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 Post subject: Ethical Relativism
PostPosted: Wed Mar 31, 2004 12:16 am 
Okay, philosophically, one of my pet peeves has always been Ethical Relativism... here's what I mean and ten reasons I dislike it.

Many, many, many, many moon ago, Gerald wrote:
Okay... theres two versions of the relativism: cultural and ethical.

Cultural relativism says that different places, peoples, cultures, times, etc have different ethics and morals. This is an empirical claim and is generally regarded as being true.

Ethical relativism says the same thing as cultural plus the belief that these differences imply there is no absolute truth and that all ethical and moral systems are equally valid. This is highly contestable. Usually this view is accompanied by high talks of tolerance.

Now, there are alot of valid reasons to see that a relativist has a point... however, there are alot of reasons to deny and to not be fond of this claim:

1. The tolerance claim causes a contradiction: it is itself a moral viewpoint

2. While most cultures do have different moral views, some actions, such as murder, rape, and theft, are almost universally seen as wrong, while others, such as the Golden Rule, appear in multiple, independent areas.

3. If relativism is true, you have to accept ALL ethical systems as being equally valid.

4. The logic behind it... that multiple beliefs as to the answer imply no absolute answer is unacceptable in any other field.

5. Most people really don't believe it... they just pick it up because they don't want to take the flack for being an absolutist.

6. Its pretty much ends any ethical discussion.

7. Its impossible to determine how to act with this idea, since you can extend it each person, and thus you can't qualify *anything* as right or wrong.

8. It commits the ad populum fallacy (Most people believe X, therefore X)

9. Historically, it when then say moral reformers were both right and wrong.

10. It equates critical morality with conventional morality: i.e. what is riht based on what people believe and what is actually right


Okay. Discuss!


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Mar 31, 2004 12:29 am 
Your argument is valid from your point of view.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Mar 31, 2004 4:49 am 
Reading that commentary reminded me of a Dr. Who episode.

Specifically, Pyramids of Mars where the Doctor confronts Sutekh.

Here's a bit of Sutekh's commentary:

"Your evil is my good. I am Sutekh the Destroyer. Where I tread I leave nothing but dust and darkness. I find that good."

Basically, his morals and ethics revolve around an absolute negation of life.

Actually, I'm just trying to clarify what ethical relativism is.

Basically, under ethical relativism, how would Sutekh's ethics be perceived?


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Mar 31, 2004 12:31 pm 
I would say under ethical relativism his views would be seen to be on the same level as any other ethical worldview. None of them are more true, right, wrong, valid, etc., than any other.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Mar 31, 2004 10:32 pm 
It seems like a fine idea to me.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Nov 02, 2004 7:15 pm 
Moral relatavism essentially negates the existence of morality or ethics as anything other than a person's personal preferences. In practice, it is elevating tolerance and noninterference above all other values.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Nov 02, 2004 9:27 pm 
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Quote:
1. The tolerance claim causes a contradiction: it is itself a moral viewpoint

Reading your definition it seems that ethical relativism is about your beliefs about the ethical values.of others, while the relativist himself can hold any other beliefs he wants. So it's not really a contradiction - it may be a moral viewpoint, but that doesn't mean the intolerants are equally right.

Quote:
2. While most cultures do have different moral views, some actions, such as murder, rape, and theft, are almost universally seen as wrong, while others, such as the Golden Rule, appear in multiple, independent areas.

Now that commits the ad populism fallacy :D

Quote:
4. The logic behind it... that multiple beliefs as to the answer imply no absolute answer is unacceptable in any other field.

Think of it as an equation with an indeterminate solution ;)

Quote:
6. Its pretty much ends any ethical discussion.

Are you saying that relativism is bad because it puts philosophers out of their jobs? ;)

Quote:
8. It commits the ad populum fallacy (Most people believe X, therefore X)

I fail to see how (all I see is that it says "most people believe X, therefore most people believe X"). Can you elaborate?

Quote:
10. It equates critical morality with conventional morality: i.e. what is right based on what people believe and what is actually right

So... it's bad because absolutism says it's bad? That makes it pretty much a non-argument in my eyes... (it feels a bit like a Christian saying "Hinduism is bad because the Bible says it's bad!")

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Nov 05, 2004 5:22 pm 
I think that ethical relativism is nonsense. Different societies have different morals, ethics have nothing to do with societies. Ethical relitavism is false by the very definition of ethics. The whole difference between ethics and morals is that in ethics right and wrong are determined by the individual rather than by the society.

Ethical relitivism also has a tendency to piss me off, because it alway seems to be used to try and justify behavior that cannot be ethically defended. Slavery, human sacrifice and female subjigation are great examples of this.


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PostPosted: Sat Nov 13, 2004 9:51 pm 
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Kodiak Claw wrote:
I think that ethical relativism is nonsense. Different societies have different morals, ethics have nothing to do with societies.
[...]SNIP![...]
The whole difference between ethics and morals is that in ethics right and wrong are determined by the individual rather than by the society.

Ethics have everything to do with societies. The individual you are talking about is a product and subset of the society into which he was born.

Kodiak Claw wrote:
I Ethical relitavism is false by the very definition of ethics.


The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language wrote:
ethic
n.
1.
    1. A set of principles of right conduct.
    2. A theory or a system of moral values: “An ethic of service is at war with a craving for gain” (Gregg Easterbrook).
2.
    ethics (used with a sing. verb) The study of the general nature of morals and of the specific moral choices to be made by a person; moral philosophy.
3.
    ethics (used with a sing. or pl. verb) The rules or standards governing the conduct of a person or the members of a profession: medical ethics.

... so how exactly does this make ethical relativism "false by the very definition of ethics"? Please explain :)


Kodiak Claw wrote:
Ethical relitivism also has a tendency to piss me off, because it alway seems to be used to try and justify behavior that cannot be ethically defended. Slavery, human sacrifice and female subjigation are great examples of this.

Fallacious (gee, that word sounds dirty now that I think about it... but then again, I'm a Freudian ;)) - this is once again the "Hinduism is bad because the Bible says it's bad!" argument IMO :D

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sun Nov 14, 2004 5:03 pm 
gnolam wrote:
Ethics have everything to do with societies. The individual you are talking about is a product and subset of the society into which he was born.


No, a person who allowes hir behavior to be determined by the society acts in a moral manner.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Nov 17, 2004 11:11 am 
Kodiak Claw wrote:
No, a person who allowes hir behavior to be determined by the society acts in a moral manner.

Oh this is just begging for an enactment of Godwin's law.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Nov 17, 2004 12:46 pm 
*peeks in, reads the new posts, goosesteps out*


(btw, I find it strangely telling that there is no halo (angel, not BLAM!) smiley available on this board.)


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Nov 17, 2004 1:50 pm 
what is godwins law?


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Nov 17, 2004 1:59 pm 
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Godwin wrote:
As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Nov 18, 2004 10:20 pm 
Quote:
1. A set of principles of right conduct.


That, I think, is where ethical relativism is discounted by the definition.

"Right conduct" implies an idea of "rightness" that we need to look for. If, therefore, there is a unified idea of what is "right," then by extention there should be a way to follow these ideals of rightness that is better than the other ways. That's what ethics is all about, isn't it? Finding the best way to live in accordence with the idea of right conduct.

If there's a best way, then the different ways can't all be equal.

Does any of that make any sense? It did when I wrote it. I promise.


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PostPosted: Sat Nov 20, 2004 2:23 pm 
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I don't understand how ethics and morals are *NOT* relative to the individual.

An example: Some people find abortion absolutely hideously evil, and equate it to shooting a 2 year old kid in the head because you don't want them anymore.

Personally, I don't think it's a very good idea in most cases, but I don't have any extreme moral problems with it.

That's ethical/moral relativism right there, isn't it?

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Nov 20, 2004 3:21 pm 
Oggy - Those that claim absolutism have a simple yet effective argument for getting around your 'relativistic' beliefs.

"You're a bad person for not following my absolute morality."


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Nov 20, 2004 6:06 pm 
Ogredude wrote:
I don't understand how ethics and morals are *NOT* relative to the individual.

An example: Some people find abortion absolutely hideously evil, and equate it to shooting a 2 year old kid in the head because you don't want them anymore.

Personally, I don't think it's a very good idea in most cases, but I don't have any extreme moral problems with it.

That's ethical/moral relativism right there, isn't it?


Hm...I could be dead-wrong about this, but it seems to me that the disagreement about abortions is a matter of different morals, but of disagreement on the nature of the fetus: Some see it as a human being, same as you and me - others see it as a mindless bunch of cells that isn't important as long as it isn't a human yet. So, I wouldn't call this a case of realtive morals...Just different worldviews.


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PostPosted: Sat Nov 20, 2004 6:32 pm 
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Kodiak Claw wrote:
what is godwins law?


<a href="http://www.faqs.org/faqs/usenet/legends/godwin/">Godwin's Law</a> is the Internet convention that comparisons to Hitler and Nazis are off-limits as a conversation-winner. Unfortunately, in any social, political, philosophical, or moral discussion on the Internet, the probability that somebody will invoke Hitler approaches 1.

When this occurs, the argument is over...and the person invoking Hitler LOSES the argument.

Corollary: intentionally invoking Hitler as a "grenade jumping" maneuver
(ie. stepping into a thread and going "Ahem. I see this thread is going flamewar, so...he's like Hitler. Thread over, I'll take the blame for the good of the thread.") will have no effect.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Nov 20, 2004 7:56 pm 
Ishidan wrote:
Kodiak Claw wrote:
what is godwins law?


<a href="http://www.faqs.org/faqs/usenet/legends/godwin/">Godwin's Law</a> is the Internet convention that comparisons to Hitler and Nazis are off-limits as a conversation-winner. Unfortunately, in any social, political, philosophical, or moral discussion on the Internet, the probability that somebody will invoke Hitler approaches 1.


Actually, Godwin's Law is just the observation that the probability of a comparison to Hitler or the Nazis approaches 1 as the length of a thread increases. The convention that such a comparison automatically ends a conversation is a later development based on Godwin's Law but not actually proposed by Godwin himself.

I think Enki's Corollary is a pretty good one, myself. It seems to hold in my experience.


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PostPosted: Sat Nov 20, 2004 9:15 pm 
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sun tzu wrote:
Ogredude wrote:
I don't understand how ethics and morals are *NOT* relative to the individual.

An example: Some people find abortion absolutely hideously evil, and equate it to shooting a 2 year old kid in the head because you don't want them anymore.

Personally, I don't think it's a very good idea in most cases, but I don't have any extreme moral problems with it.

That's ethical/moral relativism right there, isn't it?


Hm...I could be dead-wrong about this, but it seems to me that the disagreement about abortions is a matter of different morals, but of disagreement on the nature of the fetus: Some see it as a human being, same as you and me - others see it as a mindless bunch of cells that isn't important as long as it isn't a human yet. So, I wouldn't call this a case of realtive morals...Just different worldviews.



I don't know... Personally, I'm opposed to abortion except in rare and extreme circumstances... But I'm also morally opposed to removing that choice from you. I'm just not sharing the opinion that from the moment of conception, the zygote is actually a human being with all rights and privileges thereof. Which is what those other people believe. So, although abortion to me is not a good idea... It's not equated with cold-blooded murder in my mind.

As far as worldviews go... I think it's time to split the thread for that one.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Nov 20, 2004 11:02 pm 
How do you avoid ethical relativism? How do you determine what system of ethics is the right one?


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sun Nov 21, 2004 2:30 am 
gwalla wrote:
How do you avoid ethical relativism? How do you determine what system of ethics is the right one?


Through rigourous discussion.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Nov 22, 2004 9:58 am 
Eh. As much as usuages of smileys irk me in discussions, I'll bite. A belated bite, but a bite none the less.

Quote:
Quote:
1. The tolerance claim causes a contradiction: it is itself a moral viewpoint

Reading your definition it seems that ethical relativism is about your beliefs about the ethical values.of others, while the relativist himself can hold any other beliefs he wants. So it's not really a contradiction - it may be a moral viewpoint, but that doesn't mean the intolerants are equally right.


Think about this way... How can someone who is an ethical relativist, who expounds the virtue of tolerance, criticize someone for being narrow-minded or ignorant or being a racist, and not respecting the beliefs of other people? Basically, my point is, there is still a point at which certain beliefs are viewed as being less valid than others because they are not, if I dare say, enlightened.

Quote:
Quote:
2. While most cultures do have different moral views, some actions, such as murder, rape, and theft, are almost universally seen as wrong, while others, such as the Golden Rule, appear in multiple, independent areas.

Now that commits the ad populism fallacy :D


Not quite so. I didn't directly conclude that the absolutist is true from the statement. Rather, I'm pointing out that if ethics are relative there is still a tendancy for certain moral/ethical values to appear more likely than others. In a since, I am saying "Most people say X, there might be a possibility of X."

Quote:
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4. The logic behind it... that multiple beliefs as to the answer imply no absolute answer is unacceptable in any other field.

Think of it as an equation with an indeterminate solution ;)


I think it's more like Classical Physics with corrections for length contractions vs. Relativity. I don't think many people would say, "Eh, pick which ever one tickles your fancy."

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6. Its pretty much ends any ethical discussion.

Are you saying that relativism is bad because it puts philosophers out of their jobs? ;)


Nah, I just hope that one day that some disputes can have some from of conclusion, one way or another.

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8. It commits the ad populum fallacy (Most people believe X, therefore X)

I fail to see how (all I see is that it says "most people believe X, therefore most people believe X"). Can you elaborate?


Well, it probably should have been stated more like this "Most people believe different things, therefore different things."

Quote:
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10. It equates critical morality with conventional morality: i.e. what is right based on what people believe and what is actually right

So... it's bad because absolutism says it's bad? That makes it pretty much a non-argument in my eyes... (it feels a bit like a Christian saying "Hinduism is bad because the Bible says it's bad!")


I think it's more like people reject the idea of an absolutist view because they disagree with beliefs of the masses, while they do not consider that there might be a morality that is not followed. It's a bit like another science. While some people have theories, there is a truth out there that may be discovered. Just because the theories are rejected doesn't mean the goal of finding the definitive answer should be.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Nov 25, 2004 10:29 pm 
(decides to try her hand at this. Hopes she doesn't lose it in the process)

Gerald wrote:
Eh. As much as usuages of smileys irk me in discussions, I'll bite. A belated bite, but a bite none the less.

Quote:
Reading your definition it seems that ethical relativism is about your beliefs about the ethical values.of others, while the relativist himself can hold any other beliefs he wants. So it's not really a contradiction - it may be a moral viewpoint, but that doesn't mean the intolerants are equally right.


I wish to state, before I cause offense, that I am honestly asking for clarification, and am not poking fun. It's just that I read this point, and I really can't understand how to interpret "that doesn't mean the intolerants are equally right."

We're going on Gerald's definition of ethical relativism, which I read as saying that relativists believe that ALL ethics and morality are purely subjective. If so, how can they see intolerants as any less right than they are?

I've been watching this topic for a while, but never had much to say. But we had a pretty interesting discussion in class, and I hope you guys don't mind me pasting a part of it here...

WingsOver's Class Notes wrote:
1) let S stand for any specific proposition
2) a relativist would say: no proposition is absolutely true or false; some are true from some perspectives, false from others.
3) Thus S is neither absolutely true or false; S is true from some perspectives, false from others
4) Right. Let P be any specific perspective from which S is true
5) Thus, the proposition [S is true from perspective P] is true
6) But then at least one proposition is just-plain-absolutely-true
7) But then premise 6 just contradicted premise 2.


And say S stood for "I believe that everyone aside from those in my Church are wrong."

Wouldn't an ethical relativist say that was correct? Being that all viewpoints were correct? And if it were correct, then it contradicts Ethical Relativism.

That's how I read Ger's comment as. I was wondering how you saw it.

Quote:
Basically, my point is, there is still a point at which certain beliefs are viewed as being less valid than others because they are not, if I dare say, enlightened.


Ger, may I ask...who is "they"?


Quote:
Quote:
Quote:
2. While most cultures do have different moral views, some actions, such as murder, rape, and theft, are almost universally seen as wrong, while others, such as the Golden Rule, appear in multiple, independent areas.

Now that commits the ad populism fallacy :D


Not quite so. I didn't directly conclude that the absolutist is true from the statement. Rather, I'm pointing out that if ethics are relative there is still a tendancy for certain moral/ethical values to appear more likely than others. In a since, I am saying "Most people say X, there might be a possibility of X."



See, this part is the heart of the matter for me. IS there a universal code, "written deep within the hearts of men" (and women!) so that rape/murder/killing would be seen as bad by all societies, regardless of outside influence? Would a person, totally isolate, come to classify acts as "good" and "evil" from the workings of their own, untrained reason?

My church tells me to think so. I'd LIKE to think so. I wish I was sure.

FordDent wrote:
"Right conduct" implies an idea of "rightness" that we need to look for. If, therefore, there is a unified idea of what is "right," then by extention there should be a way to follow these ideals of rightness that is better than the other ways. That's what ethics is all about, isn't it? Finding the best way to live in accordence with the idea of right conduct.


One of my classmates defined ethics as "the science of ideals". It's not that useful, but I liked it. :D

Quote:
If there's a best way, then the different ways can't all be equal.

Does any of that make any sense? It did when I wrote it. I promise.


I think I get it. Not perfectly - I'm not rested enough for that - but some. Tell me if I'm restating this wrong. If there is something that IS right, which the definition seems to imply, then there are ethical viewpoints closer to the "rightness" and some that are farther - and therefore more wrong.

And again, I say: that's what I want to know. IS there a rightness? An innate conscience that would be the same for certain core issues no matter how you were raised?

If you raised a child telling her/him that t's okay to kill people - for the purpose of, say, world domination. And the kid never got that exposed to alternate viewpoints. Would something within the kid still protest when he/she killed people?


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 26, 2004 7:02 pm 
WingsOver wrote:
If you raised a child telling her/him that t's okay to kill people - for the purpose of, say, world domination. And the kid never got that exposed to alternate viewpoints. Would something within the kid still protest when he/she killed people?


It's an interesting question. I myself think something probably would, as evolution tends to hardwire things into one's brain. Humans, it is said by some, are genetically predisposed to lie, because those early humans who used deception survived rather than those who could not. That's a pretty evolutionary view of the world that I'm not sure I agree with, but it is one theory. Humans would've figured out a long time ago that there was something wrong with killing each other, and it would be hardwired into the brain.

I don't know if that could be overcome--those that say our compassion makes us human would argue that a child who was never taught the lessons of compassion would not be in fact a human being.

I should really sit down and write stuff like this when I'm not being distracted, so I apoligise for the incoherence of my post. I also am not entirely sure that I answered your question, but maybe I helped.[/quote]


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 26, 2004 7:54 pm 
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WingsOver wrote:
See, this part is the heart of the matter for me. IS there a universal code, "written deep within the hearts of men" (and women!) so that rape/murder/killing would be seen as bad by all societies, regardless of outside influence? Would a person, totally isolate, come to classify acts as "good" and "evil" from the workings of their own, untrained reason?

My church tells me to think so. I'd LIKE to think so. I wish I was sure.

Here's a part where there actually is a clear and absolute answer: no. If you check your history books you will find that almost anything you hold as "evil" has held the status of normalcy or even virtue in some culture at some given point in time.

WingsOver wrote:
If you raised a child telling her/him that t's okay to kill people - for the purpose of, say, world domination. And the kid never got that exposed to alternate viewpoints. Would something within the kid still protest when he/she killed people?

I doubt it. Not more than the usual random dissent.

Ford Dent wrote:
It's an interesting question. I myself think something probably would, as evolution tends to hardwire things into one's brain. Humans, it is said by some, are genetically predisposed to lie, because those early humans who used deception survived rather than those who could not. That's a pretty evolutionary view of the world that I'm not sure I agree with, but it is one theory. Humans would've figured out a long time ago that there was something wrong with killing each other, and it would be hardwired into the brain.

I disagree. There is fairly little hardwired behavior in humans to begin with (and most of that is either pure survival, procreation or basic communication), and learned behavior can override instinct for almost anything.
If you want a practical modern-day example, go look at child soldiers in a war-ridden third world country of your choice.

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PostPosted: Sat Nov 27, 2004 7:07 am 
We humans are nothing more then beasts with a spat of "civilism".

Depressing thought, but then again. You can`t change the world by yourself can you? So that ditches the depressing part.


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PostPosted: Sat Nov 27, 2004 1:36 pm 
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gnolam wrote:
WingsOver wrote:
See, this part is the heart of the matter for me. IS there a universal code, "written deep within the hearts of men" (and women!) so that rape/murder/killing would be seen as bad by all societies, regardless of outside influence? Would a person, totally isolate, come to classify acts as "good" and "evil" from the workings of their own, untrained reason?

My church tells me to think so. I'd LIKE to think so. I wish I was sure.

Here's a part where there actually is a clear and absolute answer: no. If you check your history books you will find that almost anything you hold as "evil" has held the status of normalcy or even virtue in some culture at some given point in time.


Correct. Consider murder, for example.
I'll toss the radical example of full-scale war, and the state-vs-personal ethical problem of executions. (and I'll definitely toss the "is it a human or isn't it" discussion of abortion, we've got a whole thread for that.)
Instead, I'll note that it once, not so long ago, was considered proper for "gentlemen" to settle disputes by dueling to the death. That is, it was considered proper to settle your dispute by finding out which one of you was better at murdering the other. And that's just Europe, chosen because I'll take the wild guess that you are Christian, so that would have been the religion most relevant to the area at the time as well.

Then consider: if a pattern of behavior was truly innate, you would not have to be told about it, much less have it clarified by verbal instruction. Violating it would not need to be classed and punished as a violation against God or State, because being innate, it cannot be violated or modified. In fact, you would not even know you had it

As such, thinking up an example is damn near impossible, although it IS possible to find examples of the opposite: an innate urge that is held in check only by social discipline. For example, the need to defecate is innate. WHERE to defecate and what to do afterwards is learned--you do not, for example, just take a steaming dump in the middle of whatever room you're in at the moment the urge strikes, and then walk off. Social discipline teaches you to seek out an appropriate facility, then clean yourself.

So here's my weekend mind-fark for you.

Could it be that the opposite is true: that the urge to deliver wrath and violence unto anything which offends us (murder and assault) or to have immediate and uncontrolled sexual relations with anything that we find sexually attractive (rape) are the hardwired desires, held in check only by social pressure, discipline, and threat of punishment?

Before you answer "no", ask yourself why then are there powerful punishment structures in place for retaliating against the commission of these actions, and why are committing them usually considered to be a "loss of control"? Then watch a drunken frat-party devolve into groping and brawls as alcohol wipes out higher control functions.

And now for something insane.

"What is the law?"
"No spilled blood!"
"What is the law?"
"No spilled blood!"
"Who makes the rules?"
"Someone else!"
"Who make the rules?"
"Someone else!"
"What happens when you break the law? What happens when the rules aren't fair? We all know where we go from there--to the house of pain!
Break the rules and you get no bones. All you get is laughter, ridicule,
and a trip to the house of pain!"
--Oingo Boingo


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PostPosted: Sat Nov 27, 2004 3:18 pm 
Quote:
Could it be that the opposite is true: that the urge to deliver wrath and violence unto anything which offends us (murder and assault) or to have immediate and uncontrolled sexual relations with anything that we find sexually attractive (rape) are the hardwired desires, held in check only by social pressure, discipline, and threat of punishment?


And, at least in some cases, compassion for the potential victim. It's not one, but several urges which drive us in every situation.


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