Tuesday, July 22

How do you judge morals?

Now this (hat tip Hamish Marshall here) made me go hmmmm, very interesting formulation of how you judge issues relating to morality?

  • Harm: whether someone is harmed or harm is reduced.
  • Reciprocity: whether something is fair and treats people fairly and justly.
  • In-group: whether something betrays the group.
  • Hierarchy: whether something is respectful of authority and superiors.
  • Purity: whether or not something is disgusting.

Liberal minded people only look at the first two while conservatives look at all five of them. My first impression was, why on earth would you even consider the bottom three when dealing with morals? Surely, they do not apply? But then, on reflection, the other three also make sense.

Professor's Haidt's book is still not out yet, but it made sense. There is no debate about the first two, I would guess, but lets take the next three. The in-group one is quite powerful if a bit alien in today's western societies. This is the group relating from the family to the neighbourhood to the locality to the city to the society to the nation. And morals do apply from the family up to the nation. I mean, you would not do anything that will betray the family, would you? That is based upon a moral judgement.

Then comes the Hierarchy bit. Do we need to be respectful of authority and superiors? Generally yes, there are there for a reason, one can challenge it, but the default position is that that position has to be respected. Otherwise what about parental control over children? or teachers over children? or lecturers over children? or policemen over criminals or a corporate life? or anywhere there is a ranking? There is a place for challenge and being a maverick but all the time? Hmmm, on the balance, I would have said no.

Here's a great and related story that I read today when hierarchy vanishes or is reduced. What will children grow up to if they have no evidence of or respect for their parents, teachers and the like? Would I judge a child who does not respect his parents? Yes, I would. I rebelled against my parents, teachers, society and the like, but to what extent? You did too. But perhaps taking to the extreme is not good either so morals do apply.

Finally, the purity bit. Could be, could well be. Your personal view on morals can be judged on whether or not something is disgusting. Say short skirts, or long hair. Would that be a symptom of degeneracy? Or utilising SMS speak in your emails or essays? (I was horrified to see this language in emails from a pretty senior lady, gobsmacking) I am a purist in that case, but then my editor gets upset with me for my punctuation mistakes which are huge. Morals? surely yes.

So, yes, I am afraid I am sounding like a conservative, no? but there you go. What do you think?

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1 comment:

M Raleigh said...

With the issue of Hierarchy, even though what you say is correct I do not think it comes under Morality. I think that one should respect hierarchy out of Practicality and compromise rather than any moral reasons. The two things must be separated. A good example is in your last paragraph, where you have gone the opposite way, whereas here you have linked Morality with Practicality, you opposed them on the issue of text speech. This is certainly more practical yet, as you say, it is disgusting and thus ‘immoral’ under that criteria.

On the same topic but in another gist, what happens in the situation where the moral thing to do is to rebel against authority? If the authority is working in an obviously immoral way i.e. genocide, it would then be the moral thing to rebel. This makes respect of hierarchy a moral criteria only in certain situations and thus it cannot be used as a general concept.

This is an area where the 'moral criteria' could potentially conflict. The criteria of purity would suggests that the leadership is immoral, the criteria of hierarchy would suggest that you remain in support of authority, and yet the group loyalty criteria would suggest that you should rebel in order to protect your family. This one is particularly confusing because which group do you take? Loyalty to your family, neighbourhood, race, ethnicity, nation?

On second thoughts, group loyalty as a criteria for morality is not only wrong but I think quite dangerous. Until people can shed their loyalties to race, ethnicities and even nations, we will never have peace.

The criteria is too do with peoples prejudices rather than morality. A general concept of right and wrong in moral terms can never be created when you have to take these into account. This criteria is pointless and will serve just to confuse, as to everyone different things disgust.