Discussion on the basis of ethical values

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Discussion on the basis of ethical values

#1  Postby Calilasseia » Sep 15, 2013 12:13 am

Quaker wrote:Just to say 'hello'

I'm interested in all ways people make sense of the universe, their lives, suffering, joy, etc,. from Atheism to Zoroastrianism.


Well first, I need to correct an elementary error, namely the idea that atheism is a "world view", in the sense of being founded upon assertions treated as axioms. The opposite is the case. Atheism, in its rigorous formulation, consists of a refusal to accept uncritically unsupported supernaturalist assertions. In short, it consists of "YOU assert that your magic man exists, YOU support your assertions". Asking others to support their assertions isn't a "world view", it's the proper conduct of discourse. If the tone of that exposition I've just provided seems rather harsh to you, bear in mind that I've been dealing here with some of the more duplicitous brands of ideological stormtroopers for doctrine, and the mendacious tactics they employ to try and achieve hegemony for their assertions.

Another elementary principle I shall impart here, which you should find to be of considerable utility value during your tenure here, is this: assertions are not facts. A principle that quite a few supernaturalists seem to be oblivious to. Ultimately, alll assertions, when erected, possess the status "truth value unknown". The determination of that initially unknown truth value is the remit of proper discourse, and the subjection of the assertions in question to test.

Quaker wrote:I have explored a few along my way and currently have a home in Quakerism because of its acceptance that we all need to find our own paths which may be highly spiritual or not, but that what matters most are the values we adopt in daily life.


I'll cover this topic in more detail when addressing your second post. :)

Quaker wrote:Thank you Briton

Presumably you do think people's values are important as well?


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. See, for example, Josiah Wedgwood, who was a prominent anti-slavery campaigner, and as part of his efforts to see slavery abolished, he produced this famous artwork:

Image

Indeed, I gather that a major motivation amongst the Quakers involved in the abolitionist movement, was their direct observance of the avoidable harm inflicted upon those cast into slavery. One non-Quaker clergyman who personally witnessed the brutality of the slave trade, and was moved to act toward its abolition, was James Ramsay. You'll find this theme appearing in several of my past posts, namely the evidential basis for ethical precepts.

Quaker wrote:Without considering the importance of values it would seem that you'd have no basis for society, laws, social welfare, etc.


You should find my above remarks address this.

Quaker wrote:Or perhaps you consider those values part of a provable truth


One of the fundamental ideas I've just introduced you to above, is the idea of evidential support for or against a given principle. Which, as I've just expounded, was of considerable utility value with respect to the abolition of slavery, a cause that was a major Quaker theme in the late 18th century, and continued to be thus through to the present.

Quaker wrote:As for whether Quakerism is relevant or not. Most of the time it probably is totally irrelevant to you. It' not a way of life that feels a need to force itself on others, though we do peacefully oppose violence and oppression.


My personal position is that supernaturalist assertions are irrelevant to my view of the world. This does not, however, prevent me from appreciating the good work of some supernaturalists in the past, even if I regard their reasons as grounded in error. Indeed, as long as you and others of your persuasion continue to work toward a just and equitable society, I for one will happily support you in this, even if I disagree with your views on supernatural entities. :)

Quaker wrote:
Scot Dutchy wrote:Hi

Quakerism is for me an anything goes belief system for people who cannot decide.

Sorry no time for it.


Haha, there's an element of truth in that :grin:


Excuse the tendency of some of us here to engage in robust humour. It's a feature of the board culture. :)

Quaker wrote:The other way of looking at it is that it is a community that supports people to explore their faith rather than having to have already accepted particular dogma.


And at this point, another exposition of ideas enjoying some currency here is apposite, whilst welcoming your above-stated rejection of doctrine, a subject that has been the focus of a good number of my past posts.

First, there is the matter of how the word "faith" is regarded here. I and numerous others contend that faith is nothing more than the treatment of unsupported assertions as purportedly consituting fact. As a corollary, I and others here dispense with it altogether. The behaviour of all too many supernaturalists in this regard is considered to be compelling evidence for this hypothesis.

Indeed, one of the ideas that I have been expounding here for some time, is that all doctrines are to be rejected, because they are founded upon one or more unsupported assertions, treated as purportedly constituting "axioms" about the world, regardless of whether or not the world agrees with their treatment thus. You may find this idea consonant with your own thinking in the light of your above statement. :)

Another idea I drop into my posts on numerous occasions, is the notion that mythology does not necessarily equal history (or science, for that matter). Whilst mythologies are not erected in a conceptual vacuum, and may draw upon some of the more spectacular real world observations as source material for their storylines, they are inevitably replete with assertions of vast concetpual magnitude, almost all of them presented as purportedly contituting established fact. I refer you to my opening exposition of the relevant elementary principle at this point. :)

Quaker wrote:As it happens my faith is quite similar to many more traditional Christians, but I have very much welcomed the opportunity to question and explore it. Many Quakers then do find a very settled faith, so it's not like they cannot ever decide, but they do not feel they must all agree on doctrine in the same way as a confessional church. The Quaker values ('testimonies') of truth, equality, justice, simplicity and peace do bind people together even when elements of doctrine differ.


I suspect it requires considerable effort not to let doctrine take over. As doctrines have a pernicious habit of doing if not carefully watched. You'll find I've discussed the aetiology at length in numerous past posts.

Quaker wrote:
Briton wrote:Of course values are important but doesn't matter how high the values a particular belief system might have; that would be be irrelevant to me if it's based on myth. Didn't mean Quakerism in particular.


Hi Briton

I see things from a different angle. I actually see another person's beliefs as much less relevant than the values they hold. Whether someone believes the Earth is flat or an oblate sphere matters much less to me than whether they pursue or oppose equality, justice and peace.


Ah, so your primary concern is ethics. I refer you to my exposition above on slavery, and the notion that principles stand or fall on the basis of consonance with reality and dispensation of benefit.

Quaker wrote:
Briton wrote:Ultimately you have to determine what are good values. Myth can't tell you that.


Myths, perhaps, have aided people in the exploration of 'good values'. They form a narrative with which all can engage.


But at bottom, one has to ask oneself, does accepting suitably euethical principles necessarily require acceptance of unsupported assertions? I contend not.

Quaker wrote:This perhaps has strengths that moral philosophy lacks (it can be quite impenetrable for many).


You'll find that a couple of our number here have not only studied ethics formally, but strive to make its principles accessible. :)

Quaker wrote:Myths may also have truth to them, possibly.


I'm minded to be duly sceptical of this assertion.

Quaker wrote:I've yet to see a way we can be absolutely sure of what is good or not, though we do seem to, individually and corporately, have some kind of moral compass.


I refer you once again to the notion of evidence of benefit or harm arising from a given principle.

Quaker wrote:
iamthereforeithink wrote:Welcome to the forum! Quakerism is something that was probably a good idea in the 1600s. In 2013, not so much, IMO. Currently, there are better methods available to make sense of the Universe. :cheers:


If you are talking about science as a way of exploring the universe then almost all Quakers embrace science.


Be advised in advance, that we have frequent dealings with supernaturalists who don't. Who, moreover, employ duplicitous apologetics in their pursuit of various doctrines. This is the reason why you'll see instances of ""launch on warning" responses to certain phrases that have become associated here with said duplicitous apologetics.

Quaker wrote:Remember that it was a Quaker (Sir Arthur Henry Eddington) who provided the empirical evidence to test and then support Einstein - against the British scientific community at the time who had difficulty accepting that a German, in times of great tension between our countries, could provide a better model for the universe than perhaps England's greatest ever scientist (Newton).


I suspect that your evaluation of some of our past physicists is some way off the mark here, particularly any who were at the time familiar with Noether's Theorem.

Quaker wrote:On the other side, it is true that few Quakers would see science as the only way to explore our universe and our place and values within that universe.


Except that, as I and several others would contend at this juncture, science is the one means that has demonstrated itself to be reliable.

Quaker wrote:As it is often said it is very hard to get directly from an 'is' to an 'ought'.


I would contend once again, that proper evaluation of evidence solves this problem.

And with this, I bid you welcome, even though you may be reading this last sentence of mine somewhat sardonically in the light of the above. :)
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Re: Hi all

#2  Postby DougC » Sep 15, 2013 1:10 am

News is coming in of a 'Calilasseia' size device being deployed in a thread recently.

Reports from athiests at the site mention a
'blinding almost - ironicly, god like light'

eminating from the site.
Theists, woo-mungers and the mentaly chalanged where seen to be running from the area in a state of panic and wonder at the event.
No athiests or free-thinkers where hurt in the detonation of the device...
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Re: Hi all

#3  Postby Quaker » Sep 15, 2013 2:03 am

Thank you for your long reply Calilasseia,

I'm not sure I understand you when you say an evidential approach shows that reducing harm is good (I hope I have paraphrased you acceptably there). Does that not beg the question of what it is that is good? Would you mind developing that line of thought a little more so I can better see how you avoid question-begging.
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Re: Hi all

#4  Postby Calilasseia » Sep 16, 2013 2:27 am

Quaker wrote:Thank you for your long reply Calilasseia,

I'm not sure I understand you when you say an evidential approach shows that reducing harm is good (I hope I have paraphrased you acceptably there). Does that not beg the question of what it is that is good? Would you mind developing that line of thought a little more so I can better see how you avoid question-begging.


Well first of all, in reply to this, I have to ask you what else would you substitute in the place of evidence? Blind mytholgical assertions? Because if you wish to try doing so, then the history of your own movement, as I expounded in my previous post, is massively at variance with this. As I explained previously,a major factor driving Quaker involvement in the abolitionist movement, was direct observation of the brutality of the slave trade. They certainly didn't alight upon the idea of opposing slavery from mythology, because, embarrassingly for that mythology, not once does it issue any strictures forbidding slavery. Indeed, several of the statements contained therein, if taken at face value, effectively condone slavery, and you'll find that in the USA, slave masters and slave traders were all too ready to claim "biblical" justification for their continuance of the practice. Some of the more extreme religious fundamentalists over there continue to do so today, the Dominionists being a particularly hideous example.

A particularly creepy manifestation of this can be found courtesy of one Gary North, a hard-core fundamentalist who wants ot reshape the whole of economic theory to make it conform to Old Testament strictures (strange how the fundamentalists who call themselves"Christians" love the Jewish Old Testament so much, but I've noticed consistency tends to be absent from their fulminations). You'll find the relevant document, entitled The Covenantal Wealth Of Nations, here, and it makes chilling reading. For example:

At the other end of the curve, the poor man who steals is eventually caught and sold into bondage under a successful person. His victim receives payment; he receives training; his buyer receives a stream of labor services. If the servant is successful and buys his way out of bondage, he re-enters society as a disciplined man, and presumably a self-disciplined man. He begins to accumulate wealth.


Apparently this individual has a peculiar fetish for Deuteronomy 28, a fetish that explains the fondness of North and other Dominionists for a brand of what is best termed "corporate prosperity theology" that most other denominations regard as an utter perversion and a heresy. North and other Dominionists claim that Deuteronomy 28 gives them a mandate to destroy social justice as you and I understand it, and replace it with a truly hideous version of "the rich are right". I suspect that if you study the outpourings of Dominionist theology in any depth, it will outrage and revolt you.

Yet, lo and behold, these people happily erect the claim, that the same mythology you turn to for inspiration, justifies their holding of values that are fulminatingly, violently antithetical to the values you hold. My view, of course, is that the moment one treats unsupported assertions from any source as purportedly constituting established fact, then quite literally anything goes, so long as the individuals erecting the reqiuisite apologetics display sufficient rhetorical gymnastic capability. At this juncture, you will understand why I have such distate for unsupported assertions, and a preference for evidentially supported postulates.

Having unleashed the above exposition, it's now apposite to turn to the matter of how we determine what is 'good' and 'bad'. Quite simply, we do this courtesy of the fact that we possess the ability to imagine ourselves in the position of others. There's a word for this capability, and that word is empathy. Indeed, I gather that one statement in the New Testament recasts this capability as an ethical imperative - that part about "do unto others as one would have others do unto thyself" - that imperative known by the succinct term reciprocity. By way of example, if someone were to take a baseball bat to your legs, and break both your legs by doing so, you would almost certainly consider this a malign act. I suspect every other human being on the planet would do the same. Consequently, because we are able to imagine what it would be like to be the recipients of that particular brand of harm (or, in the case of those who have suffered broken bones in accidents, have direct observational experience thereof), and we conisder ourselves to be wronged by such an action, empathy and reciprocity lead us to conclude that said action constitutes an ethical wrong, regardless of the identity of the perpetrator or the victim. We do this on the basis of evidence for the harm arising from that action. Needless to say, any intelligent social species will be subject to the usual processes of natural selection in this regard, will acquire the capacity for empathy, and some degree of understanding of reciprocity, in order for that species to remain a cohesively social species. Indeed, this has been observed on numerous occasions in non-human primates, but I'll come to that research a little later.

In short, on the basis of a large body of evidence, much of it made rigorous in the peer reviewed scientific literature, I regard both the emergence of our capacity for ethical behaviour, and our general predisposition thereto, as arising from testable natural processes, and that both have an organic and biological basis. At this juncture, you will almost certainly request me to support this contention with evidence. At which point, I will say "are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin". :)

First of all, the only evidence we have, of creatures producing a communicable abstract concept of ethics, and devising conceptual frameworks within an intellectual field of endeavour devoted to these, centres upon humans. We have evidence that humans have written treatises on ethics - everything from Urukagina's laws and Hammurabi's laws through to, for example, the works of Immanuel Kant. . We have NO evidence that any other entity has produced treatises on ethics or formulated ethical ideas. Any statement that an invisible magic man is responsible for our ethical constructs is mere blind assertion, not least because the postulate that this invisible magic man even exists is a blind assertion. As a direct consequence, the observational evidence supports the notion that morality is a human invention.

One of the more interesting developments from neuroscience, that supernaturalists in particular have apparently missed out on, is this. Humans (and indeed other primates) possess a part of the brain known as the ventromedial pre-frontal cortex. It has been demonstrated experimentally, courtesy of cases of brain injury to this region, that this part of the brain is the very part of the brain responsible for our capacity to engage in ethical decision making. When that part of the brain is damaged, ethical decision making is manifestly impaired. In other words, we have an organic and biological basis for our capacity to act as moral beings. An interesting and relevant paper is this one:

Characterisation Of Empathy Deficits Following Prefrontal Brain Damage: The Role Of The Right Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex by S.G. Shamay-Tsoory, R. Tomer B.D. Berger and J. Aharon-Peretz, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 15: 324-337 (2003)

Here's the abstract:

Shamay-Tsoory [et al[/i], 2003 wrote:Impaired empathic response has been described in patients following brain injury, suggesting that empathy may be a fundamental aspect of the social behavior disturbed by brain damage. However, the neuroanatomical basis of impaired empathy has not been studied in detail. The empathic response of patients with localized lesions in the prefrontal cortex (n = 25) was compared to responses of patients with posterior (n = 17) and healthy control subjects (n = 19). To examine the cognitive processes that underlie the empathic ability, the relationships between empathy scores and the performance on tasks that assess processes of cognitive flexibility, affect recognition, and theory of mind (TOM) were also examined. Patients with prefrontal lesions, particularly when their damage included the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, were significantly impaired in empathy as compared to patients with posterior lesions and healthy controls. However, among patients with posterior lesions, those with damage to the right hemisphere were impaired, whereas those with left posterior lesions displayed empathy levels similar to healthy controls. Seven of nine patients with the most profound empathy deficit had a right ventromedial lesion. A differential pattern regarding the relationships between empathy and cognitive performance was also found: Whereas among patients with dorsolateral prefrontal damage empathy was related to cognitive flexibility but not to TOM and affect recognition, empathy scores in patients with ventromedial lesions were related to TOM but not to cognitive flexibility. Our findings suggest that prefrontal structures play an important part in a network mediating the empathic response and specifically that the right ventromedial cortex has a unique role in integrating cognition and affect to produce the empathic response.


Another apposite paper is this one:

The Role Of The Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex In Abstract State-Based Inference During Decision Making In Humans by Alan N. Hampton, Peter Bossaerts and John. P. O'Doherty, The Journal of Neuroscience, 26(32):, 8360-8367 (9th August 2006) (full paper downloadable from here)

Here's the abstract:

Hampton [i]et al[/i], 2006 wrote:Many real-life decision-making problems incorporate higher-order structure, involving interdependencies between different stimuli, actions, and subsequent rewards. It is not known whether brain regions implicated in decision making, such as the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), use a stored model of the task structure to guide choice (model-based decision making) or merely learn action or state values without assuming higher-order structure as in standard reinforcement learning. To discriminate between these possibilities, we scanned human subjects with functional magnetic resonance imaging while they performed a simple decision-making task with higher-order structure, probabilistic reversal learning. We found that neural activity in a key decision-making region, the vmPFC, was more consistent with a computational model that exploits higher-order structure than with simple reinforcement learning. These results suggest that brain regions, such as the vmPFC, use an abstract model of task structure to guide behavioral choice, computations that may underlie the human capacity for complex social interactions and abstract strategizing.


Another apposite paper is this one:

Characterisation Of The Decision-Making Deficit Of Patients With Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex Lesions by Antione Bechara, Daniel Tranel and Hanna Damasio, Brain, 123: 2189-2202 (2000)

and also this one:

Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex Activation Is Critical For Preference Judgements by Martin P. Paulus and Lawrence R. Frank, NeuroReport, 14(10): 1311-1315 (28th March 2003)

However, the one I'd really like to concentrate upon from here on is this one:

Impairment Of Social And Moral Behaviour Related To Early Damage In Human Prefrontal Cortex by Steven W. Anderson, Antoine Bechara, Hanna Damasio, Daniel Tranel and Antonio R. Damasio, Nature Neuroscience, 2(11): 1032-1037 (November 1999)

Here's what this paper says:

Anderson [i]et al[/i], 1999 wrote:The long-term consequences of early prefrontal cortex lesions occurring before 16 months were investigated in two adults. As is the case when such damage occurs in adulthood, the two early-onset patients had severely impaired social behavior despite normal basic cognitive abilities, and showed insensitivity to future consequences of decisions, defective autonomic responses to punishment contingencies and failure to respond to behavioral interventions. Unlike adult-onset patients, however, the two patients had defective social and moral reasoning, suggesting that the acquisition of complex social conventions and moral rules had been impaired. Thus early-onset prefrontal damage resulted in a syndrome resembling psychopathy.


Indeed, further research in this area has established an interesting fact: if the pre-frontal cortex is damaged in childhood, before a child has begun to learn basic ethical precepts, that child becomes a sociopathic adult, incapable of responding to any impulse other than instant gratification of wants and desires, regardless of the cost to that person or others affected by said behaviour. If the damage occurs in adulthood, the behaviour is still antisocial, but is accompanied by feelings of guilt, because ethical precepts have already been learned, and knowledge of this affects the individual adversely in terms of guilt feelings after the fact. Plus, when subjected to testing in a clinical environment, adults with pre-frontal cortex damage can give appropriate responses to questions about appropriate behaviour in social settings, but are unable to act upon this knowledge, and continue to be driven by immediate gratification, even when they know that this behaviour is self-defeating. The pre-frontal cortex has also been implicated as the origin of fear memories in normal individuals, as of 2006 (courtesy of researchers at the University of Toronto). Modern data with respect to this relies upon functional MRI scanning, which can track brain activity in real time, and those brain imaging systems have found a startling correlation between reduced activity, reduced volume and reduced interconnections with other brain subsystems, and individuals falling into the following categories:

[1] Sufferers of unipolar depression;

[2] Persons subjected to repeated high-intensity stress (e.g., battlefield shock cases);

[3] Incarcerated criminals;

[4] Diagnosed sociopaths;

[5] Drug addicts;

[6] Suicide victims (survivors of suicide attempts have been imaged via fMRI: successful suicide victims have had the pre-frontal cortex directly measured by dissection).

Therefore there is a biological basis for ethical behaviour in humans, and work on the great apes is being performed in anticipation of finding corollary brain activity related to socialisation and the establishment of behavioural 'norms' within great ape social groupings.

The pre-frontal cortex is regarded as being implicated in the presence of empathy not just in humans, but on other mammals too, though this work is in its infancy and detailed, robust findings have yet to be published. However, given what has been verified empirically in cases of pre-frontal cortex injury, scientists anticipate that empathy will also be found to be correlated with healthy functioning of the pre-frontal cortex.

Additionally, I have since found that pre-frontal cortex damage is implicated in schizophrenia, courtesy of this page from the Society for Neuroscience. Again, it refers to brain imaging studies, this time in humans and other primates.

A letter to Nature is also apposite here (link), viz:

The psychological and neurobiological processes underlying moral judgement have been the focus of many recent empirical studies1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11. Of central interest is whether emotions play a causal role in moral judgement, and, in parallel, how emotion-related areas of the brain contribute to moral judgement. Here we show that six patients with focal bilateral damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPC), a brain region necessary for the normal generation of emotions and, in particular, social emotions12, 13, 14, produce an abnormally 'utilitarian' pattern of judgements on moral dilemmas that pit compelling considerations of aggregate welfare against highly emotionally aversive behaviours (for example, having to sacrifice one person's life to save a number of other lives)7, 8. In contrast, the VMPC patients' judgements were normal in other classes of moral dilemmas. These findings indicate that, for a selective set of moral dilemmas, the VMPC is critical for normal judgements of right and wrong. The findings support a necessary role for emotion in the generation of those judgements.


Indeed the pre-frontal cortex appears to be involved in a surprising amount of decision making. This page on depression covers this in some detail. This page also reports a study from the British Journal of Psychiatry, which notes structural differences in the pre-frontal cortex that are observed between socially well-adjusted individuals and pathological liars, and a parallel reversal of those differences in persons with autistic spectrum conditions (who have been observed for many years as possessing a considerably reduced capacity to lie and fabricate - there are numerous peer reviewed studies with respect to this, from researchers such as Professor Uta Frith and Dr Simon Baron-Cohen).

A peer reviewed paper that can be accessed that discusses several of these findings in detail is this one, in which the connection between pre-frontal cortex damage and increased pursuit of immediate gratification is experimentally verified. This article from the American Journal of Psychiatry also covers the relation between pre-frontal cortex damage and schizophrenia.

So, looks as if the basis for morality is organic, and has precious little to do with any invisible magic men.

So, the evidence the basis for morality is organic, and has precious little to do with any invisible magic men. In the case of humans, our accelerated brain evolution (courtesy of ASPM and FOXP2, two genes critical to the development of a large cerebral cortex and language capability, papers on which I have presented elsewhere) has also led to an expansion of the size of the ventromedial pre-frontal cortex, and the forging of connections between that brain region and the cerebral cortex proper, facilitating the coupling of our empathic capabilities, which are also seen in other primates. The following scientific papers, authored or co-authored by primate researcher Frans de Waal, are apposite here:

Empathy: Its Ultimate And Proximate Bases by Stephanie D. Preston and Frans de Waal, Behavioural and Brain Sciences, 25: 1-20 (2001)

Mechanisms Of Social Reciprocity In Three Primate Species: Symmetrical Relationship Characteristics Or Cognition? by Frans B. M. de Waal and Lesleigh M. Luttrell, Ethology and Sociobiology, 9(2-4): 101-118 (1988)

Monkeys Reject Unequal Pay by Sarah F. Brosnan & Frans B. M. de Waal, Nature, 425: 297-299 (18th September 2003)

Primates—A Natural Heritage Of Conflict Resolution by Frans B. M. de Waal, Science, 289: 586-590 (28th July 2000)

Reconciliation And Consolation Among Chimpanzees by Frans B. M. de Waal and Angeline van Roosmalen, Behavioural Ecology & Sociobiology, 5(1): 55-66 (March 1979)

I'll now set about covering these papers in some detail. First,

Empathy: Its Ultimate And Proximate Bases by Stephanie D. Preston and Frans de Waal, Behavioural and Brain Sciences, 25: 1-20 (2001). The full paper is downloadable from here. Here is the abstract, with appropriate sections highlighted in bold:

Preston & de Waal, 2001 wrote:There is disagreement in the literature about the exact nature of the phenomenon of empathy. There are emotional, cognitive, and conditioning views, applying in varying degrees across species. An adequate description of the ultimate and proximate mechanism can integrate these views. Proximately, the perception of an object's state activates the subject's corresponding representations, which in turn activate somatic and autonomic responses. This mechanism supports basic behaviors (e.g., alarm, social facilitation, vicariousness of emotions, mother-infant responsiveness, and the modeling of competitors and predators) that are crucial for the reproductive success of animals living in groups. The Perception-Action Model (PAM), together with an understanding of how representations change with experience, can explain the major empirical effects in the literature (similarity, familiarity, past experience, explicit teaching, and salience). It can also predict a variety of empathy disorders. The interaction between the PAM and prefrontal functioning can also explain different levels of empathy across species and age groups. This view can advance our evolutionary understanding of empathy beyond inclusive fitness and reciprocal altruism and can explain different levels of empathy across individuals, species, stages of development, and situations.


So already we have a paper that discusses evolutionary explanations for altruism. Let's take a further look at this, shall we?

Preston & de Waal, 2001 wrote:In an experiment with rhesus monkeys, subjects were trained to pull two chains that delivered different amounts of food. The experimenters then altered the situation so that pulling the chain with the larger reward caused a monkey in sight of the subject to be shocked. After the subjects witnessed the shock of the conspecific, two-thirds preferred the nonshock chain even though it resulted in half as many rewards. Of the remaining third, one stopped pulling the chains altogether for 5 days and another for 12 days after witnessing the shock of the object. These monkeys were literally starving themselves to prevent the shock to the conspecific. Starvation was induced more by visual than auditory cues, was more likely in animals that had experienced shock themselves, and was enhanced by familiarity with the shocked individual (Masserman et al. 1964).


So we have hard experimental evidence that rhesus macaques will suffer privation rather than see fellow members of their species endure pain. Which means that these organisms possess empathy for each other that is directly observable, and reflects the sort of empathic responses that used to be thought to be exclusive to humans.

Continuing, the authors write:

Preston & de Waal, 2001 wrote:These examples, all from empirical reports, show that individuals of many species are distressed by the distress of a conspecific and will act to terminate the object’s distress, even incurring risk to themselves. Humans and other animals exhibit the same robust effects of familiarity, past experience, and cue salience (Table 1), and parallels exist between the development of empathy in young humans and the phylogenetic emergence of empathy (de Waal 1996; Hoffman 1990, respectively). These facts suggest that empathy is a phylogenetically continuous phenomenon, as suggested by Charles Darwin more than a century ago (1871/1982).


So the notion that empathy, and as a consequence, altruistic behaviour, is a natural consequence of evolutionary processes can be traced in the scientific literature all the way back to Darwin. Which means tht an evolutionary explanation for altruism is anything but a recent development.

The paper concludes with:

Preston & de Waal, 2001 wrote:The complex social world of primates requires the central nervous system to perceive the facial expressions, body postures, gestures, and voices of conspecifics accurately and quickly in order to generate a response (Brothers 1990; Byrne & Whiten 1988). Parsimoniously, the same nervous system link between perception and action that helps us to navigate the physical environment helps us navigate the social environment. The perception-action link allows for facile motor skill acquisition as well as facile social interaction, as we perceive external conditions and incorporate them into our current plan of action. In this way, the proximate model is intricately linked with the ultimate model. While natural selection acts on phenotypes, these phenotypes reflect the underlying physiology. Thus, the general design of the nervous system, created through millions of years of evolution, should be considered a factor in the evolution of emotional processes like empathy and overt behaviors like helping. In this way, the proximate and ultimate levels of analysis are intimately related.


So, the authors conclude that in order to act in an altruistic manner, what is needed is:

[1] An ability to relate perceptions to actions within an internal mental model of some sort (and the model in question doesn't have to be anywhere near as intricate as ours);

[2] An ability to relate responses of other organisms of the same species to a given external action, to our own likely actions to those same external actions (in short, "putting oneself in the shoes of the other");

[3] An ability to make judgements, with respect to future actions to take, that maximise shared benefit and minimise shared suffering.

Since the papers on the ventromedial pre-frontal cortex and human brain development mediated by ASPM cover the development of the relevant hardware required for this, it should not be surprising to conclude, as a result of observing empirically that rhesus macaques possess the necessary hardware to act in this manner, that our own hardware supporting this behaviour arises from the familiar process of common descent with modification, and indeed, the ASPM papers provide evidence with respect to the modifications that took place in our lineage.

Next, we have this:

Monkeys Reject Unequal Pay by Sarah F. Brosnan & Frans B. M. de Waal, Nature, 425: 297-299 (18th September 2003). The abstract reads as follows:

Brosnan & de Waal, 2003 wrote:During the evolution of cooperation it may have become critical for individuals to compare their own efforts and pay-offs with those of others. Negative reactions may occur when expectations are violated. One theory proposes that aversion to inequity can explain human cooperation within the bounds of the rational choice model1, and may in fact be more inclusive than previous explanations2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. Although there exists substantial cultural variation in its particulars, this 'sense of fairness' is probably a human universal9, 10 that has been shown to prevail in a wide variety of circumstances11, 12, 13. However, we are not the only cooperative animals14, hence inequity aversion may not be uniquely human. Many highly cooperative nonhuman species seem guided by a set of expectations about the outcome of cooperation and the division of resources15, 16. Here we demonstrate that a nonhuman primate, the brown capuchin monkey (Cebus apella), responds negatively to unequal reward distribution in exchanges with a human experimenter. Monkeys refused to participate if they witnessed a conspecific obtain a more attractive reward for equal effort, an effect amplified if the partner received such a reward without any effort at all. These reactions support an early evolutionary origin of inequity aversion.


Oh dear, that evidence that evolution can produce such behaviour is starting to pile up. So, even capuchin monkeys possess what might be termed "a sense of fair play". Sadly, I don't have access to the full paper, but I suspect it will make very interesting reading for those who do have full access. :)

Let's see another paper, shall we? Namely:

Reconciliation And Consolation Among Chimpanzees by Frans B. M. de Waal and Angeline van Roosmalen, Behavioural Ecology & Sociobiology, 5(1): 55-66 (March 1979). Abstract quoted yet again below:

de Waal and van Roosmalen, 1979 wrote:Summary 1. After agonistic interactions among chimpanzees, former opponents often come into non-violent body contact. The present paper gives a quantitative description of such contacts among the chimpanzees of a large semi-free-living colony at the Arnhem Zoo, in order to establish whether these post-conflict contacts are of a specific nature.

2. Our data indicate that former opponents preferentially make body contact with each other rather than with third partners. They tend to contact each other shortly after the conflict and show special behaviour patterns during these first contacts. Data on contacts of the aggressed party with third animals indicate that such contacts are characterized by the same special behaviour patterns as first interopponent contacts. These patterns are: 'kiss', 'embrace', 'hold-out-hand', 'submissive vocalization' and 'touch'.

3. Such interactions apparently serve an important socially homeostatic function and we termed them 'reconciliation' (i.e. contact between former opponents) and 'consolation' (i.e. contact of the aggressed party with a third animal). According to our data, 'kissing' is characteristic of reconciliation and 'embracing' of consolation.


This was a paper that performed a quantitative analysis of the requisite behaviours back in 1979. And which, moreover, contains what appears to be a direct empirical observation of chimpanzees acting socially to mitigate the results of violent conflict, and seek to minimise the occurrences thereof amongst their number. Which once again demonstrates that we are not unique in this vein by any stretch of the imagination.

Let's see what else is in the literature shall we?

Mechanisms Of Social Reciprocity In Three Primate Species: Symmetrical Relationship Characteristics Or Cognition? by Frans B. M. de Waal and Lesleigh M. Luttrell, Ethology and Sociobiology, 9(2-4): 101-118 (1988). Again, here's the abstract:

de Waal and Luttrell, 1988 wrote:Agonistic intervention behavior was observed in 23 chimpanzees, 50-60 rhesus monkeys, and 25 stumptail monkeys. Reciprocity correlations of interventions were determined while removing the effects of matrilineal kinship, proximity relations, and same-sex combination. It was considered likely that if significant reciprocity persisted, it was based on cognitive mechanisms. All 3 species exhibited significant reciprocity with regard to beneficial interventions, even after controlling for symmetrical traits. Harmful interventions were reciprocal among chimpanzees only. Both macaque species showed significantly inversed reciprocity in harmful interventions. Macaques rarely intervened against higher-ranking group members.


Next, we have:

Primates—A Natural Heritage Of Conflict Resolution by Frans B. M. de Waal, Science, 289: 586-590 (28th July 2000) (full paper downloadable from here). Once again ...

de Waal, 2000 wrote: The traditional notion of aggression as an antisocial instinct is being replaced by a framework that considers it a tool of competition and negotiation. When survival depends on mutual assistance, the expression of aggression is constrained by the need to maintain beneficial relationships. Moreover, evolution has produced ways of countering its disruptive consequences. For example, chimpanzees kiss and embrace after fights, and other nonhuman primates engage in similar “reconciliations.” Theoretical developments in this field carry implications for human aggression research. From families to high schools, aggressive conflict is subject to the same constraints known of cooperative animal societies. It is only when social relationships are valued that one can expect the full complement of natural checks and balances.


Well, I think that more or less wraps that up, don't you?

Moving on, I'd like to introduce everyone to Endal. Endal is a Labrador Retriever. In other words, a dog. This dog has repeatedly demonstrated not only intelligent behaviour (Endal has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to operate a chip and pin ATM cash machine) but has also engaged in the sort of self-sacrificial behaviour that supernaturalists wish to claim is ONLY possible as a result of whatever magic man they happen to believe in. Now, last time I checked, Labrador Retrievers didn't possess any concept of 'god', nor are they noted for having generated amongst themselves anything resembling a 'religion'. On the other hand, since dogs are social animals that adopt a hierarchical structure amongst themselves, and work co-operatively with the dominant animal in the social group, this behaviour is readily explicable in entirely natural terms.

Likewise, I'd like to introduce everyone to Binti Jua. She can be seen in action here. Binti Jua is a female gorilla living in a zoo. Now, once again, as far as I am aware, gorillas don't have a 'god' concept, and haven't manifested behaviour compatible with the development of a 'religion'. However, Binti Jua rescued a 3 year old human child who had fallen into her enclosure, and carried the boy to safety where zookeepers could collect him and pass him on to waiting ambulancemen. I think it's safe to say that Binti Jua hasn't read any holy books lately, and as a consequence, her behaviour is explicable entirely in naturalistic terms, namely that she is a social primate with a sense of empathy for creatures resembling herself that is the product of an evolutionary process.

We humans are capable of grafting additional abstract ideas onto our empathic actions as a consequence of our genetic inheritance of a large cerebral cortex. We are capable of inventing ideas that seem at first sight to have no parallel among other animals, but that incident cited above is not regarded as exceptional by scientists who work with primates and study their social lives. Moreover, both gorillas and chimpanzees have demonstrated a capacity for communication with humans via language. We share more with those other apes than the glib accounts of old mythologies would have us believe, and that shared heritage is being elucidated on a more and more detailed basis with the passage of time. Indeed, detailed observation of other primates reveals that they too possess that brain structure I cited above - the ventromedial pre-frontal cortex. It is larger in humans, because it underwent the same expansion as the cerebral cortex proper in our particular lineage (for more on this, look up the ASPM and FOXP2 genes), but we share that structure with the great apes. We share many of the genes coding for its formation and wiring. And, we share many of the behaviours that this part of the brain is responsible for. In our case, the greater size and greater connectivity with the cerebral cortex proper makes other, newer behaviours possible, but we are not unique in this respect.

Our entire concept of ethics is, basically, another example of emergent complexity in action - emergent complexity made possible by the biological features described above. We can choose to act in a manner that either harms or helps our fellow humans, depending upon whether we give precedence to short-term or long-term goals. But that capacity does not require any supernatural input for explanation - we are increasingly untangling the biological and neurological basis for our behaviour, for our possession of, if you will, a conscience, and that is tied intimately into our heritage as descendants of gregarious apes.

So, combine this with the scientific papers above I've cited with respect to the ventromedial pre-frontal cortex, and I think it's safe to say I've provided plenty of evidence to back up the hypothesis that the products of human thought have an organic basis, and once again, that reference to any invisible magic men is entirely superfluous to requirements.

Meanwhile, addressing this:

Nora_Leonard wrote:
Cali wrote:First, there is the matter of how the word "faith" is regarded here. I and numerous others contend that faith is nothing more than the treatment of unsupported assertions as purportedly consituting fact. As a corollary, I and others here dispense with it altogether. The behaviour of all too many supernaturalists in this regard is considered to be compelling evidence for this hypothesis.


And just to show you that not all of us think alike here (which makes you a very welcome addition), I and many other atheists don't restrict the word 'faith' in this limited way. I am not prepared to forsake the experience of faith, as in having an optimistic outlook. No matter how many times I might be badgered to do this, there are many words that I, as an atheist, feel are good descriptors of some of my own experience (another example being soul, which I use to describe something that touches—or involves—me on a very deep level).

Of course I wouldn't be so foolish to use them in a discussion here unless I was prepared to spend hours defining to the nub exactly what I meant.


This latter task being, of course, an exercise I have devoted some time to, hence my insistence upon rigorous analysis of terms, which I contend leads inexorably to the analysis I have provided. Indeed, I have dealt repeatedly with the usual tiresome supernaturalist apologetics on this subject, not only with respect to the fact that supernaturalists provde ample evidence for viewing "faith" in this manner, but also with respect to the apologetic conflation, a fair amount of it duplicitous, erected by supernaturalists, between "faith" and inference from insufficient information, which is a task we all indulge in on a daily basis. Having an optimistic outlook, to take your above-cited example, I would contend, you engage in because you consider that sufficient real world cues exist to support doing so. Likewise, to take one particular piece of supernaturalist apologetics I've dealt with in the past, my considering that a relationship partner loves me isn't the product of "faith", it's an inferfence from relevant external cues. Of course, the cues I consider to be supporting evidence for that view would be overturned in an instant, and on a grand scale, the moment I discovered evidence of infidelity, say, or evidence that said partner was engaging in financial mischief at my expense. Likewise, those cues would be reinforced, if that partner devoted a long period of time to helping me recover from a serious illness, even when doing so involved considerable personal cost.

Nora_Leonard wrote:And it goes without saying (as I'm not about to derail your welcome thread any more) that I absolutely disagree with the view that Cali (and many others) hold of mythology, i.e. that it is something that only belongs in the past, and which has somehow been superseded and 'trumped' by logic. Rather I would say that there are instances where mythic metaphors are much better descriptors of human experience, that they often have more resonance with us, like poetry and song.


Well I do not contend that we can learn nothing from mythology, rather, what I contend is that what we actually learn therefrom, differs substantively from the assertions about this erected by many supernaturalists. Moreover, I contend that when a mythology contains assertions about the world that are demonstrably plain, flat, wrong (and all of our mythologies contain such assertions), then not only is it absurd to treat said assertions as purportedly constituting fact, in the manner that quite a few supernaturalists do, but that the existence of those demonstrably wrong assertions, should warn us to be healthily sceptical about grand claims for that mythology's purported status as a source of "truth".

Meanwhile, the mere fact that I have to expound the following explicitly, does say much about the degree to which some people pay attention to my expositions. I am very well aware, that fanciful stories have been used as a vehicle for such tasks as critiquing injustice, or imparting assorted ethical messages. Humans are, after all, a resplendently prolific storytelling species. We love stories. The very existence of fiction, produced by our species in colossal quantities, provides all the evidence one needs for this postulate. Indeed, some of our greatest fictional literature has been devoted to the matter of critiquing societal failures, or imparting ethical messages, works such as Tess Of The d'Urbervilles, Crime And Punsihment, The Brothers Karamazov and pieces from the Shakespearian repertoire including The Merchant Of Venice (the line by Shylock, "if thou dost prick me, do I not bleed?" being a remarkably enlightened critique of racism for its time, for example). In my own case, examples of fiction that I have found utterly compelling to read include Contact by Carl Sagan (the film tried to do justice to the book, but the book is still the medium of choice), Cities In Flight by James Blish (made all the more compelling for me recently by the discovery that Blish found an actual scientific paper on which to base the essential foundation of his story!) and Stanislaw Lem's Non Serviam. ,So I would prefer not to see in future yet more tiresomely narrow caricatures of my actual views on the subject.

However, as far as hypotheses about the operation of the physical universe are concerned, I think the evidence for mythology having been superseded by science is pretty overwhelming.

Nora_Leonard wrote:Where I would agree with Cali and others is that certain statements in myths are not intended to be taken literally, and which is unfortunately the place where a lot of the clashes between religious and non-religious people arise.


See above.

Now, back to the main course ...

Quaker wrote:Thanks all for the many welcomes.

Can I just chip in on 'myth'. I think what makes mythology relevant to today is that the past event(s) of which the myth speaks are applicable to us today.


Well, some of the ethical dilemmas may be applicable, but the trouble is, that we now have ethical dilemmas to face that the authors of mythology were incapable of even fantasising about.

Quaker wrote:Those past events may well have some basis in factual events


I seem to recall saying at least once in the past "mythology does not arise in a vacuum". See my above remarks about humans being a storytelling species, eloquently covered by David Attenborough in his book accompanying the Life On Earth television series, the last chapter of which, covering humans, bears the title The Compulsive Communicators. A title he devised a good few years before the invention of the Internet.

Quaker wrote:or may be more purely allegorical.


But part of the problem with mythology is that it never actually presents itself in this manner. It presents itself as purportedly constituting established fact. The treatment thereof as allegorical, is derived externally from the mythology in all cases.

Quaker wrote:While arguing about how much is factually correct or not we may well be missing what can be learned from the myth.


Except that doing so teaches us, as I said above, to be healthily sceptical of grand claims about the status of mythology as purportedly constituting "truth".

Quaker wrote:There is a risk today of an arrogance that we know so much more than our ancestors


As Hackenslash has already said, we do know more than our ancestors. We know about the concrete existence of whole classes of entities and phenomena that said ancestors were incapable of even fantasising about. Indeed, we've learned that the universe, to borrow the words of Carl Sagan, is far grander, far more majestic, than the limited and parochial imaginations of the authors of past mythologies were capable of conceiving it to be. We are doing things as a species, on a routine, everyday basis, that would seem like magic to those ancestors. My posting this post, on a device that can perform the best part of a billion calculations per second, being one of them. The idea that we can make rocks that perform computations would either have those ancestors' eyes on stalks, or make them think of us as raving madmen, until we showed them such things as dual core CPUs. As for the idea of sending men to the Moon, well that one really would have them stunned into silence, wouldn't it? "Oh, here you go, here's the television pictures from Apollo 11".

Quaker wrote:(pretty like each generation thinking that it has discovered sex).


Except that this is the first generation to discover the Higgs Boson. The previous generation was the first to discover quarks. The generation before that was the first to discover space-time curvature and nuclear fission. The generation before that was the first to discover electrons, radioactivity and genes. The generation before that was the first to discover evolution. The generation before that was the first to discover the fundamental principles of heat and fluid mechanics.

Penny dropping here?

Quaker wrote:We may dismiss mythology too lightly these days


No, what we dismiss here is preference for demonstrably wrong mythological assertions over empirically validated scientific fact, a lot of which you'll find us dealing with in the creationism sub-forum.

Quaker wrote:I think. In dismissing mythology we may suffer loss of two kinds. The first is that we may miss some important insights our ancestors had which they have communicated in the universal format of a narrative.


Except that we've since discovered a better way of doing it. Namely, by packaging the mythology honestly as fiction.

Quaker wrote:The second loss is one of heritage; we may lose connections to our past.


As I stated earlier, I'm not suggesting we toss it into the bin, merely that we maintain a proper perspective with respect thereto. Here's what Richard Dawkins, every supernaturalist's favourite Aunt Sally, says on the subject (my emphasis where apposite):

Richard Dawkins wrote:The King James Bible of 1611 - the Authorized Version - includes passages of outstanding literary merit in its own right, for example the Song of Songs, and the sublime Ecclesiastes (which I am told is pretty good in the original Hebrew too). But the main reason the English Bible needs to be part of our education is that it is a major source book for literary culture. The same applies to the legends of the Greek and Roman gods, and we learn about them without being asked to believe in them. Here is a quick list of biblical, or Bible-inspired, phrases and sentences that occur commonly in literary or conversational English, from great poetry to hackneyed cliche, from proverb to gossip.

Be fruitful and multiply • East of Eden • Adam's Rib •Am I my brother's keeper? • The mark of Cain • As old as Methuselah • A mess of potage • Sold his birthright •Jacob's ladder • Coat of many colours • Amid the alien corn • Eyeless in Gaza • The fat of the land • The fatted calf • Stranger in a strange land •Burning bush • A land flowing with milk and honey • Let my people go • Flesh pots • An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth • Be sure your sin will find you out • The apple of his eye •The stars in their courses • Butter in a lordly dish • The hosts of Midian • Shibboleth • Out of the strong came forth sweetness •He smote them hip and thigh •Philistine • A man after his own heart • Like David and Jonathan • Passing the love of women • How are the mighty fallen? • Ewe lamb • Man of Belial • Jezebel •Queen of Sheba • Wisdom of Solomon • The half was not told me • Girded up his loins • Drew a bow at a venture • Job's comforters • The patience of Job • I am escaped with the skin of my teeth • The price of wisdom is above rubies • Leviathan • Go to the ant thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise • Spare the rod and spoil the child • A word in season • Vanity of vanities • To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose • The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong • Of making many books there is no end • I am the rose of Sharon • A garden inclosed • The little foxes • Many waters cannot quench love • Beat their swords into plowshares • Grind the faces of the poor • The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid • Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we shall die • Set thine house in order • A voice crying in the wilderness • No peace for the wicked • See eye to eye • Cut off out of the land of the living • Balm in Gilead • Can the leopard change his spots? • The parting of the ways • A Daniel in the lions' den • They have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind • Sodom and Gomorrah • Man shall not live by bread alone • Get thee behind me Satan • The salt of the earth • Hide your light under a bushel • Turn the other cheek • Go the extra mile • Moth and rust doth corrupt • Cast your pearls before swine • Wolf in sheep's clothing • Weeping and gnashing of teeth • Gadarene swine • New wine in old bottles • Shake off the dust of your feet • He that is not with me is against me • Judgement of Solomon • Fell upon stony ground • A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country • The crumbs from the table • Sign of the times • Den of thieves • Pharisee • Whited sepulchre • Wars and rumours of wars • Good and faithful servant • Separate the sheep from the goats • I wash my hands of it • The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath • Suffer the little children • The widow's mite • Physician heal thyself • Good Samaritan • Passed by on the other side • Grapes of wrath • Lost sheep • Prodigal son • A great gulf fixed • Whose shoe latchet I am not worthy to unloose •Cast the first stone • Jesus wept • Greater love hath no man than this • Doubting Thomas • Road to Damascus • A law unto himself • Through a glass darkly • Death, where is thy sting? • A thorn in the flesh • Fallen from grace • Filthy lucre • The root of all evil • Fight the good fight • All flesh is as grass • The weaker vessel • I am Alpha and Omega • Armageddon • De profundis • Quo vadis • Rain on the just and on the unjust

Every one of these idioms, phrases or cliches comes directly from the King James Authorized Version of the Bible. Surely ignorance of the Bible is bound to impoverish one's appreciation of English literature? And not just solemn and serious literature. The following rhyme by Lord Justice Bowen is ingeniously witty:

The rain it raineth on the just,
And also on the unjust fella.
But chiefly on the just, because
The unjust hath the just's umbrella.

But the enjoyment is muffled if you can't take the allusion to Matthew 5: 45 ('For he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust'). And the fine point of Eliza Dolittle's fantasy in My Fair Lady would escape anybody ignorant of John the Baptist's end:

'Thanks a lot, King,' says I in a manner well bred,
'But all I want is 'Enry 'Iggins' 'ead.'


Once again, what we're opposed to is treating mythology as fact when we know it isn't, and having that treatment forced upon us. As some supernaturalists would dearly love to.

Quaker wrote:That seems a sad loss by itself, but it also carries the danger that if we feel unconnected to the past, we may make the same mistakes as them.


We have our own modern lesson on this. It's called "Year Zero".

Quaker wrote:If we are connected to the past then we 'inherit' the mistakes of the past, even if they are dreadful ones. They become part of our history. While it is always nice to think we can start with a clean slate and create a nice new fresh better world devoid of the 'sins' of the past, the reality is that we'll probably make a better fist of things if we have a social memory of past wrong-doings.


Including wrongdoings inspired by the same mythologies.

Quaker wrote:The myths and stories of the past (some factual, some 'embellished' for pedagogical purposes) are a valuable inheritance from our ancestors; it would be a great shame if we dismissed them lightly and failed to pass them on to the next generation.


Once again, no one here is suggesting extirpating them in toto. All we're asking for here is proper perspective. Not least because some mythologies make fun reading. I recently alighted upon the tale of Inanna's Descent To The Netherworld, a piece of Sumerian mythology. I really have to admire a goddess who wanders into a field of sheep and shepherds, and announces thereto, the 3000 BCE equivalent of "I have a gorgeous pussy". Indeed, given that Inanna was apparently not only the Sumerian goddess of sexual love and fertility, but also of warfare (now there's a potent mix for you!), I couldn't help but think of this character as being, to couch this in American redneck terms, the goddess of guns and pussy. Think Sarah Palin, but with a brain. :mrgreen:

Quaker wrote:I get the impression the Jewish nation understands the power of narratives more than modern Western culture does.


And guess what? Many Jews don't treat it seriously half the time, and think fundamentalists who do are nuts! Indeed, one major Jewish holiday, namely Purim, includes lampooning as an essential part of the celebrations. Including sending themselves up. Some of the anally retentive fundies, including those creepy Dominionists I mentioned earlier, might learn a thing or two about this. Indeed, a modern novel, The Name Of The Rose by Umberto Eco, has toward its end an entire exposition on laughter as subversive of pomposity and bombast. From the film adaptation, here it is:



Quaker wrote:Those narratives are part of their social glue and underpin their social order (including the fantastic devotion to one day a week where families come together to share in that narrative of the ages).


Well I would argue that 20 centuries of surviving attempts to murder them wholesale constituted a far stronger social adhesive, but your mileage may vary.
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Re: Hi all

#5  Postby Quaker » Sep 16, 2013 11:54 am

Thank you Cali

But you do still seem to be begging the question. Why is social concern for others 'good' when other forms of evolved behaviour that involve physical violence between the members of the species (often males competing for mating rights) 'bad'? What is the empirical evidence to say one is ethically superior to the other?
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Re: Hi all

#6  Postby Nostalgia » Sep 16, 2013 2:37 pm

Quaker wrote:Thank you Cali

But you do still seem to be begging the question. Why is social concern for others 'good' when other forms of evolved behaviour that involve physical violence between the members of the species (often males competing for mating rights) 'bad'? What is the empirical evidence to say one is ethically superior to the other?


That's an excellent question.

As a atheist-agnostic and (I guess) a moral relativist I don't think there's an easy answer to that question. But I will say that "good" behavior is "good" because I deem it to be so - no more and no less. This is related to my belief that acting good for the sake of it is more worthy than acting good because of the carrot and stick of existential reward or punishment. You can debate until the cows come home whether altruism really exists. But if it does I hold that nontheists are closer to it than theists.
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Re: Hi all

#7  Postby Clive Durdle » Sep 16, 2013 3:00 pm


Every one of these idioms, phrases or cliches comes directly from the King James Authorized Version of the Bible


Probably not quite! Massive case f plagiarism from Tyndale!

And on moral values, I like Rawls.

The original position is a central feature of John Rawls's social contract account of justice, “justice as fairness,” set forth in A Theory of Justice (TJ). It is designed to be a fair and impartial point of view that is to be adopted in our reasoning about fundamental principles of justice. In taking up this point of view, we are to imagine ourselves in the position of free and equal persons who jointly agree upon and commit themselves to principles of social and political justice. The main distinguishing feature of the original position is “the veil of ignorance”: to insure impartiality of judgment, the parties are deprived of all knowledge of their personal characteristics and social and historical circumstances. They do know of certain fundamental interests they all have, plus general facts about psychology, economics, biology, and other social and natural sciences. The parties in the original position are presented with a list of the main conceptions of justice drawn from the tradition of social and political philosophy, and are assigned the task of choosing from among these alternatives the conception of justice that best advances their interests in establishing conditions that enable them to effectively pursue their final ends and fundamental interests. Rawls contends that the most rational choice for the parties in the original position are the two principles of justice. The first principle guarantees the equal basic rights and liberties needed to secure the fundamental interests of free and equal citizens and to pursue a wide range of conceptions of the good. The second principle provides fair equality of educational and employment opportunities enabling all to fairly compete for powers and prerogatives of office; and it secures for all a guaranteed minimum of the all-purpose means (including income and wealth) that individuals need to pursue their interests and to maintain their self-respect as free and equal persons.


http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/original-position/

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Re: Hi all

#8  Postby hackenslash » Sep 16, 2013 4:55 pm

Quaker wrote:Thank you Cali

But you do still seem to be begging the question. Why is social concern for others 'good' when other forms of evolved behaviour that involve physical violence between the members of the species (often males competing for mating rights) 'bad'? What is the empirical evidence to say one is ethically superior to the other?


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Re: Hi all

#9  Postby Quaker » Sep 16, 2013 5:07 pm

MacIver wrote:
Quaker wrote:Thank you Cali

But you do still seem to be begging the question. Why is social concern for others 'good' when other forms of evolved behaviour that involve physical violence between the members of the species (often males competing for mating rights) 'bad'? What is the empirical evidence to say one is ethically superior to the other?


That's an excellent question.

As a atheist-agnostic and (I guess) a moral relativist I don't think there's an easy answer to that question. But I will say that "good" behavior is "good" because I deem it to be so - no more and no less. This is related to my belief that acting good for the sake of it is more worthy than acting good because of the carrot and stick of existential reward or punishment. You can debate until the cows come home whether altruism really exists. But if it does I hold that nontheists are closer to it than theists.


I'm not a moral relativist, but I don't think there are any easy answers to always being sure what is 'good' and what is 'bad'. Unlike Cali, I do not see clear answers in science or empiricism. I see more pragmatic use in dialog, 'contemplation', and story telling. I would say, along with the Pope it seems, that we do have the ability to discern good and bad in our conscience (though I find many grey areas myself), and sometimes a collective conscience may be of benefit. But all of this presupposes that good and bad do exist, and I find it hard to see how those terms can be grounded soley in materialism or a study of developmental biology.
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Re: Hi all

#10  Postby hackenslash » Sep 16, 2013 5:24 pm

Quaker wrote:I'm not a moral relativist, but I don't think there are any easy answers to always being sure what is 'good' and what is 'bad'.


So you didn't even bother to read his post, then? You know, the one in which he pointed out the metric by which we make such determinations with no magic whatsoever?

Actually, I think I'll stop there and request a split for the thread, so we can get down to serious business, because this subforum isn't really the venue for this discussion.

I'll come back later after the split, assuming you survive Cali's next coprolitic barrage from an elevated vantage point.

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Although the wings of that particular member of the Morpho genus aren't particularly tiny...
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Re: Hi all

#11  Postby Quaker » Sep 16, 2013 5:50 pm

hackenslash wrote:
Quaker wrote:I'm not a moral relativist, but I don't think there are any easy answers to always being sure what is 'good' and what is 'bad'.


So you didn't even bother to read his post, then? You know, the one in which he pointed out the metric by which we make such determinations with no magic whatsoever?


The problem I had will Cali's post is that it seemed to me he was bypassed what makes a 'good' action actually 'good'. I would ask you the same follow-up question I asked Cali - what makes concern for others ethically better than another evolutionary development such as behaviour where males will seek to cause harm to other males in order to propagate their genes? Cali says empathy is good - and I agree totally with him, but I didn't see any grounding for empathy being ethically superior to other developed behavours in other species. Can Cali genuinely say some things are ethically or morally 'wrong' and base that judgement only on empiricism? I can see how the naturalist may explain how behaviours have developed, but I see nothing in there to say that one set of behaviours is ethically superior to another set of behaviours. I would see MacIver's acceptance of moral relativism much more in line with naturalism. Where I would have a problem with MacIver's view is that I very much doubt he (or she) can live consistently with the proposition of moral relativism where there is no real 'good' or 'bad'. Such a person would probably be regarded as a sociopath.

Now, I am not making a case for God here* (though I do believe conscience is consistent with the existence of God). Rather, I am challenging the view that empiricism and naturalism allows us to determine good from bad, right from wrong, ethical behaviour from unethical behaviour, moral actions from immoral actions (pick whichever antonyms you prefer).

*P.S. I do not think the existence of God can be proved. I believe it is something sensed from within, and it is a lifetime's journey to make a steadily better understanding of that sense.
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Re: Hi all

#12  Postby chairman bill » Sep 16, 2013 6:13 pm

Quaker wrote:... I am challenging the view that empiricism and naturalism allows us to determine good from bad, right from wrong, ethical behaviour from unethical behaviour, moral actions from immoral actions (pick whichever antonyms you prefer).
Good & bad are human constructs; whether individual preferences or socially agreed, they are not objective in the way that the laws of physics are. That isn't to say that they can't be arrived at through rationality, but there is an element that is visceral, unconscious, maybe innate.

*P.S. I do not think the existence of God can be proved. I believe it is something sensed from within, and it is a lifetime's journey to make a steadily better understanding of that sense.
Well some of us come to an early understanding that those inner 'senses' that people might call God/gods, are not evidence for supernaturalism at all. I know some theists are of the opinion that atheists haven't had the experiences they've had, but the reality is that we most probably have (to whatever extent we can be sure of a shared experience), we've simply interpreted it differently. My preference is to seek logical, rational, natural explanations. Others might prefer supernatural, irrational, illogical, & maybe more comforting explanations.
“There is a rumour going around that I have found God. I think this is unlikely because I have enough difficulty finding my keys, and there is empirical evidence that they exist.” Terry Pratchett
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Re: Hi all

#13  Postby Quaker » Sep 16, 2013 6:34 pm

chairman bill wrote:Good & bad are human constructs; whether individual preferences or socially agreed, they are not objective in the way that the laws of physics are. That isn't to say that they can't be arrived at through rationality, but there is an element that is visceral, unconscious, maybe innate.


Hi Bill

I can see you're treading a delicate line there. But if something is rational, can it really only be a human construct? I certainly agree with 'visceral, unconscious, maybe innate' as components of discerning good from bad. That seems to be the reality for many of us, and the thinking about it may come a little later.
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Re: Hi all

#14  Postby chairman bill » Sep 16, 2013 6:40 pm

Quaker wrote:I can see you're treading a delicate line there. But if something is rational, can it really only be a human construct? I certainly agree with 'visceral, unconscious, maybe innate' as components of discerning good from bad. That seems to be the reality for many of us, and the thinking about it may come a little later.


Well in terms of moral reasoning, rationality does have a significant part to play. That is different from the good/bad distinctions that are maybe of the innate 'disgust' form. But reasoning is a function of humans, not natural laws.
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Re: Hi all

#15  Postby Quaker » Sep 16, 2013 7:20 pm

chairman bill wrote:But reasoning is a function of humans, not natural laws.


Ooh, now that's an interesting view. But what if we replaced 'reasoning' with 'reason'? Is 'reason' not transcendental? And if 'reason' is transcendental wouldn't good 'reasoning' be the same?

BTW - I am no philosopher, so I am pretty much just thinking out loud here. But if reason is a human construct then doesn't the floor collapse from beneath us? I think that is what the philosopher Alvin Plantinger has said - that from a naturalistic viewpoint there is no expectation that our thinking should necessarily conform to truth - because that hasn't been the primary evolutionary driver.
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Re: Hi all

#16  Postby Calilasseia » Sep 16, 2013 9:23 pm

Quaker wrote:Thank you Cali

But you do still seem to be begging the question. Why is social concern for others 'good' when other forms of evolved behaviour that involve physical violence between the members of the species (often males competing for mating rights) 'bad'?


Er, I'm not begging the question, I answered it. For a social species, maximising harmonious interaction between members of a group thereof confers manifest benefits, in the form of energy no longer being wasted in conflict (a principle I'm sure that any Quaker would agree with), said energy therefore being made available for other productive tasks. In order to achieve this, members of that social species need to develop at least some basic cognitive machinery aimed at facilitating this, and one elegant way of doing so is to bestow upon said individuals the means to picture themselves in the position of others. Once empathy and selection for reciprocity is in place, the rest follows naturally. Namely, that members of a social species define 'good' as that which results in maximum benefit and harmony, and minimum conflict. As can be seen in those primates observed by Frans de Waal. Even if they don't understand that they're doing this on the level of abstract reasoning, that is what they are doing. Indeed, in my previous post, I explicitly stated that the New Testament recast this process as an ethical axiom. You might wonder why this was so, given that the part about "do unto others" is directly at variance with the Old Testament "eye for an eye" axiom.

Quaker wrote:What is the empirical evidence to say one is ethically superior to the other?


One produces far fewer corpses and maimed individuals. Next?

On a less facetious note, we have abundant evidence that life is better for us all if actions consonant with the rule of reciprocity are encouraged, than in the converse caee. Which is almost certainly why the NT converted it into an axiom.

Moving on ...

Quaker wrote:
MacIver wrote:That's an excellent question.

As a atheist-agnostic and (I guess) a moral relativist I don't think there's an easy answer to that question. But I will say that "good" behavior is "good" because I deem it to be so - no more and no less. This is related to my belief that acting good for the sake of it is more worthy than acting good because of the carrot and stick of existential reward or punishment. You can debate until the cows come home whether altruism really exists. But if it does I hold that nontheists are closer to it than theists.


I'm not a moral relativist, but I don't think there are any easy answers to always being sure what is 'good' and what is 'bad'.


And this brings me to another of the themes you'll find in past posts of mine, namely, that one is far more likely to obtain reliable results in this vein, by actually thinking about the issues, than by simply assuming mythology magically contains all the answers. Especially when demonstrating that mythology doesn't have all the answers is an elementary exercise.

Quaker wrote:Unlike Cali, I do not see clear answers in science or empiricism.


Oh, you don't think hard eperimental evidence supporting a given postulate provides clear answers? What was that about "embracing science" you said earlier?

I'm reminded at this juncture of this cartoon from XKCD:

Image

On the other hand, mythology frequently doesn't work. See my numerous past expositions on 1348 and the Black Death.

Quaker wrote:I see more pragmatic use in dialog, 'contemplation', and story telling.


Unfortunately, these have been used by propagandists for doctrine to spread bad ideas. That's the beauty of the scientific approach. It has a habit of weeding out bad ideas before they become pernicious, usually by demonstrating that observational reality disagrees with said bad ideas[ b]strongly[/b].

Quaker wrote:I would say, along with the Pope it seems, that we do have the ability to discern good and bad in our conscience (though I find many grey areas myself)


Er, what was that I posted previously? Oh, that's right, close on a dozen scientific papers demonstrating that the "conscience" is not only a product of our biology, but associated with a specific brain region. Did you read any of that material?

Quaker wrote:and sometimes a collective conscience may be of benefit.


Once again, do tell us all how mere assertions are purportedly "superior" to evidence with respect to this. I'm still waiting.

Quaker wrote:But all of this presupposes that good and bad do exist


No it doesn't. Not in the light of the knowledge that 'good' and 'bad' are terms we define as a result of applying reciprocity. Unfortunately, some have a habit of defining 'good' and 'bad' in terms of doctrinal assertions instead, and that's usually when the body county starts growing.

Quaker wrote:and I find it hard to see how those terms can be grounded soley in materialism or a study of developmental biology.


Read those papers and learn how.

Quaker wrote:The problem I had will Cali's post is that it seemed to me he was bypassed what makes a 'good' action actually 'good'.


It didn't. See above.

Quaker wrote:I would ask you the same follow-up question I asked Cali - what makes concern for others ethically better than another evolutionary development such as behaviour where males will seek to cause harm to other males in order to propagate their genes?


Actually, you'll find even in manifestly territorial species, that combat of this sort is ritualised. I've observed this over many years amongst Cichlids in my capacity as a tropical fishkeeper, these fishes being surprisingly close to humans behaviourally. You'll find a nice, if woefully anthropomorphised, account thereof, in Dr William T. Innes' book Exotic Aquarium Fishes, which I reproduced in a past post here.

Basically, male-male competition is ritualised right across the Animal Kingdom (along with several other classes of behaviour). Indeed, I'm aware of documented instances from the scientific literature that occur in insects. Amongst the most extensively studied being the Stalk Eyed Flies (Family Diopsidae), apposite papers thereto being these:

[1] Exaggerated Male Eye Span Influences Contest Outcome In Stalk-Eyed Flies (Diopsidae) by Tami N. Panhuis & Gerald S. Wilkinson, Behavioural Ecology & Sociobiology, 46: 221-227 (Accepted 12th March 1999) [Full paper downloadable from here]

Panhuis & Wilkinson, 1999 wrote:Abstract. Evolution of male weapons or status signals has been hypothesized to precede evolution of female mating preferences for those traits. We used staged male fights among three species of Malaysian stalk-eyed flies (Diptera: Diopsidae) to determine if elongated eye span, which is preferred by females in two sexually dimorphic species, influences contest outcome. Extreme sexual dimorphism, with large males possessing longer eye span than females, is shared by Cyrtodiopsis whitei and C. dalmanni. In contrast, C. quinqueguttata exhibits a more ancestral condition - short, sexually monomorphic eye stalks. Videotape analysis of 20-min paired contests revealed that males with larger eye span and body size won more fights in the dimorphic, but not monomorphic, species. To determine if males from the dimorphic species use eye span directly to resolve contests, we competed male C. dalmanni from lines that had undergone artificial selection for 30 generations to increase or decrease eye span. We found that eye span, independently of body size, determines contest outcome in selected-line males. Furthermore, in both dimorphic species, the average encounter duration declined as the eye span di€erence between contestants increased, as expected if males use eye span to assess opponent size. The number of encounters also increased with age in dimorphic, but not monomorphic, species. Selected-line males did not diff€er from outbred males in either fight duration or number of encounters. We conclude that exaggerated male eye stalks evolved to influence both competitive interactions and female mating preferences in these spectacular flies.


[2] Male Eye Span In Stalk-Eyed Flies Indicates Genetic Quality By Meiotic Drive Suppression by Gerald S. Wilkinson, Daven C. Presgraves & Lili Crymes, Nature, 391: 276-278 (15th January 1998) [[Full paper downloadable from here]

Wilkinson et al, 1998 wrote:In some species, females choose mates possessing ornaments that predict offspring survival1–5. However, sexual selection by female preference for male genetic quality6–8 remains controversial because conventional genetic mechanisms maintain insufficient
variation in male quality to account for costly preference and ornament evolution9,10. Here we show that females prefer ornaments that indicate genetic quality generated by transmission conflict between the sex chromosomes. By comparing sex-ratio distributions in stalk-eyed fly (Cyrtodiopsis) progeny we found that female-biased sex ratios occur in species exhibiting eye-stalk sexual dimorphism11,12 and female preferences for long eye
span13,14. Female-biased sex ratios result from meiotic drive15, the preferential transmission of a ‘selfish’X-chromosome. Artificial selection for 22 generations on male eye-stalk length in sexually dimorphic C. dalmanni produced longer eye-stalks and male-biased progeny sex ratios in replicate lines. Because male biased progeny sex ratios occurwhen a drive-resistant Y chromosome pairs with a driving X chromosome15, long eye span is genetically linked to meiotic drive suppression. Male eye span therefore signals genetic quality by influencing the reproductive value of offspring[/sup]16[/sup].


I'm aware of 14 papers in the literature on Diopsid flies, and my paper collection on these insects is far from complete.

For the record, here's a typical Stalk Eyed Fly, in this case Cyrtodiopsis dalmanni, the species featuring in the above papers:

Image

Basically, these flies have their eyes mounted on wide stalks, hence the name, and these bizarre eye ornaments are used by the females to determine the genetic quality of potential mates. In addition, the male flies will posture before each other in a ritualised sequence, to determine which one of the antagonists gets to keep a particular territory, and hence mate with any females entering said territory. The flies don't actually attack each other, instead, they square off and gauge the size of each other's eye stalks.

Closer to my UK home, a Dolichopodid fly, Poecilobothrus nobilitatus, uses the white wingtips seen in males to perform 'semaphore' type signalling, with two different classes of signal observed - one signal for male-male competition, the other for courtship signalling to females, and I've observed these flies in action in several occasions near my home.

In the case of Cichlid fishes, many of these fishes possess the ability to change colour during the breeding season, and numerous species acquire a truly spectacular raiment of colours when setting out to reproduce. A particularly fine example is this species from Lake Victoria, namely Xystichromis phytophagus, known in the aquarium hobby as the "Christmas Fulu":

Image

These fishes (of which the African Rift Lakes boast some 1,400 species alone), again, resort to ritualised combat in order to minimise actual injury, a feature you'll see in thousands of animal species. Far better for the species as a whole, that such competition be thus controlled, in order to minimise the risk of otherwise genetically fit individuals acquiring incapacitating injuries. Indeed, you'll find that ritualisation of combat is typically at its most developed, in those species possessing the most weapon-like tools for feeding, the deployment of said tools in anger during a territorial dispute carrying with it considerable risk of injury to both parties. Males are generally interested not in wasting vast quantities of energy kicking the shit out of each other, energy that they could better devote to actual mating, but in devising ways of seeing off competition with minimum expenditure of energy and minimum risk. But I note that all too frequently, supernaturalists have a parlous understanding of actual biology.

Now, if a mindless natural process can produce this result, namely males more interested in efficient and low risk competition, you might want to ask yourself why you, as a sentient being, were unable to work this out from first principles, when launching into your above question. Quite simply, the vast mountains of evidence available from 300 years of biological observation, let alone the actual published scientific papers, is that males generally only resort to actual warfare under significant provocation. Most of the time, the rituals are enough to establish who gets to do the shagging, and who gets to watch from the sidelines in frustration. This is before I start introducing scientific papers covering such things as homosexual insects using male-male copulation to decommission the genitalia of rivals. :)

Basically, from a purely practical standpoint, whatever results in us all getting along without going DEFCON 1, is generally better than behaviours that result in all the participants going nuclear at the slightest provocation. Something that's particularly pressing for our species, given that if we go DEFCON 1, we now have the capacity to destroy the entire planet 20 times over in the resulting ICBM exchanges. But once again, this brings me back to my essential point, namely, that on the basis of empathy and reciprocity, we define what is good and bad, in terms of what works within that framework. Plus, we have plenty of evidence of the shit that hits the fan when we don't do this. Namely, just about every war we've ever fought as a species, particularly in the last 100 years or so.

Quaker wrote:Cali says empathy is good - and I agree totally with him, but I didn't see any grounding for empathy being ethically superior to other developed behavours in other species.


See above.

Quaker wrote:Can Cali genuinely say some things are ethically or morally 'wrong' and base that judgement only on empiricism? I can see how the naturalist may explain how behaviours have developed, but I see nothing in there to say that one set of behaviours is ethically superior to another set of behaviours.


Once again, I cite as evidence, that ethically superior behaviours work without producing a massive body count. None of us wants to be slaughtered, after all.

Quaker wrote:I would see MacIver's acceptance of moral relativism much more in line with naturalism. Where I would have a problem with MacIver's view is that I very much doubt he (or she) can live consistently with the proposition of moral relativism where there is no real 'good' or 'bad'. Such a person would probably be regarded as a sociopath.


Strangely enough, the worst sociopaths have been those who insist upon enforcing conformity to an assertion based doctrine. See: just about every homicidal dictator in history. Another reason I have a strong antipathy for unsupported assertions.

Quaker wrote:Now, I am not making a case for God here* (though I do believe conscience is consistent with the existence of God). Rather, I am challenging the view that empiricism and naturalism allows us to determine good from bad, right from wrong, ethical behaviour from unethical behaviour, moral actions from immoral actions (pick whichever antonyms you prefer).


The points I'm making here, are that [1] at bottom, we erect axioms for the purpose of establishing ethical systems, and [2] empirical evidence certainly allows us to determine if those axioms are fulfilled by a given class of behaviours. Since reciprocity works for social species (and for a lot of others too), we choose that as our fundamental ethical axiom, and determine the ethical value of an action by empiricallly comparing the consonance of that behaviour with that axiom.

Quaker wrote:*P.S. I do not think the existence of God can be proved. I believe it is something sensed from within, and it is a lifetime's journey to make a steadily better understanding of that sense.


We've dealt with the sensus divinatus assertion before. Please don't make us break out the ordnance on that one.

Meanwhile, few of us here regard Plantinga as a real philosopher. He's a pedlar of apologetics, and a bad one at that. That you cite him in your latest post is very informative, not least with respect to your parlous understanding of biology.
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Re: Hi all

#17  Postby chairman bill » Sep 16, 2013 9:51 pm

Quaker wrote:... what if we replaced 'reasoning' with 'reason'? Is 'reason' not transcendental? And if 'reason' is transcendental wouldn't good 'reasoning' be the same?
In what way are you suggesting that reason is transcendental>

BTW - I am no philosopher, so I am pretty much just thinking out loud here. But if reason is a human construct then doesn't the floor collapse from beneath us? I think that is what the philosopher Alvin Plantinger has said - that from a naturalistic viewpoint there is no expectation that our thinking should necessarily conform to truth - because that hasn't been the primary evolutionary driver.
Plantinga is an apologist, not a philosopher. The latter seek some truth through the application of reason, whereas Plantinga seeks to use word-play to support his supernaturalism, which I would contend is a somewhat dishonest craft.

As for the specifics of the claim, thinking & reasoning are related, but one whilst reasoning is thinking, not all thinking is reasoning. So whereas our thinking need not necessarily conform to truth, the application of reason (which implies methodology) seeks to do precisely that.
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Re: Hi all

#18  Postby Quaker » Sep 16, 2013 10:07 pm

Cali

So whatever is the lowest energy means of survival is the ethically correct way to act? So what, if anything, distinguishes ethics from group survival? And what is it that makes low energy group or species survival ethically 'good'? You do seem to be still adopting a presupposition that we haven't bottomed out yet. Perhaps it may be useful to back up one step and ask you, Cali, what you understand by the terms 'ethical' and 'moral good'?
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Re: Hi all

#19  Postby Quaker » Sep 16, 2013 10:14 pm

Hi Bill

So you don't consider reason to be transcendental? Do you think there could be another species where, for example, the law of non-contradiction does not apply? It's an interesting thought. I have not come across a view that reason is not universal before. If that is the case surely there are no grounds that reason should lead us to truth. we should therefore abandon reason as a cornerstone of truth-seeking. Are you sure you want to keep heading in this direction?

May be I am misunderstanding you?
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Re: Hi all

#20  Postby hackenslash » Sep 16, 2013 11:18 pm

Must... resist...

Mods! Split please?!! I don't want to have to go all 'hot laser death' in the welcome forum, now do I?

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