[quote author=“Metzler”]Dear Pilot,
I think you are correct regarding Wilson’s inability to understand the “human” side to ethics; as his response shows, the God Law approach to grounding all morality can end up eating up the real natural stuff of love, emotion, and human empathy. However, it is a little more complicated in my view. Without something like a Christian view, it is hard to make sense out of “justice,” and “right and wrong” in some of the ways we like to use these terms. There is also the problem of our aptness to think of human dignity and human empathy as having an objective status outside of our own social relations: e.g. we intuitively like to think that it is objectively more important that humans get their relations right than, say, a bunch of ants. But it seems like you understand that the atheist does have to own up to some consequences to his/her point of view.
I think we are on the same page. I once read “The Book of Merlin”, which was the unpublished last chapter of the “Once and Future King” by TH White. The Book of Merlin was apparently found and published after his death.
In it, Arthur is taken by Merlin to a “meeting with the animals. This meeting occurs the night before Arthur’s fateful battle with Mordred, his bastard son. Arthur dies in this battle.
In the meeting with the animals, Arthur is taught the difference between might and right. Merlin and the animals teach him how man is the only universally feared creature, that other animals have their natural enemies, and inhabit their natural niches, they respect the niches of others. Only man knows non place. Merlin teaches Arthur that “contrary to his old friend Aristotle’s belief”, man is not a political animal. In fact, Merlin says, man is the only creature that fails politics entirely. That it “takes a bird a million years to modify a single primary feather and we think we have evolved in a hundred years because we have invented the internal combustion engine”!!
What can I say, it’s a good read. It obviously affected me. I think that the greatest problem with humans is that, as a function of thier intellects, they make unnecessary distinctions between themselves and their environment, especially their biological environment. We alienate ourselves from our environment and from the other passengers on this ship. We consider that we are capable of things that are somehow “unnatural”.
I see intellect as a tool that we developed in a Darwinian way to manipulate environment so as to insure our success. Just like other creatures. I think that intellect is to be distinguished from conciousness, which other creatures share more completely. Intellect means finding differences between elements of the environment. Other creatures create distinctions but not to the extent that humans have.
Most importantly, other creatures have not necessarily created a universally fundamental distinction between self and non self. Humans almost completely identify with themselves as their own particular blob of protoplasm. I don’t think that this is true of other creatures.
Our intellects have created our science and our “know how” - our technology, something that has served us well, here to fore. This use of intellect as a means of survival may turn out to be rather shallow and short lived. It appears that our lack of identity with the larger organism of which we are necessarily a component, may prove us to be an unneccessary, useless, or even detrimental component. As a species, we seem to share a special kind of ecological hubris, we bite the hand that feed us.
Religion, of course, is rife with it. We are made in god’s image etc. All religions are so completely and so shallowly anthropocentric.
I think there is a natural, dynamic and non absolute reference for ethics and for the creatures that are eligible make those distinctions. A mothers instinct for the survival prospects of her offspring come to mind. These distinctions are not to be made by god, they are to be made by mothers. I think that ethical choices are some function of ecology. What we all intend, whether we conceptualize it or not, is some continuance, some propagation of life, in any form, on this planet, into what we see as the future. This is the essentially ethic, the essential Earth centered biological imperative. (my humble opinion)
Anyway, I’m babbling again. Sorry.
Thanks for any forebearance on the part of readers. This is something that interests me greatly.