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Morality: relative or absolute?

Jason Menard
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Here's a quote from an article I recently read. I changed the quote slightly to speak in terms of "Group A" and "Group B" instead of the groups being directly referred to in the article. Emphasis is mine.

To Group A, legality matters most, while to Group B, legality matters far less than morality. To Group B and to the religious, the law, when it is doing its job, is only a vehicle to morality, never a moral end in itself.

Group A, which is largely secular, regards morality not as absolute, but as relative. This inevitably leads to moral confusion, and no one likes to be morally confused. So instead of moral absolutes, Group A holds legal absolutes. "Legal" for Group A is what "moral" is for Group B.


Which argument holds greater weight: morals are absolute or morals are relative? To me this would be irrespective of how we may think society as a whole views morals. If for example we take the view that society as a whole generally treats morals as relative, this does not necessarily mean that therefore morals are generally relative, merely this is how they are being treated.

Secondly, do we now live in a society which has exchanged morality for legality? Is that which is legal of greater importance than that which is moral? For that matter, does legality equate to morality? Should law be a vehicle for morality?

I would think the natural Group A argument would be that laws are an expression of a society's moral values. I could buy this in theory, but I don't think this is the truth in practice. Consider for example the number of laws enacted that a greater percentage of a society feels do not reflect its values.

Talk amongst yourselves.
Andrew Eccleston
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The problem I have with group A holding legality absolute, is that the laws can be changed according to society's needs/wants. If you could convince enough people that something should be legal, you can change the law so that it is.

However, I'm not sure that group B's argument works for me. It seems to me, that if morality were truly absolute, then none of us would disagree over what is right or wrong. We would all be in total agreement over everything.

I feel, in my personal opinion, that the reality of the situation is that morality is absolute. But, people don't necessarily have a complete, and clear understanding of the morals. The laws, then, are just an expression of morality, as best we understand it. Probably led by those deemed to have the best understanding, so that those with less of an understanding can be guided along a better moral path than they may have chosen on thier own.

All in all, this is just a really deep topic. Philosophers and theologians have been debating things like this for centuries, even millenia.
[ December 02, 2004: Message edited by: Andrew Eccleston ]

The statement below is true.<br />-------------------------------<br />The statement above is false.
Homer Phillips
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It would be nice to have this discussion, but putting the bait in front of us is not nice.
Jason Menard
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Originally posted by Homer Phillips:
It would be nice to have this discussion, but putting the bait in front of us is not nice.


I figure people here can have a mature discussion on this topic without getting into specifics or saying something which will offend the sensitivities of any of the dozen or so moderators who lurk here. It's simple imho... keep it generic and keep it nice. It's when we start getting into things like "Group A are a bunch of pansies" or anyone who thinks like "Group B is a misguided fascist" that we start to have problems. I'd really like to get back to the level of inelligent discussion we once enjoyed her but has been sadly lacking for quite some time now. It's really up to the participants whether or not this is possible I guess.
[ December 02, 2004: Message edited by: Jason Menard ]
frank davis
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Originally posted by Jason Menard:

Which argument holds greater weight: morals are absolute or morals are relative?



Yes.

Absolute in the sense that morals often reflect transcendent truths or principles of the human condition necessary in the successful organization of societies. Despite the differences in cultures, there are often quite a lot of similarities in thousands of cultures even though separated geographically by continents and temporally by many centuries.

Why would this occur unless there were some underlying principles? Obviously, anything that effects behavior will have affects on survival. The socio-biological theories must be considered. Societies with less effective morals, from a survival standpoint, would be eliminated in a Darwinian fashion over time.

On the other hand, all principles usually operate on some assumptions. The assumptions are often factual, hence the proper application of principles requires factual analysis. In that sense, morals are relative depending on the facts.
[ December 02, 2004: Message edited by: herb slocomb ]
Alan Wanwierd
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I would have thought it fair to say that morals differ from one group of people to another.

For example, some predominantly religious groups find the idea of "sex before marriage" as morally questionable since it shows disrespect for the sanctity of sexual union, whilst other groups of a more secular nature find the reverse idea "marriage before sex" morally questionable since it could lead to marriages in relationships that have not yet stabilised, thus increasing chances of marital failure...

So - Morals differ from group to group...

Society is comprised of many different groups of people and therefore many different sets of morals. The way this is resolved is with law. The Law represents what society as a whole deems moral. Laws are an amalgamation of societies various sets of morals.

Any individual is likely to find some areas of law that they disagree with (for example the recent emotive post about cigarette bans, or the permitting of same sex marriages). But the law is the set of moral codes that represent the views of the majority (in the case of democracy), so we obey the law if we dont necessarily agree with the moral reasoning behind it. We obey laws we dont agree with because we believe in the system and if we all followed our individual moral codes then the resultant society would be chaotic.

...of course this is just the theory... There are a whole bunch of areas we could discuss where this theory breaks down - but then we start getting into debate censorship territory so I wont go there!
Michael Ernest
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Which argument holds greater weight: morals are absolute or morals are relative?

These are not arguments; they're conclusions. Each one might or might not be persuasive based on the arguments made to support them.

If for example we take the view that society as a whole generally treats morals as relative, this does not necessarily mean that therefore morals are generally relative, merely this is how they are being treated.

There's a bias imposed by this predicate that an absolute answer might be available irrespective of some society's view. And while that might be True in some absolute sense, who knows or can know such a Truth?

Individuals and societies themselves are inherently variable entities that exist relative to their conditions. It's not clear to me how any person or group can assert absolutes other than by conviction or persuasion.
Secondly, do we now live in a society which has exchanged morality for legality?

Which society is in question here? The abstract society of Berkeley, Hume, Locke, Hobbes, or some other?

I don't think any society has, in practical terms, wholly survived on a purely moral or purely 'legal' code. These schools of thought exist in balance, which I gather is the initial premise of the excerpt.

Is that which is legal of greater importance than that which is moral?

To whom? For each individual, who can say? For each kind of society, what form of measure helps up determine this?

For that matter, does legality equate to morality?

Not all laws have a moral purpose. I'd be hard-pressed to find the moral premise behind, say, requiring all insurance agents in California to pay their renewal fees no later than 60 days after the expiration of their current license term.

I would think the natural Group A argument would be that laws are an expression of a society's moral values. I could buy this in theory, but I don't think this is the truth in practice. Consider for example the number of laws enacted that a greater percentage of a society feels do not reflect its values.

Hm. Well, if laws express something morally absolute, it stands to reason no reasonable law is wrong, so it's the people that must be wrong (one can review the ex cathedra pronouncements of the Roman Catholic Pope for numerous examples).

If a society is truly moral, then one has to wonder how an unreasonable law, or one that simply obscures the intent and will of society, could come into being.


Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen.
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John Smith
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Absolute, relative -- they are just words. Here is the morality that makes sense to me: if you are on your way to Buddha, and Buddha is on your way, you take your sword and cut off Buddha's head. That's how you become Buddha. Whether it's moral (in absolute or relative terms) is irrelevant.
Stan James
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I seem to hear a lot of arguments that anything that is legal is "good" and anything that makes money is even better. Tell a Howard Stern you don't like his work and you'll get the first amendment back. In such a world entertainment or public behavior that deliberately stretches the limits of taste and laws is to be admired. I'm very troubled by attempts to legislate moral behavior, but some times it's hard to say we're doing very well at managing ourselves.


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
Paul McKenna
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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.


Commentary From the Sidelines of history
Mapraputa Is
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Moral is always relative. Just look into your history books.

Herb, Paul...!!! Nice to see you here! You were missed...


Uncontrolled vocabularies
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Michael Ernest
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An absolute moral code requires an absolute authority. No such a thing exists. Case closed.
Richard Hawkes
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It's easy to think of values which we think everyone should agree upon. However on further examination we find many 'ifs' and 'buts' and it's these exceptions which cause the major disagreements. To take the old example of killing: most people agree it's morally wrong, but also most of us can find justifications for killing in certain contexts. Humanity as a whole simply cannot agree upon exactly which contexts are acceptable (we can't even agree whether if it's right or wrong to kill animals). If there's even one exception to a rule then it can never really be absolute, just a guide. So when faced with choosing between whether morals are absolute or relative, I'll always choose relative, even while knowing that great swathes of humanity are generally peace loving and *do* agree on certain of our more highly rated morals, and even while believing it's in our best interests to try and work towards a value system the world can agree on.

As for legality replacing morality, I do see this a little. The law can make us lazy to what moral reasoning might lie behind it, and the law can certainly be abused by people who want to take what others might agree isn't morally theirs. However in general I believe our own beliefs override our laws in many cases. Law enforcement often use their discretion instead of following rules to the letter, and people make value judgements all the time about what they consider are fair applications of a law. It's impossible to use discretion once something reaches the courts howecer, as all eyes are watching; then our feelings about court injustices are reflected in the media instead. Ultimately laws can and are changed, so consensual values will always win in the end.

Groups A and B both use the legal system as a tool to enforce certain of their values. Also, if trying to determine which group finds morality or the law more important, I'd think about which group would be more likely to break the law in order to adhere to their moral values. Could it be that group A might consider it a moral obligation to follow the law, while B might be more likely to disregard the law to make a statement about a particluar moral belief? Or is it the opposite, or the same for both?

[ Updated ]

Actually, now I don't totally agree with my middle paragraph. Human Rights laws, where they exist, override local values in some cases. If a woman is expected by tradition to follow the wishes of her parents far into adulthood, the laws protecting her rights as a human clash with the morals of the past and her parents. In this case the law is being used to change scope of parental control and wider values. I guess the relationship between the law and commonly held values are more complicated than merely "values will always win".
[ December 03, 2004: Message edited by: Richard Hawkes ]
John Dunn
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Are laws made to enact morality or to simply allow for the majority of people to be happy. Laws are never made with the sole purpose of making people unhappy, right? I don't think morality is the defining point.


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Joe King
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Originally posted by Jason Menard:

Which argument holds greater weight: morals are absolute or morals are relative?


I would say that pretty much nothing is absolute, morals or otherwise. The only thing which I know to be 100% true is the idea "There is not nothing". Everything else is guess work based upon flawed observations. To call something else certain or absolute is therefore not quite accurate.

Throughout history people's morals have often changed. At one point it was seen as perfectly fine to kill people for entertainment in large arenas, something seen as morally wrong now. Later on in history it was seen as fine to pull people's fingers off in order to make them convert to a particular religion. Even fairly recently morals have changed. Its not that long ago that in a certain western country, that sees itself as being very moralistic, it was acceptable to stop black people using the same facilities as white people. Clearly then the moral view changes. This means that if a person claims that morals are absolute then they must also claim that people in the past were wrong, and people in the future who will have inevitably different morals, will also be wrong. This view seems a little flawed - what are the chances that we live in the one "morally correct" point in history? Well, we don't - morals change, and are always relative.

One main problem with absolute morality is that it denies any flaws it has and denies the need for change. A person who is convinced that an issue is morally unchangeable will not be willing to change their views, thus locking themselves into an inflexible pattern of behaviour. This is little different from fundamentalism.

Its vitally important that we are continually reassessing our moral view point so that we can better understand what we should do. People are never perfect and we need to realise that our view point may be flawed, and be ready to change it when it becomes clear it is flawed. This is not to say that we should have no morals, but should never say that something is set in stone, and to continually think about what we do and why we do it.


Secondly, do we now live in a society which has exchanged morality for legality?


This could be seen as true in the corporate world, where there is a tendency for companies to push the law as far as possible in order to make money. In truth companies are moral, its just that they act under a different moral framework to people - companies exist in order to make money - their morality is that anything that is legal and makes money is good.
Jeroen Wenting
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Originally posted by 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.


Not necessarilly.
As the story of Robin Hood shows some people consider stealing right, especially if they're stealing for what they consider the greater good.
For some reason Robin Hood is seen by many as a righteous man and his crimes not crimes at all while the law enforcement authorities are portrayed as mindless evil when all they are doing is trying to catch a criminal.
Whether the laws which set the conditions for him to take up his criminal activity were just or not doesn't matter.

Then there are the gypsies for whom theft doesn't even exist. Their culture traditionally knows no ownership so taking something from someone else isn't theft and therefore can't be morally wrong.

----------------------

Morality is purely relative. Social pressure defines what a person considers morally right or wrong.

In North Korea it's considered morally right to execute mentally ill people and people with genetic disorders to prevent them from breeding and thus delaying the march towards a perfect individual...
In Nazi Germany it was considered morally wrong to help people from different ethnic backgrounds.
The Romans used to set examples of criminals by disemboweling them in public and placing their heads on spikes over the city gates.

Yet according to the morality of most of us I'd venture to guess that these practices are morally wrong to an extreme extent.

More everyday practices would be abortion and euthanasia issues.
According to some it's morally wrong to kill a human being even if that human is seriously suffering and in constant pain, being kept alive only through largescale medication and hospital machinery.
According to others it's morally wrong to keep that person alive, the treatment and especially its continuation beyond chance of the patient recovering being tantamount to torture.


42
frank davis
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Originally posted by Adrian Wallace:
[QB]
So - Morals differ from group to group...

[QB]


The other side of the equation is the similarities of morals from group to group. If morals were purely arbitrary social constructs I suspect you find much greater variation than has existed. If morals are not purely arbitrary, then what forces are guiding them? If those forces remain relatively consistant over time and place would it not be a convenient shorthand to label them as absolute?
frank davis
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Originally posted by Richard Hawkes:
It's easy to think of values which we think everyone should agree upon. However on further examination we find many 'ifs' and 'buts' and it's these exceptions which cause the major disagreements. ...
[ December 03, 2004: Message edited by: Richard Hawkes ]


If morals and values were purely arbitrary would the first situation ever occur?
Frank Silbermann
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Morals require to act in ways contrary to our own personal impulses. Therefore, I draw an analogy between morality and theatre.

To admit that morality is relative is like an actor on stage admitting that he is not really his character, that he is only playing a role. Though Bob Hope used to do that in his movies for comedic effect, in serious drama such an admission ruins the performance. In fact, the quality of acting in a performance is measured by just how effectively the actor conceals the truth about who he really is.

Just as an actor is not really his character, morality is not really absolute but is relative. But just as the performance is ruined the moment the actor comes out of character on stage, morality is ruined the moment we cease to pretend that it is absolute. It loses its force over us, and we revert to savagery.
Jason Menard
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Originally posted by Michael Ernest:
An absolute moral code requires an absolute authority. No such a thing exists. Case closed.


That statement would seem inconsistent when juxtaposed with a signature that is apparently a biblical reference.
Jason Menard
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Morals are always absolute, although we may certainly justify our actions in a moral context (the so-called "greater good" for example) when acting immorally. Further, we are often guided by our undertandings and interpretations of these morals, but our understandings and interpretations may be flawed.

For example, many people will say that killing is immoral. I would disagree with this. Murder however, is absolutely immoral. Then comes the debate over the definition of murder. At this point murder may be definied legally or morally, and the two are not necessarily the same. The religious person might tell you that murder is in the heart of the perpetrator and that God will judge the morality of the action. In this case God is an absolute authority and it naturally flows that murder is absolutely immoral.

The secularist, for whom no absolute authority exists, has no choice but to judge the morality of murder relatively, instead interested in not the act itself but the motivations and extenuating circumstances that may have influenced the act. That is, the act may somehow not be murder if the perpetrator was abused by the victim for example. The message that we should take from the latter though is not that the murder was morally justified (murder after all is absolutely immoral), but that it was legally justified and society can accept this deviation from morality.

The same thing applies to stealing. A man stealing a loaf of bread from another to feed his starving family is still commiting an absolutely immoral act. However, as society we may decide that we are willing to accept this deviation from morality, but this acceptance in no way means that the act itself wasn't immoral.
Frank Silbermann
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Originally posted by Jason Menard:
The secularist, for whom no absolute authority exists, has no choice but to judge the morality of murder relatively, instead interested in not the act itself but the motivations and extenuating circumstances that may have influenced the act. That is, the act may somehow not be murder if the perpetrator was abused by the victim for example. The message that we should take from the latter though is not that the murder was morally justified (murder after all is absolutely immoral), but that it was legally justified and society can accept this deviation from morality.

The same thing applies to stealing. A man stealing a loaf of bread from another to feed his starving family is still commiting an absolutely immoral act. However, as society we may decide that we are willing to accept this deviation from morality, but this acceptance in no way means that the act itself wasn't immoral.


I don't look at it that way. To my mind, someone who believes that morality is absolute can judge the actions of another, but can mix judgement with mercy when extenuating circumstances argue for it.

The person for whom no absolute authority exists cannot judge the morality of any act, period. All he can do is express his disapproval based on his personal aethetic tastes and unjudgeable feelings. The law, then, becomes nothing more than a reflection of politics and political power. Because there is no standard that is above politics, nothing is held to be above political struggle. Politics eventually becomes desperate, nastier, and usually violent.
kayal cox
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Jason: murder after all is absolutely immoral

I am no expert on philosphical discussions like these, and I generally tend to stay away. But this I know, morality is never ever absolute.
Case in point: In Hinduism killing/murder is not immoral. Reading one of our sacred texts, the Bhagvad Geetha will explain this further.
Jason Menard
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Originally posted by Frank Silbermann:
To my mind, someone who believes that morality is absolute can judge the actions of another, but can mix judgement with mercy when extenuating circumstances argue for it.


Sure some who believes morality is absolute can judge another. Applying mercy as above means that the person sitting in judgment (as an absolute moralist) is willing to accept the person's moral deviation, but still holds the acts as immoral. That's pretty much my whole point... We may be willing to tolerate certain actions regardless of their morality, but this tolerance doesn't mean that such acts are therefore moral.

If you can accept that morals are absolute, then the morality or immorality of an act is fixed. What then would be relative however is our acceptance and tolerance for immoral acts. This tolerance or acceptance is a result of our own personal values (values are not morals) as well as the commonly held values of the society we live in. Societal values, or that which is socially acceptable, are distint from morals. There are many examples of acts which society deems acceptable which are in all likelihood absolutely immoral, as there are examples of acts which society deems unacceptable which in all likelihood are absolutely moral.
Jason Menard
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Originally posted by kayal cox:
In Hinduism killing/murder is not immoral. Reading one of our sacred texts, the Bhagvad Geetha will explain this further.


The association between killing and murder is not reflexive. While murder is killing, killing is not necessarily murder. It is the act of murder which is absolutely immoral, not killing in general.
kayal cox
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Right. But how does one differentiate between the two?
What one religion/moral standard considers "killing", another would consider "murder".
Jason Menard
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Originally posted by kayal cox:
Right. But how does one differentiate between the two? What one religion/moral standard considers "killing", another would consider "murder".


Differentiate legally or morally? I presume you mean morally. The religious answer to the question is quite easy. One who is religious generally believes that their deity is the ultimate arbiter of what is moral and immoral, and therefore morals are absolute, although possibly beyond the understanding of Man.
Frank Silbermann
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Originally posted by kayal cox:
Right. But how does one differentiate between the two?
What one religion/moral standard considers "killing", another would consider "murder".
So what we have here is not relative morality, but rather two competing systems of absolute morality.

Two competing systems can live side by side if their differences are minor, and/or if the population groups adhering to each system largely keep to themselves. Otherwise, you get war and "rivers of blood." If you try to eliminate the idea that morality is absolute, you get immorality and social de-evolution to a more primitive state (e.g. tribal bands of warriors such as like the Creek versus the Cherokee, or the Crips versus the Bloods).

America's traditional compromise worked well for a while (though it seems now to be growing unstable), i.e., a secular government with a system of absolute system of morality consisting of that which was common to the various religious denominations practiced by the settlers).
[ December 03, 2004: Message edited by: Frank Silbermann ]
Michael Ernest
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Originally posted by Jason Menard:

That statement would seem inconsistent when juxtaposed with a signature that is apparently a biblical reference.

Referring to the Bible is hardly an implied belief in its absolute authority.
Michael Ernest
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Originally posted by Jason Menard:

The association between killing and murder is not reflexive. While murder is killing, killing is not necessarily murder. It is the act of murder which is absolutely immoral, not killing in general.


Here's one definition of murder available online:

1. [n] unlawful premeditated killing of a human being

That sounds to me as arbitary as whoemever the lawmakers might be
kayal cox
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I think I am a little confused by "absolute morality". What exactly does it mean?

That morality is absolute for one person?
That morality is absolute for a group of people?
That morality is absolute for all people?
That morality is absolute for all eternity?

I think morality is relative! It varies from person to person, and even for a single individual, it is not absolute. It varies with time.
Jeff Bosch
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Immorality
The morality of those who are having more fun than us. (Andy Capp)


Give a man a fish, he'll eat for one day. Teach a man to fish, he'll drink all your beer.
Cheers, Jeff (SCJP 1.4, SCJD in progress, if you can call that progress...)
Warren Dew
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Frank Silbermann:

Just as an actor is not really his character, morality is not really absolute but is relative. But just as the performance is ruined the moment the actor comes out of character on stage, morality is ruined the moment we cease to pretend that it is absolute. It loses its force over us, and we revert to savagery.

Have you tried it?

I spent a lot of time in my college years trying to figure out a - I thought "the" - uniquely self consistent system of morals to live by. I was sure there was one, and I just had to figure it out. Unfortunately, I kept finding difficulties - such as how to resolve situations where only some of a group of people could survive, or problems like how to draw the line between things to which morality applies and things it does not.

Eventually I concluded there was no such system - that, in fact, there truly are no real rules. This was distressing, because the alternative seemed to be to acting in my own selfish interest.

Then I realized that nothing said I had to act in my own interest. With no externally imposed rules, I was free to eschew selfish behavior and live my life by my own values. The only thing the conclusion changes is that intellectual honesty prevents me from believing that others must also live by my values, since I know that that they are as free to choose values of their own as I was. As you say in another post:

The person for whom no absolute authority exists cannot judge the morality of any act, period. All he can do is express his disapproval based on his personal aethetic tastes and unjudgeable feelings.

Of course, I happen to think that is a good thing - to put it another way, such a person must be tolerant of differing views.

Politics eventually becomes desperate, nastier, and usually violent.

I don't agree with that. True tolerance ought to mean being more flexible about such things, which should make people more open to compromise.

Indeed, I think that the situation you describe is more likely in exactly the opposite situation - it's when different people with differing views each believe that their own views are the ones that are absolutely correct that politics becomes really nasty.
Billy Tsai
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China Blocking Access to Google News Site - Watchdog (Reuters)

[Edited by moderator. Don't just cut-and-paste entire out-of-context articles, particularly when not bothering to give a source. -JM]
[ December 05, 2004: Message edited by: Jason Menard ]

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John Smith
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KC: I think I am a little confused by "absolute morality". What exactly does it mean?

I think Jason means some set of codes that would be cosidered true and moral everywhere in the Universe, at all points in time, from the Big Bang to Armageddon. The closest thing that comes to my mind is chronosynclastic infundibula, the term coined by Kurt Vonnegut in "The Sirens of Titan". But even that is a far cry from the "Absolute" -- chronosynclastic infundibula is just one point in time, in a particular location, from where everyone would see things the same way. It's a kind of fixed point from where the pendulum of the world is suspended from. If this is indeed how the world is designed, I don't see how the pendulum would swing if not pushed by moralists from left and right. Perhaps the Absolute that we are seeking is just the middle point between them. A golden ratio of sort.
Warren Dew
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Billy Tsai:

The practice is also common to popular Chinese Web portals, including Sina.com, Sohu.com and NetEase.com, which patrol their sites to delete politically sensitive comments....

[China] has also created a special cyber police force to monitor sites, servers and registrars.


So that's why the mods are seeing if they can loosen up here ... they must have found out they can get paid for their time!
Jason Menard
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Originally posted by Billy Tsai:
China Blocking Access to Google News Site - Watchdog (Reuters)

[Edited by moderator. Don't just cut-and-paste entire out-of-context articles, particularly when not bothering to give a source. -JM]

[ December 05, 2004: Message edited by: Jason Menard ]


What does this have to do with the whether morality is relative or absolute? I suspect nothing whatsoever.
Frank Silbermann
Ranch Hand

Joined: Jun 06, 2002
Posts: 1379
I think the whole question makes little sense. Whether one holds that morality is relative is situational; it depends upon whether you are trying to impose your morality on someone else, or convince her to abandon her own sense of morality.

For example, a gay philosophy professor will talk about the relativeness of morality when trying to wean his freshmen from their bourgoisie notions. But he is certainly _not_ going to say, "We cannot judge the morality of capital punishment in Texas -- they have different notions of morality, and it would be wrong for us to impose our concept upon them." A feminist literature professor will talk about the arbitrariness of sexual roles, but is certainly not going to defend tolerance towards patriarchal subcultures (unless maybe if the sexist oppressor also hates Republican Presidents).

So the relativity of morality is relative. To think otherwise is to presume there are philosophical implications to one's university political indoctrinization.
Jason Menard
Sheriff

Joined: Nov 09, 2000
Posts: 6450
FS: "We cannot judge the morality of capital punishment in Texas -- they have different notions of morality, and it would be wrong for us to impose our concept upon them."

Either something is moral or it isn't. Things aren't moral situationally, regardless of anyone's particular "notions" of morality. If one's "concept of morality" allows for acceptance of immoral acts (the morality or immorality of an act being a constant), then it is their notions of morality that are wrong. If one believes capital punishment is murder and therefore immoral, I would challenge that it is their definition of murder which is flawed, and not that capital punishment is necessarily immoral.

As an analogy, let's say that two people (John and Joe) are looking at a box. John looks at the box and says "it's blue". Joe looks at the box and insists it's green. There's a perception problem here somewhere, but it's relative. The color of the box is a constant, an absolute. It is easy enough to perform measurements of how different frequencies of light interract with the box to determine that it is absolutely blue. Joe might see a green box, but that doesn't change the fact that the box is blue. Certainly Joe's and John's perception of the box are relative, their notions of its color are relative to how they perceive it, but those perceptions do nothing to change the absolute truth that the box is blue.
Michael Ernest
High Plains Drifter
Sheriff

Joined: Oct 25, 2000
Posts: 7292

This assumes also that the meaning of the word "blue" is absolute and universal, which it isn't. The term "light radiated or refracted between the frequency ranges of x and y" might be closer to an absolute term, but "blue" by itself is necessarily insufficient.

The morality of any people, society, nation, etc., must also be necessarily flawed or wrong if there is such a thing as an absolute moral code. No one knows with absolute authority what this code is. Societies elect the moral imperatives they can achieve, such as what is described by the term social contract. Even this set of agreements does not mention what is likely to be morally true; typically, they express some combination historical practice and contemporary agreements on what a people will hold in common.

Such contracts gather imperfection as they go along. One steep qualification, for example, follows in the notion of normalized behavior, a set of actions which are deemed reasonable not because they are moral but because they are familiar. It is simply a matter of time -- unless one can claim to backtrack and recover from all the moral diversions committed in the natural history of humankind -- before some familiar practices change into practices deemed immoral by another society. Dissension over what is "true" is inevitable precisely because the divergence of experience among all people is inevitable.

If there are still absolutes, there is no one who can comprehend them, and therefore there is no way to share or apply them, much less appreciate them for what they are. Still far less can anyone establish True Morality on any point other than supposition. It makes perhaps for a nice speculative, academic journey of the mind, but there is nothing in the material world for it to rest on.
[ December 06, 2004: Message edited by: Michael Ernest ]
 
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