Universal ethics, or not?

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Universal ethics, or not?

Postby Skept » Tue Jan 17, 2012 6:28 pm

This is more a philosophical question than a religious one. But since morality and ethics seems to be important to a lot of atheists as well...

Well the questions are:

1. Is the good universal or particular?
2. Is the good generally applicable or is it dependant upon the situation?
3. How good can a human actually be to others?
4. What incentives are there for humans to be good to others?
5. What incentives are there for people to not be good to others?
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Postby bijane » Tue Jan 17, 2012 7:31 pm

I'm not sure what you mean by 'the good', but at a guess:

1. Particular, see part 2:
2. Very dependent, the right situation could make pretty much everything the 'good' option. There's never any one real answer unless the terms are discrete, which is more or less in mathematics alone, not morality.
3. Not sure what you mean by this. It's possible to argue that no action is wholly good, but in any case, it's severely limited. Personally, I'm a bit of a moral relativist so I can't give very representative answers, but the best a human can do is to be 'not bad'. Helpful acts, sometimes seen as good, rob of experience and practise, and things like keeping out of the way, etc, would be just as easily achieved by not existing.
4. The inherent social instinct, reciprocation, friendship, enjoyment...
5. Selfishness, reciprocation.
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"the good"?

Postby dobbie » Tue Jan 17, 2012 8:44 pm

Skept wrote:
1. Is the good universal or particular?

What is "the good"?
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Postby Skept » Wed Jan 18, 2012 10:30 am

I´ll answer your question in an indirect way instead, perhaps the meaning will come forth from the context. It seems to me that when people talk about an ojective morality what they very often seem to be talking about is a universal morality; Wich is to say that anything that is good for one person is just as good for everyone; Or what is good for one people is good for all other people; Or what is good for one country is good for all other countries; Or what is good for one company is good for all other companies; Or what is good for me is good for you.

But, what is good for me does not have to necessarily be good for you or anyone else. What is valuable to me does not have to be valuable to you. What is important to me does not have to be important to you, and vice versa. Some things that are good for me can also indirectly have damaging consequences on others, and vice versa. What is good for one people might be an utter disaster for another people. Not because people are bad, but because that is the way the world works. If I would get rich, that would probably be good for me, but it might not be as good for those who have to provide me with that richness.

So to answer your question on what is "good"; It depends on what kind of ethics you have. For the universalist, good is that which is good for everyone, and that turns into an abstraction, such as "God" or "humanity". So discussing what is good with a universalist becomes very different from talking about it with a particularist. Because for the particularist, what is good depends on the context and the situation. So the particularist can point at something and say "that is good"; while the universalist always argues his abstractions.

I would like to add that the perspective that is most popular today is universalist ethics. But what happends, and what the universalists do not want to see, is that universalism undermines real values.

Not too many seem to analyse the concepts and see them where they may lead. Take an idea like "equality" for instance, wich is a typical universalist idea. On the surface it appears as if it means that everyone gets to be friends and treated the same way. It seems difficult for a universalist to grasp that there also has to be someone that does the "treating". They use their imagination instead of their reason. And in their imagination they see "a world of equals" as a paradise where everyone is happy and respected.

If they would use reason instead they would see that the concept of "equality" is a physical impossibility. The only possible equality that can exist is the one I have with myself. I can only be equal to myself. I can never be equal to anyone else. And since I can only be equal to myself, what sort of world would it be where everyone are equals to eachother?

But to this people respond "Oh, but you shouldn't be so damn literal minded!"

They don't want to hear it. But a concept like equality, actually implies selfishness, not Altrusim! So people integrate the idea they think sounds good and start to act according to it, some very dogmatically. But then the funny thing happens, the idea begins to move according to it's own gravitational trajectory and their actions will produce consequences that they never intended or believed would happen...
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what's an example?

Postby dobbie » Wed Jan 18, 2012 12:20 pm

Skept wrote:
It seems to me that when people talk about an ojective morality what they very often seem to be talking about is a universal morality.

People talk about it in order to define the Bible as the source of universal morality. I myself don’t think there is such a thing as universal morality.

The question is always what any example of a universal or objective morality is. I’ll go so far as to say that “moralityâ€
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Postby Skept » Wed Jan 18, 2012 2:53 pm

It's a weird thing, but speaking as an ex-believer in gods and spirits and bibles and whatever; I did not believe that morality become objective, nor that it would be objective because it is written in the bible; Instead, for me it was like since I believed there was a god, he has his standard and as a believer it is up to me to live up to that standard by obedience. That he therefore provided us with his book is a blessing because it says in there what god expects of us.

But moral universalism is the idea that what is good is good for everyone at all times and places; That is what makes moral universalists to claim that there is an objective morality. Because if there is something that is good for everyone all the time regardless of gender, race, creed, culture, family, etc then that would be an objective good. At least that is how I interpret it.

Jesus is very much an advocate of moral universalism when he brings in his message of reciprocal ethics; "Do unto others..."; "Do not judge, lest you be judged"; "What you do to those little ones you have done for me" etc. According to Jesus message, everone becomes the same person. As Christians say; The bride of Christ.

In such a view, everything that is good for me, automatically becomes good for someone else - because I am the same person that both takes and recieves. So if I judge someone else, I am only judging myself. And if I judge myself I am judging the entire world. If I kill one person I am killing the whole universe. So in the Christian view there is an original man that everyone belongs to. That original man was Adam and he sinned and therefore brought the whole human race with him. Therefore Jesus had to come to earth to rescue the line of Adam by taking upon himself the punishment that we (in the line of Adam) deserves and become the new king and saviour for us; because we are all one person and that person is either in sin and condemnation with Adam or justified with Christ.

As you might have heard before; A Christian is not just a believer, they believe they have been made into a wholly new creature; a different kind of race all-together. First there was the race of Adam wich sinned and expects condemnation; but with Christ there is the race of the divine man; Jesus wich will live forever. And since Jesus lives forever, Christians will live forever.

But moral universalism is also found in socialism/communism, humanism, and the human rights movement as well. Actually I think objective morality is just another word for moral universalism.
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Postby Skept » Wed Jan 18, 2012 9:46 pm

I wonder if maybe we all to some degree find comfort in the idea that we are all one person, even if we aren't religious. I mean physically our bodies are maintaining integrity and psychology follows from that. We wanna feel psychologically whole, but we are also sometimes confronted with others and there the dilemma begins. Should I keep to myself, or should I integrate that other person into myself? Keeping it to myself I am more vulnerable, but integrating another person is potentially a hazard.

To trust or not to trust, that is the question.

Religions prey on this desire for being whole and complete I think. I wont exclude the possibility that there is such a thing as spiritual unity or something like a "noosphere". But speaking from a strictly materialistic point of view, the biological organism tries to keep itself intact and wants to remain "one". And when we integrate others into ourselves we do so with a desire to remain as one, even tho we are many. To be many but not being able to integrate as one is probably both psychologically and physically stressful and if it is done too often it can be harmful and bring about reactions like PSTD. Consider psychological warfare and manipulation which aims at disintegrating a persons psyche to be able to dominate them.

That is the tragedy of modern society with its individualistic and moral universalist values; The constant breaking up, moving about between places that the socio-economic system we have puts us through. Im talking about schools and jobs; Breaking up from old friends and environments and trying to integrate into new places with new people. not being sure whether the people you have around you will be on your side or if they will just look after themselves.

In that sense I think moral universalism is also destructive, it never allows for any completion of that psychological integration. Its an unspoken hazard that I think can lead to a lot of emotional suffering. Moral universalism is helpless in the face of this danger and doesn't seem to understand it at all; We are all humanity, everyone has the same value, everyone are equal, etc. Such ideas dismiss the fact that it is emotionally very stressful to look at everyone the same way, it is also a very vulnerable position that I would not recommend. If everyone has the same value then couldn't you just sell your kids on eBay and buy soem other kids? Or why not swap your wife with another total stranger and expect the same feelings? And further, if everyone are the same couldnt you just change your friends like you change your socks? What this means is that moral universalism undermines real values and virtues. If there is no special place for friendship, then there is no basis for any virtues whatsoever. That is some of the absurdities that moral universalism implies.
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Postby Apate » Wed Jan 18, 2012 10:39 pm

I am a militant atheist to any philosophy that tries to define " good or moral " .
Understanding is a three edged sword: your side, their side, and the truth .
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