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  1. #1
    GemQuest Moderator Gary Wassner's Avatar
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    Theory and Practice

    Can we fault someone for protecting their own family at the expense of another when the only certainty is that one or the other will die? If we are not faced with a choice, is it wrong to sit back and watch as injustices are committed? What are our responsibilities as human beings?

    I talk a lot about morality and ethical choice. I talk a lot about how, without God, there is no right an wrong. The theorhetical and the practical are infinitely far apart.

    Every time I see a movie or read a book, (Sophie's Choice, Schindler's List, Good, Defiance etc) that deals with what happened in Nazi Germany, all my babbling about the fact that good and evil are relative flies out the window.

    My heart bleeds, and I know that I couldn't live with myself if I sat back and watched innocents murdered next door to me. But should I risk my own family to help another's?

    Tough questions.

    I'm convinced that the only way anyone could have done anything to help the victims of Hilter's Germany was to escape the country and organize from abroad, where your loved ones wouldn't be threatened directly.

    Theory and practice.

  2. #2
    aka Radone Davis Ashura's Avatar
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    Or, convince the Jews, homosexuals, Gypsies, and others incinerated by the Germans to all carry guns. Lots of guns and learn to use them properly. BTW, first.

  3. #3
    Why is there no right or wrong without God? Atheists know the difference between right and wrong too, and can be just as moral as the religious. Some people define right and wrong by their own code, by society, by what their religion tells them or by what they are taught. Belief in God is just one path to morality.

    At any rate, sometimes when injustices are happening, we are afraid. Afraid for ourselves, afraid for what might happen to loved ones, afraid for consequences. There is also wanting to stay out of it, and letting someone else deal with it. If you heard a woman screaming and crying for help, you would call the police right? Yet when one woman was screaming and crying, she was stabbed, got away, and killed - all the while dozens of people heard but not one called the police until after she was fatally stabbed. Nobody wanted to get involved and everyone assumed someone else would call.

    What we think we would do and what we actually do are very different things.

  4. #4
    GemQuest Moderator Gary Wassner's Avatar
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    Aurian, you misunderstand me when I speak of right and wrong. What I'm referring to is ultimate right and wrong that's not relative or constructed or created. In other words, there's no definition of right that transcends the society and circumstances from which it arises.

    That's not the worst thing. It's not so awful. But God is supposed to be that definition, or at least to ground that definition, rendering it immutable.

    How do we define our personal right and wrong? When is it okay to allow injustice, assuming we are agreed (within our societal context) on our defintion of injustice? Or must we alter that definition in our consciences in order to turn our backs on it?

  5. #5
    >:|Angry Beaver|:< Fung Koo's Avatar
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    It seems to me that a sense of helplessness/powerlessness is the excuse for the vast majority of continuing injustice in the world. It's also the reason for voter apathy, strangely enough.

    Helplessness/powerlessness -- is this illusory?

    Take the current situation in Israel. Theory - right or wrong? I say wrong. Damned wrong, in fact. Immutably and relatively. In practice, I want all western nations to utterly abandon Israel and let them fend for themselves. Face their music, reap what they've sown.

    In Canada, I have very little chance of being able to affect this via the usual channels. But, I'd wager there's a much stronger possibility of success that I could (via the democratic channel, assuming a lack of general apathy about the issue) succeed in changing Canada's policy toward Israel than an American citizen would in changing Americas policy toward Israel.

    So, theory vs. practice... Both have a degree of relatively built in.

    So does that change the question at all, or leave it where it was?

  6. #6
    aka Radone Davis Ashura's Avatar
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    Drifting into a bit of politics, Fung, but I will only say that on Israel I disagree with you, totally and completely.
    Where does the relativity of theory come into play? In how we interpret the morality that might spring from God? Muslims have it easier than any other religious folk: the Qu'ran is supposed to be the unaltered Word of God - perfect in all ways - as opposed to the Bible and Torah, which are said to be inspired by God. Or the Vedas, which were also written by men. Even Muslims, though, constantly argue and war over who is interpretting the Qu'ran correctly. If they can't agree on the terms in what to them is the Word of God, who can?

  7. #7
    Registered User falcon57's Avatar
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    In a very boring world all decisions could be handled like this:

    1) List all alternatives.
    2) Assign to each alternative a unique number.
    3) Pick that alternative with the greatest Value.

    All we would have to do is learning how to make lists of all alternatives and learning the theory how to assess them correctly. So, they decided happily ever after ;-)

    Of course this sucks in all points. First it's not possible to list all alternatives, there might be just too manyof them. Second, it may not be possible to assign a number at all (inacceptable alternatives). Third, you may run into cycles. (A is better than B, B is better than C, and C is better than A). Forth, you might want to give several alternatives the same number (avoid arbitrary/discriminating decisions).

    Practice is if you decide anyway ;-)

  8. #8
    >:|Angry Beaver|:< Fung Koo's Avatar
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    Radone -- There are many, many Christian literalists, too. And in about the same abundance as there are Muslim and Jewish literalists. It seems fairly certain to me that morality is mostly relative, but largely common -- that is, on average morality generally adheres to something like an absolute, with a variety of exceptions or variances.

    I was more getting to the efficacy of practicing what you believe.

    So I return a challenge then to Gary, as the OP, and everyone else to opine. Is there such a thing as theory without practice?

  9. #9
    Just Another Philistine Hereford Eye's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GW
    How do we define our personal right and wrong? When is it okay to allow injustice, assuming we are agreed (within our societal context) on our defintion of injustice?
    I propose there is no connection between our personal right and wrong and when it is okay to allow injustice. Yeah, I know FK went on about helplessness/powerlessness but I suspect that isn't the the issue at all.
    I suspect that the issue is that we have a finite limit to the amount of energy we can put into a problem. We tend to pour that energy into problems close to home, the closer the better. Problems in the society around us receive less and less of our give-a-shite the further away they take place.
    We are taught to perform in this manner, taught there are folk who have legitimate claims on us and folk who do not. Sometimes, we are taught to hate these others but always we are shown that non-action does not constitue a wrong.
    I suspect people have no crisis of conscience when they decide to not pay attention to Myanmar or Darfur or The Bowery or South Phoenix. Those places are too far away to invest limited psychic resources. It is not that we don't care. We might care a lot - in principle - but in practice, we just don't have the resources to expend. Unless it's cash we're talking about. Then, within our limited resources, we can shake a bit cash loose and feel better about taking action.
    People who do not act as I am suggesting are referred to as saints. Saints care about others more than they care about themselve and those close to them. There are no saints in our world. And before folk begin to cite examples of modern day saints, I will simply point out that those considered saintly merely shifted their frame of reference from self and family to self and different family. These saints ceased caring about those they left behind to concentrate on their new flocks. They might even be a manifestation of OC disorder.

  10. #10
    >:|Angry Beaver|:< Fung Koo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hereford Eye View Post
    ...but always we are shown that non-action does not constitue a wrong.
    Overall, well said. But this line intrigues me. This is a big topic in schools right now because of bullying (injustice!). And what kids are taught in schools will play out in the larger culture in about 20 years, so...

    The previous mindset was that the victim should toughen up and stand their ground against the bully. It was seen as developing character. Tattling was for the weak. The line that the bystander was fed was basically "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all" -- the non-action that is not wrong. Excusable complicity. If you don't contribute to the situation, you're not culpable. Furthermore, if you contribute inappropriately (overstep your bounds and tattle), you take away the learning experience from victim, and doom them to a life of weakness.

    But this has been flipped on its head -- now, we tell the victim to tattle. We tell the bystander that to do nothing is to be complicit. So both bystander and victim should tattle. So we get the "Don't be a Rat" t-shirts. The bully should accommodate the needs of his/her victim. In otherwords, we're teaching a full generation of kids, for the first time, that non-action is the same as complicity/accessory.

    If what you're saying is true, and that practice is primarily localized about the self, does the above institutional change in our approach to bullying -- with particular reference to the bystander -- meet with the underlying theory? In otherwords, is the new system more moral or less moral?

  11. #11
    and I like to party. Seak's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by falcon57 View Post
    Of course this sucks in all points. First it's not possible to list all alternatives, there might be just too manyof them. Second, it may not be possible to assign a number at all (inacceptable alternatives). Third, you may run into cycles. (A is better than B, B is better than C, and C is better than A). Forth, you might want to give several alternatives the same number (avoid arbitrary/discriminating decisions).

    Practice is if you decide anyway ;-)
    This is why the free market works better than communism or socialism. There is no way for the government to predict demand for anything. What is the socially optimal? The government cannot find this optimal point because it involves extrapolation.

    At the same time, we recently learned in the US that some regulation may be necessary. Just look at AIG and other such companies that were taken over by the government because they made such terrible decisions based on unwarranted market predictions.

    Mr. Wassner, you raise a tough question. I read a book last year on Helmut H&#252;bener and his friends, who fought the Nazis by handing out and posting anti-Nazi flyers. He was brought all the way to the Germany equivalent of Supreme Court (Bundesgericht or something close) and everyone of them was worried about their families. Luckily, their families weren't hurt because they had no idea.

    I still admire and respect him and his friends for doing what he did and I would hope to do the same, knowing what he knew. Even though it endangered his family, I don't think I could have lived with myself if I didn't try.
    Last edited by Seak; January 5th, 2009 at 02:10 PM. Reason: Getting on topic

  12. #12
    Or, convince the Jews, homosexuals, Gypsies, and others incinerated by the Germans to all carry guns. Lots of guns and learn to use them properly. BTW, first.

    All those other groups (Jews, gypsies, etc) were vastly outnumbered and dispersed. Also, there was a very real and legitimate fear of Communist terrorists plotting to destabilize the country in preparation for a takeover. Would the already-frightened public stand for arming and organizing those out-groups?

    Regarding Israel: Hamas' intentions and actions were intolerable and action had to be taken. It's not pretty, but real life never is.

    To all

    If we're talking practice here, then I suggest somebody volunteer a concrete example up for analysis.

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by Gary Wassner View Post
    Aurian, you misunderstand me when I speak of right and wrong. What I'm referring to is ultimate right and wrong that's not relative or constructed or created. In other words, there's no definition of right that transcends the society and circumstances from which it arises.

    That's not the worst thing. It's not so awful. But God is supposed to be that definition, or at least to ground that definition, rendering it immutable.

    How do we define our personal right and wrong? When is it okay to allow injustice, assuming we are agreed (within our societal context) on our defintion of injustice? Or must we alter that definition in our consciences in order to turn our backs on it?
    Someone made a very good point about perceived power.... There are many things I disagree with, that I feel are wrong, but I do not feel like I have the power to change them. My twenty dollars does not make much difference. My letter to the editor does not make much difference. My hour of volunteering does not make much difference. Sure, they might HELP, but they won`t change the problems. It feels like that the ones with the power are the leaders. But my one vote does not affect my leaders (and what if I don`t like ANY of them?). I do not have the temperment, drive or ability to be a leader. I do not have the power to change the laws or the voting format (first-past-the-post voting really kills voter enthusiam!).

    So what can I do about homelessness, laws, Isreal and Darfur?

    I am just one voice amongst many, and mine is not a loud one.

  14. #14
    and I like to party. Seak's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aurian View Post
    Someone made a very good point about perceived power.... There are many things I disagree with, that I feel are wrong, but I do not feel like I have the power to change them. My twenty dollars does not make much difference. My letter to the editor does not make much difference. My hour of volunteering does not make much difference. Sure, they might HELP, but they won`t change the problems. It feels like that the ones with the power are the leaders. But my one vote does not affect my leaders (and what if I don`t like ANY of them?). I do not have the temperment, drive or ability to be a leader. I do not have the power to change the laws or the voting format (first-past-the-post voting really kills voter enthusiam!).

    So what can I do about homelessness, laws, Isreal and Darfur?

    I am just one voice amongst many, and mine is not a loud one.
    There have been papers and books published discussing the problem with democracy where it doesn't choose the right people for the job.

    In essence, this theory discusses the fact that because our votes don't matter, no one takes the effort to become informed. Thus, we are ignorant in democratic nations; voting in ignorance and choosing ignorant people for the job.

    I hate to say it, but I don't think this is that far off.

  15. #15
    aka Radone Davis Ashura's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RAD View Post
    [I]All those other groups (Jews, gypsies, etc) were vastly outnumbered and dispersed. Also, there was a very real and legitimate fear of Communist terrorists plotting to destabilize the country in preparation for a takeover. Would the already-frightened public stand for arming and organizing those out-groups?
    All that is true, and they chose inaction because of those reasons. They paid a horrific price. Would having guns have made a difference? Could it have made it worse? The biggest obstacle, I see, to overcome would have been the lack of organization and centralization.

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