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Can there be a definite line between right and wrong?

  1. Oct 16, 2009 #1
    I was thinking about morals the other day and I came up with a strange conclusion. Assuming that right and wrong to exist (opinions aside), if every action done by man must fall under the category of right or the category of wrong, (every motivation, every cell movement, every second of every day) then how could anything be right? Every motivation for every action by every human being is for the benefit of themselves; whether it be for the "heaven" they might get to, or the "respect" they might get, or even the simplistic "good feeling" you get from doing so called "good deeds". Assuming that selfishness is wrong, I honestly could not think of anything good that anyone can possibly do.

    In discussion with one of my friends on this subject, I asked him to state a "good" act that someone can commit. He gave examples like martyrdom, giving away money anonymously, giving up opportunity so that others may have it etc.... However, if the motivation of these acts were judged as right and wrong, all of them would be wrong. This led me to the conclusion that if any "good" does exist in the universe, there needs to be some form of "gray area".

    Any opinions/agreements/disagreements? I am not a philosopher or anything so feel free to correct me or point out similar philosophical points of view.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 16, 2009 #2


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    Many people do selfless acts that give them no pleasure, but only do it because they feel it is the "right" thing to do. I found some money on the floor recently, and although I wanted to keep it, and no one would have found out, I thought about the person that lost it and turned it in to the security guard. I got no benefit from it, never will, I wanted to keep it, so feel bad that I didn't, not to mention, the person will probably never notice they lost it or think to check with security, so it will probably end up in the security guard's pocket, which makes me feel even worse.
  4. Oct 16, 2009 #3


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    Right and wrong are human concepts, and it is meaningless to believe that acts in themselves have a definite ethical value independent of the opinion human beings. We can, however, create ethical theories - and systemize actions into categories of right and wrong. The bottom line is thought that the ethical value of an act is relative to each person.
  5. Oct 17, 2009 #4


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    Cha-ching for the security guard, even if that person came back looking for the loot.
  6. Oct 17, 2009 #5


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    But would you have been able to stand keeping it as you were so compelled not to? How probable is it that your brain made a prediction based on self-interest despite your conscious (no, not conscience) being unaware of that advantage?
  7. Oct 17, 2009 #6


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    Just because a person may be ultimately motived by their desire to feel good about something, doesn't mean that they are being selfish. Selfishness is the act of placing one's own needs or desires above the needs or desires of others. Your friend's examples are good examples of placing needs and desires below the needs and desires of others. I.E. the desire to keep your money, life, etc. Just because you feel good about giving away money, it doesn't mean that the other person has been treated wrongly or that you have commited a selfish act.
  8. Oct 17, 2009 #7
  9. Oct 17, 2009 #8
    Good point. I guess one could state that EVERYONE has selfish motives, but it is how you go about these motives that defines what your right and wrong are.
  10. Oct 17, 2009 #9
    I could be argued that someone who straps a bomb to their body and runs into a crowd to detonate the explosives thinks their selfish motives are "right" - most people would disagree (I hope).
  11. Oct 17, 2009 #10
    right | wrong
  12. Oct 17, 2009 #11
    Is it proper for "right" to be displayed on the left?
  13. Oct 17, 2009 #12


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    It was a dollar bill. I could have easily pocketed it and never thought about it again. It's wasn't enough for anyone to concern themselves with. It's just the way I am, I will often do selfless acts that give me no pleasure nor will they be recoginzed or ackowledged. I just do what I feel is the right thing, even if it isn't what I want to do and I it doesn't make me feel good. Just a senseless, sellfless act.
  14. Oct 19, 2009 #13
    The security guard must have thought you were smoking something.

    Think about this:

    Event A: The time it took to locate a security guard, explain to him why you were giving him a dollar, and convince him that you weren't crazy.

    Event B: Using that same amount of time to write someone in need a nice note, lifting their spirits.

    Which does more good? Using logic in life results in doing more good.
  15. Oct 19, 2009 #14

    So your point being that it makes you feel good when you do some act. I would hate to be around you if you are in a bad mood.
    Don` t you think it would be nice to do something because it is good, and not because of how you feel?
  16. Oct 19, 2009 #15


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    But the amount doesn't seem to be important to the idea of altruism from the evolutionary standpoint. That is, "it's the principle that matters". To me, it only says that you're socially intelligent.

    As a caveat though, I have a world-view that excludes the concept of right and wrong as objective concepts that existed before man. In an evolved society, right and wrong are developed as part of a dynamic consensus reality in this world-view.

    As is such, I don't analyze or trust people's claims to motive, I only see the actions. I think that by and large, people don't really know why they do a lot of things, they just have a 'feeling' that pushes them one way or another and then they justify it with morality often after-the-fact.
  17. Oct 19, 2009 #16

    So imagine you are in front of a judge, and say " So what is the big deal with killing people? I was feeling like it at the time of day". The judge would say " No, killing people is ****ing wrong."

    Look at the statement:

    Killing people is wrong. v.s The phone in on top of the table.

    Notice something interesting?

    They are both descriptive statements about something.
  18. Oct 20, 2009 #17


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    This is the consensus reality I was talking about, and expressed emotionally. Judges especially represent the very substance of this consensus reality, as it is written in the letters of man, by the hand of man, to be followed by man. I conform to the consensus reality, myself, but I do not confuse it with statements like 'the phone is on top of the table'.
  19. Oct 20, 2009 #18

    Well, i guess, you don` t get it.

    The phone on the table, and killing is wrong has the same form as a subject predicate proposition, or Px.

    Accordingly, Px is only meaningful if x has a referent, or possibly the most intuitive way of interpreting the proposition.

    In my opnion, it is a bad move to say " i don ` t kill people, because no one else do".
    It is best to say " Killing people is wrong, then that is why i don` t kill people".

    Similarly, it is bad to jump off a building because everyone else think it is a good idea.
    One way out is to say everyone else is an idiot, and jumping off a building is bad.

    The word "good" would refer to something that are truely good.

    See the difference? Please, Get it!:cry:
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2009
  20. Oct 20, 2009 #19
    Actually I think the first one is more proscriptive. It equates to: you shouldn't kill people.
    Wrong means: you shouldn't do this.
    You've just phrased it in a way that makes it seem descriptive. But 'Wrong' is a value judgement, not a description. You're not describing something about 'killing people', you are asserting something about 'killing people'.

    A purely descriptive statement would be: He killed 5 people and went to jail for life.
    But that says nothing about whether what he did was right or wrong.
  21. Oct 20, 2009 #20

    Actually, no. Killing people is wrong is very much like 5 is prime, or Px.

    To say wrong is a more like judgment is the same as saying wrong is normative. What we ough to do under certain situations. Great, but it does not give us any ground for telling some people that they are really, really wrong.
  22. Oct 20, 2009 #21
    "Killing people is wrong" IS a pretty useless statement. At least in terms of ethics.

    When you say 'killing people is wrong', you're simply disapproving of it. If you want to get into a serious discussion about ethics, you then have to say why you think it is wrong. That is, you have to justify your assertion with examples and/or some logic.

    And not everyone would agree with 'killing people is wrong'. So you have to be prepared to deal with counter examples. Like for instance, 'killing people in times of war', and 'killing people in self defense'. You also have to be prepared to define what a person is, what constitutes war, and threats to your person. Some people will say a baby before it is born is not a person, some will say that any creature above a certain complexity, chimps and dolphins for instance, should be treated as people. And some people will say that merely have certain weapons(WMDs anyone?) is a threat, or a declaration of war.
  23. Oct 20, 2009 #22
    No, not at all. I mean killing people is wrong. :shy:

    It is great, but killing people is still wrong, and you are really not being focus at all.
  24. Oct 20, 2009 #23


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    BTW, next time that happens, I'd do the following: hang on to the money yourself and simply give the security guard your contact information. I would not tell the security guard exactly how much money it was.
  25. Oct 20, 2009 #24


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    Yes, I get it. I got it before you explained it. It's a common argument in ethics (though you've shaped it very badly, I must say). I just don't happen to agree with the argument.
  26. Oct 20, 2009 #25
    I don't think you can ever get around the moral right being relative to each individual.

    Killing people is wrong in theory, but it depends on the point of view.

    What if someone was harming another person and your only recourse was to kill the attacker. Some might consider this wrong on principle, but others would not.

    What if you kill someone who is trying to kill you. Should you feel guilty?

    I think that generally killing is undesirable. You can seen many instances throughout history where groups of people apparently overcame the stigma and killed millions of people. These killers would have argued they were in the right.
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