A Critique on Objective Morality

Should you think about your duty, or about the consequences of your actions? Or should you concentrate on becoming a good person?

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Obvious Leo
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Re: A Critique on Objective Morality

Post by Obvious Leo » Mon Apr 11, 2016 11:24 pm

IC. I have no intention of debating evolutionary theory with you but will simply agree that very few lay people in the community know the first thing about it. The misinformation propagated by the "Intelligent Design" brigade has been remarkably effective but biologists themselves are by no means blameless in this regard.

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Hobbes' Choice
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Re: A Critique on Objective Morality

Post by Hobbes' Choice » Mon Apr 11, 2016 11:31 pm

Obvious Leo wrote:
Dubious wrote:If the Golden Rule is a principal then it's one based on instinct which even animals possess impervious to critique...a natural phenomenon and not one WE in principal have created. It's not based on any human authority filed under the rubric of any objective morality but foremost on human instinct which is still centered in nature as are the instincts of all animals.

I regard it more as a natural law than any overt moral principal,
Agreed. The observance of the Golden Rule is ubiquitous in nature and perfectly compatible with evolutionary theory. Henry's extreme Darwinist model of the dog-eat-dog world is a vast over-simplification of the way the natural world actually operates.
Croc of shite; like all rules: depends.

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Re: A Critique on Objective Morality

Post by Dubious » Tue Apr 12, 2016 12:11 am

Immanuel Can wrote: Vehemently disagree if you wish. But I didn't say anything about "sufficient cause."
I know! I was just being facetious, as you often are, being so in love with philosophy speak.
Immanuel Can wrote:If you affirm a singular, universal moral principle, (or more) then the simple fact is that by definition you're a moral objectivist. And that's definitional: that is, it's not even possible to dispute without thereby denying the meaning of the words "moral objectivist."
The problem is that you keep applying the word “moral” where I keep on excluding it in reference to something more fundamental than the word would imply.
Dubious wrote:I didn't say it wasn't "objective" if you really want to apply that term. I simply said it wasn't "morally" objective. The Golden Rule to me is nature's version of Contract Law. Nothing explicitly moral about it.
Immanuel Can wrote:Oh. So you don't think it has any force of moral obligation...nobody owes anybody to follow the GR? For that is the inevitable implication of your view: if it's not moral, then it comes with no "ought-ness," no duty for anyone to care about it or follow it.
Not quite right! The Golden Rule (hate that phrase, it sounds so superficial) as primarily contained in instinct, can easily be translated into a unique moral principal by humans. Among animals it signifies the intra-species cooperation which blends the individual into a group and where “survival of the fittest” becomes a group endeavor. It's a priority since the loner has no chance of survival and not functional where Evolution is concerned. Even a primal kind of empathy for creatures outside their group have been documented.
Immanuel Can wrote:Well, if you think it's not a moral precept, then what's the use of mentioning it at all? All you've really said is "There's a thing out there that nobody has a duty to pay any attention to." :shock:
No! that's not what I said. That's what YOU said I said. Whether or not one has a duty in its performance is up to the individual and to circumstances. In business nowadays it seems thoroughly inapplicable whereas one time it was an essential duty in any transaction.

Obvious Leo
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Re: A Critique on Objective Morality

Post by Obvious Leo » Tue Apr 12, 2016 12:40 am

Dubious wrote: Even a primal kind of empathy for creatures outside their group have been documented.
In many of the higher order mammals and birds the word "empathy" would be the valid one in this context. However for the algae which photosynthesise within coral polyps this word is probably not appropriate. There's a small species of bird whose name I forget which has developed a remarkable relationship with saltwater crocodiles. The crocodile lies there with his mouth wide open and the little bird hops around inside it picking the crap out of his teeth. The crocodile gets free dental treatment and the bird gets a free feed. What has all this got to do with morality? Nothing! There's no such thing as morality in nature, just a whole lot of learning how to get along.

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Greta
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Re: A Critique on Objective Morality

Post by Greta » Tue Apr 12, 2016 12:52 am

One philosopher who sincerely tries to "walk the walk" with a detailed morality is Peter Singer and, having heard of the efforts he makes to live up to his ideals, I'd say it's not for the faint-hearted; a difficult path.
Immanuel Can wrote:I know Singer, of course. And I would agree he does indeed do a fair bit to live in accordance with his principles -- he reputedly gives a stable slice of his income to charity, for instance. If that's true, I think your comment is warranted.

At the same time, Singer has a problem: he's an ethical consequentialist -- and that means that he has to specify at least one moral principle, and say that it binds everyone. Because without having "the right consequence," no consequentialist system turns out to be informative of morality.

So I'm forced to wonder, how do you know that Singer's consequentialism (his is a form of utilitarianism, really) is oriented to "the right consequence"? For it is quite possible for a different person to be, say, a consequentialist hedonist, or a consequentialist 'speciesist' (to borrow one of Singer's own terms), or a consequentialist racial supremacist like Hitler.

How do we eliminate the "bad" consequentialisms and secure only the good ones? On what principle must all such consequences be judged?
My best guess is that, at present, Singer is actually on the losing side and it's important that they ultimately lose. That is, if humankind and its works (and the biosphere's DNA) are to survive the Earth's heating in the next billion years then it will be saved in only a few - the elite. The survival of humanity almost by definition requires the sacrifice and abandonment of not only the nature that birthed us, but also most humans. In the end, a few elites may escape the dying planet, preserving only what can be held as information leaving the hoi polloi and whatever nature is left to act as ballast until being cut loose to fry in the expanding star's radiation. The alternative is that we all die out together as a (relatively) happy family a long time beforehand - rich, poor and other species - in which case every aspect of the great journey of the biosphere and all it's ever done is dissipated into the cosmos, lost and wasted forever.

Still, I see great value in the kindness of Singer's approach and the attempt to slow and temper the almost inevitable replacement of the natural world with whatever humans will become. As they say, slow growth is good growth (because more information can be carried to the mature form). However, with seven billion people and rising, time is not on our side. So there is a tension between progress and mercy and IMO each is essential, and a lack of either would surely be fatal for our descendants.

The Golden Rule is the Swiss army knife of morality. The tool can't do everything but it can cover for many situations in a pinch. One of the few things I truly believe in is the intrinsic value of love and kindness. As with any belief, there is no valid rational explanation for it, just a few anecdotes and rationalisations underpinning the simple fact that I am attracted to love and kindness.

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Immanuel Can
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Re: A Critique on Objective Morality

Post by Immanuel Can » Tue Apr 12, 2016 1:18 am

Dubious wrote:No! that's not what I said. That's what YOU said I said. Whether or not one has a duty in its performance is up to the individual and to circumstances.
What I mean is that that is the clear implication of your view. By the logic of your account, nobody is obliged to pay any attention to the GR...so what's the point of it?
In business nowadays it seems thoroughly inapplicable whereas one time it was an essential duty in any transaction.
This is an interesting point to dwell on. Weber famously said that basic capitalism depends on the common holding of certain stable moral values. Absent them, suppliers don't feel obliged to keep their commitments, clients don't feel obliged to pay on time, workers start to think it's permissible to steal time and resources from the employer, the employer sees their workforce as merely a force they can work, and so on. So maybe it's still applicable, and a lot of the business dysfunction we now witness is a product of the decay of these common moral assumptions such as those represented by the GR...

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Immanuel Can
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Re: A Critique on Objective Morality

Post by Immanuel Can » Tue Apr 12, 2016 1:48 am

Obvious Leo wrote:There's a small species of bird whose name I forget which has developed a remarkable relationship with saltwater crocodiles.
Where I grew up, we just called them "crocodile birds." :) Apparently it's a variety of plover, though.

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Re: A Critique on Objective Morality

Post by Obvious Leo » Tue Apr 12, 2016 2:25 am

Immanuel Can wrote:Apparently it's a variety of plover, though.
Thank you. It's a rather obvious example but the natural world has literally millions more less obvious ones where different species co-operate with each other for mutual benefit. Such behavioural adaptations cannot be accounted for simply by using the natural selection or "survival of the fittest" paradigm generally attributed to Darwin. It's also worth noting that this phrase was not one which Darwin himself ever used but rather one which he would recoil from in horror. It truly isn't the way evolution works at all and no modern biologist would defend it. Instead of thinking of an organism evolving within a biosphere we must see the entire biosphere as evolving and taking the individual components along for the ride. This is a more holistic picture which Spinoza could relate to.

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Immanuel Can
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Re: A Critique on Objective Morality

Post by Immanuel Can » Tue Apr 12, 2016 2:38 am

Obvious Leo wrote:
Immanuel Can wrote:Apparently it's a variety of plover, though.
Thank you. It's a rather obvious example but the natural world has literally millions more less obvious ones where different species co-operate with each other for mutual benefit. Such behavioural adaptations cannot be accounted for simply by using the natural selection or "survival of the fittest" paradigm generally attributed to Darwin.
Quite true. My favourite example is of triadic, parasitic symbiosis, from that notoriously Christian Intelligent Design organization...National Geographic... :lol: It shows a snail parasite that cannot live for even one life cycle without a warm-blooded host and very special adaptations that allow the parasite to induce perfectly atypical, counter-survival behaviours in a snail. It's wildly odd.

For your entertainment, here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Go_LIz7kTok. I think you'll find it fascinating.

Now, how can such behaviours come about by Darwinian gradualism of any kind, since all three organisms have to be complete, proximate and viable before the parasite can complete even one single life cycle? They really can't. Without all three, and all in their complete form, there's no reason the parasite even exists, and no plausible explanation of how that particular symbiosis could even come about.

Such profound mysteries suggest our science of origins is far from conclusive and has a lot of riddles yet to solve. Symbiosis is one of the thorniest, it seems to me.

However, I don't think parasitism like that can reasonably be based on the Golden Rule. That would be an odd interpretation, would it not?

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Re: A Critique on Objective Morality

Post by Dubious » Tue Apr 12, 2016 3:05 am

Immanuel Can wrote:
In business nowadays it seems thoroughly inapplicable whereas one time it was an essential duty in any transaction.
This is an interesting point to dwell on. Weber famously said that basic capitalism depends on the common holding of certain stable moral values. Absent them, suppliers don't feel obliged to keep their commitments, clients don't feel obliged to pay on time, workers start to think it's permissible to steal time and resources from the employer, the employer sees their workforce as merely a force they can work, and so on. So maybe it's still applicable, and a lot of the business dysfunction we now witness is a product of the decay of these common moral assumptions such as those represented by the GR...
...no counter arguments to offer against this conclusion. The truth of it couldn't be clearer in today's world.

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Re: A Critique on Objective Morality

Post by Obvious Leo » Tue Apr 12, 2016 3:23 am

Immanuel Can wrote: Now, how can such behaviours come about by Darwinian gradualism of any kind, since all three organisms have to be complete, proximate and viable before the parasite can complete even one single life cycle? They really can't. Without all three, and all in their complete form, there's no reason the parasite even exists, and no plausible explanation of how that particular symbiosis could even come about.

Such profound mysteries suggest our science of origins is far from conclusive and has a lot of riddles yet to solve. Symbiosis is one of the thorniest, it seems to me.
None of this stuff is in the least bit mysterious to a systems biologist for the reason which I gave. However I'll grant that it might appear so to those unschooled in the major principles of modern evolutionary theory, which includes bloody near everybody. The Intelligent Design fruitloops are merely indulging in the traditional "science of the gaps" argument to cloak their own lack of understanding of what is admittedly a very complex paradigm.
Immanuel Can wrote:However, I don't think parasitism like that can reasonably be based on the Golden Rule. That would be an odd interpretation, would it not?
Indeed it would. The Golden Rule in this scenario becomes merely a human interpretation of what is a basic self-organising principle of an ever-changing nature so morality is not an issue which weighs heavily on the mind of a biologist and neither should it. In a world which is only definable in the language of its changes why should morality be any different?

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Re: A Critique on Objective Morality

Post by Immanuel Can » Tue Apr 12, 2016 3:24 am

Dubious wrote:...no counter arguments to offer against this conclusion. The truth of it couldn't be clearer in today's world.
Yeah.

The Worldcom scam, the Subprime Mortgage Crisis...these sorts of bad business deals seem to me to be not just mistakes, but major moral failings as well. When you sell shareholders on unreal investments and false stock readings, or bundle bad debts and sell them off, speculating at the expense of the poor, or move a company to an impoverished country in order to exploit deplorable working conditions and a lack of national work regulations...well, these things have a moral dimension, not just a practical one.

But, since as I am so often told, objective morality doesn't exist, I suppose even these things must not be "bad"...so long as the perpetrators are able to get away with them.

To which my response can only be, "Really?"

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Immanuel Can
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Re: A Critique on Objective Morality

Post by Immanuel Can » Tue Apr 12, 2016 3:36 am

Obvious Leo wrote: "science of the gaps" argument to cloak their own lack of understanding of what is admittedly a very complex paradigm.
Neither "science of the gaps" nor "God of the gaps" theories are sensible. But it's only the scientifically naive and those who are naive about Theism who ever make them, so I think we can safely dismiss them both.
Immanuel Can wrote:However, I don't think parasitism like that can reasonably be based on the Golden Rule. That would be an odd interpretation, would it not?
Indeed it would. The Golden Rule in this scenario becomes merely a human interpretation of what is a basic self-organising principle of an ever-changing nature so morality is not an issue which weighs heavily on the mind of a biologist and neither should it.
Ah, but with the new biotechnologies, as mankind's range of biological interventions continues to increase, I think moral judgment for biologists is an asset of increasing value, don't you?
In a world which is only definable in the language of its changes why should morality be any different?
Well, because "change" is nothing but a description of a natural process, and morality is a prescription of human behavioural choices. They're items in different categories and modes of philosophy. One cannot merely "describe" morality and make any sense of it, because once you eliminate the prescriptive element one is left with nothing useful to say about it at all.

For example, it may be true to describe Somalia as a nation that has a tradition of forcible female circumcision. But that's just to say what they traditionally do. In order to go beyond that, we need a prescription, such as "forcible female circumcision is wrong." Yet description never gives us that much. So description will never tell us whether we owe it to Somali women to stop the practice, or to encourage it, or to tolerate it. It will leave us morally impotent -- unable to know how to act -- just when we need real direction.

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Re: A Critique on Objective Morality

Post by Obvious Leo » Tue Apr 12, 2016 4:12 am

Immanuel Can wrote:Neither "science of the gaps" nor "God of the gaps" theories are sensible. But it's only the scientifically naive and those who are naive about Theism who ever make them, so I think we can safely dismiss them both.
Quite so. Conflating the unknown with the supernatural is an unworthy exercise for an examined mind. Biology is the most complex of all the sciences by many orders of magnitude so humility is very much the default mind-set for our fraternity. We're confident in the bigger picture but fleshing out the details will in all likelihood occupy many more centuries.
Immanuel Can wrote: Ah, but with the new biotechnologies, as mankind's range of biological interventions continues to increase, I think moral judgment for biologists is an asset of increasing value, don't you?
Very much so. Chemistry was the science of the 19th century, and physics held the chair through the 20th, but the 21st century belongs to those who study the science of life and with this comes grave responsibilities. If we fuck it up our entire species goes into the wastebasket of nature's failures, just as 99.9 % of all species which ever evolved have done before us. We face a stern test because of this:

"The survival value of human intelligence has never been satisfactorily demonstrated"...Michael Crichton.
Immanuel Can wrote: For example, it may be true to describe Somalia as a nation that has a tradition of forcible female circumcision. But that's just to say what they traditionally do. In order to go beyond that, we need a prescription, such as "forcible female circumcision is wrong." Yet description never gives us that much. So description will never tell us whether we owe it to Somali women to stop the practice, or to encourage it, or to tolerate it. It will leave us morally impotent -- unable to know how to act -- just when we need real direction.
What exactly is it that you're advocating. Female genital mutilation is unlawful in my country because it offends the moral sensibilities of the Australian people and for no other reason. Are you trying to suggest that the practice is immoral for some other reason? What about homosexuality in Uganda, foot-binding in China, child brides in Ethiopia, etc etc. Because you and I are horrified at such injustice are we then to put ourselves on the moral pedestal and declare it so for all of humanity. I'm an arrogant bastard but I'm not willing to go that far.

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Re: A Critique on Objective Morality

Post by Dubious » Tue Apr 12, 2016 4:43 am

Immanuel Can wrote:
The Worldcom scam, the Subprime Mortgage Crisis...these sorts of bad business deals seem to me to be not just mistakes, but major moral failings as well. When you sell shareholders on unreal investments and false stock readings, or bundle bad debts and sell them off, speculating at the expense of the poor, or move a company to an impoverished country in order to exploit deplorable working conditions and a lack of national work regulations...well, these things have a moral dimension, not just a practical one.
...all obviously true!
Immanuel Can wrote:But, since as I am so often told, objective morality doesn't exist, I suppose even these things must not be "bad"...so long as the perpetrators are able to get away with them.
Since you understood virtually nothing of what I said whether purposely or actually any further attempts would be futile. It seems to me that we disagree less in principal than we do in terminology which clearly is not likely to get resolved.

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