Post No.: 0391
Morality doesn’t just differ between different cultures but can differ between different individuals within the same country – often to suit individual people’s own particular worldviews, lifestyles and aspirations! There seems to be so much moral diversity – what seems absolutely right to one group or person can seem absolutely wrong to another. There’s also a disagreement as to whether moral relativism (right or wrong just depends on one’s culture or personal point of view), moral particularism (right or wrong depends on the particular circumstances) or moral realism (there are absolute rights or wrongs, at least for some moral questions, although people can debate on what those rights or wrongs are) is correct or best? One way might be the way it ‘is’ but this doesn’t necessarily make it the way it ‘ought’ to be too.
Yet, although it’s not universal, most of us will tend to believe that the moral philosophy we have been personally raised with or abide by is the more superior philosophy to any other that differs – but of course those who differ generally feel the same about their own adopted philosophies too. We are often blinded by our own sanctity – putting ourselves in the position of angels and people who fundamentally differ from us in the position of evil.
We probably all have moral hypocrisies or at least inconsistencies. For example, condemning someone for failing to help a person in need when they had the opportunity to help them, yet spending our own money on luxuries rather than donating it to help people in need; thus essentially valuing such unnecessary material goods higher than human life. Or, for those who eat meat, deeming it okay to eat some animals while others are considered unethical to eat.
We often say we would behave in a certain way if we ever found ourselves in a certain situation, yet fail to if we were to actually face those situations. For instance, if one has £100 or equivalent to spare right now, one would likely say that one would definitely relinquish it to save a life because a life is worth more and it’d be noble to… but then ultimately fail to reach for the phone or go online to actually make a donation to a charity. (As in right now, or at least straight after reading this post…)
An upsetting conclusion doesn’t make something untrue. What we preach or believe is right isn’t how we behave ourselves at all times. We may accept that it’s hard to justify that a coffee is worth more than using that money to help save a life, yet still struggle to change our behaviours and forego that coffee. Other people doing something just as bad or worse shouldn’t be a good justification for us to do it too, but we use such ad hoc justifications and relative comparisons so that we can sleep well at night. Sometimes morality comes down to appearances – we want to appear moral for our social reputations but we really want to get away with behaving immorally sometimes if we can (e.g. cheating, lying, stealing, free-riding)!
Learning that one’s ideas of morality aren’t the only possible ones, and that societies that function under different codes aren’t crumbling or full of crazy, monstrous or ignorant people once you personally meet them, should make us feel a lot more humble. There are societies that are relatively collectivist versus relatively individualist, liberal versus conservative, democratic versus communist, ‘looseness’ (it’s relatively okay for people to deviate from the social norms) versus ‘tightness’ (it’s relatively not okay for people to deviate from the social norms), or where honour is important versus not so important, for instance. Even though the general beliefs of people from other countries are at times completely opposed to our own because they have different perspectives – their convictions are as strong as our own. They rely on different moral philosophies but they do have a moral philosophy rather than none. They are therefore not evil – or if we consider them as such then we must accept that they’re allowed to consider us as such too, for merely being different or opposed to them while they consider themselves as the ones who are good.
Understanding where other people’s morals come from gives us more sympathy for those morals. For example, we might think a place where people take bloody revenge is not the kind of society we want but we could learn to understand why some people do it, or we might possibly understand why some people place greater importance on defending a woman’s honour and purity over letting them be equally free to do whatever they want, even if we totally disagree with that order of priority. Questioning our own beliefs and the sources of our own beliefs after learning more about them, along with the alternatives, can only be a good thing too. Woof!
Post No.: 0381 looked at how morality can and has changed over time and place. However, this is not to necessarily say that all morals are relative to the point they have no bounds or limits – most will argue that this would be going a tad too far. It’s perhaps like what’s ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ is relative but there are points when flesh burns or freezes. Maybe any extreme in any direction is bad, such as being too collectivistic or too individualistic? A group may want cohesion so much that internal dissent is curtailed, or individuals may neglect the group so much that there’s division and a lack of harmony. The right or best place is therefore probably a fluffy sweetspot somewhere inbetween, although this precise spot is still highly debateable or is quite broad. Well firstly, if people aren’t dying by the masses, how do we determine what’s ‘extreme’ without imparting our own personal biased perspectives and experiences? We could argue that people somewhere in another administration are dying due to starvation, but they could argue that people in our administration are dying due to diseases related to obesity and other vices. Are we in ‘the West’ living in an extreme culture then?
Perhaps we could attempt to blend different moral philosophies together? But some ideas directly oppose each other and so are incompatible with each other. We could perhaps apply, for instance, consequentialist arguments to one thing and then, for instance, deontological arguments to another thing? But then we might have to question why we have these arbitrary inconsistencies? It’d be as if we’re coming up with the outcome we personally want for a given situation first then justifying it afterwards according to what moral philosophy suits our desired conclusion(!) Well that’s precisely what most people do most of the time. (And again, what currently ‘is’ doesn’t necessarily make it the way it morally ‘ought’ to be.)
Rationalisations to justify one’s moral beliefs often come after one has chosen a moral belief to back, rather than before. For instance, if I want the outcome ‘I want to drive whatever and whenever I want and not be robbed by road taxes’, and the government wants to stop me, I might reason that they shouldn’t be allowed to because ‘that’s against my individual liberty’. But if I take the conclusion that ‘other people’s vehicle exhaust fumes are harming me and everyone else’, and therefore I want the law to intervene, I might reason that this should be allowed because ‘it’s for the greater good’, as well as ‘we shouldn’t harm other people without their consent’.
Alternatively, if we want to think that everybody can just believe and do whatever they want, we still cannot avoid making moral judgements. To claim to not have any moral judgements is a moral stance itself. To accept everybody as they are or to do nothing to interfere with other people’s decisions is a moral stance itself (e.g. to not interfere when seeing someone getting raped is a moral stance itself).
It is indeed an absolute moral maze!
Well I’d like to say that I think it’s good practice, where possible, to think about philosophical dilemmas or issues in hypothetical thought experiments before or away from any specific, present, real-world cases because one should be less involved in wanting a particular outcome or conclusion. In a present, real-world case, one usually desires a particular outcome from a self-interested perspective, and so usually starts, and ends, with trying to ad hoc justify a particular outcome, and behaves more like a lawyer who’s trying to defend one side and attack another, rather than like a good philosopher or scientist who’s trying to argue for and against any and all sides relatively dispassionately and impartially before settling on an outcome or conclusion.
It’s like when deciding on what’s morally fair – if in a present case we’re involved in we happen to be somewhere first, we’ll likely attempt to justify a ‘first come, first served’ basis of fairness, but if in a present case we’re involved in we happen to need something more, we’ll likely attempt to justify a ‘means-tested’ basis of fairness, or if we’re on the most powerful or numerous side, we’ll likely attempt to justify a ‘might is right’ or ‘democratic’ basis of fairness, and so forth!
Then when a real-world case arrives, one should hopefully apply some consistency of logic and answers with one’s thought experiments. We might therefore need to stake our flag firmly on (some flavour of) utilitarianism, libertarianism, liberalism or something else, and stick consistently with it?
Woof. This blog intentionally tries not to mention specific people or events if possible but keeps examples generic for this very reason. The relevance of specific people or events may change but the principles, upshots and lessons we can learn from them largely should not. And it’s about critical thinking rather than emotional or personal attacks.