moral nihilism

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Re: moral nihilism

Post by hongi » 2012-07-02 08:38pm

I don't believe in objective criteria Thanas. There are subjective reasons for why the Holocaust was right (the reasons the Nazis had).

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Re: moral nihilism

Post by Thanas » 2012-07-02 08:47pm

So your system is based on the belief that nobody can ever look at a situation objectively and come up with things to put in the + and - column?
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Re: moral nihilism

Post by hongi » 2012-07-02 08:58pm

Darth Wong wrote:Social morality gives us moral coercion, and evolution gives us moral instinct. Religious or "individual" morality are both prone to bullshit.
DW, the difficulty I have is that if individual morality is bullshit, that still doesn't change the fact society is made up of individuals, and their individual desires and motives can work in opposition to each other, not to mention society as a whole.

I know that evolution doesn't only involve the individual's reproductive success, since evolution works in interesting ways on social animals (i.e. kin selection). But family and close kin seem far too small to cover society as you seem to use it, in the sense of city-states or countries or the whole of humanity. Like my Soviet soldier or Roma example.

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Re: moral nihilism

Post by mr friendly guy » 2012-07-02 09:41pm

Questor wrote:
By the definition you are using, almost everything is subjective, and I don't see how 2 follows 1 in any meaningful way, it only seems to follow if you're using subjective along with my "functional" definition, or else dubbing solipsism into the argument, but I really think that solipsism is so different than most schools of thought that it should be stated explicitly.

The school of thought Hongi's evidencing looks an awful lot like perspectivism actually, and dates back to pre-socratic thought.
Well a lot of philosophies would be subjective, but a lot of things like scientific observations are for the large part objective. Yes I know someone could theoretically argue that all of the scientists making it could be delusional, so the observations could still be subjective. However if most scientists repeated get these same observations, its fair to say its pretty much objective.

I also don't think 2 (all viewpoints are valid) follows 1 (morality is subjective) and I gave my reason for that. I just suspect people do use this type of argument. After reading your reply, I don't consider you in that category.
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Re: moral nihilism

Post by Questor » 2012-07-02 09:43pm

I'm curious, Hongi, have you read Plato's writings on perspectivalism? Have you read Nietzsche? I think both would be of interest to you.

I think a relevant question that has not been answered is: How does your ethical system work when there is more than two parties at work? Do numbers make a viewpoint more valid? If not, how does one construct an ethical/social rulebook? Many things are simply convention, but they stem from ethical and social norms. Nobody (at least I hope) is going to ban anyone for violation of the unwritten rules of this board, many of which were actually derived from a completely different medium altogether, but yet they are followed almost universally. Why, if ethics and social interactions are only governed by power does that happen?

On a more tangental note, how do you explain the old USENET communities? There was no way to enforce norms, but yet, for the most part, people conformed and were able to have conversations. Under your system, it should have been complete and utter chaos. Granted, in some newsgroups, it approached that, but in others there was a lot of order and conversation happening.

EDIT: Further question, and just for general reference, exactly what religion were you brought up in? Different groups tend to approach these things in different ways. To the extent I had a spiritual upbringing, I was taught in the Educated Catholic mode, and discussions like "why is this right or wrong" were actually something I remember from sunday school and even the sermons. I'll grant that that priest was rather unusual from what I've run into since.
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Re: moral nihilism

Post by Questor » 2012-07-02 09:47pm

mr friendly guy wrote:Well a lot of philosophies would be subjective, but a lot of things like scientific observations are for the large part objective. Yes I know someone could theoretically argue that all of the scientists making it could be delusional, so the observations could still be subjective. However if most scientists repeated get these same observations, its fair to say its pretty much objective.
Well, that's true as far as it goes, but here's where solipsism gets fun. From a solipsist point of view, even those "objective" measurements become subjective due to the unknowability of whether anything except your/my thought even exists.

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Re: moral nihilism

Post by Simon_Jester » 2012-07-02 11:36pm

hongi wrote:
Simon_Jester wrote:Why not? Why do you believe those things? Why do you believe them, instead of some other different things?
My memory isn't good enough to determine when exactly I started to become a moral relativist and a moral nihilist. It definitely had something to do with the apologetics debates I was in. But it wasn't one single book or a single event. The whole atheist vs theist debate forced me to think about morality deeply and in ways that I wouldn't have otherwise. Atheists may have been the ones to introduce me to moral relativism or maybe I picked it up while I was exploring how to defeat divine command theory. I think I met moral nihilists as well then. And their arguments struck me on an intuitive and intellectual level as correct. I'm pretty sure by the time I was 15, I believed much the same things as I do now.
So you intuit it to be true. You intuit that there are no objective moral rules.

From where does your faith in your philosophical intuition come from? Have you reasoned structures by which you can support that intuitive belief?
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Re: moral nihilism

Post by Darth Wong » 2012-07-03 12:30am

It's always a bad sign when you ask someone to explain his reasoning, and he thinks you want to hear his life story.
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Re: moral nihilism

Post by Darth Wong » 2012-07-03 12:38am

hongi wrote:
Darth Wong wrote:Social morality gives us moral coercion, and evolution gives us moral instinct. Religious or "individual" morality are both prone to bullshit.
DW, the difficulty I have is that if individual morality is bullshit, that still doesn't change the fact society is made up of individuals, and their individual desires and motives can work in opposition to each other, not to mention society as a whole.
Of course their individual desires and motives often work in opposition to each other. That's the whole point of morality: to regulate those conflicts! What the fuck do you think morality is? That's the whole point I'm making, moron: that social morality is required in order to coerce people into acting in a manner that is not always coincident with their individual self-interest. What is the function of morality, if not to convince or coerce people to act in a manner contrary to their desires? If morality was simply a codification of whatever people want to do anyway, it would be utterly pointless. One does not need rules or ideologies in order to convince oneself to do the thing he wanted to do anyway.
I know that evolution doesn't only involve the individual's reproductive success, since evolution works in interesting ways on social animals (i.e. kin selection). But family and close kin seem far too small to cover society as you seem to use it, in the sense of city-states or countries or the whole of humanity. Like my Soviet soldier or Roma example.
Of course family is too small to cover larger society; this is the problem of evolution. We evolved to have a circle of maybe two or three dozen people, not two hundred million. That's why we need to create social morality to sit atop the base layer of instinctive sympathy.
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Re: moral nihilism

Post by hongi » 2012-07-03 03:21am

Questor wrote:I'm curious, Hongi, have you read Plato's writings on perspectivalism? Have you read Nietzsche? I think both would be of interest to you.
I've read a lot of Plato, but I haven't come across that word perspectivalism. I have read Nietzsche and I think his ideas about perspectivism are spot on.
Questor wrote:I think a relevant question that has not been answered is: How does your ethical system work when there is more than two parties at work? Do numbers make a viewpoint more valid? If not, how does one construct an ethical/social rulebook? Many things are simply convention, but they stem from ethical and social norms. Nobody (at least I hope) is going to ban anyone for violation of the unwritten rules of this board, many of which were actually derived from a completely different medium altogether, but yet they are followed almost universally. Why, if ethics and social interactions are only governed by power does that happen?

On a more tangental note, how do you explain the old USENET communities? There was no way to enforce norms, but yet, for the most part, people conformed and were able to have conversations. Under your system, it should have been complete and utter chaos. Granted, in some newsgroups, it approached that, but in others there was a lot of order and conversation happening.


I'm too young for USENET. :)

I guess I would explain that the same way that I explain why cities and countries work.

I said that it all comes down to who can enforce their morality, but that's not entirely true. When I said that, I was thinking of the country's government, legal system and police enforcement because they have the biggest stick. But the law is never enforced all the time. Jaywalking is illegal, but many many people jaywalk. Sometimes we get punished for it, but that's if we're caught by the police. And of course there are many aspects of our life that the law never extends into. The law doesn't tell me whether to give money to a homeless person or not.

But other parties have sticks and carrots as well. The government doesn't say that you should give money to a homeless person, but the morality of the church, school, your parents, friends, tv shows may tell you to. The kind of power they have is a softer kind of power. I'll use religion as an example. Religion tells you not to steal, but they can't punish you for stealing if you're caught. They go one better than the law, they tell you that God will punish you, or you'll get punished in Hell, or even better you'll punish yourself because sin is harmful to your soul. The result from this constant influencing from other people's moralities is that you adopt theirs as your own. Morality is a habit. Nietzsche would say that (and it's true). We do things because we've done it for so long that it becomes second-nature. We self-internalise expectations and habits, so that I don't even have to think twice to say 'sorry' when I bump into someone.

Is the internet any different? Sure, it may be that USENET didn't have the ability to ban people or enforce norms. But there were far more powerful factors at work. People are nice because they want to be nice and they want to be nice because they were brought up to act nice. If you're expected to be a good citizen on the street, why would we abandon that on the internet? I hope that answers your question.
Questor wrote: EDIT: Further question, and just for general reference, exactly what religion were you brought up in? Different groups tend to approach these things in different ways. To the extent I had a spiritual upbringing, I was taught in the Educated Catholic mode, and discussions like "why is this right or wrong" were actually something I remember from sunday school and even the sermons. I'll grant that that priest was rather unusual from what I've run into since.
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Re: moral nihilism

Post by Questor » 2012-07-03 07:15pm

So Hongi, what would your moral system be if there was no one watching? If you could do anything, without repercussions, how would you behave? Does your moral/ethical system provide any guide then?

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Re: moral nihilism

Post by Eulogy » 2012-07-04 12:27am

Here's another question Hongi, one that is simple: is slavery evil?
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Re: moral nihilism

Post by General Mung Beans » 2012-07-04 01:45am

Eulogy wrote:Here's another question Hongi, one that is simple: is slavery evil?
I have a bad feeling asking questions like this will result in something similar to this: http://bbs.stardestroyer.net/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=56589
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Re: moral nihilism

Post by Simon_Jester » 2012-07-04 03:17pm

I want to know where's he's getting all this from. I asked, but no answer...
Simon_Jester wrote:
hongi wrote:
Simon_Jester wrote:Why not? Why do you believe those things? Why do you believe them, instead of some other different things?
My memory isn't good enough to determine when exactly I started to become a moral relativist and a moral nihilist. It definitely had something to do with the apologetics debates I was in. But it wasn't one single book or a single event. The whole atheist vs theist debate forced me to think about morality deeply and in ways that I wouldn't have otherwise. Atheists may have been the ones to introduce me to moral relativism or maybe I picked it up while I was exploring how to defeat divine command theory. I think I met moral nihilists as well then. And their arguments struck me on an intuitive and intellectual level as correct. I'm pretty sure by the time I was 15, I believed much the same things as I do now.
So you intuit it to be true. You intuit that there are no objective moral rules.

From where does your faith in your philosophical intuition come from? Have you reasoned structures by which you can support that intuitive belief?
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Re: moral nihilism

Post by hongi » 2012-07-04 07:07pm

Simon_Jester wrote:So you intuit it to be true. You intuit that there are no objective moral rules.

From where does your faith in your philosophical intuition come from? Have you reasoned structures by which you can support that intuitive belief?
It's not philosophical intuition, it's just intuition. Gut feeling. It feels right, like it feels right that there is no God. This feeling is more persuasive than any argument I've read or any piece of evidence that atheists have offered for the non-existence of God. Arguments merely serve to confirm an atheism that is based on what I believe. I'm one of those atheists who believe that God doesn't exist.

From the intellectual side, no argument for moral realism that I've read has convinced me. I think I came to moral nihilism through two ways. My belief that it is true, as explained already, as well as not finding opposing arguments persuasive enough to overthrow that belief. So I still find my initial belief to be the best one, after eliminating all the other choices.

This isn't very different from how other atheists do things. No matter how many arguments they offer that 'prove' God doesn't exist (they're not very persuasive I must say), there's always the possibility that God does exist. So usually they fall back to agnostic atheism. I'm also agnostic about moral nihilism, but where I differ is that I'm a 'strong atheist' about moral nihilism. Because I don't know if it's true, but I believe it is.
Eulogy wrote:Here's another question Hongi, one that is simple: is slavery evil?
Yes and no. Not inherently.

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Re: moral nihilism

Post by Eulogy » 2012-07-04 08:47pm

hongi wrote:
Eulogy wrote:Here's another question Hongi, one that is simple: is slavery evil?
Yes and no. Not inherently.
I'll ignore the wishy-washiness and ask you another question: Why is slavery not inherently evil? Explain yourself, please.
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Re: moral nihilism

Post by Simon_Jester » 2012-07-04 09:38pm

hongi wrote:
Simon_Jester wrote:So you intuit it to be true. You intuit that there are no objective moral rules.

From where does your faith in your philosophical intuition come from? Have you reasoned structures by which you can support that intuitive belief?
It's not philosophical intuition, it's just intuition. Gut feeling. It feels right, like it feels right that there is no God. This feeling is more persuasive than any argument I've read or any piece of evidence that atheists have offered for the non-existence of God. Arguments merely serve to confirm an atheism that is based on what I believe. I'm one of those atheists who believe that God doesn't exist.
So... you believe these things for no reason at all? Or you believe them because you believe them? And you are aware of this, and the circular nature of it does not strike you as a problem?

Because in that case, it's probably just as well I suppressed the impulse to write any really long posts about this. I'm too damn good at wasting my time as it is.
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Re: moral nihilism

Post by Bakustra » 2012-07-04 09:46pm

Eulogy wrote:
hongi wrote:
Eulogy wrote:Here's another question Hongi, one that is simple: is slavery evil?
Yes and no. Not inherently.
I'll ignore the wishy-washiness and ask you another question: Why is slavery not inherently evil? Explain yourself, please.
Why exactly is the negative proof reasonable in this situation? Can you satisfactorily prove that you are not a butterfly dreaming you are a man?
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Re: moral nihilism

Post by hongi » 2012-07-04 09:50pm

Eulogy wrote: I'll ignore the wishy-washiness and ask you another question: Why is slavery not inherently evil? Explain yourself, please.
Because I don't see why it is inherently evil.

Back to my moral terminology: good is something that I like to do, want to do, would do or want others to do the same. Bad is something that I don't like to do, don't want to do, wouldn't do or want others not to do.

Based on that moral terminology, I think slavery can be good. I can think of instances where I would want to be a slave or want to enslave other people. For example, if the conditions of slavery were better than not being a slave, I would gladly become a legal possession, and I would make other people into my legal possession for the same reason.

In the Roman Empire, as Thanas can tell you more about, people were often enslaved when they become prisoners of war. I don't find that particularly wrong. And if the only other option for a prisoner of war was execution, then I would happily enslave that person to save his/her life. I won't say that slavery is evil.

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Re: moral nihilism

Post by Bakustra » 2012-07-04 10:03pm

I'm not sure why people are providing hongi with such opprobrium for not buying into deontological ethics. That is the only system of ethics which presumes actions to be inherently evil- utilitarianism and virtue ethics do not consider actions to be inherently good or evil at all- their focus is on the outcomes after and the mindset before, respectively. If we are to be enraged with hongi for saying that he doesn't believe anything to be inherently good or bad, then assuredly we must condemn utilitarians all the more so, because while hongi's nihilism relies on personal choice alone, utilitarianism can create situations where child rape, genocide, and all the horrors of extreme moral quandaries are not only not bad, but even the only moral choice!

That is not to say that there is nothing to criticize in nihilism, in particular in the formulation hongi gives, which unfortunately seems to reduce to "I do what I feel like". But I don't see why not being a deontologist is somehow wrong.
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Re: moral nihilism

Post by hongi » 2012-07-04 10:03pm

Simon_Jester wrote:So... you believe these things for no reason at all? Or you believe them because you believe them? And you are aware of this, and the circular nature of it does not strike you as a problem?

Because in that case, it's probably just as well I suppressed the impulse to write any really long posts about this. I'm too damn good at wasting my time as it is.
No, I don't think I believe for no reason at all.

You don't get a gut feeling just because. If you have a gut feeling that you're in danger, that's because your mind has some reason for telling you that there is danger. Now this reason may be wrong or faulty, but that doesn't mean a reason doesn't exist. Christians don't believe in God 'just because'. Their belief comes from somewhere, even if you disagree with their reasons for believing it.

Have you ever watched a great heist film and when all the pieces fall into place, you feel strangely satisfied? It's like that. Sometimes, when I'm going about my daily life, I get this strong sensation where at that moment, I feel absolutely certain that God does not exist. I think it has something to do with the aesthetics of existence. Something about what I'm doing, whether I'm doing the dishes or surfing seems utterly incongruous with God's existence.

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Re: moral nihilism

Post by Nieztchean Uber-Amoeba » 2012-07-05 01:11am

Darth Wong wrote: Sorry, I should have elaborated: just as one can argue that (as a general rule) organisms prefer pleasure over pain, it is reasonable (despite apparent exceptions) to say that societies prefer prosperity over self-destruction. Ergo, moral values which lead to the decline and fall of a society can be classified as "counter-productive".

Contrary to popular belief drawn from movies, ruthless evil does not always beget victory. In fact, one can easily tie the Nazis' defeat to their moral values: their incredibly ruthless treatment of the Ukrainians, for example, eliminated the possibility of co-operation from people who might have actually been relieved to be released from the yoke of Stalin.
So, to be clear, are you saying that things which prolong or strengthen social order or cohesion are inherently moral and things which weaken social order are inherently immoral?

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Re: moral nihilism

Post by Questor » 2012-07-05 01:20am

Bakustra wrote:I'm not sure why people are providing hongi with such opprobrium for not buying into deontological ethics. That is the only system of ethics which presumes actions to be inherently evil- utilitarianism and virtue ethics do not consider actions to be inherently good or evil at all- their focus is on the outcomes after and the mindset before, respectively. If we are to be enraged with hongi for saying that he doesn't believe anything to be inherently good or bad, then assuredly we must condemn utilitarians all the more so, because while hongi's nihilism relies on personal choice alone, utilitarianism can create situations where child rape, genocide, and all the horrors of extreme moral quandaries are not only not bad, but even the only moral choice!
I don't think deontological ethics are necessary, and I don't know how many people are actually espousing them in this thread. Even in non-deontological processes, there can still be outcomes/mindsets that are so bad (for lack of a better word) that they cannot be justified, particularly without arbitrary and contrived scenarios. That's kind of the point DXIII and I were about to get into, particularly the analysis of those two scenarios.

As regards to Hongi, even Nietzsche's perspectivism allows for the idea that while all conceptual systems are equally true, it does not necessarily follow that all are equally valid. Hongi has taken that one step further - to all systems being equally valid, and also seems unwilling to defend or analyze his system from philosophical context. Notice how he refuses to answer fundamental questions until pressed. On that note:

Hongi, to repeat:
Questor wrote:So Hongi, what would your moral system be if there was no one watching?
Questor wrote: If you could do anything, without repercussions, how would you behave? Does your moral/ethical system provide any guide then?
Questor wrote:Do you acknowledge that things outside yourself exist? Is your ethical system based on the idea that only you exist?

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Re: moral nihilism

Post by hongi » 2012-07-05 06:19am

I already wrote an answer to your post this morning. But my modus operandi is to wait until someone else posts, so that I don't double post. Also I'm busy, I usually get time on the computer in the morning. Any other time and I'm at uni studying. So be patient and I'll get back to you.
Questor wrote:So Hongi, what would your moral system be if there was no one watching? If you could do anything, without repercussions, how would you behave? Does your moral/ethical system provide any guide then?
My morality is only partly composed of selfish consequentialism. Even if I was in a Groundhog Day sort of scenario where there were no permanent consequences for me I doubt I'd start murdering and raping. There are consequences for other people, even if those consequences are not permanent.

Here's a realistic example of what I am prepared to call good. I used to do a lot of fare evasion because it saved me a lot of money. As long as I wasn't caught, I used to not pay for tickets. Then I got caught, so I stopped. But if I could escape the notice of transit officers, I think that I would do a lot of fare evasion. I remember a thread a while back asking what people would do if they had the teleportation ability from Jumper. Some people said they would rob banks. I wouldn't do that. Not because I'm afraid of being caught, but because it's something that I don't want to do. Travel the world via magic powers, yes. Rob banks via magic powers, no. I have no need for such a big amount of money. I'm the sort of person who robs Railcorp of $1.70 per trip because I'm stingy, not greedy. I think morality reflects who you are, what sort of person you are. There's no better way of sizing up a person than to examine their morality.

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Re: moral nihilism

Post by Bakustra » 2012-07-05 09:44am

Questor wrote:
Bakustra wrote:I'm not sure why people are providing hongi with such opprobrium for not buying into deontological ethics. That is the only system of ethics which presumes actions to be inherently evil- utilitarianism and virtue ethics do not consider actions to be inherently good or evil at all- their focus is on the outcomes after and the mindset before, respectively. If we are to be enraged with hongi for saying that he doesn't believe anything to be inherently good or bad, then assuredly we must condemn utilitarians all the more so, because while hongi's nihilism relies on personal choice alone, utilitarianism can create situations where child rape, genocide, and all the horrors of extreme moral quandaries are not only not bad, but even the only moral choice!
I don't think deontological ethics are necessary, and I don't know how many people are actually espousing them in this thread. Even in non-deontological processes, there can still be outcomes/mindsets that are so bad (for lack of a better word) that they cannot be justified, particularly without arbitrary and contrived scenarios. That's kind of the point DXIII and I were about to get into, particularly the analysis of those two scenarios.

As regards to Hongi, even Nietzsche's perspectivism allows for the idea that while all conceptual systems are equally true, it does not necessarily follow that all are equally valid. Hongi has taken that one step further - to all systems being equally valid, and also seems unwilling to defend or analyze his system from philosophical context. Notice how he refuses to answer fundamental questions until pressed. On that note:
Anybody espousing the idea that actions are inherently good or bad is espousing deontology, which is the primary branch of ethics concerned with the actions themselves. And while there are certainly plenty of situations that cannot be justified but through contrived scenarios, consider the 24-inspired "ticking time bomb" justification of torture used in American debates on the subject. The only thing that is contrived is the conclusion, but if we accept that torture can produce meaningful results, then most forms of utilitarianism would practically condemn us for not reaching for the thumbscrews. Of course, in reality there is a lot of evidence to suggest that torture does not produce meaningful results, that torture is generally conducted in order to act out vengeance upon symbolic representations of a nebulous enemy, etc. which mean that torture is generally abhorrent in most ethical systems. However, only deontological ethics can say that torture is inherently good or evil apart from its context. All the others rely on context to determine the morality of the action.

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With regards to the idea that "promoting social order" is the essence of morality, indeed the only course between the Scylla of religion and the Charybdis of nihilism, I find that utter bullshit. Coercion is, at its core, not immoral, but antimoral. Morality, in every single conception of the subject held by philosophy, has relied on choice- the choice of individuals on what course to take, what rule to follow, what mindset to act under. Coercion destroys choice and takes morality with it- an action taken under compulsion is not moral regardless of what the actor or actress thinks of the action personally, as they cannot make any choices regarding it. Morality only exists when choices are available between moral and immoral actions.

While promoting social order may be beneficial to that society, that does not make it right any more than a cuckoo foisting its children upon other birds is right. Social morality only exists when societies enable free choice of what action to take and focus on building a collective morality that all will follow. Anything else is but animal survivalism.
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