Fighting for the greater good

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Cradarc
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Fighting for the greater good

Postby Cradarc » Fri Sep 18, 2015 7:46 pm UTC

Here in the West, we value privacy and freedom of thought and expression. However, certain beliefs can deemed harmful and detrimental to individuals or the society as a whole. When is it appropriate for someone to interfere with other people's business for the sake of preventing harm?
Some points to consider:
- What if those "victims" are fine with the act?
- What if those "victims" are incapable of conveying their thoughts?
- What if the majority of the population condones the act? What if the act is protected by law?
- What if the act has little influence on the majority of the population despite having large ramifications on particular individuals?
- What if the people perpetuating the act is a group that has been traditionally discriminated against?
- What if those people believe they are doing things for the greater good?
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Tyndmyr
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Re: Fighting for the greater good

Postby Tyndmyr » Fri Sep 18, 2015 7:56 pm UTC

Cradarc wrote:Here in the West, we value privacy and freedom of thought and expression. However, certain beliefs can deemed harmful and detrimental to individuals or the society as a whole. When is it appropriate for someone to interfere with other people's business for the sake of preventing harm?
Some points to consider:
- What if those "victims" are fine with the act?
- What if those "victims" are incapable of conveying their thoughts?
- What if the majority of the population condones the act? What if the act is protected by law?
- What if the act has little influence on the majority of the population despite having large ramifications on particular individuals?
- What if the people perpetuating the act is a group that has been traditionally discriminated against?
- What if those people believe they are doing things for the greater good?


It matters a great deal if the actor and the victim are the same. If someone chooses to smoke, despite it being clearly unhealthy, we tolerate it. If someone forces their child to smoke(or exposes them by say, smoking in a closed car with an infant), it is generally viewed much worse.

A victim's assent matters, but they must be genuinely capable of giving it. A coerced assent is not an assent at all. However, I would no longer describe someone as a victim if they are actively choosing something. It might not be the same choice I would make, but they are no longer merely the target of the action, but the actor.

The incapacitation of a victim does not render them "not a victim". Someone who is unable to communicate is unable to consent.

Morality is not popularity, nor is it legality. An act of victimization is still such even if others are okay with it.

Social isolation may reduce effects on me, but does not make something stop being victimization. It isn't okay to kill a hermit any more than it would be a socialite.

I give precisely zero shits about historical discrimination. Yes, the abused may become abusers in turn or what not, and that is a useful thing to keep in mind. However, it does not excuse it. Victimization is still such.

"For the greater good" has been the rallying cry behind many evil acts. Mere belief does not mean the belief is actually correct.

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LaserGuy
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Re: Fighting for the greater good

Postby LaserGuy » Fri Sep 18, 2015 9:29 pm UTC

Cradarc wrote:Here in the West, we value privacy and freedom of thought and expression. However, certain beliefs can deemed harmful and detrimental to individuals or the society as a whole. When is it appropriate for someone to interfere with other people's business for the sake of preventing harm?
Some points to consider:
- What if those "victims" are fine with the act?


Then they aren't victims. A good principle to apply is that things that happen between consenting adults that don't indirectly impact other people should be tolerated. I'm sure there's a few edge cases, but it's a good default. As Tyndmyr notes, this is also true in the case if the adults happen to be the same person.

- What if those "victims" are incapable of conveying their thoughts?


Depends a lot on precisely what it is that is happening to the "victims" and who is doing it. The obvious example being that informed consent is required for sexual contact. For, let's say, medical treatment, in absence of a written directive, then there's a responsible caregiver who is supposed to make those decisions in the afflicted person's best interests. But there's room for state intervention where the caregiver is obviously being negligent. For transmission of beliefs in particular, I'm generally against using the force of the state, but have no problem with applying as much social pressure as possible. As an individual, you're free to interfere as far as you like within the law.

This thread has gone over this point ad nauseum, so I'm not sure that there's much I'd like to add.

- What if the majority of the population condones the act? What if the act is protected by law?


You're free to complain as loudly as you want about other people's behaviour, regardless of its social acceptance or legal status. That doesn't necessarily mean that anybody else will listen, care, or provide a venue for you to share those thoughts.

- What if the act has little influence on the majority of the population despite having large ramifications on particular individuals?


Not sure that matters.

- What if the people perpetuating the act is a group that has been traditionally discriminated against?


As long as the action is harmful in its own right, and not perceived as such due to discrimination, I think the approach should probably be the same. In practice, you probably need a bit more tact with how you approach it if you actually want to effect change.

- What if those people believe they are doing things for the greater good?


Many of the worst crimes in human history have been committed under the banner of the greater good. It's not an excuse. It's not even a justification unless you have a very good definition of what "the greater good" is.

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Re: Fighting for the greater good

Postby cphite » Sun Sep 20, 2015 11:14 pm UTC

Cradarc wrote:Here in the West, we value privacy and freedom of thought and expression. However, certain beliefs can deemed harmful and detrimental to individuals or the society as a whole. When is it appropriate for someone to interfere with other people's business for the sake of preventing harm?


A good, simple guideline would be only when it's actually preventing real and demonstrable harm.

Some points to consider:
- What if those "victims" are fine with the act?


Then they aren't victims, they are willing participants.

- What if those "victims" are incapable of conveying their thoughts?


Then they probably need help.

- What if the majority of the population condones the act? What if the act is protected by law?


The fact that the majority and/or the law condones something doesn't make it morally correct. There was a time when the majority of people in America condoned slavery; and it was legal.

- What if the act has little influence on the majority of the population despite having large ramifications on particular individuals?


That the majority does not suffer does not make something right or moral.

- What if the people perpetuating the act is a group that has been traditionally discriminated against?


Irrelevant. You don't get to oppress people because you were oppressed.

- What if those people believe they are doing things for the greater good?


Some of the most horrible things in history have been done for the greater good; every genocide, slavery, and mass oppressive movement was committed by people who believed - sincerely - that what they were doing was for the greater good, at least for their own people.

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Re: Fighting for the greater good

Postby leady » Thu Sep 24, 2015 4:08 pm UTC

As with most questions like this there is a need to be very specific definitions of "harm" & "population" to put forward answers - these are highly vague concepts and will drive different answers, some of which have already been hinted at.

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Re: Fighting for the greater good

Postby Dr34m(4+(h3r » Sat Sep 26, 2015 3:00 pm UTC

When is it appropriate for someone to interfere with other people's business for the sake of preventing harm?


What do you mean by "interfere"? Do you mean violence or coercion? If you don't mean violence or coercion then the question becomes one of good taste rather than ironclad morality and you can pretty much interfere as much as you like with as little excuse as you like.

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Re: Fighting for the greater good

Postby Cradarc » Fri Oct 02, 2015 12:49 am UTC

This is what happens when I start threads without concrete examples...
Here are some examples, which hopefully would spark more discussion:

Disclaimer - I am not trying to draw comparison between the groups being presented. Each pair are merely examples which have similarities for that particular context.

Cradarc wrote:What if those "victims" are fine with the act?

Ex1. Marijuana smokers
Ex2. People who make suicide pacts (like Heaven's Gate)
(Both groups are fine with what they do/did.)

Cradarc wrote:What if those "victims" are incapable of conveying their thoughts?

Ex1. Pulling the plug on a comatose woman on life support so the machine can be used to save a baby.
Ex2. Aborting an unborn child because mother cannot support one.
(Neither has choice in what happens to them. Their opinion is assumed or ignored.)

Cradarc wrote:What if the majority of the population condones the act? What if the act is protected by law?

Ex1. Black Lives Matter Protests
Ex2. Anti-gay protests
(Both types of protests are protected by law. Majority condones one, but not the other.)

Cradarc wrote:What if the act has little influence on the majority of the population despite having large ramifications on particular individuals?

Ex1. Euthanasia
Ex2. Letting a suicide jumper fall to his/her death.
(One person dying doesn't make a difference to society. Plus the person dying is okay with it in both cases."

Cradarc wrote:What if the people perpetuating the act is a group that has been traditionally discriminated against?

Ex1. Racial demographics in NBA
Ex2. Racial demographics in Ivy League Schools
(Asians don't have a history of being discriminated against in sports. Blacks have a history of being discriminated against in education.)

Cradarc wrote:What if those people believe they are doing things for the greater good?

Ex1. People who want to naturalize illegal immigrants.
Ex1. People who want to deport illegal immigrants.
(Neither group are doing it for personal reasons. They believe it will be better for their society as a whole.)


Dr34m(4+(h3r wrote:If you don't mean violence or coercion then the question becomes one of good taste rather than ironclad morality and you can pretty much interfere as much as you like with as little excuse as you like.

The existence of "ironclad morality" is pretty ambiguous if you've seen the thread about it. I'm interested in how people logically justify moral positions.
Some of the arguments people make in support of one issue actually contradicts their position on another issue. It's interesting to see how we rationalize things.
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Re: Fighting for the greater good

Postby elasto » Fri Oct 02, 2015 2:50 am UTC

Cradarc wrote:What if those "victims" are fine with the act?
Ex1. Marijuana smokers
Ex2. People who make suicide pacts (like Heaven's Gate)
(Both groups are fine with what they do/did.)

Suicide by anyone is final. Someone can't wake up a day later and regret what they did and partially undo the harm done, unlike with smoking a spliff.

Many people oppose the death penalty for the same reason: A innocent person imprisoned can be released and partially compensated. An innocent person killed can't be.

Cradarc wrote:What if those "victims" are incapable of conveying their thoughts?
Ex1. Pulling the plug on a comatose woman on life support so the machine can be used to save a baby.
Ex2. Aborting an unborn child because mother cannot support one.
(Neither has choice in what happens to them. Their opinion is assumed or ignored.)


Noone 'unplugs someone from life support because a baby needs it'. The more stable patient is flown to another hospital with a space. (And adults and babies can't use the same life-support equipment to my knowledge anyway; It needs to be of the correct physical dimensions)

Unborn children are non-sentient - their opinion isn't 'assumed or ignored' - at the age abortions are permitted by law, a foetus no more has an opinion than a potato does.

(There is a valid question to be asked as to when sentience arises, but this isn't an abortion morality thread.)

Cradarc wrote:What if the majority of the population condones the act? What if the act is protected by law?
Ex1. Black Lives Matter Protests
Ex2. Anti-gay protests
(Both types of protests are protected by law. Majority condones one, but not the other.)


Of course. Because it's moral to condemn both racism and bigotry. Protest itself is amoral; The goal of your protest defines its morality.

Cradarc wrote:What if the act has little influence on the majority of the population despite having large ramifications on particular individuals?
Ex1. Euthanasia
Ex2. Letting a suicide jumper fall to his/her death.
(One person dying doesn't make a difference to society. Plus the person dying is okay with it in both cases."


As with the first example, it's the finality of death that makes it problematic. The most enlightened countries have no qualms with euthanasia/suicide if there is a degenerative, incurable medical issue that severely impacts quality of life, but are rightly sceptical of death as the solution for any problem that may turn out to be transitory.

Cradarc wrote:What if the people perpetuating the act is a group that has been traditionally discriminated against?
Ex1. Racial demographics in NBA
Ex2. Racial demographics in Ivy League Schools
(Asians don't have a history of being discriminated against in sports. Blacks have a history of being discriminated against in education.)


Being non-US I don't understand the comparison. Discrimination is bad, except in rare and highly specific circumstances where positive discrimination can potentially solve more problems than it causes.

Cradarc wrote:What if those people believe they are doing things for the greater good?
Ex1. People who want to naturalize illegal immigrants.
Ex1. People who want to deport illegal immigrants.
(Neither group are doing it for personal reasons. They believe it will be better for their society as a whole.)


The first group believes immigration is win-win for both the immigrant and society. The second group thinks immigration is win-lose. Which group is right depends on the specifics of the immigrant and the society.

There isn't really a 'greater good' argument going on here. When someone advocates bringing in Syrian refugees, it's not on the basis of 'win-win' or 'greater good' but out of simple humanitarian compassion.

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Re: Fighting for the greater good

Postby Chen » Fri Oct 02, 2015 11:41 am UTC

@Cradarc: You realize practically every one of your example likely has its own complete thread in the Serious Business section right? Trying to draw an overall conclusion from all of them without all the details is going to be pointless.

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Re: Fighting for the greater good

Postby Dr34m(4+(h3r » Fri Oct 02, 2015 12:43 pm UTC

Cradarc wrote:The existence of "ironclad morality" is pretty ambiguous if you've seen the thread about it. I'm interested in how people logically justify moral positions.
Some of the arguments people make in support of one issue actually contradicts their position on another issue. It's interesting to see how we rationalize things.


You're here seeking moral council about taking an undefined type of action against an undefined group of people. Given that nobody would care if you were explicit, your overall post seems pretty shady. Now this is just an interpretation so of course it doesn't have to be correct, but on the basis of all of this it seems that you do believe in morality on some level, or you wouldn't be asking for moral advice since it would be meaningless (or even be upset about a moral issue for that matter for the same reason). It also seems like your notion of interference is likely coercive in some way, or at least subjects people to something fairly unwanted. The big question to me is why you're being so obtuse. Do you trust people's abstract moral judgement, but not their concrete moral judgement? That seems odd, since the latter should be determined by the former. Are you trying to conceal the real matter of concern? If so, why? This is an anonymous message board. No matter what, it's plain you believe in morality and equally plain you're letting discomfort limit your search for answers. You should probably stop that.

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Re: Fighting for the greater good

Postby Cradarc » Sat Oct 03, 2015 2:31 am UTC

I know these examples are closely related to other threads in SB. That is why I didn't think it was necessary to give them originally. I am not seeking moral advice, I am provoking people into thinking about their consistency in how they logically approach moral situations.
In many SB threads, I noticed all of the arguments (including my own) are superficially "logical" and objective", while at the same time feel contrived and biased. At least for me, it feels rather absurd to debate about contentious issues logically when there is no coherence between different contexts. So in a sense, yes, I am looking for a generalization of people's moral principles, or at least how they justify them.

My belief is that such a generalization doesn't exist because our logic is shaped by our moral principles. Process B is sufficient to convince me of P, but insufficient to convince me of Q. In order to justify this inconsistency, I (I'm using "I" in the impersonal sense) actively haggle over details in Q while I ignoring them in P. The ultimate reason is simply because I agree with P but not Q.

You can see this effect in elasto's response to the concrete examples. There's always a nuance we use to rationalize deviation from a perfectly logical conclusion. Our biases determine how those nuances kick in to our logical analysis of the situation.
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Re: Fighting for the greater good

Postby LaserGuy » Sat Oct 03, 2015 3:56 am UTC

Cradarc wrote:I know these examples are closely related to other threads in SB. That is why I didn't think it was necessary to give them originally. I am not seeking moral advice, I am provoking people into thinking about their consistency in how they logically approach moral situations.
In many SB threads, I noticed all of the arguments (including my own) are superficially "logical" and objective", while at the same time feel contrived and biased. At least for me, it feels rather absurd to debate about contentious issues logically when there is no coherence between different contexts. So in a sense, yes, I am looking for a generalization of people's moral principles, or at least how they justify them.

My belief is that such a generalization doesn't exist because our logic is shaped by our moral principles. Process B is sufficient to convince me of P, but insufficient to convince me of Q. In order to justify this inconsistency, I (I'm using "I" in the impersonal sense) actively haggle over details in Q while I ignoring them in P. The ultimate reason is simply because I agree with P but not Q.

You can see this effect in elasto's response to the concrete examples. There's always a nuance we use to rationalize deviation from a perfectly logical conclusion. Our biases determine how those nuances kick in to our logical analysis of the situation.


Ethics is not always easy or obvious. Yes, some ethical problems require you to look at two things you value (or loathe) and decide which one should take priority in a given situation.

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Re: Fighting for the greater good

Postby ucim » Sat Oct 03, 2015 3:56 am UTC

Cradarc wrote:There's always a nuance we use to rationalize deviation from a perfectly logical conclusion.
But A=>B is not the same as {something like A}=>{something like B}. It would be illogical to treat the two arguments as identical.

Nuance is involved. It has to be, or you are not drawing conclusions from the argument you think you are.

We can disagree on nuance; this comes down to how A differs from almost-A. But there is nothing dishonest about that.

Further, in some cases, what happens is that {A and C} => {B and D}. But this is simplified to
A=>B, or maybe C=>B, or perhaps C=>D, or maybe even C=>{B and D}, or.... depending on whether A or C (or B or D) are considered unimportant in context.

Sanitized examples serve an illustrative purpose, but are of little application, because they are sanitized. The real world is complicated.

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Re: Fighting for the greater good

Postby Zamfir » Sat Oct 03, 2015 5:42 am UTC

The difference between suicide and smoking pot is hardly a nuance?

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Re: Fighting for the greater good

Postby ucim » Sat Oct 03, 2015 4:07 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:The difference between suicide and smoking pot is hardly a nuance?
Depends who you ask. :)

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Re: Fighting for the greater good

Postby lorb » Sat Oct 03, 2015 10:28 pm UTC

leady wrote:As with most questions like this there is a need to be very specific definitions of "harm" & "population" to put forward answers - these are highly vague concepts and will drive different answers, some of which have already been hinted at.


I would like to emphasize this very important point. Perpetrators of corrective rape actually might believe they are helping the victim and they sometimes have the support of the family of the victim and the local community. They don't see any harm done. "Harm" needs to be defined to answer this question.
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Re: Fighting for the greater good

Postby elasto » Sun Oct 04, 2015 10:30 am UTC

Cradarc wrote:So in a sense, yes, I am looking for a generalization of people's moral principles, or at least how they justify them.

My belief is that such a generalization doesn't exist because our logic is shaped by our moral principles. Process B is sufficient to convince me of P, but insufficient to convince me of Q. In order to justify this inconsistency, I (I'm using "I" in the impersonal sense) actively haggle over details in Q while I ignoring them in P. The ultimate reason is simply because I agree with P but not Q.

You can see this effect in elasto's response to the concrete examples. There's always a nuance we use to rationalize deviation from a perfectly logical conclusion. Our biases determine how those nuances kick in to our logical analysis of the situation.

I agree with you.

In the 'is morality objective' thread I made the point repeatedly that, imo, morality comes from the gut. We feel something is right or wrong much more so than we think it. That's why morality is so closely intertwined with spirituality.

(However, I don't think the examples you gave were particularly good; Imo almost all of them are very clear cut as to what is the moral course of action - and the reason for one example going one way and the other going another was generally obvious - but I was only ever going to superficially skim over the reasons for each, since each one could be its own thread (and typically has been...), and I don't have four hours of my day to devote to a post.)

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Re: Fighting for the greater good

Postby Derek » Tue Oct 06, 2015 3:36 am UTC

I agree with Cradarc that people often have inconsistent moral systems. They decide what they think should be moral or not, and then come up with some logic to rationalize their beliefs. I disagree, however, that this means that objective morality can't exist. It just means that most people are bad at it. But when we think about our own moral frameworks, we shouldn't just rely on our gut feelings, as tempting as that may be. We should formulate a consistent set of moral rules and stick to them.

This thread reminds me of this Slate Star Codex post.

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Re: Fighting for the greater good

Postby ucim » Tue Oct 06, 2015 4:22 am UTC

Derek wrote:I disagree, however, that this means that objective morality can't exist.
Hmmm.... perhaps "objective morality" (also) means something different from what I take it to mean.

I normally take it to mean "morality based on the fabric of the universe", where something can be objectively GOOD (or objectively EVIL), independent of what we think about it, and these rules are there to be discovered (like the laws of physics). In that sense, I don't think objective morality can exist, independent of how consistent people are in applying their own system. Morality is something people come up with, not something that's woven into the fabric of the universe.

OTOH, the quoted phrase implies a usage of "objective morality" that is different - which I would take to mean that one's actions are based on underlying (personal) morals, rather than based on underlying desires, which are later justified ad-hoc.

Used in that sense, yes, people can be objectively moral (and thus, that form of "objective morality" can exist).

Perhaps some in the 'objective morality' thread are using the latter meaning, while I infer the former.

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Re: Fighting for the greater good

Postby elasto » Tue Oct 06, 2015 5:01 am UTC

Derek wrote:I agree with Cradarc that people often have inconsistent moral systems. They decide what they think should be moral or not, and then come up with some logic to rationalize their beliefs. I disagree, however, that this means that objective morality can't exist. It just means that most people are bad at it. But when we think about our own moral frameworks, we shouldn't just rely on our gut feelings, as tempting as that may be. We should formulate a consistent set of moral rules and stick to them.

To follow up on what ucims says, what you're talking about I feel could be better described as 'rational morality' than 'objective morality'.

Sure, it's perfectly possible to come up with a rational moral code - such that, given the same axioms, two people would derive the same conclusions - however I think you'd end up with something akin to the legal system: Thousands of pages of rules, exceptions and counter-exceptions which hardly anyone can comprehend in their totality, and yet would still be full of exploitable loopholes.

The benefit of gut-based morality is it lacks the same kinds of loopholes - because it has an emphasis on 'obey the spirit of the law, not the letter of the law' - and everyone instantly knows what the moral thing to do is (though they may disagree what that is), vs. the rational, codified version where someone would have to fire up an Excel spreadsheet to work out whether saving 6 murderers or 1 innocent baby tied to train-tracks was the more moral choice...

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Re: Fighting for the greater good

Postby ucim » Tue Oct 06, 2015 5:38 am UTC

elasto wrote:The benefit of gut-based morality is it lacks the same kinds of loopholes
... but it introduces some of its own. Consistency in morality is a good thing, bearing in mind that situations that seem similar may indeed be different in key ways. It's important to know (and be true to) your own broad strokes first, and then apply needed nuance.

The legal system is different in a key way - it has to anticipate the situations that might come up, and be ready with an answer. People's moral systems don't. Instead, they have to be robust in a way that generates good choices on the fly.

Jose
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Re: Fighting for the greater good

Postby Derek » Tue Oct 06, 2015 7:26 am UTC

What I mean is that a consistently applied set of rules is necessary for an objective morality. I do believe in objective morality, but I don't believe that any particular extant moral system (including my own) is necessarily correct. But some moral systems can be more (objectively) correct than others, and we should all aspire to have more correct moral systems, and one necessary step towards that is that your moral system is based on consistently applied rules, not gut feeling.

I hope that makes sense.

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Re: Fighting for the greater good

Postby ucim » Tue Oct 06, 2015 4:44 pm UTC

Derek wrote:What I mean is that a consistently applied set of rules is necessary for an objective morality.
I take it by "objective morality" you mean "morality that is woven into the fabric of the universe, independent of what people think, and is there to be discovered through methods analogous to the scientific method used to discover the rules of objective reality".

In which case, yes, it needs to be consistent, but it need not be simple. Complexity and inconsistency can mimic each other.

I do not believe there exists an objective morality in that sense though, and have yet to be presented with convincing reasons why such a thing is even sensible.

Jose
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Re: Fighting for the greater good

Postby lorb » Tue Oct 06, 2015 5:16 pm UTC

What do you mean exactly when you say it needs to be "consistent"?
A) It needs to apply the same for every (human) being? If yes, why?
or
B) It needs to be free of contradiction?
or
C) something else?
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Re: Fighting for the greater good

Postby Tyndmyr » Tue Oct 06, 2015 5:40 pm UTC

ucim wrote:
Derek wrote:What I mean is that a consistently applied set of rules is necessary for an objective morality.
I take it by "objective morality" you mean "morality that is woven into the fabric of the universe, independent of what people think, and is there to be discovered through methods analogous to the scientific method used to discover the rules of objective reality".

In which case, yes, it needs to be consistent, but it need not be simple. Complexity and inconsistency can mimic each other.


Right. An idealized set of rules might be so long that nobody could practically memorize them. Again, not unlike legal codes, though I feel certain they fall short of objective morality.

It's possible to write short, self consistent rules systems, but either they require a great deal of interpretation to actually apply, or they tend to fall flat on a number of edge cases.

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Re: Fighting for the greater good

Postby ucim » Tue Oct 06, 2015 8:00 pm UTC

lorb wrote:What do you mean exactly when you say it needs to be "consistent"?

It needs to be free of contradiction.

Although it should apply equally in equal situations; it needn't apply equally in "almost equal" situations. This is where "should {insert group} be allowed to {insert action} since {other group} is allowed to?" comes in. Clearly there are sets of groups and actions which would yield different answers from each other. But it then becomes a moral question (on another level) on how to select groups and actions that do and do not match. Blacks? Minors? Women? Cops? The disadvantaged? Criminals? Foreigners? And to each you have to answer "why?". And that leads to moral issues on yet another level. So, I don't think "applied equally" is that useful a concept here.

The way I see it, morals define the kind of society we want to live in.

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