Revisiting a fruitful idea about morality

posted by
December 30, 2010
A Passion for Liberty
by Tibor R. Machan  
Posted in Commentary

"If there are right answers to questions about how we should conduct ourselves, it seems to many those answers must apply to us all, equally. Otherwise how could they be right? So they are pulled toward what is often called moral absolutism. But it also seems quite reasonable that certain answers as to how one ought to act do not apply to all people the same way since they differ in significant ways from one another. That suggests subjectivism. How can both of these valid insights be satisfied?" (12/29/10)

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  • paulwakfer

    Tibor Machan wrote:

    "If there are right answers to questions about how we should conduct ourselves, it seems to many those answers must apply to us all, equally. Otherwise how could they be right? So they are pulled toward what is often called moral absolutism. But it also seems quite reasonable that certain answers as to how one ought to act do not apply to all people the same way since they differ in significant ways from one another. That suggests subjectivism.

    "How can both of these valid insights be satisfied?

    "One possibility is that a sound, correct ethics offers perhaps just one set of very basic principles that are broad enough to apply to everyone simply in virtue of us all being human. But this morality would also recognize that different individuals need different guidelines, given their special situations, including their unique individuality, culture, even the climate in which they live.

    "We have this, for example, in medicine and nutrition. There are basic principles in these areas but when they are applied to different people, accommodations must be made to the individuals in question–are they men or women, young or old, tall or short, of a certain metabolism or another, allergic to this or that? So, while the basics of medicine and nutrition are taught pretty much the same everywhere, when they are applied, things begin to vary quite a bit."

    Tibor first presents an excellent description of the standard conundrum regarding the meaning and determination of moral actions and follows it with an excellent description of "one possibility" for a solution. From my own decades of thought on this subject (I am 12.7 months older than Tibor), I am convinced that this approach is the only possible solution.

    Interestingly, the foundation for my conviction is also well described by Tibor in his example regarding the basic principles of medicine and nutrition being based on general human nature ("apply to everyone simply in virtue of us all being human"), while the specifics of those sciences and particularly their applications vary enormously from individual to individual depending on the genetics, history, environment and even the personal tastes of each. What Tibor appears to miss (and the essential guide to the solution to the original conundrum) is that such general human nature must necessarily be the only sound basis of *any and all* sciences relating to humans, be they biological sciences, psychological sciences or social sciences.

    My treatise "Social Meta-Needs: A New Basis for Optimal Interaction": http://selfsip.org/fundamentals/socialmetaneeds.h… starts from the nature of human reality common to all and carefully constructs the fundamental principles of optimal human behavior that will perforce be common to everyone. I have previously attempted to get Tibor Machan to read and critique my treatise (see discussion thread at: http://bit.ly/i25wp0 ), but have so far been unsuccessful. I therefore seek other interested readers/thinkers to critically examine it and post any comments, questions or objections, where I can respond.

  • Tibor R. Machan

    Thanks for the comment. I am swamped with school work until the end of May 2014 and have loads to read.

    Tibor Machan

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