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[P]
Ethics is a Process

By Pseudoephedrine in Op-Ed
Thu Feb 21, 2002 at 03:17:21 PM EST
Tags: Freedom (all tags)
Freedom

Morality is quite possibly the scourge of mankind.


Such a broad and overly-general statement needs to be qualified, of course. Let us begin by defining morality. This isn't a definition such as one will find in a dictionary, but the sort that clears up what the concept we are speaking about is. Morality is a specific, enumerated set of laws governing human interaction that are fixed and unchanging. Morality need not be logical or coherent--it can contradict itself, eat its own tail, confuse and confound even the brightest minds of humanity, but it must still fulfill the above function.

Therefore, the original sentence should be modified 'Specific fixed and codified sets of law governing human interaction are the scourge of mankind'. However, this still ignores an important aspect of morality, the 'normative' aspect. Normative means that it carries the force of 'should', that most fearsome of conditionals, behind it. We ought to do it because it is moral. This specific condition also shows us how laws can be immoral--laws are simply specific fixed and codified sets of laws governing human interaction, while morality is a much more dangerous beast, it carries in its hand the 'should', which it uses to smite its opponents. Who amongst us does not strive for the moral high ground? Who does not wither before the wrath of 'should'?

That very same power is why morality is the scourge of mankind. Self-justification is as necessary to man as food and shelter, without it, he quickly sickens and dies. He who controls 'should' controls his fellow man, he holds the tools of their salvation in his hands, and it is he who forges justifications and demands. He is the priest and they the flock, often quite literally.

Man fights over food and shelter, and so, he fights over justification. The battle between different moralities occupies much of our lives--which one do we follow, which one will give us the justification we need? Even criminals and the most immoral folk struggle to justify what they have done, let alone those of us who consciously struggle to be moral and live as we ought to.

This struggle for justification in and of itself is not a bad thing. As man struggles to justify himself, his actions become more and more moral, more and more civilised and just. Rather, the problem comes in the very nature of morality. Morality is an external code - it is written law, not internal thought. Morality comes from no law of science, no mathematical proof, it is not a point of certainty in any real sense. We cannot apply the verification principle to morality, empirically validate its existence. Morality masquerades as an absolute truth, when in reality it is an artifact of consciousness.

Where else can one find moral thought but in the mind of man or God? Morality is a creation of human thought and is in truth, not a science such as it pretends to be, but an art. It is not an empirically valid truth, but a creation of the mind brought forth into the world. It is an essential expression of the self-consciousness, not an imposition of the external world.

As an artifact of consciousness, morality resides in man's consciousness alone, coming out into the world only through his actions and choices, and nothing else. Man cannot in good conscience look to external forces for validation, only for inspiration. Like all art, there are geniuses of morality who serve to inspire the rest of us, but ultimately, just as they cannot paint a picture for us, they cannot lead our lives. A forgery is nothing but--even if it is a very good forgery.

Let us now redefine another, similar term, to refer to this dynamic art, this becoming, this process. Ethics. Ethics is the dynamic consciousness of what is right action. Morality in the sense defined above is necessarily external - it must be codified, and it deals mostly with how to treat one's fellow man. Ethics, on the other hand, is primarily internal, it is bound up in every man's consciousness. Every man who does not enslave himself to a moral system still possesses this consciousness, this conscience. Whereas morality treats the struggle for 'should' as primary--morality is only morality because there exists the possibility of immorality; ethics is monist. There is right action, but no need for wrong action. To act unethically is nothing more than to fail to act rightly. It is not transgressing some law or another, but merely failure to act upon one's conscience.

This brings us back to the title, that ethics is fundamentally a process, while morality is static. Ethics, like any art, grows and changes as the artist grows and changes. Morality does not grow or change--it is unchanging and certain, its pretense of being scientific preventing it from actually being useful to man.

This is important. Man does not find food once and then consider himself full for the rest of his life. Without thought put into where his next meal will come, hunger will overwhelm him in due time. Yet this is what morality seeks to do. Man is given one explanation, one right way, one 'should' and this is supposed to justify him for all time. He cannot go beyond these rules, because then he is acting immorally. Instead, all he can do is content himself with the single taste morality offers.

Satisfying man's needs is an ongoing process, and justification is a need like any other. The only food rich enough to sate a man's hunger for justification is rightness, and it can only be harvested by ethics.

Therefore, man must be consciously ethical. One cannot surrender one's mind to ethics as one can with morality--it demands a conscious effort on the part of the person to decide, to choose the right choice. This is not easy, but neither is farming or building houses. It is hard effort, but only through this hard effort can man get what he wants--justification, rightness. Surrender to morality is fundamentally a choice in bad faith. It is an illusion, a pretense. It is taking a single taste and being content to starve from laziness.

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Poll
I derive my ethics primarily from:
o My family and friends 10%
o My religion 7%
o Introspection 53%
o Philosophers and writers I've read 11%
o TV and popular culture 1%
o I don't have any ethics 16%

Votes: 80
Results | Other Polls

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o Also by Pseudoephedrine


Display: Sort:
Ethics is a Process | 45 comments (32 topical, 13 editorial, 0 hidden)
Questions (4.00 / 3) (#4)
by infinitewaitstate on Wed Feb 20, 2002 at 10:00:07 PM EST

Nice argument, however, I'm left with a few questions...

  1. Can you provide some references as to who/what you read while coming up with this argument?
  2. If morality is static, how do the morals of a society change?
  3. From what are ethics derived?
  4. If ethics is monist, why do we worry about unethical behaviour among doctors, lawyers, scientists etc?
  5. Where do amorality and immorality differ, with regards to your definitions?

I'm sorry if I sound a bit demanding, however, I spent a number of hours a few weeks back having a largely pointless discussion on this very subject and no answers came of it. To date, I have yet to find even a universal definition for either ethis or morals ( here is an example of what I mean. )


---
... but then again, what do I know?

Sure. (none / 0) (#9)
by Pseudoephedrine on Wed Feb 20, 2002 at 11:18:33 PM EST

In answer to 1, the number one influence on this was the first chapter of the Republic, the one where Socrates is arguing that morality is a skill one must practice as a rebuttal to the various guys around him who offer absolute statements (such as 'give to everyman what he deserves') when he asks them what morality is. I had also just read a good section of the last half of Beyond Good and Evil by Nietzsche shortly beforehand.

As for 2, when I said morality was static, I meant that it doesn't adjust to deal with situations. Morality is mobile within a social context, I agree. However, the statement 'murder is wrong' has no ifs ands or buts about it as a moral statement, even though in practice, as a principle we use in our daily lives it has many situational elements we acknowledge. (What about soldiers fighting for a just cause, for example? What about shooting Hitler? etc.)

I'm surprised no one else asked me about 3 before, actually :) I'm of the opinion that 'cracking open' moral systems can provide lots of useful tips and advice, but that ultimately, ethics comes from a combination of reason and conscience, and a lot of both. In the moment of ethical choice, it all comes down to me asking myself 'What should I do?'

As to 4, ethics is monist in the sense that it does not require immorality to exist - we can all act ethically all the time, at least in theory. Morality on the other hand, requires immorality to exist - one cannot have a law without the notion that someone will try and disobey it. However, that doesn't mean that everyone always acts ethically though. People can act unethically when they don't use their reason, or they sacrifice or subordinate their conscience to something else, something external to themselves (like a formal moral system such as an ideology).

Amorality is the simple lack of morality - the lack of an external system of laws and rules. One can be ethical and amoral - one is then restrained only by one's reason and conscience, rather than guilt at breaking moral precepts. Immorality occurs only within the context of a moral system - one must have laws to break before one can break them. If one is not a believer in a moral system, one cannot act immorally in one's own judgement (which is, where I argued in my piece, ultimately where all moral systems and ethical decisions work).

Thanks for the questions. :)
"We who have passed through their hands feel suffocated when we think of that legion, which is stripped bare of human ideals" -Alexander Solzhenitsyn
[ Parent ]
A follow up (none / 0) (#26)
by infinitewaitstate on Thu Feb 21, 2002 at 04:50:55 AM EST

I'm of the opinion that 'cracking open' moral systems can provide lots of useful tips and advice, but that ultimately, ethics comes from a combination of reason and conscience, and a lot of both. In the moment of ethical choice, it all comes down to me asking myself 'What should I do?'

Here's where I, personally, would take issue. IMHO, being ethical is more than "What should I do?" but also one must ask "What am I expected to do"

I voted this topic up mostly because it provided a framework from which a <grin> discussion could emerge (unlike a fair number of articles posted, which sound more like the word-from-on-high in tone.) You defined, in a rational manner, the terms to which you were referring, and followed up using those definitions, in a logical way... Something I find in short demand.

Now, having you answered my questions, I will take issue with some of your argument.

Regarding morality...

Since morality is a social codex, does it not depend on the society, from which you draw your personal morals, as to how rigid or situational your morals are? A simple example, that is very north amercian (maybe even western) in its nature , is, as you mentioned, the concept of "Though shall not kill[, excepting...]".

If the west were morally opposed to killing, we would not contribute manpower to things like fighting world wars, wars of liberation (Kuwait, no matter what rationale you use for it), or even bother with such hot topics as abortion. Again, however, we do. The reason being that we have a moral rationale for such events. They are not ethical in nature, since, as I added, the stipulation of excepting is pretty much a [western] cultural universal. While individuals may conscienciously bow out of situations (ethics?), the society (morality) does operate on the basis that even morality has a subset of exceptions (simpler example: the notion of capital punishment).

On ethics...

I will not take issue with the concept that ethics are a process. I feel that they are the application of the internal moarilty one has deriven from society.

You stated that morality depended on the notion of immorality and that ethics did not (in theory) depend on the possibility of its abscence.

Again, I take issue on the basis that the lack of action, or, would you, the application of ethics, is as much an issue as the lack of morality. Using you own question of "What should I do?", the failure of following through with the answer would, in act, constitute the same as not having asked the question (based, again, on your definitions.) If I know that I should help someone while they are being mugged and I do not follow through on that ethical answer, am I not being unethical? That in mind, could you not redefine the notion of ethics as being not "What should I do?" but, rather, as previously mentioned, "What am I expected to do?", given that expectation can be both internal and external in nature? If I am expected to do something that poses a considerable personal risk, am I obliged to do it morally, or ethically? If I am not at much risk and do not do it, am I being immoral, or unethical?

The way I see it, morals are socially deriven, and ethics is the art of applying those morals in my daily life.

If I follow through on my previous statement, one could say that ethics are an extension of the society's morality (not laws), in that they are how I apply that morality. I can be stricter or more forgiving than the morality that guides my ethics, which is what allows for individual differentiation (also giving rise to the variety in ethics, most specifically situational ethics.

I'm sure that there is more that I can add to this train of thought, however, I find myself (given that it is very late in my personal day) at a point where any further commets are more likely to be irrational and guided more by sentiment than anythign else, so I shall stop here and hope that I have made some semblance of a point.


---
... but then again, what do I know?
[ Parent ]

What about individual choices? (none / 0) (#40)
by Pseudoephedrine on Thu Feb 21, 2002 at 09:03:27 PM EST

<i>Again, I take issue on the basis that the lack of action, or, would you, the application of ethics, is as much an issue as the lack of morality. Using you own question of "What should I do?", the failure of following through with the answer would, in act, constitute the same as not having asked the question (based, again, on your definitions.)</i><p>

The reason that ethics does not require an opposite while morality does comes down to the very nature of the things. When we make laws against things, we do so with the knowledge that these are things that, unless we ban them, people will do. Thus, moral systems are set in place with the notion of encouraging some behaviour and stopping other behaviour. The idea that there must be some behaviour that must be stopped (immoral behaviour) is necessary to the existence of morality as I defined it.<p>

At the same time, ethics, since it resides in judgement, doesn't necessarily demand an anti-thesis. True, there can be (and probably always will be) people who can act unethically (through failures of reason or conscience), but there doesn't need to be a possibility 'wrong' judgement for there to be correct judgements made (not 'right', but merely judgements without errors of reason or conscience).<p>

As for your statement that acting ethically should ask 'what is expected of me', I must take issue with that. In doing so, you are acting morally but unethically, because you are surrendering your judgement to an external agency - the judgement of other people. A more 'ethical' phrasing might be something such as 'What have I pledged to do, and would the consequences of breaking or not breaking this pledge be more desirable?' The individual judged aspects of an ethical judgement are up to a person, and might include social obligations in them, but as a whole, they can't consist entirely of social obligations, because then they're moral, not ethical.<p>

I have to take issue with your statement that the only source of moral(or ethical) justification is from society, or are socially derived. What about choices that go _against_ society's morals, but that we consider ethical, such as draft dodgers during the Vietnam war? What about people such as Socrates who are obviously highly ethical, but whom are put to death for immorality? (Christ comes to mind as another highly ethical, fairly immoral sort). Society is the source of morality, I agree, but that's why I needed to redefine ethics, because there are a great deal of examples of people making decisions about how to live their lives that had nothing to do with society's expectations.<p>

Merely saying that these people interpreted an external moral code according to their situation doesn't cut it, because in many cases (Socrates and Christ, in particular) they were ignoring conventional morality and acting in an ethical manner that then went on to _found_ a moral system. They were making individual choices based on their consciences and reason, not on what society wanted from them.<p>


"We who have passed through their hands feel suffocated when we think of that legion, which is stripped bare of human ideals" -Alexander Solzhenitsyn
[ Parent ]
Do ethics exist w/o morals? also food analogy. (4.66 / 3) (#6)
by mech9t8 on Wed Feb 20, 2002 at 10:42:19 PM EST

I'm not sure we'd have internal senses of right and wrong with society's morals to guide us. We take the baseline that society gives us, add in our own experiences within society, and come up with our own sense of ethics.

I'd also disagree with your assertion that "only through this hard effort can man get what he wants--justification, rightness." If society postulates a detailed morality, and someone accepts that whole-heartedly, he'll probably be a lot more satisfied than someone who derives his own sense of ethics, because it is human nature to doubt oneself, to second guess, to be imperfect. So someone who memorizes the Bible and thus knows a specific passage for every situation will go around with a greater sense of rightness than someone who simply tries to go by "doing unto others."

It is only when a situation arises for which there aren't specific morals that the second person has the advantage, for he is used to considering these problems, whereas the first man is used to having the solution handed to him. Likewise, if the situation arises when morals contradict each other, the first man will flounder whereas the second man faces such considerations every day.

So I think the food analogy needs to be adjusted somewhat. Depending on morals are like depending on restaurant food - it may taste good, but if the restaurant isn't serving what you need or messes up your order, you're screwed. Whereas if you become self-sufficient, you can figure out how to feed yourself no matter what.

--
IMHO
Moral conflicts (3.00 / 1) (#10)
by Pseudoephedrine on Wed Feb 20, 2002 at 11:31:34 PM EST

Likewise, if the situation arises when morals contradict each other

I think where we disagree is over how often the above situation occurs. I think that morals come into conflict quite a bit and that most people simply try to ignore the conflicts as much as possible - I'm sure you're as familiar as I am with the stereotype of the 'Godly man' who hates abortion but supports the death penalty. It's the result of these sorts of conflicts whereby we get people saying things like 'Well, the bible is mostly symbolic' as a way of not having to abandon the surety of the Christian moral system, without having to face up to some of the contradictions that it has with say, modern liberalism.

As you said, man is imperfect, and constantly second guesses himself. I don't see this second-guessing as a bad thing, though. It's a critical faculty which helps us to correct our mistakes. What I don't like, in fact, is dogmatic certainty such as comes from moral systems (and lest anyone think I have Christianity in specific in mind, communism illustrates the dangers of dogma far more clearly). I tend to see the adoption of a formal moral system such as Christianity, communism, or hell, to smear myself a bit, libertarianism as giving up that critical faculty, that drive to perfect one's self (even if it is impossible) in exchange for nothing much at all.

And to extend the adjusted food analogy even further, I see moral systems as the equivalent of McDonalds - disgusting stuff that people like to indulge in even though it's not good for you.
"We who have passed through their hands feel suffocated when we think of that legion, which is stripped bare of human ideals" -Alexander Solzhenitsyn
[ Parent ]

What contradiction? (5.00 / 1) (#30)
by dennis on Thu Feb 21, 2002 at 10:58:36 AM EST

who hates abortion but supports the death penalty

Don't want to get into an argument about this but would like to point out, these don't necessarily contradict. No one supports the death penalty for innocents, and no fetus ever committed a crime.

[ Parent ]

thought provoking (3.50 / 2) (#13)
by paf0 on Thu Feb 21, 2002 at 12:09:33 AM EST

Makes me wonder if morals are learned or if they are inherent within human nature.
I believe that they are part of human nature. However, definitions of right and wrong should not be static as they can not possibly apply to every situation.
Comments?
-----------
The real question is not whether machines think but whether men do. --B. F. Skinner
icq 3505006
more-alls (4.00 / 1) (#14)
by zephc on Thu Feb 21, 2002 at 01:07:21 AM EST

"morals" are constructs which usually fit well with human nature. Behaviors such as sharing and kindness have been observed in lower primates, and sometimes even in humans =] Countless civilizations have come upon - and reiterated in their own ways - why its 'good' to share and be nice to others. "Do unto others as you would have done to you" was an extrapolation of these good feelings we get by such behaviors.

[ Parent ]
i should be more specific (4.00 / 1) (#15)
by zephc on Thu Feb 21, 2002 at 01:25:14 AM EST

i should say there are two types of what we call 'morals'. There are ones like what I mentioned above, and then there are 'morals' which further some person or people's agenda, such as 'homosexuality is evil', 'northern (orange) irish are evil', ' (green) irish are evil' and so on. The latter type are usually 'morals' that tell people what they CAN'T do or think, rather than how to think and be free and kind, etc. The latter, judgemental kind are what we as a species DON'T need.

[ Parent ]
correction (none / 0) (#17)
by zephc on Thu Feb 21, 2002 at 01:38:57 AM EST

by
"rather than how to think"
i meant, of course,
"rather than how to think for one's self"

=]

[ Parent ]
Infinitely Fascinating (none / 0) (#34)
by joecool12321 on Thu Feb 21, 2002 at 01:24:59 PM EST

But I have a lot of questions for you.

First, a statement such as "homosexuality is evil" or certain "[Irish] are evil" hardly seems to be a moral claim to me. Rather, it seems like a statement of fact, which may or may not be true. How are these moral statements?

Second, pretending for a moment that those statements are moral statements, and not statements of fact, why must morals _not_ further someone's agenda? For example, someone might say, "We have a moral obligation to assist old people." If that "someone" were the AARP does that mean (because it is obviously furthering their agenda) that it is of the second type of morality? What if my eighteen-year-old sister makes the same normative statement? Does it now fall under the first category of morality? It doesn't seem like the person who states the moral has any influence on its truth-value.

Third, you claim, "The latter, [judgmental] kind are what we as a species DON'T need." However, isn't "do unto others as you would have done to you" a judgmental statement? It seems to imply that I am wrong if I do something to someone else if I would not have him or her do it unto me. How very judgmental!

Finally, you say, "The latter type are usually 'morals' that tell people what they CAN'T do or think, rather than rather than how to think [for one's self] and be free and kind, etc." Again pretending these are moral statements I have some questions. First, your examples of the `second sort' tell someone what they _should_ do or think: `You should think homosexuality is evil,' or, `You should think [certain] Irish are evil.' Second, couldn't a person adopt one of those statements for him or her self and freely choose it? I don't see how such a statement forces one to stop thinking for him or her self.

--Joey


[ Parent ]
well... (none / 0) (#38)
by zephc on Thu Feb 21, 2002 at 04:37:12 PM EST

<I>First, a statement such as "homosexuality is evil" or certain "[Irish] are evil" hardly seems to be a moral claim to me. Rather, it seems like a statement of fact, which may or may not be true. How are these moral statements?</I>

Because they are statements that are arbitrary judgements of value and worth, and of the uniquely human concept of 'evil'

The Golden Rule is a statement that doesnt judge someone based on their actions, its just a simple way of saying "Hey, if you fuck around with people, chances are their gonna be more inclined to fuck around with you. Conversly, if you are nice and honest to people, they are more inclined to be so towards you"

The course of one's own behavior towards others can be boiled down to "are you being nice or not nice (to/with regards to) this person?" Try for nice, and things will tend to go your way... works for me =]

[ Parent ]
Have you seen a human who hasn't had a chance... (none / 0) (#36)
by SIGFPE on Thu Feb 21, 2002 at 04:25:56 PM EST

...to learn from other humans?

'Human nature' is necessary but not sufficient. It is necessary because we don't see chimps or dogs or fish with complex moral systems. It's not sufficient because presumably Genie had 'human nature' and yet there was no evidence of a sophisticated moral system there.
SIGFPE
[ Parent ]

Different things entirely (none / 0) (#41)
by Pseudoephedrine on Thu Feb 21, 2002 at 09:37:36 PM EST

You're talking about learning speech and developing cognitive abilities through socialisation, whereas I'm talking about submitting one's will to external forces. Socialisation and learning from others aren't bad things. But, there is a very clear difference between say, learning to read philosophers and religious texts, and becoming a good member of the Communist or Libertarian Parties. One is a skill, the other is a psychological mindset of submission.
"We who have passed through their hands feel suffocated when we think of that legion, which is stripped bare of human ideals" -Alexander Solzhenitsyn
[ Parent ]
Uh... (4.50 / 4) (#16)
by notafurry on Thu Feb 21, 2002 at 01:31:27 AM EST

Such a broad and overly-general statement needs to be qualified, of course. Let us begin by defining morality. This isn't a definition such as one will find in a dictionary, but the sort that clears up what the concept we are speaking about is. Morality is a specific, enumerated set of laws governing human interaction that are fixed and unchanging. Morality need not be logical or coherent--it can contradict itself, eat its own tail, confuse and confound even the brightest minds of humanity, but it must still fulfill the above function.

Quite simply, no.

Morals are as fixed and unchanging as the sand of an ocean beach; there's always sand there, but it's never the same. What is right and moral in one place is evil down the road; and completely unrecognizable on the other side of the globe. Yet all are moral codes, valid in their context, governing human interaction.

Consider murder. In modern Western society, "murder" is causing the death of another human being. This is bad. In other societies, murder ranges from something evil, an act worthy only of death regardless of circumstance, to something considered appropriate in certain situations, to everyday behavior. Consider the headhunters and cannibals of New Guinea or the deep Congo - moral behavior, in that time and place. Yet they are still human, the same race as you and I.

Clarification (none / 0) (#18)
by Pseudoephedrine on Thu Feb 21, 2002 at 01:46:47 AM EST

I realise now that I was a bit unclear in my piece, but I didn't mean that there is only one moral system, but rather that morality is fixed and unchanging in the sense that it does not adapt to situations - it presents absolute guidelines which are presumed to function irregardless of situation. It is an absolute, not a relative, system for a particular person, even if New Guinea tribesmen and I have different systems of morality, we both accept those systems as giving us absolute commandments we must obey (such as 'murder is wrong').




"We who have passed through their hands feel suffocated when we think of that legion, which is stripped bare of human ideals" -Alexander Solzhenitsyn
[ Parent ]
regardless of situation (5.00 / 2) (#28)
by kubalaa on Thu Feb 21, 2002 at 06:55:52 AM EST

It is impossible to make any statement about the world without giving it a context. I mean that you can't say "murder is bad" without defining "murder", which amounts to describing a "situation": one person killing another. This can be taken to any lengths; "murder is bad on Sundays between 1 and 2 pm, involving people with the last name Jones who have only one eye and are wearing plaid, in front of any barber shop in California" is essentially no different, but quite obviously and explicitly determines the situation.

Briefly, the difference between absolute and relative is only a matter of how explicitly the rules are expressed. All rules are dependent on situation, and all rules can be rendered absolutely (if verbosely).

[ Parent ]

Not true at all... (5.00 / 1) (#37)
by seebs on Thu Feb 21, 2002 at 04:28:52 PM EST

Well, sort of true, and sort of not true.

Some moral systems have laws such as "killing is wrong". These laws can produce surprising or obviously confused results, but they're easy to understand. Other systems, also "moral systems", have rules like "death is bad, try to minimize it". These systems will say "you should kill one person if doing so is the only way to save two people". Complexity and variability, and yet, the law is always the same.

Read up on "consequentialist" moral systems; most of them have unchanging laws which carry with them the need for adaptation to new situations.

Basically, you're redefining a word, and that's always bad argumentative style.


[ Parent ]
I'll be back later... (4.50 / 4) (#19)
by joecool12321 on Thu Feb 21, 2002 at 02:01:18 AM EST

But I find it interesting that you're making a normative claim! That is, "scourge" has normative connotations, namely: one should avoid scourging. You also claim, "Man cannot...look to external forces for validation, only for inspiration." But in what sense is man witheld from looking to external forces? I would expect you to claim he cannot on the force of reason, and reason alone. However, you claim he cannot do so "in good conscience"! That is, man is morally wrong when he looks to external forces, and is wrong across the board!

Then you say something like, "Even criminals and the most immoral folk struggle to justify what they have done." So you pressuppose there is some standard by which someone can be judged immoral, apart from your personal preference. Your very statment seems to contradict your later claim that "morality resides in man's consciousness alone."

I feel like poor Aristotle in Plato's Euthyphro. "How little does the common herd know of the nature of right and truth." And I would beg of you, like he of Euthyphro, for clarity in these matters, for "I think that I cannot do better than be your disciple." But I challenge you, like he, Euthyphro, to "Come, then, and let us examine what we are saying," and say more clearly, that I, too, may know of morality and truth.

--Joey

Inspiration, submission, and good consciences (4.00 / 1) (#20)
by Pseudoephedrine on Thu Feb 21, 2002 at 02:53:18 AM EST

It was Socrates, not Aristotle in Euthypro, compadre. Interesting little book nonetheless, though as I've said elsewhere, the Republic is a bigger influence on me.

I never said normative claims are invalid - merely that all normative ethical claims rely upon individual judgement, and therefore should be seen in that light, as opposed to considering them to exist somewhere outside of it (which is far more common than one intuitively supposes). This doesn't mean that I don't think that individual judgement is worthless (in fact, I place quite a high value on it), but rather, I dislike individual judgement pretending to be something other than individual judgement. As well, I am speaking in a meta-ethical manner _about_ ethics, rather than expounding a particular moral system, which is in fact what I'm attacking.

You'll notice that I said that man can be inspired by external forces. This includes everything from religion to philosophy to science to whatever else you care to name. What I object to is the direct submission of the will to an external agency of judgement. To be inspired by a thing and to worship or submit to a thing are entirely different actions.

The reason I said that someone cannot do this (submit their conscience to an external agency) in good conscience is just precisely that - surrendering the ability to judge one's self to another gives them the ability to wield moral judgement over you. If I adopt the Catholic moral system, I surrender much of my moral choice to the local priest. The priest then controls my conscience far more than I do, really, because he is my moral judge.

If you wish me to frame it within more rationalistic pop-psychological jargon, I can. When one enters into a power-relationship with another person where they wield the power, this causes dehumanisation and alienation of the submissive and lowers self-esteem, which in turn inclines a person to surrender more of their will, which then becomes a vicious cycle. This is negative because it causes mental health disorders of various sorts from anxiety.

</pop-psychology>

In essence, if one does not control one's own conscience, one does not have a good conscience, because one lacks a moral faculty - one has 'out-sourced' one's moral judgements. As to why a good conscience is a good thing, it is because it allows one to be self-sufficient in the justification department, and this is far more reliable and healthy for an individual than a lack of self-sufficiency in this regard.

As to my statement about 'immoral people', I was referring to conventional systems of morality there, which is why they occur in the same sentence as 'criminals', which is another example of a group of people who violate against a particular moral system while not necessarily being unethical. The intent of that statement was to convey that even people who are not being benefitted by a moral system, or who flagrantly disobey the one they believe in, still generally possess one and strive to justify their acts within it somehow.

Does that make anything clearer?
"We who have passed through their hands feel suffocated when we think of that legion, which is stripped bare of human ideals" -Alexander Solzhenitsyn
[ Parent ]
Still moral, and some needed clarification (none / 0) (#21)
by joecool12321 on Thu Feb 21, 2002 at 03:36:24 AM EST

Wrong temporal direction. I don't know why I said Aristotle, as I was reading Socrates' name. Thanks.

It seems to me that although you say you are not, "expounding a particular moral system," you actually are. You seem to expound an individualistic moral system, namely that of denying universal "specific fixed and codified sets of law[s]." So perhaps the best way for me to interpret the sentence, "Morality is quite possibly the scourge of mankind," is, "In my opinion, morality is quite possibly the scourge of mankind, but it's not fixedly so." While I find that personally interesting, because I've learned more about you, and your belief system, it helps me little in trying to understand the nature of morality.

You next say you oppose "the direct submission of the will to an external agency of [judgment]." I've read this several times, and cannot seem to grab a hold of your meaning. Perhaps you mean either the direct submission of the will in a certain circumstance, or the direct submission of the will in all circumstances. I think though, I must first understand what you mean by "the direct submission of the will" before I try to move any further down this avenue of thought.

Next I'm told I cannot submit my conscience to an external agency in good conscience. I think you're saying I cannot morally submit my source of moral judgment to an external agency. "Why?" I might ask, and so I do. You tell be because, "it causes mental health disorders of various sorts." I think I understand you correctly, no?

You then come to the clincher when you say, "if one does not control one's own conscience, one does not have a good conscience, because one lacks a [conscience]." So it seems that your contention is that by `submitting my conscience' (Oh, how I desire to know what you mean by that) I destroy my conscious, correct?

Thank you, much is clearer. I eagerly await your response.

--Joey

[ Parent ]
OT aside (none / 0) (#27)
by kubalaa on Thu Feb 21, 2002 at 06:51:07 AM EST

It's much more pleasant to read your summaries of his arguments than to try and read the originals. Thanks!

[ Parent ]
False dicotomies, strawmen, and contradictions (4.70 / 10) (#22)
by Cal Jayson on Thu Feb 21, 2002 at 03:37:58 AM EST

There is no real point to this post, except to pick on the author. I don't really see what his point is, but I do see flaws in his logic. I am also really tired of people giving morality a bad name (yes, I do believe in normative and deontological morality).
Morality is a specific, enumerated set of laws governing human interaction

laws can be immoral--laws are simply specific fixed and codified sets of laws governing human interaction

So both laws and morals are a "set of laws governing human interaction." Yet you claim that a law can be immoral.
Morality is an external code - it is written law, not internal thought

morality resides in man's consciousness alone

Morality in the sense defined above is necessarily external - it must be codified, and it deals mostly with how to treat one's fellow man

I guess that I don't understand how these are harmonious. How can morality only exist in one's conscience, yet need to be an external code?
Normative means that it carries the force of 'should'
This is not normativity. You can still have a teleological conclusion and say "should." We should not attack Canada, because we could incur the loss of American lives. That says "should," but exists in a teleological framework. Normativity says that you do not look to the impact, that prima facie it is bad.
That very same power is why morality is the scourge of mankind. Self-justification is as necessary to man as food and shelter, without it, he quickly sickens and dies. He who controls 'should' controls his fellow man, he holds the tools of their salvation in his hands, and it is he who forges justifications and demands.

Man fights over food and shelter, and so, he fights over justification. The battle between different moralities occupies much of our lives--which one do we follow, which one will give us the justification we need? Even criminals and the most immoral folk struggle to justify what they have done, let alone those of us who consciously struggle to be moral and live as we ought to.

There are two important responses. First, we do not look only to some normative morality for self-justification: I needed to kill that man because he was going to kill me. Second, "should" does not only exist in a normative framework, but also in a teleological one: you should sue him for battery because you can easy prevail monetarily. These imply that morality is not the scourage any more than cost-benefit modeling. Fighting over food and shelter are teleological considerations.
Ethics is the dynamic consciousness of what is right action.

So ethics, as defined by you, is dynamic morality?
I am really confused as to what the author's point it, still. He seems to want to redefine ethics and morality to fit his augument then procede to give meaningless rhetoric. Ethics is usually defined as a set of principles of good conduct or a set of moral values. Morality is usually defined as either the quality of good conduct or a system of good conduct. You can have teleological, deontological, or normative determined morality, so I don't see anything rubbing the wrong way.
--
kx.com: 2.5 billion trades
select max price from trade takes 1 second
Sortof off-topic, but (2.50 / 2) (#24)
by joecool12321 on Thu Feb 21, 2002 at 03:56:31 AM EST

"6/1999--1/9999 Uncertain Game Tree Search Research Assistant"

That's a long time to be a research assistant.

--Joey

[ Parent ]

Parsimony (3.00 / 3) (#25)
by joecool12321 on Thu Feb 21, 2002 at 04:28:28 AM EST

"Morality is a specific, enumerated set of laws governing human interaction that are fixed and unchanging"

Actually, most moral systems are non-parsimonious, they pull from many different theories and rulesets.

See my story published at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2002/1/29/15320/8508

--Joey

Parsimony (none / 0) (#42)
by Pseudoephedrine on Thu Feb 21, 2002 at 09:52:30 PM EST

I'm of the opinion that people may have overall non-parsimonious moral systems, but on any given issue, people and their moral systems are very parsimonious. For example, were I a libertarian atheist, one could contend that my moral system is non-parsimonious because I have two different elements in there, the libertarian angle, and the atheist angle. However, when I am talking about say, political freedom, while the atheist angle may occasionally get drawn in on specific issues (religious freedom, is what I mean) in general, I would look at things from a libertarian standpoint.

In the same way, if I am a Catholic liberal, while my Catholicism and liberalism may conflict, ultimately, I must decide which to place more emphasis on in and act in accord with.

But, doing so places guilt upon me in that being a good Catholic I'm being a bad liberal, and vice versa. This is because I'm trying to obey two contradictory moral systems, and therefore must fail to live up to at least one of them.

On the other hand, while an ethical person would have to understand that he had only his conscience to follow, and that being a good Catholic wua being a good Catholic is pointless (as opposed to merely liking the doctrine of Catholicism, or liberalism, or anything else enough to put a high value on its doctrines).




"We who have passed through their hands feel suffocated when we think of that legion, which is stripped bare of human ideals" -Alexander Solzhenitsyn
[ Parent ]
Not Bad (3.50 / 2) (#33)
by Ashcrow on Thu Feb 21, 2002 at 12:32:41 PM EST

It's a good write up but it's not valid. At best you have written a theory on why ethics could be a process.


----------
"Are you slow? The alleged lie that you might have heard me saying, allegedly moments ago? That's a parasite that lives in my neck."
Paging Rusty.. (none / 0) (#39)
by Apuleius on Thu Feb 21, 2002 at 07:02:06 PM EST

Instead of dying at 350 votes, these stories are being posted. Oh, well.


There is a time and a place for everything, and it's called college. (The South Park chef)
New scoring system needs major tweaking... (none / 0) (#43)
by Skwirl on Fri Feb 22, 2002 at 01:27:55 AM EST

All I got out of the first two paragraphs of this story was: "How did this crap get posted?"

Then I saw "Current Score: 0," and all was right again with the world.

Is it just me, or does the new "pass a story if it gets enough good comments" system basically reward trolling?



--
"Nothing in the world is more distasteful to a man than to take the path that leads to himself." -- Herman Hesse
[ Parent ]
Perhaps it overcomes trolling? (none / 0) (#44)
by joecool12321 on Fri Feb 22, 2002 at 02:42:37 AM EST

Now, I've admittedly never really understood trolling; I tend to take people at face value, and assume they mean what they say. But perhaps "pass a story if it gets enough good comments" overcomes trolling by engaging in rational discussion despite the efforts of the troll? Who knows.

--Joey

[ Parent ]
You are so enormously wrong (4.00 / 1) (#45)
by tjh on Fri Feb 22, 2002 at 08:23:38 AM EST

'Morality is a specific, enumerated set of laws governing human interaction that are fixed and unchanging.'

No. This is a very infantile view. We are people in the world and this leaves us with two problems:

1)What to believe about the world
2)How to act in the world

Philosophy, science et al are how we solve the first problem
Morality is how we solve the second problem.
Ethics is the study of moral reasoning.

You are correct to say that you should just accept the mores of morality that your parents taught you, this was one of Nietzsche's good ideas.

In essence, a grown up morality (i.e. one which is not about thou shalt nots and punishment and rewards) is about realising that there are other people, and being those other people is something like being me, and as such we should not treat those people badly, because it causes suffering, and we know from our own experience of suffering that it isn't very nice.

As for those who answered the poll saying they don't have a morality, I take this to mean they don't have some rule-book, rather than that they don't think about how to act.

Morality is a consequence of out human freedom to act in a number of different ways. Those who do not consider how to act, those who are not moral, are not humans (so we put them in prisons).

Ethics is a Process | 45 comments (32 topical, 13 editorial, 0 hidden)
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