• Purple Pond
    193
    Suppose on some alien planet there lives a fairly complex sentient humanoid society where feelings such as pain and pleasure never evolved. For example, if the humanoid put her hand in the fire she wouldn't feel the least bit discomfort that ordinary human being would feel. The only reason why they don't put their hand in the fire is because they are programmed not to by evolution as a means of self preservation. Likewise, the only reason why they eat is also because they are programmed to by evolution. They feel no pleasure in such things as eating, drinking, sex, etc. No pleasure at all, no happiness, no bliss, no euphoria, no sadness, no pain, no discomfort, etc.

    My question is, in such a world (if it is possible), what would be the role of ethics? Would it be, for example, morally permissible for an alien humanoid to kill another alien humanoid? If humans visited their planet would it be moral to enslave them (even when they resist)?

    The point of of this thought experiment is to determine whether or not positive and negative feelings such as pain and pleasure are essential in our conception of morality.
  • Kitty
    34
    whether or not positive and negative feelings such as pain and pleasure are essential in our conception of morality.Purple Pond

    Bold is mine editing.

    Depends. Not for moral realists for example. Moral anti-realists, perhaps.

    I think that the entire debate of ethics depends on the ontological status of moral features, hence this discussion is rather metaethical.
  • T Clark
    3k
    The only reason why they don't put their hand in the fire is because they are programmed not to by evolution as a means of self preservation.Purple Pond

    To oversimplify, the only reason we don't put our hands in the fire is because we are programmed not to by evolution as a means of self preservation. The mechanism established by evolution is what we call pain. Given that, I don't see why the aliens wouldn't evolve or develop mechanisms analogous to what we call ethics and morality.

    As to what our attitude towards these aliens should be - why wouldn't the Golden Rule apply to them as much as it does for us. History is full of examples of civilized people claiming that savages don't feel pain the same way we do as an excuse for brutal behavior.
  • bloodninja
    268
    I think feeling is essential to morality. Surely this is what keeps morality from devolving into a blind conformity, no? I would say your aliens are conformists, not moralists. They have no morality.
  • Bitter Crank
    6.3k
    Morality without an emotional commitment is not worth thinking about.
  • Pseudonym
    1.2k
    So, if feeling is required for morality, then can morality be rational at all? I'm presuming no-one thinks we get to voluntarily decide how we're going to feel, it just happens. If that then informs our moral choices, then it seems that they too just happen, making them not really 'choices' after all.
  • Cavacava
    2.4k
    Suppose on some alien planet there lives a fairly complex sentient humanoid society where feelings such as pain and pleasure never evolved

    In The Wrath of Khan (1982), Spock says, “Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Captain Kirk answers, “Or the one.”
  • T Clark
    3k
    In The Wrath of Khan (1982), Spock says, “Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Captain Kirk answers, “Or the one.”Cavacava

    You should check the Site Guidelines. They specifically say that no quotes from the original Star Trek are allowed, including any movies. I'm going to call the moderators.
  • T Clark
    3k
    So, if feeling is required for morality, then can morality be rational at all?Pseudonym

    I believe the foundations of morality are not fundamentally rational. Lot's disagree. Reason can sometimes be used to figure out things that aren't clear and what needs to be done to address the moral issue.
  • bloodninja
    268
    emotions are necessary but not sufficient for morality just like rationality is necessary but not sufficient for morality. Read Aristotle.
  • Pseudonym
    1.2k


    This is a bit of a bugbear of mine, and I know that these terms are not universally accepted by any means, but I really think it helps these discussions to stick to the distinctions between morals, ethics and met-ethics. When the terminology gets mixed up it gets very confusing to understand what people are saying.

    There is a hugely significant difference between moral action (what action it is 'right' to do in a certain circumstance), ethics (the method used to decide what action is 'right'), and meta-ethics (how you know what 'right' actually is).

    It sounds like you're saying that at least your meta-ethics is one of ethical naturalism, your knowledge of right and wrong just seem to come to you without you having to work them out, but your morals (what to actually do) require reason. The interesting bit, is the bit in the middle. The method your rational thought uses to work out what to do. Does that just come to you, or have you had to work out a method at some point. Might you change your method if it's not giving you the results you want?
  • Cavacava
    2.4k
    The point of of this thought experiment is to determine whether or not positive and negative feelings such as pain and pleasure are essential in our conception of morality.

    Perhaps this comes down to the difference between knowledge and belief. If you have made a definitive judgement about the rightness or wrongness of an action can you rationally/morally act contrary to your judgement vs If you believe an action is right or wrong, can your emotively/morally act contrary to your belief.
  • NKBJ
    316
    I, for one, disagree with that entirely! We may sometimes realize that some things we thought were perfectly moral were actually immoral, but that does not mean we shrug our shoulders and continue on as though nothing happened--that means we change our system! If letting men own their wives turns out to be irrational and thus immoral, we adjust our definition.

    One thing we have to tease apart is the difference between having a moral code for rational reasons, and that code being rational in itself. The trolley problem shows that we can have rational reasons for being morally inclined to contradictory conclusions if only marginal differences exist between situations.
  • NKBJ
    316
    It certainly is possible to have a moral code of some sort in a world with limited emotions or feelings. But any sort of action requires a certain amount of desire to do. The species in question would have to at least possess desires about existence or else they would not act in ways to continue existing. Why eat, drink, or even breathe if there is no desire to live and no feelings of hunger/thirst/wanting air to propel one toward action? Self-preservation is a desire.

    Once you have a population fixed only on self-preservation and no other emotions, it's at least feasible that they realize that cooperation is their best bet for long-term survival and that cooperation requires rules that everyone follows. Those rules would look a lot like our morality: murder is wrong, stealing is wrong, etc. Just not to avoid hurt others per se, but to avoid risking being the next victim. Other parts of our morality would probably be absent: infidelity may or may not be a problem, and telling someone they look fat in that dress wouldn't matter.

    Perhaps the question then, can you call this set of rules "morality"? What makes something a moral rule as opposed to just a rule or a code of conduct?
  • darthbarracuda
    2.9k
    The point of of this thought experiment is to determine whether or not positive and negative feelings such as pain and pleasure are essential in our conception of morality.Purple Pond

    According to (my understanding of) Kant, no: morality is the manifestation of a categorical imperative that is intellectually grasped by the rational faculties of human beings, and is grounded on their innate "dignity". An act cannot be morally "pure" (according to [...] Kant) unless it is done entirely out of a sense of duty (a slightly different view, that an act cannot be moral tout court unless it is done purely out of a sense of duty, is often misattributed to Kant).

    Of course, if some beings lacked the capacity to "feel", the content of morality would be different with respect to these beings. This is perhaps one avenue for explaining why God (if "he" exists), "allows" gratuitous suffering. If God is not a "being", nor an agent that can feel as we do, then it may be inappropriate to expect him and human morality to coincide perfectly.

    I'm not personally fully invested in Kantian ethics. Instead I think ethics (a system of prescriptive imperatives) derives from the ethical (the asymmetrical encounter between the self and the transcendent Other). This ethical encounters, as Levinas envisions it, is fundamentally a dramatic nausea of shame and responsibility. So while beings who do not feel may have ethics, they would not have the ethical, which is where the real essence of morality lies. Or so I think.
  • Murxovhaze
    2


    As T Clark wrote, pain and hunger are programming, so if these aliens lack them both, yet they eat and do not harm themselves, it must be due to another form of programming.

    Also, morality is not a stagnant feature of any society. It is a stagnant box into which features are placed and removed. Murder and enslavement are morally acceptable and advocated by people on our very planet who know pain and hunger. Perhaps when you say "our" perception of morality, you mean yours?
  • T Clark
    3k


    I say:
    Reason can sometimes be used to figure out things that aren't clearT Clark

    You say:
    We may sometimes realize that some things we thought were perfectly moral were actually immoral, but that does not mean we shrug our shoulders and continue on as though nothing happened--that means we change our system!NKBJ

    Those don't seem that different to me. Although I don't have a "system." As I said,

    I believe the foundations of morality are not fundamentally rational.T Clark

    I have taken some beatings for this position.

    One thing we have to tease apart is the difference between having a moral code for rational reasons, and that code being rational in itself. The trolley problem shows that we can have rational reasons for being morally inclined to contradictory conclusions if only marginal differences exist between situations.NKBJ

    I really hate the trolley problem. I think it is one of those kinds of questions that gives philosophy a deserved bad name. It's an unrealistic thought experiment that doesn't represent the kind of choices humans make on a day-to-day basis.

    Here's a link to a recent discussion that was really eye-opening for me. I'm a seems-to-me philosopher. I don't spend a lot of time quoting philosophers other than Lao Tzu and Emerson. In this discussion my way of seeing things came up against Kantian morality, which seems to me might be up your alley.

    https://thephilosophyforum.com/discussion/2922/being-or-having-the-pathology-of-normalcy/p1

    Welcome to the forum.
  • NKBJ
    316
    Simply stating that you hate the trolley problem doesn't really help address the point I was making about the difference between rational reasons for moral rules and rational morality. Respectfully, I also disagree about it's real-world implications. It neatly portrays why we make all sorts of daily decisions. It exemplifies why we think actions are stronger than withholding action; being a member of a group lessens our sense of direct responsibility, how far can utilitarianism go, etc, etc.

    I don't think of myself as a Kantian. He's not all wrong, but his theory about moral maxims is not fool-proof enough for me. I also dislike his metaphysics--the noumenal realm does not tickle me in the least. I like Kantian aesthetics, though!

    You may not think you have a system of morality, or that it isn't rational, but I would hazard to guess that when in real life you come across an ethical dilemma you do more than toss a coin. I would assume you, however imperfectly (like all of us), try to apply your best reasoning to the situation at hand.
  • T Clark
    3k
    Simply stating that you hate the trolley problem doesn't really help address the point I was making about the difference between rational reasons for moral rules and rational morality. Respectfully, I also disagree about it's real-world implications. It neatly portrays why we make all sorts of daily decisions. It exemplifies why we think actions are stronger than withholding action; being a member of a group lessens our sense of direct responsibility, how far can utilitarianism go, etc, etc.NKBJ

    As I stated, I thought clearly, I don't think moral decisions, judgments, are fundamentally rational.

    I also disagree about it's real-world implications. It neatly portrays why we make all sorts of daily decisions. It exemplifies why we think actions are stronger than withholding action; being a member of a group lessens our sense of direct responsibility, how far can utilitarianism go, etc, etc.NKBJ

    Sorry. I think it's silly, convoluted, and confusing. If the whole edifice of philosophy can't come up with a more convincing, realistic example of a situation a real human might find herself in after all this time, it tells me the question shouldn't be taken seriously.

    Also, what makes you think the fat guy would really stop the trolley. As the old saying goes, one on the bridge is worth three on the track.
  • NKBJ
    316
    As I stated, I thought clearly, I don't think moral decisions, judgments, are fundamentally rational.
    Yes, I understand what you are saying. I'm telling you you're wrong, though. Perhaps not clearly enough for you? And you still are seemingly conflating rational reasons for having certain moral rules and those rules being rational in themselves.

    Sorry. I think it's silly, convoluted, and confusing.
    Oh well, too bad for you I guess! Many very serious philosophers and philosophy teachers use it because it is so clear and illuminating. Dismissing the whole argument because you don't like the example seems not only uncharitable to me, but also an easy way out of addressing a concern you just don't want to answer.
    Getting caught up in whether it works 1-to-1 in real life is just a way to evade figuring out what is theoretically right or wrong in that scenario.
  • T Clark
    3k
    I'm telling you you're wrong, though. Perhaps not clearly enough for you?NKBJ

    Um, well.... Whether or not I'm wrong, I've stated my position. You've stated yours a couple of times without really giving me any reason to change mine.

    Oh well, too bad for you I guess!NKBJ

    You just got here. You should check the forum guidelines. You have to have at least 50 posts before you're allowed to be snotty. Especially snotty with an exclamation point! Don't go looking, I just made that up.

    Many very serious philosophers and philosophy teachers use it because it is so clear and illuminating. Dismissing the whole argument because you don't like the example seems not only uncharitable to me, but also an easy way out of addressing a concern you just don't want to answer.
    Getting caught up in whether it works 1-to-1 in real life is just a way to evade figuring out what is theoretically right or wrong in that scenario.
    NKBJ

    Many very serious philosophers will think almost anything.

    I didn't dismiss any argument because you didn't make one, at least not related to the Trolley Problem. I already told you I don't think moral decisions are primarily rational.
  • NKBJ
    316
    You just got here.
    I'm hoping you're attempting humor, because otherwise this just seems like so much territorial chest-thumping that I'm not particularly interested in.

    I didn't dismiss any argument because you didn't make one, at least not related to the Trolley Problem.T Clark

    Yes I did: the Trolley problem both exemplifies and problematizes your insistent claim not to think moral decisions are primarily rational. When faced with the various scenarios of the trolley problem, we realize that we have many rational reasons for the seemingly knee-jerk reactions we have to given moral dilemmas, but that they can be at odds with each other if only a single variable is adjusted. Thus throwing in our face that we may not always be consistent about our moral reasoning. So, for instance, if I say flipping the switch to kill one instead of five is okay, it's likely because I think one small sacrifice is better than letting more people die. That's a rational conclusion. Then I'm faced with the idea of throwing the fat man on the tracks, and suddenly it seems less morally permissible, because it seems wrong to rope someone into being a sacrifice when he was never involved in the first place--also pretty rational.
  • T Clark
    3k
    I'm hoping you're attempting humor, because otherwise this just seems like so much territorial chest-thumping that I'm not particularly interested in.NKBJ

    Yes, as I said in my post, it was not a serious statement.

    the Trolley problem both exemplifies and problematizes your insistent claim not to think moral decisions are primarily rational.NKBJ

    I think I understand. "Insistent" = "Does not agree with me." Is that correct?

    When faced with the various scenarios of the trolley problem, we realize that we have many rational reasons for the seemingly knee-jerk reactions we have to given moral dilemmas, but that they can be at odds with each other if only a single variable is adjusted. Thus throwing in our face that we may not always be consistent about our moral reasoning. So, for instance, if I say flipping the switch to kill one instead of five is okay, it's likely because I think one small sacrifice is better than letting more people die. That's a rational conclusion. Then I'm faced with the idea of throwing the fat man on the tracks, and suddenly it seems less morally permissible, because it seems wrong to rope someone into being a sacrifice when he was never involved in the first place--also pretty rational.NKBJ

    You keep ignoring something from one of my previous posts:

    Reason can sometimes be used to figure out things that aren't clear and what needs to be done to address the moral issue.T Clark

    That doesn't change the fact that the basic motivations for moral behavior are not rational.

    When I first started on the forum, I was pretty pugnacious. I liked to get in fights and ridicule other people's arguments and attitudes. One of the things I've liked most about my time here is the chance I've had to improve my behavior and become more even tempered and friendly. I've tried to learn not to respond belligerently to, what shall we call them....unpleasant people. I look forward to more learning experiences with you.
  • NKBJ
    316
    "Insistent" = "Does not agree with me." Is that correct?T Clark

    Nope, more like, "Keeps on stating his opinion without explanation or even trying to address concerns raised by the person he's talking to."

    I've tried to learn not to respond belligerently to, what shall we call them....unpleasant people. I look forward to more learning experiences with you.T Clark

    Not sure why we need the snide comments? It should be possible to disagree about something in theory without succumbing to verbal put-downs and getting defensive? I'm certainly not interested in that kind of discourse.

    That doesn't change the fact that the basic motivations for moral behavior are not rational.T Clark

    You have not yet given me an example thereof. And the trolley problem would be a perfect place to test your theory.
  • T Clark
    3k
    Not sure why we need the snide comments? It should be possible to disagree about something in theory without succumbing to verbal put-downs and getting defensive? I'm certainly not interested in that kind of discourse.NKBJ

    I believe this is a case of the pot calling the kettle snide. I agree, I probably should have said "people whose behavior is unpleasant" rather than "unpleasant people."
  • NKBJ
    316
    I believe this is a case of the pot calling the kettle snide.

    I don't believe I have been snide, honestly. And I certainly haven't tried to be.

    Still, waiting on your example for the lack of rationality in morality though!
  • T Clark
    3k
    Still, waiting on your example for the lack of rationality in morality though!NKBJ

    You keep misstating what I've said. I said that the fundamental basis of morality is not rational but that reason has a role. I believe that morality comes from our human nature. I think of it as similar to language, although I'm not sure how that holds up scientifically. We have the capacity, the mental structure, at birth or soon after to learn and use language. I think the same is true of social behavior. There is evidence of very young children - months - making moral distinctions. We have evolved as social animals. We like each other. We were meant to be around each other.

    My understanding also comes from my personal experience with my moral understanding. For me, morality comes from empathy, compassion. From the ability to imagine what other people are thinking.
  • Pseudonym
    1.2k



    I think the issue here can quite easily be expressed in terms of the Trolley Problem. I agree with T Clark, that our morals derive irrationally, but that rationality can help guide them.

    To put this in terms of the Trolley Problem, as NKBJ, is asking - who we choose to run over might be a rational problem, why we care is an emotional one. Why are no answers to the problem that we should choose to run over the one with ginger hair? Why is it not considered a dilemma if one of the potential victims recently insulted us? What about if one of the potential victims is gay, does that change things? Of course none of these things are problems for the rational brain to consider because these questions have already been solved by the basic emotions.

    Of course it's wrong to value some people as less worthy on the basis of something arbitrary like hair colour. The rational brain didn't need to get involved, that's just what morality is.
  • NKBJ
    316

    Sure, our morality stems from feelings and empathy about other people's feelings--no argument there. I would say that claiming these are dichotomous to rationality/reason is a false dichotomy. It's this whole head or heart dualism that has sadly pervaded our thinking for too long now, even though feminist scholars have long debunked that whole idea by formulating the ethics of care. To construct a moral maxim requires both feeling and reason--I see that throwing a rock in your eye hurts you, I care about you and don't wish to hurt you, therefore I will cease throwing rocks in your eye. Perfectly rational AND based on feelings/empathy.
  • T Clark
    3k
    To put this in terms of the Trolley Problem, as NKBJ, is asking - who we choose to run over might be a rational problem, why we care is an emotional one. Why are no answers to the problem that we should choose to run over the one with ginger hair? Why is it not considered a dilemma if one of the potential victims recently insulted us? What about if one of the potential victims is gay, does that change things? Of course none of these things are problems for the rational brain to consider because these questions have already been solved by the basic emotions.Pseudonym

    Yes, I agree with this. I imagine NKBJ might have a quibble - based on just non-rational, emotional factors, many people might let the fact that one of the potential victims is gay affect their judgment. Reason might be the factor that made them reconsider this. Or is that what you were saying?
  • T Clark
    3k
    Sure, our morality stems from feelings and empathy about other people's feelings--no argument there.NKBJ

    Agreed. No argument.

    It's this whole head or heart dualism that has sadly pervaded our thinking for too long now, even though feminist scholars have long debunked that whole idea by formulating the ethics of care.NKBJ

    Feminist philosophy is not discussed much here except to ridicule it. If you have something to say and are willing to deal with some....snideness, you should start some discussions.

    On the other hand, it is not a feminist idea - Schopenhauer said this in 1840

    Boundless compassion for all living beings is the surest and most certain guarantee of pure moral conduct, and needs no casuistry. Whoever is filled with it will assuredly injure no one, do harm to no one, encroach on no man's rights; he will rather have regard for every one, forgive every one, help every one as far as he can, and all his actions will bear the stamp of justice and loving-kindness.
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