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Old August 1st, 2009, 04:30 AM   #1
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Why do we seek moral absolutes?




Why do we seek moral absolutes?

Let’s consider the moral argument that is often rendered to justify making abortion illegal.

The argument goes something like this: murder (killing an innocent person) is morally and legally prohibited, the fetus is an innocent person, abortion kills the fetus, and therefore abortion is murder.

This argument turns on the premise that the fetus is a person. The category person must be absolutely and universally understood and fixed to make this argument work. The category (concept) person must be either value-neutral or it must be based upon some absolute value. If such is not the case then each time we consider this matter, person can take on a different meaning.

If each “application of the concept determines its meaning, either (1) we would need a rule for applying the concept in various cases (and this would be the same as saying that the meaning of ‘person’ is fixed), or (2) we would be left with the possibility that different people might apply the concept differently.”

If the category person is a function of our personal value system then we can expect that our view of this matter would vary accordingly. We might avoid this variability if the concept person is value neutral and thus does not depend upon our personal value system. Another way is to claim that we all have access to some absolute or ultimate value that is binding upon each of us.

Without absolute truths we recognize that we must depend on the judgment of fallible, and frail creatures living within constantly evolving communities; non critical individuals who are forced to make decisions with little training or understanding of critical thinking skills within what are typically highly ambiguous situations.

“In sum, moral absolutism is motivated by a very widespread human longing for clarity, certainty, order, and constraint in a world that confronts us constantly with change, obscurity, doubt, contingency, and aggression.”

Quotes from Moral Imagination by Mark Johnson
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Old August 3rd, 2009, 10:57 AM   #2

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Re: Why do we seek moral absolutes?


Moral absolutes require much less effort on all fronts. However, the world does not- and cannot- allow moral absolutes with no or little distinction, merely an autocratic either/or.


A current British example: a boy of 16 years and 1 week old has sex with a girl of 15 years and 50 weeks old. In the eyes of the law, he is considered a child abuser and technically goes onto the sex offenders register, has a criminal record which will marr him for life. As such, he is treated the same as a 50 year old man intentionally grooming girls for sex.

Also, moral absolutes are often contradictory and hypocritical. To use your own example, Coberst: an unborn child is considered a person, and killing a person is murder and murder is always wrong, then it follows that to execute a prisoner is also murder, even when the state is doing it. Unless, of course, one takes the view that certain actions and deeds allow the "person" to be taken away from the prisoner- a revocation of humanity- and hence the being to be executed is no longer a person. Thus, moral absolutes cannot exist, because this is not moral absolutism.

The fact is, most people crave absolute morality simply because it means that they don't have to think too much- and also, unfortunately, there is a common sort of person who likes to believe that holding extreme or very simplistic, authoritarian (therefore absolute) views is a token of strength. As we all should know, the Nazi is a very weak man attempting to appear strong.
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Old August 4th, 2009, 09:23 PM   #3

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Re: Why do we seek moral absolutes?


We seek 'em 'cos we're lazy and insecure, and don't want to spend the effort required to make hard decisions in a vague and uncertain world. It's much easier to follow Da Rules, whatever they may be, and let Authority take responsibility for our actions. But it's fairly straightforward to prove that an absolute moral code is impossible. Which means we're hosed. Alas.

Of course, I suppose that was an absolute statement. Hmm...
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Old August 5th, 2009, 06:15 AM   #4

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Re: Why do we seek moral absolutes?


Yep, that's about the size of it

It's a strange thing that law has replaced morality. Once upon a time, (I'd like to believe), people would question the morality of their deeds, but now they question the legality of their deeds. Once upon a time, in theory, lending money for interest was deemed immoral. Now, because it is actually legal, we have 50% interest charging loan sharks.

Ironically, we end up with more laws to make people behave more morally! Like road signs: if everyone could drive properly, we wouldn't need speed limits of 70 on a motorway and we wouldn't need signs saying to do 20 mph past schools. A good driver would see the school and be aware of the hazards, and you could rely on him not to kill himself doing 90 mph down the motorway. Now we even have signs at the bottom of hills, telling truck drivers to use a low gear- as if they didn't know! More compulsion and less decision making, be it moral or otherwise, leads to a worsening of the problem.
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