"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Back to the Existence of Moral Values Beyond the Personal

I looked in on the comments to an earlier post and saw the argument over the existence of morality as more than a subjective being discussed. We've been over this territory, but I think a twist is possible.

This time we'll put the burden on the relativists (or whatever they want to be called): please give your evidence that there is no absolute right or wrong.

81 comments:

Jay D. Homnick said...

Sorry, Hunter, that's a tautology stretched too taut. Since there is no right or wrong, evidence is impossible. Thus the premise is inherently unprovable.

However, the inverse is possible. The fact that the mind sees right and wrong constantly (it is right to put one foot in front of the other if one wishes to transport oneself in a forward direction) proves that right and wrong exists.

James Elliott said...

Jay, with all respect to your linguistic prestidigitation, that's the most ridiculous semantic argument I have ever read. I can only hope that it was tongue-in-cheek. Or are you actually conflating a mode of travel with a moral/ethical choice?

The Liberal Anonymous said...

Once again, it's a confusion between there being no absolute moral right and wrong, and there being no absolute right and wrong. We've hashed this out before, Jay, so stop using that sad argument.

To restate for at least the tenth time:

Nobody is claiming that there is no such thing as correct and incorrect. For example, it is right (in the sense of correctness) that objects are drawn towards one another with a force proportionate to the product of their masses divided by the distance between them. That's an absolute, just as the observation that morality is shaped by our environment. You see, observations about the nature of morality are not moral points of view by themselves, so they are not constrained by the fact that moral arguments are inherently relative.

If you disagree with this, fine. State why. Stop pretending that moral relativism is some form of solipsism whereby nothing can be known for sure.

Hunter Baker said...

James, LA, Tlaloc, I want you to really take the burden of giving evidence for this point of view. Try to really spell it out. Jay may be right or wrong, but I want to hear from you why you embrace the viewpoint you do.

The basic request again is, "Please give evidence for the belief that there is no such thing as true right or wrong, particularly as regards moral values."

Hunter Baker said...

Looks like it gets a lot tougher when the shoe is on the other foot. Not getting a lot of takers to give evidence for the resolution offered.

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

I have tried to find where the "road forks" between the relativist and the absolutist. Forgive me if this is old hat for some of you.

Here is what I see as agreement between the MR's and MA's:

- both use many factors, internal and external, to make a decision and take action;

- morality is one of the internal factors;


Where MR's and MA's split:

- morality, one of the inputs to the decision making process, is either:

MR: different for different people;
MA: universal (absolute).

Have I framed this correctly? Am I close?

Hunter Baker said...

I think you've stated the situation fairly. We need some of our hard-core relativists to chime in and move this thing along. I'm starting to think they don't want to tackle this problem.

James Elliott said...

So sorry. My new "no blogging from home" policy (lest my fiancee leave me for not paying attention to her) and a busy work schedule today will preclude my involvement in more than spurts. More later. Of course, feel free to interpret this as grounds for unwarranted triumphalism (to use your words) if that makes you feel better.

Of course, as framed you're asking us to prove a negative.

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

If one were to say, "God does not exist", another can ask him "have you looked everywhere?"

Of course it is impossible to look everywhere, and if one COULD look everywhere, that person would be God himself.

Along similar lines as James, I wish this thread were started on a Monday or Tuesday rather than on Friday.

James Elliott said...

Consider the pragmatism of Aristotle and the skepticism of the Greek Cynics. Aristotle would have us focus on what virtues need to be taught. The Cynic would wisely point out that were a virtue absolute, a Grand Truth per se, it would not need to be taught. Morals are an aspect of communitarian living. Even Aristotle wrote that ethics (i.e. morals) are an aspect of (social) politics, rather than metaphysics.

As has been painstakingly pointed out in this forum before, all cultures will choose to focus on different virtues (which are by necessity described and determined in a confluence of linguistics, religion, and socio-cultural factors).

So, while one might say, "Killing is wrong!" another will say "Ah, but we must stone to death those guilty of adultery!" And indeed, even in those societies that say killing is wrong, caveats will be placed on such a stricture. In war, we permit grave crimes (such as murder) and laud them as acts of heroism whereas a sane, rational response (Run away from the men with guns!) is vilified and punished by death. We go on to permit the state to commit crimes (such as murder) so long as it meets some sort of arbitrarily (no matter how rationally) arrived at code of reasoning. Oh, but you can kill in defense of home, of self, of another... Soon it becomes an exercise in semantics. How we define such acts becomes more important than the act itself.

Other examples: Ruthless abandon that is acceptable in frontier settlement (such as the slaughter of Natives or the hoarding of resources) becomes unacceptable once the frontier reaches a threshold of civilization. Is a Fundamentalist Muslim less moral because he believes a sexually-active single woman should be killed while a modern Christian does not (though he or she may condemn the woman's actions)?

Is something a truth when we keep coming up with exceptions to it? Do we look to history for the answers, finding virtue in traditions when such traditions are often constructed around the power structures of the time? To bastardize a bit of Aristotle: The history of man is mired in the politics of man.

You can come up with any form of moral judgment and someone will be able to come up with a hypothetical or real world example that puts the lie to it. If something were absolute (to play the same semantic game indemic to such discussions), then it should be impossible to do so. In order to say something is an absolute truth, you have to say that someone is acting contrarily to it by some aspect of their own volition, explainable only by some sort of pathology (Man is wicked, man is tainted by original sin, etc.). Ultimately, you have to ask who is defining that ultimate truth, and how are they defining it? Invariably that "truth" is a sociocultural linguistic construction, no matter the use of logic or reason (nothing is purely objective where the human mind is involved). Such constructs evolve, unravel, and reconstitute themselves over the scale of time.

You cannot speak to grand moral truths because they are constantly evolving due to situation, culture, language, religion, and plain old human experience and perceptions.

And that's my lunch break. I'll try to check in later.

James Elliott said...

If one were to say, "God does not exist", another can ask him "have you looked everywhere?"

Which is why I'm an agnostic who leans towards atheism. I could be wrong. I don't think I am, but I allow for the possibility. I just think the sociocultural, anthropoligical, and historical advantages of religion explain its existence a whole lot better than some Dude in the sky with a magic teddy bear who creates reality with grand pronouncements. Or something.

No, really, I HAVE to get this report done. I'm out. (Riiight...)

Hunter Baker said...

James, thanks for throwing some stuff out there to see if it will stick. I expect this board will start seeing some action, from me if from no one else.

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

James, Re: "Killing is wrong."

If someone dies in a battle (in a war), was that person killed or murdered? Is there a difference (to you)? Does it matter?

You are also confusing our societies rules (you can kill in defense of your home) with a moral rule.

The moral rule would be:

We ought not intentionally kill another human being.

I realize that you may be too busy to be as articulate as you'd like; please do not take offense if I am reading too much into your choice of words.

James Elliott said...

No offense taken, CLA. I finished my report and have a few minutes before my next meeting, so I'll address your point (probably too briefly).

In a nutshell, yes, you are reading too much into it, but then, I didn't define my terms as clearly as I perhaps needed to. This is always a problem in debates on morals, ethics, and philosophy, since they are so reliant upon linguistic construction, and I should be more diligent about it!

I guess I would object to your categorizing societal rules as not being moral rules. I don't think you can separate the two quite so readily, since society's rules (i.e. man's laws) have an underpinning in the drafters' morality. We would quite simply look less askance upon someone who killed in what met society's definition of self-defense than we would one who killed in the course of what society has labeled a crime.

We ought not intentionally kill another human being.

War still remains a sticking point here. We (society) are instructing members to go and intentionally kill another human being with a moral sanction (You're on the side of God, Freedom, Liberty, Mom and Apple Pie, etc.). Society continually creates exceptions and caveats to so-called absolute rules. So the question remains: How can something we continually redefine remain absolute?

Thanks for the thoughtful feedback. And if someone "sees" Matt Huisman, tell him that he can find an answer to his final question in the "Commander-in-Chief" thread in Liberal Anonymous's first post on this thread. Thanks.

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

I guess I would object to your categorizing societal rules as not being moral rules.

You've just supplied me with an AHA! moment!

I may be wrong, but I believe an absolutist would state that morals, because they are universal, are not dependent upon society.

The converse, that society is dependent upon morals, is a different story.

That may be it for me! Got guests coming and I need a haircut ... something that both relativists and absolutists would probably agree on.

James Elliott said...

I may be wrong, but I believe an absolutist would state that morals, because they are universal, are not dependent upon society.

Your "AHA!" moment might illustrate the crucial difference. Correct me if I'm wrong in summing this up:

Relativist: It is impossible for morals to exist outside of human perceptions and society.

Absolutist: It is impossible for human perceptions and society to exist outside of morals.

Does that sound about right? There would seem to be a fundamental, foundational disconnect. That would make reconciliation (and, indeed, mutual understanding!) very difficult.

The Liberal Anonymous said...

There would seem to be a fundamental, foundational disconnect. That would make reconciliation (and, indeed, mutual understanding!) very difficult.

Come on. The whole idea behind this discussion is evidence of one position or another.

I have trouble believing in something for which there is no evidence, so I am forced to discount the asseration that there is a universal morality, something for which I have seen no evidence. This leaves me to examine society and nature in an attempt to determine where moral ideas come from. The only two possibilities I can see are that morality is learned or that it is genetic but variable. Given the lack of evidence for the latter, I'll have to stick to the former. That's my reasoning.

Now, if I had absolute faith in an all-powerful diety who has handed down a code of morals, I can see how I would be unable to consider any alternative but universal morality. That kind of morality would apply even to a sociopath who is unable to feel regret -- it would transcend the person's views.

Hunter Baker said...

Let me give the evidence as I see it. I'll try to state what I think is the primary disconnect.

The primary evidence for the existence of moral absolutes is that people everywhere and at all times live under rules and principles. Those principles and rules would yield certain core truths that I think can be found and identified again and again.

Example: I seriously doubt the existence of a society where theft undertaken for profit rather than need would ever be applauded.

Example: I doubt the existence of a society where someone considered a friend regularly lies to you with damaging consequences.

Example: I doubt the existence of a society where killing is accepted or applauded without a strong justification like self-defense or punishment of a crime.

I think that I could make the challenge based on these or other principles and no one could identify a society that has held the opposite.

I think the fact of the matter is that it is probably indisputable that there is a core of always there taboos and praiseworthy acts. Realistically, I think the debate could only be at the margins of how expansive such principles might be.

The Liberal Anonymous said...

I am going to use your second example, because I can think of societies that violate your other two:

Example: I doubt the existence of a society where someone considered a friend regularly lies to you with damaging consequences.

Yes, hurting people is usually frowned upon. Clearly, no group could survive if behavior like this was allowed to go on -- personal relationships are key to the success of a human society. But this goes back to what I said above. Namely, what if a person comes along who thinks that lying to friends is just fine. Certainly people like this exist. ("I believe in karma. That means I can do bad things to people all day long and I assume they deserve it" --Dogbert) There are folks out there who commit plenty of nasty acts and feel no guilt. This means that there either isn't a universal morality, or the universal morality isn't innately felt by human beings.

I mentioned this when I spoke of morality ordained by God.

I guess the unreconcilable point is that, like I said, if you believe that morality is handed down by a deity, then you don't even need to use the argument of consistency between cultures and individuals. The morality exists whether you believe in it or not.

Now, I'll give you that every society has some form of morality. That certainly seems to be a universal. It seems that without it, human clans cannot succeed.

Hunter Baker said...

LA, name the societies that prove I'm wrong about the other rules, because I can't think of them.

As to the other point, about individuals who apparently feel none of the force of these prohibitions, we can simply say that they are either handicapped (mentally ill) or that they chose to do what they thought was wrong in service of some other desire like personal enrichment, rage, etc.

If everyone observed these rules, we'd be living in little utopias. I said we're aware of them and are willing to legislate them, not that we always follow them.

The Liberal Anonymous said...

With regard to your examples, it's a side issue, Hunter but I'll indulge you: listen to some rap music. Or do subcultures not count?

As for being aware of moral rules... I'm aware of plenty of those which I don't agree with at all.

Hunter Baker said...

The rap culture is entertainment based and thrives on doing what is understood to be wrong. It's not a nullification, it's a set of choices based on what is understood to be right.

Second, would you or anyone anywhere think it was right if you took a test and the teacher randomly assigned a grade or failed you without reason. Virtually impossible to imagine.

Finally, can you or any other human being with the capacity of reason distinguish these two statements:

1. Chocolate ice cream is better than vanilla ice cream.

2. It is better to care for babies than to abuse them.

Anyone equipped with reason can see the first is a mere statement of preference, while the second identifies a human truth.

James Elliott said...

(Taking advantage of my fiancee's brief absence.)

Hunter, it would appear that you are identifying survival traits (you know, evolutionary advantages?) as moral truths.

Man is naturally a social creature, incapable of reliably surviving on its own. This would necessitate a prediliction towards communal harmony as much as possible (the American Mythos of the lone settler family eking a solitary existence is a load of horse-hockey). This is a political (in the social sense), not metaphysical, point. Aristotle all over again.

As for your "abusing babies" point: The Huns would malform their male babies and abuse them in order to make them more physically and psychologically imposing to their enemies as adults. This was morally correct in their world, since they were a warrior culture that relied as much upon fear as martial prowess to win victories (in order to survive and thrive). The child abuse was, according to their culture, a wholly moral act because it improved the child's survivability and therefore their success as a tribe.

The fundamental divide here is that no one can divorce themselves from their foundational beliefs. You can no more divorce yourself from the foundation of your belief in God and his Word than I can my skepticism. This is the advantage of relativism: It accepts the natural subjectivity of all human thought. For all our pretenses at rationality and logic, nothing is arrived at via pure reason when you are discussing human matters. It's the great conceit of philosophy.

Hunter Baker said...

James, I'm divided in my response to you because I struggle with the natural law. Believing in God is not necessarily part of it. My Christian impulse is to say the natural law does not exist and we only have revelation. My reason tells me the natural law does exist and I can rationally get around it. Interesting, huh?

The thing about the Huns is that they do what they do with a justification. That indicates that what they do would be immoral without that justification.

Hunter Baker said...

Another thing, James. The point you made about survival values is really part of conservative philosophy. Remember, the conservative movement is not made up only of sincere believers. Many take up God as the "noble lie" and view values as having arisen in an evolutionary fashion. We stay with them because they are proven and have stood the test of time. That's still something you'll hear from someone like Tony Snow.

Hunter Baker said...

Clarification: I'm not saying Tony Snow embraces the noble lie idea of God, but he does explain values in the "we have learned over time that these work" fashion.

James Elliott said...

I guess you'll have to prove how such traditions and morals are "common" and will then have to prove how such a thing makes them "universal." I don't believe you can.

The religion thing was just an example of how objectivity in regards to human relations is impossible. Subjectivity means that human thought (i.e. morals) is relative.

James Elliott said...

The thing about the Huns is that they do what they do with a justification. That indicates that what they do would be immoral without that justification.

That's a patently ridiculous statement that you can't come close to proving. What moral doesn't have some form of justification?

I really get the feeling that you've read what I've written without making an attempt to understand. I've addressed the pathologizing of "immoral" individuals and exceptions to moral rules (i.e. "noble lies") and how they make a case for moral relativity, and you just kind of barrel ahead with the same old arguments without bothering to refute or address their counters.

Hunter Baker said...

James, I am paying attention to what you say. You think that exceptions, carve-outs, justifications, etc. indicate there isn't some kind of absolute moral law. I'm saying that the instinct to justify, the need to explain or give some sort of reason for a different behavior shows that the moral law is there and divergences from it require an explanation.

Pay attention. I'm not saying any justification behind a moral establishes an absolute moral law's existence. I'm saying that the Huns in your scenario would justify the harsh treatment of the young men as helping to fit them for existence in a harsh world. The need to justify the harsh treatment indicates that gentle treatment is the norm. Thus, gentle treatment of the young in one's care might be part of the natural law.

James Elliott said...

I think where you're getting confused is thinking that my explanations for WHY the Huns' actions were moral in their culture are the same thing as a justification WITHIN their culture. It's not. You're presuming a sense of guilt on some level ("I am sorry, my son, but I must do this so you can be strong and survive).

Hunter Baker said...

Here was the quote:

"The child abuse was, according to their culture, a wholly moral act because it improved the child's survivability and therefore their success as a tribe."

It seems as though their culture justified the harsh treatment because of the aid to survival. We're left with a factual question as to whether they felt any need to justify the harsh treatment. My guess is that if I journeyed back in time and was able to question them, they would justify it to me rather than acting as if I were insane. But I can't be sure.

The Liberal Anonymous said...

My guess is that their response would be more along the lines of making a drinking gourd out of your skull for daring to ask such a question.

Hunter Baker said...

Build me a time travel machine and I'll go check it out. NOT the one Uncle Rico ordered on the internet, though, please.

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

If a house is on fire and there are people trapped inside, do you try to save them?

This poses a dilemma. My survival instinct tells me no way, while my herd instinct tells me to go in and get 'em.

How do I decide between the two?

If I *don't* go in and all inside perish, do I feel bad; do I *wish* that I could've done something?

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

Hunter has posed the following:

1) a universal moral law exists;
2) all people feel inside that they ought to follow it;
3) those who do not follow it always justify thier immoral acts.

Then he states that if the act was NOT immoral there would be no need for justification.


I have yet to see a counter argument from a relativist.

James Elliott said...

That's because we have lives and are busy. Besides, the only one taking this up consistently is me, and I'm a moderately well-read amateur. Don't expect anything definitive. I'm busy.

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

James ... thanks for all of the thoughtful commentary that you have provided. If nothing else I will come away from this discussion having learned a little bit more about the thought process of a relativist; and knowing that a controverial subject like this can be discussed (or argued) in an adult-like manner.

Thanks...

Tlaloc said...

"James, LA, Tlaloc, I want you to really take the burden of giving evidence for this point of view. Try to really spell it out. Jay may be right or wrong, but I want to hear from you why you embrace the viewpoint you do."

I have given you an argument before. To revisit it it went like this:

1) does morality exist? Yes, I know it exists because I have a moral code which inhibits me from certain actions. Morality is a function of higher (sentient) thought which is self evaluating. It only exists within such frameworks of sentience. Inanimate objects or simple life forms are themselves amoral.

2) Am I the only one with a moral code? Unlikely due to the anthropic principle as well as personal observation.

3) Does everyone have the same moral code as I do, i.e. is morality universal? No. Observation has lead to the conclusion that people operate under a wide variety of moral codes. Furthermore my own moral code has changed and developed over time. Not only is morality not universal it's also not invariate in time.

4) Is there a "right" moral code? Since right and wrong in this context is a moral evaluation it is question that can only be evaluated from within the moral code of the individual. That being the case the morality for which the question is evaluated will of course be considered the right moral code. Hence every individual's morality is right for them.

5) how do we explain similarities in morality? Morality most likely develops much as any personality: as a combination of individual nature, biological make up, and personal experience including social influences. Acculturation will most likely exert a large normalizing effect on individual moralities. Language factors of definition and connotation (what is "murder" vs "killing") will also tend to normalize moral codes among native speakers of a language. Similarities in biology may also be a factor (biological impulses toward bigotry for example).

6) Does everyone follow their moral code? I do not perfectly follow my moral code in all instances. When I deviate from it I feel guilt. Observation again suggests this is the case for most or all humans. However the presence of external authority structures interferes with our capacity to develop and follow our moral code or conscience. As a result people frequently have an atrophied sense of guilt and responsibility to follow their moral code. As a side note while most serial killers do seem to have a great deal of guilt regarding their activities true sociopaths may be completely devoid of morals. Or perhaps they are simply the result of a conscience atrophied to the point of complete ineffectualness.

Tlaloc said...

"1) a universal moral law exists;
2) all people feel inside that they ought to follow it;
3) those who do not follow it always justify thier immoral acts.

Then he states that if the act was NOT immoral there would be no need for justification."

He's set up a no win situation because no matter what the person says he can claim its a justification.

However as before there's an easy counter example: these so called "universal" morals have been completely disregarded not just by individuals but by enire cultures. Are we then to believe these whole cultures were ignoring the siren call of the one true morality? Of course not, only sheer hubris demands that our way is absolutely right and all others damned for eternity.

The Aztecs had mass human sacrifices in a manner we find barbaric in extremus. But at the same time they had no warfare in the european manner (the Flower Wars were very very different) and no doubt found the Spaniards conquest to be barbaric in equal extremus.

Are we then to mysteriously deduce that this universal morality excuses one form of slaughter while condoning another? Of course not, such capriciousnes, such arbitrariness is the exclusive fault of man, not the universe.

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

If we limit ourselves to viewing the actions of others, the only logical conclusion would be that there are NO moral values at all.

You have stated clearly that you do not even follow *your* moral code.

How do I even know that you have morals; I guess I have to assume that you are telling me the truth.

James Elliott said...

Tlaloc, good to "see" you. Excellent summation.

I agree with what Tlaloc has said (especially since we've both pointed out the variation of morals due to linguistic and cultural construction and the effects of time). I'll throw in my last two cents on this subject and then go give my brain a rest.

CLA and Hunter have posited, in the manner of the Greek Stoics and the Medieval Scholastics (such as St. Thomas Aquinas) that a Natural Law exists. This Natural Law is either encoded in nature or handed down from God (depending on who you listen to - the origin does not matter too much in this context). Hunter has argued that this Natural Law is in effect the survival traits encoded in us that benefit the species and that acting contrary to them requires some form of justification in order to alleviate guilt.

Survival traits are encoded in two ways: genetic predispositions such as reacting to the cries of a child in distress, or learned behaviors. In humans, the latter is expressed as rules for social living and so on.

This view is brought into question when faced with a moral dilemma such as the one CLA proposed above. When faced with two equally important survival traits, how do we decide which is the more important? It becomes a personal, subjective decision.

If such morals are "natural," then we would expect to see them encoded in all creatures, not just humans. But what about the creatures that eat their young or kill the young of opposing males? Do animals make moral choices? No. As Tlaloc pointed out, they are amoral. Morality is a construct unique to human consciousness.

Suppose morals are unique to humans, but still these natural laws? In order for this to be true, then people must basically be good (a la Rousseau's "noble savage") and, in order for Hobbes to be correct that people are basically bad (and I know how much y'all love Hobbes), people must then consciously choose to be bad. But we know Hobbes is incorrect because tribes of both humans and genetic ancestors, like apes, live in harmony without recourse to "social contracts."

But we also know that Rousseau is incorrect, otherwise people then must wander about in paroxysms of guilt, because we know that they are both generous and selfish and to choose a selfish act is contrary to a universal morality. However, we also know that they are often so without remorse (see Kropotkin or Wilson). Remorse requires some form of justification, and as any criminal, selfish person, or six-year old can tell you, sometimes there isn't any. Humans are neither engines of remorseless greed nor are they pure innocents corrupted by any number of ills (civilization, original sin, blah de blah blah). People can both be generous friends and selfish individuals.

In order for Hunter's interpretation to take wing, all immoral acts require a justification. But we know that there are people and societies who have acted without remorse or justification. By necessity, then, for Hunter's theory to play out, we must pathologize these amoral actors, or concede that man is little more than an animal. Since the latter is patently not so, we must rely upon pathology. Pathologies, however, are subjective and cultural constructs (I submit the pahtologizing and de-pathologizing of homosexuality as one example). To refute this, exceptions must be created, and you run into the "caveat" problem I explained above.

Genetics is not predestination. while there may be a genetic foundation to our moral activity, such activity can be conflicting as our "social gene" conflicts with our "selfish gene." Just the casual observation shows that humans are not the perfect social animals that bees and ants are. We come in to conflict, and so must construct rules and customs for living together. Our consciousness, our freedom, makes us different from the animals.

What Hunter is suggesting is that an ecosystem - man living by rules that keep his existence in harmony with his surroundings - is tantamount to a universal moral law. For that to be true, it must follow that animals and plants, who also exist in ecosystems, to be moral. However, animals often act in what we would consider immoral fashion without recourse to guilt or justification. We are not animals, having the ability to override instinctual behavior. Our morality is not limited to instinctive displays of passification to aggressors or instinctive patterns of harmonious living. Therefore morality is a human construct, an artifact of culture, custom, linguistics and linguistics. All of these factors evolve and change over time.

If morality is a human construct, it is prone to the same influences of subjectivity and historical construction as all other human enterprises. As those influences evolve, so too will morality.

James Elliott said...

If we limit ourselves to viewing the actions of others, the only logical conclusion would be that there are NO moral values at all.

This is hardly true. We can only logically conclude that there are many types of morality, and many of them are contrary and many of them are complementary.

CLA, you are attempting to devolve moral relativism into some form of solipsism. That was tried by Homnick, and to as little effect. If that is the grand extent of your refutation, I'm afraid it falls short. Tlaloc is merely demonstrating the greatest lesson of Socrates: Know thyself. After all, to look at it from your side of the argument, didn't Socrates say that such was the essence of coming to know any greater truths?

Tlaloc said...

"If we limit ourselves to viewing the actions of others, the only logical conclusion would be that there are NO moral values at all."

I don't see how you support that conclusion at all. The conclusion would seem to be that there are a variety of moral codes (compounded by the difficulty that not everyone follows their moral code all the time).



"You have stated clearly that you do not even follow *your* moral code."

I didn't always follow the speed laws either and yet they still exist. When I break my moral code a complicated sequences of internal reactions take place. I may for instance go into a period of denial or rationalization for why I was right (even though I know deep down I was wrong). If I have a healthy conscience though I work through these phases and eventually feel guilt for my actions and this helps me resolve to be more vigilant in following my code in the future.



"How do I even know that you have morals; I guess I have to assume that you are telling me the truth."

No you just have to put yourself in my position. Start by asking yourself if you have morals. If yes then you can follow through the rest of my argument just fine.

Tlaloc said...

I had an email conversation just this morning about anarchism and human nature which borders on this topic so I'm going to post my friend's question and my response:

HER EMAIL-I read your blog about how New Orleans was not in a state of temporary anarchy, rather a state of chaos due to the pressure cooker of artificial control.

I understand the looters grabbing {expletive} to feel better (or to stick it to the man), but what about that/(those) {expletive} who shot dozens of dogs and left them to die in a painful and prolonged manner?

I know the media has been exploiting people at their most undignified moments and there are always going to be nut jobs on this planet who will cause pain to people and innocent pets just for sport...I guess whoever did this could make a habit of maiming living creatures hurricane or no hurricane.

But it seems like the looting is explainable (a direct result of continuously shitting on our nation's poor I suppose), but the killin/hurtin is just the result of people being {expletive} up.

Of course I can't let these few sickos represent the vast majority of people who are horrified by such behavior...but it seems like this flood washed up a bunch of ugly, ugly {expletive}.

Is *all* the ugliness in the world due to this artificial control or are some people going to be {expletive} up no matter what kind of society we live in?


MY REPLY- I think it’s too simplistic to say that all the bad stuff in the world stems from artificial control of people. What I think would be more accurate is to say that that artificial control, by sabotaging our sense and capacity for personal responsibility, helps bring out the worst in mankind. I’ve always maintained that anarchism along my lines would not be a utopia. It would have conflict and violence and so on. The difference though is that you would not see the organized atrocities we do now, nor would you see these kinds of spontaneous mass atrocities that occur because people are suddenly free to act without a controlling external influence and have never been expected or allowed to develop an internal control mechanism.

Or to put it another way we can assume that some of the barbarous actions in New Orleans were the result of people who were generally rotten people. But much of it was without doubt the result of people who were scared, angry, hungry, and hopeless and because they had no strong conscience to prevent them from doing so they lashed out. They were not bad people per se, but people so accustomed to living under big brother’s watchful eye that when they were under duress and lacking an authority they reverted to the level of children. We expect children to be selfish and have trouble empathizing because they are incompletely developed. As they grow they have to take on responsibility for themselves to know they can’t grab toys away from their siblings or that hurting an animal is wrong. A child that is never expected to learn to take responsibility has a much greater chance of growing into a mean shallow human being. The same is true of adults.

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

Let me make my statement again:

If you are limited to viewing the actions of others (ie, do not look inside ones-self) you must conclude that there are no morals.

This is simlpy because all types of human behaviour, or specifically human interaction, exist.

In other words, you will always be able to find a counter argument for any so-called moral.

What is the point of any argument being called moral at all, if we cannot come to an agreement as to what moral means?

I feel guilty when I ride the elevator up one floor, are you suggesting that I am acting amoral, that I am breaking my own moral law?

I am certainly not trying to be cute, I am trying to understand what it is that you are calling moral; what specifically makes an action fall under the umbrella of morals.

I apologize if this has been defined and I somehow missed it; like the rest of you I have other obligations other than RCing.

Tlaloc said...

"If you are limited to viewing the actions of others (ie, do not look inside ones-self) you must conclude that there are no morals.
This is simlpy because all types of human behaviour, or specifically human interaction, exist.
In other words, you will always be able to find a counter argument for any so-called moral."

If we limit ourselves to only universal morality or no morality you are right. But if we allow for relative individual morality then you are wrong. It's easy to explain the wealth of human behaviors by admitting first of all that there are as many different moral codes as there are people.



"What is the point of any argument being called moral at all, if we cannot come to an agreement as to what moral means?"

You might as well ask why we call an argument before a judge in America and a judge in Japan "legal" when in each case the specific legal code is different. We can agree what morality means (it's a judgement of an action along a continuum of good to evil) without having to agree on what those specific morals are.



"I feel guilty when I ride the elevator up one floor, are you suggesting that I am acting amoral, that I am breaking my own moral law?"

If you really feel that it is wrong to ride the elevator then you are acting immorally, not amorally. Amoral means without morals at all. Immoral means having morals and not acting in accordance with them.

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

"If you really feel that it is wrong to ride the elevator then you are acting immorally, not amorally. Amoral means without morals at all. Immoral means having morals and not acting in accordance with them."


Thanks for the correction; you answered the question that I meant to ask.

Hunter Baker said...

Just to try to briefly cut through, I think the key question is whether we can find ANY common themes in these endless individual moralities of which you speak, although I think it would be better to speak of community moralities because a unique individual code is probably pretty rare.

If we can identify strong commonalities and justifications for the things that diverge from commonalities, then I would argue we have identified something like a natural moral law.

Plants, animals, etc. are excluding because the natural law is a function of reasoning creatures who give reasons for their choices and conduct.

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

The reason I am trying to get a better understanding of what moral means is because I think I am getting a redundant argument from the relativists.

Please bear with me:

We have heard from relativists that morals are individual, and they are based upon society, surroundings, life experiences (etc...I may not have that exactly right, but its close I believe).

James Elliot: "A disciplined, rigorous relativist (such as I am trying to become) is still free to say there is a right or a wrong. What I must understand is that I am projecting my internal processes when I do so, processes that are influenced by (but not limited to) personal ethics, morals, society, culture, and maybe religion (though not in my personal case)."

My point? If morals are an end result of ones society, surroundings etc..., why even claim that you are influenced by morals?

For example, if you look on the ingredient list of, say, chocolate chip cookies and it says:

Flour, sugar, eggs, baking powder, cookie dough, and chocolate chips,

Why put the "cookie dough" in the ingredient list if it consists entirely of the "other ingredients"?

Tlaloc said...

"If we can identify strong commonalities and justifications for the things that diverge from commonalities, then I would argue we have identified something like a natural moral law."

Lets say you identify stealing=bad as a very commonly held moral belief (and it is). What does that gain us? It's certainly not a universal moral as we can point to cultures like the Roma for whom the concept of property was very different. So if it's not universal it's, as we originally said, just very common. Great, but useless. Being common in no way makes the moral superior or inferior.

We might as well determine that tan is a common color for houses. While that datum may be useful to a paint manufacturing company it doesn't really say anything deep or meaningful about tan.

Tlaloc said...

"Why put the "cookie dough" in the ingredient list if it consists entirely of the "other ingredients"? "

You have a personality, right? But just like your moral code that personality is formed due to a huge number of influences. As I said before:

"Morality most likely develops much as any personality: as a combination of individual nature, biological make up, and personal experience including social influences."

And yet you surely know that you have a unique personality. You may be quite similar to others but there is no one in the whole history of the world who had precisely the same biology and experiences. Morality is the same way.

Matt Huisman said...

"The Aztecs had mass human sacrifices in a manner we find barbaric in extremus."

Is this really a difference of moral principle or is this a case where a culture did not understand certain matters of fact? My understanding is that the Aztecs believed they needed these sacrifices in order to keep the earth spinning and the sun rising (or something like that).

I don't see this as an exception to the law of human nature...this looks like a case of morality gone bad due to a serious misunderstanding of reality.

Tlaloc said...

"Is this really a difference of moral principle or is this a case where a culture did not understand certain matters of fact? My understanding is that the Aztecs believed they needed these sacrifices in order to keep the earth spinning and the sun rising (or something like that)."

Indeed they had their reasons for believing sacrifices were needed just as we have ours (defense of civilization, fighting for freedom, etc).



"I don't see this as an exception to the law of human nature...this looks like a case of morality gone bad due to a serious misunderstanding of reality."

But you want to maintain that our version of reality is superior. Can't you see how that is an explicitly egocentric evaluation?

Matt Huisman said...

"But you want to maintain that our version of reality is superior. Can't you see how that is an explicitly egocentric evaluation?"

I didn't say anything about their version of reality being better/worse than ours. I said that the difference between their behavior and ours was explained by a misunderstanding of fact. If you and I believed that mass sacrifice was absolutely required in order to keep the sun rising and the earth spinning, our moral response (the thing we ought to do) would probably look very similar to theirs.

I'm arguing that the Aztec example is not evidence of wildly different morals between societies...if we would do the same thing in their situation, that's hardly a difference.

Matt Huisman said...

"1) does morality exist? Yes, I know it exists because I have a moral code which inhibits me from certain actions. Morality is a function of higher (sentient) thought which is self evaluating. It only exists within such frameworks of sentience. Inanimate objects or simple life forms are themselves amoral."

So then you would more or less agree with the statement that behavior is the outcome of the interplay between desires and values/beliefs, and that moral behavior occurs when our actions are in alignment with these values.

"Morality most likely develops much as any personality: as a combination of individual nature, biological make up, and personal experience including social influences."

This implies that while there certainly are external influences on our morality, there is something already in (or pressing on) us that says things ought to be a certain way.

I can understand the source of our desires, but in order for us to evaluate/reflect on them, it seems like there needs to be a standard that we are comparing our desires against...and it looks like that standard can't be entirely explained by outside influences.

I guess I have trouble understanding where these values/beliefs come from if they are separate from our desires and are not (entirely) the result of external influences.

James Elliott said...

If you and I believed that mass sacrifice was absolutely required in order to keep the sun rising and the earth spinning, our moral response (the thing we ought to do) would probably look very similar to theirs.

So let me get this straight, Huisman: You're arguing that people will change their moral responses based on their cultural understanding of reality?

How is this not moral relativity?

Or are you arguing that people's responses to moral imperatives (whatever those imperatives are) argue for a universal morality? I'm having trouble seeing the flow of that logic.

James Elliott said...

I guess I have trouble understanding where these values/beliefs come from if they are separate from our desires and are not (entirely) the result of external influences.

Behavior is a complex thing. Behavior stems from complex schema we develop. We learn these schema from our experiences, our culture, parental uprbringing, experiences, and our perceptions of these experiences. Schema can be modified as further experiences are assimilated. These schema interact with genetically encoded physiological response patterns.

Nothing says that something internal doesn't play some sort of role. But by interacting with the outside world, which varies in both occurence and perception from individual to individual, behavior, beliefs, and values will vary from person to person.

Tlaloc said...

"I'm arguing that the Aztec example is not evidence of wildly different morals between societies...if we would do the same thing in their situation, that's hardly a difference."

Of course we would because morals are partly situational! As I said before morals are formed in part due to influences from our cultures. Naturally then if you simply transplant our people into their culture you get the same result. All that shows is that human are humans and that cultures are situational constructs rather than biologically programmed into us. In other words it doesn't discount what I argued at all, in fact it tends to support it.

Were morals really intransient then we should not be able to swap out our godly righteous civilization with that godless pagan civilization and have people behave the same. And yet we most certainly would.

Tlaloc said...

"This implies that while there certainly are external influences on our morality, there is something already in (or pressing on) us that says things ought to be a certain way."

I think that you have to allow for a certain amount of an inherent nature to people. However be careful I am not saying a universal inherent nature but one that varies radically from individual to individual.



"I guess I have trouble understanding where these values/beliefs come from if they are separate from our desires and are not (entirely) the result of external influences."

Where do your thoughts come from? They are partly born of outside influences but also seem to have some relation to internal processes that are unique from individual to individual. Yet we know that there is no one right way to think.

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

Matt ... you're right on target. If you believed that a witch was going to kill you and then eat you, you'd kill the witch (or burn it).

If you believed the intruder into your home was going to kill you, you might try to kill the intruder.

These situations do not contradict the basic universal moral code that we ought not intentionally take the life of another human being.

Tlaloc said...

"These situations do not contradict the basic universal moral code that we ought not intentionally take the life of another human being."

If this was truly a universal moral then our history would have substantially fewer wars.

Your example doesn't even work since in both cases you give you do advocate killing given the circumstances. Someone who truly believed your "universal moral" would be an absolute pacifist like the Jains.

What you are arguing for is a moral that says "don't kill humans except under the following circumstances..."

Great. However since the circumstances that allow for killing vary widely the moral is hardly universal.

Matt Huisman said...

"Were morals really intransient then we should not be able to swap out our godly righteous civilization with that godless pagan civilization and have people behave the same. And yet we most certainly would."

You are arguing my point. I state that all people are subject to the same natural law, therefore, different people will reference the same standard and (if they are acting in alignment with their values) respond similarly.

Hunter said...
"If we can identify strong commonalities and justifications for the things that diverge from commonalities, then I would argue we have identified something like a natural moral law.

As part of one of your responses, you offered the Aztecs as an example of a society with a radically different set of morals than ours. My point is that the Aztect moral code, when you allow for a mistake in fact, appears to be similar to our moral code.

Maybe you could provide some other examples of societies with wildly divergent moralities.

Matt Huisman said...

"Your example doesn't even work since in both cases you give you do advocate killing given the circumstances. Someone who truly believed your "universal moral" would be an absolute pacifist like the Jains."

I'm saying that there is a difference between our desires/impulses and the justification for choosing to act on them. Our impulses (sex, killing, patriotism, etc.) are value-neutral. The moral law tells us how to act when our impulses compete with one another.

Tlaloc said...

"You are arguing my point. I state that all people are subject to the same natural law, therefore, different people will reference the same standard and (if they are acting in alignment with their values) respond similarly."

On the contrary that argues MY point. What you are tacitly admitting here is that there is no unioversal moral law because people act according to their situational understanding of morals and not som intransient law. As JFE said your argument supports relativism completely and not universal morals.



"As part of one of your responses, you offered the Aztecs as an example of a society with a radically different set of morals than ours. My point is that the Aztect moral code, when you allow for a mistake in fact, appears to be similar to our moral code."

Really? I don't think so at all. Look at the debate over fetal stem cell use in this country. People are freaking out about the use of tissue to save lives. You really think that's equivilent with seeing the sacrifice of human adults and children as a celebration? Seems like very different ethos due to acculturated standards of morality.



"Maybe you could provide some other examples of societies with wildly divergent moralities."

Sure. The Roma had an entirely diffent sense of property and hence concepts of theft than we do. The Japanese had a very different ethos regarding the value of life and suicide. The Vikings had very different standards regarding violence. And so on and so forth.

James Elliott said...

Matt, that doesn't even follow in a remotely logical fashion. You were arguing Tlaloc's point. You argued that the Aztec's actions made sense from their cultural perspective. You then say that because people in the same cultural milieus act similarly, that proves a universal moral standard. That doesn't flow logically. You modified what you said previously.

You can't move the goal posts just become someone scores against you, man.

My point is that the Aztect moral code, when you allow for a mistake in fact, appears to be similar to our moral code.

You're really going to have to explain what you mean by that. Are you arguing that, say, Aztecs who sacrificed people to keep the Earth in balance and Krakatoans who sacrificed virgins to appease volcanoes were operating on essentially the same moral function? In effect, you are arguing that actions make the morals. You're taking similar responses given moderately similar metaphysical beliefs and making a side-by-side comparison. That's ridiculous.

I'm saying that there is a difference between our desires/impulses and the justification for choosing to act on them. Our impulses (sex, killing, patriotism, etc.) are value-neutral. The moral law tells us how to act when our impulses compete with one another.

You (and the others) keep returning to this point without addressing the difficulties in pathologizing and justifications that have been articulated above. Rather than refute said difficulties, you choose to keep running in to them. Essentially, "justification" is a straw man; it's a construction that allows you to "refute" counterexamples in a semantic rather than logical fashion. All morals are a justification of action or inaction, Matt, and can be parsed multiple ways.

Tlaloc said...

"I'm saying that there is a difference between our desires/impulses and the justification for choosing to act on them. Our impulses (sex, killing, patriotism, etc.) are value-neutral. The moral law tells us how to act when our impulses compete with one another."

Certainly but that doesn't speak at all to the idea of universal vs relative.

Matt Huisman said...

"Matt, that doesn't even follow in a remotely logical fashion. You were arguing Tlaloc's point. You argued that the Aztec's actions made sense from their cultural perspective. You then say that because people in the same cultural milieus act similarly, that proves a universal moral standard. That doesn't flow logically. You modified what you said previously.

You can't move the goal posts just become someone scores against you, man.
"

I'll try again...I don't know if I moved the goal posts, but I think I let the analogy get away from me.

I'm saying that there is a law of human nature (natural law) that all people reference in order to make morally justified behavioral choices. The behavioral choices themselves are value-neutral (ie killing is not always wrong).

Now, what's interesting is that when questioned about their behavior, people will justify it by referencing moral principles that look remarkably similar from once society to the next.

In the Aztec example, they justify mass sacrifice by stating that it was required in order to satisfy the moral principle of caring for/preserving the planet. I'm saying that this moral principle that they reference is timeless and universal. And if the facts were that the earth was going to come to an end tomorrow, and we had reliable* info that the only* way to stop it was to commit mass sacrifice, then morally we should do it.

(* There are all kinds of reasons for saying that the Aztecs were acting immorally here, but I'm trying to keep the variables to a minimum.)

Now my observation from all of this is that all societies seem to justify their behavior against a remarkably similar set of moral principles. They may not make good choices because they are based on unreliable information or because people are being dishonest in their application, but the principles referenced still seem very much the same.

James Elliott said...

Matt, that explains it much better. Thank you for the clarification. I still believe you are wrong, but now I at least have a clearer picture.

Now my observation from all of this is that all societies seem to justify their behavior against a remarkably similar set of moral principles.

However, you are defining those "remarkably similar" principals from your own sociocultural perspective. This subjectivity is what relativism is all about.

The essential reduction of the absolutist arguments presented here hinges on the existence of innate survival-based responses, as expressed through human behavior. Culture is, after all, an aspect of human behavior, if a cooperative one, and one that creates a feedback loop. You are arguing that because all humans, just like all animals, want to survive, and come up with conscious explanations and fabrications to excuse that behavior - whatever said behavior is - that argues for a universal moral law.

I believe we've addressed the difficulties of elevating evolutionary survival traits to the status of morals above.

Matt Huisman said...

"However, you are defining those "remarkably similar" principals from your own sociocultural perspective. This subjectivity is what relativism is all about."

"You are arguing that because all humans, just like all animals, want to survive, and come up with conscious explanations and fabrications to excuse that behavior - whatever said behavior is - that argues for a universal moral law."

I think it's about time we left the Aztec example behind, because it confuses evolutionary survival issues with what we're trying to talk about.

I had earlier asked Tlaloc for examples of divergent morals from other societies, and he provided several. The Roma example he mentioned interests me, but I'm afraid I have a limited understanding of their society. I assume the point here is going to be that they believed that subsistance stealing was OK?

Maybe someone could elaborate on this a little more for me.

Tlaloc said...

My understanding of traditional Roma culture is that they considered a person to own a thing only if they were actively using it at the time. For instance a brush is yours only while you are actually brushing your hair. As soon as you put it down anyone is free to come along and take it for their own use.

(of course modern Roma may have acculturated into the dominating "you bought it you own it" view of property)

Matt Huisman said...

"My understanding of traditional Roma culture is that they considered a person to own a thing only if they were actively using it at the time."

So within their own society, they were communal. Everyone understood that property belonged to the entire group. This would certainly not violate the moral principle of not taking someone else's property without permission, it would merely render it useless.

Tlaloc said...

Their view of property is part of what lead to them being associated with theivery by other groups because they acted according to their moral code.

And regardless it still represents a vastly different view of the concept of ownership and stealing than our western culture. Of course we could point out the communist beliefs about property as well being anathema to our western values.

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

"Their view of property is part of what lead to them being associated with theivery by other groups because they acted according to their moral code."

If the property was not theirs, then it was not theivery.

Matt is right ... their society rendered this particular part of the universal moral code useless (at least thats what I think Matt was saying).

James Elliott said...

Matt is right ... their society rendered this particular part of the universal moral code useless (at least thats what I think Matt was saying).

You're moving the goal posts again, folks. Now you're taking a contrary example and claiming that it simply disregards "natural law" instead of refuting it. As pointed out before, now the debate dissolves into semantics, and once you've done that, it's all... wait for it... relative.

Matt Huisman said...

"You're moving the goal posts again, folks. Now you're taking a contrary example and claiming that it simply disregards "natural law" instead of refuting it. As pointed out before, now the debate dissolves into semantics, and once you've done that, it's all... wait for it... relative.

Capitalism, communism, socialism are examples of morally neutral structures that societies choose to organize themselves in. We may prefer one to the others because of the way that people tend to react in these systems, but in and of themselves they are not good/bad.

Within their society, the Roma had explicit permission to take each other's property. Therefore, they had virtually eliminated the chance to violate the natural law of taking someone's property without permission. But that isn't evidence of a society not acknowledging the existence of the natural law.

I don't think you can flag me for moving the posts this time, James. [Although, I did enjoy your pause for dramatic effect at the end.]

Matt Huisman said...

"Behavior is a complex thing. Behavior stems from complex schema we develop. We learn these schema from our experiences, our culture, parental uprbringing, experiences, and our perceptions of these experiences. Schema can be modified as further experiences are assimilated. These schema interact with genetically encoded physiological response patterns."

Obviously I agree with you that behavior is complex, and external influences are very significant. But let's try to break it down...

Behavior is the action a person chooses after comparing their desires/impulses against a value/belief structure in response to external stimuli. I would tend to view your notion of 'genetically encoded physiological response patterns' and equate that to my notion of desires/impulses. But what is the origin of the value/belief structure? Is it entirely the result of external influences? Or is it more likely that those influences have helped strengthen, develop and shape (or the opposite) something that was already there?

James Elliott said...

Behavior is the action a person chooses after comparing their desires/impulses against a value/belief structure in response to external stimuli.

Um, actually, no, it's not. Behavior is a series of conscious and unconscious reactions to stimuli. Some of this behavior is instinctual, but more often it is ingrained learned behavior resulting from experiences with past stimuli.

I'd like to take a moment to point out that I am a member of the California Association for Behavior Analysis. Behaviorism was, for several years, a part of my work and is now a big part of my intellectual interests.

Of course, I'm just being semantic. I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and just place "moral" in front of "behavior."

In answer to your question, I am wholly convinced that value/belief structures are external impositions. Some morals may be the conscious expression of instinctive behavior patterns, but certainly not all. I believe that in order to essentially prove a "natural law" you have to engage in a massively reductionist argument. And I think I'm done. It was a very stimulating and respectful conversation that I enjoyed immensely. Thank you for all your input. It certainly forced me to think hard and to consider ideas I had glossed over previously.

Tlaloc said...

"Within their society, the Roma had explicit permission to take each other's property. Therefore, they had virtually eliminated the chance to violate the natural law of taking someone's property without permission. But that isn't evidence of a society not acknowledging the existence of the natural law."

Matt what you aren't getting is that it wasn't just in their society, this is how they treated other people's stuff as well because it wasn't seen by them as purely social construct but as a part of their moral code.

Matt Huisman said...

No, I get it, I was just avoiding it because I don't have access to the relevant facts.

I question the honesty (the Roma's, not yours) of their belief that property belongs to everyone. It's one thing to live communally, and to agree to share all property. It's quite another to believe that property belongs to everyone when outsiders have explicitly shown that they do not agree.

One has to wonder what their reaction would be to an outsider taking away all of their possessions, or kidnapping family members. Any surprise or outrage would betray their 'principle' of communal property. (Go to a communal society like JPUSA sometime and walk out of a room with a pair of shoes, and the first thing you'll here as you're walking down the hall is "Dude, those are MY shoes!") I would also add that the Roma's use of deceitful tactics in order to obtain someone else's property does not exactly inspire thoughts of moral integrity either.

If you want to argue that outside oppression (and from the little I know, it was significant) forced them into a life of 'subsistence stealing', that would be different. But it would also be an acknowledgement that taking property without permission is stealing, and is only justified by extreme circumstances.

Tlaloc said...

"I question the honesty (the Roma's, not yours) of their belief that property belongs to everyone."

>>shrug<<
there's not much I can do if everytime I show you an example of other belief systems you just assume they are lying.

As I see it there are far far too many cases (including cases where the lie would have had to have been planned out decades before contact with westerners) in the world of alternate moral view points exemplified by cultures for this to be the case.

And I know that individual morality varies significantly within a culture, so I have no problem believing that it's entirely possible the Roma's views of property were genuine.

Matt Huisman said...

"there's not much I can do if everytime I show you an example of other belief systems you just assume they are lying.

I agree. I don't believe that I'm wrong, but I'm just wasting your time if I can't provide you with more than my speculation. The only readings (a handful of articles) I've seen justify Roma behavior as 'subsistance stealing', but its hard for me to know if they're capturing the real morality of the people or just 'making an excuse' for their behavior. [I would be interested in looking at any articles about them that address this issue, if you would care to point me to them.]

"As I see it there are far far too many cases (including cases where the lie would have had to have been planned out decades before contact with westerners) in the world of alternate moral view points exemplified by cultures for this to be the case."

I don't know...I think people are exceptionally good at lying to themselves. Especially when the lie projects out or justifies their behavior relative to someone else. But the genius behind the golden rule (do unto others...) is that when the circumstances are reversed, we get a better picture of what a person truly believes.
---
FYI, I'm happy to keep going with you here Tlaloc, but it looks like its only you and me here now, and we're still argueing whether their are moral commonalities between societies. We haven't even discussed whether or not it would be significant if there were.

If you want to pull the plug, let me know.