A layman's question pertaining to ethics

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Morgentraum
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A layman's question pertaining to ethics

Post by Morgentraum »

Hello everyone!

After reading some posts on this forum I suspect that I am far less philosophically educated than most of you guys, so please bear with me.

I have a question pertaining to ethics:

In most ancient wisdom traditions the world of appearances was considered to be a world of opposites, a world of duality. These opposites include hot/cold, light/dark, dry/wet, active/passive, good/evil. Realising the true nature of reality, in other words the "unrepresented", required the transcendence of said opposites.

I am struggling to see how one might derive an objective ethical framework from such a metaphysical perspective, as the "good" is considered something to be overcome, yet most of the ancient wisdom traditions that I am aware of have a strict moral code.

Defining the essence of reality as "good" or "harmonious" would help me understand how ethics can be derived from such metaphysics, however such terms seem to contradict or at least not sufficiently describe the essence of reality, as it is often defined as that which has no explicit qualities, but instead harbors the unmanifested potential of all qualities. Therefore, essence might just as well be insufficiently described as "evil" or "disharmonious".

In traditional theism one does not have this problem, because God is defined as morally perfect and good. Evil does not have its own ontological category, and is instead simply considered to be the absence of goodness. In Christian theology the fallen angels were not created evil, but by their own volition they decided to turn away from that which is morally perfect.

The ethics derived from such a metaphysical outlook entails striving for moral perfection, or in other words striving to become godlike. In Orthodox Christianity this process is called theōsis. Metaphorically this could be viewed as turning towards the light or the good or attempting to move up the hierarchy towards its highest point etc.

For me moral objectivity seems to coincides perfectly with my own experience of the world. It is easy for me to intuitively discern between that which is good and that which is evil, and I would propose that this is the case for most people. But furthermore to me attempting to do good and overcoming evil intuitively seems to be the virtuous or the right thing to do.

The ethical framework provided by Christian metaphysics makes more sense to me on an intuitive, experiential and logical level (in terms of evil only existing as the negation of the good), however it is difficult to dismiss the fact that almost all wisdom traditions (e.g. Egyptian, Sumerian, Hindu, Daoism etc.), which existed prior to Christianity, have a different view on metaphysics and the nature of good and evil.

I am wondering how the traditional, seemingly universal, pagan view of a world of opposites, which have to be transcended in order to spiritually ascend, can be reconciled with some sort of objective ethics? Why is it more reasonable to assume that evil has its own ontological category, than to think that it is simply the negation of the good (or God)?

I hope my thoughts are somewhat coherent and that the conflict that I am struggling with became apparent enough in this post. If you have any pointers or recommendations for literature, which might help me make more sense of this, I would appreciate it!

Best regards,
Morgentraum
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Martin_
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Re: A layman's question pertaining to ethics

Post by Martin_ »

Let me rephrase this to see if I understand your question correctly.
you are saying:
"""
Given that we have a dualist ontology of the world ultimately being made out of the entities "good" and 'evil", how can it be seen as objectively "good" to transcend them?
"""
is that correct?
"I don't understand." /Unknown
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AshvinP
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Re: A layman's question pertaining to ethics

Post by AshvinP »

Morgentraum wrote: Mon Sep 27, 2021 1:35 pm In traditional theism one does not have this problem, because God is defined as morally perfect and good. Evil does not have its own ontological category, and is instead simply considered to be the absence of goodness. In Christian theology the fallen angels were not created evil, but by their own volition they decided to turn away from that which is morally perfect.

The ethics derived from such a metaphysical outlook entails striving for moral perfection, or in other words striving to become godlike. In Orthodox Christianity this process is called theōsis. Metaphorically this could be viewed as turning towards the light or the good or attempting to move up the hierarchy towards its highest point etc.

For me moral objectivity seems to coincides perfectly with my own experience of the world. It is easy for me to intuitively discern between that which is good and that which is evil, and I would propose that this is the case for most people. But furthermore to me attempting to do good and overcoming evil intuitively seems to be the virtuous or the right thing to do.

The ethical framework provided by Christian metaphysics makes more sense to me on an intuitive, experiential and logical level (in terms of evil only existing as the negation of the good), however it is difficult to dismiss the fact that almost all wisdom traditions (e.g. Egyptian, Sumerian, Hindu, Daoism etc.), which existed prior to Christianity, have a different view on metaphysics and the nature of good and evil.

I am wondering how the traditional, seemingly universal, pagan view of a world of opposites, which have to be transcended in order to spiritually ascend, can be reconciled with some sort of objective ethics? Why is it more reasonable to assume that evil has its own ontological category, than to think that it is simply the negation of the good (or God)?

I hope my thoughts are somewhat coherent and that the conflict that I am struggling with became apparent enough in this post. If you have any pointers or recommendations for literature, which might help me make more sense of this, I would appreciate it!

Best regards,
Morgentraum

Morgentraum,

There is no reason why the ancient Wisdom traditions you mention, which indeed ask us to take a higher perspective on all dualities of experience, such as good-evil, cannot also encompass the intuitively known ethics you reference. The issue with traditonal theism, as it is held abstractly in the modern age, is precisely that it "does not have this problem" because it circumvents confronting the problem entirely. It simply says, "we don't need to know why our intuitions are correct, as long as we can vaguely sense that they are correct". As destiny would have it, I am in the process of finishing up the first part of an essay which directly addresses this modern attitude towards "knowing" and how it will (or has already in many ways), in a twist of tragic irony, undermine all confidence in objective ethics. It is through Knowing about knowing, Thinking about thinking, that the necessary depth is added to provide a stable foundation for our intuitive moral values. That is what all the Wisdom traditions were pointing us towards - this stabilizing depth of Thinking which would become necessary in our current epoch. And you are correct to intuit that "evil" is a privation of "good", which we could usefully think of as "fragmentation" and "integration" respectively (fragmentation, i.e. apparent hard divisions of experience, should not be confused with "differentiation" or "distinction"), but again the key is that we must know why those intuitions are valid and can be relied upon. I will let you know when the essay is posted.
Last edited by AshvinP on Mon Sep 27, 2021 3:57 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Martin_
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Re: A layman's question pertaining to ethics

Post by Martin_ »

in a twist of tragic irony, undermine all objective ethics.
Awesome! That has been my intuition for a long time.
Then again, it all boils down to what you mean with "objective" and "ethics", but I'll stop being annoying for now.
"I don't understand." /Unknown
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AshvinP
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Re: A layman's question pertaining to ethics

Post by AshvinP »

Martin_ wrote: Mon Sep 27, 2021 3:49 pm
in a twist of tragic irony, undermine all objective ethics.
Awesome! That has been my intuition for a long time.
Then again, it all boils down to what you mean with "objective" and "ethics", but I'll stop being annoying for now.

By that I mean a stable and objectively verifiable foundation from which each individual soul can freely, of their own volition, base their ethical judgments and actions.
“It is your presumption that freedom is something which you already possess that ensures that you will remain in chains."
Ben Iscatus
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Re: A layman's question pertaining to ethics

Post by Ben Iscatus »

Morgentraum, you might also consider this: a moral code is only relevant to humanity, which is to say, self-reflective beings who can think about what is good and what is not in the context of a planetary environment where there is competition for resources. If there are higher beings (like Greek gods), they will only notice us in unlikely event that we interfere with their own concerns, just as we don't care about the fate of rats and cockroaches until they impinge on our lives. We could expect to transcend morality automatically after death upon rejoining the unreflective Mind-at-Large (MAL). It may be, however, that our concerns and memories about good and evil gradually impinge on MAL and change its preferences; if so, this would be the reason for our existence.
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Martin_
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Re: A layman's question pertaining to ethics

Post by Martin_ »

AshvinP wrote: Mon Sep 27, 2021 4:00 pm
Martin_ wrote: Mon Sep 27, 2021 3:49 pm
in a twist of tragic irony, undermine all objective ethics.
Awesome! That has been my intuition for a long time.
Then again, it all boils down to what you mean with "objective" and "ethics", but I'll stop being annoying for now.

By that I mean a stable and objectively verifiable foundation from which each individual soul can freely, of their own volition, base their ethical judgments and actions.
Since I promised to stop being annoying I will not point out the fact that you used both the words "objectively" and "ethical' in your definition of "objective ethics" ;p
"I don't understand." /Unknown
Morgentraum
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Re: A layman's question pertaining to ethics

Post by Morgentraum »

Martin_ wrote: Mon Sep 27, 2021 2:39 pm Let me rephrase this to see if I understand your question correctly.
you are saying:
"""
Given that we have a dualist ontology of the world ultimately being made out of the entities "good" and 'evil", how can it be seen as objectively "good" to transcend them?
"""
is that correct?
That's not quite what I meant. Rather, I am wondering whether there could be something like an objective morality (that is a right way to act) in a world where good and evil are considered to be ontologically distinct categories, which are supposed to be transcended. Once transcended neither good nor evil remains. In such a world, I would assume, the aim would not be to act morally, but rather to transcend the dichotomy of good and evil altogether.
Morgentraum
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Re: A layman's question pertaining to ethics

Post by Morgentraum »

AshvinP wrote: Mon Sep 27, 2021 3:42 pm
Morgentraum wrote: Mon Sep 27, 2021 1:35 pm In traditional theism one does not have this problem, because God is defined as morally perfect and good. Evil does not have its own ontological category, and is instead simply considered to be the absence of goodness. In Christian theology the fallen angels were not created evil, but by their own volition they decided to turn away from that which is morally perfect.

The ethics derived from such a metaphysical outlook entails striving for moral perfection, or in other words striving to become godlike. In Orthodox Christianity this process is called theōsis. Metaphorically this could be viewed as turning towards the light or the good or attempting to move up the hierarchy towards its highest point etc.

For me moral objectivity seems to coincides perfectly with my own experience of the world. It is easy for me to intuitively discern between that which is good and that which is evil, and I would propose that this is the case for most people. But furthermore to me attempting to do good and overcoming evil intuitively seems to be the virtuous or the right thing to do.

The ethical framework provided by Christian metaphysics makes more sense to me on an intuitive, experiential and logical level (in terms of evil only existing as the negation of the good), however it is difficult to dismiss the fact that almost all wisdom traditions (e.g. Egyptian, Sumerian, Hindu, Daoism etc.), which existed prior to Christianity, have a different view on metaphysics and the nature of good and evil.

I am wondering how the traditional, seemingly universal, pagan view of a world of opposites, which have to be transcended in order to spiritually ascend, can be reconciled with some sort of objective ethics? Why is it more reasonable to assume that evil has its own ontological category, than to think that it is simply the negation of the good (or God)?

I hope my thoughts are somewhat coherent and that the conflict that I am struggling with became apparent enough in this post. If you have any pointers or recommendations for literature, which might help me make more sense of this, I would appreciate it!

Best regards,
Morgentraum

Morgentraum,

There is no reason why the ancient Wisdom traditions you mention, which indeed ask us to take a higher perspective on all dualities of experience, such as good-evil, cannot also encompass the intuitively known ethics you reference. The issue with traditonal theism, as it is held abstractly in the modern age, is precisely that it "does not have this problem" because it circumvents confronting the problem entirely. It simply says, "we don't need to know why our intuitions are correct, as long as we can vaguely sense that they are correct". As destiny would have it, I am in the process of finishing up the first part of an essay which directly addresses this modern attitude towards "knowing" and how it will (or has already in many ways), in a twist of tragic irony, undermine all confidence in objective ethics. It is through Knowing about knowing, Thinking about thinking, that the necessary depth is added to provide a stable foundation for our intuitive moral values. That is what all the Wisdom traditions were pointing us towards - this stabilizing depth of Thinking which would become necessary in our current epoch. And you are correct to intuit that "evil" is a privation of "good", which we could usefully think of as "fragmentation" and "integration" respectively (fragmentation, i.e. apparent hard divisions of experience, should not be confused with "differentiation" or "distinction"), but again the key is that we must know why those intuitions are valid and can be relied upon. I will let you know when the essay is posted.
Hi AshvinP,

Thanks for your reply! I am not sure that traditional theism circumvents that problem. In the case of Orthodox Christianity for example it is not recommended to rely upon one's moral intuitions, because they may be distorted, but instead to follow the moral law given by a perfectly moral God through revelation in order to be reunited with him in his kingdom (i.e. the world of essence).

I am interesting to learn more about what you refer to as the "stabilizing depth of Thinking", which is supposed to lead to a more solid foundation for objective ethics. As of yet I am still not entirely sure what you mean by this, but I am looking forward to reading your essay!

Best regards,
Morgentraum
Morgentraum
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Re: A layman's question pertaining to ethics

Post by Morgentraum »

Ben Iscatus wrote: Mon Sep 27, 2021 4:20 pm Morgentraum, you might also consider this: a moral code is only relevant to humanity, which is to say, self-reflective beings who can think about what is good and what is not in the context of a planetary environment where there is competition for resources. If there are higher beings (like Greek gods), they will only notice us in unlikely event that we interfere with their own concerns, just as we don't care about the fate of rats and cockroaches until they impinge on our lives. We could expect to transcend morality automatically after death upon rejoining the unreflective Mind-at-Large (MAL). It may be, however, that our concerns and memories about good and evil gradually impinge on MAL and change its preferences; if so, this would be the reason for our existence.
Hey! Thanks for your reply. I guess it totally depends on your metaphysics whether a moral code is only pertinent to human beings or not. It is not difficult to imagine a world, as in traditional Christian theology, where salvation or reunification with God is only possible through right conduct pertaining to human beings as well as higher spiritual entities (deities or angels f.e.). Can you elaborate on how our moral conduct could impinge and influence MAL? To what end? And why would this be the reason for our existence?
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