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caladbolg1125
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Like weather patterns or conciousness I am convinced that the concepts good and bad are emergent rather than fundamental. They do not exist outside of a cultural framework. The American culture is such a schizophrenic mix of cultures that no one can agree on what is good and what is bad. This seems to be ok with everybody; for the most part we're believe that you do what you think is good so long as it doesn't interfere with what I think is good. We think this is a good way to live but that is just a product of a more collective American culture. Such things would be intolerable in a military dictatorship where what just one or a few people have a right to determine what is good and what is bad.

I found this very confusing for a long time. We are expected to be good. Plato talks about what is good in an ideal, permanent kind of way. Yet no two people agree on how to catagorize all things into good and bad.

We can find examples of this on this very board when two intelligent people argue very different points that seem good within their apparent assumptions. Yet we still disagree rather vociferously on such matters as ssm, premarital sex, who should run our country, or infinitly many others.

So I have opted not to get rid of my concepts of good and bad, but to try to live my life to another standard. I feel my beliefs are quite deeply ingrained and I'm not currently prepared to do the work required to unlearn them. Unless of course simply questioning them constantly is enough to eventually unlearn them.

Instead, I will try to behave in such a way as to cause the least suffering, adding none if I can and easing it when it is in my power to do so. This still takes careful judgement and I'm not going to be right all the time. Still, I think this ethic is more versatile and ultimately more personally satisfying than what always seems to me to be vague and ill-defined cultural norms.

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Zero
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Interesting point, but how would you explain the few (but consistent) point whereupon all cultures agree? For instance a respect for the life of others. That it is wrong to butcher babies. And things of that nature.

These seem to be fundamental. Unless they are just part of some "human framework".

That said, I agree with your conclusion. I think that's a great viewpoint.

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caladbolg1125
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They are still emergent in the sense that humans have evolved with certain traits that make community necessary for healthy development. We require a supportive network to survive, therefore those that behave in a way that harms that network are considered bad and removed from society by various means, ie death, imprisonment, or exile.

I have to think about this some more to make my point more robust but I'm convinced of it nonetheless.

[ December 04, 2008, 10:06 AM: Message edited by: caladbolg1125 ]

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caladbolg1125
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Of course, if, as I suspect it is, the universe as we experience it is emergent from quantum patterns, then anything those patterns do or think of are just another layer of emergence, just one more step up, or down I'm not sure, the scale of complexity.
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JoshCrow
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quote:
Originally posted by Zero:
Interesting point, but how would you explain the few (but consistent) point whereupon all cultures agree? For instance a respect for the life of others. That it is wrong to butcher babies. And things of that nature.

This is not true of cultures which believed in human sacrifice, or even of Abrahamic religions, who hold in high esteem Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his only son because God told him to.

Nevertheless, I reject the idea that "good" and "evil" (which I will use instead of "bad" to represent a morally contemptible action) are to be explained away in some relative context. You might look at some deed and say that, performed in one context, it is "good", and in another context, "evil". That alone does not make the deed a good one or an evil one, it is only so in those contexts. Is this "relativity"? Not at all - it is absolutism. What is lost on people is that an absolutist (i.e. someone who believes there is a morally proper and improper course of action) can include contexts in their absolutism.

A person can say "killing is wrong - except to save a life" and that is not a "relative" assessment. A "relative" assessment would be "killing may be wrong for me, but it was perfectly acceptable for the ancient Azteks". This does not indicate context beyond some nebulous "cultural environment". I do not believe a cultural environment is sufficient to justify specific actions as compared to others.

I think reasonable people can disagree, but that "good" and "evil" are a slowly emerging consensus that we will never get to - but that exists nonetheless as a sort of optimal point that cannot be reached but can be approached incrementally. Nobody has enough knowledge to make all judgements, but we can point ourselves in the right direction.

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Mynnion
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A points to muddy the waters.

The first is the role of evolutionary genetics in our beliefs. Humans are social creatures and so have developed a set of "instincts(?)" that allow us to live in that setting. Good and Bad or Right and Wrong are in all likelihood the result of genetics as much as culture.

This allows for both the development of a set of "morale" values that benefit society but can aslo be used to justify the death of an individual if the community is seen to benefit from that death. This encompasses the burning of witches. The killing of those that society deems are too different (at least historically). It is even easy to justify human sacrifice if the involved culture believes that that death will bring a better harvest or increased fertility.

This idea expands as a society becomes more affluent and grows. The rules in a larger society become more complex but can be still based on the same genetic predispositions.

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caladbolg1125
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quote:
"good" and "evil" are a slowly emerging consensus that we will never get to - but that exists nonetheless as a sort of optimal point that cannot be reached but can be approached incrementally.
This is like saying there is some perfectly fit organism that will evolve naturally by small corrections made in current organisms. Rather, an organism's fitness is dependent on context, its environment. Competition, availability of resources, opportunities to reproduce are all highly variable. Even when an organism makes what appears to be a move toward perfection with some apparently beneficial change, that change in the organism profoundly alters that organism's environment, changing what would be perfect.

I see the search for morality in the same way. In changing your morals you change the environment in which you make your morals. Perfection is impossible. There is no higher ideal, just degrees of excellence. You can have skilled surviving organisms without perfection. Therefore, the search should not be towards perfection; it should be towards excellence.

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Zero
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quote:
This is not true of cultures which believed in human sacrifice, or even of Abrahamic religions, who hold in high esteem Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his only son because God told him to.
Good point. I'll have to think about that.
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threads
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quote:
Originally posted by JoshCrow:
I think reasonable people can disagree, but that "good" and "evil" are a slowly emerging consensus that we will never get to - but that exists nonetheless as a sort of optimal point that cannot be reached but can be approached incrementally. Nobody has enough knowledge to make all judgements, but we can point ourselves in the right direction.

How do you define "optimal"?
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JabberWockey
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quote:
Originally posted by Mynnion:

The first is the role of evolutionary genetics in our beliefs. Humans are social creatures and so have developed a set of "instincts(?)" that allow us to live in that setting. Good and Bad or Right and Wrong are in all likelihood the result of genetics as much as culture.

I was thinking the same thing. It's fun to entertain ourselves with the philosophical ideas of right and wrong - but in the end it is essentially just from the behaviorial leftovers of the herd as we try to survive in close proximity to one another.

[ December 04, 2008, 02:47 PM: Message edited by: JabberWockey ]

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JoshCrow
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quote:
Originally posted by threads:
quote:
Originally posted by JoshCrow:
I think reasonable people can disagree, but that "good" and "evil" are a slowly emerging consensus that we will never get to - but that exists nonetheless as a sort of optimal point that cannot be reached but can be approached incrementally. Nobody has enough knowledge to make all judgements, but we can point ourselves in the right direction.

How do you define "optimal"?
An unreachable destination where hypothetically everybody is above some threshold of satisfaction that everything is "good". The imperfection of human knowledge will see that this cannot possibly happen - and yet (as stated before) a sort of crude compass heading in that direction is possible... although it gets less accurate the closer society gets, since we start dealing with more and more obscure aspects of "human rights" beyond the basics.
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Mariner
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This is not true of cultures which believed in human sacrifice, or even of Abrahamic religions, who hold in high esteem Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his only son because God told him to.

I don't think that really invalidates Zero's claim. Most if not all moral systems have a heirarchy of goodness, where some acts are more good than others. So when deciding whether something is moral or not, you have to decide first whether the act itself is moral as well as if there are any more important moral considerations that would negate the morality of that act. For Abraham, obedience to God was the supreme good, and therefore cancelled out all other considerations, including his consideration for the life of his son. Just because it was cancelled out in one situation doesn't mean Abraham had no respect for life anymore than a soldier disobeying an illegal order doesn't mean he has no respect for the chain of command.

---

In any case caladbolg, are you saying you don't believe in an absolute morality, or are you saying that we don't know what that absolute morality is? Because there is a difference between those two. The first case would require a very desolate worldview, in which moral considerations could not possibly come into play for any decisions that cross cultures. After all, you proposed a "live and let live" scenario, where each cultures moral system should just live in coexistence. However, to make this topical, the Islamic moral system demands that everyone else follows their system too (same with the Christian system, but much of Islam today is more, uh, extreme in this belief, to put it mildly). So when these cultures collide, how do you decide how to react? Saving your life is no more or less moral than a fanatic killing it. Saving your culture is no more or less moral than adopting a different one. So how do you decide what to do?

The second option may seem just as bleak, but it really isn't. Since moral considerations can't cope with the clash of cultures, maybe you take the animalistic approach. Your instincts say that you and your tribe survive, and thus you resist assimilation into a different culture (or worse!). That's essentially the same choice that a moral absolutist would make as well. So how is it any different?

Just because we don't know the absolute moral code doesn't mean we don't know parts of it, anymore than the fact that just because we don't know the complete nature of the universe doesn't mean we know a lot about said nature. And just like with studying the universe, we can learn more about absolute morality by applying reason. This still allows for people to disagree on morality, and it allows for people to be wrong about morality. But just because scientists in the 15th century or whenever disagreed about whether or not the Earth revolved around the sun doesn't mean that there wasn't an actual correct answer. And eventually, we got that answer.

So let's go back to the clash of cultures. Rather than decide based on animalistic instincts or some other criteria, we can than use our powers of reason to compare the two cultures and try to determine which one's better. We may be wrong, but at least we can still apply moral principles to it. This is important, as it can change how we react to the clash. For the freedom lovers vs terrorists example, the answer seems obvious and is no different than one based on instinct. But what if your culture was wrong?

I'd argue that that (at least to some extent) is what happened with the Civil Rights Movement. The white culture, which included quite a bit of racism, was dominant in every way imaginable: demographic, economic, political, etc. Blacks finally decided enough was enough, and forced a clash of cultures. If you believed in no absolute morality and where white, you would have absolutely no reason to listen to what MLK was saying. After all, he's no more right or wrong than you are. But people did listen, and many whites looked at their own moral code and saw that it didn't make sense. They decided their original code was wrong, and moved racism to the immoral category.

That doesn't necessarily mean that racism is immoral, and it doesn't mean that there is an absolute morality. But a worldview that says that there is an absolute morality and that we are becoming closer to it would declare that, yes, racism probably is a bad thing, and that we would therefore be justified in choosing a path that isn't racist during the next culture clash.

That seems like a pretty reasonable worldview to me, don't you think?

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JoshCrow
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quote:
Originally posted by Mariner:
This is not true of cultures which believed in human sacrifice, or even of Abrahamic religions, who hold in high esteem Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his only son because God told him to.

I don't think that really invalidates Zero's claim. Most if not all moral systems have a heirarchy of goodness, where some acts are more good than others. So when deciding whether something is moral or not, you have to decide first whether the act itself is moral as well as if there are any more important moral considerations that would negate the morality of that act. For Abraham, obedience to God was the supreme good, and therefore cancelled out all other considerations, including his consideration for the life of his son. Just because it was cancelled out in one situation doesn't mean Abraham had no respect for life anymore than a soldier disobeying an illegal order doesn't mean he has no respect for the chain of command.

I'm not sure I agree with your claim that there is a "hierarchy" of goodness in most religions, which tend to spell out things in terms of "thou shalt / thou shalt not" rather than offering a way to rank all possible acts. What complicates Abraham's story is, of course, whether or not you believe his claim that he received a commandment from God, which radically alters the deal. Once one accepts God as a premise, morality simply follows as a set of instructions. Leaving that aside, let's assume Abraham did NOT get instruction from God, and what follows is either delusional or calculated behavior... but it ceases to become "good" from any sane point of reference.
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caladbolg1125
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First of all, I claimed that good and bad do not exist outside of context, not that there is no morality. I'm going to avoid the use of the word absolute morality because it is quite easy to get stuck when there's not some fluidity to it. That is, there needs to be a metamorality to shape morality. (That's meta- as in about, not above.)

I certainly believe in morality and I believe it is my moral obligation to examine my own morality and alter it as necessary. I reject my own interpretations of good and bad, but I'm no nihilist either. Like I said in the first post, I'm choosing to hold myself to a different standard, one that I think gives me greater flexibility and personal satisfaction. By flexibility I don't mean anything hypocritical, just that my ability to reason and my current moral attitudes are not sufficiently described by what my culture calls good and bad.

I was discussing the issue of surnames a few weeks ago. I found it interesting that Western cultures typically placed the surname after the given name but that some Asian cultures reverse it. Having grown up in a Western country I expressed a preference for the Western convention. I immediately recognized that my culture instilled in me a belief in individual freedom and importance. Yet I immediately countered this view by keeping in mind the different priorities of the cultures. The Asian cultures value group unity so it is important for them to recognize groups before individuals.

I personally prefer my way and am a little troubled by such collectivism. But I see how they could think their way is better as the individuals are more likely to be better off if the whole group is well off.

As for the arguably less gray issues concerning respect for life and such, I haven't thought about it much. Thankfully, such dillemas have not been put to me just yet. I need to consider them of course, but such consideration, I'm afraid will be superficial until I have to make a choice. When/if that time comes I hope a flexible moral instrument (my brain) will serve me better than tacit assumptions from my culture.

Back to morality for a second. I do not believe in absolute morality but I believe we can make for ourselves increasingly excellent moral systems. It is important to me however, that they be editable because our knowledge is by nature incomplete. I think any moral system could be shown to be incomplete via Godel's Incompleteness Theorem, therefore there is no optimal morality.

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caladbolg1125
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If I were arguing more formally I would have left out all the "I thinks" in my previous post but this ain't school so it don't got to be scholarly, does it?
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threads
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quote:
Originally posted by Mariner:
In any case caladbolg, are you saying you don't believe in an absolute morality, or are you saying that we don't know what that absolute morality is? Because there is a difference between those two. The first case would require a very desolate worldview, in which moral considerations could not possibly come into play for any decisions that cross cultures.

This isn't true. No absolute moral considerations could come into play because there wouldn't be any. That doesn't mean there would be no moral considerations at all.

quote:
Originally posted by Mariner:
So when these cultures collide, how do you decide how to react? Saving your life is no more or less moral than a fanatic killing it. Saving your culture is no more or less moral than adopting a different one. So how do you decide what to do?

You decide on a subjective basis. Preferably this just means that you have premises from which you derive actions that are objectively rational or irrational.

quote:
Originally posted by Mariner:
If you believed in no absolute morality and where white, you would have absolutely no reason to listen to what MLK was saying.

False.

[ December 04, 2008, 05:01 PM: Message edited by: threads ]

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threads
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quote:
Originally posted by JoshCrow:
quote:
Originally posted by threads:
quote:
Originally posted by JoshCrow:
I think reasonable people can disagree, but that "good" and "evil" are a slowly emerging consensus that we will never get to - but that exists nonetheless as a sort of optimal point that cannot be reached but can be approached incrementally. Nobody has enough knowledge to make all judgements, but we can point ourselves in the right direction.

How do you define "optimal"?
An unreachable destination where hypothetically everybody is above some threshold of satisfaction that everything is "good". The imperfection of human knowledge will see that this cannot possibly happen - and yet (as stated before) a sort of crude compass heading in that direction is possible... although it gets less accurate the closer society gets, since we start dealing with more and more obscure aspects of "human rights" beyond the basics.
Presumably we also get smarter and smarter though.

By applying "survival of the most stable" we can see that there is at least one state of humanity which is optimal in terms of stability. Assuming that we can fully explore all "states" of humanity, it is inevitable that we will either eventually reach this state or die out. I don't see any reason to believe that this point will necessarily line up with absolute morality unless we define morality to be that which leads to the most stable human society. This definition doesn't capture what most people mean by morality.

EDIT: If we want to get really technical then I guess what I said isn't correct. There may not be a single optimal state but rather an optimal set of states that oscillate in some (potentially arbitrary) fashion.

[ December 04, 2008, 05:23 PM: Message edited by: threads ]

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