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Does an absolute moral value always have an identical value?

Assuming there is an absolute prohibition against murder, can context mitigate its wrongness?

I am just interested in the question cos I'm thinking about ethics, rather than planning at all to seek out any reference - to read.

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    Deontic ethics: yes. It is what is said by the term 'absolute'. Every other ethical position: There is no such thing as absolute moral value. Coincides with the possibility of a sharp destinction between ethics in a narrow sense (happy life) and morals (good life) I would say. – Philip Klöcking Dec 27 '15 at 23:41
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Does an absolute moral value always have an identical value?

Given that you have presupposed an absolute moral value, then it remains as it is, a standard or a scale - and immutable; so yes, identical.

Assuming there is an absolute prohibition against murder, can context mitigate its wrongness?

Murder is commonly distinguished from manslaughter - a death of a man by accident; or from a man killed in a justified war; all deaths and causes of deaths are not alike; so yes, context mitigates or amplifies.

Pacifism - which I take in a general way - to mean an absolute injunction against killing - for any reason, has always been a minoritarian, but real position in the world: for example, the Quakers or the Jains.

  • i'm going to accept this answer because it's the only one that explicitly understood the question - i'm not asking if murder is universally prohibited but universally as bad – user6917 Dec 29 '15 at 6:23
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Though Kant's deontic ethics has been correctly cited, I am not sure that a "categorical" imperative is exactly the same as an "absolute" imperative. And I am not sure that "absolute moral value" makes sense internally.

First, it appears from my Kant dictionary (Blackwell) that Kant is ambivalent about "the absolute," and while discussing it in CPR never actually applies that term to the categorical imperative. The absolute is not, of course, the sort of thing that can be "known" and in that way enter into judgements.

Second, "value" by almost any definition is relative to some value system, ideal, or "general equivalent." (In Kant's terms "hypothetical imperative.") I think most philosophers agree that this is a very problematic area of Kant's philosophy. He seems to depend implicitly on tweaking assumptions of freedom, limits of knowledge, and divine law in ways that have little if any clear practical application.

If we must read his categorical imperative as a kind of guiding ideal or limit test, then is it correct to say that it generates "absolute values"? When he suggests as much for the "good will" or the "person" as an end, things get pretty vague and these ideals seem to stand outside of any real "value" system. Values are relational, and I am not sure that the ground or "axiom" of some value system is itself a "value."

Anyway, I am only suggesting that Kant or other deontic ethicists might not be entirely clear on precisely this point, and that combining the terms "value" and "absolute" may be problematic.I admit I am not deeply familiar with Kant. But I do not see how one can, in the end, successfully combine a structural limit on knowledge with an "absolute" standard for practical judgments, except by appeal to faith.

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    It can be equated as Kant in his Metaphysics of Morals, part 1 clearly states that there can't be such a thing as contradicting duties (obligationes non colliduntur), see Ak. 6:224. That means nothing else than that all duties are categorical, which means they do not depend on anything, including the situation, and therefore 'absolute' – Philip Klöcking Dec 28 '15 at 9:36
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    I tend to agree and do find Kant's CI a valuable principle. At the same time, I cannot image a "moral judgment" that does not take place "in circumstances" requiring interpretation on the part of a free moral agent. To follow rules that are strictly "absolute" would be to act as a machine under natural laws, as opposed to "categorical" rules that recognize a limit on knowledge that may change over time. The judgment cannot take place "apart from what we know" and "what we know" is circumstantial and circumscribed. CPR A325 is not yet entirely clear to me. – Nelson Alexander Dec 28 '15 at 12:52
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Does an absolute moral value always have an identical value?

The term "absolute moral value" can be taken in two different meanings:

  • 1) Moral values exist like the values of physical constants in nature and can be detected by humans. The moral values are named "absolute" because all humans detect the same value.
  • 2) Moral values are set by humans. The highest moral values are named "absolute" because they are to be hold without any exception.

In the first case, absolute moral values are always the same, they are constant and do not change in time. In the second case, absolute moral values can vary between different societies and can also be replaced by other moral values.

In the field of ethics it is discussed whether absolute moral values in the first sense actually exist. Concerning the second meaning, it is also discussed whether at least one absolute moral value has been established in a given society and holds without conflicting with other moral values. Possibly one can find examples in the field of religious prescriptions, e.g., the first of the Jewish Ten Commands claims unrestricted validity.

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Kant would say yes, hence his categorical imperative. In fact that is how he defines moral values, by checking whether or not they are universally applicable. Similarly, anyone whose ethics are based on religious scripture would also say yes, the goodness or badness of an action is defined by a transcendent deity(ies) independent of time, location or circumstance. These fall under the category of deontological ethics, i.e. ethics were the value is determined rules of conduct.

A utilitarian or a pragmatist would say no. More generally, any consequentialist theory of ethics would ultimately measure actions by their outcomes (consequences - hence the name), and - almost by definition - doesn't care about the goodness or badness of any action: The end justifies the means.

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    I know the question invites to it, but c'mon, you're better than dashing off answers like this ;) – Philip Klöcking Dec 28 '15 at 1:11
  • In the spirit of answer that are easy to lookup, right? – Alexander S King Dec 28 '15 at 1:13
  • It's hard to consider these three sentences to fit the minimum requirements for answers. The content is correct, of course. Well, I know why I only wrote a comment basically saying the same ^^ – Philip Klöcking Dec 28 '15 at 1:17
  • You're right. I should edit it.... – Alexander S King Dec 28 '15 at 1:19

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