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Poll
Yay or nay?
Yeah, you might have something. 11%
No, back to the drawing board. 11%
You mean we're not animals? 33%
You are oversimplifying things. 44%

Votes: 9

 I might have something...

 Author:  Topic:  Posted:
Apr 01, 2002
 Comments:
although I'm probably flattering myself. But please indulge me, because it's been a long day.
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For those of you in America: I'm sure you've seen the Capital One credit card commercial where the guy loses his card in the middle of the jungle. Some monkeys find it and go willy-nilly with a stolen card.

This got me thinking. I know--it doesn't happen often. But we often try to focus on one trait that separates us from the animals. I like Tkatchev's (free will), and maybe this is just a different way of saying it, but here goes:

Humans do things that are rewarding in and of themselves. Things that are intrinsically rewarding--say a good film, a visit to the museum or a concert--are a uniquely human concept. Animals may display some intelligent behavior, but it is usually to get some sort of tactile, physical, outside reward.

Of course, I wouldn't put it here if it were foolproof. I'm relying on the fine readers of Adequacy to show me the flaws in my theory.

       
Tweet

I see what you're saying (none / 0) (#1)
by Ben Reid on Mon Apr 1st, 2002 at 08:32:31 PM PST
But I'm sure some people, namely, those who worship the monkey god, would also say that animals do things that are rewarding in and of themselves.

An example that will probably be trudged up is that of the poor ol' dolphins who, as we are assured, have sex for reasons other than procreation etc. Why do they do that? Pure enjoyment? Does it increase their companionship and possibly chances of survival?

And I'm sure there are monkey experiments that someone will bring up to vaguely illustrate actions without reward, but, frankly, I don't think it is that relevant in the animals vs humans debate.

My opinion is that the trait/s that separate us from the animals are the combination of free will AND an inbuilt moral law (sense of right and wrong). The gift of free will allows us to violate the moral law of our own accord and, unfortunately for liberalists, it is that pesky thing called a conscience that informs us and nags at us when we have violated the law.

I believe that the moral law was imprinted on us by God, but, for the atheists out there (are there any left?) - let's just say by some universal, higher standard.

You could probably argue free will for animals using some obscure definition of the term, but I doubt you can argue the existence of free will and an inbuilt moral law.

You don't see a cat steal some food of the table and then come back and say, "Gee, you know what, I was kinda feeling bad about stealing that meat. Here have it back."


What the hell... (none / 0) (#2)
by poltroon on Mon Apr 1st, 2002 at 08:45:02 PM PST
is an "in built moral law"? Are you suggesting people are born with morals wired into their heads? If you hadn't noticed, children are often cruel. Needless to say, so are adults. People learn to respect others. They develop a conscience. I suppose you could simply mean that people have the propensity to develop personal moral codes. But then, how would that make them unique? I know some dogs who exhibit more respect for other living beings than some people I've met.


If you've ever known small children... (none / 0) (#6)
by tkatchev on Mon Apr 1st, 2002 at 10:11:37 PM PST
Yes, children can be very cruel, but they know perfectly well when they are doing something "bad".

You don't teach children "what's right and wrong", because, as a rule, they already know all about ethics instinctivelly.

What you need to teach children is self-control, because small children have a hard time controlling their urges and passions. Free will is a serious responsiblity.


--
Peace and much love...




Dogs... (none / 0) (#7)
by poltroon on Mon Apr 1st, 2002 at 10:42:55 PM PST
know when they're being bad too. They'll curl their tail under their rump and slink away from you. But presumably this is only because we've taught them to realize what's bad. How do I distinguish between the bad child and the bad dog? How is it obvious that the child instinctively knows when she's bad but the dog doesn't?

Why do nazi children grow up believing nazi ethics?


as the twig is bent... (none / 0) (#10)
by gNinja on Mon Apr 1st, 2002 at 11:54:27 PM PST
On the other hand, most trees grow towards the light without any bending at all.

Morals don't have to be totally inate or totally taught, it takes a combination of both.




Tree growth (none / 0) (#13)
by The Mad Scientist on Tue Apr 2nd, 2002 at 12:47:36 AM PST
On the other hand, most trees grow towards the light without any bending at all.

Because the light in average comes from up.

The plant growth hormone degrades when lit. The side of a plant that is lit grows slower, thus the plant turns towards the light. Very simple, very effective. Explains also why plants in the darkness grow straight up but long and thin.


Err... (none / 0) (#15)
by The Mad Scientist on Tue Apr 2nd, 2002 at 01:00:16 AM PST
Substitute "subjected to light" or "lit up" for "lit". Sorry.


 
I'm agape (5.00 / 1) (#17)
by T Reginald Gibbons on Tue Apr 2nd, 2002 at 02:19:36 AM PST
Sometimes, Mad Scientist, you're your own caricature.


 
Apical Dominance (none / 0) (#22)
by walwyn on Tue Apr 2nd, 2002 at 04:56:56 AM PST
here is why plants grow upwards.


Yes! (none / 0) (#26)
by The Mad Scientist on Tue Apr 2nd, 2002 at 05:34:36 AM PST
Auxin was the light-sensitive chemical I was talking about. Sorry for forgetting its name, but it's couple years I was actively messing with the plant biology.


 
Re: (none / 0) (#30)
by Ben Reid on Tue Apr 2nd, 2002 at 06:25:27 AM PST
Do dogs know they're being bad because their conscience tells them so or do they slink away because they hear the tone of your voice and feel threatened -- that is, because their survival instinct has kicked in.

Do you agree that dogs do not exhibit morality in terms of what we consider decent behaviour -- fair play, unselfishness, honesty etc?

The question is then, how can I say, without a doubt, that a child instinctively knows when she/he is bad when a dog doesn't? Well of course, I can't prove it, but I can base it on my experience, my reason and the experience of others.

If you believe otherwise then that's OK. As I mentioned to someone else, if you don't believe that you have this sense of what you ought to do (a moral law), then my opinion does not apply to you and I apologise.

p.s. I talked about the Nazi thing elsewhere so look at my other posts if you're interested.


 
Yes (none / 0) (#12)
by Ben Reid on Tue Apr 2nd, 2002 at 12:06:20 AM PST
That's exactly right, I'm saying that people are born with a moral law/code embedded within them. this law can be deadened by circumstances or choice.

If you hadn't noticed, children are often cruel. Needless to say, so are adults.

Correct, and both children and adults know when they have doing something wrong - tell me, why's that? Do you really believe that children start from scratch, are born devoid of morals, and then gradually learn to respect, learn to have a conscience, learn to develop their own moral code? What do they base this moral code on anyway? You do believe in a universal higher moral standard right?

I've had the pleasure of spending nearly 10 years looking after kids, I also have a 9 year old sister and 10 year old brother -- based my experience, kids sure know when they are in the wrong, even though they can't pinpoint why.

Yes, kids can be cruel sometimes, but on the flipside to that, they have this amazing inbuilt desire to unselfishly love and care for other people, even from the youngest of ages.


well (none / 0) (#16)
by cp on Tue Apr 2nd, 2002 at 01:04:15 AM PST
Correct, and both children and adults know when they have doing something wrong - tell me, why's that? Do you really believe that children start from scratch, are born devoid of morals, and then gradually learn to respect, learn to have a conscience, learn to develop their own moral code?
No, usually parents teach them.


Come on (none / 0) (#25)
by Ben Reid on Tue Apr 2nd, 2002 at 05:34:14 AM PST
You don't seriously think that morality is dictated by our parents do you? In that case, you'd expect some pretty wildly fluctuating moral systems would you not? And what did the "original" parents base their moral system on?

I'd agree that our concept of decent behaviour is influenced by our parents, friends etc just as everything else is, but our morality goes above social convention.

Firstly, as I have said in other posts, the difference between moral ideas of one time or country are not as great as most people imagine.

Conventions, such as what clothes we wear and side of the road differ, but the moral teaching has a common streak that cannot be ignored.

Secondly, do you believe that American morality or Christian morality is better than Nazi morality? Do you believe it is possible that some moralities are better than others?

The moment you do, you are measuring them by a standard, some "Right Morality" and saying that some people's ideas get nearer to the Right than others.

If the moral law meant 'whatever your parents happen to approve' than there would be no sense saying that any morality is any better or worse.

You would have absolutely no reason to condemn any moral teaching, be that of the Nazis or anyone else.


Sorry, I'm tired (none / 0) (#28)
by Ben Reid on Tue Apr 2nd, 2002 at 05:59:40 AM PST
That should read "what side of the road we drive on differ." My bad.


 
Inbuilt morals (none / 0) (#35)
by poltroon on Tue Apr 2nd, 2002 at 01:13:18 PM PST
To me, saying someone is born with morals seems very similar to saying they're born with language. Yes, they're born with the wiring in their brain which will allow them to acquire language, or a moral belief system, but they're not born with fully intact systems. They require interaction with other people in order to develop. If a child isn't exposed to language she won't fully develop the capacity for language in her brain. I think something very similar is true of moral belief systems.


So, (none / 0) (#37)
by Ben Reid on Tue Apr 2nd, 2002 at 09:33:05 PM PST
you believe that if a child is not exposed to anyone else their whole lives (say it lives alone on an island) it will not have the chance to develop any morals or moral system (because the wiring just hasn't yet been connected in the right way)?

Do you believe it will think that killing someone is OK? That running away in battle is an acceptable thing to do? That double-crossing everyone who is kind to you is wrong?

We can't really prove either way I guess, however I do remember reading about a case where someone with no exposure to humans as they were growing up was shown to exhibit a morality (based on the facts they were aware of) which was very similar to our own. I'll see if I can dig up some links or references for you.


Well, yes, exactly. (none / 0) (#38)
by poltroon on Tue Apr 2nd, 2002 at 10:10:30 PM PST
If a child were raised by animals and ended up with a moral belief system I'd say that might indicate animals have moral belief systems as well. If the child grew up entirely alone though, I think she'd almost certainly lack a conscience, because it never had a chance to develop.

Here's some information about attachment disorders (ie. children who grow up without normal parental interaction). An exerpt:
Children who have attachment disorders will typically fail to develop a conscience and can exhibit behaviors characteristic of adult psychopaths
Hmmm. Do children who don't engage with people at a very early age just have trouble later on exercising their innate morality?


The problem is that morals are all about people (none / 0) (#39)
by gNinja on Wed Apr 3rd, 2002 at 02:44:15 AM PST
If you grew up with animals it would be perfectly alright to kill and eat your aquaintances. Morals don't really exist without people to be affected by one's actions.

Suicide, for instance, is wrong because you have familly and friends who depend you and need you for support. If you don't have friends or familly then that becomes a sin of omision because there is someone in the world whose life would be better for your friendship.

Granted, if you ask a three year old why it's wrong to steal she might not have a very softiscated answer. The details and implementation of morals are somewhat unclear and we spend our lives trying to figure them out.

Saying that morals have to be taught ignores the fact that many things we teach ourselves. "Calling people names makes them cry... ok. Better not do that then."

Some things we do out of self interest too. "Better not steal because I might get arrested." I'm not sure if this really qualifies as morals. I prefer something like "Better not take the extra change the cashier gave me or else she may get into trouble with her boss."

It seems the morals are seperated from the implementation. The morals themselves consist of caring about the people around us.

Is this caring attitude taught? Or can it even be taught?

The example with the children with attachment disorder shows that the children didn't learn the implementation details of morals. They weren't taught and they weren't given the opportunity to teach themselves. Knowing the implementation of morals is normally enough for someone to fake the motive out of self interest and become a member of society.

Obviously the children didn't know how to show love but did they actually love? If they didn't have the capacity to love was it because they never had it and didn't learn it, or because it was beat out of them?


My point... (5.00 / 1) (#42)
by poltroon on Wed Apr 3rd, 2002 at 03:56:23 PM PST
is that I don't think people are born with a full set of morals engraved in their brains. I think moral systems develop. This doesn't mean that people are taught, moral by moral, to have a moral system. That would be like saying children are taught language by having their parents repeat to them every possible sentence they could ever utter. The point is that the child needs some input in order for a moral system to develop. And since different people operate with differing moral frameworks, I don't think there's a universal build-in system.


 
OK, we need to take a step back (none / 0) (#44)
by Ben Reid on Wed Apr 3rd, 2002 at 08:23:15 PM PST
(BTW: Sorry for my delay in responding, I've been extremely busy at work the last day or so)

The idea that we develop a conscience purely from what our parents teach us is irrelevant if we don't first answer some key questions.

I just posted a long message on this and don't want to repeat myself so could you plese read this post first?

If you agree to the two ideas that ...

a) Yes, you have this idea of a moral law (dictated by your conscience) which is separate and distinct from your herd or survival instincts.

b) And that to judge anything as more or less moral (that one moral framework can be better than another) you need to base this on some higher standard, some "Right Morality".

... then I will address your points on attachments disorders, that our conscience simply developed, not inbuilt etc. Otherwise the discussion can not really progress.


universal truth (none / 0) (#45)
by poltroon on Wed Apr 3rd, 2002 at 09:58:15 PM PST
Question "a": my answer is Yes; I do have a conscience which is different from survival instinct.

Question "b" is very difficult to answer. So I will proceed to elaborate.

Essentially you're asking if I believe in universal morality. I suppose my only alternative is to be a moral relativist. Within a culture I do believe there are some universal moral truths. Maybe it's even possible to say that for all of humanity - maybe we could identify a few "moral laws" that are universally accepted, like "it's wrong to torture your Mother". I think morality is culturally transmitted. There are many layers of culture that each of us live in. There's Western culture, American, European, local, workplace, family, school, various subcultures. Our moral systems are more complex and refined within these smaller spheres. People who are members of different subcultures will have different opinions about what is right and wrong on certain subjects.

If you look at Western culture and try to identify some moral laws held in common by all westerners, you'll find that there are still other cultures in the world which don't hold those values. For example, it seems to be a common western value that women deserve the opportunity to become educated. Not all cultures believe this, obviously, like our foes in Afghanistan. So, are we right and they are wrong? According to us, yes. According to them, it's the other way around. It's often said of relativists that if they don't believe in a universal "truth" then anything goes. I don't believe anything goes, but no matter how true I believe some of my morals to be, there are other people who don't agree. I'm not saying that's just swell, because obviously we can't get along in a society where people disagree about too many things. Disagreement over very big issues is how we end up in wars. There's no easy answer, like "there's one universal truth", or "who cares, let everybody do whatever they want". When cultures with conflicting moral codes meet, they often clash. They're both "right". Some issues are small enough that you can live and let live, but other issues are so large that we absolutely can't allow our "right" to be tromped upon by someone else's "right", so we fight to the death.

I guess conflict is just inevitable.


Common ground (none / 0) (#47)
by Ben Reid on Thu Apr 4th, 2002 at 06:41:01 AM PST
There is a lot of common ground here and we are closer in agreement on this issue than you may think.

Maybe it's even possible to say that for all of humanity - maybe we could identify a few "moral laws" that are universally accepted, like "it's wrong to torture your Mother

I think if we are identifying moral laws in terms of always undertaking or not undertaking a particular action (e.g. abortion, torturing your Mother) then it is pretty clear that this is not something universally accepted.

That's why I believe that this moral law I talk about is at a much higher level than a particular action -- it is about a common theme behind the actions; it is about a commonality in what we perceive as decent behaviour.

A particular action may be "right" in one context and "wrong" in another, but the same theme is being followed out in both cases.

Those themes that I believe are universal to humanity consist of (but are not limited to) - fair play, unselfishness, courage, good faith, honesty and truthfulness.

Our moral systems are more complex and refined within these smaller spheres.

Definitely. The level of complexity in a particular moral system is very specific to a particular subculture. I still believe that you would find a common undercurrent and theme throughout them though.

I think the key thing is that you are thinking of a moral law in terms of specifics (e.g. social conventions, like what kind of clothes people wear, should women be educated etc) when I am thinking of a moral law in terms of generic teachings (e.g. that we ought to be unselfish).

It's often said of relativists that if they don't believe in a universal "truth" then anything goes. I don't believe anything goes, but no matter how true I believe some of my morals to be, there are other people who don't agree.

I understand. I used to be pretty much an atheist (less than a year ago) and I too tried to find this nice balance between not believing in universal standard of morality but at the same time not believing that anything is acceptable. Unfortunately, I don't think that there really is any middle ground, either you believe that there is a universal moral standard by which we can judge whether something is more or less moral, or we must believe that morality is up the individual, in which case we have no right to tell a person/society they are "wrong" or "right". If their moral framework says that murdering someone is OK, that acts of terrorism are OK, then we can't really argue.

The implication of having a universal moral standard is that it goes beyond something that is simply taught to us to parents or friends. What we are taught may indeed closely follow the standard (after all the people who teach us are also under the influence of it) but it is not responsible for it.

The implication of moral relativity, however, is that our moral standard is solely based on what we are taught. Here lies our major difference.


 
Running away in a battle (none / 0) (#40)
by The Mad Scientist on Wed Apr 3rd, 2002 at 04:47:45 AM PST
That running away in battle is an acceptable thing to do?

Depends if it is your battle. If you are fighting it by your own will (then it's your choice and you should stick with it), or if you are just a mere conscript who would prefer to be elsewhere (then run away and save your ass, if you were unable to dodge the draft). Better be live coward than dead hero.


 
ah (none / 0) (#3)
by DG on Mon Apr 1st, 2002 at 08:46:43 PM PST
i agree that we have an in born sense of right and
wrong, whether it's from god.. well thats hard to say, i've read about people who wouldn't hurt a fly, that have no idea about jesus, as for animals.. it doesn't work really they don't reason the way we do despite what some would say about them, i believe animals work according to thier nature, when a lion decides to be a vegitarian i'll believe diffrent
2002, DG. You may not reproduce this material, in whole or in part, without written permission of the owner.

That's why it's an _inbuilt_ law (none / 0) (#9)
by Ben Reid on Mon Apr 1st, 2002 at 11:37:49 PM PST
i've read about people who wouldn't hurt a fly, that have no idea about jesus

Knowing Jesus is not a prerequisite for obtaining this moral law. It is literally built into us at birth -- all of us. Sure we may try and deaden it over time either by conditioning or choice, but it's there in all of us to start with, no matter what culture, country or time we are born.

Though there are differences between the moral law between time/country/culture, the differences are very small (much smaller than you would imagine) and you can recognise a commonality running through them.


All? (none / 0) (#14)
by The Mad Scientist on Tue Apr 2nd, 2002 at 12:49:20 AM PST
It is literally built into us at birth -- all of us.

What about the psychopaths?

Some firmware versions apparently have bugs.


I knew you'd bring this up (none / 0) (#32)
by Ben Reid on Tue Apr 2nd, 2002 at 07:00:06 AM PST
When I said all, I was referring to those born with a full deck of cards, so to speak.

The issue does seem a lot muddier for the psychopaths, people born with mental illnesses, those with one chromosome short etc. Muddier, not in terms of the existence of the law, but in terms of the capacity for the moral law to be obeyed.

To be honest, I have no concrete opinion on this issue yet, I think I'll leave it up to God. You can ask Him when you meet Him if you like.


 
Just a thought (none / 0) (#18)
by DG on Tue Apr 2nd, 2002 at 03:48:55 AM PST
are you basing this on religion or what, inate in what sense?, i know children learn most things at 6 months or sooner, like that hurts, and so forth but i don't know if we are born with it, we feel empathy if we do something wrong to someone
mostly do to the fact that unlike animals we think about how that would affect us if it happend to us whether thats morals or not, just a thought
2002, DG. You may not reproduce this material, in whole or in part, without written permission of the owner.

 
Hostage to fortune (none / 0) (#19)
by walwyn on Tue Apr 2nd, 2002 at 04:38:59 AM PST
Though there are differences between the moral law between time/country/culture, the differences are very small (much smaller than you would imagine) and you can recognise a commonality running through them.

Explain then the commonality of morality between the Iatmul and yourself, or the Naven ceremony with Sunday worship.


If you will take the trouble... (none / 0) (#23)
by Ben Reid on Tue Apr 2nd, 2002 at 05:09:16 AM PST
... to compare the moral teaching of say, the Babylonians, Egyptians, Chinese, Greeks, Romans and Egyptians, what will strike you is the simlilarity to our own.

However, I am not familiar with the latmuls or the Navean ceremony. Could you elaborate?

Do they still have a fundamental moral teaching (e.g. that killing is wrong, that selfishness is wrong etc)?


Naven (none / 0) (#24)
by walwyn on Tue Apr 2nd, 2002 at 05:27:40 AM PST
The Iatmul lived in groups of 2000. The Naven ceremony, which involved ritual homosexuality and humiliation, was performed for anyone who performed a noteable act. The most highly prized act was that of homicide, it did not matter whether the homicide was that of a stranger or friend, male, woman, or child, in open battle or ambush, in short it was the act that was celebrated.

Bateson's book 'Naven' is a seminal work on anthropology, psychology, and cybernetics.


Thanks (none / 0) (#27)
by Ben Reid on Tue Apr 2nd, 2002 at 05:55:48 AM PST
I don't have the time to look into it in depth right now, but it sounds quite bizarre I admit.

Of course, there are many examples of groups (e.g. cannibals, the Nazis) which apparently contravene the idea of a universal moral law.

You have to remember though, that just because a moral law exists, it doesn't mean we are obliged to follow it. In fact the realisation that we regularly fall short of this law, or disobey it, is a fundamental feature of human nature (all have sinned etc) -- at least according to Christian theology. We know how we ought to behave and yet we don't behave that way.

As strange as it may sound, even groups like cannibals (and latmuls?) may still value things such as fair play, courage, good faith, honesty and truthfulness.

Of course, if you do not feel that something the equivalent of a Moral Law (a sense of what we ought to do) exists or applies to you, then I apologise, my opinion does not apply to you.


My pleasure (none / 0) (#31)
by walwyn on Tue Apr 2nd, 2002 at 06:40:08 AM PST
don't have the time to look into it in depth right now, but it sounds quite bizarre I admit.

This example of a functional society with quite foriegn norms tends to be rather awkward for the "we are all the same" brigade. Of course, there are many examples of groups (e.g. cannibals, the Nazis) which apparently contravene the idea of a universal moral law.

I take exception to the juxtaposition of Nazis with cannibals here, because in the case of Nazis there was a definite rejection of what you term 'Moral Law'. I don't think you can simply extrapolate the same rejection onto cannibalistic societies.

Groups like the Iatmul are the exceptions that disprove the rule that there is a universal 'an _inbuilt_ law'.


Fair enough (none / 0) (#33)
by Ben Reid on Tue Apr 2nd, 2002 at 07:20:22 AM PST
You are entitled to disagree with my idea of a moral law. Really, the only key and indisputable evidence we have is that of ourselves. We can't "get inside" the mind of another individual.

However, a universal moral law (if it does exist)has nothing to do with being "all the same" as you put it, social conventions may be wildly different for example.

And I think you are exaggerating the differences between, say the latmul's, the Romans and ourselves, you have not made the distinction between differences of morality and differences of beliefs about facts.


Nice and cozy. (none / 0) (#34)
by walwyn on Tue Apr 2nd, 2002 at 08:33:04 AM PST
You are entitled to disagree with my idea of a moral law.

You are very gracious.

Really, the only key and indisputable evidence we have is that of ourselves. We can't "get inside" the mind of another individual.

Perhaps not, but we can examine the collective behaviour of a society. Which, incidentally is what you are doing when you talk about the Roman's, Greek's, etc. You cannot 'get inside' the mind of those individuals either.

social conventions may be wildly different for example.

But are they not based on the norms and mores of that society?

you have not made the distinction between differences of morality and differences of beliefs about facts

Why should I? Surely your argument is not as crass as:
  • If everyone believed the same we would all have the same morals.
  • We all have the same morals therefor it follows that there is a universal morality.
I would have thought that any 'inbuilt moral law' would be outside of any such considerations.


Re: (none / 0) (#36)
by Ben Reid on Tue Apr 2nd, 2002 at 09:19:56 PM PST
we can examine the collective behaviour of a society. Which, incidentally is what you are doing when you talk about the Roman's, Greek's, etc.

Studying the collective behaviour of a society would not indicate a moral law (in nearly all cases), you're right. However, studying the moral teachings of the society may do so. Of course, in practice, these moral teachings may be very poorly put to use, but that is not to say that they do not exist.

If the only thing we had to go on was an observance of collective behaviour -- viewed from the perspective of a third party -- with no knowledge of ourselves, or of the moral teachings of other times/countries/societies etc, then of course we would have no idea that there exists this concept of a moral law.

However, we do have knowledge of these moral teachings and we do have some inside information, namely ourselves.

So, if we are to admit that there is indeed some moral law inside us, this conductor of our instincts and sense of what we ought to do then we should enquire as to whether this is a common feature of man or peculiar to ourselves.

A key question at this stage really is -- Do you yourself believe that you experience this moral law? If not, then it is pointless to discuss this any further.

However, if you do agree then the next questions are: Do you consider that someone or some group can have a higher morality (more decent behaviour) than another? Do you assume everyone else to have some moral standard they should adhere to or know about etc (e.g. implied when you think things like "that's not fair", "that's not honest", "that's selfish", "he shouldn't kill him")? If the answers are still yes, then what you are really saying is that there is some common, higher standard of morality which you are basing this on. Do you agree with me on this? If not, then again it is pointless for us to discuss this any further.

OK, assuming you are still with me, the question remaining is whether knowledge of this higher moral law is something we simply learn from our society and education (and by sheer coincidence happens to have a commanility running through it, which transcends time and country) or whether it is something more fundamental than that.

My reasoning boils down to this:

a) I experience this effect of a moral law myself (though I frequently do not do what this law tells me to do)

b) Many other people that I have spoken to have admitted that they also experience this law (and none have flat out denied it). The nature of the law they describe is strikingly similar to mine.

c) A study of other times and cultures has shown that their moral teaching also has a striking commonality running through it. This commonality also ties in with mine.

Therefore I have assumed that there is indeed a universal, inbuilt moral law.


Moral principles (none / 0) (#41)
by walwyn on Wed Apr 3rd, 2002 at 02:52:43 PM PST
Studying the collective behaviour of a society would not indicate a moral law (in nearly all cases), you're right. However, studying the moral teachings of the society may do so. Of course, in practice, these moral teachings may be very poorly put to use, but that is not to say that they do not exist.

This is hard to do with pre-literate societies. In such situations you have to examine their collective myths, taboos, and sense of justice, along with how the society operates in practice.

Undoubtedly you will find a set of ideas on what constitutes 'correct' behaviour, though that set of ideas may be far different from what one might consider 'a universal morality'.

However, we do have knowledge of these moral teachings and we do have some inside information, namely ourselves.

There you have it. We live in a particular society, at a partcular point in time and have grown up imbibed in that societies norms. These morals are taught and learnt.

A key question at this stage really is -- Do you yourself believe that you experience this moral law? If not, then it is pointless to discuss this any further.

What I believe is irrelevant; I could agree absolutely with all your moral principles and yet still honestly maintain that there is no such thing as an 'set of universal moral principles'.

Do you assume everyone else to have some moral standard they should adhere to or know about etc (e.g. implied when you think things like "that's not fair", "that's not honest", "that's selfish", "he shouldn't kill him")?

I assume that everyone has such concepts which are somewhat in accordance with the society in which they live. For example in accordance with the society in which I live:
  • that the judical murder is wrong.
  • that it is morally right for someone to choose whether or not to have an abortion.
  • that it is immoral to deny someone the right to die.
Do you believe in the same moral code?


Key questions unanswered (none / 0) (#43)
by Ben Reid on Wed Apr 3rd, 2002 at 08:08:59 PM PST
What I believe is irrelevant; I could agree absolutely with all your moral principles and yet still honestly maintain that there is no such thing as an 'set of universal moral principles'.

What you believe is highly relevant and it's not really about agreeing with my moral principles, at least not to begin with. If you personally do not believe that you have a sense of right and wrong, a sense of what you ought to do (though you may not follow it most of the time) which is separate and distinct from your herd or survival instincts then it is irrelevant whether it is universal or not. End of discussion. You disagree with me, no problems at all.

If you agree that yes, you have this "thing", then can we can consider if this "thing" is indeed common to everyone, whether it is funcamental law of man or simply something we learn.

This is hard to do with pre-literate societies. In such situations you have to examine their collective myths, taboos, and sense of justice

Well yes, with pre-literate societies it is harder to pinpoint what their moral teaching was because have a lot less information to go on. We need to study things apart from explicit writings per se. However, you can still identify a moral teaching with enough study of the history and context of the society and the particular teaching mechanism they used (be that via symbols on a cave, their customs, rituals or whatever).

along with how the society operates.

No! How the society actually operates may have nothing to do with what their moral teaching is. You can't use the actual behaviour of a society, you need to use their teachings -- what they considered decent behaviour or Right Morality - not how they put it into practice. The same thing applies today - we rarely behave as we think we ought to, despite what we may say and write. If you were to look around the world today, you would hardly think that we have a moral law inside us would you! That's why, if we didn't have ourselves as a starting point, if we were observing man as a third party, we would have no reason to believe a moral law exists at all.

We live in a particular society, at a partcular point in time and have grown up imbibed in that societies norms. These morals are taught and learnt.

OK, let me ask again, do you think it possible for one society or person to be more moral than another? What would you be basing this "more" on?

From what I have read, you seem to be a moral relativist - that nobodies behaviour can be judged as "right" or "wrong" as such, it's all just relative. Therefore you have no right to condemn the Nazis, the Crusaders or child rapists, after all, who are you to say what is right and wrong behaviour.

If you say with respect to a question like "Why ought I to be unselfish, why ought I not kill someone" that "Because it is good for society", then I may ask "Why should I care what's good for society except when it happens to pay me personally?" Then you might say, "Because you ought to be unselfish" - which simply gets us back to the beginning. We have not progressed.

Trying to benefit society (by being unselfish) is one of the things that decent behaviour consists of; all you are really saying is that decent behaviour is decent behaviour.

Do you believe in the same moral code?

Well again, since my sense of right and wrong cannot be identified as always following a given instinct (e.g. fighting, sex, survival). I can't give a definitive yes and no for every instance. Actions that are blatently wrong in some context may be right in another. I can say that yes, I would think that abortion or denying someone the right to die can be "wrong" but I can also imagine times when it might be right (if the woman was raped, if someone was high on drugs when they decided they wanted to die). You can't pinpoint right and wrong as always executing a particular action. You can however take it to a higher level and identify a common theme of right and wrong (e.g. unselfishness, fair play, honesty, courage).


Answers ignored (none / 0) (#46)
by walwyn on Thu Apr 4th, 2002 at 06:09:50 AM PST
If you agree that yes, you have this "thing", then can we can consider if this "thing" is indeed common to everyone, whether it is funcamental law of man or simply something we learn.

Saying that each of us has a sense of right and wrong, or fairness, or whatever, does not mean that there is a 'universal morality'. We can all differ wildly in what we honestly consider fair and just.

OK, let me ask again, do you think it possible for one society or person to be more moral than another? What would you be basing this "more" on?

Yes. I would be basing that on my sense of 'morality'. I don't expect this to accord with any moral sense that you may have.

From what I have read, you seem to be a moral relativist - that nobodies behaviour can be judged as "right" or "wrong" as such, it's all just relative.

Then you would be wrong. I can be extremely judgemental from a moral standpoint.

Therefore you have no right to condemn the Nazis, the Crusaders or child rapists, after all, who are you to say what is right and wrong behaviour

I note that you have left out 'adult rapists' from your list of things to be condemned.

Trying to benefit society (by being unselfish) is one of the things that decent behaviour consists of; all you are really saying is that decent behaviour is decent behaviour.

Some would argue that 'selfishness' is a greater benefit to society than 'unselfishness' and thus it is more moral to be 'selfish'.

Well again, since my sense of right and wrong cannot be identified as always following a given instinct (e.g. fighting, sex, survival). I can't give a definitive yes and no for every instance.

Now that is moral relativism.

To me the three examples above are absolutes. As is the belief that the act of "buying and selling" is a moral outrage, and any one caught doing so ought to be stoned to death.




Not progressing here (none / 0) (#48)
by Ben Reid on Thu Apr 4th, 2002 at 07:14:00 AM PST
... We can all differ wildly in what we honestly consider fair and just.

Well, yes there can be some large variations in what we perceive to be fair and just, remember, we can only go on the facts available to us. If I thought that all football players were satanic axe murderers (a wrong assumption), for example, then I may consider it fair and just to put them in prison for life. If I thought that they were not all murderers (a correct assumption) then I would consider it unjust.

However we are agreeing that we ought to be fair and just in the first place. Why's that? Why not be unfair and unjust?

Yes. I would be basing that on my sense of 'morality'. I don't expect this to accord with any moral sense that you may have.

Ah. Moral relatvism at its best. At least your being honest. Just means you can't call anyone more or less moral than anyone else, that's all. If someone decides murder and adult rape is OK, then even though you may consider it wrong, you can't say it is "wrong" in principle.

I note that you have left out 'adult rapists' from your list of things to be condemned.

I added them to my list above just for your benefit. Don't say I don't do anything for you k?

Some would argue that 'selfishness' is a greater benefit to society than 'unselfishness' and thus it is more moral to be 'selfish'.

Uh, and those people would be who exactly? Care to name any major society which valued unselfishness. Certainly wasn't the Babylonians, Egyptians, Chinese, Greeks, Romans or Egyptians.

Me: I can't give a definitive yes and no for every instance. .... You: Now that is moral relativism.

You still aren't getting my point. This is not moral relativism at all. My theme of morality has not changed one bit, the action however may indeed be different, depending on the situation. Surely you can think of many situations in which you can have two different actions, in two different contexts, but both of which follow the same theme (e.g. being unselfish, fair play).

For example, giving someone $5 for food might be unselfish if you had $10 to your name. Giving someone $5 for a day's work when you yourself are a millionaire would be selfish.

Again, a moral law is not based on always carrying out a particular action. It is based on always following a particular theme (though of course, despite what our moral law may tell us, we usually choose to ignore it).


Difference of morals (none / 0) (#49)
by walwyn on Thu Apr 4th, 2002 at 08:46:45 AM PST
f I thought that all football players were satanic axe murderers (a wrong assumption), for example, then I may consider it fair and just to put them in prison for life. If I thought that they were not all murderers (a correct assumption) then I would consider it unjust.

Moral positions are not determined by falsehood.
Some would argue that 'selfishness' is a greater benefit to society than 'unselfishness' and thus it is more moral to be 'selfish'.
Uh, and those people would be who exactly?


British and American politicians in the 1980's, Libertarians since Noah built the Ark.

You still aren't getting my point.

I understand that your position on those issues is dependent on how you resolve some moral dilemma. For me there is no moral dilemma - you see we differ in our moral outlook.

For example, giving someone $5 for food might be unselfish if you had $10 to your name. Giving someone $5 for a day's work when you yourself are a millionaire would be selfish.

Again we differ I can see moral dilemmas if we are just considering 'selfishness'. However, in the second case 'buying and selling' is morally repugnant and both ought to be stoned to death.




Shake hands (none / 0) (#50)
by Ben Reid on Thu Apr 4th, 2002 at 05:13:03 PM PST
It's been a most interesting thread. It's at the stage where we really have to say "agree to disagree". If you are interested in continuing this conversation I will be adding my email address to my profile.

You've really kept me on my toes. Thanks for that. I think it's important to talk to people who disagree with you, because they are the people that are going to come up with the best ways to refute your argument.

Hasta la vista.


OK take it offline (nt) (none / 0) (#51)
by walwyn on Thu Apr 4th, 2002 at 05:28:54 PM PST



 
A note (none / 0) (#4)
by The Mad Scientist on Mon Apr 1st, 2002 at 09:00:36 PM PST
An example that will probably be trudged up is that of the poor ol' dolphins who, as we are assured, have sex for reasons other than procreation etc. Why do they do that? Pure enjoyment? Does it increase their companionship and possibly chances of survival?

...

My opinion is that the trait/s that separate us from the animals are the combination of free will AND an inbuilt moral law (sense of right and wrong).


Why do we have an inbuilt "moral law"? Does it increase our companionship and possibly chances of survival?


Just because. (none / 0) (#5)
by tkatchev on Mon Apr 1st, 2002 at 10:07:38 PM PST
Note: if you had even the first clue about evolution you'd know that that is a valid answer.

P.S. I don't endorse evolution, but liberalists have horrifyingly misinformed opinions about it. Sadly, those who fervently belive in "evolution" have absolutely no clue on what evolution is, scientifically, or what the biological theory of evolution really states.


--
Peace and much love...




 
Re: (none / 0) (#8)
by Ben Reid on Mon Apr 1st, 2002 at 11:30:47 PM PST
You are correct in one sense. Our moral law will often lead to behaviour that will enhance our relationships or chance of survival - e.g. unselfishness, honesty, fair play.

Often, however, our moral law asks us to do something that will result in the exact opposite.

It means keeping promises you would rather not keep, doing your work honestly when it would have been much easier to cheat, telling the truth even though it may make you look like a fool.

For example (and I am not great at examples), if you tell a slanderous lie about someone (who had done nothing to you) behind their back, say this person was 6" 9', weighed 500 pounds and would kick anyone's ass if they even looked at them the wrong way, your conscience will, if you haven't deadened it enough, play on your mind. Now, would admitting that you have lied to that person and apologising to their face enhance your survival chances? What about your companionship (now that you have admitted you are a liar)?

The moral law is not simply behaviour that just happens to be useful to us.


read (none / 0) (#11)
by jvance on Tue Apr 2nd, 2002 at 12:02:42 AM PST
The Evolution of Cooperation by Robert Axelrod. Cooperative behavior has longterm benefits, and can result in an eventual "win."

This is something most good businessmen know as a matter of course: one cannot put a price on one's reputation.
--
Adequacy has turned into a cesspool consisting of ... blubbering, superstitious fools arguing with smug, pseudointellectual assholes. -AR

OK (none / 0) (#21)
by Ben Reid on Tue Apr 2nd, 2002 at 04:51:45 AM PST
I'll try and get my hands on your recommendation. I must admit though, becoming a successful businessman is not one of my priorities in life, but I am interested none the less.

My recommendation would be to read Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis - just read the first 5 chapters - despite the title it is not a book targeted at Christians, it is simply an explanation of the core ideas behind Christianity, one of them being this idea of a moral law (something which tells us what we ought to do in a given situation, not necessarily what we want to do) that all of us possess.

Lewis explains this concept of a moral law much better than I can. I'd be interested in your comments on it.

However, I still think we have this key issue regarding survival or herd instincts vs a moral law.

Yes, cooperative behaviour can have long term benefits and lead to a "winning scenario", depending on what we think of as a "win" (fame? riches? relationships?). It could also have severely negative outcomes, for example, blindly cooperating with a government or a group that wanted to do you in once your usefulness to them ran out. I'd tend to agree with what other people have said/written, that cooperation could be described as one of our herd instincts.

A moral law, however, goes far above herd instincts. It is the thing that judges between two instincts, the conductor of our instincts as such.

In some situations the law may say that an instinct like cooperation is the decent or right behaviour, in some it may say the complete opposite.

Let me give you an example adapted from Lewis:

Suppose you hear a cry from a man in danger, imagine it was someone trapped in the fire of the WTC. You will probably feel two instincts - one a desire to give help (due to your herd instinct), the other a desire to keep out of danger (due to the instinct for self-preservation). You will find inside of you, in addition to these two impulses, a third thing which tells you that you ought to follow the impulse to help, and suppress the impulse to run away.

The thing that judges between the two instincts cannot itself be either of them, it would be like saying that a sheet of music which tells you, at a given moment, to play one note on the piano and not another, is itself one of the notes of the keyboard.

Lewis then goes on to say that (and I'll try to avoid plagiarism to a minimum from now on) if there are two instincts in conflict and there is nothing in our minds except these two instincts, then obviously the stronger of the two instincts must win. But our Moral Law usually seems to be telling us to side with the weaker of the two impulses (e.g. you want to be safe more than help, but the Moral law says to help all the same).

The moral law cannot itself be an instinct - if it was then we could say that decent behaviour could be defined as always following a particular instinct, for example, cooperation, sex or the fighting instinct.


 
My cat (none / 0) (#20)
by walwyn on Tue Apr 2nd, 2002 at 04:46:29 AM PST
You don't see a cat steal some food of the table and then come back and say, "Gee, you know what, I was kinda feeling bad about stealing that meat. Here have it back."

Perhaps that is due to its inability to speak a human language.

At least one of my cats will attempt to apologise for any misbehaviour by scouring the neighbourhood for leaves which it then deposites on the doorstep as a peace offering.


My cats name is (none / 0) (#29)
by Ben Reid on Tue Apr 2nd, 2002 at 06:01:42 AM PST
Figure of Speech


 

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