• tim wood
    2.4k
    This from another thread:

    "Morality isn't anything other than how people feel, whether they approve or disapprove, etc. of interpersonal behavior that they consider more significant than etiquette."

    I do not agree with the thought expressed, but I've shot my bolt at the writer and he is unaffected. I suppose first question is, is he alone or does he have company? Second question, in as much as I've failed to educate the writer, can anyone do a better job?

    My view is that morality is evolved thought, and in that sense is a something and not a nothing, certainly more than an individual's mere opinion. I'd even argue that to some degree morality is sure as arithmetic, but the world from time to time and here and there lapses into such barbarous immorality that either humanity is at times collectively both stupid and ignorant, or morality ultimately lacks apodeictic certainty (but that has some other kind of certainty).
  • Wayfarer
    7.4k
    "Morality isn't anything other than how people feel, whether they approve or disapprove, etc. of interpersonal behavior that they consider more significant than etiquette."tim wood

    That is how many people feel about it. It has even been formalised as the ‘boo-hurrah’ theory of ethics - that ethical judgement is a matter of 'boo' - don't like it - and 'hurrah' - I do. It is a natural consequence of secular-scientific culture, first anticipated by Hume's famous 'is/ought' dichotomy - that what we can be certain about, is what can be measured precisely, whereas qualitative judgements - 'ought' statements - have no such mooring.

    My view is that morality is evolved thought, and in that sense is a something and not a nothing, certainly more than an individual's mere opinion.tim wood

    And the problem is here you're implicitly judging it in evolutionary terms, against biological criteria. The whole, in fact the only, criterion in evolutionary biology is what is advantageous for propagation. So implicitly this amounts to a form of utilitarianism and/or pragmatism - greatest good for the greatest number, or whatever works.

    Consider some humanistic alternatives - eudaimonic ethics, from Aristotle, the aim of which is flourishing, realising one's own purpose. I suppose you could argue that Abraham Maslow's 'hierarchy of needs' is essentially eudaimonic in nature, in that he proposes a set of needs higher than the simply biological, of self-actualisation or realising your innate capacities and potential.

    But ultimately, for ethical judgements to be grounded in something more than opinion or individual prerogative, I think there has to be some judgement about what constitutes a higher good or true good. But the dynamics of modern culture are such that any of those kinds of judgements are instinctively reviled - because they sound religious.

    Have you read, or are you aware of, Alisdair McIntyre's After Virtue?
  • T Clark
    3.2k
    Well, first off, it's obviously not a matter of personal preference. Moralities are systems of values associated with particular societies, traditions, and cultures. Those values are enforced, for better or worse, by social controls including persuasion, reward, shame, force, and legal penalties.

    So, morality is a system of values. Values are necessary for human action. I remember a discussion a while ago about the necessity for emotion in order for people to make decisions or act. When certain parts of the brain associated with emotion are damaged, a person may be unable to make the simplest decisions - what to wear or eat. I guess some values are built in and some are learned or taught.

    Which type of value makes up moraility? I guess both. I think some of what we think is right or wrong comes from our natural place as social animals who like each other. Some, especially the specific details of a particular morality, are developed and taught socially. Morality is a system of values which make it easier for people to live together in groups. Whether you like morality or a particular moral system or not is irrelevant to the fact that morality makes sense. If you don't like the morality that applies to your particular group, you'll have to face the consequences.

    Of course, many people believe that morality is established absolutely by a god or other mechanism. That's not my personal belief.
  • Terrapin Station
    9.2k
    But ultimately, for ethical judgements to be grounded in something more than opinion or individual prerogative, I think there has to be some judgement about what constitutes a higher good or true good. But the dynamics of modern culture are such that any of those kinds of judgements are instinctively reviled - because they sound religious.Wayfarer

    I don't revile them, and certainly not because they sound religious.

    The problem I have with them is the same problem I have with the notion of objective meaning (in the semantics sense, which has been the topic of a handful of recent threads): there is no evidence of extramental meaning/moral judgments/judgments about ("higher") good, etc., and a fortiori that's the case on my view as I don't buy realism for any abstracts whatsoever--I'm a nominalist.

    I'm also a physicalist in general, and I have sort of a logical positivist disposition on metaphysical/ontological claims (although I'm not at all an orthodox logical positivist, I disagree with their "schematic," etc.--It's more just that my approach is that stingy/parsimonious/skeptical, and I tend to want to interpret everything in terms of observables/what actually is going on in reference to something in "practical," everyday terms of just what we're doing, just what we're observing, etc.)
  • Terrapin Station
    9.2k
    Moralities are systems of values associated with particular societies, traditions, and cultures.T Clark

    Societies/cultures having values is really just a loose manner of speaking. It's individuals who have values. Individuals interact and can influence each other, which leads to social/cultural statistical tendencies, but the society or culture itself can't literally have values.
  • T Clark
    3.2k
    Really, you don't believe that social or cultural systems have any existence outside of a particular human's thought, feeling, or behaviour? Can we know all we need to know about a society by taking a series of polls and tallying their results?

    In my view, there are social systems, institutions, structures that are related to, but separate from, psychological factors.
  • Terrapin Station
    9.2k
    Really, you don't believe that social or cultural systems have any existence outside of a particular humans thought, feeling, or behaviour?T Clark

    I don't know, because I don't know the scope of the term "systems" in your usage. You'd have to detail that better.

    But I do know that societies/cultures don't literally have values. That's a category error. Values are mental phenomena, and mental phenomena only occur in individuals.
  • T Clark
    3.2k
    But I do know that societies/cultures don't literally have values. That's a category error. Values are mental phenomena, and mental phenomena only occurs in individuals.

    So, there is no English language. Languages are mental phenomena, and mental phenomena only occur in individuals?
  • Terrapin Station
    9.2k
    So, there is no English language. Languages are mental phenomena, and mental phenomena only occur in individuals?T Clark

    First, how in the world would you be going: X is only a mental phenomenon, therefore there is no x?
  • Valentinus
    394

    I take it you mean "evolved" in the sense that thinking over time approaches what is good and evil as they really are. The non-arbitrary element being considered is not going to mean anything to those who dismiss that sort of thing as illusion. The baby must be tossed out with the dirty water.

    Wayfarer's observation regarding "humans" and the proposition that they have their own nature is germane. I would only add that models of "being a person" in the way Kant based his psychology are oddly less idealistic in that regard. His model was the encouragement to make many others.

    So there is a big disconnect between looking at models to determine whether they provide accurate maps of the territory and the debate whether anybody should be making maps at all.
  • Anthony
    124
    My view is that morality is evolved thought, and in that sense is a something and not a nothing, certainly more than an individual's mere opinion. I'd even argue that to some degree morality is sure as arithmetic, but the world from time to time and here and there lapses into such barbarous immorality that either humanity is at times collectively both stupid and ignorant, or morality ultimately lacks apodeictic certainty (but that has some other kind of certainty).tim wood

    Evolution is propelled by natural selection. Nature was here before us, and it will be here after us thinking animals. Certain anthropocentric selective agents pretend to be natural selection and the difference between natural selection and anthropogenic selection tends to be where I apply morality (virtue is wiser than morality, however); humanism confuses anthropgenic selection (Anthropocene) with natural selection. Evolution occurs far slower than the life span of any one species. What will have happened if thought itself no longer exists? Evolution. Evolution, then, is far more encompassing than evolved thought.
  • S
    10.2k
    This from another thread:

    "Morality isn't anything other than how people feel, whether they approve or disapprove, etc. of interpersonal behavior that they consider more significant than etiquette."

    I do not agree with the thought expressed, but I've shot my bolt at the writer and he is unaffected. I suppose first question is, is he alone or does he have company?
    tim wood

    He has company. In a practical, meaningful sense, that's more or less what it is.

    Second question, in as much as I've failed to educate the writer, can anyone do a better job?tim wood

    That's arrogant. Maybe you're the one who needs educating.

    My view is that morality is evolved thought, and in that sense is a something and not a nothing, certainly more than an individual's mere opinion.tim wood

    There are two problems with this straightaway. Firstly, opinion is no more nothing than evolved thought is nothing. Secondly, your use of "mere" is an example of loaded language and a poor representation of the position that you're supposed to be criticising. A mere opinion makes me think of the opinion that salt and vinegar flavour crisps are better than cheese and onion flavour crisps. This is clearly not what was intended. Your characterisation is uncharitable.

    I'd even argue that to some degree morality is sure as arithmetic, but the world from time to time and here and there lapses into such barbarous immorality that either humanity is at times collectively both stupid and ignorant, or morality ultimately lacks apodeictic certainty (but that has some other kind of certainty).tim wood

    There's nothing there that explicitly contradicts the position you're supposed to be arguing against. You're expecting us to read between the lines in what you're saying? Okay. So you're just assuming that morality is objective morality, and that there's an objective right and wrong, and that there are obvious examples of this. Yawn.
  • VagabondSpectre
    1.6k
    To a large degree it depends on how we define "morality". If human preference is the locus of a given definition, it's wielders will go around equating morality with preference. But if, for example, "serving human preference" is instead the locus, then it's wielders might go around equating morality with objective strategy.

    Both views can be simultaneously true, and even complimentary, with a bit of effort. Human preferences (especially shared preferences) (eg: the desire to be free and unmolested), can form the basis of our moral objectives, agreements, and actions, but at the same time empirical truth must also play a part in our determinations of what to do next. According to human preferences, some moral schemes are objectively inferior to others because they do not effectively serve those preferences.
  • S
    10.2k
    To a large degree it depends on how we define "morality". If human preference is the locus of a given definition, it's wielders will go around equating morality with preference. But if, for example, "serving human preference" is instead the locus, then it's wielders might go around equating morality with objective strategy.

    Both views can be simultaneously true, and even complimentary, with a bit of effort. Human preferences (especially shared preferences) (eg: the desire to be free and unmolested), can form the basis of our moral objectives, agreements, and actions, but at the same time empirical truth must also play a part in our determinations of what to do next. According to human preferences, some moral schemes are objectively inferior to others because they might not effectively serve those preferences.
    VagabondSpectre

    But that would still boil down to preferences, so at the most fundamental level morality would be subjective.
  • Terrapin Station
    9.2k


    We could say that "not molesting Billy serves Billy's (and whoever else's when it comes to Billy) preference to not molest Billy," but then if we're calling that morality, does morality no longer have to do with good/bad conduct, ways that we should versus shouldn't behave, etc.?
  • VagabondSpectre
    1.6k
    True, but as far as the most prevalent (nearly universal) and most important moral preferences are concerned, we're all so similarly positioned that in practice it doesn't really matter that we're basing morality on human preference (its human morality after-all); most of our moral dilemmas and efforts in moral suasion concerns how to socially accommodate our existing values, not how to force our own preferences on others. There need not be moral conflict on the grounds of differing preferences unless they are somehow mutually exclusive.

    Furthermore, merely acting on personal preference lacks such a significant component of how most people conceptualize "morality" that it is basically antithetical. Under most definitions, morality only begins when we consider the preferences of others, whether for greedy, strategic, or empathetic causes. Impulsively acting on our hedonic urges (as "mere preference" might be boiled down to) seems antithetical to what it is we do when we do morality.

    For most people, morality isn't fundamentally "personal preference", it's "personal preference in world of others' preferences, which pragmatically demand consideration".
  • S
    10.2k
    True, but as far as the most prevalent (nearly universal) and most important moral preferences are concerned, we're all so similarly positioned that in practice it doesn't really matter that we're basing morality on human preference (its human morality after-all); most of our moral dilemmas and efforts in moral suasion concerns how to socially accommodate our existing values, not how to force our own preferences on others. There need not be moral conflict on the grounds of different preferences unless they are somehow mutually exclusive.

    Furthermore, merely acting on personal preference lacks such a significant component of how most people conceptualize "morality" that it is basically antithetical. Under most definitions, morality only begins when we consider the preferences of others, whether for greedy, strategic, or empathetic causes. Impulsively acting on our hedonic urges (as "mere preference" might be boiled down to) seems antithetical to what it is we do when we do morality.

    For most people, morality isn't fundamentally "personal preference", it's "personal preference in world of others' preferences, which pragmatically demands consideration"
    VagabondSpectre

    I agree with much of that. It doesn't matter! It doesn't matter in the sense that morality would be no less important. The problem is getting the other side to see it that way. I see the same errors repeated over and again. They seem to see preference as some kind of affront, and try to trivialise it as "mere" preference. It's a quite ridiculous and unproductive way to react.
  • Terrapin Station
    9.2k


    No one says it's personal preferences unqualified, as if whether someone prefers Cap'n Crunch to Count Chocula might be a moral issue.

    They're preferences about interpersonal behavior that one considers more significant than etiquette.
  • VagabondSpectre
    1.6k
    does morality no longer have to do with good/bad conduct, ways that we should versus shouldn't behave, etc.?Terrapin Station

    It's simply that we base our ideas of what actions are "good and bad" (and thereby a way to derive oughts) around concepts like "Billy doesn't want to be molested" or "molestation is extremely harmful to health, and everyone wants to be healthy" in the first place. In this case we can actually use our shared preferences to make virtue or deontological moral arguments (general laws) that are very useful for creating a better (more preferable) world. We can also make consequentialist arguments by asking whether or not an action does physical or reasonable disservice to the preferences of anyone else. If it does not, then it cannot be an immoral action. And we don't need shared preferences to have consequentialist arguments to make sense. When preferences are actually mutually exclusive or in direct competition, things naturally become much more complex (morality can break down), but that's just the way the world is.
  • Terrapin Station
    9.2k


    As soon as you introduce bad/good, better/worse, etc. you've left the objective realm, though.

    So you can focus on something objective like "Doing x serves S's preference," bit then we're not actually talking about the stuff that we conventionally talk about with morality --good/bad, better/worse, should/should not, etc.
  • VagabondSpectre
    1.6k
    They're preferences about interpersonal behavior that one considers more significant than etiquette.Terrapin Station

    They're more important than etiquette because they concern the "preferences" which we value and seek to protect above all others (eg: the desire to go on living). Etiquette is about avoiding annoyance and petty confrontation, morality is about avoiding suffering and other existential threats.
  • VagabondSpectre
    1.6k
    You can still have objectivity on a spectrum.

    Some moral practices are objectively worse than others from a given set or sets of moral preferences, and some are objectively better.

    Child vaccination springs to mind: both parents prefer their kids to be healthy, but only one of them is actually achieving it.

    Try telling a pediatric physician that vaccines amount to ettiquette ;)
  • tim wood
    2.4k
    To say "X is true" is a meaningful statement given an appropriate X. What it means is that the quality of X that makes it true has surpassed any criteria of mere (pace, S - only) opinion, and tends towards that region of thinking that has compulsive force. That four quarters equal a dollar is true never mind what anyone wants or feels or thinks as a matter of opinion. Which is just a long way of saying that the quality of being true is in some sense real.

    So a question might be, is there anything about morality that is true? To which the substance of any answer is, there had better be! Could it be any simpler? There are no details here, but if nothing is true in morality, then anything is moral - or nothing is moral. And any horrific grotesquerie you can imagine to test the point is thereby, by any moral standard, perfectly all right.

    To those who would deny morality any truth, is that where you want to be? Is that where you think you are?

    When I say morality is evolved thought, "evolve" is not restricted to any Darwinian notion of evolution. Morality is not "red in tooth and claw." It's not an exercise in phylogeny or the vicissitudes of nature. Evolved thought is merely movement of thinking through time, presumably and seemingly to some determinate end. Valentinus, above, puts it nicely:

    I take it you mean "evolved" in the sense that thinking over time approaches what is good and evil as they really are. The non-arbitrary element being considered is not going to mean anything to those who dismiss that sort of thing as illusion. The baby must be tossed out with the dirty water.Valentinus

    Well, the baby must be recovered.

    Perhaps the dismissive feel the lack of a rigorous calculus that will tell them what is right and what is wrong in absolute and abstract terms. Perhaps they feel that lacking that kind of certainly, there is no certainty, no truth, to be had at all. I argue that the fulcrum isn't in what is, but rather what should be, or should not be. And aberrations aside, most have a pretty good idea what these limits are most of the time, and, that they can be to some extent situational.

    I think of law as institutionalized morality. To be sure there are and have been immoral laws, but that's not to the point (excepting that as immoral laws, they prove the point!)

    Someone above objected to my use of "mere" as loaded language. Mere means only, being nothing more than. And it can connote inadequacy or impoverished adequacy. So when I say that morality is more than mere opinion, I am not using loaded language, but instead precise language to say exactly what I mean.
  • frank
    2.5k
    It's moral nihilism. I'm not sure why you're acting like it's from outer space.

    Everyone thinks amorally from time to time: for the sake of sociology, anthropology, or any other time we examine people mechanistically. There is even ethical benefit from doing so. You're less like to delude yourself if you can look at yourself without judgement.

    For those who say they think amorally 24/7, I think you'll find they're really no different from the rest of us in terms of behavior.

    Try interviewing instead of flabbergasting. You may learn a new thing about your fellow human.
  • Wayfarer
    7.4k
    That four quarters equal a dollar is true never mind what anyone wants or feels or thinks as a matter of opinion. Which is just a long way of saying that the quality of being true is in some sense real.tim wood

    But four quarters making a whole is unquestionably quantitative. What about - ‘should I cheat in this exam?’ ‘Should I give this stranger a ride?’ ‘Should I report that infraction I observed?’ They’re ethical judgements; how could they be expressed in quantitative terms? They require value judgements by their very nature.

    if nothing is true in morality, then anything is moral - or nothing is moral. And any horrific grotesquerie you can imagine to test the point is thereby, by any moral standard, perfectly all right.tim wood

    There is famous and oft-repeated aphorism ‘If God is dead, then everything is permitted’, from Dostoevsky, which I think, dramatises the sense in which ethical maxims have been underwritten by divine law.
  • Isaac
    714
    It has even been formalised as the ‘boo-hurrah’ theory of ethics - that ethical judgement is a matter of 'boo' - don't like it - and 'hurrah' - I do. It is a natural consequence of secular-scientific culture,Wayfarer

    Consider some humanistic alternativesWayfarer

    Your first paragraph seems rather disdainful of 'boo/hurrah' ethical judgement, but the rest of your post seems to be advocating it. Which is it?
  • Isaac
    714
    For most people, morality isn't fundamentally "personal preference", it's "personal preference in world of others' preferences, which pragmatically demand consideration".VagabondSpectre

    This is a really nice summary. Once you take into account the pragmatic necessity of dealing with other people's preferences, the statistical facts about those preferences (most common, range, average etc...) become necessary parts of the process, and those parts are facts about the world, not individual subjective feelings.
  • Wayfarer
    7.4k
    Your first paragraph seems rather disdainful of 'boo/hurrah' ethical judgement, but the rest of your post seems to be advocating it. Which is it?Isaac

    I don’t regard eudomianic ethics as being emotive. They’re grounded in the notion of telos, which is that individuals have an end towards which their efforts should be directed. I take the positivist approach to be basically meaningless.
  • S
    10.2k
    So a question might be, is there anything about morality that is true? To which the substance of any answer is, there had better be!tim wood

    I get that, which is why - having rejected moral objectivism as without warrant - I pragmatically opt with moral relativism, which means that moral statements, suitably interpreted or suitably qualified, are truth-apt, and some are true, whereas others are false. There is truth to be found in or relating to morality. You just have to look it at in the right way.

    The alternative would be error theory, which keeps the interpretation of moral objectivism, and simply accepts that all moral statements are false.

    Or emotivism, which denies that moral statements are even truth-apt.

    And moral objectivism simply isn't a viable option, because it is without warrant, and no one when put to the test ever proves themselves capable of providing warrant. Moral objectivism is for dogmatists.

    Evolved thought is merely movement of thinking through time, presumably and seemingly to some determinate end.tim wood

    Presumably and seemingly make it okay with me. So it's just opinion which is itself considered to be progressive. I don't find that so objectionable. You might even have a lot of people on both sides agree with you on that point. Human rights certainly look like progress to me. But this is still all ultimately just a subjective matter. A huge number of people feel the same way, so we did something about it.

    Someone above objected to my use of "mere" as loaded language.tim wood

    Someone? Har har. You know full well that it was me. You named me earlier for that very reason.

    Mere means only, being nothing more than.tim wood

    Yeah, yeah. Except that you knowingly used "mere" instead because of the connotations.

    And you're still being uncharitable, I think. Did you ever bother to seek clarification about what exactly was meant by "nothing more than" in the context of what you were quoting? Or did you just assume your own interpretation? I think that Terrapin Station, who is presumably the author of the unattributed quote in your opening post, just meant something along the lines that it is not objectively true, rather than that it's not popular or useful or seemingly progressive.
  • Isaac
    714
    Some moral practices are objectively worse than others from a given set or sets of moral preferences, and some are objectively better.

    Child vaccination springs to mind: both parents prefer their kids to be healthy, but only one of them is actually achieving it.

    Try telling a pediatric physician that vaccines amount to ettiquette ;)
    VagabondSpectre

    ... And this is exactly why the moral subjectivists do what they do, because of bullshit like this. Vaccinating your child (or not) is not an objectively moral action. To do so, you have to trust the medical establishment (where is the moral requirements that you do so?), you have to trust the pharmaceutical company (again, where is the moral requirement here?), you have to trust the statistics (no moral requirement), you have to trust that your child has the same health prospects as an average child (again, empirical, not moral data).

    If, it were an absolutely incontrovertible fact that your child (not just the average child) were going to be more healthy as a result of vaccination, and you knew that with absolute certainty or had no cause to doubt any of the information you've been given, then it would begin to approach objectively moral to do so.

    I think that what is 'moral' is not 'merely' personal preference, as @S has already mentioned, there's nothing 'mere' about it, but if entertaining a degree of moral objectivity means allowing people the tools to strong-arm others into feeling obliged to go along with their own personal world-view, and use their children's health as leverage, then I'm with the subjectivists.
  • Isaac
    714
    I don’t regard eudomianic ethics as being emotive. They’re grounded in the notion of telos, which is that individuals have an end towards which their efforts should be directed. I take the positivist approach to be basically meaningless.Wayfarer

    Doesn't matter, its still someone's 'boo', and someone's 'hurrah'. It's still someone's 'rekon' about telos, and someone's feeling about what comes from it.

    I don't think anyone of the 'boo/hurrah' camp think these preferences springs out of nowhere.
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