Are right and wrong and the related duties possible without absolutes

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This topic contains 161 replies, has 8 voices, and was last updated by  Davis 1 week, 4 days ago.

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  • #39830

    Unseen
    Participant

    “If a loving God is my center, then all my actions have meaning because they are related to the Absolute.”

    I believe the only thing wrong with this statement is that “the Absolute” to the author must be God or what God dictates.

    I can’t imagine how one constructs an ethical system on less than an or the absolute. How would it not be a system based merely on attitudes and/or opinions?

    You see, only an absolute of some sort can dictate duties and a system that can’t dictate duties I have a hard time viewing as any sort of ethical system at all.

    Discuss.

    #39835

    Simon Paynton
    Participant

    I think it’s possible to construct an ethical system on what humans find normative – these things are treated as absolute.  Compassion, fairness, conforming to ideal standards are all evolutionarily necessary to the individual.  But that pushes the motivation back to what is necessary for the individual.  However, we don’t live as individuals, we live interdependently.  So these things are good for both the individual and those around the individual, and humans behave and think as “us”.

    #39836

    Ivy
    Participant

    I’ve heard people talk like that before, and it’s usually them trying to say how much they know of “right” and “wrong.” And it’s more of a morality claim. And anyone not looking at the world with that same sense of morality is wrong.

    #39837

    _Robert_
    Participant

    I can’t imagine how one constructs an ethical system on less than an or the absolute.

    You need to try a little harder. Isolated small groups of early humans knew they had to deal with each other over and over again. Their entire community was probably a few families. Just keeping them OK with yourself is about as absolute as morality gets.

    #39838

    Simon Paynton
    Participant

    anyone not looking at the world with that same sense of morality is wrong.

    Yes, I think people are often very parochial when it comes to talking about morality.  All they know, is their own one.  But there is a plurality of morality all over the world.  In “The Social Instinct”, Nichola Raihani talks about how in Eastern, collectivist societies, people favour their families and friends, and see that as the basis for their morality.  In the individualist West, we see the rights of the individual as the absolute standard for correct behaviour, and we favour “universal” rules that apply to everyone.

    So, broadly, in the East, they prioritise responsibilities and duties, while in the West we prioritise rights.

    #39839

    Simon Paynton
    Participant

    You would think that morality has to be grounded in the “absolute”, otherwise it doesn’t carry any weight. But what absolute? Facts? Values? It can be grounded in the fact of cooperation, or of sexuality and pair-bonding. It helps us negotiate those things successfully.

    Religions ground their morality in an absolute giver of absolute laws.

    #39840

    I disagree with the idea that any workable framework for ethics or morality can be based on “absolutes”. This is because all laws have exceptions.

    Thou shalt not kill….expect in self-defense or to save someone else.

    Thou shalt not steal….but if you are starving to death is it then OK to steal a loaf of bread.

    Ethical systems only work when we understand that they are relative to specific situations. They are also relative to specific cultures and what works well for one group in a rainforest might not carry an equal weight to a neighborhood that is under deprived. Once you are prepared to allow an exception to an “absolute” your make it a relative statement.

    I am reminded of the Hitchens Challenge:

    “Here is my challenge. Let someone name one ethical statement made, or one ethical action performed, by a believer that could not have been uttered or done by a nonbeliever. And here is my second challenge. Can any reader of this [challenge] think of a wicked statement made, or an evil action performed, precisely because of religious faith?” -Christopher Hitchens

    #39841

    Simon Paynton
    Participant

    I agree that it’s situational, but it has, surely, to have some kind of absolute authority.

    #39843

    jakelafort
    Participant

    The nexus between authority and morality is a religious/dictatorship concept that inures to the benefit of the upper echelon of power structures.

    I am with Reg who writes…I disagree with the idea that any workable framework for ethics or morality can be based on “absolutes”.

    Circumstances are often so nuanced and complex that absolutes are absolutely inapposite. It is fine to have cherished principles that are an aid to solving issues. But to have absolutes defeats the purpose of ethics/morality.

    It is also true that our understanding of morality/ethics will evolve as we come to learn more and more about human behavior with the aid of neuroscience and other disciplines. Absolutes would defeat the development of greater understanding. How is that for brevity?

    #39844

    Davis
    Moderator

    Re: Absolutes:

    You should distinguish between the absolute re: the full integrity of a moral system vs absolute rules within a moral system. That is: a moral system is a fairly weak and ineffective one if it isn’t based on an all encompassing set of ideas which covers everything based on a finite set of rules/laws/concepts. For example utilitarianism doesn’t mean much if it only applies to the people you choose, for only some cases for whatever people you deem appropriate. Equally, deontological ethics don’t work if it is simply a: do it when it is convenient and not when it gets messy. I believe that Unseen was referring to the first (the absolute integrity of a moral system) which does not imply absolute universal moral rules.

    As per absolute universal moral rules, some moral systems have them, some don’t and some are more complicated. Ones that really don’t are utilitarianism, situational and consequential. Ones that absolutely do are received systems (what a book commands or a religion says or dictator pronounces) or legal systems. It gets messier with virtue ethics and deontological systems in particular where one formulates rules, those rules in themselves aren’t absolute in a universal nature, but subjectively as applied in a universal manner (which is not really absolute but I’ve probably lost some of you by now). I would argue, as Reg is…that any system that deals with pure absolute moral rules is awful, useless, toxic, dangerous, harmful and garbage.

    2.

    #39845

    Davis
    Moderator

    Original sin is a grotesque concept, just as “family dishonour”, guilt by association/family, tribal retribution etc are toxic ideas outside of a primitive setting (and is arguably even toxic within one).

    That isn’t to say humans are not flawed. We are gargantuously flawed. We need things we have an extremely difficult time offering one another, we suffer from things we frequently do to one another, we have a terrible time overcoming evolutionary baggage and we constantly, no…endlessly do things against our best interests hurting ourselves and others. Yes. We are absurdly flawed. Religion via original sin or the less pernicious “life is suffering” or fatalist/nihilist approaches or the lesser well known chaos/unexplainable animist religions, explain human flaws in confusing and toxic ways, and their answer to them are usually terrible. Abrahamic ones: appologize for being who you are, submit to absurd rules and believe stupid shit. Bhuddism/Hinduism, embrace a folk-psychology to dealing with human problems. Animist: whatever happens via natures is what was meant to happen and blah blah. All of this doesn’t explain how and why we are flawed, what humans need, how we have overcome some of these problems (especially via enlightenment and humanist ideas) and extremely recent and effective solutions such as social-programs, extreme tollerance and freedoms and rights, education, greater awareness of psychology and sociology and economic development.

    Sin, and original sin…I would argue, are the most obscene way to deal with human flaws, morality and the human condition. It is an absolute fucking menace to human progress.

    #39846

    Unseen
    Participant

    I think it’s possible to construct an ethical system on what humans find normative – these things are treated as absolute. Compassion, fairness, conforming to ideal standards are all evolutionarily necessary to the individual. But that pushes the motivation back to what is necessary for the individual. However, we don’t live as individuals, we live interdependently. So these things are good for both the individual and those around the individual, and humans behave and think as “us”.

    I’m not talking about practical interpersonal relationships, I’m talking about a basis for an system of ethics. What you propose may decide what works practically and may result in decisions that make interactions smooth, useful, and friction-free. However, it doesn’t generate duties.

    #39847

    Unseen
    Participant

    I can’t imagine how one constructs an ethical system on less than an or the absolute.

    You need to try a little harder. Isolated small groups of early humans knew they had to deal with each other over and over again. Their entire community was probably a few families. Just keeping them OK with yourself is about as absolute as morality gets.

    Where is the system in what you propose? Just trying to get along with those you have to deal with daily isn’t an ethical system.  Also, it would likely break down and become impractical with a scarcity of resources, wouldn’t it?

    How would your approach decide how to deal with people one needn’t or wouldn’t want to interact with, like a captured enemy?

    #39848

    Unseen
    Participant

    Ethical systems only work when we understand that they are relative to specific situations. They are also relative to specific cultures and what works well for one group in a rainforest might not carry an equal weight to a neighborhood that is under deprived. Once you are prepared to allow an exception to an “absolute” your make it a relative statement.

    Situational ethics isn’t a system, and can’t be. The problem with situational ethics is the inability to generate duties. Things one must do because they are right. A duty may call on one to do something that doesn’t benefit oneself or even one’s loved ones. You’re describing a method (if one can call it such) fatally prone to selfish decisions.

    Only a system with duties can prevent a situational ethic from boiling down to doing what benefits oneself or one’s family and friends.

    Consider this example:

    In WW2, Churchill knew through the Enigma machine which decrypted Nazi communications, about many of their actions and intentions. However, he had to be careful not to react so regularly and effectively that he tipped England’s hand, allowing Germany to adopt different encryptions. As a result, he sometimes had to let terrible things happen to British troops and civilians rather than make it clear that Britain had a back door to German military thinking and planning. Perhaps his hardest decision was to allow the bombing of Coventry largely unopposed, resulting in heavy casualties.

    One can be reductionist and claim that even that sort of decision is at heart situational, and it’s hard to argue against a reductionist because they will force everything to fit their model. However, clearly Churchill was using certain principles for making his choice to let many Britons die for a greater good.

    The greater good is a principle based on an absolute: The Good.

    • This reply was modified 2 weeks, 6 days ago by  Unseen.
    #39850

    Unseen
    Participant

    I agree that it’s situational, but it has, surely, to have some kind of absolute authority.

    We rarely agree, but here we do: a situational ethic may result in one person making choice A and another making choice not-A due to their diverse interests. Situational ethics aren’t ethics at all.

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