Comment #6644

Forum: Morality and Stuff!
yeroc
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My personal view is that morality is a tool of evolution; that is to say, we, as humans, have moral feelings because it has helped us (as both a species and an individual) survive in the past. I take a similar stance to Hume in the sense that I think morality doesn't exist beyond these feelings. However, I also believe that we, as rational beings, are capable of understanding that morality was created to serve a specific purpose (survival), and that our intuitive moral feelings may not have caught up with modern society and technology. Thus, we have a duty to rationally judge our actions as well as rely on our intuitive moral feelings.

For this reason, I don't believe in relativism. I suppose I see it in black-and-white terms: what helps us survive is good, and what makes it harder for us to survive is bad. Granted, it's not always easy to tell what helps us survive, but that doesn't mean there wasn't a right answer. I don't always know the answers to questions on my physics test, but there is obviously a right answer. People can have different ideas of what will lead to survival, but only one of these ideas can be right (provided they conflict).
ThatGuySteve
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I think you are misunderstanding what relativism means since you are actually describing a relative stance (probably Egoism). You are saying that in each situation the action which helps us survive is good, which means that the moral action is situationally dependent: a key part of relativism. For example; killing someone would usually not be the right action to take as it would reduce your survivability (jail or death penalty depending on where you live) however, if you are a soldier or simply defending yourself from an attacker, killing becomes the right action to increase your survivability. It depends on the situation. If you were an absolutist (a non relativist) you would say that killing is wrong, hence killing, even in self defence, would be the wrong action.
yeroc
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Hmm, well, my understanding of moral relativism is just that it states that morality can be different between cultures and individuals without any of them being "wrong", so yes, it's entirely possible that I'm misunderstanding relativism. However, in this thread, people have expressed a view similar to what I described in this post, so that's what I was answering. I think that an action is either right or wrong, even if we don't know which at the time.

Anyways, my philosophy is actually quite egalitarian. When I say morality helps "us" survive, I don't mean it helps me survive. I would argue that if the only way for a child to survive was for a parent to sacrifice one's self for the child, then, given that the child would have a high probability of reaching adult post-sacrifice, the parent would be morally required to make such a sacrifice. The reason for this is because I see the survival of the gene, rather than the individual, as a priority, whereas many egoist philosophers (Ayn Rand most notably) would not at all support such a course of action, as to such philosophers, the individual is more important than the gene. Now, I would argue that "my" gene is more important than "your" gene, so if I had to choose who to save, I'd choose to save myself. However, I do not think "my" gene is so much more important that letting two others die would be a moral course of action; ultimately, I'm concerned with body count.
ThatGuySteve
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Ok, not Egoist, but still relativist as the actions are situationally dependent; ie sacrificing yourself to save another would depend on if they are an offspring of yours or not, or if many people would die.

Relativism being based on society is being focused on by other peoples posts but they are forgetting (or not realising) that society is only one factor in determining the situation. Relativism simply means that every situation is considered separately for the moral course of action with no "unbreakable rules" (although that doesn't mean there will be a situation where you perform a particular action).
ScintillaPurpose
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I think the issue here is that we are getting confused between relativism as opposed to objectivism, and relativism as opposed to absolutism. When I made my post, I meant that I was an objectivist, not that I was an absolutist, and I think yeroc is saying the same. He thinks that good and evil do not vary from person to person based on culture, though he doesn't necessarily say it doesn't vary from situation to situation.
ThatGuySteve
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Ahh, clearly I've been thinking along different lines from everyone else.

Though I don't see his stance as purely objective, he would save himself or his offspring but not me because of his personal feelings towards wanting to extend his own life or ensure the survival of his own genes. This sounds subjective to me, although the sacrifice to save two or more people would be more objective.
lazarony
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lazarony 30 United States CholericSanguine ESTJ 8w7 503C
This actually sounds a lot like moral pragmatism to me. While his writings are usually misunderstood as relativism, William James was an ethical pragmatist, postulating that each member of a social organism works together, filling individual roles like cogs in a machine, and the "ethics" behind the situation were essentially boiled down to "whatever aids in overall survival."

While many consider Wikipedia an unreliable source, to at least brush up on the topic, you can find some detail here: ∞ LINK ∞
yeroc
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While I admit I don't know much about moral pragmatism, I've heard it be contrasted with consequentialism, so, given that I am a consequentialist, I'd guess that it would be inaccurate to call me a moral pragmatist. Furthermore, the wikipedia article you linked to made it sound the primary characteristic of moral pragmatism is that morality evolves. As the article puts it, I can hold something as true while still understanding that future generations may not see it as true and that these future generations will indeed be right. Perhaps what is efficient will change, but I see the laws of efficiency as a means to achieving moral ends without dictating morality itself. The article gives the example of slaveholders, which I would argue was wrong even then since it was destructive to the culture of others, and, as many historians have argued, actually harmed the upper class (the south ended up having little industry compared to the north, and even then, many economists noted that slavery was unsustainable). But again, I don't know much about moral pragmatism, so I could be wrong.
lazarony
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lazarony 30 United States CholericSanguine ESTJ 8w7 503C
Nope, you're pretty spot on. The difference, I suppose, would be between moral pragmatism and ethical pragmatism. While slavery was wrong according to ethical pragmatism, given the economics behind it and the other points you mentioned, for each individual slaveholder, it was very morally pragmatic to have slaves, as individual success was sustainable, even though it may not pass that success onto the future generations, given the lack of sustainability.
crazycolorz5
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crazycolorz5 20 United States MelancholicCholeric INTP 5w4 126C
I don't think that morality came directly out of the need to survive in the past, but more like they were created along with society to defend the people IN the society from each other. And since then, morals have been passed along in teaching of the young of a society. Example, if you look at the classic 1984 the current generation there has MUCH different morals and thoughts than Winston does, because the morals were taught to them differently(and it doesn't help them survive).
yeroc
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I suppose the issue here is in determining what helps us survive. Even though I believe a right answer always exists, it is very rarely an easy answer to come up with. The question I always ask myself is whether or not violent fascism helps us survive. Certainly, in the case of a Hitler or Stalin-like figure, the fact that millions were killed means it was wrong. But if I were to take a more Machiavellian perspective, we have a more interesting question. If I kill, say, 10 or 20 people to make the public fear the state, thus making them more likely to obey "just" laws (don't murder, don't steal) that help us survive, is that right? See, it's hard to tell, because there are too many variables. How strong will the fear be? What are the risks of the often irrational behavior that comes with fear? What about those close to the 10 or 20 victims? Will they want revenge? The point is, we have no idea what helps us survive. A casual observer (particular one raised in a democratic society) would instantly say that the murder of these 10 or 20 people would be wrong. And we really have no way of determining if this casual observer is right. So, whether or not the morals you mentioned help us survive is probably an equally deep question.

If you're trying to say that the intent of these morals wasn't to survive, well, I hardly consider that relevant. I was, for the most part, referring specifically to our moral emotions, rather than the voice of our superego (a term coined by Freud essentially saying that the values our parents teach us as children "follows" us for the rest of our life). There are some clear rules we can find when we examine humanity as a whole. Anyone who isn't a sociopath (and I wouldn't consider a sociopath a person) would have a severe emotional reaction to killing someone for absolutely no reason. Of course, there are a few areas where people's feelings don't match up with what is clearly right (non-sociopaths have killed for money). Well, as I said, this is because our moral feelings were shaped by evolution, which has not caught up with modern society. In one study performed, some psychologists dropped a bunch of wallets at certain locations and measured how many of the wallets were returned. None of the wallets had anything other than a picture. What the psychologists were really testing was how much of an impact the content of the picture had. Some wallets had no picture, some had a picture of a baby, an elderly couple, a puppy, etc. I'll spare the details, but the wallets with the picture of the baby were about five times as likely to be returned as the wallets with no picture. The only explanation the experimenters can come up with is that the mind can't tell the difference between a picture and reality, so the subconscious drives us to return something as important as a baby to its owner. Even when we discuss something as simple as photographs, our minds haven't caught up to modern society. People killing for money is a much more extreme example, and I admit I can't be 100% certain why that happens, but I can guess. Most of these criminals are narcissists, and narcissism has become a common phenomena due to our generations focus on self-esteem ∞ LINK ∞ This happened because some researchers (the scientific method is a relatively new thing) found a relation between self-esteem and performance (they were ignoring the rule of research: "correlation does not imply causation", but that's hardly important for this discussion) and thus promoted the idea of boosting self-esteem. This opinion could only be heard because modern society has made communication to the masses much easier. And thus violent narcissists were created. This could not have happened to humanity in any era other than our era of modern society. If I were to guess, I'd venture that in generations past, narcissists only existed among the ruling class. As I said at the beginning of this post, using violence to create order is a more interesting moral question than it seems. It's entirely likely that rulers being narcissists was a good thing back then.

That's not to say that morality was ever perfect in the first place. Evolution grants us what helps us survive best. If something imperfect is helping us survive, it won't be fixed. The reason we rely on emotions for morality instead of rationally calculating what the most moral course of action is is proof of this. Not only would it take an intellect superior to our current one to do so, but I assume it would be much harder for evolution to nudge us in this direction. It's easier for DNA to control our emotions than our cognition.

So yes! Immoral behavior either comes from sociopaths, miscalculations, or outdated aspects of human nature.