Is morality oppressive in and of itself?

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sam sanchez
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Jun 26 2006 22:40

If ethics is entirely socially constructed and imposed on the individual it could perhaps be seen as oppressive.

But what if the ethical instinct does not originate in an imposed set of norms and values, so much as the evolutionary evolved social instinct of the human at work emotionally and through reasoning.

For example, emotionally, it could be the ability to empathise with others so as to percieve how you would feel if put in their situation, causing us to experience the pain of others as out own pain.

Logically, it could be the realisation of our dependence on others to supply our own needs. That is the realisation that:

* We need to work together as a society, and so it must be in everyone's interest to do so. Actions which take advantage of others undermine this, leading to social breakdown, and an absence of the cooperation needed to ensure everyone (ourselves included) has an enjoyable life.

* What is individually logical, can be collectively destructive when carried out by all individuals, threatening the individual wellbeing of yourself and others.

* Social norms evolve from observations of what is common behaviour, so therefore to murder somebody makes murder more acceptable, and increases the risk that you yourself will be murdered.

* If I can abuse another human being, the conditions that allow that abuse to occur exist, and therefore there is a strong possibility that I or those I care about will suffer similar abuse. Therefore it is more in my interest to work to make such abuse impossible, the first step being not to do it myself.

Hows that for a non-oppressive basis for morality?

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Jun 27 2006 01:58

Paddy G - A great first post. Welcome to the boards!! I agrees!!! 8) We will talk I'm sure often and anon about how to maintain our integrity and sense of self in a corrupt world.....

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Jul 5 2006 08:58

Paddy G I wuld probably consider your view of morality, as far as I can understand it, to be closer to what I defined as ethics earlier on.

Quote:
* We need to work together as a society, and so it must be in everyone's interest to do so. Actions which take advantage of others undermine this, leading to social breakdown, and an absence of the cooperation needed to ensure everyone (ourselves included) has an enjoyable life.

* What is individually logical, can be collectively destructive when carried out by all individuals, threatening the individual wellbeing of yourself and others.

* Social norms evolve from observations of what is common behaviour, so therefore to murder somebody makes murder more acceptable, and increases the risk that you yourself will be murdered.

* If I can abuse another human being, the conditions that allow that abuse to occur exist, and therefore there is a strong possibility that I or those I care about will suffer similar abuse. Therefore it is more in my interest to work to make such abuse impossible, the first step being not to do it myself.

I broadly agree with this, I would add that the individual suffers due to empathy when they breach their code of ethics.

One of the problems with morality is that it permits people to circumvent ethics.

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Jul 5 2006 12:15

I'm gona be a right little shit here, not read the thread properly, and post a quick glib comment cos I'm gonna have to get back to work. tongue

Morality, in its most commonly known format, is inherently oppressive in that it is a state of conflict between 'good', and 'bad' actions/thoughts/states-of-being blah blah blah.

However, I see nothing wrong with oppressing some aspects of behaviour in humans, it is merely which aspects which need to be decided on, dependent of course on context.

lem
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Jul 7 2006 00:57

Well, I would definetly guess, that alot of morality is reactionary.

Anyone want to sugest where morality comes from?

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Jul 7 2006 08:17

It's basis is in the social nature of the human species.

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Jul 7 2006 08:25
Alf wrote:
It's basis is in the social nature of the human species.

No, its not directly Alf, and if it is it is only in a very indirect way. Morality, the idea that there are certain universal rights, and wrongs, is actually the result of the domination of society by one particular class. It draws upon the social nature of the species, and then uses it to construct a tool of class domination.

If we were to talk about a communist morality (which actually I don't like the idea of), it would be very different from the present day 'universal' morality.

Dev

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Jul 7 2006 11:22

This is a big discussion, and one that the ICC has thought a lot about recently. There is a brief account of this in the article on the Congress of our section in France (French ICC website), which we will be translating soon; later we will be publishing more extensive contributions on this question. The rejection of all morality was typical of the post-68 reaction against Stalinism, with its mirror-image of classical bourgeois morality, but it was totally ignorant of a whole tradition in the workers' movement which raised the issue of morality and ethics, such as Marx, Engels, Dietzgen, Kautsky, Roland Holst, Kropotkin, Trotsky, Pannnekoek....generally speaking, this tradition concluded that the proletariat does in fact have its own morality which runs counter to the hypocritical morality of the ruling class.

Lem's question was 'where does morality come from'. Unless we think it comes from a divine source, it must have its origins in man's social nature. Above all, it resides in the basic ties of solidarity without which no society can function. In primitive communist society this kind of morality was fairly 'spontaneous', and even derived from man's instinctual life. With the rise of class society, morality of course gets annexed by the ruling class and is distorted for its own ends, but it does not become entirely divorced from human solidarity and so reduced to mere hypocrisy. For one thing, it is 'preserved' and even advanced in the struggle of the exploited classes against their situation (eg, in the Biblical prophets who stood for the oppressed against the oppressors, or the Spartacus rebellion); at the same time, ethical ideas/ideals can also be developed by representatives of the ruling class, in particular when they express a progressive social system. For example, ancient Greek philosophers like Aristotle made real contributions to our understanding of ethics, detaching it from supernatural origins to a large extent.

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Jul 7 2006 13:45

Totally agree with Alf's post.

Morality is nothing other than the unspoken rules by which any given society functions. Like all ideas it has its own history and its development is a product of and factor in the overall evolution of society.

Up till now, humankind has submitted unconsciously to the moralities created by its own social activity, just as it has submitted to the economic formations that arise from its productive activity. Part of the process towards the formation of communism will the formation of a morality based on the conscious assimilation and synthesis of previous moral principles and their rational application in the new society. In this sense, I think we can move on from both the instinctive, animal morality and the oppressive moral codes that have been a feature of human society until now and create a truly human and liberating morality.

Blacknred Ned
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Jul 7 2006 15:30

I think it is useful to differentiate between ethics, born of reason or mutuality, and morals created by elites as a response to the social crises brought about through the depredations of the very hierarchical structures that those elites seek to preserve.

The breakdown of the norms of "organic" communities under the pressure of hierarchically generated disaster has led elders, priests and kings to promulgate laws or moral codes that have been all about restricting human behaviour and spreading the idea that we're all fundamentally bad and need a constant guiding hand to stop us murdering one another.

If you believe in the superiority of co-operation and equality of outcome as a principle of social organisation then you don't need morality, you just need to move towards the new society. An ethos that reflects social reality will arise; crime will be reduced almost to vanishing point and we will behold the manifestation of the truth that freedom is both education and ethics enough.

No more stone tablets!

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Jul 7 2006 23:54

Agree with Ned and Jefs posts.

Jef you are right - there is great pain in having to circumvent ones own ethics in order to survive in a corrupt system; a system in which immorality disguised as morality is endemic and integral.

Ned you are right - the r/c operate by "divide and rule". They spread the lie that we cannot survive without their "protection" - yet it is they who cause the most harm. They hurt us in the guise of "helping" us - this is how most abusive relationships flourish.

I find this inversion of truth both fascinating and despicable. For me the greatest challenge is liberating myself and helping others to liberate themselves by consciousness-raising - so that peeps come to realise - they need us - we don't need them.

Love

LW X

lem
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Jul 8 2006 01:53
Quote:
there is great pain in having to circumvent ones own ethics

Yeah, I guess that this is an important point if you want a difference beytween morality/ethics - ethics (being about virtue) are your own, in the sense of belonging to you, in a way that morality doesn't.

Just out of interest, does anyone here believe in moral realism - that whether something is right or wrong is objective i.e. inheres in the object.

Is this reactionary?I can't decide if its immoral, seems kinda self defeating or something to think that is.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meta-ethics

Choose a theory!

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Jul 8 2006 15:45
Alf wrote:
This is a big discussion, and one that the ICC has thought a lot about recently. There is a brief account of this in the article on the Congress of our section in France (French ICC website), which we will be translating soon; later we will be publishing more extensive contributions on this question. The rejection of all morality was typical of the post-68 reaction against Stalinism, with its mirror-image of classical bourgeois morality, but it was totally ignorant of a whole tradition in the workers' movement which raised the issue of morality and ethics, such as Marx, Engels, Dietzgen, Kautsky, Roland Holst, Kropotkin, Trotsky, Pannnekoek....generally speaking, this tradition concluded that the proletariat does in fact have its own morality which runs counter to the hypocritical morality of the ruling class.

Lem's question was 'where does morality come from'. Unless we think it comes from a divine source, it must have its origins in man's social nature. Above all, it resides in the basic ties of solidarity without which no society can function. In primitive communist society this kind of morality was fairly 'spontaneous', and even derived from man's instinctual life. With the rise of class society, morality of course gets annexed by the ruling class and is distorted for its own ends, but it does not become entirely divorced from human solidarity and so reduced to mere hypocrisy. For one thing, it is 'preserved' and even advanced in the struggle of the exploited classes against their situation (eg, in the Biblical prophets who stood for the oppressed against the oppressors, or the Spartacus rebellion); at the same time, ethical ideas/ideals can also be developed by representatives of the ruling class, in particular when they express a progressive social system. For example, ancient Greek philosophers like Aristotle made real contributions to our understanding of ethics, detaching it from supernatural origins to a large extent.

Quote:
The rejection of all morality was typical of the post-68 reaction against Stalinism

As you know, Alf, I am not quite that old even if you are. I don't want to get into a semantic argument about it. What I said was that a universal morality doesn't exist, and is used as a tool of class domination. I think that this is the same line that Panekeok argued. If you define morality as an attempt to codify 'universal' 'rights, and wrongs', it is clearly a false construct.

Devrim

lem
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Jul 8 2006 18:55
Devrim wrote:
What I said was that a universal morality doesn't exist, and is used as a tool of class domination

Relativist angry wink

Quote:
as an attempt to codify 'universal' 'rights, and wrongs', it is clearly a false construct

Moral realism is more interesting if you look ar terms like 'better' or 'healthy' or 'tasty' or 'fun'. If you a realist you think that the tastiness of a strawberry inheres in the object, if your an anti-realist that the tastiness of a strawberry is your emotional reaction to it.

Nihilism in this respect is a bit crazy - statements 'dying for your country is bad' or 'my friend is nice' are simply false (though of course 'genocide is fun' is would also be false).

Are all good revolutionaries nihilists? Dosn't this mean that almost everything that they say is false wink - as its very easy for value judgements to slip into speach.

IMO if you stated that morality is bad, then it would have more weight if this was objectively so, and it wasn't just your emotional reaction to it. Makes you sound like a hysetric, really, that you have to go around telling everyone your emotional reaction to things.

Sorry if I don't make sense. That would be "foolish" of me.

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Jul 9 2006 05:55

I don't really understand philosophical discussion. We have a philosopher in our group (well at least a philosophy teacher wink ). I will ask her about it when she comes back to Ankara.

Dev

lem
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Jul 9 2006 07:39

Hmm. In that case I might have been talking total shit neutral

MalFunction
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Jul 10 2006 09:01

a couple of texts that may be of interest:

Kropotkin, Peter "Ethics - origin and development" (unfinished) pub by prism press in the 1970s.

Seidler, Victor J. "Recovering the self - morality and social theory" Routledge 1994/5

(am reading the latter -quite interesting - takes on marxism and feminism, foucault and nietzsche, durkheim and weber among others.)

wannatodiveinto...
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Jul 10 2006 14:33
Quote:
Kropotkin, Peter "Ethics - origin and development" (unfinished) pub by prism press in the 1970s.

Good call!!!!

I actually managed to get an original on loan of this via the wsm library and was very very pleasantly surprised by it. Kropotkin still has his basic thesis of ethics being social and instinctual and going right back to social behavior in animals.

But he defends it very well in depth and refers to must be nearly 100 different philosophers in his defense. The breadth of his reading is staggering. I was even more shocked (in a real happy way) to have him bigging up Nietzshe quite early on

- mostly in reference to religion and lefty sorry ascetic priestly types sorry hermits/monks sorry political activists....

ah ya know the type I mean

He only got to the eighteenth century in his survey - before he was cut off (by death unfortunately)

pity.

One very interesting figure he bigs up is the Earl of Shaftesbury:

(http://www.iep.utm.edu/s/shaftes.htm)

RedCelt
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Jul 10 2006 17:27

I think some measure of ethics is needed just to survive.

red n black star

ernie
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Jul 10 2006 19:37

Hi

Very interesting discussion.

Devrim, your point

Quote:
Morality, the idea that there are certain universal rights, and wrongs, is actually the result of the domination of society by one particular class. It draws upon the social nature of the species, and then uses it to construct a tool of class domination.

And your brief reply to alf, I think misses the central point that is being made: that morality is a part of the social being of humanity. Morality is the 'rules' that hold a society together. In your conception morality appears appears to be the ruling class's manipulation of man species being. However morality existed before class society, it is a central part of all social groups and is based upon the fundamental human attribute of empathy, i.e., being able to understand that others thinking and feel. The ability to build a cohesive social groups has to have been part of the evolutionary development of the human species. Empathy is seen in an embryonic form in other species, but the point about human empathy is that it is conscious. Thus, if morality existed before class societiy, and in all 'primative' societies there are 'rules' 'tabus' 'rituals' etc that enable the group to function as a collective body, then we cannot simply see it as a tool of the ruling class. As alf says the ruling class takes theses and turns them into means of oppression. It is not a question of universal morality, but of human nature.

wannatodiveintoyourocean I have not read Kropotkin, Peter "Ethics - origin and development" but it is meant to be good. His range of knowledge was impressive. Katusky in his Ethics and historical materialism mentions Kropotkin's work in the introduction. Kautsky's book is also very good on this question. As is his "the foundations of christianity" where he makes the point that ethics did not raise until ancient greece (here he may have missed out its development in China, but I do not know if there was a specific ethical philosophy in ancient China, does anyone know if there was such a school ?), because it was only in this class society that humans needed to develop a 'scientific' understanding of the complexity of the social relations that had begun to unfold in such a complex society.

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Jul 10 2006 20:20
ernie wrote:

Devrim, your point

Quote:
Morality, the idea that there are certain universal rights, and wrongs, is actually the result of the domination of society by one particular class. It draws upon the social nature of the species, and then uses it to construct a tool of class domination.

And your brief reply to alf, I think misses the central point that is being made: that morality is a part of the social being of humanity.

Quote:
Morality are the 'rules' that hold a society together.

In your conception morality appears to be seen as being something invented by the ruling class. Morality existed before class society, it is a central part of all social groups and is based upon the fundamental human attribute of empathy, i.e., being able to understand that others thinking and feel. The ability to build a cohesive social groups has to have been part of the evolutionary develoment of the human species. Empathy is seen in an embryonic form in other species, but the point about human empathy is that it is consciouss. Thus, if morality existed before class societiy, and in all 'primative' societies there are 'rules' 'tabus' 'rituals' etc that enable the group to function as a collective body, then we cannot simply see it as a tool of the ruling class. As alf says the ruling class takes theses and turns them into means of oppression. It is not a question of universal morality, but what is human nature.

Quote:
your brief reply to alf, I think misses the central point that is being made: that morality is a part of the social being of humanity.

This is in danger of becoming a semantic argument. I defined what I understood by 'morality' and then you defined it differently. Everything that you go on to say comes from that definition. As for your suggestion that morality proceeds class society. It doesn't if you follow my definition.

The Oxford dictionary defines it as:

Oxford wrote:
morality

• noun (pl. moralities) 1 principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behaviour. 2 moral behaviour. 3 the extent to which an action is right or wrong. 4 a system of values and moral principles.

Which seems to me to be quite ambigious.

You write that:

Quote:
Morality existed before class society, it is a central part of all social groups and is based upon the fundamental human attribute of empathy, i.e., being able to understand that others thinking and feel. The ability to build a cohesive social groups has to have been part of the evolutionary develoment of the human species. Empathy is seen in an embryonic form in other species, but the point about human empathy is that it is consciouss

It could easily be argued that what is observed as 'empathy' in other species is in fact genetically programmed self interest. Richard Dawkins writes interestingly on this in 'The Selfish Gene' (Ch. 10 'Nice guys finish first'). I see biological imperative as much more important in the development of empathy than it is generally given credit for. Yes, to a certain extent human empathy is conscious, but that doesn't mean that it is something that is not a development of something that is already 'hardwired'.

If what you are saying by:

Quote:
morality is a part of the social being of humanity

is that Humans are genetically programmed to cooperate, I think that it is obviously true, but I don't think that that is what you are saying as then it would be part of the genetic make up, not the 'social being'.

Devrim

P.S. Jasamine, our philosopher, will be back in town soon. I have just spoken to her on the phone, and she will have a few things to say on this.

P.P.S. Kautsky's 'The Foundations of Christianity' is actually quite an interesting book, Jack.

P.P.P.S.

Quote:
Morality are the 'rules' that hold a society together.

Grammar is the set of rules that holds the language together, Ernie wink

ernie
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Jul 10 2006 21:29

Hi

Devrim, yes there are rules of grammer and I had edited this out, but for some reason it did not repost.

The question you raise about empathy hardwired or not, is an important question, because it poses the question of whether social being is in part genetic. Here the question of not posing things in black and white terms is important. There has to be a genetic aspect of social being, because social being cannot be separated from biological. The question is how much is due to genes and how much is due to nuture. The old question of whether homo sapiens are a blank slate or not, comes in here. Dawkins is very interesting but his emphasis on self-interest is open to question. There is clearly a very stong element of this in evolution, but for any form of human society to develop there has to be the ability to put the interests of the group first.

On the scientific basis of self-interest, there is a whole bebate on this in scientific and other circles. De Maas, as Dutch, scientist (I think he is a zoologist) in a book - I cannot remember the title now- argues that there is empathy amongst animals. He gives the example of the observation of a group of chimps in the wild, one of the group saw a bird trapped in the branches at the top of a tree, climbed the tree and freed the bird: not an act of pure self-interest. Another example, I am not sure if it is De Mass, is an experiement done on Resus monkey's. Two monkeys were placed in separate cages but could see each other. One Monkey was shown that if he pulled a lever he would get food but at the same time the other monkey received an electric shook. The monkey with the lever refused to pull it despite going for hours without food.

Whether empathy is hard wired, the neuroscientist, Antonio Damasio in his book Looking for Spinoza, discusses his experiements around the frontal lobe and its relationship to empathy. He shows that damage to part of the frontal lobe leads to a lose of empathy.

Sorry for the long reply, but this whole question is such great interest. It is intimately connected to way in the ruling class which have tried to distort the question of human nature. It is also related to the question of crude materialism or historical materialism. This whole discussion was of great interest in the workers' movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries . Now we need to reanimate it and integrate the developments in science. It is essential to struggle against the bourgeois ideology that humanity is marked by its selfishness and inhumanity.

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Jul 10 2006 22:48

There is no problem with long replies. I think that it is an interesting discusion.

You write:

ernie wrote:
Dawkins is very interesting but his emphasis on self-interest is open to question. There is clearly a very stong element of this in evolution, but for any form of human society to develop there has to be the ability to put the interests of the group first.

Have you actually read Dawkins, Ernie, specifically the chapter of 'The Selfish Gene' that I referred to. If you haven't, I think you will find it very interesting.

I think that Richard Dawkins gets a lot of bad press, a fair proportion of it from people who haven't read his work, and are put off by the title of that book.

I don't think that he has any 'emphasis on self-interest'. The term 'the selfish gene' is not meant to denote that individuals are selfish. It is purely an analogy, and as he himself admits often a misunderstood one for the process of evolution. Andrew Brown wrote:

Andrew Brown wrote:
"Selfish," when applied to genes, doesn't mean "selfish" at all. It means, instead, an extremely important quality for which there is no good word in the English language: "the quality of being copied by a Darwinian selection process." This is a complicated mouthful. There ought to be a better, shorter word – but "selfish" isn't it.

Dawkins doesn't suggest that genes are selfish. How could they be they are not even conscious? Nor does he suggest that people are. What he does suggest is that there is a process which naturally selects the most successful genes through a massive series of generational sieves. If the most successful genes are the ones that foster cooperation, then those are the most successful genes. In fact in the chapter I referred to Dawkins shows mathematically how jeans which encourage co-operation can be more successful in some circumstances than genes which encourage selfishness (used with its real meaning now). There is no contradiction between the existence of empathy among animals, and this empathy having a genetic base. In fact the opposite is true. One would be extremely surprised by displays of empathy among animals that didn't have a genetic base.

You write:

ernie wrote:
The question you raise about empathy hardwired or not, is an important question, because it poses the question of whether social being is in part genetic. Here the question of not posing things in black and white terms is important. There has to be a genetic aspect of social being, because social being cannot be separated from biological. The question is how much is due to genes and how much is due to nuture. The old question of whether homo sapiens are a blank slate or not, comes in here.

I think that the old 'nature verses nurture' question has been clearly shown as a false one, and isn't really worth discussing anymore.

Devrim

ernie
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Jul 10 2006 23:59

Hi Devrim

I thought I had, but some time ago. Just shows how one's memory can be false, I will certainly go back and read it. I certainly remember reading the blind watch maker, and being very impressed.

This is an interesting discussion, and I think we are coming from the same angle. We are obviously agreed that empathy is part of the genetic make up?

Does this mean that on the question of origins of morality we may be agreed that mortality is not a form of ideology but a fundamental aspect of human society? I have a feeling it does.

On the nature v nuture question, it may appear to be not to be worth discussing, we are pretty much agreed, but what about others reading the threads?

The idea of the blank slate is still a strong idea, there have been strong hints of it in the discussion on the thread. Behind the idea that morality is simply an invention of the ruling class, one can sometimes find this idea. Does anyone defend the idea of the blank slate? If so it would be good to hear what you think about these last few interventions.

An aspect that we have not taken up yet, is why is it necessary to have morality -in the way we have defind it- in order to help cohere society? Whilst there are very powerful social tendencies in human nature, there are still the presence of more 'primitive' forces, such a self-preservation, selfishness etc. Morality can thus be seen as an expression of the growing consciousness of emerging humans of the need to cohere society, though this was at a level of tabus etc. The full flourishing of this growing conscious control of collective and individual life will be under communism, where we will scientifically understanding and fully investigate what appear to be the blind laws of social and individual life This will mean consciously assimilating all of the heritage of human history so far. In the process of struggling for communism there is an important aspect of consciously struggling against the degeneration of social relations by dying capitalism. Whilst rejecting the hypocritical morality of the bourgeosie, we have to replace this with the morality of the proletariat: solidarity, dignity, idignation faced with oppression exploitation and cruelity, hospitality, warm heartness, generosity of spirit, truthfulness, responsibility and a rejection of selfishness, irresponsibility, heartlessness, pettiness, the rejection of study and thinking, a refusal to accept the 'norms' of capitalist society. This means a permanent conscious struggle by the class, its political organisation and individual militants.

0001
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Jul 11 2006 05:30

Hello everyone, I thought I invite myself to join this discussion. Moral philosophy, applied in particular to political philosophy is something of a special interest of mine.

Apologies in advance for this long and self-indulgent post. I've tried to make reading it as easy as possible by breaking it down into 12 ideas. Certain technical terms I've used may be used in a different way than you are used to but I hope that when this has happened my meaning is still clear. Bullet-points are not intended to show strict logical thought.

  • Moral theory and ethics are the same thing - a list of rules on how to behave in public, society, community, etc.
  • Moralising is imposing a set of rules on a group of people to control their behaviour
  • Rules can be imposed on you or self imposed
  • You are 'free' when you set the rules, not so free when you agree to the rules and less so when the rules are imposed on you
  • Groups need rules to survive
  • The purpose of these rules to make living in a group possible
  • Living in a group makes for a happier life than living alone and is preferable to suicide

I imposing rules

If you lived alone on an island with no other sentient being there would be no morality. That is, there would be no code of conduct - you can do what you like, when you like. It is possible for you to impose a set of rules for you to live by (presumabley to make your life more enjoyable) but these wouldn't be moral rules. If you prefer Space Raiders to Monster Munch you might impose a rule on yourself that you always eat the former, this isn't a moral rule.

If you didn't live alone, you might impose a rule that you always share your Space Raiders or that everyone that wants them has an equal chance of having a packet. This is a moral rule, if you believe that this is how humans ought to behave around maize snacks.

If, this post is turning into a Rudyard Kipling poem (that kicks ass), a group of humans is to survive and become a community then the members must agree on a set of rules on how to behave. Every functioning community has them. Including this forum. For instance, there are rules on how to conduct discussions in threads such as no personal attacks, flaming, etc. The rules exist to protect the community. If people were permitted to flame, spam, cross-post, multiple-post, hijack, and so on the forum (and with it the community) would break down.

In the same way, a community needs codes of conduct (a set of rules) on what is the right and the wrong way to behave. A lot of these rules are implicit. When I go into a shop I don't need a sign telling me to queue. I don't need a sign telling me not to push people who get in my way or not to urinate at the dinner table. This wasn't always the case.

Personally, when I was a child my parents and teachers told me not to push to the front of queues or push other children out the way, and not to do certain things at the dinner table. At an earlier time in our history there were written rules on such things. Take table manners for example, in the 13thC. you were told not to spit on the table at dinner. A hundred years later you were required not to offer someone food you'd already taken a bite out of. In the 16thC. there were rules draw up on going to the toilet - find a suitable place, don't go in hallways and staircases, or in someone's cupboard. 100 years ago farting at the table was outlawed even if it meant holding it in!

All these rules remain but are no longer signposted and after the very early years of childhood are rarely mentioned. The rules exist to make community life easier. If you had a mate who regularly spat on the table and shat in your cupboards at home, and pushed people out the way and to the front of queues when you went out - how long would that friendship last?

II obeying the rules

Rules limit people's freedom. They exist to tell a person what to do and often when to do it as well. Take chess, for example, if you agree to play a game with someone you will be limited on what to can do and when you can do it. You can only move a piece when it is your turn, you can only move it in a particular way and under particular conditions. If a player, or both players, stop obeying the rules then the game breaks down and no longer exists. If the rules change then you're playing a new game (think of football turning into rugby). If there are no rules then there is no game.

Staying with chess, imagine that a player started to cheat. He's disobeying the rules for his own advantage. Rules exist to limit behaviour. If you can break the rules and get away with it then you will almost certainly be better off for it. However, if your opponent successfully cheats as well then you are no longer better off. And you are no longer playing chess.

Community rules are the same. If you can find a way to evade the rules (and not get caught, assuming there is a punishment) then you will be better off. This is because rules are a burden.

Rules are there to stop you acting in a way you would if you were free to choose.

However, if others start breaking the rules, you will no longer be in a better position. If no-one follows the rules you will no longer be in a community. Take waiting in a queue, for example. No-one likes waiting in a queue (unless the person in front of you is particularly attractive). In an ideal world there would never be a queue wherever you went (and always a queue when a particularly attractive person is in the shop).

  • If you didn't live in a community then there would be no queues. But that is not only because there is no-one else to form a queue - there is nothing to queue for.
  • In a community, there is a rule that you must wait your turn for certain things. Communities can not function without this rule.
  • If the rules break down, the community breaks down.

If you want to live in a community, you will have to follow community rules.

III rules tell other people what to do

Have you noticed that whenever you have a discussion on morality the conversation always goes something like this:

So you say that it is morally right to do so-and-so. But what about the case of that-and-that? What would you say someone should do then?

When we talk of moral rules we are usually talking about limiting other people's behaviour. Sure, we agree to be bound by the same rules, but we are the ones laying down the law. It's one thing to agree to rules you impose on yourself but a different thing entirely to agree to rules imposed on you by others.

IV It's good to follow rules!

Community rules are imposed on us. They tell us what to do (and sometimes when to do it as well). However, most of these rules are a good thing. We value living in a community and if we didn't follow the rules we would lose that which we value. Therefore, we are better off by following the rules.

When I play Chess, or Oware, I don't feel less free in a significant way. I'm happy to follow to the rules. Following the rules is part-and-parcel of playing the game. The same goes for queuing up for something or restraining myself from killing someone who gets in my way. Obeying rules like these is part-and-parcel of living in a community. If i'm not obeying these rules then I'm not living in a community.

V rules and laws

Please take it into account that I am not talking about obeying laws. The rules I'm discussing are moral rules. It's not against the law to be unpleasant to people, or take legal advantage over someone, to treat others as a means to an end, and so on. Community rules in the sense I'm talking about, are the ethics of community living.

VI Morality is a good thing

Morality is a good thing. It is merely a code of conduct, a way of humans to successfully live together in groups. Everybody seeks happiness, when we act we have happiness in mind. We are either seeking to maximise pleasure or limit suffering. Moving from a state of isolation to group living is a step in the direction of increased happiness. Community living increases happiness and is therefore a good thing. Morality keeps community working and so it to is a good thing.

VII Who's morality?

If we've accepted that we need moral rules and that they are a good thing. And I hope we have. How are we going to decide what those moral rules actually are? The rules I've mentioned are relatively simple. In a very small-scale society they would probably comprise most of the moral rules. However, modern communities are huge and complex. How do we decide what the code of conduct should be? What do we do when things get really complex?

Enter the moral theories. Welcome Virtue Ethics, Utilitarianism, Deontology, Authenticity and on and on.

VIII Who's rules and why obey them?

We've agreed that rules are necessary and good because they help communities to exist. However, when a rule is imposed on you, you are going to want to know why it's being imposed. And the answer: you have to do this to help the community to exist probably won't be enough for you. Especially, if you have your doubts about the rule.

The theories mentioned above provide the thinking behind the rules. They also give you the tools to challenge the validity of the rules and the power to create new improved rules. And give people good reason to accept these new improved rules.

If everyone in the community has the power to think about the rules, to understand the thinking behind them and to accept that the thinking is sound, then they know who's rules they are (The Community) and why to obey them (the thinking is sound).

IX Alternative to morality

One alternative is to scrap all rules and abandon the community. However, if you want a community but you don't want morality you can have non-moral rules instead.

Moral rules have authority. You obey them because you believe not only that you will be in a worse position if you don't - but also that you ought to follow them. You believe that it is wrong not to follow the rules.

Non-moral rules have power. You obey them because you believe that you will be in a worse position if you don't.

Instead of moral rules, you community could simply have a system of punishments. For example, if someone tells a lie they could have their tongues torn out. Or if they piss in the cupboard they could have their penis lopped off. Punishments such as these existed in the Middle Ages. People didn't following community rules because they thought it was the right thing to do. They did so to avoid horrific punishment. The only thought behind not doing such-and-such is that the punishment if you get caught is much worse than what you achieve if you get away with it.

X Using morality

Hopefully, we've agreed that morality is a good thing. That is it better than the alternatives, which are no community or community-controlled-by-force. Setting the rules is not easy. Complex communities are... complex and so are the moral questions thrown up. However, this is an inescapable fact of life. The world isn't perfect and life isn't easy. There would still be moral problems in an worldwide anarcho-commune - hopefully genuine moral-thinking will find the best solutions.

Morality is not always used genuinely as we all know. Moral thought, while in itself is a good thing, provides the perfect tool for someone to grab power. As I've discussed in (IV) we generally internalize moral rules as part-and-parcel of community life. I don't worry about the limits imposed on moving the pieces when I play chess, and I don't stop to think about not killing someone for getting in my way. I accept that there are certain ways of acting and do so without thinking about it too much.

I mentioned in (I) when I talked about table manners, that you don't really have to be reminded of the rules much after your early years. It is in these formative years that you learn and internalize your moral thinking. As you grow up you develop your moral imagination.

Considering that moral rules are rules on how to behave, if someone wanted to control how you behave, throwing in a few 'moral' rules that get you to behave in a way advantageous to them would be a good way of going about it.

Remember that a moral-community is populated by people who accept the rules and choose to follow them. People in a community-controlled-by-force need to be constantly reminded of what not to do in horrific ways. Obviously, it is much easier to control a society in which people chose to obey the rules rather than one in which you (and you agents) have to enforce the rules.

Taking this into account, if some group wanted to create a communties rules so that they were put at a advantage (to everyone else's disadvantage) they would do best to create some 'moral' rules for people to obey.

XI Divide and rule

If you want your group to have more advantages in a community then you need to make sure another group (or groups) are disadvantaged. Let's have a look at a ridiculously simplified example:

  • People decide that it's worng to treat someone else as a means to an end.
  • People like orgasms. If your end goal is to achieve an orgasm you can have sex with someone.
  • It's wrong to use someone else's body as a means to achieve your orgasm.
  • You can't just have sex with someone if you want to have an orgasm.
  • Some rules on when and in what circumstances it's acceptable to have sex are created.

So if you feel randy you can't just fuck someone, you have to ask if they want to have sex first. Then you can't ask just anybody. The person you ask needs to be able to give informed consent, and so on. Then there is the risk of pregnancy, STDs, etc. etc. At the end of the day a set of perfectly reasonable and good rules or limits are placed on sexual activity.

ENTER (ha-ha) the bad guys. They see this moral activity occuring and throw in their own suggestion - you can't do it with someone of the same sex, homo-sex is out.

If this 'moral' rule is accepted one group in the community will have an unfair limit imposed on their sexual freedom. They will be at a disadvantage. A disadvantage that can be exploited by the bad guys.

Remember if this 'moral' rule is accepted then the baddies don't need the power to shove red-hot pokers up arses or rip out tongues to get people prejudiced against homosexuality - people will interalise and accept the idea that homosexuality simply is wrong and homosexuals are bad for the community.

Moral ideas something that can be used devastingly when in the wrong hands. Moral ideas are extremely powerful and once accepted are difficult to shed. Genuine moral rules are good and should not be abandoned. Divisive 'moral' rules are a community evil, should be sought out and dropped like their hot.

XII Is morality oppressive in and of itself?

  • Community living is the kind of lving that provides humans with the most happiness.
  • Happiness is a good thing. Community is a good thing.
  • Life outside of community is less happy. Communities should be preserved.
  • Morality (moral rules) make living in communities possible. Without morality, communities fail and break up.
  • Morality is a good thing.
  • Comunities-controlled-by-force are an alternative to moral-communities or non communitiy living.
  • Comunities-controlled-by-force provide less opportunites for happiness than moral-communities.
  • Moral-communities are better than Comunities-controlled-by-force

Let's take a breather... moral-community and community are to be consider the same thing from now on.

  • Living morally and living in a community are the same thing.
  • People accept moral rules as simply the conditions of community life.
  • All rules limit behaviour. Moral rules limit behaviour. A limit on behaviour is a limit on freedom.
  • Community living, limits the freedom of the members of that community.
  • A person is better off without the limits but is worse off if other are also without limits.
  • People are better off if everyone obeys community rules.
  • Living morally and living in a community are the same thing.

take a deep breath...

  • Moral rules are accepted because they provide the best solution to moral problems.
  • Moral theories exist to find geniune solutions and provide the reason for accepting and obeying moral rules.
  • The more complex the community, the more complex the moral problems and solutions.
  • Devious groups can take advantage of complex situations to suggest false moral solutions.
  • Moral rules are accepted as right and good.
  • False 'moral' rules will also be accepted as such.
  • Devious groups can cleverly use false morality to gain an advantage in the community.
  • Their advantage necessarily puts others at a disadvantage.

Conclusion Morality is oppressive in itself. Morality is a set of rules and all rules are oppressive. However the limits imposed on us by morality make community living possible. We must be willing to accept certain limits to get the benefits of community. These limits are not significant, they are in fact part-and-parcel of community life. Therefore, in everyday terms, Morality is not oppressive.

Morality is often usurped by power-hungry element however. These people attempt and often succeed in getting power and advantage by getting people to believe in false moral rules.

This is why is it important for people to keep upto date with moral thinking, which isn't hard. I'm with Camus, when morality starts getting over-complicated it's usually because someone is over-complicating it. Why over-complicate things? Hmmm.... [/]

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Devrim's picture
Devrim
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Jul 11 2006 12:27
ernie wrote:
Does this mean that on the question of origins of morality we may be agreed that mortality is not a form of ideology but a fundamental aspect of human society? I have a feeling it does.

I don't think that morality is the right word for what you mean, and I have some problems with the way that this is being formulated. I think that morality is a form of ideology, but I do agree that co-operation is a fundamental aspect of human society, and its roots are in our genetic make up.

ernie wrote:
On the nature v nuture question, it may appear to be not to be worth discussing, we are pretty much agreed, but what about others reading the threads?

I think that it has been scientifically settled that there is an interactive process between the two, and that neither is predominant.

I think that one of the problems with philosophy is that at one point it was inseparable from science. Newton considered himself to be a philosopher. Now as science has become more advanced, and can settle lots of ideas that philosophy used to speculate about. Philosophy has to a certain extent become redundant.

Maybe it would be a good idea to revive the idea of the Libcom reading group, and do 'The Selfish Gene'.

Devrim

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Demogorgon303
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Jul 11 2006 12:48
ernie wrote:
here he may have missed out its development in China, but I do not know if there was a specific ethical philosophy in ancient China, does anyone know if there was such a school

How about Confucianism?

wannatodiveinto...
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Jul 11 2006 13:44

Hey I’m very impressed by this thread and the depth of the discussion….

Quote:
Devrim: Now as science has become more advanced, and can settle lots of ideas that philosophy used to speculate about. Philosophy has to a certain extent become redundant.

Well the best philosophy rightly (if you ask me)defends and distinguishes itself by its “redundancy” as far as practical problems are concerned.

Even better its open to all to express an opinion..

Science, of course, used to be about making limited statements and then attempting to prove em via a rigorous process of experimentation – now, apparently, it has the answer to everything.

Mind you most working scientists I meet seem to still go for line one above.

Some even seem to love philosophy – what losers eh!

That having been the Darwin/Kropotkin/Dawkins group/kin/species selection line on the origin of morality is as good as any and seems to, at least, explain how we come with a certain social moral sense “built in”.

But just knowing the origin doesn’t necessarily tell you much about how things are now under late capitalism or how they could be under anarchism.

Surely no absolute moral system (even and especially absolute relativism) is going to be of use to us. So how, practically, do we run things. I think, unfortunately in many ways, it will always have to be on a case by case basis. But lets try and get down to practicalities and a topical issue: informers! Specifically in a revolutionary struggle were an informer must be dealt with but it’s NOT an immediately life threatening situation for “our side”.

Suggestions?!?!?

Ps: Confucious and his shower weer just a bunch of wanna be advisors to rulers. Daoism is far more worth a look. Google the Tao do ching – great little read.

MalFunction
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Jul 11 2006 14:02

another author who might be of relevance:

Matt Ridley

http://www.mattridley.co.uk/

The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature

The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation

Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters

Nature via Nurture: Genes, Experience, and What Makes Us Human

Francis Crick: Discoverer of the Genetic Code

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as for 0001 contribution I'd distinguish between "morals" as in necessary rules for social collectivities and "conventions" which are far more arbitary questions of taste and etiquette.

Devrim's picture
Devrim
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Jul 11 2006 14:09
wannatodiveintoyourocean wrote:
That having been the Darwin/Kropotkin/Dawkins group/kin/species selection line on the origin of morality is as good as any and seems to, at least

Dawkins doesn't follow the 'group selection line'. He thinks the gene is the basis selection is the basis of selection. I haven't read Kropotkin on evolution. I would like to but never seem to find the time. Actually, I have never read Darwin either.

As I understand it, and I may be wrong though, the group selection idea has been largely discredited.

wannatodiveintoyourocean wrote:
Quote:
Devrim: Now as science has become more advanced, and can settle lots of ideas that philosophy used to speculate about. Philosophy has to a certain extent become redundant.

Well the best philosophy rightly (if you ask me)defends and distinguishes itself by its “redundancy” as far as practical problems are concerned.

Even better its open to all to express an opinion..

Science, of course, used to be about making limited statements and then attempting to prove em via a rigorous process of experimentation – now, apparently, it has the answer to everything.

Mind you most working scientists I meet seem to still go for line one above.

Some even seem to love philosophy – what losers eh!

I did qualify it with 'lots of ideas', and 'to a certain extent'. wink

Devrim