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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Right or Wrong? » » Why disscussing right and wrong is wrong. (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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Thom Bliss
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I have no idea what it means to be right or wrong ‘in a relativistic way’. Does this mean that both the Birthers are right (in a relativistic way) in claiming that Obama was born in Kenya and the Hawaii bureau of vital statistics, The Honolulu Advertiser, and so on, are also right (but only in a relativistic way) that he was born in Honolulu? Did his mother endure child-birth twice (but each time only in a relativistic way)?

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writeall
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You get to decide. You aren't expected to have any other perspective than your own.

But, if you'd like to know what other people have decided, you could ask them. You will find that yes, there are people who hold other views and beliefs about the subject. They may also tell you that they are factually correct in what they say and believe it authentically. Just as strongly as you hold whatever you hold.

I doubt you'd have used that example unless you already had some notion as to what you've decided is right?

Here's another interesting consequence of relative morality: When the majority of humans think a thing right, we quit discussing it and move on with whatever our concerns are. It's interesting because those widely accepted things change over time. Last century's "right" becomes this century's "wrong." What, I wonder, will the future bring? Perhaps, if the movement grows, our children's children's children will simply "know" that eating meat is wrong -- no discussion required. Or perhaps we as a species will abandon the notion of families. Or any number of odd and seemingly settled ideas. I can't say, I don't have that perspective.

The sin of the absolutist is hubris. But it's a common human failing. I myself am prone to think that my generation and my time is at some hierachical pinnacle of human endeavor, that the collective We have it figured out and there's nowhere interesting to go from here. I suppose, since the dawn of time, others, now long dead and decayed, have thought pretty much the same thing.
Thom Bliss
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I still don’t know what it is to be relatively right or relatively wrong.

Yes, I do think that Obama was only born only once, at least in a fleshy way (although he may have been “born again” in a spiritual way). One side or other is wrong, and not just relatively wrong.

Science is, as much as anything, error correction. We have a theory, but we find it’s not quite right. Then somebody comes up with a better theory, which also isn’t quite right.

You cited the law of gravity in an earlier post. But there have been disputes about gravity. At one time, most people thought that heavier objects fall faster than lighter ones. Galileo showed otherwise.

People once thought that the Universe was, if you will, Newtonian. Einstein said it wasn’t and various experiments (such as the eclipse experiments) showed that Einstein was right about that. But Einstein’s view of the Universe might not be right, either.

I would think that the charge of hubris would cut both ways. Anybody who says that his (or her) own views must be right, simply because they are his (or her) views, and that he (or she) is the measure of all things, might have a touch of hubris. People who believe that there is a reality beyond their own views and prejudices are not being hubristic. Of course, some people not only say that there is a reality about which we can be right or wrong, but that they know what that reality is. I make no such claim.

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writeall
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The practical difference is negligible.

The absolutist would say, "That is right/wrong."
The relativist would say, "I think that is right/wrong."

The first is a statement about an external world. The second a statement about an internal one.
Still, in practice, either works. If you leave the "I think" part out, I hear it anyhow.
Thom Bliss
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Well, I think there has been a shift here from relativism to some kind of subjectivism. Again, they aren’t the same and are actually incompatible with each other.

When somebody says that something is right, they are, ordinarily, implying in a way that he or she thinks that it is right. (I say, ordinarily, because there are exceptions – actors playing a character, for example.) But what is it that they are thinking about that something when they think that it is right? What is the difference between thinking that something is right and thinking that it is wrong?

When you say that something is right and I say it is wrong, we are not merely, or even primarily, exchanging introspective notes. Nor I am I denying that you think that it is right – I may, in fact, doubt your sincerity, but if I do, that is a separate issue.

“This is right” has very different truth conditions from “So-and-so thinks this is right.” If I want to know whether something is right I may or may not be interested in what So-and-so thinks is right – if So-and-so is an expert I may very well want his input. But I might be very interested in why he thinks it is right or thinks that it is wrong.

As I said in an earlier post, to say that something is right is, in part, to say that it merits or deserves universal acceptance. This involves some idea of the nature of the thing (perhaps including its consequences) and some sort of standard or standards (some criterion or criteria of rightness and wrongness) to judge it by. The standards will vary from one kind of thing to another – the standards to decide whether my buying a particular car at this time is the right thing to do are not the same as the standards to determine whether “12.5” is the right answer to a mathematics question. We can disagree about the nature of the thing, or the standards to be used, or even whether a thing of that nature meets those standards.

Is anybody besides writeall and me reading this thread? If you are reading this and want to dialog to continue, please say something. Otherwise, this is likely to be my last post.

Thom
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Jonathan Townsend
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Is that "would think" or "believe" or "just feel like typing at the moment"?

I find it an almost interesting distinction - between someone asserting that they do not know a thing (certainty=confidence?) versus claiming that they can't know it (perhaps they would change into a mouse if they did?).

How can you be sure that when nobody is looking the number five does not invite eleven and twelve to squeeze in between it and six? (in fear of seven if you recall that joke).
...to all the coins I've dropped here
stoneunhinged
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I find an almost interesting distinction almost interesting, Jon.

And no, I don't recall that joke. Can you tell it here or do you have to PM me?
Higgenbottom
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I thought it was that ten and eleven were afraid because seven ate nine.
stoneunhinged
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Right. That's hysterically funny. Smile
Higgenbottom
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The six-year-old who told me the joke thought it was funny. But I think we may have strayed a bit from the original topic.
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Quote:
On 2012-01-22 00:22, Higgenbottom wrote:
But I think we may have strayed a bit from the original topic.


Well, I suppose that all depends on your point of view.

:lol:
writeall
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Jon,
My favorite take on this comes from Antonio Damasio. He's a cognitive scientist/neurologist who proposed that "knowing" is a feeling, like other feelings we have -- anger, hunger, confidence, whatever. It's a neat way to look at it. Just like other feelings, there's no way we can deny it either. When I say, "I am hungry," it doesn't seem there could be any way to argue the opposite.

What comes up then (and Damasio gives examples) is when someone has contradictory "knowings." He talks about patients who are blind but believe/know they are not, or people with lost limbs who still know where their missing hand is or that it itches. These people are not stupid, rather, they are forced to "know" two contradictory things at the same time. This, I think, is a phenomena we rely on in the art of illusion. We invite people to believe things about the world that are in direct opposition to what they know about the world. Maybe it isn't surprising that some folks do not care for the sensation and think it, not fun to be fooled, but irritating.
Higgenbottom
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Quote:
Well, I suppose that all depends on your point of view.

That is funny -- and also quite insightful -- or at least I find it so.

Humor is relative. What one finds funny or not does seem to depend on one's background, education, ethnicity, maturity, and so on. Humor is in the eye of the beholder; the ear of the listener.

Perhaps jdmagic picked the wrong forum for elimination. Maybe it is the "Now that's funny" forum that should be eliminated.

After all, that "discussion" is just a sounding board of personal opinions with no real collective. What's funny for one will be lame for the other, so without consensus the point winds up moot.

The "discussion" also digresses into a judgment call on one's personality which may not have any basis in reality. One's beliefs about humor are guided by one's own experiences. So to think something is funny without having come from the same background skews the judgment.
stoneunhinged
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Quote:
On 2012-01-23 15:37, Higgenbottom wrote:
Maybe it is the "Now that's funny" forum that should be eliminated.


Well, there are certainly more than a few forum members who don't care for that forum in its present incarnation. Smile

But it is very interesting indeed that you make the comparision between a discussion of ethics and a discussion of humor. Most people who argue that morals are relative aren't really saying that they are relative to changing cultures and sitations, but that morals are a question of taste, and that no moral "truth" as such exists.

As I've said before (and in other forums, such as Food for Though), I don't think that most people really hold this position deep down: if bring up the Holocaust, while some hardened souls will try to stick to "well, it's wrong to ME, but...", most will concede that murder somehow violates some kind of natural moral order.

But going from some kind of natural moral order to a thoroughgoing ethical code is simply too complex--and too open to agreement--for most people. What the Founding Fathers of the US wisely realized is that the most rational solution is to allow individuals to make their own ethical decisions as much as possible. But letting each of us decide for ourselves how to live doesn't mean that all ways of living are equally good or capable of leading to happiness. Does any of us really believe such a thing?
writeall
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Quote:
On 2012-01-28 10:33, stoneunhinged wrote:

As I've said before (and in other forums, such as Food for Though), I don't think that most people really hold this position deep down: if bring up the Holocaust, while some hardened souls will try to stick to "well, it's wrong to ME, but...", most will concede that murder somehow violates some kind of natural moral order.


There's a neat trick we play in this circumstance. We all agree that "murder is wrong" and then we change which act should be counted as murder. You get a broad spectrum of opinion if you ask which of these deaths should be counted as murder -- state executions, abortion, self defense based killing, war deaths, honor killings, euthanasia, eugenics. And even so, everyone will agree that murder is wrong.

In the same light, here on the fora, we all agree that stealing someone else's material is wrong (at least I think we all agree?) and then argue endlessly about just what "stealing" means. Same phenomenon.
Thom Bliss
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Quote:
… “knowing” is a feeling, like other feelings we have -- anger, hunger, confidence, whatever.
Knowing, at least in one important sense of that word, is not a feeling. Believing is a feeling (or, better, an attitude, since it is directed towards something). But knowing something is not the same as merely believing it –

Suppose that somebody (let’s call him McEcks) believes that the Moon is made of green cheese. McEcks might say that he knows that the Moon is made of green cheese. But those of us who know that Moon is not made of green cheese would not say that McEcks knows that the Moon is made of green cheese. We would, instead, say that he has a mistaken belief that the Moon is made of green cheese.

Now suppose that later McEcks realizes that the Moon is not made of green cheese. He would not say that he used to know that the Moon is made of green cheese but now knows that it is not. He would, instead say that he had had a mistaken belief about the Moon; but now knew better.

(He might say something like, “I used to ‘know’ that the Moon was made of green cheese …”; but the quotation marks around ‘know’ indicate that it’s not really knowing. Compare “I used to ‘know’ that the Moon was made of green cheese …” with a case of genuine once knowing and now not knowing, for example, “I used to know the names of every student in my class, but I have forgotten many of them.”)

Quote:
… It’s a neat way to look at it. Just like other feelings, there’s no way we can deny it either. When I say, “I am hungry,” it doesn’t seem there could be any way to argue the opposite.
This is wrong in so many ways. Of course I have whatever feelings I have; no doubt about it. But what kind of feeling is it? To characterize my feeling as anger rather than say, joy, is to compare my feeling with other feelings I have had (“this is the same feeling I have previously had, and which I called ‘anger’”) and with how others have described their feelings. We do dispute others’ feelings, sometimes correctly. People sometimes say they have feeling which they do not actually have, either because they are mistaken about their own feelings or are simply lying. And we can be mistaken about our own feelings – “I thought I has in love, but it was only lust.”

More to the point, just as our believing or disbelieving a proposition does not make it true or false, our attitudes of liking or disliking, approving or disapproving, or whatever, towards an action or a type of action does not make it good or bad, right or wrong.

Quote:
Ah, but we know one thing pretty well, don’t we? That we have been incorrect in the past.
Being mistaken is not merely changing our minds, or having one sort of feeling and then a different one. As Richard Brandt, wrote in Ethical Theory, “Suppose, for instance, as a child a person disliked eating peas. When he recalls this as an adult he is amused and notes how preferences change with age. He does not say, however, that his former attitude was mistaken. If, on the other hand, he remembers regarding irreligion or divorce as wicked, and now does not, he regards his former view as erroneous and unfounded. …”

Quote:
We all agree that “murder is wrong” and then we change which act should be counted as murder. You get a broad spectrum of opinion if you ask which of these deaths should be counted as murder – state executions, abortion, self defense based killing, war deaths, honor killings, euthanasia, eugenics. And even so, everyone will agree that murder is wrong.
Well, yes, at least one common meaning of ‘murder’ is ‘wrongfully taking a human life’. There are many types of taking of human lives that everybody agrees are wrong. I think that was Stony’s point. And his specific example was the Holocaust. Anybody who approvals of the Holocaust needs a new moral compass. Our approval or disapproval of the Holocaust, and genocide in general, is not on a par with our liking or disliking peas – just a matter of taste. There are other cases of taking of human life that there are disagreements about. But these, too, are not a matter of taste. That is one of the reasons why discussing right and wrong is not wrong and is, instead, almost mandatory.

Quote:
We [magicians] invite people to believe things about the world that are in direct opposition to what they know about the world.
Sorta. We, like other actors, should aim for a suspension of disbelief. I think, far too often, we only succeed in presenting a display of skill, or a puzzle. We should get our audience to think that – for example – we can really get a signed card to rise to the top of the deck; but far too often we only manage to get them to think we are very skillful with a deck of cards. We want our audience to believe, for a moment, that we have really cut somebody in two and then put the person back together, no worse for the experience. Instead, they only wonder how we created to illusion that we did that. On the other hand, after the show, we don’t want them to think that we can really cut somebody in two and put them together, just as the actors in a murder mystery don’t really want us to think, after the show is over, that the one actor really killed the other. I really don’t want to get this call at three in the morning: “You’ve got to help me! I just cut my wife in two, but I can’t figure out how to put her back together!”
Jonathan Townsend
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How do you know if someone else really believes what they say they know to be true?
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Higgenbottom
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Well, if the person is a lawyer or a politician or a banker, it's a pretty good bet that they don't.
Thom Bliss
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I suppose we could all add to Higgenbottom’s list.

It is probably easier to detect insincerity than sincerity. Is the person’s actions consistent with his/her professed beliefs?

But, as I have said before, and no doubt will say again, the sincerity of the person professing a belief (whether the belief is about morality, mathematics, or whatever) is an entirely different question from the truth or falsity of that belief.

That’s what some versions of relativism just don’t get.

Thom
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Thom Bliss
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Quote:
Most people who argue that morals are relative aren’t really saying that they are relative to changing cultures and situations, but that morals are a question of taste, and that no moral “truth” as such exists. … I don’t think that most people really hold this position deep down.
I think that is more properly moral subjectivism; but both relativism and subjectivism end up as skepticism.

If by “deep down” you mean consistently; then I totally agree. It’s only other peoples’ moral judgments that are mere expressions of feelings.

Moral skepticism is often used as a tool against those who hold a different moral view: “How dare you say that I acted wrongly in doing such-and-such. All you have a right to say is that you don’t approve of it, or that you don’t like it!” (Note the moral indignation [“How dare you”] and the moral judgment [“all you have a right to say” – i.e., “you acted wrongly in saying that I acted wrongly ….”])

If my judgment that the person acted wrongly was unfounded, then perhaps the rebuke would be justified. But if the rebuke is simply based on the idea that morals are just a matter of taste, then one reply would be, “How dare I? How dare you to criticize my criticism of your actions? The most you have a right to say, by your own lights, is that you don’t like my criticism of your actions. But since I believe that there are objective moral standards, I am in a position to criticize your actions.”

Thom
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