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Author Topic: Objective morality
noel c.
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D.W. ,

Are you saying that fundamental principles of morality "evolve", or that context alters the application of those basic principles? Next, is there any application of a moral principle that cannot be subordinated to another through a benefit analysis? Third, this entire discussion *presumes* an objective "good", correct?

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D.W.
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I think this discussion asks the question of IF there is an objective good.

My suggestion is that morality does evolve because it is determined by the context of those who define morality.

If a previously immoral act becomes the only way for a community to survive then they will either shift their moral principles to believe that act is less bad or they will cease to survive as a community.

I am starting to think there is no application of a moral principle that cannot be subordinated to another through a benefit analysis. Even an act that would kill every human being on the planet may to some person seem moral because they justify the planet and non-human life would be better off without us.

I think a lot of what we call moral principle is actually peer pressure to preserve societal norms.

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noel c.
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D.W. ,

"My suggestion is that morality does evolve because it is determined by the context of those who define morality."...

Then you are operating from an assumption other than "... IF there is an objective good..."?

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D.W.
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I'm proposing one answer to the question. That there is NOT an objective good.

[ November 12, 2012, 01:33 PM: Message edited by: D.W. ]

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noel c.
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I understand now.

Would it then follow that morality, per se, is pretty much defined by what you want as balanced against what you can get?

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PSRT
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No.
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noel c.
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Why not?
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D.W.
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I think morality is defined as acting in a way that you believe is right. I think that if we want something strongly enough we begin to justify the actions it takes to attain that thing. We all try to impose our morality on each other so that our society is “good” even if that means we don’t always get what we want.
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noel c.
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D.W. ,

All people want what is "good". What distinguishes the "good" of Stalin from that of Solzhenitsyn?

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D.W.
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quote:
What distinguishes the "good" of Stalin from that of Solzhenitsyn?
Outside of my reading. To answer generally good is, getting what you want to a point because you understand that if everyone got what they wanted the desires become mutually exclusive. Therefore we restrain our desires with the hopes that that consensus restraint protects the individual from harm or depravation of daily needs. Once that is achieved people seek to improve their comfort as much as possible under the same framework.

Even those who act out of selflessness rather than selfishness are still trying to improve the society as a whole. To shape it to what they believe it “should be” and what is “good”. They can come to the conclusion of what is “good” by themselves or through the influence of the society. Those who come to a conclusion that others see as “bad” are punished, exiled or executed.

Depending on how isolated the society is and the impact they have on neighboring societies they may view each other as “good” yet be viewed by outsiders as evil.

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D.W.
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I feel compelled to add that “objective good”, good which exists regardless of the opinion of humans may exist. But if it does I would suggest it is the opinion of God. His views may not be as… fluid as I attribute to us. I do believe in God so if he is omnipotent and states something is good it is functionally the same as an “objective good”. [Wink] What my beliefs are fuzzy on is if we can ever know what God sees as objectively good. What profits do we trust above others? What “good” is free will if we know the “correct” answer despite how we may feel?
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noel c.
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D.W. ,

What you have summarized is precisely what all philosophical systems ultimately arrive at in abstract outline, which is essentially a restatement of Kant's moral imperative.

It still leaves morality itself untouched, defining only how it would be recognized... if it existed.

You have gone as far as anyone else has.

[ November 12, 2012, 02:48 PM: Message edited by: noel c. ]

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Aris Katsaris
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quote:
All people want what is "good".
I disagree. This confuses wanting with approving.

Let's call the morality M of a person P a function that evaluates the moral quality m of an action A:

M{p}(A) = m

This means that My morality M{Aris} assigns a value m to an action A.

The thing is that our brain doesn't assign just one value to any given action. Besides M{Aris}(A)=m, we could likewise define D{Aris}(A)=d depending on how much I *desire* certain actions (moral considerations would be included among other considersations), and L{Aris}(A)=l depending on how much I *like* certain actions.

We could also define P{Aris}(A)=p for my probability to do any given action, which would be similar but not identical to some of the above.

To argue that there's no objective morality... means what exactly? That people's M functions differ in *some* respects? Worse yet, that there don't exist any common subsets of M across the human species?

Or that there's no function M which is privileged in some way, e.g. by being the most harmonious with human desires and likings? Or by, e.g. if shared by all people, it would maximize human happiness and preferences?

To say there's no objective morality, you must first define what you mean by "objective". I don't think the problem is there's no such thing as an objective morality, the problem may be that there may be exist more than one: e.g. there may exist an objective morality than maximizes human preferences and a different objective morality that maximizes human happiness.

If I could rewire people's brains so that they feel intense moral guilt and shame whenever they look at the clouds -- this seems as if it's practically an objectively *bad* moral instinct for people to have: it would cause universal misery for no particular good reason.

It's almost equally bad if people have a moral instinct where they feel guilt or shame because e.g. they want to have sex with people of the same gender. If it leads to misery towards no good purpose, I would argue it's a bad moral instinct to have.

And by seeing moral instinct that seem objectively bad, we can likewise figure out some moral instincts that seem objectively good. I don't have the purpose to define an entire objective morality here: only argue that it may be possible for such to exist.

[ November 12, 2012, 06:16 PM: Message edited by: Aris Katsaris ]

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D.W.
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quote:
To argue that there's no objective morality... means what exactly? That people's M functions differ in *some* respects? Worse yet, that there don't exist any common subsets of M across the human species?
Yes, I think the M function differs “in some respects” and also wildly by some. The further removed from your society the more significant the variations of M will become. I think that because there are a lot of similar characteristics spanning various cultures that there may be SOME common subsets of M.

Lets say an alien being finds our ball of dirt and observes us. They see us treat dogs and cats as some lower class family member. They see us raise and slaughter for food chickens and cows. They see us go to great lengths to improve the health of and treat injuries of some yet we assault and murder others. How do they begin to determine if we are moral or immoral? Do they think we struggle to be good but fail often or do they see us as nonsensically corrupt? For it to be objective morality it would have to be something everyone capable of grasping agreed upon regardless of where, by whom and under what circumstances they were raised. I don’t think that’s true yet.

We may get to a point where globalization is such that all our cultures intermix so much that M does become common to all of us and the overlaps outweigh the differences between our moralities. What happens if we were ever to find other intelligent life? Would it be fair to judge them by our consensus morality? Or do we have to understand their environment and culture to determine if they are moral to each other never mind us?

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noel c.
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Aris,

"I don’t have the purpose to define an entire objective morality here: only that it may be possible for such to exist."...

I would contend that it is *probable* an objective morality exists, and also that it can never be rationally demonstrated.

"There may be an objective morality that maximizes human preferences and a different objective morality that maximizes human happiness."...

Not all preferences have a moral component, but all moral choices are the expression of a preference. If by "happiness" you mean something akin to fulfillment, then we are probably looking at the result of activity involving significant moral underpinnings. Simple exercise of preference, absent a sense of internal increase, is value neutral... at best.

It is the difference between cooking a meal, and sharing a meal.

"To argue that an objective moraliy... means what exactly? That people's M functions differ in *some* respects? Worse yet, that there don’t exist any comon subsets of M across the human species?"...

To argue an objective morality means that there exists a set of behavioral principles that, if practiced universally, maximizes human fulfillment.

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Pyrtolin
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quote:
To argue an objective morality means that there exists a set of behavioral principles that, if practiced universally, maximizes human fulfillment.
That's a very subjective context that you suggest, depending on both the assumptions that morality is specific to humans and that fulfillment is a good objective.

To be objective, the moral rules would have to hole without regard to humanity or any desired outcome. Making assumptions about context means that the entire system you define hinges on acceptance of the subjective conditions that you lay out.

(And conversely, once you provide those subjective assumptions, you do create a foundation of measurement for rational analysis and proof, invalidating your effective assertion that an ideal morality, given those rules, cannot be rationally demonstrated. Once you have a framework that defines the conditions for measurement, science can step in and provide all the analytic tools needed to explore the implications of that framework.)

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noel c.
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Pyrtolin,

What you do to economics, you are now doing to moral philosophy.

Morality does not exist outside of human interaction, because humanity is the agent of morality.

To equate "good" with "fulfillment" is entirely subjective from an exploratory perspective, and tautological to boot. My statement was not intended to supply an answer, in fact I explicitly stated that I did not believe a rational answer was possible.

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seekingprometheus
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*Wanders back in...*

Pete:
quote:
You are wrong. The foundation of Christian *ethics* is the subset of the philosophy that I mentioned, i.e. the Sermon on the Mount.
Heh.

No, Pete. The SotM may be fundamental in Christian ethics, but why you've latched onto it as THE SOURCE of Christian ethics is anybody's guess. Just to point you back on course, the Judaic ten commandments remain more fundamental to the totality of Christian ethics, even if Jesus did expand upon them through his parables (and insist that all moral imperatives boil down to loving God and one another).

But the root of Christian morality isn't actually represented by any specific text--thinking that you can isolate a specific record of a homily and point at it as the basic and "true Christian moral philosophy" is rather silly.
quote:
Your equation of crucifixion to "Christian Ethics" is gibberish.
Yeah, this construction is definitely gibberish.

But here's what I said:
quote:
the centerpiece of the Christian narrative is about torturing and killing an individual--that such a barbaric notion of moral justice is the foundation of Christian ethics.
It's quite clear that I didn't equate the crucifixion to Christian Ethics, I rather pointed out that the expiation is central to the Christian narrative within which moral reality is structured--implying only that the crucifixion is the modality through which universal moral justice is ultimately effectuated.

Saying that the crucifixion "equates" to Christian ethics is as absurd than it is to suggest that a sermon equates to *the singular* Christian moral philosophy. But please observe that I really haven't spoken such gibberish, that's just what comes out after you misrepresent what I've said.

(Can I request, parenthetically, that you desist from this tactic of declaring that I am "equating" things that I'm not equating? It seems like you've committed this exact error in a majority of our recent interactions--I make an observation about some nuanced relationship between components of some complex phenomenon, and then I find you ignoring the nature of the actual relationship I have suggested, instead simply claiming that I "equated" the components, and then chastising me for the bizarre, obvious error you just stuffed into my mouth... I don't assume you're mangling what I'm saying intentionally, but if you don't understand what I'm saying, please don't insist that I'm equivocating--because I'm not. [Smile] )

My point really is more at the fundamental nature of Christian ethics--which are clearly structured in terms of an explicitly retributive model of morality. See, Christian morality is based on a bizarre underlying metaphysical proposition: that once a moral "wrong" has been committed, a second "wrong" can make things "right." The idea is actually as philosophically ridiculous as it is repugnant--the Christian cosmos is one in which all moral subjects merit awful torment and eternal suffering for their mistakes, and (most mysteriously) someone else can undergo that suffering for any given sinner--God, or the moral cosmos simply require that the suffering happens in order to achieve moral balance. This is the fundamental reality that undergirds and contextualizes all the moral propositions.

I suppose it might be a bit hard to see how perverse this is if one lives in the world we live, where the idea has been normalized and internalized throughout most cultures, but if you look at it objectively, not only is this a travesty of a foundation for a moral system, but it is actually quite clear that Christian morality is really about enforcing authority through the use of a cosmic threat.

Pyrt:
quote:
To be objective, the moral rules would have to hole without regard to humanity or any desired outcome. Making assumptions about context means that the entire system you define hinges on acceptance of the subjective conditions that you lay out.
Well said.

[ November 15, 2012, 09:59 PM: Message edited by: seekingprometheus ]

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Pete at Home
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quote:
Originally posted by seekingprometheus:
*Wanders back in...*

Pete:
quote:
You are wrong. The foundation of Christian *ethics* is the subset of the philosophy that I mentioned, i.e. the Sermon on the Mount.
Heh.

No, Pete. The SotM may be fundamental in Christian ethics, but why you've latched onto it as THE SOURCE of Christian ethics is anybody's guess.

If I said those words, I misspoke, but I suspect that you've mangled something I said.

I said that the Sermon on the Mount contains A set of Christian ethics.

Other sets of "Christian ethics" may have been or may be developed, but the SoM is a complete set unto itself.

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Pete at Home
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"I rather pointed out that the expiation is central to the Christian narrative within which moral reality is structured--implying only that the crucifixion is the modality through which universal moral justice is ultimately effectuated."

And like I said, that's absolutely correct.

Nevertheless, your brilliant statement has ZERO to do with ethics. Ethics are not about "universal moral justice" but rather a guideline for the choices of individuals.

SoM does address some moral issues, but that doesn't prevent it from containing a complete ethical framework, as I said.

[ November 16, 2012, 01:46 PM: Message edited by: Pete at Home ]

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seekingprometheus
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quote:
If I said those words, I misspoke, but I suspect that you've mangled something I said.
.

Perhaps we're talking past each other--I was under the impression that you were disagreeing with claims I have made.
quote:
said that the Sermon on the Mount contains A set of Christian ethics.
Agreed.
quote:
Other sets of "Christian ethics" may have been or may be developed, but the SoM is a complete set unto itself.
Hmm.

Perhaps you can elaborate on what you mean by "a complete set (of ethics) unto itself." I wouldn't disagree that the SotM contains a set of ethics, but I'm not certain I understand what parameters you're using to define a "complete set." To my mind, the SotM introduces original ethics, but it is dependent on an ethical system that precedes it--indeed, the SotM is largely hermeneutical in nature. As such, it isn't a "complete set unto itself" at all--it relies on the prior system of ethics to which Jesus is responding, and it is definitely supplemented by a great deal of complementary material.
quote:
Nevertheless, your brilliant statement has ZERO to do with ethics. Ethics are not about "universal moral justice" but rather a guideline for the choices of individuals.
Heh. You're definitely wrong here.

I didn't suggest that ethics are about universal moral justice, I suggested that Christian ethics are nested within a Christian narrative of reality that posits metaphysical conditions that modify individual perceptions of all ethical choices.

(You're still having the same problem, btw, Pete--though I suppose that it's an improvement that you didn't use the word "equate." Notice that I was referring to a nuanced relationship between a Christian ethics and a metaphysical element of the Christian narrative, and you ignored the actual relationship I described, and responded as if I had said: "ethics are about universal moral justice.")

[ November 17, 2012, 12:46 AM: Message edited by: seekingprometheus ]

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Pete at Home
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" As such, it isn't a "complete set unto itself" at all--it relies on the prior system of ethics to which Jesus is responding, and it is definitely supplemented by a great deal of complementary material."

Beyond the material incorporated by explicit reference in the SoM, no need for more readings to understand the ethical system in SoM. Exodus & Deuteronomy are exhibits A and B to the SoM.

"I suggested that Christian ethics are nested within a Christian narrative of reality that posits metaphysical conditions that modify individual perceptions of all ethical choices."

I'm not so sure. Seems that someone might follow, or at least try to follow, the Christian ethic laid out in SoM, without even being a Christian in the religious sense. I'm religiously Christian, but don't question that a religious nonChristian might follow the ethics of SoM. One or two Talmudic writers came to some of the same ethical conclusions as the SoM.

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Pete at Home
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The Ethic of the sermon on the mount centers on freedom from the various things that enslave us. Curiously Christ addresses colonialism as an enslaving factor, but no more so than anger, greed, hypocrisy, social vanity, etc.

Roman law allowed a legionary to compel any local Jew to carry his stuff for 1 mile. How to recover your dignity? Tell him that you want to carry it 2 miles. Thus you assert your freedom and dignity, without becoming subject to the penalties of an unfair law.

and so on... Jesus applies the same principle to other enslavers. Rather than being trapped into doing overtly virtuous acts for the sake of impressing others, do good secretly so that you know you do it for the sake of goodness rather than to be seen of men.

It would make sense to, as you assume, nest this ethic within the religious framework of the atonement ... but after thinking about it, I don't think if works that way. If anything, it's the other way around.

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noel c.
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Pete,

"... recover your dignity?"...

I interpret that a little more strongly. No man is granted, and therefore none "recover" dignity from another human being. This principle is, in fact, the message behind the imagery of the atonement. The Son of God submitted to the greatest humiliation that Roman law could dispense.

It was neither just, nor ennobling, as men render justice. It is everything SP abhors, but how do you *choose* to receive it, and why?

It is an existential statement resting entirely outside the realm of ethics proper.

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Aris Katsaris
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quote:
That's a very subjective context that you suggest, depending on both the assumptions that morality is specific to humans and that fulfillment is a good objective.

To be objective, the moral rules would have to hole without regard to humanity or any desired outcome. Making assumptions about context means that the entire system you define hinges on acceptance of the subjective conditions that you lay out.

I think the following link (which talks about Peano Arithmetic) is bizarrely-enough relevant here: Logical Pinpointing

Axioms aren't assumptions that can't be proven, but rather axioms pin down what it is that we are talking about.

If part of noel's definition of "objective morality" is that practiced universally, it must maximize human fulfillment, and *your* definition says that "objective morality" mustn't refer to the human species at all...

...then the most probable case isn't that you actually disagree about facts, but rather that you're talking about two different things -- in short not that you disagree about the contents of the box "objective morality" but rather you disagree about which labels to attach to which box.

quote:
Morality does not exist outside of human interaction, because humanity is the agent of morality.
Eh, I'd make this a bit more generic: I'd say that morality does not exist outside the perception of agents with moral instinct. Somewhat like how e.g. funniness does not exist outside the perception of agents with a sense of humor.

Mind you, I wouldn't want to extend that analogy too much, because morality is itself a seeming attempt to make an abstract framework over differences in preferences, so it's by its nature less arbitrary than humor could ever be.

Anyway, right now the human species is indeed the only one we know possesses moral instinct (AFAIK), but I wouldn't be surprised at all if some of the more intelligent mammals also possessed something which we'd recognize as a primitive sense of moral instinct. (I'd also not be very surprised if they did *not* possess it)

[ November 17, 2012, 09:19 AM: Message edited by: Aris Katsaris ]

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Aris Katsaris
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quote:
Lets say an alien being finds our ball of dirt and observes us. They see us treat dogs and cats as some lower class family member. They see us raise and slaughter for food chickens and cows.
Heh. I think that to bring aliens into the discussion at this point is a bit like trying to scale Mt. Everest while we're barely yet able to climb a tree.

Though I guess mountains are a good thing to have in mind, lest we become too cocky by our tree-climbing capabilities.

Plus, if your aliens are just like PETA (considering us immoral for our killing of animals), then I think they're just too human-like. Consider a worse case of incompatible moralities: Aliens that think us evil because we do NOT eradicate every other animal species out there.

It'd not be too difficult to figure out how an alien species might come to such a conclusion. A moral syllogism might run as follows: If a person doesn't want the life of a lower animal (e.g. a fish, or a snake, or a cockroach), then fish-hood, snake-hood, cockroach-hood must be a bad condition to have; like any disease.

So, not eradicating the presence of these conditions is just like failing to e.g inoculate our children against diseases; by keeping these animal species in existence, we're increasing the probability that any given new living being will be suffering one of these terrible conditions like cockroachhood.

There, an explanation of how we're evil to not eradicate all other animals in the world. :-)

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D.W.
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I guess the question becomes, are we evil to not eradicate all other animals in the world or is the alien morality simply different from our own? Is one of them more objective than the other? Is one wrong? Or are morals just a list of subjective priorities for behavior in a community?
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noel c.
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"Is one wrong?"...

That begs the question posed in this thread. An objective morality does not come in assorted varieties... by definition.

The challenge in demonstrating it however, is proving what constitutes human fulfillment.

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Pete at Home
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quote:
Originally posted by noel c.:
Pete,

"... recover your dignity?"...

I interpret that a little more strongly. No man is granted, and therefore none "recover" dignity from another human being.

That is precisely why Jesus' ethic works. The sermon on the mount contains a set of principles by which you can cut through the illusion of another human granting or denying you dignity.


quote:
This principle is, in fact, the message behind the imagery of the atonement. The Son of God submitted to the greatest humiliation that Roman law could dispense.
What you said is a ethical message that we can learn from Jesus' conduct during the crucifixion. But there's certainly more messages associated with the atonement generally. The atonement allows us repentance from sin, while the ethic of SoM is about how to live free in the first place.

I'll also add that SoM seems to me the aspect of Christianity in which it most resembles Buddhism, Taoism, and Judaism ... these are apex teachings of a number of different ethical disciplines.

[ November 17, 2012, 01:15 PM: Message edited by: Pete at Home ]

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noel c.
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Pete,

The principle that I see in the atonement is not an ethical one, which deals with interpersonal behavior, but a statement of who *we* are... worthy of unconditional sacrifice, and of "great worth" to our father... all of us without qualification.

In the way that Christ was the Great "I AM", "we are".

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Pete at Home
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"The principle that I see in the atonement is not an ethical one"

You're absolutely right. Christ's SoM ethic is manifest in his conduct during the Crucifixion, but that's a very distinct issue than the atonement itself, which is a cosmological and moral issue.

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noel c.
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Pete,

The expression of morality through ethical behavior is an *interpersonal* exercise.

At-one-ment is an *intrapersonal* event, for all that will receive it.

The former follows from the latter. Are we saying the same thing?

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Pyrtolin
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quote:
Originally posted by Aris Katsaris:
quote:
That's a very subjective context that you suggest, depending on both the assumptions that morality is specific to humans and that fulfillment is a good objective.

To be objective, the moral rules would have to hole without regard to humanity or any desired outcome. Making assumptions about context means that the entire system you define hinges on acceptance of the subjective conditions that you lay out.

I think the following link (which talks about Peano Arithmetic) is bizarrely-enough relevant here: Logical Pinpointing

Axioms aren't assumptions that can't be proven, but rather axioms pin down what it is that we are talking about.

If part of noel's definition of "objective morality" is that practiced universally, it must maximize human fulfillment, and *your* definition says that "objective morality" mustn't refer to the human species at all...

...then the most probable case isn't that you actually disagree about facts, but rather that you're talking about two different things -- in short not that you disagree about the contents of the box "objective morality" but rather you disagree about which labels to attach to which box.

Fair enough, but that just points back to the crux of the point here- once you've defined axioms to pin down what you're talking about, you have a framework that defines "good" and "bad". You're no longer talking about some inscrutable absolute rule, but rather have the foundation for metrics on which to evaluate how well any given rule operates in relationship to the defined parameters. The most effective moral rule sets that operate within that framework can be sussed out scientifically rather than simply having to be taken on assertion specifically because there exist a set of axioms from which to perform the analysis, contrary to the claims that assert that scientific analysis cannot be applied to morality because it cannot define "good" or "bad".
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noel c.
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Scientific morality? [Wink]
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noel c.
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Pyrtolin,

What makes "the most *effective* rule set"?

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Pete at Home
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quote:
Originally posted by noel c.:
Pete,

The expression of morality through ethical behavior is an *interpersonal* exercise.

At-one-ment is an *intrapersonal* event, for all that will receive it.

The former follows from the latter. Are we saying the same thing?

I have no idea. You're speaking in a language foreign to me now. I've trained extensively in bioethics and legal ethics, but the closest I ever got to study of philosophy was the rhetorical writings of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero.

(True that Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were philosophers and denied that they were rhetors, but the parts that I read, the parts that argued that philosophy was superior to rhetoric, employed purely rhetorical strategies rather than philosophical thingy-whatevers.)

[ November 17, 2012, 03:37 PM: Message edited by: Pete at Home ]

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Pyrtolin
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quote:
Originally posted by noel c.:
Pyrtolin,

What makes "the most *effective* rule set"?

The one that provide the best results as defined by the axiomatic framework that it's evaluated against.
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noel c.
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How do you determine that this axiomatic framework is "objective"?
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Pyrtolin
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quote:
Originally posted by noel c.:
How do you determine that this axiomatic framework is "objective"?

You don't. It's completely subjective by definition, hence why all morality is ultimately subjective depending on the axiomatic framework a person chooses to use.
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KidTokyo
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Morality and ethics are getting confused here, because the premise itself confuses objectivity with metaphysics.

Objectivity is a standardized form of subjectivity - measurement via an external, shared frame of reference. It need not be, nor even require, an absolute frame of reference. It need only be consistant between the two schema. This is how you might analyze an ethical question, but not a moral one.

Metaphysics deals with a transcendent or "absolute" reality, so here, and only here, is where you would look for a transcendant or absolute morality.

I personally don't believe in transcendant morality. I believe that ethical systems can be improved and that some are objectively preferable if maximizing peace and happiness is the goal. As for that goal -- it requires no moral imperative, but only a desire to live happily, and in peace.

[ November 17, 2012, 04:39 PM: Message edited by: KidTokyo ]

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