Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Are Values Irrational?

I've been thinking about morality and ethics lately and basically what I've found is that people will only act by a certain moral code if they find value to whatever the morals apply to.

If you value human life, then you will act to preserve it. If you value justice, you will pursue it. If you value liberty, you will fight for it.

But these fundamental values, are they rationally determined or not? How is it rational to value anything?

If you value your religious beliefs, you will act to preserve them. If you value money, you will do what you can to accrue wealth. If you value dominance, you will push others into submission. If you value power, you will fight to get it.

Does it all ultimately come down to people valuing what is good for them? And what if a person doesn't value himself? Or if they take one value out of proportion to others?

If they value amusement over all else, they will fall into a state of unbridled hedonism. If power or money over all else, it follows that the person may find it reasonable to murder those who threaten it.

Are values rational? If not, then how can one judge another's set of values? The power-hungry murderer may threaten our values, but just the same we threaten his. Who is right?

12 comments:

onionsoupmix said...

Does it all ultimately come down to people valuing what is good for them? And what if a person doesn't value himself?

There is no true altruism. People do everything to make themselves feel good. People feel good as a result of maintaining their image and fitting into "the box". This is what I mean : people value whatever they do in order to fit into whatever box they think applies best to them. You want to feel like a good Jew ( good Jew box), so you do XYZ. You want to feel like a good dad ( good dad box, you do ABC. If you conclude that the clever killer box fits you best, you will do what you think clever killers do. Your values are based on which label you like best.

onionsoupmix said...

Does it all ultimately come down to people valuing what is good for them? And what if a person doesn't value himself?

There is no true altruism. People do everything to make themselves feel good. People feel good as a result of maintaining their image and fitting into "the box". This is what I mean : people value whatever they do in order to fit into whatever box they think applies best to them. You want to feel like a good Jew ( good Jew box), so you do XYZ. You want to feel like a good dad ( good dad box, you do ABC. If you conclude that the clever killer box fits you best, you will do what you think clever killers do. Your values are based on which label you like best.

Orthoprax said...

Onion,

But once we realize that all values are themselves based on nothing of value, those values lose their relevance. Why should we hold being a good father a valuable trait?

And I should point out that there are those people who do their best to stay outside of boxes and seriously do not care how they are viewed by others.

onionsoupmix said...

I thought about it some more. I don't think this is an original question, by the way. I think Nietze or someone like that spent a lot of time on how to determine morality in the absence of religion. As far as I recall what they came up with was this question : If everyone in the world behaved as I did, would this further the survival and well-being of humanity or not ? If it would, this is a good value, if not, it wouldn't. So if everyone in the world was a good father, society would be better off and therefore, being a good father is a valuable trait.
Before I espouse the above philosophy, however, I would have to be relatively certain that we are all here thanks to mututational mistakes and that God has no purpose for us.

elf said...

If everyone in the world behaved as I did, would this further the survival and well-being of humanity or not?

This approach is in itself based on a subjective value-judgement: that which furthers the survival and well-being of humanity is good. It sounds neutral, but it can't be defended on objective, rational grounds.

Btw, Orthoprax, I've been thinking about this issue a lot lately, as well.

Orthoprax said...

Onion,

"I thought about it some more. I don't think this is an original question, by the way."

Oh, no doubt. It's as old as skepticism itself. Socrates, that ancient sage, even has some points on this topic.

"If everyone in the world behaved as I did, would this further the survival and well-being of humanity or not ?"

That sounds like Kant's categorical imperative: act so that what you do would become a universal trait. But where it fails is that you still first have to find that value of humanity for it to mean anything to you.

If you don't give a damn about humanity then how does such a morality apply to you?

The answer given is that all rational beings must think that way. But that's just replacing "what I think" into "what all rational beings would think." Says who?

Orthoprax said...

elf,

"This approach is in itself based on a subjective value-judgement..."

Right on. Exactly my point.

Though what I've been working on is the idea that since morality is essentially a generally agreed upon set of "proper" behaviors for the generally agreed upon good for all, those who don't care for the good of all can (and should!) be excluded (removed!) from society. That's what prisons and death sentences are for. If you don't cooperate, then you have to leave.

elf said...

Though what I've been working on is the idea that since morality is essentially a generally agreed upon set of "proper" behaviors for the generally agreed upon good for all, those who don't care for the good of all can (and should!) be excluded (removed!) from society.

Here we get into basic political theory. Makes sense, I guess.

Godol Hador said...

Just saw this post! Strange coincidence that I posted this week on the same topic. Of course the answer is simple: Without G-d there is no objective right or wrong. Hitler felt it was right to kill 6 million Jews so he did. You cannot condemn him, except subjectively. But that's ultimately meaningless, since he condemns you subjectively too. I wouldn't worry about it, because it makes no difference in your philosophy, because we are all just random accidents who will die soon anyway, so why waste time worrying about it? You may as well go out and enjoy yourself, you won't get a second chance, or an afterlife.

Orthoprax said...

GH,

Even with God there doesn't seem to be any objective right or wrong, or if not that then that the objective is arbitrary. Why did God say one thing and not another? Such "given" laws are no more rational than following your own.

The theist and I are in the same boat, the theist just isn't willing to acknowledge that reality.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand GH's God Morality. Why does anything change with the God hypothesis? Even if God is around the question still remains why be moral/ethical. The God factor can give us one of two answers,
1- He is very strong, omnipotent, and will punish you (not a moral imperative at all, it's simple self protection on the listeners part)
2- It's morally/ethically the right thing to listen and obey God. But on this the question remains why be moral, i.e. why listen and obey God.

Oh, and by the way, Gh, what got in to you with all these "of course the answer is simple" kind of fundamentalist statements? How about something of your own medicine which you are giving away so readily? Humility my dear Godol, Humility.

Masmida said...

For every complex question there is a simple answer and its almost always wrong.

Why listen to G-d? 'Cause otherwise you'll cease to exist.
Before your eyebrows get tangled in your hairline.
Follow the logic.

Given:Let's say G-d created the world and it's not self-sustaining [which means no watch that keeps on going]

Consequences: the only thing that has any sort of future is G-d [if we can swing that term with respect to at least four dimensional reality, outside of spacetime]and if you want to have a future, G-d has to recreate you again, this quantumn tick of the universe. So suddenly what G-d wants becomes of some urgency.

But this isn't morality... this is straight self-preservation. But I don't know that Nietzsche had a better arguement, if all he's arguing is self-presevation on a greater scale. Unless someone has an arguement for the objective good of the existance of the human race...

Before someone starts yelling about the above arguement being a fundementalist bible thumping, intidimdation rant, 1) I don't hit seferim 2) If you take some time to think out the consequences of an omnicient, omnipotent, non-physical G-d who actually wants a personal relationship with this strange animal known as the homo sapien 'sapien' some of the theist lines of arguement become a little more comprehensiable

thanks for for your paitence :)