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Morality/ethics: instinct vs ideology

Underseer

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So... I tried starting a conversation about the Euthyphro dilemma, and as often happens when I get into a discussion about ethics, it got sidetracked because I'm apparently one of the few that believe that ideology and higher order thought plays a relatively small role in most of our moral decisions.

I am not very well-versed in neuroscience, animal behavior, etc., so hopefully someone here is more versed in the recent research in these fields and can offer opinions of greater value.


Dawkins and the Trolley Problem
In Dawkins' book The God Delusion, he challenges the moral claims of theists by talking about how much of our morality is simply the product of instinct. This is really the first time I even thought about the role of instinct in moral choices, and this is probably where I started forming my opinion.

Obviously, Dawkins tends to favor instinct as a source of our moral choices because that is a big part of his main contribution to biology: getting people to think about evolution from the point of view of genes rather than individual organisms. In other words, to think about how evolution acts on populations rather than individuals.

This solved the problem of where the behavior of social species came from. If you think about it in terms of individuals and the genes of individuals, becoming a social species doesn't make much sense. One way or another, most or all of the species in a group must do work and take on risks that offer no direct benefit to the individual, but either benefit another individual in the group, or benefits the group as a whole. If you look at it from the point of the individual, it is hard to see how evolution could possibly produce this behavior. However, in most social species, the social group is closely related, so an individual working towards helping other individuals in the group or the group itself is helping individuals with very similar genes. In other words, individuals are free to be selfless because it is the genes that are being selfish, not the individual organism.

Dawkins bolstered his argument about behavior conducive to the group's survival coming from instinct even in humans by referencing a study on the Trolley Problem:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/famous-trolley-problem-exposes-moral-instincts/

Sorry, but I have no idea if this article references the same study Dawkins referenced in The God Delusion. The study Dawkins referenced was performed by a scientist who later lost his career because he got caught engaging in fraud. From what I've managed to read on the matter, the fraud charges did not extend to the specific study Dawkins cited in his book.

The study Dawkins cited had "translated" the Trolley Problem into something that made sense to people from very different cultures. For instance, someone from a primitive stone-age tribe is not going to have a very good understanding of what a trolley is, so when you explain the Trolley Problem to him, your results could be skewed by the individual's attempt to understand a trolley as a purely abstract and unfamiliar concept. So for a primitive bushman from Africa, the story might involve a charging rhino instead of a trolley to get a response more in line with the individual's instincts.

The result showed not only similar responses, but the same percentages of people answered one way as opposed to another way.

Dawkins argued that this shows that for these specific ethical questions at least, the decision had to be a matter of instinct more than ideology because presumably an African bushman would have a wildly different ideology from some yuppie from a big city in a developed nation.


Making Decisions without Realizing It
I don't remember if I encountered this in The God Delusion among Dawkins' arguments for instincts as the source of our morality, or if I just stumbled upon it elsewhere and connected it to Dawkins' arguments myself.

http://www.nature.com/news/2008/080411/full/news.2008.751.html

Long story short: researchers were able to anticipate what decision a person would make up to ten seconds before the person was even aware they had made a decision at all. To me, this suggests that at least some component of our decision-making is the result of a process other than carefully-considered conscious thought in the prefrontal cortex, and the most likely culprit would be instinct. If instinct has a strong influence on our decisions in general, then it must also have a strong influence on our moral decisions.

Caveat: I have no idea what percentage of decisions nor what percentage of test subjects fell into this category.


Animal Behavior Science and Ethics
A variety of ethical behaviors that we once regarded as the exclusive product of our big human brains turn out to be things that are observed among other social species. A notable example of this would be the concept of fairness:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog...s-instinct-science-human-nature-and-sociality

Other social species such as dogs and apes will keep track of which individuals contribute more to the group than others and which contribute less to the group than others. These individuals will thus receive more or less help, thus showing that other animals have a concept of fairness and enforce it in the group. Since animals lack the means to communicate abstract ideas like ideology, this cannot be the result of ideology as we understand the concept. The most obvious explanation is that these other social species must possess a concept of fairness purely as a result of instinct. If dogs and apes can have an instinct for things like fairness, then why not humans as well? Why would we exhibit the same behaviors but derive it from a completely different source as other social mammals?

Obviously, there is more that animal behavior science can tell us about human morality and instinct vs ideology. If you're interested in the topic, there's more stuff here:

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=frans+de+waal


Evolutionary Biology and Evolutionary Psychology
I have to presume that each of these fields have something to say on this matter, but, uh, I have no idea what that would be. Hopefully, someone reading this can contribute. The question of how social species could possibly evolve the complex behaviors we see has been vexing biologists for a long time, and wasn't really solved until relatively recently when Dawkins introduced the idea of a gene-centric view of evolution. Presumably, research has been done in each of these fields that attempts to solve this particular riddle, and thus both fields probably have something relevant to say on this topic. Damned if I know what that would be, though.


Wild Unsubstantiated Speculation
Being a social species or a solitary species are each viable survival strategies. Individuals in a solitary species don't have to waste any time or effort benefiting others and can worry about helping themselves. Social species can pool their resources in surprising ways that can greatly enhance the chances of passing on your own genes, or at least genes that are very similar, but in exchange for this, individuals must work for the benefit of others, not just themselves.

In order for being a social species to work as a survival strategy, each species (or perhaps even each social group) will have to have some kind of standard of behavior. The actual standard will necessarily change from species to species because they live in different ecological niches under different circumstances. What enhances the survival of bees might not be helpful to a tribe of humans. Since animals other than humans lack the ability to communicate ideology to each other, then in every social species other than humans, these standards of behavior must be the result of instinct for the most part (although more intelligent social animals clearly have a "culture" that is taught to younger generations, and one could certainly argue that this can be compared to human ideology however vaguely).

I would argue that this instinctive standard of behavior forms the core of human ethics, or at least the ethics that are common to most cultures. Because we ourselves are human, when we look at other social groups we naturally focus on the ethical decisions that are different and may not fully appreciate just how much of our ethics are similar. While our sentience and culture clearly provide us with the means of violating our own instincts to a far greater extent than other species, it doesn't make sense to me that such instincts would exist in every single social species on this planet except for humans. Surely we must also have strong instincts in this area.

Think for a moment about sexual suicide in some species of animal:

http://waynesword.palomar.edu/ww0701.htm

For some species, the male either dies as a result of mating, is killed by the female or other members of the social group after mating, or is killed and eaten by the female or other members of the social group after mating.

Most humans probably have the same reaction to this stuff that I do: a deep revulsion that certainly feels a lot like instincts exerting themselves on my thoughts. For me, this is particularly repulsive in species like ants or bees because like humans, their offspring require an awful lot of work to raise, feed, protect, and nurture. Of course, it doesn't matter to a bee if the male dies as a result of mating or is killed after mating because a fertile female has an army of infertile females to raise her young for her. The male is simply not needed after mating takes place.

This behavior is repulsive to us because fertile human females don't have an army of infertile females to raise her young for her, but her offspring still requires a lot of work to raise. Other apes arrange their societies in the same harem-thing that most mammals follow, so fertile chimp females can distribute child-rearing tasks to the other females in the social group, but human females (at least those not in polygamous marriages) don't have that option either. The most obvious source of help for a human female is the male she mated with, which explains why sexual suicide revolts us so. Such behavior may not affect the survivability of praying mantises or bees, but it sure as heck would have a very large negative effect on the survivability of human offspring. Thus, our instincts fill us revulsion just from contemplating the idea.

This not only points towards instinct as a source of ethics, but provides a useful definition for morality: whatever improves the survival chances of the maximum number of offspring for the species (which generally translates to maximizing the well-being of as many humans as possible, which is Sam Harris' working definition). It's a crude definition perhaps, but probably the definition that has guided our behavior since before we were able to talk about such things with each other.

Anyway, what do you think?
 

Zeluvia

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I believe that our decisions are not always our own and most people act irrationally.

I think many of our morals ARE a result of being social animals, but I also think that as population grows, the pressure of society on the individual decreases, paradoxically. We no longer depend on a tribe, most of us no longer depend on a village, a town, or even our family. Therefore, censure by society is less of a threat to survival or survival to offspring.

Meanwhile, from ancient times, you have the seven deadly sins; wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. If you look at these things they are all irrational behaviors, some even pathological. I think our evolutionary system of morality is just getting more and more disconnected from the reality of how humans actually live now, especially in first world countries. I draw my new line at rational/irrational.
 

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Now, I took time off to think about your specific example of females killing males after reproduction. After hours of examination, I find I have no instinctive repulsion to that particular act. I seem to have instinctive repulsions that center more around children. Curiously, I find that while I have strong repulsions against biological parents torturing or deliberately starving their own children, or people killing and mistreating pre-pubescent children, I do not have the same high level of instinctive repulsion against parents that Kill their own children outright or people killing teenagers unless it involves sexual predation.

To clarify, it's not that I don't find the lesser acts reprehensible and "evil", but they don't kick me in the gut as hard as what you are describing you feel about male post sex predation. And I think that is what you are looking for, those "gut" level revulsion reactions.

And related, my ex and I discussed gay rights at length. And while he supports the right of two men to marry or do whatever intellectually, he swears the idea of male/male sex gives him a gut level revulsion.

Anyway, as to the part:

This not only points towards instinct as a source of ethics, but provides a useful definition for morality: whatever improves the survival chances of the maximum number of offspring for the species (which generally translates to maximizing the well-being of as many humans as possible, which is Sam Harris' working definition). It's a crude definition perhaps, but probably the definition that has guided our behavior since before we were able to talk about such things with each other.

I can't go with "improves survival chances of maximum number of offspring". Because that devolves really fast into "whose" offspring, and maximizing the survival chances of the offspring of Tribe A may mean the death of everyone in Tribe B. And unfortunately, tribalism, territorial imperatives, and xenophobia may also be a part of our evolutionary package.

I like Sam Harris's working definition more. Well-being is more of a critical issue at this time in our history than just maximizing offspring. And while instinct and evolution play an important role in the development of our morality and ethics, we can't just use the excuse "well we evolved this way" to support moral policies and ethics that have may have become destructive to the species as a whole.
 
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Togo

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Morals are all about how we treat each other. As such, it's all about how we get along in groups. Because absent groups, there's no one to treat morally or immorally. So yes, morality is about group behaviour.

And yes, it's likely that certain moral points are in part instinctive. Most of our behaviour is at least in part instinctive, as a shortcut for learning things that will be keep us alive and well.

So instinct is all about rules of thumb to keep us alive. Close your eye if something comes near it. Don't eat food that is rotten, spoiled, vomited or contaminated by faeces. Pay attention to things moving in the dark. Fear spiders. And so on. All of these produce gut-level reactions in people.

The same principles applies to rules for groups. If you have a rule that says don't kill people, then everyone is safer. Don't have sex with siblings. Try and make choices where more people are kept alive. Protect children.

As situations that produce gut-level reactions, there's a good case to suggest that these reactions are based on instinct. In fact, it would be surprising if they weren't, since it's hard to imagine a tribal group operating without them. Groups of animals show adherence to many of the same rules.

But does it follow from that all of our behaviour is instinct? That doesn't follow. Because the same experimental techniques that show that these basic moral values are constant across different cultures, also show that the synthesis of these values does vary across cultures. Where morality gets interesting is not in whether killing is good or bad, since that doesn't vary very much, but in how they are combined.

The Trolly problem is a simple combination of values, where the moral value of not killing people is weighed against the moral value of preserving life. Is it worth killing someone if more people live as a result. Or to put it another way, which is the stronger of these two values? In this case the answer is fairly constant, but in other famous examples, the differences are strong and marked. For example, what happens when you pit a desire to cooperate with the law against loyalty to a friend?

http://www.jasonpatent.com/2009/08/13/did-the-pedestrian-die/


In short, I'm broadly happy with the idea that we have instinctual moral values, but that doesn't make our moral judgments purely instinct. How we assemble and reconcile values (moral or otherwise) is still a decision to made, and people can and do override their instinct in making actual choices. Instead moral values act as a 'default' choice. All else being equal, you don't kill people. But in practice, other concerns intervene.

This pattern of a 'default' decision that gets modified later, continues in the much discussed, much misquoted line of experiments after Libet, an example of which you quoted in the 'Making decisions without realising it' section. The key point is that subjects know they're making a decision. In a typical case they've been making the same sort of decisions over and over again for at least an hour. So they know what the choices are, know they are going to make a choice. The experiment simply compares the time at which they can detect what the choice will be with the time they report they've made up their mind and reached a decision. You don't need a brain scanner for this, you can get similar results just by watching someone's eye movements. The eyes drift up to the left for a right brain decision and to the right for a left hemisphere decision. This corresponds to actions by the right or left hands, or, if you're feeling esoteric, to linguistic versus numerical tasks.

The interesting part of the experiment, which does require a scanner is in how far back they can trace these indicators of what the decision will be. Modern technology has increased the time to 10 seconds before the decision is made (Eysenck reported over 11 seconds). But this huge precursor time suggests not that the decision is 'made before we realise it', but rather that there is 'default' decision, which then gets carried through because the subject doesn't care about the outcome enough to change it.


So yes, we do have instincts loosely based around creating a 'successful' group that allows its members to survive and prosper. But we also have decisions, ethical systems, and a great deal of social and cultural structures around these too. Granting a role to instinct doesn't make other elements less important.
 

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Animal behaviour is driven by self-interest. When it is in our own self interest to be moral, our instinct of self interest will cause us to be moral. Where higher order ideology comes in to play is when it is not in our own interest to be moral.

Consider a mother who doesn't love or want her child. She could do some pretty horrifying stuff, but due to realities of society it's not in her own interest to do so, so moral behaviour results. That's instinct.

Now consider a student who faces the difference between graduating or failing out of his program based on whether or not he cheats on a test, and knows he won't be caught. Instinct will again drive him to cheat, because cheating is in his own interest, but higher order thought might lead him to act morally, against his own interests.

To say that all morality is a result of instinct, or that all morality is a result of higher order thought seems wrong to me. Rather some morality is a result of instinct and some is a result of higher order thinking. Usually that arising from higher order thinking is more likely to be altruistic moral behaviour.
 

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Instinct+Learning.

Darwin, Freud, Bandura, Ellis, Beck, Seligman, and everybody else who doesn't want to be laughed at and "kindly" escorted out the room at of his/her thesis defense, state this clear and convincingly.

You are never learned out of your instincts. You learn with them. Every decision you make influenced by your culture and experiences you do ultimately for and with your appetites.
 

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[...]

The Trolly problem is a simple combination of values, where the moral value of not killing people is weighed against the moral value of preserving life. Is it worth killing someone if more people live as a result.[...]

No. No it's not. The Trolley Problem reveals something very odd about human morality.

In one scenario, you can throw a switch which causes the trolley to run over one guy, but avoid running over 5 people. In another scenario, you are on a bridge above the tracks, and have the option of saving the 5 people by pushing the one guy to his death.

In both cases, the evaluation should be the same: it's better to cause the death of one to prevent the deaths of five, and yet fewer people are willing to kill the one guy in the latter scenario than in the first scenario despite the fact that both have the same outcome. Somehow pushing the guy off the bridge seems worse to us than just throwing a switch. What is more strange is that the percentage of people who answer these questions is about the same even when the respondents come from wildly different cultures (e.g. big city yuppie versus stone age tribesman).

It is strange that most of us would react that way. It is even stranger that we all react the same way in the same percentages regardless of upbringing, culture, etc., or any of the other things we assume would change ideological perspectives and higher order thoughts.

- - - Updated - - -

If I were to posit a guess about why so many of us have more trouble pushing the guy than simply throwing the switch is that it involves more intimate interaction with our intended victim, which is a violation of the social/emotional bonding that makes our societies possible.
 

The AntiChris

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In both cases, the evaluation should be the same:
That's your moral judgement.


both have the same outcome.
That's not the case as you appear to recognise in your "updated" comment:

If I were to posit a guess about why so many of us have more trouble pushing the guy than simply throwing the switch is that it involves more intimate interaction with our intended victim, which is a violation of the social/emotional bonding that makes our societies possible.
There'll be many reasons why people don't see the two situations as morally identical. For me, the essential moral difference lies in the status/expectation of the 'victim' in each case and how this relates to the kind of world in which I want to live.

In one situation we are asked to consider the possibility that the life of anyone at any time could be sacrificed without their consent for a 'greater good'. In the other, we're asked to consider a world in which incautious individuals who find themselves in the middle of a railroad track could possibly be killed by an unexpected trolley.

Given just these two choices I'd rather not live in the world described by the first scenario so I'd reluctantly pull the lever. That's my moral judgement.
 

Togo

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No. No it's not. The Trolley Problem reveals something very odd about human morality.

In one scenario, you can throw a switch which causes the trolley to run over one guy, but avoid running over 5 people. In another scenario, you are on a bridge above the tracks, and have the option of saving the 5 people by pushing the one guy to his death.

In both cases, the evaluation should be the same: it's better to cause the death of one to prevent the deaths of five, and yet fewer people are willing to kill the one guy in the latter scenario than in the first scenario despite the fact that both have the same outcome. Somehow pushing the guy off the bridge seems worse to us than just throwing a switch. What is more strange is that the percentage of people who answer these questions is about the same even when the respondents come from wildly different cultures (e.g. big city yuppie versus stone age tribesman).

The answer shouldn't be the same, because there are two conflicting values, and you're only acknowledging one. The first is that fewer people should die, and the second is that you, personally, should not kill people. The reason why the answer is different is because in the first scenario you're redirecting a tragic accident to kill fewer people and in the second you're killing someone with the intention of saving others as a result. The difference is that in the second scenario you're actively killing people, and it shows that people are not generally utilitarians - they don't base their morality simply on the immediate outcome - but rather on a more complicated web of connecting factors.

Now you can argue that the long-term outcome is better served by not having a society in which people push each other off bridges. That while more people die in the short run, the long-term cost of legitimising murder makes the society less stable and less successful. And certainly I'd rather live in a society with a high accident rate than in one with a high murder-of-convenience rate, even if the overall death rate is slightly higher in the latter.

Which leads on to all sorts of interesting moral issues, such as whether torture is justified to save lives. The answer, at least in western society, used to be an outright no, but has recently become more popular, particularly in the US. It may be that the people trusted with making these decisions may well be the same people who would push a guy off a bridge to save lives.
 

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The trolley problem reveals more about how we think of causality than how about moral judgments per se. In both scenarios a person commits an act that is (and that he know is) certain to kill a person. Objectively and rationally, both acts are equal in terms of causal sufficiency and necessity in leading to another's death. The difference lies only in that the "lever" scenario has more transparent (but not really more actual) mediating causal steps in the process leading to the death. The lever, switches the rails and the train changes direction and then the person gets run over, versus a simplistic "you push them in front of the train and it hits them" (which ignores countless less perceptible steps the the physics of the situation).
I think it is more about people treating mediated causality as less causal, even when the mediating steps are fully determined and non-probabilistic. We then make judgments of morality based upon perceived causality, thus view the act with more obvious mediating processes as less immoral.

Treating the scenarios as morally different is like saying it is less immoral to kill a person by pushing the first of giant dominoes so the last one crushes them, than it is to push a single domino on top of them.

In the trolley scenario, I don't think the person willing to pull the switch but not push the person is any more moral than the person willing to kill the person in both scenarios, they are just more ignorant of causality and treat mediation as though it reduces causal dependency, even when it doesn't.
 

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Objectively and rationally, both acts are equal in terms of causal sufficiency and necessity in leading to another's death.
Choosing to look at the problem as simply one of selecting the most efficient and effective way of reducing the number of deaths and ignoring the societal implications of universalising the principle that people can be randomly sacrificed for the greater good is a moral judgement in itself.

The two scenarios are not identical. Whether or not they're morally identically is a matter of moral judgement.
In the trolley scenario, I don't think the person willing to pull the switch but not push the person is any more moral than the person willing to kill the person in both scenarios, they are just more ignorant of causality and treat mediation as though it reduces causal dependency, even when it doesn't.
Some may be "ignorant" but you shouldn't dismiss the possibility that others may have seen a moral dimension to the problem that you may have missed or that, in your personal opinion, you simply don't consider to be morally significant.
 

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I'm entirely happy with the idea that moving someone into the path of a train is not morally equivalent to moving the path of the train to intersect them rather than someone else. The idea that they are equivalent is based on the idea that all that matters is how many people die. I don't agree that that is the case.
 

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The answer shouldn't be the same, because there are two conflicting values, and you're only acknowledging one. The first is that fewer people should die, and the second is that you, personally, should not kill people. [...]

You are causing the death of that individual in both scenarios. The main difference is that in the second scenario, your victim can look you in the eye while you kill him. Whether you kill him by throwing a switch or pushing him off a bridge, you are still the cause of his death.
 

Togo

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You are causing the death of that individual in both scenarios. The main difference is that in the second scenario, your victim can look you in the eye while you kill him. Whether you kill him by throwing a switch or pushing him off a bridge, you are still the cause of his death.

Yes, I agree. What's your point? Do you believe that it is whether the death is caused by me that is the critical factor? Do you understand that that is a moral judgement you are making?
 

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Choosing to look at the problem as simply one of selecting the most efficient and effective way of reducing the number of deaths and ignoring the societal implications of universalising the principle that people can be randomly sacrificed for the greater good is a moral judgement in itself.

I am doing nothing that you describe. I fully recognize that sacrificing people for the greater good is a moral issue. But that is equally true in both scenarios. Whether one kills the single person in either scenario or chooses not to act is a moral issue. I am referring to treating the two scenarios as morally different from each other. The person pulling the lever or pushing the person onto the tracks is making the same intentionally choice to act to cause the certain death of someone to save others. Nothing within any moral system, religious or secular, provides any basis for treating these scenarios as morally distinct.

The two scenarios are not identical. Whether or not they're morally identically is a matter of moral judgement.
Some may be "ignorant" but you shouldn't dismiss the possibility that others may have seen a moral dimension to the problem that you may have missed or that, in your personal opinion, you simply don't consider to be morally significant.

Again, no moral system has ever posited any basis for making a moral distinction in two such scenarios. Moral judgments still covary with variance in perceived features of the situation. There is nothing objectively different about the situations other than the mediated (but still fully determined) nature of the causal impact of the act on the death. No one would propose that such a meaningless difference be any kind of criteria for moral standards and to date no one has ever offered any coherent reason why their is a morally significant different between the scenarios. There is merely a vague unjustified feeling that one is more moral than the other. Thus, the most likely explanation is that those who feel differently about the scenarios are just having a vague biased emotive response to a subjective sense of reduced causality, despite there being no objective difference in causal determinism just because the seem to be more events that unfold in between the act and the death. It isn't much different from the fact that most people feel less threatened by people with more similar facial features to themselves, thus would likely rate two identical acts as morally different, depending entirely upon how similar in facial features to themselves the people involved were.
 

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Nothing within any moral system, religious or secular, provides any basis for treating these scenarios as morally distinct.
I'm not sure what you mean by "moral system" in this context. Most people just have moral opinions (they don't have formal 'moral systems') and many people are of the opinion that the two scenarios are morally distinct.

Perhaps you haven't heard of the doctrine of double effect which states that you may take action which has bad side effects, but deliberately intending harm (even for good causes) is wrong? It's a principle that is sometimes used as just one of the many justifications for morally differentiating the two scenarios (it's mentioned in  Trolley Problem).

I'm not suggesting for a moment that you'd necessarily find any of these arguments compelling - I'm just pointing out to you that such arguments really do exist. You shouldn't assume that just because you haven't heard these arguments that there can be no moral justification for making the distinction.

There is nothing objectively different about the situations other than the mediated (but still fully determined) nature of the causal impact of the act on the death.
This is clearly not the case. The two scenarios indisputably describe two slightly different series of events. What I assume you meant to say is that in your opinion there is no morally significant difference between the two scenarios.
 

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Yes, I agree. What's your point? Do you believe that it is whether the death is caused by me that is the critical factor? Do you understand that that is a moral judgement you are making?

Sorry, I guess I don't understand what you were saying about the Trolley Problem, then.
 

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Again, no moral system has ever posited any basis for making a moral distinction in two such scenarios.

Psychologists studying this problem have come up with several. One of the more ensuring is the idea of remoteness, whereby causal proximity to the death influences the judgement. in this case the redirection of an accident onto fresh victim has less proximity to the victims than pushing the victims themselves.
 

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Nothing within any moral system, religious or secular, provides any basis for treating these scenarios as morally distinct.
...
Again, no moral system has ever posited any basis for making a moral distinction in two such scenarios.

Well, there is always the Categorical Imperative, from Kant's Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals.

"One cannot, on Kant's account, ever suppose a right to treat another person as a mere means to an end."

When you push a guy off the bridge to stop the trolley, it's his body mass that stops the trolley, which means you're using him as a mere means to an end. When you throw the switch, you save the lives whether he's there or not. So his presence and death are incidental to your solution to the problem of saving the five lives, which means you are not using him as a mere means to an end.
 

fromderinside

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Well, there is always the Categorical Imperative, from Kant's Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals.

"One cannot, on Kant's account, ever suppose a right to treat another person as a mere means to an end."

When you push a guy off the bridge to stop the trolley, it's his body mass that stops the trolley, which means you're using him as a mere means to an end. When you throw the switch, you save the lives whether he's there or not. So his presence and death are incidental to your solution to the problem of saving the five lives, which means you are not using him as a mere means to an end.

So how would that work if the chosen victim were a relative versus someone from another country? Are we now going to add categories for the imperative? What if you didn't know he was a relative?
 

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So how would that work if the chosen victim were a relative versus someone from another country? Are we now going to add categories for the imperative? What if you didn't know he was a relative?
I'm not following. Why would it make the slightest difference whether the guy were a relative? If you follow Kant's rule you can throw the switch but you can't throw the guy, in agreement with the widespread intuition doubtingt was objecting to, so that's a counterexample to his generalization about moral systems. But there's nothing in Kantian ethics to justify victimizing people because they're nonrelatives or from other countries or whatever. It's supposed to apply uniformly to all rational agents.
 

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I have to admit I find advanced trolleology weird, even if fascinating.

Intuitively, I would reject both pushing the guy or diverting the trolley (and the loop, etc.), though the former seems worse to me, so I'm in the minority by the results reported in the thread, and even more so by the results reported here, where 83% of people rated Loop (a guy is used as a means to stop the trolley, but in a loop instead of pushing him) and Switch equally.

Similarly, the results for loops in this paper are quite weird to me - though other papers did find a significant difference in patterns of judgment between using a person or an inanimate object to stop the trolley; so far, it's a 2-2 tie in number of papers, as far as I know -, but then, most results are. :confused:
Even so, Loop and its variants appears to often receive much greater support than Push - yet, Push also gets close to 50% in several cases (not sure how high or low they are in most experiments).

Personally, I find these sorts of experiments a bit suspect in terms of what they can tel us, for at least two reasons:

1. What the paper I linked to above calls "unconsious realism" (e.g., the probable results, in most cases, wouldn't be what is stipulated). While the paper tries to control for it, I don't think it does a good job at that. Even if a person consciously suspends disbelief, intuitively she may not. Maybe I'm just not good at suspending disbelief. Maybe many other people aren't, either. Maybe whether most people can suspend disbelief depends on how the specific scenario is set up, which would explain some of the weirdness and the variations. Or something else. :confused:

2. Most people may not have enough time to consider the matter in a serious way. That might explain, in particular, some of the order effects (not what the paper was evaluating, but even 46%-48% rate pushing the man acceptable in those experiments; that's much lower than the rate for diverting the trolley, but still close to half). Even philosophers' judgments are often affected by order effects of that sort, it seems ( http://brown.edu/Research/Cushman-Lab/docs/schwitzgebel&cushman_2012.pdf ).
 
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Angra Mainyu

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Another interesting and weird paper (to me, anyway :):

http://csjarchive.cogsci.rpi.edu/Proceedings/2010/papers/0626/paper0626.pdf

In experiment 1, there are two situations (people on the trains can't affect outcomes):

I. Train C – no one on board- is going to hit train A – 5 people on board -, unless it's diverted into another track, where it will hit train B – 1 person on B.
II. Train C – no one on board - is going to hit train A – 5 people on board -, unless B – 1 person on board - is diverted into its path.

Weirdly, the experimenters contend that II is a case in which a person is used as a means, and so that the Doctrine of Double Effect correctly predicts a difference in patterns of judgments, so the judgment that diverting the train in a. is acceptable will be more common than the judgment that diverting the train is acceptable in II – which is observed.
But that's false. DDE does not make that prediction. The person on train B is never used as a means to an end. What is used as a means to an end in II. is the train.
To be fair, when discussing experiment 3, the researchers seem to realize that the person who dies is not actually used as a means to an end, though they seem to doubt that people (other) would construe it in that matter (i.e., they seem to believe “people” will believe that that's a means to an end).

Experiment 3:

3.I. There is 1 person on B, 5 on A, and B is going to hit A killing the 5, but not the one on B, who is in the back of the train. C is redirected to hit B on the back, killing one but saving 5.
3.II. There is 1 person on B, 5 on A, and B is going to hit A killing the 5, but not the one on B, who is in the back of the train. C hits B so that the passenger is pushed towards the brake system, and that kills the passenger but stops B.
3.III. C – no passengers – is going to hit A. B – 1 passenger – is diverted to stop it. Acceptability ratings are very low.
3.IV. There is one person on D, which is not moving. The intervention sends empty train C on a collision course with D. That kills the passenger, but allows C to go on and hit empty train B, which is thus preventing from hitting train A, and killing its five passengers.


Comparing all four conditions, acceptability ratings are the highest and II, slightly lower in I, lower in IV and still lower in III.
Both results and interpretation are weird to me.
Apart from their “fairly high” and “fairly low” assessments (even III got 3.76 on a 1-6 scale asking whether a person should carry out the intervention; that question is also vague, complicating interpretation to some extent, but that sort of problem seems common in trolley experiments), researchers say that both conditions I and II refute DDE, because in both cases, the person on B is used as a means to an end, but in both cases, there is similarly high acceptability.
While it's true that the results are evidence against DDE (as an account of the observed patterns, regardless of whether it's true), it's not true that in both cases, a person is used as a means to an end. Only in condition II, a person is used like that.
In 3.III, the researchers count that as a person's being used as a means to an end. But that's not true, and I don't know that the mistake will be common. :confused:
 

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Angra, it sounds like you have read a lot of studies on the Trolley Problem. Are you aware of any of the cross-cultural studies, and do you think they point towards an instinctive basis (at least in part) for moral choices?

Are you aware of any other studies that give us some indication of how much of our moral choices are attributable to instinct and how much attributable to conscious choice?
 

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Psychologists studying this problem have come up with several. One of the more ensuring is the idea of remoteness, whereby causal proximity to the death influences the judgement. in this case the redirection of an accident onto fresh victim has less proximity to the victims than pushing the victims themselves.

Psychologists have come up with several psychological explanations for why people make these judgments, but those psychological motives are decidedly NOT principles within any moral system. IOW, in what moral system does it say "Doing something that you know will certainly kill a person is less wrong if there are mediating causal steps. Such a principle in a moral system would mean that it is less immoral to hang a man than chop his head off with an axe, or less immoral to drop a boulder on someones head than to be holding the boulder while you strike him with it. People may feel different about these but I know of no moral system that explicitly justifies them being treated as different.
Also, causal proximity was exactly my suggestion as to why people make such judgments. People who understand that mediating steps doesn't make a causal impact any less determined by the originating act are less likely to judge the scenarios as different. Most people who say these scenarios "feel" different have no idea that causal proximity is why they feel different and they probably would not claim that such a factor should make a difference in moral judgment. IOW, what appears to be a moral difference is an unconscious and unreasoned by-product of a subjectively felt difference in causal determinism due to proximity differences that are not objectively different in causal determinism.
 

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I'm not sure what you mean by "moral system" in this context. Most people just have moral opinions (they don't have formal 'moral systems') and many people are of the opinion that the two scenarios are morally distinct.

Perhaps you haven't heard of the doctrine of double effect which states that you may take action which has bad side effects, but deliberately intending harm (even for good causes) is wrong? It's a principle that is sometimes used as just one of the many justifications for morally differentiating the two scenarios (it's mentioned in  Trolley Problem).

I have heard of that principle and agree that it is a common and IMO good justification for a moral distinction. If you described two scenarios that actually differed on that principle, I would judge them as morally different. The problem is that the trolley scenarios don't differ on that principle, and this isn't a matter of opinion but of fact. In both scenarios the intent is to save the 5 people. In both scenarios, the person intends to engage in a physical action that will save those people. In both scenarios the person knows that an undesired but certain byproduct of his action will be the death of the other person. Once again, the sole actual difference is the number of mediating steps between the action and the outcome, just like pushing a domino 4 dominoes before the last one that you know will fall rather then 2 dominoes before the last one that you know will fall. No difference is intent nor in causal determinism.
If it is the case that people who judge the scenarios as morally different give this principle as the justification, then what it means is that the trolley problem is merely a test of reading comprehension. Those who miscomprehend the actual scenarios described and infer a difference in intent where no basis for this inference is presented, wind up judging the scenarios in their head (which aren't those described) as morally different.

This is clearly not the case. The two scenarios indisputably describe two slightly different series of events. What I assume you meant to say is that in your opinion there is no morally significant difference between the two scenarios.

It clearly is the case. What I said is that the amount of mediating steps is the difference in the actual scenarios described. Thus, either the moral judgments are being driven by nothing more than the number of mediating causal steps despite objectively identical causal determinism (which is odd because that does not related to any moral principle including your "double effect" doctrine), or people are failing to accurately comprehend the described scenarios and are drawing unwarranted inferences about them that then produce differences in moral judgment.
 

The AntiChris

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I have heard of that principle and agree that it is a common and IMO good justification for a moral distinction. If you described two scenarios that actually differed on that principle, I would judge them as morally different. The problem is that the trolley scenarios don't differ on that principle, and this isn't a matter of opinion but of fact. In both scenarios the intent is to save the 5 people. In both scenarios, the person intends to engage in a physical action that will save those people. In both scenarios the person knows that an undesired but certain byproduct of his action will be the death of the other person.
I'm not sure you understand the doctrine of double effect. The crucial difference is that the death of the "other person" is a necessary component of the fat man scenario if the 5 are to be saved whereas it is not in the trolley diversion scenario (if the "other person" were to notice the oncoming trolley and move out of the way to avoid injury the 5 would still be saved). This is a fact and not opinion. Whether or not you consider this difference to be morally significant is quite another matter.
What I said is that the amount of mediating steps is the difference in the actual scenarios described. Thus, either the moral judgments are being driven by nothing more than the number of mediating causal steps despite objectively identical causal determinism (which is odd because that does not related to any moral principle including your "double effect" doctrine), or people are failing to accurately comprehend the described scenarios and are drawing unwarranted inferences about them that then produce differences in moral judgment.
I'm pretty sure you don't fully understand the doctrine of double effect (DDE). If you're interested, here's a link to an article discussing this very subject:

Double Effect, Triple Effect and the Trolley Problem: Squaring the Circle in Looping Cases
 

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I'm familiar with a couple cross-cultural studies, but not many. They tend to show similar patterns cross-culturally. The following study finds differences in a somewhat similar scenario: http://journal.sjdm.org/12/121101/jdm121101.html (btw, in that paper, you can find references to other studies involving people from different cultures)

Still, that study too shows no significant difference in judgments on the trolley scenario (of course, if one keeps looking, it's unsurprising that there are some differences in some hypothetical scenarios, since culture often affects many beliefs, including some moral beliefs, but that's nothing we don't know already).

As to how to interpret trolley problems terms of instinct vs. culture, the lack of significant influence of culture is against the culture-based view.

On the other hand, I would be cautious about reaching too strong a conclusion from trolley problems with regard to other issues, like how similar or different different humans are in that regard. For example, while there are disagreements in several of the scenarios (with close to half saying it's not immoral, more than half saying otherwise, or about 30% saying one thing, etc), I see no good reason to think that even after debating the matter and/or thinking about it, etc., the same patterns would remain among people who are being rational.
 

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I'm not following. Why would it make the slightest difference whether the guy were a relative? If you follow Kant's rule you can throw the switch but you can't throw the guy, in agreement with the widespread intuition doubtingt was objecting to, so that's a counterexample to his generalization about moral systems. But there's nothing in Kantian ethics to justify victimizing people because they're nonrelatives or from other countries or whatever. It's supposed to apply uniformly to all rational agents.

Ever hear of kin selection? If Kant didn't cover it Kant can't be used for a morality that fits reality.

All the a prioris in the universe can't fix bad reasoning.

I've always had problems with morality that's purely rational, and incorrectly so, when it is applied to a being that is mostly emotional.
 

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I have always regarded this "thought experiment" with disdain. Why? Because in participating in this experiment, we accept a set of options that excludes other options. In this aspect, you must accept that in all situations of this severity, there is not time to consider all the facts or modes of operating on the problem. No decision in this matter can be regarded as a rational decision because, in the crafting of the experiment, all the outcomes are absolutely circumscribed. This implies that we can be certain that all the given actions will result in certain results. By now, we should come to realize we can have that level of certainty in in very few instances.

For instance, people standing on tracks are aware they are in a dangerous place and are apt to be wary. There is always the possibility that in either situation, all 5 of the people on the track will step away before the trolly gets there. The same is true with the one lone man. If the trolley is far enough away from the potential victims that you have time to think this matter out, it is also less certain the results of your choice. If they are that far from the trolley, there are other options not allowed in the "thought experiment." If you honestly consider the situation the "thought experiment" describes, it is difficult to imagine such a set of conditions. Trolleys and rail lines are not designed to mow down people, but instead to transport people.

Regarding pushing the fat man off the bridge, might it also occur to one that the fat man may react and push you off the bridge? I think the type of "thought experiment" required to make the determination the experiment pretends to would involve five people in the hands of a madman helpless and a sixth man in the same situation. The question posed is kill one or kill five. The experiment itself is an unrealistic set of conditions if you consider the nature of trollies and people.

If the situation were that imminent, the distances would be such that one could yell and save either the five or the one. What is blatantly missing in this experiment is the uncertainty of the outcomes regardless of the decision made.

To have sufficient grasp of the actual facts in the matter would not be possible and the decision reached would not possibly be rational.
 

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Hey, the thought experiment is a classic and valid means of generating hypotheses in science. Those hypotheses can then be tested.

Of course, anyone who tries to use a thought experiment to prove something is missing the point. ;)
 

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This thread says ethics versus instinct. So we a left with this word instinct now interfering with our morality. What is meant by instinct is an open question. Where did this idea come from? Seeing animals doing things that are sometimes complex (like mainly long migrations to nesting grounds or feeding territories. I have a hunch some animals have some senses we do not fully understand that allow for their behaviors. I do not find any real proof there is such a thing as instinct, not unless you want to call doing things we do not understand how they are done is "instinct." That does not really add anything to morality arguments at all. For instance, does a wolf hunt because of instinct or does it do so because I is hungry. Wolf packs have a culture with leaders and followers. It is possible that this instinct idea comes from long ingrained SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS, whether we understand them or not.

Back to trolleyology...what has instinct to do with a thing that is the result of society building trolley lines, etc. We tend to develop preferences on the basis of our experience and advice given us by people we feel we can trust.
 

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what has instinct to do with a thing that is the result of society building trolley lines, etc. We tend to develop preferences on the basis of our experience and advice given us by people we feel we can trust.

Everybody is working at the wrong level here. Expressed gene alliances are competing within individuals for preference. Those alliances which produce behavior that lead to a particular genotype alliance gaining advantage, reproducing, over another gene group phenotype alliance. thusly the tend to become favored since they are preferentially reproduced over the other. Yes this calculus extends to kin. So taken together expressed gene alliances within individual and related groups of individuals in interactive activities reproduce making likely that form of behavior becoming more entrenched within the genome.


Not a tough problem at all.

Sure its hard to see how one gene drives behavior.

Its not so hard to see how a group of genes might produce behaviors since they can produce a fleet of group genotypes that produce functional phenotypes. It is also reasonable to assume that genes align with other genes to produce competing functional alliances. So when push comes to shove the gene that wins is the gene that did the right thing by teaming up with other genes that produced good behavioral results. ...and here we are right back at the selfish gene.
 

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This thread says ethics versus instinct. So we a left with this word instinct now interfering with our morality. What is meant by instinct is an open question. Where did this idea come from? Seeing animals doing things that are sometimes complex (like mainly long migrations to nesting grounds or feeding territories. I have a hunch some animals have some senses we do not fully understand that allow for their behaviors. I do not find any real proof there is such a thing as instinct, not unless you want to call doing things we do not understand how they are done is "instinct." That does not really add anything to morality arguments at all. For instance, does a wolf hunt because of instinct or does it do so because I is hungry. Wolf packs have a culture with leaders and followers. It is possible that this instinct idea comes from long ingrained SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS, whether we understand them or not.

Back to trolleyology...what has instinct to do with a thing that is the result of society building trolley lines, etc. We tend to develop preferences on the basis of our experience and advice given us by people we feel we can trust.

In order for being a social species to be a viable survival strategy, there needs to be a standard of behavior, and it needs to be universal to the species (or at least the social group). Genetics seems to be the most obvious mechanism by which this would come to exist, but the standards of behavior are fairly complex, even for animals as simple as ants and bees.
 

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However a person's or a bee's practices and preferences are determined obviously is a result of natural selection. Tendencies for certain behaviors are no doubt genetically extended through reproduction. I do however question the notion that genes do much more than continue social tendencies and that is entirely dependent on the prevailing environmental conditions. We are losing large populations of bees today. That is because the auto-loading the genes give the individual or indeed the entire social order may not contain sufficient or perhaps the needed capabilities to survive in current environmental conditions.

In several areas on the globe, there are populations who are refugees. It is obvious to me that those refugees are where they are because the environmental conditions in their origin country became un-livable...regardless of the genetic predisposition of the people to be social. Social standards such as humans may consider are only tangentially dependent on genetics. We are alive because of genes and we have certain tendencies because of genes, but as environmental conditions change, the genetic information is carrying only the information that allowed us to survive in past conditions, and indeed some information that may be detrimental to further social human survival.

The specific conditions that are current in any society are not necessarily a good match with the genetics we have received from our ancestors. As our communication and science advance, it is obvious that this is something that has not been occurring in other terrestrial species. It is true that genetics and natural selection has produced us and our world, yet we engage in highly structured social activities which are not directly a result of genetics, but a result of our social relationships and the environmental feedback we receive. We cannot divorce ourselves from our genetics, but we can, if we choose reorganize or migrate to a location where we can reorganize for a more sustainable set of living conditions.

That is what the human race has done historically. We have had many casualties in the system of adjustment built into us by our genes. Some of the options for social adjustment (migration for example) lose their efficacy when we fill the petri dish with ourselves and our waste. This appears to be where we are heading. I feel we will not find the answers to social and environmental problems in our genes but instead in rational humanistic approaches. What I am pointing to is that our world is so changed by our presence, we need to recognize these changes and adapt our behavior as needed, and not necessarily according to some sort of hard wiring in our genes.
 

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Akirk you bring up good points, but our instincts are going to conflict with each other from time to time.

For instance, in any social species, you have instincts for self-preservation and instincts for helping the group that are going to be in constant conflict with each other. Individual organisms still need instincts for taking care of themselves so that the group is not overly taxed which leads to individuals favoring themselves over the group, but on the other hand there also needs to be instincts for favoring the group over the self or else being a social species doesn't work as a survival strategy.

I suspect that with bees and ants, this is not much of an issue because they are relatively simple organisms, but what happens when these two opposing instincts exist within a social species with a more powerful brain?

http://scienceblogs.com/thoughtfulanimal/2010/09/20/hints-of-moral-thinking-in-dog/

Research done on dogs and apes (chimps? I forget which ones) show that they have a sense of fairness. They keep track of each individual and how much they give to the group and how much they take from the group. If they feel that an individual takes more than they give, then they are less inclined to help that individual. If they feel that an individual gives more than it takes, then they will be more inclined to help that individual. I suspect that as this same set of experiments are conducted on other species of social mammal that we will find this same phenomenon quite prevalent. Why? Because every social mammal is juggling conflicting instincts regarding caring for the self and caring for the group.

Obviously, I don't know for certain that intelligence is the reason we see this in dogs but not ants (heck, for all I know, ants have a sense of fairness also, but I am aware of no similar research being performed on social insects). If that is the case, then it stands to reason that humans are going to have even more weirdness going on with conflicting instincts and a wider array of possible responses to such conflicts in instinct.

Another thing that brings potential conflict is culture. We are now starting to become aware of culture in other species of social mammals: standards of behavior that are unique to a particular social group and that are taught rather than the result of instinct. Perhaps there is some instinct at work here that drives social mammals to conform to group behavior, even if the behavior in question is not the result of genetics. This too would influence the role of instinct in human ethics.
 

arkirk

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Everybody is working at the wrong level here. Expressed gene alliances are competing within individuals for preference. Those alliances which produce behavior that lead to a particular genotype alliance gaining advantage, reproducing, over another gene group phenotype alliance. thusly the tend to become favored since they are preferentially reproduced over the other. Yes this calculus extends to kin. So taken together expressed gene alliances within individual and related groups of individuals in interactive activities reproduce making likely that form of behavior becoming more entrenched within the genome.


Not a tough problem at all.

Sure its hard to see how one gene drives behavior.

Its not so hard to see how a group of genes might produce behaviors since they can produce a fleet of group genotypes that produce functional phenotypes. It is also reasonable to assume that genes align with other genes to produce competing functional alliances. So when push comes to shove the gene that wins is the gene that did the right thing by teaming up with other genes that produced good behavioral results. ...and here we are right back at the selfish gene.

Then how do square that with a polyglot nation achieving world dominance? All the major nations of the world are polyglot nations. I am not saying they are necessarily happy about that, but it is a fact. This gene idea is more like a roulette wheel than something that is preset to always produce improvement and refinement . I think it causes us to neglect analysis of common policies, both defacto and official government, and instead speak of us in genotype terms.

Which gene makes us fair? Which gene makes us kind? Which gene makes us long suffering and loyal? These things may be a product of our entire construction and not traceable to some spot on some chromosome. What makes New York New York is a product of its totality. Perhaps it is the same with people. We have these brains with billions of neurons that configure their information for themselves autonomously and without our bidding them to do so. What causes this configuration to occur? It does not occur in a vacuum. Individuals all think for themselves, even if they happen to think it wise to conform to societal norms, that decision is made in each case individually. Ideology as has been spoken of in this thread is treated as half the equation. Considering that when a person acts as a moral agent or just plain acts, that is all a person is to the world.

Sometime deep in the future, when we have a far greater understanding of how brains function in total, we may have a physiological explanation of our thinking process, but that is not now. Genetics and epigenetics cannot account for how we think, though in some cases, we get clues to how it may cause mental dysfunction. What I am trying to say here is that there really is no way to escape some kind of reasoning in favor of some kind of automatic response that is built into us. This idea is the seed of social disorder because that common referent may well be the limbic system, which essentially is irrational and more an alarm system than a planning structure.
 

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Sometime deep in the future, when we have a far greater understanding of how brains function in total, we may have a physiological explanation of our thinking process, but that is not now. Genetics and epigenetics cannot account for how we think, though in some cases, we get clues to how it may cause mental dysfunction. What I am trying to say here is that there really is no way to escape some kind of reasoning in favor of some kind of automatic response that is built into us. This idea is the seed of social disorder because that common referent may well be the limbic system, which essentially is irrational and more an alarm system than a planning structure.

Organisms, particularly social organisms that must mate, must first solve a problem. Is that which is coming suitable for mating or is it suitable for fighting. There are others fight or flight, seek or avoid, but, the bottom line one for social animals is distinguishing between mate or foe and then behaving in ways to accomplish those those. The literature is awash with the genetics of arousal, flight, flight, mating, etc and there is always arbitration among using those chemicals most needed for each or both.

Recent political, psychological and genetic history is filled with the study and the genetics of acceptance and exclusion and their roles in culture, war, progress, and social system. This, to me, is just an extension of a fighting fish working out whether to allow another fighting fish access to her nest or to go out and kill that damn intruder. The fighting fish issue has been resolved in favor of evolutionary genetics. Fighting fish are public in that males fight for the honor of mating and females and for maintenance of their bubble nests. When when seeing a winner the female is much more likely to chose the winner, approach him and endure the waggle dance ritual that comes from conflicting impulses to mate or fight. (see for instance: Public Information: From Nosy Neighbors toCultural Evolution http://www.edanchin.fr/plugins/fckeditor/userfiles/file/Danchin et al Science 2004.pdf )

In fact the article proposes a model that could apply to humans.

By the way there's a lot of pathways between the limbic system to visual, auditory, association and language cortex suggesting the machines of the limbic system are probably significantly refined.
 

arkirk

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Organisms, particularly social organisms that must mate, must first solve a problem. Is that which is coming suitable for mating or is it suitable for fighting. There are others fight or flight, seek or avoid, but, the bottom line one for social animals is distinguishing between mate or foe and then behaving in ways to accomplish those those. The literature is awash with the genetics of arousal, flight, flight, mating, etc and there is always arbitration among using those chemicals most needed for each or both.

Recent political, psychological and genetic history is filled with the study and the genetics of acceptance and exclusion and their roles in culture, war, progress, and social system. This, to me, is just an extension of a fighting fish working out whether to allow another fighting fish access to her nest or to go out and kill that damn intruder. The fighting fish issue has been resolved in favor of evolutionary genetics. Fighting fish are public in that males fight for the honor of mating and females and for maintenance of their bubble nests. When when seeing a winner the female is much more likely to chose the winner, approach him and endure the waggle dance ritual that comes from conflicting impulses to mate or fight. (see for instance: Public Information: From Nosy Neighbors toCultural Evolution http://www.edanchin.fr/plugins/fckeditor/userfiles/file/Danchin et al Science 2004.pdf )

In fact the article proposes a model that could apply to humans.

By the way there's a lot of pathways between the limbic system to visual, auditory, association and language cortex suggesting the machines of the limbic system are probably significantly refined.

I find the article amusing and very lacking in discrimination between rational functions and limbic functions, jumping from basic fight/flight responses to rational thinking and then back to knee jerk characterization language. One of the examples is a bird that watches another bird bury something, then waits for the opportunity to steal the buried material. This is taken as "learning" and social adaptation. It is a simple explanation of a complicated problem. In the food cache stealing bird example we find the bird has learned that "there is food to be taken there." Empathy and community is lacking in this example. It would be fair to say that other adaptations of this species of bird are sufficiently successful for the species to survive despite this lack of empathy.

Human rationality is so much more complex and their social relationships are such a tangled accumulation of communications, a mix of reactive limbic response and rationality, it cannot be explained and simply called "instinct." We are much more dangerous to each other than the birds. The good news is that we can actually formulate a system of justice that benefits the entire race.

The amygdala does not discriminate and analyze how it has come to receive its signal. When the amygdala is kept in a hyperactive state for too long a period of time, too many of these fight/flight, pain/pleasure, signals overwhelm the rational processes and they, in the haste caused by the flood of signals tend toward error. Advertisers are very conscious of this phenomenon and rely on it to sell everything from new cars to wars.

It remains, I feel for us to sort out our own relationship with our environment and each other on a basis of human empathy and mutuality and not place too much stock in some kind of inherited morality. If we look back into our history with its wars, its religious repressions, its environmental errors, it is clear that much of it was the result of rational errors due to confusion and misinterpretation of the output of our alarm systems. Because we are capable of communication, we are able to amplify our fears and implant these fears and other false beliefs in others on a large scale. Humanitarian concepts become more and more important the more complex our society becomes. We appear to be living in a time when these less motivating ideas seem to be declining. It is funny, but natural selection can also select out of existence species that fail to adapt to their environment. It is an open question just where humanity fits into this. All we can do is our best and hope for the best.
 

fromderinside

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I find the article amusing and very lacking in discrimination between rational functions and limbic functions, jumping from basic fight/flight responses to rational thinking and then back to knee jerk characterization language. One of the examples is a bird that watches another bird bury something, then waits for the opportunity to steal the buried material. This is taken as "learning" and social adaptation. It is a simple explanation of a complicated problem. In the food cache stealing bird example we find the bird has learned that "there is food to be taken there." Empathy and community is lacking in this example. It would be fair to say that other adaptations of this species of bird are sufficiently successful for the species to survive despite this lack of empathy.

Human rationality is so much more complex and their social relationships are such a tangled accumulation of communications, a mix of reactive limbic response and rationality, it cannot be explained and simply called "instinct." We are much more dangerous to each other than the birds. The good news is that we can actually formulate a system of justice that benefits the entire race.

The amygdala does not discriminate and analyze how it has come to receive its signal. When the amygdala is kept in a hyperactive state for too long a period of time, too many of these fight/flight, pain/pleasure, signals overwhelm the rational processes and they, in the haste caused by the flood of signals tend toward error. Advertisers are very conscious of this phenomenon and rely on it to sell everything from new cars to wars.

It remains, I feel for us to sort out our own relationship with our environment and each other on a basis of human empathy and mutuality and not place too much stock in some kind of inherited morality. If we look back into our history with its wars, its religious repressions, its environmental errors, it is clear that much of it was the result of rational errors due to confusion and misinterpretation of the output of our alarm systems. Because we are capable of communication, we are able to amplify our fears and implant these fears and other false beliefs in others on a large scale. Humanitarian concepts become more and more important the more complex our society becomes. We appear to be living in a time when these less motivating ideas seem to be declining. It is funny, but natural selection can also select out of existence species that fail to adapt to their environment. It is an open question just where humanity fits into this. All we can do is our best and hope for the best.

My post and the reference were not about an inherited evolved morality. It is about evidence for progenators of what humans have to use to construct and operate whatever morality they build as a social species that exists in a rich environment of public information and multiple internal information processing systems.

If you use keywords amygdala and mirror cells or mirror systems and do a scholar search you'll come yo with pages of scholarly articles. This article specifically presents evidence for mirror systems in emotion focusing on Amygdala: "Evidence for mirror systems in emotions" (http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/364/1528/2391.full.html) the idea thwat evolved systems opportunistically link genator with moderator is not new and the people who wrote the article understand that. The simplicity of presentation is probably due to the audience considerations.
 

arkirk

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My post and the reference were not about an inherited evolved morality. It is about evidence for progenators of what humans have to use to construct and operate whatever morality they build as a social species that exists in a rich environment of public information and multiple internal information processing systems.

If you use keywords amygdala and mirror cells or mirror systems and do a scholar search you'll come yo with pages of scholarly articles. This article specifically presents evidence for mirror systems in emotion focusing on Amygdala: "Evidence for mirror systems in emotions" (http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/364/1528/2391.full.html) the idea thwat evolved systems opportunistically link genator with moderator is not new and the people who wrote the article understand that. The simplicity of presentation is probably due to the audience considerations.

I don't doubt the existence of these neural systems. What I do question is the efficacy of using them to explain the much more involved question of what we do with ourselves in this world. We have known about mirror neural systems and their effects on emotions and indeed on actions of humans and other creatures. What I am saying is that knowing about them does not mean that they provide us with the best evidence for deducing the nature and effect of our behavior. We need to be mindful of these systems rather than rely on them for guidance. Rational analysis can supercede these automatic signals our system gives us... sometimes and sometimes support them, but without the rational process, we become more and more like worker bees, driven by unexamined motives....ie. mirroring.

Let me be more explicit. Every post here in this forum is the result of a complex rational operation that converts or reduces our experience to expression in terms of language our attempts to describe our mental operations amount to painting a picture in words of things that are otherwise inexpressible. We are always left with the rational function and that too is subject to various social conventions. The very idea of moral principles implies the application of reason and framing. Limbic functions in the brain due to stress or fear or revulsion can interfere with the framing of issues, rendering all reasoning relative to the issues at hand impervious to reason. If you don't believe me, try discussing any of this with a fervent born again Christian fundamentalist who regards the Evangelical framing of reality absolute.
 
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fromderinside

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I don't doubt the existence of these neural systems. What I do question is the efficacy of using them to explain the much more involved question of what we do with ourselves in this world. We have known about mirror neural systems and their effects on emotions and indeed on actions of humans and other creatures. What I am saying is that knowing about them does not mean that they provide us with the best evidence for deducing the nature and effect of our behavior. We need to be mindful of these systems rather than rely on them for guidance. Rational analysis can supercede these automatic signals our system gives us... sometimes and sometimes support them, but without the rational process, we become more and more like worker bees, driven by unexamined motives....ie. mirroring.

Let me be more explicit. Every post here in this forum is the result of a complex rational operation that converts or reduces our experience to expression in terms of language our attempts to describe our mental operations amount to painting a picture in words of things that are otherwise inexpressible. We are always left with the rational function and that too is subject to various social conventions. The very idea of moral principles implies the application of reason and framing. Limbic functions in the brain due to stress or fear or revulsion can interfere with the framing of issues, rendering all reasoning relative to the issues at hand impervious to reason. If you don't believe me, try discussing any of this with a fervent born again Christian fundamentalist who regards the Evangelical framing of reality absolute.

We must disagree.

Objective empirical understanding of the processes used, in concert with concomitant objective empirical evidence of our behavior, does provide us with the best evidence of our nature.

Moral principles are generally ad hoc cultural guides, beliefs which are constructs used in place actual understanding, for social practice. Probably necessary, but, not really anything one should use in understanding human behavior beyond an objective understanding of what they are and how and why we take such shortcuts.
 

arkirk

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I don't doubt the existence of these neural systems. What I do question is the efficacy of using them to explain the much more involved question of what we do with ourselves in this world. We have known about mirror neural systems and their effects on emotions and indeed on actions of humans and other creatures. What I am saying is that knowing about them does not mean that they provide us with the best evidence for deducing the nature and effect of our behavior. We need to be mindful of these systems rather than rely on them for guidance. Rational analysis can supercede these automatic signals our system gives us... sometimes and sometimes support them, but without the rational process, we become more and more like worker bees, driven by unexamined motives....ie. mirroring.

Let me be more explicit. Every post here in this forum is the result of a complex rational operation that converts or reduces our experience to expression in terms of language our attempts to describe our mental operations amount to painting a picture in words of things that are otherwise inexpressible. We are always left with the rational function and that too is subject to various social conventions. The very idea of moral principles implies the application of reason and framing. Limbic functions in the brain due to stress or fear or revulsion can interfere with the framing of issues, rendering all reasoning relative to the issues at hand impervious to reason. If you don't believe me, try discussing any of this with a fervent born again Christian fundamentalist who regards the Evangelical framing of reality absolute.

We must disagree.

Objective empirical understanding of the processes used, in concert with concomitant objective empirical evidence of our behavior, does provide us with the best evidence of our nature.

Moral principles are generally ad hoc cultural guides, beliefs which are constructs used in place actual understanding, for social practice. Probably necessary, but, not really anything one should use in understanding human behavior beyond an objective understanding of what they are and how and why we take such shortcuts.

I am the last person you would expect to poo poo scientific investigation of how our brains work, but they do not work in a vacuum and are extremely complex. I clearly am not saying no to the understandings we get from brain science. Human interactions however are not just within a model brain however and we live in a social world, where communication, various forms of cooperation and conflict are the basis of our interaction. There is a place for considering these interactions on a macro level. It is true that the science gives us some understanding of how some things get framed, but we must utilize our common language before we even begin to talk about our knowledge of the inner workings of the brain.

That is what linguistics is all about...analyzing our symbolic representation of information. It is closely allied with brain science and relies on it frequently. It is on the basis of our language that we communicate with each other, regardless of problems and limitations of our brains. Our agreements and disagreements, our interpretations of our preferences and tendencies are important and need to be communicated in the common language and analyzed thus, so I think THAT TOO IS AN IMPORTANT ADJUNCT OF HUMAN LIFE. I suspect you do too. You have stated you must disagree with me. Frankly, I don't know why, when you have already said social and moral codes are probably necessary. That means you probably agree with me.
 

fromderinside

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Like I said. We must disagree. Most of our interpretations are based on ad hoc conclusions formed without actual observation and empirical examination.

For instance, witches are discovered and accused out of hearsay and fear through practices based on prejudice, opportunity, and presumption. Had one taken a moment one would never have presumed one could fly having never ever seen anyone fly. Still women were accused of such, of reaching into bodies and extracting hearts without there ever being an instance of such taking place. What is the basis for a morality that would serve such actions, accusations, and extreme behaviors?

If we were to actually think things through we wouldn't devise systems that punish those who have little because they ask for some. Rather we would come to an agreement where work was freely given in exchange for one's necessities which would otherwise rot in storage. Yet rules about being poor were constructed considering being poor bad. Punishment for that status took away what little the poor had and lost hands that could have provided to help us all.

I see no way where an internal analysis of language can provide clues about what we should do. All that one can get from such is what one has done without connections to why the were so done. Rational analysis without observation and experiment and confirmation is useless.
 

arkirk

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fromderinside;7564[COLOR="#FF0000" said:
]Like I said. We must disagree. Most of our interpretations are based on ad hoc conclusions formed without actual observation and empirical examination. [/COLOR]For instance, witches are discovered and accused out of hearsay and fear through practices based on prejudice, opportunity, and presumption. Had one taken a moment one would never have presumed one could fly having never ever seen anyone fly. Still women were accused of such, of reaching into bodies and extracting hearts without there ever being an instance of such taking place. What is the basis for a morality that would serve such actions, accusations, and extreme behaviors?

If we were to actually think things through we wouldn't devise systems that punish those who have little because they ask for some. Rather we would come to an agreement where work was freely given in exchange for one's necessities which would otherwise rot in storage. Yet rules about being poor were constructed considering being poor bad. Punishment for that status took away what little the poor had and lost hands that could have provided to help us all.

I see no way where an internal analysis of language can provide clues about what we should do. All that one can get from such is what one has done without connections to why the were so done. Rational analysis without observation and experiment and confirmation is useless.

That's mighty disagreeable of you. Is the highlighted statement in you last post an example of ad hoc conclusions formed without actual observation and empirical examination? I might also suggest you be very careful using the word "we" and talking about witch burnings. "We" didn't burn any wictches. Is you want to use the word "I" that is okay with me, then I can agree to disagree with you.:sadyes:
 

arkirk

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Fromderinside: Stop and think a second where you get the idea there is such a thing as empiricism. I know there is such a concept and do not count that concept as "just an ad hoc idea. It is the result of rational consideration of the source of the information we use for any purpose at all. For this concept to become useful in any sense, including a moral sense, it must temper our communications with the very standards you and I both recommend...observation, experimentation, etc, to determine its veracity and reliability. It is a voluntary discipline and your examples (witch burning and commie persecuting, and other erroneous human behaviors) are the result of departing from that discipline.

The fact is that this concept...empiricism...is the result of noting errors in past supposed understandings or lack of consideration of actual human experience. Much of this misunderstanding is linguistic and based on the type of ad hoc conclusions you so loudly decry. You cannot abandon rational examination of the language we use to communicate our ideas. It has a direct bearing on whether or not humans understand each other.
 
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