Godless Morality

Agnostic_Detective
Posts: 5
Joined: 2007-11-12
User is offlineOffline
Godless Morality

Whenever a religious person asks an atheist to explain the existence of morality without god, the atheist resorts to the following answer:

"Who are you to claim a monopoly on morality?  Religion makes people immoral.  Religious people are responsible for the inquisition, 9/11, child molestation (whether it's priests who go against the bible, or Mohammad marrying a 9 year old), etc.  I'm an atheist, I'm a moral person, I understand that rape and murder are wrong even though I've seen the bible as a stupid and false book since I was 8 years old.

 

That answer is true, at least in part, but not sufficient.  How do we know we have objective good and objective evil?  I agree with Hitchens, Hirsi Ali, and other atheists that 9/11 was an evil action committed by religious fanatics, and of course I see Hitler as pure evil.  But how can we make that judgement and see ourselves as more rightous than Usama Bin Laden, Adolf Hitler, or Pol Pot?

 

Some people think it's wrong to throw 2 million children into gas chambers.  Others think it's right.  Some think they have a right to rape.  Others say all women have an autonomy over their own bodies, regardless of how they dress or behave.

But who is to say our morality is more absolute than that of Adolf Hitler or the common serial killer?  Society dictates laws and values, but different societies dictate different laws and different values.  If I rape someone tomorrow, I may be punished under the laws of western countries, and would be seen as an evil person by its citizens.  But why should I see myself that way if there are moralities that see women as garbage and if autonomy of the body is a man-made concept?

 

I believe that shooting the head of a child for fun is evil, whether it takes place in Los Angeles or Darfur, whether the law permits it or does not.  But I have no good explanation as to why it's absolute evil and why I'm superior to people who disagree with me.  Hitchens thinks 9/11 was bad.  Bin Laden thinks it was good.  You tell me why Hitchens is right if there is no god who decides that Hitchens is right, while religious fanatics are wrong.  You tell me why Hitchens is superior to Usama Bin Laden.

 


DrTerwilliker
DrTerwilliker's picture
Posts: 151
Joined: 2007-08-06
User is offlineOffline
Morality is a dicey,

Morality is a dicey, confusing subject. I can't really explain where it all comes from and why I feel certains things are so wrong and whatnot. But I don't think it's correct for religious people to claim to have more clear morals with an obvious, definite source.

As asked in the Euthyphro Dilemma, is what is what God deems moral mandated by him because it is moral, or is it only moral because it is mandated by God? One or the other must be true, if you are to believe in, for instance, the Christian god. If the former is true, then God is simply a messenger bearing news of some higher morality that even he is subject to, so morality does not come from God, and its source continues to be completely unknown. Not only that, but then God is no longer omnipotent. If the latter is the case, then our morality is essentially meaningless, because it's based on the arbitrary whim of God. If he so desired, he could change morality tomorrow, making charity immoral and beating children to death virtuous.

Now this dilemma by no means answers our questions about morality, but it does knock religious people down to the same level of moral confusion as atheists are supposed to be on. It demands an intellectual honesty about morality. Evolution has definitely played a part in morality, I feel, but who knows if there's more to it? Not I, and though they pretend to, not theists.


latincanuck
atheist
latincanuck's picture
Posts: 2038
Joined: 2007-06-01
User is offlineOffline
    It's really a

    It's really a multitude of things that make up our morality (at least in my view) our teachings of right and wrong as we grow up, basically what our parents, society, and social circle impart on us. Our compassion that many, but not all, feel towards others, especially those in weaker position (such as children) as well as our experiences. As social creatures we do have certain, I would say, innate morals that have evolved as we evolved for our survival, usually that of helping others, not to lie or steal or kill as this hurts our chances of survivial as a group (although not always as an individual as there are circumstances in which these can be justified) Our sense of right and wrong ultimately comes from our upbringing, if those feeling of compassion towards others is corrupted early in our lives it can skew our view of the world. As I recall a program about ireland, it was specificly asking children why a catholic child hated a protestant child, the answer was simply because me dad told me so. No logical reasoning, just because they were brought up to hate one another.


Vessel
Vessel's picture
Posts: 646
Joined: 2006-03-31
User is offlineOffline
Does anyone think it is

Does anyone think it is actually good to throw two million people into gas chambers? I think pretty much everybody (the aberration of severe psychological impairment excluded) would answer no. It is obvious why people feel this way. This type of behavior is counter productive to a safe and healthy society. Living within a safe and healthy scoiety is something that is necessary for our species.

If you will notice, when acts such as the holocaust happen, we do not see them being commited due to an understanding that it is good to throw people into gas chambers. If this were the case, then that segment of humanity would quickly drive themselves extinct by gassing each other. 

What we do see is that these acts require justifications which serve to explain why this act that is naturally considered abhorant is, in a particular circumstance, actually good. In contrast, you never see anyone justifying saving an infant from a burning building or helping those involved in a natural disaster. We naturally consider these acts good and thus they require no justification. Justifications are reserved strictly for explaining why one is behaving, or desires to behave, in a non-natural way.This seems to serve as evidence that human moralitry is not so diverse as it might at first appear.

When we consider this it seems to me that, despite what may at first glance appear to be a highly varied sense of morality existing amongst different human societies, what we actually see it that humans have a fairly consistent natural, evolutionarily calibrated, moral compass. 

Of course from here we need to look at individual cases and consider the circumstances of particular events to see of what appears bad in some cases may not actually be good or vice versa, but no matter how we decide on any given circumstance our base differentiation between good and bad acts, in the broad categorical sense, seems to remain very much unaffected. 

 

 

“Philosophers have argued for centuries about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but materialists have always known it depends on whether they are jitterbugging or dancing cheek to cheek" -- Tom Robbins


nedbrek
Theist
Posts: 195
Joined: 2006-12-08
User is offlineOffline
Vessel wrote: Does anyone

Vessel wrote:
Does anyone think it is actually good to throw two million people into gas chambers?

Nazi society was relatively stable. It took the combined efforts of most of the rest of the world to take them down. They thought they were doing the human race a favor by eliminating the weak elements.

Worse, communist regimes in Russia and China have murdered many millions more. The people in charge of these regimes were never punished. Russia has had a minor change in power (although it seems possible they may return to a similar system soon). The Chinese ruling party has turned down their rhetoric because of the current economics. I wouldn't count on that lasting long enough for broad safety. It is certainly no protection for small minorities (Tibet anyone?)


Vessel
Vessel's picture
Posts: 646
Joined: 2006-03-31
User is offlineOffline
nedbrek wrote: Vessel

nedbrek wrote:

Vessel wrote:
Does anyone think it is actually good to throw two million people into gas chambers?

Nazi society was relatively stable. It took the combined efforts of most of the rest of the world to take them down. They thought they were doing the human race a favor by eliminating the weak elements.

Worse, communist regimes in Russia and China have murdered many millions more. The people in charge of these regimes were never punished. Russia has had a minor change in power (although it seems possible they may return to a similar system soon). The Chinese ruling party has turned down their rhetoric because of the current economics. I wouldn't count on that lasting long enough for broad safety. It is certainly no protection for small minorities (Tibet anyone?)

Yes. I don't see how this is in contradiction to anything I wrote in my response to the OP. In fact it seems to that you help support what I said, probably without realizing it. Let me try and clarify.

The stability of Nazi society was not in question. The point stands that 'gassing other human beings to death is wrong' is a moral understanding that all people have, including the Nazis. If the Nazis had believed gassing other people to death was good they would have been gassing their mothers and their children and their best friends. It would have been one big gas party and all loved ones would have been invited. What the Nazis believed was that gassing certain segments of the population to death was a good in that these segments of the population were bad for society. So the Nazis justified acting counter to their natural moral inclinations that 'gassing others is wrong'. Still, as is obvious by their use of justification and the fact that 'gassing to death' was restricted to what they considered a non-desirable element of society, the Nazis help to show that the act of 'gassing people to death' is normally (naturally) considered by human beings to be a moral evil.

Do you see what I am saying now? Humans are obviously programmed, through evolutionary means, to have these broad categorical definitions of good and evil and to assign certain acts, in their broad basic sense, to these categories. They then use or examine justifications to consider specific circumstances and see what difference that makes as to which category an act may be placed in (whether through justification an evil can become a good in a certain set of circumstances). Their sense of good and bad, right and wrong, does not change. They simply recategorize certain acts dependant on certain circumstances.

We can also take this discussion into why I consider the evolutionary basis of these right and wrong categories to be survival if you wish. I personally think from this understanding morals aren;t nearly as mysterious as they seem. 

 

“Philosophers have argued for centuries about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but materialists have always known it depends on whether they are jitterbugging or dancing cheek to cheek" -- Tom Robbins


nedbrek
Theist
Posts: 195
Joined: 2006-12-08
User is offlineOffline
Vessel wrote: Yes. I don't

Vessel wrote:

Yes. I don't see how this is in contradiction to anything I wrote in my response to the OP. In fact it seems to that you help support what I said, probably without realizing it. Let me try and clarify.

Sorry, you're right. I misread the original thread as being about how atheists can be moral (a common topic here).

Vessel wrote:

Do you see what I am saying now? Humans are obviously programmed, through evolutionary means, to have these broad categorical definitions of good and evil and to assign certain acts, in their broad basic sense, to these categories.

We can also take this discussion into why I consider the evolutionary basis of these right and wrong categories to be survival if you wish. I personally think from this understanding morals aren;t nearly as mysterious as they seem.

Interesting, as a Christian, I believe that the sense of right and wrong (our "conscience" so to speak) is part of our being "made in the image of God". For example, animals (that is, non-human animals) do not have notions like justice or fairness.

I would be interested in your views as to how morality would be good (or bad) for survival.

My understanding is that we have a natural tendency to act against our conscience (this is our "fallen nature" ). Every time we violate our conscience, we "harden our heart" - sort of cover it over with a tough layer of skin - sear it (like the outside of a steak).

If you read the biographies of serial killers, you see this in practice. They spend a lot of time torturing and killing small animals. After some time, they are able to kill without being bothered (much).


latincanuck
atheist
latincanuck's picture
Posts: 2038
Joined: 2007-06-01
User is offlineOffline
    That notion that

    That notion that animals do not have a sense of fairness and justice is based on ignorance that much i can tell you, if you bothered to even do an ounce of research you would have found many studies that contradict your view of animals not having a sense of fairness and justice. Here is one regarding monkeys http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3116678.stm

We haven't studied all animals but even dophins have shown fairness amongst themselves. But again, just do some basic research, it's not hard to do, and since you are using the internet might as well use it to expand your knowledge. 


nedbrek
Theist
Posts: 195
Joined: 2006-12-08
User is offlineOffline
latincanuck

I don't know if I would describe that reaction as a "demand for justice".  I'd call that selfish Smiling  If you have agreed to do a task for a price, what business it is of yours if your neighbor earns more for the same task? (Matthew 20:13 Smiling


latincanuck
atheist
latincanuck's picture
Posts: 2038
Joined: 2007-06-01
User is offlineOffline
If we work for the same

If we work for the same company doing the same job, I expect the same level of pay, not necessarly exacly the same but a FAIR pay. The same goes for the experiement about the monkeys that they do view a form of fairness. Of course I mean the fairness we humans have must be different right? Fairness of pay (like those of women fighting for fair pay) is selfish right? I mean that is selfish that people would expect fairness in this senario? I mean what does a woman care if a man earns more right for the exact same job? It's selfishness not fairness. Come on man fairness is being shown here, if you like to equate it with selfiness then you have no clue what fairness is.


nedbrek
Theist
Posts: 195
Joined: 2006-12-08
User is offlineOffline
latincanuck wrote: Come on

latincanuck wrote:
Come on man fairness is being shown here, if you like to equate it with selfiness then you have no clue what fairness is.

Well, I said "justice". You can argue that economically, logically, people should be paid the same for the same work. I can see that. But if two people negotiate different wages, I don't see how that is unfair.

Any feelings on the part of the lower paid seem to stem from a desire for what your neighbor has. That's selfishness, not a sense of justice.

Justice is demanding that law breakers be apprehended, and for the law breaker to make restitution or be punished. (That is a much higher bar for non-human animals.)


Archeopteryx
Superfan
Archeopteryx's picture
Posts: 1037
Joined: 2007-09-09
User is offlineOffline
  Just for my own two

 

Just for my own two cents:

 

I also think it's a mistake to assume that all natural explanations for morality must be solely based on evolutionary advantage in some way. I don't doubt that some morality has some kind of a biological/evolutionary basis, but it seems like greedy reductionism to shave it all down to just evolutionary explanations.

Obviously not all ethical beliefs are ones that are evolutionarily advantageous or stable. Abstinence and celibacy, for example, are very popular memes that actually work against the interests of yours genes. Donating money to charity (i.e. to beneficiaries you don't know, are not related to, and will probably never meet) would certainly be considered an ethical act, but how is a charitable donation evolutionarily advantageous or stable?

Biology no doubt plays a role in the formation of ethics, but I think it's also more complicated than that. Culture also plays a role, but the most important factor to consider, I think, is what keeps a social structure stable, not what keeps a species or individual stable.

Explaining ethics naturally is extremely complicated and expecting someone to explain it in any concise and definitive way is a dirty strategy. You might as well be asking them to explain briefly and definitively the natural development of "music". It's far too general a question to begin with, but even explaining certain branches of it will take a very long time. Ethics, though, is even more complicated to discuss than music, so it's especially unfair.

It seems that since many Christians (and other theists) hold a system where their morality IS very easy to explain in a concise and definitive way (i.e. God gave us morality and it is an objective morality---the end), that they expect an equally concise and definitive explanation in its place or else the explanation is somehow not up to snuff. Like any other area of knowledge (think of the evolution of man for example), if the proponent of the natural theory cannot fill in every possible gap that the theist presents, the explanation is not good enough and can therefore be shrugged off as wishy-washy, a good guess, or a nice try.

It's topic that interest me a lot and apparently there have been many who have written about it (Dan Dennett discusses it somewhat near the end of Darwin's Dangerous Idea, to name one I'm familiar with, and he cites a few other authors such as Thomas Hobbes and Friedrich Nietzsche, who, according to him (Dennett), were important contributors, but were not without their mistakes).

Anyway, rather than ranting on an on (I didn't even expect to write this much) I'll just say it's not all about the biology, but it's not without biology either.

If anyone knows of any good books on the topic, please let me know!

(Religious texts not wanted. Thanks, but no thanks). 

A place common to all will be maintained by none. A religion common to all is perhaps not much different.


nedbrek
Theist
Posts: 195
Joined: 2006-12-08
User is offlineOffline
Archeopteryx

Archeopteryx wrote:

Obviously not all ethical beliefs are ones that are evolutionarily advantageous or stable. Abstinence and celibacy, for example, are very popular memes that actually work against the interests of yours genes.

Yes, the usual explanation is that since a group tends to share genes, genes can be selected based on how the group as a whole behaves.

Archeopteryx wrote:
You might as well be asking them to explain briefly and definitively the natural development of "music".

Well, duh, it was Jubal, the father of all those playing the harp and organ! (Genesis 4:21 Smiling

Archeopteryx wrote:
If anyone knows of any good books on the topic, please let me know!

I don't think it will address your questions directly, but "Guns, Germs, and Steel" (Jared Diamond) is the best "pre-history" book I have ever read. Not religious at all (Diamond is an evolutionary ornithologist). Much better than "Ishmael" (Daniel Quinn) which while not technically religious, is very preachy. GGS gets a little preachy at the end, but the bulk is interesting.


Archeopteryx
Superfan
Archeopteryx's picture
Posts: 1037
Joined: 2007-09-09
User is offlineOffline
nedbrek

nedbrek wrote:
Archeopteryx wrote:

Obviously not all ethical beliefs are ones that are evolutionarily advantageous or stable. Abstinence and celibacy, for example, are very popular memes that actually work against the interests of yours genes.

Yes, the usual explanation is that since a group tends to share genes, genes can be selected based on how the group as a whole behaves.

 

Are you referring to group selection (i.e. selecting for the benefit of the group)? I don't think biologists are endorsing that kind of explanation anymore. Dawkins dedicates at least one, if not more, entire chapter to the idea in The Selfish Gene (which was written in the 70s). If I remember correctly, he substitutes game theory and ESSs (evolutionarily stable strategies) in its place. I would probably murder any explanation of how it applies though.

 

Thanks for the recommendation. I'll see if a library in the area has it available. 

A place common to all will be maintained by none. A religion common to all is perhaps not much different.


nedbrek
Theist
Posts: 195
Joined: 2006-12-08
User is offlineOffline
Archeopteryx wrote:   Are

Archeopteryx wrote:
 

Are you referring to group selection (i.e. selecting for the benefit of the group)? I don't think biologists are endorsing that kind of explanation anymore. Dawkins dedicates at least one, if not more, entire chapter to the idea in The Selfish Gene (which was written in the 70s). If I remember correctly, he substitutes game theory and ESSs (evolutionarily stable strategies) in its place. I would probably murder any explanation of how it applies though.

 Yes, I think so.  I learned evolution almost 20 years ago.  My field is computers, so I haven't kept up... I will have to look for "The Selfish Gene".  Thanks!

Archeopteryx wrote:
Thanks for the recommendation. I'll see if a library in the area has it available.

Sure, no problem! 


Vessel
Vessel's picture
Posts: 646
Joined: 2006-03-31
User is offlineOffline
Archeopteryx wrote:  Just

Archeopteryx wrote:

 Just for my own two cents:

I also think it's a mistake to assume that all natural explanations for morality must be solely based on evolutionary advantage in some way. I don't doubt that some morality has some kind of a biological/evolutionary basis, but it seems like greedy reductionism to shave it all down to just evolutionary explanations.

Interesting comments. 

I'm not sure what else we could credit as the basis of human morality aside from evolutionarily selected tendencies. When we say something is good or bad we are referencing something real. We do not all have an understanding that to kill indiscriminately is wrong simply by chance. This wrongness we refer to is a wrongness with respect to something. The only thing that I can see which could instill this innate understanding of what one references by the terms right and wrong is that through evolutionarily selected responses we are referencing survival benefits and detriments. 

What else could we credit as the basis of moral categories? Even if some other basis can be shown, how would it not be reliant on evolutionary selection? When it comes to human behavior, how is it that any field is not a direct product of evolutionary selection?

Quote:
Obviously not all ethical beliefs are ones that are evolutionarily advantageous or stable. Abstinence and celibacy, for example, are very popular memes that actually work against the interests of yours genes. Donating money to charity (i.e. to beneficiaries you don't know, are not related to, and will probably never meet) would certainly be considered an ethical act, but how is a charitable donation evolutionarily advantageous or stable?

Donating money seems to me to be a derivation of cooperation and reciprocal altruism, both of which provide strong survival benefits for social animals. I don't see abstinence and celibacy, in and of themselves, as either good or bad. They do not seem to have moral significance without consideration of further circumstances.

When a society deems them as good or bad for some reason (religious, social i.e. disease control, what have you) then they most definitely have moral value as the behaviors then affect the stability of the society which in turn directly affects the stability of the population or perhaps, in the case of disease control, they affect the stability of the population directly. Then we must answer the question of whether there is justification to perhaps cause social unrest and inflict some amount of instability for the purpose of bringing about greater future stability. But the fundamental questions and categories never change, only the placement of specific instances. Also, that some may bring morally neutral behaviors into the light of moral reasoning and attempt to define them as a societal good or evil does not necessarily mean that they actually have a inherent moral value in themselves.   

Quote:
Biology no doubt plays a role in the formation of ethics, but I think it's also more complicated than that. Culture also plays a role, but the most important factor to consider, I think, is what keeps a social structure stable, not what keeps a species or individual stable.

But the stability of the social structure and the stability of the species can not be so easily seperated when discussing social animals, can it? Is the social structure not a direct result of selected tendancies and understanding of the moral categories of good and bad, right and wrong? Is the ability to form a stable social structure itself not a distinct survival advantage for a social animal?  Without this understanding of what is appropriate social behavior and what is not (right and wrong), the society could never form to then consider specific social circumstances and how they might justify making ammendments to our naturally instilled code of moral conduct.

Quote:
Explaining ethics naturally is extremely complicated and expecting someone to explain it in any concise and definitive way is a dirty strategy.

I agree it is complicated. But I think if we realize that the only real base of reference for the basic moral categories is survival then we realize that all moral questions must ultimately tie back into this survival base. 

 

 


“Philosophers have argued for centuries about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but materialists have always known it depends on whether they are jitterbugging or dancing cheek to cheek" -- Tom Robbins


latincanuck
atheist
latincanuck's picture
Posts: 2038
Joined: 2007-06-01
User is offlineOffline
nedbrek wrote: latincanuck

nedbrek wrote:

latincanuck wrote:
Come on man fairness is being shown here, if you like to equate it with selfiness then you have no clue what fairness is.

Well, I said "justice". You can argue that economically, logically, people should be paid the same for the same work. I can see that. But if two people negotiate different wages, I don't see how that is unfair.

Any feelings on the part of the lower paid seem to stem from a desire for what your neighbor has. That's selfishness, not a sense of justice.

Justice is demanding that law breakers be apprehended, and for the law breaker to make restitution or be punished. (That is a much higher bar for non-human animals.)

    Many social animals, especially with apes and monkeys, those that break the group rules of fairness tend to be singled out and ousted of the group, this is a form of justice and punishment for a law breaker, the thing with humans is that we have set up different forms of it, animals may have what i call basic sense of fairness and justice, otherwise social groups could not survive, there would be no leader, no need of a group if there were no rules that they follow and no need of a group to survive, however social animals tend to follow group rules that can change from group to group within the same species.


Archeopteryx
Superfan
Archeopteryx's picture
Posts: 1037
Joined: 2007-09-09
User is offlineOffline
A reply for Vessel:   As

A reply for Vessel:

 

As far as I can tell, I think we agree on morality, we're just explaining it differently.

In a sense you're absolutely right. Any natural explanation for morality will no doubt be rooted in biology and evolution. For example, I said that we would also have to consider culture and societies, but in order to have culture and societies, there must first be animals who have evolved to a level where they are capable of forming cultures and societies. (Plenty of animals have the society part down, but the culture part is a little more tricky it seems).

What I'm trying to avoid is what Dan Dennett (I've been quoting him a lot lately) calls "greedy reductionism". Just because it can all be traced back to biology, doesn't mean that the explanation should be purely biological. To put it another way, even though we could probably explain the proceedings of a Supreme Court decision in terms of biochemistry (how much farther could you reduce it?), it would be misleading, inappropriate, and a waste of our time to do so.

So I don't intend to remove biology from the heart of morality. We are biological beings, so whatever we are will be rooted in biology. (That seems redundant, but I think you get what I mean). I just don't want any broad-sweeping explanations that fail to take all of the factors into consideration. Morality involves many different things, most of which can be traced to biology in some respect, I just don't think everything NEEDS to be, which is why I say biology should only serve as a piece of the explanation, not the entire basis.

Does that make sense? 

No matter what explanation is uncovered, though, I'm not certain that it will ever be anything black and white. We won't be able to make predictions or draw diagrams like we can with evolution or calculus. I guess that's to say that even though I think we would be able to understand it within a certain margin of confidence, I don't think it's something that can be pinned down to arithmetic science that can be used to make predictions and the like. It's far too slippery.

Then again, Galileo probably couldn't have conceived of a moon-landing. So we'll see, I suppose. 

A place common to all will be maintained by none. A religion common to all is perhaps not much different.


Vessel
Vessel's picture
Posts: 646
Joined: 2006-03-31
User is offlineOffline
Archeopteryx wrote: A

Archeopteryx wrote:

A reply for Vessel:

 

As far as I can tell, I think we agree on morality, we're just explaining it differently.

In a sense you're absolutely right. Any natural explanation for morality will no doubt be rooted in biology and evolution. For example, I said that we would also have to consider culture and societies, but in order to have culture and societies, there must first be animals who have evolved to a level where they are capable of forming cultures and societies. (Plenty of animals have the society part down, but the culture part is a little more tricky it seems).

What I'm trying to avoid is what Dan Dennett (I've been quoting him a lot lately) calls "greedy reductionism". Just because it can all be traced back to biology, doesn't mean that the explanation should be purely biological. To put it another way, even though we could probably explain the proceedings of a Supreme Court decision in terms of biochemistry (how much farther could you reduce it?), it would be misleading, inappropriate, and a waste of our time to do so.

So I don't intend to remove biology from the heart of morality. We are biological beings, so whatever we are will be rooted in biology. (That seems redundant, but I think you get what I mean). I just don't want any broad-sweeping explanations that fail to take all of the factors into consideration. Morality involves many different things, most of which can be traced to biology in some respect, I just don't think everything NEEDS to be, which is why I say biology should only serve as a piece of the explanation, not the entire basis.

Does that make sense?

Yes. I think you are right. It seems we do, at least fundamentally, agree. And you are right in that there is no need to for this type of greedy reductionism in most circumstances, certainly not in the case of making day to day moral decisions or being able to understand another's perspective on moral issues.  

I basically only use this type of reductionist explanation in conversations with theists, when attempting to explain morals to those who raise objections of there being no natural basis for morality sans their deity. I also think it can be beneficial in realizing what it is we are, in the end, actually considering when we attempt to make those hard moral choices where we might actually be having to decide between what would normally be considered two or more social 'evils'.

Anyway, as far as this conversation goes it seems we actually are in agreement.  


“Philosophers have argued for centuries about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but materialists have always known it depends on whether they are jitterbugging or dancing cheek to cheek" -- Tom Robbins


DeathMunkyGod
atheist
Posts: 61
Joined: 2007-09-15
User is offlineOffline
Morality

I have always had a much better explanation for morality without God.

Morality is a product of empathy.  Empathy is built into the human brain.  This is beyond doubt or question because empathy is built into more than just the human brain.  It is a demonstrable quality in all primates and many more mammals, dogs, for instance.  Just as humans are not the only self aware species on earth.  Dolphins and Elephants are also self aware.

Anyway, empathy is basically your ability to place yourself into someone else's position.  When a person thinks about how something happening to someone else would affect them, suddenly the prospect of doing it to someone else or allowing it to happen to someone else is no longer so attractive.  It is for this reason that serial killers and mass murderers need to dehumanize their victims.  If they acknowledged that their victims were people like them they wouldn't be able to do what they do to them.

For instance, Hitler dehumanized the jews, he didn't think it was wrong because he didn't think they were human.  Slave owners dehumanized their slaves, in societies where slaves were not dehumanized the slaves were more often treated with greater civility.  Many serial killers will take measures to dehumanize their victims, these are the ones who are not sociopathic.

Empathy is a function of the brain, and as such is susceptible to damage.  Sociopathic people, have suffered either developmental or physical damage to the part of the brain responsible for empathy.

Now briefly the evolution of social morality.

I believe it should be clear to all that not all morals are universal.  This is a subtle argument against christianity.  Not difinitively, mind, you, but it is an argument against it.  If christianity were correct and all human morality comes from God, all human socities should have the same morals.  We don't, this is obvious to anyone with any knowledge of other cultures.  One obvious explanation for this, and really the only one I can think of (which isn't to say others don't exist), is that morals are not objective.  They are subjective and dependant upon societal needs and structures.  In human hunter gatherer socities, which is what all humans lived in before the development of farming, even murder is alright as long as it was not within the tribe.  This was easy to control because socities were so small.  Everyone within a hunter gatherer group was closely related to everyone else.  In these socities religion is almost entirely restricted to acts of nature, like the weather, earthquakes, etc., or fertility, most often of game.

In socities after the development of farming, which were still small and just starting to produce enough food to allow for larger populations, and also is socities which are only capable of only partial forms of farming, like slash an burn farming which require a semi nomadic lifestyle and thus doesn't allow for the society to grow too large too fast, there are more distant relations.  Still people are either closely related to each other or in a conflict situation there will be close relatives to both parties immediately present.  So murder within the social group will still be uncommon without the need of any outside interference.  Religion here is still mostly confimed to acts of nature and fertility, now the fertility of crops, herds and game.

When farming has gotten to the point where it is supporting large populations we enter into a situation in which in conflict situations within the tribe it becomes increasingly likely that the people involved will have no relation to each other and that there will be no one closely related present to intervene for either or both sides.  In these situations religion starts to shift its focus from merely explaining and hopefully controlling nature and fertility to uniting the unrelated in some surrogate relation.  In the case of christianity the brotherhood of Christ.  Murder within the socities becomes increasingly more and more wrong.

This brings us to large socities like today in which religion has evolved into a full on morality machine.  However as has been pointed out, the morality of religions are only averse to murders within socities.  They are designed and work to maintain civil order.  We expect strangers in our socities to obey our societal laws and so when a stranger is in our societies we treat them like members of our socities.  It is the same for other socities when we are strangers within them.  They developed their religions and socities along the same basic outlines as our socities, with their own unique touches as their societal needs required and their own cultural identity directed.  Outside of a given society, though, religion is used to justify murders and wars with competing moral systems or religions.  Most often the true reasons for such wars have nothing to do with the moral or religious issues which are used to justify them.


Vessel
Vessel's picture
Posts: 646
Joined: 2006-03-31
User is offlineOffline
DeathMunkyGod wrote: I

DeathMunkyGod wrote:

I have always had a much better explanation for morality without God.

Morality is a product of empathy. Empathy is built into the human brain. This is beyond doubt or question because empathy is built into more than just the human brain. It is a demonstrable quality in all primates and many more mammals, dogs, for instance. Just as humans are not the only self aware species on earth. Dolphins and Elephants are also self aware.

Anyway, empathy is basically your ability to place yourself into someone else's position. When a person thinks about how something happening to someone else would affect them, suddenly the prospect of doing it to someone else or allowing it to happen to someone else is no longer so attractive. It is for this reason that serial killers and mass murderers need to dehumanize their victims. If they acknowledged that their victims were people like them they wouldn't be able to do what they do to them.

For instance, Hitler dehumanized the jews, he didn't think it was wrong because he didn't think they were human. Slave owners dehumanized their slaves, in societies where slaves were not dehumanized the slaves were more often treated with greater civility. Many serial killers will take measures to dehumanize their victims, these are the ones who are not sociopathic.

Empathy is a function of the brain, and as such is susceptible to damage. Sociopathic people, have suffered either developmental or physical damage to the part of the brain responsible for empathy.

Now briefly the evolution of social morality.

I believe it should be clear to all that not all morals are universal. This is a subtle argument against christianity. Not difinitively, mind, you, but it is an argument against it. If christianity were correct and all human morality comes from God, all human socities should have the same morals. We don't, this is obvious to anyone with any knowledge of other cultures. One obvious explanation for this, and really the only one I can think of (which isn't to say others don't exist), is that morals are not objective. They are subjective and dependant upon societal needs and structures. In human hunter gatherer socities, which is what all humans lived in before the development of farming, even murder is alright as long as it was not within the tribe. This was easy to control because socities were so small. Everyone within a hunter gatherer group was closely related to everyone else. In these socities religion is almost entirely restricted to acts of nature, like the weather, earthquakes, etc., or fertility, most often of game.

In socities after the development of farming, which were still small and just starting to produce enough food to allow for larger populations, and also is socities which are only capable of only partial forms of farming, like slash an burn farming which require a semi nomadic lifestyle and thus doesn't allow for the society to grow too large too fast, there are more distant relations. Still people are either closely related to each other or in a conflict situation there will be close relatives to both parties immediately present. So murder within the social group will still be uncommon without the need of any outside interference. Religion here is still mostly confimed to acts of nature and fertility, now the fertility of crops, herds and game.

When farming has gotten to the point where it is supporting large populations we enter into a situation in which in conflict situations within the tribe it becomes increasingly likely that the people involved will have no relation to each other and that there will be no one closely related present to intervene for either or both sides. In these situations religion starts to shift its focus from merely explaining and hopefully controlling nature and fertility to uniting the unrelated in some surrogate relation. In the case of christianity the brotherhood of Christ. Murder within the socities becomes increasingly more and more wrong.

This brings us to large socities like today in which religion has evolved into a full on morality machine. However as has been pointed out, the morality of religions are only averse to murders within socities. They are designed and work to maintain civil order. We expect strangers in our socities to obey our societal laws and so when a stranger is in our societies we treat them like members of our socities. It is the same for other socities when we are strangers within them. They developed their religions and socities along the same basic outlines as our socities, with their own unique touches as their societal needs required and their own cultural identity directed. Outside of a given society, though, religion is used to justify murders and wars with competing moral systems or religions. Most often the true reasons for such wars have nothing to do with the moral or religious issues which are used to justify them.

And what is meant by right and wrong here?

See, this is why I take the approach I do when discussing morals with theists. It seems to me that when the theist asks what the basis for morality is, without god, they are not asking how we make individual moral decisions without god. Obviously all people must make individual moral decisions from the subjective viewpoint of self. It is the only viewpoint available. And all socities must make moral decisions from the subjective perspective of a society. Again, no other option. I don't see how anyone, not even the theist, could deny this. What it seems they are actually asking is 'what is the basis for the moral categories of good and evil, right and wrong, themselves?'.

When we talk about how societies come by specific moral codes we are often talking past the theist. And to a great extent we are actually missing the point of any conversation dealing with morality. If we never establish what is meant by the terms right and wrong we are saying absolutely nothing by discussing how one (individual, family, group, society, etc.) assigns acts to these categories.

If I am going to assign all human behaviors to either the category of grilt or furgle, no matter what perspective I use and whether it is objective, subjective, relative or absolute, there would be no criteria by which to decide which behavior belonged where unless I first give these categories some referent; base them in some established concepts, define them, that sort of thing.  If we don't first do this with the concepts of right and wrong then assigning acts to these categories, by any criteria, is wholly meaningless. We might as well be using a lotto system.

As it happens we don't need to define these terms as it seems nature has done this for us. We are preprogrammed to understand what is meant by right and wrong (the concepts, not the words.) We have an innate understanding of what is meant when someone says it is wrong to do something. We may not agree with them on whether the given act, in the present circumstances, interpreted from our subjective viewpoint, is right or wrong, but we are both using the same concept of right and wrong by which to judge. 

This is how morality is objective. The categories, without which morality could not exist is any form, are objective. They are solidly based in our ability to exist in groups and to continue as a life form. This leads to there often being very definitive answers to moral questions whether we judge correctly from our subjective viewpoint or not. 

Anyway, I don't disagree with what you've said here except for the claim that morality is subjective. It actually seems to me to be subjectively interpreted against an objective standard. (Not sure that wording is exactly accurate but it was the best way I could think to phrase it at the moment)   

“Philosophers have argued for centuries about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but materialists have always known it depends on whether they are jitterbugging or dancing cheek to cheek" -- Tom Robbins


DeathMunkyGod
atheist
Posts: 61
Joined: 2007-09-15
User is offlineOffline
right and wrong

What is meant by right and wrong here should be obvious.  The concepts are defined and decided by the society in which you live.  In some eastern or middle eastern socities many things are considered right which are not considered right in our society.  The things which are "right" are the things which are allowed by our culture which do not disturb or threaten our civil order.  Murder is wrong in most circumstances in our society because murder without a good cause, like self defense, is a threat to our civil order, which is why serial killers are bad.  They threaten the safety of the individuals that make up a society, they threaten the civil order.

Things wrong are the things which disturb or threaten the civil order, rape isn't so much a threat to the civil order but it does disturb it.  Remember that morality derives its source from empathy.  You may not be able to fully understand and feel the pain of a rape victim, but you can empathize well enough to know you wouldn't want to be one yourself.  When you know that it can happen to someone else it brings it home that it could happen to you, thus we punish rapists who disturb the civil order.  If we don't catch and punish a serial rapist or a serial killer you or someone you know who is close to you could concievably be the next victim.

Theft in many societies is considered wrong if the society in question, and let's face it there aren't many that don't, regard personal posessions as important.  Probably the only culture I've heard of which does not regard theftt as much of a crime is Tongans.   Tongans also don't place a lot of value on personal possessions...at least they don't in Tonga, or didn't in the past.  This situation may have changed.  But theft is a threat to the civil order in a society whose economy is based on property and ownership rights.  A peron who will just violate such rights is seen as a threat to those rights.

Now the evolution of such rights as ownership rights was a long process, but what it basically amounts to is the eventual legal recognition of a person's attachment to the things they worked to make or worked to acquire.  Even within a society such rights are transitory, they can be taken away by the government for failure to pay taxes, or imminent domain.  They are subjective.  Most people don't experience this, though, so in the current system the right of ownership holds in most cases.

 And in reality nature has not defined the terms right and wrong.  If you look throughout nature many practices are considered right which our culture has deemed wrong for various reasons.  Incest is perfectly fine in dogs, for instance, interspecies relations (horse and donkey = mule), infanticide (when a male lion takes over a pride he eats all of the cubs, or just kills them).  Even homosexuality, which I don't really see as wrong but which many do, is found throughout nature.   So nature has not defined for us what is right and wrong in any really objective sense.  These animals don't live in large unrelated societies, the animals which do do not adopt such behaviors.  Right and wrong are subjectively dictated by the needs of us to live together in a large society to survive as a species.

You can look for further evidence that morality is subjective at still existant hunter gatherer societies.  When to aboriginal New Guineans meet for the first time whilw out gathering alone the first thing they do is talk about all of their relations.  What they're trying to do is find a single person they're both related to in an attempt to find a single reason why they shouldn't try to kill each other for what they've gathered.  This kind of behavior is common and acceptable to the morality of a small hunter gatherer society, these two strangers, if they have no relatives in common, have no one to worry about hurting who they will expect to meet if they fght for each other's food.  Also it would be less work and so more "cost effective" to kill this person and take what he has gathered than it would be to gather it all himself.  At the same time you have to worry about the other person thinking the same things.  But in such societies it's perfectly acceptable to kill a stranger for what he has.  In our society it is not.  But their society has no need for strangers to get along with strangers.  Our society does.

In reality the only objective standard for morality is survival of the species.  Any act which jeapordizes the survival of the species is objectively immoral, this was the original selective pressure for the evolution of empathy.  However aside from this anything is allowed by nature and it is the needs of large societies and their subjective cultural touches which dictate how morality is expressed in any given society. 


Vessel
Vessel's picture
Posts: 646
Joined: 2006-03-31
User is offlineOffline
DeathMunkyGod wrote:

DeathMunkyGod wrote:

What is meant by right and wrong here should be obvious. The concepts are defined and decided by the society in which you live. In some eastern or middle eastern socities many things are considered right which are not considered right in our society. The things which are "right" are the things which are allowed by our culture which do not disturb or threaten our civil order. Murder is wrong in most circumstances in our society because murder without a good cause, like self defense, is a threat to our civil order, which is why serial killers are bad. They threaten the safety of the individuals that make up a society, they threaten the civil order.

And civil order is good, why? Survival benefit.

Quote:
Things wrong are the things which disturb or threaten the civil order, rape isn't so much a threat to the civil order but it does disturb it.

Well, I would say rape is definitely a threat to civil order. And the threat to civil order has a direct effect on our ability to live in a group, which has a direct effect on our ability to survive as a social animal.

Quote:
Remember that morality derives its source from empathy. You may not be able to fully understand and feel the pain of a rape victim, but you can empathize well enough to know you wouldn't want to be one yourself. When you know that it can happen to someone else it brings it home that it could happen to you, thus we punish rapists who disturb the civil order. If we don't catch and punish a serial rapist or a serial killer you or someone you know who is close to you could concievably be the next victim.

Yes, empathy plays a big part in our moral understanding. We have evolved to have mirror neurons which seem to cause us to experience, to some extent, the viewpoint of others. We also have the ability to consider things, to form what one might call meta-representations of objects or events and examine them without having to experience the actual event. When we put this together we have evolved to be fairly adept at judging the effect our acts will have on others. This is a good thing to have if you need to live amongst others in order to boost your chances for survival.

Quote:
Theft in many societies is considered wrong if the society in question, and let's face it there aren't many that don't, regard personal posessions as important. Probably the only culture I've heard of which does not regard theftt as much of a crime is Tongans. Tongans also don't place a lot of value on personal possessions...at least they don't in Tonga, or didn't in the past. This situation may have changed. But theft is a threat to the civil order in a society whose economy is based on property and ownership rights. A peron who will just violate such rights is seen as a threat to those rights.

It would seem that theft could not occur in a society where people don't consider possessions to be personal, nor would there be any need to steal as it would serve no end if the stolen good did not become 'your's'. When introduced to the concept of personal property however, then there would need to be a moral understanding of whether or not it was right to take what belonged to another. The survival benefit of being able to live in groups would become dependent on it.

Quote:
Now the evolution of such rights as ownership rights was a long process, but what it basically amounts to is the eventual legal recognition of a person's attachment to the things they worked to make or worked to acquire. Even within a society such rights are transitory, they can be taken away by the government for failure to pay taxes, or imminent domain. They are subjective. Most people don't experience this, though, so in the current system the right of ownership holds in most cases.

Yes.

Quote:
And in reality nature has not defined the terms right and wrong. If you look throughout nature many practices are considered right which our culture has deemed wrong for various reasons. Incest is perfectly fine in dogs, for instance, interspecies relations (horse and donkey = mule), infanticide (when a male lion takes over a pride he eats all of the cubs, or just kills them). Even homosexuality, which I don't really see as wrong but which many do, is found throughout nature. So nature has not defined for us what is right and wrong in any really objective sense. These animals don't live in large unrelated societies, the animals which do do not adopt such behaviors. Right and wrong are subjectively dictated by the needs of us to live together in a large society to survive as a species.

Again you are confusing what I am saying with the way specific decided upon behaviors within specific circumstances. I am saying the base moral categories, our concepts of right and wrong, are formed naturally. When we look at base moral categories, not 'what is right or wrong' but 'what right or wrong is', we find, as you will state below, that our evolved nature, with its goal of survival, is our only reference point.

Quote:
You can look for further evidence that morality is subjective at still existant hunter gatherer societies. When to aboriginal New Guineans meet for the first time whilw out gathering alone the first thing they do is talk about all of their relations. What they're trying to do is find a single person they're both related to in an attempt to find a single reason why they shouldn't try to kill each other for what they've gathered.

So it is not that killing others is good, but killing certain others for a certain goal is justified.

Quote:
This kind of behavior is common and acceptable to the morality of a small hunter gatherer society, these two strangers, if they have no relatives in common, have no one to worry about hurting who they will expect to meet if they fght for each other's food. Also it would be less work and so more "cost effective" to kill this person and take what he has gathered than it would be to gather it all himself. At the same time you have to worry about the other person thinking the same things. But in such societies it's perfectly acceptable to kill a stranger for what he has. In our society it is not. But their society has no need for strangers to get along with strangers. Our society does.

But look at the scenario as you have laid it out. They find it acceptable to kill others as long as requirement A is met in order to gain B. So obviously killing others is something that requires specific circumstances before it can be justified. There is still a natural sense of right and wrong at the base of this. They still need to have these categories into which to place the act of killing and the circumstances under which it is okay. If it was simply that murder is good then extinction would quickly follow.

Quote:
In reality the only objective standard for morality is survival of the species.

And here we are. This is exactly what I've been saying all along. Now, if you think about this for a little while and consider the ramifications of this statement you will see that this leads us to an objective morality.

Let's do this. We agree that the basis for right and wrong themselves, the "objective standard for morality", is at its base tied to survival. Now, any action in any specific instance will have a certain value as to survival. It will either have an effect that is good, bad, or somewhere in between. We won't always necessarilly know what this value is, but that does not contradict the fact that the value must exist. Causation requires that there is a value.

So, if the objective moral standard is survival and all acts have a survival value then all acts necessarilly have a moral value. There are literally uncountable variables, the effects on a given society, the effects on individuals, the specific circumstances, the act itself, yadda, yadda, yadda... but these all tie back in to survival and if by use of some super computer we could feed in all the data, the objective moral value is there for any given instance.

Quote:
Any act which jeapordizes the survival of the species is objectively immoral, this was the original selective pressure for the evolution of empathy. However aside from this anything is allowed by nature and it is the needs of large societies and their subjective cultural touches which dictate how morality is expressed in any given society.

 

I think the problem in our understanding of each other is that you are talking about the subjective moral codes that people derive whereas I am talking about what morality, itself, actually is. Its basis, from whence it came and to what it returns.

I agree one hundred percent that the moral codes we adopt as societies are subjective. I see them as sorts of experiments that we use to try and see how society functions under this code or that one. But they are based in our naturally instilled understanding or what it means for something, a given act, to be right or wrong, our natural sense of fairness, our natural empathy, and our natural need to live amongst others. They all tie back into life's goal of survival as their common foundation. I accept that this is 'greedy reductionism' but I submit that it is accurate none the less.

These codes have an objective standard against which they are measured. They have a real right and wrong, good and bad, which we attempt to decipher and against which we judge, to the best of our ability, any given societies subjective moral code. This is the basis of godless morality.

“Philosophers have argued for centuries about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but materialists have always known it depends on whether they are jitterbugging or dancing cheek to cheek" -- Tom Robbins


Archeopteryx
Superfan
Archeopteryx's picture
Posts: 1037
Joined: 2007-09-09
User is offlineOffline
To Vessel:   I'm not sure

To Vessel:

 

I'm not sure that what you are doing is "greedy reductionism" because, according to the definition of that type of reductionism, it would mean you are ruling out all other explanations in favor of this one biological explanation that is supposed to explain it all with no help. In other words, explaining away the other useful explanations.

You don't seem to be ruling out other explanations as having nothing to do with it, though. You seem to be trying to unify biology with the other sociological and cultural aspects, which is good reductionism rather than greedy reductionism.

Good reductionism considers everything and tries to unify it. Greedy reductionism tries to hastily narrow something complicated down to something simple.

It's kind of a thin line, but an important one.

 

But I also want to pose to you a question to see how your thinking applies:

How do you apply biology or survival value to religious moral rules such as the wrongness of premarital sex, the wrongness of masturbation, the wrongness of blaspheming the holy spirit, and other such victimless crimes?

I think they are useless rules for the most part, but they are rules that many people conform to. How do you get to there from biology? 

 Maybe this is too broad a question. Just a lame attempt at devil's advocate. I won't hold it against you if you're feeling lazy.

A place common to all will be maintained by none. A religion common to all is perhaps not much different.


Strafio
Strafio's picture
Posts: 1346
Joined: 2006-09-11
User is offlineOffline
Archeopteryx wrote: What

Archeopteryx wrote:
What I'm trying to avoid is what Dan Dennett (I've been quoting him a lot lately) calls "greedy reductionism". Just because it can all be traced back to biology, doesn't mean that the explanation should be purely biological. To put it another way, even though we could probably explain the proceedings of a Supreme Court decision in terms of biochemistry (how much farther could you reduce it?), it would be misleading, inappropriate, and a waste of our time to do so.

The more I hear about Daniel Dennett, the more I like the sound of his work. Is this all part of 'breaking the spell'?
It makes me cringe when I see biology introduced in an explanation because to me it makes the answer sound like it's being 'scientific' and 'naturalistic' purely for the sake of 'scientific' and 'naturalistic'.

Obviously there's a lot to learn from evolutionary game theory, but even then that's a discussion in terms of social interactions rather than biological processes. What's more, I don't think that our social and decision-making concepts reduce to biological ones, so trying to talk about morality in mainly biological terms will miss the point.

The other reason why I don't like seeing biological explanations about morality, is that although they could explain how morality came to be, that tends not to be what people find most fascinating about morality. They're more interested in discussing in what morality is and how is affects them and their life. Talking about how morality came to be is another question altogether, and not one I find so interesting as it seems fairly obvious to me. Groups interact and those that bond the best relationships survive better as a group, so groups that produce individuals (whether this is genetically or culturally) that bond and care about the others survived and are still around, while those that didn't died out.

For me, the interesting questions about morality have barely anything to do with the side that involves biology.


Archeopteryx
Superfan
Archeopteryx's picture
Posts: 1037
Joined: 2007-09-09
User is offlineOffline
Strafio

Strafio wrote:
Archeopteryx wrote:
What I'm trying to avoid is what Dan Dennett (I've been quoting him a lot lately) calls "greedy reductionism". Just because it can all be traced back to biology, doesn't mean that the explanation should be purely biological. To put it another way, even though we could probably explain the proceedings of a Supreme Court decision in terms of biochemistry (how much farther could you reduce it?), it would be misleading, inappropriate, and a waste of our time to do so.
The more I hear about Daniel Dennett, the more I like the sound of his work. Is this all part of 'breaking the spell'? It makes me cringe when I see biology introduced in an explanation because to me it makes the answer sound like it's being 'scientific' and 'naturalistic' purely for the sake of 'scientific' and 'naturalistic'. Obviously there's a lot to learn from evolutionary game theory, but even then that's a discussion in terms of social interactions rather than biological processes. What's more, I don't think that our social and decision-making concepts reduce to biological ones, so trying to talk about morality in mainly biological terms will miss the point. The other reason why I don't like seeing biological explanations about morality, is that although they could explain how morality came to be, that tends not to be what people find most fascinating about morality. They're more interested in discussing in what morality is and how is affects them and their life. Talking about how morality came to be is another question altogether, and not one I find so interesting as it seems fairly obvious to me. Groups interact and those that bond the best relationships survive better as a group, so groups that produce individuals (whether this is genetically or culturally) that bond and care about the others survived and are still around, while those that didn't died out. For me, the interesting questions about morality have barely anything to do with the side that involves biology.

 

The distinction he draws between good reductionism and greedy reductionism is given in his book Darwin's Dangerous Idea, which, I'm not going to lie, is a rather hefty book. It's a philosopher writing about biology though, so it's not just about cramming biology down your throat. It's more of a "well this is what science knows, and this is what the implications are" kind of a thing. He also talks about scientists that try to argue against certain aspects evolution but then end up reinforcing it (I was surprised to see that this included Stephen J. Gould on several occassions). It's an interesting book, if you don't mind reading about science. (I'm guessing most here don't mind). He talks about biology and morality a little toward the end of the book, but it's nothing especially in-depth.

The only other book of Dennett's I've read so far is Kinds of Minds, which talks about consciousness. He's got another book called Consciousness Explained that apparently tries to explain what consciousness IS, whereas Kinds of Minds is more about starting with small organisms and working his way up, all the while observing how minds become gradually more complex. He then uses this to show that there isn't a definite point where something is either conscious or it is not (just like there is not a definite point where a fetus is a living human or it is not), but there are different stages (or kinds) of consciousness, some more complicated than others. An interesting book that made me want to read Consciousness Explained. I've tried to get Breaking the Spell from the library several times, but some asshole checked it out and has apparently had it for months. I'm starting to wonder if he's even reading it.

Dan Dennett is good. I mean, I'm sure he has opponents, and I'm definitely no philosopher, but I like him because he's doesn't fuck around with ostentatious philosopher language. He gives you the point, he gives you examples, he applies the point, and he does so in human English without inventing thirty-syllable terms for his ideas in the process. He uses easy terms like "skyhooks" vs "cranes" or "universal acid". It's not that he talks to you like you're stupid, it's that he's able to sound intelligent and clever in normal English isntead of the cyborgian philosopher language I've seen some use (theologians are the worst).

Anyway, yeah, I like him.

 

Quote:

Groups interact and those that bond the best relationships survive better as a group, so groups that produce individuals (whether this is genetically or culturally) that bond and care about the others survived and are still around, while those that didn't died out. For me, the interesting questions about morality have barely anything to do with the side that involves biology.

More or less. Dawkins and Dennett both describe how this can happen very easily in terms of game theory, but I think Dawkins describes it better.

 

Your input about morality is the point I was trying to make in applying Dennett's types of reductionism. We could talk about biology to partly explain where morality comes from, but we need more than that. You can talk about the physical processes in the brain, but you're not going to get very far explaining the brain until you have a unifying theory. I'm saying there needs to be a sort of unifying theory for morality if it's to be explained at all. Biology will be in there (and will no doubt be a huge contributor to where morality comes from), but that won't be the end of discourse.

An analogy:

If you want to completely understand what's going on, you sometimes have to take the microscope off of 1000x, yes?

But I don't think anyone is disagreeing.

A place common to all will be maintained by none. A religion common to all is perhaps not much different.


Vessel
Vessel's picture
Posts: 646
Joined: 2006-03-31
User is offlineOffline
Archeopteryx, I'll try and

Archeopteryx,

I'll try and address those questions tomorrow. 

 

Strafio wrote:
The more I hear about Daniel Dennett, the more I like the sound of his work. Is this all part of 'breaking the spell'? It makes me cringe when I see biology introduced in an explanation because to me it makes the answer sound like it's being 'scientific' and 'naturalistic' purely for the sake of 'scientific' and 'naturalistic'.

I actually think the answer is being 'scientific' and 'naturalistic' because the answer is 'scientific' and 'naturalistic'. When we are discussing natural biological organisms a non-naturalistic answer that isn't concerned with biology is hardly relevant. As for scientific, it almost sounds as if you believe that discussions of morality should not be concerned with whether or not they remain grounded in scientific understanding. I would hope that wasn't the case. It seems to me that when you try and excuse philosophical ideas from conforming to empirical observation you end up with a fairly useless philosophy. 

Quote:
Obviously there's a lot to learn from evolutionary game theory, but even then that's a discussion in terms of social interactions rather than biological processes.

Social interactions are, at their heart, biological processes, but that doesn't mean that we can't look at and discuss the meaning they hold to us and the effect they have on us from the perspective of the affected. However, we also shouldn't try and place human emotions and experiences and concepts into some separate category that tries to make us into something other than the biological organisms we are. Only when we attempt to understand both perspectives can we get a full and accurate picture of our existence and a better understanding of how to make the best of it.  

Quote:
What's more, I don't think that our social and decision-making concepts reduce to biological ones, so trying to talk about morality in mainly biological terms will miss the point.

All human concepts must reduce to our nature as biological organisms in the end. However, I for one would never suggest we should talk about morality in only biological terms. Not being capable of knowing all the variables involved inany particular  moral question makes it necessary to take other things into account and do what seems best. I do think that it is important to understand what it is we are discussing when we discuss the nature of morality though. If we try and divorce discussions of morality from the nature of morality we won't be making very wise moral decisions.   

Quote:
The other reason why I don't like seeing biological explanations about morality, is that although they could explain how morality came to be, that tends not to be what people find most fascinating about morality. They're more interested in discussing in what morality is and how is affects them and their life. Talking about how morality came to be is another question altogether, and not one I find so interesting as it seems fairly obvious to me.

Of course, how morality came to be is what morality is. It may not be how it is perceived from the insider 'perspective', or how it 'feels', but it is what it is. How it affects people and their lives is also interesting, but really has little to do with the nature of morality itself. I think if one is asked where a naturalist bases their godless morality and they start discussing how morality affects people and their lives, they aren't really answering the question.    

Quote:
Groups interact and those that bond the best relationships survive better as a group, so groups that produce individuals (whether this is genetically or culturally) that bond and care about the others survived and are still around, while those that didn't died out. For me, the interesting questions about morality have barely anything to do with the side that involves biology.

Well, I think everyone finds the romanticized version of everything more appealing. It would probably be interesting if consciousness didn't boil down to biological processes, or if love was actually some ethereal mushy stuff. But if we wish to understand our human selves, the way we function as a society, the reasons we consider things like freedom and justice important, the basis of things like human rights and how to make our social policies more applicable to our actual situation, as social biological organisms, in the future, it is probably a good idea to keep our heads grounded in concepts that are supported by empirical observation. 

“Philosophers have argued for centuries about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but materialists have always known it depends on whether they are jitterbugging or dancing cheek to cheek" -- Tom Robbins


Vessel
Vessel's picture
Posts: 646
Joined: 2006-03-31
User is offlineOffline
Archeopteryx wrote:   I

Archeopteryx wrote:

  I also want to pose to you a question to see how your thinking applies:

How do you apply biology or survival value to religious moral rules such as the wrongness of premarital sex, the wrongness of masturbation, the wrongness of blaspheming the holy spirit, and other such victimless crimes?

I think they are useless rules for the most part, but they are rules that many people conform to. How do you get to there from biology?

First, I want to make it clear what I am saying when I say the basis of morality is 'survival of the species', for lack of better wording, and that people have a natural programmed sense of right and wrong. I definitely do not mean that we are all equipped with some biological rolodex that we can flip through to look up moral questions and say 'masturbation is objectively wrong' or 'killing a child to save the life of two others is objectively right'. What I'm saying is that when we say "X is wrong" or "X is right" we are saying something more than "X is". In order for this to be true 'right' and 'wrong' need to have some referrent.

Every human being has a sense of right and wrong and the meaning of the words seems to be consistent in that no one ever says 'X is wrong' meaning what someone else would mean by 'X is right'. So these words need to have some basis that is more than just subjective terminology. It is the same as one saying something is 'pleasing' or 'displeasing'. The word pleasing references something biological, something innate that we all share and understand in very much the same way. Even if one person considers pain pleasing and another considers pain displeasing from their subjective viewpoint, what they reference when they use the word pleasing is not subjective. It does not change from subject to subject. The category is objective, it is a fixed reference point by which we categorize sensations as experienced from our subjective viewpoint.

It would seem to me that we mean the same type of thing when we say something is 'right' or something is 'wrong'. These are objective reference points. As objective reference points, they need some grounding point. Being as that what we all have in common is that we are all biological organisms of the same make-up it only makes sense that these objective reference points would be grounded in our biology as it has been constructed by evolutionary processes.

The evolutionary processes that have built the organisms we are have only one 'goal' and that 'goal' is survival. From this point it seems obvious that what evolution has built into us as a sense of moral right and wrong must be grounded in the only thing that evolution is concerned with, again survival.

From this point, we have to look at the consequences that this brings about, given it is true. If our moral sense of right and wrong are built by natural evolution of the goal of survival then, if we ditch for a moment our subjective viewpoint and look at what it is we are really discussing when we say 'X is right' or 'X is wrong' we see that it is actually 'X is beneficial from an evolutionary standpoint' or 'X is detrimental from an evolutionary standpoint'. Beneficial and detrimental from an evolutionary standpoint is definitely objective. Nature has no subjective viewpoint as to what is beneficial or detrimental for the survival of our species.

Now, some may think this is obvious or not saying anything interesting or important, but if we follow this to its logical conclusion we realize that, removed from our subjective viewpoint, all questions will have very definitive moral, or survival, answers. If we understand from this what it is we are actually asking when we ask whether or not a given action is moral, and can understand the natural objective basis from which we take these concepts and thus against which they should be measured, then it seems we should surely gain insight into making moral decisions that are actually relevant and based in what is truly good or bad, or right or wrong, and not merely what we wish was right or wrong from our subjective, often selfish, perspective.

Now, to your questions. I would say that the the things you reference must have some moral value along the spectrum of right to wrong in that the way we decide upon the concepts will have some effect on our ability to survive as a species whether through the effect they have on our social structure or the immediate impact upon the species itself. This impact is objective. But the fact that people may find these things to be subjectively right or wrong is probably not directly biologically based. I would suggest that it is based in our biology through our predilection to acquiesce to authority or our susceptability to memetic viruses which likely serve, or are products of, other survival needs.

Just my thoughts on the matter. I am by no means an authority or even particularly educated in the particular area. What do you think? 


 


“Philosophers have argued for centuries about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but materialists have always known it depends on whether they are jitterbugging or dancing cheek to cheek" -- Tom Robbins


Textom
Textom's picture
Posts: 551
Joined: 2007-05-10
User is offlineOffline
Archeopteryx wrote:

Archeopteryx wrote:
We won't be able to make predictions or draw diagrams like we can with evolution or calculus. I guess that's to say that even though I think we would be able to understand it within a certain margin of confidence, I don't think it's something that can be pinned down to arithmetic science that can be used to make predictions and the like. It's far too slippery.

As you mention later, game theory actually does allow mathemeticians to draw diagrams and generate rules that predict human behavior in social situations with a high degree of accuracy. It's more accurate in general than people's beliefs about morality and explains a lot of apparent inconsistencies in human moral behavior.

One really interesting branch of work being done in evolutionary psychology right now combines game theory with bran scanning to understand the biology of primate moral decision-making.

Strafio wrote:
The other reason why I don't like seeing biological explanations about morality, is that although they could explain how morality came to be, that tends not to be what people find most fascinating about morality. They're more interested in discussing in what morality is and how is affects them and their life.

To me the really interesting part about biological explanations of moral behavior show that many moral impulses are not rational or culturally determined, because they originate in parts of the brain that can override the rational and culturally-influenced parts of the brain. I think it's important to understand these mechanisms as completely as possible so that you know where particular moral impulses are coming from, and which ones are instinctive as opposed to socially conditioned.

For example, everybody apparently has a built-in unfairness detector that alerts you when you or someone around you is being treated unfairly. This mechanism is closely related to emotional triggers that are resistant to rational influence.  This explains the observed outcomes of the ultimatum game, for example.

Even the most primitive social primate has essentially the same mechanism that humans have, so it still works pretty much the same way. So the benefit of understanding it goes way beyond just knowing its origins, since it is still functioning and influencing human behavior today.

"After Jesus was born, the Old Testament basically became a way for Bible publishers to keep their word count up." -Stephen Colbert


Archeopteryx
Superfan
Archeopteryx's picture
Posts: 1037
Joined: 2007-09-09
User is offlineOffline
Quote:

Quote:

Now, to your questions. I would say that the the things you reference must have some moral value along the spectrum of right to wrong in that the way we decide upon the concepts will have some effect on our ability to survive as a species whether through the effect they have on our social structure or the immediate impact upon the species itself. This impact is objective. But the fact that people may find these things to be subjectively right or wrong is probably not directly biologically based. I would suggest that it is based in our biology through our predilection to acquiesce to authority or our susceptability to memetic viruses which likely serve, or are products of, other survival needs.

Just my thoughts on the matter. I am by no means an authority or even particularly educated in the particular area. What do you think?

 

I probably think of it in a similar way.

I'm trying to remember the name of the game theory experiment where they played the prisoner's dilemma game and invited programmers to invent simple programs to compete against one another in the contest. It seems relevant here. If you've heard of this before, then skip right over. It will seem kind of off topic at first, but it should become relevant. (I think).

Basically what was done (can't remember who conducted this project) was that a game was presented. In the game, two "players" were given two cards. One of them said "cooperate" and one of them said "defect". Both players laid their cards simultaneously each round, not knowing what the other player was going to lay. Each player was given points depending on the outcome. The points were set up something like this:

(where you are the player on the left of the dash)

C/C: 5pts for both

D/D: 1pts for both

C/D: You earn 1pts and he earns 3pts.

D/C: He earns 1pts and you earn 3pts.

Programmers sent in various strategy programs to play this game in a computer. For example, one strategy might be "Always defect". Another strategy might be "always cooperate". A third strategy might be "alternate between C and D". A fourth might be "do the opposite of whatever my opponent does" and so on.

The winning program was called tit-for-tat, and it started by cooperating and then simply copy-catted whatever the opponent did on the previous turn thereafter. So if the opponent cooperated on round one, TFT would cooperate on round 2. If the opponent cooperated on round 3, TFT would cooperate on round 4. But it would also copycat defects. By doing so, (if you imagine this in your head), it was able to either score higher amounts of points for itself, or at least remain very stable.

Then the experimenter did something crazy awesome. Instead of putting the programs against one another in tournaments of a fixed number of rounds, he put them all against one another simultaneously in a game consisting of unlimited rounds. Winners earned duplicates of themselves and losers did not.

It was more complicated than this.. i'm trying to recall what I read from memory... but as it turned out.. the cooperating strategies not only did better in the original tournments, but they also did better in the population simulation. Defecting strategies only thrived by playing off of cooperating strategies, but when the population became full of only defecting strategies, the numbers of defecting strategies were forced to dwindle. The cooperating strategies could not only play off of defecting strategies, but they could also retreat from defecting strategies and play off each other to build their number back up.

So according to this test, cooperation DOES seem to be extremely evolutionarily stable.

As for the morals I gave you before, I gave them to you purposely because they seem detrimental to evolutionary stability. (Imagine if all of humanity became celibate!) I presented it as an example of what I meant when I said we can't just focus on the biology all the time. We have to take the microscope off of 1000x at some point. For this question, we have to zoom out a little and look at the social implications. A religious person that subscribes to these codes of conduct does so, I think, for a number of possible reasons.

1. The obvious reason that the person believes that, by following these rules, they will gain everlasting life. Huge biological payoff!

2. The person in question is "cooperating" with his or her community of similarly religious believers. By doing so, they are securing themselves to that community, which is sort of like a protective group. (some are afraid to deconvert because they are afraid of falling out with that community, yes?)

3. It also might make them more appealing to whatever members of the opposite sex in that group they may have an interest in. Just as certain humans are attracted to certain phenotypes (where all humans have a certain degree of phenotypic plasticity), certain humans can be attracted to certain meme-otypes (and we obviously have memetic plasticity).

(or maybe certain meme-otypes are attracted to other meme-otypes? Anyway. You know.) 

4. The person in question may even be "cooperating" with a perceived, but fictional leader figure. For example, the weak lion cooperates with the alpha lion. A god figure opposing these kinds of rules might be a sort of imaginary alpha lion in some way.

 

Something along those lines. Still reading books and revising.

A place common to all will be maintained by none. A religion common to all is perhaps not much different.


Strafio
Strafio's picture
Posts: 1346
Joined: 2006-09-11
User is offlineOffline
Vessel wrote: As for

Vessel wrote:
As for scientific, it almost sounds as if you believe that discussions of morality should not be concerned with whether or not they remain grounded in scientific understanding. I would hope that wasn't the case.

Actually, this is exactly what I am saying.
Science deals with facts about the world.
When we describe the outside world, the facts of science give us the most accurate pictures.

What I am criticising is that some people assume that these accurate pictures are the most fundamental part in any question, when really they only have relevence when describing the world. Is describing the world the only kind of knowledge we are interested in?
When I talk about 'shoulds' and 'shouldn'ts', what relevence do they have to the description of the world?

Before we can talk in terms of 'fact' we need the linguistic structures in place, right? We need our descriptive language in place. Our lanugage and practice of describing is more fundamental than which facts are true.
So when we talk about a subject where our interests lie in questions that aren't about how the world ought to be described, description won't be so relevence. That's why biological reductionism, rather than answer the question at hand, it just answers a different question, one that we weren't really interested in.

Textom's examples show where biological facts have a genuine impact on the debate. That's because the fundamentals to the question at hand involved questions about our psychology and an area of psychology that neuroscience had contribution to.


Vessel
Vessel's picture
Posts: 646
Joined: 2006-03-31
User is offlineOffline
Strafio wrote: Vessel

Strafio wrote:
Vessel wrote:
As for scientific, it almost sounds as if you believe that discussions of morality should not be concerned with whether or not they remain grounded in scientific understanding. I would hope that wasn't the case.

Actually, this is exactly what I am saying. Science deals with facts about the world. When we describe the outside world, the facts of science give us the most accurate pictures. What I am criticising is that some people assume that these accurate pictures are the most fundamental part in any question, when really they only have relevence when describing the world.

But everything we attempt to describe is the world at some level. The arena of great philosophical questions narrows with discovery as to our physical nature. These two areas that were once seen as separate environments are slowly coming together and forming a cohesive picture of reality. So to keep on keeping on with philosophical pursuits divorced from scientific understanding is not the way to understanding our existence. We are natural physical biological entities in a physical world. That should always be of relevance to any discussion of which we are a key part.  

Quote:
Is describing the world the only kind of knowledge we are interested in? When I talk about 'shoulds' and 'shouldn'ts', what relevence do they have to the description of the world?

The ought's are directly related to the is's once we get a firm undestanding of what the is's are (that was fun).

Quote:
Before we can talk in terms of 'fact' we need the linguistic structures in place, right?

Yep. Linguistics is an interesting field.

Quote:
We need our descriptive language in place. Our lanugage and practice of describing is more fundamental than which facts are true. So when we talk about a subject where our interests lie in questions that aren't about how the world ought to be described, description won't be so relevence.

 That's why biological reductionism, rather than answer the question at hand, it just answers a different question, one that we weren't really interested in.

 Textom's examples show where biological facts have a genuine impact on the debate. That's because the fundamentals to the question at hand involved questions about our psychology and an area of psychology that neuroscience had contribution to.

Yes, Textom's examples are part of what neuroscience is starting to show us about the true nature of things like human morality. This is where the picture of at least parts of morality as being reducible to biology is coming from. Game Theory and mirror neurons and a senses of fairness and justice in other animals are all starting to give us a new perspective on what was once considered either divinely inspired or wholly subjective. It is giving us a biologically inspired objective picture. So if we want to discuss morality, even in a philosophical manner, we can not ignore the empirical data that we have. If we do what we are discussing isn't morality.

And again, just because our sense of right and wrong may be inspired by evolution or our altruism may be the result of the firings of mirror neurons or our feelings of love may be spurred by our reward system pushing us to look after our group members that doesn't mean there isn't another perspective, that of the affected entity, that can be discussed. It just gives a picture of the reality of the situation in which to ground those other discussions.    

 

“Philosophers have argued for centuries about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but materialists have always known it depends on whether they are jitterbugging or dancing cheek to cheek" -- Tom Robbins


Strafio
Strafio's picture
Posts: 1346
Joined: 2006-09-11
User is offlineOffline
Vessel wrote: But

Vessel wrote:
But everything we attempt to describe is the world at some level.

Are you sure?
I don't think it's something I can prove you wrong on, but it certainly seems to be a major over-simplification over the nature of language and our use of it.

Quote:
Textom's examples are part of what neuroscience is starting to show us about the true nature of things like human morality. This is where the picture of at least parts of morality as being reducible to biology is coming from.

I'll accept that some elements are.
Psychology plays a major part in morality and neuroscience plays a part in biology. However, even if psychology can be reduced to neuroscience (which in turn is reducible to biology, to chemistry, to physics...) that would only be enough to show that science is the root of morality if psychology was the root. While I think that psychology is important, to approach morality from a purely descriptive basis is to neuter it's most important part.

Quote:
Game Theory and mirror neurons and a senses of fairness and justice in other animals are all starting to give us a new perspective on what was once considered either divinely inspired or wholly subjective.

I absolutely agree, but bear in mind that there's a large difference between "giving an interesting perspective on" and "totally basing it on". I got the impression that earlier you were advocating the latter. Maybe I misread you.

Quote:
It is giving us a biologically inspired objective picture. So if we want to discuss morality, even in a philosophical manner, we can not ignore the empirical data that we have. If we do what we are discussing isn't morality.

Again, no one said that the empirical data is to be ignored.
It has much relevence to some questions, but its relevence is limited compared to science where it answers everything. Moral philosophy does make use of science from time to time, but most of the interesting questions aren't.
That's why it is a problem that tends to be dealt by philosophers rather than scientists.

Quote:
It just gives a picture of the reality of the situation in which to ground those other discussions.

I guess it depends on what you mean by 'ground'.
If a philosophical answer on morality contradicts evidence then that would obviously be a problem for it. So scientific knowledge does have a limited role, but it's role depends on answers elsewhere.


Vessel
Vessel's picture
Posts: 646
Joined: 2006-03-31
User is offlineOffline
Strafio wrote:

Strafio wrote:
Vessel wrote:
But everything we attempt to describe is the world at some level.

Are you sure? I don't think it's something I can prove you wrong on, but it certainly seems to be a major over-simplification over the nature of language and our use of it.

I am as sure as I can be about anything in that I don't know on what basis to doubt it. If the nature of language is not an attempt to describe the world then what might it be? What else is there for it to be?

Strafio wrote:
Vessel wrote:
Textom's examples are part of what neuroscience is starting to show us about the true nature of things like human morality. This is where the picture of at least parts of morality as being reducible to biology is coming from.

I'll accept that some elements are. Psychology plays a major part in morality and neuroscience plays a part in biology. However, even if psychology can be reduced to neuroscience (which in turn is reducible to biology, to chemistry, to physics...) that would only be enough to show that science is the root of morality if psychology was the root. While I think that psychology is important, to approach morality from a purely descriptive basis is to neuter it's most important part.

You say things like this but don't go on to explain what you think "the most important part" is. You seem to be reaching for purpose divorced from the physical nature of our existence. It seems you think we should hold morals up against the measuring stick of some ought that exists independent of our nature as biological organisms. What could that possibly be?

Strafio wrote:
Vessel wrote:
Game Theory and mirror neurons and a senses of fairness and justice in other animals are all starting to give us a new perspective on what was once considered either divinely inspired or wholly subjective.

I absolutely agree, but bear in mind that there's a large difference between "giving an interesting perspective on" and "totally basing it on". I got the impression that earlier you were advocating the latter. Maybe I misread you.

Had we the ability to take into account every variable and arrive at an actual effect of a given action then, yes, it would only make sense to base moral decisions strictly upon their survival value. There is no other criteria by which to consider them if every criteria can be tied back to an origin of a goal of survival (which if it is born of a product of that origin, it necessarilly can be). Since we can not and never will be able to, as every effect causes an effect, then of course we have to intepret what is the right or wrong action in any given situation subjectively.This doesn't change the nature of morality. It only limits our ability to make truly moral decisions.

Strafio wrote:
Vessel wrote:
It is giving us a biologically inspired objective picture. So if we want to discuss morality, even in a philosophical manner, we can not ignore the empirical data that we have. If we do what we are discussing isn't morality.

Again, no one said that the empirical data is to be ignored. It has much relevence to some questions, but its relevence is limited compared to science where it answers everything. Moral philosophy does make use of science from time to time, but most of the interesting questions aren't. That's why it is a problem that tends to be dealt by philosophers rather than scientists.

Historically, yes, philosophers thought about morals as opposed to researching the actual basis of morality. Now, it seems our insights into the nature of morality are coming from interdisciplinary work. Philosophers who aren't working closely with the data being compiled by neuroscience are missing key parts of the picture.

What are the questions that you consider interesting that have no need for science?

I am not saying ignore psychology's insights into the ways we come to hold certain moral views, or to ignore philosophy's input into, well, whatever there is left to say about morality. I'm just saying that all these things have evolved as natural parts of a biological organism and been filtered through evolutionary processes with their goal of survival. So, to think that there is something other than survival at the root of morality makes no sense.

Strafio wrote:
Vessel wrote:
It just gives a picture of the reality of the situation in which to ground those other discussions.

I guess it depends on what you mean by 'ground'. If a philosophical answer on morality contradicts evidence then that would obviously be a problem for it. So scientific knowledge does have a limited role, but it's role depends on answers elsewhere.

By ground I mean to anchor in the reality of our existence and what it is to be a natural biological organism on the third rock from the sun; to keep us from floating off on anthropocentric clouds that ignore the reality of our existence and consider our subjective thoughts to exist on some separate plane where what we think about something makes that something so.

 

The topic I was originally addressing was the basis of godless morality. I took this to mean the grounding framework for the actuality of right and wrong. We have strayed from that, and that is fine, but I just wanted to point out that to think I was considering our subjective viewpoints from individual or social perspectives not worth understanding is innaccurate. They too play a part in our understanding of morality as they too are a product of our evolution as biological organisms. They are one of the variables. They do not change the nature of morality, but they have an effect on the answers to moral questions.

“Philosophers have argued for centuries about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but materialists have always known it depends on whether they are jitterbugging or dancing cheek to cheek" -- Tom Robbins


Strafio
Strafio's picture
Posts: 1346
Joined: 2006-09-11
User is offlineOffline
Vessel wrote: I am as sure

Vessel wrote:

I am as sure as I can be about anything in that I don't know on what basis to doubt it. If the nature of language is not an attempt to describe the world then what might it be? What else is there for it to be?


"How are you?"
"Don't do that!"
"Help"
"What should I do?"
"That tool is handy..."

Those examples ought to give you an idea.
Science asks questions about the descriptive facts of the world.
Morality asks questions about our decision making.
Facts of the world do make an appearance, so biology has some relevence to certain questions, but first and foremost it's questions about decision making as we make it in real life.

When we ask "What should I do?", how do we answer such a question? What is our decision making practice based upon?
Given that there are biological facts about how our mind works, what relevence do they have to our decision making? Why should we take them on board?
This question must be answered before any scientific fact can be considered relevent, so morality is first and foremost a philosophical activity.

Quote:
Had we the ability to take into account every variable and arrive at an actual effect of a given action then, yes, it would only make sense to base moral decisions strictly upon their survival value.

Why is this?
Why is survival value so important?
You seem to be completely missing the point of evolutionary theory.
Evolutionary theory is purely descriptive.
It points out that certain creatures with certain characteristics survived.
Nowhere does it say that things 'ought' to survive or should 'value' survival, merely that their survival determines whether their gene pool carries on to another generation.

I'm not saying that we don't want to survive - most of us do.
Just that it can't be taken for granted that it's our main objective, and certainly can't be justified on evolutionary grounds. I certainly dispute that survival is our main value that should determine our actions. How important is it to you that your genes are passed to the next generation?

Quote:
Historically, yes, philosophers thought about morals as opposed to researching the actual basis of morality.

Dude, most people show atleast a little respect for disciplines that they don't understand!
Historical philosophers didn't have the wealth of empirical material and cultural devellopment that our modern researchers had, and this extra material might've helped expand their insight a little.
Even so, they had managed to identify the important questions in morality, ones that we are still trying to struggle with today. While the empirical research has it's uses and influence, they merely offer insight and inspiration rather than determine answers.

Quote:
The topic I was originally addressing was the basis of godless morality. I took this to mean the grounding framework for the actuality of right and wrong. We have strayed from that, and that is fine, but I just wanted to point out that to think I was considering our subjective viewpoints from individual or social perspectives not worth understanding is innaccurate.

I know. I don't think I'm strawmanning you with an OOT picture.
If I'm right, you're claiming that moral problems can theoretically be asked and answered in purely biological/scientific language, but due to the complexity of real life we often use other sources as well.
I think your "Surely language is descriptive" highlights the big disagreement that we have here.

The key point is that morality is rooted in the question "what should I do?", so the most fundamental work will be in our analysis of first person decision-making. It will be these fundamental questions that will determine where biology has it's relevence.


Vessel
Vessel's picture
Posts: 646
Joined: 2006-03-31
User is offlineOffline
Strafio wrote: Vessel

Strafio wrote:
Vessel wrote:

I am as sure as I can be about anything in that I don't know on what basis to doubt it. If the nature of language is not an attempt to describe the world then what might it be? What else is there for it to be?

"How are you?" "Don't do that!" "Help" "What should I do?" "That tool is handy..." Those examples ought to give you an idea.

Yes. They are examples of communication meant to convey or elicit facts about the world. They are describing the world to others or asking others to describe the world to us.  We and others are part of the world.

Quote:
Science asks questions about the descriptive facts of the world.

Yes. 

Quote:
Morality asks questions about our decision making.

Yes. What exactly is making these decisions and by what means are they making them?

Again, when I am talking about the basis of morality I am talking about the nature of right and wrong themselves. When we are talking about our decision making processes (which are necessarily based in biological functions being as that we are biological organisms, but that'sbeside the point) we are talking about how we place particulars into these categories and whether or not we choose to act on them.

Maybe we need to define 'basis'.

Quote:
Facts of the world do make an appearance, so biology has some relevence to certain questions, but first and foremost it's questions about decision making as we make it in real life. When we ask "What should I do?",

Certainly. That is what we ask. I am only saying, when we ask that, it seems there is an objective criteria by which we can measure that should. This says nothing about what decisions we will make, though it does heavily influence (especially on matters that are fundamentally destructive to survival such as indiscriminate killing), it just says something about the basis by which we make those decisions.    

 

Quote:
How do we answer such a question?

Brain. 

Quote:
What is our decision making practice based upon?

Natural tendencies, environmental and social influences, rum consumption, etc. 

Quote:
Given that there are biological facts about how our mind works, what relevence do they have to our decision making?

What other facts are there about how our mind works besides biological ones? They are the very processes by which we make decisions. That is like asking what kind of relevance a car motor has to how the car runs.  

Quote:
Why should we take them on board?

If we aren't taking them on board we aren't thinking. They built that thing we use to think. Should we ignore the nature of the thing we are using to ask the questions?

If you are asking about how much weight we should give our natural inclinations when making moral decisions then that is something else entirely which I haven't discussed at all here because I figured it was beyond the scope of the discussion.

Again, how we come to moral decisions is not what I was discussing, other than pointing out that we are heavily influenced by natural tendencies built through our evolution and nature as a social animal. The basis for what it means for something to be right or wrong is what I was addressing and I see a very objective basis in survival.

Have you ever met anyone who said that killing an infant was wrong but by that meant what you would mean in saying killing an infant was right? If I brought up a child to say right where I would use wrong does this change what is referenced? It seems to me it must be a reference to something innate. Something in our common nature as biological organisms. They are foundational terms without any supporting concepts save our natural understanding of what we mean when we use them. Where do we come by such understanding?

And I might add to that if you disagree with me, I in no way blame you. I am simply stating what I consider to be the basis for a godless morality as requested in the OP. It does not mean I consider myself necessarily correct. Only that I find it a reasonable basis. There are possibly other possible basises, basiss, basi, ? that could support our conceptions of right and wrong as well.

Quote:
This question must be answered before any scientific fact can be considered relevent, so morality is first and foremost a philosophical activity.

I completely disagree. You arbitrarily rank the importance of one type of inquiry over another. Biological facts are relevant because, as questions at the heart of the very nature of our existence, by which our beings were shaped, of which we are made, we can't ask or answer any question that isn't highly influenced by them. Our nature as biological organisms frames the nature of the philosophical questions we ask. 

Quote:
Why is this? Why is survival value so important?

Because without survival the question could not be asked. A superficial answer but, then again, you are asking a question that is not at all relevant. It is not important, it simply is. The concepts of right and wrong being based in survival does not require that survival is either right or wrong. To try and label it one or the other doesn't make sense.  

 

Quote:
You seem to be completely missing the point of evolutionary theory.

I probably was, being as that I didn't think evolutionary theory had a point. Evolutionary theory simply describes how life came to exist in the variety of forms we see.

We could make a case that life has a point, though. Life has a point of survival. If it didn't, it couldn't exist. It is necesary that any lifeform that exists must have a goal (not a conscious goal of course) of survival or there would not be life.

Quote:
Evolutionary theory is purely descriptive. It points out that certain creatures with certain characteristics survived.

Yes. 

Quote:
Nowhere does it say that things 'ought' to survive or should 'value' survival, merely that their survival determines whether their gene pool carries on to another generation.

Of course not. Only things that work to live live and therefor life must necessarily 'have a goal of' or 'work toward' survival if it is to exist, and it does exist, but this is not saying that evolution says things ought to survive. 'Ought' is meaningless removed from any particular perspective like this. 

Quote:
I'm not saying that we don't want to survive - most of us do. Just that it can't be taken for granted that it's our main objective, and certainly can't be justified on evolutionary grounds.

Wow. If you think I am saying all individuals make their moral choices based on wanting to survive there's a big misunderstanding.

Quote:
I certainly dispute that survival is our main value that should determine our actions.

You wouldn't if we were extinct. 

Quote:
How important is it to you that your genes are passed to the next generation?

Very. I have cool kids. 

Strafio wrote:
Vessel wrote:
Historically, yes, philosophers thought about morals as opposed to researching the actual basis of morality.

 Dude, most people show atleast a little respect for disciplines that they don't understand!

Dude, unwad thy philosopher's panties. I said nothing at all that should be taken as disrespectful to philosophers. If I'd wanted to disresepct philosophers I'd have said that those who can think, and those who can't think about thinking.  

Quote:
Historical philosophers didn't have the wealth of empirical material and cultural devellopment that our modern researchers had, and this extra material might've helped expand their insight a little.

Exactly my point where you were offended above. I didn't say they did it out of a lack of intelligence or because they were too busy doing bong hits. They worked with what they had. Slendiferous. Now they have more and they are using it and it sure seems to help lead to clearer insight.

Quote:
Even so, they had managed to identify the important questions in morality, ones that we are still trying to struggle with today.

Yes. They were, and still are, cool with me. 

Quote:
While the empirical research has it's uses and influence, they merely offer insight and inspiration rather than determine answers.

Well. I think neuroscience is providing understanding. That is much more answer than insight or isnpiration. I am just guessing but I am willing to wager that empirical observation will weigh much heavier in understanding the nature of morality than pure philosophy in the coming years. No knock on philosophy, just that this seems to be where things are heading.    

Quote:
I know. I don't think I'm strawmanning you with an OOT picture. If I'm right, you're claiming that moral problems can theoretically be asked and answered in purely biological/scientific language, but due to the complexity of real life we often use other sources as well.

Yes, pretty much. Not that our choices can all be biologically answered (not that I necessarilly don't think they can, we are biological organisms so whatever choice we make is directly reliant upon...) but, anyway, that our conceptions of what it means for something to be good can be traced to survival value.

Quote:
I think your "Surely language is descriptive" highlights the big disagreement that we have here.

Perhaps. If you are saying that you consider good to be meaningless removed from the act to which the term is applied and that it, in and of itself, has no actual referent or orientation then that is probably the major disagreement.

Quote:
The key point is that morality is rooted in the question "what should I do?",

And 'should' references something.  

Quote:
so the most fundamental work will be in our analysis of first person decision-making. It will be these fundamental questions that will determine where biology has it's relevence.

First person decision making is great. I use it all the time now that I'm divorced. Of course, biology is also relevant to first person decision making. We have to use something to make those decisions. Smiling 

“Philosophers have argued for centuries about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but materialists have always known it depends on whether they are jitterbugging or dancing cheek to cheek" -- Tom Robbins


Strafio
Strafio's picture
Posts: 1346
Joined: 2006-09-11
User is offlineOffline
Strafio wrote:

Strafio wrote:
"How are you?"
"Don't do that!"
"Help" "What should I do?"
"That tool is handy..."

Vessel wrote:

They are examples of communication meant to convey or elicit facts about the world. They are describing the world to others or asking others to describe the world to us.


...

Um... are you sure?


Vessel
Vessel's picture
Posts: 646
Joined: 2006-03-31
User is offlineOffline
Strafio wrote: Strafio

Strafio wrote:
Strafio wrote:
"How are you?" "Don't do that!" "Help" "What should I do?" "That tool is handy..."
Vessel wrote:

They are examples of communication meant to convey or elicit facts about the world. They are describing the world to others or asking others to describe the world to us.

... Um... are you sure?

By this bit of communication you might be trying to elicit from me the description of a fact about the world that is the level of certainty with which I think my above statement describes the facts of the world. But you aren't really, as the question is rhetorical, and therefor actually conveying the fact of the world that you desire me to think about whether or not my statement describes the facts of the world. It would be more productive if you would just convey to me the facts of the world that you think are not conveyed by the facts of the world as I have conveyed them to you. Smiling  

“Philosophers have argued for centuries about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but materialists have always known it depends on whether they are jitterbugging or dancing cheek to cheek" -- Tom Robbins


Edison Trent
Theist
Edison Trent's picture
Posts: 104
Joined: 2007-11-10
User is offlineOffline
I haven't been following

I haven't been following this discussion but I'll jump in here.  When I was an atheist I hated it when people would say stuff like "well there are no atheist morals, so atheists should logically run around killing people".  I have to disagree with that.  Atheists can be perfectly moral people.  I came up with a definition for atheistic morality, even without a god.

Morals are rules, that, when enforced upon people, tend to make society function better as a whole.

This encompasses a lot more than some religions' morality, but it works.  For example, obeying traffic laws would be considered moral, because it makes society function better, i.e. it makes people generally happier.  This is a rather short summary, but it has worked for all the theists I've talked to.


RationalDeist
Theist
Posts: 130
Joined: 2007-11-12
User is offlineOffline
Vessel wrote: Social

Vessel wrote:

Social interactions are, at their heart, biological processes, but that doesn't mean that we can't look at and discuss the meaning they hold to us and the effect they have on us from the perspective of the affected. However, we also shouldn't try and place human emotions and experiences and concepts into some separate category that tries to make us into something other than the biological organisms we are. Only when we attempt to understand both perspectives can we get a full and accurate picture of our existence and a better understanding of how to make the best of it.

are we still talking about ethics and morals?  How would you create a morality from sceince?  What would your scientific theory look like?  "Murder is wrong because the alpha wave particle from the..." or "thievery should not be allowed because it causes our heart rate to increase."  I'm sorry, but the natural sciences can only be used as tools to try and understand the world.

 if you are talking about ethics, then you are talking about the pursuit of happiness.


Strafio
Strafio's picture
Posts: 1346
Joined: 2006-09-11
User is offlineOffline
Dude, I swear you're just

Dude, I swear you're just playing with words now! Sticking out tongue
I mean, surely you don't use the words "describe" and "communicate" interchangably in real life. Surely you'd find them to have different definitions in the dictionary!
Moving on though, I think I have a better way to address the point at hand:

In the following quote of that previous post, I put across several questions that you gave answers to.

Vessel wrote:
Strafio wrote:
Science asks questions about the descriptive facts of the world.

Yes. 

Quote:
Morality asks questions about our decision making.

Yes. What exactly is making these decisions and by what means are they making them?

Again, when I am talking about the basis of morality I am talking about the nature of right and wrong themselves. When we are talking about our decision making processes (which are necessarily based in biological functions being as that we are biological organisms, but that'sbeside the point) we are talking about how we place particulars into these categories and whether or not we choose to act on them.

Maybe we need to define 'basis'.

Quote:
Facts of the world do make an appearance, so biology has some relevence to certain questions, but first and foremost it's questions about decision making as we make it in real life. When we ask "What should I do?",

Certainly. That is what we ask. I am only saying, when we ask that, it seems there is an objective criteria by which we can measure that should. This says nothing about what decisions we will make, though it does heavily influence (especially on matters that are fundamentally destructive to survival such as indiscriminate killing), it just says something about the basis by which we make those decisions.    

 

Quote:
How do we answer such a question?

Brain. 

Quote:
What is our decision making practice based upon?

Natural tendencies, environmental and social influences, rum consumption, etc. 


etc...
My point being, you answered these questions in order to defend your view that morality is primarily a biological investigation.
Your answers invovled many philosophical positions, all of which are questionable. So this is the point that I am trying to make here - your claim that "morality is rooted in biology" depends on many philosophical 'assumptions', all of which are questionable (and are questioned in contemporary philosophy), so that's atleast one way that morality is grounded in philosophy.
Where biology has relevence will depend on your answers to the philosophical questions that come first.

In this case, I think that many of your philosophical premises are erroneous (your position on language, for instance! Sticking out tongue)

Quote:
And I might add to that if you disagree with me, I in no way blame you. I am simply stating what I consider to be the basis for a godless morality as requested in the OP. It does not mean I consider myself necessarily correct. Only that I find it a reasonable basis. There are possibly other possible basises, basiss, basi, ? that could support our conceptions of right and wrong as well.

Ofcourse. Smiling
I'm just a glutton for debating and trying to prove my point is all! Smiling
I'm cool for agreeing to disagree, I just wanted you to recognise some of the more questionable premises that your position is based on. (No doubt I have a couple of my own)


Vessel
Vessel's picture
Posts: 646
Joined: 2006-03-31
User is offlineOffline
Strafio wrote:

Strafio wrote:
Dude, I swear you're just playing with words now! Sticking out tongue I mean, surely you don't use the words "describe" and "communicate" interchangably in real life. Surely you'd find them to have different definitions in the dictionary!

I did not use them interchangably here, and this is real life as best I can tell, so no, I don't use them interchangably in real life. Communication is the transfer of facts about the world, where as description is simply comprehension of facts about the world. Description need not be communicated, but communication requires that you are describing something.

Only if we remove an individual's perspective and the existence of their 'feelings' and whatever other chemical/biological processes make up the individual from the category of 'parts of the world' does seeing language and communication as something other than describing facts about the world make sense.

Strafio wrote:
Moving on though, I think I have a better way to address the point at hand: In the following quote of that previous post, I put across several questions that you gave answers to.

Vessel wrote:
Strafio wrote:
Science asks questions about the descriptive facts of the world.

 

Yes.

Quote:
Morality asks questions about our decision making.

Yes. What exactly is making these decisions and by what means are they making them?

Again, when I am talking about the basis of morality I am talking about the nature of right and wrong themselves. When we are talking about our decision making processes (which are necessarily based in biological functions being as that we are biological organisms, but that'sbeside the point) we are talking about how we place particulars into these categories and whether or not we choose to act on them.

Maybe we need to define 'basis'.

Quote:
Facts of the world do make an appearance, so biology has some relevence to certain questions, but first and foremost it's questions about decision making as we make it in real life. When we ask "What should I do?",

Certainly. That is what we ask. I am only saying, when we ask that, it seems there is an objective criteria by which we can measure that should. This says nothing about what decisions we will make, though it does heavily influence (especially on matters that are fundamentally destructive to survival such as indiscriminate killing), it just says something about the basis by which we make those decisions.

Quote:
How do we answer such a question?

Brain.

Quote:
What is our decision making practice based upon?

Natural tendencies, environmental and social influences, rum consumption, etc.

etc... My point being, you answered these questions in order to defend your view that morality is primarily a biological investigation. Your answers invovled many philosophical positions, all of which are questionable. So this is the point that I am trying to make here - your claim that "morality is rooted in biology" depends on many philosophical 'assumptions', all of which are questionable (and are questioned in contemporary philosophy), so that's atleast one way that morality is grounded in philosophy.

LOL. Well, of course there are philosophical positions involved in the answers. There are philosophical positions involved in the answers to everything. How often does one unpack their entire philosophical wardrobe to address a particular question? That's like saying I shouldn't explain how to build a rafter without first explaining how to pour a foundation, mark out walls, build walls, erect them, and make sure they are level and plumb.

To say that the important questions, as they pertain to morality, are philosophical ones because one needs a philosophical framewqork by which to view the world, and by which, in turn, all beliefs and discussions are colored, is being a little extreme. I can just as easily say that in order to have a philosophical framework by which to view the world one has to be a biological organism with a functioning brain and therefor all the important questions dealing with morality are actually biological. It just depends on where you push it back to.

We are addressing the question of the nature of morality.

Quote:
Where biology has relevence will depend on your answers to the philosophical questions that come first.

Where one thinks biology to have relevance will depend on answers to philosophical questions that come before hand. This by no means dictates that where biology has relevance actually depends on the answer to yadda, yadda... There is a major difference between the two.

Quote:
In this case, I think that many of your philosophical premises are erroneous (your position on language, for instance! Sticking out tongue)

Apparently.

Strafio wrote:
Vessel wrote:
And I might add to that if you disagree with me, I in no way blame you. I am simply stating what I consider to be the basis for a godless morality as requested in the OP. It does not mean I consider myself necessarily correct. Only that I find it a reasonable basis. There are possibly other possible basises, basiss, basi, ? that could support our conceptions of right and wrong as o you require that one address their supporting argumentation forwell.

Ofcourse. Smiling I'm just a glutton for debating and trying to prove my point is all! Smiling I'm cool for agreeing to disagree, I just wanted you to recognise some of the more questionable premises that your position is based on. (No doubt I have a couple of my own)

Yes. I just like to clarify since declarative statements are easier to use than quantifying everything with an 'I believe' or an 'it seems to me' so there is often the illusion in discussions like these that people think everything they are stating to be obvious facts.

“Philosophers have argued for centuries about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but materialists have always known it depends on whether they are jitterbugging or dancing cheek to cheek" -- Tom Robbins


Vessel
Vessel's picture
Posts: 646
Joined: 2006-03-31
User is offlineOffline
RationalDeist

RationalDeist wrote:
Vessel wrote:

Social interactions are, at their heart, biological processes, but that doesn't mean that we can't look at and discuss the meaning they hold to us and the effect they have on us from the perspective of the affected. However, we also shouldn't try and place human emotions and experiences and concepts into some separate category that tries to make us into something other than the biological organisms we are. Only when we attempt to understand both perspectives can we get a full and accurate picture of our existence and a better understanding of how to make the best of it.

are we still talking about ethics and morals? How would you create a morality from sceince?

You probably couldn't, in any real world situation. This is not saying, though, that science doesn't give us important insight into the nature of morality and provide us with a better understanding of what it is we are actually asking, or physically doing, when we ask morality based questions. You are confusing the statement 'the nature of right and wrong is based in survival values' with the statement 'we can create a perfect moral system through science'.

Quote:
What would your scientific theory look like? "Murder is wrong because the alpha wave particle from the..."

I wouldn't have a scientific theory. As for why murder is wrong for an entity that exists as a social biological organism, from a purely survival value perspective, I would think this would be obvious.    

Quote:
or "thievery should not be allowed because it causes our heart rate to increase."

Thievery creates social unrest. Social unrest is not conducive to the survival of social animals. If we want to understand why thievery creates social unrest, I would suggest it has something to do with our sense of fairness and justice. These appear to be natural biological responses to certain stimulus as we find other animals that react similar to the way we might when they 'feel' that they are being treated unfairly. 

Quote:
I'm sorry, but the natural sciences can only be used as tools to try and understand the world.

No need to be sorry. I don't disagree. Now, explain to me how morality exists if it is not part of the natural world. 

Quote:
if you are talking about ethics, then you are talking about the pursuit of happiness.

What is happiness? 

“Philosophers have argued for centuries about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but materialists have always known it depends on whether they are jitterbugging or dancing cheek to cheek" -- Tom Robbins


RationalDeist
Theist
Posts: 130
Joined: 2007-11-12
User is offlineOffline
Vessel wrote:

Vessel wrote:
RationalDeist wrote:

are we still talking about ethics and morals? How would you create a morality from sceince?

You probably couldn't, in any real world situation. This is not saying, though, that science doesn't give us important insight into the nature of morality and provide us with a better understanding of what it is we are actually asking, or physically doing, when we ask morality based questions. You are confusing the statement 'the nature of right and wrong is based in survival values' with the statement 'we can create a perfect moral system through science'.

What is "survival values"? For what reason is there to value survival? Are there reasons to stop valuing survival? If you were blind, deaf, and were being constantly pierced by red hot needles, would this cause you to stop valuing life? If you child or wife were about to die, and you sacrificed yourself for them, for what reason would you do so if "survival value" was the ultimate value?

The reason is because you value something more than you value your life

Quote:
Quote:
I'm sorry, but the natural sciences can only be used as tools to try and understand the world.

No need to be sorry. I don't disagree. Now, explain to me how morality exists if it is not part of the natural world.

it is part of the natural world, just not part of the scientifically accurate measurable natural world.

Can you measure love in milligrams? Does this mean love does not exist?

Vessel wrote:

What is happiness?

A feeling of fulfillment is probably the best way to describe happiness, although this can hardly get it across completely. The only reason to desire to survive is to achieve more happiness. It is not scientifically measurable, but it is measurable by our human experience, and all the decisions on what we do with our lives our based on whether it will make us most happy.

Therefore happiness is the base of ethics, not biology. Biology can be used as a tool to try and understand what makes us most happy, but ultimate end is always happiness.


Vessel
Vessel's picture
Posts: 646
Joined: 2006-03-31
User is offlineOffline
RationalDeist

RationalDeist wrote:
Vessel wrote:

What is happiness?

A feeling of fulfillment is probably the best way to describe happiness, although this can hardly get it across completely. The only reason to desire to survive is to achieve more happiness. It is not scientifically measurable, but it is measurable by our human experience, and all the decisions on what we do with our lives our based on whether it will make us most happy.

Well depression seems to be scientifically measurable. In fact, there are some solid links between depression and brain chemicals. So why is happiness not linked to brain chemistry, a biological function, and if it is then what is responsible for the release of these chemicals? Do we will them? Or is happiness an autonomic response to certain stimuli?

I'd also like to state that I think you place far too much importance on happiness. This purely selfish motivation view of the way the human animal operates seems, if not overly simplistic, an arbitrary place to stop. There is no good reason that happiness should hold such an important position in our existence aside from it being beneficial for our survival. Happiness in itself has no benefit. If we do go ahead and trace it back to survival, though, there is no reason to think that other factors can't play just as important a role in survival as happiness and therefor there is no reason to think it the sole, or even the dominant, factor.

Quote:
Therefore happiness is the base of ethics, not biology. Biology can be used as a tool to try and understand what makes us most happy, but ultimate end is always happiness.

Even if the emphasis you place on the selfish motivation of happiness were justified you then need to explain how happiness is something other than a biological function. 

“Philosophers have argued for centuries about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but materialists have always known it depends on whether they are jitterbugging or dancing cheek to cheek" -- Tom Robbins


Vessel
Vessel's picture
Posts: 646
Joined: 2006-03-31
User is offlineOffline
RationalDeist wrote: What

RationalDeist wrote:

What is "survival values"? For what reason is there to value survival? Are there reasons to stop valuing survival? If you were blind, deaf, and were being constantly pierced by red hot needles, would this cause you to stop valuing life? If you child or wife were about to die, and you sacrificed yourself for them, for what reason would you do so if "survival value" was the ultimate value?

We aren't in control of biological processes. Survival value is not some decision I make where I am faced with two possibilities and choose the one that oiffers me the best chance to survive. We are talking about the nature that has been programmed into us through evolutionary processes. The questions you ask are not occurences that would have effected the evolutionary path we, as a species, took to arrive at our present biological make-up. If I had evolved as a being that lived in an environment of being blind and deaf and constantly poked with red hot needles I imagine what was beneficial for survival would lead to my existing as a much different being than I am today with a much different sense of what I considered right and wrong. 

Quote:
The reason is because you value something more than you value your life

Which is a good trait to have if the species is to continue to exist as it leads to you taking care of those who will continue on. 

Quote:

it is part of the natural world, just not part of the scientifically accurate measurable natural world.

Can you measure love in milligrams? Does this mean love does not exist?

You can measure the biological processes that are responsible for the sensation we term love, yes. This doesn't tell us what it's like to love but it does tell us what love is.  


“Philosophers have argued for centuries about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but materialists have always known it depends on whether they are jitterbugging or dancing cheek to cheek" -- Tom Robbins


Agnostic_Detective
Posts: 5
Joined: 2007-11-12
User is offlineOffline
Evolution is irrelevant

Hi, been trying to keep track of this debate.  I'm sorry to say I haven't read over a half of it.  I'm glad to see I'm not the only "Freelancer" fan (referring to the user known as "Edison Trent&quotEye-wink

 

I think that the evolution argument, while it has a very central place in the general religious debate, is irrelevant when we discuss morality, or at least distracting.

 

All of us, theists, atheists and agnostics, see the functional role of morality in our lives.  We have the rights of life, liberty and property (or the pursute of happiness), and those who try to take them away are considered social deviants and are sent away or terminated (jailed rapists, executed murderers, etc).

 

But we do not just shrug as we hear that a man brutally raped and murdered a 9 year old.  We do not just say "well, social deviency...  we must take care of it."

We do not shrug when we hear that a cruel person was sentenced to what we see as severe and say "yep, it's very convenient to have them off the streets for a few decades."

No, we have a deep sense of morality and justice.

The rape of a child is HORRIFIC to us, emotionally.

The punishment of a rapist or a murderer is something we glee over, because we truly hate that person, and see him as BAD, not just a deviant.

 

As for what's functional...  sociologists can point up that murders and suicides are instrumental in our society.  People feel alienated, they get depressed, a certain percentage of them hangs themselves, and as a result of that tragedy, the society can move closer together.

Same with national tragedies like 9/11, or with evil acts such as serial murders, serial rapes, etc.

 Teen violence is up in Israel.  The media talks about it, and it makes people talk about the values that we're leaving for the younger generations.   

At times when terrorism in Israel or all over the world is up, people come together. 

A minority of people committing murders is not going to destroy the society.  It's going to make it stronger.

 

EVOLUTIONALY speaking, every society needs a few Dahmers and Bundies.  Therefore, why should it be considered objectively immoral if I go kill a small child the moment I submit this message and log off?

 

Again, back to the drawing board:  Why is someone like Christopher Hitchens better on the inside than a man like Jeff Dahmer?  Both are functional in the continuation of society.  Some may argue that a Dahmer or a Bin Laden are even more functional, as long as they come in small numbers.

I believe in absolute morality.  I believe murder is wrong. 

So again I ask, why shouldn't I hurt people if morality is only in my mind?  How can it be objective without a good god?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Edison Trent
Theist
Edison Trent's picture
Posts: 104
Joined: 2007-11-10
User is offlineOffline
Agnostic_Detective

Agnostic_Detective wrote:

Hi, been trying to keep track of this debate.  I'm sorry to say I haven't read over a half of it.  I'm glad to see I'm not the only "Freelancer" fan (referring to the user known as "Edison Trent"Eye-wink

Hooray, another Freelancer! :D  I love that game, especially with all the mods since Microsoft released the .ini files.  Anyhow, enough with rambling.  I like your points, they make sense, I have always wondered why emotions are like that, especially guilt for doing what should be natural.  I don't really have anything else to add, your post sums it up pretty well.


ProzacDeathWish
atheist
ProzacDeathWish's picture
Posts: 4127
Joined: 2007-12-02
User is offlineOffline
I believe the concept of

I believe the concept of "morality" is simply too vague. Morals are a reflection of culture and tradition and as such are transient and subject to change. Morality is not absolute, what constitutes right and wrong can bend in any direction. For example, ask most any modern-day Christian if slavery is "bad" and they will of course agree. Then ask them why they aren't willing to repudiate God's Old Testament instructions for Hebrew slave owners and watch them resort to "situational ethics" and "moral relativism" at its finest.

 

The same moral ambivilence is applied by Christians when it comes to the Old Testament patriarch's and their "unconventional" sexual arrangments, ie, *concubines ( *read, "sex slave" ) multiple wives, the taking of captive virgins into forced marriage ( war "booty", pun intended ), incestuous marriage ( Abraham was married to his half-sister Sarah ) etc.

For an example of this moral double-standard just imagine if Billy Graham were to walk out on stage during one of his crusades and introduce his multiple wives, or even better, his concubines ..well his preaching career would be finished and he would be swept away by the scandalous outcry. Yet substitute King David or Solomon, or Abraham and the Christians with their precious moral absolutes will instantly go into damage-control and explain why reality doesn't seem to be what it appears to be. The moral yardline will be moved back and forth to suit their needs and their moral absolutes will be thrown down into the dust....and the irony will never occur to them!

I don't place much value on "morality" as a concept. I believe I am echoing an earlier post on this thread but I agree with it in the sense that empathy is superior to morality. I can not stand to see an old person suffer and if I ever witnessed abuse of an elderly person I would be overcome with empathy ( and a lot of anger ) and I would intervene. I also cannot stand to see animals suffer. Animal abuse sickens me and I have many animals that I have saved from a cruel existence.

 

I don't feel these compassionate emotions because God commanded me to or to get some reward ( or avoid punishment ) or even to claim that I am moral. It is simply my nature to feel this way. I was sensitive in this way before I became a Christian, I was senitive in this way while I was a Christian, and I'm still this way now that I'm an atheist. This personality trait exists within me independantly of any moral validation or guidance.

Morality in and of itself does not equal compassion, or self-sacrifice, or mercy.

 

Patrick is an edgy edgelord.


Agnostic_Detective
Posts: 5
Joined: 2007-11-12
User is offlineOffline
Personally, I like to spit

Personally, I like to spit at old men and torture small animals.

 Now, you can feel angry with me or call me a scumbag or whatever, but it's just a personal preferance.  You choose to love animals, I choose to torture them.  Who are you to tell me that you're RIGHT and I'm WRONG or anything like that?  Even if I come after YOUR cat, who are you to criticize me?

 

No, I wasn't serious.  I hate people who abuse the elderly, and I love animals.  Especially my two kittycats.  My point was that you gotta be pissed at the statements above, that suggested I'm a sadist with no empathy or remorse.  But even if I was, you're not better than me, by your own standards.  It's just personal choice.

 

You can't even criticize the old testament people no matter what they did.  You can't criticize Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, etc.  Can you?  If so, HOW?

 

As for the examples you gave of the old testament, I listened to Todd Friel the other day talking about it in regard to some clip from the very first episode of The West Wing.  He quoted something from the new testament that is supposed to show how some of these laws were right for the society in the past, but they don't fit in our times.  Now, it's not about every single law, but some laws.

 As for "sex slaves" in the old testament:

To be fair, god gave certain laws to avoid the situation of horny men grabbin some hotties for instant gratification.  A man who takes a female slave has to let her mourn the deaths of her loved ones for a week.  During that mourning she shaves her hair and dresses in a bag.  So for 7 days this man is supposed to make sure she has all that she needs, see her in the most heartbreaking situation, as she mourns, plus she's in her most unattractive.  Only after these 7 days he's allowed to sleep with her. 

Now, you might say it's still disgusting, and I see what you mean, but it shows you that there is certain wisdon in this book, and an attempt to restrain men from their natural urges, as they are forced to practice self control.

 As for David:  The bible regards him as an immoral sinner, and practically a murderer.

 

But that is all irrelevant to the main question of this forum, which isn't about Judaism or Christianity.  If you think these laws regarding the treatment of human beings by human beings are wrong, then please tell me why.  Why is  your empathy better than the sadism of people who want to kill your cats?

 

 


ProzacDeathWish
atheist
ProzacDeathWish's picture
Posts: 4127
Joined: 2007-12-02
User is offlineOffline
Hello A_D. My point was

Hello A_D. My point was that my compassion eminated from my own inner sense of moral intuition ( ie, my personality ) and did not originate from some pre-existing set of morals. Even if my acts of mercy were considered barbaric or meaningless it would not change my attitude nor my behaviour. I use my own arbitrary code of acceptable behaviour and I don't care whether society, religion, or anyone else approve or dissaprove. When I see acts of cruelty I simply have an urge to alleviate it and I don't require validation from an outside source. Call it good, bad, moral or immoral, cruelty disturbs me so I try to combat it. It's a compulsion, end of story.

No offense A_D but concerning as to whom I can criticise, I can criticise whomever I want, from what ever basis of judgement that appeals to me and I don't need the permission of others in that regard either. You are obviously criticising me in your latest post and will probably continue to do so, am I right ?

You ask me who am I to criticise ? well ..who do I need to be..the Pope ? ..Stephen Hawkings ? I don't need credentials to make valid observations....do you ?

 

Also, the Old Testament examples of deviant sexual behavior of polygomy, sex slaves, incest would never be openly engaged in by todays' Christians...why ? Because they consider them to be moral perversions as well as making these Christians targets for criminal prosecution. The same can be said in regard to Biblical approval of slavery. Their MORAL ABSOLUTES seem to change with the times and as such they cannot claim that their God's moral laws are inviolate and unchangeing hence....they are not absolute.

 

As far as the Old Testament portraying King David as a moral reprobate ( he was ) he was still held as an example to be followed and who died wth "honor" ( see 1 Chronicles 29:26-28 ). Surprising as King David lived under Mosaic Laws and his crimes of adultery and murder required that he be executed. The old bastard never payed for his crimes yet he was portrayed as an honorable man who was "after God's own heart." It's not exactly a secret that he is considered to be a biblical hero to many Christians.

 

Lastly, as to why my empathy is better or worse than another person I would instead prefer to hear you expound upon your own moral perceptions and why you choose to label something as immoral or moral....perhaps you can lead by example?

 

Patrick is an edgy edgelord.