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Truth and opinion

Where can we find absolute truth?

  • Nowhere

    Votes: 7 33.3%
  • Abstractions detached from reality

    Votes: 1 4.8%
  • Physical reality

    Votes: 3 14.3%
  • Ethics

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Religion

    Votes: 10 47.6%

  • Total voters
    21

Snaga

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Eriol: I'm not very familiar with CS Lewis (beyond his allegorical childrens fiction, and Tolkien's dislike thereof;) ) so it would help if you could elaborate on his view. I think of some religions endorsements of 'holy wars' in some form as against the pacifism required by others as an example of ethical divergence. Or the emergence of Liberation Theology in Latin America, and the conflict with more conservative branches of Christianity in relation to a whole number of questions related to class, poverty and imperialism. Or indeed the question of slavery, which is surely an ethical question, which has been both endorsed and condemned by religious leaders at various times in history. That seems ample evidence for the absence of a single view of ethics.

If of course it is possible to extract statements from the teachings of various religions and show correspondence, it might well be possible in an abstract form. All might agree 'murder is wrong'; as long as the discussion of what constitutes murder is avoided, for the formulation that murder is the category of killings that is wrong!

Malbeth: What 'One would think' is something I am only partially responsible for. If you concluded that I feel strongly about the plight of the poor and hungry you are correct. If you believe that means I believe in 'ethical absolutes' you are incorrect, just as if learning that I do not believe in 'ethical absolutes' you think that means I do not have any conception of right and wrong then you are also wrong. But then, I suspect from your post you might have a different understanding of the term 'ethical absolute' to me...
 

Malbeth

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Malbeth: What 'One would think' is something I am only partially responsible for. If you concluded that I feel strongly about the plight of the poor and hungry you are correct. If you believe that means I believe in 'ethical absolutes' you are incorrect, just as if learning that I do not believe in 'ethical absolutes' you think that means I do not have any conception of right and wrong then you are also wrong. But then, I suspect from your post you might have a different understanding of the term 'ethical absolute' to me...
I hate eggs; I think they are absolutely disgusting, but, since I don't believe in ethical absolutes in the matter of food I don't look upon egg-eaters as prurient, selfish and bigotted (I do, when I'm feeling whimsical, give a phony ethical justificative for my dislike of eggs though).

That's what I mean when I say ethical absolutes; standards that everyone should comform to, and that can be used to criticize or praise a person according to whether he follows (or believes)them or not.

That quote of yours I posted from the pre-marital sex thread seemed to criticize, in very strong terms, Eriol's ethical priorities; as if you thought that Eriol was really wrong when he said that a soul of a person is more important than thousands of deaths, and not as I would react if someone said "I love eggs".

Can one believe in an ethical absolute without believing in a God? I did so for a while. And I don't think my stance demanded belief in a God; it was based on human life and on ethical freedom. (Malbeth knows that). Perhaps my position was inconsistent then, without my awareness of it. I don't know, since I was unaware . I still am. I think people can believe in an ethical absolute without believing in a God.

The "ethical data" (and especially its universality and authority) is strong argument for a God. Does it prove God? I don't know. If it does, I did not realize it then. It surely makes for wonder... philosophy can attempt to explain the grounds for ethics, but the fact of ethics is very startling.
But didn't you, at that time, defend that because of the is/ought fallacy there simply is no way to choose between ethical systems (with the exception of some that are self-contradictory, like Hedonism)? I remember talking with you about that very book you mentioned, the Abolition of Man (or perhaps it was Kreeft's "A defense of ethical absolutism") how it tried to show how destructive ethical relativism is, and you answered "But didn't you read my ideas on ethics? I do think relativism is true!"

Or, perhaps, my memory is playing tricks with me again :)
 

Eriol

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I would say that your examples were discussions on the substance of ethics rather than its form, Snaga. I don't think there ever was a debate on "Is slavery wrong?" within any faith; the moral basis for slavery was the belief in the unequality of men, whatever the reason for it was. Some people defended slavery of Amerindians because they upheld the views that Indians did not have a soul, and they upheld these views because they thought that they were not descendants of Adam; but they never defended the principle "slavery is right". In their view, Amerindians were quite simply less than men. (The Church, and not only the Catholic Church I believe, fought this notion very strongly, by the way).

Universality of Human Rights, from children to old people, women and men, natives and foreigners, is a very revolutionary notion compared to mankind's ordinary workings. (And Christianity played a major role in the universalizing of this Universality...).

But if Greeks said that the barbarians were less than men, or if Japanese believed that Koreans were less than men, or if Hinduism had a whole system of castes to decide who is less than men and who deserve full rights, these are still debates on the substance of ethics. The form remained the same. I see a very important difference between the two debates -- one asking whether Amerindians are men, and another asking whether murdering is good. The first one is an empirical one, I could almost say a scientific one. The second one -- the true ethical debate -- was never observed.

I don't have that book with me right now... I'll give a short list of unique ethical features from another book, to atone for that: practicality, rationality, universality, impartiality, authority. What do you think?

To me the universality of ethics, coupled with its authority, makes for a very strange phenomenon which demands a hard attempt at explanation.

Malbeth, I still think that any ethical system is arbitrary when considered within itself. The data for the Christian view is not ethical, it's historical; it is "arbitrary" in that sense, we can't prove it without recourse to other sciences (in the sense of "knowledge") . However, that view of mine holds for ethical systems; not ethical practice. Relativism is true if we disregard the world... in this world, there is no relativism. But what refutes relativism is not it's internal inconsistencies, but rather the world itself.

One way to state this more clearly would be to say that God could have created a world in which goodness would take different aspects from those we know without ceasing to be the same thing -- Himself.
 

Snaga

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Originally posted by HLGStrider
Snaga, you say, within faiths, but I think what you truly mean is between followers of a faith. There is a huge difference.
Indeed? Care to explain that huge difference and how it bears on my original point? I'm sure that couldnt have been a pointless nitpick.;)

Malbeth, unfortunately your memory is indeed at fault. I've never mentioned either that book, or that author.

More later, in reply to both you and Eriol. Eriol, I have a big difficulty with an ethical framework that can set to one side 'scientific racism' and declare slavery to ethical in form if not in substance! It rather suggests to me that the distinction between form and substance is of little use.

As for your list of features, I will need you to explain their application before I can respond.
 

Malbeth

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Malbeth, unfortunately your memory is indeed at fault. I've never mentioned either that book, or that author.
You misunderstood me; the quote directly above what I wrote about the book and the author was a quote by Eriol, and it was to him I was talking then. I was referring to a conversation we had after he had shown me something he had wrote about ethics and before he converted.
 

Eriol

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Originally posted by snaga1
More later, in reply to both you and Eriol. Eriol, I have a big difficulty with an ethical framework that can set to one side 'scientific racism' and declare slavery to ethical in form if not in substance! It rather suggests to me that the distinction between form and substance is of little use.

As for your list of features, I will need you to explain their application before I can respond.
Hmmm... I did not say that slavery is ethical in form. I said that the debate about slavery was not ethical in form. Slavery itself is not the same thing as the debate about slavery. I made it explicit, too: I said that those people never defended the principle "slavery is right".

The ethical practice of mankind was always enslaving. The ethical debate (after men began to debate about ethics) was not; some philosophers, like Aristotle, defended it, but in the big picture philosophical ethics are strongly anti-slavery.

The problem with slavery is a mini-example of the problem with theoretical ethics -- definition. To discuss it meaningfully we have to define "men"; and the ethical arguments for slavery always went through that road, of claiming that the slaves were not men.

Likewise, the problem exhibits very clearly what I am trying to show. If a people believed that slavery is right, they would not have to concoct an explanation to the effect that the slaves are not men... in other words, slavery was never seen as good by any society; it was always considered, at best, a "lesser evil".

Compare it with something considered to be good by all societies -- like marriage (not necessarily monogamic marriage). If slavery were like marriage, people would be proud to be slavemasters, and even proud to be slaves. They would write poetry about the glory of slavery. And so on. You don't see any society devising an explanation for the question, "why marry?"; it is seen by everybody as obvious. Even the obvious answers (propagation of the species, stability of society, etc.) are less important than the act itself, marriage. No one marries for those reasons.

Slavery, on the other hand, has to be justified somehow; you have to give reasons for it. Like wars. Like murder. Like government. They are in the realm of "lesser evils". It is exactly the need for external justification that shows slavery to be an evil. You don't have to justify good things (like marriage) or neutral things (like eggs).

The list and its application: it is applied in theoretical ethics only, not in ethical practice (ethical practice is almost completely non-theoretical; and this is a very interesting feature, in my opinion). Using that list you will be sure to identify any ethical notion or theory, and to compare theories as regards their "ethicalness" (i.e., not their adequacy to physical reality or intrinsic "goodness"). You will be able to rule out the theory that "Everything should be done by everybody for the purpose of furthering the will of Eriol" as a proper ethical theory. It has practicality, rationality, universality; but it lacks impartiality, and it is very short on authority ;).

Any ethical theory has the five traits; and ethical practice, strangely enough, follow ethical theories without ever formulating them.
 

HLGStrider

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Indeed? Care to explain that huge difference and how it bears on my original point?
Your original point seemed to me to be that there was conflict within faiths on matters such as slavery, imperialism, things like that, and so there was no absolute even within a faith.

However, that is between members of the faiths. This Christian says it is ok. This Christian doesn't. This Buddist agrees. This Buddist disagrees.. .

The question should be, does Christianity agree, if you are debating faiths. . .not the "faithful." And the supposed faithful can be unfaithful. . .

There are some points faiths don't help us with, I mean that the main scriptures of the faiths don't give us a statement on. Gambling, for instance, is never mentioned in the Bible. I don't think that makes it Morally Relative, but it does make it up for debate among Bible believers.
 

Snaga

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Thanks Elgee. But while the Faithful debate what the true view of the Faith is, the non-Faithful will conclude there is no absolute within faiths. Come back to me when you Christians are all agreed!;)

Eriol: I accept that you didnt say that. I think also that the slavery example is instructive. It does seems to me that ethics are too far abstracted from the context in which general conclusions would be applied. If slavery can be justified on the basis of changing definitions, then it seems my 'murder is the category of killing that is wrong' point is also true. Thus, while in reality what might be seen as uncontraversial ethical positions become contraversial in application. And this is scarcely surprising, because what is really happening is that people are expressing preferences about the kind of society they live in. So ethics becomes really an abstracted form of politics.
 

Snaga

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If you say so. I'll let you discuss with Eriol whether the infallibility of the Catholic Church is important. Or for that matter with Quakers on whether baptism is important.

Anyway I think we'll have to agree to differ. You say: there are many different forms, of which one is true. I say: none are 'true'. Better let this point go, as its somewhat off topic anyway.
 

Eriol

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Originally posted by snaga1
So ethics becomes really an abstracted form of politics.
If it were so, then the greatest number would define what is right or wrong... right? That's how I usually understand the word "politics"; as defining a mode of thought in which the correct answer is determined by might, not right.

But that is not how ethics work. No one in an ethical "minority" thinks that his views have just as much justification as the "majority" view, and that the unfortunate circumstance that it is in fact in the minority is the only thing in the way of that particular notion -- people's ethical ideals are accompanied by authority. It's not that "slavery is wrong today because many people think it is wrong today, but it was ok once because many people thought it was ok"; if you, snaga, a person in the 21st century, believe that slavery is wrong, your conclusion is extended to all persons and periods. Slavery is always wrong -- to you. Else you would be using the word "wrong" in the sense of "inadvisable", or "awkward", or any other sense in which the correctness of something is determined by circumstances, and not by the act itself.

The fact that ethics are strongly centered on the individual, i.e., that individuals have freedom to believe in many kinds of ethics, does not cancel out these other facts:

1) Ethical beliefs are coupled with those characteristics I listed (rationality, universality, impartiality, practicality, authority);
2) There is an outside standard for us to judge ethics; else we would never be able to say that a given ethical notion is wrong.
 

Ciryaher

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While it is easy to say "You can't prove God exists" or "You can't prove that I am in the room", it is a bit harder to prove that God does *not* exist, or to prove that you are *not* in the room. If the senses are lying, then the mind has no basis for anything, and you go spiraling into the insanity of solipsism.

I can take a baseball bat and crack it over your back. You will recieve the sensation of pain (or just pressure). Even if you tell your mind that it never happened, the bruise and/or broken bones will prove that something struck you.

But back to my train of thought...unless you are a solipsist (someone who believes that nothing is real) there are very definitely absolute truths. The sun is a star. The Earth is a planet. Two oxygen atoms and a carbon atom combined covalently in a linear form are carbon dioxide. Texans are from Texas. These are facts that must be accepted, because to not accept them would lead to the denial of all existence...which is a rather strange state to be in...and even then, you can still arrive at the conclusion that "Nothing is real"...which means that to that person, it is an absolute that there is NOTHING that is REAL.


Oh, I voted for Religion, though I could have chosen others in addition.

:)
 

Snaga

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Cir, I agree that solipcism has few advantages (beyond being able to deny the existence of certain forum members!:D).

Eriol, whether within its own terms ethics must be predicated on right and wrong, it is readily apparent that its application is via politics and thus in some manner 'might is right' applies. This of course may be democratic might rather than the use of force, but nonetheless scholarly debate usually plays only a small part in deciding such matters. Generally speaking the discourse appeals to self-interest as much as absolutes of right and wrong. Thus notions such as slaves=subhuman become convenient for those who want to own slaves, while the real motivation is not anything to do with ethics but the desire for the power wealth and status derived by owning slaves in a society which deems it acceptable. Similarly, neither scientific proof of the humanity of slaves, nor ethical debate as to slaveries wrongness did anything like as much as the forces of the north fighting against the Confederates to remove slavery from the US.

Of course, this isnt in itself enough to help you decide which side of a political/ethical battle to be on, but it does help to cut through the fog of war somewhat.
 

Snaga

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Well, Elgee, noone says you do have to care, and in fact millions of people don't. Perhaps they are wiser than we know!

Politics is about groups, rather than individuals, and trying to reconcile their interests, or asserts one group interest over another. My own view is that we all start off as members of one group called the human race, and the development, well-being and knowledge of humanity as a whole should take precedence over the narrow interests of any group (eg a nation, region, religion etc). Maybe Eriol can tell me if that's an ethical absolute or not.:)
 

HLGStrider

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Well, Elgee, noone says you do have to care, and in fact millions of people don't. Perhaps they are wiser than we know!
I think most people care. Try telling them they are doing something wrong, and they will defend themselves. They won't say, normally, that there is no right and wrong and therefore they can't be wrong and it doesn't matter. They'll try to prove what they're doing is right or just say it is or just grow indignant. People do care.

Maybe Eriol can tell me if that's an ethical absolute or not.
I think he'd say you could put it up as one (that the good of humanity is the absolute good), but that it isn't a logical standard and therefore fails as a moral system.
 

Eriol

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I'd say it is a standard of doubtful applicability, i.e., that it lacks practicality. It is certainly universal, and rational, and impartial, and has good claims for authority. But it lacks definition. Any action may be claimed for "the good of mankind"; like the Soviet massacre of 20,000 arrested Polish officers at the beginning of World War II. Hitler's "Final Solution" was also supposed to be good for mankind, and the atom bombings...

I think that the way to "disprove" (of sorts) the good of mankind as a standard of good is not by pointing out its lack of practicality, though... That is only a clue. There is nothing in the way of one claiming that he knows what is best for mankind and following it through; perhaps Osama believes that. The way to disprove that is by noting that the value of "mankind" must flow from the value of "man"; I think that is a clear fact. If so, to push aside the good of "man" for the good of "mankind" puts the agent in a tricky ethical position... he claims to be acting for the best interests of "mankind"; but "mankind" is only worth of consideration because it is composed of "people"; so how can he justify dismissing "people" in a pursuit for the good of "mankind"?

That's the question I'd ask Osama if he tried to reason with me based on the "good of mankind" principle. That's the main question, I think. "Why is mankind worthy of being cared for?" The only cogent answer I can see is, "because it is made of people, human beings, and each of them is worthy of being cared for".
 

Ciryaher

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Originally posted by snaga1
Similarly, neither scientific proof of the humanity of slaves, nor ethical debate as to slaveries wrongness did anything like as much as the forces of the north fighting against the Confederates to remove slavery from the US.
Uhhhhhhhh.....*cough* actually, that's not what the American Civil War was about......
 

HLGStrider

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actually, that's not what the American Civil War was about......
Well, it was and it wasn't. It was about states rights partially, but the right in question was the right to hold slaves. It was also about land. I don't remember the author, but my grandfather was reading a book awhile back that stated that the south actually had conquest partially in mind due to the poor farming practices in some areas making land needed. I dont' know how reliable this is. . .It was also about whether or not a state could just leave.

Truthfully, the last point was what Lincoln saw as the most vital. He wanted the union in place.

Others saw states rights as the most vital portion. I think I'd put Lee on this list.

Others truely saw slavery as the most vital in one way or the other. That was the main point behind the black regiments. . .Have you ever watched Glory? That is a great movie, despite Matthew Broderick's somewhat wishy-washy accent. . .I think Broderick is cute, but he should forget the accents. . .they don't do him any good. . .

Great, I started on one subject, and now I'm talking about Matthew Broderick. . .sigh. . .
 

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