"Objectivity" and objective moral values

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MiphamFan
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"Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by MiphamFan » Sun Dec 31, 2017 7:52 am

In reading literature by modern Western conservatives, often, but not always monotheists, one thing that strikes me is their condemnation of post-modernism as not being based on "objective values", leading to collapse in society etc.

Yet it seems to me that in Buddhism, we have some values that quite closely approximate "conservative" values while flatly denying "objectivity" in the ultimate level. For example, there is that famous quote by Padmasambhava: 'Though the view should be as vast as the sky, keep your conduct as fine as barley flour.'

I was wondering about possible responses to these Western conservatives, pointing out that one doesn't really need "objective" values in order to behave morally in accordance with a system of values, but 1) I'm not sure if it would even be a good idea since quite a few Buddhists aren't really prepared to admit it themselves and it would come close to talking about emptiness to those not prepared for it, 2) I'm not fully confident of my own arguments.

Anyway with regard to point 2), my argument is as follows:
On the ultimate level, causality and karma are all ultimately illusory.

However, karma exists as a conventional, relative truth. If you commit of the 10 negative acts as outlined in the sutras as a complete action (intention, action, satisfaction), you will incur the karmic seeds of the consequence.

It's not very different from causality in terms of physics: you throw a ball in the air, it will drop sooner or later. Even from the point of view of physics, the ball, the air, are collections of sub-atomic particles, or even probability waves; however from the human point of view you still see the ball falling down.

Similarly, the animal realms, animals, hell-beings etc do not exist ultimately, but conventionally, a sentient being who commits a negative act will still incur the seeds for ending up as an animal.

AFAIK, this not that complicated but I'm not sure it is a convincing argument to monotheists/eternalists.

It. seems to me that a lot of the rhetoric about "objective" values acts like a kind of retreat from confronting the fact that "objectivity" does not exist. These conservatives like to claim that the laws in Western societies are based on Judaeo-Christian values, but historically, IMO the pagan Graeco-Roman and Germanic law codes in Europe have at least as much, if not more claim to that, putting aside developments over the centuries. For example, marriage laws in Europe historically are much more influenced by pagan Roman laws rather than anything Semitic.

I am not accusing these conservatives of fascism, on the contrary, I respect many of them, but I think Hitler had a very similar idea when he talks about replacing a constantly changing vision of knowledge with a fixed pole: (about 3:15)

It seems to me to be rooted in a desire for certainties in an uncertain world; in Western philosophy, from its beginnings, species of realism always predominated over any movements towards scepticism. e.g. there's always been a lot of talk about Stoicism being an inspiration for people and being a form of "Western Buddhism" while Pyrrhonism, IMO far closer to Buddhism, has mostly been neglected. Also, Western mathematics from the Greeks to the present has always placed a lot of importance on the idea of "proofs" while the whole concept was basically unknown to the Babylonians and Chinese and the Indians just had the idea of upapatti, which aimed to "remove confusion" rather than finding "infallible, eternal truths".

IMO, the question to ask in an uncertain world isn't to ask "What can we know for sure?" but "What works?" and "What is my risk of ruin?" If you ask the former you will look for objectivity that fails you sooner or later, if you ask the latter, you don't have to care about looking for some mythical objectivity while keeping your eyes on the consequences.

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Re: "Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by SunWuKong » Mon Jan 01, 2018 1:32 am

Hurrah!!

:twothumbsup:
"We are magical animals that roam" ~ Roam

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Re: "Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by DGA » Mon Jan 01, 2018 1:51 am

Hi MiphamFan,

I think you are correct that the conservative authors you refer to premise their claims in a body of beliefs rather than any concatenation of reason and evidence. This means that when you attempt to rebut their claims, you present yourself as a threat to their belief system, their traditions, their identities. This is why you are also correct when you suspect that any counter-argument you may make to their claims will not be convincing to them.

With that said, if you wish to make an attempt at reasoning with the unreasonable, here's how I suggest you proceed.

Start with logical underpinnings of the claims that these writers make. You have started this already when you point out the obvious: to posit an objective ethics is, necessarily, to engage in make-believe (in the sense of making yourself believe something to be true, rather than to demonstrate it logically). From here, pose questions at the three basic points that Toulmin pointed out years ago: grounds (evidence), reason, and warrant. What are the grounds for this claim? Is that evidence warranted? Do the arguments that corral the evidence behave logically, or are they nonsense?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toulmin_method

https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/659/03/

Keep going with this kind of questioning. That's all you really need to do. The burden of proof is on those who make positive claims, like the claim that an objective ethics is real and necessary. So, make them prove it instead of trying to disprove it, or trying to present an alternative. In the end, your questioning will show their failure to do what they believe they have done. That's what good questions do.

Generally, conflating belief with knowledge is completely counterproductive for all parties. It's dangerous when it comes to matters of public good when someone tries to claim that his or her private beliefs are the adequate and necessary basis for a sound public policy. Let's stick to reason and evidence, please.


Finally: what is it in these writings that you find of value that you couldn't also find in any other source, particularly Buddha Dharma? This isn't clear to me from your post. I don't see the alignment of contemporary conservative thought with Buddha Dharma that you seem to, and not for political reasons. I just don't buy their arguments, and I don't share their metaphysics or belief system. What am I missing?

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Re: "Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by MiphamFan » Mon Jan 01, 2018 4:24 am

DGA, the thing is that I do not agree with you that conservatives are "unreasonable".

They are being perfectly reasonable according to their own axioms, such as monotheism, even if we do not accept them. Even from a consequentialist point-of-view, some of their points are justified. For example, with the increasing automation of jobs spreading across all sectors of the economy, you still want to allow mass migration of unskilled labourers? That is insanity -- the only possible excuse is for jobs which cannot be easily automated currently, and that is purely from the economic point of view, putting aside any social impact. If self-driving vehicles get underway, that's MILLIONS of jobs just gone. Taxi drivers, Uber drivers, lorry drivers, etc, will all be displaced. Are you going to add even more people with no specialized technical skills to that number from outside your country? It is very unlikely that any significant amount of these people can retrain in machine learning and data science, the skills which are basically eating up their jobs.

I find myself veering closer to "conservatism", if only in the form of Burkean conservatism. At least as JMG expressed it there, I find it perfectly compatible with Buddhism -- "rights" are completely based on convention and not on any set of "infallible" truths. On the other hand, conventions often have good reasons for their existence, even if humans cannot understand them in terms of first-order consequences. For example, a simplistic "rational" view of dietary taboos in hunter-gatherer and nomadic cultures would say they are "superstitious", but from a second-order consequence point of view, the consequences of these taboos are restricting the amount of calories available to the population so that they do not exceed their limits as well as to allow animal populations to grow. I doubt the hunter-gatherers who started the taboos thousands of years ago did so rationally -- they probably arose after painful experiences, just as forbidding usury in the Torah and in post-Roman religions was based on the painful experience of debt levels in the Roman Empire. Many other conventions in our modern industrial society might have similar justifications.

I think the whole idea of "infallible" truths and values really originated in Greece and spread to European culture at large, while Indian logic has always had an alternate epistemology even in its mathematics, and which reflected out into society at large. Unfortunately, the eternalist idea of "objective truths" seems to be spreading to Asia too.

The problem with "conservatives" is that they don't generally seem to express their arguments in these terms; they'd rather talk about (objective) "values" and "rights". Even ostensibly non-religious libertarian "conservatives" will also talk about "rights" as if they were axiomatic. Sad!

"Leftists" (I don't really like calling most of the modern Left "Left" because they don't even accept the labour theory of value, and are basically influenced more by CIA propaganda from the "New Left" than by economic arguments, the original basis for the Ricardian Socialists etc, but will do so for convention's sake) just talk past them and also keep to their own bubbles and furthermore have more than a little bit of desire to coerce others to conform to their own values, really not that different from the eternalist "conservatives" in that sense.

I don't really care about gay marriage for example. Legalise it or not, whatever, it's up to society at large whether that convention has changed. I have been called "homophobic" just because I expressed this attitude, which I find absurd. But I don't see why Abrahamists cannot refuse to cater to gay weddings if other sub-sects of Abrahamism are allowed to apply religious laws in their businesses etc. The gays don't have to go to the Abrahamist shops on purpose, there are plenty of secular shops.

The main authors I find who do somewhat express conservatism in this way are JMG and Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and I do find much of value in their writings.

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Re: "Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by Wayfarer » Mon Jan 01, 2018 12:50 pm

This is a topic that interests me in terms of intellectual history.

One issue underlying your post, is that the very principle of 'objectivity' as a criterion for truth is of pretty recent vintage. I don't think it was until around 17th century Europe that the principle of objectivity was even really articulated, either in Kant or his critics. This is because pre-modern philosophy didn't have the same concept of what constitutes 'an object'. In medieval thought, material objects were only real because they were types or forms - the 'active intellect' grasped the form of the thing, whereas the material nature of the particular was only derivative or secondary, and what was received by the senses. That is called 'hylomorphic dualism', meaning matter-form dualism (excellent short summary here). Furthermore, because of the Aristotelian idea of 'final cause', a particular was also understood in terms of its purpose, its telos; to understand what something was, also required understanding its purpose.

It wasn't until Galileo and Newton that the modern notion of an object was really developed. The idea of mass as being primary was central to that, meaning that universal laws of motion could be calculated and applied, irrespective of all of the Aristotelian ideas of final causes and intelligible forms, which in any case turned out to contain many falsehoods that had never been tested (a famous one being that heavier objects naturally fall faster than light ones).

Thereafter, the notion rapidly developed that what was of primary reality, was what was 'objectively the case' - namely those qualities which could be measured precisely by the 'new science' based on Newtonian physics and Cartesian algebraic geometry. That is where 'objectivity' hails from, in my understanding. And nowadays we're simply accustomed to believing that what is really the case is simply 'objective' in that sense - 'out there somewhere' and measurable by objective analysis. Never mind that philosophers, ever since Kant, have shown that all judgements with respect to anything other than what is strictly measurable are embedded in narratives and weighted with all manner of pre-suppositions. But the view that science is now the arbiter of what is real, is what is called 'scientism' and it's extremely influential in the secular west.

The practical upshot in terms of the Western tradition is very much like the nihilism that Nietzsche predicted - as the world becomes divorced of any sense of purpose or over-arching narrative, people see life more and more in terms of chance or accident, set against a backdrop of an essentially meaningless universe.

There's a powerful essay by Bikkhu Bodhi called A Buddhist Response to Contemporary Dilemmas of Human Existence which was given as a keynote at a conference, which I often read in relation to this question.

I suppose what I ought to say, is that I believe that both the Christian tradition, and Buddhist teaching, does draw on transcendent truths. Transcendent truths are by definition more than simply objective. The transcendent nature of the Buddha is described by the terms 'lokuttara' and 'lokuvidu' (meaning 'supramundane' and 'world-knowing'). In other words, it is not a naturalistic philosophy - which is of course the main source of the controversy between so-called 'secular' and other Buddhists. But, in the words of another Theravadin scholar, Nyanoponika Thera,
The Buddha's teaching is not a nihilism that gives suffering humanity no better hope than a final cold nothingness. On the contrary, it is a teaching of salvation (niyyanika-dhamma) or deliverance (vimutti) which attributes to man the faculty to realize by his own efforts the highest goal, Nibbana, the ultimate cessation of suffering and the final eradication of greed, hatred and delusion. Nibbana is far from being the blank zero of annihilation; yet it also cannot be identified with any form of God-idea, as it is neither the origin nor the immanent ground or essence of the world.


(Buddhism and the God Idea.)

Many big issues involved in all of this, but those are some of my thoughts on it. (I skimmed the JMG article, I have a lot of time for his columns.)
Only practice with no gaining idea ~ Suzuki Roshi

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Re: "Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by MiphamFan » Mon Jan 01, 2018 1:05 pm

It seems to me that your definition of objectivity is limited to claims of objectivity in naturalism.

What I meant originally includes what you seem to call "transcendence". I don't think any kind of Platonism or realism (in the sense that there are "real" objects) is compatible with Buddhism at all, at least not Madhyamaka Buddhism. Theravada and other Hinayana schools are ultimately still realist (they believe that atoms exist etc) so it might be different for them.

"Conservatives" do indeed claim that the problem with the modern world is "nihilism" and their solution is to offer "objective" truths: God gave these values and we have to follow them. That was my point about "objectivity".

I disagree completely with that perspective, but I do agree with some of the outcomes that they seek. That is my point.

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Re: "Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by Kim O'Hara » Mon Jan 01, 2018 1:38 pm

MiphamFan wrote:
Mon Jan 01, 2018 4:24 am
... I find myself veering closer to "conservatism", if only in the form of Burkean conservatism. At least as JMG expressed it there, I find it perfectly compatible with Buddhism -- "rights" are completely based on convention and not on any set of "infallible" truths. On the other hand, conventions often have good reasons for their existence, even if humans cannot understand them in terms of first-order consequences. ...
Thanks for this, MiphamFan. If I ever came across JMG or "Burkean conservatism" I had forgotten them, but I read the linked blog post and agreed with nearly all of it. He is now on my reading list. :smile:

I tend to think that "objective" values are mythical monsters like "rights" and JMG's view of the latter should apply equally well to the former. If you go looking for a foundation for either of them, you end up with some version of, "Because I say so!" or "Because God said so!" Neither of those will convince the genuine doubter, of course.

FWIW, I went looking for just such a logical foundation years ago and concluded that such a thing was logically implausible, if not outright impossible. My best way out of the philosophical swamp was to propose that ethical axioms, like Euclid's geometrical axioms, were necessary. A secure edifice could be constructed on a few axioms, and all would be well.
:thinking:
Fairly well, anyway, since different axioms would lead to different edifices (as they do in geometry) and the choice of axioms becomes another, "Because I say so!" or "Because God said so!" foundation. :toilet:
But at least we would be clear about what the foundations are.

:namaste:
Kim

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Re: "Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by Dan74 » Mon Jan 01, 2018 4:44 pm

Perhaps rather than worrying about postulating 'objective moral values', we can think in terms of a moral framework, like the ToS on a Forum - a set of principles best designed to foster the kind of personal growth, society and environment that we find to be desirable, to be of value.

What I observe is that consumer capitalism slowly and subtly warping morality to one that is best adapted to consuming. As objective opportunities to economically succeed dwindle, we see apathy and depression sweeping the globe as entertainment and consumption struggle to dull the anguish of poor prospects and a largely purposeless and disempowered existence. For the employed, this is often accompanied by oppressive work environment and a profound sense of disconnect from family and community. Increasing acceptance of promiscuity, hedonism, greed, selfishness, narcissism, cosmetic surgery, etc etc are a testament to this. I see a resurgence of Muslim extremism, in part, as a gut-level reaction to this. For the few who take a good shot at economic success, ruthless ambition is of course, admired and rewarded.

Do we want to have an active discussion of moral values and how they shape society, or let our economic system shape them in its own image?

(sorry, thought I'd throw in a rather different approach to this)

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Re: "Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by aflatun » Mon Jan 01, 2018 8:00 pm

:good:


Wayfarer wrote:
Mon Jan 01, 2018 12:50 pm
This is a topic that interests me in terms of intellectual history.

One issue underlying your post, is that the very principle of 'objectivity' as a criterion for truth is of pretty recent vintage. I don't think it was until around 17th century Europe that the principle of objectivity was even really articulated, either in Kant or his critics. This is because pre-modern philosophy didn't have the same concept of what constitutes 'an object'. In medieval thought, material objects were only real because they were types or forms - the 'active intellect' grasped the form of the thing, whereas the material nature of the particular was only derivative or secondary, and what was received by the senses. That is called 'hylomorphic dualism', meaning matter-form dualism (excellent short summary here). Furthermore, because of the Aristotelian idea of 'final cause', a particular was also understood in terms of its purpose, its telos; to understand what something was, also required understanding its purpose.

It wasn't until Galileo and Newton that the modern notion of an object was really developed. The idea of mass as being primary was central to that, meaning that universal laws of motion could be calculated and applied, irrespective of all of the Aristotelian ideas of final causes and intelligible forms, which in any case turned out to contain many falsehoods that had never been tested (a famous one being that heavier objects naturally fall faster than light ones).

Thereafter, the notion rapidly developed that what was of primary reality, was what was 'objectively the case' - namely those qualities which could be measured precisely by the 'new science' based on Newtonian physics and Cartesian algebraic geometry. That is where 'objectivity' hails from, in my understanding. And nowadays we're simply accustomed to believing that what is really the case is simply 'objective' in that sense - 'out there somewhere' and measurable by objective analysis. Never mind that philosophers, ever since Kant, have shown that all judgements with respect to anything other than what is strictly measurable are embedded in narratives and weighted with all manner of pre-suppositions. But the view that science is now the arbiter of what is real, is what is called 'scientism' and it's extremely influential in the secular west.

The practical upshot in terms of the Western tradition is very much like the nihilism that Nietzsche predicted - as the world becomes divorced of any sense of purpose or over-arching narrative, people see life more and more in terms of chance or accident, set against a backdrop of an essentially meaningless universe.

There's a powerful essay by Bikkhu Bodhi called A Buddhist Response to Contemporary Dilemmas of Human Existence which was given as a keynote at a conference, which I often read in relation to this question.

I suppose what I ought to say, is that I believe that both the Christian tradition, and Buddhist teaching, does draw on transcendent truths. Transcendent truths are by definition more than simply objective. The transcendent nature of the Buddha is described by the terms 'lokuttara' and 'lokuvidu' (meaning 'supramundane' and 'world-knowing'). In other words, it is not a naturalistic philosophy - which is of course the main source of the controversy between so-called 'secular' and other Buddhists. But, in the words of another Theravadin scholar, Nyanoponika Thera,
The Buddha's teaching is not a nihilism that gives suffering humanity no better hope than a final cold nothingness. On the contrary, it is a teaching of salvation (niyyanika-dhamma) or deliverance (vimutti) which attributes to man the faculty to realize by his own efforts the highest goal, Nibbana, the ultimate cessation of suffering and the final eradication of greed, hatred and delusion. Nibbana is far from being the blank zero of annihilation; yet it also cannot be identified with any form of God-idea, as it is neither the origin nor the immanent ground or essence of the world.


(Buddhism and the God Idea.)

Many big issues involved in all of this, but those are some of my thoughts on it. (I skimmed the JMG article, I have a lot of time for his columns.)
"People often get too quick to say 'there's no self. There's no self...no self...no self.' There is self, there is focal point, its not yours. That's what not self is."

Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli
Senses and the Thought-1, 42:53

"Those who create constructs about the Buddha,
Who is beyond construction and without exhaustion,
Are thereby damaged by their constructs;
They fail to see the Thus-Gone.

That which is the nature of the Thus-Gone
Is also the nature of this world.
There is no nature of the Thus-Gone.
There is no nature of the world."

Nagarjuna
MMK XXII.15-16

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Re: "Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by Wayfarer » Mon Jan 01, 2018 10:14 pm

MiphamFan wrote:
Mon Jan 01, 2018 1:05 pm
It seems to me that your definition of objectivity is limited to claims of objectivity in naturalism.

What I meant originally includes what you seem to call "transcendence". I don't think any kind of Platonism or realism (in the sense that there are "real" objects) is compatible with Buddhism at all, at least not Madhyamaka Buddhism. Theravada and other Hinayana schools are ultimately still realist (they believe that atoms exist etc) so it might be different for them.

"Conservatives" do indeed claim that the problem with the modern world is "nihilism" and their solution is to offer "objective" truths: God gave these values and we have to follow them. That was my point about "objectivity".

I disagree completely with that perspective, but I do agree with some of the outcomes that they seek. That is my point.
The notion of objectivity is intrinsically linked to naturalism. In fact I think you can say, the error of naturalism, from the Buddhist perspective, is that naturalists believe the 'realm of name and form' is self-existent. They are constantly seeking to establish a naturalistic principle of 'own-being' on which to build their theories. Arguably, this is what has given rise to the ridiculous fables of multiverses and parallel universes. It's a complete schemozzle in my view, but entertained by highly educated people. That's one of the things that makes this a very dangerous moment in history.

The dhammas of abhidhamma are not enduring atoms, they're moments or units of experience. But they're never posited as enduring in the way atoms are, which is why I think the translation of dhammas into 'atom' is dubious.

Personally, I have conservative views on particular areas, notably, marriage and family. I now have learned to keep my views to myself, because if I air them, I am automatically categorised alongside fundamentalist religious bigots (even though my views on other matters, such as climate, tax, education and so on, would generally be categorised as 'progressive' ). This is because of the way that the advocates of sexual liberation have cast the terms of the debate - they equate sexual freedom with 'liberation' and so anyone who differs with them is depicted as the oppressor. It's a fallacious concept of freedom, but due to the massive influence of identity politics woe betide anyone who questions it.
Kim O'Hara wrote:My best way out of the philosophical swamp was to propose that ethical axioms, like Euclid's geometrical axioms, were necessary. A secure edifice could be constructed on a few axioms, and all would be well.
That is exactly what Spinoza attempted to do with his Ethics.
Only practice with no gaining idea ~ Suzuki Roshi

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Re: "Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by smcj » Mon Jan 01, 2018 11:30 pm

So do you guys think Karma is a culturally relativistic convention?
I support Mingyur R and HHDL in their positions against Lama abuse.

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Re: "Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by Wayfarer » Mon Jan 01, 2018 11:46 pm

Nope, not me. Real as gravity.

I just want to clarify that in respect of the domain of saṁvṛiti-satya, I believe objectivity to be a fundamental principle, however, values ultimately derive from the domain of paramārtha-satya.
Only practice with no gaining idea ~ Suzuki Roshi

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Re: "Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by MiphamFan » Tue Jan 02, 2018 12:38 am

smcj wrote:
Mon Jan 01, 2018 11:30 pm
So do you guys think Karma is a culturally relativistic convention?
Gravity is also a convention. Does not mean you can float in the air.

Physical objects are also conventions.

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Re: "Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by MiphamFan » Tue Jan 02, 2018 1:53 am

Wayfarer wrote:
Mon Jan 01, 2018 10:14 pm
MiphamFan wrote:
Mon Jan 01, 2018 1:05 pm
It seems to me that your definition of objectivity is limited to claims of objectivity in naturalism.

What I meant originally includes what you seem to call "transcendence". I don't think any kind of Platonism or realism (in the sense that there are "real" objects) is compatible with Buddhism at all, at least not Madhyamaka Buddhism. Theravada and other Hinayana schools are ultimately still realist (they believe that atoms exist etc) so it might be different for them.

"Conservatives" do indeed claim that the problem with the modern world is "nihilism" and their solution is to offer "objective" truths: God gave these values and we have to follow them. That was my point about "objectivity".

I disagree completely with that perspective, but I do agree with some of the outcomes that they seek. That is my point.
The notion of objectivity is intrinsically linked to naturalism. In fact I think you can say, the error of naturalism, from the Buddhist perspective, is that naturalists believe the 'realm of name and form' is self-existent. They are constantly seeking to establish a naturalistic principle of 'own-being' on which to build their theories. Arguably, this is what has given rise to the ridiculous fables of multiverses and parallel universes. It's a complete schemozzle in my view, but entertained by highly educated people. That's one of the things that makes this a very dangerous moment in history.

The dhammas of abhidhamma are not enduring atoms, they're moments or units of experience. But they're never posited as enduring in the way atoms are, which is why I think the translation of dhammas into 'atom' is dubious.

Personally, I have conservative views on particular areas, notably, marriage and family. I now have learned to keep my views to myself, because if I air them, I am automatically categorised alongside fundamentalist religious bigots (even though my views on other matters, such as climate, tax, education and so on, would generally be categorised as 'progressive' ). This is because of the way that the advocates of sexual liberation have cast the terms of the debate - they equate sexual freedom with 'liberation' and so anyone who differs with them is depicted as the oppressor. It's a fallacious concept of freedom, but due to the massive influence of identity politics woe betide anyone who questions it.
Kim O'Hara wrote:My best way out of the philosophical swamp was to propose that ethical axioms, like Euclid's geometrical axioms, were necessary. A secure edifice could be constructed on a few axioms, and all would be well.
That is exactly what Spinoza attempted to do with his Ethics.
OK, "objectivity" for you means thinking that external objects like atoms etc really exist.

But do you think that some non-physical abstract "truth" exists?

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Re: "Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by MiphamFan » Tue Jan 02, 2018 1:59 am

I disagree with any idea of using "axioms" as a basis of conduct.

1) it just does not work if people do not share your axioms
2) As far as I know truly existent "axioms" are completely antithetical to Mahayana Buddhism and even the larger scheme of Nyaya indian epistemology

I think convention works perfectly fine as a guide for conduct. Even in Western philosophy, it was the approach recommended by the sceptics (Sextus Empiricus etc) and even Adam Smith.

Just because it's conventional doesn't mean it's useless -- putting on your pants is also a convention, not walking into traffic is also a convention. All scientific theories (Newtonian vs Einsteinian physics) are conventions.

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Re: "Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by Ricky » Tue Jan 02, 2018 2:42 am

MiphamFan wrote:
Mon Jan 01, 2018 4:24 am
DGA, the thing is that I do not agree with you that conservatives are "unreasonable".

They are being perfectly reasonable according to their own axioms, such as monotheism, even if we do not accept them. Even from a consequentialist point-of-view, some of their points are justified. For example, with the increasing automation of jobs spreading across all sectors of the economy, you still want to allow mass migration of unskilled labourers? That is insanity -- the only possible excuse is for jobs which cannot be easily automated currently, and that is purely from the economic point of view, putting aside any social impact. If self-driving vehicles get underway, that's MILLIONS of jobs just gone. Taxi drivers, Uber drivers, lorry drivers, etc, will all be displaced. Are you going to add even more people with no specialized technical skills to that number from outside your country? It is very unlikely that any significant amount of these people can retrain in machine learning and data science, the skills which are basically eating up their jobs.
Good points. In America if you have a university education and a good job then it is not a bad place to live. But if you are working class then forget about it. There is the threat of automation but you also have to compete with Mexicans for cheap labor, and on top of that a weak social safety net. Not to mention all the jobs lost already because of globalization. Bad situation for working class.
Last edited by Ricky on Tue Jan 02, 2018 2:51 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: "Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by KathyLauren » Tue Jan 02, 2018 2:43 am

Kim O'Hara wrote:
Mon Jan 01, 2018 1:38 pm
I tend to think that "objective" values are mythical monsters like "rights" and JMG's view of the latter should apply equally well to the former. If you go looking for a foundation for either of them, you end up with some version of, "Because I say so!" or "Because God said so!" Neither of those will convince the genuine doubter, of course.
This is at the heart of any conversation between Buddhists and Western conservative monotheists on the subject of morality. Western moraility is explicitly authoritarian. Morality is whatever God tells you to do. If God tells you to kill your eldest son, the correct moral response is, "Sure, how dead do you want him?" Abraham is held to be one of the greatest prophets precisely because that was his response. The lesson of the story is obedience.

Obedience is the foundation of all morality in Western religions. So much so that Westerners, even those who are not religious, cannot conceive of morality in any other way. They will accept another law-maker in place of their God if they are feeling particularly open-minded, but they cannot comprehend morality as anything other than obedience to someone.

And that is what they mean when they talk about "objective" morality: morality that has been legislated by a supreme being. It is right there in black and white: "Thou shalt not..."

So when faced with an Eastern view of morality, such as that of Buddhism, they reject it. It can't be morality unless the Buddha said, "Thou shalt not...". And as we all know, that's not how it works. Buddhist morality would have us judge what to do in a situation based on reducing suffering out of compassion. A Westerner cannot see that as moral, just as we cannot see agreeing to kill your son on comand as moral.

Om mani padme hum
Kathy

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Re: "Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by Wayfarer » Tue Jan 02, 2018 2:55 am

MiphamFan wrote:OK, "objectivity" for you means thinking that external objects like atoms etc really exist.

But do you think that some non-physical abstract "truth" exists?
Not just 'for me'! What I'm saying is that the very idea of objectivity as a criterion for what is real, is predicated on naturalism.

As for your second question - do principles exist? In what sense do they exist? It's an easy question to ask, but actually a difficult one to answer, because they don't necessarily exist as objects.
Only practice with no gaining idea ~ Suzuki Roshi

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Re: "Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by MiphamFan » Tue Jan 02, 2018 3:11 am

Wayfarer wrote:
Tue Jan 02, 2018 2:55 am
MiphamFan wrote:OK, "objectivity" for you means thinking that external objects like atoms etc really exist.

But do you think that some non-physical abstract "truth" exists?
Not just 'for me'! What I'm saying is that the very idea of objectivity as a criterion for what is real, is predicated on naturalism.

As for your second question - do principles exist? In what sense do they exist? It's an easy question to ask, but actually a difficult one to answer, because they don't necessarily exist as objects.
And I am saying my definition of "objectivity" goes beyond that. I include all concepts of eternally existent phenomena under the term "objectivity" and I categorically reject them all. As far as I know this is completely consistent with Madhyamaka.

They don't exist at all. They "exist" merely as conventions within a given social network. Take them out of the network and they are meaningless. We'd like to think that things like the "Golden Rule" should apply to all humans but in practice it doesn't really work out.

One good thing about the Greeks and Romans was that they never confused their man-made laws and customs with any "eternal" principles, Plato notwithstanding. They simply admitted it was custom and got on with things. The etymological root of "morals" is "mores", which simply means "customs". The Greek word "ethike" too has a similar connotation of "habit/customs".

All these "axiomatic" philosophies came after the fact of convention and custom.

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Re: "Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by Wayfarer » Tue Jan 02, 2018 4:13 am

...thereby falling into relativism.
Only practice with no gaining idea ~ Suzuki Roshi

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