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Debates Forum

  1. Subscriber moonbus
    Uber-Nerd
    19 Nov '14 19:32 / 1 edit
    This is a spin-off from another thread.


    DeepThought asked: “Where do you stand on meta-morality, where by meta-morality I mean a universal code (for want of a better word) which culturally specific moralities derive from?”

    I take it as given that man is a social animal. Thoreau may have hoed his own bean field, but he did not smelt the iron to make his hoe; he too was dependent upon others. Society is based upon mutual (which is not to say identical) dependence.

    All societies have vested interests in regulating certain kinds of conduct and certain relationships, as well as securing certain resources. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs gives a pretty good idea of the sort of thing I mean here. Maslow said that if certain basic needs are not met (food, water, shelter), the human body will fail. Similarly, if certain basic social needs are not met, a society will fail.

    A society has a vested interest in regulating ownership and transfer of utensils and land (especially arable land), for example. This is simply because humans acquire things. How a given society regulates this, whether through private property or communal property or some other way (rotation or lottery), is open.

    A society has a vested interest in regulating the distribution of scarce resources (such as food, water, and knowledge). Whether they do this through guilds or labor unions or laissez faire capitalism (“the invisible hand” ) or a regulated-free market or a polit-buro is open.

    A society has a vested interest in securing “domestic tranquility”; that is, in ensuring that people live at peace with their neighbors and do not run loose in the streets with machetes hacking each other to bits. Whether they do this with a professional police force or local vigilantes or “morality police” (think of Iran) or domestic spies (think of the Stasi) is open.

    A society has a vested interest in ensuring its own continuance; therefore all societies regulate, to some extent, the care and raising and education of children, what the Greeks called paideia--which means something like indoctrination into the ways of said society (encompassing mores, religion, laws, customs, etiquette etc.). How this is done, whether within a nuclear family or a kibbutz or an ashram or something else, is open. “It takes a village to raise a child.”

    I note that all human communities known to us through history and archeology, as far back in time as you care to go, cared for the sick, the wounded, and the handicapped, and reverenced the dead (or at any rate, their memory among the living). Animals do not do this. Animals abandon any individual incapable of keeping up with the pack and ostracize any individual which is ill or deformed. It is uniquely human to support individuals who cannot contribute to the general weal and who may even be a burden on the social weal.

    The above is only a partial list.

    I’m not sure whether morality “derives from” the sorts of things I have mentioned, but I would say that the above items taken together constitute the sort of pre-conditions which have to be met for morality to get off the ground.

    Open for further input ....
  2. Standard member DeepThought
    Losing the Thread
    19 Nov '14 22:42
    Originally posted by moonbus
    This is a spin-off from another thread.


    DeepThought asked: “Where do you stand on meta-morality, where by meta-morality I mean a universal code (for want of a better word) which culturally specific moralities derive from?”

    I take it as given that man is a social animal. Thoreau may have hoed his own bean field, but he did not smelt the iron to make h ...[text shortened]... nditions which have to be met for morality to get off the ground.

    Open for further input ....
    I'm still thinking about this. But for the time being; suppose I was stranded alone on a desert Island. Your observations that humans are social creatures is one I agree with, so I'd agree it is a necessary ingredient for meta-morality, but is it sufficient as a starting point to define a meta-morality. Would it be possible for me to act in an either moral or immoral fashion in such isolation?
  3. Subscriber Wajoma
    Die Cheeseburger
    19 Nov '14 23:13
    Originally posted by DeepThought
    I'm still thinking about this. But for the time being; suppose I was stranded alone on a desert Island. Your observations that humans are social creatures is one I agree with, so I'd agree it is a necessary ingredient for meta-morality, but is it sufficient as a starting point to define a meta-morality. Would it be possible for me to act in an either moral or immoral fashion in such isolation?
    Yes, I would say moral action is 'life affirming' and immoral action is 'life debilitating'.

    So alone on an island you could be immoral.

    This is also why 99% of rap music is immoral.
  4. 19 Nov '14 23:29
    Originally posted by DeepThought to moonbus
    I'm still thinking about this. But for the time being; suppose I was stranded alone on a desert Island. Your observations that humans are social creatures is one I agree with, so I'd agree it is a necessary ingredient for meta-morality, but is it sufficient as a starting point to define a meta-morality. Would it be possible for me to act in an either moral or immoral fashion in such isolation?
    "...suppose I was stranded alone on a desert Island."
    --DeepThought

    And let's suppose further that you expect always to be alone.
    You expect that your actions always will be unknown to other people.
    Then would you regard deliberate unnecessary cruelty to an animal as 'immoral'?
    Apart from that, should actions (e.g. suicide, improper religious worship) that
    many other people consider 'immoral' in society be considered so for you?

    Let's consider another scenario. What if you were joined by your sister,
    who's a healthy woman of child-bearing age? Lonely in every other way,
    each of you feels intensely affectionate toward the other. Would it be
    'immoral' to violate the taboo against incest by expressing one's affection in
    the most intimate way between a man and a woman? Would it be 'immoral'
    to do that if you believed that, in the aftermath of a general nuclear war,
    you were the last human beings on Earth and therefore had a 'moral duty'
    to have children and not yet allow the human race to become extinct?
  5. Standard member DeepThought
    Losing the Thread
    20 Nov '14 02:50 / 1 edit
    Originally posted by Duchess64
    "...suppose I was stranded alone on a desert Island."
    --DeepThought

    And let's suppose further that you expect always to be alone.
    You expect that your actions always will be unknown to other people.
    Then would you regard deliberate unnecessary cruelty to an animal as 'immoral'?
    Apart from that, should actions (e.g. suicide, improper religious worsh ...[text shortened]... erefore had a 'moral duty'
    to have children and not yet allow the human race to become extinct?
    Two people isn't a viable population and there's an instant inbreeding problem in your scenario so trying to further humanities continuance under those circumstances would be futile, so I don't think that a moral duty to preserve the species could realistically be constructed.

    The cruelty to animals point is more interesting. Assuming I learnt hunting quickly enough to avoid instant starvation, what level of suffering could I inflict on animals while doing that and retain my own humanity? That question implies to me that the potential to be a social animal produces a duty in me to act morally even though I'm in isolation.
  6. Standard member DeepThought
    Losing the Thread
    20 Nov '14 03:14
    Originally posted by Wajoma
    Yes, I would say moral action is 'life affirming' and immoral action is 'life debilitating'.

    So alone on an island you could be immoral.

    This is also why 99% of rap music is immoral.
    So you have a eudaemonic view of morality. Interestingly, there is some research which suggests that hip hop can help with depression, making rap a form eudemonism.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/11221425/Hip-hop-could-help-with-depression-and-mental-illness-says-Cambridge-University.html

    The spelling mistake is deliberate.
  7. 20 Nov '14 03:24 / 2 edits
    Originally posted by DeepThought
    Two people isn't a viable population and there's an instant inbreeding problem in your scenario so trying to further humanities continuance under those circumstances would be futile, so I don't think that a moral duty to preserve the species could realistically be constructed.

    The cruelty to animals point is more interesting. Assuming I learnt huntin ...[text shortened]... tential to be a social animal produces a duty in me to act morally even though I'm in isolation.
    Speaking of human cruelty to animals, let's suppose that the island was the
    last refuge of a critically endangered species of turtle. Would you consider
    yourself justified in killing and eating all these turtles--driving the species
    into extinction--in order to prolong your own life?

    I know that "two people isn't a viable population" and that inbreeding would
    become a problem in the long run. If this scenario took place in the distant
    future, however, advances in genetic technology might be able to mitigate
    the inbreeding problem.

    So let's suppose that your sister's incapable of conceiving. That would remove
    one objection (based on inbreeding) to incest. Another objection would be
    that incest distorts the fabric of family life, but if there are no other people
    around, then how could their lives be affected? So it seems to me that the
    only remaining objection to incest would be the individuals' preferences.

    In 1980 Lucy Irvine (age 24) responded to an advert by Gerald Kingsland
    (age 50), who was seeking a woman to share his isolated life upon the
    remote uninhabited island of Tuin. They spent one year together there.
    According to her account, he naturally expected and eventually demanded,
    though he did not use force, to enjoy sexual intercourse with her. Lucy
    (who already had been raped by another man) eventually submitted to him,
    largely in the hope that if she gave him what he desired most from her, it
    would improve their worsening relationship in other ways. But having sex
    on a desert island did not work the magic as shown in some Hollywood films.
    The couple realized that they were incompatible and that the romance of
    living together alone on a desert island was fleeting.

    'Woman is a vessel. Good luck to all who sail in her.'
    --Lucy Irvine
  8. Subscriber moonbus
    Uber-Nerd
    20 Nov '14 05:44
    Originally posted by DeepThought
    I'm still thinking about this. But for the time being; suppose I was stranded alone on a desert Island. Your observations that humans are social creatures is one I agree with, so I'd agree it is a necessary ingredient for meta-morality, but is it sufficient as a starting point to define a meta-morality. Would it be possible for me to act in an either moral or immoral fashion in such isolation?
    While most of one's moral responsibilities are social in nature (i.e., outward-directed), I think one does have responsibilities to oneself too, even in isolation--inner-directed responsibilities. A life is a terrible thing to waste, and even on a deserted island one has potentials which one could either refine or neglect. As someone once said, we are not here to leave the world a better place, but to leave it a better person. One could, even on a deserted island, undertake to cultivate such virtues as patience and hopefulness, resourcefulness and self-sufficiency, etc. To simply give up and let oneself go to waste, to succumb to despair, would not be ... well it wouldn't be Tom Hanks in "Castaway," now would it?
  9. Subscriber moonbus
    Uber-Nerd
    20 Nov '14 05:51
    Duchess:"You expect that your actions always will be unknown to other people."

    Ah, let me quote Wittgenstein here: "Courage when everyone respects it, and when no one respects it, are two very different qualities." Yes, there are 'private' virtues--that is, virtues no one else suspects in us.
  10. Subscriber moonbus
    Uber-Nerd
    20 Nov '14 05:59
    Originally posted by Wajoma
    Yes, I would say moral action is 'life affirming' and immoral action is 'life debilitating'.

    So alone on an island you could be immoral.

    This is also why 99% of rap music is immoral.
    'life affirming' and 'life debilitating' is a good insight; much meat there for further thought. Still, humans have a remarkable capacity to turn adversity to advantage. Sometimes something which seems, initially, to be debilitating, can act as a goad leading to something which is life-affirming: a tiger with a limp is a tiger dying of starvation, but a human with a club foot might turn out to be Lord Byron.
  11. Standard member wolfgang59
    Infidel
    20 Nov '14 08:34
    Originally posted by moonbus
    All societies have vested interests in ....
    Does morality stem from "society's vested interests"?

    Couldn't there be a scenario where "society's vested interests" are at odds with morality?

    What if the future of humanity depended on inflicting unimaginable pain to a small group of people? How would we cope with that?

    (I have no answers ... only questions. )
  12. Standard member wolfgang59
    Infidel
    20 Nov '14 08:38
    Originally posted by Duchess64
    You expect that your actions always will be unknown to other people.
    Then would you regard deliberate unnecessary cruelty to an animal as 'immoral'?
    I think we all are capable of behaving differently
    when observed/unobserved but changing ones
    morality based upon being found out or not ... that
    seems to be stretching the definition of morality.

    What act would you personally consider immoral
    if observed bot moral if not?
  13. Subscriber moonbus
    Uber-Nerd
    20 Nov '14 09:03
    Originally posted by wolfgang59
    Does morality stem from "society's vested interests"?

    Couldn't there be a scenario where "society's vested interests" are at odds with morality?

    What if the future of humanity depended on inflicting unimaginable pain to a small group of people? How would we cope with that?

    (I have no answers ... only questions. )
    Well, yes, this is one of the classic problems for utilitarian ethics in general: collective interests may indeed conflict with individual's interests. How to weigh up interests which conflict? Is it acceptable to inflict a lot of pain or deprivation on a few people to gain a moderate amount of pleasure or gain for a great many people? There have been many attempts to answer this question, because one does feel, intuitively, that it cannot be right to lock up ten innocent people in a prison camp in order to get their farmland for a harbor or an airport which would benefit many thousands of people.

    One solution is that it is necessary to put some absolute limits on what a society may do in pursuit of its collective interests, when they conflict with individuals' interests. One way to do this is with something like a bill of rights which might specify, for example, that people can be dispossessed of their land for the social weal only if they are compensated for it: either paid a fair price for their land or given an equally arable plot somewhere else (where it would not make good sense to put a harbor/airport and so there would be no conflict of interests).
  14. 20 Nov '14 15:42
    Originally posted by moonbus
    Well, yes, this is one of the classic problems for utilitarian ethics in general: collective interests may indeed conflict with individual's interests. How to weigh up interests which conflict? Is it acceptable to inflict a lot of pain or deprivation on a few people to gain a moderate amount of pleasure or gain for a great many people? There have been many a ...[text shortened]... uld not make good sense to put a harbor/airport and so there would be no conflict of interests).
    I prefer the viewpoint of negative utilitarianism, that is: the focus ought to be on harm prevention, not pleasure maximization. The distinction is primarily semantic because the utility function obviously does not depend on our description of it, nevertheless, I think this viewpoint illustrates the general principle that suffering through e.g. war, disease and hunger causes much more "negative utility" than marginally better luxury products can provide in positive utility.
  15. Standard member DeepThought
    Losing the Thread
    20 Nov '14 16:06 / 1 edit
    Originally posted by Duchess64
    Speaking of human cruelty to animals, let's suppose that the island was the
    last refuge of a critically endangered species of turtle. Would you consider
    yourself justified in killing and eating all these turtles--driving the species
    into extinction--in order to prolong your own life?

    I know that "two people isn't a viable population" and that inbree ...[text shortened]... island was fleeting.

    'Woman is a vessel. Good luck to all who sail in her.'
    --Lucy Irvine
    If I was stranded on a desert Island how would I know whether a species was endangered or not? It wouldn't be in my interests to hunt them to extinction, so there is a strong self-interest motivation not to do it. If I had access to that kind of information I'd presumably have access to communication and could get myself of the Island fairly easily.

    It is in the nature of being stranded on a desert Island that one does not have access to technologies such as genetic manipulation.

    I saw the film adaptation Castaway with Oliver Reed and Amanda Donohoe.