Morality: To Reject or to Redefine?

  • July 18, 2013 · 7:00 PM
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Is the traditional definition of "morality" invalid or unsound? If so, ought it to be rejected, redefined, or what? (And how is this "ought" to be justified?)

Whichever option is taken, a puzzle remains regarding the enigmatic moral traveler:

  • Is the moral traveler the bundle of genes, or is it the individual human being? Why? Why can't it be both?
  • Can a society thrive if everyone therein realizes that when it comes to taking action, the self, not others, has primacy?
  • Does a society thrive, alternatively, by having enough members mistakenly believe that when it comes to taking action, others have primacy?
  • If the self has primacy, why pursue goals that are so far into the future that the self will not live to experience them (e.g., halting global warming)?
  • (If others have primacy, how is the enactment of a selfish action to be understood, and is it ever moral?)
  • (How is primacy to be understood? How is helping others to be understood respectively if each side has primacy?)
  • Is it plausible to escape this puzzle by resorting to the bundle of genes as the moral traveler?

This metaethical puzzle was recently raised on the discussion board, here.

 

--- [More detailed description to come, if any, from Tim and Janice] ---

 

Tim, July 14: Whether the moral actor is the individual and/or the bundle of genes, I think it’s still self-based. If morality is a guide for man to achieve his goals:

• Can we further reduce morality as a guide for man to meet his needs?
• Morally, should we differentiate needs for survival and needs for thriving/flourishing? Why or why not?
• How do we prioritize these survival/flourishing needs?

 

Additional thoughts from Tim, July 14: A self-based morality is a radical departure from other traditional moral systems.  For most people, action is moral if it benefits a super being, whether it be a god or society.

I don't think I need to explain why god is not a valid moral actor, but most atheists think it's given that society is the moral actor.  Is this really the case?  Why do we need to serve society?  The only possibility I can think of is that we're biologically hard-wired that way (i.e. the bundle of genes), but we have the mental capacity to override this innate desire.

Sam Harris argues that science can answer moral questions by pressuposing that society is the moral actor: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hj9oB4zpHww

Alternatively, our bundle of genes could also hard-wire us to serve ourselves, and as a species, we climbed to the top of the food chain by realizing that trade benefits the self in ways that wouldn't be possible without cooperation, and thus societies were created.

I do think that to make the most of ourselves, we should serve ourselves (the self having primacy, as opposed to society having primacy).  I also think that is only possible if we understand our needs (i.e. we know ourselves).  But where do these needs come from and why do they exist?  Obviously, it's part of our nature.  But aren't those needs a result of our bundle of genes?  So it seems that the moral actor is **both** the individual and the bundle of genes.  Or perhaps most fundamentally, it is the bundle of genes, and the question is whether those compel us to serve ourselves or society (I think it's ourselves).

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  • Mark G.

    I uploaded an article, I recently wrote, entitled, "How Do You Decide -
    How do you decide, through rational self-interest, whether to assist the stranger, with questionable character, in distress?"
    http://www.meetup.com/The-San-Diego-Philosophers-Roundtable/files/

    August 16, 2013

  • Mark G.

    I uploaded an article, I just completed, entitled, "Ethics and Moral Responsibility". The article addresses the question: "Do we have a moral responsibility to help abate the suffering of others?" The article is in response to a recent talk give by Per Milam at the San Diego Philosophers Forum on: "Our Duty to Distant Others".
    http://www.meetup.com/The-San-Diego-Philosophers-Roundtable/files/

    August 8, 2013

    • Tom O.

      I give it 67% on argumentation, and 80% on presentation. There is still something structurally off though. Keep at it.

      1 · August 8, 2013

    • Mark G.

      Tom, I appreciate the review.

      August 8, 2013

  • Tom O.

    I enjoyed the meeting. We answered the main question as well as its derivatives.

    It was nice to see new members. Patricia, please bring Rosa back soon.

    July 18, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    I've had to make a decision to lighten up my attendance to regular meetings. I need to spend some time focusing on career and home for a while. I plan on attending to stay in touch about once a month.

    July 16, 2013

  • Tim

    Suggestion for future meetups: Discuss the metaethics and ethics of other major philosophers. Would be great to compare and contrast with Aristotle.

    1 · July 15, 2013

  • Tim

    Additional questions:

    Whether the moral actor is the individual and/or the bundle of genes, I think it’s still self-based. If morality is a guide for man to achieve his goals:

    • Can we further reduce morality as a guide for man to meet his needs?
    • Morally, should we differentiate needs for survival and needs for thriving/flourishing? Why or why not?
    • How do we prioritize these survival/flourishing needs?

    1 · July 14, 2013

    • Tim

      Definitely not picky and I think they're great questions.

      "...does morality guide action or also have an effect on the choice of goals?"

      Morality guides both action and choice.

      "Would achieving a noble goal through questionable actions be regarded moral?"

      What do you mean by "noble" and "questionable?"­ Noble and questionable in whose eyes (moral actor)? The self, others, or a super being? And being uncertain (questionable) about an action doesn't make it bad. But for the sake of argument, I'll assume the moral actor is the self, and that by "noble" and "questionable,"­ you mean "good" and "bad" respectively.

      (Continue to next comment...)

      1 · July 15, 2013

    • Tim

      (...continued from previous comment)

      An action would not be bad if it fulfills a good goal. However, a goal can have many subgoals within. Are those subgoals truly conducive to the "end" goal?

      Ex: Did dropping the atomic bomb in Hiroshima save lives? Dropping the atomic bomb is a supposed subgoal of the end goal, saving lives. Saving lives can also be a subgoal of another goal. This is long-term planning. So while saving lives is a noble goal, one could question dropping the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. But if another action directly saved lives, there would be no question about whether it fulfilled that goal. I suppose actions are questionable when it's not clear (yet) whether it fulfills an "end" goal (given that the goal is agreeable).

      1 · July 15, 2013

  • Tim

    A self-based morality is a radical departure from other traditional moral systems. For most people, action is moral if it benefits a super being, whether it be a god or society.

    I don't think I need to explain why god is not a valid moral actor, but most atheists think it's given that society is the moral actor. Is this really the case? Why do we need to serve society? The only possibility I can think of is that we're biologically hard-wired that way (i.e. the bundle of genes), but we have the mental capacity to override this innate desire.

    Sam Harris argues that science can answer moral questions by pressuposing that society is the moral actor: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hj9oB4zpHww

    1 · July 14, 2013

    • Tom O.

      I just have some questions of clarification. 1. When you say that "we're biologically hard-wired that way [to serve society] (i.e. the bundle of genes), but we have the mental capacity to override this innate desire"; are you signifying the word "society" to a soritical concept or to a sortal one? 2. What do you mean by "hard-wired"? Is that a mechanism over which man has no control or say-so? And is the "mental capacity" also a hard-wired feature? 3. In the last paragraph, you say, "But aren't those needs a result of our bundle of genes?" Can you elaborate on the meaning of "result" here? 4. And what do you mean by "compel" in the last sentence? And how is it related to volition?

      1 · July 14, 2013

    • Tim

      1. I don't understand what you mean by "soritical concept." But maybe it's better to say "we're biologically hard-wired that way [to help others].

      2. By "hard-wired," I don't mean man has no control. It's the desire, not action, that is hard-wired. We can reject this desire. Our mental capacity would be the result of our advanced brains.

      3. By "result," I mean our genes are the blueprint on how our bodies are created, and our bodies have these needs to survive.

      4. By "compel," I mean desires. As per #2, we have volition over whether to fulfill these desires.

      1 · July 15, 2013

  • Thomas de l.

    Hey, sorry I couldn't make it to the meeting on postmoderism. Working on a quadcopter and whatnot. For fun, check out this postmodern essay generator:

    http://www.elsewhere.org/pomo/

    Also, here's Dawkins on post-modernism and why such an intellectually disingenuous movement exists:

    http://old.richarddawkins.net/articles/824

    2 · July 13, 2013

    • Tom O.

      Thanks, Thomas. From your linked text, I like this quotation from Peter Medawar: "I could quote evidence of the beginnings of a whispering campaign against the virtues of clarity. [An artist] has suggested that thoughts which are confused and tortuous by reason of their profundity are most appropriately expressed in prose that is deliberately unclear. What a preposterously silly idea!"

      1 · July 13, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    I have a previous appointment and will probably not be able to make it. I may come late however.

    July 12, 2013

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