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Caution Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Feb-07-06 04:04 PM
Original message
Poll question: Does morality ensue from a higher power?

Sorry, polls are turned off at Level 3.

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Kerrytravelers Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Feb-07-06 04:05 PM
Response to Original message
1. robertson, falwell... immoral to the core and back.
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sasha031 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Feb-07-06 04:06 PM
Response to Original message
2. on the contrary I have found the most pious to be the most unethical
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Mythsaje Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Feb-07-06 04:08 PM
Response to Original message
3. People who wrap themselves in piety
are typically trying to hide some pretty nasty stuff bubbling beneath the surface.
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Goblinmonger Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Feb-07-06 04:09 PM
Response to Original message
4. I said No
but of course I am an atheist, so I could just be saying I'm moral to hide my immoralness.

Mental masturbation aside, if you have to believe in a higher power to be "moral" than a lot of people who are pretty frickin cool are "immoral."
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WritingIsMyReligion Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Mar-12-06 12:07 PM
Response to Reply #4
34. "Mental masturbation aside..."
:rofl:

You crack me up, Goblinmonger...

:thumbsup:
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TechBear_Seattle Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Feb-07-06 04:13 PM
Response to Original message
5. Define "higher power"
Given the widely divergent views of deity in active practice throughout the world today, I think it very necessary to first clarify which deity is being referenced. They can't all be right, you know, and Brahman, Allah, Jesus and the Great Earth Mother all represent very different views of morality.

In short, the question is so vague that it is meaningless.
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greyl Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Feb-07-06 04:15 PM
Response to Reply #5
6. I think "any" higher power will do for the purposes of the poll. ;)
Edited on Tue Feb-07-06 04:17 PM by greyl
edit: iow, the poll is giving "higher powers" more than a fair chance.
If it was more specific, I think that would cause a problem.
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Caution Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Feb-07-06 04:18 PM
Response to Reply #5
8. Answer as to your deity of choice
Does morality issue from a higher power (whatever power that is) or can an atheist/non-believer/believer in a different higher power than you have chosen be moral.
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sui generis Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Feb-07-06 04:16 PM
Response to Original message
7. the question really is
Edited on Tue Feb-07-06 04:18 PM by sui generis
is something moral just because a higher power says so.

It's really the fault line between authoritarian thinking and liberal thinking. People who genuinely believe that all morality comes from god could easily believe that it is moral to sacrifice one's son as a test of faith, or that it is moral to stone a woman to death for having sex before marriage or that it is moral to invade Canaan and kill every man, woman, child and goat because it's the promised land and god says so.

Morality just ain't what it used to be, thank god.

ON EDIT:

Also, here's one: if everyone who believes they are good believes you to be evil, does that make it so?

That happens a lot with people who believe themselves to be unassailably "moral".
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soleft Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Feb-07-06 04:27 PM
Response to Original message
9. morality is all about compassion
people following religious rules may appear to be moral

that's because most religious rules are based on compassion

atheists are some of the most compassionate people around, therefore, the most moral
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Caution Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Feb-07-06 08:51 PM
Response to Original message
10. Bump
Just wanted to get the evening crowd's take
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BiggJawn Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Feb-07-06 10:09 PM
Response to Original message
11. Which would you rather be marooned with...
Edited on Tue Feb-07-06 10:10 PM by BiggJawn
..Somebody who'd not strangle you in your sleep for your share of the food and water only out of fear of getting their ears boxed by some old sour-assed bearded man in the sky, or someone who'd possibly share their supplies with you because it's the RIGHT Thing to Do?

If it didn't piss me off so damn much It'd almost be AMUSING, this concept of Atheists being devoid of morality or incapable of feeling regret or remorse for their actions...

And let he who hath never been fucked over by a "Christian" cast the first flameball.

Oh, I almost forgot....It goes without saying that it's useless to throw out the "Not a True Scotsman" defense, 'kay?
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beam me up scottie Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Feb-07-06 10:15 PM
Response to Reply #11
12. "And let he who hath never been fucked over by a "Christian"
cast the first flameball" !!!


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BiggJawn Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Feb-07-06 10:23 PM
Response to Reply #12
13. Lil' ANGEL!
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beam me up scottie Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Feb-07-06 10:28 PM
Response to Reply #13
14. Itchy and Scratchy !
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W_HAMILTON Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Feb-07-06 10:52 PM
Response to Original message
15. You don't need to believe in a higher power to have morals
In fact, it seems like belief in a higher power (via religion) just serves to distort morals in a negative way. Sure, people will always have their biases, but usually they eventually are overcome with time. But when those biases are backed up by a religious text, it's not so easy to overcome them. People believe their God wants them to hate and discriminate, and there's no changing it, since God does not speak to us the way religious scholars said that he did thousands of years ago.

You don't need to believe in a higher power to be nice to other people. In fact, I'd say that you aren't all that high and mighty to begin with, if the only reason you would be kind to others is because you're afraid God won't let you into Heaven otherwise.

I'm surprised even one person voted "yes." Of course you don't need to believe in a higher power to be moral.
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beam me up scottie Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Feb-07-06 11:22 PM
Response to Reply #15
16. A very thoughtful post.
Welcome to DU! :toast:

If you like surprises, stick around.
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NMMNG Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Feb-08-06 01:59 AM
Response to Reply #15
17. Wonderful post
You make several excellent points. Welcome to DU BTW.
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FM Arouet666 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Feb-08-06 02:05 AM
Response to Original message
18. Alright, who voted yes?
Morality ensues from humanity. All religions are human inventions meant to explain the world, control society, explain death etc. A 'higher power' is an invention of pre-science humankind, a concept with lacks any objective scientific evidence. But, morality, in western society, owes so much to the Judeo-Christian Bible! True, the Bible is an historical text of interest when looking at the roots of the modern justice system, but it is not the only source. Todays moral values derive from a number of sources and change over time and geography. In biblical times slavery was common place, not a sin, today it is an abomination. Menstruation, eating shrimp and pork, being gay were all negatives in the old testament. What society holds as the norm of human behavior, it's moral conscience, is not directed by a higher power, unless that higher power be of a kind that change occurs as readily as change in the seasons. If this is the case, who needs a fickle supernatural entity to believe in?

Morality derives from mankind, I fear that peace can only occur once mankind abandons the notion that a supernatural god exists which demands allegiance, demands a fatwa against the infidel, demands control over government to ban stem cell research or abortion, demands humans to seeks out the unbeliever to oppress, censor or kill. Humans are the 'highest power' on this planet, the power to kill or the power to create peace.
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Zebedeo Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Feb-08-06 02:26 PM
Response to Reply #18
24. I voted no, but only because the poll is flawed. See post 23 below
Morality is not an invention of mankind. If that were true, then any act would be as objectively moral as any other act. Is that your position? Then torturing, raping and murdering a child is objectively no more "evil" than helping child to find his mother. It's all a matter of personal preference, and no moral code is better than any other.

Preposterous and obviously untrue. Do you really believe those things?

No, there must be an OBJECTIVE standard of morality. The only possible source of that objective standard is the Creator of the Universe, because any standard invented by mankind is by definition subjective.
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Bill McBlueState Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Feb-08-06 03:37 PM
Response to Reply #24
25. that allows a twisted sense of morality
The Aztecs believed that their gods required human sacrifice. So to them, in some cases murdering a child *was* more moral than helping the child find its mother. Was murdering children moral in that time and place? Did the Aztecs just happen to believe in the wrong god? Do modern people believe in the wrong god?

See, if you claim morality is established by a god, we better figure out exactly which of the thousands of gods people have believed in is the RIGHT god, and we better determine unambiguously what that god thinks is moral.

Millenia of war and debate don't seem to have gotten us any closer to establishing which god is the right one.
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Zebedeo Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Feb-08-06 04:00 PM
Response to Reply #25
27. My head is spinning
You think that no standard of morality is objectively any "better" or "worse" than any other, yet at the same time you say that my philosophy allows a "twisted" sense of morality? "Twisted" according to what standard? By your own logic, no sense of morality can be any more "twisted" than any other. So how can you call any sense of morality "twisted"?

if you claim morality is established by a god, we better figure out exactly which of the thousands of gods people have believed in is the RIGHT god, and we better determine unambiguously what that god thinks is moral.


Very true. Good luck with your search.


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Bill McBlueState Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Feb-08-06 04:08 PM
Response to Reply #27
28. ?
You think that no standard of morality is objectively any "better" or "worse" than any other

Did I say that? I didn't mean to, and I'm trying to determine what I said that gave you that impression.
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Zebedeo Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Feb-08-06 04:33 PM
Response to Reply #28
30. Sorry, I may have misunderstood your reply to my post
I posted that a standard of morality MUST be objective, because otherwise any moral code would be objectively no better or worse than any other - just a difference of opinion.

You responded by saying that "that" would allow a twisted sense of morality. I assumed that the "that" to which you were referring was my statement that a standard of morality must be objective, because if standards of morality are merely subjective, any moral code would be objectively no better or worse than any other.

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Bill McBlueState Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Feb-08-06 04:15 PM
Response to Reply #27
29. and the "search"
Also, the "search for the right god" isn't my job, it's the job of those who claim that a god is responsible for morality. For example, some Muslims claim that god condones suicide bombing. Most Christians claim that god is opposed to suicide bombing.

I claim suicide bombing is immoral no matter what any god has to say about it, so it's not my job to determine what any god thinks of the practice. But if you think morality comes from a god, you need a way to determine whether the Muslims or the Christians are right. Unfortunately, whatever gods that may exist don't seem to be interested in revealing themselves unambiguously.
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WritingIsMyReligion Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Mar-12-06 11:56 AM
Response to Reply #24
33. Morality is, by definition, subjective.
From dictionary.com:

Morality, n. The quality of being in accord with standards of right or good conduct.

So what constitutes "right or good conduct"? "Right" and "good" are inherently subjective terms; what is right to a Christian may be different from what is right to a Muslim, or a Wiccan, or an athiest.

All religions, if you think about it, apsire for the same things: inner peace, inner harmony, etc. Where they get hung up on is how it should be done, and what is "right" and "wrong," terms that are very limiting when talking about certain acts and people. The whole universe is exceptionally ambiguous, and only when mankind accepts this ambiguity, this idea that spiritual truth and spiritual belief are subjective to the individual, will we get anywhere further.
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Caution Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Feb-08-06 09:39 AM
Response to Original message
19. Just wanted to thank those who responded
As an atheist myself I am extremely happy to see the results of this poll (non-scientific as it obviously is). I've had more than a couple of people recently claim that I cannot possibly be a moral being without a belief in some form of higher power.
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varkam Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Feb-08-06 10:11 AM
Response to Original message
20. My .02.
Which I'm sure *everyone* is just dying to hear. I've kind of hashed this to death already, but what the hey. My view is that if one is to maintain the existence of a "good" God whose goodness is significant (i.e. could not have been any other way), then morality has to be independent of God. In other words, I think there's a big problem with the Divine Command theory that trivializes the goodness of any God.

- Divine Command theory holds that action X is moral because God commands it.
- In other words, If god commands X, then X is a moral act.
- Let's say God commands one to murder or to kidnap at will, then it would follow that those are moral actions.

Sure, there is the objection that "Well God would never command such things". Maybe not (although one hears often enough about how people go on killing sprees in the name of the lord). But if you accept DC theory then you must accept the conditional, which is the crucial component here. IMO, it trivializes the notion of god as a rule-setter and god's goodness as well. In sum, if morality is independant of god, then it would follow that one does not need god to be moral.
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Caution Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Feb-08-06 01:08 PM
Response to Reply #20
21. Hey! a cogent philosophical argument!
That's a rare thing these days. Methinks that was worth a heckuva lot more than $0.02.
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Orrex Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Feb-08-06 10:24 PM
Response to Reply #20
31. An additional .02 here
In sum, if morality is independant of god, then it would follow that one does not need god to be moral.

If morality is independent of god, then...

Where did it come from?
How do we have know anything about it?
Who appointed god as its judge and jury?
It is not subject to god's will, and he is therefore not supreme.


If morality is independent of god, then the Christian god does not exist.

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Donald Ian Rankin Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Feb-08-06 01:22 PM
Response to Original message
22. Your poll isn't well-worded.

When constructing a poll, one always needs to ensure that everyone is in at least one, and only one, category. Your need to ask either

"Only those who believe in a higher power can be truly moral"
"Atheists can me truly moral"

or

"Either only those who believe in a higher power can be truly moral, *or* all theists (and possibly some atheists as well) are truly moral."
"Atheists can be truly moral and theists can be immoral"

The former makes more sense as a question - if there is a higher power dispensing morality then the fact that not everyone who believes in it follows that morality is irrelevant.
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Solon Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-13-06 05:55 AM
Response to Reply #22
35. You forget, though, that by definition...
No Atheist or member of a Non-Abrahamic faith may be considered moral according to the Bible itself. First Commandment, "Thou Shall have no other Gods before Me." or something to that effect. Also, I have a question, why the qualifier "truly" before moral?
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Zebedeo Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Feb-08-06 02:15 PM
Response to Original message
23. I voted "no" but you are really asking more than one question
It is true that an atheist can act morally, and that a theist can act immorally. It is also true that morality ensues from a higher power.

When an atheist acts morally, it is because the atheist is (inadvertently, perhaps) obeying God.

When a theist acts immorally, it is because the theist is disobeying God.

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SidDithers Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Feb-08-06 03:51 PM
Response to Reply #23
26. An atheist can act morally, independant of a god...
Edited on Wed Feb-08-06 03:53 PM by SidDithers
as I'm doing right now, by being polite in my response to you.

Two people can take different routes, and still end up at the same destination.

Sid
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Zhade Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Mar-19-06 04:01 PM
Response to Reply #23
52. "it is because the atheist is (inadvertently, perhaps) obeying God"
Prove it.

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WritingIsMyReligion Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Mar-12-06 11:47 AM
Response to Original message
32. Pffft no.
The most moral people I know are athiests and agnostics.
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bleedingheart Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-13-06 01:42 PM
Response to Original message
36. Morality is a socially agreed upon set of rules/laws
look at mongamy/polygamy...it is handled differently in many cultures....all because different groups saw fit to handle the situation in different ways.

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varkam Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-13-06 09:24 PM
Response to Reply #36
37. Playing the devil's advocate...
The inuits, I believe, practice infanticide. Several middle-eastern and muslim traditions practice the removal of the clitoris so that the female does not find sex pleasurable. Some aboriginal tribes believe that homosexual sex between a man and a boy (e.g. 12 years old) is a rite of passage into adulthood, and the depositing of sperm into the boy's body is integral to that process.

Would we be ethnocentric then, in asserting that some or all of these practices are immoral? Or suppose that you and I have been raised on an island lush with fruits and vegetables - we have never known society or language for that matter - but there are enough resources here to sustain the both of us. Suppose one day you take my life because you are worried that the resources will run out - is that immoral?
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Orrex Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Mar-14-06 09:33 AM
Response to Reply #37
39. Who gets to set the rules?
We have no way to identify absolute "good," and even if we think we know what absolute "good" is, we have no way to determine whether your perception is correct. If anyone knows of a way to identify with certainty what absolute "good" really is, then I would love to hear it. But I am not convinced by appeals to an "inner voice," "the writing on your heart," "self-evident goodness," or the alleged testimony of some supernatural force or entity.

All that you can say with relative certainty is that you perceive Behavior X to be entirely inconsistent with your own notion of morality.

So if you declare that some other culture's practices are immoral, you are indeed acting with ethnocentrism, but it's an entirely human tendency.

Someone has posted the view that might does not make right. That's true, but not for the reason that the poster probably thinks. Might does not make right because "right" is not a constant or an absolute. Instead, "might" can simply put into effect the "mighty" person's notion of what is right.
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varkam Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Mar-14-06 10:10 AM
Response to Reply #39
40. I disagree.
I think that there is an absolute morality - just because we are not aware of it's rules does mean that it doesn't exist. For instance, mathematical truths have always been true, even before we became aware of them. 2 + 2 has always equaled 4, even when H. Sapien Sapiens weren't around. Who is to say that the same thing cannot be said of morality? Now how we get to the point where we can identify what these absolute moral "rules" are, well that beats me.

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Orrex Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Mar-14-06 10:28 AM
Response to Reply #40
41. But that's a problem in itself
First, analogies between mathematics and morality are flawed, unless we can demonstrate that morality obeys laws of mathematical precision and consistency, and this has never been done. And it's not as though early H Sapiens were saying "I know that 2 + 2 must equal something, but what?!?" (they might have said this, but without evidence you can't claim this with certainty). Yet you're saying "an absolute morality must exist, though we haven't found it." On what basis is this claim made? It's made purely on faith. Sorry, but that's unconvincing.

Second, an absolute but inherently inaccessible morality is identical to a nonexistent absolute morality. If we fundamentally can't get to that morality, and if we can't even demonstrate that it exists, then any statements that we make about it are likewise based entirely in faith. It's also a statement of faith to posit that an absolute morality exists despite our utter inability to see it.

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varkam Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Mar-14-06 11:04 AM
Response to Reply #41
42. First off
I never said "an absolute morality must exist", I said I think that it does. I take a more agnostic perspective on it than you would claim I do. But I do make the claim that I think it does based not on faith, but on my view that moral relativism, social contracts, and "conscience" are all insufficient tools of determining what is moral and what is not moral.

Relativism - An extreme example: Who's to say that Hitler's slaughter of 6 million Jews was wrong? I mean, it might seem wrong to us, but if his culture taught him that the Jews were an inferior race and needed to be exterminated, then we're certainly being ethnocentric in asserting that what he did was wrong.

Social contracts, or "agreed upon sets of rules" - What happens to the people who don't agree to the social contract? If someone doesn't agree to the sets of rules that most other people have agreed upon then, sure, they might not get all the benefits of social arrangements, but then it also follows that they can murder and not be held morally accountable.

Conscience - This is something that functions differently for each individual person. One on hand you have the individual for whom washing a car is a moral dilemma, whereas on the other you have the sociopath, for whom other people are merely sheep to be bent to his or her own will. If someone "without a conscience" murders, then it would seem to follow that they can not be held morally accountable.

The point I tried to make in my previous post is that I think it's wrong-headed of us to assume that, just because it seems hard to do, we can not access an absolute morality. In other words, I take issue with the phrase "absolute but inherently inaccessible morality".
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Zebedeo Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Mar-14-06 02:54 PM
Response to Reply #42
44. Excellent points
Moral relativism, social contracts, and conscience cannot account for "good" and "evil." In each case, it would lead to absurd results.

That is one way that we know that "good" and "evil" are objective realities, not subjective. We cannot make an evil act "good" just by calling it good.
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Orrex Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Mar-15-06 10:14 AM
Response to Reply #44
47. It's more complicated than argument by assertion.
Moral relativism, social contracts, and conscience cannot account for "good" and "evil." In each case, it would lead to absurd results.

Please define "good" and "evil" in terms that do not depend upon social context or personal preference. Then we can assess whether moral relativism, social contracts, and conscience can account for them.

I suggest that any definition you provide for "evil" can likely be reduced to "I find this strongly objectionable."

That is one way that we know that "good" and "evil" are objective realities, not subjective.

Uh, no. At best, you can claim that our culture has largely consistent views of what is "good" and what is "evil," but even that claim is difficult to support.

We cannot make an evil act "good" just by calling it good.

Perhaps not, but we can make an action "good" or "evil" in context by changing our cultural/societal definitions of those terms.
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Orrex Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Mar-15-06 10:07 AM
Response to Reply #42
46. Evidence, please
I never said "an absolute morality must exist", I said I think that it does. I take a more agnostic perspective on it than you would claim I do. But I do make the claim that I think it does based not on faith, but on my view that moral relativism, social contracts, and "conscience" are all insufficient tools of determining what is moral and what is not moral.

Well, if that's the case, then we're totally screwed, since they're pretty much all we have to help us make that determination. Barring appeals to revelation by supernatural entities or other ultimate powers, how do you propose that we, as finite, fallible, perception-limited creatures can make any assessments about the absolute morality you propose? Please don't assert another mathematical analogy here, unless you can first demonstrate that absolute morality exists and second that it behaves according to similary rigid rules as mathematics.

Relativism - An extreme example: Who's to say that Hitler's slaughter of 6 million Jews was wrong? I mean, it might seem wrong to us, but if his culture taught him that the Jews were an inferior race and needed to be exterminated, then we're certainly being ethnocentric in asserting that what he did was wrong.

Godwin's law notwithstanding, you've articulated the situation very nicely! Since we have no way (and I mean literally no way) to determine the objective, absolute "goodness" or "badness" of anything, we have no justification for declaring any deed absolutely "good" or "bad." Do you assert otherwise? On what possible basis? How, in your view, can we glimpse this "absolute morality" as you conceive it to exist?

All we can do is declare an action to be utterly incompatible with our own sense of right and wrong, to the extent that we are able to assess it.

Social contracts, or "agreed upon sets of rules" - What happens to the people who don't agree to the social contract? If someone doesn't agree to the sets of rules that most other people have agreed upon then, sure, they might not get all the benefits of social arrangements, but then it also follows that they can murder and not be held morally accountable.

You're confusing individual morality with societal morality. Perhaps Murderer X can't be held accountable under his own morality, but the morality of society-at-large comes into play as well. Anyone choosing to exist in a society agrees by definition to abide by that society's rulesthat's the very same social contract to which you refer, and morality hardly even enters into it. And a person can't simply opt out of the social contract and thereafter kill a member of that society; to do so (to interact in that fashion with a member of the society) is to deliberately maintain the social contract, with all the benefits and requirements thereof. Society as a whole thus has the power to censure or punish the person who commits a crime against that society, even if the criminal declares himself free of the contract.

Conscience - This is something that functions differently for each individual person. One on hand you have the individual for whom washing a car is a moral dilemma, whereas on the other you have the sociopath, for whom other people are merely sheep to be bent to his or her own will. If someone "without a conscience" murders, then it would seem to follow that they can not be held morally accountable.

Again, you're confusing individual and societal morality. Indeed, the person without a conscience may not feel accountable under his own morality, and if his were the only relevant morality, then that would be the end of it. But society's morality also gets a vote.

The point I tried to make in my previous post is that I think it's wrong-headed of us to assume that, just because it seems hard to do, we can not access an absolute morality.

That's not an agnostic position, then! You're just applying Pascal's Wager to the question of morality, and it's no more effective here than in arguing about God's existence.

And forgive me, but I'm not suggesting that accessing an absolute morality is "hard to do." Instead, I'm arguing that there is no evidence whatsoever that an absolute morality exists. If it does exist, then there is no evidence that we have access to it. Lacking such evidence, there is no reasonable way for us to conclude that it exists; such a conclusion can only be made on faith, which (again) is hardly agnostic.

And I stand by my assertion that an inaccessible morality is no different from a nonexistent morality. If you dispute this, please articulate the difference as you see it.

In other words, I take issue with the phrase "absolute but inherently inaccessible morality".

You're welcome to take issue with it, but you haven't yet given an argument that really supports your view or refutes mine.

So far, the entirety of your argument is based upon aesthetics, wherein you judge a thing "bad" if it conflicts with your aesthetic sensibility. That's not an insultI submit that nearly everything we do is governed by that sensibility. However, it's a huge mistake to leap from "I find this deeply objectionable" to "this is absolutely evil." That way fundamentalism lies.
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varkam Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Mar-15-06 11:14 AM
Response to Reply #46
48. I just woke up.
But let's see if I'm conscious enough yet to string together a few coherent sentences.

Well, if that's the case, then we're totally screwed, since they're pretty much all we have to help us make that determination. Barring appeals to revelation by supernatural entities or other ultimate powers, how do you propose that we, as finite, fallible, perception-limited creatures can make any assessments about the absolute morality you propose? Please don't assert another mathematical analogy here, unless you can first demonstrate that absolute morality exists and second that it behaves according to similarly rigid rules as mathematics.

What you're asking me to do is something I believe I've already said I cannot do - because if I could then we wouldn't be having this discussion. I can't really appeal to God (because 1) I don't believe in a God and 2) even if I did, it's pretty clear that morality is independent of God). I can't assert another mathematical analogy either (because 1) I've already used up the one I knew and 2) I suck at mathematics). But complete moral relativism strikes me as silly (and perhaps moral absolutism strikes you to be silly as well), and my reason for that is precisely the conclusion to your argument: that we have no way of determining the goodness or badness of other's actions. To use my Hitler example again, it strikes me as inherently disgusting to say that we have no way of determining what Hitler did was right or wrong - he was responsible for the deaths of millions upon millions of human beings. His rationale was that he was "cleansing the world". In his own eyes, I'm sure that he was doing what he thought was the moral thing to do. But are you seriously asserting that you have no idea one way or the other whether or not the Holocaust was a moral or immoral act? Because if you can say that and keep a straight face, then I, for one, say you are a scary cat. If you do (or ever have) had the same feeling that I (and many others do) that what he did was immoral, then I would take that as evidence for at least the possibility of an existence of an absolute morality.

Godwin's law notwithstanding, you've articulated the situation very nicely! Since we have no way (and I mean literally no way) to determine the objective, absolute "goodness" or "badness" of anything, we have no justification for declaring any deed absolutely "good" or "bad." Do you assert otherwise? On what possible basis? How, in your view, can we glimpse this "absolute morality" as you conceive it to exist?

All we can do is declare an action to be utterly incompatible with our own sense of right and wrong, to the extent that we are able to assess it.


I think I responded to most of this above. But to go a bit further, what you seem to be advocating is something to this effect: A drugged out criminal who just shot four cops and ran over 16 preschool children in his SUV while they were on recess is neither good nor bad. We have no justification for calling that action a "bad" action. We may think it's bad, but that doesn't mean it is.

So, if I'm understanding you correctly, it sure seems to make a whole lot of human civilization pretty damn silly. Take our penal system for example - who's to say if those Kenneth Lay did a right or wrong thing? It might of been right in his eyes, so then does that mean we should punish him for trying to do the right thing? Or going further, even our methods of rewarding "good" behavior - even something as simple as a pat on the back. I suppose we have no justification then, since all of our conceptions of right and wrong differ (I agree with that statement by the way, I just happen to think some people are pretty whacked out when it comes to morality. By the way, I don't think I have my finger on the pulse of morality either).

You're confusing individual morality with societal morality. Perhaps Murderer X can't be held accountable under his own morality, but the morality of society-at-large comes into play as well. Anyone choosing to exist in a society agrees by definition to abide by that society's rulesthat's the very same social contract to which you refer, and morality hardly even enters into it. And a person can't simply opt out of the social contract and thereafter kill a member of that society; to do so (to interact in that fashion with a member of the society) is to deliberately maintain the social contract, with all the benefits and requirements thereof. Society as a whole thus has the power to censure or punish the person who commits a crime against that society, even if the criminal declares himself free of the contract.

Well it wouldn't be the first time I've been confused, and it probably won't be the last. But let me give you this example: Say there's a hermit, living completely on his or her own, outside of societal bounds (e.g. someone who does not "opt-in" to the social contract). Say that this hermit kills an animal (who, I'm assuming cannot take part in such a social contract) for the sheer enjoyment of inflicting pain onto another living being. Is that wrong?

Again, you're confusing individual and societal morality. Indeed, the person without a conscience may not feel accountable under his own morality, and if his were the only relevant morality, then that would be the end of it. But society's morality also gets a vote.

Ohhhh...so morality isn't completely relative. I was misunderstanding your argument (I did just wake up, after all).

That's not an agnostic position, then! You're just applying Pascal's Wager to the question of morality, and it's no more effective here than in arguing about God's existence.

And forgive me, but I'm not suggesting that accessing an absolute morality is "hard to do." Instead, I'm arguing that there is no evidence whatsoever that an absolute morality exists. If it does exist, then there is no evidence that we have access to it. Lacking such evidence, there is no reasonable way for us to conclude that it exists; such a conclusion can only be made on faith, which (again) is hardly agnostic.

And I stand by my assertion that an inaccessible morality is no different from a nonexistent morality. If you dispute this, please articulate the difference as you see it.


Well, if being an agnostic means lacking knowledge one way or the other on a topic, then I fail to see how I am not agnostic with respect to absolute morality. I think there is because the alternatives seem insufficient to me. I only say that it's wrong-headed to count it out, not that it's wrong-headed not to count it in.

And I do agree with your point that, functionally speaking, an inaccessible morality is equivalent to a nonexistent morality. But all I'm saying is that it might not be inaccessible. If you and I were living back in the 1600's (I had a dream like this last night) and I told you that in 400 years, there would be motorized vehicles and cell phones and all the trappings of modern life, you would probably look at me like I had a third eye (besides asking, 'What's a cell phone?') and say that it was impossible, that it would never happen.

Just because something seems inaccessible to us at present is not equivalent with the statement that something *is* inaccessible. You seem to be arguing for a different kind of absolutism here, one having to do with perception.

You're welcome to take issue with it, but you haven't yet given an argument that really supports your view or refutes mine.

So far, the entirety of your argument is based upon aesthetics, wherein you judge a thing "bad" if it conflicts with your aesthetic sensibility. That's not an insultI submit that nearly everything we do is governed by that sensibility. However, it's a huge mistake to leap from "I find this deeply objectionable" to "this is absolutely evil." That way fundamentalism lies.


Whew, almost there. Still with me? Perhaps I'm wrong to call it moral absolutism, because I think that contextual information does play a part. So I'm thinking that when you hear moral absolutism, you take me as saying (Murder is *always* wrong, even if someone murders a killer to save another person's life, that is *wrong*!). I don't mean that. Perhaps a better phrase to use is objective morality. I don't think that morality is so rigid, precisely for the reason that contextual factors would seem (to me at least) to have a mitigating effect on moral culpability. I've never said anything is absolutely evil, nor will I ever say anything like that. As I agree with you again, that is the way fundamentalism lies, and fundamentalism is one scary cat.



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Orrex Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Mar-15-06 04:10 PM
Response to Reply #48
49. Making progress
complete moral relativism strikes me as silly (and perhaps moral absolutism strikes you to be silly as well), and my reason for that is precisely the conclusion to your argument: that we have no way of determining the goodness or badness of other's actions.

But to be fair, I've been saying that we have no way of determining the absolute goodness or badness of other's actions. Sure, we can assess them in terms of our own preferences and morality--we do it all the time! But we have no justification for claiming that we can judge goodness or badness in absolute or objective terms.

But are you seriously asserting that you have no idea one way or the other whether or not the Holocaust was a moral or immoral act? Because if you can say that and keep a straight face, then I, for one, say you are a scary cat. If you do (or ever have) had the same feeling that I (and many others do) that what he did was immoral, then I would take that as evidence for at least the possibility of an existence of an absolute morality.

It doesn't matter whether the example is Hitler or Mother Theresa or the paperboy or the woman who dropkicked her chihuahua: all we can say is "that event/action is consistent/inconsistent with my notion of good and evil," and we might offer a sort of rough guaging of just how inconsistent we find it to be. Even if you and I and 300 million other people share the exact same ideas about good/evil, that's no closer to a true absolute morality, unless we equate "absolute" with "consensus."

However, I do find it morally objectionable to note that I misspelled "gauging" in the preceding paragraph.

The Holocaust--and for that matter the very notion of killing people for trumped-up racial/ethnic/religious reasons--is as abominable to me as it is to nearly everyone else. But that's all I can say; I can't claim to know whether the Holocaust is truly "immoral" as judged on some absolute scale. All I can say is that it's morally repugnant to me. And that's all that you or anyone else can say, too.

what you seem to be advocating is something to this effect: A drugged out criminal who just shot four cops and ran over 16 preschool children in his SUV while they were on recess is neither good nor bad. We have no justification for calling that action a "bad" action. We may think it's bad, but that doesn't mean it is.

Again, though, I think you're missing the crux of what I'm saying. We can clearly say that the criminal has committed a bad action, because we are free to judge his actions against our notion of morality. But we can't judge his actions according to any "absolute" measurement of morality.

Say there's a hermit, living completely on his or her own, outside of societal bounds (e.g. someone who does not "opt-in" to the social contract). Say that this hermit kills an animal (who, I'm assuming cannot take part in such a social contract) for the sheer enjoyment of inflicting pain onto another living being. Is that wrong?

You're on the right track, actually. We must first determine whose moral yardstick we're going to use to judge him. If we judge the hermit by his own yardstick, then he has probably commited a morally good (or maybe neutral) act. If we judge by my yardstick (and yours, I suspect), then we'd say that he's done a cruel and terrible thing. These are both valid assessments, and they are not inconsistent.

Though I've mentioned that I don't care for mathematical analogies, here's one: suppose that there's a pole jutting from the ground, and two different people measure it. One finds it to be twelve feet tall, while the other finds it to be two-and-a-half spulzes tall. Who is correct? Can they both be correct?

Some (ie., probably not you) might object that measurements are a man-made convention, while morality is not. I don't share that view, nor have I seen any evidence that it is correct.

Again, you're confusing individual and societal morality. Indeed, the person without a conscience may not feel accountable under his own morality, and if his were the only relevant morality, then that would be the end of it. But society's morality also gets a vote.
Ohhhh...so morality isn't completely relative. I was misunderstanding your argument (I did just wake up, after all).


Well, don't blame yourself; maybe I'm not articulating it well.

However, I think you're misconstruing my point here. I'm not saying that either position is closer to an absolute morality; I'm just saying that, of the two differing moral codes, one may be in a position to judge the other and will likely use its own moral code to do so.

Well, if being an agnostic means lacking knowledge one way or the other on a topic, then I fail to see how I am not agnostic with respect to absolute morality. I think there is because the alternatives seem insufficient to me. I only say that it's wrong-headed to count it out, not that it's wrong-headed not to count it in.

Well, lacking clear evidence of its existence, then I would say that it's a mistake to "count it in," because to do so is to make a leap of faith that I don't think is justified.

But we're also running up against the myriad different definitions of agnostic. I was taking your definition as "believe that X may exist, but we lack evidence to conclude one way or the other," whereas you seem to be concluding that X does exist but we just can't prove it.

If you and I were living back in the 1600's (I had a dream like this last night) and I told you that in 400 years, there would be motorized vehicles and cell phones and all the trappings of modern life, you would probably look at me like I had a third eye (besides asking, 'What's a cell phone?') and say that it was impossible, that it would never happen.

Look at it this way--if in 1600 you'd said "some day people will have cell phones," I would have said that you were making a statement of faith, because you would (presumably) lack any evidence in support of your claim. Similarly, the claim that an absolute morality might exist is a statement of faith. My view, that we have no evidence of the existence of an absolute morality, is consistent with observed reality and requires no leap of faith.

Just because something seems inaccessible to us at present is not equivalent with the statement that something *is* inaccessible. You seem to be arguing for a different kind of absolutism here, one having to do with perception.

If we stick with the term "absolute morality," then I think I'm on pretty solid ground. In all of human history, I can think of no true "absolute" that has ever been conclusively demonstrated by us finite, fallible creatures, so it's a safe bet to assert that "absolute morality" is likewise unlikely to be demonstrated.

But if, instead, we move to "objective morality," then I'm still on pretty solid ground. We need to ask several questions: How do we identify this objective morality? How do we know that we're correct in identifying it? How do we know that we're correct in assessing any given event against this objective morality? Etc. etc. etc.

In practice, I suspect that what people believe is a statement of moral absolutism is in fact an assessment in terms of one's own subjective morality, however strongly it may be felt and however passionately we condemn an affront to that morality.
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varkam Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Mar-15-06 06:17 PM
Response to Reply #49
50. We may be misunderstanding one another.
In which case, we would have wasted a lot of hot air (or, hot typing I suppose). I agree with your point that when we have a subjective assessment about the rightness or wrongness of an action, that that is just our appeal to our own sense of morality. But often times, criminals (i.e. my in-laws) will rationalize their actions to the point where they can view themselves in a positive light. But the fact that they view their action as a good or right action does not make it so. That is the point that I am trying to get across, and if that is the case (that perception of the moral rightness of an action often has nothing to do with the actual moral rightness of an action), then there *has* to be an objective morality.

If you agree with that (at least the first part, maybe not the *having* to be an objective morality part), then I would suspect you and I are actually in more agreement than we thought.

And what's more, the statement that something might exist is not a statement of faith. In my view it's the most logically probable - as you're not ruling something out, nor are you ruling it in. And, at least according to my own thoughts, agnosticism refers to a condition of knowledge. Being that there is a distinction between knowledge and belief (with the former entailing a truth of the claim), then I have no problem describing myself as an agnostic atheist - I don't *know* whether or not there is a God, but I sure as hell don't believe in one.

I'm sort of in the same boat with objective morality. I don't know whether or not there is such a thing, but I believe there is one based on the evidence I've presented (i.e. relativist normative theories being insufficient).

And again, I was foolish to use the term "absolutism" - as it has several negative connotations. I don't mean to say the type of morality that lends itself to "Homosexuality is immoral because God said so and all homosexuals are evil". What I mean to say is that people's perceptions of their own actions does not make an action right (or wrong, for those of us who beat ourselves up all the time).

Who knows. In the end perhaps you are right and all we will ever have as framework for moral claims is our subjective interpretation. But perhaps as normative ethical theory advances we might come upon something which would allow us to logically satisfy the conditions and the questions you've raised. But, being that I'm no philosopher (and hell, not even that smart), I'm certainly not going to be able to do it.
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muriel_volestrangler Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Mar-14-06 06:59 AM
Response to Original message
38. Another way to phrase this: Does might make right?
I think we'd all agree that it doesn't.
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Odin2005 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Mar-14-06 02:03 PM
Response to Original message
43. People who only do good things out of fear of damnation...
Edited on Tue Mar-14-06 02:04 PM by Odin2005
...are selfish scumbags in my book. For an action to be moral you must have altruistic intentions, not just selfish ones.
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varkam Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Mar-14-06 08:02 PM
Response to Reply #43
45. But even then I think the case could be made
that people are doing it for things like recognition, or even that "warm fuzzy" feeling that people get when they do something good, and the argument could be made that these intentions are unconscious ones.

I do agree with you though, 100%. Doing good or not doing bad things as a means to either gain reward or avoid punishment is not really moral - it's being bribed (or threatened). I think people need to engage in moral acts for their own sake for something to be truly moral, though admittedly, that's not a very convincing argument for someone who's about to rob a liquor store.

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manic expression Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Mar-15-06 07:30 PM
Response to Original message
51. Of course not
it ensues from the individual (you could consider individuals "higher powerS", but that's a whole different discussion). That's the answer (my answer) to your specific question.
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Zhade Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Mar-19-06 04:01 PM
Response to Reply #51
53. We've got at least one bigot who disagrees with you.
Actually, he seems to be the only one admitting that belief at this time.

But I agree with your post.

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