The Philosophy Forums
Tips? admin [at] philosophy-forums.com

The philosophy forums is a small community involved in discussing issues of philosophical significance. If you wish to participate in the discussion, you can register (it only takes about a minute) and start posting your ideas.


 
Thread Tools Display Modes
March 5th, 03:41 PM   #1
jacques
Settling In
 
 
Join Date: Nov 2007
Location: New Jersey
Posts: 47
Post Nihilism: Objective morals?

Greetings, all.

The definition of Nihilism include: objective secular ethics are impossible and no action is objectively preferable to any other.

Agree? Disagree?

Does this mean that according to nihilism, a senseless murder is no worse than the saving of a life?

More philosophically speaking: of course, in our society, life is valued, and death is frightening to the majority of the population. However, do we know enough about the large philosophical questions to actually determine that? Moreover, death could possibly provide some unknown, but beneficial, "something" in the large picture. Does this effect your viewing of Nihilism?

If you believe in nihilism in a radical manner, would you go so far as to defend Hitler, or a person on that scale?
__________________
If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him. - Voltaire

jacques
 
March 5th, 04:09 PM   #2
Lomax
Philosopher-King
 
 
Join Date: Sep 2007
Location: Nuneaton, UK
Posts: 2,013
Default

Hello Jacques,

Well firstly, I agree with the nihilists that objective ethics are impossible. However, I don't think this strips them of their value; the fact that my preference for utility is subjective doesn't make it "false", any more than it makes it "true". It's what I feel, to me it's self-evident, and others are welcome to disagree. I guess that last part is the only real difference between an objective truth and a subjective truth.

I guess it means that according to nihilism, a murder is only subjectively worse than the saving of a life (or better, depending on your ethics). It can still be worse, but nothing empirical can prove or disprove this, and of course, valid logical arguments are only useful if you know what premises to start with.

I think it's a little brief to say that society values life and fears death; for sure, each person values their own life and fears their own death (in general), but most people don't care about the death of a fish or a tree, many don't care about the death of a feotus, and the emphasis on sexual abstinence, expressed particularly among the older generations, shows that many are not desperate to produce life. Moreover, starving Africans get very little attention from most people among my society, at least.

So what are the general public's feelings towards life? Confused and contradictory, I would say. If life itself is sacred, why is the death of a small child any worse than the millions of microorganic deaths that result from the washing of your hands? There is a bias toward members of one's own species, people who live closer by, and the young. Of course, there are evolutionary reasons for all of these things, but intuitive morality isn't necessarily good morality. I would say it is impossible to give life itself a universally applicable value.

I have defended Hitler before, and predictably, this upsets people. I wouldn't go so far as to say that he was a "right decent bloke", but it is strange that people would rather abandon a logical line of enquiry if it supports Hitler, than abandon their hatred of Hitler if it is not supported by a logical line of enquiry. This is philosophically dishonest, to say the least.

So what can be said of Adolph Hitler? His actions, at least at the time, brought about far more suffering and misery than happiness. We can see that now, but it's much easier to see things with hindsight. It is thought that, at least at first, Hitler was a Roman Catholic, and so it is possible that he was acting from belief in God (even probable, in terms of the Holocaust). As Weinberg correctly mused, religion can lead good people to do evil things (although vice-versa is true aswell, I expect).

It has also been suggested that Hitler was a utilitarian (like myself), meaning that he would act by that which he thought would consequently produce the most happiness. If his elitism and warlike manner were all an effort to create a utopia, then it is arguable that his intentions were good, the ends expected to justify the means.

Of course, Hitler had a bizarre and brutish approach; he took a risk on far too large a scale, and he was too quick to assume his own ethical views were correct. But the point is, a person who commits bad actions is not quite the same as a bad person, and I don't think anyone is inherently "evil". Contrary to the ignorant Christian doctrine, nobody is born that way, and if a man acts badly, you can be almost sure that social conditioning has led to it.

So no, I don't think that ethics are objective, but they do exist. Anyone can be defended, and anybody can be attacked, on ethical ground. It all depends on your point of view.

Lomax
__________________
"War does not determine who is right, only who is left" - Bertrand Russell

Last edited by Lomax : March 5th at 04:15 PM. Reason: Ortography
 
March 8th, 06:24 PM   #3
TechnoFan21
Neophyte
 
 
Join Date: Mar 2008
Location: Just up the street, North of your dreams, you can't miss it.
Posts: 10
Default

I agree that nihilism works, but only in a boundary. Your own self. If you do an action, it does nothing to you, but what it does to others can always come back to meet you. Like karma.
 
March 9th, 11:05 AM   #4
Brian Tracz
Neophyte
 
Join Date: Mar 2008
Posts: 12
Default

There is a wealth to what Lomax said, though I believe quite the contrary. Let me take one example to spring me into discussion:
Quote:
There is a bias toward members of one's own species, people who live closer by, and the young. Of course, there are evolutionary reasons for all of these things, but intuitive morality isn't necessarily good morality. I would say it is impossible to give life itself a universally applicable value.
Science, namely biology, has told us that humans have a mental capacity quite different from animals, that this difference has to do with conceptual thinking and with consciousness of external stimuli. Richard Dawkins speculates that our different quality of consciousness from animals has to do with this separation of the external world with the internal world. While this is open to the idealist's objection, I will suffice it to say that humans have been shown, by evidence of science, to be of greater mental capacity.

Unfortunately, it is this evaluation of "greater mental capacity" that Lomax might object to. I have cleverly made a switch from mere description to evaluation. And the unfortunate thing is that I cannot justify this switch with great ease. But I might appeal to Lomax's very own normative system, that of utilitarianism. John Stuart Mill essentially got at the "greatest pleasure for the greatest number, but some pleasures are better that others." Take the set of all possible pleasures that animals can experience--"A". Name one pleasure that is contained in the set of all animal pleasures "A" that is not contained in the set of all human pleasures "H". It would seem rather difficult, if impossible, to find even one. Perhaps birds fly and have some unique pleasure from being airborne, but with human intellect, we have been able to create flight. Perhaps cheetahs run faster and have some unique pleasure from velocity, but with the human intellect, we have been able to create super-sonic vehicles. Humans, on the other hand, have pleasures, like that of knowledge, love, wonder, etc., that animals seem to lack. Unfortunately, we are not immediately acquainted with an animal's consciousness, but science has demonstrated evidence in support of this time and time again. Thus it appears that A is a subset of H, and thus that, logically, H has a greater number of elements. Thus, H is capable of a greater amount of pleasures. Note that my line of reasoning transcends mere pure reason to include empirical, or scientific, observations, something I think necessary to such a line of inquiry.

I would thus say that human life has a value greater than that of animals, though I have not established an objective or absolute value for human life; that is where Lomax and I agree.
Quote:
In regards to Hitler, Lomax says: It is thought that, at least at first, Hitler was a Roman Catholic, and so it is possible that he was acting from belief in God (even probable, in terms of the Holocaust). As Weinberg correctly mused, religion can lead good people to do evil things (although vice-versa is true aswell, I expect).
As much as I would love to accept that religion led Hitler to do evil, I must say that it is incorrect. Much of the Nazi propaganda was based on Nietzsche's philosophy, or, more accurately, his pseudo-history. That fake history of the Jews and that at times shaky concept of slave-morality was the tightrope that Hitler walked. Thus, I would disagree that his intentions and motives were "good." His motives were objectively mistaken; his history of the Jews was factually incorrect. His ignorance on the subject led his ignorance in action. His actions had an irrational justification.

This is all I will say for now, but I think this is an interesting question to consider (not to mention rather important.)
__________________
Brian
Sensus, non aetas, invenit sapientem.
My Blog

Last edited by Brian Tracz : March 9th at 01:07 PM. Reason: add signature
 
March 9th, 01:14 PM   #5
Lomax
Philosopher-King
 
 
Join Date: Sep 2007
Location: Nuneaton, UK
Posts: 2,013
Default

Hello Brian Tracz,

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brian Tracz
Science, namely biology, has told us that humans have a mental capacity quite different from animals, that this difference has to do with conceptual thinking and with consciousness of external stimuli. Richard Dawkins speculates that our different quality of consciousness from animals has to do with this separation of the external world with the internal world. While this is open to the idealist's objection, I will suffice it to say that humans have been shown, by evidence of science, to be of greater mental capacity.
Well, I have a few problems with this:

Firstly, not all humans do. A new born infant has a lesser mental capacity to a grown dog, yet people would still find it more disgraceful to kill the baby. Anencephaly victims (I nearly said sufferers) have no forebrain, and thus, have no intellectual capacity at all. But they are still humans.

Secondly, you have made a leap from a general rule to a law. Even if it were the case that the human with least mental capacity hsa a greater capactity than the next organism down, it would not be a necessity. There's a transition here to a class group from its members, or to a logical truth from an empirical truth.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brian Tracz
But I might appeal to Lomax's very own normative system, that of utilitarianism. John Stuart Mill essentially got at the "greatest pleasure for the greatest number, but some pleasures are better that others." Take the set of all possible pleasures that animals can experience--"A". Name one pleasure that is contained in the set of all animal pleasures "A" that is not contained in the set of all human pleasures "H". It would seem rather difficult, if impossible, to find even one. Perhaps birds fly and have some unique pleasure from being airborne, but with human intellect, we have been able to create flight. Perhaps cheetahs run faster and have some unique pleasure from velocity, but with the human intellect, we have been able to create super-sonic vehicles. Humans, on the other hand, have pleasures, like that of knowledge, love, wonder, etc., that animals seem to lack. Unfortunately, we are not immediately acquainted with an animal's consciousness, but science has demonstrated evidence in support of this time and time again. Thus it appears that A is a subset of H, and thus that, logically, H has a greater number of elements. Thus, H is capable of a greater amount of pleasures. Note that my line of reasoning transcends mere pure reason to include empirical, or scientific, observations, something I think necessary to such a line of inquiry.
Well, I see no reason to assume that one type of pleasure is "higher" than another. This seems like snobbery from Mill, reminiscent of that of Aristotle.

What all this amounts to, even if we do accept it, is that humans have a greater mental capacity than other species of animal. I do not see that it logically follows that our lives themselves are "more valuable"; indeed, what you have argued is that "higher consciousness" is more valuable, not that life is more valuable.

I will concede that, as a general rule, humans are more able to feel happiness or suffering than other species (probably). But here, it is not life itself that we are valuing, but happiness. I certainly would rather be dead now than live a long life with a negative utility.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brian Tracz
As much as I would love to accept that religion led Hitler to do evil, I must say that it is incorrect. Much of the Nazi propaganda was based on Nietzsche's philosophy, or, more accurately, his pseudo-history.
Well, no; this is just a myth.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brian Tracz
Thus, I would disagree that his intentions and motives were "good." His motives were objectively mistaken; his history of the Jews was factually incorrect. His ignorance on the subject led his ignorance in action. His actions had an irrational justification.
Certainly, but he did not realise; so, it still holds that his intentions may have been good.

Thankyou for the thoughtful reply.

Lomax
__________________
"War does not determine who is right, only who is left" - Bertrand Russell
 
March 30th, 09:34 PM   #6
verilitas
A Forum Regular
 
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 281
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by jacques
Greetings, all.

The definition of Nihilism include: objective secular ethics are impossible and no action is objectively preferable to any other.

Agree? Disagree?

Does this mean that according to nihilism, a senseless murder is no worse than the saving of a life?

More philosophically speaking: of course, in our society, life is valued, and death is frightening to the majority of the population. However, do we know enough about the large philosophical questions to actually determine that? Moreover, death could possibly provide some unknown, but beneficial, "something" in the large picture. Does this effect your viewing of Nihilism?

If you believe in nihilism in a radical manner, would you go so far as to defend Hitler, or a person on that scale?
The hidden message of Nihilism is that pointless killing and torture over religious or ethnic differences are wrong. Apparently the Germans needed to learn that the hard way. Germany was the seat of multiple types of this sort of closed-minded brutality during the Medieval period. Hitler's Berlin didn't start the abuse, but ended it.

If we were talking about Jesus, then perhaps it would shed some light on how unappreciated and unobeyed the message of peace to closed-minded people can be.
__________________
Sum ergo cogito.

Last edited by verilitas : March 30th at 09:49 PM.
 
April 14th, 08:16 PM   #7
bjb
A Forum Regular
 
 
Join Date: May 2007
Location: Durham, U.K.
Posts: 203
Default

Hey Lomax.

Just something minor. I certainly don't think think that it is entirely a myth that the Nazis based much of their thought and propoganda on Nietzsche. They merely used heavily edited editions of his texts. Also Sprach Zarathustra was encouraged reading. His sister became a supporter of Nazism and aided them in ignoring or excising the many areas of his texts and philosophy that contradicted fascism and anti-semitism. Simplified versions of his concepts such as the will to power, slave and master moralities, the ubermensch etc. did come in very handy in justifying Nazi ideas and their crimes. Not that Nietzsche should bear a great deal of responsibility for that, given that he may well have thoroughly disapproved of the Nazi project, had he lived to see it.
 
April 16th, 10:03 AM   #8
Lomax
Philosopher-King
 
 
Join Date: Sep 2007
Location: Nuneaton, UK
Posts: 2,013
Default

Hello Bjb,

Certainly, you are correct, although I do not think this would support Mr. Tracz' suggestion that it was philosophy, rather than religion, that led Hitler to do what he did (after all, the version of Zarathustra which Adolf himself read would not have been edited in such a way). Thus, it does neither follow as a conclusion from this that Hitler's intentions were not good. I know that those weren't points you were contending, I just feel that they're worth pointing out.

Lomax
__________________
"War does not determine who is right, only who is left" - Bertrand Russell
 
April 16th, 11:27 AM   #9
Martin
Philosopher-King
 
 
Join Date: Apr 2007
Location: 19°51'5.68"-97°29'50.18" or 19° 1'28.47"-98°14'53.15"
Posts: 1,911
Default

Greetings.

A question for all: have you seen The Big Lebowski? Among other things, at some point of the movie Dude and his friends confront a bunch of nihilists:
[the Dude, Walter, and Donny walk out of the bowling alley, to find the three Nihilists waiting in front of the Dude's car, which has been torched]
The Dude: Well, they finally did it. They killed my fucking car.
Nihilist: Ve vant ze money, Lebowski.
Nihilist #2: Ja, uzzervize ve kill ze girl.
Nihilist #3: Ja, it seems you have forgotten our little deal, Lebowski.
The Dude: You don't HAVE the fucking girl, dipshits! We know you never did!
[the Nihilists, stunned, confer amongst themselves in German]
Donny: Are these the Nazis, Walter?
Walter Sobchak: No, Donny, these men are nihilists, there's nothing to be afraid of.
Nihilist: Ve don't care. Ve still vant ze money, Lebowski, or ve fuck you up.
Walter Sobchak: Fuck you. Fuck the three of you.
The Dude: Hey, cool it Walter.
Walter Sobchak: No, without a hostage, there is no ransom. That's what ransom is. Those are the fucking rules.
Nihilist #2: His girlfriend gave up her toe!
Nihilist #3: She though we'd be getting million dollars!
Nihilist #2: Iss not fair!
Walter Sobchak: Fair! WHO'S THE FUCKING NIHILIST HERE! WHAT ARE YOU, A BUNCH OF FUCKING CRYBABIES?
The Dude: Hey, cool it Walter. Look, pal, there never was any money. The big Lebowski gave me an empty briefcase, so take it up with him, man.
Walter Sobchak: And, I would like my undies back.
[Stunned, the Germans confer amongst themselves again]
Donny: Are they gonna hurt us, Walter?
Walter Sobchak: No, Donny. These men are cowards.
Nihilist: Okay. So we take ze money you haf on you, und ve calls it eefen.
Walter Sobchak: Fuck you.
I think this movie is must see from the Cohen brothers. And they did a great job by showing that nihilism is paradoxical.

M. Manzano
"No le pregunta el manzano al haya cómo crecer"
W. Blake
 
May 4th, 05:16 PM   #10
DavidIg
Banned
 
Join Date: May 2008
Location: Australia
Posts: 103
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lomax

So no, I don't think that ethics are objective, but they do exist. Anyone can be defended, and anybody can be attacked, on ethical ground. It all depends on your point of view.

Lomax
What about basic individual rights?
 


Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

vB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Forum Jump


All times are GMT -7. The time now is 05:31 PM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.6.5
Copyright ©2000 - 2008, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.