Where does right and wrong come from?

Discussion in 'Religion and Ethics' started by mattskramer, Oct 12, 2007.

  1. mattskramer
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    mattskramer Senior Member

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    How do people know what’s right and wrong? How do people judge? Ethics has been an interest of mine for a long time. I’ve read and thought about Kantianism and the categorical imperative. I’ve studied utilitarianism. I understand the notion of appealing to an alleged higher authority. I’ve bascally found criticisms to each area of ethics and came to the conclusion that thre is no hard and fast rule. People decide that certain things are right and wrong as they go along. Then they try to find a consistent rule to their views but there is no consistency. All that one is left with is “general recommendations”.
     
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  2. Diuretic
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    Diuretic Permanently confused

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    It comes down to common sense really, nothing more complex than that. The things we call "good" are usually those that benefit us, individually or collectively. The things we call "bad" are usually those that hurt us, individually or collectively.
     
  3. Doug
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    Doug Active Member

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    The feeling of right and wrong comes from neural circuitry.

    This circuitry has been shaped by nature and nurture.

    The feelings of rightness and wrongness which people have can differ from culture to culture and can change over time. This is the nurture part.

    The interesting question is: is there a nature part which is in common for all human beings, some sort of ethical core which is found in all cultures.

    The problem is difficult because ethical behavior overlaps and is mixed up with survival behavior and one can suppress the other.

    Humans have almost certainly evolved some co-operative neural routines, which help in the long term survival of their tribe.

    Those who are interested in reading further on this question can find an interesting article on it in the latest Atlantic Monthly.

    But the only critical question is: to what extent is it safe to rely on these unmediated neural impulses to get co operative altruistic behavior, and to what extent is the array of institutions and customs and extra-rational beliefs, found in all human societies but especially in the successful ones, necessary? (See thread on Militant Atheism.)
     
  4. mattskramer
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    mattskramer Senior Member

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    Yes, but sometimes it is hard to decide. Imagine a selfish society with no social welfare programs or good charities. Imagine that you are married and that you have a relatively innocent, good, wholesome, moral, and ethical wife. This wife is dying from a very excruciating, humiliating, debilitating painful life threatening disease. Now imagine that there is a pharmacist/chemist who has just now developed a drug that will cure her. Yet, this chemist wants more money for the drug than you could earn in two lifetimes. No one will come to your aid and she needs medicine immediately.

    Is it sometimes right to steal from others and take what is not rightfully yours from someone who spent time and resources to make it? Is it right to let a good person suffer and die when you can easily cure her?

    Some people might say that they would shoplift or burglarize the chemist’s place, admit to the crime, and go to jail. At least such action may show integrity but isn’t it still wrong to steal?

    Your thoughts?
     
  5. Diuretic
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    Diuretic Permanently confused

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    I'd get it and do whatever it took to get it and I wouldn't give a toss about categorical imperatives or doctrines of universality. If I lived in a selfish society I would adhere to the doctrines of a selfish society and do whatever I could to ensure I got what I wanted.
     
  6. Gunny
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    Gunny Gold Member

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    Is that NOT what you accuse the US of being and its people doing? ;)
     
  7. Doug
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    Doug Active Member

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    Almost everyone has a very subtle calculus which lets us know when to lie, cheat and steal and from whom.

    Almost everyone would steal that pharmacist's drug for our loved one, even if it involved bankrupting the poor man.

    Few of us would steal a candy bar from him even though the economic impact on him would be trivial.

    But we might help ourselves to a candy bar or two if we came upon a truck accident which resulted in the spilling of thousands of candybars onto the roadside.

    I think the really interesting argument is this one: do the (sometimes rather faint) moral impulses that evolution has apparently implanted within us, combined with the sanctions of the law, and social pressure, suffice to make a moral society? If there is no God, will everything indeed be permitted?

    Put crudely, leaving aside the professors at universities, will average people behave decently if they believe God is dead?

    Or does our morality need a supernatural justification in order to be effective?
     
  8. mattskramer
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    mattskramer Senior Member

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    No. These are not trick questions. I am not implying criticism to America or to any other nation for that matter. My interest lies in a more individual “moral code” area of philosophy. One could write a book about political philosophy (as people have) and ask to what extent nations (i.e. America) should be capitalistic or socialistic. I’m more interested in the individual and how he creates for himself a consistent moral code (if such a thing is possible) from which to live.
     
  9. mattskramer
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    mattskramer Senior Member

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    Moral laws are needed to help sustain a society. (Murder is illegal. Theft is illegal.) I think that if more people believed that God does not exist, there would be a little bit less morality (but not much less). People, particularly later in life, want to be remembered as good people. They want to leave behind a little something by which to be remembered. I guess that it comes from a desire to have one’s life mean something (to have made a difference). I guess that I am rambling and I might be wrong but I think that if few people believed in God or the “afterlife” there would still be right and wrong (a stable society practically requires it) and good people (if only because such people want to be well remembered).
     
  10. mattskramer
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    mattskramer Senior Member

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    But wait. Doesn’t the Bible say that it is wrong to steal? It does not give an exception, does it? Oh, but doesn’t the Bible also say that you should care for the needy and less fortunate? Doesn’t it also say that you should care for your wife as God cares for the Church? Oh. I’m getting a headache. (Sarcasm intended.)
     

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