Is The Concept Of 'Respect' Rational?

It seems to me quite reasonable to assume that all human behavior is simply the result of 1) the molecular make-up of the individual 2) the individual’s environment leading up to the time that the behavior took place, and, possibly, 3) the element of chance (I don’t know enough about Quantum Mechanics to have a definitive opinion on #3).

To my knowledge, nobody has ever provided any reason not to assume that a person’s behavior is the result of something other than what I have listed above. And yet, most people still engage in the practice of giving people ‘credit’ for their accomplishments, ‘respecting’ those who have done something they believe is noteworthy, and ‘blaming’ those who have done something they find abhorrent. Why do people do this? After all, we’re just a bunch of neurons.

If Adolf Hitler and Mahatma Ghandi had one another’s environment and biochemical make-up, certainly they would have performed one another’s deeds if we eliminate the role of chance. And yet many people irrationally admire one and have disdain for the other.

Why should I respect anyone or blame anyone for anything?


That only works if you believe that (to borrow from Lib) molecules are everything.

Sounds like a sucky life to me, but then I believe we’re more then the sum of our elements.

Hm. I have one answer for you, Surreal.

Five tons of flax!

Also, fish.

(Yes, this does have a direct connection to the op. But I’d like Surreal to tell me why.)

“To my knowledge, nobody has ever provided any reason not to assume…”, even if it were true, is a pretty weak endorsement of the no-free-will position you are arguing from. And I don’t think it is true. Human behavior is so complex and poorly understood that if I theorize that people behave in such a way as to maximize the amount of pie they are able to eat over a lifetime, that would be as easily supportable or refutable as the theory that the interactions of elementary particles determine all behavior. Plus, so far as we know, elementary particles do not interact deterministically, and nobody knows whether this opens the door for some unknown influence. Plus, the “ultimate” laws, if there are any, that govern the interactions of elementary particles are not, and perhaps cannot be, known.

Plus, even if they were known, it is unlikely that the “ultimate” laws could be used to predict actual behavior. The mathematical and computational difficulties would probably be insurmountable. While this does not argue against the possibility that a set of ultimate, objective laws governs all we think and do, it does make it impossible to support that position scientifically over other reasonable competing theories.

Aaaand where in your fancy schmancy equation is there room for free will, individual choice, determination, logic, obligation and fear?

Partly for the same reasons you like or dislike people. It’s certainly an emotional response, though not necessarily a purely rational one. I assume you’d agree that even if w’re fundamentally just clusters of neurons, we’re still clusters of neurons with emotions, preferences, and motives — however such things might come about.

However, I think there’s also a pragmatic explanation for respect and disdain. Our brains probably evolved to care about such things as “good” versus “evil”, or good leaders versus bad leaders, or people we can trust versus people we can’t. Not that that judgement is always sound. Some people trusted Hitler after all. But that just means our judgement is sometimes flawed, not that it’s unimportant to make the effort.

Or putting it another way: those of our ancestors who never judged their fellow human beings — never exercised respect or disrespect — tended to find themselves making bad decisions within their societies. Maybe fatal decisions, as far as their genes were concerned. On the other hand, those who formed opinions about their fellow humans were able to build alliances, fight enemies — and by trusting in the right leaders, family members, and mates (getting it right at least occasionally), were able to prosper more often than not. Therefore the desire to judge people becomes innate, as it’s a crucial survival tool.

To encourage good actions and discourage evil actions.

I am pretty sure that **Liberal ** would say molecules are nothing; at least I know he has said that atoms are not real. I could be wrong.

At any rate, it seems like the OP should ask SentientMeat about physicalism.

If everything is predetermined and human choice doesn’t exist, then the concept of rationality is irrational. Reason means thinking and making decisions. If decisions don’t exist, then who cares if they’re rational or not?

Not to mention, of course, the fact that it is nigh-impossible to predict the response of evolved environments. Remember, there is a time scale to it. Not only is it the environment of everyone you meet that forms you, but the environment of everyone they met, and so on, and so on. It creates something that, if not free will, is such a simulation thereof, it can not be distinguished.

Why, because your molecular makeup and environment leads you to do so, of course. Just the same reason anyone does anything.

Seriously, though, you’re making a serious category error here. The foundation of physical law simply has no relevance to everyday morality. It’s like pointing out that Thomas Gainsborough’s “Blue Boy” consists of paint applied to canvas and then wondering why it should have a greater value than the raw materials.

To input IF-THEN consequences to the future decisions calculated by the amazing biological computer in their skulls, which holds and processes input and memory (past decisions and their consequences) in the physical substrate of neurons (just as a silicon computer holds and processes input and memory in the physical substrate of the chips and RAM).

I don’t believe that brain chemistry is everything, but isn’t it possible that giving someone respect triggers a series of positive reactions which lead to more beneficial chemicals being released in the respect-receiver’s brain which leads to even more good works? And that without these chemical boosts the “good deed” neurons would cease to be effective?

Also what JasonFin said: the same chemistry that compels them towards good/evil acts might also compel us to give respect or disdain, whether we want to or not.

Under the OP’s assumptions, “the practice of giving people ‘credit’ for their accomplishments, ‘respecting’ those who have done something they believe is noteworthy, and ‘blaming’ those who have done something they find abhorrent” are among those things that we do as a result of our molecular makeup and environmental conditioning and etc.

If we have no free choice about anything, we have no free choice about whether to believe we have free choice (or to act as though we believe it)!

Surreal, if you went to an art exhibit, and loved one painting, and hated another, would this be irrational?

Should you not admire Gandhi just because he can’t help being good?


The error of reductionism, a form of the fallacy of composition, actually.

The error of contextual determinism, a form of the fallacy of division, sort of.

Both of them fallacies of complex cause.

Despite phenomenology and the strong reductionistic tendency in the “hard” sciences, meaning doesn’t inher in things; and despite sociology and poststructuralism and other trendy forms of cultural-determinism theory, meaning doesn’t inher in the context of things either.

Meaning inhers in the relationships between things and their context. (And since any element of a context can be repositioned as “thing” and any “thing” part of another “thing”'s context, I can reword this as: Meaning inhers in the relationships between things)

The individual brings to the society a set of attributes; is shaped by that society but also participates in reiterating it. (Indeed, there ain’t no concrete “society” there at all, this thing called “society” is entirely composed of individuals and the patterns of their interactions). So the individual responds to the society not merely by passive participation in its dances but by active critique, by making choices, and those choices make changes in society.

In physics, we have the study of “vectors”. Take an object that is being acted upon simultaneously by several forces and you can understand the speed and direction of the object as a consequence of the sum total of each of those forces having its own effect. In similar fashion, “society” is acted upon simultaneously by the behaviors and interactions of all the individuals involved and immersed in it.

(Society is considerably more fluid than a solid inflexible object, of course — the effects of an individual are most likely to be concentrated in a sphere of influence where the majority of their interactions take place — but it’s still, I think, a good analogy).

Oh, and the reason we applaud and revere the society-changing behaviors of individuals is that our applause and expression of appreciation are themselves vectoral, adding to the momentum favoring acceptance and adoption of those folks’ accomplishments.

Well, that’s a reason, but not the reason. If we applaud someone, we may just be expressing our feelings. No further purpose need be implied.


Interesting that you went from these three causes, directly to “behavior,” without any thought (or even consciousness) along the way.

Do you really think your actions are determined by your “molecular make-up” or “environment” or “chance,” without any intermediate free will? Do you deny that you’re aware and thinking right now, as you read this?

You use words like “reasonable . . . assume . . . know . . . opinion,” as if they have any meaning outside human intellect. In fact, this entire debate is meaningless without human volitional consciousness.