Re: MD Is Morality Relative?

Date: Wed Dec 01 2004 - 23:21:11 GMT

  • Next message: David Harding: "Re: MD Empiricism"

    Hi, Platt:

    I knew this subject would provoke some discussion. Fortunately for the
    MOQers, it's an area about which I speak with no authority whatsoever. Like
    Ian, I guess I tend to be more interested in the "why" than the "hows" of
    existence. Frankly, my reason for getting into morality at all is that you
    and others on this site have convinced me of its importance in promoting a
    philosophy. So, I'm here to learn from those who've invested more time than
    I have on sociological issues.

    With this 'mea culpa', however, comes a stipulation: How I define Morality
    will necessarily support the philosophy of Essence, the central thesis of
    which is that man is an autonomous creature in a relational world.

    > If the MOQ champions individual autonomy, it appears the MOQ supports the
    > basic thrust of Ayn Rand's "virtue of selfishness."

    We are all selfish by nature; it is not a virtue but a description of man's
    position in a relational world. Rand's philosophy was that we should give
    primary service to self-achievement. She was opposed to the morality of
    altruism which, on analysis, has no more ethical substance than Marxist
    communism. The actions of many have been attributed to "an altruistic
    motive"; but concepts such as unselfish devotion, living for others, sharing
    the wealth, etc., just don't lend themselves to a workable morality system.
    Often these activities, particularly when conducted by religious groups,
    have a hidden agenda to influence the beneficiaries. Rand was a staunch
    capitalist who believed in the morality of free enterprise, as you and I do.
    But self-sufficiency, like "everything is Quality", is a pragmatic axiom
    without an underlying metaphysical rationale. I see both Ayn Rand and RMP
    as both philosophically deficient in this regard.

    Now, you've formed some conclusions of your own with regard to Edington's
    sermon, evidently to demonstrate that his message is flawed. (I haven't read
    much on morality, but wlll have to admit that this sermon is the best essay
    on the subject that has come my way in recent years.)

    You say:
    > I see a host of moral absolutes in the Unitarian minister's sermon, such
    > as:
    > -- moral decisions should "serve the good of humanity."

    In the sense that morality is commonly understood as virtuous conduct, it is
    self-evident to me that this means promoting the "good of humanity". Again,
    this is a definition rather than an ultimatum. Are you suggesting another

    > a moral person has "a sense of relationship with all life and one
    > another."
    > -- we are "united as a species by heritage and a common future."
    > -- morality must be based on "respect, care and love."
    > -- "our sense of morality (is) an innate and inherited human trait."

    All descriptive statements which, again, allude to virtuous conduct. These
    are not "absolutes", Platt.

    > In other words, the minister admits to a set of absolute moral assumptions
    > that belie his relativist message and contradicts his assertion that "the
    > real danger to humanity is moral absolutism." (Note that a "danger to
    > humanity" is based on a moral absolute: it's wrong to threaten humanity.)

    OK. I'll buy that one -- but only because it supports the absolute automony
    of man. (I'm currently trying to develop that idea as a the concept of
    "immutability". The split between differentiation and unity may itself be
    an absolute. What thinkest thou?)

    > Whether the minister realizes it or not, his support for the view that
    > "society is doomed by the concept of moral relativism" is undermined by
    > his adherence a number of moral absolutes.

    You mean "moral absolutism", of course. I disagree. I think Edington has
    provided vivid examples of terrible acts against humanity by individuals who
    were absolutely convinced they were right. They include the 9/11 attack on
    the Twin Towers perpetrated by moral absolutists.
    > Even though the MOQ plays lip service to the notion of relativism, it
    > actually builds a solid structure on which to base moral decisions
    > including some that are absolute like:
    > "We must understand that when a society undermines intellectual freedom
    > for its own purposes it is absolutely morally bad, but when it represses
    > biological freedom for its own purposes it is absolutely morally good.
    > These moral bads and goods are not just "customs." They are as real as
    > rocks and trees." (Lila, 24)

    Pirsig is putting down absolutism here, Hence, I don't see where Edington
    is in disagreement.

    > Seems to me that "What is the proper source of morality for a nation?" is
    > a still open question given that the MOQ has a long way to go before it's
    > widely known and accepted. The recent U.S. election showed there's still a
    > huge rift in how that questioned should be answered.

    Yes. That's why this discussion is currently relevant.
    > What concerns me that if moral laws are man made and relative, then moral
    > rules are arbitrary and thus no one is obligated to follow them. That's
    > why I believe a society that adheres to moral relativism is doomed.

    Don't forget that autonomous freedom carries with it major reponsibilities.
    If we're free to make decisions, we can't be dependent on a 'deus ex
    machine' to bail us out when we're wrong. Nor does it further Goodness
    (Quality?) to simply kneel and pray for peace when we are under attack. Is
    man "enlightened" enough to accept his reality as relational and wean
    himself from his historic dependence on authority -- human or supernatural?
    I don't know; but stay tuned.

    Thanks for another opportunity, Platt.

    Essentially yours,

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