• Sephi
    14
    Some people argue that morality is subjective, and I could never fully agree with that, but maybe my disagreement is misplaced. I find objectivity in certain "agreements" that we can and do make, but I'm unsure if I should be calling them "moral" agreements, or if I should be calling them something else. Personally, I'd like to find a better word, because there's something about "morals" that doesn't feel quite right to me.

    That's why I made this post. It's more of a "simple" semantics issue for me (for now, at least), but I don't know how to put it more simply, so, sorry for the long wall of text.

    So, I usually would describe "morals" as only existing when there's two or more of us in co-existence, and being only useful to the extent that they are, put simply, whatever we can objectively agree on that allows us to get along with each other, and benefit from our mutual respect.

    As I understand it, our laws are largely derived from them; from both the parts that I've so far seen as the subjective part and the objective part of our "morals".

    In my view, the subjective part (and the problem I have with the concept of morality) is the part where just about everyone is all too happy to exploit this concept to the best of their convenience, to support and justify their own subjective prejudice, for self aggrandizement and to feel self-righteous, etc, while at the same time being all too unhappy to accept when someone else does the exact same thing, but in ways that conflict with their own subjective prejudice.

    This results in people shaming each other for their (often inconsequential) differences, and in some "moral laws" being derived from this, such as anti-drug laws, anti-prostitution laws, etc.

    For the objective part I'll exemplify with the "bake the cake" subject that came up in a discussion I was involved in elsewhere. If you're not aware of what it is, it's basically that some people argue that a hypothetical baker ought to be able to discriminate between his clients based on his own prejudice. Thus racist or homophobic bakers, etc, ought to be able to refuse to serve someone of a different race or a different sexual preference, etc.

    My argument against it was that that would eventually and invariably turn on themselves, and be potentially dangerous. For example, if you're white in a majority white country, you might have a broader selection of stores that served cake to whites, but you might still find yourself blocked for all sorts of political differences, for being gay or even for not being gay... you might even be blocked for the color of your hair, because it's unclear where that would stop, since people can be quite petty at times. As far as I can tell, this would lead to a chaotic and antagonistic place to live in.

    So, I suppose we could all agree that it is, of the ideas we had so far, objectively the most beneficial to everyone, that all bakers just bake and sell the damn cakes indiscriminately (it's also the smarter thing to do, business-wise), and I think this is a worthy example of an objective "moral" standpoint.

    But I'm still reluctant to call it a "moral" standpoint. I could call it a pragmatic standpoint, but is pragmatism antithetical to morality?
  • Banno
    3.7k
    So, I usually would describe "morals" as only existing when there's two or more of us in co-existence, and being only useful to the extent that they are, put simply, whatever we can objectively agree on that allows us to get along with each other, and benefit from our mutual respect.Sephi

    So morality is mere courtesy?

    Isn't it rather the case that one ought do what is right, even if that means not getting on with the other fellow?
  • Wayfarer
    6.9k
    Your post is not about moral norms - it's about identity politics. 'Rights', here, are all about 'my pursuit of fulfilment through identity'. God knows that is virtually the whole story with the cake business. People ought to think more about ways in which they can be useful to others, morality will tend to follow from that.
  • Nikolas
    3
    As I understand it, objective morality as opposed to conditioned morality is apriori knowledge we experience as conscience. Plato referred to it as anamnesis and it exists as dharma in the East. Where conditioned morality is taught, objective conscience is remembered
  • Wayfarer
    6.9k
    objective morality as opposed to conditioned morality is apriori knowledge we experience as conscience.Nikolas

    Well put, Nikolas, very well said. And welcome to the Forum.
  • Sephi
    14
    So morality is mere courtesy?Banno
    What use would a person alone in the woods have for morality? I wouldn't say it's merely courtesy, but I would suppose it also encompasses that.

    I'm not sure that matters much, though, and that's why I just defined it loosely. I'm more interested in establishing for myself whether the stuff that I find objective can be considered morality or not. If that requires a more in depth definition, then I'm open to that. But as of yet, I don't see the purpose.

    Isn't it rather the case that one ought do what is right, even if that means not getting on with the other fellow?Banno
    I would suppose the "bake the cake" example answers that. Obviously you have to be "inconvenient" to the racists, in that case, in order to do "what is right". Everything in life is a tradeoff. But notice that you have to do that because they have a predisposition to not get along with someone else in the first place. Your action in this case would be a way to prevent that.

    I think it's useless to go into certain common dilemmas. I'm not really that interested in discussing morality per se.

    Your post is not about moral norms - it's about identity politics.Wayfarer
    My example is about identity politics, not my post. I merely used that as an example of an issue that can be easily solved through objective reasoning. It just so happened to be the one at the top of my head.
  • Wayfarer
    6.9k
    I'm saying, a lot of your thinking is based around identity politics whether you know it or not.

    Here's how it plays out. The Western democratic tradition affords equal value to all points of view. But not all opinions are reconcilable. The unfortunate fact is that not everyone can be correct about everything; it must be the case that some people are wrong in some of their views. But we don't like that; a favourite quote is 'judge not, lest ye be judged'. The very idea of moral judgement is a moral blemish of a kind; my truth is right 'for me', and yours is right 'for you' - let's all join hands and sing Kumbaya. And then we'll all be right.

    The problem is, people forget the last line in that Biblical parable from which they draw such inspiration. The last line is: 'go, woman, and sin no more'. That actually is a shocking thing, because 'sin' is supposed to be banished in our world. The only sin is to believe that there might be such a thing as 'sin'. The enlightened person knows that there are no sins, only points of view. What's right 'for you', is what's right, full stop - there is no judge, no ultimate measure against which this or that particular action is to be judged. We are the only judge, and we all think differently. And furthermore, this 'difference' is something to be celebrated.

    That's what you're dealing with.
  • Sephi
    14

    Sadly I have never read much of the any philosophers... but I'll do some research about the things you mentioned. Thanks.

    I'm saying, a lot of your thinking is based around identity politics whether you know it or not.Wayfarer
    I still take a bit of an issue with that. At first I thought of including another example that had nothing to do with identity politics (or politics even), but decided the post was already too long. It involved notions in the lines of "you don't steal from me, I don't steal from you", "you don't invade my space and I don't invade yours". Etc. There are also objective reasons to determine that respecting those notions is more beneficial to everyone involved.

    The unfortunate fact is that not everyone can be correct about everything;Wayfarer
    That is in fact the very thing that makes me reject subjective morals (I don't find that unfortunate though). Now, if I remove subjective morals, what I have left, is it still morality of some kind? (maybe I could've made my entire post just this question... :s )
  • creativesoul
    3.6k
    The subjective/objective dichotomy adds nothing but confusion...

    Morality is understood as codes of conduct. As such they are all subject to individual particulars. However, they do all share common denominators as well. Identifying and isolating those common denominators gleans a much broader understanding of morality.
  • Cavacava
    2.4k


    For the objective part I'll exemplify with the "bake the cake" subject that came up in a discussion I was involved in elsewhere. If you're not aware of what it is, it's basically that some people argue that a hypothetical baker ought to be able to discriminate between his clients based on his own prejudice. Thus racist or homophobic bakers, etc, ought to be able to refuse to serve someone of a different race or a different sexual preference, etc.

    The case of the Colorado baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same sex couple is going to the Supreme Court here in US. Bloomberg summarizes it as follows:

    Enter the artists, or at least the cake bakers who define themselves that way. Their plan is that the court should see them as making an artistic statement when they customize a cake for the happy couple. That act of customization is supposed to be crucial. It is supposed to transform the sale of the product into an act of symbolic speech protected by the First Amendment.

    I don't agree, and neither does Bloomberg . Bloomberg thinks that
    is that no one is taking artistic control away from the baker. All the government is saying is that the baker can’t reject the client on the basis of sexual orientation. If the client and the baker can’t agree on color or design, the baker is free to refuse to make the cake. The only prohibited basis is sexual orientation discrimination

    However, I possibly can see an argument being made that by forcing this artist or any artist to work against their beliefs, means they cannot produce true works of art and it is in the freedom of expression that works of art are produced. The point is that by forcing this work, artistic control is being compromised.




    I think this is entailed in what said:
    So morality is mere courtesy?
    and habitual courtesy becomes etiquette, which in turn becomes:
    codes of conduct
    which become Moral rules and laws.
  • Sephi
    14
    However, I possibly can see an argument being made that by forcing this artist or any artist to work against their beliefs, means they cannot produce true works of art and it is in the freedom of expression that works of art are produced.Cavacava
    I know little about the details of the case, but you brought some interesting complexity to it. But I'd consider that a weasel argument, as works of art are always constrained in some way, anyway. Constraints are in fact preferable, as they are what gives it a direction, and what brings out the best of our creativity.

    But also, having one or more specific instances where the constraints are unappealing isn't an infringement on freedom of expression: it's actually par for the course if you're doing any kind of art by request. The baker is still perfectly free to express himself as he enjoys the rest of the time. Or even to not take requests. There's work, and there's art. Mixing the two comes with its caveats.

    I would also agree with Bloomberg. I guess I wouldn't be their favorite judge. :D
  • Wayfarer
    6.9k
    Now, if I remove subjective morals, what I have left, is it still morality of some kind?Sephi

    That is a good question and, as you say, central to your OP. I think the central issue is, what criteria are there to decide on the rightness of a course of action, that are not either subjective or social in origin?

    Nowadays there is an instinctive sense that what is real, actual, is what is 'objective', as your OP title indicates. But the difficulty is that objective knowledge is generally quantitative in nature. This fact is behind the well-known 'is/ought' dichotomy that has been central to ethical discourse since Hume first noticed it ( here). So there is a sense in which 'objective value' is a kind of oxymoron, in that 'what is objective' is felt to be value-free, by definition. Values, in this formulation, can only be the prerogative of some subject, and are therefore intrinsically subjective in nature.

    What has been lost in this development, is the Platonic distinction between knowledge and mere opinion (doxa). Plato was, of course, deeply concerned with the elucidation of a value system which provided a basis for values that wasn't simply personal or a matter of opinion. But then, in ancient philosophy, it was simply axiomatic that the order of things implied also a moral order. It was precisely the severing of that nexus, around the time of Hume, that gives rise to the question you're asking.
  • praxis
    881
    The only sin is to believe that there might be such a thing as 'sin'. The enlightened person knows that there are no sins, only points of view.Wayfarer

    There’s a story that in a past life the Buddha killed a man and acquired merit for doing so. Which is to say in that instance and from his point of view killing wasn’t a sin but a virtuous act.

    He could not have known the entire results of that action. He only had his point of view.
  • Sephi
    14
    But the difficulty is that objective knowledge is generally quantitative in nature.Wayfarer
    Could you expand on that quantitative nature? I'm not sure what to make of that.
  • Wayfarer
    6.9k
    Well, relies on measurement of observable properties. All scientific analysis presumes that, doesn't it? Speak to any scientist, about any subject, he or she will say: start with the data, what are the facts? Then you proceed to ask questions and measure the results by experiment or observation.

    When I studied psychology, long while back, I was an idealistic truth-seeker type, very interested in spiritual enlightenment, the true nature of mind, and so on. I learned quickly that psychology has absolutely zero interest in such questions, indeed I failed my first University assignment for just this reason. (Don't worry, graduated in the end ;-) )

    But through this experience I realised, to my chagrin, that the scientific attitude is: whatever can't be measured ought to be disregarded. That is close in meaning to the attitude of positivism: that only what can be scientifically validated ought to be considered.

    In practice, positivism as a formal approach was abandoned, because it was realised that it is so restrictive that it actually undercuts pure research, because it prevents you from asking open-ended questions; after all, many major scientific discoveries have been made on the basis of dreams, hunches or serendipity. But the positivist attitude generally is that science is the 'arbiter of reality', and is essentially quantitative in nature: 'show me the data'. It is very pervasive in today's culture, even among many people who would not be aware of what 'positivism' means in the formal sense.

    Whereas values reside, in some sense, in the domain of quality. That is what makes them so elusive, from the scientific perspective. So finding a 'real domain of quality' is what is at issue. A Christian, for instance, will say that this is provided by the revealed word of God; however in our secular culture, that too just becomes another personal choice. 'Oh, she's Christian, that's the kind of thing she believes'. What we are inclined to believe, is what science declares to be real; but that, again, points back towards the quantitative, the scientifically-measurable.

    That's the dilemma of modernity.


    There’s a story that in a past life the Buddha killed a man and acquired merit for doing so...praxis

    There are also a lot of internet memes floating around.

    The story of the past lives of the Buddha are called the Jataka tales. They typically involve an heroic sacrifice by the Buddha-to-be, often in the form of an animal such as a deer or tiger. I've never heard of a tale involving a meritorious killing, but I would be interested to know the source.
  • praxis
    881


    Skill-in-Means Sūtra (Skt. Upāyakauśalya-sūtra).

    Noting how I must defer to religious authority for the ‘objective’ truth.
  • Wayfarer
    6.9k
    Thanks! I should have known that. One of the foundational Mahayana texts. Killing to prevent an act of greater violence.
  • Cavacava
    2.4k
    Some people argue that morality is subjective, and I could never fully agree with that, but maybe my disagreement is misplaced. I find objectivity in certain "agreements" that we can and do make, but I'm unsure if I should be calling them "moral" agreements, or if I should be calling them something else. Personally, I'd like to find a better word, because there's something about "morals" that doesn't feel quite right to me.

    Morality as a human phenomena can be described objectively, anthropologically, as part of a social science.

    To apply the results of this analysis in the making of a decision,
    however, is not a task which science can undertake; it is rather the
    task of the acting, willing person: he weighs and chooses from
    among the values involved according to his own conscience and
    his personal view of the world. Science can make him realize that
    all action and naturally, according to the circumstances, inaction
    imply in their consequences the espousal of certain values--and
    herewith--what is today so willingly overlooked--the rejection of
    certain others. The act of choice itself is his own responsibility.
    Max Weber, "Objectivity of Social Science and Social Policy"
  • praxis
    881


    This would seem to imply that the act of killing isn’t a sin or objectively immoral. It depends on the killers point of view. In the case mentioned, we may give a superior or authoritative position to the Buddha’s point of view, but it is nevertheless just one point of view out of countless others.
  • mcdoodle
    995
    There was a bake-a-gay-cake case in the UK (actually, in Northern Ireland, where the acceptance of homosexuality is less advanced than elsewhere in the UK). The long-time gay campaigner Peter Tatchell changed his mind in the course of the case, for reasons explained here. I agree with him. Freedom includes the freedom to disagree. I don't think a homophobic baker should have to bake a gay wedding cake, but I think the bakers need to make clear (as the people in the UK case did not) from the start that there are limits. The bakers had advertised they would put 'any' message on a cake.

    I feel moral objectivity is not going to emerge any time soon, but we readily appeal to one another's 'moral' or 'ethical' sense in certain arguments or discussions and know what one another means. Obviously trolls who think Pol Pot had some good reasons for what he did won't respond well, but most will. :)
  • Banno
    3.7k
    I think this is entailed in what ↪Banno said:Cavacava

    No. Banno was saying that there is more to morality than just doing stuff that does not piss other people off.

    Quite a bit more.
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