The science of morality
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13-12-2011, 12:50 PM
The science of morality
I will try to word my question as clearly as possible, but I am not very eloquent and English is not my first language, so please be patient with me and don't quibble about words, try to get the meaning of what I am saying. Also, I have not made up my mind about this subject but, for the purpose of the thread, I will play the devil's advocate, whether I agree with that position or not.

Most people agree on one thing: nature is amoral. When a lion gains a pride and the first thing he does is kill all the offspring of the previous male lion, we don't discuss the morality of the act, we just see it as it is, the expression of an evolutionary imperative. When locusts descend on a piece of land and turn it into devastation, we don't call the locusts immoral for the ecological consequences. We also don't question the morality of our walking upright, as our entire anatomy is evolved to be bipedal.

For a time we considered humans apart from the rest of nature: we were god's children, we had a soul, we had free will, therefore we couldn't be held to the same standards as the animal kingdom. Now we know humans are animals, and that we evolved just like any other animal, with the same exact evolutionary imperatives and selective pressure. We also understand that our soul or personality is in fact electro-chemical processes in the brain, the workings of a physical organ that evolved just like every other part of our body, due to selective pressure. Some scientists even question the very existence of "free will".

Having said all of the above, does morality actually make sense? I am talking in very logical and scientific terms.Is morality is a form of special pleading? If a lion eating the gazelle is neither moral nor immoral, why would my eating a cow be a moral issue? If an animal species that wipes out another it is neither moral nor immoral, why would humans doing the same be a moral issue? Does anybody have a good argument for why human morality is NOT a logical fallacy based on emotional arguments and special pleading?

Now, I am not saying all morality falls in that category. Notice that there are animal instincts, like self preservation, caring for the young, and forms of cooperation, that are evolutionary traits. Notice also that humans consider many of them moral issues. But why do we differentiate between the evolutionary instinct of animals and the moral imperatives of humans?

English is not my first language. If you think I am being mean, ask me. It could be just a wording problem.
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13-12-2011, 01:08 PM
RE: The science of morality
Good question. Our basic sense of morality or ethics seems to have a clear evolutionary origin. We see altruism, individual sacrifice to group and family, cooperation, reward/punishment in many animals.

Humankind has a greater capacity of real introspection and rational thought and can see the long-term consequences of behaviors and actions, so our ethics are more nuanced and more comlicated than other animals.

Morality and ethics are quite real and necessary, and the origins are evolutionary. Most of us cannot look on suffering without at least sympathy if not empathy.

Skepticism is not a position; it is an approach to claims.
Science is not a subject, but a method.
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13-12-2011, 01:21 PM
RE: The science of morality
(13-12-2011 01:08 PM)Chas Wrote:  Morality and ethics are quite real and necessary, and the origins are evolutionary. Most of us cannot look on suffering without at least sympathy if not empathy.

Yes, and even empathy is, in fact, evolutionary, having been connected to the existence of a physical system, the mirror neurons, which make us "feel" what the other feels. Which then takes us to another question: what if one's mirror neurons don't work like those of another? For example, when I eat a steak, my mirror neurons don't seem to be engaged, or if they are, it's only marginally. I am aware that the steak comes from a cow, that the cow was at one time a living being, and that it needed to be killed to get the steak I am now eating. Nevertheless, while I may appreciate the sacrifice of the cow, my emotional reaction is not such that I stop eating steak altogether. Other people, on the other hand, feel such strong feelings for the cow that they become vegetarians. But I didn't choose how my mirror neurons work, nor did they. Can either of our behavior be classified as moral or immoral then? It would be like saying that not liking the color brown is moral or immoral. I can't help what color I like, what does morality have to do with it?
It seems to me the more we understand human beings, the less space there is for morality "the old fashioned way".

English is not my first language. If you think I am being mean, ask me. It could be just a wording problem.
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14-12-2011, 02:33 PM
RE: The science of morality
(13-12-2011 12:50 PM)sy2502 Wrote:  Most people agree on one thing: nature is amoral.

That was the end of the conversation. Big Grin

Science will show that morality is evolved control structure for individual decision making. Just a matter of time.

Most people agree when their respective moralities are in alignment. Most people agree because of ethical standard, which is a by-product of civilization; and ethics is philosophy.

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14-12-2011, 03:42 PM
RE: The science of morality
I started thinking about this and my first question was "What would be the difference if the stake were made from human flesh?".

Well, a lot of people would strongly oppose the idea, much for the same reasons why most human societies have a ban on murder, stealing etc. I can only eat so many human steaks before I end up on somebody else's plate. If I support the rule now when I'm a young and strong adult, there's a chance that the rule may be still standing when I grow old and weak. Not to mention that such a rule makes the world a little safer for my children, especially since I can't be effectively guarding them 24/7. From an evolutionary point of view it makes perfect sense.

Vegetarianism has only recently started to catch on because, from the same evolutionary point of view, even when I'm old and weak, getting eaten by a cow is one of the last worries on my list. To me, empathy towards cows seems like a by-product of our mind. Much like religion.

Oh, no Hallucinations 4:11 says the 'gilded sheep should be stewed in rat blood' but Morons 5:16 contradicts it. (Chas)

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14-12-2011, 04:01 PM (This post was last modified: 14-12-2011 04:04 PM by kim.)
RE: The science of morality
Shy That is a great question.
Morality is indeed a strange struggle which seems to be unique to humans.
I think morality is for the most part, a judgement based, competition... which could become inert.
Nature is amoral; morality is an invention. I think we create a need for what we call morality because we choose to detach ourselves from the animal we are. If we evolve to struggle less with our animal self, we might not struggle as much with this morality... they might eventually cancel each other out. This could very well be part of our evolution.

I think if humans can foster an instinctive sense of ethics, compassion, free will, empathy, and rational thought, there would be no need for a morality of sorts.

Smile I think the trick is: to evolve beyond the need for continually making up rules to live by, and just live.

A new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move to higher levels. ~ Albert Einstein
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14-12-2011, 04:07 PM
RE: The science of morality
If nature is ruled by survival, then it makes sense that the evolution of the human capacity to conceive morality is also a mechanism to favor survival. Would it then make sense to say that the only morality that really makes sense is that which enhances human survival?

English is not my first language. If you think I am being mean, ask me. It could be just a wording problem.
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14-12-2011, 04:07 PM
RE: The science of morality
(14-12-2011 04:01 PM)kim Wrote:  Shy That is a great question.
Morality is indeed a strange struggle which seems to be unique to humans.
I think morality is for the most part, a judgement based, competition... which could become inert.
Nature is amoral; morality is an invention. I think we create a need for what we call morality because we choose to detach ourselves from the animal we are. If we evolve to struggle less with our animal self, we might not struggle as much with this morality... they might eventually cancel each other out. This could very well be part of our evolution.

I think if humans can foster an instinctive sense of ethics, compassion, free will, empathy, and rational thought, there would be no need for a morality of sorts.

Smile I think the trick is: to evolve beyond the need for continually making up rules to live by, and just live.

There is a good argument, and evidence for, ethics/morality as a product of evolution. We do complicate it a bit with our too-large brains.Dodgy

Skepticism is not a position; it is an approach to claims.
Science is not a subject, but a method.
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14-12-2011, 04:16 PM (This post was last modified: 14-12-2011 04:26 PM by Malleus.)
RE: The science of morality
(14-12-2011 04:01 PM)kim Wrote:  I think the trick is: to evolve beyond the need for continually making up rules to live by, and just live.

Maybe you're right and perhaps this is one of the things we try to do here.

Dropping religion has made me value my own life a lot more and I'm not sure what my life would have been inside religion, but I think that my renewed will to live can count as a survival advantage. Not to mention that I'm way less likely to willfully die for an irrational belief.
(14-12-2011 04:07 PM)sy2502 Wrote:  If nature is ruled by survival, then it makes sense that the evolution of the human capacity to conceive morality is also a mechanism to favor survival. Would it then make sense to say that the only morality that really makes sense is that which enhances human survival?

Well, it has been argued that *everything* we do comes from direct or indirect selfish reasons. If we take away religion, which often has its own motivation and little or no regard for the safety and well-being of its followers, what else is there to motivate us?

Survival, reproduction, curiosity and pleasure.

Oh, no Hallucinations 4:11 says the 'gilded sheep should be stewed in rat blood' but Morons 5:16 contradicts it. (Chas)

I would never shake a baby unless the recipe requires it.
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14-12-2011, 07:54 PM
RE: The science of morality
(14-12-2011 04:01 PM)kim Wrote:  I think if humans can foster an instinctive sense of ethics, compassion, free will, empathy, and rational thought, there would be no need for a morality of sorts.

Smile I think the trick is: to evolve beyond the need for continually making up rules to live by, and just live.

Kim is right, we are evolving past it to the point where the concept is no longer even considered, let alone required. It will soon become antiquated and then archaic and then antediluvian and then of historic academic interest only.

Beyond Good and Evil

#sigh
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