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Morality: relative or absolute?

Warren Dew
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Richard Hawkes:

The important part of that statement was "work towards". The act involves dialogue, awareness, understanding, tolerance and education. It's the way we discover questionable values and get feedback on our own acts.

Okay. I'd definitely agree with all of that.

People would (hopefully) adopt the best ideas and reject bad ones (who's dreaming now...).

Isn't it just as likely that, with understanding and tolerance, one might find that ideas that appear 'good' or 'bad' turn out only to be 'different'?

Maybe I've read too much Nozick, but it seems to me that the best conclusion might be, not a single global set of values, but instead a variety of societies and sets of values to choose from.
Warren Dew
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Joe King:

a large amount of early writing is religious in nature

Or, possibly, it has become religious with the passage of time: that they are religious texts now does not mean they started out that way.

I can easily imagine parts of some religious texts having started as essays on etiquette, or as cookbooks, 'way back in 2000 bc or so when they were first formulated. Certainly rules like "don't mix meat and milk" and "bleed the animal completely before butchering" seem to make as much sense as culinary guidelines as they do as religious edicts. Nothing quite so yucky as having lots of clotted blood mixed in with one's hamburger.
[ December 10, 2004: Message edited by: Warren Dew ]
Mapraputa Is
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Paul McKenna: Morals are always absolute. For example, stealing is wrong. A thief who steals from a rich person will feel the same pinch if someone else steals from him.

Sorry, I am late. Just couldn't resist...

What about a spy, who stole a horribly important document, which will save thousands (or more) lives in his (hm... Ok, or her) country?


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John Smith
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What if I steal a chunk of morality from someone who has an infinite supply of it, and subsequently put it in good use -- would that be moral?
Mapraputa Is
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John poses an important theoretical question. Aleph-null minus a chunk is still aleph-null. <sup>*</sup>

If the owner still has the same supplies, can the aforementioned act be considered stealing? I would say "no". And considering that the general supplies of morality in fact, increased, and the surplus was put in good use, we should consider this act highly moral.

--------------
<sup>*</sup>)

Source:
"Aleph-null bottles of beer on the wall,
Aleph-null bottles of beer,
You take one down, and pass it around,
Aleph-null bottles of beer on the wall."
[ December 11, 2004: Message edited by: Mapraputa Is ]
Gerald Davis
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I would pirate windowXP if I liked windows systems, good thing FreeBSD is good enough for me.
frank davis
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Originally posted by Warren Dew:



If we were to encounter aliens with a similar level of rationality, for example, such ethics couldn't very well contain any rules privileging other humans over the aliens. If they were significantly more rational, we might be obligated to sacrifice ourselves for their good.



But we started with the axiom that promoting human life as the definition of what is good. We don't have to equate all exhibitions of reasoning capacity by other life forms, or even computers, as equal to human life. Any other moral premise is liable to suicidal implications/comlications at some point.



Closer to home, if we were to discover new evidence showing that, in fact, Elephants or Sperm whales were as rational than man, we would have to be prepared to give them equal rights.


Still, my axiom is limited to promoting human life, not rational life per se. However, I'm not sure what you mean by equal rights. Am I willing to give voting rights to elephants that can read and write at some minimal level? I just wish there were the same standard now for humans....

I'm willing to respect other life forms right to life, except to the degree that they impinge on the fundamental axiom.


Such a system of ethics could also imply discrimination among humans on the basis of relative rationality.


No, the axiom respects the value of all human lives equally. The question of rationality is only how to respect it and promote it in all humans.
Gerald Davis
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Human are a creatures of nature and as such they will try to get as much material gain as possible. So if Elephants or Sperm whales were as rational than man, I don't see humans freely giving rights to them unless they had something to gain from doing so.

Remember some humans were slaves at one time, the abolishment of slavery came about because the costs of slavery outweigh the benefits; I am talking about social as well as economical costs.
Warren Dew
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Herb Slocomb:

But we started with the axiom that promoting human life as the definition of what is good.

Okay, I guess I misinterpreted the following:

I believe Aristotle said reasoning capacity is the distinguishing characteristic, and called man the rational animal based on that. There is certainly evidence that our capacity for reasoning is on a completley different level than all other animals, so that seems like a good start. Maybe more could be added to the list.But for the sake of discussion, could we build any type of rudimentary ethics based on such a small foundation?

I read that as a justification for treating humans differently from animals - because humans are rational. If you use that justification, special treatment for humans is no longer an axiom, it's a corollary of special treatment for rational beings.

I think that if one considers special treatment for humans to be an axiom - to the exclusion of rational aliens or other rational animals - any arguments about rationality don't follow. What defines one to be human is our genetic makeup, not our behavior; people are still considered human even when catatonic and less able to reason than most animals.

I think you can derive a consistent set of morals from that, but it certainly wouldn't be universal. Rational aliens obviously wouldn't share it.

I also worry about the special treatment for humans just because they happen to share a certain amount of common genetic material with me. Does this mean I have to treat chimpanzees better than dolphins because they share more of my genetic material, even if dolphins turn out to be more intelligent, better behaved, and generally more pleasant? Some people share more genetic material with me than the average human - should I treat them even more specially, giving preference to people who are of my race, are from my clan, or are in my immediate family? If one draws arbitrary lines about what level of genetic similarity counts, how does one justify them?
[ December 11, 2004: Message edited by: Warren Dew ]
Paul McKenna
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Originally posted by Mapraputa Is:

Sorry, I am late. Just couldn't resist...

What about a spy, who stole a horribly important document, which will save thousands (or more) lives in his (hm... Ok, or her) country?



Ah.. but lets start from the beginning shall we. The document that the spy stole showed that the country he/she stole it from was planning an immoral act in the first place, correct? So, the spy stealing the document , though is an immoral act by itself, is more tolerable than the former.

Morality is absolute here, stealing is wrong. Perpetrating a harmful act on innocents is wrong. But which is more tolerable to you?


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John Smith
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PMk: The document that the spy stole showed that the country he/she stole it from was planning an immoral act in the first place, correct?

Umm, partially correct. The country A from where the document was stolen puts itself high on the moral mountain, and holds the view that the country B serves Mephistopheles. In turn, the country B proclaims that the opposite is true -- it says that it is the apostle of absolute morality, and that country A serves Lucifer. The reason for such a dramatic difference of opinions? Well, it's the name of the Devil that they can't agree on. It started as a theological discussion first, but quickly deteriorated into an armed conflict.

Now the spy from country A sneaks into country B and steals the document (it happens to be the absolute mathematical proof that Devils' parents definitely named his son Mephistopheles).

In the meanwhile, Beelzebub (the real King of Hell) is contemplating: what size of pan should he use to fry the spy for infinity? On one hand, the spy broke the 8th commandment. On the other hand, the spy is a heroic profession (what could be more moral than serving your country?), and he was drafted into Army Intelligence anyway. Beelzebub is lost at this point -- if the Morality is absolute, so is Immorality. But what's in between -- the shadows of M and I?
Mapraputa Is
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Paul: Morality is absolute here, stealing is wrong. Perpetrating a harmful act on innocents is wrong. But which is more tolerable to you?

Ah, Ok. Then we perhaps call the same thing by different words. What I (and perhaps other) call "relative", you call "more or less tolerable".
Gerald Davis
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Stealing , it depends on what kind of stealing. To steal from your own collective is wrong whether that collective be your family, a tribe, or religion. But it is ok to steal and do harm to other that are not a member of your collective.

The collective would never work if they honestly admitted this fact, so lies and propergander is used against others. Taken over another countries land in the name of god to save them from the torments of hell and to rid them of lies that is their false belief, has to be the most successful propergander used.

I forgot even a married couple is a collective of two, it is surprising how some woman go for the bad boy image, she wants to be treated well, while others are abused for material gain by her beloved husband.

So any act of kindness, generosity and forgiveness is vile unless your own collective benefits from this act in someway.
frank davis
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Originally posted by Warren Dew:


Herb Slocomb: But we started with the axiom that promoting human life as the definition of what is good.

Warren : okay, I guess I misinterpreted the following:

I believe Aristotle said reasoning capacity is the distinguishing characteristic, and called man the rational animal based on that. There is certainly evidence that our capacity for reasoning is on a completley different level than all other animals, so that seems like a good start. Maybe more could be added to the list.But for the sake of discussion, could we build any type of rudimentary ethics based on such a small foundation?


You missed the most important part of the post, which was the very next sentence, "Perhaps we could start with a simple, reasonable axiom that it is good to promote human life.



I think that if one considers special treatment for humans to be an axiom - to the exclusion of rational aliens or other rational animals - any arguments about rationality don't follow. What defines one to be human is our genetic makeup, not our behavior; people are still considered human even when catatonic and less able to reason than most animals.


I never said rationality by itself was meant to be a criteria of any sort; rationality is relevant only in the context of it being part of human nature (albeit an important part). Human life is what we want to promote and to promote a truly human life you must consider human reasoning capacity as part of their nature. The person in a coma is still human I agree; just as is the person who is taking a nap. The only difference is in the probability of awakening. I was also careful to mention "capacity" to reason; it is not a part of human nature to be continually exercising reason.



I think you can derive a consistent set of morals from that, but it certainly wouldn't be universal. Rational aliens obviously wouldn't share it.


The aliens have their own moral code, most likely having something to do with the promotion of alien life. In any event, in either code there is nothing to prevent mutually beneficial interaction.





[ December 12, 2004: Message edited by: herb slocomb ]
[ December 12, 2004: Message edited by: herb slocomb ]
frank davis
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Originally posted by Warren Dew:

I also worry about the special treatment for humans just because they happen to share a certain amount of common genetic material with me. Does this mean I have to treat chimpanzees better than dolphins because they share more of my genetic material, even if dolphins turn out to be more intelligent, better behaved, and generally more pleasant? Some people share more genetic material with me than the average human - should I treat them even more specially, giving preference to people who are of my race, are from my clan, or are in my immediate family? If one draws arbitrary lines about what level of genetic similarity counts, how does one justify them?


Any other axiom that does not promote human life above other life forms runs into scenarios where it is moral to sacrifice humans for the benefit of animals. Such a moral code would not be maximally conducive to human survival. The axiom deals only with human life, not with degree of common genetic material; hence, all humans would be the same.

I'm not suggesting this axiom is the be all and end all; but it seems a reasonable place to start. Add additional non-contradictory axioms a you see fit..


[ December 12, 2004: Message edited by: herb slocomb ]
Stan James
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Any other axiom that does not promote human life above other life forms runs into scenarios where it is moral to sacrifice humans for the benefit of animals. Such a moral code would not be maximally conducive to human survival.


Of course when debating in thin air we could make up a scenario where sacrificing humans for animals could be vital to human survival ... n people might consume the animal protein supply on our island to zero in a short time, n/2 people would consume it at a sustainable pace ... what to do?

Absolute is so darned ... absolute.


A good question is never answered. It is not a bolt to be tightened into place but a seed to be planted and to bear more seed toward the hope of greening the landscape of the idea. John Ciardi
Joe King
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Originally posted by herb slocomb:


Obviously we share common characteristics with animals and are influenced by our environment, but isn't there anything innate that distinguishes us from animals?

I believe Aristotle said reasoning capacity is the distinguishing characteristic, and called man the rational animal based on that. There is certainly evidence that our capacity for reasoning is on a completley different level than all other animals, so that seems like a good start.


How about this:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/4083517.stm

The article talks about monkeys using tools. While that may not seem very exciting, it means that their mental abilities aren't a massive amount different to ours. While we are certainly cleverer (as far as we know) then other animals, that doesn't mean that we are no longer animals ourselves. As we evolved from less-clever animals, where was the dividing line when we stopped being animals and started being higher beings? There wasn't - we're still animals, albeit with a few fancy tricks.

If our morals are based upon the fact that humans have better reasoning ability then other animals, does this mean that we should have a different moral framework for humans that are better at reasoning then other humans? Does the next Albert Einstein deserve to be treated morally different from the next Forest Gump?
Joe King
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Originally posted by Warren Dew:
Joe King:

a large amount of early writing is religious in nature

Or, possibly, it has become religious with the passage of time: that they are religious texts now does not mean they started out that way.

I can easily imagine parts of some religious texts having started as essays on etiquette, or as cookbooks, 'way back in 2000 bc or so when they were first formulated.


Makes you wonder if future editions of holy books may contain books inspired by modern cooks.


Jamie Oliver 1:12 Thou shalt talk in a fake cockney accent whilest avoiding the use of shops other than Sainsbury's.

Delia Smith 5:14 And lo, the cake mixture was removed from the oven, and the Holy Delia Larder spake: Use not oven gloves with holes in them, for those that do will burn (their fingers) in hell.
frank davis
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Originally posted by Joe King:


How about this:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/4083517.stm

The article talks about monkeys using tools. While that may not seem very exciting, it means that their mental abilities aren't a massive amount different to ours. While we are certainly cleverer (as far as we know) then other animals, that doesn't mean that we are no longer animals ourselves. As we evolved from less-clever animals, where was the dividing line when we stopped being animals and started being higher beings? There wasn't - we're still animals, albeit with a few fancy tricks.

If our morals are based upon the fact that humans have better reasoning ability then other animals, does this mean that we should have a different moral framework for humans that are better at reasoning then other humans? Does the next Albert Einstein deserve to be treated morally different from the next Forest Gump?


No one is basing morality on the fact that humans are rational, so it matters not if other animals have some degree of raionality. Rationality is only used in my posts as a stepping stone to determine man's nature's and how men ought to treat other men.
Frank Silbermann
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Originally posted by Joe King:
How about this:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/4083517.stm

The article talks about monkeys using tools. While that may not seem very exciting, it means that their mental abilities aren't a massive amount different to ours. While we are certainly cleverer (as far as we know) then other animals, that doesn't mean that we are no longer animals ourselves. As we evolved from less-clever animals, where was the dividing line when we stopped being animals and started being higher beings? There wasn't - we're still animals, albeit with a few fancy tricks.
Then I guess we'd better invent God and a imagine a reason to distinguish ourselves from the animals. Otherwise, Jonathan Swift's essay ceases to be satire and becomes a legitimate proposal.
Joe King
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Originally posted by Frank Silbermann:
Then I guess we'd better invent God and a imagine a reason to distinguish ourselves from the animals. Otherwise, Jonathan Swift's essay ceases to be satire and becomes a legitimate proposal.


[edited by moderator -JM]

Ooo oo I forgot - the prevailing opinion is that of all of the thousands that have been invented and the thousands that will be invented, all of them are completely stupid, wrong, heretical, evil, illogical and mistaken apart from the one we currently think is right. Until we change our mind of course.
[ December 14, 2004: Message edited by: Jason Menard ]
Frank Silbermann
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Obviously, by equating ourselves with animals we're _not_ going to develop an ethic that treats animal lives as holy; killing and eating other animals is the way of the animal world.

I think the intention of that German woman who started PETA was to free herself from embarassment over her country's Nazi period. The idea was that if people accepted a moral equivalence between human lives and animal lives, then Eichman, Himmler, Hitler (who was a vegetarian), etc., were no worse than Ronald MacDonald or Colonel Sanders (so other countries should stop pushing a moral guilt trip).
frank davis
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Originally posted by Joe King:


Ooo oo I forgot - the prevailing opinion is that of all of the thousands that have been invented and the thousands that will be invented, all of them are completely stupid, wrong, heretical, evil, illogical and mistaken apart from the one we currently think is right.


I thought that esoteric view of the multiplicity of gods is that they are all just different aspects or modes of the one God. There being one real God, a superclass if you will (highly abstract of course), from which the other gods derive. A "is a" relation in object speak.
Jason Menard
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Joe King,

Check your PM please.
Marc Peabody
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I thought that esoteric view of the multiplicity of gods is that they are all just different aspects or modes of the one God. There being one real God, a superclass if you will (highly abstract of course), from which the other gods derive. A "is a" relation in object speak.


If the superclass is abstract, it cannot be instantiated.

Perhaps God would be more of a final class with default methods and the only other classes in the package are facades that implement the Religion interface. The Atheist implementation of the Religion interface has all of its methods return null, 0, and false (depending on the type expected). I believe the Religion interface includes the isMoralityAbsolute() method.


A good workman is known by his tools.
Jason Menard
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I implore you, for the sake of all that is sane, please let's not start relating philosophy and religion (or anything else for that matter) to OO concepts. Please, think of the children.
[ December 14, 2004: Message edited by: Jason Menard ]
Marc Peabody
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He started it!

On a serious note, I find it interesting that so many posts make the assumption:
belief in God(s) = belief in absolute morality
and
belief in no God(s) = belief in relative morality

It is as if the relative VS absolute argument it really founded on the source of morality, in which relative morality originates from man and absolute morality originates from an outside, greater force.

There are other possibilities:
1) An absolute morality that exists in and of itself, not defined by man or deity.
2) A relative morality produced by a deity who appreciates the gray areas inherent in all of said deity's creation.

Comments?
frank davis
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Originally posted by Marc Peabody:


If the superclass is abstract, it cannot be instantiated.



But it can be inheritated and the particular class of object (many would be derived) that would be instantiated would depend on the methods that would need to be performed. For instance, let's say we need a method performed that would grant military victory over our enemies. In that case, the superclass may not have any such method, but we would want to inherit the omnipotent attribute or knowingAll() method. Therefore, we simply instantiate a Lord of Hosts or Ares object and invoke its militaryVictory() method.


[QB]
frank davis
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Originally posted by Marc Peabody:
There are other possibilities:
1) An absolute morality that exists in and of itself, not defined by man or deity.


This was the general direction I was stumbling towards, although I wouldn't say morality exists in and of itself, but rather it is based on the reality of man's nature and not arbitray definitions of men or deities. Certain behaviors have an impact that is harmful to an individual's physical, mental, or emotional well being or development. We could call those behaviors EVIL, other behaviors with an opposite effect we could call GOOD. Although human nature is basically the same in each human (by definition at the very least), specific circumstances and genetics may have shaped individuals differently. Therefore judgement and a factual analysis would have to be done of what is good or evil. The judgement would be RELATIVE to the facts, but the standard itself (whether harmful or beneficial) is ABSOLUTE.

[/QB]

2) A relative morality produced by a deity who appreciates the gray areas inherent in all of said deity's creation.

[/QB]

Didn't Jesus say that loving your neighbor was the essence of the Law or something similar in effect? So, the standard is similar in effect to simply doing what's good for your fellow human being which would of course be relative to the circumstances...
Marc Peabody
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Didn't Jesus say that loving your neighbor was the essence of the Law or something similar in effect?


He said that it was the second greatest commandment, preceded only by the commandment of loving God.

That was during the time of a culture obsessively absorbed in obeying every last little law (of which there were thousands) because that was how one was considered righteous. Christ was said to have fulfilled the Law, and so the rules were no longer the means for righteousness.

Christians often rub people the wrong way because they often focus on making everyone conform to a moral code. I was reading a book by John Lennon the other night in which he makes such an argument, saying that any real Christian should focus on "being a Christ" instead. One could assume that being a Christ is summarized up by the two greatest commandments.

Now, before I drift from the original topic too far...

Topic: Morality: relative or absolute?

Defining a moral code is meant to better society. Make some rules and everyone plays nice (in theory).

But which is REALLY better for society: convincing people of what is good and evil; or loving and caring for everyone you encounter (including those who refuse to conform to your personal code)?
Frank Silbermann
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Originally posted by Marc Peabody:
But which is REALLY better for society: convincing people of what is good and evil; or loving and caring for everyone you encounter (including those who refuse to conform to your personal code)?
That begs the question. You are assuming that the moral dictates of the Bible is but a _personal_ code. Assuming you believe the latter is REALLY better, tell me how you would apply _that_ principle (not a different or supplementary principle) to the issue of revenge shootings between members of rival drug gangs.
[ December 16, 2004: Message edited by: Frank Silbermann ]
Marc Peabody
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You are assuming that the moral dictates of the Bible is but a _personal_ code.

It's a personal code for anyone who makes it so. No one forces you to believe it. If you choose to believe it, it becomes your personal code.

Assuming you believe the latter is REALLY better, tell me how you would apply _that_ principle (not a different or supplementary principle) to the issue of revenge shootings between members of rival drug gangs.

Let's say that "revenge shootings between members of rival drug gangs" is an issue in my neighborhood. I don't encounter these gangs and I'm not sure where I'd even go to look for them. That doesn't make me completely helpless on the topic though, as I can start an after-school program to give kids something to do and let them know that someone cares about them. That's encountering people that may need love and loving them.

Or let's say a mother has a son that's in a gang. What has the better outcome: her nagging the boy that what the gang does is morally wrong; or spending more love, time, and attention on her son?
The latter, of course.
Warren Dew
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Frank Silbermann:

You are assuming that the moral dictates of the Bible is but a _personal_ code. Assuming you believe the latter is REALLY better, tell me how you would apply _that_ principle (not a different or supplementary principle) to the issue of revenge shootings between members of rival drug gangs.

Seems pretty straightforward to me how to apply Marc's latter interpretation. Don't help people shoot, but do help people who get shot.
Frank Silbermann
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Originally posted by Marc Peabody:
But which is REALLY better for society: convincing people of what is good and evil; or loving and caring for everyone you encounter (including those who refuse to conform to your personal code)?
Is there any reason to assume these are mutually exclusive? Isn't that kind of like asking which is more important, not to rape or not to murder?
Marc Peabody
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Is there any reason to assume these are mutually exclusive?


They are not mutually exclusive in theory, but they tend to be mutually exclusive in practice.

It is _possible_ for someone to follow both the first principle and the second. Someone could both protest an abortion clinic AND be involved in a program that consoles young, scared, pregnant girls who may decide to have an abortion. The first act (protesting) is an attempt to impose morals while the second is an act of love to someone who might need it.

But the motivations for the two acts/principles is somewhat different so it is rare that anyone would commit both.
 
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