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Proving absolute morals exist

  1. Dec 7, 2005 #1


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    Hi, I've been reading alot about philosophy to write an argumentative essay on Absolutism vs. Relativism in favor or moral absolutism. Unfortunatly I have come to the point where I'm thinking too hard. Im not good enough in philosophy (very new to it!) to prove that absolute morals exist, I'm having some trouble. But in all the thinking I've done, I have came up with this dedective reasoning that I guess:uhh: (I really don't know if what I wrote is logical) is my belief of proving that absolute morals exist. (this is just one argument in my essay, I have others) Of course, not on my own! Plato and Aquinas pretty much wrote this for me, I just kind of combined some of their points into one. I'd just like to know what you guys think. Am I just a stupid kid who thinks he can prove something? or have I written something logical here.

    I wrote it in point form, I'll put it into wrinting once I feel it's worthy...:

    In Plato's Republic he says that a good city would be gouverened by "philosopher kings". He meant that the kings would gouvern the city in a just manner, with perfect moderation between selfishness and selflessness, that which is the fourth virtue, justice.

    Plato said, that one cannot possess justice without the other three virtues: "if the three where discovered...justice would be the fourth remaining". So his just philosopher kings would have to possess all four virtues.

    I want to prove that if these virtues exist and are atteinable, absolute morality exists.


    -He possesses the four cardial virtues: wisdom/prudence, temperance, courage and justice

    -Then he could gouvern a city in a just manner

    -Then he would know what is right or wrong, in any situation

    -Knowing what is right or wrong in any situation would imply that he would know what he ought to do, in a specific situation. Thus is a clear conscience. Like Aquinas said, prudence is the most important virtue because it is the innate knowledge of good and evil, right or wrong

    -Having prudence would imply having perfect rational thought

    -If he was to gouvern a city with the paragon of rational thought, then he would know what anyone ought to do, in any situation. He would know what would be good-doing, and what would be wrong-doing in a particular case

    -Knowing what would be good-doing or wrong-doing (what ought to be done) would imply knowing what is best, and what is just.

    -Knowing what is best in any situation, would mean knowing what is best for everyone (he could rationalize what is just in any situation, for any conflict, between any persons withing his city)

    -Knowing what is best for everyone, would indicate a purpose (if I know what is best for you, then I know what you ought to be doing, you have a purpose)
    NOTE: I said knowing what is best would indicate a purspose, not define it. Sort of like walking north to reach the horizon. You know your direction, but you'll never know whats there because you can never reach the horizon. Remember that knowing what is for the better or for the worse (ought do to, or not to do) is, as Aquinas said, an innate knowledge (given by god) that can only be known with prudence, temperace, courage and (as Plato said) the fourth virtue, justice, will follow, sustain and perfect the other three.

    -With these four virtues he would have the abilty to listen perfectly to his conscience

    -His conscience would tell him what he ought do in any situation. (he would not necessarily know why, because he only knows through intuition. He knows the direction but doesn't know the purpose. But the purpose exists.

    -Having a purpose of being, on this earth, would mean that their are actions which would be for the better of oneself and/or everyone, and actions that would be for the worst of oneself and/or everyone

    -These actions would indicate what is moral or immoral

    And if purposeexists, then their would be specific actions that are for the good of the purpose and for the bad of the purpose. These actions would indicate a system of morality which is absolute.

    The philosopher king knows morality best.

    Take into account that with the fouth virtue, justice, which is the perfect moderation of selfishness and selflessness, the philosopher king with a clear conscience (prudence) and justice, would be able to take into account any conflict, in any situation, between any persons, and justify what is moral and immoral in the right way, because he has the right amount of selflessness. As plato would say, justice is "minding one's own business".


    Sorry if its redundant, what do you guys think? I will take no offence to constructive critisism.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this long post!
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 7, 2005 #2


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    Morals are "absolute" if you define them to be absolute or if you redefine absolute.
  4. Dec 7, 2005 #3


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    Your argument seems to be backwards. You claim that a philosopher king will be able to tell what single action one ought to do. How do you know there such a single action that one ought to do? I believe you can only say what one ought to do with respect to some given purpose. If you want to make friends, you ought to try to make eye-contact. If you want to be left alone, you ought to avoid making eye-contact. If you want to promote the welfare of society, you ought to do X. If you want to do as God wills, you ought to do Y. Does it even make sense to simply speak of what one ought to do, without some presupposed purpose? No. So if you claim at the outset that having these qualities will allow a person to determine the specific action (without specification of what the purpose is) that one ought to do, then you are presupposing that there is a single purpose. The rest of your argument doesn't really prove that there is a single purpose, it essentially goes backwards, revealing the fact that you've implicitly presupposed a single purpose, but making it look like you've proved that there is one.

    I have my purposes for doing things. Society as a collective has some shared purposes. Perhaps more often than not, the purposes of the individual coincide with that of society. Apparently, God has some purpose for us as well, and sometimes our purposes coincide with his. But what would it mean for there to be The Purpose? Especially, if this purpose did not coincide with any of our individual purposes, would we even bother following it? What makes a given purpose The Purpose? Is there any objective way to determine whether a given purpose is The Purpose?

    Now you can claim that there are purposes, and one of these may be The Purpose, and actions may be judged in accordance with this Purpose, even if the judgement of every person and society on Earth differs. But then what makes the label of "The Purpose" any different from some purely arbitrary label?

    I think the biggest problem you face is to make sense of what The Purpose could even mean. I can talk about my goals, or society's goals, or even some arbitrary random set of goals. I can't even begin to make sense of what The Goals could be. You may say The Goals are the goals that my goals should be? Why, because The Goals say so, and they're capitalized? My goals say that my goals should be what they are. Why are The Goals special? Are they better? What makes them better? To even make sense of this, you must argue that they are better at serving some purpose. But if you claim that The Goals define The Purpose, then you've just gone around in circles. Sure, The Goals are best at serving The Purpose, but why should I care? Otherwise, you must say something like The Goals are best at serving society's purpose. But then you've lost absolutism, for you're no longer speaking of The Goals (whatever that may mean) but simply society's goals.

    As far as I can see, you can either say that there is some set of goals which are The Goals, and the absolute morality of an action is judged in terms of how it relates to The Goals, and refrain from saying what The Goals are in terms of other goals. If you do this, then the qualifying this morality as absolute morality becomes entirely arbitrary and meaningless. Otherwise, you can say that The Goals are, say, society's goals, or your goals, or God's goals, and this would have to be nothing but plain assertion. There's no reason why one set of goals would be The Goals, but people often claim that their morals or the morals of their society are The Morals anyways. Since there's no reason, the label again becomes arbitrary or meaningless. Note that giving a reason like "because it is what's necessary for society to work," is no good because any person could call their morals The Morals and say that "they are necessary to make me happy," and this justification would be equally as meaningful as the above, but clearly neither justification is good enough to say why one set of morals would be The Morals while still being meaningful.

    Perhaps most of this was unnecessary, you may not needed to know all the problems with absolutism, just criticism about your particular argument. However, it's sometimes good to look at arguments contrary to your position in order to make something of your own position. However, if most of it did seem superfluous, the initial comment I made still stands, that your argument seems circular: you talk about what one ought to do, implicitly presupposing a purpose. You then attempt to use this to prove the existence of a purpose, but you haven't because you've really just presupposed it.
  5. Dec 7, 2005 #4


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    There is a big diffeence between moral behavior and ethical behavior. An ethical person does what is right. A moral person does what he or she thinks their god will let them get away with. Who are you, and do you believe there are ramifications to your behavior?
  6. Dec 7, 2005 #5


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    AKG, you are right and I agree with your critism, the only thing I would say in defence is that The Morals are given to us by god, but we can only find them in our conscience, which is innate. God has given us a purpose, I tried to prove that if morality where to exist then a purpose would aswell, and we wouldn't have to define this purpose, we'd just have to know its existed.

    But then again, as I've come to realize, unless we know the purpose, only then can we know what is for the good or bad of it.

    Thank you
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2005
  7. Dec 7, 2005 #6


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    Besides for going in circles, is any of my reasoning false or illogical? just wondering...
  8. Dec 7, 2005 #7


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    I'd like to ask a question:

    Would you guys agree that IF we could understand our Purpose, then morality would be absolute?
  9. Dec 7, 2005 #8


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    God has his own purposes and intentions for us. But what would make his purpose The Purpose in a meaningful way? More importantly, given that I still may have my own goals and purposes for myself, why in the world would I give them up to satisfy some other set of goals, just because those goals are called The Goals?
    I think IF the notion of "our Purpose" (as in The Purpose) even made sense, then morality might be absolute. The way you asked the question, it makes it appear that we do have a Purpose, and we just haven't figured it out yet. I argue that this is because there is nothing to figure out, because there is no Purpose in the first place, and that in fact, the notion of The Purpose doesn't really even make sense.
    That's an oddly worded question. It is because your reasoning is circular that it is illogical. Circular reasoning means that you don't prove anything, you merely state an assumption as though it were a proven conclusion.

    Now if we are to look at God's will, then there is only one answer as to what is right with respect to that purpose. If we look at the purpose of furthering the ambitions of society, then again, there is generally only one right answer. If we take a very simplistic case, then allowing murder simply will not work if society is to achieve it's goals like safety, stability, etc. Perhaps what you ought to do is use this to help argue that morality is absolute. Of course, you would still have to say why one set of goals is The set of goals. However, many people state quite boldly that morality is precisely about serving society's goals, and so when it comes to morality, society's goals are The Goals. This is, of course, highly questionable. Even absolutists don't agree here, as some absolutists will argue that morality is precisely about God's will, and so God's rules simply are The Rules. There's no reason why either of these would be the case, but it is commonly argued nonetheless. You will often hear people argue that murder is absolutely wrong because if murder were accepted, society would crumble. You should notice here the implicit assumption that the goal that society not crumble is an absolute goal. People do this all the time, and so you may get away with this kind of assumption in your paper. I know that doesn't sound appealing, but unfortunately, I can't give you an appealing argument for absolutism as I believe there is none.
  10. Dec 9, 2005 #9

    hehe, thats great! I like it. A morally relativistic argument for absolute morals.

    I've always thought that the relativist had a better argument in that he/she can always say "sure, morals can be absolute if you want them to be".

    But it still doesn't convince me that morals are relative.
  11. Dec 9, 2005 #10


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    I think the burden of proof is on the person making the claim that morals are absolute. There is no evidence supporting the hypothesis and all attempts eventually lead to invocation of supernatural arguments. The OP has his work cut out for himself.
  12. Dec 9, 2005 #11


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    sorry thats not what i really meant, i meant did i missinterpret any of plato or aquina's philosophies
  13. Dec 27, 2005 #12
    I would like to argue that it is the "Purpose" of all individual existents within the universe to continue to exist. Since individual humans are such existents, it is then their "purpose" to continue to exist from time of conception (e.g., union of gametes).
  14. Dec 27, 2005 #13
    The argument of absolute morality has been logically offered in the Objectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand, and let there be no mistake, Rand made no use of the supernatural to develop her philosophy. I do not wish to restate Rand here, only to correct what I see to be a false statement about "lack of supporting hypothesis"...
  15. Dec 27, 2005 #14


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    There is certainly no lack of supporting hypotheses. My statement was there is no evidence supporting the hypothesis. IIRC, Rand basically defined morality to be absolute and declared it "objectivism."
  16. Dec 28, 2005 #15
    Well, no, Rand defined morality has "a code of values accepted by choice"--then logically derived her hypothesis that morality as thus defined must always be absolute. Thus the "evidence" is within her logical argument. Plus, the title for her philosophy is not derived from the concept of "the good", it is derived first from metaphysics.
  17. Dec 30, 2005 #16
    Couldn't you say the same about relativist morality?
  18. Dec 30, 2005 #17


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    "accepted by choice" = "defined!"

    If I choose a different set of values then my morality is also absolute by the same logic. I would say this new evidence is problematic for the absolutist position.
  19. Dec 30, 2005 #18


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    Not exactly. Nevertheless, the fact that morality is different from one culture to another and varies within a given culture over time all but extinguishes the notion that morals are absolute. It comes down to the absolutists claiming a hypothesis contrary to direct observation and experience which imposes a rather high burden.

    The arguments for absolute morality come down to that morality having always existed or having been created by an ostensibily supernatural "creator." I think that is a rather extraordinary claim.
  20. Dec 30, 2005 #19
    the fact that particular mores differ does not mean that morality is not an absolute ideal. it simply means that particular mores are relative to particular centers (people, cultures, societies, etc).

    what is morality? have we answered this yet?
    i will get a definition... don't let les see us referrencing a dictionary, though...

    by the very fact that we sense that there is a right and wrong, but that we have yet to define their meanings, expresses something interesting, i think.

    although people interpret their "sense of morality" differently (and thereby determine morality's definition differently), shows, in the least, that all people have a "sense of morality"; a sense of right and wrong; though this may all be a brand of social conditioning.

    all morals stand in relation to the "sense of morality," and are, therefore, relative.
  21. Dec 30, 2005 #20


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    I'm not quite following you. You seem to be saying that an absolute morality exists because we sense it (though you're a bit vague on what "it" is) but because we sense it morality can be relative? What happens if your "ideal" morality and my "ideal" morality do not coincide?

    Also, morals and mores are the same and not the same? :)
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