Ethics — What if we just keep asking why?

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  • #1
jpas
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In science, if we did that we would arrive to experience. Laws work because they make good predictions and that´s all there is to it. In Mathematics if we kept asking why we would arrive to axioms.

But what about ethics? It´s not based on axioms or experience. Then, what is it based on? If there´s nothing in the bottom then it´s just ungrounded.

If it´s based on our moral intuitions then ethics is useless because:

1) different people have different moral intuitions;

2) if ethics is based on our moral intuitions, then we don´t need ethics. We´d be better off following our moral intuitions directly instead of worrying about philosophy.

What are your thoughts on this?
 

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  • #2
apeiron
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If it´s based on our moral intuitions then ethics is useless because:

1) different people have different moral intuitions;

2) if ethics is based on our moral intuitions, then we don´t need ethics. We´d be better off following our moral intuitions directly instead of worrying about philosophy.

It seems more obvious to me that ethics reflect what societies and cultures have learnt over time. So the scientific approach would be to turn to anthropology to discover what societies in general have indeed learnt.

Game theory, systems science, ecology, would of course help with the actually analysis of the anthropological field data.

What is this thing called "intuition". You are just talking about responding to cultural norms internalised during your upbringing.
 
  • #3
jpas
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What is this thing called "intuition". You are just talking about responding to cultural norms internalised during your upbringing.

That´s it.

It seems more obvious to me that ethics reflect what societies and cultures have learnt over time.

What I mean by ethics is not what people think is right but what actually is right. I´m not interested in what people think so I´m not interest in antropology.

My post was about philosophy, about what makes certain actions be right. I´m saying that if we keep asking why is something right, the philosophers may answer us the first times, but if we kept arriving at more basic moral statements, they would have no justification for it because they have neither axioms nor do they rely on experience.
 
  • #4
russ_watters
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But what about ethics? It´s not based on axioms or experience.
Sure it is. I can build a fully functional system of ethics via the scientific method.
If it´s based on our moral intuitions then ethics is useless because:

1) different people have different moral intuitions;

2) if ethics is based on our moral intuitions, then we don´t need ethics. We´d be better off following our moral intuitions directly instead of worrying about philosophy.

What are your thoughts on this?
Making ethics scientific is easy. You just search for an ethical system that results in the most stable, functional society while maintaining as much of individual rights as possible and the ethics will follow logically and be verifiable via experiments.
 
  • #5
russ_watters
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It seems more obvious to me that ethics reflect what societies and cultures have learnt over time. So the scientific approach would be to turn to anthropology to discover what societies in general have indeed learnt.

Game theory, systems science, ecology, would of course help with the actually analysis of the anthropological field data.
Agreed.
 
  • #6
russ_watters
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What I mean by ethics is not what people think is right but what actually is right. I´m not interested in what people think so I´m not interest in antropology.
Huh? Seems you are looking at the issue backwards. Anthropology gives us evidence of what is right and in your first post you were focusing (incorrectly) on what people think is right. That's what "intuition" is.
My post was about philosophy, about what makes certain actions be right. I´m saying that if we keep asking why is something right, the philosophers may answer us the first times, but if we kept arriving at more basic moral statements, they would have no justification for it because they have neither axioms nor do they rely on experience.
I think the flaw in your approach is the "why" question itelf. "Why" can only take you so far in science or philosophy - at some point, you end up with just "that's the way it is". So too with a scientific investigation of ethics. The first "why" of an ethical action is really about all there is to it or is necessary: because it results in a stable, peaceful, functional society.
 
  • #7
apeiron
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My post was about philosophy, about what makes certain actions be right.

When you think of philosophy as "having answers", this is saying that pure reason should by itself should deliver a final answer on "what is ethical". And clearly with axiomatic arguments, you can only get out what you already have presumed. So reason alone never works.

So the question is where is the best place to find your "reasonable" axioms, your foundational assumptions?

You could appeal to some mysterious inner knowledge (and I'm glad you agree moral intuition is just socially learnt behaviour, so this is not the right route).

Or you could turn to science with its various grounding theories and observational data.

Again, it seems obvious that anthropology would tell you what is general about human ethical systems. And systems science approaches, ecology and game theory are the kind of general theories that would make sense of the data.

I've already made this argument in more detail in this recent thread.

https://www.physicsforums.com/showpost.php?p=2624136&postcount=116
 
  • #8
Kajahtava
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Sure it is. I can build a fully functional system of ethics via the scientific method.
Making ethics scientific is easy. You just search for an ethical system that results in the most stable, functional society while maintaining as much of individual rights as possible and the ethics will follow logically and be verifiable via experiments.
Circular reasoning, as it's an ethical proposition that societies should be stable. I can ask 'Why should societies be stable?'. 'Why should people have rights?', 'Why should societies be functional?', all ethical propositions whose universality you've still to prove.

What you just stated is the categorical imperative, and ad hoc idea to justify ethics and a subtle circular reasoning in disguise.
 
  • #9
apeiron
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Circular reasoning, as it's an ethical proposition that societies should be stable. I can ask 'Why should societies be stable?'. 'Why should people have rights?', 'Why should societies be functional?', all ethical propositions whose universality you've still to prove.

What you just stated is the categorical imperative, and ad hoc idea to justify ethics and a subtle circular reasoning in disguise.

It is not circular but hierarchical argument. To find a foundation, you have to step back from the particular to the general. So you have to step up from individual psychology (your moral intuitions) to the group scale (cultural anthropology). Which in turn must be grounded in even more general explanation (evolutionary dynamics, ecological imperatives). Which, still going as I argue, can then be taken to the even greater generality of the second law and dissipative structure theory.

Can you keep going? Well second law is about as basic as physics gets. At some point, we run into the limits of what we can know.

But it is important to understand the difference between circular and hierarchical explanation. One is tautology, the other is logic with scale. :smile:
 
  • #10
imiyakawa
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What is this thing called "intuition". You are just talking about responding to cultural norms internalised during your upbringing.

Pre-frontal cortex maybe?
 
  • #11
Kajahtava
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It is not circular but hierarchical argument. To find a foundation, you have to step back from the particular to the general. So you have to step up from individual psychology (your moral intuitions) to the group scale (cultural anthropology). Which in turn must be grounded in even more general explanation (evolutionary dynamics, ecological imperatives). Which, still going as I argue, can then be taken to the even greater generality of the second law and dissipative structure theory.
Well, the topic was about keep asking 'why', this does not solve it, we can keep asking 'why do societies need to be stable?' and so on.

It's also important that ethics are not 'is', they are 'ought', 'ought' lies completely outside the domain of science. We can for instance scientifically make compelling that your children get cancer from your smoking. That does not imply that you should not smoke, which is an 'is', all it says it that your children get cancer from it, and what to do with it is your own thing.

But it is important to understand the difference between circular and hierarchical explanation. One is tautology, the other is logic with scale. :smile:
I don't think a circular reasoning is a tautology; A circular reasoning is not a formal fallacy, it is an ad casum. A circular reasoning by tautology in fact is always formally a correct reasoning. You simply add what you wish to prove as true to your list of axioms, therefore surely it is true from your new set of axioms, not your old per se.

What you want however is to also proof it true from your old set of axioms, which you don't. However say we have some set of axioms X and we wish to prove A, then X union A |- A is usually a very correct logic, (provided that A includes the axiom that an axiom is a theorem.) However (X union A |- A) -> X |- A is what is usually implied, but not stated with a circular reasoning, which is a fallacy.

The reason I called it a circular reasoning though is because the original poster implied that some ethical propositions could be based on science. But in that implicitly assumed that science had already shown that the ethical proposition 'society must be stable', is true, which isn't so.
 
  • #12
apeiron
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Well, the topic was about keep asking 'why', this does not solve it, we can keep asking 'why do societies need to be stable?' and so on.

Reality is not a problem to be solved. We can only hope to arrive at the most useful models. So progress is progress. A broad explanation is generally accepted as a better one.

It's also important that ethics are not 'is', they are 'ought', 'ought' lies completely outside the domain of science.

A familiar slogan. But I take a systems approach in which purpose, meaning and teleology are taken to be part of the science.

The reason I called it a circular reasoning though is because the original poster implied that some ethical propositions could be based on science. But in that implicitly assumed that science had already shown that the ethical proposition 'society must be stable', is true, which isn't so.

My reply was that it is the correct approach to step up to find the reasons at the highest scale possible.

Personally, I would question the assumption that the aim of societies actually are to be "stable". This is because thermodynamics has two quite different notions of equilbrium - the closed and the open, the linear and the non-linear, the gaussian and the geometric. One stays the same size, the other expands or transacts in powerlaw fashion.

So you have two ideals of human society perhaps - the stable population/consumption society of, say, the hunter-gatherer, and the expanding population/consumption society we know today.

But that just might mean we have two species of ethics - one natural to either kind of community.

Now, I'm not saying I believe this. I just wish to demonstrate how bringing science into philosophical debates in an organised and rational fashion does open up new unsuspected lines of insight and questioning.
 
  • #13
Kajahtava
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Reality is not a problem to be solved. We can only hope to arrive at the most useful models. So progress is progress. A broad explanation is generally accepted as a better one.
Well, fair in that, but the topic was not about explaining why ethics take place, it was about a scientific model that can demonstrate which ethics should take place.

A familiar slogan. But I take a systems approach in which purpose, meaning and teleology are taken to be part of the science.
How do we investigate what things mean, and what things are for?

If I say that the symbol 'cat' means 'Three white monkeys', and you say' No it doesn't, it refers to a mammal with the scientific name felix cattus familiaris that was was domesticated when ...', the only thing you can say is that I'm wrong, because you're right.

I find 'purpose' to be too vague to even begin with.

My reply was that it is the correct approach to step up to find the reasons at the highest scale possible.
Oh sure, as long as you can let one concede that order and functionality are desirable, you can let some recognise the implication that thus a certain ethic follows from that.

Just as if a person is willing to admit that all spaces are euclidean we can let him or her admit that from that follows ....

Personally, I would question the assumption that the aim of societies actually are to be "stable". This is because thermodynamics has two quite different notions of equilbrium - the closed and the open, the linear and the non-linear, the gaussian and the geometric. One stays the same size, the other expands or transacts in powerlaw fashion.

So you have two ideals of human society perhaps - the stable population/consumption society of, say, the hunter-gatherer, and the expanding population/consumption society we know today.

But that just might mean we have two species of ethics - one natural to either kind of community.

Now, I'm not saying I believe this. I just wish to demonstrate how bringing science into philosophical debates in an organised and rational fashion does open up new unsuspected lines of insight and questioning.
Well, 'stable' in this sense is completely different from the physical sense. I mean, to psychiatry again, they call it 'chemical imbalance', but it's really not more or less 'balanced', then any other brain chemistry if we speak in chemical terms.

Both are mainly politically loaded terms were stable/balanced means 'good', which is of course quite circular in itself.
 
  • #14
apeiron
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Well, fair in that, but the topic was not about explaining why ethics take place, it was about a scientific model that can demonstrate which ethics should take place.
.

Which has been answered. Ethics is plainly derived from a dynamical system's need to persist. Codes of behaviour are what ensure group survival. Dissipative structure theory is the way to understand persistent complex systems in science.

If I say that the symbol 'cat' means 'Three white monkeys', and you say' No it doesn't, it refers to a mammal with the scientific name felix cattus familiaris that was was domesticated when ...', the only thing you can say is that I'm wrong, because you're right.
.

This in not how semioticians would view matters. Meanings cannot be arbitrary in the self-organising systems view. Arbitrary meanings assigned to reality would not enjoy persistent stability. Only the useful distinctions would survive.

So yes, and the local scale of discussion you have chosen, either meaning asigned to cat would seem equal on face value. But like any random genetic (or memetic) experiment, over time and scale, one choice would be weeded out, the other strengthened.

Or in information theoretic terms, one meaning would be negentropic, the others (such as three white monkeys and any other dictionary assortment of terms) would be noise.

Oh sure, as long as you can let one concede that order and functionality are desirable, you can let some recognise the implication that thus a certain ethic follows from that..

Self-organisation in systems is not about what is desirable (implying some local choice) but what is globally inevitable. Functionality is an inevitable feature of a system that persists. The dysfunctional, by definition, fall by the way side.

Well, 'stable' in this sense is completely different from the physical sense. I mean, to psychiatry again, they call it 'chemical imbalance', but it's really not more or less 'balanced', then any other brain chemistry if we speak in chemical terms.
Both are mainly politically loaded terms were stable/balanced means 'good', which is of course quite circular in itself.

Stable is not the goal, but equilbrium would be the inevitable hallmark of a dynamic system that persists.

Systems theorists would also recognise that what is actually functional in such a system is stability~plasticity. In terms of the human brain and neural network models of the brain, the issue is how can a system learn (change) without changing too much (forgetting, erasing).

This open or dynamic equilbrium balancing act has also been popularised as criticality or the edge of chaos. So stability~plasticity is becoming a mathematically well defined concept in science.

This connects to the conversation on autism and perceptual integration. The perceptual world must be chunked into experiences (like I see that cat). And there is an active balance between the novel and the habitual response, between the perceptual differentiations and integrations.

Neurochemistry is part of the story. Dopamine promotes endogenous focus, norepinephrine promotes exogenous vigilance. So the brain has a general balancing act, and then tuning knobs to fine-tune mental state between inner and outer focus, narrow and broad focus.

Societies too must be tuned to "balanced" responses to their environments. So it is a danger to be under-reactive, but also over-reactive. Which again would be a scientific view playing back into any discussion of ethics.

What is right and good in a slow changing world may become mal-adaptive in a fast changing one.

But you cannot even begin to have these kinds of ethical dicussions unless you have studied the science involved. Which is why all interesting modern philosophy arises out of strong science.
 
  • #15
kote
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Making ethics scientific is easy. You just search for an ethical system that results in the most stable, functional society while maintaining as much of individual rights as possible and the ethics will follow logically and be verifiable via experiments.

What makes you so sure that pursuit of a stable functional society should be the end goal of our actions? How would you even define stable and functional? There is certainly no scientific method that can be used to determine what the end goal should be. Science observes how do behave. Ethics asks how we should behave.

The http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Is–ought_problemis-ought problem is a very live issue in epistemology... how exactly can we have any knowledge about ethics? What can we base it on?

SEP talks about meta-ethics and moral epistemology in http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/metaethics/#MorEpi. There doesn't seem to be anything that we can clearly and logically ground morality in, if you keep asking "why." The best we seem to be able do is resort to inductive inference - murder is wrong because a lot of people accept that it's wrong. But ethics by popular vote doesn't seem too satisfying either.

There are other options too, but they all seem to require a leap of faith, or some assumption without further justification. You can assume God exists (but there are logical problems with deriving ethics from God). You can assume your intuition is correct. You can assume that some virtue is most important... etc.

This is one of the apparent limits of philosophy. Philosophy is just about figuring out what we can't know anyways.
 
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  • #16
Kajahtava
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Which has been answered. Ethics is plainly derived from a dynamical system's need to persist. Codes of behaviour are what ensure group survival. Dissipative structure theory is the way to understand persistent complex systems in science.
Contestable, it's more that societies who have a destructive ethic are sooner to die out is my hunch natural selection.

It can thus not be used to draw that any ethic of today automatically leads to stability, as any ethic of today might be of a society that is doomed to die out from it.

This in not how semioticians would view matters. Meanings cannot be arbitrary in the self-organising systems view. Arbitrary meanings assigned to reality would not enjoy persistent stability. Only the useful distinctions would survive.
Je ne comprends pas.

So yes, and the local scale of discussion you have chosen, either meaning asigned to cat would seem equal on face value. But like any random genetic (or memetic) experiment, over time and scale, one choice would be weeded out, the other strengthened.
Encore, comprends pas.

Or in information theoretic terms, one meaning would be negentropic, the others (such as three white monkeys and any other dictionary assortment of terms) would be noise.
Tu es incompréhensible, donc je parlerai en français, parce que c'est la langue avec la plus incompréhensible orthographe.

Self-organisation in systems is not about what is desirable (implying some local choice) but what is globally inevitable. Functionality is an inevitable feature of a system that persists. The dysfunctional, by definition, fall by the way side.
Seriously, I neither get what you say nor what it's relation to what I said is. I cannot parse any semantics form your syntax.

Stable is not the goal, but equilbrium would be the inevitable hallmark of a dynamic system that persists.
Reality isn't mutable unlike (some) programming languages, if a society changes there is no way to say if the same has persisted in a different form, or if it was destroyed and a new one was created in its place.

Systems theorists would also recognise that what is actually functional in such a system is stability~plasticity. In terms of the human brain and neural network models of the brain, the issue is how can a system learn (change) without changing too much (forgetting, erasing).
I don't understand a word of this.

This open or dynamic equilbrium balancing act has also been popularised as criticality or the edge of chaos. So stability~plasticity is becoming a mathematically well defined concept in science.
What?

This connects to the conversation on autism and perceptual integration. The perceptual world must be chunked into experiences (like I see that cat). And there is an active balance between the novel and the habitual response, between the perceptual differentiations and integrations.
You're pulling my leg, aren't you?

Kote: Je t'aime parce que nos sommes d'accord. C'est qu'est la vie.
 
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  • #17
Phrak
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It's turtles all the way down. There is no foundation. There are no absolute right or wrong actions in atheist ethics.

Search as they might, they are looking for a phantom to put substance to desire.
 
  • #18
Kajahtava
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It's turtles all the way down. There is no foundation. There are no absolute right or wrong actions in atheist ethics.

Search as they might, they are looking for a phantom to put substance to desire.
What's interesting though is that a lot of people that are atheist still practice moral, as in:

A: believe that some things should happen, only because they were raised to believe it, and have no argument or proof for it.
B: if others don't believe it should happen, they will try to convince them that it should—try telling to the average atheist that you support child rape (trying to convert you, often violently)
C: if other people don't observe the customs they think should happen, often they will forcibly enforce it, this includes locking them up in jails or making them pay fines.—like if you actually rape a child.

What an interesting place this world is...
 
  • #19
Phrak
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Yeah, interesting critters, aren't we?
 
  • #20
jpas
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Hello everybody,

An argument I´ve seen is that we should stop asking why when the answer is "because it brings to a more stable society,..."

As Kajahtava pointed out, why should it be that way? Ethics is not about determining which behaviours lead to a stable, strong society. It is not about society´s survival at all. That´s like saying math is about playing football. It´s just false, that´s not what the word "math" means. Ethics is about determining what is right and what isn´t, what we ought and what we ought not to do.

I still think ethics is built on a shaky ground and thus it is useless. But I´ll give a counter- argument:

"My inicial argument was based on the fact that ethics wasn´t based on axioms nor experience. But what about my original argument? It too isn´t based on ethics or experience, thus it is no good."

I don´t think this counter-argument is good because my original argument is based on pure, rock solid logic. If something has a justification, then that justification must have a second justification and so on until we stopped somewhere. Or else things are unjustified. It just seems logical to me.

What are your thoughts on this?
 
  • #21
jpas
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Hi Kajahtava

Ethics can´t also be based on God, whether He exists or not.

Here is the argument that, I think, proves it:

The Euthyphro Dilemma

The most common argument against divine command theory is the Euthyphro dilemma. The argument gets its name from Plato’s Euthyphro dialogue, which contains the inspiration for it. The Euthyphro dilemma is introduced with the question Does God command the good because it is good, or is it good because it is commanded by God? Each of the two possibilities identified in this question are widely agreed to present intractable problems for divine command theory.

Suppose that the divine command theorist takes the first horn of the dilemma, asserting that God commands the good because it is good. If God commands the good because it is good, then he bases his decision what to command on what is already morally good. Moral goodness, then, must exist before God issues any commands, otherwise he wouldn’t command anything. If moral goodness exists before God issues any commands, though, then moral goodness is independent of God’s commands; God’s commands aren’t the source of morality, but merely a source of information about morality. Morality itself is not based in divine commands.

Suppose, then, that the divine commands theorist takes the second horn of the dilemma, asserting that the good is good because it is commanded by God. On this view, nothing is good until God commands it. This, though, raises a problem too: if nothing is good until God commands it, then what God commands is completely morally arbitrary; God has no moral reason for commanding as he does; morally speaking, he could just as well have commanded anything else. This problem is exacerbated when we consider that God, being omnipotent, could have commanded anything at all. He could, for example, have commanded polygamy, slavery, and the killing of the over-50s. If divine command theory is true, then had he done so then these things would be morally good. That doesn’t seem right, though; even if God had commanded these things they would still be morally bad. Divine command theory, then, must be false.
 
  • #22
russ_watters
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Circular reasoning, as it's an ethical proposition that societies should be stable. I can ask 'Why should societies be stable?'.
You asked for an axiom and you got one. What I gave you is the goal - the purpose - of ethics.
'Why should people have rights?', [snip] ....all ethical propositions whose universality you've still to prove.
These can be proven with relatively obvious logic based on the axiom above alone. What you are arguing here is that since you refuse to apply logic to the subject you think it is illogical. Why not try applying logic and see if it is logical?

You can start with the theories of moral absolutism vs moral relativism. Logically, if morality is relative, can a system of ethics provide a foundation for a stable/functional society?

I really don't want to have to spoon feed you the entirety of moral/ethical/political theory when it seems you have no interest in trying to understand it and you can just start picking up books or even just apply logic and learning about it for yourself. You might start with Hobbes Leviathan. But if you show some effort, I'll help you along.
 
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  • #23
jpas
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Hi Russ,

You asked for an axiom and you got one. What I gave you is the goal - the purpose - of ethics.

Not everyone accepts this axiom. For example, the apartheid society might have been stable but it doesn´t seem fair.

I don´t think any philosophers admit that ethics needs axioms. I don´t know any that do. They always try to prove everything but that can´t be done, since you always need foundations. Do you know any ethicist who accepts that there is a need for ethical axioms?

I really don't want to have to spoon feed you the entirety of moral/ethical/political theory when it seems you have no interest in trying to understand it

I don´t think this was very polite.
 
  • #24
Frame Dragger
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There is a great deal of evidence that much of what we consider to be Ethical is a matter of internal calculations as to risk, appearance in a social setting, possiblity of reprisal (under risk), etc... and that these are universal in the healthy avg human brain. Complex social constructs of Ethics are not, but it makes sense that social animals would naturally evolve a sense of "right and wrong" based on survival rates over time.

Social animals couldn't become self-aware over time, and aware of their "society" without developing even the most primative ethics. Is it any wonder that we find evidence of Neolothic 'man' caring for elderly or sick, and even developmentally retarded children? At some point the feedback loop between the internal "animal moral compass" which is just a matter of surviving in a social context, is interrupted and free to be modified when sentience enters the picture.

Of course... if that sentience becomes madly un-ethical, it may be that is so detrimental to a species that it would not survive. That we have a primative sense of morality "built in", along with the ability and NEED to empathize, and sympathize... the degree to which the fraction of the population which does NOT do these things is feared and castigated... these should make it clear that it is more than a process of thinking and choosing that makes us "Ethical".

Of course, this also explains why so many people act unethically when they percieve:

1.) That the harm is not to an individual, but spread across a system (such as a company)
2.) That the harm is not lasting, physical, debilitating, etc.
3.) That the harm is done to people of "appropriate age" i.e. no kids, no elderly
4.) It is percieved (perhaps by the Nucleus Accumbens before consciously) that one is in an unethical environment to begin with.
5.) The target of harm is unethical or "bad" themselves.

Forget God, whether you believe or not. Evolution (whether or not a god set it into motion) explains basic morality (as we see it) without an external source. Social situations, and the advantage of pooling resources (which can't happen on a large scale (bigger than a troupe of babboons) if everyone is a psychopath) explain a LOT of the reaminder.

For the higher principles of Ethics, I believe that human thinking derived them, based on reason, and the "pre-programmed" genetic (or divine if you must) inclinations. If right and wrong were so obvious and clear-cut, human history wouldn't be one long ethical debate. I don't see how a God of humans could map a continuum of morality from point: Individual -> Cosmic. Could a god formulate absolute ethics, and even then, what would make them right other than you're fath in the source?

We're animals, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't strive to act Ethicaly and Morally. We don't need a god for that, but then we don't NOT need a god for it either. lol. Ah I hate discussing religion.
 
  • #25
jpas
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Evolution (whether or not a god set it into motion) explains basic morality (as we see it) without an external source.

This topic is not about what makes us be pious and generous to one another. Evolution does explain why we act that way. But that´s not what this discussion is about.

I only wanted to point out that we can´t look at some deed and say "oh, that is morally correct" whithout turning to an ethical axiom. It may seem silly but I don´t know any philosophers who admit axioms are needed to make ethics make sense.

Why should we act morally? Why do we have the tendency to do so? These are all interesting questions but are all off-topic.
 
  • #26
Frame Dragger
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This topic is not about what makes us be pious and generous to one another. Evolution does explain why we act that way. But that´s not what this discussion is about.

I only wanted to point out that we can´t look at some deed and say "oh, that is morally correct" whithout turning to an ethical axiom. It may seem silly but I don´t know any philosophers who admit axioms are needed to make ethics make sense.

Why should we act morally? Why do we have the tendency to do so? These are all interesting questions but are all off-topic.

The axiom I would reduce it to is an anthropic principle: We percieve morality the way we do as a result of being alive (and generally wishing to remain so) and the context of evolution both genetic and social. The axiom is: Ethics = Survival benefits for the species. If I had simply said that however, people would have assumed I meant something utilitarian, whereas I wanted to highlight the feedback between sentient desires for what is percieved as progress, and those ethics. The entire debate is framed (as the fish is immersed in the water, according to the signiture of someone here on PF who's name I'm forgetting at the moment sorry!) in terms of life having value. Universally it's clear that it does not, as no reasonable person expects that we can significantly alter the progress and ultimate fate of the universe as a whole. We have, at most a billion years or so to play around before the Sun starts really doing us in (probably orders of magnitude less), and that's that. Lets be real here, the axiomatic Ethic is PREDICATED on being human, with human limitations. That's taking the long view of it; there is no moral axiom, but Survival and Progress and the Best Life for humanity while we have time on Earth (I doubt humans who venture into space and other planets will be what we consider 'human' for very long). There is no need to turn to Ethics as an abstract, if we all conclude that happiness is the ultimate goal for most people. That may be shelter, or riches, or knowledge, but it's all down to getting dopamine to flow in the brain.

I think people realize that Ethics are constructed, that is why we refer to a "Social CONTRACT". The thing is... it's mutually beneficial, so when I point to a deed I can say it's morally correct within the standard moral framework. I can do that, because that framework is really just a matter of survival in larger and larger numbers. I don't need to point to an ETHICAL axiom, because survival is no ethic.
 
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  • #27
TheStatutoryApe
260
4
Apeiron said:
Self-organisation in systems is not about what is desirable (implying some local choice) but what is globally inevitable. Functionality is an inevitable feature of a system that persists. The dysfunctional, by definition, fall by the way side.

As already noted what is "globally inevitable" would include the destruction, reversal, dissolving, ect of no longer useful systems. There is no necessity for the persistence of any system. It will persist as long as conditions allow it and it will dissolve when conditions demand it. Persistence and stability as a "necessary" trait of the system betrays a sort of 'loyalty' that steps into the realm of the subjective preference. I am sure that the royalists of France had a preference for the persistence of their social system and that their social system was perhaps "necessary" to the evolution of a more complex and 'advanced' system but that did not stop the inevitability of its dissolution.

We might "step back" and eliminate this issue by looking at the system as a dynamic constant where no individual social/ethical system is apart from the rest but then we encounter another problem. That being that no ethical system is entirely 'correct' at any given moment and no one agent, or their actions, are entirely ethical or unethical. Those clever 'criminals', or 'revolutionaries' (dependent upon the outcome of any fluctuation of the ethical system), who are constantly battering at the boundaries of the acceptable would seem to be, by your model, something like 'progressive ethical agents'. Not only that but they would seem necessary to the proper functioning of the dynamic persistent system.

Looking more closely at the function of these ethical agents we might decide (without subjective entanglement) that these agents are eminently ethical. It does not matter if they are 'right' or 'wrong'. Their personal success or failure is irrelevant, only its effect on the system matters. If they fail then they strengthen or weaken either an existing or emerging trait of the system. If they succeed they strengthen or weaken an existing or emerging trait of the system. Most, if not all, actions become ultimately ethical as they promote the persistent and dynamic nature of the system.

In short, it seems to me that your model of the ethical system makes the ethics themselves irrelevant.
 
  • #28
Kajahtava
106
1
You asked for an axiom and you got one. What I gave you is the goal - the purpose - of ethics. These can be proven with relatively obvious logic based on the axiom above alone. What you are arguing here is that since you refuse to apply logic to the subject you think it is illogical. Why not try applying logic and see if it is logical?
I never asked for any axiom, that one reply was not for me.

The point is, I can also give another axiom: 'The maximization of kitten murder.', or another axiom 'To invent as many nuclear weapons as possible.'

Now, your is to prove that your one axiom can be considered a dogma above the other axioms, an action that is actually true and has right to exist above the other axioms.

You can start with the theories of moral absolutism vs moral relativism. Logically, if morality is relative, can a system of ethics provide a foundation for a stable/functional society?

I really don't want to have to spoon feed you the entirety of moral/ethical/political theory when it seems you have no interest in trying to understand it and you can just start picking up books or even just apply logic and learning about it for yourself. You might start with Hobbes Leviathan. But if you show some effort, I'll help you along.
Oh, don't be so depraecating if you read Tom Hobbes, Hobbes was another wonderful example of a person who said **** without backing it up because that's some how allowed in philosophy.

Russell however realized what was going on, he wrote about ethics, but he had no praetence that his writings on it had any 'truth', in fact, he refused to call writing about ethics 'philosophy' or any academic endeavour and said sans a hint of praetence 'I write about ethics because I want to change how people think, I want them to change into thinking how I think, just as every person who writes about ethics does.'

And that's completely true.

However, also, a key difference in terminology this topic seems to be guilty of is description versus praescription, is versus ought. The original post was about ought, can we justify that ethics ought to be in some way? However a lot of people now walk over to is, how can we explain that ethics are what they are?
 
  • #29
Frame Dragger
1,504
1
I never asked for any axiom, that one reply was not for me.

The point is, I can also give another axiom: 'The maximization of kitten murder.', or another axiom 'To invent as many nuclear weapons as possible.'

Now, your is to prove that your one axiom can be considered a dogma above the other axioms, an action that is actually true and has right to exist above the other axioms.

Oh, don't be so depraecating if you read Tom Hobbes, Hobbes was another wonderful example of a person who said **** without backing it up because that's some how allowed in philosophy.

Russell however realized what was going on, he wrote about ethics, but he had no praetence that his writings on it had any 'truth', in fact, he refused to call writing about ethics 'philosophy' or any academic endeavour and said sans a hint of praetence 'I write about ethics because I want to change how people think, I want them to change into thinking how I think, just as every person who writes about ethics does.'

And that's completely true.

However, also, a key difference in terminology this topic seems to be guilty of is description versus praescription, is versus ought. The original post was about ought, can we justify that ethics ought to be in some way? However a lot of people now walk over to is, how can we explain that ethics are what they are?

Now that was a lot of sound and fury, signifying deflection. :frown:
 
  • #30
apeiron
Gold Member
2,133
2
Not everyone accepts this axiom. For example, the apartheid society might have been stable but it doesn´t seem fair.

If it is accepted that achieving a steady-state equilibrium is the definition of functional for a system (and steady-state equilbriums can be both steadily staying the same or steadily expanding) then all social/ethical systems can be judged by that concrete yardstick.

How long did a way of life persist in a place? That is the only question you have to ask to decide what was ethical (if you accept this practical view and don't insist on taking an unphysical, uncontexted, view of reality).

Apartheid clearly built in a set of tensions within the system. It did not persist that long and proved quite unstable. So "ethically" it was not a robust design.

If it had outlasted other systems, then it would - by this definition - have proved itself.

So the question is which is to be preferred? A "philosophical" view which offers no foundations or a "scientific" view which offers a concrete model, and concrete measurements, which relate to actual reality?

People keep saying philosophy has decided it can find no answers to an important question. Throughout history, philosophers like Aristotle, Epicurus, Hobbes and Bentham came up with very pragmatic views of ethics. If modern philosophers don't want to connect to the expanded view of reality now available through science, then they are making themselves irrelevant to an important and ongoing debate.

I don´t think any philosophers admit that ethics needs axioms. I don´t know any that do. They always try to prove everything but that can´t be done, since you always need foundations. Do you know any ethicist who accepts that there is a need for ethical axioms?

You can't argue logically without axioms. Something must always be assumed as a starting truth.

Of course, as everyone knows, you can't know your axioms to "be true". You can't take your axioms and find solid support for them by further rational argument. That would be attempting to build turtles all the way down.

But you can do what science does. Formally test the models that arise from axiomatic argument against reality. The proof of your axioms comes from how well the results correspond (anticipate) with the world around you.

The "foundation" is thus the modelling relation. And why should ethics be treated as an exception when other branches of philosophy do accept tests against reality?
 
  • #31
jpas
45
0
Hi Apeiron

One thing to keep in mind is that ethics isn´t science in any way: there´s no reality to test it against because we can´t verify moral facts (if they exist...)

If it is accepted that achieving a steady-state equilibrium is the definition of functional for a system (and steady-state equilbriums can be both steadily staying the same or steadily expanding) then all social/ethical systems can be judged by that concrete yardstick.

It´s an interesting idea but that just isn´t what the word "ethics" means. You can judge actions according to that axiom you created but it isn´t what we mean when we talk about ethics.
 
  • #32
Frame Dragger
1,504
1
@apeiron: Look at the fallout from Apartheid as well, even more reasons why merely the presence of such unethical behaviour can destroy a people or country. Zimbabwe may be the best example at this point, sadly.

Of course, the flipside is that while we (damned rightly) revile Adolf Hitler, Stalin often gets passed on, despite his heftier death toll. The reasons: that many of those killed were his "subjects", that his crime did not have the outrage factor of genocide, that gulags and slavery as a means to build infrasctucture is OLD and tacitly accepted by some. The question might be: is it the very poisonous nature of bigotry (highly unethical) and other anti-social anti-survival (as a species, reducing genetic diversity = bad) acts that is so dangerous, or is it a matter of what outrages us, and what does not. ~12 million vs ~21 million dead. Maybe it's all too abstract? Maybe you can't really compare monsters.

Anyway, the point is that as Aperion has basically said, you could do a regression analysis of a community and STRONGLY corrallate ethics and survival. There is nothing wrong with having ideals to strive for, while accepting the realities of the world. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and try not to hurt good people along the way.

EDIT:
Hi Apeiron

One thing to keep in mind is that ethics isn´t science in any way: there´s no reality to test it against because we can´t verify moral facts (if they exist...)



It´s an interesting idea but that just isn´t what the word "ethics" means. You can judge actions according to that axiom you created but it isn´t what we mean when we talk about ethics.

Forgive me for saying this, but that is a load of semantic crap.
 
  • #33
apeiron
Gold Member
2,133
2
no ethical system is entirely 'correct' at any given moment and no one agent, or their actions, are entirely ethical or unethical. Those clever 'criminals', or 'revolutionaries' (dependent upon the outcome of any fluctuation of the ethical system), who are constantly battering at the boundaries of the acceptable would seem to be, by your model, something like 'progressive ethical agents'. Not only that but they would seem necessary to the proper functioning of the dynamic persistent system.

I covered this already in stressing that the functional equilbrium balance of a system depends on a healthy stability~plasticity - the ability to make adaptive change without creating catastrophic failure. This is a well known fact of learning alorithms in neural nets for example. And it is what people meant by "edge of chaos" back in the 80s.

And we can see this just from genetics. Constrained variation. The genome is designed to replicate a species with just the right amount of variance to allow continuous adaptive learning.

So "ethically" a human society does need social innovation as well as social conservatism to keep moving along.

Studying a really long-run society like Confucian China would be a good example. Confucianism was an ethical systems consciously designed to promote stability, and also allowing a controlled degree of meritocracy through the imperial exam system.

Another way of talking about stability~plasticity I have also mentioned. And that is competition~co-operation.

Functional societies, like all persistent systems, balance these two sources of action in their "ethical" systems. You want individuals to strive at the personal level and cohere at the group level.

It is this apparent conflict between individual desires and group needs that is the basis over much debate about what is "right". It is feeling that a choice must be made, and then not being able to decide which is foundational, competition or co-operation, that perhaps makes the "philosophical" throw up their hands and say there just is no axiomatic ground on which to decide the question.

Again, the systems view specifies that dichotomies are fundamental. So what is ethical/functional for a system must be an equilbrium balance of two complementary and synergistic actions. Competition and co-operation is one way of putting it. Stability and plasticity is another.
 
  • #34
jpas
45
0
An interesting thing about this discussion is that the conclusion seems unanimous (ethics needs axioms or else we can´t argue). I never heard anyone defending what I am defending I encounter suddenly a lot of people who agree with me. Have this in mind: no philosopher admits what we´ve been talking about.

Does anyone disagree with my conclusion? I would like very much to hear counter-arguments.
 
  • #35
Kajahtava
106
1
IYou can't argue logically without axioms. Something must always be assumed as a starting truth.
Well, say you work in a way that such things as x = x are axioms. Then, if you make those axioms, you hve to again make the rules that infer over them axioms, and again, and again, until there's no end.

If you work in a way that assumes such basics to be instead universal primitives, then x = x is true without assuming axioms.

So either you're wrong, or you can't prove any thing at all under logic. It seems to be the latter case though, you always have to assume axioms to state axioms formally.
 

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