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  1. #1
    Senior Member ThatsWhatHeSaid's Avatar
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    Default Building a Moral Philosophy Out of Subjective Feeling

    Einstein said "I believe that Gandhi's views were the most enlightened of all the political men (sic) in our time. We should strive to do things in his spirit: not to use violence in fighting for our cause, but by non-participation in anything you believe is evil."

    Most of the moral philosophers I've encountered (in my Philosophy of Ethics class as an undergrad) tried to explain what moral behavior was using some type of objective formula, like Kant's Categorical Imperative. Einstein's quote made me think about building a philosophy out of subjective feelings, based on beliefs rather than logical conclusions. In building a system or philosophy, I can think of a few important considerations: (1) will lay people be able to use it to guide their behavior? (2) does it create what we typically call "moral" behavior? How does this system measure up against those benchmarks?

    Lets say you were Einstein, and a person from the audience objected by saying "people can't be trusted to make moral decisions on their own, because they can't distinguish between what is 'evil' and what merely disturbs their own personal success." How would you respond?

    I have a few ideas about it, but I'll wait until people respond or until the thread dies.

  2. #2
    rawr Costrin's Avatar
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    How bout this:
    A system of morality can, for all practical purposes, only be derived from subjective feelings, because ultimately morals are all subjective. A person should do what makes them personally happy, whatever that is. In fact, I argue that a person can only do what they think will make them happy (ignoring physical restrictions). Even being a martyr is because they want to. Suicides are because they want to. Giving to charity is because they want to. Etc, etc.
    "All humour has a foundation of truth."
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  3. #3
    Senior Member ThatsWhatHeSaid's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Costrin View Post
    How bout this:
    A system of morality can, for all practical purposes, only be derived from subjective feelings, because ultimately morals are all subjective. A person should do what makes them personally happy, whatever that is. In fact, I argue that a person can only do what they think will make them happy (ignoring physical restrictions). Even being a martyr is because they want to. Suicides are because they want to. Giving to charity is because they want to. Etc, etc.
    But then how would you encourage "moral" behavior vs. just plain selfish behavior? Would you encourage SOME subjective feelings (feeling praiseworthy and helpful) over others (feeling greedy and wasteful)?

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    half mystic, half skeksis jenocyde's Avatar
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    I'm having a hard time understanding how beliefs differ from logical conclusions. In human systems of interaction, doesn't all logic stem from belief?

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    half mystic, half skeksis jenocyde's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ThatsWhatHeSaid View Post
    But then how would you encourage "moral" behavior vs. just plain selfish behavior? Would you encourage SOME subjective feelings (feeling praiseworthy and helpful) over others (feeling greedy and wasteful)?
    Why would you want to encourage any particular behavior?

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    rawr Costrin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ThatsWhatHeSaid View Post
    But then how would you encourage "moral" behavior vs. just plain selfish behavior? Would you encourage SOME subjective feelings (feeling praiseworthy and helpful) over others (feeling greedy and wasteful)?
    Well, I'd basically go with a sort of "golden rule" type thing. I don't want to be stolen from, to be assaulted, to be cheated, insulted, discriminated against, etc. So even if I were to gain enjoyment from things, I refrain, as that would lead to them doing it in retribution.

    Naturally, even if morals are all subjective, human's naturally tend toward certain morals because of our biology. We don't like to be hurt, we get a "good feeling" when we help others, we desire love, we don't like loss, etc. These things, combined with communication, means we are able to live together as a society.

    imo
    "All humour has a foundation of truth."
    - Costrin

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    Senior Member ThatsWhatHeSaid's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jenocyde View Post
    I'm having a hard time understanding how beliefs differ from logical conclusions. In human systems of interaction, doesn't all logic stem from belief?
    Even if they both stem from belief, we have to look at where that belief stems from. Here's an example. Using feeling as a compass, I could say "when I feel bad about my actions, however slightly, I know that action is bad." Using logic, you could say "if everyone did what I'm about to do, the world would fall apart. Since I'm not better than anyone else, I can't rationally do this." Both lead to a belief that the activity is immoral, but the source of that belief is different.

  8. #8
    Senior Member ThatsWhatHeSaid's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Costrin View Post
    Well, I'd basically go with a sort of "golden rule" type thing. I don't want to be stolen from, to be assaulted, to be cheated, insulted, discriminated against, etc. So even if I were to gain enjoyment from things, I refrain, as that would lead to them doing it in retribution.

    Naturally, even if morals are all subjective, human's naturally tend toward certain morals because of our biology. We don't like to be hurt, we get a "good feeling" when we help others, we desire love, we don't like loss, etc. These things, combined with communication, means we are able to live together as a society.

    imo
    That brings up an interesting distinction. The golden rule is a system that utilizes FEAR as a primary motivator (combined with logic). If you FEAR others acting that way towards you, you refrain.

    What I was thinking of, and I think what the quote speaks to, is a different kind of feeling, where decision are based on some combination of responsibility, values, and compassion. I don't really have a good word for it, which is partly why I started this thread, but I think it extends beyond a "good feeling" for helping someone else. It's more a sense of harmony and unity that you feel. (I could be wrong, of course.)

    I'm going to refine my question a bit to you, Costrin. Can you build a system of morality out of this second good-ish feeling you get? What is that feeling? Is it just feeling praiseworthy and obedient, or is it something else?

    Something to reflect on: Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development
    In Stage three (interpersonal accord and conformity driven), the self enters society by filling social roles. Individuals are receptive to approval or disapproval from others as it reflects society's accordance with the perceived role. They try to be a "good boy" or "good girl" to live up to these expectations, having learned that there is inherent value in doing so. Stage three reasoning may judge the morality of an action by evaluating its consequences in terms of a person's relationships, which now begin to include things like respect, gratitude and the "golden rule". "I want to be liked and thought well of; apparently, not being naughty makes people like me." Desire to maintain rules and authority exists only to further support these social roles. The intentions of actions play a more significant role in reasoning at this stage; "they mean well ...".
    ...
    In Stage six (universal ethical principles driven), moral reasoning is based on abstract reasoning using universal ethical principles. Laws are valid only insofar as they are grounded in justice, and a commitment to justice carries with it an obligation to disobey unjust laws. Rights are unnecessary, as social contracts are not essential for deontic moral action. Decisions are not reached hypothetically in a conditional way but rather categorically in an absolute way, as in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. This involves an individual imagining what they would do in another's shoes, if they believed what that other person imagines to be true. The resulting consensus is the action taken. In this way action is never a means but always an end in itself; the individual acts because it is right, and not because it is instrumental, expected, legal, or previously agreed upon. Although Kohlberg insisted that stage six exists, he found it difficult to identify individuals who consistently operated at that level.
    ...
    Kohlberg suggested that there may a seventh stage—Transcendental Morality, or Morality of Cosmic Orientation—which linked religion with moral reasoning. Kohlberg's difficulties in obtaining empirical evidence for even a sixth stage, however, led him to emphasize the speculative nature of his seventh stage.

  9. #9
    rawr Costrin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ThatsWhatHeSaid View Post
    That brings up an interesting distinction. The golden rule is a system that utilizes FEAR as a primary motivator (combined with logic). If you FEAR others acting that way towards you, you refrain.
    Indeed.

    What I was thinking of, and I think what the quote speaks to, is a different kind of feeling, where decision are based on some combination of responsibility, values, and compassion. I don't really have a good word for it, which is partly why I started this thread, but I think it extends beyond a "good feeling" for helping someone else. It's more a sense of harmony and unity that you feel. (I could be wrong, of course.)
    Yes, I agree.

    I'm going to refine my question a bit to you, Costrin. Can you build a system of morality out of this second good-ish feeling you get? What is that feeling? Is it just feeling praiseworthy and obedient, or is it something else?
    Yes. Basically my position is "do whatever makes you happy." So it would both incorporate golden rule type stuff, and this good feeling type stuff. You avoid doing things that could potentially have negative consequences, and do things that potentially have positive consequences Naturally, few situations are black and white, so that's where logic, your preference on risk vs reward, your patience level, and guessing comes in.

    As to what that feeling is (actually, likely several related feelings)... dunno. "I know it when I see feel it." But it's not hard to see how from an evolutionary perspective this would benefit us. Naturally it would benefit the survival of the species if the species worked together, so these feelings came about as a way to increase cooperation. You become happy when things happen that increase your chance of survival, and sad when things happen that decrease your chance (and again, it's obviously not that simple).

    Something to reflect on: Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development
    Seen it before. It is interesting. Though I disagree with it. I don't really fit cleanly into any of the stages. My philosophy is selfish, because it's impossible to be anything else. Yet part of my selfishness is caring about others. The positive emotions I get from my relationships with others factor into my decision-making. So it's not selfish in the way the word is normally used.

    And pffft at stage seven and religion.


    And stuffness. Am I doing it right?
    "All humour has a foundation of truth."
    - Costrin

  10. #10
    meh Salomé's Avatar
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    Fine in principle; unworkable in practice.
    Too nebulous. Relies on a fundamentally unsound belief in human goodness.
    Quote Originally Posted by Ivy View Post
    Gosh, the world looks so small from up here on my high horse of menstruation.

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