• Ryan B
    8
    Morality is difficult to ground in anything objective. Our sense is that morality is not arbitrary or relative, but most proposed systems of morality (Utilitarianism, Deontology) are subject to criticism that precludes the system from universal application.

    After thinking about this for some time, I've put together a version of Contractualism that I think provides a more solid foundation for morality. Any feedback on this would be appreciated: Contractualism as the Foundation for Morality
  • Galuchat
    481
    Morality is difficult to ground in anything objective. Our sense is that morality is not arbitrary or relative, but most proposed systems of morality (Utilitarianism, Deontology) are subject to criticism that precludes the system from universal application. — Ryan B

    Anthropologist Donald E. Brown has determined that morality is a human universal (Human Universals, 1991), cf. Human Universals, Human Nature, Human Culture

    So, I think human morality is an intersubjective (species-specific) consensus gentium based on human nature (genetic predisposition) which has many subjective (personal) and intersubjective (cultural) manifestations. Specifically, that it is implemented in the human mind through theory of mind, empathy, ethical knowledge, conscience, introspection, and self-judgement, as follows:
    1) Once theory of mind has been attained at 2-7 years of age (Piaget), ethical knowledge begins to be acquired by human beings through the operation of empathy (which has affective and cognitive aspects).
    2) A person's morality construct develops in parallel with mental maturation, personal experience, and social influences (cf., Lawrence Kohlberg's stages of moral development).
    3) Moral action-behaviour is informed by the operation of conscience, and self-judgement is activated by introspection.

    Hence, the similarities between the value systems and moral codes of the World's major book religions and systems of moral philosophy. Generally, these are based on the satisfaction of fundamental human needs; and so, are accepted by all neural typical people, and applicable to all people without exception, for the regulation (guidance and judgement) of human behaviour.

    Are you proposing that humanity should throw away 7000 years of cross-cultural experience and formulate a new morality based on rational public discourse simply to divest ourselves of any connection to religion? If so, how is this artificial consensus attained?

    Also, if moral progress depends on:
    1) "Increasing our scientific knowledge regarding how the world works and how we can reduce human suffering and promote human flourishing." Wouldn't that effectively make scientists the priests of a new religion?
    2) "Promoting our biological predispositions for cooperation, empathy, and reciprocation." Does this entail genetic engineering and/or transhumanism?
    3) "Using rationality as the foundation to match what we know about the world and ourselves with the acts most beneficial and consistent with those facts."
    4) "Maintaining an open society to freely discuss and debate moral issues."

    Regarding points 3) and 4), do you realise that fully rational psychopaths gravitate toward positions of power?

    Rule-based systems are destined to fail because there is always a conflict between consequences and duties, utilitarianism and deontology. General principles will always conflict with particulars, and vice versa. — Ryan B

    Given:
    1) Right action is the faultless execution of rational action.
    2) Rational action is based on the greater/greatest ethical value of available choices.

    The faultless execution of rational action may be achieved through one or more approach.

    1) General Approaches
    a) Master Rule Approach: the derivation of particular rules from a master rule (e.g., the Golden Rule).
    b) Method Approach: the derivation of particular rules from a methodological principle (e.g., testing whether or not an option satisfies a fundamental human need).

    2) Particular Approach
    a) Virtue Approach: reference to particular rules contained in a standard (e.g., moral code, value system, etc.).

    The amount of time available for decision-making depends on the exigencies of a situation. Required response time varies along a continuum between immediate and eventual.
    1) Immediate decision-making requires automatic processing.
    2) Eventual decision-making permits controlled processing.

    So, the exigencies of a social situation determine the type of mental processing required (i.e., automatic and/or controlled), and therefore which approach is most suitable. For example:
    1) The application of a Master Rule Approach is suitable for automatic processing.
    2) The application of a Method Approach is suitable for a combination of automatic and controlled processing.
    3) The application of a Virtue Approach is suitable for controlled processing.

    Public policy should be formulated using a virtue approach, because:
    1) The ethical quantity of action affecting a social group is relatively great, warranting careful consideration of particular circumstances.
    2) The problem-solving, decision-making, and planning resources of a social group are task appropriate.

    The ethical value of an action can be calculated using variables of ethical quality (moral, amoral, or immoral) and quantity (multitude and/or magnitude). Also, ethical utility (an after-the-fact measurement of ethical efficiency) can be calculated using variables of intent, means, and consequences.
  • Ryan B
    8
    “Are you proposing that humanity should throw away 7000 years of cross-cultural experience and formulate a new morality based on rational public discourse simply to divest ourselves of any connection to religion? If so, how is this artificial consensus attained?”

    No, modern-day morality incorporates 7,000 years of cross-cultural thought and experience but has refined the concepts through a dialectical process. By what other means, other than through reason, can we, for example, ignore or reject the barbaric parts of scripture and retain the good? The basis of our selection of verses to follow from scripture cannot come from scripture itself; it must come from outside of the text, from a moral philosophy grounded in reason.

    Consensus is obtained through open discussion and debate, informed but not determined by science, and not reliant on rigid rules and unwavering dogmas of the past but consistent with the reduction of human suffering and the promotion of human flourishing. An independent rational actor occupying the original position is forced to conclude that all human life is equal because they face the possibility of occupying any future social position. From this perspective, effective and just moral rules can be established.

    Of course you can choose to be immoral, and psychopaths will always exist. But remember that moral claims are not a claims about how people actually act or are compelled to act; moral claims are claims about how people ought to act. And if the immoral route is taken, the person must be prepared to face the legal, social, and psychological ramifications of those actions.
  • Galuchat
    481
    No, modern-day morality incorporates 7,000 years of cross-cultural thought and experience but has refined the concepts through a dialectical process. — Ryan B

    Where is this "modern-day morality", that I may examine its contents and ascertain which parts of extant moral codes and value systems have been retained, and which parts have been rejected?

    And if it doesn't exist, what should we use as a system of morality until the "modern-day" version is formulated (presumably through a dialectical process) and is universally accepted? And how long will that take?

    What was the dialectical process whereby extant moral code and value system concepts were refined? Who formulated and approved this process? When and where was it conducted, and by whom?

    An independent rational actor occupying the original position is forced to conclude that all human life is equal because they face the possibility of occupying any future social position. — Ryan B

    A psychopath is unlikely to accept your neural typical notion of rationality.
    If:
    1) Moral progress depends on "maintaining an open society to freely discuss and debate moral issues." And,
    2) Psychopaths occupy positions of power.
    Then:
    It is unlikely that moral issues will be resolved to the satisfaction of neural typicals.
  • Ryan B
    8


    A psychopath, in not accepting this notion of rationality, is behaving immorally. Each individual is free to reject moral behavior, and that choice is the very basis by which we can claim that an act is moral at all. The lion that rips apart a zebra is not immoral because lions are biologically determined and there is no expectation of rational calculation. Humans can engage in rational calculation and that calculation is what we're judging. We can't expect everyone to behave morally, but morality can only be defended by using reason.

    Morality is not describing how people actually act; morality proposes rules for which acts can be considered in relation to their effects on others. My contention is that, in an open society where moral progress is not blocked, psychopaths will be marginalized by the power of rationality and the four factors of moral progress that I've previously mentioned. Psychopaths cannot defend their behavior rationally or on moral grounds, and the only means of influencing moral behavior is through the use of force, which democracy, ideally, is established to block. As Karl Popper taught, democracy is less about electing qualified leaders as it is about removing dangerous ones.

    Where is modern morality? One place to begin looking is how the typical religious person behaves compared to how they behaved at any point in the past. My contention is that rational processes have made even the most ardently religious back off most of the biblical claims that could not be supported by the rational process informed by science. The burning of heretics, the stoning of virgins, and much else that was at one point practiced is now considered immoral even by the people devoted to books that tell them these practices are acceptable.

    How did we arrive at this position if not through science and rational calculation? What is it that makes even the religious and conservatives more liberal and tolerant than at any previous point in history?
  • Galuchat
    481
    What is it that makes even the religious and conservatives more liberal and tolerant than at any previous point in history? — Ryan B

    Your contractualism may serve as an "ethical" basis for a liberal agenda, but as a foundation for human morality, it doesn't (and cannot) exist.

    My objections concerning universal morality and rule-based systems, as well as many of my questions, have not been addressed. So, rather than read replies which contain more of the same ideological nonsense found on your blog, I am opting out of this discussion.
  • Wayfarer
    6.8k
    By what other means, other than through reason, can we, for example, ignore or reject the barbaric parts of scripture and retain the good? The basis of our selection of verses to follow from scripture cannot come from scripture itself; it must come from outside of the text, from a moral philosophy grounded in reason.Ryan B

    The 'good' being....?

    'Reason' in the modern sense generally assumes the need to be validated empirically i.e. by scientific observation. The conception of reason changed enormously post -Enlightenment. In prior cultures, reason was objective, or rather, transcendent in the sense of being grounded in revealed truth and the presumption that the Universe existed as a consequence of an intentional act of creation. The role of reason was to discern this intent and live in accordance with it. Whereas the modern conception of reason is instrumental and pragmatic, concerned with measurable outcomes and scientifically discernable principles in an essentially meaningless cosmos (e.g. Max Horkheimer 'The Eclipse of Reason'.)

    In Western culture and history, Christian theology adapted principles of classical philosophy and moral theory from Greek, Islamic and Jewish sources; a consequence is that the rejection of philosophical theology also rejects many of the axioms of ethical theory that had been painstakingly arrived at through centuries of cultural development, nowadays easily discarded as 'medieval' and therefore superseded. Among those is rejection of the validity of the testimony of sages as such figures in history certainly didn't seek to validate their philosophies by modern empirical standards . All of which tends to mean that the modern, secular consensus of the nature of reason carries unstated rhetorical and normative meaning couched in terms of scientific reason with its associations of the inherent meaninglessness of the Cosmos and the fortuitous origins of life.

    The four grounds for the ways in which 'religions impede moral progress' are written from the perspective of the conflict thesis, 'which maintains that there is an intrinsic intellectual conflict between religion and science and that the relationship between religion and science inevitably leads to hostility; examples to support this thesis have commonly been drawn from the relations between science and religion in Western Europe.' (Wikipedia).

    In a secular social framework, the principles of reciprocity, responsibility and so on, are perfectly sound as far as they go. It's a framework that's meaningful in a secular culture, but the criticism of religion that it contains is based on a definition drawn on the basis of fundamentalism and other reactionary forms of religious culture.

    See also Does Reason know what it is missing?, Stanley Fish.
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