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Re: [The-Burnsville-Socrates-Cafe] 5/14/13 questions and discussion

From: Brent
Sent on: Thursday, May 16, 2013 10:56 AM
Hi Group,
I'm Brent. I attended once. And really ejoyed the discussion. I have intended to attend more often... sorry, busy, etc.
I was intrigued enough by Shannon's question, and the replies below, that I'd like to intrude into the conversation. (Sorry, rude of me... but from my visit to the group, it seems everyone was pretty laid back, and very interested in anything that might help fuel interesting discussion, so... I though I'd risk rudeness and intrude anyway :))
In my experience, I think the question of morality, as it seems to have been discussed, boils down to semantics & more semantics. And agreement can be, and almosts always seems to be, found only by expanding on what each party in the discussion 'means by' saying any given action is 'right' or 'wrong', and by classifying and clarying what is meant by saying morality is 'relative', 'objective' & 'absolute'.
Once the definitions are agreed upon, or at least shared, much of the disagreement fades. That, plus a little bit of getting over our own personal biases.
Willy Nilly Murder seems to be a common example that surfaces in the morality discussion, and I think it is a good one.
Everyone, with the exception of literal sociopaths, agrees that indiscriminate killing (Willy Nilly Murder) is 'wrong'. But each member of a discussion may have a significant difference of opinion in regard to why they think it is wrong.
-- A theist will say "I believe in God. And God says Willy Nilly Murder is wrong." This is, first and foremost, absolute morality, as it is morality derived from revelation from a source that has the capability of unlimited enforcement. It's a sort of de facto morality; God is right 'cuz God says he is right! (It has also, ironically, provided the basis for lots and lots of relativistic morality manifesting itself as 'justified killing; over the millenia. All you need to do is prove that your particular God supports your killing and... presto! You have absolute justification for otherwise Willy Nilly Murder. Scary...but we've seen it many times in our world's history...)
-- One non-theist might say "There isn't a god... Willy Nilly Murder is 'wrong' because unjustifeid killing is unsustainable in society by it's very nature. If murder was 'right', there'd soon be no one left to murder, or do the murdering." This is objective morality. There is, in fact, a right and a wrong, but it hasn't the slighest bit to do with god.
-- Another non-theist might say, "There isn't a god... Willy Nilly Murder isn't right or wrong. We can all choose to do whatever we want, dude... We define right and wrong for ourselves." This is relative morality. Form my understanding and experience, it is largely discredited, and looked down upon in these sorts of discussions. That's fine. I think we all kinda agree there should be some standards. But I think most of the hand-wrining against 'moral relativism' is kinda silly... The objective morality advocate and the moral relativist dude (and the Absolute Moral Code Guy for that matter) are all saying about the same thing. They all think murder is wrong. They feel it is wrong. They just use different words to argue for their pet belief, and the associated pet belief reasons their 'why Willy Nilly Murder is wrong' is better.
At the end of the day, all the evidence points to the fact that morality is actually derived from a much more fundamental source -- evolution. We evolve to behave in moral ways. Non-violence, honesty, cooperation, even altrusim, all appear to develop in societies as, over time, nature selects for these sorts of behaviors. In a very similar way to how nature selects for organisms best suited for any given enviroment, or for traits and genes best suited to any given organism that operates those environments.
What is moral = what works. Over time. In a given society. Thus the non-Willy Nilly Murder differences we see between societies and their approved morality. And thus the global homogenization of global values as technology 'shrinks' the globe. Also thus, why there will never be a society that is morally okay with Willy Nilly Murder... those societies are subjected to the consequences of the morality they choose. (The wages of sin is death, so to speak. ha.)
I'd argue that it is only our failure to properly define the terms of the discussion, and our tendency to hold to the biases we carry into that same discussion that prevents morality from being pretty darned self-evident. Especially since Darwin and what we've learned about social evolution over the last 100 years.
Fun stuff. I'm sorry I missed the actual discussion. Thanks for entertaining my intrusion.
Look forward to joing the group in person again soon.

From: James Boulware <[address removed]>
To: [address removed]
Sent: Thursday, May 16,[masked]:41 AM
Subject: Re: [The-Burnsville-Socrates-Cafe] 5/14/13 questions and discussion

  Not to interfere with John's logic, but that was his point. That no society based on the freedom to murder other members of the society at will could ever last. Probably, within his logic, is the  idea that such a freedom is inherently self contradictory with regard to the society's main purpose(that is, the protection of its  members).. At this point, it is interesting to speculate that evil is that which is in contradiction to the coherent foundation of a society. That would provide for a relativistic view since societies obviously have different foundations. This thinking fails in my mind since the ambiguity stems from a societies main purpose is not adequately defined. 
  To jump from John's to statement, to my thinking, evil is that which does not respect the autonomy and freedom of the individual. Thus, for a society to protect its members, it must protect the autonomy and freedom of its members. Much of the ambiguity and relativism is then resolved. 
  Jim Boulware
p.s. In defining freedom, I am now using a residual concept. Individual Freedom is what is permitted after  Government laws and regulations are accounted for. An obvious corollary  to this is that the bigger the Government, the more evil it becomes. Just as an added note, I fully recognize that this implies no Government is preferable, which it is not since membership in a group provides for a baseline level of security. Government is the lesser of two evil when compared to its alternative(no Government).
On May 16, 2013, at 8:56 AM, Jon Anderson wrote:

To Shannon's statement: I am eager for the "basis" for the judgements of which you write to be made explicit. Lacking that it boils down to faith. Faith alone as the basis for anything, let alone our reasons for deciding right or wrong, is too problematic to be allowed.

John's "willy mildly" murder question has the problem of no such society ever existing. Does he have a more likely scenario for demonstrating objective evil, or is that the only way to "prove" it?



If there is a problem you can do nothing about, why be upset? If there is a problem you can do something about, why be upset?

On May 15, 2013, at 11:07, Shannon <[address removed]> wrote:

Just to clarify from last nights conversation, when arguing against ethical relativism my point is not to try to assert that any particular theory is correct but that we can at least say that some theories are better than others.
I don't think that when we argue about right and wrong that it is merely expressing a preference. If that were the case, even having the conversation would be silly like arguing chocolate ice cream is better than vanilla (everyone knows that coffee is the best...;) but seriously I agree with the idea that not all decisions will have foundational ethical implications. In that sense, I think that there can be several and at times many "correct" ethical answers (Steve...tolerance to different ideas is a good thing) however when discussing the matter with a person who thinks that killing for fun is perfectly acceptable (willy nilly) I'm gonna have to side with Jim/John...we can be critical of this viewpoint...and I would argue it is wrong and not just a matter of preference.
For those of you in support of relativism, how do you reconcile the ability to even have a discussion about the topic...if it is just a preference expression, then we have no basis to evaluate when we think action is good/bad, evil/good, etc whatever evaluative language you want to use. I think that we all make these judgments and have reasons for making those judgments has to have some explanation...that does not mean that we cannot be mistaken about what we think/believe. These kinds of issues are harder to decide because the facts that support them are slippery, but that does not mean that we can't arrive at some as the basis for our claims. 

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