moral relativism

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Re: moral relativism

Postby Lausten » Fri Aug 02, 2013 2:05 am

I don't see what evolution by natural selection adds to this discussion.

I didn't intend it to be an answer, at least not a be all and end all answer to the question of what is the basis for morality, or how did we get to have the moral ideas that we have. Part of the problem is that the question was not that well formed in the first place. If I had a point, I guess it would be that we don't know where morals came from. If we have to first answer that question before answering the question of should we save the girl, then we're in big trouble. The girl will be dead before we figure it out.

What we can do is report basic feelings. I like to be relaxed and happy, but I know sometimes I need to exercise and sometimes I need to put myself in uncomfortable situations, otherwise I start feeling unhappy. I value my family and friends over strangers. Stuff like that. We can build a moral system on that, using logic. The question of why we feel that way is separate. It's possible that it could impact the what question, but someone would have to show me how it does before I spent time considering it.
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Re: moral relativism

Postby ArchAtheistDave » Fri Aug 02, 2013 7:34 am

There has been a lot of ground covered so far. Some of it I'm in with and some I'm not...but what has thusfar been missed is the entire idea of Moral Relativism.

So far, actually dealing with the idea of Moral Relativism has not been addressed. Various moral ideas have been given and defended against other moral ideas. This _is_ moral relativism, and it gets us nowhere. Secularists are going to have to come up with an actual moral system that is based on very specific memes.

These are going to wind up being debated by philosophers of every school, but I am fairly sure that they need to be based pretty much on the maximizing of human wellness. Sam Harris said "Happiness" and I agree with him, but I want to disambiguate the descriptive term we use from from the more roundly interpreted one.

While a Muslim woman may be content dressing in a bag, and likely will have found ways to be happy in a society where she is almost property. But is her happiness maximized? The meme on this kind of thing would go something like this:
Clearly women should be free to make their own choices on what they should or should not wear. There may be some practical limits on this regarding sanitation and such, but her options should not be as unlimited as absolutely possible. And good reasons must be given as to what limitations are promoted and why.

I think the absolutely most important thing is that sound reasons are given for each of these concepts. Get the philosophers involved. The stuff they've been doing is mostly out of the public eyes lately so it will be good to make them visible again.

As I see it there are a few major points of contention that are going to get us hung up for a while on them:

*I think we need to depart from being humano-centric; this new ethical system must also admit levels of respect to other life forms, especially sentient ones. Yahweh gave us 'dominion' over the animals, but there is no god and those animals are not really that far removed from us. Be very confident that when we kill other mammals there is a _someone_ looking back at us as we kill them...we are killing a 'who' not an 'it'.

*The full ramifications of what genetic science will be able to do needs to be dealt with. People seem hung up on cloning, but cloning is just the very tip of the iceberg here.

These two are just two of what will be many sticking points. But this has got to be worked out, in the light of day, with damned good reasons.

As for the girl getting killed because the society she lives in is profoundly superstitious:
I think it's a damned shame. And someone should do something...from within that system. I don't think we are in any position to go around enforcing our own questionable and fractured versions of morality on other sovereign nations. We have _so_ much to work on here at home that there is no way to conscience actions on the other side of the planet. If an entire town were to be razed, I might be inclined to lend assistance, but if there is no one who can or will help that girl locally then she will die. Maybe her death will spur people to re-evaluate their ideas.
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Re: moral relativism

Postby nottamun » Fri Aug 02, 2013 9:16 am

Reply to Lausten:

The pattern I see from you is that you respond adamantly and you also introduce new information. Each time I see things that I could ask for better definitions or question why they were introduced or start a new tangent of argument.


Very good. You get the idea. It’s called discussion.

It’s really too much to deal with.


I thought that was the general idea in a Discussion Forum.

By doing that, you can pick any one thing I choose not to get embroiled in and accuse me of not responding and make a big F-ing deal about it. That is basically the definition of someone being unreasonable.


If I thought I had mentioned something in a discussion which I thought was significant to the subject and you didn’t respond, why on earth do you think it would be unreasonable to remind you and ask you to respond? Please explain. And please explain also how that is the definition of being unreasonable.

“Buddhists believe that a man sitting under a banyan tree provided the route to Enlightenment. None of them believed in an all-powerful being. Has this passed you by?”

That would be a good example of what I just described.


You didn’t describe anything. You said, and I quote, “If you’re actually asking “who”, I’m at a loss for words to explain how wrong that is”.

I don't know how evolution provides a direct basis for morality and NEITHER DOES ANYBODY ELSE!! That's the damn point. We're good because it's the best idea we could come up with at the moment. NOBODY KNOWS. That's why they're called moral DILEMMAS.


So when you said, “The simplest answer to “what” would be: evolution”, you didn’t really mean it?
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Re: moral relativism

Postby nottamun » Fri Aug 02, 2013 10:29 am

Reply to ArchAtheistDave:

Welcometo the discussion.

There has been a lot of ground covered so far. Some of it I'm in with and some I'm not...but what has thusfar been missed is the entire idea of Moral Relativism.


I do so agree.

You suggest that a secular moral system may well need to be based “pretty much on the maximizing of human wellness”. I would certainly not quibble with the motivations behind this idea, nor with that of Sam Harris in seeking happiness. I just don’t think it gets us very far. Sam develops this idea very cogently into a system which, in isolation, is logical and internally consistent. The problem comes when people with differing beliefs come to interpret key words in the ‘axioms’ or concepts. And everybody has differing beliefs. The outcome will, almost inevitably, be a conflict of ideas. I have already written a great deal about the problems with axioms in this thread and I don’t want to repeat myself. It is, however, very relevant to the idea of moral relativism. Having suggested a possible starting point for a new line of discussion, I shall leave it at that.

“Clearly women should be free to make their own choices on what they should or should not wear”.


I hope you would not expect me to disagree with this statement. It is just that this idea cannot work in isolation and women – people - in different societies work within different constraints. To take a related example; a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body. This sounds a great idea. But, in terms of abortion rights, it conflicts directly with what seems another great idea, the right of an unborn child to life. How is this resolved? Any particular individual may have a fixed response, but that would be subjective morality. How would an objective view work? I have never yet heard a truly objective response to this scenario, even though I have searched for one; believe me, I have searched.

That is one reason why I keep asking for definitions of objective morality and how it would work in practice. If it cannot be demonstrated, then I would suggest that moral relativism becomes the default position.

I agree wholeheartedly with your proposition that an “ethical system must also admit levels of respect to other life forms, especially sentient ones”.

As for the situation with the young girl threatened with execution, it is certainly a “damned shame” but I don’t see how razing an entire town would help the greater good. Hoping that her death might spur people to re-evaluate their ideas is, of course, wishful thinking. But I still think the example is a very good one in helping to test relative moral ideas. It is worth coming back to.
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Re: moral relativism

Postby Lausten » Fri Aug 02, 2013 12:49 pm

nottamun wrote:
Lausten wrote:I don't know how evolution provides a direct basis for morality and NEITHER DOES ANYBODY ELSE!! That's the damn point. We're good because it's the best idea we could come up with at the moment. NOBODY KNOWS. That's why they're called moral DILEMMAS.


So when you said, “The simplest answer to “what” would be: evolution”, you didn’t really mean it?


I really meant it, it’s just a very long discussion, one that is not settled. When I said “nobody knows” I didn’t mean, “we give up trying to know”. I meant we don’t know for sure, but evolution is a highly likely explanation. However there is no fossil or DNA that we currently know how to evaluate, so there is a lot of speculation. Archaeology can tell us a little about early culture and we can look at how more primitive animals cooperate, but we have a long way to go.

nottamun wrote:It’s called discussion.


I’d call it more like Gish gallop. Not quite as bad, kind of the Mitt Romney version of it.
And please explain also how that is the definition of being unreasonable.


To do that, I’d have to provide some examples and have you accept that my perception is at least valid. But, as in the example regarding the Buddha, you aren’t likely to do that. You’ve brought up this ridiculous notion of an arbiter, something completely out of place in an atheist discussion, then you berate me for not addressing it.

Believe me, I could go on. I don’t think you have even begun to justify your assertion, nor your imaginations about what I might think. That doesn’t mean you were lying.


As further examples, I scanned the list above this quote from July 11. And, not only do you “go on”, you claim you could keep going on. The problem is, “go on” where? Why bring up that Christians assert their first duty is so God? Are you taking that stand? You know there are many valid objections to that. Same goes for “ethical relativism” and the others you mention. What is the point of mentioning these things without defending them or using their logic to counter what EL has to say? There is no point to simply saying, “there are other people who don’t agree with you”, yet you spend an awful lot of time saying that. Saying there are “several philosophers” that agree with you means nothing.

You are demanding that evidence be provided for something that has no solid evidence. It’s possible that total anarchy would be better. I’m not defending that, I’m just making that point that we don’t know. It is difficult to even think of a moral rule that doesn’t have an exception. If you keep demanding evidence and universal acceptance, it will be impossible to discuss this with you.
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Re: moral relativism

Postby nottamun » Fri Aug 02, 2013 4:08 pm

Reply to Lausten:

Drop the thing about evolution; it doesn’t matter. I accept, of course, that an understanding of its processes enables us to interpret the world a bit more clearly, but it doesn’t lead us either easily or rapidly to an explanation of morality.

“To do that, I’d have to provide some examples and have you accept that my perception is at least valid. But, as in the example regarding the Buddha, you aren’t likely to do that. You’ve brought up this ridiculous notion of an arbiter, something completely out of place in an atheist discussion, then you berate me for not addressing it”.


The only thing I object to is you making bald statements without justification. If you want to provide a reasoned argument, backed up by either evidence or examples, then I shall be very pleased to read it. It is just that you haven’t done so yet. But you, at least, are picking up on one or two things I have said and are asking for clarification. This enables a discussion to take place, which is what I am looking for.

So let me explain about the Buddha and other things. I am referring to atheism and objective morality, as a counter to relative morality. Discussions often break down on the rocks of definition, so I shall say at this point that I am defining atheism, for my purposes, as non-belief in an all-powerful supernatural being. That leaves room for atheists to believe in all sorts of other things. They may be communists, secular humanists, pagans, some forms of Hindus, Buddhists, moral relativists, followers of the Enlightenment and so on.

What provides the moral grounding for such beliefs? Religious people can look to holy books for reference, believing them to be divinely inspired. That’s why I ‘go on’ – as you would have it – about Craig, or a Christian duty to God. I could also refer to a Muslim absolute belief in the One True God. We may not like it, we may not believe it is justified, but we can see where they are coming from. And it is relevant. So what about atheists?

If there is to be an ‘objective’ basis for agreement on morality, then there need to be reference points. These may take the form of statements, ‘axioms’ or collections of rules and constitute, if you like, ‘what’ atheists might believe. But, as I have previously indicated, ‘who’ also has a significance. Why, for example, are marxists called marxists? They are guided by the life and work of Karl Marx. In case of disagreement they may, in certain circumstances, refer to the work of that man. Marx could, in that case, be the arbiter of a decision. It is the same thing with Buddhists and Buddha. They are not theists. Their inspiration is the man who sat under the banyan tree. Though there no ‘holy’ book, the Pāli Tipitaka is a collection of guiding ideas. Reference to thoughts of the Buddha was very much a source of arbitration over disagreements. In Mao’s China, hundreds of millions of Chinese were ‘guided’ by the Sayings of Mao in his Little Red Book, particularly during the Cultural Revolution.

I could, at this point, say ‘I could go on’, because there are many other examples but they would probably be superfluous to the argument. You, however, seem to be suspicious of my saying that. So I won’t.

This is my justification for the ‘who’ in my statement. You, however, dismiss “this ridiculous notion of an arbiter, something completely out of place in an atheist discussion”. So I would like you to respond to what I have said and explain why the notion is ridiculous and why it is out of place.

Why bring up that Christians assert their first duty is so God? Are you taking that stand? You know there are many valid objections to that. Same goes for “ethical relativism” and the others you mention. What is the point of mentioning these things without defending them or using their logic to counter what EL has to say?


There are many things about which I could have said a great deal more. Thus the frequent, ‘I could go on …’ It was an invitation to take the discussion further in that direction if it was deemed necessary. The point is that I never had the opportunity to develop the points further because EL never picked up on them. He ignored them completely. That was my gripe. My arguments are, therefore, obviously incomplete. But that was not my fault. It was not through lack of trying.

You are demanding that evidence be provided for something that has no solid evidence. It’s possible that total anarchy would be better. I’m not defending that, I’m just making that point that we don’t know. It is difficult to even think of a moral rule that doesn’t have an exception. If you keep demanding evidence and universal acceptance, it will be impossible to discuss this with you
.

I am afraid you haven’t explained yourself very clearly. Are you referring to my oft-quoted question, “Can you give me examples of objectively right and wrong responses to a moral issue, with a justification for what makes them objective?”

If so, you will see that there is no call for ‘solid evidence’. Just examples and a justification. If objective morality exists, then I fail to see why this is such a difficult question to answer. If you asked me exactly the same question with regard to relative morality, I would have no problem replying. I could write an essay about it.

But I asked first.
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Re: moral relativism

Postby Lausten » Fri Aug 02, 2013 5:50 pm

I understand that during a philosophical discussion, you would reference philosophers. I’m even willing to include words attributed to non-existent “gods”. But when you do that, you are only stating an idea, the idea still has to stand on its own. No philosopher ever has created a complete impenetrable moral system that solves all moral problems. Atheists, in general, draw from many sources. The trouble I’m having with you is, you’re not quoting philosophers or even generalizing their ideas, you’re just naming them and saying some people believe them and ascribing some meaning to that. I can’t tell what that meaning is. Marxist read Marx, so what?

If you want to provide a reasoned argument, backed up by either evidence or examples, then I shall be very pleased to read it. It is just that you haven’t done so yet.


You’re right, mostly I’m explaining the problems I have with you. I don’t engage in reasoned arguments with unreasonable people.

If there is to be an ‘objective’ basis for agreement on morality, then there need to be reference points.


There seems to be an underlying assumption of yours that morality is either relative to the point where Americas shouldn’t stop the Taliban from killing a little girl, or it has to be objective and there has to be an airtight basis for that. There’s a lot of assuming in there by me, but forgive me because I’m just not getting much nuance from you. I’m coming from a place where the best we can do for now is to be relative enough to allow other cultures to exist, but not so relative that we let them commit genocide.

The point is that I never had the opportunity to develop the points further because EL never picked up on them.


Perhaps he, but certainly I, could not tell where you were going. You just named these things. He and I tried to start a logical discussion starting with the basic idea that pain hurts. I don’t want pain. To avoid pain for me, I’ll not cause pain for you and ask you to help me with that. And so on.

If objective morality exists, then I fail to see why this is such a difficult question to answer. If you asked me exactly the same question with regard to relative morality, I would have no problem replying.


I never said objective morality exists, and I don’t think EL did either.

nottamun wrote:I could write an essay about it.


Please don’t

Things may have gotten onto this track right about July 10 (bold added by me)

Enlightened Liberal wrote:I mean simply that once you identify some basic moral axioms, you can have objective conclusions in that moral axiomatic framework. My friend of course said that the axioms are not "objectively true", but he relented and said that there can be some objective measure of truth and falsehood in the context of an axiomatic framework.


You say this is circular and there are no objective moral truths, if I understood you. EL explained your differences pretty well on July 11, but things have gone off the rails since then.

Enlightened Liberal wrote:I have the value that we should use the scientific method, and I hold that this can lead to statements of truth and falsehood which can be agreed to by any reasonable person, e.g. an "objective" standard. This is a different value than the value that we should try to avoid the worst possible suffering for everyone. The first value leads to what we might call "material facts", and the second value leads to what we might call "moral values". Thus, I agree with Hume's is-ought distinction, in that mere scientific facts can never on their imply ought statements. However, I disagree that the value that we should use scientific reasoning to inform our beliefs and actions is somehow less self-evident than the value that we should try to avoid the worst possible suffering for everyone. They're both self-evident.


P.S. I'll be off the grid for the weekend.
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Re: moral relativism

Postby ArchAtheistDave » Fri Aug 02, 2013 8:55 pm

I'm not sure where either of you are going here, this thread is very long and I think has strayed far beyond the implications of the title. This is a very important issue, and maybe a new moderated thread would be a good investment of time.

I just wanted to add that there is an absolutely an evolutionary component to our morals. Quite obviously so, since we see it many of the moral memes clearly in other species that live in social arangements...mainly mammals and birds. The ideas of reciprication, fairness, paying back debts, etc, are studies and are well documented. We also see altruism and selfishness, two 'poles' of basic morality. it's very clear that moral memes are present, and are applied in various degrees by different individuals according to their personalities. Yes, I am using anthro-language to describe non-humans, and I am doing so very much on purpose. Morals seem to be instinctual in all social animals, including the human animal.

We need to grow past our humano-centric fixation if we are to understand the basis of morals. I am actually coming it dislike using that word very much. Ethics I think is much more open to use because it doesn't carry the baggage of an other system of 'morals'. I've heard people agree ethical points that do not agree on similar moral memes. It's hard to not only come to a point where our species clearly needs to take a very hard look at how we conduct ourselves Morals/Ethics and at the same time have to create new language in order to discuss these issues while minimizing bleedover from previous memes we still carry.

That is one reason why I keep asking for definitions of objective morality and how it would work in practice. If it cannot be demonstrated, then I would suggest that moral relativism becomes the default position.

BINGO!

This is exaclty what needs to happen. There are some great discussion on this very point from "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins about the evolutionary premis of ethical memes. I'll review it and see if I can put something cogent together.
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Re: moral relativism

Postby EnlightenmentLiberal » Fri Aug 02, 2013 9:33 pm

ArchAtheistDave wrote:
That is one reason why I keep asking for definitions of objective morality and how it would work in practice. If it cannot be demonstrated, then I would suggest that moral relativism becomes the default position.

BINGO!

This is exaclty what needs to happen. There are some great discussion on this very point from "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins about the evolutionary premis of ethical memes. I'll review it and see if I can put something cogent together.

As far as I can tell, some of his objections to this include:
1- People are hypocrites. Ex: Jefferson might have been against slavery, but owned slaves. Or something. Thus you cannot have an objective moral system.
2- Language is imprecise. People might agree verbally or in writing to certain principles, but they have slightly different understandings of the terms, which can lead to wildly different (moral) conclusions. Thus you cannot have an objective moral system.
3- People can make simple mistakes in analysis, which can lead to wildly different (moral) conclusions. Thus you cannot have an objective moral system.

I think I addressed all of those in sufficient detail already. I'm just giving you a heads-up of what you're facing.
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Re: moral relativism

Postby nottamun » Sat Aug 03, 2013 3:54 pm

Reply to ArchAtheistDave:

I'm with you nearly all the way so far. I might quibble with using the terms, 'morals' or 'ethics' with regard to other social animals but I agree with your sentiments. I'll add more when I get the chance but I'm busy at the moment.
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Re: moral relativism

Postby nottamun » Sun Aug 04, 2013 4:18 pm

Reply to Lausten:

On August 1 I wrote to you, “I thought the basis of EL’s discussion was moral relativism. I was responding to his post, not to that of Sam Harris. I have read Harris, Dennett, Hitchens, Dawkins and others”.

The reason I wrote this was in response to continual reference from EL and you to Sam Harris. You and he are obviously admirers of Sam. EL, on July 12, said, “Ok. Did you read the Sam Harris example?” In his subsequent reply, he said,”…let me simply parrot Sam Harris”. In the very first line of your first post to me, on July 30, you stated, “Nottamun, there are some respected philosophers that object to Sam Harris and his discussion of applying science to morality. I don’t agree with them, so I can’t relate their arguments but you might want to look into them”. There are several other instances where EL or you cite him.

So my response was to let you know that I was not unaware of such matters. I wrote the paragraph in response to what you said. I answered you. It was not out of context. I had already tried – on July 12 – to explain to EL that I preferred a direct discussion, rather that a multiplicity of references to moral philosophers whom I may or may not have read; “I don’t need you to parrot Sam Harris any more. You have done it once and I gave you a very detailed response which you have completely ignored”.

I was even more specific on July 30; “I am not arguing with Sam Harris. I am arguing with the points presented in this thread and I have been trying to keep to those that relate to moral relativism v objectivity“.

The wonderful thing about these threads is that evidence is sitting there in the posts, waiting to be interrogated. So I have just cut and pasted every other example I can find in my references to moral philosophers. They are as follows:

“There are many Christians who would assert that their first duty was to the Word of God. I have the transcript of a debate where William Lane Craig – much revered in some circles – makes it clear that, were God to command him to slaughter women and children, he would do so because he could not pretend to understand God’s greatness (I am paraphrasing)”. (July 11)

“I know that Matt Dillahunty, a guy I respect, claims to adhere to objective moral values and it seemed that you were trying to do likewise”. (to EL, July 27).

If you can find any others, then please add them to the list and let me know.

In the light of this evidence, I would like to examine in some detail a couple of paragraphs which you wrote and which I consider to be quite extraordinary.

"Atheists, in general, draw from many sources. The trouble I’m having with you is, you’re not quoting philosophers or even generalizing their ideas, you’re just naming them and saying some people believe them and ascribing some meaning to that"
.

Do you consider that the evidence above supports what you have just said? Your criticism applies to the very first words you wrote to me.

"I understand that during a philosophical discussion, you would reference philosophers. I’m even willing to include words attributed to non-existent “gods”. But when you do that, you are only stating an idea, the idea still has to stand on its own. No philosopher ever has created a complete impenetrable moral system that solves all moral problems. Atheists, in general, draw from many sources. The trouble I’m having with you is, you’re not quoting philosophers or even generalizing their ideas, you’re just naming them and saying some people believe them and ascribing some meaning to that. I can’t tell what that meaning is"
.

Astonishing. I had said previously, “I am not arguing with Sam Harris. I am arguing with the points presented in this thread and I have been trying to keep to those that relate to moral relativism v objectivity". I was trying to explain that the idea has to stand on its own. Where did I ever say that a philosopher has created “a complete impenetrable moral system that solves all moral problems”? That is precisely why I am reluctant to quote them!

Marxist read Marx, so what?


I don’t know if you are being deliberately obtuse, but that comment is astounding in its ignorance. I went to very considerable trouble and length to take the discussion further. I was trying to explain -for the second time - why your statement, “If you’re actually asking “who”, I’m at a loss for words to explain how wrong that is”, shows a lack of understanding about the nature of atheism. Last time, you chose a throwaway line about Buddhism. This time it is a throwaway line about Marxism. Please; it’s juvenile. You know, as well as I, that the paragraph, which I now have to quote in its entirety, is a reasonably full answer to your ridiculing why I included ‘who’. Marx, Buddha, and Mao are examples of what I was trying to say. Examples are what you give when trying to explain something.

Why am I having to explain this?:

“If there is to be an ‘objective’ basis for agreement on morality, then there need to be reference points. These may take the form of statements, ‘axioms’ or collections of rules and constitute, if you like, ‘what’ atheists might believe. But, as I have previously indicated, ‘who’ also has a significance. Why, for example, are marxists called marxists? They are guided by the life and work of Karl Marx. In case of disagreement they may, in certain circumstances, refer to the work of that man. Marx could, in that case, be the arbiter of a decision. It is the same thing with Buddhists and Buddha. They are not theists. Their inspiration is the man who sat under the banyan tree. Though there no ‘holy’ book, the Pāli Tipitaka is a collection of guiding ideas. Reference to thoughts of the Buddha was very much a source of arbitration over disagreements. In Mao’s China, hundreds of millions of Chinese were ‘guided’ by the Sayings of Mao in his Little Red Book, particularly during the Cultural Revolution”.

So the sum total of your response to this paragraph is, “'Marxist read Marx', so what?" Or is it to this paragraph you are referring when you say that I am just naming moral philosophers? Because it wasn’t clear. Do you really think that was an intelligent response? Could you not think of anything more positive to say that might have helped to develop the discussion?

I think the real reason why you could only manage a cheap five-word jibe is that I replied in detail to your dismissal of ‘who’, that I justified what I said, had reason for what I was saying and you don’t have the guts to admit it.

In the same way, on August 01 I responded in detail to your criticism of ‘Mutually inconsistent beliefs exist’. You pointed out what you thought was an inconsistency. I demonstrated that it wasn’t. You never replied. I assume you accepted that what I said was valid.

Later on, you attacked my reference to a Christian ‘axiom’ that ‘objective morality derives from God’. After my reply, you went very quiet on that count. I assume you accepted what I had to say.

Then in my last post, after I gave you a very full response to your comment, “this ridiculous notion of an arbiter, something completely out of place in an atheist discussion”, I asked you directly, “So I would like you to respond to what I have said and explain why the notion is ridiculous and why it is out of place”. You couldn’t, of course, reply.

Thus far a pattern seems to be establishing itself. Not once have you contributed a positive argument to the discussion. All you seem to want to do is to snipe at me. Every time you make a criticism I devote time to countering it and explaining why it is unjustified. Then you ignore what I have said, in just the same way as EL did. I have tried really hard not to jump to conclusions but it is abundantly clear to me now that you just don’t have the arguments to respond. You then go on to try a new line of attack, which I then have to swat away. This isn’t a conversation. This isn’t a discussion. I have tried honestly and consistently to answer everything directed at me but, as ArchAtheistDave points out, this isn’t leading to much of interest to an outsider. A great deal more heat than light.

“I never said objective morality exists, and I don’t think EL did either”.


In which case it is rather strange that EL decided to start this thread with a direct attack on moral relativity. And that he has avoided my question about objective morality at least six times. Why would he do that, if all he has to do is to say that he doesn’t believe in it? I think you are clutching at straws. Are you actually saying that you don’t believe that objective morality exists? If that is the case, then it is very interesting. I’d then like to know more.

The rest of what you have to say is more of the same. I can’t be bothered.
Last edited by nottamun on Sun Aug 04, 2013 8:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: moral relativism

Postby nottamun » Sun Aug 04, 2013 8:17 pm

Reply to ArchAtheistDave:
“I just wanted to add that there is an absolutely an evolutionary component to our morals”.


I agree, although, as with the evolution of life, I don’t see a ‘purpose’ or obvious ‘direction’. With the evolution of life, random changes are given an appearance of purpose by the process of natural selection. I would be reluctant to refer to morality or ethics with regard to non-humans but I am open to argument on that score. I do, however, appreciate that altruism and selfishness, reciprocation and paying back debts, for example, are subject to evolutionary pressure. Richard Dawkins explained this very well in The Selfish Gene, where he also postulated the concept of memes. I particularly enjoyed the very simple and elegant demonstrations he gave of ‘biomorphs’ in The Blind Watchmaker of 1986, the first time I had seen a really convincing demonstration of evolution and selection through the establishment of extremely simple algorithms.

The reason I would like to separate out morality and ethics from 'Darwinian' evolution is that I think that these are subject to a form of evolution which is dependent on conscious thought and, in particular, on the development of language. There are, no doubt, instinctive responses bound up in the genes of all social animals. In humans these would probably include fear of the dark, affinity with fluffy, cuddly things and even, perhaps, a search for the ‘spiritual’. I would not call these moral responses. To me, morality is altogether more consciously derived and is entirely bound up with modulating social interaction.

This is not to deny your point about our need to encompass far more profoundly a consideration for other animals which play out elements which contribute to our moral responses – the altruism, selfishness and so on. Have you read Brazzaville Beach by William Boyd? It’s about the study of a group of chimpanzees ‘somewhere in Africa’. Very interesting.

I, too, am developing an aversion to the use of the words ‘morals’ and ‘morality’ without clear definition. It often leads to crosstalk and misunderstandings. Precise definitions are, however, very hard to come by.
nottamun
 
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Re: moral relativism

Postby Lausten » Sun Aug 04, 2013 9:10 pm

I don’t believe I accused you, nottamun, of being unaware of Sam Harris or “such matter”, nor did I say your comments were ”out of context”. I don’t care for the insults you use. They don’t have any effect on what I think of your arguments or your ability to form them or present them. It just gives me one more thing to not like about you and wish you would just go away.

The problem for me is, you say, “I preferred a direct discussion, rather that a multiplicity of references to moral philosophers whom I may or may not have read”. The problem with that is, that is my understanding of how one has a philosophical discussion, and morality is pretty much in that ball park. I didn’t make this up. Look at any online philosophy encyclopedia, like Standford’s. Unless you think you have something completely new that no one else has ever thought of. Your complaining about this preference of mine won’t change that I have that preference.

nottamun wrote:I was trying to explain that the idea has to stand on its own. Where did I ever say that a philosopher has created “a complete impenetrable moral system that solves all moral problems”?


You didn’t say that. But since you haven’t presented much of any other line of logic it was what I was getting from what you HAD presented. This is known as "clarifying". Obviously you believe I am missing your point or points. Either you are right or you aren’t making any good points. It would require a third opinion at this point to answer that.

nottamun wrote:(on my Marxism statement) I don’t know if you are being deliberately obtuse, but that comment is astounding in its ignorance
.

Not being obtuse at all. That “jibe” as you call it was a summary to the paragraph that preceeded it. You didn’t understand what I meant, obviously, and I’ve tried to explain it a couple different ways, and you are resorting to insults, so if I seem to not care, no one should be surprised why.

You know, as well as I, that the paragraph, which I now have to quote in its entirety, is a reasonably full answer to your ridiculing why I included ‘who’.


No, I don’t know that at all. You simply assert that “’who’ also has a significance.” You support this by listing philosophers. I guess that supports the assertion that ‘who’ “has a significance”, but what significance? To me, it only demonstrates that people will find and follow a philosophy that is described by one person in a limited number of writings. That limits their ability to make a completely informed decision or develop a personal philosophy to guide their own life. I’m not sure what significance it is to this discussion. I would say it is part of the moral relativism problem. I'm not sure what you're saying.

Could you not think of anything more positive to say that might have helped to develop the discussion?


I can think of a lot of things, but I’m having trouble discussing them with you.

I think the real reason why you could only manage a cheap five-word jibe is that I replied in detail to your dismissal of ‘who’, that I justified what I said, had reason for what I was saying and you don’t have the guts to admit it.


Nope, see above.

Later on, you attacked my reference to a Christian ‘axiom’ that ‘objective morality derives from God’. After my reply, you went very quiet on that count. I assume you accepted what I had to say.


Nope. I’m just not bothering, see above.

This isn’t a conversation. This isn’t a discussion.


That’s correct. And I would like you take some responsibility for that. See above.

Why would he do that, if all he has to do is to say that he doesn’t believe in it? I think you are clutching at straws. Are you actually saying that you don’t believe that objective morality exists?


I’m pretty sure I said flat out that objective morality does not exist, but I’m getting tired of going back and looking things up and playing “I said you said”.

What I have said is objective is “pain hurts”. And I said you can build a moral framework starting there. Do you agree that pain hurts? Would you agree that is an objective statement?
Lausten
 
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Re: moral relativism

Postby Lausten » Mon Aug 05, 2013 3:28 pm

ArchAtheistDave wrote:
nottamun wrote:That is one reason why I keep asking for definitions of objective morality and how it would work in practice. If it cannot be demonstrated, then I would suggest that moral relativism becomes the default position.


BINGO!

I've been trying to figure out what "default position" means in this context. Normally that refers to a position that is pre-selected, so if no other action is taken, that's where you end up. If, what you mean is, most people don't examine their lives or spend much time considering their ethical choices, they just go with what their culture seems to prefer, then I would agree. But if you mean that it is the PREFERABLE position, then I disagree. I don't believe it is controversial that most people, by nature, are moral relativists. I don't think that is a problem until you get to the extreme cases, where a common practice in one culture is a capital crime in another.

Most people through history have not had to worry about it, unless they managed to gain enough freedom and knowledge to consider questioning the status quo. Even the best systems will have some weakness and some potential of an individual to be in conflict with their culture's ethics. In the last century or so, it has become a problem for those who are responsible for the safety of their people who are traveling to and doing business with other cultures. That extends to anyone who votes and wants to care about such things.

What I'm not sure I'm understanding in your use of "default position" is what you're implying. Are you implying this position comes from somewhere? It is sort of a math term, implying some axiomatic structure. If you are implying some axioms, what are they?

Without considering some of these questions, I think we have reached the point predicted byStanford's discussion of relativism:

“Relativistic arguments often begin with plausible, even truistic premises--e.g., that we are culturally and historically situated creatures, that justification cannot go on forever, that we cannot talk without using language or think without using concepts--only to end up with implausible, even inconsistent, conclusions. There is little consensus, however, about how to block the slide from inviting points of departure to uninviting destinations.”
Lausten
 
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Re: moral relativism

Postby nottamun » Wed Aug 07, 2013 1:53 pm

Reply to Lausten:

“Either you are right or you aren’t making any good points”


I am not claiming to be right; only that what I have presented is a logical argument and, if it isn’t, then I would like you to tell me how and why it isn’t. That is the whole thing about an argument standing by itself.

I am, however, becoming weary of tit-for-tat digs and I would like to move on the discussion. I propose, therefore, to try to put what I have said already into a broader context and the leave you room to comment. It any of this seems obvious, then at least we have it clearly stated.

There are probably no two people on earth who have identical moral beliefs and reactions. Individual beliefs are subjective. They may have internal consistency but they do not provide a basis for common agreement with anybody else. For two or more people to agree on a moral point, they need to find a reference point for agreement.

For people who believe in an all-powerful supernatural being, or in a ‘maximally great being”, then the reference point seems straightforward; it is in the message which the being passes down. The problem here starts with understanding the message, whether it be in the Bible, Qu’ran, Hadith, Talmud or whatever. But the principle is relatively simple; if it is stated in the holy book, then it can be recognised as a tenet for moral belief. The person who defines the belief is God, Jahweh or Allah. I call these the moral arbiters. I can’t remember where I got the term; it was a long while ago and I found it useful. If you don’t like the term, then I can live with that whilst retaining the principle. I’ll try and find another way of expressing it. The book which is inspired by God, Jahweh or Allah becomes the book of moral rules. The ‘objective morality’ which arises is that which is accepted by the group. It cannot be universal because it would not be accepted on the same basis by non-believers. Different interpretations of the rules result in different ‘objective moralities’.

If somebody does not believe in the all-powerful supernatural being and, therefore, falls into the broad definition of ‘atheist’, then the reference points must be different. Unless we subscribe to a definition of ‘atheist’ which excludes deism, then the reference points can still be supernatural. This would include various pagan cults, the pantheon of Greek, Roman and Hindu gods, and so on. In these cases the ‘who’ question is extremely important.

If we exclude deist groups from the definition, then that still leaves many atheist or atheist-like beliefs which ascribe seml-divine status to a figurehead who determines the character of the beliefs. At one end of this spectrum are the various forms of Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhism, with its focus on reincarnation and the Dalai Lama, could hardly be called atheistic, even though it has little in common with the Abrahamic religions. Other forms of Buddhism, however, derive from more earthly-based origins, whilst still referencing a person in human form who achieved Enlightenment. Roman and Japanese Emperors have been granted semi-divine status such that people have been prepared to die on their behalf and they have certainly provided the basis for their particular forms of ‘objective morality’. Then there are Stalin, Mao Zedong and Hitler, who were all very effective in determining what could and could not be believed. The first two would fall very easily within the bounds of atheism. With the latter there are more questions relating to the nature of Nazism.

As we approach the more familiar western forms of atheism, it is clear from any perusal of Wikipedia that, still, there is no common agreement. The ‘who’ question is still relevant insofar as writers such as Marx, Kant and – yes – Sam Harris provide guidelines for systems of belief. References are made far more frequently, however, to axioms, about which I have already written in some detail in this thread. I am very uncomfortable about the way in which axioms are defined and used but they have certainly formed the basis of ‘moral rules’ on which many atheists claim a form of ‘objective morality’.

It seems to me, however, that the closer we examine any practical example to test objective morality, the more likely it is that objectivity breaks down and, at some point, I am prepared to develop this further. That is why I keep asking people to develop this point.

Since you now tell me that you do not subscribe to an atheist objective morality, there is not much point in me asking you to expand on the above point, unless you wish to do so.

Which brings me finally to the first post in the thread, EL’s description of moral relativity as ‘disheartening’. As far as I am concerned, if objective morality cannot be demonstrated to function in specific circumstances, then whatever is left needs to be examined in more detail. It should certainly not be dismissed out-of-hand.
nottamun
 
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