Post No.: 0113
Following on from Post No.: 0023 about how science cannot always answer what we ought to do with the facts we find – philosophy, religion and politics attempt to answer the questions that science alone cannot break the deadlock of.
Now philosophical arguments must follow logic, yet logic still cannot objectively answer every question we like or need to answer (such as in cases of placing one right or freedom above another right or freedom e.g. press freedom versus individual privacy rights, or dilemmas that involve paradoxes) – but philosophy (depending on the school of thought) generally doesn’t pretend it can. Some religions might claim to have the ‘absolute final words’ on matters – but there are many competing religious beliefs. And there may be relatively popular versus less popular answers or opinions, such as in politically majoritarian decisions – but there are still no objectively right or wrong answers or opinions regarding ‘purpose’ or ‘what to do’ kinds of questions. A popular opinion today or in one place might become an unpopular opinion tomorrow or in another place, or vice-versa. And just because some other people are doing something, or something was acceptable in the past, this doesn’t make it morally okay for one to do it too or to do it today (e.g. just because some tribes in history have raped and pillaged without repercussions, it doesn’t make it therefore morally acceptable that people can do the same today).
So even philosophy (as a discipline in its entirety as opposed to selecting specific schools of thought), religion (as a subject in its entirety as opposed to selecting specific religions), or politics (again as a field in its entirety as opposed to selecting specific political leanings) don’t claim to be able to bring definitive or immutable objective ‘why’ or ‘ought’ answers. But they do help us by trying to reason, impose, or collectively agree upon, some answers, to guide our lives and societies so that we can function together in a practical sense. This is why secular law is full of grey areas e.g. there is no scientific and objective measure for determining ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’ or common legal terms like ‘substantial’ – these are based on the personal subjective feelings and philosophically, religiously and/or politically-guided convictions of (past) jurors’/decision makers’ regarding where these lines are, hence valid disagreements can arise between individual views. What is considered moral or ethical, or right or wrong, is also contextual or cultural, not absolute.
How about Ship of Theseus scenarios and the question of personal identity from one moment to the next for anything that changes in any way – such as ‘you’ when young compared to ‘you’ today, since the exact molecules or cells that make up ‘you’ are constantly churning or dying and being replaced? Are ‘you’ right now even the same person as ‘you were’ just a day ago? Even if neurons in the cerebral cortex never get replaced after birth but just die (although this has been strongly challenged with the latest research), your current brain is not physically the exact same one to the one you had a few years ago. This is an important question to answer that regards property ownership, responsibility, deservedness of outcomes and contracts made between parties.
Is force or coercion always bad? Sometimes older people wished their parents forced them to eat more healthily, be more physically active or learn another language, for instance, when they were children. We may need to force people to look after the environment for everyone’s benefit – especially the benefit of yet-born children who will pay the price for our and previous generations’ costs. Education is evidently insufficient in some contexts – we could educate people but often people don’t want to be educated or to follow the facts on something that spoils their own pleasures or desires. Yet force is against individual autonomy rights.
Should everyone eat less or no meat at all (particularly ruminant animals, and even fish)? We all strongly arguably need to adopt the attitude of wasting nothing and consuming less overall, but some people care more about the economy and continually increasing our consumption to grow the economy, where doing so would create more jobs and lift a lot of people out of poverty, especially in still ‘developing’ countries. Humans indisputably evolved as omnivores from a scientific perspective, but from another scientific perspective it would help the environment to eat less or no meat; yet from another scientific perspective so would reducing or ceasing many other activities such as driving, air travel and the use of a lot of modern technologies. So where should we draw the lines? Woof.
Are the illicit drug suppliers or the users more at fault? Are the guns or the people who use them more at fault? Parking any external side-effects to one side for the moment, we could experiment to see which is more important to the result we desire i.e. remove all guns or illicit drugs to see if there’ll be fewer gun-related deaths or drug addictions respectively, but we could also remove all drug users or people with guns instead – either would solve their respective problems because both are logically required in the causal chain to create their undesired outcomes, hence science won’t help us to pick between these solutions. And so it’s arguably arbitrary what we should do, if anything at all (well science would likely tell us to do both but people don’t always want to follow the science anyway because of personal vested interests and/or beliefs).
Placebos can work in certain contexts but these are technically lies so should we never morally use such lies? We cannot answer these types of questions of fuzzy morality empirically and objectively. What if some religious/spiritual beliefs in things (that are not empirically true) can maximise people’s well-being (which empirically can be true)?! If placebos are okay then are beliefs in deities, spiritual ghosts and Santa Claus okay if there’s no real harm or it improves well-being? Should we follow the empirical truth of a claim or the empirical outcome of improved subjective well-being? What if lying or fraud maximises sexual selection or corporate or political prowess? Would it be ‘good for them and their self-interests’ or are such strategies ‘unfair and uncivil’?
If love is good then is tough love cruel or kind? And wouldn’t life be boring without a bit of pain now and again? But what’s considered ‘pain’ or ‘pleasure’ can be subjective so how can we settle on a secular law that suits everyone? What if someone finds pleasure in blowing stuff up for the fluffy fun of it? Some chocolate consumption leads to lots of happiness for most people – so should these people just stuff themselves with chocolate until they get diabetes or heart disease? ‘Happiness’ in one context (the immediate short-term) can mean ‘pain’ in another context (the long-term) – so which context should take priority over the other? ‘Happiness’, ‘life satisfaction’ or ‘subjective well-being’ are themselves hypothetical constructs with no practically complete or objective way to measure them. Brain scans may be able to answer this in the future or may not. A person who orgasms non-stop is in hell though, not heaven.
If society shouldn’t be guided by maximising ‘truth’, ‘pleasure’ or ‘fertility’ then how about minimising ‘suffering’? Well one way we could logically minimise suffering is by ceasing to have children altogether because those who are never born won’t ever feel suffering(!) But most people would reject this idea despite its plain logic. Objectively, the human race only has an infinitesimal chance approaching zero of lasting forever so why are people having children as if humans rationally have a chance, and all the while imposing suffering upon new generations of people? How can people objectively say that the happiness added is worth the suffering added because how many ‘units of happiness’ (whatever these units are and how they’re measured) compensate for how many ‘units of suffering’ (whatever these units are and how they’re measured)?
How much compensation indemnifies ‘priceless’ things like a person’s life or health? Even literally ‘an eye for an eye’ or ‘a life for a life’ isn’t what most people morally want even though it’s an objective balance (e.g. killing a murderer’s child because they killed your child). And there are many more dilemmas, conundrums and philosophical questions that we want or need answers to, as a civilisation, that cannot be objectively answered… At some point, these kinds of questions require using the emotive heart over the cold-calculating head to answer.
So whatever measure you personally choose to use to argue what ‘ought’ to be or what we ‘ought’ to do in any context will be subjective, even if the entire world’s current population unanimously agreed upon an answer or opinion. It highlights that how people morally judge others can only truly speak the truth about themselves and/or the dominant contemporaneous culture they’re in e.g. slavery wasn’t always considered immoral by the majority in certain countries (or at least by those with the power and wealth), yet the freedom of movement has taken or is threatening to take a backwards step in some (arguably considered ‘advanced’ and secular) countries today – meaning that the progression of morality isn’t always just a linear one-way journey towards ‘a state of ultimate freedom or equality as time goes by’, even though there may be a general trend over time in some areas.
Like the evolution of the human species itself, the evolution of morality (which is essentially a collection of cultural memes) doesn’t really have an end state that it’s absolutely or inevitably heading towards that we can say will definitely be the final and objective truth, answer or form. But in a universe of meaninglessness from a scientific perspective, and relativity in moral contexts – does this mean moral relativism is therefore ‘right’? Yet arguably no healthy or non-psychopathic human thinks or at least feels this way (as in it’s fine for other people to do or have done something as long as they think or thought it is or was morally acceptable to do it – no, most people want others to follow what oneself currently thinks is morally acceptable to do or have done because most people consider strong moral convictions as being absolute rather than relative or negotiable).
Sometimes it’s the case that some people won’t accept the objective truths or answers, but sometimes it’s the case that there are no objective truths or answers (i.e. regarding ‘purpose’ or ‘what to do’ questions). And that’s why debates around moral, ethical and legal issues will likely never ever settle once and for all. But we should keep on debating such issues because we don’t have to be right for all time but right for now and the foreseeable future. Individual facts don’t evolve but the number of facts can grow, where these new facts may align with previously-known facts or contradict them. Civilisations can evolve and can grow by basing their views on this growing number of facts over time. This is why we must constantly keep up to date with the latest thoughts, arguments and evidence.