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Tue Jan 24, 2012, 08:29 PM

Is there a moral law?

Is there a moral law written into the fabric of existence? Is there an impulse for the good, the beautiful, the just embedded in human life? As there is a drive known in evolution to refine and uplift, there appears to be an ethical imperative and a life force centered on growth, change and the nobility of others. In recent history the argument has been advanced by the Oxford scholar C.S. Lewis. He sees this moral law written in the history of altruism, which is more than mutual satisfaction, but lies in the impulse to offer to others a benevolence with nothing expected in return. This is not to say humans are essentially good, but that there are those who see beyond the mundane to values and ways to live which are more than “where’s mine.” Without those who have caught that vision, life for all of us would be bereft.

There are almost endless examples throughout history. What impelled Oskar Schindler to endanger his own life while protecting a thousand Jews, or Mother
Teresa to give herself to the nobodies of Calcutta? The New Testament word for this benevolent lifestyle is agape, a love which gives because that is its nature.

The great thinker and philosopher Emmanuel Kant in his “Critique of Pure Reason,” says, “Two things inspire me to awe, the starry heavens above and the moral universe within.”

The great theme of the Christian faith is that there lies at the heart of the universe a moral law which begins with the words, “God so loved the world……” The
Greek word for “world” here’ is the physical world. When the Bible uses the word “world” in a negative sense (‘do not be conformed to this world’) it uses another Greek word which denotes selfish destructive systems.

While there is also deeply embedded in human nature the passion to rule, kill, own, subject and control, at the same time unless these impulses are countered by the moral law evidenced in altruism, all human life would be reduced to tooth and claw, and evidenced only in the survival of the fittest. Good religion is one partner in the quest for the noble, even if much of religious history has evidenced the opposite.
The moral law may not be embedded in human nature, but is incarnate in those who see beyond the tyranny of self.

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Arrow 28 replies Author Time Post
Reply Is there a moral law? (Original post)
Thats my opinion Jan 2012 OP
Why Syzygy Jan 2012 #1
ZombieHorde Jan 2012 #2
tama Jan 2012 #3
mr blur Jan 2012 #4
Jim__ Jan 2012 #5
muriel_volestrangler Jan 2012 #8
FarCenter Jan 2012 #6
rrneck Jan 2012 #7
Thats my opinion Jan 2012 #9
dmallind Jan 2012 #10
Boojatta Jan 2012 #11
dmallind Jan 2012 #12
tama Jan 2012 #13
dmallind Jan 2012 #24
tama Jan 2012 #27
Boojatta Jan 2012 #14
skepticscott Jan 2012 #15
Thats my opinion Jan 2012 #16
skepticscott Jan 2012 #17
Thats my opinion Jan 2012 #18
skepticscott Jan 2012 #22
cleanhippie Jan 2012 #19
skepticscott Jan 2012 #23
darkstar3 Jan 2012 #20
ZombieHorde Jan 2012 #21
LeftishBrit Jan 2012 #25
Thats my opinion Jan 2012 #26
skepticscott Jan 2012 #28

Response to Thats my opinion (Original post)

Tue Jan 24, 2012, 09:06 PM

1. They vary

Everyone has a "moral law". But everyone does not have the same morals.

It could be that the expectation of a natural "moral law" suiting your criteria, itself creates the expectation of a fuller agape on a universal humanity.

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Response to Thats my opinion (Original post)

Tue Jan 24, 2012, 09:13 PM

2. Good and morality are projections we attached to perceived stimuli.

Some people think the Holocaust was good because it was an attempt to rid the world of certain types of people.

Some think all mass murder is good because it reduces human population, and human overpopulation can lead to making Earth uninhabitable for most life.

Less extreme examples include the death penalty, gay marriage, taxes, prayer in school, medical marijuana, the Libya invasion, the war in Iraq, etc.

Laws don't exist outside of our imaginations, except for natural laws; e.g., a bee and a hippo can't reproduce with each other. If a natural law is broken, the law no longer exists.

Moral law can exist within our imaginations, but it does not exist outside of our imaginations.

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Response to ZombieHorde (Reply #2)

Wed Jan 25, 2012, 03:25 AM

3. "Moral law"

 

is not a good expression. 'Moral' becomes from the Latin 'mores', and so moral means etymologically and historically: according to the customs of Rome. Likewise 'laws' tend to be misguided and misguiding in every context.

But is there natural compassion in universe? Gravity and other forces of attraction? Quantum entanglement? Where does compassion in biological matter come from?

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Response to Thats my opinion (Original post)

Wed Jan 25, 2012, 04:59 AM

4. I'd say No

and concur with everything ZombieHorde says in #2

Mother Theresa is not an example I'd have chosen, either.

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Response to Thats my opinion (Original post)

Wed Jan 25, 2012, 06:37 AM

5. There is a natural moral law but it only applies to the in-group.

To live together in a group, we have to show a certain respect for other people within that group. That is the natural moral law that you are talking about. However, other groups are a potential threat to our group and this natural moral law does not necessarily apply to them. That's an unpleasant truth, but a truth nonetheless, and we deny it at our own peril. We are inclined to negotiate within our group but more inclined toward violent resistance with other groups.

We can try to enlarge "our group" to include all of mankind, but I'm not sure that such an attempt can work. You can tell me that a worker in, say, Shanghai is a member of my group; but I will naturally be more empathetic with a family member or my next door neighbor than with that Shanghai worker.

Part of our natural moral law is to defend our group interest against other groups. Given the power of today's weapons systems, we have to be extremely careful about the nature of this defense. We have to be aware that our natural inclinations can be suicidal in today's world.

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #5)

Wed Jan 25, 2012, 11:48 AM

8. I think the group can be extended worldwide, but not with the full empathy

But the variation in empathy is already there in much smaller groups. People are more understanding of a close relative than a neighbour, and more of a neighbour than a vague acquaintance. But we still feel some empathy for people we've never met - that Shanghai worker still gets some empathy from you (I'm sure you would say that his arbitrary execution would be wrong, for instance).

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Response to Thats my opinion (Original post)

Wed Jan 25, 2012, 10:04 AM

6. Not really

There is a certain inate balance between self-interest/individual preservation and altruism that contributes to kin/group reproductive success that is a function of the genotype. However, much of "moral law" is the result of cultural conditioning.

Even very basic concepts, such as who you can kill, who you can steal from, who you can have sex with, and who you can deceive vary widely by historical time and geography.

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Response to Thats my opinion (Original post)

Wed Jan 25, 2012, 11:21 AM

7. In the strictest and most limited sense, yes.

Such a law would have to apply strictly in the most empirical sense apart from any exigent circumstances and have the capacity to be applied evenly regardless of those circumstances. I'm not aware of any way to craft such a law since humans aren't omnipotent or omniscient.

It is possible to produce the concept of an absolute good to which one might aspire. I expect that's how we wound up with ideas like God and Kant's moral imperative. Zombiehorde's reference to projection is quite accurate. We've been thinking in terms of forward movement both physically and intellectually since we walked out of Africa. For the vast majority of us where we are is almost inconsequential to where we are going. Some of us have even developed a way of thinking that refutes the imperative of forward projection which takes years of study and practice to achieve proficiency. Of course those who engage in such practice would probably not use the term "proficient " since it implies that which they are trying to avoid (another term which does not apply). Since language is a projective tool in itself it is impossible to accurately discuss that experience at all I guess. It seems we are so specifically designed to project we can hardly discuss any other option.

The term "law" assumes the possibility of an infraction, which assumes an act that has already occurred. When coupled with the term "moral", which is projective, the phrase "moral law" refers to what we should do based on a canon derived from precedent. The only moral law I can think of that might be considered universal would be the an interdiction against incest, and in the light of advances in genetic engineering and cloning it might not apply much longer.

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Response to rrneck (Reply #7)

Wed Jan 25, 2012, 01:53 PM

9. you and Tama make the same solid point.

The combination of the words "moral" and "law," neither of which are carefully defined, obscures what both Kant and Lewis were talkinq about. What is really being suggested is that there is built into the nature of human reality the selfless vision of an ethic which counters the urge to kill, own, control and dominate. This vision of something that cannot be objectified comes with the forms first suggested by Plato. Why is it that in a world of dog eat dog, there are those here and there now and then, who catch a vision of something else and give themselves in pursuit of that vision? There is a sense that this pursuit may defy human nature. The apostle Paul say, "we have this treasure in earthen vessels"--that's our mortal selves. And without this ethical compass pointing toward the good there can be no civilization. I think it is beyond just the protection of the clan. But can it be scientifically validated? Maybe not. Call it being captured by a dream of what is good for all, and the act of giving oneself to that dream. The fact that the dream and the dreamers have existed all through history is clear. What has motivated them is and will be a matter of differing opinions. Some of us believe that the positive side of religion has much to do with it. But there are certainly non-religious imperatives.

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Response to Thats my opinion (Original post)

Wed Jan 25, 2012, 03:44 PM

10. A deontological absolute one? No. A teleology that gives us a species survival edge? Surely.

Not even then really a "law" but a nigh-universal trait developed over many millennia and conditioned and reinforced constantly by almost every human interaction.

Hominids evolved as, and humans remain, a gregarious species that as individuals are weaker, slower and less endowed with both offensive and defensive physical adaptations than our natural predators, prey or substitute species. The only reasons we survived to evolve at all is beause of the ability to co-operate and the brain size to know we need to, and to adapt and perfect ways to do so.

Loss of group members means fewer co-operative members to fend off wolves, to chase down and hunt deer, to gather food. Given that we have long had the brainpower to recognize and respond to individual group members, doing things to reduce their co-operation such as injuring them, stealing from them, and abusing them very quickly would have become associated with lower success rate in important survival activities.

As the species progressed and groups became larger, specialization reinforced and expanded this evolutionary "morality". Rape the best hunter's wife and he won't share his kill with you. Let the medicine man starve and he won't bind up your wounds. Steal from the toolmaker and your own inferior spears will not be as effective at defense or hunting.

Civilization proper dawns and we get a further layer of "natural" morality appears. Don't pour shit into your neighbor's well if you want help building your barn. Don't beat up the innkeeper's son if you want a place to spend the night.

How can we know morality evolved rather than was granted or designed from above? Because almost all societies have the same basic rules against core taboos that arose from shared experiences. Almost no societies think it is moral to kill or steal, at least in-group. However "upper layer" morality differs, and has always differed, greatly based on the experiences and situations of separate societies. Some believe multiple wives are fine, some reinforce mongamy. Some eschewed slavery centuries before others, even before international pressure became a factor. Some shared property, others became feudal or capitalistic. How do we know this morality is a function of social conditioning not innate humanity? Because of the amorality of feral children or people raised in complete isolation. A valid study to confirm scientifically from scratch with controlled conditions of course would be unspeakably cruel, so to my knowledge has never been attempted or at least publicized.

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Response to dmallind (Reply #10)

Wed Jan 25, 2012, 04:46 PM

11. "How do we know this morality is a function of social conditioning not innate humanity?"

 

What if you raise a bee in complete isolation from other bees? If the bee didn't dance to indicate the location of honey, then would you conclude that bee dancing isn't innate, but is "merely a function of social conditioning"?

You might invent a mythic history of bees, with bees living as isolated individuals for thousands of years without bee dance, and then gradually creating bee dance as a cultural artefact of bee civilization.

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Response to Boojatta (Reply #11)

Fri Jan 27, 2012, 02:41 PM

12. I have no clue if the bee would dance or not

But if all bees raised in isolation did not dance and all social bees did then yes by definition it would be a function of conditioned behavior amongst bees.

Do you think this is an objection to my conclusion? Do you think animals - including those with far less cooperative lifestyles than bees - are not conditioned by other members of their species?

Why does it need a mythic history to be conditioned behavior?

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Response to dmallind (Reply #12)

Fri Jan 27, 2012, 03:03 PM

13. Mythic histories

 

condition behavior.

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Response to tama (Reply #13)

Mon Jan 30, 2012, 02:23 PM

24. ONLY mythic histories?

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Response to dmallind (Reply #24)

Mon Jan 30, 2012, 05:51 PM

27. No

 

unless you widen the meaning of 'mythic histories' to such extent.

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Response to dmallind (Reply #12)

Fri Jan 27, 2012, 04:00 PM

14. Maybe it wasn't a good idea for me to introduce the bee dance subtopic.

 

Do you think this is an objection to my conclusion?


My objection was partly to your reasoning, and partly to my interpretation of something you wrote that now seems to me simply unclear rather than false.

Why does it need a mythic history to be conditioned behavior?

I was thinking that a specific style of bee dance needs to be developed or, to use your terminology, "evolves" over time rather than being handed down from above.

From this thread before I introduced the bee dance subtopic:
How do we know this morality is a function of social conditioning not innate humanity?

Does the phrase "this morality" refer merely to the fact that some individual human being is behaving in a manner that seems to have some moral basis, and is it not a reference to the particulars of the morality? Suppose that we were talking about beliefs regarding the number of moons of Jupiter. If you say that those beliefs are a function of social conditioning, then it sounds as though somebody can choose an arbitrary number and get everybody to accept that it is the number of moons of Jupiter. It is quite a different thing to merely say that there was a progressive development of a science and technology of optics in the past, and that people rely indirectly upon that development, and rely directly upon other people who are alive today, when they acquire any opinion about the number of moons of Jupiter.

It might be amusing to consider that people literally point their telescopes upwards to observe how many moons Jupiter has. In that sense, our knowledge of that number comes from above.

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Response to Thats my opinion (Original post)

Sat Jan 28, 2012, 02:01 PM

15. In a word, no

Human beings are just as capable of being cruel and immoral towards each other as they are of being kind and altruistic, and that has not changed during human history. No "moral law" that is inherent in our nature has asserted itself, only social conventions (and even those are of questionable impact). Kant's statement is simply an undemonstrated declaration, and your use of it a fallacious argument from authority. Ditto for your statement about the "great theme of the Christian faith" (which seems to change almost weekly in your agenda-driven postings).

And btw, if you'd read any of the real truth about Mother Teresa, you'd never even consider using her as a poster child for the concept of inherent human goodness.

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Response to skepticscott (Reply #15)

Sat Jan 28, 2012, 02:23 PM

16. Humans are a mixed bag.

At least all of them I have even known.

All of the great themes of the Christian faith I periodically mention are tied to a complex of fundamental concepts around the thirst for justice, peace, the integrity of nature, the nobility of life, the inherent lust for purpose, a universal inclusion of possibilities.

I know all about Mother Teresa, even what Hitchens said about her in his 1994 diatribe. Her position on Catholic doctrines on abortion and birth control are horrible as far as I'm concern. Her support of Sihjny Gandhi and a couple of other tyrants are below respect. The use of money by her order is a serious question. But I have been to the slums of India and have seen the care of the nobodies by a few Catholic sisters who have given their lives for the wretched of the earth, so i can separate doctrinal positions from acts of unrequited mercy. I would rather deal with a compassionate person who had the wrong doctrines than with a selfish person who had the right doctrines. I honor those who give themselves to people I just write about. And of course they carry a mixed bag--so do I, and I imagine so do you.

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Response to Thats my opinion (Reply #16)

Sat Jan 28, 2012, 03:09 PM

17. Yes, they are, which is exactly the point

There is no underlying "moral law" inherent in our nature, and there never has been. Morality is largely a matter of social convention and conditioning, which manifest themselves in ways which are in no sense universal across cultures.

And explain, please, why if you "know all about" Mother Teresa, you would even dream of holding her up as an example of the inherent goodness of human beings? You conveniently and dishonestly make the switch from Mother Teresa (who, now that you're confronted with the truth, you have nothing but bad things to say about) and a few unnamed "Catholic sisters" who have nothing to do with her. Mother Teresa's acts were anything but "unrequited mercy"; she is on record as saying that suffering was good for the people she cared for, and her order benefitted rather handsomely in a material way from their supposedly altruistic activities.

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Response to skepticscott (Reply #17)

Sat Jan 28, 2012, 06:08 PM

18. At least part of the good life has to do with the shadow it casts.

"Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity at the time of her death had 610 missions in 123 countries including hospices and homes for people with HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis, soup kitchens, children's and family counselling programmes, orphanages and schools. She received numerous awards including the Indian government's Bharat Ratna in 1980 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, but was also widely criticized for defects in her charity work."

from a biographical sketch in Wikipedia


I suppose that's more important than what some of her critics have said. The sisters I have mex in India live in poverty and have spent their lives in this compassionate work.

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Response to Thats my opinion (Reply #18)

Sun Jan 29, 2012, 06:43 AM

22. Most of the writing about Mother Teresa

has been uncritical fawning. Her awards came long before Hitchens and others exposed her as something less than the angel of mercy she was always portrayed as. Here is part of what you didn't include from that same Wikipedia sketch:

The German magazine Stern published a critical article on the first anniversary of Mother Teresa's death. This concerned allegations regarding financial matters and the spending of donations. The medical press has also published criticism of her, arising from very different outlooks and priorities on patients' needs. Other critics include Tariq Ali of the New Left Review and the Irish investigative journalist Donal MacIntyre.

She has also been criticized for her view on suffering. She felt that suffering would bring people closer to Jesus. Sanal Edamaruku, President of Rationalist International, criticised the failure to give painkillers, writing that in her Homes for the Dying, one could "hear the screams of people having maggots tweezered from their open wounds without pain relief. On principle, strong painkillers are even in hard cases not given. According to Mother Teresa's philosophy, it is 'the most beautiful gift for a person that he can participate in the sufferings of Christ'."

Dr. Robin Fox, editor of The Lancet, described the medical care as "haphazard", as volunteers without medical knowledge had to take decisions about patient care, because of the lack of doctors. He observed that her order did not distinguish between curable and incurable patients, so that people who could otherwise survive would be at risk of dying from infections and lack of treatment. Dr. Fox makes it a point to contrast hospice, on the one hand, with what he calls "Mother Teresa's Care for the Dying" on the other hand; noting that, while hospice emphasizes minimizing suffering with professional medical care and attention to expressed needs and wishes of the patient, her approach does not.

Colette Livermore, a former Missionary of Charity, describes her reasons for leaving the order in her book Hope Endures: Leaving Mother Teresa, Losing Faith, and Searching for Meaning. Livermore found what she called Mother Teresa's "theology of suffering" to be flawed, despite being a good and courageous person. Though Mother Teresa instructed her followers on the importance of spreading the Gospel through actions rather than theological lessons, Livermore could not reconcile this with some of the practices of the organization. Examples she gives include unnecessarily refusing to help the needy when they approached the nuns at the wrong time according to the prescribed schedule, discouraging nuns from seeking medical training to deal with the illnesses they encountered (with the justification that God empowers the weak and ignorant), and imposition of "unjust" punishments, such as being transferred away from friends.

Christopher Hitchens and the German magazine Stern have said Mother Teresa did not focus donated money on alleviating poverty or improving the conditions of her hospices, but on opening new convents and increasing missionary work.


More about the phony picture that has been painted of Mother Teresa here:

http://www.secularhumanism.org/library/fi/hitchens_16_4.html

And of course, none of this has any direct relevance to the more fundamental point I've made about your claims regarding "moral law".

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Response to skepticscott (Reply #17)

Sat Jan 28, 2012, 06:57 PM

19. Damn, Scott, it's like he completely ignored everything you just posted.

The cognitive dissonance is stupefying.

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Response to cleanhippie (Reply #19)

Sun Jan 29, 2012, 06:49 AM

23. Call me shocked and astonished

Apparently in meaningful discussion, everyone's opinions just get thrown into a pile and left unexamined.

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Response to Thats my opinion (Original post)

Sat Jan 28, 2012, 07:07 PM

20. No. Social conditioning tells us what is moral and right.

That's why in a some places around the world, the concept of FGM is considered not just ritual, but morally required. If there were a real moral law "written into the fabric of existence," such pockets of human putrescence wouldn't exist.

Now if you're really interested in the roots of altruism and its history, I suggest you study anthropology and sociology.

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Response to darkstar3 (Reply #20)

Sat Jan 28, 2012, 09:06 PM

21. The FGM point is a good one.

Even in the US we vary greatly on issues such as gay marriage and abortion.

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Response to Thats my opinion (Original post)

Mon Jan 30, 2012, 04:32 PM

25. I don't know about a 'moral law'

According to my belief system, and that of many others, it is moral to help others and immoral to harm others. Even people who agree with this belief system may, however, debate among themselves as to what is helpful or harmful.

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Response to LeftishBrit (Reply #25)

Mon Jan 30, 2012, 05:38 PM

26. Why is it moral to help others

and immoral to hurt others? If that seems written into the nature of life, maybe we might call it "moral law."

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Response to Thats my opinion (Reply #26)

Mon Jan 30, 2012, 07:25 PM

28. Except that most life

doesn't recognize or follow that "law" at all, and even humans haven't for most of their history and do so only sporadically now.

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