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Morality Discussion 2


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Just a friendly discussion about morals. Although I do advocate for a type of moral system, the goal of the topic will be to discuss the nature of morals themselves. So I will not be strongly advocating for a specific system. Voters can just vote based on who makes the best points about morality in general.

Round 1
Thank you to my many time opponent D&A for accepting this discussion.  I think your temperament and polarized belief from mine will make for a great discussion. 

So I'm just going to state what I think morality is and how we should handle it and we'll go from there. 

I think morality is the result of evolution and stems from mechanisms that we have in ourselves that cause us to act a certain way.  These actions seem to follow the same types of patterns that we would see in other mutations in humanity.  Morality seems to almost invariably have the goal of survival.  The other goal that seems to also be apparent is to weigh pain and pleasure.  

I think this makes morality objective in the sense that it stems from an objective source.  However, I acknowledge that some moral judgements are merely subjective even if some or all of it comes from the objective source. 

I don't think morals are universal, nor do I think they're absolute.  I think people can have different morals due to evolution giving them different genes and I think that every moral judgement is situational.  This means that one cannot absolutely say that X moral value is right or wrong.  But we can say that X moral situation is right or wrong.  

Do note that as part of my beliefs,  I do find these judgements to be arbitrary at the intrinsic level.  Morals seem to be strictly practical and axiomatic in nature and it seems that no amount of logic can justify it.  

This comes down to the Is/ought problem which we may or may not cover depending on how we present our methodology. 

In light of the is/ought problem, I have chosen to approach morality descriptively.  I don't make is/ought statements about morals, but rather is/will be statements which can be seen as justified or not depending on how you interpret the problem of induction.   I will note that people don't take the problem of induction as seriously as the is/ought problem. 

This is my ground work.  I encourage my opponent to not hand wave anything in this debate.  Not saying that you would, but our goal here is not to rebut, but to learn.  So our goal will be to chew on each others ideas and try to find the recipe to make them taste better. 

Your floor. 
Greetings, and thanks to Wrick-it-Ralph for this discussion. In this discussion I will avoid using the phrase "my opponent" because this isn't quite a formal debate. I wont need to block quote, at least too frequently either. I will try to be concise in my treatment of this topic as well. In going with the recipe analogy you have given, I think it is a good analogy, but I will try to throw my own ingredients in as well, and see if we don't burn the house down.

So what you have espoused Ralph, is a naturalistic, moral relativism. I think it would be a fair evaluation. I in turn espouse a Theistic moral absolutism. What recipe tastes the best? Well, let's dig into this.

For starters, because I do believe in moral absolutes, does not mean I preclude moral relatives from existing. Some things just depend. The example commonly used is the trolley car problem.  That does not mean all moral issues are relative however.

So, to briefly state it, if we take moral relativism to it's conclusion, we are left with, what I believe, to be moral absurdities. I also believe morality could not have come from naturalistic processes such as evolution or natural selection, I will explain why, but first, are there moral absolutes? Yes.

I think we can agree, that some things are just wrong, no matter the time, place, or circumstance.

I revert back to this analogy, but I think it is one that pretty much proves my point, or leaves the relativist in a reductio ad absurdum.

If a society of Joseph Mengele's existed, where torturing innocent children for fun was a pastime as common as watching a football game, would the actions of that society be absolutely wrong?

Let's say I was a slave owner (slavery is wrong to begin with) but let's say for this discussion, I told my slave to walk to the end of field and pick me a berry from the bush about a 100 yards away, and bring it back to me. My slave obeyed, and walked 200 yards total to bring me a single berry. Let's say I said "Good, now bring me another one until there are no berries left on that bush, but bring me one at a time."

I am torturing my slave, not because I need berries one at a time from 100 yards away. I am doing this simply because I want to watch my slave suffer. Would this type of action be absolutely morally wrong?

In other words, is it absolutely wrong to torture children for enjoyment? Or watch a slave suffer with unreasonable labor simply for sport? I think we can only conclude yes.

I also think there are things in morality that blatantly contradict the goals of evolution. Think about this. My goal in evolution is to survive, and I survive by passing along my genes

What about rape? My goal is pass along my genes from a biological standpoint. In a society where morality evolved, I cannot think of one thing wrong with raping someone. I am simply doing what my biological impulses tell me, and I am ensuring the spreading of my genes. How my victim feels in that case is not relevant. Our modern societies may look down on the act, but how they feel does not trump my need to reproduce. I do not believe (let's say) in the societal construct of marriage or partnership. I find someone with good genes, and I pass mine along, regardless of how they feel. Evolution has given me the physical superiority to do this. And biology tells me I'm justified.

Yet we ***know*** rape is absolutely wrong. Again, morality contradicting biology.

One final analogy, we see cannibalism in the animal kingdom all the time. What would be wrong with eating other humans if there were no transcendent moral that was not tied to our evolutionary goals? In times where food may be scarce, it makes evolutionary sense for me to occasionally chow down on the Millers across the plain.

Yet canabalism rightly horrifies us, because we have a human dignity that surpasses the animal kingdom, and biology with it's is not outght

I think it is apparent, at least from my view, there are certain things which are always wrong, no matter what, and there are characteristics of human ethical codes which often fly in the face of our biology. Moral absolutism+ philosophical discussions, and BAM, dinner is served.

Thanks guys, your floor.
Round 2
You bring up some good points.  Let's bake this cake now. 

I don't support moral relativism because it has problems as you have said.  But my position is close to that. 

I support moral particularism.  Which is to say that morals are not absolute. It's probably a small distinction, but I make it because I don't go as far as the moral subjectivity advocates go. 

So here's the way I look at it. 

Rape is wrong 99.999999999% of the time because it falls higher on the scale of moral axioms.  

I think what humans do is tacitly embrace a set of de facto absolutes.  This is to say that people treat morals as being absolute for practical purposes because it helps them survive better.  

If I acknowledge the fact that morals are not absolute, then I also must also acknowledge that I can never justify any moral position logically.  

However, I need morals to function pragmatically in reality, so I do not have this luxury. 

Therefore, I am forced to treat them as absolute during the 99.999999% of time that they work and only in that moment that they fail do I apply moral particularism.  

Do note that I don't take on de facto absolutes because I think they're true.  I do it because it's pragmatic and I am forced to due to my inability to take in all the information universe simultaneously. 

No I so believe in a type of absolute.  I believe that a moral situation can be judged as 100% right or wrong assume we know enough about it.  This is where I differ from the relativist.  The relativist would say that it's only moral because of the axioms of that situation.  I would argue that those axioms couldn't have been otherwise in that situation. 

So I think the reason that rape seems to always be wrong is because it falls higher on the hierarchy of axioms.  Pain/Pleasure and Life/Death seem to be the most popular and abundant axioms in society.  Rape violates this and therefore it can never be morally correct unless the act of raping somehow stops you from committing an even more immoral act in the process. 

Just to be clear, I don't think a real world situation could exist where rape is moral.  I think it can only happen hypothetically.  Not because it's impossible to have happen, but rather because our moral axioms will always steer us away from such situations.  So functionally speaking.  The Rape Moral will most likely be a de facto absolute that one would never have to address as a particular. 

onto the evolution side. 

I've heard what you said about evolution from other people.   This "ingredient"  makes sense if you're assuming that evolution has the goal of making us moral.  Sadly, this is not the case. 

You might have heard before that evolution has no goal.  This is true.  Evolution doesn't care if we're raping people.  Sad but true.  Evolution is just a broad term for gene mutations mixed with environmental factors (natural selection)

So the fact that morals are not universal is actually supported by evolution in my opinion. 

For instance, if we live in a world where everybody gets their morals from the same source.  Then at the very least, we should all have the same axioms across the board.  Even if we interpret them differently.  As you've rightly pointed out, this is not the case.  Some people have axioms that seem immoral to us but moral to them.  But when you consider that evolution has random mutations, this actually makes sense. 

No matter how strong the moral genes that keep us alive are, there is always a chance that a person with normal moral axioms will produce a child with abnormal moral axioms.  Since this always stands a chance of happening, this means that no amount of evolution can ever lead to permanently universal morality.  It can only lead to a majority which is what we see in society. 

In your slave analogy, I would agree that the slave is being tortured.  I would also agree that it's wrong because of the particulars.  Because the person is doing it for their enjoyment of torture, Because the person is a poorly treated slave who is being tortured much to their dismay, all the particulars match up and I'm not even sure there's a reason to defect from de facto absolutes from here.  Owning people is generally wrong.  There could hypothetically be cases where it's not wrong, although such examples likely wouldn't happen in a practical sense.  But let's say that we live in a world where there is no money and food is a problem.  Let's say that there is no laws in the land either to resolve civil disputes and lets say that for some strange reason, the only thing that people respect is some kind of primitive property law.  So in this case, there could be times that it is moral to own a slave. 

One more simple example would be living in biblical times and buying a slave to save them from slavery.  Ironic, but it actually is not immoral.  If I technically own them, but never abuse the power and let the "slave" live any life they choose, then I am not violating any of their human rights.  Because of the law of the land, my slave would still have to live with me to keep up appearances because if I was simply to free them, then they could easily get enslaved by somebody more malevolent. 

So in this case.  I am making a person a slave to protect them.  I am not hurting them nor am I using them for labor nor am I controlling them in any way.  

It's the equivalent of marrying somebody to get them out of a dangerous country.  I'm just taking advantage of the laws of the land to do the most good possible with the crappy hand that we've all been dealt. 

With rape, I don't see anything like this, but I think that's because rape violates one of the higher morals which brings me to my secret next point ;) 

There may be at least one moral absolute.  I cannot conclude this with confidence, but theoretically, if there is even one absolute moral value, then that means there's at least one absolute axiom.  There could be more, but we'd be pushing our luck to suggest it. 

Pain/Pleasure or life/death seem like the best candidates for this absolute, but like I said, we have no way of knowing.  It could be the case that all morals are actually absolute, but there is a methodology that allows absolute morals to be handled in a particular or relative manner.  This is all hypothetical. 

Now back to evolution.  It actually turns out that cannibalism and rape are actually punished by evolution.  Cannibalism is the easy one to debunk because it gives you a disease that kills you.  This is obviously in line with evolution.  Rape is more subtle, but one reason it fails in evolution is because of inbreeding.  Obviously not every rape is a case of inbreeding, but more of them fit this than any human would emotionally care to admit.  (We are frail beings after all)

Also, rape causes harm which at a primitive time, would have been met with tribal violence to check it.  So this is how rape would have been regulated in early times.  Do note that the rape gene is far less common and does not produce offspring with as much solidarity because rapist animals are much less likely to produce offspring because unwilling recipients don't have the biological triggers that help the sperm along like in consensual sex. 

Lastly, it makes sense that rape is still a problem in modern society because of previous points I have made and the fact that we don't kill rapists.  We just put them in jail for about 5 or 10 years which gives each rapists a handful of chances to keep spreading their genes. 

In regards to what you said about morality evolving,  I'd like to be clear that I don't think our biological cues are automatically virtuous simply because they promote human survival.  Humans simply have a bias towards it because we like our survival.  There's nothing intrinsically right or wrong about it in my opinion.  

This is my grand caveat.  We have to humble ourselves and realize that morality was literally made for us and acknowledge that we a nothing more than mere ants on the cosmic anthill.  Our morality is a tool and we have to treat it as having imperfections like every other tool. 

I await your thoughts.  Do not hesitate to quote if it helps you make good points. 

I can't wait to see what this cake turns out like :) 

Thank you of course for your in depth reply. I am definitely enjoying the baking process. I think we are still a little raw in the middle, but the edges are browning nicely.

Ralph, I think you are a moral absolutist in denial. ;)

If I may:

"Just to be clear, I don't think a real world situation could exist where rape is moral."

Would that not mean then, in the real world rape is wrong 100 percent of the time? Wouldn't that be a moral absolute? I think you and I agree more than not.

You also stated:

" Because the person is doing it for their enjoyment of torture, Because the person is a poorly treated slave who is being tortured much to their dismay, all the particulars match up and I'm not even sure there's a reason to defect from de facto absolutes from here."

Again, I think you and I agree that these are both instances of absolute wrong.

Moving on to evolution

Just to clarify, I don't believe evolution has the goal to make us moral, perhaps I didn't articulate this well enough. I believe if we go on the evolutionary model, we see that things that are conducive to our survival are favored above anything else. So if this was the case, and our morality was derived from evolutionary processes, we would be hard pressed to explain things that are both immoral and are conducive to our survival at the same time. Rape for instance.

To dig a bit deeper into this, you stated:

Now back to evolution.  It actually turns out that cannibalism and rape are actually punished by evolution.  Cannibalism is the easy one to debunk because it gives you a disease that kills you.  This is obviously in line with evolution.  Rape is more subtle, but one reason it fails in evolution is because of inbreeding.  Obviously not every rape is a case of inbreeding, but more of them fit this than any human would emotionally care to admit.  (We are frail beings after all) "

So, firstly, if we go on this model, I think, as far as rape goes, if what you said was true, can we really say rape is immoral? Wouldn't it be more correct to say rape is not desirable? Wouldn't, if this was true, it be more correct in saying in some instances rape could yield results that are not favorable? The same could be true about consensual sex. I think if we are going to go with this, we would need something to bridge the gap between not favorable because of possible negative genetic outcomes, to moral atrocity.

In regards to cannibalism, if one engages in that practice for a prolonged period of time, their chances of contracting a prion disease dramatically increase. Obviously contracting a prion disease is not favorable, however, can cannibalism be called wrong in this instance? Again, we have a similar scenario to rape. Although contracting a disease is not favorable from an evolutionary standpoint, I could contract a disease by a variety of things that are not immoral. So how do we go from "this is not favorable genetically speaking" to no, this is morally wrong?

How do we go from "evolution will punish that" to "that is morally wrong?" Evolution and natural selection would have punished those with poor vision or weak leg muscles, or having abnormal hemoglobin which causes low oxygen levels. Those things are not morally wrong though.

In regards to my slave analogy, yes, I could fathom a situation where owning a person could be employed to their benefit, as in the example you gave. However, as we both agree, torturing the slave is wrong, and theres no need to, as you put it, defect from de facto absolutes.

The same with children. Suppose I had 15 children, but one of them was genetically defective. It wouldn't hurt my genes or tribe to torture the defective child. Why should I not? It wouldn't make a difference either way.

This is the point I'm trying to drive home,  that ultimately, what is right and moral transcends biology and genetics.

That really is my moral epistemology. I believe moral are transcendent in nature, which is why I can say with confidence they can most certainly be absolute.

I think the problem arises when we start looking to the natural world for explanations of why things "ought" not to be done, or ought to be done. I don't think nature can always satisfactorily explain this. I would dare say a lot of the time nature cannot explain these things.

Hopefully I'm making sense.

Thanks, your floor.
Round 3
Well then, you've brought up some good points.  I think what I've drawn from your last statement is that we need to pin down what I mean when I say morals come from evolution. 

So first off, I don't think everything that comes out of natural selection is something that results in a moral.  I don't think evolution invented morals per say.  I also don't think that there is an intrinsic right and wrong.  That is to say it's not transcendent 

So my problem with calling morals absolute is that they contradict each other sometimes.  For instance, My right to survive might contradict somebody else's if they try to kill me, then based on our understanding of morality, I am allowed to violate that person's right to life in order to save mine.  

So while I could picture a moral being the next best thing to absolute, I think the title of truly absolute does not apply.  

In fact, most morals can contradict themselves as far as I can tell.  I think that's because each moral can be trumped by another moral and morals can't predict external factors.  

So on my point of not needing the de facto absolute, I will start with clarification and then an explanation.  So when I say de facto.  I mean that I don't believe it's absolute, but due to practical necessity, I must act as if it is absolute because to do otherwise would render moral judgements completely useless. 

As for an explanation as to why I made that comment about not needing to stray from the de facto.  I'll use an analogy. 

So let's say we got two students, one is using math and the other is using smath (smath is like normal math, except whenever the number 9872347573217237 is used in the equation, the answer is always 5)   Now both subjects have been doing their respective math's for years.  From an outsider perspective, both of them would look at math.  The only way for them to know the difference is for the aforementioned number to come up in an equation.  Since this number is exceedingly rare, it is likely the case that nobody will every know that subject number two is using smath.  

This is known as the famous rule following paradox.  Which states that we can never know if somebody is following the rules correctly because there are infinitely many contingencies that the person could have that could be against the rules of the norm.  

This is how I see rape.  Hypothetically, there is some crazy situation in which raping somebody would be the only moral decision.  This would likely be the case because of the need to appeal to a higher moral.  But for there to be a higher moral, there needs to be a moral that is not absolute.  

Essentially, this crazy scenario will likely never play out in reality.  So for all intents and purposes, it will always likely appear that rape is an absolute, but that one situation could still happen. The odds are simply low because other moral judgements will probably resolve the issue before it leads up to the strange rape scenario.  

Take the trolley problem for instance.  In real life, there would be warning signs of the scenario and the people would likely vacate the track in time due to their moral need to survive.  so while the problem is valid, it will likely never happen. (at least not very many times.)

Now onto what I think morality is.  I think morality is something we invented, just like math, that is used to explain something that we experience on an ontological level.  That is to say that we can sense our biological cues and combine them objectively with external information and we end up with moral judgements. 

The thing to note here is that a moral judgement is only right or wrong based on it's own standards.  This is much like moral relativism, except I think the standard is ingrained within us.  

So most people who hold this belief might say "These moral axioms work therefore we ought to use them"  Instead, I say "We have no choice to have the axioms we have, so we will necessarily follow them"

So in a nutshell.  I think of morals as valid propositions that have an objectively correct answer, but the premises are assumed.  This means that they cannot be justified logically. 

But surely logic isn't all that matters right?  What good is knowledge if we don't use it in the real world?  I think this is why ought statements exist.  I think that humans have a need to be practical and it's inevitable for us to do so.  

So since we're stuck with these morals regardless of how logical they may or may not be, we might as well use them to the best of our abilities. 

This is essentially my moral foundation.  Just know that when I say something is right or wrong.  It is only within the moral standards that we have.  

Now I'm not saying morality is perfect.   You made a comment about evolution producing counterintuitive genes.  (ones that both seem immoral and conducive to survival)   I would first argue that rape and cannibalism are not conducive to survival.  Cannibalism does indeed feed you, but it also requires you to sacrifice some of your species.  So in order to get offspring, you'd have to sacrifice potentially dozens of your own species to do it.  Maybe even more depending on how often you do it.  Remember that evolution doesn't do anything on the individual level.  Evolution only comes into play during the reproduction method and a gene is selected.  Everything hinges on how that gene works in the external world. 

As for rape.  Rape might give one a way to spread their seed, but they will be doing it to an unwilling recipient.  This makes conception less likely to happen and also means that the rapist will be shunned by the group since evolutionary group behaviors don't see harm as beneficial.  It could be the case that rape is ultimately conducive to survival.  But ultimately, it is inferior to other genes.  It's not enough for the gene to be beneficial in evolution.  The gene must also compete with other beneficial genes to win out.  Even if it doesn't, it could still maintain a small populace and never thrive beyond that.  This is exactly what we see with rapists.  Also note that while a rapist might spread their gene, they could also not spread their gene and produce a baby with more beneficial genes through mutation. 

You made a comment about torturing a genetically deformed baby.  This argument has a major hole in it.  Evolution doesn't care if a person is deformed nor does it punish people for being immoral per se.  It punishes those genes that are not beneficial are that lose out in competition.  So the deformed child being tortured isn't wrong because people want the best genes.  It's wrong because our cues tell us that hurting humans is wrong and your cue doesn't know or care about what genes the person has.  They can't tell the difference.  Do note that evolution isn't a perfect moral system.  

It's actually moral like a moral election.  All of the morals get thrown into the gene pool.  The ones that are objectively best at survival will win out (even the ones that humans find immoral)   and the weaker ones will be weened out.   Now you might ask "well if evolution is bolstering immoral things too, then why don't we think they're moral"  the answer is that the genes don't work with each other like that.  This actually explains moral contradictions.  The gene that makes me want to live was probably not made at the same time as the gene that doesn't want me to suffer.  These gene's were made randomly and didn't have each other in mind.  This is why we get people with different moral beliefs.  (well  that and subjectivity.)

You made a comment about nature not explaining things.  We have to understand that nature doesn't care about us nor does it care if we understand it.  Nature is extremely complicated yet simple at the same time.  Nature isn't good or bad.  It just is.   This might just be our worldviews.  But when I look at nature and morality.  They seem to overlap.  Not only does nature explain why we have morals.  But it also explains why they don't match each other.  Subjectivity doesn't explain it properly.  If morals were just opinions, then only the greediest morals would win out.  But this is not what we see.  We see greed on the genetic level instead.  Greed for the survival of humanity.   

I think another big problem is that we can't truly tell anyone what "ought" to be done and have it be justified.  I think ought is the equivalent of saying "this is how I would do things if I were in your shoes."

I think that the only way to understand morality is to watch it and describe it and then make the best decisions that you possibly can.  

So to summarize. 

I think morality was invented by humans to explain our feelings the same way math was invented to explain... math things. 

I think a moral cannot be absolute, but definitely could be as close to absolute as possible. 

I think that SOME morals could be absolute, especially if it was only one.  This is because I think every moral starts out absolute from a biological sense but can contradicted itself (not absolute by default)  or a new moral could unexpectedly evolve and it happens to contradict an old one.  (not absolute by contingency.)

You brought up some good points and I can tell that you're practical in your application of morals and that's a good thing.  However, I think that it's necessary for us to take a step back and look at the meta line of the argument and find out what drives our morals and how we can interpret them better.

Wrick it Ralph has chosen to concede in the comment section. If he wishes to continue I will more than happy to do so. It's been a pleasure.

Round 4
Round 5