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A Morality Question: Can a man stranded on a deserted island commit an immoral act? Is morality removed from the context of society have any meaning?


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Initial post: Dec 14, 2012 7:31:53 PM PST
eonxl says:
Being an atheist, I think a lot about morality (since I can't just look it up in a book), and I was thinking about this question today. Perhaps it's kind of a stupid question but for some reason it intrigues me because of the implications depending on the answer.

So, if a man (or woman) is stranded on a desert island (or living in a cave or whatever -- the point is they are separated from the rest of society), does morality have any meaning to that person?

Can such a person commit an immoral act? Is morality only relevant in the context of society? If that is true, what does that say about the concept and question of what constitutes morality?

Thoughts?

--eric

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 14, 2012 7:34:51 PM PST
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In reply to an earlier post on Dec 14, 2012 8:08:03 PM PST
If a person truly would have no contact with any other person now or in the future, then no, the concept of morality is irrelevant.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 14, 2012 8:20:39 PM PST
S. Kessler says:
Eric, I think that morality is only operant within a society, not an individual living alone, in isolation. It takes at least two people to engage in what I would term a "moral transaction".

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 14, 2012 8:29:25 PM PST
Are there any other living things on the island?

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 14, 2012 9:06:29 PM PST
Re OP: The short answer is NO. Morality has to do with one's interactions with others; if there aren't any others, moral ideas are simply irrelevant.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 14, 2012 9:15:21 PM PST
Astrocat says:
That's an excellent question, eonxl. I've always thought of morality as someone's idea of how someone else should use her/his body, especially in a sexual sense. So, if the stranded person thought masturbation was wrong, and did it anyway, I suppose that would be acting immorally.

If there are animals on that island and the woman/man mistreats them, is cruel to them, I think that would be an immoral act. Not so much if s/he kills and eats them, though that might be problematic, depending on if there is other food available.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 14, 2012 9:28:27 PM PST
Conley Thorn says:
EONXL: Is morality only relevant in the context of society? If that is true, what does that say about the concept and question of what constitutes morality?

THORN: Good thinking, E. I've checked that out myself, and the answer to your first question is a definite Yes. Morality is a valid concept only in the context of sociality. A singular being cannot sin. There exists no other toward whom he could.

And since you are an atheist, I need not evoke "God" as victim.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 14, 2012 9:49:56 PM PST
Conley Thorn says:
NANCY D.: ...if the stranded person thought masturbation was wrong, and did it anyway, I suppose that would be acting immorally.

THORN: Having the urge to masterbate, why would he think it immoral? From whence came his notion or morality? Is it required that a "God" must be always play judge in all questions of human morality?

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 14, 2012 11:24:07 PM PST
Astrocat says:
Conley, some people, as you know are taught that masturbation is an immoral act. So I would think there would be a dichotomous attitude, what with the desire coupled with the guilt ingrained as a child.

Posted on Dec 14, 2012 11:34:42 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 14, 2012 11:35:58 PM PST
eonxl says:
very good responses. thank you! As to the question about mistreating animals, I think the animal is just a substitution for "society", isn't it? So I admit my "thought experiment" breaks down a little at that point (hard to imagine an island with no animals)...

As to the question of masturbation... I think it is telling that you (Nancy Davison) said he "thought that masturbation was wrong, and did it anyway"... so if he didn't think it was wrong then it wouldn't have been morally wrong to masturbate? Is it our belief in something's wrongness that makes it morally wrong?

Posted on Dec 15, 2012 1:07:01 AM PST
Jack Vix says:
Of course morality is meaningless in isolation. For a person to be immoral to another there needs to be another or theres no one for them to be immoral to.

I like this thought experiment. Clear to see how morality is a natural *social* phenomenon, not a divine plan outside of us involving a cosmic tribal leader.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 15, 2012 1:27:09 AM PST
AxeGrrl says:
Here For The Music wrote: "Are there any other living things on the island?"
~~~~

Bingo. I brought up/offered this question on another forum and made sure to speciify that the person was not only the only person there, but also the only _living thing_ on the island as well.

I think it's an important detail because it causes the focus to be very specific and reduces it all down to one essential question:

is harming oneself immoral?

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 15, 2012 4:50:06 AM PST
Bubba says:
Morality and the Xtian concept of "sin" are not the same thing. Immoral acts are likely to be "sins", but not all "sins" are immoral. Taking two of the ten commandments as an example; violating "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. " is not immoral, while violating "Thou shalt not steal." would be immoral -- I assume that violating either of them would be considered to be "sins". A person by themselves on a desert island could "sin" by violating any of a few of the ten commandments.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 15, 2012 4:55:29 AM PST
Lao Tzu says:
Eonxl - I want to give you the Objectivist view, as a contrast to many others here.

Moral behavior is that which sustains your life. If you find yourself on a deserted island, you have a moral obligation to maximize your survival, which includes your moment to moment happiness. If you found yourself dying of thirst or starvation, you are not obligated to continue a life in which you find no joy whatsoever, or where the prospect of dying of thirst in the near future presents itself.

A proper morality has a lot in common with self esteem.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 15, 2012 5:07:48 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 15, 2012 5:10:53 AM PST
eonxl says:
AxeGrrl -- I'm sorry I missed your earlier post... I bow to your more exacting definition... You are indeed right -- it better reduces the question to it's essentials...

And harming oneself -- an interesting question: Do we have the same moral obligation to ourselves as we do to others?

Posted on Dec 15, 2012 5:17:44 AM PST
eonxl says:
Here's my question from this discussion: in this thought experiment, we throw out certain morals (treatment of others) as irrelevant, but keep others (thought crimes -- i.e. blasphemy, thinking sexual thoughts, etc...).

I propose that everything we throw out in this scenario is actually what we should keep, and all that stuff that is still relevant to someone on a deserted island is the stuff we should throw out as unnecessary moral baggage.

Often we argue about moral priorities... I think this thought experiment helps to separate what is important from what isn't...

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 15, 2012 11:19:54 AM PST
Conley Thorn says:
BUBBA: Morality and the Xtian concept of "sin" are not the same thing.... A person by themselves on a desert island could "sin" by violating any of a few of the ten commandments.

THORN: Everyone with reasonable intelligence and a modicum of education understands that "sin" is primarily a religious concept and that, while it incorporates certain areas of morality, morality per se is unencumbered by religious concepts.

The question posed by Eric is a hypothetical, a "thought experiment." To answer the question, you are not to assume anything that is not stated in the problem. Other life forms are not to be injected. Neither are anyone's religious notions. Your concern with the Torah and the Ten Commandments falls under the heading of theology and the province of religion. They are inappropos.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 15, 2012 11:34:51 AM PST
Conley Thorn says:
EONXL: And harming oneself -- an interesting question: Do we have the same moral obligation to ourselves as we do to others?

THORN: No--unless you are assuming a social context. Within society, the matter would depend on one's love of and/or obligations to others. But in the context of the hypothetical presented in the OP, the person on the island is totally autonymous, and "morality" does not apply. The only question is whether or not, and for how long, he or she wants to survive.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 15, 2012 6:48:44 PM PST
MMX says:
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In reply to an earlier post on Dec 15, 2012 7:57:33 PM PST
Re AxeGrrl, 12-15 1:27 AM: "is harming oneself immoral?" Good question. My answer is: No. Moral codes have to do only with our interactions with others; if there aren't any others, moral codes simply do not apply. Now this is MY definition; YMMV.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 15, 2012 8:00:28 PM PST
Re Lao Tzu, 12-15 4:55 AM: "Moral behavior is that which sustains your life." There is an important caveat here: it is NOT moral to sustain your life if you must do it at the expense of another. If you are going to play the Objectivist card, this is critical.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 16, 2012 12:15:10 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 16, 2012 12:40:05 AM PST
Jack Vix says:
"If you find yourself on a deserted island, you have a moral obligation to maximize your survival"

Patently absurd. No one is morally obligated to anything to themselves they don't want to unless it's in relation to another being hurt by it. Isolation means whatever he does for a desire is pragmatic for that desire, it's got nothing to do with morals. Desired consent to harm himself when no one would be affected would have nothing to do with morals, in any sense but that it's what he DESIRED and, if you want it to mean desire, it would be moral.

The entire reason we have morals is because most of us DESIRE to have life and health. He has his own consent to do whatever he desires, no one can be immoral in hypothetical isolation, that would mean they did something they didn't desire, and unintended harm can't be immoral.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 16, 2012 12:32:55 AM PST
Jack Vix says:
You are right, and I would alter the definition of moral a bit to "sustaining life and well-being" not specifically of ones own, but generally and conditionally. The reason for morality is because most others desire what we desire, which is to have life, health and not to suffer. Alone this idea is completely without use. There's an objective morality but it's not *absolute* it's situational based on conditions which will objectively produce harm or well-being to a greater or lesser extent.

To sustain life and well-being is moral in everyday life, but of course when there is no one to harm but yourself in hypothetical isolation, you have nobody affected by your lack of upkeep or death if you so choose. Collective desires don't matter to an isolated being. Morality isn't necessary for one persons desires, that's for them to decide what they want. A single person doesn't need to make the assumption that everyone wants happiness and health when it's only him, he needn't have any criteria other than what he desires.

Posted on Dec 16, 2012 8:48:00 AM PST
MLC says:
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Discussion in:  Religion forum
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Initial post:  Dec 14, 2012
Latest post:  Dec 29, 2012

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