On morals


I have already written a lot on this topic, but because it is one where there arise a lot of misunderstanding, I will add another post to it.

I am involved in a discussion here and the author writes in a response to one of my comments thus

I am afraid some things are black and white. Rape, for example, is either objectively evil, or subjectively evil. It has to be one or the other (Law of excluded middle) and it can’t be both (law of non-contradiction). If, as you say, things are designated bad by majority, then it means that if the majority decided rape was now good, then it would become good and not evil. Another example would be that if the Nazis had won WW2 and successfully brainwashed anyone who disagreed with them, then the Holocaust would no longer be evil, since the majority thinks the Jews should have been killed. I find that appalling, and I would argue that some things are wrong, regardless of the majority vote. Otherwise, someone like William Wilberforce would become wrong for opposing slavery, since the majority thought it was fine.

Also, notice how you said you don’t “like” people being killed. If God does not exist, and good and evil really are human categories as you say, then the moral value of your statement really would be the same as “like” or “don’t like” in the same way that some people like cookies, and some don’t. You don’t like murder, some people think it’s great. If the majority of the people in your area think it’s great, well then it becomes great. If you think murder is objectively evil, then there must be good. If there is good, then there must be a moral law by which to differentiate between good and evil. But a moral law requires a moral law giver, who is beyond humanity. It is the same thing that convinced CS Lewis to believe in God. I think if you reflect on it a bit, you will at least see that I am not crazy for thinking what I do.

On the face of it, one might think he is making sense and therein lies the problem and I intend to show why this is so. Before I do that, however, I would like to point out that morality is relational. Without reciprocity and people living in society, there would be no talk about morality. As I have often said, it would be useless to talk about morality to a person living an isolated life in some remote island.

With that background, let us examine his comment.

He writes

Rape, for example, is either objectively evil, or subjectively evil.

and while he ignores to answer my question on what is rape, he goes further to try to set up a dilemma. I will say there is one person who thinks rape is a good thing. These Republicans don’t think it is objectively wrong.

He then asks

If, as you say, things are designated bad by majority, then it means that if the majority decided rape was now good, then it would become good and not evil.

and I will answer in the affirmative. Good and evil are human categories. If people would convince themselves that rape isn’t evil- not that I see how this could happen- they would classify it as among good things. It is not to say people vote on what is good or bad. These opinions are such that we adopt from the cumulative experience of humanity up to the time of our birth. Had situations been different and be born at a different time where rape was one of the surest ways of getting a wife, the outlook would be different.

So when he continues to say

Otherwise, someone like William Wilberforce would become wrong for opposing slavery, since the majority thought it was fine.

and I will answer again in the affirmative. At that particular period, to those who he lived around, his actions were wrong. This fellow is making a judgement with the benefit of hindsight and ignores that particular fact. Those who had slaves thought they had support in scripture, that it was right to have others under subjugation. We can say that slavery was/ is wrong because we have the benefit of hindsight.

Yes, I don’t like people being killed. I don’t want to be killed. How is this a wrong thing?

And unfortunately for my interlocutor, he is far off the mark when he writes

If God does not exist, and good and evil really are human categories as you say, then the moral value of your statement really would be the same as “like” or “don’t like” in the same way that some people like cookies, and some don’t.

because what adding his god does to my statement is only to change who does the liking. By grounding mine in human relations, it has more weight than grounding morals in the whims of a god for we can never know, if gods existed, what their whims were or would be. The bible is full of pages where god commands or kills people he doesn’t like. If this fellow thinks that should be the standard of measure, am sorry for him, too sorry.

And it is true that

You don’t like murder, some people think it’s great. If the majority of the people in your area think it’s great, well then it becomes great. If you think murder is objectively evil, then there must be good

with the only consequence that such a society will self destruct. It is therefore inconceivable that murder will be a trend supported by the majority.

And again

If you think murder is objectively evil, then there must be good. If there is good, then there must be a moral law by which to differentiate between good and evil. But a moral law requires a moral law giver, who is beyond humanity. It is the same thing that convinced CS Lewis to believe in God.

as I had said before, good and bad are human categories. Most things have the appearance of objectivity because as human persons, we share a common heritage. The poem of John Donne

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

best captures my point. We are all involved in humanity. And I would dare add that C.S Lewis reasoning was faulty. No wonder he came to believe in god.

And lastly,

I think if you reflect on it a bit, you will at least see that I am not crazy for thinking what I do.

not a chance. I have done a lot of reflection on this subject and at present, I am convinced there is no lawgiver. And secondly that if I granted you the chance of saying there was one, we would still be far from deciding which god it was. You would insist it is the Christian god and I will have to ask you to tell me how the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and others lived so exemplary lives before the coming of this particular Jew.

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About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

49 thoughts on “On morals

  1. The one you were/are in discussion with displays all the usual hallmarks. The Republican infograph is horrific. Most of those disgusting offensive comments were by men. Didn’t understand the woman’s comment.

    I don’t see why morals are such a big issue. If behaviour detrimentally affects someone else, it’s wrong. What’s difficult about that?

    Like

    • makagutu says:

      I was appalled at that infographic. Who says such things really? Are they in their right minds?

      What’s difficult about that?

      It has not the sanction of their favourite god

      Like

      • Just remembered I owe you a history comment. Will get right on it.

        Oh, and those Repub arseholes need locking up. There should be a crime for the thoughts they stated. They are truly immoral. Ha. Appropriate huh?

        Like

    • Kate, I agree on all points. Child development studies even demonstrated that babies understand how detrimental or unfair behavior affects someone, even when they are strangers. The studies showed that moral behavior doesn’t need to be taught anew as much as supported more continuously from an early age.

      In other words, prosocialness is inborn but can be lost depending on the environment, like spending too much time with so-called “godly” people as noted in that link. That someone needs a belief in a higher power, and the threat of punishment to behave tells us that something has gone awry with their brain.

      Noel, another excellent post.

      Like

      • Thank you Victoria. I find it mildly (read, extremely) irritating that christians want to corner the market on morality.

        I just don’t see (as usual) the issue about something that is, or should be, basic civil behaviour. For example, one of our tyres (I think you call them tires?!) blew on a wild and lonely road in Scotland so we set to about changing it. Someone stopped to offer help, to stereotype, a long-haired scruffy looking type. We declined, not because of his appearance but because we had it sorted. However, that is good, polite behaviour to strangers. Helping your nehighbour or whatever the bad book says.

        But the whole point is, people do not need a codebook to define what is wrong or right. Are we really such an unintelligent species? Um. Don’t answer that one!

        Liked by 1 person

      • makagutu says:

        Thanks Victoria.
        Something awry and they need help

        Liked by 1 person

    • Barry says:

      If behaviour detrimentally affects someone else, it’s wrong” Precisely. It’s very simple, easy to measure, and is unaffected by “accepted” practice or tyranny by the majority.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Good place for the link to Republican rape I sent you. Amazing, too, is that all of the Republicans on that chart are die-hard christians. Apparently, for the christian, rape is a very loose term, and they use it how they see fit. Nothing remotely objective about that. Excellent post, my friend.

    Like

  3. shelldigger says:

    When in Rome… I have always thought things good or bad depend on what culture you were brought up in. How you were conditioned to believe.

    Then there are those able to slowly think themselves out of their conditioning, and see things a bit more clearly. Those people I can only find here. Odd huh?

    Another thought provoking post from Mak.

    Like

  4. Ignostic Dave says:

    Its always convenient how some ignore how a group that feels murder is fun and cool will quickly see its numbers diminish

    Like

  5. archaeopteryx1 says:

    I don’t recognize the concept of “evil,” as that would imply some outside source of morality, an objective standard by which behavior is measured. Rather, I see, “acceptable,” and “unacceptable.” Throughout the eons, morality was determined by the society in which the behavior was found, and morality evolved as society did.

    I have no interest in sex with other men, but how much of that is genuinely due to my own personal preferences, and how much to societal pressures for me to believe that homosexual sex is to be avoided? I don’t know, and as I grew up among those societal pressures, they shaped my psychological wiring as I grew. However in ancient Grecian times, when military service was mandatory, Grecian soldiers took young Grecian boys to apprentice and teach them the art of battle, and it was expected that the young boys would return the favor by providing the soldier with sexual services – this was considered normal. When the army returned home, the soldiers went back to their wives and girlfriends, no more homosexual than the average straight man of today. Over time, with the advent of Christianity, that view of man-boy sex changed and became, basically, the view that is held today. But with the passage of gay marriage rights, the pendulum is swinging again – who knows what tomorrow will bring? But right and wrong, good and evil, have nothing to do with it – societal acceptability is all.

    Is rape wrong? Read the Bible. It’s OK as long as you marry the girl and give some monetary compensation to the father. Islam teaches that rape is a blameless act, as it is the fault of the woman for being so desirable. More societal acceptability – so when the statement is made,

    “If, as you say, things are designated bad by majority, then it means that if the majority decided rape was now good, then it would become good and not evil.”

    Some of us already have —

    Like

  6. Your debate opponent, aside from his religious interpretation, did present a powerful argument. However, it is seriously flawed in one important aspect which I’m not sure if you directly addressed.

    His points center around the “good vs evil” dichotomy which I – like you – believe to be a human construct and completely arbitrary. But, his rape analogy can be objectively assessed as a “constructive vs destructive” behavior. Rape causes great emotional and/or physical harm to the victim. That it is a destructive behavior cannot be empirically disputed regardless of how the perpetrator or his supporters morally feel about it. The incidence of rape in the Islamic world, and the Christian world to a lesser degree, is a huge problem because moral justifications enable it in certain circumstances. That enabling morality is intrinsically subjective, however, irrespective of majority opinion. In other words, the majority view does not equate to objectivity which must be determined empirically and outside of subjective opinion.

    If there is such a thing as objective morality – a questionable concept, I admit – then it cannot be founded upon the subjectivity of religion or majority opinion. It would have to be based on more concrete foundations such as science and provable facts.

    Like

  7. ” If you think murder is objectively evil, then there must be good. If there is good, then there must be a moral law by which to differentiate between good and evil. But a moral law requires a moral law giver, who is beyond humanity.”

    I would love for the author to explain the events surrounding David’s son.

    Like

  8. I love how you break down his argument and refute each part. I often read the discussions on here and cannot think how to add to them. Today I decided to tell you that!
    As a Humanist I agree with your premise that we are responsible for our own morality. 🙂

    Like

  9. themodernidiot says:

    There are many places worldwide where rape is considered good by a majority. It’s still wrong. The same can be said of the mind fuck that is religion.

    Like

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