Why Are These Things Considered 'Enlightened' Principles?

Actually I was just thinking about Star Trek recently. Not the newer ones. Or even the Next Generation. But the original series.

Yeah, a lot has changed since then. And many of the dialogue and content seems very dated. One common theme has the crew of the Enterprise acting like savages. Then a being, often ethereal even, comes to them and espouses the ‘enlightened’ principles of love, mercy and forbearance.

I could even cite a couple episodes if you want. I probably won’t though, because this thread isn’t about Star Trek. I am simply wondering why people did, and still do, think that these are enlightened principles.

Stephen Hawking for one thought contact with an advanced alien race would probably go very badly. And I know the ancient Roman’s did things with brutal efficiency. And that way does often work much better.

So that is my question. Why do we think these are more advanced than any other principles. And is there any objective reason to believe so, while we’re at it.

Thank you in advance for your kindly replies.


That strategy worked for the Romans for a while (or, say, the Assyrians, who allegedly took that sort of intimidation to a whole new level long before Rome). But how well did it turn out for them in the end?

Are you asking if we have any reason to believe that a technologically advanced civilization would be likely to value love and compassion?

Yes, I think we do.

Natural selection involves first of all (by definition) competition for limited resources. In fact, the more intense the competition, the stronger the forces of natural selection, and the more likely that more sophisticated and highly intelligent beings will evolve. So an intelligent species will always possess naturally highly competitive instincts. Competitive instincts are selfish instincts.

However, any intelligent species that goes on to develop a complex civilization is also likely to have strong cooperative instincts. That is the human evolutionary niche, that’s what distinguishes the human species even more than our intelligence - we organize so effectively and work together for mutual benefit. That’s why we came to dominate the world. Any other species that goes on to develop complex advanced civilization is also likely to have evolved both of these characteristics - competitive and cooperative.

As technology advances, available resources increase, and the competition for resources is no longer so intense. This allows the luxury of being less selfish. In this phase, humans have combined our general intelligence with our natural cooperative instincts to develop sophisticated moral reasoning that goes far beyond just helping others because they might return the favor. Our moral principles have advanced in tandem with our technology. Our beliefs about the rights of other humans and other species, and the way we treat other humans and other species, are generally far better than they were in the past.

I see no reason that this trend should not continue. Ultimately, in a post-scarcity society, competition for resources is completely meaningless. Our innate selfish instincts may remain, but in a post-scarcity culture there is no longer any material penalty for suppressing selfish instincts in favor of unselfish moral principles.

The combination of competitive and cooperative traits is likely to be shared by any intelligent species that goes on to develop an advanced technological society, so I think the same principles are likely to apply.

Love and compassion tend to be considered enlightened and advanced, because animals tend to be selfish and brutal.

(I’m sure someone will cite exceptional animals, and that’s why I used the word “tend”.)

I think Reimann’s basically got it. It goes back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Compassion towards others is a luxury commodity. Its much easier to help others in need if your own needs are taken care of.

That said, I am loathe to speculate how advanced alien civilizations would actually behave. We have a sample size of one regarding the evolution of the psychology of a species capable of culture. There is no reason to believe that the world view of an alien would necessarily match up to ours at all. But this is star trek where all aliens are made in our image and only vary by forehead shape, so its usual to assume that they share our other attributes as well.

Is this universally true, though? China for example has advanced hugely in technology over the last 50 years, have moral principles similarly advanced? Or are you thinking of a longer time frame?

I mean the general long term trend.

People’s intuitive perception of this is skewed. We get a lot of information about the entire world now, and bad news always draws our attention. There’s always something horrific happening in the world. Objectively, however, human societies in the past were on average far more brutal.

Pinker has documented this extensively:

But I think we can be fairly confident in saying that any species capable of developing technology and advanced civilization would arise from an evolutionary niche that incorporated not just intelligence, but cooperative social behavior. Without any instinctive tendency toward cooperative behavior, why would sophisticated communication and culture arise?