Is morality based in meaning?

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lullabyleague
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Is morality based in meaning?

Post by lullabyleague » May 23rd, 2018, 6:46 pm

There is a question that follows me through many facets of my life and I can't seem to shake it or come to any kind of satisfying answer: Does morality contain meaning? We treat morality as though it is more meaningful than any other aspect of human existence. But is it? Is it more meaningful than any other mundane and expendable part of us?
Is morality simply a tool handed down to us through evolution, for the advantage of social alliance and group fitness? To answer yes implies that we ought to group the validity of our moral instincts along with other evolutionary gifts we have inherited, and some of those are not exactly positive (for example: othering, the insatiable and destructive desire for comfort and power, etc.) and many of them are in conflict with moral reason. To answer no implies that there is something more to it; that either our emotional instinct for morality is a compass pointing true north toward fundamental laws of the universe (which is only imaginable to me through spiritual explanation), or that there are rational explanations for morality that expand beyond our temporary societal benefits.
Morality, like economics and law, has a profound place of importance for the benefit of a given society. That deals with the function of morality, its ends being the success of a village/city/nation. What I desire (in a big way) is a reason more meaningful and fundamental (basically, a reason that matches the way we regard and treat morality). If such a reason doesn't exist (while it would not FEEL right to me) it seems logically sound, save for the fear of punishment, to disregard morality. If such a reason does exist, I have a great desire to know it.
Anyone that is spiritual or religious has an easy answer to this. In fact, the only answers I've heard on this question so far, also from atheists in my circles, at least edge toward suspending reason for the sake of a vague spiritual feeling of rightness in the world and existence. I'd be eager to hear any perspectives I'm leaving out, and I'm particularly interested in what any atheists have to say, since that is the crux of this question for myself.

I couldn't produce a similar thread from the forum's search tools, but if you know of any please send them my way, thanks. And thank you for any input! It's greatly appreciated.

Eduk
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Re: Is morality based in meaning?

Post by Eduk » May 25th, 2018, 4:13 am

Morality can be logically explained as being of existential benefit for our genes. Altruism is also a genuine experience which transcends pure existential benefit. Much like consciousness. That is my take.

Gertie
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Re: Is morality based in meaning?

Post by Gertie » May 25th, 2018, 8:46 am

lullabyleague wrote:
May 23rd, 2018, 6:46 pm
There is a question that follows me through many facets of my life and I can't seem to shake it or come to any kind of satisfying answer: Does morality contain meaning? We treat morality as though it is more meaningful than any other aspect of human existence. But is it? Is it more meaningful than any other mundane and expendable part of us?
Is morality simply a tool handed down to us through evolution, for the advantage of social alliance and group fitness? To answer yes implies that we ought to group the validity of our moral instincts along with other evolutionary gifts we have inherited, and some of those are not exactly positive (for example: othering, the insatiable and destructive desire for comfort and power, etc.) and many of them are in conflict with moral reason. To answer no implies that there is something more to it; that either our emotional instinct for morality is a compass pointing true north toward fundamental laws of the universe (which is only imaginable to me through spiritual explanation), or that there are rational explanations for morality that expand beyond our temporary societal benefits.
Morality, like economics and law, has a profound place of importance for the benefit of a given society. That deals with the function of morality, its ends being the success of a village/city/nation. What I desire (in a big way) is a reason more meaningful and fundamental (basically, a reason that matches the way we regard and treat morality). If such a reason doesn't exist (while it would not FEEL right to me) it seems logically sound, save for the fear of punishment, to disregard morality. If such a reason does exist, I have a great desire to know it.
Anyone that is spiritual or religious has an easy answer to this. In fact, the only answers I've heard on this question so far, also from atheists in my circles, at least edge toward suspending reason for the sake of a vague spiritual feeling of rightness in the world and existence. I'd be eager to hear any perspectives I'm leaving out, and I'm particularly interested in what any atheists have to say, since that is the crux of this question for myself.

I couldn't produce a similar thread from the forum's search tools, but if you know of any please send them my way, thanks. And thank you for any input! It's greatly appreciated.
Welcome! And good question. :)

In our post-god, post-modern world we're faced with thinking afresh about such questions, and imo have to be prepared for the answers to be less tidy and satisfying than in the world of the old certainties.

You're right that science is now explaining the roots of our moral/social intuitions, which came to be associated as objectively Right and Wrong Morality (justified by God or Reason).

So the question for us in the light of this knowledge, is can we still justifiably get an Ought from the Is of evolutionary utility?

I believe we can. The answer lies in recognising the special nature of conscious experience.

Subjective conscious experience brought meaning and value into a universe of dead rocks physically interacting. Because experiential states have this special qualiative nature (the 'what it's like'-ness Nagel speaks of). We commonly call this quality of life, or well-being.

That's why it doesn't matter if I smash a rock, but it does matter if I smash a person's head in. I'm harming their quality of life, their well-being. It's so obvious, we often don't think through why it matters. But it does matter, because conscious creatures have this quality of life, which can be wonderful or terrible, and everything in between. And imo, that is as good as it gets for a moral justification for Oughts, or moral duties. Why Oughts matter regardless of our evolutionary story.

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Re: Is morality based in meaning?

Post by Judaka » May 26th, 2018, 6:48 am

Meaning necessarily comes from interpretation and interpretation doesn't rely on anything and is only limited by our lack of imagination, closed-mindedness and beliefs. If morality was the holiest compass given to us by God or a necessary aspect of all good in our world - would it mandate you interpret it as being meaningful? Would it be any different if morality was instead the most noble thing? Or most practical thing? Or most necessary thing? And could it not have meaning if it was none of these things? Could someone know it is flawed and still use it as a meaningful and important compass that they've accepted?

Personally I think morality is highly egocentric, with the exception of religion which makes it either arbitrary or controlling/political. I never really believed morality was necessary for society to function, it's not as though humans ever had the option to live by themselves. Morality is a coping mechanism in some sense, it's compensation for what you lack and a punishment for those you're too weak or cowardly to punish yourself. If a dictator isn't evil then he's just powerful and if a sexually promiscuous girl isn't a slut then she's just popular.

None of that matters though, every answer to every "meaning" question is the same, interpretation does have relationship with truth but not such a precise one that we should study truth to understand interpretation. If you're completely free from any desire for morality to have a meaning then just use it like a tool, I think it has many uses and that makes it a pretty good tool.

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Re: Is morality based in meaning?

Post by ThomasHobbes » May 26th, 2018, 9:47 am

lullabyleague wrote:
May 23rd, 2018, 6:46 pm
There is a question that follows me through many facets of my life and I can't seem to shake it or come to any kind of satisfying answer: Does morality contain meaning? We treat morality as though it is more meaningful than any other aspect of human existence. But is it? Is it more meaningful than any other mundane and expendable part of us?
It seems to me that you have an odd understanding of "meaning". First you ask is it based in meaning then you seem to accept it has meaning, and ask how much.
Meaning is not inherent, but a thing bestowed by people upon the things they observe. A rock is meaningless until used by a human to smash a skull or build a wall. Then rock means weapon or building material. Such is the case with morality. And since it is all conceptual; it is ALL meaning.

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Re: Is morality based in meaning?

Post by Alias » May 26th, 2018, 10:29 am

lullabyleague wrote:
May 23rd, 2018, 6:46 pm
Does morality contain meaning?
Every product of the human mind contains meaning. Indeed, every product of any mind does, but it is often difficult to discern or interpret the meaning of what other species hold self-evident. It can be difficult enough to discern the meaning of unfamiliar members of our own species. Because our minds are complicated and fanciful, we come up with some pretty obscure ideas and rules.
While a spaniel from Hong Kong has no problem interpreting the attitude and intentions of a terrier from Minneapolis, their owners may have to work very hard at communicating. They still can, though.
We treat morality as though it is more meaningful than any other aspect of human existence.
Is this true? Who are "we"?
Some people are so intensely invested in their tribe's morality that they would kill their own child for breaking a rule, while others disregard social taboos altogether. In between, there is a range of adherence from the rigorous to the lackadaisical. Most of us practice a personal, selective version of our own society's moral dictates, applying, bending, breaking and interpreting rules as we see fit in each given circumstance.
Is morality simply a tool handed down to us through evolution, for the advantage of social alliance and group fitness?
Of course.
To answer yes implies that we ought to group the validity of our moral instincts along with other evolutionary gifts we have inherited, and some of those are not exactly positive ...and many of them are in conflict with moral reason.
What is "moral reason"? Before you can group items, you must have a clear definition of the categories. Where is the line between instinct and edict? Which moral imperatives apply universally; which are culturally derived; which are deliberately invented? Who does the reasoning? By what criteria?
(for example: othering, the insatiable and destructive desire for comfort and power, etc.)
Be careful of this! Many of our negative traits are the flip-side or extreme instance of necessary ones.
Group cohesion, family loyalty; the drive to improve living conditions for one's offspring; the need for organization, etc.
The moral code that outlaws acting on these traits is bound to fail as most humans are incapable of obeying such a law (See: Christianity and Communism). Building in safeguards for moderation has been far more effective (as in the codes of most American Native societies)

The best way I know of assessing moral codes is by comparison.
You can make a chart of all the tenets that keep a society stable and functioning smoothly over time, and those that lead to conflict and strife in a society. My superficial observation is that the most durable codes are those with internal consistency, a realistic psychology and sufficient flexibility to allow case-by-case judgment. The least stable ones are those that contain fundamental self-contradiction, inaccurate depiction of human nature and rigid application. The more harshly punitive a legal structure is, the more it disrupts social interaction.
I couldn't produce a similar thread from the forum's search tools, but if you know of any please send them my way, thanks.
There is a guy named 'prof' on several forums who has been touting his own system of ethics for years. I think he's got a thread going right now on Philosophy Now. https://forum.philosophynow.org/search. ... 1c17f86e27 Don't know whether that's any use to you.
Those who can induce you to believe absurdities can induce you to commit atrocities. - Voltaire

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