Science of Morality, Anyone?

An jungle tribe’s approach to morality may be perfectly fine for the situations faced by a jungle tribe. All I was saying was that such a tribe’s system of morality does not extend to modern society. They never had to deal with nuclear weaponry or factory farms or seven-hundred-billion-dollar bank bailouts. When modern people do certain things and try to insist that its because of the hard-wiring in their brains that they got from their caveman ancestors, that’s when I object.

Why? Obviously we don’t have to worry about dodging the sabre-toothed tigers nowadays, but there doesn’t really seem to me to be any particular problem with examining our reaction to a fearful event and judging it to be a really quite helpful reaction in terms of running the hell away and not a fantastic reaction as far as giving a public speech goes. And I think it would be reasonable to say that our instinctual reactions to things do affect what our actual decisions will end up being. I too don’t think it’s fair to claim that we are entirely slaves of our biology, but likewise I think it’s just as unreasonable to disavow its influence entirely.

Besides, to turn the point around; does this mean that our systems of morality cannot be extended to those of the tribe? Can no system be truly universal?

Probably not. To encompass all of humanity’s collective experiences, cultures, histories, philosophies and religions would necessitate the loosest and most general system. It would almost be so general that it would be useless in application. Nearly all cultures have some variation on the golden rule, and that is about as far as you can get without becoming mired down in the minutiae of history and case law so badly that the original intent becomes completely obfuscated by what if scenarios and loopholes.

Really for such a system to be effective, we as a whole will have to evolve beyond the petty squabbles of class, race, religion, and sexuality. Only when we are able to view another person as a being deserving of the same rights, comforts, rewards, and protection as ourselves will such an ethical system become plausible.

Everyone is welcome to continue this “discussion” for as long as they like.

I will warn you, however, that it may be a frustrating experience as I pointed out in a couple of posts in this earlier thread from a bit over a year ago:

The OP is taken from a series of threads posted to numerous message boards across the Net.

coberst continues to post his “queries” about life in many locations despite finding no one to agree with him about his ideas, then talking past anyone who tries to engage him.

If anyone actually expresses agreement with him, he will tell them that they got the matter wrong and then restate what they said in his own words (or by quoting one of his posts to another board).

He is not really trolling, as such, but I will note that attempting to enter a discussion with him is an exercise in frustration and futility.
[ /Modding ]

It seems you and I agree on why there can’t be a scientific system of morality. “Scientific” implies that we can do an experiment to verify the results. An experiment might tell how people react to a certain situation, but it cannot tell us what is right in that situation. We all know that there have been many times in history when the majority opinion was morally wrong, and most of us could name issues where the majority opinion is wrong right now.

Eliminating racism and other unwanted biases and believing in a universal system of rights are good things. But those things by themselves won’t establish a moral system. That’s the point I was trying to make in my earlier example about child labor. But the same point comes up in countless contexts. In child-rearing, excessive strictness would violate children’s basic human rights, but an absence of rules would derail their education. In criminal justice, extreme harshness would be a crime in its own right, but extreme laxity would allow criminals to trample on the rights of others.

Problems like these are what E. F. Schumacher calls “divergent problems”, as opposed to “convergent problems”. With a convergent problem, the more study and experiments you do, the closer you get to a definitive, final answer. Pursue the problem far enough and there must be such an answer. With a divergent problem, there never has been and never will be a single, final answer. Addressing a divergent problem means acknowledging the uniqueness of ever person, and being willing to address the different people in every situation, rather than imposing a one-size-fits-all solution. That’s why divergent problems can never be subject to a “science of morality”.

All sciences begin with axioms. Philosophy is the only domain of knowledge that is qualified to deal with the legitimacy of axioms. The OP suggests a need for a science of morality.

How are we doing for philosophers these days? Who are the big boys and girls in modern philosophy, and who have we got coming through the ranks?

Tom’s warning noted I’ll still respond. You are at best confused. In a strict sense science is a division of philosophy. No domain of knowledge (within philosophy or out) is able to deal with the legitimacy of axioms other than by ultimately making reference to a set of axioms.

In what gets called the sciences a (if not the) basic axiom is that describing things as they actually are - by a process of testing and potentially falsifying your models (which are dynamic) - is the highest value. All other axioms are subservient to that goal and potentially falsifiable. Which does not mean that scientists do not also personally ascribe to other domains of knowledge for values. They do and as individuals they cannot help but to mix those values into their work.

Other forms of philosophy use other approaches and accept other axioms, using various methods, such as deduction and induction, to see where application of those axioms lead. Honest philosophy explicitly acknowledges which axioms are the starting off points; some uses axioms implicitly as well - which leads to sloppiness. The legitimacy of any of those axioms so used is not being questioned but different sets of axioms may be accepted by different philosophers who apply them differently and different conclusions reached.

Religious knowledge begins with a fairly large set of axioms that are revealed truth. The view of reality is therefore fairly fixed, changing only as its adherents vary on how much to accept as revealed truth and how much to open to questioning.

None of those domains of knowledge have any ability to question the validity of moral values without referencing as a basis (either explicitly or implicitly) a set of axioms defining some code of morality. I am personally fine with using a secular set of axioms (which includes tolerance for other POVs) as that basis, but I still would be silly to think that using that set of axioms to judge other sets of moral code axioms was in any way “science”.

Surely, however, if we are obliged to consider the potential decisions we might have to make before we actually do, then changing to the other system it self is itself one of those decisions. If us moving out to live with the tribe would have potential moral implications, then surely we’re just as obligated to consider all the decisions they would have to make in order to be able to make the correct decision?

Put another way, aren’t we required to evaluate humanity’s collective experiences, cultures, histories etc. and their effects on moral decisions just as we are required to evaluate those decisions from our own perspective? If we aren’t, then we would have no reason to ever alter our moral system; we can’t just look at choices within our system, but without, too.

Actually, it only requires universal similarity, not necessarily universal acceptability. A system where we consider each other to not have any rights whatsoever, as long as it is applied to all of us equally, would likewise suffice. Don’t think i’d want to live there, though.

“Universal”? No. One system for all is not doable. But one system that declares enough common ground that other systems can coexist together within it is the basis for our world’s ability to have a heterogenous society of societies.

We do need to agree on a basic set of axioms - a universal set of human rights, rights that are, as they say, “self-evident” - and to tolerate differences in local codes beyond those basic axioms. These basic rights are not defined as revealed truths even if within various belief systems they are handled as such.

I suspect it depends on your definition of “doable”. Certainly i’d agree that no person can sit down and work out the morally correct choice of each and every possible decision they might face. But that isn’t a flaw of moral systems, that’s a flaw in us. That we can’t do that means that we’re guaranteed to fail at coming up with a universal moral system, but it doesn’t mean such a thing is impossible.

Aren’t they? I would have said that within quite a view belief systems those basic rights are both handled as and defined as such. And I personally have a problem with “self-evident”, but then that’s probably another debate entirely.

I think this brings up a question; should we base our concept of these basic rights on including each and every human possible as a main point, or do we create this concept purely as a matter of morality without taking into account whether it applies to all humans?

I think we must be misunderstanding each other. My comment has nothing to do with whether or not one “person can sit down and work out the morally correct choice of each and every possible decision they might face” - it is a comment on the difficulty of getting all groups and individuals to agree to abide by the exact same system, to the same complete set of axioms. A more realistic goal is to get them to agree to a common core basis, and to agree to disagree about the rest, to tolerate those differences in each other.

“Self-evident” merely means that they are axiomatic - there is no proof of any statement of basic human rights but we agree to accept them as true. Again each member belief system may share beliefs in most of those rights, and many may justify those beliefs as sacred revealed truths. But the “meta-morality” if you will must be neutral on that issue: it doesn’t matter why you accept these basic core moral axioms; it only matters that you do, for membership in the society of societies - the world community made of many different belief systems - is contingent upon that.

I suspect that most of us are willing to agree that, broadly speaking, we have ‘fact knowledge’ and ‘relationship knowledge’. I would like to take this a step further by saying that I wish to claim that fact knowledge is mono-logical and relationship knowledge is multi-logical.

Mono-logical matters have one set of principles guiding their solution; this set of principles is often (if not always) the ‘scientific method’. Often these mono-logical matters have a paradigm–The natural sciences—normal sciences—as Thomas Kuhn labels it in “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” move forward in a “successive transition from one paradigm to another”. A paradigm defines the theory, rules and standards of practice. “In the absence of a paradigm or some candidate for paradigm, all of the facts that could possible pertain to the development of a given science are likely to seem equally relevant.”

Multi-logical problems are different in kind from mono-logical matters.

Socratic dialogue is one technique for attempting to grapple with multi-logical problems; problems that are either not pattern like or that the pattern is too complex to ascertain. Most problems that we face in our daily life are such multi-logical in nature. Simple problems that occur daily in family life are examples. Each member of the family has a different point of view with differing needs and desires. Most of the problems we constantly face are not readily solved by mathematics because they are not pattern specific and are multi-logical.

Dialogue is a technique for mutual consideration of such problems wherein solutions grow in a dialectical manner. Through dialogue each individual brings his/her point of view to the fore by proposing solutions constructed around their specific view. All participants in the dialogue come at the solution from the logic of their views. The solution builds dialectically i.e. a thesis is developed and from this thesis and a contrasting antithesis is constructed a synthesis that takes into consideration both proposals. From this a new synthesis a new thesis is developed.

When we are dealing with mono-logical problems well circumscribed by algorithms the personal biases of the subject are of small concern. In multi-logical problems, without the advantage of paradigms and algorithms, the biases of the problem solvers become a serious source of error. One important task of dialogue is to illuminate these prejudices which may be quite subtle and often out of consciousness of the participant holding them.

Our society is very good while dealing with mono-logical problems. Our society is terrible while dealing with multi-logical problems.

Do you not think that we desperately need to understand CT, which attempts to help us understand how to think about multi-logical problems? Do you not think that it is worth while for every adult to get up off their ‘intellectual couch’ and teach themselves CT?

If I may ask a mod for a point of order, please, why is this person’s tactic tolerated? The above post #33 is a word-for-word duplicate of an opening post on another board by a user of the same name. While it may not be trollish — or so you say it isn’t — it is certainly nonresponsive. It doesn’t even have anything to do with the topic of its own thread here. I mean, can’t it at least be moved to MPSIMS? Is it really necessary to facilitate this sort of passive-aggressive waste of everyone’s time?

On second thought, never mind. It doesn’t matter.

Lib has retracted this remark, but I’m seconding it. I’m proud of this messageboard, and frankly whenever a post of coberst is on the front page, I cringe a little and hope that no SDMB-guest is going to think his kind of posting is typical for this board, or for intellectual/philosophic discussion in general.

Wasn’t there some kind of reg about cross-posting once upon a time?

Honestly, the only reason I retracted was because I realized the futility of pursuing the matter. I don’t retract the sentiment, just the willingness to confront the mods about it.

Ah, ok. Apologies. My inability to write understandably is only matched by my inability to read understandably. :wink:

Ok, I think I get where you’re coming from. This makes sense to me.