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Charlotte Philosophy Discussion Group Message Board › For Those Reading "Homo Rationalis" (The Book entitled For Every

For Those Reading "Homo Rationalis" (The Book entitled For Everyone: Rational-Ethical Living and the Emergence of "Homo Rationalis")

Bill Van F.
wvanfleet
Group Organizer
Charlotte, NC
Post #: 1,280
Derik,

You have been very helpful by presenting what you did in the last post. I have realized that the flaw in the book that is at the bottom of what a person might react negatively to has been the term “self-evident.” The quotes that you have given from the book are still exactly what I mean with my understanding of how I am using the words, but the phrase “self-evident” is ambiguous and may lead to breakdown in communication. So I am re-writing three of those quotes to be clearer on what I was meaning when I wrote them. You may then be able to give me some feedback as to whether the writing seems more acceptable to you.

Original, being kept as it is:
I believe the reader will agree with me, not because he or she will assume that I must know what I am talking about, but because what I will be pointing to will be seen easily by the reader himself or herself. If the reader is not able to come to the same conclusions, then what I am saying is probably wrong.

Original, to be revised:
I would say, however, that if the belief is not contradicted by evidence, especially scientific evidence, and the belief seems self-evident, then we can at least say that it is probably correct, until such time that evidence does arise to the contrary. And that is the spirit in which the offerings of this book are made.


Revision:
I would say, however, that if the belief is not contradicted by evidence, especially scientific evidence, and the belief seems to almost everyone as “obviously correct,” then we can at least say that it is probably correct, until such time that evidence does arise to the contrary. And that is the spirit in which the offerings of this book are made.


Original, being kept as it is:
However, I stand by what I have said, and ask only that the reader form his or her own opinions on the basis of his or her own conscientious reading, and that, prior to rejecting the book, he or she read it until he or she does indeed find something that does not make sense to him or her.

Original, to be revised:
As I have already stated, I am making an extreme effort to construct this book in a manner that will be convincing by virtue of being self-evident (rather than being dependent upon accepting ideas that only those in specialized fields can feel confident about).
(page 27)


Revision:
As I have already stated, I am making an extreme effort to construct this book in a manner that will be convincing by virtue of being consistent with what almost everyone considers “obviously correct” (rather than being dependent upon accepting ideas that only those in specialized fields can feel confident about). In other words, I am saying that this book is for everyone, not just specialists in certain fields of technical knowledge.
(page 27)


Original, to be revised:
I wish now to describe a rather “basic” observation that is likely to be evident to everyone and that will allow us to elaborate our basic ethical philosophy, namely: There is hardly a single thing that we can have, or a single thing that we can do, that does not require others having done their part.


Revision:
I wish now to describe a rather “basic” observation that I believe is likely to seem obvious to everyone and that will allow us to elaborate our basic ethical philosophy, namely: There is hardly a single thing that we can have, or a single thing that we can do, that does not require others having done their part.


So those are the revisions and non-revisions of your quoted material from the book. I hope this language will provide less of a stumbling block in understanding accurately what I mean.

(Continued in next post)
Bill Van F.
wvanfleet
Group Organizer
Charlotte, NC
Post #: 1,281
(Continued from previous post)

Now you have added comments regarding my posts, and I will try to respond to those comments:
My request of such readers is that they report here the first sentence they come across that seems either incorrect or unclear in the context in which it is written.
Please­ note that what would be most ideal, in my mind, would be to do as this has stated. In other words, if you come across such a sentence, it would be preferable to stop at that point and report it, so that if there was a problem with it or a misunderstanding concerning it, that could be fixed before going on. Reading large amounts of it with the mounting up of misunderstandings that have to be dealt with in large quantities makes for more confusion. But either way, it is important to know of those sentences.

Your stated and re-stated intent to "construct this book in a manner that will be convincing by virtue of being self-evident" combined with your request that I, the reader, "report the first sentence I come across that seems either incorrect or unclear" seems quite clear to me. Self-evidence is a high bar, but it's your bar. If you'd like to revise the above quotes and ask me to read the rest of the book accordingly, you're welcome to do so. Otherwise, I'll continue surfacing which sentences seem incorrect or unclear to me through the lens of self-evidence.

So we will eliminate the problematic terms “self-evident,” “self-evidence,” and “evident” and see if it is easier to proceed. Do you see any difficulty with the quotes from the book, as revised? (I feel the revisions express more satisfactorily what I was meaning.)


- - -

That linking is simply letting the reader know what I am meaning by what I have just said. To stop and digress into whether there would be other possible meanings that some other people might assign to the phrase would lead to deterioration in the quality of the writing and the ability of the reader to follow the main point. Sure, you might use the phrase in a different way, but I am telling you how I am using the phrase in what I am writing. It is essentially a definition, not a statement of fact.

In other words, the discussion should include an agreement on the definition, for the sake of that discussion, of any important words, rather than an argument about what the definitions of the words “really” are.

Just prior to this undertaking, let us note and understand that this book is about trying to achieve, as much as possible, optimal living on the part of our species.

You provided the first quote above in reference to your definition of optimal living. The second is from your descriptions of how definitions will be used. The third is your intended use of the definition of "optimal living" in the book.

I, the reader, am a part of the species and so must conclude that you are trying to achieve optimal living--as you have defined it--in me. I may agree to your use of the definition in many informative contexts "for the sake of discussion", but when the use of the definition is framed in the context of an imperative for my life, am I not at liberty to determine whether it is self-evident that I should adopt it for this purpose? And if it is unclear to me that I should, am I not at liberty to report that as a part of my review?

Yes, and I hope you will.

But again, let us be clear that I am asking the reader to start using the definitions I am using in the book only for the purpose of reading and understanding the book, not to start using those definitions in other situations. So the use of the definitions is not framed in the context of an imperative for your life, if you mean using them for other purposes than understanding the book. The reader might find it useful to use those definitions in other settings, or might not. So again, the only purpose of those definitions is to convey what I am trying to convey more effectively to the reader while the reader is reading the book. If I use words that have a meaning to me but have a different meaning to the reader, communication will break down. And most of the words we are talking about have multiple meanings and definitions. Outside the context of reading the book, the reader is of course free to use words however he or she feels will be most effective.

And it is important also to recognize that those quotes from the book are lifted out of their contexts, so that they sound as if they are presenting the primary point being made, when that is not necessarily true. Here is an example involving one of the book quotes given above, what was quoted being only the last sentence in the paragraph:

I fully realize that the above statements sound grandiose and expose me to the possibility of being dismissed as obviously being of limited perspective and possibly as being worthy of ridicule or sympathy. I also fully realize that it is highly likely that some persons will indeed skim over the book superficially, and, without the understanding that comes from following the logical organization of the book, come to the conclusion that the book is obviously wrong and not worth reading, and I understand that still others will base their opinions about the book on what they have heard about it from such individuals. However, I stand by what I have said, and ask only that the reader form his or her own opinions on the basis of his or her own conscientious reading, and that, prior to rejecting the book, he or she read it until he or she does indeed find something that does not make sense to him or her.

I will add, however, that I do happen to believe the way the book uses words will indeed be helpful to the conscientious reader and will add clarity to the reader’s thinking in ways that will improve the reader’s life. This is a belief of mine, but that doesn’t make it so. (And it would not be true of every reader, some readers being more open to new thoughts than others for various reasons.) I hope I am making a contribution.

Again, thanks, Derik, for your continuing effort. I hope we can develop as we go along an increasingly effective methodology.
Derik T.
user 23955602
Charlotte, NC
Post #: 78
So we will eliminate the problematic terms “self-evident,” “self-evidence,” and “evident” and see if it is easier to proceed. Do you see any difficulty with the quotes from the book, as revised? (I feel the revisions express more satisfactorily what I was meaning.)

Thanks for your response, Bill.

It looks as though you've replaced the original requirement of self-evidence with the concept of "obviously correct to almost everyone". This approach is definitely an improvement in cases where one could approximate a universal, consensus view from day-to-day experience (e.g., the way humans manifest their motivational states, "(Agent) wants (object)"), but becomes less useful when...
- the reader would have no way of reasonably approximating what the universal, consensus view actually is (e.g., animals have emotions)
- the reader's impression of what the universal, consensus view would be is disconnected from a real, active scientific/philosophical debate on the topic (e.g., the notion of "opinions", "mistakes", etc. colliding with strict determinism)

For this reason, I still maintain that the most effective way to handle all of the above cases would be to articulate somewhere in the first few pages of the book what underlying beliefs will be manifested throughout the book--that may or may not be obviously correct to almost everyone--but that you won't have time to defend.

- - -

I, the reader, am a part of the species and so must conclude that you are trying to achieve optimal living--as you have defined it--in me. I may agree to your use of the definition in many informative contexts "for the sake of discussion", but when the use of the definition is framed in the context of an imperative for my life, am I not at liberty to determine whether it is self-evident that I should adopt it for this purpose? And if it is unclear to me that I should, am I not at liberty to report that as a part of my review?

Yes, and I hope you will.

But again, let us be clear that I am asking the reader to start using the definitions I am using in the book only for the purpose of reading and understanding the book, not to start using those definitions in other situations. So the use of the definitions is not framed in the context of an imperative for your life, if you mean using them for other purposes than understanding the book. The reader might find it useful to use those definitions in other settings, or might not. So again, the only purpose of those definitions is to convey what I am trying to convey more effectively to the reader while the reader is reading the book. If I use words that have a meaning to me but have a different meaning to the reader, communication will break down. And most of the words we are talking about have multiple meanings and definitions. Outside the context of reading the book, the reader is of course free to use words however he or she feels will be most effective.

This makes sense from the standpoint that the content of the book remains informative, but presumably there comes a point where the book pivots from "here is what I mean by optimal living in this book" to "the way I'm using optimal living in this book is the way I want you to use it in how you live your life." At which point should I, the reader, evaluate this? Each time I encounter an overt or covert "should" in the book, or at the end of the book after all points are considered together? I'm happy to do either.
Bill Van F.
wvanfleet
Group Organizer
Charlotte, NC
Post #: 1,287
Derik,
So we will eliminate the problematic terms “self-evident,” “self-evidence,” and “evident” and see if it is easier to proceed. Do you see any difficulty with the quotes from the book, as revised? (I feel the revisions express more satisfactorily what I was meaning.)

Thanks for your response, Bill.

It looks as though you've replaced the original requirement of self-evidence with the concept of "obviously correct to almost everyone". This approach is definitely an improvement in cases where one could approximate a universal, consensus view from day-to-day experience (e.g., the way humans manifest their motivational states, "(Agent) wants (object)"), but becomes less useful when...
- the reader would have no way of reasonably approximating what the universal, consensus view actually is (e.g., animals have emotions)
- the reader's impression of what the universal, consensus view would be is disconnected from a real, active scientific/philosophical debate on the topic (e.g., the notion of "opinions", "mistakes", etc. colliding with strict determinism)

For this reason, I still maintain that the most effective way to handle all of the above cases would be to articulate somewhere in the first few pages of the book what underlying beliefs will be manifested throughout the book--that may or may not be obviously correct to almost everyone--but that you won't have time to defend.
Again, Derik, you are derailing and misrepresenting. My effort was to reassure the reader that he or she would not need specialized technical knowledge to evaluate what I have written, and you are continuously portraying me as making some demands (as in “requirement”) on the reader that the reader agree with me, as if I am trying to coerce the reader into a philosophical belief.

- - -

I, the reader, am a part of the species and so must conclude that you are trying to achieve optimal living--as you have defined it--in me. I may agree to your use of the definition in many informative contexts "for the sake of discussion", but when the use of the definition is framed in the context of an imperative for my life, am I not at liberty to determine whether it is self-evident that I should adopt it for this purpose? And if it is unclear to me that I should, am I not at liberty to report that as a part of my review?

Yes, and I hope you will.

But again, let us be clear that I am asking the reader to start using the definitions I am using in the book only for the purpose of reading and understanding the book, not to start using those definitions in other situations. So the use of the definitions is not framed in the context of an imperative for your life, if you mean using them for other purposes than understanding the book. The reader might find it useful to use those definitions in other settings, or might not. So again, the only purpose of those definitions is to convey what I am trying to convey more effectively to the reader while the reader is reading the book. If I use words that have a meaning to me but have a different meaning to the reader, communication will break down. And most of the words we are talking about have multiple meanings and definitions. Outside the context of reading the book, the reader is of course free to use words however he or she feels will be most effective.

This makes sense from the standpoint that the content of the book remains informative, but presumably there comes a point where the book pivots from "here is what I mean by optimal living in this book" to "the way I'm using optimal living in this book is the way I want you to use it in how you live your life."
Where do I say this?
At which point should I, the reader, evaluate this? Each time I encounter an overt or covert "should" in the book, or at the end of the book after all points are considered together? I'm happy to do either.

You should indeed wait till the end of the book and see if it is true that I am trying to sneakily control the reader. I am reporting to the reader my conclusion, drawn from my observations, that we as a species are beginning to undergo a change in how we live our lives, and I am reporting to the reader that I believe those changes will be desirable and beneficial to everyone (as they would be to me). And I say that if the reader agrees, I have some suggestions as to how to go about helping. That is in the last chapter.

You seem strongly prepared to view me as trying to gain control over you and trick you into seeing things my way and doing things my way. There is a difference between that and my advocating to you that you consider doing some things differently, but only if you come to the same conclusions as I do, while also saying that those conclusions should make sense to you, and should not be agreed with just because I’m saying them.

So I am hoping the book will be informative to you in the sense of stimulating your thinking about certain things most all of us are aware of at least to some extent. If something I say seems incorrect or unclear, please quote it, including its context (one or more paragraphs around it) and state why you have a different opinion. That’s what will help.
Derik T.
user 23955602
Charlotte, NC
Post #: 79
Response 3 of 8 (referencing pages 40-60)

Strengths:
- Clarity of definitions of motivational states and beliefs
- Articulation of decisions being a function of one or more motivational states and one or more beliefs
- Insight into all mistakes of mankind being a result of mistaken motivational state(s), mistaken belief(s), or both. From the page 47:

So we are saying that, at this point, our model will explain ALL BEHAVIOR in terms of just TWO phenomena, namely, motivational states and beliefs, and that all MISTAKES are therefore caused ONLY by aspects of one or both of these two phenomena.

I believe this is an incredibly helpful way of considering the topic of human decisions and mistakes, and have never seen a presentation of this more clearly than in this book!

Potentially incorrect/unclear/incomplete elements:
- The author may be overreaching when describing the ultimate ethical principle in naturally-occurring ethics. Consider the following from page 53:


Let us first attempt to identify the ultimate ethical principle in our NATURALLY occurring ethics. We may notice that ultimately this ethics derives from “authors” of the ethical propositions, and that the response to these propositions, about what I should and should not do, is obedience or disobedience. We may therefore say that the naturally occurring ethics, that which derives from our basic animal nature, is “authoritarian” ethics, which is modeled according to the concept of obedience (or disobedience) in response to the author of the ethical propositions. This is true even though we may have lost track of who the author is or was. If we search for the ultimate authoritarian ethical principle, we will find it to be that we should do whatever the author (who is the most powerful one, for instance, parent, leader, group, or deity) says or said we should do, no matter what the author’s reason is for wanting us to do it.

So, the child asks the parent, “Why should I do it?” and the parent says, “Because I want you to!” And the subject asks the autocratic leader, “Why should I do it?” And the autocratic leader says, “Because I want you to!” And the group member asks, “Why should I do it?” and the group says, “Because we want you to!” And an individual is asked why he should do it, and he replies, “Because God
wants me to.” Of course, the “author” could give a reason as to why he, she, or it wanted it to be done, but that would be extra information, not a required part of the answer. That the author wanted it to be done would be considered by the author to be a sufficient reply. A parent might say to a child, “I don’t have to explain to you why I want you to do it. You should do it because you
are supposed to obey me.” And we could well imagine a deity, or anyone “in authority,” giving the same answer. Obedience is a phenomenon that is part of our basic animal nature.

So in other words, the authoritarian-ethical ultimate ethical principle is that we should do whatever X wants us to do, X being whoever or whatever is most powerful.

I agree that the underlined statement accurately captures the ultimate ethical principle in naturally-occurring ethics, but disagree with the additional content that attributes the author's influence only to being the "most powerful". Let's consider some examples of different types of authors and the accompanying beliefs and motivational states that commonly result in obedience:
- My Dad wants me to make my bed. If I do not make my bed, then he will spank me. I should make my bed. (author's influence derived from power)
- My Mom wants me to make my bed. If I do not make my bed, then she will be sad. I should make my bed. (author's influence derived from love/empathy)
- My brother wants me to make my bed. If I make my bed, he will play a board game with me. I should make my bed. (author's influence derived from interactivity/connectedness)
- My philosophy group friend wants me to make my bed. If I make my bed, he will think I'm taking care of my basic equipment in life. I should make my bed. (author's influence derived from approval and/or trust)
- My son wants me to make my bed. If I make my bed, I will be a good example to him. I should make my bed. (author's influence derived from responsibility/duty)
- Abraham Lincoln wants all people, including me, to make their beds. If I make my bed, I will be more aligned with a great man. I should make my bed. (author's influence derived from historical/moral prominence)

Of course, Bill could have meant "most powerful" to encompass all forms of influence, but this would be a rather odd definition of "power" in that an author may not even know he/she has the power (as in the cases of Mom, brother, son, and Abraham Lincoln above). It would also be an odd definition of "power" because it would allow for many different authors with different flavors of "power" to be acting on the bed-maker's psyche simultaneously, none of whom would quite accurately fit the description "most powerful".

For this reason, I would urge Bill to remove all references that attribute an author's influence exclusively to "power" and thereafter give mention to the many sources of influence by which an author (knowingly or unknowingly) inspires obedience (e.g., power, love/empathy, interactivity/connectedness, responsibility/duty, prominence, and likely quite a few more).

(continued...)
Derik T.
user 23955602
Charlotte, NC
Post #: 80
(...continued)

Response 3 of 8 (referencing pages 40-60)

- The author may not recognize that the rational-ethical ultimate ethical principle is also author-based and, therefore, authoritarian in nature. Consider the following from page 58:


Let us first restate and look at this rational-ethical ultimate ethical principle: What should be done is that which will most likely promote the survival of and the good life for our species, that is, for everyone, now and in the future. The good life is the experiencing of as much joy, appreciation, and contentment as possible, and therefore as little pain, suffering, disability, and early death as possible.

Now I know that the reader will have much skepticism at this point that this principle will be a useful one for the full range of decisions that have to be made, but I ask the reader, first, to try to propose a better ultimate ethical principle and then, second, to consider what follows with regard to the elaboration of this idea.


Notice again that the rational-ethical ultimate ethical principle that I am proposing is not one that has been told to us by an authority that commands our obedience, but is instead the product of all of us by virtue of our examination of it and our agreement with one another. Now one could hypothesize a deity that actually was commanding our species to destroy itself, but there surely would be debate as to the existence of such a deity, and it is questionable, at least, whether we should indeed obey such a deity, as opposed to trying to change its mind in some manner. It is therefore quite unlikely that there would be universal agreement. But most who are convinced of authoritarian ethics based upon the will (motivational state) of a deity would probably also be convinced that the deity would in no way be displeased with our having the above-proposed rational-ethical ultimate ethical principle, even if we were not adhering to it just to please the deity.

The author can claim in the underlined text that the rational-ethical ultimate ethical principle is "the product of all of us by virtue of our examination of it", but any reader of the book will easily recognize it's not his/her idea. From his/her perspective, it originated with the author. In this respect, is it not another form of authoritarian principle?

It's worth noting that the author is in no way attempting to coerce the reader through power. But, as shown above, power is not the only means by which to inspire obedience. Love/empathy, interactivity/connectedness, yearning for approval, and prominence are all forms of influence that authors (knowingly or unknowlingly) use. In Bill's case, he is attempting to use reason. While an arguably more nobler form of influence than power, the inescapable fact remains that the rational-ethical ultimate ethical principle, in this form, owes its authorship to Bill. These ethics are therefore authoritarian ethics.

- The "sphere of influence" concept introduces the optimization of local maximums that undermine global maximums. Consider the following from pages 59 and 60 respectively:


The basic ethical philosophy for the individual that would appear to be the most realistic, the most valuable to everyone, the most productive of good self-esteem, and the most consistent with the rational-ethical ultimate ethical principle would be, I propose to the reader: I should do my part to make the world a better place, within my sphere of influence, and within the limits of my
capabilities.

By sphere of influence, I mean that set of individuals upon whom the behavior of oneself can have some impact, now and/or in the future. The center of one’s sphere of influence would be oneself, since oneself is the person upon whom one has the most effect. Close to the center of this sphere of influence would be those that one is “closest to” psychologically, meaning those upon whom one
has the greatest influence or effect. Obviously, this sphere has an undefined outer boundary, since we never know the total set of outcomes of our behavior. On the other hand, just as there are obviously individuals that one can easily see are impacted by one’s own behavior, there are other individuals that one can not imagine having any effect on, so the concept is not meaningless.


One’s sphere of influence has no definable outer boundary. We have the most influence over that which is close to the center of the sphere of influence, and that is where the most effort should be directed. First we should treat ourselves well, so that we can do other things well. Then we should think the most about those who are “closest” to us, that is, are most affected by what we do. And what we should do is anything that will enhance the lives of others, now and in the future. The more we treat each other well, the more everyone benefits from the benevolent and pleasant interpersonal environment that we create. A good deed or kind act may have all sorts of beneficial outcomes that we will never see. And when we act well, we model for others how to do so, thereby helping others to behave similarly. The effects of our little deeds (good or bad) ripple away from us in ways we cannot see.

I disagree that acting in this manner would be consistent with the rational-ethical ultimate ethical principle. Acting in greatest benevolence towards the center of one's sphere of influence and with decreasing benevolence toward those farther out would not be acting in such a way as to "most likely promote the survival of and the good life for our species, that is, for everyone, now and in the future." Acting in greatest benevolence towards the center of one's sphere would, in fact, promote an ever-widening gap with those on one side surviving and living an exponentially-improving good life while those on the other side experience significantly more death and, for those that live, a very slowly-improving life.

This phenomenon is caused by the difference in "starting places" of different spheres.

Let's consider two lineages starting in the present day with two very different families: one is a well-to-do, stable, loving family in the suburbs of Charlotte, the other an impoverished, HIV-infected, fatherless family living in Somalia. How many generations of the above approach of "think the most about those who are 'closest' to us" would have to go by until the Somalia family's sphere experienced a dramatic improvement in survival and "good life"?

To be consistent with the REUEP, would there not have to be a reversal of this concept for those with the best starting places?

To accelerate the change fastest, would not the families with already-great lives need to spend a disproportionate amount of resources promoting the good life for the least fortunate on the edges of their spheres of influence?
Bill Van F.
wvanfleet
Group Organizer
Charlotte, NC
Post #: 1,289
Derik,

There is, of course, much to respond to. I so much wish you would just stop at the first sentence you think is unclear or incorrect, post it within its surrounding context (one or more paragraphs), and then state why you believe it is unclear or incorrect. Or if not a sentence, then a paragraph that seems incorrect or unclear. But trying to deal with multiple issues leads to such lengthy posts, and I think we could avoid unnecessary ones as greater clarification occurred.

And arbitrarily choosing a range of pages to respond to, rather than a chapter, or a set of paragraphs about a certain topic, would make much more sense, unless you are simply skimming for sentences that can be criticized if taken out of context. [Edit: I hope it is obvious that I erroneously wrote this sentence backwards. It should state: “And choosing a chapter, or a set of paragraphs about a certain topic, rather than arbitrarily choosing a range of pages to respond to, would make much more sense, unless you are simply skimming for sentences that can be criticized if taken out of context.”] The book tries to deal with issues in a logical, organized fashion, and, for instance, when a chapter is completed, the reader should have a better concept of what was presented early in the chapter. So it makes little sense to me to arbitrarily choose ranges of pages, that chop up concepts in the middle of their presentations/explanations.

Response 3 of 8 (referencing pages 40-60)

Strengths:
- Clarity of definitions of motivational states and beliefs
- Articulation of decisions being a function of one or more motivational states and one or more beliefs
- Insight into all mistakes of mankind being a result of mistaken motivational state(s), mistaken belief(s), or both. From the page 47:

So we are saying that, at this point, our model will explain ALL BEHAVIOR in terms of just TWO phenomena, namely, motivational states and beliefs, and that all MISTAKES are therefore caused ONLY by aspects of one or both of these two phenomena.

I believe this is an incredibly helpful way of considering the topic of human decisions and mistakes, and have never seen a presentation of this more clearly than in this book!

But this is a very INACCURATE reading of what is presented in the book, even just before what you have quoted. The book does NOT speak of “mistaken motivational mistakes” and ALTHOUGH “mistaken beliefs” is a phrase that people do use, the book specifically uses terminology DIFFERENTLY, in order to use terms in a highly consistent manner. This is clarified in the paragraphs just before what you have quoted, as follows:

Now let us return to the concept of “mistake.”

A mistake has been defined as a decision that has led to, or would lead to, a bad outcome. This is one use of the word, “mistake.” Another common use of the word refers to mistaken belief, which, in this book, will be called inaccurate belief. Inaccurate beliefs lead to inaccurate predictions, and therefore to mistaken decisions. If, when I attempt to eat this apple, I find that the apple is made of wax, my prediction is found to be inaccurate, and I conclude that I have made a mistake (the bad outcome being a mouthful of wax). The mistake occurs because of an inaccurate belief, namely, that the apple is food. So, an important cause of mistakes is inaccurate beliefs.

But some mistakes are made primarily because of the strength of motivational states rather than the existence of inaccurate beliefs. (It is well recognized that strong emotions often lead to mistakes. “I knew it wasn’t right, but I felt so upset I couldn’t control myself.”) On the other hand, strong motivational states perhaps most often are based upon beliefs that have been activated into predictions in certain situations. It is the interpretation of the situation, namely, the beliefs about the nature of the situation, that often produce unusually strong motivational states, and we have often seen such motivational states, brought about by accurate or inaccurate beliefs, lead to mistakes.

In the case of the faulty or “mistaken” perception, such as the mirage or the optical illusion, the mistake (in the sense of the decision) that might be caused by such a perception is caused by the belief that the perception is indeed accurate. (I go off course in my journey across the desert because I believe there is water in that direction, based upon what I am seeing. But seeing is not believing, because another person, already knowing about mirages and also having a map, does not believe what he or she is seeing.) Thus, there is no need to add another set of determinants (beyond motivational states and beliefs) to account for mistakes caused by faulty perceptions.

So we are saying that, at this point, our model will explain ALL BEHAVIOR in terms of just TWO phenomena, namely, motivational states and beliefs, and that all MISTAKES are therefore caused ONLY by aspects of one or both of these two phenomena.

So perhaps you can see why I am concerned that you may be skimming the book and not understanding it adequately. It would be so great if you would go back and read the chapter on “Basic Concepts: Determinants of Behavior” so that you understand it. If you really understood it you would not have made that mistake and thus misrepresented what is actually in the book. What is happening is exactly what I predicted on page 8, namely:

I also fully realize that it is highly likely that some persons will indeed skim over the book superficially, and, without the understanding that comes from following the logical organization of the book, come to the conclusion that the book is obviously wrong and not worth reading, and I understand that still others will base their opinions about the book on what they have heard about it from such individuals.

Again, I do value your finding parts of the book that are inaccurate or unclear and reporting those. But to change the meaning of what is in the book and misrepresent it, and then argue against those misrepresentations, giving the impression that the book is defective and not worthwhile, is nothing I can feel appreciative about. And although you are “saying the right thing” by finding something to praise (even if it is not actually in the book and doesn’t even sound right), in order to presumably demonstrate that you are being “objective” and not just fault-finding, I think others will, like myself, speculate regarding your main motivation (to defeat a belief system different from your own). But again, having such motivation is not a problem, unless it produces misrepresentation, and that is what I am concerned about.

(Continued in next post)
Bill Van F.
wvanfleet
Group Organizer
Charlotte, NC
Post #: 1,290
(Continued from previous post)

You now begin your negative findings.

Potentially incorrect/unclear/incomplete elements:
- The author may be overreaching when describing the ultimate ethical principle in naturally-occurring ethics. Consider the following from page 53:
(I have restored the bolding in what follows.)

Let us first attempt to identify the ultimate ethical principle in our NATURALLY occurring ethics. We may notice that ultimately this ethics derives from “authors” of the ethical propositions, and that the response to these propositions, about what I should and should not do, is obedience or disobedience. We may therefore say that the naturally occurring ethics, that which derives from our basic animal nature, is “authoritarian” ethics, which is modeled according to the concept of obedience (or disobedience) in response to the author of the ethical propositions. This is true even though we may have lost track of who the author is or was. If we search for the ultimate authoritarian ethical principle, we will find it to be that we should do whatever the author (who is the most powerful one, for instance, parent, leader, group, or deity) says or said we should do, no matter what the author’s reason is for wanting us to do it.

So, the child asks the parent, “Why should I do it?” and the parent says, “Because I want you to!” And the subject asks the autocratic leader, “Why should I do it?” And the autocratic leader says, “Because I want you to!” And the group member asks, “Why should I do it?” and the group says, “Because we want you to!” And an individual is asked why he should do it, and he replies, “Because God wants me to.” Of course, the “author” could give a reason as to why he, she, or it wanted it to be done, but that would be extra information, not a required part of the answer. That the author wanted it to be done would be considered by the author to be a sufficient reply. A parent might say to a child, “I don’t have to explain to you why I want you to do it. You should do it because you are supposed to obey me.” And we could well imagine a deity, or anyone “in authority,” giving the same answer. Obedience is a phenomenon that is part of our basic animal nature.

So in other words, the authoritarian-ethical ultimate ethical principle is that we should do whatever X wants us to do, X being whoever or whatever is most powerful.

I agree that the underlined statement accurately captures the ultimate ethical principle in naturally-occurring ethics, but disagree with the additional content that attributes the author's influence only to being the "most powerful". Let's consider some examples of different types of authors and the accompanying beliefs and motivational states that commonly result in obedience:
Please note what you are calling “obedience.” You are stating that in each of these cases, you are “obeying,” but then you are giving a different “author’s influence” than the need to obey, except for the first one.

- My Dad wants me to make my bed. If I do not make my bed, then he will spank me. I should make my bed. (author's influence derived from power)
- My Mom wants me to make my bed. If I do not make my bed, then she will be sad. I should make my bed. (author's influence derived from love/empathy)
Why do you call this “obedience”?

- My brother wants me to make my bed. If I make my bed, he will play a board game with me. I should make my bed. (author's influence derived from interactivity/connectedness)
Why do you call this “obedience”?

- My philosophy group friend wants me to make my bed. If I make my bed, he will think I'm taking care of my basic equipment in life. I should make my bed. (author's influence derived from approval and/or trust)
Why do you call this “obedience”?

- My son wants me to make my bed. If I make my bed, I will be a good example to him. I should make my bed. (author's influence derived from responsibility/duty)
Why do you call this “obedience”?

- Abraham Lincoln wants all people, including me, to make their beds. If I make my bed, I will be more aligned with a great man. I should make my bed. (author's influence derived from historical/moral prominence)
Why do you call this “obedience”?


Of course, Bill could have meant "most powerful" to encompass all forms of influence, but this would be a rather odd definition of "power" in that an author may not even know he/she has the power (as in the cases of Mom, brother, son, and Abraham Lincoln above).
Agreed.
It would also be an odd definition of "power" because it would allow for many different authors with different flavors of "power" to be acting on the bed-maker's psyche simultaneously, none of whom would quite accurately fit the description "most powerful".
Agreed.


For this reason, I would urge Bill to remove all references that attribute an author's influence exclusively to "power" and thereafter give mention to the many sources of influence by which an author (knowingly or unknowingly) inspires obedience (e.g., power, love/empathy, interactivity/connectedness, responsibility/duty, prominence, and likely quite a few more).

I think that you are giving an example of how linguistics interferes so much with the ability to agree. You can certainly call the list of “shoulds” you have listed “ethical beliefs,” in which case the whole concept of “ethics” breaks down and becomes meaningless. If you say that you “should” do anything that anyone wants you to do, and therefore doing it is the ethical thing to do, you are saying something no one would agree with. You are giving a list of examples of things you believe you should do, presumably only because the person wants you to do those things. If indeed you believed you should do those things, I would maintain it would have to be for other reasons than simply that someone wants you to do them.

The book does indeed recognize this possibility of this sort of confusion, but it perhaps is too optimistic:

For our purposes, let us define ethics as that subset of beliefs that can be modeled by propositions containing the verb “should” in them, or propositions that could be rephrased to do so.

Now there are problems with this definition that can be overcome simply by recognizing them.

The first problem is that the word “should” has more than one meaning, and we are referring only to one of those meanings. We are using the word to mean what it does in the sentence, “You may want to do X, but you really should do Y instead.” We are not using the word to mean what it does in the sentence, “According to this map, the next street should be X street.” In the second sentence, a prediction is modeled.

So you are using another meaning of “should” that I did not anticipate. It would be along the lines of “If I want to accomplish this goal, then I should do the following.” So, a clear example of this meaning in your list would be “if I want to get him to play a board game with him, I should make my bed.”

(Continued in next post)
Bill Van F.
wvanfleet
Group Organizer
Charlotte, NC
Post #: 1,291
(Continued from previous post)

Also, by a linguistic trick (I would maintain), you are making the book look ridiculous. You are calling doing anything that anyone wants you to do an act of “obedience.” I guess you can do that, because our language allows you to, but that would simply be another example of how the imperfections of our language interfere with coming to agreement (especially if it is important for some reason not to do so). But to say, for instance, that if you are doing me a favor (by doing something I would really like you to do) you are obeying me (obeying my wishes), then you can indeed trash anything I am advocating in the book. The concept of obedience becomes non-useful, so any effort for me to convey ideas involving the concept of “obedience” become useless.

I will give this issue some more thought to see if there is any way of avoiding such misrepresentation, but right now I am indeed at a loss. Obviously, I would have to clarify better how I was using “obedience” in this book. (This is one reason the book is so long. There are so, so many ways to misinterpret another’s statements, knowingly and unknowingly, that this fact represents probably the greatest threat to the welfare of our species. That’s why I spent so much space in the chapter on “Basic Methods Used In This Book.”

On the other hand, I think that there is another way in which you have identified an unclear issue in the book. The book does speak to it, but probably not adequately at the point where such comment is needed. You are talking about other reasons for believing that something is the right thing to do that do not involve “obedience of the most powerful.” What I did not make clear here is that non-authoritarian ethics is not non-existent “naturally.” What I am maintaining in the book is that what is natural to our species is the predominance of authoritarian ethics. Rational ethics, as the term is used in the book, also is present, as a consequence of our being a group animal. (It is present because it also promotes the survival of the species.) The REUEP and the AEUEP (authoritarian-ethical ultimate ethical principle) have both been with us since the beginning, but the marked predominance of the AEUEP is what causes so much PSDED (pain, suffering, disability, and early death). This fact is noted here:

As a prelude to answering this question, I wish to remind the reader that one aspect of the thesis of this book is that this third change, to rational ethics, is an exponential change. Therefore, just as has been true for the first two changes, one cannot identify a time when the new phenomena suddenly came into existence. One can always find some examples of the phenomena being present, no matter how far back in time we look. But, if I am right, we should be able to conclude that the presence of rational ethics has grown a little over the last few thousand years, and even more so recently. And I believe that we can indeed use our imaginations to picture a world in which an almost complete transition to rational ethics has been accomplished, a world in which we are trained from our earliest years to utilize rational ethics. This is indeed my prediction, regarding the time of “Homo rationalis,” and it is my prediction that the reader will agree if he or she continues to learn what I am referring to.

So we have always had some tendency to want to make the world a better place for “everyone” (or other people in our group). We have always had the capacity for some degree of sympathy, and I believe this tendency is not totally absent in other species, though that probably warrants further discussion.

At any rate, the misrepresentation here I believe is that you are presenting what I am predicting and advocating for as a change from one state of affairs to a different state of affairs, as opposed to an increase (to a much, much greater extent) in what is already occurring somewhat.

(Continued in next post)
Bill Van F.
wvanfleet
Group Organizer
Charlotte, NC
Post #: 1,292
(Continued from previous post)

So here is the next misrepresentation.

- The author may not recognize that the rational-ethical ultimate ethical principle is also author-based and, therefore, authoritarian in nature.

I have had the worry that my use of the word “author” might backfire. My effort, first of all, was to be able to have a label for the predominate kind of ethics. The term “authoritarian” seemed very close to the concept of what has tended to cause us so much difficulty. So I was trying to make use of the “author” component to point out that I was talking about “having to do” that which some person or deity wants one to do, in order to avoid the consequences of “disobedience.” I don’t know of a better term. And it seemed to me that “author” would satisfactorily indicate that person or entity the wishes of whom or which one was obeying. The problem, of course, is that “author” is used quite commonly in other ways. I was counting on my using this term to be helpful to the reader, rather than it being a vulnerability to misrepresentation.


Consider the following from page 58:

Let us first restate and look at this rational-ethical ultimate ethical principle: What should be done is that which will most likely promote the survival of and the good life for our species, that is, for everyone, now and in the future. The good life is the experiencing of as much joy, appreciation, and contentment as possible, and therefore as little pain, suffering, disability, and early death as possible.

Now I know that the reader will have much skepticism at this point that this principle will be a useful one for the full range of decisions that have to be made, but I ask the reader, first, to try to propose a better ultimate ethical principle and then, second, to consider what follows with regard to the elaboration of this idea.


Notice again that the rational-ethical ultimate ethical principle that I am proposing is not one that has been told to us by an authority that commands our obedience, but is instead the product of all of us by virtue of our examination of it and our agreement with one another. Now one could hypothesize a deity that actually was commanding our species to destroy itself, but there surely would be debate as to the existence of such a deity, and it is questionable, at least, whether we should indeed obey such a deity, as opposed to trying to change its mind in some manner. It is therefore quite unlikely that there would be universal agreement. But most who are convinced of authoritarian ethics based upon the will (motivational state) of a deity would probably also be convinced that the deity would in no way be displeased with our having the above-proposed rational-ethical ultimate ethical principle, even if we were not adhering to it just to please the deity.

The author can claim in the underlined text that the rational-ethical ultimate ethical principle is "the product of all of us by virtue of our examination of it", but any reader of the book will easily recognize it's not his/her idea. From his/her perspective, it originated with the author. In this respect, is it not another form of authoritarian principle?
So because I am the author of this book, and am trying to put into words a principle that is becoming increasingly influential, I am now being portrayed as the “author” of the REUEP. That then, presumably, makes the REUEP just another AEUEP! So if I advocate that we become aware of a principle that we are increasingly making use of, and putting it into words so that we can see it better, then anyone agreeing with me is obeying me!

It's worth noting that the author is in no way attempting to coerce the reader through power. But, as shown above, power is not the only means by which to inspire obedience.
Again, why call this obedience. This portrays my effort at advocacy as dictatorship.
Love/empathy, interactivity/connectedness, yearning for approval, and prominence are all forms of influence that authors (knowingly or unknowlingly) use. In Bill's case, he is attempting to use reason. While an arguably more nobler form of influence than power, the inescapable fact remains that the rational-ethical ultimate ethical principle, in this form, owes its authorship to Bill. These ethics are therefore authoritarian ethics.
Very skilled trashing, I think. There goes the whole main concept of the book, which is now meaningless, presumably. The REUEP is really an AEUEP, and Bill is the new dictator! Very skilled misrepresentation.

What I wonder is, knowing that you, Derik, are very committed to theism, and thus to “obeying God,” whether it is difficult for you to imagine any kind of cooperation that would not be “obedience.” Maybe the concept of “obedience” is extremely important to you. I know that many people think that if there were no God, then they would just go on a spree of moment by moment self-gratification that did not take into consideration the feelings or welfare of anyone else. Atheists have tried to respond to this proposition by pointing out that it is quite unfounded. But to regard all going along with the wishes of others or the pleasing of others or the concern about the welfare of others as “obedience” really does put a block in the way of cooperation, which is so essential to our welfare. Belief in God and obedience to His presumed wishes is not the only way of making the world a better place for everyone, nor would I personally maintain the best way, depending on what one meant by “God.”

(Continued in next post)
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