Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Morality! What's the Hangup?

First I would like to apologize for my absence from the blogsphere the last week plus. I've been extremely busy and haven't had the time to write or even think much. For now I'll just put up some random stuff that's been in my head, and I hope to post something more coherent in the coming days.

As the title of the post suggests, I want to know why people who have otherwise renounced religion and the belief that life has meaning (or at least recognize that there is no convincing reason to think it has one), continue to have this hangup when it comes to morality. The most annoying manifestation of this is arguments against the Torah because of its failing to pass our moral scrutiny. Fallacious arguments rub me the wrong way, and none is more fallacious than this. By whose standards of morality are we judging the Torah? By modern standards, which are subject to change just as those of 1,000 BC and 1,000 AD changed to become what we recognize today as western morals. I assume the reader recognizes that barring divine instruction, morals are inherently subjective. Why then do people, who are relatively thought out and don't argue logically indefensible positions, continue to make this logically unjustifiable argument over and over again. Is the conception of core morality so ingrained in us that even when we try considering its merits in a detached manner, we seem to be unable to do so?

Vus Nuch. I think there is gotta be some kind of satirical representation of the debacle of the "big three." Maybe the "Three Little Pigs" but that's not a good comparison on two counts: 1) Can we really credit Ford with that much forethought? 2) Ford didn't help anyone, and can a corporation ever be compared to a little pig fighting a wolf?
Maybe the "Three Stooges"? Their financial management definitely qualifies. Anyway that's that for now, hope to keep them coming on a more regular basis.

12 comments:

eitz hadaas said...

Acher, you said the answer yourself. By pointing out the relativism of morality, one gets to point to the absurdity of an eternal code of morals written in a book thousands of years ago.

Now, if the document is vague than it might stand a chance (like, say, the constitution), however critics like to point to the particulars of biblical conduct to prove, not that it is wrong about it's morals but, wrong as a choice of time defying guide book to ethics. Because ethics change, at least the particulars do. It's not to criticize the book, it's to criticize people's use of it.

You said it, Acher, morals are relative; and so are texts.

lostgod said...

>I want to know why people who have otherwise renounced religion and the belief that life has meaning (or at least recognize that there is no convincing reason to think it has one), continue to have this hangup when it comes to morality.

I think that for me a distinction needs to be made. There is a difference between saying 'life has no meaning,' to 'life has no meaning outside of itself.' I think that if you believe that there is an intrinsic value to being alive, separate from any imaginary rewards, then there can be definitive shades of morality. (just to be clear, I'm talking about people who are born, not making an anti-choice argument)

Shtreimel said...

Acher,
EH, said it best, although, frankly, even the constitution didn't have it totally right by our standards – which is the reason it is amended from time to time. And that is the argument.

(If you're already apologizing after a few weeks I cannot imagine how little you're gonna write in a year! Keep it up man.)

Acher said...

I'm not sure I made myself clear enough. The problem is not criticism of using the Torah as a modern code of ethics. It's arguments that try to show that it's wrong and can't be divine because of its incompatibility with our standards. That's what rubs me the wrong way. If God said do it's right by definition. The question is: did he say it or not. Not if you like it, because there is no standard by which to judge God.

Lostgod,

Even admitting to your proposition that being alive is something worth striving for in it of itself, that still would not be a basis enough o judge God's rules. This is even if we allow for the possibility that God may be evil, but since he claims not to be, I think the best bet is to trust his omniscience. That being said, I don't think there is an 'intrinsic' value to being alive. It's just an evolutionary impulse necessary for survival. In fact, I challenge anyone to put forth a convincing argument for any intrinsic value whatsoever. That's really the essence of my post. These mythical things don't exist for people like us (that's what I think should follow logically given other positions espoused).

Orthoprax said...

Acher,

"I assume the reader recognizes that barring divine instruction, morals are inherently subjective."

I find such a statement to be deeply flawed. Morals are made in response to human nature and the human condition - objective facts. People may disagree on methods and mechanisms but the goals are always to do what is in the best interests of man. And unless you believe all interests are equally rational and valid, i.e. to eat an apple is as valid a choice as is swallowing a gallon on bleach, then you must recognize a hierarchy of objectively correct decisions: that some acts, some moral codes, make more sense than others. The value of human life makes sense whereas it's non-value is self-defeating.

With that recognition and the assumed goal that rules be made to lead to the best interests of man then it becomes potentially able to be studied scientifically - objectively. Does a given moral in a given society lead to the wellbeing of man in that society? By the mere process of evolution of human civilization, we have already learned how a great deal of once-idealized moral behavior is in fact counterproductive.


With that said, I agree with your assessment that people who believe in moral relativity haven't a logical leg to stand on to criticize any immoral behavior or ethical code.

David said...

I'm with Orthoprax. I don't think morality is completely subjective-- it's hard to imagine a successful society that didn't have some rules about not stealing and murdering...

Baal Habos said...

> it's hard to imagine a successful society that didn't have some rules about not stealing and murdering...

Exactly. So from an evolutionary perspective, societies that develop "healthy" morals will survive.

Acher, I'm with you.

Acher said...

Orthoprax,

Again sorry for the delayed response.

By morals I refer to any constraints set by society and/or some authority on man's natural selfish impulses. To simply follow one's instinct is not a matter of deliberation, morals as a set of rules are.
Having said that, I agree that one may study one set of rules as opposed to another, and judging by given criteria, conclude that one set of morals achieves their goal better than others. But this should still have no bearing on the divinity of a given set of morals. Even if we were to assume as a matter of fact that modern morals are more constructive for man's well being than the Torah's morals, this does not in any way preclude the Torah's divinity. God could have a rather different criterion of what's good or bad for man, which is not compatible with our understanding. I say this because even if you're right in claiming that some morals can be objectively superior to others, you're using man's well being only in a limited sense. God may be privy to more information than we are. Therefore this is not a case of a supposed divine dictum contradicting reality.

The previous paragraph assumes that some goals are intrinsically superior to others, and even though, God may have a rather different conception of the goals, because of his omniscience. I do again challenge anyone to build a convincing case for any and I mean any goal or value which is intrinsically better than any other. This is really the crux of the matter for me. I hope to elaborate on this in a coming post.

Orthoprax said...

Acher,

"I say this because even if you're right in claiming that some morals can be objectively superior to others, you're using man's well being only in a limited sense. God may be privy to more information than we are. Therefore this is not a case of a supposed divine dictum contradicting reality."

Sure, if one wants to rely on faith-based assumptions about the human good then one can end up in all sorts of crazy places.

However, if we are operating by methods of reason then we can only use man's wellbeing in ways we understand or reasonably extrapolate. Indeed, I'm not even setting specific ideals for what is ultimately best for man - I'm setting the lowest bars showing what is BAD for man. Those are the lines which we ought not cross. The lowest bars are those which we are already quite familiar with as a species.

"I do again challenge anyone to build a convincing case for any and I mean any goal or value which is intrinsically better than any other. This is really the crux of the matter for me."

Human good is the axiom of moral values. As an axiom it is not demonstrable or provable, especially not across the is-ought chasm. And as an axiom it is as self-evidently true as any other axiom of fact understood through human perception.

Now, could our models of human good be mistaken in some way - sure, even Euclidean geometry has been found to not hold accurate in all situations - but it's an excellent starting point, and has been demonstrably successful.

Since we all live together and therefore require a guide on behavior, how do you suggest we organize ourselves if not based on reason and the virtual unanimity of certain perceived moral goals?

Acher said...

Orthoprax,

Let's go back and start from the beginning. My problem initially is with those who try to dispute the Torah's divinity with the following: The Torah can't be divine because its moral standards go against our conceptions of morality, which are based on what we perceive to be man's well being. The problem I raised was one of logic, not of value judgments. Specifically what I'm saying is the following: those who pose this argument against the Torah, do not presuppose that there is no God, or that he doesn't communicate with man. If they would, this argument would be meaningless, as they are already precluding a divinely inspired document a priori. What the argument claims is that God couldn't have said something that is wrong. To which I'm saying, this is a fallacious argument because if you admit God's existence and his involvement in human affairs, you must admit that God may be privy to more information about what's good for you than you are. If a supposedly divine document contradicts an observed fact, one would be correct in using this as an argument against its divinity. A square has four sides whether God looks at it or man. But concerning value judgments, such as what's "good" for man, someone who does not preclude God's involvement in human affairs cannot disregard God's judgment in the matter.

As to what I suggest we do about organizing ourselves, and around what we should build our values if not around reason, I don't necessarily disagree. But it has nothing to do with the issue raised in the post.

Orthoprax said...

Acher,

As I said in my first response, I agree with your understanding of the incoherence of those who criticize the Torah an moral grounds.

What I disagreed with in your post was when you said that "barring divine instruction, morals are inherently subjective."

Acher said...

Orthoprax,

I'm Glad we cleared that up.
As to the inherent subjectivity of morals, I think that it follows by your own reasoning. Your criterion for the 'right' morals is whether they enhance man's wellbeing. You admit though that this is an axiom, something that can't be proven. Extending this to its logical conclusion, it's a value judgment, whether man's wellbeing is the 'correct/right' thing by which we may judge something else. 2 + 2 being 4 is not a matter of judgment, it's a fact, the numbers are just different ways to express the same thing. Same thing with any other observed phenomenon, the words used is just the agreed upon language expressing the given observation. Any statement with ought in it, is inherently subjective, unless we are dealing with divine instruction. And even then, maybe.