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Morality part of human nature, or merely a by-product?

Morality part of human nature, or merely a by-product?
markus7
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#11 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Dec 1, 2012 - 11:09 AM:
Subject: Moral behavior is one part of human nature, ethics is a byproduct of reason
Cleantes wrote:
Since Darwin has formulated his theory of evolution, it raised many questions considering morality for human beings. The question was:

1) Is morality merely an evolved 'mechanism', based on the ability to empathize (which starts to develop around the age of two), an ability which we share with other animals? (there is plenty of evidence that monkeys, and other animals possess this ability aswell: for example, they did an experiment where a monkey refused to pull a chain that delivers food for himself if doing so gives an electric shock to a companion. The monkey literally starved himself for days, in order to avoid inflicting pain to his companion.)

2) Or is morality really something unique, that only human beings are capable of (and therefore it falls outside the evolutionary process)? Is it a choice that's been 'made' somewhere in the past, that we decided to become 'moral'? And thus is it something caused by culture, that we decided to leave 'barbarism' and become 'nice' and virtuous people?

My question to the reader, what do you think is more probable, 1) or 2)? Or is there a third option?



Cleantes, I'll try my hand at a third option.

The origin of moral behavior is my area of interest. My answer may be lengthier, more complicated, and more opinionated than you would like, but here goes anyway.

Moral behavior is innate to human beings (an evolved 'mechanism') in the form of the particular biology underlying our ’moral’ emotions such as empathy, loyalty, shame, guilt, indignation, and ‘moral’ disgust and the remarkable biology underlying our moral intuitions. Our moral intuitions, molded by experience and culture, determine when and with what intensity these moral emotions are triggered.

Shame and guilt are included as ‘moral’ emotions because they provide efficient internal punishment when we do something ‘bad’. Indignation and ‘moral’ disgust motivate external punishment of others when they do something ‘bad’. Punishment of bad behavior is as critical as altruism to maintaining moral behavior. Our ancestors who were not motivated to punish bad behavior, as well as motivated to altruism, tended to die out.

It is easy to argue that our moral biology was selected for by the reproductive fitness benefits of altruistic cooperation in groups.

Cultural moral codes have been selected by people to further increase the synergistic benefits of cooperation, particularly in larger groups. (After all, what could cultural moral codes be about but increasing the benefits of living in groups?) However, in contrast to our biology based moral behavior, these benefits could be whatever people found attractive, not just reproductive fitness. The emergence of culture unhitched moral behavior, long ago and forever, from being only about reproductive fitness.

Ethics, reasoning about moral behavior, is a human invention. Ethics has largely focused on determining the reality of universal moral facts regarding moral judgments and evaluative perceptions.

However, if the origins of our moral biology and moral codes are as I describe above, then our moral biology and moral codes are just assemblies of biological and cultural heuristics (usually reliable but fallible rules of thumb) for increasing the benefits of altruistic cooperation in groups. For example, the emotions empathy, shame, and indignation, and “Do to others as you would have them do to you” are just fallible biological and cultural heuristics for increasing the benefits of altruistic cooperation in groups.

If these are all just fallible heuristics, then their eventual products, intuitive moral judgments and evaluative perceptions, are also only fallible heuristics for moral behavior. Fallible heuristics are not true or false propositions. Therefore, trying to show the truth of normal moral judgments and evaluative perceptions commits a category error. Note that this still leaves open the possibility of a moral fact based only on reason and descriptive facts (just not concerning normal moral judgments and evaluative perceptions).

The above discussion does imply one moral fact that may be culturally useful: the universal function of moral behavior is to increase the benefits of altruistic cooperation in groups.



Edited by markus7 on Dec 1, 2012 - 12:24 PM
atticusII
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#12 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Dec 1, 2012 - 11:37 AM:

markus7 wrote:
If these are all just fallible heuristics, then their eventual products, intuitive moral judgments and evaluative perceptions, are also only fallible heuristics for moral behavior. Fallible heuristics are not true or false propositions. Therefore, searching for moral facts regarding normal moral judgments and evaluative perceptions commits a category error.


Is it? Lets imagine morality did develop from heuristics, we didn't know there was moral depth to the movement we began to participate in. Over time morality resonates as an attribute of experience, in such a way that we can put the sense into feelings and words. The meaning of ethics and morality is interpreted from behaviour though it is recognisable that it is also leading somewhere or to something. Can these facts not be sought in moral judgements?
On Dec 1, 2012 - 12:20 PM, markus7 responded: The category error is thinking moral judgments and evaluative perceptions can be true or false.
sqweebaby
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#13 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Dec 1, 2012 - 12:51 PM:

Morality comes from wisdom and intelligence. Reasoning and thought are put into ones morals.
TheWillowOfDarkness
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#14 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Dec 1, 2012 - 2:13 PM:

markus7 wrote:


If these are all just fallible heuristics, then their eventual products, intuitive moral judgments and evaluative perceptions, are also only fallible heuristics for moral behavior. Fallible heuristics are not true or false propositions. Therefore, trying to show the truth of normal moral judgments and evaluative perceptions commits a category error. Note that this still leaves open the possibility of a moral fact based only on reason and descriptive facts (just not concerning normal moral judgments and evaluative perceptions).

This is a contradiction. If morality is fallible heuristics, then then it is by definition subject to truth: if the given sense of morality can be fallible, if it can be wrong, there is a truth value and a proposition involved(though possibly unstated or even unnoticed by the individual holding it).

The error is in trying to prove moral truth, as any position of moral truth is dependent on an underlying axiom of what ought to occur.

You presence here reminds me: I still need to finish that critique of that SEP definition.

Edited by TheWillowOfDarkness on Dec 1, 2012 - 2:19 PM
markus7
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Posted Dec 1, 2012 - 7:10 PM:

TheWillowOfDarkness wrote:

This is a contradiction. If morality is fallible heuristics, then then it is by definition subject to truth: if the given sense of morality can be fallible, if it can be wrong, there is a truth value and a proposition involved(though possibly unstated or even unnoticed by the individual holding it).


So “if (a heuristic) can be wrong, there is a truth value” (in circumstances when it is either right or wrong). I see your reasoning.

To more clearly get to the point I want to make, I could rephrase as:

A fallible heuristic about what is moral may be true or false in different circumstances because it is only a generally reliable rule of thumb. Truth value in different circumstances can be judged based on whether or not the heuristic actually achieves its goal or function.

For example, “It is moral to do to others as you would have them do to you” is a generally effective heuristic for the descriptive function of moral behavior, to increase the benefits of altruistic cooperation in groups. But it would be a category error to think you could show “It is moral to do to others as you would have them do to you” is somehow universally true.

Therefore, traditional moral philosophy’s attempts to show the truth of normal moral judgments and evaluative perceptions commit a category error (except when dealing not with judgments and perceptions but with descriptive moral truth about the function of morality).

TheWillowOfDarkness wrote:
The error is in trying to prove moral truth, as any position of moral truth is dependent on an underlying axiom of what ought to occur.


Not according to Gert. As Gert explains in his SEP definition, normative moral truth can be based on what all rational people, in specified circumstances, would put forward as moral. No moral premise (axiom of what ought to occur) is required. So moral truth could be based on what the function of morality descriptively is as a matter of science, or in a highly unlikely case, what came to you in a dream, as long as it was “what all rational people, in specified circumstances, would put forward as moral”.

TheWillowOfDarkness wrote:
You presence here reminds me: I still need to finish that critique of that SEP definition.


On what basis will you be arguing for a different definition than Gert’s for normatively moral? Utility? Consistency with generally accepted usage? (I assume Gert’s criterion while constructing his definition was utility.)

I am interested in what you come up. Your proposed definition could easily provide some useful insights into the source of our past communication difficulties.
sezchwarn
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#16 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Dec 2, 2012 - 2:23 PM:

The answer has to be 1), OP. Being moral is just being sociable, essentially; behaviour and communal dictates that evolved alongside the evolution of society.



Edited by sezchwarn on Dec 2, 2012 - 2:43 PM
kNoctis
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#17 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Dec 2, 2012 - 2:49 PM:

Cleantes wrote:


-It is not hard to see how selection would favor the animals that are more empathic than others. Empathic animals will come to aid their companions whenever there occurs a threat or danger, and they would get repayed the favor in the future. Non-empathic animals would get selected out and extinct. -> cooperative and thus altruistic behavior gets a boost. This would also mean that morality is an intrinsic part of our nature.


Morality is an intrinsic part of any cooperative society, because a plan must be made on how to accomplish the shared goals of the group. Moral rules constitute that plan.

The fact that empathy seems to exist in primates only means that empathy is an intrinsic part of our nature, and even then, empathy only for our family, friends, etc... What's the evolutionary advantage of having empathy for my enemy? Helping out your friends and family isn't altruism. You're only helping them out because they're a part of your tribe, and that confers to you an obvious survival advantage.

Moral altruism, as it's traditionally understood, requires doing things you don't want to do from time to time, for the sake of the good, even when your own reward is not obvious.
Cleantes
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#18 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Dec 2, 2012 - 3:01 PM:

kNoctis wrote:


Moral altruism, as it's traditionally understood, requires doing things you don't want to do from time to time, for the sake of the good, even when your own reward is not obvious.


And isn't that what some animals do aswell? There's a video on youtube where a wounded human child is protected by a gorilla against attacks of other animals. What reward would the gorilla hope of getting here? None. This is moral altruism in its purest form. Helping another species and not getting anything in return. This is exactly what humans do for strangers aswell, so morality is not unique for human beings.
kNoctis
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#19 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Dec 2, 2012 - 5:29 PM:

Cleantes wrote:


And isn't that what some animals do aswell? There's a video on youtube where a wounded human child is protected by a gorilla against attacks of other animals. What reward would the gorilla hope of getting here? None. This is moral altruism in its purest form. Helping another species and not getting anything in return. This is exactly what humans do for strangers aswell, so morality is not unique for human beings.


The gorilla has adopted the human into its social circle, and so what seems like altruism is really just a reflection of the gorilla's relationship to the human. What would be extraordinary is if the gorilla helped the human despite wanting nothing to do with the human.

Morality doesn't exist in individuals apart from a community, which is why it can't be intrinsic to anyone or any species' nature. It's intrinsic to communities. What is intrinsic to primates (some primates at least) is empathy, which serves the role of facilitating moral imperatives.

Besides, say morality is intrinsic to human nature. Why would that be significant? Primates exhibit what is apparently senseless violence as well.
markus7
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#20 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Dec 2, 2012 - 8:00 PM:

kNoctis wrote:


...

Morality doesn't exist in individuals apart from a community, which is why it can't be intrinsic to anyone or any species' nature. It's intrinsic to communities. What is intrinsic to primates (some primates at least) is empathy, which serves the role of facilitating moral imperatives.

Besides, say morality is intrinsic to human nature. Why would that be significant? Primates exhibit what is apparently senseless violence as well.


The fact that moral behavior is intrinsic to human biology is significant because those biological heuristics are what shaped our social psychology and much of our emotional experience of well-being. Our social psychology and much of our emotional experience of well-being is what motivates us to be social animals, to altruistically cooperate in groups.

If morality was not intrinsic to human biology, people would not be social animals and it would be much more difficult to maintain civil societies. Much more effort, perhaps an unsustainable amount, would have to be wasted in law enforcement because no one would have a conscience or ever feel empathy or loyalty.

Why do you think “Primates exhibit what is apparently senseless violence” is relevant to whether moral behavior is intrinsic to human biology?

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