You Pick What’s Right and Wrong

Morning,

It’s right to it, then – my response to yesterday’s question. This is going to be precarious piece, so be open minded.

Morality

Morality (Photo credit: dietmut)

I believe that right and wrong only exist through the eyes of human beings. They only reside in our minds. Yes, these things very much do exist, but only in our bubbles of awareness. So with that in mind, then, what is right and wrong, and how do you distinguish the two?

The tricky thing about answering that is that each and every one of us has a different view of the world, and thus what “right” and “wrong” are. I believe that at the end of the day, you decide what is right and wrong for you, based of your own reasoning and perspective on things. That means we each have a different perspective on right and wrong.

Maybe that’s influenced by the culture you’re from. Maybe your family taught you how to look at things in a certain way. Whatever the reason is, it’s there, because we as humans naturally categorize the things around us to try and better understand them.

Motive

Motive (Photo credit: wadem)

There is still some thing missing from the equation on how we perceive right and wrong – motive. It’s the unseen part to actions that is often the most important. By that, I mean that punching someone can mean two completely different things based off the circumstance and the energy behind the punch being thrown. You could be trying to hurt someone deliberately, or fighting in self-defense. What many don’t understand, or at least consider enough, is that it’s the energy behind the action that can make it be “good” or “bad” in our collective eyes.

So, ultimately you pick your ethics, your morals. In a way, many are out of your control (as a young child, you absorb much information without any sort of argument or resistance against a belief), but at the same time, I believe it’s up you to control how open you are. That touches back on last weeks’ question of fate vs. freewill… can you open your mind or not?

Creation of the Sun and Moon by Michelangelo, ...

Why is God so often portrayed as an angry figure? Why must we fear him? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As for my own personal opinion… I don’t really know. I never really bought the idea that God hates anyone (God doesn’t really hate “fags”, people do. Let’s not forget it was people who wrote the Bible). The universe sure doesn’t “hate”, because that is a human action/reaction, and to personify the universe as a whole seems a bit ridiculous to me. I see the universe as being a way to view God, an embodiment of God in a way. And I see God as something beyond hatred, something that I should not have to fear, but rather find comfort from.

I think all good and bad is really just the same thing. It all comes from the same source, and are simply the two sides of the same coin, the yin and the yang. It’s really up to how we view things. Beyond human beings, right and wrong doesn’t exist.

As a human being, I can only disagree with the views of others, and hopefully guide them to what I believe is right (though it may not be for them, and then there is nothing I can do). It all becomes delicate when one interferes in another’s life, and I would only do so if one was inflicting pain on another, through hatred, pleasure, etc. At the same time, I see enforcing one’s beliefs onto another as being morally wrong….

Perhaps there is no answer to this mystery, perhaps there is. I believe you choose your’s, and they choose their’s.

At the end of the day, I see one thing as having no place in the land of right and wrong, and that is hatred. It does nothing for any of us, and to rid it from our being is to move one step closer to greater acceptance. Is it possible to disagree on something, and not have hatred be a part of the equation? I think so, and I would think that a world lived in that fashion would be a nice world indeed.

–mrprose

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10 thoughts on “You Pick What’s Right and Wrong

  1. While I do agree with your views, I wanted to comment anyway. I’m not sure I believe hatred can be eliminated when a personal choice of right and wrong is made. I think that hatred stems most of the time from passion, but also from ignorance. Some people are so passionate about their position that it breeds hatred for those that do not agree with them. Some people who believe something is wrong, simply cannot understand why other people do not agree, and they are so set in their belief that they don’t care. The people who cannot look at something with an open mind are the ones that harbor hatred based on ignorance.

    I also think it comes with the way you were raised. The choice comes in when you decide whether or not you are going to continue the family tradition of hate.

    • I agree with everything that you say, your words make a certain kind of sense that connects with me… but I have to ask – why don’t you believe hatred can be eliminated? I have eliminated my hatred of certain things by opening my mind and finding further acceptance. Although I do have to share your view in that some are very set in their ways and have a certain level of ignorance and closed-mindedness.

      • :)……In order for hatred to collectively “go away”, the people who are not open minded have to agree to change. Take for example, an old man who grew up in a racist household. His entire life, he’s had racist comments pounded into his head. Now as an adult, he is also racist. For no reason other than it’s what he’s always known. In order for him to let go of his hatred, he has to acknowledge that his family was wrong. And that he is wrong.

        What I was trying to get at I think, is that as long as people continue in their ignorance, there will continue to be hate in the world. If someone thinks their choice is right, they generally won’t have hatred for the things that reflect their choice. Do you think there is a difference between hate and intolerance? Or do they go hand in hand?

      • Well I see what you mean, and in that case, we have to find new ways to help people open their minds in this world.

        As for your question… I think they go hand in hand. If one hates something, they will find it intolerable. And if something is seen as intolerable, then at the very least, one will harbor dislike towards that thing. It’s a huge leap to go from dislike to hatred.

        So I would say that the world needs more tolerance. Of others.

  2. While I think the world would benefit from an increase in tolerance, right and wrong cannot be different for every individual. Sure, no code of ethics has the authority to tell you which college to attend or what to pursue in your life. However, for morality to have any meaning, it HAS to be derived from a source outside of human experience. Imagine a standard of right and wrong that was arbitrarily composed by one human being. Of course it could not be accepted as the ultimate moral code – the reason lies both in the limited experience of that particular human, and in the limited extent of the human experience as a whole.

    Although I am religious, and God is the source of my moral code, I fundamentally agree with the philosophy of Immanuel Kant (neatly explained in “The Groundwork to The Metaphysics of Morals,” and “The Metaphysics of Morals”).

    I am sure you will agree with me that a human being has an inherent value, which is present equally in every person (I won’t justify that with reason because I don’t anticipate disagreement). Along with this, each person is born with the ability (and the right) to make choices (known as Autonomy). Because every person has this worth and autonomy, no one person can have more than any other person – so the right to autonomy and the inherent value of every human being is equal to the right to autonomy and the inherent value of any other human being. Insofar as that is true, morally acceptable principles are limited to those which, if adopted universally by every single person, would coexist with the autonomy, humanity and inherent worth of everyone. In other words, morally acceptable principles cannot violate the humanity of anyone (including the actor). This creates a moral prohibition on anything which uses another person as a means to an end. Conversely, there are some principles which, if NOT acted upon, would violate this principle (such as providing some sort of assistance to someone in need who requests it), and by using the same moral formulation, moral obligations can be derived.

    The important thing to remember (and a point you made which I highly agree with) is that morality cannot be IMPOSED on anyone. It is fundamentally immoral to force any standard of ethics on any other person, because it violates their right to make their own decisions (this excludes the power of the state – which is a necessary use of force to provide an environment in which the right to autonomy of the citizens is maximized and protected). Furthermore, an actor who follows a moral code under compulsion is not acting morally “per se,” because the actor does not use his personal autonomy to do so (he is not actually choosing to act in such a way). For this reason I agree with you about tolerance – it is not morally permitted to force anyone to change their ways. Furthermore, it is not right to think of anyone who acts differently than you as “inferior,” because no person is perfect, and all people have an inherent value (these are all points which you made which I agree with – I’m just drawing connections to the philosophy here).

    I believe there is only one standard of right and wrong, but it is nieve of anyone to think they are morally flawless. We are all on the same level, trying to do (more or less) the same thing. There will always be some people who do not act morally, but they have the right to autonomy and therefore can make their own choices. Until they do something to harm someone else (or threaten the state), no force is morally authorized to compel them to change. It seems the only way to go about dealing with differing personal standards of conduct is to respect the humanity in everyone, no matter what.

    Like I said, I disagree with you in some things, and agree with you in others. What I agree with you most about is that no one has the moral authorization to judge other people, or to dismiss them as inferior beings. Regardless of the differing standards of conduct, we are all human beings and each of us has an equal value.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post – this is the first time I’ve had to think about the relationship between this moral philosophy and the personal search for right and wrong in each person. You’ve got some great thoughts, and I appreciate your tolerance and respect for other human beings.

    Cheers,
    Drake

    • Thanks for reading, and I really do appreciate this massive comment that you wrote. I like what you said, and only want to argue on one thing:

      What if right and wrong has meaning to each and every one of us, in a unique way? I’m not saying my or any other moral code is universal, particularly since it is subject to change. I am saying my moral code is my moral code, and frankly, what matters most to me (in terms of ethics to follow). What if my autonomy and my inherent value isn’t comparable to another, and thus we don’t have to ever believe the same universal ethics in life. I don’t see what’s wrong with one’s moral values if they are content, and those around them can tolerate their behavior. To me, that seems like a very healthy balance. What do you think?

      • I think morality must be universal. Otherwise it would allow certain actions for some and prohibit those same actions for others. Even with small things, like cutting in line. If one person says “it’s right for me,” that cannot be justification enough to make it right.

        The key phrase in your reply is “others around them can tolerate their behavior.” I think, in Kantian terms, if a rational being can desire that everyone (including himself) adopt the principle in question all the time, then your statement is roughly similar to what I’m trying to describe.

        People can think about morality in different ways, I’ll give you that. For example, one person might say “I want to help other people because I love everyone, and it is the right thing to do,” while another might think, “I want to help other people because I could not withhold my assistance without disrespecting their humanity and intrinsic worth.” These are equally praiseworthy principles, which arrive at the same conclusions. Another example – someone could say, “I am going to lie because doing so will thwart the attempts of this killer who has just asked me where my family is.” Alternatively, someone could say, “lying takes advantage of this killer’s belief on my words, so I will not lie.” Although most would argue that lying would be permissible, not many would argue that the second person is morally corrupt because he stood up for what he believed (for any Kantian scholars – Kant is firmly opposed to lying, but having read his most important works I offer an alternative analysis on his philosophy which preserves the structure of his categorical imperative. I simply do not want to confuse anyone who is trying to figure out what Kant actually wrote).Someone who stands up for a principle that is morally questionable, while they may or may not be defending a morally wrong principle, their integrity is morally laudable, at the least.

        What I am saying here is this – in my opinion, morality can mean different things to different people, but this doesn’t mean that two people with opposing principles can both be doing the right thing. Out of two contradictory principles, one must be wrong. However, if the moral error is not significantly harming anyone, it is tolerable and the right thing to do would be to accept that person without a harsh rebuke. So, I agree and disagree with your thoughts – morality must be universal, but there is some degree of latitude in which deviation from the “right” thing can be tolerable.

        It should be reiterated that, even if someone is terribly wrong, there is no place for coercion or judgment of that person.

        Sorry for the length – I have read into this quite a bit for my competition in Lincoln-Douglas debate, and it is a topic I love investigating! I don’t claim to be flawlessly correct; this is simply the opinion and conclusion which my reasoning has led to.

        Cheers, and thanks for the discussion!
        – Drake

      • Hey, don’t apologize! This is great. At least you’re listening to my side of things, too.

        So I think we’re saying very similar things in very different ways. I think that there should be general understanding of what is right and wrong, and in your example of cutting in line, a large degree of mutual respect and awareness, as well as a tolerance for others’ actions.

        The only little place that disagree with is that no two people could both be right on opposite ends of an issue. You say one has to be wrong. But who or what decides that. I hate to pull out this example, but… war. Two sides (at least) fighting for what they believe is right. How can one say that one side is “wrong.” It is only wrong in their point of view, in their perspective, thus making the judgement subjective. Where does the universal morality come in? Sadly, I do not believe there is one, or at least one that is anywhere near as concrete as we think.

        Sorry to keep this going, but I’m quite enjoying conversing with you.

  3. I too think we are saying similar things with different phrasing. I believe morality must be universal, but it is certainly not black in white in all situations (there are some situations in which many responses are acceptable, and some situations have no bearing on anyone’s moral standing to begin with). I believe there is a definite way to determine universally and categorically what is moral, based on what the impact would be to the autonomy and human dignity of a person placed in a world where everyone took the same action (the action in question) as a principle. However, I don’t believe any person can make correct moral decisions 100% of the time (including people like me who spend a considerable amount of time reading about, thinking about, and analyzing moral philosophy :).

    I object to your example of war for this reason: in war, assuming there is some reason for fighting, only one side can have just cause. It is possible to carry on a very lengthy discussion about the morality of war, but a nice summary would be to give three categories of war:

    – Unjust v. unjust (in which neither party is morally blameless)
    – Just v. Unjust (regardless of which party attacks, the just cause/just execution is morally blameless)
    – Just v. Just (this is an impossible example, because fighting against a nation which is acting rightly is morally impermissible; a just nation would lose its morally blameless status by attacking another just nation).

    This is a very simplified summary which does no justice to the complexities of war, or the morality of it. However, there is no war in which both sides are correct (war can be fought on the grounds of a misunderstanding, however this would render the mistaken party morally excused, provided the mistake were genuine – an action not permissible as a general principle, but only in selected cases). For a philosophically sound explanation of the morality of war, see some of the writings of contemporary philosopher Jeff McMahan; I’d be interested to see what you think of his ideas!

    Sorry for the long wait on my response; I’ve been busy with school and life and haven’t made the time to respond. Thanks for the interesting conversation!

    Cheers,
    Drake

  4. Pingback: Right and Wrong: A College Perspective | The Written Blit

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