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Morals: Biological, or Philosophical (Read 458 times)

Scout7


CPT Curmudgeon

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/20/science/20moral.html?ex=1332043200&en=84f902cc81da9173&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss I came across this article, and thought that, considering past discussions with JTH, this would be interesting. Basically, there is a growing belief that morals have a biological basis. JK's brethren have show what can be considered the building blocks of morality. All of this leads to an interesting question: Are morals based on biological/sociological adaptations, or are they really a construct of man's ability to reason? Personally, as I've stated before, I tend to view morals as an evolved survival mechanism. Social animals are social because it helps them survive and thrive. To be a social creature, each must conform behavior to meet the social norm of the group. So he group dynamic dictates what is acceptable, or right, allowing for entrance into the group and the associated protection.
      Interesting. I passed the link along to my brother (he's a psychologist), he likes articles such as this.

      Michelle

      Marathon Maniac # 3228



        Response from my brother: meh, hard to say...seems to me (only read first part) that hearing the reaction is aversive and that might be what they're trying to avoid, etc. etc. you should read the book "The Selfish Gene" --

        Michelle

        Marathon Maniac # 3228



          Well, like a good philosopher (good scientists do this, too) I'll take issue with the question. I do not like the way the article pits the view of philosophy against the view of biology. First, because as the article later makes clear when it cites their many different approaches to this question, philosophers have many different views about the nature and consequences of morality. Second, because the separation between philosophy and natural science is a very recent separation historically, one that has happened for a variety of reasons, few of which have had good consequences for philosophy or science. Many of these consequences are evident in this article. The most outrageous claim that the article makes is the following, which it provides no evidence for: "These four kinds of behavior — empathy, the ability to learn and follow social rules, reciprocity and peacemaking — are the basis of sociality." What? Which sociality? That of humans or that of chimpanzees or that of ants or of geese? Aren't there important differences between these types of sociality? How does this definition allow us to understand these differences? Or what about the different human societies? Were these four kinds of behavior at the basis of the sociality of the Soviet Union? Of Hussein's Iraq? Of military culture? Of our own democracy? Why is it best to understand sociality this way? Whose ends does this way of understanding sociality serve? I find the move from studying one type of animal behavior to the basis of sociality as such very troubling. The philosopher in this article whose point of view I'm most sympathetic with is Kitchner. I agree with this: "Dr. Philip Kitcher, a philosopher at Columbia University, likes Dr. de Waal’s empirical approach. “I have no doubt there are patterns of behavior we share with our primate relatives that are relevant to our ethical decisions,” he said. “Philosophers have always been beguiled by the dream of a system of ethics which is complete and finished, like mathematics. I don’t think it’s like that at all.” But I would revise it to say that some philosophers have sometimes been beguiled by the dream of a total system of ethics. I find these totalizing remarks about what it is that philosophers do, what a philosophical approach is, fairly offensive. They perpetuate a myth about the philosopher that is becoming increasingly true (myths often have this strange function)--that the philosopher denies all empirical evidence from his or her armchair and dreams about the biggest of questions in the most abstract of ways. This view of philosophy is itself a dream of the most dangerous kind. It is belied by the history of philosophy, which is full of different methods, different approaches, different relations to science. I think of philosophy as the development of methods of criticism in the service of experience. Science can be an ally in this task, as can literature, politics, journalism, religion... Finally, while I wholeheartedly agree that empirical science produces important results for morality, Dr. Waal approaches the question of morality in the wrong way. He wants to find THE origin of moral behavior and locate it in animal behavior. Before Dr. Waal, others have located the origin of morality in the Bible, or in notions like culture, or in neurobiology, or in childhood development, or in the habit of giving reasons. I think that the desire to locate the origins of morality once and for all is a strange one. My sense is that all of these things contribute to our moral behavior in varying degrees. But the important question concerning moral behavior, to me, is not where it came from, but how can it solve our problems? And how can we adapt our understanding of what the right thing to do is in the face of a changing world with shifting problems? This is the philosopher's task. We philosophers need all the help we can get--from biology, history, neuroscience, literature, art, agriculture, religion, carpentry, engineering, etc. Pitting philosophy against these allied forms of human inquiry which might be helpful in answering these questions seems to me to be the wrong way to go. So there's my rather snarky reply. I guess the article touched a nerve. Or maybe it's because I had to take a day off from running yesterday. Anyhow, if you made it to this point in my diatribe, congratulations. I could have gone on, you know. Wink
          Scout7


          CPT Curmudgeon

            I know you could've.
              JK's brethren have shown what can be considered the building blocks of morality.
              You obviously don't know me and my brethren. We do like playing with blocks, though.
              E-mail: JakeKnight2002@aol.com
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