• Kai Rodewald
    7
    Hi everybody,

    thanks for giving me the opportunity to express my views on this forum. Here are some of my basic considerations on ethics.

    Whenever we ask "What are we allowed?" (meaning mankind as a whole) there is the problem to whom we possibly could address this question. For a believer it's simple: they only have to pick their preferred quote from a holy text and if they cannot find the answer themselves to ask their priest. But what about the sceptical earthling who does not trust the holy texts? Who then will allow or forbid him anything?

    A skeptic who wants to do only allowed things faces a huge problem: the absence of any higher instance to give him the permission - the permission question is senseless to him. As a skeptic he thinks that Moses probably did not ask anybody but instead invented the Ten Commandments himself. So, whenever he asks that question ("What are we allowed?") it must be rhetorical, meaning "What do we allow ourselves?" or more precisely "What do we want?" because from a psychological point of view one cannot allow oneself a thing without wanting that thing.

    In the same way to a skeptic the question "Is it ethically acceptable?" actually means: "Do I want it?" He can't escape his personal preference. Indeed, who can forbid man anything except man himself when doubting the existence of a higher being? But isn't it more reasonable then to say that he doesn't want a thing instead of saying he forbids himself that thing?

    For a skeptic I cannot see any source of permission or prohibition from outside man - that means: in the skeptical view there's nothing forbidden to mankind, anything is allowed.

    What do you think?
  • mcdoodle
    1k
    I've never believed in holy authority. So formulating the question of ethics as 'What are we allowed?' doesn't naturally occur to me. Such a question assumes the notion of one who allows, even if they are absent. Why even put it that way?

    Then, most things I want involve other people in some way. I want to earn a living, I want food, love, a regular supply of puzzle books and beautiful music, sleep and shelter and freedom of want, and some of these I find I want for other people as well as for me, for some reason. How shall I act vis-a-vis all the others with whom I transact in order to try and satisfy these wants of mine? With each step I ask things of other people, and in turn take responsibility for what I do and have done, however foolish it now looks. I dare say that's one thing I could shirk, being responsible for my own actions, but I wouldn't like it if other people left their shit at my door, so I don't leave my shit at theirs. For a start, I hope they'll carry on growing food for me, making bricks and mending roads, making music and employing me, so unless I'm going to be a dictator - which strikes me as awfully hard work and not something I'm fitted for - there's got to be quite a lot of reciprocity one way or another.

    So here we are, negotiating with one another, billions of godless souls. It's amazing it all works so well, don't you think? But it feels like anything is allowed: you just have to take the consequences, and mostly that circumscribes most people's actions in quite drastic ways.
  • Buxtebuddha
    1.8k
    For a skeptic I cannot see any source of permission or prohibition from outside man - that means: in the skeptical view there's nothing forbidden to mankind, anything is allowed.Kai Rodewald

    Allowed by whom or what? Allowance of actions, whether all, some, or none, derive from a causal chain. However, there's a difference between everything's possible and everything's allowed. This is why we have governments, for example, that have judicial branches who oversee what people can and cannot do without punishment. This isn't to say they cannot do x or y, but that there will be consequences. I don't think it follows that chopping your dick off is allowed merely because you don't follow an ethic. You're still stuck with moral dilemmas whether you or I like it or not.
  • jkop
    533
    ..so you think a skeptic would say there are forbidden things?Kai Rodewald

    Lots of things are forbidden, that's why we have laws against them, deterrent penalties, shared as well as personal morals.

    Forbidden by whom?Kai Rodewald

    I forbid my cat to steal the chocolate because of the consequences. My duty forbids me to poke her in the eye. It is often easy to find out whether something is right or wrong by research, or hypothetical deduction, for example, in relation to its consequences or our duties.

    Right and wrong are found, they don't suddenly appear out of nowhere for no reason inside the head of some authority (disregarding the trigger happy moderator who deleted our first exchange of posts).
  • Bitter Crank
    7.8k
    Because you asked the question, what am I allowed, and because you think there is someone who allows or disallows, then the answer is quite simple:

    You are free insofar as you obey.

    If you happen to not like that answer, you can free yourself of it by not asking for permission first.

    To paraphrase that masterwork of philosophical enquiry, Blazing Saddles, "Stinking permission? We don't need no stinking permission."

    That said, bold young men should pay attention to their surroundings. If the guards are armed and pointing their weapons at you, you might well decide that the present moment is an excellent opportunity to beat a very hasty retreat.
  • Kai Rodewald
    7
    You are right, I should not have put it like "What are we allowed?" but rather: "Is it ethically acceptable?" It annoys me that every time a new invention, technology or a mere idea appears in the media this question arises. Suppose a medical team has discovered a genetic technology to let human teeth grow a third and a fourth time - as often as necessary.

    Now, I would not object if the idea would be discussed from various viewpoints of usefulness, sustainability, ecology ... etc. But soon there will arise the question whether it is "ethically acceptable" and I ask myself what shall this question be for? Does it not suffice to discuss the utility, the risks, the benefits and the long term consequences? What can be added by an ethical examination? Please help me - I only can see that we learn whether the members of the commission like the idea, whether they are disconcerted or scared by it.

    This is my point: every time people mention ethical concerns they actually mean their own emotional preferences and fears and these are irrelevant compared to the rational arguments about benefits and risks.
  • Mariner
    366
    This is my point: every time people mention ethical concerns they actually mean their own emotional preferences and fears and these are irrelevant compared to the rational arguments about benefits and risks.Kai Rodewald

    You'll have a hard time in explaining why a "rational argument about benefits and risks" is completely detached from emotional preferences and fears. Benefits and risks are loaded in these.
  • Kai Rodewald
    7
    I wanted to stress out that people often mention ethical concerns when speaking about new technologies like cloning or genetic engineering. They speak as if they were the speakers of a higher authority than man but in fact they only express their own preferences and fears. Most people can refer to a higher authority than themselves but at some point the chain of authorities ends up and at the end there is no holy spirit but a human.

    This human who had to make the rules had no other authority above himself, so he had to be creative and to make the laws according to his own will and his mind because nobody could tell him how to decide. The same applies to a group or a commission: there is nobody to tell them how to decide - they have to follow only their own will. Do you see my point: any rule, even an ethical one which seems to have a superhuman aura (no one can afford to contradict an ethical rule) is but the expression of the personal preference of an individual or a group. Its only basis is this personal preference of somebody and according to this origin is its authority - quite limited.

    So, I feel free to create my own rules because I am as well a human as any other who created rules before me. To be more precise, I don't follow any specific rule at all, I do what I like, as the first rule founders did. But don't worry -- fortunately my wants are not in conflict with my environment so that I can enjoy a happy life in harmony with the folks around me. Isn't it astonishing? I don't follow any moral rules (I swear), I only do what I like and I nevertheless am happy. How can this be?
  • Kai Rodewald
    7
    Yes, but emotional preferences and fears are less rational than rational arguments by definition.
  • Mariner
    366
    Yes, but emotional preferences and fears are less rational than rational arguments by definition.Kai Rodewald

    The point is that if an argument starts from emotional preferences and fears, it does not become less emotional just because it proceeds rationally.

    If you look closely, any argument, as long as it is "an argument", is rational. "Reason" is not the blood of the Lamb, which washes the sins of arguments.
  • Kai Rodewald
    7
    I think there is a difference between:

    a) saying "I like this project, I find the idea somehow sympathetic." without being able to present any rational argument for that idea and

    b) presenting verifiable proofs for the benefits of that project.

    Do you think it's all the same?
  • Mariner
    366
    Do you think it's all the same?Kai Rodewald

    No, it's not all the same, but any talk of "benefits of that project" will refer to (and be based upon) emotional aspects of it. Your dichotomy is looking at different aspects of the same phenomenon. When someone presents verifiable proofs for the benefits of X, he also likes this project and finds that idea sympathetic. (Even if X is, in the opinion of others -- others who are quite able to follow the reasoning -- abhorrent).

    Try to fill the bare skeleton with any current political proposal and you'll see how it is easy to find groups which will oppose, rationally, any given project, regardless of whether their opponents can present verifiable proofs for the benefits of that project.

    Note also that there is no single scale for measuring "benefits". Some people think that contraception is a benefit, others think it is an evil. The problem is not that one group is more rational than another, it is rather that they are proceeding from different conceptions of what is and is not a benefit.
  • Kai Rodewald
    7
    any talk of "benefits of that project" will refer to (and be based upon) emotional aspects of it. Your dichotomy is looking at different aspects of the same phenomenon. When someone presents verifiable proofs for the benefits of X, he also likes this project and finds that idea sympathetic.Mariner

    Take this example: in Europe there is much fear about the so-called "GM maize". The scientists have shown the advantages of that sort of corn: low cost, better crops and pest-resistance. The opponents have one single argument: fear, which is totally irrational lacking any objective basis. Do you see the difference now?
  • Wayfarer
    7.6k
    Do you see my point: any rule, even an ethical one which seems to have a superhuman aura (no one can afford to contradict an ethical rule) is but the expression of the personal preference of an individual or a group.Kai Rodewald

    Are you aware of the Platonic dialog The Protagoras? Many of these concerns are anticipated by this. It is the source of the oft-quoted saying 'man is the measure of all things.'
  • mcdoodle
    1k
    Take this example: in Europe there is much fear about the so-called "GM maize". The scientists have shown the advantages of that sort of corn: low cost, better crops and pest-resistance. The opponents have one single argument: fear, which is totally irrational lacking any objective basis. Do you see the difference now?Kai Rodewald

    To me the way you have put this demonstrates the very opposite of your claim. It's a piece of rhetoric, in which you place 'science' and rationality on one side of an evaluation, and fear on the other side. As a reader my immediate response is - surely some scientists have spoken for the other argument? And surely there's some emotion on the side of GM maize, otherwise what is the motivation for it in the first place?

    Such an assessment as yours ascribes value, and value involves ethics. You place a high value on the lowness of cost, the unexplained-in-detail betterness of crops and the supposed pest-resistance of the seeds. You place a nil value on any claims to rationality by the opponents of GM-maize. None of these valuations is 'objective' or 'neutral', they are all loaded with social and political concerns with ethical content.
  • Kai Rodewald
    7
    What I wanted to show is that moral claims of adults addressed to other adults are actually the expression of personal desires in the disguise of superhuman commands (categorical imperatives). In the past, leaders could reinforce their commands by ascribing them to God. Some weaker processes without implying God are happening until our days. These are relics of olden times but still effective. Even more: many moral commandments like "Be altruistic." are themselves the expression of selfish desires. I hope you agree the claim to share with the poor is not an unselfish claim from the side of the poor.

    The same with praise and blame. An article in a newspaper opened my eyes, it was something like: "According to a survey most children find their grandparents great." And do you know why? As the children answered because they were given money by their grandmas and grandpas. I don't want to say these children are little monsters, they are humans and as humans they tend to praise those who are of use to them and that's OK and quite natural. I only wanted to emphasize that moral claims like "be altruistic" or moral praise and blame like "he is a good (or bad) fellow", are themselves, strange as it might be, interested and not unselfish expressions. I was astonished myself when I made this discovery.
  • Wayfarer
    7.6k
    I was astonished myself when I made this discovery.Kai Rodewald

    You mean, you were astonished when you discovered ethical subjectivism?
  • Cuthbert
    214
    He'll be even more astonished when he finds out it isn't true. If that's what he finds out.
  • VagabondSpectre
    1.6k
    But what about the sceptical earthling who does not trust the holy texts? Who then will allow or forbid him anything?Kai Rodewald

    I can only really speak for myself, but there are layers of moral barriers:

    Greed and selfishness are the outer layer, Locke's social contract is one way of looking at the moral/ideological basis for threatening to incarcerate and judge me for certain actions which (for the most part) most of us agree are necessary to prevent in preservation of public freedom and safety. The carrot end of the stick however is that cooperation and ethical behavior such as the golden rule is a rationally successful strategy for creating a desirable community for myself to live in. Taking everything I want by force could potentially make society a worse place for myself the people I love, so I have disincentive to do so.

    The inner layers of my moral barriers stem from my capacity to feel sympathy and empathy for others. Like most humans I'm hard wired to consider harm to one's in group to be emotionally repulsive, and cognitively I consider all humans (give or take a few) to be a part of my in group.

    So I simultaneously appeal to self-interest and sympathy for others.

    Answer me this though: what about the holy texts do you think creates such a strong moral barrier between the desirous and the taking of their desires?
  • Cuthbert
    214
    The holy texts are expressions of conscience and our consciences tend to speak loudly if not always very effectively. The authority doesn't come from the text alone. It comes from the consciousness that the text has a point to make.
  • Sivad
    143
    Now, I would not object if the idea would be discussed from various viewpoints of usefulness, sustainability, ecology ... etc. But soon there will arise the question whether it is "ethically acceptable" and I ask myself what shall this question be for? Does it not suffice to discuss the utility, the risks, the benefits and the long term consequences? What can be added by an ethical examination?Kai Rodewald


    Since most people are religious the inquiry does have a religious dimension. But even for atheists ethical considerations are important because without them you would lose your humanity. If cold rationality was the only consideration then if it made good sense for reasons of usefulness, sustainability, and ecology to exterminate 90% of the population then that's what would be done with brutal efficiency. Most people feel that if we don't proceed with conscience and empathy then something important wll be lost, that something that makes any of it worth while to begin with. So religious people, which is most people, are litterally asking if they are allowed by God to proceed in whatever way by whichever means, and atheists are asking if their humanity will allow them to.
  • Anthony
    128
    Whenever we ask "What are we allowed?" (meaning mankind as a whole) there is the problem to whom we possibly could address this question. For a believer it's simple: they only have to pick their preferred quote from a holy text and if they cannot find the answer themselves to ask their priest. But what about the sceptical earthling who does not trust the holy texts? Who then will allow or forbid him anything?Kai Rodewald

    Your problem lies in the first sentence: for example, what is "mankind as a whole"? I realize you likely mean the human species. But out of all species on Earth, individual humans are more different one to another because humans are idealists and have the faculty of metacognition to varying degrees: no other animals or kingdoms are disparate from one individual to the next as we are because they don't have metacognition as we do. There is no whom to ask what is allowed, only oneself. Each individual is allowed whatever seeps into and out of his own consciousness and there do seem to be inner laws which allow some thinkable thoughts, but bar others. Your consciousness isn't meant to be filtered through other people's ideas, priests, books, or otherwise. To give away the human gift of self awareness is a grave defilement. To confuse self and other is a grave defilement. Shifts of agency into religions or groupthink, or beliefs in collective consciousness are dangerous for mental health. To be responsible for oneself means not asking someone else what is allowed. One who is responsible for himself and has internal consistency finds errors in holy books and jurisprudence systems. Any anthropogenic system meant for everyone is an authoritarian hoax, likely to lead to fragmentation of one's schema.
  • Peter Menchaca
    2
    Whether you buy any crop, may it be corn or any other. These parameters mentioned are always looking after that is low cost, better crops and pest-resistance. Now farmers have also been aware of the Pest Exterminator Fairfield County CT strategies that help their crops to get rid of pests.
  • Gortar
    12
    What I wanted to show is that moral claims of adults addressed to other adults are actually the expression of personal desires in the disguise of superhuman commands (categorical imperatives).Kai Rodewald

    If God exists (and is moral), then these expressions of personal desires have a potential to get at the 'absolute' (viz. divine) morality. These claims may well be expressions of personal desires disguised as superhuman comments, but they are such and nothing more iff they are never in fact superhuman commands.
  • Mattiesse
    20
    I myself dont beleive in the existence of a god. a big scary invisible man in the sky that demands you do what your told or you’ll burn in the fiery pits of hell for all eternity...buuuuuuut there is a contradictory tale I love. Jesus died for all our sins. Sooo if we don’t sin, he died for nothing! And even if we do sin, doesn’t Jesus death cancel it out? Like an eternal pass into heaven?
  • RosettaStoned
    29
    It's a bit bad of me to re-direct this conversation, but I must ask: what makes the moral opinions of "God", or a god, any more absolute than that of any other living being that can rationally deduct things? Why should what s/he thinks automatically be considered "absolute", whilst a man's is put on a pedestal before even being considered?
  • TheMadFool
    3.3k
    For a skeptic I cannot see any source of permission or prohibition from outside man - that means: in the skeptical view there's nothing forbidden to mankind, anything is allowed.Kai Rodewald

    Why would you think that?

    Simple answer: because God came first. Secular ethics is a no show and if there are any such moral codes they seem plagiarized from religion.

    If God is the law-giver in ethics would God command murder? That seems improbable and very likely to be disobeyed because an act's moral hue has an origin beyond God. Morality is above God and God commands acts that are good in themselves without any association with divine preferences. Actions aren't good because God commands them and if this were true then murder, if a divine command, would be good.

    Atheists and theists find common ground in moral issues because of the extra-divine nature of ethics. What appears as plagiarism at first glance is nothing more than convergence of theistic morals and atheistic morals on extra-divine principles.
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