TED Conversations


This conversation is closed.

Do right and wrong exist?

I'm curious about objective right and wrong. If you believe in God, this is a no-brainer. Some things are wrong, some things are right, simply because God says so and He knows. But if you don't believe in God, can you still believe in objective morality? I personally don't think you can. I mean, what do you base it off of? How do you find out what's objectively right or wrong? (By objective I mean "existing independent of thought or an observer as part of reality." from dictionary.com)
Sure, there's subjective morality. Any idea of right or wrong come up with by a human is by definition subjective. That's all well and good. Problem is that it only applies to people who believe in it and it gives them no authority to proclaim anything as "what we should be doing." Very often everybody disagrees with each other and we don't get anywhere. (Just look at Congress for an example of this.)
Maybe you disagree with me and you think there is objective morality but no God. That's fine. I would like to ask you to answer a question for me though. Let's pick an easy one. Why is rape objectively wrong? Don't misunderstand me, I can't think of a single instance where rape wouldn't be wrong. I believe very strongly that sexual abuse is one of the greatest evils in the world. Why is it evil? If you can answer me without using a God-based or subjective argument, I'll concede the point.
That point is this: Without God, there is no such thing as right and wrong, only the things we call right and wrong. And since nobody can agree on what to call what, we're all in a lot of trouble.


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Mar 4 2013: Question: do feelings turn into thought or do thoughts turn into feelings?
    • Mar 4 2013: Although I realize you most probably meant your question to be rhetorical, I will attempt to answer it (call me crazy). Feelings most definitely turn into thought. Thought helps us to organize our feelings. (Is this a question in your homework tonight?) And thoughts can & often do produce feelings. After all, we are not robots, But, if any robots are reading this, can you please come over right away? My Roomba seems to have lost its sense of direction.
      • thumb
        Mar 4 2013: No, my question wasn't completely rhetorical and was not homework related at all, but I was interested in others opinions.

        My follow up question is which comes first in your understanding, feelings or thoughts?
        • Mar 4 2013: Probably feelings. We see,hear,smell,taste or feel something, like maybe we feel the elevator has started to move, and we think, "Finally." So, we use the word "finally" to refer to our feeling of relief that we physically discerned movement we were impatient for. We were first feeling that it was taking longer than we hoped it would to move. There is a succession of feelings here. Hope that it will start to move soon. Impatience that it hasn't, and relief when it finally does, all of which can be expressed with one thought, "finally",a thought that we can share with others experiencing the same thing in the same way perhaps. They may validate what we've just said with a chuckle or choose to ignore it.
      • thumb
        Mar 4 2013: So, according to the topic above in relation to the belief that feelings precede thoughts, then would it suffice to correlate that right and wrong come from the feelings of individuals? Feelings that one might enjoy one activity, while the other party may completely dislike.
        • Mar 4 2013: Hmmmmmmmmmm. It sounds like you're wondering about the dynamics of a couple of people deciding on how to spend their time together. Am I correct?
      • thumb
        Mar 4 2013: I am thinking that, right and wrong exists and doesn't exist. They don't exist naturally, but it does exist from the evolution of expressing feelings and understanding each other more to the point that we know that there are rights and wrongs, but religion simply has aggregated all this knowledge into books. Though more or less those religious books' are but another opinion that people should consider, but not rule out others opinions as well. That is just how it seems to equate to.
      • thumb
        Mar 4 2013: I should add that something I view is right is something that is consensual and those consensual individuals' should be responsible for their agreement, but something that isn't consensual should be wrong, if one party acts without the consensus factor. Though I think people should have the right to learn from their wrongs, which they have taken or will take responsibility for, even if that issue is not documented or is documented. I think right and wrong should be established through dialogue between parties and taboos should be suspended in this dialogue, and, I feel, that then there will be more understanding of individuals' beliefs of right and wrong and they should be tolerated, until it is not consensual when the ideas become actions.

        Thanks for hearing me out Louise. =)
    • Mar 4 2013: To answer the original question about feelings, is booth. A feeling can invoke thought and thought can invoke a feeling. However feelings are just chemical reactions to reinforce and alert an individual. In example when you hurt yourself your brain signals “you” to that what is going on right now is dangerous. When you feel good having intercourse your brain initiate the release of good feelings, reinforcing you (rewarding you) that what you are doing is good. Reproduction is one of the most important activities a living creature could do. To go further, if you observe yourself, isn’t it better to give than to receive a gift. It has been found by scientist that most people like it better when they give a gift or help someone than to receive. But why do we feel good when we give? Hypothetically, when our ancestors had to survive every single day, giving ensured cohesion and heightened the chance that when an individual needed help, food or needed a stone tip axe, than someone from the group will help him. So giving is reinforced with a stronger feeling of joy then the receiving one. When we evolved into conscious beings thoughts and accessing memory become possible. So merely thinking about getting hurt or having intercourse can initiate a feeling associated with it. Just as getting hurt and feeling the pain can bring up a memory about the last time you got hurt. This is a crucial part of our success as an animal. By doing this we can plan ahead and teach ourselves to be more careful and not to get hurt next time.
    • Comment deleted

      • thumb
        Mar 4 2013: Yes, I understand, but do you think everyone is mindful of this?
    • thumb
      Mar 4 2013: Can u actually separate the two Derek? They are both mental process. From a neuro-physiological level different faculties are operating but in the subjective sense we understand our feelings based on the thoughts that we having at the moment (if you understand what I'm saying)
      • thumb
        Mar 5 2013: Hi Orlando,
        When I think about how information enters our lives, then I think of chemicals, neurons, sensory neurons, and the brain. Information enters our mind through the senses, which I believe the fives senses main function is. Our reasoning for right and wrong comes from how our external affects our internal, like when someone pricks their finger on something sharp and feels pain from it and hopes it doesn't happen again by being more careful around sharp objects. Subjectively, you are correct that things are processed in the mind, but does a 6 month year old child process information through "thoughts" in words or "feelings" (which the word feelings may or may not be in their baby vocabulary)?

        When I think of "thoughts", then I think of self aware individuals with an adequate range of vocabulary at their disposal in one of the homo sapien languages, so feelings come before thoughts on that line reasoning for me.

        I am curious how do animals or just born children process information without words, then I lead to the idea that it is through "feelings", which they will react through an external or internal evolution. Like hunger makes babies stomach begin to digest itself, which then sends signals in the mind to move muscles in the stomach, which leads to a baby crying from the sensation of hunger.
        • thumb
          Mar 5 2013: Hi Derek,

          Thanks for clarifying your point and I totally agree with everything you said (I like your analogy of the 6 month old child, that was an excellent point).

          What you said about the relationship between the internal and external is spot on. It appears that much of what we take to be subjectivity is highly dependent upon the development of our brain and other sensory organs. I've never considered this position before when considering the relationship between our neurophysiology and consciousness (experience).

          But i think your correct. It is remarkable how babies, though they may not be aware, are biologically programmed to cry and express themselves when they need to be fed, changed, etc..

          I read you earlier comments regarding feelings and its relationship to morality. the philosopher David Hume believes that at its core, all morality is, is relating how we feel in a given moment.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.