The following essay on Right and Wrong is from ESWoW member Ron Tower. It is taken from his website, http://www.pyrrhom.com/, which contains poems, essays and stories written by Ron. I want to thank Ron for allowing us to post his essay.
This essay is not intended to be a definitive statement on Right and Wrong, rather it represents a startikng point for our community discussion.
Please read the essay and share your thoughts... - Randy Best
Right and Wrong
Right and wrong are words we use to classify behaviors that support or undermine our most basic desires.
Ethical statements seem to be expressions of desire, but when we use the words right and wrong, we mean more than “I like that” and “I don’t like that”. This “more” could be a reflection of the strength of the desire or it could reflect consequences that could affect a strong desire. For example, when I say that it is wrong to kill, I could be expressing a strong, direct dislike for killing or I could be expressing a concern that allowing killing would threaten my survival and the survival of those that I love. In either case, the root of the judgment of right and wrong is a strong desire.
So reasoning about right and wrong can proceed along two lines. On the one hand we can try to identify a basic set of desires that most people will agree on. Then we can evaluate behaviors in terms of their direct conflict with or support of these basic desires or in terms of their consequences that in turn might conflict with or support these desires.
This means that ethical judgments do not have an absolute warrant, but they are not totally arbitrary either. There can be a more or less objective analysis of consequences and of what societies need to survive and flourish.
This questioning of moral absolutes has caused a considerable amount of concern. It is claimed that if there are no absolute guarantees for our morals, then all things are permitted. Absolute moral standards give us a sense of assurance especially if we want to confront those who do not live up to our moral standards. What is the basis for social order if there are no absolutes?
One answer to that is to point out that societies develop moral codes on their own without the need for an absolute basis. If there were societies that were completely devoid of moral standards, then they no longer exist. Moral standards seem to be a requirement for a society to survive. So it is right to be concerned if there is a collapse in basic moral standards, but it is not necessary to look for an absolute justification.
Ethics then becomes something we need to work out together. It is not something that has an absolute justification. It is not something that is objective in the sense that it can be directly tested by experience except through the testing of the consequences of different rules of conduct and how those consequences match up with our basic desires.
We need to look at the traditions of our society, what works well and what should be changed. But since we are often short sighted it is not a good idea to jump to replacing longstanding moral standards. They have stood the test of time and should be respected for that.
We also need to compare our traditions with the traditions of other societies and cultures. We can learn from what we have in common and what is different. Ethical knowledge can grow and develop just like knowledge in other areas as we gain greater understanding and try to apply our ethical standards in new situations.
- Ron Tower