Naturalization of Morality by Facts from Science

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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markus7
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Naturalization of Morality by Facts from Science

Post by markus7 » Mon Sep 19, 2016 12:25 am

Moral naturalism in modern moral philosophy proposes there are “natural facts” of one sort or another that provide an objective basis for what is and is not moral. Relevant science of the last 45 years or so supports the existence of such facts. However, I have never seen such natural facts specifically called out. Below is my proposed list of five. They provide a basis for morality that I find appealing. Comments are welcome.

In the following, “benefits of cooperation” are shared goals achieved by cooperation. “Indirect reciprocity” advocates punishment of “free-riders” along with cooperation with others regardless of whether they are expected to directly reciprocate. Additional explanatory information is in parentheses.

1) In our physical reality, benefits of cooperation are commonly available, and they can be particularly large for intelligent species.

2) However, initiating cooperation exposes one to exploitation by “free-riders”, those who accept help but refuse to provide help to others. (Exploitation of others is always a winning strategy in the short term and sometimes can be in the long term. Exploitation destroys motivation for cooperation and thus opportunities to obtain the benefits of cooperation.)

3) The above circumstances create the cross species universal cooperation/exploitation dilemma: how to sustainably obtain benefits of cooperation without being exploited.

4) Cooperation strategies such as “indirect reciprocity” solve this universal cooperation/exploitation dilemma and are encoded in our moral sense and cultural moral norms. (The benefits of cooperation made possible by indirect reciprocity are the selection force for elements of indirect reciprocity encoded in our biology and cultural norms. For example, the emotions empathy and loyalty motivate initiating indirect reciprocity. But for indirect reciprocity to be maintained, exploiters must be punished. Thus we must expect that violators of these elements of indirect reciprocity, whether encoded into our biology or in cultural norms, will be commonly thought to deserve punishment. Cultural norms and judgments whose violation are commonly thought to deserve punishment are called moral norms and moral judgments in all cultures. This is the way science grounds the human moral sense and cultural moral codes in natural facts.)

5) Strategies such as indirect reciprocity that overcome our universe’s innate cooperation/exploitation dilemma without exploiting others are universally moral, both empirically among people and theoretically for all intelligent beings.

Consider “Do not kill, steal, or lie”. These are norms whose violations are commonly thought to deserve punishment. These admonitions are heuristics (usually reliable, but fallible, rules of thumb) for elements of indirect reciprocity. Each of us is admonished to not do these things to other people, even when we really want to, and they are expected to reciprocate and not do them to us.

Perhaps the most powerful known heuristic for indirect reciprocity is “Do to others as you would have them do to you”. Jesus is quoted as saying it summarizes morality. Science now tells us why it does.

The morality of applying the Golden Rule has been rightly criticized for certain circumstances, such as when dealing with criminals and in time of war or simply “when tastes differ”. Understanding the Golden Rule is a heuristic for indirect reciprocity clears up a lot of confusion. First, the Golden Rule advocates initiating a cooperation strategy. If you are not seeking to cooperate in some sense with a criminal or an enemy in time of war, it would make no sense to apply it. Second, when “tastes differ” and you know others would not like done to them what you would like done to you, then strictly following it would initiate conflict, not cooperation. Finally, the Golden Rule is not a moral principle. It is an incredibly useful, but fallible, heuristic for choosing moral behavior.

But what about moral norms that exploit out-groups such as “Women must be submissive to men” and “Homosexuality is evil!” or are markers defining favored in-groups such as “Cutting your hair disrespects God” or “Eating pigs is an abomination!”? Empirically, these moral norms are not universally considered moral. Theoretically, they are not universally moral to the extent they exploit out-groups. If we prefer morality that is universal, then we can cheerfully reject all of these norms as either immoral or morally irrelevant.

Like the rest of science, 1) to 5) are all ‘is’ claims. How do we know they are the basis for what morality ‘ought’ to be? We don’t. Science tells us nothing about what we imperatively ‘ought’ to do or what our goals ought to be. Moral philosophers remain fully free to continue pursuing perhaps unanswerable questions about what morality ‘ought’ to be.

This science about morality is useful since it reveals strategies for achieving shared goals such as increased well-being through increased cooperation. Since these strategies solve the cross-species universal cooperation/exploitation dilemma, they can be expected to be recognized as moral ‘means’ by all sufficiently advanced intelligent beings.

The moral binding power of this science comes from un-mysterious sources: the social force of cultures that advocate and enforce such a morality, the motivating power of our individual moral sense, and the intellectual charm of a universal, internally coherent morality.

Cultures need moral codes in order to survive and prosper. On the one hand we can choose moral codes based on the morality that is innate to our universe. On the other hand, we can define our morality based on theism, whatever our cultural morality happens to be, or on perhaps unanswerable philosophical questions such as “What is good?”, “How should I live?” and “What are my obligations?”. Or since this science based morality makes no claim to define what we imperatively 'ought' to do, is the implication that we can choose only one of these possibilities a false choice?

Perhaps at least theists and philosophers asking the above questions (which are both interesting and important) could improve the coherence and usefulness of their work by integrating in what science tells us morality ‘is’: solutions to the universal cooperation/exploitation dilemma. Theists might even describe this science as the morality encoded into our physical universe by a benevolent god and thus available to all intelligent beings from the beginning of time to the end of time.

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Terrapin Station
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Re: Naturalization of Morality by Facts from Science

Post by Terrapin Station » Tue Sep 20, 2016 12:57 pm

X is a benefit.

Exploitation is to be avoided.

--neither of those are factual, objective or "is" claims.

Also, there is no universal (subjective) morality.

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Re: Naturalization of Morality by Facts from Science

Post by Walker » Tue Sep 20, 2016 1:16 pm

markus7 wrote:Cooperation strategies such as “indirect reciprocity” solve this universal cooperation/exploitation dilemma and are encoded …
TS wrote:Also, there is no universal (subjective) morality.
That’s because the morality of cooperation is objective morality if the presented encoding hypothesis is correct. This would relegate deviations from the encoding into the subjective and conditioned, which often overrides the natural mind of encoded cooperation. There's evidence for the override in many relationships involving folks.

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Re: Naturalization of Morality by Facts from Science

Post by markus7 » Tue Sep 20, 2016 11:31 pm

Terrapin Station wrote:X is a benefit.
Your implication is false that I have claimed science can define X (a benefit).
Exploitation is to be avoided.
What I actually said was cooperation strategies that exploit others are not universally moral. Whether you want to avoid them is a subjective choice.
--neither of those are factual, objective or "is" claims.
Of course neither are factual ‘is’ claims. They are your claims, not mine.
Also, there is no universal (subjective) morality.
I don't understand what you are trying to say here.

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Re: Naturalization of Morality by Facts from Science

Post by markus7 » Tue Sep 20, 2016 11:34 pm

Walker wrote:
markus7 wrote:Cooperation strategies such as “indirect reciprocity” solve this universal cooperation/exploitation dilemma and are encoded …
TS wrote:Also, there is no universal (subjective) morality.
That’s because the morality of cooperation is objective morality if the presented encoding hypothesis is correct. This would relegate deviations from the encoding into the subjective and conditioned, which often overrides the natural mind of encoded cooperation. There's evidence for the override in many relationships involving folks.
Walker, as I understand you to suggest, in addition to in-group cooperation strategies that are universally moral because they exploit no one, cooperation strategies that do exploit others are also encoded in our cultural norms. For example, the benefits of cooperation in in-groups can be increased by exploiting out-groups such as women and homosexuals. But these behaviors are not universally moral.

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Re: Naturalization of Morality by Facts from Science

Post by Terrapin Station » Wed Sep 21, 2016 1:08 am

Walker wrote:
markus7 wrote:Cooperation strategies such as “indirect reciprocity” solve this universal cooperation/exploitation dilemma and are encoded …
TS wrote:Also, there is no universal (subjective) morality.
That’s because the morality of cooperation is objective morality if the presented encoding hypothesis is correct. This would relegate deviations from the encoding into the subjective and conditioned, which often overrides the natural mind of encoded cooperation. There's evidence for the override in many relationships involving folks.
"Subjective" refers to whether something is a mental phenomenon. "Objective" is the complement--something that's not a mental phenomenon. "Encoding" doesn't make a difference there, especially since it would bean "encoded" mental phenomenon.

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Re: Naturalization of Morality by Facts from Science

Post by Terrapin Station » Wed Sep 21, 2016 1:16 am

Markus, you made comments about benefits, exploitation, etc. in the context of these introductory remarks:

"Moral naturalism in modern moral philosophy proposes there are 'natural facts' of one sort or another that provide an objective basis for what is and is not moral. Relevant science of the last 45 years or so supports the existence of such facts. However, I have never seen such natural facts specifically called out. Below is my proposed list of five. They provide a basis for morality that I find appealing. Comments are welcome."

In other words, that was your proposed list of five objective facts that provide a basis for what is and is not moral.

Hence why I commented that there's nothing factual about whether something counts as a benefit or as exploitation.

Re my other comment, I was pointing out that there's no universal morality. My parenthetical "subjective" was meant to say that there's also no contingently universal subjective morality (that is, it doesn't happen to be the case that for any moral stance, everyone agrees).

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Re: Naturalization of Morality by Facts from Science

Post by Terrapin Station » Wed Sep 21, 2016 1:22 am

markus7 wrote: in addition to in-group cooperation strategies that are universally moral because they exploit no one,
How would not exploiting anyone make something universally moral?
cooperation strategies that do exploit others are also encoded in our cultural norms.
I was trying to keep things focused on a couple issues, so I didn't get into any of the "coding" comments earlier, but I'm curious here what "encoded" adds.

What does "encoded in our cultural norms" say that's different than just saying that something is a cultural norm?

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Re: Naturalization of Morality by Facts from Science

Post by markus7 » Wed Sep 21, 2016 10:38 pm

Terrapin Station wrote:Markus, you made comments about benefits, exploitation, etc. in the context of these introductory remarks:

"Moral naturalism in modern moral philosophy proposes there are 'natural facts' of one sort or another that provide an objective basis for what is and is not moral. Relevant science of the last 45 years or so supports the existence of such facts. However, I have never seen such natural facts specifically called out. Below is my proposed list of five. They provide a basis for morality that I find appealing. Comments are welcome."


In other words, that was your proposed list of five objective facts that provide a basis for what is and is not moral.

Hence why I commented that there's nothing factual about whether something counts as a benefit or as exploitation.
Terrapin, nowhere in the above quote, or anywhere else, have I said the following are factual statements as you are claiming.
X is a benefit.
Exploitation is to be avoided.
Can you explain where you perceive I have claimed these are facts? I am curious because it might be useful in avoiding such misperceptions in the future. Such misperceptions help no one and frustrate all.

Here are my actual claims about five natural facts:

1) In our physical reality, benefits of cooperation are commonly available, and they can be particularly large for intelligent species.

2) However, initiating cooperation exposes one to exploitation by “free-riders”, those who accept help but refuse to provide help to others.

3) The above circumstances create the cross species universal cooperation/exploitation dilemma: how to sustainably obtain benefits of cooperation without being exploited.

4) Cooperation strategies such as “indirect reciprocity” solve this universal cooperation/exploitation dilemma and are encoded in our moral sense and cultural moral norms.

5) Strategies such as indirect reciprocity that overcome our universe’s innate cooperation/exploitation dilemma without exploiting others are universally moral, both empirically among people and theoretically for all intelligent beings.

Re my other comment, I was pointing out that there's no universal morality. My parenthetical "subjective" was meant to say that there's also no contingently universal subjective morality (that is, it doesn't happen to be the case that for any moral stance, everyone agrees).
Both empirically and for good theoretical reasons, people living in cooperative groups do universally agree that in-group cooperation strategies are moral. Morality exists as group norms. Individual ideas about morality, for example an egoist's ideas, can be irrelevant to what is universal about group norms.

The good theoretical reasons that in-group cooperation strategies are universal is that they are necessary for overcoming the cooperation/exploitation dilemma. If you can't do that, then you cannot form cooperative societies of the type at the core of human success as a species.

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Re: Naturalization of Morality by Facts from Science

Post by Terrapin Station » Wed Sep 21, 2016 10:47 pm

Let's try it this way, then:

Take this:

"1) In our physical reality, benefits of cooperation are commonly available"

What are we referring to with "benefits"?


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Re: Naturalization of Morality by Facts from Science

Post by markus7 » Thu Sep 22, 2016 2:44 am

Terrapin Station wrote:Let's try it this way, then:

Take this:

"1) In our physical reality, benefits of cooperation are commonly available"

What are we referring to with "benefits"?
From the OP:

"In the following, 'benefits of cooperation' are shared goals achieved by cooperation."

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Re: Naturalization of Morality by Facts from Science

Post by markus7 » Thu Sep 22, 2016 2:49 am

The topic here is a morality from science that is "instrumentally" useful for achieving common shared goals in a culture.

The naturalistic fallacy has nothing to do with what is instrumentally useful. It is irrelevant to this conversation.

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Re: Naturalization of Morality by Facts from Science

Post by Terrapin Station » Thu Sep 22, 2016 3:44 pm

markus7 wrote:
Terrapin Station wrote:Let's try it this way, then:

Take this:

"1) In our physical reality, benefits of cooperation are commonly available"

What are we referring to with "benefits"?
From the OP:

"In the following, 'benefits of cooperation' are shared goals achieved by cooperation."
So you're just referring to achieving shared goals (among the people who happen to share them) by "benefits"?

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Re: Naturalization of Morality by Facts from Science

Post by markus7 » Thu Sep 22, 2016 4:18 pm

Terrapin Station wrote:
markus7 wrote:
Terrapin Station wrote:Let's try it this way, then:

Take this:

"1) In our physical reality, benefits of cooperation are commonly available"

What are we referring to with "benefits"?
From the OP:

"In the following, 'benefits of cooperation' are shared goals achieved by cooperation."
So you're just referring to achieving shared goals (among the people who happen to share them) by "benefits"?
Right. I don't see how science can tell us what our goals ought to be, or what benefits we ought to pursue. But science can tell us the origins and function of our moral sense and cultural moral norms. As it happens, that knowledge is useful (and even necessary) for refining cultural moral norms to achieve, through increased cooperation, whatever our shared goals are.
Last edited by markus7 on Thu Sep 22, 2016 9:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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