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What Moral Claims Can Mean

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Scott

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What Moral Claims Can Mean

Post Number:#1  PostMarch 6th, 2008, 3:22 pm

What Moral Claims Can Mean
by Scott Hughes

People often make moral claims. They will call an action moral by calling it morally "good" or "right" or by otherwise claiming it has some special value that means one "should" do it. They can claim the inverse by calling the action immoral, bad, wrong, or so forth.

But what does it mean to call an action morally good or morally bad? Different people use those terms to mean very different things. Let's look at some of the most common meanings.

Personal Disgust or Appreciation – Often when people call an action immoral, they simply mean they feel disgusted by the action in some way. When these people call an action morally good, they simply mean that they appreciate or admire it in some way. For example, if a woman says that torturing animals is immoral, she may simply mean that the idea of it disgusts her very much. If she refers to helping the homeless as morally good, she may simply mean that she admires people who help the homeless.

Recommendation – People also sometimes use moral terms to express a recommendation. When they call an action morally good, they simply mean to say that they recommend others do it. When they call an action immoral, they simply mean that they recommend others do not do it. For example, when a mother tells her son that doing drugs is immoral, she may simply mean that she recommends he does not do drugs because she believes it will cause him more grief than pleasure. When she says he "should" brush his teeth, she may just mean that she recommends he brush his teeth because she believes he will regret it if he doesn't.

Social Values – Sometimes people use moral terms to express common social values. For example, if a person calls it immoral to wear yellow clothes, the person may simply mean that most people in a certain society frown upon those who wear yellow clothes. This can also include extreme social values enforced by violence—namely laws. For example, when people refer to murder as immoral, they may mean that the people in society want it stopped so much that they will throw murderers in jail.

Social Utility – Sometimes people use moral terms to describe how much a certain action will hurt or help the other people in the society. When people call an action immoral, they may simply mean that the action hurts more people than it helps. When they call an action morally good, they mean that it helps more people than it hurts. A more helpful action will be referred to as morally better, and a more harmful action will be referred to as worse.

Religious, Metaphysical, and/or Supernatural – Of course, sometimes when people use moral terms they mean to claim that the actions have some sort of metaphysical or supernatural value—a belief that these people generally base on their religious views or other superstitions. When these people say an action is immoral, they mean the action is considered sinful or bad by their god(s) or by some other metaphysical set of judgmental values.

As you can see, people use moral terms very differently. Even the same person may use different meanings for moral terms at different times.

For the sake of clarity, I personally choose to avoid using moral terms as much as possible. Instead, I explain specifically what I mean using descriptive, amoral terms rather than generic moral terms. In your own speech, I recommend you consider replacing moral terms with more specific and clear terminology. Rather than just calling an action immoral, you can explain specifically what you mean to say about the action.

Whatever you do, good luck and have fun!

What do you think? What else do you think people sometimes mean when they use moral terms?
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Essential morals

Post Number:#2  PostOctober 20th, 2008, 11:13 pm

I am pleased to find you discussing such an important subject but a bit disappointed that no one in the group had anything to say about it.

Your analysis of the different usages and viewpoints regarding moral law is interesting and accurate but I get the feeling that you are afraid to commit yourself to the reality and necessity of ethical behaviour and laws.

Your statement, Quote: "When people call an action immoral, they may simply mean that the action hurts more people than it helps. When they call an action morally good, they mean that it helps more people than it hurts." is the most important, meaningful and easy to understand definition of moral law. Although, I would add that its not necessary for an immoral act to hurt more than one person. One victim is enough to define an activity as immoral.

In a way I can understand your shyness about committing to a moral philosophy since usually moral law is associated with a vindictive, anthropomorphic god who is the author of a moral system that is insanely out of whack with the human understanding of justice i.e. the punishment should fit the crime. The god of fundamentalist christianity, islam and judaism is purported to have designed his moral system to the most radical of crime to punishment ratios possible, namely, an infinite amount of horrible tortuous pain to pay for a finite amount of sin.

But the real naturally evolved moral system is partly built on our sophisticated understanding of self and others and our universal feelings of regret and guilt. Other natural punishments for immoral behavior include nightmare and sometimes sickness. Rewards include peace and satisfaction with the now.

So you see there is a natural form of moral law that is not related to the myths of religion.

It is also important to remember that our evolution from animals to ethical creatures is a very new player on the evolutionary timescale and quite possibly the outcome is yet to be determined.

Let me know what you think.
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Post Number:#3  PostOctober 21st, 2008, 4:45 am

When people call an action immoral, they may simply mean that the action hurts more people than it helps


Like Proto, I cut this bit out for special consideration, although I also agree with all that Proto said in thta paragraph.

However, this bit in particular ---the action hurts more people than it helps--- especially applies to the claims of religious people who fear that some sacred words or somesuch have been desecrated, or to the conflicting claims of unbelievers and supporters of free speech and the arts. So does Proto's addition to Scott's original statement.

Both groups of people may live in one society as they do in the UK. What is the best, most moral way, to please everybody? Is it possible to have enough common moral ground to stop quarrels within a multicultural society?

If both sides to some moral issue were to read and understand Scott's philosophical analysis of morality,and took his advice to be explicit about their 'should' feelings and beliefs, would this help to sort quarrels between factions ?
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Post Number:#4  PostOctober 22nd, 2008, 9:01 am

Ethics is an ideea not quite a reality. Look and open your eyes at the world and you might agree
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Post Number:#5  PostNovember 22nd, 2008, 2:46 pm

andreea22 wrote:Ethics is an ideea not quite a reality. Look and open your eyes at the world and you might agree


Ethics is evolutionary based on feelings of regret and humiliation and a sense of fair play.

It seems to me that most people in most situations act ethically because they find it advantageous. If ethical behaviour was not the norm most of the benefits of society could not exist because there would be no cooperation.
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Post Number:#6  PostDecember 21st, 2008, 2:51 pm

Morality its relative.

In the United States someone may feel genital mutilation is immoral, doctors have even refused these kinds of procedures. However, in many tribes in Africa it is practiced routinely and considered moral.

Whether or not Americans consider the actions of these tribes moral our feelings of morality do not trump the opinions of the tribes in Africa.

Therefore the only a things can be simultaneously moral and immoral is if we treat it relatively.

Since every person grows up in a unique and different environment and time, there can then be infinite and constantly changing opinions on morality.
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Post Number:#7  PostNovember 3rd, 2009, 3:06 pm

In another thread, Juice wrote the following:

Juice wrote:I understand that we need to use words since communicating even remotely effectively requires that we do so. But, more importantly words express ideas, and ideas stimulate the imagination. Because of this ideas are formulated of a complex set of goal oriented subjective and objective mental impressions, and part of that process includes some aspect, degree or level of applicable moral differentials.

People use words to express many moral and religious claims, with many various meanings. I do not think it is necessary to use such moral terms.

Juice wrote:For me using words and language is not a problem since I recognize that all my ideas have moral relevance as a universal paradigm. When I say that "hitler was evil", it is understood that I am making a moral determination of hitler the man in so far as his total being is concerned and implies a world view or understanding of evil.

Indeed. And other people have a different "understanding of evil," and when they say the phrase, "Hitler was evil," or "Hitler was not evil," it can mean something very different than what you mean when you say it. If either or both of you are trying to express an opinion (as opposed to claiming a fact), it could be the case that any seemingly contradictory statements do not contradict (Just as me saying, "Pizza tastes good," does not contradict with you saying, "Pizza tastes bad," because those are statements of opinion.)

Juice wrote:The amoralist will say that "Hitler disgusts me", which implies a more personal objection to hitler, further implying that hitler may not disgust some others who intern can provide their own subjective rationals towards hitler.

An amoralist may say that if Hitler disgusts him. It is much clearer than saying, "Hitler is immoral," to express that the amoralist is simply disgusted by Hitler. As you say, it lets us know that indeed he is expressing an opinion, so that we know that others may not share the opinion way. In contrast, just saying someone or something is evil does not let us know if the quality you are saying they have is a subjective opinion or an objective fact, and thus we do not even know if other people could disagree without their being a contradiction as opposed to simply a difference of opinion.

One could mean so many different things when they say, "John Smith is immoral." It is much clearer and specific to remove the moral statements and say whatever various things we may mean, which could include any combination of the following:

-John Smith disgusts me.
-I don't like John Smith.
-We would be safer if John Smith was dead or in jail.
-I recommend people don't do the types of things John Smith does.
-I want the things John Smith did to be illegal.
-I would enjoy causes John Smith to suffer.
-I believe there is a god or gods who commanded us not to do what John Smith did.
-I believe there is some sort of undetectable, metaphysical god or spirit magically influencing John Smith to do things that are sinful according to my religion.
-The vast majority of people don't like John Smith or what he does.
-I think society would be happier and more productive without people like John Smith.

Using moral terms, such as in the phrase, "John Smith is evil," to describe any combination of the above list of just a few examples of the wide variety of things people can mean when they moral terms is obviously much less clear than actually elaborating on what one is trying to say in specific terms that at least let others know if what one is saying is a factual claim or an opinion.
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Post Number:#8  PostNovember 4th, 2009, 8:16 am

If there existed one man and only one man, there would be no such issue as morality. Morality is socialisation. Scott's summary in #1 and#7 is a summary of rationalisations of moral stances, except the 'disgust' one, which is probably biological, and due to a process of natural selection.
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Post Number:#9  PostDecember 13th, 2009, 12:36 pm

Edlamnyc made the following post as a reply to the article in the OP:

Edlamnyc wrote:Mr. Hughes doesn’t like calling an act moral or immoral because he believes it ascribes to it a special value that means one “should” or “should not” do it. He believes he’s found a way to teach a system of values without the implied “should.” He says that people who call torturing animals immoral are merely expressing their personal feelings of disgust; murder is not immoral, people just hate it; a person who believes helping the homeless is moral, really means it’s admirable to help the homeless and protect “social values.” OK, now we have disgusting and hateful instead of immoral, admirable and valuable instead of moral, but he still doesn’t tell us why torturing animals creates feelings of disgust (why we should not do it); why the act of murder is hated (why we should not do that), or why it’s admirable to help the homeless and protect social values (why we should do that). In other words, he still hasn’t gotten rid of the “should” or “should not,” except now what was previously an “immoral” act has become a matter of personal taste. As Mr. Hughes says: “I personally choose to avoid using moral terms as much as possible. Instead, I explain specifically what I mean using descriptive, amoral terms rather than generic moral terms.” In other words, people who say torturing animals is immoral are being judgmental, but if they say it turns their stomach, they’re simply expressing themselves and incidentally giving evidence of their greater sensitivity. What drives an intelligent person to use such sophistry just to avoid using the words moral and immoral? There are at least two possibilities; egotism or ignorance, I hope it’s the latter because then I might be of some help.
We already know Mr. Hughes hates religion, and those who base their morality on what he calls a “metaphysical set of judgmental values,” and with his misuse of the words “judgmental values” we have a clue as to his confusion.
“Judgmental” is an adjective that describes a human activity. People can be judgmental; values cannot. When Mr. Hughes derides religion, he is being judgmental, not by using some metaphysical or supernatural set of values, but by using his own personal set of opinions about religion. Values, metaphysical or no, are the standard against which judgments are made. For instance, if I say Mr. Hughes does not honor his parents (whether it’s true or not) I’m being judgmental and, incidentally, also acting immorally (again, whether it’s true or not). But that doesn’t alter the fact that I believe it to be immoral not to honor one’s parents (whether that Commandment comes from a supernatural source, mythical stone or historical testament). Being “judgmental” also means you hate the sinner and not the sin. Mr. Hughes’ rude dismissal of the religious has a strong smell of hate. How is it possible to hate The Ten Commandments? You can ignore them, but hate…?

For the record: I do not hate Mr. Hughes; I hate his philosophy, but he is not alone in his problems with the elusive “should” (moral philosophy’s perennially persistent pain in the ****). For that I have to digress. In the appendix to his “Abolition of Man” (written before his conversion to Christianity) C.S. Lewis presents strong evidence that every civilization has had a moral code similar to The Ten Commandments (he calls it “The Tao” or “The Way).

This suggests to me that a moral code is not man-made. It comes along with being human. In our tendency to be social we are like pack animals, and the “should” exists through a combination of our emotions (feeling the same way about how to behave) and our faculty of Reason. To put it as simply as possible: Reason tells me that if I don’t like being tread upon, one way of avoiding it is not to tread on anyone else. Moral codes come first. Religion comes second.

Religions are born when a society has to face the task of dealing with infractions of the moral code. One way of dealing with infractions is to prevent them by teaching habits and beliefs to the young with the intention of saving them from learning (too often, too late) from experience. Religions do not create moral codes; they help make the inevitable infractions easier to bear. (Elsewhere Lewis reminds us that Moses didn’t introduce new moral laws, but the Commandments written in stone by God’s hand served as a reminder that the Jews had wandered from what they already knew to be moral behavior and now, not only did they have to answer to a higher power, but were chosen by that power to be responsible for leading the rest of the world. Remember, the myth of creation in The Old Testament says all Mankind comes from Adam and Eve, which means that we all are, not poetically, politically or metaphorically but literally, one family.)
I’m sorry that Mr. Hughes is loath to admit that he, along with the unwashed and uneducated, is just like all of us. By simply being human he is under the control of a moral code above and beyond any “social contract,” rationally based agreement or religious doctrine. Most people, upon realizing they have acted immorally feel guilty. While others, unable to explain the source of the “should” that hauntingly guides all human behavior, are incapable of accepting the guilt that ensues when it is ignored. Instead of biting the bullet and accepting the guilt from their (admittedly, sometimes necessary) act, they figure out a way to justify their immorality: An unhappy couple, who rather than admit a sacred vow has been broken, says: “We thought a divorce would be better for the children than having them live with adults who no longer loved each other.” And instead of admitting to a murderous act, the couple with an unwanted pregnancy says: “It’s OK to have an abortion because a fetus isn’t really a person.”
The recent and politically correct habit of replacing A.D. (Anno Domini, or year of our Lord) and B.C. (Before Christ) with CE (Common Era) and BCE (before Common Era) is unfortunate because if further hides the truth: The Old Testament and the birth of Jesus Christ is a turning point in history and not just for Jews and Christians; it designates the transition from a mythically ordered way of marking time to one based on historical fact. The subsequent existence of Western Society is still under the domain of historical fact, otherwise known as the Judeo-Christian tradition.


I'll post a reply when a have a little more time--probably later today.
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Post Number:#10  PostDecember 13th, 2009, 3:22 pm

Evil disgusts me.
Hitler disgusts me.
Hitler is evil.

If we are to accept that certain individuals, certain acts, or events are exceptional in that those individuals, acts, or events exceed the expectations of human norms or averages then terms which purposely identify an intended reaction to those individuals, acts or events are reasonable.

Einstein is a smart.
Helping people is good.
Mother Teresa is good.
Smart is good.
Mother Teresa is smart.
Einstein is good.

Einstein is a genius.
Mother Teresa is a Saint.
Scott is a genius.
Juice is a Saint.
Scott is Einstein.
Juice is Mother Teresa.

Clearly the use of language to convey the importance or level of acceptable indicators to individuals, acts or events is necessary and a universal dictum. It allows for an appropriate and acceptable characterization and explicit norm, without the need to elaborate or provide explicits making "ideas" redundant.

If one determines that there is a universal paradigm which defines good and evil and those paradigms have a purposeful shift in human events make it clear by the use of those terms that not only is defining an individual, act or event obvious but would also hold true under any idea or standard.

While it may be arguable whether there are clear distinctions of morality or immorality, good and evil it cannot be indeterminate that there are those who hold these values as a concrete and universally accepted consideration.

Conflating the issue by making a determination whether or not an individual is incapable of making that determination for himself which allows for universal Truths and expressing them as such would allow for that to be argued as a universal Truth itself making both contentions empirically proper philosophic points depending on ones world view, and not allowing for the world view to define ones perceptions of truth.
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Post Number:#11  PostDecember 14th, 2009, 1:20 pm

Social Utility – Sometimes people use moral terms to describe how much a certain action will hurt or help the other people in the society. When people call an action immoral, they may simply mean that the action hurts more people than it helps. When they call an action morally good, they mean that it helps more people than it hurts. A more helpful action will be referred to as morally better, and a more harmful action will be referred to as worse.


This is the only bases for moral decision that interest me. Our word moral comes from the Greek concept of moral- to know good manners and the law. This does not mean knowing man made laws, but knowing universal law. In a democracy laws are supposed to be based on universal laws and apply to everyone equally. Effectively, democracy is about being harmony with the universe, and naturally the ego can not be the soul arbitrator of right and wrong. Moral judgment requires having an expanded consciousness and developed rational.

In the thread about what defines being human, I said our sense of time is unique to being human. It is also an important element in our moral judgment. Socrates argued, if we do wrong, bad things will happen, even if takes three generations for the bad to noticeable. A huge problem we have today is people are so ego centered, instead of principled centered, and they think only of the now, not of the future, this leads to bad moral judgment.
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Post Number:#12  PostDecember 15th, 2009, 2:52 am

Scott wrote:One could mean so many different things when they say, "John Smith is immoral." It is much clearer and specific to remove the moral statements and say whatever various things we may mean, which could include any combination of the following:

-John Smith disgusts me.
-I don't like John Smith.
-We would be safer if John Smith was dead or in jail.
-I recommend people don't do the types of things John Smith does.
-I want the things John Smith did to be illegal.
-I would enjoy causes John Smith to suffer.
-I believe there is a god or gods who commanded us not to do what John Smith did.
-I believe there is some sort of undetectable, metaphysical god or spirit magically influencing John Smith to do things that are sinful according to my religion.
-The vast majority of people don't like John Smith or what he does.
-I think society would be happier and more productive without people like John Smith.

Using moral terms, such as in the phrase, "John Smith is evil," to describe any combination of the above list of just a few examples of the wide variety of things people can mean when they moral terms is obviously much less clear than actually elaborating on what one is trying to say in specific terms that at least let others know if what one is saying is a factual claim or an opinion.


Moral terms do not specifically mean any of the phrases above. They could, however, be consistent with some or all of the above phrases.

If we describe various levels of life on earth in the following ways, perhaps moral terms make more sense:

Level 1 - beings capable of mechanistic sensory response (respond to pain or pleasure without subjective awareness)
Level 2 - beings capable of sentience (subjective awareness of stimuli, pleasure and pain)
Level 3 - beings capable of intelligence (subjective awareness of abstract conceptual phenomena
Level 4 - beings capable of sapience (intelligent or reasoned judgments regarding long term ends)

To better understand the levels using examples of living beings, it might be proposed that insects, for example, are level 1 beings; perhaps mammals are level 2; higher order primates might be Level 3 and, at least some, humans beings are capable of making judgments regarding long term ends (Level 4).

It might further be argued that moral agents must be capable of making judgments in order to be morally responsible. Only Level 4 entities have the capacity to be moral agents.

I would argue that utilitarian ethicists are level 4 capable, but for some unknown reason restrict their judgements and, hence, base their value system on Level 2 derivatives. A moral relativist is fixated at a level 3 since the abstract concept of morality is understood, but the capacity for judgment regarding ethical matters is not demonstrated.

I would further argue that true "moral" statements can only be made by Level 4 beings based upon Level 4 derivatives. In other words, moral principles are the guiding principles used by Level 4 beings to live at a fully Level 4 state of existence. They are the rules of functioning at a Level 4 existence.

Human beings, while capable of Level 4, do not always aspire to a Level 4 state. If we look at your so called "moral" phrases, these can be ascribed to humans displaying preferences regarding their functional level.

-John Smith disgusts me (Level 2)
-I don't like John Smith (Level 2)
-We would be safer if John Smith was dead or in jail (Level 4 judgment regarding safety ).
-I recommend people don't do the types of things John Smith does. (emerging Level 4)
-I want the things John Smith did to be illegal (Level 2 motives - Level 3 concept)
-I would enjoy [what?] causes John Smith to suffer. (Level 2)
-I believe there is a god or gods who commanded us not to do what John Smith did (Level 3).
-I believe there is some sort of undetectable, metaphysical god or spirit magically influencing John Smith to do things that are sinful according to my religion. (Level 3 unreasoned)
-The vast majority of people don't like John Smith or what he does. (Level 3 concept, Level 2 motives)
-I think society would be happier and more productive without people like John Smith (Level 4 pragmatic with Level 2/3 motives depending upon the concept of happiness)

True moral principles would be Level 4 motives for Level 4 ends, i.e., creating a long term social order that allows for the fullest realization of Level 4 beings.

When a Level 4 being claims something is immoral, that being is claiming that the action in question seriously compromises, jeopardizes or detracts from the possibility of having a social order that promotes the realization of the full potential of Level 4 beings.

The content of moral judgments may be up to debate, just as the content of scientific principles is still being worked out, but that does not prove ethics are objectively indeterminable. Nor does it mean moral statements are meaningless, as you claim.

There may be a Level 5 state, but that is unclear in my mind at this point, so I can't say much more about it.
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Post Number:#13  PostDecember 15th, 2009, 5:49 am

#12
I would argue that utilitarian ethicists are level 4 capable, but for some unknown reason restrict their judgements and, hence, base their value system on Level 2 derivatives. A moral relativist is fixated at a level 3 since the abstract concept of morality is understood, but the capacity for judgment regarding ethical matters is not demonstrated.

I would further argue that true "moral" statements can only be made by Level 4 beings based upon Level 4 derivatives. In other words, moral principles are the guiding principles used by Level 4 beings to live at a fully Level 4 state of existence. They are the rules of functioning at a Level 4 existence.


Is it perhaps because , whatever is experienced of Levels 3 and 4, we all know Level 2 from personal experience? There is so much to be done at Level 2 in the way of making the world a better place that we may be fully occupied with this. Education and health care for all contribute towards consciousness of Levels 3 and 4, and many hope that the higher consciousnesses are becoming available to people who have formerly lived hand to mouth existences. I am, as I'm sure you will recognize, using the empirical Maslow model, which correlates with your more rational, top-down, model of morality.
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Post Number:#14  PostDecember 15th, 2009, 1:09 pm

I think the biggest problem why nobody understands ethics is because their appears to be a real difficulty in coming up with a unified theory of ethics. Its one thing to argue that virtuous characteristics like compassion, generosity, courage, determination, patience, trust, humility and love are ethical, but it is entirely another to explain why they are ethical! What does compassion actually have in common with courage? What does trust have to do with humility? Patience with love? I am very much a virtue ethisist, but what virtue ethics fails to do is to fully explain itself. Why is compassion a virtue, and callousness a vice?

I would argue that what separates character traits like compassion from traits like callousness, or for that matter any other vice such as cowardice, greed, laziness, impatience, synicism, arrogance and hatred, is that of contructive vs destructive characteristics. Compassion is contructive, it facilitates social bonding between individuals, it helps as it forms the basis for mutual collaboration, teamwork (albeit compassion is very generalised, habit forming, people become so used to showing compassion (because they've learned that showing compassion increases the chances of receiving compassion) that they show it even when their is no forseeable benefit, just as in Pavlov's experiment the dog salivates at the sound of the bell even if there is no meat for its formed a habit.) Courage is contructive because it allows you to overcome your fear of doing what you intend, such that you actually do it. Patience is contructive because it allows you to stop and think, and plan. Etc etc, they are all united in that they are contructive.

Vices are destuctive. Callousness is destructive, because its damages other individuals and thus, damages the species as a whole. Cowardice is destructive because is incourages you to give in to fear, and not accomplish your goals. Greed is destructive because it gains power of material wealth by destroying someone elses. Etc etc. In one sense, their is a difference between saying that someone is without virtue, and saying someone is deeply unethical. Someone without virtue lacks any contructive characteristics and so wastes away his/her life, and if others spend effort on helping them they waste their efforts also, so he is destructive not only to himself but to everyone he meets. However, such a person is not as destructive, as someone who has some contructive characteristics. The most destructive people in history: Hitler, Stalin, Ivan the terrible, Vlad the impailer, Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan etc...they all had some contructive characteristic, i.e. virtuous, dare I say "ethical" characteristics. They where all highly determined, often patient, intelligeant, and even courages (the courage to say and act on what you believe, dispite the fact that everyone is telling you your wrong and, unbeknowest possibility to you, you are.)

Honestly, one does not become chanceller of nazi germany, or ruler of the soviat union, or great Khan of the mongol empire without some virtues, to aquire such power requires that you show inovation, determination, patience and often courage! (Either that or you get lucky). The problem was that they thebn perverted those traits, and displayed a total lack of regard for other virtues. Compassion, generosity, love. These where all alien concepts to these people, so whilst they where not as "viceful" as the common-o-garden alcoholic, abusive tramp that are some of today's wasters by dint of showing more virtuous characteristics, they where holistically less ethical by dint of being rather more destructive. In short, the "worst" people in the world are those that use constructive characteristics (i.e. good characteristics) and then pervert them into destructive ends (i.e. bad ends).

Ontop of this theory I think one can explain the multi-facetted nature of ethics. I would argue that there are 4 kinds of virtue, altruistic virtue, self virtue, mutual virtue and emergency virtue.

Altruistic virtues are character traits that facilitate strengthening the power and well being to humanity as a whole (or even life as a whole, as we now have reason to believe that animals have consciousness, self-awareness and emotional and physical needs, desires and goals (and thus rights)), and these are traits like compassion, generosity, humility, honesty etc. These are the traits that are often referred to as "selfless" traits that contribute to the well being of people or creatures other than one's self. I think such traits have evolved as a result of our being a social species, such that there is a human tendancy (as there is with other social animals also, take elephants for example) to work to benefit the social group as a whole, as a team, teamwork. And, as a group can be pretty much any size, it can, and often does (at least amoungst humans), excaptualate everyone and everything!

But that's not all of course, there are other virtues. There is self virtue, things that are contructive of the self, and this is by no means unethical! It's still contructive! It is not unethical to attend to one's own needs and desires, provided that those needs and desires do not come at the expense of others' making them destructive. If a self fulfilment is actually contructive then its good! So, traits like courage, paitence, and fotitude are not in themselves concerned with helping other people, (yet you need them if you are to fully utilize altruistic virtues) they are self contructive. They improve YOUR power and well being. And that's a good thing! Because if your gonna help others you need to be in prime condition TO help them, i.e. healthy, happy and full of energy. Your no use to anyone half alive. You cannot be a contructive person by being half contructed yourself!

Then there is mutual virtue, whereby you are contructive of close relationships, and also fairness. Friends, familiy, intimate relationships, spouses, offspring, these are all contructive relationships because they form the basis for creating families (i.e. reproducing the species), so traits like loyalty, humour (yes it's totally a virtue!), trust and most importantly love, are in this catagory.

Finally there is emergency virtue which is essentially a somewhat "revised" version of utilitarianism. In short, it is not always possible to maintain one virtue without sacrificing others, one prime example is the phenomenon of white lies. If your honest you can't be compassionate, because the truth will hurt them (is destructive), and you don't want to hurt them because your compassionate, but, if your compassionate and hide the truth (the thing that will cause the destructive consequence) then that is dishonest, and dishonesty is distructive because it precipitates distrust, which prohibits social interaction. So one has a choice to make, rather than a strict utilitarian method of "maximising utilitity" like a buisness maximises profit, this kind of virtue "minimises harm", which is not quite the same thing. In breif, its called "choosing the lesser of two evils". In a situation where no matter what you do it will cause a destructive (unethical) consequence, it is important to find the "least" destructive action. This is not easy to do, very frequently people claim that something is the lesser of two evils or that "its all for the greater good" when in fact it is not. It is not easy because one cannot know what all the consequences of any one decision will be, every action causes a causal chain which could end up in any number of ways, ergo, such a method should only be used in emergencies, when there is literally no way out of being destructive in some shap or form.

All four are required to be an all round decent human being. If you have self virtues but not altruistic virtues you become very destructive to the species as a whole (i.e. letting down the team so to speak), yet if you have altruistic virtues but no self virtues you will be very self destructive, because its all very well being compassionate for example, but if you lack the courage or fortitude to act on that compassion you will not get anything done, and will destroy yourself through guilt! And if you lack mutal virtues, i.e. healthy close relationships, this two can leave you very unhappy, which, in turn, can lead you to make other people unhappy also, so that too is generally quite destructive. & if you make a mistake in an emergency moral dilema and cause more destruction than contruction that two is, well, destructive...

Togethar they form the basis for our sociology, our political ideologies, and to an extent our religious beliefs also.
Last edited by Simon says... on December 15th, 2009, 1:51 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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Post Number:#15  PostDecember 15th, 2009, 1:26 pm

Why is compassion a virtue, and callousness a vice?


Simon goes on to suggest that compassion is more life enhancing than callousness.I think that Simon may even be tentatively stating the case for a naturalist metaphysics. I agree. I think that it works like this:--

compassion is born from knowledge of what is the case about others as individuals, as societies, and as species. Callousness is lack of knowledge, or alienation from knowledge, of other individuals, societies and species.

Thus St Paul in Corinthians 13 is elaborating on love, or compassion, by detailing the necessary and even the perhaps the sufficient causes to call some behaviour compassionate, or loving.
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