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Antinark

Ethics In Discussion

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Antinark

I've been taking an grade eleven university bound course in Philosophy and one of our major past units was Ethics. I've decided to create a topic in which we could debate what is is ethically correct in many different situations.

 

Some existing ethical beleifs:

 

Utilitarianism - The beleif that what is most beneficial for you and the majority of people is ethically correct.

 

Ethical Egoism - The beleif that what is most beneficial for you, and only yourself is ethically correct.

 

Ethical Altruism - The beleif that what is most beneficial for everyone except yourself is ethically correct.

 

Epicureanism - The beleif that the choices the maximize one's pleasure, are ethically correct.

 

Hedonism - The beleif that the choices that maximize one's sexual pleasure are ethically correct.

 

Naturalism - The beleif that there is a universal distinguishing point between right and wrong and said distinguishing line is absolute. Naturalism is often paralleled with religious beleifs.

 

Positivism - The beleif that good and evil do not exist independantly from man. A big part of positivism is authority. Positivism states that if there is no authority to uphold an ethical system, then morals do not exist. Postivism is often paralleled with scientific beleifs.

 

Moral Relativism - The beleif that morals are relative to the society in which they were conceived and that they are just only while the society is in contemporary. I.E. moral relativists states in a way that morals are defined by whatever makes sense at the time. Moral Relativism is based solely on how humans act, not how they're supposed to act.

 

Existentialism - The beleif that (as Satre put it) "Existence preceeds Essence" meaning that our own existence is the source of everything and everything else is simply tacked onto it. An existentialist would beleive that morals are defined by the individual (ie YOU). Nietzsche took it a step further by aligning existentialism with power (complete freedom). Nietzsche stated that morality is used to prevent the naturally powerful from exercising their own power.

 

With that information given, i'll give you a situation to begin with.

 

You're walking down the street when you discover a wallet. It turns out it's Bill Gate's wallet and it contains $10,000. Using as many different ethical beleifs as you like, discuss what you would do? Are your actions just?

 

Feel free to provide any new situations.

 

 

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Forty

Based on your situation, I would personally keep the money and trash the evidence (wallet). That is not morally 'right' necessarily, but it's what I would do, honestly.

 

I am more of an existentialist/moral relativist. I believe moral standards are more of a situational guideline rather than a universal code that surpasses time and era. In the distant past men were killed over very small differences of opinion, and it was considered decent and just when someone was struck down over a minor blow to another's character or stature. Now, that would be looked down upon and rightfully punished in most modern societies.

 

However I do believe that there are certain ethical boundaries to which most all cultures should adhere to remain "civilized" in the most common understanding of the word. The taking of one's life, I believe, is unethical except in the most rare of circumstances. For instance, if a man killed my mother and she had not killed any of his relation, I would say that his death would be justified. I'm not a strong advocate of the death penalty though my state kills more people annually than all others combined, but I'm unopposed to it when I feel the circumstance is fitting. I know that it isn't a solid definition, and it's based primarily on opinion and perspective, but I feel it's the only way to judge it.

 

Other things like theft and rape also are unacceptable. There is no moral justification for these actions in my belief and in the belief of most every member of modern society. There are still cultures that treat women like meat, which I disagree strongly with, and I feel they are lagging behind the rest of the world in intellectual evolution. They are still barbarian in this aspect, and it's hard for me to take their culture seriously when I see behavior such as this.

 

I think the foundation all ethics must be based upon is the understanding that all of our species are equal and inherently *good* upon conception. Evil is a learned or developed attribute based on one's upbringing and surrounding environment. They are a product of the world they live in. This is not to say that we the citizens are responsible for raising serial killers and rapists and other deviants, but I feel that proper parental involvement and awareness can make great strides in the positive raising of a child into a *normal* adult. Accidents do happen, and because of this factor we must maintian flexibility in our system. There is no be all end all solution that will work for every given situation.

 

I sort of ranted here, I'm sorry about that. I've been out drinking a bit and it kicks my ADD in hardcore.

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SWEETSAPRIK

You're walking down the street when you discover a wallet. It turns out it's Bill Gate's wallet and it contains $10,000. Using as many different ethical beleifs as you like, discuss what you would do? Are your actions just?

 

Feel free to provide any new situations. 

 

 

I guess it depends on the circumstances. If I have a wife and child and need the money, I'd keep it. Wait, bill gates? I'm keeping the money regardless, and selling his license on ebay. I hate him.

 

As for another situation, I have one that is slightly similar.

 

About ten or eleven years ago me and a few other people were sitting around a campfire, drunk, stoned, and of course philosophizing, because as we all know smoking and drinking make you a genius.

sarcasm.gif

Anyway, the question comes up "If you see a person drop some money, and they don't know that they've dropped it, do you keep it, or stop them and give it back to them?" I answered with what I honestly thought I would do, "Keep it, money is good, I like money why the hell would I return it?". Everyone is in agreement of course, because we are all too drunk, and stoned to make up some crap that makes us sound like decent people.

 

The next day all of us go out to a bar, and after eating, I decide I want to play some video games. I have only a twenty dollar bill, and there is one of those change machines that accepts only one and five and ten dollar bills. I go to the bartender and ask for two ten dollar bills. There are none in the till at that moment, but a waitress overheard and says that she had some in her purse. I give her my twenty and return to my seat. After a few minutes she comes back and gives me two ten dollar bills and my twenty, and walks away.

 

The bar is basically empty, besides the people with me, and the people who work there, and one other guy playing pinball. The person who had brought up the question the night before is the only one with me at the table at that moment, and (although I do not notice that he's seen) he sees this. After a few seconds pass, I go to return the twenty to her. While I'm waiting for her to come around to my side of the bar I see the man playing pinball go to the change machine. I wait about a minute for her to give some customers their drink, and come over to me. I tell her about her mistake and return the twenty.

 

I must admit, the look of "holy crap, someone isn't a scumbag" on her face is almost worth more than twenty dollars, but not really because I can't spend her face. I go to the change machine and get my quarters. One of them is a 1957 solid silver quarter in amazingly good condition, (I have a very modest coin collection) the quarter is not worth any large amount, definitely not twenty dollars, but I'd never sell it anyway.

 

Had I not wasted some time trying to return her money, the next person (most likely the guy playing pinball) would have gotten the quarter, and probably not even noticed. The whole ride home, that prick rode my ass with "I thought you'd keep free money.", "Why didn't you keep the money" I answered, "She was hot dude, what's your problem?". In truth, I still have no idea why I returned it, had it been the bars money, and had I thought about it, I know I would have kept it. (the chicken wings sucked) Had I thought about it longer, maybe I would know what I had been going through my mind. All I can come up with is that I couldn't find a good reason to keep it, or at least not soon enough to stop me from returning it.

 

Now, when thinking about things, about how I should be, and should act, I believe this philosophy.

 

Ethical Altruism - The beleif that what is most beneficial for everyone except yourself is ethically correct.

I believe that I will live and die, and if a chance comes up for me to help in any way, then it's my duty to help. But this is one of the few instances where my actions reflected that belief. There have been many instances where I have been mean, petty, and spiteful, although I try not to be. And in most instances, my choices will in no way effect others, so whenever possible I follow this one.

 

Epicureanism - The beleif that the choices the maximize one's pleasure, are ethically correct.

So I guess (for me at least) it's a mixture of those two. What ever makes me happy, and gives me pleasure, as long as it doesn't hurt someone else. But even that I only think about, when the "hurt" or damage to the other person would be measurable. Meaning, the bar wouldn't of been hurt by the loss of twenty bucks, so even with time to think, odds are I would have kept it.

(edit)

Oh yeah, the reason I used that particular story is because when I do something to help some other person, and it ends up being to my detriment, which is most of the time. I kick myself, thinking I should have just said screw it and helped myself, but for some reason I usually can't. This is one of the few instances where, doing (what I saw as being) the right thing, actually proved to be better for me in the long run, that what I knew would be beneficial at that moment.

Edited by SWEETSAPRIK

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Chalkstar

To determine and distinguish one thing, what is ethical and how "nice" or "kind" that thing is, could be two different things. In relation to that scenario:

 

 

Ethical Altruism - The beleif that what is most beneficial for everyone except yourself is ethically correct.

 

This would mean that if you were this kind of ethical, you would return the wallet, where in other ethics such as:

 

 

Utilitarianism - The beleif that what is most beneficial for you and the majority of people is ethically correct.

 

Ethical Egoism - The beleif that what is most beneficial for you, and only yourself is ethically correct.

 

 

It would not be in your ethics to return the wallet, but you would most likely keep it, or at least most of the money.

 

 

Personally I would return the money, following mostly the Utilitarianism beleif, but not concidering myself as a major part. Thats how I see it. To express more so for the future readers of this:

 

If someone joins a group, only because that group is stating that they are better then the rest, and the real reason they join it is to either so they can start to say that they are better then the rest, is that following any one ethical beleif? What if they joined in because they followed that common phrase "If you can't beat them, join them."? If they joined so they could destroy them from the inside, to benefit most others, would that be following the beleif that is Utilitarianism - The beleif that what is most beneficial for you and the majority of people is ethically correct, or could it be justified as a different beleif, perhaps a conjunction of a few of the one's mentioned by Antinark?

 

Just one last thing on ethics, does it play as big of part now as it did 100 years ago. A bigger part of life, or a way of acting that is being downsized?

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Red Hat Girl

Here's what I would do following my morality (mostly moral relativism):

 

In this case, I would apply my same division as to any large amount of free money (such as winning the lottery), which is that some of it would fund things like producing the Revolution paper http://rwor.org/ , which is a paper I really like that relies on funding for the producing, the traveling of the reporters and the photography and all, and some would go to things like science research, AIDS prevention programmes (ones that endorse condoms), arts programs for some school, envirement, ect. Some of it would be given to my family, and a small portion I would probebly use myself, like for comic books (or video games!). If at the time I owed anyone any money some of it would also be allotted for that.

 

If it was a random wallet though (ie does not belong to someone known to be incredibly rich), I would return it, either to the person or to some authority in charge of that. Even if it had a couple hundred in it, you don't know the life circumstances of that person and what that money is for, so I would return it.

 

I lost my wallet the other day, and was eternally grateful to have it returned, with everything in it. So I strongly encourage that behavior.

 

There was a book written about morality that you might find interesting:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detai...=books&n=507846

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BenMillard

(A quick note to the topic starter: The opening post of a topic sets the atmosphere in which it will continue. Using correct spellings (such as "belief") and grammar will inspire others to make greater effort in responding with equal accuracy and clarity, creating a better discussion. A Guide to Presenting Arguments.)

 

The description of the topic asks:

"Do absolute morals exist?"

 

The answer to this is clearly not, since morality in the sense we are using is a human invention. To be "absolute" one must invent some external and ultimate entity (the more implausable the better) onto which the basis of these ideas could be anchored. Since no such entity can exist, there can never be a form of morality which is absolute in any way, there can only be that which we invent. However, without a really strict and deep sense about what morality really refers to it could be said that other animals act in a moral fashion. For example, they raise their young instead of leaving them to die or just eating them.

 

 

Morals are the rules we invent to organise our behaviour.Ethics is the system through which we arrive at these rules.

Those are my definitions of the terms we are using. Of the formal arguments mentioned, Moral Relativism and Existentialism are the most sensible since they realise that these "designs for life" are fabricated by ourselves. They also describe the utility of these rules as being simply to give a workable structure to large populations. Their purpose is not to aportion punishments and rewards; their purpose is to create basic protocols which make life more managable and pleasent.

 

 

You're walking down the street when you discover a wallet. It turns out it's Bill Gate's wallet and it contains $10,000. Using as many different ethical beleifs as you like, discuss what you would do? Are your actions just?
This is actually a complex scenario but the main motivation for my response would be purely selfish. Since Bill Gates is so powerful an individual and since there will be important identity cards and suchlike in his wallet, he will have mobilised police and his own security services to locate the wallet. This means that if you stole it they would probably find out - especially in an urban area due to footage from security cameras. Removing some of its contents would also be noticed and you would be the prime suspect. Therefore it is not in my interests to steal the money, which is somewhat counter-intuitive.

 

I would return the wallet to a police station, or would call the phone number contained in the wallet which would lead me most directly to the teams that would be looking for it. Returning it intact might well give me a small reward (a free pen or something) and even if it doesn't, it would make for an interesting story to share with people to help fill dead parts of conversations for the rest of my life.

 

In balance, returning the wallet is far more beneficial to me than leaving it on the ground or stealing it for myself. For the topic starter's actual exercise you would have to apply each formal ideology to the problem to demonstrate your knowledge of them. Education is about demonstrating a knowledge of the formal understandings rather than actually figuring stuff out.

Edited by Cerbera

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Eviscero

I'm inclined to agree with Cerbera's idea of no such thing as absolute morality. In order for there to be absolute morality, there would need to be an absolutely moral being. Most would call this god. We have proven the idea of god illogical, irrational, and nonsensical.

 

If this is true, then of course there's no such thing as objective morality. If one person considers X to be moral, and another considers it to be immoral, who's the higher power to appeal to? There's no set guidline as to what's good and what's bad. Human nature dominates.

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Mortukai

I'm disinclined to agree with the notion that there is no absolute morality, but not because I don't agree with the arguments so far presented.

 

Instead, I think one of the premises for the argument against an absolute morality is false. Namely, that there is no "ultimate entity" which would form the basis on which morality could be founded. Of course, I'm not talking about a God, that would be logically ludicrous. Instead, I think there IS such an entity on which our morality could be based. Namely, the universe itself.

 

Consider mathematics. This formal framework was, technically, "created" by humans. However, it is merely a way of describing fundamental principles and interactions inherent within the universe. 1 + 1 = 2, not because mathematics tells us it does, but because the universe exists in such a way that this mathematically description is true. Maths works because it is congruent with the principles of the universe, not external to them. It describes, it does not impose. As long as our universe functions according to the existing principles, mathematics will work, and we can say that there are "absolutes", such as the number "1" will always describe the principle entity of the singular (among other things, depending on context).

 

Also consider music. Again, we could say that music was "created" by humans. However, music is what it is because universal principles. Without the principles described by physics and mathematics and biology and psychology, music would not "work". Music is simply an interpretation of universal principles. Within music, there certainly do exist absolutes, such as the note " midde C" will always have a frequency of 261.6Hz, and each octave higher its frequency will double, and each octave lower its frequency will halve, and all these frequencies will still be "C".

 

We have negative numbers, positive numbers, creation, destruction, infinite direction, spacial/temporal relativity, love, hate, etc etc. We, as animals, have a huge gamut of emotions. None of these are "unique" or "human invention". They are the results of millions of years of evolution, which, you guessed it, functions according to principles of the universe. Thanks to relativity, which works whether talking about dirt or galaxies, we interpret things relative to ourselves, and end up with notions of "up", and "down", and "left" and "right". These aren't "human inventions", they are simply words we use to describe relativistic principles as they relate to us. Likewise, our ethics are not a human invention either, but are simply the necessary result of the principles which created us and our universe. We hate those who destroy us or our loved ones (or sometimes even strangers). We love those who accept and respect us and help us create more of our species. Nothing "invented" there. Laying out a system of morality is no more "invention" than creating a system of mathematics: a set of rules which describe functions. "Don't kill people because it makes other people upset or angry and they might kill you back". "1 - 1 = 0". Same sh!t, different smell.

 

The fact is, we can take pretty much anything and discover how our supposedly "human invention" is no more than another manifestation of universal principles. Everything about us humans is consistent with the way the universe works. Everything about us is in accordance with principles that affect everything else in the universe.

 

Looking at it another way, to assume that humans are thr prime originators of morality is to presume that we are in some way unique to the universe, possessing something that is neither derived from nor supplied by any of the principles of the universe. I find this idea preposterous, as we are clearly only a small, infinitesimally insignificant part of the universe, and no part of being human can possibly exist or be derived from a source external to the universe, neither can we assume to possess something entirely unique to the whole vastness of the universe.

 

In short, I believe that there are moral absolutes, just that we are not yet advanced enough as a species to understand or accurately describe them as they do not exist as a template that only applies to humans, but instead they exist as an emergent property of millions of principles of the universe.

 

Now, what would I do if I found Bill Gate's wallet full of $10,000? I would return it without hesitation, without removing anything from it. Why? Because I choose to live a congruent life. Consider a person who lies, steals, cheats, and treats others with no respect or regard for their wellbeing. What would you think of such a person? I would find such a person to be detestable, an abhorrent smear on the human race, a piece of scum which we would all be better off without. I might even hate such a person. Now, what would happen were I to steal? The answer is simple. Deep-down, no matter how much I rationalised my theft, I would hate myself, as I would hate another for the same act. I do not wish to hate myself. Now consider a person who is honest, sharing, faithful, and trustworthy. What would you think of such a person? I would find such a person to be respectable, honourable, admirable, and someone whom our world would be much better off if there were more others like them. I might even love such a person. Now what would happen if I were honest? The answer is again simple. Deep-down, no matter how much I might fear being honest, I would respect and admire myself, as I would respect and admire another for the same. I would very much like to respect and admire myself. Therefore I choose to be honest.

 

Now, some of you might think that I'm being silly for not considering all the things one could buy with $10,000, so by choosing to love myself over taking the money, I am losing. I would disagree. For starters, how many of you have ever been given some not-insignificant sum of money as a gift, and then used this to buy something you've wanted for a while? I have. How long does the pleasure from having this thing last? A month? Two? Less than a month? The pleasure from buying something is fleeting in the extreme. The pleasure from loving oneself inspires one to do more things which would result in loving oneself more, and doing so is free and gets easier every time. Or, looking at things another way, when you are old and dying, regardless of whether you believe in God or an irrational afterlife of some sort, would you prefer to be laying on your deathbed, alone, thinking: "Man, I sure am glad that I had all that really cool stuff, it sure did make my life worth living", or would you prefer to be laying on your deathbed, surrounded by loving friends and family, thinking: "Man, I sure am glad I did my best to be kind and generous and loving to so many people, and to see them all here now, comforting me at the end, truly assures me that I made a contribution to the betterment of their lives, and thus my life was worth living". I dunno about you, but I prefer ther later, over the former. Material possessions are nothing. They can be stolen, lost, or destroyed. Love, dignity, and self-respect are yours till the end, can be shared with others infinitely, and they grow each time they are shared.

 

When you steal money from someone else, no matter how much you rationalise it to yourself with things like "they have lots so they can spare it", or "I need it more than they do", or whatever, think about who you are really stealing from. Are you stealing money from the other person, or are you robbing yourself of happiness and self-respect?

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Eviscero
We have negative numbers, positive numbers, creation, destruction, infinite direction, spacial/temporal relativity, love, hate, etc etc. We, as animals, have a huge gamut of emotions. None of these are "unique" or "human invention". They are the results of millions of years of evolution, which, you guessed it, functions according to principles of the universe. Thanks to relativity, which works whether talking about dirt or galaxies, we interpret things relative to ourselves, and end up with notions of "up", and "down", and "left" and "right". These aren't "human inventions", they are simply words we use to describe relativistic principles as they relate to us. Likewise, our ethics are not a human invention either, but are simply the necessary result of the principles which created us and our universe. We hate those who destroy us or our loved ones (or sometimes even strangers). We love those who accept and respect us and help us create more of our species. Nothing "invented" there. Laying out a system of morality is no more "invention" than creating a system of mathematics: a set of rules which describe functions. "Don't kill people because it makes other people upset or angry and they might kill you back". "1 - 1 = 0". Same sh!t, different smell.

 

The fact is, we can take pretty much anything and discover how our supposedly "human invention" is no more than another manifestation of universal principles. Everything about us humans is consistent with the way the universe works. Everything about us is in accordance with principles that affect everything else in the universe.

This is an interesting view, but it assumes too much. In order for this to be universally applicable, it would necessitate the idea of all humans evolving in the same way. Clearly this is untrue. Due to climate and weather factors, differences in basic survival needs, and countless other factors, different "groups" of humans have evolved in different ways. Some much more aggressive than others.

 

For example, those living in the most fertile land in all of the middle east were always warding off intruders, similar to the gorillas warding off the intruders from the watering hole in 2001: A Space Odyssey. These people, by nature, would have to be more aggressive than those living in, say, Europe, where they were advanced enough to not have to worry about surviving on a day to day basis.

 

These Europeans would be much less aggressive, thus the 1 - 1 = 0 equation might be as useful as quantum mechanics were to the cavemen. Only in reverse.

 

 

You see, people evolved in different ways, so according to your theory, their "moralities" would be much different. If there are different "moralities" of the same standing, there can't be a superior one.

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Mortukai

 

This is an interesting view, but it assumes too much. In order for this to be universally applicable, it would necessitate the idea of all humans evolving in the same way. Clearly this is untrue. Due to climate and weather factors, differences in basic survival needs, and countless other factors, different "groups" of humans have evolved in different ways. Some much more aggressive than others.

This is in no way incongruent with what I've argued. In fact, I never stated that all humans abide under One Morality To Rule Them All. There are many, many different ways for a species to evolve, and some principles will have more influence than others. As an analogy, consider that principles of relativity are much more influential at the macro-scale, and principles of quantum mechanics are much more influential at the micro-scale. Likewise, certain principles of the universe can affect the evolution of some humans more than others, thus resulting in variations in morality. In fact, the huge diversity of ethical frameworks is entirely consistent, and indeed predicted by, my proposition that morality is merely an emergent property of the universe. An analogy would be consciousness, which we know can manifest in a variety of ways, but which still is an emergent property of the structure of the brain, whilst still being based on principles of electro-chemical action potentials and neural networks.

 

 

You see, people evolved in different ways, so according to your theory, their "moralities" would be much different. If there are different "moralities" of the same standing, there can't be a superior one.

Who said anything about a superior one? Which Thermodynamic Law is the superior one? Which temporal speed is the superior one? Which musical melody is the superior one?

 

You are right: people DID evolve in different ways, so according to my theory, we SHOULD see varying moralities. Indeed, this is precisely what we do see. However, also according to my theory, we should see commonalities amongst them. Again, this is what we do see. Murder, rape, incest, torture, and theft are pretty much a consistent theme among nearly all moralities, across all human history, and across all cultures. Where they are deemed acceptable it is usually as an exception to the rule, such as murder being OK if you are killing in defence of yourself or another. This shows us what I've noted: that the moral rules themselves are not the absolutes, but the principles behind them are, and like all principles, there are criteria that must be met in order for them to be true, such as the First Law of Thermodynamics, which is only true in a closed-system (which our universe is).

 

My view on morality is not to establish a moral highground from which I can look down on other ethical frameworks. Instead, my theory is merely intended as an explanatory one. We observe a huge variety of moral rulesets, varying across time and culture. My first instinct, were I to be without the knowledge I possess, would be inclined towards ethical relativism, because not only do cultural moralities change over time, but so too do individual moralities.

 

However, building on this ethical relativistic fact, it is actually possible to derive a logical heirachy of ethical reasoning, such that some processes of ethical reasoning are "superior" to others, by virtue of being attained at a later evolutionary stage. Personally, I don't judge things in such a way, so I'm not likely to say that a human is "superior" to a monkey or a cat, nor would I say that a human is "superior" to a trilobite. One could say that humans are more complex and took longer to evolve, but without arbitrating a "purpose" to life beyond survival, one would be hard pressed to argue why one species is superior to another. Unless, of course, we equate superiority to some arbitrary period of time that a species survives for, in which case us humans are drastically inferior to many other species, like crocodiles and sharks. But I digress.

 

The most adequate, comprehensive, and empyrically supported model for ethical reasoning was developed by a dude named Kohlberg. He outlined 6 sequential stages of ethical reasoning. Note that the model is based on reasoning, not rules. It doesn't matter what rules you come up with, what matters is how you came up with them. It shouldn't be too hard to see how this correlates with my theory of morality as an emergent propoerty from universal principles.

 

Level 1. Preconventional Morality

 

Stage 1. Obedience and Punishment Orientation. Kohlberg's stage 1 is similar to Piaget's first stage of moral thought. The child assumes that powerful authorities hand down a fixed set of rules which he or she must unquestioningly obey. To the Heinz dilemma, the child typically says that Heinz was wrong to steal the drug because "It's against the law," or "It's bad to steal," as if this were all there were to it. When asked to elaborate, the child usually responds in terms of the consequences involved, explaining that stealing is bad "because you'll get punished" (Kohlberg, 1958b).

 

Although the vast majority of children at stage 1 oppose Heinz’s theft, it is still possible for a child to support the action and still employ stage 1 reasoning. For example, a child might say, "Heinz can steal it because he asked first and it's not like he stole something big; he won't get punished" (see Rest, 1973). Even though the child agrees with Heinz’s action, the reasoning is still stage 1; the concern is with what authorities permit and punish.

 

Kohlberg calls stage 1 thinking "preconventional" because children do not yet speak as members of society. Instead, they see morality as something external to themselves, as that which the big people say they must do.

 

Stage 2. Individualism and Exchange. At this stage children recognize that there is not just one right view that is handed down by the authorities. Different individuals have different viewpoints. "Heinz," they might point out, "might think it's right to take the drug, the druggist would not." Since everything is relative, each person is free to pursue his or her individual interests. One boy said that Heinz might steal the drug if he wanted his wife to live, but that he doesn't have to if he wants to marry someone younger and better-looking (Kohlberg, 1963, p. 24). Another boy said Heinz might steal it because

 

    maybe they had children and he might need someone at home to look after them. But maybe he shouldn't steal it because they might put him in prison for more years than he could stand. (Colby and Kauffman. 1983, p. 300)

 

What is right for Heinz, then, is what meets his own self-interests.

 

You might have noticed that children at both stages 1 and 2 talk about punishment. However, they perceive it differently. At stage 1 punishment is tied up in the child's mind with wrongness; punishment "proves" that disobedience is wrong. At stage 2, in contrast, punishment is simply a risk that one naturally wants to avoid.

 

Although stage 2 respondents sometimes sound amoral, they do have some sense of right action. This is a notion of fair exchange or fair deals. The philosophy is one of returning favors--"If you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours." To the Heinz story, subjects often say that Heinz was right to steal the drug because the druggist was unwilling to make a fair deal; he was "trying to rip Heinz off," Or they might say that he should steal for his wife "because she might return the favor some day" (Gibbs et al., 1983, p. 19).

 

Respondents at stage 2 are still said to reason at the preconventional level because they speak as isolated individuals rather than as members of society. They see individuals exchanging favors, but there is still no identification with the values of the family or community.

 

Level II. Conventional Morality

 

Stage 3. Good Interpersonal Relationships. At this stage children--who are by now usually entering their teens--see morality as more than simple deals. They believe that people should live up to the expectations of the family and community and behave in "good" ways. Good behavior means having good motives and interpersonal feelings such as love, empathy, trust, and concern for others. Heinz, they typically argue, was right to steal the drug because "He was a good man for wanting to save her," and "His intentions were good, that of saving the life of someone he loves." Even if Heinz doesn't love his wife, these subjects often say, he should steal the drug because "I don't think any husband should sit back and watch his wife die" (Gibbs et al., 1983, pp. 36-42; Kohlberg, 1958b).

 

If Heinz’s motives were good, the druggist's were bad. The druggist, stage 3 subjects emphasize, was "selfish," "greedy," and "only interested in himself, not another life." Sometimes the respondents become so angry with the druggist that they say that he ought to be put in jail (Gibbs et al., 1983, pp. 26-29, 40-42). A typical stage 3 response is that of Don, age 13:

 

    It was really the druggist's fault, he was unfair, trying to overcharge and letting someone die. Heinz loved his wife and wanted to save her. I think anyone would. I don't think they would put him in jail. The judge would look at all sides, and see that the druggist was charging too much. (Kohlberg, 1963, p. 25)

 

We see that Don defines the issue in terms of the actors' character traits and motives. He talks about the loving husband, the unfair druggist, and the understanding judge. His answer deserves the label "conventional "morality" because it assumes that the attitude expressed would be shared by the entire community—"anyone" would be right to do what Heinz did (Kohlberg, 1963, p. 25).

 

As mentioned earlier, there are similarities between Kohlberg's first three stages and Piaget's two stages. In both sequences there is a shift from unquestioning obedience to a relativistic outlook and to a concern for good motives. For Kohlberg, however, these shifts occur in three stages rather than two.

 

Stage 4. Maintaining the Social Order. Stage 3 reasoning works best in two-person relationships with family members or close friends, where one can make a real effort to get to know the other's feelings and needs and try to help. At stage 4, in contrast, the respondent becomes more broadly concerned with society as a whole. Now the emphasis is on obeying laws, respecting authority, and performing one's duties so that the social order is maintained. In response to the Heinz story, many subjects say they understand that Heinz's motives were good, but they cannot condone the theft. What would happen if we all started breaking the laws whenever we felt we had a good reason? The result would be chaos; society couldn't function. As one subject explained,

 

    I don't want to sound like Spiro Agnew, law and order and wave the flag, but if everybody did as he wanted to do, set up his own beliefs as to right and wrong, then I think you would have chaos. The only thing I think we have in civilization nowadays is some sort of legal structure which people are sort of bound to follow. [society needs] a centralizing framework. (Gibbs et al., 1983, pp. 140-41)

 

Because stage 4, subjects make moral decisions from the perspective of society as a whole, they think from a full-fledged member-of-society perspective (Colby and Kohlberg, 1983, p. 27).

 

You will recall that stage 1 children also generally oppose stealing because it breaks the law. Superficially, stage 1 and stage 4 subjects are giving the same response, so we see here why Kohlberg insists that we must probe into the reasoning behind the overt response. Stage 1 children say, "It's wrong to steal" and "It's against the law," but they cannot elaborate any further, except to say that stealing can get a person jailed. Stage 4 respondents, in contrast, have a conception of the function of laws for society as a whole--a conception which far exceeds the grasp of the younger child.

 

Level III. Postconventional Morality

 

Stage 5. Social Contract and Individual Rights. At stage 4, people want to keep society functioning. However, a smoothly functioning society is not necessarily a good one. A totalitarian society might be well-organized, but it is hardly the moral ideal. At stage 5, people begin to ask, "What makes for a good society?" They begin to think about society in a very theoretical way, stepping back from their own society and considering the rights and values that a society ought to uphold. They then evaluate existing societies in terms of these prior considerations. They are said to take a "prior-to-society" perspective (Colby and Kohlberg, 1983, p. 22).

 

Stage 5 respondents basically believe that a good society is best conceived as a social contract into which people freely enter to work toward the benefit of all They recognize that different social groups within a society will have different values, but they believe that all rational people would agree on two points. First they would all want certain basic rights, such as liberty and life, to be protected Second, they would want some democratic procedures for changing unfair law and for improving society.

 

In response to the Heinz dilemma, stage 5 respondents make it clear that they do not generally favor breaking laws; laws are social contracts that we agree to uphold until we can change them by democratic means. Nevertheless, the wife’s right to live is a moral right that must be protected. Thus, stage 5 respondent sometimes defend Heinz’s theft in strong language:

 

    It is the husband's duty to save his wife. The fact that her life is in danger transcends every other standard you might use to judge his action. Life is more important than property.

 

This young man went on to say that "from a moral standpoint" Heinz should save the life of even a stranger, since to be consistent, the value of a life means any life. When asked if the judge should punish Heinz, he replied:

 

    Usually the moral and legal standpoints coincide. Here they conflict. The judge should weight the moral standpoint more heavily but preserve the legal law in punishing Heinz lightly. (Kohlberg, 1976, p. 38)

 

Stage 5 subjects,- then, talk about "morality" and "rights" that take some priority over particular laws. Kohlberg insists, however, that we do not judge people to be at stage 5 merely from their verbal labels. We need to look at their social perspective and mode of reasoning. At stage 4, too, subjects frequently talk about the "right to life," but for them this right is legitimized by the authority of their social or religious group (e.g., by the Bible). Presumably, if their group valued property over life, they would too. At stage 5, in contrast, people are making more of an independent effort to think out what any society ought to value. They often reason, for example, that property has little meaning without life. They are trying to determine logically what a society ought to be like (Kohlberg, 1981, pp. 21-22; Gibbs et al., 1983, p. 83).

 

Stage 6: Universal Principles. Stage 5 respondents are working toward a conception of the good society. They suggest that we need to (a) protect certain individual rights and (b) settle disputes through democratic processes. However, democratic processes alone do not always result in outcomes that we intuitively sense are just. A majority, for example, may vote for a law that hinders a minority. Thus, Kohlberg believes that there must be a higher stage--stage 6--which defines the principles by which we achieve justice.

 

Kohlberg's conception of justice follows that of the philosophers Kant and Rawls, as well as great moral leaders such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King. According to these people, the principles of justice require us to treat the claims of all parties in an impartial manner, respecting the basic dignity, of all people as individuals. The principles of justice are therefore universal; they apply to all. Thus, for example, we would not vote for a law that aids some people but hurts others. The principles of justice guide us toward decisions based on an equal respect for all.

 

In actual practice, Kohlberg says, we can reach just decisions by looking at a situation through one another's eyes. In the Heinz dilemma, this would mean that all parties--the druggist, Heinz, and his wife--take the roles of the others. To do this in an impartial manner, people can assume a "veil of ignorance" (Rawls, 1971), acting as if they do not know which role they will eventually occupy. If the druggist did this, even he would recognize that life must take priority over property; for he wouldn't want to risk finding himself in the wife's shoes with property valued over life. Thus, they would all agree that the wife must be saved--this would be the fair solution. Such a solution, we must note, requires not only impartiality, but the principle that everyone is given full and equal respect. If the wife were considered of less value than the others, a just solution could not be reached.

 

Until recently, Kohlberg had been scoring some of his subjects at stage 6, but he has temporarily stopped doing so, For one thing, he and other researchers had not been finding subjects who consistently reasoned at this stage. Also, Kohlberg has concluded that his interview dilemmas are not useful for distinguishing between stage 5 and stage 6 thinking. He believes that stage 6 has a clearer and broader conception of universal principles (which include justice as well as individual rights), but feels that his interview fails to draw out this broader understanding. Consequently, he has temporarily dropped stage 6 from his scoring manual, calling it a "theoretical stage" and scoring all postconventional responses as stage 5 (Colby and Kohlberg, 1983, p. 28).

 

Theoretically, one issue that distinguishes stage 5 from stage 6 is civil disobedience. Stage 5 would be more hesitant to endorse civil disobedience because of its commitment to the social contract and to changing laws through democratic agreements. Only when an individual right is clearly at stake does violating the law seem justified. At stage 6, in contrast, a commitment to justice makes the rationale for civil disobedience stronger and broader. Martin Luther King, for example, argued that laws are only valid insofar as they are grounded in justice, and that a commitment to justice carries with it an obligation to disobey unjust laws. King also recognized, of course, the general need for laws and democratic processes (stages 4 and 5), and he was therefore willing to accept the penalities for his actions. Nevertheless, he believed that the higher principle of justice required civil disobedience (Kohlberg, 198 1, p. 43).

 

Source.

 

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Eviscero

If you agree with me that due to differences in evolution, among other factors, morality is entirely relative to said factors and peoples, and you also agree that there is no superior morality, then we agree by all counts.

 

Therefore, the answer to the question of "Do absolute morals exist?" would be yes, individually. Which lends itself to the idea that no, there are no absolute morals for all humans (which is what I assumed he meant).

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BenMillard

(Mort's contributions and quotations are rather too lengthy to quote in sections, so I am assuming that readers have gone through it all rather than have them read the relevant snippts of his posts in my reply here.)

 

Mortukai's proposition that "morality is merely an emergent property of the universe" is obviously true since ALL things (which exist) are just an emergent property of the universe! Clearly morality must like all other devices of logic and thought, being characterised by specific structures of neurons in the brain linked up in certain orientations. The physical flexibility of the connections within the human brain explain how one's view of morality can change. However, this seems insufficient in answering the question of "absolute" morality as it merely indicates that morals are created by the normal physical mechanisms of thought.

 

What we require is a more clearly defined idea of what a morals are and what ethics is. I would consider a moral as being a rule, guideline or similar device which an individual refers to when considering they way they ought to act. Therefore morality must be the system created by assembling many morals together which would therefore give some sort of direction or bias to the way we choose to behave. I would shy away from saying a moral directs one towards "good" or "virtue" because that would open a can of undefinable worms, as it were.

 

I would refer to Ethics as the study of morals and morality, meaning that it is the process of thinking about any rule (moral) or any collection of rules (morality) for the purposes of deciding what these rules should be. There is something of a feedback loop here, since one must have created (or simply absorbed) morals in order to analyse whether these morals should be adhered to or whether one ought to act differently. To make a judgement about the benefit of a moral rule requires one already has a moral belief. For example, to justify abortion as being morally correct requires one already believes the moral rule that some lives are not worth preserving, just as the opposing view is based upon the opposite moral rule.

 

To this extent, it seems impossible to resolve an absolute morality since judgement about each comprising moral rule can only be made from a perspective which itself involves moral rules.

 

I'm disinclined to agree with the notion that there is no absolute morality

[i am inclined to agree with the notion that there is absolute morality?]

I never stated that all humans abide under One Morality To Rule Them All.
I don't understand this. Your first statement appears to support the idea of absolute morality while the second dismisses any such singular device. If morality is pluralistic and there are many alternatives, then no particular iteration of it could be viewed as absolute. I think that's also what Evi has been trying to get at.

 

(EDIT) To me, Mortukai's view seems to be that morals are deduced throught physical mechanisms which are part of the universe. This is obviously true, since nothing can exist outside of the universe as the universe is all which exists. The question is whether any particular set of rules (morality) can be viewed as the absolute solution, the "correct" way to direct one's life. This is not answered by simply pointing out that morals are derived mechanically. To identify the morality which all should adopt is impossible since such a judgement would pre-supposed a morality from which to adjudicate, which itself would be open to judgements ad infinitum.

Edited by Cerbera

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Eviscero

Yeah, I'm with Cerbera on this one (or is he with me? wink.gif ). Mort, you've outlined nicely where morals may have come from, but the question at hand isn't "What is morality?". It's a little less fundamental than that.

 

We live in a world where views of morality clash violently. The (excuse the generalization) middle eastern idea of morality is much different than the western. The question is proposed, then, Who is right?

 

The point I'm trying to get at is that each are perfectly right in their own regards. If we had two polar opposite ideas of morality for two people, each would be perfectly right relative to themselves and perfectly wrong relative to eachother. That's my idea of morality.

 

My idea is that if one is doing what he truly believes to be the right thing given the situation, then he can not be held at fault under any circumstances. If a jihad radical feels it's the right thing to crash planes into buildings, then, in his mind, he is doing a good thing. How can you call someone a bad person for doing what they believe to be truly right?

 

You can't. Not with any legitimacy. It may be contrary to your moral beliefs, but hey, who the hell are you?

 

 

 

Now is this to say that these people shouldn't go to jail? Of course not. If someone's morals are a threat to the welfare of anyone with it in their power to disable them, then by all means...

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Mortukai

 

Now is this to say that these people shouldn't go to jail? Of course not. If someone's morals are a threat to the welfare of anyone with it in their power to disable them, then by all means...

This is essentially "might is right". From what you just described, it doesn't matter what my morals are, or what yours are, but if I have the power to disable you, and I feel you are a threat to my welfare, then I am right by virtue of my power.

 

Of course, your condition "IF someone's morals are a threat to the welfare of anyone..." is simply another moral rule. YOUR moral rule. What if someone with more power than you decides that they don't like that moral rule, so they simply state that "IF I don't like you for any reason then by virtue of my power I can "disable" you by any means I see fit". Actually, that sorta looks like US foreign policy....

 

At any rate, such a moral system is primitive in the extreme. This is the key point that I'm going to be working with here. If you don't know what I'm talking about, it'll make sense soon.

 

Consider astrology. At the time, astrology was actually a pretty good model, compared with the available options. It made some sense of personality types. It tied people's lives into the universe, rather than treat them as seperate divine beings. It described heavenly bodies and their movements in relation to Earth. It attempted an explanation for changes in people's lives. It gained support among even many of the great thinkers. But then astrology split in two and we started getting astronomy and the hippocrate's four humours. Astronomy started to make more sense of the heavens, and the four humours started to make more sense of peronality types by focusing more on the individual's states and attitudes. Of course, astrology stuck around because it had already gained such massive approval and people are generally loathe to change or admit they are wrong. And then time went by and we developed psychoanalysis and telescopes and such, and science arose as a new way of looking at the world and ourselves. I don't need to give a detailed history lesson. You get what I'm saying.

 

As a simpler analogy that also illustrates my point, consider calculators. The very first calculators could only calculate pi to a handful of decimal places. Now we can calculate pi to millions of decimal places. One day we'll calculate pi to more decimal places than there are atoms in the universe (which is, of course, impossible).

 

The point, is that some ways of looking at the world, some ways of describing the universe, some ways of making predictions, are more primitive than others. Conversely, some are more advanced. More complex. More accurate. Ethics are no different. Ethics are a way of making sense of, and guiding, our behaviour. Some ethics are more primitive than others. This is why I posted the stages of Kohlberg's ethical reasoning scale. It shows clearly how an individual's ethical reasoning advances as they grow and mature. As Cerbera has noted, there is a distinction between ethics and morals, and I'm using his definition of ethics as the process by which we arive at moral rules, and this is precisely what Kohlberg was describing.

 

So how does this relate to absolutes? In the exact same way that logic relates to the rules of the universe. Logic works because it is in complete accordance with the principles of how the universe functions. If we use the same logical reasoning on the same situation from the same viewpoint, we'll always come up with the same answer. Likewise, if we use the same ethical reasoning on the same situation from the same viewpoint, we'll always come up with the same morals. Ethical reasoning is no more than a form of logic.

 

It is not simply the case that all morals are equally true. It IS the case that all morals are equally true for their given circumstances and underlying ethical reasoning. This is not the same thing, and the difference is subtle. At one level this means that we can't say that someone's morals are "wrong". On the other hand it does mean that we can say that their morals are primitive and insufficient, and probably do not apply to many other situations. Conversely, we can't really say that someone's morals are "right" either. They may not be wrong, but this does not automatically make then right. It merely means that they just are what they are. But we can say that they are more advanced and more sufficient, and probably apply to a much greater variety of situations. All truths are universal, and the closer we get to that, the better.

 

For example, let's say someone has a moral rule that you can't eat pigs on friday, or "you will be punished". Clearly, this is a primitive moral. The ethical reasoning behind it is stage 1, and the rule itself is too narrow. Why can we eat pigs on thursday? What if we start eating a pig late on thursday night, and we are still finishing it off as midnight clocks over? You get the idea. We can't say that this moral is wrong, nor right. But we can say that it is primitive.

 

How can we say it is primitive? Because we recognise the absoluteness of underlying universal principles, even if we can't articulate what they are.

 

 

I don't understand this. Your first statement appears to support the idea of absolute morality while the second dismisses any such singular device. If morality is pluralistic and there are many alternatives, then no particular iteration of it could be viewed as absolute. I think that's also what Evi has been trying to get at.

Ok, I started off using the existing terminology, and then went on to redefine it, and so this caused confusion. My bad. What I am saying is that there are absolute principles upon which morality is based. Consider the ethics of justice. It's not too far of a leap to see how the ethics of justice are based on the absolute principle of causality: every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Consider an ethic of care. It is again not too far a leap to see the similarity with electromagnetism, where the strength of the effect decays with the square of the distance. This isn't to say that ethical reasoning is derived from causality or electromagnetism, but it is to say that the principles which govern such physical constants also form a basis for our emergent ethical reasoning.

 

Now, even the most advanced ethical reasoning will not reveal an absolute moral rule. This is simply because the moral rule itself must be dependant upon circumstances. A photon will not always travel in a straight line, nor at the speed of light. If spacetime curves, so will the photon's path, and we can freeze photons in a Bose-Einstein Condensation. Circumstances must always be taken into account when considering moral rules. However, ethical reasoning -the principles behind all morals- CAN be absolute. However, for our ethical reasoning to reach such a stage would require a deep understanding of all the relevant principles of the universe which govern our lives. I think it's safe to say that we've got a fair way to go yet.

 

It is not sufficient to merely have a set of moral rules, especially as these are necessarily dependant upon circumstances. It is far better to have a good process of ethical reasoning. With such, we can create or discard moral rules as needed, and we can be far more adaptive to far more circumstances. It's like the difference between having a few different tools, or being able to make any tool you need when you need it. As I see it, moral rules are merely a convenient way to give less advanced (in the sense of ethical reasoning) people a cookie-cutter set of guidelines until they reach a point where they don't need them.

 

As such, I disagree, Cerbera, with your premise that all moral rules require pre-existing moral rules in a sort of feedback loop. One does not need any moral rule to apply a reasoning of justice to any situation. Likewise a belief in a "right to life" precludes many moral rules, and needs none in order to sustain it.

 

I hope all of this has made sense. I'm dealing with stuff most people have never even considered possible to deal with. How many people have attempted to discern how morality emerges from the principles our universe functions by? It's hard enough trying to describe how consciousness emerges from the structure of the brain!

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BenMillard

Again, too much to quote in bits so I'll do what I did last time. smile.gif

 

 

Now, even the most advanced ethical reasoning will not reveal an absolute moral rule...However, ethical reasoning - the principles behind all morals - CAN be absolute. However, for our ethical reasoning to reach such a stage would require a deep understanding of all the relevant principles of the universe which govern our lives. I think it's safe to say that we've got a fair way to go yet.
Therefore you do not believe that any absolute morals currently exist? Also, you do not believe that any morals could be absolute, universal and superior to all others since the circumstances in which they were created might change, rendering them insufficient or primitive? As such, you do not believe in the existance (or even the possibility) of there being absolute moral rules? I hope I've got that right.

 

Instead, you are stating that the process by which one arrives at rules are part of the structure of the Universe. This is not suprising since everything inside the Universe must be part of it. (One is tempted to say "Duh!" at this point.) However, since no human will ever be aware of all relevant principles of the Universe I refute the possibily of any human ever practising "absolute Ethics" as one might call it. People simply aren't big enough to store all the required data or logical devices and would not be able to apply such a complex understanding in everyday life because of the time it takes to process data using networks of squishy neurons. Futhermore, human physiology is chemically volatile and so even in the impossible circumstance of a human being able to contain all the required knowledge, they would be unable to overcome the innefficient and disorganised operation of their cells to arrive at consistant and accurate answers.

 

Hypothetically one must agree that any process must have an absolute foundation within the Universe since that is what it is made of. A human ever becoming aware of that foundation is an extremely long shot and most likely an impossible one. Therefore absolute Ethical reasoning is not something humans ever have or ever will be able to practise.

 

 

It is far better to have a good process of ethical reasoning. With such, we can create or discard moral rules as needed, and we can be far more adaptive to far more circumstances.

 

[...]

 

As such, I disagree, Cerbera, with your premise that all moral rules require pre-existing moral rules in a sort of feedback loop. One does not need any moral rule to apply a reasoning of justice to any situation. Likewise a belief in a "right to life" precludes many moral rules, and needs none in order to sustain it.

Since no human is aware of the absolute foundation of ethical reasoning (and almost certainly never will be aware of it nor able to apply it), their ethical direction must be set by assumed pre-requisite moral rules. In your example of a right to life, this assumes that life is a desireable outcome of a moral rule being applied and, as such, is a tautology (Wikipedia: Tautology) since it uses its own output to justify its own process. The rule states that life should be preserved but the reason it gives is because life ought to be preserved, which might not actually be true.

 

(EDIT) This top-level limit upon the ethical accuracy humans can achieve is perhaps part of why Level 6 was dropped and redefined as a largely theoretical stage?

Edited by Cerbera

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Mortukai

 

Therefore you do not believe that any absolute morals currently exist? Also, you do not believe that any morals could be absolute, universal and superior to all others since the circumstances in which they were created might change, rendering them insufficient or primitive? As such, you do not believe in the existance (or even the possibility) of there being absolute moral rules? I hope I've got that right.

Almost, but not quite. There are no absolute moral rules that apply to all situations at all times. However, if one were using the highest level of ethical reasoning (ie: taking into account all the principles of the universe), one would always come to the exact same conclusion for moral rules within any given situation/context. There is absolute ethical reasoning, and the reasoning process applies across all situations and times, and will always give the same moral rules in any given situation. Thus in any given situation, using absolute ethical reasoning will yield absolute moral rules for that situation.

 

This does not preclude the possibility for "superior" moral rules. This is because in any given circumstance, there are multiple ways of reasoning morals, some of which are more advanced and closer to the absolutes than others. So if we take any context, and get multiple people of varying ethical reasoning ability to devise applicable moral rules for the situation, we could easily rank them according to the advancement of the reasoning used. So if one such person comes up with a set of moral rules using stage 1 reasoning, and another comes up with a different set of rules based on stage 3 reasoning, then we can say that the second set of rules are more advanced, and given that I doubt any of us would want to base our lives on primitive rules, we can say they are "superior" (the truth is that they are more representative of rules which would be the result of the highest absolute ethical reasoning). Likewise, if, in the same situation, someone else comes up with another set of rules using stage 5 reasoning, then we can say that their rules are more superior.

 

As such, we don't have pure ethical relativism. We have evolutionary ethics. Given the nature of the universe and the resultant absoluteness of ethical principles, we can describe morals comparatively according to the ethical reasoning used to devise them. Such ethical reasoning follows an evolutionary path, such that less evolved species (or humans at an earlier evolutionary stage) display only certain stages of ethical reasoning, and more evolved species display more complex and advanced ethical reasoning. Individuals, as they develop through their lives, also progress through the various stages of ethical reasoning. Ethical relativism states that all morals are equally applicable. Evolutionary ethics states that all morals are applicable, but not equally, as some are devised with more complex and advanced reasoning. Exactly like the difference between a basic logical argument and an advanced logical argument. Both apply, but one is more right than the other, because it takes into account more information to arrive at the conclusion. Which again is very similar to principles of statistics (which shouldn't be surprising), where the more information you take into account, the more confident you can be that your answer is right. Only instead of coming up with the right number, we're trying to come up with the answer that is 100% in-line with absolute ethical principles. Make sense? See how the same principles of the universe actually crop up all over the place?

 

Just because I like making things really easy to understand, think of it like this:

 

a + bx / z = y

 

y is a moral rule. a, b, x, and z are all factors in any given situation.

 

The formula _ + __ / _ is the process of ethical reasoning based on absolute principles: in this case the relationships formed by addition, multiplication, and division. In ethics these mathematical relationships might be replaced by relationships formed by balance (justice) and/or emotions (care) etc.

 

If you plug in the same values for a, b, x, and z (same situational variables), you will always get the same value for y (same moral rule). If you change the values for any of a, b, z, or z (change the situational variables), you'll get a different result for y (different moral rule). But you're still using the same formula (ethical reasoning).

 

a + w = y is a simplified formula where w approximates bx / z. (this is simple ethical reasoning, perhaps stage 2. stage 1 would simply be describing y).

 

a + c / z = y is a more complex formula than above, but still simplified, because c approximates bx.

 

All of these formulae are trying to arrive at the correct value for y (the correct moral rule). Some are taking into account more detailed information, and some are using only approximations.

 

I hope this is making sense. If the most advanced and accurate ethical reasoning returns a given moral rule (in the formula above, perhaps we get the value "5"), then this is the absolute answer for that given situation. In this specific context, there is an absolute moral rule. But just because this moral rule is absolute for this context, it doesn't mean that it is absolute for all contexts. The number 5 might be right for that formula, but it doesn't mean it's right for all formulas.

 

So try to wrap your head around this, if you will: there ARE absolute moral rules, but they each only apply to a specific instance in circumstance and time. The only universally applicable absolute in this is the ethical reasoning underneath it all. Or, more accurately, the principles on which this ethical reasoning is based.

 

Let me know if I've lost you.

 

The last point I'll make on this is that such a theory explains quite easily the phenomena often seen in ethical research: that most people will, in different circumstances, fluctuate between different stages of reasoning. Within the framework of evolutionary ethics, this can be seen as due to the fact that in some cases certain pieces of information about the situation may be missing, and as such, they must use a lesser formula which only needs the pieces that they posses. So if you only had a, c, and z, you couldn't use the formula that requires b and x, so you'd have to make do with c as an approximation. In effect, due to limited information, you step down a stage of ethical reasoning in order to come to some conclusion. This neatly also describes the cases where people choose to reserve judgement until they have more information at their disposal: they can reason at a higher ethical level, and they don't want to come to a lesser conclusion, so they wait until they have all the pieces necessary for their more complex ethical formula. Again, like in other aspects of life *cough*religion*cough*, some people value finding the actual truth more than they value having an answer right now and defending it as correct.

 

 

Since no human is aware of the absolute foundation of ethical reasoning (and almost certainly never will be aware of it nor able to apply it), their ethical direction must be set by assumed pre-requisite moral rules. In your example of a right to life, this assumes that life is a desireable outcome of a moral rule being applied and, as such, is a tautology (Wikipedia: Tautology) since it uses its own output to justify its own process. The rule states that life should be preserved but the reason it gives is because life ought to be preserved, which might not actually be true.

I don't agree. If this were true as you claim, then no human could ever gain any ethical reasoning as at some point in time every human had no ethical reasoning. If they must already have moral rules (which can only be arrived at via ethical reasoning, no matter how primitive that reasoning is) in order to form moral rules (the tautology of which you claim), then they could never gain any due to the catch 22 that would arise. Likewise we can assume that at some point in our evolution, we didn't have moral rules.

 

Instead, I posit that due to us humans being no more than an emergent property of the universe, and as such we also exhibit other such emergent properties (such as consciousness, logic, and ethics), that at some point in our evolution we started using the first traces of ethical reasoning in order to define the first moral rules. Over time, we started creating more and more moral rules, and as we developed and advanced our thinking, we started seeing the flaws in the existing rules, and so used our more complex reasoning to devise new ones. And this cycle continued on and on until we reach where we are today. Which, admittedly, isn't all that far from where we were 3000 years ago, but nobody said evolution was a fast process (and if they did they are stupid). Given that 3000 years ago slavery and torture were considered perfectly acceptable, and I seriously doubt any of them thought that their absence would be morally corrupt, and given that today most educated people agree that slavery and torture are morally reprehensible, but their absence is comendable, then one could say we have advanced. But it is certainly not the moral rules which have advanced us (for they are static at any given stage of ethical reasoning and any given circumstance), but it is instead ethical reasoning which has advanced, and in doing so, has highlighted the faults of existing moral rules.

 

As such it is reasoning which drives morals, not morals which drive reasoning. There is no tautology, it only appears that way from a certain perspective, when one ignores the component of time. In your example of a "right to life", such a right has not always been assumed. Thus it is only reasonable to accept that at some point, someone, without assuming such a right, reasoned that such a right was in fact a good thing.

 

One of the best ways to go about constructing ones views on ethics/morality, is to first completely and utterly deconstruct all one's existing moral rules about everything. In doing so, one remembers the merits and flaws of each moral rule (always learn, never discard knowledge). Then one reinvents their morality based on their highest ability to reason ethically. When doing so, it is certainly not a simple tautological process, as no rule can be accepted without first building a foundation for it with reason.

 

 

Therefore absolute Ethical reasoning is not something humans ever have or ever will be able to practise.

This is neither here nor there. Likewise, humans will never possess absolute logical reasoning, nor mathematical reasoning, nor anything for that matter. We are, as you stated, far too tiny and insignificant, and the principles of the universe preclude the possibility of us ever attaining knowledge about more than we have access to in our tiny corner of the universe. This isn't to say that some logic or maths or ethics can't be closer to the absolutes than others though. In fact, the reverse is true. Some logic, some maths, and some ethics ARE closer to the absolutes. And I choose to call this effect "being more true".

 

Maybe we'll never reach the Absolute Truth. But I'd like to die trying.

 

 

This top-level limit upon the ethical accuracy humans can achieve is perhaps part of why Level 6 was dropped and redefined as a largely theoretical stage?

Actually, as I understand it, stage 6 was dropped from the scale because of two reasons: one, almost nobody ever reached it, illustrating the severe lack of ethical reasoning ability in the populace, and two; the measurement inventory was not complex enough or fine-tuned enough to distinguish accurately between stages 5 and 6.

Edited by Mortukai

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BenMillard

For those who can't be bothered to read the big posts in here (Although you should try, you might learn something.) I discussed this stuff with Mortukai over MSN and what we basically agree is this:

Cerbera/Ben says: theoretically, I agree fully with the possibility of absolute rules being derived from absolute ethics

Cerbera/Ben says: but in practise I am certain this would be impossible

Mortukai says: yep. well, as i said, the same goes for all logical deductions, as we will never reach a point where all information is available to us to factor into our arguments.

Mortukai says: but there is the element of "more correct"

Cerbera/Ben says: yes

Cerbera/Ben says: that's basically what I was arguing: An absolute set of moral rules will never be constructed.

Cerbera/Ben says: but the current ones can be improved

Mortukai says: yes. but without first accepting that there can be absolute rules, one can not argue that one moral rule is any more "improved" than another, because there is no basis of comparison to say which is better. but with absolute rules, we can say which is closer by looking at which uses the most advanced ethical reasoning.

Cerbera/Ben says: or rather, by using absolute ethics we can analyse the rules which are created?

Mortukai says: yes.

Cerbera/Ben says: but since absolute ethics is not acheivable in practise, we cannot use an absolute instruction manual of ethical reasoning

Cerbera/Ben says: which is why I favour your evolutionary model

Mortukai says: yes. me too

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