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18.8.12

Is there a moral obligation to observe social norms?

Is there a moral obligation to observe social norms? I have a few questions that bother me about social norms. The questions that bother me about social norms are :  Are they natural law? Or are they legal positivism? They seem to be neither, but occupy some middle ground. These questions bother me  because I was born in America at a time in which the major goal and value was self reliance and individuality. Even though the hippies were attacking social norms,  but they just elevated these values beyond their usually accepted level. In Southern California to be independently minded was the  given prime value. No one debated this. [Unlike in the USSR where individualism was attacked.]
But as for what values one would come up with? Clearly Nietzsche was the big thing in those days and also Ann Rand. (She held from agent based values). [Marxism was the economic theory  the philosophy of the hippies.] So the American value of self reliance was swallowed by other value systems. To Nietzsche the Ubermensch creates his own values. To Marx, moral values are an invention of the ruling monied class to exploit the workers. It is a form of moral relativism like Nietzsche. Still the hippies were attacking authority and emphasized the need to be your own person.
Later when I leaned Talmud I discovered that it was very similar to Spinoza in that it holds from an objective moral system than does not depend on the observer.

  Talmud was very different than science because in science you could not start to do your own research until you finished and knew the subject. In Talmud each area stands by itself. So you can in theory open up one Tosphot and understand it without having to have gone through the whole Talmud. [Science is like a pyramid.]

  The Rambam (Maimonides) holds from two axioms that are prime values in his mind. One that there is no difference between the laws of the Torah and the Talmud. That seems simple enough. In general the law of  Talmud is  connected and supported by Biblical law. The Sages of the Talmud sure spend enough time and effort to defend this. However you can't see how successful they were without Tosphot.
The other thing that occupied the attention of Maimonides was to show that the system of law based on the Law  is  rigorous. He succeed in this. No one before or after him ever did.


  However like Von Mises' critique of communism,  any system of human beings that controls people from the top is doomed to failure. The first reason is the reason of Von Mises. Lack of information. While Maimonides showed the logical rigor of the Law,  if you look in any one area, the basic questions of application come fast and heavy until you realize that  in spite of how simple it looks you really don't know the law. The other thing is concept of an all knowing judge (of Ronald Dworkin). Even if he know all the details of the law and all the details of everyone's life--it is still a system being administered from the top to the bottom. There is still no self reliance or independence.

  What is bothering me is social norms. These are clearly very important to people trying to create a super-organism. But do they have any moral value?



Three things bother me. First that the social norms  are considered authoritative, not the Talmud or Rambam, nor Shulchan Aruch. Mere social norms are elevated to Divine status. This bothers me because it was not how I understood the Talmud. The whole idea of the Talmud was that God gave men laws to keep. These laws are objective. They do not depend on what people think of them. This is certainly how Maimonides understood the Talmud.  If not for this, the leaders at the desert of  Sinai could simply have decided that worshiping the Golden calf was perfectly permitted, and you go by a majority vote.

  Social norms gained status after the Middle Ages. Very little of what came after the Middle Ages impresses me except for Mathematics and  the  natural sciences. Even getting rid of kings bothers me. (Large portions of the populace vote themselves money and various carve-outs out of the public coffers. These groups vote monolithically as ethnic blocs to do achieve these takings.Who needs dumb voters?)

  This lead me to the third thing that bothers me more than any of the above. The difference between esoteric doctrine and exoteric doctrine. Once a community is stating public doctrines that are meant to entice people to join the movement, but holding from esoteric doctrines  in which the real norms of behavior are different and often directly opposed to the exoteric doctrines--then I define this community as an cult with all of the negative connotations that go along with that noun. What bothers me is the rationalization of crime when the criminals  in authority and the use of social norms to justify this.

  As for me, I think Reason can know objective moral values . Moral values are based on Nature,-not the will of men. This can also be called Divine Law. The Torah is to tell us what we ought to be able to perceive on out own if not for the evil inclination. This is my own approach to moral issues based large on the Torah and the medieval thought of Maimonides.
 
  This approach is somewhere in between the Kant approach that reason can perceive ''the thing in itself'' though he does not say how, and the intuitionists like H.A. Prichard  and say that reason perceives universals, and morals are universals applied to human affairs. {In this way the intuitionists are like Hegel.} [This is directly opposed to the so called neo-Kant school which is not like Kant at all. To Kant the existence of the ''thing in itself'' does not depend on the perception of the subject.]