Morals, Part II  

rm_TappyTibbins 40M
49 posts
5/30/2005 6:09 pm

Last Read:
3/5/2006 9:27 pm

Morals, Part II

Part II: If They Exist, Where Are They?

If Morals exist, it can be said that they exist either as a mental concept, or as something that is independent of thought and mental activity. That Morals exist solely as a mental concept is a very popular and highly seductive position. This position, which is known as Ethical Relativism, claims that each person or culture has its own idea about what constitutes moral behavior. As such, they claim that Morals are not absolute or universal, but rather that they are relative to the individual or culture. There are, however, some serious difficulties with this position.

If Morals exist as a guide to determine which actions are right and which are wrong, of what use are they if all actions can be justified as right simply by saying “They're right for me, so mind your own business”? Given logic of this kind, it is justifiable for the people of Afghanistan to have kept their women locked in the home twenty-four hours per day and female genital mutilation becomes perfectly acceptable within the confines of a certain cultural framework. It is simply not reasonable to assert that these gross violations of basic human rights are acceptable under any circumstances. When any action, no matter how profane, can be justified, Ethics cease to exist.

Furthermore, when Ethical Relativists claim that “Morals are relative, so we should not impose our ethical beliefs on others”, they are making a universal ethical judgment that we should not impose our beliefs on others. In doing this they affirm that at least some ethical prescriptions are universal, and so contradict their own position. If, as a result, it can be said, then, that Morals exist independently of mental concepts, then their source is to be found either in the natural or the supernatural world.

Many ethicists believe that Morals are derived from God, a supernatural being. This claim, however, is far from being unproblematic. If we agree that God is a being who is omnipotent, omniscient and omni-benevolent (indeed, this is the common understanding of the nature of God), then it follows that God has knowledge of all future events. This divine foreknowledge is necessary if religious communities are to explain divine prophecy and divine providence. Unfortunately, this divine foreknowledge has dire consequences for religious ethicists. If God knows that we will perform a certain action, then it follows that we must perform that action. Given this, it cannot be said that we had a choice in what we did. If we had no choice, we cannot be held responsible, and again Ethics ceases to exist. Indeed, divine foreknowledge is one of the serious impediments to the idea of free will, an issue I hope to tackle in a future posting.

Another difficulty that the religious ethicist must face is one which is common to all appeals to a moral authority. That is, how do we know that the authority to which we are appealing is legitimate? Is something Good because God says that it is Good, or does God say that it is Good because it is Good? If one were to say that the former is correct, then it would be reasonable to ask how we can know either that God is Good, or if indeed God is Good, how we can know what God wants. If one were to say, however, that the latter is correct, then what is the point of appealing to God, if God is merely appealing to something else outside of himself?

Joseph Butler, a religious ethicist, claimed that we can know God’s will in regard to ethical behavior. He claimed that our guide to moral actions is our conscience, and that this was implanted in us by God. Unfortunately, this theory does not explain why it is that most people seem to disagree about what constitutes moral behavior, nor does it explain why people behave in ways that God would consider sinful.

Therefore, given that it seems unlikely that Morals are derived from the supernatural world, they must exist in the natural world. As such, we may say that Morals exist either in the physical world, or in the metaphysical world.


Next: Microscopic Morals?


lustmirror 63M
2897 posts
5/30/2005 8:36 pm

well, I would suggest that "morals" are suggested, and enforced from "outside". They are not revealing themselves to you from your own heart, or soul, or whatever physiologigal location you care to use to describe those feelings that come from within yourself. In life, there are always events that are new to us, but as we experience them, we also witness the outlying aspects, the effects of those events. From these we get a reading of whether they were "good" events or not. Now, plenty of situatuions that you might never encounter are being catagorized for you/ us, and occassionally the zeal of those actions can represent an "evil" of their own.

rm_TappyTibbins 40M
22 posts
5/30/2005 9:05 pm

Lustmirror: Yeah, I can get behind that. Question, though: I'm still not quite clear on how we are able to discern whether the effects of the events are "good" or "bad." If we want to know that something is 6, 7 or 9 (or 10) inches, we can use a ruler to measure. By what standard do we measure the "Goodness" or "Badness" of events or the effect of those events? If I understand you correctly, we judge a good event by whether it has good effects. How do we judge the effects?

rm_morefutility 37F
175 posts
5/31/2005 7:50 pm

I believe that morals should serve a utilitarian purpose. Granted I base my views on the premises proposed by the enlightened thinkers of the 18th century, but I believe that they had a good point in saying that what ever gives the greatest amount of good to the greatest number of people while causing the least amount of suffering for the fewest number of people is truly the way to go. To begin moralizing based on religion or other superstitions is purely presumptuous and lacking in integrity.

rm_TappyTibbins 40M
22 posts
6/1/2005 8:26 pm

morefutility: I agree that utilitarianism has promise, but it is not without its dangers. I started to actually write a reply myself, but then realized that I had read something that says almost exactly what I wanted to say:

"One problem with utilitarianism is that it leads to an "end justifies the means" mentality. If any worthwhile end can justify the means to attain it, a true ethical foundation is lost. But we all know that the end does not justify the means. If that were so, then Hitler could justify the Holocaust because the end was to purify the human race. Stalin could justify his slaughter of millions because he was trying to achieve a communist utopia.

The end never justifies the means. The means must justify themselves. A particular act cannot be judged as good simply because it may lead to a good consequence. The means must be judged by some objective and consistent standard of morality.

Second, utilitarianism cannot protect the rights of minorities if the goal is the greatest good for the greatest number. Americans in the eighteenth century could justify slavery on the basis that it provided a good consequence for a majority of Americans. Certainly the majority benefited from cheap slave labor even though the lives of black slaves were much worse.

A third problem with utilitarianism is predicting the consequences. If morality is based on results, then we would have to have omniscience in order to accurately predict the consequence of any action. But at best we can only guess at the future, and often these educated guesses are wrong.

A fourth problem with utilitarianism is that consequences themselves must be judged. When results occur, we must still ask whether they are good or bad results. Utilitarianism provides no objective and consistent foundation to judge results because results are the mechanism used to judge the action itself."

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