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Article: The Clarity Of Amorality

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Article: The Clarity Of Amorality

Post Number:#1  PostDecember 27th, 2007, 4:26 pm

The Clarity Of Amorality
by Scott Hughes

Morality consists of moral values used to judge conduct, events, and people in general. It refers to the way people try to universally categorize human conduct as right or wrong, or good or bad.

Morality originated from religion. In the earlier days of human civilization, the lack of telecommunications and lack of fast transportation separated humankind into small, isolated communities. As a result the religion in each one of these communities would dominate the community. Since those isolated communities had little contact with other cultures and religious beliefs, they took their own religion as simple truth.

However, as the world has globalized, the different communities have come into more and more contact with each other and have begun mixing. With multiple religions in the same society, the society could no longer use a single religion as its law and value system. As a result, society developed secular laws and values that applied independent of any given person's religion.

Naturally, society derived its new secular values and codes of conduct from its religious values. For the most part, it just rephrased the religious commandments and values from the dominant religions in more secularized terms. The "sinful" became the "immoral."

Developments in science also have led to more secularization of society because science can more reliably explain what people would otherwise rely on religion to explain. Also, people questioned their own religion more once they came into contact with other religions.

However, the archaic idea of morality remains. Even many so-called atheists talk as though some metaphysically universal set of values exist to determine the goodness or badness of people or actions. They do that by referring to people and actions as morally good or bad.

Still, when a person makes a moral statement nowadays they do not usually mean anything inherently religious. They just use the archaic and oversimplified moral terms to express an otherwise amoral sentiment. They might use the moral terms to express any of a variety of amoral sentiments, such as a personal taste, a recommendation, a social value, or so on.

For example, when a person says the moral statement, "eating dogs is morally wrong," they might mean the amoral statement, "eating dogs disgusts me." When a person says, "doing drugs is immoral," they might mean, "doing drugs will cause you more trouble than pleasure." When a person says, "breaking the law is morally bad," they might mean, "if you break the law, it will probably result in very unpleasant consequences for you." When a person says the moral statement, "you should go to work on time," they may just mean that amoral statement, "I recommend that you go to work on time."

Using the moral terms, rather than saying specifically what one means, lacks clarity. When a person calls a certain action immoral, we do not know what they mean exactly. Do they mean the action disgusts them? Do they mean they dislike it? Do they mean it would hurt them? Do they mean it would hurt the person who does it? Do they mean their religion forbids it? We can try to figure out what they mean by the context, but they can also just specify it by using amoral terminology.

We can more clearly express ourselves by specifying what we mean in secular and descriptive ways, rather than in general moral terms. Consider giving up morality due to its lack of clarity. Instead of making moral prescriptions, consider making amorally descriptive statements.

Whatever you do, good luck and have fun!

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Post Number:#2  PostDecember 28th, 2007, 5:58 pm

This is an interesting article and a fun topic.

The problem is that you have tried to make an overarching statement about a highly specialised part of our lives and the philosophy under which we each knowingly or unknowingly govern our lives.

Morals are not meant to describe every possible human situation. They are meant to provide us with general guidance and in combination with ethics provide a universal basis upon which we try to create rules in which we can function in a society.

I disagree that morals were created by religion, although in the past 10 centuries or so we have started to try to use religion to provide a bulwark of moral principles and that through religion most laws of men came to become the principles under which we were governed. This system worked well as long as God’s authority was universally accepted as the source of power by which one man or group of men could rule the others in their respective kingdoms.

The principle started to break-down in Europe with the signing of the Magna Carta and was essentially destroyed by Kant, Hume, Locke, Smith and others as the concept of the rights of man emerged and became the basis for democracy and the creation of the ongoing and so far highly successful experiment of the United States. However even in this experiment men asked God to sanctify the society they created, “One Nation under God….”

The evolution of morals has come from being created by societies for social reasons (murdering your neighbour as an example) to their becoming the province of religion (don’t murder your neighbour because God says not to) to government (don’t murder your neighbour because we might kill you back). Generally all successful societies have restrictions on killing other members of the society, having sex with other members of society, and keeping your hands off the property of other members of society, to name but a few. These are practical things because they form the basis upon which any successful society can function.

Clearly bees and ants wouldn’t form very successful societies if they didn’t stick to their own business, find food for the rest of the colony, help in raising their young, and didn’t sting each other to death.

The difficulty that I think you are pointing toward however has its roots not so much in Morals but in Epistemology. It touches on the subject of morals within a society because Margaret Mead made it that way in the early 20th century.

She made a decision in her anthropological studies to change her data to suit her argument. She decided that it was more important to prove something than to use the truth to do it. She took truth out of knowledge, and from it created the suggestion upon which you are basing your core argument.

That is, that we cannot judge one society that is different from ours as being morally good or bad because we cannot engage that society on any basis other than from how it sees itself.

She since repudiated this idea and admitted her error and her guilt in changing her data and passing the results off as scientific and improving our knowledge of anthropology, however this has gone substantially un-remarked upon by subsequent anthropologists.

In debasing knowledge in one science she created the ability of others to do the same in other near sciences, for example sociology and educational psychology.

A world in which knowledge has no basis in truth is a playground for those who wish not to be judged on their own merits and actions.

The result has been that the direct telling of lies by authority has become not only accepted but applauded. The press lies to us endlessly; we no longer can apprehend the difference between truthful balanced reportage and editorial blather. Politicians steal from us and lie to us on a daily basis and we accept this because we have come to believe that the truth is only for us schmucks, and that the cynical application of propaganda is all we have a ‘right’ to deserve.

In taking truth out of the knowledge equation, we have abandoned the quest for knowledge and replaced it a quest of greed.

Us global warming as an example; the only reason there is for creating a concern about CO2 emissions as a cause of global warming is that it is the only gas that is long-enough lived to be measured in ancient ice. The ice is aged based on the half-life of the carbon it contains. So a correlation has been created with CO2 levels in the atmosphere and with the warming of the planet. Notwithstanding that there have been eras where there was more CO2 in the atmosphere and cooler temperatures than we have now, and eras where there has been less CO2 in the atmosphere and warmer temperatures.

Instead of looking at this data and saying, it makes no sense to try to correlate CO2 with climate, we have been subjected to an endless onslaught of doom and gloom.

The reason is that we rarely base political decisions on knowledge, but rather on what will allow our leaders to extract the most money from us.

So, a better question may be; are their universal moral values, irrespective of its origins?
In your article you make the following statement;

"For example, when a person says the moral statement, "eating dogs is morally wrong," they might mean the amoral statement, "eating dogs disgusts me.""

And I agree that this does not meet the standard of being a moral statement at all.

However if you take the same statement and change one word, you may be much closer to have a universal moral statement; in other-words, you need to raise the stakes to make something morally universal. My change is as follows; "eating human babies is morally wrong." I believe that there are no successful societies that would not agree that such a thing was universally immoral. To the point I think that there probably is not a specific law made by God or man that needs to be written to assure us all that it is a universal moral wrong.

Another example for discussion is; what if a person existed who had the ability to 100% of the time predict the outcome of a person’s life and actions. Would he have been morally required to have murdered Adolph Hitler when he saw him on the street in Austria when he was being pushed in a stroller by his mother?
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no

Post Number:#3  PostJanuary 26th, 2008, 1:25 pm

Here's my big problem.

Sometimes it's not about religion or personal preference or anything else.

Like Bertrand Russell talked about in his essay regarding sex, people make up moral rules to explain a social phenomenon. For example, you are not supposed to have sex with another man's wife. Not necessarily because it is amoral or against god's plan, but because it can (or once could) create confusion as to paternity, which matters if you pay for your wife and the child to live, like people used to.

Moral relativism is completely ridiculous. For my own ethical system I look to a loose mixture of Aristotle's Virtue Ethics and Zhuangzi's "following the dao", harmonizing our own natural change with the constancy of what he calls, well, the constant. The nature of the dao.

Now, Aristotle thinks there is vice in abstinence as well as overindulgence in any area. Zhuangzi thinks, very Hamlet-y, that basically there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so. Therefore, he completely rejects value judgments such as good, bad, right, wrong, moral, immoral, amoral, etc. All there is is being aligned with the dao and the constant, change in harmony with constancy. Maybe one day it is right to have sex with you wife, maybe the next day it's right to have sex with a man. These choices cannot be made in advance. As he says in I think the second chapter "that would be like going to Yue today and arriving yesterday, that would be like saying that what is, is not". (Sorry if my quotes aren't perfect. I am at work and don't have my refernce materials.

You get the idea, though. Amoral? What does that even mean?
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Post Number:#4  PostJanuary 26th, 2008, 7:15 pm

'Amoral' is to morality what asexual is to sexuality.

For something to be amoral, that means that it does not have any moral value.
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Post Number:#5  PostJanuary 27th, 2008, 12:35 am

Are you sure. A moral. Amoral. A-moral.
Seems to suggest some normative values.
Immoral, though.
Whatever, semantics, argue something real or just don't talk.
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Post Number:#6  PostJanuary 5th, 2009, 9:56 am

Scott, thoroughout your essay you overlook the fact that there are still a large number of religiously devout people, who when they say something is "immoral", they are using the word as correctly as can be. "Sinful" is a fine alternative, but the point remains that using the language of morality cannot yet be phased out.
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Post Number:#7  PostMarch 2nd, 2009, 6:10 pm

An interesting topic but you make many contentious statements. Lets try and focus on the most problematical ones:

Morality consists of moral values used to judge conduct, events, and people in general. It refers to the way people try to universally categorize human conduct as right or wrong, or good or bad.

Well AFAIKS morality has four features in practice: prescriptive, descriptive,universal and expressive. Now different approaches might either explain or explain away any and all of those features - but all must be dealt with one way or another. Lets see how yours does.

For example, when a person says the moral statement, "eating dogs is morally wrong," they might mean the amoral statement, "eating dogs disgusts me." When a person says, "doing drugs is immoral," they might mean, "doing drugs will cause you more trouble than pleasure." When a person says, "breaking the law is morally bad," they might mean, "if you break the law, it will probably result in very unpleasant consequences for you." When a person says the moral statement, "you should go to work on time," they may just mean that amoral statement, "I recommend that you go to work on time."

I disagree this is what many people mean and certainly disagree with your expansions. You have failed to address in particular the universal aspect and have sort of covered thedescriptive and prescriptive parts of practical moral usage but also minimised the expressive component e.g encouraging of recommendations. Without the expressive and universal aspects your amoral alternatives are hardly real alternatives and not what many people mean when they use this language. You have neither explained nor explained away these aspects of moral talk.

Using the moral terms, rather than saying specifically what one means, lacks clarity. When a person calls a certain action immoral, we do not know what they mean exactly.

Yes moral talk is optional and clarity can arise by avoiding it. However your alternatives fail to be addressing what the moral terms could reasonably mean. Why is that?

Do they mean the action disgusts them? Do they mean they dislike it? Do they mean it would hurt them? Do they mean it would hurt the person who does it? Do they mean their religion forbids it? We can try to figure out what they mean by the context, but they can also just specify it by using amoral terminology.

As a reductive naturalist I have no issue with amoral terminology however your suggested alternatives look like you are not fully addressing the subject matter of morality - now if you can provide some amoral substitutions certainly for the universal aspects as well clarify on the other three then this would be far more interesting. However lacking this presents a peculiar bias in this exposition.

We can more clearly express ourselves by specifying what we mean in secular and descriptive ways, rather than in general moral terms. Consider giving up morality due to its lack of clarity. Instead of making moral prescriptions, consider making amorally descriptive statements.

Oh dear now you have missed the whole point!You are instructing everyone to stop doing normative ethics and just do descriptive ethics but this fails to address the normative issues entirely. An amoral descriptive statement is nothing like a morally (or in this case a universally, expressively, descriptive) prescriptive statement.
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Post Number:#8  PostMarch 3rd, 2009, 6:08 am

I like Scott's argument. Just one point that I'm unclear about:

Even many so-called atheists talk as though some metaphysically universal set of values exist to determine the goodness or badness of people or actions. They do that by referring to people and actions as morally good or bad.


Whlie I agree that there is no 'metaphysically universal set of values', I hold that there are universal criteria that underlie all morality. The criteria are based upon the genetic fact that humans are social animals who live in more or less organised societies. The criteria that underlie all morals are therefore 'Is the moral in question universalisable?' (I.e the 'Golden Rule')and 'Have I paid enough attention to this individual's needs and wants?'(which stems from the 'Golden Rule')

I also claim that religions which depart from the Golden Rule of universalisability and whose devotees idolise dogmas instead are bad religions, tell lies , mislead people, and are contrary to the best aspirations of humanity which are mercy, pity, peace and love.

Do you agree, or do you include all and any basic criterion in the claim that i quoted?
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Post Number:#9  PostMarch 3rd, 2009, 7:04 am

Belinda wrote:
Even many so-called atheists talk as though some metaphysically universal set of values exist to determine the goodness or badness of people or actions. They do that by referring to people and actions as morally good or bad.

Whlie I agree that there is no 'metaphysically universal set of values', I hold that there are universal criteria that underlie all morality.

Yes it looks like Scott is making the mistake highlighted by Mackie. It is one thing to reject universal prescriptivity, prescriptive laws or 'metaphysically universal set of values' - the argument from queerness - that does not mean one cannot be objective about values.

The criteria are based upon the genetic fact that humans are social animals who live in more or less organised societies.

odd turn of phrase not quite sore what you mean but then you say:

The criteria that underlie all morals are therefore 'Is the moral in question universalisable?' (I.e the 'Golden Rule')and 'Have I paid enough attention to this individual's needs and wants?'(which stems from the 'Golden Rule')

Do not see how or why this consequent follows from your above antecedent but it does not matter. Morality is by definition about universal recommendations. Either way we both agree Scott has failed to address this fundamental issue in his essay and until he does he is not talking about morality at all.
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Post Number:#10  PostMarch 8th, 2009, 5:22 am

I have posted summary of my concerns in The Unclarity of Amorality
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Re: Article: The Clarity Of Amorality

Post Number:#11  PostAugust 30th, 2012, 2:28 am

Scott wrote:Morality originated from religion.

What are your reasons for believing this?
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Re: Article: The Clarity Of Amorality

Post Number:#12  PostOctober 3rd, 2012, 7:37 am

Scott wrote:Morality originated from religion.

Love the article. I do disagree with the above line.

Looking at societies of other species, particularly those of apes and monkeys, some societies appear to show both moral behaviour and group action when this moral behaviour is transgressed. It is also true that some societies display religious behaviour, at least in terms of respecting the recently deceased. While there is some overlap between these two sets, the overlap is not complete, and therefore some societies have morals without religion.

I suggest that any attempt to equate morals as coming from human religion, is because religion pre-dates writing.
In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.
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Re: Article: The Clarity Of Amorality

Post Number:#13  PostNovember 8th, 2012, 10:47 pm

Scott wrote:Morality originated from religion.


This is a false statement that indicates you haven't given the subject sufficient thought.

Let's go way back to when there were no religions. Do you think that one day a group of early humans got together and said, "We need morality, let's start a religion!"? Of course not.

Over a span of millenia, humans learned that certain behavior was unacceptable. From this they developed the idea that the acceptable form of behavior should be taught to the young so that life would proceed in a more orderly and safe fashion. Any religion would incorporate this view as the superior one, and promote it as virtuous. The religion then becomes the vehicle for generation to generation transmission.

The point is, and I cannot overstress it, morality created religion. The moral sense of men became the moral code of the religion.
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Re: Article: The Clarity Of Amorality

Post Number:#14  PostMarch 3rd, 2013, 3:41 pm

Your Statement is more false than Scott's.

Morality is born of the Selfish Righteousness of the Pharaoh, the Pharisees.

Pharaoh: 2. any person who uses power or authority to oppress others; tyrant.

Pharisees; 2. a sanctimonious, self-righteous, or hypocritical person.

Moral Law, is a complete failure in its attempt to bring order to the chaos, Moral Law being an Abomination born of hypocrisy, the selfish-Righteousness of the Pharaoh, the Pharisees.

Would that I could I would destroy Moral Law, I would separate, I would prohibit the use Moral Law, the Church from attempting to bring the Chaos to Order, I would use the Rule of Law to govern Mankind, to bring the Chaos to Order.
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Re: Article: The Clarity Of Amorality

Post Number:#15  PostMay 29th, 2013, 5:04 am

The clarity of amorality comes from the fact it makes no assumptions rather than it being an issue of semantics. It is what I call "ignorant wisdom" or the humor, knowledge, and sagacity acquired by becoming aware and accepting of our ignorance. The less willing we are to accept our ignorance, the less capable of laughing at ourselves and the less able to see the forest through the trees. Hence, the semantic issues are a symptom of morality and addressing the symptoms of the problem cannot eliminate the problem and cannot bring true clarity.
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