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There is no such thing as universal morals
in Philosophy

By EdgarEdgar 9 Pts
I can't see how moral codes can be anything other than something created by humans. To me, no moral codes are "naturally" explored.

I guess this is the question of whether or not moral realism exists, where my stand is that it doesn't.

Persuade me otherwise.
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Persuaded Argument

  • PlaffelvohfenPlaffelvohfen 445 Pts
    Winning Argument ✓
    I think that morals can be universal or objective (independent of custom or opinion, as opposed to moral relativism), but not absolute (independent of context or consequences, as in absolutism).  Morality and morals are not well defined, or at least no definition is universally accepted... I'm with Sam Harris on this issue, that is; Morality pertains to the well-being of conscious creatures.

    This is the best 20 minutes on the subject in my opinion. 

    " Adversus absurdum, contumaciter ac ridens! "

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  • Edgar said:
    I can't see how moral codes can be anything other than something created by humans. To me, no moral codes are "naturally" explored.

    I guess this is the question of whether or not moral realism exists, where my stand is that it doesn't.

    Persuade me otherwise.
    So you don't care if somone murders you? I sure want to live.
  • Morality, in general, is a very ambiguous concept. Logically speaking, there may be some universally accepted morals. Albeit, I don’t believe morality is absolute, in the sense that morality can exist apart from the human mind. My view of morality is that it shouldn’t be reduced to a specific set of rules. With growth and experience, the human brain certainly alters, and that can contribute to one’s morals as well. To summarize, we live in a world that has different perceptions of right and wrong. I suppose it brings balance on Earth, in which nothing can exist without its opposite.
  • Morality is a shortcut to a set of behaviors that subjectively maximize one's happiness.

    Why do we need morality at all? Suppose you are a child who does not know much about the world. You meet another child and start interacting with him. Your mom gives you a toy one day. You take that toy and give it to that child to play with; the child is incredibly happy, and you feel happiness as well, although you do not know yet why.
    As you grow up, you see the pattern: when you give something to people, it makes them happy, and it makes you feel better. Even more so, when you give something to people, they tend to give something back!
    Eventually, you figure that helping others is a thing that has a lot of benefits and elevates your emotional state. So you start doing it often. Rather than every time having to think things through deeply, you often just help others automatically. At this point, "helping others is good" becomes a part of your moral ruleset.

    The important thing here to understand is that having a clear moral ruleset makes it much easier for the person to live, because they do not have to spend as much mental energy on every decision, as they would if they had no morals at all and had to consider every situation uniquely. "If I help this person now, what will happen? So many things can go right or wrong... Hmmmmmm..."

    On the other hand, we can imagine an individual with a different life story, than the person above. Suppose that, when you gave the toy to another child, that child broke the toy and laughed about it. You experienced a lot of pain. As you grow up, keep doing it and getting burned on it a lot, you learn that helping people is dangerous, because people can use the help against you. Maybe you gave someone a loan of $1,000 out of friendship and they never paid you back. Maybe you treated a long-time friend very well, sending her gifts and helping her with everything - only for her to break up with you in a painful argument.
    What will you likely learn as a result? You might realize that the best way to go in life is to always rely on yourself and to use others to your advantage, to exploit every opportunity you can, at the expense of others - because, you figure, they are just as much trying to exploit every opportunity they can at your expense.

    We have two people, with two opposite moral rules on helping others. One thinks helping others is good and effective; another thinks helping others is naive and stupid. Each of these moral systems developed as a response to the demand to minimize one's amount of pain and maximize amount of happiness they feel throughout life, at the same time streamlining the decision-making process.

    Which rule of these two is "universally right"? Neither. People with a practical mindset will acknowledge that in some situations helping others is counter-productive, while in others it is extremely effective. People with an idealistic mindset will choose one of these two, discarding the other as "morally wrong". People with a philosophical mindset could say that both are simultaneously correct and incorrect, depending on the used reasoning.

    Ultimately, each person is an individual, with their own life experiences, their own views, their own morals. There are certain moral systems that are followed by large numbers of people, but that does not make them any less subjective. Morals are not a democracy; you cannot vote for which moral is "universal". Even if 99.999% people believe that murder is bad and 0.001% people believe that murder is okay, it still does not make murder "universally bad". 
  • @Plaffelvohfen I agree that the well-being of conscious creatures should be (in most cases) the premise for what constitutes good vs. bad moral actions, but I think the premise itself is based on subjective opinion even if the majority of people agree on it. I can't see how that premise is evidently true without taking into account how our brains are wired to avoid suffering and have certain preferences. Relating to Harris' video, he argues that there is a relationship between biological complexity and how wrong we feel it is to hurt an organism, and implies that there is a culture-independent consensus among humans of what we consider to be immoral and not. I don't disagree with that, but that to me seems more a result of how our brains have evolved to feel sympathy for the suffering of humans/animals with human-like features, as opposed to some insight into objective moral values.

    However, I do agree that, if we take our brains and our capacity for suffering into account, some moral codes will "objectively" be better than others, as few people would prefer suffering over no suffering. I guess in that case, some moral codes are more likely to be invented/discovered. 
  • @Edgar

    The problem here is that what constitutes suffering for some people, can have the opposite effect for others. For instance, the overwhelming majority of people suffer greatly from physical pain; but there is a very small minority of people with a deviation that makes them, in contrary, enjoy it. Obviously such people will view physical pain in a different light, and while everyone else will, say, believe that hurting others for no reason is morally wrong, these people might have gotten used to thinking otherwise. It does not mean that they will walk around and hurt people; after all, they have to live in this society and take others' opinions into account. But, in theory, it is possible to think of a society in which physical pain is viewed in a positive way, and the law is built in such a way as to encourage hurting others, rather than discourage it.

    Of course, one could argue that such societies are non-viable long-term and will necessarily lose the competition to the societies that frown upon violence. But in principle, this does not have to be the way.

    In fiction, variations of ideologies glorifying physical pain are pretty common. The Drow society from Forgotten Realms sees violence as a necessary component of the natural selection. Learning to endure and embrace pain is seen as one of the virtues, as they facilitate achieving the ultimate goal of the average Drow individual: achieving the dominance over everyone else. The Drows do not necessarily openly encourage murder, and their laws are pretty strict in this regard - but they also believe that breaking the law in such a way as to not compromise oneself is a fair game. It is a bit like jaywalking: technically, it is illegal, but practically, everyone does that.

    I do agree that there are certain practically virtually inevitable societal moral codes, however. At least, in the modern world competition encourages societies to promote ideals of unity and cooperation. Such things as charity or leadership are going to be seen in a positive light, while such things as fraud or thievery are not going to be tolerated.

    But, again, it may be very different in the future. Imagine the world 10,000 years from now, where every human (or whatever we have evolved into) is completely self-sufficient. Where anyone can land on some random asteroid and build their life there, without ever interacting with other humans. Will the ideals of cooperation and non-violence still be so universally accepted? Or will they instead be replaced by extreme self-focus, at the expense of everyone else? Perhaps people will just see each other as a resource to be used, and morals will be based around taking advantage of each other.
  • @MayCaesar

    "you figure that helping others is a thing that has a lot of benefits and elevates your emotional state"

    This describes the built-in reward system in the brain, there's indications that this sense of morality is a tool in the evolution box and its foundations could actually be biological. The works of Patricia Churchland and others in Neurosciences are fascinating on this. 

    It's a long one, but so worth it in my opinion. 

    " Adversus absurdum, contumaciter ac ridens! "
  • Just because something is a social construct doesn't mean it isn't in the realm of "realism". There's also no justifiable evidence to show that humans created morality. Can anyone here prove that animals other than humans do not live by some sort of moral code? Just like cancer, perhaps morality was embedded in our genome long before we could have been called humans, or even primates. The concept of morality seems to be associated with societal beings (not to say individuals don't have a morality code for themselves), so social beings that lived before humans, but are distantly related to humans, could have also had a concept of morality that we inherited (the concept of morality, not necessarily their moral code itself). In that case, morality really can't be considered a social construct, at least not in the manner that "social construction" is usually meant. And as far as morality and its realism is concerned, if it is indeed embedded in our genes, I think that would make it quite real. And so when it comes to whether morality is universal, maybe not the specific standards that make up a moral code, but the concept of morality could very well be universal.
  • @piloteer

    Exactly, at least that's where neurosciences point to. Every gregarious species have their own moral sense, it's instinctive... Look at herds of elephants, there are social behaviors that increases chance of survival (the moral thing to do), which increase levels of oxitocin and number of neuronal receptors in the brain and behaviors that are detrimental to the group and decreases chance of survival (the immoral thing to do) which will negatively affect oxitocin levels, same with any other social animal. The larger the cortex, the more complex it gets.  We humans have evolve to the point where we verbalized this "moral instinct', we had to put it into words, had to try to define it, but we're still learning about it, the mistake many make is to think of morality as immutable & absolute, that it exists outside consciousness, which makes no sense IMO...
    " Adversus absurdum, contumaciter ac ridens! "
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