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Philosophy for Real Life: Monday Discussion Group

Please read in advance the blog post titled "Imagine There’s No Morality" located at http://www.bmeacham.com/blog/?p=991. We'll continue the discussion of how to figure out how to live our lives and related topics.

This group typically reads a short article, often a blog post by Bill Meacham, ahead of time and discusses it at the meeting. We approach philosophy as free human beings engaged in the world. The discussion format is free-form, and it is always quite lively.

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  • James I D.

    I would like combine a point of view with a question. If a comprehensive theory of ethics is possible, must it necessarily be inconsistent in order to be complete? In other words, isn't the challenge really to propitiously select the inconsistencies that will be tolerated and minimize their influence on the overall model? As a generality, it seems that we tend not accept a model that is incomplete and also not to accept a model that is inconsistent. Maybe we should tolerate a degree of inconsistency because humans are inherently inconsistent, and that might allow us make some progress toward a more complete model.

    May 10, 2013

    • Leonard H.

      Good point, Jim. Even if humans were consistent, is it possible to derive a formally logical system of ethics? Maybe not. Nonetheless, given that humans are inconsistent, then I think the methods that have to be used to form a system of ethics will have to be hermeneutical. We can't expect to derive a precise model.

      May 23, 2013

    • James I D.

      Leonard: I am going to post a couple documents on The Discussion Message Board dealing with what I call Morality: A Toy Model. Check it out.

      May 24, 2013

  • Judith B.

    I am writing to say that I will not be attending the next few meetings as I will be teaching at Smith College in Northampton, MA beginning next week until the end of August. I have very much enjoyed the group and look forward to future discussion next fall. All the best ~ Judith

    May 23, 2013

    • a.m.

      Enjoy your summer in New England. Please do come back!

      May 23, 2013

    • Leonard H.

      Teaching Philosophy, Judith?

      May 23, 2013

  • Bob L.

    Trying to arrive at a normative standard of morality for all behaviors seems to me to be a fool’s errand. Each moral dilemma we have described becomes impossible to resolve as we add the complications of context to the content. Nor is it possible to describe a single set of moral standards, whether it is Maslow’s hierarchy or own private list. Morals are standards of human behavior, sometimes encoded into legal statutes and other times only by the force of tacit mutual agreement.

    Morality is driven by groups whose needs are determined by collective purposes. The more diverse the groups, the more diverse are the forms taken by their respective moralities. Thus the morality of the Navy Seals differs from that of Franciscan monks. If we think of groups as components in a generalized model, we would gain the perspective needed to objectively judge human behaviors rather than relying a single personal set of standards.

    May 21, 2013

    • Leonard H.

      Bob, would you, then, say that morality is relative? From W'Pedia on Moral Relativism, listing 3 different types: "Moral relativism may be any of several philosophical positions concerned with the differences in moral judgments across different people and cultures. Descriptive moral relativism holds only that some people do in fact disagree about what is moral; meta-ethical moral relativism holds that in such disagreements, nobody is objectively right or wrong; and normative moral relativism holds that because nobody is right or wrong, we ought to tolerate the behavior of others even when we disagree about the morality of it. Not all descriptive relativists adopt meta-ethical relativism, and moreover, not all meta-ethical relativists adopt normative relativism."

      May 23, 2013

  • a.m.

    Thanks to everyone, and to Bill for facilitating, as the discussion was very illuminating. If it's true that morality is derived from social consensus, as Gary noted, then morality really is meaningless,as Leonard the dadaist noted. That does lead us to existentialist questions of who we are as individuals in any social group as Judith and Jim seemed to allude,
    (if I heard them correctly). The works of Virginia Woolfe, Joyce Carol Oats, Samuel Beckett and other modernists make a lot more sense to me now. I might start playing violent video games now :-).

    May 21, 2013

    • Leonard H.

      Leonard the dadaist. That was then, Annine, and this is now. Today, I'm a deconstructionist. So, yes, go play all your video games. What could go wrong?

      May 23, 2013

  • Bill M.

    Gary says
    > I think that's the right way to start.

    Is there only one right way to start? Are all other ways to start wrong? I'd rather say that it is a very good way to start, more productive than other ways, but other ways might be good as well. I don't approve of "rightness" talk. See my "The Good and the Right," at http://www.bmeacham.com/whatswhat/GoodAndRight.html.

    May 23, 2013

    • gary

      ??? Let me be very precise. "In my opinion, in the study of morality, beginning by gathering data is superior to beginning by generalizing from introspection and casual observation of your peer group." It's fine to make a philosophical distinction between right and good, but in ordinary English usage, you need to cut some slack.

      May 23, 2013

    • Bill M.

      But we are talking philosophically (grin). No big deal, it's just a pet peeve of mine.

      May 23, 2013

  • gary

    There is a research field called moral psychology. Some them are using the web to conduct research (visit www.yourmorals.org). There are many studies, each measuring some behavior or thought process related to morality.

    Such research is always liable to methodological criticism. I'm suspicious of the methods of so-called soft sciences, especially when they rely on polls and self-reporting to infer mental states. There's an open epistemological question about whether you can measure such things at all.

    Still, I think psychological research can meet stringent standards. Even if Haidt's theory is wrong, I think he has the right approach. The group I mentioned is doing foundational work. Instead of assuming we know what the elements of human morality are, they're trying to gather a broad set of data before they try to make such categorizations. I think that's the right way to start.

    May 23, 2013

  • Bruce N.

    Well said, from the standard perspective. However, my standard soap box is that understanding humans requires a reframing in terms of biology: evolution, genetics and neuroscience. Such a shift does not give an answer to the standard question of morality, rather it makes such standard question of morality less interesting because the biology frame of reference lies outside of what is available to the mind reasoning about minds.

    May 23, 2013

  • Bill M.

    Lively and thoughtful discussion

    May 20, 2013

  • James I D.

    week = weak!

    May 14, 2013

  • Gene R.

    see y'all soon!

    May 14, 2013

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