Moral Relativism: There are No Moral Absolutes

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AKG said:
Morality is not social policy, although it can be. Your mention of a set of rules which maximises the goals of a society is clearly indicative of a presupposed moral philosophy,
No, morality is supposed to emerge from that.

and so whatever rules you claim come about objectively are in fact relative to your morality.
Why would a set of common, shared rules be relative to me ?

Some moralities don't focus on making rules, but simply suggest attitudes by which to live your life. In other words, people set goals for themselves to try to be more and more compassionate, disciplined, etc. not in the sense that it is a rule that you must be compassionate, but it is a goal, a virtue that you try to cultivate. Your use of the term "maximises" suggests some utilitarian leanings, but some people believe that "maximizing" is not a good, or even sensible approach.
That doesn't mean morality is subjective, it means the correct method
of arriving at objective morality is doubtful.

? Your morality is objective only insofar as we ignore the fact that it is relative to how you answer the preceeding question (and/or questions like),
That isn't proper relativism. Moral relativism means that whatever answer
an individual is automatically the 'right' answer (in some localised sense of 'right'). The fact that conclusions are 'relative' to assumptions is something
quite different. The conclusion can still be wrong, and objectively wrong.
Moral relativism means no-one is wrong.

and that there are several valid answers to those questions.
How do you know they are all equally valid ?
 

AKG

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Tournesol said:
No, morality is supposed to emerge from that.
That is your preference, but as I hope my post showed, it need not. Morality need not be about rules, maximizing, or society's goals. It could be about trying to live up to an ideal as opposed to conforming to rules. It may have nothing to do with "maximizing" if you reject the idea that happiness and tragedy can be quantified and maximized. It might not be about society's goals if your morality is based on pleasing God, or if it goes beyond society and wants to encompass all life, or if it is restricted to just an individual.
Why would a set of common, shared rules be relative to me?
You said:

Being a uniform set of rules which maximises the goals aof society places a heavy set of restraints on possible moralities. Who says those constraints
aren't what makes morality objective


It's not so much that the rules are relative to you, it's that the idea that this is what morality is about is relative to you. Those constraints you speak of may make the "determining of rules that maximize society's goals" something that requires an objective answer, but unless morality is precisely the "determining of rules..." and nothing else, these constraints don't necessarily make morality objective, they just make the process of determining rules objective.

Some may think that only dance counts as a form of art, and painting and sculpture, etc., are not forms of art. These people might then say that all art requires a stage since all dance requires a stage (let's assume that dance requires a stage). This may be true relative to this person's definition of art, but since other people can decide on what they wish to consider art, it's not true for art in general. So we have three facts:

1) All dance requires a stage
2) Relative to the opinion that "art" and "dance" are interchangeable terms, all art requires a stage
3) In general, where it is possible that "art" and "dance" are not interchangeable, it is not true that all art requires a stage

Similarly, we get:

1) Determining the rules that maximize society's goals requires an objective, emprical answer
2) Relative to the opinion that morality is precisely those rules, morality is something that requires an objective answer
3) In general, it is possible that "morality" refers to something else, in which case it may not be that morality is an objective thing

You can objectively determine the rules you need to follow in order to maximize society's goals. On the other hand, someone can objectively determine the commandments one must obey in order to please God. Yet another person can objectively determine the life-attitudes one should try to live by in order to live a virtuous life. Someone can determine what he wants to do in order to increase his personal pleasure. All these things can be objectively determined, but who is to say that only the first thing is morality, and the rest are not? Relativity comes in where a person rejects altogether your choice for what morality is about. Do you think moral relativists argue that there's no wrong answer as to which rules will maximize society's goals? No, of course not. Generally, relativists reject the rules altogether, and aren't concerned with finding rules that work for all of society, they're concerned with determining what's best for themselves.
 
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AKG said:
That is your preference, but as I hope my post showed, it need not. Morality need not be about rules, maximizing, or society's goals. It could be about trying to live up to an ideal as opposed to conforming to rules. It may have nothing to do with "maximizing" if you reject the idea that happiness and tragedy can be quantified and maximized. It might not be about society's goals if your morality is based on pleasing God, or if it goes beyond society and wants to encompass all life, or if it is restricted to just an individual.You said:
Any attempt to "live up to an ideal" in practice has to involve answering hypothetical questions about what one should do under certain circumstances, and that if that is to be consistent it has to be based on rules.

Being a uniform set of rules which maximises the goals aof society places a heavy set of restraints on possible moralities. Who says those constraints
aren't what makes morality objective


It's not so much that the rules are relative to you, it's that the idea that this is what morality is about is relative to you. Those constraints you speak of may make the "determining of rules that maximize society's goals" something that requires an objective answer, but unless morality is precisely the "determining of rules..." and nothing else, these constraints don't necessarily make morality objective, they just make the process of determining rules objective.
Well, I contend that morality is in fact the determining of rules that meet
certain criteria. And , no , the fact that *I* contend it doesn't make
it "relative to me". A relative truth is something that is true *just because*
soemone aserts it. It is not something which just happens to be asserted by someone.

1) Determining the rules that maximize society's goals requires an objective, emprical answer
2) Relative to the opinion that morality is precisely those rules, morality is something that requires an objective answer
3) In general, it is possible that "morality" refers to something else, in which case it may not be that morality is an objective thing
But that doesn't necesarilly make morality subjective, and it doesn't make the answer to the question "is morally objective or subjective" subjective.


You can objectively determine the rules you need to follow in order to maximize society's goals. On the other hand, someone can objectively determine the commandments one must obey in order to please God. Yet another person can objectively determine the life-attitudes one should try to live by in order to live a virtuous life. Someone can determine what he wants to do in order to increase his personal pleasure. All these things can be objectively determined, but who is to say that only the first thing is morality, and the rest are not?
Whoever can put forward a convincing argument to that effect.


Relativity comes in where a person rejects altogether your choice for what morality is about. Do you think moral relativists argue that there's no wrong answer as to which rules will maximize society's goals?
They argue that there is no globally right or wrong answer. Otherwise
they would be objectivists.

No, of course not. Generally, relativists reject the rules altogether, and aren't concerned with finding rules that work for all of society, they're concerned with determining what's best for themselves.
Which just isn't morality at all.
 

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Tournesol said:
Any attempt to "live up to an ideal" in practice has to involve answering hypothetical questions about what one should do under certain circumstances, and that if that is to be consistent it has to be based on rules.
This is a link to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy's article on ethics, to the section on virtue ethics. Check out the entire page, but the first few lines of the section I linked to are crucial. They say:

Many philosophers believe that morality consists of following precisely defined rules of conduct, such as "don't kill," or "don't steal." Presumably, I must learn these rules, and then make sure each of my actions live up to the rules. Virtue theorists, however, place less emphasis on learning rules, and instead stress the importance of developing good habits of character, such as benevolence. (emphasis mine)
Well, I contend that morality is in fact the determining of rules that meet certain criteria. And , no , the fact that *I* contend it doesn't make it "relative to me". A relative truth is something that is true *just because* soemone aserts it. It is not something which just happens to be asserted by someone.
I don't see why, "[t]he field of ethics, also called moral philosophy, involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong behavior," (see link above) can only be the determining of rules.
But that doesn't necesarilly make morality subjective, and it doesn't make the answer to the question "is morally objective or subjective" subjective.
No, but it invalidates your argument. You argue that morality is objective because morality is nothing but the determination of rules that further the endeavours of society. Since morality is not just that, since entirely different approaches to morality can be taken and still be called morality, your argument doesn't hold. You're right, this doesn't show that morality is subjective, it shows that your argument does not show it to be objective.
Whoever can put forward a convincing argument to that effect.
How can anyone? Indeed, in this case, it really is a matter of preference. If someone is devoted to God, then you can't do much to argue that he should place the values of society above the will of God. His morality and his ethics will be different from yours. He will follow his commandments, you will follow your rules, and another will strive to live up to certain virtues. How can you tell a person that he ought not to live up to certain virtues, and that he ought to live by certain rules? Suppose you two have the same goals. Then you can make an objective case to suggest that your rules reach this end better than his virtues. But that's normally not where conflicts arise between virtue ethicists and "rule-based" ethicists. For the virtue ethicist, embodying those virtues is in itself an end. For your ethics, the desired result is the attainment of social goals. If the person prefers to live up to a standard of virtue as opposed to see the goals of society come to fruition, how can you say he's wrong? To me, this really seems like a matter of preference. You decide for yourself what you need to do to consider your life good. If another person does the same thing but concludes that something else will make his life good, then you're really in no position to argue.
They argue that there is no globally right or wrong answer. Otherwise they would be objectivists.
No, relativists generally don't care about maximizing society's progress. You argue against what I would call naive relativism. Any relativist who isn't 12 years old will probably not be so stupid as to say that when it comes to fighting poverty or hunger, any person's guess is as good as the next guy's as to how to solve the problem. That's not what relativism is really about, but those who oppose relativism tend to argue only against this naive relativism because it's easiest to do so. Relativists don't say that any person's answer is right to the question of solving society's problems. Relativist normally don't care about society's problems, or rather, they say that it is up to each individual to determine the degree to which he or she will concern himself with society's problems. Once you've decided the degree to which you will concern yourself, then there may very well be empirical answers to the question of the best way to solve the problems you've concerned yourself with. No rational relativist will argue with that, but again, they will maintain that not all people must place the goals of society as those of greatest moral import.

And the relativist is right there. You can't tell a hermit that he needs to put society's goals above all else. You can't tell a devout religious person that he needs to put the will of God second. I mean, you can tell them that, but you have no grounds for it.
Which just isn't morality at all.
On that link I gave you, scroll down to "Consequentialist Theories," and take note of the reference to "Ethical Egoism." While you're there, scroll down a little more to the section entitled "Ethical Egoism and Social Contract Theory."

What you've done is taken a very small aspect of morality, a strategy to solve the problem that is the focus of one approach to morality, and assumed that this is all of what morality is about. From that false assumption, it does in fact follow that moral questions have objective answers, but the assumption is still false. And it is indeed false: if a virtue ethicist says that his goal in life is to have impeccable character, and says that he wants to do this by trying to live up to some standard of virtue, and if you say that you want to see society's goals achieved, and say that you want to do this by having everyone adhere to a code of rules, it seems totally strange to me that you see this situation as one where we call one person wrong and the other right. And it seems strange to me that you are unwilling to call one of these things morality (even though virtue ethics is one of the oldest traditions in Western moral philosophy and was espoused by Plato) while the other you do call morality - your definition of morality seems to contradict the definition(s) it has held for what I assume is all of Western history.
 

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I don't see how a morality based on discrete rules can hope to deal with the infinite complexity of daily life. The law, both statute and common law, is basically a set of discrete rules. And the courts are constantly in the business of interpreting those rules because they simply don't cover the cases that are constantly coming up. For an individual without the resources of the appelate court system this would be impossible.
 
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AKG said:
i]Many philosophers believe that morality consists of following precisely defined rules of conduct, such as "don't kill," or "don't steal." Presumably, I must learn these rules, and then make sure each of my actions live up to the rules. Virtue theorists, however, place less emphasis on learning rules, and instead stress the importance of developing good habits of character, such as benevolence.[/i] (emphasis mine)I don't see why, "[t]he field of ethics, also called moral philosophy, involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong behavior," (see link above) can only be the determining of rules.
It is for you to explain how you can have a non-rule-based approach in which
individuals don't simply invent values or standards to justify whatever they
feel like doing. ("vicious subjectivism").

No, but it invalidates your argument. You argue that morality is objective because morality is nothing but the determination of rules that further the endeavours of society. Since morality is not just that, since entirely different approaches to morality can be taken and still be called morality,
I don't have to agree that anything called morality really is morality. In particular
you are confusing the study of morality with actual moral behaviour.

Although the word can be used in both contexts, the two conscpets are quite different.

How can anyone? [ put forward a convincing case]
How did we --when we pesuaded ourselves that slavery is wrong, for instance ? Or did we all just become a bit more virtuous ?


Indeed, in this case, it really is a matter of preference. If someone is devoted to God, then you can't do much to argue that he should place the values of society above the will of God. His morality and his ethics will be different from yours. He will follow his commandments, you will follow your rules, and another will strive to live up to certain virtues. How can you tell a person that he ought not to live up to certain virtues, and that he ought to live by certain rules?
It's been done.

Suppose you two have the same goals. Then you can make an objective case to suggest that your rules reach this end better than his virtues. But that's normally not where conflicts arise between virtue ethicists and "rule-based" ethicists. For the virtue ethicist, embodying those virtues is in itself an end. For your ethics, the desired result is the attainment of social goals. If the person prefers to live up to a standard of virtue as opposed to see the goals of society come to fruition, how can you say he's wrong?
By arguing that morality properly so-called must be universaliseable.

Of course some personal values probably are universalisable. A virtue ethics that works may well look like a rule-based system.

To me, this really seems like a matter of preference. You decide for yourself what you need to do to consider your life good.
Which runs headlong into the central problem of subjectivism: what is
to stop me deciding that mass-murder is good-for-me? It isn;t
virtuous ? Well, what makes virtues virtues ? Do you have any
answer other than you wouldn't want everyone behaving that way ?

Relativist normally don't care about society's problems, or rather, they say that it is up to each individual to determine the degree to which he or she will concern himself with society's problems.
And those are all morally equivalent ?

Once you've decided the degree to which you will concern yourself, then there may very well be empirical answers to the question of the best way to solve the problems you've concerned yourself with. No rational relativist will argue with that, but again, they will maintain that not all people must place the goals of society as those of greatest moral import.

And the relativist is right there. You can't tell a hermit that he needs to put society's goals above all else.
If society's goals include the tolerance of alternative lifestyles, I have no
need to.

You can't tell a devout religious person that he needs to put the will of God second.
Even if he thinks God is willing him to blow people up ?

What you've done is taken a very small aspect of morality, a strategy to solve the problem that is the focus of one approach to morality, and assumed that this is all of what morality is about. From that false assumption, it does in fact follow that moral questions have objective answers, but the assumption is still false. And it is indeed false: if a virtue ethicist says that his goal in life is to have impeccable character, and says that he wants to do this by trying to live up to some standard of virtue, and if you say that you want to see society's goals achieved, and say that you want to do this by having everyone adhere to a code of rules, it seems totally strange to me that you see this situation as one where we call one person wrong and the other right.
That's probably because you have got the social rule that it is impolite
to question other people's moral assumptions mixed up with the intellectual idea
that it is completly possible to resolve ethical or meta-ethical issues
objectively.


And it seems strange to me that you are unwilling to call one of these things morality (even though virtue ethics is one of the oldest traditions in Western moral philosophy and was espoused by Plato) while the other you do call morality - your definition of morality seems to contradict the definition(s) it has held for what I assume is all of Western history.
Virtue theorists don't think deontic ethics is real morality, either. Or what else are they disagreeign about ?
 
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Morality is an conduct slightly different from societal law, although a great deal of "morality" has been incorporated into law.
 

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Tournesol said:
It is for you to explain how you can have a non-rule-based approach in which individuals don't simply invent values or standards to justify whatever they feel like doing. ("vicious subjectivism").
Given a rule-based system, what's to stop them from doing this anyways? But this misses the point. If the virtue ethicist is concerned with building his character, then when people invent rules to justify whatever they want, that's a different concern.
I don't have to agree that anything called morality really is morality. In particular you are confusing the study of morality with actual moral behaviour.

Although the word can be used in both contexts, the two conscpets are quite different.
I don't see how I'm doing such a thing. I don't think I made reference to the "study" of morality, or actual moral behaviour. Is morality nothing but the determination or rules? No. You have some goal in mind, and to that goal you feel that determining rules is the appropriate means. And if determining rules requires an objective approach, then achieving your goal is an objective thing. But that just happens to be your goal, and your take on morality. For some people, the idea of establishing right and wrong (and doing other things related to morality) has nothing to do with progressing society's goals. They're still creating a moral theory, but with a different goal, and it may not require an objective approach. The key thing here is that you are assuming that the goal that you personally wish to achieve through morality is the goal of morality.
How did we --when we pesuaded ourselves that slavery is wrong, for instance ? Or did we all just become a bit more virtuous ?
What does that have to do with anything?
By arguing that morality properly so-called must be universaliseable.
Why is that necessary?
Of course some personal values probably are universalisable. A virtue ethics that works may well look like a rule-based system.
"Works?" Works to what end?
Which runs headlong into the central problem of subjectivism: what is
to stop me deciding that mass-murder is good-for-me? It isn;t
virtuous ? Well, what makes virtues virtues ? Do you have any
answer other than you wouldn't want everyone behaving that way ?
What's to stop me from deciding that mass-murder is good for me? Tell me all the rules you want, how will you stop me? Is there something preventing you from deciding mass-murder is good? Isn't it a choice you made that mass-murder is not good? Well, whatever reasons you had for making that choice, what's to stop a subjectivist from having those same reasons? Surely, you didn't make up rules and then force yourself to obey them against your will.
And those are all morally equivalent ?
Well people might decide to show more or less concern. And although you can say all you want that their concern is not morally equivalent to yours, I don't see why anyone should believe you, or care what you have to say. This is what most of morality (your "type") is. Saying things as though they have any meaning or importance. If you tell someone that they're less moral, why would they care? If you tell people that you have a bunch of rules, why would anyone care?
If society's goals include the tolerance of alternative lifestyles, I have no need to.
Huh? Did you miss what I said? If some people decide that they don't care much about society's goals, will you accept their alternative lifestyle?
Even if he thinks God is willing him to blow people up ?
Well what are your rules going to do about it?
That's probably because you have got the social rule that it is impolite to question other people's moral assumptions mixed up with the intellectual idea that it is completly possible to resolve ethical or meta-ethical issues objectively.
That has nothing to do with it. I'm questioning your moral assumptions, aren't I? I actually think that many ethical issues should be resolved objectively. Determining which rules work for society should indeed be resolved objectively. There's too much nonsense of people just making up rules, and just calling them "inalienable rights" and that's supposed to be an argument for the rule. Discussions on morality seem to be full of that kind of stuff. What you do is little different. Social goals should be solved with solutions that have objectively been determined to be the best. But if I don't care all that much about society's goals (perhaps I care for some of them, but don't care about others, and am opposed to the rest), then this is a meta-ethical issue, and it's absurd to think it can be resolved objectively. Can you resolve objectively what it is I should want out of life, what it is I should want out of others and out of society? Can you resolve objectively which virtues and ideals I am allowed to find admirable? Can you resolve objectively what it is in life I will care strongly for, and what I won't have any feeling for? Some of these decisions aren't even up to me (I can't choose to care about tsunami victims; if I don't feel anything, it's not like I can force myself to feel), so I don't see how in the world you could think that they're up to you.
 
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AKG said:
Given a rule-based system, what's to stop them from doing this anyways?
Constraints such a universalisability.

But this misses the point. If the virtue ethicist is concerned with building his character, then when people invent rules to justify whatever they want, that's a different concern.
For him. For those of us in this discussion , the question is whether
morality is objective or subjective. The fact that subjective "morality"
can jutify anything means that it isn't morality.


I don't see how I'm doing such a thing. I don't think I made reference to the "study" of morality, or actual moral behaviour.
You do the very same thing again...

Is morality nothing but the determination or rules? No. You have some goal in mind, and to that goal you feel that determining rules is the appropriate means. And if determining rules requires an objective approach, then achieving your goal is an objective thing. But that just happens to be your goal, and your take on morality.
..here...



For some people, the idea of establishing right and wrong (and doing other things related to morality) has nothing to do with progressing society's goals. They're still creating a moral theory, but with a different goal, and it may not require an objective approach.
...and here.

The key thing here is that you are assuming that the goal that you personally wish to achieve through morality is the goal of morality.
I am not assuming, it , I am arguing it.


A virtue ethics that works may well look like a rule-based system.

What does that have to do with anything?Why is that necessary?"Works?" Works to what end?
Works in that it doesn't fall into the pit of Vicious Subjectivsim.

What's to stop me from deciding that mass-murder is good for me?
An appreciation that morality is objective, and since mass-murder isn't good for everyone (universalisability), it isn't good full stop.

Tell me all the rules you want, how will you stop me?

It is for the law to stop you. I am only explaining what morality is.
Subjective morality doesn't stop anyone either.

Is there something preventing you from deciding mass-murder is good? Isn't it a choice you made that mass-murder is not good?
No. Eveyone values their life; that is a fact I recognise.

Well, whatever reasons you had for making that choice, what's to stop a subjectivist from having those same reasons?
Subjectivism may accidentally coincide with objectivism and therefore
be "right" in practice. But it doesn't have to, and that's what makes it
wrong in theory.

Surely, you didn't make up rules and then force yourself to obey them against your will.
I fail to see the point. Since I am advocatign objectivism, I am not
talkign about arbitrary, idiosyncratic rules.
 

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Tournesol said:
Constraints such a universalisability.
Proclaiming rules doesn't place the constraint of universalisability on anyone. The rules don't place the constraints, the existence of constraints in the first place gives rise to the rules.
For him. For those of us in this discussion , the question is whether
morality is objective or subjective. The fact that subjective "morality"
can jutify anything means that it isn't morality.
I can't see why that would be the case.
You do the very same thing again...

..here...

...and here.

I am not assuming, it , I am arguing it.
Well, no, you're still not arguing it. If I can live self-sufficiently, and society is more of a hindrance for me, or if I can have a better life being less concerned with social goals than you are, what "argument" can you give me to convince me to choose a worse lot in life?
Works in that it doesn't fall into the pit of Vicious Subjectivsim.
Your morals don't prevent vicious subjectivism. Your morality prevents you from justifying vicious things, but it doesn't prevent me from doing it. It's something of a prisoner's dilemma, and you're assuming that co-operation is always the best strategy over defecting.
An appreciation that morality is objective, and since mass-murder isn't good for everyone (universalisability), it isn't good full stop.
That's not a great argument. What if I have no desire for universalisability? It's not as though if I lie and steal, that instantly everyone will lie and steal from me. I may be able to lie and steal, and rely on the fact that in general I don't have to worry about others doing the same to me, and if I were that type of person, I could benefit from this. Of course, if everyone did this, it wouldn't work, which is why a thief doesn't decide that everyone should steal, he decides that he should.

A fundamental problem in ethics is that of trying to resolve the will of the individual with that of the group. I think this is something that is cannot be perfectly resolved. There are instances where society will benefit at the expense of an individual, and vice versa. The relationship between society and individual is not entirely co-operative. It is largely co-operative, which is why one might want to invest some interest in the goals of society, but there is also a competitive aspect, and in some cases a person's best bet is to go against society.
It is for the law to stop you. I am only explaining what morality is.
Subjective morality doesn't stop anyone either.
That's true, so why should anyone care about your morality? It doesn't do anything, nothing more than subjective morality.
No. Eveyone values their life; that is a fact I recognise.
No? It wasn't a choice you made? And so what? Everyone values their possessions, but a thief might find it beneficial for himself to steal. The fact that when you steal from people, they get angry and come after you may make him reconsider, but after weighing the options, he might find it more beneficial to steal. Again, we're not born to serve society. A rational person co-operates with society because it is beneficial to do so. Where it is not beneficial to do so (taking long term consequences into account appropriately, personal emotions and sympathies, etc.), I don't see how any appeal to universalisability will convince a rational person to do something that's not beneficial. Being rationally self-interested doesn't mean that you're not nice, it doesn't mean that you can't love other people, and it doesn't even mean that you can't be altruistic. It just means that your motives are your own, not because you've convinced yourself to obey rules that may or not be good for you. I am myself first, and a member of my society second. It does me no good to have a terrible life so that society can prosper, unless I've adopted some sort of slave mentality.
Subjectivism may accidentally coincide with objectivism and therefore
be "right" in practice. But it doesn't have to, and that's what makes it
wrong in theory.
Again, by "work" I assume you mean that it furthers society's goals. That's not necessarily the prime directive of all human beings. It may be yours, but people live different lives, and live under different circumstances. Each person comes to something of a prisoner's dilemma (albeit a much more complex one), and there isn't a fixed answer that co-operation is always the optimal solution. Sometimes a combination of co-operation and competition is good, sometimes just competition. And a person doesn't have to stick to one answer their entire lives for every situation. It can change from situation to situation.
I fail to see the point. Since I am advocatign objectivism, I am not
talkign about arbitrary, idiosyncratic rules.
The point is that you choose the rules. It is your choice in the first place that makes you like the rules. You yourself decided the degree to which you would like to concern yourself with society, and after that consideration you decided that you would like to live by certain rules. It's like a person discovering that they like vanilla over chocolate, then proclaiming all shall eat vanilla ice cream and not chocolate. But you wouldn't be eating vanilla because of the rules, you already liked vanilla, you made up the rules because you like vanilla.
 
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AKG said:
Proclaiming rules doesn't place the constraint of universalisability on anyone.
Universalisability is not a constraint on persons , it is a constraint on the rules (eg "act only on that maxim which you would wish to be universal law"), It's how Objectivists avoid
vicious subjectivism.

The fact that subjective "morality"
can jutify anything means that it isn't morality.
I can't see why that would be the case.
You can't see that Subjevtivism can justify anything , or you can't
see that justifying anything is no good as morality ?
If the latter , would you consider a system of rules that
allowed any anwer to any equation to contitute mathematics, in any sense ?

If I can live self-sufficiently, and society is more of a hindrance for me, or if I can have a better life being less concerned with social goals than you are, what "argument" can you give me to convince me to choose a worse lot in life?
I am arguing that "Morality is objective" is a correct claim. I am not saying
that you should or should not live your life a certain way.

If you separate yourself from society, your actions become morally neutral
by formulation (setting aside questions like animal rights).


Your morals don't prevent vicious subjectivism.
My meta-ethical claim prevents VS by placing the contraint of universalisability one rules. I have yet to hear how you do it.

Your morality prevents you from justifying vicious things, but it doesn't prevent me from doing it.
The relevant issue is whether you could indulge in VC using my rules. Can you ? Lets's see you do it !

(and of course "prevent" refers to rational argument, not physical constraint,
which is the job of the law).

It's something of a prisoner's dilemma, and you're assuming that co-operation is always the best strategy over defecting.
NO, I'm arguing that co-operation constitutes morality. Whether
people make a selfish, amoral choice not to co-operate is another
matter. The fact that some people fail to follow the rules does not
invalidate the rules.

That's not a great argument. What if I have no desire for universalisability?
The point is to recognise intellectually that universalisability is
part of morality. If you don't want to be moral, that doesn't invalidate
the claim. The truth of a claim is not affected by the fact that some
people are unable or unwilling to understand or act on it.

It's not as though if I lie and steal, that instantly everyone will lie and steal from me.
No. It's as though the fact that you don't want people to steal
from you is what makes your behaviour immoral.

I may be able to lie and steal, and rely on the fact that in general I don't have to worry about others doing the same to me, and if I were that type of person, I could benefit from this.

So you can pragmattcally get away with it. So what? Again, the Objectivist claim is not
that it is impossible to be immoral, or that everyone is somehow physically onctrained to be moral, or that morallity coincides with pargmatic self-interest. Immoral acts don't become moral (or even legal) where the perpetrator escapes punishment.

Of course, if everyone did this, it wouldn't work, which is why a thief doesn't decide that everyone should steal, he decides that he should.
It's a question of what a *moral* "should" *means*.
You seem to have collapsed the moral "should" and the pragmatic "should".

A fundamental problem in ethics is that of trying to resolve the will of the individual with that of the group. I think this is something that is cannot be perfectly resolved. There are instances where society will benefit at the expense of an individual, and vice versa. The relationship between society and individual is not entirely co-operative. It is largely co-operative, which is why one might want to invest some interest in the goals of society, but there is also a competitive aspect, and in some cases a person's best bet is to go against society.
I never at any stage said that objective morality would coincide with self-interest.


That's true, so why should anyone care about your morality?
I am giving the answer to the question "is morality objective or subjective".
I am not claiming to have some miraculous method of converting people
who don't give a hoot about morality. I also can't teach calculus to people with zero interest...etc etc etc.

This is a completely unreasonable criterion, anyway, since no other system
of morality can plausibly pull the same trick off.

Societies have mechanism like "laws" and "police" to deal with people
who don't want to be moral.

It doesn't do anything, nothing more than subjective morality.No? It wasn't a choice you made? And so what? Everyone values their possessions, but a thief might find it beneficial for himself to steal.
Morality still isn't pragmatism.

Where it is not beneficial to do so (taking long term consequences into account appropriately, personal emotions and sympathies, etc.), I don't see how any appeal to universalisability will convince a rational person to do something that's not beneficial.
If there is no long-term wide ranging benefit to social rules, they
are not moral. I am not arguing that all social rules are automatically moral.

Being rationally self-interested doesn't mean that you're not nice, it doesn't mean that you can't love other people, and it doesn't even mean that you can't be altruistic. It just means that your motives are your own, not because you've convinced yourself to obey rules that may or not be good for you.
Since self-interest *can* depart from morality it cannot *constitute*it.
"Self interest" cannot be the anwer to "what is morality".
The fact that the two can coincide is irrelvant.

I am myself first, and a member of my society second. It does me no good to have a terrible life so that society can prosper, unless I've adopted some sort of slave mentality.
No, but there is no reason to suppose that a society that doemands that is
being moral. Yet again, moral objectivism is not any old set of rules.

Again, by "work" I assume you mean that it furthers society's goals.
No, I mean that it gives a plausible answer to the intellectual question;
it doesn't fall into holeslike VS.

That's not necessarily the prime directive of all human beings.
I am not claiming to describe some universal facet of huamn behaviour.
It may be yours, but people live different lives, and live under different circumstances. Each person comes to something of a prisoner's dilemma (albeit a much more complex one), and there isn't a fixed answer that co-operation is always the optimal solution. Sometimes a combination of co-operation and competition is good, sometimes just competition. And a person doesn't have to stick to one answer their entire lives for every situation.
You haven't shown that any of that is capable of consituing morality.


It is your choice in the first place that makes you like the rules. You yourself decided the degree to which you would like to concern yourself with society, and after that consideration you decided that you would like to live by certain rules.
Anyone's decision to be moral in *practice* is subjective and personal.
The answer to the theorteical question "what is morality" iisn't.


It's like a person discovering that they like vanilla over chocolate, then proclaiming all shall eat vanilla ice cream and not chocolate.
That is preciesly what the universalisability constraint is supposed to avoid.

But you wouldn't be eating vanilla because of the rules, you already liked vanilla, you made up the rules because you like vanilla.
No, the rules are not arbitrary and personal. That's why it's called Objectivism.
 
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AKG

Science Advisor
Homework Helper
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Tournesol said:
You can't see that Subjevtivism can justify anything , or you can't
see that justifying anything is no good as morality ?
If the latter , would you consider a system of rules that
allowed any anwer to any equation to contitute mathematics, in any sense ?
No. I see morality as having to do with how one should live his life. Whereas there is only one answer to 2+2, good luck trying to convince anyone that you have the single answer for all people as to how they should live their lives.
My meta-ethical claim prevents VS by placing the contraint of universalisability one rules. I have yet to hear how you do it.
I think you mean to say that your meta-ethical claims are not VS, not that they prevent VS. They do no such thing. They don't give a reason as to why VS is wrong, or why your rules are better. You just say that VS is incompatible with universalisability.
The relevant issue is whether you could indulge in VC using my rules. Can you ? Lets's see you do it !
That's your argument?! Okay, well if you lived by vicious subjectivism, then could you indulge in universal, socially-beneficial rules? No, so I suppose VS prevents your morality? No, of course not, that's a silly argument. Nothing about your rules prevents VS. Preventing VS means giving reasons as to why a VS should accept your rules, or reasons as to why your rules are better than being a VS. You say, "if you follow my rules, you don't follow VS," and give no reason as to how this makes your rules better than VS, and thus no reason as to how your rules prevent a rational person from indulging in VS.
The point is to recognise intellectually that universalisability is
part of morality. If you don't want to be moral, that doesn't invalidate
the claim. The truth of a claim is not affected by the fact that some
people are unable or unwilling to understand or act on it.
Well cultural adaptability may be a condition of being shmoral, but why should anyone care? And no, if I don't want to be moral, that doesn't invalidate the claim. It's just that nothing you've said validates your claim. You keep pressing that morality must be universalisable, because if it's not universalisable then it's not morality. You've made the same circular argument again and again. But why? Since it's really a semantic matter, and nothing in the definition of morality appears to require universalisability, you have no basis for this claim.
No. It's as though the fact that you don't want people to steal
from you is what makes your behaviour immoral.

I may be able to lie and steal, and rely on the fact that in general I don't have to worry about others doing the same to me, and if I were that type of person, I could benefit from this.

So you can pragmattcally get away with it. So what? Again, the Objectivist claim is not
that it is impossible to be immoral, or that everyone is somehow physically onctrained to be moral, or that morallity coincides with pargmatic self-interest. Immoral acts don't become moral (or even legal) where the perpetrator escapes punishment.
And this is one thing that people who argue for your type of morality tend to come to. "Moral" is just some useless label. I can do an action that is in every way good for me, except I don't get to be labelled "moral". That's it.
I am giving the answer to the question "is morality objective or subjective".
I am not claiming to have some miraculous method of converting people
who don't give a hoot about morality. I also can't teach calculus to people with zero interest...etc etc etc.

This is a completely unreasonable criterion, anyway, since no other system
of morality can plausibly pull the same trick off.

Societies have mechanism like "laws" and "police" to deal with people
who don't want to be moral.
You're not giving answer to "is morality objective" you're giving answers to, "is the determination of rules that are best for society's goals objective." As I mention below, your morality doesn't solve any problems. It doesn't give a response to the subjectivist. If the subjectivist decides he wants to care more about society, then your rules might give him a useful guide as to how to act to achieve his new goals. But it gives the subjectivist no reason to adopt these new goals and relinquish his vicious ones, if he has them.
Since self-interest *can* depart from morality it cannot *constitute*it.
"Self interest" cannot be the anwer to "what is morality".
The fact that the two can coincide is irrelvant.
Says who? Or more importantly, assuming it is the case that self-interest cannot constitute morality, why should any rational person care about morality? Any reason you give me to accept morality over self-interest must be a justification for me to take something that is worse for me. Note that "better for me" doesn't only mean more money and power. I don't hate people, and I would feel bad if I hurt someone to get money from them. It would be better for me to not hurt someone than it is for me to get money. So taking into account that people are not so simply black and white, thus taking into account what it really means to act in self-interest (it is different from acting selfishly), how can you possibly justify something that is worse for me to me? Of course, you can't. While you're considering the notion that people are not so black and white, also consider that the problems we face in life are also not so black and white. Why would a person always co-operate with society? It's not so black and white - sometimes a rational person will defect.
No, but there is no reason to suppose that a society that doemands that is
being moral. Yet again, moral objectivism is not any old set of rules.
That has nothing to do with what I said (in fact, it's hard for me to even tell what you're saying). My point is that I place a responsibility to myself above a responsibility to my society. It's not something I consciously do (it's not a rule I've made for myself) but I, being myself, am naturally concerned with myself. After all, it is my joy and pain that I feel, I will naturally respond quicker to my own pain than to the pain of someone in China who just stubbed his toe.
No, I mean that it gives a plausible answer to the intellectual question;
it doesn't fall into holeslike VS.
It does no such thing. Your rules don't prevent other people from being vicious subjectivists. They may prevent you from being a vicious subjectivist, but did you really need to enforce rules upon yourself to achieve this? I doubt it. You make rules for people who already obey them, so they don't do anything. If you're in a room with a VS, your rules won't stop him from doing something vicious. They may stop you from doing something vicious, but you wouldn't do anything vicious whether you made up those rules or not, i.e. you made up those rules because you're not a vicious person in the first place, so they don't really have any additional effect.

Your rules don't defeat vicious subjectivism. On the other hand, if people have already relinquished VS, and they have all personally chosen to devote their lives to society, then they might look to you for objective answers as to the most efficient means to achieve those ends.
I am not claiming to describe some universal facet of huamn behaviour.
Sure you are. I'm saying that moral decisions sometimes result in the individual contradicting society's goals, and you're saying that this is never the case. That people are inherently bound to serve society's goals. This is absurd, and no doubt, you have positively no authority to say this. Say it all you want, but I can always say, "Well to heck with you and society, I will still do my own thing and enjoy my life." And if a subjectivist says this and does this, and does enjoy his life, all your "arguments" won't mean a thing.
You haven't shown that any of that is capable of consituing morality.
Huh? Since you seem to use an unconventional definition of morality, I don't know what this means. However, I believe it's obvious that what I suggested works (whether it works as what you call morality or not is irrelevant). Whereas I say that co-operating with society cannot be assumed prima facie to be the correct answer to any moral dilemma, you've assumed that it is. Can you not think of a single instance where it is better for some given individual to defect?
Anyone's decision to be moral in *practice* is subjective and personal.
The answer to the theorteical question "what is morality" iisn't.
You've given no reason for this, though. It's clear that an objective answer is required to solve some of society's goals, but you've given no answer as to why your restricted definition of morality is the only one. This is largely a semantic matter about the definition of morality.
That is preciesly what the universalisability constraint is supposed to avoid.
It was just an example. Replace eating vanilla with doing X (so it doesn't seem like something arbitrary or personal). Anyways, I don't see how your constraint avoids this. In fact, placing a universalisability constraint universally is like demanding that vanilla ice cream be eaten universally. If I don't care for vanilla, then it's silly for you to think that I would follow your rule that I had to eat it. If I want to live mostly independent from society, if I don't agree with society, if I find I have more to gain from either avoiding it or antagonizing it, it's silly for you to think that I would follow your rule to work for society anyways.
No, the rules are not arbitrary and personal. That's why it's called Objectivism.
Of course they are, you missed my entire point. You personally like society and what it does for you, so you choose those rules. Those rules don't determine your behaviour at all. If a person likes X, it makes no sense for him to then impose a rule on himself to work to get X. It makes no difference to him whether he makes the rule or not, because he will work to get X anyways. This is what you do.

1) It's your personal choice in the first place to concern yourself with society to the degree that you do.

2) Do you need to impose rules on yourself to get yourself to behave according to your own goals? If I were trying to force everyone in the world to work for society or to eat vanilla, I would have to enforce rules. If I am trying to get myself to eat vanilla or work for society, I don't need rules.
 
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You can't see that Subjectivism can justify anything , or you can't
see that justifying anything is no good as morality ?
If the latter , would you consider a system of rules that
allowed any anwer to any equation to contitute mathematics, in any sense ?
No. I see morality as having to do with how one should live his life. Whereas there is only one answer to 2+2, good luck trying to convince anyone that you have the single answer for all people as to how they should live their lives.
I am not saying that moral rules apply to every aspect of life, or that everything not forbidden is compulsory.

My meta-ethical claim prevents VS by placing the contraint of universalisability one rules. I have yet to hear how you do it.
I think you mean to say that your meta-ethical claims are not VS, not that they prevent VS. They do no such thing. They don't give a reason as to why VS is wrong, or why your rules are better. You just say that VS is incompatible with universaliability.
And that universalisability is an essential comonent of morality, which completes the argument

The relevant issue is whether you could indulge in VC using my rules. Can you ? Lets's see you do it !
That's your argument?! Okay, well if you lived by vicious subjectivism, then could you indulge in universal, socially-beneficial rules? No, so I suppose VS prevents your morality? No, of course not, that's a silly argument. Nothing about your rules prevents VS. Preventing VS means giving reasons as to why a VS should accept your rules, or reasons as to why your rules are better than being a VS. You say, "if you follow my rules, you don't follow VS," and give no reason as to how this makes your rules better than VS, and thus no reason as to how your rules prevent a rational person from indulging in VS.
VS is not a way of saying "nasty person". It is an intelectual error by which a purported system of morality shows itself to be vacous
by being able to offer justification for anything. My system prevents VS in the sense that you cannot come to arbitrary conclusions
if you base your reasoning on it. It does not cure bad behaviour or wicked people. VS is not a way of saying "nasty person". Wicked people will have to justify their behaviour using subjectivism, if they feel inclined to.

The point is to recognise intellectually that universalisability is
part of morality. If you don't want to be moral, that doesn't invalidate
the claim. The truth of a claim is not affected by the fact that some
people are unable or unwilling to understand or act on it.
Well cultural adaptability may be a condition of being shmoral, but why should anyone care? And no, if I don't want to be moral, that doesn't invalidate the claim. It's just that nothing you've said validates your claim. You keep pressing that morality must be universalisable, because if it's not universalisable then it's not morality. You've made the same circular argument again and again. But why? Since it's really a semantic matter, and nothing in the definition of morality appears to require universalisability, you have no basis for this claim.
"the quality of being moral ; that which renders actions right or wrong; the practice of moral duties other than religion"

So what is it that tells us why actions are right or wrong ? (Not the dictionary, it would seem).

How do we answer the question ?

Let's take it that certain obvious cases really are moral (charity) or immoral(murder).

if there is something that explains morlaity, it has to give the right answer to these test cases.

My contention is OC that universalisability can do that; you can't universalise individual acts of murder into "everybody should murder
everyone else".

So there you have it; universaliseability isn't a circular argument , it is a hypothesis which matches the evidence.

No. It's as though the fact that you don't want people to steal
from you is what makes your behaviour immoral.
I may be able to lie and steal, and rely on the fact that in general I don't have to worry about others doing the same to me, and if I were that type of person, I could benefit from this.
None of that is moral.

So you can pragmattcally get away with it. So what? Again, the Objectivist claim is not
that it is impossible to be immoral, or that everyone is somehow physically onctrained to be moral, or that morallity coincides with pargmatic self-interest. Immoral acts don't become moral (or even legal) where the perpetrator escapes punishment.
And this is one thing that people who argue for your type of morality tend to come to. "Moral" is just some useless label. I can do an action that is in every way good for me, except I don't get to be labelled "moral". That's it.
We're not arguing about what you can and can't do, we are arguing about whether morality is objective or subjective.
If you think moral thinking never has consequences, consider that it is the basis, if anything is, for the law.

You're not giving answer to "is morality objective" you're giving answers to, "is the determination of rules that are best for society's goals objective." As I mention below, your morality doesn't solve any problems. It doesn't give a response to the subjectivist. If the subjectivist decides he wants to care more about society, then your rules might give him a useful guide as to how to act to achieve his new goals. But it gives the subjectivist no reason to adopt these new goals and relinquish his vicious ones, if he has them.
The mere fact that subjectivism can justify actions that in anyone's eyes (since it can justify anything) is enough to
show it is the incorrect answer to "what is morality" intelectually and theoretically. How the subjectivsit will respond
to that depends on how committed they are to rationallity, which is not something I can do anything about.

Since self-interest *can* depart from morality it cannot *constitute*it.
"Self interest" cannot be the anwer to "what is morality".
The fact that the two can coincide is irrelvant.
Says who? Or more importantly, assuming it is the case that self-interest cannot constitute morality, why should any rational person care about morality?
Is that a moral "should" ?

I am not claiming to be able to bootsrap morality from nothing -- or from pure logic for that matter. Pure logic never
gave anybody a reason for doing anything. Logic just allows you to draw correct premises from correct conclusions,
it doesn't tell you what you "should" do in any sense of "should". "Rational self-interest" is a combination of logic and,
"me first". Ethical egotists try to derive morality from this, but they always have to stretch the defintion of "self interest"
until it meets atlruism half-way.

Any reason you give me to accept morality over self-interest must be a justification for me to take something that is worse for me. Note that "better for me" doesn't only mean more money and power. I don't hate people, and I would feel bad if I hurt someone to get money from them.
So why do you go along with that feeling ? Can you rationally justify the basis of the feeling -- rg that is bad to hurt someone because you
wouldn't want to be hurt ? In that case, the rational explanation is just th ekind of moral objectivism I am talking about, and the
feeling is an internalisation of the rules. If you can't rationally justify it, then you shouldn't -- in you presumably rational sense of "should" --
go along with it any more than you "should" go along with what I am saying.

It would be better for me to not hurt someone than it is for me to get money. So taking into account that people are not so simply black and white, thus taking into account what it really means to act in self-interest (it is different from acting selfishly), how can you possibly justify something that is worse for me to me? Of course, you can't. While you're considering the notion that people are not so black and white, also consider that the problems we face in life are also not so black and white. Why would a person always co-operate with society? It's not so black and white - sometimes a rational person will defect.
A person should not always co-operate with society. Morallity involves placing wider considerations beyond one's own self interest. De facto social rules, such as the legallity of slavery, might serve a narrow set of social interests, but still fail the universalisability test,
and so are immoral.

That has nothing to do with what I said (in fact, it's hard for me to even tell what you're saying).
Let me try again:

No, but there is no reason to suppose that doing anything that a society demands is
being moral. Yet again, moral objectivism is not any old set of rules.

My point is that I place a responsibility to myself above a responsibility to my society. It's not something I consciously do (it's not a rule I've made for myself) but I, being myself, am naturally concerned with myself. After all, it is my joy and pain that I feel, I will naturally respond quicker to my own pain than to the pain of someone in China who just stubbed his toe.
You need to argue that what you say constitutes morality rather than what I am saying.

No, I mean that it gives a plausible answer to the intellectual question;
it doesn't fall into holes like VS.
It does no such thing. Your rules don't prevent other people from being vicious subjectivists.
Anyone who adopts objective rules stops being a subjectivist, and therefore a VS.

They may prevent you from being a vicious subjectivist, but did you really need to enforce rules upon yourself to achieve this?
How can you stop being subjective without starting to be objective ? (And VS still doesn't mean "nasty person").

I doubt it. You make rules for people who already obey them, so they don't do anything. If you're in a room with a VS, your rules won't stop him from doing something vicious.
Yet again you are conflating practical and theoretical issues.

They may stop you from doing something vicious, but you wouldn't do anything vicious whether you made up those rules or not, i.e. you made up those rules because you're not a vicious person in the first place, so they don't really have any additional effect.
VS still doesn't mean "nasty person"

Your rules don't defeat vicious subjectivism. On the other hand, if people have already relinquished VS, and they have all personally chosen to devote their lives to society, then they might look to you for objective answers as to the most efficient means to achieve those ends.

You haven't shown that any of that is capable of consituing morality.
Huh? Since you seem to use an unconventional definition of morality, I don't know what this means.
I mean some reasoning which can answer the question "what is morality" and explain why the things we think
are wrong or right really are wrong or right.

However, I believe it's obvious that what I suggested works (whether it works as what you call morality or not is irrelevant).
Nothing could be more relvant to the actual topic of this thread.

Whereas I say that co-operating with society cannot be assumed prima facie to be the correct answer to any moral dilemma, you've assumed that it is. Can you not think of a single instance where it is better for some given individual to defect?
Yes.

Anyone's decision to be moral in *practice* is subjective and personal.
The answer to the theorteical question "what is morality" iisn't.
You've given no reason for this, though. It's clear that an objective answer is required to solve some of society's goals, but you've given no answer as to why your restricted definition of morality is the only one. This is largely a semantic matter about the definition of morality.
If you have a better system of O.M. I would be glad to hear it.

That is preciesly what the universalisability constraint is supposed to avoid.
It was just an example. Replace eating vanilla with doing X (so it doesn't seem like something arbitrary or personal). Anyways, I don't see how your constraint avoids this. In fact, placing a universalisability constraint universally is like demanding that vanilla ice cream be eaten universally.
I am saying a precept is not moral unless it is universalisable. I am not saying every universalisable rule is moral.

If I don't care for vanilla, then it's silly for you to think that I would follow your rule that I had to eat it. If I want to live mostly independent from society, if I don't agree with society, if I find I have more to gain from either avoiding it or antagonizing it, it's silly for you to think that I would follow your rule to work for society anyways.
"Should" doesn't mean "would".

No, the rules are not arbitrary and personal. That's why it's called Objectivism.
Of course they are, you missed my entire point. You personally like society and what it does for you, so you choose those rules. Those rules don't determine your behaviour at all. If a person likes X, it makes no sense for him to then impose a rule on himself to work to get X. It makes no difference to him whether he makes the rule or not, because he will work to get X anyways. This is what you do.
You've have missed the point that he might not be the one who is benefitting X. Men can think the oppression of women is
wrong and so forth.

1) It's your personal choice in the first place to concern yourself with society to the degree that you do.
All choices are not equally moral.

2) Do you need to impose rules on yourself to get yourself to behave according to your own goals? If I were trying to force everyone in the world to work for society or to eat vanilla, I would have to enforce rules. If I am trying to get myself to eat vanilla or work for society, I don't need rules.
You need rules to understand how morality works. Not necessarily to do things, but if you operate on the emotive, knee
jerk basis you will not be in a position to challenge norms or deel with new situations. It's no coincidence that "knee jerk" and "conservative" go together.
 
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