19 March 2010

Good and bad

Here is a snippet of discussion happening over Amazon's discussion forum. This is an atheist (Michael Altarriba) answering a few questions posted by a religious. I agree mostly with Michael. My additional remarks are in bold.

What do you base this objective good or bad on?

First, I don't think my views would be what you call 'objective', in that I don't believe what I see as being "good" and "bad" must be what every other human believes, too. I think it would be a good idea, but I don't claim to know the one true universal definition of "Good" or "Bad"... because I don't believe such a universal exists.

To answer the question - "What do you base this objective good or bad on?" - I base it on my empathy, my reason, the observation of the consequences of the ideas of "good" and "bad" that have been followed by others, and other factors.

Moral is relative conditioned by two sets of factors.  The existence of "mirror neurons" enables us to have empathy and passion. This is the inner factor.  The other factor is social, culturally developed through our life, both from daily interactions with other fellow human beings and from reading.  Every one is slightly different.  But in general, within a culture, the moral values would be quite similar. The good and bad is sometimes coded into laws.  We may not agree with some of laws(e.g. I don't agree with the copyright laws), but we still be obliged to keep them.

Who defined or set the standards for what constitutes good and bad?

I defined mine. You defined yours. We, as a culture, collectively make definitions by the way we think and act.

Again, there are two sets of moral codes on which our actions are based. There is a person moral standards we adhere to.  There is a social standard which has mostly been codified into laws. Rebellious teenagers, as a rite to maturity, will challenge the social moral values while their own personal moral values are forming.

What if someone disagrees with your definition of good and bad, who's right, objectively speaking?

There is no "objectively speaking"... there are just different ideas that we would like to resolve.

We need to learn to agree to disagree.  We need to be able to respect other's opinion.

If something is bad that means that we shouldn't do it.

I think I shouldn't do it. You may disagree. Such is life.

When an action violated our personal moral code while not violated the social moral codes, we should just accept it and respect the right of others to be different. However, when the action violated the social codified values, as a responsible citizens, the action should be reported and let the authority deal with the situation.

Who says we shouldn't do it?

We each have to figure that out for ourselves. Again, such is life.

No one is going to hand us a magical set of rules to follow, and thus absolve us of the responsibility of figuring it out for ourselves, and of accepting the consequences of our own actions.

Again, the socially codified laws should be respected.  Here is the main difference between me and Michael. I acknowledge the set of socially established and codified moral standards.

The inverse is also true that if something is good that means we should conduct ourselves in that way. Why? Who says we should?

I have my own ideas as to how people should conduct themselves. You have your ideas. Somehow or other, we figure out how to co-exist without killing or enslaving each other... or, as in times past, we *do* kill or enslave each other.

Reality is not tidy.

Again subject to the restrictions as established in laws.

Maybe we just understand these terms differently. How do you define 'good' and 'bad'? And would that make a difference?

Good: that which promotes the formation and existence of a world in which everyone is healthy, happy, knowledgeable, wise, and fully self-actualized.

Bad: that which detracts from the formation and existence of a world in which everyone is healthy, happy, knowledgeable, wise, and fully self-actualized.

My overall additional comments:
Moral is relative in two senses: individually and contextually. I have explained the individual relative moral values above - as a result of our own biological basis of empathy and passion as well as the social circumstances while we develop our moral system. The second contextual can be illustrated by an example. During WWII, should you habour a Jew in Germany. It was against the law - the socially codified law - but may have violated your personal moral values. A normally law-biding moral person may choose to break the social law. This is moral relativity on the context.

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