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Roasted babies and fallacious moral arithmetics

  1. Jul 5, 2008 #1

    arildno

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    There exists a widespread misconception that when we are to judge the moral merits of some ideology the nuanced and proper way to do this is to line up the "good stuff" on one side and the "bad stuff" on the other, and then sort of add them together and pronounce the "sum" to be the moral value of the ideology as such.

    In this view, then, a "good idea" may cancel out a "bad idea", or even overshoot it, so that the net result is "good".

    Related to this, in particular in reference to religionist ideologies, is the "defence" that we cannot judge the whole magnificent vision merely on basis of one element of it that we may find objectionable; we are obliged to consider (and not the least know about!) the "whole" vision in order to judge it properly (leaving, accidentally, only theologians as the only ones truly capable of assessing the value of their particular creed..)


    But, in my view, this conception of a moral "arithmetic" is deeply flawed.

    Suppose we found the fragments of an ancient "Ethics regulations book" that seems to have had at least 10.000 regulations, but the only ones legible are these:

    "245. If you see a child in pain and distress, try to comfort it, even if it is not your own child
    1258. It is worthy of you, if you have a shilling to spare, to give it to someone in need of it.
    5679. On fridays, roast a baby in your oven
    10003. If a stranger is lost, and ask of you directions, tell him so gladly, without distortion"

    Now, do we really need to know all the rest of these regulations before we may condemn it as vile, on account of regulation 5679?

    Not at all!

    Furthermore, would the system, as a whole, improve much if all the rest of the regulations were like 245 or 10003?

    That idea is simply absurd; every subset ideology of these regulations that contain 5679 is as morally bad as the single subset containing ONLY 5679!

    Only those ideology subsets that do NOT include 5679 might be regarded as moral; 5679 contaminates, by its vileness, every subset it belongs to.

    Thus, a more proper rule of thumb for judging the moral merits of ideologies is the following:

    "An ideology is at least as bad as its worst contained element"
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 5, 2008 #2
    Its hard to quantify an ideology, morally speaking, let alone as an absolute sum of all of it's parts. Adherants may pay no attention to certain rules especially in the case of strange rules regarding baked babies which they may often wonder why it is even there or if there is some other way of interpreting it that has been lost to time.

    On the other hand were we to find the codified ethics of an ideology that completely revolves around putting babies on spikes and other various tortures with only a handful of rules that would be construed as 'good' then we could rightly wonder just what value can be had in such an ideology.
     
  4. Jul 5, 2008 #3

    arildno

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    That is one minor reason why the idea of the moral value of a composite ideology shouldn't be thought of as a "sum" over good and bad components in the first place.

    And then, effectively speaking, they are NOT in reality adherents of the full ideology
    , but rather adherents of an ideological subset, i.e, one of those not including that bizarre rule. (And therefore, their actual ideology is strictly better than the one they think they adhere to!)
     
  5. Jul 6, 2008 #4
    So then christians who do not follow all of the rules and conventions of their faith are perforce adherants to some other subsect of the ideology? And every 'christian' with their own mixture of what they do and do not observe of their religion has their own seperate ideology seperate from that of the christianity?
     
  6. Jul 6, 2008 #5

    arildno

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    Strictly speaking, YES.
     
  7. Jul 6, 2008 #6
    Lol... ok.

    But I would agree with you that if I met a family who were really sweet and nice but sat me down and served me roast infant at their dinner table I would consider them demented regardless of their other fine attributes.
     
  8. Jul 6, 2008 #7

    Gokul43201

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    Let me quote someone that answered a question very similar to this one:

     
  9. Jul 6, 2008 #8
    Well, at least I can't deny this is an extremely interesting view of perception. But a view of perception it is. First impressions don't always count, except to those who have strict adherence to their own views of their immediate perceived reality.

    My first impression, for instance. Was not the same as Arildno. Though I assumed TSA was on the right thought, it fell at post 1792560 (see above). What may be forgotten here is that people do roast babies, and some on a daily basis. The aforementioned quote from the "Ethics regulation book" did not say what kind of baby, i.e., human, animal, fish or plant.

    People roast baby fishes, baby calves, baby deer, baby birds, baby pigs, baby vegatables (baby peas, baby carrots, baby corn, ...), and other newborns even before birth (chicken eggs, fish eggs, ostrich eggs, duck eggs, ...) ... on a daily basis. This was my first impression.

    Yet, on reading the OP, it appears to me that the first impressed was that of a human baby. So I'm a bit bewildered why a human would be a first impression when no particular species is mentioned ... ?
     
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2008
  10. Jul 6, 2008 #9

    arildno

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    I made the tacit assumption that we had translated, and understood correctly the message.

    Misunderstanding the contents of some ideology is certainly a source of error, and I don't dispute that. But that hardly refutes my line thought, given the premise that we have understood it correctly.
     
  11. Jul 6, 2008 #10
    In the context of the full OP I think we are to fairly assume that it refers to a human baby. That is it is not the point of the OP to discuss interpretation of customs but the moral value of them.
     
  12. Jul 6, 2008 #11
    I understand ... both points.

    But I also understand that assumptions are taking things for granted based on individual perceptions which can be influenced by various mental states or factors, i.e., feelings of pleasure or pain, agreement or aggression. And most times these assumptions are immediate.

    Being new on this forum, I certainly was not trying to step out of bounds of this particular line of thought as I understand the moral implications one takes as a stance under these circumstances. Just that spontaneous thought at best is not logical and leads to ill-logical posturing.

    Forgive me if 'posturing' is what I appear to be doing here. It is not my intention.
     
  13. Jul 6, 2008 #12

    arildno

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    Well..fallibility in our knowledge is, of course, an unavoidable condition, but that does not mean that "very probably correct" opinions (i.e, "insights") can't be made at all.
    No offense taken, your post helped delineate nicely what the main theme of my original post was.
    :smile:
     
  14. Jul 6, 2008 #13
    I think you are using 'roasting babies' as a placeholder for an act that should never be done under any circumstance.

    Immanuel Kant distinguished between two kinds of moral imperatives: categorical and hypothetical. A hypothetical imperative is of the form:

    If X, do Y.

    A categorical imperative has the form:

    Do X.

    In other words, there are some moral commands that can be considered arithmetically (the hypothetical imperatives).
     
  15. Jul 6, 2008 #14

    arildno

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    Well, not really.
    I used that extreme case to argue against that good precepts somehow "ameliorate" bad precepts so that, by (in my view a fallacious) arithmetics, the total ideology comes off as having higher moral value than the bad precept alone.
    In short:
    Whatever bad precept is contained within an ideology as an element, the ideology's moral value is at least as bad as the moral value of the bad precept (it might well be worse, by having additional bad precepts as other elements!).
     
  16. Jul 6, 2008 #15
    Then why do we send criminals to jail? Why do we fight wars against enemies?

    Taking away someones freedom, or killing them, is a bad precept. Therefore any ideology that supports prisons and wars is as bad as the ideology of a serial killer?
     
  17. Jul 6, 2008 #16
    Maybe this is off-topic but the title of the thread made be think of Jonathon Swift's "A Modest Proposal" which I think is one of the most amazing pieces of satire ever written. If you haven't read it, check it out at the link:

    http://www.uoregon.edu/~rbear/modest.html
     
  18. Jul 6, 2008 #17

    arildno

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    And why do you assume such actions are necessarily bad precepts?

    A criminal is, basically, a person who has broken his own obligations within a given socio-moral contract (i.e, done "bad deeds"), and thereby, he has nullified (parts of) the obligations others' had towards him.

    Therefore, it is no longer obligatory for the others not to deal with the criminal in manners they are forbidden by the contract to perform towards upholders of the contract.
    I.e, such actions are not bad deeds with respect to the criminal, even though they certainly would be so against persons abiding with the contract.
     
  19. Jul 6, 2008 #18
    This is the 'but what is maxim of the act?' type of argument, which I am not prepared to win.

    So instead I will grant that putting true criminals in jail is a good deed.

    But without 'moral arithmetic' how can we justify the fact that sometimes innocent people are thrown in jail?

    You might say that putting innocent people in jail is not a bad deed, because it is not intentional, but I would say that incompetence and negligence are no excuse.
     
  20. Jul 6, 2008 #19

    arildno

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    The premise of fallibility of knowledge is, by experience, a hugely probable truth (unfortunately).

    But, in as much as we have granted that the jailing of the (theoretically proven!) criminal is a good, even (perhaps) obligatory deed, in the sense of the non-jailing of him (or for PC sake, her) being a bad deed, we cannot hope for the constructibility of a non-contradictory morality unless we acknowledge the existence of (some) morally justifiable mistakes due to fallacious "knowledge".

    Thus, the justification of ghastly (and hopefully rare!) mistakes is necessitated by the underlying assumption that a "morality project" might be meaningful, with sober consideration of an embarassing, unavoidable fact, i.e, the fallibility of knowledge.

    (This doesn't mean a carte blanche for all SORTS of mistakes!)


    If you wish to declare that any "morality project" will necessarily run into self-contradictions, and is hence meaningless, neither would you retain any position of authority from which you could condemn the jailing of innocents.

    Thus, whichever you choose to believe, a #justification" of sorts for the mistaken jailing of innocents will exist.

    (This is one, of many ways, in which "facts of nature" must be regarded as directly relevant for the construction of morality..)
    :smile:
     
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2008
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