INFORMATION

This website uses cookies to store information on your computer. Some of these cookies are essential to make our site work and others help us to improve by giving us some insight into how the site is being used. For further information, see our Privacy Policy. Continuing to use this website is acceptance of these cookies.

What is right and what is wrong?

Enter here to explore ethical issues and discuss the meaning and source of morality.
Message
Author
User avatar
animist
Posts: 6522
Joined: July 30th, 2010, 11:36 pm

Re: What is right and what is wrong?

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

Latest post of the previous page:

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!

User avatar
Emma Woolgatherer
Posts: 2976
Joined: February 27th, 2008, 12:17 pm

Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#102 Post by Emma Woolgatherer » June 12th, 2012, 1:15 pm

animist wrote:I am assuming that animals are not moral agents, and I think the GR does have the concept of reciprocity embedded in it.
Why? As I see it, the Golden Rule is telling you to do unto others what you would have them do unto you (if you were in their shoes), whether they do it or not, and whether they're capable of doing it or not. All that's necessary is for you to have a good idea of what the "others" might want. It's quite straightforward for me to think that my dog wants me to feed her, or that the cat next door wants to walk through my garden without having boiling water thrown at him, or that a wide range of animals want to be left alone to do their own thing without being taken to the slaughterhouse to have their throats cut or to the laboratory to be vivisected. It gets trickier with animals that don't show any outward signs of emotions that are familiar to us, like fear and happiness. But then it's not always straightforward with human beings.
animist wrote: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.
And only from adult, mentally sound humans. But I'm still not clear where that assumption comes from.
animist wrote: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 is it true that one cannot actually do much? If, instead of spending a large chunk of my disposable income on luxuries, I used it to help someone, or several people, who were in dire straits, that could do quite a lot. The problem is not that I can't do much; it's more that there are so many things that need to be done it's hard to know where to start. But I suppose that applying the Golden Rule means that one simply has to do something, on the basis that if I were in dire straits I would want someone to help me if they could, but those who were busy helping others equally in need would be let off the hook, as it were.
animist wrote: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.
I'm not sure what it was I said that you're responding to here, but yes, I suppose that would work. But there's something missing here, I think. The Golden Rule doesn't seem to stand on its own; I think it requires certain moral assumptions, or calculations. I wouldn't apply it in circumstances where the other person's wants seem unreasonable to me. So, wanting not to be robbed is reasonable; wanting not to be bothered by the presence of badly dressed poor people in one's neighbourhood is not. Wanting to be helped if one is starving is reasonable; wanting to be given a new large-screen television set when one can't quite afford to buy one at the moment is not. But on what basis am I judging the reasonableness of a want? Are my own wants always reasonable? Seems unlikely.
animist wrote: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
I'm not surprised, and I agree that utilitarianism has a better record on the issue of animals, but I'm not convinced that it's better on that issue by definition.

Emma

User avatar
Emma Woolgatherer
Posts: 2976
Joined: February 27th, 2008, 12:17 pm

Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#103 Post by Emma Woolgatherer » June 15th, 2012, 12:16 pm

animist wrote: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.
I don't see why. People talk about having principles, or a set of principles, rather than just the one principle. Different principles can be applied in different contexts. As long as they don't contradict each other, I don't see a problem.
animist wrote: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.
Perhaps. But my ethical beliefs certainly inform my own voting behaviour, and that's true of other people I know. And certainly ethical arguments are often used to make the case for, or defend, certain policy decisions, albeit in a rather haphazard way.
animist wrote: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
No, that's not the point. It doesn't work like that. People justify individual acts on the grounds that they are so insignificant that they won't hurt anyone. The other day, we saw someone walk past this flat and break off a rose from a bush in the front garden. If the person he was with had challenged him on his behaviour, he might well have said, "It was just one rose. The rose bush doesn't look any different. No one's going to notice that it's gone, let alone get upset about it." And he might well think that he himself wouldn't notice, and therefore wouldn't be upset, if it were his own garden. But if everyone picked flowers from everyone's front gardens, there'd be no flowers left in people's front gardens. We'd all be deprived of the pleasure of seeing flowers in other people's gardens, whether we have front gardens ourselves or not. The world would be less colourful. Same goes for picking wildflowers. And littering. Dropping one sweet wrapper, or one small piece of chewing gum, might do no harm at all to another human being, but one wouldn't want to be knee-deep in litter all the time, or adhering to the pavements. There are lots of things in this world that are harmful only on a large scale. Most of the environmental problems and many of the social and economic problems we have today are, I'd suggest, the consequence of large numbers of people doing things that are, in isolation, pretty much harmless, or even beneficial.

There are four obvious responses to WIEDT (though no doubt there are many more). The first is: "Well, most people don't do it. So I can get away with it." And if most people don't do the thing in question because they don't want to, that might well be a reasonable response. But if the thing in question is something that other people might well want to do, but are deliberately refraining from doing (perhaps on the basis of WIEDT), then that's not so reasonable. The person who is doing it is taking advantage of everyone else's sense of responsibility. And most of us would see that as not fair. But if a person doesn't have the sense of fairness that would make them see that as wrong, then they're unreachable, and they doubtless wouldn't be moved by the Golden Rule either.

The second response is: "But lots of other people are doing it. If I stop doing it, it's not going to make the slightest difference. Why should I stop doing it if they don't?" I confess this is my own response to certain issues, one in particular, related to climate change. I am happy to make lots of changes to my life in order to reduce my carbon footprint, even if other people aren't, because the changes I make aren't actually impoverishing my life. But why should I stop flying to foreign countries on holiday when everyone else I know does it? Why should I forgo a biennial or triennial holiday in southern Europe when my friend X flies to and from Germany every week for his work, and my friends Y and Z take holiday flights at least twice a year, one of which is long haul. It's not as though people are going to follow my example. So I'll just be depriving myself for no reason. Hmm. Must work on a response to this response ...

The third response to WIEDT is: "I'm (or we're) allowed to do this, because I (or we) have a legitimate special status." This is the response used openly by eco-celebrities who fly abroad several times a year, or whose carbon footprints are huge for other reasons related to the work they do. But it's an excuse that's also used on a wider scale, I suspect, as a private justification. We all think we're special. And maybe we're afraid of challenging the legitimacy of other people's claimed special status because we're scared that other people might challenge our own.

The fourth response to WIEDT is: "We don't know what would happen if everyone did this. Probably the world would adapt, somehow. We would no doubt find technological solutions to the problems caused by everyone doing this." Wishful thinking or informed optimism?

Emma

User avatar
Emma Woolgatherer
Posts: 2976
Joined: February 27th, 2008, 12:17 pm

Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#104 Post by Emma Woolgatherer » June 15th, 2012, 1:14 pm

animist wrote:fair enough, though this is strange coming from you, who believes that noone can have acted otherwise than how they did [cheap shot].
I don't care how cheap the shot is, but what is it aiming at? What is strange coming from me? And why? As I've already said, I'm not advocating any specific alternatives to the Golden Rule as moral imperatives. Yes, I have said elsewhere that I believe that no one can have acted otherwise than how they did, given the specific circumstances that existed at the time (and even if you don't agree with that there are plenty of compatibilist determinists who would; I've also admitted that I'm not entirely certain of it myself, since, unlike you, I'm not sure I am a determinist). But in any case, the ethical beliefs that people have, as individuals or as part of groups or societies, are part of the circumstances that exist whenever they act.
animist wrote: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!
Yes, and I agree the negative version's definitely easier. But I think the more widespread adoption of a cautious variant of the positive version would be, on the whole, rather nice.

Emma

User avatar
animist
Posts: 6522
Joined: July 30th, 2010, 11:36 pm

Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#105 Post by animist » June 18th, 2012, 11:07 am

Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
animist wrote: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.
I don't see why. People talk about having principles, or a set of principles, rather than just the one principle. Different principles can be applied in different contexts. As long as they don't contradict each other, I don't see a problem.
yes if they do not conflict, fine. But the etymology of the word implies precedence, that's all
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
animist wrote: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.
Perhaps. But my ethical beliefs certainly inform my own voting behaviour, and that's true of other people I know. And certainly ethical arguments are often used to make the case for, or defend, certain policy decisions, albeit in a rather haphazard way.
agree, and I do the same - but I doubt that we are typical
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
animist wrote: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
No, that's not the point. It doesn't work like that. People justify individual acts on the grounds that they are so insignificant that they won't hurt anyone. The other day, we saw someone walk past this flat and break off a rose from a bush in the front garden. If the person he was with had challenged him on his behaviour, he might well have said, "It was just one rose. The rose bush doesn't look any different. No one's going to notice that it's gone, let alone get upset about it." And he might well think that he himself wouldn't notice, and therefore wouldn't be upset, if it were his own garden. But if everyone picked flowers from everyone's front gardens, there'd be no flowers left in people's front gardens. We'd all be deprived of the pleasure of seeing flowers in other people's gardens, whether we have front gardens ourselves or not. The world would be less colourful. Same goes for picking wildflowers. And littering. Dropping one sweet wrapper, or one small piece of chewing gum, might do no harm at all to another human being, but one wouldn't want to be knee-deep in litter all the time, or adhering to the pavements. There are lots of things in this world that are harmful only on a large scale. Most of the environmental problems and many of the social and economic problems we have today are, I'd suggest, the consequence of large numbers of people doing things that are, in isolation, pretty much harmless, or even beneficial.
There are four obvious responses to WIEDT (though no doubt there are many more). The first is: "Well, most people don't do it. So I can get away with it." And if most people don't do the thing in question because they don't want to, that might well be a reasonable response. But if the thing in question is something that other people might well want to do, but are deliberately refraining from doing (perhaps on the basis of WIEDT), then that's not so reasonable. The person who is doing it is taking advantage of everyone else's sense of responsibility. And most of us would see that as not fair. But if a person doesn't have the sense of fairness that would make them see that as wrong, then they're unreachable, and they doubtless wouldn't be moved by the Golden Rule either. The second response is: "But lots of other people are doing it. If I stop doing it, it's not going to make the slightest difference. Why should I stop doing it if they don't?" I confess this is my own response to certain issues, one in particular, related to climate change. I am happy to make lots of changes to my life in order to reduce my carbon footprint, even if other people aren't, because the changes I make aren't actually impoverishing my life. But why should I stop flying to foreign countries on holiday when everyone else I know does it? Why should I forgo a biennial or triennial holiday in southern Europe when my friend X flies to and from Germany every week for his work, and my friends Y and Z take holiday flights at least twice a year, one of which is long haul. It's not as though people are going to follow my example. So I'll just be depriving myself for no reason. Hmm. Must work on a response to this response ...The third response to WIEDT is: "I'm (or we're) allowed to do this, because I (or we) have a legitimate special status." This is the response used openly by eco-celebrities who fly abroad several times a year, or whose carbon footprints are huge for other reasons related to the work they do. But it's an excuse that's also used on a wider scale, I suspect, as a private justification. We all think we're special. And maybe we're afraid of challenging the legitimacy of other people's claimed special status because we're scared that other people might challenge our own.
The fourth response to WIEDT is: "We don't know what would happen if everyone did this. Probably the world would adapt, somehow. We would no doubt find technological solutions to the problems caused by everyone doing this." Wishful thinking or informed optimism?
Emma
I agree with most of this tho' I don't see it as especially contradicting what I said, since regardless of how it works, the point is that in doing such things as pinching other people's flowers, or even wild flowers, one is depriving other people of something which (by definition, since one has stolen others' property in order to appropriate the pleasure it brings) one would feel deprived of if the situations were reversed. Writing this makes me remember in wry amazement that burglars apparently get most incensed when they themselves are burgled!

What you have done is to interestingly explore the phenomenon of sorites: the fact that small subtractions from (or additions to) some collection are often each of them imperceptible, whereas of course the cumulative effect is decidedly noticeable. In the case of litter, and this may reflect my aversion to it (I used to often pick up street litter) I feel that the visual polluting effect of each and every piece of trash is notable in itself, so the sorites principle is not really operative. I agree that, when it is a case of an undesirable subtraction from, rather than an undesirable addition to, the visual environment, sorites does come in - for instance, if I go for a country walk I like to see wild flowers, but if there are few of them I probably would not notice (whereas I do notice any litter!) and I certainly do not notice if there are fewer flowers than last time I visited.

Another feature linked to the GR and to WIEDT is the freeloader problem: if I park in a public carpark without paying (which I often do :redface: ) I have not usually directly hurt anyone else (unless the park is very crowded and I have usurped a potential paying customer), but I am being parasitic - and if everyone tried to do as I did the fees would probably go up, I don't know.

As far as excuses in an answer to WIEDT, a couple more spring to mind: one is what I mentioned to you when we were in London and talking about climate change, and it is basically that it is up to the government to make it difficult for me and others to use air transport unnecessarily, rather than for us to voluntarily do so. A last one, which I can imagine kids saying when they drop litter and are WIEDTed: "well, I LIKE litter!".

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_rider_problem
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sorites_paradox

User avatar
animist
Posts: 6522
Joined: July 30th, 2010, 11:36 pm

Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#106 Post by animist » June 18th, 2012, 11:26 am

Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
animist wrote:I am assuming that animals are not moral agents, and I think the GR does have the concept of reciprocity embedded in it.
Why? As I see it, the Golden Rule is telling you to do unto others what you would have them do unto you (if you were in their shoes), whether they do it or not, and whether they're capable of doing it or not. All that's necessary is for you to have a good idea of what the "others" might want. It's quite straightforward for me to think that my dog wants me to feed her, or that the cat next door wants to walk through my garden without having boiling water thrown at him, or that a wide range of animals want to be left alone to do their own thing without being taken to the slaughterhouse to have their throats cut or to the laboratory to be vivisected. It gets trickier with animals that don't show any outward signs of emattotions that are familiar to us, like fear and happiness. But then it's not always straightforward with human beings.Emma
I see what you mean, but think in fact that the GR simply does, and always was meant to, apply only to humans (maybe that is why it was adopted as "humanist"?), or anyway to "rational" beings capable in principle of reciprocating (back to the awful Kant). Of course the principle is independent of whether people actually do treat you as you would like to be treated, and that is what makes it different from the "Satanist" one of returning like for like, roughly speaking. But if the "other" is something quite incapable of treating you as you would like to be treated (eg a tiger is incapable of not wishing to attack me) the idea of GR surely does not apply: the fact that we roughly know how animals wish to be treated is not relevant because there simply is no chance of them treating us as we would like to be treated. At any rate, utilitarianism seems a much simpler alternative than attempting to construe the GR in the way that you have indicated.

User avatar
animist
Posts: 6522
Joined: July 30th, 2010, 11:36 pm

Re: What is right and what is wrong?

#107 Post by animist » June 21st, 2012, 7:45 am

Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
animist wrote:fair enough, though this is strange coming from you, who believes that noone can have acted otherwise than how they did [cheap shot].
I don't care how cheap the shot is, but what is it aiming at? What is strange coming from me? And why? As I've already said, I'm not advocating any specific alternatives to the Golden Rule as moral imperatives. Yes, I have said elsewhere that I believe that no one can have acted otherwise than how they did, given the specific circumstances that existed at the time (and even if you don't agree with that there are plenty of compatibilist determinists who would; I've also admitted that I'm not entirely certain of it myself, since, unlike you, I'm not sure I am a determinist). But in any case, the ethical beliefs that people have, as individuals or as part of groups or societies, are part of the circumstances that exist whenever they act.
Emma
well, this goes back to the Free Will thread, in the latter stages of which I showed (to my satisfaction anyway) that the word could, in the way that you are using here, does not refer to free will but to logic of language: it cannot be that I both do and do not do something. That I could not act otherwise, given the circumstances (which include my state of mind), may be true - but it is true only in a tautological sense which does not deny my free will. Let's make an analogy with God. If God exists then he is presumably omnipotent, but he nevertheless cannot breach the laws of logic: he cannot at the same time do and not do something. So both I and God, given particular circumstances obtaining when we reach a decision point, are going to act in a certain way and no other. This does not mean that either of us is not acting freely.

Post Reply