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GeorgeW

"confessions Of An Ex-Moralist"

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This is a a link to an essay in today's NYTimes in "The Stone" series.

 

http://opinionator.b...an-ex-moralist/

 

 

The following excerpt might resonate with PCs:

 

"A friend had been explaining to me the nature of her belief in God. At one point she likened divinity to the beauty of a sunset: the quality lay not in the sunset but in her relation to the sunset. I thought to myself: “Ah, if that is what she means, then I could believe in that kind of God. For when I think about the universe, I am filled with awe and wonder; if that feeling is God, then I am a believer.

 

But then it hit me: is not morality like this God? In other words, could I believe that, say, the wrongness of a lie was any more intrinsic to an intentionally deceptive utterance than beauty was to a sunset or wonderfulness to the universe?"

 

George

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George,

 

i thought it was an excellent article. I can relate to his summary feelings concerning right and wrong and such other laws that moral systems encompass. While his view may not be popular concerning morally, i see it as a more accurate, constructive and healthy way to look at things to approach change in our world.

 

Joseph

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I read the article with great interest - and willingly admit I had to google a few terms. :P

 

As I read, the question that begged to be asked was "Is there such a thing as a unversial morality?" The author says not. A google search brought up over 12 million hits, so I can see I'm not the only one asking. I doubt there's a satisfactory answer, either. I believe the study of morality and ethics would necessarily be a life-long grail quest. For me, personally, I apply my own personal litmus test. If I do (or don't do) this and such, will it do harm? I know that's simplistic and naive of me, but, hey, it works.

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As I read, the question that begged to be asked was "Is there such a thing as a unversial morality?"

Yyvonne,

 

IMO, yes. There is very good evidence that all humans are endowed with basic moral instincts. This is discussed in some depth in Gazzaniga's book Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique and in great depth in Hauser's Moral Minds. The claim is not that we all have precisely the same moral values but that we all have certain basic moral intuitions that get mitigated and elaborated by culture.

 

Whether this part of an 'intelligent design' or just the product of evolution is quite another question.

 

George

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There are several ways to explain moral intuitions and moral emotions. One these owes to Martin Seligman who supports the view that evolution left us prepared to learn certain things easier than others. This same view is found in the work of John Searle. It is not that we are born with content built into the brain, but that the brain has mechanisms that are sensitive to content crucial to survival.

 

Myron

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I think that's very likely, Myron.

Humans are evolved (for those that would argue, ok, created) to be social creatures. Just as any social creature, whether herd or pack animals, survival is dependent upon social cohesion within the group. And certain innate behavioral tendencies are neccessary for that. The colt or calf cannot afford to "learn by experience" that it needs the protection of the herd, it must already "know" it, or it would most likely be someone else's dinner before it figured it out. The wolf pup can't wait until its really hungry because it can't bring down an elk alone before he decides to go solicit the help of some other wolves.

 

As smart and clever as we humans think ourselves, solitary humans are at risk for dangers best avoided or confronted in cooperative groups.

 

But it takes experiences to develop those innate tendencies....a wolf pup raised alone in captivity, apart from a wolf family/society, cannot as an adult learn how to integrate into and cooperate within the social structure of a pack. Human infants born into dysfunctional social units do not learn succesfull ways of functioning and getting needs met in the greater society at large.

 

Jenell

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Do we really have an inbuilt moral instinct? Perhaps yes and the better question may be, how do we get to it?

 

While it seems obvious form watching the mind, that it is constantly taking positions on morality that seem to stem from choice, emotions , or political or religious viewpoints to name a few. This to me, is an arbitrary position of morality and is usually categorized as "right" or "wrong". From these positions i see as i think the the author saw that from that position stems all the pointless wars and sufferings of the world.

 

Basically one could call it judgmentalism. I think Jesus pointed this when he advised his followers to "Judge not that ye be not judged". Even the Buddha indicated there is nothing to judge because perceptions can only see illusions. Perception to me, always seems like a limited and arbitrary point of view making true judgement most difficult if not impossible. Perhaps that is why it is also written, "Judgement is mine sayeth the Lord".

 

Using such judgement techniques as the "end justifies the means" to name one to me still is subject to serious error. We have used supposedly 'good' results to cover up or excuse misconduct and crime. Even the golden rule is subject to error in perception. Some people love to be punished and even invite it by their actions. I certainly don't desire that they do the same unto me. :)

 

I think what the author of this article is suggesting in essence is that we need to transcend opposites such as 'good' and 'bad', 'right' and 'wrong' as far as morality is concerned to get to a place where we are not judging and as the author says " that I am no longer giving premises in moral arguments; rather, I am offering considerations to help us figure out what to do. I am not attempting to justify anything; I am trying to motivate informed and reflective choices."

 

I think his approach is a step in the right direction with the real answer seeming to me to be in the individual awareness of the nature of consciousness. Perhaps this will bring on a clarity not available in black and white moral systems.

 

Just my opinion,

Joseph

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Guest billmc

I, too, appreciated the article and wanted to throw in a couple of random thoughts.

 

The author concluded with: "Instead I will be moved by my head and my heart. Morality has nothing to do with it."

 

Maybe, possibly, perhaps this is exactly what morality is - being moved by head and heart.

 

For instance, his technique, instead of going around telling everyone that the animal food industry is "wrong", is that he educates or informs them of the facts that support the industry. He then leaves it up to the listener's own head and heart to determine whether or not they might or might not think that the animal food industry is "wrong." Instead of attacking people as "them", he seeks to educate people as "us." Much more persuasive. And this way, if the listener makes his or her own judgment, it comes about, not from external authority, but from internal witness. Of course, the technique isn't perfect. There are many variables. But it seems to be better than the polarization that often happens around "issues of morality."

 

It also occured to me that this technique could be/is useful for religious issues where, instead of "right and wrong", we are often dealing with matters of that are said to fall into the domain of "truth and falsehood." Religious systems have a acculumated a great amount of control and money by building and maintaining "systems of morality." And then they go to war with each other in order to prove that what they claim as truth is the truth i.e. truth is what comes out on top through the use of force or suppression. This, again, reinforces the "us versus them" mentality and woe be to those who are wrong. In many religious contexts, being "wrong" or unorthodox or heretical can sometimes carry a pretty stiff penalty.

 

So perhaps the better technique is just to present "the facts of our experience", subjective though they are, as best as we can and then leave it up to the head and heart of the listener to determine their own response. If they reject what we have to say, maybe there is truly more than one way to see things or maybe either we just aren't at the same place. If they accept what we have to say, then maybe we haven't really taken "truth" to them, we just helped them discover it already within. The difference is, to me, important. Unless it is a matter of a life-threatening situation, I no longer tell my children what they should believe as "truth" or reject as "false." Instead, I am more concerned with *how* they arrive at their conclusions or temporarily held opinions. If they haven't done so through their own processes, then all I have done is tried to "control the information" and brainwashed them. It's better, imo, to teach them how to think about issues than to tell them what to think. Again, head and heart.

Edited by billmc

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Do we really have an inbuilt moral instinct? Perhaps yes and the better question may be, how do we get to it?

Joseph

Joseph,

 

The quick answer is evolution. As Jenell suggested, we are social animals and this requires cooperation. Cooperation requires some basic rules: Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not lie, thou shalt not steal, etc., etc., etc. Societies with members who didn't have the moral genes, didn't survive to reproduce.

 

Although these practices exist, I am not aware of any culture that says, thou shall kill, thou shall lie, etc. or even treats these behaviors as morally neutral. When they do occur, they are recognized as moral violations or rationalized, or trumped by other moral imperatives.

 

George

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I think that's very likely, Myron.

Humans are evolved (for those that would argue, ok, created) to be social creatures. Just as any social creature, whether herd or pack animals, survival is dependent upon social cohesion within the group. And certain innate behavioral tendencies are neccessary for that. The colt or calf cannot afford to "learn by experience" that it needs the protection of the herd, it must already "know" it, or it would most likely be someone else's dinner before it figured it out. The wolf pup can't wait until its really hungry because it can't bring down an elk alone before he decides to go solicit the help of some other wolves.

 

As smart and clever as we humans think ourselves, solitary humans are at risk for dangers best avoided or confronted in cooperative groups.

 

But it takes experiences to develop those innate tendencies....a wolf pup raised alone in captivity, apart from a wolf family/society, cannot as an adult learn how to integrate into and cooperate within the social structure of a pack. Human infants born into dysfunctional social units do not learn succesfull ways of functioning and getting needs met in the greater society at large.

 

Jenell

 

Jenell,

 

From here there is the next step into Jung's theory. It goes like this. If 'A' type information should go through an 'A' type process, what happens when 'A' type information goes through a 'B' or 'C' type process? Hunger becomes greed or hunger becomes compassion.

 

Myron

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It also occured to me that this technique could be/is useful for religious issues where, instead of "right and wrong", we are often dealing with matters of that are said to fall into the domain of "truth and falsehood." Religious systems have a acculumated a great amount of control and money by building and maintaining "systems of morality." And then they go to war with each other in order to prove that what they claim as truth is the truth i.e. truth is what comes out on top through the use of force or suppression. This, again, reinforces the "us versus them" mentality and woe be to those who are wrong. In many religious contexts, being "wrong" or unorthodox or heretical can sometimes carry a pretty stiff penalty.

Bill,

 

I have a little different view of this. I don't think that generally we go to war over moral principles or religious truth claims. I think these are very often the rationale given, but when we probe a little beneath the surface, we can find much more mundane motivations like power, greed, xenophobia, fear, etc. But, we like to dress our greed or political needs up in more high-minded principles.

 

But, sometimes high-minded principles are not enough to persuade the citizenry, so we are also reminded by our leaders that 'national interests' (i.e. economic, political interests, etc.) are also at stake.

 

Let he or she who thinks the Iraq War was motivated by an altruistic desire to free the Iraqi people from tyranny (even though it did exist), raise their right hand.

 

George

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"A friend had been explaining to me the nature of her belief in God. At one point she likened divinity to the beauty of a sunset: the quality lay not in the sunset but in her relation to the sunset. I thought to myself: “Ah, if that is what she means, then I could believe in that kind of God. For when I think about the universe, I am filled with awe and wonder; if that feeling is God, then I am a believer.

 

But then it hit me: is not morality like this God? In other words, could I believe that, say, the wrongness of a lie was any more intrinsic to an intentionally deceptive utterance than beauty was to a sunset or wonderfulness to the universe?" George

 

I feel evolution through nature and morality create our experiences according to the patterns of our thoughts, feelings, attitudes and ideals bringing us to a pure consciousness, a pure being, may it be in silence or in a sunset, which can energize every atom of our body changing the molecules we eat and the thoughts we think into living, radiant substances. I think if we permit pure consciousness or whatever one wants to call it to guide us, we know what to do under any circumstance as love, and this highest morality flows through us to everyone contacted. We know we are on the right path because pure consciousness makes cheerful every action and person contacted.

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I think certain kinds of experiences, certain kinds of situations or circumstances, can cause both societal break downs as well as personal level breakdowns of the naturally postive social tendency to cooperation and a consensus agreement of and regard for the social rules and laws that normally inhibit impusles to harm others around us.

 

Whether in an indivudal abused,especially from childhood, to the collective ofa society, culture, or sub-culture within a larger culture, trust can break down, others can be seen as competing so aggressively for resources, or overtly dangerous. Successful survival tactis is no longer, or percieved as no longer, acts of cooperation and mutual respect and caring. Survival reality becomes dog eat dog, get them before they get me, get what I need any way I can at any cost to others...At the most obvious and violent extreme, we can see this having developed within many African and Middle Eastern cultures..the causes of the social deterioration are many and varied,from natural disasters such as drought and famine, to inter-cultural or political conflicts, to the lingering aftermath of Western Europe and America's Imperlialism and colonialism over many centuried. Less obviously violent, but still very dysfunctional and damaging to society and individuals within it is the fear and uncertainty presently impacting the US, much of Europe, and other nations experiencing economic crisis.

 

Successful survival tactics under such pressures quickly erode morality and values. Whether its shoot and kill, or use lies, deceptions, theft, become "right" and even "moral" in people's perception. I stress perception, because neither individual nor a collective perception of this 'desperate' surival threat is not neccesarily reflecting actual reality.

 

Jenell

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Instead I will be moved by my head and my heart. Morality has nothing to do with it.

 

The author became aware that there was not an intrinsic moral rightness in his stand that he could claim. He could not say "It is morally wrong." I think that all what we call morality is conditional and based on the boundary between us and them. When we step over the line killing, cheating, stealing, adultery, rape, etc., are not morally wrong. In some hunter gather societies with frequent skirmishes with other tribes it is estimated that up to 60% of men will die in the continuing violence. Neither side considers the action immoral or moral. It is amoral.

 

I think the universal that creates the ground for any of the last 6 commandments is empathy. It only seems wrong if we put ourselves in the experience of the other. Only then, in so far as we can be empathetic, does killing, stealing, etc seem to be obviously wrong.

 

As much as I hate to say there may be a universal - evolution of empathy might be as close I come. I think all the other moral sentiments are conditional. They depend on a variety of factors but fundamentally we experience these as morally wrong to the degree to which we have empathy, and therefore, relationship with another.

 

Dutch

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