Society, Morality, and Rape

Brent, at Uncommon Descent, asked:

Is rape morally wrong because society says so?

Or:

Does society say rape is wrong because morality says so?

 

I answered:

I’m going to annoy you, I’m afraid, Brent, in my answer, but in for a penny…

“Morality” doesn’t “say” anything. People do. Collectively, people form a society, so it is reasonable to say that “society” says something – if that something is the collective mores, or precepts of a society.

So I’d say that people in a society collectively construct a shared system of moral precepts and those precepts include, in most societies, the precept that rape is wrong.

This seems to be fairly universal, probably because most societies develop a system that places a taboo on one person exploiting another for personal benefit. This is not surprising given that we are a social species and do better when we cooperate with each other than when we act individualistically.

So my answer is “closer to that first thing”, because the second doesn’t really make sense.

However, I would phrase it as:

In most societies, rape is regarded as morally wrong, because it violates the principle that underpins the continuation of a society that has potential net benefits for all.

He replied:

Sorry to take the last bit first, but . . .

However, I would phrase it as:

In most societies, rape is regarded as morally wrong, because it violates the principle that underpins the continuation of a society that has potential net benefits for all.

I’m surprised you would say this, not that it is inconsistent with your own beliefs on the matter, but that it leaves you completely open to, and obviously guilty of, WJM’s charges that a Darwinist system (system consistent with “Darwinism”) cannot condemn rape.

And the first bit last . . .

“Morality” doesn’t “say” anything. People do. Collectively, people form a society, so it is reasonable to say that “society” says something – if that something is the collective mores, or precepts of a society.

So I’d say that people in a society collectively construct a shared system of moral precepts and those precepts include, in most societies, the precept that rape is wrong.

This seems to be fairly universal, probably because most societies develop a system that places a taboo on one person exploiting another for personal benefit. This is not surprising given that we are a social species and do better when we cooperate with each other than when we act individualistically.

So my answer is “closer to that first thing”, because the second doesn’t really make sense.

Which all means that my original challenge to your system of morality, in fact, is correct and undermines it completely; there is no actual morality whatsoever.

If people of a society are the source of morality, then people of a society govern morality, and morality doesn’t govern people of a society.

And I invited him to continue the conversation here.

What Brent seems to be saying is that a morality – a system of oughts and ought nots – somehow doesn’t count as “morality” if it is constructed by a socciety of human beings.

My response to Brent is to ask: what morality can he name that is not constructed by a society of human beings?

 

 

416 thoughts on “Society, Morality, and Rape

  1. Brent:
    I found Her, the Church, very wanting in many ways and many places. But I didn’t find Her wanting for the Truth.

    Unfortunately, truth and the Truth are mortal enemies.

  2. petrushka:
    Nations have interests. Most nations ignored the Nazis until their own interests were threatened.

    True and what I think this shows action is different from justified moral judgement.
    Consider the US reaction to the recent use of chemical weapons in Syria, presumably self-justified by whoever did though some kind of means justifies the ends moral decision which they thought was morally correct.

    It was universally (and correctly) condemned as wrong in the US, but taking action was not automatic.

  3. Brent

    Oops! I see now that I missed what you were saying about being “deductive”; not the moral principles themselves, but the application.

    Yes.
    I’d also add that I understand your comments on justified criticisms of the Catholic Church to say that the process of deducing the moral principles is fallible, even if that process is conducted by a religious leader whose followers claim to be infallible when stating the conclusions of the process.

    But then what are the religious-only aspects of the process? It seems to be that the same fallible process is open to the naturalist.

    Further, the existence of objective moral standards is irrelevant if you just want to discount relativism. All you need is a process which can be objectively seen to improve standards.
    (Consider again science: one can objectively evaluate an explanation without deciding whether it is just a tool to generate predictions or is an approximation to some natural law).

    If you say that you rely on internal knowledge of what is right as part of the process, I would agree that this is important. I would only say that evolution (biological or cultural) is the source of this knowledge. And it is a fallible source subject to reason (e.g. the biological urge we all have to distrust “Others” is not morally correct).

    In the end, I think the title for the post is a false dilemma. Yes societies develop what they might claim to be correct moral standards, but that claim alone does not make it so.

    So, at least when if comes to the topic of this thread, I don’t think religious belief is relevant. A naturalist does not need to be a relativist.

  4. hotshoe:This was Brent’s answer a few days ago at UD. I think we should take Brent at his word:

    Sounds just like every other christian guy to me.

    Could we not do this. This same hyperliteralism they engage in. I don’t like Brent(or Murray for that matter) anymore than the rest of you do but I will give him the benefit of the doubt for having enough intelligence and self-awareness to understand how that statement would look if he meant it literally. Therefore I understand he was being sarcastic. Intentional mockery at KN’s expense. I want to believe that the rest of you are intelligent enough to understand sarcasm because if you don’t the the only other explanation I can think of is your partisanship is getting in the way of your reading comprehension skills. I really don’t want to think that of any of you.

    eta:
    I’m sorry hotshoe if that looks to be singling you out individually. I simply did a cntrl F search for the ‘slave of 18 years’ string and replied to the first one that came up. I am addressing everyone not just you.

  5. Aardvark:

    Brent:You can jump from now until the cows come home, but until your thinking about the ground changes, you’ll never have correct understanding of an obvious fact.

    You can, and do, have correct and binding morals, just as the third man can jump, but your thinking, also just like the third man, is simply incorrect.

    Ok, and what prize do we win for ‘right thinking’?

    Brent,
    I would like to repeat this question. I don’t think it is an unreasonable one nor should it require a majorly effortful essay to answer.

    What exactly do we win for right thinking? What is the benefit?

    There are other questions in a day old comment above. They also don’t seem unreasonable or effortful to answer but I will guess asking you to answer more than one is just too unreasonable of me.

  6. Brent:
    Brent on September 29, 2013 at 6:30 am said:

    Aardvark:
    Mike Elzinga,

    His problem is he has constructed this entire chain of beautiful logic but because there isn’t any absolute morality, or source of such, the chain isn’t anchored to anything.It is simply drifting in empty space.I don’t see how his situation is any different.

    This simply begs the question against the absolutist position. You have to assume the naturalist view in order to say the absolutist’s understanding has no anchor.

    Yes, and the naturalist view is the default. The absolutist’s position is the one that has a positive claim. It has to justify itself by showing the actual existence of what they claim exists. The mere fact that people argue right and wrong in absolutist terms and even believe that the absolute morality objectively exists isn’t proof that it actually does. Belief is not reality.

  7. Brent: I’m not telling anyone they don’t have a right to judge, though. I want you to judge. But, since that is the case, and it is also the case that said judging is inconsistent with a relativist/naturalist understanding of morality, what I do want you to stop is believing something that is obviously false and a bald contradiction.

    There is no bald contradiction, because when I say someting is wrong, I mean (necessarily) that something is wrong in my opinion.

    And this is not just me – this holds for everybody including yourself. And remember, as much as you may think that your opinion is in line with the absolute morality, you cannot be sure of this (unless you claim you can never be mistaken?). Just like the slaveholders of old were sure they did the right thing, yet we now see they were mistaken.

    I think you are the one who believes in something that is obviously false and a contradiction – an absolute morality that you cannot be sure of you understand correctly is not much of a morality at all, and it may lead people to slavishly follow others rather than thinking things through for themselves.

    fG

  8. Brent:
    fG, it is theoretically possible for anyone to be wrong about anything. It does not follow that, therefore, I am wrong, and especially not in this case, that, when we seriously consider the morality that we encounter in the world seeming to be about rightness and wrongness, it becomes a deductive, necessary truth.

    I didn’t ask if you could be wrong about morality being absolute, I asked if you could be wrong about certain things being right or wrong under this absolute morality, in the light of large groups of people routinely being wrong about this. Remember those slaveholders – they were wrong yet many of them believed in an absolute morality handed down from God, the bible and the churches. Could this be happening to you, too? If not, why not?

    fG

  9. Brent:
    And fG, I didn’t mean that a relativist position of ethics couldn’t be relied upon to oppose the Nazi’s in practice, with guns and guts, but that it cannot deal with saying they were, actually and objectively, wrong, which someone, at least, on this board has unashamedly admitted to believeing; the Nazi’s were not objectively wrong. That’s sad.

    I also don’t believe that the Nazi’s were objectively wrong, because I don’t think morality is an objective concept anymore than beauty is.

    I do believe strongly that they were wrong, actually wrong (according to my deeply felt sense of right and wrong).

    There is no objective standard of morality anymore than that there is an objective standard of beauty. This does not imply that a relativist’s condemnation of Nazi’s is in any way weaker, or less justified, that someone who claims there is an objective morality. Because, as you know, I challenge that claim. I believe the absolutist grounds his morality in exactly the same way as the relativist (in their conscience), but merely invokes a putative Creator of the Universe on their side in an attempt to make their view count more than the view of a relativist. This is a blatant attempt at rigging the discussion – pretending to be objective when presenting a subjective view, and calling in the ultimate authority to be on your side. Pshaw, this doesn’t hold water, especially not once the absolutist is honest enough to admit that he too, like so many before him, could be wrong about the exact tenets of this absolute morality. Which means that the ground he claims to stand on is not any firmer than that of the relativist.

    Are you that honest, Brent? You still haven’t answered this question. We came so close, when you agreed that the slaveholders of old were wrong. Could you be wrong, too, about certain things that you consider absolutely right or wrong?

    fG

  10. faded_Glory:
    Are you that honest, Brent? You still haven’t answered this question. We came so close, when you agreed that the slaveholders of old were wrong. Could you be wrong, too, about certain things that you consider absolutely right or wrong?

    I think he’s answered it:

    Brent:
    fG, it is theoretically possible for anyone to be wrong about anything. It does not follow that, therefore, I am wrong, and especially not in this case, that, when we seriously consider the morality that we encounter in the world seeming to be about rightness and wrongness, it becomes a deductive, necessary truth.

    IOW, he can’t be wrong because… well, you know.

  11. I’ve spent a lot more than three years thinking about this, and I don’t think morality is about rightness and wrongness. I think it’s about trying to anticipate consequences.

    An in particular I don’t think it’s about choosing.

    Moral behavior is imaginative and inventive. Only in the most trivial situations do we choose between clearly defined alternatives. Mostly we do stuff that has outcomes, most of the time imperfectly anticipated.

    Most of these discussions focus on trivial examples involving rape, murder, stealing. But people spend a lot more of their time doing mundane things like raising kids and earning a living. These activities also have consequences, and they require invention rather than binary choice.

  12. BruceS: But how can we justify our acting unless we believe what they are doing is wrong for them as well as us? Surely we must have reasons for our “genuine conviction”, reasons that apply to all.That does not mean there is an absolute moral standard, but it does mean we think our moral standards are superior to theirs.

    Yes, hopefully we have reasons for our strong convictions. But such reasons are bound by time and place, by the individual’s personality, their upbringing and the totality of their life experiences. None of us will ever agree on totally everything – we are all different at heart. So no, there do not, will not and probably can not be reasons that apply to all.

    And of course we think or moral standards are better than those of people we disagree with! How could it be otherwise? If we thought theirs were better we would adopt them, no?

    fG

  13. faded_Glory: Yes, hopefully we have reasons for our strong convictions. But such reasons are bound by time and place, by the individual’s personality, their upbringing and the totality of their life experiences. None of us will ever agree on totally everything – we are all different at heart. So no, there do not, will not and probably can not be reasons that apply to all.

    Individuals make moral decisions but, as man is a social animal, societies set moral standards (some better than others). Individuals may disagree and must then decide how they will act, taking into account whatever punishment the society mandates (eg from shunning to criminal charges).

    For objectivity, I am focusing on a process of improvements that applies to all, not on individual cases. Some outcomes will be very broad and acceptable to all except criminals: no slavery, no rape, no killing of innocent people. Others less so: examples being stem cell research or capital punishment.

    Science the the sort of objective process I am referring to. All with a scientific outlook accept evolution, but there are many scientific controversies at its edges: eg kin selection, roles of selection versus drift, definition and extent of junk DNA, …

    And of course we think or moral standards are better than those of people we disagree with! How could it be otherwise? If we thought theirs were better we would adopt them, no?
    fG

    Exactly. That is what happens and what shows there is moral progress. Think of the end of slavery spreading from Great Britain (if I have my history right) or women’s education and suffrage spreading, a spread which continues to this day.

    I came late to this thread but I have enjoyed the interchange, although there does seem to be a lot of history among many of the posters and Brent resulting in bad feelings which crept into some of them. I’ll be moving on.

  14. Hooboy. Another looooong thread on morality! I’ve only skimmed, but the essence of Murray and the latest self-satisfied gadfly Brent’s argument seems to be that subjective morality is rationally unsatisfactory in relation to the control of others. You have no rational basis for finger-wagging – if you really want one.

    As frequently pointed out, even that piss-poor argument breaks down in the circumstance where two objective-moralists disagree. Meanwhile, for most people, morality begins at home. How one personally ought to behave. There are occasions when we would like others to behave likewise, naturally. And where others would like us to behave according to their standards. Because if one finds the suffering of others to be repugnant, it’s not enough to simply refrain from causing it oneself. It’s really not that hard.

    Asimov’s robots had an objective standard. It may have appeared to them as a subjective sense of restraint, and they had no way of appealing to the Programmer for guidance. The dramatic tension came from frequent dilemmas the rules set up. As it is in life.

  15. The rules of robotics were Asimov’s little joke. He enjoyed showing how objective rules are difficult to interpret in real life.

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