ETHICS WITHOUT ABSOLUTES

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This topic contains 43 replies, has 8 voices, and was last updated by  Simon Paynton 2 weeks, 4 days ago.

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  • #6186

    Simon Paynton
    Participant

    The ethical reasons why we do things are:

    1)  instinctive (i.e. we evolved this way)

    2)  strategic (i.e. it is useful).

    Those are our bases for making moral decisions.

    #6187

    Simon Paynton
    Participant

    @mattclerke – “What is the absolute to which your ethics are compared to?

    – the benefit/harm to the person, and fairness compared with other persons in the situation, and compared with what that person deserves.  Respecting human dignity.  The actual physical bodily individual person, and their cooperation with others.

    Evidence that this is the “highest” good, is that this is the overall direction of human history: towards this.  (see – Steven Pinker.)

    #6188

    Davis
    Participant

    The ethical reasons why we do things are:

    1)  instinctive (i.e. we evolved this way)

    2)  strategic (i.e. it is useful).

    Those are our bases for making moral decisions.

    This doesn’t make much sense Simon. “The ethical reason why we do things” makes about as much sense as saying “the artistic reasons why art is produced” or “the spiritual reason why Zeus is a God”. I can only imagine that what you meant to say was:

    The forces which drive our ethical considerations when deciding what to do with moral problems are the following:

    or

    The reason humans are compelled to  consider morality as important is:

    I assume you meant the first. In that case, your two examples are two of a very long list and they don’t really explain anything. Everything we do, period, is partially based on the results of evolution. We also take into account our “self interests”, at least to some extent, on all activities be they morally difficult ones or having nothing to do with moral problems. And to be honest, if those two factors are taken seriously, factor 2 is a subset of factor 1. That is, we evolved that way, that is, to make moral decisions strategically. Which ultimately means, you are reducing moral considerations to “we evolved this way” which doesn’t really answer anything.

    You are leaving out a lot of very important factors per ethical considerations:

    The acceptance of arbitrary rules created by those who came before you, many of them far divorced from the environment of which we evolved which work against your interests, even when considering social pressure.

    The role of randomness in moral decision making which has nothing to do with self-interest and far divorced from the environment of which we evolved.

    Manipulative third parties (mass manipulation) completely foreign to the environment of which we evolved

    Social pressure (both primitive and unaturally complex)

    Putting the interests of strangers you’ll never see again ahead of your own and your friends and family (definitely not part of the enviroment from which we evolved)

    Badly formed reasoning driven by Ideological bias something which did not exist in the enviroment of which we evolved and often works against what is “useful” or ones “self interest”.

    Random acceptance of often quoted arguments, arguments far more complex than the ones in the environment of which we evolved.

    Emotional reaction to highly conceptual problems (which are a very very recent phenomena).

    and so on. You cannot reduce morality to “evolution and usefulness” or even consider them the two principle driving forces. It is far far far more complex than that.

     

     

     

    • This reply was modified 3 weeks, 2 days ago by  Davis.
    #6190

    Unseen
    Participant

    1. any system of ethics depends on a choice of initial values.

    And thus is based on arbitrary choices, not any sort of absolute. In math, one set of values gives you algebra, another geometry, another boolean logic.

    2. the universal system of ethical values belonging to the human race consists of kindness and fairness. This is a plausible statement, since the conditions which led to the evolution of our instincts of kindness and fairness, and the conditions which continue to require kindness and fairness, are common to all persons.

    Can you explain Spartan society and how it was kind and fair?

    3. in any given social environment, in the modern day, there are multiple levels of morality, namely, interpersonal norms of benefit/harm, fairness, and respect; and social norms. These may directly conflict.

    They conflict due to the absence of an absolute standard. The fact that moral/ethical values evolve and vary over time is evidence that morals and ethics are little better than fashions.

    4. “Sex with prepubescents wrong? Not a fact. It’s an opinion. Wife beating? Fraud? Adultery? Same answer for all.”

    – most of those things go directly against the ethical sense of the human race in general, and always have. The major exception is wife beating, which is still seen as correct in many countries, and was in the West until not too long ago. Sex with prepubescents is also fairly widespread.

    Not just wife beating. Most of them are tolerated in various societies. Example: In Japan, a mother may help her student son keep his mind on his studies by giving him sexual release orally, by hand, or I presume “the old fashioned way.” It’s probably not the majority practice, but it’s tolerated and not prosecuted.

    Incest as a concept applies much more strongly in societies where there’s a nuclear family, as in Western Europe and European-settled North and South America. In Polynesia, Africa, and among pre-Columbian Native Americans, the “family” was the tribe or clan. Often, “it takes a village” applied to teaching teens about the wonders of sex.

    Anyway, you seem to agree with me that morals and ethics aren’t governed or justified by absolutes. I’m not sure we’re very far apart, though you seem to be argumentative.

    • This reply was modified 3 weeks, 1 day ago by  Unseen.
    #6192

    Simon Paynton
    Participant

    This is the reason why “true” and “false” doesn’t apply to moral statements (about right or wrong).  Truth and falsehood, and rightness and wrongness, are two different kinds of information – different data types.

    To evaluate the truth or falsehood of a statement means to evaluate whether it is an accurate description of what it is referring to.

    The rightness or wrongness (of a course of action) is something else entirely.  The ethical content of a course of action refers to how well it achieves some value (something we find valuable).  So, rightness or wrongness is an evaluation of two things together:  1) the choice of value; 2) the choice of course of action to achieve that value.  This is a separate and different kind of information from “truth” or “falsehood”.  That’s why “moral truth”, “moral fact”, “really right and wrong” are nonsense.

    It’s equivalent to saying “Q. what colour is that banana?” – “A. true”.  It’s a mismatch of data types.

    Just because it is not possible to say that a moral statement is “true” or not, is not the same as saying anything goes, nothing is right or wrong, etc.  The situation is really in between, it depends ultimately on physical circumstances, both present day and evolutionary, these are pretty much the same for everyone, hence, a universal core of ethics and morality.

    If you think that morals don’t matter, or have no valid basis, this means that you don’t care what happens to you or how people treat you.

    an absolute standard“, “absolutes

    – this would be your fundamental value.  How much do you think these vary?  That’s how much morality varies.

    The fact that moral/ethical values evolve and vary over time is evidence that morals and ethics are little better than fashions.

    – it’s a sign that there’s a primary ethical direction to human behaviour.

    #6193

    Simon Paynton
    Participant

    @davis – “The ethical reasons why we do things

    – that subgroup of reasons for doing something, that can be called “ethical reasons”.  This depends what we mean by ethical.

    I would say that all of those other situations you list would come under either “instincts” or “how to get something done” or both.  I think that as with moral philosophy in general, those disconnected details make sense in the context of the basic framework of what morality actually is.  It’s like, those things are the nice headlights and fancy bumpers, but where’s the car.

    #6194

    Simon Paynton
    Participant

    It’s called “ultimate” and “proximate” reasons – ancient evolutionary reasons (felt as instincts today), and present-day practical reasons.

    #6204

    Simon Paynton
    Participant

    It’s a relevant question, but if people are asking for an overall authority, or correct answer – there isn’t one.  If people say, “why shouldn’t I do what I like”, I would say, try it and see what happens, if you really want to reinvent the wheel.

    Ultimately it comes down to justifying a choice of a primary value.  In the secular West, it’s pretty much “human rights”.

    #6232

    Unseen
    Participant

    Simon Paynton:

    If you think that morals don’t matter, or have no valid basis, this means that you don’t care what happens to you or how people treat you.

    So, I should care because I care? Morals can’t matter because they don’t exist. They can’t without referring to some Truth (an absolute with a capital-T). Otherwise they are just preferences people have. You might have one sort, a psychopath, something quite different.

    • This reply was modified 2 weeks, 4 days ago by  Unseen.
    #6234

    onyangomakagutu
    Participant

    I was hoping for more of a philosophical introduction to ethics with/without absolutes. @unseen, Why can’t we have ethics without absolutes? If we did have ethical absolutes, wouldn’t that mean that they are universal across all cultures (i.e. no child marriage)? Or if child marriage is acceptable by the ethical absolutes, why is it not allowed in western civilisation, if not for relativism?

    I find the last part of your statement very strange? Which western civilization are you referring to? You must not be referring to Murica

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/200000-children-married-us-15-years-child-marriage-child-brides-new-jersey-chris-christie-a7830266.html

     

    #6235

    Simon Paynton
    Participant

    @unseen – “So, I should care because I care?

    – uh, yes.

    Morals can’t matter because they don’t exist.

    – they exist in the same way that mathematics exist.

    referring to some Truth (an absolute with a capital-T)

    – they refer to reality.

    You might have one sort, a psychopath, something quite different.

    – that’s how it is.  Not everybody has “morals” in that some people just don’t care.  But some psychopaths can have a strict and highly developed and acceptable (by non-psychopaths) form of morality.

    #6244

    Unseen
    Participant

    I was hoping for more of a philosophical introduction to ethics with/without absolutes. @unseen, Why can’t we have ethics without absolutes? If we did have ethical absolutes, wouldn’t that mean that they are universal across all cultures (i.e. no child marriage)? Or if child marriage is acceptable by the ethical absolutes, why is it not allowed in western civilisation, if not for relativism?

    I find the last part of your statement very strange? Which western civilization are you referring to? You must not be referring to Murica http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/200000-children-married-us-15-years-child-marriage-child-brides-new-jersey-chris-christie-a7830266.html

    To be fair, child marriage is illegal where there are no “loopholes” in the U.S. It cerainly isn’t widely practiced or approved. It occurs mainly in certain fringe communities and is hardly mainstream.

    #6245

    Unseen
    Participant

    @unseen –  “Morals can’t matter because they don’t exist.

    – they exist in the same way that mathematics exist. “referring to some Truth (an absolute with a capital-T)” – they refer to reality.

    They exist in the imagination as well as in patterns built into nature for billions of years. Math actually does refer to reality and much of our understanding is derived from it, in stark contrast to ethics.  Mathematical truths pre-existed mankind. Ethics popped up probably when someone didn’t like something that was going on. There’s no comparison.

    You might have one sort, a psychopath, something quite different.

    – that’s how it is. Not everybody has “morals” in that some people just don’t care. But some psychopaths can have a strict and highly developed and acceptable (by non-psychopaths) form of morality.

    There you go, talking as if morals are based on something objective and not bound by a people’s feelings, gut reactions, opinions, or prejudices. As soon as  you mentioned “acceptability,” universality and absolutes flew out the window. Acceptability has nothing to do with Truth (the capital-T kind) or The Good (the capital-G kind).

    • This reply was modified 2 weeks, 4 days ago by  Strega. Reason: fixed a typo
    #6248

    Simon Paynton
    Participant

    What is moral truth, and how can it pre-date, or exist outside of, a species?  I’m looking for actual detailed specific mechanics, rather than just “you know, the Truth”, “that which is” or some such.

    [Human] moral principles begin life when there are a number of individuals who depend on each other to survive.  So, you have 1) facts: the physical environment, the physical beings of the people; 2) goals: thriving, surviving and reproducing.

    I am pretty sure it wouldn’t be hard to programme a computer with this situation, and it would immediately come up with the basic interpersonal moral principles.  I worked it out myself in about 3 steps: there it was, it just fell out, based on the facts and the needs.  It really is governed by basic formulas.  It’s dead simple.

    These provide the basic framework which can accommodate all the rest.  If we want to extend it, we can add in a few more facts, as in the case of sexual morality.

    people’s feelings, gut reactions, opinions, or prejudices

    – these are a result of evolution taking place in the context of that primitive social situation.  So, they’re a good guide, if they are informed also by rationality.  It’s interesting to consider too that the psychopath’s morality has to be influenced by her genetic lack of emotional empathy.  Interestingly, she gets by just fine with cognitive empathy/the Golden Rule, justice, reciprocity, character, and, surprisingly, idealism – giving a fuck about good behaviour in general.  She’s one person you will always get a straight answer from.

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