What is morality to you? The Objective Basis of Morality by Thomas Nagel

How do you determine and gauge morality and what factors do you think can influence your perspective? In this post, I summarize an article by Thomas Nagel titled The Objective Basis of Morality. His argument in this article is that, If you resent it when other people hurt you, then you will think you have a good reason not to hurt others. With that said, he goes on to prove the belief that morality exists. Additionally, he gives reasons and explains why people should follow a golden rule that will be a benchmark for morality and why he doesn’t believe ethical obligations can be reduced by religious or legal ones. He uses numerous examples to solidify his argument. He begins with a scenario where someone works at a library (person 1), and has a friend (person 2) come in and says he or she wants to smuggle out references. Any logical person would feel uncomfortable about the situation because even if they can deliver what their friend wants through unethical ways, they would want to prevent their friend from getting in trouble and jeopardizing their job. Plus it would result in other people not having the opportunity to use the missing resource. So it’s a lose-lose situation and no one wins. In addition, he posed questions, “what makes the action wrong? And “where does the idea to not help your friend come from”? For one, what makes the action wrong is the dire ramifications for the friend (person 2) once it’s committed. Secondly, the idea not to help comes from knowing the negative effects the action has on others that will be hurt once they find they’ve been wronged and their perception of the employee (person 1) will change for allowing it to happen. Furthermore, the idea that the employee (person 1) agrees to smuggle references for their friend (person 2) and doesn’t prevent his or her unethical actions shows their selfish intentions since they want to gain pleasure from assisting with the theft. In other words, whatever they help with stealing they’ll see it as worthwhile for their amusement. 

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Nagel further explains his argument by explaining the reason religious beliefs cannot correlate to one deciding to do good or bad. Additionally, even if a person is an atheist he or she still would have a sense of discernment of what’s right and wrong. Moreover, the third objection he talks about is the cliche line that is reminiscent of the golden rule in the Bible “if you treat someone with the consideration they’ll do the same for you”. This statement has merit because your action towards others will decide how they’ll react towards you. Nagel concludes with a final scene that deals with signs of remorse being absent from hurting people. The scenario he described was of a person stealing someone’s belongings and not taking into account how much it might hurt a person, and the self-centered mindset would cause no moral decisions to be made due to the selfish determination that negates any consideration for the victim and the psychological damage it would cause. In summary, moral relativism can be subjective for the fact that what is deemed as moral is determined by an individual’s beliefs and conventional moral standards are understood and agreed on within a specific society and vary from culture to culture. In the example where the employee (person 1) helped the friend (person 2) steal references from a book, if a focus group of individuals was asked what they felt about it, they would come up with different answers and might even justify the stealing if what they stole was for greater means (i.e. discovering a solution to global warming. There are always exceptions relative to the situation on what is considered moral because the intentions of the person and the consequences from their actions will vary depending on the situation they’re in. 

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The Two Evils: An Analysis of “Why God allows evil” and “Religion without God”

    Richard Swinburne’s “Why God allows evil” and Steven M. Cahn “Religion without God” explains how religion is interpreted and understood in Philosophy. Both have solid points with their stances on Theism and Atheism, and how God supposedly perpetrates the two evils of moral and natural. Both texts are very informative on the relation between Religion and Philosophy.

    Swinburne defends his views on how both evils moral and natural are connected and exist through the omnipotent perfectly good God. In order for good to be present in this world it requires that substantial evil to exist for it to be possible. He first describes the two evils in detail, and how God is associated with both. Moral evils are evils that are committed by humans through doing evil actions. These actions are seen as not moral in any sane society like murder, rape, stealing, adultery etc… These evils can bring extreme consequences to the perpetrator like if a person murders they’ll get sentenced to prison if they’re caught by authorities and found guilty. To understand why moral evils exist or why they’re even necessary, Swinburne wonders what kind of goods a generous God would give to humans. Some would say pleasure and happiness, but he believes that he should give us responsibility in determining how this world should operate.  This kind of responsibility requires that humans have free will. Swinburne suggests that if humans act badly that will be like a blueprint for opening up choices on either wanting to act good or evil.

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    Equally important, Swinburne explains the second evil called “Natural Evils”. These evils even though are never created or controlled by humans can be understood more on how to approach them. People do have the ability and opportunities to show responsibility on how to solve these evils which are necessary for trying to live good lives. First, Natural evils allow humans to either exploit other humans or try to harm others or help and look to create a solution to fight for good. For example, if there is a contagious disease spreading around one’s country, humans have the choice to either help fight the disease or continuously spread it all over with no regard. Secondly, when Natural evils occur humans are made to think instantly about how to stop them before it gets out of hand. In addition humans have the opportunity to act in significant moral ways.  Pain and suffering come to mind when thinking about the emotions that are created from Natural evils, and it becomes difficult when humans do not know how to endure it. Feeling pain can help one overcome the adversities they are in, or they can show empathy and help those enduring the same pain. These feelings caused by Natural evils do have some positive aspects. The reason being, Swinburne believes that since both moral and natural evils require responsibility, it can bring good to the world if people are aware of the evils around them and not be so oblivious. This will thus cause them to act for the betterment of their lives. In addition, since God is believed to be benevolent and omnipotent, he provides the best possible life for humans and sees how humans would react through hardships and rejoicing moments. This kind of good would allow for evil to emerge because the opposite has to appear to see how people act in certain circumstances. In terms of free will, it seems to be a blessing and a curse. This is because people are blessed and fortunate they have the ability to choose how they want to live their lives and determine what choices they want to make. That’s the premise of free will. The reason it is a curse is that people may manipulate their given free will and use it to harm others or try to be infamous by committing moral evils.

grayscale photography of praying hands

    Furthermore, “Religion without God” by Steven M. Cahn, examines the views and understandings of Cahn’s beliefs that people can be believers without actually believing in the existence of a God or deity. He believes that one can be religious adherent, and actions such as rituals, prayers, metaphysics, and morality are independent of theism, and can be observed and practiced by those who are not super naturalistic believers.  Cahn explains the actions that are done by people who are devout believers in a supernatural God, and those who are not in greater detail. First, rituals are prescribed actions that are symbolic, and are in relation to that religion’s prescribed organization (Cahn 315). The act symbolizes aspects of that specific religion’s belief. For example, prayers are rituals in certain religions such as Islam. Muslims pray five times a day to Allah (God), and that connects them spiritually to their God, and this ritual is done routinely. In addition, these actions are not relevant to those who disregard a supernatural deity. They might see that rituals are irrational, if it’s done for the sake of pleasing or worshipping a God.  However, the practices of rituals are anything but irrational. Equally important, he distinguishes and explains naturalistic, and super naturalistic. Naturalistic or in other words a non-super naturalistic belief doesn’t utilize or need any type of ritual to please or anger a God (Cahn 316). Rituals are perceived as a means to help achieve goals, and it is “the enhancement of life through the dramatization of great ideals (Cahn 316). Additionally, there’s misconception when it comes to morality and how it’s solely based on believing in a supernatural God. It’s believed that people who reject God such as Atheists are immoral. This belief can be refuted and doesn’t make sense if one really thinks about. For instance, Plato’s teacher Socrates asked him if morality completely rests on belief then how can he know if what he’s doing is right and who can determine what’s right and wrong. “Are actions right because God says they are right, or does God say actions are because they are right”? To put it simply, as are actions made right or wrong because God decides that it is? Or are our actions independent regardless of God commands on what’s right. Naturalistic religion is reasonable and a possibility for people who are skeptical of religion. Naturalistic believers perform the same actions supernaturalistic believers do such as prayer, rituals, commit to following their moral principles, and there are little confusion and less doubt.  In summary, both readings seem to share one aspect from relativism, where all personal or societal opinions and options open. The reason being, it can apply to Cahn’s reading because people that believe in or view religion from a naturalistic stance, can have choices and options on ideas regarding religion and they can come to conclusion on how beneficial it will be if they introduce it into their life. 

Cruel World : An Analysis of “From Cruelty to Goodness” by Philip Hallie

“From Cruelty to Goodness” is an article by Philip Hallie and defines what cruelty means and also identifies institutional cruelty. He begins by analyzing the different possible definitions of cruelty and comes across some that would make sense but still are not concrete. Once cruelty is shown, the victim will have emotional pain, physical, and their dignity and self-respect are crushed. Additionally, they will feel embarrassed and helpless to defend themselves from the cruelty. He goes into describing all these characteristics as being part of what is known as institutional cruelty. Cruelty can be seen throughout many institutions such as the political system, religion, and economics. In this case, some people become oblivious to the cruelty that goes on in their society, ignore it, and wait until there’s some kind of solution. One criterion of cruelty is the power imbalance and how the powerful do anything and by any means necessary to get what they want from the powerless. This is evident with institutional cruelty where a dominant group controls and inflicts fear, and violence towards their victims. The power imbalance between the two cannot be removed but could help put cruelty to a halt, but there are still repercussions that still exist. The victims still maintain their dignity, but cruelty would still be inflicted and remain. On the other hand, many would agree that kindness is the opposite of cruelty or the solution, but can be a problem on its own. First off, it can come across as the “ultimate cruelty” and if the kindness is being shown that doesn’t compensate for the fact that cruelty is still going to happen. This is called “Gilded the chain” and Fredrick Douglas compared it to the experience between slaves and their master. Hallie believes the opposite of cruelty is hospitality, and he describes that as showing unconditional love and affection. Hospitality can be effective because it can temporarily eliminate the power imbalance and help restore the victim’s dignity and self-respect. He gave an example about how the villagers’ o Le Chambon accepted and welcomed the Jews who escaped Germany after World War 2? In contrast, other nations didn’t accept them and turned them away. Once the Jewish families came to Le Chambon the villagers provided them with everything they needed and treated them as their equals. The Jews went from being dehumanized to feeling wanted and cared for, and that helped their terrified hearts. Hallie would tell this story while in the U.S. and felt glad that a French woman thanked him for telling the story and the village that saved three children. Le Chambon was the rainbow in the perspective of the refugee Jews and the institutional cruelty they faced was the storm. This article followed a pluralistic principle and those would be “be your brother’s keeper”. In this story, the villagers were helping the weak and afraid. Also staying true to not killing or betraying, but showing love and gratification should be learned by the villagers of Le Chambon. 

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It’s all relative : An analysis of “An Alternative to Moral Relativism” by Lawrence Adam Lengbeyer

“An Alternative to Moral Relativism” is an article by a teacher of ethics and philosopher Lawrence Adam Lengbeyer. Lengbeyer advocates an alternative to absolutism and relativism, and this alternative could be seen as the middle barrier between the two. This alternative is called ethical pluralism. Ethical pluralism allows many things to be right or certain and can open up multiple answers to questions as opposed to relativism which is fixated with one. However, through Langmeyer’s observations, students were uncomfortable with the idea of the “anything goes’ ‘, and acknowledge that there is only one right answer to any moral question. In addition, the students he mentions have a mindset that relates more to relativism and doesn’t even consider objectivism as an option. They view objectivism as an egotistical and “ethnocentric” doctrine and are not open to accepting a multi-ethical theory. Relativism connects with the students because they can relate to it, and a reason they could be drawn to it is because of anxiety and insecurity. Since they do not have the moral courage and the ability to analyze things for themselves, they turn into relativists. Furthermore, ethical pluralism helps the imbalance between objectivism and relativism and can be the most appealing because of the diversity it has. While an objectivist dismisses others’ judgments and answers if they agree with them, pluralists can agree with multiple equally correct answers. However, those answers will need to be certain, and cannot be refuted or mistaken. Lengbeyer goes into greater detail about both relativism and objectivism and gives examples that compliment his argument. Relativism does have its advantages such as matters of taste, preferences, food, etc… These choices all depend on the individuals’ surroundings and sub-culture, and therefore could make relativism plausible and right in those scenarios. He changes his focus towards ethics as a whole near the end and makes strong points in ways people evaluate judgments. Basically, in ethics, a single correct answer is usually a misguided one or one that can even bring up speculation. Therefore, ethical pluralism is probably the best option because of its vast answers and logical analysis that is made with judgments. Objectivism can have a group of people come up with answers and those answers are usually not defended well enough and this thus can cause conflict. In closing, all three of these ethical concepts have their advantages and disadvantages; it all depends on the situations they correlate too. 

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What is honor, really?

  • “Desperation brings out the demon in the best of men” – Jin Sakai 

      Even though a fictional character this is a profound quote from Jin Sakai from the critically acclaimed PS4 game “Ghost of Tsushima”. He saw bloodshed and terror firsthand on his homeland the island of Tsushima Japan. Adversity created an unrelenting warrior spirit that caused him to stop at nothing to defend his people against Mongol invasion by any means necessary and one of them being “Ghost tactics” which allowed him to become a frightening force and mythical as the story progresses. The way of the Ghost is seen as dishonorable when compared to the conventional Samurai way his uncle taught him, and to be honest, I understand his uncles perspective of defeating enemies in battle with honor, but when push comes to shove I don’t think it has to apply when the annihilation and brutality from foes (Mongols) are on a massive scale, and any victim is open to death. In regards to that, the Samurai way had a propensity to follow a strict code but when desperation to see your people survive, the anger to defend them becomes the mission and the tactics to get it done becomes deadlier, and less merciful. So, to what extent will you consider disregarding honor to protect yourself and the people you love from any enemy that will stop at nothing to harm and eliminate you and your people? Or do you think showing honor and mercy towards an enemy is the sensible way to deliver defeat?

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