A youtube video for moral relativists

 
 
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Beam
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25 March 2009 09:15
 
waltercat - 25 March 2009 12:02 PM

Even though it is a fake, we can easily imagine that things like this (or worse) have happened.  So let’s start with the assumption that at some point in the past a small child was needlessly killed.

So, the question now is, Is it wrong to kill children?  It seems to me that it is.  And right now I can’t think of why we might think that this is a relative truth.  Can anyone help me?

I have a hard time imagining a situation in which killing a child would not be wrong. Nevertheless, I’ll try.

Try to imagine that you have a child who is suffering from an incurable cancer which has metastasized throughout her body. She is in tremendous pain. Every waking moment of her young life is filled with agony. The only time she is not grimacing and moaning is when you give her enough morphine to render her unconscious. You feel helpless to comfort her. Even hugs cause her great pain.

You are given leeway in how much morphine you may administer to relieve her suffering. Unfortunately, at some point she is still in tremendous pain despite giving her the maximum dose allowable. Frustrated, you give her a slightly higher dose of morphine than what is prescribed in a desperate attempt to comfort her.

She stops breathing a few minutes later and dies.

Are you a monster for trying to relieve her pain? Did you murder her? Will a judge and jury convict you?

 
 
 
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waltercat
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25 March 2009 10:25
 
GAD - 25 March 2009 12:20 PM

Because it’s a feeling, and feelings are subjective. Unless you think killing children is only done by societies/individuals who believe it’s wrong but do it anyway.

The observation that it is wrong to kill children is not a feeling.  The feeling of being repulsed by it is a feeling.  But the claim that killing children is wrong isn’t a feeling.

As to your second point, people do things all of the time under false beliefs.  It is not required that I know (or even believe) that some act of mine is immoral in order for it to be immoral.

 
 
 
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waltercat
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25 March 2009 10:30
 
Jefe - 25 March 2009 12:45 PM
waltercat - 25 March 2009 12:02 PM

Even though it is a fake, we can easily imagine that things like this (or worse) have happened.  So let’s start with the assumption that at some point in the past a small child was needlessly killed.

So, the question now is, Is it wrong to kill children?  It seems to me that it is.  And right now I can’t think of why we might think that this is a relative truth.  Can anyone help me?

I also find it difficult to think of a situation where killing children is not considered wrong - whether it be needlessly or needfully.

In many primitive cultures, however, children have undergone ‘coming of age’ ceremonies and practices that involved physical danger, exposure to extremes and tests of skill.  It is not hard to imagine that these practices lead to the deaths of children.  Relative to the zeitgeist, however, these practices were considered ethical.

Speak to any physician in charge of a Natal Unit at a hospital, and they will reluctantly be able to relate stories of children allowed to slip away, post partum, due to disabilities and unstable health.  While most of us would instinctively consider this unethical, after consideration we might change our minds.

And here is a crucial clue to how we evaluate moral ethics.  In many cases we experience a reaction prior to conscious cognition of mitigating factors or other considerations that may affect the overall decision making process.  So…which reaction do we pay more attention to?  The rapid, pre-cognitive gut-reaction, or the reasoned, deliberate cognitive reaction?  Is one more valid than another?  And how do we make that validity judgment?

Jefe, these are good points, But I do not see that they imply that morality is relative.  You are suggesting that whether a particular action is right or wrong depends to some extent on certain facts that hold in the context in question.  Thus, while killing a child might be wrong in one context, it might not be wrong in another.

This kind of situational approach to ethics seems reasonably to me.  But to say that ethical judgments are context dependent in the way that you describe is a very different claim from the claim that moral judgments are relative to cultures.

 
 
 
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nv
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25 March 2009 10:46
 
waltercat - 25 March 2009 02:30 PM

This kind of situational approach to ethics seems reasonably to me.  But to say that ethical judgments are context dependent in the way that you describe is a very different claim from the claim that moral judgments are relative to cultures.

Waltercat, would you argue that human moral and ethical concepts are located somewhere, something like with Platonic forms? I ask because we know that throughout history, some societies have had better access to things that make ideal morality workable or at least possible to consider seriously, and others—many others—have not had access to economic luxury or even much cognitive accuracy. As a result, a diversity of ethically proper responses to nature can be observed by reading history and literature.

 
 
 
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Beam
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28 March 2009 08:23
 

While it may feel good and sanctimonious to think that there are absolutes, things really are relative.

 
 
 
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eudemonia
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28 March 2009 09:08
 

People have a problem with the idea of ‘relative’. They seem to think that it means that anything goes. I think that is not really considering things very thoughfully.

I mean, come on folks. Thats where reason comes in. And a little critical thinking.

But of course if woo folks did that, they would not be woo folks at all now would they?

 
 
 
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Beam
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28 March 2009 09:48
 
McCreason - 28 March 2009 01:08 PM

People have a problem with the idea of ‘relative’. They seem to think that it means that anything goes. I think that is not really considering things very thoughfully.

I agree. It would be easy and comfortable if everything was black or white. We could just have a concrete set of rules governing all behavior. There would be no courts. If a person commits X then the punishment is always Y. Reality is often not that clearly polarized. That is why “3 strikes” rules are not practical. There are some truly horrible behaviors and there are some true acts of kindness. Most behaviors are just a brush stroke of color on a larger and more intricate canvas.

 
 
 
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nv
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28 March 2009 18:32
 
waltercat - 25 March 2009 12:10 PM
GAD - 25 March 2009 12:08 PM
waltercat - 25 March 2009 12:02 PM

Even though it is a fake, we can easily imagine that things like this (or worse) have happened.  So let’s start with the assumption that at some point in the past a small child was needlessly killed.

So, the question now is, Is it wrong to kill children?  It seems to me that it is.  And right now I can’t think of why we might think that this is a relative truth.  Can anyone help me?

How we about it is subjective i.e. relative not objective.

Hmm.  But it doesn’t seem subjective. Why do you think that it is subjective rather than objective?

Waltercat, you responded to GAD’s reply #14 by mistakenly assuming that the typo he posted had an intention you were able to make sense of. Why attempt to respond logically to a meaningless string of letters? GAD quickly fixed his mistake. Care to respond to the words he wrote that now add up to a clear statement rather than having mistakenly guessed at their meaning?

Also, do you have access to some sort of figurative or literally-expressed description of good/evil knowledge that stays valid and consistent regardless of changing social mores, technologies and levels of affluence? If you’ve lost a child, please tell us. I’m not empty of emotion—far from it. I’ll quickly shut my trap if the topic is a sensitive one for you.

[ Edited: 28 March 2009 18:47 by nv]
 
 
 
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waltercat
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03 April 2009 10:05
 
unknown zone - 28 March 2009 10:32 PM
waltercat - 25 March 2009 12:10 PM
GAD - 25 March 2009 12:08 PM
waltercat - 25 March 2009 12:02 PM

Even though it is a fake, we can easily imagine that things like this (or worse) have happened.  So let’s start with the assumption that at some point in the past a small child was needlessly killed.

So, the question now is, Is it wrong to kill children?  It seems to me that it is.  And right now I can’t think of why we might think that this is a relative truth.  Can anyone help me?

How we about it is subjective i.e. relative not objective.

Hmm.  But it doesn’t seem subjective. Why do you think that it is subjective rather than objective?

Waltercat, you responded to GAD’s reply #14 by mistakenly assuming that the typo he posted had an intention you were able to make sense of. Why attempt to respond logically to a meaningless string of letters? GAD quickly fixed his mistake. Care to respond to the words he wrote that now add up to a clear statement rather than having mistakenly guessed at their meaning?

I don’t think that I misunderstood GAD.  I interpreted him precisely as his self-correction indicates that he interpreted himself.

 
 
 
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waltercat
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03 April 2009 10:09
 
Jefe - 25 March 2009 03:03 PM

Does not a situational nature for ethics make them dependent, and thus relative to the situation?

Saying that whether a given action is right or wrong depends on certain factors of the context in question is not the same as saying that morality is relative.  Context-dependence is not the same as relativity.

I can agree that whether it is wrong to commit murder depends on the context; e.g., it is often permissible to use deadly force to protect oneself.  But this last claim (that is it sometime permissible to kill in self-defense) is not relative to any particular culture or set of beliefs.  It is true for everyone, of all belief-systems, and in all cultures.

 
 
 
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waltercat
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03 April 2009 11:30
 
Jefe - 03 April 2009 02:58 PM
waltercat - 03 April 2009 02:09 PM

But this last claim (that is it sometime permissible to kill in self-defense) is not relative to any particular culture or set of beliefs.

Wouldn’t the Jains argue that point?

Sure. But the fact that people disagree doesn’t imply that there isn’t an objective fact of the matter.  After all, fundamentalist Christians will argue that evolution is false.

 
 
 
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Argo
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03 April 2009 12:19
 

I agree that whether the events are true in this particular video aren’t that important, because real events like this undoubtedly happened- we’re just unsure of the precise frequency.

I’m glad the video was baloney. Pointing it out helped loosen the bias I had/have towards moral relativism. I’m not really making claims about moral relativism anymore, but I’ve thought about it and I think it boils down to whether morality can be applied to objectively wrong actions which were influenced by ignorance. I still think that there are right and wrong answers to questions of morality and I’d be interested if someone could explain how I’m wrong.

“It’s wrong to kill a child as a human sacrifice to God.”

Is this objectively true in our world?

 
 
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Argo
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03 April 2009 22:44
 

Hmm. Thanks, I see your point.

 
 
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SkepticX
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04 April 2009 05:32
 
Jefe - 03 April 2009 04:24 PM

Is wrong the right word?  Would a different word clean up some of the ambiguity and/or relativism inherent in personal interpretations and judgements about the act..

“It is not beneficial to any society to…”
“doing so does not add any measurable benefit to a society”

etc.


I think I’d go as far as using “harmful” personally.

“It’s harmful to any society to…”

Byron

 
 
 
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nv
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04 April 2009 15:24
 

Waltercat, I’m hoping you won’t accuse me of being overly repetitive, but:

Where do morality ways and means get stored? Do they apply to bio-existence in general, or only to species that have managed to attain readily storable communication systems?

Has right/wrong pressure come about with any species other than ours? Do dolphins share in our moral vision? When did ours get formed or dictated? Post-Cro-Magnon times?

If Homo sapiens eventually branches into more than one species, will morality need to be reconfigured?

If you don’t know, just say so.