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The Logic of Right and Wrong

  1. May 3, 2005 #1
    First of all, let me say that I am not one believes in absolutes, especially when it pertains to labeling things completely right or completely wrong. In my short experience with life, I have seen that not many things are so black and white. I have established my own set up morals and beliefs based on my own logic and feelings, but I find it very curious to think about the logic of other people or just people in general deciding right vs. wrong.

    I think what triggers our decision is based on positive and negative actions. What I mean is, that when I do something or do not something and I am consciously deciding this, I am considering whether this will have positive consequences or negative ones. And if I discover that one side outweighs the other, I feel that is right or wrong. I would call something "wrong" that which the sole purpose of the action is to cause harm or does nothing constructive in anyway.

    Does anyone else think in this logic? What are your thoughts?

  2. jcsd
  3. May 4, 2005 #2

    I think the logic of right or wrong is ethics. no?

    just a thought.
  4. May 4, 2005 #3


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    First, a few things to consider: What do you mean by positive and negative? I suspect they roughly mean good and bad, so you're back to square one. Many actions have positive consequences for some people and negative consequences for others; Stealing (and not getting caught or feeling guilty) would be an obvious example. Actions may have a mix of positive and negative consequences for the same group; Stealing but feeling guilty about it. Consequences aren't necessarily predictable, and the same action may have different consequences in different situations; Two people steal, one gets caught, one doesn't. So things are quite complicated.
    If you judge intentions instead of consequences, things are simpler for you, but determining the intentions of others messes things up.

    Treating your ethical system as a logical system is pretty straightforward if you're familiar with the system of logic you want to use, but it requires several steps. For starters, as truth-values are assigned to formulas, you want to assign "moral-values" to actions. You may want two values, say, Moral and "not Moral" or Immoral, or you may want a third value, say, Neutral, or you may want several or a possibly infinite number of values, for which you can use sets of numbers. Deciding this will narrow your choices considerably.
    I'm not sure if this was really what you meant, but I don't see why it can't be done. If I recall your other posts, you seemed very interested in the logical consequences of your beliefs, so this may well be worth your effort.
  5. May 4, 2005 #4
    Dictionary.com's definition of ethics. Ethics - A theory or a system of moral values.
    So sure, this could be called ethics.

    Thank you for your comments. Yes, I was trying to have insight into how others people that belief logical choose their moral system. I agree with you that we all assign moral values to certain actions, like killing is "bad", and love is "good" etc...

    Positive and negative are probably too vague of words. It's kind of a pro's and con's system. I really believe this is how people's minds work in most cases. I'll use your example of stealing. Now, I will assume that both of the people believe it is right for them to steal. If we don't assume that, this could turn into a huge discussion with too many variables to keep straight. So if they both believe that them stealing something is right, why do they think so? Are they stealing to benefit themselves? Most likely. They take something else to benefit their own lives, although most likely understanding that they will be lowering the financial quality of someone else's, even if it is very small. I know that if I stole a Coke the gas station would lose that money, but I could say, "I was really thirsty and they won't even notice 1$". I have just considered the "pros" and "cons" and have to my decision.


    EDIT: I just noticed something in your post. I am indeed talking about the intentions of people. I know I cannot know the intentions of other, but I am speaking hypothetically.
  6. May 5, 2005 #5


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    Okay, but good and bad, right and wrong, positive and negative, and pros and cons are all moral values the way you're using them. You need to start somewhere; Why should one action be good and another bad? What makes a consequence positive instead or negative? I imagine physical pain and pleasure and mental sadness and happiness are common bases. But let me step back a minute. It's easier to look at the process as two steps: Deciding 1) what makes an action moral or immoral and 2) whether a given action is moral or immoral. That is, you might decide that an action is moral if it makes you happy. However, figuring out whether a given action actually will make you happy or not is usually another matter. I'm not sure which step you're interested in. Both?
  7. May 5, 2005 #6
    Good points. This is becoming somewhat of a semantics thing, defining "right" and "wrong", which I hate to dwell into. What I mean by pros and cons are things that person considers would be a positive thing or a negative thing. You're right. It's kind of like math. You have small theorems (initial morals of small things) and you build up from there. Those positive and negative things are not universal constants so they must be decided by the person whose morals we are talking about.

    I seem to be going in circles. What is your opinion on how people decide morals?
  8. May 6, 2005 #7


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    Hm, I don't know how most people reason. As I said, I think pain, pleasure, sadness, and happiness are common bases. That is, pain and sadness are deemed "bad" states, and pleasure and happiness are "good" states. So putting someone in a bad state is a bad (immoral) action, and putting someone in a good state is a good (moral) action. Of course, it gets more complex; It's just a basis.
    I imagine relatively few people actually sit down and work out a moral system; I think, for the most part, people's moral systems evolve quite naturally as they grow and learn and are more works in progress than finished structures.
  9. May 6, 2005 #8

    Tom Mattson

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    ...which means that this topic belongs in Value Theory, not Logic.

    *Off you go!*
  10. May 6, 2005 #9
    thanks tom, for moving it to the correct place.

    About the discussion, ethics, or the logic of right and wrong, is truly the difference and definition of negative and positive actions/moments, but it is this applyed to reality and to human-like pronlems/dilemmas.
  11. May 7, 2005 #10
    Reading this discussion, it brings to my mind one question: Is something wrong with our Value system? Is it heavily based on Absolutes? Why does everything have to be Black or White? I think there isn't enough space for the gray areas. Is it because the value system adopts Absolutes for MERE convenience because the gray areas are difficult to handle? Has this system raised the level of hypocrisy in the society, since it is INDEED difficult to follow absolutes....?
  12. May 24, 2005 #11
    A keystone ideal is freedom without affecting others negatively. All are beliefs, some are universal, others not--the reality of our unity here on earth has some truths which cannot go ignored. Simply put, we favour posterity and happiness, and so when our environment allows we build up towards those things. As a unified force we strive for survival. Too bad we're flawed.

    The mystery of physics. The mystery of God. We set goals to allow for more to be made and broken, and so forth. My philosophy is that we're timeless beacons of light (I say light because it doesn't matter at this point) through time. I simply perceive, and evolve. Maybe one day I will discover God, maybe one day I will find the dust, but until that day I will live.
  13. Jun 4, 2005 #12
    Theory is all fine to understand, but logic is what really exist. There is a logic behind every theory. But not every logic has a theory. theroy without logic isnt a theory. Be logical go logical. Rest everything is fine.
  14. Jun 7, 2005 #13


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    Logic is mathematical and humans for the most part have pretty much the same feelings...
  15. Jul 28, 2005 #14
    Basically, I ask myself, would God want me to do this? I think about my inner thoughts, is this really the right thing?

    If I find a million dollars in front of my doorstep, I can bring myself to return it to the bank. I have no interest in doing things for my personal gain if it involves the harm of someone else's interests.

    Nonetheless, if it's fair competition, I never give up an inch. :smile:

    Whenever I do something big, I think of one thing.
    1) What would God think of my actions and thoughts?

    That gives me the answer immediately.
  16. Aug 6, 2005 #15
    You can eventually boil it all down to survival and then you are stuck with why survival is preferable to non-survival. That's not something that can be demonstrated logically. Why is pain preferable to non-pain? The reality is that pain is nothing more than your nervous system in a certain state.

    You're still making references to absolutes when you state that one thing is preferable over another so a strict logical system of morality fails. Nihilism also fails because the moment you decide that nihilism is the better way to go, you're no longer a nihilist.
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2005
  17. Aug 7, 2005 #16
    This type of reductionist thinking leads nowhere.

    It's like saying that the sun is a just a collection of atoms in a certain
    state. It tells you nothing.
  18. Aug 7, 2005 #17
    That's exactly my point. If you reject absolutes then you are only allowed to look at things as they actually are. Doing that leads nowhere so I agree with you.

    I don't think you can have a logical system of morality based on relativism.
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2005
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