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Cosmocentric Ethics

  1. Jan 3, 2006 #1
    In the beginning, there was nothing but the Plasma. Everything was simple. What existed before the Plasma, science cannot yet say. The Plasma had a high energy density. It condensed into complex atoms of hydrogen and helium. Then there was Light. When the universe lit up, there was valuing going on.

    When everything lit up, the parts of the complex atoms functioned just thus and so, and so preserved themselves from the forces of destruction, thus demonstrating their Good Design. If things had been otherwise, everything would have fallen apart. And since there was Good Design, there were means-end relations. And since there were means, there was instrumental valuing going on. And since there was instrumental valuing going on, there was intrinsic valuing going on.

    Eventually, the hydrogen and helium atoms in their turn condensed into galaxies and stars. Other types of atoms formed within the stars. Each epoch leading to the present was an epic unto itself, when prodigious things-valuing-in-themselves would form only to succumb to crisis, and then to reform, from the ensuing chaos, evermore complex things-valuing-in-themselves. Eventually, the planet we now call Earth formed, and life began.

    Biocentric ethics looks back at this pageant and says that genuine valuing began only when life began. All that came before was mere systemic value, chance riches coincidently instrumental for life.

    Cosmocentric ethics takes it for granted that the universe and all things within it are intrinsically valuable in the moral sense by virtue of their intrinsic valuing in the objective sense. Since the intrinsic valuing of biological systems is morally considerable, the intrinsic valuing of physical systems must be as well. All this does not entail that ethical decisions regarding Nature are impossible. Humans remain at the center of concern, but they are not the only concern.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 3, 2006 #2
    The requirements of humans and other life forms establishes the value of those things that do not face the alternative of life and death.
  4. Jan 3, 2006 #3
    I'm afraid you've mst5d me. Could you please expand a little
  5. Jan 3, 2006 #4
    Let me guess; your referring to me? (scratching head in wonderment)

    Value is something that satisfies a want or need. I assume that rocks and helium atoms, (inanimate matter) could care less about whether they survive in their present form or go on to become something else, sand or fuse in stars to become carbon etc.

    Plants may not “care” either but they do rely on certain things for their survival as living things. Therefore, the sand, which became of the rock and the carbon serve as values contributing to the well being of the plant. Similarly, all life forms have certain requirements for their survival. The effort put forth by various living things to get what they need determine the value of these various materials.

    As intelligent beings, we humans actually place a value (sometimes a monetary value) on these things relative to the effort we put forth to obtain and in some cases keep them. The availability of these things also contributes to their ultimate value. I hope this is a satisfactory explanation as I feel I am beginning to digress.
  6. Jan 3, 2006 #5
    I guess what I'm trying to do is make the case that although atoms don't care about anything, like plants, they rely on certain things for their continued persitence; they don't eat, but if the environment gets too hot, for, example, they will fall apart. Like how the parts of animals function together to maintain the integrity of the whole animal, the parts of atoms work together to maintain the stability of the whole atom.

    Presumably, in the beginning, all sorts of crazy particles were forming, but they would fall apart as soon as they formed. But once things cooled down enough, once particles formed into hydrogen or helium, further evolution would cease, because these atoms have a much higher "fitness" than all the other exotic particles that were forming at the same time.

    Sand is another good example. George Perkins Marsh in 1864 explicitly applied Darwin's theory to the erosion of granite. Most sand comes from granite, but most beaches are composed of quartz because quartz is more resistant to abrasion and chemical weathering from carbonic acid than plagioclase, feldspar, or mica.

    Another example was the discovery of buckyballs. In the original experiment the apparatus spit all sorts of pure carbon molecules, but there was a big spike for molecules containing 60 carbon atoms. So Kroto and Smalley reverse engineered C60, knowing that C60 was a good design for a carbon molecule. This quickly pointed them in the direction of the soccerball structure.

    "The only thing of which I am sure, is that the distinction between the organic and inorganic is arbitrary; that it is more coherent with our other ideas, and therefore more acceptable, to start with every molecule as a living thing, and then deduce death as the breaking up of an association or corporation, than to start with inanimate molecules and smuggle life into them. " --Samuel Butler 1880
  7. Jan 4, 2006 #6
    Cosmocentric ethics brings up an interesting point of view but let me explain my point of view on this.
    Due to my upbringing I have been put in a position where I have had to define ethics from the ground up in order to be able to assume responsibility for my own life and the consequences of my actions in an effort to justify my own existence. I don't question that you agree with this in principle. However of necessity this has become my primary focus.
    I have no quarrrel with venturing outside this realm once the previous requirement has been fulfilled. I have ventured wildly out of this rhelm myself on occasion. With that explanation I return control of this thread back to you. Thanks for allowing me to be a part of it.
  8. Jan 4, 2006 #7
    when you think about it... every where is a center.

    did you know that: at every point on a wave, there is a "self-similar" wave generated (read: "occurring")? and then, on those subsequent waves, at every point, there are "self-similar" waves generated (read: occurring)? ad infinitum... presumably.

    this means that: at every point, in the universe... (at every infinitessimal point), there is a complete fractal (fractaling) occurring; every one being self-similar to the rest; self-similar and self-same as "The Great Fractal" (following logically... presumably) of which all are. all are endlessly permeating. presumably...

    but seriously. not to get to caught up in the speculation about the fact... the fact remains true, nonetheless. every point is a center.

    this surely has much to offer a discussion on ethics. this scientific fact, could enable us to give a scientific account of ethics.... (oh there i go again... speculating...)
  9. Jan 5, 2006 #8
    That's cool, but cosmocentric in this context doesn't refer to location, as in geocentric, or heliocentric, but rather is to be contrasted with other environmenntal ethical framework terms, especially anthropocentric and biocentric.

    The term 'cosmocentric' was first coined in this context by space scientists investigating the ethics of terraforming Mars and other planets and moons--they recognized that there is a lacuna in contemporary environmental ethics since it is mainly concerned with life, and therefore has nothing directly to say about lifeless worlds.

    I am also wary of scientific accounts of ethics--especially evolutionary ethics--science can and must inform ethics and ethics can borrow scientific methodology, but ethics itself remains sui generis.
  10. Jan 5, 2006 #9
    me too. i don't think ethics should be, anywhere, imposed by force from without. if science gives an account of ethics... fine. but, i think that the tyranny and oppression resulting from the forceful imposition of them, as a rule, is dangerous. i guess what i mean is: a "secular ethics"... kind of; a way to look at ethics without, necessarily, calling on a religious god.
    yeah, but, it is still trying to make something the "center", right? it's kind of like coining one thing as the polestar, of all action; or all "right action". i think...
    i see how it contrasts, but, since all things are seen as having value, why draw a line between them, anywhere?
  11. Jan 5, 2006 #10
    I would go a step further and say that even if God exists, ethics is prior to God and He--if He is good--is just as bound by the rules of ethics as we are. (cf. Plato's Eurythro)

    We ought not to draw a line and say beyond this line there is no value. But we must still preserve a hierarchy of value. Jesus shows the way:

    In these passages, Jesus makes it clear that although God cares for and provides for the fowls and even the grass in the field, and feels compassion for the most humble sparrow when it falls, people are still more important. Nevertheless, although people are more important to God than the fowls and grasses, it is clearly not God’s intention that the nonhuman parts of nature are of no worth whatsoever.
  12. Jan 5, 2006 #11

    Les Sleeth

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    I am not sure "ethics" is the right word for what you are describing. Ethics is a consciousness thing, so how can there be ethics without consciousness? Consciousness invented or recognized ethics. A universe without consciousness mindlessly follows mechanics. There is nothing unethical about one atom smashing into another and messing it up because neither atom cares or "wants" to exist.

    The cosmos may favor the development of certain configurations, but only living beings so far can be shown to want and care whether something continues to exist or thrive. To me, intent and caring are what ethics arise from, not anything inanimate.

    I might agree if you'd said rather than ethics existing prior to God (assuming for discussion sake God exists), some set of principles existed which God must follow to exist, thrive and create. But I still don't see calling those principles ethics.

    You are correct in saying Jesus placed humanity highest, and yet he also indicated all living things are cared about. However, Jesus didn't say a thing about atoms or anything else non-living being part of that hierarchy.
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2006
  13. Jan 6, 2006 #12
    It's true that ethics does not enter the scene until human-style, self-reflective consciousness evolves. Nevertheless, there was valuing going on for billions of years before humans evolved. Now that we humans are here, it is our duty to preserve natural value wherever we find it. A cosmocentric ethic finds value in the creative solutions to the problem of Being found by the inanimate objects of the world.

    Moreover, according to Genesis 1, God followed what I call a cosmocentric ethic. He created the physical universe and saw that it was good, even before He created life. And since the Jewish commandments were handed to Moses by God, clearly God had an ethical system in hand.

    And although the Bible does not discuss atoms (after all, the Bible is not a physics textbook) in Luke 12:6-7, Jesus points out that the very hairs of your head are all numbered--and a hair itself is not alive.

    Another interesting example comes from the non-canonical Infancy Gospel of Thomas: at age five, the boy Jesus and his friends were playing by a stream after a rainstorm, and they diverted some of the water to make mud puddles that the boys pretended were lakes. Jesus then molded twelve sparrows from the mud, and arranged them around one of the lakes, three to a side. However, one of the boys became jealous of Jesus and told his father that Jesus was making mud sparrows on the Sabbath. So, the boy’s father went to Jesus’ father, Joseph, and told Joseph that Jesus had profaned the Sabbath by playing in the mud. Whereupon, Joseph confronted his son and said, “Why doest thou that which it is not lawful to do on the Sabbath day?” (Infancy 1.7) But the boy Jesus clapped his hands and called to the sparrows, saying “Go, fly away; and while ye live remember me.” (Infancy 1.8) The twelve mud sparrows then sprang to life and flew away.

    The strange miracle so astonished everyone, they all forgot about the fact that Jesus had made the twelve mud sparrows on the Sabbath—except for the jealous little boy who became even more jealous. So, the jealous boy took a willow switch and thrashed the waters that Jesus had gathered. Jesus then became angry, saying “Thou fool, what harm did the lake do thee, that thou shouldest scatter the water? Behold, now thou shalt wither as a tree, and shalt not bring forth either leaves, or branches, or fruit.” And so, the jealous little boy became withered all over (Infancy 2.2-4)

    It is remarkable that the very first moral lesson that Jesus ever taught was that even mud puddles are worthy of the moral respect of humans.

    We must approach the world—including its dirt—with humility (derived from 'humus'—earthy—which is also the root for human, hence the expression 'from dust to dust' [cf. Holmes Rolston, III, Conserving Natural Value, 1994, 236]). If we don't, we shall destroy ourselves.

    Last edited: Jan 6, 2006
  14. Jan 6, 2006 #13


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    What's the point of these religious rants, WarrenPlatts?

    If you think that splashing out the water in a mud puddle actually warrants that a human ought to wither up, then you have quite a long way to go before you have morally sound ideas.

    As for the meek inheriting the Earth, they have never relinquished their dominance of it (that would be the bacterias, BTW).
  15. Jan 6, 2006 #14

    Les Sleeth

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    Your proposal that "there was valuing going on for billions of years before humans evolved. Now that we humans are here, it is our duty to preserve natural value wherever we find it" doesn't seem supported by anything you've said so far.

    You can't make your case, not here at PF anyway, quoting scripture. If you understand the problems involved in the history of the Bible, for example, then you know all quotes of Jesus are questionable (the repeating of sections of Mark, for example, by people who claim to have been witnesses, or the repetitiveness of Q, or anachronisms, etc.). Plus, not everyone (the majority of people who participate here I'd say) accepts scripture as authoritative.

    So we are back to your idea of a cosmic ethic decided by what the universe has favored. How do you explain entropy? Does the universe hate itself? Since entropy is the overall direction of things, should we, to harmonize with that cosmic ethic, be disorganizing everything we find?
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2006
  16. Jan 6, 2006 #15
    That's probably why the Infancy gospel didn't make it into the official Bible. Still it's interesting that the authors of this gospel chose mud puddles to illustrate the value of the most humble items of God's creation.

    We're pretty dominant ourselves, seeing that humans already coopt 40% of the planet's net primary productivity on land, and nearly 8% of the sea. (Willam H. Schlesinger, Biogeochemstry: an Analysis of Global Change, 1997, 415) If our descendents survive very long it will be because they will have got over the old fashioned notion that humans are the only source of value in the universe, thus becoming meek themselves.

    Well, you're the one who claimed that Jesus never said anything about the value of inanimate objects. I know all about the hermeneutics of the Bible, how there are at least three authors of genesis, the hijackinng of Christianity by the council of Nicea, etc., etc. Still, we can take the words of Jesus at their face value, as good moral philosophy, without assuming they are direct revelations from a God Who may not exist. For example, I don't believe Plato actually wrote the Timaeus--the style and metaphysics is so different from everything else that has survived from Plato. Still, that doesn't entail that there is nothing useful in the Timaeus, e.g.:
    I argued that the physical systems that survive for nontrivial amounts of time do so by virtue of the fact that they are well-fitted together, and this amounts to the existence of nonhuman valuing in physical nature. So, given the existence of such valuing, I would like to ask why the burden of proof is in my side of the court? Given such valuing, the default conclusion ought to be that one had better have a good reason for destroying such value. I should ask you for an argument for why such value doesn't count morally. But here's an argument for you:

    A noncontroversial principle of interhuman ethics is that it is morally right that people strive to minimize gratuitous human suffering. Then, when we discover that other animals also suffer, we combine this fact with the aforementioned principle, and decide that the human part of human suffering is not essential to the argument that it is right that human suffering be minimized. Therefore, it is right that people strive to minimize all gratuitous human-caused suffering. Similarly, few would argue against the principle that it is morally right that people respect other human valuing. Then, when we discover other nonhuman valuing in nature, the logical conclusion is that it is morally right that people respect this newly discovered value as well. Thus, to do otherwise is both chauvanistic and illogical.

    This is like arguing that since 99% of species have gone extinct, there is nothing wrong with causing more extinctions, or since all humans have either died or will die, it is OK to speed things along through murder.
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2006
  17. Jan 6, 2006 #16

    Les Sleeth

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    That's correct, but your example is not one that supports your point. The quote about hair on the head being numbered was not meant literally, but rather was Jesus trying to give a sense of how much care God put into creation. That statement cannot be used to justify your contention that a basis for ethics can be found in what physical configurations the universe has favored.

    Yes but it is your argument, not mine. Besides, your analogy doesn't hold. Animals are not the physical basis of existence here in this universe. You have clearly stated that the nature of the universe's physical foundation gives us a means for determining ethics. Entropy is not some take it or leave it principle; it is part of the very foundation of creation and therefore solidly within your stated basis for ethics. What are we to do with it? It seems to me that based on your theory, every organizational act we take works against the nature of the universe and therefore is unethical.
  18. Jan 6, 2006 #17
    You've got it completely backwards. The basis for ethics is NOT to be found in the physical configurations favored by nature. The basis for ethics is ordinary interhuman ethics. All I'm suggesting is that we be logically consistent: You might take your health to be your main intrinsic value, whereas I might think wisdom is more important. That's OK. It's a free world, and I respect your pursuit of your values even though they are different from mine--and you ought to respect my pursuit of my values even though they are different from yours. Thus, it is arbitrary to limit respect for the pursuit of values to humans. Just because values in nature are inhuman, it does not follow that such inhuman values should not be respected by humans.
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2006
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