Moral education likely to end up as immoral indoctrination

In a throwback to the “Nation-building” age — has it ever ended? — the Straits Times headline of Wednesday, 9 November 2011 spoke of new ways to teach students morals/values/ethics, using the three terms interchangeably. Science, maths and English language teachers will be roped in to do the job, announced the Ministry of Education. A new Character and Citizenship Education branch has been set up at the ministry to oversee the effort, adding more catchwords to the already hazy concept.

Like so much spoken and written about morals/values/ethics/character/citizenship, much space was given over to “how we shall do this better”, with next to no debate about what exactly we mean by morals/values/ethics/character/citizenship. People who get on a soapbox about these things tend to assume that everybody else shares the same understanding of the matter. They also tend to assume that most of the time, the “right” morals/values/ethics and character/citizenship behaviour can be prescribed. That being the case, it’s just a matter of mechanics as to how we can get young people to imbibe them. And that was exactly the sense I got from the news report — an entire conference devoted to the mechanics.

The issue is far more fundamental than that. Not only is there little consensus about that string-of-five-worthy-words, but to aim for students to imbibe a prescribed set of five worthy words runs completely counter to the other hallowed aim of today’s education system: critical thinking. Just as critical thinking in history means you cannot expect students to emerge with the same, desired view of historical events, so critical thinking generally is antithetical to the hope that they will emerge with a desired set of attitudes and behaviour expected for the string of five worthy words.

Moreover, adults themselves do not agree on or practice the string of five worthy words. It should hardly be surprising that we have made little headway in the past — the news report said that schools currently allocate four to five periods a week to civic and moral education “but they end up as remedial lessons for examinable subjects.”

* * * * *

In this second section, I will discuss three broad examples to illustrate what I mean about the ambiguity and internal contradictions that can arise when we start to explore the subject. The problem is that people who are terribly fond of those five worthy words are usually the same ones who are uncomfortable with ambiguity and fluidity. You will also see how one word in the string may contradict another word in it — that’s what I mean by internal contradiction.

Theft, honest possession and the common domain

In my first example, let’s take the simple concept of theft and honest possession. Sounds simple, no? But to make the issue relevant to young digital natives, we should also be talking about things like video and software piracy. The problem is: Are the adults themselves innocent of that?

The concept of respect for private property is linked to the concept of respect for common property. So we say we need to teach our kids how, when they use something in the common domain, they must still avoid damaging or dirtying it. This suggests the obligation to leave a bus seat as clean when we alight as the seat was when we boarded (once again — are adults really innocent?). Simple enough too. But then, what about the environment on a larger scale: Deforestation? Extinction of wildlife? Pollution? Climate change?

What should we do when businesses engage in the above? What are our responsibilities?

Even more acute a question: What should we do when our own government, by its policies, practice the the above?

Another angle related to respect for the common domain is to not make private claims on it. Doing do impinges upon other people’s use and enjoyment of that common domain. Sounds simple right? Ah, but what if we take a photo of a streetscene and someone who happens to be in the picture objects. “You cannot take a picture with my face in it!” she says. What are the ethics involved?

If you insist that she is right, does that not subjugate our use (and other picture-takers’ use) of the common domain to all manner of private vetoes? If you insist that she is wrong, does that not impinge on her liberty to  use the common domain to her pleasure?

What then of government ministry security guards who rush out to intimidate you each time you try to take a picture of a government building? (Yes, they do that all the time, if you hadn’t known.) If you believe in a liberal interpretation of common domain, then you will have to take the view that the government is wrong. Fair enough, but does the last word in the string-of-five-worthy-words (“citizenship”) include the encouragement to dissent? If not, what does the Ministry of Education mean by “citizenship”?

When ethical behaviour conflicts with legal obligation

A friend of mine posed an interesting question the other day. My variant of his hypothetical example is this: It revolves a legal obligation to inform the Ministry of Health when we come to know that someone is carrying a notifiable infectious disease such as HIV, based on Section 6(3) of the Infectious Diseases Act, which says:

Any person who is aware or who suspects that any other person is suffering or has died from or is a carrier of an infectious disease shall notify the Director within the prescribed time and in such form or manner as the Director may require.

Let’s say you, as a lay person, learned casually that so-and-so is HIV-positive, except that you have learned it in confidence and you know that he wants to keep it confidential. There may be serious consequences (e.g. he might lose his job) if his status is disclosed in an uncontrolled fashion. We are taught to respect the privacy and confidentiality of others whenever so requested as good ethical behaviour. Yet the law obliges us to act in unethical ways. What does good character mean in such a situation? What does good citizenship mean — to obey or disobey the law?

Responsibility to others who have been irresponsible to us

Should adult children be made to support an aged parent when through their growing-up years, that parent had been abusive and neglectful? I suspect many will say No. And some of them would point out that the parent had first failed in his responsibility to the child.

By that analogy and on a larger scale, should anyone of us fell obliged to be loyal and dutiful to Singapore if Singapore has treated us badly? Why should any gay man be expected to be loyal to Singapore when the state has deliberately criminalised his essential identity and stoked social prejudice and discrimination against him? What does citizenship mean? What does loyalty mean? What the responsibilities of the state and government to its citizens (rather than the other way around)?

* * * * *

The above difficulties limn the possibilities and impossibilities of morals/values/ethics education. That said, it is not a hopeless mission.  There is a lot of scope for taking students through the process — which must include the cultivation of awareness and interpersonal empathy, fortified by critical thinking skills — but it must come with no expectations of outcomes. We cannot expect the attitudes and behaviour that result from the process to fit any prescribed template. The next generation, through their own discovery may end up with very different attitudes about issues like the common domain, privacy and family. And if they successfully applied critical thinking, I am pretty sure that they will end up  quite far from the endpoint that the government conceives of when it speaks of citizenship.

But then, would teachers permit such exploration? Have these adults themselves ever explored?

I suspect most of them would be far more concerned to ensure desired outcomes per the government’s wishes than encourage an open-ended process. In other words, indoctrination would be the safer route to take. They are, after all, civil servants who depend on the favour of the government to keep their jobs. I find no reason to be optimistic that anything will change anytime soon.

26 Responses to “Moral education likely to end up as immoral indoctrination”

  1. 1 Anonymous 11 November 2011 at 19:36

    More likely that they will introduce some tests to ensure that students conform and pass their requirements, whichever way they want it. Some kind of brainwashing like the Nazi?

  2. 2 Anonymous 11 November 2011 at 22:07

    Here’s one of many examples where the citizens are told it’s wrong to do something but the government (directly or indirectly) is doing it big time.

    And that example is flyer distribution through letterboxes.

    New and revamped letterboxes are designed to make it impossible for the anyone to distribute flyers through letters (now, of course, not everybody wants his or her letterbox to be filled with junk, but that’s another story).

    But Singpost is allowed to put junk into your letterboxes through their postal service. I get such junk mail at least once a week. If people are forbidden to do it, why doesn’t the same restriction apply to Singpost (Singapore’s designated Public Postal Licensee)?

  3. 3 ricardo 12 November 2011 at 08:00

    Shame on you, Mr. Au. Your title is as glaringly biased as the pronouncements of the Ministry of Truth you so despise. Would you prefer that Civics & Moral Education are not taught at all or always replaced by “remedial lessons for examinable subjects”?

    This might be covert worship of our Lord LKY, the HoLee Family, their Ministers and friends (multi-million Dignity to them) … but it might encourage Singaporeans to give up their seats to Senior Citizens on the MRT.

    Some discussion on moral issues is better than none. Yes, there is the grave danger of indoctrination especially of the very young. (see “You’ve Got to be Taught”, South Pacific) but it is impossible to discuss moral issues without at least sometimes, raising some of the questions you raise.

    Morality, after all, is about how we relate & behave towards other people, first your immediate circle and then further afield.

    You yourself are a product of a Catholic education though you claim to be an atheist today. Most Singaporeans like you (and I) are “indoctrinated” with the ideals of our Western upbringing though we may deny it and smugly claim personal enlightenment.

    Donning my flame jacket, I’m going to suggest morals/values/ethics/character/citizenship as a compulsory examinable subject right up to Yr. 12. Questions could include the penalties for littering, chewing gum and the list of detainees under the ISA. No need for discussion but let all heed & beware. I expect flak from both “liberals against indoctrination” and “conservatives against useless examinable subjects”.

  4. 5 60/93 desired outcome 12 November 2011 at 09:10

    “I suspect most of them would be far more concerned to ensure desired outcomes per the government’s wishes than encourage an open-ended process.”
    Yawning bread

    I tend to suspect too. Which is why the at least 60% mandate and 93% seats for the PAP at every election is one of the desired outcomes, if not the most desired one. And it turned out as desired. For the PAP, that is. And a great testimony to their effectiveness in working towards such outcomes.

  5. 6 Chow 12 November 2011 at 18:04

    “…People who get on a soapbox about these things tend to assume that everybody else shares the same understanding of the matter. They also tend to assume that most of the time, the “right” morals/values/ethics and character/citizenship behaviour can be prescribed. That being the case, it’s just a matter of mechanics as to how we can get young people to imbibe them…”

    Well, considering the fact that different school-types will perceive ‘right’ differently, I think that this is the best that they can shoot for.

    On a different note, I read through Mr Heng’s speech on the MOE website and, oh dear, there is very little of critical thinking as you have mentioned. Instead much of it appears to be getting students to somehow imbibe a set of values (or rules) that are considered ‘right’ and applying them. Somehow, it still does not sound like our educational system is equipping them to think.

    To date, it still sounds like a very ‘community-centric’ approach and one that is highly focused on citizens/students as socio-economic digits rather than persons. Consider his examples:

    “to nurture the values, competencies and dispositions in our pupils to enable them to become good persons [character] and responsible citizens [contributing to society]”.

    All the keywords tend to point toward the concept of a person as just another unit.

    “In dealing with others, we need to focus on “doing the right things” — to apply moral reasoning and take responsibility in decision making, and have the integrity to stand by our values.”

    I wonder if ‘right’ is left to schools to define. It’ll be quite interesting if, for example, certain schools define right as ‘no contraceptives to be taught in sexuality education’ and attempt to inbue the students with that right.

    “As for citizenship education…our pupils should grow up to be loyal citizens, with a strong sense of belonging to Singapore and a strong sense of national identity…our pupils must have the ability to reflect on and respond to community, national and global issues, and to make informed and responsible decisions.

    “Citizenship education engenders in pupils an appreciation of our history and heritage while providing them with opportunities to understand the Singapore society today and their role as active citizens. For a young country like Singapore, citizenship education is instrumental for pupils to remain rooted to Singapore. National Education will be an integral part of CCE, to help our pupils appreciate the fundamentals that enable our nation to succeed”

    At this stage I will ask, rather cynically, “What national identity?” our Pledge, which I once took to be a representation of our identity, has been reduced to a highfalutin aspiration. And I will add that once again I see the phrase ‘fundamentals that enable our nation to succeed’. What are these fundamentals? I wish it were the fundamentals as laid out in our Pledge, but somehow I think that it will turn out to be our economic fundamentals that we have been put through these past decade.

    On the implementation he had this to say:
    “Parents are the ones who inculcate character and values in their children from a young age. When a child starts schooling, parents and teachers need to work hand in hand to reinforce the values taught, both at home and in school. In this way, the same message is sent and pupils know clearly what is expected of them.”

    Now that’s interesting. It automatically assumes that all of us have the same set of values. Are parents now supposed to concur and follow the values as taught by the school?

    To be fair, he was giving an opening address and these sort of speeches are often filled with fluff. The conference might have been totally different, but having been through the system, I fear that the top brass and policy-makers will just fall in line behind this speech. It’s actually easier that way, sometimes.

    Mr Heng’s speech:

  6. 7 Jonathan 12 November 2011 at 21:45

    What you wrote is indeed true. Moreover, just take a look at the Chinese newspaper Zaobao, and you will see 9/10 forum contributions writing in to praise how marvellous the “education reform” will be in a mushy fashion. Worse still, many of them are “educators” themselves. Many Chinese automatically link ethics/morality to Confucianism, which I am terribly afraid that Singapore will go down that road simply because Singaporeans are 75% Chinese. The Chinese culture has a larger role to play in any policy that is remotely about ethics than any other social identity.

    I agree with you that we must let the students take on this journey by themselves. I would venture further to argue that the only worthy thing to be taught under the “character education” would be philosophy of ethics (meta-ethics in particular). Then we will quickly find a whole spectrum of people with diverse points of views, each able to justify why he chose to believe in what he believes in.

    Meanwhile, it is also funny that while the full name of the policy is “character and citizenship education”, neither the ministry nor the people express much interest in the “citizenship” domain. The school teaches nothing about the whys and hows of voting, rights, rule of law, political system, and any other concept that is remotely “political”.

    • 8 Desiree 13 November 2011 at 15:56

      Your last point is an excellent one, Jonathan. Perhaps teaching critical thinking is a bridge too far for the curricular planners at this stage, but the glaring absence of something so eminently teachable as real civics (basic principles of political philosophy, rule of law, the justifications behind concepts and mechanisms of the State) is a huge and embarrassing (if unsurprising) gap in our education system. And it has a lot to answer for in terms of why many Singaporeans don’t feel more strongly about the limitations faced by local civil society.

  7. 9 Agnes Chia 13 November 2011 at 01:20

    Our national schools should teach about universal values, teaching one to embrace a continuum of perspectives, beliefs and mindsets. Not something that is dichotomous, split into a set of desirable values vs the other out of the set values which would be deemed as non desirable. Who is to judge? We need to incalcucate inclusivity in an institution which mould our young. Our educational institutions can also consider teaching Sociology as one essential subject in upper elementary schools, middle schools and high schools. A lot of teachings now breed social exclusion and stratification in many very subtle ways.

  8. 10 Guest 13 November 2011 at 10:21

    But then, would teachers permit such exploration? Have these adults themselves ever explored?

    Maybe they have, but they are told to do what the elites promote.

    For instance, the Minister for Education discussed how a teacher could inspire his student to be a better person. The example he gave is not very encouraging.

    Yet many of our teachers have been putting in their best efforts, and there have been encouraging outcomes. Just two weeks ago, in the Straits Times Forum, a member of the public commended the students of Dunman High and Tanjong Katong Girls’ on their exemplary behaviour of clearing their tables after finishing their meals, and lauded the schools for “not just teaching its students but also helping them internalise the right social etiquette”.

    I don’t think inspiring student to be a better person means getting him to have a right set of social etiquette. If this is what ‘inspire’ just means, to conform socially, we’ll have a big problem in our society.

  9. 11 Thor 13 November 2011 at 15:35

    My feeling about teaching our children values is that parents and teachers spend more time with them. Meaningful conversations. To sit down and have dinner together and talk instead of watching tv or the iPad.
    I strongly feel that we need more good teachers who can see the value in each child.
    We need to release teachers to really teach our children.
    There is hope I believe. Though many of us are products of our system, we do think critically. However, the courage to make a stand. Perhaps, that needs more time.

  10. 12 ricardo 13 November 2011 at 15:36

    I’m rather saddened that more respondents don’t see this Ministry of Truth initiative as positive.

    Yes, I believe clearing up after yourself, queuing, giving up your seat to Senior Citizens, the right social etiquette etc. are an important part of “morals”. If critical thinking which doesn’t result in better behaviour towards other people we have an even bigger problem in society. One hopes one will lead to the other.

    I refuse to believe that Singaporean teachers will only regurgitate Ministry of Truth propaganda as in my proposed subject matter (tongue-in-cheek. Did you think different?) for a compulsory examinable subject. (not tongue-in-cheek).

    In my youth, I won a MoE prize for an essay on social values. I was particularly proud of this as it was off-the-cuff. Our English teacher, John Chen, just announced the subject and said he would be submitting all essays that day for the competition.

    I think the judges were impressed that I quoted Cicero’s lament that a good racehorse fetched more than the price of a slave in ancient Rome.

    So some in the MoE were wanted to inculcate critical thinking in schools. Do you think its different today?

    At least such a school subject will encourage our young citizens to search the web for blogs such as this.

    • 13 Ivy 14 November 2011 at 12:35

      Well, as long as the top doesn’t want to see more critical thought, what a minority in the middle of the food chain believes is not going to have a great enough impact on society. While it’ll definitely touch the lives of a few lucky students like you, it’s not enough to make a big change in society.

      And I assume Alex’s problem with this morals and etiquette program is that it’s based on what socially acceptable, not on critical thought. It’ll only reinforce the notion that model citizens are those who must always unquestioningly conform to society’s expectations. So these programs not only will fail to instill a real sense of morality (one where one’s own judgment and moral compass is used), it’ll possibly also exacerbate the lack of critical thought — which I personally think is the root of many of our sociopolitical, and possibly economic problems.

    • 14 Jonathan 15 November 2011 at 12:49

      ricardo’s response reflects precisely the type of attitude that I think we need to be wary of.

      ricardo has already assumed the end result of what is being moral/immoral. While our society now may think that these values are true, that “clearing up after yourself, queuing, giving up your seat to Senior Citizens, the right social etiquette etc.” are the right thing to do, they are merely contingent truths. The critical thinking portion is merely an afterthought in the whole scheme of things. In such a case, critical thinking need not be taught, because it is merely an afterthought justification.

      Instead, a proper understanding of morality is that the approach that you start with and the moral intuitions that you assume will affect the outcome of how you come to make moral judgments. A proper moral education is about clarifying your starting point and your approach, and also justifying why you think your starting point and approach works.

      Moreover, there is no consensus if the thing that we call ‘morality’ actually exists. What is morality in the first place? These are fundamental questions that we ask in philosophy. Nihilists believe that there is no such thing as morality, but only human dispositions and power relations that govern what we do.

      The proposed character education is precisely committing the error of jumping into conclusion about which values are good/bad. Instead, there is absolutely no need to do that. If they provide sufficient scope for free discussions by students, they may be surprised how much new ideas about morality the students can come up with. We may one day need to rely on the students for ideas about morality rather than the other way round.

      • 16 ricardo 20 November 2011 at 06:54

        I seem to detect a lack of the very “critical thinking” that this august body wishes to inculcate. Some of the “thinking” demonstrated here ..

        – all PAP initiatives are aimed at indoctrination
        – PAP don’t want critical thinking and new educational policies will reject critical thinking
        – teachers are incapable of encouraging critical discussion on moral issues
        – social etiquette (giving up your seat to Seniors etc) is much less important than “proper understanding of morality”

        Is this august body AGAINST the teaching of ethics and “social etiquette” because of the danger of indoctrination?

        Socrates may have been the greatest exponent of “critical thinking” ever, but his mentoring of Alcibiades shows what can happen if the mind, freed of the “shackles of social etiquette”, is filled with Nihilism.

        But would you take this as an argument AGAINST the teaching of philosophy?

        How about giving the MoE a chance and wait to see how this is implemented in schools before dismissing it out of hand?

        My contention, if it isn’t already obvious, is that the teaching of “ethics” etc will lead to better “critical thinking” regardless of the agenda of the Ministry of Truth. Give teachers some credit for “critical thinking” of their own.

        And the success of this can be judged by levels of “social etiquette” and hopefully more involvement in social issues like the plight of poor foreign workers and maids. Hopefully, this is the RESULT of “critical thinking”.

        Of course I might be wrong and a commissar from the Ministry of Truth might sit in on every class to ensure multi-million Dignity for our Lord LKY, the HoLee Family, their Ministers & friends.

    • 17 Ivy 20 November 2011 at 12:35

      ricardo, life is never black and white. just because people are pointing out the dangers of instilling ethics without the first enabling critical thought doesn’t mean we’re against the programme. feedback and thoughts like these should be encouraged, so that the programme implementers will take it into account early on. it’s the basics of business to cover all angles, why should it be any different in politics.

      your kind of thinking — that if we’re not with you, we’re against you — is unnecessarily divisive and in my opinion, will start to tear this country apart politically, which is something, as a gen-y, i would not like to inherit.

      besides, intent is one thing, implementation is another. many people in singapore lack the ability to think critically. and it is virtually impossible for someone who lacks critical thought to teach another how to think critically. let’s say they try to teach kids about giving up seats for the people who need it.

      without critical thought: “you must give up you seat! that is the right thing to do because they need it more than you! you want to be gracious right? don’t be a shame to your school/family/etc!”

      with critical thought: “put yourself in the disabled person’s shoes. you’re suffering from xyz, and you can barely stand. wouldn’t it be nice to have a seat? how would you feel if someone gave you a seat?”

      some kids would have a chance at this point to say “why should i? i pay the same fare too!” and a healthy debate can start that way.

      the previous will breed contempt and forced obedience. the latter will teach empathy, reciprocation and even perhaps even fairness and trust (if the debate is fruitful.)

      • 18 ricardo 21 November 2011 at 19:59

        Thank you Ivy, for restoring my faith in this august body.

        You are the first person so far that has been constructive by saying this new policy needs to instil “critical thinking”. Perhaps I’m stupid, but it seems to me that everyone else is condemning it out of hand. In fact, demonstrating the very lack of critical thinking that we all seem to cherish.

        Perhaps this just confirms your assertion that many people in Singapore lack the ability to think critically. (joke. JOKE!)

        But if I may humbly clarify some small points.

        > that if we’re not with you, we’re against you ..

        I’ve never said this is about me, or “for and against”. But I have asked the question to point out the fallacy of this thinking.

        Socrates was often verbally & physically abused by people who thought he was attacking them when all he was doing was promoting “critical thinking” .. not that I’m comparing myself to old Soc. 8>D

        > the latter will teach empathy, reciprocation and even perhaps even fairness and trust (if the debate is fruitful.)

        I very much hope that “fairness and trust” is achieved rather than “perhaps”. Otherwise this debate, and indeed the whole exercise is worthless.

        If I may pontificate a little…

        We are not who were think we are, or what others think we are, but we are what we think others think we are.

        This is the Theory of Expectations in Psychology and is thought to be the strongest factor in the development of social behaviour.

        To put this into context, if we give a strong impression (to teachers) that we don’t think they have “critical thinking”, this is self-fulfilling. This is quite separate and probably more important then what the MoE tells them they are supposed to be.

        It applies to the HoLee Family, their Ministers and friends too. Not all PAP MPs are in it for multi-million Dignity. We need to clearly distinguish between the TPLs & LWKs and the George Yeos & Tan Chuan-Jins and let them know how we expect them to behave.

        Change in the PAP is necessary for the changes we want in Singapore. We can help this change by supporting the good guys or we can help entrench the multi-million Dignity old guard further with continual criticism.

        An excellent example of constructive advice is Mr. Au’s “Smarter online government – ..”. My apologies Mr. Au, for taking this off-topic.

  11. 19 Daft Singaporean 15 November 2011 at 00:30

    This is quite true in this context. The top needs to ask themselves what they have been doing. What sort of political system we have that influences the people behavior and attitude. If the national pledge is just an aspiration, what do the people trust the ruling party? If the ruling party still have the mindset that equal its party with the nation, what do you expect the effectiveness of NE and now this initiative?

  12. 20 georgelamb 15 November 2011 at 17:00

    Actually, I don’t think we need to worry this much until and unless the govt decide to deploy the equivalent of the political commissar in school. The PAP has poisoned the ground with such overkill all these years that our children have mutated and develop resistance to this ‘psyche war’ behind the govt’s actions.

    Typically, the govt would be as effective at it as it had been with the speak Mandarin campaign.

  13. 21 Teacher Too 29 November 2011 at 17:54

    I’m a teacher and I somewhat concur with your write-up. Many teachers feel that the system is being corporatised where teachers are so intensely ranked and pitted against each other. Teaching is a competition in MOE schools and the fraternity has been relegated to one in which fellow colleagues are perceived as competitiors during ranking. This has caused so much dissatisfaction that many teachers are cynical and extremely skeptical with this new implementation. Many of my colleagues feel that MOE system is not building. And students can observe a basic rule: HODs, Ps and VPs are granted “more respect” by virtue of their positions and the heightened stratifications. A HOD Discipline gets “more respect”, simply because such a teacher is imbued with the authority to cane a pupil. I do not understand why caning is allowed in MOE schools. Is it right to inflict violence on an errant pupils just so you could teach him not to use violence on others? Is this right? It is a known fact in MOE that they’re singing a new tune to an old song. The machinery is there. Just run it.

    A few years ago, the buss words were Teach Less, Learn More. That didn’t work.

    It’s a pity that MOE doesn’t allow for critical and robust dialogues to occur in the fraternity. It still has a long way to go.

  14. 22 aeroster 1 December 2011 at 18:30

    A few of the contents here does takes things to the extreme.Sure there are areas which we must discern for ourselves according to the situation,and what that’s instilled should guide us making that decison.
    Speaking which,theres a very bad air of influence on teenage girls and young women these days which makes them dress far below their dignity would require.It may not have been necessary to say it in the past,but current times dictate some articles of clothing worn,or not worn,in given circumstances,is just not right and out of place,especially stark when u compare them with male counterparts in the same circumstance.

    • 23 Poker Player 2 December 2011 at 11:47

      A Victorian would say the same thing about the Michelle Obama wearing clothes exposing her shoulders on official functions.

      Read Jonathan’s comments above – do a bit of reading on the points he raised – IOW – get a true moral education before you comment on morality.

      • 24 Poker Player 2 December 2011 at 11:51

        Actually a Victorian would probably not get past her colour – “morality” without a true moral education is merely personal prejudice in disguise.

    • 25 Poker Player 2 December 2011 at 12:13

      “makes them dress far below their DIGNITY”

      Selling your daughters to pay off your gambling debts – that is a dignity issue.

      Recanting your beliefs or hiding them to keep a bigoted community happy – that is a dignity issue.

      But dressing in a way that does not cause discomfort to others – that is part of the constantly re-negotiated social pact within any civilized community that evolves to adapt to social,economic and technological change.

  15. 26 Poker Player 13 December 2011 at 17:01

    If you are a liberal, it hard not like this approach:

    “When … families confederate into tribes, or the tribes into nations, you may feel obliged to do what does not come naturally: to leave your parents in the lurch by going off to fight in the wars, or to rule against your own village in your capacity as a federal administrator or judge. What Kant would describe as the resulting conflict between moral obligation and sentiment, or between reason and sentiment, is, on a non-Kantian account of the matter, a conflict between one set of loyalties and another set of loyalties. The idea of a universal moral obligation to respect human dignity gets replaced by the idea of loyalty to a very large group – the human species. The idea that moral obligation extends beyond that species to an even larger group becomes the idea of loyalty to all those who, like yourself, can experience pain – even the cows and the kangaroos – or perhaps even to all living things, even the trees.

    This non-Kantian view of morality can be rephrased as the claim that one’s moral identity is determined by the group or groups with which one identifies – the group or groups to which one cannot be disloyal and still like oneself. Moral dilemmas are not, in this view, the result of a conflict between reason and sentiment but between alternative selves, alternative self-descriptions, alternative ways of giving a meaning to one’s life. Non-Kantians do not think that we have a central, true self by virtue of our membership in the human species – a self that responds to the call of reason. They can, instead, agree with Daniel Dennett that a self is a center of narrative gravity. In non-traditional societies, most people have several such narratives at their disposal, and thus several different moral identities. It is this plurality of identities that accounts for the number and variety of moral dilemmas, moral philosophers, and psychological novels in such societies.”

    Justice as a larger loyalty – Richard Rorty

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