reply to post by adjensen
I tried to reply to this earlier, when the thread was a page shorter at least, but lost the post. This is just a response to the OP. I haven't read
much of the thread.
Originally posted by adjensen
I have seen a number of people on ATS remark that, in their view, absolute morality doesn't exist. That is to say that morality, which are the
principles and behaviours that we apply to determine what is right, and what is wrong, is fluid, and that there is no absolute (constant and
unchanging) right and wrong.
Morality is relative, but wait: I mean that morality, meaning code and precept, varies among societies, groups within a given society, and among
individuals. People have different moral codes. Some people think it's a sin to eat pork. Others think it's a sin to abort babies (a subject to
which I will, briefly, return later). Yet others think it's a sin to make money. The variation in what people think is good and evil is the true
relativity of morals.
To conclude from this relativity of moral prescription and sanction that there is no absolute ethics is, however, fallacious. You are right on this.
Note, however, the important distinction between ethics and morals.
I believe that there is an absolute ethics, a true and universal (for humans) set of values that enables us to determine what is right from wrong. It
is not a set of prescriptions, not a list of commandments; it is a set of rules and tests that enables us to determine what, in a given situation, are
the right and wrong things to do. To build on Mike_A's example from his post in page 1 of the thread, it allows us to determine that however wicked
it may be to rape a child, it might yet be right to do so under coercion in order to save the child from being murdered outright. Not a decision any
of us would want to have to make; but the absolute ethics helps us determine which of two evils is lesser. We may hope that in another context, it
could also help us to choose the better of two goods; perhaps when, for example, the choice lies between a career and a friendship.
If one thinks of the sexual abuse of children, I, for one, am physically sickened by the idea. It bothers me more than most other things that
I can think of. But when I think back on my life, I can't remember anyone ever drilling the lesson of how vile child abuse is into my head. Can't
even remember anyone ever even discussing it to any degree. But I also can't think back to a time in my life when I didn't find this behaviour
My take away of that is that this particular absolute morality points to something which underlies it -- something which is a fundamental piece of who
I am, and which not only directs me to the absolute moral position on the subject of child abuse, but which makes me an extremist on the matter. So
I'm left to assume that my absolute morality is not a result of an adoption of a non-absolute morality, and that if I had grown up in a society where
child abuse was acceptable, I would still find it repugnant.
You know from our previous conversations that I believe the foundations of morality to be biological, that concepts and instincts such as altruism,
cooperation, fairness, affection, reciprocity, kindness and so forth are characteristics that are built into our genes, part of our evolutionary
legacy as social primates. What you say above may easily be co-opted as evidence for this hypothesis, but I believe that would be too
hasty--particulary because in some societies, as we know, child marriage--even the marriage of middle-aged or frankly elderly men to prepubertal
little girls--is known to take place. Indeed, such child marriages were common in ancient times. Though they were never the rule, except in places
where patriarchies ran riot, I don't believe the taboo against having sex with children is anywhere near as strong as Western societies currently
feel it is.
At this point you're probably thinking, I've got him. Because if the absolute ethics I spoke of earlier is not built into our genes, then it must
come from someplace else, and God is the most obvious candidate. I disagree. Absolute ethics--the guiding principle of which, if you aren't
religious, is essentially equivalent to the Second Commandment of the New Covenant*--consist, I believe, in the selective extension of kinship rights,
as observed instinctively by social animals, to the widest possible circle of genetically unrelated kin. The process stopped being instinctive a long
time ago and is now driven by reason and enlightened--largely economic--self-interest. Its highest manifestations have no religious sanction but are
derived from the highest refinements of rational humanism--or, as you may prefer, the base desire for pelf.
On this subject only one thing more remains to be said. Those who conclude from the nonexistence of absolute morality that there is no absolute
ethics, and use that conclusion to excuse whatever behaviour they feel inclined to that moment, are not champions of moral relativity in any
philosophical sense; they are moral degenerates, beyond the reach of faith and philosophy alike.
There is, however something in your post that needs to be refuted. Doing so does not materially detract from the force of your argument; but I feel
obliged, out of respect for the truth, to refute it anyway. It is this:
Infanticide is interesting. It is not uncommon for other species to kill their young who appear to be a likely "drag on the system." If
morals were simply an application of "what's best for us," one would think that even an intellectualized species would not shy away from this.
Civilization needs to be pretty far along before sufficient resources are available to care for non-sustaining group members. And yet, this moral
absolute once again seems fundamental, and seems to have been around for a very long time.
Infanticide is a common human behaviour. It was prevalent in all ancient cultures, even the most civilized. The Golden Age of Athens was soundtracked
by the cries of legions of unwanted infants exposed on hillsides to the depradations of marauding wolves; Rome, at least in legend, was founded by a
pair of brothers so abandoned, to whom a she-wolf gave suck. And certainly the Romans--and their subjects--exposed their share of babies too. As did
the Persians, the Etruscans, the Egyptians (remember Moses in the bulrushes?) and just about everybody else you care to name. The Chinese did it too,
and were stil doing it until Mao took charge. Actually, they're probably still doing it, out on the dunes somewhere in the middle of Xinjiang
Province. It still happens in India too, in Nepal, Tibet and Afghanistan. It happens in my own country. It happens on the streets of London, Paris and
New York City, often in dumpsters.
And the ones who get dumped are, yes, the ones with the slimmest chances of survival, and of making a decent life for themselves. The ones who would
be, yes, 'a drag on the system'.
Let us not forget, also, that all human societies eagerly (if not always legally) practise abortion, and have done so since time immemorial. There are
Egyptian papyrii which detail methods by which abortion may be induced.
Nature gives us moral impulses; but it is reason coupled with compassion--in a word, humanity--that shapes them into moral codes and ethical
edit on 9/9/10 by Astyanax because: Proofreading. Your fancy new preview function isn't working for me.