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Right/Wrong: Absolute or Relative
Philosophy

rodrogers
May 03, 2012
4 votes
5 debaters
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Absolute


rodrogers
May 03, 2012
1 convinced
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By way of explanation (since they dont let us do "rants" anymore):

What is "right" and what is "wrong"? Are these absolute concepts? Are right and wrong constants such that are laws deviate from but are striving to encompass what is "right"? Its kind of a Plato like concept: "right" and "wrong" exist and are absolute, we humans are trying to shape our laws to reflect the absolute truth, but its kind of a crappy trial and error process, but someday we may come to have laws that reflect what is truly right and what is truly wrong.

On the other hand, maybe there is no "right" and "wrong". Those are just concepts created by humans to have some measure of stability in society. In a state of nature nothing is "right" or "wrong" but in a society we set certain behaviors as such, and the acceptance and condemnation of certain behaviors evolves over time as do our concepts of what is "right" and "wrong"

In the middle; there are certain things that are absolutely right and wrong (murder comes to mind), and some things that are in flux as society evolves. (I would add this position but I only get two, and if you take this position please articulate which behaviors fit into the absolute or flux categories, and why).

Thanks!

 
Matthew Haugabrook
May 04, 2012
0 convinced
Rebuttal
Rebuttal to: cartesiandiver995 Show

So I'm reading "A Moral Landscape" by Sam Harris, right, and this is exactly what he's talking about in it. Is murder wrong? No, just like letting people die of some disease due to ridiculous religious ideologies isn't wrong when modern medical science could totally fix it in a jif (it totally is wrong).

Murder is objectively wrong insofar as it doesn't add anything to the happiness of humanity as whole...or even individually. Stealing is wrong for the same reasons. The act of compassion is right, conversely, insofar as it does indeed add to the collective happiness of humanity.

I now see why Sam Harris chose the more general "human well-being" as his grounds for objective morality. Mere happiness seems too strict. So, replace "well-being of humanity" with "happiness" and you see his point...and mine for the time being.





 
Matthew Haugabrook
May 05, 2012
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Rebuttal to: cartesiandiver995 Show

Firstly, why wouldn't the well being of humanity be a right goal? Conversely, don't you think the total annihilation of humanity would be a morally "bad" goal? (If don't think it would be morally bad, I'd absolutely love to know the reasons you think so...)

Secondly, the well being of humanity is undeniably dependent on its environment and thus maintaining and conserving the environment would be morally right under the project of increasing the well being of humanity. So, no, it does not come at the expense of the integrity of natural ecosystems.

Equality for all is also under the header, considering the mere presence of poverty is most certainly wrong, and steps should be taken to remove poverty entirely, not necessarily equating everyone, but, at the very least, giving people a chance to live a quality life they wouldn't have otherwise.

 
Matthew Haugabrook
May 08, 2012
0 convinced
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Rebuttal to: William Zimmerman Show

Morality based on science is pretty new. In his book, Sam Harris readily admits that humanity may never be able to answer every moral question. However, that shouldn't prevent such a morality from existing. It's akin to how there are so many questions concerning the nature of physics, yet, we have physical laws on which to base future endeavors.

What hasn't been asked or addressed is how do scientific discoveries apply to morality. What about science gives it any authority on which to tell humanity to base future action? The answer would be found in the sciences of neuroscience and psychology. In other words, what would serve as a basis for a scientific morality would be the brain and how it responds to its environment. Things that make you feel good, happy, fulfilled, etc (anything you can think of when pondering "the good life") would be favored over things you'd think of when pondering "the bad life".

Now, in your example, I imagine somebody is not going to feel particularly great about either having to die, or having to kill simply to eat, or both. In fact, I'd be inclined to say they'd be more happy to help each other find something to eat together. So, from a scientifically moral standpoint, it would be right to prevent such situations from ever occurring. In this case, that'd be allowing everyone access to food. How would this happen? I have no idea. However, I think we can both agree that a person that can eat is a happier person than can't.

It's on the principle of cooperation that whole civilizations have been built from their cave-man starting points. It was Jesus that said "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." The oh so famous Golden Rule on which civilization is based has, at its heart, the presumption of equality. And why not? If man can go from living in caves with only a few families to living in grand cities holding thousands of families, and be significantly better off for it, then what exactly is wrong about that in any way?

Concerning animals, I don't know. Perhaps data about human interactions with animals could shed light on that. Again, I don't know. However, the fact that humans value each other over other animals is a place to start. And where to go from there, I'm sure, can be determined with more studies, tests, etc, concerning full, healthy lives and what makes people happy.

 
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Relative


cartesiandiver995
May 03, 2012
0 convinced
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Rebuttal to: rodrogers Show

Even with murder, you have to prove that it is right or wrong. What are your grounds for deciding that? The least harm caused to all humans? The least harm caused to your loved ones? What? What? What?

 
jyp576
May 04, 2012
0 convinced
Rebuttal
Right and wrong are human concepts, social (or cultural) constructs used to dictate the way we live, and so cannot be defined as universal. “Right” is not applied to the animal, as it is a being outside the realm of human perception, just as “wrong” cannot describe the ocean or the rain. The animal does not perceive the world as a human does, and so human morals cannot define it. The ocean is insentient, and so its actions are involuntary. A god, can be described as “right” or “wrong”. But, from a purely anthropological perspective, a god is an institution by which a society may enforce its values. See how the Christian God preaches a very different message from the Hindu gods, or even from the Muslim God. As gods differ from culture to culture, so do the values of societies shift, so is the line between “right” and “wrong” erased and rewritten beyond town limits. A Muslim man several months ago was incarcerated for the murder of his teenage daughter. In America, this man was a monster. However, by the standards of his culture, the killing was an act of honor. To a degree, right and wrong may be definite when defined by any one culture. Just read any religious text, with its list of do’s and don’t’s stretching chapters. But as artificial terms coined by human beings to mark their own boundaries, right and wrong cannot be described as such. From a universal perspective, right and wrong are most definately subjective.

 
cartesiandiver995
May 04, 2012
0 convinced
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Rebuttal to: Matthew Haugabrook Show

Those are good reasons... but first you have to prove that "well being of humanity" is the right goal beyond the shadow of a doubt. The "well being of humanity" comes at the expense of other causes like the integrity of natural ecosystems, equality of all, the lifetime of the human race. You also have to define a more specific goal to know what contributes to it and against it.

 
cartesiandiver995
May 07, 2012
0 convinced
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Rebuttal to: Matthew Haugabrook Show

"Well being of humanity" can be defined in a lot of ways, and some notions of "well being of humanity" are even conflicting, making it too general to use as a basis for morality. Killing some humans can even avert problems like Overpopulation, famines, drought etc. The elimination of poverty and the preservation of nature in a relatively intact state, while they can both be argued to contribute to the "well being of humanity," are all too often at odds with one another. Although yes, I believe in the spread and preservation of knowledge, and the total destruction of humanity would certainly destroy a lot, probably all, of knowledge.

 
William Zimmerman
May 07, 2012
0 convinced
Rebuttal
Rebuttal to: Matthew Haugabrook Show

CartesianDiver99 brings up some good points, in that what is right for the greater good is not all right with the one, but I'm not sure that is in direct response to Matthew's argument. Matthew is arguing for the betterment of "Human Well-Being," or "happiness," and if some humans are hurt, then Human well-being is not being improved, regardless of how many people it makes happy, because happiness is not a tangible thing that can be measured as such. Who is to say that the joy lost by killing one, would be less than the joy Millions receive from that killing?

I think the real reason that Morality is relative is that Matthew's argument hinges on the assumption that we all hold all humans as equal. If a father must feed his child, but to do so requires him to kill another human, would he not do it? In most cases, I think, the father would (Assuming he loves his child), because he values his child's life over the life of a stranger. This leads to the point that Humans (and all of nature for that matter) do not look out for the betterment of the entire human race, but simply for the betterment of their's and their kin.

This isn't to say that all humans act this way, but the fact that so many do, and probably would if given dire enough circumstances, you cannot say that there is a RIGHT and a WRONG, because not every one applies that "Human Well-being" to all other homo sapiens. For example, In ancient Rome, slaves were sold and bartered and let die in the arena's because they were not equals to the Romans. They killed and sold slaves as they killed and sold livestock.

Now, some might say that just because there are examples of humans not holding each other equal, doesn't make it true. And you are correct. But if we are going to cast as wide a net as "ALL HUMANS," under those we want to raise the well being of, then whats to stop us from casting the net of "ALL LIFE." What is it that makes a human any more worthy of a better life than a cow, or a dog or a whale? For every reason you can come up with for why their are differences between a human and a cow, I can give you differences between high society White Americans and dirt poor Chinese laborers, or any other classification of humans.

 


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