Morality - seeking consistency via qualifying criteria
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02-02-2014, 03:21 AM
Morality - seeking consistency via qualifying criteria
The purpose of this thread is to see if it is possible to gain some agreement on what the qualifying criteria is in order to deem an event to qualify as being morally significant.

This is a search for defining detail rather than to create an all encompassing definition that encapsulates everyone's beliefs and hence remains vague.


My stab at defining morality is as per below
"Morality is the distinction between right and wrong given an event caused by a moral agent with prior knowledge of right and wrong and having been in a situation where a choice was freely made (without coercion)."

Thus I breakdown the qualifying criteria of a moral event as such:
1. A moral agent is an entity which has the ability to make choices and also has knowledge of right and wrong.
2. Morality is regarding actions made via choice by a moral agent where alternatives are present.
3. Moral judgement is made with the distinction of actions/choices between "right" and "wrong"
4. Moral obligation means that a moral agent is bound in their behaviours to do the
"right" thing.
5. Normative statements can be applied to actions (actual or potential) of other moral agents such that claims of "oughts" and "shoulds", "ought nots" and "should nots" can be made and moral judgements of the choices and actions of others can be made.

If you disagree with any of the above please discuss why.
If you think other qualifying criteria exist then please add to the list.
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02-02-2014, 04:00 AM (This post was last modified: 02-02-2014 04:30 AM by Vosur.)
RE: Morality - seeking consistency via qualifying criteria
I'm only going to ask you a couple of questions for now because I'm more curious* about the underlying reasoning of your position than I am interested in participating in the discussion itself.

(02-02-2014 03:21 AM)Stevil Wrote:  1. A moral agent is an entity which has the ability to make choices and also has knowledge of right and wrong.
How do you determine that an individual is capable of making choices (i.e. that its ability to choose freely isn't limited by mental illnesses, for instance)?

In case you're not suggesting that we are born with it innately, how do you determine that an individual has knowledge of right and wrong?

(02-02-2014 03:21 AM)Stevil Wrote:  3. Moral judgement is made with the distinction of actions/choices between "right" and "wrong"
How do you assess the existence of morally gray areas, given this dichotomy?

(02-02-2014 03:21 AM)Stevil Wrote:  4. Moral obligation means that a moral agent is bound in their behaviours to do the "right" thing.
I don't understand what this statement is supposed to mean due to its vague wording. Do you care to elaborate?

*Fixed thanks to DLJ.

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02-02-2014, 04:22 AM
RE: Morality - seeking consistency via qualifying criteria
I've never been able to regard "right" and "wrong" as objective concepts; the context of any behavior or action can always be cast in either perspective. About 99% of the time "wrong" works out to "that which hurts me" and "right" is "that which helps me": a heavily lopsided bias of perceived self interest and to hell with anybody else. Thus any distillation of "morality" to a formula is doomed.

That isn't to say we shouldn't try to act decently toward each other; civilization depends on us taking an interest in the well being of society, not just ourselves. But "decency" changes with the times. Slavery was decent once while homosexuality is still achieving decency. A hundred years from now slavery might come back into vogue. The United States has re-embraced the death penalty as decent after a period when it wasn't. And virulent racism is globally acceptable when manifest as "illegal immigration" or other forms of patriotism.

I think the greater problem isn't whether a particular behavior or action is decent or not but the degree of "righteousness" that compels it. The more "morally" certain someone is that whatever they're doing is "right", look out world. There's nothing so dangerous as a mind 100% convinced and closed to the possibility that it's in error. Or closed to the possibility that it hasn't got the whole story.

Yet some of our greatest advances in becoming more "human" were led and inspired by high confidence minds - Martin L. King's and Ghandi's for example, who would not have altered history itself had they any doubts about the "rightness" of what they believed. So it's tough, trying to pin down any sort of "moral" criteria.
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02-02-2014, 04:25 AM
RE: Morality - seeking consistency via qualifying criteria
(02-02-2014 04:00 AM)Vosur Wrote:  ...
I'm more curios about
...

*curious

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02-02-2014, 04:27 AM
RE: Morality - seeking consistency via qualifying criteria
(02-02-2014 04:25 AM)DLJ Wrote:  *curious

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I see I've taught you well. Smartass

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02-02-2014, 04:31 AM
RE: Morality - seeking consistency via qualifying criteria
(02-02-2014 04:22 AM)Airportkid Wrote:  I've never been able to regard "right" and "wrong" as objective concepts;
...

So, in short, you are saying that morals are / morality is subjective / relative / situational.

I agree.

But that does not mean that we should not try for a working definition as per the OP.

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02-02-2014, 04:46 AM
RE: Morality - seeking consistency via qualifying criteria
(02-02-2014 03:21 AM)Stevil Wrote:  The purpose of this thread is to see if it is possible to gain some agreement on what the qualifying criteria is in order to deem an event to qualify as being morally significant.

This is a search for defining detail rather than to create an all encompassing definition that encapsulates everyone's beliefs and hence remains vague.


My stab at defining morality is as per below
"Morality is the distinction between right and wrong given an event caused by a moral agent with prior knowledge of right and wrong and having been in a situation where a choice was freely made (without coercion)."

Thus I breakdown the qualifying criteria of a moral event as such:
1. A moral agent is an entity which has the ability to make choices and also has knowledge of right and wrong.
2. Morality is regarding actions made via choice by a moral agent where alternatives are present.
3. Moral judgement is made with the distinction of actions/choices between "right" and "wrong"
4. Moral obligation means that a moral agent is bound in their behaviours to do the
"right" thing.
5. Normative statements can be applied to actions (actual or potential) of other moral agents such that claims of "oughts" and "shoulds", "ought nots" and "should nots" can be made and moral judgements of the choices and actions of others can be made.

If you disagree with any of the above please discuss why.
If you think other qualifying criteria exist then please add to the list.

I think, on first pass, I am largely in agreement. But I will ponder.

Two immediate thoughts are:
1. Are "right" and "wrong" being expressed as variables (comparatives) or absolutes (ends of a measurable scale)?
If they are variables, what determines the threshold of rightness and wrongness on this continuum ... consensus, culture, the individual? In other words, I have a problem with #5. in that we still can have conflicting normative statements between different groups, societies or individuals.
2. "Coercion" needs more thought...
On one extreme there is physical force and the other extreme there is gentle persuasion.
A worker could be 'coerced' to follow health and safety rules that he/she does not personally agree with.
And what about survival pressure? Is that considered 'coercion'?
We can behave in what would normally be regarded as an immoral way if under extreme survival pressure.
I can list many actual examples if needed.

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02-02-2014, 05:18 AM
RE: Morality - seeking consistency via qualifying criteria
My stab at defining morality is as per below
"Morality is the distinction between right and wrong given an event caused by a moral agent with prior knowledge of right and wrong and having been in a situation where a choice was freely made (without coercion)."

There is also something circular in your definitions.
"Right & wrong" already presuppose morality or are part of what your trying to define. (somewhat equivocating but not defining)

You have also loaded the definition with a Kantian deontology without clearly defining "right & wrong", "freely chosen" & "prior knowledge."

The "right & wrong" will be hard to define without becoming circular or becoming a digital binary distinction without any mixtures of both or a continuum.

A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence -
David Hume


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02-02-2014, 05:40 AM
RE: Morality - seeking consistency via qualifying criteria
Stevil,

Morality is a synthesis of values and reason. Given a particular situation, and based upon some generic heuristics, we reason about the value of particular actions or outcomes with respect to our values. Right and wrong are value-dependent. Degrees of objectivity in morality are based on how common or different our values and reasoning are. Humans generally share a significant subset of values and therefore there is a substantial objectivity of morality within our species, however our values and reasoning are at least somewhat species-dependent.




Give me your argument in the form of a published paper, and then we can start to talk.
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02-02-2014, 05:42 AM (This post was last modified: 02-02-2014 05:53 AM by Baruch.)
RE: Morality - seeking consistency via qualifying criteria
(02-02-2014 04:31 AM)DLJ Wrote:  
(02-02-2014 04:22 AM)Airportkid Wrote:  I've never been able to regard "right" and "wrong" as objective concepts;
...

So, in short, you are saying that morals are / morality is subjective / relative / situational.

I agree.

But that does not mean that we should not try for a working definition as per the OP.

There maybe situations where moral concepts are absolute such as "it is always wrong to torture babies for fun ?"
It would seem that for most moral systems this would be the case - easy for an Aristotelian virtue ethics or Kantian deontologist systems and most versions of utilitarianism.

Perhaps a weird utilitarianism which calculated total pleasure gained for 1 month of collective accumulated fun by recollecting a few minutes of torture - but the very fact I have to conjure up something so extreme & pathological suggests such a utilitarianism is incoherent - at least for our species.

A society composed of psychopathic individuals basing ethics on an ethical egoism might agree torturing babies for fun is a good thing if having fun was the highest ideal to be strived for and there was a direct causal link between baby torture and fun - however in our species we would become extinct if this was the case) - then again what if such a society could clone the babies ?

However - even for the above case one could ask "why is fun the highest ideal to strive for ?" If the answer was survival or anything other than "fun is the highest pleasure possible for its own sake" then the case for such an psychopathic ethical egoism would collapse (it would not longer be torturing babies for fun but for survival or another means to an end)

A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence -
David Hume


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