Should your ethics be justifiable with no appeal to authority?

Author: secularmerlin ,

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  • secularmerlin
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    I believe the answer is yes. If you believe that the world will be measurably better in some manner by adhering to some ethical tenets you should be able to explain how without pointing to any government, philosopher or god. Ethics like arguments should really stand on their own. 

    I invite further discussion especially if you disagree. 
  • MisterChris
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    --> @secularmerlin
    Morality itself is an appeal to an objective standard (i.e. authority).

    Let me quote a debate of mine on the subject: 
    P1: If morality is objective, then we can expect virtually universal use of a standard set of moral principles.

    P2: All humans use and appeal to this standard, if only subconsciously. 

    C1: Morality is objective.

    Let’s work through this. Whenever two men have a dispute, the one side tries to convince the other that they have violated a standard of good conduct that they both share, while the other argues that they have not violated such a standard. 

    If there were not a shared standard between them, such an argument would be pointless, as one could simply say “to hell with your standard.” If that were the case, we could not condemn genocide, rape, or any other cruel act because we could not compare it to a universal standard of good conduct. Similarly, you can not argue that a football player committed a foul if the rules of football are not universally true.

    Since we DO make disputes/condemnations, this universal standard must exist. Thus, we affirm daily that morality is indeed objective.
    TL;DR: Ethical claims can not stand on their own. They must relate to some objective standard. We can name this standard whatever we like but it exists all the same. 
  • secularmerlin
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    --> @MisterChris
    A commonly accepted standard is not what I mean when I say an authority. We could agree on wellbeing for example as the accepted standard but then any ethical statements must be measured against this standard without any appeals to any government, philosopher or god.
  • MisterChris
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    --> @secularmerlin
    So, you agree we have this commonly accepted standard. And sure, you could argue for well-being as the standard. But why is well-being the standard? Evolution? God? Society (i.e philosophers and government)? You could make the case for any of those, and that's where the argument truly falls apart. If there is authority in a standard created by people, the authority is truly vested in the people that created it. And if God or Evolution created this standard, then the authority is vested in God and biology respectively. Even if morality is a law of nature like gravity, the very act of appealing to it assumes it has authority. 

    So, what I said stands: morality itself is an appeal to authority
  • MisterChris
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    Let me also say, welcome back to the site. I see you haven't been very active for quite some time
  • secularmerlin
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    --> @MisterChris
    Ethical standards are by their very nature subjective. Let us assume that rather than appealing to their authority we are simply agreeing to their efficacy in improving the human condition (or whatever our stated goal is). If you are proposing an ought then that ought ought to accomplish whatever it is you are proposing is good.
  • simplybeourselves
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    It depends how broadly you define 'authority'.

    If reason itself is your authority then I certainly don't think that it is irrational to appeal to that authority.
  • Lemming
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    --> @secularmerlin
    I think yes, But I'll try answering no first, before why I think deeply about yes.

    I'll try answering no, using an analogy,
    A man only needs to know how his car works enough that it does not endanger him or others, and get's him from point A to point B.
    Relegating parts of the understanding to a car to mechanics, builders, lawmakers,
    Relieves the man from an investment of time and effort into the understanding of the car.
  • 3RU7AL
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    --> @MisterChris
    Morality itself is an appeal to an objective standard (i.e. authority).
    (1) PROTECT YOURSELF
    (2) PROTECT YOUR FAMILY
    (3) PROTECT YOUR PROPERTY

    This moral framework is an appeal to human instinct.

    It is not "objective".

    It is not "authoritative".
  • 3RU7AL
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    --> @MisterChris
    If there is authority in a standard created by people, the authority is truly vested in the people that created it.
    MORALITY is like LANGUAGE.

    What is the "best" LANGUAGE?
  • 3RU7AL
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    --> @Lemming
    A man only needs to know how his car works enough that it does not endanger him or others, and get's him from point A to point B.
    If "morality" is the "car" in this example, and the cars keep breaking down and crashing into people and destroying property, SHOULDN'T SOMEBODY INVESTIGATE?

    Shouldn't we build a "safer" "car" that doesn't kill (maim and disfigure) as many people as the current model?

    Maybe even something slightly "less wrong"?
  • 3RU7AL
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    --> @simplybeourselves
    If reason itself is your authority then I certainly don't think that it is irrational to appeal to that authority.
    SOUND LOGIC (COHERENCE) is more fundamental than the concept of "authority".
  • Lemming
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    --> @3RU7AL
    A man only needs to know how his car works enough that it does not endanger him or others, and get's him from point A to point B.
    If "morality" is the "car" in this example, and the cars keep breaking down and crashing into people and destroying property, SHOULDN'T SOMEBODY INVESTIGATE?

    Shouldn't we build a "safer" "car" that doesn't kill (maim and disfigure) as many people as the current model?

    Maybe even something slightly "less wrong"?

    Well, that occurs when someone is a problem child, or a criminal, for example.
    But if your morality and methods are working without incident, and you understand the most basic concepts of keeping it clean, changing the gas, not resorting to road rage. . .
    It's hardly vital to that individual to justify their ethics.

    We often 'do build a safer car, through laws and cohesive society, in reaction 'to times when cars show defects, or clear dangers.

    Whether the individual should focus on such though, is a matter of their priorities.
    Myself, I'm fairly self interested, rather than community interested.
  • 3RU7AL
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    --> @Lemming
    It's hardly vital to that individual to justify their ethics.
    It sounds like "it's working pretty well for me at the moment" is a de facto "justification".
  • secularmerlin
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    --> @Lemming
    Myself, I'm fairly self interested, rather than community interested.
    That is a common condition. If it were not for self interest overcoming our sense of empathy would we even need ethics?
  • Lemming
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    --> @3RU7AL @secularmerlin
    @3RU7AL
    Yeah, that reasoning occurred to me too.
    But it'd have to be a rather fervent believer in authority, to ignore 'all evidence to the contrary.
    I make the argument that since the title of the thread is,
    "Should your ethics be justifiable with no appeal to authority?"
    I don't need to make 'all of the justification rest on authority, or even the 'primary justification,
    So long as a 'significant amount of the justification is an appeal to authority.

    @secularmerlin
    I get what you're saying, but I'm going to have to think on that for a bit.
  • 3RU7AL
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    --> @Lemming
    So long as a 'significant amount of the justification is an appeal to authority.
    I think you should imagine that all the police and other officials are gone.

    Perhaps you're way out in the middle of nowhere, driving along a road and you see a stop sign.

    Would you stop?

    Perhaps you're way out in the middle of nowhere, driving along a road and you see a campsite, and a large bag of money.

    Would you take the money?
  • Lemming
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    --> @3RU7AL
    So long as a 'significant amount of the justification is an appeal to authority.
    I think you should imagine that all the police and other officials are gone.

    Perhaps you're way out in the middle of nowhere, driving along a road and you see a stop sign.

    Would you stop?

    Perhaps you're way out in the middle of nowhere, driving along a road and you see a campsite, and a large bag of money.

    Would you take the money?

    I'd 'probably stop.
    Not sure though.

    Large bad of money.
    I'm afraid I might, if I thought I could get away with it.

    The ramifications of the questions and answers, eludes me though.
  • Lemming
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    --> @secularmerlin
    Myself, I'm fairly self interested, rather than community interested.
    That is a common condition. If it were not for self interest overcoming our sense of empathy would we even need ethics?

    We might still disagree on how to best help other people I suppose, or what constitutes a virtuous life, thus still requiring ethics, even in a less 'self interested human race.
  • MarkWebberFan
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    I think the decisions we make are part of our life-long struggle. My responsibilities as a moral agent include making and accumulating good actions. In a way, I believe in a history of good actions.

  • MarkWebberFan
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    Looking over the examples in the thread, I think this discussion raises a new question: What about couch potatoes?

    Whenever I think of ethical dilemmas, the hypothetical individuals in my examples are usually good and decent individuals. I've always wondered if couch potatoes are worthy substitutes. Couch potatoes are the perfect opposite of good individuals. They are idle in cases of moral problems. For example, they would rather watch t.v. than volunteer at a local charity. Would you say that couch potatoes are unethical?



  • Lemming
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    --> @MarkWebberFan
    Sorry for the rambling nature of my post, but the mood took me.

    I'm not sure what I'd say about the ethics of couch potatoes.
    They don't fit the mold of 'traditionally good ethics, that most people I know in person have.
    . . . If one is not 'good, is one 'evil. . .
    I think I'd rather say neutral, though certainly to many good people, evil is the absence of good.

    Some people's ethics are self serving, 
    “Not at all.  One man cannot wrong another man.  He can only wrong himself.  As I see it, I do wrong always when I consider the interests of others.  Don’t you see?  How can two particles of the yeast wrong each other by striving to devour each other?  It is their inborn heritage to strive to devour, and to strive not to be devoured.  When they depart from this they sin.” - Wolf Larsen
    Though that character sounds a bit of traditionally recognized evil I suppose.

    If you're looking for a chuckle,
    The Devil's Dilemma

    I'm reminded a bit of the Eloi, in the piece of fiction, The Time Machine.
    In the story, a man creates a time machine and ends up traveling to the far future, where it seems humanity has undergone an extreme apocalypses.
    The great cities, societies, and learning, all fallen and crumbled. To dust much, and what left, overgrown.
    He 'does find two groups of people though, one of which was the 'Eloi.
    The Eloi live a simple communal life, adorn themselves with flowers, dance, and sing in the sun.
    But are lazy, weak, apathetic, to the point they don't even save one of their own from drowning in a river, an Eloi named Weena. Instead that task falls to the time traveling protagonist.
    And it's that apathetic angle I want to focus on for them, but before that, there 'was another people the time traveler found.
    The 'Morlocks.
    Those humans who escaped underground during the apocalypse, and yet still retained some of mankind's technology.
    In the fiction, The Time Machine, it is the Morlocks who provide food and clothing to the Eloi, yet the Morlocks are also the antagonists of the bit of fiction. For they are cannibals, and prey upon the Eloi when night comes, and they can venture out from the darkness beneath the earth.

    And in this debate, I ramble even more disjointedly about inaction.