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Old 03-06-2014, 03:31 PM
 
Location: Mill Valley, California
275 posts, read 393,436 times
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SHORT VERSION: This is not asking about what it takes to be moral. It is asking what if a false belief leads totally moral people to act even more moral? Is it still okay to dissuade people of such an untrue belief, if such a belief ultimately is the source for them to act more generous, more charitable, more oriented toward giving, than they otherwise would be without the untrue belief in their lives? Could such acts of dissuasion -- since it ultimately leads to a lessening of over all goodness -- be actually considered unethical?
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FOR THOSE WHO DON'T MIND READING: This question has festered in my head since the days of the late, great Hitch publicly challenging anyone to produce a moral act that a religious person may accomplish that cannot also be accomplished by a non-believer. As we all know this challenge was never satisfied, but the above tangential issue I now raise here, did come up. Hitchens, as an vociferous anti-theist, was anchored by his belief that no untrue belief, no matter how good it might momentarily seem, could ever be prevented from someday being nudged into a moral grey area.

But this defense largely rests upon one's beliefs that irrationality cannot be controlled by anything other than its irradiation -- by simply becoming more rational. This denies the innate, unthinking human nature that, by and large, permeates all mankind, to lead people in the right direction even when they aren't being rational (if this weren't generally possible, our species would have long ago become extinct). This is especially true when it comes to morals and ethics. Liberal faiths, in particular, always bend to social change, and innate morality letting such things dictate the evolution of their dogma (rather than the other way around, like fundamentalist beliefs do). Their irrational claims tend to be little more than frosting on a cake that is indistinguishable from humanism. It doesn't seem fair to assume irrationality breed more extreme irrationality, as Hitchens position suggests. My counter-argument contends that human nature can protect the irrational from going south, and still allow irrational belief to motivate them to try harder to be moral, to do more good, and otherwise excel better than they might without their faith. In short, not all religion is poison (annoying, superfluous, silly, yes --but necessarily poison?).

If that argument is unconvincing, consider a non-religious one. Say that a popular homoeopathic practitioner who unknowingly produces a truly effective oral flu vaccine. Moreover, he sells thousands of his remedy to his credulous clientèle who are also 'anti-vax', opposed to anything pharmaceutical, and are weary of modern "western" medicine in general (an all too common lethal trifecta of woo). As long as the drug remains disguised as homoeopathic, these users become vaccinated (the false belief being promoted here, incidentally, is not homoeopathy itself, but the belief that a real vaccine is homoeopathic). If we impose the truth upon them, however, the distributor will be labelled as a "big-pharma" shill, losing his status among his vast followers, and many less people will become vaccinated for the flu.

Can people actually ethically support a lie that is evidently false, if the results of belief in the lie virtually always results in a benefit that otherwise would not exist? More controversial still -- could it not be a moral imperative, in fact, to spread such a lie, and conversely, unethical to attempt to dispel such a lie?
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Old 03-06-2014, 04:01 PM
 
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I always think that, if a lie brings benefits, finding the facts behind why is better. On balance I would prefer to base what I believe on the evidence even if some incidental benefits fall by the wayside.
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Old 03-06-2014, 04:32 PM
 
Location: Northeastern US
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Societal consensus decides what is moral. And the criteria for that is not truth, as such ... it is what most sustainably facilitates a healthy and enduring society. It is similar to how natural selection works: natural selection does not "care" about fairness or enjoyment or suffering, it only "cares" about survival of the organism, and then only long enough to pass on its genes and nurture any dependent offspring. Where morality is concerned, it's not about truth as such or even some inherent concept of "right" or "wrong", it is "does this promote the survival of society"? Or in the case of a specific society, "does this promote the sort of society that we collectively want?"

In both examples, however, over the long run, consider:

1) If humans are more likely to produce and see through the nurturing of healthy offspring, if their lives seem reasonably pleasant or at least not too unpleasant -- reasonably fair or at least not too unfair -- then even though evolution is not strictly concerned with these issues, it may select for them, incidentally.

2) If you believe that society is more likely to be sustained and stable and enduring over time if it values the mitigation of human suffering, if it values equity and justice, respect for individual and group rights, diversity, tolerance, etc., then societal morality will reflect those values, at least incidentally if not overtly. Technically all you need is adequate food, shelter, resources, and some sort of management of all those things, to create a sustainable society without regard to how the members of that society experience life. But in practice, societies compete with one another and they need not just to exist, but to thrive relative to one another as well as internally. And individuals within society must thrive in a fairly proportionate and balanced manner or internal class rivalries and such will pull the fabric of society apart eventually.

So to answer your question, morality doesn't care about being "right" or "fair" from the perspective of all comers. It just cares about the perpetuation of the society that produces the morality. It just turns out that in the long run, being "right" or "fair" intersects with that underlying interest.

Which is a long-winded way of saying I agree with Arq ;-)
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Old 03-06-2014, 05:59 PM
 
Location: Parts Unknown, Northern California
40,824 posts, read 18,553,245 times
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Is this question being presented as an absolute, as in a falsehood which produces only positive consequences? An example would be Santa Claus, a lie designed to make children happy.

Or should we be treating the question as containing variables, where the same well intended falsehood has the capacity to produce both positive and negative consequences?
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Old 03-06-2014, 10:27 PM
 
Location: Mill Valley, California
275 posts, read 393,436 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mordant View Post
...morality doesn't care about being "right" or "fair" from the perspective of all comers. It just cares about the perpetuation of the society that produces the morality. It just turns out that in the long run, being "right" or "fair" intersects with that underlying interest.
Akk! Point well taken!
I misspoke in my opening line of the summary -- when I said "act even more moral" I meant to say something like "act in a way to increase societal health" (i.e. is it unethical to dissuade perfectly moral people from believing a falsehood, if the falsehood leads to increased societal health that would otherwise cease to be if the false belief were corrected?)

My question was meant to be about the ethics of breaking people of their false beliefs if such a false belief has an objective benefit to society. Is so, would we not, as the holders of said truth, be under an ethical imperative to not only hold back this truth, but to actually engage in actively spreading the false belief to more people?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Grandstander View Post
Is this question being presented as an absolute, as in a falsehood which produces only positive consequences? An example would be Santa Claus, a lie designed to make children happy.

Or should we be treating the question as containing variables, where the same well intended falsehood has the capacity to produce both positive and negative consequences?
Yes, I understand your confusion. Sorry, my blunder. I am interested in a falsehood that produces only positive consequences.

Quote:
Originally Posted by AREQUIPA View Post
I always think that, if a lie brings benefits, finding the facts behind why is better. On balance I would prefer to base what I believe on the evidence even if some incidental benefits fall by the wayside.
I am not merely wondering if individuals prefer truth over beneficial fictions. Rather, I am asking whether we, as the possessors of the truth already, have an ethical obligation to avoid disseminating this kind truth to everyone if we are virtually guaranteed to lose this incidental societal benefit associated with the false belief in the process? Moreover and much to the contrary, rather than fighting the falsehood, would it not actually be more ethical for us to actually promote the false belief, even though we know the truth?
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Old 03-06-2014, 10:42 PM
 
Location: Parts Unknown, Northern California
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HopOnPop View Post



Yes, I understand your confusion. Sorry, my blunder. I am interested in a falsehood that produces only positive consequences.

Very well, thank you.

As an absolute which yields only positive consequences, the issue becomes one of the assumption that you are qualified or have the right to determine someone else's perceptions of reality. When you present a falsehood to someone, even with only positive motives, that is still you deciding for that someone else the choice between illusion or reality.

As such, it would seem no problem when employed for the benefit of a child, or for the benefit of a confused elderly loved one, i.e, someone for whom the reality would be baffling or needlessly disturbing.

But for someone who in theory is as capable of intellectual discernment as yourself, I think the truth is in order and that person is as entitled to the reality of matters as you are, even if that reality is unwelcome.

The foundation of my argument is that I would not be appreciative of someone else making the call regarding my ability to cope with reality.

Would you?
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Old 03-07-2014, 01:22 AM
 
Location: Mill Valley, California
275 posts, read 393,436 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Grandstander View Post
Very well, thank you.

But for someone who in theory is as capable of intellectual discernment as yourself, I think the truth is in order and that person is as entitled to the reality of matters as you are, even if that reality is unwelcome.
It's not merely an unwelcome truth, but a truth that directly carries with it a lessening in societal health. Is it not more ethical to do whatever on can to increase the benefits to society and avoid lessening them?

Quote:
The foundation of my argument is that I would not be appreciative of someone else making the call regarding my ability to cope with reality.
Would you?
Like you, I probably would not be appreciative anyone else making that call for me, but our appreciation doesn't really address the ethical dilemma I am proposing here. Independent of such subjectiveness (like whether or not one appreciates or prefers one situation over the other) there is still the ethical issue proposed in the hypothetical. Namely, given that a falsehood leads to more measurable benefit for society and, conversely, the truth leads to less measurable benefit to society, would it not, under these circumstances, seem more ethical to propagate the lie, and less ethical (or even unethical) to propagate the truth?
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Old 03-07-2014, 02:17 AM
 
7,802 posts, read 5,278,109 times
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I am going to go with a "yes" to the opening Title of the thread. I can understand the OP tending towards a "No" however when using isolated examples. When we look at isolated examples in the short term, or in an isolated context, we can easily argue a "no" position. The Homeopathy example given is a good one. If the "lie" can help distribute a powerful vaccine to an anti-vax population then on the face of it this supports a "No" argument. But I would bring up a few issues here:

1) In many examples, including the OPs own Homeopathy one, we have to look at the knock on effects too. Not just the isolated example. Here we would be lending credence to homeopathy as a whole due to supporting the lie of one actually effective medicine (though to be pedantic homeopathy by its very nature will never produce such a mistake but that is a side issue). And supporting that lie is a bad thing overall. So even if there is an isolated benefit within the entire network of lies.... the harm of supporting that network just to support one beneficial effect is highly questionable.

2) Point 1 is about the problem of the limited scope of our question set. Point 2 is about the limited scope in our temporal view. Lies and falsehoods over time almost invariably lead to harm. A lie about there being a god for example might cause a few people to act more morally as the OPs thesis suggests. But eventually a differences of opinion about this god will lead to irreconcilable opinions and arguments. And one of the, if not the biggest, beefs I have with religion is that it leads to irreconcilable differences of opinion and therefore a break down in the most important tool we as a species have for our continued well being: Discourse.

3) Lying and dishonesty we view as a moral "wrong". While I fully believe that morality is contextual and subjective, not objective, it would certainly make me uncomfortable to support such a sweeping caveat to that entire moral stand point. I support honesty where at all possible and dishonesty only where the context for it is not just beneficial, but powerfully so. I would include the support of honest in any profit and loss evaluation of any decision. A loss of it should be included in the expenses column of evaluating the profit from any "good".

SO while I have sympathy for the OP taking isolated (in scope and time) examples and being pulled towards a "No" here.... I think if we look at the full scope and context we are forced to support a "yes" vote. World views divorced from reality likely do have short term benefits but in evaluating their effects and utility and efficacy we simply must look at much more than the short term.

For this reason I propose the motion.

On a side note to the OP: Sam Harris wrote a book called "Lying" which I have not had time yet to read but I believe your question is one that he deals with within it. If you read it do report back. If I get around to reading it I will adumbrate his views on the matter on this thread some day.
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Old 03-07-2014, 04:48 AM
 
Location: City-Data Forum
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A false-hood that produces only positive consequences? Believing a false-hood is bound to make you fall off a cliff sooner or later. I guess it depends on the goals of the people involved and how does goals intermingle and respond to persuasion. If I could perhaps get a clear example of such an eternally good false-hood which I can't assail with counter-examples of how the full truth would have been better and the lie itself would be a harm of Paternalism against Dignity with a direct eventual causation of worse outcomes, then I might think over about this a bit more.
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Old 03-07-2014, 07:17 AM
 
Location: Parts Unknown, Northern California
40,824 posts, read 18,553,245 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HopOnPop View Post
It's not merely an unwelcome truth, but a truth that directly carries with it a lessening in societal health. Is it not more ethical to do whatever on can to increase the benefits to society and avoid lessening them?

Like you, I probably would not be appreciative anyone else making that call for me, but our appreciation doesn't really address the ethical dilemma I am proposing here. Independent of such subjectiveness (like whether or not one appreciates or prefers one situation over the other) there is still the ethical issue proposed in the hypothetical. Namely, given that a falsehood leads to more measurable benefit for society and, conversely, the truth leads to less measurable benefit to society, would it not, under these circumstances, seem more ethical to propagate the lie, and less ethical (or even unethical) to propagate the truth?
I had thought we were addressing the issue on an individual level rather than a societal one.

That would be another debate entirely and I would ask you to provide an example of a falsehood imposed upon a society which has only a positive side. The very fact that you are going to lengths to conceal some truth from the population at large suggests that we are far from a negative free dynamic...and that was your premise.
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