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The ethics of distinct organic systems

rousseau

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I'm going to jump over a few barriers here and interrelate ethics with physics. The primary question is this:

- can any distinct organic system be fully altruistic towards another

Now to define my terms:

Organic Systems - I'm taking this to mean any living entity, group, or organization. So it could mean any individual organism, or any group formed by living organisms - corporations, governments, countries, religions, etc

Being Fully Altruistic - We'll take this to mean that the behavior of any given organic system, whether individual or a group, is sacrificial beyond what would provide a socially acceptable mutual benefit

To re-state the question given the definitions, we're looking at any type of system, whether an individual or group, that wants to sustain itself across time while competing with other systems for resources. The question is - can any distinct system be truly altruistic towards another, defined by my definition above.
 

fromderinside

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Let me suggests species that form  Cleaning symbiosis relationships with other species.

The role of cleaning symbioses has been debated by biologists for over thirty years. Some believe that cleaning represents selfless co-operation, essentially pure mutualism, increasing the fitness of both individuals. Others such as Robert Trivers hold that it illustrates mutual selfishness, reciprocal altruism. Others again believe that cleaning behaviour is simply one-sided exploitation, a form of parasitism.

Depends on who shovels the shit so to speak.
 

rousseau

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The closest thing I can think of is the parent - child relationship, but even then if you think of a child as an extension of it's parent it makes sense to go as far as dying for your children.

In theory a reasonably clever human could emancipate themselves from this law of nature as such, but still there would be a growing negative pressure on such behavior. For instance, one could give a homeless person twenty bucks for no reason, but would be unlikely to offer a thousand. So the law's still there, it just hurts more the more we try to sacrifice until more sacrifice becomes untenable.

Are humans the only species that can exhibit this behavior? That's an interesting question.

And can corporations be ethical? Can nation states be ethical?
 

fromderinside

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The closest thing I can think of is the parent - child relationship, but even then if you think of a child as an extension of it's parent it makes sense to go as far as dying for your children.

Potential for genetic result trumps past genetic result. That would be fitness not altruism.

Are humans the only species that can exhibit this behavior? That's an interesting question.

No. Most apes, many birds, and most mammals do the same.

And can corporations be ethical? Can nation states be ethical?

Yes. As an extension of humans both can enact ethical standards consistent with human tendencies.
 

rousseau

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Given that maybe the law, so to speak, shouldn't be confined by a binary we can / can not be ethical, but rather defined as a continuum. We can act ethically beyond normal bounds, but eventually more sacrifice becomes untenable.

So the rule isn't that we're selfish, but that eventually self trumps other. The lion's share has to go to ourselves.
 

rousseau

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Maybe not a terminator event but maybe mankind isn't a cohesive group. There will always be tension within, some do better, some do worse.
 

fromderinside

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I wouldn't take comfort in some do worse cause that road has no bottom. Observe it enough and you're in to something rather substantial. Something for which there many triplevers leading back the other way.

My daughter is on that train. She's so high and she's so low but she won't let go. So, observing that, I don't meddle much.
 

MxM111

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I'm going to jump over a few barriers here and interrelate ethics with physics. The primary question is this:

- can any distinct organic system be fully altruistic towards another

Now to define my terms:

Organic Systems - I'm taking this to mean any living entity, group, or organization. So it could mean any individual organism, or any group formed by living organisms - corporations, governments, countries, religions, etc

Being Fully Altruistic - We'll take this to mean that the behavior of any given organic system, whether individual or a group, is sacrificial beyond what would provide a socially acceptable mutual benefit

To re-state the question given the definitions, we're looking at any type of system, whether an individual or group, that wants to sustain itself across time while competing with other systems for resources. The question is - can any distinct system be truly altruistic towards another, defined by my definition above.

Of course they can. I once saved a mouse from manhole. Despite of (small) risk of being infected and despite the fact that probably this mouse would run and do mousy things which are not quite beneficial for the city and me. And even I now would use mouse poison without any problem to fight mice near my house. But if I see another mouse somewhere in the city clearly suffering I will probably save it again.

So, the answer to your question is yes. Now, why is it important?
 

Politesse

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Sure. Look at, for instance, animals in captivity who end up fostering baby animals of other species. If you're not making conscious moral decisions in the first place, it's easy to do something "commendable" without realizing it.
 

rousseau

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I'm going to jump over a few barriers here and interrelate ethics with physics. The primary question is this:

- can any distinct organic system be fully altruistic towards another

Now to define my terms:

Organic Systems - I'm taking this to mean any living entity, group, or organization. So it could mean any individual organism, or any group formed by living organisms - corporations, governments, countries, religions, etc

Being Fully Altruistic - We'll take this to mean that the behavior of any given organic system, whether individual or a group, is sacrificial beyond what would provide a socially acceptable mutual benefit

To re-state the question given the definitions, we're looking at any type of system, whether an individual or group, that wants to sustain itself across time while competing with other systems for resources. The question is - can any distinct system be truly altruistic towards another, defined by my definition above.

Of course they can. I once saved a mouse from manhole. Despite of (small) risk of being infected and despite the fact that probably this mouse would run and do mousy things which are not quite beneficial for the city and me. And even I now would use mouse poison without any problem to fight mice near my house. But if I see another mouse somewhere in the city clearly suffering I will probably save it again.

Our discussion has progressed beyond the original point now. Your example seems to fall outside the bounds of my definition - this is an example of you doing something with minimal cost, and potentially a benefit pending on who's observing, or just your own conscience.

Closer to my point, ask yourself the lengths you'd go to save the mouse. If a friend in another city two hours away asked you to make a Saturday drive to recover it from a manhole, would you do it? This sounds ridiculous, but that's primarily what I'm aiming at. Most of what we do that is 'ethical', or 'sacrificial', is only 'just sacrificial enough' within the bounds of social custom. Eventually social custom frees us from the need for additional sacrifice. A mutually agreed upon code that gets us off the hook from doing more than we need to.

So, the answer to your question is yes. Now, why is it important?

It's important because it has far-reaching implications on both human behavior, and human systems. Think, for example, if the bureaucracy behind the Catholic Church is able to extinguish itself because that would be the 'moral' thing to do (don't get too caught up in this example). My OP would imply that it is physically impossible for the church to not try to sustain itself, regardless of circumstances.

Or consider a corporation who's existence depends on exploitation of the environment. If my theory holds true, the internal logic of such corporation has to continue it's exploitation until someone or something destroys it.

Or consider the behavior of individual people, it would have implications on a wide range of things we do.

The central point being that ultimately we're constrained by competition of resources. Not necessarily that we're selfish, but rather that a complete, cohesive unity is likely a pipe dream.
 

rousseau

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Sure. Look at, for instance, animals in captivity who end up fostering baby animals of other species.

That's an interesting example and I'd be interested in diving into it further before drawing too many conclusions from it about ethics. I would assume some kind of net, genetic benefit in this case. Maybe an example of the animal being unaware that it's a different species, and the overarching maternal instinct having more benefit than the cost of rearing a non-child now and then.

If you're not making conscious moral decisions in the first place, it's easy to do something "commendable" without realizing it.

Sure, but this is an aside from the OP, which is about being excessively commendable.

I think most of what falls under 'commendable' behavior is usually just people who are doing what any reasonable person would do under the same circumstance. For instance, you save someone from a burning car not because you're a hero, but because you're not a complete asshole. The question isn't so much about whether we're selfish, but rather the limits of this kind of altruism. In other words, can we truly be ethical beyond what's expected socially, and if so, how much.
 

fromderinside

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I sense a nexus between organic systems, evolved systems, and whether consciousness is necessary. I certainly don't think lack of consciousness makes any action or course of action easy or less praise worthy.

That being said I sense this discussion is threatening to move away from rational discourse into empirical discourse.

For instance one can replace 'reasonable' with 'normally behaving' and come to a fitness statement rather than a morality statement.
 

rousseau

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I sense a nexus between organic systems, evolved systems, and whether consciousness is necessary. I certainly don't think lack of consciousness makes any action or course of action easy or less praise worthy.

Not clear on this. I think because my definition of 'organic system' was pretty much ad hoc, not sure what you're referring to by 'evolved systems' in it's relation to it, and how consciousness comes into play. Are you referring to consciousness of an individual, or consciousness of a larger system?
 
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