Monday, December 15, 2008

Assumptions in moral debate

I have written a bit recently on what philosphers call meta-ethics. In other words I have been talking about what morality is in the abstract rather than discussing a particular moral dilemma (such as whether or not abortion is right). Scheule has made the interesting point, however, that we not only bring assumptions to discussions of ethical dilemmas but we also bring assumptions to our meta-ethical deliberations. So if a Leftist says that is it absurd to believe in the reality of something that has no known place or position and cannot be detected by any instrument, we could answer in the usual religious way or we could do something much more radical: We could say, "Why is absurdity a bad thing? Absurdity can be entertaining". We could, in other words reject absurdity as an evaluative criterion. So then we have to find a way of examining what we should think of absurdity. At that point we have obviously fallen into an infinite regress and the discussion cannot go on.

Sadly, I think Scheule is right. Meta-ethical discussions are every bit as much a matter of opinion as are ethical debates. So where can we go from there? The usual philosophical response in such circumstance would be something along the lines of saying that a rejection of absurdity as a criterion makes discourse impossible so therefore we cannot do it. But that is in itself arguable -- as is the nature of what is absurd. So I think that the entire discussion is not a universally available one but rather one that can only take place among people who have certain agreed asssumptions. And asking for shared assumptions between Left and Right is a tall order, and an order that will often not be met.

It is for instance a common Leftist assertion that there are many realities. That seems to me simply confused but it would nonetheless seem to rule out shared assumptions. In fact, it seems to me that "There are many realities" is a deliberate denial of any common assumptions. The Leftist is happy with his emotionally-dominated life and nothing will be allowed to interfere with his emotionally-dominated conclusions. And the denial of common assumptions would appear to be basic rather than a mere stratgem. The Leftist is surely aware that there is a glaring inconsistency between "There is no such thing as right and wrong" and "racism is wrong" yet that inconsistency does not seem to bother him in the least. He sees no problem with inconsistency-- to the point where inconsistency is almost a hallmark of Leftist argument. So the Leftist is quite happy to deny the possibity of rational argument. Making self-contradictory assertions is not rational. The Leftist is quite happy merely to emote.

Leftist argumentation does however remind us that we DO make some assumptions in meta-ethical debates and that could be seen as unsatisfactory. I think a very rough and ready way out is to note that despite our philosophical entrapment, people do nonetheless continue to make morally-influenced decisions and often care deeply about such decisions. So if we must give up asking philosophical questions there are still important questions there to ask, so why not instead ask scientific questions: Something I myself turned to in this area long ago. It is surely at least of interest to do studies of various sorts which detect how people do arrive at moral judgments in real life even if attempts at philosophical simplification have hit a wall.

Morality thus becomes a field of study for psychologists and anthropologists rather than for philosophers. And there have now of course been many research studies of that nature. Pinker offers a useful summary of them. And what such studies tend to show is what I have said above: That we do as human beings inherit certain moral instincts. So morality again emerges as quite solidly founded in the real world and a worthy and important object of discussion. It is a discussion of human instincts or responses to instincts. It is not wholly arbitrary and can be of vital importance. And the criteria we use in such discussions are not arbitrary either. They too are part of what we inherit. So I find it rather encouraging that both scientific enquiries and meta-ethical deliberations can arrive at essentially the same conclusion.



More media bias: "Why did the late Paul Newman’s philanthropy get better press than Richard Mellon Scaife’s? Because liberal philanthropists are altruists, while conservative ones are shadowy puppeteers manipulating strings for their own self-interest. At least that’s what you might think if you compared the media’s leperlike treatment of Pittsburgh billionaire Scaife (who has bankrolled the likes of the Heritage Foundation, the Free Congress Foundation, and The American Spectator, among other institutions), with the glowing portraits of Newman, Ted Turner, Bill and Melinda Gates, and even George Soros. “A damaging blow is dealt by the media when other conservatives considering a donation witness how Scaife and others are treated,” Nicole Hoplin and Ron Robinson write in Funding Fathers: The Unsung Heroes of the Conservative Movement. “They are left wondering why they would take a chance in investing in a conservative cause.”

Obama aide caught in corruption: "The bullish, foul-mouthed but effective Chicago arm-twister Rahm Emanuel has come under pressure to resign as Barack Obama’s chief of staff after it was revealed that he had been captured on court-approved wire-taps discussing the names of candidates for Obama’s Senate seat. Emanuel’s presence at the heart of the scandal threatens to roil the president-elect’s administration as a Chicago prosecutor builds his corruption case against Rod Blagojevich, the Illinois governor. Blagojevich has been accused of plotting to sell Obama’s Senate seat - which is in the governor’s gift - in return for financial and political favours. Republicans are salivating at the prospect of tying the president-elect to the notoriously corrupt Chicago machine in which he forged his career."

Bush the regulator: "Since Bush took office in 2001, there has been a 13 percent decrease in the annual number of new rules. But the new regulations' cost to the economy will be much higher than it was before 2001. Of the new rules, 159 are "economically significant," meaning they will cost at least $100 million a year. That's a 10 percent increase in the number of high-cost rules since 2006, and a 70 percent increase since 2001. And at the end of 2007, another 3,882 rules were already at different stages of implementation, 757 of them targeting small businesses. Overall, the final outcome of this Republican regulation has been a significant increase in regulatory activity and cost since 2001. The number of pages added to the Federal Register, which lists all new regulations, reached an all-time high of 78,090 in 2007, up from 64,438 in 2001."


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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)



Norma Stone said...

Your musings about the inheritability of a certain moral sense remind me of a book I read, "Fifty Questions on Natural Law: What It Is and Why We Need It" by Charles Rice, a prof at Notre Dame Law School.

Apparently Thomas Aquinas argued along the same lines---that there is indeed a moral sense that is part and parcel of human nature itself. This innate moral sense is why so many religions around the world and throughout history have come up with very similar moral codes. And for that matter, atheists can and often do end up being very moral people. Atheists could argue that we evolved that way because we are social creatures and have to get along in groups; religious people could argue that this moral sense is implanted by God. But nonetheless, it certainly seems to be a very real thing, however we came by it.

Believe Theodore Dalrymple has written along the same lines---and he is another example (along with yourself) of an atheist who is not hostile to religion in the least.

Anonymous said...


You have noted many times that Google has been sort of black-listing your blogs, and it seems indeed they are becoming activist.

I have not kept up with Obamamania and his practical turns (such as doing nothing on global warming if China doesn't join in). Do you think he may be a Clinton type who really isn't as activist as as say Hillary would have been and was much more so than Bill Clinton. This is a rhetorical question...I'm not starting a discussion.

The funny thing about Google in a way is that the reason way back in the 90s that Google took over Yahoo! was that every Yahoo! entry was REVIEWED by a worker at Yahoo! (!), so they rapidly ran out of money to pay enough people to actually rate and review sites manually. So if you get black-listed on occasion, or seriously de-ranked, just start another blog called GoogleWatch.

I have a philosophical theory which you as a psychologist are free to comment on. First of all, it's well-known that IQs went up with a mere 6-7 mutations as temperamentally adventurous blacks (and money plunderers or merchants) moved out of the awful desert called Africa, along the coast. The reason we have little body hair and a nose that lets us dive into water without any water filling out lungs etc. is that people more than likely moved along the COASTS, so were in some sense "aquatic apemen". Every century there was a new challenge. Think of it. Every one of your grand and great grand etc. parents went through genocides, plaques, wars, ice ages, crop failures etc. Despite what the Left thinks, modern industrial age Man did *not* evolve from any sort of "Nobel Savage" but in fact were war-like Middle Eastern types who eventually got smart enough to build amazing shipping technology to sail along coasts and even far from them, and to make maps etc. I could of course write on and on but the theory is that lacking death or famine as a challenge to make certain groups survive and others die is what the meaning of life has evolved to be for humans. The Romans killed the Greek gods, then built astonishing works of art on a grand scale, but only after the Dark Ages (the first "modern" Great Depression) in which democracy was replaced by decadence and economic collapse. Then the age of exploration kicked in as America (and Australian coastal areas etc.) were developed, at about the same time very high IQ Jewish people were locked out of most occupations, so they built banking systems and canals all over England and figured out steam power for mining etc. An age of adventure, and excitement occurred again (Industrial Revolution). Radio, records, telephones, refrigerators, explosives, chemicals, oil and coal processing, medicine etc. This all petered out in the once again decadent 20s and thus the Great Depression had to be created (like today's energy rationing, there were bills about to pass to create massive tariffs that would have cut the USA off from the budding global economy). Literally, boom, the Atomic bomb and a long war were required to get people back out of boredom and sickliness. Then the 60s kids all got bored of protesting and became the Yuppies of the 80s, but once again a computer/internet craze and crash were required since money and credit for clothes and big cars became too easy to come by. Recently we've had it pretty easy. The neutron and multiple-warhead hydrogen bomb stopped world wars, so a disaster had to be CREATED. Africa is being subjected to genocide by BOTH energy rationing and a continuing DDT ban etc. It's good to know that our lunch on a sidewalk cafe is happening as 1000 people die that hour. It goes without saying that if you are on a date and mention that diamond rings are mined under slavery-like conditions and are actually not even all that rare (most of them being pulverized to make industrial abrasives) that you, as a man, will become sexually repulsive to the female, who besides being on average much more idealist (Leftist) than non-emasculated men, are sexually attracted to aggressive men and have (due to group/group selection in which gold and women were stolen...and women are still known as "booty", so had to either quickly remarry or be killed).

The Chinese curse of living in "interesting times" comes to mind. Both the Clinton and Bush years (almost a quarter century) were rather tame. Note that before that we has small fake emergencies like The Space Race, The Cold War (Nuclear Bombs at noon dropped on small towns in Kansas), The War on Drugs (2% of drug users being forced into crime due to addiction), all sold using mass media propaganda to young mothers. We still put recreational cocaine users in jail longer than violent criminals. And IMAGINE if the harmless activity known as prostitution was legal (illegal only if you do not make a video of the act to sell on a web site)! Suddenly women would lose all their power since they would actually have to be attractive as people instead artificially rationed to the point where men are scoffed at if they don't spend four months working to earn enough money for both an engagement and a wedding band, along with an equivalently expensive drunken party. If men could merely act interesting and friendly and attract young women, while expressing RATIONAL opinions about political issues (like global warming), the economy would crash since the cash flow of an $1800 handbag that costs $18 to make and ship to the USA from China would create a disaster that would linger forever. That's why global warming politics must create a depression and then be debunked and rejected, which since financial markets are anticipatory, is actually what just happened, so for the next decade or two we will indeed live in interesting times instead of BORINGLY "peaceful" ones. Any pleasure or peacetime stasis eventually bores what makes Man human: the DESIRE to be confronted with challenge. We are a hive species, seven million of us living in my little island of Manhattan getting along pretty well and most raising perfectly goofy children when they decide to pair bond. And yet...did more than a mere small % of inhabitants actually not in fact find the falling towers of 911 actually ENTERTAINING in a way? In fact it actually turned MORE people into Left leaning activism than the created calls for revenge. That said, New Yorkers don't like to be jerked around, so the same TYPE of attack or disaster would, because it would be boring (like riots got so we don't have those any more), actually finally anger us enough to really crush the instigators, by which I mean nuking Iran and Syria as a warning to Saudi Arabia.

I'm thinking out loud and some romantic bitterness is bleeding through as well, but I think SOMETHING IN HUMAN NATURE and sexual selection in the ancient past and continuing to this day (which is mainly a female affair) is to some or even a great extent behind many of the "tragic" twists in history. Any book that describes studies of female sexual fantasies are mainly about being raped, "swept off her feet by a knight in armor), and "falling in love" (amour) with a war-like man.

The funny thing is though is that for a certain period when there really were armored knights on horses, as you can see in any historical museum, the armor involved were made for very short and thus light men (just like horse racing jockeys must be for obvious reasons). Thus a very confident short man is actually quite attractive to women, since confidence in a short man is more rare than in a tall one.