Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Murder and Morals: the Mystery

This is essentially a post to create discussion about the topic in my previous post (the long one), since I doubt many people are going to read it. You can try to prove the following statement untrue, and I'll respond to defend it as true. It should be interesting...

Killing other humans is not wrong, morally or ethically - it just happens to be a mostly convenient guideline.

(Oh, and please don't take this to mean that I would go out and kill people for fun. I wouldn't. Really. It's just to generate discussion on an idea I find intriguing)


Wolf Man Jack said...

That statement is 103.2% wrong.
1st Morals are relative (to some degree) and trying to say some broad generalization about something as individual specific as morals is impossible. My morals tell me that killing is wrong.
2nd According to the principle of No Harm states, "...it is wrong to inflict harm upon another person... The concept of harm includes mental or emotional harm, physical harm (e.g., death, pain, disability)..." To kill a person doesn't fit in with this principle of ethics.

devin said...

Good. The easy parts out of the way first. And if you still want a longer explanation, again, read my ethics post, because it disproves what Wolf just said.

First, the moral relativism point. Because morals are inherently relative, they mean nothing, and therefore cannot be said to prove something as either right or wrong. They mean nothing because morals at their core are universal. They cannot be personal, because as you say, your morals tell you that killing is wrong. When someone else's morals conflict with yours, your moral is no longer universal. It no longer applies to everyone, or anyone for that matter except yourself. If a moral loses its universality (as all morals do) then it is no longer a shining rule to live your life by and loses its essential meaning.
Prime example: although you say that you believe killing to be wrong, if some random person was threatening you or your family with death, and possibly had already killed some of your family, and had cornered you, would you die rather than kill this person? The instinctual human reaction would be self-defense, so no, you would kill him if you had the chance. You would toss aside all pretenses of a rule your moral of "killing is wrong" provided and kill him. If a moral can be tossed aside like that, even for an instant, then how can it possibly be used to prove anything as "right" or "wrong", even individually?

Secondly, the ethical point: ethics don't prove anything "right" or "wrong" either, so they can't be used in defense of anything. Example: the crusades. Yes, harming another human being physically is wrong via the no-harm "rule" under the ethical code. But you know what? If they're heathens it doesn't matter! Look at war: society says killing is wrong, but in self-defense or just plain aggressiveness, suddenly killing the enemy is entirely right again. So, back to my moral point: since the ethical "code" can be tossed aside and changed whenever it is deemed necessary, how can it possibly be used to prove anything as definitively "right" or "wrong"? It loses all its meaning, except as a set of guidelines that we have to follow to live in a society without punishment (to guarantee our security so that we're still productive members of said society). Ethics, as we think of them, are lies. We can follow lies, sure, but they don't prove anything.

Killing people is not wrong, but it also isn't right. It's neither - it's just a guideline that happens to be pretty convenient. Notice I never actually said "killing people is right". Morality and ethics can't prove it to be either way.

A. Koss said...

I have several problems with both of your arguments.
Just because some people have broken moral and ethical codes doesn't mean those codes no longer exist or have no meaning at all. Laws aren't the same as enforcement-- I don't HAVE to follow the laws, but if I commit a crime that doesn't mean the laws stop existing or are worthless. Maybe you'll argue that this lack of 100% perfect enforcement means that the laws are basically just convenient guidelines. In that case, what are morals and ethics, by definition, but convenient guidelines? Thus, not killing other people (being a convenient guideline, by your argument) is ethical and moral. This doesn't necessarily answer your last post, but it does apply to this one.
Relativism doesn't mean that morals don't exist or have no significance, either. If someone disagrees with my core morals, that doesn't mean I have to throw them away. Oddly enough, I can hold on to my morals AND disagree with people at the same time.
Also, I don't feel that ethics/morals have to be a strict, literal, follow-it-to-the-letter sort of thing. Every situation I find myself in is absolutely unique, and it's completely illogical to try and apply an absolutely homogenous rule to every one of those unique situations. Does this mean that my morals are worthless?
Naturally, I do have some basic, core morals which I try to apply to every situation. For example, in your "stalker killing your family" scenario, the core moral that would would apply is that human lives are valuable. By killing the axe-murderer (or whatever he is), I am satisfying this moral: I am preserving my own life, those of my family members, and those of random innocent passers-by (all of which are valuable).
Have I tossed aside my morals? I don't think so. I have just satisfied my core moral in the best way possible. This is one of those "lesser of two evils" things. The "right" way is that which best satisfies my morals. My morals are still there, I am still following them, and they haven't become completely pointless.
I don't see this kind of example as being an exception to morals. If the stalker-guy has broken the moral code, and I kill him in self defense, does that mean I'm using his breaking the moral code to justify my breaking it as well? No-- it forces me to make a difficult decision based on my morals. That's the most important point here-- that my decision is based on my morals. They are not negated. I think that my morals are deeply ingrained in me and I'm pretty sure I don't think morals are important because some unidentified entity somewhere is telling me so.
Plus, what's not to say I wouldn't suffer psychologically for killing the axe-stalker-guy? I could do it (as I said above, nothing FORCES me to follow the moral code) but I would feel terrible about it afterwards. Picking up the gun, everything emotional would be saying "wrong! wrong! wrong!" Even though I would know logically that killing the maniac would be the best idea, my conscience certainly wouldn't let me alone. This kind of psychological trauma proves that morals are part of the human psyche and can't be just disregarded. We can't just ignore them when we want to.

Okay, I hope that was a good enough answer because I don't feel like writing any more. Have a nice day.

devin said...

Okay - first: if you believe that ethics/morals shouldn't be a strict, follow-to-the-letter sorta thing, then why do you treat them differently than the guidelines that you and I both agree they are? You say that they are part of the human psyche, but I say no, and here's a more detailed "why": biologically, when we are born, we have no personal identity. It's just not there: we have no experiences to draw upon aside from eating and growing (not the most mentally stimulating activity) and know nothing outside our own private realm. Once we begin to interact with our environment and the RULES associated with it (cough, cough - ethics - cough), then we begin to develop a personality, including what we believe to be "right" and "wrong", based on those observations. So, yes, the ethical situations (governmentally favorable guidelines) surrounding our development does directly cause our individual development of "morals", which are a personal manifestation/response to those ethical guidelines, and are not inherently a part of our psyche. If a person grew up in a society with no ethical code, then I believe they would have very, very few binding moral beliefs just because they would have no reason to develop them in the first place.

Your other main issue with my point dealt with my interpretation of moral relativism: let me try to clear that up. I wasn't saying that because you disagreed with someone that your moral became pointless (at least, I never meant to say that); I meant to say that because he disagreed with you, you are put into a precarious position: instead of your moral being right, his could now be right instead, meaning you COULD be wrong. This doubt is what undermines each and every "moral"'s meaning ultimately, the feeling that there are other ways to look at things and that this may not be the only way. If you are to live your life by a moral code, then you can't let a smidgen (great word) of doubt into that iron shield lest it be sundered in two by the great hammer of chance and opportunity. If you doubt your moral convictions in the least, then when the time comes to stand by them you will be less likely to. This wavering is what I say makes morals truly meaningless as life-guiders, and makes them more into guidelines, much like ethics. I hope that cleared it up.

I think I talked about everything you mentioned in your stalker-guy response except for one thing: you say you would feel terrible after shooting the creepy stalker who's just killed members of your family and going to kill you. I seriously doubt you would, to be quite honest. Given the extremity of the example already, you would be incredibly upset with this crazy-person and, with sufficient reason, WANT them to be dead, thus removing the guilt you might've felt afterwards. It's an extreme example, but it does prove my point, hence why it was chosen. If you were to shoot some random person on the street, then afterwards there would be psychological repercussions, but ONLY because of the environment you grew up in, not because of an innate nature of your humanity.

And, to cover the last thing: at the beginning of your response you said that by my argument "not killing other people is ethical and moral [by my own argument]". I never claimed to say otherwise. Not killing people is ethical, and moral. But it is not "right" or "wrong" because of that definition as ethical and moral. That's what I'm trying to say.

Anyway...sufficient response, I hope. And I did have a nice day, thanks.

the braden said...

Killing other people is ethically wrong, morally wrong in most cases. It is ethically wrong because according to the laws of ethics as layed down by the government, killing another individual is indeed unethical. According to morals, usually people consider taking the life of another immoral. However there some situations in which it is their moral obligation (cult, etc) to do so.

devin said...

Hi. Just a reminder - the post is meant to incorporate the opinions expressed in all the comments as well as the original post. Please don't just comment on said original post without reading the comments. Thanks.

chelser said...

My dear Devin I would never think that you go off and kill someone. I do think though that this is true in our world. That we condem men who kill on another, but yet we drop bombs that kill hundreds of innocents in Iraq. What point does the killing become acceptable if it's in defense of one's self. But then when does the protection of the self and other around that are card for (i.e children) become...not right, but accepted? I think that in defense of one's life it is understandable, because if you did not use force than you yourself would be dead. Even in defending one's own children I think it can be "accepted" on a case to case basis.

Rachael said...

Ha, so in my opinion killing people is not wrong. people are animals too, and you don't see an elephant holding court prosecuting the lion that killed the zebra. yea yea the lion did it for food. whatever. not the point. we don't think anything of one animal killing another but basically all we are are animals with speech machinery. don't tell me we have a more complex brain becuase we can teach monkeys sign language and seals their alphabet and numbers. the only thing that makes us different is the walking, talking (which sometimes is NOT an advantage) and the fact we get dressed everyday and enjoy the little comforts. it's the details that make us different just like a zebra is different from a bunny or tiger. so yeah, killing people is fine by me, just make sure they deserve it and if you need some names you know where to find me :D just kidding...kinda. lol