"New York Philosophy" Message Board › The Natural Origins of Morality

The Natural Origins of Morality

A former member
Post #: 2
First what is tabula rasa? Since Man has no automatic knowledge, he can have no automatic values - since he has no innate ideas, he can have no innate value judgements.

This seems like a claim, not like an argument. From where do you take the evidence for your claim? It is even refuted by animal studies in primates! Even they have an inborn sense of justice when it comes to sharing of food, etc. Monkey studies, for example, have demonstrated that these animals would go for days without food if eating it would lead to painful electric shocks to one of their peers. You don't really think that these animals needed ethical training to develop these behaviors?

There are very good evolutionary reasons for these kinds of behavior so it is not surprising to see them both in animals and (even more so) in humans. If you dispute these arguments, which can be repeated in experiments, I think you are just making up your claims to fit your view of the world.

Read e.g. "The Mating Mind" by Matt Ridley, who gives very good explanations of why behavior that society usually labels as "ethical" like e.g. altruism, etc., is adaptive, i.e. though it lowers an individuals chance of survival, it may have a positive expectancy wrt. to the propagation of its genes (genes are always selfish), i.e. this form of behavior is just plain sexy.

Man is born with an emotional mechanism, just as he is born with a cogntive mechanism - but at birth BOTH are tabula rasa. It is the cognitive one that determines the emotional.

This, too, is clearly refuted by research. The emotional part of our brain developed earlier in our history, before the cognitive part. Even more, clinical research shows that emotion comes before feeling (feeling being the cognitive awareness of emotion). This can be demonstrated in experiments that stimulate the (evolutionarily older) part of the brain responsible for emotions: people first show the signs of emotion (tears of sadness, etc.), and only after a few seconds feel sad. It doesn't work the other way round, period. That's why e.g. "think positive" is bullshit, and really doesn't work well in psychotherapy, but "act positive" (which can indeed be learnt) does.

See e.g. the book "Looking for Spinoza" by the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, who researched this area experimentally.

The "wiring" you describe given iin the example of homosexuality is not pertinent because that is something that he has no control of.

So gay or lesbian people are born and do not make the choice.

Feel free to define "tabula rasa" as "everything that isn't a choice or is predetermined", but by doing so you make it devoid of any meaning, because it would apply to any conceivable scenario by definition. Religious people who want to defend their faith as leading to goodness (whatever that may be) also regularly say that e.g. "Believing in Jesus makes you a good person". If you then point to Christians engaging in unethical behaviour, they are then quick to claim that these are not "true" followers of Christ.

I don't care about your "true" tabula rasa. Your definition doesn't mean anything to me, because it does not say anything about what would not be considered a "tabula rasa". Your labeling of things is not informative (falsifiable) and therefore unscientific.

To ascribe my view to be in line with Christian fundamentalists as you ahev done is beyond silly.

I have said nowhere that the contents of your view is in line with Christian fundamentalism, but your form of reasoning seems quite obviously in line with religious thought.

Choice is a matter of conscious decision

People who are unaware of their feelings (e.g. if their brain is damaged such that there is no connect between the emotional and cognitive parts) are completely incapable of taking any decisions. They keep pondering even the most trivial decisions (should I first drink from this glass, or eat from that plate) without end, and are therefore completely dysfunctional. Thus, emotions break the cycle of conscious decision making, and are absolutely critical for mental sanity. Therefore, there can be no choice without emotions. (This, too, can and has been scientifically tested). The philosopher David Hume was right on target when he said that "reason is the slave of passion". Our cognitive brain only developed to satisfy our emotions more efficiently. It's certainly not the cognitive part of our brain that defines our goals.
A former member
Post #: 110
First of all comparing Man to monkeys or other animals is ridiculous. Man has the ability to conceptualize, animals do not and have evolved differently.

I am not an authority, but Man has to learn to survive - leave a baby alone and it will die. People also decide to live or die - it is not innate. Also, you mix things up again. Tabula rasa refers to knowledge and values - these are taught or taught how or figured out and not innate.

Again, if you embrace that Man is innate in these things then you accept the same metaphysics as the Soviets for example.
A former member
Post #: 258
Or how about the leadership roles in the animal kingdom? That comes from inbred knowledge.
A former member
Post #: 259
First of all comparing Man to monkeys or other animals is ridiculous. (quote)

But it's okay in evolution? Why is that? I'm not making fun of your belief or anyone else's but I want you to answer that question.
PiWi
user 3398759
Virginia Water, GB
Post #: 63
First of all comparing Man to monkeys or other animals is ridiculous. Man has the ability to conceptualize, animals do not and have evolved differently.

I am not an authority, but Man has to learn to survive - leave a baby alone and it will die. People also decide to live or die - it is not innate. Also, you mix things up again. Tabula rasa refers to knowledge and values - these are taught or taught how or figured out and not innate.

Again, if you embrace that Man is innate in these things then you accept the same metaphysics as the Soviets for example.

David,

Comparison with monkeys are very relevant. First we have 99%+ identical genetic material with certain other primates like chimps, so it's very likely that some things are common, especially when it comes to areas of the "old" brain which developed before we branched as a separate species.

Secondly, what Markus was potently explaining here, is that certain attitudes and emotions which play an important role in morality are displayed in primates. If those are seen in primates, and are clearly shown to be partly innate in primates, it stands to reason that they would also in humans. They may certainly be masked, influenced, modulated etc...in humans because we have much more advanced and powerful intellect/reason, but they are still there to some degree.

People decide to live or die. Hmmm...so you think there's no survival instinct in humans? No emotional will to live beyond the rational thought that "it makes more sense to live than to die"?

One more time...."innate" doesn't mean "100% innate", but instead that "some element is innate". Can you confirm that you reject ANY innate factor, any genetic influence over psychological and moral attitudes?

Twin studies about the influence of innate behavior alone are strong proof that genetics have an influence over certain personality traits, behavior, tendencies, including certain ones related to morality. How do you propose to refute those results?

PWi
PiWi
user 3398759
Virginia Water, GB
Post #: 64


With respect PiWi, it is the innate description that is error. There are the structures, but no individual possesses any emotion until they begin to absorb cognitively.

I consider a good example is the emotion of humor. The most developed sense of humor on this planet is British because it ranges through many levels and is extremely nuanced.

In the USA I have discovered that British-type wit can get one into trouble or the reaction is a confused or puzzled stare. At the same time there Americans who do enjoy British humor and these tend to be people from a certain sector.

But there is no evidence that Man is not born tabula rasa.

Humor is an extremely advanced, sophisticated, and uniquely human emotion, which we have amazingly little understanding of. It is quite possibly THE most unique, advanced and quirky emotional behavior we have, but one thing that is sure is that it taps heavily into uniquely human advanced intellectual faculties. Unlike a sense of fairness or empathy, which are the subject of discussion here in this thread about morality. So picking the one "emotion" that is highly based on intellectual reasoning seems hardly fair to judge "innateness" in all emotions.

As Markus noted, there is plenty of evidence against tabula rasa.
The studies i indicated show there is specific evidence for some innate component in areas of social agression, empathy, altruism etc...
A former member
Post #: 3
First of all comparing Man to monkeys or other animals is ridiculous.

This is just a value judgment. Some people may laugh, other's won't.

Man has the ability to conceptualize, animals do not and have evolved differently.

And this claim, that animals cannot conceptualize, is clearly wrong.

It's astounding why you keep making strong claims about the real world that are in obvious contradiction to scientific evidence. It's even more astounding that you don't even seem to bother checking your claims by a simple Google search. My first attempt with "conceptualization animals cognition" already leads to several links referring to publications of experimental studies that refute your claims. Even pigeons, which have only a tiny fraction of our brain size, have the ability to conceptualize (same/different concepts), but are, of course, totally dominated by primates, which all do fairly well at such tasks, though homo sapiens sapiens is arguably best at it.

I am not an authority, but Man has to learn to survive - leave a baby alone and it will die.

I have never said that humans don't have to learn to improve their chances of survival or attracting a mate, because this would be obviously wrong. But I challenge your claims that there are no innate abilities or values, and won't allow you to distract readers with such simple strawman arguments. The fact that people can learn is not in contradiction to the possibility of them having substantial innate abilities, knowledge, even values.

We know, for example, that even babies are born with rudimentary concepts about the physical world. E.g. if you put something in a box, close it, and open it again, they expect that the object is still in there. If you trick them, they show emotions of surprise. You certainly don't have to train them to get such a reaction.

People also decide to live or die - it is not innate.

Oh, really? Now that you say it, it seems like a good idea to me to decide to live forever. Never mind our biological clock, mind trumps matter...

Also, you mix things up again. Tabula rasa refers to knowledge and values - these are taught or taught how or figured out and not innate.

Again, it is obvious that you are just making claims, not arguments. Arguments either refer directly to evidence on which both parties can agree, or can be deduced from them by logic, assuming that both parties can agree on the same rules of logical inference. You haven't made a single argument so far that involves any form of empirical evidence and from which any of your claims could be deduced so logic isn't even applicable yet.

Fact is that even closely related primates have innate knowledge about the physical world. Even much more primitive species like e.g. insects are capable of manipulating the world in principled ways from birth on without any form of training whatsoever (e.g. building a complex bee hive; how to find food, etc.). It would indeed rather be surprising if more complex species did not have any form of innate knowledge given that even much more primitive species seem to be quite well-equipped.

Same thing for values: you don't have to teach mothers to love their children, i.e. value their well-being higher than almost anything else (often including their own life). It's a biological reaction following birth that is even already fairly well-understood. Oxytocin, the "bonding hormone" (+ some others), does the job better than any amount of parenting classes could do (though some mothers would certainly benefit from improving their parenting skills...).

Again, if you embrace that Man is innate in these things then you accept the same metaphysics as the Soviets for example.

You may think that your "argument from evil" (assuming you consider the Soviets evil) is an eloquent response, hoping that this would undermine the credibility of my arguments. But I am sure that any reader well-versed in how actual arguments are made will not be distracted by another smoke screen that tries to hide the fact that you either don't know anything about the current state of scientific research in cognition, evolution, etc., or would rather defend untenable positions for the sake of your ideology than admit that you (and hence your ideology) are wrong on this particular question.
A former member
Post #: 111
First of all comparing Man to monkeys or other animals is ridiculous.

This is just a value judgment. Some people may laugh, other's won't.

It is not a value judgement - it is reality, which is objective.

Man has the ability to conceptualize, animals do not and have evolved differently.

And this claim, that animals cannot conceptualize, is clearly wrong.

Man has the ability to conceptualize which refers to gathering abstracts. Animals cannot.

You put animals on the same level as humans - quite remarkable.

I am not an authority, but Man has to learn to survive - leave a baby alone and it will die.

I have never said that humans don't have to learn to improve their chances of survival or attracting a mate, because this would be obviously wrong. But I challenge your claims that there are no innate abilities or values, and won't allow you to distract readers with such simple strawman arguments. The fact that people can learn is not in contradiction to the possibility of them having substantial innate abilities, knowledge, even values.

We know, for example, that even babies are born with rudimentary concepts about the physical world. E.g. if you put something in a box, close it, and open it again, they expect that the object is still in there. If you trick them, they show emotions of surprise. You certainly don't have to train them to get such a reaction.

You continue to mix ability to do something with the act of doing something.

People also decide to live or die - it is not innate.

Oh, really? Now that you say it, it seems like a good idea to me to decide to live forever. Never mind our biological clock, mind trumps matter...

I see you have a humorous side.

Also, you mix things up again. Tabula rasa refers to knowledge and values - these are taught or taught how or figured out and not innate.

Again, it is obvious that you are just making claims, not arguments. Arguments either refer directly to evidence on which both parties can agree, or can be deduced from them by logic, assuming that both parties can agree on the same rules of logical inference. You haven't made a single argument so far that involves any form of empirical evidence and from which any of your claims could be deduced so logic isn't even applicable yet.

Fact is that even closely related primates have innate knowledge about the physical world. "Even much more primitive species like e.g. insects are capable of manipulating the world in principled ways"

You watch "Pinky and The Brain" too?

Again, if you embrace that Man is innate in these things then you accept the same metaphysics as the Soviets for example.

(assuming you consider the Soviets evil)

No, I dont assume - it is statement of fact.
A former member
Post #: 5
It is not a value judgement - it is reality, which is objective.

It seems you don't even know the definition of the word "value judgment". How can a personal preference ("comparing monkeys and humans is ridiculous") imply objective reality in the sense that everybody must have this preference? I certainly don't, neither do many others (especially biologists and anthropologist), which proves your argument false.

And this claim, that animals cannot conceptualize, is clearly wrong.

Man has the ability to conceptualize which refers to gathering abstracts. Animals cannot.

You put animals on the same level as humans - quite remarkable.

Are you just playing deaf and blind? It's becoming a waste of time arguing with you about something that has without a shadow of a doubt been demonstrated in controlled, scientific experiments, which were peer-reviewed and published in respectable academic journals. Show me ONE scientific publication in a respectable journal that demonstrates that NO animal besides man has the ability to reason in abstract ways. You won't find any, whereas I can easily point you to piles that refute your claims (and I have previously done so).

You continue to mix ability to do something with the act of doing something.

It's YOU who claims that there is no innate knowledge. Procedural knowledge, i.e. knowing how to do something, is also a form of knowledge. In fact, there are even innate abilities that vanish over time and are in cases even hard to maintain through training. E.g. babies usually have perfect pitch, i.e. they know whether some utterance they have heard is of the same pitch (acoustic frequency) as an utterance that they heard in the (even non-recent) past. The vast majority of people lose this ability within a few years after birth, i.e. they don't know whether some sound has a certain frequency without being given a normed reference even though their sensory abilities are perfectly able to discriminate between pitches audible at the same time. It's extremely hard for people do maintain this ability through training, and practically impossible to learn once it is gone. That's why it is horribly heard for adult Westerners to learn e.g. Chinese, because pitch of words matters there, and the vast majority of adults cannot be trained anymore to discriminate between them. Same for speaking without a dialect (subtle differences between speech melodies that may even reveal meaning), etc.

Doesn't it seem strange to you that adults, which one would consider better trained and more reasonable than children, have a harder time doing certain tasks than children? The reason is, because children come pre-wired with certain abilities, knowledge, and even values. If you miss out on developmental stages in which these innate abilities are still available for learning (e.g. "how to learn Chinese without having a strange accent"), you may be at a decisive disadvantage in life.

You watch "Pinky and The Brain" too?

No, and this is irrelevant for the discussion.

No, I dont assume - it is statement of fact.

No, it's a value judgment. A value judgment I wouldn't necessarily disagree with (though I consider terms like "good" and "evil" rather primitive to describe the real world). But it is certainly not a statement of fact, because there are other possibilities, e.g. Soviets being well-meaning but stupid, lunatic, misguided, etc. Realistically speaking, there were certainly a few (especially powerful) people who took active advantage of others through communism. It's, however, also realistic that some meant well (especially among the less powerful) and just didn't expect the real consequences of their ideology.
A former member
Post #: 112
I have stated my case - going around the same bush saying the same thing differently serves no useful purpose.
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