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Old 2006-02-13, 04:34   #1
Zeta-Flux
 
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Default Morality base

I've pondered a little on cheesehead's post about "brights" and naturalistic morality. And since this message board is made up of all kinds of people, I thought I'd ask the following question.

What is the basis for your morality?

For example, try to answer the question: why do you feel murder is evil? If, for example, your answer is something like "I care about people" then go a step further and ask, "Why is caring about people good?" And keep going as far as you can. When you get to your "base" let me know what it is. Also, try to explain why you can't go a step further, according to your reasoning.

Thanks,
Zeta-Flux
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Old 2006-02-13, 16:25   #2
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A first approach could be "I don't want to be murdered, so it should be forbidden." But that of course doesn't cover all cases. Taxes or bad critics are typically unwelcome for most people, but only few think they should be banned.
Hence, legitimacy plays an important role.

In my opinion, the rules of "the system" should allow and support living with each other in an optimally "acceptable" way. Of course, everyone defines "acceptable" differently, but I think getting into details would become quite time-intensive...
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Old 2006-02-14, 01:15   #3
Zeta-Flux
 
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Mystwalker,

Am I correct in understanding that you believe morality should be defined in terms of the system which maximizes the happiness of all people? I think that is fair enough (although I agree with you that getting into the details of such a morality system would be difficult, and probably ultimately impossible as so many define happiness differently).

I think I'd like to go just one step deeper. Why is it that you believe that optimal happiness for all people is a desirable thing? What is it that motivates this belief?
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Old 2006-02-14, 02:09   #4
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I don't think that "happiness" is the important factor - it's more like a base for optimal cohesion between people.
I recently read an article stating that "altruistic punishment" helps building a widely accepted type of behavior. So, I think I see morality in an evolutional context...
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Old 2006-02-14, 02:17   #5
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Mystwalker,

Thanks. I guess I'm not even clear on what you are saying.

Are you saying that you define morality as that sort of behavior which leads to optimal situations for human existence? Or are you using "evolutionary" is a different context, like cultural evolution?

What do you mean by "cohesion between people"? Do you mean, "seeing eye to eye" or "coexisting peacefully" or something like that?
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Old 2006-02-14, 19:29   #6
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Good question.

Society - whether you view that as being your household, your extended family, your local community or whatever - has expectations of how people should behave; we don't like our neighbour playing loud music at three O'clock in the morning, etc. and so we comply with the demands we place on others and don't ourselves play loud music at three O'clock in the morning. By behaving in a socially accepted way we gain the moral authority to demand that others behave that way too.

Of course, what society expects in the way of socially acceptable behaviour can and does change, and one part of society may consider something acceptable while another part of society may consider it decidedly not acceptable. Female circumcision, for example.

I believe it was Kohlberg who codified the three stages of morality, each of which has two levels.

Stage 1.1) We do not do things in order to avoid being punished for them. This is a selfish morality that considers only the self, and has no consideration for others. Someone at this stage of morality will do something wrong if they think they can get away with it.

Stage 1.2) We begin to recognise that others also have needs, and may do things to satisfy their needs if our own needs are met in the process. This is still very much concerned with the self, and right and wrong are still defined in terms of the consequences to ourself.

Stage 2.1) We make choices in terms of what will please others, especially authority figures. We show an interest in developing and maintaining inter-personal relationships through sharing, trust and loyalty. We start to consider someone's intentions when deciding guilt or innocence.

Stage 2.2) We look to society for guidelines on what is right and wrong. We see rules as inflexible and consider it our duty to obey them. Notice how the self has become less important and how the role of society has broadened from authority figures to society generally.

Stage 3.1) We realise that the rules are simply an agreement between many people and can change if they no longer meet the needs of society.

Stage 3.2) We adhere to a small subset of abstract (and supposedly universal) principles that transcend the rules. We answer to an inner conscience and may break the rules if they violate our own ethical principles.

The idea behind the list is that we start at Stage 1.1) and "progress" to higher stages. This could be the sense in which Mystwalker said he saw morality in an evolutionary context; our personal morality evolves as we become less self-centred and more society centred. When this theory was first advanced the extended family was, in the west at least, pretty much the norm, and we learned these things not just from our parents, but also from aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins, etc. With the break-up of the extended family this process has, IMHO, broken down in many parts of society and it seems to be pretty much the case that everyone is stretching the bounds of Stage 1.2) as far as they can. (Note that this is an accusation I level at society, not at any particular individual). Although the world has gotten smaller through the application of various technologies, so that many writers talk about the "Global Village", society seems to be fragmenting into ever smaller and smaller cliques with their own view of what is right and wrong. This has the negative effect of encouraging each group to promote it's own view, even if that means that other groups suffer as a result. This is in effect society as a whole regressing down the morality table rather than progressing up it.

I should perhaps explain why I think that the principles are only supposedly universal, rather than actually universal. In another thread I made the point that the judicial punishment meted out for some crimes in some countries would be considered truly abhorrent by most people in the western world. I personally cannot concieve a society that would sanction the execution of a woman for the crime of having extra-marital sex. But in Pakistan this crime is punishable by the woman being buried in a pit up to her neck and having stones thrown at her until she is dead. In Saudi Arabia it is punishable by beheading with a sword. I find it very difficult to accept that I share with the people of these countries any "universal" principles of right and wrong beyond the trivial and meaningless "If you do something wrong you should be given an appropriate punishment" level.

To specifically answer Zeta-Flux' question about murder, I do not feel murder is evil. It is wrong, and folks shouldn't go around murdering each other, but it is not evil. Why? Because for it to be evil implies that humans are capable of being evil, and that shifts the blame for their act elsewhere. I do not believe that the murderer can ever shift the blame for his act to anyone or anything else. He must always be responsible for his own actions.
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Old 2006-02-18, 05:54   #7
M29
 
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Can you give us an example of somebody, or something, that is evil?
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Old 2006-02-18, 10:33   #8
Numbers
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by M29
Can you give us an example of somebody, or something, that is evil?
Brian Masters, "On Murder", Coronet Books 1994
St. Augustine thought that evil was a perverseness of the will, and it is certainly true that the will is at its strongest when in the grip of a murderous desire to cause destruction. It then becomes indifferent to and horrifyingly detached from the pain it inflicts. Goodness is a much humbler, gentler force and more enduring. Evil must take advantage of a weakening of the personality in order to take hold and its domnance is short lived, until the power of good reasserts itself.

It follows that those murderers who are the most diabolically possessed are those, paradoxically, who retain some moral sense. Evil has no victory unless there is some good to conquer. Hence, those psychopaths who cannot distinguish between right and wrong, who do wrong without really knowing it, cannot really have evil in them. They are banal and unenlightening, sowing terror from a moral chaos.

On the other hand, murderers who know their acts to be wrong, yet still choose to do them, are witness to the power of evil at its most intense. They are not different from us but extreme examples of us, as we are all fallible enough to do wrong when we know we should do right.
[ end quote]

Take for example, Richard Chase, "The Vampire of Sacramento" who was convinced that his body was rotting, his heart was shrinking, his blood was turning to powder and that someone had stolen his pulmonary artery. He became convinced that his only salvation was to drink the blood of an animal, which he sometimes mixed in a blender. He started with road kill and then took to killing animals to serve his needs, and ultimately to murder. He plotted the dates on a calendar, planned his crimes and staked out his victims homes. On the planned date he carried out his act in particularly brutal fashion, the details of which we need not go into.

Evil ? Many would say yes. But I would say no. He had no concept that what he was doing was wrong. All he was doing was curing the illness that caused his blood to turn to powder by replacing it with fresh blood. There was no victory of evil over good because Chase was operating in a moral vacuum where the concept of right and wrong did not exist. Insane ? Absolutely. But not evil.

On the other hand, how many people think of Richard Nixon as being evil ?
In March 1969, newly elected President Nixon ordered secret bombing raids directed against communist held sanctuaries and supply routes inside Cambodia. In the next four years some half a million tons of bombs are dropped, much of it in indiscriminate carpet-bombing raids killing 600,000 Cambodians, a people with whom the US is not even at war. That is more than three times the ordnance dropped on Japan during the whole of the Second World War.

Makes Richard Chase look like a naughty schoolboy, doesn't it?

But does that make Richard Nixon Evil ? Because of what I wrote in my first post I am still going to say no, it does not, even though it would seem to fit with Brian Masters' definition with which I largely agree. I just don't think it is acceptable to attribute a human act to evil, because that is a cop-out, a denigration of our duty to accept responsibility for our acts.

The same thing is seen in many murder cases; one that springs immediately to mind is Ted Bundy. When he was on trial in Florida and about to be sentenced he said, the person responsible for the killings was "not someone in the courtroom today". He was not trying to claim that his body had not performed the acts, but that the person who inhabited that body was not the real him. This is called disassociation and is also evidenced by many murderers talking about their acts in the third person. Denis Nilsen, in interview with the police, said that he would wake up in the morning to find that "it" had hapened again, that he had another (dead) flatmate to keep him company, as though the man who woke up in the morning were not the same man who had strangled someone last night. There is some evidence that even his dog "Bleep" was able to tell the difference between these two persanalities, but that does not, in my view, absolve Nilsen of the responsibility for his acts.

So the answer to your question is no, I cannot give you an example of someone who is (or was) evil.
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Old 2006-02-18, 18:06   #9
M29
 
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Interesting.

I would have chosen Lyndon Johnson and the Gulf of Tonkin Incident over Richard Nixon.

Thanks for providing St. Augustine 's definition. It works for me, although "wicked" came to mind.

Minor Richard Chase fact checks: http://www.crimelibrary.com/serial_k...e/index_1.html

Quote:
much of it in indiscriminate carpet-bombing raids killing 600,000 Cambodians
Could you please site your source? I believe that this is the likely toll from the Cambodian Civil War.
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Old 2006-02-19, 00:39   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by M29
Could you please site your source?
I can, and will, but I don't actually see the point. The point is that he ordered secret bombing raids against a country with whom he was not officially at war. How many people were killed as a result is largely irrelevant in a discussion about whether this act constitutes being evil. As you said, you could have chosen another example, Genghis Khan, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin or any of maybe a dozen others.

This is my source. I was looking for some info on Pol Pot, hoping to use him as an example, but the Richard Nixon thing leapt off the page.
http://www.moreorless.au.com/killers/pot.html
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Old 2006-02-19, 02:02   #11
M29
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Numbers
I can, and will, but I don't actually see the point.
Call it peer review. I've seen a myriad of "facts" posted to this forum. It has gotten to the point where it is difficult to accept anything at face value.

I see no reason why not to substanciate one "facts" in this forum. Had you posted such a speculative Maths statement in a Mersenne thread, the academics would have skewered you.

Thank you for the link you chose to believe. Mine are here:
Estimates of the number of Cambodians killed during the bombing campaigns vary widely, from 30,000 to as high as 500,000.[citation needed]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambodia

Deaths from the bombing are extremely difficult to estimate, and figures range from a low of 30,000 to a high of 800,000, with UN and CIA estimates of 600,000 or more and others 100,000.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambodian_Civil_War
which is a hack of the Library of Congress report that Wiki cites:
Deaths from the bombing are extremely difficult to estimate, and figures range from a low of 30,000 to a high of 500,000.
http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/khtoc.html then click "The Widening War"

Wiki's Vietnam War casualties
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnam_War_casualties
cites: http://users.erols.com/mwhite28/warstat2.htm#Vietnam

# Cambodian Civil War (1970-75): 600 000
  • Chomsky (1987): half a million to a million.
  • Rummel, 1954-75:
  • War Dead: 429,000
  • Democide: 288,000
  • TOTAL: 717,000
  • Tucker: 10% of 7M [which comes to 700,000]
  • Clodfelter; also Wallechinsky (1970-75)
  • Cambodian govt.: 50,000
  • Total violent deaths, incl. Comm. and civ.: >250,000
  • Total war-related deaths, incl. hunger: 600,000
  • T. Lomperis, From People's War to People's Rule (1996), citing a Finnish commission: 600,000
  • MEDIAN: ca. 0.5-0.6M
  • Chirot: 500,000
  • B&J: 300,000
  • SIPRI 1989: 156,000
  • S&S, 1970-73
  • Cambodia: 150,000
  • USA: 500
  • SVietnam: 5,000
  • NVietnam: 500
  • TOTAL: 156,000
  • Eckhardt: 156,000
  • COWP
  • Cambodia: 50,000
  • USA: 500
  • SVietnam: 5,000
  • NVietnam: 500
  • TOTAL: 185,000
  • * WHPSI: 55,750 k. by pol.viol., 1970-75
If one took your post at face value, one would have believed that Nixon bombed 600,000 Cambodians to death.

Instead, it would appear that the Cambodian Civil War caused 600,000 deaths.
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