What is Morality?
May 21, 1998 10:08 AM
by Bart Lidofsky
Thoa Tran wrote:
> >In a message dated 98-05-20 08:54:50 EDT, you write:
> >Apparently this forecast, made a half a century ago, has come to pass.
> >Subjectivism, by which almost anything can be justified, has replaced moral
> >absolutes and eternal verities.
> What is the moral absolute? Every groups have had their moral absolutes
> and have caused harm through their judgment. An example would be the moral
> absolutes of the Roman Catholic church. There is a book out about a Jewish
> child being kidnapped (in 1858) by the church to raise as a good Catholic
> because a servant girl had claimed she baptized him. This was not an
> uncommon practice. Other issues involve homosexuality, medical procedures,
> women's duties, and marital obligations. The only moral absolute I could
> see is to not do harm to others. Unfortunately, history has shown that
> humans used "moral absolutes" as an excuse to harm and control others.
A few years back, a new branch of mathematics was developed which can
help explain the problem of absolute vs. relative morality. It is called
"fuzzy logic". Previous to this, decisions, especially those made by
machines, were treated as boolean quantities, either true or false. The
problem is that these only consider single factors. Even if multiple
factors are considered, they were treated as a series of mutually
indepedent true or false quantities. In real life, however, the value of
one factor can change the weight of another. Let's take for, example,
looking for a job. A few important factors in deciding whether to accept
the job are salary, desirability of the work, hours, commute, and
benefits. However, you don't just take minimum values for each, and say
that if enough go over the minimum, you will take the job. For example,
in general a job that would require I go to the other coast 3 days a
week would normally be out of the question. But if the salary was
$500,000 per year, then the commute would go from a false to a true; the
change in value of the salary altered the importance of a close commute,
and thereby broadened the ranges of acceptable values.
When one looks at morality with this in mind, it becomes clear that
morality is not black, white, or grey, but many blacks and whites.
Everybody has a set of moral axioms; the more axioms you have, however,
the greater the number of situations where the axioms are in conflict
with each other there are. When people try to make a moral decision,
they will often find that no matter what they do, they will be in
conflict with one or more of their moral axioms; they then have to look
over the values of the factors, and see how those change the values of
others, until they come to a decision. This can appear to be moral
relativism, but it really is not.
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