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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 an
> > > standard for morality, but ultimately it fails because it is
> > > to prove the existence of such a standard. > > > >Impossible to prove from a materialistic standpoint, or from the idea
> >such standards require proof. If we accept some moral standards as
> >and not theorems, this problem disappears. > > Moral theorems would be impossible to prove from a philosophical
> also, I think, because a moral argument would always have to boil down
> some kind of metaphysics or at least a social theory and a psychology - > which ultimately has to consider the subjective and ceases to be > "provable"
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: COMMENT 1:
> >However, if we're elevating moral absolutes to the level of axioms, it > >becomes more difficult to call them "objective," since you cannot
> >towards an axiom and someone is sure to disagree whatever you propose.
> >church in the West pushed this problem away a level by appealing to > >special revelation. Once the revelation was rejected, however, the
> >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 > to.) > > Interesting... that explains a lot. However, even if the epistemology
> still accepted, axioms would still face the problem of being
declarative in
> nature. Moral axioms would be statements about moral action. It would
> impossible to find an axiom to cover every situation, so at some level
> 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 an
> as it is a metaphysics. I think the difference is that the Taoist
> relies on experience rather than declaration - when a person "realizes"
> Tao, they simply see what is right and wrong. Moral action is never
> 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 moral
> 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 holiness/enlightenment/whatever. 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@ "Oh, look, you earned your wings Are you an angel now or a vulture?" --Pedro the Lion