My New View of Ethics

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Reply Fri 9 May, 2008 02:31 pm
Sorry for not posting for a while, school, work, and laziness got in the way.Smile

I've been thinking a lot about ethical issues from a rational perspective and I decided to get rid of all preconceived notions that I had about ethics and morals and to start anew.

My questions had more to do with metaethics. What system of ethics is rational? What differentiates a "good" action from a "bad" action? What is good and bad? Can the "goodness" and "badness" of an action be determined? Is the action itself more important or the outcome?

Well, at first, needless to say, I was a nihilist. I just couldn't think of anything that would justify any ethical system. Ethics are, after all, simply man-made. Sure, there are some "moral principles" ingrained into our mind (see the article posted somewhere in this forum on the topic) and the minds of other organisms, but there is no system of ethics that captures that.

In short, there is no system of ethics that has any rational basis for determining what is a positive and what is a negative action. Although utilitarians might argue that actions that cause pain are negative and actions that maximize pleasure are positive, this does not mean that pain/pleasure are accurate ways of measuring how ethical actions are. Why not flip the order? Why can't we say that actions that maximize pain are moral? There is no rational basis than "just because" or "to make people in this world the happiest they can be," etc.

Deontological systems also can't be considered rational. Why should certain actions be considered moral and other immoral? There is a point where these systems fail, simply because they fail to be rational under the persistence of an unbiased "third party" that is not attached to any morals.

Likewise, virtue ethics and other ethical systems have also failed since they cannot completely rationally explain why it is more ethical to improve yourself as a person, etc., etc.

At first, I resigned, threw up my hands in defeat, and thought that morals are irrational and simply a product of evolution and society trying to impose rules upon itself. But then I made a break through in my thought. Like many great (or what I hope to be great) ideas, it came somewhat unexpectedly, without much forethought, it just popped into my head one day.

Namely: "if all morals are simply man made, then the only rational system of ethics can be one that acknowledges that ethics can only exist based on agreements between persons."

In other words, since morals are not natural and are not rational, the only "moral" action is an action that you decide is moral. And as such, the only "moral" guidelines between two or more people can be some kind of written, spoken, or even thought shared ethical system, similar to a social contract.

The basic idea is that if Person A agrees with Person B that actions X, Y, and Z are immoral and they will either not do those actions to anyone or they won't inflict those actions on each other.

This is basically what I call a "moral contract." Whereas social contracts usually involve government of some kind, moral contracts are simply an agreement between individuals and groups of individuals as to what actions they will consider good and bad.

Such a system acknowledges that all morals are simply human inventions, just as nihilism, moral relativism, subjectivism, etc. do, but then it builds upon it to create a universal system of ethics.
 
Arouet
 
Reply Fri 9 May, 2008 05:27 pm
@krazy kaju,
Makes sense to me. Ethics through mutual agreement. But doesn't that mean that you can't hold someone responsible for actions they haven't agreed not to take?
 
krazy kaju
 
Reply Fri 9 May, 2008 05:37 pm
@krazy kaju,
Well, if Person A and Person B do not have a moral contract in between themselves, there are no moral guidelines that can hold them responsible for whatever they do to each other (unless one of them is in an existing contract that prevents them from hurting someone not involved with that contract).

Also, if Person A and Person B agree to a moral contract but exclude, say, vandalism, then one could say that Person A could vandalize Person B's property and it would still be ethical. Of course, Person B could annul the contract and retaliate on Person A, but that's a different story.

The premise of my argument is: morals are man-made, therefore the only rational morals can be those that two or more people agree to.
 
burgertime
 
Reply Fri 9 May, 2008 06:16 pm
@krazy kaju,
Hello Krazy, (may I call you Krazy, or would you rather Mr. Kaju?) Wink
I'd like to try to defend the possibility of normative morality, though I'm undecided as to whether this is possible.

Here's a rough attempt to ground morality. Say you're aware of a few different actions you could take. You also strongly feel that there is no single action that could be justified because of intuition, queerness of moral properties, widespread moral disagreements, and all the other things you can think of. But you're going to do something either way. So let's look at our choices. One you realize is self contradictory. And say you have a candidate for a moral property that you think is probably not, but if you had to pick one, you'd pick that one. But two of the actions you could take go against that property, so you don't do those ones. Now, after a few more steps like these ones, you are left with a few choices. And since you are going to act anyways, you do one of those because they are the highest likelihood of being correct, even though you think none are correct.

Now imagine that in the next 300 years people think very carefully about ethics and meta ethics and certain principles are developed that weed out even more choices until you're left with this "large" very coherent single system that people generally agree upon once they understand it, though most people don't understand it. there doesn't appear to be any positive reason to believe it is the correct action guiding method, but every other one has fallen away as inconsistent or isomorphic to this one. So you consider that it might just be true.

This might sound like a far-fetched future of ethics that would never happen, but something like it has happened before. Mathematics is complicated, highly coherent and unjustifiable, or is justifiable in a strange way, but is basically universal. So if this story came true, ethics and mathematics (and string theory?) would be in the same boat as strange coherent universal systems that need to be considered together, possibly all as true.
Can you doubt 2+2=4? Can you doubt maximizing out future refined enlightened happiness is the best thing to do?

You may not be able to justify any specific action, but if you act we may be able to find a coherent way of acting that doesn't fall into contradictions and so would be the best way to act.
An analogy could be to try to justify the way "+" works or that "0 = 0". You may not be able to, but if we start with a few basic axioms (or some other analogy) we can work out a unique system.


On a less fantastical note, I'd like to comment on your ethical proposal.

krazy kaju wrote:

"if all morals are simply man made, then the only rational system of ethics can be one that acknowledges that ethics can only exist based on agreements between persons."


So if we agree on some rules that we shouldn't break, and then I break one, then I would be seen as immoral relative to our agreement. Does this roughly characterize your view? If so, then I'd say we're not talking about morality anymore, we're talking about agreements. Unless there is an added reason to stay in the agreement and/or differentiate between ones that are better than others, then we aren't really talking about morality, because (in my definitely changeable opinion) morality requires that some of our moral statements or possible moral statements are correct or true rather than arbitrarily chosen. Unless there is something special about agreements when both people declare the agreement as a moral agreement.
 
krazy kaju
 
Reply Fri 9 May, 2008 06:37 pm
@krazy kaju,
LOL, thanks for responding, burgertime. Just want to point out that on forums such as this one you use square brackets ("[ ]") instead of angular brackets ("< >") to change the format of your text.

i.e. italicized font would have be [/ i] without the spaces.

Anyways, my response:

1. Your ethical future requires that everyone agrees to follow certain moral principles, without being coerced into them (as we are today with government and laws). This simply isn't possible as humans are prone to debate and disagree with one another. Perhaps there could be basic morals everyone agrees to (i.e. no killing, stealing, vandalism, etc.), similar to the common law courts that arise in areas of anarchy, but anything beyond that would really have to be a voluntary moral contract.

2. No, I'm saying that breaking the rules of any such agreement is immoral. It doesn't matter if it is just between two people, the moment you start breaking rules without the consent of the other party, the action you're committing is universally immoral.

P.S. Welcome to the forums.
 
midas77
 
Reply Wed 18 Jun, 2008 10:22 am
@krazy kaju,
Krazy,
You made a good point there krazy, a large part of morality seems to be a moral contract of at least two persons with each other. I have one question though. You said that one must be made to agree to follow one's agreement without coercion. Seems to look like very much Habermas is trying to say about Rationality as an unforced force. Correct me if i am wrong in viewing your point. So in my understanding then, rationality seems to be your grounding of ethics. In order for a contracting party to folow ones agreement, he must be made to see and be able to see that the agreement is reasonable. This makes me think. How will he see that, if a person is of flawed character, a totally criminal type for example. Things depend then to the person. But how can we know the principle of a person being flawed or not. What makes a good person and what makes a bad person? We can not just simply agree on saying that, that is good person and that is bad person, because we will just go on circles.
 
Farthender
 
Reply Wed 2 Jul, 2008 01:23 pm
@midas77,
Interesting views, Krazy. I myself am in the "there is no rational morality" mindset at the moment. I like your idea of a moral contract, although I find that not entirely rational, for it presupposes the moral guideline that breaking such a contract would be immoral. But what would one base that on? For every ethical/moral system I've seen, the system depends on an assumed moral foundation, such as "human life is valuable" or "God is morally good". My own opinion is that there is no rational moral system. Just my opinion, though, and I really liked your thoughts.
 
Fido
 
Reply Wed 2 Jul, 2008 08:51 pm
@Farthender,
Anyone who thinks they can start from scratch with ethics does not have a clue as to what it is about. Those who think they can distill ethics from culture and humanity are all wet. It is only in realizing that ethics means custom, or character, which are qualities representative of ones group, and shining a dark light, or a bright one upon all of ones people. Ethics is the way to honor. It was ethical for a savage in colonial America to let himself be cut up and burned without complaint, and much encouragement in order to bring honor to his people, and to strike fear into the enemy heart at the brave people seeking his revenge. Ethics without honor is meaningless. Ethics without honor is a road without a destination. What ethics demands, honor rewards; and the greatest reward honor can give is peace; and since no one tolerates the dishorable among them, or near to them, dishonor encouraged war and extermination just as the attack on Pearl Harbor gave the Americans contempt for the Japanese and commitment to kill them in quantity. If you wish to be ethical, seek honor in all your affairs. Be helpful, not hurtful, be honest, be fair, be brave, be virtuous, and do not justify injustice. In the end you will find that while ethics is a form, no formula can result in ethical behavior. People must feel it. They must be ethical out of a connection they feel with humanity. Ethics flows out of ones emotions, and not out of reason, so no reasoning will suffice to make people behave ethically. If you would be ethical, be first sympathetic, and then honorable; and then ethics wil become your nature.
 
Prier
 
Reply Thu 3 Jul, 2008 05:05 am
@krazy kaju,
Hey Kaju,

Wouldn't it be that social contract theories are simply an extension of your moral contract idea? A social contract would acknowledge the need for moral agreements, or even perhaps that such agreements are the source of morality, and add that in order to preserve them a governing body of some sort is required. (Additionally, the need for moral contracts themselves emerge out of a sort of 'compromised egoism')

So, my question is this: How could moral contracts stand alone without some entity to enforce them? Do you think that the social contract which involves a governing body, or some body with moral authority over the individual, isn't a necessity? Surely some virtue like honour, as Fido suggested, isn't enough on it's own to prevent many from resorting to completely egoist world views.
 
Theaetetus
 
Reply Thu 3 Jul, 2008 08:10 am
@krazy kaju,
First off, to rationally look at ethics you need to ask what does "rational" mean. I have come to believe that rationality means fitting in with your culture in a certain way. Thus, looking at ethics from a rational point of view mean that one looks at ethics from the perspective of fitting in with one's own culture. Therefore, ethics are largely based upon the society examining them. In this light all ethics are rational if they are indented to help people fit within their society.
 
Fido
 
Reply Thu 3 Jul, 2008 10:11 am
@Theaetetus,
Theaetetus wrote:
First off, to rationally look at ethics you need to ask what does "rational" mean. I have come to believe that rationality means fitting in with your culture in a certain way. Thus, looking at ethics from a rational point of view mean that one looks at ethics from the perspective of fitting in with one's own culture. Therefore, ethics are largely based upon the society examining them. In this light all ethics are rational if they are indented to help people fit within their society.

Sir; consider this: If ethics are built upon emotion does it not seem as senseless to be rational in regard to that which involves all the emotions as it is to regard a single emotion such as hate, or love with reason? You see it all the time, and it is too common to have people try to disect love and mount bits of it on microscpe slides only to look foolish in the process. One can try to look at ethics, or patriotism, esprit de corp, or love -without passion, but few know an emotion until they feel it and emotion is never without passion. So; no matter how we try, if we recognize an emotion at all it is because we have been in that state, and to be honest, every emotion carries a load of subjectivity. For example: I don't know what you are feeling even if you tell me, and an emotion with a common name is anything but common; but is always unique to the individual. And if ethics is a conceptual manifold built upon many common emotions we can still only rationalize it in the most off hand and general fashion. We have to gossip about it like a friend not present, and share our impressions. Thanks
 
Khethil
 
Reply Thu 3 Jul, 2008 10:39 am
@Fido,
Very good discussion

Proper ethics are based on being compatible with the applicable culture or they're proper because they fit 'productive' or 'proper' behavior at large?

I'm curious where this is going. Good poop though...

For my part, I've come to the conclusion that what I proport as being "ethical" would necessarily have to apply to all people, everywhere. Yes, there are *large* cultural differences that we can't ignore, but my sights are set on the Holy Grail of Ethics: A standard all humans can aspire to with the basis being what's best for humans (only those things we all share in common). I'm not sure this exists, but to me its a work in progress and the search goes on.

And... because I couldn't resist using the new emoticons I thought this would be approriate: :brickwall:
 
Theaetetus
 
Reply Thu 3 Jul, 2008 12:22 pm
@Khethil,
Khethil wrote:

For my part, I've come to the conclusion that what I proport as being "ethical" would necessarily have to apply to all people, everywhere. Yes, there are *large* cultural differences that we can't ignore, but my sights are set on the Holy Grail of Ethics: A standard all humans can aspire to with the basis being what's best for humans (only those things we all share in common). I'm not sure this exists, but to me its a work in progress and the search goes on.


You really cannot apply what is ethical to all people everywhere due to rationality. For example, it was once rational to think that universe revolves around the earth because at the time the observations rationally supported the argument. Nowadays, it is considered irrational to think the universe revolves around the earth, because the earth is not at the center of the universe. Much in the same way, what was once ethical may no longer be so due to people learning what was once thought to be good, no longer is. Therefore, ethics cannot be universal if they are to be rational because you cannot decide right and wrong independent from society and the individuals living in the society.
 
Fido
 
Reply Thu 3 Jul, 2008 07:15 pm
@Theaetetus,
Theaetetus wrote:
You really cannot apply what is ethical to all people everywhere due to rationality. For example, it was once rational to think that universe revolves around the earth because at the time the observations rationally supported the argument. Nowadays, it is considered irrational to think the universe revolves around the earth, because the earth is not at the center of the universe. Much in the same way, what was once ethical may no longer be so due to people learning what was once thought to be good, no longer is. Therefore, ethics cannot be universal if they are to be rational because you cannot decide right and wrong independent from society and the individuals living in the society.

What is ethical really only applies to ones own community. The standard of behavior between ones own and all others is entirely different. That is one reason laws attend the growth of civilizations and nation states. But; if we can see each other as human, morality does not forbid so much negative behavior as it encourages positive behavior. If savages seem savage in modern memory it is because they saw strangers as only another form of dangerous animal. We only rarely accept such a view, but look what happens to people on death row who have demonstrated that they are animals, vicious, and clearly inhuman. We kill them with little thought. And, the unfortunate fact is that nation states begin in a spirit of humanity, and equality; but soon, parasites emerge who use the peace of law as a cover to destroy the body politic and the natural union of the people for a measely profit. Clearly they think they are better, chosen, or entitled. The easily acceptible fact is, that if it is bad to exploit family out of all their rights and property it is also wrong to exploit fellow citizens, and all the more so when it is known how much injustice has contributed to war and revolution. thanks
 
Khethil
 
Reply Fri 4 Jul, 2008 04:27 am
@Theaetetus,
Theaetetus wrote:
You really cannot apply what is ethical to all people everywhere due to rationality.


Are you asserting that individual ethics *should* be defined by society, or that they simply *are* defined by societies? 'Tis a big difference - there is "What is"... and there is our notions of "What should be".

While it is true that different societies and cultures define their own 'ethics' through taboos, mores, religion and laws, we're all 'human'; and to me, the very best set of individual ethics is one that whose basis is that commonality. To me, the nature of successful interaction between peoples of radically different cultures and ideals must necessarily have a common theme. What better than what we consider 'good' for our species? (which is another can o worms)
 
Khethil
 
Reply Fri 4 Jul, 2008 04:36 am
@Fido,
Fido wrote:
And, the unfortunate fact is that nation states begin in a spirit of humanity, and equality; but soon, parasites emerge who use the peace of law as a cover to destroy the body politic and the natural union of the people for a measely profit. Clearly they think they are better, chosen, or entitled.


I've been thinking much about this lately. One of the series of historical compilations I've been reading* lead me through a good smattering of the source documents on which the U.S. Constitution was built. The principles are - to me - VERY insightful, very well thought out and were a product of most-excellent debate and forethought. When I see the lines of thought on which it was built and compare it to how it is *today*, I can't help but wonder 'what happened'.

Fido hit on a great point here; the difference between the design of human conduct and how it morphs over time into something else. This would be good to flesh out in another topic.


-----------------
* Great Works of the Western World
 
Theaetetus
 
Reply Fri 4 Jul, 2008 07:16 am
@Khethil,
Khethil wrote:
Are you asserting that individual ethics *should* be defined by society, or that they simply *are* defined by societies? 'Tis a big difference - there is "What is"... and there is our notions of "What should be".

While it is true that different societies and cultures define their own 'ethics' through taboos, mores, religion and laws, we're all 'human'; and to me, the very best set of individual ethics is one that whose basis is that commonality. To me, the nature of successful interaction between peoples of radically different cultures and ideals must necessarily have a common theme. What better than what we consider 'good' for our species? (which is another can o worms)


I think ethics are defined by society. What should be is the way that ethics should be viewed with in a society rather than what is because the former implies adaptability and the latter implies absolutes. Things change overtime within society so ethical doctrines should as well.

The larger the community the less specific ethics can be. I do agree that there needs to be some sort of common ground from which all of human society can agree to simple ethical principles due to universality, but trying to govern right and wrong at the species level is near impossible.
 
Fido
 
Reply Fri 4 Jul, 2008 04:29 pm
@Khethil,
Khethil wrote:
Are you asserting that individual ethics *should* be defined by society, or that they simply *are* defined by societies? 'Tis a big difference - there is "What is"... and there is our notions of "What should be".

While it is true that different societies and cultures define their own 'ethics' through taboos, mores, religion and laws, we're all 'human'; and to me, the very best set of individual ethics is one that whose basis is that commonality. To me, the nature of successful interaction between peoples of radically different cultures and ideals must necessarily have a common theme. What better than what we consider 'good' for our species? (which is another can o worms)

If I can hit at this; to try to rationally consider ethics may shed some light on the subject, but at its beginning, ethics is based upon an emotional connectedness with people. Ethics may reflect the character or the customs of ones people; but it is the feeling one has for ones people, and in the modern age, for all people that determines what a person's ethics are. It is never a question of what a person should do in a hypothetical situation that defines them ethically, because people are never in hypothetical situtations, but in real situations. In real situations, people behave according to who they are and not what they say they think. Then, the more important questions to ask is whether one is optimistic, or pessimistic, or whether they love humanity, or dispise them. I see those who truly love others as forever being ethical in their relationships, and those who are pessimistic proving their philosophy with their every action or inaction. And I say this knowing I am often percieved as pessimistic; but I am not. Rather, I accept that knowledge is virtue, and that people are only as good as they know to be, and that ignorance is a greater curse to humanity than death. If we should do unto others as we would have them do to us, we should first know what good we seek so we can deliver the same to others.
 
Khethil
 
Reply Sat 5 Jul, 2008 05:54 am
@Fido,
Fido wrote:
If I can hit at this; to try to rationally consider ethics may shed some light on the subject, but at its beginning, ethics is based upon an emotional connectedness with people.


I think you're spot-on with this; it's an excellent overtone that I've not seen addressed much. Compassion, respect, consideration... all those aspects of what we consider ethical have, lying at their base, emotional connectedness. Very nice

Fido wrote:
I see those who truly love others as forever being ethical in their relationships, and those who are pessimistic proving their philosophy with their every action or inaction.


Very pragmatic view; it takes appreciation and application of ethics out of the lofty, theorizing quagmire and puts it into real-life.

Good insights, thank you.
 
Fido
 
Reply Wed 30 Jul, 2008 05:44 am
@krazy kaju,
threebobs wrote:
threebobs post deleted!

What ever it is; if it qualified, it is not what it was. Property Rights are not rights, Horse Chestnuts are not Chestnuts, Road Apples are not Apples, and Osage Oranges are not Oranges. Secular ethics are not ethics at all. Business ethics are not ethics. Religious ethic are not ethics. If you can limit ethical behavior to a certain group it is not ethcis, but an ethical argument made from a certain perspective. Now, for your benefit I will qualify my qualification. There are gold fish, and beagle dogs and each are respectively, fish and dog. Of Moral Qualities, where confusion is common, and the desire to fulfill ones social obligation is wanting, we should still remember that a concept is one single thing, even when camomflaged as something other. And it is possible to look at ethic as an obligation, but if we want anyone to behave ethically we have to give them the emotional satisfaction usually surrounding ethical behavior, in its natural state, of Family, and Community. Asking people to behave ethically with those outside of ones group is asking the impossible. If you want people ethical; expand the group, and give the feeling of unity. Some people have been in this country from the beginning, and have no more a sense of unity than before. New people come here everyday, and look at the larger population as so much prey, or cattle. To such people ethics will always be an abstract consideration. It is not abstract, but like all things, even moral things, it is concieved of by abstraction.
 
 

 
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