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Thread: Relative and Absolute Morality

  1. #1
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    Relative and Absolute Morality

    For those not in the know, Warfish and I were having a discussion about this, and rather than hijack a thread, I promised I would create a new one.

    What I have done is create a starting ground to the discussion. The debate consisted of the relative and absolute morality, and how morality itself cannot be discussed without the inclusion of philosophy, ethics and theology (mainly theology.

    This is was my January article for the newspaper I do a column for...

    [SIZE=4]ATTENTION:[/SIZE]
    For those wishing to comment, this discussion was NOT started with the idea that what I am talking about is Christianity. You must understand that you can have this talk without trying to decide which THEOLOGY is right...that is not the point. Please keep that in mind.

    It is long....I have 650 words to use... :cool:


    [B]Can we truly discover what is "right?"
    [/B]
    A chance video rental last week of Oliver Stone’s “World Trade Center” led to an interesting and in-depth discussion regarding morality between a friend and myself. We talked about 9/11 and its lasting impression on this generation. As we delved further into the conversation, my friend admitted that 9/11 shook him deeply, leaving him with a growing frustration and concern for the state of humanity.

    He believed the problems were too involved to understand. Exactly what role did poor personal decisions, excess television, a desensitization of human emotions, money, and a host of other elements contribute? I did not disagree with his assessment, I just countered with my belief that humanity has the capacity and desire to do good, but it also contains a fundamental flaw that will counter any attempts to “right” the ship.

    The discussion stuck with me for days, and further investigation into the matter was needed. I struck up a conversation on a political chat-room, and poised the question to a variety of posters. While it appeared this concern for humanity wasn’t as common as I first expected, most people agreed that where things went awry is the debate within morality itself, and the search for absolute truth within morality a forum that deals strictly in relativity.

    But surely there are things we can agree on like rape and pedophilia? Not according to some disturbing discoveries. In a survey conducted for the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education by Helen Lenskyj in 1992, sixty percent of Canadian college-age men admitted they would commit sexual assault if they were certain of not being caught. A recent survey by Leger Marketing showed that only eighty-one percent of Canadians believe pedophilia to be wrong.

    Allan Bloom, author of “The Closing of the American Mind,” believes (students in particular) have been indoctrinated into the belief that beyond mathematics and science, all truth is relative. Many have perfected the argument that with an ever-increasing globalization of community and culture, how could anyone have such a dated point of view as absolute morality? It is “Mans” yearning to control how all people conduct themselves which has led directly to war, slavery, racism and a host of other modern day concerns.

    How can people have such a differing of opinion on such a topic? The very notion that someone makes a statement that truth is completely relative and nothing is absolute is quite…well ironic when you think about it.

    Could it be possible the very notion of relativism and universal tolerance through the acceptance of everything has led to the “serious concern to the state of humanity” my friend has? Has a fixated objective of universal tolerance and over-indulgence anesthetized us morally? If we can decide what we think is right or wrong, how can the whole moral fiber of culture and society not fall apart? How can anyone disagree with irate indignation toward such actions as September 11, child pornography, infanticide, spousal abuse and war if moral choice is nothing more then personal choice? We may not choose to involve ourselves with such actions, but if someone else chooses to do such horrific things, who are we to say?

    If humans, or society as a collective, make up truth, could genocide, rape, incest and murder (all of which at one time were considered moral by some culture), become common practice again?

    But what of a Truth that is absolute and unmoving? Something that is discoverable outside of self, not owned by a particular person, culture or theology, that of which everyone could work toward and achieve. Could such a thing exit, and if so, should it not be the focal point of our journey in life?

    My friend shrugged at my proposal, replying with the conventional “anything is possible.” A major breakthrough considering how well I know him. Next time, perhaps we'll discuss what might have caused such truth to exist in the first place.

  2. #2
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    [QUOTE=CanadaSteve]For those not in the know, Warfish and I were having a discussion about this, and rather than hijack a thread, I promised I would create a new one.

    What I have done is create a starting ground to the discussion. The debate consisted of the relative and absolute morality, and how morality itself cannot be discussed without the inclusion of philosophy, ethics and theology (mainly theology.

    This is was my January article for the newspaper I do a column for...

    [SIZE=4]ATTENTION:[/SIZE]
    For those wishing to comment, this discussion was NOT started with the idea that what I am talking about is Christianity. You must understand that you can have this talk without trying to decide which THEOLOGY is right...that is not the point. Please keep that in mind.

    It is long....I have 650 words to use... :cool:


    [B]Can we truly discover what is "right?"
    [/B]
    A chance video rental last week of Oliver Stone’s “World Trade Center” led to an interesting and in-depth discussion regarding morality between a friend and myself. We talked about 9/11 and its lasting impression on this generation. As we delved further into the conversation, my friend admitted that 9/11 shook him deeply, leaving him with a growing frustration and concern for the state of humanity.

    He believed the problems were too involved to understand. Exactly what role did poor personal decisions, excess television, a desensitization of human emotions, money, and a host of other elements contribute? I did not disagree with his assessment, I just countered with my belief that humanity has the capacity and desire to do good, but it also contains a fundamental flaw that will counter any attempts to “right” the ship.

    The discussion stuck with me for days, and further investigation into the matter was needed. I struck up a conversation on a political chat-room, and poised the question to a variety of posters. While it appeared this concern for humanity wasn’t as common as I first expected, most people agreed that where things went awry is the debate within morality itself, and the search for absolute truth within morality a forum that deals strictly in relativity.

    But surely there are things we can agree on like rape and pedophilia? Not according to some disturbing discoveries. In a survey conducted for the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education by Helen Lenskyj in 1992, sixty percent of Canadian college-age men admitted they would commit sexual assault if they were certain of not being caught. A recent survey by Leger Marketing showed that only eighty-one percent of Canadians believe pedophilia to be wrong.

    Allan Bloom, author of “The Closing of the American Mind,” believes (students in particular) have been indoctrinated into the belief that beyond mathematics and science, all truth is relative. Many have perfected the argument that with an ever-increasing globalization of community and culture, how could anyone have such a dated point of view as absolute morality? It is “Mans” yearning to control how all people conduct themselves which has led directly to war, slavery, racism and a host of other modern day concerns.

    How can people have such a differing of opinion on such a topic? The very notion that someone makes a statement that truth is completely relative and nothing is absolute is quite…well ironic when you think about it.

    Could it be possible the very notion of relativism and universal tolerance through the acceptance of everything has led to the “serious concern to the state of humanity” my friend has? Has a fixated objective of universal tolerance and over-indulgence anesthetized us morally? If we can decide what we think is right or wrong, how can the whole moral fiber of culture and society not fall apart? How can anyone disagree with irate indignation toward such actions as September 11, child pornography, infanticide, spousal abuse and war if moral choice is nothing more then personal choice? We may not choose to involve ourselves with such actions, but if someone else chooses to do such horrific things, who are we to say?

    If humans, or society as a collective, make up truth, could genocide, rape, incest and murder (all of which at one time were considered moral by some culture), become common practice again?

    But what of a Truth that is absolute and unmoving? Something that is discoverable outside of self, not owned by a particular person, culture or theology, that of which everyone could work toward and achieve. Could such a thing exit, and if so, should it not be the focal point of our journey in life?

    My friend shrugged at my proposal, replying with the conventional “anything is possible.” A major breakthrough considering how well I know him. Next time, perhaps we'll discuss what might have caused such truth to exist in the first place.[/QUOTE]


    I think you need to define "right" and "wrong."

  3. #3
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    A quick note on CanadaSteve's post.

    I see where you're going with this:

    [QUOTE]He believed the problems were too involved to understand. Exactly what role did poor personal decisions, excess television, a desensitization of human emotions, money, and a host of other elements contribute? I did not disagree with his assessment, I just countered with my belief that humanity has the capacity and desire to do good, but it also contains a fundamental flaw that will counter any attempts to “right” the ship. [/QUOTE]

    But how many times before, when society has gotten too decadent did it bring itself down.

    Granted, we have the tools to destroy the entire planet, but that I honestly believe that will never happen. As humans, we make mistakes, but I completely doubt that we will ever completely destroy eachother. We have gotten to the brink of total destruction before and better judgement prevailed on both sides.

    What will probably happen: After the collapse of Rome, Europe went into a dark age, It would not awaken for another 1,000 years till the Renaissance.

    Basically, America is the Rome of todays world. If we crumble from within, which seems like the only way we'd fall right now, the rest of the world will detoriate along with us. The markets will collapse and it will be a free for all just as it happened before.

    [QUOTE]Could it be possible the very notion of relativism and universal tolerance through the acceptance of everything has led to the “serious concern to the state of humanity” my friend has? Has a fixated objective of universal tolerance and over-indulgence anesthetized us morally? If we can decide what we think is right or wrong, how can the whole moral fiber of culture and society not fall apart? How can anyone disagree with irate indignation toward such actions as September 11, child pornography, infanticide, spousal abuse and war if moral choice is nothing more then personal choice? We may not choose to involve ourselves with such actions, but if someone else chooses to do such horrific things, who are we to say? [/QUOTE]

    Its comical how little faith people have in other people. We all watch the news and think the world is going to sh*t and there isn't a decent soul out there, but lets be honest, the news focuses on the negative because thats what people [B]need[/B] to hear about. Its a tool to warn the public of dangers.

    But there are plenty of good people on this planet. How many people do you know that you trust? How many people do you know you can count on? How many people count on you?

    These are all questions that always re-energize my faith in humanity.

    Often times we over-analyze ourselves and other people to the point where we block out the good qualities inherent in all of us. People say "There are more people in prison now in our country than there ever was before." Well we have more people living in this country than we ever did before. People say "There are more international conflicts and violence now than ever before." BULLSH*T. Read a history book. There will always be that in humanity, but for the better part of 60 years, there hasn't been a major global war. The Pax Americana is a reality. There will always be revolutions and religious conflicts, but thats the natural state of man.

    Its good to think about the big picture, but there is only one place to start, with yourself. Leading a good life does not just have a positive influence on those close to you, but also others who you might never have known benefited.

  4. #4
    "It is the painful feeling that God Himself is dead."

    It is an interesting little op. piece but a lot of your debate is echoed in the very fabric of philosophy from the sophistry of Plato's Greece to the Death of God and problem of nihilism in modern Europe. I would be glad to discuss those issues or recommend texts with you through P.M. as of now i'm far to drunk to get into all that right now.

    [QUOTE]But what of a Truth that is absolute and unmoving? Something that is discoverable outside of self, not owned by a particular person, culture or theology, that of which everyone could work toward and achieve. Could such a thing exit, and if so, should it not be the focal point of our journey in life?[/QUOTE]

    One take I find particularly interesting was Levinas' [URL=http://www.amazon.com/Totality-Infinity-Essay-Exteriority-Philosophical/dp/0820702455]totality and infinity[/URL] While I'm more caught up in a Heideggerian take I can't deny my interest in Levinas. A student of Heidegger and eventual prominent detractor. I have some .pdf excerpts of Levinas I could send if you don't want to take the plunge on buying the book. Essentially he looks at the primordial relationship between the Self and the Other. Now the other, and Other are different and the case is very important as the other is something which is named and owned, made same into the sameness of ego.The Other is something infinite and exceeding any sort of attempts to own and make same (an absolute, outside the self.) The face of the Other in particular represents infinity, a notion similar to the Cartesian idea of infinity where the ideatum exceeds the idea itself and the face of the Other, or substance is like that, it is constantly pushing and exceeding form of the face. The face conveys the ultimate and absolute morality which basically states, "Do not kill me." During the holocaust the gas showers had to be invented as those death squads which involved face to face executions ended up with some Nazi soldiers committing suicide/being deeply affected. The Other as 'god' and the basis of a morality and the face its way of penetrating the solipsism of modern existence.
    Last edited by j-rome; 01-16-2007 at 11:24 PM.

  5. #5
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    [QUOTE=CarlSpackler]A quick note on CanadaSteve's post.

    I see where you're going with this:



    But how many times before, when society has gotten too decadent did it bring itself down.

    Granted, we have the tools to destroy the entire planet, but that I honestly believe that will never happen. As humans, we make mistakes, but I completely doubt that we will ever completely destroy eachother. We have gotten to the brink of total destruction before and better judgement prevailed on both sides.

    What will probably happen: After the collapse of Rome, Europe went into a dark age, It would not awaken for another 1,000 years till the Renaissance.

    Basically, America is the Rome of todays world. If we crumble from within, which seems like the only way we'd fall right now, the rest of the world will detoriate along with us. The markets will collapse and it will be a free for all just as it happened before.



    Its comical how little faith people have in other people. We all watch the news and think the world is going to sh*t and there isn't a decent soul out there, but lets be honest, the news focuses on the negative because thats what people [B]need[/B] to hear about. Its a tool to warn the public of dangers.

    But there are plenty of good people on this planet. How many people do you know that you trust? How many people do you know you can count on? How many people count on you?

    These are all questions that always re-energize my faith in humanity.

    Often times we over-analyze ourselves and other people to the point where we block out the good qualities inherent in all of us. People say "There are more people in prison now in our country than there ever was before." Well we have more people living in this country than we ever did before. People say "There are more international conflicts and violence now than ever before." BULLSH*T. Read a history book. [B] There will always be that in humanity, [/B]but for the better part of 60 years, there hasn't been a major global war. The Pax Americana is a reality. There will always be revolutions and religious conflicts, but thats the natural state of man.

    Its good to think about the big picture, but there is only one place to start, with yourself. Leading a good life does not just have a positive influence on those close to you, but also others who you might never have known benefited.[/QUOTE]

    The highlighted area proves my point that there is a flaw in humanity.

    Also, I don't you are getting the point. We are are talking about a morality that is DISCOVERABLE, not chosen by people.

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    [QUOTE=j-rome]One take I find particularly interesting was Levinas' .[/QUOTE]


    Levina's work is quite complex and to put it mildly, hard to comprehend. Not trying to put its values down, but I think that Levinas is something you work toward, not dive right into. Again, and perhaps I'm mistaken, but I think it does not relate to my point at hand for the moment.

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    Where is Warfish and a discussion on this guys?

  8. #8
    [QUOTE=CanadaSteve]Where is Warfish and a discussion on this guys?[/QUOTE]

    With apologies, I have little to say on this issue right now, perhaps at all at this point.....

    I believe all morallity is relative, and I believe History proves that point. Morallity is explicitly set by the society that it exists for, and their reasoning/rationale can be anything from purely the public good, to the good of a few above the masses, to God's decree. None of that changes the fact that morallity over history has been clearly flexable, relative, and ever changing over history. And most important, it has been set by Men in every case.

    There is no such thing as absolute morallity, and if you need proof, look at the strongest and most commonly shared amongt cultures "moral rule". Thou shalt not Kill. We, meaning humanity, kill each other all the time, and we make excuses and rationalisms and explainations for it all.....and we keep doing it.

    But I doubt I can convince you in any form of this. You see Morallity as God's Will. Such a belief cannot be argued against effectively, for obvious reasons.
    Last edited by Warfish; 01-17-2007 at 02:11 PM.

  9. #9
    [QUOTE=CanadaSteve]The highlighted area proves my point that there is a flaw in humanity.

    Also, I don't you are getting the point. We are are talking about a morality that is DISCOVERABLE, not chosen by people.[/QUOTE]


    Steve- Are you talking about a discoverable morality along the lines of the 10 Commandments? Not made by society or culture but by something greater?

  10. #10
    I believe their is one Moral Commandment:

    Love God with your whole mind and spirit and love your neighbor as yourself.
    It covers everything else. But unfortunately people today have more respect for money then anything else! Just look around and you see the fruits of that mentality!

  11. #11
    You'll have to forgive me, but I'm just not getting why morality cannot be discussed without theology. I appreciate the post you promised in the other thread, but I just don't see it.

  12. #12
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    [QUOTE=CanadaSteve]The highlighted area proves my point that there is a flaw in humanity.

    Also, I don't you are getting the point. We are are talking about a morality that is DISCOVERABLE, not chosen by people.[/QUOTE]

    The main theme of what you wrote was that the modern era has seen an increase in moral relativism and a decrease in the overall integrity of human morality, especially in our own country.

    I simply disagree. We just hear about it more because of the internet explosion and the emergence of round-the-clock news networks.

  13. #13
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    [QUOTE=CanadaSteve]But surely there are things we can agree on like rape and pedophilia?[/QUOTE]


    As an anthropologist...lol...I can tell you that you may be mistaken. Underage marriage was quite the norm up until modern times.

  14. #14
    [QUOTE=CanadaSteve]Levina's work is quite complex and to put it mildly, hard to comprehend. Not trying to put its values down, but I think that Levinas is something you work toward, not dive right into. Again, and perhaps I'm mistaken, but I think it does not relate to my point at hand for the moment.[/QUOTE]

    He grounds all of philosophy in ethics, I would say its applicable and far more productive then proceeding along the path that Kant and similar enlightened thinkers tried (Berkley, Hume, Kierkegaard, Diderot etc.) Even Bloom, a straussian thinker, would also account for a morality being centered in a particular context i.e. there is no transcendental truth.

  15. #15
    [QUOTE=Warfish]With apologies, I have little to say on this issue right now, perhaps at all at this point.....

    I believe all morallity is relative, and I believe History proves that point. Morallity is explicitly set by the society that it exists for, and their reasoning/rationale can be anything from purely the public good, to the good of a few above the masses, to God's decree. None of that changes the fact that morallity over history has been clearly flexable, relative, and ever changing over history. And most important, it has been set by Men in every case.

    There is no such thing as absolute morallity, and if you need proof, look at the strongest and most commonly shared amongt cultures "moral rule". Thou shalt not Kill. We, meaning humanity, kill each other all the time, and we make excuses and rationalisms and explainations for it all.....and we keep doing it.

    But I doubt I can convince you in any form of this. You see Morallity as God's Will. Such a belief cannot be argued against effectively, for obvious reasons.[/QUOTE]

    Just because societies justified killing doesn't make it right. What if the society is wrong? I think right is right and wrong is wrong even if a society doesn't recognize it.

  16. #16
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    I have to take a crack at this Warfish:



    [QUOTE=Warfish]
    I believe all morallity is relative, and I believe History proves that point. Morallity is explicitly set by the society that it exists for, and their reasoning/rationale can be anything from purely the public good, to the good of a few above the masses, to God's decree. None of that changes the fact that morallity over history has been clearly flexable, relative, and ever changing over history. And most important, it has been set by Men in every case.[/QUOTE]

    This is my point to a tee. If morality is set by society, then it is NOT morality at all, it is just what you choose to do...which is what we have anyway. We can have absolute morality, and still choose to ignore it. What I am talking about is something that is not flexible. You can defy the law of gravity, but you cannot break the law of gravity without consequences. This is the kind of morality I am talking about. We can decide if we think pedophilia is right or wrong, but ultimately, what we choose is irrelevant. As the old saying goes, truth is truth whether you believe it or not.


    [QUOTE=Warfish]There is no such thing as absolute morallity, and if you need proof, look at the strongest and most commonly shared amongt cultures "moral rule". Thou shalt not Kill. We, meaning humanity, kill each other all the time, and we make excuses and rationalisms and explainations for it all.....and we keep doing it.[/QUOTE]

    Just because we kill each other does not mean that killing someone is not a moral law. Sure we keep doing it, and we rationalize by saying what I did was not moral....but by saying something is moral does not make it so. Can we say I don't believe in gravity, therefore it does not affect me. Remember, I am talking about something that is discoverable, not something chosen by certain people then forced onto others.
    [/QUOTE]

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    [QUOTE=OrangeJet]You'll have to forgive me, but I'm just not getting why morality cannot be discussed without theology. I appreciate the post you promised in the other thread, but I just don't see it.[/QUOTE]


    If we are talking about a morality that is relative, then we are alking about what you choose to do or not do. The Nazis thought they were acting morally. Doctors who perform abortions believe they are acting morally. What I am proposing is that there is such a thing as absolutes within human morality...things that no matter what we say about them are right because they ARE right, and wrong because they ARE wrong. Human opinion or choice has no bearing on whether they are or not.

    If you are talking about morality in this sense, you cannot then have a discussion about how such things were put into place, which leads to the fields of philosophy (debating and logically trying to execute an answer) or theology (trying to decipher a God that would put such actions into place and why).

    Does that make sense now?

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    [QUOTE=chicadeel]Steve- Are you talking about a discoverable morality along the lines of the 10 Commandments? Not made by society or culture but by something greater?[/QUOTE]


    Without making any connection with the ten commandments, my suggestion is the possiblity of a moral law, not produced by society or culture at all, that bridges all cultures and societies. Whether one culture condones pedophilia and one condemns pedophilia is irrelevant. An absolute Moral Law would saw the action is either right or wrong, (possibly) either all the time or none of the time.

    This moral law is outside ourselves, thus making it something to discover and not own by any particular culture or religion.
    Pythagorus when he discovered A2 + B2 = C2 thanked God in celebration because "we are destined with immortality because we found something immortal." To him, proof of absolute truth could make it possible for peace if everyone embraced truth. This source (Truth) is an "otherness," meaning it is detectable, not decided upon. If we can conceive of absolute truth, is it not possible it could exist?

    What I am saying is there are absolutes in mathematics, science, music...is it possible there could be absolutes in human morality?

  19. #19
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    [QUOTE=CarlSpackler]The main theme of what you wrote was that the modern era has seen an increase in moral relativism and a decrease in the overall integrity of human morality, especially in our own country.

    I simply disagree. We just hear about it more because of the internet explosion and the emergence of round-the-clock news networks.[/QUOTE]


    Nothing to do with that. The examples were to show that there is no agreement to what is moral from a human standpoint.

    The suggestion is the possibility of Truth that is outside human reason.

  20. #20
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    [QUOTE=j-rome]He grounds all of philosophy in ethics, I would say its applicable and far more productive then proceeding along the path that Kant and similar enlightened thinkers tried (Berkley, Hume, Kierkegaard, Diderot etc.) Even Bloom, a straussian thinker, would also account for a morality being centered in a particular context i.e. there is no transcendental truth.[/QUOTE]

    J-rome, I am simply not that familiar with Levina's, unlike yourself. I really can't make an honest opinion about it. AS for Hume, Kant, Kierkegaard, well...not a big fan of the stuff I have read.

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