| ||A lot of good questions were received from the last post. Frankly, I doubt that I can adequately address all of them in a single post. It may require several posts. Let me begin with a summary of the questions raised. |
First it was observed that established values which are handed down through many generations may not be suited to our time period and should perhaps be challenged and changed, especially when those values result in harassment and persecution of minorities.
Second, until we agree on our definitions, we cannot agree on the more complex issues.
Third, morals change over the course of time, really a restatement of #1.
Forth, different societies often have conflicting sets of values.
Fifth, groups of people often see things differently even within a single society, a restatement of #4,
Before addressing these, let me first clarify two points from the previous post. My observation that we are not free to individually set aside values that have been established by society in order to justify our own failure to live up to those values seems clear enough. The statement was an attempt to suggest that trying to shift the blame for our actions does not relieve us of responsibility for own actions, nor does society allow us to do so. It is based on an observation that many people are very slow to accept responsibility for their own actions, most especially when moral issues are involved. Instead, they often deny that they actually violated a moral law in order to make themselves feel better.
Second, my use of the pregnancy example in yesterday’s post really had no direct bearing on the definition of morals. It was intended to show that just because we believe something to be true does not make it true. It is far easier to show that concept with a physical example than with an intangible example.
Now let's begin with definitions. We may believe that all killing is murder, but society gets to define what murder is, not us; and society has decided that all killing is not murder. Our thinking differently does not change that fact. It only complicates communication. If we look to our own definitions instead of a set of commonly agreed upon definitions, we align ourselves with Humpty Dumpty who said in Alice in Wonderland that a word, “means what I want it to mean, neither more nor less.”
Language is our primary means of communication. If we are to be understood, clarity of formulation is essential in our speech. To facilitate that clarity, we use words that have agreed upon definitions. We cannot simply decide upon our own definitions. Were we to do so, no meaningful communication could occur.
Aside from that, common sense would seem to dictate that taking of a life does not always elevate to the level of murder. Suppose that I accidentally bump a rickety ladder while walking down the sidewalk because I was jostled by another pedestrian who was trying to get out of the way of a splash caused when a bus drove through a puddle of water as it passed by. And suppose that as a result of that bump the ladder falls and the person who was at the top of the ladder dies as a result of the fall. There would be no doubt that the man was killed as a result of my knocking the ladder off balance, but would anyone on the face of the planet really want to suggest that I murdered the man? Hardly! Words have agreed upon definitions. If we cannot use them as they are defined by any good dictionary, then we may as well give up any attempt at communication.
Next let’s look at the idea that different groups of people often see things differently even within a single society. That statement by itself is true. But it’s really the same line of reasoning already discussed. One person sees all killing as murder; others do not; society is simply a bigger playing field.
In any event, it overlooks that "test of time" parameter which states that moral values do not appear and disappear within short periods of time. They develop over periods of time sufficient for major differences of opinion within a society to resolve thsmselves and for agreement to take place. Once that happens, the resulting general agreement remains pretty much constant over long periods of time, dispite the occassional disagreement that may arise. In the case of murder, I don't know of any society anywhere in the last 6000 years that has ever condoned it. The fact that they may condone something else has no bearing on the fact that they don't condone murder.
I have so far stuck to a very specific issue, murder, as an example that we can work with. I have done so intentionally, hoping to keep the focus on an individual case so as to try to establish whether or not, for this case, and this case only, a moral absolute of some kind can be established. Scatter gun arguments that try to deal with multiple examples simultaneously seldom lead to any conclusion, because they jump around too much causing a loss of focus.
By that I mean that it is my opinion that the introduction of other possible moral conflicts, like gay marriage or whether it is acceptable to marry a first cousin, is inappropriate, not because they don’t have moral implications, but because they are sufficiently different from the subject of murder that they cannot be discussed in the same context. Quiet simply, they are out of the narrow focus of whether murder can involve a moral absolute.
I would be happy to discuss the other moral issues as separate topics. For now I will assure all that it is my unequivical belief that just because we may find one moral absolute it does not automatically follow that all moral values are absolute. They may, or they may not, be absolute, each according to the merits of their individual cases. To try to combine the discussion just doesn't work.
All of this aside, the real issue here is the question of whether anything that is defined by society can ever be said to be absolute. Both Pheebles and TheSoCalledFeminist have rightly pointed out that social needs change over time, and what we see as a moral imperative today may, and occasionally must, change with time. I think it is safe to say, therefore, that there can never be a moral absolute if society is the sole entity that defines what is moral and what is not.
That recognition does not make the original question go away. It only elevates it to the point where we must recognize that if any moral absolutes can exist, whether it involves murder or anything else, they must originate from outside the human race. To go there, we would quickly be drawn into a search for God and a common agreement as to what His law is and whether that law itself is absolute.
Is anyone up for all of that?
| ||Posted 3/4/2006 1:45 AM - 97 Views - 6 eProps - 3 comments|
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