Tuesday, July 08, 2014

A debate on morality and absolute good or bad

I was recently debating with my mother on the necessity of absolute good or bad. My contention was that nothing is absolute, all is relative - morality more than anything, since actions cannot be seen outside of the context that they take place in. My mom, on the other hand, seemed quite horrified at the idea of my moral agnosticism, and argued that some truths are absolute. For example: one must be kind.

My argument against moral absolutism was principally that the truth we know or perceive is coloured by our experiences or senses, and that there is no way of arriving at a common axiom. E.g. I think that green is the colour of leaves. I have no way of knowing how anyone else sees green. Similarly, I experience happiness, sadness, pain etc in ways that are particular to me - i have no way of knowing for sure how others would experience it. Ergo - what i think is right or moral may or may not be moral to someone with different contexts or experiences. Therefore, there cannot be an absolute axiom or truth.

Drawing this even further, the only question is therefore - Why am I here? Why do I live? And the answer (at least the least offensive one to me) is that i live to maximize my happiness. Someone gets happiness by being moral, and someone else gets it by being immoral. To each his own.

The debate ended without conclusion, but i have recently found sympathy with my point of view in no less a person than Hamlet. Check out what wikipedia says about the philosophy behind Hamlet:



Hamlet is often perceived as a philosophical character, expounding ideas that are now described as relativistexistentialist, and sceptical. For example, he expresses a subjectivistic idea when he says to Rosencrantz: "there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so".[75] The idea that nothing is real except in the mind of the individual finds its roots in the Greek Sophists, who argued that since nothing can be perceived except through the senses—and since all individuals sense, and therefore perceive, things differently—there is no absolute truth, only relative truth.[76] The clearest alleged instance of existentialism is in the "to be, or not to be"[77] speech, where Hamlet is thought by some to use "being" to allude to life and action, and "not being" to death and inaction.
Hamlet reflects the contemporary scepticism promoted by the French Renaissance humanist, Montaigne.[78] Prior to Montaigne's time, humanists such as Pico della Mirandola had argued that man was God's greatest creation, made in God's image and able to choose his own nature, but this view was subsequently challenged in Michel de Montaigne's Essais of 1580. Hamlet's "What a piece of work is a man" echoes many of Montaigne's ideas, but scholars disagree whether Shakespeare drew directly from Montaigne or whether both men were simply reacting similarly to the spirit of the times.[79]
In his openness to embrace the message of the ghost, Hamlet assuages Horatio's wonderment with the analytical assertion, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."