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Sources of Ethics and Morality


Bravus

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God is constrained by His own nature, from which the universal moral laws spring. Really, you should read "The Abolition of Man." It's not long, and it is not a Christian apologetic. It's concerned precisely with the questions you're exercised about. Lewis describes the basis of all morality as the "Tao," and demonstrates that it is indeed universal.

Well, I wouldn't debate about the universal nature of morality because we can't determine precisely how that morality is expressed.

And what I understand of the Tao is that as soon as one says that the Tao is this or that, they are no longer talking about the Tao.

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I can say that my action of taking money from you is justified because you are a greedy capitalist pig, but that doesn't make either my claim about you or my theft morally correct.

I agree with that since definitions of moral are somewhat arbitrary.

For me, I'm glad that society frowns on stealing because I can observe that stealing is counter productive on a large scale because it requires resources for protection that could be spent in other more appealing pursuits. And having a shared police system in place is probably more efficient than having individual security measures. To me this doesn't have to be moral. Morality in the context of religion is simply a different application of fear.

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So, on what basis do you condemn genocide?

The key, to me, is on what basis do < I > condemn genocide.

There are certainly any number of rational arguments from the basis of survival, preservation of society, the unpleasantness of it, and other emotional reactions to it.

I can appeal to a universal god or rule as a means to control other's views and convince through guilt, horror, and shame, but it will essentially boil down to what I feel about it and the value I put on human life.

There are all kinds of good arguments for the value of human life, but I have yet to see anything that I would call universal.

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Why should what <you> condemn place any obligation on me?

Because it would really piss me off if you came an killed my family and if I was alive to bring enough suffering to you to make sure it doesn't happen again, I would. And if I saw you doing it to someone else, I can reason that if I let it happen to others, then it can happen to me. So I would institute enough force by whatever means I had at my disposal to prevent you from killing any more people.

I can also observe that killing other people to keep myself safe does things to me that I don't like, so I can use my reason to set boundaries, without killing people, if possible. I might even discover that your killing spree was temporary and based on something, if changed would stop you from killing. I would then have other more subtle options to set boundaries.

When you break it down it really is because it causes pain. It really is that simple.

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Because it would really piss me off if you came an killed my family and if I was alive to bring enough suffering to you to make sure it doesn't happen again, I would. And if I saw you doing it to someone else, I can reason that if I let it happen to others, then it can happen to me. So I would institute enough force by whatever means I had at my disposal to prevent you from killing any more people.

I can also observe that killing other people to keep myself safe does things to me that I don't like, so I can use my reason to set boundaries, without killing people, if possible. I might even discover that your killing spree was temporary and based on something, if changed would stop you from killing. I would then have other more subtle options to set boundaries.

When you break it down it really is because it causes pain. It really is that simple.

Actually, that's an argument in favor of genocide. Don't just kill some of those who are in your way. Kill them all, so they won't be able to come back at you.

As far as causing pain, lots of things cause pain. Some of the necessary, some of them therapeutic.

So far, you've given me no reason to think genocide is wrong. Only that it might not be effective.

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Actually, that's an argument in favor of genocide.

No, its not because you would have to modify my goals. It is <my> definition. Since I value my comfort over efficiency I would choose to try and avoid genocide. I would consider the quality of my life sufficiently harmed by choosing genocide to consider dying rather than commit genocide.

I would also favor those who held this same view and would use what ever power I had to support those that held this value.

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As far as causing pain, lots of things cause pain. Some of the necessary, some of them therapeutic.

Agreed, but at some point pain ceases to be helpful. Pain is subjective, so rational points can only go so far in regards to pain as a motivator and pain as a messenger and when pain is too much.

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So far, you've given me no reason to think genocide is wrong. Only that it might not be effective.

Well the term wrong, itself, is subjective. That's the weakness of rational approaches to right and wrong. There is always an assumptive point of origin. You have to have that point before you can even begin a rational apologetic.

You can choose order, happiness, pain, efficiency, survival, and other goals as your point of origin and you will come out with different ideas of what is right and wrong for each of these goals. And what you end up with when you try for some type of universal right and wrong is a shell game.

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I'm currently reading and very much enjoying 'The Abolition of Man'. One reaction is that I would love to have had C S Lewis as a teacher... just the hints in what he says about teaching in the first chapter suggest he would have been a great one.

Probably well worth reading for you, too, Richard. It's quite short, and very interesting.

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A reply to the original post... people in the world claim as though you can have a standard set of ethical behaviour which is derived from God's law, yet there are many double standards coming in when state get's into the picture.

The irony is that our brain filters and interprets the information based on the information that is already in the brain. So it is really epistemic knowledge issue. A soldier in the field can kill "the enemy" and feel righteous, while a person in a society can do the same and be condemned to death. When state gets in the picture... you get numerous double standards, because states alway act in interest of self preservation.

Consider why do we have Olympics... and why people and countries pour billions of dollars to see who can jump further, swim faster, or punch better. It's an expression of modern state ego. Nationalism is exactly that. So, when nationalism gets in a way, no matter what the Bible says... your ethics (rules of behavioural conduct) will be dictated by the state, because in most cases the state will come before God epistemologically... (the way you learn the truth), whether you like it or not.

So in many cases the religion ethics that are permitted to be exercised in the state are the only ones that do not threaten the state. Because from the very creation and purpose... the state is there to subject and control people. People give up certain freedoms in exchange for security. And that goes for certain mental freedoms likewise.

You care not going to have Godly sets of morality in the midst of rampant statism and nationalism.

I believe that Biblical ethics does transcend state legislated morality, but I doubt that most people on this board would agree. Most people on this board would see the world from the state's ego (WE... US...) point of view even though they claim to be Christians. Wherever you live, you will be taught a set of morality that may be on surface compatible with Biblical ethics, but is in direct opposition to God.

I always seen state for what it is... a mafia. When growing up in Ukraine, my town was pretty much ran and still being run by mafia. Mafia owns the cops, and mafia goes around collecting dues from local businesses in exchange for protection. If you refuse a due... your business is burned to the ground, and you are beaten severely.

The same with statism sets of morality. You have an illusion of freedom, but there's no obvious way of how to opt out of this "social contract" that you've never signed. Can you just say "I don't want it!"? No, because it would set a precedent for other and it would threaten the state.

I believe that's why the original Christianity was persecuted heavily by the state... in an extremely brutal manner. It's ideology was direct threat to the state.

The reason why there's no rampant persecution today is because Christians really conform Biblical morality in a way that is not threatening to the environment they are in... and in a way it becomes diluted with preexisting ethical traditional behavior and standards... "Oh no, you don't do that... we need marriage licenses... we need to carry IDs and pay dues and taxes so our children can have identity... it's justifiable to fight and kill to preserve the "freedom"(the state)". "We need to have 501c3 to pay less taxes, and we need to incorporate the church, even though corporation is a creature of the state and is directly and contractually subjected to it in exchange for protection, BUT you get to vote to choose your leaders, even if that choice boils down to people with most money and who are approved by the status quo maintained by the media and preexisting political party systems"

But, jusd, believe it or not .... it was exactly Biblical point of view (not the one that is taught for the most part) that pointed me in direction of personal freedom.

I guess, my point is that your view of morality should derive from something. We are blank slates(mentally) at birth, and from then on we are filled with "default" ethical conduct. Most people don't "step outside" of that default knowledge uploaded into their minds and they don't question why we need certain things. Christianity gave me that opportunity to swim against the current, although I do agree with you that for the most part today Christianity is being used as means of control by and for the state... but it does not have to invalidate the premise of it...which is personal freedom of thought and choice. If Jesus would have been here today, I think he would be hated by our religious establishments today just as He was 2 thousand years ago. What do you think?

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Kind of off the topic in this thread a bit, but this (penultimate) paragraph in The Abolition of Man struck a chord with me:

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Is it, then, possible to imagine a new Natural Philosophy, continually conscious that the `natural object' produced by analysis and abstraction is not reality but only a view, and always correcting the abstraction? I hardly know what I am asking for. I hear rumours that Goethe's approach to nature deserves fuller consideration—that even Dr Steiner may have seen something that orthodox researchers have missed. The regenerate science which I have in mind would not do even to minerals and vegetables what modern science threatens to do to man himself. When it explained it would not explain away. When it spoke of the parts it would remember the whole. While studying the It it would not lose what Martin Buber calls the Thou-situation. The analogy between the Tao of Man and the instincts of an animal species would mean for it new light cast on the unknown thing, Instinct, by the only known reality of conscience and not a reduction of conscience to the category of Instinct. Its followers would not be free with the words only and merely. In a word, it would conquer Nature without being at the same time conquered by her and buy knowledge at a lower cost than that of life.

I think there are intimations that some in the science education and philosophy of science communities might be groping toward something like this, albeit in a partial way. The popularity of books like "Godel, Escher, Bach: The Eternal Golden Braid", "The Dancing Wu Li Masters" and "The Tao of Physics" is probably explained by this impulse, but perhaps hamstrung by over-familiarity with and contempt for the Western manifestations of what Lewis calls the Tao, which sends their authors to the East to find things they have rejected at home.

Ironically, some of the Green approaches to science that you tend to disparage, ichabod, seem to be heading in the same direction, although they do also fit the very partial obsession with a narrow facet of the Tao that Lewis outlines so nicely in Chapter 2.

The whole discussion is definitely a very clear and well thought out one, and I find it very attractive. Lots to think about, and without derailing the thread I want to ask some questions in following posts using the tools from the book - apologies to those who haven't read it.

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OK: progression in ethics. Lewis uses the example of saying that the Christian 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you' is morally superior to the Confucian 'Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you', but that both are part of the Tao and consistent with one another.

In a similar way, is Jesus' 'turn the other cheek' morally superior to the Old Testament 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth'? Yet still part of the Tao and consistent?

I guess my question is really about whether there is a one-to-one correspondence between the Bible and the Tao (universal ethics/values), or not. Or are some parts of the Bible more moral than others?

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LOL. How do you determine moral superiority but by already preconceived notions of morality and behavior? It's a dead end question/argument. You will always pull for "your team" of values and understanding of the truth. In your own mind you are right until proven otherwise... and even then you are right because you were wrong before, but NOW you are right. So human understanding is in a perpetual condition of self assessed and ascribed correctness. That goes for any of us.

So how do you determine ethical superiority in that state of 6.5 billion people who have different perceptions of life, yet think that they have a fairly good grasp of the truth? The obvious problem with a VIEW of Biblical, or any truth.... is the interpretation. There are awfully lots of explanations... especially in our denomination... that state "He did not really mean what he said.... what it really means is....". Not to say that I don't think that I don't believe these assertions, but some I do question.

And that's where I think it's important to understand human beings were build as individuals first. And as individuals we are responsible for our own beliefs and our actions. Our view of morality should not be delegated to clergy, statesman, teachers, or even parents. Sure, these are good sources of information, but we have to assume that these could be wrong or mistaken.

Here's what I'm getting at. Some of my friends ask me is I believe that Bible is 100% correct... I tell them that I believe it is, but my understanding of it may not be. The problem with infallible book is a corrupt interpreter. I think that thought of that should be humbling enough to study out the truth for oneself and come up with a conclusion while at the same time respecting the views of others who disagree with that conclusion.

Some people will say... that's a Satan's lie that you can not know the truth, but that's not what I'm saying here. You can have a good educated guess. It's not like there're no clues. And that's what faith is... educated guess at best. And we should not be afraid to admit it.

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Your approach is too individualistic, though, Gerry - the point is that humans are social creatures and children are raised within a particular society. Moral codes, as CoAspen's posts showed, are related to mores, the norms by which people within a certain society function. It's true that those sets of norms will differ within different societies, and that without an absolute external code it will be impossible for members of one society to claim that the mores of another society are morally wrong. But it *will* be possible for members of a society to make moral judgements about their own beliefs and actions and those of other members of their society in relation to the shared values of that society. That is what gets us beyond absolute relativism where any individual's values cannot be challenged by any other individual.

I have to individualize the issues to make it meaningful for myself. It is me afterall who have to live by those moral/ethical principles.

BTW, there is a source of right/wrong that I have not yet seen mentioned, i.e. by experimentation. By the scientific method, we have discovered many truths about the natural world. Cannot the same method be applied to moral/ethical principles?

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Shane stated this...

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I will let the Holy Spirit work with them and ultimately if they persist on the road of disbelief they will be part of the lost in the last great genocide that God has planned here on planet Earth.

Gerry stated this...

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If His end-time genocide is justified, then as a Holy God who cannot countenance evil (Hab 1:13), and as Judge who MUST also restrain evil, then the Canaan incident is consistent with a holy, just, and loving God.

This is horrendous ethical reasoning. This is why many people, simply out of good conscience, cannot accept the Christian concept of a God like this.

I have nothing against Shane or Gerry personally, but they demonstrates how nice people can hold horrendous ethical beliefs.

Bravus has articulated the problem with this type of "end justifying the means" quite well in his statement...

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See, here's the problem. With a theocratic system, anything God does is by definition ethical, even if it would be utterly unethical and criminal if done by humans. I mean, the Nazis were just looking for lebensraum (room to live) when they tried to take over Europe. Generally, "we want your land, and we're going to take it by force" is pretty much the definition of unethical behaviour. But if it's God's will, it's OK.

If it's OK for God to break his own ethical rules, then they are not universal, but relative since God has no standards and we do. If God was put on trial for his leadership of ancient Israel, he would be considered an evil ruler on the order of Hitler and Sadaam Hussain.

The madness is that many Christians have no problem with that...

Wouldn't it be more madness for a Judge not to redress injustices and not restraining rampant evil and suffering?

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In a similar way, is Jesus' 'turn the other cheek' morally superior to the Old Testament 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth'? Yet still part of the Tao and consistent?

I guess my question is really about whether there is a one-to-one correspondence between the Bible and the Tao (universal ethics/values), or not. Or are some parts of the Bible more moral than others?

But of course! And the 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth' was morally superior to the "I have killed a young man for my wounding" expressed by one of Cain's descendants. Human beings do not turn on a dime. Cultures and societies do not simply make 180 degree turns. No human culture will go from "I have killed . . . for wounding" to "turn the other cheek" in a single step.

The Bible depicts God moving His people --both ethically and theologically-- step by step. The ill-informed pick out an earlier step and say, "See how barbaric God is," when in fact it's like interrupting Michaelangelo after the first few cuts with his chisel and saying, "The man doesn't know squat about sculpture."

As far as Green ethics, they are usually excellent examples of:

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What purport to be new systems or (as they now call them) 'ideologies', all consist of fragments from the Tao itself, arbitrarily wrenched from their context in the whole and then swollen to madness in their isolation, yet still owing to the Tao and to it alone such validity as they possess.
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Actually, that's an argument in favor of genocide.

No, its not because you would have to modify my goals. It is <my> definition. Since I value my comfort over efficiency I would choose to try and avoid genocide. I would consider the quality of my life sufficiently harmed by choosing genocide to consider dying rather than commit genocide.

But we were discussing why <your> value should place any obligation on me. And so I look at your reasoning and say, "Better go all the way, then." By eliminating you and all those who would avenge you, my safety is enhanced, and your competition is eliminated. I modify your goals by eliminating both you and them. And the fact that you would consider dying rather than commit genocide only places the ruthless at greater advantage.

Without a higher power to note and redress your sacrifice, your value only clears the way for more thuggery.

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If it's OK for God to break his own ethical rules, then they are not universal, but relative since God has no standards and we do.

I have not seen anyone here arguing that it is OK for God to break His own rules. If anyone thinks that is what is being said I think they are reading with a bias of preconceived ideas regarding the opinions and views of those they disagree with. God cannot break His own ethics and rules. If He did then they would cease to be His ethics and rules. God does not have one set of rules for Himself and another for humanity.

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God made us with a desire for self-interest.

Utterly false! Adam and Eve were created in the image of God. The Bible clearly states that "God IS agape". The Bible doesn't say one of God’s attributes is agape, but it is who He is. Agape, says the Apostle Paul, has no "self" it, period!

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With a theocratic system, anything God does is by definition ethical, even if it would be utterly unethical and criminal if done by humans.

And this traditional type thinking (not that I am accusing you of it) is why atheism abounds.

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Originally Posted By: Gerry Cabalo

Is the genocide [which will be in even larger scale than Canaan] that God will perform when He carries out the sentence of judgment to terminate evil justified?

The act of God in getting rid of all sin-- and of all those who insist on holding on to their sins-- will most certainly be justified.

Then why the punishment? I mean if God wants to get rid of sin then He could just blink His eye, but instead unbelievers suffer intensely. Here's the SDA view:

... fire from God out of heaven is rained upon them, and the great men, and mighty men, the noble, the poor and miserable, are all consumed together. I saw that some were quickly destroyed, while others suffered longer. They were punished according to the deeds done in the body. Some were many days consuming, and just as long as there was a portion of them unconsumed, all the sense of suffering remained. Said the angel, “The worm of life shall not die; their fire shall not be quenched as long as there is the least particle for it to prey upon.” [EW 294]

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But we were discussing why <your> value should place any obligation on me.

I would hope that I was not the source of your ethic. I would hope that your reasoning would come to similar conclusions. You have limited ethics to some central power that enforces it.

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And so I look at your reasoning and say, "Better go all the way, then." By eliminating you and all those who would avenge you, my safety is enhanced, and your competition is eliminated. I modify your goals by eliminating both you and them. And the fact that you would consider dying rather than commit genocide only places the ruthless at greater advantage.

Isn't that what we see play out in the world today? And in cases where that is applied, how effective has that solution been on the culture. In the cases that I know about, its been a disaster.

I have the ability to adapt and so if you are not constrained by reason, then it becomes might makes right. And I don't have to kill you to constrain your influence. Intelligent application of force can come to the point where it overpowers simple brutality.

To me genocide is simplistic thinking. Even though on a certain rational level its effective, I wouldn't see it as a sign of superior intelligence. And that would be an indication that the god who does that is only worshipped for his power.

That's why we have minds that create other solutions. If you need authority to do your thinking for you then you aren't living up to your full potential.

When I look at history it has been the cultures that provide for the most individual freedom that have survived more effectively and have citizens that are motivated to defend that freedom. There are certainly other factors involved, but ethics within these cultures evolves over time much more quickly even though rapid change has some side effects of social fear.

Its complicated and simplistic appeals to some god just don't cut it.

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