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Author Topic: Natural law and morals  (Read 4084 times)

feralfae

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Re: Natural law and morals
« Reply #30 on: April 25, 2008, 10:24 AM NHFT »

I wonder if it is possible to redefine human interactions in terms of ethics, rather than morals, since I agree that morals are often both subjectively and religiously laden.

Is it possible that what we need to discuss are human ethics?  I am choosing the word ethics because it does not carry the connotative overburden of either of those stated characteristics, nor the additional one of being value-laden and emotive for most humans: ethics seems to be a slightly more neutral word to employ when discussion human actions and interactions.

Given that the word ethics is acceptable, how does one human construct an ethical frame of reference from which to operate?  Since in any logical analysis of human action, we each can only approach thinking about human action as an individual, and from an individual, viewpoint, then, it seems to me, the most we can hope to accomplish is to define that set of ethics which best enhances our individual life.  

If, as an individual, I am capable of observing the logical flow of events which follow the actions of other humans, I can begin to develop a set of ethics, and that set, fundamentally, may include such ethical precepts as:
do not practice incest for practical reasons of genetic complications;
do not practice cannibalism for practical reasons of disease control, as well as so my offspring will enhance my life through added joy and delight;
do not practice club-swinging as it is far less effective now that we have human language;
gain knowledge through sharing ideas;
gain access to more value through cooperative efforts, such as group hunting, than through constant competition on an individual level;
gain material value through cooperative exchange, so that you can exchange with the other individual again later.  I cannot do that if I kill him or eat him;
do not initiate coercive force because the intended victim may be able to kill you prior to you killing him;
do not initiate force because if you do, you will be shunned by other humans who have already learned that lesson and added that precept to their ethics.  When you are shunned, your level of utility in gaining value is severely reduced and restricted.

I offer these ideas for discussion, not as definitive statements on human ethics.
 
I should add that I am an anthropologist, of human evolution and thought, and as such, have spent a rather inordinate amount of time considering the evolutionary course of humans, especially the macro-development of human action and interaction with the introduction of such concepts as spoken language, written language, global communication, and the inherent sharing of all ideas which expand with each development, and each expansion's relationship to how humans then shaped society and their ethical precepts.
ff

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John Edward Mercier

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Re: Natural law and morals
« Reply #31 on: April 25, 2008, 10:45 AM NHFT »

Wouldn't that fall back under 'perceived maximum value' being the most likely candidate for a universal constant?
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dalebert

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Re: Natural law and morals
« Reply #32 on: April 25, 2008, 11:48 AM NHFT »

A Law in science is a universal constant... its not supposed to be fluid.
The term was more likely used first by someone wishing to establish their hypothesis as being unquestionable. They more likely gathered circumstancial evidence based on observation of their immediate scope of knowledge... and should have termed it Natural Theory... but went for the big one.

But "natural law" isn't referring to a scientific law. It's referring to laws of morality. I don't care to argue what someone else's motives might be in using the term. I'm only clarifying what I and many others mean when they use the term.
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Ron Helwig

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Re: Natural law and morals
« Reply #33 on: April 25, 2008, 03:19 PM NHFT »

By calling man-made rules "laws", the proponents of the rules are attempting to give them more authority/legitimacy than they deserve.

I think anarchists ought to stop giving them more weight than they deserve by calling them laws and ought to call them rules or something like that that carries less of a connotation of legitimacy.
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PattyLee loves dogs

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Re: Natural law and morals
« Reply #34 on: April 25, 2008, 05:20 PM NHFT »

Quote
By calling man-made rules "laws", the proponents of the rules are attempting to give them more authority/legitimacy than they deserve.

That's true nowadays. The original idea behind the term "natural law" was that it referred to the laws that underlay successful human societies. In other words, actual natural laws, exactly as in Physics.

Hayek and Von Mises, for instance, proposed that government couldn't interfere with market pricing without lowering economic productivity. Insofar as you can do controlled experiments on humans, this one has been demonstrated pretty well... I'd call it a "natural law" until someone shows an example of a successful command economy.
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memenode

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Re: Natural law and morals
« Reply #35 on: April 25, 2008, 07:59 PM NHFT »

Feralfae, using the term "ethics" instead of "morals" could perhaps be a bit better strategy considering the connotations you speak of, although I don't really connote that term too negatively. But in any case, when I speak of morals I really speak of ethics and vice versa. The two terms are, in my mind, largely synonymous.

The ethical precepts you named seem to be among the things most people do learn and adopt, and would act on them regardless of whether there was a law that said something to the extent of "do no harm" or not. They come naturally. While we might not be able to claim that these precepts are "natural law" we can say that they are the most likely outcome of that which can be claimed as "natural law" - such as the fact that we live as self-aware, decision making beings capable of action who want to protect ourselves from harm and always pursue maximum mental reward (individual values). IMHO, those principles are what I consider "natural law" whereas I consider ethical standards such as non-coercion at least a mere outcome of these natural facts.

John Edward Mercier, I agree with you that natural law might even more precisely be called a "natural theory", in so far as I would consider all currently adopted "truths" as possibly challenged in the future. However, this possibility exists even for some "laws" of physics, yet we still call them laws since we at this point in time find them to be supported by evidence we find in the results of our probing and testing (the scientific process). That said, I still wont call non-coercion a natural law as such, but I find it to be the very usual outcome of natural law describing us as humans: human nature - the universal traits that we posses, which define us as species.

Ron Helwig, I agree with the motion to stop calling man-made laws as "laws". "Rules" sounds fine, but when greater descriptiveness is appropriate I think they can easily be called a list of wishes on how one wants others to live, which happen to be forced by the army funded by money stolen from ignorant people. :P
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feralfae

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Re: Natural law and morals
« Reply #36 on: April 26, 2008, 01:12 AM NHFT »

Feralfae, using the term "ethics" instead of "morals" could perhaps be a bit better strategy considering the connotations you speak of, although I don't really connote that term too negatively. But in any case, when I speak of morals I really speak of ethics and vice versa. The two terms are, in my mind, largely synonymous.

The ethical precepts you named seem to be among the things most people do learn and adopt, and would act on them regardless of whether there was a law that said something to the extent of "do no harm" or not. They come naturally. While we might not be able to claim that these precepts are "natural law" we can say that they are the most likely outcome of that which can be claimed as "natural law" - such as the fact that we live as self-aware, decision making beings capable of action who want to protect ourselves from harm and always pursue maximum mental reward (individual values). IMHO, those principles are what I consider "natural law" whereas I consider ethical standards such as non-coercion at least a mere outcome of these natural facts. :P

Gu3st,
Interesting, and yes, for those humans who hold no religious precepts, (and who are not sociopathalogically inclined to find cannibalism moral)   :P ::) , the words morals and ethics may be considered interchangeable. 
Yet, considering the universal nature of the human characteristics we are discussing, and given even the most casual observation of humans, I believe it is necessary to find a word which most closely holds a meaning and connotations which most effectively convey the concept we intend to discuss, without diffusing that concept with other considerations, for which other, more apt words might apply.  Thus, while, subjectively, the words may be interchangeable for you, let us not presuppose that these words are interchangeable amongst most humans. 

Is it not therefore probable that, since there are more than two humans here holding a discussion in this forum, the most precise use of words available to us will enhance the utility of our discussion?

Yes, the ethical precepts I listed have been adopted by humans over the course of human evolution, by the observing and synthesizing nature of the human brain  (a delightful problem-solving device if I ever operated one!).  For many reasons, all of which I am sure come readily to your mind, human observation, and thus the synthesizing of data, have increased astronomically in the recent history of humans. 

Relatively typing, concepts of individual rights, and thus human rights, are being shared globally at this time.  Concepts of the inherent equal worth of female and male, and the possibility of global peace, are being resurrected from that recent human cultural memory loss associated - at a most fundamental level of humanity's foundational culture - with the loss of the Goddess.  (I type here of a few thousand years, but this is relative.)

Back to ethics: those ethical precepts humanity holds must also have been synthesized into an obvious solution to a human problem: a cultural or social problem, if you will. 

And, just as one can see that the human taboo on incest grew out of many generations of human observation, to finally result in an ethical precept, so, too, is the non-aggression taboo taking hold, and slowly being integrated as an ethical precept.   

And although they did not do very much at all to restore the equality of men and women, or, actually, that part of the message was most probably suppressed by a patriarchal culture, one thing Moses, Lao Tsu, Buddha, Jesus and Krishna all did was continually reiterate the message of non-aggression.  This long-introduced ethical precept is slowly being absorbed as humanity's observations synthesize into, first, that non-aggression taboo, and then, the conscious articulation of the ethical concept of non-aggression.

(Humans catch up with their prophets slowly.   :)

feralfae
ps:
got this from the epistomologist when I was discussing this thread with him:
"The problem with ethics and morals is that the words do not convey sufficiently precise meanings for diverse data bases (minds) that use the words for different purposes.  The meanings lead to too many other words with nebulous meanings.  Those and other such words, such as right and wrong, can be defined as that which is contradicted, and that which is not contradicted, or logical and not logical, or that which follows from the data, and that which does not follow from the data.  One of the difficulties people have is training their mind to recognize that concept.  Either a concept contains no contradiction as stated or manifested, or a contradiction can be identified in its spoken/written expression or manifestation.

After a person recognizes the controlling demarcation of a concept being contradicted or not contradicted, everything becomes "easier", or more quickly synthesized by the brain."
Okay, his explanation is a lot clearer than was mine. ff
 
« Last Edit: April 26, 2008, 10:14 PM NHFT by feralfae »
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J’raxis 270145

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Re: Natural law and morals
« Reply #37 on: April 27, 2008, 02:55 AM NHFT »

A Law in science is a universal constant... its not supposed to be fluid.
The term was more likely used first by someone wishing to establish their hypothesis as being unquestionable. They more likely gathered circumstancial evidence based on observation of their immediate scope of knowledge... and should have termed it Natural Theory... but went for the big one.

Mathematical and logical laws are universal constants. Since scientific laws are discovered—a flawed process to begin with, since it basically means humans poking around in the dark—they’re very rarely constant. What was discovered to be true at one point is refined over time, often altered, and sometimes even discarded outright. Scientific laws should be, and would be, constant, if we had complete knowledge of the Universe, but we don’t, so they’re not.
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J’raxis 270145

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Re: Natural law and morals
« Reply #38 on: April 27, 2008, 03:13 AM NHFT »

got this from the epistomologist when I was discussing this thread with him:
"The problem with ethics and morals is that the words do not convey sufficiently precise meanings for diverse data bases (minds) that use the words for different purposes.  The meanings lead to too many other words with nebulous meanings.  Those and other such words, such as right and wrong, can be defined as that which is contradicted, and that which is not contradicted, or logical and not logical, or that which follows from the data, and that which does not follow from the data.  One of the difficulties people have is training their mind to recognize that concept.  Either a concept contains no contradiction as stated or manifested, or a contradiction can be identified in its spoken/written expression or manifestation.

This is why I define terms when I get into these types of debates. I define morality specifically to mean those things one considers to be disagreeable, and that one believes ought to be answered with force. This is in actuality just a refinement of what most people do in fact mean by morality, but spelling it out makes sure everyone’s on the same page. Some people do in fact think something can be labeled “immoral” without acting upon such immorality, but most “immoral” things are those which people, if they can, try to prohibit, prevent, or punish.

With that definition of morality in mind, it becomes clear that what I’m talking about is different from your idea of ethics, since (I hope, at least) the things you listed as good ethical values aren’t things you would hope to enforce, but merely recommend people do.
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John Edward Mercier

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Re: Natural law and morals
« Reply #39 on: April 27, 2008, 11:15 AM NHFT »

A Law in science is a universal constant... its not supposed to be fluid.
The term was more likely used first by someone wishing to establish their hypothesis as being unquestionable. They more likely gathered circumstantial evidence based on observation of their immediate scope of knowledge... and should have termed it Natural Theory... but went for the big one.

Mathematical and logical laws are universal constants. Since scientific laws are discovered—a flawed process to begin with, since it basically means humans poking around in the dark—they’re very rarely constant. What was discovered to be true at one point is refined over time, often altered, and sometimes even discarded outright. Scientific laws should be, and would be, constant, if we had complete knowledge of the Universe, but we don’t, so they’re not.

I think this more of a human condition of need for consistency. The Law of Gravity... could have easily been called the Theory of Gravity as it is today, but the need for constants drives us to impose them as law... to only later have to backtrack.
A natural law would be more inherent to being, while ethics/morals are more inherent to society.
That's why I think the position that Perceived Maximum Value being so individualistic may actually fit into natural theory.
 
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J’raxis 270145

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Re: Natural law and morals
« Reply #40 on: April 27, 2008, 04:00 PM NHFT »

I thought the reason some scientific theories are called “laws” is simply because they’re older, and were discovered in a time period when scientists were far more confident (some might say arrogant) about their discoveries. The law of gravity, laws of thermodynamics, Kepler’s laws, &c., but by the nineteenth century people were calling them theories: the theory of evolution, theory of relativity, &c..
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memenode

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Re: Natural law and morals
« Reply #41 on: April 27, 2008, 07:15 PM NHFT »

All good points. :)

I agree, the key terms of a discussion are worth defining as different words might have at least slightly different meanings to different people.

Quote from: J'raxis
I define morality specifically to mean those things one considers to be disagreeable, and that one believes ought to be answered with force.

So you believe non-coercion is part of "morality" (since use of defensive force against initiated force is allowed)? Assuming you agree with the non-coercion principle, doesn't that make non-coercion the only moral? Because, if you believe initiating force is wrong and therefore allow force to be used only in response to it (defense) then there can be no other moral. :)

Furthermore, if I understood that right, you find morals to be more fundamental to ethics. So acting upon any ethical principle as long as it does not go against the single moral above is ok, right?

Ultimately, though, I think that both morals and ethics fall under the umbrella of individual values. As different from each other we may find different things have different amounts of value to us and by the same token find different things to have negative (wrong) or positive (right) value, but most humans agree that initiated force is a negative one (whether you call that a "moral" or an "ethic") making this one a nearly universal one (and the fact that it is so stems from the inevitable nature of what human beings are according to our current "theory" of human nature ;) ).

« Last Edit: April 27, 2008, 07:16 PM NHFT by gu3st »
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John Edward Mercier

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Re: Natural law and morals
« Reply #42 on: April 27, 2008, 08:03 PM NHFT »

Have to disagree. Historically, and currently, humans use maximum perceived value to define morality... not non-coercion. In fact, they define coercion as anything they must do that is negative to their maximum perceived value irregardless of the other parties involved.
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J’raxis 270145

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Re: Natural law and morals
« Reply #43 on: April 28, 2008, 05:13 AM NHFT »

Quote from: J'raxis
I define morality specifically to mean those things one considers to be disagreeable, and that one believes ought to be answered with force.

So you believe non-coercion is part of "morality" (since use of defensive force against initiated force is allowed)? Assuming you agree with the non-coercion principle, doesn't that make non-coercion the only moral? Because, if you believe initiating force is wrong and therefore allow force to be used only in response to it (defense) then there can be no other moral. :)

That’s exactly what I believe, and what I’ve been trying to explain to several people in these debates.

Furthermore, if I understood that right, you find morals to be more fundamental to ethics. So acting upon any ethical principle as long as it does not go against the single moral above is ok, right?

If ethics is simply being used to mean things that one believes are right to do, but don’t permit the use of force to enforce, then yes. They’d be subordinate to morality, in that you can’t hold an ethical value that could conflict with a moral value: To wit, you couldn’t believe in an ethic that permitted a violation of the NAP. Any other ethics are permissible. But ethics are really just a subset of personal preferences (or values if you wish to call them that) in my way of looking at things.
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memenode

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Re: Natural law and morals
« Reply #44 on: April 28, 2008, 08:14 AM NHFT »

Quote from: John Edward Mercier
Have to disagree. Historically, and currently, humans use maximum perceived value to define morality... not non-coercion. In fact, they define coercion as anything they must do that is negative to their maximum perceived value irregardless of the other parties involved.

I agree actually with that people pursue maximum perceived value as I think that's actually a part of human nature. I think that, no matter what we call a particular kind of value being pursued this is always the case. Now it's a matter of defining what kind of value falls where..

Whenever something is negative to the maximum perceived value, but *has to* be done, then indeed coercion is happening. If there is no coercion then it is actually being done in the pursuit of some maximum value. I guess by saying "irregardless of the other parties involved" you mean coercion does not necessarily have to be executed by any person(s)?

Quote from: J'raxis
If ethics is simply being used to mean things that one believes are right to do, but don’t permit the use of force to enforce, then yes. They’d be subordinate to morality, in that you can’t hold an ethical value that could conflict with a moral value: To wit, you couldn’t believe in an ethic that permitted a violation of the NAP. Any other ethics are permissible. But ethics are really just a subset of personal preferences (or values if you wish to call them that) in my way of looking at things.

I see. Hm now I am again reminded of the critique that holding non-coercion as a sole moral standard could make one appear to be fine with many of the other things people consider to be wrong. But then.. it's just a matter of a definition. What others might see as other morals you see as ethics.

I am not sure which way should I adopt, if it even matters.. since the gist of it I definitely agree with, regardless of what terms are used: non-coercion is fundamental and if not universal in a sense of being a part of the natural law/theory then at least nearly universal as an outcome of it.

Looks like we all pretty much agree on that.

We only need to get people to see this and recognize this principle in their own values for them to begin considering governments in a new light and question its necessity.

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