Sunday, July 24, 2005

To Deny Individual Morality, You Must Accept It.

force and coercionDear Internet Diary,

It amazes me to observe the extent to which otherwise rational people are willing to disable their own moral judgement--and prohibit the judgement of others--to protect a favorite idea. How is it that people who promote reason insist on its end?

This happens every time the subject of Cultural and Moral Relativism is brought up. One part of the argument posits, since there are so many different cultures, customs and opinions, morality itself must be culturally relative. It's "okay" for other cultures, and maybe even other people in other cultures to have what we call "morals," but it's not okay for the two discussing the matter. In Moral Relativism, simultaeously nothing and everything is moral. In the first, the Holocaust and genocide is okay, because most germans supposedly agreed it was. In the second, the holocaust is both moral and immoral and everything in between, because everybody has an opinion about it. It's true and false, both and neither, that the holocaust was good, or didn't happen, or both.

It usually doesn't take more than one exchange before the moral or cultural relativist (often both at the same time) pretends to agree that the holocaust, or human sacrifice, or killing the elderly because some think they have outlived their purpose, is morally good. I am skeptical, however that the person is being honest, as they generally don't think that morality could ever be based on the facts of reality, yet they speak about honour killings, human sacrifice, and the The Holocaust, which are facts of reality. They are not ideals or hypotheticals. In fact, how can we not discuss facts of reality? How can we not make moral choices based on facts of reality? We have no choice but to make moral decisions based on reality. It's called "life."

If morality is culturally relative, then it is based on nothing but the majority opinion of the persons in a given culture. That is, assuming that we can have an objective limit on what that culture is and who belongs to it. That would be pretty rare, especially in the 21st century. All we can have is a subjective opinion on who makes up that culture, and what "they" think is moral! If majority opinion within a culture = morality, then the dissenters = immorality. Germans against genocide in the 30's are immoral. Atheists. Girls leaving Muslim families that want them circumcized. All immoral heretics.

Now, if morality is simply subjective, then no culture has a basis for morality, majority or not, even when it comes to protecting one's values, family or individual rights, against the moral judgement of others. Individuals should not attempt to have a moral sense or make moral choices, since it's "not based on reality--it's just their subjective perspective." If this hypothetical person were to manage any decision at all, it could not be moral. Of course, that's impossible. Every person makes decisions based on his values. There is no question that the values themselves exist. Sure, people make irrational choices, leading to disaster. But in order to survive, decisions must be made.

What do we call it when a person makes a choice based on his values? It's called "morality."

We know that "culture" is made up of individuals, and cultural action is made up of individual action. In cultural relativism then, individual action is invalid. Therefore, there is no moral justification for the culture. In this sense, to deny individual morality you must first allow for it!

People are so willing to rationalize themselves away from making damned sense. When I say "you can think for yourselves, you have moral autonomy, you have individual judgement," I mean it. Don't let this kind of nonsense back you into a corner, where you find yourself actually saying that mass-murderers are okay, force and coercion is okey dokey with you, and "it's all good." It's not "all-good. " How much are you really willing to tolerate?

Thanks for listening, diary.


bleedingisaac said...


Let's change the tone here.

It's obvious that we are talking about two completely different things when I say 'moral relativism' and you say it.

For the sake of clarity, let's call the moral relativism of hellbound alleee and francois, absolute moral relativism and the moral relativism of bleedingisaac, harman, and wong, quasi-absolutist moral relativism.

Bleedingisaac, harman, and wong join alleee and francois in rejecting absolute moral relativism. We do not believe cannibalism is good. We do not support killing the elderly. We do not support Nazi Germany. We agree with alleee and francois that these things are IMMORAL (but in a quasi-absolutist sense, not an universal, objective sense). [By the way, I never suggested that any of these were okay. I said that there was no objective fact that necessarily provides a moral law that condemns these actions, but I never said I supported it (except in the case of francois--which was, of course, a joke).]

I would support using power to stop any of these attrocities.

The idea of power is a good one here. I believe that just as Foucault argues that concepts like madness are defined by power structures, so are concepts dealing with morality. Does that mean that I have to accept the power structures morality? No. I don't always agree with a prevailing power structure. I use whatever (feeble) power I have to change things.

So, an absolute moral relativist would agree with you, alleee. They would say, "If morality is culturally relative, then it is based on nothing but the majority opinion of the persons in a given culture." But this is not what a quasi-absolutist moral relativist would say. The quasi-absolutist moral relativist would say that these acts are immoral from the perspective of moral framework X.

Now, depending on other values that are within moral framework X, the person might say, "These actions are wrong according to my moral framework, so I am going to use my power to enforce this morality and I am going to stop these abuses by any means appropriate to my framework."

Quasi-absolutist moral relativism does not have to say that every moral framework is acceptable to them. In fact, they will not say this. The quasi-absolutist moral relativist. Will say, that killing old people is WRONG (in the quasi-absolutist sense) and will often use their power to enforce that moral belief.

So, for the record, as far as I know, no philosopher is an absolute moral relativist. I am not an absolute moral relativist. There is, however, a version of moral relativism (quasi-absolutist moral relativism) that it appears you are not familiar with. This is the one that I support. If you would like to read about it, try here.

This whole conversation did not have to get this way. It started with francois' "imbecile" comment and snowballed. From what I have read of both of your sites, I would say that our morals are remarkably similar. I think that, if you took the time to understand the moral relativism that I spoke of (by reading the link in my original comment), this discussion would not have taken the turn it did. You may not have agreed with it, but you would not have thought is ridiculous.

There is more that I could say about your so-called moral objectivism, but I think I'll leave it at just explaining what moral relativism is as it is actually held by philosophers (not by the populist definition).

bleedingisaac said...

I had to cut the last comment short because I have to water the in-laws' lawn. So while the sprinklers are going, a couple more thoughts:

1) You mention "facts of reality." Of course, I understand that the Holocaust is a fact of reality. The question is can you deduce a moral law from a fact of reality?

What kind of syllogism could we put that into?

1) Hitler gassed millions of innocent Jews.
2) Gassing innocent Jews is immoral.
3) Therefore, it was immoral of Hitler to gas millions of innocent Jews.

The problem is the second premise. What logical law supports that conclusion? I could generalize, and say, "Gassing killing innocent people is immoral," but how do I prove that assertion? I could make a factual statement such as, "In a society that kills innocent people, I am not safe." That is certainly true, but that is not a moral statement.

Perhaps I could put it like this:

1) A society that kills innocent people is not safe for me.
2) I want to be safe.
3) Therefore, I should oppose a society that kills innocent people so that I can be safe.

This is a logical statement, but it still is not a moral statement. I could use the same logic to make a statement that most people (me included) would call immoral. I could say:

1) If I push my grandfather down the stairs, I will collect his insurance money.
2) I want his insurance money.
3) Therefore, I should push my grandfather down the stairs so I will collect his insurance money.

All I am arguing is that there is no direct, necessary connection between logical statements (i.e. "facts of reality) and moral laws. This is exactly what Wittgenstein argued in his "Lecture on Ethics." He said, "Now what I wish to contend is that, although all judgments of relative value can be shown to be mere statement of facts, no statement of fact can ever be, or imply, a judgment of absolute value."

He goes on to say, "If for instance in our world-book we read the description of a murder with all its details physical and psychological, the mere description of these facts will contain nothing which we could call an ethical proposition. The murder will be on exactly the same level as any other event, for instance the falling of a stone. Certainly the reading of description might cause us pain or rage or any other emotion, or we might read about the pain or rage caused by this murder in other people when they have heard of it, but there will simply be facts, facts, and facts but no Ethics."

Is Wittgenstein also an imbecile?

If no statement of fact "can ever be, or imply, a judgment of absolute value," where can ethics be founded?

This is where I (and some other philosophers) posit relative moral frameworks.

For instance, I believe that it is wrong to deny marriage to same-sex couples (a statement of judgment). Why do I believe this? Well, if I loved someone and wanted to commit to them, I wouldn't want to be denied that right when others were afforded it (a statement of fact). I believe that I should not disallow something to others that I would not want to have disallowed for me (a statement of judgment).

This judgment is part of my moral framework, but there is no way that I can tie that to a logical principle (just like Wittgenstein contended).

Does this mean, though, that I won't do everything I can do within my moral framework to overthrow laws that deny same-sex couples equal marital rights? No. I will attempt to have these laws reversed. I'll write letters to my representatives and senators, I'll march in protests, I'll vote for candidates who support this position.

My view on same-sex marriage is not shared by the majority of Americans. Because I am a moral relativist, do I have to accept their morality as moral law? No. I can use my power to attempt to reverse laws. I have to understand, however, that the people with the most power will have the most say in what actually becomes law, but that doesn't mean I can't object.

Gotta change the sprinklers.

Francois Tremblay said...

The unfortunate fact is, neither of us are reading your comments anymore. I would like to believe that you are simply a liar and don't really believe in the wholesale killing of innocents. So I ask you for the first and last time, did you lie ?

bleedingisaac said...

Jesus Christ, you aren't listening!

No, I did not lie AND no, I don't believe in the wholesale killing of innocents.

You wrote, "You just came out and said outright that there's no basis to say Hitler was morally wrong, you imbecile."

You misquoted me, I actually said, "There is no fact upon which you can base the moral judgment, it is morally wrong for Hitler to exterminate Jews."

I think there is a 'basis to say Hitler was morally wrong,' but it is not a factual basis; it is a morally relative framework. I condemn the Holocaust as much as anyone else, I just don't believe my moral framework has a logical, factual basis (just like Wittgenstein argued).

Do I believe in cannibalism? Absolutely not. I never said that I felt it was morally acceptable. I think it is horrible and should be stopped. Do I think cannibalism is illogical? No, because, like Wittgenstein, I believe moral discourse is a different language than logical discourse.

Do I think old people should be killed? No. I never said that. I did say, "it depends how old you are, you shit," as in "if you are an old guy, I'm all for putting them to death because you are a shit." Of course, this was a joke that it appears you didn't get.

All of this shit could have been avoided but for your "imbecile" comment. If you would have taken the time to read and understand instead of instantly jumping to the wrong conclusion, you probably would have understood.

Francois Tremblay said...

I am not interested in reading from you more than I need to. First, just answer yes or no. And if your answer is no, don't bother posting again.

bleedingisaac said...

The answer is "yes," you are a stupid fucking asshole, dipshit!

Francois Tremblay said...

That's fine, but that's not what I asked you. Were you lying when you said you believe in the wholesale killing of innocent ?

I could very well explain to you about the role of cooperation in the pursuit of values, game theory, or the value of dealing with others rationally, or the value of freedom from coercion, or other facts of that sort, but none of these will be of any use if you are criminally insane.

And I have certainly been MORE than patient torwards someone who, so far, seems to be to be criminally insane. But I have given you the benefit of the doubt, in the distant hope that you will be honest with me. Since I don't expect you to start now, this will probably be our last exchange.

Rev. Barky said...

Bweeeeep! Bweeeeep! Rant Alert! Rant Alert!

I have recently been interviewing for a new job and one of the best bits of advice I've read is the 90 second rule. Research finds that if one party talks for more than 90 seconds many people start to disengage from the conversation. This holds well for blogs too.

If you think you are so interesting and clever that others will be glued to every word you type, think again.

"Brevity is the soul of wit"
William Shakespeare

"I have better things to do than to watch a man masturbate in public."
The Rev

Francois Tremblay said...

Rev. Barking Nonsequitor : Are you referring to the latest entry, or to our... um... "friend" Isaac here, or both ?

breakerslion said...


Caution would dictate that I stay out of this discussion, but sometimes that approach is just boring.

Alleee, I don't grasp your meaning when you say,

"One part of the argument posits, since there are so many different cultures, customs and opinions, morality itself must be culturally relative. It's "okay" for other cultures, and maybe even other people in other cultures to have what we call "morals," but it's not okay for the two discussing the matter."

Could you (and would you), expand on that?

Of the exchange between Franc and Isaac, I will only say that it is informative and... um,... colorful. It is clear that you both take this subject very seriously.

Isaac writes:

"Do I believe in cannibalism? Absolutely not. I never said that I felt it was morally acceptable. I think it is horrible and should be stopped. Do I think cannibalism is illogical? No, because, like Wittgenstein, I believe moral discourse is a different language than logical discourse."

The use of the word "Absolutely" is interesting. Does your definition of canibalism include ritual canibalism, or the type described by Kenneth Roberts in "Boon Island", or is it confined to "headhunting"?

The killing of innocents is morally wrong. There are excuses, and justifications, like dehumanizing your enemies, but if man is a social creature, then socialization must be built on a basic moral framework. I favor John Locke's "life, liberty, and property" as a starting point.

The confusion seems to me to be when customs are put forward as morals. In my opinion, a true moral can be discerned when a tort is created by its infraction. I don't mean the legal quagmire that has been created in civil courts, I mean a true and universally acceptable wrong. If I take another's life, I have commited a wrong simply because I cannot restore what I have taken away. In addition, I have taken something that can in no way be logically construed as having belonged to me. If I take another's life to save my own, and if I believe that I had no other alternative, I have still committed a moral wrong, however my perceived right to my own survival and my instinct for self-preservation have superseded that moral imperative.

In contrast, the moral dilemma of the two cultures, one that buries its dead and one that eats them, is in my opionion not a moral dilemma at all. There are very good medical reasons for not eating human flesh, but unless some surviving relative feels deprived in some way, I cannot see how this action causes a harm to be done (dead is dead). Aside from being medically unsafe, and therefore a threat to the welfare of the participants and their dependant children, I cannot ascertain that it is immoral. Not allowing one to not participate in the ceremony would, on the other hand, be immoral (violation of right of liberty). The same argument would apply to making children participate before they were old enough to make an informed decision (No dessert until you finish your Uncle Billy!).

Francois Tremblay said...

The exchange is not meant to be informative. In our conversation on the entry before this one, Isaac has outright stated that the Holocaust could be morally justified, and that the killing of innocent elderly was good. I simply want him to tell me that he was lying, before I will discuss anything else with him. I am not going to discuss morality with the criminally insane.

atoep said...

Cool writing and interesting back and forth. I like your site.

bleedingisaac said...

I guess francois has difficulty reading more than one word at a time. I've answered his poorly (and fallaciously) worded question several times.

Because he can't read, he makes up lies like, "Isaac has outright stated that the Holocaust could be morally justified," and "that the killing of innocent elderly was good." Neither of which I said, but because of his poor reading skills, he believes to be true.

But I'll answer his question with a 'yes' or 'no' when he answers mine:

Francois, yes or no, have you stopped fucking your cat?

... said...

Found this site somewhat randomly, cool though, keep rockin the atheism!, very interesting discussion going on here...

My view though, is that morality is based in reality. Not that everyone's morality influences them to make what I'd call "reality-based choices", or to have a worldview accurately reflecting morality -- far from it. But where people come up with their morality is definitely based on reality, what is objectively going on in the world & what is their position in it.

A main argument here seems to be that morality is often seemingly "illogical", I get the sense it is pictured as some kind of "purely" random, subjective thing to fill in the gaps. I disagree.

Morality has everything to do with how do you make decisions of right & wrong. So what is right & what is wrong? Well that depends on what you're trying to accomplish. Is it beneficial or harmful? Well using those words, it's obvious to ask "beneficial to what?" (Whereas "right & wrong" implies universality.)

The Holocaust example is good for discussion. (And why? Because just about everyone agrees it's "wrong".) (I agree it's wrong too.) It's a mass slaughter etc etc. Well the universe doesn't care if there's a mass slaughter. The universe doesn't either care if humanity ends from environmental collapse or nukes or a big asteroid or whatever. The universe doesn't care, on the other hand, if mass slaughter is prevented, or if we can build a society without oppression of any kind. The universe is not a person (or an animal), it doesn't have feelings or morality. So there is no universal morality.

People are not born "independent", just them & the universe, chillin'. They are part of society, part of a class, a nation, a gender, etc, etc. They are influenced by other classes etc, especially the one(s) that hold power, as well as forces with varying degrees of opposition to the rulers (& the accompanying ideology, morality, etc attached to these forces).

It's all a very complex process, but anyway a person develops certain way of looking at things, certain goals (not just indivualistic ones either), etc. It boils down to, what kind of world do you want? And you have a morality to go with that, to guide towards that world.

This could be conscious, or not (in which case, I guess the question would be closer to, in varying degrees, what kind of world have you been taught to want?)

So yeah, blah blah blah, this is really long, I know this comment doesn't have a complete answer to all the issues ha ha ha, but I gotta go to work soon, I'll stop with some recommendations for further reading...

section on morality from Revolutionary Communist Party USA's new draft Programme (There's lots of other relevant stuff on the RCPUSA's website, look around a while...)

Bob Avakian's website has mp3s of speeches, many dealing with atheism & religion

Francois Tremblay said...

I give up. This criminally insane man cannot answer one simple question properly.

breakerslion said...



1. Of, relating to, extending to, or affecting the entire world or all within the world; worldwide: “This discovery of literature has as yet only partially penetrated the universal consciousness” (Ellen Key).

2. Including, relating to, or affecting all members of the class or group under consideration: the universal skepticism of philosophers.

3. Applicable or common to all purposes, conditions, or situations: a universal remedy.

4. Of or relating to the universe or cosmos; cosmic.

5. Knowledgeable about or constituting all or many subjects; comprehensively broad.

7. Adapted or adjustable to many sizes or mechanical uses.

8. Logic. Encompassing all of the members of a class or group. Used of a proposition.

Did I imply that the Universe cared? (Hint, add the words "e.g. humankind" in parentheisis to #8, sentence 1, or see definitions 1-3)

Rev. Barky said...

No Frank, I wasn't refering to your posts - I do at least try to read and think about even your longer posts, but please avoid getting caught up in a rant-a-thon with these bombastic clowns. I do so get tired of the trying to read "mind spill". Besides, I would hate to get on your bad side. I only have one fire extinguisher.;)

Rev. Barky said...

By the way - it wasn't a halocaust. It was genocide.

Francois Tremblay said...

Rev. Barking : I know I wasted way too much time on this imbecile, but I wanted to make sure he was insane. It's still hard for me to believe there exists people like him. It makes me seriously doubt my position that people are fundamentally moral, and that it's their beliefs that make them say immoral things. I guess I have no choice but to hope I'm right, because otherwise, we're fucked.

Francois Tremblay said...

Hey idiot. I am not an Objectivist, and axioms are not accepted on "faith or convenience" even in Objectivism, which means you built your whole rant there on two lies.

And I can't be a "pseudo-skeptic" since I NEVER pretended to be a skeptic (because I am not !). Another blatant lie.

Everything verifiable in your post is a lie. Go away, troll.

breakerslion said...

"Listen dears, objective truth exists, but there is no way to access it directly through human logic. At the bottom of your deductive ladder must lay a cloud of axioms. These we accept through faith or convenience; either way, it is an act of intellectual surrender."

I disagree. "Self-evident" is a logical conclusion. The problem arises when something which is not self-evident is put forward as axiomatic, and is believed to be self-evident without being put to the test.

Hellbound Alleee said...

Sorry. But I had to delete Mike. Mike has been bad, because he is an idiot. I asked him to complete a task, and he did not.

I won't embarrass anyone by pointing out those whose opinions most closely resemble the fake Catholic bondage geek.