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

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

Latest post of the previous page:

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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Compassionist
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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#82 Post by Compassionist » June 7th, 2012, 6:09 pm

thundril wrote:Interesting switch from the OP. "Right v Wrong' is not quite the same as 'Good v Bad'.
Or is it?
"Good is a point of view" can easily be changed to "Right is a point of view" or "Wrong is a point of view" or "Bad is a point of view"... When there is no absolute value (e.g. decreed by an omniscient, omnipotent God), doesn't morality become empty? A society may consider slavery to be 'right' e.g. the American South, while another society may consider slavery to be 'wrong' e.g. the American North. What you then get is the American Civil War where might is right is right.

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animist
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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#83 Post by animist » June 7th, 2012, 6:15 pm

Compassionist wrote:
thundril wrote:Interesting switch from the OP. "Right v Wrong' is not quite the same as 'Good v Bad'.
Or is it?
"Good is a point of view" can easily be changed to "Right is a point of view" or "Wrong is a point of view" or "Bad is a point of view"...
wrong, wrong wrong! :laughter:

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

#84 Post by Dave B » June 7th, 2012, 6:15 pm

If there such a thing as "evil"? Or is this only a religious concept?
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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#85 Post by Compassionist » June 7th, 2012, 6:31 pm

animist wrote:
Compassionist wrote:
thundril wrote:Interesting switch from the OP. "Right v Wrong' is not quite the same as 'Good v Bad'.
Or is it?
"Good is a point of view" can easily be changed to "Right is a point of view" or "Wrong is a point of view" or "Bad is a point of view"...
wrong, wrong wrong! :laughter:
right, right, right! :laughter:

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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#86 Post by Compassionist » June 7th, 2012, 6:31 pm

Dave B wrote:If there such a thing as "evil"? Or is this only a religious concept?
"Nothing is either good or bad but thinking makes it so." - William Shakespeare

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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

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

Compassionist wrote:
Dave B wrote:If there such a thing as "evil"? Or is this only a religious concept?
"Nothing is either good or bad but thinking makes it so." - William Shakespeare
Wossat gotta do with "evil" Image

"Hon y soit qui mal y pense."!
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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#88 Post by animist » June 7th, 2012, 7:39 pm

Compassionist wrote:right, right, right! :laughter:
ok, you win! But are you saying that the terms are interchangeable, despite what I said above? In academic philosophy, right and wrong are the province of deontological theories, while good (and bad? this word is seldom used in fact) of teleological theories

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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#89 Post by Lord Muck oGentry » June 7th, 2012, 11:37 pm

Compassionist wrote:
thundril wrote:Interesting switch from the OP. "Right v Wrong' is not quite the same as 'Good v Bad'.
Or is it?
"Good is a point of view" can easily be changed to "Right is a point of view" or "Wrong is a point of view" or "Bad is a point of view"... When there is no absolute value (e.g. decreed by an omniscient, omnipotent God), doesn't morality become empty?
Empty of what exactly?
I am not being flippant here. The question is quite serious.
What we can't say, we can't say and we can't whistle it either. — Frank Ramsey

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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#90 Post by Lord Muck oGentry » June 7th, 2012, 11:56 pm

thundril wrote:Interesting switch from the OP. "Right v Wrong' is not quite the same as 'Good v Bad'.
Or is it?
Not the same at all, IMO. We talk of a good thing to do but also of the right thing to do. The same point can be made in another way: we talk of a choice of evils but never of a choice of wrongs.

To put it roughly: the good/bad distinction allows us to express what may affect our decision; the right/wrong distinction signals our decision.
What we can't say, we can't say and we can't whistle it either. — Frank Ramsey

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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#91 Post by animist » June 8th, 2012, 6:28 am

Lord Muck oGentry wrote:
thundril wrote:Interesting switch from the OP. "Right v Wrong' is not quite the same as 'Good v Bad'.
Or is it?
Not the same at all, IMO. We talk of a good thing to do but also of the right thing to do. The same point can be made in another way: we talk of a choice of evils but never of a choice of wrongs.

To put it roughly: the good/bad distinction allows us to express what may affect our decision; the right/wrong distinction signals our decision.
I think that is a very apt distinction

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Emma Woolgatherer
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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#92 Post by Emma Woolgatherer » June 8th, 2012, 10:15 am

animist wrote:
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:Why not "Treat people in the way that they've treated you"
sounds Satanist rather than Humanist
It's neither. Just human, and rather common. (Even, I suspect, among some humanists, just occasionally. Well, I'll admit it even if you don't. :D) Whereas the Golden Rule is rather saintly, and I think very rarely applied with any degree of consistency. And I think that's worth considering. Mightn't there be a case for having an ethical rule that's not too difficult to apply? Perhaps a more realistic approach might be a hybrid of the two. Something close to the tit for tat strategy in game theory, which has the advantage of giving the highest scores in the iterated prisoner's dilemma. Maybe an ethical rule along those lines might give satisfactory ethical outcomes. Something like: Treat others as you'd like to be treated, unless they've already treated you as you didn't like to be treated." But you'd need to incorporate a quickness to forgive, which is important in tit for tat. The idea is not to start a vendetta, but to encourage others to treat you in the way they'd like to be treated, rather than take advantage of your saintliness.

Still, please note I'm not advocating this, or any of the others, as something that should be widely applied as the ethical rule. Just questioning the idea that the Golden Rule must take precedence. There's no must about it. People can and do take alternative approaches. And I think there might be a good case for a bit of pick and mix.
animist wrote: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
I agree about Adler's, though it's not something I've looked into. But I don't think Kant's or Sartre's offerings are pompous, obscure or inferior versions of the GR. I agree that Kant's a little obscure, but Sartre's version is a big improvement. And I think the idea behind them is extremely important, because it says something extra, something the GR doesn't touch on. I wish there were a better term for it than the "Categorical Imperative", but I think of it as "What if everybody did that?" (WIEDT?). It's a common enough phrase, something my parents said to me loads of times when I was a child. That's how I learned that it was wrong to drop litter. Not by the Golden Rule. I think it has important applications for things like pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and using more than one's fair share of resources.

Again, I'm not saying that it must take precedence. Just that it might be another useful tool for the ethical toolbox, along with the Golden Rule, or a modified Golden Rule, and a utilitarian slide rule, and various other bits and pieces.

Emma

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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#93 Post by Emma Woolgatherer » June 8th, 2012, 10:43 am

animist wrote:if it [the Golden Rule] is the best why not give it precedence?
Again, what I'm questioning it that it must take precedence. It might (or might not) be better than any other ethical rule or ethical tool, but it does not follow that it should always be used. To continue the toolbox analogy, you might have one tool that is better made and more useful than all your others, but you won't be able to use it for all tasks.
animist wrote:yes, but maybe you forget that the GR is essentially a guide for individual conduct, not for statecraft
Public policy is (in theory, at least) determined democratically, on the basis of shared ethical beliefs. If the Golden Rule informs many individuals' ethical beliefs, that has implications beyond the individual conduct of each of them. Besides, the examples I gave were prompted by the earlier reference to slavery, but one could come up with examples related to individual conduct (e.g. smacking children, eating meat, and various choices about charitable giving).
animist wrote: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
So are you saying that because non-humans are unlikely to follow the GR then it's reasonable to assume that they are excluded? If so, I'm not sure I follow that. Or does your "all" encompass them too? Either way, there's obviously wide disagreement on this. But in any case, if the GR applies at least to all human beings, then how should it be applied? Treat all other human beings as you would like them to treat you (if you were in their shoes). Well, if I were on less than two dollars a day, say, and living without proper sanitation and not getting enough to eat and at high risk of disease, and I knew that there were plenty of people living in comparative luxury, and earning much, much more, I'd want them to share their wealth in order to improve my lot. How do I, as one of those living in comparative luxury, translate that into a guide to my own conduct?

Emma

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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#94 Post by Emma Woolgatherer » June 8th, 2012, 10:59 am

Dave B wrote:If there such a thing as "evil"? Or is this only a religious concept?
It's not only a religious concept. This cropped up in an old thread ("Evil Thoughts"), and I wrote then:
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:Evil derives from the Old English word yfel, which is related to the Old High German ubil or upil, which comes from an Old Teutonic word that is usually referred to as the root of "up" and "over". "On this view," the OED says, "the primary sense would be either 'exceeding due measure' or 'overstepping proper limits' ..."

The first definition given is: "The antithesis of GOOD in all its principle senses.
"In Old English, as in all the other early Teutonic languages except Scandinavian, this word is the most comprehensive adjectival expression of disapproval, dislike, or disparagement. In modern colloquial English it is little used, such currency as it has being due to literary influence. In quite familiar speech the adjective is commonly superseded by bad, the substantive [noun] is somewhat more frequent, but chiefly in the widest senses, the more specific senses being expressed by other words, as harm, injury, misfortune, disease, etc."

I use the word "evil" a lot. I like it. (Remember that old Eartha Kitt song, "I want to be evil"?) I like to say things like, "There's an evil smell coming from that dustbin." Or, "He's an evil bastard, that Silvio Berlusconi."
I still do, though Berlusconi is no longer the bastard that first comes to mind.

Emma

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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#95 Post by Dave B » June 8th, 2012, 4:02 pm

I still do, though Berlusconi is no longer the bastard that first comes to mind.
:laughter:

Thanks, Emma, I still tend to associate "evil" as being bad in a "satanic" sense, though I might use it as hyperbole in the way you did. Some how, "He's a bad bastard!" does not have quite the same impact!
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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#96 Post by animist » June 9th, 2012, 9:17 am

Dave B wrote:
I still do, though Berlusconi is no longer the bastard that first comes to mind.
:laughter:

Thanks, Emma, I still tend to associate "evil" as being bad in a "satanic" sense, though I might use it as hyperbole in the way you did. Some how, "He's a bad bastard!" does not have quite the same impact!
Dave - do you not want to call genocides or mass murders like the Holocaust, Srebrenica, Rwanda, the Killing Fields, the Gulags, etc just plain "evil" - not "mistakes", surely? Surely not hyperbole either, and there is no need of a Satanic connection, though of course there is need for analysis of just why they happened

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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#97 Post by Dave B » June 9th, 2012, 9:37 am

Point taken, animist, it is true that "evil" is a word that really fits such things. I was, however, talking about my personal use, or non-use, of the adjective and I would probably use "inhuman" to describe the events you mentioned.

Perhaps it is prejudice against a word that I associate too closely with the religious use as synonymous with "unholy" which does not sit well with me.
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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#98 Post by Dave B » June 9th, 2012, 12:10 pm

This is a PS to above:

Having said what I did it occurred to me that I might still use "evil" in the senses you mentioned, Animist, or for a smell (using it in an entirely wrong way!) or other non-animate or non-human entity (animals cannot be evil I beleive.) Therefore has the word had its meaning in the "common mind" changed, like so many words over the years?

But these are habitual or "casual" uses, in the same way that I might still use, "Oh my god!" or "Jesus!" or even, "Bloody hell!" (though I try not to.) If I were writing or thinking seriously about something, thinking about the language I am using, I would almost certainly use "inhuman" when referring to the kind of acts you mentioned.

[My oldest dictionary, 1885, defines evil using words like: bad, unnatural, not moral . . . there are no connotations of "unholy" in there at all. Looks like I have developed my own memories/associations of its mainly religious usage during my formative years. One more thing to blame preachers and Sunday school for! But interesting.]
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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#99 Post by animist » June 9th, 2012, 6:27 pm

Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
animist wrote:
animist wrote: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
So are you saying that because non-humans are unlikely to follow the GR then it's reasonable to assume that they are excluded? If so, I'm not sure I follow that. Or does your "all" encompass them too? Either way, there's obviously wide disagreement on this. But in any case, if the GR applies at least to all human beings, then how should it be applied? Treat all other human beings as you would like them to treat you (if you were in their shoes). Well, if I were on less than two dollars a day, say, and living without proper sanitation and not getting enough to eat and at high risk of disease, and I knew that there were plenty of people living in comparative luxury, and earning much, much more, I'd want them to share their wealth in order to improve my lot. How do I, as one of those living in comparative luxury, translate that into a guide to my own conduct?

Emma
ok, lack of clarity on my part (I could make a joke about clarety, but that is not what I drink). I am assuming that animals are not moral agents, and I think the GR does have the concept of reciprocity embedded in it. So yes, animals are excluded. In fact I think this is a major criticism of GR (and in the case of Kant's Categorical Imperative, the criticism is often made): the problem with GR and its variants is that they assume some commonality of potentially rational behaviour which in fact can be expected only from humans. I think the GR, if it means anything (and I note the lack of threads in this humanist forum which actually deal with it, on the lines of "how did you apply the Golden Rule today?") does try to put each of us in the shoes of someone else. Your example makes the obviously valid point that the GR, like any ethical principle, has less application if you cannot actually do much. But in fact, unless you really are starving, I think a poor person could apply the GR by deciding not to rob richer people, on the basis that if he were rich, he would not want to be robbed by a poorer person.

While I am taking issue with a few things that you say, I agree about the GR, which could be tricky to apply if you take it more seriously than a vague altruism. You will probably not be surprised if I say that I think that utilitarianism is better, if only because it includes concern for animals

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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#100 Post by animist » June 9th, 2012, 6:37 pm

Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
animist wrote:if it [the Golden Rule] is the best why not give it precedence?
Again, I'm questioning it that it must take precedence. It might (or might not) be better than any other ethical rule or ethical tool, but it does not follow that it should always be used. To continue the toolbox analogy, you might have one tool that is better made and more useful than all your others, but you won't be able to use it for all tasks.
animist wrote:yes, but maybe you forget that the GR is essentially a guide for individual conduct, not for statecraft
Public policy is (in theory, at least) determined democratically, on the basis of shared ethical beliefs. If the Golden Rule informs many individuals' ethical beliefs, that has implications beyond the individual conduct of each of them. Besides, the examples I gave were prompted by the earlier reference to slavery, but one could come up with examples related to individual conduct (e.g. smacking children, eating meat, and various choices about charitable giving).
I think the toolbox analogy is not a good one - since one of the problems of yakking on about any ethical theory is the difficulty of actually applying it (and the GR is not the easiest to apply), the last thing we need is a set of options. A principle by definition excludes alternatives, surely. Re public policy, I don't think democratic election is especially based on shared ethical beliefs (and in the case of the GR, a tiny minority would have even heard of it) but rather on a sort of lowest common denomination of interests, plus a vague image of what each party stands for.
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
animist wrote: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
I agree about Adler's, though it's not something I've looked into. But I don't think Kant's or Sartre's offerings are pompous, obscure or inferior versions of the GR. I agree that Kant's a little obscure, but Sartre's version is a big improvement. And I think the idea behind them is extremely important, because it says something extra, something the GR doesn't touch on. I wish there were a better term for it than the "Categorical Imperative", but I think of it as "What if everybody did that?" (WIEDT?). It's a common enough phrase, something my parents said to me loads of times when I was a child. That's how I learned that it was wrong to drop litter. Not by the Golden Rule. I think it has important applications for things like pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and using more than one's fair share of resources.

Again, I'm not saying that it must take precedence. Just that it might be another useful tool for the ethical toolbox, along with the Golden Rule, or a modified Golden Rule, and a utilitarian slide rule, and various other bits and pieces.

Emma
I like the WIEDT idea, but I think the GR can accommodate it. In the case of dropping litter, the point is that you are injuring someone else's enjoyment of the environment by polluting it with litter, so you are (on the assumption that you do not like other people's litter) failing to act in a way which matches how you would like to be treated

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Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#101 Post by animist » June 9th, 2012, 6:57 pm

Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
animist wrote:
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:Why not "Treat people in the way that they've treated you"
sounds Satanist rather than Humanist
It's neither.
I think that Satanism does have a hint of the realism that you mention:
http://altreligion.about.com/od/satanis ... ements.htm
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:Mightn't there be a case for having an ethical rule that's not too difficult to apply? Perhaps a more realistic approach might be a hybrid of the two. Something close to the tit for tat strategy in game theory, which has the advantage of giving the highest scores in the iterated prisoner's dilemma. Maybe an ethical rule along those lines might give satisfactory ethical outcomes. Something like: Treat others as you'd like to be treated, unless they've already treated you as you didn't like to be treated." But you'd need to incorporate a quickness to forgive, which is important in tit for tat. The idea is not to start a vendetta, but to encourage others to treat you in the way they'd like to be treated, rather than take advantage of your saintliness.
fair enough, though this is strange coming from you, who believes that noone can have acted otherwise than how they did [cheap shot]. Yes, the GR is saintly, especially in its positive or active version: one thing that has not been mentioned is the GR in negative and positive formulations. I had an argument over it with someone on Theologica who saw Jesus's positive version (do unto others as you would have them do unto you) as superior to the non-interference principles of many GR versions in other religions: obviously, if you are expected to go around doing what you think is good on the basis of what you yourself would enjoy, there could be problems!

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