• Mark S
    264
    This is my view of how current developments in the science of morality could be culturally useful and even influence moral philosophy. This is a still-evolving field with much yet to be learned.

    Science studies what ‘is’ in the natural world.

    Moral philosophers commonly study a different domain - what we ought to do or value. For example, how can we justify answers to important, still unresolved, ethical questions such as “How should I live?”, “What are my obligations?”, and “What is good?”.

    I take as given that, as a matter of logic, science can’t answer philosophy’s ought questions based only on what ‘is’.

    But the science of morality can study why our moral sense and cultural moral norms exist. There is a growing consensus that “human morality” (here our moral sense and cultural moral norms) exists because it solves cooperation problems in groups. Human morality appears to have been biologically and culturally selected for by the benefits of the cooperation it enabled. The diversity, contradictions, and, to outsiders, strangeness of past and present cultural moral norms are largely due to 1) different definitions of who is in favored ingroups or in disfavored or even exploited outgroups and 2) different markers of membership in ingroups and outgroups.

    How might this scientific explanation be culturally helpful?

    Food and sex taboos such as “Don’t eat pigs!” and “Homosexuality is evil!” are semi-arbitrary markers of group membership that exist because they help solve the problem of identifying reliable cooperators. An individual’s commitment to obeying and enforcing a group’s marker norms can be a usually reliable means of identifying ingroup members who are less likely to exploit others. Such taboos can also imply that pig eaters and homosexuals are threats to the group. Our evolution in small, vulnerable groups selected for powerful motivations for ingroup cooperation in the presence of even imaginary external threats. This explanation of why food and sex taboo moral norms exist and may be irrationally defended could be culturally helpful for resolving disputes about their enforcement.

    Are there any implications for moral philosophy if the biological and cultural evolution of our moral sense and cultural moral norms track solutions to cooperation problems?

    Evolutionary game theory and the cooperation strategies it reveals are based on simple, species-independent mathematics. Species that have not incorporated cooperation strategies into their biology and cultures are likely unable to form the highly cooperative societies necessary for civilizations. Therefore, we can expect virtually all civilizations, independent of species, to have incorporated cooperation strategies into their biology and cultures.

    Punishment of violators is a necessary part of the evolutionary stable reciprocity strategies that are the most powerful cooperation strategies within human morality. Hence, we can also expect that virtually all civilizations will intuitively feel, as we do, that violators of cooperation strategies deserve punishment – the hallmark of human morality.

    Therefore, as well as defining what “human morality” ‘is’, these strategies are a kind of species-independent morality that is innate to our universe. This kind of morality is NOT what everyone, everywhere, somehow ought to do regardless of their needs and preferences – a more common philosophical understanding of what would be objectively moral. Science has discovered a kind of moral realism, but it is not the kind that is innately binding. This result could be relevant to the work of some moral philosophers.

    However, as mentioned previously, the scientific understanding of the cooperation strategies encoded in our moral sense and cultural moral norms, even as the basis of a universal morality, cannot directly answer the big three ethical questions: “How should I live?”, “What are my obligations?”, and “What is good?”.

    Does this science have any relevance for moral philosophy focused on innately binding moralities?

    Perhaps understanding what human morality ‘is’ will provide valuable insights for philosophical studies into what morality ought to be.

    Our moral sense and cultural moral norms shape our moral intuitions. Therefore, our moral intuitions are also virtually all parts of strategies that solve cooperation problems. To the extent that a moral philosopher relies on guidance from their moral intuitions, this might be an additional helpful insight.
  • Philosophim
    2.3k
    This is a very good start to a discussion and I think can highlight a key difference between philosophy and science. Science often times takes hypotheses and established definitions and uses them in identifying tests. Thus if we say 'morality is cooperation," then we observe where cooperation happens in animals and say, "That is morality."

    Philosophy on the other hand is the logical establishment of "What does this definition mean?" which we can then test. You see, in the first case, there is no question as to what the definition of morality is. Its, "Cooperation". So we observe a few serial killers working together to mass murder people. "Ah, look at that morality in action!" we would say as scientists. But as philosophers we would take a step back and say, "Huh, cooperation as morality in this situation doesn't make sense. Maybe its not as simple as that."

    I think any good philosopher must understand up to date facts and observations. You cannot create a reasonable definition without a strong foundation on what is already reasonable. But the creation of the definitions that we use can also color how we see facts. The goal is to create a definition that solves potential contradictions, emotional conflicts, and has universal rational agreement. When such a definition does contradict our emotional intuitions, it must provide rational points which can often explain why we feel that way, but also why that feeling is incorrect.

    So, should we use observations of cooperative behavior? Yes. Should that be the only consideration in morality? No, because it leads to unintuitive contradictions to people sense of what morality is without adequately explaining why those contradictions to our intuitions are incorrect.

    If you're interested, I'm exploring the idea of an objective morality here: https://thephilosophyforum.com/discussion/14834/a-measurable-morality/p1
  • Leontiskos
    1.5k
    But the science of morality can study why our moral sense and cultural moral norms exist. There is a growing consensus that “human morality” (here our moral sense and cultural moral norms) exists because it solves cooperation problems in groups.Mark S

    There are fallacies at play here. "A moral norm aids cooperation, therefore the moral norm exists for the sake of cooperation." Not only is this fallacious reasoning, but it also departs from the "is" questions that you associate with "science." There is no "is" fact that moral norms exist for the sake of cooperation. Further, this conclusion contradicts the answers you would often receive if you asked the moral actors why they hold to their moral norms. The person who engages in this form of reasoning basically says, "Well, these people tell us that they hold to their moral norm because of X, but they really hold to their moral norm for the sake of cooperation, because [insert fallacious argumentation]."

    It is basically Bulverism combined with a substituted motivation, and this has nothing to do with science. One center of the problem is the equivocation between moral norms as active via intentional agents and moral norms as passive via a mechanism such as evolution. Once someone speaks about "moral norms" in this latter sense the equivocation trap is set. The latter sense is in fact not a moral norm at all; it is a correlation.

    What the so-called "scientist" has done is redefined morality in terms of expedience, and once that redefinition is complete it gets folded back to cover over the colloquial understanding of morality. Plato was already fighting hard against this move 2500 years ago. Of course it is true that many people throughout time have acted only for expedience. Such people do not believe that morality (or justice) in the true sense exists, and many of the "scientists" come from this group, importing their own view.
  • Mark S
    264


    So we observe a few serial killers working together to mass murder people. "Ah, look at that morality in action!" we would say as scientists. But as philosophers we would take a step back and say, "Huh, cooperation as morality in this situation doesn't make sense.Philosophim

    Yes, it is descriptively moral in human societies to solve cooperation problems that prevent the society from achieving its goals, for instance genocide or mass murder. Descriptively moral behaviors have included a lot of things we would consider despicable – no surprise there.

    You seem to be thinking about what is universally moral. It is universally moral (as part of morality as cooperation) to solve cooperation problems while not exploiting or harming others. So, no, the mass murders cooperation does not count as universally moral by morality as cooperation.

    The science of morality tells us BOTH what is merely descriptively moral as well as what is universally moral. This is as it must be, because the science of morality must explain all of human morality, not just the parts we like.

    Moral philosophers tend to focus only on what is universally moral. We have missed a lot by not being able to explain what is descriptively moral.

    I expected my examples of “Don’t eat pigs” and “Homosexuality is evil” would have made it clear that the science of morality explains both what is descriptively moral and what is universally moral.

    If I had proposed "It is universally moral (as part of morality as cooperation) to solve cooperation problems while not exploiting or harming others." in my OP, I would have been moving over into making a philosophical claim which I was trying to avoid.
  • Philosophim
    2.3k
    Yes, it is descriptively moral in human societies to solve cooperation problems that prevent the society from achieving its goals, for instance genocide or mass murder.Mark S

    Descriptive morality is just the study of people's opinions on morality. If you claim "Cooperation is moral," that's not descriptive. A study of descriptive ethics would be to ask, "Why do people consider cooperation moral?"

    The science of morality tells us BOTH what is merely descriptively moral as well as what is universally moral. This is as it must be, because the science of morality must explain all of human morality, not just the parts we like.Mark S

    That's a fine thing to claim, but where is science in your example describing a universal morality?

    Moral philosophers tend to focus only on what is universally moral. We have missed a lot by not being able to explain what is descriptively moral.Mark S

    I don't think that's the case at all. In attempting to discover a universal morality, oftentimes philosophers look to the reason behind why people take the actions that they claim are moral. For example, why was it considered moral to kill a deformed child in ancient times? Understanding why people believe actions are moral is fundamental to creating a rational universal morality, as it should explain why they have these intuitions, and if they are misguided, why they are misguided.
  • Mark S
    264


    That our moral sense and cultural moral norms are parts of cooperation strategies is a robust hypothesis that 1) explains virtually all past and present cultural moral norms (suggested counterexamples would be gratefully received) and 2) everything we know about our moral sense. It is a simple explanation of a huge, superficially chaotic data set. It is a good candidate for the normal, provisional kind of scientific truth.

    It also is not new. Protagoras proposed it to Socrates in Plato’s dialog of the same name. Socrates rejected it, perhaps because it was too close to what the common people thought about morality at the time and therefore not intellectually challenging. Protagoras proposed it by reciting a Greek myth about why Zeus gave people a moral sense. If you replace Zeus with evolutionary processes, you get a remarkably coherent story of the evolutionary process.

    Finally, your criticism that morality as cooperation redefines morality as expedience is a philosophical claim irrelevant to science.
  • Leontiskos
    1.5k


    Put differently, to say that morality is for cooperation is a teleological claim, and according to your understanding of science this is not a scientific claim at all.

    But the science of morality can study why our moral sense and cultural moral norms exist.Mark S

    A moral norm involves valuation, and therefore any field which prescinds from matters of value cannot appraise moral norms, except insofar as it explains them away. But to predicate cooperation of morality is to explain one value term with another value term, and "science," as you have described it, cannot do this. The account is therefore not even logically coherent.

    If you claim "Cooperation is moral," that's not descriptive.Philosophim

    Right.
  • Mark S
    264
    The science of morality tells us BOTH what is merely descriptively moral as well as what is universally moral. This is as it must be, because the science of morality must explain all of human morality, not just the parts we like.
    — Mark S

    That's a fine thing to claim, but where is science in your example describing a universal morality?
    Philosophim

    I did not include the derivation of what is universally moral by morality as cooperation in the OP to keep it short and because it was unnecessary to my points. I can’t say everything at once.

    In outline:

    “Descriptively moral behaviors solve cooperation problems in groups” is arguably scientifically true based on its explanatory power for past and present cultural moral norms and our moral sense. However, solving these cooperation problems has been done for what we see as morally reprehensible goals such as mass murder.

    Might there be a part of all these descriptively behaviors that is universally moral – meaning universal to all descriptively moral behaviors?

    Yes, the ingroup cooperation strategies are universal even when used for purposes that exploit or harm others. But exploiting or harming others (in outgroups) creates a cooperation problem, which we know is immoral by morality as cooperation.

    So all descriptively moral behaviors have a universal ingroup cooperation component and a potentially immoral interaction with exploited or harmed outgroups.

    Hence, by morality as cooperation, “universally moral behaviors solve cooperation problems without exploiting or harming others”.
  • Leontiskos
    1.5k
    But to predicate cooperation of morality is to explain one value term with another value term, and "science," as you have described it, cannot do this.Leontiskos

    What then can descriptive science do? It can study the practices of cultures or people, including their strategies for cooperation. It can study their language. It can describe what they mean when they use a word, such as "morality." But as to morality proper, it can say very little, because morality is a normative sphere and not a descriptive sphere. Those who claim to be doing descriptive science but then manage to make or imply normative moral claims are engaged in sophistry, and this is a problem that plagues our age.

    The common example of this is:

    1. When we look at societies we find that they were interested in cooperation.
    2. Therefore, our moral beliefs are really just an epiphenomenon of our desire for cooperation.
    3. Therefore, true morality is cooperation.
    4. Therefore, you should be more cooperative.
  • Mark S
    264
    to say that morality is for cooperation is a teleological claimLeontiskos


    I did not say morality is for cooperation. Given a standard philosophical understanding of “morality” as what everyone ought to do, I see no justification for such a claim. I said the existence of cultural moral norms and our moral sense are explainable as parts of cooperation strategies.

    A moral norm involves valuation, and therefore any field which prescinds from matters of value cannot appraise moral norms, except insofar as it explains them away. But to predicate cooperation of morality is to explain one value term with another value term, and "science," as you have described it, cannot do this. The account is therefore not even logically coherent.Leontiskos

    Consider three cultural moral norms:
    Eating pigs is an abomination
    Homosexuality is evil
    Do to others as you would have them do to you.

    All are parts of known cooperation strategies explored in game theory.
    The first two are marker strategies as described in the OP.
    The Golden Rule is a heuristic for initiating indirect reciprocity, arguably the most powerful known cooperation strategy.
    Similarly, virtually all cultural moral norms I am aware of can be explained as parts of known cooperation strategies.

    And somehow in your mind this is logically incoherent? How?

    Perhaps you are leaping to philosophical conclusions that I have not made and that are incoherent.
  • 0 thru 9
    1.5k
    Evolutionary game theory and the cooperation strategies it reveals are based on simple, species-independent mathematics. Species that have not incorporated cooperation strategies into their biology and cultures are likely unable to form the highly cooperative societies necessary for civilizations. Therefore, we can expect virtually all civilizations, independent of species, to have incorporated cooperation strategies into their biology and cultures.

    Punishment of violators is a necessary part of the evolutionary stable reciprocity strategies that are the most powerful cooperation strategies within human morality. Hence, we can also expect that virtually all civilizations will intuitively feel, as we do, that violators of cooperation strategies deserve punishment – the hallmark of human morality.
    Mark S

    Interesting… thanks for posting that. :up:

    It’s seems that you may perhaps be describing the search for some kind of general strategy or law.
    A law that might tell us what to do (and what not to do) in order to keep humanity flourishing, and do so in an environment that is relatively healthy and robust.
    As you mention, the taboos and habits of individual groups can be put aside for the moment as particular (and sometimes quite peculiar) preferences.

    Science has in recent years been telling us some rather disturbing facts and hypotheses about the how Earth and humans interact. (Or simply put ‘the environment’).

    There isn’t always agreement, even among scientists, but there seems to be a broad consensus that human civilization is changing what was until very recently considered unchangable.
    Humans, in their millennia-long attempt to make the world more habitable for humans, are very close to quickly making it less habitable.

    It reminds me of someone playing poker, who is having an incredible run and amassing a huge pot… but do they know when to quit? That is, quit before losing the whole pile of cash?

    There are certain ‘laws of nature’ that concern animals, their breeding, eating, and environment.
    Such as the way a group of animals will increase when given access to more food, but depletion of that food source will cause a decrease in population.
    And the way that animals (in general terms) kill mainly that which they eat.
    (IE, despite all the gore and blood, the species are most definitely not at war with each other, trying to destroy all those around themselves. For why would they want to destroy their food source?)

    A bold humanist might say that if there are any ‘laws’ or strategies that animals unconsciously or instinctually follow, then they are just that… “animal instincts”.
    And being for animals, this person could boldly argue that such laws do not apply to humans.
    We have power over our environment, they might argue, and an intelligence that is unbounded.

    To which a skeptic might say, Yes! The intelligence of humans is so great that it can outwit all other creatures.
    And we are so intelligent that we can occasionally outwit ourselves.
    In this case, by accidentally (or intentionally) going against the earth which gives us life.

    Not sure if that’s anywhere near what you were asking with the OP, but that’s what comes to mind. :smile:
  • Leontiskos
    1.5k
    The first two are marker strategies as described in the OP.Mark S

    According to who? Certainly not those who practice them.

    What is the "scientist" even supposed to be doing in such a case? "You say you abstain from pigs because they are unclean, but the real reason you abstain from pigs is because you are trying to set group boundaries." And the question is: is this sort of Freudian psychologizing descriptive science?

    The other problem here is that insofar as it is descriptive science, it has nothing to do with morality proper. The Freudian "scientist" can theorize, "Well, these primitive people are confused about why they do what they do. They're really after cooperation, not ritual cleanness, because evolution." Okay...? But what does that have to do with morality? This arrogant rewriting of people's beliefs and motives is of course quite silly, but it also doesn't have any logical connection to moral normativity. I'd say this is just about how sophists justify bacon.
  • 180 Proof
    14.3k
    I think the attempt to reduce habits of normative non-reciprocal harm-reduction (i.e. morals) to "strategies for solving cooperation problems" (e.g. game theory, cybernetics) is incoherent and misguided. This proposal is incoherent due to the category mistake of reframing non-reciprocity (altruism) in terms of reciprocity (mutualism), or vice versa. Also, it's misguided to assume that calculation (i.e. problem solving) is fundamental to moral judgment ("strategy"?) when, in fact, it's reflective habit (i.e. virtue) that is fundamental to moral conduct (empathy).

    I said the existence of cultural moral norms and our moral sense are explainable as parts of cooperation strategies.Mark S
    Anthropological and developmental evidences suggest you've put the cart before the horse, Mark. For example, the so-called "moral sense" in human toddlers and many nonhuman animals is expressed as strong preferences for fairness and empathy towards individuals both of their own species and cross-species ... prior to / independent of formulating or following any "cooperation strategies".
  • Mark S
    264
    But what does that have to do with morality?Leontiskos

    What it has to do with "morality" is that morality as cooperation is the underlying principle that explains why past and present cultural moral norms and our moral sense exist.

    I expect you are thinking of "morality" as what everyone imperatively ought to do - a topic in moral philosophy. Morality as cooperation is in a different domain of knowledge - what 'is', which I hope we agree may or may not be what we ought to do.
  • Leontiskos
    1.5k
    This proposal is incoherent due to the category mistake of reframing non-reciprocity (altruism) in terms of reciprocity (mutualism), or vice versa. Also, it's misguided to assume that calculation (i.e. problem solving) is fundamental to moral judgment...180 Proof

    These are good, concise points.

    The difficulty for me is that the "Freudian psychologizing" can occur at each stage. Egoists will claim that altruists are "really" egoists, and those who reduce morality to calculation or expediency will claim that all morality is "really" nothing more than this, just as those who claim that morality is just game theory or evolutionary will apply this, a priori, to all putative instances of morality.

    The egoist can have his theory that there are no true altruists, but this judgment could never be a matter of scientific fact, and therefore it should not be presented as such.
  • Leontiskos
    1.5k
    What it has to do with "morality" is that morality as cooperation is the underlying principle that explains why past and present cultural moral norms and our moral sense exist.Mark S

    In other words:

    Therefore, our moral beliefs are really just an epiphenomenon of our desire for cooperation.Leontiskos

    I expect you are thinking of "morality" as what everyone imperatively ought to do - a topic in moral philosophy. Morality as cooperation is in a different domain of knowledge - what 'is', which I hope we agree may or may not be what we ought to do.Mark S

    Well then what does the "morality" in your phrase, "morality as cooperation" mean? Or when you speak about "moral norms" in the sentence quoted above, what do you mean? You are pretending to use these words in non-normative ways, but it seems clear to me that you are not being consistent in this.

    The only way to fully "explain" a normative term in a non-normative way is to involve yourself in the claim that those who use the term and hold to the normativity in question are fundamentally confused. So if "cooperation" is conceived in a non-normative manner then this Bulverism rears its head; and if "cooperation" is conceived in a normative manner then we have moved out of the purview of descriptive science.

    The unvarnished claim here is, "Cooperation explains morality, says Science."
  • Mark S
    264

    Hello 180 Proof!
    Thanks for commenting.

    I think the attempt to reduce habits of normative non-reciprocal harm-reduction (i.e. morals) to "strategies for solving cooperation problems" (e.g. game theory, cybernetics) is incoherent and misguided.180 Proof

    I agree that trying to reduce the philosophical understanding of morality (such as habits of normative non-reciprocal harm-reduction) as what people ought to do to strategies for solving cooperation problems is incoherent. This is not my argument.

    I am reducing past and present cultural moral norms and our moral sense to morality as cooperation – a exercise entirely in the domain of science.

    This proposal is incoherent due to the category mistake of reframing non-reciprocity (altruism) in terms of reciprocity (mutualism), or vice versa.180 Proof

    Also fully in the domain of science is understanding how the biology underlying empathy and loyalty can exist and motivate true altruism, sometimes even unto the giver's death.

    That explanation, first proposed by Darwin, is that empathy and loyalty motivate cooperation that can increase what is called inclusive fitness of groups who experience empathy and loyalty even at the cost of the individual's life.

    For example, the so-called "moral sense" in human toddlers and many nonhuman animals is expressed as strong preferences for fairness and empathy towards individuals both of their own species and cross-species ... prior to / independent of formulating or following any "cooperation strategies".180 Proof

    And of course, people, including babies and myself for most of my life, are utterly oblivious that their moral sense motivates and cultural moral norms advocate parts of cooperation strategies. Biological and cultural evolution stumbled across them by chance and they were selected for by the benefits of cooperation they produced. We just experience the motivation to follow our moral sense and, sometimes, cultural moral norms.

    When people are motivated by empathy, loyalty, gratitude, righteous indignation, shame, and guilt or “Do to others as you would have them do to you”, cooperation problems are solved. No intellectual understanding of what is going on is required. How helpful an intellectual understanding might be in daily life is still to be seen.
  • Mark S
    264

    You are pretending to use these words in non-normative ways, but it seems clear to me that you are not being consistent in this.

    The simpler claim here is, "Cooperation explains morality, says Science."
    Leontiskos

    To claim "Cooperation explains morality” is a philosophical leap I would not make and science definitely can’t. “Morality” here can be interpreted as “what everyone ought to do” a category of strange thing I am not sure exists.

    Cooperation explains our moral sense and cultural moral norms. That is a scientific claim, so yes, “says Science”.

    The word “morality” in the theory Morality as Cooperation refers to past and present cultural moral norms and our moral sense. Cultural moral norms are norms whose violation is commonly thought to deserve punishment. Our moral sense is our biology-based facility for making near-instantaneous judgments about right and wrong.

    Of course, cultural moral norms and our moral sense’s judgements are “what everyone ought to do” in that culture or in that individual’s opinion.

    But I expect you don’t confuse “cultural moral norms” and our “moral sense” with what a philosopher would describe as “moral” when answering questions such as “How should I live?”, “What are my obligations?”, and “What is good?”.

    So why the difficulty with understanding what “Morality as Cooperation” refers to as an explanation of why our cultural moral norms and moral sense exist?
  • 180 Proof
    14.3k
    Like the Buddhist desire to overcome desire, I think an egoist might practice altruism (i.e. non-reciprocal help/care of others) in order to overcome – deflate, sublimate – her ego: a positive, or adaptive, form of selfishness à la Spinoza's 'ethical conatus' (and not mere selflessness).

    — a[n] exercise entirely in the domain of science.Mark S
    So then why do you think this "exercise" has any relevance to moral philosophy?
  • Mark S
    264

    — a[n] exercise entirely in the domain of science.
    — Mark S
    So then why do you think this "exercise" has any relevance to moral philosophy?
    180 Proof

    As I said in the OP,

    Perhaps understanding what human morality ‘is’ will provide valuable insights for philosophical studies into what morality ought to be.

    Our moral sense and cultural moral norms shape our moral intuitions. Therefore, our moral intuitions are also virtually all parts of strategies that solve cooperation problems. To the extent that a moral philosopher relies on guidance from their moral intuitions, this might be an additional helpful insight.
    Mark S

    There are many perspectives in moral philosophy. Some philosophers may find these results from the science of morality helpful to their area of study, others certainly will not. That is OK with me.

    My interest is how to make the science of morality culturally useful. My chief interest here is in learning how to present it so it will be understood. That is still a work in progress. The responses here have been helpful.
  • Tom Storm
    8.5k
    My chief interest here is in learning how to present it so it will be understood. That is still a work in progress. The responses here have been helpful.Mark S

    Who is your intended audience? If it's the average person, me, for instance, I struggle to see why it should matter to me.

    My interest is how to make the science of morality culturally useful.Mark S

    What would that look like in practice?

    My understanding of morality is that it's a code of conduct (an agglomeration of historical cultural mores) enforced through a legal system. Morality provides stability and predictability, which helps societies to thrive (within certain parameters, given that the powerful can manipulate most moral systems to suit their interests).

    How different is your view to this?

    Can you briefly show me an example of a cooperation strategy in action and how this sheds light on morality?

    The inherent rightness or wrongness of certain actions (e.g., murder or stealing) is a separate matter, I take it?
  • 180 Proof
    14.3k
    Perhaps understanding what human morality ‘is’ will provide valuable insights for philosophical studies into what morality ought to be.Mark S
    Given that morality is an aspect of philosophy (i.e. ethics), a scientific "understanding of morality" seems, IMO, as useless to moral philosophers as ornithology (or aerodynamics) is useless to birds.

    What is hateful [harmful] to you, do not do to anyone. — Hillel the Elder, 1st century BCE
    :fire:
  • Philosophim
    2.3k
    I did not include the derivation of what is universally moral by morality as cooperation in the OP to keep it short and because it was unnecessary to my points. I can’t say everything at once.Mark S

    Not a worry, I understand that.

    “Descriptively moral behaviors solve cooperation problems in groups” is arguably scientifically true based on its explanatory power for past and present cultural moral norms and our moral sense.Mark S

    This is weirdly worded. A descriptive moral behavior is why someone does something they believe is moral. Meaning that someone could believe that cooperating with another has nothing to do with morality. Descriptive moral behavior is subjective, therefore more a study of sociology on unreliable narrators than objective science.

    Yes, the ingroup cooperation strategies are universal even when used for purposes that exploit or harm others.Mark S

    No, this is not universal. Sometimes people cooperate due to threats or personal profit. They might not morally agree with the situation. For example, getting drafted into a war you think is wrong. Cooperating with a killer because they're threatening your life if you don't. Is this cooperation due to a sense of morality? Most would say no.

    Hence, by morality as cooperation, “universally moral behaviors solve cooperation problems without exploiting or harming others”.Mark S

    Considering this could be applied to problems that don't require cooperation, isn't the real claim of morality more along the line of "Taking actions without exploiting or harming others?"
  • Mark S
    264


    as useless to moral philosophers as ornithology (or aerodynamics) is useless to birds180 Proof

    I was an aeronautical engineer in my working career. I expect a bird who was able to understand aerodynamics would find it quite useful to learn how to take off with more weight and to fly with less energy.

    Perhaps understanding what human morality ‘is’ will provide valuable insights for philosophical studies into what morality ought to be.
    — Mark S
    Given that morality is an aspect of philosophy (i.e. ethics), a scientific "understanding of morality" seems, IMO, as useless to moral philosophers as ornithology (or aerodynamics) is useless to birds.
    180 Proof

    To your point that you find the science of morality, at least in its Morality as Cooperation form, useless:

    I can see it would be useless if your philosophical position is that a morality exists that is what everyone ought to do regardless of their needs and preferences – that imperative moral oughts exist. If someone already knows what is imperative, then what is merely instrumental could be of no interest.

    But I remembered you were supportive of a kind of moral naturalism. This is what the science of morality is all about.

    Regardless of your personal position, would you argue that a moral naturalist would find the science of morality useless?

    Here is how this science is useful to me given my philosophical position:

    I do not believe imperative moral oughts exist. My preferred answer to “How should I live?” is simple stoic wisdom except for interactions with other people. I prefer morality for interactions with other people defined by a kind of rule consequentialism with the moral consequence being a version of happiness or flourishing and the moral rule being Morality as Cooperation.

    So the science of morality is not just helpful, it is critical to my moral philosophy. Would you claim I am being illogical?

    What is hateful [harmful] to you, do not do to anyone. — Hillel the Elder, 1st century BCE

    Right. And the New Testament describes the positive form as summarizing morality.

    Why? Science can explain that. Forms of the Golden Rule are heuristics for initiating indirect reciprocity, perhaps the most powerful cooperation strategy known. Further, as usually reliable, but fallible, rules of thumb, this same science can identify when it would be immoral to follow them – when doing so will predicably create cooperation problems rather than solving them.

    Are science’s explanations of why versions of the Golden Rule exist, are found in all well-functioning cultures, and are commonly described as summarizing morality of no interest to you?
  • Mark S
    264


    My chief interest here is in learning how to present it so it will be understood. That is still a work in progress. The responses here have been helpful.
    — Mark S

    Who is your intended audience? If it's the average person, me, for instance, I struggle to see why it should matter to me.
    Tom Storm

    Hi Tom,

    Though here I address people with backgrounds or at least interest in moral philosophy, my ultimate goal is to make Morality as Cooperation useful to the average person. As you may be referring to, the average person will correctly think “Universally moral behaviors solve cooperation problems can do not exploit others” useless, on its own, as moral guidance in normal life.

    It is the insights from Morality as Cooperation about standard cultural moral norms that I am hoping can be useful for average people. For example,

    1) Food and sex taboos are commonly semi-arbitrary markers of being a good person. If they are found to harm people, they should be abandoned.

    2) Versions of the Golden Rule are commonly said to summarize morality because they are usually reliable, but fallible, rules of thumb for initiating a powerful cooperation strategy. Following them would be immoral in cases (such as when tastes differ) when the result would predictably be less cooperation, not more.

    3) Shame and guilt over immoral behaviors exists because these emotions, on average, increased cooperation for our ancestors. Shame and guilt to the point one stops doing good things (and thus creates a cooperation problem) is immoral.

    4) Punishment, of at least social disapproval, of moral norm violators is necessary for cooperation norms to be sustainable in a culture. The goal of moral punishment is solving cooperation problems.

    My understanding of morality is that it's a code of conduct (an agglomeration of historical cultural mores) enforced through a legal system. Morality provides stability and predictability, which helps societies to thrive (within certain parameters, given that the powerful can manipulate most moral systems to suit their interests).

    How different is your view to this?
    Tom Storm

    My view is similar. Legal systems are powerful means of solving cooperation problems and increasing the benefits of cooperation in a society. Punishment of norm violations such as theft, murder, and lying under oath by the group as a whole is much more effective than punishment by individuals at maintaining cooperative societies.

    The inherent rightness or wrongness of certain actions (e.g., murder or stealing) is a separate matter, I take it?Tom Storm

    No. Murder and stealing are violations of moral norms that solve cooperation problems. The cooperation problem is “How can I avoid being murdered of stolen from in cases when other people really want to murder or steal from me?”. The solution is moral norms and laws that imply or specify punishment for violators. They are, in effect, reciprocity rules, I won’t murder or steal from anyone else and they will not murder or steal from me, even when they really want to.
  • Mark S
    264

    “Descriptively moral behaviors solve cooperation problems in groups” is arguably scientifically true based on its explanatory power for past and present cultural moral norms and our moral sense.
    — Mark S

    This is weirdly worded. A descriptive moral behavior is why someone does something they believe is moral. Meaning that someone could believe that cooperating with another has nothing to do with morality. Descriptive moral behavior is subjective, therefore more a study of sociology on unreliable narrators than objective science.
    Philosophim

    It has been a common assumption that descriptively moral behavior’s diversity, contradictions, and strangeness showed they were based on no unifying principles that explained them all. Advances in game theory in the last few decades reveals that to be a false assumption as I have described.

    What people believe is moral is a function of the biology underlying their moral sense and cultural moral norms. That biology and those cultural norms can be explained in terms of their evolutionary origins.

    All these cultural norms and biology-based intuitions have a necessary tag that identifies them as “moral”. That tag is that people feel violators deserve punishment. This tag exists because punishment of violators is required for cooperation strategies to be sustainable. This tag is also the source of morality’s feeling of mysterious bindingness for everyone that has so pre-occupied much of moral philosophy.

    Finding underlying principles in chaotic data sets, such as descriptively moral behaviors, is science’s bread and butter (standard process and practice).

    Yes, the ingroup cooperation strategies are universal even when used for purposes that exploit or harm others.
    — Mark S

    No, this is not universal. Sometimes people cooperate due to threats or personal profit. They might not morally agree with the situation. For example, getting drafted into a war you think is wrong. Cooperating with a killer because they're threatening your life if you don't. Is this cooperation due to a sense of morality? Most would say no.
    Philosophim

    The ingroup cooperation strategies that do not exploit those in the ingroup are the universal PART of all descriptively moral behaviors. Any exploiting or threatening to exploit others (outgroups) makes the totality of the behavior only descriptively moral.

    Hence, by morality as cooperation, “universally moral behaviors solve cooperation problems without exploiting or harming others”.
    — Mark S

    Considering this could be applied to problems that don't require cooperation, isn't the real claim of morality more along the line of "Taking actions without exploiting or harming others?"
    Philosophim

    No. There are behaviors that do not exploit or harm others that have nothing to do with morality. To be universally moral, the behaviors must do both, solve cooperation problems and not exploit others.
  • Philosophim
    2.3k
    It has been a common assumption that descriptively moral behavior’s diversity, contradictions, and strangeness showed they were based on no unifying principles that explained them all. Advances in game theory in the last few decades reveals that to be a false assumption as I have described.Mark S

    Mind giving a few examples? Your conclusion that cooperation that does not exploit other people is moral does not come from descriptive morality. For example, if I believe exploiting others for my own gain, and I work with other people to profit is moral, that is descriptive. If you're going to conclude, "This person's reason why they think something is moral is wrong, while this other person's contrary reason is correct," you need something more than subjective justification.

    What people believe is moral is a function of the biology underlying their moral sense and cultural moral norms. That biology and those cultural norms can be explained in terms of their evolutionary origins.Mark S

    No debate here, but this is ultimately meaningless. All of our actions come from biology. Its why a monkey cannot do what a human does. Its why a disabled person can't skip and jump like someone who can normally walk. Can we show definitively through science a morality that doesn't result in basic contradictions, handles edge cases, and is rationally consistent?

    All these cultural norms and biology-based intuitions have a necessary tag that identifies them as “moral”.Mark S

    No. Cultural norms and biology based intuitions alone cannot be called moral. If I have a biological impetus to be a pedophile, its still wrong even if I have a group around me that supports and encourages it. Same with killing babies for sport. You have to explain why the biology and culture that is in conflict with this is correct/incorrect. That requires more than descriptive morality.

    The law, and morality, are not the same. There are plenty of laws and cultures we would consider immoral. Descriptive morality takes any objective judgement away from morality, and simply equates it to what society encourages or enforces on others. You will find few adherents to that.

    Finding underlying principles in chaotic data sets, such as descriptively moral behaviors, is science’s bread and butter (standard process and practice).Mark S

    No debate with that, but I'm not seeing that here.

    The ingroup cooperation strategies that do not exploit those in the ingroup are the universal PART of all descriptively moral behaviors. Any exploiting or threatening to exploit others (outgroups) makes the totality of the behavior only descriptively moral.Mark S

    This makes no sense. Universal means 'across the board'. And yet in the same breath you have descriptive moral behavior that is not universal. Meaning that no, it is NOT universal. You need a clear reason why a group of serial killers who believe killing the weak in society is a moral good are wrong compared to groups of people who think we should support the weak in society with our resources. Descriptive morality alone cannot solve this. This is the inevitable conflict of "What is moral" that always pops up when you have different subjective viewpoints, and needs something outside of the subjective to solve it rationally.

    No. There are behaviors that do not exploit or harm others that have nothing to do with morality. To be universally moral, the behaviors must do both, solve cooperation problems and not exploit others.Mark S

    So when I find a bug in my home and decide on my own to capture it in a cup and put it outside instead of stepping on it, that has nothing to do with morality? If someone in trouble tells me they don't need help, but I secretly slip them 20$ that can't be traced back to me, that's has nothing to do with morality? I could give tons more. Very few, if any people, are going to buy into the idea that morality must involve cooperation.
  • 180 Proof
    14.3k
    Regardless of your personal position, would you argue that a moral naturalist would find the science of morality useless?Mark S
    I'm a "moral naturalist" (i.e. aretaic disutilitarian) and, according to your presentation, Mark, "the science of morality" is, while somewhat informative, philosophically useless to me.

    I prefer morality for interactions with other people defined by a kind of rule consequentialism with the moral consequence being a version of happiness or flourishing and the moral rule being Morality as Cooperation. So the science of morality is not just helpful, it is critical to my moral philosophy. Would you claim I am being illogical?
    I think your "preference" is wholly abstract – "a kind of rule" – and therefore non-natural which is inconsistent with your self-description as a "moral naturalist". What you call "cooperation" (reciprocity), I call "non-reciprocal harm-reduction" (empathy); the latter is grounded in a natural condition (i.e. human facticity) and the former is merely a social convention (i.e. local custom). Of course, both are always at play, but, in terms of moral naturalism, human facticity is, so to speak, the independent variable and convention / custom / culture the dependent, or derivative, variable.

    No doubt the relationship of nature-culture is reflexive, even somewhat dialectical, yet culture supervenes on nature (though it defines or demarcates 'natural-artificial', etc). No, you're not "illogical", Mark; however, I find the major premise of your "Morality as Cooperation" to be non-natural (i.e. formalist/calculative/instrumental) and therefore scientistic or, at the very least, non-philosophical vis-à-vis ethics.

    Are science’s explanations of why versions of the Golden Rule exist, are found in all well-functioning cultures, and are commonly described as summarizing morality of no interest to you?
    All "science" says, so to speak, is that 'h. sapiens are a eusocial species with prolonged childhood development for intergenerationally acquiring homeostasis-maintaining skills (from natal, empathy-based social relations, not unlike all other primates and many higher mammal species which also care for their offspring so that they survive long enough to reproduce)'. The parenthetical part is a philosophical reflection, not mere empirical data, and thus significant for our moral reasoning.

    I'm interested in reflecting on natural conditions for moral conduct independent of – anterior to – "well functioning cultures" and indifferent towards codified norms/strategies of "cooperation" which are only artifacts of "well functioning cultures" (and as such, IMO, are all that (a) "science of morality" can "summarize").
  • ssu
    8.1k
    I take as given that, as a matter of logic, science can’t answer philosophy’s ought questions based only on what ‘is’.

    But the science of morality can study why our moral sense and cultural moral norms exist. There is a growing consensus that “human morality” (here our moral sense and cultural moral norms) exists because it solves cooperation problems in groups.
    Mark S
    Yet it doesn't erase the difference between the objective and the normative. Or science and moral philosophy, as you put it.

    If moral norms solve cooperation problems in groups, we can obviously understand that moral thinking goes further than a group of humans. What about other groups, what about other living beings, our World and the environment in general?

    I think there's one thing we simply have to admit to ourselves: we are fascinated by scientific solutions. Solutions and policies that we have come to using the scientific method. We don't like that our decisions especially on complex things is done because or moral or ethical thinking, but we hope to a solution using science. It's logical, science is about the reality, not some dubious moral philosophy. Scientism rules!

    Yet if we just understand that "how the World is" and "how the World should be" are two totally different questions that aren't easy to answer and that the first question doesn't immediately give us an answer to the second question, that's a good start.
  • Leontiskos
    1.5k
    Like the Buddhist desire to overcome desire, I think an egoist might practice altruism (i.e. non-reciprocal help/care of others) in order to overcome – deflate, sublimate – her ego180 Proof

    True.

    ---

    “Morality” here can be interpreted as [...] a category of strange thing I am not sure exists.Mark S

    And that is the key to the OP: you don't believe morality exists. I would suggest using more scare quotes.
  • Mark S
    264

    “Morality” here can be interpreted as [...] a category of strange thing I am not sure exists.Mark S
    My perspective is that 'morality' as "what everyone ought to do regardless of their needs and preferences" does not exist.
    But 'morality' as "a set of cooperation strategies innate to our universe and necessary to form and maintain civilizations" is as real as the mathematics underlying it.
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