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Is the objectivity of morality relevant if human actions are determined?

 
unsmoked
 
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unsmoked
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10 August 2017 09:39
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 08 August 2017 10:13 AM

Stoning adulteresses, on the other hand, is only wrong because people believe it’s wrong.

Statements like this put atheists in a very bad light - the popular image of Descartian monsters.

 
 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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Antisocialdarwinist
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10 August 2017 14:43
 
unsmoked - 10 August 2017 09:39 AM
Antisocialdarwinist - 08 August 2017 10:13 AM

Stoning adulteresses, on the other hand, is only wrong because people believe it’s wrong.

Statements like this put atheists in a very bad light - the popular image of Descartian monsters.

Your point being…what? That because it puts us in a very bad light it must not be true? That we should pretend it’s not true so that people don’t mistake us for “Descartian monsters,” whatever that’s supposed to imply?

 
 
Brick Bungalow
 
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Brick Bungalow
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10 August 2017 15:54
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 10 August 2017 02:43 PM
unsmoked - 10 August 2017 09:39 AM
Antisocialdarwinist - 08 August 2017 10:13 AM

Stoning adulteresses, on the other hand, is only wrong because people believe it’s wrong.

Statements like this put atheists in a very bad light - the popular image of Descartian monsters.

Your point being…what? That because it puts us in a very bad light it must not be true? That we should pretend it’s not true so that people don’t mistake us for “Descartian monsters,” whatever that’s supposed to imply?

I think the problem isn’t a dispute over facts so much as emphasis. If someone close to you suffers an extraordinary loss you have a choice of how to react. You can comfort and support them and try to embody empathy. OR you can explain how it’s all relative and arbitrary. Either approach can be fully validated by the available facts. It’s just a matter of what your goals are.

 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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Antisocialdarwinist
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10 August 2017 17:41
 
Brick Bungalow - 10 August 2017 03:54 PM
Antisocialdarwinist - 10 August 2017 02:43 PM
unsmoked - 10 August 2017 09:39 AM
Antisocialdarwinist - 08 August 2017 10:13 AM

Stoning adulteresses, on the other hand, is only wrong because people believe it’s wrong.

Statements like this put atheists in a very bad light - the popular image of Descartian monsters.

Your point being…what? That because it puts us in a very bad light it must not be true? That we should pretend it’s not true so that people don’t mistake us for “Descartian monsters,” whatever that’s supposed to imply?

I think the problem isn’t a dispute over facts so much as emphasis. If someone close to you suffers an extraordinary loss you have a choice of how to react. You can comfort and support them and try to embody empathy. OR you can explain how it’s all relative and arbitrary. Either approach can be fully validated by the available facts. It’s just a matter of what your goals are.

Oh, sorry, if I’d known your sister had been stoned to death for adultery, I’d have used a different example.

Stoning adulteresses is Harris’s favorite example of behavior he claims is objectively wrong. I’m hard-pressed to think of a practice I personally find more abhorrent, and I’m pretty sure you, unsmoked and everyone else who posts on this forum feel the same way. That’s why I tend to fall back on it. It demonstrates better than almost any other behavior—to people raised in the West, at least—why objective wrongness is such a seductive illusion.

You seem to be stuck on the idea that “relative” implies “arbitrary.” Why?

 
 
unsmoked
 
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unsmoked
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11 August 2017 11:30
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 10 August 2017 02:43 PM
unsmoked - 10 August 2017 09:39 AM
Antisocialdarwinist - 08 August 2017 10:13 AM

Stoning adulteresses, on the other hand, is only wrong because people believe it’s wrong.

Statements like this put atheists in a very bad light - the popular image of Descartian monsters.

Your point being…what? That because it puts us in a very bad light it must not be true? That we should pretend it’s not true so that people don’t mistake us for “Descartian monsters,” whatever that’s supposed to imply?

My point being that if you say genocide is only wrong because people believe it’s wrong puts atheists in a very bad light.  What does ‘Descartian monsters’ imply?  http://boingboing.net/2011/06/30/richard-dawkins-on-v.html

quoted from this Dawkins article:

“What about dogs? I find it almost impossible to believe that René Descartes, not known as a monster, carried his philosophical belief that only humans have minds to such a confident extreme that he would blithely spreadeagle a live mammal on a board and dissect it. You’d think that, in spite of his philosophical reasoning, he might have given the animal the benefit of the doubt. But he stood in a long tradition of vivisectionists including Galen and Vesalius, and he was followed by William Harvey and many others (See from which this picture is taken).

How could they bear to do it: tie a struggling, screaming mammal down with ropes and dissect its living heart, for example? Presumably they believed what came to be articulated by Descartes: that non-human animals have no soul and feel no pain.”

[ Edited: 11 August 2017 11:32 by unsmoked]
 
 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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Antisocialdarwinist
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11 August 2017 19:55
 
unsmoked - 11 August 2017 11:30 AM
Antisocialdarwinist - 10 August 2017 02:43 PM
unsmoked - 10 August 2017 09:39 AM
Antisocialdarwinist - 08 August 2017 10:13 AM

Stoning adulteresses, on the other hand, is only wrong because people believe it’s wrong.

Statements like this put atheists in a very bad light - the popular image of Descartian monsters.

Your point being…what? That because it puts us in a very bad light it must not be true? That we should pretend it’s not true so that people don’t mistake us for “Descartian monsters,” whatever that’s supposed to imply?

My point being that if you say genocide is only wrong because people believe it’s wrong puts atheists in a very bad light.  What does ‘Descartian monsters’ imply?  http://boingboing.net/2011/06/30/richard-dawkins-on-v.html

quoted from this Dawkins article:

“What about dogs? I find it almost impossible to believe that René Descartes, not known as a monster, carried his philosophical belief that only humans have minds to such a confident extreme that he would blithely spreadeagle a live mammal on a board and dissect it. You’d think that, in spite of his philosophical reasoning, he might have given the animal the benefit of the doubt. But he stood in a long tradition of vivisectionists including Galen and Vesalius, and he was followed by William Harvey and many others (See from which this picture is taken).

How could they bear to do it: tie a struggling, screaming mammal down with ropes and dissect its living heart, for example? Presumably they believed what came to be articulated by Descartes: that non-human animals have no soul and feel no pain.”

Then let me rephrase it so no one mistakes us for dog-torturers:

Without God, genocide or stoning adulteresses is only wrong because people believe it’s wrong.

 
 
Brick Bungalow
 
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Brick Bungalow
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11 August 2017 21:58
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 10 August 2017 05:41 PM
Brick Bungalow - 10 August 2017 03:54 PM
Antisocialdarwinist - 10 August 2017 02:43 PM
unsmoked - 10 August 2017 09:39 AM
Antisocialdarwinist - 08 August 2017 10:13 AM

Stoning adulteresses, on the other hand, is only wrong because people believe it’s wrong.

Statements like this put atheists in a very bad light - the popular image of Descartian monsters.

Your point being…what? That because it puts us in a very bad light it must not be true? That we should pretend it’s not true so that people don’t mistake us for “Descartian monsters,” whatever that’s supposed to imply?

I think the problem isn’t a dispute over facts so much as emphasis. If someone close to you suffers an extraordinary loss you have a choice of how to react. You can comfort and support them and try to embody empathy. OR you can explain how it’s all relative and arbitrary. Either approach can be fully validated by the available facts. It’s just a matter of what your goals are.

Oh, sorry, if I’d known your sister had been stoned to death for adultery, I’d have used a different example.

Stoning adulteresses is Harris’s favorite example of behavior he claims is objectively wrong. I’m hard-pressed to think of a practice I personally find more abhorrent, and I’m pretty sure you, unsmoked and everyone else who posts on this forum feel the same way. That’s why I tend to fall back on it. It demonstrates better than almost any other behavior—to people raised in the West, at least—why objective wrongness is such a seductive illusion.

You seem to be stuck on the idea that “relative” implies “arbitrary.” Why?

I most certainly don’t think that. Quite the reverse really. The relative and contingent nature of moral values is precisely what connects us to them.

 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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Antisocialdarwinist
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11 August 2017 22:16
 
Brick Bungalow - 11 August 2017 09:58 PM
Antisocialdarwinist - 10 August 2017 05:41 PM
Brick Bungalow - 10 August 2017 03:54 PM
Antisocialdarwinist - 10 August 2017 02:43 PM
unsmoked - 10 August 2017 09:39 AM
Antisocialdarwinist - 08 August 2017 10:13 AM

Stoning adulteresses, on the other hand, is only wrong because people believe it’s wrong.

Statements like this put atheists in a very bad light - the popular image of Descartian monsters.

Your point being…what? That because it puts us in a very bad light it must not be true? That we should pretend it’s not true so that people don’t mistake us for “Descartian monsters,” whatever that’s supposed to imply?

I think the problem isn’t a dispute over facts so much as emphasis. If someone close to you suffers an extraordinary loss you have a choice of how to react. You can comfort and support them and try to embody empathy. OR you can explain how it’s all relative and arbitrary. Either approach can be fully validated by the available facts. It’s just a matter of what your goals are.

Oh, sorry, if I’d known your sister had been stoned to death for adultery, I’d have used a different example.

Stoning adulteresses is Harris’s favorite example of behavior he claims is objectively wrong. I’m hard-pressed to think of a practice I personally find more abhorrent, and I’m pretty sure you, unsmoked and everyone else who posts on this forum feel the same way. That’s why I tend to fall back on it. It demonstrates better than almost any other behavior—to people raised in the West, at least—why objective wrongness is such a seductive illusion.

You seem to be stuck on the idea that “relative” implies “arbitrary.” Why?

I most certainly don’t think that. Quite the reverse really. The relative and contingent nature of moral values is precisely what connects us to them.

I think we can agree on that. And on the whole argument being moot if human actions are determined?

 
 
jstevewhite
 
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jstevewhite
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12 August 2017 07:20
 

I guess I need to read “Free Will”; I wasn’t aware Sam rejects compatibilism; Listening to the latest podcast sure hints at that, though.

But it looks to me like many words being thrown about in this thread are changing definitions from post to post. The two that seem most muddled (to me) are “wrong” and “objective”.

“Wrong”, as I see it, in discussions like this, means “immoral in respect to some code of conduct”. This can be viewed as ‘objectively wrong’ only if one accepts the code of conduct. That is, “It’s objectively true that you killed that person in violation of this code of conduct”. This, of course, places the burden of objectivity on the code of conduct. 

The way I read “The Moral Landscape”, Sam’s claiming that suffering is a neurological state that is objectively bad for the creature experiencing it. I think this is a fairly safe assertion, as it spans most living things. He seems to suggest that as humans, we are *objectively* invested in the human experience, just as dogs are invested in the dog experience, etc. The *experience* of ... whatever we call the opposite of suffering (reward?) is objectively good - for us and other species. It’s why we can train dogs with treats. The experience is subjective - the taste of a dog treat - but the reward is objective - brain chemistry and neural states. Thus, as humans invested in the human experience, we can objectively determine “good” states of existence and “bad” ones from neurological states in the brain. We, as humans, are *objectively* invested in the human experience. We can surely make abstractions galore and posit that “objectively” nothing is wrong or right, but we don’t *really*, *objectively* experience that unless we’re possessors of a defective brain. It’s the assembly of abstract symbols in a word game that doesn’t represent a human brain in a human body in a human society.

(I’m not trying to ‘educate’, just describing my understanding of Sam’s position on morality; if you think I have it wrong, please feel free to correct me)

So in this context, “wrong” is a judgement based on *objective* measures. It doesn’t addres a *specific action* in this context, but it characterizes “wrongness” in an objective fashion that can be measured in principle.

Now, back to the OP - In the last podcast, Sam hints at an acceptance of basic compatibilism when he suggests that we adopt strategies for dealing with miscreants that influence their future behavior. This suggests that he feels that pursuing moral reasoning influences the environment of others, influencing their future behaviors.

I’m not familiar with Dennet’s characterization of compatibilism, but the only way I can square that last statement with a rejection of compatibilism is to make it hinge on the conscious mind as the decider. I think there’s reason to suspect that our conscious minds are the noise the engine makes, rather than the masters of our destiny, and as such, I can see how Sam would reject the idea of ‘agency’ (even though I think this is confusing the language) in behavior, and thus reject compatibilism as I understand it, while *still believing that pursuing morality is valuable* in that context.

The irony, of course, is that if all human behavior is determined, Sam can’t do anything differently, and neither can I, eh? (I know that’s not an original observation, but I still find it both amusing and troubling).

 
unsmoked
 
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unsmoked
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12 August 2017 09:47
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 11 August 2017 07:55 PM
unsmoked - 11 August 2017 11:30 AM
Antisocialdarwinist - 10 August 2017 02:43 PM
unsmoked - 10 August 2017 09:39 AM
Antisocialdarwinist - 08 August 2017 10:13 AM

Stoning adulteresses, on the other hand, is only wrong because people believe it’s wrong.

Statements like this put atheists in a very bad light - the popular image of Descartian monsters.

Your point being…what? That because it puts us in a very bad light it must not be true? That we should pretend it’s not true so that people don’t mistake us for “Descartian monsters,” whatever that’s supposed to imply?

My point being that if you say genocide is only wrong because people believe it’s wrong puts atheists in a very bad light.  What does ‘Descartian monsters’ imply?  http://boingboing.net/2011/06/30/richard-dawkins-on-v.html

quoted from this Dawkins article:

“What about dogs? I find it almost impossible to believe that René Descartes, not known as a monster, carried his philosophical belief that only humans have minds to such a confident extreme that he would blithely spreadeagle a live mammal on a board and dissect it. You’d think that, in spite of his philosophical reasoning, he might have given the animal the benefit of the doubt. But he stood in a long tradition of vivisectionists including Galen and Vesalius, and he was followed by William Harvey and many others (See from which this picture is taken).

How could they bear to do it: tie a struggling, screaming mammal down with ropes and dissect its living heart, for example? Presumably they believed what came to be articulated by Descartes: that non-human animals have no soul and feel no pain.”

Then let me rephrase it so no one mistakes us for dog-torturers:

Without God, genocide or stoning adulteresses is only wrong because people believe it’s wrong.

Sam Harris begins his book, ‘THE END OF FAITH - Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason’ with a chapter titled, ‘Reason in Exile’.  The first paragraph reads, “The young man boards the bus as it leaves the terminal.  He wears an overcoat.  Beneath his overcoat, he is wearing a bomb.  His pockets are filled with nails, ball bearings, and rat poison.”

At the end of the second paragraph we read, “The bus is now full.  The young man smiles.  With the press of a button he destroys himself, the couple at his side, and twenty others on the bus.  The nails, ball bearings, and rat poison ensure further casualties on the street and in the surrounding cars.  All has gone according to plan.”

The third paragraph reads, “The young man’s parents soon learn of his fate.  Although saddened to have lost a son, they feel tremendous pride at his accomplishment.  They know that he has gone to heaven and prepared the way for them to follow.  He has also sent his victims to hell for eternity.  It is a double victory.  The neighbors find the event a great cause for celebration and honor the young man’s parents by giving them gifts of food and money.”  (end Harris text)

Are you saying that without Allah, what this young man did is only wrong because people believe it’s wrong?  Is that why this chapter is called, ‘Reason in Exile’?

 
 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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Antisocialdarwinist
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12 August 2017 14:21
 
unsmoked - 12 August 2017 09:47 AM
Antisocialdarwinist - 11 August 2017 07:55 PM
unsmoked - 11 August 2017 11:30 AM
Antisocialdarwinist - 10 August 2017 02:43 PM
unsmoked - 10 August 2017 09:39 AM
Antisocialdarwinist - 08 August 2017 10:13 AM

Stoning adulteresses, on the other hand, is only wrong because people believe it’s wrong.

Statements like this put atheists in a very bad light - the popular image of Descartian monsters.

Your point being…what? That because it puts us in a very bad light it must not be true? That we should pretend it’s not true so that people don’t mistake us for “Descartian monsters,” whatever that’s supposed to imply?

My point being that if you say genocide is only wrong because people believe it’s wrong puts atheists in a very bad light.  What does ‘Descartian monsters’ imply?  http://boingboing.net/2011/06/30/richard-dawkins-on-v.html

quoted from this Dawkins article:

“What about dogs? I find it almost impossible to believe that René Descartes, not known as a monster, carried his philosophical belief that only humans have minds to such a confident extreme that he would blithely spreadeagle a live mammal on a board and dissect it. You’d think that, in spite of his philosophical reasoning, he might have given the animal the benefit of the doubt. But he stood in a long tradition of vivisectionists including Galen and Vesalius, and he was followed by William Harvey and many others (See from which this picture is taken).

How could they bear to do it: tie a struggling, screaming mammal down with ropes and dissect its living heart, for example? Presumably they believed what came to be articulated by Descartes: that non-human animals have no soul and feel no pain.”

Then let me rephrase it so no one mistakes us for dog-torturers:

Without God, genocide or stoning adulteresses is only wrong because people believe it’s wrong.

Sam Harris begins his book, ‘THE END OF FAITH - Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason’ with a chapter titled, ‘Reason in Exile’.  The first paragraph reads, “The young man boards the bus as it leaves the terminal.  He wears an overcoat.  Beneath his overcoat, he is wearing a bomb.  His pockets are filled with nails, ball bearings, and rat poison.”

At the end of the second paragraph we read, “The bus is now full.  The young man smiles.  With the press of a button he destroys himself, the couple at his side, and twenty others on the bus.  The nails, ball bearings, and rat poison ensure further casualties on the street and in the surrounding cars.  All has gone according to plan.”

The third paragraph reads, “The young man’s parents soon learn of his fate.  Although saddened to have lost a son, they feel tremendous pride at his accomplishment.  They know that he has gone to heaven and prepared the way for them to follow.  He has also sent his victims to hell for eternity.  It is a double victory.  The neighbors find the event a great cause for celebration and honor the young man’s parents by giving them gifts of food and money.”  (end Harris text)

Are you saying that without Allah, what this young man did is only wrong because people believe it’s wrong?  Is that why this chapter is called, ‘Reason in Exile’?

You have it backwards, as shown in the last paragraph: without Allah, what this young man did is only right because people believe it’s right.

It never ceases to amaze me that people can stop (or refrain from) believing in God, but not the single most dangerous aspect of religion: the idea that certain behavior is objectively right or wrong. It’s like an alcoholic quitting drinking, but only on Sundays.

Based on the quotes you included from TEOF, it sounds to me like Harris’s “Reason in Exile” refers to the “rightness” of murdering a busload of people, not relative morality, which he never even mentions. Eh?

 
 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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Antisocialdarwinist
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12 August 2017 14:28
 
jstevewhite - 12 August 2017 07:20 AM

I guess I need to read “Free Will”; I wasn’t aware Sam rejects compatibilism; Listening to the latest podcast sure hints at that, though.

But it looks to me like many words being thrown about in this thread are changing definitions from post to post. The two that seem most muddled (to me) are “wrong” and “objective”.

“Wrong”, as I see it, in discussions like this, means “immoral in respect to some code of conduct”. This can be viewed as ‘objectively wrong’ only if one accepts the code of conduct. That is, “It’s objectively true that you killed that person in violation of this code of conduct”. This, of course, places the burden of objectivity on the code of conduct. 

The way I read “The Moral Landscape”, Sam’s claiming that suffering is a neurological state that is objectively bad for the creature experiencing it. I think this is a fairly safe assertion, as it spans most living things. He seems to suggest that as humans, we are *objectively* invested in the human experience, just as dogs are invested in the dog experience, etc. The *experience* of ... whatever we call the opposite of suffering (reward?) is objectively good - for us and other species. It’s why we can train dogs with treats. The experience is subjective - the taste of a dog treat - but the reward is objective - brain chemistry and neural states. Thus, as humans invested in the human experience, we can objectively determine “good” states of existence and “bad” ones from neurological states in the brain. We, as humans, are *objectively* invested in the human experience. We can surely make abstractions galore and posit that “objectively” nothing is wrong or right, but we don’t *really*, *objectively* experience that unless we’re possessors of a defective brain. It’s the assembly of abstract symbols in a word game that doesn’t represent a human brain in a human body in a human society.

(I’m not trying to ‘educate’, just describing my understanding of Sam’s position on morality; if you think I have it wrong, please feel free to correct me)

So in this context, “wrong” is a judgement based on *objective* measures. It doesn’t addres a *specific action* in this context, but it characterizes “wrongness” in an objective fashion that can be measured in principle.

Now, back to the OP - In the last podcast, Sam hints at an acceptance of basic compatibilism when he suggests that we adopt strategies for dealing with miscreants that influence their future behavior. This suggests that he feels that pursuing moral reasoning influences the environment of others, influencing their future behaviors.

I’m not familiar with Dennet’s characterization of compatibilism, but the only way I can square that last statement with a rejection of compatibilism is to make it hinge on the conscious mind as the decider. I think there’s reason to suspect that our conscious minds are the noise the engine makes, rather than the masters of our destiny, and as such, I can see how Sam would reject the idea of ‘agency’ (even though I think this is confusing the language) in behavior, and thus reject compatibilism as I understand it, while *still believing that pursuing morality is valuable* in that context.

The irony, of course, is that if all human behavior is determined, Sam can’t do anything differently, and neither can I, eh? (I know that’s not an original observation, but I still find it both amusing and troubling).

Would you say that the moral “rightness” or “wrongness” of an action can be determined by its effect on a single individual, without regard to its effect on anyone else?

 
 
jstevewhite
 
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12 August 2017 19:53
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 12 August 2017 02:28 PM

Would you say that the moral “rightness” or “wrongness” of an action can be determined by its effect on a single individual, without regard to its effect on anyone else?

In the context of “well being” as the objective moral compass? Sure, sometimes. I don’t ‘get’, from “The Moral Landscape”, that the result is Bentham’s “moral arithmetic”. Instead, I read it more like the scientific method - we know some behaviors produce poorer outcomes and others produce better outcomes *in general*, and it makes sense to generalize those behaviors that produce better outcomes in terms of wellbeing.

 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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Antisocialdarwinist
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13 August 2017 12:10
 
jstevewhite - 12 August 2017 07:53 PM
Antisocialdarwinist - 12 August 2017 02:28 PM

Would you say that the moral “rightness” or “wrongness” of an action can be determined by its effect on a single individual, without regard to its effect on anyone else?

In the context of “well being” as the objective moral compass? Sure, sometimes. I don’t ‘get’, from “The Moral Landscape”, that the result is Bentham’s “moral arithmetic”. Instead, I read it more like the scientific method - we know some behaviors produce poorer outcomes and others produce better outcomes *in general*, and it makes sense to generalize those behaviors that produce better outcomes in terms of wellbeing.

Can you give an example of an action whose “rightness” or “wrongness” can be determined by its effect on a single individual?

 
 
unsmoked
 
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14 August 2017 09:54
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 13 August 2017 12:10 PM

Can you give an example of an action whose “rightness” or “wrongness” can be determined by its effect on a single individual?

The effect on one of the dogs that Rene Descartes operated on?  http://boingboing.net/2011/06/30/richard-dawkins-on-v.html

The effect on an individual who is being stoned to death?

[ Edited: 14 August 2017 11:13 by unsmoked]
 
 
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