Friday, April 18, 2008

On Love and Moral Responsibility, Part 1

I have been waiting for the opportune moment to answer Gigi’s comment on my blog about the nature of love.

A bit of background: I maintained that regardless of the circumstances, parents are morally obliged to love their children, that is, act in their best interest.

I asked Gigi if she believed this. She said no. She said we are only morally responsible to ourselves, not to others.

I think this is an important discussion, and the issues here are at the root of the malaise of Western Society.

I wanted to answer her here not so much to “show her up” but to adequately answer the issues raised, which is difficult in the haloscan comments section. And as I said, these questions are important, and maybe of interest to other bloggers.

Gigi wrote:

We are morally responsible to other people if we hold OURSELVES to that standard. You cannot hold someone else to your moral standard - they are personal and subjective, and any attempt to make them concrete relies on the creation of a god-myth.

You can influence another person's moral standard just as far as they are willing to let you.

There is no objective "out there" morality.

The problem is that that philosophy breaks down in practice. Nobody acts as if we are only morally responsible (or accountable) to ourselves. Communities need common guidelines on what is morally acceptable behaviour and what isn’t.

We cannot be morally accountable only to ourselves because our actions affect other people. That’s why we have laws. That’s why we have social conventions to regulate behaviour.

“But that doesn’t prove there is an objective morality”. No. But as I said, the fact that humans generally need the same things and have predictable behaviour shows that we can determine what behaviours are acceptable and which aren’t. It’s the nature of human beings and their needs that determines these laws, not any arbitrary lawgiver.

I had written:

since people are generally the same, need the same things and we can predict their behaviour, we can identify what produces the best outcome.

To which Gigi replied:

That completely ignores the reality of nuture and genetic lineage/differentiation. Men born with double-Y chromosomes are not "generally the same" as everyone else. You can't predict that a stranger will appreciate the double cheek kissing. Beyond a core of food, water, shelter, and security, you cannot predict much.

People born with chromsomal abnormalities are not that different from us. Nurture and genetic differentiation do not change our general proclivities as a human race. Individual exceptions that may arise don’t invalidate the general rule. Cultural differences do not change the fact that human beings show some universal characteristics. Beyond physical needs, humans have universal psychological needs and spiritual needs. Yes, you can think of individuals who may not fit that template: for example, sociopaths. But we know that those are aberrations of human beings. They have a condition that needs to be healed. That’s a need in itself that must be addressed.

You can predict a lot, actually, and in fact, I would say that feminism is predicated on the belief that you can predict—not that I necessarily agree with all those predictions. But if you take a look at the relationships between the genders, there are some things that are universal. For example: gender roles. They may express themselves in different ways, but they’re there. Another example: men tend to go off and fight, women tend to be nurturing at home.

That universality of human nature points to universal interests. And the need for requiring certain behaviours and prohibiting others.

I would like to continue this conversation in another post.

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