Morality? 28 replies

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Nemmerle Forum Mod

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#1 10 years ago

Moving past Nihilism.

As many of you may or may not know I've been a nihilist for a looonnngggg time now, as soon as I was old enough to understand moral issues I dismissed them. The problem with all the moral systems that I have come across has been that they build their justification upon metaphysical assumptions that are not falsifiable.

However I made a claim in the Abolish the Pledge of Allegiance thread that you could teach someone responsibility; a moral behaviour; on the basis of rationality. The system I have constructed for this end bears some similarity to the system of Kant and the Utilitarian system, it also draws heavily from egoism but justifies that on a basis that egoism does not and I think manages to avoid Rousseau’s objections to that justification.

Lately then I’ve been constructing a system to get around the limitations of conventional morality, and – having taken it as far as I feel I am able on my own - I thought I’d share it with you. I'm excusing god from this discussion because, put simply, I think the arguments for using god as a driving force for morality just aren't any good. If you are religious you don't have a problem in justifying your morality, but that is not because it is justified but simply because you stop trying, you've deferred rationality in favour of a faith that you already have the answer. The religious person no more has the answer than the atheist or the agnostic, but they’ve ceased to ask the question. Let's get this rolling then.

Justifying moral behaviour is the one ethical problem that faces the agnostic or atheistic individual. Having accepted that there is nothing of value beyond its relationship to the observer the non-believer must rebuild his morality on the base of the individual, for he has rejected all other means of deriving value and must not, on pain of contradiction, introduce a non-verbal god.

In examining what people should do we must then ask also what people do by course of nature, how the individual relates to a larger social structure, for value is determined in terms of relationships. Why do people do as they do? Because their religion has been insulted, their land stolen, because they want to steal someone's land, because there's oil in them thar' hills. The reasons are numerous, but they're not universal. Some tribe that lives in the jungle isn't going to go to war with you over oil, but if you break their totem pole they might just skin you alive and leave you for the ants.

When we’re born we irrationally want certain things, food, breath, freedom from pain, etc, due to the biological nature of our lives. These things can be nothing other than irrational for we at that point lack the arguments for why we should or should not continue to exist with which to drive these desires. These are our core motives and our innate reactions to their presence or denial (being either discomfort or pleasure of varying degrees) paired with different situations and the biological mechanism of association goes on to determine what we will value. Value is in its most basic form not a rational thing but a natural thing. Rationality comes later and is given in the form, ‘if you want X then do Y’ and other derivatives of that general statement; it can support other values and create them but they’re always going to be based on those core unreasoning values, an element of chance, both in terms of genetics and initial environment, endures.

There is one value that shapes all others however, that being survival. If you take any group existing today its values are such that broadly speaking they encourage survival within a certain environment, for if they were not that group could not continue to exist. You can see the effect of this if you take two groups with the same genetic background and introduce them into two different physical environments as was witnessed with the Maori Moriori conflict. They both came from the same genetic stock but one group landed in a land of plenty, developed weapons, a warlike culture, etc, and the other landed within a place of very limited resources and developed a system of pacifism and ritually sterilisation to maintain low numbers. Eventually the Maori came across the Moriori and wiped them out. The problem comes when someone is subject to a cultural value system that does not match those enabled by their biology and or their environment, and in this way self destruction is encouraged. Much as the rapid change of the Moriori’s environment by the introduction of the Maori led to their extinction so too the society has a certain faction of poorly compatible personalities within it and these generally form the bulk of suicide attempts.

We learn our values from our environments and as within societies we share broadly the same environments over time we’ve created roughly the same value systems with regards to certain things. The main themes of that learning we call culture. The sum of all the learning, the way all our values interact with each other produces certain effects. You can remove one or two values and alter the overall equation but that’s not to imply that only those values are responsible for the outcome. This is why we do as we do.

Individuals vary widely, just as our biology and environments vary widely; we have different value systems, different religions, moralities and ways of making both war and love. We can assume of the individual only that he survives and in that finds some value in life, even if just in fear of death, for all else varies. Morally correct behaviour is then survival behaviour, for that is the one universal value system. This should not suggest to you however that all people require the same things to survive, as well as certain physical requirements such as food, water, air; there are also undeniably psychological components to an individual’s life that vary with culture, things they enjoy, social contact, intellectual stimulation, and so on.

How then is this applied to judge one behaviour as, ‘good,’ and another as, ‘bad?’

Of the individual we may expect no more than upmost selfishness, though there are individuals that aspire to more than this in adjusting the system to work with the lowest common denominator we can justify to both. To judge survival behaviour we must then return to the principles of psychology that we examined in explaining the forming of behaviour and apply the method of derivation to encouraging our survival. People experience reinforcement of their behaviour vicariously, that is by observation, this is a demonstrable, mathematically verifiable truth. To ask why the individual should not steal is then to ask a pragmatic question subject to the effects the individual’s acts will have on the environment and thus on the value systems of others. The individual should not steal under most conditions because it will increase the incidence of stealing within his society – he has weakened the collective reluctance to steal and by doing so endangered his continual existence. This survivalist approach also explains conditions under which the individual is permitted to steal, when the risk to his survival by not stealing would be greater than the risk from stealing. It is permitted then to steal a loaf of bread but beholden on the rich man to buy his sustenance. To ask why a man should not murder; to do so is to increase the collective reluctance to murder a value that he too is subject to in the eyes of other individuals, it also endangers him of response from the justice system.

But what of risk taking behaviour? If someone chooses to engage in thrilling yet dangerous behaviour is this wrong? Here the question is really one as to whether the thrill seeking behaviour make their life more worth living. It is possible that depression resulting from the denial of such natural urges would make life untenable or undesirable for the individual. A certain amount of freedom is a prerequisite for this system, taking risks is not of itself wrong. If however you draw no enjoyment from it, and engage in it as a self destructive behaviour rather than constructively improving your life, then it is wrong.

Any moral question can be answered in terms of its relationship to the individual’s survival, a thing that the individual has himself, at least as long as he is capable of behaviour, (in short while he is truly, ‘alive,’) chosen to continue.

What then of the suicidal? Do they not desire death, and as such become exempt from these moral considerations? If you read on the subject it is most commonly expressed that the person does not really decide to die, but decides to leave an undesirable life or performs suicide pursuant to some other end. For them the moral thing to do is to make their lives more worth living. The rare person who really desires death not as an ends to a better/different life/world is indeed beyond this type of morality, as most moral systems agree they are ill to a degree where they are unable to make moral decisions and that this system agrees with others on this point is no coincidence.

What of Rousseau’s objection to this line of thought? That if consequences determine the morality of an act then all that is important is to set yourself up such as to be assured of escaping the unpleasant consequences and you’re justified in anything. Rousseau suggests a limited choice here, and I offer the reader a different one: There is no such position whereby you may escape all fear of consequences for your actions. Conquers and kings, tyrants and politicians, all have been held accountable to the people at one time or another – you can never be assured of escaping the consequences of your violence.

Morally correct behaviour is simply survival behaviour extended to a larger organism than the individual. It comes from recognising the individual’s relationship to the society he inhabits. ‘Justice must be seen to be done,’ in spirit if not in exact form, is the ultimate moral imperative. And what is justice under this moral system? Justice is life, along with all that makes life worth living and enables us in that pursuit, justice is making the world and society a better place for others to live justified in the way that reflects itself back for and upon you. More importantly justice is not god, it is not some vast untestable, untouchable thing in some way out there – beyond our reach and knowledge used to justify whatever the emotion of the moment desires, nor something that can be used as a tool of social control. Where Nietzsche runs into the crowd screaming that god is dead and that we have killed him there is no longer any reason for concern. I have not built my system upon that basis. Justice is psychologically justified, mathematically verifiable moral behaviour.

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So that's it. Thoughts, comments? Pie? ^_^;




Stryker500

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#2 10 years ago

In my opinion morality is simply what the majority decides to be moral or immoral. Religious, cultural, or psychological reasons aside, it is the majority that decides morality and turns it into law. I don't see any problem with this however and don't think any scientific explanation is required for such a subject.




AlDaja

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#3 10 years ago
Stryker500;4784985In my opinion morality is simply what the majority decides to be moral or immoral. Religious, cultural, or psychological reasons aside, it is the majority that decides morality and turns it into law. I don't see any problem with this however and don't think any scientific explanation is required for such a subject.

Yeah pretty much that.:ditto: If you don't like society the only options you really have is become a bum, find a corner of the planet nobody ventures to and live their or start a commune with your own set of societal rules until a government entity overruns you and either locks you up for life or shoots you.




Nemmerle Forum Mod

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#4 10 years ago

... Not really what I was talking about but still; societies change and individuals, generally those with beliefs who act upon them, are the ones who change them.




AlDaja

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#5 10 years ago
Nemmerle;4785066 societies change and individuals, generally those with beliefs who act upon them, are the ones who change them.

This is true every once and awhile when society is polarized enough to push the barriers…but those who push the hardest never get to witness the change without the self-sacrifice of martyrdom.




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#6 10 years ago

I always figured essentially the same thing as you, that morality was a survival mechanism for the group, and that ultimately it relies on appealing to the survival of the individual.

However, I don't quite agree with this:

The individual should not steal under most conditions because it will increase the incidence of stealing within his society – he has weakened the collective reluctance to steal and by doing so endangered his continual existence.

And also the related murder section.

I don't think the individually finds thievery morally wrong for this reason at all, largely because I don't think it encourages more thievery. I would think that the main reason things like this are considered "immoral" by the individual is empathy, which it seems your model here doesn't leave much room for. From what I've seen humans, and also a number of more "evolved" animals display a sense of empathy. If person is in pain, even if you have no idea who they are, most people will feel some kind of empathy for them (provided they are physically nearby.)

I think people have a bit of empathy that prevents them from causing someone else pain, though obviously not everyone has the same levels of empathy. Though I would say empathy is also a group survival mechanism, as a group that is willingly to protect it's own and help it's own will be more successful at survival then one that doesn't.




random_soldier1337

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#7 10 years ago

:eek:. That's quite a bit of a mouthful. Maybe you should write a book on philosophy and/or psychology :lol:. From what I understood I agree but for most of the part it's all quite a bit to take in one sitting. That and the eloquence of your posts often throws me off. No offense. To say what I think you were trying to say in a nutshell, your point was that morality should be based on rationality but is also based on our survival instinct. I can agree with that except from what I interpreted, often the things we want as a means of survival of ourselves would put others at risk, no? I mean sure if you think of the survival of the entire society as a whole, sure but I'm not really sure about individual survival. But in my belief, ultimately, it's an individual who defines a moral system for themselves. A moral system is no different than an opinion and varies from person to person. A person could view saving themselves and letting somebody else die as the moral act rather than self-sacrifice. So morality is in a way always justified, never justified or both. If I'm talking about something totally irrelevant and not making sense, though, then just give me a peice of the pie and I'll be on my way.=p




Nemmerle Forum Mod

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#8 10 years ago

Afterburner;4785108I always figured essentially the same thing as you, that morality was a survival mechanism for the group, and that ultimately it relies on appealing to the survival of the individual.

However, I don't quite agree with this:

And also the related murder section.

I don't think the individually finds thievery morally wrong for this reason at all, largely because I don't think it encourages more thievery. I would think that the main reason things like this are considered "immoral" by the individual is empathy, which it seems your model here doesn't leave much room for. From what I've seen humans, and also a number of more "evolved" animals display a sense of empathy. If person is in pain, even if you have no idea who they are, most people will feel some kind of empathy for them (provided they are physically nearby.)

I think people have a bit of empathy that prevents them from causing someone else pain, though obviously not everyone has the same levels of empathy. Though I would say empathy is also a group survival mechanism, as a group that is willingly to protect it's own and help it's own will be more successful at survival then one that doesn't.[/QUOTE]

I don't think most individuals find things wrong for those reasons either, my point was to have a system whereby you could justify the claim that they were wrong. Not just to tell someone that they were but to have an answer when they asked you why they were.

[QUOTE=Nemmerle]though there are individuals that aspire to more than this in adjusting the system to work with the lowest common denominator we can justify to both.

As to empathy as a justification for morality I’m always reminded of a quote I read once concerning torture when people start talking about man’s better nature, it was remark made by an interrogator to a victim, ‘I thank god for giving me the chance to express the evil in my heart.’ Man has no better nature. We acquire empathy, moral virtue, and the better parts of our existence, only by the ways in which we live and reason.




WiseBobo

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#9 10 years ago

I enjoyed reading your thought-out post and its use of language, but I disagree completly with it. Justice does not exist. Morality does not exist. There is no objective existence of things in which we have simply made up in our minds and acted out on the basis of a societal contract to make our lives easier. You call this culture, although I err on the side of Hobbes in thinking that it is not really culture, but more of a collective means of survival of a GROUP. And thusly we arrive that justice and morality are dictated by who has the means to actively enforce it. Objective truths and principles, and their qualities, exist only in as much as their composition can be agreed upon by everyone. Objectivity exists only within the subjective agreement of their existence.

This does not mean that certain logical principles can be applied to what is referred to as justice. Whatever the implication, how to achieve justice, the characteristics of which can be universally applied to everyone equally, is never settled. It can be agreed that the logical reciprocation of crime and its punishment is just, but what constitutes crime, and the deduction of punishment thereof using the property of reciprocation, is not a matter of universal agreement. As stated and implied above, this agreement of defining justice only exists in a collective culture with a collective mindset, or any state (anarchic, constitutional, et cetera) based on contractual agreements.




Nemmerle Forum Mod

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#10 10 years ago

That’s a problem if you want to make absolute statements, like stealing always being wrong, without reference to the culture or the timeframe. If you’re not interested in making those very specific overarching statements a lack of objective morality isn’t necessarily an obstruction to the creation of a moral system. It just means you have to seat it on something related to individuals rather than deriving it from some third party.

Take any claim of right and wrong action that attempts to draw justification from somewhere and you can place it in an 'if then' logic gate. If you want to be thought of as a nice person then torturing small children on national TV is the wrong thing to do. (We can both agree on that I think.) Morality with a capital M tries to take this approach and apply it to all of humanity by placing an incredibly general term before the ‘then’ part of that statement: If you are human/have a relationship to god/etc then torturing small children is the wrong thing to do. The problem is in what they choose to put before that ‘then’ statement; when the justificational basis, the idea that you are human or whatever, doesn't actually provide them with any justification. We can prove that you can commit dreadful atrocities and be no more or less human than you were a second ago. That's why you don't get morality with a capital M, because there’s nothing you can put there that will hold across everyone. This system just takes the same reasoning used to construct any statement of wrong or right and places something much more solid there: the odds of the individual’s survival.

What this allows us to do is what I’ve done above, to say: if [Insert the theoretical background from the first post here] then [etc] and relate that to a broad section of humanity with different implications for each individual. We can say that certain actions are wrong or right for those individuals based upon this just as we can say that torturing small children on TV is wrong if you want to be thought of as a nice person.

One of the advantages of having a moral system built on a relative rather than an absolute, of sticking that big ‘if’ statement at the front of the thing, is it doesn't need objective morality to say that things are wrong or right; any more than a teacher needs objective morality to say that an answer on a test is wrong.