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guywithanaccountnow's avatar

How do we deal with everything being immoral?

Asked by guywithanaccountnow (313points) January 25th, 2014

Sometimes to avoid doing wrong is easy. Even times when it isn’t, it still technically can be done. What about the events we set in motion indirectly, though, that as long as we live we can’t avoid causing? And what about how for us to survive some other thing has got to suffer or die?

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9 Answers

thorninmud's avatar

You can’t separate morality from intentionality. Morality isn’t concerned so much with the actual consequences of an action as with the intentions of the actor. This is why we hold someone who plots an act of terror to be immoral even if the attack is thwarted; and why we judge people who unintentionally cause an accident not to be morally culpable. So the measure of immorality isn’t harm, but the intention to cause harm.

Harm is difficult to define in absolute terms. On the grand scale of the universe, there is just the constant churn of change, none of it problematic. Things are just as they are. Zoom in on a local level, though, and you find that change is disruptive. insofar as the well-being of some beings is invested in things being a certain way, then messing with that state of affairs will cause suffering; you now have harm.

From an absolute perspective, you could say that we all just need to accept that everything changes, that there’s no state of affairs that one can pin one’s well-being to without having that pulled out from under you at some point, so everyone just needs to go with the flow. Maybe it’s true that if all beings could do this, we’d find that there’s no more suffering, and so no more harm. Just the churn of change.

But we live our lives on a local level, where the relative matters as much as the absolute. It’s at this relative level that morality comes into play. Our lives are shaped by our human mind, which has the peculiarity of being attuned to what others feel. It resonates with other minds. On some level, it suffers when others suffer, and is happy when others are happy. Metaphorically, we’re all swimming in the same pool of feeling.

If we required of each other that nobody do anything that might potentially cause a disruptive change that will negatively impact some being down the road, we would indeed be paralyzed. But that’s not what we ask. Instead, we seek a balance between the absolute and the relative. We accept that change is inevitable, and that no one can always have things as they like. But we also demand that each person, to the best of their ability, make a good-faith effort to be a good citizen of this common pool of feeling.

You can justify anything if you see your actions as “Shiva, the Destroyer and Creator”, but that errs in the direction of the absolute. Or you can get so bogged down in the knowledge that you can’t do anything without impacting another being that you cannot act at all; but that is to err in the direction of the relative. Instead we have to thread a path that allows us to function as healthy beings, while giving as much consideration as possible to the well-being of others. It’s not always easy to know how to do that.

zenvelo's avatar

There is really very little, in the totality of things, that is immoral. Immoral is not something that is inherent in an action. Sex is not immoral, swearing is not immoral, technical adultery is not inherently immoral (there are circumstances when most people would say yes, go ahead and be with that person, your husband is a cruel ogre and you deserve some love); theft is not inherently immoral (think Jean Valjean in Les Miserables).

Immorality evolves from willful intent to do wrong, to choose a path that one knows is detrimental to someone.

(I just read @thorninmud‘s post, I am glad we have similar thoughts although he is much more eloquent.)

SwanSwanHummingbird's avatar

Immoral according to who? Morality is subjective.

josie's avatar

Morality is objective and it is the principle that determines whether we, as living and reasoning creatures, are making choices and subsequent actions that support or threaten our own existence.

Social convention determines how we treat others and it is definitely subjective.

There is no totally reliable way to predict the future but you can make a pretty good guess about the consequences of your actions based on your own experience or the experience of others.

And yes, occasionally a chicken, or cow, or homicidal psychopath has to die so you can survive.

thorninmud's avatar

@josie ‘s comment (”...occasionally a chicken, or cow, or homicidal psychopath has to die so you can survive.”) brings up an important point. In the murky business of navigating between the relative (“I can’t do anything for fear of causing harm”) and absolute (“it’s all just change”) perspectives, there is a range of possible choices. Some, for instance, choose to not eat meat, while others eat it. One is not inherently “more moral” than the other. It is quite possible for equally moral people to make either choice.

gorillapaws's avatar

@SwanSwanHummingbird Morality is most definitely not subjective, nor is it relative. Different moral theories are still debated of course, but moral relativism and moral subjectivism are pretty much universally rejected among philosophers.

I’m personally a fan of John Rawls’ theory.

SwanSwanHummingbird's avatar

Oh. The philosophers must be right. They have been since it was moral and good for men to have sex with young boys.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@SwanSwanHummingbird First, let’s just take a moment to acknowledge that your latest post is an ad hominem fallacy, and as such has no argumentative force. Second, you might want to brush up on your history. Socrates and Plato, who were more or less the founders of the Western philosophical tradition as it is most commonly understood, both rejected pederasty.

@gorillapaws Rawls’ theory is a form of very sophisticated subjectivism and is more a theory of political justice than anything else.

LostInParadise's avatar

There are only a finite number of resources in the world. The very fact that you are alive is depriving other possible life forms of the carbon and other molecules that they would require.

All you can do is to formulate for yourself a sense of rightness and to try to live up to it. There is no objective morality. By your actions you create your own morality. There is much that we can agree upon, but there will always be cases where you have to choose between two different equally moral (or immoral) actions.

Is abortion wrong? It is wrong to take a human life, but at what point does a fetus become human? At conception? At birth? Somewhere in between?

It is wrong to hurt the environment, but human settlement must displace other species.. Where do we draw the line? What is the best policy?

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