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The ethics and morals of animals
Posted: 13 July 2005 06:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]  
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Hey gang,

I hear what some are saying about the probability that social animals have a kind of moral system.  I just can’t get away from the idea of choice.  Has it ever been noticed that a pair of pack animals said ” Hell with this whole alpha thing… let’s get out of here and go start our own family and stay together for life.  We’d all get along better if we didn’t compete so much.” Doesn’t seem plausible, yet humans can vary their social relations in many ways that seem unnatural inspite of whatever tensions it may cause.

Anybody read The Origin of Virtue or The Moral Animal?  Good stuff.

I’m going to start another thread asking people to suggest book titles for ideas that really influenced the way they think about things….hope you’ll check it out.

Later, Rod

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Posted: 13 July 2005 09:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]  
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Haven’t read that but would be interested in a reading list Rod.

Hmm I saw some special, National Geographic or Discovery, that put forth a hypothesis, (not very deeply cause it was TV) that the reason humans are comparably more peaceful and harmonious within social groups is because we developed language, and thus the weak could conspire against bullies, eventually breeding the most egragarious bullies out of the tribes.

Most likely this was the beginning of the women’s movement, and why later civilizations felt the need to put the smack down = )

Anyway, I would be interested in books on language and social development.

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Posted: 15 July 2005 01:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]  
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Wow!  I am pleased to see that people seem to take an interest in this subject.

I won’t address everything said at this point, but there are a few things that I would like to point out.

I notice that there has been quite a bit of discussion about the difference of people (morally speaking) from animals, or the lack thereof.  I strongly suspect that inasmuch as certain concepts of morality seem strongly ingrained in us (preference for honesty, fair division of rewards for fair division of labor, etc.) we are experiencing the echoes of the “evolved” morality of our animal ancestors.  With the advent of the ultra developed cerebral cortex, however, the complexity of human endeavors and interactions has been able to accelerate at a pace far beyond anything (I suspect anyway) seen in the macroscopic scale (at least on this world) thus far.  What we think of as ethics and morality, in the academic sense, then, is our attempt to extend the notions of morality that we have been given by millions of years of evolution, into the new territory that we are exploring, and for which we have no direct instinctive senses of right and wrong.

The reason that I find this subject to be so vitally important, is that we are on the threshold of some very amazing things.  Stem cell research immediately comes to mind.  These things are controversial, and quite obviously represent territory for which we are ill suited from an instinctive perspective.  Thus, assuming that I am even close to right above, the framing of these issues is vitally important when it comes to how people are likely to react.  When someone characterizes a fertilized egg as a human being, for instance, it summons up one set of instinctive reactions.  When a newly fertilized egg is recognized as containing fewer cells than the number a person kills when they scratch an itch, however, an entirely different set of instinctive reactions is summoned up.

Of course, that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.

-Matt

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Posted: 15 July 2005 01:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]  
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Psiconoclast…..I agree it seems to matter how any argument is framed.  Who would not agree that human life is special or that humans need (deserve?) healthcare.  However, we certainly seem to be able to make distinctions among these humans.  Doesn’t it seem logical that the “culture of life” making no distinctions in defining “human”, embryo or born, would be the biggest proponant of universal healthcare.  Just don’t see that, do we? The righteous seem a little more concerned about pissing off that voting block 65 and older. 

Well,  initially I just wanted to say something about your comment that we’re ill suited from an instinctual perspective to deal with things like stem cell research.  Might I disagree.  I give you four situations: 

!....Five stored embryos are accidentally washed down a drain

2….Five 6 year olds die in meningitis epidemic

3….Five forty-somethings die in car crash

4….Five ninety-somethings die in nursing home fire

Which seems more tragic?  Which seems like no tragedy at all?  Thats your “gut” or “instinct” talking.  If they were all relatives, does it change anything?  There’s another part of your gut talking.  Insisting that they’re all human doesn’t make them all equally tragic does it? 

Later, Rod

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Posted: 15 July 2005 05:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]  
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[quote author=“Rod”]Well,  initially I just wanted to say something about your comment that we’re ill suited from an instinctual perspective to deal with things like stem cell research.  Might I disagree.  I give you four situations: 

!....Five stored embryos are accidentally washed down a drain

2….Five 6 year olds die in meningitis epidemic

3….Five forty-somethings die in car crash

4….Five ninety-somethings die in nursing home fire

Which seems more tragic?  Which seems like no tragedy at all?  Thats your “gut” or “instinct” talking.  If they were all relatives, does it change anything?  There’s another part of your gut talking.  Insisting that they’re all human doesn’t make them all equally tragic does it?

Good point, however, in a sense, it is closer to what I was getting at than it might appear.  I should have clarified that our instinctive inadequacy is especially prevalent with regards to laws, and for anyone who does not agree, I direct them to the debates raging around our nation.  Ultimately, though, I think that the problems can be largely linked to the debate over the source of our morality.  This, ultimately, brings us straight back to Sam’s point, which is that if we try to claim that our morals come from arbitrary religious texts, we wind up in so much hot water.  Instead, by recognizing the evolutionary background of our moral beliefs, we can identify the underlying principles (which are, by definition, life affirming) and apply them to the more complicated issues of modern life.

-Matt

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Posted: 19 July 2005 01:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]  
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Matt…Thought that was probably what you were getting at. 

It seems to me most nonbeliever types support abortion rights and maybe even euthanasia because their gut instincts don’t object, while still seeing tragedy in lost life otherwise.  Even strict believers, who can’t seem to see a difference between an embryo and a child, must have some rational acceptance of the comparative value of life (a relative as opposed to absolute morality), otherwise how could they justify, say, sending a soldier or a fireman on a mission, risking their lives for others. They have to see at times that there is a greater “good” to the sacrifice or that there at least exists a lesser of two evils.

Later, Rod

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