PhiloMadrid - Pub Philosophy Meetings in Madrid

Thursday, March 17, 2016

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Moral Behaviour

Dear friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Moral Behaviour.

In my few paragraphs below, I try to tease out a few issues that might
help us with our discussion. But as we know talking about morality is
not an easy matter, and the problem is not morality itself but, of
course, us. There is a saying in English that states, he/she who tries
to teach himself has a fool for a master. Are we fools for trying to
teach ourselves human morality?

----Moral Behaviour
At a certain level, we interchange morality and ethics to mean the same.
Both are about that part of our life that deals with what is good or
bad, right or wrong. But since our topic is about behaviour and the
qualifier adjective is morality we can agree to discuss that aspect of
morality that deals with intentions, volition, instinct and subconscious
acts. This issue goes beyond the question of free will and determinism.

The question for us would therefore be one of intention and its opposite
acting from a subconscious impulse. But an impulsive act need not be an
amoral act or even an immoral act. An impulsive act might be at the time
automatic and seemingly instinctive, but it can also be a subconscious
reaction based on training and practice. This is very useful in sports
and other professions that rely on split second timing, the sort of
thing lawyers, soldiers, pilots, photojournalists and others depend on.

As we can see, we do not really need a free will at the time we act, but
it is relevant at the time we choose the body of "ethics" we decide to
follow. We can define moral behaviour as the way we act to achieve a
morally good (or bad) outcome in a given situation or context.

But for something to be good or bad it must be a value judgement as
opposed to something being causally linked to an outcome. That gravity
pulls liquids (such as water) downhill is a matter of physics, but
blocking the water supply to thousand villages to build a dam up stream
to generate electricity is the product of a moral act by someone or a
group of people.

But are value judgements an act to "achieve" a desired outcome? Sure, we
can argue that value judgements are meant to change behaviour or some
other psychological mental state in others, but that's changing us not
the situation. Judging that the poor should be helped and proclaiming
that oppressing the poor is evil or bad does very little to improve the
situation of the poor. Of course, language utterances are a sort of
behaviour, but it hardly fixes the "poor" and "oppression" part of the

However, we do feel that moral behaviour is more than just an opinion
and that moral behaviour can and, many times, does bring about the
desired effect. So how should we understand moral behaviour?

The mechanics of moral behaviour has a lot in common with the mechanics
of language. Both morality and language have a code of regularities (I
don't want to say rules or laws) that give predictive meaning to moral
or linguistic behaviour. We all know the ethical meaning of "help the
poor" in the same way that we all know the linguistic meaning of "put
the kettle on." In a way we respect a language and amoral system as long
as they bring about the desired effects.

But we do seem to assume that language has a precise and defined meaning
and moral behaviour is always an act to achieve what is good. In reality
people sometimes misinterpret linguistic utterances and moral behaviour
might do more harm than good. In cases, language and morality, we are
the driving force, and nothing else.

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813 <>
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every
Thursdays at Triskel in c/San Vicente Ferrer 3.
Time: from 19:30 to 21h

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Moral Behaviour

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