The Instigator
Nail_Bat
Con (against)
Winning
6 Points
The Contender
Rob1Billion
Pro (for)
Losing
0 Points

Temperance, fortitude, prudence, and justice form a flawless basis for morality

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 5/2/2009 Category: Society
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 5,141 times Debate No: 8073
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (46)
Votes (3)

 

Nail_Bat

Con

I would like to explore a topic that Rob1Billion and I began debating in the comments section of another debate.

It is my belief that morality can not be reduced to a set of unambiguous laws. That is to say, we can not find a set of laws that will always yield the same results for moral questions as our intuition would give.

My opponent will argue that the morality of an action depends on four unambiguous, unchanging qualities: Temperance, fortitude, prudence, and justice. I will let him explain in more detail.
Rob1Billion

Pro

Brief: The four primary virtues are the principles that I rely on to guide me in moral matters. I use them because they are flawless, timeless maxims that, if interpreted and followed correctly, will never lead me astray. All other principles, including the Ten Commandments, tertiary virtues like courage, honesty, loyalty, etc. and principles instilled by institutions to forward their goals are only conditionally useful and threaten to distract and detract from these true roots of morality. I will show that only the misinterpretation of these concepts can possibly lead to vice; there no less exists a perfect root of morality within them that can be exposed and utilized through study. I must defend all four of these contentions for victory:

Contention 1: Prudence is an infallible, unambiguous virtue. Oxford Dictionary: Sound in judgment; careful, cautious. Some versions of the primary virtues use the term wisdom instead of prudence, as the terms are inextricably dependant. Wisdom produces better ends; for example, studies have shown that older elephant matriarchs and patriarchs are consistently able to distinguish between friends and foes more easily, and are much better at leading their herds to safety than are the younger elephants. Many human cultures, especially Asian ones, recognize and respect without question the life-long learning of their elders. Older individuals invariably always employ more caution and care in their actions, producing consistently sounder decisions. Prudence can never be shown to be flawed.

Contention 2: Fortitude is an infallible, unambiguous virtue. Oxford Dictionary: Courage in trouble or pain. This is different than just plain courage; fortitude is courage as applied to adversity. Example: courage to play a practical joke on someone is not necessarily virtuous or moral. Courage, facing pain or adversity, is a different concept. Life could be described as simply a string of adversities, and fortitude allows us to overcome them and better ourselves. Often, bettering ourselves includes our moral state, thus strengthening our morality.

Contention 3: Justice is an infallible, unambiguous virtue. Oxford Dictionary: Justness; fairness. To be fair and just is flawlessly moral. Life can produce situations which test your ideas of fairness, and different people may have different ideas of fair, but this is not to say that ultimate fairness does not exist. Con will no doubt have examples to test me on this concept next round ;-)

Contention 4: Temperance is an infallible, unambiguous virtue. Oxford Dictionary: Moderation, esp. in eating or drinking; abstinence, esp total, from alcohol. This definition can obviously be extended to include any substances that can intoxicate you and hinder your mind state, thus hindering your moral judgment. Any time you drink or use drugs, you compromise your moral judgment.

Urdang, Laurence. The American Century Dictionary. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995
Debate Round No. 1
Nail_Bat

Con

I do believe my opponent's moral system is very well thought out, and perhaps through this debate he will be able to make it even stronger.

Prudence / Sound Judgment :

Judgment, in the most abstract, is the ability to assign qualities to entities. If there is good reason behind the assignment, we call the judgment "sound". To apply any of the other pillars of my opponent's moral system, or any moral system for that matter, we MUST have the ability to properly assign qualities to people, actions, behaviors, and events. Thus, I accept that Prudence needs to be at the very core of a moral system. The question is, however, "Is it flawless?"

For judgment to be perfect, we must believe in absolute logical truth. This means that the only statements we can call "true" are ones which can be derived from the law of non-contradiction, by way of theorems which are also true. Godel's Incompleteness theorem proves that if a system is sufficiently powerful (and the system we're talking about certainly is), there will always be statements who's truth value can not be determined by applying proven theorems. Of course what we call "reason" isn't as rigorous as formal logic, but this means that there is some room for ambiguity to creep in. Either way, we run the risk that we will come across a moral situation for which there is no provable judgment.
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Fortitude:

The willingness to endure pain caused by misfortune. Any ambiguity in this statement would be nit-picking, so I won't explore it any further.

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Justice:

The definitions of "just" and "fair" are circular. A fair judgment, aside from being an awesome Opeth song, is one in which each party gets what they deserve. How do we define what they deserve? Furthermore, what do we do in cases where being fair to Party A and being fair to Party B are mutually exclusive? To explore this concept further, I ask my opponent for a more formal definition of justice, one which does not depend on definition loops.

===========================================

Temperance:

The most simple incarnation of temperance is moderation of food and abstinence from mind altering chemicals. Of course this rules out chocolate, caffeine, and some medicine, but one could argue that the principle of temperance only applies to chemicals that alter your mind in a negative way. This does leave some room for argument though, as we now must prove that there is a perfect way to determine if something is good or bad for the body.
Rob1Billion

Pro

C1: Con is attempting to prove that prudence is ambiguous because absolute logical truth cannot be said to exist in the real world. I disagree. "Anyone who denies the law of non-contradiction should be beaten and burned until he admits that to be beaten is not the same as not to be beaten, and to be burned is not the same as not to be burned." If I chose to beat and burn you, Con(we'll see how the debate goes first though), I think you would find very suddenly that although our math tells us otherwise, there does exist absolute truths in this existence. Pain and love are absolute truths, and happen to be the very truths that morality does in fact deal with. Again, while the math may introduce hypothetical inconsistencies ("this sentence is false"), our existence is not "powerful" enough to produce these inconsistencies. We, as humans, are ultimately complex systems that experience limits in reality. Non-infinite limits. You can show mathematical inconsistencies in reality with mathematics but you cannot EXPERIENCE these inconsistencies yourself. I will be happy to entertain real-life examples of the inconsistencies you speak of.

"...there is some room for ambiguity to creep in. Either way, we run the risk that we will come across a moral situation for which there is no provable judgment."

Well, there is always a non-zero chance for anything. There is a non-zero chance that a herd of African Elephants are going to come stampeding out of my bathroom at any instant. If we allow ourselves to be guided by infinitesimal chance, then there literally is not a single sentence that any of us can say that would have any bearing on reality.

C2: Conceded by Con.

C3: A better definition is asked for. A person is demonstrating justice when he or she acts selflessly. The person is acting selflessly when he or she is able to rid the sentiments of greed, lust, envy, pride, sloth, wrath, and gluttony, and when he or she treats individuals as equals.

C4: Does overeating not count as always bad for someone? If you are eating and you have passed the point of nourishment, then you are wasting resources and hampering your body's ability to digest. Is there no chance of demonstrating that an intoxicated individual has definitely impaired his or her judgment? Con calls for "a perfect way to determine if something is good or bad for the body." Well, let's start with choking to death. Perfectly bad, if you ask me. Overdosing on alcohol. Not ultimately bad(death), but perfectly bad - a negative strain on the body. There are things that are less bad for the body, which is why there are infinite degrees of badness(temperance in this case). Amount of overeating or intoxication=amount of intemperance=amount of badness for the body. This formula is simple and unambiguous; flawless.
Debate Round No. 2
Nail_Bat

Con

Obviously, human reasoning is not as rigorous as mathematics, and I pointed this out. However, it is because it is NOT so rigorous that there is room for ambiguity. My opponent accepts that there might be a possibility of ambiguity, but it is not worth considering if the chance is only infinitesimal. In a similar vein, some human experiences, such as pain and love, are so ubiquitous that they can effectively be called universal.

The best way for me to demonstrate the flaws of perfect prudence is through an examination of the Seven Deadly Sins. The common thread behind each Sin is that each describes an excessive attachment to a particular thing. This is similar to the Buddhist concept of attachment, in which we focus so intently on one thing that our well being becomes entirely dependant on it. It is easy to see how each of the sins is an attachment.

What makes the Seven interesting is that each of those behaviors is only a sin when practiced in excess. I particularly like this aspect of the Seven Deadly Sins because it reveals how intertwined good and evil are. However, this aspect is also the Seven's downfall as a flawless system of morality.

Let me use a variety of the Sorities paradox: If I have a small heap of sand and I add one grain to it, it will still be a small heap of sand. However, if I continue adding grains, at some point the heap of sand will become big. Is there some point at which adding one grain of sand changes the heap from small to medium and then to large?

The answer is obviously no, and it introduces the biggest difference between formal and informal logic. Whether or not we can call a heap of sand "small" is an example of a Classification Problem. For this problem, there is no rigorous set of rules that can be used to differentiate a small heap from a large one. Even if one did define a small heap as one with under X grains of sand, it would still be impossibly to actually apply this rule without devoting days to counting grains.

Instead, we use a system of pattern matching which we call "intuition". When observing a heap of sand we may either project the concept of "small" or "large" on top of it. The exact mechanism of this pattern matching is almost entirely unknown to us. Intuition is based off one's experience and as such it is highly subjective.

We can apply this same pattern to any of the seven deadly sins. It is easy to spot extreme attachment, because through our experience we build up a conception of what the acceptable levels should be. Like the heap of sand, however, we can not say EXACTLY where the cut off point is. We must instead rely on our highly subjective intuition.

For my opponent's system to be flawless, we must all share the same intuition about certain core components of the system. This is demonstratably not so, therefore the only other refuge is if his system were as rigorous as a formal system so as to remove any traces of subjectivity.
Rob1Billion

Pro

The seven sins: Con is making the argument that the seven deadly sins are ambiguous, which would compromise my definition of justice. His argument involving the sand is sound; however at this juncture my formal interpretation of the seven sins has yet to be defined and instead of refuting his argument I will bypass it completely.

Con's definition of the sins involves "attachments". This is a pretty good explanation, for the most part, but it is not the definition I would use. His definition is ambiguous; mine is not.

How does my definition differ? Again, Con's definition involves "moderation". You can enjoy the seven sins to a point, but keep them under control. This creates an obvious opportunity for ambiguity. My interpretation is starkly different, however. In my interpretation, the seven sins are "intentions". Example - I see a girl at the bar, and bring her home with lust as my intention. In this case, I will fail simply because I acted out of lust. This scenario begs the question: "But what about the small chance that your lustful act actually introduces you to a woman you fall in love with and marry? Doesn't this open up the chance for ambiguity?" My answer is: only in the short run. This will unambiguously open up the chance for failure. Both of these people will always be stricken with the knowledge and insecurity that eachother acts out of lust. This insecurity will invariably lead to jealousy - the demand for the other to remain faithful. How can you trust the other person when they are not in your sight, if you know that they are capable of using this intention in and of itself? It may not be a marriage-breaker in every case, but the fact remains that the action, based on lust, will invariably cause a problem. The degree of the problem in question is outside the scope of this debate. The only way to start the relationship perfectly is to associate yourself with the person for reasons other than lust; and then the sexual relations will unfold for non-lust reasons: mainly, the opportunity to please THEM and not yourself. If you are having sex with someone to please them, then it is not lust. Lust is when you are trying to get your own rocks off and you really don't give a damn about the other person.

The other sins are similar; never should your intentions for action be lust, greed, wrath(avarice), gluttony, envy, sloth, or especially pride. Pride is the cardinal; the most dangerous; it lurks without much chance of being detected and fuels all the rest. Whenever you make an action, based on these intentions, you will be working to produce immoral results. So you see, there is no moderate vs. immoderate argument to be made. If there was, I would be toast right now!

This also begs the question about temperance. Isn't that about moderation(ambiguity)? Again, the answer really is no. A calorie count would serve as a quantifiable indicator with food, and any intoxication leads to lapse in judgment.
Debate Round No. 3
46 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by RoyLatham 7 years ago
RoyLatham
Sorry, I meant Rob not Nail_Bat.

I've never been able to figure out exactly why some debates catch on and others don't. One factor is how fast they move off the first page of recently concluded debates. A flood of debates ending can push it to the second page quickly.
Posted by Rob1Billion 7 years ago
Rob1Billion
Do we get the "most unpopular debate in history" award for this one or what?
Posted by Nail_Bat 7 years ago
Nail_Bat
You meant Rob, right?
Posted by RoyLatham 7 years ago
RoyLatham
Nail_bat, I asked why your list of virtues was superior to other lists. Your answer is it is superior because it is. I asked why tmepreance was a moral issue. You answered because individual temperance could affect other people. I asked you to use you list to flawlessly resolve some moral questins in society. You replied that your list only deals with individual moral issues, not societal issues. In disposing of "honesty" as a virtue, you invoked the Golden Rule, not one of your rules, but you separately argue that the Golden Rule is not a good moral rule.

You cannot successfully advocate why you list is flawless unless you both give a logical argument, and then show how the rules resolve virtually every moral choice. It is if you were arguing that horses are the best animals, and to every question as to why, you simply respond one more time that indeed horses are the best animals. If some suggests "tigers," you reply, "No, it's horses. Tigers have stripes."

Incidentally, I do believe in universal morality and had a good debate on that subject not long ago. It stirred up some interest. http://www.debate.org...
Posted by Nail_Bat 7 years ago
Nail_Bat
I like it. I just moved so I'm a little exhausted too. After your exams we'll do exactly that.
Posted by Rob1Billion 7 years ago
Rob1Billion
non-universal morality bothers me... nail_bat maybe we should switch sides on this debate to find truth. You argue for universal morality and I will argue against... now that would be interesting! You can't fully put yourself behind something until you know you have given each side an even chance, and I feel like I haven't given moral relativism a fair chance. I got exams though, no more debates for me for a week.
Posted by Nail_Bat 7 years ago
Nail_Bat
Yes, of course no standardized morality is going to be 100% flawless. Because of how interconnected the concepts in our head are, tiny differences can become very big, very fast. Perhaps there is a universal blueprint of morality (and the cardinal virtues/sins aren't a bad start), and the only reason different moral systems exist is because of subtle differences in the exact conception of certain core beliefs. After all, if the definition of one word changes slightly, so too does the definition of every word that is defined in terms of it, and every word defined in terms of any of those words, and so on.

It's all part of this theory of mine I'm developing which predicts that a universal moral system is inherently impossible. I've been looking for debates where I can directly apply it, and this was a good one.
Posted by Rob1Billion 7 years ago
Rob1Billion
Maik:

"continually constructed"

Correct. I learned about the four virtues in humanities 1 about 5 years ago, and I have been fascinated with them ever since. I haven't really researched them thoroughly, so I have been using my own mind to flesh them out and see if they are seaworthy. I am certainly molding them as we debate; you are helping me find the holes in my theory. I have been doing my best to taylor them to perfectness as we debate.

Do I honestly believe they are unambiguous and flawless? Well, for starters, I have learned that when you use terms like "unambiguous" and "flawless" on debate.org you are likely to get roasted. Even if you are able to defend them continuously, people just don't like flat absolute statements that seem vulnerable. Especially concepts that aren't status quo. No, I don't believe they are 100.00% unambiguous or 100.00% flawless. Life just doesn't work that way: your "locus of control" is never totally internal; in other words, you never have complete control over the outcomes of your life. Pol Pot was responsible for a million deaths in Cambodia in the late 70's, and he was never brought to justice, so you could argue that "justice" is definitely not perfect. He certainly didn't act with the intention of fairness in mind, yet he didn't seem to suffer for it.

What I do believe, however, is that a person will do well if they follow these concepts. If there is a slight margin for error, sobeit. I believe they are the true basis for morality, even without perfection, as morality is seldom perfect anyway. I believe these concepts trump all others; I doubt seriously that anyone could bring me a better list. A Pol Pot may come around and squeeze by on occasion, but that is the exception.
Posted by Nail_Bat 7 years ago
Nail_Bat
>> what is this the most unpopular debate in the history of debate.org?

>> I'm also surprised by the lack of voting, especially considering the uniqueness of the resolution.

Maybe this topic doesn't appeal to 15 year olds?
Posted by Maikuru 7 years ago
Maikuru
As I anticipated, we've come to an impasse. I cannot accept your evaluation of the example, as I find it based on assumption and continually constructed in an attempt to coincide with your model. You cannot accept my evaluation, as you find it incompatible with said model. This is the problem with non-evidence based systems; counter-interpretations either dismantle the system entirely or must be dismissed outright. In our case, I'll just thank you for the conversation =D

I'm also surprised by the lack of voting, especially considering the uniqueness of the resolution.
3 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Vote Placed by Rob1Billion 7 years ago
Rob1Billion
Nail_BatRob1BillionTied
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Vote Placed by RoyLatham 7 years ago
RoyLatham
Nail_BatRob1BillionTied
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Vote Placed by Maikuru 7 years ago
Maikuru
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