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Happiness and Blessedness as ethical values
Posted: 06 February 2007 04:45 PM   [ Ignore ]  
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1. On page 170, Sam writes “A rational approach to ethics becomes possible once we realize that questions of right and wrong are really questions about the happiness and suffering of sentient creatures.”  On page 190, “The link between morality and happiness appears straightforward, though there is clearly more to being happy than merely being moral.”  On page 192 “The point is that the disposition to take the happiness of others into account—- to be ethical – seems to be a rational way to augment one’s own happiness.”

2. On pages 65-66 of On Jesus, Dr. Doug Groothuis writes “Jesus’ beatitudes stress attitudes that Jesus pronounces “blessed”, or objectively good, right and in harmony with God’s ways.  “Blessed” is not synonymous with our meaning of “happy” – a subjective state of pleasure or enjoyment.  Jesus says that those who are “persecuted because of righteousness” are blessed (Matthew 5:10), as are “those who mourn” (Matthew 5:3).  Therefore, mere happiness is not in view, but something deeper….Jesus’ account of virtue is similar to Aristotle’s correlation of virtue and telos (cosmic purpose), where proper conduct is conducive to human flourishing.  But Jesus’ view is dissimilar as well, since Aristotle’s philosophy allotted the Prime Mover no ethical role in establishing, announcing, or rewarding moral character.  For Jesus, God is central to the nature and experience of virtue.”

3.  I submit the difference between happiness and blessedness (which is often associated with abiding joy) is the difference between feelings of well-being based on external circumstances and feelings of well-being based on internal circumstances.  That happiness is elusive seems related to the fact that external circumstances can change radically without notice, sometimes for reasons that have nothing to do with whether anyone has acted ethically, i.e. taking happiness of others into account, as per Sam’s quote above.  And, regarding internal circumstances, I note that Sam writes on page 191, “We might wonder whether, in the limit, the unchecked growth of love and compassion might lead to the diminution of a person’s sense of well-being, as the suffering of others becomes increasingly their own.  Only people who have cultivated these states of mind to extraordinary degree will be in a position to decide this question, but in the general case, there seems to be no doubt that love and compassion are good, in that they connect us more deeply to others.”

Given these 3 ideas, I submit for discussion the following statements, derived from my empirical observations of life:

The reason “love and compassion are good, in that they connect us more deeply to others” is because love and compassion are indeed deeper than “mere happiness”, in that our most profound connections to others are formed not through shared moments of happiness, but rather through shared trials and suffering.  This is because happy times require little in the way of love and compassion, whereas trials and suffering are the context in which love and compassion have meaning.

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Posted: 06 February 2007 11:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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That last bit is fine, as far as it goes. Now, if you could just pull the various specific ontological and teleological pacifiers and dildos out of your various metaphysical orifices, you might make a credible Buddhist. And, hey, as a Buddhist, you could still have some teleology.  :D

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Posted: 07 February 2007 12:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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Nice image, Salt Creek.  Thanks for that.  You do have an exceptional flair for insult.  ‘teleological dildos in metaphysical orifices?’  That’s a keeper.  Truly, you are an aritiste. 

Parable—I like the topic and I agree with the points above, in that taking other peoples’ happiness into account augments ones own happiness (often. it has to be done in balance); and that happpiness is more external, depending on outside circumstances, which are changeable whereas blessedness in more of an inner phenomenon.  I think one of the keys to happiness, and to blessedness, is to be able to have a balance between love of oneself and love of others.  I’m not so good at putting other people before me or above me, or to consider the needs and desires of others above my own needs and desires.  I don’t know if putting other people’s needs above your own is ultimate compassion or not—I only know that I don’t work that way.  I get resentful and bitter if I try to put myself last and others first.  But even Jesus said, somewhere in that book that so many people try to live by, ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’  It’s a nice, balanced equation.  I read “as yourself” as meaning ‘as much as’ yourself, or ‘equally as’ yourself.  I think that’s a pretty good foundation for an ethical life.  Living by the golden rule seems to be, by and large, a workable and ethical way to go.  People may not always treat you the way you want to be treated, and you need to stand up for yourself and defend yourself—but I think that the deeper feeling of being blessed that you talk about comes from the way you treat others.

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Posted: 07 February 2007 02:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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woofy,

...love your neighbor as yourself.’ It’s a nice, balanced equation… I think that’s a pretty good foundation for an ethical life. Living by the golden rule seems to be, by and large, a workable and ethical way to go.

The assumption implied by the Golden Rule is that we know how to love ourselves. Yet this is not always true.  This is why it is important to interpret the Golden Rule in the context it was presented by Jesus, i.e. Matthew 22. 

The golden rule is the second part of Jesus’ answer to the question “...which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  He said “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind….and the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

According to the generally accepted Christian perspective, the logic is: by loving God, we open ourselves to experiencing his love for us, which is the standard by which love is defined because God is love (1 John 4:8 ).  Without the example of his love for us, we are hard pressed to know what love is, for ourselves and for others.  Even if we do know intellectually, we struggle with living out that understanding on our own strength, and again the Christian experience is that we can only do it through the power of God living in us.  That’s the doctrine. 

In Sam’s example of living ethically, i.e. acting in a way that is consistent with the happiness of others, is there a non-theistic analogy for the source of strength or wisdom that we mere mortals can call upon to so live? 

On another note, my original question suggested that love and compassion are deeper than “mere happiness”, yet I did not mean to imply that they are the “something deeper” that Groothuis was describing. 

Assuming that we accept the significance of love and compassion as ethical motivators, the more important question is why they seem so important to the betterment of the human condition.  As I understand it, Sam’s neuroscience research aims to get at this question by understanding the physiological mechanisms involved.  But even with a complete description of the brain-ology, we are still left with the question as to why the brain would operate in this manner.

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Posted: 07 February 2007 02:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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Salt Creek,

...if you could just pull the various specific ontological and teleological pacifiers and dildos out of your various metaphysical orifices, you might make a credible Buddhist.

You seem to express your love for others in ways that call for even greater love in return.  You are not only a catalyst for love, you are an amplifier, at least for those with ears to hear what you are saying and compassion enough to overlook your preoccupation with invective.

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Posted: 07 February 2007 03:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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[quote author=“Parable”]
Assuming that we accept the significance of love and compassion as ethical motivators, the more important question is why they seem so important to the betterment of the human condition.  As I understand it, Sam’s neuroscience research aims to get at this question by understanding the physiological mechanisms involved.  But even with a complete description of the brain-ology, we are still left with the question as to why the brain would operate in this manner.

I think this is a fair explanation why:

http://www.samharris.org/forum/viewtopic.php?p=56897&highlight;=#56897

What you are calling “love” or feelings of “unity” or “oneness” may be nothing more than the chemical reaction associated with our evolved social instinct.  When that feeling happens outside of reason, language and thought, the effects can be quite dramatic and startling.  For example, spiritual states induced by deep meditation, brain damage, psychotropic drugs or momentary experiences of transcending self conscious with major shifts in our frame of reference (e.g. mystical experiences of wonder at the beauty of nature) all take us outside the social reality meant to control and focus our social instinct.  When the reaction is triggered without a context in social reality, it can have a profound effect on someone coming “back” into themselves within their social reality.

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Posted: 07 February 2007 03:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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[quote author=“The Agnostic Gnostic”][quote author=“Parable”]
Assuming that we accept the significance of love and compassion as ethical motivators, the more important question is why they seem so important to the betterment of the human condition.  As I understand it, Sam’s neuroscience research aims to get at this question by understanding the physiological mechanisms involved.  But even with a complete description of the brain-ology, we are still left with the question as to why the brain would operate in this manner.

I think this is a fair explanation why:

http://www.samharris.org/forum/viewtopic.php?p=56897&highlight;=#56897

What you are calling “love” or feelings of “unity” or “oneness” may be nothing more than the chemical reaction associated with our evolved social instinct.  When that feeling happens outside of reason, language and thought, the effects can be quite dramatic and startling.  For example, spiritual states induced by deep meditation, brain damage, psychotropic drugs or momentary experiences of transcending self conscious with major shifts in our frame of reference (e.g. mystical experiences of wonder at the beauty of nature) all take us outside the social reality meant to control and focus our social instinct.  When the reaction is triggered without a context in social reality, it can have a profound effect on someone coming “back” into themselves within their social reality.

There are the feelings arising from hormonal chemistry, but I take a different definition of love: recognition of the same consciousness in another as in oneself.  There could be concomitant “feelings” going along with that recognition, but that is a reaction, not love.

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Posted: 07 February 2007 03:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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[quote author=“Parable”]You seem to express your love for others in ways that call for even greater love in return.  You are not only a catalyst for love, you are an amplifier, at least for those with ears to hear what you are saying and compassion enough to overlook your preoccupation with invective.

An Irish Airman Foresees His Death

I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

                        William Butler Yeats

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Posted: 07 February 2007 03:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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The Agnostic Gnostic,

Your explanation makes sense in an evolutionary context. 

As I understand this perspective, morality is a social construct that arises in response to natural selection, conferring greater fitness to a social group.

Yet, in the example of human rights as moral imperatives, doesn’t it seem that efforts to ensure human rights are efforts to oppose the actions of natural selection?  That is, a human right is grounded in the idea that people inherently deserve certain protections, while natural selection is grounded in the idea that only those able to survive deserve to do so.  It seems contradictory to conclude that the proper response to natural selection is to oppose the mechanisms by which it operates and by which that response is created.  It reminds me of Luke 11:17, in which Jesus said “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall.”

Because we have adapted to natural selection so well, in the global ecology our survival as a specie depends less on our ability to master natural selection and more on our ablity to help other species do so.  It seems we need an understanding of natural selection that is more complete than just the idea of “survival of the fittest”. 

For example, what constitutes “fitness”?  If the criteria for fitness is surviving, then the idea “survival of the fittest” is a truism.  If fitness is somehow independent of survival, what might that look like?

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Posted: 07 February 2007 03:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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[quote author=“burt”]
There are the feelings arising from hormonal chemistry, but I take a different definition of love: recognition of the same consciousness in another as in oneself.  There could be concomitant “feelings” going along with that recognition, but that is a reaction, not love.

So you imagine the suffering of others as though it were your own?  But isn’t that still a construct built to interpret a feeling?  If we evolved a chemical “compassion” system to facilitate groups of people bonding together to further the advantage of the cultural construct (and by extension, those with the genetic predisposition to become a part of it), then what we call ‘love’ or ‘compassion’ is still just a linguistic/cultural construct.

It could be that all laws and moralities are built to concretize this feeling and enforce individual subjugation.  But what happens when someone lacks the feeling?  Or when the laws or moralities by which we have attempted to concretize those feelings in social reality actually facilitate ignoring those feelings?

[ Edited: 07 February 2007 04:12 AM by ]
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Posted: 07 February 2007 03:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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[quote author=“Parable”]For example, what constitutes “fitness”?  If the criteria for fitness is surviving, then the idea “survival of the fittest” is a truism.  If fitness is somehow independent of survival, what might that look like?

Omigod! Humpty-Dumpty strikes again!

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Posted: 07 February 2007 03:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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Salt Creek,

Humpty-Dumpty strikes again!

And we all know what happened to him!  Poor Humpty-Dumpty, if anything, his brokenness should inspire our love and compassion.  Is he not an analogy for each of us?

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Posted: 07 February 2007 03:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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[quote author=“Parable”]And we all know what happened to him!  Poor Humpty-Dumpty, if anything, his brokenness should inspire our love and compassion.

[quote author=“Parable”]For example, what constitutes “fitness”?  If the criteria for fitness is surviving, then the idea “survival of the fittest” is a truism.  If fitness is somehow independent of survival, what might that look like?

But his fitness is not in question.

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Posted: 07 February 2007 03:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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[quote author=“Parable”]
Yet, in the example of human rights as moral imperatives, doesn’t it seem that efforts to ensure human rights are efforts to oppose the actions of natural selection?  That is, a human right is grounded in the idea that people inherently deserve certain protections, while natural selection is grounded in the idea that only those able to survive deserve to do so.

I understand what you are stating. However, is it really a reasoned “morality” that faciliates people looking after the weak or is it a feeling of commonality?  If the latter, then that triggered feeling serves a vital evolutionary advantage to me if I submit to care for others with whom I identify. How so? Others in my group identity will likewise come to my aid and better ensure my survival or we can work together for our mutual survival (at least that’s the biological gamble).  That only appears contrary to evolution when you judge that evolution has the purpose of making a species or population “better” or “stronger” or having more “fitness.”  Those are judgments.  Evolution is merely the operation of natural selection to change the genetic frequency in a population. 

Keep in mind that almost all of self-consciousness and culture (including religion and politics) is arrayed against those feelings of love.  We are told to be divisive, to dehumanize those “different” from us so that those feelings of compassion don’t get in the way of the important work that needs to be done for our group’s survival and genetic representation in the next generation.  The feeling is the root of culture, but culture for its own survival must control and stifle that feeling and direct its energies appropriately.

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Posted: 07 February 2007 04:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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For example, the feeling of love or compassion or unity or oneness (whatever one wants to call it), could be interpreted and controlled by equating it with “that which is financially and economically beneficial to economic growth.” We have radical objectivists/capitalists, for example, who would not necessarily disagree with the general principal that we should act on feelings of “love,” but on any particular issue of choice almost invariably select that which favors economic growth and free economic choice on the argument that economic choice will naturally bring about the common “good.” Digging up national parks for oil? No problem. Letting the poor fend for themselves? You betcha. War as a tool of economic policy? Certainly.

What is the difference between the religious moralist and they? We all have intricate moral arguments to justify our values and choices that work for us individually, yet the results vary greatly when those ideas are in the hands of someone else.

Why is that?

And can one step outside of the vicious circle of “moralizing” to bring meaning to the feeling, but bringing a meaning that divides people up, categorizes them and facilitates me pursuing the self-interests of my group identity and calling it “love”?

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Posted: 07 February 2007 04:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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Salt Creek,

Parable wrote:
And we all know what happened to him! Poor Humpty-Dumpty, if anything, his brokenness should inspire our love and compassion.


Parable wrote:
For example, what constitutes “fitness”? If the criteria for fitness is surviving, then the idea “survival of the fittest” is a truism. If fitness is somehow independent of survival, what might that look like?


But his fitness is not in question.

Sure it is.  All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again, i.e. he did not survive.  Therefore he must not have been fit. 

This illustrates the difference between survival of groups and survival of individuals.  Since we all eventually die, the issue is larger than individuals, i.e. groups. 

Building on that theme, since species go extinct, the issue is larger than survival of a species, but rather that life itself continues, in one form or another.

Why should life be like that?

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