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Author Topic:   An Evolutionary Basis for Ethics?
ATheist
Junior Member (Idle past 4285 days)
Posts: 11
From: Notre Dame, Indiana, USA
Joined: 12-20-2009


Message 1 of 57 (539899)
12-20-2009 1:10 PM


First, since this is my initial post here, let me say hello and thank you for making such a forum possible.

I've recently been discussing ethics and the theories regarding the possible origins of life (Biogenesis and Abiogenesis). During these discussions with my professors and his colleagues, a book called "Ethics" by Leonardo Polo was utilized. Some of the main contentions raised by Polo seem to be as close to a scientific basis for ethics as humanly possible (pun intended).

The basis for ethics I refer to is grounded in our (the Homo Sapiens Sapiens species) ability to stand up and utilize our hands. This was seen as early as Homo Erectus and Homo Hobilis, when they stood up and began to create tools. With the ability to create tools (technology), we gained infinite radiation. This means that as a species, we were no longer confined to a single geographical location. Our ability to make tools allowed us to bypass Darwinian evolutionary theory; instead of our environment changing us, we changed our environment.

Humans (Homo Erectus/Hobilis, and eventually Sapiens Sapiens), along with their technological advances, had the ability to produce much more than their single survival needs. This is to say, that we gained the ability to choose whether or not to produce more than we need. We have the ability to decide whether or not to care for other humans and provide for them. This is a profound distinction which no other species in history can say they have. It is also the basis for why I believe ethics are requisite for the survival of the species.

Now, as far as the type of ethics I feel best suit us as species, I motion towards Thomistic and Aristotelian philosophies.

If anyone has any insight to this postulation, please respond and let me know what I am doing right or wrong, or if I'm asking the right questions at all.

Thanks


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Message 2 of 57 (539962)
12-21-2009 4:46 AM


Thread Copied from Proposed New Topics Forum
Thread copied here from the An Evolutionary Basis for Ethics? thread in the Proposed New Topics forum.

  
MikeDeich
Junior Member (Idle past 3790 days)
Posts: 24
From: Rosario, Argentina
Joined: 10-31-2009


Message 3 of 57 (540069)
12-21-2009 11:31 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by ATheist
12-20-2009 1:10 PM


Greetings Irish

In response to your post, the consensus agrees that the development of technology allowed humans to have a greater level of control over their environment. While we may to some extent be able to control certain environmental factors it does not bypass evolutionary theory altogether. Things such as disease have been, until recently, almost completely out of our control. In regard to the development of ethics, while technology would have resulted in more access/excess of resources....the sharing of such excesses is not uniquely human. Chimps hunt in packs and routinely share meat amongst each each other, regardless of who actually catches the prey. Males also share meat with females who do not hunt, but are better at termite gathering (which uses tools....technology!). This sharing represents reciprocal altruism....You scratch my back, I scratch yours. Apes keep track of such reciprocation & strengthen bonds among specific individuals in a group. Cheaters who take & not give often lose standing in a group. Not only are chimps & other apes excellent detectors of fairness, they have also been observed caring & providing for others not even related them. In one way ethics can be viewed as a system meant to extend fairness to all individuals, thus strengthening social cohesion. I would recommend looking into a primatologist named Franz DeWaal....he suggests that human morality & ethics has its foundation in our species development long before extensive tool use.


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Dr Adequate
Member (Idle past 283 days)
Posts: 16112
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 4 of 57 (540072)
12-22-2009 12:35 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by ATheist
12-20-2009 1:10 PM


Humans (Homo Erectus/Hobilis, and eventually Sapiens Sapiens), along with their technological advances, had the ability to produce much more than their single survival needs. This is to say, that we gained the ability to choose whether or not to produce more than we need. We have the ability to decide whether or not to care for other humans and provide for them. This is a profound distinction which no other species in history can say they have.

If the suggestion is that only humans can exhibit ethical behavior, then I find this questionable.

Of course, it's a tricky question. If we just measure morality in terms of outcomes, then the average ant is more ethical than we --- a tireless, selfless worker for the good of the community. But we hardly think of ants as being moral, because we don't think of them as having the capacity to make moral choices.

To attribute ethics to animals in the sense that would have interested, say, St Thomas Aquinas, we'd have to think that their ethical actions were the product of ethical preferences. In the case of ants we may doubt this. But what about chimpanzees and other primates?

Now, the problem here is the difficulty of questioning them about their motives. Nonetheless, I think that by default our assumption should be that when they behave morally, they are in fact being moral. For, after all, we can objectively ascertain that they have certain mental powers --- they can solve problems, they can think about the future, they pass tests for self-awareness, and, crucially, they are capable of constructing models of the mental states of other individuals. So if we also see them behaving in ways that we would find ethically admirable --- such as a large male protecting an orphaned female from bullying and sexual abuse by the other members of the troupe, as has been observed --- then it is hard to think that there isn't some sort of ethical feeling behind it.

Here's an interesting study I read about lately. Monkeys were trained to find pebbles, being rewarded with a slice of cucumber, which they learned to do easily. After they'd learned to do that, the experimenters continued to reward some of the monkeys with cucumber, while rewarding other monkeys with some more desirable treat (grapes, IIRC). What happened? The monkeys that were still being rewarded with cucumber refused to collect any more pebbles. There is something peculiarly human about this reaction and the concept of justice it suggests. Mere conditioning, as with Skinner's pigeons, comes nowhere near explaining this.

It is also the basis for why I believe ethics are requisite for the survival of the species.

This is not clear. If we accept that ethics depends on being able to decide whether or not to care for other people, then arguably it would be better for our species if, like the ants, we couldn't choose not to.


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Nuggin
Member (Idle past 1724 days)
Posts: 2965
From: Los Angeles, CA USA
Joined: 08-09-2005


Message 5 of 57 (540080)
12-22-2009 1:14 AM
Reply to: Message 4 by Dr Adequate
12-22-2009 12:35 AM


What happened? The monkeys that were still being rewarded with cucumber refused to collect any more pebbles. There is something peculiarly human about this reaction and the concept of justice it suggests. Mere conditioning, as with Skinner's pigeons, comes nowhere near explaining this.

The key thing to highlight here is from an evolutionary cost benefit analysis it doesn't make sense for them to stop. They are doing a task and getting food. Getting food (of any quality) is an advantage. Stopping the task and therefore getting no food rather than get 2nd place food is not evolutionarily beneficial.


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Jumped Up Chimpanzee
Member (Idle past 4173 days)
Posts: 572
From: UK
Joined: 10-22-2009


Message 6 of 57 (540117)
12-22-2009 10:16 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by ATheist
12-20-2009 1:10 PM


Hi FightingIrish

Our ability to make tools allowed us to bypass Darwinian evolutionary theory; instead of our environment changing us, we changed our environment.

I find it hard to agree with this. At the heart of Darwinian evolutionary theory is the idea of "survival of the fittest". Even after we developed tools we were still living in an environment, even if it was an environment we had significantly adapted. So individuals that had a natural tendency to do well in this new environment of complex social and economic structures would have been more likely to survive and reproduce.

Also, many other species change their immediate environment or can adapt to live in a variety of environments, and even use tools. We may be much further advanced in that respect, but we are not unique.

I think the interesting thing in relation to ethics is how we evolve in the future. We are now moving into an age where medical advances, genetic engineering, social care, free education, etc may well even out advantages to the extent that all individuals will have a more or less equal chance of surviving and reproducing. In fact, the balance may get tipped the "wrong" way. I heard Richard Dawkins say recently that for humans to become more intelligent it would require that the most intelligent individuals produce the most offspring. But the opposite is true. Those of lower than average intelligence are producing more offspring. This raises all kinds of ethical questions about how we should or can run our societies in the future.


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ATheist
Junior Member (Idle past 4285 days)
Posts: 11
From: Notre Dame, Indiana, USA
Joined: 12-20-2009


Message 7 of 57 (540138)
12-22-2009 12:41 PM
Reply to: Message 6 by Jumped Up Chimpanzee
12-22-2009 10:16 AM


Thanks for the in depth responses guys, I'm happy to know that Humans aren't the only species acting "ethically," so to speak.

Some of the issues I have with an ant or a chimp being ethical stem from the ability to choose, rather. I understand that there are some behavioral phenomenon which we can observe that appear to be ethical or exhibit an understanding of fairness, but ultimately each animal is acting out of self-interest. Animals are instinctual, humans are not.

Humans have the unique ability to choose. Monkeys, ants, whales, horses, dogs, etc., are all incapable of truly choosing. Instead, they are instinctual, and while it may appear that they can behave "selflessly" towards other apes, their behavior is ultimately predictable. The behavior of a human however, is not. However strong our intuitions are to do something, like a mother to answer her child's cry, they can choose whether or not to do so. Humans can decide whether or not to sacrifice their lives for something they deem worthy, animals can not. The list goes on and on. Furthermore, to say that humans are related to animals by degree (that humans are simply more advanced versions of animals) is fallacious.


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ATheist
Junior Member (Idle past 4285 days)
Posts: 11
From: Notre Dame, Indiana, USA
Joined: 12-20-2009


Message 8 of 57 (540141)
12-22-2009 12:56 PM
Reply to: Message 4 by Dr Adequate
12-22-2009 12:35 AM


"This is not clear. If we accept that ethics depends on being able to decide whether or not to care for other people, then arguably it would be better for our species if, like the ants, we couldn't choose not to." - Dr Adequate

Interesting contention. Isn't that the greatest reason proving that we are truly transcendent of the "survival of the fittest" mentality?

For the history of life, one organism survived by killing another. Throughout biological history, the "fittest" were the most adaptable. One horse couldn't help a less adapted horse survive (not familial help, but unrelated horses of the same or similar age, like the monkey acting out of "ethics" to save the female), it was just the opposite. If I were a dog, I would survive best by not having other dogs to compete with for food.

Humans are the opposite, we survive better when we are cooperative. But again, I stress, we have the choice to cooperate. No other animal is social the way humans are social.

Regardless of the distinctions between humans and animals, do you understand the basis for ethics I feel needs to be there?

Ethics based on self-interest, like Machiavelli or Sartre or Nietzsche or Freud, etc, are naturally wrong if we accept that as a species, it is more advantageous to act for the good of the group rather than out of pure self-interest. This is the thesis I wish to prove.


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hooah212002
Member (Idle past 33 days)
Posts: 3193
Joined: 08-12-2009


Message 9 of 57 (540143)
12-22-2009 1:07 PM
Reply to: Message 7 by ATheist
12-22-2009 12:41 PM


Monkeys, ants, whales, horses, dogs, etc., are all incapable of truly choosing.

What makes you think this? How do you know that Chimps cannot make choices?


Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people
-Carl Sagan

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ATheist
Junior Member (Idle past 4285 days)
Posts: 11
From: Notre Dame, Indiana, USA
Joined: 12-20-2009


Message 10 of 57 (540153)
12-22-2009 1:54 PM
Reply to: Message 9 by hooah212002
12-22-2009 1:07 PM


Allow me to clarify further.

When I say choose, I mean the ability to decide rationally what is best. Horses, chimps, dogs, etc., do not have the ability to decide whether or not to raise their offspring, they do it instinctively. Humans have the ability to decide whether or not they want to care for their child, no matter how strong the intuition is of the mother.


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hooah212002
Member (Idle past 33 days)
Posts: 3193
Joined: 08-12-2009


Message 11 of 57 (540154)
12-22-2009 2:08 PM
Reply to: Message 10 by ATheist
12-22-2009 1:54 PM


I didn't say you were un-clear. I said "how do you know?". What makes you think that way? Is there any viable evidence that animals do not have the capacity for this rationale?


Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people
-Carl Sagan

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MikeDeich
Junior Member (Idle past 3790 days)
Posts: 24
From: Rosario, Argentina
Joined: 10-31-2009


Message 12 of 57 (540162)
12-22-2009 2:37 PM
Reply to: Message 8 by ATheist
12-22-2009 12:56 PM


I would say one example of non-humans CHOOSING to act selflessly is in the risk to themselves.

"However strong our intuitions are to do something, like a mother to answer her child's cry, they can choose whether or not to do so. Humans can decide whether or not to sacrifice their lives for something they deem worthy, animals can not. -Irish post 7"

Chimps have drowned in zoo moats after attempting to help others in need. And I am not referring to mothers attempting to save their own infants. This suggests that the individual saw the risk to themselves & chose to act anyway. If they were simply acting on instinct to help another, then they have evolved instincts based on the groups best interest. However chimp mothers do occasionally abandon their offspring, often when they are unable to support them....displaying a clearly selfish behavior. So this counters the idea that they only have group oriented instincts.

Apes & wolves are just as social creatures as humans and most often live in social groups. As you said there is more competition for food, however both hunt in groups providing a clearer advantage in obtaining food. Both these species as well as humans survive better when they are cooperative. To say only humans choose to live cooperatively is countered by the way young male chimps will often leave their troupe instead of challenging the leader.....choosing to leave than to submit (cooperate to group norms) To say that human beings simply ignore their own instinctual behavior & therefore choose while other species can not is fallacious. I think you have a strong case to prove that it is more advantageous to act for the good of the group rather than pure self-interest, but to say this is a purely human trait is not supported by what has been observed in other species....especially apes.


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MikeDeich
Junior Member (Idle past 3790 days)
Posts: 24
From: Rosario, Argentina
Joined: 10-31-2009


Message 13 of 57 (540164)
12-22-2009 2:46 PM
Reply to: Message 10 by ATheist
12-22-2009 1:54 PM


This article might interest you.....
http://www.primates.com/morality/index.html

There are other example of apes helping others while risking there own safety that can be found as well.


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Dr Adequate
Member (Idle past 283 days)
Posts: 16112
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 14 of 57 (540178)
12-22-2009 3:36 PM
Reply to: Message 7 by ATheist
12-22-2009 12:41 PM


More About Chimpanzees
Some of the issues I have with an ant or a chimp being ethical stem from the ability to choose, rather. I understand that there are some behavioral phenomenon which we can observe that appear to be ethical or exhibit an understanding of fairness, but ultimately each animal is acting out of self-interest. Animals are instinctual, humans are not.

Humans have the unique ability to choose. Monkeys, ants, whales, horses, dogs, etc., are all incapable of truly choosing. Instead, they are instinctual ...

You seem to be declaring this by fiat rather than supporting it with biological observation.

Now, as I said, it is not possible to query them in detail about their motives for ethical behavior. However, tests of chimpanzee intelligence show that that is way more than instinctual.

Here's a recent experiment that interested me. Experimenters showed chimpanzees a box with some food in, and showed them how to extract the food. The box had perspex sides, and it was possible to see that some of the moves made by the experimenters served no actual purpose.

Now, a rat can't learn to solve a puzzle by being shown how. Indeed, it can't learn to solve a puzzle even if you guide its paws through the appropriate motions.

A human child of about three (as the experimenters ascertained) will copy the experimenters exactly. Monkey see, monkey do ...

And a chimpanzee will copy the experimenters but omitting the useless actions.

That's not instinctual, that's intelligence.

So why should we dismiss their morality and self-sacrifice as merely instinctual?

... and while it may appear that they can behave "selflessly" towards other apes, their behavior is ultimately predictable.

But it isn't predictable, 'cos people can't actually predict it. For example, the chimp I mentioned in my previous post, who adopted an orphan, had previously been pegged by researchers as a sullen grouchy misanthrope. No-one predicted that given such a chance to show his softer side, he'd take it.

I don't think anyone who's studied chimp behavior could agree with you that they're ant-like automata --- nor want to know anyone who suggested it.

Furthermore, to say that humans are related to animals by degree (that humans are simply more advanced versions of animals) is fallacious.

Again, this seems to be decreed by fiat, rather than supported by observation. If you're looking for a qualitative gap in intelligence, it lies somewhere between rats and chimpanzees. With the sole exception of grammar, the truly distinctive trait of our species, humans do appear to be just like chimps only smarter.


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ATheist
Junior Member (Idle past 4285 days)
Posts: 11
From: Notre Dame, Indiana, USA
Joined: 12-20-2009


Message 15 of 57 (540179)
12-22-2009 3:37 PM
Reply to: Message 13 by MikeDeich
12-22-2009 2:46 PM


Astounding!

I never thought of it that way. I'll have to bring up some of these points in my paper, they're very strong arguments to the contrary of what most of the ethicists want to believe.

If I read that article right, it seems to have biological reasons to disprove nihilism, materialism, and a slew of other philosophies.


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