justice is a universal principle

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Re: justice is a universal principle

#381  Postby zoon » Oct 05, 2017 9:49 am

romansh wrote:
zoon wrote:We could use the same argument on every last one of our desires? ...

Yes. This to me means I have a need (desire will wish etc) to treat this sort of conversation with care. There is some degree of recursion in it.

If we define some morality ... do no harm or even do a little bit of "good". I get it. But I suspect we live in a "zero sum" universe. Sure by working together etc we can achieve more. But are we taking resources from some other third party or perhaps borrowing from the future. eg chopping down trees to build houses.

I am trying to think of some desire I carry out that is not considered moral. My morality and desires have an amazing good correlation. It is amazing what post hoc justification will do.

But yes we can define certain actions as moral or immoral (even perhaps morally neutral), but if we don't believe in free will, is there not just a little cognitive dissonance in taking some "ultimate" [Galen Strawson] responsibility for the "good" or "bad" we might do?

Yes, I’m not arguing for ultimate free will or morality. On the contrary, I’m happy to argue against both – as you say, there’s too much cognitive dissonance, I would need to go against scientific evidence.

On the other hand, I think there is plenty of scientific evidence for much more mundane morality and free will, both of which matter to us in ordinary social lives. The free will I’m arguing for is only the freedom we have to act when we are not coerced or mentally ill, it’s the free will needed by law courts and in ordinary conversation when deciding whether somebody is to be held responsible for an action. If, or when, we have a detailed understanding of the mechanisms we are, then I think we may well not have even that kind of free will, but so far we barely understand brain mechanisms at all. It matters to me whether or not other people are holding me responsible for something I do, and it also matters to me whether I’m going to join with others in holding another person responsible for an action, and the free will of the agent matters for that responsibility, even though it’s only the limited freedom from coercion and mental illness which is compatible with ultimate determinism.

Similarly, the morality which I am arguing for is, I think, entirely compatible with determinism and with evolution, unlike the kind of morality which you mention above. I certainly agree with you that a universal moral demand: “Do no harm” would be impossible to fulfil even if we wanted to, but I don’t see that as a reason to chuck out the kind of morality we evolved to manage our social lives. That morality includes, I think for at least the great majority of societies studied, that it’s wrong to assault someone in the community without good reason. This is a much more limited version of “do no harm”, and I think it matters in our ordinary lives that a person who does commit assault without good reason is very likely to be held responsible by the rest of the community and sanctioned in some way. Further, I would want to join with the people who hold the assailant responsible and take steps to sanction him or her, and in that limited and non-universal sense I think it’s true that unjustified assault is wrong. I think this feature of human societies evolved, even though it’s unique to our species. It’s not seen in anything like the same strong form in any non-human animal, but precursors like retaliating for an individual assault are seen, it’s a trait which could have evolved gradually by natural selection as more effective groups were more likely to leave genes. (I would note here that if it turned out the assailant was mentally ill or was being coerced, then I would no longer hold them responsible, this is where the limited version of free will comes in.)
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Re: justice is a universal principle

#382  Postby romansh » Oct 05, 2017 4:39 pm

Hi Zoon
The morality that you are arguing for is it simply some pragmatic model that can be seen as useful or does your morality have some independent existence?

I am quite happy to concede that evolution has given us a sense of emotions like pride/satisfaction and emotions like disgust/shame/embarrassment/humiliation/guilt. And at least in part, if not mostly, our society gives us the subject matter to apply these emotions.

I can see no benefit in thinking in terms of morality other than if we have a desire to shape people's behaviour by appealing to either their pride or shame. Of course this type of manipulation is quite useful ... but then is it moral?
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Re: justice is a universal principle

#383  Postby zoon » Oct 05, 2017 8:05 pm

romansh wrote:Hi Zoon
The morality that you are arguing for is it simply some pragmatic model that can be seen as useful or does your morality have some independent existence?

I am quite happy to concede that evolution has given us a sense of emotions like pride/satisfaction and emotions like disgust/shame/embarrassment/humiliation/guilt. And at least in part, if not mostly, our society gives us the subject matter to apply these emotions.

I can see no benefit in thinking in terms of morality other than if we have a desire to shape people's behaviour by appealing to either their pride or shame. Of course this type of manipulation is quite useful ... but then is it moral?

Hi Romansch

I don’t think morality has an independent existence in any Platonic sense, I don’t see it as an ideal Form, or built into the structure of the universe, or mandated by a god. At the same time, I don’t think it’s something we just invent, it’s more analogous to language, it’s a way of thinking that’s heavily wired into our brains by evolution. As with language, I would hesitate to say “it’s simply some pragmatic model that can be seen as useful”, because it seems to me that both language and morality are more than “useful” to us, they are both at the heart of the way we operate socially; all the evidence is that they evolved together, and any attempt by a community to opt out of either is likely to fail rapidly. As soon as a few people are trying to cooperate, unspoken or explicit rules are being set up, based on human tendencies which are already wired in and which are not shared, for example, by chimpanzees. Some of the evolved tendencies towards ordinarily moral behaviour are shown in many experiments on young children, for example, quoting from a 2013 review paper here:
Michael Tomasello and Amrisha Vaish (2013) wrote:.... recent work shows that 3-year-old children who have obtained rewards by working collaboratively with each other divide up their spoils equitably rather than monopolizing them, even when the resources could easily be monopolized (Warneken et al. 2011). This is in stark contrast to chimpanzees, whose strong tendency to compete over the spoils of collaborative efforts severely limits their collaboration (Melis et al. 2006). Most strikingly, 3-year-old children are also more likely to divide up their rewards equally if they obtained the rewards by working collaboratively than by working individually or receiving a windfall (Hamann et al. 2011).


Adult moral systems are built on these evolved proto-moral tendencies, shaped by our evolved capacity for general-purpose problem solving in the light of local circumstances, but although they are in that sense thought through, I don’t think we fully understand them, any more than we fully understand how language works. Neither language nor morality is remotely simple in a mechanistic sense, we are nowhere near to being able to manipulate either at the level of the hardware. We are forever manipulating each other, I don’t think it’s optional, just saying “hello” is looking for a response (speaking of which, it’s just dawned on me I could put “hi Romansch” at the beginning of this post in response to your “hi Zoon”).

It’s true that what I’m describing would not be regarded as morality by many people, probably the vast majority, but I think I would still call it morality. In the same sort of way, many people would say that a “person” is essentially an immortal soul, or at least something not merely material, and they might ask whether someone who thinks of a human being as no more than a collection of evolved, causal organic materials can really be thinking of a person. Perhaps I'm bringing more under the heading of morality than you are? I would say that people and morality are both evolved and causal, but none the less valuable as far as we are concerned, and still, so far, well beyond our understanding.

?

Edited to add: I’m quoting a paragraph from the introduction to the article which I linked and quoted from above, because I think it’s a good example of the way researchers think about morality and evolution:
Michael Tomasello and Amrisha Vaish (2013) wrote:In this article, our goal is to review these new data from young children and great apes — primarily from the past decade or two — in an attempt to provide an up-to-date account of the question of the origins of human morality, both phylogenetic and ontogenetic. Without attempting a complete definition, in our evolutionary perspective, moral interactions are a subset of cooperative interactions. Arguably, the main function of morality is to regulate an individual’s social interactions with others in the general direction of cooperation, given that all individuals are at least somewhat selfish. And so we may stipulate that at the very least moral actions must involve individuals either suppressing their own self-interest in favor of that of others (e.g., helping, sharing) or else equating their own self-interest with that of others (e.g., reciprocity, justice, equity, and norm following and enforcement).
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Re: justice is a universal principle

#384  Postby Cito di Pense » Oct 06, 2017 4:13 am

zoon wrote:I don’t think it’s something we just invent, it’s more analogous to language, it’s a way of thinking that’s heavily wired into our brains by evolution.


Whose brains? Do you have any data, let alone a theoretical model? No, I don't think you do. I think you have some opinions. You're taking what people say as evidence for something going on in their brains, and that's fair enough, but the best you can say is that it's something going on in the language centers. I think you're trying to say that it's something more than or just different from that, and you're bullshitting.

That many families involve childcare is, I suppose, something you could call 'hard-wired', but you don't really know that much in detail about how most people treat their children, other than what people say about how they were treated as children. Then you make a big leap to talking about something analogous to language, but implying it's different. I'm not saying your conjecture is automatically wrong, only that you're far to confident in issuing your dicta about 'ways of thinking'.

You'll be bullshitting about this until you get the message about what's involved in bullshitting. The phrase 'way of thinking' is what's nothing more than a bullshit opinion. It doesn't speak about data. That most people aren't constantly beaten by their parents is your best evidence of something hard wired by evolution. If you eat all your children, your species goes extinct. Derh.

romansh wrote:Of course this type of manipulation is quite useful ... but then is it moral?


So you're asking whether 'moral' is something more than a dictionary definition based on common usage, which is a good question. So is this kind of theorizing is anything more than analyzing how people use language? If you're arguing that it isn't then you're offering serious input into yet another endless ratskep confusion trying to analyze the way people use language. What is the deal? Are you and archibald and zoon technical experts in semantics? I know I'm not. I'm an expert in looking at and commenting on idiotic discussions at RatSkep, although over the last six months or so, you're managing not that badly to keep up with me on post counts.
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Translation by Elbert Hubbard: Do not take life too seriously. You're not going to get out of it alive.
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Re: justice is a universal principle

#385  Postby zoon » Oct 06, 2017 2:01 pm

Cito di Pense wrote:
zoon wrote:I don’t think it’s something we just invent, it’s more analogous to language, it’s a way of thinking that’s heavily wired into our brains by evolution.


Whose brains? Do you have any data, let alone a theoretical model? No, I don't think you do. I think you have some opinions. You're taking what people say as evidence for something going on in their brains, and that's fair enough, but the best you can say is that it's something going on in the language centers. I think you're trying to say that it's something more than or just different from that, and you're bullshitting.

That many families involve childcare is, I suppose, something you could call 'hard-wired', but you don't really know that much in detail about how most people treat their children, other than what people say about how they were treated as children. Then you make a big leap to talking about something analogous to language, but implying it's different. I'm not saying your conjecture is automatically wrong, only that you're far to confident in issuing your dicta about 'ways of thinking'.

You'll be bullshitting about this until you get the message about what's involved in bullshitting. The phrase 'way of thinking' is what's nothing more than a bullshit opinion. It doesn't speak about data. That most people aren't constantly beaten by their parents is your best evidence of something hard wired by evolution. If you eat all your children, your species goes extinct. Derh.

In the post you are answering, I cited a review article by a researcher in the field, Michael Tomasello, but you may not have read far enough down the post to notice. A list of publications from Prof Tomasello’s lab at Duke University is here, on “the development and evolution of social cognition, communication, and cooperation”, the experiments are largely on toddlers of around 2 to 4 years old, and on chimpanzees. Michael Tomasello is also co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany.

I have also cited the results of experiments by, among others, Joshua Greene, a researcher on neuroscience and morality; a list of publications from his lab at Harvard is here. A 2014 review article by Greene, “The Cognitive Neuroscience of Moral Judgment and Decision-Making”, is here. In that article, Greene says that there’s no evidence for a “moral” part of the brain, rather, different aspects of morality are dealt with in different areas. This doesn’t mean that morality doesn’t exist, but that it is defined at a more abstract, functional level. In the same way, the word “vehicle” refers to a number of very different mechanisms, but this doesn’t show that the concept of a vehicle has no meaning, only that it’s defined at a more functional level.
Joshua Greene wrote:This doesn’t mean that the concept of a vehicle is meaningless. Rather, the world’s vehicles are united, not by their internal mechanisms, but at a more abstract, functional level. So, too, with morality. More specifically, I (Greene, 2013), like many others (Darwin, 1871/2004; Frank, 1988; Gintis, Bowles, Boyd, & Fehr, 2005; Haidt, 2012), believe that morality is a suite of cognitive mechanisms that enable otherwise selfish individuals to reap the benefits of cooperation. That is, we have psychological features that are straightforwardly moral (such as empathy, righteous indignation, and an aversion to harming innocent people) and others that are not (such as gossip, embarrassment, vengefulness, and ingroup favoritism) because they enable us to achieve goals that we can’t achieve through collective selfishness. I won’t defend this controversial thesis here. Instead, my point is that if this unified theory of morality is correct, it doesn’t bode well for a unified theory of moral neuroscience. What’s more, as we’ll see, the data increasingly bear out this skepticism. In the early days of moral neuroscience, it was thought, perhaps not unreasonably, that one might isolate the distinctive neural mechanisms of moral thought (Moll, Eslinger, & Oliveira-Souza, 2001) and that the human brain might house a dedicated “moral organ” (Hauser, 2006). These views, however, are no longer tenable. It’s now clear that the “moral brain” is, more or less, the whole brain, applying its computational powers to problems that we, on nonneuroscientific grounds, identify as “moral.”
…………………
From an evolutionary perspective, the double-edged sword of human morality comes as no surprise. Morality evolved, not as device for universal cooperation, but as a competitive weapon, as a system for turning Me into Us, which in turn enables Us to outcompete Them. Morality’s dark, tribalistic side is powerful, but there’s no reason why it must prevail. The flexible thinking enabled by our enlarged prefrontal cortices may enable us to retain the best of our moral impulses while transcending their inherent limitations (Greene, 2013; Pinker, 2011).
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Re: justice is a universal principle

#386  Postby Cito di Pense » Oct 06, 2017 7:56 pm

zoon wrote:In the post you are answering, I cited a review article by a researcher in the field, Michael Tomasello, but you may not have read far enough down the post to notice. A list of publications from Prof Tomasello’s lab at Duke University is here, on “the development and evolution of social cognition, communication, and cooperation”, the experiments are largely on toddlers of around 2 to 4 years old, and on chimpanzees. Michael Tomasello is also co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany.

I have also cited the results of experiments by, among others, Joshua Greene, a researcher on neuroscience and morality; a list of publications from his lab at Harvard is here. A 2014 review article by Greene, “The Cognitive Neuroscience of Moral Judgment and Decision-Making”, is here. In that article, Greene says that there’s no evidence for a “moral” part of the brain, rather, different aspects of morality are dealt with in different areas. This doesn’t mean that morality doesn’t exist, but that it is defined at a more abstract, functional level. In the same way, the word “vehicle” refers to a number of very different mechanisms, but this doesn’t show that the concept of a vehicle has no meaning, only that it’s defined at a more functional level.


How do we know that toddlers and adults are responding via the same functional level to the sorts of acts that you (or those researchers) are proposing as producing "moral judgement and decision-making"? It doesn't seem plausible that they are, because adults are assumed to have many more tools at their disposal for dealing with such events. Surely we don't wish to say that adults are stuck with infantile responses in making their so-called 'moral judgements', do we? Somebody has probably already taken a shot at that one; all you have to do is look around at all the childish and impotent finger-wagging that gets done around here upon every new disaster. What reassurances is bookmarking all this research giving you? If you as a social scientist are just trying to convince yourself of the relevance of the social sciences, whatever floats your boat, zoon, but hats off to you for resisting the temptations of finger-wagging in favor of intellectual analysis. Personally, I can't read a dozen paragraphs in manuscripts such as you've linked above without wishing I could give the author the same sort of tasty advice I'm offering you. You'll probably decipher my outbursts as moral outrage that these people are fashioning academic careers out of spewing bullshit, but really, that's the lookout of the agencies who are funding them.

Why think about how you'd feel pushing someone off a footbridge unless you can't help obsessing about it? To make a lame philosophical point? See if you can figure out why Stephen Paddock killed 58 or more people and then himself. Cognitive neuroscience is not likely to be a lot of help, there, because Paddock ended his own life via intentional brain damage. Everything you're reading about is so you can call Paddock a psychopath. There, we did it. What good did it do? That's the focal question about cognitive neuroscience and evolutionary anthropology. It's gonna do some good, but we don't know when, yet.
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Translation by Elbert Hubbard: Do not take life too seriously. You're not going to get out of it alive.
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Re: justice is a universal principle

#387  Postby archibald » Oct 16, 2017 2:20 pm

I finished Sam Harris' book last week. Overall, underwhelming, but maybe I expected too much or the book wasn't aimed at me, but at (mostly American) woo-heads and those still inclined to be unconvinced by rational skepticism. I got the same impression from Daniel Dennett's 'Breaking the Spell'. As such, there wasn't as much in it that I hadn't already accepted and there wasn't much development of the basic idea as I had hoped.
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Re: justice is a universal principle

#388  Postby romansh » Oct 17, 2017 3:39 am

I read the Moral Landscape a while ago ... I thought it was OK.
The ten or so pages against free will in the middle did not even raise an idle speculation from Harris as to whether we might not think in terms of morality.

Dennett? I am currently ploughing my way through Bacteria to Bach and Back. Finding it a little turgid. His Breaking the Spell was for me his most clear book, though I wondered who did he have in mind for his audience. His Freedom Evolves, the conclusion did not match the voluminous evidence against free will he provided. And Consciousness Explained left me confused and no wiser.
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