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What is right and what is wrong?

Enter here to explore ethical issues and discuss the meaning and source of morality.
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animist
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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#61 Post by animist » June 6th, 2012, 6:52 am

Latest post of the previous page:

Emma Woolgatherer wrote: Oh yes, the more you look the more you find.
quite, and the more I look the less I like what I find; I suppose it is the pseudo-scientific nature of these meta-ethical theories which is annoying, all of them seeming to presuppose that there is some one analysis which applied to all moral judgments, whether considered or not, whether openly prescriptive or reflective. I like universal prescriptivism, though, as I said before. I do not think such an analysis rules out reasoning, though; you have said that you think ethics is a sort of mix of empathy and reasoning, and I don't see how the reasoning element comes in if it is purely subjective (or even intersubjective?)

I suppose that I think it is impossible to show, as Mackie attempts to do, that no values can be true or false. It is not that I am a moral objectivist, whatever that is exactly (and Mackie does not, here anyway, define what he means by this); I don't think that statements about values can be objective in the way that empirical statements can in principle be because they cannot be verified, and I certainly agree with him that we do not have moral "faculties" of intuition which are somehow near-infallible guides to some crystal-clear objective morality. But does he really believe that the statement "it is wrong to break a promise without a strong reason to do so" is not actually true in some sense? How would he react if someone let him down by breaking an important promise they had made to him? Would he just brush it off by saying that a promise had no objective value? Somehow I doubt it. I know that he allows that we all behave as though there were moral facts, and he brings the notion of error theory, whatever that is, to cover this mismatch between theory and practice: but how does that help? Is this some "illusion" reminiscent of the supposed illusion of free will? Mackie, like other meta-ethicists, is IMO ignoring the essentially practical nature of ethics as a guide to behaviour - and I have to say that Nowell-Smith's book "Ethics" does constantly refer back to a person who asks "But what should I do?"

I suppose my approach could be called heuristic: I think we have to examine particular statements and see whether there can be a reasonable consensus on them once all misunderstandings and factual errors have been ironed out - if so, then it is not really fair or realistic to simply continue to deny any truth to them. This is consistent with what I said at the beginning about the unwisdom of theories which attempt to make blanket generalisations about each and every statement of values. I won't go on any more, as this topic was discussed by us months ago:
http://forum.thinkhumanism.com/viewtopi ... =13&t=4729

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animist
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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#62 Post by animist » June 6th, 2012, 9:43 am

sorry - nothing new!

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animist
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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#63 Post by animist » June 6th, 2012, 9:45 am

ditto!

Compassionist
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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#64 Post by Compassionist » June 7th, 2012, 12:37 pm

"Good is a point of view." - Supreme Chancellor / Darth Sidious, 'Star Wars - Episode III'.

Wasn't the extinction of the dinosaurs good for the mammals?

Isn't slavery (historical and modern-day) good for the slave masters?

Wasn't colonisation good for the colonists (e.g. Francisco Pizarro González)?

Isn't the death of animals good for vultures feeding on the dead bodies?

Isn't killing chickens, pigs, sheep and cows good for those who eat them?

Isn't the bankruptcy of one company good for its competitors?

Aren't theft and robbery good for the thieves and robbers?

Aren't invasions good for the invaders?

Isn't it good for viruses to take over the cellular machinary of the host cells?

Aren't "good" and "bad" entirely dependent on the point of view and thus empty of any absolute value?

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Altfish
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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#65 Post by Altfish » June 7th, 2012, 1:10 pm

Compassionist wrote:"Good is a point of view." - Supreme Chancellor / Darth Sidious, 'Star Wars - Episode III'.

Wasn't the extinction of the dinosaurs good for the mammals?

Isn't slavery (historical and modern-day) good for the slave masters?

Wasn't colonisation good for the colonists (e.g. Francisco Pizarro González)?

Isn't the death of animals good for vultures feeding on the dead bodies?

Isn't killing chickens, pigs, sheep and cows good for those who eat them?

Isn't the bankruptcy of one company good for its competitors?

Aren't theft and robbery good for the thieves and robbers?

Aren't invasions good for the invaders?

Isn't it good for viruses to take over the cellular machinary of the host cells?

Aren't "good" and "bad" entirely dependent on the point of view and thus empty of any absolute value?
No, because 'Society' puts values on good and bad, so one point of view trumps the other. In modern society slavery is never good.

thundril
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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#66 Post by thundril » June 7th, 2012, 2:07 pm

Interesting switch from the OP. "Right v Wrong' is not quite the same as 'Good v Bad'.
Or is it?

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Dave B
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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#67 Post by Dave B » June 7th, 2012, 2:13 pm

In modern society slavery is never good.
Do the slavers or those that "employ" slaves share that point of view. Altfish?

Our British "modern society" is not the "modern society" of a country that allows slavery. And we can only judge that country as not being a "modern society" in comparison to our own. Is our "modern society" the paradigm that all others must be measured against? Are we allowed that arrogance?

[Not sure that we can safely use "civilised society" here either! :wink: ]
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Altfish
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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#68 Post by Altfish » June 7th, 2012, 2:17 pm

Dave B wrote:
In modern society slavery is never good.
Do the slavers or those that "employ" slaves share that point of view. Altfish?

Our British "modern society" is not the "modern society" of a country that allows slavery. And we can only judge that country as not being a "modern society" in comparison to our own. Is our "modern society" the paradigm that all others must be measured against? Are we allowed that arrogance?

[Not sure that we can safely use "civilised society" here either! :wink: ]
That is a strange point of view, by the same reasoning Murder is good, because it satisfies the psychopath.

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Altfish
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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#69 Post by Altfish » June 7th, 2012, 2:31 pm

Sorry, I got sidetracked and never finished my reply!

I think that as civilisation has evolved it has reached for higher standards - certainly in western Europe that is true; admittedly we still get many things wrong; but I would not call wanting equal rights for all humans as "arrogance".

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Dave B
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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#70 Post by Dave B » June 7th, 2012, 2:35 pm

Not my pov as such, just an observation. Assuming the salvers are sane they are fully responsible for their actions - a true psychopath is not normally responsible, which seems to be a lynch pin in the prosecution of that Norwegian mass killer.

I do think that we have, for all its faults, a pretty good society in Britain, superior to that of America for example. But if "modern society" is defined as something like "that set of mores and customs that are very widely accepted at this time in history" in this context I will agree that slavery is against the majority view. But that is a "democratic" viewpoint, a consensus, and not absolute surely?

OK, read your PS to the last, Altfish, but I will let this post stand as it is.
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animist
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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#71 Post by animist » June 7th, 2012, 3:02 pm

thundril wrote:Interesting switch from the OP. "Right v Wrong' is not quite the same as 'Good v Bad'.
Or is it?
think it is different, and that the direction this thread has taken shows this. "Good" is almost meaningless as it can mean so many different things: "This music/pie is good" has nothing to do with ethics, so we are probably better off sticking with "right" and "wrong"

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Altfish
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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#72 Post by Altfish » June 7th, 2012, 3:10 pm

Dave B wrote:Not my pov as such, just an observation. Assuming the salvers are sane they are fully responsible for their actions - a true psychopath is not normally responsible, which seems to be a lynch pin in the prosecution of that Norwegian mass killer.

I do think that we have, for all its faults, a pretty good society in Britain, superior to that of America for example. But if "modern society" is defined as something like "that set of mores and customs that are very widely accepted at this time in history" in this context I will agree that slavery is against the majority view. But that is a "democratic" viewpoint, a consensus, and not absolute surely?

OK, read your PS to the last, Altfish, but I will let this post stand as it is.
OK, my psychopath anology was probably not a great one for the reason you point out; but justifying domination by saving the dominator wins doesn't sound right to me.
I do agree that we in the UK have a pretty good society, superior to the US in most ways.
I'm not sure what to say about "..."democratic" viewpoint, a consensus, and not absolute surely.." I think all I can say is that it appears pretty black and white to me. The Golden Rule so hallowed on this site must take precedence, ie "Do not treat people in a way that you would not wish to be treated yourself"

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animist
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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#73 Post by animist » June 7th, 2012, 3:15 pm

Altfish wrote:I'm not sure what to say about "..."democratic" viewpoint, a consensus, and not absolute surely.." I think all I can say is that it appears pretty black and white to me. The Golden Rule so hallowed on this site must take precedence, ie "Do not treat people in a way that you would not wish to be treated yourself"
I agree - the GR is a pretty good argument against ethical relativism, though of course it cannot disprove it

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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#74 Post by Dave B » June 7th, 2012, 3:59 pm

Granted, the Golden Rule is accepted as an "internal" law by most "reasonable people".

I don't know how to put that better, I do not feel that secular law does necessarily always agrees with the GR but the law that "reasonable people" "feel" in their inner selves, would like to live by, accords with that. Trouble is not everyone is "reasonable"!

But yes, that is as near an absolute as one can get and I concede that, ideally, it would be nice if human nature allowed everyone to abide by it.

So, we are a decidedly flawed species it seems!

I was just wondering if, assuming humanity does not commit suicide, in 200 years time they might not look on keeping people in prisons as being as abominable as we consider slavery now. With their advances in neuroscience perhaps they will be able to "cure" criminality by other means and consider that more acceptable. Despite the possibly very bad side effects pre-fontal lobotomies were once considered more acceptable than leaving people living in a cycle of bipolar behaviour. Perhaps new neuro-drugs, called "pacifiers" in one sci-fi story, will be considered better than locking people up.
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Emma Woolgatherer
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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#75 Post by Emma Woolgatherer » June 7th, 2012, 4:07 pm

Altfish wrote:I think all I can say is that it appears pretty black and white to me. The Golden Rule so hallowed on this site must take precedence, ie "Do not treat people in a way that you would not wish to be treated yourself"
I'm quite keen on the Golden Rule myself, but I don't understand why it must take precedence. There are other ethical approaches that could be taken. Other rules. Why not "Treat people in the way that they've treated you", or "Treat people in the way you'd expect them to treat you, on the basis of how they've treated other people," or "Treat people as you think they'd treat you if they were in your shoes"? Or how about Kant's Categorical Imperative: "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law."? Or, along similar lines (David Cortesi paraphrasing Jean-Paul Sartre): "When choosing a course of action, assume all mankind will take you as a model and will make the identical choice in the same situation"? Or Felix Adler's Supreme Ethical Rule: "Act so as to elicit the best in others and thereby in thyself"?

Even if you decide that the Golden Rule is better than all the rest, it doesn't follow that it must take precedence. The Golden Rule has its limitations. Someone might say that he would not want to be sent to prison, while accepting that for a society to function satisfactorily it is necessary to send some people to prison if they break certain laws. Someone else might say that she would not want to be beaten to death, while accepting that for a society to function satisfactorily it is necessary to beat some people to death if they break certain laws. Someone else might say that she would not want to be conscripted to fight in a war, while accepting that there are some circumstances where it is necessary to conscript certain people to fight in wars. Someone else might say that he would not want to be a slave, while accepting that there are some circumstances where it is necessary to enslave certain people. People have widely differing ideas about what is necessary to achieve certain goals, as well as about what those goals are, or should be, as well as about whose goals they are.

And that's another thing: who are the "others" in the Golden Rule? Other people in my group? Other people in my community? Other people in my country? Other people who seem to be at least slightly like me? Other people who at least try to obey the Golden Rule themselves, some of the time? All other people? All other sentient beings?

And what do we mean by "treat others"? Is it only a positive, active thing? Or Is there a corollary to the Golden Rule, along the lines of: Do not fail to treat others in a way that you would wish to be treated? And if so, what implications does that have? And again, who are the others?

The Golden Rule is a lot of things, but I certainly don't see it as black and white.

Emma

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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#76 Post by thundril » June 7th, 2012, 4:31 pm

Martyrs, masochists and people with low self-esteem should not follow the Golden Rule, IMO.

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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#77 Post by Dave B » June 7th, 2012, 5:03 pm

thundril wrote:Martyrs, masochists and people with low self-esteem should not follow the Golden Rule, IMO.
Sado-Masochists OK then? :wink:
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animist
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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#78 Post by animist » June 7th, 2012, 5:15 pm

Emma Woolgatherer wrote: The Golden Rule is a lot of things, but I certainly don't see it as black and white.

Emma
no, it is golden indeed

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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#79 Post by animist » June 7th, 2012, 5:40 pm

Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
Altfish wrote:I think all I can say is that it appears pretty black and white to me. The Golden Rule so hallowed on this site must take precedence, ie "Do not treat people in a way that you would not wish to be treated yourself"
I'm quite keen on the Golden Rule myself, but I don't understand why it must take precedence. There are other ethical approaches that could be taken. Other rules. Why not "Treat people in the way that they've treated you"
sounds Satanist rather than Humanist
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:or "Treat people in the way you'd expect them to treat you, on the basis of how they've treated other people,"
however could this have wide application?
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:or "Treat people as you think they'd treat you if they were in your shoes"? Or how about Kant's Categorical Imperative: "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law."? Or, along similar lines (David Cortesi paraphrasing Jean-Paul Sartre): "When choosing a course of action, assume all mankind will take you as a model and will make the identical choice in the same situation"? Or Felix Adler's Supreme Ethical Rule: "Act so as to elicit the best in others and thereby in thyself"?
surely these are pompous, obscure or inferior versions of the GR? Apart from Adler, which is not helpful as it does not define what "best" is

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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#80 Post by animist » June 7th, 2012, 5:51 pm

Emma Woolgatherer wrote:Even if you decide that the Golden Rule is better than all the rest, it doesn't follow that it must take precedence.
if it is the best why not give it precedence?
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:The Golden Rule has its limitations. Someone might say that he would not want to be sent to prison, while accepting that for a society to function satisfactorily it is necessary to send some people to prison if they break certain laws. Someone else might say that she would not want to be beaten to death, while accepting that for a society to function satisfactorily it is necessary to beat some people to death if they break certain laws. Someone else might say that she would not want to be conscripted to fight in a war, while accepting that there are some circumstances where it is necessary to conscript certain people to fight in wars. Someone else might say that he would not want to be a slave, while accepting that there are some circumstances where it is necessary to enslave certain people.
yes, but maybe you forget that the GR is essentially a guide for individual conduct, not for statecraft
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:And that's another thing: who are the "others" in the Golden Rule? Other people in my group? Other people in my community? Other people in my country? Other people who seem to be at least slightly like me? Other people who at least try to obey the Golden Rule themselves, some of the time? All other people? All other sentient beings?
in the absence of an obvious scope limitation (and non-humans are unlikely to follow the GR), it is surely reasonable to assume it applies to all - that generality is surely one of its strengths

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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#81 Post by Dave B » June 7th, 2012, 6:02 pm

Why not "Treat people in the way that they've treated you", or "Treat people in the way you'd expect them to treat you, on the basis of how they've treated other people," or "Treat people as you think they'd treat you if they were in your shoes"?
Emma, is that not the ethos that has driven family, clan, tribal and even national feuds and vendettas for a lot of known history?
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