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Morality And Morals


JosephM
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After reading the posts for the day, in the quiet of the early morning , the following words surfaced from my contemplation which perhaps might bring about some meaningful or interesting discussion.

 

Morality and morals in my view is a man made concept. It is adjusted by the experience of society on both a local and if applicable a global basis of influence and aligned with the whims and needs of society in general. God to me, does not define morality, rather God in the concept of time is seen to implement the effects of 'cause and effect' or 'sowing and reaping' from which mankind/society can choose to align or ignore in structuring its own moral system.

 

Joseph

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Joseph,

 

I don't think that morality is strictly a "man-made concept." There is good evidence that we are born with basic, moral intuitions. The specifics of these values are man-made and are appropriate to the context in which they are devised. But, they are consistent with the core values.

 

I think that these moral intuitions are the product of evolution of a social animal that needs behavioral rules to exist. We get into difficulty when we try to apply the specific “man-made” values of a Bedouin society 3,000 years ago to a modern, urban, industrial society.

 

George

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The question of morals/morality has puzzled me for quite some time. I have some thoughts on the question, but no conclusions.

 

I don't think there is a universal morality, contrary to what many others think. Human beings may be "hard wired" with the ability to distinguish right from wrong, but who says what's right and wrong? When I enter into dialogue about morality, I remember a sociology course I took in college (in 1990) in which we studied a lzrge tribe in Papua New Guinea for whom murder was not only acceptable but encouraged. I remember the entire class being outraged by the thought.

 

The questions U would ask - do people who enjoy killing not have the ability to distinguish right from wrong or do they choose to ignore it? What about dictators and regimes that inflict horrible evils on their people? In some cultures throughout history infanticide was an acceptable form of population control. Less obvious and on a smaller scale what do we say about the neighborhood bully? I think Joseph may be right, that morality is a man-made construct and that probably evolved as we did.

 

I hope this discussion convinces me otherwise - I would like to think people are basically good. Still and yet, "Lord of the Flies" struck a nerve, didn't it?

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If morality is a human thing (be it "constructed", something that exists within biological/environmental parameters, or something else), does that suggest God is beyond good and evil?

 

Yes. What is "good" and what is "evil" may not be the same for what I name God as it is for me.

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When I enter into dialogue about morality, I remember a sociology course I took in college (in 1990) in which we studied a lzrge tribe in Papua New Guinea for whom murder was not only acceptable but encouraged. I remember the entire class being outraged by the thought.

 

Did the killing occur with no constraints? Could anyone kill anyone else with impunity? If there were any constraints and rules, then there would be some underlying moral system.

 

George

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It is my impression that no one in cognitive science today thinks that we arrive in this world a blank slate.

 

It is well accepted that we have a 'language instinct.' It has also been demonstrated that we are born with basic moral intuitions. If anyone is interested, I can recommend a couple of books that discuss this.

 

Of course there are conflicting values (moral dilemmas) and conflicts with our darker angels (greed, lust, xenophobia and the like). So, we don't also behave as paragons of virtue.

 

George

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Joseph,

I don't think that morality is strictly a "man-made concept". There is good evidence that we are born with basic, moral intuitions. The specifics of these values are man-made and are appropriate to the context in which they are devised. But, they are consistent with the core values.

 

I think that these moral intuitions are the product of evolution of a social animal that needs behavioral rules to exist. We get into difficulty when we try to apply the specific “man-made” values of a Bedouin society 3,000 years ago to a modern, urban, industrial society.

 

George

Interesting George,

If we are born with evolved moral instincts (which i agree with you we are), how does that make them any less an evolved man made concept?

 

Joseph

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Interesting George,

If we are born with evolved moral instincts (which i agree with you we are), how does that make them any less an evolved man made concept?

 

Hmm. I don't think it does. I think the innate and the learned are related: The learned is a more detailed, specific elaboration of the fundamental principle which is innate.

 

The learned would be relative to the context, the social conditions in which we live. And, this would resolve conflicting values and determine which trumps another under certain circumstances.

 

As an example, it has been claimed that there is an innate incest taboo. This says 'thou shalt not marry a member of your family.' So, who is a member of my family? Some societies drawn the line at siblings others at cousins (the preferred marriage in the Middle East is a first cousin). And, others draw it even further from the tree - no one in your tribe. But, no society, to my knowledge, says you can marry your mother or your twin sister.

 

George

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Joseph,

 

Who decides the "whims and needs of society in general"? a) Stalin, B) Mao, c) Hitler, d) Pol Pot?

 

Myron

Myron,

it does seem to me....

Those who are in power do seem to me to have the most sayso in such matters. And those in opposition are usually scheduled for elimmination if possible. The outcome of couse is not always as planned.

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Myron,

it does seem to me....

Those who are in power do seem to me to have the most sayso in such matters. And those in opposition are usually scheduled for elimmination if possible. The outcome of couse is not always as planned.

 

Joseph,

 

I thought you would say that. But, methinks Jesus would not much like your cavalier attitude.

 

Myron

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Ahhhh ... i see. So you set me up for this ?... :) And i bit... :D

 

Joseph,

 

I think you set yourself up.

 

You talk about 'experience' ...

 

For much of my life my shared experience has been with those who lost more than 50% of their family to Mao, Hitler, and Pol Pot .... I don't know much about Stalin ... but I'm learning more by exploring my early progressive roots ...

 

A lot of 'experience' is not what you have gained ... but what you have lost ... and then what you have gained through what you have lost ...

 

Myron

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Okay Myron,

So what is your point here? You asked me a question "Who decides the "whims and needs of society in general" and i answered that it seemed to me that those who are in power at the time usually have the most sayso in such matters. I neither expressed my agreement nor disagreement with such. Is there something deeper going on here that i should know about or how would you have liked me to answer it? I'm open.

Joseph

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Okay Myron,

So what is your point here? You asked me a question "Who decides the "whims and needs of society in general" and i answered that it seemed to me that those who are in power at the time usually have the most sayso in such matters. I neither expressed my agreement nor disagreement with such. Is there something deeper going on here that i should know about or how would you have liked me to answer it? I'm open.

Joseph

 

The point is that if you have any convictions, human life is not a matter of 'whims'. Are you claiming that you are a social constructionist? Would you gladly give up your life for a 'need' and 'authority' given to you the 'sheep' ? Or, are you the authority speaking to the sheep?

 

Myron

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The point is that if you have any convictions, human life is not a matter of 'whims'. Are you claiming that you are a social constructionist? Would you gladly give up your life for a 'need' and 'authority' given to you the 'sheep' ? Or, are you the authority speaking to the sheep?

 

Myron

Myron,

Thanks for the clarification. No, i am not claiming i am anything more than a simple-minded man. Don't even know what a "social constructionist" is. Perhaps you misunderstood the opening post or read into my answer that i was making light of human life or find my words cold or offensive. It certainly was not my intent to direct my words to any of your past or present pain you may have for shared experiences "with those who lost more than 50% of their family".

As far as your 'sheep' and 'authority' comment, your words are so far above my head, i am unable to grasp whether you are trying to insult me or asking a legitimate question. So perhaps i will just let it go and you might accept my apology for pushing a button you might feel i should have known not to.

 

Peace,

Joseph

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If morality is a construction I'm not sure that that makes it any less real. I suppose... in my own thinking I've been heading toward moral realism in some sense. This is possible, no doubt, due to my views on meaning, truth, and existence in general. I do not reduce mind, meaning, existence, truth, etc., to materialistic descriptions.

 

I also try not to wed the reality morality as such with the specifics of just what is good or bad, which varies from culture to culture, though, as it has been noted, within our moral systems certain invariances seem to arise. If morality is a description of the behavior of social animals, then morality as such does not exist but as a mere category mistake. I have no problem going beyond materialistic accounts of morality, meaning and truth. To me meaning and morality are inextricable, because in order for morals to have any reality there has to be genuine meaning. Things and people -- beings -- have to mean something. Meaning has to be as real as the ground under my feet -- even if that ground is constantly shifting, its contours revealing new mountains and valleys. For me, meaning is constituted (and constitutes) the countless, intimate connections that give rise to actuality -- to life itself. Immorality is defined precisely as that which is demeaning -- that which denies meaning, that which objectifies where one ought to "subjectify". Moral thought is where we become aware and respect the intrinsic worth of the inward existence of beings instead of the outer delineation of "things".

 

Peace,

Mike

Edited by Mike
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... To me meaning and morality are inextricable, because in order for morals to have any reality there has to be genuine meaning. ... Immorality is defined precisely as that which is demeaning -- that which denies meaning, that which objectifies where one ought to "subjectify". Moral thought is where we become aware and respect the intrinsic worth of the inward existence of beings instead of the outer delineation of "things".

Peace,

Mike

Thanks, Mike. When I can grasp what you are saying I have a clearer, deeper, and more nuanced understanding.

 

Dutch

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Morality and morals in my view is a man made concept. It is adjusted by the experience of society on both a local and if applicable a global basis of influence and aligned with the whims and needs of society in general. God to me, does not define morality, rather God in the concept of time is seen to implement the effects of 'cause and effect' or 'sowing and reaping' from which mankind/society can choose to align or ignore in structuring its own moral system.

 

Joseph

 

I agree Joseph, but would take it a bit further.

 

I think that there is no higher being - call it G-d, Allah, Buddha, etc... - involved in the affairs of homo sapiens. Religion and philosophy are human inventions that give meaning to words like morality, justice, evil and good. These constructs can either be used as a weapon or a force for good.

 

If there is indeed a creator, there doesn't seem to be any indication it cares one whit about the happenings of the planet's creatures.

 

I think that for this reason, it is more important than ever that we continue to improve on those inventions for the betterment of mankind.

 

NORM

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Religion and philosophy are human inventions that give meaning to words like morality, justice, evil and good. If there is indeed a creator, there doesn't seem to be any indication it cares one whit about the happenings of the planet's creatures.

 

I would say that the fact they we do have concepts of morality, justice, evil, and good is an indication that our creator cares about our planet and it's creatures. Of course, we don't all agree on how these values are defined and practiced to the nth degree, but we nevertheless have a lot of commonalities concerning what is moral, just, evil, good, do we not?

 

Supernatural theism (God is over his creation, not in it) says that God should assert these values from the outside, that God should intervene and fix this world. And if this is our view, I would agree that not much is happening.

 

But panentheism (God is in his creation and his creation is in him) says that God influences us towards these values from the inside, that if this world is going to be fixed, we are the main way that God does so. Panentheism is incarnational.

 

I suppose one could argue that it is a case of semantics. One could say that both humanism and panentheism "look the same" i.e. there is no external God evident. But, to me, the fact that many (if not most) of us do have a high level of agreement on what is moral, just, evil, and good, this points to a higher Source or Mind. If we want to de-deify this and just call it Culture, well, okay. But it seems to me that human beings down through history that were most concerned about morality, just, good, and evil were not doing so just in response to outer Culture, but to a higher Source or Mind that they found compelled them from the inside.

 

This is in no way "proof for God", for we are capable of great evil. But I do think it is evidence for a higher Source or a More or, if one is comfortable with the word apart from the supernatural theistic notions, for a God.

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we nevertheless have a lot of commonalities concerning what is moral, just, evil, good, do we not?

 

By we, are you referring to people in North America? If so, I would agree.

 

However, one only need travel to Africa, Asia and the Middle East to realize how radically different humans can be on issues of morality, good and evil. Experience and travel have opened my eyes to the mythology of a "universal moral standard." It simply doesn't exist.

 

I can understand how people who have spent their entire lives in one geographic area can come to believe that the world is marching to the drum of a single moral agent.

 

Prior to my travels, I too tended to believe there was a common morality among humankind. But, I've seen such radical departures from what I had always considered to be universal moral standards (such as rape, murder, homosexuality, and infanticide), that I've come to a different understanding.

 

I've also witnessed such extreme human suffering that is utterly hopeless for resolution that it spoiled my belief in a beneficent deity overseeing our planet. There is no salvation for mankind from above, as far as I'm concerned.

 

NORM

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Hi Norm,

 

Prior to my travels, I too tended to believe there was a common morality among humankind. But, I've seen such radical departures from what I had always considered to be universal moral standards (such as rape, murder, homosexuality, and infanticide), that I've come to a different understanding.

 

I have a couple of questions regarding this. First, I am wondering how this ties to your statement in the previous post, that

 

"Religion and philosophy are human inventions that give meaning to words like morality, justice, evil and good. These constructs can either be used as a weapon or a force for good."

 

The final occurrence of "good" here seems to be presupposed as more/other than a construct.

 

Secondly, what do you take to be the implications that what we often take to be moral universals are, in fact, not? Are misogyny and murder therefore acceptable? Or is there simply no such thing as morality? Whence, then, indignation at the biblical accounts of genocide, etc?

 

I'm not suggesting that there need be some universal moral code somewhere that people adhere to. But we do -- we have -- progressed in our awareness, recognition, and respect of subjecthood/subjectivity. To me this is the genesis of moral thought. In some cultures, what we see as misogyny or murder is not necessarily viewed in those terms. Strictly speaking within the framework of their moral system it is not immoral.

 

However, does that negate our observation? Perhaps we see, say, misogyny as such because we have a genuinely richer vantage point. That is, we see women as genuine subjects -- persons, beings with intrinsic value. Perhaps their system has overlooked a lot of meaning. Without that affirmation, a woman (or any other person or being) becomes an object. When a person is an "object", less-than-human, or whatever, then morally there is no problem treating them as such. The Nazis justified themselves in this way. We can therefore see that morality is linked to our ontology. What we take something or someone to be directly influences the meaning they have for us and how we relate to them in the moral dimension of our thought. Our morals can be informed by a poor ontology -- by poor reasons, by untruths. Our moral awareness grows richer the less we objectify and demean others and the more we accept good ideas about the nature of reality (and perhaps these coincide).

 

I suppose I can demonstrate what I mean by 'good ideas' by citing some bad ones. Like propaganda that teaches children to hate Jews (based on lies...and demeaning to both parties). Or perhaps human sacrifice, which would find justification only when the cosmological principles behind it is believed in (appeasing the gods or enacting a ritual microcosm). Or perhaps genital mutiliation based on mythologies or improper knowledge (or both; in cultures where female mutilation is practiced the women are taught that if their clitoris is not cut it will grow extremely long). Or we can talk about all the unhealthy attitudes and mythologies about sex. While one can't blame those individual people and cultures for accepting such things, we can also genuinely say that we have a richer, more informed base for making moral judgments on those topics.

 

Just some thoughts.

 

Peace,

Mike

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However, one only need travel to Africa, Asia and the Middle East to realize how radically different humans can be on issues of morality, good and evil. Experience and travel have opened my eyes to the mythology of a "universal moral standard." It simply doesn't exist.

NORM

 

Norm,

 

I lived in the Middle East for eleven years and had a completely different experience. I did witness cultural differences, but I also witnessed many similarities. Like here, there are strong prohibitions against lying, stealing, cheating, adultery, killing, etc. There are strong family values. In fact some of these values are practiced more widely than here.

As I got to know people in other cultures better, I came to appreciate how much we have in common at the core in spite of surface differences.

 

George

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