Objective morality

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Robin Yergenson
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Objective morality

Post by Robin Yergenson » Sun Apr 15, 2012 7:53 pm

Hi all,

I thought it would be good to start a separate thread on this topic. While it’s not a popular opinion that thinking well is the “catch-all” condition of morality and that everything else is just details, this seems to me to be it’s real essence. In fact, I consider it an “epiphany” of mine, so I’m eager to get someone to discuss it with me. Why is this wrong? Why is it offensive? I cannot seem to get past this point. It comes down to the difference between doing what is right and thinking you are doing what is right while being innocently mistaken.

1. For this discussion, let’s define “rational being” as a conscious volitional acting being with the ability to form categories and concepts of the way reality is for the purpose of guiding choices and actions.
2. Let’s define “objective moral ought” as those actions that a rational being ought to do. They are a consequence of the conditions of reality, including their nature as organisms and as rational beings.
3. A moral action requires that it be consistent with an objective moral ought and that it be intentional.
4. Rational beings are not always rational. Moral oughts that we fail to act upon out of irrationality, biases, ignorance, etc. are still objective and valid in spite of that fact.
5. Since thinking, reasoning well (i.e. arriving at judgments with a sufficiently high probability of comporting with reality) is a primary requirement for realizing intended objectives of any kind, thinking, reasoning well is the rational being’s first and foremost objective moral ought.
6. Objective moral actions entail future beneficial results of those actions, not “intrinsic goodness,” since goodness that we act to obtain is only coherent when some future benefit has the potential of being realized by the organism.
7. As a rational being wondering (in a philosophical since) what to do, the benefits motivating that being to act are with respect to him/herself as the actor, not “the good of society.” Society benefits from that being’s moral action because it is first and foremost beneficial to that being. Morality is therefore rooted in rational self interest, not society’s interest. Society is not the one willing and acting, rational beings are.
8. Rational beings can be grouped into two categories:
a. Those that stand to benefit and who therefore ought to prefer to live and thrive because it is in their nature as an organism qua organism (most people are of this category).
b. Those that do not stand to benefit (that relatively small category of people who’s quality of life is gone with little possibility of returning).
9. While objective moral oughts apply to both, they differ greatly depending on the category, and since the latter category is rather small and the corresponding list of oughts rather short, objective moral oughts are generally viewed as pertaining to the former category.
10. Since self benefit is the proper basis for objective morality, and since the life of the rational being is the context from which that benefit is measured, and since that benefit will lose context if the beneficiary’s life ceases to exist, the rational being’s life is therefore at bottom as his/her deepest value.
11. Rational beings generally benefit more from harmonious rights reciprocity, living in accord, and exchanging value for value than by stealing and preying on one another.
12. Given our lack of omniscience, we typically have to base choices and actions on our greatest probability for obtaining benefit. Harmonious rights reciprocity is one.
13. It follows then that in a social context, we ought to act in harmonious ways and we ought not act in predatory ways.

Once we get agreement on these more general facts about morality we can move to more particular fact about morality (life boat ethics, ethics from authority, etc.).

Rob

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mdsimpson92
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Re: Objective morality

Post by mdsimpson92 » Sun Apr 15, 2012 8:12 pm

Hey, Rob! sorry glad to see you responding again. I'm a little busy filling out applications and projects for school but I will be sure to try and pick it apart (I like playing devil's advocate for fun) and see what we can learn.
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mdsimpson92
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Re: Objective morality

Post by mdsimpson92 » Sun Apr 15, 2012 8:20 pm

Robin Yergenson wrote: It comes down to the difference between doing what is right and thinking you are doing what is right while being innocently mistaken.
Perhaps, though I will like to note there there are times when we act in ways in spite of knowing better, we are not (totally) rational animals.

Again i will see what I can look through on this, I appreciate the point by point system (for some reason it reminds me of Spinoza, though his is more mathematical.)
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Metacrock
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Re: Objective morality

Post by Metacrock » Mon Apr 16, 2012 7:37 am

I still say people are being mislead by all this talk about "objective ethics." Real ethicist don't talk about that. Dorothy Emmett who was a Christian, began her great book The Moral Prism talking about the relative nature of ethics. She was an intellectual defender of evangelicalism before the rise of the new right and religious right (1950s-60s). She concludes her book by saying "morality is always contestable."

The real issue, she makes the case, is not objectivity but grounding. The idea that a moral system would have a valid or adequate grounding as a minimal endorsement is the point. This is the best we can do to even start in the direction of "objective morals."

This was at the time an Evangelical Christians outlook.
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mdsimpson92
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Re: Objective morality

Post by mdsimpson92 » Tue Apr 17, 2012 9:47 pm

Robin Yergenson wrote:11. Rational beings generally benefit more from harmonious rights reciprocity, living in accord, and exchanging value for value than by stealing and preying on one another.


In the long run, yes. Though I think we can agree that there have been exceptions.
Robin Yergenson wrote:7. As a rational being wondering (in a philosophical since) what to do, the benefits motivating that being to act are with respect to him/herself as the actor, not “the good of society.” Society benefits from that being’s moral action because it is first and foremost beneficial to that being. Morality is therefore rooted in rational self interest, not society’s interest. Society is not the one willing and acting, rational beings are.


I would be careful here, society itself can act as a whole and can pressure as a community, it is a force that can affect us conciously and unconciously. Furthermore, in large part what we are and thus, consequently, how we should act is based on how society defines us. Also, there are individuals who put more value into things other than themselves. For instance a soldier throwing himself on a grenade to save his squad.
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Robin Yergenson
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Re: Objective morality

Post by Robin Yergenson » Sun Apr 22, 2012 10:32 am

Hi Metacrock,

You say,
Metacrock wrote:I still say people are being mislead by all this talk about "objective ethics." Real ethicist don't talk about that. Dorothy Emmett who was a Christian, began her great book The Moral Prism talking about the relative nature of ethics. She was an intellectual defender of evangelicalism before the rise of the new right and religious right (1950s-60s). She concludes her book by saying "morality is always contestable."

The real issue, she makes the case, is not objectivity but grounding. The idea that a moral system would have a valid or adequate grounding as a minimal endorsement is the point. This is the best we can do to even start in the direction of "objective morals."

This was at the time an Evangelical Christians outlook.
Basing a moral discussion on an Evangelical Christian outlook doesn't seem like a demonstrable place to start. Why not start at the top of my post, see if there is a first assumption that I have made that is not justified, and challenge it? "Objective morality" as I intend it here merely refers to a morality that is not whim-based arbitrary nonsense, rather it is the category of actions that, for a given set of conditions including the condition of being a rational being as I have defined it, are better, more appropriate, more probable of obtaining goodness, than the other actions available to the actor. Do you agree that such a valid category can be arrived at? If not, why not?

Rob

Robin Yergenson
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Re: Objective morality

Post by Robin Yergenson » Sun Apr 22, 2012 12:12 pm

Hi Miles,

I appreciate your “devil’s advocate” approach so long as it is healthy critical scrutiny as a common ally for the truth and opposed to error and not to the extreme of Nietzsche’s “Why agree when you can disagree?” aphorism. I had said,
It comes down to the difference between doing what is right and thinking you are doing what is right while being innocently mistaken.
To which you responded,
Perhaps, though I will like to note that there are times when we act in ways in spite of knowing better, we are not (totally) rational animals.
As I said in point 4, “4. Rational beings are not always rational. Moral oughts that we fail to act upon out of irrationality, biases, ignorance, etc. are still objective and valid in spite of that fact,” so yes, as rational beings, we are not always behave rationally. But I do not agree that “there are times when we act in ways in spite of knowing better.” Why don’t I agree? Because all our volitional actions are based on what we know and or think we know, no exceptions. Our immoral actions are rooted in thinking we know something that we don’t know, like that the odds of getting caught justify the risk of steeling, when the question of whether to steel or not may rarely hinge upon the probability of getting caught.

On my note 11: “Rational beings generally benefit more from harmonious rights reciprocity, living in accord, and exchanging value for value than by stealing and preying on one another,” you pointed out that it has exceptions, and since it explicitly states that it is “generally” the case, then yes, there are exceptions, conditions that make attempted harmony a bad choice, like living in a society filled with irrational monsters and predators who want to eat you. Yet even in this condition, once a sufficient amount of rationality is present, the general condition of greater benefit stated above is still valid (see note 4).

I claimed,
7. As a rational being wondering (in a philosophical since) what to do, the benefits motivating that being to act are with respect to him/herself as the actor, not “the good of society.” Society benefits from that being’s moral action because it is first and foremost beneficial to that being. Morality is therefore rooted in rational self interest, not society’s interest. Society is not the one willing and acting, rational beings are.
To which you responded,
I would be careful here, society itself can act as a whole and can pressure as a community, it is a force that can affect us consciously and unconsciously.
Hmm. While “actions of a society” is a popular phrase, it is very important in this context to recognize that society isn’t a rational being that morality applies to. Society isn’t conscious. Society doesn’t think. Society doesn’t prefer. Society doesn’t act. Individual rational beings do. Yes, you can form them into groups, collectives, societies, but we need to be careful not to lose track of this very essential difference. Yes, popular opinion among individual rational beings is one of the conditions that must be taken into context when identifying a moral action, but such opinion is not the basis for morality. And you say,
Furthermore, in large part what we are and thus, consequently, how we should act is based on how society defines us.
A lot of people being wrong in a unified way doesn’t make it more right. And you say,
Also, there are individuals who put more value into things other than themselves. For instance a soldier throwing himself on a grenade to save his squad.
I’m not ready to discuss the “sacrificial soldier/grenade” scenario just yet, but surely we can agree that objective moral oughts are not whim based, so “individuals who put more value into things other than themselves” is not relevant. As I said in point 3: “A moral action requires that it be consistent with an objective moral ought and that it be intentional.” If self sacrifice is moral, and if the self sacrifice is intentional, then it is a moral act. And if self sacrifice is immoral, and if the self sacrifice is intentional (because the individual put more value into things other than themselves), then it is an immoral act. Do you agree?

Rob

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runamokmonk
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Re: Objective morality

Post by runamokmonk » Sun Apr 22, 2012 2:40 pm

Previously to the argument~
While it’s not a popular opinion that thinking well is the “catch-all” condition of morality and that everything else is just details, this seems to me to be it’s real essence. In fact, I consider it an “epiphany” of mine, so I’m eager to get someone to discuss it with me. Why is this wrong? Why is it offensive? I cannot seem to get past this point. It comes down to the difference between doing what is right and thinking you are doing what is right while being innocently mistaken.





I have paraphrased and partially quoted along with highlights and according to my understanding of the argument to the best of my ability~

Rationality seems to be defined as a volitional being who has concepts and categories of the way reality is for the purpose of guiding choices and actions.

The objective morality is what a rational being ought to do conforming to reality from the consequences to the nature of the organisms and rational being.

Reasoning well is the requirement for realizing any goal or 'objective', therefore thinking and reasoning well is the rational being's foremost objective moral ought.

Objective moral actions bring about beneficial results and not "intrinsic goodness", because "goodness" is only coherent when there is a beneficial result for the organism.

And #10 (highlights mine)~
"10. Since self benefit is the proper basis for objective morality, and since the life of the rational being is the context from which that benefit is measured, and since that benefit will lose context if the beneficiary’s life ceases to exist, the rational being’s life is therefore at bottom as his/her deepest value."




Numbers #11 and #12
11. Rational beings generally benefit more from harmonious rights reciprocity, living in accord, and exchanging value for value than by stealing and preying on one another.
12. Given our lack of omniscience, we typically have to base choices and actions on our greatest probability for obtaining benefit. Harmonious rights reciprocity is one.

In my understanding, humans were social animals giving each other mutual aid and/or having moral sentiment before rights reciprocity. Some form of mutual aid is a requirement for tribal groups to form to begin with. So, it is not modern rights in which harmony or sociality came to arise.

You seem to be arguing for rights reciprocity, after, the social groups have been formed, based on mutual aid and sentiment, and arguing that the real objective morality that is based in reality, is for the individual to have their highest value being for their own benefit.

I am not saying I am against rights. What I see being argued for, is self interested goal orientation, in which the organism benefits and also has that as its deepest value, being a rational and a proper basis for objective morality, and from there a "rights" based system that corresponds to such a value system.

I am not saying that the good for society is the highest good. And I am not against self benefit.

I am saying that I prefer to decide what my highest value is and it does not have to categorically be to my own continued existence or living and thriving (whatever that is actually defined as).

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mdsimpson92
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Re: Objective morality

Post by mdsimpson92 » Sun Apr 29, 2012 4:34 pm

Robin Yergenson wrote:I’m not ready to discuss the “sacrificial soldier/grenade” scenario just yet, but surely we can agree that objective moral oughts are not whim based, so “individuals who put more value into things other than themselves” is not relevant. As I said in point 3: “A moral action requires that it be consistent with an objective moral ought and that it be intentional.” If self sacrifice is moral, and if the self sacrifice is intentional, then it is a moral act. And if self sacrifice is immoral, and if the self sacrifice is intentional (because the individual put more value into things other than themselves), then it is an immoral act. Do you agree?
I agree that it is not whim based and I agree with the necessity of consistency. However, it does remain an issue if one puts the primary basis on rational "self"-interest, such a scenario will need to be taken into account. However, as you have stated this scenario will be dealt with later.
Robin Yergenson wrote:A lot of people being wrong in a unified way doesn’t make it more right. And you say,
True, though the manner in which we understand what is moral is done through the lense of our culture. The manner in which one expresses virtues can be a major factor, but you have in part already aknowledged this. Furthermore, I think that the way that society forms is generally not based on whims.
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Metacrock
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Re: Objective morality

Post by Metacrock » Mon Apr 30, 2012 8:48 am

The role played by general connect in understanding the nature of axioms is dependent upon various assumptions about human behavior. Morality is a subset of ethics. Ethics is rational philosophical disposition of value systems and their grounding in reality by rational means. One of the major things we can ground axioms in is social acceptance. That's relative and may or may not be discord able, but it is empirical and something we can undersatnd and get it. It probalby requires a grounding of its own to explain why society understands some values as paramount, and which ones, and others as discordable.

That doesn't mean that moral axioms are reducible to popular opinion. We have levels of acceptance and commitment and we can link society and social acceptance to older traditions and more universal traditions.

(1) most societies have always frowned upon premeditated murder (PMM), for example.

(2) the only societies that don't frown upon PMM are very primitive or very declined.

(3) The level of commitment in most societies to condemn PMM is very strong.

Thus we can make an argument that this universal abhorrence is strong enough and universal enough hat it's more than just popularity and it's just alliterative to culture.

that in itself doesn't mean that morality just reduced to what society wants. It give us a basis in social approbation to ground axioms in something empirical.

I think the Charles Taylor book Sources of the self is very good and indispensable for understanding ethics. The two books I would recommend every ethics student should read are Dorothy Emmett the Moral Prism and This one.

What the Taylor book has to do with it is to uncover the making of the modern western understanding of self, He shows how this correlates to our ethical foundations by showing the how the constituent parts are put together. The self is the cement that binds those constituent parts. Ethical commitments are more than just opinions and more than just logical formula they are part of our understanding of who we are. The constituent parts that make up our ethical commitments, are actually the parts that make up our self understanding. He says something to the effect that an ethical world view is connected to the senses of undamaged self understanding and person hood.
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