moral relativism

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Nilloc James
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moral relativism

Post #1

Post by Nilloc James »

I'm curious as to where my fellow 'a's stand on this: are morals relative or not? Is this a rational conclusion of non-theism? Could objective morals exist without god(s)?

On a practical note: do we enhance or detract from the skeptical cause by arguing for/against moral relativism?

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Post by LiamOS »

I see no real reason why objective morals couldn't exist without a God, but I think that, given this universe, the concept is pretty empty.

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Re: moral relativism

Post #3

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Nilloc James wrote: I'm curious as to where my fellow 'a's stand on this: are morals relative or not?
I think I'm agnostic enough to merit a reply here. :D

Is there any evidence anywhere in the world that morals are absolute? I personally don't believe there is and I think anyone who was attempting to argue that there exists any such thing would be very hard-pressed to make a convincing case.

I think there are some thing that appear to be fairly well accepted across the board, like there would be very few people, if any, who would actually argue that harming innocent children is "moral". But from my perspective something like that is naturally going to find huge consensus.

Other issues, like whether same-gender intimacy is "moral" or not will produce a very wide diversity of opinions. Some thing is true on issues of premarital sex. Even using contraception for the purpose of having sex for pure pleasure without any plan on procreating would produce a large difference of opinions in whether or not such things are "moral".
Nilloc James wrote: Is this a rational conclusion of non-theism?
I think it's absolutely rational. All you need to do is look at theism and you'll see a very wide range of moral values there. There wouldn't be any need for the Abrahamic religion, for example, to have split into so many disagreeing sects. What are they mainly disagreeing about? Well, mostly they are in disagreement about what should or shouldn't be considered to be moral.

So even theism can't speak of "absolute morality" in any serious way.

The concept simply doesn't exist in this universe. The very idea of absolute objective morality is nothing more than a man-made ideal, that can't even find consensus among the most devout theists.
Nilloc James wrote: Could objective morals exist without god(s)?
I suppose they could. But as a practical matter what would that actually mean?

In order for objective morals to actually "exist" in the real world, that would mean that everyone would naturally and innately have precisely the same ideas of what's moral and what isn't more.

Does that situation actually "exist"?

No, it doesn't.

Therefore objective morality does not exist in this universe, neither among atheists nor among theists.

It simply doesn't exist and there is overwhelming evidence that it doesn't exist. And that evidence is the simply observational fact that it's basically impossible to even find two individual people who will agree absolutely and objectively on every "moral issue".

Like I say, even the most devout theists have never exhibited such a consensus.

So the idea that such an objective ideal exists flies directly in the face of observed reality.
Nilloc James wrote: On a practical note: do we enhance or detract from the skeptical cause by arguing for/against moral relativism?
Moral relativism is an observed fact of the natural world, even among the most devout theists.

Why would anyone even consider that there could be such a thing as objective morality when no such phenomenon has ever been observed to exist, not even among the most devout theists?

Morality is nothing more than a judgmental call. In order for there to be objective morality, judgment itself would need to be objective. But it's not. It subjective. So why would anyone even imagine that such a thing as objective morality could even be a meaningful concept in this universe?

I mean, sure, if we lived in a universe where everyone was in complete innate consensus of what they deem to be moral or immoral, then we'd live in a universe that has objective morality. But we clearly don't live in such a universe.

So like LiamOS suggests, given this universe, the concept is pretty empty.

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Post #4

Post by Nilloc James »

I'm not convinced by the argument that "because we see people disagree on ethics in the world it means we can't find objective morals".

It is possible that we could find objective morals but we act unethically none the less.

From the assumption "we all possess empathy" could we derive a set of morals all people should (not necessarily would) assent to.

Immanuel Kant springs to mind: he tried to argue that there are certain actions any rational being should do without invoking god. That is, as rational beings we are always obligated to do certain things simply because we are sentient beings.

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Post #5

Post by Divine Insight »

Nilloc James wrote: From the assumption "we all possess empathy" could we derive a set of morals all people should (not necessarily would) assent to.
But why would you assume that "we all possess empathy"?

Apparently there are people who seem to actually enjoy hurting others.

Do we just chalk those people up to being "sick"?

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Post #6

Post by Nilloc James »

Divine Insight wrote:
Nilloc James wrote: From the assumption "we all possess empathy" could we derive a set of morals all people should (not necessarily would) assent to.
But why would you assume that "we all possess empathy"?

Apparently there are people who seem to actually enjoy hurting others.

Do we just chalk those people up to being "sick"?
Well our evolutionary history points to us havig evolved empathy before we were even human - chimps show empathy. And yes there are a small minority who don't these people are called psycopaths and there seems to be a genetic basis for this. So I think it is safe to say and overwhelming number of non-mentally-ill people posses empathy.

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Post #7

Post by Divine Insight »

Nilloc James wrote: Well our evolutionary history points to us havig evolved empathy before we were even human - chimps show empathy.
I would argue that you have the same problem there. Some chimps show empathy, some do not.
Nilloc James wrote: And yes there are a small minority who don't these people are called psycopaths and there seems to be a genetic basis for this. So I think it is safe to say and overwhelming number of non-mentally-ill people posses empathy.
As a matter of practicality I would agree with you. We can simply take what doesn't fit out idealized dream of objective morality and simply label that as psychotic mental illness.

But on a purely philosophical note, at that point we are already sweeping reality under the proverbial carpet. Making excuses for the lack of a genuinely objective secular morality.

At that point the best we can say is that, within a very limited scope of some concepts, we can create what appears to be an objective reality if we discount those who disagree with it as being mentally ill.

And then there's the problem with even defining what we mean by 'empathy' in a meaningful way where everyone will agree on what actions are empathic and what actions are not.

For example, suppose we have a parent who has an unruly child. That parent decides to give the child a sever spanking to teach them a "lesson". The parent who chooses to do this see this as being an empathic act. After all, they are supposedly doing it for "the child's own good", to teach them a lesson.

But then we have another parent who objects to this and suggests that there was nothing empathic about that action at all. They argue that it's nothing more than a display of impatience and poor mentoring on the part of the spanking parent. They suggest that "True Empathy" would be to try to take the time to discover what the child's actual problem is and address it using wisdom and leadership.

I realize that I'm just giving one scenario here. But my point is that even the term "empathy" is not objectively absolute.

If you're heading down a road seeking to construct a larger system of objective morality, you're going to be hitting potholes like this every inch of the way.

So even if you could argue for an extremely loosely-defined ideal that healthy humans tend to all be empathic, you haven't really gotten very far at all, because as you press onward, you'll quickly discover that even among these supposedly"'healthy" individuals there is going to be huge disagreements of what constitutes empathy in real-world situations.

So the objective nature of morality is going to end up being quite abstract and loosely defined in any case.

But to that end, I would tend to agree with you. Most mentally healthy humans do have some sense of empathy, I would hope. But that's going to go up in a puff of smoke very quickly when you start addressing specific situations.

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Re: moral relativism

Post #8

Post by Bust Nak »

Nilloc James wrote: Are morals relative or not?
Morals are relative.
Is this a rational conclusion of non-theism?
No, it is a not a conclusion of non-theism.
Could objective morals exist without god(s)?
No, objective morals cannot exist full stop, with or without god(s.)
On a practical note: do we enhance or detract from the skeptical cause by arguing for/against moral relativism?
I don't see why. There are far too many misconceptions out there about atheist, that moral relativism is a reflection of our atheism is a very common one. Take up every opportunity to correct those misconceptions.

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Re: moral relativism

Post #9

Post by Darias »

Nilloc James wrote: I'm curious as to where my fellow 'a's stand on this: are morals relative or not? Is this a rational conclusion of non-theism? Could objective morals exist without god(s)?

On a practical note: do we enhance or detract from the skeptical cause by arguing for/against moral relativism?
I think it may be wise to define what "objective" means in this context. If by objective you are referring to some cosmic prime directive, I don't see much evidence of this and don't even find the idea of it to be all that useful.

However, if by objective you mean universal, then yes there could be universal standards. There is of course more than one right and wrong way to do something, as the situation dictates, but if all people possessed similar evidenced motivations for doing something, a sort of Koine morality could be the result.

For example, our universal understanding that fresh human blood is not required to prevent the world from coming to an end has seemingly marked the end of religious human sacrifice.

Similarly more education could lead us to recognize the dangers and trauma of religious and cultural genital mutilation of males and females alike. If more people were educated about the history and brutality of war, war might be less common.

Some cultural customs will always be different. And cultural and religious differences might always be with us. But the fact that we can deduce that human suffering and evils such as this result so often from ignorance, enlightenment might be able to curb such "immorality." Facts about the world have the power to curb racism, ignorance, false religious beliefs, and a whole host of things.

And of course there will always be difficult questions with no apparent solution. But I agree with Sam Harris on the idea that science can address difficult moral issues.

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It is always much easier to pin down the absurdity of evil that results from ignorance, but it is much harder to point out what is "good." Perhaps it makes more sense to think of good as the lack of utter and complete human misery.

Perhaps at times we are left with a bad decision and a worse one. For example, Saddam is dead and Iraq has democracy, but sectarianism and a history of divisive foreign policies in the region threatens that.

This does not mean we should think of morality as a number's game, as suggested by utilitarian philosophy. I could imagine there could be an organ lottery, where healthy people sign up, and the winner is selected to sacrifice himself for the greater good -- ultimately resulting in saving the lives of many with organ failure. That might save more lives, but at the same time create paranoia.

This is why I do tend to favor Kant and individual rights -- this security that you own your body and that you possess rights on the basis of your existence creates a security in which no other system could provide a proper substitute.

One tough moral issue is the idea of voluntarism. If Islamic women desire to wear a hijab by freedom of conscious and religion, most, except for France, are okay with it. But if a woman, due to the traditions of culture which pre-dates Islam, desires to voluntarily subject herself to female circumcision -- it becomes a huge issue for everyone.

But I don't see the principle of it any different than someone wanting to do drugs, drugs that may cause serious harm to them. But being a libertarian, I value freedom more than the desire to babysit everyone via state law. Yet I also value human rights, and I find the idea of FGM appalling.

The power that culture has in informing personal decisions should not be underestimated. If people were more educated about the traumas and dangers of this practice, they may not subjugate themselves to it.

At the end of the day, there is not one single right or wrong way of doing things. Nothing, not even education can create utopia. But things can get better.

And of course, I wish to bring up something that's probably already understood here. While morality isn't perfect in the absence of some objective standard, that doesn't mean an objective standard is preferable.

The idea that the god of the Bible is the moral law giver should give no man comfort in light of the genocides he was said to have commanded. Biblical morality boils down to divine command theory. Morality means nothing apart from god's command -- and thus seemingly barbaric and immoral acts are moral when god instructs them. There is no consistent moral standard in this standard of morality. Again, that probably goes without saying.

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Re: moral relativism

Post #10

Post by ProphetSHSU »

Nilloc James wrote: Are morals relative or not?
Moral conclusions are both relative and objective simultaneously in the same way that 'healthiness' is both objective and relative. Eating a peanut may be healthy for me, but very unhealthy for someone who is allergic - relative. Decapitation is unhealthy regardless of color, creed, culture, etc - objective. It's a false dilemma to try to determine if all of morality is subjective or not.

The question of subjectivity needs to be posed to any given moral situation to determine whether or not one of the factors used in determining a moral conclusion is based on who is asking.
Nilloc James wrote: Is this a rational conclusion of non-theism?
Yes. Although it relies on definitions of 'moral' and 'good' etc that need to be defined and agreed upon. If someone believes that 'good' is defined as 'pleasing to god' then they can correctly argue that murdering children as commanded by god is 'good'. Agreeing on what the scale is and where it points is much harder than determining whether or not moving around on that scale is dependent on who is doing the asking.
Nilloc James wrote: Could objective morals exist without god(s)?
They can and do. They rely on a consistent universe where the future would be identical when identical actions are taken, but I believe we live in such a universe. 'Good' here is defined as that which maximizes well being for humans in particular and all intelligent life in general while minimizing pain and suffering. There simply ARE actions that exist predictably on this scale regardless of who takes them.
Nilloc James wrote: On a practical note: do we enhance or detract from the skeptical cause by arguing for/against moral relativism?
We enhance it by arguing against moral relativism and all other false belief sets.

Morality is a system which can be described with a mathematical formula. We may not always know all the variables as we can't always predict the future, but in many cases we DO know all the variables and in many of those cases 'who is asking' is not one of them.

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