From: "Phil Roberts, Jr." Date: Wed, 26 May 2004 23:30:53 -0400 Subject: Re: [evol-psych] Evolution of morality Mark Flinn wrote: > There is a fine distinction between the 'is vs. ought' naturalistic > fallacy and what we are discussing here. A current understanding of > moral systems, based on evolutionary theory (e.g., Alexander 1987), > does not suggest that what exists in biological reality ('is') has a > higher moral standing ('ought'). We are trying to move beyond the > old Spencerian ideas. The anti-sociobiology groups that tried to > discredit evolutionary approaches with those political tactics were > wrong. > > But that is not to say that 'ought' does not have a scientific > underpinning. Folk beliefs are not random, and unless we want to > place our unquestioning faith in the Koran or the Bible or the Shaman > of your choice, then we need to try and understand why humans have > 'oughts'. > I have a couple of trial balloons to offer on this 'ought' business. No doubt someone in the group will be able to find a fly or two in my ointment. Here goes: 'Ought's are entailments or predictions of causal hypotheses. These come in two basic flavors, with a subdivision in the second: 1. Run of the mill causal 'ought's, e.g., If it rains the grass 'ought' to turn green. 2. Rational agent causal 'ought's a. prudential 'ought's e.g., One 'ought' not drink to excess. b. moral 'ought's e.g., One 'ought' to love his neighbor as he loves himself. Underlying both the prudential and moral 'oughts' is an implicit theory of rationality we all share in which rationality is simply a matter valuative objectivity and, indeed, valuative objectivity in one form or another underlies prudential and moral norms the world over (exceptions to my assumed rule would be most appreciated, if someone has one or two to offer). Tying this into evolutionary theory, the chief benefit of morality is NOT physical, but rather emotional, in that our self-esteem is heavily dependent on our being able to view ourselves as rational, i.e., of being relatively more valuatively objective than non-rational creatures. The reason we need to nourish our self-esteem is because the value we attach to ourselves is just another way of talking about 'the will to survive' in a species that accomplishes this from long range planning (in contrast to blind responses to stimuli), and because we ourselves have become a little too valuatively objective (too rational, according to our implicit theory of same) for our own good, and now require EVIDENCE (justification) for the rationally inordinate sense of importance nature would like us to maintain in order to insure our survival. Implicit in this is the contention that nature has not been selecting for sociality in man, but rather rationality, with sociality merely one of its many manifestations (i.e. the need for evidence in the form of the opinions of others that one has worth in order to sustain one's will to survive). [snipped] > > We will not discover moral 'facts' analogous to the facts regarding a > hydrogen atom. There are no absolute ultimate morals akin to the > physical laws of the universe. In an earlier post I actually did offer what I view as a science like derivation of a moral 'ought' from an epistemic 'is'. I say science-like in the sense that many philosophers of science I am familiar with have increasingly come to champion explanationism, a la Pierce, Harmon, Lycan, Thagard as a more realistic view of the epistemology underlying the scientific enterprise. Assuming this is so, then my science-like derivation goes as follows: 1. Assume that 'being rational' is NOT simply a matter of 'being efficient' (means/end theory) 'being logical' (computationalism) 'being self-interested' (egoism) 'being happy' (pragmatism) 'being strategically logical (game theory) 'following a universalizable maxim (Kant) 'fulfilling one's desires' (hedonism) 'maximizing global happiness' (utilitarianism) 'truth or falsehood (Hume) etc. but simply a matter of 'being able to "see" what is going on' [non-formalizable] with the metaphor unpacked to 'being rational' = 'being objective', not only cognitively, BUT VALUATIVELY AS WELL. 2. Corroborate the epistemic credentials (the "is" component of the ought derivation) of the above "theory" in terms of its ability to maximize explanatory coherence better than any of its competitors (means/end, egoism, etc.). For example: a. The theory can "explain", at least in a conceptual framework not available from the perspective of competing theories, both the excessive altruism and the emotional instability (volatility in self-worth) observable in homo sapiens, in that they can both be construed as two different sides of the same valuative objectivity coin (an equalizing of value between the interests of others and one's self). Since in the above theory, rationality correlates with valuative objectivity, homo sapiens would be construed as having become MORE RATIONAL than the predicted norm (ruthless selfishness). While this doesn't offer us an immediate causal account of the anomalies in question (altruism and emotional instability), it certainly offers one a new conceptual framework for thinking about them which, in turn, might lead to an improved causal account (e.g., they are maladaptive byproducts of the evolution of rationality). b. The theory can shed new light on a number of rationality paradoxes such as Newcomb's Problem, Prisoner's Dilemma, etc., in that all such paradoxes stem from the assumption that rationality is a strategic attribute. c. The theory can circumvent the logical paradoxes of rational irrationality, similar to the example offered by Derek Parfit on page 12 of 'Reasons and Persons'. d. The theory can explain the chaos of the Cohen symposium on rationality ('The Behavioral and Brain Sciences', 1981, 4, 317-370) by sharpening the distinction between logic and reasoning (I wouldn't go into this here). e. The theory can offer intersubjectively reproducible empirical evidence (feelings of worthlessness) that mother nature's most rational species is beginning to show signs of "standing outside the system" (Lucas) corroborating the Lucas and Penrose position on the implications of Godel's incompleteness theorem (i.e., minds are not machines). (again a bit too complex an issue for explanation in this particular post). f. The theory is compatible with what is the currently accepted paradigm for practical rationality, the 'equal weight' criterion, albeit extended beyond the periphery of self-interest: My feelings a year hence should be just as important to me as my feelings next minute, if only I could make an equally sure forecast of them. Indeed this equal and impartial concern for all parts of one's conscious life is perhaps the most prominent element in the common notion of the _rational_. (Henry Sidgwick, 'The Methods of Ethics'). All these theories [of rational self-interest] also claim that, in deciding what would be best for someone, we should give equal weight to all the parts of this person's future. Later events may be less predictable; and a predictable event should count for less if it is less likely to happen. But it should not count for less merely because, if it happens, it will happen later (Derek Parfit, 'Reasons and Persons'). 3. Derive the 'ought' component via the syllogism: PERMISE: 'Given that one chooses to be rational, CONNECTIVE then MORAL MAXIM: one ought to 'Love (value) their neighbor as they love (value) themself'. Notice that this moral maxim does not contain any values in the maxim itself. It merely states, given that one values X such and such an amount, then one ought to value Y such and such an amount. But that does not mean that the ought doesn't have underlying premises. Indeed, it would seem to have both a cognitive AND a valuative premise. The cognitive premise is that the underlying theory of rationality is "true", and the valuative premise is that the individual in question values rationality. And guess what? I don't think this is actually MY theory of rationality, in that I suspect the maxim itself rings a bell in just about anyone capable of reflective thought. My conclusion then. Moral oughts are entailments of an implicit theory of rationality we humans have been subconsciously entertaining for the past several thousand years (as evidenced by the widespread acceptance of the moral maxim) and as such is entailed by the implicit cognitive premise that our shared theory of rationality is "true" and the shared valuative premise that rationality is itself of intrinsic worth, or at least of sufficient worth to warrant that humans will often sacrifice their well-being, and at times their very lives (e.g., self-incinerating Buddhist monks) in the pursuit of moral objectives. Rationology 101 How the Author of Genesis Got It Right (and the Golden Rule Got It Wrong) http://www.rationology.net Phil Roberts, Jr.