Morality is consequentialist, pragmatic and relative.

on fundamental matters such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind and ethics.

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Re: Morality is consequentialist, pragmatic and relative.

#61  Postby tuco » Feb 24, 2020 9:13 pm

Yes its wondering but that is ok.

I do not think or rather I have no reason to think that understanding our brains, or babies for that matter, has much influence over what we talk about here - morality. I am not saying such understanding is useless nor I am saying you claimed its useful, just noting it because "understanding brain is complicated" kinda resonates through your posts on the subject so I guess it has some importance to you. Yeah, its complicated and yeah we know very little but morality comes from interactions not from understanding this or that. So why .. crucially?
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Re: Morality is consequentialist, pragmatic and relative.

#62  Postby archibald » Feb 24, 2020 9:58 pm

zoon wrote:
I hadn’t come across that article about infants preferring those who hindered, when the targets didn’t share the infants’ choice between graham crackers or green beans. Yes, fascinating and chilling.

I definitely agree with you that morality is much more consequentialist, pragmatic and relative than it often feels....


:thumbup:
zoon wrote:.... I’m not so sure that I agree with all your reasoning above.


That's quite ok. It's always enjoyable to discuss with you no matter what. :)

If I leave anything out of what follows that you would like me to specifically reply to, just say. I may not cover everything.

zoon wrote:I would agree with you that the rule “existence = good” is basic to our moral thinking; if we consider that something is to be thought about in moral terms then we are thinking of it as sentient, and we do generally assume that for it (whether “it” is a human or other non-human living thing) existence is a good. I have 2 major caveats:

1) The rule “existence = good” is not in itself a moral rule when it’s being used to describe the behaviour of living things. An ichneumon wasp may be thought of as “wanting” to exist and procreate, but it doesn’t follow that the wasp is behaving morally (or immorally) when it lays its eggs in a living caterpillar.


Well, this is where we get to the point of deciding whether to say the 'rule' "existence = good" is a moral rule or the lesser claim, where we merely say it's a non-moral rule which is at the root of or a basis for morality. Now me personally, I'm toying with the idea of making the former, stronger claim, on the following basis. As humans, I'm suggesting, we have the capacity to ponder, often consciously, about stuff. It's part of the human condition, and aptly illustrated in one of my favourite cartoons, which also, I think, illustrates the 'rule' in question:

Image

I doubt that real creatures like the cartoon ones behind the man are thinking 'eat, survive, reproduce' in words, but I think they, or at least some of them (eg chimps and poodles for instance) will be experiencing something.

So I'm suggesting that human pondering may just be window-dressing, an add-on feature that complicates things (for us).

I don't know if I've explained that very well, or even if no matter how well it were explained, it would still be unconvincing or even awry, but in a way, not everything hinges on it. We could, I think, retreat to the weaker claim and still discuss the topic. I at least find the above fun to consider, that there is in fact no morality, at least not as we think of it. Sometimes I think I just enjoy exploring things which are counterintuitive, in case they are just unwarranted assumptions on our part, or because of our particular way of thinking about things, our paradigm. :)

zoon wrote: It also doesn’t follow that we ought (or that we ought not) to help it.


Ah, I would call that not an application of the rule, because the rule is about my continued existence (whether 'me' is a gene, or a gene-vehicle that calls itself 'archibald' or 'zoon') not 'yours' or 'its' existence (unless we're related in some way or it is in some other way beneficial for 'me' to care about your or its existence).

Now when it comes to me, if I want to continue existing, even if I don't know that I want that (have that 'drive'), then I ought to eat food.

I'm not sure about wasps, but I've heard it said that if we care about our existence, we should be helping bees. :(

zoon wrote:2) The rule “existence = good” has no place whatsoever in fundamental science, because it’s teleological, the continued existence of a living thing is being thought of as a goal. Before the rise of modern science in the seventeenth century, virtually everyone assumed that goals and intentions were fundamental to the way the universe worked; this is religious thinking, with gods or spirits or at least spirit-like principles such as karma or the Tao in charge. The working assumption of modern science is that everything, including every detail of the behaviour of living things including ourselves, can be described by mathematical laws with no goal-directedness involved. If we understood ourselves as the mechanisms we almost certainly are, then everything we think and do, including our intentions and our moral behaviour, could be re-described in terms of the mathematical laws of physics and chemistry.


I'd go along with that. The word 'good' is dubious, not least because it has baggage, including teleology, but even just in terms of any sort of value-judgement, such as 'pleasing' or any propositional attitude at all. I'm not sure what other word would be better. Something more neutral, I'd guess. The question would be, given what we agree about the assumptions of science, what word should go in the space after 'existence = [......] for living things' that don't experience stuff (eg a paramecium)? How about 'in my interests'. No, that doesn't work unless I have interests. I think I might have been getting closer when I called it a 'drive'. Possibly 'impulse' is good also. They're both nicely biomechanical, if not indeed just mechanical. Which, I think, is what (we call) our morality is, in the final analysis. Which is partly why I'm not against making the stronger of the two claims I mentioned above.


zoon wrote:I’m afraid I’m disagreeing with you in that I don’t think it’s possible to use first principles to make the jump from “people and animals want to go on living” to “we should help other people and animals to go on living”.


Agreed, but again that's not necessarily in the rule.
Last edited by archibald on Feb 24, 2020 10:39 pm, edited 11 times in total.
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Re: Morality is consequentialist, pragmatic and relative.

#63  Postby Macdoc » Feb 24, 2020 10:14 pm

I doubt that real creatures like the cartoon ones behind the man are thinking 'eat, survive, reproduce'


Aww c'mon ...there is even a bronze

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Re: Morality is consequentialist, pragmatic and relative.

#64  Postby archibald » Feb 24, 2020 10:21 pm

Macdoc wrote:
I doubt that real creatures like the cartoon ones behind the man are thinking 'eat, survive, reproduce'


Aww c'mon ...there is even a bronze...


I like that. It's cool.

Or as Banksy painted it:

Image

Several years ago, I started noticing just how much humans look like apes. I mean, I knew they were (we are) apes long before that, and that there are similarities, but for some reason I really started noticing it. Now I can hardly watch the news on tv without just seeing...'apes with clothes on', instead of 'people' (if you know what I mean) and not even just Donald Trump.

I thought of it long Before Banksy in fact, and even did a painting. He nicked my idea. :(
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Re: Morality is consequentialist, pragmatic and relative.

#65  Postby archibald » Feb 24, 2020 11:02 pm

Fun fact: humans are, unsurprisingly, building the '(my/our) existence = good' rule into driverless cars.

When such cars are in a situation, eg brake failure, where either (a) the occupants of the car or (b) an equal number of pedestrians (of similar ages and genders) risk being harmed or killed, the car will save the occupants.

I believe that the manufacturers are doing this after doing research into what their driverless car purchasers, again unsurprisingly, prefer.
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Re: Morality is consequentialist, pragmatic and relative.

#66  Postby aufbahrung » Feb 24, 2020 11:07 pm

archibald wrote:Fun fact: humans are, unsurprisingly, building the '(my/our) existence = good' rule into driverless cars.

When such cars are in a situation, eg brake failure, where either (a) the occupants of the car or (b) an equal number of pedestrians (of similar ages and genders) risk being harmed or killed, the car will manoeuvre to save the occupants.

I believe that the manufacturers are doing this after doing research into what their driverless car purchasers, again unsurprisingly, prefer.


Davros on Skaro did similar surveys of consumer opinion and look how that turned out?
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Re: Morality is consequentialist, pragmatic and relative.

#67  Postby tuco » Feb 24, 2020 11:14 pm

They are looking into legal side of the matter, which then could be said to be the will of the people. However, also will of those who dont drive.
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Re: Morality is consequentialist, pragmatic and relative.

#68  Postby zoon » Feb 26, 2020 7:30 pm

tuco wrote:Yes its wondering but that is ok.

I do not think or rather I have no reason to think that understanding our brains, or babies for that matter, has much influence over what we talk about here - morality. I am not saying such understanding is useless nor I am saying you claimed its useful, just noting it because "understanding brain is complicated" kinda resonates through your posts on the subject so I guess it has some importance to you. Yeah, its complicated and yeah we know very little but morality comes from interactions not from understanding this or that. So why .. crucially?

There are (at least) 2 ways in which evolutionary theory appears to be actively contrary to basic morality:
1) Traditional morality is essentially teleological, it claims that some goals and intentions are objectively right and others are wrong, independently of human desires. By contrast, fundamental science, including the theory of evolution by natural selection, is essentially non-teleological. If the scientific viewpoint is correct, this knocks out even the possibility that anything can be objectively morally right or wrong.
2) Natural selection is primarily about competition between individuals of the same species. Without competition at some level, natural selection cannot happen. Even kin altruism evolves because it enables groups of more closely related organisms to compete successfully against other groups. As Dawkins forcefully pointed out in “The Selfish Gene”, this runs against the moral thinking of the great religions. He writes (on page 2) “Much as we might wish to believe otherwise, universal love and the welfare of the species as a whole are concepts that simply do not make evolutionary sense.” ….”

There’s a widespread view that evolutionary theory actively opposes the possibility of moral thinking and behaviour, and that if we want to be moral, we must fight against our genes. Richard Dawkins is a proponent of this view who is not by any stretch of the imagination an apologist for theism (though it obviously suits theists). Dawkins writes in his 2006 introduction to the 30th anniversary edition of “The Selfish Gene”:
Our brains have evolved to the point where we are capable of rebelling against our selfish genes. The fact that we can do so is made obvious by our use of contraceptives. The same principle can and should work on a wider scale.
This view is an old one, it was put forward by T.H. Huxley (another non-believer in gods) soon after the Origin of Species was published. The concept of rebelling against our genes has never made sense to me as an atheist. If morality is not at some level wired into us either by god or by evolution, then a) why does every human society have moral rules, principles of behaviour which apply to everyone and are enforced by group action? – and b) why on earth “should” we be moral if there’s no god and our genes are wiring us against such behaviour, where does that “should” come from?

It’s possible that it’s the evolved human capacity for calculated reciprocity, giving a benefit which is repaid later, which is the key. Reciprocal cooperation is independent of kinship; if both parties gain a benefit, then the behaviour can be selected whether or not they are related. There is still considerable disagreement as to what mechanisms are behind this human ability, though they are likely to involve both Theory of Mind and intelligence, but there is a consensus that humans use reciprocity to cooperate all the time, while it’s difficult to find clear examples in any non-human animal. Theoretical work on the evolution of reciprocity has indicated that it could evolve more easily where cheaters are punished (example 2000 paper “Cooperation and Punishment” here. Morality is the setting up of shared principles of behaviour in a group, which are enforced by collective punishment of defectors. It seems likely that this is an evolved predisposition in humans, and that there’s no need to regard morality as being opposed to evolution.

On this account, morality is not primarily about altruism, but about fairness, making sure that free riders do not get away with their attempt to enjoy the benefits of others’ pro-social behaviour without incurring the costs. Morality demands altruistic behaviour without regard to kinship, but this does not go against the principles of evolutionary theory because morality also identifies and targets cheats. It takes human levels of social intelligence to pull this off accurately.

Morality is an evolved behaviour pattern, and does not need belief in god or any other suprahuman enforcement agency because collective action is enough. Morality is pre-scientific and teleological, but it does not follow that it’s to be discarded along with other pre-scientific and teleological concepts such as spirits and gods. Theory of Mind, one of the underpinnings of our moral thinking, is also pre-scientific and teleological, and we still need to use it because it works very much better than the best of current science for predicting people. This is why I keep going on about brains being complicated: it’s because brains are (so far) too complicated for science that we still continue to need some pre-scientific concepts.
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Re: Morality is consequentialist, pragmatic and relative.

#69  Postby zoon » Feb 26, 2020 7:41 pm

archibald wrote:
zoon wrote:
I hadn’t come across that article about infants preferring those who hindered, when the targets didn’t share the infants’ choice between graham crackers or green beans. Yes, fascinating and chilling.

I definitely agree with you that morality is much more consequentialist, pragmatic and relative than it often feels....


:thumbup:
zoon wrote:.... I’m not so sure that I agree with all your reasoning above.


That's quite ok. It's always enjoyable to discuss with you no matter what. :)

If I leave anything out of what follows that you would like me to specifically reply to, just say. I may not cover everything.

zoon wrote:I would agree with you that the rule “existence = good” is basic to our moral thinking; if we consider that something is to be thought about in moral terms then we are thinking of it as sentient, and we do generally assume that for it (whether “it” is a human or other non-human living thing) existence is a good. I have 2 major caveats:

1) The rule “existence = good” is not in itself a moral rule when it’s being used to describe the behaviour of living things. An ichneumon wasp may be thought of as “wanting” to exist and procreate, but it doesn’t follow that the wasp is behaving morally (or immorally) when it lays its eggs in a living caterpillar.


Well, this is where we get to the point of deciding whether to say the 'rule' "existence = good" is a moral rule or the lesser claim, where we merely say it's a non-moral rule which is at the root of or a basis for morality. Now me personally, I'm toying with the idea of making the former, stronger claim, on the following basis. As humans, I'm suggesting, we have the capacity to ponder, often consciously, about stuff. It's part of the human condition, and aptly illustrated in one of my favourite cartoons, which also, I think, illustrates the 'rule' in question:

Image

I doubt that real creatures like the cartoon ones behind the man are thinking 'eat, survive, reproduce' in words, but I think they, or at least some of them (eg chimps and poodles for instance) will be experiencing something.

So I'm suggesting that human pondering may just be window-dressing, an add-on feature that complicates things (for us).

I don't know if I've explained that very well, or even if no matter how well it were explained, it would still be unconvincing or even awry, but in a way, not everything hinges on it. We could, I think, retreat to the weaker claim and still discuss the topic. I at least find the above fun to consider, that there is in fact no morality, at least not as we think of it. Sometimes I think I just enjoy exploring things which are counterintuitive, in case they are just unwarranted assumptions on our part, or because of our particular way of thinking about things, our paradigm. :)

I do like that cartoon!

I presume that if we understood ourselves as physical mechanisms, then, as you say, there wouldn’t be any morality as we think of it? I do agree that in the end it comes down to all living things “wanting” (in heavy inverted commas) the same thing, not exactly their own continued existence, but the flourishing of their genes (the same as their inclusive fitness, as stated in a 2011 paper “Inclusive fitness and eusociality” here:
Natural selection explains the appearance of design in the living world, and inclusive fitness theory explains what this design is for. Specifically, natural selection leads organisms to become adapted as if to maximize their inclusive fitness.
) Most of the time, living things behave as if they “want” to continue existing, but inclusive fitness theory also explains the times when, for example, parents choose to die to keep their offspring alive.

archibald wrote:
zoon wrote: It also doesn’t follow that we ought (or that we ought not) to help it.


Ah, I would call that not an application of the rule, because the rule is about my continued existence (whether 'me' is a gene, or a gene-vehicle that calls itself 'archibald' or 'zoon') not 'yours' or 'its' existence (unless we're related in some way or it is in some other way beneficial for 'me' to care about your or its existence).

I think we may be using the word “morality” in different ways, which is fine, it does have a range of meanings, it’s not a technical term with a defined meaning, but we could be talking somewhat past each other? I’ve been using it in a narrow sense, the human tendency to set up rules of behaviour, and to enforce those rules by collective action. You’ve perhaps also been using it in a wider sense, the underlying motivation, i.e. the continuing existence, or maximising inclusive fitness, of every living organism, as against a traditional overarching moral motivation such as following the will of God, or the Tao?

archibald wrote:[Now when it comes to me, if I want to continue existing, even if I don't know that I want that (have that 'drive'), then I ought to eat food.

I'm not sure about wasps, but I've heard it said that if we care about our existence, we should be helping bees. :(

zoon wrote:2) The rule “existence = good” has no place whatsoever in fundamental science, because it’s teleological, the continued existence of a living thing is being thought of as a goal. Before the rise of modern science in the seventeenth century, virtually everyone assumed that goals and intentions were fundamental to the way the universe worked; this is religious thinking, with gods or spirits or at least spirit-like principles such as karma or the Tao in charge. The working assumption of modern science is that everything, including every detail of the behaviour of living things including ourselves, can be described by mathematical laws with no goal-directedness involved. If we understood ourselves as the mechanisms we almost certainly are, then everything we think and do, including our intentions and our moral behaviour, could be re-described in terms of the mathematical laws of physics and chemistry.


I'd go along with that. The word 'good' is dubious, not least because it has baggage, including teleology, but even just in terms of any sort of value-judgement, such as 'pleasing' or any propositional attitude at all. I'm not sure what other word would be better. Something more neutral, I'd guess. The question would be, given what we agree about the assumptions of science, what word should go in the space after 'existence = [......] for living things' that don't experience stuff (eg a paramecium)? How about 'in my interests'. No, that doesn't work unless I have interests. I think I might have been getting closer when I called it a 'drive'. Possibly 'impulse' is good also. They're both nicely biomechanical, if not indeed just mechanical. Which, I think, is what (we call) our morality is, in the final analysis. Which is partly why I'm not against making the stronger of the two claims I mentioned above.


zoon wrote:I’m afraid I’m disagreeing with you in that I don’t think it’s possible to use first principles to make the jump from “people and animals want to go on living” to “we should help other people and animals to go on living”.


Agreed, but again that's not necessarily in the rule.

If we’re talking about morality, then we probably do need to include value judgments, so as you say it’s tricky to put morality in terms of fundamental science, which doesn’t include value judgments, only descriptions. Our evolved brains add in values at the drop of a hat, it’s more or less impossible to keep them out of our thinking. Traditionally, morality has been thought of as reflecting a number of absolute, objective values, e.g. honesty or fairness, not just the value of survival. I think in this thread you are making the point that those supposedly absolute values do reduce to the “value” of existing (or more accurately maximising inclusive fitness) which is shared by all living things?
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Re: Morality is consequentialist, pragmatic and relative.

#70  Postby archibald » Feb 27, 2020 11:56 am

zoon wrote:

I presume that if we understood ourselves as physical mechanisms, then, as you say, there wouldn’t be any morality as we think of it? I do agree that in the end it comes down to all living things “wanting” (in heavy inverted commas) the same thing, not exactly their own continued existence, but the flourishing of their genes (the same as their inclusive fitness, as stated in a 2011 paper “Inclusive fitness and eusociality” here:
Natural selection explains the appearance of design in the living world, and inclusive fitness theory explains what this design is for. Specifically, natural selection leads organisms to become adapted as if to maximize their inclusive fitness.
) Most of the time, living things behave as if they “want” to continue existing, but inclusive fitness theory also explains the times when, for example, parents choose to die to keep their offspring alive.


I think I'm good with all of that.

zoon wrote:I think we may be using the word “morality” in different ways, which is fine, it does have a range of meanings, it’s not a technical term with a defined meaning, but we could be talking somewhat past each other? I’ve been using it in a narrow sense, the human tendency to set up rules of behaviour, and to enforce those rules by collective action. You’ve perhaps also been using it in a wider sense, the underlying motivation, i.e. the continuing existence, or maximising inclusive fitness, of every living organism, as against a traditional overarching moral motivation such as following the will of God, or the Tao?


I've been discussing it in the sense of the bit I bolded, yes.

Think of it this way. I'm saying the answer to the question 'what is moral?' is 'What continues my/our existence'.

Now, I think that's perhaps the basic rule for all living things (allowing for exceptions in certain circumstances). For a single-celled organism such as a didinium, it would literally be as simple as that. I reckon that after that, things get complicated as the complexity of the organism increases, and perhaps especially if the organism becomes social, conscious and/or sentient in the ways we have. Hence conflicting interests and moral disagreements and uncertainties.

zoon wrote:Our evolved brains add in values at the drop of a hat, it’s more or less impossible to keep them out of our thinking.


Isn't it just? Which is therefore an interesting observation of itself.

That said, we don't seem to see all behaviours as involving morality. We might ask ourselves why we consider some things to involve morality (or immorality) and other to not do that, to be 'non-moral'. I would say that we make (conscious or otherwise) distinctions about consequences (potential or actual, in other words the sort of consequentialism I described in the OP). I also suspect one big reason we think in moral terms (when we do) is to to with what we think human agency is. Someone once said that that human morality needs someone to blame. :)

zoon wrote: I think in this thread you are making the point that those supposedly absolute values do reduce to the “value” of existing (or more accurately maximising inclusive fitness) which is shared by all living things?


I'm saying they reduce to, or are based on or rooted in that, yes. And although I'm not saying that that's the only rule that everything arises from, I can't think of another one that seems to universally cover all living things.

Now, I'm also floating the stronger, more controversial claim that it's a moral rule itself (not just that it's the basis for such rules). Under that paradigm, all living things would be operating the rule, but only some, those with certain capacities, would additionally have attitudes about it. That of course would be getting away from what we traditionally think morality is. But that wouldn't necessarily make it incorrect. :)

It is also interesting to compare morality with other things. What does it compare to? After some thought, I reckon a very good comparison is beauty. Are there aesthetic rules or facts for living things, or are they species-dependent? Could we at least say that there is a rule or rules for humans? I think we could. And I think the underlying reasons will be the same, evolution and survival.
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