>From: JS Bangs <[log in to unmask]>
> > >Eh? The most popular justification for moral principles is, and long
> > >been, appeal to an outside, absolute standard.  Standards are usually
> > >down by [gG]od(s?), but need not be--the Platonic Forms are
> > >as is the Tao, but both can be used as moral principles. It is only a
> > >short leap to propose that aesthetic principles may be similarly
> > >
> > >I am aggressively agnostic about the existence of such *aesthetic*
> > >principles, though.
> > >
> >
> > Stephen Bachelor says its good to be aggressively agnostic about
> > and I quite agree.
>I don't agree, for the most part--I'm aggressively gnostic about a lot of
>things.  What I meant in this case was mostly that I would argue equally
>vigorously with someone who denied aesthetic absolutes and with someone
>who insisted on them.

Fair enough :)  If I recall, Bachelor sort of re-defines / deconstructs
agnosticism anyway, LOL..

> >  You're right, typically western philosophy has appealed to an objective
> > standard for morality, but ultimately it fails because it is impossible
> > to prove the existence of such a standard.
>Impossible to prove from a materialistic standpoint, or from the idea that
>such standards require proof. If we accept some moral standards as axioms
>and not theorems, this problem disappears.

Moral theorems would be impossible to prove from a philosophical standpoint
also, I think, because a moral argument would always have to boil down to
some kind of metaphysics or at least a social theory and a psychology -
which ultimately has to consider the subjective and ceases to be "provable"

>However, if we're elevating moral absolutes to the level of axioms, it
>becomes more difficult to call them "objective," since you cannot argue
>towards an axiom and someone is sure to disagree whatever you propose. The
>church in the West pushed this problem away a level by appealing to
>special revelation. Once the revelation was rejected, however, the West
>was forced to try to justify a moral system that had lost its
>epistemological basis, which basically led to all of the philosophical
>mess of the last two hundred years (as your next paragraph refers to.)

Interesting... that explains a lot.  However, even if the epistemology were
still accepted, axioms would still face the problem of being declarative in
nature.  Moral axioms would be statements about moral action.  It would be
impossible to find an axiom to cover every situation, so at some level we
have to rely on our own subjective judgement to tell us what to do.

> >  This is what Nietzsche meant
> > when he said that God was dead, and what the existentialists were all
> > about - finding some subjective yet reliable and universal basis for
> > moral action.
>I have never understood existentialism that way, but then, I've never
>really understood existentialism at all.  I've read _The Stranger_, of
>course, and hated it. Perhaps someone can explain this to me.

If I understand it correctly, the existentialists generally agreed that some
center of human free will was paramount - the idea of acting as a free
individual, but a free act had to be uninfluenced by attraction, emotion,
"base impulse" or any similar thing - so I can see no distinction between a
free act and a random act.  One thing was for sure, a moral act had to be a
free one.  It gets worse because of Nietzsche's will to power - not only
must we act freely, but we must attempt to dominate each other, and Sartre
says we can't do anything but this... this is where I fail to see how the
existentialists can argue for morality when they essentially propose
anarchy...  Camus seems to be a little bit different, and it's possible that
what Nietzsche intended by the will to power was more like what the Taoists
meant by "spontaneity," but it's difficult to tell for sure.  Either way,
existentialist psychology is just plain wrong...

> >  Ultimately, the existentialists fail because they remain
> > trapped in the Platonic-Cartesian framework that distinguishes between
> > subject and object, even though they are trying to reject it.
>This I don't understand. How does the subject-object distinction relate to
>this discussion? Or maybe I lost the thread somewhere.

The subject-object thing comes in with the existentialists.  Sartre argued
that we always have to try and dominate (will to power again) one another
because we are individually subjective - other people can only be objects
for us, and us for them.  Because no one wants to be an object, they will
respond by trying to control everyone else to assert their subjectivity.
There are problems with Sartre's psychology (I don't actually experience
people objectifying me in their minds, so why is it a problem?)... but if
you dissolve the distinction between subject and object then the relation
becomes important instead of the related agents - since both objects exist
in relation, they are connected and therefore dependent.

>Oh, obviously.  I didn't mean to conflate the Tao with Plato's Forms,
>merely to use them as examples of a non-personal organizer for a moral
>I know that certain schools of Taoist thought extended this principle to
>the point that all that happens must be in accordance to the Tao, simply
>because it happens. This is not my interpretation, however--although the
>Tao arises from the nature of things, things and especially people may
>move against the Tao. The Tao is then simultaneously a description of how
>the world *is* and how it *should be*.

Hmmm... yes I that is true - the notion of the Tao *is* as much an aesthetic
as it is a metaphysics.  I think the difference is that the Taoist approach
relies on experience rather than declaration - when a person "realizes" the
Tao, they simply see what is right and wrong.  Moral action is never defined
or stated in the Taoist sense.  i.e. Taoist morality cannot ever be
axiomatic, it can only be experiential.

> > much as we can.  Of course, because it trancends subject-object
> > morality can't be objectified into a standard for behavior - what is
> > is always situational, experiential, and subjective (and thus impossible
> > justify logically).
>Interesting. How do we reconcile the differences in subjective experience,
>then, when different people's expectations of morality may be wildly
>different, and neither can act without affecting the other?
>Jesse S. Bangs [log in to unmask]

In short, wisdom.  Ultimately, I think a minimal number of laws, axioms, or
precepts are required for any society - but the idea is that moral behavior
is a skill rather than a set of principles or guidelines for action.  Moral
action becomes more like riding a bicycle than like programming a computer;
but as such, it is sticky and hard to talk about.  Fortunately, its easier
to learn than to talk about I think - which seems to be what Socrates, the
Stoics, Taoists, Buddhists, etc. were all on about - even if we can't define
what is right, people can learn how to act rightly.  Partly I think it comes
from a sort of Socratic dialog, but it also comes from training attention so
that we learn to observe and consider our own thoughts and emotions better,
before they can become harmful actions that we'll regret later.


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