Where does morality come from? – My take.

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This topic contains 102 replies, has 7 voices, and was last updated by  Simon Paynton 5 months, 4 weeks ago.

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  • #51859

    Simon Paynton
    Participant

    Here’s an example of groups that do immoral things, while being moral within themselves:  the Pirate Code.

    #51869

    This system says, if you have joint goal G, then you should X.  That is the only way to be prescriptive – to say you ought to do something – that doesn’t violate the fact/value distinction.

    @simon – Are you attempting to get an ought from an is?

     

    #51870

    Simon Paynton
    Participant

    Are you attempting to get an ought from an is?

    You can get an ought from an is, if one of the is’s is a desire or goal.  In the absence of desires, goals, passions, values, etc., it’s not possible (according to David Hume, and I agree with him).

    #51871

    I was thinking of Hume too.

    #51873

    Simon Paynton
    Participant

    I was thinking of Hume too.

    That’s an interesting article.

    The bigger problem in moral philosophy is what happens if someone does not want to be good, whatever its origins?  Put simply, in what sense ought we to hold the goal of being good?  It seems one can ask “how am I rationally required to hold ‘good’ as a value, or to pursue it?”

    This comes down to a difference between instrumental goals, goods, and oughts, which are solitary, or do not reference other people; and moral goals, goods, and oughts, which are joint.  Humans have to cooperate in order to survive, and there is a pressure to survive.  Some survival is individual or instrumental; some is joint; some is competitive: at the expense of others.

    There’s also a distinction to be made between “right” and “moral”.  Not all joint goals are good, yet they can all facilitate morality between partners (e.g., loyalty, honesty, etc.).  Witch-burning, and cancel culture, are moral in the sense that they are part of morality: punishing people for violating a particular code of values.  But it can be argued that they are wrong according to other values like not victimising people.

     

    #51874

    Unseen
    Participant

    I can recognise nagging problems, I just haven’t mentioned any.

    Gee, I wonder why(?). OK, give us some examples of issues in your theory yet to be explained.

    I can’t think of any. I’m sure there are some.

    Not even one? That’s because there are none. And that ain’t good.

    I wrote: Value theory isn’t about standards or measures or, if so, only obliquely. The “value” in this case has more to do with what one finds worthy or worthwhile than what one can measure or use as a standard.

    In this case, it’s the same thing, if you think about it. Ideal behaviour aimed at a certain joint goal. If I walk into a shop and buy a £10 book, but only give the cashier £5, that’s not reciprocal. If I gave her £10, it would be. Very concrete.

    That hardly qualifies as a hard case. Are you familiar with Plato’s classic ethical quandary called The Ring of Gyges? In Plato’s allegory of the Ring of Gyges, a shepherd named Gyges discovers a magical ring that grants him invisibility. He uses this newfound power to indulge in unethical actions, such as seducing the queen and usurping the throne.

    The basic question here is, if you could benefit yourself in various ways and there’s nothing stopping you from doing so, should you stop yourself? and why?

    A woman becomes pregnant and she and her husband can’t agree on whether she should bring it to term. It’s her decision ultimately, but the wrong decision could damage her relationship with her partner. (Notice, I didn’t say which partner wanted what.)

    Bill is gay and wants to come out, but his parents are vehemently anti-gay and his father suffers from a deep clinical depression and has made two suicide attempts already. Bill wants to come out and marry his partner but fears that doing so will drive his father to suicide, which it well could. Bill’s partner is becoming justifiably frustrated at Bill’s reticence. What should Bill do?

    The thing about many moral situations is that they are true dilemmas. Your example of the bookstore is laughably easy by comparison with decisions actual people have to make daily.

    How to treat coworkers when jockeying for the promotion, for example. Should a woman rely on her sexual wiles or knowledge of sports to land a job? What goes and what doesn’t when trying to seduce someone into sex? How much to reveal in terms of cons vs. pros when trying to sell something. These are all commonplace situations and all involve dilemmas and hard choices.

    Your system isn’t much help in that sort of situation.

    Earlier, I wrote this: “Real moral choices have a power forcing one to do something simply because it’s right, even if it is the last thing one wants to do and even if it spells doom for one’s group.”

    No thoughts on that?

    #51876

    Unseen
    Participant

    @ Simon

    In more than one philosophical discussion here I’ve staked this ground: A solution to a philosophical problem that only philosophers can understand isn’t a solution.

    Philosophy isn’t like the traditional sciences where we can largely take an expert’s word that evolution is the best explanation for how the creatures of today got here, or an astronomer’s word that the universe is expanding faster and faster or a psychologist’s word that having a bit of psychopathy in one’s make up is likely to help one achieve success in life.

    So, the solution to the problem of free will, which I can lay out in one or two sentences that almost anyone with an IQ higher than a squirrel can understand all too often comes down to advice to read this or that classic philosophy or an abstruse contemporary book, hundreds of pages long, that only someone with at least a Master’s Degree in philosophy is likely to appreciate.

    That’s a pretty feeble kind of solution to a problem that concerns everyday people who won’t be comforted by knowing that Dr. (insert name) thinks he’s proved we have free will though other equally qualified experts think he’s wrong.

    I think your ideas about morality are not very helpful to people in everyday life facing actual moral dilemmas.

    #51877

    Simon Paynton
    Participant

    That hardly qualifies as a hard case.

    It’s not meant to be a hard case; it’s an illustration of how a value that aims to achieve mutual benefit, works.

    I think your ideas about morality are not very helpful to people in everyday life facing actual moral dilemmas.

    I’ve always said that things are right or wrong according to particular values.  So, something is never all right or all wrong.  It’s right according to values a, b, and c; and wrong according to values d, e, and f.  There’s no single yes/no answer.

    In the case of moral dilemmas, they’re difficult choices by definition.  The arguments for and against are evenly matched, and possibly high-stakes, on both sides.  So no moral system can resolve them satisfactorily.  The moral system I espouse, recognises that you have to go over each side of the argument, and then make the choice that best suits you.

    the Ring of Gyges

    I would say that in this case, conduct depends on the conscience and what it can stand.  I believe it was Michelle Obama who said, if you have absolute power, your only guide is your moral compass.

    A solution to a philosophical problem that only philosophers can understand isn’t a solution.

    Well, if it is a genuine solution, then it should be possible to make some of it intelligible to non-philosophers.  But consider something like quantum physics.  It’s empirically true, yet difficult to understand.

    “Real moral choices have a power forcing one to do something simply because it’s right, even if it is the last thing one wants to do and even if it spells doom for one’s group.”

    Interesting question.  This implies that one’s group is a wrong ‘un, and isn’t doing the right thing.  In this case, you would be wise to go against the group.  For example, whistle-blowers.  How do you know it’s right, when the group is wrong?  Probably the group is violating values you hold dear: for example, it’s harming innocent people.

     

    #51878

    @unseenPhilosophy isn’t like the traditional sciences where we can largely take an expert’s word that evolution is the best explanation for how the creatures of today got here….and……that only someone with at least a Master’s Degree in philosophy is likely to appreciate.

    I agree. Completely.

    One can learn the history of philosophy without fully comprehending it (as Kant and Descartes would argue). As I have sometimes mentioned, Hegel said that the study of philosophy is but an introduction to philosophy. We must be able to philosophize internally, within our own minds first. To do that we must understand the history of Philosophy, the problems it has had and how our own understanding of it (or our own subjective interpretation of it, if you prefer) has shaped our own ways of thinking.

    We need to be able to follow our own internal logic in reaching our conclusions and to do this we must start from scratch with each philosopher we study and come to understand their thought processes before we really know their theories.

    Most chemistry or math students can ‘stand on the shoulders of giants” without have to relearn their entire subject from the beginning. A 15-year-old math student can work with the Theory of Relativity and the development of it over the last 100 years without having to comprehend the inner workings of Einstein’s mind. Students of Modern Evolutionary Biology today know more about Evolution than Darwin ever did. But to do Philosophy, we must start at square one with each philosopher in order to fully grasp what they are telling us.

    #51881

    Unseen
    Participant

    In the case of moral dilemmas, they’re difficult choices by definition.  The arguments for and against are evenly matched, and possibly high-stakes, on both sides.  So no moral system can resolve them satisfactorily.  The moral system I espouse, recognises that you have to go over each side of the argument, and then make the choice that best suits you.

    So, your system is little more than useless mental masturbation. Like I’ve been saying, your system is a description, a quasi-sociological one, offering nothing new or even valuable to someone needing to make a choice. In the end, when the choice is difficult, it’s simply to follow your impulses.

    Real moral systems go beyond that. Mill suggested doing the greatest good for the greatest number. Kant posited that we should only act in ways that we could universalize as a law for everyone. In other words, we should ask ourselves if we would be willing for everyone to act in the same way in similar circumstances. If the answer is no, then the action is morally wrong. This is often referred to as his Categorical Imperative.

    There are today philosophers who are proponents of those approaches and yet they do recognize the problems they have to deal with in defending them. You can’t even think of any and apparently I’m being unsuccessful in suggesting any, at least in your mind.

    So, as I see it, your main problem is that you simply describe situations with moral overtones but can’t really help anyone facing a tough moral choice. Outside of its potential sociological value, which I’m unqualified to assess, your system is irrelevant as moral philosophy.

    #51883

    unapologetic
    Participant

     the January 6 conspirators, the Manhattan Project, and The Beatles.

    What? How can you lump The Beatles in with the other two? Just what are you implying about The Beatles?

    “Where does morality come from?” is a philosophical question in search of a philosophical answer,

    Perhaps to you. But sheeple ask it to justify Santa. My OP is meant to refute ‘doG did it”.

    #51884

    Unseen
    Participant

    the January 6 conspirators, the Manhattan Project, and The Beatles.

    What? How can you lump The Beatles in with the other two? Just what are you implying about The Beatles?’

    That their compatibility fell apart later on in their career and sometimes were at each other’s throats.

    #51885

    Simon Paynton
    Participant

    Real moral systems go beyond that. Mill suggested doing the greatest good for the greatest number. Kant posited that we should only act in ways that we could universalize as a law for everyone. In other words, we should ask ourselves if we would be willing for everyone to act in the same way in similar circumstances. If the answer is no, then the action is morally wrong. This is often referred to as his Categorical Imperative.

    People may propose anything they like, but that doesn’t make it true.  It helps philosophical theories if they are true.  Both Kant’s universalisation, and Mill’s utilitarianism, are riddled with problems and inconsistencies.  So, that strongly suggests they’re untrue.  In real life, we follow a version of utilitarianism (we aim to maximise well being for those we interact with) as morally praiseworthy.

     

    #51886

    Simon Paynton
    Participant

    We must be able to philosophize internally, within our own minds first. To do that we must understand the history of Philosophy, the problems it has had and how our own understanding of it (or our own subjective interpretation of it, if you prefer) has shaped our own ways of thinking.

    We need to be able to follow our own internal logic in reaching our conclusions and to do this we must start from scratch with each philosopher we study and come to understand their thought processes before we really know their theories.

    Personally, I think science and philosophy are very similar: philosophy is a branch of science.  One deals with the physical world; the other, with the world of human existence.  In both cases, it is profitable to start with a set of data and then see what the patterns are that can be abstracted out.

    That Wikipedia article on the is/ought problem is much more useful than most moral philosophers, in that it lays out the issues involved and then asks relevant questions.  As such, it too is a work of philosophy.

    #51887

    Simon Paynton
    Participant

    Outside of its potential sociological value, which I’m unqualified to assess, your system is irrelevant as moral philosophy.

    The reason I take a sociological, descriptive approach is that this is the only valid way to proceed.  Moral realists assert that “you morally ought to X because X is factually right”.  According to the is/ought distinction, this is nonsense.  It only makes sense to say “you evolved to want to X” or “you ought to X if you have goal G“.

    Out of interest, how would utilitarianism, or Kantianism, resolve moral dilemmas in ways that are not crude, simplistic, and unrealistic?

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