Friday, April 16, 2010

Morality Across Cultures Part 2

While working on my paper about morality across cultures, I have found it extremely useful to engage in discussions about morality. I am pretty certain that certain friends of mine will be terribly pleased to see my paper finished and me shutting the hell up about it. But the most valuable discussions have been taking place online - useful in the main, because the people involved are actually interested in the discussion.

One of the more recent and more interesting discussions has been taking place on a science blog I first wandered to last week, The Primate Diaries. I never cease to be surprised by the fierce need so many people seem to have, of some kind of universal moral frame. I really wonder about this and what drives it. Is it a need to have one's own moral frame validated by some external agency? Or is it a fear that without a universal dogmatic structure, we will see some kind of breakdown of society? Or could it simply be the feeling that we must respond to theist claims that atheism equals a complete lack of morality, with a palpable dogmatic frame?

In the interest of a rather simple method for gathering responses, I have made a poll. Please feel free to explain more in comments.

I may or may not use the result to this poll in the paper I am working on for school, but it is unlikely. I will however write about the results if I get very many. If you happen to have an urge to link directly to the poll on your blog here is the URL.


Jason Thibeault said...

Other. There can be objective morals, based on subjectively agreed-upon standards. For instance, if we agree that the perpetuation of the human species is subjectively good, we can derive objective moral judgments based on what is detrimental or beneficial to society. Mucking up our environment to the point where it's unsustainable becomes a moral evil, and it becomes morally imperative to maintain that biosphere so we can all continue to enjoy it in the future. Genocide is objectively evil. Property theft is objectively hurtful, in that it circumvents property laws we've all agreed upon and breaches the societal constructs we put into place to keep us all from anarchy; though might be outweighed by the reasons -- for instance, stealing from the rich to give to the poor is less "evil" than stealing from the poor to give to the rich, and can in some cases be considered "good".

What do you think about that?

DuWayne Brayton said...

The only one that I can come close to agreeing with is genocide, but I am not sure even that is appropriate. While I am certainly not one to support it, it is arguable that wiping out a sizable percentage of the human population would have a net benefit. Not just for the people left behind, but in many cases for the people taken and the people they might have produced. I don't believe such an action is justifiable, I can see why someone might believe that not only would doing so not be immoral, but in fact that such an act would be a positive moral response to overpopulation.

When it comes to the environment and property crime, I think it is not so much a moral question as a practical matter. In some regards the genocide question is relevant to this context too. Whether someone believes biosphere maintenance, property crime and the taking of human life are moral issues, it is intellectually in our best interest as a society to proactively support the environment, not to allow property crime and not to tolerate murder - on any scale.

In all honesty, I don't actually believe that environmentalism is a moral issue at all. Outside the context of wanting our planet to continue to sustain human life, I could give a fuck about the planet. In the larger context of life on planet earth we aren't even a blink of the eye. The planet as we know it - when compared to the history of our planet - is barely a footnote. And ultimately we are a force of nature - no different than any predator in our biosphere - no different than a tornado, hurricane or eruption of one of the super-volcanoes - or massing meteor strike for that matter.

Bottom line - except for the context of sustaining our race, nothing we do to the environment makes any real difference in the long run. Say we manage to wipe out 99.99% of life in earth - I doubt we could manage 100%. So what? Other than it meaning the end of the human race and most every form of life, it would be just another hiccup in our planet's history. And in all honesty, I would expect that the worst case scenario wouldn't even wipe out 50% of the species on the planet.

The other two are definitely moral issues as far as I am concerned. That is only my opinion though.

Greg said...

Other. What Jason said. I know it sounds strange, but it is true. 1 + 1 = 2 because I say it does.

Everything else is senseless navel gazing.

DuWayne Brayton said...

Ok - then let me ask an extremely important question about this discussion;

What role do you believe morality has to play? What is it? What is the purpose of morality?