The value of anything is established by its properties. If values aren't really arbitrary, then there is an absolute morality. The rest of this is trying to explain why values can't be arbitrary, they can only be misunderstood as arbitrary.
This thread is an argument that order is the basis of all concepts. Order is very rigid, so when you build a concept like a moral system on it, like all concepts should be built, it is going to lead to absolute results. Morality is based on values, and the only way to justify morality is to prove your values are accurate. My argument is that values aren't arbitrary, thus there is an absolute morality.
Original post below:
Many atheists shy away from absolute morality because it sounds religious. I argue that there has to be an absolute morality because the universe is absolute. This may seem wrong as there are many subjective things. I am contending that this isn't true because subjectivity resides on the conceptual level and like disorder and change is not a part of actual existence, but rather merely descriptive. Absolute morality has to exist because the base foundation for morality is order, which enables it to have structure as a social concept. This means that even as a concept, it has to have an absolute and most perfect form as a social concept.
I have been working on this for a while, and I think I am nearing completion, but I am wondering what faults may be found with this line of thought... I have had to return to the drawing board to correct my errors a few times already.
This below is an addendum:
What I am contending is that once morality is conceived as a concept, the nature of order upon which any concept is structured necessitates a most perfect form.
Individual perception causes humans to see the concept with innaccuracy in contrast to the order with which the concept maintains structure in conceptual reality. This creates subjectivity.
But where I am really going with this is that order is the base functional principle of any structure in the universe.
At the very foundation of the level of actuality lies order. Without order, molecules neither form nor bind. Order enables structure, which in turn enables every other level of existence. Order permeates every level of existence as its foundation, including anything that exists on the conceptual level. For this reason, structural order serves as the archetypal basis that justifies having a moral system.
Disorder is mistaken as coexisting with order, but it exists on the conceptual level only and is a name given to an observation of change. It is not a counterpart to order. That means disorder is not actual. It is conceptual.
These things tie together to start to point out that best action can be established on the basis of the order of the universe, and the lack of actuality of disorder which would be its only challenger.
I think it works, but it needs to have a foundation. It needs to be based on something otherwise it is arbitrary. If it is arbitrary it is hard to justify holding people to it. I like the idea of making it cultural and ceremonial though, as a rite of passage.
I think we hangup on 'truth' issues.
I think a basic 'Social contract', that might include reasonable ideas from the worlds religions and insights from the philosophy of ethics, could be a synthetic construct. Right now, I think many are floundering under the weight of ambiguities, and are not able to to find an ethical course of action, so their fall back position is only self-interest, and 'entertainment'.
As an ex-catholic, I had to find something to fall back upon to help determine reasonable courses of action. Sadly, I have not always succeeded, but atleast no one has died on my shift, and the world is 'mostly better' for my presence.
If I remember correctly, Kant mentions in his writings about 'willing the good', and testing synthetic moral maxims via 'the catagorical imperative'. It seems clear that many of us do not attempt even a minor simulation to determine the social impact of decisions. At the moment it seems that many social decisions are tested by 'does it pay?', not 'does is further the social good?'
I remember studying Kant and finding myself unmoved by his theory for a number of reasons.
One of the main ones is that our choices are often made on the fly and not with much time to consider "Can I will that other people always do the same under the same circumstances?"
Also, some ethical decisions are trivial enough that to elevate them to a universal law seems rather silly. For example, the person in front of me in the self-checkout line at the grocery store has forgotten to take his change, which is about 15 cents. Whether I pocket the change or run him down to make sure he gets it is unlikely to be the result of the categorical imperative. Rather, it will come down to my character. People do what is in their nature.
Another problem is that people are not perfectly rational and tend to be lenient in their own case and to make excuses for their own behavior while ignoring the adverse consequences of universalizing a behavior.
Yet another problem comes in the framing of the question. A Jew-hating Nazi can easily frame the question such that, when it comes to Jews, he can certainly will that the killing of Jews become a universal law. A non-Nazi would frame it in terms of universalizing murder and decide that murdering Jews is wrong.
Yes, but even a 'good' idea can die a death by 'exceptions. What would work as a reasonable model?
I am suggesting that a 'Social Contract' model could be helpful, but it is doubtful that a range of sociopaths or the narcisitic would follow it. Since rationality seems unavailable at times, and children/adults often seek excitment in the outlyers of behavior, this is most likely unworkable. Does our concept of Legal Justice, remain as the only reasonable option?
In fact, most ethical notions seem to work far better in judging choices ex post facto...after the fact. Occasionally, one finds oneself with a choice and time to make it. It is then when ethical principles might come into play. But, if you look at this rather common real world example...
If I leave my wife to marry this new woman I met, it will have consequences on my children. My children are suffering in the poisoned atmosphere of my marriage, but children suffer in divorce as well.
and imagine how to apply the categorical imperative or the golden rule, I think you'll find both of them rather useless because real difficult choices ae also complicated choices.
Interesting point. This decision would be taken on a case-by-case basis, as is every ethical or moral decision. In this case, you're between a rock and a hard place - which do you choose? The consequences, of course, are all-important and can be managed or mis-managed. Yes, the Golden Rule is only part of the picture. I feel that my rule and framework would do the best job available. When the time comes for testing, I'll need you and the rest of the "team" to think of a lot of different cases.
You're on. I found that the most useful talent one can have either as a student or teacher of philosophy is a talent for thinking of difficult and/or disconfirming cases.
You're right about the Golden Rule. It is a "correct" rule, but in real life situations it's often not much help.
Even if I join forces with Karen Armstrong, which I hope to do, I'm still going to need "real people" to help me to verify the ideas. This is why most philosophers haven't got anywhere on the problem: they've come out of university and just sat behind a desk. What they have done successfully though is state how the question should be asked. And that is necessary in order to answer it. Precision is all. After all - real life is precise, it's not a nebulous affair.
I agree that Kant's theory is hopelessly complicated and long-winded, which is why it is next to useless.
The "Nazi problem", although it's an extreme situation, is not so extreme that it's meaningless, and remains a very useful test of a moral theory. "On the fly" is the right idea I think. I have a simple three-word principle which I have been testing out and so far it's worked perfectly and proved very easy to apply. This three-word principle fails the "Nazi test" - they could have misapplied it, as it stands - however, it's firmly based on a sound, clear first principle which is instantly recognizable by everyone and, I feel, impossible to misunderstand. So the three-word principle needs to be explained before it can be used, but that is not difficult to do.
Narcissists and sociopaths are statistical outliers, they are congenitally deformed, morally, and don't say anything about 99.9% of people. I think it's a mistake to rely on extreme cases, as they don't teach us anything about normal life.
"People do what is in their nature."
This is true, of course, but it can be possible to motivate people to act one way rather than another, if they're given a good reason which makes sense to them and can be applied easily in the heat of the moment.
Legal justice is outside the domain of my theory/framework, however, I'm sure the two are compatible.
"I think we hangup on 'truth' issues."
I think that truth is necessary in moral issues because the more we know of the truth of a situtation, the more we are able to change it and to act effectively.
"I think a basic 'Social contract', that might include reasonable ideas from the worlds religions and insights from the philosophy of ethics, could be a synthetic construct."
That's pretty much where I'm at, with the injection of the fact/value divide at the bottom. I find I can ignore most of the philosophy of ethics because it's so confused.
The morality I have is the same as that of Jesus (this was his speciality) and all the other major religions I have looked into, except it has a simple rational basis. You're absolutely right, simplicity and clarity are what's needed, otherwise it's doomed to failure.
The framework is completely in place now, I feel, so it's just a matter of writing it up and finishing it off. The rational/moral framework is to be fleshed out and illustrated with quotes and ideas from the religions. When I've got the bare bones done I would like to run it past some people at Think Atheist, who are as philosophically talented as anybody I think. This will have to be done privately somehow. I hate to be elitist and exclusive, but I don't want to release it into the world before it's all finished.
I agree that newly-deconverted religious people are one group who will benefit from it. I also think the religions will also benefit from it, in fact, everyone, which is the whole point I suppose. I aim to produce something which can be taught in schools in religious education classes, and which even outlaws and tough guys will find appealing.
If I'm wrong, y'all are going to tell me.
It is doubtful that a new ethical model, syntheticly generated from existing models and lessons of sociology/psychology, would be any more comvencing that what we have already. Given the metaphysical commitments of other folks on the planet, why do you think they would accept yours and neglect theirs?
At present, it seems that most models were socialized into that local population, many times from birth. I do remember the Moral Majority crap generated from the minor attempt to promote 'Situation Ethics' and the 'Ethical Clarity' movement. Dr. Kirkendall, an early promoter of 'Process Ethics' (I think he called it that; I mentored under him early 80's; Humanist of the year, year after Carl Sagan), I think, was also given short shift. The theist camp is very protective of it's assumed monopoly of ethical/moral conscience/principles.
While a new model might be interesting, as an intellectual exercise, without some promotional process, and a challenge to any theist claim of superiority, it shall most likely die a cruel death, either by 'exceptions' or the demand for 'absolutism'. My suggestion of a social contract, would force many into a corner, and most folks of a capitalist commitment would consider it as a cruel joke, making empositions upon an their belief of 'self-relience, and independence'.
The 'Ten Commandments' have been mostly unimportant in my life since about 12, and from watching theists performing their 'attempts' at conformity to them, I just can't see that they are of much help.
Self-interest, vanity, delusions of grandure, yada yada yada, seem to 'almost aways' trump the any thought of the greater good. I would expect that if we attempted to determine the linear fit between the 'Ten Commandments', the belief in them, and the results of decisions 'based upon' them, we might find a number less than 50% linear fit. Determining the 'good' generated from the decisions, lots of luck. I expect that human survival might be more dependent upon human resilience/adaptation, not on doing the 'right thing'. I do hope by cynicism is not coming through excessly..;p).
Of course, you're right to be cynical, as every other attempt to produce a coherent system has been a failure. This one is different, I believe, because I've independently arrived at the same beliefs as the religions, except I've been able to give it a simple rational basis (from evolution), and this simplicity follows through to the rest of the framework. Because of this I've been able to enlarge it easily.
Instead of superceding the religions, it will join forces with them, and we can all reinforce each other in the same mission. If they can suspend their horror at atheist morality, the religions will fully approve of this system. It's actually flattering to them, and all proper respect will be paid to the grand traditions of religion.
The problem with people like Sam Harris is that they will insist on having an agenda, on setting out to prove some pre-existing belief. Also, he's very divisive and domineering over the religions, and that is not what is needed.