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Are we forced to accept moral relativism?

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Freudian Monkey
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Are we forced to accept moral relativism?

Post by Freudian Monkey » March 13th, 2019, 9:11 pm

Most secular contemporary thinkers agree that there are no absolute objective moral values. Meaning that the only way for us to arrive to objective morality is to essentially invent a moral standard that most people agree with (such as well-being) and base our morality around that generally agreeable standard. However there's no way getting around the fact that people throughout ages and living among different cultural environments have had wastly different interpretations about what can be considered well-being or harmful. To me it's simply disingenuous to suggest that contemporary Western thinkers are the only ones who can state with absolute certainty what is good for a person and what are the standards we should base our "objective" morality around.

Are secular philosophers trying to find cure for moral relativism simply because it's harmful for a society? But if moral relativism is the only logical outcome based on our knowledge about the nature of reality, shouldn't we be honest about it instead of trying to tiptoe around the issue?

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Re: Are we forced to accept moral relativism?

Post by Intellectual_Savnot » March 14th, 2019, 12:36 pm

"We hold these truths to be self-evident..." Those were Benjamin Franklin's words, and they speak well of American mindset. He was right, any objective moral value must be based in those very truths, being the only ones we hold self-evident. Because we hold them self-evident, we feel inclined to impose.

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Re: Are we forced to accept moral relativism?

Post by Intellectual_Savnot » March 14th, 2019, 12:39 pm

And yes, legally, we are forced to accept these things.

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Re: Are we forced to accept moral relativism?

Post by Plaffelvohfen » March 14th, 2019, 3:21 pm

Freudian Monkey wrote:
March 13th, 2019, 9:11 pm
Most secular contemporary thinkers agree that there are no absolute objective moral values. Meaning that the only way for us to arrive to objective morality is to essentially invent a moral standard that most people agree with (such as well-being) and base our morality around that generally agreeable standard. However there's no way getting around the fact that people throughout ages and living among different cultural environments have had vastly different interpretations about what can be considered well-being or harmful. To me it's simply disingenuous to suggest that contemporary Western thinkers are the only ones who can state with absolute certainty what is good for a person and what are the standards we should base our "objective" morality around.

Are secular philosophers trying to find cure for moral relativism simply because it's harmful for a society? But if moral relativism is the only logical outcome based on our knowledge about the nature of reality, shouldn't we be honest about it instead of trying to tiptoe around the issue?
I think it's hard to object to the assertion that there are no absolute objective moral values. But I still think (hope? lol) that morals can be universal (independent of custom or opinion, as opposed to moral relativism), but not absolute (independent of context or consequences, as in absolutism).

I think Pragmatic Ethics (See John Dewey) may be a good approach to find such an "objective morality". Though I have yet to dig seriously into Pragmatic Ethics, from the summaries I've read, it seems a very interesting approach. More so since the emergence of new scientific fields like Neurosciences... The works of Partricia Churchland in neurophilosphy in particular, would be very valuable in such an approach I think...

A variation on Pragmatic Ethics, "Moral Ecology" additionally supposes that morality evolves like an ecosystem, and ethical practice should therefore include strategies analogous to those of ecosystem management... I think it's an interesting idea worth exploring too!
Intellectual_Savnot wrote:
March 14th, 2019, 12:36 pm
"We hold these truths to be self-evident..." Those were Benjamin Franklin's words, and they speak well of American mindset. He was right, any objective moral value must be based in those very truths, being the only ones we hold self-evident. Because we hold them self-evident, we feel inclined to impose.
That may be true for american normative ethics, but it can't be said to be true for humanity as a whole IMO... I for example, not being american, am not bound in anyway by these "truths", which can be argued are really just subjective opinions... For instance, I reject any notions of a "creator" to begin with, so the very idea that there may be "unalienable" rights, endowed upon us by such a creator is problematic for me...

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Re: Are we forced to accept moral relativism?

Post by Hereandnow » March 14th, 2019, 5:28 pm

But why so fuzzy on this relativism Freudian monkey? Give relativists a run for their money: it is not as if there is nothing whatever that constrains moral thinking. There is the notorious “given” of value itself. Sure, one culture condemns bloody gladiatorials while another embraces it,but one thing all agree I is that the spear that runs through the kidney hurts like the devil. And this is bad. It is this kind badness that Wittgenstein talks about in his lecture on ethics and his Tractatus. THIS is where the conversation begins on the objectivity of values. Those cultural vagaries go every which way and always will it seems. But it is this apparent “absolute” of ethical judgment, that which clings inextricably to the speared kidney, the “badness” of a truly ethical sort that sends the rational mind reeling. And as to the presumptuous imposition one culture makes on another, that Weatern philosophers impose on the world, do you have something more specific in mind?

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Re: Are we forced to accept moral relativism?

Post by JosephM » March 14th, 2019, 6:19 pm

Freudian Monkey wrote:
March 13th, 2019, 9:11 pm
Most secular contemporary thinkers agree that there are no absolute objective moral values. Meaning that the only way for us to arrive to objective morality is to essentially invent a moral standard that most people agree with (such as well-being) and base our morality around that generally agreeable standard. However there's no way getting around the fact that people throughout ages and living among different cultural environments have had wastly different interpretations about what can be considered well-being or harmful. To me it's simply disingenuous to suggest that contemporary Western thinkers are the only ones who can state with absolute certainty what is good for a person and what are the standards we should base our "objective" morality around.

Are secular philosophers trying to find cure for moral relativism simply because it's harmful for a society? But if moral relativism is the only logical outcome based on our knowledge about the nature of reality, shouldn't we be honest about it instead of trying to tiptoe around the issue?

Moral relativism is not bad for society. Society makes its adjudication ( theoretically) through a legal system, not morality.


Moral relativism when taken to its proper extreme , leaves individuals responsible for their own moral behavior , and undermines the critical judgement and imposition of others.


Setting arbitrary and uniform standards of morality according to opinion, creates the situation where this code must be upheld , and therefore society has to attack its own members. Its bad enough we have to pursue law, now you want a second more personal and judgmental set of laws?
That's not good.

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Re: Are we forced to accept moral relativism?

Post by Hereandnow » March 14th, 2019, 7:33 pm

Moral relativism makes its adjudication thruogh a legal system JisephM? You must mean a legal system is there mposed upon it thereby derelativising the relative nature of unregulated dispositions to act. The relativity of our disparate thoughts and feelings do not make this. Also, the proper extreme of moral relativism? How is an extreme of moral relativism proper? Any kind of extreme moral relativism is going to be, well, greater relativism. Finally, how do you interpret what the OP said to be a call for a for”a second and more personal and judgmental set of laws”? You might be right, but I would need to see it spelled out.

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Re: Are we forced to accept moral relativism?

Post by GE Morton » March 14th, 2019, 10:54 pm

Freudian Monkey wrote:
March 13th, 2019, 9:11 pm
Most secular contemporary thinkers agree that there are no absolute objective moral values.
Indeed many do. That is because some of them advocate, or commit, immoral acts and wish to rationalize them, by dismissing any objections as arbitrary. Others take that position because they believe moral precepts derive from feelings, intuitions, or even instincts, rather than from rational analysis of the human situation. Since the former are obviously subjective, so must be moral principles.
But if moral relativism is the only logical outcome based on our knowledge about the nature of reality, shouldn't we be honest about it instead of trying to tiptoe around the issue?
It is not the only logical outcome. To the extent human nature and the structure of human societies is objective, so are sound moral principles.

BTW, the term "moral values" is confused, and misleading. Values and moral principles are quite different things.

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Re: Are we forced to accept moral relativism?

Post by GE Morton » March 14th, 2019, 11:02 pm

Plaffelvohfen wrote:
March 14th, 2019, 3:21 pm

More so since the emergence of new scientific fields like Neurosciences... The works of Partricia Churchland in neurophilosphy in particular, would be very valuable in such an approach I think...
Any attempt to derive moral principles from neurological facts commits the "is-ought" fallacy.
For instance, I reject any notions of a "creator" to begin with, so the very idea that there may be "unalienable" rights, endowed upon us by such a creator is problematic for me...
The "creator" is unnecessary. It is only a metaphorical way of denoting rights with which one is naturally endowed, that one brings with one into the world.

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Re: Are we forced to accept moral relativism?

Post by Freudian Monkey » March 15th, 2019, 2:26 am

Hereandnow wrote:
March 14th, 2019, 5:28 pm
But why so fuzzy on this relativism Freudian monkey? Give relativists a run for their money: it is not as if there is nothing whatever that constrains moral thinking. There is the notorious “given” of value itself. Sure, one culture condemns bloody gladiatorials while another embraces it,but one thing all agree I is that the spear that runs through the kidney hurts like the devil. And this is bad. It is this kind badness that Wittgenstein talks about in his lecture on ethics and his Tractatus. THIS is where the conversation begins on the objectivity of values. Those cultural vagaries go every which way and always will it seems. But it is this apparent “absolute” of ethical judgment, that which clings inextricably to the speared kidney, the “badness” of a truly ethical sort that sends the rational mind reeling. And as to the presumptuous imposition one culture makes on another, that Weatern philosophers impose on the world, do you have something more specific in mind?
What I was trying to get at in OP was that self-preservation is ultimately the only reason for moral behavior. This is pretty much what you also describe here: a spear to the kidney is not desirable for me, so I try to avoid it by not provoking someone with a spear. That's pretty much it. I cannot derive any complex universal moral principles from this desire not to get hurt. I might still want to kill someone who has a nice shiny rock yet is too weak to harm me when I try to take it from him. Why should I want to see "not getting hurt" become an universal standard for morality unless I'm weaker than everyone else?

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Re: Are we forced to accept moral relativism?

Post by Freudian Monkey » March 15th, 2019, 2:51 am

JosephM wrote:
March 14th, 2019, 6:19 pm

Moral relativism is not bad for society. Society makes its adjudication ( theoretically) through a legal system, not morality.


Moral relativism when taken to its proper extreme , leaves individuals responsible for their own moral behavior , and undermines the critical judgement and imposition of others.


Setting arbitrary and uniform standards of morality according to opinion, creates the situation where this code must be upheld , and therefore society has to attack its own members. Its bad enough we have to pursue law, now you want a second more personal and judgmental set of laws?
That's not good.
The relationship between morality and laws in an interesting one. I see laws as something put to place primarily to disencourage behavior that is harmful for a society. However I don't see any basis for suggesting that what is illegal should be also considered immoral. Is the good of a society always moral? What if the society does everything to eradicate my and my family's means of survival?

We ought only to endorse laws that benefit us and try to break all the other laws as long as we can get away with it without retaliation.

Or perhaps I want to work towards strengthening my community - after all it would likely benefit me and my loved ones to live in a stable society. But why should I care at all about the well-being of other societies? Mine is the only one that counts. As long as another community doesn't try to destroy mine, I shouldn't care at all what kind of morality their society is built on.

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Re: Are we forced to accept moral relativism?

Post by Hereandnow » March 15th, 2019, 4:37 am

Freudian monkey, it is a tough argument, one which I rarely present convincingly, for no one wants to take the term ‘abdolute’ seriously in philosophical discussions. A terrific book on this issue is John Mackie’s Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong. At any rate, I disagree with the big consensus out there, with Mackie and the anti objectivists, in that I believe ethics is objective and this idea is grounded in what is intuively demonstrable, just like statements about the color orange and the descriptive features of a stone or a flower. I believe contra Wittgenstein that statements about ethics are factual, that saying, “extracting that molar without an anasthetic is bad” is both an absolute and a factual truth. Depends on if you want to argue this issue.

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Re: Are we forced to accept moral relativism?

Post by Plaffelvohfen » March 15th, 2019, 11:48 am

GE Morton wrote:
March 14th, 2019, 11:02 pm
Plaffelvohfen wrote:
March 14th, 2019, 3:21 pm
More so since the emergence of new scientific fields like Neurosciences... The works of Partricia Churchland in neurophilosphy in particular, would be very valuable in such an approach I think...
Any attempt to derive moral principles from neurological facts commits the "is-ought" fallacy.
It's not a fallacy, it's a problem, a good one sure, but it still can be answered.

For example, Jackson's moral functionalism offer compelling counter-examples. Putnam argues that the distinction between fact and value is not as absolute as Hume envisioned and that it can be said that this "is/ought" problem is just denying ethical realism, excluding values from the domain of facts.

A simple solution is through the addition of a goal to the formulation. The problem can therefore be bypassed with a simple if: "If you want to achieve goal X, you should do Y which has been shown to lead to X."

It all comes down to whether one thinks it's possible to have an adequate working definition of "moral" or not, and I'm tempted to add, on whether a solipsist has anything actually relevant to say about "Morality"...

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Re: Are we forced to accept moral relativism?

Post by Hereandnow » March 15th, 2019, 6:10 pm

It seems plaffelvohfen that, with Putnam, you are approaching an absolutist position, one which I hold. For if facts are entangled with values, and, as Wittgenstein said, value, ethical value, is absolute, and this entanglement is essential and therefore inextricable, then the conclusion would be that facts are absolutes, further given that ethical(aesthetic) value is present in all facts.

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Re: Are we forced to accept moral relativism?

Post by JosephM » March 15th, 2019, 7:19 pm

The relationship between morality and laws in an interesting one. I see laws as something put to place primarily to disencourage behavior that is harmful for a society.

Isn't this the essential motivation for morality ?
Does your new standardized morality have any teeth? is it enforced in any way?


However I don't see any basis for suggesting that what is illegal should be also considered immoral. Is the good of a society always moral? What if the society does everything to eradicate my and my family's means of survival?


Moses was given the 10 Commandments which are considered gods law , and simultaneously are considered moral.
Society does make decisions which have dire consequences for its members as it is, remember the draft?

We ought only to endorse laws that benefit us and try to break all the other laws as long as we can get away with it without retaliation.

Thats not good , IMO , it means you do not endorse the laws of your society on principle , that you only obey the application of power.


Or perhaps I want to work towards strengthening my community - after all it would likely benefit me and my loved ones to live in a stable society.


You are setting up a community where everyone is supposed to think the same, which is oppressive. And you are setting up conflicts with other groups.

But why should I care at all about the well-being of other societies? Mine is the only one that counts. As long as another community doesn't try to destroy mine, I shouldn't care at all what kind of morality their society is built on.

That would be moral relativism again , just on a societal scale.
The problem coming with- adding a moral weight to what was secular law -, is that now there is an expectation of hatred for anyone who falls on the wrong side of the law.
You are in the process of creating a hatred filled , antagonistic society , of bigots :) and none of us want more of that , do we?

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