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 A Question of the Existence of a Universal Ethical System

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TheSleepingDragon

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PostSubject: A Question of the Existence of a Universal Ethical System   6/29/2010, 19:57

I'll just state the question as plainly as possible:

Does there exist a universal ethical system that does not require definition by a sentient conciousness?
That is, is the concept of ethics meaningful even in a universe where there do not exist sentient lifeforms?
Is it an inherent part of the fabric of the universe around us, as innate as the laws of physics, or is it an entirely mental construct?
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PostSubject: Re: A Question of the Existence of a Universal Ethical System   6/29/2010, 22:52

In a way, yes and no. As humans evolved into progressively more complex societies, our moral and ethical system became more advanced. It's not a concrete thing however, and therefore can't be naturally enforced. One could argue however that the moral/ethical system is dictated by the majority, and is in it's own way oppressive.

The basic system seems to frown upon killing and stealing. But as society evolves and becomes more enlightened some things get added on. Granted these additions meet heavy resistance from the traditionalists (although it slowly wanes as time passes on). Slavery is a good example.
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TheSleepingDragon

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PostSubject: Re: A Question of the Existence of a Universal Ethical System   6/29/2010, 22:53

I invoke the Law of the Excluded Middle.
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PostSubject: Re: A Question of the Existence of a Universal Ethical System   6/30/2010, 02:03

First of all, ethics are rules designed to protect and enforce values. Without sentience there can be no values and therefore no ethics. So to answer your question flatly, no.


Secondly, I do believe that among sentient beings there is a rational and universally system, and that deviation from it is wrong. However having had this discussion with both of you and am opting out of elaborating, but will simply leave having answered the original question. Lol.
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TheSleepingDragon

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PostSubject: Re: A Question of the Existence of a Universal Ethical System   7/1/2010, 01:30

Well, Socrates, your statement would assume that values do not exist independently of consciousness and therefore do not exist prior to being conceived in the mind.

However, there is a distinctly analogous argument that occurs in the mathematical world.

The Platonists believe that mathematical laws are discovered rather than created. They are of the belief that there is an independent mathematical reality that practitioners explore. To them, that mathematics can so closely describe properties about the universe is not surprising, but expected.

The Non-Platonists (they don't really have a name) believe that mathematics is created rather than discovered; that is, that mathematics is a game that humans have invented with certain rules with very specific outcomes. That these outcomes have any relation to reality at all is incredibly surprising for them.

So to get straight to the point Socrates I'd like to know why exactly ethics must be Non-Platonist. Is there any specific reason that values must be conceived? Are values a matter of efficiency and guidance rather than a matter of arbitrary conception?
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PostSubject: Re: A Question of the Existence of a Universal Ethical System   7/1/2010, 01:49

Well take for example the ethics of stealing. For stealing to be consider moral, immoral, or amoral, one must first decide whether or not one values having one's property, or if one has an altustic belief system - such as religion barring thievery- and then from this value one determines the merit or detriment of theft and whether it is ethical or not.

Without an independent, thinking mind, one relies only on instinct. An animal may not like "theft" (as in another animal taking it's food, mate, territory etc.) but that isn't reasoned, and can even be intimated out through fighting (in the pack, against a predator, etc.) Where as humans can devlop laws, stick to principals even through death (martrydom) and define and discuss ethics and values, as we are doing now.

Math is concrete, it isn't subject to whim and malleable, or subject to social forces or trends. Ethics (much to my chagrin as you know I believe there to be an objective system) constantly shifts and depends on the people to whom the ethics belong. If Y depends on X, then Y is not a constant. Y represents ethics, X represents values, and X can be any number at any time. To put this into the math terms you hold so dearly lol.
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TheSleepingDragon

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PostSubject: Re: A Question of the Existence of a Universal Ethical System   7/1/2010, 01:54

Therefore, I take it that you define ethics to be defined by values, and values to be defined by rational consciousness?
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PostSubject: Re: A Question of the Existence of a Universal Ethical System   7/1/2010, 02:04

One requires a rational conciousness to even understand the concept of value, let alone hold any.

An animal protecting it's young does so through instinct, not choice. People can choose whether to do so, I'm sure the menendez brothers' parents would have done something before hand had they saw their deaths coming. Not to mention how many people abandon, abort, or simply abuse their children. Only when one can CHOOSE one's action, can it be a value or not rather than instinct. Truth, honesty, civility, are my values. Can a bird know truth? If so it wouldn't fly into windows. Can a tiger know honesty? It has no conception of dishonesty or honesty. Can a bear understand civility? I don't even think bears socialize beyond mating, but regardless, their civility would be due to dominance and animal instinct, not rational thought.
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PostSubject: Re: A Question of the Existence of a Universal Ethical System   7/1/2010, 02:15

The question, then, hinges on a matter of how much a mind can comprehend and rationalize?

Does this measure exist on a smooth continuum or is it quantized and discrete?
What is the threshold at which understanding can be achieved?
Finally, how do we know that animals have not crossed this threshold? Are we sure?
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PostSubject: Re: A Question of the Existence of a Universal Ethical System   7/1/2010, 02:26

I see your last post as pointless speculation. If animals had reached this threshold- with perhaps the exceptions of whales, dolphins, and the great apes which I may consider lightly- they will be able to start societies that function as well as ours does.

That is an interesting question though. I believe though that only a human mind, out of all beings on the earth, is rational enough for such thought. Primarily because as much study has been done the next smartest creatures are dolphins and chimps, and the latter enjoys throwing feces. Not exactly genius dragon.
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PostSubject: Re: A Question of the Existence of a Universal Ethical System   7/1/2010, 19:31

Perhaps not, but it is interesting to note that the beginnings of world history (after the period of prehistory) are generally considered to be the development of agriculture; and agriculture is held to be the engine that provides for the diversification and specialization of labor. Clearly dolphins and whales are not in a very comfortable location for the development of agriculture. Chimpanzees are much more favored geographically, being on land and having opposable thumbs, however the jungle is still far from a favorable location for the development of agriculture.

Thus, it seems to me, that if a person has to worry about where their next meal is coming from it is much harder to turn to more abstract and cerebral pursuits.
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PostSubject: Re: A Question of the Existence of a Universal Ethical System   7/1/2010, 20:09

There was only horticulture, no agriculture in most native american societies and they held ethical systems, as do the bushmen in africa who have neithre agriculture or horticulture.

Principals exist in the mind, therefore sentience is the only requirement.

Though I think better in an air conditioned room sipping coacoa than in a hot humid room that reeks of beer.

Just saying. Lol.
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PostSubject: Re: A Question of the Existence of a Universal Ethical System   7/1/2010, 21:51

Admittedly African Bushmen do present a counterexample to my labor diversification argument. However, you have yet to demonstrate that animals do not possess the higher faculties required for abstract thought. The closest claim being that, if animals were rational and intelligent, they would form high functioning societies. How, then, do we know that they have not? Elephants may have a form of religion as they have their own elephant graveyards (places where the elephants go to die). Some primates use tools, and chimpanzees demonstrate the ability to wage war.

What, then, defines a high functioning society? Clearly not technology, since the bushmen do not have that. Clearly not tools either, as various animals do (otters count too: they use rocks to smash open mussels and are not primates). Religion does not seem to be a valid requirement, as the elephants have shown religious tendencies.

Not to mention the fact that we cannot truly communicate with any of the animal species you mentioned. Therefore it is not completely demonstrable that they do not have a high functioning society, unless said definition were to have the flaws I mentioned (unless I missed something).
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PostSubject: Re: A Question of the Existence of a Universal Ethical System   7/1/2010, 22:03

For this particular argument, I believe the burden of proof is on you to prove that animals do. You can't disprove a negative. You are asking me to prove there is not an invisibly dinosaur in the room.
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PostSubject: Re: A Question of the Existence of a Universal Ethical System   7/1/2010, 22:09

If that's the case, then I must concede defeat by Occam's Razor. The philosophical tool of inductive logic decides in your favor. Deductive logic can only say that neither of us has decisively proven anything.
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