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Another morality thread...

Discussion in 'Ethics & Morality' started by Econ4every1, Nov 14, 2017.

  1. Econ4every1

    Econ4every1 New Member

    United States
    I'm not sure exactly what you mean by that, so I'll let you expand on that if you wish.

    But are morals really ideas? Or are morals a framework upon which to judge actions?

    In other words, I think morals are sort of like rules of a game. In a game, how can you say a certain action breaks the rules unless you know what the rules are?

    That's just it, morality isn't arbitrary at all. It's subjective, but it is not arbitrary.

    Again, let's use the game analogy. Why was 10' chosen for the hight of the rim in the game of basketball? Why do batters get 3 strikes in the game of baseball? Why is first base 90' from home plate?

    None of these decisions are arbitrary, to the contrary, they were chosen for very specific reasons, but the exact measurements are still considered subjective. If basketball hoops had been 10'2", or First base was 90'6" or if there had been 4 strikes.

    But all of these things were chosen relative to humans and their experiences. What if the basketball hoop were arbitrarily chosen to be 50' tall. Or first base was 10' from home plate, or batters got 25 strikes before being out?

    So morality, as you've pointed out, is based on a subjective idea, but the ideas aren't random, they are subjectively chosen with respect to human experience.

    Why is good, good?

    If the word has any meaning at all, we need to intuitively recognize what it means when we say "good". If I said to anyone, think of something good, the word will, in the minds of healthy people, trigger positive thoughts. They are subjective, but they will all have something in common. They will be thoughts of things that are some combination of happy, where people are healthy and are of positive well-being.

    So exactly what good is, is subjective, but it's not random.

    If my years of trying to understand this issue have given me any insight, it would be to say that it's true that groups value certain things, and that those values form the framework of what we call morality. However, despite the protests of people who believe that morality must be objective and given, we can judge the moral system of others.

    If in a society it's deemed moral to pluck out the eyes of families firstborn in order to fulfill some dogmatic belief, can I say that's immoral? Can I judge that action as bad?

    OF COURSE! Because I think it can be proven, beyond any doubt, that healthy minds prefer to avoid pain, suffering, and sickness and seek out happiness, health, and well-being.

    Those are subjective choices, but they ARE NOT arbitrary. They relate to the real experience of human beings.

    Now one other idea I want to throw out there.

    Is carrying a basketball and walking without bouncing it objectively wrong? No. What if you are playing the game of basketball? Is it objectively wrong then?


    But, it is objectively wrong with respect to the subjective rules of the game of basketball.

    That means that in any universe where there is a game called basketball where the rules are the same as they are in this universe, carrying the ball without bouncing it is objectively breaking the rules.

    Is something like stealing objectively wrong? No, however, once the rules have been defined and stealing is against the law, then stealing is objectively wrong with respect to the rules that exist.

    The only question left is, why do we have certain rules?

    The rules are an extension of the values we hold, however, because we are human, we not only have free will but awareness of the consequences of our actions. We can choose to do the wrong thing in spite of the fact we know it's wrong.

    For example, a person who is a rapist, do you think that he believes that rape is ok? NO, of curse not. Most rapists would not want to be raped or the people they care about to be raped (the sane ones anyway).

    We call acts of selfish depravity, where a person, capable of empathy, chooses to cause severe harm to another evil because they are aware of the consequences of what they do. They understand how what they are doing causes pain and suffering and do it anyway. Those that take pleasure in it are evil even more so.

    Morality is a choice, whether you are the most ardent atheist or the most devout theist.

    The problem of humanity is awareness and free will. We can choose to value the wrong things.

    When Hitler put Jews to death, it wasn't his morals that were the problem, it was his values. Humanity must convince people to value things that lead to positive outcomes.

    That is a subjective choice based on how humans experience the world.
  2. Ken-1122

    Ken-1122 Newbie

    No; I wouldn't call it arbitrary, people have their reasons for calling something morally good or bad.

    There is a foundation, but that foundation lies within each of us.
  3. Econ4every1

    Econ4every1 New Member

    United States
    Yes! You are right. Morality isn't easy because while morality is ultimately based on our values, we value different things. If we embraced the idea that morality isn't static, but is influenced by things like knowledge and environment and that sometimes, all choices are bad and that the only moral thing to do is to cause as little harm as possible

    I call this, moral calculus. But even if you do everything you can to do the right thing, you still have the problem of information.

    The trolly problem is an excellent example...

    There are 5 workers on a track and a train is coming. You can divert the train onto another track (you are too far away to do anything else), but there is a single worker that will be killed if you switch the track.

    The moral calculus is simple. You save a net 4 lives.

    Here we intoduce the problem of information.

    But what if the workers are all 90 years old (just a hypothetical) and the one is a baby?

    What if the 1 is a man on the cusp of curing cancer?

    What if the one is your child?

    Moral calculus. Moral problems do not always have easy answers because we don't always have the information necessary.

    I think I could make a reasoned argument that all morality is simply a choice, whether you are theist or atheist.

    Yes, we don't know everything. The problem is there are those that pretend like they do. Like morality is static and unchanging.

    Is child labor wrong? 100 years ago it wasn't, but today it is. Was it wrong 100 years ago? Probably not, without the labor that children provided families could have starved to death. Things change and we need to understand the changes so we can re-evaluate the things we value. The things we value are how we decide what is right and wrong.
  4. quatona

    quatona "God"? What do you mean??

    Well, if the term idea causes you problems, let me rephrase my statement:
    But, yes: Moral rules will depend largely on what is considered their greatest good or ultimate purpose.

    Well, the actual question is: Are we all playing the same game, and who got to make the rules?

    Yes, people´s values (in the best case) inform their moral "rules". (On a sidenote, though, it´s interesting how people can proclaim the same values and yet arrive at different moral rules.)

    I´m European - I have no clue about American Football. On top, I am a Badminton player.
    I´m not sure that I agree with your analogy (depends a little on what point exactly you are trying to drive home with it). Anyway, let´s work with it.
    Yes, game rules have a purpose (to make this particular game enjoyable).
    But to me - seeing how there are countless different games called "morality" - the core question seems to be: Why play American Football, of all games?

    Uh, "random" hasn´t even been mentioned before. Where did that come from? ;)

    I´d say that the statement "It´s good" is another way of saying "I like it (for whatever reason)".

    Sorry, but I think it´s a bit convenient to simply pathologize those who don´t fit your model.

    Yeah - nobody said it was random.

    To stay within your analogy, that would be like judging American Football by appealing to Badminton rules. ;)

    As I said before, I get pretty suspicious when "moral" is replaced by words like "healthy" or "natural" in order make your own moral system appear less subjective.

    So I have to conclude that the "eye-plucking" society has come there by non-arbitrary choices.

    You are assuming that everyone is playing moral basketball. In my observation, though, there are a lot of different games called "morality". E.g. a Christian who considers "obedience to bible god" the top moral criterium is playing a different game than say, a moral utilitarian.

    So you think that there are moral rules built into the universe? That comes a bit as a surprise.

    And abstaining from plucking out your firstborn´s eye is objectively wrong with respect to the rules of that society.

    Yeah, I am always baffled how differently different humans experience the world. :)
  5. Econ4every1

    Econ4every1 New Member

    United States
    Apologies for the late response...

    Sure, but with respect, you missed my point. Morality isn't a guide for finding or understanding the greatest good, it simply lets us know what society has chosen to be the greatest good.

    Again, morals are like the rules of a game. The rules tell us how to play, they don't tell us why we should observe them.

    To stick with the game metaphor, imagine that 6 people are playing a game and 5 of them follow the rules and the 6th one doesn't. What would the 5 players following the rules do to the 6th player? They'd throw him out. Now imagine that 1 person is following the rules and 5 aren't, now what happens?

    The point is everyone doesn't have to follow the rules for the system of rules to work, but you do need enough players following the rules so that they can enforce them.

    As far as who makes the rules, this is where the game metaphor breaks down because games don't have 10's or hundreds of millions of players. The answer is that influential members of society advocate for certain rules. Some are codified into law, others are enforced as cultural taboos.

    Agreed, which should tell you one thing. Peoples action speak louder than their

    Ok, let's run with Badminton (looks like a kids game, that until you play it ;)

    So why is the net approx 1.5m high?

    That was a purely subjective choice, right? But it wasn't chosen for no reason. It was chosen because of the very real constraints on people mostly having to do with our reach and the length of the racquet. If the average high of humans was 1m tall, might we change the hight of the net and the size of the court to be shorter and smaller respectively? What if people averaged 3m? Might we change it to be taller and larger?

    In much the same way, morality is a set of rules based on human physical, emotional and empathetic nature. And just as we know about the real proportions of the human body when creating games that represent physical challenges, we also know about the physical, emotional and empathetic nature of our experiences that shape our values when deciding our morals.

    Any claim that morality is arbitrary (something I think has been said in this thread) is saying that the choices are random.

    And I'd just point out that the things we tend to like, at least at the most base level, tend to be based on our experience of pain, suffering sickness and health, well-being, and pleasure.

    We tend to like those that help us achieve the latter and avoid the former.

    Now are values are influenced by these factors as well, the problem is, we can be wrong about how to achieve well-being. We are also self-aware and we can choose to do things which do not accomplish health, well-being, and happiness.

    Yep, we know that some people lack the capacity for empathy and as such, they cause harm without guilt. So yes, I do not include them in my calculations.

    You may not have, but several people have referred to morality as "arbitrary" which is synoinomus with random.

    Having said that, I'm glad you agree.

    I qualify some of my statements to avoid the inevitable "Charles Manson values....blah, blah". Charles Manson is not representative of most people.

    As far as subjectivity, I don't try to avoid that label at all. I say embrace it. You can have morality in a subjective system, you just have to be convinced that there are good reasons for holding some values over others. Since most people value life, happiness, cooperation, health, and well-being, or at the very least, being free from pain, sickness and suffering, I'd say we have a decent reason to make the Badminton net 1.5 meters, oops, I mean, we have a good reason to value life and call murder bad.

    Ok, but when asking those tribes people why they pluck the eyes out of their children, do you think they will answer, "I dunno, we just like watching our children suffer."?

    No, these sorts of things are done in the belief that it leads to some greater good and unless you think plucking eyes out does lead to some greater good. Now if it were possible to prove that eye-plucking had no influence over outcomes, do you think that eye plucking could be seen as just causing harm and therefore something that's bad?

    Again, to the contrary, I don't think that at all. I'm just making a case as to what I believe the foundations of morality are.

    In all cases people simply have to choose to believe, I'm simply offering a set of consistent moral ideas based on the very real experiences of human beings.

    No, you completely misread that and I have no idea how you came to that conclusion.

    Sure, but why might someone want to convince people in that society that eye plucking is wrong?

    Why? Because we know that eye plucking causes a lifetime of suffering. Now if they do it to make it rain, or make their women fertile, or stave off sickness, then we might know something they don't. That they aren't accomplishing their goals of rain, sickness prevention or fertility by plucking out eyeballs.

    From there all we can do its try to convince them why they aren't accomplishing the goals they set for themselves.

    Do you think that humans really experience pain all that differently? Do you think if I drove a toothpick up under the fingernails of 1000 people that their experience would be all that different?

    When it comes down to it, even if we experience much of the world differently, there are somethings that we recognize very much the same.
  6. quatona

    quatona "God"? What do you mean??

    Yes, it´s a bit late...I had to look up what the starting point of our conversation was (because I couldn´t tell anymore what we were actually discussing): It your paragraph

    If morality promotes something (and I don't disagree btw), why should humans promote something like social flourishing? Isn't that an arbitrary choice? Why not promote something like selfishness?

    and my response:

    You almost make it sound like social flourishing and selfishness are somewhat at odds.
    But, yes: Moral ideas will depend largely on what is considered their greatest good or ultimate purpose.
    Anyway, I would agree with you that this is somewhat arbitrary - I find it, however, always refreshing when people are open, honest and consistent about what they consider the ultimate purpose in forming their moral ideas.

    Instead of responding to all your points (I don´t even know what they have to do with this, sorry!), I will just try to clarify.
    1. I don´t think selfishness and social flourishing are in contradiction. A good amount of selfishness is required for social flourishing.
    2. Yes, as you suggested, I think that the choice "social flourishing" is somewhat arbitrary. The fact that you define morality as "simply letting us know what society has chosen to be the greatest good" (a pretty unusual definition, btw.) doesn´t render this choice of a "greatest good" any less arbitrary.
    3. I don´t agree with you when you equate "arbitrary" and "random". They are completely different concepts.
    4. As to the game analogy: Pretty much everything you said there would make a lot of sense if we were talking about "legislation" instead of "morality".
    However, it´s part of the very problem that society does not have a "set of moral rules" that are uniform, clearly communicated, written down and enforced. Thus, the analogy game rules - morality misses out in a crucial aspect: there is no moral rule book that e.g. "five players follow and one doesn´t" (even though a lot of people are silently assuming that their idea of the game is universally shared).
    5. Unlike laws, moral ideas aren´t as detailed as "the net is 1,55 high".
    5. I agree that the Badminton rules are following a certain purpose - which doesn´t mean that the purpose ("greatest good") is not arbitrarily chosen. (And, on another note, even if everyone agree on the purpose, the determination of the countless variable is interdependent - if the rackets were longer, the net could be higher; if the shuttles were made heavier, the court could be bigger etc.etc.

    I talked about experiencing the world, not about experiencing their pain. And yes, some people experience X as very painful, others don´t. Suffering is a very subjective thing.
    No, it would be pretty similar, I guess. I´m not sure, though, why this is important, since above you defined "morality" as being about social flourishing. There are a lot of ideas out there that accept and promote inflicting suffering on individuals as not only reconcicable with but even necessary for "social flourishing".

    ...and discussions about morality aren´t necessary when it comes to things we "recognize the same". It gets difficult at those very points where we realize that not all of us "recognize them the same".
  7. GrowingSmaller

    GrowingSmaller Muslm Humanist

    United Kingdom
    I have come across the idea that the meaning of life is like a fractal - we have our passions and interests and "zoom in" on them in life. Here is a link:
    (Fractals, the self and the meaning of life - a possible analogy )

    In koran it is also said:

    "And that man can have nothing but what he strives for" (53:39).

    Where are we going here? A fractal basically a object where is we zoom in we have a similar pattern repeating itself time and time again. Ethical values are like a glue to the universe, I suppose. For instance if we value altruism we'll be "coupled" (bonded to) to the cosmos via that form of attraction too it, and find ourselves in altruistic situations time and time again...

    Likewise if we value pleasure, or sex, or eating, or reading - the "aspects" of the universe will arise in accord with our value system.

    So we have the consequences of our goal setting, but also the "universe" we experience is a result of our inner values and outward exercise of will. These are adumbraitons, or profiles of the universe, and we "introduce" value into them because they have meaning for us in our involvement as sentient creatures.

    We're not neutral math objects, we are people.

    For those not familiar with fractals:

    Last edited: Nov 29, 2017
  8. Econ4every1

    Econ4every1 New Member

    United States
    Words are only as good as our mutual understanding of them. If I were to argue this point, I would try to make a distinction between "selfishness" defined as " lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one's own personal profit or pleasure." And "self-interest" defined as "a concern for one's own advantage and well-being".

    Now, despite the definitions, I want to communicate to you, in the context of this conversation I'm defining them differently only so you know what I mean when I say them.

    I think selfishness as I've defined it can be detrimental to society, where self-interest (again as I've defined it) takes society into account as part of that self-interest.

    Now if you mean self-interest as I've defined it, then we agree, if you mean selfishness in the Ian Rand sense, then we disagree.

    Just do me a favor and don't get hung up on definitions, rather understand I'm just making the distinctions here so you know what I mean.

    But that's just it, we don't choose our morals by reaching into a hat with slips of paper that define what we will call good and what we will call bad. We define our morals with respect to values that we hold.

    So the real question is, what do we value? We can evaluate our values with respect to the goals we want to achieve when holding them and evaluate the outcomes. How does plucking eyeballs out of children help a society achieve the things they value? How about vaccinations?

    You play Badminton. You value hitting the shuttlecock over the net. Therefore certain actions with respect to that value are "good" and others are "bad". Hitting out of bounds is bad, hitting where the other person can't get to it is good.

    The same can be said of human values. If you agree that private property should be valued, then your morals will be a reflection of those values. Stealing in the context of your values is bad...

    If I asked you why hitting the shuttlecock into the net was "bad" you'd explain to me the rules of the game. If I asked you why I couldn't make up my own rules you'd rightly point out that no one would want to play with me.

    Similarly, if I asked you why stealing was bad and you explained that people saw the value of private property and how it leads to empirically better results and then explain that if everyone stole from each other it would lead to degradation of society and I asked you why I should have to follow those rules you'd remind me that because society had chosen to value private property and people agree that those that don't will be punished.

    Now you've asked me if everyone is playing the same "game". No, we can choose not to, my point is only that there are very good reasons to choose one "game" over another.

    But it still all comes down to choice, but, not to belabor the point, but if somone asked why they should choose one moral position over another, I'd simply ask what they value.

    If there are people who truly value misery and suffering and pain, then their morality should reflect those values. I'm simply asserting that an insignificant fraction of people actually holds values like that. Even people who are rapists don't "value" rape. Most would not want their loved ones to be raped. However, they selfishly value their own desires over the desires of others while simultaneously wouldn't want that value (rape) to be universal. Thus even rapists can have morals.

    Anyway, I would agree with you that this is somewhat arbitrary - I find it, however, always refreshing when people are open, honest and consistent about what they consider the ultimate purpose in forming their moral ideas.

    I have to take this next one a little out of order....

    Again, words are only as good as mutually agreed upon definitions.

    The definition of arbitrary: "based on random choice or personal whim, rather than any reason or system."

    Now, if you want to define the words differently and make me aware of distinction you are trying to make in the context of this conversation (like I did with selfishness and self-interest) then I'd ask you to state your case. Otherwise, I have no idea what you are talking about as arbitrary literally means "random" and is a synonym of the word random.

    I addressed this above.

    No, I was making the opposite argument. Choices are subjective NOT arbitrary (or random).


    Sure it's a problem, but that doesn't prevent anyone from tryng to promote values supported by empirical evidence and then define morals that reflect those values.

    Try this thought experiment. Imagine a grown man having sex 6-year-old in public and see what happens....

    Do you think that people would react with virtually universal contempt? How many people would say, "gee, his morality lets him rape children?"

    Of course not. Now why do we value children that are free from rape? Because we know it causes REAL quantifiable harm.

    Absolutely agree. Morals are much, much more complex. I can think of countless moral conundrums where competing interest creates moral gray areas.

    I would simply say that unlike the rules of a game, morality is much more difficult. I'd point out that one of the problems with morality in society is the temptation to oversimplify it.

    First by trying to derive values from morals which are backward (think of the 10 commandments). We derive our morals from our values, not the other way around, yet this is exactly what Christianity promotes.

    Second, oversimplifying morality, imo, leads to outcomes that fail to live up to the values morals are based on.

    That is literally a contradiction.

    Certain purpose and arbitrary when discussing the same concept aren't compatable.

    Could the net be 1.45m instead of 1.55? Sure, could the net be 9m and still be a game people want to play? Probably not.

    So I agree that there is plenty of flexibility in the precise determination of the rules of Badminton, the racquets could be a little larger/ smaller, longer/shorter. The shuttles a little different, that does not make the choices arbitrary it makes the choices subjective with respect to the goal of creating a game that people want to play.

    What you couldn't do is put random measurements (and I mean truly random) of all the aspects of the game in a hat and randomly choose them. The game's rules are chosen subjectively with respect to human capabilities and the desire to create a fun and challenging game.

    Morality isn't chosen at random. We choose our morality based on our values that in turn reflect our most basic desires to move toward those things that promote health, happiness, and well-being, but even more importantly avoid pain, suffering, and sickness.

    Sure, I agree that people experience things differently. I would argue, however, that when it comes to pain and suffering, the more intense it gets, the more similar it becomes.

    The most important aspect of morality, based on what I know of human experience, is that avoiding pain and suffering is more important than any amount of pleasure. In other words, if were were to imagine the greatest possible suffering and greatest possible happiness on opposite ends of a scale, the center between those two would not be in the middle. What I mean is, being free from sickness and pain is in itself a form of pleasure. Imagine a scale of 1-100 (1 is the greatest possible happiness and 100 is the greatest possible suffering). 50, IMO, would not be the middle. I would argue that something like, maybe 25 would be the middle. I say this because people are more likely to avoid pain than seek pleasure.

    This is why we never see people who enjoy skydiving jumping off a tall building or out of planes without parachutes. Because we fear death and pain and suffering more than we desire pleasure and happiness.

    Not that I disagree with you here, but can you give an example?

    Sure, this comes back to the problem of awareness. People have the capacity to understand the consequences of their choices and choose to act against their own self-interest. I'd argue that this is why animals generally don't knowing act against their own self interest.[/QUOTE]
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2017
  9. Ana the Ist

    Ana the Ist Aggressively serene!

    United States
    I think Merriam Webster's definition of...

    "Beliefs regarding good behavior and bad behavior"

    ....to be the most accurate simplified definition.

    I don't see that they have anything in common. When I decide that a particular act is "good" I'm going off my own subjective opinion.

    My answer to these two questions is basically the same as the answer above.
  10. Cuddles333

    Cuddles333 Well-Known Member

    United States
    Morality is grounded in our conscience. Morality can be manipulated to the extent our conscience has been seared. For instance, value to the Republican party is to accumulate a vast amount of wealth. Those who have little or no wealth are not of any true value. If the wealthy Republican is bothered by his/her conscience, this is proof that the conscience transcends human morality and points to the supernatural.
  11. Econ4every1

    Econ4every1 New Member

    United States
    Ok, but that doesn't tell us what "good behavior" and "bad behavior" is agreed?

    Ok, but allow me to ask a few questions and I will respond to that....

    Let's take things we define as "bad"....Like pain.

    Can we agree that healthy aware humans (healthy as in they are capable of feeling, aware as in they aren't "knocked out", or under the influence of a drug or similar) objectively experience the sensation of having their hand smashed with a sledgehammer as pain? Would you agree that healthy humans would almost unanimously describe this sensation as bad?
  12. Econ4every1

    Econ4every1 New Member

    United States
    Conscience is that "inner voice" that informs our behavior, would you agree? Or do you mean something different when you say conscience? If yes, please explain to me what you mean.