• Thomas Quine
    63
    I don’t mean to present any ethical norm, but to offer what seems to me to be a simple description of human reality: all moral precepts are an attempt to answer the question, “What best serves human flourishing?”

    Any community of human beings who have collectively agreed that such-and-such an act or course of actions is moral, have done so in the final analysis because they believed these actions to be in the service of human flourishing.

    Similarly, any community that has agreed that certain actions are immoral, have done so in the conviction that these actions harm or hinder the project of human flourishing.

    Note that I am not of course arguing that all morals past and present actually did serve human flourishing, only that those who adhered to them believed them to do so. I am not arguing that human sacrifice, genocide, slavery, honor killings, inquisitions, you name it, are moral, nor that they served human flourishing. I am saying only that those communities who considered these sorts of behaviors to be moral, ethical, right, and proper, held that belief because they were convinced (rightly or wrongly) that they ultimately were in the best long-term interests of human flourishing.

    Am I wrong? Can anyone provide an example of a moral precept held by any community past or present who did not come to that position on the belief that it served human flourishing?

    Please let me know!
  • Janus
    9.2k
    Is the corollary of this that actions which do facilitate human flourishing are moral, and those which hinder human flourishing are immoral?
  • tim wood
    5k
    Am I wrong?Thomas Quine
    This being TPF, of course you're wrong! I'm joking. Actually I think you are correct in that human flourishing is an ideal towards which humanity stumbles. Historically, though, I think it was first the well-being of the tribe, then the king, then the ruling classes. I think it's an ideal in the US. But there is in the world those who believe it is the well-being - the flourishing - of the state, at the expense of the people.

    And it can run at cross-purposes to any government, even democracy. That leaves the question as to the best form of government for increasing human flourishing. It also leaves the question as to exactly what human flourishing is, and looks like in action.
  • Pinprick
    340
    Am I wrong? Can anyone provide an example of a moral precept held by any community past or present who did not come to that position on the belief that it served human flourishing?Thomas Quine

    I think antinatalism fits this. For a particular community, consider the Shakers.
  • Thomas Quine
    63
    That's my next step but don't want to get ahead of myself...
  • Thomas Quine
    63
    The Shakers of course saw their truest flourishing to happen after death and their beliefs were meant to lead them to it...
  • praxis
    2.5k
    I am saying only that those communities who considered these sorts of behaviors to be moral, ethical, right, and proper, held that belief because they were convinced (rightly or wrongly) that they ultimately were in the best long-term interests of human flourishing.

    Am I wrong?
    Thomas Quine

    You couldn’t be more wrong. At best, they may have been convinced that they served the immediate goals of their tribes. How else to explain the current human condition?

    Morals are grounded in intuition, and then whatever moral framework we’ve been inculcated with.
  • apokrisis
    4.8k
    I think you are in essence right. The problem is how do you then define flourishing?

    Isis flourished in some sense as a community bound by shared precepts.

    So flourishing is a nice word, redolent with positive affect. But that means it could be just a bait and switch where values taken for granted as “moral” now get submerged in an unexamined notion of “flourishing”.

    This sounds like the work you mean to continue on to.
  • Pinprick
    340
    The Shakers of course saw their truest flourishing to happen after death and their beliefs were meant to lead them to it...Thomas Quine

    Well, I wouldn’t consider simply spending eternity in heaven flourishing. To me flourishing implies advancing, or progressing in some way; not just experiencing pleasure. But regardless, I think using the term in a relative way results in it becoming a meaningless term. If “flourishing” just means whatever a particular person or group thinks it means, then there’s no way to distinguish groups that “flourished” from those that didn’t.
  • Pinprick
    340
    Morals are grounded in intuition, and then whatever moral framework we’ve been inculcated with.praxis

    I agree, but could it then be said that our intuition is to flourish? Perhaps the post hoc justification that occurs is just a recognition of this fact?
  • Janus
    9.2k
    I think you are in essence right. The problem is how do you then define flourishing?

    Isis flourished in some sense as a community bound by shared precepts.
    apokrisis

    I think the point here would be to consider human flourishing in both the widest, i.e. global, and the narrowest, i.e. individual, contexts. Leaving those contexts aside, even within the local context it would be hard to make an argument that the activities of ISIS promote human flourishing
  • Thomas Quine
    63
    Well yes, I think ISIS is a stain on humanity, as wrong-headed as you can get, but read the literature and you find that the young fighters of ISIS believe that their project is to serve humanity, to address injustice and create a better world - the Caliphate, a land of totalitarian Islamism.

    When I ask myself whether what ISIS is engaged in is a moral enterprise, I ask myself, "Does their work serve human flourishing?" If it is destructive to human flourishing, it is immoral.
  • Thomas Quine
    63
    I disagree. Even those who intend to serve only the immediate interests of their tribe do so because they identify the interests of their tribe as synonymous with the best interests of humanity.
  • Janus
    9.2k
    Even those who intend to serve only the immediate interests of their tribe do so because they identify the interests of their tribe as synonymous with the best interests of humanity.Thomas Quine

    Right, and as long as their tribe remains isolated from the rest of humanity, then their actions may be judged as to whether they serve human flourishing in that limited context.
  • Thomas Quine
    63
    I go with the dictionary definition of "flourishing", it's nothing mysterious. To do well in a hospitable environment. A human community is doing well when there is personal safety, healthy lifespans, economic security, healthy environment, reasonable opportunity for personal growth, adequate water and nutrition, fulfilling work, etc.There are global wellness indicators out there.

    But I like the word "flourishing" better than "well-being" because well-being is a subjective brain state that goes up and down and actually is influenced a lot by genetics. And anyway the mortality rate is running at 100% last time I checked. Life is suffering.

    I think population metrics are a better yardstick by which to measure human flourishing, in the same way if we ask whether bison are flourishing in Yellowstone, we don't track the life history of an individual bison.

    The other reason I like the term flourishing is because it seems to me a more active verb better suited to creatures like ourselves who have a certain agency, a level of input into our own trajectories. If you want to flourish you have to get out there and make it happen, and this is indeed what we do and part of what we consider a virtuous and fulfilling life.
  • Pinprick
    340
    I think population metrics are a better yardstick by which to measure human flourishing, in the same way if we ask whether bison are flourishing in Yellowstone, we don't track the life history of an individual bison.Thomas Quine

    Using this metric, I fail to see how the Shakers flourished... Had they flourished, they would still be around. Instead, they intentionally did the opposite of that; hasten their demise.
  • Thomas Quine
    63
    Well as I explained, just because a community truly believes they are doing what they believe to be in the best interests of human flourishing, doesn't mean they are right...

    Shakers see a better world "on the other side", they believe serving God through celibacy and simple lives will get them there. Many religious people do crazy things because heaven is more real to them than this mortal life - look at suicide bombers.

    Just as in the natural world, diversity means some paths lead to the flourishing of the species, and some lead to extinction. The project of morality is to figure out which is which.

    My next point is that we can actually determine what best serves human flourishing through science and reason. This means if we can agree on the common goal, we have an objective starting point for ethical considerations.
  • apokrisis
    4.8k
    ...even within the local context it would be hard to make an argument that the activities of ISIS promote human flourishing.Janus

    Sure. That is why I used that example. As a great big question-mark counter to the OP's generalisation....

    Any community of human beings who have collectively agreed that such-and-such an act or course of actions is moral,Thomas Quine

    If Isis collectively agreed that its course of actions was moral, then – per the OP – they must have done so because, in the final analysis, they believed these actions to be in the service of human flourishing.

    Which is why I then say, hmm, let's define flourishing shall we?

    I go with the dictionary definition of "flourishing", it's nothing mysterious. To do well in a hospitable environment. A human community is doing well when there is personal safety, healthy lifespans, economic security, healthy environment, reasonable opportunity for personal growth, adequate water and nutrition, fulfilling work, etc.There are global wellness indicators out there.Thomas Quine

    Again, I don't disagree with the commonsense approach of accepting folk definitions - except if I were to be claiming to be doing actual moral philosophy that wants to avoid building its conclusions into its premises.

    Is there an objective definition of flourishing that would avoid us smuggling in our own culturally-subjective agendas? Isis would be an example. If it represents a community that believes humanity would be better off without the presence of the infidel, how do we rule out that as a valid definition of "flourishing" in its eyes?

    If you were to bring in our own Western scientific and enlightenment tradition, then yes, flourishing can be defined in terms of things like Maslow's hierarchy of needs. And it seems both sensible and empirically supported.

    I could then cite even more abstracted models of flourishing like Ulanowicz's Ascendency. That would really strip away the cultural and subjective wrappings. It is where biologists would arrive at when they have to define "flourishing" in terms of ecosystems.

    I think population metrics are a better yardstick by which to measure human flourishing, in the same way if we ask whether bison are flourishing in Yellowstone, we don't track the life history of an individual bison.Thomas Quine

    Or indeed, we might ask how the bison herd contribute to the flourishing of Yellowstone as an ecosystem. But you seem to agree that it is right to ask about flourishing in that more generic biological context of life in general?

    Again, flourishing as a term does smuggle in these naturalistic connotations. It does rather question supernatural imperatives. We would be quick to say Isis is wrong-headed as its morality all based on religious mumbo-jumbo.

    Which is fine. I'm all for naturalism. Once more, I merely point on the work still to be done to carrying on and cash this all out in a notion of collective flourishing. I already agree that flourishing in some sense is the right answer. It fits my prejudices wonderfully.

    The other reason I like the term flourishing is because it seems to me a more active verb better suited to creatures like ourselves who have a certain agencyThomas Quine

    Yes. As captured by Maslow and self-actualisation as the highest good.
  • Isaac
    2.8k
    I disagree. Even those who intend to serve only the immediate interests of their tribe do so because they identify the interests of their tribe as synonymous with the best interests of humanity.Thomas Quine

    What evidence do you have for this? In the example of a tribe going to war with another to protect their resources (or capture more resources) what reason have you got to believe they consider the deaths of those other tribe members to be in the interests of humanity as a whole?
  • SophistiCat
    1.3k
    I don’t mean to present any ethical norm, but to offer what seems to me to be a simple description of human reality: all moral precepts are an attempt to answer the question, “What best serves human flourishing?”Thomas Quine

    Note that I am not of course arguing that all morals past and present actually did serve human flourishing, only that those who adhered to them believed them to do so.Thomas Quine

    That's just manifestly not true. I think you would be hard-pressed to come up with more than a few and recent literary or documentary examples of such reasoning behind moral attitudes. No one thinks about "human flourishing" when they demonstrate a proper filial attitude towards their parents, for example - they do it because it's the right thing to do, period.

    Of course, in the absence of firm criteria of how such beliefs should manifest, you could interpret just about any moral attitude to be a confirmation of your thesis. You could assert that human flourishing is the hidden motive, even when it is nowhere in evidence. (I think I see you already engaging in such creative interpretation in this discussion.) But then if anything fits your thesis, your thesis is vacuous.
  • Thomas Quine
    63
    I keep in mind that on every side of every conflict there are those who consider a given war justified and ethical and those who do not. But let's focus on those who do.

    I have read a lot of history and military history, and in every case I am aware of, those who support going to war or taking up arms believe their cause to be just. To say something like "our cause is just", or "Gott mit Uns" or "God/Allah is on our side", or we have the "Mandate of Heaven", or to call it a "Holy War", or a "Crusade", or really to offer any sort of justification, is to argue that there are universal values that we somehow embody, and that "they" don't.

    Of course some primitive tribes might have a narrower view of human flourishing - many tribes name themselves using a word that in their language simply means "the people". Their view of human flourishing may not encompass the whole of humanity, but only the part of humanity that matters to them.

    This is not much different from those who went to war and justified it on the basis of their own racial or cultural or religious superiority.

    I also read a lot about chimp wars and chimp justification for war, and what you might call universal values of chimp society are simply this: might makes right. We are justified in wiping out our rival troupe because we are stronger than they are and we need what they have. It is just and right that we should flourish and they should not. So even among chimps, what is just and right is grounded on what serves chimp flourishing...
  • SophistiCat
    1.3k
    That's my next step but don't want to get ahead of myself...Thomas Quine

    Don't worry, you are telegraphing the standard is-ought move loud and clear.

    My next point is that we can actually determine what best serves human flourishing through science and reason. This means if we can agree on the common goal, we have an objective starting point for ethical considerations.Thomas Quine

    Yup...
  • Isaac
    2.8k
    some primitive tribes might have a narrower view of human flourishing - many tribes name themselves using a word that in their language simply means "the people". Their view of human flourishing may not encompass the whole of humanity, but only the part of humanity that matters to them.

    This is not much different from those who went to war and justified it on the basis of their own racial or cultural or religious superiority.
    Thomas Quine

    So, if what you determine counts as 'humanity' determines how you treat others, then how's this any different from relativism? Different people have different views about who constitutes 'humanity', this determines how these people are treated. Which means in practice all you're describing is a relativistic system dependent on subjective views about who constitutes 'humanity'.
  • Isaac
    2.8k
    I included your name only as a curtesy.Banno

    I think you might be replying to the wrong post, but either way If you consider including my name in the repeat of a post in which you insult me as a 'courtesy' then I dread to think what manner of thing you consider discourteous.
  • TheMadFool
    6.6k
    You're absolutely right. Whatever actual moral codes were put in place, those who made them were/are convinced it was/is for the betterment of the community and, by extrapolation, of the human race.

    That this moral exercise has failed - people disagree on moral issues - can be chalked up to the flaws, myopia, prejudices, ignorance, and general incompetence of those who framed moral codes whatever they were/are.
  • opt-ae
    33
    Good is not only man's flourishment. Good is simulation-success, and flourishing is a sign of success, but there would be other simulation-successes.

    What does man's flourishment attribute to? A more bustling planet? Lot's of flowers, flourishing? And what does that achieve?
  • praxis
    2.5k
    Of course some primitive tribes might have a narrower view of human flourishing...
    ...
    I also read a lot about chimp wars and chimp justification for war, and what you might call universal values of chimp society are simply this: might makes right. We are justified in wiping out our rival troupe because we are stronger than they are and we need what they have. It is just and right that we should flourish and they should not. So even among chimps, what is just and right is grounded on what serves chimp flourishing...
    Thomas Quine

    We’re all prone to tribalism and the primary function of moral frameworks is to bond the tribe, in whatever form the tribe may exist. It’s a very successful survival strategy and based in gene propagation. It has little to do with human flourishing.

    I suggest that you read Dawkins or the like.
  • Thomas Quine
    63
    Is there an objective definition of flourishing that would avoid us smuggling in our own culturally-subjective agendas? Isis would be an example. If it represents a community that believes humanity would be better off without the presence of the infidel, how do we rule out that as a valid definition of "flourishing" in its eyes?apokrisis

    Every community has its own understanding of what it means to flourish. The way to cut through relativism is through scientific analysis based on evidence. I can confidently argue that ISIS's project of a new Caliphate was wrong and immoral and contrary to human flourishing based on the outcome, which evidence shows to have been a historic disaster for pretty much everyone who was touched by it.

    I can confidently argue that racism is wrong and immoral and contrary to human flourishing on evidence provided to us by the experience of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in WWII, not to mention the Confederate States in the American Civil War, or numerous less bloody historical disasters.

    I think it is possible to broadly agree on criteria for human flourishing, criteria that pretty much any rational human being could agree on. Take for example health metrics, such as adequate nutrition, average years of good health in a lifespan, healthy birth weight, infant mortality, and so on. Science can tell us how to improve these metrics and thereby to serve the common good, and any country today whose population is doing relatively well actually does track these sorts of metrics and seeks to improve the numbers through science.

    And I think most people would agree that to serve human flourishing in this way is the moral and ethical thing to do, and to take actions that hinder this effort or set it back we would regard as immoral. For example, if it were to be proven (and there is no evidence for this, so I don't believe it) that the novel coronavirus was intentionally released into the global population for whatever reason, I think most people would consider that to be immoral.

    Why? Because a pandemic is harmful to human flourishing.
  • TheMadFool
    6.6k
    I may have spoken too soon there when I agreed with you. Yes, the general course of the humanity's moral ship seems to be towards something positive but I'm now reluctant to say this has anything to do with human flourishing. Morality appears to be more about discouraging our negative tendencies than encouraging our positive ones. Had morality also made it a point to encourage the good, I'd have to agree with you. It appears then that morality serves only to prevent the collapse of civilization rather than push it to greater heights. Nevertheless, it can be said that moral codes work toward creating peace and harmony in society, essential ingredients to making human flourishing possible but it falls short of making a positive contribution to it.
  • Thomas Quine
    63
    I suggest that you read Dawkins or the like.praxis

    Yes, genes propagate when the species that carry them flourish.

    For a great book on chimp politics check out "Alpha God" by Hector A. Garcia, highly recommended. There was also a great documentary by the BBC and Attenborough: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06mvpsw
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