Theiling Online    Sitemap    Conlang Mailing List HQ   

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

From:Tim May <butsuri@...>
Date:Saturday, June 15, 2002, 3:19
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.

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.

 > Our emotions often conflict - and often anger, fear, basic needs, etc. can
 > blossom into rage, anxiety, greed, etc. which tends to blind us to a lot of
 > things, such as the harm that an action may cause to another.  If we can
 > learn to step back from the blind impulse, room is made for us to consider a
 > wider picture.  We can be more empathic and we can learn to differentiate
 > between a justifiable emotion and a neurotic one, and we have greater
 > freedom in being able to express emotions constructively rather than
 > destructively.  IMHO, this means we can be more moral, even if we can only
 > express it through axiomatic statements.
 > 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.

Well, this is some pretty severe topic drift.  I hope what I've
written above makes some kind of sense.