• ZhouBoTong
    386
    This doesn't sit well with the notion that morality is objective, because Dostoevsky's morality - which is essentially deontological and divine-command-based - is a thousand miles from that of Homer, which is that of an honour society where bravery meant everything and compassion nothing. And neither of them would agree with the secular, compassion-based morality that we see in Steinbeck, and that imbues most of Western culture, when it can be bothered to be moral.andrewk

    Thank you for that bit. I was hoping someone would point that out :smile:
  • Brett
    768
    Shakespeare for morals? Really? I have actually tutored a little shakespeare (high school level - I don't know crap, as is probably obvious in this post), and it is blowing my mind to think that students were supposed to be learning morals.ZhouBoTong

    The point of students studying Shakespeare is not to teach today’s students morals, it’s to study the work of a particular period. I remember a lecturer telling me about a student who said he didn’t like Shakespeare “Because it’s full of cliches”. The lecturer replied that, “Its full of cliches now.”

    Shakespeare was written for a particular audience, as was The Odyssey. But the actual morals themselves do not change that much over time, hence my including Doestoevsky. But they are presented in a form relative to the times: as a myth, as a play, as a book.
  • Brett
    768
    This doesn't sit well with the notion that morality is objective, because Dostoevsky's morality - which is essentially deontological and divine-command-based - is a thousand miles from that of Homer, which is that of an honour society where bravery meant everything and compassion nothing. And neither of them would agree with the secular, compassion-based morality that we see in Steinbeck, and that imbues most of Western culture, when it can be bothered to be moral.andrewk

    Whatever the distance between authors, it seems to me that the characters of each narrative face a very similar dilemma in terms of moral choices. The stories are about that dilemma, which might be defined as human nature.
  • ZhouBoTong
    386
    @Brett

    Ok, so we are not reading to learn good morals, but to see how wacky the morals of the past were?

    I remember a lecturer telling me about a student who said he didn’t like Shakespeare “Because it’s full of cliches”. The lecturer replied that, “Its full of cliches now.”Brett

    haha, that is pretty good. But my point would be that related to morality, Shakespeare is not cliche, but just outdated and wrong. Yes portions are cliche (ie revenge killing is wrong) - but that does not suggest that Shakespeare had some brilliant moral ideas that became so common they are now cliche. That IS what he did with language, where he WAS a genius (I don't like any of his works, but even I can admit that). But not so much with morality.

    After reading your next response I realize you are more concerned with "human nature", which I would say includes morality but is not limited to morality. Sure, most works of fiction (even many modern ones) should somewhat inform about the human condition. I guess my only question is why is Shakespeare's discussion of human nature more informative than "Breaking Bad"?
  • Brett
    768
    I guess my only question is why is Shakespeare's discussion of human nature more informative than "Breaking Bad"?ZhouBoTong

    Good point. Supposedly Shakespeare’s plays were performed for the general public, a rowdy,barely literate audience. So, yes, I don’t see why ‘Breaking Bad’ is any different in terms of portraying human nature than Shakespeare.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    5.9k
    But the actual morals themselves do not change that much over time, hence my including Doestoevsky.Brett

    But my point would be that related to morality, Shakespeare is not cliche, but just outdated and wrong.ZhouBoTong

    Brett assumes the existence of objective moral principles, so the changes in moral customs over time are downplayed, human beings at some times are just not properly representing the objective principles.

    I guess I’m trying to focus on two things:

    a: that morality exists as an objective set of guides on our behaviour (I await the howls).

    b: that art, primarily writing, explains it: Homer, Shakespeare, Doestoevsky.
    Brett

    The problem is that even if there are such objective moral principles, upheld by God or some such thing, then we have to allow for human knowledge of these principles to grow and evolve, just like our knowledge of the natural world grows and evolves. This means that ancient mores and customs, may now be determined as "wrong". But also we need to respect the fact that any mores and customs at any time, may be "wrong", and this applies even now. At any given time of "now", the practised customs may be wrong. If an artist apprehends an existing custom as wrong, that person must employ creative skill, tact, in shedding light on that custom as wrong, to avoid scorn by the general population.
  • ZhouBoTong
    386
    The problem is that even if there are such objective moral principles, upheld by God or some such thing, then we have to allow for human knowledge of these principles to grow and evolve, just like our knowledge of the natural world grows and evolves. This means that ancient mores and customs, may now be determined as "wrong". But also we need to respect the fact that any mores and customs at any time, may be "wrong", and this applies even now. At any given time of "now", the practised customs may be wrong. If an artist apprehends an existing custom as wrong, that person must employ creative skill, tact, in shedding light on that custom as wrong, to avoid scorn by the general population.Metaphysician Undercover

    Nicely said. I am starting to enjoy how much I can disagree with a person in one thread, then completely agree in the next. Even if it may suggest I (or they, but I will usually assume I) have some inconsistencies in how I analyze each separate topic.
  • Brett
    768
    a: that morality exists as an objective set of guides on our behaviour (I await the howls).

    b: that art, primarily writing, explains it: Homer, Shakespeare, Doestoevsky.

    These were written at the beginning of the conversation.

    I would clarify them a bit more now as;

    a) that morality exists in people as “a suite of interrelated other-regarding behaviors that cultivate and regulate complex interactions within social groups (that) includes empathy, reciprocity, altruism, cooperation, and a sense of fairness”. (Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce). These have evolved and are no less a part of being human than having a thumb. I regard them as being objective in the sense that we did not chose to grow a thumb.

    b) art reminds people of their essential nature and that one must always chose from this suite of behaviours, primarily because they are responsible for who we are and for our evolutionary success and are therefore ‘good’. (Some might maintain that we are not the shining light we think we are and only subjectively good). Also, as an artist, if you are not addressing morality then you are not really telling a true or real story of a character.

    But, this morality as we understand it, is essentially the same as it’s always been.

    This means that ancient mores and customs, may now be determined as "wrong". But also we need to respect the fact that any mores and customs at any time, may be "wrong", and this applies even now.Metaphysician Undercover

    Mores and customs are not the same as morals. Mores are customs and convention of a particular society, not of mankind. Morals are an integral part of being human.

    If we are going to say, then, that these morals, or parts of them, are wrong, or relative, then we are choosing to be different from who and what we are. The case of Eichmann and Nazi Germany might be regarded as a case where they decided that morals could evolve in a direction, could be changed, because they are no longer relative to their objectives.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    5.9k
    Nicely said. I am starting to enjoy how much I can disagree with a person in one thread, then completely agree in the next. Even if it may suggest I (or they, but I will usually assume I) have some inconsistencies in how I analyze each separate topic.ZhouBoTong

    I think we all tend to look at various different issues, or subjects individually. But the more that we can fit them all into one big picture, the more consistency we get within out beliefs.

    a) that morality exists in people as “a suite of interrelated other-regarding behaviors that cultivate and regulate complex interactions within social groups (that) includes empathy, reciprocity, altruism, cooperation, and a sense of fairness”. (Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce). These have evolved and are no less a part of being human than having a thumb. I regard them as being objective in the sense that we did not chose to grow a thumb.Brett

    This is slightly different from how I interpreted your reference to objectivity earlier. When you said before, that "morality exists as an objective set of guides", I thought that you meant that there is an objective truth to what is good and bad. Now I interpret what you are saying as it's an objective truth that humans have morality. This leaves open the question of whether our determinations of good and bad are objectively true or not, or whether there even is such a thing.

    But, this morality as we understand it, is essentially the same as it’s always been.Brett

    How can this be the case though? It is quite common that two different people, or two distinct societies disagree on moral issues. And it's not just small things, some societies used to practise human sacrifice. Even in the Old Testament, God was portrayed as jealous and vindictive, He'd smite you if you were unfaithful. These are not good moral traits by today's standards.

    So you say that it's an objective fact that human's have morality, that they distinguish bad from good. And, you seem to want to say that since the classifications, of which sort of actions are good, and which sort are bad, haven't changed much over the years, these distinctions which we make concerning bad and good, are to some extent, objectively true. But doesn't this really exclude the possibility of moral differences and the difference of opinion on moral issues, which exists between us? And if we downplay these differences, don't we also downplay the need to make the effort to resolve these differences? Wouldn't you agree that a big part of "morality" is being able to negotiate these differences, and work out solutions, compromise?
  • ZhouBoTong
    386
    Good point. Supposedly Shakespeare’s plays were performed for the general public, a rowdy,barely literate audience. So, yes, I don’t see why ‘Breaking Bad’ is any different in terms of portraying human nature than Shakespeare.Brett

    Thanks Brett. That will entirely satisfy me :smile: I just get easily triggered by the idea that the classics are better than modern works because they are the classics.

    I apologize for being slightly off topic, and thanks for taking the time to give me your thoughts.
  • Brett
    768
    How can this be the case though? It is quite common that two different people, or two distinct societies disagree on moral issues. And it's not just small things, some societies used to practise human sacrifice. Even in the Old Testament, God was portrayed as jealous and vindictive, He'd smite you if you were unfaithful. These are not good moral traits by today's standards.

    So you say that it's an objective fact that human's have morality, that they distinguish bad from good. And, you seem to want to say that since the classifications, of which sort of actions are good, and which sort are bad, haven't changed much over the years, these distinctions which we make concerning bad and good, are to some extent, objectively true. But doesn't this really exclude the possibility of moral differences and the difference of opinion on moral issues, which exists between us? And if we downplay these differences, don't we also downplay the need to make the effort to resolve these differences? Wouldn't you agree that a big part of "morality" is being able to negotiate these differences, and work out solutions, compromise?
    Metaphysician Undercover

    I’m going to think about this for a bit.
  • Brett
    768
    So you say that it's an objective fact that human's have morality, that they distinguish bad from good.Metaphysician Undercover

    But they do, we see it all the time, you know you possess it, so do your friends. It’s not something we make up day to day.

    And, you seem to want to say that since the classifications, of which sort of actions are good, and which sort are bad, haven't changed much over the years, these distinctions which we make concerning bad and good, are to some extent, objectively true.Metaphysician Undercover

    Yes, if those distinctions between good and bad haven’t changed These morals are evolutionary, through a set of preferences that contribute to the wellbeing of a society. They have developed in a singular vein to what they are now. They have not swung off on some crazy tangent then returned to begin again. In modern times there have been cases of cannibalism, and those people tried to conceal what they’d done. In the case of Eichmann, he knew he was transgressing a set of moral, otherwise why run to South America?
    Do you really believe you have been taught not to kill, not to rape? Do you really think that’s the reason you don’t? In your life did you ever get a message from anyone that rape was wrong! Did you ever think, at any age, that causing pain to others was okay? It’s not necessary for each and every generation to learn morality all over again from scratch. Not only is it not necessary, it’s unlikely. Our evolution would be too slow, if not actually reaching a dead end. It’s part of you, just like your thumb.


    But doesn't this really exclude the possibility of moral differences and the difference of opinion on moral issues, which exists between us?Metaphysician Undercover

    Only if you can prove they have changed. First you’re suggesting that they’re not objectively true without proving it, you only suggest it might not be true, and then using that claim as a fact to argue the second point, that moral differences exist, as if it was proven.

    And if we downplay these differences, don't we also downplay the need to make the effort to resolve these differences?Metaphysician Undercover

    You continue as if your point was proven: that there are differences, and that we need to resolve them. But what do we need to resolve

    Wouldn't you agree that a big part of "morality" is being able to negotiate these differences, and work out solutions, compromise?Metaphysician Undercover

    You begin to partly define “morality’ as the ability to negotiate these differences. Even if it were true that there are moral differences, where does the idea of resolving them come from. If there are such differences that clash why would we feel the need to resolve them without possessing some sense of morality? If it wasn’t morality then what would you call it? If you call it co-operation then I suggest you have to consider where the idea of co-operation springs from. Co-operation requires an understanding of reciprocity, empathy and fairness.

    Is your conclusion that there must be differences, there has to be differences, because without those differences to be resolved there would be no morality?

    It’s like a trick question; if I agree that there are differences then there can’t be a singular morality, and if I don’t agree to the idea that there are differences then there can’t be a morality.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    5.9k
    But they do, we see it all the time, you know you possess it, so do your friends. It’s not something we make up day to day.Brett

    Yes, I agree with this, it is an objective fact that human beings make these decisions. The issue though, with objective morality, is whether or not there is an objective truth to the correctness or incorrectness of those decisions.

    Yes, if those distinctions between good and bad haven’t changed These morals are evolutionary, through a set of preferences that contribute to the wellbeing of a society. They have developed in a singular vein to what they are now. They have not swung off on some crazy tangent then returned to begin again. In modern times there have been cases of cannibalism, and those people tried to conceal what they’d done. In the case of Eichmann, he knew he was transgressing a set of moral, otherwise why run to South America?Brett

    This is where we disagree. I do not agree that those distinctions between good and bad have not changed. Here's the reason why. Each judgement of good or bad made by a human being is either made in relation to a particular situation, or made as a generalized statement. These two are distinct. The former refers to how we proceed in daily life, making decisions about what we are doing, and the latter refers to generalized rules such as it is wrong to trespass; it is wrong to take another person's possessions; it is wrong to kill a human being; etc..

    The category of "generalized statement" must have come into existence along with communication, a "statement" being the product of language. We can argue that the statement is just a reflection of the Idea, which existed prior to the statement, in the Platonist manner, and that these Ideas have not changed, as you say. However, we need to bridge the gap between these Ideas (generalized statements) and our day to day decisions of good and bad. Human beings often, (and I'll insist on that term "often", so that it's not just incidental), choose in particular situations, to do something which is contrary to the Idea, the generalized statement of what is good or bad. Do you agree with me, that even if these Ideas (generalized statements) concerning what is good and bad, exist in a timeless, unchanging way, morality consists in conforming day to day human choices to be consistent with these ideas?

    So I think, that what has changed, evolved over the time of human existence, is the capacity of human beings to conform their day to day choices to be consistent with the objective "rules of behaviour". And this is what morality is, conforming our day to day behaviour to be consistent with the rules. So whether or not there are objective unchanging "rules of behaviour" is a moot point, in relation to "morality" because "morality" is concerned with the human being's capacity to conform one's behaviour to be consistent with whatever rules of behaviour are apprehended. And, since the capacity to express, and understand these rules of behaviour has undoubtedly progressed as communication has emerged and evolved, so has the human capacity to conform one's behaviour to be consistent with such rules. Therefore morality, being a description of this capacity to be consistent with the rules, rather than being a description of the rules themselves, must have changed considerably over the time of human existence.

    Do you really believe you have been taught not to kill, not to rape? Do you really think that’s the reason you don’t? In your life did you ever get a message from anyone that rape was wrong! Did you ever think, at any age, that causing pain to others was okay? It’s not necessary for each and every generation to learn morality all over again from scratch. Not only is it not necessary, it’s unlikely. Our evolution would be too slow, if not actually reaching a dead end. It’s part of you, just like your thumb.Brett

    So the issue is not whether you've been taught that killing, stealing, and raping, are bad, or whether these ideas are innate. The question is whether the habits which help you to avoid making the wrong decisions (with respect to these rules), in your day to day life, are innate or learned.

    Only if you can prove they have changed. First you’re suggesting that they’re not objectively true without proving it, you only suggest it might not be true, and then using that claim as a fact to argue the second point, that moral differences exist, as if it was proven.Brett

    So my argument is that our ability to understand these moral Ideas, rules, which are expressed as generalized statements, has changed in accordance with how our ability to communicate has changed. And, our ability to conform our day to day decisions to be consistent with these rules (this is morality), has changed in accordance with our ability to understand these rules.

    You begin to partly define “morality’ as the ability to negotiate these differences. Even if it were true that there are moral differences, where does the idea of resolving them come from. If there are such differences that clash why would we feel the need to resolve them without possessing some sense of morality? If it wasn’t morality then what would you call it? If you call it co-operation then I suggest you have to consider where the idea of co-operation springs from. Co-operation requires an understanding of reciprocity, empathy and fairness.

    Is your conclusion that there must be differences, there has to be differences, because without those differences to be resolved there would be no morality?

    It’s like a trick question; if I agree that there are differences then there can’t be a singular morality, and if I don’t agree to the idea that there are differences then there can’t be a morality.
    Brett

    I believe that this is an important issue which can only be resolved through a more strict definition of "morality", to avoid equivocation. I suggest we start from the bottom, and define "morality" as concerning the particular choices which one makes in one's day to day activity. The rules which the day to day activity ought to conform with are called "ethics", this is the top, perfection in conforming to the rules, the Ideal.

    From one person to another, or from one society to another, there are differences with respect to ethics, the rules. The desire to resolve the differences comes from the assumption of an Ideal ethic, an unchanging law of good and bad, an ethic which is innate within us, such as you describe. We can attribute the differences between us to the differences in our ability to apprehend and understand the Ideal ethic. Without the assumption of an Ideal ethic, I believe there is no inclination to resolve such differences, because there would be no assumed further principle to appeal to in any such attempt. The differences between us would just be considered as a fact of nature.

    I described this attempt to resolve such differences as "morality", because these activities fall into the class of day to day activities. However, these activities cannot be said to be consistent with one set of ethics, nor the other set of ethics, because they are intended to resolve differences between the two. So to be "moral" instead of "immoral", these activities rely on the true existence of the Ideal ethic. From one set of ethics, or the other differing set of ethics, the person's actions would appear inconsistent with the rules, and immoral, but in relation to the Ideal ethic, if we allow that there is such, the person's action may be moral. The problem being that all we understand is this or that set of ethics, in the form of statements, and the Ideal if there is such a thing remains in the realm of not yet understood.
  • Brett
    768


    I understand and agree with all of this.

    To be moral depends on the true existence of the Ideal ethic. This is aspirational, is it not?

    “... if there is such a thing remains in the realm of not yet understood.”

    There’s two things there: a) is it real?, and b) if it is real it’s not yet understood.

    If it’s real, from where does it come?
    If it’s not real, then who are we?
    If there was no Ideal ethic then we would be immoral creatures because there would be nothing to chose from.

    But we don’t know if we are moral creatures, because we don’t know if the Ideal ethic exists. Is that true?
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    5.9k
    I understand and agree with all of this.

    To be moral depends on the true existence of the Ideal ethic. This is aspirational, is it not?

    “... if there is such a thing remains in the realm of not yet understood.”

    There’s two things there: a) is it real?, and b) if it is real it’s not yet understood.

    If it’s real, from where does it come?
    If it’s not real, then who are we?
    If there was no Ideal ethic then we would be immoral creatures because there would be nothing to chose from.

    But we don’t know if we are moral creatures, because we don’t know if the Ideal ethic exists. Is that true?
    Brett

    In response to these questions, this is what I believe.

    If the Ideal is real, it must be immanent within us, and this would be what you call innate. It would have to be within us due to its nature as an idea. It appears to us as an idea, something within, not as a physical object which is what is external to us. This is supported by the two senses of "moral" which I referred to. In the one sense, we are moral in so far as our actions conform to the ethics of our society. These codes are external to us. But the inconsistency between the various ethics, differences in those external codes, and the problems caused by those differences, drives us to seek the Ideal, as the basis for compromise, or reconciliation of the differences. This requires review, and renewed understanding of the formal principles which make up the ethics. This is a turning inward, to understand the ideas and ideologies. So the Ideal is how we relate to the necessity for consistency, or coherency of ideas, and this must come from within thought itself.

    If the Ideal is not real, then understanding would be very difficult. There would be many differences in ethics, ideologies, and inconsistencies in knowledge. And here's what I think is the problem. Empirical evidence demonstrates that all these factors which would be the case if the Ideal were not real, actually are the case. So empirical evidence points to the Ideal as not real. But the Ideal is only apprehended by the desire to go beyond the empirical realm, and accept the reality of something non-empirical, ideas. So it is as you say, aspirational. What inspires us to act, is the desire to bring into existence something which is presently non-existent. This is the creativity of art. So the "aspirational", and this includes inspiration, ambition, motivation, and the Ideal in general, is what has no empirical existence. Therefore despite the fact that empirical evidence cannot support the existence of the Ideal these human emotions do support its reality.

    Whether or not we could be moral creatures, without the reality of the Ideal is a difficult question for me, which doesn't really make sense. I think that we must be, on the basis of the first definition of "moral", which places morality in relation to human ethics. So we could still judge morality based on those principles if there was no Ideal. The problem is that we would have no real mechanism for resolving differences without appeal to the Ideal. And the reality is that we are capable of resolving differences, and this is because we assume some sort of Ideal. So we ought to conclude that the Ideal is real, based on that logic. Assumption of an Ideal is necessary to resolve differences, we do resolve differences, therefore the Ideal has real effect in our world, and is real. Following this, we cannot really make any conclusions about "if there was no Ideal", because our world is a world in which the Ideal is real. And since the Ideal is immanent, it must go right to the core of what it means to be alive, so asking that question is like asking what it would be like if there was no life.
  • Brett
    768
    This seems to confirm for me the idea of there being, what I began calling morality, but is instead, but not contrary to, the idea of reaching out to the Ideal Ethic. This reaching out is the moral act. It’s a desire “to bring into existence something which is presently non-existent. This is the creativity of art.” But it’s also the resolution of differences, the act of doing it. The resolution, which is the moral act, doesn’t exist until someone operates between the differences and resolve them, or even fails in the attempt. Out of the action comes the resolution, the result of applying morality to daily life.

    For me this may as well be the description of art. Not as it appears to us now, and not for a long time, but as it was in its origins, and art today has its origins there, it can’t come from anything else.
    What I called “artefacts” is the work of early societies, tribes and cultures, making real these activities, or made real in terms of tales, myths, legends, or just basic storytelling, sitting around the fire while wild animals prowl around in the darkness. And who else could it be about but “us” battling with these activities, acting morally, whether in the form of gods, heroes, animals, monsters, speaking flames, wily fools, kings, idiots, princes or ghosts. Today the “artefacts” may not be there (Though the post about ‘Breaking Bad’ is interesting. But when people watch it what are they more tuned into? Is it ‘just television’?).

    Art operated on a very primitive level, possibly because the world was very simple once. It was about living in the world caught between good and bad. Maybe it reaffirmed things, or instructed, or explained, but it operated on that level; even comedy had its moral. So there was a direct relationship between the story and listener.

    In time everything becomes institutionalised. The stories did as well as the art, until they lost their power and became simply entertainment or tools of persuasion.
    The forms for telling these tales still exist, and my proposition is that we still turn to them, instinctively, for this ancient relationship. But the content has changed and what we receive instead is something like a mirror that reflects our narcissism.

    The storytelling is not entirely gone, but it’s read by a much smaller part of the population.

    If our sense of morality is based on aspiring to the Ideal Ethic, then can this situation, if the aspiration towards the Ideal Ethic is no longer spoken of, or reaffirmed in a form no longer taken seriously, shift our sense of morality?
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