Tuesday, November 01, 2005

kant vs. plato; is there a universal morality?

touching on the topic of inherent right and wrong in the last post , the question now is posed; are we born with a moral law (or natural law) and why?
as far as we know civilizations on average, and as a whole, have all kept the same basic principles (or if i dare say) ‘morals’ in their society. though knowledge and information have excelled, and evolved, human nature has not. i believe we are born with these natural law’s intact, and have acknowledged them from the earliest cultures to the modern day world.

example of what i am referring to are extensive but here are a few:
do not murder
do not eat others of your own kind
do not run from battle
bravery is honorable, betrayal is not
protect yourself (self survival)
protect your family (survival of genetics)
(i understand that there are exceptions *cannibalism, etc. but even these are under certain rules and regulations established within the give community.)
on these principle’s can we concretely say that we have established as a human species a sense of right (a unilateral sense of truth) and wrong (false) based on these congenital natural standards? and can this be refuted by the modernized plato* theory that truth is relative?
example: if truth is not relative we can then freely judge other’s according to the action’s we perceive as good or evil. as an illustration if i see an adult severely beating a child, whether or not my governing body voted that to be illegal, i am going to defend that child and protect him/her from harm no matter if i was born in mongolia in 400 AD or australia 1983. even a thief feel’s wronged if he is stolen from, so where does this ‘instinct’ come from?
but what if the adults culturally said it was good or right to beat or kill children? do i still have the right to stop the violence? i believe so, and feel i can expect other’s to live up to this standard.
a real life problem of this right to judge good and evil is nazi germany in world war II. they felt that the jews were subhuman and deliberated to the extermination of the entire race. here is where the dilemma rest’s for those who believe that truth is relative. if truth is relative we CANNOT judge them for this genocide and instead must surrender to take no action against the murder of innocent human beings. this is because nazi germany truly believed that what they were doing was right, and condign. so how did we (as the rest of the world) feel that we had the right to judge them as ‘evil’ or not good, and stop the onslaught? i believe it is because we are born with a sense of right and wrong, or universal morality. we know in our heart whether our actions are just or arbitrary.
here is where i am going with all of this, and want the focal point of your opinion’s. could this thing commonly called a “conscience” (or by kant, ‘universal law’) be best explained by the deduction that there is a Higher Power?
can we deduct that there is a God because we desire inherently a harmony among our species? or is this intrinsic concept simply an evolutionary task for the survival of all species?
i of course believe the former but want to hear all sides of this ongoing argument.

forever searching, forever found,

*"The way things appear to me, in that way they exist for me; and the way things appears to you, in that way they exist for you"

post script: reading the comment’s on the (il)legislation of morality i have deducted that i you are some of the most informed, enlightened, and intelligent people on the face of the earth.

amendment: while reading the post's so far i have noticed that all those who base their faith in a religion automatically subscribe that God placed this moral law inside us. i want to make sure that those of faith know that it is ok not to believe in a moral standard and still believe in a God. this also can be argued that their is a natural law but God had nothing to do with it.


Prich said...

I believe that our conscience is perhaps a mixture of both a Higher Power and a cultural element as well. It seems logical that only a supreme being could install the ability of having a moral law in humans of all different races, religions, and backgrounds. As a Christian, I believe that through God’s love for all of us, he has provided from birth a so called ‘moral law’ that would help us as individuals to grow not only spiritually, but in all other areas of life as well. But here is where culture interferes. God has given us free will. Therefore, although God blesses us with these ‘moral laws,’ the free will of society has been able to corrupt or skew what they believe is moral and correct. Children are very vulnerable during the early years of life and if their culture believes that for example, the scenario you created about the adult beating up the child, that violence is acceptable, then the child will adapt to this and believe that being violent is natural and how a person should act. I wouldn’t necessarily call it evolution because evolution involves a change that is acquired throughout time and then someday will no longer have to be learned. The belief that violence is ok wouldn’t evolve and become a part of the ‘moral laws’ born to everyone in that culture, because God installs His ‘moral laws’ into individuals. It is through free will in which people are then altered/changed by an individual’s society. I am thankful that I was blessed to be born into a Christian family and community in which the ‘moral laws’ that God gave me were practiced by many, allowing me not to adapt to the filth of this culture, therefore directing me down a path of righteousness, even though I fall astray each and everyday. I hope what I said made sense. God Bless!

dreams&tears said...

i believe indeed that there is a univeral morality, a standard that God put inside us, a standard that we unfortunetly are always breaking...
being a bias christian i am skeptical to think that evolution could produce any such thing, from what i know evolution is all about survival. there is no sense of bravery or honor, survival is all that matters.
since i already believe there is a God, then it is impossible for me to say that this proves to me that He exists, but i do see it as evidence that we are created in the image of a holy and righteous God, and there is a part of us that strives against our sin nature to do what He knows to be right.

its an interesting issue, thanks for bringing it up.!

Cori said...

I definitely believe that humans are born with some sort of morality wired in. However I also believe that the culture surrounding us as we're raised has a huge impact on that moral code. Even just looking at our own society (Americans) we see that while you would be hard pressed to find a sane person who believes murder is ok persons who have no qualms about sleeping around on their significant other or behaving violently when angry are easy to locate.

As far as a moral code proving that a Higher Power exists...I don't think it does. And I wouldn't want to prove G-d's existense anyways. To me, religion (true religion, not the commercialized version) is completely based on Faith. There's really no scientific reason for me to believe in Him. Certainly not the way that I must believe in gravity. But I would much rather believe because there is a yearning in my soul. A desire for peace and spiritual connection. Faith is the substance of everything I've ever hoped for. Including communion with G-d and peace for my everlasting soul.

Brian Anderson said...

i believe we are all born with a conscience that dictates our morality. but with time the world (doctrines, religions, governments, propaganda) can dictate what are conscience says to be right or wrong. it no longer becomes something we were born with but somehting that over time was fused and formed with what others believe. this is where the problem occurs. God (the higher power i put my faith in), i believe, gave us all one uniform conscience with all the same basic right and wrongs. Dont murder, Dont steal...etc But with time so many people have allowed there conscience to be taken over by the world and their own reasoning rather than a higher powers. We all have basic morality, but i also think we all have very vast and different consciences. some find drinking a complete contradiction to the Bible, however i find drinking a blessing if used in moderation. religion will tell you dont drink, smoke, do drugs, have sex and a whole ongoing list of things because it is immoral. i say this to religion: God will convict the hearts of the people who put their faith in Him if they have done a wrong. religion, government, and even those who dont believe in a higher power will press their consciences on you and everyone who does not live occording to their own strict or loose moral code. this is known as legalism in religion, and to me known as millions of failed laws in government. since i believe we are all born with a morals and that in fact its the world that distorts and transforms these morals, then i must believe that morality proves a higher powers existence because if the world distorted the morals then the morals didnt come from the world to start with but from something bigger than this world.

Anonymous said...

when the bible talks about creating us in his own image, perhaps it means more than just the physical that most people take it as.


MH said...

To say "there is no absolute truth" is an absolute statement. Relativism is a living contradiction.

I hold that God has instilled within everyone an innate sense of right and wrong. We have a conscience. Over time, we can dull and learn to ignore or even kill that conscience, but it was there to begin with-->free will of man.

Perhaps there are shades of grey...but are the blurred by ourselves or were they there to begin with?

Anonymous said...

Yeah, but what amount Pragmatism? People have generally not murdered, not stolen, etc. because it tends to make society worse.

Nietzsche would say the whole concept of morality is ridiculous. Morality is anti-nature. Go with your instincts. The whole idea of morality is just an invention of priests and philosophers, people not up to the challenge of life.

On the other hand, Lewis would agree with the innate moral law. This is his starting point in Mere Christianity. He uses our moral law and our failure to live up to it as a way of knowing that God exists.

Of course, this is in itself insufficient to prove exactly what kind of God there is. And Lewis knows this. So the idea is that God revealed Himself through Scripture. And He became incarnate in Christ.

If you go with absolute truth and absolute morality, you then have the responsibility of figuring out which one is the right one. Is it Pragmatism, Atheism, Christianity, Taoism?

And Kant wasn't that great. "Never act on something unless you think everyone should act like that." There is no room for circumstances in his thought. According to Kant, if I'm harboring a Jew and a Nazi comes to my door, I have to answer truthfully to the question "Are you harboring Jews?"

Don't pit Kant against Plato. Pit Nietzsche against Christ.


Meggios said...

I, being a christian, am on the side of believing that God did instill in us an innate soul/conscience. Because we are created in the image of Him, He has passed down to us our conscience that tells us whether what we are doing is right or wrong. However, many people, depending on how they have grown up & what they learned from their parents, will take on their parent's morals. If for example, a person were to grow up around a parent who does drugs or drinks excessively, they too will think that it's okay and will do the same, unless taught otherwise.

On the other hand, playing devils advocate, humans, coming from Homo Sapiens, have evolved and dispersed all over the world to have different morals (due to the isolation of each tribe from big masses such as oceans & mountain ranges). If you take a look at the tribes in countries that have barely been touched by the outside world, some tribes view their children & women as nothing more than pieces of dirt. The girls are victims of rape/incest & many children are believed by some to be seen & not heard.

I think that the morality or conscience of a person is also built into a person during their first years of life. If a baby is never touched or spoken too during their first year of life, but are fed through a tube, they will merly die or become extremely different from others (isolating themselves, becoming depressed, or even becoming a very angry individual).

I believe that this issue can also be traced back to Francis Galton's theory on nature vs. nurture. Do are genes play a factor into our morals/consciences or are we affected by our upbringing on how we see what is wrong & right?

I think it could be both.

Shane said...

To the person above, I don't think the question is determining whether certain innate moral values are causes by nature or by 'nurture'; most will certainly agree that the nature vs nurture concept is less of a polar principle with two opposing values than it is a spectrum, with certain things falling in between. The question is whether or not these values hint at a higher power, or are they strictly caused by a combination of environmental influences, and genetic traits encoded into our genes filtered through generations of evolution. I used the word 'hint' because the question posed, in a sense, answered itself. If you have to ask whether or not this idea proves something, than the doubt is clearly there, meaning it has not been proven. The real question is whether these inherent characteristics represent a course of nature, or of something supernatural.
And, if it is supernatural, do we even know if these traits are in fact "good"? John Calvin's Total Depravity principle describes humans as being born sinful, literally unable to choose to follow or disobey God, only free to make "earthly" choices which only serve their own interests. Just as Evil can be relative, so can Good.

Heath said...

read ayn rand....she has it right.

Orrin said...

in college i took an ethics class and we talked about kant, plato, socrates, and some others. the later ones seemed to want to describe a world where we did have a universal law, but without God. it seems people are believing more and more that the world must be Godless and that morality is up to the individual (what is wrong for me might not be wrong for you). francis fukuyama wrote an interesting book called our posthuman future. in the book he speaks of a future where genetic modification is common place and the human race as we know it could be very different. is it moral to change what we inherently are? he points out that anyone who tries to create a moral code without a universal law, universal morality, God (it is even harder to have a universal law without a "God") is doomed to failure.

Heath said...

i think something that is funny about morality, is how only humans have it. only humans have rational thought as well, so I feel there is a correlation between the two. Animals don't have the moral conflict, they have no rational conflict either. Therefore, THOUGHT has some part in morality.

nicole said...

this is always something that i have thought about.
for years when i had no religion or belief in a God, i had a conscience and thought that it was just natural to avoid conflict. i served my community and peers just as much as i do now, being a christian. however, back then i didn't believe that some higher being had placed this law within me. i guess it all comes back to the debate of nature vs. nurture.
i would have to agree with some of the other comments that growing up in a society now, it's almost instilled into us to agree with the law. and of course there are laws that i do not agree with but for the most part in today's world i believe most of our 'conscience' comes from our environment or nurture
however, in the past with limited means of communication, i feel that most 'laws' were similar in that they prohibited murder, theft, etc. looking back on that from a christian viewpoint i would like to believe that is what God had put into us and refines us by our use of the bible.
but, when i wasn't a christian, i believed that laws came from man's natural pursuit of happiness. people aren't happy if someone is murdered, stolen from, harmed, etc. so, it caused people to form some sort of guideline to ensure the most amount of happiness.
but to bring in a book that comes to mind when discussing whether there is a 'universal morality'; "lord of the flies" was where the society of children (who are supposedly innocent) turn their society into a disorderly corrupt place where people die and everyone is out to protect themself. these kids weren't instilled with a 'natural' law to create peace, rather they did the exact opposite, as if they had no conscience.
well, now i feel as if i am ending this post with more questions than when i started...

Dutch Not German said...

To take an example from C.S. Lewis: If a man takes something that is mine, am I upset?
Of course. Even if there is not God, and so no universal morality, it is for the betterment of society that people not steal. Even if it wasn't for the betterment of society, I would still be mad because somehow I sense that it isn't right.

However, if a second man takes something that is mine, but I find out that it was a complete accident (i.e. he mistook my pen for his own) I am no longer upset with him. Why? Both men did the same thing. If we are not governed by a universal code of right and wrong, I should be equally angry at both men. They had the same action. Purposfully or not, both men harmed society by stealing. However, if there is a sense of stealing is a deliborate and punishable wrong while accidents are not, then there must be a universal morality.

Regardless of the society, there is always a sense in man that some things are not as they should be. This sense does point to a God. What kind of God a universal morality cannot tell. Is it the God of Christanity? That's another discussion.

Sleep Well said...

From the relgious aspect: If we are created in God's own image, then we were created to love like God and somewhat feel like God. If this is the case then the feelings that God has instilled are set to a moral standard.

Anonymous said...

babies do not know right from wrong...nurture, not nature. Learn from your own experience. How could God transmit messages to two year olds about morality?

Anonymous said...

"I am thankful that I was blessed to be born into a Christian family and community in which the ‘moral laws’ that God gave me were practiced by many, allowing me not to adapt to the filth of this culture, therefore directing me down a path of righteousness, even though I fall astray each and everyday. "

I totally disagree. You seem to be saying everyone who is not Christian is filth? Please tell me you don't mean that.

an aspiring artist said...

As Christians, we know what is right and wrong, and we have the Holy Spirit telling us that. Our conscience no longer dictates that. Where does that leave the non-Christians? The Holy Spirit is not guiding them. So does that leave non-Christians without a sense of right and wrong? You have already established that it doesn't. God is soverign; He knows what the end of the world will be like. He has a perfect plan, so how can conscience be a form of evolution? If you deny that conscience came through evolution and not God, then you deny His soverignity. If God is not soverign, than what else is He not that the Bible says He is? You have no god if GOd has no soverignity. Conscience has to be God given.
If you believe in God, you must base this answer on faith; faith in Christ, and faith that the Bible is the written word of God.
I agree with a former comment, by reid: i have heard pastors say that we are probably formed in the spiritual/emotional/mental image of GOd. I don't really know how to describe it.

Anonymous said...

"You have no god if God has no soverignity. Conscience has to be God given"

Perphaps God puts a conscience in you when you are born and it is up to you to how you develop it.

clinton said...

I disagree with the notion that mankind is born with a universal morality. George W. Bush, on the controversial issue of gay marriage, condemned same sex marriages stating that (and I paraphrase) cross-culturally, it is unnatural for men to have sexual relations with men and for women to have sexual relations with women. Sure enough, it occurs in society, but the presence of it indicates a departure from "normal" standards.

However, Bush is flawed in this statement because there are in fact societies in Papua New Guinea where a homosexual relationship is the standard type of marriage. Furthermore, a rite of passage for this same tribe is a sexual act in which the elderly men of the village perform upon adolescents. I am not fabricating this, nor am I saying this to be vulgar. I guess what I am trying to say is that a "universal morality", at least among mankind, cannot be determined by any man due to the diverse cultural standards of the world. I believe this topic was touched upon in the (il)legislation of morality post, and I think I agree with Stephen in that a man belonging to one faith or set of values cannot justifiably judge another person who does not share the same values.

However, I do think there is such a thing as an absolute truth. This is the truth that is ordained by God. But! I still don't think that people, Christian or not, are allowed to judge other people when their actions, however merciless, heartless, or "deviant" (for a lack of a better word) they may be. This judgement is left alone to God to make.

So, I guess I'm one of those people who don't believe that mankind was born with an intrinsic sense of right and wrong...but I still believe in God.

Anonymous said...

"So, I guess I'm one of those people who don't believe that mankind was born with an intrinsic sense of right and wrong...but I still believe in God. "

That sums up my view. IAWTP

Meggios said...

I've been thinking more about this issue, and have come to the conclusion that maybe all of us are born with a conscience (given by God), but depending on who you were raised by, will determine what your morals will be.

Take for example, if you were born into a christian family, your morals could possibly be different than say that of an atheist.
I believe that the Holy Spirit does exist & that He is present everywhere, but if your conscience is to be lead by the Holy Spirit, you need to tap into it by accepting Christ as your Savior. It's there all the time, but when you tap into the Holy Spirit, you usually become more convicted in your morals(by the Holy Spirit), than if you were raised as an atheist.

Cori said...

"As Christians, we know what is right and wrong, and we have the Holy Spirit telling us that. Our conscience no longer dictates that. Where does that leave the non-Christians? The Holy Spirit is not guiding them."

I have to say that I somewhat disagree with the above statement. I firmly believe that the Holy Spirit is capable and has led non believers into situations that change their point of view and open their eyes to the truth. I don't think that non-believers recognize this but unless we believe that every encounter is coincidental we must see His Hand at work here.

Additionally, I feel that because of our Christian faith we are quick to attribute our conscience or sense of morality to G-d and His laws. However, to someone with no knowledge of a higher power, they recognize a sense of morality simply as a respect for mankind (in that we know it is wrong to violate another person's rights etc.) that is hard wired into our nature. As I basically said in my previous post, if you have to prove G-d's existense you lose the power of Faith. Blessed are those who believe without seeing...

Moe said...

"Morality is the best of all devices for leading mankind by the nose."
~Friedrich Nietzsche, The Antichrist

I would say that morality is a learned, cultural idea. There are distinct differences in what people believe is right and wrong, not only across time, but also across the world today. For instance, I would think the majority of Americans see Spanish bullfighting as an immoral practice. However, Spanish see it as a beautiful art that Americans don't understand. The same idea can go for gladiator fights at the colosseum (which many cringe at the bloodstains still visible today). If everyone had been instilled with some type of universal morality, why is that there are so many discrepancies between what's moral and what's not?
Certainly you would defend the child you mentioned, but you must remember you are a christian and overall nice guy. It's hard to judge how you would act given a different role in life. Prich made an excellent point that if you had been exposed to violence your whole life, someone beating a child would be acceptable.
You also mentioned that if morality is relative, then the actions such as the genocide in WWII cannot be judged, as it is relative. However, just because morality is controlled by the majority of people does not mean it carries no weight. If someone is compelled to speak out against such violence, they are more than entitled to do so. However, in the future if the majority all the sudden thought genocide was ok, not many would speak up about it, and we certainly wouldn't try those who committed genocide. It's all relative.
And thinking about it more, even morality about killing is relative. What about a woman who kills her husband in self defense? If murder is immoral, why would that be seen as something different than just a cold-blooded killing? Everything is relative to us, and as Nietzsche put it, morality is another controlling factor in life, led by the majority.

elizabeth said...

your entries are wonderful. i think life is just a plethora of comparisons.

John said...

You raise a good question.

I don't know. I'm still searching. and I believe, like you, that I have been found. But I still haven't found it.

Reminds me of that U2 song.

sj. said...

it doesnt make sense.. to have faith and yet not believe in a higher power.. true, whether or not it is the God of Christianity is a different question..

i suppose you're right, everyone who bases their faith in religion would say God's placed moral law in us.. but on the other hand, aren't all humans born with an innate sense of what is right and wrong. so i dont think its nurture but definitely nature.

surely thought has something to do with morality.. but i think thought it what strengthens or dulls our morality.

Lianne said...

"when the bible talks about creating us in his own image, perhaps it means more than just the physical that most people take it as.
- reid"

The interesting part is that the first two human beings only knew the difference between good and evil after the fall, according to Genesis.

Anonymous said...

"The interesting part is that the first two human beings only knew the difference between good and evil after the fall, according to Genesis. "

This pretty much ends this argument. Great point.

iLikePi3 said...

I'm not sure exactly what you're getting at by that last post - is it that morality was only introduced once God told Adam and Eve that they'd done wrong?

The tree was called the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil"... whether it was eating the fruit which bestowed morality onto mankind, or even if Adam and Eve had innate morality themselves is irrelevant. They knew it was wrong to disobey God (if not from within themselves, than because He specifically told them) and chose to do so anyway.

In a different vein of thought, some people are suggesting that indeed, Christian moral laws are instilled upon everyone at birth. The problem with this is when we look at societies where acts of brutality or deception are highly praised (and they do exist). Now, either these people have constantly rejected their inner morality to the point where they no longer hear it at all, instead only obeying their desires, or they haven't had a conscience (or morality) guiding them in the first place. It's much more comfortable to choose the former, but also quite a stretch to accept fully.

Your friendly tech said...

i want to make sure that those of faith know that it is ok not to believe in a moral standard and still believe in a God. this also can be argued that their is a natural law but God had nothing to do with it.

I think you meant to say, "i want to make sure that those of faith know that it is not contradictory not to believe in a God and still believe in a moral standard".

Neither statement makes too much sense, but your original makes no sense at all given your claimed faith.

Anonymous said...

My thoughts on this can be summed up in two quotes from the “Nightmare Academy” novel by Frank Peretti, plus an elaboration of my own.

(quote) “ ‘So tell me. What does the monster represent?’
‘You don’t get it?’
‘I want you to tell me.’
‘Mankind without truth, without God-given morals. He has strength, he can think, he can even feel things emotionally— but if he isn’t given a good, solid standard for right and wrong, then there’s nothing to keep him from using strength and reason and feelings in selfish ways, even destructive ways.’
‘So, on the one hand, we tell ourselves that none of us are subject to any moral law outside of ourselves, and then we wonder.’
‘Wonder why people do such evil things, why there’s so much violence in the world, why people rob and cheat and betray each other. But when we erase truth from our thinking and say there’s no right or wrong except for what each person thinks is right or wrong, well, we get the kind of world we deserve.’
‘And who ends up making the rules when we reject truth?’
‘The biggest, meanest, toughest dude. Whoever has the most power— the biggest army, the most money, the most votes, the most newspapers or television networks. When there’s no truth that applies to everyone, then there’s no way to argue for the rightness or wrongness of anything, and when that happens whoever has the most power calls the shots.’
‘Like a monster running amok.’ ” (endquote)

In the end, truth and morality won’t come from within us. Human beings are fallen by nature. And while admittedly most people are ‘good’ (i.e., no evil intent), without absolute moral truths from elsewhere, there is nothing to say what is right or wrong.

So who then can we look to for these moral truths? Only one person.

(quote) “ ‘…Jesus said, ‘You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’ And where else can Truth, Real Truth, come from, than from God, Who is Truth by His very nature?’ “ (endquote)

Remember: There is only one Way, one Truth, and one Life.

Enough said.