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Re: (OT) Morality (was: Re: aesthetic evaluation (was: RE: (OT) Music)

From:Andy Canivet <cathode_ray00@...>
Date:Saturday, June 15, 2002, 5:03
>From: Tim May <butsuri@...> > >Andy Canivet writes: > > >From: Tim May <butsuri@...> > > > > > >In my view, morality can be reduced to the following: > > > > > >A) A (probably fairly short) list of what is to be considered > > > fundamentally desirable/undesirable, and the order of precedence >of > > > these things should they conflict. > > > > > >B) Judgements on how best to behave in order that the universe should > > > be in as desirable a state as possible. > > > > > >A cannot be justified, and must be taken as axiomatic. Anyone > > >attempting to formulate A will be guided by the existing A that they > > >have inherited from biology and society, but it's not possible to say > > >that any A is right or wrong without reference to some A, and from a > > >purely objective viewpoint A is arbitrary, all you can ask for is that > > >it be self-consistent. > > > > > >B cannot be complete, probably, as any set of rules will fail to cover > > >some circumstances. In such circumstances individual judgement must > > >be exercised. This is a seperate issue to the unjustifiable nature of > > >A; there is no theoretical difficulty in justifying B, it's justified > > >with respect to A. > > > > > >In some circumstances B will be extremely complex, and hard to define, > > >but we can judge its rightness by whether it succeeds in acheiving A. > > >In riding a bicycle, B may be so complex as to be uncommunicable, but > > >it's easy to judge whether one can ride a bicyle or not, because we > > >judge it by A: did you reach your destination without falling off? > > > > > > > Essentially that's what I meant, except for three things: > > > > 1) Axioms are derived from judgements. Our axioms are just reflections > > about our experiences / actions in particular situations with respect >to our > > social and biological circumstances. > > >Possibly I'm misusing the term axiom above. Perhaps "postulate" would >be better - what I mean (by A) is a set of beliefs that certain things >are fundamentally good or bad. They're value judgements, and as such >not only unproven but incapable of being true in an objective sense. > > > 2) The difference between judgements and axioms is a difference of kind > > rather than of complexity. Moral judgements are ineffable the same way >the > > taste of ice cream is impossible to describe to somebody who has never >eaten > > it - they are purely qualitative. > > >If I understand you, I don't think we agree here. Or perhaps, your >version may be a better representation of the actual mental processes, >while mine is an idealized process... but ultimately, I think you have >certain ideas about what's good or bad (A), and everything flows from >this. Like it's bad for people to be in pain. I'd speculate that >some of these are biologically encoded in the structure of the brain, >and some are socially indoctrinated, generally. With effort it might >be possible to deliberately alter your A, although you'd be unlikely >to want to.
Oh, do you mean goals?
>Actually, I think what's going on here is that you've interpreted my A >and B as the reverse of what they are, and the difference in our >positions is that you don't believe that the fundamental motivating >principles can be analysed, so anything that appears to be part of A >is really a part of B, and the real A is ineffible not only in its >justification but in its form. Is this correct? My meaning is that >both A and B contain rules, but the rules in A are fundamental while >the rules in B are derivative. As B's rules concern what you should >do in a situation rather than (like A) what constitutes a good >outcome, B will be incomplete, so ad hoc judgements must also be made. > > > 3) The kind of judgement you do in (B) is a skill that can be trained >and > > improved. > > > > On points one & two: Consider boxing. Axioms are useful in boxing, but > > really rely on judgements to make them relevant to a specific >circumstance. > > The coach saying "remember to duck" is useful, but it really doesn't >mean > > much until you actually get smacked in the face a few times - and then >you > > remember to duck. However, exactly when and how you duck is always a >matter > > for judgement. The axiom is really only a reminder which is >meaningless > > without the actual experience. > > >But, see, really, "remember to duck" isn't a part of A, it's a part of >B. The A it's coming from is "don't get hit" or "avoid pain" or "win >the match" depending on how you look at the analogy. > > > So, when you're riding your moral bicycle (LOL) - you know you've >fallen, > > not by thinking about your actions compared to axioms, but because you > > experience yourself to have fallen (falling in this case meaning having >hurt > > somebody or society). Of course this assumes some measure of empathy >on the > > part of the perpetrator of the act - in order to notice that he or she >has > > caused damage. This is where part three comes in. > >To consider your actions to have been harmful is to apply A. If you >don't have a command in A that says that the effect of your action is >wrong, then you don't consider it wrong. > >Consider this: A rational being acts in their own self-interest, that >is, they avoid pain to themselves. Violation of the dictates of A >causes pain. Empathy is the condition of having a prohibition of >causing pain to others within A. > >A rational psychopath, lacking empathy and concerned only with >avoiding their own pain, might have the same commandments against >causing pain to others, as this would tend to result in retribution. >However, these commandments would be in B rather than in A. > >A tells you how things should be, B tells you what you should do. >
I think I did misunderstand part of what you said - if by axioms (A) you mean goals, and by judgements (B) you mean the method by which you enact and interpet A, given the specific circumstances - then I do agree that B has to be (at least in part) derived from or informed by A. I think both A and B are ineffable in any meaningful sense - both in justification and in form - since A is rooted, as you say, in biology and emotional need - A simply "is." B is ineffable because for two reasons - it consists of "heuristics" (not formal rules) for shaping thought, emotion, and action which exist largely outside of concious awareness (just as we don't think about every single motor signal our bodies use when we walk), and because these judgements must be dynamically linked to experience, which is constantly shifting and thus impossible to define anyway. I think we can learn to become more aware of both A and B (which is part of what I meant by training), and thus learn to watch as they shape our experience even correct them if they are maladaptive (since any goal that we can learn can be flawed if it is based on faulty premises). We can come up with verbal descriptions / rules for these things (which is what I originally thought you meant by axioms) - and at times, our "concious beliefs" can influence our deep goals and vice versa, but insofar as they are actual "A" goal states or "B" prescriptions for action, I believe they are ineffable. I guess I'm kind of pointing at two kinds of belief - the kind based on abstract thinking, and the kind based on experience. My cat has the "A" that pain is undesirable, and will avoid the experience of pain whenever possible. I have this drive as well, but I also have a "concept" of pain - I can think abstractly about it, talk about it, etc. In other words, the concept and the experience are two different things...
> > > > This kind of training is like the boxing again - you can only learn it >by > > doing it - and you have two choices - try to learn boxing when somebody > > jumps you in the park (i.e. wait for a situation requiring moral >judgement), > > or go down to the gym and train so that when that guy jumps you, you'll >be > > prepared (or at least, better prepared than without the training). > >I don't think I disagree with any of this part. To my mind training >yourself to be more moral consists of the following parts > >1) Identifying the nature of A > >2) If necessary, resolving conflicts within A (this is likely to be >difficult) > >3) Developing a greater ability to forsee the consequences of actions, > and judging these consequences against A. This allows you to develop > B, both as rules and as ad-hoc response.
Yes - exactly - but the most important part of these three things must be predominantly experiential. Because A and B lie within the realm of experience rather than concept - such training must improve attention in such a way that it can increase how much of A and B are available to concious examination. A and B will still remain ineffable, for the most part, but will be much more fluid and adaptive to the circumstances - less based on rules and more on feedback. At the same time, training in attention would improve awareness of the world, and thus empathy expands. There's a conceptual / philosophical component as well - but it really only serves as the support vehicle for the experiential aspects. Socrates telling us that "the unexamined life is not worth living" is like the coach telling us to remember to duck in the boxing match - but ultimately we must learn to duck. The problem comes in when the concepts are mistaken for the whole thing and become the basis for morality - since they really just boil down to a set of rules, they will always fail to cover all circumstances - and even if they could they would be complex beyond practicality.
>Well, this is some pretty severe topic drift. I hope what I've >written above makes some kind of sense.
Heheheh... Yes it is, but I haven't had a philosophical workout like this in a while). It did make sense - initially I thought by axioms you meant the actual utterable rules (eg. the Ten Commandments, etc.) that people create to guide morality, which end up losing effectiveness if they aren't accompanied by an experiential method of guiding morality as well. I only hope my response made some sense as well. Andy _________________________________________________________________ Join the world’s largest e-mail service with MSN Hotmail.