Slavery and Moral Relativism

It was suggested I make thise post on the PhilosophyGround, which I thought was a good idea.In the fascinating "American Experience" PBS documentary which, tonight, is exploring the life of Abraham Lincoln, I was struck at the logic of the debates between Lincoln and Douglas. The reasoning was based on a simple concept, which many of you and I discussed in minute detail on any number of occasions - moral relativism.Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln in 1858 were bitterly divided over the issue of slaver. Douglas argued that if the majority in a state wanted to allow the practice, who was he or anyone else to impose their views, their morals, on them? Lincoln, on the otherhand, argued passionately that slavery was, quite simply, morally wrong. While he was ambivalent over the status of those who were, at that time, called the negroes with respect to intellectual and moral capacity, he absolutely believed that their hands had as much right to enjoy a piece of bread as his, or anyone else's - that they too had inalienable rights as human beings.Well...which man was right? On what do you base your decision?For those few who are actually interested in reading transcripts of their debates, click here.

Broader philosophical point Morality is not a feeling. It's an evolutionary principle. We become aware of that principle through emotional faculties. It's foundation is neither arbitrary, nor is it negotiable. The only thing that's negotiable is whether you're "in", or "out"...and even this, when all's said or done, will be weeded out. The Middle East intellectuals are coming to grips with the fact that dictatorships are inherently weak institutions. Why? Because human synergy - the combined effort being greater than the sum of the individual parts - is critically undermined. Groups are not arbitrary. They were and are necessary aggregates of individuals that confer evolutionary advantage. Morality are the principles that allow groups to exist. Morality is, therefore, a non-negotiable property OF ALL SOCIETIES...a means of coexisting. I define "culture" as the variances amongst different peoples, but "morality" as those fundamental observances, those core behaviors that allow a group to exist in the first place. Now, the nature of societal evolution is the expansion of rights. In this way, the most important natural resource - the people - are best harnessed for the strength of the society. Our natural repulsion for "immorality" is our way of recognizing the unseen order of evolutionary advantage. This is my position on the issue - "right and wrong" are simplistic acknowledgements of intuitively obvious phenominon - a means of strengthening the tribe. It's a social homeostatic principle of the group organism.

ttt for later.

I would say not only to strengthening the tribe, but also sticking the family together. A healthy family is the core for a healthy society.

Morality is not a feeling. It's an evolutionary principle. We become aware of that principle through emotional faculties. It's foundation is neither arbitrary, nor is it negotiable. The only thing that's negotiable is whether you're "in", or "out"...and even this, when all's said or done, will be weeded out.

The Middle East intellectuals are coming to grips with the fact that dictatorships are inherently weak institutions. Why? Because human synergy - the combined effort being greater than the sum of the individual parts - is critically undermined.



"Groups are not arbitrary. They were and are necessary aggregates of individuals that confer evolutionary advantage. Morality are the principles that allow groups to exist. Morality is, therefore, a non-negotiable property OF ALL SOCIETIES...a means of coexisting."

That doesn´t follow. It may well be possible that two "morals" complement each other but don´t work if used by all.

"Now, the nature of societal evolution is the expansion of rights."

Why? And how do you define rights?

"This is my position on the issue - "right and wrong" are simplistic acknowledgements of intuitively obvious phenominon - a means of strengthening the tribe. It's a social homeostatic principle of the group organism."

Well, gropus may fall and rise in boom-bust cycles. There may be no homsthatic moral.

"The Middle East intellectuals are coming to grips with the fact that dictatorships are inherently weak institutions. Why? Because human synergy - the combined effort being greater than the sum of the individual parts - is critically undermined."

Read what you posted. Democratically organized groups can pursue immoral actions, i.e. slavery. Dictators can build infrastructure and take actions that promote economies, i.e. Pinochet. It has less to do with what formulation the government has, than what that government does. Democracies are shown to fail at great rates when the average income of its citizens are below $6000 (Fareed Zakaria, The Future of Freedom). Implementing a democracy in a situation where it is bound to fail is immoral, by your definition.

"This is my position on the issue - "right and wrong" are simplistic acknowledgements of intuitively obvious phenominon - a means of strengthening the tribe. It's a social homeostatic principle of the group organism."

This definition of morality posits an objective (strengthening of the tribe) which defines right and wrong (makes right and wrong relative to the objective). The practices that "strengthen the tribe" vary depending on how many people are included in the tribe, what their collective expectations are, and whether you intend to maximize strength in the moment or over the long run. Probably some more factors, but that is what comes off the top of my head.

I pay my slaves $8 an hour... $10 an hour to the slaves smart enough to handle more work.

Well, the problem with Douglas is that his position "what the state wants" does not include the wants of the slaves them selves... He is excluding the will of individuals who are directly involved in the issue.

That is immoral in itself, to act as though someone's opinion or view is greater than anothers.

So, he could have taken a moral stance and give everyone an even voice on the subject... If the slaves themselves agreed to it, then we would have a real philosophical quandry...

What if slavery benefited more human beings and allowed more happiness, less death, and more productive lives... would it then be wrong?

Why?

If you think that the good of the many outweighs the good of the few then yes...

Also, it should be asked whether - slavery actually could benefit more human beings and allow for more happiness (happiness for more people, or more happiness for some people???), less death, and more productive lives (more for productive for everyone, or more for some???)

AND, even if slavery is more benefical to society somehow, that itself does not resolve the question of - Is it immoral???

is Rastus gone come back and defend his thesis?

Today we can thank "goodness" that there are well placed dictators in third world countries that help keep our economies going with expendable human labor.
Without them we could not continue down the fruitful path that leads to two or three $3 coffee drinks a day and $20 a month for unlimited access to pornography.

I hope I never have to give up my coffee and porn - it's good to be a street sweeper when there are people holding on to the gutters in hopes of not falling down the cracks of society.

May the gutters stay clean and the cracks stay clear and ready for those who are not fit to work in the causal nexus that leads to my comfort!!


















If I follow Pantypeepunch's satire effectively, I think I agree... Just because something may make you and even many others happy, it does not mean it is a moral thing...

Morals should be about love, compassion, and nurturing... even if it doesn't provide any immediate gains (like abolishing slavery - which resulted in lots of chaos and malcontent, but it was moral in my opinion).

American history books are funny.

Negro equality. Fudge! How long in government of a God great enough to make and maintain this Universe, shall there continue knaves to vend fools to gulp, so low a piece of demagoguism as this.
(The collected works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler, Rutgers University Press, 1953, September 1859 (vol.III p.399))Lincoln,A (1953-55)Collected. The Abraham Lincoln Assoc. Springfield, Illinios. Roy P. Basler, Editor; Marion New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press. Contents vol. I. 1824-1848.--2.1848-1858.--3.1858-1860.--4.1860-1861.--5.1961-1862.--6.1862-1863.--7.1863-1864.--8.1864-1865.---index

In an address at Springfield, Illinios, on June 26, 1857:
A separation of the races is the only perfect preventive of amalgamation, but as immediate seperation is impossible the next best thing is to keep them apart where they are not already together...Such seperation , if ever affected at all, must be effected by colonization...The enterprise is a diffcult one one, but 'hwere there is a will there is a way;'and what colonization needs now is a hearty will. Will springs from the two elements of moral sense and self-interest. Let us be brought to believe it is morally right,and at the same time, favorable to, or at least not against, our interest, to transfer the African to his native claim, and we shall find a way to do it, however great the task my be. (vol. II, pp. 408-9)Lincoln, A. (1953-55). Collected Works

In the famous Lincoln-Douglas Debates in Charleston, Illinios. Lincoln said:

I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of white and black races. I a m not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor qualifying htem to hold office, nor intermarry with White people; and I will say in additionto this that there is a physical difference between white and black races which I believe will forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality.
(Forth Debate with Stephen A. Douglas at Charleston, Illinios on September 18, 1858 (vol. III pp. 145-146))
Lincoln, A. (1953-55) Collected Works.

The following are President Lincoln's words at a repatriation ceremony in Washinton D.C.

I have urged the colonization of the negroes, and I shall continue. My Emancapation Proclamation was linked with this plan. There is no room for two distinct races of white man in America, much less for two distinct races of whites and blacks.

I can concieve of no greater calamity than the assimilation of the negro into our social and political life as our equal...

Within twenty years we can peacefully colinze the negro and give him our language, literature, religion, and system of government under conditions in which he can rise to full measure of manhood. This he can never do here. We can never attain the ideal union our fathers dreamed, with millions of an alien, inferior race among us, whose assimilation is neither possible or desirable. (vol. V, pp. 371-5)

See our present condition -- The country engaged in war! -- our white men cutting one another's throats...and then consider what we know to be the truth.

But for your race among us there could not be war, although many engaged on either side do not care for you one way or the other...It is better for us both therefore to be seperated...

You and we are different races. We have between us abroader difference than exosts between almost any other two races. Whether it is right or wrong I need not discuss, but this physical difference is a great disadvantage tous both, as I think your race suffer very greatly, many of them by living among us, while ours suffer from your presence. In word we suffer on each side. If this be admitted, it affords a reason at least why we should be seperated. (address on Colonization to Deputation of Negroes in Washington, DC on August 14, 1862 (vol.V p. 371)

There was no black and white in this issue (excuse the pun) Lincoln didn't want them freed in America, he wanted them deported to Liberia.

Nice thought Rastus, but 'school' history books are a little lop sided to the facts of the time.

yikes - they sure are...

*runs off to the library of Congress to verify this*

By the way... INothing in that excerpt suggests that Lincoln thought slavery was OK, nor does it deal with the question of morality being an issue of the communities wishes v. morality being a universal truth.

What is - o.k.?

It does pertain to the debate if the debate is founded on a false base of discussion.

As far as communities wishes, the south had 4 billion dollars of property, half being slaves.

The North and the South had at the time about the same amount of wealth. The Government at large was almost all indusrialists from the north.

The government could not afford to reimburse the south for their freed property the way the British did the colonists when they freed the 130,000 slaves at that time. It was easier to provoke the south into a war.

The war cost the same if not more than it would have to pay the south. But after the north won they could slam heavy war levies on the south.

With the loss of their living property and returning home to a land that's over all worth had dropped 75%, the north was able to get ahead hip deep in the industrial revolution.

I would say it definitely was against the souths wishes.

Race didn't become a morality issue until the 1960's, and racism wasn't classified a sin until that time by the church.

So for someone living in the south, raised by the beliefs of the south at the time of this great debate, I would say it wasn't a morality issue.

To the north I think it was more of a let's use this morality issue to move ahead economically and politically' instead of good old fashion capitalism.

Cotton was king and the north didn't like taking second chair.

Every great nation and empire was built on slavery, Rome, Sparta, Greece itself, most of Europe, Spain, South America, Great Britian, Babylon, Egypt and America's south, indentured servents and sweat shops of America's north.

It wasn't a moral issue until the last couple of centuries.

In a way today California nod's and winks at the illegal immigrants it allows and even trys to legalize
as it's base of super cheap labor - label them what you want, it's not much different.

I guess it all depends on your religion, your social enviroment, the nations ambition in which you live, and it's awakening or should I say exceptance of the world view on slavery.

I know it would matter if you were the owned, or you were the owner of slaves.

I'm from Indiana, a state that hasn't had to deal with much of these problems over the last century face to face.

Don't know if I really contributed, or just confused this debate..............

I think you contributed.

I think you contributed, not just to the converstation but to my understanding of things.

My only feedback to your post is in response to this:

"I guess it all depends on your religion, your social enviroment, the nations ambition in which you live, and it's awakening or should I say exceptance of the world view on slavery."

This is still the main question of the thread and is as of yet unanswered... Is morality based on the elements you indicated in the above statement??? Or is a morality a universal absolute (whether or not it is recognized, practiced, or talked about)???

So, the socio-history lesson you gave may be the truth behind the North's true motivations for the war, and it may really have had nothing to do with morality... BUT, the question remians - Is slavery universally immoral (regardless of how many nations profitted from the practice) or should morality be based (is it based)on the popular vote of the community (such as being OK in the South, or in Rome, etc... because the citizens there said it was OK)???

The question is about, what defines morality...

I think the question is more; what does a moral statement mean and how do people use moral statements.