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Why murder, robbery et al. is wrong? Is suffering to others a criteria to decide whether something is wrong or not? - any act which can cause psychological, emotional or physical pain is wrong. But then what about other creatures or animals in our surroundings? This definition illegitimate the act of partaking non vegetarian food on the surface but it seems to illegitimate the very act of existence because one can't exist without causing sufferings to any other creature either knowingly or unknowingly. Also, the psychological, emotional or physical pain is relative term. An emotionally weak can suffer a lot from a particular speech while the speech can't effect any other emotionally strong one. So the criteria on the basis of sufferings seem vague.

So what is the criteria by which something happens to be wrong?

  • A start of getting specific criteria should be getting specific factual information of the scenario. So the murder scenario once evaluated must have the same value once it is established. Notice I did not say a value. The concept of morals MUST apply universally or just get rid of the term morality. What you do to a variable in mathematics must apply on the left side & the right side. You don't subtract 97 on the left and add 52 on the right for the same value. The value must follow the scenario. You can't isolate acts as in Monday act x is moral & on Wednesday act x is immoral. – Logikal May 1 '18 at 17:49
  • Facts of the matter should dominate as this lowers emotional content from creeping into the evaluation. Murder is typically immoral for the following facts: the victim was unaware his time was about to be shortened, most likely the victim would have preferred to keep living, the victim did not authorize the act, the victim had several human rights violated, etc. These facts are not opinions, not subjective, & not temporal. If we place a value on this pattern we evaluate all like patterns identically. So for instance if rape is defined as sex without consent then all scenarios like are rape. – Logikal May 1 '18 at 17:53
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    This question is entirely too broad, the entire point of ethics is to answer the question "when is something wrong" and the different schools of ethics all disagree about how exactly to answer that question. You're basically asking someone to explain what ethics is and that's just too broad of a question for this site. – Not_Here May 1 '18 at 18:11
  • Have you asked this before, or maybe this is a duplicate. Anyway, in some circles this is known as "existential guilt". It seems to be largely taken over by psychology today, but we can find it in Ancient Greece, and I'm sure in other cultures too. – Gordon May 1 '18 at 19:49
  • Everything that leads to human extinction after being universalized, indeed is considered wrong. There are other reasons, some even are based on fallacious interpolation. That's the reason why there legalization movements - other people see errors in interpolation. – rus9384 May 1 '18 at 20:41
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Why murder, robbery et al. is wrong?

Well, the question of what things are morally wrong falls under the area of normative ethics. There are many theories on that.

There are some general categories of theories:

  1. Consequentialists think that an act is wrong if it has bad consequences. A subset of consequentialism is utilitarianism. Utilitarianists believe we ought to do acts which most promote happiness and lessen suffering. (How exactly this look depends on the specific theory.)
  2. Deontologists think that there are some specific types of acts that we ought not do no matter the consequence. They'd f.e. hold that we ought not commit murder, no matter the circumstance.
  3. Virtue ethicists think that we should look at character instead of acts. So there are various ways in which someone might be bad.

There are many more. But those are the first ones you might hear first in a course on normative ethics.

Is suffering to others a criteria to decide whether something is wrong or not? - any act which can cause psychological, emotional or physical pain is wrong.

So, the other questions and objections from you only really apply to theories from category 1 (and just a subtype at that). Utilitarianists think that suffering and happiness are the only criteria for deciding on whether an act is good or bad.

They might employ various restrictions. A Rule Utilitarianist would for example say that we should look at certain types of acts. For example, stealing as a type of act could be argued to be bad because it generally doesn't provide enough benefit (happiness) for the cost (suffering) it has.

But other Utilitarianists could think that we should always look at specific acts. They might say that stealing isn't inherently bad. Instead stealing could usually be bad, but in some circumstances - when it promotes more happiness then it causes harm - actually morally good and the thing we ought to do. For example, maybe we ought to steal expensive medication in order to save a life if we can't afford it legally.

But then what about other creatures or animals in our surroundings? This definition illegitimate the act of partaking non vegetarian food on the surface

Yes, there are a number of Utilitarianists that argue that we generally shouldn't eat meat. Peter Singer would be one. (Also, note only Utilitarianists come to such a conclusion.)

but it seems to illegitimate the very act of existence because one can't exist without causing sufferings to any other creature either knowingly or unknowingly.

There are a number of ways in which Utilitarianists can argue against this. Here are a few:

  1. Only normative acts can be wrong. That means we must have a choice. If we don't have a choice then it can't be morally wrong. So any acts that we can't avoid aren't morally wrong. For example: when we walk, we'll unknowingly step on ants. We can't avoid that when living normally. So it's not wrong.
  2. Existing can be morally wrong but not morally blameworthy. There are justifiable limits to our responsibility.
  3. Living in a way to cause the least harm to other beings or maybe even commiting suicide is itself harmful. This outweighs the harm we otherwise commit. This needs the premise that humans should be given more moral consideration (for example because we're more sapient).
  4. We could bite the bullet and argue that existence really is morally wrong. Suicide is too. But we ought to not procreate due to the damage humans cause. This is called antinatalism. It's a minority position.
  5. There are certain limits to moral demandingness.

Also, the psychological, emotional or physical pain is relative term. An emotionally weak can suffer a lot from a particular speech while the speech can't effect any other emotionally strong one. So the criteria on the basis of sufferings seem vague.

Utilitarianists could deny the relativity in the case. Or they even might incorporate it into their theory.

Furthermore, relative or vague criteria can be good enough. So even if we have no "scale" for wellbeing, we might still be able to know if one act is worse than another. Utilitarianism usually must take some sort of value theory as basis. Although you could argue for it in general without specific value theory, if no value theory in the required way is possible then this doesn't work.

So what is the criteria by which something happens to be wrong?

So, above I sketched out a few responses to your objections. Note that your objections only really apply to Utilitarianists. But the three common kinds of normative ethical theory I mentioned above are roughly equally popular. There's a huge number of arguments for and against each (and the ones that I didn't mention).

Yet, that doesn't mean that none is right.

Also, for Applied Ethics we could choose to apply multiple normative ethical theories: they will sometimes come to the same conclusion. So if stealing is wrong according to the theories that are most convincing to us then we ought not steal. (Note that the question of how exactly we ought to act under uncertainty is a problem area of ethics as well!)

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  • I would argue utilitarianism does not belong to normative ethics at all & is mislabeled. Utilitarianism is practical & this makes the criteria highly subjective. To have a moral system outside of objective knowledge is useless. This is exactly why people think philosophy is useless aka not practical. You need objective knowledge in whatever system you choose. If you don't meet this requirement you are likely confusing philosophy with psychology. There is a reason why psychology is noted to be the school of practical philosophy. – Logikal May 1 '18 at 19:23
  • @Logikal, are you denying the mainstream thought? You can't. What you're doing is redefining normative ethics. And also, if philosophy is impractical, is there even a point in it? You may start from ancient philosophy and end up with PhD standing for doctor of philosophy. Anyway, some schools of philosophy are denying the possibility to have objective knowledge. You seem to have a strong bias to opposite. – rus9384 May 1 '18 at 23:16
  • @rus9384, I was expressing the average human on the planet thinks philosophy is not practical. This does not include those humans who value philosophy. Saying something is practical & is also philosophy is hard to come by or else the stereotype would be false. So the thought of psychology is supposed to be practical which describes exactly what utilitarianism expresses. Normative ethics is objective by definition. Otherwise we only have subjective claims which we would not need philosophy for morals. Philosophy would be useless on all moral topics if all we has was subjective ideas. – Logikal May 1 '18 at 23:50
  • @Logikal, anyway, psychology never ever tried to define morals. It tries to answer why moral is such as it is, but that's all. – rus9384 May 2 '18 at 7:47
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    @Logikal, descriptive ethics is the study of people's beliefs on morality. Utilitarianism is not about beliefs but about how people ought to act. I don't anything wrong with calling them normative. – rus9384 May 2 '18 at 12:15

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