4 of 5
4
Why do atheists believe in universal values?
Posted: 01 June 2012 08:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 46 ]  
Member
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  147
Joined  2011-05-06

gsmonks

As of now sociopathy and psychopathy are not clearly distinguished.. People are discussing whether and when they should use two different terms . At any rate, sociopathy IS indeed a recognized disorder in the DSM. it’s implicitly defined in a peacetime context . What soldiers do in war time is irrelevant .. it’s like saying we’re all cannibals at heart because those guys ate those people in that Andes plane crash once….it’s circumstantial behaviour arising in only extreme circumstances. It’s interesting to note that sociopaths of course also get conscripted or join and they don’t stop being sociopaths and their behavior STILL stands out even in war time, even in extremis.


For one practitioner’s view of possible separation between the two states see this:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychopathy#Psychopathy_vs._sociopathy


As far as sociopathic tendencies I assume you know that the world is not mad of solid building blocks each one clearly labeled. Any biologically based property admits of degrees and sociopathy is no different. Maybe CEOs and surgeons rate higher, but that alone doesn’t make them sociopaths . Again it’ s category created by humans, with a shared definition in the DSM and it has to be used correctly. Blurring its essential properties (not at war or under external duress for instance)  then redefining it and then saying what you’re describing is not abnormal is   circular reasoning.


As far as it’s being a biological illness, the hell it’s not. There are underlying biological and social pressures attendant most diseases and absent convincing proof to the contrary this goes for all forms of mental illness especially.


On the original topic, what people are trying to say is happiness is a word and its referent is not. Smiling giggling people bereft of all pain of any sort is not what anyone is trying to describe.  That’s a straw man and attacking it not interesting.  There is no way to communicate with a single word the complex idea of human happiness.. so, yes it encompasses things like roller coasters and unhappy music., of course. 

There are other complications such as local vs global happiness. Local happiness may be a state a person gets into whereby if they make any change at all, they will be less happy. It’s a local maxima of happiness. Think drug addict. This is also sort of what’s going on with religion. It’s a palliative and leaving it probably implies a downward direction in happiness for the leaver, with the implication that “real” happiness, at least for society,  is elsewhere.

The question- what is good for us? is a tough one but does anyone seriously doubt it has a set of answers which clearly excludes some things? 

 

[ Edited: 01 June 2012 08:39 AM by softwarevisualization]
Profile
 
 
Posted: 01 June 2012 10:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 47 ]  
Member
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  119
Joined  2009-05-12

Speaking of cannibalism, it was once common amongst the Great Lakes area aboriginal peoples. I read an account of how some Frenchies and Indians were returning from massacring an English settlement. The Frenchies were practically starving, and noticed that the natives were eating well. Seeing their interest, the Indians told the Frenchies to dig in. One of the guys went straight to a huge cook-pot hanging over a fire, bowl in hand, and began fishing around with the ladle. In this way he discovered that the pot was full of human heads. “Ai-i-i-i!!! Les tetes de l’anglais!”


War time is neither an exception nor irrelevant. So much of Human history is preoccupied with war- often with continual, prolonged periods of war spanning generations- that it can’t be dismissed as an exception. It only seems this way to North Americans, for whom war hasn’t been a conspicuous part of their heritage.


War-time thinking and actions are notable, primarily because it is so easy for people to fall into those patterns when they arise.


People used to live with extreme violence as a matter of course- something us moderns are generally blissfully unaware of. For example, after butchering an English colony South of the 49th, some natives returned north over the border with a number of women prisoners. One of the women freed herself, after their captors got drunk and passed out, took a tomahawk from one of the unconscious captors, and systematically staved their heads in- every single last one of them. She did so as though she were killing chickens, with no thought for their humanity.


Happiness in any form was not a consideration for many or most people in those days. They lived an in-the-moment, get-through-the-day kind of subsistence.


And with that, one of my cats just stepped in my coffee cup . . .

Profile
 
 
Posted: 01 June 2012 11:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 48 ]  
Member
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  147
Joined  2011-05-06

 

War time is neither an exception nor irrelevant. So much of Human history is preoccupied with war- often with continual, prolonged periods of war spanning generations- that it can’t be dismissed as an exception. It only seems this way to North Americans, for whom war hasn’t been a conspicuous part of their heritage.

 


I am not arguing this point but it’s irrelevant to the fact of how sociopathy is defined in the DSM, which was my only point. If you want to establish that sociopathy is normative to the community of psychologist and psychiatrists then you are free to try to do so.  If and when you change their minds then I’ll be interested. Until then, I am with them- sociopathy as defined in the DSM is pathological.


People used to live with extreme violence as a matter of course- something us moderns are generally blissfully unaware of. For example, after butchering an English colony South of the 49th, some natives returned north over the border with a number of women prisoners. One of the women freed herself, after their captors got drunk and passed out, took a tomahawk from one of the unconscious captors, and systematically staved their heads in- every single last one of them. She did so as though she were killing chickens, with no thought for their humanity.


My answer is just that sociopathy is not defined around how squeamish you are about blood and guts and killing. It’s defined around the social norms in your in group - however you define it- and a bunch of other things which are orthogonal to that, like a tendency to become easily bored, a tendency to lie etc. etc. We all are liars and lie mutiple times a day depending on our environment. We are not all sociopaths however.


I recommend the wikipedia entry, The Sociopath Next Door and the DSM description itself which is very enlightening. All of these are not only informative, they’re in fact eye opening - it explains why that person or persons in your life who turned it upside down was they way they were, for me and I know for a lot of other people. I know people who fit the DSM to a T down to nearly every detail (unfortunately)  But mostly they are also entertaining, esp the DSM and the book. If you want to be happy, getting back to the topic at hand, you need to recognize and avoid these people in your life.

 

Happiness in any form was not a consideration for many or most people in those days. They lived an in-the-moment, get-through-the-day kind of subsistence.

It’s not true. You’re defining happiness too narrowly. People who transgressed their society’s rules felt anxiety. People bought into some larger picture of their place in society and the cosmos. These things were important to them. Living “right” is always important to nearly everyone (sociopaths excepted) . The world you’re describing did not even hold in prehistoric times. You’re relying on what might be termed (this is gong to hurt- sorry!) amateur, theoretical cross-epoch psychologizing. This is not an argument I am interested in because it’s subject to just so storyizing where the actors and actions are pure fabrication, as is what they felt, how happy they were what their motivations were and what their lives were like. It’s just not serious in a very fundamental way and I can’t take arguments from it seriously.


And with that, one of my cats just stepped in my coffee cup . . .

Fuckin’ me-OW!

Get a dog; they’re better. <—this is a scientific statement of fact, not a personal opinion wink

[ Edited: 01 June 2012 12:58 PM by softwarevisualization]
Profile
 
 
Posted: 01 June 2012 02:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 49 ]  
Member
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  119
Joined  2009-05-12

Ha! It’s a scientific factola that cat-owners live longer than dog-owners. So nyaah, nyaah. :^)


I don’t know about the cat-person, dog-person thing, though. Most people in my family have always had both. I don’t have a dog because I’m often away from home. Dogs need more looking after.


Speaking of history, the Dark Ages was a prolonged experiment in pointless angst and excruciating Human misery. It is also the “Golden Age” Christians are wont to cite when the church was the dominant social dispenser, moderator, regulator, arbiter, law maker, morals-policer, etc.. It is the Dark Ages the neo-cons aspire to in their philosophy.


The Dark Ages lasted from circa 486 to circa 800, a period of roughly 314 years. It was not a fun time to be alive. That’s almost 16 generations of non-stop grinding poverty, violence, persecution, widespread murder and mayhem, filth, disease, famine, altogether not the best of times. People may have dreamed of happier times, but they certainly never lived to experience them.


Excellent series on the subject, by the way: http://www.amazon.com/The-Dark-Ages-History-Channel/dp/B000NO2416


I’ve read “The Sociopath Next Door”, oddly enough. I bought it on the strength of an interview with the author.


I don’t agree with the DSM or any other such description because they’re derived from statistics. Statistics are okay in fields like Sociology and bean-counting, but are misleading and tainted in psychiatric terms. I realise it’s a popular thing to do statistical analyses of behaviour, but it’s also an approach that’s too flawed for words.


Yes, you can make observations and draw conclusions from the movements concentrated crowds of people on the ground, and arrive at, say, better designs of cities, buildings and the use of outdoor areas. But those models aren’t solely dependent upon the use of Homo Sapiens, and in any event will tell you nothing useful about the people involved.


The same is true of statistical analyses of large groups of people. You can’t study the psychology of a crowd because a crowd isn’t an entity. Yes, there is such a thing as “crowd psychology”, but it is the study of the behaviour of individuals within a crowd setting. It still comes back to the individual.


Much of the described behaviour of someone supposedly suffering from antisocial personality disorder is the behaviour and attitude of a social dissident. The difference would be that a social dissident has a conscience and is concerned for the welfare of others. Still- the common ground remains.


It’s a US thing to have all these redundant, flaky, codified mental “disorders” being bandied about. There’s a pestilence of pseudoscientific quacks, just as there’s a pestilence of lawyers and insane legal laws these days. This “sociopath” thing and all the names associated with it probably all boil down to something very simple, such as obtaining people and things without conscience, while being unable to differentiate between a person and a thing.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 01 June 2012 09:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 50 ]  
Member
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  119
Joined  2009-05-12

bad Interweeb day- triple post

[ Edited: 02 June 2012 02:39 AM by gsmonks]
Profile
 
 
Posted: 01 June 2012 09:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 51 ]  
Member
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  119
Joined  2009-05-12

Bad Interweeb day- triple post.

[ Edited: 02 June 2012 02:40 AM by gsmonks]
Profile
 
 
Posted: 01 June 2012 09:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 52 ]  
Member
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  119
Joined  2009-05-12

Or . . . maybe a link in the empathy gene is distorted or broken.


And another thing . . .


Show me a drug that was developed as a result of statistical analysis of people and I’ll take statistical analysis more seriously. As a field, it’s not at all illuminating where the human brain is concerned.


Statistical analysis appears to be illuminating, but it’s really only good for discovering statistical curiosities, or what my dad used to like to call “dweeb statistics” in the world of sports.


For example, “When this team has been behind in the first two periods in September, they’ve lost eight out of ten games!” That’s what my dad called a “dweeb statistic”. Totally meaningless, but it’s the sort of thing that’s very popular with what passes for today’s sportscasters, who are really salesmen who don’t know the product they’re plugging.


For comparison, “they scored six unanswered goals” is a real statistic. “They threw twenty-six hits in the second period” is a dweeb statistic. Back in the 70’s, after beating the Philadelphia Flyers 2-1 and being outshot 32-2, the sportscaster dweebs were trying to make it appear as thought Scotty Bowman’s team had lost in some way, or that the Montreal Canadiens should have lost. Bowman’s response? “Statistics are for losers.”


There’s a bad gene that runs in the male DNA in my family that causes excruciatingly low serotonin levels, or what my dad used to call “The Monks’ Curse”. I was the first person in the history of my family to have the problem correctly identified and treated. I had been going to psychiatrists since I was a child because there was something seriously wrong with me. They subjected me to many decades of their navel-gazing quackery, which was chock-full of such nonsense as bi-polar disorder, which I don’t and never have had. But try telling a psychiatrist that there’s something physically wrong with your brain!


Anyway, long story short, my psychiatrist died after a “brief but courageous” (which they always say about people declining miserably unto death) battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. When delivering the news, my G.P. added in a low voice, as though afraid the principal might overhear, “You know . . . we (he and the other G.P.‘s at the clinic) have been discussing your case. We think your problem is low serotonin. We’d like you to be tested.”


Well . . . after many decades of suffering, I started taking a serotonin reuptake inhibitor. After the first month of excruciating anxiety (which is part of how the drug starts to work), one day it was all over. A horrible problem I’d had most of my life was gone, just like that. No thanks to my psychiatrist, who wondered if my problems weren’t somehow caused by my mommy touching my wee-wee inappropriately when I was in diapers, or some such nonsense, but something physical that was fixed by direct intervention.


I’m relating this because this experience, plus decades of pointless dithering at the hands of psychiatrists, has taught me a great deal about the profession, its outdated methods, its useless philosophising. Plus I took psychology electives in university, as lots of students do on the side when they’re looking for answers.


Shrink dies, G.P. figures out problem and fixes it. Hooda thunkit?


Meanwhile, psychiatrists and psychologists, like crooked lawyers, cook up all manner of “disorders” as a result of “statistical analyses”, publish their little papers, write their little books, and make a name for themselves on the television talk-show circuit. As far as I’m concerned it closely parallels religion- endless talk with nothing concrete to show for it, and fake credibility that holds up only because of a favourable climate of license in an industry whose thinking is as corrupt and bankrupt as its methods.

[ Edited: 02 June 2012 02:42 AM by gsmonks]
Profile
 
 
Posted: 02 June 2012 02:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 53 ]  
Member
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  119
Joined  2009-05-12

Geeze- maybe I should start a thread titled “Why I Hate Psychiatrists!” :^)

Profile
 
 
Posted: 02 June 2012 02:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 54 ]  
Member
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  119
Joined  2009-05-12

And another thing . . .


(Hey, I’m on a rant! I mean, “roll”!)


This term “atheist” we’re using for non-belief is actually incorrect. According to The Skeptic’s Dictionary [It’s really “sceptic”, but don’t try telling people in the US that :^) ] :

http://www.skepdic.com/atheism.html

Profile
 
 
Posted: 03 June 2012 05:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 55 ]  
Member
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  147
Joined  2011-05-06

I can’t keep up right now but I am interested. Glancing at this, it seems you have contempt for psychology borne of personal experience. Of course you’re clearly smart enough to know that such like can have a distorting effect on your judgement. I know it does mine ( I *really* hate religious types) . Psychology is a fascinating branch of science that very cleverly reveals a lot of counter intuitive things.  I will give examples and read your posts more closely when I get a chance if you’re interested in my take. Peace.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 03 June 2012 07:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 56 ]  
Member
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  119
Joined  2009-05-12
softwarevisualization - 03 June 2012 05:41 AM

I can’t keep up right now but I am interested. Glancing at this, it seems you have contempt for psychology borne of personal experience. Of course you’re clearly smart enough to know that such like can have a distorting effect on your judgement. I know it does mine ( I *really* hate religious types) . Psychology is a fascinating branch of science that very cleverly reveals a lot of counter intuitive things.  I will give examples and read your posts more closely when I get a chance if you’re interested in my take. Peace.


Heh- likewise- “Peace”. Even when I appear angry in a post, I’m really not. I just love to argue.


I have to take hubris unction with the statement that “Psychology is a fascinating branch of science”, though (don’t look up “hubris unction”- it doesn’t actually mean anything). The problem with psychology- and it is a big problem, is that psychology is a bad marriage between science and hokum. Brain science really is science, and is one thing, but psychology is chock-full of clunkers, and so is entirely another thing.


Psychology Today, which was the main university and college psychology textbook in Canada in the early 1970’s when I was a student, was full of clunkers such as “proof” of ESP, which was later proven to be falsified, the 19th century folderol of “thinkers” like Freud, Jung, Jaspers, et al, and philosophising that was passed off as “science”.


The field of psychology is polluted with mountains of junk science based upon statistical illusions. This has created problems for “sufferers”, such as children “suffering” from the non-existent disorder “ADHD” and other related bull-crap. The result is that bored children are routinely drugged in order to make them more complacent- to the point that many educators try to force the issue, try their level best to make parents drug their children.


At the other extreme, my life was rescued, quite literally, by brain science and the development of serotonin reuptake inhibitors, without which I’d have zero quality of life. One of my G.P.‘s was a schizophrenic who like me was able to live a normal life thanks to modern advances in drug treatments.


The divide for me is quite clear. New York, for example, is infested with pseudo-scientific nonsense in the form of “analysts”. A good many of my friends in New York City have them. It seems to be the popular or fashionable thing to do. There’s not a thing wrong with any of them, but they’ve bought into the “analyst” thing, and like people who won’t take a shit without consulting their astrologer, these people won’t do anything without discussing its “implications” with their analyst.


I like what Woody Allen said: “Neurosis is a collection of symptoms with no known disease.”


I would correct him, though, because (to my way of thinking) big cities are the disease.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 17 June 2012 12:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 57 ]  
Newbie
Rank
Total Posts:  12
Joined  2010-10-23

Hi everyone,


Thanks to those who have contributed—this thread has turned out far livelier than I originally anticipated.


I’ve spent some time trying to understand the various responses and I gather that the respondents agree on some issues and disagree on others. A number of questions remain.


@boagie


1)

boagie - 30 May 2012 08:30 AM

There is a kind of consensus across the board I think, that human societies wish to work towards a greater humanity, a greater biological expression of identifying with other, and the release of a greater compassion from which our actions might flow.

So, does that mean that you believe that universality of an opinion makes it right / true?


On the actual content of this point, my personal empirical experience doesn’t resonate with this as an overriding value. That is, people might want to connect with each other and work towards a “greater humanity,” but in general, people seem to be far more concerned about, say, building their own nest egg or raising children to be high-performers.


2)

boagie - 30 May 2012 08:30 AM

After thought, all meaning is biologically dependent,, the physical world in the absence of said biology/consciousness is utterly without meaning—-thus, no values, absolute or otherwise.

As I mentioned earlier, I think that’s a logically self-consistent position to take. It just seems inconsistent to take that position and then say “my values are better than yours”, which is what people on this thread have done.


From your response, I gather that you believe that biology provides some yardstick with which to measure values. But then, we get back to the is/ought dilemma. Biology is description and can tell us how something happens and in many cases why, but it cannot prescribe to us what the world ought to be. Biology does not say, for example, that the extinction of humankind is a bad thing, for it has not concept of “bad” (which, I think was PainfulButTrue’s and gsmonk’s point)—that seems like the whole point of “survival of the fittest.”


Not only that, but connecting with one another and greater compassion don’t seem like major themes in biology. If I were to just look at biology and try to derive some moral lesson, I’d probably conclude that it’s a cruel world out there, and different genetic material are vying with one another for dominance. The “nice guy” gene doesn’t seem to be a leading candidate as to what would thrive.


@PainfulButTrue
1)

PainfulButTrue - 01 June 2012 04:49 AM

Again in the context of the ‘Moral Landscape’ and as expressed here, ‘happiness’ is a suitcase word, and instead of being a one dimensional term with a singular cardinality, it is a set made up of a taxonomic spectrum of blended emotions which have the effect of releasing the ‘positive’ neurotransmitters. Unfortunately the word has both a general and specific connotations. I mean happiness in the long term general sense as opposed to the short term specific sense.


The release of ‘positive’ neurotransmitters is an observable short-term phenomena (assuming we have or will have the science and the technology to do so). What do you mean by the “long term general sense” of happiness?


2)

PainfulButTrue - 31 May 2012 04:42 PM

Therefore asking why happiness is preferable to misery is tantamount to asking why oxygen & hydrogen come together as water, there is no other way for our DNA to prosper. For the sake of Sam’s and my argument happiness is held as an underlying axiomatic assumption, but hopefully you can see the cause being as natural as the air we breath.

Just to make sure I understand your perspective—do you believe that anything that causes our DNA to prosper (and I assume you mean propagate) is happiness?


@softwarevisualization


1)

softwarevisualization - 31 May 2012 01:30 PM

You’re using biology to mean “transitive feeling” or “circumstantial emotions” and I am using it to mean the REASON we have the ideals we have ,, even when we don’t live up to them. The fact that biology makes us want to , say. murder someone if we get angry enough doesn’t mean that murder is justified and i certainly am not saying that. I am locating the source of morality. That source is our shared biology, as opposed to some supernatural something else.


I don’t think I follow how you get from biology to morality. Are you saying that:
a) our genes cause us to gravitate towards making up moral frameworks, or
b) that biology dictates that if we want to live, we shouldn’t kill each other (which is an example of morality), or
c) something else
?


2)

softwarevisualization - 31 May 2012 01:30 PM

the relief of the suffering of nervous systems is a universal good and no nervous system is excluded from consideration except that it’s not practically possible to relieve that suffering

So, does this mean that you’re a vegetarian (and that everyone else should be as well)?

Sort of but the fact is most of us count human suffering differently than pig suffering in at least some circumstances. You’d save your child before your pet pig. I think we all understand the limits in extremis and quirks of this kind of thing already.

So, are you a vegetarian?


3)

softwarevisualization - 01 June 2012 08:35 AM

On the original topic, what people are trying to say is happiness is a word and its referent is not. Smiling giggling people bereft of all pain of any sort is not what anyone is trying to describe.  That’s a straw man and attacking it not interesting.  There is no way to communicate with a single word the complex idea of human happiness.. so, yes it encompasses things like roller coasters and unhappy music., of course. 

There are other complications such as local vs global happiness. Local happiness may be a state a person gets into whereby if they make any change at all, they will be less happy. It’s a local maxima of happiness.

The “smiling giggling people bereft of all pain of any sort” that you object to seems to describe pretty well to me the release of ‘positive’ neurotransmitters that PainfulButTrue mentioned. Putting aside the so-called straw man, does your morality permit others to impose happiness on others even if those others don’t want it?


4)

softwarevisualization - 01 June 2012 08:35 AM

The question- what is good for us? is a tough one but does anyone seriously doubt it has a set of answers which clearly excludes some things?

“The question- what is good for us?”—is an excellent question. Here’s the gist of what I’ve gotten from this thread:
Q: “What is good for us?”
A: “Happiness.”
Q: “Okay, what is happiness?”
A: “It’s related to the release of neurotransmitters, but it’s not the giggling type. It’s long-term and complex.”
Q: “How do you know it exists?”
A: “Are you kidding?”

This reminds me a lot of the economists’ can-opener (“let’s assume we have a can-opener”). How do you know that happiness (not the giggling type, but the long-term complex type) actually exists?


@gsmonks

Your story with the psychiatrist is a sad one. I’m glad to hear that your condition was resolved. I am not intimately familiar with those types of conditions, but I can begin to imagine how hard it must have been.


Hope everyone is having a great summer.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 17 June 2012 05:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 58 ]  
Member
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  147
Joined  2011-05-06

softwarevisualization - 31 May 2012 04:30 PM
You’re using biology to mean “transitive feeling” or “circumstantial emotions” and I am using it to mean the REASON we have the ideals we have ,, even when we don’t live up to them. The fact that biology makes us want to , say. murder someone if we get angry enough doesn’t mean that murder is justified and i certainly am not saying that. I am locating the source of morality. That source is our shared biology, as opposed to some supernatural something else.

I don’t think I follow how you get from biology to morality. Are you saying that:
a) our genes cause us to gravitate towards making up moral frameworks, or
b) that biology dictates that if we want to live, we shouldn’t kill each other (which is an example of morality), or
c) something else
?

a) is clearly true.

 

b) our biology doesn’t dictate so much as “strongly advise”. Self-preservation is intimately tied up with species preservation and the two can’t be clearly separated under all circumstances. I can’t survive without other people and this fact dictates or “strongly advises for most people” what we think of as good and bad, moral or immoral.  If you want to delve into the world of how our genes and evolutionary pressures intersect with our cultural practices, sociological norms and individual behaviour, I refer you to the works of Konrad Lorentz , Richard Dawkins and other writers from a sociobiological perspective. Their works ar really compelling and present a mountain of evidence that our shared genetic inheritance as formed through aeons of evolutionary process “strongly advises” what we think of as moral or immoral.

c) definitely something else. There’s always something else.



I read the entire post but excerpted only the parts that you addressed to me.


Before I answer you questions directly, a couple of things I noticed.


One is that you’re taking what any number of people are saying and assuming that they’re all coming form the same place. I can’t answer for what someone else asserted, only for what I am asserting. I can’t account for what PainfulButTrue said and our statements juxtaposed together do not and are not intended to form a coherent theory of morality.


A second is that you seem to be unconsciously caught caught trying to arrive at an operational definition of morality whereby for any given situation or action you can apply that definition and arrive at a moral / immoral or perhaps a rating of the morality involved. Questions of the form “so you are telling me X, does this then imply Y about Z” are attempts to acquire information about some aspect of the the physical world through an act of pure reason- i.e. through a purely deductive process. 


This is always wrong. How the world is is not a deductive question but an empirical one.  Only math and logic are purely deductive (and their ultimate referents are just themselves). So this is not any way to arrive at an evaluation of whether Z is moral or immoral.


Morality is not an act of pure reason, it’s an ongoing process of discovery. That one generation thinks of as moral is deemed immoral by future generations who know more about the world .  This is in keeping with the empirical nature of the thing under investigation- the morality of Z.


So in the extreme cases,  things like slavery get re-evaluated. Things like murder don’t .


So what is the ultimate referent here what makes thing good and one bad? It is our biology, as I said before, in just the way I said it and which you can re-read. Could an alien have a different biology and a different morality that permits him to see us as lunch, or batteries ala The Matrix? Sure. Stephan Hawking actually used that as an argument against trying to contact ET.

softwarevisualization - 31 May 2012 04:30 PM
the relief of the suffering of nervous systems is a universal good and no nervous system is excluded from consideration except that it’s not practically possible to relieve that suffering

This is always wrong. How the world is is not a deductive question but an empirical one.  Only math and logic are purely deductive (and their ultimate referents are just themselves). So this is not any way to arrive at an evaluation of whether X is moral or immoral.

So, does this mean that you’re a vegetarian (and that everyone else should be as well)?

 

This is irrelevant. If I am, then what follows, the rightness of my argument? If I’m not , then what follows, the wrongness of my argument?

 

3)
softwarevisualization - 01 June 2012 11:35 AM
On the original topic, what people are trying to say is happiness is a word and its referent is not. Smiling giggling people bereft of all pain of any sort is not what anyone is trying to describe.  That’s a straw man and attacking it not interesting.  There is no way to communicate with a single word the complex idea of human happiness.. so, yes it encompasses things like roller coasters and unhappy music., of course.
There are other complications such as local vs global happiness. Local happiness may be a state a person gets into whereby if they make any change at all, they will be less happy. It’s a local maxima of happiness.

The “smiling giggling people bereft of all pain of any sort” that you object to seems to describe pretty well to me the release of ‘positive’ neurotransmitters that PainfulButTrue mentioned. Putting aside the so-called straw man, does your morality permit others to impose happiness on others even if those others don’t want it?


The smiling giggling people definition of happiness is what I explicitly rejected, so you’ll have to address what PaintfulButTrue said to PainfulButTrue.


As far as imposing happiness on others, society right now does that and considerably worse than that. We impose all kinds of laws for your own good - i.e. happiness- and the general public good and take away people’s happiness- in the form of legal punishment.

We attempt to impose and take away happiness on others every time we do some consensus thing with the reason that it’s in the long term - or short term good- of society.


Now does Z actually tend to promote the general welfare, i.e. long term happiness of large numbers of people? Who knows, we would like to know. For now this is adjudicated through a process which is well known to you; it’s called “politics”.

4)
softwarevisualization - 01 June 2012 11:35 AM
The question- what is good for us? is a tough one but does anyone seriously doubt it has a set of answers which clearly excludes some things?
“The question- what is good for us?”—is an excellent question. Here’s the gist of what I’ve gotten from this thread:
Q: “What is good for us?”
A: “Happiness.”
Q: “Okay, what is happiness?”
A: “It’s related to the release of neurotransmitters, but it’s not the giggling type. It’s long-term and complex.”
Q: “How do you know it exists?”
A: “Are you kidding?”
This reminds me a lot of the economists’ can-opener (“let’s assume we have a can-opener”). How do you know that happiness (not the giggling type, but the long-term complex type) actually exists?


OK saying “how do you know this noun X actually exists?” where the noun X in question possesses a complex aggregate referent and is routinely referenced by, and accepted as meaningful by, all members the society of speakers / hearers you live in is NOT a form of being clever or skeptical or scientific or revolutionary or Socratic or penetrating or even an example of “thinking radically outside the box”. Its sophism. If you want to disambiguate various uses, articulate meaningful distinctions, discoverer some underlying process which radically re-frames our knowledge of the world so as to account for, and perhaps dispose of, the aggregate noun then that’s interesting. What’s not interesting is the non-contribution of “yes, but how do you know it REALLY exists…. at all!!!!”.

 

The actual answer is- no one knows what nouns in casual usage “exist” in the deep epistemological way you mean and that doesn’t impede the process of science, including physics, chemistry, but also sociology and psychology and the law and other humanities one bit. It’s not a game-upender to posit the question : “how do you know happiness exists?” . We proceed with the notions we have that seem a best fit to the world until and unless something better comes along.

 

[ Edited: 17 June 2012 06:05 AM by softwarevisualization]
Profile
 
 
Posted: 19 June 2012 12:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 59 ]  
Newbie
Rank
Total Posts:  12
Joined  2010-10-23

Hi softwarevisualization,

Thanks for your reply—I think I’m getting close to understanding you.

softwarevisualization - 17 June 2012 05:06 AM

I don’t think I follow how you get from biology to morality. Are you saying that:
a) our genes cause us to gravitate towards making up moral frameworks, or
b) that biology dictates that if we want to live, we shouldn’t kill each other (which is an example of morality), or
c) something else
?

a) is clearly true.

b) our biology doesn’t dictate so much as “strongly advise”. Self-preservation is intimately tied up with species preservation and the two can’t be clearly separated under all circumstances. I can’t survive without other people and this fact dictates or “strongly advises for most people” what we think of as good and bad, moral or immoral.  If you want to delve into the world of how our genes and evolutionary pressures intersect with our cultural practices, sociological norms and individual behaviour, I refer you to the works of Konrad Lorentz , Richard Dawkins and other writers from a sociobiological perspective. Their works ar really compelling and present a mountain of evidence that our shared genetic inheritance as formed through aeons of evolutionary process “strongly advises” what we think of as moral or immoral.

c) definitely something else. There’s always something else.

I assume your response is written with a wink—if so, the humor is appreciated.


[Quoted out of order:]

softwarevisualization - 17 June 2012 05:06 AM

So what is the ultimate referent here what makes thing good and one bad? It is our biology, as I said before, in just the way I said it and which you can re-read. Could an alien have a different biology and a different morality that permits him to see us as lunch, or batteries ala The Matrix? Sure. Stephan Hawking actually used that as an argument against trying to contact ET.

As far as I can tell, there are a few potential interpretations to your response:


1) You might be saying that morality is specific to each individual (when you said “we”, it’s a unclear if you meant each of us as part of the collective, or the collective all together). Under this interpretation, it seems that saying something is immoral holds not much more weight than saying that an individual prefers blue over red (going back to your argument regarding the majority, I guess it matters if the vast majority of people prefer blue and think that it’s not ok for someone to prefer red).


2) You might be saying that self-preservation and/or species preservation is the yardstick of morality. That is, if something preserves your self, then that is moral; if something acts against the preservation of your self (or of the species), then that is immoral.


These are not mutually exclusive interpretations, and I suspect that you believe both. Is that correct? If not, what am I missing?


By the way, I agree that self-preservation cannot always be cleanly separated from species preservation. At the same time, it also seems that there are clearly situations where one might survive at the expense of a portion of the species. Those cases would present interesting opportunities to clarify what is moral, but I think you would dismiss such questioning as quibbling, so I won’t continue on that track for now.

softwarevisualization - 17 June 2012 05:06 AM

Before I answer you questions directly, a couple of things I noticed.


One is that you’re taking what any number of people are saying and assuming that they’re all coming form the same place. I can’t answer for what someone else asserted, only for what I am asserting. I can’t account for what PainfulButTrue said and our statements juxtaposed together do not and are not intended to form a coherent theory of morality.

My apologies… when I juxtaposed the statements, I did not mean to imply that there were presented as a coherent theory of morality; rather I was comparing and contrasting. However, now that you have pointed this out, I understand how this is confusing to the discussion at hand.

softwarevisualization - 17 June 2012 05:06 AM

A second is that you seem to be unconsciously caught caught trying to arrive at an operational definition of morality whereby for any given situation or action you can apply that definition and arrive at a moral / immoral or perhaps a rating of the morality involved. Questions of the form “so you are telling me X, does this then imply Y about Z” are attempts to acquire information about some aspect of the the physical world through an act of pure reason- i.e. through a purely deductive process. 


This is always wrong. How the world is is not a deductive question but an empirical one.  Only math and logic are purely deductive (and their ultimate referents are just themselves). So this is not any way to arrive at an evaluation of whether Z is moral or immoral.


Morality is not an act of pure reason, it’s an ongoing process of discovery. That one generation thinks of as moral is deemed immoral by future generations who know more about the world .  This is in keeping with the empirical nature of the thing under investigation- the morality of Z.

Tying this back to the earlier section, you mean that morality is an ongoing process of discovering what preserves the self and the species, right? Is there anything else that we’re discovering as we investigate morality?

softwarevisualization - 17 June 2012 05:06 AM

So in the extreme cases,  things like slavery get re-evaluated. Things like murder don’t .

I don’t see how things like murder won’t get re-evaluated under the system of morality that you seem to be espousing (and again, I recognize that I might be misinterpreting what you wrote earlier). For example, there may come a time when a population is under the control of a sociopath, and in order to preserve the species, it is thought best to kill the sociopathic leader. In order to do so, however, society first has to get through the sociopath’s minions. In other contexts it might be called war, but if the most powerful nation in the world did it and could only be stopped by its own citizens, it might be called murder. Closer to history would be the assassination attempts on world leaders—it was probably thought by the governments that those attempts furthered self-preservation. In short, given your framework of morality, I don’t see why murder would not get re-evaluated by some generations (either in the past or in the future).

 

softwarevisualization - 17 June 2012 05:06 AM

This is always wrong. How the world is is not a deductive question but an empirical one.  Only math and logic are purely deductive (and their ultimate referents are just themselves). So this is not any way to arrive at an evaluation of whether X is moral or immoral.

On the deductive nature of morality—I think it’s fair to say that a theory is not very good if it can’t predict anything. Part of that is to think through the implications and wonder whether those thought experiments support the theory or not. In any case, if morality is just a preference for you, then this particular point is not important.

softwarevisualization - 17 June 2012 05:06 AM

So, does this mean that you’re a vegetarian (and that everyone else should be as well)?

This is irrelevant. If I am, then what follows, the rightness of my argument? If I’m not , then what follows, the wrongness of my argument?

Not at all—if you’re not vegetarian, then it means that I’ve missed something about your morality, or you don’t really believe in it. I wanted figure out which.

softwarevisualization - 17 June 2012 05:06 AM

Now does Z actually tend to promote the general welfare, i.e. long term happiness of large numbers of people? Who knows, we would like to know. For now this is adjudicated through a process which is well known to you; it’s called “politics”.

softwarevisualization - 17 June 2012 05:06 AM

OK saying “how do you know this noun X actually exists?” where the noun X in question possesses a complex aggregate referent and is routinely referenced by, and accepted as meaningful by, all members the society of speakers / hearers you live in is NOT a form of being clever or skeptical or scientific or revolutionary or Socratic or penetrating or even an example of “thinking radically outside the box”. Its sophism. If you want to disambiguate various uses, articulate meaningful distinctions, discoverer some underlying process which radically re-frames our knowledge of the world so as to account for, and perhaps dispose of, the aggregate noun then that’s interesting. What’s not interesting is the non-contribution of “yes, but how do you know it REALLY exists…. at all!!!!”.

I think this gets us pretty close to the crux of one of the underlying issues. Happiness is generally understood as a transitory emotion, and I think scientists may understand it as the by-product of the release of certain neurotransmitters. If you offered that as your working definition of happiness, I wouldn’t ask about its existence because I have felt it. But you have explicitly rejected that notion of happiness (which I think is the common definition). I would even go as far as accepting long-term happiness as the integral of short-term happiness over a person’s lifetime. That brings us to hypothetical situations, however, of some people forcing other people to take “happy” drugs—since the people’s lives experience more of these neurotransmitters, it is quite possible that they feel happier over the course of their life than they would otherwise. You would probably dismiss that as a straw man saying that happiness is more complex than that. In that case, I think it’s completely legitimate to ask if it actually exists, other than as an hand-waving abstraction to gloss over fundamental questions.


When you describe happiness in some parts of your responses, I think you mean welfare, and I think your system of morality is some version of utilitarianism. If I remember correctly, utilitarianism fell apart when people started asking if utils actually existed. In particular, utils cannot be meaningfully combined or compared across people. Another phrasing would be to ask if you’re trying to maximize welfare, what dimension of welfare are you trying to maximize? (overall wealth? average wealth? total population? population at or above a certain quality of living?) The answer cannot just be that “it’s complex” since when you optimize, you can really only optimize on one dimension. If you try to optimize on more than one dimension, you have to understand the relationship between the dimensions and you are back to effectively optimizing on just one dimension.


Importantly, I am not asking how to optimize, but rather what metric to optimize on. If your answer is to optimize on the human population at some future point in time (as some form of preservation of the species), that seems like an extremely crude and rather uninteresting metric—it might even be the case that allowing slavery could actually yield a higher number. If your answer is the length and/or of your own life (preservation of the self), that seems supremely selfish and again does not seem to rule out slavery. In either case, the original question is unanswered: what is the basis of an atheist saying that something is less moral?


Of course, none of this discussion means anything if morality is just a preference to you. The original question was about about absolutes and in particular about the basis with which an atheist can mock someone else’s morals. If the only answer is to say that the atheist can mock simply because he prefers blue instead of red, then this conversation will not be very meaningful.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 19 June 2012 01:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 60 ]  
Member
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  147
Joined  2011-05-06

I’m going to have to answer is a series of posts as I find the time.

 

I don’t think I follow how you get from biology to morality. Are you saying that:
a) our genes cause us to gravitate towards making up moral frameworks, or
b) that biology dictates that if we want to live, we shouldn’t kill each other (which is an example of morality), or
c) something else
?

 

We get from biology to morality the same we get from brains to language. The brains we (as a species) were born with have an innate predispostion to create and use language. It’s part of our genetic inheritance, selected over aeons through evolutionary forces.

 

Note that in your last post you’re treating my answer as though you had asked different questions, i.e.: Who or what is the ultimate adjudicator for deciding what is moral?  and What is the metric for deciding what is moral?

1) You might be saying that morality is specific to each individual ..

Under this interpretation, it seems that saying something is immoral holds not much more weight than saying that an individual prefers blue over red


2) You might be saying that self-preservation and/or species preservation is the yardstick of morality.


Those may be interesting related questions, but they’re not the ones you asked.


You asked about the source of morality. Universal morality is based in our shared biology. That is how it can be practically universal, because it issues forth from our practically universally shared biology. Individuals can deviate strongly as in the case of sociopaths, but that’s why there’s jails.


This is not an extraordinary fact. It’s similar with what we know about language.  All communities have language and also share some abstract specifics of language, which qualifies it as universal.. Some aspects are peculiar to specific communities.  And it’s all rooted in our biology. Nothing mysterious here.


So unless a dispute raised, which I’ll gladly engage with, this is the answer to the specific question of how morality could possibly issue form biology.

 

Profile
 
 
   
4 of 5
4
 
‹‹ Dzogchen?      Response to "Moral Landscape" ››
RSS 2.0     Atom Feed