Jump to content

Morality


StillLooking
 Share

Recommended Posts

Hi Everyone,

 

This is my first time posting in this forum. A bit about my background: the branch of christianity that I am most familiar with is catholicism because I grew up with it. I am in my mid thirties but I apologize if I sound like a confused teenager.

 

I am going to go right to the point. I have been confused about morality. Fortunately / unfortunately about a month ago, a friend introduced me to Buddhism and that has made me thinking about right or wrong issues. I now can see so many acts that christians characterize as wrong when seen in different lights will give different perspectives. This leads me to think that morality is relative, relative to the time, the people involved, the intentions, etc. I have been racking my brain of any act that is wrong no matter what and I came with one act: rape, as in a sexual act without consent. At this moment I couldn't imagine a situation that rape can be acceptable. So this leads me thinking that there is such a thing as absolute morality then. If there is an absolute morality, how can we find and learn about this? Are there any teachings out there about this true absolute morality?

 

Can anyone help me here? I think I am making myself confused about this morality issue. I have been browsing this forum for a while and I cannot find a topic about this. If this has been discussed in the past, would someone kindly let me know where to find the posts? Thanks!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 I came with one act: rape, as in a sexual act without consent. At this moment I couldn't imagine a situation that rape can be acceptable.

If a man and a woman are the only human beings left on earth and the man wants to prevent the extinction of the human race...just kidding 

 

No, I don't believe there is something like absolute morality. Where is the point in searching for absolute morality if there are no consequences for doing (absolute) evil? 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I personally tend to think of morality the same way as I think of beauty.

Some people or things are generally considered "attractive" or "beautiful" by most either within a culture or globally, and we can see how preferences differ by culture.  There is also variation between individuals.  "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" is partially, but not completely true.  And some people or things might be considered "beautiful" by almost everybody while there may be less agreement on other people or things, but for just about anything there will be at least some disagreement.  Just how beautiful is any given thing?

I think the same is true of our perceptions of morality.  It is not absolute, but there are general trends on what is and is not considered moral and they are shaped by our cultural context and conditioning and our individual variations.

As who we are, it is difficult to conceive of a situation where some of the most heinous breeches of morality, such as rape would be considered acceptable.  Yet there were clearly circumstances under which rape was not considered immoral under the Old Testament view, generally in cases where women were considered fair game as spoils of war, but also remember, Lot was deemed a righteous man although he offered his daughters to be raped by a mob in lieu of sending out the guests that they wanted to violate.

...Which brings us to another aspect of this whole thing.  Those who make the most noise and who are the most self righteous, are usually get ceded the role of guardians of morality.  Christianity has by and large usurped this role in our society, and its edicts do not get questioned the way they should, even by and large among secularists.  From the issue of slavery (a couple hundred years ago) to the subjugation of women to racism to bigotry against gays, they draw upon their religious principles to promote what I would call the most immoral of behavior, but this is the milieu that we were all raised in, so it takes a some thought to recognize the dynamics of how moral memes are passed along and accepted.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't think people must have consequences if they do evil, generally speaking. Actually I never think that far. I am more interested in how to have a guidance for myself in living my life right now.

 

ShackledNoMore, that is a very good analogy. It makes sense to me. However I would like to know what kind of guidance do you use in determining right or wrong for you? What do you teach your children, if you have any?

Right now I just use the golden rule, treat others like how you want to be treated.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think the rape example fails because it assumes something subjective about the nature of morality, probably along the lines of it having to reduce suffering. By whose say-so, or by what scientific law, does morality have to reduce suffering?

 

True 100% objective truth is very hard to pin down, if not impossible. Even our senses don't actually tell us what we see, hear, taste, feel or smell. That's just an approximated representation of stimuli produced by electric signals in the brain.

 

I forget exactly where I was going with that, but even if every person that has ever and will ever lived agreed with you that rape is wrong under any and all circumstances, that still doesn't make it objectively so. That's the wrong way to look at objectivity. Objective truth has to be true independent of anyone's say-so.

 

Even if there were a god and he said rape was wrong (the bible god didn't and it sure seems like he should have) that would still be the subjective opinion of that god.

 

The next option would be to look at the universe and try to define morality in a scientific way. But this is ridiculous because it's too human centric. Is a tornado acting immorally when it demolishes a town? No, it's just doing what it does because it's a tornado.

 

There is no god and the universe doesn't care. The closest we can get to objective moral truth is to have rules that are very widely agreed upon that we take really really seriously.

 

The church wants people to be scared of subjective morality because it threatens their power structure, but it's not as dismal as it sounds. You can still have firmly held convictions and have society reward or punish people based on them. Just accept that it can and should be subject to change.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This isn't a black or white, or yes or no question.  I've also come to see morality as relative, but there are some things that if I stumbled upon someone doing to someone else I would not hesitate to kill the offender, preferably with a baseball bat.  That's a bit absolute.  In Israel, the victim of a theft is commonly considered to be the party at fault (schmuck is the term used, not wrong-doer), while in Africa there is death penalty for theft (death of the thief, not the victim).  The nation of Washington DC and its war schools flip morality up-side-down so that what you or I might think of as evil, cruel, abusive, destructive behaviors are made right and good, certainly profitable.  You think rape is bad?  This is rape to the power of 10 and they make it right.  

The more I find about other cultures and belief systems, the more it seems humans can learn any design of "morality" they decide to create, and even if it's backwards and destructive, they can learn to enforce it with mindless determination.  

 

There is the natural state.  What do kids have in common when it comes to treating others with respect and not wanting to hurt others?  Even animals share a lot these same sentiments with us.  These are things I think of as natural morality.  Toxic conditioning can desensitize and twist it all up, but I believe we're all born with certain inclinations toward a common "morality" that's natural.  Still, I'd be hesitant to call it absolute.  Like the speed of light?  It's the universe that has to adjust to the speed of light, not the speed of light to the universe.  The universe has to change shape to compensate for the properties of light.    

 

I'm rambling at this point.  I'll stop now.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've never seen anyone hold up an absolute morality standard that could truly stand up in any setting. Admittedly you can pick out a few situations that seem to be nearly universally good or bad (e.g. - stopping a robbery is good; raping a baby is bad) but only a few.

I tend to use evolutionary logic for a basis and it's close to absolute, but it doesn't cover everything by any means and is certainly open to interpretation and circumstantial differentiation.

Realistically I don't think there can be said to be a truly absolute moral framwork.  You try to make a few simple rules that make life good for you and others and live as well as you can by those.

-Try not to harm without need.

-Do unto others as you would have them do to you.

You can add to those as you like. Keep it simple works best for me.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't think people must have consequences if they do evil, generally speaking. Actually I never think that far. I am more interested in how to have a guidance for myself in living my life right now.

 

ShackledNoMore, that is a very good analogy. It makes sense to me. However I would like to know what kind of guidance do you use in determining right or wrong for you? What do you teach your children, if you have any?

Right now I just use the golden rule, treat others like how you want to be treated.

 

I think empathy is a good start, which I suppose ties into the golden rule pretty well.

 

I know it seems silly, but I think it was expressed the best in the movie Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure: "Be excellent to each other."

 

I also think it's important to do what we can to make the world a better place: leave it sustainable after we die, shun bigotry, and help those in need (most people would list this as a moral value).  I happen to value education and intellectual honesty.  These are pretty much the sorts of values I try to foster in my children, who are approaching their teen years now, and I see that they share these values.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If there are teachings on true absolute morality, how do you tell them apart from the teachings that just claim to be on the true absolute morality?

 

Well, at least we know to first reject teachings of true absolute morality in which the rules can be changed to suit the needs of the law giver and the people he gave them to, when he commands them to break the laws when he wants them to.

 

I don't think there is any absolute morality, though there can be an objective morality. If an action or behavior can be demonstrably proven to cause harm, any time that action or behavior is done with the intention of causing harm, the action is immoral and can be determined to be immoral objectively. If an action or behavior can not be demonstrably proven to cause harm or can be demonstrably proven to benefit the people involved or society as a whole, then it is either moral or neither moral nor immoral, probably somewhere in between.

 

Objectively, it can be determined that the action of rape can't ever become moral in any context. Any moral source that claims to provide objective morality, yet gives instructions to rape, it is probably not objective, regardless of whether or not the morals are absolute.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi, StillLooking,

 

Something you might also want to look into is what science and other cultures have to say on the very subject. You might have noticed, in your contact with Buddhism, that there is quite a lot of common ground, despite differences. One thing, as already mentioned in this thread, that keeps coming up, is the golden rule. Actually, a negative phrasing was the first in writing of this idea, from Confucius: "do not do to others what you would not have done to yourself." Interesting. The golden rule and variants come very very near to being cultural universals. Also, there's quite a few scientific studies of other species, even, that suggest that the golden rule - and a general sense of "fair play" emerges from social environments so that generous individuals and an instinct to share raise the ability of the species as a whole to survive. So, it's not insane to conclude that some instinct for this most basic morality does, in fact, exist.

As for other cultures, it's interesting to look at cases where cultural moral values within the same culture come into conflict, and how that culture tries to resolve it. A great example is the forty-seven ronin incident. Japan's shogunate had a problem, there: on the one hand, loyalty like that was a good thing, that they wanted to promote. On the other, not taking a permit out before going through with a personal vendetta was illegal, and not something they wanted to spread. The penalty was death. So, to compromise, the sentence was commuted to seppuku - which we would consider suicide, and, according to Christian culture is a one-way ticket to hell. But, to them, it was a best-case scenario, and the ronin lived on in legend.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The hard part about morality outside of christianity is that you do have to think through a lot of it yourself. Christianity claims that is always has an absolute answer for everything; if you don't know what that answer is, there's something wrong with you or your understanding of god. In reality, though, there are a lot of times where the situation itself is ambiguous and it takes work/wisdom to figure out the best course of action.

 

I'd agree with the others who've said that though morality may not be absolute, it is objective. There's no force in the universe working for our good. But we do want good to happen to us. From my point of view, morality is about figuring out the most effective way for "good things" to happen to "us". Other than figuring out the best way for that to happen, defining the terms in quotes is a bit tricky too. For christians, supposedly god loves all of humanity. Or maybe he just loves the elect, so that "us" only includes non-christians in the sense that they might end up one of "us" some day? Some tribes defined "mankind" as their own tribe, so they could have an absolute prohibition against killing "humans" but be totally ok with going to war against outsiders. Some forms of buddhism, hinduism, and pantheism say that "us" should include not only all humans, but other sentient beings too (maybe even mosquitos!)

 

And then you have to figure out "good": health is good, freedom is good, security is good... but when those goals come into conflict, which ones are the most important? Should you give up some freedom in exchange for security? Should we infringe on people's freedom in order to force them to be more healthy? What happens when your freedom may cause someone else to become unhealthy (such as 2nd hand smoke or not getting your kids vaccinated)?

 

I think that in the big, overall, questions about morality, humans have pretty consistent answers across cultures. So it's not like morality is completely relative and just up to the whims of individual societies. But once you take those big ideas and try to apply them to the details of every day life things get messy fast. Different cultures will rank their goals/values differently, and therefore come to different conclusions. Even within one culture that happens - just look at how political debates are often framed.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Wow, a bunch of good points from all of you. Now I have materials to chew and process for a while. Thanks a lot!

...but we're not finished yet.

 

God damned mosquitoes.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

CA, do you mean Sam Harris book, The Moral Landscape? I will check it out.

 

Yes, now I am quite aware the golden rule exists almost all across any cultures. Very interesting indeed. i think it is probably true the reason lies in evolutionary biology, survival of the most adaptable species.

 

Speaking of Buddhism and Conficius and the things about East Asian cultures, I find it fascinating that christianity is very popular with east asian communities, not only in the US but also in East Asian countries. I am of asian descent so I know this quite well. Maybe our cultures do not provide clear answers on big questions about life and here christianity offers clear answers. My guess is in the next 20 - 30 years we will see a shift in asian american becoming more conservative. I know a bunch of asian families who homeschool with christian curriculums, take advice from Focus on the Family, listen only to christian songs. The thing is all the parents are christian converts when they were in their 20s. One mother has a degree in molecular biology and she told me she does not believe in evolution.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest
This topic is now closed to further replies.
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Guidelines.