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I hear many people argue that ethics would be impossible without there being an objective standard established by god. Does anyone know any good arguements around this?

I don't know why they would assume God=Moral Standard, but I don't have a really good argument against it.

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I don't think I'm straying from what you are saying. I focussed on a particular aspect of what you said because I thought it to be of particular relevance to the topic of this discussion thread.

But let me first try to dispose of the issue of the meaning of "immorality". The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines "immorality" as "Not consistent with or not conforming to accepted moral principles; esp dissolute, depraved." The dictionary defines "dissolute" and "depraved" in objective terms. Accordingly, I don't interpret the word "accepted" in the context of the definition of the word "immorality" to mean "accepted by the person alleged to be immoral", so I think that your proposed definition of "immoral" is idiosyncratic.

However, I didn't remark on this issue earlier because I am less interested in whether your proposed definition accords with the conventional interpretation of the word than in your choice to put forward an interpretation of the word "immorality" that is defined purely in terms of what that person deems to be moral. This seems relevant to the topic of this discussion thread in that I understand that Sean's religious opponents would contend that atheists are unable to defend or justify any moral standards when challenged by people with other moral standards. And assuming that you use the words "immoral" and "wrong" interchangeably, it does seem to be your position that a person cannot be said to have done something morally wrong if that person does not believe it to be wrong.
I was only making a point about the term 'amoral'. I don't agree with CJ -

Supposed morals from a non-existent deity cannot be moral or immoral; they do not exist, making them amoral, or "without morals".

That definition is quite simply wrong.

You can resume hair-splitting.
I generally refer back to the argument comparing to people who have a strong set of morals but do not believe in god. Where do they morals come from? Morals are generally culturally wired (it's not ok to eat cows in India but it is in America), however, some Christians are so blindsighted there is no use to argue on this matter, unfortunately. They just cannot accept that morals even might come from society itself.
Are you saying that you believe that a person should be judged moral or immoral only with respect to the norms of that person's society?
Well, it's interesting that social norms seem to vary geographically and over time, and of course norms of a society can be expected to have an influence on the moral views of members of that society. But this does not logically compel one to hold the view that one cannot judge people by universalistic standards. Judging by universalistic standards would mean that if an action is wrong for a person in one society it will also be wrong for another person in relevantly similar circumstances in another society.

Let's say severe wife-beating is favoured in terms of the social norms of Society A and is unacceptable in terms of the social norms of Society B. Sure, this may lead to you to judge a wife-beater in Society A less harshly than a wife-beater in Society B, because the wife-beater in Society A would have been up against the norms of his society. But it's quite another thing to say that the wife-beater in Society A is morally right and that the wife-beater in Society B is morally wrong (the moral relativist position). Various universalistic ethical theories exist that can be used to argue that if an action is wrong for a person in one society it will also be wrong for another person in relevantly similar circumstances in another society. For example, a rationalist might argue that if the wife-beaters would not want to be beaten themselves, then they shouldn't beat their wifes. A utilitarian might argue that wife-beating does not lead to the greatest good for the greatest number because the wives suffer harm. A person who argues in terms of human rights might argue that wife-beating is a violation of the wives' right to bodily integrity. And so on and so forth.
I am saying that I would be prepared to use universalistic arguments to justify my views that certain actions are immoral even if to do so would go against the social mores of a society. To illustrate: If a majority in a society decides it is morally right to exterminate an ethnic minority for the sake of attempting to achieve some mythic state of racial purity, I would be prepared to argue that the extermination of the ethnic minority is wrong. I would not abdicate my position simply because I was arguing against the social mores of that society.
Let me first repeat a point which I made in an earlier post that if a person judges by universalistic standards it would mean that if an action is judged wrong for a person in one society it will also be judged wrong for another person in relevantly similar circumstances in another society.

I maintain that the examples which I give are appropriate because if you are prepared in principle to argue for or justify a moral standard that is contrary to a social norm, then I would not call you a moral relativist. Since you call my examples clear cut, I conclude that you are not a moral relativist. On what basis could I conclude otherwise? I draw this conclusion notwithstanding the fact that you may at times wish you were omniscient and notwithstanding that you appreciate that people may later decide that they were mistaken in their previous moral judgments.
Are you saying that you believe there is a universal standard for morals, or that you are in possession of that standard?
What does this mean? Can you give an example from another field with an equivalent "universal standard" as support from demanding this here?

if you are saying that you are able to morally judge action for now and all times to come without fail, I disagree completely
Whatever Deborah has replied, this is again a straw man in the real world all our knowledge is provisional and defeasible, nothing can be claimed to be true without fail. Again can you give an example from another empirical field (obviously not mathematics or logic) where this applies. If you cannot, what justifies you to create such a standard here to impose upon objective enquiry?
Deborah, how else are we going to judge moral or immoral actions? Don't we consider it immoral by certain African tribes to mutilate women's genitalia but not those of men (ie removing the foreskin)? Don't also a huge amount of americans consider personal liberation to be better than living in a collective, ie say, a society formed after a kinship structure?

After studying anthropology for a year now, I've realized how ethnocentric many of my moral views are, and I have taken a more moral relativistic stance. I can only judge a person's actions from the scope of my my own morals, but I can have an understanding of people acting differently and why it's not immoral to then (like a tribe at Papua New Guinea actually consume the corpses of their diseased). For me these actions will still be immoral, but I try not to judge them in the light of my feeling of resent, if I do, I will never become a great anthropologist. Ultimately we have to understand that they are humans as well, and while we might disagree on many things we might also agree on a lot, things that might not be utterly obvious to begin with.

So I guess, to answer your question, yes, partially. I honestly don't see any other way to answer your question as I don't believe in a metaphysical moral which would somehow be universal.

Also, Nano, thank you for clarifying my point further in regards of our Western ethnocentrism :)
If you believe that there are certain moral standards that you think should apply to all people in relevantly similar circumstances in all societies, then you are not a moral relativist. Not so?
Justifying morals by a god doesn't work because 1) people cannot prove these gods exist, 2) even if the god does exist, they cannot prove they know its mind, 3) even if they did know its mind, the god may be wrong. Why should we obey it?

I tend to think that morality has evolved to some extent from our evolutionary history, and it is also conditioned by our culture.

I don't think objective moral values exist, but if we desire morality to, for instance, benefit the human race or reduce suffering, some morals are going to be better than others. For instance, if we desire morality to benefit humans in general, a morality code encouraging the oppression of women is going to be inferior to one that is against that form of oppression.

However, there are few morals that would apply in every possible situation. When our choices are restricted, we sometimes have to do things that would not be acceptable in another situation. For instance, most people seem to believe that it is okay to kill another human being in self defence, but not just because you had a bad day and felt like it.
I tend to think that morality has evolved to some extent from our evolutionary history, and it is also conditioned by our culture.
Yes but so has immorality too. How can you differentiate them without question begging?

I don't think objective moral values exist...some morals are going to be better than others

What do you mean by this? What values do exist in order for you to use "better" here?


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