Time Heals All Wounds.. And Then Kills the Patient
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Mon Aug 15 13:07:56 2005
Dancing with Seven League Boots

From recent conversations on a mailing list..

The notion of objective morality typically is meant to indicate that there are acts that, inherent in the nature of things and thus outside any value system, are wrong. This is typically part of a perspective that states that the nature of morality is that there is no "wrong within a perspective", but rather that there is only one true perspective for morality, and the person making the argument claims that they have access to at least part of that one true perspective, and that everyone else has either blinded themself to what they know is right and wrong, deep within themselves, or has deformed their moral sense to the extent that they can't use it anymore.

I have come across this attitude often with religious folk, but also with objectivists (and Randians). I find it immensely frustrating when I do, because

  1. Whoever I'm arguing with on this point typically has a shocking lack of understanding on how cultures have differed in their value systems over time -- cultures untouched by Islam or Christianity were quite different in their perspectives and notions of value systems
  2. They almost invariably ask irrelevant questions like "If there's no absolute morality, how are we to keep a society together?", not understanding that this is a deep philosophical point, not a pragmatic stance, and that it should not be decided on things like the good of society.
  3. In either case, there's such a vast gap between viewing the world with absolute morality and without it that it's difficult to stretch one's mind enough to truly understand both, and almost impossible to forcibly stretch someone else's mind to understand the other perspective.
  4. Because of that vast gap, people also show difficulty in understanding more subtle differences between beliefs on the other side of the pond. For example, I understand that there are variations in the source and nature of absolute morality on that side, but I often have trouble discussing this intelligably with fellow moral relativists, who just dismiss the other side as nonsense and won't grasp the subtleties within what they see as an empty and apparently nonsensical perspective. Similarly, moral absolutists fairly frequently caricature my position as being one whereby I would be unwilling to act on my value system because it would be arrogant to do so, not understanding that within moral relativism, the "Who am I to judge?" faction is not the only one, and typically is populated with folk who still have inner doubts about the issue. If you're really moral relativist, there is no standard in front of which you should hide your judgement -- "Who died and made you god?" is answered by "No one, but the position of refusing to impose moral order and perspective is lazy and amoralist in practice, and takes noninterference as being a surprisingly strong and singular value. Why is noninterference privileged above everything else?". Of course, I have met true amoralists in my life, occasionally having fierce debates with them, but the distinction between me and them is typically invisible from the perspective of moral absolutists. In sum, misunderstandings are very easy, and most people don't stretch their minds to the different perspectives on the issue.
That, in a nutshell, is moral relativism versus moral absolutism, from my perspective. It differs a lot from what we were talking about, which comes down to situations where it is easier to judge, given whatever we believe about morals, the morality of a situation by understanding a few key facts, hence my insistance that we use different terms.

And from another discussion,

I don't believe that was the discussion, though. My suggested "intention-based objectivism" was not saying our _judgements_ of moral/immoral depend on the mental states of those involved---it was saying that the _objective truth_ of the morality of the situation depends on the mental states of those involved, regardless of what we as observers know. Whether or not I as an observer can know enough about the situation to discern whether it's torture or S&M does not change the facts of the matter, and does not change whether the situation is moral or immoral (as far as an adherent to this system is concerned).

I think I understand now what you meant, and misunderstood. Not that your notion of "objective truth of the morality of the situation" is still one that I would not use -- instead, it would be more acceptable to me to call that the "moral judgement given complete information", in light of my perspective that moral judgement must involve both a perspective (i.e. value configuration/system) and information, and having perfect information would not permit one to make the leap to proclaiming any moral judgement one makes to be from any magical perspective that's outside of a value system, hence the unacceptability of making a claim to having a grasp on something which does not exist -- objective moral truth.

As someone who I would presume is a moral absolutist, it still may be appropriate for you, given your beliefs, to say that there are objective morals that you could apply to the situation to acquire objective truth of the morality of the situation. Just don't expect moral relativists to see it as anything but vain and wrong :) For me, it is appropriate and necessary to distinguish these things.

I've been listening to a lot of old music, partly to further my categorisation of things into music I want in my random mix and music that I need to seek out to play, and came across my collection of corporate anthems. One of the songs, by Honeywell, has a number of people whom I presume are managers, or at least people who are not professional singers. Some of the voices sound rather bad, but there's something somehow charming about that.

I also found music from ROM-dumps from some of my favourite video games, and have been enjoying some of that music too. With the NES8, only the basic tune of things was available to catch the ear. The NES16 offered considerably more sound capability, and some of the music is near (but not quite at) full, modern pcm audio when it comes to wholistic (that is, with-frills) enjoyability. Many video game companies after that actually, from what I understand, hired bands or orchestras to manage their music. A particular memory that might amuse -- when I was much younger, I was very much into the music from Zelda 3 (for the N16). Although my favourite music from the game was the Dark World/Death Mountain theme (geez, that sounds geeky when I think about it), the "between-worlds" sound effect was very interesting and strange. Like so many things musical that interested me, I took a recording on a tape deck and made use of the accidental feature that if the play button were pressed down a faction of the way, it would play either much more quickly or slowly than normal (which probably contributed to the relatively short life of my tapes, in retrospect). That sound effect had an interesting set of chords in it that couldn't be heard individually, but that tape recorder was like an auditory magnifying glass for time. I still have a few bagfuls of those tapes in my apartment, three quarters of them with recordings of the Dr Demento show, the remaining with crazy mixes of music from video games and the radio or sound experiments. If I ever have a lot of time and hard drive space to spare, I'll probably digitize the whole lot. Concievably I could do so now, and burn them to sets of CDs.. hmm.