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Thread: Morality and Society

  1. #1 Morality and Society 
    Red
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    I was wondering what your opinions are. I recently had to do a dissertation on a subject of society. You had to read three books and from them i got the idea that morals, social laws , religious teachings and other such core beliefs as the essence of right and wrong are really temporal base rules used to control the general populace into conformity and so achieve a stable society or a rulable one at least. So i suppose the issue I am putting forward is about all the formentioned rules, which i'll refer to as morailty from now on, whether they are set ultimate truths which exist outside of society and are timeless or as I believe they are temporary mechanisms of control which change with the times as society itself or more importantly societies leaders change. If this is true that they are only man made boundaries then the extreme beliefs people put in them to the point where they suffer from witholding happiness to satisfy societies momentary beliefs is in vain. If you therefore look at society through this belief you can see how much pain and anguish comes from such early conditioned beliefs which are created only to uniform and stabilise society for ruling and are open to being as foolish and incorrect as any human is. You can even question the what is right and wrong in society as those who make rules do most often to benifit theirselves. For example follow the rules and morals of quiet obediant servitude in your lower class job and you will be rewarded in heaven. Like in animal farm the animals are told to work hard for the farmer as when they die they will go to sugar plum fairy land. A clear use of religion to control people. Or am I of the mark and these values are simply being corrupted?


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  3. #2  
    Forum Professor sunshinewarrior's Avatar
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    Perhaps you could watch out for the false dichotomy:

    Quote Originally Posted by Red
    whether they are set ultimate truths which exist outside of society and are timeless or as I believe they are temporary mechanisms of control which change with the times as society itself or more importantly societies leaders change
    There are other possibilities, not just the either/or you have noted.

    Having said which, I do not believe there are eternal verities of morality: moral judgments are corrigible. I simply object to the notion that, if they are not absolute, then they have to be mechanisms of control subject 'more importantly' to the change of social leaders.


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  4. #3  
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    What else could they be. If they are not golden rules set through timeless expeirence or rules brought down from God on how he wishes us to live then what are they if not a way to get people to do what they want unquesstionably? Imagine society before modern policing or any policing for that matter. To keep society from not imploding the leaders would need something to deter people from anti-social behaviour such as stealing or murder. To tell people that their creator is watching their every move and ready to crush them when they do something wrong is the most effectual method i could think of to an uneducated population. That could explain the growing liberalism of the church through the ages. After all it used to be a top virtue to fear God now it is to love him.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Red
    What else could they be. If they are not golden rules set through timeless expeirence or rules brought down from God on how he wishes us to live then what are they if not a way to get people to do what they want unquesstionably? Imagine society before modern policing or any policing for that matter. To keep society from not imploding the leaders would need something to deter people from anti-social behaviour such as stealing or murder. To tell people that their creator is watching their every move and ready to crush them when they do something wrong is the most effectual method i could think of to an uneducated population. That could explain the growing liberalism of the church through the ages. After all it used to be a top virtue to fear God now it is to love him.
    There are other possibilities. Thanks to Nietzche and Marx, of course, your argument is quite popular among some philosophers, but it isn't the only game in town. Rousseau's social contract notion is different, as is the rule-utilitarianism suggested by many. Each of them has a different idea of what the role of morality might be in a society. Also, and importantly, let us not confuse the origins of an entity/process with the way it currently functions.
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  6. #5  
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    I won't fiegn to have great knowledge in these areas the philosphies you suggested seem not to difer but support my arguement. Nietzsche saw morality as a way to control people shown by the differences between slave and master morality, Rousseau again sees morality on the same par as laws as just another way to control or rather regulate society. Marx especially has distatse for morality seeing it as a way to keep the prolitariate down. The very text i sited, Animal Farm, is influenced by his teachings.
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    Forum Cosmic Wizard paralith's Avatar
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    As someone who studies the evolutionary origins of behavior, I tend to think about morality a little differently. I see the rules of morality as a means to promote cooperation within a group, so that the group as a whole can function better and achieve its members' common goals. Now, in the case where a small minority of the group has control of the group at large, I can see where you would view morals as twisted to suit the ruling subgroup. Still, I think morals in general have their place in helping to ensure a peaceful coexistence amongst our fellow humans. I suppose that in itself is still a form of control, but it is one that can potentially promote a truly happier, more peaceful population.
    Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.
    ~Jean-Paul Sartre
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  8. #7  
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    Yes i fully agree with you. I see the need for such morals as I do laws and also, to an extent, the need for it to be under the illusion of having some etheral quality so the general populase would follow it as a course of faith without thought or reason unlike a law but I do think that in some cases its special status shall i say causes alot of pain to individuals of the society who for one reaosn or another connot conform to them. Also morals tend to be much more open to prejudice and are highly more personal than laws which make them dangerous to peoples potential happiness especially since they are often unquestioned. I dont see morals as a twisted form of control just as a form of control neither good nor bad in its essence it just depends on which way it is used. Although as my own view of good and bad is created by the very morals society had taught me I can hardly tell what is good or bad universally as one societies good is anothers bad. Thats if you could even say their is such a thing as a universal good or bad.
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  9. #8  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Red
    Yes i fully agree with you. I see the need for such morals as I do laws and also, to an extent, the need for it to be under the illusion of having some etheral quality so the general populase would follow it as a course of faith without thought or reason unlike a law (emphasis mine - paralith) but I do think that in some cases its special status shall i say causes alot of pain to individuals of the society who for one reaosn or another connot conform to them. Also morals tend to be much more open to prejudice and are highly more personal than laws which make them dangerous to peoples potential happiness especially since they are often unquestioned.
    I wonder about the necessity for the "ethereal quality" of morals for the masses. I feel that a moral can have more power behind it if you understand it's purpose, and how it relates to you. If I understand how a given moral rule makes both my life and the lives of people around me better, then I'm more likely to accept the fact that it is in place. Also, if we take the time to understand that our moral rules are not some kind of unquestionable supernatural law, then we are more likely to change and adapt them for those special cases that you mentioned.
    Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.
    ~Jean-Paul Sartre
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  10. #9  
    Forum Professor sunshinewarrior's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Red
    I won't fiegn to have great knowledge in these areas the philosphies you suggested seem not to difer but support my arguement. Nietzsche saw morality as a way to control people shown by the differences between slave and master morality, Rousseau again sees morality on the same par as laws as just another way to control or rather regulate society. Marx especially has distatse for morality seeing it as a way to keep the prolitariate down. The very text i sited, Animal Farm, is influenced by his teachings.
    There is a difference.

    Start with this question: if society is being controlled, who is doing the controlling?

    If it is a particular person or group - that fits in with your argument.

    If, however, you recognise that morality is a form of self-control (ie everybody participates - as Hobbes, Locke, Rouseeau and many others suggest) then I do not believe it fits in with your point.
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  11. #10  
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    Paraltih: I do see where you are coming from in theory understanding should bring people to follow them more. Yet we understand laws and that they are their for the safety of society yet we break the ones we see as pety or able to break without others finding out. The difference I see between laws and morals is this special quality which due to early conditioning is so rooted into the consiounce that to act against them brings this emotional responce of guilt or fear as they feel somehow some spirit will know. A law on the other hand is seen as humanly and so able to be broken without this same self feeling. People need this feeling else they will only follow laws as long as they can without being found out to break them.

    Sunshine: It is not my arguement that morality is only used by "the leaders" to control " the people" simply that it is a means of control and no more spiritual than a law. Although on another topic I dont believe there is such thing as a society which self-controls. As soon as someone decides to let their own control go it is the society which corrects them through social or legal means. There is always someone who punishes and someone who is punished and they are never the same person.
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  12. #11  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Red
    Paraltih: I do see where you are coming from in theory understanding should bring people to follow them more. Yet we understand laws and that they are their for the safety of society yet we break the ones we see as pety or able to break without others finding out. The difference I see between laws and morals is this special quality which due to early conditioning is so rooted into the consiounce that to act against them brings this emotional responce of guilt or fear as they feel somehow some spirit will know. A law on the other hand is seen as humanly and so able to be broken without this same self feeling. People need this feeling else they will only follow laws as long as they can without being found out to break them.
    Well, the nice part is that I believe humans have evolved emotional directives when it comes to following good morals. Many people get enjoyment out of helping others - I know I do. Many people feel at ease and confident if they feel they are doing what's morally right. If we go by my definition of morals, as rules that aid the cooperation of groups, then we evolved emotions that encourage us to behave morally. Those groups that cooperated best competed the best with other groups, and ultimately gained greater reproductive success. Thus having emotional encouragement to behave morally can be adaptive. With morals, we can both intellectually understand them, and emotionally believe in them. I think some people may even feel this way about certain laws that they feel are fundamental to a good society. Whereas smaller "petty" laws, such as don't steal a candy bar from the gas station, will probably have less impact on the functioning of the group as a whole, and will have a much smaller emotional component. And yes, I do realize that emotion related to morals can be culturally learned as well. But in all likelihood there is still something of a genetic moral compass in all of us.
    Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.
    ~Jean-Paul Sartre
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  13. #12  
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    I agree that these rules are central to the maintainance of society but there is no genetic moral compass. There is however conditioned emotional and mental responces to situations caused by early moral conditioning. We are praised when we do something morally right and scorned when we do something morally wrong. That is why we get that happy feeling when we do something "right" just the same way you can condition a dog to be happy when he hears a bell ring when you have conditioned him to assosiate the bell with a reward or a trick with a reward. If there is something inherit morally in us at birth I would suggest it be from some form of genetic memory of conditioning as seen or theorised in some of the animal species. If we lived in a society where killing a certain animal was morally right and our ancestors had done the same for centuries and this was brought up to us that doing this was what "god" wanted and it was benificial to society then we would feel the same emotional responce to any moral even though this example would be against our set of morals. There is no right and wrong except what is best for society and what is detrimental to society. In a society which is corrupted so are these morals and we must be weary of what society tells us is the right or wrong way to behave. We dont have to look so far into our own history to see the social and moral believes which today are seen as disgusting but at that time were probably essential for the stability of that structure of society. Lokk at the institutioniled racism of the days when our economy relied on slaves. We were told we were better than these people and it would be morally or at least socially wrong to mix with them. We look at this now as repulsive but if living at that time we would see it as completely correct and conventional
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  14. #13  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Red
    I agree that these rules are central to the maintainance of society but there is no genetic moral compass. <snip>
    Having read a lot of Stephen Pinker's stuff over the last 10 years, and having had fun trying out theories of 'naturalisation of ethics', I suspect that we will, before too long, have a very clear idnetification of the 'moral modules' in our brains, and discover that they are similar to the language modules: we are innately driven to seek out or create moral systems, but the particular system chosen is primarily influenced by our environments.

    Why do I say this? Because there are moral 'emotions', like shame or righteous anger, that seem to have no purpose except the moral one. This seems scarcely likely if all our morals are purely socially constructed. Further, if they are socially constructed and inheirted by succeeding generations through memetic transfer (or just plain brainwashing say, in one's childhood and youth) the questions have to arise: whence the similarity of moral structures in societies around the world (paralleling the diveristy but essential universality of languages throughout the world)? Also, where did morality begin, then? If there was no genetic component to it who started it and how? And why has it been so persistent?
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    Thanks, sunshine. couldn't have said it better myself.

    I would just like to add that is important to remember that we are a cooperative, group living species, and capable of levels of cooperation unparalleled by any other animal on the planet. This is why we are so successful. But a group of individuals, especially if they're not all related, will be fraught with difficulties when it comes to cooperation. They can be susceptible to cheaters within the group who take advantage of the others who are more trusting and helpful. A group like this will be out-competed by a group that cooperates better; a group like this will not reproduce as much. Cooperation is favored by natural selection, thus an organic system, like the motivators of emotion linked to the idea of morals, that make cooperation more likely to happen will be selected for.
    Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.
    ~Jean-Paul Sartre
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  16. #15  
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    Through natural selection we as animals have evolved to become pack or social animals similar to wolf or any other animal which predominately exists within a society. These instiled predeterminants cause the emotions you sepak of when we do things against society and so our survival. Exactly what these rules are is of no consequance. I agree that we have a natural predisposition to follow social rules as that is the way which most benifits our survival similar to the pack instincts of wolves or wild dogs and other such social behaviours in animals. I do not agree although that the set of rules we play by is somehow built into us. The rules are irrelevant what is predetermined is that we want to follow them. I disagree with paralith that this is a trait only seen in humans. In fact there is a case that such examples as I have stated hold far more social stability through their rules than us. There is no social disruption in the pack, they have no reveloution of ideology, no rebels to the rules. Animals in the pack take the rules as solid their may be redistributions to power due to the strongest losing their strength and being overtaken but they do not resent the pack for this they rejoin at a lower rank with no feelings detrimental to society. In many ways animal societies are far more cooperative and stable than our own considering they havent got the built in social control mechanisms of doctrine and morals to keep it all together.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Red
    I do not agree although that the set of rules we play by is somehow built into us. The rules are irrelevant what is predetermined is that we want to follow them. I disagree with paralith that this is a trait only seen in humans.
    Firstly, no where did I say that humans are the only animals capable of cooperation. Only that we carry out complex cooperative tasks over very large group sizes, that we achieve levels of cooperation that other animals do not. Secondly, your idea that animal societies are somehow more stable than ours is incorrect. The power redistributions that you mention can be very stressful to the members of the group and can sometimes be detrimental to the functioning of the group as a whole. It is not simply a moving of pieces and then everything is ok. The ousted leader may attempt to regain control at some point, or other members of the group previously allied to the leader may or may not change their alliances to the new leader.

    As for the "the set of rules we play by is somehow build into us," I think that is only partly true. I think that yes, for the most part, it's more the capacity to follow these rules than anything else that is genetic; however, certain species or lineages of species can have tendencies for certain kinds of social patterns, which will in turn be best suited by certain specific rules of morality. But at this point there hasn't been enough research into this field for me to know how specific our genetic moral compass could be, suffice to say that at this point I think it's a plausible hypothesis that some more basic rules may be built in. But I don't know at this point.
    Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.
    ~Jean-Paul Sartre
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  18. #17  
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    I see no possible way such beliefs could be genetic. Genes dictate protein synthesise as well as cellular behaviour and life. They create your brain cells they do not form beliefs and ideas. These come from experience. Nurture not Nature. The reaosn their are similarities in culture as you said in the post before last is that the human experience is often similar so beliefs such as it is wrong to murder members of your own society will happen regardless as it is important for stability. The fact alot of morals are similar now does not mean they have always been. Western empires and colonialism has converted the heathens to believe like us. Look at Aboriginies in our culture euphanaisia is a negative issue to the majority and accepted by some for those in great pain. In tribes where food was scarce the old would traditionally and honourable leave the tribe and walk into the desert on the "long walk" until they die. This promotes the growth of their community so was morally correct.
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    A brain is an expensive organ to maintain. Brains, therefore, are optimized for certain functions according to the adaptive needs of the species, and anything that does not increase reproductive success is not maintained; the resource cost is too high. Though we are shaped by our experience, the structure of our brains determines the manner in which we understand and organize the experiences that we gain. Thus certain patterns of thought and understanding can be, in part, genetic. And when the brain is being used as a tool towards social harmony, so then will its structure bias us towards perspectives that favor it.
    Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.
    ~Jean-Paul Sartre
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  20. #19  
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    I'd say genes give animals a basic survival handbook (instincts) located in the brain that would mainly consist of the furthering of one's genes. In social animals this extends to, in a secondary manner to one's own genes, that of close relatives. What a larger brain can then do (in social animals) is adapt to the specific circumstances in the group with the main aim still being one’s own genes being perpetuated. That would lead to “morals”, that would serve functions towards the survival of a species as a whole. “Morals” in captions , because it is highly subject to change.
    Disclaimer: I do not declare myself to be an expert on ANY subject. If I state something as fact that is obviously wrong, please don't hesitate to correct me. I welcome such corrections in an attempt to be as truthful and accurate as possible.

    "Gullibility kills" - Carl Sagan
    "All people know the same truth. Our lives consist of how we chose to distort it." - Harry Block
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  21. #20  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Red
    I see no possible way such beliefs could be genetic. Genes dictate protein synthesise as well as cellular behaviour and life. They create your brain cells they do not form beliefs and ideas.
    Explain the following then:

    Infants are born with ideas of solids and shapes, quantity and movement.

    This is just one of a series of studies that indicates innate 'ideas' and 'beliefs' - fear of smakes, for instance, is innate not just in humans (in general) but amongst many primate groups. Vervet monkeys have a distinctly different 'snake' alert call from their regular alert calls, and all of them react differently - even the young.

    It may be that you cannot imagine how this might be the case, but it does not stop it from being the case.
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