Welcome guest, is this your first visit? Create Account now to join.
  • Login:

Welcome to the Online Debate Network.

If this is your first visit, be sure to check out the FAQ by clicking the link above. You may have to register before you can post: click the register link above to proceed.

Page 1 of 2 1 2 LastLast
Results 1 to 20 of 21
  1. #1
    Registered User

    Join Date
    Jul 2006
    Location
    Madison, Wisconsin
    Posts
    385
    Post Thanks / Like

    Legislating Morality

    I was thinking of this as I read the thread about California lifting the ban on gay marriage. Someone brought up the point that the legislature (and government in general) has the duty to uphold the moral ideas of the majority. That's basically what Democracy argues, is it not?

    My question is, is this the way it should be? Certainly we can point to cases in which the morals of the majority were entirely bankrupt (slavery and subsequent segregation spring to mind). At some point we have to realize that the people aren't always right. The trouble is, we don't really have any way to judge objectively what right is.

    My question, how do we create a system in which something morally right could be done in spite of the false beliefs of a majority. Is there any way to do this without giving power to a minority (which could turn out to be wrong, itself)?

    It's a tricky topic. I'm not too sure. I guess it just seems wrong for the moral majority to dictate its morals on everyone else, even in a Democracy, and still hold onto the belief that they promote "freedom and equality."
    So...

    I finaggled my way into being able to do a Philosophy minor. I blame you, ODN.


  2. #2
    Super Moderator

    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Location
    East Lansing, MI
    Posts
    10,659
    Post Thanks / Like

    Re: Legislating Morality

    Actually, we shouldn't, and pretty much don't, legislate morality.

    Democracy means we elect our own leaders, not that we allow the majority to force its will (and morality) on everyone else.

    As far as laws go, we are a constitutional republic. We have a founding document and what are laws can and can't be are based on that.

    And in California the court decided that laws against gay marriage were in violation of the state constitution, not what the majority of citizens wanted, and therefore overturned those laws because they were unconstitutional (and btw, this is not legislating from the bench as legislating is creating laws, not removing laws).

    Now of course constitutions can be altered and this may happen in California in the near future where the public can vote to amend the constitution so the public want is not irrelevant.

  3. #3
    Registered User

    Join Date
    Jul 2006
    Location
    Madison, Wisconsin
    Posts
    385
    Post Thanks / Like

    Re: Legislating Morality

    Yup, that's basically the impression I get. The trouble is in exactly what might happen in California: if there is a big enough, or active enough, majority, then the Constitution, a document designed to protect people from exactly that sort of oppression, can be changed. How bizarre is that?
    So...

    I finaggled my way into being able to do a Philosophy minor. I blame you, ODN.


  4. #4
    ODN Community Regular

    Join Date
    Aug 2005
    Location
    Canada
    Posts
    4,156
    Post Thanks / Like

    Re: Legislating Morality

    Well, the idea that the legislative branch is held in check by a constitution is a testament to the fact that we universalize certain values, regardless of the whims of the present majority. Only with very widespread consent can a constitution be amended, which means that we hold certain values to a higher standard than a simple majority of moral opinion.
    [CENTER]-=] Starcreator [=-

  5. #5
    ODN Community Regular

    Join Date
    Aug 2004
    Location
    Wheaton, IL
    Posts
    13,847
    Post Thanks / Like

    Re: Legislating Morality

    Quote Originally Posted by starcreator
    Well, the idea that the legislative branch is held in check by a constitution is a testament to the fact that we universalize certain values, regardless of the whims of the present majority. Only with very widespread consent can a constitution be amended, which means that we hold certain values to a higher standard than a simple majority of moral opinion.
    The "whims" of the present majority can be the foundation of Constitutional amendments; the Constitution is simply a piece of legislation.

    We don't "universalize" certain values; we enact Constitutional amendments that 2/3 of the states ratify. With the U.S., that happened to be Western concepts of liberty, limited government, religious freedom, and so on. That could all be changed if enough people wanted it to.
    If I am capable of grasping God objectively, I do not believe, but precisely because I cannot do this I must believe. - Soren Kierkegaard
    **** you, I won't do what you tell me

    HOLY CRAP MY BLOG IS AWESOME

  6. #6
    Registered User

    Join Date
    Jan 2006
    Posts
    352
    Post Thanks / Like

    Re: Legislating Morality

    I think that legislation needs to stop at the point where there is no concrete negative effect in the thing they are outlawing. Things like stealing, killing, etc. have clear negative effects and we can see that they should be outlawed. Things like same-sex marriage bans are based on it not fitting in to people's personal moral and religious beliefs and they are simply imposing those beliefs on the rest of society.

  7. #7
    ODN Community Regular

    Join Date
    Aug 2004
    Location
    Wheaton, IL
    Posts
    13,847
    Post Thanks / Like

    Re: Legislating Morality

    Quote Originally Posted by YamiB.
    I think that legislation needs to stop at the point where there is no concrete negative effect in the thing they are outlawing. Things like stealing, killing, etc. have clear negative effects and we can see that they should be outlawed. Things like same-sex marriage bans are based on it not fitting in to people's personal moral and religious beliefs and they are simply imposing those beliefs on the rest of society.
    I am sympathetic to your position, and generally agree with it, but your objection needs to be finer-tuned, I think.

    The problem with banning same-sex marriage is not that it imposes personal moral and religious beliefs on others; the problem is that it does so in the absence of demonstrable harm to another party. Laws against murder, for instance, impose personal moral and frequently religious beliefs on others, but those laws are perfectly fine.
    If I am capable of grasping God objectively, I do not believe, but precisely because I cannot do this I must believe. - Soren Kierkegaard
    **** you, I won't do what you tell me

    HOLY CRAP MY BLOG IS AWESOME

  8. #8
    Registered User

    Join Date
    Jan 2006
    Posts
    352
    Post Thanks / Like

    Re: Legislating Morality

    Ah yeah I should have said it as the only reason for it is because of the personal morality of the individuals banning it. It seems to me that one the only reason for something is based solely on personal morality then those people are unjustly imposing their morality on others without good reason.

    In the specific case of same-sex marriage I think that there could be a strong argument made that the opposition against it is almost completely religiously motivated and passing laws based on religion would violate the religious freedom of the citizens living under those laws.

  9. #9
    ODN Community Regular

    Join Date
    Aug 2004
    Location
    Wheaton, IL
    Posts
    13,847
    Post Thanks / Like

    Re: Legislating Morality

    Quote Originally Posted by YamiB.
    Ah yeah I should have said it as the only reason for it is because of the personal morality of the individuals banning it. It seems to me that one the only reason for something is based solely on personal morality then those people are unjustly imposing their morality on others without good reason.
    I think that's wrong. Nobody would outlaw murder if they thought it was good; the only reason for outlawing it is that it is undesired behavior. The question isn't about whether we should enforce morality; the question is which immoral acts should be outlawed. The parameters for a law are typically that the act be undesirable, and also results in demonstrable harm. Some demonstrable harm is desirable--killing in self-defense, for instance--and some undesirable acts are not harmful--like, one might argue, same-sex marriage.
    If I am capable of grasping God objectively, I do not believe, but precisely because I cannot do this I must believe. - Soren Kierkegaard
    **** you, I won't do what you tell me

    HOLY CRAP MY BLOG IS AWESOME

  10. #10
    Registered User

    Join Date
    Jan 2006
    Posts
    352
    Post Thanks / Like

    Re: Legislating Morality

    Quote Originally Posted by CliveStaples View Post
    I think that's wrong. Nobody would outlaw murder if they thought it was good; the only reason for outlawing it is that it is undesired behavior. The question isn't about whether we should enforce morality; the question is which immoral acts should be outlawed. The parameters for a law are typically that the act be undesirable, and also results in demonstrable harm. Some demonstrable harm is desirable--killing in self-defense, for instance--and some undesirable acts are not harmful--like, one might argue, same-sex marriage.
    The demonstrable harm is the same as the idea of concrete negative effects I brought up in my first post. Murder is not outlawed simply because people think it's bad, but because it can be shown to have a negative effect on those who are killed and those close to them.

    For example laws against sodomy where put there because the actions were deemed undesirable. But there were no concrete negative effects coming from the actual banned act so I believe it was correct to strike down the anti-sodomy laws.

  11. #11
    ODN Community Regular

    Join Date
    Aug 2004
    Location
    Wheaton, IL
    Posts
    13,847
    Post Thanks / Like

    Re: Legislating Morality

    Quote Originally Posted by YamiB.
    The demonstrable harm is the same as the idea of concrete negative effects I brought up in my first post. Murder is not outlawed simply because people think it's bad, but because it can be shown to have a negative effect on those who are killed and those close to them.

    For example laws against sodomy where put there because the actions were deemed undesirable. But there were no concrete negative effects coming from the actual banned act so I believe it was correct to strike down the anti-sodomy laws.
    Yes, but my point is that the presence of demonstrable harm alone isn't sufficient for the act to be outlawed/disallowed; it must also be considered bad/undesirable/immoral.
    If I am capable of grasping God objectively, I do not believe, but precisely because I cannot do this I must believe. - Soren Kierkegaard
    **** you, I won't do what you tell me

    HOLY CRAP MY BLOG IS AWESOME

  12. #12
    Registered User

    Join Date
    Jan 2006
    Posts
    352
    Post Thanks / Like

    Re: Legislating Morality

    Quote Originally Posted by CliveStaples View Post
    Yes, but my point is that the presence of demonstrable harm alone isn't sufficient for the act to be outlawed/disallowed; it must also be considered bad/undesirable/immoral.
    I suppose this is true because the actions being considered negative means that they are essentially considered immoral. So yes I do think both are involved, I can't think of a case where there would be demonstrable harm would be on it's own as a reason for something being banned although I still see it as the core reason.

  13. #13
    ODN Community Regular

    Join Date
    Aug 2005
    Location
    Canada
    Posts
    4,156
    Post Thanks / Like

    Re: Legislating Morality

    Quote Originally Posted by CliveStaples View Post
    The "whims" of the present majority can be the foundation of Constitutional amendments; the Constitution is simply a piece of legislation.

    We don't "universalize" certain values; we enact Constitutional amendments that 2/3 of the states ratify. With the U.S., that happened to be Western concepts of liberty, limited government, religious freedom, and so on. That could all be changed if enough people wanted it to.
    Yeah, that's why I mentioned that very widespread consent can overturn constitutional mandate. I think the comment about those values being universalized was clarified when I said that we merely "hold certain values to a higher standard than a simple majority of moral opinion."
    [CENTER]-=] Starcreator [=-

  14. #14
    ODN Community Regular

    Join Date
    Aug 2004
    Location
    Wheaton, IL
    Posts
    13,847
    Post Thanks / Like

    Re: Legislating Morality

    Quote Originally Posted by starcreator
    Yeah, that's why I mentioned that very widespread consent can overturn constitutional mandate. I think the comment about those values being universalized was clarified when I said that we merely "hold certain values to a higher standard than a simple majority of moral opinion."
    We don't hold "certain values" to a higher standard. We hold whatever values happen to be in the Constitution to a higher standard; it isn't the particular values that trigger the "higher standard"--at least, not directly.
    If I am capable of grasping God objectively, I do not believe, but precisely because I cannot do this I must believe. - Soren Kierkegaard
    **** you, I won't do what you tell me

    HOLY CRAP MY BLOG IS AWESOME

  15. #15
    Registered User

    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Posts
    232
    Post Thanks / Like

    Re: Legislating Morality

    Quote Originally Posted by Hope View Post
    My question, how do we create a system in which something morally right could be done in spite of the false beliefs of a majority. Is there any way to do this without giving power to a minority (which could turn out to be wrong, itself)?
    According to classical liberal ideology, 2 factors make the answer to your question more likely to be "yes": representation and checks-and-balances. Both these factors make it less likely that the majority will "dictate its morals" on the minority, thus making non-partisan solutions more likely.

    1) Representation:
    Although a moral majority might exist, a large enough representative democracy will make it difficult for the majority to coalesce and carry out its plans of oppression. This is because: a) the size of the democracy will make it less likely that the majority can communicate or come together to form its plans of oppression. b) a large enough democracy will be more likely to elect "Enlightened Statesmen"* (see definition at bottom), because these ES will be more likely to appease diverse groups in the democracy and so get elected. After election, these ES will be more likely to implement non-partisan solutions.

    2) Checks-And-Balances:
    As Starcreator pointed out, the Constitution contains CAB that make it less likely that the majority will implement plans of moral oppression, through 2 ways: a) the current constitution contains values and procedures developed by ES, who are by definition more likely to implement non-partisan solutions. So, apart from from upholding non-partisan values (whatever the heck they are... liberty, equality?), the constitution also has non-partisan procedures such as rigorous constitution amendment procedures. b) the founding fathers built the constitution such that the energies of the majority are consumed when the different branches of the government squabble within themselves, and so are less likely to be able to oppress the minority. In other words, the branches are highly interdependent (the executive on the approval of the president; the judiciary in part appointed by the president etc.); their mutual interactions and struggles for power make it less likely that they will concert together and oppress the minority.


    Premises
    All this rests on some Classical Liberal premises that you may reject, such as:
    1) There exist ES.
    2) People are inherently factious, and so will naturally form competing factions, unless impeded by circumstances. (Consequently, different branches of the government will also squabble.)

    I compressed the explanations, so if you want me to elaborate on something, ask.

    *Enlightened Statesmen are those people who are so wise as to be more likely to overcome selfish interests and urges; ES will consequently try to forego partisan solutions for non-partisan ones.

  16. #16
    Registered User

    Join Date
    Jul 2006
    Location
    Madison, Wisconsin
    Posts
    385
    Post Thanks / Like

    Re: Legislating Morality

    Quote Originally Posted by Muse
    This is because: a) the size of the democracy will make it less likely that the majority can communicate or come together to form its plans of oppression.
    I see one problem with this, and it has to do with modern technology: physical/geographic separation is no longer a guarantee for separation of the majority. Just look at groups like the religious right or the ACLU. You can mobilize an entire population using the internet, cable TV, the radio, etc.

    Quote Originally Posted by Muse
    b) the founding fathers built the constitution such that the energies of the majority are consumed when the different branches of the government squabble within themselves
    So, basically, they built in the inefficiency of our government so as to sap energy from potentially oppressive movements?

    As for the points about Enlightened Statesmen, I guess I would point out that, ultimately, these are people who head populist movements, right? So, this could potentially lead to domination of a majority? Even if it's just a majority via coalition? I think that a significantly powerful influence from a group or individual is generally a "circumstance" that causes people to not form factions.
    So...

    I finaggled my way into being able to do a Philosophy minor. I blame you, ODN.


  17. #17
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Location
    Planet Earth
    Posts
    32
    Post Thanks / Like

    Re: Legislating Morality

    "Only with very widespread consent can a constitution be amended, which means that we hold certain values to a higher standard than a simple majority of moral opinion."

    Consider that over 66% of the People expressed thier will stating that marriage is between one man and one woman (even if the marriage was entered into in another state that allows same-sex marriage). A majority vote to change the Constitution is a very real possibility,

  18. #18
    ODN Community Regular

    Join Date
    Aug 2005
    Location
    Canada
    Posts
    4,156
    Post Thanks / Like

    Re: Legislating Morality

    Quote Originally Posted by CliveStaples View Post
    We don't hold "certain values" to a higher standard. We hold whatever values happen to be in the Constitution to a higher standard; it isn't the particular values that trigger the "higher standard"--at least, not directly.
    Ah, yes, why engage in principled debate when you can just have a menial semantic one? What are you taking issue with, exactly, the fact that I didn't specify that the values were the ones in the constitution? You're just taking my argument and rendering the implicit explicit, not refuting it.

    Quote Originally Posted by YahooYeager View Post
    "Only with very widespread consent can a constitution be amended, which means that we hold certain values to a higher standard than a simple majority of moral opinion."

    Consider that over 66% of the People expressed thier will stating that marriage is between one man and one woman (even if the marriage was entered into in another state that allows same-sex marriage). A majority vote to change the Constitution is a very real possibility,
    Then let them change the constitution. But in the interim, if the constitution contradicts a gay marriage ban, then the judges must strike it down - regardless of the popular will. The 66% figure isn't relevant to the judges' decision.
    [CENTER]-=] Starcreator [=-

  19. #19
    ODN Community Regular

    Join Date
    Aug 2004
    Location
    Wheaton, IL
    Posts
    13,847
    Post Thanks / Like

    Re: Legislating Morality

    Quote Originally Posted by starcreator
    Ah, yes, why engage in principled debate when you can just have a menial semantic one? What are you taking issue with, exactly, the fact that I didn't specify that the values were the ones in the constitution? You're just taking my argument and rendering the implicit explicit, not refuting it.
    Because it seemed like you were saying that the principles themselves were held to a higher standard, simply by virtue of being the principles they are. I wanted to oppose that implication.
    If I am capable of grasping God objectively, I do not believe, but precisely because I cannot do this I must believe. - Soren Kierkegaard
    **** you, I won't do what you tell me

    HOLY CRAP MY BLOG IS AWESOME

  20. #20
    Registered User

    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Posts
    232
    Post Thanks / Like

    Wink Re: Legislating Morality

    Quote Originally Posted by Hope View Post
    I see one problem with this, and it has to do with modern technology: physical/geographic separation is no longer a guarantee for separation of the majority. Just look at groups like the religious right or the ACLU. You can mobilize an entire population using the internet, cable TV, the radio, etc.
    Yes, I agree; the physical separation is much less relevant today than it was in the 1780s, when it was mentioned by James Madison in the Federalist Papers as a benefit of ratifying the US Constitution.

    So, basically, they built in the inefficiency of our government so as to sap energy from potentially oppressive movements?
    Yes; although I have forgotten where I read this point.

    As for the points about Enlightened Statesmen, I guess I would point out that, ultimately, these are people who head populist movements, right?
    Yes, populist leaders like Obama who can unite most sides. :D
    But I would also point out that an Enlightened Statesman is more than just a populist leader; an ES is by definition wiser, with a greater love of country and justice, than a mere populist leader, and thus more likely to be non-partisan to all sides.

    So, this could potentially lead to domination of a majority? Even if it's just a majority via coalition?
    Yes, on both counts. So yes, there seems to be no sure solution to a majority oppression.

    George Bernard Shaw said, "Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve."

 

 
Page 1 of 2 1 2 LastLast

Similar Threads

  1. Morality is not absolute
    By Zhavric in forum Religion
    Replies: 65
    Last Post: March 22nd, 2007, 12:01 PM
  2. The Hypocrisy of "Don't Force Your Morality on Others"
    By Castle in forum Philosophical Debates
    Replies: 56
    Last Post: January 5th, 2007, 03:03 PM
  3. What is the purpose of morality?
    By Trendem in forum Philosophical Debates
    Replies: 32
    Last Post: August 25th, 2006, 09:52 AM
  4. Personal Morality vs. Public Morality
    By Xanadu Moo in forum Philosophical Debates
    Replies: 45
    Last Post: April 7th, 2006, 08:32 PM
  5. Morality: Absolute or Relative?
    By Apokalupsis in forum Philosophical Debates
    Replies: 192
    Last Post: September 19th, 2004, 07:09 AM

Tags for this Thread

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •