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+5 votes
or is there a difference?
and what is the difference between morals and ethics?

(coming later, a question about how jargon serves to make insiders feel better than other people! ;) )
by (53.1k points)
"... for some body or person to know what is best for all, or perhaps a way to talk about what one thinks is best ..."

dot, since you probably won't be reading my comments on the other thread, i think this segues nicely into what was going on there as well. there are a some presuppositions underlying the moralism i've encountered:  this 'for all' speech denotes a mass of people,  a mass 'society,' of people who have little face to face interaction and need guidance from enunciated, but abstract rules . it presumes civilization, at least to my ears and eyes.

also, the power of the story and the interpretive 'lessons' we might draw from them are traded for the distancing of bland logic and the alienation of arbitrary laws.
Theoretical jabs? I guess.

I'm just trying to point out that you guys are still relying on universal moral judgments despite claiming that you don't believe in morality. There's a clear contradiction in the way you're talking that you need to come to terms with.

It's no surprise to me at all because I believe that moral reason is one humanity's primary ways of knowing the world. Right up there with logic or aesthetic judgment. It's built into us and we can't excise it no matter how hard some might try. Nor should they. It would just be foolish to turn your back on one of your innate skills.

So does that answer your question? Who would do an acceptable job of answering what's right and wrong for everyone? We all would. It's part of who we are to know that answer.
sf:"I'm just trying to point out that you guys are still relying on universal moral judgments"


"Who would do an acceptable job of answering what's right and wrong for everyone? We all would."

via the internet?

"There's a clear contradiction in the way you're talking that you need to come to terms with."

According to...?
You are on to them, SF, they want to tell us that we are wrong and this is why while claiming to do so without relying on any judgments.

There has been no question of one's absolute right to assume any position on a matter but you are disingenuous at best when you claim that taking this position is not a matter of judgment.

You two choose to rebut what I have laid out, you do so based on your own rejection of any judgments but your own on the matter, then you say that you are not making a judgment??  You have judged any parameter not set by you as not acceptable.  Clearly a judgmental position.

I mean disagree if you like, that is your absolute prerogative, but don't deny that it is your judgment that leads you to reject what I proposed.

I agree with SF, we have certain aspects of being alive in this reality that cannot be denied, we like certain flavors, we like certain people, but the denial of liking some things more than others based on our own interpretation/judgments of reality is not realistic.
"the denial of liking some things more than others based on our own interpretation/judgments of reality is not realistic"

of course. individuals make "judgement calls" all the time. that is a very different beast than judgements that are rooted in some dogma (coming from some authority) that professes to be objective and absolute and applicable to all. every individual has their own opinions, desires, preferences, etc. to equate that with a universal morality is disingenuous.

3 Answers

+3 votes
well, here goes my first pass at an answer. kind of stream of consciousness, so bear with me.

first, my definition of morality. as usual, i express a somewhat simplified perspective. i like simple. i leave the more philosophical, abstract perspectives to those who prefer that approach.

morality is, at its most basic, a belief in a particular set of values that determine what is right and what is wrong; a doctrine for correct and incorrect behavior (and thought?). the specific values may be different depending on the authority that defines them; what remains the same is the fact that those values are intended to apply to all. while it may be possible to argue that this can be applied at the individual level, in practice that seems to be an idealistic anachronism. in my 54 years of experience in this world, morality is invariably a belief in a particular set of values determining what is right and wrong *for everyone*.

moralism, as best i can define it, is just the tendency to use morality for one's own purposes, be they political, strategic, propogandistic, patronizing, etc.

so, what are my arguments against morality?

first and foremost, morality as i see it has absolutely *no* allowance for, or acknowledgement of, context. it defines itself in completely black and white, binary terms. the doctrine is defined by some authority, and it is supposed to apply to everyone at all times. (i guess there is an argument that when morality is applied to those in power, by those in power, context does in fact play a role.)

at the highest level, now that i think of it, that may be my *only* argument against morality. everything else may simply stem from that primal objection.

i guess there is also the fact that any morality (that i see as such) is defined by some authority, typically an institutional authority at that. so epic fail on that count, as an anarchist.

the very words "right" and "wrong" have moralistic overtones for me. it is difficult to avoid them completely, just given their ubiquitous usage in every aspect of life. but conceptually, i think more in terms of what works for me and what doesn't; what is desirable and what is not. i cannot possibly know what is right or wrong (or desirable/undesirable) for others, much less for *everyone*. in certain situations i may be able to make an educated guess what works or not for someone that i know well, but even that is constantly challenged.

of course, my conscious behavior is (typically) viscerally informed by some set of constantly evolving (*major* point there) guidelines, in pursuit of fulfilling my needs and desires.

take, for example, stealing (leaving aside the whole "property is theft" and "reappropriation" discussion for now). i do it, and not infrequently. yet, i do not steal from people i care about. some would say "it is ok to steal from walmart, but not from joe's local hardware store." i don't see it quite that cut and dried. joe's may be a small, family business. but joe may be an asshole that abuses his employees, or otherwise does shit i hate. my general guideline there is: anyone that tries to profit from selling me something i need is a potential victim of my skills. if it is someone i care about, i am unlikely to steal it from them, especially if i know they need the money they take in by selling that item. if i can afford it, i will pay them for it; otherwise i will try to steal it elsewhere. ultimately, if i can do neither, i will try to work something out with them (barter, gift, etc). none of that is rooted in any morality; it is rooted in my desires for freedom and control of my own life, which includes those relationships that are meaningful to me. by the same token, the only reason i don't focus on stealing from banks is the likelihood of my being incarcerated as a result, since i do not have the skills i deem necessary to get away with it. it is surely not some moral aversion to that behavior.

i may have more to add, but that's all that flowed out for now...

[edited to add a point]
by (13.4k points)
edited by
I think you're doing some complicated gymnastics here to avoid describing your impulses in terms that are moral and in the process you're making yourself sound much more selfish and uncaring than you probably are.

Let's say you're at a market where artisans sell their work at booths. You see an item you'd like to have, but don't have any money. You don't know the person who made it and is now selling it and so have no relationship to be concerned about maintaining, but you also have no reason to think they're exploitative or do shit that you hate (this is a moral judgment, by the way). So would you feel fine walking away with the item when they have their back turned?
sf, it will always be the case that you can find morality in my words, because you clearly define it differently than i do. and i can only know what i can know about what is going on in the deepest recesses of my subconscious; maybe i am actually a devout believer in some god somewhere in there. i can only know what feels like the truth to me, based on my experience, understandings, observations, feelings, communications, etc.

i don't claim to be free of moralism, either. i do claim to want to be. and to try to be.

the term "good" feels like an abstraction to me, especially when compared with a term like "desirable". desire is something i actuallly feel; good is something i .... actually....  well fuck, i dont know. when i say "i feel good",  what does that actually mean to me? i feel euphoric, or relaxed, or satiated, or .... happy? those are feelings i relate to. "good" ... not so much. too vague.   but sometimes it is just too easy to use that word as shorthand, and i have no moral judgement against that :-)

as to your art market example, i'll bite for a sec. it seems a pointless question because everything would depend on the context of the situation. the bottom line is i don't see that situation as a moral one, but a practical one. someone that holds to a morality would see anything i did in a moralistic way, and that would be totally valid given their worldview. it just isn't mine. calling what i do moral/moralistic is to see it a certain way; that is not the only way to see behavior, but it is the most common. it is kind of like insisting that i am a jew because my mother is of jewish background. sure, to folks that accept that particular dogma, i am jewish. but that has no meaning to me, none whatsoever.

am i making any sense?
–6 votes
The problem with morality is that too often it's turned outward rather than inward. Morality is first and foremost a way to judge your own actions and attitudes. This doesn't mean you can't judge others. You can and should, but it should be done sparingly and with compassion.

I start from three universal moral rules. There may be others, but these are three that seem critical and inescapable.

1) Do no harm. This means: don't fucking hurt people. Don't hurt them emotionally, don't hurt them physically, don't hurt them existentially. Of course you will hurt people, there's just no way around it, but do it as little as possible. And you should feel bad when you hurt someone, even if it was unavoidable. "Some people are helped by being hurt" is a true fact, but even in a case like that you should feel bad because you couldn't think of better way.

2) You don't gotta be right, but you've gotta be righteous. This means that intentions matter more than actions. Actions still matter (see #1), but this applies in those cases of unavoidable harm. So long as you're doing the best you can, you shouldn't beat yourself up about it too much. It's also a way through in situations that might otherwise lead to some kind of moral paralysis when there doesn't seem to be any way to continue without hurting people.

3) Know thyself. Know who you are and how you got to where you are, know why you do the things you do and know the consequences for others of your actions and decisions.

I judge myself by these standards. Sometimes I come up short and I feel bad for it. This makes me strive to do better the next time I'm faced with a decision. I feel guilt for the harm I do to others, both people I know and the millions I don't know whose suffering props up my way of life. The guilt doesn't paralyze me, it pushes me forward to something better.

If you don't feel this guilt, you're a bad person. If you think it's okay to harm people, you're a bad person. If you don't even know what the hell you're doing, you're a bad person. I have no problem judging people for these things. I can still show compassion and friendship, but the moral side of our beliefs and actions is absolutely real.
by (560 points)
edited by
"And I mean: how can you say that it's not okay to answer what's right and wrong for everyone since that in itself is an answer to what's right and wrong for everyone."

i don't recall anyone saying that "it's not okay...".

you've actually created the inconsistency you said you see by re-framing what many of us have said in your language. if i say i don't see behavior as universally right or wrong, that doesn't mean i said "it's not okay" for you to see it that way. you said that.

dot, and funky...i might have agreed with you about the internet medium causing more problems had i not experienced a very similar discussion just last night with my father. we went around and around in the same type of circles. i've had many such conversations before, and i've yet to find a way to explain my point of view in person when morality comes up. i really don't know how to explain things any better, and when i read many of the other responses here i realize how much different each person's voice sounds and yet i still resonate with the i don't think we're short of ways to describe things.

i've had this particular discussion enough times to feel ready to leave it behind me because i usually feel exasperated at the end of it, and i can't find any new ways to express it.

so my only other suggestion for SF or FBA is to maybe smoke a nice bud of sativa and perhaps it will seem clearer.
"nobody can make sure they don't step on the desires of others. in a world of different people, there will be conflicting desires. how each conflict is resolved is up to those involved. i don't care to predetermine how those conflicts will be dealt with."

The potential for conflict can be reduced if you predetermine to treat people right. Isn't that a good idea? Better than just acting blindly and then hoping to resolve the problems you create after they develop? No, you can't erase the conflicts completely and no you can't know in advance what will always be the best way to act, but you sure a shit can have a better idea than none at all.

It's just not enough to say that the people involved will solve the conflicts. That's a dodge. Many times we don't even know who is affected by our actions or who is affecting us. There is no opportunity for resolving conflicts like that without personal responsibility. As an extreme example, how do you deal with the implications of your American lifestyle? You hurt millions of people just by existing in this society. Do you think that doesn't exist just because you're an anarchist? How will those people resolve their conflicts with you? This is a situation in which you need to know your place first and hold yourself to a standard without those millions needing to take flights to your home town and come knocking on your door.

I think you've all seen the way some people or groups twist the concept of morality, naturally recoiled from that, but then gone too far in the other direction. There is a sensible middle ground here that allows us to recognize that hurting people is wrong and that we need to be self-aware.

Yes, this conversation is exasperating, but I don't see how we can avoid it as anarchists. Maybe you all feel differently. I'm more than happy to step out of this topic and you can delete the discussion if it hasn't been helpful to you. I would also hope that some other people might try to provide new answers to dot's original question since that doesn't seem to be happening.
aha, this seems helpful (not in the sense of agreeing with each other, lol -- *that* seems further away than ever).

nope, nope, nope. a: the potential for conflict is not at all reduced by "determining to treat people right" partly because "right" IN PRACTICE is different for everyone, and also because being determined can have fuck all to do with anything. your own example is kind of sterling. if i were determined not to hurt any of the millions of people affected by the american paradigm, would it make any difference? i think it's pretty clear that it would not. individuals don't have the kind of power that you are claiming for us (which, btw, is another christian grandiosity thing - oh, be a good example, oh sacrifice yourself for others, [etc] as if either of those things have ever caused the kind of change that I FOR ONE would find relevant).
b. no one said "act blindly", those are your words/assumptions for what i would do in rejecting your universalisms.
c. if we don't know who's being affected by our actions, than how do we know that we're hurting them? but here i suppose you're talking about the system as if it's yours. you're being a good ally by acknowledging your participation in the problem. it's fine to understand how people are at different places in the system, and some have it easier than others, but to take responsibility for that seems again, grandiose and hugely misguided. a white person benefiting from racism doesn't mean that that white person is responsible for racism. racism would exist without that white person ever having existed. doesn't mean that that white person can't do something about racism IN THEIR CIRCLES, with PEOPLE THEY KNOW, but again - that is situational, not global.
so -- yea, you're operating on abstractions in the name of The People (and of course, in the name of the Good). classic leftist.
if i had a little more hope i would suggest you read Stirner, but i don't. so, never mind.
anyway, i feel more resolved. thanks for that!

ps: your attempt to psychoanalyze people you've never met is amusing. also patronizing. just, you know, fyi.

edit for spelling. sigh.
damn this has elicited a lot of comments. I am responding only to what you specifically asked me: "can you describe a little more what you mean when you say that you don't like it when you inadvertently harm others? What form does you "not liking" take?"

I have a job and for that job I drive a car, and I use a cell phone, and I use computers. I also use those things for other things I do. The continued reliance on these things involves exploitation, murder, ecological degradation, and more, much more bad.

I don't feel guilty about my use of these things. I might hate them, but they are compromises. They certainly implicate me to some extent, as your posting here implicates you.

Your definition of guilt seems to be that if you know your actions cause harm, you should feel bad about it. I wold say that I don't feel bad so much as I am aware, and understanding my complicity makes me angrier. If I experienced guilt I think I would instead feel frozen and unable to do more than react to those guilty feelings. Always repenting.
0 votes
If you read Max Stirner's the 'Ego and his own' he gives a philosophical argument on how all altruistic acts are selfish in their origin. According to Stirner's amoralist (psychological egoism) view, there are two types of people those who recognise their actions are egotistical and those who do not. If you want to read books that attack Kant's deontology or Mill's Utilitarianism I recommend reading Nietzsche's ''Beyond good and evil' and 'On the geneology of morality' which is moral nihilist attack on how morality is result of religion. Nietzsche believed Christian morality arose out of the result of the weak trying to pull down the strong by demanding them with new values which painted the as good victims and the oppresses as evil tyrants. The superman is a theoretical amoral man who will surpass morality.
by (180 points)