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Moral Relativism, Part 1

Discussion in 'Ethics and Morals' started by Evangelicalhumanist, Sep 26, 2016.

  1. Evangelicalhumanist

    Evangelicalhumanist "Truth" isn't a thing...
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    But then, does that not depend utterly on what you consider to be your starting axioms? As I just asked Nous, above, what if your starting axiom is claimed to be a command from God -- such as that to Abraham in Genesis17:10-14, stating that every male must be circumcised when they are 8 days old? Is it always moral, then, to commit a painful, medically unnecessary (and possibly harmful and/or pleasure-reducing) procedure on newborn boys?
     
  2. Penumbra

    Penumbra Veteran Member
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    Imagine a doctor whose axiom of medicine is that prayer, and only prayer, is the most effective treatment for any disease. Or, imagine a less extreme case of a doctor in the 18th century who treats things without a strong scientific backing. For example, he sees a patient with a fever, so he drains some of their blood out, thinking that it helps. You could even have a doctor based all his or her work on solid evidence, but start with the axiom that ill-health is better than health, so he or she uses her full array of techniques to reduce health.

    Would they be good doctors? Does that make medicine totally relative?

    If starting axioms aren't based on solid evidence, or aren't rational, then it's not likely to go well. But that doesn't make the field of medicine purely relative. It's still a field with objective science behind it, especially today.

    The same can be said for ethics. There is an abundance of published science on how to promote happiness, and tons of observational evidence we can gather from world history. But if someone disregards all the evidence and decides to get 100% of their answers from books from the iron age, or alternatively starts with the axiom that suffering is preferable to happiness, then there is a good chance that they're not going to do well at promoting happiness, much like the doctor examples above. But again, that doesn't make the field of ethics purely relative, or even any more relative than medicine.
     
  3. Evangelicalhumanist

    Evangelicalhumanist "Truth" isn't a thing...
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    You did not address this to me, but I'd like to point out that there is a fairly strong belief in some southern African nations that the rape of virgin children is an effective cure for AIDS. And if it is an effective cure, then it must be believed that this is -- as is everything else -- mandated by heaven.

    Culture seems capable of a lot of this sort of thing: the practice of suttee or the treatment of untouchable dalits in India spring to mind, as does the practice in ancient Rome of exposing deformed or otherwise impaired children at birth.

    It is an uncanny thing how much there is that nature permits (or doesn't do) that culture prohibits (or insists upon). Homosexuality is considered by many to be "unnatural," which it is not (though it is uncommon)
     
  4. Evangelicalhumanist

    Evangelicalhumanist "Truth" isn't a thing...
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    You are confusing (and conflating) the notions of "axiom" and "knowledge." Knowledge often comes from learning, and learning often comes from considering new evidence as it is discovered. (We didn't know about miniscule critters that could kill us until the invention of the microscope, for example.)

    So, yes, medicine is totally relative to what is presently known. Physicians facing unknown threats and symptoms are often required to make their best guess. And if that's all they've got, I'm not prepared to call them "bad" doctors for making the effort.
    Which is just what I said. But what if one of your "axioms" is "God says you are to cut the foreskins off baby boys!" Is this based on "solid evidence?" What evidence? Is it rational? In what way? Let me point out, for example, that there are religious Christians who would deny a medically necessary (and beneficial) blood transfusion to their own child for just such an "axiom."
     
  5. Willamena

    Willamena Just me
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    @Evangelicalhumanist
    Slavery has not "been dealt with," it's still systemic, albeit underground. And although it's improving, women are not yet treated equally in many regards. And I'm talking about the West. Despite your apparent idealism (not to mention scientism) you seem to have a moral compass that's tracking due north. The views you express do not in themselves indicate moral relativism, just morality (as would the contrasting views for others). Moral relativism occurs when a person accepts that any side has a correct moral stance from their own point of view. You've not expressed that in your post.
     
  6. Goddess_Ashtara

    Goddess_Ashtara NIN MOJAVE AK IMEN

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    Some people do not involve "moral rights and wrongs" or "good and evil" in our Weltanschauung. Some people do not embrace some system of "correct moral behavior", but would rather do what one chooses to do in accordance with one's Will to experience what one Wills to experience and achieve what one Wills to achieve. Many of these people would still acknowledge the obvious objective truth that morality- when some form of it is embraced- is always subjective. Would you still consider these individuals to be "moral relativists"?


     
    #46 Goddess_Ashtara, Oct 15, 2016
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2016
  7. Willamena

    Willamena Just me
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    Morality, like everything, is both subjective and objective. It's not that, but relativity, that makes for moral relativism.
     
  8. Penumbra

    Penumbra Veteran Member
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    No, I am not confusing or conflating the two. An axiom is a self-evident or highly accepted fact from which other things derive. Knowledge is the acquired facts and synthesis of data. Axioms can therefore direct how we use knowledge, like to what goals do we apply the knowledge we have.

    It's worth noting, however, that acquiring additional knowledge can potentially change which axioms a person bases their work on. Axioms help direct how knowledge is applied (for example, using medical knowledge of health to either help or harm), and knowledge can alter what a person uses as their starting axiom (as in, changing a religion due to acquiring more historical facts and then re-analyzing everything they thought about ethics).

    Same for ethics.

    Can you explain why you think the field of ethics is more relative/subjective than the field of medicine?

    Both start with an axiom, and then (poorly or skillfully, to varying degrees), use knowledge to try achieve the goals of those axioms.

    Example Doctor
    Axiom: It is good to optimize the health and well-being of consenting humans, based on certain metrics such freedom from disease, healthy body composition, motion, longevity, etc.
    Knowledge sources: Medical school, published research studies, years or decades of clinical experience.

    Example Ethicist
    Axiom: It is good to promote the happiness and well-being of as many sentient beings as possible and to reduce the suffering of sentient beings wherever possible.
    Knowledge sources: PhD in philosophy from studying the major ethics systems of the world, published studies on what promotes happiness or life satisfaction and what does not, published studies on how animals may perceive pain or happiness, economics, metaphysics, etc.

    No, I don't consider it to be rational or based on solid evidence, because the axiom in this case (that the Bible is the word of God) is likely untrue. If people base their ethics on appeasing a god, but it turns out that this god never existed or that it does exist but they're using the wrong scripture, then that won't go over well.

    A similar example in my view would be a doctor whose starting axiom is less than ideal. For example, say a doctor starts with this axiom: "My job is to extend patient lives as long as possible". At first glance that might be okay, but in practice, that could resort in sacrificing a patient's well-being to increase longevity, or to spend millions of healthcare dollars within the last six months of a patient's life trying desperately to prolong it without good reason, while increasing patient suffering when the patient is gravely ill and no longer wishing to live. It might be well-meaning, but in this case, was built on an axiom that is fragile and open to significant counter-argument.[/quote][/QUOTE]
     
  9. Nous

    Nous Well-Known Member
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    I am unfamiliar with any culture or nation that condones rape of 4-year-old children under any circumstance. Cite your evidence.
     
  10. Nous

    Nous Well-Known Member
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    The Wikipedia only gives one definition of the meta-ethical thesis of moral relativism. What the article refers to as "descriptive moral relativism" and "normative moral relativism" does not conflict with that meta-ethical thesis.
     
  11. Evangelicalhumanist

    Evangelicalhumanist "Truth" isn't a thing...
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    I certainly did not say that there was. What I said (and that you are therefore trying to subtly misrepresent) is "there is a fairly strong belief in some southern African nations that the rape of virgin children is an effective cure for AIDS."

    Please at least try to note that I never stated that a culture or nation "condones." Nor did I even that anyone "condones." What I said referred to a widespread belief by individuals in certain areas that lead to actions taken for their own (presumed) health outcomes.

    How many times are you going to accuse me of making claims that I have not made? Is this the start of a pattern that you prefer using in discussion? If so, I really would rather not, thanks.
     
  12. Nous

    Nous Well-Known Member
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    So, in other words, your claim about the existence of “a fairly strong belief in some southern African nations . . .” cannot be used to deduce that the moral disapproval of rape of a 4-year-old child is relative to societies or cultures or nations.

    Pardon me for assuming that you were trying to make a claim that is relevant to the topic of this thread. Your claim was in response to my challenge to someone who claimed that "morals are . . . relative".
     
  13. Evangelicalhumanist

    Evangelicalhumanist "Truth" isn't a thing...
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    That would be my take, yes. However, can we consider whether there are areas where various societies and cultures disagree a little further along -- say 9 (in the case of Aisha, married to Mohammed at 6 -- but supposedly not consummated until 9), or 7 (the jurist Gratian, founder of Canon law in the 12th century acknowledged "consent" to be meaningful at that age). I myself would consider 7 to be child rape. Gratian was pretty sure if she agreed, it was not. The Catholic Church today recognizes female consent to be valid at 14, while most Catholic states require at least a few more years.
    I think they often are relative, frankly. I, for example, am deeply opposed to the death penalty. I see it as revenge, not societal safety. Once you've got somebody in a position in which you can kill him any time you wish, with impunity, it's hard to see that person as being any longer a danger to society. And if the verdict was in error (they are, often enough), it's just a little difficult to "take it back." (I can think of 3 Canadians convicted of murder, later exonerated, just under the initial "M' for example. Guy Paul Morin, David Milgard and Donald Marshall, Jr. There have been others. Had they been executed, how would we have mended that?)

    On the other hand, while I dislike the idea of abortion being used as an alternative to intelligent birth control, I am not opposed to a woman making her own choice in the matter. Others disagree, and as we've seen in the past, consider killing others in order to prevent abortions as being a "moral choice." I most assuredly do not think that. So it would appear that there is some flexibility in moral thinking, doesn't it?
     
  14. Nous

    Nous Well-Known Member
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    That's precisely why I've been specifying a 4-year-old. We probably all have ancestors who were married and began having children at 13 years old.

    My first inclination is to agree with this and all that you said afterwards. But, then, does the fact that some people today apparently consider two men engaging in a consensual sex act worse than murder mean that there is not objective moral fact about the matter?
     
  15. Evangelicalhumanist

    Evangelicalhumanist "Truth" isn't a thing...
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    As one of those men, I certainly disagree with a lot of those who hate that sort. And believe me, I know they're there...lived with it for 68 years now.

    The odd thing is that if sex were ALL about and ONLY about procreation -- i.e. you do it only so long as you want (and are able to have) children and then stop -- there might be a case. But in humans (as in bonobos, dolphins and other species) sex is about a lot more than that. In fact, in bonobos and humans, the "more than that" is more important than the procreation part. And as that is the case, we must consider that two men can very happily, comfortably, safely and pleasurably engage, even though there won't be offspring. In exactly the same way that a husband and wife can after he's had the snip or she a hysterectomy, or those past child-bearing years. The sex then clearly is not about babies. And it is clearly necessary.

    Nature permits, culture forbids. The nature part is common across the species, the culture part differs from one culture to the next. Very relative indeed. Consider, for example, that one of Canada's largest Christian denominations is happy to marry a gay couple, with approval by the state, while if they were to try to do the same in Nigeria, the result would be decidedly less convivial.
     
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