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Right and Right

  1. Aug 21, 2003 #1

    Les Sleeth

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    The question I have is, what should determine what is “right”? I will rely on a famous story to explain what I mean.

    About 2500 years ago Socrates was executed for crimes against the state and society. His crime essentially was that in trying to make sense of Athenian laws, customs, and values he made people, particularly his younger listeners, question and doubt social norms. As much as we idealize ancient Greece, it was not the most liberal place to challenge the status quo. One was especially expected to fully embrace Greek patriotic standards (since they were forever warring and so needing warriors), but really any skepticism might be met with punishment.

    In Greek society were many who had welcomed its loyalty standards, been educated to excel in them, and then had gone on to become effective within that established social system. Not only were they effective in the system, but their contributions to the system brought rewards and power.

    Their status in the system also gave them a means for judging others. If one lived up to Greek standards, one at least was acceptable; if one contributed to the Greek way of living, then even better. With this concept too one could determine who was above and who was below another. Those successful in the system were “above” those less successful in the system.

    But Socrates challenged the entire notion that judgments about good, bad, above, below, etc., could be genuinely decided on that basis. He would carefully reason out why relative truths such as this are not the best way to determine the highest standards. Now, more than two millennia later, the world has come to admire his insights and courage, as well as individuals who followed him (e.g., Plato and Aristotle) who were so influenced by his insights.

    But, at the time, he was “wrong.” How do we know? Because he was tried, convicted and executed by the people who were “right.” What made them right? What gave them the confidence to put him on trial, to accuse him, to kill him?

    Now, we might think it is different today, but it isn’t at all. Whomever has the power decides what is “right” because people think power gives them license to decide how things should be for the overall situation.

    Would it be good to have Socrates’ perspective prevail where people must work and play together, share, and make decisions? That is, to have some belief there is big Right and a little right, and the big Right shouldn't be violated by those tempted to use the power they have in relative situations to get their way, get unfair advantages for themselves, feel important, or decide important issues?

    What is ironic is that throughout history, those who’ve stood for the big Right have been regularly persecuted and murdered, yet it is also their standing up for the higher thing that is most responsible for whatever freedoms, intellectual possibilities, social compassion, and level of fairness we enjoy today in shared settings. If it had been left in the hands of the little righters, we'd still be living by pillage, rape and burn.

    What do you think?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 21, 2003 #2
    I think that ultimately "RIGHT" is a social term. Right is only right as determined by societal values and norms. Whatever the majority value is, would be the gerally accepted right. However we cannot take that as an absolute. The value of "right varies even today from culture to culture. Someone mentioned in the general forums once about how in Guam it was illegal for virgins to marry, which led into my dream job /sigh... but I digress. So so in guam they have a "right" which is contrary to what is socially accepted to the rest of the world. If an american or brittish, or asian woman were to present herselves in all her glorious virginity for marriage to a GUAM native, she would be reproached. She would not be "right"

    Another example would be a law I heard of in Hong Kong. It stated that it was the "RIGHT" of the wife of an adulterer to not only kill the woman he cheated on her with, but also to kill her own husband(allbeit with her bare hands). Anyone living in another country would be either put to death, or spend the rest of her life in jail for that act, however emotionally justifiable it may seem.

    "Right" is, I believe, a subjective terminology that can only be determined by the society in which it presents itsself. It's impossible to have a society where everyone is always "right" or it would simply collapse into anarchy. Society has to define boundaries, however restrictive they may seem. These are generally thought to be for the good and protection of society at large. The key is finding a balance between laws that are restrictive to the point of enchroaching upon someone's life, and freedoms which push the limits of what's tolerable to someone else.
  4. Aug 21, 2003 #3
    everybody's wrong. just some people are less wrong than others.
  5. Aug 22, 2003 #4


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    i'm pretty sure that nobody is wrong. But nobody is also right. There is no right or wrong.
    Is it wrong to kill an innocent person? who knows?
    perhaps in a world view without human eyes, we humans are power driven ruthless species that kill with bias thinking and destroy anything that moves or is in our path. Most of us swat flies without thinking twice!
    So right and wrong is created by us and other species to bring order. Otherwise our existance would be unstable and we would not be here now.
  6. Aug 22, 2003 #5
    You wanna expand on that a tiny bit?:wink:
  7. Aug 22, 2003 #6
    no cause if i did it'd only be wrong anyways.
  8. Aug 22, 2003 #7
    There's no such thing as right and wrong, Right? Or, on the one hand you have what's right, and on the other you have what's left. Hmm ...

    Actually I think the sense of right comes from being treated fairly, and also includes receiving one's "just rewards."
  9. Aug 22, 2003 #8


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    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 22, 2003
  10. Aug 22, 2003 #9


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    Uh.. is this correct?

    I seem to remember a different anecdote.

    When Socrates was in prison, awaiting punishment, he was offered an escape route to an exile abroad by a sympathiser. This would be a perfect escape, no one would get punished. But, unlike what most people would do, Socrates refused, and died volountarily. (google for Crito)

    I think the point made by Socrates is that in fact the little right overruled the Big Right. Rather, Socrates sacrifices the existence of an individual Right side to state that the rules are made by the circumstances, and that the following of them is for the common good by preserving the implicit agreement as a citizen of Athens. ie. Right is right.
  11. Aug 22, 2003 #10
    Right and wrong only have meaning when the values used to judge actions/views/ideas are delineated. A cultural perspective, as it were.

    Ethnocentrism claims that one particular set of cultural values is correct (the bible, white culture, black culture, chinese culture, Arabic culture, ghetto culture, Zulu culture, etc.).

    Cultural relativism claims that there is no absolute right and wrong, that right and wrong only make sense in terms of the cultural values used to judge right and wrong.

    [to the general audience]

    So which view do you chose?
  12. Aug 22, 2003 #11

    Les Sleeth

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    Your anecdote is correct. However, I interpret it just the opposite as you do.

    Socrates felt the higher thing to do was stay and face death with courage. He knew many people were watching, including his students, and so he decided to stand up for all that he'd recommended by giving his life. It wasn't really his respect for the state that made him stay, but rather understanding the power his sacrifice would have.

    My point is that it is exactly people who've been willing to stand up like, rather than act egocentrically, which has helped the world be a better place.
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2003
  13. Aug 22, 2003 #12

    Les Sleeth

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    You have defined more clearly what I was calling the "little right." I agree with that. What I don't agree is that there is no Right.

    Before explaining what I think it is, first let me say that I do not think Right is obeying God or some other religious concept of morality.

    My belief that there is a Right stems from observations about what works best for people. It is a pragmatic position to be sure but there are certain principles which clearly work better with people than other principles.

    An example I've used before is to consider what sort of conditions are most likely to help a child thrive. A society can set up "right" as anything, such as including regular beatings, humiliation, child slavery, and even sex. The children born into that know nothing other than what they grow up with, and so learn the way things are done in their society is what is right. However, will such a society nurture the children?

    We have tons of studies to show that humans need certain conditions to thrive physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Also, the planet has certain needs too, as we are finding out watching it languish in areas from polution, etc.

    So I say what is Right is what makes us healthiest, happiest, and most ensures our longterm survival. And, there have been individuals like Socrates with enough wisdom to see that, and who argued and stood against social relativsim as the ultimate standard for determining Right. I admire such people more than any other variety of human.
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2003
  14. Aug 22, 2003 #13
    The version that I read was that Socrates had the choice of death or leaving Athens or changing his ways. He said that he could not in good conscious change is teaching or views, that he loved Athens to much to leave and there was no other place nearly as civilized and enlightened as Athens and he could not live anywere else so he chose to drink hemlock and die. Not that any of this matters except to point out rightly or wrong that it was a choice to die rather than change his views or teaching. He chose to die on principles.

    I as a theist of course think that there is an absolute right and wrong mandated by God. As a citizen of the world and society and a product of my culture, I, however think that there is and no absolute right or absolute wrong but the morales of the society in which we live must become our morales. Society itself must form morales to insure first its survival and then that of its members. Beyond the fundmental survival however it is up to that society to make its own rules and determine what it considers to be right and wrong.

    In the end, in this world and reality, might makes right still to this day.
  15. Aug 22, 2003 #14

    Les Sleeth

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    What I can't seem to get anybody to directly address is my assertion that humans have nature, which thrives best under certain condtions.

    Let's leave God out of it for a minute since not everyone can agree either about if he/she/it exists, or if so what God's moral requirements are.

    I say we really don't need God to figure what is most Right because creation is set up to operate a certain way, and when people work, create and behave in harmony with that Way, reality in return is most supportive.

    Similarly, humans have nature, we cannot realize our full potential unless certain conditions exist. Now, I don't believe we get around the issue of Right by saying society gets to decide. Why? Because then we have to ask what is the best, or most "right" design for a society? With that we are back to the same question again.

    But to that question I would answer, the Right social design is one which best nurtures human nature (and I include in that, protecting mother nature since we need her to survive).

    If we and the universe did not have an inherent nature, then I would have absolutely no problem with social relativism.
  16. Aug 22, 2003 #15
    Your position is the same as rus's, i.e. that human nature is universal and the needs of human beings are universal so there must be a universal morale code that best fits human nature and human needs, an opitmum code under which humans and their society can bes thrive, flourish and proper. In rus's thread we (rus, AG and I) came to the conclusion that such a code must be evolving just as our societies evolve and approach a global community, society and morale code.
    AG, in his ethics thread, correctly, in my opinion, stated the the prime function of and individual was to survive and insure the survival of his family. As an extention of this he stated that a society could be viewed as an individual ala corporations and thus have the same functions and requirements at least in principle.
    So beyound immediate survival comes the requirement to insure future survival such as procuring or producing food, shelter, defense etc.
    All of these would be governed bya moral code of right and wrong that would eventually evolve into laws and statutes.

    Does private ownership fall under a morale code? Does economic systems fall under morale codes, right and wrong? How far do you want to go with this? It is not as simple a subject as it first appears because we are talking about human beings, their interactions and societies.

    Simply to state that there is a universal nature to the human condition and therefore there must be a universal morale code of right and wrong is simplistic at best. Where does right and wrong start and where do they stop and become a societal moral code. Where then does the morale code stop and it becomes edict, law, custom, dogma, statute, tradition and/or devine comandments by ether a devine ruler as in pharaoh or divine being as in God?

    After deciding all of that, we have to decide where do we find these absolutes or derive them and how do we know when we have found them. Once defined and derived then comes enforcement and arbitration. Who, what where when and why?

    Okay the hell with all of this! Yes there is an absolute right and absolute wrong that is universal because human nature is universal and historically unchanging, absolute. This is why we have been at war more or less continuously for the last 10,000 years or so, ever since the ice sarted melting and mankind could develope beyond the subsistance stage.
  17. Aug 22, 2003 #16

    Les Sleeth

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    Lol . . .I enjoyed that thinking journey, especially when you came to "the hell with all this!"

    But I still can't see why it has to be so complicated. You seem to think we have to bring in all this stiff structure, and morality, economics, laws, customs, and then decide absolutes . . .

    My suggestion is to observe what works. You are not going to get all such answers instantly . . . one has to try things and be patient. People seem to want one principle that answers everything NOW . . . but it is our experience with reality, over time, that teaches us.

    I really do not understand the idea of "morality" either. I just can't see the point of being good or bad without those concepts linked to benefit or harm. So what if one is "bad" it doesn't hurt anyone?

    Reality is brutally honest . . . when one acts in accordance with its ways, no problem. Go against it (like trying to use your arms to fly off a mountain top), and reality teaches you your concept is not in accordance with how reality works.

    People have discovered from living that there are principles which seem universally true. What a treasure to discover! If one understands something that runs through lots of things, then it is a principle one can untilize in all similar situations. Those universals are what I am most interested in, and I search for them in what works in the most circumstances.
  18. Aug 25, 2003 #17
    Hense our conclusion that morality is evolving along with society and culture. We think that mankind will eventual reach a workable universal morality which is nothing more than a universally accepted belief in what is right and what is wrong.
    The key word here is belief. Or do you think a la Plato that there exists somewhere an absolute right and wrong ideal? If you do doesn't that have religious undertones.
    I don't know, Les. I really don't without bring religion into it. If we do, that automatically spells its doom as no universal consensus can be reached where religion is concerned because we all know that we are right......WAR!!! and we're back to "Might makes right.

    (Life was so much nicer before I read "The Prince" and heard about the Jusuits.)
  19. Aug 25, 2003 #18

    Les Sleeth

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    I think I must be really losing my ability to communicate, because (and it isn't just you) every time I try to explain this idea that the universe operates a certain way, and that harmonizing with that "Way" is most likely to ensure one's success, no one seems to respond to what I said. :frown:

    Look, say God created the universe. Does that mean harmonizing with God's rules leads to success in life?

    Say evolution did it all, didn't evolution do its thing following principles of reality?

    Either way, reality operates a certain way. When reality gives you positive feedback after you take action, something you did was in harmony with the forces that be.

    And that is where one starts to contemplate. If you murder a Mafia target as the boss wishes, then you get rewards. That is the rule of the Mafia society. But is there a bigger rule at work?

    People can set up all sorts of relative situations, and societies can become so powerful they think whatever they decide is the truth. But in one instant an astoroid can smash into that society and those who survive will realize that reality may be a hell of a lot bigger and more powerful than they'd were looking at it from their ethnocentric viewpoint.

    So I still say, it is understanding the most fundamental, foundational, and determining rules of reality that gives us the best clues about how to behave. When what we do leads to health and happiness overall (i.e., not just in the short term), then that is a clue one is in harmony with the way reality operates.

    (Where's Wuli when you need him?????? )
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2003
  20. Aug 25, 2003 #19
    Another way to look at this would be to consider if religion never existed( I can see the arguments coming a mile away) But just for the sake of debate, let's say that was true. How would we define society? It's rules? it's values? it's morals? If you can answer that, then you can find the universal rights without bringing religion into it. As was commented earlier, it's ultimately what makes us happy that guides us when defining our laws, rights, and priveledges.
  21. Aug 26, 2003 #20
    Les, I understand now what your saying. I was and am trying to avoid any religious references, even Taoist or Buddhist ideas, as Zantra suggested. I agree that acting in harmony with nature and ourselves should lead us to the optimum set or morales. Understanding that we are part of nature and have a human nature that is universal or at least functionally so is of course crucial. We must then learn what nature is and what our own nature is to determine what is best for us and for nature. I think that this is what is actually happening as we, our knowledge and societies grow, mature and evolve.

    Would you agree that this is part of actually becoming civilized. That living in harmony with ourselves, each other and nature is what civilization is really all about. In this way of thinking I think your right that there is an ultimate universal good and evil, right and wrong; but, I can hear the accusations being formed in minds already. Maybe, I'm just gun shy from taking so many shots in the past.
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