are morals relative or absolute?

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are morals relative or absolute?

Postby phillip1882 » Fri Mar 24, 2017 11:08 pm UTC

i'm sure this ones been done before, but if not it might be a good debate.
i just finished watching a video by dennis prager that morals are only absolute if there is a god.
i would argue that even if there is no god morals are absolute.
to prove this notion, let's take the argument that murder is moral.
in order for murder to be moral, you must accept the fact that you can be murdered and it be a good thing.
but if its a good thing to murder you, its no longer murder, its euthanasia or assisted suicide or self defense, or something other than murder.
can anyone find a flaw with this?
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Re: are morals relative or absolute?

Postby KnightExemplar » Fri Mar 24, 2017 11:16 pm UTC

phillip1882 wrote:to prove this notion, let's take the argument that murder is moral.
in order for murder to be moral, you must accept the fact that you can be murdered and it be a good thing.
but if its a good thing to murder you, its no longer murder, its euthanasia or assisted suicide or self defense, or something other than murder.
can anyone find a flaw with this?


The primary problem here is that you have no argument to criticize. Within the realm of philosophy, there are very few "forms" of arguments that are considered valid, and you aren't making any argument I'm familiar with.

It seems like to me, that you're trying to create an argument by exhaustion, perhaps a form of Reductio Ad absurdum. However, this form of argument only works if you exhaustively prove that ALL "good murders" fall under the the category of "Euthanasia", "Assisted Suicide", or "Self Defense". This doesn't seem like an easy path to go.

Furthermore, you also have to prove that "Euthanasia" and "Assisted Suicide" are "good and moral". I'm familiar with arguments who claim otherwise (aka: it is never right to take a life, even your own)

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If you can get beyond that, I think I have a few counter-examples that would break your argument. For example, is it good and moral to murder Hitler during WW2, even if you were a German with Blond Hair and Blue Eyes (so there's absolutely no reason to argue for "self defense")?

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So long story short: formal logic is hard and philosophy sucks. It takes a lot of effort to do right :-( . If I were to try and interpret your argument attempt... it sounds like you're trying to create a Counterexample (ie: Moral Relativity doesn't exist. Suppose it does exist, here's a situation that proves it can't exist even if we assume it existed in the first place). I think you are doing fine through this, although I think its a very "aggressive approach".

Your subargument seem like its Reductio Ad Absurdum (ie: Murder is always wrong. Because every case where murder is good is a different situation!). But you're skimpy on the details, and don't really follow through all the way. Its hard to tell if you're making a circular argument fallacy or if you're just making an incomplete argument... but IMO, it isn't working out.
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Re: are morals relative or absolute?

Postby phillip1882 » Sat Mar 25, 2017 1:29 am UTC

I'd definitely say my argument is incomplete and non rigorous, my point was not so much to form a thorough argument, but to give a general outline of one. as for the Hitler argument, killing Hitler wouldn't have changed the Third Reich, someone else would simply taken his place, though admittedly perhaps someone less competent.
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Re: are morals relative or absolute?

Postby chridd » Mon Mar 27, 2017 7:28 pm UTC

phillip1882 wrote:to prove this notion, let's take the argument that murder is moral.
in order for murder to be moral, you must accept the fact that you can be murdered and it be a good thing.
but if its a good thing to murder you, its no longer murder, its euthanasia or assisted suicide or self defense, or something other than murder.
can anyone find a flaw with this?
How do you define "murder"?
It's entirely possible to define "murder" in terms of morality (something along the lines of "killing someone in a way that is morally wrong"), and it kind of looks like that's the sort of definition you're using here. There's nothing wrong with defining "murder" this way (it fits at least my intuition of what "murder" means, and I'd say it should be defined this way), but if you use such a definition, then "murder is always immoral" isn't a good argument for whether morality is relative, because it's basically saying "an action that is both killing and immoral, is immoral" (which is true regardless of whether morality is relative). In this case, if morality is relative, then what is and isn't murder is also relative.
(It also could be that morality is relative for some actions but not others; perhaps whether murder is moral is absolute, but whether, say, lying is moral is relative.)

Also, how are you defining "absolute" and "relative"?
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Re: are morals relative or absolute?

Postby Whizbang » Mon Mar 27, 2017 7:40 pm UTC

Morals are absolutely relative.

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Re: are morals relative or absolute?

Postby phillip1882 » Tue Mar 28, 2017 2:15 pm UTC

i define murder as the premeditated intent to kill, without personal danger to oneself, and then executing that action.
i define absolute as it can be applied everywhere and in all situations.
i define relative as it can't be applied everywhere and in all situations.
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Re: are morals relative or absolute?

Postby KnightExemplar » Tue Mar 28, 2017 6:19 pm UTC

phillip1882 wrote:i define murder as the premeditated intent to kill, without personal danger to oneself, and then executing that action.
i define absolute as it can be applied everywhere and in all situations.
i define relative as it can't be applied everywhere and in all situations.


Then every soldier is immoral in every situation. Soldiers don't just plan to kill, they spend months training themselves to become effective killers. They are then placed in dangerous situations, often offensive ones. Ex: was the killing of Osama Bin Laden moral? IMO, the issue of soldier morality is mostly left outside the hands of the individual soldiers. Its the leaders who define the morality, and the soldier does not necessarily choose his leaders or his orders.

SWAT team cops would be an edge case as well. Since there is no personal danger to themselves: it is the job requirements that force them to dangerous situations where they have to plan to kill people. Ex: a hostage negotiation goes south, so they kill the criminal to save the hostage.

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How would you plan to take out a criminal who takes hostages? The most effective methodology is a sniper to the face. Bloody, and its premeditated murder by every definition. But its how things are done (at least, once the negotiations fail)
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Re: are morals relative or absolute?

Postby chridd » Thu Mar 30, 2017 7:29 pm UTC

phillip1882 wrote:i define absolute as it can be applied everywhere and in all situations.
i define relative as it can't be applied everywhere and in all situations.
There are definitely things that are morally acceptable in some situations but not others. For example, consider the action of pulling your index finger towards yourself. If you're alone, holding nothing, then it clearly is morally acceptable. If you're holding a loaded gun, which is pointing at a clearly-innocent person who is not a threat to you and doesn't want to die, then it clearly is morally wrong. (You could argue that these are different actions, but we consider them different actions because the things different about them are morally relevant.)

On the other hand, if it's possible for some actions to be morally good and others to be morally bad, then it's clearly possible to define a type of action that is always good or always bad—but the definition of the action might be super complex with lots of exceptions ("it is wrong to kill another person except in self-defense, or as part of a war, or when it's a death penalty, or when the person hasn't been born yet, or when the person wants to die, or ..."), or super specific ("killing John on January 23, 1945 at Somespecificplace is always wrong"), or be about things other than the action itself ("performing an action that harms people when there's a clear possible action that does not cause harm is always wrong"; "breaking criminal law is always wrong").

And if you consider something like "killing John on January 23, 1945 at Somespecificplace is always wrong" to not apply in all situations (it's always true, but usually not relevant), then there are no rules that apply to all situations. E.g., "don't murder" doesn't apply in situations where there's no one around to murder or you don't have the means to murder. Or maybe you could, but then what about morals about when it's okay to declare war (which won't apply to people without significant political power)?
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Re: are morals relative or absolute?

Postby somitomi » Mon Apr 17, 2017 3:46 pm UTC

I'm going to go with relative, because it is a human construct and changes a lot as a result. Different individuals or groups can have different ideas about what is and what isn't moral, even the same group's idea can change over time.
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Re: are morals relative or absolute?

Postby ucim » Thu Apr 20, 2017 3:10 am UTC

phillip1882 wrote:...and it be a good thing...
Good for who?

That's the problem with absolute morality. I'll go with relative.

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Re: are morals relative or absolute?

Postby Whizbang » Thu Apr 20, 2017 11:18 am UTC

Morals are relatively absolute.

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Re: are morals relative or absolute?

Postby karhell » Thu Apr 20, 2017 12:58 pm UTC

Absolutes are morally relative.

somitomi wrote:I'm going to go with relative, because it is a human construct and changes a lot as a result. Different individuals or groups can have different ideas about what is and what isn't moral, even the same group's idea can change over time.
I agree completely.
For a somewhat recent example, have a look at LGBT people and how society perceives them. Something that was (usually) a social taboo 30 years back is becoming increasingly accepted as legitimate and moral (not quite there, yet, but progress is being made).
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Re: are morals relative or absolute?

Postby ucim » Thu Apr 20, 2017 11:24 pm UTC

karhell wrote:Something that was (usually) a social taboo 30 years back is becoming increasingly accepted as legitimate and moral (not quite there, yet, but progress is being made).
That's not an argument that morals are not absolute. It could be said that {whatever} was always moral (or immoral), but people did not recognize it as such. See also: slavery. The argument there to be made is that slavery is always immoral, but people then didn't know that they were being immoral (or knew but didn't care), neither of which makes an action moral (if absolute morality exists).

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Re: are morals relative or absolute?

Postby karhell » Fri Apr 21, 2017 7:39 am UTC

ucim wrote:
karhell wrote:Something that was (usually) a social taboo 30 years back is becoming increasingly accepted as legitimate and moral (not quite there, yet, but progress is being made).
That's not an argument that morals are not absolute. It could be said that {whatever} was always moral (or immoral), but people did not recognize it as such. See also: slavery. The argument there to be made is that slavery is always immoral, but people then didn't know that they were being immoral (or knew but didn't care), neither of which makes an action moral (if absolute morality exists).

Jose

Well, no. {whatever} was always (im)moral to us, which is the core of my argument (though I may have failed to convey that properly).
If the people of the past didn't know they were being immoral, that means (IMO, anyway) that from their point of view, they were perfectly moral and justified in their actions. Hence the relativity of morals (or subjectivity, should I say).
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Re: are morals relative or absolute?

Postby ucim » Fri Apr 21, 2017 2:44 pm UTC

karhell wrote:If the people of the past didn't know they were being immoral, that means (IMO, anyway) that from their point of view, they were perfectly moral and justified in their actions.
You're assuming the consequent. Your statements are consistent with relative morality (do not disprove it), but they do not lead to (prove) relative morality, because you're already there. It's implicit in the setup.

If there were an absolute morality, then it's quite possible that that from their point of view, they were perfectly moral and justified in their actions, but they were wrong about it. That's the whole point of it.

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Re: are morals relative or absolute?

Postby EvanED » Fri Apr 21, 2017 3:14 pm UTC

ucim wrote:It could be said that {whatever} was always moral (or immoral), but people did not recognize it as such.
I'd argue that absolute morality also isn't inconsistent with changing morality.

Suppose God exists, and 2000 years ago said "X is immoral." That's pretty clearly absolute. But he could show up tomorrow and say "hey, I'm changing the rules; X is totally fine now." Also absolute, but it doesn't change that X was immoral for 2000 years, or make either one relative.

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Re: are morals relative or absolute?

Postby Whizbang » Fri Apr 21, 2017 3:19 pm UTC

False.

God saying something is immoral doesn't make it absolute. That just means morals are relative to God's perspective. To be absolute something would have to be moral or immoral regardless of any agent's say in the matter, as highlighted in the age-old conundrum "Is it moral because God says so, or does God say so because it is moral?" If the first, then Might Makes Right. And we all got our MMR vaccine as children.

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Re: are morals relative or absolute?

Postby KnightExemplar » Fri Apr 21, 2017 4:28 pm UTC

Whizbang wrote:False.

God saying something is immoral doesn't make it absolute. That just means morals are relative to God's perspective. To be absolute something would have to be moral or immoral regardless of any agent's say in the matter, as highlighted in the age-old conundrum "Is it moral because God says so, or does God say so because it is moral?" If the first, then Might Makes Right. And we all got our MMR vaccine as children.


Depends. Its only MMR if God is doing it as part of omnipotence.

If God knows something to be absolutely moral through omniscience, then it probably isn't really MMR. Its the knowledge of an all-knowing God and he's sharing the knowledge with us. Although the concept of something being "morally absolute" but changing through time seems a bit of a contradiction to me... but I can't really make an argument one way or the other.
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Re: are morals relative or absolute?

Postby Whizbang » Fri Apr 21, 2017 5:15 pm UTC

You're arguing my case for me. If he says it because his knowledge level is over 9000 and he can say with certainty that X is im/moral, then it falls under the category of "God says it because it is moral" and not under "It is moral because God says so".

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Re: are morals relative or absolute?

Postby KnightExemplar » Fri Apr 21, 2017 5:37 pm UTC

Whizbang wrote:You're arguing my case for me. If he says it because his knowledge level is over 9000 and he can say with certainty that X is im/moral, then it falls under the category of "God says it because it is moral" and not under "It is moral because God says so".


Lets imagine a hypothetical Diety who is mortal (not Omnipotent) but has the gift of Omniscience. Or perhaps if its easier to think about... imagine a mortal being who has the gift of Omniscience but is otherwise mortal like you or me. An "Oracle" if you will.

If the omniscient oracle says "X is moral", but we don't like him for whatever reason... we can kill him and get along with our lives. Clearly, this is not a "Might makes right" scenario.

--------

I guess what I'm saying is... I think you got your two scenarios mixed up with regards to Might-makes-right. MMR is from an Omnipotent Diety enforcing his will on the world. While an Omniscient Diety telling us the truth is NOT MMR.
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Re: are morals relative or absolute?

Postby ucim » Sat Apr 22, 2017 3:50 am UTC

Either morality depends on {circumstances} or it doesn't. Being in {time period} is a circumstance. So, even if it's God who changes the rules, the fact that the rules change makes (that version of morality) relative.

If you mean something else by "absolute" then it is necessary to be explicit about this. IMEO, of course. :)

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