Re: (OT) Morality (was: Re: aesthetic evaluation (was: RE: (OT) Music)
|From:||Jesse Bangs <jaspax@...>|
|Date:||Saturday, June 15, 2002, 8:18|
> > > You're right, typically western philosophy has appealed to anobjective
> > > standard for morality, but ultimately it fails because it isimpossible
> > > to prove the existence of such a standard.
> >Impossible to prove from a materialistic standpoint, or from the ideathat
> >such standards require proof. If we accept some moral standards asaxioms
> >and not theorems, this problem disappears.
> Moral theorems would be impossible to prove from a philosophicalstandpoint
> also, I think, because a moral argument would always have to boil downto
> some kind of metaphysics or at least a social theory and a psychology -
> which ultimately has to consider the subjective and ceases to be
Quite true. This is why I find most "scientific" attempts at moral
theory risible--they pretend that they are objective and have no
preconceptions, and attempt to maintain this fiction as they wade through
the subjective morass of human experience. When we are discussing
morality, spirituality, or aesthetics I don't think science helps us
much, and we might as well embrace our subjectivity and forge ahead.
Pasting three different comments together here:
> >However, if we're elevating moral absolutes to the level of axioms, it
> >becomes more difficult to call them "objective," since you cannotargue
> >towards an axiom and someone is sure to disagree whatever you propose.The
> >church in the West pushed this problem away a level by appealing to
> >special revelation. Once the revelation was rejected, however, theWest
> >was forced to try to justify a moral system that had lost its
> >epistemological basis, which basically led to all of the philosophical
> >mess of the last two hundred years (as your next paragraph refers
> Interesting... that explains a lot. However, even if the epistemologywere
> still accepted, axioms would still face the problem of beingdeclarative in
> nature. Moral axioms would be statements about moral action. It wouldbe
> impossible to find an axiom to cover every situation, so at some levelwe
> have to rely on our own subjective judgement to tell us what to do.
> Hmmm... yes I that is true - the notion of the Tao *is* as much anaesthetic
> as it is a metaphysics. I think the difference is that the Taoistapproach
> relies on experience rather than declaration - when a person "realizes"the
> Tao, they simply see what is right and wrong. Moral action is neverdefined
> or stated in the Taoist sense. i.e. Taoist morality cannot ever be
> axiomatic, it can only be experiential.
> In short, wisdom. Ultimately, I think a minimal number of laws,axioms, or
> precepts are required for any society - but the idea is that moralbehavior
> is a skill rather than a set of principles or guidelines for action.
All of these three are saying essentially the same thing, which I think
is a deep and essential truth, recognized by nearly all traditions.
Axiomatic, declarative moral statements exist in every tradition--the
Bible is famously full of them, but the first page of the Tao Te Ching
that I opened to also contained a half-dozen. (I'm using these as
examples of two apparently opposite poles, since they're the two I'm
familiar with. I'd be curious if anyone else could bring in a third
pole.) Yet all traditions recognize that the declarative descriptions of
morality do not actually bring about moral behavior. Thus, in
Christianity salvation and righteousness are not acheived the law but
through the transformative experience of faith, and in Taoism
enlightenment does not come through study and knowledge, but through an
equally mystical realization. In Pauline theology the purpose of the Law
(i.e. the moral axiomsof the Old Testament) is almost entirely
negative--it simply shows us how much we *lack* morality; in Taoism the
purpose of verbal revelation is merely to "point to" or "suggest" the
Tao, which cannot be directly described at all. These are quite similar
ideas in completely disconnected traditions, which suggests something
universal at work.
To borrow the terminology from the other half of this thread, I think
that the distinction Tim made between A (axioms) and B (descriptions of
behavior) is good and valid. I also agree that (A) is ineffable and
cannot be directly described at all, while (B) is necessarily incomplete,
because it cannot ever cover every circumstance. As we attempt to extend
(B) to more and more circumstances, it will become complicated and
contradictory and will ultimately break down, as has been amply witnessed
in human history. To solve this problem we must move as individuals
closer to (A), where we can see the underlying simplicity that justifies
the rules in (B), until direct recourse to (B) is unnecessary.
This is as individuals, of course. As a society I don't think we can
ever make more than cursory movement towards mass awareness of (A)--which
is ultimately just one Principle, the Tao or God IMHO. The best we can do
is to make our laws and institutions, which are expressions of (B), as
simple, non-contradictory, and right as possible, while seeking personal
I hope I haven't terribly abused what Tim was trying to say--I read all
the other posts and think I understand them. We are now horribly
off-topic, but this is fun, so I hope no one minds.
Jesse S. Bangs Pelíran
jaspax@ juno.com http://students.washington.edu/jaspax/
"Oh, look, you earned your wings
Are you an angel now or a vulture?"
--Pedro the Lion