are interpreted by people"? Or in other words, is Evil intrinsically evil?
    2. [Jim]: How absolutes should be used to create laws or decide foreign policy (Jim can formulate it better).
    Anything else?
     
    Jim Yingst
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    Let's wait until Joe says what he wants to say, meanwhile we can work on our questions for the next round.
    And during the next round we hope they might be answered by... who, Joe? Let's give him a break, as he's taking time off. Saving up questions for him is just more work for him later.
    2. [Jim]: How absolutes should be used to create laws or decide foreign policy (Jim can formulate it better).
    Well I'm more interested in if we declare a principle to be absolute, what does that mean? And I try to get at that by exploring the edges of the principle to see how different situations would affect our behavior. Maybe not the best way; I'm open to suggestions.
     
    Mapraputa Is
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    Ok, Eugene, *you* drove me crazy with your question, it's all *your* fault.
    I wrote that I agree that moral judgments are "nothing more than just human perceptions, opinions, and interpretations", but something bothered me with such a notion. It lacks elegance. There must be some analog of Right and Wrong on cosmic level. Here: our human Right and Wrong are only pale pathetic human-scale versions of cosmic Eros and Thanatos, Yin and Yang, opposites whose difference creates potential that moves the World. One cannot exist without another, one doesn't die and neither does another, instead one becomes another and vice versa.
    How's that for absolutes?
     
    Mapraputa Is
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    Jim: Well I'm more interested in if we declare a principle to be absolute, what does that mean?
    Deep question. I would start from the definition for "absolute".
    1. Perfect in quality or nature; complete.
    2. Not mixed; pure.
    3.a. Not limited by restrictions or exceptions; unconditional: absolute trust.
    b. Unqualified in extent or degree; total: absolute silence.
    4. Unconstrained by constitutional or other provisions: an absolute ruler.
    5. Not to be doubted or questioned; positive: absolute proof.
    2. Absolute. Philosophy.
    a. Something regarded as the ultimate basis of all thought and being. Used with the.
    b. Something regarded as independent of and unrelated to anything else.
     
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    Truth is never uni-dimensional. It is relative and dependent on time, place, matter and the state in which you are.
    If you consider truth to be good then ...
    AW it was really a nice thread and I will keep myself away from this thread so that it remain neat & clean.
    there is a quote from one article from http://spirituality.indiatimes.com


    When you go into a garden and see different kinds of flowers in full bloom, you marvel at nature and enjoy the beauty of each flower, its unique shape, colour and perfume. But when you walk into a room full of people, each holding a view different from yours, you find it difficult to accept.


    In this page you will find my signature also
     
    John Smith
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    Map: Do moral absolutes exist in Plato's sense, as "indestructable ideals that exists on their own, no matter how they are interpreted by people"? Or in other words, is Evil intrinsically evil?
    No to both questions. We are making progress in this thread.
    Jim: Well I'm more interested in if we declare a principle to be absolute, what does that mean? And I try to get at that by exploring the edges of the principle to see how different situations would affect our behavior. Maybe not the best way; I'm open to suggestions.
    I see your angle, Jim. It seems that you are interested in applied metaphysics, while my primary interest in this discussion is the theoretical metaphysics.
    Map: I wrote that I agree that moral judgments are "nothing more than just human perceptions, opinions, and interpretations", but something bothered me with such a notion. It lacks elegance. There must be some analog of Right and Wrong on cosmic level. Here: our human Right and Wrong are only pale pathetic human-scale versions of cosmic Eros and Thanatos, Yin and Yang, opposites whose difference creates potential that moves the World. One cannot exist without another, one doesn't die and neither does another, instead one becomes another and vice versa.
    And to extend it a bit further, neither Yin nor Yang are good or evil, and neither Eros nor Thanatos are good and evil. If one of them was Right and the other one was Wrong, than we should be thankful to God equally as much as we are thankful to Devil, right? This contradiction is resolved once you set aside the initial assumption that the opposite forces have have the characteristics of "goodness" and "badness". Can a constructor be considered good, and the C++ destructor (or garbage collector in Java) be considered evil? Of course not, -- they coexist together in harmony. From the object's point of view, however, the destructor is, indeed, evil.
    So you found the elegance that you were looking for, it's just that you didn't realize it yet. Remember the Marx' dialectical materialism from the Russian high school, and its fundamental principle, the unity and struggle of the opposites?
    Ravish: Truth is never uni-dimensional. It is relative and dependent on time, place, matter and the state in which you are. If you consider truth to be good then ...
    That's a good thought, Ravish, -- I wish that you expanded on it. Or at least complete the sentence.
    [ September 16, 2003: Message edited by: Eugene Kononov ]
     
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    Interesting how some posters react one way when discussing hypothetical situations like this. But react totally different in a real situation similar to the hypothetical situations in this thread.
     
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    Originally posted by Eugene Kononov:
    Map: Do moral absolutes exist in Plato's sense, as "indestructable ideals that exists on their own, no matter how they are interpreted by people"? Or in other words, is Evil intrinsically evil?
    No to both questions. We are making progress in this thread.

    Jim: Well I'm more interested in if we declare a principle to be absolute, what does that mean? And I try to get at that by exploring the edges of the principle to see how different situations would affect our behavior. Maybe not the best way; I'm open to suggestions.
    I see your angle, Jim. It seems that you are interested in applied metaphysics, while my primary interest in this discussion is the theoretical metaphysics.
    Map: I wrote that I agree that moral judgments are "nothing more than just human perceptions, opinions, and interpretations", but something bothered me with such a notion. It lacks elegance. There must be some analog of Right and Wrong on cosmic level. Here: our human Right and Wrong are only pale pathetic human-scale versions of cosmic Eros and Thanatos, Yin and Yang, opposites whose difference creates potential that moves the World. One cannot exist without another, one doesn't die and neither does another, instead one becomes another and vice versa.
    And to extend it a bit further, neither Yin nor Yang are good or evil, and neither Eros nor Thanatos are good and evil. I mean if one of them was Right and the other one was Wrong, than we should be thankful to God equally as much as we are thankful to Devil, right? This contradiction is resolved once you set aside the initial assumption that the opposite forces have have the charecteristics of "goodness" and "badness".
    So you found the elegance that you were looking for, it's just that you didn't realize it yet.
    Ravish: Truth is never uni-dimensional. It is relative and dependent on time, place, matter and the state in which you are. If you consider truth to be good then ...
    That's a good thought, Ravish, -- I wish that you expanded on it.



    In essence, all you guys (Pluta being the most notable exception) have said thus far is that you don't find evidence to support Plato's ideal forms idea. But then again, his world of ideal forms or ideas was on a different plane. Even Plato would not say, "Look, over there is the ideal chair!", or "This man has done ideal Evil". So, firstly, I question your attacks on Evil as a Platonic ideal by those who simply say there are no perfect manifestations of Evil that we can point to.
    Platonic ideals can be seen in many ways; one is simply that they are conceptual abstractions or a type of mental summation of many situations; others more mystically inclined could say the ideal forms exist prior to any physcial manifestion of the subject to which they relate. In any event, to say that Platonic ideals do not "exist" or that Evil as a Platonic ideal does not "exist" seems to be missing the whole point of what a Platonic ideal is.
    Secondly, let�s distinguish between absolute Evil and absolute Human Evil.
    I�m not quite sure Evil as an absolute devoid of any context with living beings is conceptually coherent. Obviously the context of discussing any idea determines how meaningful the conclusions will be. Perhaps you could postulate destruction/chaos as Evil and order/evolution as Good. But does that seem satisfactory or meaningful?
    The problem is that we all bring certain meanings to the word Evil to this discussion and discussing Evil in a totally abstract way completely devoid of those meanings makes the discussion meaningless (and doesn�t the word itself become meaningless?). Leaving aside the linguistics debates, Evil only seems to have a real and coherent meaning in terms of living beings. Obviously Evil in terms of living beings is death. Now it seems we�re making some progress towards some absolutes (Ooops, sorry, you guys have worked so hard so show there no absolutes�). Next we can discuss Human Evil which pertains specifically to the specific characteristics of humans, then we can invite Pluta back�.
     
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