What makes us moral

Discussions that deal with moral issues. Key questions in ethics include: How should one live? What is right (or wrong) to do? What is the best way for humans to live?

What makes us moral

Postby Athena on October 21st, 2016, 1:30 pm 

I am carrying over a discussion begun in the thread about criminal justice because perhaps before we argue what is just, we might want to clarify why some people deviate from the norm and commit crimes.

Genghis Khan thought city people were extremely immoral and that their way of life caused lying, stealing and cheating. To prevent this immorality he commanded his people never settle in one place and start accumulating material wealth, and never chose one religion over another. Moral for Mongols meant taking in the stranger, feeding and sheltering him because in their harsh climate, failure to do so could mean that person's death, and one could not be sure of never needing that help, so all wanted to be sure that help was assured for everyone.

The other side of this morality is severe punishment for lying and stealing. Both would likely mean a death sentence. We know for a fact strong laws and law enforcement reduces crime. But criminal justice at this level is very primitive and with the advancements we have made, we might do better.

I believe science has made a good case for our morality being a physical thing, evolved through the whole chain of mammal and then primate evolution. I believe a good case can be made that civilization was encouraged by grandmothers and grandfathers, the elders, who had social power of authority, because of their years of experience and developed wisdom. If the individuals family is dead, who will fight for the individual, as a mother, father or grandparents might fight for a son or daughter- our aging population is very likely to see justice differently than a society where most people by die by 45 years of age.

Brain imagining and the many fields of science from anthropology to sociology give us new information about our behaviors that can be applied to many political and social decisions. There is a time lag between when the scientist know something, and when the population at large works with this information and social consciousness is changed. I am hoping we start talking about our need to transition from primitive notions to an understanding of life and being human that is based on science.
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Re: What makes us moral

Postby Serpent on October 21st, 2016, 3:53 pm 

What you have not stated is a definition of morality.
Genghis Khan believed that cheating and stealing are very bad, and that these behaviours are encouraged by urban life. (I'm inclined to agree, within its limits.) But that says very little about the content of our respective moral codes. I'm guessing Genghis Khan would have a quite a different one from Moses or King Gustav.

We could bypass the specific codes and ask: What propagates a sense of morality, or the idea of right and wrong conduct in [modern?] humans? Which is a valid question. You already covered how the sense of, or desire for, morality came down to humans through evolution. Also a valid subject for study.

If you started with: What function does morality have in humans? Does it have any function in an individual human alone, or does it only come into play in interaction with others? If the second, that will make morality a social phenomenon, and we can ask : What purpose does it serve in a society?
And that could give us some understanding of why the content of the moral code can vary from one society to another, and yet still perform the same function.

I'm not just trying to be pedantic here: I'm trying to present a possible framework. I've seen far too many discussions on morality and ethics founder on specifics, like whether murder is wrong and what's legitimate killing vs murder, etc.
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Re: What makes us moral

Postby Athena on October 23rd, 2016, 11:24 am 

That was excellent Serpent. I am torn. The question came up in the criminal justice thread. What should we do with someone who comments a crime? First, we might want to know why someone committed the crime? We might think we already know that answer but do we really? If we committed that crime, we would know our reasoning for it, but really how well can we know the other person's reasoning? Sorry if my circular logic drives you all crazy, be thankful you don't have to live with it everyday, but the question of the other person's reasoning, brings me to why do any of us follow the rules? How do we come to the reasoning that we should not kill people who totally deserve it, you know like the wife or the husband, son, daughter, nieghbor, or boss who really pisses us off?

You might assume it is the law, but when I thought I was possessed by Satan, it was not man's law that stopped me from killing. I thank God I was able to pull up from the pits of my soul, that no matter what, I would be held accountable for my action, and in this day and age we do respond to a criminal act with the belief that it is Satan possessing a person. This was the moment in time when I decided there is no Satan, and also that the God of the bible is not real because either both had to be false or both were real. I want to stress how serious this problem was for me. It was not easy to decide there is no God and Satan. My struggle went on for a very long time. I got threw it by promising myself if I could no longer control the urge to kill, I would start by killing my dog. It was the thought of killing my dog that stopped me from killing. I think all this is really weird, but it is something I want everyone to understand before executing justice as s/he understands justice. Not everyone thinks as you do, so should everyone be punished instead of treated for a mental/emoitonal disorder? How about those vets trained to kill and suffering from post trauma syndrome? The unknown person can have post trauma syndrome, or be under the influence of a prescribe sleeping pill, or have a mental disorder? Dig deeper, how do we make the right decisions? What makes capable of making the right decisions?

Serpent, your excellent effort to narrow this down, and my effort to understand my own crucial moments of moral decision making, brings me to the conclusion that relationships are very important to the final decision.
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Re: What makes us moral

Postby Serpent on October 23rd, 2016, 12:43 pm 

Athena » October 23rd, 2016, 10:24 am wrote: The question came up in the criminal justice thread. What should we do with someone who comments a crime? First, we might want to know why someone committed the crime?

I was there on page 1, and made a big list of considerations. Even before asking why somebody committed a crime, we need to know what makes any particular act criminal in one situation and acceptable in another; a crime in one society and normal behaviour in another.
That is: On what philosophical basis we make our laws and carry out justice.
Only then can we decide what the legal machinery should be doing, and only then can we ask whether it's doing that job well or badly.
Without answers to those basic questions, we're just spinning our wheels in the middle of a snowbank.

So, yes, establishing the foundation of our moral code is very much to the point.

We might think we already know that answer but do we really? If we committed that crime, we would know our reasoning for it, but really how well can we know the other person's reasoning?

This is exactly why some courts insist on the accused testifying in his ow her own behalf. Also why in some countries, trials are conducted by a judge or tribunal in charge of establishing the truth, rather than being a contest between two attorneys who are free to frame, present or withhold evidence in whatever way they consider most advantageous to their case. Some courts consist of a council of elders who question, in camera, each person involved in the situation and try to decide whether the accused person is guilty, of what, and to what degree.
There are different methods of arriving at a "just" decision, and of course each culture thinks its own is best, because they each have a philosophical rationale.

Sorry if my circular logic drives you all crazy,

So far, no problem. Relax.
the question of the other person's reasoning, brings me to why do any of us follow the rules? How do we come to the reasoning that we should not kill people who totally deserve it, you know like the wife or the husband, son, daughter, nieghbor, or boss who really pisses us off?

We have a great many reasons.
It's simplistic and unhelpful to make a single, simple assumption and try to fit everyone into that.

Yes, indeed, many people have internal conflicts, problems, upheavals and malfunctions that the rest of us know nothing about, and that may prompt them, or even force them, to commit acts we condemn.
While it's unrealistic to expect to understand every situation, I think it's reasonable to classify perpetrators according to how responsible they are - that is, how able to judge and control their actions. We do that in all civilized justice systems, but we handle the categories of people differently in each. Again, according to how we regard our fellow citizens in general - with fear, contempt, compassion or suspicion.

(btw - mental aberrations and illnesses present differently in each culture. The process of what goes wrong is similar, but the content - the object of obsession, the identity of imaginary voices, the particular hallucination, etc. - is informed by each culture's mythology, iconography, attitudes and language, and also changes with the times. The hardware is all similar, but the manifestation of breakdown is social.)

What makes capable of making the right decisions?

My personal belief is that it's a combination of empathy (which varies both by nature and nurture; temperament, instinct, received kindness: emotional) and ingrained social conscience (which is almost entirely learned; reinforced by others; both of habit and of informed self-interest: intellectual.)

Serpent, your excellent effort to narrow this down, and my effort to understand my own crucial moments of moral decision making, brings me to the conclusion that relationships are very important to the final decision.

Absolutely! We are an intensely social species. We need and desire close contact with other sentient beings; we need to communicate; to exchange experience; to share joy and sorrow.
That's why neglected babies grow up, if they survive at all, to be dysfunctional people. Early nurture is crucial to human development. I think that's been sufficiently proven.
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Re: What makes us moral

Postby Athena on October 23rd, 2016, 2:06 pm 

Serpent » October 23rd, 2016, 10:43 am wrote:
Athena » October 23rd, 2016, 10:24 am wrote: The question came up in the criminal justice thread. What should we do with someone who comments a crime? First, we might want to know why someone committed the crime?

I was there on page 1, and made a big list of considerations. Even before asking why somebody committed a crime, we need to know what makes any particular act criminal in one situation and acceptable in another; a crime in one society and normal behaviour in another.
That is: On what philosophical basis we make our laws and carry out justice.
Only then can we decide what the legal machinery should be doing, and only then can we ask whether it's doing that job well or badly.
Without answers to those basic questions, we're just spinning our wheels in the middle of a snowbank.

So, yes, establishing the foundation of our moral code is very much to the point.


The Greeks dealt with this long ago. They recognized there are universal taboos, and violating one of them is what the quote "ignorance of the law is no excuse", is all about. This is when someone does something that no group of people condone, such as incest between parents and children, stealing and murdering one's parents. Then there are local customs that vary from place to place.

This is exactly why some courts insist on the accused testifying in his or her own behalf. Also why in some countries, trials are conducted by a judge or tribunal in charge of establishing the truth, rather than being a contest between two attorneys who are free to frame, present or withhold evidence in whatever way they consider most advantageous to their case. Some courts consist of a council of elders who question, in camera, each person involved in the situation and try to decide whether the accused person is guilty, of what, and to what degree.

There are different methods of arriving at a "just" decision, and of course each culture thinks its own is best, because they each have a philosophical rationale.


This would be a different matter, because that is a question of what is just, rather a question of what is moral.
You seem to be getting at what is the truth story and how bad was the violation. Rather than how the individual decides what is right or wrong.

We have a great many reasons.
It's simplistic and unhelpful to make a single, simple assumption and try to fit everyone into that.


That is true. It is taboo for us to cannibalize another, but there have been occasions where survivors have done so. Hum, "taboo" even in tribes where cannibalism is a part of their way of life, it is ritualized. Another case of condoning a taboo is the tribes where the father has sex with his daughter, just before hunting the rhinoceros. Granted there are not many universal taboos, but when one violates one of them, this is the most serious.

Yes, indeed, many people have internal conflicts, problems, upheavals and malfunctions that the rest of us know nothing about, and that may prompt them, or even force them, to commit acts we condemn.
While it's unrealistic to expect to understand every situation, I think it's reasonable to classify perpetrators according to how responsible they are - that is, how able to judge and control their actions. We do that in all civilized justice systems, but we handle the categories of people differently in each. Again, according to how we regard our fellow citizens in general - with fear, contempt, compassion or suspicion.


Okay, and here we are not being near scientific enough!!! I don't want to rant about this here, but even the Greeks accepted age has a lot to with judgement and our courts have gotten more barbaric by being more revengeful and less scientifically correct. The crime committed should not be more important than the age of the individual who committed that crime. Also, pleas of insanity might carry more weight than they do now. Of course, for me, anyone who does a terrible act against another is suffering some form of insanity, because sane people just don't do those things, except property crimes, and occassionally even these crimes can be a matter of emotional disturbance. I was in court when an elder woman was convicted of shoplifting. She was mortified and I was studying gerontology and did some research on the crime. People suffering grieve are more apt to shoplift and this woman was suffering grief. I think a just system would take that into consideration, and instead of punishing her, get her help.

(btw - mental aberrations and illnesses present differently in each culture. The process of what goes wrong is similar, but the content - the object of obsession, the identity of imaginary voices, the particular hallucination, etc. - is informed by each culture's mythology, iconography, attitudes and language, and also changes with the times. The hardware is all similar, but the manifestation of breakdown is social.)


How true! And I can easily relate to it because my breakdown was so obviously linked to Christianity. How could have the thoughts I was having if I were not possessed by Satan? I hate to think what would have happened if I had not doubted the reality of Christian mythology, and had education that stresses individual responsibility.

My personal belief is that [making the right decision] it's a combination of empathy (which varies both by nature and nurture; temperament, instinct, received kindness: emotional) and ingrained social conscience (which is almost entirely learned; reinforced by others; both of habit and of informed self-interest: intellectual.)


We can not do a lot to be sure children have loving and nurturing parents, but education for parents helps, and welfare makes it possible for a mother to be a mother but is not adequate for the child to grow up with security without other forms of assistance.

The one thing we can focus on is education for good moral judgment and citizenship.

Absolutely [social relationships are essential]! We are an intensely social species. We need and desire close contact with other sentient beings; we need to communicate; to exchange experience; to share joy and sorrow.
That's why neglected babies grow up, if they survive at all, to be dysfunctional people. Early nurture is crucial to human development. I think that's been sufficiently proven.


Yipes, then is there anything else to discuss? And might we say here, young, vulnerable people can fall under the influence of bad people, with the result of doing bad things, to win the approval and love of the bad people? Like the young man who beat another kid up to steal a sports pillow for his father, to get his abusive father's love and approval, or the convict who started his life of crime to please his sister and her friends, who had him stealing things for them, knowing he would be excused because he was a little kid. In the drug crowd, I have heard it isn't a crime unless you are caught. I didn't do drugs but was involved with teenagers who did and they are the ones who really got me to thinking about what we did to education. No one today learns we protect our liberty by obeying the law.

I said too much, culture needs to set boundaries and every civilization needs to take steps to transmit the culture and boundaries of right and wrong. That can be religion or public education.

Healthy families are vital to a moral society and liberty.
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Re: What makes us moral

Postby Serpent on October 23rd, 2016, 4:33 pm 

Athena » October 23rd, 2016, 1:06 pm wrote:The Greeks dealt with this long ago. They recognized there are universal taboos, and violating one of them is what the quote "ignorance of the law is no excuse", is all about.

They declared their taboos universal. Every culture does that. But really, every culture makes up different taboos, according top its religion. While we have inherited many of the Greek ideas, we also added Hebrew and late Roman ones. These are mostly about sex, which greatly exercises all of the religious.

This is when someone does something that no group of people condone, such as incest between parents and children, stealing and murdering one's parents.

Don't take that for granted! In one tribe, it is a son's duty to kill his aged and infirm parents; some have no great regard for property or a concept of theft. It all depends on what is seen as harm or benefit to the group as a whole; their requirements, traditions and priorities. Lot's daughters considered it more important to preserve the lineage than to keep the incest law, though they knew he would object.

[There are different methods of arriving at a "just" decision]
This would be a different matter, because that is a question of what is just, rather a question of what is moral.

On what else would any society base its laws than on its morality? When the population of a nation ceases to believe that homosexuality is sinful/immoral/taboo, it takes the "gross indecency" laws off its books. When a tribe that has believed in partaking of its enemies' flesh and converts to Christianity, they formulate laws against cannibalism. Law is always based on what people hold as right or wrong behaviour.

You seem to be getting at what is the truth story and how bad was the violation. Rather than how the individual decides what is right or wrong.

That's just an example of how some people go about deciding guilt and degree of guilt. If, on questioning the wrongdoer, the elders are convinced that he had a good reason, or believed that he had a good reason, to do what is generally considered wrong, they will judge him accordingly - for example, with correction rather than punishment.
The point is to get as close as possible to everybody's truth.

[ we handle the categories of people differently]
Okay, and here we are not being near scientific enough!!! I don't want to rant about this here, but even the Greeks accepted age has a lot to with judgement and our courts have gotten more barbaric by being more revengeful and less scientifically correct.

I thought the US was quite strict in keeping juvenile offenders separate from adult felons, and judging them differently. Is this not so?
Also, pleas of insanity might carry more weight than they do now.

Might that not be a result of clever lawyers abusing the plea? Crying wolf too often?

Of course, for me, anyone who does a terrible act against another is suffering some form of insanity, because sane people just don't do those things,

You're not alone in feeling that way. But in devising systems, or court hearings, or corrections, that sentiment complicates things beyond most nations' ability to cope. The science is not yet fully developed or clear enough to be applicable in many cases.
Me, I've come to believe that we are all schizophrenics who manage our illness more or less. We are a crazy species.


We can not do a lot to be sure children have loving and nurturing parents,

We could if we considered it important enough.

And might we say here, young, vulnerable people can fall under the influence of bad people, with the result of doing bad things, to win the approval and love of the bad people?

Not just the young! Look at a trump rally! We're all subject to peer approval, open to persuasion, vulnerable to deceit and flattery and false hope.
Mind-altering substances just make all so much more severe and so much harder to recover from.

.. culture needs to set boundaries and every civilization needs to take steps to transmit the culture and boundaries of right and wrong. That can be religion or public education.

Healthy families are vital to a moral society and liberty.

Yes, both. Nurture, support, security, instruction, guidance, encouragement, limits, reasons, prospects... co-operation.
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Re: What makes us moral

Postby markus7 on October 24th, 2016, 3:28 pm 

Athena and Serpent,

Excellent discussion!

Here is my perspective on what makes us moral including the ultimate source of morality, the function of morality, why people act immorally, and criteria for punishing people who act immorally.

As already mentioned, human morality (meaning behaviors motivated by our moral sense or advocated by past and present moral codes) is a product of evolutionary processes. But evolution is not the ultimate source of morality.

The benefits of cooperation that they produce select for elements of cooperation strategies such as direct and indirect reciprocity to be encoded in the biology underlying our moral sense and in cultural moral norms. So the function of morality is to increase the benefits of cooperation in groups. But cooperation strategies such as indirect reciprocity are not the ultimate source of morality.

The ultimate source of morality appears to be in a dilemma that is 1) innate to our physical reality and 2) must be solved by all intelligent species in order to achieve highly cooperative societies. That dilemma is the cross species universal cooperation/exploitation dilemma, how to sustainably obtain the benefits of cooperation without those benefits being destroyed by exploitation by free-riders. (Free-riders accept the benefits of living in a society but then violate the moral norms that sustain those benefits because they think, often correctly, that doing so will be in their own best interest at least in the short term.)

Strategies such as indirect reciprocity that solve the cooperation/exploitation dilemma and do not, in turn, exploit anyone are universally moral. Since there are cross-culturally universally moral behaviors, they form a useful moral reference, which is ultimately based in facts about our physical reality, for refining cultural moral codes.

However, critical elements of indirect reciprocity (helping others without expectation they will directly reciprocate) come undefined from game theory. When are you expected to help others and how much and how does this vary with if they are family, friends, community members, or whoever? What heuristics (usually reliable but fallible rules of thumb such as versions of the Golden Rule and “Do not kill, steal, or lie”) for increasing the benefits of cooperation should we advocate for and enforce? How should violators be punished? Consistent with the ultimate source of morality being the cooperation/exploitation dilemma, the guideline for answering all these questions about refining moral codes is “What choice is most likely to increase the benefits of cooperation in the future?”

But some strategies that solve the cooperation/exploitation dilemma are not universally moral. People have in the past and some in the present have cooperated to exploit others, as by enforcing moral norms such as “Slaves must obey their masters” and “Homosexuality is evil”. Because they exploit others and are not universally moral, these are not part of a moral reference useful for refining moral codes.

The diversity, contradictions, and bizarreness of past and present behaviors motivated by our moral sense or advocated by past and present moral codes are primarily due to 1) different definitions of who is in your in-group and worthy of full moral regard and who is in out-groups that may be ignored or exploited, 2) markers of membership in in-groups and out-groups (such as not eating pigs or cutting your hair), and 3) different social or physical environments that affect which norms will be most effective at increasing the benefits of cooperation.
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Re: What makes us moral

Postby Athena on October 26th, 2016, 10:42 am 

Serpent » October 23rd, 2016, 2:33 pm wrote:They declared their taboos universal. Every culture does that. But really, every culture makes up different taboos, according top its religion. While we have inherited many of the Greek ideas, we also added Hebrew and late Roman ones. These are mostly about sex, which greatly exercises all of the religious.


I am not sure about different taboos?

Don't take that for granted! In one tribe, it is a son's duty to kill his aged and infirm parents; some have no great regard for property or a concept of theft. It all depends on what is seen as harm or benefit to the group as a whole; their requirements, traditions and priorities. Lot's daughters considered it more important to preserve the lineage than to keep the incest law, though they knew he would object.


As before there can be exceptions to a taboo, but when there is an exception it is ritualized. What is consistent is the reasoning that "this is different". I have not known of a tribe where it is the son's duty to kill his aged parents, but this is different from killing them before they are infirm, and I am confident it goes with ritual. Doesn't the story of Lot's daughter convey the message that incest is wrong, except maybe when there is a special reason for violating the taboo?

On what else would any society base its laws than on its morality? When the population of a nation ceases to believe that homosexuality is sinful/immoral/taboo, it takes the "gross indecency" laws off its books. When a tribe that has believed in partaking of its enemies' flesh and converts to Christianity, they formulate laws against cannibalism. Law is always based on what people hold as right or wrong behaviour.


Of course, laws are based on morality, but determining if someone violated the law is justice. Snicker, isn't Christianity cannibalistic? They eat the flesh of Jesus and drink his blood. This is a ritual, and some cannibal societies have replaced their ritual with the Christian one.

That's just an example of how some people go about deciding guilt and degree of guilt. If, on questioning the wrongdoer, the elders are convinced that he had a good reason, or believed that he had a good reason, to do what is generally considered wrong, they will judge him accordingly - for example, with correction rather than punishment.
The point is to get as close as possible to everybody's truth.


I think in all cases there is an agreement of right or wrong. It is kind of like cutting a badly damaged leg off to save a person's life. It is not what we want to do, but it needs to be done. That decision is different from cutting off people's legs for some perverse reason.

I thought the US was quite strict in keeping juvenile offenders separate from adult felons, and judging them differently. Is this not so?


Not so. I google for information and it is just too distasteful to post. If you want google youngest child convicted.

Might that not be a result of clever lawyers abusing the plea? Crying wolf too often?


Brain imaging can not be faked, and mental disorders are made visible. And fearing that the plea is just a lawyer's trick, means we don't have faith in our justice system, and I think that is a problem we need to work on!

You're not alone in feeling that way. But in devising systems, or court hearings, or corrections, that sentiment complicates things beyond most nations' ability to cope. The science is not yet fully developed or clear enough to be applicable in many cases. Me, I've come to believe that we are all schizophrenics who manage our illness more or less. We are a crazy species
.

Laugh, now you are talking about how do we make moral decisions? I thank God, or whatever powers that be, that I can recognize my less than good thoughts, and I can take actions to avoid disaster. What makes this possible?

We could [assure children have good parents] if we considered it important enough.


It has been relatively recently that we decided beating the devil out of our children is not the way to get well-adjusted children. Slowly we are taking steps to improve the care of children, but our attitude about the care of children is still retarded. Our mentality was built in the wilderness by people who lived far from each other and were mostly self-sufficient, and most believed it was good to beat the devil out of children and to beat children and wives into submissiveness. Native Americans live in tribes. We did not.

Not just the young! Look at a trump rally! We're all subject to peer approval, open to persuasion, vulnerable to deceit and flattery and false hope. Mind-altering substances just make all so much more severe and so much harder to recover from.


Please, a Trump rally? Okay, let us get serious about what makes us moral. EDUCATION. I know I have never mentioned this before (snicker) but in 1958 we radically changed public education, and we are now in a serious political mess just as Germany was after years of education for technology and leaving moral training to the church.

A moral is a matter of cause and effect and good moral judgment is a matter of logic and understand complex concepts. We had education for good moral judgment until 1958. Being moral is different from having good intellectual moral judgment because our feelings can distort our judgment.

Yes, both. Nurture, support, security, instruction, guidance, encouragement, limits, reasons, prospects... co-operation.


Okay, we have agreement, and we have so much to work to do! In the US, the only country I really know about, there is no memory of what reason has to do with good moral judgment and what education has to do with good reasoning. We are predominantly Christian and when it was decided to replace liberal education with education for technology and leave moral training to the church, there was no effective resistance. As we slip into a morally corrupt society where sensationalism is considered news and liberty is confused as license to do as we please, we reinforce the Christian notion that we are evil and only Jesus can save us. We no longer understand what education has to do with good moral judgment and that is why I write.
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Re: What makes us moral

Postby Athena on October 26th, 2016, 12:33 pm 

markus7 » October 24th, 2016, 1:28 pm wrote:Athena and Serpent,

Excellent discussion!

Here is my perspective on what makes us moral including the ultimate source of morality, the function of morality, why people act immorally, and criteria for punishing people who act immorally.

As already mentioned, human morality (meaning behaviors motivated by our moral sense or advocated by past and present moral codes) is a product of evolutionary processes. But evolution is not the ultimate source of morality.

The benefits of cooperation that they produce select for elements of cooperation strategies such as direct and indirect reciprocity to be encoded in the biology underlying our moral sense and in cultural moral norms. So the function of morality is to increase the benefits of cooperation in groups. But cooperation strategies such as indirect reciprocity are not the ultimate source of morality.

The ultimate source of morality appears to be in a dilemma that is 1) innate to our physical reality and 2) must be solved by all intelligent species in order to achieve highly cooperative societies. That dilemma is the cross species universal cooperation/exploitation dilemma, how to sustainably obtain the benefits of cooperation without those benefits being destroyed by exploitation by free-riders. (Free-riders accept the benefits of living in a society but then violate the moral norms that sustain those benefits because they think, often correctly, that doing so will be in their own best interest at least in the short term.)

Strategies such as indirect reciprocity that solve the cooperation/exploitation dilemma and do not, in turn, exploit anyone are universally moral. Since there are cross-culturally universally moral behaviors, they form a useful moral reference, which is ultimately based in facts about our physical reality, for refining cultural moral codes.

However, critical elements of indirect reciprocity (helping others without expectation they will directly reciprocate) come undefined from game theory. When are you expected to help others and how much and how does this vary with if they are family, friends, community members, or whoever? What heuristics (usually reliable but fallible rules of thumb such as versions of the Golden Rule and “Do not kill, steal, or lie”) for increasing the benefits of cooperation should we advocate for and enforce? How should violators be punished? Consistent with the ultimate source of morality being the cooperation/exploitation dilemma, the guideline for answering all these questions about refining moral codes is “What choice is most likely to increase the benefits of cooperation in the future?”

But some strategies that solve the cooperation/exploitation dilemma are not universally moral. People have in the past and some in the present have cooperated to exploit others, as by enforcing moral norms such as “Slaves must obey their masters” and “Homosexuality is evil”. Because they exploit others and are not universally moral, these are not part of a moral reference useful for refining moral codes.

The diversity, contradictions, and bizarreness of past and present behaviors motivated by our moral sense or advocated by past and present moral codes are primarily due to 1) different definitions of who is in your in-group and worthy of full moral regard and who is in out-groups that may be ignored or exploited, 2) markers of membership in in-groups and out-groups (such as not eating pigs or cutting your hair), and 3) different social or physical environments that affect which norms will be most effective at increasing the benefits of cooperation.


I admire your writing skills. Your thoughts are very well organized. Are you a professional writer?

I think what you are talking about is the limits of our brains and the tricks our brains can play on us. We are doing well if we can recognize 600 people, knowing their name and a fact or two about each person. Religion and then nationalism extended our understanding of who is one of us, but really now we are talking about a number of people that is a violation of nature, and we have moral breakdown.

A small group functions on a personal level, where everyone knows everyone and their relationship with everyone else. No one is going to get away with breaking the social agreements because everyone will know and this will lead to feeling bad about oneself. On the other hand doing something good will also get recognization and cause a person to feel good. I think nature designed us to be moral with an emotional reward or pain, based on pleasing or displeasing others.

But when we break the laws of nature by living in unnaturally large groups, we must rely on formal rules of conduct that can be applied to the stranger, in populations where we are all strangers to each other, and there needs to be a system for teaching these rules and enforcing them. I think both Serpent and I are in agreement about needing to understand why a law is broken, and correction of the problem, rather than punishment without thinking through the effect of it?

My grandmother's 3 rules, seem to cover everything, and the rules are focused on who we are, not who the other one is. So it doesn't matter if someone is in the in-group or the out-group.
We treat everyone with respect.
We protect the dignity of others.
We do everything with integrity.

Education in virtues with a focus on who we are and what our own virtues are is the best way to manifest an ideal society that I can think of. I think you make a good point obvious, that progress has to rely on who we are, not who the other person is? Christians changed the morality of their part of the world, by doing what they believed right, and later, by making laws against what they thought is wrong. So did Islam, but it is more stuck in the past and our morals have changed since the days of stoning people.

Also, I stress a moral is a matter of cause and effect. The effect of showing off our great military might, our power, and glory, in Iraq, without a good plan for protecting citizens, did not have a good effect. I think this could have been determined before the military action was taken. I think stronger education for good moral judgment would improve that judgment.
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Re: What makes us moral

Postby Serpent on October 26th, 2016, 12:46 pm 

Athena » October 26th, 2016, 9:42 am wrote:I am not sure about different taboos?

Taking God's name in vain. Eating pork. Men sleeping with men. Men seeing women's faces. Women seeing men's genitals. Sharing a meal with aliens. Killing a raven. Seeing one's father naked. Marrying one's cousin. Having sex with sheep. Touching a dead body. Mishandling a holy relic. Burning a flag.
None of those are universal. Taboos are not necessarily rational, though they may have originated in some peril in the environment or social arrangement of a tribe, in some distant past. Traditions are carried on as part of the tribal identity, and rarely questioned.
As before there can be exceptions to a taboo, but when there is an exception it is ritualized.

All taboo is ritualized, and all taboo is specific to a tribe, though some taboos may be shared by many tribes, either for the same original reason (like incest) or because they've learned it from each other (like not stepping on a crucifix). When there is an exception, there is usually a whole lot of apologia around the circumstances where exception is allowed, or at least forgiven.
I have not known of a tribe where it is the son's duty to kill his aged parents, but this is different from killing them before they are infirm, and I am confident it goes with ritual.

I forget their name. I read it in a Jared Diamond book some time ago. There would be no point, and no gain for the group, in killing any member who was still fit and productive. (Pretty much everyone forbids murder, but pretty much everyone makes so many exceptions that it doesn't qualify as a taboo.) They had to get rid of excess population, because their resources were extremely limited. (Many people had similar rules about deformed infants, or twins.) Rather than place that burden on other people, it was made a family duty, just as, for example, the care of orphans might fall to the parents' nearest relative. It makes sense. Had there been a taboo against eldercide or parricide, the whole tribe might have died out.
Doesn't the story of Lot's daughter convey the message that incest is wrong, except maybe when there is a special reason for violating the taboo?

Presumably. In fact, i'm not at all sure why they included that story in the Christian bible. Some old bishop must have liked the thought of such devoted daughters. (Remember, too, these are the same girls the old bastard had previously offered to a crowd of rapists.)
Of course, laws are based on morality, but determining if someone violated the law is justice.

I don't see a demarcation between making law and enforcing it.
Snicker, isn't Christianity cannibalistic? They eat the flesh of Jesus and drink his blood. This is a ritual, and some cannibal societies have replaced their ritual with the Christian one.

Exactly! Partaking of the flesh [of a hero, ancestor, god, sacred animal, rival or enemy] as a means of acquiring their attributes, or power over their spirit, or understanding of their experience, is a very, very old and widespread superstition. Why would it disappear with the Roman Empire?
[deciding guilt and degree of guilt] I think in all cases there is an agreement of right or wrong.

There is an agreement within the particular justice system - not necessarily within the whole society. And that disparity becomes far more pronounced and contentious in modern, mixed societies, with no state religion. For example, the US is still putting people in prison (Neri notwithstanding) for possession of marijuana, even though a very large part of the population doesn't consider it wrong. Eventually, the law must be changed, and then the administration of law will follow suit. The same thing happened in Prohibition. The same thing happened with homosexuality.
It is kind of like cutting a badly damaged leg off to save a person's life. It is not what we want to do, but it needs to be done. That decision is different from cutting off people's legs for some perverse reason.

Like the prosecution of Alan Turing? One man's righteousness is another's perversion.
[juveniles] Not so. I google for information and it is just too distasteful to post. If you want google youngest child convicted.

I see. I thought you were a more evolved nation. But then, why would i think that?
[insanity pleas]Brain imaging can not be faked, and mental disorders are made visible.

Some. And the technology is too young to have made its way into legal precedent. But there is hope.
And fearing that the plea is just a lawyer's trick, means we don't have faith in our justice system, and I think that is a problem we need to work on!

To me, it should not be a matter of faith, but of reason. Of course i have no faith in your legal system - it's got huge flaws.
Laugh, now you are talking about how do we make moral decisions?

Perish the thought! I'm describing, not prescribing.
We may not be living in tribes now, but the tribal ethic is not so deep in our past. Watch the disintegration of nation-states all over the world. For that matter, watch the disintegration of the never-all-that-United States. Much confusion is caused by the fact that these modern tribes are not based so much on kinship as chosen for common interest, or temperament or a single irrational belief. This means they can't achieve the balance of an organically grown tribe, and will always have internal ructions.

Sorry I closed so abruptly. Had to get to the post office before closing.
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Re: What makes us moral

Postby Athena on October 27th, 2016, 11:47 pm 

Serpent said....Taking God's name in vain. Eating pork. Men sleeping with men. Men seeing women's faces. Women seeing men's genitals. Sharing a meal with aliens. Killing a raven. Seeing one's father naked. Marrying one's cousin. Having sex with sheep. Touching a dead body. Mishandling a holy relic. Burning a flag.
None of those are universal. Taboos are not necessarily rational, though they may have originated in some peril in the environment or social arrangement of a tribe, in some distant past. Traditions are carried on as part of the tribal identity, and rarely questioned.


I think the Greeks would have called these local customs, rather than universally forbidden acts.

All taboo is ritualized, and all taboo is specific to a tribe, though some taboos may be shared by many tribes, either for the same original reason (like incest) or because they've learned it from each other (like not stepping on a crucifix). When there is an exception, there is usually a whole lot of apologia around the circumstances where exception is allowed, or at least forgiven.


The Romans took what Athens started a step further, and invented the Law of Nature. The Law of Nature is not science, but when people from different city/states met in court, using the Law of Nature, they would base the legal judgment on what was common between the people from different city/states, each having their own laws. So rather than looking for bazaar exceptions to the rules of common decency, the idea is to look at what people share in common. If we are not to disrespect a religious icon or a state flag, what we share in common is is an understanding of the importance of respect. Personally, I would not disrespect Muslims by bringing alcoholic beverages into their country, nor by wearing clothes that would be judged immodest.

I forget their name. I read it in a Jared Diamond book some time ago. There would be no point, and no gain for the group, in killing any member who was still fit and productive. (Pretty much everyone forbids murder, but pretty much everyone makes so many exceptions that it doesn't qualify as a taboo.) They had to get rid of excess population, because their resources were extremely limited. (Many people had similar rules about deformed infants, or twins.) Rather than place that burden on other people, it was made a family duty, just as, for example, the care of orphans might fall to the parents' nearest relative. It makes sense. Had there been a taboo against eldercide or parricide, the whole tribe might have died out.


The purpose of ritual is to control the action that is universally considered taboo. I think it is universal for elders to accept death when they can no longer make a contribution to the group and their continued existence is a burden. As social animals, we have evolved to put the group before ourselves, but overpopulation breaks down this morality, and in some cases, the nature of relationships demands the alpha male or female remain in a position where others defer to him/her, but a lowly member will end up on the fringes where it is least likely to survive.

About our justice system and the young you said...
I see. I thought you were a more evolved nation. But then, why would i think that?


I like to think we were more civilized before education for technology. I think our education for technology has been dehumanizing and moves us in the direction of Nazi, Germany.

I said...
Laugh, now you are talking about how do we make moral decisions?


You said..
Perish the thought! I'm describing, not prescribing.
We may not be living in tribes now, but the tribal ethic is not so deep in our past. Watch the disintegration of nation-states all over the world. For that matter, watch the disintegration of the never-all-that-United States. Much confusion is caused by the fact that these modern tribes are not based so much on kinship as chosen for common interest, or temperament or a single irrational belief. This means they can't achieve the balance of an organically grown tribe, and will always have internal ructions.

Sorry I closed so abruptly. Had to get to the post office before closing.



Damn I am tired and struggling to complete this reply, but what you said is true and why we need to decide what makes us moral? I think we evolved to be moral, because we feel good when we believe we are doing right and we feel bad when we believe we are doing wrong, unless we are sociopaths.

However, for humans it is much more than our conditioning through evolution. It is also our relationships. I am motivated to do the right thing when I think someone will know what I am doing. You know, clean up the house when company is coming. I am motivated to do the right thing when I think what I am doing will have a positive effect on others. That is going swimming when I don't want to because if I take good care of myself, maybe others will also be motivated to take good care of themselves.

And as Socrates argued, our moral judgment depends on our conscience (con [coming out of] science), which depends on our consciousness of cause and effect. The awareness of the effect of developing a nuclear weapon is pathetic in the thread about science and philosophy! Time and again our judgment is terrible because we are ignorant of causing a problem or don't think things through very well, but Cicero was confident that when we became aware of the right thing, we were compelled to do the right thing. We feel good when we believe we are doing good and bad when we knowingly do bad. So when Socrates argues what is just, he argues that exploiting others is wrong, because sooner of later, the people who have been exploited will become a problem to those who exploit them. Invading a country to control it and/or its resources, is going to have bad consequences. Cutting down forest and polluting rivers and the ocean will have bad consequences. We can use science to figure a lot of this out but we keep putting economics first and using denial to silence our conscience.
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