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emotion vs. reason in ethics

We will discuss the underpinning of human ethics - whether our code of right and wrong owes its origin more to the emotional or the rational side of human nature.

British empiricist philosopher David Hume believed that morality was a function of empathy and innate emotional reactions.

Immanuel Kant believed that acting morally was a matter of adhering to a rational moral law, and contended that emotions were often detrimental to ethical behavior.

Aristotle spoke of cultivating moral virtues.

We will also look at the question of "moral worth", what it is that entitles a person or living being to be treated morally instead of as an object. 

Note:

Since there is such a long waiting list for this meetup, we are scheduling a second meeting on this topic on Sat., Nov. 9th. Please only RSVP to one or the other. If you are on the wait list for Oct. 27th, you can RSVP for Nov. 9th (and then take yourself off the 27th wait list). If you are already RSVP'd for Oct 27, you may also switch to the November date if that one works better for you (and that would also free up slots for people on the current waiting list). Either way, we look forward to seeing you at one or the other meetup


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  • Will B.

    A really fine discussion. Everyone joined in with interesting and thoughtful comments. I think the most productive idea was that of reason, emotion and ethics being intertwined as functions of the human brain. Again, a really good time.

    October 28, 2013

  • Jean S.

    "There by the grace of God go I." Life can be very ugly. Oh that it were as simple as the rich are bad and the poor are good. "All" cannot be made right by the exchange of ideas. As I watch my spine twisting more each year I know that one day I will no longer be able to ride the train to attend a meeting on Sunday. Whether I have a million dollars or not, I cannot stop what is happening to me. Likewise, we must continue to strive to help as many people to live better lives as we can. Knowing full well that we cannot save everyone. Ethically I would still rather be a bad rich person than a good poor person. Great discussion everyone...
    And then there is the karma of letting someone else live their life as their path is written.

    October 27, 2013

  • Jyoti M.

    Very refreshing interaction with the dynamic group. Joe, you laid an excellent groundwork for discussions. I also enjoy your sense of humor that is much needed in group discussions. Excellent ideas! Thanks.

    October 27, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Have you guys all seen this article about how emotion actually occurs before reason in the brain? "In fact, all thoughts and perceptions are fuelled by, and therefore preceded by, emotion. We are not generally aware of this because it is often a subtle process but the fact that thoughts are carried aloft on emotion becomes clear when we examine strange exceptions to this rule."
    http://www.hgi.org.uk/archive/APET-model.htm#.Umu0ceChDzI
    So, statements like "It takes a great deal of fortitude to keep emotion out of critical thinking," are truer than you might think, and the Kantian objective -- so frequently echoed in areas like foreign policy and business -- is misguided or impossible (that is to say, illusory.)

    October 26, 2013

    • Brian

      Iam dubious as to the existence of any nonemotional decisions.

      October 26, 2013

  • Ryan

    You guys choose great subject matter! Need to actually attend a "meetup" sometime.

    Master–slave morality. Absent of all the clutter of the typical Judea-Christian mindset, Nietzsche's reasoning is quite persuasive. Morality is a tool used by the ruling elite of society. Of course some societies are more ideal than others. Justice, Wisdom, Reason, and Right are four seemingly worthy principles spawned from a certain enlightenment thinking ... for example.

    October 25, 2013

  • Joe N.

    Since there is such a long waiting list for this meetup, we are scheduling a second meeting on this topic on Sat., Nov. 9th. Please only RSVP to one or the other. If you are on the wait list for Oct. 27th, you can RSVP for Nov. 9th (and then take yourself off the 27th wait list). If you are already RSVP'd for Oct 27, you may also switch to the November date if that one works better for you (and that would also free up slots for people on the current waiting list). Either way, we look forward to seeing you at one or the other meetup

    October 24, 2013

  • Jean S.

    There is a story of two generals in Vietnam. In the battle the next day the projection was that 70% of the soldiers were going to be killed. One general went to his tent the night before, read the orders for the next day, signed his name, and went to sleep. Another general looked at the orders for the next day, sat up most of the night thinking about the parents, brothers, sisters, wives, and children that were going to suffer at the death of their soldier. It was almost dawn when he signed the order and went to bed.

    Two men, same decision. One suffered with his conscience for hours before he made the decision. The other general just signed the order and went to bed. Which general are you?

    October 22, 2013

    • Jyoti M.

      Jean it is a good question but most importantly, when two good natured generals are always in conflict with each other in major decision making process. Who wins?

      October 22, 2013

    • Amy

      Great example, Jean. Is there a moral or ethical difference between the two decisions? That is, suppose the outcomes are the same (deaths, injuries, environmental destruction, etc.), does the fact that one general labored over the decision matter? If it does, does it make the the decision more or less the right decision? Does 'suffering with your conscious' but doing the action anyway make you more (or less) morally culpable? Like I said, great example.

      October 23, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    What's the deal with the waitlist?

    October 22, 2013

  • Joe N.

    Sandy, thanks for noticing that and pointing it out. I have fixed the time in the listing. We are meeting at the usual time, 10:30.

    October 20, 2013

  • Sandy C.

    Joe,
    Are we really starting at 10:00 a.m. as posted on Meetup? If so, please confirm so that some don't come at the usual 10:30 a.m. time.
    I'm looking forward to this discussion. The difficulty of making moral decisions under the influence of emotional and intuitive biases is discussed at length in length in Jonathan Haidt's book "The Righteous Mind." His research in the filed of "moral psychology" and the works of neuroscience researchers he sites, have led Haidt to validate the ideas of philosopher David Hume.

    October 19, 2013

  • Jean S.

    Interesting topic. Making decisions from the intellect is extremely difficult at times. It takes a great deal of personal fortitude to keep emotion out of critical thinking. Many people are not willing to do the work to make good decisions. Many times I work things out by writing it out before I am certain that I am making the best decision. At times the lives of others are affected by the clarity of our problem solving. Good topic, Joe.

    October 14, 2013

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