• neomac
    1.2k
    Right, but referring to “normative systems” rather than something like “cultural moralities” could lead to confusion about when a system is normative – “when it would be advocated by all rational people”.Mark S

    This only becomes normative if it is what all rational people would advocate as I understand Gert’s argumentsMark S
    .

    All right, we can distinguish “cultural moralities” from “normative system” in Gert’s sense to avoid terminological confusions. But my point was really about the fact that “cultural moralities” and the “normative system” in Gert’s sense are both “normative” in the sense of being standards for guiding and assessing practical behaviour.


    But Gert is not advocating these 10 rules as moral absolutes. Rather, they are heuristics (usually reliable, but fallible rules of thumb) for the goal of “lessening of harms suffered by those protected by the system”. And “human sacrifice or slavery” would violate that moral behavior goal.Mark S

    Right and I didn’t affirm anywhere that those 10 rules are absolute as opposed to conditional. Indeed, when Gert’s talk about “rationality” in the moral context he’s always specifying a “unless” condition (“Insofar as people are acting rationally, they all avoid the harms unless they have an adequate reason not to avoid them.” https://sites.pitt.edu/~super1/lecture/lec42951/003.htm). Here Gert is even more explicit about this “it is important to use these rules as moral guides, it would be disastrous to regard them as absolute, that is, to hold that it is always immoral to break any of these rules no matter what the circumstances were. ” (https://sites.pitt.edu/~super1/lecture/lec42951/006.htm)
    Yet I wouldn’t call them “heuristics” or “fallible rules of thumb” because these are more epistemic than moral notions. I prefer to talk about them in terms of “default” social norms, that may be exceptionally reconsidered depending on some compelling circumstances.


    Am I correct in taking your understanding of
    “An informal public system applicable to all moral agents that has lessening of harms suffered by those protected by the system as its goal.”
    to be the claimed negative-utilitarianism goal of moral behavior?
    Mark S

    No, that’s not my understanding. Gert’s made his point against utilitarianism in his slides (https://sites.pitt.edu/~super1/lecture/lec42951/006.htm): This is where it is important to recognize that morality is for fallible biased people. Failure to realize this is what is responsible for many of the weird views about morality that have been put forward by philosophers. The only weird view that I will mention is what is known as act utilitarianism or act consequentialism. I mention this view because it is a view that initially sounds very plausible and that many people claim to accept because they fail to realize that morality governs behavior between fallible biased beings. Morality is not for impartial omniscient beings. Taking act utilitarianism or act consequentialism as a moral guide would require people to do that act which they regard as having the best overall consequences, that is, what they regard the best balance of less harms and more benefits than any other act. (Of course, other people may have a different view of what counts as the best overall consequences.) On this view, moral rules have no significance, people should simply act to achieve the best consequences and pay no attention to whether their actions involve deception, breaking a promise, cheating, disobeying a law or neglecting their duty. Just imagine what life would be like if everyone did what they thought was best and paid no attention to whether they were violating any of the moral rules. It would be a disaster.


    In this case, I agree that adding the phrase “increasing the benefits of cooperation and” does not make sense.
    I have been thinking of Gert’s above claim as a claim about moral ‘’means’ (lessening of harms) not moral ‘ends’ (the negative-utilitarianism goal of moral behavior). Your interpretation seems more likely.
    Mark S

    Even though I don’t think we can take Gert’s 10 rules as a case of “utilitarianism”, yet I think they are more about “collective” ends than means to achieve them.
  • neomac
    1.2k
    If you assume people are generally rational, then it collapses into historicism, i.e., conventional morality at time X was rational given the information constraints of the era. If you don't allow information constraints to play a central role it becomes deontological morality with less punch.Count Timothy von Icarus

    Gert's assumption is somehow different from what you suggest: "This is where it is important to recognize that morality is for fallible biased people. Failure to realize this is what is responsible for many of the weird views about morality that have been put forward by philosophers. The only weird view that I will mention is what is known as act utilitarianism or act consequentialism. I mention this view because it is a view that initially sounds very plausible and that many people claim to accept because they fail to realize that morality governs behavior between fallible biased beings. Morality is not for impartial omniscient beings". Source: https://sites.pitt.edu/~super1/lecture/lec42951/006.htm
  • Mark S
    204

    I have a question regarding moral codes: Aren't or shouldn't they be based on some theory or ethics system and/or fundamental principles regarding the nature of ethics ? (I prefer this term in general over "morality", but I use both words "moral" and "ethical" according to language requirements.)Alkis Piskas

    I hope we can agree that:

    Cultural moral codes have existed quite comfortably for all of history without a unified theory or fundamental principles.

    The theories or principles you refer to are moral philosophy’s answers to the big ethical questions “What is good?”, “How should I live?”, and “What are my obligations?” Proposed answers include positive and negative utilitarianism, virtue ethics, and Kantianism.

    Then, Gert’s approach and my Morality as Cooperation Strategies (MACS) differ in that, rather than answering the above broad ethical questions, we both take on the simpler task of understanding the function of past and present cultural moral norms.

    I understand Gert to be proposing that the function (the principle reason they exist) of cultural moral norms is lessening suffering. He sees lessening suffering as the goal of moral norms - the defining principle for what is moral based on the goal of moral behavior.

    MACS proposes that the function (the principle reason they exist) of all cultural moral norms is solving cooperation problems. I see solving cooperation problems as the ‘means’ by which moral norms enable people to accomplish whatever goals they agree on, one of which could be “lessening suffering”. Solving cooperation problems is the defining principle for what ‘means’ are moral. In contrast to Gert’s proposal, MACS is silent about what ‘ends’ (goals) are moral.

    Then Gert proposes a useful definition of what is normative which I interpret as what all well-informed, mentally normal (not delusional), rational people would advocate.

    Gert and MACS provide two perspectives on the function of moral norms. Both have something to contribute to understanding what is morally normative.
  • Alkis Piskas
    2.1k
    Cultural moral codes have existed quite comfortably for all of history without a unified theory or fundamental principles.Mark S
    Of course. I didn't deny that and no one should. They still work today for a lot --if not most-- places.

    The theories or principles you refer to are moral philosophy’s answers to the big ethical questions “What is good?”, “How should I live?”, and “What are my obligations?”Mark S
    Not exactly. These are general questions referring to living prototypes, which can well be answered by moral codes, religious rules and dictates, etc.

    The fundamental pronciple I'm talking about refers to a general behavior. When one has adopted such a principle, one lives accordingly. One has no questions such as the above. And, if some situation produces a dilemma as to how one should, one can stiil resort to that f.p. to choose the best action, i.e. the action that is more ethical in such a situation. One can also resort to a code of ethics (a creed), which hase been created, based on and developed according to that f.p.

    Proposed answers include positive and negative utilitarianism, virtue ethics, and Kantianism.Mark S
    I don't like "isms" much ... They restrict one's beliefs or undestanding of life and the world within a certain system or frame of reference.

    we both take on the simpler task of understanding the function of past and present cultural moral norms.Mark S
    A f.p. is independent of cultural elements, as I already said.
    It can explain and support the behaviour and moral values of the primitive tribes -- even cannibals-- as well as those of the civilized people.

    I understand Gert to be proposing that the function (the principle reason they exist) of cultural moral norms is lessening suffering.Mark S
    I undestand this. This is one of the main "functions" of all religions.

    I see solving cooperation problems as the ‘means’ by which moral norms enable people to accomplish whatever goals they agree on, one of which could be “lessening suffering”.Mark S
    This is a noble thought referring to a noble purpose.

    Then Gert proposes a useful definition of what is normative which I interpret as what all well-informed, mentally normal (not delusional), rational people would advocate.Mark S
    I see. It makes sense.
  • Mark S
    204
    Here Gert is even more explicit about this “it is important to use these (ten) rules as moral guides, it would be disastrous to regard them as absolute, that is, to hold that it is always immoral to break any of these rules no matter what the circumstances were. ” (https://sites.pitt.edu/~super1/lecture/lec42951/006.htm)
    Yet I wouldn’t call them “heuristics” or “fallible rules of thumb” because these are more epistemic than moral notions. I prefer to talk about them in terms of “default” social norms, that may be exceptionally reconsidered depending on some compelling circumstances.
    neomac

    Humm… I don’t get what you mean by “more epistemic than moral notions”.

    I do know, empirically and independently of any of Gert’s claims, that the ten moral norms are fallible heuristics for reciprocity strategies. So at least we agree they are not moral absolutes.

    But if they are not moral absolutes, in what circumstances would following them be immoral? The heuristics for solving cooperation problems perspective provides a simple answer. It would be immoral to follow them when doing so is more likely to create rather than solve cooperation problems.

    When would you say it would be immoral to follow Gert's ten moral norms?

    Even though I don’t think we can take Gert’s 10 rules as a case of “utilitarianism”, yet I think they are more about “collective” ends than means to achieve them.neomac

    I agree that Gert’s 10 rules have no necessary connection to moral goals such as utilitarianism. But that is because they are moral norms about behaviors (moral means), not moral ends (goals). They are collective in the sense of rules advocated in the group that solve cooperation problems.
  • invicta
    595
    Collaboration/Cooperation is not always altruistic, it’s there to serve or advance the interest of each party for themselves.

    Take this to a grander scale such as geopolitics.

    The cooperation between Russia and US on the non use of nuclear weapons ensures each others survival. So the cooperation that is taking place is for the sake of self-preservation.

    In other non live or die scenarios such as the above cooperation is done for the self or even selfish interests of each party.

    There is nothing inherently moral about capitalism.
  • Alexander Hine
    26
    "Liberty is a buzzword"
    - O.I.L Slick

    Why in the aspect of ordering principles such as 'morality' do you need the strict dogmas and governance by formal religion over the social concerns of society. How can you accord uneducated opinions of those demanding ultimate freedom of the individual and hold a coherent argument that society will achieve its necessary ends through its own self ordering.
  • neomac
    1.2k
    don’t get what you mean by “more epistemic than moral notions”.Mark S

    I didn't think this objection through. The point is that rules of thumbs and heuristics are meant to spare us cognitive load in our decision making. When a problem is too complicated for us to process an optimal solution, then we rely on rules of thumbs and heuristics to approximate that solution. So we have to be able to define the decision problem before talking about heuristics and rules of thumbs. Gert’s rules (https://sites.pitt.edu/~super1/lecture/lec42951/006.htm) may be seen as an answer to the question: what is default behavior that would more likely lessen the harms of all those who commit to them? In this case those rules would be more rule of thumbs. Gert's assumption that "morality is for fallible biased people" could support that reading. My impression however is that Gert's argument is stronger because he wants to talk in terms of rationality and not just make an empirical general claim approximately true.
    Anyways, I think that Gert is having in mind a different problem from yours: he is not formulating his notion of morality as a function of solving cooperation problems, and related heuristics as you suggested (partnership, domination, marker principles).

    I do know, empirically and independently of any of Gert’s claims, that the ten moral norms are fallible heuristics for reciprocity strategies.Mark S

    “Do not kill”, “do not cause pain”, “do not disable” (https://sites.pitt.edu/~super1/lecture/lec42951/006.htm) can be considered fallible in a practical sense if they are seen as instrumental to some further goal. You may want to say that they are instrumental to solve or support the solution of cooperation problems. If that’s the case, there are 4 issues with that:
    1 - maybe you explained that in your past posts and I missed it, but so far you didn’t offer to me a concrete example where a cooperation problem would likely have no (suboptimal if not optimal) solutionunless we adopted Gert’s moral rules.
    2 - most importantly, cooperation is itself instrumental to some goals, which goals? If the answer is: reducing death, pain, disabilities, etc. of some people by some people engaged in the cooperation then we are back to Gert’s rules. The payoff of the cooperative strategies will be defined as a function of death, pain, disabilities, liberties, etc. reducing the evils and/or increase the goods
    3 - Gerts’ “descriptive” definition of morality suggests that also the “normative” definition of morality is focused on reducing evils (“lessening of harms”) and not increasing the goods (indeed “do cause pleasure” is missing among the rules). While the notion of “cooperation” is not focused on lessening the evils.
    4 - I’m not sure that Gert’s 10 moral rules are necessary and sufficient conditions for a “normative” definition of morality. Indeed, Gert concedes that there are reasons for disagreement even if we accepted the 10 rules (https://sites.pitt.edu/~super1/lecture/lec42951/010.htm). So Gert’s 10 rules may not suffice to support the solution of cooperation problems.


    But if they are not moral absolutes, in what circumstances would following them be immoral? The heuristics for solving cooperation problems perspective provides a simple answer. It would be immoral to follow them when doing so is more likely to create rather than solve cooperation problems.Mark S

    Imagine you have 2 parents with 10 kids, they can afford to provide each of them with minimal means of subsistence or kill five of them to let the other five have more than just minimal means of subsistence. Now consider 3 scenarios:
    (A) Both parents agree on providing each kid with just minimal means of subsistence
    (B) Both parents agree on killing 5 kids to let the other five have more than just minimal means of subsistence
    (C) Parents disagree
    In case A and B we do not have a cooperation problem between parents while in C we do, right? Yet I don’t think A and B would be considered indifferently equally moral by Gert’s standards, because in case B killing 5 kids would breach one of the first moral rules to increase the goods for the other 5. So in case C, those parents would find Gert’s rules helpful in solving the disagreement they had prior to being exposed to Gert’s rules. This kind of examples shows how Gert’s rules contribute to the solution of cooperation games. Yet, if that is the case, Gert’s rules will determine the strategy exposed in B as morally problematic where there is no cooperation problem.
    Besides case C may be the consequence of exposing otherwise agreeing parents to Gert’s rules. So Gert’s rules can also cause cooperation problems like breaking a partnership that was given for granted (in real life compare to the moral implications in cases of religious/political conversion). Maybe we can say that Gert's rules may solve or contribute to solve cooperation problems, if Gert's rules are embraced by all actors involved in the cooperation problem.

    But that is because they are moral norms about behaviors (moral means), not moral ends (goals).Mark S

    I’m not yet sure if the distinction means/ends can really help us here. Can you give examples that illustrate the distinction between moral means and moral ends?

    P.S. I'm giving answers based on a charitable understanding of Gert's position. I don't assume that my understanding is accurate nor I'm committed to Gert's position as I understand it.
  • Mark S
    204


    The point is that rules of thumbs and heuristics are meant to spare us cognitive load in our decision making. When a problem is too complicated for us to process an optimal solution, then we rely on rules of thumbs and heuristics to approximate that solution. So we have to be able to define the decision problem before talking about heuristics and rules of thumbs. Gert’s rules (https://sites.pitt.edu/~super1/lecture/lec42951/006.htm) may be seen as an answer to the question: what is default behavior that would more likely lessen the harms of all those who commit to them? In this case those rules would be more rule of thumbs. Gert's assumption that "morality is for fallible biased people" could support that reading. My impression however is that Gert's argument is stronger because he wants to talk in terms of rationality and not just make an empirical general claim approximately true.neomac

    I agree with your reading of Gert described here and why heuristics are so useful. And the ten rules are Gert’s answer to “what is default behavior that would more likely lessen the harms of all those who commit to them?”

    My arguments have been to illuminate Gert’s moral insights rather than contradict them. That illumination starts with understanding the ten rules as advocacy for initiating or maintaining reciprocity strategies which are powerful means for solving cooperation problems. Solving cooperation problems is the default behavior most likely both to lessen harms (Gert’s and negative utilitarianism’s goal) and, as I argue, positive utilitarianism as well. The same 10 moral rules support both positive and negative utilitarianism equally well because the same cooperation problems must be solved.

    Imagine you have 2 parents with 10 kids, they can afford to provide each of them with minimal means of subsistence or kill five of them to let the other five have more than just minimal means of subsistence. Now consider 3 scenarios:
    (A) Both parents agree on providing each kid with just minimal means of subsistence
    (B) Both parents agree on killing 5 kids to let the other five have more than just minimal means of subsistence
    (C) Parents disagree
    In case A and B we do not have a cooperation problem between parents while in C we do, right?
    neomac

    As you describe it, the cooperation problem is just between the parents. But alternatives A), B), and C) could each be ‘rational’ (depending on the parents' values) ONLY if the kids have no independent moral worth. If the kids have independent moral worth, then any of the options would be a cooperation problem for the kids plus the parents.


    You may want to say that they are instrumental to solve or support the solution of cooperation problems. If that’s the case, there are 4 issues with that:
    1 - maybe you explained that in your past posts and I missed it, but so far you didn’t offer to me a concrete example where a cooperation problem would likely have no (suboptimal if not optimal) solutionunless we adopted Gert’s moral rules.
    neomac

    It is not Gert's moral rules that are key. They are just heuristics for solving cooperation problems. Examples of cooperation problems that cannot be solved without those strategies could be useful for presenting my case. A response would take at least 500 words. That might be better presented as a separate thread.

    2 - most importantly, cooperation is itself instrumental to some goals, which goals? If the answer is: reducing death, pain, disabilities, etc. of some people by some people engaged in the cooperation then we are back to Gert’s rules. The payoff of the cooperative strategies will be defined as a function of death, pain, disabilities, liberties, etc. reducing the evils and/or increase the goodsneomac

    Cooperation is instrumental to obtaining whatever benefits of cooperation that people agree to pursue. I am not sure what you are asking here.

    3 - Gerts’ “descriptive” definition of morality suggests that also the “normative” definition of morality is focused on reducing evils (“lessening of harms”) and not increasing the goods (indeed “do cause pleasure” is missing among the rules). While the notion of “cooperation” is not focused on lessening the evils.neomac

    Cooperation is the best means we have for both reducing harms and increasing positive benefits (for both positive and negative utilitarianism).

    4 - I’m not sure that Gert’s 10 moral rules are necessary and sufficient conditions for a “normative” definition of morality. Indeed, Gert concedes that there are reasons for disagreement even if we accepted the 10 rules (https://sites.pitt.edu/~super1/lecture/lec42951/010.htm). So Gert’s 10 rules may not suffice to support the solution of cooperation problems.neomac

    I agree. The normativity of moral 'means' can be based on the normativity of morality as cooperation strategies, not Gert's ten rules. The normativity of moral 'ends' (such as positive or negative utilitarianism) may have no mind-independent answer (contrary to Gert's position). I have not seen the idea of separately judging the normativity for moral 'means" and moral 'ends'. I've been working on a thread on that topic and will post when it seems ready.

    P.S. I'm giving answers based on a charitable understanding of Gert's position. I don't assume that my understanding is accurate nor I'm committed to Gert's position as I understand it.neomac

    A charitable understanding of moral claims (how can a moral claim be interpreted as rational) is the more intellectually challenging approach and the one I also try to take. It is much easier to interpret moral claims in the dumbest way possible. The “dumbest interpretation” approach may be more likely to ‘win’ arguments by the advocates for new ideas giving up in exhaustion and frustration. But in the end, the charitable approach is more likely to produce genuine progress in understanding morality. I hope you can take the charitable approach with me as well as with Gert.
  • neomac
    1.2k
    My arguments have been to illuminate Gert’s moral insights rather than contradict them. That illumination starts with understanding the ten rules as advocacy for initiating or maintaining reciprocity strategies which are powerful means for solving cooperation problems. Solving cooperation problems is the default behavior most likely both to lessen harms (Gert’s and negative utilitarianism’s goal) and, as I argue, positive utilitarianism as well. The same 10 moral rules support both positive and negative utilitarianism equally well because the same cooperation problems must be solved.

    Imagine you have 2 parents with 10 kids, they can afford to provide each of them with minimal means of subsistence or kill five of them to let the other five have more than just minimal means of subsistence. Now consider 3 scenarios:
    (A) Both parents agree on providing each kid with just minimal means of subsistence
    (B) Both parents agree on killing 5 kids to let the other five have more than just minimal means of subsistence
    (C) Parents disagree
    In case A and B we do not have a cooperation problem between parents while in C we do, right? — neomac


    As you describe it, the cooperation problem is just between the parents. But alternatives A), B), and C) could each be ‘rational’ (depending on the parents' values) ONLY if the kids have no independent moral worth. If the kids have independent moral worth, then any of the options would be a cooperation problem for the kids plus the parents.
    Mark S

    Talking about Gert’s views, I think that the label of “utilitarianism” is misleading. “Utilitarianism” to me implies a notion of good/harm as measurable parameters, ways to verify their increase/decrease, and the goal of maximise good or minimise harm over a collectivity. I don’t think that is what Gert’s has in mind because he argued against utilitarianism. I think that Gert’s assumption that morality is for biased and non-omniscient beings suggests that good/bad may not be unbiasedly established nor predicted. Yet some default behaviour may exclude the worse for all rational individuals somehow logically. If all rational individuals intentionally act in a certain way by default, harm can not possibly result as intentional outcome by default. What will happen in concrete cases however it depends on the actual circumstances, and certain exceptional circumstances may be such that individuals can not act according to those default ways.
    So wrt the case I suggested, the rationality of the parents’ dispositions shouldn’t be assessed as a function of their actual and inevitably “biased” values nor as a function of future outcomes but as a function of default moral rules. Moral rules should dispense individuals from being guided by default by their biased preferences and predictive skills. This is my understanding of Gert’s argument and 10 rules, although I’m not sure it’s accurate.
  • boagie
    385
    What makes something moral is that something does not harm me or my like kind, this is only partially extended to other creatures. Really, it is an expanded concept of the self, a self which is to be protected.
  • Alexander Hine
    26


    Here you are stating that charity is an enabling factor. Church dogmatics and Virtue ethics have long understood the innate power of virtue as enabling. Or for the fact it has always been in the teachings.
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