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Secularism and Morality

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Secularism and Morality

Post  mood2 on Thu Feb 14, 2013 11:31 pm

Social Justice is grounded in moral values like equality and fairness.

But what can Secular Social Justice ground those values on?

Religious believers can refer back to their god, its nature and wishes, to ground their moral values and subsequent ideas about how those values should be enacted in real world situations.

Without that sort of ultimate referent (you might call it objective, in that it's outside our own biases and preferences), how do secularists justify the values they base Social Justice arguments on?

If it's just the moral instincts we've evolved as a social species, how do we decide between conflicting moral instincts?

For example, one individual might value freedom and autonomy more than equality, and justify discriminating against black job applicants on the basis of valuing individual freedom over equality. How do Secular Social Justice proponents argue that equality should trump individual freedom without relying on their own personal bias of valuing equality over personal freedom?

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Re: Secularism and Morality

Post  wind on Fri Feb 15, 2013 9:07 am

Unfortunately, it's messy, difficult, and ultimately arbitrary.

Just admitting that right off the bat is a good start, I think.

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Re: Secularism and Morality

Post  wind on Fri Feb 15, 2013 9:58 am

If you elevate individual liberty too highly up, you end up with Philip Bobbitt's "market state" dystopia.

http://www.theglobalist.com/StoryId.aspx?StoryId=3683

This really, really is where we are headed now, and it ain't pretty.

If we value overall happiness and well being supremely, tho, we end up endorsing the end of "We", with a complete loss of autonomy (the Great Operation) justified by that metric.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We_(novel)#Plot

Scenario #1 is a much greater pragmatic threat than scenario #2, so should we just disregard #2? I honestly don't know. I guess I think we probably should for now.



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Re: Secularism and Morality

Post  mood2 on Sun Feb 17, 2013 4:15 am

wind wrote:Unfortunately, it's messy, difficult, and ultimately arbitrary.

Just admitting that right off the bat is a good start, I think.

That's what I think too. Smile

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Re: Secularism and Morality

Post  arpie on Sun Feb 24, 2013 6:38 am

Indeed it is complicated, especially given the uneven distribution of our resources worldwide. Eat first, then worry about justice?

So what did TPTB at A+ decide to 'do with you,' mood2? Any word yet? Did they lift your suspension?

And wind, have you been banned yet? Mine was made permanent ostensibly for comments I made at JREF, which were mild in contrast to your own there. A+ definitely has a glass floor for males. Step down very lightly or you fall right through. Cool

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Re: Secularism and Morality

Post  jimhabegger on Tue May 28, 2013 11:42 am

mood2, wind, are you still interested in this? Have you made any progress? I have a few half-baked ideas. What about you?

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Re: Secularism and Morality

Post  nullnvoid on Tue May 28, 2013 7:28 pm

I'm surprised I didn't join in on this discussion. It's particular bug bear of mine.

I can sum up my position as follows:

1) Any pronouncement by a religion on morality is neither objective nor moral. It is subjective in the sense that it requires people to hold the view similar to the that particular religion/sect. It therefore offers no meaningful way to demonstrate that one set of pronouncements is better than another set of pronouncements. Additionally if things are 'moral' because god said so, you're not really talking about morality in any meaningful sense. You're just talking about a set of things you've been told to do.

2) Secular moral systems are by and large automatically better so long as they are based on evidence and not on some alternative form of ideology. Eugenics was the product of white scientists acting on ideological beliefs and ignoring evidence that contradicted their ideology of white superiority.

3) Moral systems are naturally complex and I am suspicious of anyone who gives a moral pronouncement without exceptions to the rule. Skepticism and questioning of rules is one of the most fundamentally important moral actions.

4) You don't need a standard on which to base a moral system. You really don't have to have an exemplar to act as a comparison. You can evaluate the qualities of different moral ideas by looking at their effects on reality. The need for a 'standard' by which other things can be judged is philosophical masturbation.

If you haven't seen Matt Dillahunty's talk on the superiority of secular morality - I would highly recommend it. https://youtu.be/cq2C7fyVTA4

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Re: Secularism and Morality

Post  mood2 on Wed May 29, 2013 1:57 am

Not seeing how your points get around the problem of moral relativism null

Culture A puts a high moral value on say sexual purity, if you have sex before you marry then you're not worthy of marriage, and you should be shunned as immoral, maybe punished. Or maybe it's better to avoid the risk of such immoral temptations using fgm.

Culture B puts a higher moral value on autonomy and choice, and considers Culture A to be immoral by those standards.

Culture A thinks Culture B is decadent, impure and immoral by its own standards.

What can you refer to to sort out which is 'correct'?

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Re: Secularism and Morality

Post  jimhabegger on Wed May 29, 2013 2:28 am

Now that I've thought about it some more, I don't see a need for a secular or atheist absolute standard of morality, as a substitute for an allegedly god-given one. In fact it seems to me that it would be harmful to promote one, for the same reasons that an allegedly god-given one is harmful.

It looks to me like the idea of a moral system comes from feelings we have about right and wrong, that we feel deserve more consideration in everyone's decision making than personal preferences. I think most of us can see evidence in our own lives that those feelings *do* deserve more consideration in everyone's decision making than personal preferences. That doesn't mean that we should, or even can, objectify and codify them. We just need to be aware of the difference between those feelings and personal preferences, and listen to each other's ideas about them.

We trust that we can all be friends in spite of disagreeing about *how* to achieve our common goals. I trust that we can all be friends in spite of our disagreements about *what* those goals should be.

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Re: Secularism and Morality

Post  nullnvoid on Wed May 29, 2013 1:47 pm

mood2 -

You're assuming that morals are purely opinion based. But they are merely assessments of what are the best consequences of actions within REALITY. Objective comparison can only occur through investigation of claims against reality. It is quite probable that there is a right answer and that one set of moral beliefs is better than another. The situation you setup, is in a sense a 'false dichotomy' - society should value all sorts of things at the same time, without restricting individuals who believe differently - unless there is a specific and good reason to restrict the opposing belief.

You can assess morals against a whole range of physical consequences that can be measured. Our problem is that we are not currently able to sufficiently identify the correct beliefs to a high level of certainty because we don't know anywhere near enough about the consequences. That doesn't mean we can't identify that some things are more moral than others. Matt's analogy is chess. You don't need to know the best possible move in order to identify that some moves are bad. You assess them to the best of your ability and you learn as you go.

The problem for religion is that it presents a completely subjective set of morals, which are interpreted to fit somewhat within the current social paradigm. As society changes - so do the interpretations. So religious moral pronouncements have exactly the same problem as society a vs society b - they provide no way of judging which ones are correct. Unless you accept the might makes right fallacy - "my religion has been the most successful therefore my god is the one you should listen to".

As Matt says in the video, you assess these claims by beginning with simple evaluations that can be agreed upon by all. As he puts it: life is generally preferable to death, health is generally preferable to sickness, pleasure is generally preferable to pain. You can then build on them. As we HAVE built on them. Society has investigated over centuries and we have likely gotten closer to a better understanding of what makes a correct moral system. We're still a long way from having the best possible society - but given that society exists in reality, a best possible society must exist.

The next book I plan to read is "The moral landscape" from Sam Harris. I've been looking forward to this one for a while.

Jim -

I agree - It's not about having a standard. It's about having a system by which we can evaluate comparitive moral actions.

I disagree - that it's about trusting our feelings. They can be very wrong. Especially when you consider the prevalence of psycopaths in positions of power in recent years. It's about working to identify how real people are affected by the decisions we make. And trying to constantly do better by everyone.

I regularly disagree with my friends. There's no reason that we need to agree on everything! Smile

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Re: Secularism and Morality

Post  jimhabegger on Wed May 29, 2013 7:26 pm

Null, you wrote:

"It's about working to identify how real people are affected by the decisions we make."

That summarizes a lot of what I would say about it.

I'll try putting some of my thoughts about it into an example. Suppose that you and I are planning some kind of trip together. Generally our discussion about where we'll go, how we'll get there, and what we'll do, will be negotiating about what I would call "preferences." There's no right and wrong, no moral issue. Then we agree for one of us to buy some supplies we need, and a disagreement arises about whether or not to buy them at Wallmart, which for one of us at least, becomes a moral issue. What makes it a moral issue? If you say because it affects the welfare of other people besides the two of us, the question remains, why distinguish that from negotiating about preferences?

Do you have some consistent way of distinguishing between what you see as moral issues, and matters of preference, besides just some feelings that you associate with "right" and "wrong"? If you think you do, is it really anything more than ad hoc justifications of those feelings?

I'm not proposing those feelings as a standard of measurement. What I'm thinking is that if you object to buying our supplies at Walmart, and if it's because of what you think Walmart is doing to some people that seems wrong to you, just that feeling of yours is enough for me to take your objection more seriously than if you say you don't like the color of the walls. I'm not saying that feeling is infallible, just that I would take it more seriously, and maybe even be more willing to accomodate you even if I don't have that same feeling.

Our feelings of hot and cold are not reliable for all purposes, but they are better than nothing for some purposes, especially in circumstances where there's no thermometer available. I'm suggesting that if there is some objective reality that makes some things "right" and others "wrong" for all people, there might be some positive correlation between that, and our feelings of "right" and "wrong." The question remains, is there any such objective reality? I haven't seen any convincing evidence that there is. All the attempts I've seen to prove that there is, look contrived to me, just lame attempts to externalize and objectify our existing feelings of "right" and "wrong," or currently popular views of them.

I'm confusing myself. I need to think about this some more.

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Re: Secularism and Morality

Post  jimhabegger on Wed May 29, 2013 7:47 pm

Null, I looked again at what you said, and I think it says it all for me:

"It's about working to identify how real people are affected by the decisions we make. And trying to constantly do better by everyone."

Yeah. Between you and me, that's all the theory of morality that I see that we need. The rest is friendly negotiation, which might eventually include agreement on some rules of conduct.

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Re: Secularism and Morality

Post  nullnvoid on Thu May 30, 2013 12:49 am

Jim,

You did confuse yourself. You're conflating two different meanings of the word feeling. Hot and cold are the result of senses. Senses are tools of direct observation and form part of an evaluation. That evaluation is essentially a preference, although putting a person in an environment where the temperature is harmful to their health moves beyond the region of preference and into the area of morality. By contrast, your feelings about Walmart are the end result of an evaluation that you have made after (hopefully) some level of inquiry and investigation. They aren't directly related to your five senses.

To extend your metaphor about Wallmart. If you 'feel' that shopping at Walmart is immoral, you've probably heard something bad about Wallmart and your feeling MAY be right. But your feelings should not be trusted. The assessment of your feelings' validity is the assessment of whether Wallmart actually creates the kind of real misery that the 'feeling' (read intuition) implicates. That might be financial hardship for employees, destruction of community, unfair competition and destruction of local business, the creation of sweatshops in other countries, etc, etc, etc. These are all things that harm people. IF Wallmart is responsible for these actions, then you can make an assessment of the level of moral turpitude your decision to shop at such a store creates. For example, if I have the capacity to purchase something at a higher price and instead I make a decision to shop at Wallmart, then I've essentially denied a sale to another business that MAY have better employment practices, MAY be more involved in the local community, MAY stock products produced in a factory with proper workplace practices, etc.

This is complicated. And the answer may well be...I don't know. But gut feelings, intuition, and ideological/religious dogma are useless in determining which actions are truly moral, which are amoral and which are immoral and in what quantity. They are essentially just ways of deluding yourself about your lack of knowledge.

pig,

I can turn a phrase occasionally! Smile

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Re: Secularism and Morality

Post  jimhabegger on Thu May 30, 2013 1:30 am

Null, you can ignore everything I said about morality. I'm happy with "It's about working to identify how real people are affected by the decisions we make. And trying to constantly do better by everyone."

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Re: Secularism and Morality

Post  mood2 on Thu May 30, 2013 3:04 am

null

mood2 -

You're assuming that morals are purely opinion based. But they are merely assessments of what are the best consequences of actions within REALITY. Objective comparison can only occur through investigation of claims against reality. It is quite probable that there is a right answer and that one set of moral beliefs is better than another. The situation you setup, is in a sense a 'false dichotomy' - society should value all sorts of things at the same time, without restricting individuals who believe differently - unless there is a specific and good reason to restrict the opposing belief.

You can assess morals against a whole range of physical consequences that can be measured. Our problem is that we are not currently able to sufficiently identify the correct beliefs to a high level of certainty because we don't know anywhere near enough about the consequences. That doesn't mean we can't identify that some things are more moral than others. Matt's analogy is chess. You don't need to know the best possible move in order to identify that some moves are bad. You assess them to the best of your ability and you learn as you go.

The problem for religion is that it presents a completely subjective set of morals, which are interpreted to fit somewhat within the current social paradigm. As society changes - so do the interpretations. So religious moral pronouncements have exactly the same problem as society a vs society b - they provide no way of judging which ones are correct. Unless you accept the might makes right fallacy - "my religion has been the most successful therefore my god is the one you should listen to".

As Matt says in the video, you assess these claims by beginning with simple evaluations that can be agreed upon by all. As he puts it: life is generally preferable to death, health is generally preferable to sickness, pleasure is generally preferable to pain. You can then build on them. As we HAVE built on them. Society has investigated over centuries and we have likely gotten closer to a better understanding of what makes a correct moral system. We're still a long way from having the best possible society - but given that society exists in reality, a best possible society must exist.

The next book I plan to read is "The moral landscape" from Sam Harris. I've been looking forward to this one for a while.

(The poor sound on MD's vid put me off sitting through it, sorry).

Any approach to morality which tries to provide a coherent structure/system to test the morality of actions against has to base that structure on some axiom.

Harris uses the axiom of the flourishing of conscious creatures (I might be misremembering the exact words, but that's the gist). I like that a lot personally, but he uses it axiomatically because it's difficult to make an argument justifying that as the ultimate 'good'. Once you go with that foundational axiom, it's possible in theory to objectively assess actions against it (bearing in mind your point about being able to foresee all the possible consequences).

You and I have a similar 21st century western world view to Harris, so something like his axiom will probably chime with us. (Though I doubt a majority would be happy bracketing other species in there with humans).

But if Harris had lived a thousand years ago it's unlikely he'd choose that specific axiom, and who knows what a Harris a thousand years from now would come up with, or a Harris living in Saudi Arabia, on Mars, etc.

So it's at this foundational level that the problem lies imo. (if there's an all-knowing god, we can just ask her if the flourishing of conscious creatures should be the founding principle to test moral actions against, but without one we're left to come up with stuff that feels right to us based on our particular world view).



Personally I think of morality as the term we give to the rules and social mores which have developed over time as a way for our social species to live together and thrive(slightly differently in different cultures). And that these in turn developed from evolved social instincts - from the chemistry of empathy and mirror neurons, to theory of other minds and recognition of agency, to abhorrence of cheaters and reciprocal altruism. (Pat Churchland is a neuroethicist who has a great book called BrainTrust re 'the evolution of morality' if you're interested in that side of it).

So looking at it objectively , I'd say morality is a description rather than a prescription.

Subjectively, it's a whole nother matter of course Smile.






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Re: Secularism and Morality

Post  nullnvoid on Thu May 30, 2013 7:13 pm

Any approach to morality which tries to provide a coherent structure/system to test the morality of actions against has to base that structure on some axiom.

Not precisely. This is where we get into philosophical masturbatory territory. I'll get into that in a moment.

I read the intro and first chapter of The Moral Landscape this morning before work. It was interesting to see that my argument in the above is almost identical to his. I was pleased to find that I had somehow osmoted his main thesis just from having seen him and Matt Dillahunty podcasts in the past.

Now, he argues that we ALL use the concept of well being as a basis for our morality. Even at a basic level most christians will tell you that you should obey god's law because it will result in your eternal well being. You can imagine that a predisposition to caring about your own real life well being resulted in an evolutionary advantage. I'm not arguing that evolution makes right (naturalistic fallacy) I'm merely saying that we have a common genetic heritage predisposing us to favour wellbeing. Thus that is actually quite common to all moral structures. There just tends to be disagreement about what constitutes well being, whether our well being as humans is as important as the wellbeing of dead people or animals, and how much is our personal well being more important than someone elses. It may be that there are better axioms than well being. But again, in the context of the chess game, we don't need to know what the best axiom is, to discern that the well being axiom is better than axioms that lead to oblivion or nothingness. Failing to care about well being likely led to extinction in an evolutionary context.

If someone says to you that their idea of morality involves generating as much misery as possible, then you are more than welcome to start playing music they hate, waking them at all hours to let them know about the latest events in a tv show they dislike and generally make their life miserable until they admit that they care about well being! Attempting to prove that we ALL care about well being is the mastubatory part. Anyone who claims they don't is likely lying or confused about what constitutes well being.

A thousand years ago, we would have had no idea about germ theory. So doctors could happily transmit diseases between people without their knowledge. They wouldn't know that their actions were causing someone to suffer and if they had they would likely have adjusted their behaviour - our knowledge and understanding of what constitutes well being has improved over the last thousand years. Thus our understanding of what constitutes a moral action has been made more complicated. A doctor today who failed to wash hands between an autopsy and a delivery would face an ethics board and likely disbarment. But the change in our understanding of morality doesn't come from a change in the basic axiom/value. Do you see?

Next, an appeal to an all knowing god is useless. If an all knowing god advises us to some action, we are left with two possible choices. Either she is correct and this is the moral action or she is lying and this is not a moral action. We are left in the same dilemma - without understanding WHY something is moral, through the framework of some moral system, we are left with no way to discern truth from fiction!

So looking at it objectively , I'd say morality is a description rather than a prescription.

I agree with you...Morals ARE descriptive. Laws are proscriptive. Otherwise it's just muddling definitions in the same way the bible does.

I will look up Pat Churchland at some point...although I have a couple of other books lined up after this one.

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Re: Secularism and Morality

Post  jimhabegger on Thu May 30, 2013 7:39 pm

Null, again, you said it all for me with this:

"It's about working to identify how real people are affected by the decisions we make. And trying to constantly do better by everyone."

Well-being, flourishing, healthy living in a healthy society, we can all have our own theories and concepts, just as we can about everything else. If someone's intentions towards me are friendly, then I trust we can negotiate a friendly agreement about what to do in situations that involve moral issues for one or both of us, as well as we can in any other situations. If someone's intentions towards me are not friendly, then the only way morality can serve me is by trying to appeal to his own, whatever it is, if he has any that he actually practices.

It looks to me like what we call moral issues, are issues related to caring what happens to other people besides the ones whose lives have a visible favorable impact on our own. Moral issues also seem to me to be related to friendly intentions and a friendly attitude towards all people, and towards all of nature.


Last edited by jimhabegger on Thu May 30, 2013 7:45 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : to add some thoughts)

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Re: Secularism and Morality

Post  nullnvoid on Thu May 30, 2013 10:39 pm

Jim,

While you might have reached an answer that satisfies you, Mood2 and I seem to be somewhat more interested in getting to the bottom of this particular can of worms. Smile

we can all have our own theories and concepts

Sure...but as with any other sphere of life, not all theories and concepts are equally valid.

Moral issues also seem to me to be related to friendly intentions and a friendly attitude towards all people, and towards all of nature.

Being friendly as you lead someone to their grisly death...might make an immoral action somewhat more immoral. Sometimes grumpy old forum members can behave in a decidedly unfriendly manner, but still care about your well-being. Smile

In "The Moral Landscape" Sam Harris is proposing a serious scientific study of morality. It seems to me that defining a moral system is one area that religion has been given free reign for far too long. When morals are used to define public policy, criminal or civil legislation and even rules of conduct...getting these things to reflect reality is of vital importance.

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Re: Secularism and Morality

Post  jimhabegger on Thu May 30, 2013 11:33 pm

nullnvoid wrote:Mood2 and I seem to be somewhat more interested in getting to the bottom of this particular can of worms.
Oh I'm interested! I just don't have any more to say! I'll just watch.

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Re: Secularism and Morality

Post  mood2 on Fri May 31, 2013 10:53 am

I don't know if you're familiar with Jonathon Haidt null, but he and others are coming up with a rough analysis of the moral concepts all cultures seem to have in common, tho they vary in emphasis from culture to culture (and individual to individual to a lesser extent). Here's a decent summary - http://www.moralfoundations.org/

Moral Foundations Theory was created by a group of social and cultural psychologists (see us here) to understand why morality varies so much across cultures yet still shows so many similarities and recurrent themes. In brief, the theory proposes that several innate and universally available psychological systems are the foundations of “intuitive ethics.” Each culture then constructs virtues, narratives, and institutions on top of these foundations, thereby creating the unique moralities we see around the world, and conflicting within nations too. [/]
The foundations are:

[b]1) Care/harm
: This foundation is related to our long evolution as mammals with attachment systems and an ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. It underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance.

2) Fairness/cheating: This foundation is related to the evolutionary process of reciprocal altruism. It generates ideas of justice, rights, and autonomy. [Note: In our original conception, Fairness included concerns about equality, which are more strongly endorsed by political liberals. However, as we reformulated the theory in 2011 based on new data, we emphasize proportionality, which is endorsed by everyone, but is more strongly endorsed by conservatives]

3) Liberty/oppression: This foundation is about the feelings of reactance and resentment people feel toward those who dominate them and restrict their liberty. Its intuitions are often in tension with those of the authority foundation. The hatred of bullies and dominators motivates people to come together, in solidarity, to oppose or take down the oppressor.

4) Loyalty/betrayal: This foundation is related to our long history as tribal creatures able to form shifting coalitions. It underlies virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group. It is active anytime people feel that it's "one for all, and all for one."

5) Authority/subversion: This foundation was shaped by our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions. It underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions.

6) Sanctity/degradation: This foundation was shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination. It underlies religious notions of striving to live in an elevated, less carnal, more noble way. It underlies the widespread idea that the body is a temple which can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants (an idea not unique to religious traditions).

Much of our present research involves applying the theory to political "cultures" such as those of liberals and conservatives. The current American culture war, we have found, can be seen as arising from the fact that liberals try to create a morality relying primarily on the Care/harm foundation, with additional support from the Fairness/cheating and Liberty/oppression foundations. Conservatives, especially religious conservatives, use all six foundations, including Loyatly/betrayal, Authority/subversion, and Sanctity/degradation. The culture war in the 1990s and early 2000s centered on the legitimacy of these latter three foundations. In 2009, with the rise of the Tea Party, the culture war shifted away from social issues such as abortion and homosexuality, and became more about differing conceptions of fairness (equality vs. proportionality) and liberty (is government the oppressor or defender?). The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street are both populist movements that talk a great deal about fairness and liberty, but in very different ways, as you can see here, for the Tea Party, and here, for OWS.

You can find out your own moral foundations profile at www.YourMorals.org.

The theory was first developed from a simultaneous review of current evolutionary thinking about morality and cross-cultural research on virtues (reported in Haidt & Joseph, 2004 [request paper]). To read more about the theory, please start with this article: Haidt & Graham (2007) [request paper], or read Haidt's forthcoming book, The Righteous Mind. The theory is an extension of Richard Shweder's theory of the "three ethics" commonly used around the world when people talk about morality. (See this article: Shweder, R. A., Much, N. C., Mahapatra, M., & Park, L. [1997]. The "big three" of morality (autonomy, community, and divinity), and the "big three" explanations of suffering.) The theory was also strongly influenced by Alan Fiske's relational models theory.

If this is about right, then this is Morality as Description as I was thinking of it. Why we are how we are, why we have certain instinctive reactions to cheaters, why some cultures value virginity, etc.

I think this is about as close to an objective foundation for morality you can get. But it leaves you with two problems as I see it -

The old 'how do you get from an Is to an Ought?' And what about when what you might call these 'shared moral instincts' conflict with one another? The link points to Liberals vs Conservatives in America putting higher value on different categories when they conflict, but the differences will be even greater between different cultures.

So if this list (or something like it) is our foundation, our de facto morality touchstone, how do we weigh one against the other? Ie the problem of moral relativism.

Harris basically says 1) Care/Harm is the moral touchstone, and produces an argument supporting that, and being a liberal 21st westerner type I like his choice and am receptive to his argument. Someone else might place more emphasis on a different point, loyalty say, and say it's morally right not to give aid to foreigners, even though there is more harm in the world as a result. And come up with their own supporting argument, equally convincing to them. Because their key value referent might be number 4 not number 1.

All of these values have evolved because of their survival utility for our sophisticated social species. We can't use evolution to pick a winner. And some will lead people to sacrifice their own well-being for another, or even a principle. Altruism and self-sacrifice, standing up for principles, virtue ethics and deontology, all are considered respectable moral standpoints, but not all are a neat fit with Harris.

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Re: Secularism and Morality

Post  mood2 on Fri May 31, 2013 11:16 am

Churchland gives a talk here on the neuro-biological platform of morality if you're interested. It's about an hour, but very accessible. And fascinating! http://thesciencenetwork.org/programs/ethics-and-the-brain/how-the-mind-makes-morals

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Re: Secularism and Morality

Post  jimhabegger on Fri May 31, 2013 11:42 am

Mood, logically there is no way to get from an "is" to an "ought," if you mean something that morally impels us to choose one moral system over another. If that isn't what you mean, then what do you mean? Do you mean something that impels us logically, or some other way besides morally, to choose one system over another?

What do you mean by "the problem of moral relativism," and what makes it a problem?

What I see here is people trying, without admitting it to themselves, to decide which moral system is the best system, *in a moral sense*. Besides being illogical, I see that as actually harmful, for the same reasons that make religion and belief in God harmful, and it looks to me like it's driven by the same impulses that drive disputes about the "right" religion. It's like they think they've gotten out of the matrix, but they're only dreaming that they got out of the matrix.

----

I'm with Harris in that I see caring about other people as the foundation of everything else in that list of foundations.

The only thing that I see impelling me to that choice, as a foundation for discussing moral issues, is that I do care about what happens to all people all over the world, and to all of nature, and I'm hypothesizing that some degree of that same caring is at the heart of most other people's concerns about moral issues, whether they formulate it that way or not. I see that as healthy for for all of us, and I don't need any more reason than that to put that at the heart of my moral system. I don't even need anyone to agree with that formulation, to trust that I can reach a friendly agreement, with anyone who has friendly intentions, when we have a conflict of interests involving moral issues.

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Re: Secularism and Morality

Post  nullnvoid on Fri May 31, 2013 12:34 pm

I'm only just getting into this part - but Harris challenges the usefulness of the 'is' 'ought' distinction.

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Re: Secularism and Morality

Post  jimhabegger on Fri May 31, 2013 12:41 pm

Me too. My interest in this Harris guy is growing.

(a few minutes later) Yeah. I like this guy.

(more later) Yup. It gets better and better.

(more laterer) Ja. 是. Da. Si señor. Oui monsieur. Na'am. Aye laddie.

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Re: Secularism and Morality

Post  jimhabegger on Fri May 31, 2013 1:11 pm

Point of disagreement: If Harris is building his theory around mental states, I think I have a better idea for most purposes. That looks to me like cultural bias.

But I don't see that as a problem.

(later) Hm. Interesting. I agree with Carroll, too. It looks to me like they might be talking past each other.

(more later) Uh, oh. This is exactly what I was afraid of. If the reason Harris wants to objectify morality is remove his inhibitions against imposing his values on other people against their will, then what he's trying to do is exactly what makes religion and belief in God harmful.

(more laterer) I'm starting to see some gaping holes in Harris's approach. I found an article that more or less circles around some of my objections to what I see Harris doing.

http://cognitivephilosophy.net/ethics/sam-harriss-moral-assumptions/

I might say more about this later.

Considering what I've seen so far, it looks to me like Harris's interest in morality revolves around feeling justified in condemning what other people do, more than around improving his own character and conduct. If I'm seeing that right, then in my view what he's promoting is as harmful as any religion.


Last edited by jimhabegger on Fri May 31, 2013 3:01 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : to add some thoughts)

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