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Author Topic: Toward an Objective Morality
KarlEd
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Let me begin by saying that I am not a philosophy professor. It's entirely possible these questions have already been answered. I'm open to anyone who can point me toward any sources that might help me refine the following ideas. That said, I would like a polite yet serious discussion. To that end, I ask that everyone who wishes to participate in this thread please read all comments thoroughly and thoughtfully before replying. I make no claim to authority on this forum, but I humbly ask that you respect the spirit of the thread. If you are looking only for fluff or a way to display your wit, there are hundreds of other threads, or you can start your own. Please keep that to a bare minimum here. Thanks.

In the most recent gay marriage thread, I submitted that all laws were essentially the imposition of one particular morality. Recognizing that, I argued that the only morality one could justly impose in a pluralistic society is an objective* morality (as opposed to one that a particular subset of that society subjectively interprets as divine command, for instance). It was asked if such a thing as an "objective morality" were possible. I submitted that Murder, Theft, and Lying were all objectively wrong. This invited the question, "why?" from jeniwren. I didn't have a ready answer.

starLisa, brought in the idea of axioms. She mentions "real axioms" and defined that as "things that must be true regardless of anyone's opinion". I'm not sure that such a thing exists in regards to a moral framework, (though I invite anyone to try to come up with a few). On the other hand, I think if a group of people decide on a few axioms and agree to accept them as such one can build from that a moral framework that is objectively true, or at least objectively true within that over-arching axiomatic framework.

If this is true, what might some of those axioms be? I submit the following, but my list is by no means meant to be complete. I'd appreciate any other ideas of axioms - i.e. things we can all agree are true.

1. All humans have equal rights.
2. All humans are free within their personal domain.

Can we agree on these two, at least? I realize that some may have differing definitions of "human", "right", and "personal domain", but can you at least accept these as axioms using your own definition of those three words? If not, why, exactly?

This brings up, of course, the issue of definitions. It's OK, I believe, to use your own definition in accepting axioms for a personal morality. However if this morality is to be a basis for law, it stands to reason that we must agree on the definitions of the words used to express the axiom. To remain true to the spirit of an objective morality, we should make the definitions as objective as possible, too, I believe. So if you can submit an axiom, feel free to provide an objective definition for discussion. To that end, here are my attempts:

Human: an individual homo-sapien. (I realize this is ultimately inadequate, but I don't want to debate abortion in this thread. At least not yet. So I submit this as a working definition.)

Right: Something that is due to a person or governmental body by law, tradition, or nature.

Personal Domain: One's sphere of activity, concern, or function insofar as it does not intersect the personal domain of another individual. The area where two personal domains intersect becomes common domain.

Again, I'm just throwing this out for discussion. If you agree with the idea of an objective morality, but disagree with any of my points above, please feel free to comment. Additionally, if you reject the idea of an objective morality as it is being defined, please feel free to comment. But let's please be polite and respect one another's thoughts. (It pains me that I have to plead that, but there you go.)

*Objective: treating or dealing with facts without distortion by personal feelings or prejudices. (I realize there are other definitions, but this is the one I'm working from. If you find this to be inadequate or if you think you get the spirit of what I'm saying but think "objective" is the wrong word, I invite suggestions.)

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Tresopax
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quote:
On the other hand, I think if a group of people decide on a few axioms and agree to accept them as such one can build from that a moral framework that is objectively true, or at least objectively true within that over-arching axiomatic framework.
Agreeing to accept an axiom as true does not make it objective. It just makes it agreed-upon. After all, if we agree upon something, it might just be that we all share the same prejudice, and thus our axiom is still just as distorted by prejudice as it would be had just I decided on it by myself.

quote:
1. All humans have equal rights.
2. All humans are free within their personal domain.

I disagree with (1). I am older than 21 so I have a right to drink, but many kids do not have that right. Therefore, all humans don't have equal rights.

As for (2), I agree, except I'm not sure if there is any sphere of activity that does not intersect the domain of other people. Even the beliefs in your mind influence your behavior and thus influence others.

I would propose the following:
(2b) All humans are free to do anything that is not wrong.

If (2b) is true and (2) is true then I think there is an interesting implication. If you are free to do anything that is not wrong AND anything that doesn't impact another human being, then we can conclude the following:
(2c) An act can only be wrong if it impacts another human being.

And that, in turn, might suggest the following:
(2d) The effects of an act on other human beings determine whether it is right or wrong.

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zgator
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quote:
I disagree with (1). I am older than 21 so I have a right to drink, but many kids do not have that right. Therefore, all humans don't have equal rights.
But isn't that because other humans have taken that right away from those under 21? It certainly doesn't apply to all humans under 21.
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Tresopax
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But, remember our definition of "Right":

Right: Something that is due to a person or governmental body by law, tradition, or nature.

If I am due something by law and children are not, regardless of why, we don't have equal rights... under that definition.

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TomDavidson
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quote:

As for (2), I agree, except I'm not sure if there is any sphere of activity that does not intersect the domain of other people. Even the beliefs in your mind influence your behavior and thus influence others.

I would propose the following:
(2b) All humans are free to do anything that is not wrong.

If (2b) is true and (2) is true then I think there is an interesting implication. If you are free to do anything that is not wrong AND anything that doesn't impact another human being, then we can conclude the following:
(2c) An act can only be wrong if it impacts another human being.

And that, in turn, might suggest the following:
(2d) The effects of an act on other human beings determine whether it is right or wrong.

I heartily encourage people to read Hobbes, Sartre and Ayn Rand before going much further. [Smile]
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Tresopax
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Done. [Smile]
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Jhai
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oooh, this could be a fun thread. [Smile]

Now, first off, I believe that morality is not relative. That is, as starLisa suggests, there are some universal truths or axioms that all rational beings would agree upon when pressed. This is not an idea often presented in our society, where we like to say that anyone has the right to believe whatever they want, and that all belief/value systems are equal. I humbly suggest that they are not.

For instance, I believe that the axiom "Torturing innocent babies only for fun is immoral," and I believe that upon consideration, all rational beings ought to agree with this. I can imagine a situation such that torturing a baby may be the right course of action (say, the lives of millions of other babies depends on the torture of this one baby), but I don't think "fun" can ever justify the torture of innocents (or others, for that matter).

Now, I disagree with your suggestion, KarlEd, that "all humans have equal rights" and "all humans are free within their personal domain" are always true axioms. I think they are certainly generally true, and are good rules of thumb to go by, but I can think of situations where a very large good (again, the lives of millions of people, say) would override the need to give all humans equal rights, and freedom within their personal domain. That being said, I think it would have to be a very large good in order to override this, as a society that ignores these rights whenever it produces some good would be an immoral one.

I hope that's clear enough...

Basically, I'm subscribing to a version of rule utilitarianism, which suggests that a action is moral as long as if everyone else followed it in the same situation the outcome would be good. For instance, if a hospital has seven people who all need a different organ transplanted, or they will die, and a pretty healthy person comes in to be treated for a cold, the hospital should not kill the healthy person to save the seven others. While this may be for the "greater good" in the short run (7 lives and only 1 death vs. 7 deaths and 1 life), if this rule was applied in all similar situations then most people would start avoiding hospitals like the plague, and the health of society as a whole would suffer.

I realize I haven't discussed most of your post, but I think I've rambled for long enough...

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KarlEd
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quote:
Tres:
I disagree with (1). I am older than 21 so I have a right to drink, but many kids do not have that right. Therefore, all humans don't have equal rights.

OK. There are a few ways to rectify this.

1. Change the word Human.
2. Conclude that drinking isn't a "right". In this case, a "right" would then only be those things we can agree apply to all humans (like a right to life.)
3. Provide an axiomatic distinction between Child and Adult, or even Infant, Child, Adolescent, Adult.

Tres, do you at least agree with the spirit of what I'm trying to convey in "axiom #1"? Can you help come up with an alternative? I believe in "equality". I'm trying to refine that belief. I do not believe that "all men are created equal" literally (some are smarter, some are stronger, etc.), but I believe that there are some things that should apply equally for all.

Maybe we have to drop "All humans have equal rights" in favor of listing individual rights as axiomatic.

1. All humans have the right to life.
2. All humans have the right to freedom of thought.
3. etc.

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Jhai
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I think that people can give up these rights through their own actions: for instance, if there's a man with a gun in a crowded building, and he's starting to fire it (with the clear intent to hit innocent people), then he's given up his right to life - it'd be nice if law enforcement could keep him alive by shooting him in the thigh, but I think their first priority is to stop him from killing others, even if that means taking away his life.
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El JT de Spang
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I agree with "All Humans have equal rights."

I'm not going to complain that I am oppressed because my grandparents draw Social Security and I don't, so we must not have equal rights. Things like that are responsible for most of the woes of our legal system -- the deliberate misinterpretation of the spirit of the constitution to obey the letter of it.

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KarlEd
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quote:
Jhai:
For instance, if a hospital has seven people who all need a different organ transplanted, or they will die, and a pretty healthy person comes in to be treated for a cold, the hospital should not kill the healthy person to save the seven others. While this may be for the "greater good" in the short run (7 lives and only 1 death vs. 7 deaths and 1 life), if this rule was applied in all similar situations then most people would start avoiding hospitals like the plague, and the health of society as a whole would suffer.

I agree with you here, but I disagree with the reasoning you give at the end. I think the immorality of killing one to save 7 others is that the one has as much right to life as any one of the 7 others. The one might heroically give himself to the survival of the others, but I don't think that the 7 others can morally pool their individual rights to life and override that of the one.
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KarlEd
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quote:
Originally posted by Jhai:
I think that people can give up these rights through their own actions: for instance, if there's a man with a gun in a crowded building, and he's starting to fire it (with the clear intent to hit innocent people), then he's given up his right to life - it'd be nice if law enforcement could keep him alive by shooting him in the thigh, but I think their first priority is to stop him from killing others, even if that means taking away his life.

I agree with this. How might we re-word "All humans have the right to life" to make it axiomatic? Would "All humans have an equal right to life" work? That would allow for situations where an act of infringing upon others diminishes one's individual right in that area.
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Jhai
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I agree that seven people can't, but what about 100 people? Or 1,000,000 people? I would be willing to personally kill one person if I knew it would save one million others - I'd feel horrible about doing it, but I still think it's the right choice.

I think there is a point at which all of the "basic" rules of morality fail in the face of the greater good. Edit: by basic, I mean the typical rules of "do not lie, do not kill, do not hurt others," etc. /edit Some moral philosophers, such as Kant, would disagree with this, of course.

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Jhai
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The classic example of why Kant's claim that "lying is always wrong" is false:

An insane man walks into your house, says that he plans to kill another man, John Doe, and asks you where this man happens to be. You cannot physically stop this man, you have no way to warn John Doe, and you can't reason with the insane man. And you happen to know where John Doe is at this precise second. Kant would say that you should tell the insane man the truth - even if he ends up killing John Doe, that was his moral action, not yours. You are not responsible for his actions - you're only responsible for your actions, and telling a lie is morally wrong.

I think most people's innate concept of ethical actions would suggest a different course of action: lie to the insane man and send him in the opposite direction from John Doe. That would be the moral action in this case.

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KarlEd
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What's wrong with saying "I will not tell you."? Wouldn't that be more consistent morally than lying?
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Jhai
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Well, if you refuse to tell him, he'll kill everyone in your house, including your sleeping children. But if you tell him something, he'll thank you and go politely on his way.
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KarlEd
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quote:
Originally posted by Jhai:
I agree that seven people can't, but what about 100 people? Or 1,000,000 people? I would be willing to personally kill one person if I knew it would save one million others - I'd feel horrible about doing it, but I still think it's the right choice.

Why not the other way? Why 1 million and not 999,999? Then why not 100? Why not 10? Why not 2? Why not 1 who is younger than the victim? I don't think it is a numbers game. Such examples, vague and theoretical to the point of non-existence in the real world might have some limited value in testing the soundness of a moral principle, but I don't think they help arrive at a morality that is definable and practical in the real world.

quote:
Originally posted by Jhai:
I think there is a point at which all of the "basic" rules of morality fail in the face of the greater good. Edit: by basic, I mean the typical rules of "do not lie, do not kill, do not hurt others," etc. /edit Some moral philosophers, such as Kant, would disagree with this, of course.

I think a moral system can be an ideal toward which we strive. In this case, it is recognized that we will fall short in some cases. I do not think that all moral failings are equal.
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KarlEd
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quote:
Originally posted by Jhai:
Well, if you refuse to tell him, he'll kill everyone in your house, including your sleeping children. But if you tell him something, he'll thank you and go politely on his way.

To me this illustrates the limited usefulness of such complete hypothetics. One case in which lying is excusable does not negate "lying is wrong" as a whole. In a practical sense, I doubt it is possible to formulate a moral code that foresees all possible loopholes, or conflicts between its own principles.

How would you modify "Lying is wrong" to include the above exception?

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TomDavidson
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quote:

One case in which lying is excusable does not negate "lying is wrong" as a whole.

It negates "lying is wrong" as an axiom. Ergo, "lying is wrong" is no longer axiomatic.

In other words, the axiom here is that "harm is bad." By making a choice which reduced the total harm, you have made the right choice -- even if, by lying, you have committed a minor harm; overall, less harm resulted from your action than would have resulted from the alternative.

But it's useful to remember that the real actor here is the person choosing to kill someone else, not the person choosing to lie. The intended killer here is forcing the issue, and has reduced the available alternatives to the liar to ones which are in one way or another harmful.

For this reason, my own personal morality -- by which I can't always live, but by which I try -- quite strongly emphasizes the need to position oneself in advance of any potential problems in a strategic position where it is less likely that you will not only be harmed but, more importantly, be forced into committing harm.

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Dagonee
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Karl, are you speaking of morality as in what is right or wrong, or simply what should be made legal or illegal? This will dramatically affect how I respond to this.
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KarlEd
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In those terms, Tom, what harm has been done in lying to an intended murderer?

This is mostly a sidetrack as far as I'm concerned as I'm not arguing for "Lying is wrong" as an axiom anyway. I have sugggested previously that it could be part of an objective morality, but I think it would have to be defined specifically to fit. There are many things that I do not believe are Wrong that are forms of lying. (Bluffing, white lies, etc.)

Are you submitting "Harm is Bad" as an axiom? I'm not sure I could agree to that. In life, harm is inevitable. You cannot live without harm in some form or another. "Unnecessary Harm is Bad" isn't much better since you ultimately have to define unnecessary and I'm pretty sure that can't be done objectively.

Maybe "Objective" is the wrong word for what I'm trying to arrive at. [Dont Know]

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KarlEd
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quote:
Originally posted by Dagonee:
Karl, are you speaking of morality as in what is right or wrong, or simply what should be made legal or illegal? This will dramatically affect how I respond to this.

Well, I'll admit that I've probably gotten sidetracked, but I think Legal/Illegal is what I'm trying to formulate. I'm not sure right/wrong is possible to define objectively.
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advice for robots
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Is an act moral or immoral if you never see or feel any effects of the act? Or if you don't interpret any effects as having directly resulted from the act?
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Dagonee
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quote:
I think Legal/Illegal is what I'm trying to formulate.
Ok, good, because I would have disagreed with pretty much everything written so far otherwise. [Smile]

More thoughts to follow while I adjust my thinking.

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TomDavidson
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quote:

In those terms, Tom, what harm has been done in lying to an intended murderer?

Assuming you believe that lying is in general unethical, and unethical behavior encourages further unethical behavior, any lying is a form of harm that can lead to greater harm.

By lying to the murderer, you have harmed the murderer by giving him false information and harmed yourself by permitting yourself to lie.

But you have presumably harmed the two of you considerably less than the murderer would harm your target (and himself, if you accept that murderers also harm themselves). So your action is still "correct," because the total harm is minimized.

Note that it is not necessary for harm to be eliminated for an action to be correct. It is merely necessary for harm to be minimized. In other words, the statement "harm is bad" IS in fact axiomatic. The fact that it is not possible to eliminate all harm merely means that some bad is inevitable in any conflict. (Note: this can lead to the conclusion that conflict should be minimized to reduce potential harm.)

Note that "harm is bad" is one of the very few things I think we can say ARE axiomatic. Every single moral assertion we make is weighed against this truth. For example, "harm is bad" justifies white lies, because presumably insulting someone and/or hurting their feelings is worse harm than giving them false information about something unimportant -- unless you believe that lying is bad in all cases, in which case "harm is bad" still applies, since you believe you're doing less harm by telling them the truth based on your elevated perception of the harm done by lying.

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Bokonon
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I think using "Empirical" rather than "Objective", might better suit your focus, Karl.

-Bok

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fugu13
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Also, I think Karl's described objective is more like a system of ethics than a system of morals.
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Bokonon
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I guess, kind of. We're a bit schizophrenic about it, IMO, and certainly don't always go about it efficiently.

I feel like Karl is saying the objectivity is proven in part by its effects, which is why murder, theft, and false witness can be objectively true in a general sense.

-Bok

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KarlEd
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quote:
Originally posted by fugu13:
Also, I think Karl's described objective is more like a system of ethics than a system of morals.

How do you differentiate between the two?
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Dagonee
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The pat, mostly academic answer is "Ethics is the study of right and wrong within a given society/framework; morality is the study of universal attributes of good and evil."
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fugu13
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Also, morality tends to be more focused on the individual, whereas ethics tends to be focused on group action (note, these are just tendencies).
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KarlEd
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quote:
Originally posted by IdahoEEBoy:

It sounds like in order to formulate the axioms one (or a group) must have absolute knowledge of people individually and societies as a whole, infinite wisdom in ranking the needs of the many vs. the needs of the few, the ability to be completely objective, and the understanding of what makes humans achieve their greatest potential, as well as what that potential is. The magnitude of the understanding that would have to be involved to lay out an objective moral code is mind boggling. In short, it sounds like a job for a god.

My first response to this was that regardless of the difficulty it is essential to formulating true justice in a pluralistic society. On further thought, though, I think you're requiring too much. I don't think infinite wisdom is required at all. (If it is, we're all sunk at any rate.) I also don't think any particularly great understanding of human potential is necessary for building the system. It might be useful in working within the system, but the system itself, I think, is more concerned with human limitations than human potential.


quote:
Originally posted by IdahoEEBoy:
Currently, we are still in the process of massive social experimentation on a local/nationwide/worldwide scale. We're just not sure what works best. Perhaps the most effective government and/or economic system has yet to be invented/discovered.

I think it's possible that it will yet be discovered. Do you think that a new system of government could be instituted within the framework of the US Constitution or do you think that our Constitution could be re-written at some point in a peaceful change of government? Or do you think such a change would have to take place by means of a secession or revolution?

quote:
Originally posted by IdahoEEBoy:
A final question: Do people that do not accept these axioms, or those that choose not to live by them indicate a problem in the system?

I don't think so. I think that there is enough variety in human culture that two cultures might start with the same axioms and come up with differences in their final system as a whole. I think a perfect system would provide some method of option out of it, (albeit with clear and perhaps drastic consequences.)
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jeniwren
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Unfortunately, I don't have time today to read this whole thread, but I did want to respond to the thread header. At least, I did, until I saw this:

quote:
Well, I'll admit that I've probably gotten sidetracked, but I think Legal/Illegal is what I'm trying to formulate. I'm not sure right/wrong is possible to define objectively.
Which helped me realize that I had a fundamental misunderstanding of KarlEd's original statement in the Gay/Children thread. I was taking morality to mean a system of values governing what is right and wrong, not a system of values governing what is legal and illegal. I'm not sure what I think about the latter, I think the former is possible only from a higher power, without human input except interpretation.

I think my only opinion is that morality governing legal/illegal must be organic rather than rigid, as population's needs change. Where one community may not need a law against harrassing red spotted toads (whereas harrassing greenspotted toads makes sense), another one may need the exact opposite. So I'm still not sure that axioms are really of use, except for public scrutiny as to their continued truth. Which goes back to that need for organic morality rather than something more rigid (ie. Ten Commandments, which I would call a morality of right/wrong since its origin is reputedly spiritual).

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TomDavidson
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quote:

I think the former is possible only from a higher power, without human input except interpretation.

Whereas I disagree, and believe that all human morality is exactly that: created by humans.
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jeniwren
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[Smile] I didn't expect anyone to agree with me.
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romanylass
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(Largely browsing the thread)

My gut reaction to the Kant discussion is that protecting human life is always the higher moral action than telling the truth.

Karl, I would change number 1 to, "All humans (of any age) should be entitled to equal protections under the law" (Should, because they currently aren't, in so many ways).

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kmbboots
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I think that there is a continuum of rights/desires. Everything that impacts us falls somewhere on that continuum. We also have a gradually decreasing (going outward) "personal domain". The closer in to our personal domain the more seriously we need to value our rights/desires.

Here is an example (cuz I know I'm not clear):

My right/desire (R/D) to look at icky pornography needs to be balanced with the R/D of others to not be impacted by my looking at porn. Clearly, if I am staying in my own home doing this, the impact on others is slight. If I want to put up a billboard of porn next to a primary school that has a bigger impact on others which trumps my r/d to read what I want. More important r/d get trumped by lesser r/d and lesser r/d become more important when they get closer to one's personal domain.

It is all fuzzy and mushy and fluid and takes constant rebalancing.

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advice for robots
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I think how we exercise our own personal rights/desires has a lot more impact on larger society than we may be able to perceive. Which is why I asked my (ignored) question above.
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romanylass
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quote:
Is an act moral or immoral if you never see or feel any effects of the act? Or if you don't interpret any effects as having directly resulted from the act?
I can still think an act is immoral without thinking it needs to be illegal. I think all infidelity is immoral, whether I know the person or not, but trying to arrest people for being unfaithful is ridiculous.
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advice for robots
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How about immoral from a societal standpoint? I would contend that violating societal norms even in private can have a negative effect on society even if you can't perceive the effect. First and foremost, you are not upholding society from your end, so it is getting no strength from you.

I would say one of our rights is to function as part of a society. I believe morality is tied up with society--that is, it's less meaningful to define morality on only an individual level.

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KarlEd
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quote:
Originally posted by advice for robots:
How about immoral from a societal standpoint? I would contend that violating societal norms even in private can have a negative effect on society even if you can't perceive the effect. First and foremost, you are not upholding society from your end, so it is getting no strength from you.

I would say one of our rights is to function as part of a society. I believe morality is tied up with society--that is, it's less meaningful to define morality on only an individual level.

On the other hand, there's nothing wrong with attempting to change your societal norms. One way to do this is to ignore, or act counter to them. This is often an effective change for good. We have to remember that even the fringes of society are part of that society and their individual input is at least as valuable as the input of more toe-the-line members. In fact, it can sometimes be much more valuable in the long run.
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Jacob Porter
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The preceding discussion gets at the idea that social classes have rights over the individual, which contradicts the two axioms presented in the first post. An axiomatic defense of morality is untenable because rational people will disagree with the axioms.

The axioms need to be defended with a metaphysical argument. Only the individual exists. The individual, not society, is concrete because the individual acts, deliberates, lives, dies, and exists. The existence of society depends entirely on the existence of the individual, and when people say that good or bad is done for society or that society acts, these statements are reducible to individual action, goodneess, or badness because society takes its existence from individuals. Since only the individual exists, rights are meaningful only for the individual.

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TomDavidson
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quote:

Since only the individual exists, rights are meaningful only for the individual.

And this is where I ultimately deviate from the Objectivist POV. [Smile]
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Jacob Porter
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This isn't just an "Objectivist" POV. It is the point of view of a liberal democracy.

Why do you deviate from this view?

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TomDavidson
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Because there's an enormous philosophical gap between "individuals are the core units of a society," which I believe is correct, and "societies do not exist," which I believe is not.
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fugu13
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I don't know about a liberal democracy, there never having existed such a thing, but as for liberal republics like ours, their philosophical basis most certainly allowed for societal constructs having meaning. In fact, in many ways the principles of a liberal republic are dependent on that assumption.
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Tresopax
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Well, this topic has moved on, but...

quote:
Tres, do you at least agree with the spirit of what I'm trying to convey in "axiom #1"? Can you help come up with an alternative? I believe in "equality". I'm trying to refine that belief. I do not believe that "all men are created equal" literally (some are smarter, some are stronger, etc.), but I believe that there are some things that should apply equally for all.
Do a murderer and an innocent child have an equal right to life? Those who believe in the death penalty think it's okay to kill one but not the other, so I don't think even that right can be agreed upon as equally held by everyone. Or wait... I'm going to change my mind.

We DO have equal rights, but only when we consider a person as distinct from his or her circumstances. Instead, circumstances should be built into the right.

For instance, when we say an adult has the right to drink but a child does not, we are factoring their circumstances (their age!) into their personhood. We are saying they are a child, rather than a person who happens to currently be a child. Instead, we could just as easily say both the child and the adult DO have the right to drink when they are an adult but DON'T have the right to drink when they are children. In this second case, we are separating the person from their circumstances, and instead are including their cirumstances as a part of the right they have.

For the murder example, we might say both the murderer and the innocent have the equal right to life provided they don't kill someone.

So, here's what I'd make the axiom:
All human beings have equal rights, when relevant circumstances are taken into account.

You can't deny someone a right to one person while giving it to someone else, UNLESS there is something relevant about their circumstances that would justify doing so. You can't do it for an arbitrary reason. Or, to put it otherwise, if I were to jump into your circumstances, I should have the exact same rights that you do.

In morality's eyes, I think you are an entity distinct from your circumstances.

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advice for robots
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quote:
Originally posted by KarlEd:
quote:
Originally posted by advice for robots:
How about immoral from a societal standpoint? I would contend that violating societal norms even in private can have a negative effect on society even if you can't perceive the effect. First and foremost, you are not upholding society from your end, so it is getting no strength from you.

I would say one of our rights is to function as part of a society. I believe morality is tied up with society--that is, it's less meaningful to define morality on only an individual level.

On the other hand, there's nothing wrong with attempting to change your societal norms. One way to do this is to ignore, or act counter to them. This is often an effective change for good. We have to remember that even the fringes of society are part of that society and their individual input is at least as valuable as the input of more toe-the-line members. In fact, it can sometimes be much more valuable in the long run.
That's fine, I don't dispute that. Individuals do have the right to effect changes on societal norms, because it's the individuals who uphold society after all. If the society is stagnant or going the wrong direction, then it probably does need to be overhauled and probably will be.

However, the individuals who go against societal norms would be seen as immoral until they form a new society in which their actions can be defined as moral. It all depends on who's telling the story. But it does depend on having a society to define things as moral or immoral. I don't think morality can really exist in the "vacuum" of individualness because it's defined by our interactions with others.

I think the point I'm getting at is that there's no fence-sitting. You're either supporting or subverting your society by your actions, public or private. Whatever you do has consequences one way or the other.

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Dante
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I think the one thing we can all agree on is that "societal" is one of the ugliest words ever.

Please, everyone, for the sake of aesthetics if not ethics, use "social."

Thank you.

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Dagonee
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I've often imagined moral prinicples as a set of planets, each with a particular position and gravitational pull. In a given situation, all will technically exert some control over the "moral path." But in most cases, only a few will actually be relevant terms in the equation.

Of course, small disagreements about the position and relative mass of particular principles will have huge outcomes on the actual path. In addition, even if position and velocity were perfectly known, the equations may be too complex to be totally solveable.

This means that right to life could be the super black hole in the middle of the moral galaxy and still not be the only significant factor in a particular moral analysis. And, when two lives are at stake, the principle can be exerting conflicting pulls which must be overcome by other principles.

It's much clearer in my head.

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