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Can we agree what is "good" and "bad"?

Discussion in 'Culture & Religion' started by invest07, Nov 30, 2007.

  1. invest07

    invest07 Member

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    This forum is intended to discuss the origins and roots of our concepts of right and wrong. This is less about taking a stand on specific issues and more about why we believe as we do.

    There is a huge gap today between what many Americans believe is right and what is wrong. Between what is moral and what is immoral. Between what is acceptable behavior and what is unacceptable.

    As an example, I believe that abortion is murder. I believe that abortion takes the life of the most innocent and powerless of our society. Some of you probably have no problemo whatsoever with abortion. Some of you may be troubled by abortion but do not go as far as I in labeling abortion as murder.

    I am assuming all participating in the H.O.P. forum are rational thinkers and have some form of moral code. So why are we in H.O.P. (and US society in general) so far apart on the issue of abortion? Why are we so far apart on other issues?. Why are some of us conservative politically and some liberal? Why do some of us see the war against terror as moral and just and others see the war in Iraq as immoral? We are all thinking, rational people so why can’t we agree on the basics of what is “right” and what is “wrong”. Why do we disagree on moral issues? Why do some of us believe in situational ethics and others believe the code of right and wrong must be absolute?

    I think the answer lies in the individual source for our moral compass. It is clear that humanists and atheists don’t rely on a higher power for their code as they reject the existence of a higher power. Most believers in God accept as a given that “right” and “wrong” have been defined by God and not subject to revision by Man.

    • What is the source of your moral compass? Is your moral compass directed solely by other people or does it derive from a higher source or does it originate solely from within you?
    • What tests do you use to determine what is “right” and “wrong” and why?
    • Do you accept situational ethics?
    • Does your moral compass ever change direction?
    • Is your moral compass affected by current events or politics?
     
  2. invest07

    invest07 Member

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    The Taliban, Nazis, Aztecs and atheists

    The following writing is from Christopher Price in 2004. Price is a lawyer, book reviewer and essayist on this and related topics.

    “If there is no God or source of rights that transcends our culture, the Taliban culture, and the Aztec culture, then our statement of moral outrage is simply a matter of personal preference or cultural affinity, no different than our preference for driving on the right side of the road while the British drive on the left side of the road. Neither side has the inherent authority or ability to determine that the other's actions are moral or immoral.

    But if there is a source for these rights that is superior in comprehension, power, authority, and position than all of humanity, then there is a basis for claiming that a particular action is moral or immoral -- despite the perspective of the participants or the culture.

    I see no atheistic alternative or substitute for a transcendent being in developing a coherent, justifiable moral scheme. Nor do I have much hope that one could be developed. It seems impossible that one could develop a transcendent moral code without recourse to a transcendent source for that moral code.”

    Kai Nielsen is an atheist ethicist at the University of Calgary. Professor Nielsen candidly admits that "human reason" offers no guidance in developing a concept of true morality:

    "We have not been able to show that reason requires the moral point of view, or that all really rational persons should not be individual egoists or classical amoralists. Reason doesn't decide here. The picture I have painted for you is not a pleasant one. Reflection on it depresses me.... Pure practical reason, even with a good knowledge of the facts, will not take you to morality."
    Kai Nielsen, "Why Should I Be Moral?" American Philosophical Quarterly 21 (1984): 90

    The Taliban culture was well known for it’s repression of women to the point of savagery. The Taliban detest personal freedom and free speech and practice a strict “eye for an eye” criminal code. They have been documented as regularly performing executions, pogroms and ethnic cleansings, in the name of their philosophy. I think most of us in H.O.P. think the Taliban are “wrong” and immoral. But the Taliban don’t. They think they are “right” and moral.

    The Aztecs (and other Native American cultures) practiced human sacrifice. This practice continued over a long period of time and is estimated to have resulted in the death of thousands of humans. But did the Aztecs and Mayas knowingly do “wrong”? I think they approved of human sacrifice and saw no “wrong” in the practice.

    The Nazis saw no “wrong” in ethnic cleansing during the 1940’s. Today we are astounded that The Holocaust could happen but the Nazi’s saw nothing “wrong” with mass murder so long as they thought human genetics would be improved.
     
  3. Coyote

    Coyote Active Member

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    This is an interesting topic Invest particularly because I've been struggling with these sorts of issues and some contradictions lately.

    [*]What is the source of your moral compass? Is your moral compass directed solely by other people or does it derive from a higher source or does it originate solely from within you?

    I think my moral compass comes from what I've been taught is right and wrong first of all. I think it has developed further through discussions with people and reading and learning. It doesn't derive from a higher power because, ultimately - I am not sure I believe in a higher power, or more exactly, a higher power that takes an active interest in our affairs.

    There are certain universal rules that seem to occur in every philosophy and religion independent of a specific diety. So maybe these rules originate within ourselves.

    I will probably get blasted for this, but this is just the way I think. I determine right and wrong by how it feels inside me. It's not logical or rational, but it's fairly consistent.

    Can you define it for me? People use that term in varying ways.

    I'm not sure if it changes direction as much as becomes more or becomes less inclusive. The abortion debate, and the overal look at whether all life, just human life, or just some human life are sacred is one example.

    Current events have made me more aware of it and have made me think about it it more where as before I didn't much think about it.
     
  4. numinus

    numinus New Member

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    Correct.

    Ethics is meaningless without a fixed standard relative to it. In the same way that mathematics is meaningless without its foundational axioms.

    And so, while a strictly relative morality may be fun to contemplate, it is indefensible in any rigorous examination.
     
  5. vyo476

    vyo476 Active Member

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    Anyone who tries to tell you that their sense of morality originated entirely within themselves is either lying or was raised totally devoid of contact with other living beings.

    That said, I personally define my own morals based on what I see in the world, what I think about it and what I feel about it. I don't believe either way in a "higher power" but I think the Bible has a few good points and that Jesus was a pretty stand-up guy. Question: Do I count as at least partially following a "higher source" even if I don't follow every last word? Your answer to this question will be quite illuminating.

    First and foremost I ask myself what negative effects an activity, action, event, etc. will have on any and/or all people involved. Next I try to consider what kind of precedent it sets - how it'll affect the future and if that precedent will lead to future action that will exacerbate the effects of the current event in question.

    Yes, although since I've never used that particular phrase I probably ought to use some caution in answering in the affirmative. What exactly do you mean by "situational ethics"?

    It has since coming to this site.

    As I learn more it grows and changes, as do my views on just about everything, so I suppose the answer is yes, it is effected by current events and politics (as much as it is effected by reading the works of authors recent, recently deceased, and long dead).
     
  6. invest07

    invest07 Member

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    Situational Ethics and Moral Relativism

    Thanks for your comments so far. This is a topic that has the potential to reach deep into us, to our very core, and examine our core beliefs. It is my observation that much of who and what we are as humans stems from our central core. Examining this (and questioning) our central iore beliefs can tell each of us much about ourselves.

    My definition of situational ethics is similar to and may include the concept of moral relativism. Relativism contends that all conduct is relative to the circumstance. Thus, each individual must decide what is moral or immoral in a given situation. Ultimately, every man is his own judge of the matter. All situations are always relative; situational ethicists try to avoid such words as 'never' and 'always'. Should the situation (circumstances) change, what is “right” or “wrong” may change 180 degrees.

    One of the problems I have with situational ethics is “Monday Morning Quarterbacking”. Because your “right” or “wrong” behavior is entirely dependent on the specific circumstances, there is a natural tendency to judge behavior, after the fact, when all the circumstances are known and have been analyzed.

    GWB was criticized for not responding quickly enough with enough money for Tsunami victims a few years ago. He was criticized for not pledging many millions within the first 48 hours after the disaster. Bush explained that he needed time to assess the situation and he did pledge a record amount on the 6th day. It is easy to criticize when all the facts are in and have been analyzed. It is much more difficult to behave properly not all the facts are in and there has been little time for analysis. I'm no big fan of GWB But I did come to his defense in this matter.

    We are quick to criticize a cop for his/her actions during the heat of a moment. We have the luxury of knowing all the facts and have had time to reflect on those facts. The cop has no such luxury. Neither does a soldier. Both have to react on the spot and then sit back while everyone else gets to act as judge and jury with no pressure and all the facts.

    I believe in moral absolutes. I see behavior in Black and White. That does not mean that there should not be debate about right and wrong. What I see is 98% White or 98% Black, with a little (very little) wiggle room of gray area. 98% of all behaviors are "right" or "wrong" in any situation.

    The situational ethicist always sees things in shade of gray. No behavior is ALWAYS right and no behavior is ALWAYS wrong.

    If someone has a better definition of “Situational Ethics” or a different interpretation, let us all know.
     
  7. Coyote

    Coyote Active Member

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    When you put it that way, I'm not sure where I fall. For example - I seldom see things in black and white, it's the way I am wired. But I feel there are some moral absolutes.

    I believe murder is wrong: my uncertainty lies with abortion and what defines "murder" and whether I believe the government should legislate this. There is also the aspect of self defense. Obviously I am working on this issue.

    I believe it is wrong to intentially cause unnecessary suffering to another living being. That one I am sure of.
     
  8. invest07

    invest07 Member

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    vyo476
    "I don't believe either way in a "higher power" but I think the Bible has a few good points and that Jesus was a pretty stand-up guy. Question: Do I count as at least partially following a "higher source" even if I don't follow every last word? Your answer to this question will be quite illuminating."

    The source of your morality is not a higher power. Certain of your moral beliefs may run parallel with certain Christian beliefs but that is probably only a coincidence. I don't believe you are at least partly following a higher authority.

    Your moral belief system is evolving (microevolution, that is) and that is not always good or bad.

    As an example, there are new technologies that require us to examine our beliefs and decide whether or not those new concepts are moral. The debate over stem cell research is an example. As I understand, stem cells require the sacrifice of a fertilized embryo.

    * Is it moral to stop the life of the unborn embryo to possibly save certain lives of the living?
    * Since the stem cells are needed for research which may or may not work out, does this change the moral question?
    * If we knew for certain stem cells would save lives, does this fact change the moral equation?

    Stem cell research is an issue that did not exist even 5 years ago.

    The Naxis performed medical experiments on the retarded, handicapped and physically infirmed. Their purpose was medical research with the end goal of improving human genetics. Most of these human "lab rats" died or were severly hurt as a result of these experiments.

    * Was this practise really any different than using stem cells?

    Humans have used animals for medical research for years and years. This research often harms or kills the animal.

    * Is this practise OK if humans benefit and only animals are hurt?
    * Does this place a higher value on humans than animal?
    * Why should humans be worth more than animals?

    Your specific answer is less relevant than your reasoning and how that reasoning dovetails with your core beliefs.
     
  9. invest07

    invest07 Member

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    coyote

    "I will probably get blasted for this, but this is just the way I think. I determine right and wrong by how it feels inside me. It's not logical or rational, but it's fairly consistent."

    You are a very fortunate person if emotions are consistent for you in making moral decisions. My emotions vary widely and my gut reactions do too. I find myself questioning my impulse reactions afterward and wish I could have given more thought to the situation. I think my way through morality better than I react.

    One of the reasons I love the original Star Trek is that each of the 4 characters represented certain qualities:

    * Spock was logical with no emotion.
    * Bones was emotional.
    * Scotty was the science/technology techie who was more at home in an engine bay than with people.
    * Kirk was the rational one. Kirk was capable of putting the logical mind together with the emotional mind and the technical mind and acting rationally. Kirk was the only one who could effectively lead and consistently made the best decisions.

    These fictional characters separated different personality profiles and made it easy for us to identify with them (Even if we didn't consciously understand why). Kirk represented the ideal synthesis of emotion, logic and science/technology.

    I think it is safe to say that we all have some Spock and some Bones and some Scotty and some Kirk in us. We all have a different mix of those 4 and that is one reason we view morality with different eyes.

    I may have more Spock in me and less Bones than you do. I used to want to be Scotty but my life expereinces have tought me to take science/technology slowly and with much thought. New ideas to me require careful consideration and analysis and I'm skeptical unless the new idea can be demonstrated as demonstrably superior to the old.

    Does this make me a crotchety old fart? I'm not really all that old.
     
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