The universal aim of ethics

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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prof
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The universal aim of ethics

Post by prof » Sat Jul 14, 2012 7:20 am

Kevin Tomascik argues that the universal aim of ethics is the aim toward personal well-being. He claims "it is an aim that is inherent to our biological makeup, and is in our genes so to speak." Yet, he goes on to say: "it’s very unlikely that this aim alone could provide any real moral guidance." Then he offers an analogy to help explain what he means.

He writes: "Knowing the universal aim is a bit like knowing an address to a house in an unfamiliar town—it might help a little in finding the directions, but you still need to actually find them or you risk getting lost." The way to get to the actual location in this 'unfamiliar town', that is, "the way to determine which actions to take that will be most likely to lead us toward our own well-being is ... by using the most reliable means of obtaining accurate information that are available to us (i.e., scientific inquiry, critical thinking, various methods of empirical observation, etc.)" Those, he argues, will "determine the best way to proceed."

I think he has something there. He is rooting a universal standard of some sort in our very biology, and he looks to scientific methods to give us guidance in applying what we inherently yearn for ...how to achieve the highest quality of life. { :idea: It may just turn out that promoting the happiness and flourishing of other people is the way we achieve it for ourselves....}

I'd like to know what you think. Is he on the right track? Do most normal people have a built-in impulse toward altruism? Has the science of Brain Neurology discovered such an area of the brain?

If so, what are the implications of this?

Veritas Aequitas
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Re: The universal aim of ethics

Post by Veritas Aequitas » Sat Jul 14, 2012 9:19 am

I can agree with the above, but human beings need not [merely use] the scientific methods, but all relevant methods, especially philosophy in its widest sense to chart the optimal actions to be taken to promote well-being.

The inherent universal aim of ethics is analogical to the inherent 'flying south during late autumn' instinct for migratory birds in the US and Canada.
The difference for humans is the elements of limited free-will and self-consciousness to plan and chart maps before the ethics journey.

Neuroscientists have discovered mirror neurons which can help to play a role in promoting ethics.
It is not a question of altruism, compassion or empathy as imperatives for ethics, but rather how the above are optimize to the specific circumstances. As such, we will have to look for neural correlates that correspond to the competency to optimize rather than focus heavily a specific circuitry for altruism, compassion and the likes.
Last edited by Veritas Aequitas on Sun Jul 15, 2012 3:03 am, edited 1 time in total.

Nick_A
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Re: The universal aim of ethics

Post by Nick_A » Sun Jul 15, 2012 12:18 am

Who has a higher quality of life than a dictator surrounded by obedient slaves who satisfy all the needs of the dictator? There is simply no intellectual reason to deny this ethical goal of self serving supremacy

Ginkgo
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Re: The universal aim of ethics

Post by Ginkgo » Sun Jul 15, 2012 2:14 am

prof wrote:Kevin Tomascik argues that the universal aim of ethics is the aim toward personal well-being. He claims "it is an aim that is inherent to our biological makeup, and is in our genes so to speak." Yet, he goes on to say: "it’s very unlikely that this aim alone could provide any real moral guidance." Then he offers an analogy to help explain what he means.

He writes: "Knowing the universal aim is a bit like knowing an address to a house in an unfamiliar town—it might help a little in finding the directions, but you still need to actually find them or you risk getting lost." The way to get to the actual location in this 'unfamiliar town', that is, "the way to determine which actions to take that will be most likely to lead us toward our own well-being is ... by using the most reliable means of obtaining accurate information that are available to us (i.e., scientific inquiry, critical thinking, various methods of empirical observation, etc.)" Those, he argues, will "determine the best way to proceed."

I think he has something there. He is rooting a universal standard of some sort in our very biology, and he looks to scientific methods to give us guidance in applying what we inherently yearn for ...how to achieve the highest quality of life. { :idea: It may just turn out that promoting the happiness and flourishing of other people is the way we achieve it for ourselves....}

I'd like to know what you think. Is he on the right track? Do most normal people have a built-in impulse toward altruism? Has the science of Brain Neurology discovered such an area of the brain?

If so, what are the implications of this?


I think it depends if we can say rational intuition in ethics (apriori) and an empirical account of ethics (Humean ethics) are really one and the same thing. It might work if we can say that an empirical account is really in the end an inter-subjective account and therefore qualifies as a universal theory- in exactly the same way as rational intuition in ethics is universal.

Perhaps it could also be said in reference to the importance of well being when it comes to the scientific method in general. One could argue that when it comes to science our methodology always reflects the interest of our well being.

Imagine a world exactly the same as ours but the difference being that in this world the people produce scientific methodologies and scientific statements minus the altruism. One might further argue the science produced in this world would look completely difference to the science in our world. Impossible to prove of course.

prof
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Re: The universal aim of ethics

Post by prof » Mon Jul 16, 2012 8:16 am

Ginkgo wrote:
prof wrote:...He is rooting a universal standard of some sort in our very biology, and he looks to scientific methods to give us guidance in applying what we inherently yearn for ...how to achieve the highest quality of life. { :idea: It may just turn out that promoting the happiness and flourishing of other people is the way we achieve it for ourselves....}
I think it depends if we can say rational intuition in ethics (apriori) and an empirical account of ethics (Humean ethics) are really one and the same thing. ...

Imagine a world exactly the same as ours but the difference being that in this world the people produce scientific methodologies and scientific statements minus the altruism. One might further argue the science produced in this world would look completely difference to the science in our world. Impossible to prove of course.
A 'rational intuition,' being conceptual, is not the same thing as an empirical event, which is more perceptual and experiential, but "an empirical account" as you mean it might be conceptual also, and thus in a sense "the same."

With regard to the world you imagined, anything you want to say about it can get by, since you are spinning this (fictional) story, but if you start to believe any proposition about this hypothetical world, William K. Clifford, who wrote a book on THE ETHICS OF BELIEF, would protest based on the arguments he gave in that book. He had a running controversy going with William James. For a summary of it, see the discussion in Katz - Ethical Explorations, pp. 34-37. Here is a link to it:
http://tinyurl.com/22ohd2x
Be careful what you believe, he warns, especially anything that for which no evidence can be offered.

Ginkgo
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Re: The universal aim of ethics

Post by Ginkgo » Mon Jul 16, 2012 11:23 am

prof wrote:
Ginkgo wrote:
prof wrote:...He is rooting a universal standard of some sort in our very biology, and he looks to scientific methods to give us guidance in applying what we inherently yearn for ...how to achieve the highest quality of life. { :idea: It may just turn out that promoting the happiness and flourishing of other people is the way we achieve it for ourselves....}
I think it depends if we can say rational intuition in ethics (apriori) and an empirical account of ethics (Humean ethics) are really one and the same thing. ...

Imagine a world exactly the same as ours but the difference being that in this world the people produce scientific methodologies and scientific statements minus the altruism. One might further argue the science produced in this world would look completely difference to the science in our world. Impossible to prove of course.
A 'rational intuition,' being conceptual, is not the same thing as an empirical event, which is more perceptual and experiential, but "an empirical account" as you mean it might be conceptual also, and thus in a sense "the same."

With regard to the world you imagined, anything you want to say about it can get by, since you are spinning this (fictional) story, but if you start to believe any proposition about this hypothetical world, William K. Clifford, who wrote a book on THE ETHICS OF BELIEF, would protest based on the arguments he gave in that book. He had a running controversy going with William James. For a summary of it, see the discussion in Katz - Ethical Explorations, pp. 34-37. Here is a link to it:
http://tinyurl.com/22ohd2x
Be careful what you believe, he warns, especially anything that for which no evidence can be offered.


Hullo Prof,

I think that it doesn't really matter if we have a universal aim in ethics so long as it is grounded in experience. So I agree with we need to be careful with our beliefs. However, I do find the universal aim of ethics interesting and this is why I put in my thought experiment.

I am just wondering if Tomascik is alluding to something like the synthetic apriori? I say this in reference to the claim that we seem to have a natural impulse toward altruism. In other words do you think that when it comes to synthesizing two concepts into a proposition regarding morality the mind necessarily does two things. It puts together things we are aware of and these judgements must have a certain quality about them. The mind necessarily imposes categories in determining how the empirical concept is to be understood.

Do you think this is what he is trying to say?

prof
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Re: The universal aim of ethics

Post by prof » Wed Jul 18, 2012 2:18 am

Ginkgo wrote:Hullo Prof,

I agree we need to be careful with our beliefs. However, I do find the universal aim of ethics interesting ....

I am just wondering if Tomascik is alluding to something like the synthetic apriori? I say this in reference to the claim that we seem to have a natural impulse toward altruism. In other words do you think that when it comes to synthesizing two concepts into a proposition regarding morality the mind necessarily does two things. It puts together things we are aware of and [the] mind necessarily imposes categories in determining how the empirical concept is to be understood.

Do you think this is what he is trying to say?
Yes. You hit on a deep insight. It is what Robert S. Hartman called "an axiom." It is partly a construction of the mind, and partly based on empirical observation; and it is a fertile idea capable of generating an entire system, once its implications are spun out. Here are some examples.

For Physics the axiom is the concept of energy transformation.
The ‘axiom’ for Chemistry is The Law of Conservation of
Energy. It suggested the possibility of setting up chemical equations. They show that mass and volumes are the same both before and after a chemical reaction. This launched a science that was quite new in the early 1700s. For Biology, we would venture to suggest that the ‘axiom’ is the definition of a living cell.

You know the axiom for value science, which is the definition of value itself. X is an element of a concept, named C. And x possesses properties, which our senses can perceive. The concept has a meaning, consisting of property-names. These are called “attributes.”

If the attributes match the properties [ as a map might accurately match its territory] then - if it does correspond - the map is a good one, …and so is x. And x. can be anything. Allow me to explain:

(Something is likely to be called “valuable” if it fulfills its purpose, if it has one; or if its properties match the concept of which it is an example. When something is as it is supposed to be (in the mind of the judge doing the valuing) then it has some value; if it’s all there, under its concept, it is “good”.

I could explain further, but I'll cut it off here. His value science serves to spin out an Ethics.

duszek
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Re: The universal aim of ethics

Post by duszek » Wed Jul 18, 2012 7:22 pm

Personal well-being ?
Is it different for everyone or are generalizations possible ?

People usually feel well when they accomplish a creative act. It can be just a statement.

This at least is safer than stimulating the pleasure spot in one´s brain. A rat did and died of dehydration.

prof
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Re: The universal aim of ethics

Post by prof » Sun Jul 22, 2012 8:55 am

Veritas Aequitas wrote:I can agree ...
Neuroscientists have discovered mirror neurons which can help to play a role in promoting ethics.
It is not a question of altruism, compassion or empathy as imperatives for ethics, but rather how the above are optimize to the specific circumstances. As such, we will have to look for neural correlates that correspond to the competency to optimize rather than focus heavily a specific circuitry for altruism, compassion and the likes.
Hi, Veritas

Thanks for your support.

Have any neural correlates (of any kind) that "correspond to the the competency to optimize" to a specific circumstance ever been found?

Here is a link to a brief video - I highly recommend to everyone's attention - that graphically and amusingly teaches about the mirror neurons, how they were discovered, and their relation to empathy. - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7AWnfFRc7g

It also alludes to what I have named The Inclusivity Principle of Ethics, namely Include more and more people in your in-group; Expand your ethical radius.

LukeS
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Re: The universal aim of ethics

Post by LukeS » Sat Aug 25, 2012 4:15 pm

I agree that well being is good. That seems almost to be true by definition.

LukeS
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Re: The universal aim of ethics

Post by LukeS » Sat Aug 25, 2012 4:16 pm

Nick_A wrote:Who has a higher quality of life than a dictator surrounded by obedient slaves who satisfy all the needs of the dictator? There is simply no intellectual reason to deny this ethical goal of self serving supremacy
What goes around comes around? Culture is shared.

prof
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Re: The universal aim of ethics

Post by prof » Thu Dec 20, 2012 8:50 am

Going back to the theme of the original post, and attempting to tie together and synthesize what many of you have written in response I would make the following observations, concepts that I have learned while reading up on ethics:

To be "rational" is to have good reasons for what you do, and it is to act in your long-term self-interest not merely in what appears to be your short-term self-interest.

A "good reason" is a moral reason, one that complies with the principles of Ethics - not original with me - but you will find them embedded in the writing of M. C. Katz - links to which have been given in my other threads here. A list of them are given at the end of Aspects of Ethics: views through a new lens http://tinyurl.com/36u6gpo ...which is the fourth part of his Unified Theory of Ethics.
http://tinyurl.com/27pzhbf

Science is fully capable of providing descriptive facts concerning all of Ethics and morality that is not an illusion.

Science will direct us to the means to accomplish over-riding goods such as sustainable well-being (not only for oneself but eventually - due to more-effective means of education and creative moral activism - for all the world's people.) It can also give us descriptive facts about the emotions that sometimes serve as powerful motivations and that are accompanied by beliefs formulated as imperatives; such emotional thoughts often motivate moral action.

What are "moral acts"?

They are acts that increase the benefits of cooperation within groups, and between groups. These benefits are increased general welfare, increased health, increased well-being and quality of life. [For more details, see the threads What do people yearn for today? and The beautiful simplicity of ethical concepts. See also Steps to Value Creation.]


Comments? Questions?

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The Voice of Time
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Re: The universal aim of ethics

Post by The Voice of Time » Fri Jan 04, 2013 11:49 am

The special thing about Ethics is that it says, in principle of being ethics though contrary to specific philosophies of ethics; nothing about "who" has to carry a burden or "who" is to have a gain. All it does is say that "somebody" has to have a gain (the "good" thing, though it is disputable to differing perspectives if it's really "good") and "somebody" has to carry a burden (though it could be attributed to something outside the reach of humans, like God or Nature, though then it will depart from ethics and enter Religion and Belief). Sometimes the same person has to have both the gain and burden.

Ethics as such, has no specified universal aim. For instance, Nazi-ethics could be the exploitation of "weaker races" of such-called "stronger races". Meaning that some people may have no right to gain but full right to burden. This is also perceivable in our modern world where (though depending from country to country), prisoners, either of war or of civil law, may have no rights to elevated qualities but all rights to burdensome situations, as a cause of "Ethics on Punishment/Retribution/Law-Enforcement".

prof
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Re: The universal aim of ethics

Post by prof » Sat Jan 05, 2013 9:31 am

Kevin Tomascik - in the first paragraph of this thread - claims that our biological makeup directs us to cater to our own self-interest, to, as he puts it, " aim toward personal well-being." This he argues is what determines ethics. Our biology drives us to fulfill our needs. Granted this, the inquiry then becomes: what will attain this goal of personal well-being most efficiently? He concludes it is science and critical thinking that will provide the tools.

When I speak of 'Ethics' what I mean by it is what I have explained in threads such as "The Natural-Logical Law of Conduct", "Steps to Value Creation", "A Concise Summary of what Ethics is About", "What is Ethics?", and other of my threads here at the Ethical Theory Forum. [I see it as a study, a body of coherent knowledge, a "science" in the old German and Latin sense of the word. It learns from all earlier theories and integrates within itself the best ideas from everywhere. I am inclined to agree with Tomascik on the biological foundations for empathy and for our enlightened self-interest. I agree with Socrates that once we know the good, we will tend to do the good. ...provided we truly know it, as well as its implications.]

So when one speak of "Nazi ethics" this is a use of the word 'ethics' that is equivocal; it displays a fundamental weakness of previous ethical theory, namely that (so far) its terms are not precisely well-defined and thus not clearly understood. As long as this condition prevails there will be endless controversies and people will continue to talk past each other. It is a waste that is avoidable.

Let's get with it. Let's adopt the latest paradigm if it meets one's criteria of what a good theory ought to be.

chaz wyman
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Re: The universal aim of ethics

Post by chaz wyman » Tue Jan 08, 2013 1:54 am

prof wrote:Kevin Tomascik argues that the universal aim of ethics is the aim toward personal well-being. He claims "it is an aim that is inherent to our biological makeup, and is in our genes so to speak." Yet, he goes on to say: "it’s very unlikely that this aim alone could provide any real moral guidance." Then he offers an analogy to help explain what he means.

He writes: "Knowing the universal aim is a bit like knowing an address to a house in an unfamiliar town—it might help a little in finding the directions, but you still need to actually find them or you risk getting lost." The way to get to the actual location in this 'unfamiliar town', that is, "the way to determine which actions to take that will be most likely to lead us toward our own well-being is ... by using the most reliable means of obtaining accurate information that are available to us (i.e., scientific inquiry, critical thinking, various methods of empirical observation, etc.)" Those, he argues, will "determine the best way to proceed."

I think he has something there. He is rooting a universal standard of some sort in our very biology, and he looks to scientific methods to give us guidance in applying what we inherently yearn for ...how to achieve the highest quality of life. { :idea: It may just turn out that promoting the happiness and flourishing of other people is the way we achieve it for ourselves....}

I'd like to know what you think. Is he on the right track? Do most normal people have a built-in impulse toward altruism? Has the science of Brain Neurology discovered such an area of the brain?

If so, what are the implications of this?
The flaw in this is the phrase "personal well-being".
Hitler's personal well being amounts to the suffering of others.
No one is capable of making his personal well-being, the wellness of ALL others.
There are no universal standards to this, and you ought to suspect the motives of any who claim that there is. Hitler was one of them.

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