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ETHICS : My Modern Synthesis

  1. Aug 13, 2003 #1

    Another God

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    This thread is an attempt to explain my personal concept of ethics. It has come about because of the number of ethics related threads that have come up lately, and the agreements reached by certain people in those threads. I am more interested in finding people who have objections to what I am about to say than anything else.


    Quick Definitions:
    Subjective: What we all are. Experience, meaning, purpose and similar types of things are entirely subjective, and nothing else.

    Objective: The way things are. Subjective cannot experience Objective, because experience is entirely subjective. The Objective is the foundation of everything, because anything which is, is Objective.

    Because we have no indication that there is a universal subjective determinant controlling the application of Meaning, Purpose and Morality, we cannot assume such an entity into existence. Without such a guide we need to use the subjectivity we each experience and apply our own meanings and purposes onto the world we experience. When we do this, the vast majority of us will find that we all desire survival and companionship. These fundamental desires will cause the formations of communities. The larger the community, the more necessary it is for rules to be constructed to dictate how members of that society should interact so that the basic desires of every individual is best served. The set of rules which best fulfills these basic desires for any given community, can be said to be the best possible set of rules (for that situation.) These set of rules are commonly called "Law", and is infact synonumous with a Communal Ethics.

    The Formation of Society
    Without a God, we have no basis to make claims about universal meanings, universal purposes, or universal morality. Such concepts are subjective concepts, and hold no position in the Objective universe. As such, we are forced to assume that there is no inherent meaning in anything, and instead the only meaning that exists is the meaning that we, as individual subjective points of view place on the world we experience.

    "How we should live" has been a question deeply entrenched in philosophical thought since the begining of philosophy itself. For any answer that can be given the question though, it is easy to question it with "Why should we do that, and not the alternative?" This problem has plagued thinkers since the begining.

    I believe the key to solving this problem, is to remove the 'we' and start from the individual subjective point of view. Since meaning only exists subjectively, to give meaning to how one should act, it is necessary to take an entirely subjective point of view and claim the reasoning behind the why lies within 'Choice' of the subjective. When we as individuals choose things, it is not necessary to give reasons for our decisions. It may be interesting to figure out why we make the decisions we do, but it is not necessary. When confronted with the question of what it is that we as individuals want, two fundamental desires show up in nearly every single case (Normally as an understatement if not stated directly) 1. The desire to remain alive 2. The desire for companionship.

    These two primary desires lead to the formation of communities of people with the same fundamental desires.

    Individual Desire and Social Law
    In this section I will present a possible explanation of why it is that our own individual desires results in the creation of an 'ethical system' (Law, Rules of society), and justify the type of laws that result from this process.

    As individuals desiring company, the formation of a community is inevitable. We are social creatures by nature (apparently) and so a stable society is an essential part of our lives. If a society is unstable in any way, whether it be unstable due to the large scale deaths of the members of the society, or because the members of the society fear for their other prime desire 'Survival' and so leave the society, or if it is unstable because of any other reason which would cause people to stop interacting in a predictable way, then we will lose the second prime desire in our lives. A stable society is essential.

    For a society to be stable, a few obvious things must happen, and a few obvious things cannot happen. Killing of other members for example cannot happen, because that would quickly either result in no other members in the society, or else it would cause a fear in other members that they too could easily be killed, and so they leave. The possibility for members of a society to interact on some level must also be possible. These examples seem so obvious as to hardly be worth mentioning, but I am mentioning it simply because after these basic requirements are noticed, it becomes clear that 1. Rules must be set up which dictate guidelines for members to act within the bounds of and 2. The rules will get much more complex than they first seem when actually applied to daily life.

    The final assesment of the value of the rules that are drawn up rests soley on how well it achieves the ends of ensuring stability of that society, and how well it improves the chances of survivablity of the members in that society. The more stable the society, and the less threatened the social members are (fearful for their lives), the better the rules can be said to be. With any scale of comparison, there will necessarily be a 'best' and a 'worst', and so as an abstract concept, it becomes a truth that there is a "best" system of ethics (the rules, or the law) for governing any given society (when any given society is considered in terms of its size, its rate of growth, its interaction with neighbouring communities, and its situation in general.)

    Although i don't know it, I am sure that a measurement of the value of ethics could be summed up by an equation, and that equation could be simply applied to any situation. It is just unlikely that any human ever could figure out all of the variables, let alone how to measure just how well it fulfills the standards (survival + Stability).

    Having explained that the individual desire (as we experience it) will lead to the construction of an ethical system which governs the interaction of individuals as best as possible, it is an unfortunate side effect that the rules set up will very rarely suit any given individuals desires perfectly. Even the Best possible ethical system (best survival rate + Most stable) will still result in individuals who have desires unmet. Most of the individuals will accept this though, because they recognise the importance of the two prime desires over the other desires (for without those two desires, chances are, the other desires simply cannot be met anyway). On the odd occasion though an individual will find it unacceptable that a particular one, or a particular collection of their desires is unmet, and so they will act outside of the ethical system set up by their society. This individual, although acting perfectly within their own desires, is acting against the society, and so the society has the right to judge their actions. That person will either be punished, or removed from the society as deemed appropriate by the society.

    If the individual rejected the ethical system of the society, it woul dhave been more appropriate for them to have left, rather than to have acted outside the ethical system, while under the guiding eye of the common desire.

    The ethical system of any society should always be striving to be "The Best Ethical System" possible, but even if this is achieved, the fact remains, individuals will be individuals, and not everyone will be happy with the final ethical system (even if it holds their best interests as its prime directive).

    Of course this becomes very complicated and the real world is a prime example of how "it isn't as easy as that", but this is a model for essentially how the system functions on a causal level. I believe this explains satisfactorily why it is that we have societies, where ethics comes from, why some ethical concepts seem accepted by every society on earth, and why two different societies can have completely different ethical views on the same topic. This also explains why the 'ethics' of a person conflicts with the 'ethics' (or law) of the society. (The person has desires which the society can't address, or isn't ensuring their faith in being always fulfilled (because of more important social desires) and so that person creates an 'ethic', a rule, a thing which 'Should happen' to achieve that desire of theirs, or satisfy their fear that this desire may not be fulfilled, and then they claim that the state is 'unethical'.

    In some cases the individual may be right, and their ethic, if implemented, would create a better social ethical system. In other cases, the individual may be wrong, and if their ethic was implemented, the society would be less stable.

    The only way we have to find out such things, is to test them out. Perhaps some really intelligent person might be able to figure out how to model such things on a computer one day, but I doubt it.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 13, 2003 #2
    Good post, AG. So far we have "Thou shalt not kill." What is the next step? Good start but nothing to reply to or disagree with yet.

    How about "Thou shalt not steal." That, however, requires ownership of personal property. This is a whole new concept. How does our developing society handle this concept. Is ownership simply possession or is there some deep more fundamental idea about ownership. Is ownership as basic and fundamental as survival?

    Does the society own everything including its members or does society just own the big stuff and members are free citizens with the inherent right of ownership or does society own nothing and it's members own everything privately? Then what about non-member beings? What is their status. Are they human beings too or are they something less than we the people? What is the next most fundamental concept after survival, the right to life?
  4. Aug 13, 2003 #3

    Another God

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    I don't think there are any more 'Fundamental Steps' After survival and companionship, because these are actually reasons for the formation of the society. In fact 'Companionship' may not even be fundamental inthis way, its just that it makes it easier to explain the idea with both these ideas in there from the begining.

    Every other 'right' (such as possesion) comes as a consequence of the society trying to fulfill its prime directives. Trying to keep the society stable and everyone in it alive.

    So, how does the society handle these new concepts? However the hell it wants to. I am not trying to draft rules for how societies should work really, I am just describing how they occur, and under what light they should be understood. What societies do from their is their own business. The judging criteria in the end will be whether the society survives or not. Any method which achieves this end, whether the society claims ownership over everything, or whether it delocalises power, or whether it opens up a capitalist system with no interventive rules is entirely up to the society. The only suggestion I can offer on this, is that history is a scientific investigation into which models are most succesful. Which societies do you think are most stable? Which rules do you think work best?

    Non-members: Again, for the society to decide, based on how well it thinks its choice will affect the stability of the society. If it thinks killing al non members is the best way for the society to secure a future, then go ahead. If it thinks that enslaving them is best, then go for it. If it thinks treating them like potential members, then go for it. The end decision would really rest with the situation the society finds itself in. In the past, many societies benefitted greatly from having slaves, or from eating neighbouring villages etc. But as our world grew, and the obvious distinction between 'Us' and 'Them' become less obvious, it became apparent that no society could maintain slave taking, and constant destruction of the neighbours.

    No ethic is absolutely right in a universal sense, only absolutely right in a given situation. Situations change, and so ethics should evolve with the situation.
  5. Aug 13, 2003 #4
    Okay, again a good post. I was just showing how complicated it get very rapidly. Food is essential for survival so is law and order. Which comes first and who controls the production, gathering hunting and distribution of food. What about defense? Ant this is only page one.

    I think that survival is the only fundimental that can be concidered absolute or universal.

    In an extended family, clan or small tribe all resourses would belong to the tribe collectively with the Chief, patriarch or matriarch, whoever is in charge. In a larger society the shaman or priest class controled the food and its distribution.

    Being the conservative that I am, free enterprise with private ownership is my choice. Especially free to privately own the biggest gun. I don't trust governments to limit themselves to providing only what they are constitioned to do. Look at the mess we have here in the USA. Hell, our last president was renting out rooms in the White House to the highest bidder just to pay his legal fees.
  6. Aug 14, 2003 #5
    It seems that I can’t even get past your “quick definitions” without running into immense problems…

    In the above you outline the common philosophical dichotomy between subjective and objective. This distinction I - following the likes of Derrida, Wittgenstein, Rorty, and Davidson - want to abandon. I have no use for concepts like the way things are, have no idea what to make of the statement anything which is, is Objective. So, in this post, I will further outline my bewilderment over the Subjective/Objective dichotomy and then recommend a different picture, a different set of metaphors.

    A very telling choice of style you make is the capitalization of the word “objective”, transforming the simple and very useful concept of the “objective world in which we all interact in and with” into “the Objective, true nature of reality apart from subjective interpretation.” This philosophical metamorphosis leaves the notion of “objective” unintelligible, completely useless. To say that the Objective is the foundation of everything and is distinct from the way in which we experience reality, is to relegate objectivity into the ineffable, the meaningless. This brings me to your use of “subjective”…

    How can experience, meaning, purpose and similar types of things be entirely subjective? How can anything be completely private? To say that “meaning is totally subjective” is to say that we as individuals have complete control over what the words we use mean. I cannot take this position. I find it absurd to think that our conversational and causal interactions are segregated from the world. If the subjective cannot experience the Objective than the Objective isn’t there.

    My position is that the world is not anyway. It is not some undifferentiated blob we can’t talk about. We can and do talk about the world. My advice is to drop the subjective/Objective dichotomy. A good way to think about the subjective and the objective is the way in which Davidson does. His simple concept of triangulation – that the concepts of subjective, objective, and intersubjective are irreducible and reliant on each other – navigates around many philosophical problems. Under this description we as subjective individuals converse in a community in the objective world. One can never draw a clear distinction between the subjective, objective, or intersubjective.
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  7. Aug 14, 2003 #6

    Another God

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    Of course such a statement would make perfect sense within a society (where 'all people' could be taken either as all members of that society, or all 'people' who we recognise as potential members/helpers of our society.) and as evidence has shown, would likely assist in making a stable society.

    But outside of a societal construction of this sentence, I don't belief there is anything self evident about people being created equal at all. In fact, quite the opposite appears to be the case. So if someone wanted to set up this sort of moral guide within the society, and tried to make the statement actually resemble reality, then I would ask someone to express this intent: We believe that treating every individual equally is the best way to achieve what we all desire.

    Of course, when worded by someone who knows how to do such things, it would sound better than that.

    PS: RageSk8, I look forward to your post. I respect your opinion on matters like these.
  8. Aug 14, 2003 #7

    Another God

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    What is a someone?

    I'll bet you treat spiders as less than yourself...

    I'll bet you treat suicidal tower bombers as less than yourself.

    just because you have a got emotion towards everything doesn't mean that those topics are above thoughtful consideration.
  9. Aug 14, 2003 #8

    Another God

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    My GF said basically the same thing to me.

    I probably should have left those definitions out of this topic. I thought they were important, but I don't think I needed to speak of them in the end. I have reasons for my expression of them in that way, and I do want to try to justify them with you (to see if I can improve my understanding of it), but I'd rather not run over my thread of ethics with a discussion of Objectivity/Subjectivity. So, to a new thread for this discussion!!!

    The Objective Subjective Dichotomy
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2003
  10. Aug 14, 2003 #9


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    Good post. I'm sure you alredy know the part I object to:
    My position is that the way you phrased it, with "meanings" and "purpose" makes it religious. But I don't see it necessary to attach morality to these two concepts: I don't see why morality needs to be associated with religion. By implicaton, that would make athiests by default, immoral. One of my best friends is an athiest and he has a well thought out system of morality. I don't see it as a coincidence that you can arrive at the nearly the same morality through logic and reason as people have handed to them by religion.

    Thats my position, but its not an arguement. Here is my arguement:

    You mentioned human nature. Is human nature universal?

    I was going to end it with that question and leave it there as bait, but this quote implies you think it is:
    Certainly there are exceptions, but does the exception disprove the rule or is the exception an error to be corrected?

    So my arguement is that if human nature is universal, then the morality derived from human nature through any method (subjective or objective) is also universal.

    If you don't like that because you are uncomfortable with the religious implications, DON'T BE. There are none.

    later issues:
    I'll agree, but "any method" sounds more broad than it really is. In practice, economic and political systems are converging through an evolutionary process. There aren't many that really do work.

    RageSk8: I am also uncomfortable with the subjective/objective definitions and think they overlook the dichotomy, but thats a whole new can of worms. I think this discussion can work without needing that discussion.
  11. Aug 14, 2003 #10


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    The words "I'll bet" were important to that quote...
  12. Aug 14, 2003 #11
    See what you started AG. Better post the next page of you thesis before thing get even more out of hand. How appropriate for a thread on ethics. Ya gotta love it!
  13. Aug 17, 2003 #12

    Another God

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    Hmmm.. I um....don't see that at
    all. In fact the very point of this umm..'paper' is that we can have ethics
    etc without religion, and it can be meaningful. The meanings and the purpose
    I refer to, are the human defined meanings and purposes which we deal with
    every day. The meaning of 'home' is something which humans have created.
    Unlike Plato's belief that there is some place where the perfect forms of
    these things exist, I am saying that these things exist simply because we
    claim it to be so.

    The 'purpose' of a pen is to write stuff. Why? because that is the reason we
    designed it.

    Purpose and meaning only make sense subjectively, and Humans are the only
    subjectivity I know of, and the rest of you I only know about through a
    dodgy inference from my own experience of it (IOW: I only know of my own
    subjectivity, but I'll assume I can believe that the rest of you are
    subjective creatures too. => There are long debates about this topic, not
    happening here, puruable in the topic linked to above if you are interested
    in subjective/objective stuff.)

    Either do I, and it is precisely the claim of many
    people that "Religion answers the hard questions for us, like morality,
    where science can't" that really annoys me. While it may be true that
    science is a descriptive art, describing how things are, and is not
    interested in describing how things 'should be', that doesn't mean that
    "religion is the only other option" and should thus give us our
    ethics. Pfft to that.

    This whole paper is ordered around the idea that we create our own ethics,
    our own personal ethics (out of what we want), and our societal ethics (out
    of the basic human desires), and thats all there is to it. The rest of the
    time we are busy trying to sort out how to reconcile all the differing
    individual ethics with each other and with the societal ethics.

    Not at all. It's just a description of the tendencies
    found in the vast majority of humans. And so I am describing that majority.

    For those who aren't with the Majority (hermits for example), they simply
    avoid communities. They follow their own ethics (ie: they do what they
    want), and eventually die alone. Sometimes a commnuity will find these
    hermits, and treat them badly for various reasons (because the hermit isn't
    doing what the community wants it to do). But none of that is important.
    What is, is that generally people do want to be with other people,
    and they do want to not die, nor even be in fear of death, and so this
    community forming process will occur. Where people don't desire these
    things, then they will shun societies.

    Neither. As stated above, they are just outside of the description. It
    doesn't apply to them (directly). Unfortunately for them, the societ around
    them will probably try to apply it to them, and then when they refuse to let
    their individual ethics be changed into acting in accordance with the
    societal ethics, the society will deal with them however the society sees
    fit (in our society, we would probably put them in jail for not paying land
    taxes or something *shrugs*)

    Well, I don't believe human nature
    is universal, but even so, you could still make your claim (because as I
    have done, you only need to apply it to those who have this tendency, and
    that is the vast majority.

    And if you did proceed to make that claim (as I assume you would) I would
    disagree with you. Because no individual is identical, and so individual
    ethics will be different, and because no community finds itself in the same
    situation, each individual/community will have different variables affecting
    the outcome of their ethical choices.

    For instance, the 'Moral Worth' (as judged by the stability of the society)
    of the Greeks, based on their moral system, may be entirely comparable to
    the 'Moral Worth' of our society based on our moral system, even though we
    differ with respects to our treatment of women, of upper and lower classes,
    slaves, border nations etc. How could two such different moral systems be
    comparitively similar on a value scale? Easily: They didn't have instant
    communications, plenty of food, excess labour saving devices, global
    communications, neighbouring countries with nuclear weapons...etc etc...
    their situation, in time, space and technology limited their ethical
    choices. While their system may not have been 'The Best' that could have
    possibly been, I also doubt that our modern system is 'The Best' it could
    possibly be given our situation.

    Ethics are not universal (is my claim), but there may be an absolute scale
    of value on which the ethics of any society can be judged, as long as their
    situation is taken into consideration.

    I am
    uncomfortable with it because you are refering to the absolutley best
    ethical system possible, considering all possible situations
    : Which we
    can't imagine let alone consider.

    Since ethics are only a consequence of human desire, what happens when we
    genetically engineer ourselves to desire different things? How wil that
    affect 'the best ethical system possible, given all possible situations?'
    Chances are, the best ethical system possible is actually a system designed
    between two identical twins, who want identical things, while somehow
    managing to be opposite sex.

    That is: In our current global community set up. So sure, there
    aren't many systems which may work now, but look at any other point in time,
    or in any other situation which isn't our first world one, and you will find
    a whole range of other options which may work.
  14. Aug 18, 2003 #13

    Another God

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    I'm not sure if I havereally explained this aspect explicitly yet:

    Individual Ethics = What should be done to achieve the goals of the individual
    Social Ethics = What should be done by the individuals of the society to achieve the goals of the society.

    An individual may be anything from a cell, to a human, to a community. All levels may be subservient to a larger community.
    (human in family, family in tribe, tribe in nation, nation in global community, global community in galactic federation etc....) An 'individual' exists at each level, and may or may not participate in the organisation of the next level (ie: A country may choose to not be within the global community. the global community may allow that and let them be, or it may decide to destroy that country.)
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