Douglas Pocock

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Is Morality Valid?

Is Morality Valid?
Premise One:
No community or human being would act in a way that is contrary to their established morals unless under distress or coercion. (Argue if you disagree).
Premise Two:
Societies and religions have different morals. Cannibalistic societies obviously have no moral apprehension towards eating people. However, there are vegetarian cultures that preach non-violence. (Argue if you disagree)
Assuming Premises One and Two are valid, then morals are subjective to the culture.

So, if the morals are subjective, are they valid?
And if not, then what should laws be based on?

Most believe murder is wrong, but there are some who don’t. For those who believe that murder is acceptable in earnest, are they less moral?

I for one do not believe that they are morally correct, but I don’t feel that they are morally invalid if morals are valid.

Just looking for thoughts on this subject.

  • Apr 21 2012: To answer the question properly, I think it needs to be clarified. What does "valid" mean in this context? It means, I think, universal, applicable to all humans as such, regardless of locality or upbringing.

    This is in obvious tension with the conclusion, which is that morals are subjective. Let us attempt to understand the full implications of this conclusion--for one, moral judgments coul never be pronounced. All we can do is adapt a position of radical tolerance, accepting anything and everything another individual chooses to do. If we pronounce moral judgment, condemning or even punishing another for what we have deemed to be immoral, we are betraying the subjectivist position. I trust it it apparent that human survival and happiness would be impossible under such circumstances. Murders would accord the same moral opprobrium (or lack thereof) as teachers or scientists would.

    From this we may conclude that there needs to be some ground for moral judgment. The real question is: what is the proper standard for moral judgment? How can we verify the objectivity of a moral claim?

    To do this would require understanding what morality is--essentially a code of values meant to guide human action. The key here is that human action is not taken just in "emergency situations," but every moment of every day. We all face moral decisions on a daily basis: should I lie to my friends/family/coworkers, or maintain my integrity; should I attempt to understand the problem at hand using my own judgment, or should I follow the opinions of others? Am I achieving everything I am capable of achieving, and is this important? Each of these is a moral question, evidencing the fact that morality is a profoundly important, practical value for human survival, not just in emergencies, but in daily life.

    This, then, the ground for objective moral values. Humans must take actions in order to survive, and ethics should guide us in making the choices that best further our survival & wellness.
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      Apr 22 2012: Hi Sean, you stated

      "This is in obvious tension with the conclusion, which is that morals are subjective. Let us attempt to understand the full implications of this conclusion--for one, moral judgments coul never be pronounced. All we can do is adapt a position of radical tolerance, accepting anything and everything another individual chooses to do. If we pronounce moral judgment, condemning or even punishing another for what we have deemed to be immoral, we are betraying the subjectivist position. I trust it it apparent that human survival and happiness would be impossible under such circumstances. Murders would accord the same moral opprobrium (or lack thereof) as teachers or scientists would."

      Right on! I agree and this is the point I was expressing in my post as well and I believe this to be the main issue with relativism (especially from an individual standpoint).
  • Apr 21 2012: This is a good example of why nations should stay sovereign.
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    Apr 21 2012: Morals are based on several factors. Some of it is cultural, some of it is innate, some of it is based on the necessities of survival.

    Throughout history, we have seen moral values change. Slavery was once a widely accepted practice. Civilized societies are no longer tolerating such a practice. During the Roman empire, torture was a widely accepted means to maintain order. Today, torture is only seen in militant countries or as a means to extract vital military information. And as pertains to the latter, it is not accepted by the majority, but only if the majority is not aware that it is going on.

    During Hitler's reign, many soldiers bought into the practice of genocide. Today we wonder how such a mindset could have been adopted. We sometimes wonder if we ourselves could be capable of such a thing in time of duress. There was a story of a plane that crashed in a remote mountain region. The survivors were left with the choice of eating the corpses or perishing themselves. They held off as long as they could, but chose to survive despite what they would have to do in order to secure that survival. It was a choice that had deep psychological impact to those who had to make it.

    Today we are at war with militant Muslims because we as a society cannot turn a blind eye to genocide. As societies evolve, I believe morals evolve along with it. People will do terrible things when they are afraid or when the pressures of survival leave them with no other choice. But given the choice, I believe that people rise up to higher moral standards as part of their evolving nature. To me, that means that morality is valid even if you can't nail it down to a specific set of guidelines.
  • Apr 21 2012: Would you have a problem with me hitting you on the head with a hammer? I'm sure you would. Therefore you know that anyone that you want to hit on the head with a hammer will have a problem with it. Therefore we know that it is wrong to hit each other on the head with a hammer. It's subjective, because it's self protection. We have rules to keep up from doing things to each other that we know that we would not want done to us. We call those rules morals. Morals is another word for safety. As long as we have morals, we are safe.
    • Apr 21 2012: Is there no room for love and mercy in developing morals? Morals may be considered a measure of harmony with the Mysterious One. The more we personally learn and accept and also give to others, the higher we move in morals. This includes everything in life; not just sex or money.

      "Morals is another word for safety." Very good observation you have. The more we move to higher morals the greater potential for safety. Love is a great safety valve. True freedom to move about, think, learn, and enjoy life is achieved through love and high morals. It is more than mere logic.

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      Apr 21 2012: Okay, but take for example honor killings.
      For a long time through history, society did not see this as an immoral activity. Even though it clearly caused harm to the individual and their families.

      Or, why do some nations believe that the death penalty is moral and other do not?
      Are they equally valid in a moral understanding or not?

      I want to note that I believe in non-violence, but I am just trying to understand the reasoning behind why groups have different morals.
  • Apr 26 2012: I think morality is or should be an expression of our internal moral compass. Most of us FEEL when we are doing somethig right or wrong. (like "moral behavior in animals" show) The problem is that many people don't feel that moral compass (extreme cases are the spsychopaths) and societies try to impose certain rules by force in order to protect the group.
    Morality is given to us in two ways: by nature and by force.

    Is morality valid?
    Is valid in order to maintain peace in societies.

    About the murder:
    I stuck with my points. Any movement who don't condemn the killing of other social groups is clearly immoral. Seeing it inside a global human morality.
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    Apr 26 2012: For me, subjectivity is not a reason to affirm the validity of something. This is a space for freedom (adaptation) and the possible expansion of the understanding.

    Prior to assert, what the best moral, it is necessary to first understand that every person has a specific impulse or desire. And consciously or unconsciously, this drive is likely to be perceived as a standard of morality for someone.

    Therefore, the simplest form of morality in my opinion is when we try to do best to something equal or less the same as we want something or someone else to treat a morality to us.

    Assert that something is valid or not, but we can not be detached from the subjectivity is a vanity and a fraud to ourselves, to our daily behavior. We can be stuck to just assert the validity of the presence or absence of something, but we are still stuck to apply subjective.

    So instead of confronting our subjectivity, but we still live in a subjective, it is better to accept the subjectivity and trying to find the best adjustment.

    So for answering the question: whether morality is valid? I assert that there is no morality that is not valid, in the sense that all morality whatever it is, it may happen in the reality of our lives.

    I prefer the question: do we have tasted the best life for ourselves by using the moral choices that we have set for ourselves?

    Thank you for asking such essential question :)

    Less or more ...
  • Apr 23 2012: Morals are a mechanism of survival and evolution. We have competing models because the process of evolution is still continuing.

    Morals have a universal meaning in that they have been constructed by evolution as a truly proven model for cooperation and prosperity but only in a very vague and general sense. Specific moral stances have yet to prove themselves against time and survival.

    You could take this to mean that you can and should do anything you want but the emotion of guilt is just as much a proven motivator as any other. If your conscious understanding leads you to feel guilty, the chances are that you have done something which is detrimental to either your survival or the survival of the group and going out to steal, rape and murder until your heart is content is the fastest way to wipe yourself off the face of the earth. Any "lesser evils" will just take longer to express their fatal flaw.
  • Apr 22 2012: Christians are still engaging in killing today.
    The "fingers" are just pointed at Islam and Muslims, that's all.
    Those who gave the world morals, or a moral code to live by, are the ones who have been profoundly, profusely and liberally breaking them while urging you (others), not to break them. Pretty good for gainging power and control.

    So apparently, it isn't immoral to kill at all because if it is, then those who gave "thou shalt not kill" to us, would have to be insane to then break that law or command, or moral code of conduct.

    Which I think happened. The moral codes of conduct were created by insane people and the world has been doing its best to follow, but messing it up the entire time.

    I don't know why we continually tell ourselves, "not to forget our past" rather than begin saying, believing and acting according to, "not to repeat our past." We keep remembering it and we keep repeating it. Something is wrong there.

    If one trusts themself, that they won't hurt another, then that is their sense of morals as they apply it. Otherwise it will change in some way/some time.

    The only moral nature in life is not what something is (well, maybe in the high 90 percentile), but rather how we treat one another.

    Today, too many believe or think along the lines (falsely to my thinking) that something "has a moral nature to it", usually a false one, a lie if you will, and then oppress others with it. Sex is one of those. Sex isn't a moral issue to begin with. It's how we treat one another, not, in most cases, what the subject is.

    Just today, I see a teacher is fired for using the word, "sexy" (supposedly) to a seven year old. While this seems a bit inappropriate I will admit, the word itself was labeled as profanity, a swear word, bad word, or something along those lines.

    America is a very sick, neurotic group of people who need to get over their illnesses real soon.
    They also really thirst for bloodletting, so to them it has been okay for decades and decades.
  • Apr 22 2012: Ok. Honor Killing. I had to look it up on Google and found out that Honor Killing was when a member of a family or clan did something that brought so much dishonor to the group that the group's rules mandated that they be killed, I guess to show the other groups that they are serious about their rules. For example, You're daughter gets pregnant by the village bum's son. He's poor, and your daughter can't marry him. He just ain't good enough. What do you do? Well, you have to kill your daughter. She strayed, she made the mistake that made your whole family lose face, she is the face of the embarrassment that is yours right now. It is with great sorrow that you hang the poor girl in the gallows in the public square to show the village that your family is better than that. Your family will not put up with loose female kids that have "relations" with just anyone. Your family has to save face and to do it, the daughter must be taught a lesson. She must die. If I were preaching a Christian sermon, this would fall under the "pride" category.
    Previously, I stated that morality is just a set of rules designed to keep us safe from each other. I said that morals are a society's safety mechanism. I also said that when men choose the rules, then there are no rules. That's not how I phrased it but I did say that without belief in an external judge, "God", then we are left to decide for ourselves what is right and what is wrong. This is a perfect example of how leaving morals up to us is not a good idea. I would assume that this scenario would take place in a culture that is not Christian. Unfortunately, Christian societies have engaged in honor killing since recorded history. The old testament has examples of it. The new testament has examples. People that do things to other people that they would not want done to themselves are called psychotic. There will be people that violate society's morals for their own gain. That does not change a society's moral code.
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    Apr 21 2012: Good question and points:

    I think the first premise is false. Countless numbers of people act against any sort of establishment for a multitude of reasons. I think a better premise is that most humans would not act in such a way that is contrary to their own survival or well-being unless under distress or coercion (then again I wouldn't limit such a claim to just those two).

    In terms of survival, I do not think morality is even relevant because in the face of real danger, most, if not all people, would suspend their moral values for the sake of living another day. This is something that I do not think can and should be judge because given the circumstances, I think most (and I say most) people would act the same way and this is something I know from personal experience.

    Your second premise I think is valid and true. Different cultures and religions have different values systems. So relativism seems to be the case here.

    I would have to say subjective morals are not valid and for one reason: In the U.S. (I'm not sure of other places) we try to embrace relativism but we practice and treat morality as if its absolute. This is the case when we consider punishment for ones actions. A relativist would not only focus on rehabilitation but would teach one not to judge another person's actions because their actions "may" be right for that individual. As a matter of fact from a relativist standpoint the individual should not even be punished. Of course we do not treat people in this manner so consequently our criminal justice system does not operate in this way. Even our international laws do not operate in that way. Maybe in a culture that is not as sophisticated subjective morality may be great for the individual but for lager systems, there has to be some sort of absolutism or establishment, which I think most laws are based on.

    So when it comes to morality, it seems like there really is no dichotomy that can be set up between subjectivity and absolutism.
  • Apr 21 2012: Douglas,

    There has been a long discussion on the TED talk you linked to above, Frans de Waal "Moral behavior in animals" .Just for your information. You might like to check it out !

    I am also very interested in this question.

    But I'm not so sure I am comfortable with the word "valid" the way you use it here, as in ... "Do you have a valid drivers licence?"..To use this word interchangeably with the idea of morality. Do you mean to as if it is "well founded" in any degree, it being of an obvious "subjective" nature?.. we can search a long time to find a common denominator with everyone else's sense of what is moral for them and what is moral for me, but you are in search of ... a shared "idea" of morality...?

    Is your question really this ... Where is this common denominator in regards to moral behavior. If it is only subjective, can it really have any validity in any way?... If it doesn't apply to everyone alike..? You wish to find a vantage point where morality can be place as being something "objective" or "real"....

    Do I interpret you correctly?

    Due to those very grounds of moralities subjective nature, we can, as human beings, "work upon ourselves" in terms of developing our own moral actions... "moralizing" is something quite different. That is "me" telling "you" how to behave.

    Social / religious / family / cultural influences all have their seeds planted within us from when we were small. Much is planted from these impulses. But for the flower to grow, it also needs sunlight, air, water and earth. Several factors must play into the picture. .. otherwise nothing will develop from the seed.

    We are the gardener.... tending our own garden