Moral Freedom

Moral Freedom
cortes
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Posted Apr 11, 2008 - 1:44 PM:
Subject: Moral Freedom
Much is made of the injustice of the world. But what people mean by this is not always consistent because justice, the proper ordering of the world, depends entiely what we we deem proper. And on that point, there is considerable disagreement.

But by almost any reasonable definition of justice, our very existence is unjust. What did you ever do to deserve being born? The fact is that there is nothing that you could possibly have done prior to your existence that would merit your coming into being. The simple fact is that you got something for nothing and every breath you draw is an act of unjust opportunism. Thank God the world is so unfair.

Given that life is an opportunity to be exploited, the question arises as to how best to do that.

The answer, certainly, is not in servitude to "society" out of some misplaced sense of debt for your existence.

The first question any claim about moral principles has to answer is why one ought to embrace the particulr moral principles proposed. Why pursue the approval? Or, more simply, why be good? To say that we are all in pursuit of some good does not answer the question why we sould pursue a particular good.

And yet, few people take the opportunity to choose their morals opting instead to simply embrace those of their parents or adopting those of their immediate community.

Moral freedom is the proposition that our free will endows us with the ability (not the right, mind you) to choose our morals. We might choose from among those offered by religions, or by philosophers, or simply invent our own.

It is no accident that social progress is driven not by those who meekly accept social norms but by those who put forward new moral ideas and force the world to adapt to them.

Once you choose (or at least identify) your morality then, and only then, can you say how the world "ought to be" and thus what is just and unjust.

I feel like I ought also to say something about the "might=right" matter that Litkey was so stuck on. Rejecting one concept of morality does not reject all, obviously, much less provide a justification of anything that happens.
Mike H
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Posted Apr 12, 2008 - 10:05 PM:

Most people don't choose to make use of their moral freedom because they don't believe they have such freedom. They believe that moral facts exist, and they know what those moral facts are (through their intuition, which often they don't realize is conditioned by their family, culture, and religion). Why would you go about creating your own moral values or embracing new ones if you think yours are already correct, in some objective sense? To most people, creating your own moral values makes no more sense than pretending the sky is green. If you try to do it, you're just factually incorrect.

It is true that people with new values (which aren't the predominant ones in a given society) can use those values to change the world. But often, they are in the same position as the people with values they oppose. They believe their moral views are objectively correct, even though they're usually just a result of living in a different environment. So they don't embrace their moral freedom either.

In order for people to use their moral freedom, they have to believe they have such freedom. This would entail disillusioning people about the objectivity of morality. But is that really a good idea? Most people derive comfort from believing that the moral values they embrace are objective, and without that, they would be quite confused. Many would interpret it as the death of morality. It takes some philosophical sophistication to see that following the guidelines of some moral theory, rather than simply obeying whatever desires you have at the moment, is virtuous and hence desirable.

I think it is a good course of action to only enlighten people about their moral freedom if there is evidence they can handle that truth and use it to better mankind.




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Posted Apr 12, 2008 - 11:04 PM:

cortes wrote:
It is no accident that social progress is driven not by those who meekly accept social norms but by those who put forward new moral ideas and force the world to adapt to them.


Try thinking of any time in history when driven individuals *forced* society to adapt to new morals. All the cases I can think of involved some groups of individuals with a cause building up support, and usually this involves focus on some charismatic individuals to be the voice of their cause, (for a social public which is simultaneously skeptical about the motivations of an individual and pack-mentality leader assignment).

I think morality is always free, and relative, to individuals. People subconsciously choose the moral system that would be more of an advantage for themselves automatically. I can envision an ancient people, tired of the tyranny of a human leader who invent a virtual spirit-leader with a more transparent moral system, giving more power to a priest caste and convincing themselves that these morals are the absolute morals for their nation which their leader must also be subject to. Even in the most democratic societies of modern life, there is still a tendency to think in terms of leaderships and accountability -- when it should be the individuals of society themselves.
litkey
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Posted Apr 14, 2008 - 8:35 AM:

cortes wrote:
Much is made of the injustice of the world. But what people mean by this is not always consistent because justice, the proper ordering of the world, depends entiely what we we deem proper. And on that point, there is considerable disagreement.


There is already a 'proper ordering of the world.' Some call this the 'Law of Nature'; In any case, this is something different from the concept 'Justice.' - as normally accepted.

Your very paragraph and language gives some insight into the hidden world of Justice, - "proper" ...what does it mean for something to be proper? What does it mean for something to be in "disagreement"? what does "order" mean? raised eyebrow

i- If there was such widespread subjectivity and grotesque forms of "justice"- there would be no such thing as 'law' as we understand it.

ii- I know we have went over it, but you forget the history of Natural Law (reason) informs of a consensus on what is lawful (this would equate to acts being right or wrong).



But by almost any reasonable definition of justice, our very existence is unjust. What did you ever do to deserve being born? The fact is that there is nothing that you could possibly have done prior to your existence that would merit your coming into being. The simple fact is that you got something for nothing and every breath you draw is an act of unjust opportunism. Thank God the world is so unfair.


Opportunism is not for those that come into the world; it may just be because a person is brought up to think opportunism the right thing, or circumstances have dictated; if you look to all societies throughout History what you will see is that the "Big Men" (see 'Onka's Big Moka' -Papau New Guinne I think,also the Azande) were those that gave away, were those that benefitted their community - casting my mind back to my Anthropology Studies, it seems that "opportunism" would have ended in ostracization for any Individual. "opportunism" would only work where an Individual was not part of the society, or did not think society something of value.



The first question any claim about moral principles has to answer is why one ought to embrace the particulr moral principles proposed. Why pursue the approval? Or, more simply, why be good? To say that we are all in pursuit of some good does not answer the question why we sould pursue a particular good.


I would agree that there is no absolute good or Justice (or at least not one that we can express with language) however, going outside your neighbours view of justice will result in conflict; this conflict isn't something necessarily bad, as you may disagree with your neighbour, or there may be a fight over resources: however if you decide to go outside your particular societies values- then this would endanger yourself.



Moral freedom is the proposition that our free will endows us with the ability (not the right, mind you) to choose our morals. We might choose from among those offered by religions, or by philosophers, or simply invent our own.


This is a circular argument - wouldn't your choice of morals depend on what you think is right? nod




Edited by litkey on Apr 14, 2008 - 9:34 AM
cortes
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Posted Apr 14, 2008 - 12:43 PM:

Mike H wrote:
Most people don't choose to make use of their moral freedom because they don't believe they have such freedom.

This is undoubtely true and it is not even clear to me that I have any reason for promoting the idea of moral freedom.

Mike H wrote:
They believe that moral facts exist, and they know what those moral facts are (through their intuition, which often they don't realize is conditioned by their family, culture, and religion). Why would you go about creating your own moral values or embracing new ones if you think yours are already correct, in some objective sense? To most people, creating your own moral values makes no more sense than pretending the sky is green. If you try to do it, you're just factually incorrect.

There really are two issues here and I guarantee they will both recur in this thread.

The first is whether morality can be objective, whether moral claims can be treated as facts determined to be true or false. Without answering that question, let me simply note that moral freedom is not inconsistent with that belief. Moral freedom in that context means freely seeking the truth with regards to morality (as opposed to assuming that the truth comes from within or from an authority).

The second issues is how morality is discovered whether or not it is a fact. Those of a relativist persuasion often do rely on their intuition which, as you note, is shaped by family, culture, and religion. But it is a fact that people change their religions quite frequently, move from one culture to another to be with people they feel closer to. One influence you don't mention is genetics; people often gravitate toward moral beliefs that make them feel good about themselves or away from those who make them feel bad about themselves (e.g. gays rejecting Christianity or healthy, ambitious young men embracing a martial culture).

Mike H wrote:
It is true that people with new values (which aren't the predominant ones in a given society) can use those values to change the world. But often, they are in the same position as the people with values they oppose. They believe their moral views are objectively correct, even though they're usually just a result of living in a different environment. So they don't embrace their moral freedom either.

Funny you should put it that way, I wrote an article on exactly that observation:

www.conquistador.org/newsle...ewsletterIssueEntityId=804

Mike H wrote:
In order for people to use their moral freedom, they have to believe they have such freedom. This would entail disillusioning people about the objectivity of morality.

For the reasons cited above, I disagree. The two questions can be considered independently.

Indeed, I have found that it is those who believe that morality consists of nothing more than following their moral intuitions who are the greatest slaves to their circumstances.
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Posted Apr 14, 2008 - 12:47 PM:

swstephe wrote:
Try thinking of any time in history when driven individuals *forced* society to adapt to new morals. All the cases I can think of involved some groups of individuals with a cause building up support, and usually this involves focus on some charismatic individuals to be the voice of their cause, (for a social public which is simultaneously skeptical about the motivations of an individual and pack-mentality leader assignment).

"In every revolution there is one man with a vision."--James T. Kirk

swstephe wrote:
I think morality is always free, and relative, to individuals. People subconsciously choose the moral system that would be more of an advantage for themselves automatically. I can envision an ancient people, tired of the tyranny of a human leader who invent a virtual spirit-leader with a more transparent moral system, giving more power to a priest caste and convincing themselves that these morals are the absolute morals for their nation which their leader must also be subject to. Even in the most democratic societies of modern life, there is still a tendency to think in terms of leaderships and accountability -- when it should be the individuals of society themselves.

Most people are not philosohers. Most people do not think deeply about their own moral beliefs. Such people tend to take what is handed to them be it from their parents, their teacher, their priest, or their king.
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Posted Apr 14, 2008 - 1:22 PM:

litkey wrote:
There is already a 'proper ordering of the world.' Some call this the 'Law of Nature' In any case, this is something different from the concept 'Justice.' - as normally accepted.

You will have a hard time getting people to agree on what justice is but the common thread through all such beliefs is that it is the proper ordering of the world. Implicit in that, for virtually everyone, is that the world as it is is not properly ordered. Nature is flawed in one way or another. I think I saw you note somewhere the conflict between the will and reality and reality does not always win that conflict in the sense that people can will change.

litkey wrote:
Your very paragraph and language gives some insight into the hidden world of Justice, - "proper" ...what does it mean for something to be proper? What does it mean for something to be in "disagreement"? what does "order" mean?

Loosly speaking, proper implies things as they should be ("proper behavior" or "proper reward") as opposed to things as they are. For something to be in disagreement means that different people hold different, contradictory views of the matter. Are we really lost on these words?

litkey wrote:
i- If there was such widespread subjectivity and grotesque forms of "justice"- there would be no such thing as 'law' as we understand it.

Consider, for example, due process of Nazi law under which millions were legally exterminated.

litkey wrote:
ii- I know we have went over it, but you forget the history of Natural Law (reason) informs of a consensus on what is lawful (this would equate to acts being right or wrong).

The problem here (among others) is that people conclude different things from their conscience. See the above discussion with Mike H.

litkey wrote:
Opportunism is not for those that come into the world; it may just be because a person is brought up to think opportunism the right thing, or circumstances have dictated;...

This is a most peculiar claim. Although I am not putting forward a naturalistic argument for opportunism, it is probably the most natural way to view the world. Our most basic instinct is that of self preservation and when your life is in danger that is when you are thinking most clearly about opportunity (e.g. to find food or to strike a predator). It is only when your belly is full and the predators are at bay that you can sit back and dream about how you would order the world if you were God.

litkey wrote:
...if you look to all societies throughout History what you will see is that the "Big Men" (see 'Onka's Big Moka' -Papau New Guinne I think,also the Azande) were those that gave away, were those that benefitted their community

I wonder how many lifetimes you would have to live in order to "give away" what Bill Gates has?

litkey wrote:
... - casting my mind back to my Anthropology Studies, it seems that "opportunism" would have ended in ostracization for any Individual. "opportunism" would only work where an Individual was not part of the society, or did not think society something of value.

You are assuming that opportunism is anti-social, which it is not. This is because in large part, even the most ruthless and selfish opportunist cannot keep all the value of his creations to himself. Bill Gates created products that people valued and bought. Even if he had never given his billions away he would still hve earned his place in society.

Indeed, if your goal were to avoid giving anything to away you would be better to do nothing at all.

Interestingly, this points to the fundamental misunderstanding of the relationship between the individual and society that occurs among many (e.g you and Glypt). While it is certainly true that we all benefit from our participation in "society" we also "give back" without ever trying. Everytime you engage in an economic transaction you give someone something that they value more than they gave you for it. Some people take this to extremes by offering products and services so cheaply that they drive all compeitors away. Ford succeeded in large part because he offered a product, the automobile, to working class folks who could not previously afford one. Microsoft crushed competitors by adding their features to Windows for free.

litkey wrote:
I would agree that there is no absolute good or Justice (or at least not one that we can express with language) however, going outside your neighbours view of justice will result in conflict; this conflict isn't something necessarily bad, as you may disagree with your neighbour, or there may be a fight over resources: however if you decide to go outside your particular societies values- then this would endanger yourself.

One of the many problems with Glypts approch is that he lumps everything together into one mass of "society" across space and time. But if you look closer you will see that there are many societies of overlapping borders. I might participate in a local society, my town, up to a larger society, my country. I might also be a member of a religion as well as professional societies and charitable societies. Many of these will hold conflicting views. So conflict is inevitable. (Totalitarianism tried to eliminate such conflicts by organizing everything under the authority of the state but has mostly failed in large part because people won't tolerate it.)

Now certainly one courts danger in any conflict but depending on the demands of a particular society and your values you may choose to risk the danger or even to fight back. Jews, for example, have maintained a unique culture in spite of pressure from their neighbors. Christians have at times faced similar pressures. Such is life.

As I noted in another thread, there are some societies that regard self-defense as immoral. But can it really be said to be dangerous to disrespect such social norms? Better to be tried by 12 than carried by 6.

litkey wrote:
This is a circular argument - wouldn't your choice of morals depend on what you think is right?

Let's just say that these issues are all intertwined. Wherever you start you can work toward the others.
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Posted Apr 14, 2008 - 2:31 PM:

cortes wrote:
Much is made of the injustice of the world. But what people mean by this is not always consistent because justice, the proper ordering of the world, depends entiely what we we deem proper. And on that point, there is considerable disagreement.

But by almost any reasonable definition of justice, our very existence is unjust. What did you ever do to deserve being born? The fact is that there is nothing that you could possibly have done prior to your existence that would merit your coming into being. The simple fact is that you got something for nothing and every breath you draw is an act of unjust opportunism. Thank God the world is so unfair.


I'm not sure I agree our existence is unjust, doesn't that imply something unfairly suffers because of it, that there is justification for our not coming into existence that is over seen by some universal justification system?

The words "life isn't fair" come to mind.

cortes wrote:

Given that life is an opportunity to be exploited, the question arises as to how best to do that.

The answer, certainly, is not in servitude to "society" out of some misplaced sense of debt for your existence.


I'm not sure how true this is, aren't supermarkets, airports, hospitals etc the reason for this. It may simply be a case of confidence but how many people really believe in a free for all they would come out on top. The system, and I imagine any system still allows for opportunism, on many levels.

cortes wrote:

The first question any claim about moral principles has to answer is why one ought to embrace the particulr moral principles proposed. Why pursue the approval? Or, more simply, why be good? To say that we are all in pursuit of some good does not answer the question why we sould pursue a particular good.

And yet, few people take the opportunity to choose their morals opting instead to simply embrace those of their parents or adopting those of their immediate community.


I imagine this comes from a sense of protecting our young, in reality is not our concern for mankind or our communities not just an extension of our concern for our families. We want what's good for them, we achieve this by placing them in a positive environment to do this we have to agree on moral principles a set of understood rules of what is good for our children. People generally do adopt moral principles because it makes sense to do so, but generally we have specific differences in our moral views. What's not common though is to go completely against 'the grain' as it were, because of obvious dangers. To be honest I can't think of a single person who agrees with me on all moral positions, or even any two people who agree.
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Posted Apr 14, 2008 - 3:05 PM:

Techeth wrote:
I'm not sure I agree our existence is unjust, doesn't that imply something unfairly suffers because of it, that there is justification for our not coming into existence that is over seen by some universal justification system?

Everything depends on what is meant by "justice" but if you mean people getting what they deserve then no harm is necessary for us to conclude that people have gotten life without having done anything to deserve it. This is precisely the sense that socialists profer, that some people are simply luckier than others and that therefore (sic) redistribution is justified to make the worls more just. But if our very existence is undeserved then what becomes of this argument? If a concept of justice implies that we ought not be here, what does that imply?

Techeth wrote:
The words "life isn't fair" come to mind.

Thank God.

Techeth wrote:
I'm not sure how true this is, aren't supermarkets, airports, hospitals etc the reason for this. It may simply be a case of confidence but how many people really believe in a free for all they would come out on top. The system, and I imagine any system still allows for opportunism, on many levels.

There is in economics a concept of comparative advantage that might help here. Many people fear that free trade will result in unskilled people getting nothing and skilled people getting it all. After all, if I can make twice as many widgets twice as good as you then why would anyone by widgets from you? If I am better than you at everything wouldn't that result in me getting all the business and you getting none?

The reason that doesn't happen is comparative advantage. Simply put, even if you are less productive it may be more efficient for me to buy from you if that allows me to do something else that I'm even more productive than you. So you grow the food and I build the automobiles.

A "free for all" does not mean that losers are kicked off the island. It means that people tend to do what they are comparatively best at doing.

Techeth wrote:
I imagine this comes from a sense of protecting our young, in reality is not our concern for mankind or our communities not just an extension of our concern for our families. We want what's good for them, we achieve this by placing them in a positive environment to do this we have to agree on moral principles a set of understood rules of what is good for our children. People generally do adopt moral principles because it makes sense to do so, but generally we have specific differences in our moral views. What's not common though is to go completely against 'the grain' as it were, because of obvious dangers. To be honest I can't think of a single person who agrees with me on all moral positions, or even any two people who agree.

This raises an interesting point. To what extent ought a parent teach his children to serve society? It's one thing to say, "lay low, don't be the tall nail". It's another to encourage your children, as some do, to go sacrifice themselves to "society".
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Posted Apr 14, 2008 - 4:56 PM:

cortes wrote:


Mike H wrote:
Most people don't choose to make use of their moral freedom because they don't believe they
have such freedom.

This is undoubtely true and it is not even clear to me that I have any reason for promoting the idea of moral freedom.


I'm confused as to what exactly you're proposing in this thread. Is it not to promote moral freedom in order to discover how to make the best use of life? And how are we defining "best" anyway? If "best" is just relative to a certain moral point of view, then it doesn't matter whether people make use of their moral freedom or not - they are living the best life regardless of whether they just accept the prevailing morality or explore different ones. So I'm going to assume you mean "best" in a practical sense - that which fulfills the most and strongest of our desires.

cortes wrote:


There really are two issues here and I guarantee they will both recur in this thread.

The first is whether morality can be objective, whether moral claims can be treated as facts determined to be true or false. Without answering that question, let me simply note that moral freedom is not inconsistent with that belief. Moral freedom in that context means freely seeking the truth with regards to morality (as opposed to assuming that the truth comes from within or from an authority).


Okay, but lets assume there is such a thing as moral truth, and somehow, we discover it. Have we then discovered the best way to live? This moral truth would have to have normative authority regardless of what people's desires are. In other words, living life optimally according to this true morality could imply frustrating a great many of our desires, so that we live life suboptimally from our own points of view.

But if there is no moral truth, then moral freedom could involve finding the best rules for satisfying our deepest and strongest desires, leading us to live better lives from our point of view. So I think the practical value of moral freedom depends on whether moral facts exist or not.

cortes wrote:
The second issues is how morality is discovered whether or not it is a fact. Those of a relativist persuasion often do rely on their intuition which, as you note, is shaped by family, culture, and religion. But it is a fact that people change their religions quite frequently, move from one culture to another to be with people they feel closer to. One influence you don't mention is genetics; people often gravitate toward moral beliefs that make them feel good about themselves or away from those who make them feel bad about themselves (e.g. gays rejecting Christianity or healthy, ambitious young men embracing a martial culture).


Yes, people do often use their moral freedom to better their lives, but I bet many are trapped by what they take to be an objective morality that tells them their desires are wrong. Gay Christians who feel guilty about their sexual orientation, for example, or young men in a feminized culture who are told their masculine ambition is wrong, and we should cooperate rather than compete. They will not try to discover moral facts, or embrace new moral values, if they believe that the ones they already have are objectively correct. So we can't just promote moral freedom, it makes no sense to those who think morality is objective. So I don't think the two issues can be treated separately.
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