Discussion on the basis of ethical values

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Re: Discussion on the basis of ethical values

#81  Postby archibald » Sep 21, 2013 9:17 am

nunnington wrote:It's a guess.


I take it your sig is black humour?
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Re: Discussion on the basis of ethical values

#82  Postby Cito di Pense » Sep 21, 2013 9:21 am

archibald wrote:
nunnington wrote:It's a guess.


I take it your sig is black humour?


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Re: Discussion on the basis of ethical values

#83  Postby Calilasseia » Sep 22, 2013 7:40 am

Quaker wrote:We Quakers reserve the right to float a little :) We're not very dogmatic.


The part above abotut "floating a little" makes me ask the question, just how do you determine the soundness of any erected hypotheses? Because unless you possess some method of testing for this, your "floating" surely become aimless drifting?

Quaker wrote:I was pressing Cali because he seemed to want to assert an empirical foundation to objective ethics.


And once again, it's time to set fire to the obvious strawmen.

First of all, as I have repeatedly stated in this thread, once we have appropriate axioms in place, the axiom of reciprocity being an apposite example thereof, we can test ethical precepts to determine whether or not they are consonant with the axioms chosen. In that sense, precepts can be sorted objectively into the relevant categories, but that sorting, as I keep telling anyone who will listen, is dependent upon the axioms in question.

Second, as I have also repeatedly stated in this thread, one of the reasons that the axiom of reciprocity is chosen as an axiom in developed societies, is because we have ample observational evidence of the unpleasantness arising from failing to choose that axiom. As a corollary of our possessing that evidence, we have an empirical basis for the choice of that axiom. This doesn't mean that other axioms can't be chosen to run alongside the reciprocity axiom, or that we enjoy the same level of evidential support for those other choices. That I have to spell this out at such an elementary level should no longer surprise me when dealing with supernaturalists, but in your case, I regard it as a severe disappointment to have to do this.

Quaker wrote:That seemed to lead to an evolutioary 'low energy of survival' that would seem to go the way of all others who have grounded ethics in evolutionary advantage;


And once again, I provided that exposition in order to explain how a testable natural process could produce the relevant outcome. The choice of minimum energy consumption being made, because energy minimisation conditions are an abundant feature of many physical systems. Just ask any physicist or chemist, and chances are, your choice thereof will happily point you to a raft of equations of state, many of them differential equations, in which the solutions involve energy minima. Indeed, chemists will tell you that chemical reactions (and life is chemistry writ large) only proceed if either [1] the reaction results in an enthalpy minimum being achieved, or [2] there is an energy input to the reaction from outside. Enthalpy being a measure of the total thermodynamic energy of a reacting system, in case you're wondering. Given that energy minima are ubiquitous in physical systems, it makes eminent sense to postulate an energy minimum condition being harnessed in this instance. But since I already stated that this is what happens, namely that the relevant energy condition is harnessed to produce the requisite result, your continued apologetic distortion of this merely adds to the severe disappointment I've cited above.

Quaker wrote:that is where Galton snd Stopes went in the founding of the eugenics society.


Already dealt with this canard. Namely, that the failed "monoculture" view arising from Galton et al isn't a product of evolutionary theory, it's a perversion thereof. Go back and read what I said about diversity being essential to any evolving system.

Quaker wrote:I would say that we instinctively know that is wrong.


Actually, I know it to be wrong for substantive reasons, which I've already presented to you.

Quaker wrote:I think that was worth pressing a little about because I genuinely see it as a dangerous grounding to ethics, snd one that raises its head from time to time. Not that I think Cali was arguing for eugenics, just that such wikk be the end if it is followed to its logical conclusion.


Wrong. Because once again, the failed "monoculture" view of Galton et al isn't a product of evolutionary theory, which relies centrally upon diversity to achieve its results, but a perversion thereof. If you kill off diversity in the manner these people wished to, you kill off the ability of evolutionary mechanisms to work. Indeed, farmers have learned the hard way how that lesson applies in agriculture.

Moreover, the whole apologetics you're erecting here constitutes the wholesale propping up of the naturalistic fallacy. Just because nature happens to employ a particular set of mechanisms to achieve various end results, doesn't necessarily make those mechanisms ethically sound, not least because natural processes are inherently bereft of sentience, let alone ethical understanding. Oh, but wait, how do we arrive at the relevant conclusions here? That's right, we observe the consequences of those mechanisms in action. In short, we gather empirical data on this matter. At the most elementary level, we project our own aversion to ending up as lunch for something else, onto the other participants in the biosphere, and conclude from relevant observations of quite a few of those other participants striving to avoid ending up as lunch for something else, that those other participants share our aversion thereto. As a corollary, the natural mechanisms leading to the state where some organisms are destined to end up as lunch for something else, are viewed as being at variance with the aversion of the recipients of the relevant predatory attentions. That we tend to forget this when it comes to the matter of our looking for lunch, is of course one of those delightful aspects of the human condition, that continues to provide employment for assertionist pundits of various species. But I digress.

We therefore conclude, on the basis of these observations, that the natural order of things described above, where some of us could very well end up as lunch for something else, is something we'd rather not be subjected to. Practically all our endeavours as a species have been directed toward distancing ourselves from this, right from prehistory onwards.

Of course, this leads inexorably to asking the question of why we adopt such views, which is why I provided the exposition I did, not least because supernaturalists have a habit of exhibiting a grand failure to alight upon even elementary explanations, when those explanations don't involve their pet magic entities. It's an all too frequently observed blind spot with supernaturalists, the inability to conceive how perfectly ordinary physical processes can geneate results that, when viewed naively, appear extraordinary. The fun part being, of course, as Dawkins said on this subject, that unweaving the rainbow doesn't subtract from its grandeur, but to those of us who perform the labour, adds thereto, and I've posted a discourse of my own on this subject in the past you might find illuminating. But, I digress yet again: back to the topic.

Once again, we have a large body of evidence, which I've presented here, that both our capacity for ethical thinking, and our indulging therein, arise from our biological heritage. Without that heritage, without the requisite hardware arising in our lineage, we would be completely different beings.

So, to recap, the ideas beiong expounded here are:

[1] Our capacity for ethical thinking, and our indulging therein, have a biological basis;

[2] That biological basis admits of a natural explanation in terms of the requirements of a social species, and the harmonious coexistence of members thereof with each other;

[3] In addition, when we indulge in ethical thinking, that thinking is illuminated by observational data;

[4] In the case of the reciprocity axiom that we choose to adopt, that observational data provides much evidence for the utility value thereof, which reinforces that choice.

So, after all of this, is there any chance you'll drop the canards once and for all?
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Re: Discussion on the basis of ethical values

#84  Postby 4 Hours » Nov 07, 2013 6:06 am

Calilasseia wrote:The point being made here, and one I agree with, is that it doesn't matter how many people hold a particular principle. If that principle is either at variance with observational reality, or the source of avoidable harm inflcited upon others, then that principle needs to be changed. I gather the history of the Quaker movement includes instances of people seeking to do precisely that.


You don't get to derive oughts from ises through "observational reality" in this manner, any more than you do in "observing" the gruesome deaths inflicted upon field animals by combine harvesters and concluding that mechanized farming is immoral therewith. The gap that's not filled in your case is "values" and, ultimately, values are subjective.

Do you by any chance eat meat, Calilasseia? If so, then I can make an a fortiori case for what I just said.
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Re: Discussion on the basis of ethical values

#85  Postby Cito di Pense » Nov 07, 2013 8:10 am

4 Hours wrote:The gap that's not filled in your case is "values" and, ultimately, values are subjective.


More precisely, appealing to values is a political process and not a scientific one. Appealing to reality as part of a political process is to assume that reality has special sauce on it in some cases. Politics is about what makes people happy, and not about what's good for them, although the advertising sometimes implies this.

4 Hours wrote:To me, the dysgenic effect of the stupid breeding out of control only underscores the need for transhumanism. The answer is not to get into a breeding war with the stupid, because the Earth can't afford that, but to find out how to create better people on demand.


What? You mean finding the recipe for special sauce? You might easily recognise that 'better' is a value judgement. Stupid people do not demand to be better than they are; they only demand an equal voice in the political process. :naughty2:
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Re: Discussion on the basis of ethical values

#86  Postby 4 Hours » Nov 07, 2013 8:19 am

I am going to assume that Calilasseia is a utilitarian of some order. I would say I approach life in a more or less utilitarian fashion but this view is not without complications. Interpersonal utility comparison is probably not much of an issue, because I very much doubt that utility is in fact ordinal, as Austrian economists like to claim. (That's something I might make a thread about in the Economics sub-forum one day.) But there is also the utility monster problem: if an agent benefits much more than anyone else from the allocation of finite resources to its ends, should it then get those resources? I mean, hell, it maximizes utility! An essay out of the amusing book The Terminator and Philosophy brought up the utility monster concept in regards to Skynet: if Skynet benefits more than all of humanity from owning the planet, then let Skynet have the planet! I am personally open to such possibilities (though I have serious doubts about the possibility of a disembodied AGI such as Skynet), but I doubt that most of those who identify themselves as utilitarians would be similarly open.

Cito di Pense wrote:What? You mean finding the recipe for special sauce? You might easily recognise that 'better' is a value judgement.


I do, and I foresaw that someone might bring that up. The answer I thought out in advance was that you should read what I'm saying not in the conventional sense of meaning "objectively" better—that's incoherent IMO—but just me opining about how I think things ought to be. I might as well be telling you I prefer Neapolitan ice cream to any of its component flavors alone.
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Re: Discussion on the basis of ethical values

#87  Postby Cito di Pense » Nov 07, 2013 8:24 am

4 Hours wrote:I am going to assume that Calilasseia is a utilitarian of some order. I would say I approach life in a more or less utilitarian fashion but this view is not without complications. Interpersonal utility comparison is probably not much of an issue, because I very much doubt that utility is in fact ordinal, as Austrian economists like to claim. (That's something I might make a thread about in the Economics sub-forum one day.) But there is also the utility monster problem: if an agent benefits much more than anyone else from the allocation of finite resources to its ends, should it then get those resources? I mean, hell, it maximizes utility! An essay out of the amusing book The Terminator and Philosophy brought up the utility monster concept in regards to Skynet: if Skynet benefits more than all of humanity from owning the planet, then let Skynet have the planet! I am personally open to such possibilities (though I have serious doubts about the possibility of a disembodied AGI such as Skynet), but I doubt that most of those who identify themselves as utilitarians would be similarly open.


I get it that you've studied some economics, but if you leaven your patter with jargon, some skeptics are going to recognise that you don't really know what you're talking about, and are just sounding erudite for the fuck of it.

On top of that, you beg off with equivocations like "not without complications". Yes, the devil's in the details, and you're not doing science. You don't understand human behaviour enough to talk about rational agents. You can assume them, sure, but then, that's where you'll go wrong, and that might explain your interest in transhumanism. Having a world of rational machines in order to institute a proper economy is real cart-before-horse stuff. On top of that, you're wibbling about oughts, there, in blue. Your post is supposed to feel as if you're talking about something, but it doesn't. You might try picking out one idea and exploring it, rather than throwing this salad bar all over the dining room.

:rofl:

4 Hours wrote:I foresaw that someone might bring that up. The answer I thought out in advance was that you should read what I'm saying not in the conventional sense of meaning "objectively" better—that's incoherent IMO—but just me opining about how I think things ought to be. I might as well be telling you I prefer Neapolitan ice cream to any of its component flavors alone.


Not quite all is forgiven, though. Put your caveats in with your pretenses, instead of apologizing ex post facto.
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Re: Discussion on the basis of ethical values

#88  Postby 4 Hours » Nov 07, 2013 8:39 am

Cito di Pense wrote:I get it that you've studied some economics, but if you leaven your patter with jargon, some skeptics are going to recognise that you don't really know what you're talking about


Feel free to ask me what any of the terms really mean. So far it sounds like you're telling me "you sound like a ponce"—I don't try to come off that way btw—"and therefore you don't know what you're talking about".

And, if you're really my intellectual superior, anticipate what arguments I might make against strictly cardinal utility.

ps I find it a teensy bit ironic that a guy who insists on writing a truism in German in his signature should be complaining about others' excessive pretense.

Cito di Pense wrote:You don't understand human behaviour enough to talk about rational agents.


Do tell.

Cito di Pense wrote:Not quite all is forgiven, though. Put your caveats in with your pretenses, instead of apologizing ex post facto.


I think that prefacing everything with "I prefer X" is just clumsy.
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Re: Discussion on the basis of ethical values

#89  Postby Cito di Pense » Nov 07, 2013 12:53 pm

4 Hours wrote:And, if you're really my intellectual superior, anticipate what arguments I might make against strictly cardinal utility.


Why would I worry about that when I have your comments about "the dysgenic effect of the stupid breeding out of control" to help me ponder the human tragedy of unsubstantiated intellectual superiority? I think what we had better worry about is the dysphoric effect of people of moderate intelligence perpetuating destructive memes via psychobabble.
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Re: Discussion on the basis of ethical values

#90  Postby 4 Hours » Nov 07, 2013 6:17 pm

Cito di Pense wrote:I think what we had better worry about is the dysphoric effect of people of moderate intelligence perpetuating destructive memes via psychobabble.


I don't know how much stock you put in IQ tests but I'm about 3 SDs above the mean. Anyhoo, as long as you're talking about (allegedly) pseudo-profound language on my part and otherwise completely stalling in responding to anything I said:

"Wer schwere Dinge versucht, dem ist der Weg schwer."

Gosh that's deep. And all this time I thought that the way would be easy for those who try to do hard things but I guess I was wrong! I really like your sig as is but I submit that it could be improved upon. How about this?

"Quidquid Latine dictum sit altum videtur."
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Re: Discussion on the basis of ethical values

#91  Postby hackenslash » Nov 07, 2013 6:20 pm

4 Hours wrote:I don't know how much stock you put in IQ tests but I'm about 3 SDs above the mean.


Cool story bro. Any other worthless anecdotes you'd like to share with us?
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Re: Discussion on the basis of ethical values

#92  Postby Calilasseia » Nov 07, 2013 6:45 pm

4 Hours wrote:
Calilasseia wrote:The point being made here, and one I agree with, is that it doesn't matter how many people hold a particular principle. If that principle is either at variance with observational reality, or the source of avoidable harm inflcited upon others, then that principle needs to be changed. I gather the history of the Quaker movement includes instances of people seeking to do precisely that.


You don't get to derive oughts from ises through "observational reality" in this manner


Mere assertion. One that looks shaky in the light of the scientific papers I've presented on this matter. Not to mention the fact that numerous people have been documented developing their ethical viewpoint in this manner.

4 Hours wrote:any more than you do in "observing" the gruesome deaths inflicted upon field animals by combine harvesters and concluding that mechanized farming is immoral therewith.


Citation for this?

4 Hours wrote:The gap that's not filled in your case is "values" and, ultimately, values are subjective.


Already addressed that above, by noting how values resulting in observable harm have been changed. Anti-slavery movement, women's suffrage & civil rights movement, anyone?

4 Hours wrote:Do you by any chance eat meat, Calilasseia? If so, then I can make an a fortiori case for what I just said.


Oh this will be interesting. I am Very ExcitedTM at the prospect.
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Re: Discussion on the basis of ethical values

#93  Postby Cito di Pense » Nov 07, 2013 7:57 pm

Calilasseia wrote:values resulting in observable harm have been changed. Anti-slavery movement, women's suffrage & civil rights movement, anyone?


The big step was in moving the conversation from one about offending god to one trying to eliminate victimless crimes.

Another way to look at it is to suspect that ethics lurks in the gaps in our capacity to agree on what is 'harmful' in much the same way that god hides in the gaps of our capacity to render scientific models of nature. What Mr. Three Sigma is on about is what Donald Fagen wrote in the lyrics to IGY.

Just machines to make big decisions, programmed by fellas with compassion and vision
We'll be clean when their work is done; eternally free, yeah, and eternally young...


Hilarious and melancholy at the same time. There's nobody we can trust to program those machines. All we have is a bunch of ground apes, and no one to teach us how to do something besides give new names to the same old mistakes. Lots of people give up their belief in god, and replace it with a belief in 'progress'. Technological progress, now, there's something you can graph.
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Re: Discussion on the basis of ethical values

#94  Postby zoon » Nov 07, 2013 8:09 pm

Calilasseia #83 wrote:Once again, we have a large body of evidence, which I've presented here, that both our capacity for ethical thinking, and our indulging therein, arise from our biological heritage. Without that heritage, without the requisite hardware arising in our lineage, we would be completely different beings.

So, to recap, the ideas beiong expounded here are:

[1] Our capacity for ethical thinking, and our indulging therein, have a biological basis;

[2] That biological basis admits of a natural explanation in terms of the requirements of a social species, and the harmonious coexistence of members thereof with each other;

[3] In addition, when we indulge in ethical thinking, that thinking is illuminated by observational data;


4 Hours #84 wrote:
Calilasseia wrote:The point being made here, and one I agree with, is that it doesn't matter how many people hold a particular principle. If that principle is either at variance with observational reality, or the source of avoidable harm inflcited upon others, then that principle needs to be changed. I gather the history of the Quaker movement includes instances of people seeking to do precisely that.


You don't get to derive oughts from ises through "observational reality" in this manner, any more than you do in "observing" the gruesome deaths inflicted upon field animals by combine harvesters and concluding that mechanized farming is immoral therewith. The gap that's not filled in your case is "values" and, ultimately, values are subjective.


4 Hours #86 wrote:….. you should read what I'm saying not in the conventional sense of meaning "objectively" better—that's incoherent IMO—but just me opining about how I think things ought to be. I might as well be telling you I prefer Neapolitan ice cream to any of its component flavors alone.

Calilasseia’s approach of detailing the evolutionary background to ethical behaviour doesn’t derive "ought" from "is", but it does show why almost everyone chooses to operate in groups with policed ethical norms, in the same way that almost everyone prefers eating ice cream to eating grass. This is all that is needed to argue against theists who very commonly take the line that atheism leads to a breakdown of morality.

I have to admit that I don’t think the arguments for morality from evolution and neuroscience are very strong as yet because human social behaviour is far from fully understood, but I think they are strong enough to refute the charge that evolution leads inexorably to selfishness and/or racism, and I also think they are the only ones that don’t collapse in the same way as arguments for a god’s existence, so they are worth working on.
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Re: Discussion on the basis of ethical values

#95  Postby 4 Hours » Nov 07, 2013 9:20 pm

hackenslash wrote:
4 Hours wrote:I don't know how much stock you put in IQ tests but I'm about 3 SDs above the mean.


Cool story bro. Any other worthless anecdotes you'd like to share with us?


Yeah. I just farted.

Calilasseia wrote:Mere assertion.


No, the ball's in your court. You make the case that this is possible.

Calilasseia wrote:Not to mention the fact that numerous people have been documented developing their ethical viewpoint in this manner.


http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacie ... arity.html

Calilasseia wrote:
4 Hours wrote:any more than you do in "observing" the gruesome deaths inflicted upon field animals by combine harvesters and concluding that mechanized farming is immoral therewith.


Citation for this?


http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=97836

Steven Davis says he didn't set out to start a fight, but found one when he began attacking one of the most sacred beliefs of the vegetarian community.

One of the reasons most commonly cited by vegetarians for giving up meat is the conviction that other animals have a right to life as well as humans. But when Davis began setting up a course on animal ethics for the animal science department at Oregon State University four years ago, he reached a rather surprising conclusion.

Nobody's hands are free from the blood of other animals, not even vegetarians, he concluded. Millions of animals are killed every year, Davis says, to prepare land for growing crops, "like corn, soybean, wheat and barley, the staples of a vegan diet."

The animals in this case are mice and moles and rabbits and other creatures that are run over by tractors, or lose their habitat to make way for farming, so they are not as "visible" as cattle, he says.


If you want to know more about this topic, look further into Davis' research. Honestly though, I think it beggars belief to be incredulous towards the notion that farm vehicles kill field animals. Ever heard of roadkill?

And while we're on the subject of roads, even the pavement you drive on has a bit of cow in it:

http://www.aema.org/index.php?option=co ... &Itemid=25

Calilasseia wrote:
4 Hours wrote:The gap that's not filled in your case is "values" and, ultimately, values are subjective.


Already addressed that above, by noting how values resulting in observable harm have been changed. Anti-slavery movement, women's suffrage & civil rights movement, anyone?


I'm not going to pitch softballs to you about abolitionism or whatever. I'd like to hear your input on more difficult utilitarian problems like the trolley problem or the utility monster problem. What do you have to say about those?

Calilasseia wrote:
4 Hours wrote:Do you by any chance eat meat, Calilasseia? If so, then I can make an a fortiori case for what I just said.


Oh this will be interesting. I am Very ExcitedTM at the prospect.


I think I remember asking you a question but you didn't answer it. I'll ask again:

Do you eat meat, Calilasseia?

Cito di Pense wrote:There's nobody we can trust to program those machines.


>implying that artificial intelligences need to be programmed explicitly, instead of learning from their environment

zoon wrote:I have to admit that I don’t think the arguments for morality from evolution and neuroscience are very strong as yet because human social behaviour is far from fully understood, but I think they are strong enough to refute the charge that evolution leads inexorably to selfishness and/or racism, and I also think they are the only ones that don’t collapse in the same way as arguments for a god’s existence, so they are worth working on.


Appeals to evolution are a non-starter for morality. It is often considered that rape is an adaptation among other primates. Does that justify rape? Evolution only thinks ahead one generation. It could be argued that the reason we have so many global environmental problems anymore is because of the low time preference of the evolutionary mechanism. How do intergenerational ethical issues fit into this framework? Sorry, if you want to make that case you'll have to make it harder.
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Re: Discussion on the basis of ethical values

#96  Postby zoon » Nov 07, 2013 10:19 pm

4 Hours wrote:Appeals to evolution are a non-starter for morality.

Evolutionary arguments are a non-starter for normative morality, they are not non-starters for descriptive morality, which as far as I can gather is all that you are arguing for:
4 Hours #86 wrote:
Cito di Pense wrote:What? You mean finding the recipe for special sauce? You might easily recognise that 'better' is a value judgement.

I do, and I foresaw that someone might bring that up. The answer I thought out in advance was that you should read what I'm saying not in the conventional sense of meaning "objectively" better—that's incoherent IMO—but just me opining about how I think things ought to be. I might as well be telling you I prefer Neapolitan ice cream to any of its component flavors alone.

You are here saying explicitly that you disagree with attempts to ground morality as normative. Just saying that your moral views are subjective opinions is at least as hopeless as grounding morality in evolutionary theory. If you think that it’s worth exploring where people’s opinions might agree, in a reasonable effort to ground moral practice if not normativity, then what’s wrong with also (not in competition) exploring why people might have similar opinions on the subject? This is where evolutionary theory comes in.

4 Hours wrote:It is often considered that rape is an adaptation among other primates. Does that justify rape?

I went out of my way to emphasise that I don’t accept normative morality any more than you do, I don’t think evolution justifies anything. I might argue (in parallel to the way you are arguing at me) that if you are saying that you ground morality in individual subjective opinion, then if a rapist subjectively thinks rape is moral behaviour, don’t you have to agree with him (or her)?


4 Hours wrote:Evolution only thinks ahead one generation. It could be argued that the reason we have so many global environmental problems anymore is because of the low time preference of the evolutionary mechanism. How do intergenerational ethical issues fit into this framework? Sorry, if you want to make that case you'll have to make it harder.

Humans (including hunter-gatherers) are capable of thinking ahead for more than one generation, presumably this ability evolved when the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those using the ability survived when others did not. Or are you attempting to persuade us that humans are not evolved animals?
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Re: Discussion on the basis of ethical values

#97  Postby 4 Hours » Nov 08, 2013 1:04 am

I agree with you about descriptive vs normative morality and that clears some things up. I still think that OP is talking about normative morality though, so I'm a bit confused.

And yes I am basically a moral nihilist but for the purposes of this discussion, I am going to assume that the people involved here are repulsed by rape and other such not very controversial things.

However:

zoon wrote:Humans (including hunter-gatherers) are capable of thinking ahead for more than one generation


To a rather limited extent. I mean a lot of people aren't even capable of planning zero generations ahead. Look at these rubes for example:



Also, in ecology, calculations of reproductive value are based not on generational time periods but periods within the organism's lifespan, discounted by how far they are from the present.

Anyway, even if I grant your assertion that evolution has made humans fully willing and able to take the interests of their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren into account, that only takes the young adults of today out to 2100. I wonder if I'll live long enough to see the end of the century. By that time, this Earth is going to be a pretty foul place to live anymore, because evolution has not in fact endowed humans with the foresight to take good care of our planet for generations to come. By many accounts, climate change etc. will have created "Hell on Earth" by this time.

zoon wrote:Or are you attempting to persuade us that humans are not evolved animals?


I really don't know how you'd draw that inference.
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Re: Discussion on the basis of ethical values

#98  Postby archibald » Nov 08, 2013 10:08 am

4 Hours wrote:I agree with you about descriptive vs normative morality and that clears some things up. I still think that OP is talking about normative morality though, so I'm a bit confused.


I think the OP is about normative ethics. I took the argument to be that evolutionary theory (for example), or just science in general, was able to explain normative ethics. Otherwise, it's just boring, isn't it? You would only get to do graphs and charts showing how many people do this or that. The juicy bit, it seems to me, is how far science can go to explain the normative.
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Re: Discussion on the basis of ethical values

#99  Postby zoon » Nov 08, 2013 11:09 am

4 Hours wrote:I agree with you about descriptive vs normative morality and that clears some things up. I still think that OP is talking about normative morality though, so I'm a bit confused.

Yes, it’s a point on which I don’t altogether agree with what I think Calilasseia (the opening poster) is saying.

4 Hours wrote:And yes I am basically a moral nihilist but for the purposes of this discussion, I am going to assume that the people involved here are repulsed by rape and other such not very controversial things.

I’m not sure if I qualify as a moral nihilist. I certainly don’t think there is any objective, normative moral order to the universe. On the other hand, I do think cooperation at all levels is central to human flourishing, and that our unique evolved ability to cooperate is not yet understood and involves moral emotions. We seem to have evolved to make social rules explicitly and implicitly, and to gang up on anyone who breaks those rules. Given that we depend on this aspect of our behaviour without understanding it, I’m not about to argue that moral constraints should go. Looking at the ways people agree, and trying to bring them into logical order and evolutionary context, seems a better move (as you say, some form of utilitarianism looks hopeful, but that’s a matter of philosophy and politics rather than science).

Arguments from evolution are useful to counter the common accusations that evolutionary theory is actively opposed to morality, but I don’t see how they can go much further than that (for the time being, at any rate). For example, you said that evolution appears to justify rape, the evolutionary counter is that humans are unique in having evolved to cooperate extraordinarily closely within groups, and rape within groups is divisive; it’s not surprising if humans, unlike other primates, evolved to gang up on individual rapists. Rape in the context of warfare between groups is another matter, it’s widespread and condoned in the Old Testament. The line that all rape is wrong comes in the context of trying to stop warfare altogether and become effectively one group, which does make sense in our current situation of nuclear arms, fast global communications and global threats like overpopulation and climate change. Whether we shall succeed in not blowing ourselves up is very much an open question.


4 Hours wrote:However:

zoon wrote:Humans (including hunter-gatherers) are capable of thinking ahead for more than one generation


To a rather limited extent. I mean a lot of people aren't even capable of planning zero generations ahead. …

Also, in ecology, calculations of reproductive value are based not on generational time periods but periods within the organism's lifespan, discounted by how far they are from the present.

These calculations are being made for non-human organisms, I don’t think there’s evidence that any creatures other than humans think ahead to anything like the extent that people do. There’s some question as to whether chimps can grasp the concept of their own death (it would probably be unethical to push captive ones to discover it), while humans’ behaviour is normally modified by plans beyond their own lifetimes (I will certainly agree that not everybody does, and many of us don’t much of the time). I suspect the calculations to which you refer would come adrift from the evidence if they were applied to humans.

4 Hours wrote:Anyway, even if I grant your assertion that evolution has made humans fully willing and able to take the interests of their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren into account, that only takes the young adults of today out to 2100. I wonder if I'll live long enough to see the end of the century. By that time, this Earth is going to be a pretty foul place to live anymore, because evolution has not in fact endowed humans with the foresight to take good care of our planet for generations to come. By many accounts, climate change etc. will have created "Hell on Earth" by this time.

zoon wrote:Or are you attempting to persuade us that humans are not evolved animals?


I really don't know how you'd draw that inference.

You appear to be saying that evolution could not have produced animals with the observed capability that humans have, to think and plan in detail beyond their own lifetimes. You say I am “asserting” this – what alternative do you have in mind? I was drawing the inference that perhaps you think some process other than evolution produced that capability.
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Re: Discussion on the basis of ethical values

#100  Postby 4 Hours » Nov 08, 2013 12:08 pm

zoon wrote:I’m not sure if I qualify as a moral nihilist. I certainly don’t think there is any objective, normative moral order to the universe. On the other hand, I do think cooperation at all levels is central to human flourishing, and that our unique evolved ability to cooperate is not yet understood and involves moral emotions.


http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/0 ... 40593.html

#1 regret of the dying according to a palliative nurse: "I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me." That's a lesson very well worth learning before you are on your deathbed. I think, in contrast to the apparent consensus among moral philosophers these days, that a very large part of the good life is taking a big dump on those who would restrain your ambitions, often for no other reason than that said ambitions are alien to them, though completely innocuous. I feel that I am surrounded by people who are trying to sell me some shit I don't want really want or otherwise trying to manipulate my self- or other-regarding emotions to extract something out of me. Unfortunately for these people, the former are sovereign and I don't have a lot of the latter.

I have made both passive and active misanthropy a central part of my life and am a lot better off for it.

zoon wrote:For example, you said that evolution appears to justify rape, the evolutionary counter is that humans are unique in having evolved to cooperate extraordinarily closely within groups, and rape within groups is divisive; it’s not surprising if humans, unlike other primates, evolved to gang up on individual rapists.


Well that explains the Yanomami.

zoon wrote:You appear to be saying that evolution could not have produced animals with the observed capability that humans have, to think and plan in detail beyond their own lifetimes. You say I am “asserting” this – what alternative do you have in mind? I was drawing the inference that perhaps you think some process other than evolution produced that capability.


I think human intelligence is greatly exaggerated. Even when people "plan ahead" it is often in the context of achieving things like geometric economic growth year on year which is, in the scheme of things, pretty myopic. As a species we seem to be about as capable of foresight as an algal bloom feeding on a glut of fertilizer, something you have implicitly acknowledged.
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Hope you are quite prepared to die
Looks like we're in for nasty weather
One eye is taken for an eye
Weeell, don't go 'round tonight
Well, it's bound to take your life
There's a bad moon on the rise
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