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Mores and Social Responsibility

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fractal007
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since 06-01-2000
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0 posted 10-03-2002 07:43 PM       View Profile for fractal007   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for fractal007

Recently I was discussing morals with a family member.  This person claimed that there are no absolute moral principles.  Fair enough.  When I questioned her on whether she had a set of morals she answered in the affirmative.  I asked her to provide a basis on which those morals stood.  She answered that they stood upon the principles upon which she was raised as well as her experience in viewing the actions and responses of others.  

I am now unsure as to what the basis is for basing one's morals[whether there exist objective morals or not] on family upbringing and personal experience.  What principle dictates that we are to hold our family upbringings and personal experiences in such high esteem as to use them to generate personal patterns of behaviour.  Surely this principle cannot itself be an objective moral.  Were it one it would fly in the face of the notion that no such morals exist.  However, it could not possibly be a subjective moral either, since it would then beg the question of why exactly one is obligated to follow it.  One could not simply respond that family upbringing and personal experience dictate that following such a moral is a necessity, since this would constitute a circular argument and would explain nothing of the origins of the principle of which I speak.  Thus, this principle must be something other than a moral[assuming my stepmother's initial assessment of morals as entirely subjective is correct].  

"If history is to change, let it change. If the world is to be destroyed, so be it. If my fate is to die, I must simply laugh"

-- Magus

[This message has been edited by fractal007 (10-03-2002 11:30 PM).]

fractal007
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since 06-01-2000
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1 posted 10-03-2002 11:34 PM       View Profile for fractal007   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for fractal007

To follow up my initial question it seems fitting to ask[assuming that our principle turns out to be something other than a moral] what role statements concerning moral systems and principles have in the actual carrying out of such things.

"If history is to change, let it change. If the world is to be destroyed, so be it. If my fate is to die, I must simply laugh"

-- Magus

Stephanos
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2 posted 10-04-2002 12:52 AM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Fractal,

I notice that when you asked this particular family member just what her affirmed moral beliefs were based upon, she stated that they were based upon "the principles upon which she was raised as well as her experience in viewing the actions and responses of others."  I've thought about this and about how this may be interpreted.  She is either believing (it seems to me) one of two things . . . Either 1) that according to her moral judgement, she deems these "principles" as the most moral or correct, or 2)  that we should merely accept whatever principles we are taught and not consider whether they are actually moral or not.  Either statement necessitates a moral judgement of sorts that is above or "beyond" the particulars in question.  The first statement requires a standard by which to judge that the things she was raised to believe are more moral.  The second statement requires a standard by which to judge that  "It is better to accept one's upbringing implicitly apart from moral consideration".  The problem I see however with the second statement is the contradiction between not admitting any  fixed moral standard, and yet making the moral judgement that it is "better to do thus and such".  Why talk of "better" if there is no standard by which to judge what is better to do?  


The only third possibility (logically) is for her to follow through with this line of thinking to its unavoidable end, and cease from saying things like "better" and "ought to" and "right" and "wrong" completely.  Every moral question ends up as opinion or preference at this point.  Even pragmatism fails here to be a firm foundation for morals.  Because pragmatism always has to do with someone's betterment.  Unfortunately moral delimmas often impose a single choice at a fork in the road between someone's betterment and someone else's hurt.  You could (as pragmatists often do) attempt a more mathematical argument that the more people benefited is preferred.  But this is also inescapably a moral judgement.  What they really mean I suspect when they say such things is "It is wrong to hurt many in order to benefit a few".  If they hold to the point that morality has nothing to do with it, then they lose all power of persuasion.  For many moral questions involve people who value their own advancement and pleasure over that of others, many or few.  What will convince these types?  And if we disagree with them, we have no reason (apart from morality) to chide them.  Their immoral actions are their preference.  Their morality would be not set against any fixed standard of human behavior, but against our druthers.  


I see that you see this dilemma yourself as you observably and logically stated:

"Thus, this principle must be something other than a moral[assuming my stepmother's initial assessment of morals as entirely subjective is correct."


You are right.  It must be either a moral... (an ought to, should, or a better way), or a mere preference ... like the choice between a blue shirt and an orange one.


Don't get me wrong ... I am not anti-pragmatic.  I think morality carries with it rewards and consequences.  So the choice really is weightier than choosing one color over another.  It's just that complete pragmatism divorced from morality necessarily places it in that category.


This brings me to another point which I have made often before.  Why is it incredible to believe that there is an innate "morality" that is common to humanity?  I am in agreement with many who see in their study of cultural ethics many connecting threads that far overshadow any differences.  I have yet to see the moral code of any culture that was radically different from another.  Though they do differ in their scope and knowledge base ... the same essential moral values are held in high esteem over and over again.   As C.S. Lewis stated in his essay The poison of subjectivism, (paraphrase) "It is no more possible to create a new morality than it is to put a new sun in the sky".


Now if one concedes here, the question as to why we all have a common moral base goes still unanswered.  As a Christian I believe that materialism falls hopelessly short of giving an explanation of morals at all.  How can one dance of atoms be more moral than another?  I believe that theism sufficiently answers the question of our common morals.  However for those who have not yet believed this, at least the realization that there is a common moral standard is a start to get them searching.  


Interesting question,

And I get the feeling we'll see this one again and again.


Stephen.





[This message has been edited by Stephanos (10-04-2002 12:58 AM).]

fractal007
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3 posted 10-04-2002 07:17 PM       View Profile for fractal007   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for fractal007

I have proposed that the principle under discussion here is not a moral at all.  I believe it might be benificial to move from the specific to the general here.  This move will not in any way affect our discussion simply because the principle of acceptance of family tradition and values must follow the logic of any other principle for the establishment of morals.

Supposing that some principle P is used to generate a moral system S, then any moral m within S must have been generated by P or follow as a logical consequent of the fundamental tennets of S.  P thus cannot be a subjective moral simply because P would depend upon P in order for its generation.  P could also not be an objective moral simply because P would then have the objective quality of being inherently good.[assuming we carry the proposition that no objective morals exist to its logical conclusion]

And so the question remains, is P some principle completely indifferent from any moral concepts?  If so, where does P stand interms of following through any moral statement?

It may be possible that P is some element of one's own nature and constitution.  However, supposing that P is not inherently good but is rather indifferent and oblivious to the concept of good this would pose quite a problem.

I too have read Lewis, especially his "Abolition of Man."  I have read much of his comparison between cultures and their moral sayings.  

Materialism, for me, falls short simply because it does not explain our free will.  It argues that all[including the mind] is composed of a series of indifferent elements[atoms, particles, etc...].  These indifferent elements somehow miraculously[in the case of the human mind] come together to form a supposedly free-thinking mind.  

"If history is to change, let it change. If the world is to be destroyed, so be it. If my fate is to die, I must simply laugh"

-- Magus

[This message has been edited by fractal007 (10-04-2002 07:20 PM).]

Stephanos
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4 posted 10-05-2002 01:43 AM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

"And so the question remains, is P some principle completely indifferent from any moral concepts?  If so, where does P stand interms of following through any moral statement?


If "P" is a principle not derived from any moral consideration, then how can any moral system be founded on it?


Moving from the general to the specific again for a moment.... What if we looked at some examples of "amoral" reasons for a moral system.  Any specific principle(s) that might be given as a foundation for values will always have roots in value judgements (which are considered meritorious in and of themselves).  Even "solidarity" ethics which reject traditional morality but value anything which benefits communities, are keeping for their own use a smuggled in tenet of traditional values... namely that the preservation of community is better than it's destruction.  


I still maintain that it is impossible to base any moral standings on principles that are amoral or "subjective".  No one really does it, though they claim to.  When you look closely you will find some aspect of the "Tao" (to use Lewis' illustration from The abolition of Man) at work.


Ask your stepmom why she feels that she should maintain the traditions she was taught ...  And I'll bet there is a judgement she is making that is beyond or above what is being questioned.  It would be outlandish for potential criminals or innocents to judge themselves in a court of law.  But subjectivism tries to put everything on the same level.  


If you could really ask her what her reasoning is, I would be interested in hearing it.


Stephen.
Stephanos
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5 posted 10-06-2002 11:49 AM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

For anyone who might be curious about the idea of the "Tao" in The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis, I am posting a link where the entire book (made of 3 short essays) can be read.  I just recently reread this book in the period of only a few hours.  As a defender of objective morality, Lewis writes here some thought provoking material, very relevant and almost prophetic of our own time.

http://www.columbia.edu/cu/augustine/arch/lewis/abolition1.htm#1
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