Showing posts with label moral absolutism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label moral absolutism. Show all posts

Monday, October 10, 2011

Ethical Dilemmas and Principles

Suppose two men agreed they they are going to collaborate on getting a job done. Working together will make the task at hand much easier than if they were to each undertake it alone. The job requires an investment of capital, weeks of planing, time and effort to be put into it in order to be successful. Suddenly, one of the men backs out of the agreement just as all their hard work was going to materialize. Now the other man is left in a situation where he can not finish the job by himself and he has now wasted money, time and hard work. Was it wrong for the man to back out of the agreement so late in the game where by him doing so, it jeopardized the success of the job?

Think about your answer. What is the moral duty to uphold a social agreement? If one agrees upon a "social contract", does one have the obligation to uphold it? Most people would say that both parties have committed themselves into a social contract, while not necessary legally binding, does contain within it, levels of trust and dependency that if broken would be damaging to the parties involved. It is you can say a "socially binding" contract.

Now let's say that the man backed out of the agreement because he suddenly caught a sense of moral contemplation. The job they were doing was to go out and kidnap a young girl for the purposes of raping and killing her. He backed out of the deal because he just couldn't bare to go through with it. Now was he wrong for backing out? Or, was he right for backing out of an agreement to kill someone solely for its pleasure?

The moral idea of honoring one's contractual and social agreements, and of being an honest broker in business clearly has its exceptions. But therefore, the question begs to be asked: Does all morality depend on situational, and relative circumstances? Is, in other words, all morality relative? When Sam Harris outlines the idea of principle, standing firm even when one can find exceptions, he is talking in a way about having rigid morals that do not necessarily have to be absolute in every situation. For example, in chess there is a good principle to adhere to: Don't loose your Queen. But there are situations when sacrificing your Queen is the best strategic option to make, and there are other times where you will have no other choice but to sacrifice your Queen. These exceptions do not have the ability to erode away the solidity of the principle at heart. No one is going to say that because a single exception can be found to the principle of not loosing your Queen in chess, that we must therefore throw out the entire principle or that the principle is erroneous.

One argument theists make about morality absence of god, is that without the absolutism of morality from divine command theory, you cannot have moral principle. My initial example above on the relativism of a moral proposition, shows how morality, while not always absolute in its nature can still have a principle behind it. In principle, I might say, it is morally right to honor those you conduct business with whether contractually or socially, but there are exceptions.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Are There Universal Morals?

It's true. I haven't wrote a decent blog in months. Too much has been on my plate to even sit down for an hour or so and write on a topic I am passionate for. I work way too many hours, and I am forced to spend a lot of time concentrating on work related issues that I have no real passion for. That being said, it doesn't mean that I haven't been engaging in intellectual discussions of which my true passion lies.

I have a saying that an intellectual conversation is the only conversation worth having. I often steer the going topic at hand towards one of my many passions in social situations. That is of course, religion, politics, philosophy, science, history, and a few other noteworthy side passions I have like architecture, music and art.

Lately, I have found that the morality debate is one of the most interesting debates to be engaged in. I recently watched a panel of philosophers speak about morality without god, at an event hosted by the Center for Free Inquiry, of which I am a part of. All four of the panelists agreed for the most part that there is no such thing as a universal morality, or moral truth. I have been struggling internally with the notion that there is no universal moral. I believe that there has to be some, at least one, although I am not completely committed to the idea.

A universal moral is one in which there are no exceptions, that is true regardless of the culture, location or time in which it takes place. Take for example of the idea of human rights, quite radical for its time. Is it a universal moral that all human beings are entitled to a basic set of rights that cannot be abridged by any other human beings or acting authority, and if so violated, would be wrong regardless of the time, culture or circumstances? Or is the concept of human rights, along with every other moral position, simply just relative to whomever says it?

We all know that total moral relativity results in some problems. A society can for example, develop a moral code in which to live by, dependent on their collective circumstance, and turn it into their culture. It will then be wrong to do "A" in this society, but right to do "B". And children growing up in this society will be inculcated accordingly on what is right and what is wrong. Now, when someone from another society, where they learned that doing A is right enters this culture, the newcomer will have to learn to adjust their behavior or face consequences. They may still believe that doing A is morally right, but their new society had deemed this wrong and set up rules to prevent it.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

More on Morality from an Atheistic Perspective

I still haven't forgotten religion, oh no no no. It is still a near constant on my mind. And while I may dabble in other topics, religion to me and Atheism is and always will be, the cornerstone of this blog.

I feel like I am almost writing the same things over and over again. I don't want to be repetitive, or redundant, but I do however, want to make sure that with this blog, I tackle every angle from the Atheist perspective. While continuing to watch debates on religion, and argue religion to all those that wish to challenge me on it, or any other aspect of my philosophy, Atheism and morality is one sphere I wish to dwell on a bit more.

The origin of morality is one area that many Theists believe to hold the moral high ground. They claim, that without an objective moral provider, all morality is a matter of opinion. For example, if person A thinks that killing and eating person B is morally right, than person B is in no position to assert that person A is wrong. It is only person B's opinion that person A is wrong. Without an objective, external source of moral authority, let's say person C, who says that person A in this case is morally wrong for wanting to kill and eat person B, than we are only left with subjective, and often self-serving morality. Meaning, person B thinks it's wrong for person A to kill and eat him only because he doesn't want to die, and person A thinks it's right to kill and eat person B because it would satisfy his desire.

This is a basic scenario used by many Theists to explain the importance of having a God, represented by person C, to provide clear and defined objective morality. I've never been too persuaded by this argument, for the following reasons. First, the idea of an objective moral provider makes me cringe, because it is really, when you think about it, just another opinion. It's god's opinion, and doesn't necessarily lay claim to the best possible moral decision regarding the situation. For example, in the hypothetical scenario above, if god (person C) sided with person A, in that killing and eating person B was indeed morally right, would that suddenly be true? Would it abruptly be moral for person A to kill and eat person B, because god said it was so? Would we as a society embrace such an act, because a very powerful and opinionated god sanctioned it? Or would we, in spite of the opinion of an angry and jealous god, condemn such an act? In the most simple terms possible, what do we do with do with an immoral moral objective authority?

It seems to be that the Christian, Islamic and Judaic perspective, has basically taken the position that yes, god is not always fair, and not always moral, but he's the boss and he makes the rules. Therefore, we must obey god's command, even if it doesn't always make sense, or if we have difficulty discerning the moral outcome. Atheists reject this idea and make it one of our key arguments against religion. Why embrace a moral that seems immoral, simply because it is believed to come from a powerful god? Why cancel out commonsense or scientific truth because a book says otherwise? Religions are filled with examples of morality coming from god, that if practiced today, would be so far removed from contemporary moral norms. Was it moral for god to command the Jews to exterminate all their rival tribes, keeping only the marriageable girls? Christians and Jews think it was because the objective moral authority said so.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Morality and the fascination of it

What is morally right or wrong? This is a question I've been thinking of a lot lately. When you think of morality you have to bring in religion to the picture. The two go hand in hand. I've already gotten to the point that we get some of our morality from religion, but that really means we get it from ourselves since religion is man-made. The issue I have is over moral relativism, and moral absolutism. This is what theists accuse atheists of not being able to posses: absolute moral truths. If morality is man-made, then it is all a matter of opinion. What is right and wrong is relative to the individual making it.

Well this is a deep subject that philosophers have been arguing for thousands of years, and surely for many more to come. I've been thinking long and hard on this, and I will continue developing my moral beliefs for my entire life, sharpening them as I age with grace. I don't believe in total moral relativism. That would be foolish. Total moral relativity to the individual opens up all kids of horrible scenarios. Look at what we consider right and wrong in the U.S. and look at what is considered right and wrong in the Middle East, or parts of Africa. It shockingly differs quite often. I'm still developing my morality on what is right and wrong. When it trickles down into the little things it becomes relative. For example, social customs in different cultures. In parts of the Middle East it is offensive to expose the bottom of your shoes to others, which is why many Middle Eastern men sit cross-legged like women do here. Is that morally wrong there? Female circumcision or female genital mutilation as others call it is still practiced in parts of east and northern Africa and parts of the Middle East. Is it morally right over there and wrong in the west? Who is right on this issue, and whoever is right, do they have the right to impose their beliefs on the others?

This is an issue the U.N. has undertaken, and international human rights organizations. I personally believe FGM is morally wrong but its practitioners cite the Qu'ran as a source of its sanction by the prophet Mohammad who allowed it to happen but never said it was mandatory. The fact that any parts of a person's genitals should be cut off to make the person behave better is to me if you believe it's a covenant with God or a recommendation, a flaw in God's design. Why would God give women a clitoris if it needs to be cut off to prevent her from being promiscuous? Is the clitoris an add-on in God's design, that can be uninstalled if not wanted or needed? Or, is God just having fun by creating parts on our bodies that he then orders us to have cut off?

FGM is an issue that is often cited as a moral issue in the world where we have two opposing parties who feel they each have the right answer about it. It is an issue that makes me feel moral relativism is impractical. If it is wrong here it is wrong there. I think the long and arduous road to the present day morality and humanism we find in most Western cultures is what we'd expect if morality was indeed man-made. There seems to be some biological and evolutionary morals that have become ingrained in us. Incest for example has negative biological consequences, it can lead to disease and genetic disorders that create weaker immune system responses to germs. This is why incest is morally wrong, even most animals don't do it. Killing and warfare is wrong, because the death of many loved ones with have a negative affect on your dependency on them for hard times. But what about killing is self-defense? Or revenge? Is killing ever justified? According to Christianity you're suppose to love your enemy and do good to them. So for a true Christian it is never sanctioned. To me killing is only ever truly justified in self-defense.

I was reading the book What Every Christian Should Know About Islam by Ruqaiyyah Waris Masqsood. In it, it tells what morals Muslims believe in general according to traditional Islamic beliefs. It says that in Islam, Muslims are against lenders charging outrageous interest to the people they lend money to. This is an egregious practice by the world bank organizations, credit card companies, and student loan providers to cheat people out of money who is often end up paying double or more of what they originally borrowed due to high interest rates. In the book it said that in Islamic beliefs there should be no interest at all. I agree with this actually. I started thinking about how horrible it is for those of us that need loans or to borrow money, then find ourselves trapped under a mountain of debt as the interest accumulates. I think it is morally wrong for these practices to continue. Wall Street doesn't seem to care. This is something that I actually agree with Islam about. That is why, I guess some Islamic radical fundamentalists have hated and targeted American financial institutions. Is it morally wrong to charge outrageously high interest rates or use deceptive tactics to trick borrowers? I say yes, others say no. Who is right? I don't think the answer is terrorism, but instead careful, open and honest debate and boycotting lenders who use those tactics.

Morality is fascinating to me. I love to debate it with friends. The literal morality found in the Bible or Qu'ran if applied today in our modern society would be atrocious. Human slavery is the issue I always bring up and ask. If it is morally wrong today why was it not in biblical times? Why doesn't God or Jesus, or Mohammad devote even one line specifically denouncing the practice of human slavery at anytime? You'd think that such a serious issue would elicit a little time devoted to it. The Bible and Qu'ran both condone human slavery and even go into detail about how to properly treat human slaves and when they can or cannot be killed or set free. Wouldn't a simple line or paragraph from Jesus or Muhammad denouncing the practice of human slavery for every person of any color or gender, as a crime in they eyes of God have stopped 1900 years or so of this sad memory of our history from ever happening? One line could have have ended millions of people from having to go through the horrible experience that is slavery. So why didn't these so called prophets utter these words? I believe it is because they weren't prophets at all, just regular mortal men, eccentric preachers yes, but still products of the times they lived in. And during those times slavery was common, they didn't know better, now we do. This is why I know the holy books of Christianity, Islam and Judaism are man-made. Their morality is frozen in dogma by religion. It is akin to deciding what is right and wrong at 14 years old and expecting those beliefs to be held when you're 30, 50 and 70. You will obviously learn more as your grow older and sharpen your morality with new information, just as we as a species have grown older and have come to a better understanding of right and wrong.

This still leaves us with the problem I mentioned earlier of moral relativism. Nobody's right if everybody's wrong. Who's right has the right to be able to impose itself on the others wrong? Who's right when it comes to the moral issues that plague the world? The answer is actually quite simple: we are.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Philosophical argument

A christian cannot say that the source or moral truth is God, or that there are no absolute morals without God.

Let me explain.

If a christian were to say raping and torturing a child is morally wrong he is missing the one part that should be added to the end that allows for the child to be raped and tortured if God commands him or her to do so. The jews on their way out of exodus were commanded by God to kill and rape all the other tribes that stood in their way to the land of Israel, the land that God gave to them. It was morally right for the jews to do so at that time and therefore it's possible that God can command some people again to kill other people.

So, the christian must say that killing and raping a child is morally wrong except when God orders you to do so. So basically when God orders you to do so, then everything is permitted.


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