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Can Morality be taught?

  1. It can be taught and not created

    4 vote(s)
    23.5%
  2. It can be created and not taught

    1 vote(s)
    5.9%
  3. It can be taught while being created

    10 vote(s)
    58.8%
  4. It can neither be taught nor created

    2 vote(s)
    11.8%
  1. Feb 9, 2005 #1
    The question as to whether morality can be taught is as old as anyone is prepared to go back in time. Infact, Socrates in some of Plato's Dialogues is often quoted as the first philosopher to conduct a clinical examination of this question. This question is now becoming very important as our current world societies are still filled with all sorts of confusions, misunderstandings, physical conflicts and disasters after disasters.

    As these problems manifest and grow there is now a BIG question mark being placed upon the exact 'VALUE OF THE HUMAN EDUCATION' and INDUCTRINATIONS OF ALL KINDS? If you want to start this as a separate thread, you can.....but this is the main question:

    Does Education sanitise? Can education really improve the human state of mind? Or simply, can morality be taught?
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2005
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 9, 2005 #2
    I voted 'It can be taught while being created' because there is a clear evidence that there are at least some people that can exercise full control of themselves throughout their llives without ever harming neither themselves nor anyone else. Through being morally conditioned from youths to do good, they stay harmless both to themselves and others throughout! Equally, there are many of those who fluctuate between being good and being bad, and stay somewhat confused throughout their lives. And finally, there are those who stay persistently morally problematic, the so-called 'repeated offenders', some of which are often misconstrued as possessing evil demons.

    That we have these last two classses of morally inadequate beings seems to me to suggest that morality itself may not only be taught but also created. That is, if everyone is to stay morally the same (harmless both to themsleves and others), then the entire human system may have to be returned back to the drawing board. But that this is the case does not automatically imply that we should stop teaching morality of any kind altogether. I know that Mutant creatures would combine both (teaching and creation) and action them in a holistic but fully beneficial or positive way. So, why couldn't the humans do the same? Are we pretending not to be mutants?
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2005
  4. Feb 9, 2005 #3

    selfAdjoint

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    I say communities make up morality over time, so no individual is aware of the creation, and they successfully teach that received morality to their kids, over a short time period. So short period teach yes, long period create, yes, but long period teach, no, short period create, no.
     
  5. Feb 9, 2005 #4

    PerennialII

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    Can be taught but not created (my sig has the details).
     
  6. Feb 9, 2005 #5
    You still have to explain why some people can be taught to be moral and some cannot. How do you explain repeated offenders both at the socio-political level and at the indvidual family level. We still have many people at the family level that still repeatedly offend and go in and out of prisons, and we also have countless political elements in our societies that succesfully engineer us into destructives wars after wars, even long after we have instructed ourselves not to commit all these evil acts? How many times have we said 'NEVER AGAIN!' about going to wars? How many NEVERS IS NEVER? Why is one set of rules good for one group and a different set of rules for another? Why can't all groups in our world cocieties adhere to one set of rules, especially those we claim to be moral?

    These are hard-headed questions that demand coherent and logically consistent answers. Well, I respect your opinon, but I am sceptical as to whether teaching alone can produce all the answers. And I know that many philosophers, from Socrates to the present day, are also sceptical about this.
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2005
  7. Feb 9, 2005 #6
    Are you talking about 'POLIMORPHOBIA' (Collective Unconscious Self-programming)? Well, I have heard some people believing in this sort of thing. I am not a Psychologist, so I am not quite sure about that. Anyway, whatever the means by which people learn about morals, the fact that some people can successfullly learn and hold on to them and there are some who cannot do so is the fundamental issue at stake here. And I suspect you must have voted for both teaching and creation.

    I am not very clear what you are implying here. Could you enlighten me further?
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2005
  8. Feb 9, 2005 #7

    selfAdjoint

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    The essence of a community's approach to morality is that it is NOT made up but inherited from of old. The attempt to make up morality is resisted where it is detected. Nevertheless small differences in personal characteristics cause the taught morality to be received by the children in different ways, and this causes the community stock of morality to vary over time. Doctrines that are best at crossing the parent-child barrier without distortion will outlast others. In short, memetic evolution.
     
  9. Feb 9, 2005 #8

    russ_watters

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    I really see it as a triviality: I learned Differential Equations with some difficulty, some learn it with ease, and some are incapable of learning it. Why can't the same be true of morality?

    And more than just whether or not someone can learn it - to follow it, people also must accept it. Some do, some don't.
     
  10. Feb 10, 2005 #9

    PerennialII

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    I'm one of those who believe essentially that metaethically it is possible to discover an ethical system, a single universal one, which exists as a "premise" and the task of normative ethics is to unveil it, but not create it (nor it is possible). Teaching is just teaching and as far as I'm concerned and doesn't itself produce anything new to the content, it is just a process. The results of the process can then take many routes as far as an individual/group etc. are concerned, the problem in teaching morality is the diversity of moral concepts overall, don't see a way around it in a non-deterministic world.
     
  11. Feb 10, 2005 #10
    Could you expand upon the notion of 'memetic evolution'? What does it entail? Is it scientifically viable?
     
  12. Feb 10, 2005 #11
    Your view is consistent with Untilitarianism. Utilitarians would agree with you that if a greater number of people can learn Differential Equations or Moral Rules, then it is morally ok. Democracy, for example, promises 'Full Employment' to citizens of a democratic society, yet there is no single instance in the human history where any society on this planet has ever been fully employed. Utiliterians would spring to defend this and claim that as long as a higher percentage of people is emplyed in a given democratic society, that is morally Ok.

    But Universalists would not accept this. They would counter argue that it is morally ok if and only if everyone can learn and retain Differential Euquations. They will equally argue that a democratic society is morally ok if and only if everyone in that society is fully employed. Neither half nor higher measures would surfice. Only full measures would!

    I can appreciate your argument, but philosophically (perhaps, even scientifically as well), there is more to morality than loosely claiming that just because A and B and C can be taught X, what happens to the rest of the world is their fault. Early in the human development, it used to be thought and believed that if you put people through a formal education, or moral education of some sort, they will turn out to be good people, this would continue to grow until eventually they stop inflicting harms upon each other. But as we all know this is not actually the case. Instead, at any point of enumeration of the behavioural state of any society you cannot do this without encountering a percentage of evil acts and atrocities committed by citizens against each other. The question that confronts us now is whether Education of any kind serves any purpose with regards to the moral well being of any society of any time.

    NOTE: When it comes to education, most Universalist Philosophers always distinguish between (1) 'ABILITY TO LEARN' and (2) 'OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN'. And according to this class of philosophers, (1) is a scientific problem and (2) is a social-political problem and that both need to be examined and accounted for in a holistic way. Consequently, they argue that if (1) is posing a problem, then the society concerned must physically create, either sicentifically or otherwise, condusive life conditions that enable everyone to learn. Coversely, if it is (2) that is posing the problem, then the society concerned must create sufficient economic, social and political opportunities for mass education to flourish. Hence, a society that does not quantify these two aspects of the matter is self-deluding its citizens.
     
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2005
  13. Feb 10, 2005 #12
    Yes, you do have a point here. Diversity of moral opinions is undisputedly unversally problematic. Throughout the entire human history, it is by far the BIGGEST single cause all sorts of barbaric wars and destructions. The scale at which the humans can go to defend their moral opinions, often riddled with ignorance and falshood, is deeply puzzling. And when some of these opinions are converted into actionable beliefs and naively declared sacred, the underlying brewing implications become more potent and lethal.

    On the issue of teaching, I still insist that it is very important, despite the very clear fact that it is not a 100% perfect means of moralising the citizens of a given society. That some people can be morally conditioned and this stays with them for life does indicate that education does work to a certain point. That there are equally those that cannot be morally conditioned, is also an indication that something is not quite right with the notion of eduction. So the question still remains:

    What should be done to make every citizen of a given society fully moralisable? What should be done to make any democratic society (so-called) fully employable or fully employed?

    These are the sort of questions that we cannot afford to give flimpsy answers to. We need fully deduced and logically consistent answers for them. Or, don't we?
     
  14. Feb 10, 2005 #13

    PerennialII

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    ... and your insistance in teaching morality is as valid of a point as anything, without moral education we're a society of savages, even more than in nowadays world. If we for a moment set aside the fact that there are differing ethical norms, the failure of moral conditioning (meaning that we still have all the problems you mentioned) as I see it is that many of the building blocks of our society are inherently against several of the moral concepts we hold high in moral philosophical terms. We have lots of "pseudo" - norms in our lives, and the rotation of the world (for a lack of a better expression) is not governed by the morality of an action (as it is supposed to be), but rather the means and methods individuals, communities and nations apply for .... in the end, survival. One could argue that applied ethics fails miserably (or is ignored or twisted altogether) what comes to our society on a daily basis and practical level of operation (which I see as a real tragedy). In the end are we as a society very uneducated ?
     
  15. Feb 10, 2005 #14

    russ_watters

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    I said nothing about a relationship between how difficult something is to learn and how moral it is. I don't buy that relationship at all. Most of the principles are so simple a 4 year old understands them just fine (then consciously chooses not to follow them).
    Democracy most certainly does not promise "full employment." Quite the contrary, democracy (capitalism) requires about 3-4% unemployment for the law of supply and demand to function. And that has nothing at all to do with learning morality.
    That bears no relationship whatsoever to what I said.

    I'm sensing perhaps a wording issue: you asked "Can morality be taught?" Did you really mean "Can people be taught to be moral?" Those are two entirely different questions.

    I have a fairly significant education in morality. My point is that based on my experience, morality, like differential equations, is not something people will necessarily explore and learn on their own. Most of the issues we discussed, most people (including myself) had never considered before. Moral Relativism vs Absolutism is a biggie that I discuss here a lot. Most people instinctively believe in Relativism and have never even explored its validity (the discussion may have even begun with a show of hands). Yet most people who discuss and explore it will eventually become Absolutists.

    Being taught any subject in a structured way will improve people's understanding of it. And then knowing and following morality are still two separate questions.
     
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2005
  16. Feb 10, 2005 #15
    Are you suggesting that if you are given every Tom, Dick and Hary on this planet, you can succesfully teach them moral good to stick. I do not know where on this planet that you live. I have many kids in my locality that run around that you tell them not carry Guns and knives on the street, let alone not to use them on others, that still disobey this simple instruction. Most American cities are known today as the guns capital of the world. Here is a homework for you: go and instruct all the guns carriers in those American cities not to ever carry guns again, and see if you will succeed in a twinckle of an eye. Good luck to you! Yet, on the other side of the argument, of course you are right that most 4 year olds would absorb successfully the information content of moral and quantitative propositions. Yes, both of us are in concert on this one.


    Yes, I accept this distinction. Being able to teach is one thing, and being able to absorb and permanently retain the information vlaue of what is taught is a completely different matter. It is now up to science to coherently and precisely decide whether the natural ability to absorb and permanently retain information content of what is taught is evenly or universally distributed. I keep my own position on this and I think it's only fair to say that you should keep your own position on it as well, whatever that may be!

    Only if you think of absolutism in a negative way. Moderation is the dividing line between opposite extremes. This is one issue that I have been battling with for years. Many people I know today naively assume that moderation is equivalent to perfection. Well, as I have indicated elsewhere on this PF, we all have our own different definitions for this term. For me Moderation is as important and valuable (at least ephemerally) as the best of opposite extremes, and as I have argued time and time again, if there is any moral code that can be found in Moderation, it is because it has the capacity to ephemerally preserve in the face of chaos! In my school of thought PERFECTION IS EVERYTHING OVER AND ABOVE MODERATION, and given the right human frame of mind and deepest insight we may subsequently derive at this position and harness the best of opposite extremes to the human advantage. In the end, it all depends on your own method of deduction/reduction, for we all have a few tricks up our sleeves that do not necessarily land us on the type of absolutism that you are thinking about.

    No dispute on this.
     
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2005
  17. Feb 10, 2005 #16

    russ_watters

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    No, those are just degrees of the same thing: learning or learning well. The distinction I'm making is that IMO, being moral is a choice that has nothing whatsoever to do with learning. By teaching morality, you can help people make better decisions when the dilemas are tough, but you cannot teach someone to choose to make moral decisions. I learned about morality mostly at the Naval Academy, where they go to great lengths to ensure that the people they accept are of high moral character. The ethics classes and seminars aren't designed to make the students moral, but rather to assist them in making tough moral choices.

    My point about the 4-year-old was that something like stealing or hitting is a simple moral concept that doesn't even require teaching (people instinctively know they are wrong), but knowing something is wrong and choosing whether or not to do it are two different things entirely.

    Is that what you were going for? (can you teach people to choose to be moral?)
     
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2005
  18. Feb 12, 2005 #17
    CHOICE

    Well, philosophers have different ways of thinking about all this. With regards to the notion of CHOICE (ability to freely choose from existing alternatives), philosophers are still trying to reconcile it with another spooky logical structure called 'DETERMINISM'. They argue that if everything is predetermined, then you have no choice because regardless of what choice you make its subsequent and final outcome may not necessary turn out the way you expected. According to this class of philosophers, it appears as if you are just self-deceiving yourself and aimlessly floating about in a choiceless world. Well, this remains till this day controversial among philosophers. At the moment, it seems as if you are looking at things only at the human level without perhaps any intention to reflect deeper into the subject matter. Well, philosophically, you will have a marathon task in your hand convincing this class of philosophers that I am talking about.


    KNOWLEDGE COMES IN DEGREES

    Your text also seems to suggest that the 'ABILITY TO LEARN' comes in degrees of measure, and also tends to suggest that once any morals are learned, then it's just a matter of choosing or making tough choices. Well, most philosophers that I personally know are thinking more than this, especially the Universalist philosophers. They will elevate this to a scale where they want you and me to start thinking of a world where:

    (a) ABILITY TO LEARN is universal or evenly distributed

    (b) OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN is available to everyone, where they do not have to be morally caught up in the utilitarian web of moral dilemmas. They do not want to be placed in the naval position of making tough choices. I am very glad for you admitting that most of the tough decisions that you had to make in the navy are not necessarily moral. At least you are honest about this one. Universalist philosophers would count your tough decisions as utilitarian in substance and in scope. They would argue that your tough naval decisions were tough because you were trying to choose between 'LESS EVIL' and 'GREATER EVIL'. They would argue that your naval choices, though may be good by degree of measures, are not Universal neither in scope nor in substance, for a decision is universally moral if its consequence by meausre preserves or benefits everyone. This permits universalist philosophers to trace the consequences of your tough decisions beyond you the maker of them up to the natural causes that placed you in this tough-decision making position in the first place. So, as you can see, the universalist philosophers would not look your tough naval decisions and your ability to make them alone. They will track everything epistemologically to the very natural causes that placed you in this position in first place. And, according to the universalist philosophers, once you do this, it will automatically trigger not only educational thoughts and actions in you to at least keep things going the way they are currently are at the human decision-making level, but also creative thoughts and actions in you to correct and improve things structurally, or should I say scientifically, at the level of nature.
     
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2005
  19. Feb 12, 2005 #18
    Hi,

    It can be learned through experience.

    juju
     
  20. Feb 13, 2005 #19
    True, but the issue is wider than this.
     
  21. Feb 13, 2005 #20

    russ_watters

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    Are there many non-religious philosophers who believe in determinism (other than, perhaps, scientific determinism)?

    And, in any case, if determinism renders choice moot, it also renders learning moot. Luke Skywalker didn't need his targeting computer because he was pre-determined to hit his target. And if I'm a puppet on a string, there is no need to teach me morality - whether I'm moral or not depends on the whim of the guy pulling the strings.

    I don't see how this line of discussion is useful.
    It should be no surprise that crimes are predominantly comitted by those with lower intelligence/education.
    I'm not sure I understand: are you suggesting that there is a school of thought where people believe that all humans are utterly equal in ability to learn and opportunity to learn?
     
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2005
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