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Morality as Performance

rousseau

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Going to throw out some fodder into the morality forum, feel free to reply / disregard / whatever.

I've been thinking about the etymology of the words 'good' and 'bad' as synonyms for ethical and unethical. It raises the question good at what? I think the implication is that the person who is 'good' is good at following implicit and explicit moral rules. Ok fair enough, but what's interesting to me about it is that it implies that morality is a domain of execution, that one can't really be intrinsically good or bad, but rather one performs in the moral domain. Our character is determined by how successfully we understand and follow moral norms.

So it frames morality as a kind of biological adjunct, those with a better ability to follow and adhere to norms should be more successful, more often. And we should expect the brunt of most populations to be generally good at adhering to the customs of their social group.
 

Bronzeage

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Morality defines how we are expected to interact with other people in our group. A person is "moral" if they act as expected. If you can't adhere to the morals of your group, you're a hazard to have around.

I like my bicycle and I expect my neighbor to not steal it. That seems like a fairly well defined expectation. Fortunately for me, my group has people ready and willing to chase him down and make him give back my bike. Me and the rest of my neighbors don't have to drag him out in the street and beat him to death.

In modern society, we have the luxury of non-conformity. The amazing development of the cash economy allows me to create superficial relationships with thousands of people who will provide for my needs, as long as I give them some money. They don't care if I'm and adulterer or homosexual, or violate any number of archaic social norms. I don't have to rely on the good will of my neighbor to survive. I don't even have to know my neighbor. All I have to do is abide by the actual legal code of my group(county, state, nation, etc) and I'll do just fine.

Morality and public morals serve to insure the well being and survival of the group. Any group in which most of the people don't adhere to the customs, won't be a group for long. You can't be a group and not follow social norms. That's what defines a group, and who is in the group and who is not.
 

rousseau

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A person is "moral" if they act as expected.

What's interesting to me about framing it as performance, is that most people think of their moral character as a permanent quality. They'd say things like - I am good, it is incontrovertibly true that I am a good person. When in reality morality is something you do, and a domain where you make decisions with implications all the time.

That's more or less intuitive, but I think being conscious of this provides opportunity. One stops thinking of themselves as intrinsically good, and instead realizes that they need to be actually good, moment by moment, day after day. Being good comes from concertedly making right decisions, it's not something you just are, all the time.

Where in practice I think most people interpret their own behavior, good or bad, to fit the narrative they have of themselves.
 

fromderinside

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Actually performance can be determined by one or by others. The two lead to different conclusions about what is one's performance. If performance is determined by genetic attributes one could be found to be executing perfectly while destroying everything for instance.
 

Bronzeage

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A person is "moral" if they act as expected.

What's interesting to me about framing it as performance, is that most people think of their moral character as a permanent quality. They'd say things like - I am good, it is incontrovertibly true that I am a good person. When in reality morality is something you do, and a domain where you make decisions with implications all the time.

That's more or less intuitive, but I think being conscious of this provides opportunity. One stops thinking of themselves as intrinsically good, and instead realizes that they need to be actually good, moment by moment, day after day. Being good comes from concertedly making right decisions, it's not something you just are, all the time.

Where in practice I think most people interpret their own behavior, good or bad, to fit the narrative they have of themselves.

I once terribly upset someone by telling them I was as moral as necessary. They didn't like the idea that moral behavior is situational.

It's not so much about performance and what we do, because often we don't have a lot of good choices. Whether a person can be judged as moral depends more on what they want to do. A moral person values the feelings of others and wants them to think well of him. We call it reputation and this is important enough, people will do very immoral things in order to maintain it. Weird, huh?

I've made the point before and I'll repeat myself. All cultures and society have the same moral code, which consists of two basic principles. First, don't kill your friends. Second, don't steal your friend's stuff. After that, it's just a matter of defining who is a friend, and what is considered stuff that can be owned. These definitions are critical to determining what is moral and what is not. In previous ages, adultery and rape were considered property crimes. It was theft from the man who owned the woman in question.

If one reads the Biblical Old Testament, there are plenty of stories of what is basically cold blooded murder by our standard, but the victims were of another tribe, so there was no violation of the "Thy shalt not kill" proscription. Of course, in our enlightened times, we are expected to consider humans to all be one group, so there is no longer someone who lives over in the next valley who is fair game.
 

fromderinside

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Bronzeage I believe that morality needs to exceed tribal limits which is especially apparent now during water driven migrations. Even those who aren't suffering pressure to change locations because of water they are suffering pressure from those seeking to relocate there. My choice is to expand the bound of your two principles from friends to others. More difficult - goes against genetic tendencies to mark on difference - but more in line with our developing tendencies to cooperate with others. Now morality takes on a dynamic and useful dimension.
 

rousseau

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A person is "moral" if they act as expected.

What's interesting to me about framing it as performance, is that most people think of their moral character as a permanent quality. They'd say things like - I am good, it is incontrovertibly true that I am a good person. When in reality morality is something you do, and a domain where you make decisions with implications all the time.

That's more or less intuitive, but I think being conscious of this provides opportunity. One stops thinking of themselves as intrinsically good, and instead realizes that they need to be actually good, moment by moment, day after day. Being good comes from concertedly making right decisions, it's not something you just are, all the time.

Where in practice I think most people interpret their own behavior, good or bad, to fit the narrative they have of themselves.

I once terribly upset someone by telling them I was as moral as necessary. They didn't like the idea that moral behavior is situational.

It's not so much about performance and what we do, because often we don't have a lot of good choices. Whether a person can be judged as moral depends more on what they want to do. A moral person values the feelings of others and wants them to think well of him. We call it reputation and this is important enough, people will do very immoral things in order to maintain it. Weird, huh?

Maybe we only have to be as moral as necessary, but you can take out the world moral and replace it with smart. It doesn't have to be as much about righteousness, and more about reputation, as you say.

So for example, if we understand that reputation is about performance, and performance is about understanding explicit and implicit rules, then it follows that the more rules we know and follow, the stronger our reputation will be, and the more successful we'll be in our day to day life.
 

ruby sparks

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Going to throw out some fodder into the morality forum, feel free to reply / disregard / whatever.

I've been thinking about the etymology of the words 'good' and 'bad' as synonyms for ethical and unethical. It raises the question good at what? I think the implication is that the person who is 'good' is good at following implicit and explicit moral rules. Ok fair enough, but what's interesting to me about it is that it implies that morality is a domain of execution, that one can't really be intrinsically good or bad, but rather one performs in the moral domain. Our character is determined by how successfully we understand and follow moral norms.

So it frames morality as a kind of biological adjunct, those with a better ability to follow and adhere to norms should be more successful, more often. And we should expect the brunt of most populations to be generally good at adhering to the customs of their social group.

I don't think one can say that morality is just performance. That said, I think you're raised a very interesting aspect of morality, probably one of many, on which much could be said in agreement.

For example, one often hears it said that there is no such thing as bad people, only people who do bad things, and I do tend to agree with this.

The reason I say it isn't, imo, just performance, is that there is also an inner, subjective, psychological realm (a personal sense of guilt, for example) even if that has social components.
 
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ronburgundy

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Going to throw out some fodder into the morality forum, feel free to reply / disregard / whatever.

I've been thinking about the etymology of the words 'good' and 'bad' as synonyms for ethical and unethical. It raises the question good at what? I think the implication is that the person who is 'good' is good at following implicit and explicit moral rules. Ok fair enough, but what's interesting to me about it is that it implies that morality is a domain of execution, that one can't really be intrinsically good or bad, but rather one performs in the moral domain. Our character is determined by how successfully we understand and follow moral norms.

So it frames morality as a kind of biological adjunct, those with a better ability to follow and adhere to norms should be more successful, more often. And we should expect the brunt of most populations to be generally good at adhering to the customs of their social group.

I think you start with a questionable premise that leads you down a wrong path. It does need to be "good at" something. It could just be "good for" something. Good moral behaviors are good for human relationships. In fact, "good" is partly derived from proto Indo-European word "ged" meaning to unite or join. Morality is about how humans related to each other. So, the moral sense of "good" may actually precede the words use to refer to being good at some task that is not about human relations. Also, there is just a general positive valence to the concept of good, as in good-bad are words referring to the approach-avoid behavioral system that direct the behavior of almost everything in the animal kingdom. So, a person acting "good" is someone to be approached, and bad people are to be avoided.
 

Bronzeage

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I once terribly upset someone by telling them I was as moral as necessary. They didn't like the idea that moral behavior is situational.

It's not so much about performance and what we do, because often we don't have a lot of good choices. Whether a person can be judged as moral depends more on what they want to do. A moral person values the feelings of others and wants them to think well of him. We call it reputation and this is important enough, people will do very immoral things in order to maintain it. Weird, huh?

Maybe we only have to be as moral as necessary, but you can take out the world moral and replace it with smart. It doesn't have to be as much about righteousness, and more about reputation, as you say.

So for example, if we understand that reputation is about performance, and performance is about understanding explicit and implicit rules, then it follows that the more rules we know and follow, the stronger our reputation will be, and the more successful we'll be in our day to day life.

I think the problem with coming to grips with the burden of morality is, we only take notice of the obsolescent parts of it. As I said above, a lot of what we consider sexual morality comes from the time when women were property. Morality is seen as social bondage, the leash that prevents us from doing what we desire most. It leads to pointless debates along the lines of "Resolved: Morality is dumb."

It is smart to be moral and stupid to be immoral. I don't think anyone can make a plausible argument for the reverse.
 

Wiploc

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I've been thinking about the etymology of the words 'good' and 'bad' as synonyms for ethical and unethical. It raises the question good at what? [emphasis added]

I prefer good for what, or good to what.

If morality is dictated by gods, we have no reason to be moral. At least not unless morality is good for something.
Just calling god-made morality "good" in the abstract, without establishing what it is "good" for, makes it pointless, meaningless.
 

Angry Floof

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Going to throw out some fodder into the morality forum, feel free to reply / disregard / whatever.

I've been thinking about the etymology of the words 'good' and 'bad' as synonyms for ethical and unethical. It raises the question good at what? I think the implication is that the person who is 'good' is good at following implicit and explicit moral rules. Ok fair enough, but what's interesting to me about it is that it implies that morality is a domain of execution, that one can't really be intrinsically good or bad, but rather one performs in the moral domain. Our character is determined by how successfully we understand and follow moral norms.

So it frames morality as a kind of biological adjunct, those with a better ability to follow and adhere to norms should be more successful, more often. And we should expect the brunt of most populations to be generally good at adhering to the customs of their social group.

Determining if an action is moral requires examining it, not obedience to norms. You're conflating morality with conformity, which is pretty weird. How does this angle help clarify questions of morality? Conforming to cultural norms requires no effort while moral questions require thought, struggle, willingness to question, and acceptance of ambivalence and uncertainty. Kind of the opposite of what it takes to conform.
 
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rousseau

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Going to throw out some fodder into the morality forum, feel free to reply / disregard / whatever.

I've been thinking about the etymology of the words 'good' and 'bad' as synonyms for ethical and unethical. It raises the question good at what? I think the implication is that the person who is 'good' is good at following implicit and explicit moral rules. Ok fair enough, but what's interesting to me about it is that it implies that morality is a domain of execution, that one can't really be intrinsically good or bad, but rather one performs in the moral domain. Our character is determined by how successfully we understand and follow moral norms.

So it frames morality as a kind of biological adjunct, those with a better ability to follow and adhere to norms should be more successful, more often. And we should expect the brunt of most populations to be generally good at adhering to the customs of their social group.

I think you start with a questionable premise that leads you down a wrong path. It does need to be "good at" something. It could just be "good for" something. Good moral behaviors are good for human relationships. In fact, "good" is partly derived from proto Indo-European word "ged" meaning to unite or join. Morality is about how humans related to each other. So, the moral sense of "good" may actually precede the words use to refer to being good at some task that is not about human relations. Also, there is just a general positive valence to the concept of good, as in good-bad are words referring to the approach-avoid behavioral system that direct the behavior of almost everything in the animal kingdom. So, a person acting "good" is someone to be approached, and bad people are to be avoided.

I can't pretend to know the history of the word exactly, but there is a clear connection between - the attribute of being good - and - performing to social expectations. Whether that makes you 'good at' or 'good for', either way morality is a domain of execution, which is what I was getting at.
 

rousseau

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Going to throw out some fodder into the morality forum, feel free to reply / disregard / whatever.

I've been thinking about the etymology of the words 'good' and 'bad' as synonyms for ethical and unethical. It raises the question good at what? I think the implication is that the person who is 'good' is good at following implicit and explicit moral rules. Ok fair enough, but what's interesting to me about it is that it implies that morality is a domain of execution, that one can't really be intrinsically good or bad, but rather one performs in the moral domain. Our character is determined by how successfully we understand and follow moral norms.

So it frames morality as a kind of biological adjunct, those with a better ability to follow and adhere to norms should be more successful, more often. And we should expect the brunt of most populations to be generally good at adhering to the customs of their social group.

Determining if an action is moral requires examining it, not obedience to norms. You're conflating morality with conformity, which is pretty weird. How does this angle help clarify questions of morality? Conforming to cultural norms requires no effort while moral questions require thought, struggle, willingness to question, and acceptance of ambivalence and uncertainty. Kind of the opposite of what it takes to conform.

That is an interesting perspective. When you think about it, the majority of behaviour with moral implications does come down to conforming - don't steal, don't cheat on your partner, don't hit others, don't insult others. Almost everything we do on a day to day basis comes down to following the basic, and benign patterns of our community. If we don't conform to the most basic rules that we take for granted we would be considered 'bad' people.

I think what you're getting at is post-conventional morality, when we get into areas with shades of grey, where what is right isn't as obvious. People with exceedingly high moral standards typically choose to rise above solely what is conditioned, and do what is right for right's sake, not just because it's a pattern. But I think the brunt of what makes a society cohere isn't usually these types of moral choices, it's stopping at traffic lights, choosing to pay for your groceries etc.

And this, I think, is why we see so many people who are quick to conform to basic rules and tradition, because this is a strategy that works most of the time. But I should add that my original point trends towards post-conventional morality as well, it's not just about following norms, but understanding implicit, non-obvious norms.
 

Angry Floof

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Going to throw out some fodder into the morality forum, feel free to reply / disregard / whatever.

I've been thinking about the etymology of the words 'good' and 'bad' as synonyms for ethical and unethical. It raises the question good at what? I think the implication is that the person who is 'good' is good at following implicit and explicit moral rules. Ok fair enough, but what's interesting to me about it is that it implies that morality is a domain of execution, that one can't really be intrinsically good or bad, but rather one performs in the moral domain. Our character is determined by how successfully we understand and follow moral norms.

So it frames morality as a kind of biological adjunct, those with a better ability to follow and adhere to norms should be more successful, more often. And we should expect the brunt of most populations to be generally good at adhering to the customs of their social group.

Determining if an action is moral requires examining it, not obedience to norms. You're conflating morality with conformity, which is pretty weird. How does this angle help clarify questions of morality? Conforming to cultural norms requires no effort while moral questions require thought, struggle, willingness to question, and acceptance of ambivalence and uncertainty. Kind of the opposite of what it takes to conform.

That is an interesting perspective. When you think about it, the majority of behaviour with moral implications does come down to conforming - don't steal, don't cheat on your partner, don't hit others, don't insult others. Almost everything we do on a day to day basis comes down to following the basic, and benign patterns of our community. If we don't conform to the most basic rules that we take for granted we would be considered 'bad' people.

I think what you're getting at is post-conventional morality, when we get into areas with shades of grey, where what is right isn't as obvious. People with exceedingly high moral standards typically choose to rise above solely what is conditioned, and do what is right for right's sake, not just because it's a pattern. But I think the brunt of what makes a society cohere isn't usually these types of moral choices, it's stopping at traffic lights, choosing to pay for your groceries etc.

And this, I think, is why we see so many people who are quick to conform to basic rules and tradition, because this is a strategy that works most of the time. But I should add that my original point trends towards post-conventional morality as well, it's not just about following norms, but understanding implicit, non-obvious norms.

OK. It sounds then like a convoluted way of describing a "needs of the many" philosophy of morality.

Conformity is a behavior that is automatic and requires no thought or decision making whatsoever. We humans can choose to conform, but choosing and thinking are not necessary to conforming. Ants conform. Monkeys conform. Useful survival strategy for groups, but not morality by any stretch of the imagination. "Morality" implies thought and choice and self awareness. If you choose to conform as a matter of morality, you're essentially saying it's a moral act to consider your group and protect the collective over individual desires.
 

ruby sparks

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I'm not sure morality is essentially something we think about. In the first instance, it's an automatic reaction, an instinctive, intuitive value judgement. Yes, we can think about it after that, but our thinking is already coloured by the automatic response. That doesn't mean to say that we can't change our views after reflection. It just means that in the first instance, moral judgements are intuitive. If you see or hear about something you'd call a wrong, or something you feel is a wrong is done to you, or if you do it yourself, I think you feel it straight away.
 

Angry Floof

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I'm not sure morality is essentially something we think about. In the first instance, it's an automatic reaction, an instinctive, intuitive value judgement. Yes, we can think about it after that, but our thinking is already coloured by the automatic response. That doesn't mean to say that we can't change our views after reflection. It just means that in the first instance, moral judgements are intuitive. If you see or hear about something you'd call a wrong, or something you feel is a wrong is done to you, or if you do it yourself, I think you feel it straight away.

Even so, how is that "conformity"? I don't see how "following social norms" equates to "morality" unless you're talking about a specific moral philosophy of, as I said, "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."

We all act based on numerous influences, some social, some gut reaction, some trained reflex, and some consciously thought out decisions.
:shrug:
 

ruby sparks

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I'm not sure morality is essentially something we think about. In the first instance, it's an automatic reaction, an instinctive, intuitive value judgement. Yes, we can think about it after that, but our thinking is already coloured by the automatic response. That doesn't mean to say that we can't change our views after reflection. It just means that in the first instance, moral judgements are intuitive. If you see or hear about something you'd call a wrong, or something you feel is a wrong is done to you, or if you do it yourself, I think you feel it straight away.

Even so, how is that "conformity"? I don't see how "following social norms" equates to "morality" unless you're talking about a specific moral philosophy of, as I said, "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."

We all act based on numerous influences, some social, some gut reaction, some trained reflex, and some consciously thought out decisions.
:shrug:

No sorry, I was just jumping in with a general comment on one particular thing. I wasn't really making a comment on conformity as such.

But on that, I would say that conforming is one of a number of factors, or constraints. In a social species, conforming would be important.
 

rousseau

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That is an interesting perspective. When you think about it, the majority of behaviour with moral implications does come down to conforming - don't steal, don't cheat on your partner, don't hit others, don't insult others. Almost everything we do on a day to day basis comes down to following the basic, and benign patterns of our community. If we don't conform to the most basic rules that we take for granted we would be considered 'bad' people.

I think what you're getting at is post-conventional morality, when we get into areas with shades of grey, where what is right isn't as obvious. People with exceedingly high moral standards typically choose to rise above solely what is conditioned, and do what is right for right's sake, not just because it's a pattern. But I think the brunt of what makes a society cohere isn't usually these types of moral choices, it's stopping at traffic lights, choosing to pay for your groceries etc.

And this, I think, is why we see so many people who are quick to conform to basic rules and tradition, because this is a strategy that works most of the time. But I should add that my original point trends towards post-conventional morality as well, it's not just about following norms, but understanding implicit, non-obvious norms.

OK. It sounds then like a convoluted way of describing a "needs of the many" philosophy of morality.

Conformity is a behavior that is automatic and requires no thought or decision making whatsoever. We humans can choose to conform, but choosing and thinking are not necessary to conforming. Ants conform. Monkeys conform. Useful survival strategy for groups, but not morality by any stretch of the imagination. "Morality" implies thought and choice and self awareness. If you choose to conform as a matter of morality, you're essentially saying it's a moral act to consider your group and protect the collective over individual desires.

That's fair. I think this is where the distinction between Conventional and Post-Conventional morality comes into play (from Kohlberg's moral stages). To many people acting 'morally' means following social rules verbatim without any wiggle room. Everything is a black and white binary of 'good' or 'bad'. From your point of view this person isn't really moral. Fair enough, in a certain light I think you could say that, in another light they're moral but not critical thinkers or conscious of their own morality / lack thereof. These are conventional thinkers.

The post-conventional thinker derives their own principles and lives by them. They may follow social rules because they choose to, and they may ignore some others because they don't find them to be good rules.

What I'm getting at in the original post is that morals are derived from social norms, but not necessarily limited by social norms. For the post-conventional thinker the sky is the limit on which principles to live by. But more importantly they strive to understand implicit, unwritten rules that the conventional thinker doesn't even think to look at.
 
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