What is right and wrong?

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Reply Mon 15 Dec, 2008 09:16 am
Note to mods: I probably posted this in the wrong forum, so don't be afraid to move it.

I've been developing this argument over the past half-semester, and it's a bloody tough nut to crack. Let me give you the standard form of it:

Quote:
1) All faiths preach there's a right way to live.
2) If there is a right way to live, there must also be a wrong way to live.
3) Therefore, a distinction can be made between right and wrong.
4) If such a distinction can be made, it must be a dichotomy: what is right must necessarily not be what is wrong and vice versa.
5) A dichotomy, being a pair of polar opposites, implies that there is a choice between either one opposite or the other. In other words, without the underlying choice, a dichotomy cannot exist.
6) Systems of morality (what is the right way to live) need to have moral excellence (what is right) and moral perversion (what is wrong).
7) Therefore, systems of morality are themselves corollaries of moral dichotomy (that is, they both imply and are implied by dichotomy).
8) Therefore, Right-&-Wrong = morality = dichotomy = choice.
9) (drumroll) Therefore, the distinction between right and wrong is the CHOICE between right and wrong.


So, what's right with this argument? And more importantly, what's wrong?
 
Vasska
 
Reply Mon 15 Dec, 2008 01:26 pm
@hammersklavier,
Looks sound to me.

Right and wrong in my view on things are your choices of something being either right or wrong. Of course mixed with the current social status of something.

If you are a teenager drugs and alcohol are right because of the social hemisphere. If you are a cop drugs and alcohol are (often) wrong because of their social hemisphere.

Most things we perceive to be right or wrong are often taught to us or a product with the reasoning taught to us.

Hope this helps.
 
hammersklavier
 
Reply Mon 15 Dec, 2008 01:30 pm
@Vasska,
Hm. I asked a friend, a philosophy major, about this argument and he said its dependence on choice unsettled him (but you can't use a gut reaction to disprove an argument). The argument is actually an attempt to reconcile monism and dualism (right and wrong are two sides of the same thing, a monistic unity).

I'm also wondering what kind of system of ethics and metaphysics would develop from such an argument.
 
Icon
 
Reply Mon 15 Dec, 2008 01:34 pm
@hammersklavier,
I do not agree with this at all. I would expound that I do not relate to right and wrong either. There is only action and consequence. Right and wrong, like guilt, fault, blame, exist purely in the mind. Anything that exists purely in the mind can be translated differently by different people. This creates a situation where right and wrong cannot be constant (in a moral sense).
 
hammersklavier
 
Reply Mon 15 Dec, 2008 02:54 pm
@Icon,
Icon, what you say is true. I did not take as a premise there is an objective right and wrong for this very reason. Action and consequence, cause and effect, are key Buddhist doctrines. But note that what I say about morality is simply that every faith and culture has developed a system of morality...

The choice between right and wrong being the only difference between right and wrong is inescapably a mental condition. Nature is inherently amoral (and one could argue that there is a type of moral excellence derived from that).

I know that the internal structure of this argument is strong, incredibly strong, but there is something that bothers me about it. Perhaps it's too relativistic? But I know that if I develop dichotomies as principles of ethics I would probably wind up at the same point Kant does.
 
Fido
 
Reply Mon 15 Dec, 2008 05:57 pm
@hammersklavier,
hammersklavier wrote:
Note to mods: I probably posted this in the wrong forum, so don't be afraid to move it.

I've been developing this argument over the past half-semester, and it's a bloody tough nut to crack. Let me give you the standard form of it:



So, what's right with this argument? And more importantly, what's wrong?

Knowledge is judgement sayeth Kant.
 
meridius
 
Reply Mon 15 Dec, 2008 07:17 pm
@hammersklavier,
i like this argument to be perfectly honest with you. it sounds great
 
jknilinux
 
Reply Mon 15 Dec, 2008 07:37 pm
@meridius,
I'm afraid I don't see what your conclusion is.

Is it intended to be a proof of moral relativism?
What is the conclusion saying, specifically, and what logical rule did you use to get there?

Even better, please post a formal logic proof. Thanks!
 
paulhanke
 
Reply Mon 15 Dec, 2008 09:51 pm
@jknilinux,
... are you 100% sure about the assertion "it must be a dichotomy" in step four? ... "Thou Shalt Not Kill" is "right", but when a terrorist makes her move and I can stop her only by killing her, shouldn't I? ... and what are the emotional impacts of such a choice? ... if right and wrong can be reduced to a dichotomy, then such a choice should leave me completely unscarred, yes? ... but I have to tell you - I still bear the scars of much lesser choices ...
 
jknilinux
 
Reply Mon 15 Dec, 2008 10:54 pm
@paulhanke,
paul hanke-

That's just the sort of fallacies that become easily evident once an argument is transformed from english to formal logic. Relativists believe that there is no dichotomy in morals, which is just what he supposed... So that's why it doesn't disprove relativism, if that was his intention.
 
Fido
 
Reply Tue 16 Dec, 2008 05:48 am
@hammersklavier,
The difference between right and wrong, good and evil are always seen in the human condition... It is good in relation to life... It is wrong in relation to life... They are not abstractions only, but abstraction of reality, and ultimately OUR reality...
 
Khethil
 
Reply Wed 17 Dec, 2008 06:17 am
@hammersklavier,
This thread has me... confounded.

#1 Isn't necessarily true.
#2 - #7 Don't build on each other, they restate the same thing over and over in different ways: That these two opposite concepts are... well... opposite. Being 'opposite' by definition, to state that there's a dichotomy is already implied.

I'd agree with Icon that such concepts exist only in the mind. This is because any such determination depends on the underlying basis for the judgment which varies from person to person, culture to culture, family to family; by nation, experiences, by teachings and throughout every division humanity has.

I see you dismissed the point Paul brought up (here), but it's definitely relevant. By coming up with just a single instance where what was decided to be wrong is or can be right, the entire dichotomy dissolves.

You said...
hammersklavier wrote:
... I did not take as a premise there is an objective right and wrong for this very reason.


Yet, that's exactly what you're entire argument implies. If you apply any situational or relative-view of right and wrong, what's wrong isn't always wrong, what's right isn't always right and the argument falls apart.

What's really confusing me is that your conclusion:
hammersklavier wrote:
9) (drumroll) Therefore, the distinction between right and wrong is the CHOICE between right and wrong.


Is, to my experience, largely correct. How you got there and how it was enunciated it; however, has me baffled. In any case, I'll gladly accept the possibility that I may not be understanding you correctly; words are clumsy tools.

Thanks for posting it - hope this adds somehow.
 
hammersklavier
 
Reply Wed 17 Dec, 2008 09:55 am
@Khethil,
Khethil wrote:
This thread has me... confounded.

#1 Isn't necessarily true.
#2 - #7 Don't build on each other, they restate the same thing over and over in different ways: That these two opposite concepts are... well... opposite. Being 'opposite' by definition, to state that there's a dichotomy is already implied.

I'd agree with Icon that such concepts exist only in the mind. This is because any such determination depends on the underlying basis for the judgment which varies from person to person, culture to culture, family to family; by nation, experiences, by teachings and throughout every division humanity has.

I see you dismissed the point Paul brought up (here), but it's definitely relevant. By coming up with just a single instance where what was decided to be wrong is or can be right, the entire dichotomy dissolves.

You said...


Yet, that's exactly what you're entire argument implies. If you apply any situational or relative-view of right and wrong, what's wrong isn't always wrong, what's right isn't always right and the argument falls apart.

What's really confusing me is that your conclusion:


Is, to my experience, largely correct. How you got there and how it was enunciated it; however, has me baffled. In any case, I'll gladly accept the possibility that I may not be understanding you correctly; words are clumsy tools.

Thanks for posting it - hope this adds somehow.

Thanks man! Actually, I was thinking about how in the Tao Te Ching the Tao is considered to be beyond good and evil, and how in Western thought we dichotomize everything, that is, the monism (Tao) is superior to the duality (dichotomy). It wasn't supposed to be relativistic at all; inherent relativistic corollaries of the argument was one of the first problems I found with it. I prefer to work with syllogisms since, frankly, I got a "D" in formal logic (slept through it too much) last year and need to retake the class.

Reconciling duality with monism is where I got the choice statement from, and then I started thinking about what kinds of statements ought to lead to that conclusion. The first argument I thought of ran like this:

1) Good & Evil = dichotomy
2) dichotomy = choice
3) morality = Good & Evil
ERGO 4) morality = choice

The set of premises I posted at the beginning of the thread was an expansion of this argument with what I hoped were major glaring holes propped up.

I haven't expanded it since because I realized moral grayness, e.g., white lies, kill one to save a thousand, etc., undermined the dichotomy which is the crux of this argument and haven't figured out a way to reconcile the two together.
 
Icon
 
Reply Wed 17 Dec, 2008 10:35 am
@hammersklavier,
When I am looking at most things, I try to break it down into the simplist form possible and evaluate up. What I mean by this is that I like to start at the root and then evaluate the progression of complexity to its current state.

Good and Bad have their roots in action. Action is a form of cause and effect. This means that all actions are causes and the results effects. So if we apply right and wrong to the action, we have no scale since action takes place within the self first (think about action then take action). So right and wrong, in this case, occurs in the mind. So now we must apply right and wrong to effect. The consequences of your actions are completely out of your control. You take action with a series of expected results but those are not always the results you get. So, if you cannot apply right and wrong to the action and you cannot apply right and wrong to the effect, right and wrong must not exist.
 
paulhanke
 
Reply Wed 17 Dec, 2008 11:26 am
@Icon,
Icon wrote:
... right and wrong must not exist.


... are we talking objectively or subjectively?
 
Icon
 
Reply Wed 17 Dec, 2008 11:30 am
@hammersklavier,
I suppose both. More objectively since we are trying to classify right and wrong as a global concept. Subjectively, right and wrong are defined by our experiences so there is no way to deny that.
 
paulhanke
 
Reply Wed 17 Dec, 2008 11:38 am
@Icon,
Icon wrote:
You take action with a series of expected results but those are not always the results you get. So, if you cannot apply right and wrong to the action and you cannot apply right and wrong to the effect, right and wrong must not exist.


... a subjective variation: you take action with right or wrong intention expecting an intended result, but those are not always the results you get ... this implies that you not only assign value to your intentions, but you also assign value to your results (you can have a "right" intention with a "wrong" result) ... likewise, someone else can assign value to your results - but the fact is, they can come to a different conclusion about your results than you do ... therefore, personal intention can only be subjectively judged right or wrong whereas result can be intersubjectively judged right or wrong (the rightness or wrongness of result being in the eye of the beholder) ...
 
Icon
 
Reply Wed 17 Dec, 2008 02:06 pm
@paulhanke,
paulhanke wrote:
... a subjective variation: you take action with right or wrong intention expecting an intended result, but those are not always the results you get ... this implies that you not only assign value to your intentions, but you also assign value to your results (you can have a "right" intention with a "wrong" result) ... likewise, someone else can assign value to your results - but the fact is, they can come to a different conclusion about your results than you do ... therefore, personal intention can only be subjectively judged right or wrong whereas result can be intersubjectively judged right or wrong (the rightness or wrongness of result being in the eye of the beholder) ...

But is subjective information something which can be consider a standard or be implemented globally?
 
paulhanke
 
Reply Wed 17 Dec, 2008 02:26 pm
@Icon,
Icon wrote:
But is subjective information something which can be consider a standard or be implemented globally?


... interesting question ... and to answer that question with another question: is the following statement subjective or objective?

Quote:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal ...


... but now I'm sounding more like a lawyer than a philosopher, what with citing precedent and all :devilish: ... but given the lack of objective truths in this arena, are precedential (subjective) truths all we've got?
 
Fido
 
Reply Wed 17 Dec, 2008 03:55 pm
@hammersklavier,
Icon; do you not see the All men created equal for its acceptance of metaphysics??? People are not created... Life gives life, and it happens to be scientifically proveable that we have a greater than 99% equality in genes... Conceptually as well we are equal... There are not really different forms of humanity, but of culture... But, no one really accepts equality as a fact whether based upon a common faith, or experience... The self evident fact is that one most easily denied... All we have to see is self interest in the denial...
 
 

 
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