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Author Topic:   Morals without God or Darwin, just Empathy
Stile
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Posts: 3465
From: Ontario, Canada
Joined: 12-02-2004
Member Rating: 4.3


Message 1 of 184 (379732)
01-25-2007 11:28 AM


I've noticed by reading many threads on the matter that there only seems to be two ways to have morals. Either through God as outlined throughout The Bible, or through evolution-explanations, which also seems to have been dubbed Darwinian-mechanisms. This puzzles me, since I do not believe in the Christian God and I don't think I take my morals from The Bible. I also don't think I follow evolution-explanations for my morals. I find these explanations very strange, and sometimes even ridiculous.

I derived the morals in my life in two stages. First, by accepting what I was told by trusted authority figures (parents, priest, teachers...). And secondly moving on to a basic use of Empathy. If I feel that a certain action is evil, or good; generally by wondering if anyone is being hurt. Then I deem it as being bad, or right.

I would like to discuss whether or not people find my reasoning into my morals as logical, correct, or even valid. I want to debate these ideas in order for myself to better grasp my own thoughts, and possibly even to be persuaded that I do indeed follow God or evolution-explanations for my morals, and I'm just currently unaware.

For example: Murder is condemned by one of the 10 commandments. I've also read of an evolution-explanation that murder reduces the number of people in the local area, thus harming the society's overall chances of survival and is therefore wrong.

-I do not think Murder is wrong because a book says so.
-I do not think Murder is wrong because it will reduce the number of people around me and therefore reducing our survival-chances.
-I think Murder is wrong because it ends a person's life and I see no reason why someone should be able to make that decision and remove so many of another's abilities.. basically.. all of them. I would not want someone to Murder me, nor do I think anyone should be able to freely exert such oppression over anyone else.

I think this should be placed in Faith and Belief, although I admit.. that's just where I lurk the most :]

Edited by Stile, : My smiley-guy got cut-off


Replies to this message:
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 Message 17 by anastasia, posted 01-27-2007 7:14 PM Stile has responded
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AdminNosy
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Message 2 of 184 (379737)
01-25-2007 11:34 AM


Thread moved here from the Proposed New Topics forum.
  
Wounded King
Member (Idle past 2234 days)
Posts: 4149
From: Edinburgh, Scotland
Joined: 04-09-2003


Message 3 of 184 (379745)
01-25-2007 11:51 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by Stile
01-25-2007 11:28 AM


I'm not sure that you could point to any of those 'Darwinian' explanations as being neccessarily moral. After all there are proposed evolutionary explanations for behaviours such as murder, rape and genocide, and none of those is exactly a moral behaviour. Your example sounds like the sort of off the cuff evo-psych explanation which our member Holmes used to rail at. Without some reference and context it is hard to judge whether one should take such a specific suggestion as serious or not.

A much more likely evolutionary explanation of morality itself, rather than any specifc behaviour, would be the very one you yourself have gone for, the development of empathy and the ability to mentally put oneself into another's place.

Unless you think that your empathy derives from some spiritual medium then it is reasonable to identify it as a result of your mental processes and therefore of the structure of your brain resulting from evolution. So a darwinian explanation of actual morality per se is more likely to be based on the evolution of faculties which allow you to make the neccessary judgements of cause and effect and see them from the perspective of others than any particular ad hoc explanation of a specific behaviour.

There are indeed particular elements of the brain which seem to be associated with the act of putting ourselves in another's place or understanding their action's as similar to our own. A number of people have suggested that such elements, specifically mirror neurons, are the basis for 'theories of mind', an important element in empathy.

TTFN,

WK

Edited by Wounded King, : No reason given.


This message is a reply to:
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Taz
Member (Idle past 1431 days)
Posts: 5069
From: Zerus
Joined: 07-18-2006


Message 4 of 184 (379762)
01-25-2007 12:39 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by Stile
01-25-2007 11:28 AM


Stile writes:

Either through God as outlined throughout The Bible, or through evolution-explanations, which also seems to have been dubbed Darwinian-mechanisms.


Indeed, I have pointed out before that if you talk to christians who claimed to derive their morals from the bible, and if you get specific enough, you will very quickly find that there are pieces of their human conscience missing. If you look back through the various threads, you will see that some christians on here actually have no problem with killing 2 year old boys and pregnant women, and a few have even word for word admitted if god commands it or if the 2 year olds can potentially harm Israel in the future than it is right to kill them and their pregnant mothers.

However, I don't think there is a Darwinian based moral outline. Evolution strictly deals with biological matters. There are cross overs, however, like how the theory can explain the most basic "moral" social constructs as beneficiary to the survival of the community. For example, we observe in penguins that sometimes when a baby penguin dies the mother becomes distressed and tries to steal another female's baby penguin, and when this happens all the other penguin mothers intervene and prevent her from stealing another's child.

Stile writes:

I derived the morals in my life in two stages. First, by accepting what I was told by trusted authority figures (parents, priest, teachers...). And secondly moving on to a basic use of Empathy.


Someone once told me that evil is the lack of empathy. Perhaps this explains why christians are experts at oppressing minority groups. Again, while I haven't been able to pin point the reason why this is so christians seem to lack the human intuition to tell what is right and what is wrong. I don't know if being christian has made them this way or if they'd already been this way in the first place and christianity seemed to fill in the holes in their conscience.

-I think Murder is wrong because it ends a person's life and I see no reason why someone should be able to make that decision and remove so many of another's abilities.. basically.. all of them. I would not want someone to Murder me, nor do I think anyone should be able to freely exert such oppression over anyone else.

In short, you don't want to harm another person because you can imagine yourself being the other person. But whatif you know for sure that you could never be the other person? What if you are king and you know your fate could never be that of the man you just condemned to death? Would it still be wrong to murder if you know for sure you could never be murdered?
This message is a reply to:
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Replies to this message:
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Wounded King
Member (Idle past 2234 days)
Posts: 4149
From: Edinburgh, Scotland
Joined: 04-09-2003


Message 5 of 184 (379763)
01-25-2007 12:40 PM
Reply to: Message 3 by Wounded King
01-25-2007 11:51 AM


I see that in fact someone made a very similar argument to the one you quote in Kuresu's Why do right? thread and it does seem very ad hoc. I'm not sure if Kader was just putting that forward as the type of reason you might expect or actually claiming that it was the case, either way it certainly doesn't seem to be a well developed hypothesis.

TTFN,

WK


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Stile
Member
Posts: 3465
From: Ontario, Canada
Joined: 12-02-2004
Member Rating: 4.3


Message 6 of 184 (379785)
01-25-2007 1:20 PM
Reply to: Message 3 by Wounded King
01-25-2007 11:51 AM


Ability and Usage are two different things
Wounded King writes:

So a darwinian explanation of actual morality per se is more likely to be based on the evolution of faculties which allow you to make the neccessary judgements of cause and effect and see them from the perspective of others than any particular ad hoc explanation of a specific behaviour.

Yes. I think this is the distinction I'm trying to make. Evolution is the cause of my ability to have morals. But it is not, in any way, a foundation or reason for the morals I choose to have. Evolution gives me the capabilities, but it is my own reasoning, thinking, decision-making and empathy skills which lead to my actual morals. These skills may be provided to me because of evolution, but also through my life-choices, past and on-going, and the maturing-environment that was provided for me.

That is to say... I have evolution-istic morals as much as I bake an evolution-istic cake, or do anything at all. I just 'have morals' the same way I just 'bake cakes'. I have the ability, and I put it to use. Where and how those abilites came to be is no longer relevant as to how those abilities are engaged.

I suppose I could even say that I consider myself a moral person simply because I choose to be moral. Not because of evolution, or God, but simply because I have the capacity to make that choice.


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Stile
Member
Posts: 3465
From: Ontario, Canada
Joined: 12-02-2004
Member Rating: 4.3


Message 7 of 184 (379786)
01-25-2007 1:23 PM
Reply to: Message 5 by Wounded King
01-25-2007 12:40 PM


Coincidence
I just saw that too. It is just a coincidence, and now I think I could have just posted in that thread instead of making this new one.. whoops.

I actually think I have used that arguement myself, perhaps even on this forum somewhere.. like 6 months or a year ago or something. Something has always been bothering me about it, though. And I think I'm beginning to understand exactly what that something is. Thanks for your participation.


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Stile
Member
Posts: 3465
From: Ontario, Canada
Joined: 12-02-2004
Member Rating: 4.3


Message 8 of 184 (379792)
01-25-2007 1:40 PM
Reply to: Message 4 by Taz
01-25-2007 12:39 PM


Some more agreement
Tazmanian Devil writes:

..you will very quickly find that there are pieces of their human conscience missing.

Yes. I never understood how a static, printed manual for something as complex, ever-changing and vast as "morality" could ever satisfy even the smallest development of a true Good Will Towards All style of thinking.

Tazmanian Devil writes:

Evolution strictly deals with biological matters. There are cross overs, however, like how the theory can explain the most basic "moral" social constructs as beneficiary to the survival of the community.

This also is what puzzled me. Evolution strictly deals with biological matters... it has nothing to do with morality. So why are there explanations for morality from an evolutionistic stand-point? And I think your answer is the correct one.. because there are cross-overs. Basically, because in some circumstances "it can". Not that it was meant to, or even right, but it just can.

Tazmanian Devil writes:

What if you are king and you know your fate could never be that of the man you just condemned to death? Would it still be wrong to murder if you know for sure you could never be murdered?


I'm not sure what you're getting at here. Just to be clear.. I do not think that all killing of every type can be classified as "murder". I also think that there are many grey-areas that need to be looked at in a situational-setting. Some killings may actually be justified, or possibly even "good".

I'm not sure I can honestly answer your question since it is impossible for me to enter into a frame of mind where I can never be murdered. But, to provide an answer: Yes. Whether or not I could be murdered would have no bearing on it being right or wrong, so it would still be wrong to murder. To quote from Peter Parker's uncle.. "With great power, comes great responsibility". I would think that one who cannot be murdered, would have an even higher calling to try and prevent anyone else from being murdered.


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Taz
Member (Idle past 1431 days)
Posts: 5069
From: Zerus
Joined: 07-18-2006


Message 9 of 184 (379845)
01-25-2007 3:45 PM
Reply to: Message 8 by Stile
01-25-2007 1:40 PM


Re: Some more agreement
Stile writes:

So why are there explanations for morality from an evolutionistic stand-point?


There isn't any explanation from the evo stand point on morals.

What we are saying is that sometimes a survival trait could appear like moral, like the penguin example I provided.

I'm not sure what you're getting at here. Just to be clear.. I do not think that all killing of every type can be classified as "murder". I also think that there are many grey-areas that need to be looked at in a situational-setting. Some killings may actually be justified, or possibly even "good".

That's not what I'm saying.

Say you are king and you know that noone could ever harm you. You decide to start murdering peasants, which nobody really cares for much. Is it still wrong?

I'm not sure I can honestly answer your question since it is impossible for me to enter into a frame of mind where I can never be murdered. But, to provide an answer: Yes. Whether or not I could be murdered would have no bearing on it being right or wrong, so it would still be wrong to murder. To quote from Peter Parker's uncle.. "With great power, comes great responsibility". I would think that one who cannot be murdered, would have an even higher calling to try and prevent anyone else from being murdered.

What I'm trying to get at is where is this sense of murder being wrong coming from? You've just said that even if it doesn't affect you it's still wrong. Why?

Let's look at an episode of the twightlight zone I saw ages ago. You are given an opportunity to be rich. All you have to do is push a button that immediately kills a person. This person, as far as you are concern, is a total stranger. The death of this person has no affect on you whatsoever.

I'm sure we can all agree that the act of pushing this button and killing the person is wrong. The question is why is it wrong? It has no bearing on you whatsoever. It will make you rich. Noone will care if that person is dead. Why is it wrong?

Added by edit.

Well, I guess I should provide a quote as well.

"Is a thing good because the gods say so, or do the gods say so because the thing is good?" - Socrates before his trial for corrupting the minds of youths.

Edited by Tazmanian Devil, : No reason given.


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RAZD
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Posts: 19845
From: the other end of the sidewalk
Joined: 03-14-2004
Member Rating: 5.7


Message 10 of 184 (379944)
01-25-2007 8:53 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by Stile
01-25-2007 11:28 AM


Empathy within a social animal context?
Either through God as outlined throughout The Bible, or through evolution-explanations,

Personally I think those who say there is an evolutionary morality tend to be fundamentalists attempting to make science into belief, and asking how such and such can happen ... rather than why it is moral or not.

Empathy comes into play in human morality because we are a social animal, and we cannot be social without empathy at some level.

Morality is dependent on the individual within their society, and it is fairly easy to conceive that a social animal will have a very different sense of morality than a non-social one, particularly when it comes to killing. What would a tiger's morality be like? Different from ours.

We also see elements of what we see as moral behavior in the interactions of other social animals, particularly social primates and apes - the sharing of food between cages when one has access and another doesn't. And punishments for "immoral" behavior as well.

Enjoy.


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This message is a reply to:
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Larni
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Posts: 3976
From: Liverpool
Joined: 09-16-2005


Message 11 of 184 (380057)
01-26-2007 8:42 AM
Reply to: Message 6 by Stile
01-25-2007 1:20 PM


Re: Ability and Usage are two different things
stile writes:

I suppose I could even say that I consider myself a moral person simply because I choose to be moral. Not because of evolution, or God, but simply because I have the capacity to make that choice.

Sounds about right.


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Stile
Member
Posts: 3465
From: Ontario, Canada
Joined: 12-02-2004
Member Rating: 4.3


Message 12 of 184 (380070)
01-26-2007 9:36 AM
Reply to: Message 9 by Taz
01-25-2007 3:45 PM


Re: Some more agreement
Tazmanian Devil writes:

Say you are king and you know that noone could ever harm you. You decide to start murdering peasants, which nobody really cares for much. Is it still wrong?


Yes. I don't see why it wouldn't be.

Tazmanian Devil writes:

What I'm trying to get at is where is this sense of murder being wrong coming from? You've just said that even if it doesn't affect you it's still wrong. Why?


Because my decision that killing is wrong doesn't have anything to do with whether or not it's actually affecting me.

Regardless of whether it can or can't happen to me, I wouldn't want it to. And I don't think it should be forced on anyone.

Let's say someone has decided to kill 3 African-born males. I am not an African-born male. I cannot be killed, I do not live in Africa, I do not know these males who will be killed, there departure from this life will not affect me in the slightest. But I consider it wrong because I would not want it to happen to me. I don't think anyone should be able to remove those kinds of privledges (again, here it's.. "all of them") from another person.

This sense of murder being wrong is coming from my capacity to put myself in the person's place. Even if it is physically impossible for that to actully happen, I can still imagine it. And since I have that ability, I can understand that I wouldn't want it to happen to me. Therefore, I find this killing to be wrong.

Regardless of how or why I'm able to empathize, I can. And I will use that ability to make the decisions that feel most correct, and right, to me.

Tazmanian Devil writes:

I'm sure we can all agree that the act of pushing this button and killing the person is wrong. The question is why is it wrong?


Because I can imagine that I could be the person who is going to be killed, and I would not want the button to be pushed.

Socrates writes:

Is a thing good because the gods say so, or do the gods say so because the thing is good?


Neither is correct. The first would be placing the god's personal preference as something we should all follow. Which is wrong. The second assumes there are absolute standards of good and bad, which there aren't. Morals are subjective, and differ from person to person, country to country, time frame to time frame...
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Larni
Member
Posts: 3976
From: Liverpool
Joined: 09-16-2005


Message 13 of 184 (380236)
01-26-2007 7:25 PM
Reply to: Message 12 by Stile
01-26-2007 9:36 AM


Re: Some more agreement
Stile writes:

Because my decision that killing is wrong doesn't have anything to do with whether or not it's actually affecting me.

Incorrect.

If you had no empathy, a psychotic personality or you were taught from a young age that killing was an appropriate way of solving problems, it would not effect you.


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RAZD
Member
Posts: 19845
From: the other end of the sidewalk
Joined: 03-14-2004
Member Rating: 5.7


Message 14 of 184 (380282)
01-26-2007 10:11 PM
Reply to: Message 12 by Stile
01-26-2007 9:36 AM


reduction?
Regardless of how or why I'm able to empathize, I can. And I will use that ability to make the decisions that feel most correct, and right, to me.

Essentially what you are saying is that morality is just empathy - the golden rule - being able to wear the other person's shoes.

But we see other animals with empathy -
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/09/0917_030917_monkeyfairness.html

quote:
Researchers studying brown capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) have found that the highly social, cooperative species native to South America show a sense of fairness, the first time such behavior has been documented in a species other than humans.

"It looks like this behavior is evolved … it is not simply a cultural construct. There's some good evolutionary reason why we don't like being treated unfairly," said Sarah Brosnan, lead author of the study to be published in tomorrow's issue of the science journal Nature.

Only female capuchins were tested because they most closely monitor equity, or fair treatment, among their peers, Brosnan said.


They even have morality police? This kind of gets back to your original point about evolved morality, but I think there is another element to the issue:

Is moral behavior "natural" or is it a-natural?

mor·al -adj.1. of, pertaining to, or concerned with the principles or rules of right conduct or the distinction between right and wrong; ethical: moral attitudes.
2. expressing or conveying truths or counsel as to right conduct, as a speaker or a literary work; moralizing: a moral novel.
3. founded on the fundamental principles of right conduct rather than on legalities, enactment, or custom: moral obligations.
4. capable of conforming to the rules of right conduct: a moral being.
5. conforming to the rules of right conduct (opposed to immoral): a moral man.
6. virtuous in sexual matters; chaste.
7. of, pertaining to, or acting on the mind, feelings, will, or character: moral support.
8. resting upon convincing grounds of probability; virtual: a moral certainty.

It seems to me that there is a connotation that the behavior is a-natural, outside of natural behavior, considered for other reasons. Thus "natural" empathy alone is not enough, there needs to be an intellectual element.

Being able to act outside of natural behavior then allows behavior to be evil or ... (is there a real antonym for evil? Good doesn't seem 'good' enough - or is this because we are really more concerned with bad behavior than with good behavior?).

Why do all discussions of morality seem to focus on bad behavior eh?

Enjoy.

Edited by RAZD, : indent fieldset


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we are limited in our ability to understand
by our ability to understand
RebelAAmericanOZen[Deist
... to learn ... to think ... to live ... to laugh ...
to share.

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anastasia
Member (Idle past 4092 days)
Posts: 1857
From: Bucks County, PA
Joined: 11-05-2006


Message 15 of 184 (380506)
01-27-2007 3:00 PM
Reply to: Message 6 by Stile
01-25-2007 1:20 PM


Re: Ability and Usage are two different things
Dear Stile, I do feel that there is so much sense in the God-based moral system, and it almost hurts to see people struggling to explain without God. The God-based system is just very misunderstood. It is often viewed as a cause, rather than an effect. Belief in God does not cause morality, not does following the literal words of the Bible. The Bible itself and the fear of God, are the effects of our inability to understnad these things.

Stile writes:

That is to say... I have evolution-istic morals as much as I bake an evolution-istic cake, or do anything at all. I just 'have morals' the same way I just 'bake cakes'. I have the ability, and I put it to use. Where and how those abilites came to be is no longer relevant as to how those abilities are engaged.

If you have an ability as you say...

You can choose to bake a cake.
You can choose to have morals.
If you don't feel like baking, no one cares.
What do you think of people who do not choose morals?


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