Full Circle on the Zero-Point

joe dees (joedees@bellsouth.net)
Tue, 19 Jan 1999 19:33:54 -0500

              joe dees wrote:

> At Mon, 18 Jan 1999 10:48:12 -0500, you wrote:
> >This is what I dispute. While most, or all ethical systems do not agree on
everything, there are plenty of commonalities among most of them, especially the most successful of them, to imply that there is an inherent objective truth to the shared heuristics, at least as far as the human species is concerned. There may also be a subset of this set which may be objective truth for all thinking beings.
> >
> If by "zero-point" you mean cases or classes where all ethical systems would
agree, the most likely candidates are the ancient prohibitions against murder, theft, rape, cheating and lying; yet even in these, exceptions can be found, which may be exceptions in some systems but not in others. Can you furnish an example of such a "zero-point"? First of all I don't require that ALL ethical systems share identical heuristics for the plain fact that some ethical/moral systems are demonstrated to be more successful than others, because they are more 'fit' due to their closer dovetailing with optimal objective morality.

Hold it right there! This whole quest for a "zero-point" began for the purpose of attempting to generalize and extrapolate an objective ethical system from such a point of universal agreement. You are assuming the existence of your goal in order to use it to build the means to attempt to prove such an existence. This vicious circle has neither an entry nor an exit point, and is instead an exercise in Moebius logic, where what are apparently two different things (two sides of the strip, a "zero-point" and "objective logic") are actually one thing that it is impossible to reach from outside.

              I would also say that there are two types of morals or ethics in any system,
              proscriptive and prescriptive, which often condition or impose exceptions on the
              other.  While theft is discouraged, compassion for and sharing resources with
              those in need is encouraged, for example (or while murder, rape, assault, and
              battery is discouraged, defending yourself and others from such assaults is

              This is why ethics or morals are a system of inter-related heuristics, rather
              than just a few simple rules that are black and white and not related to each
              other (even though some moral systems try to be that simple). Simplicity does
              aid in propagation and popular compliance, to a point, but there is a limit to
              how simple or complex a system can go and remain functional, adaptable, and
              stable over a long term.

Agreed; but systems by nature are dynamic, responding to the developing particulars of exacerbating and/or extenuating circumstances, and possessing hierarchies of moral imperatives, but with recursive loops of exceptions between them. One cannot either freeze such a system into objectivity, nor pin it at any "zero-point" to an absolutist wall (two ways of trying to do the same (impossible) thing) without deforming it into something that is not itself any more

              Just because a moral or ethical system is very inter-relational does not make it
              subjective, it is just complex and abstracted. 

There is a difference between complication and complexity, true; but I would maintain that not only are individuals complex, but so are the aggregate of the webs of interrelations between them; thus any efficient/effective ethical system to be applied to these complexities within a greater complexity must of necessity itself be complex.

The Golden Rule, which

              semantically is very simple and easy to remember and propagate, can only be seen
              as a generalization over a complex amount of subjective considerations and thus
              has considerable amount of paradox built into it (i.e. if I'm a masochist,
              should I hurt others because that is how I want to be treated?) as
              has been described on this list in other recent posts, but it is extremely
              adaptable due to its vagueness as well, thus having long term viability. However
               it does accurately define two seemingly objective morals/ethics: being true to
              the self and being true to others, placing both on an equal/commutative moral or
              ethical footing. One could argue that putting the second on equal footing with
              the first tends to serve only to optimize the first, and is
              not a sucessful goal in and of itself, which is why systems which emphasize
              others over the self in any and all situations tend to not be as successful as
              ones oriented toward the self, but putting the interests of others on a similar
              footing being only because it is directly beneficial to the self (as Anders has
              talked about his models which compare cooperators versus individuals practicing
              "might is right").

This is why it only works to the degree that its "fuzziness" obscures the complex paradoxes contained when one attempts a finer-grained perspective upon it. It's accuracy, therefore, must be a relative one, and cannot lay claim to more precision than the "fuzziness" inherent in it (and which allows it to "work" at all) permits.

Mike Lorrey

Joe E. Dees
Poet, Pagan, Philosopher

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