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Does Morality Really Have to do with questions of happiness/suffering?
Posted: 29 November 2012 12:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 106 ]  
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@Boagle

You define morality in terms of “wellbeing” and wellbeing in terms of “self interest”. I should say RE-define, since morality always involves actions - considered if not necessarily enacted - despite one’s self interest.

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Posted: 29 November 2012 08:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 107 ]  
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logicophilosophicus - 29 November 2012 12:00 AM

@Boagle

You define morality in terms of “wellbeing” and wellbeing in terms of “self interest”. I should say RE-define, since morality always involves actions - considered if not necessarily enacted - despite one’s self interest.


logicophilosophicus,

 

One must be moved from within before one moves without, which you might indeed consider an idea. Morality is defined after the fact, as a judgment of said act to have been moral, immoral or amoral. In looking for the source of that which moved the said subject in the first place, there can be only one source the conscious subject. The foundation of all morality is identification with other, from which compassion does arise, and compassion is the basis of all morality. There is no such thing as objective morality. You might consider the process an expanded concept of the self, no identification with the self of others no compassion, no compassion, thus no morality.

You say, “Consider it not necessarily enacted.” If it is not enacted it never comes to judgment, to then be defined as moral, immoral, or amoral. Happiness is a limited term to hinge morality on, but add self interest of ones well being and security and your on firm ground which, in itself encompasses happiness. Consider it the well being of a common humanity through, a common identity of self and you have a working process. An added thought, since all meaning is the property of a conscious subject and never the property of the world as object, where there is no identification, compassion and thus morality in the conscious subject,  he then lives in a world of objects, very much alone in kind.

[ Edited: 03 December 2012 01:44 PM by boagie]
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The Christian religion not only was at first attended with miracles, but even at this day cannot be believed by any reasonable person without one.
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Posted: 04 December 2012 02:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 108 ]  
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Sam Harris, I believe, is saying that the only reasonable way to define “morality” as it is commonly understood by most people is as the brain states of conscious creatures.  Nothing else makes sense as, for all we know, only a brain can value something and so morality only applies to conscious creatures.  This is why, as long as one can admit that it is possible that some creatures live better lives than others (experience better brain states), his argument holds.

And so actions conducive to better brain states on average are defined as more moral than those which tend to cause worse brain states.  Of course, we have no control over how moral we are.  It can still be observed and measured though, at least in principle.

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Posted: 04 December 2012 04:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 109 ]  
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@boagle
“Consider it the well being of a common humanity…” Same problem of definition, with the added complication of “common humanity”. (Is it moral for a starving family to kill and eat their children, or their grandparents?) Defining happiness/wellbeing for an individual is already yay hard.

@clfst17
“...better brain states on average are defined as more moral…”
Defining good (better, best) is the basis of ethics. You can’t take it as given. What IS a “better brain state”? (I don’t mean non-dead or non-sick: I mean how is my brain state when I spend a pound on a pink ribbon better than on a can of beer?)

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Posted: 04 December 2012 04:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 110 ]  
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logicophilosophicus - 04 December 2012 04:32 AM

@boagle
“Consider it the well being of a common humanity…” Same problem of definition, with the added complication of “common humanity”. (Is it moral for a starving family to kill and eat their children, or their grandparents?) Defining happiness/wellbeing for an individual is already yay hard.

@clfst17
“...better brain states on average are defined as more moral…”
Defining good (better, best) is the basis of ethics. You can’t take it as given. What IS a “better brain state”? (I don’t mean non-dead or non-sick: I mean how is my brain state when I spend a pound on a pink ribbon better than on a can of beer?)

Defining what is good (better, best) intrinsically is the basis of ethics.  And the consensus is that it can’t be done.  Harris admits that.  But what most people mean when they talk about morality is what is good in terms of the suffering of conscious creatures.  That can be done now that we know a thing or two about brains.

There can be multiple peaks on the moral landscape.  But it’s not necessary to distinguish between a pink ribbon and a can of beer when all it takes to establish Harris’ position is an admission that, say, living 100 years in America with near-perfect health, a fulfilling job, and great relationships is a better life than living 30 years under a dictator while starving with no education, no clean water, etc.

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Posted: 04 December 2012 06:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 111 ]  
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“Defining what is good (better, best) intrinsically is the basis of ethics.  And the consensus is that it can’t be done.”

I disagree - there is no such consensus. The vast majority of intelligent, educated people claim to recognise fine gradations of good and bad all the time. Likewise the vast religious majority of the naive and undereducated. The overwhelming consensus is that it can be done.

However, your main point is that modern American life is better than life under - for example - Marcus Aurelius. That’s not by any means certain. Personally I think that a life spent watching 24 and Jerry Springer is a wasted life. (I watched The X Factor and Homeland at the weekend - my wife’s choice, but I concurred - so I’m a waster, too.) But morality isn’t about the march of technology: is Barack Obama a better man than Marcus Aurelius? Because of the internal combustion engine and the germ theory of disease?

And television?

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Posted: 04 December 2012 07:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 112 ]  
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I do not believe we should be arguing whether morality can exist, it is directly in front of us. if like me you live within a society that has its moral values and laws in place. The task is, is it not, to determine the source, the origin or the process which brought those moral values into existents. I have suggested a process by which this might have occurred. To suggest that humanity has not had in the pass the ability to discern for itself what is good and what is bad for it own well being is to attribute less consciousness to humanity than that of a sea slug. Do we not know of where this morality comes? Remember all meaning is the property of a conscious subject, does this not make morality innate, and if so how is it brought forth. By the way, the quotations in this thread, at least mine, are problematic, lets make sure we know who says what, otherwise it just a major confusion.

[ Edited: 04 December 2012 07:40 AM by boagie]
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Posted: 04 December 2012 11:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 113 ]  
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I disagree - there is no such consensus. The vast majority of intelligent, educated people claim to recognise fine gradations of good and bad all the time. Likewise the vast religious majority of the naive and undereducated.  The overwhelming consensus is that it can be done.

I was talking about a general consensus among academics and philosophers, not your average joe’s intuition about morality.  Hume’s “you can’t get an ought from an is” that is widely accepted by most philosophers (which Harris rightly says is irrelevant to his definition of morality) is what I meant.  Harris’ book addresses a version that is free of Hume’s famous quote because he’s not talking about intrinsic goodness but rather goodness with respect to brain states.

However, your main point is that modern American life is better than life under - for example - Marcus Aurelius. That’s not by any means certain. Personally I think that a life spent watching 24 and Jerry Springer is a wasted life. (I watched The X Factor and Homeland at the weekend - my wife’s choice, but I concurred - so I’m a waster, too.) But morality isn’t about the march of technology: is Barack Obama a better man than Marcus Aurelius? Because of the internal combustion engine and the germ theory of disease?  And television

No, that’s not my pain point.  My main point is that it’s possible for one conscious creature to live an objectively better life than another conscious creature.  To pretend otherwise would be ignorant.  And as Harris says, if one can just admit that there is any difference between the greatest possible happiness and the worst possible suffering, then his argument holds up.  The finer differences between quality of lives exist but aren’t necessary to establish Harris’ point.  And you seem to be talking about a definition of morality that is not “the well-being of conscious creatures.”

From what you’re typing, it seems like you have not actually read Harris’ book. 

 

 

[ Edited: 04 December 2012 11:15 AM by clfst17]
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Posted: 09 December 2012 02:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 114 ]  
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Whoops - thought I’d already posted this:

@ clfst17

You wrote: “...you seem to be talking about a definition of morality that is not ‘the well-being of conscious creatures.’ From what you’re typing, it seems like you have not actually read Harris’ book.”

I have read and extensively annotated “The Moral Landscape”. I disagree with its thesis, as I clearly wrote in my first contribution to this discussion (#75) which, from what you are typing, it seems you have not actually read:

#75: “I assume the original question means, roughly, is happiness the key issue in morality? I am certain that it isn’t, simply because I make many moral decisions which do not affect my own or anyone else’s happiness. Many people do. Read Book II of Marcus Aurelius’s ‘Meditations’ for many examples (and then check how popular the book still is today).”

Integrity, self-restraint, perseverance, enlightenment… Where do moral ideas/judgments like these come from?

You wrote: “My main point is that it’s possible for one conscious creature to live an objectively better life than another conscious creature.  To pretend otherwise would be ignorant.” You previously wrote: “Defining what is good (better, best) intrinsically is the basis of ethics.  And the consensus is that it can’t be done.” I think you need to make your mind up.

If your position is that nothing is intrinsically good, so you’ll just use the word “good” (and, by extension, the word “moral”) as shorthand for longevity, medical science and the American Way, then you are in Humpty Dumpty territory, beyond rational argument. Sam Harris was clearly aware of that when he settled for the term “wellbeing” rather than “good”. You can’t just hijack the word “good (better, best)” and then tell anyone who uses it in its accepted moral sense that he is pretentious and ignorant. Well, not in my moral landscape, where integrity, truth and understanding are moral values. Since your points have not made any impact on my place in the suffering-happiness spectrum, I guess you are at liberty to ignore integrity, truth, etc, in your moral landscape, or in Wonderland.

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Posted: 11 December 2012 06:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 115 ]  
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“I assume the original question means, roughly, is happiness the key issue in morality? I am certain that it isn’t, simply because I make many moral decisions which do not affect my own or anyone else’s happiness. Many people do.

Wrong.  You’re just defining morality as something other than “the well-being of conscious creatures.”  And you’re doing exactly what Sam Harris makes fun of in his book.  If morality is not “the well-being of conscious creatures” then it’s something that is pretty useless to be talking about because it has no relevance to brain-states and therefore, by definition, can’t have value to anyone, ever.

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Posted: 11 December 2012 06:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 116 ]  
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You previously wrote: “Defining what is good (better, best) intrinsically is the basis of ethics.  And the consensus is that it can’t be done.” I think you need to make your mind up.

I never said I agree with the “basis of ethics.”  Nor does Harris.  Hence the book.  The consensus among philosophers is that there’s no way to define what is intrinsically good, but Harris replies to that with, “of course there isn’t, but no one cares about what’s intrinsically good, whatever that even means.”

What people do in fact care about is their well-being.  And it’s all they care about.  They can’t help but care.  And so naturally, when regular people (not moral philosophers) talk about morality, they mean “the well-being of conscious creatures” whether they know it or not.  If they don’t mean that, we can ignore them in the same way we ignore astrologists and faith healers.

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Posted: 12 December 2012 01:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 117 ]  
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@clfst17

I’ve already made this as clear as I could, but at the risk of being patronising:


You wrote: “...it’s possible [to be]... objectively better” and “Defining… better… [according to] consensus… can’t be done.” Since you were relying on the consensus (which you falsely conjoured up) to prove your point, which you then went on to deny, it’s pretty obvious that you are not only in Humpty Dumpty territory but also in the realm of the Red Queen, believing the logically impossible.

“Integrity, self-restraint, perseverance, enlightenment… Where do moral ideas/judgments like these come from?” You deny that these are moral terms. You’re wrong. This sentence from the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, also quoted in the Wikipedia page on “Morality”, is full of such ideas - and empty of self-interest in any form: “Although the morality of people and their ethics amounts to the same thing, there is a usage that restricts morality to systems such as that of Kant, based on notions such as duty, obligation, and principles of conduct, reserving ethics for the more Aristotelian approach to practical reasoning, based on the notion of a virtue, and generally avoiding the separation of ‘moral’ considerations from other practical considerations.” The point of this thread was to discuss whether moral principles can be reduced to “happiness”, not to deny that they exist.

Here endeth the lesson.

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Posted: 12 December 2012 04:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 118 ]  
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To answer OPs original question:

Morality is meaningless without suffering. If we all where infinitely and permanently happy or unhappy, actions could not be moral or imoral. Since what makes actions moral or imoral is the fact that they can change our level of suffering.

Its like brightness beeing meaningless if everyone was blind.

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Posted: 25 January 2013 07:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 119 ]  
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To the OP (is it not just happiness and suffering again)

I think that happiness and suffering is a binary scale and that evperience of the value (relating to welfare, positive good) of psychic life may be mapped along a one dimensional line. However things might be 2d, 3d or 100d because of the complexity of the genetic hypersoup brain, body and nervous system. (afaik genetic evolution is related to a developmental hyperspace). There could be esteem and happiness, compared to esteem and suffering. Or shame and happiness, shame and suffering. Thus we have a 2d ‘value landscape’ with four options (I think). There may be combinatorial complexity with many faceted (many dimensional) features to mental life that result in “happiness peaks” or “suffering troughs” of perhaps similar magnitide but entirely different colour, volume or pitch. So to speak. For instance there may be a 3d happiness landscape of mental life (hyperbolic space map? mathematical projction?) for watching tv with self esteem whilst enjoying the theme tune. But for me welfare is a more flexible term than happiness which imples one type of value (satisfaction) rather than something more abstract and general (value in general) which may be used of other states than explicit satisfaction, for example being “absorbed or lost” in psychological flow. But once you know the brain correlates to various mental states of affairs, and you can quantitise the brain states, then you might get theorems which can predict and manage the “on paper evaluations” of the subject just from knowingthe brain dynamics. For instance there may be an inverse relation between PFC blood flow and depressive feeling given that there is a positive flow of dopamine in the hippocampus (you get it) and some serotonin in the audittory cortex.

[ Edited: 25 January 2013 07:25 AM by Hypersoup]
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Posted: 18 May 2013 02:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 120 ]  
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BryanAJParry - 13 March 2008 01:54 PM

I think it does, but many have criticised Sam Harris for not making the point for why he believes this to be so. To be sure, I don’t think I’ve heard him do more than assert this. So I’m quite interested in what Harris’ response to this weakness in his worldview is.

BryanAJParry,

Morality comes or arise out of the very nature of our being, just as you might say a beaver’s dam or a spiders web are expressions or extensions of the nature of those organisms. Morality itself is a meaning. and all meaning in this world is subjective in biological consciousness, The world itself in the absence of biological consciousness is utterly meaningless. Meaning arises in a conscious subject as a evaluated experience of the evoked response of object upon and through our biology, only then can the subject bestow upon apparent reality the effect thus meaning of biological experience of world or object. So indeed Sam is on the right track, for there is no other source of meaning in this world accept what arises from the relation of subject and object , that experience, that meaning, belongs solely to the conscious subject .

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