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The emerging moral psychology - Comments

JackR's Avatar Comment 1 by JackR

Interesting, although unsurprising. It's always seemed fairly clear to me that there is a "gut level" aspect behind at least some of our "moral reflexes", but that most of us make the additional effort to use reason to hone our morality into something more substantial, fair and justifiable. Refusing to refine "gut morality" in this way is no more admirable than refusing to hone "gut sexuality" ("I want that attractive person so I will take her/him, by force if necessary").

The questions about "killing one to save five" are also interesting. I remember doing some questionnaires which featured those questions and they certainly do give you pause. With reflection it's pretty easy to understand why it seems easier to sacrifice the single person when all you have to do is flick a switch and initiate a secondary series of events, rather than having to directly kill the person yourself. Similar "removal" makes it easier to be a meat-eater when you don't have to slaughter and prepare the animal yourself, or a supporter of war when you don't have to do the fighting yourself. There are countless other examples.

The "flick of a switch" example also powerfully illustrates one aspect of why guns are more dangerous weapons than, say, knives or baseball bats. To kill someone with a gun is not only much more physically simple, it can be done at one remove from the victim and it can be done with the minimum of effort. You do not have to get as up-close and personal with a gun as you do with a knife or a cudgel. You do not have to struggle. You do not have to face the possibility of having the bloody consequences of your action splashed all over your nice shirt, You don't have to look your victim in the eye and watch him die. And so on. It's no surprise that this factor in the gun control argument is usually overlooked or played down by gun control opponents.

The conclusion is that in general the more removed we are from the consequences of our moral decisions, the easier it is to make them. In some ways this is a good thing - it allows us to get on with our lives without endless agonising over every ethical choice - but in a crucial sense it is a bad thing, especially where our moral decisions affect others. Examples featuring death or injury make the point most powerfully and I think everyone should try to consider what their difficult moral choices really mean at root. You may only be flicking a switch, but you're still killing a man.

Mon, 05 May 2008 11:10:00 UTC | #166483

ChrisMcL's Avatar Comment 2 by ChrisMcL

"divinity (sanctity and purity of the soul)"

Seriously, I really don't understand what that means. I have had little exposure to this kind of "god-talk". I know that souls don't exist, divinity is something related to gods, and that sanctity can mean precious.

Is Shweder trying to say that religious belief is one of the three ethical domains?

Mon, 05 May 2008 11:47:00 UTC | #166499

Chrysippus_Maximus's Avatar Comment 3 by Chrysippus_Maximus

This is almost totally irrelevant to Ethics as a discipline.

The foundations of what people often CALL "morality" is important, to be sure...

But it sheds absolutely no light on normativity per se, and science journalism needs to stop pretending that it does.

Scientists should indeed be investigating the biology and evolution of socio-cultural values, but leave the Ethics to the philosophers (at least, for now).

Mon, 05 May 2008 12:42:00 UTC | #166529

RSP's Avatar Comment 4 by RSP

"Despite the knocking it has received, reason is clearly not entirely impotent in the moral domain. We can reflect on our moral positions and, with a bit of effort, potentially revise them. An understanding of our moral intuitions, and the unconscious forces that fuel them, give us perhaps the greatest hope of overcoming them."

Well gosh, who would have seen it coming. The day academia admits maybe humans aren't just miserable animals who can never know reality. Of course an idea like this would have to come from the scientific end, because you'd never hear it from the philosophic end.

Mon, 05 May 2008 13:19:00 UTC | #166555

Chrysippus_Maximus's Avatar Comment 5 by Chrysippus_Maximus

RSP, um, try Christine Korsgaard's "The Sources of Normativity".

Mon, 05 May 2008 13:58:00 UTC | #166583

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 6 by Cartomancer

ChrisMcL, comment #2

I suspect this mysterious element of "Purity" or "Divinity" or whatever the researchers call it is actually just a shorthand way of describing evolved concerns for physical or mental health and wellbeing. Visceral concepts of "purity" and "pollution" derive pretty directly from our instinctive desire not to become ill or injured, not to expose ourselves to sources of infection, harrowing experiences and so forth.

I would quibble with the semantics they use, but the sentiment seems a sound one.

Mon, 05 May 2008 14:31:00 UTC | #166597

phiwilli's Avatar Comment 7 by phiwilli

Over and over the article, and apparently those it cites, refer to what "most people do," or what "most people think." What is the relevance of majority opinion, even huge majority opinion, to what is right? Or to anything else? Maybe most people (in the US, and maybe lots of other places outside western Europe, think evolution is false. So what? If surveys like those had been done in medieval times, or in tribal societies today, etc., I suspect the results would be rather different. So what? What if the investigators asked about witchcraft, or whether the sun orbits the earth, or . . .

And how do they explain the minority who don't think like "most people"?

Mon, 05 May 2008 14:43:00 UTC | #166601

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 8 by Cartomancer

Lets do a little study to see whether philosophy or science can help people to lead more moral lives.

Find two identical deserted islands. Strand a group of scientifically illiterate philosophers on one of them with five works of ethical philosophy. Strand a group of philosophically illiterate scientists on the other with five works of cognitive psychology. Check back at regular intervals to observe the moral progress or decline. First island to achieve a perfectly harmonious, maximally happy and productive society wins.

Anyone caught fondling Nietzche's Der Wille zur Macht or making paper hats from Chomsky is automatically disqualified.

You could set up a third island full of priests and theologians too, but it's probably wise not to give them one with a volcano on it, for fear of who they might decide to throw in.

Mon, 05 May 2008 14:56:00 UTC | #166608

aquilacane's Avatar Comment 9 by aquilacane

"Greene interprets these different activation patterns, and the relative difficulty of making a choice in the Footbridge Problem, as the sign of conflict within the brain. On the one hand is a negative emotional response elicited by the prospect of pushing a man to his death saying "Don't do it!"; on the other, cognitive elements saying "Save as many people as possible and push the man!" For most people thinking about the Footbridge Problem, emotion wins out; in a minority of others, the utilitarian conclusion of maximising the number of lives saved."

First of all, no one in this position would have time to think, so the test is faulty. I doubt any of the people who said they would push the man would have pushed the man. I doubt they would have considered the man as a suitable object for stopping a runaway cart, it is after all a man. Once the option of pushing the man is planted; however, only then do they consider it and take time to think about it, of course, the cart would have raced past by now and it wouldn't have mattered.

There is also the problem that we did not evolve with the ability to kill a person at the push of a button or flick of a switch, we had to use our hands. We don't associate button pushing as killing quite the same way we do throttling a person to death, I expect you could ask a fighter pilot, especially one who has killed with their hands.

As well, if I'm seen pushing the man I cannot say I didn't do it, if I flick a switch I can say I didn't realize what would happen. Each step between the cause and effect separates us from ownership. Self preservation surely plays a role, I can hear the excuses in my head. I figured the cart was going to fast and would crash from the abrupt change, I did everything I could, blah blah blah. You can't talk your way out of pushing someone off a bridge though.

Mon, 05 May 2008 15:30:00 UTC | #166625

Geoff's Avatar Comment 10 by Geoff

8. Comment #175569 by Cartomancer

Lets do a little study to see whether philosophy or science can help people to lead more moral lives.

Find two identical deserted islands. Strand a group of scientifically illiterate philosophers on one of them with five works of ethical philosophy. Strand a group of philosophically illiterate scientists on the other with five works of cognitive psychology. Check back at regular intervals to observe the moral progress or decline. First island to achieve a perfectly harmonious, maximally happy and productive society wins.


Um. Not sure how long the philosophers would survive...meanwhile the scientists have built a boat and reached the mainland!

Mon, 05 May 2008 15:48:00 UTC | #166631

Alovrin's Avatar Comment 11 by Alovrin

Anyone caught fondling Nietzche's Der Wille zur Macht or making paper hats from Chomsky is automatically disqualified.

You could set up a third island full of priests and theologians too, but it's probably wise not to give them one with a volcano on it, for fear of who they might decide to throw in.


Thats hilarious.

Mon, 05 May 2008 17:14:00 UTC | #166659

Ascaphus's Avatar Comment 12 by Ascaphus

Jack said:

...The conclusion is that in general the more removed we are from the consequences of our moral decisions, the easier it is to make them. In some ways this is a good thing...


I remember from back in my TV days an episode of "The Twilight Zone." A couple is given a black box with a single button on top. The stranger giving them the box tells them that if they push the button, nothing will happen to them and nobody will ever know, but they will receive a million bucks and somebody they don't even know will die. If they don't push the button, the box will just be given to somebody else. The whole story is them agonizing about whether or not to push the button. Of course after they push the button and the stranger is now exchanging the box for the million $, they are told that the box will be given to somebody they don't even know!

I think you're right on about the weapons, also. Much has been written about the advent of remote weapons and its effect on moral compunctions.

Not much new here, but it's nice to see it getting press for a general audience. It's amazing how much of this people are unaware of. I get questions all the time from faith types "...but if morals don't come from god, how do we know right from wrong...?" and so on.

Matt

Mon, 05 May 2008 18:19:00 UTC | #166681

MPhil's Avatar Comment 13 by MPhil

Carto,

Nietzche's Der Wille zur Macht


Oh come on you old historiographer, you should know there never was such a book by Nietzsche. That was a fabrication by his sister.

And if you take moral philosophers and political philosophers, I'm actually not at all sure the Not at all.

EDIT: arrg... something stole my brain when I wrote that last sentence... see below for an explanation. :)

Mon, 05 May 2008 18:30:00 UTC | #166686

Don_Quix's Avatar Comment 14 by Don_Quix

I find it difficult to understand how any complex higher organism could possibly get to where they are now without evolving relatively early on some sort of basic system that punishes things which generally end in bad outcomes (death), and rewards things which generally end in good outcomes (living for another day so you can have a chance to reproduce).

This is essentially, on a very basic level, morality.

I find it even harder to understand how some modern, highly evolved animals (such as ourselves), can't see this is why the vast majority of us don't rob, and rape, and kill each other every single day. Sure, some do, but the vast majority don't...and they DON'T WANT TO (and probably wouldn't even if they could get away with it).

Morality makes absolute evolutionary sense. At least a very simple form of morality is reflected in all higher mammals that currently exist on Earth. I do not understand why many people (humans) can't recognize this.

If our early ancestors hadn't evolved some basic sense of morality very early on, we (Homo Sapiens) wouldn't be here! Morality is an evolutionary necessity, because it increases the likelihood of your particular groups survival. It's as simple as that, I think. But that is just my uneducated opinion :)

Mon, 05 May 2008 20:56:00 UTC | #166725

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 15 by Cartomancer

you should know there never was such a book by Nietzsche. That was a fabrication by his sister.
It was going to be Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, but just this once I thought I'd push the boat out and choose something a bit more modern - for the sake of those on here who prefer their philosophers in three piece suits rather than gathered robes. Quite what made me go for the mad Prussian with the moustache is anyone's guess though (unless his sister fabricated the moustache too...).

Just goes to show what happens when an impressionable medievalist ventures away from the certainties of scholastic learning into the dim and murky depths of the nineteenth century...

Though, irrespective of its provenance, it is still a book, containing moral philosophy, composed by someone called Nietzche! And fondling it is still going to be severely frowned upon...

Mon, 05 May 2008 21:13:00 UTC | #166730

MPhil's Avatar Comment 16 by MPhil

Carto,

...the mad but brilliant Prussian, please :)

The will to power was of course a major theme in Nietzsche's thinking... and he did plan to write a book with that title, but his illness made that impossible. His sister Elisabeth Foerster Nietzsche and his fried Peter Gast edited some of his notes and published them as "Der Wille zur Macht". One should also note that his sister fabricated some notes, edited some others together in a way for them to have totally different context-meaning than in their original appearance and generally tinkered with his work... she imposed her own ideas onto her brother's work. And she was very much a friend of Hitler and the Nazis, which is why her tinkering with her brothers work made it far more open to exploitation by the Nazis.

Despicable woman.

Anyway - I do think the moustache was his own. (You just gave me the weird idea of Elisabeth painting moustaches on all his pictures :)

The reason why I think moral and political philosophers would indeed be better at the task you supposed is because it is a task at the centre of which is thinking about moral normativity, not descriptive morality.

The scientists could figure out the descriptive side of moral psychology... which is important for philosophers as well. But the task would still be normative.

Of course the problem is that there is no general fact of the matter about which first-order moral approach is the right one, there would be substantial disagreement between the philosophers. But there are facts of the matter in descriptive morality and descriptive (cognitive neuro-)psychology of morality.
That wouldn't help the scientists one bit though in approaching the normative task.

There are still facts in moral philosophy - the facts that any consequentialist approach requires for example. Or the facts about the content of the moral character of the individual, and of groups of individuals.

I think that if the philosophers were to agree on something like a very detailed Rawls/Scanlon model (with perhaps some utilitarian infusion), they could do the job not perfectly, but better than the scientists.

Perhaps the certainties of scholastic learning (if you refer to the content) were unwarranted certainties? And the murky depths of the 19th century (especially Neitzsche, who was -I think- very correct in his analyses of culture on the brink of modernity and post-modernity) perhaps got it entirely right that there are little certainties, but many social constructs, which comprise the murky depths that they laid bare.

Just a thought.

Mon, 05 May 2008 21:38:00 UTC | #166734

jwdink's Avatar Comment 17 by jwdink

This is almost totally irrelevant to Ethics as a discipline. The foundations of what people often CALL "morality" is important, to be sure... But it sheds absolutely no light on normativity per se, and science journalism needs to stop pretending that it does. Scientists should indeed be investigating the biology and evolution of socio-cultural values, but leave the Ethics to the philosophers (at least, for now).


I'd be curious to know what you mean by this. I thought, since Hume, it's been well established that there is no separate morality outside of what we "call" it. The question is not "is human nature the place to establish ethics?" (what else would be) but rather "what is the best way to examine human nature?" Are you denying that it's some sort of scientific endeavor?

Now, I'll grant that philosophy needs to step in to give that prescriptive/normative push, to decide whether stuff like "sanctity" is a separate moral motivator from "justice" or whether it's just an heuristic shortcut. But you seem to think that the science is useless. Can you explain?

(PS: One of my favorite quotes from Daniel Dennett:

"Ethics must somehow be based on an appreciation of human natureâ€"on a sense of what a human being is or might be, and on what a human being might want to have or want to be. If that is naturalism, then naturalism is no fallacy. No one could seriously deny that ethics is responsive to such facts about human nature. We may just disagree about where to look for the most telling facts about human natureâ€"in novels, in religious texts, in psychological experiments, in biological or anthropological innovations. The fallacy is not naturalism, but rather, any simple-minded attempt to rush from facts to values.")

Mon, 05 May 2008 21:44:00 UTC | #166736

MPhil's Avatar Comment 18 by MPhil

jwdink,

I can only give you my perspective as a philosopher, but for what it's worth:

Science is only ever descriptive. If we want a first order ethical theory, this is a normative, prescriptive endeavour, entirely. Not just a "push".

I think any first order moral theory needs to take into account as many relevant facts about human beings (psychological, physiological, social) as it can. That's where science is essential. But the main task is still developing a theory of what these moral values, to which we, in virtue of taking into account all the relevant facts and comparing different strategies, do not rush, are, or rather 'should be', since moral values are constructed, not found.

Only with knowing a lot about human nature can we begin to construct a coherent first order ethical theory that can successfully be applied to any situation.

Still, the main task here is the normative/prescriptive one. I don't think Spinoza thinks that science is entirely useless here.

But he is right in stating, as I have laid out, that knowing the (neuro-)psychological facts about how we make moral judgements etc are irrelevant to the prescriptive task.

Mon, 05 May 2008 22:09:00 UTC | #166742

Chrysippus_Maximus's Avatar Comment 19 by Chrysippus_Maximus

I'd be curious to know what you mean by this. I thought, since Hume, it's been well established that there is no separate morality outside of what we "call" it. The question is not "is human nature the place to establish ethics?" (what else would be) but rather "what is the best way to examine human nature?" Are you denying that it's some sort of scientific endeavor?


Hume established no such thing. In fact the IS/OUGHT Gap (Hume's Fork) establishes exactly the opposite.

You CANNOT derive an ought from an is.

This is basic first year undergraduate philosophy, and can be briefly checked over here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Is-ought_problem

Your last question strikes me as incoherent... but maybe there is something else you have in mind that wasn't conveyed directly.

You seem to have clearly and completely misunderstood me.

Now, I'll grant that philosophy needs to step in to give that prescriptive/normative push, to decide whether stuff like "sanctity" is a separate moral motivator from "justice" or whether it's just an heuristic shortcut. But you seem to think that the science is useless. Can you explain?


First of all, philosophers do two sorts of things in ethical philosophy. The first is meta-ethics. This is the study of what sort of thing moral judgments are ABOUT. That is, what sort of thing a moral fact is, if such a thing exists at all.

The reason it is given the appendage "meta-" is that it is about the underlying [ontological] status of Ethics proper (the second thing ethical philosophers do, or as we call it, Normativity, Normative Ethics, or Practical Reason).

The dichotomy runs sort of like this:

Either (1) Moral judgments point to properties we arrive at through the senses in objects, in which case, our being right or wrong in a given case is dependent on our correctly identifying these properties. Or, (2) Moral judgments are subjective attitudes or expressions or projections outward onto the world.

In the former case, you have to deal with the charge of the anti-realists (like Ayer and Mackie) that such "moral properties" would be QUEER. That is, they seem to be super-natural, since moral goodness CERTAINLY can't be reduced to any particular natural property (as Moore famously phrased it, morality is such that we can say "What is good is whatever has some natural property, G." (say, "increases happiness"), and yet, we can say "X has G, but is X good?" for any X. That is, the question "Is X Good?" remains open).

In the latter case, the subjectivist (or anti-realist), is subject to the Frege-Geach problem of unasserted contexts.

The solution there is to either be an error theorist (a moral SKEPTIC), like Mackie, and simply say that no one is entitled to say that anyone is more or less correct on any moral issue whatsoever; OR, (and this is undoubtedly better) you had better be able to formulate a "logic of attitudes" such that the Frege-Geach problem is resolved. [by the way, you can just google "Frege-Geach problem" to find out what I'm talking about... not enough room to explain].

I particularly like Simon Blackburn's Quasi-Realism.

But I also think Richard Boyd's "Cornell Realism" is quite good (he argues that "goodness" is a homeostatic property cluster of natural kinds that can be determined and measured by looking at the prosperity and flourishing of a society, of course, we must not simply say "I like that!" and thereby wish that it be true, we must examine his case, and determine whether it stands up to criticism. Such is philosophy.)

Two great seminal (and short) papers in meta-ethics I'd recommend to anyone here are:

Simon Blackburn's "How to Be an Ethical Anti-Realist"

And conversely, Richard Boyd's "How to Be A Moral Realist".

And just to make something QUITE clear, no I CERTAINLY do not think science is useless. I just think that moral psychology is in a ridiculous state of affairs at the moment, and is apt to make grievous errors in judgment since it has not been established just WHAT exactly a "moral value" actually is (or if such a thing exists at all!)

By all means, let's study why and how people have come to both say that (and sometimes act as though) they value certain things.

Let us not thereby say that we have established the status of correct and incorrect moral judgments on that basis.

That would be folly.


... I have sort of ignored Normativity theory... which is interesting because that's the directly prescriptive part of moral philosophy... But the point of all this is really to say that it looks an awful lot like Moral Psychologists are making broad-brush assumptions on the normative level...

I had the opportunity to talk with Patricia Churchland (famous Neurophilosopher) recently, and she brought up all the examples of thought-experiments and the data collected that are mentioned in this article... and of course, made the ubiquitous joke in neurophilosophy circles, that it has been shown that if you have lesions on your PFC, you'll be a Utilitarian, and if not, you'll be a Kantian.

That is, people with impaired emotional circuitry evaluate moral scenarios like the Trolley-car case, or the pushing the fat guy off the bridge case, in an unwittingly, and unfailingly utilitarian manner.

People with intact emotional circuitry tend to fall on the "Kantian" (never treat people as the means to an end, only as ends in themselves) side of things...


And to me, NEITHER of these theories is given any support by this data.

And nor should they be. They're both wrong!

Mon, 05 May 2008 22:16:00 UTC | #166745

RSP's Avatar Comment 20 by RSP

I have been taking the tests for fun. I have to say I do not understand how they derive meaningful data from these questions. Maybe it's just my gross inadequacy in statistics lol. But many of them seem so deliberately structured and made with language of either the far right, or left or nothing else. They are so vague it's really ambiguous a lot of the time. Not to mention they are almost all setup in emergency situations, where morality seems so incredibly capricious depending on important details that arent put forth.

Mon, 05 May 2008 22:19:00 UTC | #166746

MPhil's Avatar Comment 21 by MPhil

Spinoza,

good post, but some small problems:

1.Mackie's anti-realism, namely error-theory, does not fall prey to the Frege-Geach problem. Error-theory is different from pure emotivism or prescriptivism.
The error theory solves the truth-value problem of Geach.

2.The Queerness-argument is not the only one. And it again has several parts. Of specific interest are the ontological and the epistemological one. Even if one does not subscribe to Mackie's ontological critique of moral realism, the epistemological one still holds.

3.I don't think Cornell Realism is a solution, because it again faces the queerness-objection, specifically the epistemological one.

4. Blackburn's solution is more appealing, but I don't think it provides a sufficient justification for rejecting error-theory. Introducing "quasi" makes the whole thing an ontological mess.

:)

Mon, 05 May 2008 22:36:00 UTC | #166748

MPhil's Avatar Comment 22 by MPhil

...also, Hume is quite as uncontroversial as many seem to think.

Mon, 05 May 2008 22:37:00 UTC | #166749

Chrysippus_Maximus's Avatar Comment 23 by Chrysippus_Maximus

1. MPhil, I don't think I implied your point (1). I specifically said that Error theory AVOIDS the Frege-Geach problem (i.e. by being a sceptic you don't fall prey to it). [admittedly, the opening sentence of that section of my post is a little vague, and seems to imply that the Frege-Geach problem applies generally to all subjectivist positions, which is corrected immediately in the next sentence... the idea being that a naive subjectivist is probably not an error theorist until they meet Mackie! hehe].

2. You're right about Queerness, I glossed over it rather quickly (this is a web-forum, not a philosophy seminar, after all!)

3. I agree. But I have aspirations of combining Boyd's Cornell Realism with Blackburn's Quasi-realism in a kind of synthesis to make a better theory!!! (shhh!!! Don't steal my idea! lol)

4. I particularly like the line where Blackburn says that "What matters in the case of bear-baiting is not the attitude you or any observer has toward bear-baiting, but the attitude the bear has toward it."

Surely that is, if not damning, quite incriminating to a hardened error theorist like Mr. Mackie, no? :P

Mon, 05 May 2008 22:42:00 UTC | #166752

Chrysippus_Maximus's Avatar Comment 24 by Chrysippus_Maximus

Upon reflection, I don't think that Cornell Realism is necessarily subject to epistemic queerness. I think there are several ways out of that problem.

... Especially given that Boyd is a naturalist, not a non-naturalist.

Mon, 05 May 2008 22:50:00 UTC | #166756

MPhil's Avatar Comment 25 by MPhil

Spinoza,
ad 1. Oh well, I think I got hung up on the vagueness in your statement. Honest mistake.

ad 3... interesting, but I just cannot see how you would get out of the ontological mess that both quasi-realism and cornell realism get you in (in my opinion)

ad 4 and "boyd is a naturalist" - see, that's it. I don't think the ontological commitments of quasi-realism and cornell-realism are what the proponents think they are, or rather, I don't think they are compatible with naturalism as I see it.

I don't really see that this is incriminating to an error-theorist, since seeing it as such would be begging the question against the premises, which aren't shared after all.

Anyway - you're right, this isn't a philosophy seminar... let's leave it at that :)

Mon, 05 May 2008 23:03:00 UTC | #166765

Chrysippus_Maximus's Avatar Comment 26 by Chrysippus_Maximus

Agreed. There is certainly debate to be had.

(perhaps we should/could continue this on some sort of Messenger or Facebook chat?... I would be interested in engaging your scepticism about quasi and Cornell realism...)

.. as for the topic of this thread... I'm not really sure what it tells us about morality per se... rather, it really only seems to shed light on why different people SAY different things are "moral" (ignoring entirely the question of who is right).

Mon, 05 May 2008 23:06:00 UTC | #166766

MPhil's Avatar Comment 28 by MPhil

(perhaps we should/could continue this on some sort of Messenger or Facebook chat?... I would be interested in engaging your scepticism about quasi and Cornell realism...)


Difficult at the moment - a lot of studying to do... turing machines, Goedel's incompleteness theorems, recursive algorithms, arithmatization of basic mathematical operations as recursive algorithms for implementation in turing machines, the logic and logical problems of reductionism in philosophy of science, Timothy Williamson's "knowledge and its limits" etc...

Next semester break would be possible :)
I'm not really sure what it tells us about morality per se... rather, it really only seems to shed light on why different people SAY different things are "moral" (ignoring entirely the question of who is right).


What is morality? Morality consistes of judgements , dispositions and other behaviour - the structures of that behaviour. It is certainly interesting to learn how these are implemented, what the role of emotional centres and cognitive centres is, what the role of speech centres is etc. Can tell us a lot about actual morality.

Ethics is not all about "who's right"... mostly it's metaethics and "what is the road to a coherent and successful first order theory"... "who's right" is much too simplistic.

There's so much more to morality. Investigating moral thought and behaviour is certainly interesting and important. It, as I said, tells us a lot about what morality qua moral judgements, dispositions and behaviour is.

Mon, 05 May 2008 23:18:00 UTC | #166769

epeeist's Avatar Comment 27 by epeeist

Comment #175731 by Spinoza


(perhaps we should/could continue this on some sort of Messenger or Facebook chat?... I would be interested in engaging your scepticism about quasi and Cornell realism...)
Please keep the conversation here. I, and I suspect a number of others, find it interesting. And if it isn't rational and clear thinking then I don't know what is.

And it is vastly better than the lunacies of the recent theist drive-bys.

Mon, 05 May 2008 23:18:00 UTC | #166768

Chrysippus_Maximus's Avatar Comment 29 by Chrysippus_Maximus

Well, I don't entirely disagree, I just think that without the "ontology" pinned down, so-to-speak (either as non-existent or as natural or as non-natural [this last category is clearly the most unlikely of the three]), the "science" being done cannot with much measure of confidence be said to be talking about what Morality is.

The assumption that investigation of moral talk and behaviour called moral (by some) can tell us about what morality qua moral judgments, dispositions and behaviour is (as you say), is, I think, not a valid assumption.

I think it prudent to understand the distinction between mere moral talk and actually moral judgments/behaviour (i.e., of the Pope saying that contraception is "immoral" [he certainly cannot mean the same thing that I mean when I say "rape is immoral."], or when the Arab Muslim man says "immodest dress is immoral!", because he certainly does not mean by 'immoral' what I mean.)

That is to say, in those, and many (I would venture to say MOST) other cases, people are almost never talking about the same thing when they use the words 'moral' or 'immoral'.

The majority of the world is either a divine command theorist or a simple subjectivist, at least with regard to MOST of their "moral" TALK, and a large portion of their "moral" behaviour. And neither of those has anything to do with 'morality' if the word is to have any meaning at all. (if you follow me).


... By the way, enjoy the reductionism stuff! I love it!!! (one of my favourite areas, aside from meta-ethics and Spinoza, of course!)

... and I'm glad at least one (hopefully some!) others are enjoying this decidedly philosophic discussion in the midst of what I assume was intended to be a Science-oriented thread... I'm happy to oblige with such a worthy interlocutor as MPhil has proven.

Mon, 05 May 2008 23:27:00 UTC | #166772

logical's Avatar Comment 30 by logical

Maybe "innate morals" i.e. how to behave towards another living being has evolved and still has limited use in modern society, but this does NOT apply toward institutions.
As soon as some "infallible" a.k.a. Ratzi Natzi, or some corporate speaker, CEO etc, has a say (s)he is EXPLOITING this instinct.
The very idea that a church, a state or a business incorporation has "rights" means damage to living beings and risk of destruction of the ecosphere. These are organisational forms, nothing more, with NO intrinsical value and they can be changed or done away with without anyone suffering, as soon as they are dysfunctional.

Mon, 05 May 2008 23:40:00 UTC | #166774