Morality and Niceness … November 10, 2014

Morality:

mo·ral·i·ty

noun \mə-ˈra-lə-tē, mȯ-\

: beliefs about what is right behavior and what is wrong behavior

: the degree to which something is right and good : the moral goodness or badness of something

Nice-ness: (Nice)

nice
adjective, nicer, nicest.
1. pleasing; agreeable; delightful:

a nice visit.

2. amiably pleasant; kind:

They are always nice to strangers.

3. characterized by, showing, or requiring great accuracy, precision,skill, tact, care, or delicacy:

nice workmanship; a nice shot; a nice handling of a crisis.

4. showing or indicating very small differences; minutely accurate, asinstruments:

a job that requires nice measurements.

5. minute, fine, or subtle:

a nice distinction.

6. having or showing delicate, accurate perception:

a nice sense of color.

7. refined in manners, language, etc.:

Nice people wouldn’t do such things.

 

It seems very much possible from these definitions that you can be a reprehensible, immoral, nice person.

I imagine this may be how some really bad people persuade some really good people to commit some really bad acts.

On the other hand, these definitions also mean that it would be possible to have some really moral people who were not nice at all.

I think of myself as a moral person. I rather dislike most humans. This makes me appear as a person who is not nice. I look at other humans and they seem to appear and act immorally. “Morality is relative” you say? I can only look at them through my morality “window”. Objective morality may exist. I am sure that many of the things I believe moral are among those things I would categorize as objectively moral. Whether my parameters are set too high or too low, who can say? I can only say from what my reaction to what I have seen, I have concluded that I am quite the misanthropist.
1. misanthropist – noun – someone who dislikes people in generalMisanthropist

misanthrope

crank, crosspatch, grouch, grump, churl – a bad-temperedperson

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11 Responses to Morality and Niceness … November 10, 2014

  1. john zande says:

    I think of myself as a moral person. I rather dislike most humans.

    That’s a sentiment I can generally agree with.

  2. Ron Murphy says:

    I someone considers ‘being nice’ to be a requirement for being moral, and ‘being not nice’ as being immoral, then they might consider you immoral, depending on their boundaries of what’s nice and what is not, in relation to how not nice you are, as seen by them.

    So really your position seems like one that conveniently excuses unpleasant behaviour in your own head, that would not be excused by others. This should be expected in turn to cause conflict with others, affirming your dislike for them perhaps, and the appearance that you are not nice. It would also give you reason in turn to see yourself as detached from others, and in such a position you might well see yourself as moral by the standards you define.

    Even if you think there are objective moral standards to be discovered, then when you discover them such that they differ from how others discover them, your isolationism gives you reason again to see your objective moral opinion as best matching your behaviour.

  3. drenn1077 says:

    First of all, I do not consider your comment “nice”.

    Everyone has their own perspectives on what is nice and what is not. As far as excusing my unpleasant behavior, please believe me, that was not my intent. My behavior is what it is, and has no need of excuse. My post simply gave insight, my intent, into why I am the way I am.

    I do feel detached from others. I feel separate, and much different. There are things I do not like about myself and am trying to change those things.
    I see people desiring more drugs, the right to do things I consider immoral, as well as a callousness towards others. People, I admit, are being judged through my “morality window” and have come up short. I go sometimes to the stores nearby and rub elbows with the hustle and bustle of humans and feel my irritation rise with the passage of very little time. Everyone has the “me first” syndrome. Sometimes it is worse than the “me first” syndrome, it is the “me, and not you at all” syndrome.

    There are many factions who are simply out there instigating hatred, or actually eliciting shock. They behave in ways and do things which they know will cause revulsion. It seems that there is a class of people, many are bullies, whose only talent in life is “pushing the buttons” of other people to elicit a reaction.

    Now to the crux… do I care what objective moral standards others have compared to mine? My mirror neurons allow me to see only that of another’s nature that my own window of morality can interpret. Assumptions, though notoriously unreliable, are all we can make until such time as reading another’s thoughts becomes routine. Some religions caution against making judgements upon another, but, I am an atheist not bound by such. (No, what others think of me is of no regard)

    There are objective morals. One such may be that prohibiting murder. Another may caution against doing harm. Another yet may encourage us to improve the condition of another.

    My isolation is self-imposed. Just as a lion is caged to prevent harm to others, so I cage myself.

  4. Ron Murphy says:

    My comment wasn’t intended to be nice, or not nice. I was trying to offer a rational response.

    I agree everyone has their own perspectives on what is nice and what is not. But also on what is moral and immoral.

    I’d be interested to know more about your views on ‘objective’ morals. It seems to me that there are a few confused perspectives on this because the subjective/objective terms are not clear.

    Some theists see there being objective morals by virtue of God, somehow – God given, or absolute but commanded by God.

    Some non-theists see there being objective morals somehow defined out there in the cosmos that apply everywhere, for all time, for all ‘beings’, and are discoverable by humans if only we knew how.

    Then there is the view that morals are objective in the sense that they are related to human evolution, and particularly determined by some of our traits, such as empathy. In this latter sense they may be objective with regard to humans, but otherwise subjective to individuals and individual cultures, but quite arbitrary overall.

    For example, some insects have the female eating her mate after copulation. And some mammals have a male taking a mate with cubs from a previous male killing those cubs. Had such behaviours been part of human evolution how would they play out in our current species? Would it be morally reasonable to kill step-children? Or would our mandate over not killing have transformed this act into some traditional behaviour, such that when a mother takes on a new husband the children from a previous husband must leave home, or go to live with some other relative?

    It seems to me that our morals are objective only in the sense as being determined by our evolutionary history and cultural development.

    As such they are species and culturally arbitrary and subjective. They are human moral opinions not external facts.

    Other species need not agree to our morals at all – should any species have moral opinions (e.g. morality about 100,000 years ago when other Homo species were around).

    If we imagine some person being the last surviving human after a global catastrophe, what would morality mean then? What could they possibly do wrong that wasn’t merely their subjective opinion?

    Morality seems to be something we have evolved and culturally developed. It is no more than evolved cultural opinion, some details of which are shared by many humans – not surprising giving our common origins; but other details of which differ – again unsurprising given our cultural and personal differences.

    Some psychopaths/sociopaths seem to have brains that do not do empathy and sympathy very well at all. They are able to learn the practicalities of moral behaviour intellectually in order to fit in and succeed, but are not motivated by it directly themselves. They do ‘being good’ for their own ends, so as not to be ostracised, which has its problems. Some seem to be able to use morality to their own ends quite cynically, by manipulating the moral concerns of others when it suits. Unless it can be show that these people have a brain ‘fault’, they must be considered just as human as the rest of us, even if they are outliers on some scale of human empathy and sympathy. The majority may see some of their behaviours as immoral, but can the majority claim to have the moral high ground on matters that may be as they are due to some normal distribution of traits?

    It seems to me that morality is the objectively discoverable subjective opinions of individuals, which in power terms becomes the morality of the majority.

    The power aspect of it is important, because in some scenarios the power is not in the hands of the majority and what the majority consider to be an ‘immoral’ minority may hold power. It may even be clear to the powerful that their lack of empathy is not the majority state of affairs, and as such may even agree that they are in fact immoral – if they are not busy deluding themselves (e.g. the mobster that thinks he’s basically a good person because he goes to church with his mother on Sunday, and ‘wacks’ opponents only in the week).

  5. drenn1077 says:

    My reference to nice was just a reference to the title and topic of this post, nothing more.

    Objective morality has a basis, in my opinion, in the primitive. Reciprocity, that which benefits the individual through reciprocal sharing and protection and causes no harm to the animal. This basic concept can be seen in the empathy animals show one another, the ability of chimps for example, to experience what it is like “to be in another’s shoes” so to speak. The concept of “if I help you now, you might help me later”. From these primitive beginnings I think we have a basic desire, at least most of us, to help, not to harm. There are those of course who twist this ability to empathize around and use it to harm, knowing thereby, that what they do is harming another. The torturer knows that the iron from the fire will cause intense pain to your genitals because he/she knows that it would for them. Basically, what I am saying about this is that doing good for others and not causing harm could be considered an objective morality. No, I did not originate that thought but found it in my reading, the source of which I cannot remember. From that basic principle, I think, many of the morals considered objective can be drawn. The Bible, as we know, came much after any moral considerations and merely incorporated them rather than being the source of them. For example, culturally, it might be considered an objective moral not to kill others, of your culture at least.

    I really cannot draw the comparisons from insects to humans. The mammal to human comparisons are a little more easy to see. Very often, if you think about it, it is the evil stepfather who does the adopted children of another harm. Is this possibly an evolutionary directive in play, to abhor raising the children of another? The drive, after all, is to pass along your genes, not someone else’s.

    I agree with your assessment that our objective morals are drawn from our evolution, in the basics, and that dependent on culture they are either refined, or twisted. As far as species, we I think must agree that in most animals, the exception being some of the higher order animals, there is no moral considerations at all. They are hence neither evil nor good, The wolf that kills the rabbit does not do so out of malice, but out of need.

    How can we maintain a moral perspective unless we judge others by our perspective? Are there truly decadent cultures? Does one culture have the right to extinguish another simply because of moral considerations? If a culture is immoral should a moral culture demolish it even though that immoral culture is functioning without causing harm to your own? Do we have a right to go in and destroy Iran simply because it is oppressing their own people with laws and punishments we consider inhumane? Should we even criticize them for allowing such things as stoning and female circumcision? After all, it is just their culture. We have to make that decision. Are morals relative or do they universally apply?

    Majorities are not always right, and in fact, very often wrong. Just because a majority of people in the United States thinks that god exists does not mean that he does. Just because that same majority thinks everyone should abide by their view of morality does not mean their morals are really moral. Both atheists and believers think murder is wrong. Both atheists and believers think that honesty is the best policy, though Christians have been known to lie for Jesus.

    What is nice about our constitution and is often ignored is that it was meant to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority.

    Let’s not forget the concept of compartmentalization. Wherein a person can function immorally yet claim to hold to a moral standing. A Christian can seem quite normal and moral unless someone questions their faith. The mobster can commit a thousand murders as long as he goes to confession and asks forgiveness of his/her sins a thousand times. No one can determine god’s will anyway, right? So maybe those thousand murders were god’s will. Rationalizing things is a human specialty.

  6. Ron Murphy says:

    “As far as species, we I think must agree that in most animals, the exception being some of the higher order animals, there is no moral considerations at all. They are hence neither evil nor good”

    In this context I turn the tables, and rather than say humans and some animals have morals and some animals don’t, I’d say that there are no morals in any cosmological sense. Instead, there are the biological phenomena like empathy, and pleasure and pain and their emotional equivalents, that together make some animals prefer some behaviours over others. And that evolutionary conditioning in most animals, and developed into intellectualism of such as preferences, has caused humans to develop an rationalise behaviours (not without the help of religious beliefs) into good and evil – we have invented good and evil, moral and immoral, as measures of behaviours that we like and dislike.

    In this sense morality is a human construct. Not an intentional one from the outset, but one developed over time with our rationalisations about what it is in the contexts of our concurrent developments of language and culture.

    “Majorities are not always right, and in fact, very often wrong.”

    I agree. To be clear, I didn’t mean to imply they were necessarily right.

    “Let’s not forget the concept of compartmentalization.”

    While I acknowledge the compartmentalisation that allows someone to believe two different and contradictory things, there is also the capacity we have to know what’s right (by our on standards) and to knowingly not live up to those standards. I heard a moral philosopher (can’t remember his name) explain his ideas on something or other ethical, and was asked why he didn’t do what he preached. His response what simply that he was not as good a (whatever it was) as he could be. I’d go further, in saying that I can have any sort of intellectual debate about morality, without necessarily feeling I should live by the morals that I conclude are worthy ones. I am constrained by my intellectual assessment, and my biological inhibitions to harm others, and my fear of consequences – and shear laziness, in that unless you’re already steeped in a life of crime it actually takes effort to start, to learn how to get away with things without being caught, because you know you’re not skilled in that respect. Many low life crook and Wall Street merchant is not so constrained.

    “Does one culture have the right to extinguish another simply because of moral considerations?”

    What are rights, other than freedoms of behaviour that humans mutually bestow on each other when they might not, where power determines what rights are taken or given. An oppressed group may wish to be free (and I think they do for biological reasons – any trapped animal tries to become free, and it’s so common it really must be part of the biological survival mechanism that natural selection favours) but they actually become free by making themselves free if they acquire the power, or are given freedom if they do not. Rights are no more than opinions about freedoms of various kinds, that are held in such high regard they are given special status of a ‘Right’.

    So, such a ‘right’ to extinguish another culture is quite meaningless to me. If you have the power, and you want to, then you cannot be stopped, and their moral opinion on he matter, a third culture’s moral opinion on the matter, or your own moral opinion on the matter, have little to do with it. ISIS do not have the right to do what they do, but there they are doing it. The ‘right’ is irrelevant. The West may declare that ISIS do not have the right to do what they are doing, but without action that’s irrelevant, empty words. ISIS may not have the right to extinguish cultures, but they are attempting to do it anyway.

    “Do we have a right to go in and destroy Iran simply because it is oppressing their own people with laws and punishments we consider inhumane?”

    Again, rights don’t come into it particularly. What’s more important is the determination of the outcome, and the complexities of the motivations and their effect on outcomes. Removing Saddam from Iraq seemed a morally good idea, by my personal standards, for the sake of the many Iraqis that suffered under him. But so many other factors were against it: inevitable fubar of any military campaign, unclear ulterior motives of the parties involved, potential aftermath, … The simplistic idea of regime change I had no problem with, or at least no more problem than taking any active criminal off the streets. But it was bound to go wrong. So, no to Iraq, and no to Iran.

    “Should we even criticize them for allowing such things as stoning and female circumcision?”

    Why not? While we have no specific right to criticise, they have no specific right not to be criticised. I see no problem criticising anyone I disagree with. I feel I have as much right to feel for and defend (even if only with rhetoric) some person I have empathy for in some distant place, as his persecutor has to persecute him. I acknowledge no special privilege of some state to persecute its citizens, though for similar practical reasons to the point about Iraq, I’d prefer other channels of international criticism and diplomacy.

    It could be (and often is) argued that these methods take too long, or are ineffective, and that the persecuted will suffer in the meantime, so direct action is required. But the outcome can be much worse for far more people when direct action is taken – Iraq again. A lot of persecute people have died over many millennia of human culture, and most occasions direct action leads to a worse state of affairs. Sometimes direct intervention works, but Western powers have been far too optimistic of outcomes so often that we owe it to everyone concerned to be cautious.

    “Should we even criticize them for allowing such things as stoning and female circumcision? After all, it is just their culture. We have to make that decision. Are morals relative or do they universally apply?”

    Morals are partly universal, in as much as they derive from common biology and culture, but they are not universal in as much as they differ with personal biology and culture. So they are neither fully relative or fully universal.

    Let’s not forget that many Muslim states criticise the wets for its democracy, because that in itself is an affront to the God. I’m really not perturbed by that, and nor am I concerned about criticising them and any practices that I disagree with. There are quite distinct world views at work. I think the western humanist atheist view is the right one, but that’s not even shared by most people in the west, since so many are religious. While I believe I’m right, I have to acknowledge that all these others think they are right too. And one thing that’s easy to see is that many of those that are not western atheist humanists will not sit and let me live my life.

    So I’m fully on board with promoting my beliefs, criticising those I disagree with, and being stronger in my criticism in proportion to how immoral I think practices are.

    Incidentally, I don’t think moral relativism has to be proscriptive – it need not be such that we do not criticise others because it’s their culture and we have no right to judge. Moral relativism can be merely descriptive – in that we can acknowledge that there are cultural differences and that in absolute cosmological terms one is no better than any other, but that we are also free to judge cultures by our own standards. This implies I should expect, even if I don’t like, that cultures I dislike and think are wrong will criticise my culture – and I’m stuck with that. I suppose I could claim that I’m right and have the right to criticise them, while they are wrong and have no right to criticise me, but that doesn’t seem a very rational stance.

    In the meantime I think killing apostates, FGM, hanging homosexuals, are all wrong, and I am content to get on with criticising them, by my standards of morality.

  7. drenn1077 says:

    “…I’d say that there are no morals in any cosmological sense.”
    Christianity and other religions, though denigrating humanity, still place an importance on humanity beyond its actual significance. Science looks at how immense the cosmos truly is, our place in it, and resizes the significance of humanity. Yet, I think, our importance, our actual value, may lie somewhere between. Despite our intellect, we are constructs of evolution. Our power of thought may be many levels above the closest competitor, nevertheless we are animals and everything we are is a product of that biological origin. To dismiss us as simple abnormalities among the fauna is, in my opinion, nearly as bad as asserting that mankind is the center of everything. Perhaps this is an appeal to nature argument, or even an appeal to emotion, but I think instead it is quite valid. How can we be anything but a product of that from which we sprang? Our morals may be unique among the animals upon this earth. Does that make them any less natural? To assume they are unnatural would assume an unnatural source. Again… how can we be unnatural since we sprang from natural sources?
    If we look upon cultures as we look upon evolution, as a tree, then ultimately every culture that exists had an origin tied to every other. We, as has been often remarked, all came from Africa. Aberrations in evolution which lead to eventual extinctions are well known. Less well known are aberrations which are less lethal. Genetic traits which shorten the lives of individuals may not be eliminated by evolution as long as the lethal nature allows sufficient time for reproduction. In a similar way, morality may become twisted, evil, yet still allow a civilization to continue. How do you determine what is truly moral from what is not? Is there truly objective morality? Who possesses it?
    Morality is a human construct, I think, only in the sense that the base morals, the objective morals concerning committing harm or helping, are modified, refined, and made understandable. Modern day moralities are simply complex extensions and interpretations of base objective morality. Where did that come from? It came from my own reasoning.
    Practicing what you preach. Example: You decide to be absolutely truthful. This would require everyone else to be absolutely truthful. Example: Treating everyone else with respect and kindness and generosity. If no one else was respectful, kind, and generous you would appear simply as a gullible fool ripe for the picking.
    I would like so very much to live in a moral society where lying was only something someone did in an effort to spare someone’s feelings. In such a society honesty would be honored and a dishonest act of such rare oddity that it was an embarrassment, and would turn out as accidental only. I doubt even whether evolution could produce such a society, unless you consider our intellect as a natural expression of evolution.
    Are morals relative or are they not? Are you a relativist? Do you believe there are objective morals that apply to all cultures? If you are a relativist, then how can you possibly criticize the differences in culture? For a relativist, morality depends on what culture you are in. So, if beheading is in vogue in one culture, as long as that culture is not intent on making that behavior evident in your own, then what gripe would you legitimately hold? If on the other hand you were trying to apply the morality from your own culture upon another, you would be making the mistake of the religious in assuming that your morals are objective and apply to everyone. This would apply to any of the differing morals in disparate cultures everywhere.
    I think for the most part we can agree on the majority of what we have discussed. I find that much of what I have written pertaining what was in your last comment toward the beginning, you repeated toward the end.
    I would, however, add one to the list of those things in your last sentence. I think killing apostates, female and male circumcision, hanging homosexuals, are all wrong, and I am content in criticizing them by my standards of morality. What did I add?

  8. Ron Murphy says:

    “Yet, I think, our importance, our actual value, may lie somewhere between.”

    I find no reason to think so. Our importance is entirely and naturally our interest. There might be other intellects (other Homo species in the past, or perhaps aliens) that have no concern for us or our moral constructs (though that might raise interesting questions about the evolution of morality – we’ve only our one sample set); or perhaps some greater intellect may learn some concern for us as we do for other animals. These seem possible outcomes that I can’t provide reason to reject. But the result is that all morality is entirely within the intellect of the species that have it, to the extent that they have the basics and develop it culturally. I really see no need for special pleading for humans, though being human I’m compelled to have human feelings.

    “To dismiss us as simple abnormalities among the fauna is, in my opinion, nearly as bad as asserting that mankind is the center of everything.”

    I don’t dismiss us, since I’m one of us. But I still see no need to make a special case for us. We are what we are, and any increased morality or immorality is of our doing, personally and collectively.

    “Our morals may be unique among the animals upon this earth. Does that make them any less natural?”

    No. But then we could apply that argument to abstract mathematics as a natural pass-time of intellectual entities. But still no need for special pleading for our uniqueness. That’s not to say we wouldn’t plead for the survival of our species if we had to, but that would still be pleading with no special privilege from outside. If some other and superior intellect thought we weren’t worth saving, how could we out-argue them, defy them?

    “Aberrations in evolution which lead to eventual extinctions are well known.”

    It’s quite possible that many well adapted species have gone extinct through shear bad luck, because evolution isn’t a directed process but only acts in the moment. A species that is set to rule the world, as we do effectively, could be wiped out quite easily. Another asteroid around the horn of Africa could have stopped modern humans resting the earth from other Homo species.

    “In a similar way, morality may become twisted, evil, yet still allow a civilization to continue.”

    I agree. Since humans are not perfectly rational it’s quite easy to become wrapped up in ideologies: Soviet socialism, ISIS Islam, even a lesson plan. It takes all of our reason and empathy to construct moral systems, and even then we may disagree on much of the detail, because we are each different humans with different histories that result in different brains with different opinions.

    “How do you determine what is truly moral from what is not?” You don’t, in any absolute terms. You simply do what you are inclined to do, persuaded to do, feel you want ought to do. All very messy and epistemically complex, chaotic.

    “Is there truly objective morality?” – Only in the limited sense of our species origins. A different species, had it become intellectual (e.g. mantis) might have had a quite different morality, and perhaps one we would call immoral.

    “Who possesses it?” – None that I know o.

    “Practising what you preach.”

    This always seems to be caught up in an infinite regress. Should we be morally good when we have decided what morally good is? Why? That’s like asserting that it’s a moral requirement to be morally good. Why? We ‘should’ be good? Why?

    One might argue that if we have this empathy that drives out morals, and we develop it into an intellectually valid moral argument about what is moral, then we would benefit from abiding by that code. But we know that a minority of cheats can benefit – we don’t know how many successful cheats have passed themselves off as morally good, had a very pleasant life, had no experience of remorse, and shuffled off without any regret, and with a great deal of self-satisfaction. There’s no one-to-one correspondence between morals and moral justice.

    “I would like so very much to live in a moral society … I doubt even whether …”

    I agree. Would be nice, perhaps.

    “Are morals relative or are they not?” – Partially, as I described, descriptively. We see differences in moral opinion, so they are descriptively relative to one’s personality, history, culture. But there’s much common ground among most humans that fall somewhere on a number of normal distributions for moral feelings and reasoning.

    “Are you a relativist?” – To the descriptive extent, yes. But not on the prescriptive/proscriptive sense. If the whole world but me became Muslim and decided apostates would be killed, it wouldn’t really matter what I thought. Power empowers morality and rights; and that’s much more significant than worrying about the extent to which morals are relative.

    Even if everyone thought morals were entirely relative, and that no one had any right to object to the morals of those that think FGM is morally good, you would still have female objectors to their own mutilation, and you’d still have people prepared to put their moral relativism to the background for certain causes.

    “Do you believe there are objective morals that apply to all cultures?”

    No. There are biologically determined behaviours, and some of those are so automatic that it is difficult to put them in a moral context. Should I think morally about my cells? What about the foreign bacteria that populate my gut that die in the process of keeping me alive? If not them, then what about external bacteria? Or the wasp that wants to sting me because I’ve accidentally annoyed it?

    “If you are a relativist, then how can you possibly criticize the differences in culture?”

    Even if I were a total moral relativist, I’m still a mixed up human that’s capable of holding conflicting ideas and opinions, and there are bound to be instances of inter-human behaviour that incite my ire more than my moral relativism calms it. But, I’m only a descriptive moral relativist. I know that some Muslims think apostates should be killed, but I don’t care. I know they don’t care much about what I think either. I invent my right to object to killing of apostates, and I defend it. It is my right to object, just as long as I can defend that right, exercise it.

    “For a relativist, morality depends on what culture you are in. So, if beheading is in vogue in one culture, as long as that culture is not intent on making that behavior evident in your own, then what gripe would you legitimately hold?”

    I people in that other culture want to behead themselves, or consent to beheading each other, then I have no problem with it in principle, though my empathy would no doubt persuade me to argue against it. But if that culture has people in it that don’t agree to it and I think are being persecuted and beheaded for their ideas and behaviour, then my empathy will overcome any intellectual moral relativism. It’s a simple fact that I’m human and rise to such feelings.

    “If on the other hand you were trying to apply the morality from your own culture upon another, you would be making the mistake of the religious in assuming that your morals are objective and apply to everyone.”

    Not at all, because I don’t think there are such objective morals in the sense that the religious hold. But I would claim that there is a strong animal drive to survive and be free, and seeing the survival and freedom of someone being oppressed in another culture would be sufficient to make me object, in whatever way I was compelled to – writing comments on blogs, joining humanist organisations, becoming an activist, whatever I thought I needed to do. I fully accept that a similar perspective drives suicide bombers that attack the west – they are driven by their feelings and beliefs. All I can do is offer what I think is a more rational justification for mine, without making any absolute moral claim.

    My final list wasn’t meant to be complete, so add anything you like. I object to the circumcision of male babies, but would have no problem if some faith made it an adult option.

  9. drenn1077 says:

    I think we are more important in the scheme of things. If that importance is only realized by the human species, then so be it.
    Though we yet may not possess the means yet I think eventually our intellect may prove to be evolutionarily necessary as far as the continued existence of life on this planet. (Yes, presently we are destroying the planet with our activities) At this point in the history of the planet we are the only species that might be able to counter the global destruction possible in an asteroid hit.

    Superior intellect? Technically? Morally? When I think superior I think both technically and morally. Those humans that came to the americas and destroyed the native inhabitants may have been technically superior, but morally inferior. Perhaps it is too much to expect that an alien civilization may have both technical and moral superiority?

    ““How do you determine what is truly moral from what is not?” You don’t, in any absolute terms. You simply do what you are inclined to do, persuaded to do, feel you want ought to do. All very messy and epistemically complex, chaotic.”
    You, if I remember correctly, suggested negotiation to determine moral soundness. You might think that the Japanese are a moral people, yet, they seem determined to kill whales so they might continue to eat it as they have traditionally. How do you negotiate away a tradition? How do you negotiate away habit? The people here in the United States that own ranches in the west seem determined to force wolves into extinction. They lose more livestock to winter, drought, and starvation than the few the wolves take down… yet… they blame the wolves for their losses. How do you convince them it’s wrong to drive an animal to extinction? That it’s immoral? People, mostly fundamentalists, think abortion is wrong. How do you convince them of the immorality of allowing a rapist’s baby to live? How do you convince the ignorant that abortion in some cases is quite moral but not in most others? The questions are endless.

    Why? We ‘should’ be good? Why? Gee, reciprocity, I suppose. Future rewards in the form of returned favors? The preservation of civilization? I could not imagine civilization lasting long if we could not socially get along without stealing, killing, etc. I struggle with this often. I often think of this ideal society, non-human. Why non-human? I guess because humanity has continually disappointed me. Humans say one thing and do another. I believe in that meme from M.I.B where the fellow, Kay, I think, said…”The person is smart, but people are dumb.” I as an individual would like to see wilderness preserved. We as a people keep increasing our population and “helplessly” manufacture more people needing more room and there is only wilderness left to steal from. Individuals can be moral, but that morality does not hold when speaking of the masses.

    Sometimes I think that the human race is doomed simply because we talk too much about some problem rather than taking action. At other times the opposite could be true. In the end, we may instead, stumble forwards to our extinction like some drunk juggernaut. I rather hope the distances between planets precludes the possibility of an intelligent alien race coming to our planet long after we are dead and shaking their heads, or whatever they have, in dismay at our stupidity. That would be embarrassing. I hope they’re moral.

  10. Ron Murphy says:

    “I think we are more important in the scheme of things. If that importance is only realized by the human species, then so be it.”

    OK.

    “Though we yet may not possess the means yet I think eventually our intellect may prove to be evolutionarily necessary as far as the continued existence of life on this planet.”

    It may have been possible that we evolved to a state of less capable intellect such that we had enough to survive as a species without taking over the whole planet and endangering our existence. But given that this is where we are then I suspect a great improvement in intellect is necessary. We need to understand complex and chaotic systems much better to make reliable predictions with big data; and we need a better educated general population to avoid much of the ignorance that prevents the better use of our collective intellect. I don’t think we can afford to wait for evolution by natural selection.

    We need transhumanism of some sort – caveats about our technology choosing to wipe us out; though once we’re extinct there will by definition be no humans to care and have moral concerns about our survival.

    I suppose it could be argued that the only moral issue is suffering. If some alien crafts turns up in our vicinity and wipes out humans without a shred of suffering, without knowing, what would be the moral consequence? I think none.

    “Those humans that came to the americas and destroyed the native inhabitants may have been technically superior, but morally inferior.”

    That’s still our perspective. It wasn’t the perspective of the Europeans. Similarly it may not be the perspective of aliens coming to earth.

    There are some discussions doing the rounds over whether we can judge people of the past by our standards. With a time machine it might be tempting to go back and kill Hitler before he got started; but we have no way of knowing what alternative future may have lay ahead had that been possible; and we have no way of knowing if we’d be here, since the whole generational dynamic would have been different – would our parents have met, or if they did would the slightest change have caused a different sperm and egg to combine so that we do not exist? This is related to the power issue: if you don’t have the power to change the past then our opinion of it’s moral status then is irrelevant, though we can use our opinion of the past to make decisions about our behaviour (but free will and determinism?).

    “How do you convince them it’s wrong to drive an animal to extinction?”

    By persuasion, evidence of benefits – even emotional satisfaction of having wild creatures around on mother earth, …, whatever motivation suits. But it would help first to be convinced oneself that it is wrong. Many species come and go naturally. Picking up one of your earlier comments on what is natural, it is natural sometimes for one species to make another extinct. I don’t see any grand objective morality here. What I see is humans starting to care about animals, including them more and more in our moral considerations. We are building a newer moral frameworks that includes animals – but it’s still a human constructed morality, and as such quite arbitrary in cosmological terms.

    “The questions are endless.”

    Yes they are. But that doesn’t inform us about what morality is, who gets to define it, or anything other than ‘The questions are endless’

    “reciprocity, I suppose. Future rewards in the form of returned favors? The preservation of civilization?”

    But they are pragmatic somewhat selfish reasons. I think that’s what morality boils down to. There is no is/ought gap; we only think there is because millennia of philosophy and religion have convinced us that there is.

    “I could not imagine civilization lasting long if we could not socially get along without stealing, killing, etc. I struggle with this often.”

    I can see civilization getting along just fine with all sorts of immoral behaviours – power hierarchies dictate outcomes, as opposed to more idealistic equality and democracy. I don’t think a species needs to be good. We might think a mother needs to nurture her infant and that this biological imperative is one of he origins of morality in humans. But some species get along fine with one of the partners raping the other, or the female eating the male after copulation, infants being abandoned as soon as they are deposited into the world. With a different evolutionary history I could see our perspective on morality being different, perhaps not even thought of at all. But perhaps the intellect being an evolved tool thanks to evolution it is a survival tool, and something like a control protocol like morality, or power hierarchy, or some other drive, just happens to be how it is. It’s evolutionary coincidence and not some deeper morality.

    When theists think that the world was made for us a useful counter analogy is water falling as ran and collecting into a puddle in the hoof print of some animal, and the water molecules pronounce, “Look! This hole was made just for us. We must be special.” It’s easy to fall for the religious notions of specialness. I see nothing special about humans that is not based on our own opinions about ourselves. I see no morality outside what we invent, even if started by some biological imperatives.

    “I often think of this ideal society, non-human. Why non-human? I guess because humanity has continually disappointed me.”

    I have a different perspective. I don’t think of an ideal society. Humans and any other components of the universe are objects within it, and we are dictated to by its state when we individually grow into the world, and by its laws, often as those laws emerge in the behaviours of other humans. The ideas of perfection and Utopia are fictions.

    Rather, I see humans as being very lucky products of evolution on a planet that lies in a habitable zone of a minor start in just one more galaxy. Our luck is in having this conscious awareness of our own place in it. It is no credit to us for this situation we find ourselves in, and it is no fault of ours for all the ‘mistakes’ that our ancestors have made and we continue to make. We are still a learning species. But in that context we invent morality. The problem is that it’s an overbearing philosophical notion. We might enjoy life more with more pragmatism, less morally inspired persecution of others.

    Though I have individual disappointments, and I observe events that disappoint in the world, I don’t scale that up to being disappointed with humanity. I take it as it comes. I am caused to observe and comment on events as dictated by my own drives and interests, of which I may have little control that I can tell. but I see not need to be overly dramatic about it all. I can condemn Islam as currently the most divisive religion (though others have had their moments), and yet I can enjoy the company of Muslim friends and acquaintances, knowing that some of them support ISIS to some extent, without feeling hatred of other bad feelings towards them. They are as much a product of their environment as I am. But I will still be driven to make my moral stand when the situation arises. I think Jehovah’s Witnesses are crazy, but I enjoy there visits to my door and always give them time if I can – clearly making my points as much as I listen to theirs. Life is too short form me to waste it in too much sorrow and disappointment. But I accept that others may not be able to avoid the angst, and some may actually enjoy it.

    “I as an individual would like to see wilderness preserved.”

    That isn’t a distinction between the person and the people, it’s a distinction between some people, such as you and other conservationists, and other people that value other things instead, such as money, fame, an easy life free of difficult thinking, spending as much time as possible in the bar with friends, …

    “We as a people keep increasing our population”

    Yes we do. A dilemma. Those wanting big families for their own satisfaction, or those that are under the spell of religions, either to avoid contraception or to actively expand the religions believers, are all uninterested in the problems that it entails.

    “Individuals can be moral, but that morality does not hold when speaking of the masses.”

    I think it’s a mistake to presume all individuals are remotely as ‘moral’ in the same way as you are or I am. To some it is the moral thing to do to have a large God fearing family.

    “In the end, we may instead, stumble forwards to our extinction like some drunk juggernaut.”

    Perhaps. But once it’s done there will be no humans to care.

    “That would be embarrassing.”

    How could it be if we are not here to experience the embarrassment? Is the embarrassment only a speculative imagined one, like imagining you win the lottery this year while not actually playing it? Futile.

  11. drenn1077 says:

    I agree that some increase must occur in our intelligence level. Although this representation appears different than the one I remember, if you are familiar with the stages of civilization”
    (From Wikipedia)
    In 1964, Kardashev defined three levels of civilizations, based on the order of magnitude of power available to them:
    Type I
    “Technological level close to the level presently attained on earth, with energy consumption at ≈4×1019 erg/sec[1] (4 × 1012 watts.) Guillermo A. Lemarchand stated this as “A level near contemporary terrestrial civilization with an energy capability equivalent to the solar insolation on Earth, between 1016 and 1017 watts.”[2]
    Type II
    “A civilization capable of harnessing the energy radiated by its own star (for example, the stage of successful construction of a Dyson sphere), with energy consumption at ≈4×1033 erg/sec.[1] Lemarchand stated this as “A civilization capable of utilizing and channeling the entire radiation output of its star. The energy utilization would then be comparable to the luminosity of our Sun, about 4×1033 erg/sec (4×1026 watts).”[2]
    Type III
    “A civilization in possession of energy on the scale of its own galaxy, with energy consumption at ≈4×1044 erg/sec.”[1] Lemarchand stated this as “A civilization with access to the power comparable to the luminosity of the entire Milky Way galaxy, about 4×1044 erg/sec (4×1037 watts).”[2]

    I think that to divert an asteroid with any success might require a type II civilization. We might manage with Type I using primitive explosive devices detonated in close proximity to change its orbit.
    Transhumanism. I continue to receive updates from an organization promoting that. The vision I always imagine when I hear this term is some type of Borg-like, cyborg, mixing human and machine.
    Your references to the fact that if we were wiped out that no one be around to mourn remind me so much of: “does the tree make as sound when it falls in the forest if no one is around to hear it?” Does our destruction mean anything if none of us is left to keep it immoral. Do morals exist without humanity? Is there no right or wrong without humanity? This also sounds like the people so much inclined to imagine nothing actually exists, either. Everything is in your head, Fred. We’re just a freaking holograph on the universal tapestry. We are like the thoughts in some gigantic god’s …. head… wait a minute. Some have speculated that human memory may be stored in some kind of holograph arrangement.
    May just be that morals do not exist without some intelligent being to think them, yet, if we were completely annihilated, it sure would be a damn shame.
    So we must conclude that as long as we exist, or some life form of similar intelligence, then objective morality, perhaps modified by subjective needs and desires, may exist.
    Many people exhort others to not judge. But judge we all do, nevertheless. It seems part of our nature to judge. And by what standards do we judge? We judge by the standards that we have grown up with, modified through experience, and hopefully, thought a great deal about. I read the stories of Adolph Hitler and if the stories relayed are correct; he was a mighty bad character in my book. Since I do not think time travel, other than what we do every day, is a possibility I can only fantasize about what would happen if I went back and shot Hitler dead. The butterfly effect might serve to restrain me, however.
    Free will or determinism. I think that free will exists though we are also mostly a product of our past experiences. The terminator phrase “Your fate is what you make” is one I endorse. I think a moment’s hesitation, or a shade of doubt, or even a measure of guilt are adequate to prove free will, though, I’m sure most will not be persuaded by that.
    Extinctions have occurred since life occurred. The most suited for the environments available succeed and those that aren’t bite the dust. However, it has been suggested that this latest massive extinction that is occurring as we write is of our doing. Certainly, despite our absence, we would not want to be known as the fools that destroyed all life on earth including our own, should an interstellar visitor drop by that has morals that would cause it to care.
    Reciprocity is selfish. Perhaps this is what Dawkins meant when he allowed his book to be name the “Selfish Gene”, which he later regretted. It may indeed be selfish, yet, is there any other way that evolution would have even came to produce anything resembling morality? If you do me a good turn today, when I am successful tomorrow I’ll share my rabbit so you can make some stew. Thankfully, thanks to philosophy and our magnificent intellects, yes, go ahead, congratulate yourself on your intellect, it’s permitted; we did not stop at reciprocity. Is/ought is a work that continued and is in progress today.
    Do you like the idea of someone coming into your house and taking your television without your permission? Well, don’t complain. You said you could see civilization getting along just fine with immoral behavior. A species might survive without what we would consider morality. I cannot fathom how a civilization would do the same. We aren’t speaking insects or animals other than humans. The U.S. is in a valiant struggle with corruption and immorality today. I give it fifty years. Don’t tell anyone I told you that. They don’t want investors to pull out.
    You say you see nothing special about us. This is the great problem theists have with atheism and why you must change your view on that matter: it’s just plain bleak. Here we are… the most intelligent species this planet has produced and … we are not special? How does that beaver dam compare to Hoover? How does the Empire State Building compare to the tallest termite mound? The melodies coming from your cd player put the prettiest warbler song to shame. We should be working to make sure that even if we disappear, what we were, does not.
    Yes, ideas of perfection and Utopia have gotten a great number of people in trouble over time. Socialism is a perfect system, but alas, to work, it requires perfect people. Capitalism is stark and unforgiving but feeds the greed. So a mixture of capitalism to feed the human imperfections and socialism to temper capitalisms harshness is a good system. So, perfection and idealism may be my weakness, forgive me. I have a vision of a society that is better. One that says one thing and does it, is honest, and has nobility. You mention pragmatism, practicality, less persecution of others? I think for all practical purposes that is also a pipedream.
    I do not condemn Islam as the most divisive religion; I condemn it because it is in a stage not unlike Christianity a few hundred years back. It is dangerous. They move into areas and increase in numbers until they become powerful enough to make demands of those still around them. Look at Britain. I really can’t imagine not feeling queasy around “friends” that supported terrorists. You really must be a very laid back sort of fellow to be able to hobnob with people who tomorrow may be at your throat.
    Wilderness must be preserved. Individual people may desire that. Many individual people may even group together and make a strong effort. Yet, when I speak of individuals, and then people, I mean the entirety of people, not just groups. As a whole the human population seems like a creature that has had its natural predators removed and is producing so many offspring that it will overwhelm support systems. As individuals we want to preserve the wild. As a people, a population, we need more space. The elbows win.
    Religion has been a great promoter of a growing population. God will provide, they say. Go forth and multiply, they exhort. We were able to stop them from seeking out and burning witches at the stake, perhaps we can convince them to stick to replacement offspring only?
    Though my statement regarding embarrassment at our passing was meant as humor I see you took it seriously. That’s okay. I think our passing would be a great tragedy, especially if we might have stopped that inevitable approaching asteroid. Maybe a cockroach will be the next advanced life form. Perhaps they can stop that asteroid from completely destroying the petri dish.

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