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HolyGround >> Ultimate standard of morality


3/21/11 2:27 PM
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RoidsGracie
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I posted this originally in another thread but there was another discussion going on in that particular thread so people didn't address it. I decided to start my own thread since I wanted to get people's opinions in it...this covers a lot of questions I've had in my mind for a while now:

 I've read some secular humanist writings in which they attempt to spell out guidelines for what the moral viewpoint of humanity should be and I couldn't help to think that pre-Christian Western societies would have found a lot of the ideas espoused to be laughable; especially the parts about equality and promoting egalitarianism and care of the weak and downtrodden.  When Nietzsche was attacking the moral foundations of Christianity and talking about slave vs. master morality I couldn't help but think that he could have just as easily been talking about the moral standards we have in modern 21th century secular society. That's when I started to realize how much influence Christianity has had in the moral outlook of Western society since it's inception.

Then I started to think about how much of our individual moral outlook is shaped and molded by the culture around us and the religious, social, and philosophical ideas that shape the culture. The frightening thing was when i started to think about how our perceptions of morality seems to ultimately to be decided by  what society had the firepower to defend their vision of it. The reason we can sit here today in our nice homes and talk about the inherent value of human life, human rights and the importance of equality between races, gender, etc. is because the liberal democracies are the societies that ultimately won. I wonder what would our moral outlooks be like if instead Nazi Germany had ultimately triumphed. We might be thinking that it's immoral to allow  "damaged" human beings to live out a full life. Individualism and the liberty associated might be seen as selfish when compared to the needs of the state or volk/race.

How can we ultimately declare that slavery or killing another person is wrong? I know there's a lot of people out there that are reading this and will say "Well duh it's just wrong" but that's because we live in modern liberal democratic societies and have been influenced since birth to think of that sort of actions as hideous and inhuman. We just assume it's wrong because it has been ingrained into us. I also have no idea how we could use science and emperical experimentation; which are supposed to be our best methods for deriving knowledge about the universe in order to solve problems of this nature.

I'm kind of rambling in this post but the question of how we can ultimately produce moral guidelines and rules that can be used to determine if action A is better then action B has been something that's been bugging me for a long time (and I'm sure it has done the same to many millions of people before me). It seems in this thread everyone already has their own guidelines of what is right/better and that's how they are able to make judgements about what actions are morally superior and which are inferior (note: this post was originally posted in the "old dude with a beard thread"). How do we ultimately know who is using the best standards?

I don't really have an answer (big surprise). It seems to me these sort of questions along with pretty much every big question in life like "Does God exist?" or "What is the meaning of life?" ultimately comes down to making a leap of faith.
3/21/11 5:08 PM
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Joe Ray
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3/21/11 5:11 PM
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Joe Ray
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RoidsGracie - When Nietzsche was attacking the moral foundations of Christianity and talking about slave vs. master morality I couldn't help but think that he could have just as easily been talking about the moral standards we have in modern 21th century secular society.


He was talking about those. Christianity is not the only slave morality. The rising secular liberal, socialistic and democratic political trends had not yet reached maturity in his lifetime. If he had lived longer he would spent more time attacking these than attacking Christianity

.Basically everything he says about Christianity is also applicable to modern secular ideologies.

And to your question: Objective moral standards are a fiction. They do not exist. Nietzsche calls Christianity a slave morality precisely because it seeks to rise one single morality: that of the weak, lowly, powerless and infirm into the ultimate and only standard of morality.
3/21/11 6:40 PM
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LoveToChoke
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Sam Harris in his book The Moral Landscape talks about morality and human values being based on science and logic. Here's a video of him talking about this:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xt7AGv-RNGM

He essentially breaks it down to "Are our actions suitable for us to flourish as a society, and to not harm others or cause unnecessary suffering".

I'm no philiospher, but I think this is a simple,easy way to think about this. Harris says that there will not always be one right way of achieving this, which is why he calls it a Moral Landscape i.e. there will be moral valleys (such as forcing women to be property or wear burkas), and moral peaks.
3/21/11 8:39 PM
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TheStewedOwl
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LoveToChoke - Sam Harris in his book The Moral Landscape talks about morality and human values being based on science and logic


Science is two things: observation and experimentation.

It is an essential human activity but it has nothing to say about moral choices. It may try to explain WHY we make moral choices, through psychology, but it can't help us decide them.

Science may give us information to help us make a decision, in cases such as the global-warming debate, and the technology derived from scientific observation and experimentation may require us to make moral decisions on issues such as stem-cell research, nuclear weapons, and cloning, but "Science" does not and can not tell us whether we should use them or not.

That requires a different human way of knowledge, in which reason, philosophy, logic, morality, and faith take precedence.

In our historical experience, I would say that political and moral systems that have described themselves as "scientific" have proven to be the most pernicious.

3/21/11 8:46 PM
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TheStewedOwl
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RoidsGracie - I wonder what would our moral outlooks be like if instead Nazi Germany had ultimately triumphed. We might be thinking that it's immoral to allow "damaged" human beings to live out a full life. Individualism and the liberty associated might be seen as selfish when compared to the needs of the state or volk/race.


Probably something very similar to pagan Rome or Sparta, both of which had a legal requirement for a father to kill a child that was born deformed. Both subordinated individual freedom to the needs of the state, and both were slave economies. People may think "300" is a cool movie, but the actual Sparta would have been a pretty nasty place to live. The Spartans formally declared war on the helots, their slaves, every 7 years so they could kill them at will. Plus, all that gay stuff.

3/21/11 8:50 PM
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TheStewedOwl
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RoidsGracie - I wonder what would our moral outlooks be like if instead Nazi Germany had ultimately triumphed. We might be thinking that it's immoral to allow "damaged" human beings to live out a full life. Individualism and the liberty associated might be seen as selfish when compared to the needs of the state or volk/race.


BTW, if you want to read an interesting - but chilling - novel about what Europe after a Nazi victory might have evolved into, try to find a copy of the novel "The Sound of His Horn" by Sarban. I think it's out of print but you can probably find a copy on Amazon or in a used book store in PB.


3/21/11 9:00 PM
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LoveToChoke
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I think he point that Harris is trying to make, is that like food, science can help determine which moral standards are more "healthy" for us than others. E.g, wearing a burka is actually unhealthy in terms of vitamin D deficiency. Through advances in MRI technology and other techniques, we can understand which moral codes have an adverse effect on our brains. Phone Post
3/21/11 9:07 PM
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LoveToChoke
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In the video link I posted, Harris uses a hypothetical question, such as if a religion decreed that every 3rd child born was to have their eyes removed, we could justifiably say that this is not a practice that would help human beings and society to flourish. This was in response to a liberal claim that we cannot make judgements about which moral values are superior to others. Harris is not a moral relativist - what he does say is that some moral standards are demonstrably worse or better for us than others, and that science can help us differentiate those, and that as science improves, it may have a greater role in doing so. Phone Post
3/21/11 10:45 PM
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Ridgeback
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LoveToChoke - Sam Harris in his book The Moral Landscape talks about morality and human values being based on science and logic. Here's a video of him talking about this:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xt7AGv-RNGM

He essentially breaks it down to "Are our actions suitable for us to flourish as a society, and to not harm others or cause unnecessary suffering".

I'm no philiospher, but I think this is a simple,easy way to think about this. Harris says that there will not always be one right way of achieving this, which is why he calls it a Moral Landscape i.e. there will be moral valleys (such as forcing women to be property or wear burkas), and moral peaks.
Harris is suffering from a classic category error and really only rehashing a type of utilitarianism that Bentham and Mill expressed far more clearly in their own times.  He uses vague terms like "flourish" and "well-being" but of course defining those things at an axiomatic level is the whole issue of morality.  There are cultures that think spiritual development is more important than comfort or being without pain, so they would prefer to be on their deathbeds without stupifying drugs that dull both their pain and their minds.  How does "flourishing" fit into this schema?

Harris is also painfully naive about the realities of power relations.  The people with the power always manage to find a morality that suits them more than those they have power over.  So in the affluent West we have millions of abortions for the sake of the "flourishing" and "well-being" of those who want more possessions.   Meanwhile, other cultures see this kind of thing as pure moral rot, something like cannibalism of one generation upon another.

Science is powerless to inform any moral decision.  Just because something might promote a longer life or cause less pain does not mean it is the most moral thing to do.  Some of the most noble acts result in both a lot of pain and premature deaths.  Science can tell us about the complexity at work in a developing fetus.  It is powerless to inform us as to whether we ought to terminate that fetus or bring it to term.   Harris is simply advocating scientism or "para-science" which is very disrespectful to the real science that has prescribed limits and can't actually be used to verify the philosophical presuppositions upon which it relies in the first place.  

Finally, Harris offers no solutions for the real issue of human "morality," which is that we, by and large, know what we ought to do, but fail, more often than not, to do so.  Will science make people less likely to cheat on their spouses or simply tell them it is okay to cheat because it is "natural."  Where has science inspired a person to do the right thing morally against the pain of persecution and death?  Most of the fruits of science have only increased the stakes of our existence.  The ability to kill far larger numbers of people has been achieved through scientific technologies (and where was this guiding morality of science when it came to humans developing the abilitiy to render themselves extinct?).

My suggestion is that atheists read John Gray and embrace the reality of an atheistic world view rather than trying to salvage some kind of overarching meaning from a universe they have already stripped of such a meaning at the ontological impasse. 
 
3/21/11 10:58 PM
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LoveToChoke
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Ridgeback,
Have you actually read Harris?

As far as using vague terms like "flourish" and "well-being" he answers that question right at the beginning of his book The Moral Landscape, so I doubt you have read him. Health is also a vague term, but we know that only ever eating sugar-filled foods is "un-healthy" right? Science is able to help us understand what activities are healthy and unhealthy for our bodies right?

I've only managed to start his latest book because I left it at work and I'm stuck at home on crutches for four more weeks, but the videos available on Harris show that he does answer some of the questions you've raised.
3/21/11 11:31 PM
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TheStewedOwl
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Moral decisions based on "science" and "logic" can also lead us to syphilis experiments on unsuspecting African-Americans in Tuskeegee (1932 - 1972) and unsuspecting mental patients in Guatemala (1946 - 1948), the infection of unsuspecting mental patients in Michigan with influenza (1941), the injection of unsuspecting (mostly African-American) prisoners in Ohio State University (1952) with live cancer cells, the injection of 22 elderly Jews with live cancer cells in Brooklyn (1962), the infection of mentally handicapped children in Staten Island with viral hepatitis (by feeding them an extract made from the feces of infected patients), injecting radioactive chemicals into malnourished babies, and then driving needles into their brains to collect the cerebrospinal fluid (1956), irradiating the testes of 232 prisoners in Washington State, causing birth defects in at least 4 of their children (1963), and using abuse to create stuttering in children at the Iowa Soldier's Orphans Home to test theories of development of stuttering (1939).

That's just scratching the surface: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_experimentation_in_the_United_States

All done in the name of science.

All in the past, of course, and modern scientific ethics would prevent that kind of thing happening again, like the attempted use of Nazi data by hypothermia researchers at the University of Minnesota, or the use of cadavers supplied by the Gestapo by Professor Eduard Pernkopf at the University of Vienna to create his classic textbook, "The Atlas of Topographical and Applied Human Anatomy"

Nothing like that could happen now, like, say, the Chinese preserving the flayed bodies of executed political criminals in plastic, and displaying them as posed statues for Americans to view as an "educational" exhibit for American dollars.
3/21/11 11:53 PM
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LoveToChoke
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So where should we get our morals from?
Should we take all of our morals from the Bible? NT only, or OT also?

You are completely misrepresenting what Harris is saying, and how science can be used to assist in making moral decisions. What a surprise.
3/22/11 12:23 AM
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TheStewedOwl
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So where should we get our morals from?
Should we take all of our morals from the Bible? NT only, or OT also?


Beats me, I already got a moral code. For Atheists, there are apparently a wide variety of sources to get a moral code. Harris says he borrowed from Buddhism, which he chose to define as "not a religion," for some of his moral code. In practice, Atheists tend to copy most of the tenets of the existing moral culture and value system of the society in which they live, so an Atheist in a western country will tend to have a Christian-derived moral code, and an Atheist in Communist China will tend to have a communist moral code. Most Atheists will drop and keep the parts of the adopted moral code they want for personal convenience, and so as to avoid doing anything they don't want to do, or to avoid being kept from doing anything they want to do. Local criminal and civil codes will also act as a constraint on their behavior.

I quoted some examples of various self-identified Atheists' claims for the origin of their personal codes at the end of this thread (http://www.mixedmartialarts.com/mma.cfm?go=forum_framed.posts&forum=71&thread=1778963&page=5) if you want to read it.

You are completely misrepresenting what Harris is saying, and how science can be used to assist in making moral decisions.


At your suggestion, I watched the first part of 5, which was about 15 minutes long, and didn't get much sense out of it, and so will probably not spend the time to watch the next 4 parts. If you know of a transcript somewhere on-line, I can read it. Harris hasn't impressed me with his arguments in the past, and certainly not his knowledge of religion, but I know others like him.

My comments on science experimentation weren't directed specifically at Harris' comments, just at the idea that we can use "science" as a way to derive a sense of morals, or that we should use it as a justification for a created moral code we feel should be imposed on others.
3/22/11 12:30 AM
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LoveToChoke
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TheStewedOwl -

My comments on science experimentation weren't directed specifically at Harris' comments, just at the idea that we can use "science" as a way to derive a sense of morals, or that we should use it as a justification for a created moral code we feel should be imposed on others.


But you're okay with imposing moral codes on others based on the beliefs of a two and a half thousand year old desert tribe?
3/22/11 12:57 AM
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Grakman
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LoveToChoke - He essentially breaks it down to "Are our actions suitable for us to flourish as a society, and to not harm others or cause unnecessary suffering"

Why is it part of the moral code to not harm others or cause unnecessary suffering? Who defines unnecessary? The mere fact that he implies that some suffering might actually be necessary is somewhat chilling.  What if it could be shown that society flourishes the best when there is a certain level of slavery in the population? Would that be considered necessary suffering, for the greater good?



3/22/11 12:57 AM
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Grakman
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LoveToChoke - 
TheStewedOwl -

My comments on science experimentation weren't directed specifically at Harris' comments, just at the idea that we can use "science" as a way to derive a sense of morals, or that we should use it as a justification for a created moral code we feel should be imposed on others.


But you're okay with imposing moral codes on others based on the beliefs of a two and a half thousand year old desert tribe?

 Not at all. The moral codes and beliefs are actually much older than two thousand years. :-)
3/22/11 1:36 AM
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LoveToChoke
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Edited: 03/22/11 1:43 AM
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Grakman,
I'm paraphrasing Harris because as I said I left my book at work and don't have access to it.

As a society WE can define unnecessary suffering. It's done every day when politicians make laws and provide budgets to hospitals, homeless shelters, public housing etc. As far as the slavery comment, I'm pretty sure that would be considered unnecessary suffering and was banned by politicians.

Are you suggesting that it is our duty to end ALL suffering in the world? That's a big ask and quite impossible. Unless of course if you're God, but if he's okay with suffering and permits it to continue then who am I to argue with Him?

ba-dum-tish! :)
3/22/11 1:47 AM
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TheStewedOwl
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But you're okay with imposing moral codes on others based on the beliefs of a two and a half thousand year old desert tribe?


When did I impose a moral code on others? Did a memo go out that I missed?

And which 2,500-year old desert tribe are you talking about? The Navajo?

And would a 2,500-year old moral code be worse than a moral code devised by, say, Sam Harris 5 years ago?
3/22/11 1:51 AM
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LoveToChoke
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Edited: 03/22/11 2:23 AM
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TheStewedOwl,
I'm simply responding to your statement "at the idea that we can use "science" as a way to derive a sense of morals, or that we should use it as a justification for a created moral code we feel should be imposed on others. "

Where exactly did I raise using science as a justification to impose moral code on others?

I'm quite sure that Sam Harris would not write moral codes to instruct parents to stone their disobedient son to death. So yes, I do believe it would be worse than what Sam Harris could come up with.
3/22/11 3:01 AM
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Ridgeback
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LoveToChoke - Ridgeback,
Have you actually read Harris?

As far as using vague terms like "flourish" and "well-being" he answers that question right at the beginning of his book The Moral Landscape, so I doubt you have read him. Health is also a vague term, but we know that only ever eating sugar-filled foods is "un-healthy" right? Science is able to help us understand what activities are healthy and unhealthy for our bodies right?

I've only managed to start his latest book because I left it at work and I'm stuck at home on crutches for four more weeks, but the videos available on Harris show that he does answer some of the questions you've raised.

 I've listened to several of his talks and debates.  

Why do you keep mixing health with morality?  You can be perfectly healthy physically and be a moral degenerate.  Once again, that is a category error.   Speaking of a Burkha as bad for vitamin D having a moral significance is just silly.  It is good for avoiding skin cancer and hypothermia.  What does that have to do with the quality of one's character?

You are claiming to understand Harris well.  Address my objections if you will.
3/22/11 3:48 AM
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LoveToChoke
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Ridge,
Which part of "I've only managed to start his latest book " makes you think I claim to understand Harris well?

Do you know what a metaphor is? You made a claim that Harris is vague with his definitions. I stated that he talks about this in his book (in the 30 odd pages I've managed to read so far), and uses the metaphor of health i.e. health is kind of vague, but we know the difference between healthy and unhealthy, and what activities and foods are healthy and unhealthy for us. I'm not sure why this is so hard for you to understand?
3/22/11 4:02 AM
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RoidsGracie
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LoveToChoke - Sam Harris in his book The Moral Landscape talks about morality and human values being based on science and logic. Here's a video of him talking about this:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xt7AGv-RNGM

He essentially breaks it down to "Are our actions suitable for us to flourish as a society, and to not harm others or cause unnecessary suffering".

I'm no philiospher, but I think this is a simple,easy way to think about this. Harris says that there will not always be one right way of achieving this, which is why he calls it a Moral Landscape i.e. there will be moral valleys (such as forcing women to be property or wear burkas), and moral peaks.

 Yeah that's one of the ideas that I was pondering over: that the measure for morality should simply be what is good for humanity and the individuals that make up humanity. Good could be defined as pleasure, self-fufillment, etc. which I suppose can be measured to a point by science (ie. dopamine in the brain). The problem I was thinking is that if pleasure and feeling good is the standard for what is good then leads open to problems such as what if some guy derives pleasure from inflicting pain and suffering on people? We know there are people such as this in real life (serial killers for example). Harris tries to answer that question at the end of the video but I didn't find it satisfactory.

I suppose the point that we should not cause suffering to other people would cover that but I don't understand how we can scientifcally determine that the value: "avoiding causing suffering to other individuals is good" is superior. People in the modern world like us tend to assume that avoiding hurting other people as a inherently good thing without having to spend time reasoning about it because that's simply the way we are programmed to be in this society. What about societies that practice eugenics? They could argue that by destroying individual lives such as the lives of the crippled and genetically defective that while tragic, is ultimately better because it would bring more net benefit to society. That seems to be one of the logical conclusions of a world where we could scientifically measure well-being and derive some sort of mathematical formula that calculates overall what would bring net well-being benefits to society. I can just imagine some government statistician at his desk: "Hmmm, your child will most likely be born with an IQ over 130 would add 15 points to the total well-bring of society...but he will be diabetic and require a constant supply of insulin which would be a drain on society and therefore would subtract 10 points..." Harris, in the video talked about this spectrum being created with the worst end of the spectrum be one where everyone in the universe is suffering for eternity and how because we can concieve of such a spectrum, there must be a way to move towards the good end of the spectrum. However, as we start to move towards the good end of the spectrum we will run into issues like the one I was just writing about with what is good for individuals clashing with what is good for society overall and also with what is good for one individual will be harmful for another individual. Plus I am naturally suspicious of any sort of attempt to create "heaven on earth" and other utopian schemes. It seems to me that it takes as much faith to believe in a man-made heaven as it takes to believe in a supernatural one.

The eugenics example brings me back to my original question: how do you know our current society can be better then the one that offers eugenics? It seems to me the main reason we would find such a society to be abhorrent is simply because we were reared and our idealogies formed in a society that teaches such things are evil. What if the Nazis had won instead and their values instead became the dominant one in western society? Would we instead believe that is indeed good and even merciful to destroy individual life for the betterment of other lives?
3/22/11 4:08 AM
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RoidsGracie
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Edited: 03/22/11 9:18 AM
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 And Harris attempts to bridge the divide between facts and values but that wasn't satisfactory to me either. It still seems to me that science is the best tool for generating raw data (such as what food is healthy for you or not) but I still don't get how would you use it to derive values from it. I remember eating in the cafeteria of my college once with a buddy who was drinking soda and eating a varietyy of fried foods. He acknowledged that it was unhealthy but said "Hey, life is short and I might as well enjoy stuff like this". You could use smoking as an another example. Everyone know it's unhealthy and it's been scientifically proved that it's unhealthy to smoke yet people still smoke because the believe the pleasure derived from it is worth more then living healthy for a few more years. How can you scientifically prove that his decision is right or wrong? The only thing you can do with science is generate data (in this case, on whether smoking is healthy or not) and then leave the people to make their own decisions with the data presented.
 
To carry on the health theme: yes you can use science to determine what is healthy or not because it's a matter of analyzing the chemical contents of the food and seeing how it reacts with a human being. It's a matter of analyzing physical properites which science is very well suited for. I just don't understand how you can use science and experimentation in order to test  something that is more abstract such as morality or right and wrong. 
3/22/11 9:21 AM
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RoidsGracie
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Joe Ray - 
RoidsGracie - When Nietzsche was attacking the moral foundations of Christianity and talking about slave vs. master morality I couldn't help but think that he could have just as easily been talking about the moral standards we have in modern 21th century secular society.


He was talking about those. Christianity is not the only slave morality. The rising secular liberal, socialistic and democratic political trends had not yet reached maturity in his lifetime. If he had lived longer he would spent more time attacking these than attacking Christianity

.Basically everything he says about Christianity is also applicable to modern secular ideologies.

And to your question: Objective moral standards are a fiction. They do not exist. Nietzsche calls Christianity a slave morality precisely because it seeks to rise one single morality: that of the weak, lowly, powerless and infirm into the ultimate and only standard of morality.

 I've seen some of your other posts and you seem very  much into Nietzsche's philsophy. Coming from that framework, what is your opinion of what Sam Harris has to say about scientifically deriving an universial morality?

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