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Scot Wilcox

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A unified moral code

OK, so on my other discussion "Do right and wrong exist?" there's a rather hefty debate raging on the existence of objective moral truths vs. subjective morality. I still hold that the only way to know any kind of objective morality is through personal communication with God. (If you'd like to dispute that with me, go to the "Do right and wrong exist?" discussion please.) I made the point that with subjective morality, nobody can agree with each other and any discussion of "what's the right thing to do about this issue?" breaks down into squabbling and nobody gets anywhere. Several of you on that other discussion claimed that by using reason and science, a unified moral code could be developed that the majority of mankind could agree with, a la Sam Harris. I disagree, I don't think it can be done.
So prove me wrong! Right here on TED, I want the TED community to hammer out a moral code. It needs to be applicable to daily life and issues of our time like illegal immigration, abortion, animal rights, environmentalism, government spending, business ethics, and income inequality. Don't worry about all the objective vs. subjective stuff, as long as it works. Go ahead. Define right and wrong in the way that will most benefit society. Be specific and measurable, and collaborate with everyone else. Once some kind of accord has been achieved, I'll try to put it to the test by suggesting a variety of moral dilemmas and we'll see if it holds. I doubt that we'll even get to that point, but go on, defy me!

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    Feb 27 2013: Why on earth would you want a unified moral code? That has to be the silliest thing I have heard in a while. Morality is based on values. If anything that is universal. Even yourself with your Biblical bronze age values. Your morals are dictated to you because you value that experience.

    Values are derived from upbringing and experience. Since all our experiences are different, so are our values. I work really hard to pass on the values I have learned to my children and give them the skills to critically review the value systems and morals of others. I would not want to live in a vanilla world of universal morals.

    So in order to have a universal morality, everyone would have to have the same values. Isn't that what your heaven is for? There you can live in a world where everyone thinks and lives exactly as you do.
    • Feb 27 2013: Please don't assume you know everything about my religion because I used the word God in a sentence. I would ask for respect for my values as I respect yours.
      But anyways. That's a great point, that if everybody had the same values, society would be boring. If we change the wording from "universal moral code" to "shared basis for problem-solving" would it change your view, though? Isn't that what morals are all about in a strictly societal sense? Solving problems we have with each other, like the ones listed above. If there's no basis that people can agree on to solve issues, we get gridlocked, like Congress is now. So one of the requirements of this basis could be that it allows for individuality and freedom of choice. What do you think?
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        Feb 28 2013: Hey Scott, I don't assume what I know about your religion because you used the word God. I got it from your responses in the other thread. Please clarify if there are any inaccuracies.

        "Shared basis for problem-solving" is called ethics. It's been around for a while.

        Our values (beliefs) dictate our morality (actions) which helps us construct an ethical life.

        So it starts within each of us and our values which we create from our experience. That leads to our morals and how we behave towards each other. When we reach the level of society we need to discuss ethics which can mean morality across peoples. It is there where problems arise. If I could just have my ethics and my morals there would be no problems. It is at the societal level where ethics and the conversations surrounding ethics are conducted. Happens every day.
        • Feb 28 2013: Right, ethics. What's the difference between ethics and morality? Society is going to need to come up with some kind of ethics in order to move forward on issues like the ones I named above. That's why I created this thread.
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        Feb 28 2013: Do we need to know what your values are so that we don't have to worry about them?
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        Feb 28 2013: @ Scott. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethics. Ethics is the platform where individual morals are addressed as they apply to society and/or sentient beings and the world. When we move from I to we.

        @ Ted, No I do not think you need to know my values because like most people, I live them. If I valued money I would do everything I could to get it. Throw people out of their homes or in jail for non-payment. If I valued justice I would want to incarcerate all the bad guys and make criminals pay. Etc. I think it is more important to be able to recognize what values others operate on. It takes practice but it is worth learning.

        For instance, it took me a long time to understand people who value tradition. I just didn't get it. Until I finally got the epiphany it was about comfort and security. Now that I understand it, I can recognize it and we can discuss.
        • Mar 1 2013: Oh ok. To me ethics and morality are more or less one and the same, I used them as synonyms. This debate is more about if it's possible to create a societal ethics that is more or less standard so we could have something to judge our society's direction by. I don't think it's possible, but I wanted to know if anyone else could prove otherwise.

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