Morality?

Discussion in 'Agnosticism and Atheism' started by Alsharad, May 22, 2004.

  1. Alsharad

    Alsharad Member

    Given that there is no God, how does one go about justifying morality? Does morality exist at all? What determines right and wrong? Is there anything that should or should not be done? Are there any immoral actions? If there are, how do we know that they are immoral?

    I have heard a few different answers, but I am curious as to what this forum will say.
     
  2. FreakyJoeMan

    FreakyJoeMan 100% Batshit Insane

    Well, my feelings are that there are no universal moral paradigms. Even in different parts of the world, a "moral dillemma" would be handled in different ways, probably according to that area's culture. It's my beleif that "morals" evolved to strengthen and stabalize the social connection between groups of humans, and thereby continue the propogation of the species. But, that's just me.
     
  3. Peace

    Peace In complete harmony.

    Morals are determined by the society you live in.
     
  4. Diamond Gord

    Diamond Gord Member

    Morals are simply having the intellegence and compassion to realise that your actions can have a negative on others and altering your actions to avoid this.
     
    2 people like this.
  5. Alsharad

    Alsharad Member

    Interesting responses.

    FreakyJoeMan:
    So you think that morality is kind of a social contract between a bunch of people to keep us from killing each other and therefore are "moral" because it is in our own best interest? I am just trying to clarify your position. It sounds like you are (or would be) a proponent of social contract theory.

    Peace:
    I can see that. Different societies have different values and who are we to judge them on their values, right? Unfortunately, that leaves us with some pretty big dilemmas.
    1. We cannot judge other societies' practices. Seems okay at first (i.e. hey, Eskimoes can have whatever funerary practices they want... who are we to judge?) But suppose a society decided to wage war on a neighbor for the purposes of taking slaves. Or suppose a society was violently anti-Semetic and its leaders decided to wipe out the Jews. If morality is determined by society, then we cannot even say that a tolerant society is better than a racist one because this would imply some sort of transcultural standard. However, failing to condemn practices like slavery and racism (and genocide) seems unenlightened. In fact, those practices seem wrong whenever they occur. But if morality is determined by the society, then we are really in no place to judge them at all.
    2. We would be able to determine the rightness or wrongness of our actions just by consulting our own society's standard. Suppose a resident of South Africa in 1975 wanted to know if apatheid was morally correct. All he would have to do is ask if the policy met with the society's moral code. In short, if society determines our moral code, then we cannot criticize our own moral code. Our society's moral code could therefore not be reformed (since there would be no way to criticize our own society's code).
    3. How can a cuture progress morally? Take women's rights. Most of us believe that we have a better society because women have far more rights than they used to in the 1800s and 1900s. However, if the society decides what is moral, then all we have now is a different society then we did in the past. It is neither better nor worse than any other society in the past because we cannot say that a society which opresses women is any worse than one that doesn't. If our society used to opress women but now it doesn't, we cannot say we have progressed. All we have done is changed. We have not discarded a practice for a better one, just a different one.

    How should we go about dealing with these difficulties?

    Diamond Gord:
    So is it okay to punish someone for bringing pain and suffering to someone else? Say a thief robs a convenience store and takes the owners payroll so that none of the employees can be paid (therefore being unable to buy food or pay bills or rent). When the thief is caught he asks for mercy. Punishing the theif would have a definite negative affect on him. Should we just be compassionate and alter our actions to avoid the negative effect? Should we avoid punishing him? Can you justify pushing someone if morality is simply doing whatever it takes to avoid having a negative impact on someone else?
     
  6. Jatom

    Jatom Member

    FreakyJoeMan,

    You say that “morals evolved to strengthen and stabalize the social connection between groups of humans”, that is, they evolved for the good of society. But what is “good” and how can it be accounted for. These “evolving” morals are moving with a purpose, a universal purpose, and as such, eventhough the “morals” in your system are not absolute, it seems like the principle by which they evolve is.
     
  7. FreakyJoeMan

    FreakyJoeMan 100% Batshit Insane

    I beleive that, originally, morals evolved to solidify the bonds that members of a human group had. To make it less likely for members of that group to kill one another. We, as social animals, function better in groups, and making the ties between humans stronger is, at the very bottom of it, good for the continuation of the species. Sorry I couldn't put it more eloquently. It's kind of a hard concept for me to put into words. And about the other post, "social contract"? Is that like social darwinism? 'Cause if it is, then it's bullshit.
     
  8. Jatom

    Jatom Member

    Ok , I still have some questions for you JoeMan. You say that you “beleive that, originally, morals evolved to solidify the bonds that members of a human group had. To make it less likely for members of that group to kill one another.” Don't you see this as a purpose? Morality originally evolved to solidify bonds and prevent others from killing one another. Ultimately than killing is seen as bad for the society, while solidification of certain bonds as good. So when Bog killed Booga, it was generally recognized as having a bad effect on the group and killing became wrong, while maybe sharing became right. But we're still left with the first principle of Good and Bad that is unaccounted for in the evolution of morals. How is it decided that killing is wrong, or has a negative effect without first having some knowledge of what a negative or bad effect is? And likewise how is decided that something is good for the society without first having a working definition of what “good” even is? In the end JoeMan, it appears to me, that we're left with an evolution system that consistently moves toward a single goal, for the “good”--an absolute principle that is left unaccounted for. ...just some thoughts from Jatom.
     
  9. Alsharad

    Alsharad Member

    No, FreakyJoeMan, it is not social darwinism.

    A philosopher named Hobbes came up with the idea that originally humanity was in what he called the State of Nature. Basically, it was every man for himself. There was no moral code. No actions were moral or immoral any more than the actions of an animal. All human actions were non-moral (including theft, murder, rape, etc.). Well, a group of people got together and decided that they didn't want to live that way anymore so they ceded some of their authority to a sovereign. They gave up their freedom to take whatever they wanted in exchange for the protection that the sovereign provided. He gave them protection from outsiders and from fellow citizens in exchange for power.

    And thus the social contract was born.

    The above is largely allegorical, but it is an illustration of how the social contract works. The community agrees not to take certain actions and yeilds some of their rights to the sovereign. The sovereign agrees to make sure that the community members are safe from those break the constraints of the contract.

    Hobbes theory takes into account morality, law, social interaction... it is pretty well rounded. The above is a very crude, shot-from-the-hip answer, but it gives you the very basics of the theory.

    Here is a better summation:

    The definitive statement of social contract theory is found in Chapters 13 through 15 of Hobbes's Leviathan. Briefly, Hobbes argues that the original state of nature is a condition of constant war, which rational and self-motivated people would want to end. These people, then, will establish fundamental moral laws to preserve peace. The foundation of Hobbes's theory is the view that humans are psychologically motivated by only selfish interests. Hobbes argued that, for purely selfish reasons, the agent is better off living in a world with moral rules than one without moral rules. Without moral rules, we are subject to the whims of other people's selfish interests. Our property, our families, and even our lives are at continual risk. Selfishness alone will therefore motivate each agent to adopt a basic set of rules which will allow for a civilized community. Not surprisingly, these rules would include prohibitions against lying, stealing and killing. However, these rules will ensure safety for each agent only if the rules are enforced. As selfish creatures, each of us would plunder our neighbors' property once their guards were down. Each agent would then be at risk from his neighbor. Therefore, for selfish reasons alone, we devise a means of enforcing these rules: we create a policing agency which punishes us if we violate these rules. Like rule-utilitarianism, Hobbes's social contract theory is a three-tiered moral system. Particular acts, such as stealing my neighbor's lawn furniture, are w rong since they violate the rule against stealing. The rule against stealing, in turn, is morally binding since it is in my interests to live in a world which enforces this rule.

    You can find the full article here: http://www.iep.utm.edu/s/soc-cont.htm
     
  10. Razorofoccam

    Razorofoccam Banned

    The question of morals can take on a whole new aspect when a small variable is inserted.

    The above posts address the perenial question of moral values in humanity..

    Occam suggests many of these questions can be answered by the introduction of a variable that just about all agree. exists...
    But none have any information on.

    Other races..

    Who will stand up and say we are the only race that has/is/or will exist?
    A hypothetical.
    ***
    The 'Kharm'.. A race on the [to us] figid world of 'kha' . The second world of
    the star Epsilon Eridani {human name]
    Grew to social complexity much as we did.. But are by nature [theirs]
    Far mor pragmatic. And less imaginative. it took them 50 thousand years to
    reach our 1800's level of technology.
    But once they had it... All parameters dissolve.
    Their pragamatism was a boon to technological developement.
    They 'bloomed' in a few centuries to a star travelling species.

    Now..They, in the 'rational revolution'. Came appon the philosophy of nature and survival of the fittest and made THAT. Their morality.

    Thus their morality is.
    Any thing or act that aids the Kharm race. Is good.
    Any that does not..Is bad.
    They have racial egos over individual
    Their greatest divergence to us.

    A genetically defective child..Is destroyed.
    One who proposes profit over the good of all, is destroyed.
    A tyrant , if it would benefit the kharm..is welcomed.
    If it would not, destroyed.

    And when a Kharm ship drops into our atmoshphere....
    They start shooting.
    Why ?
    Because the existence of humans will constrain the growth of the kharm race.
    Thus it is morally correct to kill ALL humans.
    ***

    Morals..
    It is a word that CANNOT be an absolute.
    It is a function of a 'group of beings who opperate by a moral code'
    It is an agreed interpretation/opinion.

    Occam tends to the standard.
    "do unto others as you would have then do unto you"
    overlaid with a rational analysis of the pointlessness of waste.
    The benefit of continuation of viable structures.
    And the willingness to kill anyone who threatens the ones he loves and cares for..

    :)

    Occam
     
  11. veinglory

    veinglory Member

    What does God have to do with morality. I think starting from that weird assumoption is a problem. If anything morality stems from empathy which is felt as strongly by atheists as by monotheists.
     
  12. Alsharad

    Alsharad Member

    RazorofOccam:
    I am not sure that adding other races is relevant. Why? Because if there are absolute morals, then the other races would be bound by them. If not, well, then they would be in the same boat we would be. I could just as easily say that instead of an alien race, we find a group of people that have never been influenced or contacted by any other portion of humanity. If you disqualify that scenario because they are humans, then you are begging the question (by assuming that morality is based on culture or race).

    Also, you ended your illustration with the statement "Thus it is morally correct to kill ALL humans." My response is: Is that wrong? Is that morally untenable? You ended your illustration, but did not draw a conclusion based on it.

    Again, I do not see how the addition of other races impacts the question at all. All it would do is illustrate that other races might have different moral codes.

    Why can it not be absolute? And how is it agreed upon interpretation/opinon? Agreed upon by how many people? 100 million, 50 thousand, 200, 10, 5? How many people does it take to agree upon a moral code? And what about issues that are in dispute? Is homosexuality immoral? Abortion? Excision? Capital punishment? There is not a lot of agreement on these issues. Does that make them non-moral until the debate is settled? How does this work?

    Veinglory:
    Well, if you go with conceptions of God that are found in Islam, Judaeism, Christianity, God is the author of moral law. Right and goodness are aspects of God's character and as God's character is eternal and non-mutable those same moral standards are also eternal an non-mutable which makes them absolute. If you go with other dieties like some of the Pantheons then the Gods still partially determined what was right and wrong but what was right could be rather arbitrary.

    Why do you think that morality stems from empathy? In my experience, only people who are moral are empathetic. So the question for you is, do morals stem from empathy or does empathy stem from morality (i.e. it is right and good for us to care about other beings)? How do you justify your statement?
     
  13. veinglory

    veinglory Member

    >>>Well, if you go with conceptions of God that are found in Islam, Judaeism, Christianity, God is the author of moral law.

    Yes, but as this is an atheists forum the question is akin to asking a lesbian how they have sex without a man, or a fish how it breathes without air -- it just doesn't make much sense. How is there morality without God? Why would there not be? Obviously people were moral before monotheism, in the absence of monotheism etc. the first thing the question begs is 'why assume atheist would be any less moral than monotheists?' To which the only answer I can find is that the question implies a prejudice against atheists. (c.f. As an atheist what do you identify as the source of your morality/moral code?)

    >>>Why do you think that morality stems from empathy? In my experience, only people who are moral are empathetic.

    The rules of morality function to stop us from hurting each other and make our communities a success (i.e. acting for the common good). To my mind empathy and morality are the same thing, one is the emotional aspect and the other cognitive. One does not cause the other any more than one side of a coin causes the other.
     
  14. Razorofoccam

    Razorofoccam Banned

    Alsharad

    The 'other races' is introduced specifically to show that there can be no absolute moral code.
    It answers your comments in 2* above.
    It cannot be an absolute because they are applicable to all reality.
    And 'supposedly enforced throughout.'
    Occam sees no enforcement of moral codes in reality except by humans.
    Not by any objective law.
    And this is before we even start to talk about other 'racial' standards of moral behavior.
    Occam sees only one standard in reality that might be called absolute moral
    code...
    'Survival of the fittest'
    In many ways it is applicable to our world.
    But compassion and love 'screw the pooch' on this one.

    Our higher qualities. Render the survival of the fittest code moot.
    it is the ultimate pragmatic code...
    But hardly one 99% of humanity would wish to live under.

    It still applies. But now we use social structures to replace most of its functions.
    =====

    "How many people does it take to agree upon a moral code?"

    2

    =====
    "Is homosexuality immoral? Abortion? Excision? Capital punishment? There is not a lot of agreement on these issues. Does that make them non-moral until the debate is settled? How does this work?"

    In order from your post
    No
    No [before higher brain functions activate...16 weeks?]
    What is excision?
    No

    Immoral acts can only be judged from within the culture the individual is part of.
    If occam kills a child .. He is a murderer and is put away, or shot..Rightly so.
    If a newborn girl is dumped to die in the gutter in cultures that say this is
    a norm. As in india and other places...It is morally acceptable[to that culture] but occam thinks it now is causing many problems as these countries integrate with the west. Western morality is setting the standards. Because our world is becomming a western world.
    Why.
    Technological power.
    Nations want it... To get it they must be , at least to the media.
    Morally acceptable within limmits.
    Islam condones mutilation and death for crimes we consider trivial.
    This, is what moral arguement is all about.
    We westerners call some things 'islamic/mideastern' immoral
    They call some things western.. immoral.
    Who is right?
    Both.
    Is human life sacred? Only to 'some' humans.

    If you wish to say it is... Then you must subscribe to occams morality.
    Which says that each human life has potential that cannot replaced or emulated if it is destroyed. The potential of each human is VAST.
    [once it actually can think ..thus the 16 weeks question. A babe is not a human untill it has a funtioning human brain]
    And the right of a thinking being, to live...Is inherent.

    And that having more than 2 children [to replace the parents]
    IS A MORAL CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY.

    If we dont start THINKING as a race.
    We will die as one.

    Occam
     
  15. Alsharad

    Alsharad Member

    How does it show that there is no absolute moral code? Because the races' moral codes are different? It seems your argument is this:

    1. Different cultures have different moral codes.
    2. Therefore, there is no objective "truth" in morality. Right and wrong are simply matters of opinion and opinions vary from culture to culture.

    The problem is that the argument is unsound. The conclusion does not follow from the premise. It could be that there *is* objective truth in morality and that one of the cultures is simply mistaken. The problem is with the argument is that the premise deals with what people believe while the second deals with the way things actually are. There are numerous counter examples I could give, but I will give you two:

    The ancient Greeks and Callatians had different views on funerary practices. The Greeks believed eating the dead was wrong; the Callatians believed it was right. Now, does it follow merely from the fact that they disagreed that there was no objective truth in the matter? No, it doesn't.

    Some cultures believed that the earth was flat. Others did not. Does it follow that because they disagreed that there was/is no objective truth in geography? We would think it absud if someone actually proposed this argument.

    Now, I am not saying (yet) that the conclusion is false. All I am pointing out is that this argument is not sound. If you think morality is based upon cultural views, you are going to have to use more than the fact that cultures disagree to prove it.

    So because you do not see moral codes enforced throughout the universe, then you conclude that they do not exist? Why should animals and non-humans be bound by moral law? Most of the moral philosophers agree that humans are set apart by the ability to reason abstractly. Such moral laws would be only applicable to those creatures capable of understanding them. To the best of our knowledge, that pretty much limits it to humans. If there was another race capable of abstract reasoning, then they to would be bound by this moral code. Note that I am not saying that "ignorance is an excuse." I am talking about the lack of cognitive ability to distinguish between right and wrong.

    So if my friend and I agree that theft is okay and we rob one hundred people who think theft is wrong, we still haven't done anything wrong (illegal maybe, but not immoral)? How did you draw the conclusion that it takes two? Is that the minimum number of people that it takes to agree on anything? Can I not be in agreement with myself (which would lower the number to one)?

    A pretty gruesome practice. In short, a woman's labia are cut off. This removes all pleasure from sex and can cause serious health issues. It is still practiced in some African tribes. It is a part of their respective tribal cultures.

    Please see the above for the problems with ascribing to the idead that because cultures have different beliefs, there is no objective moral truth.

    No I don't. I can believe that human life is sacred for any number of reasons including that we are made in God's image. Right or wrong, I do not have to ascribe to "occams morality" in order to substantiate my beliefs.

    How does that follow?

    That is a nice sentiment, but ultimately unfounded I think. Can you give your reasoning for believing this?

    I also wanted to re-post this, Occam, and get your resonses to it. There are some difficulties when you say that culture or society determines moral codes.

    1. We cannot judge other societies' practices. Seems okay at first (i.e. hey, Eskimoes can have whatever funerary practices they want... who are we to judge?) But suppose a society decided to wage war on a neighbor for the purposes of taking slaves. Or suppose a society was violently anti-Semetic and its leaders decided to wipe out the Jews. If morality is determined by society, then we cannot even say that a tolerant society is better than a racist one because this would imply some sort of transcultural standard. However, failing to condemn practices like slavery and racism (and genocide) seems unenlightened. In fact, those practices seem wrong whenever they occur. But if morality is determined by the society, then we are really in no place to judge them at all.

    2. We would be able to determine the rightness or wrongness of our actions just by consulting our own society's standard. Suppose a resident of South Africa in 1975 wanted to know if apatheid was morally correct. All he would have to do is ask if the policy met with the society's moral code. In short, if society determines our moral code, then we cannot criticize our own moral code. Our society's moral code could therefore not be reformed (since there would be no way to criticize our own society's code).

    3. How can a cuture progress morally? Take women's rights. Most of us believe that we have a better society because women have far more rights than they used to in the 1800s and 1900s. However, if the society decides what is moral, then all we have now is a different society then we did in the past. It is neither better nor worse than any other society in the past because we cannot say that a society which opresses women is any worse than one that doesn't. If our society used to opress women but now it doesn't, we cannot say we have progressed. All we have done is changed. We have not discarded a practice for a better one, just a different one.

    What are your responses to those difficulties?
     
  16. Jedi

    Jedi Self Banned

    Hi Alsharad,

    Well... in my opinion, if you take away God from morality, then morals are nothing but codes for us to survive in this world. We are a species that adapt to the changing environment. So, our "morals" change ensuring our survival.

    If you look at it, our whole society shows "animalism". Sexual exploitation of women still continues- nowadays its in fashion. In the past, it was in confinement of women to the household and making women virtually servants to men. We still show animalism in many ways- through media - violent movies, fighting movies and what not.

    So, morals are there for your survival. Your own personal morals appear according to the survival skills that you learned from your community and they change because we change.

    One simple example of morals changing would be like the moral "I will not kill" . However, if you go to the wilderness and are being attacked by a bear - and if you then some how fight and kill the bear , then your morality will have another base- "thou shalt not kill- but its okay to defend yourself when you have to and that includes killing" . You pass that on to your offspring to ensure their survival.
     
  17. Mui

    Mui Senior Member

    I dont live with morals and "right" and "wrong"
     
  18. J_Lazarus

    J_Lazarus Member

    Although I plead guilty to not having read every post here, I would like to add my two-bits anyhow.

    1) Simply because society's view of morals has changed over time or between societies does not mean that an objective sort of ethical code does not exist. Consider how society's view of the law of gravity has changed in its level of understanding over time - yet of course no one would make the absurd claim that gravity is relative to the individual. And simply because I might deny gravity does not mean it does not objectively exist.

    2) I would define morality as the "study of action". How we should and should not act.

    Now, notice how every human being pursues what they perceive as their best interest. Everyone has their own self-interest at heart, what they believe is best for them (although it might not always be what is best for them, such as the woman who stays with her abusive husband).

    Also, as human beings, it is recognized that we all have a certain heirarchy of values in common, which have been given the term "Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs", and is accepted in the field of psychology. These are:

    Material needs such as needs for health and food: these values contribute directly to survival.

    "Spiritual" needs such as needs for conceptual knowledge, self-esteem, education and art: these values are "spiritual" in the sense that they primarily pertain to consciousness, and contribute to survival by helping Reason to function properly.

    Social needs such as needs for trade, communication, friendship and love: these values are social in that they occur only through interaction with others. Logically, their status as values is due to the fact that they contribute to the fulfillment of "spiritual" and "material" needs.

    Political needs such as needs for freedom and objective law, which are needs concerning the organization of society. These provide the context for fulfilling our material, "spiritual" and social needs.

    Because we all naturally wish to prosper and survive by our very instincts, and because these needs are necessary for that - I submit that it is in our best interest that we act in such a way that would bring us into the fulfillment of these values. Therefore, not only is it necessary that we follow these ourselves, but also that we respect others in a way that they too can pursue these needs - because not doing so would affect our pursual of these needs ourselves.

    Murdering someone, for instance, is both bad for the person I would murder and for myself in two ways: 1) It puts those necessary values that I hold into danger because of the unnecessary chaos I would cause in murdering someone; and 2) Such chaos would directly endanger my very life, as the family members of the person I would have killed could decide to come after me.

    This is the basic foundation of an objective morality.

    Self-interest ---> heirarchy of values ---> necessary limitation of action for the gauranteed fulfillment of these needs.

    This has been a rather crude presentation of the objectivist's theory of ethics, but I feel I get my point across well enough.

    Keep in mind - self-interest does not deny nor undermine the existence of empathy or love. The existence of these put other people and things at a high value for us individually, and without them our lives would be miserable - hence why we would readily sacrifice ourselves for our children, wives, husbands, or parents, etc.

    Also keep in mind that the employment of reason and logical process is vital in this moral system, as well as contextualism. Without it we'd lead ourselves into all sorts of trouble.

    Thats about it.

    - J Lazarus
     
  19. Indriel

    Indriel Member

    Morality is down to human choice & human responsibility. Religious dogma & our society can both offer guidelines, interpretations, opinions regarding appropriate moral behaviour, but an individual is free to accept or disregard them as he chooses.
    He may need to find a way to exist within those guidelines, especially regarding social morality, but not to let them define him or his personal ethical code. A particular society sets moral standards as a reflection of what's important to & what's necessary for it to function effectively at a particular time. Those standards aren't necessarily immovable truths - they're subjective, open to challenge & able to be changed. A person may choose to conform entirely to the established moral code if it's acceptable to him; he can also disagree with it, speak out against it, openly disregard it if he wants to - so long as he's prepared to take responsibility for & accept any consequences of whatever choice he makes. And often those consequences are more negative, dangerous or adverse than we're willing to risk. A good or a bad thing? Depends on the circumstances.
    Having said that, I guess when trying to determine what's moral/immoral, right/wrong we have to choose what's important to us, the values by which we want to live; when it's acceptable to conform to existing morality, when it's necessary to challenge it, to what degree we can allow our personal values to be compromised in favour of the majority's. We make those decision on our own.
    As Occam said in an earlier post, nothing is black & white, & there's no truer statement than when we're dealing with morality & moral choices. So often we think we - or our society - have made a good choice, a moral choice - the 'right' choice - & then comes the 'yeah, but....' ,is it really fair, is it really the best choice, are those consequences really deserved. And you're faced with another moral dilemma.
    Maybe we can't ever know for certain is a choice is moral or right, but we can make the most informed decision, the most acceptable under the circumstances we're faced with. We all have a conscience, we have intelligence, reasoning, the capacity to empathise, the ability to foresee the effects & consequences of our actions - it's up to us how & when we put them to use.
     
  20. J_Lazarus

    J_Lazarus Member

    lol - guess from the look of Indriel's post its clear my statements have been largely ignored thus far, as I've already addressed many of her statements.

    - JL
     

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