This conversation is closed.

Real ethics is prescriptive, not descriptive.

As I explain in my video on "The Abolition of Man" instinct cannot provide any foundation for ethics as everything we say about instinct is descriptive not prescriptive. It discusses only what we actually do, not what we ought to do and ethics is the question of what we ought to do.

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    Apr 17 2012: Just playing devils' advocate here.... then... We also have to look at the whole "Nature vs. Nurture" question. Many of us are trained from not to show any kindness for fear that it will be mistaken for weakness. Many of us are also trained to believe in a lack of resources ie. "There's only so many slices of pie... best to get yours first." i believe that ethics are both prescriptive (they give us a motivation to rise to) and descriptive (they talk about our inherent and natural empathy). I also believe that we all, initially, have a large amount of empathy for the other and that if we loose that empathy it's because our society has trained it out of us. Don't believe me? check out any study on how children share.
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    Apr 15 2012: "Ought" and "Should" are the language of domination.
    Don't be fooled.
    • Apr 15 2012: "Don't be fooled" is shorthand for "You ought not / should not allow yourself to be fooled."

      Are you saying here that domination is wrong? Or in other words that people should not / ought not dominate others??

      So many internal logical contradictions here ...
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        Apr 15 2012: Touche'
        Can I ask - is there a difference between "beware" and "do not"?

        And yes - I regard domination as a wrong turn in human development. It has no value that I can discern.
  • Apr 12 2012: I got what the video would be about within the first few seconds. So, you seem to be attacking a straw man (or a series of straw-men). We recognize where the most basic instincts for "morality" or for "ethics" come from. We evolved as social animals. That's it. Nobody is saying that those basic instincts constitute the whole thing (nobody is saying that instincts "make" our morality). It only means that's where it begins (began). Whether that gives us a prescription, or an "ought to," or not is a different problem.

    All the other cartoons are quite effective rhetoric, but all aiming at a series of straw-men. Again. Not all instincts are basal for ethical behaviour, and no, nobody is proposing that we should follow our instincts alone to decide what is right and wrong. Again, that is just about where our basic inclinations come from.

    I am not surprised that the piece would be filled with [fallacious] rhetoric. After all, your basis is C.S. Lewis.

    I found the statement that some things are "intrinsic values" to be just a declaration. Just like the whole Tao thing is just a bunch of declarations. I can still ask why and get those infinite regresses you complain about. But, again, this is typical of Lewis. Build straw-men of every alternative explanations, make a set of declarations about his position flourished with "high-wording." Just say that this is ultimate and intrinsic, and you get yourself into an "undefeatable" position. You get everybody trying to dismantle the straw-men before they even try and notice that you just declared your position to be foundational without any demonstration that it was foundational and intrinsic. Lewis hides behind straw-men and red-herrings, letting everybody else do the work of falling into contradictions oblivious to the fact that Lewis did not really propose anything better. Nice rhetorical tactics. But nothing else.
    • Apr 13 2012: > "We recognize where the most basic instincts for "morality" or for "ethics" come from. We evolved as social animals. That's it. Nobody is saying that those basic instincts constitute the whole thing"

      Actually, a number of people have in fact said that. If you're not one, then good.

      > "Whether that gives us a prescription, or an "ought to," or not is a different problem."

      If you recognize that this is a problem, that we're going to be doing ethics and not just biology, then you've got the point. I hope my clumsy attempt at summarizing the argument did not inadvertently offend you.

      > "I found the statement that some things are "intrinsic values" to be just a declaration."

      Yes it is. Not everything can be argued for. The basis of all moral arguments cannot be argued for. Unless you assume ethical premises, you will not get any ethical conclusions. (David Hume, fact-value distinction)

      > "Just like the whole Tao thing is just a bunch of declarations. I can still ask why and get those infinite regresses you complain about."

      No, because you will not get an answer. This is the foundation behind everything and to see through everything is the same as not to see.

      I think you mistake "The Abolition of Man" as a defense of Lewis's own position. Lewis does not identify his particular views with natural law. (the Tao) Natural law is not whatever Lewis says it is. He is simply defending the old idea of natural law you will find in thinkers like John Locke that by the way forms the whole philosophical basis of the American political system.
      • Apr 13 2012: Hi Benjamin,

        The problem I had with your video is the obvious misrepresentation of the recognition that our tendency to morality/ethics stems from our evolution as social animals. Which, again, is mischaracterized and made into a cartoon that goes beyond even any real proposal that instincts could be foundational for ethics, which, by the way, would be undeniable even in your declarations (or Lewis's, whoever). After all, if I asked for an explanation for "natural rights" and why are those the ones they are, the ultimate answer has to go to both our natural and most basic instincts for survival, and our evolution as social animals. With those you would ultimately arrive at the trade for giving everybody the same rights to pursue their own freedom, and such and such. Without those natural instincts, there is no way of talking about any natural rights. So, Lewis, or you in your explanation, adds all kinds of disruptive instincts, purposely forgetting that they must trade/balance in the building of a society. You can't call something "natural right" if you forget about what nature is and means. That's my complain. Lewis is stealing from a natural view of foundations only to then transform the natural view into a straw-man and demolish his own foundation while pretending that everybody else who denies his own declared foundation is coming back to it.

        I hope that was clear. Of course for developing ethics we have to start with some foundation. We assume sets of axioms. But we should be careful not to mistake our need to start somewhere, with whether actual nature had something to do with it or not. Let alone by mischaracterizing other propositions.

        • Apr 14 2012: > "After all, if I asked for an explanation for "natural rights" and why are those the ones they are, the ultimate answer has to go to both our natural and most basic instincts for survival, and our evolution as social animals."

          Says who?

          "Natural law" in the sense we find in thinkers like John Locke does not mean going to animal behavior as a source for our ethical principles.

          > "Without those natural instincts, there is no way of talking about any natural rights."

          I'm not aware that John Locke appeals to instinct for his theory of natural law.
      • Apr 14 2012: It does not matter what Locke used as a basis, just as it does not matter what Lewis used to get his "Tao." But what about you tell me how both Locke's sources and Lewis's sources can really deny that our tendencies towards ethics, come from our evolved nature both for survival, and as social animals. No cheating allowed. Instead of attacking mischaracterizations of "natural instincts" show how the "sources" are independent of these natural tendencies.

        Be very clear, and try and remember the concept of the "hidden variable" before jumping to conclusions.

        I'm listening.

        (P.S. Nice rhetorical trick mistaking my explained "natural instincts" with "animal behaviour.")
        • Apr 14 2012: > "It does not matter what Locke used as a basis"

          Actually yeah it pretty much does. Because when we talk about natural law: "the laws of Nature and Nature's God" as in the Declaration of Independence, we're not talking about any kind of quasi-Darwinian psychology. We're talking about Locke.

          > "But what about you tell me how both Locke's sources and Lewis's sources can really deny that our tendencies towards ethics, come from our evolved nature both for survival, and as social animals."

          You have misplaced the burden of proof. The onus of proof is on these so-called "scientists" to prove that evolutionary psychology could fully account for not only the existence but also the objective validity of ethics, not on ethicists to justify ethics from evolutionary psychology.
      • Apr 14 2012: Hi Ben, [corrected the name here]

        I am not talking about quasi-Darwinian psychology either (nor about evolutionary psychology, Huitzilopochtli forbid). Read more carefully. I have no burden of proof, You are proposing a barrier between our basic instincts as developed through our evolution as social animals, and the basis for ethics. Since I don't see any such barrier, and, since I find it self-evident that this should provide a basis for understanding why we have such basic tendencies, it is your burden of proof to show that such a barrier exists. That you or Locke, might want to call your stuff "Nature's God," does not make a barrier between actual nature and ourselves appear.

        Let me expand a bit. If I were starting to think about basic axioms for ethics, I might think, ok, what would be the basic principles behind ethics in humanity, I might as well also start by thinking, where would most cultures put their principles? Oh, of course, in their religions! And such follow until I could distill those principles, and then improve them into a basic set of rights for the individuals, social contracts, et cetera. That's all very good. But I could also have started by thinking how our evolution might have shaped our basic instincts and get to these principles as well (with much more work perhaps). The thing is, if I want to distill these principles, I might start with religions and save lots of time to start developing my ethics. But it would be a fallacy to think that such basics come from nowhere, or else that they come from somewhere else but our natural evolution as social animals. So, you might understand now how this is self-evident. Very reasonable (this resonates as something I heard before, what could that be?). Now, whose burden of proof is it to show that there is a barrier between our nature and our development of ethics?

        As I said, I am listening.
        • Apr 15 2012: > "Hi Bennie,"

          If we're going to start making fun of each other's names, there are lots of places to go with "Gabo Moreno." Let's not go there.

          > "You are proposing a barrier between our basic instincts as developed through our evolution as social animals, and the basis for ethics."

          Just asserting David Hume's fact / value distinction. Ethical values cannot be derived from any process of deduction from mere physical facts. We either assume some values as axiomatic or we don't do any consistent ethics at all.
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        Apr 15 2012: Benjamin,

        Perhaps you are missing that we have evolved instincts and reason. Reason helped us solve problems, survive, and prosper.

        Social harmony may have evolutionary dimensions for group dynamics.
        Values such as equality, fairness, freedom, the golden rule may have roots in this, but also reflect some higher understanding of what is good for the human condition.
        • Apr 15 2012: > "Perhaps you are missing that we have evolved instincts"

          To say that migratory birds find their way by instinct is only to say that we do not know how migratory birds find their way.

          > "and reason."

          I have never once heard any evidence that reason was "evolved" in any sense which didn't rely on the fallacious circular justification that "We're here, aren't we." Anyway, read the book. Lewis addresses this.
      • Apr 15 2012: I was not making fun of your name Benjamin McLean (I wrote "Ben" originally, but maybe that's insulting too, then the speller messed up your complete name, but I corrected, sorry for that) but if that's what you think this was about, then I am sorry (I did not know that "Bennie" was some kind of bad word, and now I am too embarrassed to ask what it means). "Gabo" is already a derivative meant to be a tad more friendly, it's a mexican thing, at least, to start shortening names after becoming somewhat familiar. I try and start there with my name to save time.

        But no worries. It was a learning experience for me. I had not read about Locke. Quite a discovery, and I do mean it in a good sense. Lewis? Same old same old. Just rhetorics. Beautifully, masterfully constructed, but nothing else.

        So, before leaving you, seems like you are mistaking the statement of axioms by assertion with a different question, that of figuring out why we arrive at them. Maybe if you read my explanations you would notice that I made the distinction of goals. One, starting working on ethics. The other, figuring out where those starting points might come from. You might not like the idea that physical reality has something to do with it, but it does. Philosophy alone will not explain everything. Let alone if filled with fallacious rhetoric. But suit yourself. I am out before I insult you by mistake again (maybe I did).

        Have fun.
        • Apr 15 2012: > "I was not making fun of your name"

          OK. Ben is fine. Benjamin is fine. "Bennie" sounds patronizing like something you would call a dog or a baby.

          > "Lewis? Same old same old. Just rhetorics. Beautifully, masterfully constructed, but nothing else."

          Lewis certainly is advocating a set of ideas from the past and says so repeatedly. So yeah, this is a fair description. And it's "take it or leave it" - you either recognize the truth of what he's saying here as the pre-existing commonality he says it is or else you don't.

          Seems to me that if we reduce the source of human ethics to wholly non-rational causes then we have as much as shown them to be non-rational and that's not acceptable, it undermines the whole premise of doing science as a search for the truth which this description depends on
      • Apr 15 2012: OK Ben,

        Tell me exactly where do I suggest that we should forget reason before developing our ethics. That I can point to the "environments" or "circumstances" that lead to our evolution of some basic instincts does not mean that I suggest in any way that in order to develop our ethics we should forget reason. Does it? That I can recognize our origins, our evolutionary history, our relationship with the rest of nature, does not mean I propose the dismissal of reason either. Does it? That you might call something a "pre-existing commonality" does not mean such commonality has no roots in our evolutionary history. Does it? If you read carefully what I said, you will see that I am far from suggesting that we forget reason. After all, to get from our basic inclinations as evolved, to your axioms, I would have to reason my way. Right? (Oh, and to recognize the role of reason in such developments.)

        So, I don't think we have much else to talk about. You don't seem to be willing to read and understand, but rather willing to impose some view, while rejecting everything else as transformed into a mischaracterizing cartoon (I might be wrong, but this is my impression).

        Let me know if we rather stop this exchange. Does not seem to be going anywhere, I feel like I am just repeating, and repeating, and repeating. You keep adding stuff, so I keep adding clarifications that should not be necessary if instead of assuming that my position is something that it is not, you tried to understand what I am actually saying. Again. Maybe I am wrong in my perception, but it does not look like that.

        Again, have fun and might see you in some other chat. Thanks for mentioning Locke, quite interesting. Ciao.
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    Apr 12 2012: i believe the most effective approach is to treat ethics as a process. to examine a situation, the compering values, the impacts on the stakeholders, aiming to improve the human conditio and experience.

    blindly relying on religious morality from the past without questioning and testing it is one of the greatest wastse of the capabilities humans have - to reason.

    description is good for understanding. prescription is a poor substitute for the process of reaoned ethical examination particularly for complex issues in a changing world. trying to agree on so called rights and values is good. but the most complex issues involve competing rights/values e.g. freedom of religion versus freedom of speech. however if by prescriptive u mean shutting the door further ethical evaluation i disagree.

    eg the right to bear arms could cover nuclear weapons. killing adulterers. no thanks. the right to keep slaves. the proble is we have developed and progressed from biblical and even revolutionary times and the world and technology has chag
    • Apr 12 2012: > "aiming to improve the human condition and experience."

      That is prescription. You have prescribed an aim. Your aim / goal / summum bonum is not very clearly defined as you haven't explained what constitutes an improvement but you are in fact giving a prescription, albeit a vague one.

      > "blindly relying on religious morality from the past without questioning and testing it is one of the greatest wastse of the capabilities humans have - to reason"

      Lewis argues in "Miracles" that:

      "“Two views have been held about moral judgments. Some people think that when we make them we are not using our Reason, but are employing some different power. Other people think that we make them by our Reason. I myself hold this second view. That is, I believe that the primary moral principles on which all others depend are rationally perceived. We ‘just see’ that there is no reason why my neighbor’s happiness should be sacrificed to my own, as we ‘just see’ that things which are equal to the same thing are equal to one another. If we cannot prove either axiom, that is not because they are irrational but because they are self-evident and all proofs depend on them. Their intrinsic reasonableness shines by its own light. It is because all morality is based on such self-evident principles that we say to a man, when we would recall him to right conduct, ‘Be reasonable.’"
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        Apr 15 2012: What is the purpose of ethical analysis is a different level to what is ethical.

        Its like confusing the scientific process with the theories it tests.

        Surely at some point you need to define what ethics means and is about. Agree we can debate the details of this but generally ethics is about right and wrong, mostly in terms of the human perspective and our choices. Yes my view right and wrong often about the human condition, but not exclusively - animal rights for example, but it is about human conduct.

        I would hope ethical analysis has an objective to reduce suffering, to improve the human condition. I suggest this could be something universally agreed whereas religious dogma is not. Yes I have an agenda here. If right and wrong comes from what is described in a an old book or from authority we will be forever stuck in medieval or bronze age values reflected in tribal gods or divine dictators.

        I'd rather focus on what improves the human condition as a starting point. Isn't that a worthy basis for defining right and wrong.

        The old testament says to kill those who work on the sabbath. Most modern Jews don't go around and follow these rules. They are selective

        I get the Lewis argument. He probably thinks conscious is innate from god. I think it has a basis in evolution, the development of our reasoning capabilities and cultural programming. A Christian is programmed to think homosexuality is a sin. I don't.

        The Taliban may have a deep belief that women are property and seducers. I don't.

        If Lewis is right then our wires seem to be crossed.

        I can see hopw you could argue the next step that there could be some universal conscious that is misprogrammed.

        In the end we have 2 different explanations for the same behaviour.

        I would suggest my view that we focus on improving the human condition is better than relying on supposedly divine and often conflicting instructions.

        You need to accept the bad with the good if you rely on god given laws.
        • Apr 15 2012: > "I would hope ethical analysis has an objective to reduce suffering, to improve the human condition. I suggest this could be something universally agreed whereas religious dogma is not."

          Lewis does not propose in "The Abolition of Man" to set up any religious dogma as the objective universal set of values he calls the Tao or "natural law." He here proposes universal human values, not specifically or explicitly religious ones and I think any open minded person who actually reads the book will see this. He argues for people to accept Christianity by appealing to their reason and free choice in his other books but in this one he is just advocating for universal human values. You don't have to agree with anything in any of his other books to agree with this one, but you do have to agree with this one to agree with anything in any of his other books.

          Now I would point out that what you've proposed is not in fact universally agreed upon and I think all I have to do to demonstrate this is to give it a name. The doctrine you have proposed is called "Utilitarianism" and it is and always has been highly controversial. It also seems to have numerous incongruities with what all of us know to be right and wrong, because it excludes considerations of justice.

          > "Yes I have an agenda here."

          You said (and I quote) "prescription is a poor substitute for the process of reaoned ethical examination" while in the same post giving a prescription yourself. This is an internal logical contradiction in what you've said. Either prescriptive / imperative statements are what ethics is about as I've said and therefore you've made an error in calling them a "poor substitute" or else they really are a "poor substitute" and you've made an error in giving a prescription yourself.

          > "I'd rather focus on what improves the human condition as a starting point. Isn't that a worthy basis for defining right and wrong."

          Not really no. No offense meant, but it's ambiguous.
    • Apr 12 2012: > "description is good for understanding"

      That may be so. However there is a difference between attempts to explain ethics and attempts to explain away ethics. If you explain away ethics then you've destroyed the whole basis of your discourse as no one has any reason to believe you're telling the truth or that telling the truth is any better than lying.

      > "prescription is a poor substitute for the process of reasoned ethical examination particularly for complex issues in a changing world."

      How can a house be a substitute for it's foundations?
      • Apr 14 2012: I think that you shot yourself in the foot. Prescription means something like "by mandate," but Lewis (and presumably you), are arguing for "reasonable," yet equate it with they being "self-evident." But saying that something is self-evident means that it is "naturally true." Thus ethics are declared as natural, thus ethics would be descriptive: "that's the way it is," rather than prescriptive: "you should do this because I say so."

        I think this is one big source of most of the confusion in your arguments. I don't think this "idea" will go anywhere else, but continuing confusion.

        Be well.
      • Apr 16 2012: The stuff about moral realism does not solve the problem with your "prescriptive" versus "descriptive" terminology, which I suspect might be a false dichotomy. (Did you notice in this wikipedia article that some supporters of moral realism realize the origin of our tendencies towards morality in our evolutionary history?)
        • Apr 16 2012: First of all, there is no such thing as evolutionary history. There is a reason they call it "prehistoric." There is evolutionary prehistoric speculation and that's all. With no time machine and no sociological or emotional data recorded before recorded history, we have no clue, none. Read G. K. Chesterton's "The Everlasting Man" for his comments about "the Cave Man." (BTW, I'm not Catholic so I don't necessarily share all of Chesterton's views)

          Second, there are exclusively descriptive statements but I don't think there are exclusively prescriptive statements. All prescriptive statements do seem to contain descriptive elements. But these comments about ethics like de Waal makes suggests that we can somehow built an ethical framework from the fact that we have certain instincts or the fact that our instincts developed in a certain way. (which are exclusively descriptive facts and not values) No we can't, because without a prescriptive premise, we will not get any ethical statements at all.
      • Apr 16 2012: First of all, of course there is evolutionary history. I don't think that your arguing for semantics will help it. I call it history because it is history, recorded in writing or not. I don't care about Chesterton. For scientific information I consult scientific work, not creationist propaganda. So thanks for the suggestion, but no thanks.

        Second, whether there are exclusively prescriptive statements is beside the point(s). You're idea is confusing and seems a lot like a false dichotomy. Also, you mistake the issue of some scientist finding morality, or ethics, whatever, in other animals, with an intention to developing our ethics based exclusively on instincts, or to suggest that our ethics come from such instincts alone, as if our evolutionary history did not include things other than instincts, and as if our overall history did not include our development of cultures. Let me repeat for the Nth time: figuring out where our "principles" have come from, their biological roots so to speak, is not the same as proposing that we should use the most basic of such origins as the sole and single way for developing our ethics. Suggesting that such a thing is what is been proposed is but an oversimplification. Probably an intentional mischaracterization, a straw-man. Most surely that's what Lewis does (demolishing straw-men), if what you present in that video comes from Lewis himself. After all, that's Lewis's M.O.
        • Apr 17 2012: > "For scientific information I consult scientific work, not creationist propaganda."

          Chesterton, as a Catholic, leaned toward a theistic evolution perspective and not a literal Creationist perspective. His beef with Darwinism was it's misapplication to philosophy particularly regarding ethics and anthropology. To describe his works as "Creationist propoganda" on par with the present Evangelical Creationist establishment in the United States is unfair and indicative of someone who hasn't actually read Chesterton.

          When it comes to telling the future, which is what Lewis largely does in "The Abolition of Man" there is a fine line between using a reductio ad absurdum argument (like George Orwell who followed on from Lewis's "That Hideous Strength" with his "1984") and setting up a straw-man. Is Orwell's "Big Brother" a straw-man, or it is an intentional parody of the basic direction of collectivist totalitarian statism carried to it's logical extremes? I think it would be fair to characterize the great 20th century dystopian writers (Huxley, Lewis, Orwell, Rand) as setting up intentional parody more than straw-men of current thinkers. Lewis anticipates the rise of post-modernism decades ahead of time
      • Apr 17 2012: Look Benjamin,

        If you insert Chesterton into your denial of there being an evolutionary history (look at your comment please), and I go check info about the book and find it to be "a two-part history of mankind, Christ, and Christianity," I can't but think that this book will be creationist propaganda, even if not of the fundamentalist kind. After re-reading your previous answers, along with your new comment, I suppose that I made a partial mistake, but that the mistake was justified.

        Orwell's is clearly what it is, while Lewis is clearly straw-manizing with the intent not to pay any attention to, or completely deny, the role of nature in our overall development. I see no reason to set up a "reductio ad absurdum" if you are going to paint a position that is not really held. Scientists investigating on the origins of our basic predispositions will feel offended that her/his position has been taken to places where it did not intend to go, such as your continuing insistence on thinking that because we recognize the origins of our inclinations in our evolutionary history we are thus proposing to develop ethics solely on the basis of instincts (and not just the instincts being recognized, but every kind of instincts to make the cartoon worse). That's beyond absurd, and if you think that such is a valid discourse, then what about I cartoon your position-which I still don't have very clear, but what the heck-and call my cartoon a reductio ad absurdum and never let you out of it, just as you insist on putting my comments into your cartoon?

        So what about we stop talking past each other? I think that you are proposing that there is a set of axioms, indispensable for developing ethics. You seem to think that finding ethical/moral behaviour in animals that might point to our basic instincts, means that such research proposes the development of our ethics on instincts alone, thus perhaps denying your axioms. Is this a fair summary? If not let me know.
        • Apr 18 2012: I'm saying arguing that animal behavior is moral or immoral rather than amoral reduces ethics to a non-rational and purely subjective status, excluding the possibility of any absolute universal truths in prescriptive ethics. Because instincts are non-rational and if ethics are founded in instinct then that implies they are founded in the non-rational.

          This also has self-defeating implications for science. Scientists are only able to work together under what purports to be an absolute universal ethic that assumes values of intellectual honesty and objectivity. If this ethic is just a subjective feeling or attitude derived from instinct rather than a rational principle perceived to be not just felt, but merited, then we lose all reason to trust what any other scientist or any other person says.
      • Apr 18 2012: Benjamin,

        I think I got it. Let's see:
        1. You think that if animals other than humans can have morality, automatically whatever we think of morality/ethics is necessarily non-rational and subjective.
        2. You also think that for there to be ethics it has to be based on "absolute universal truths."
        3. You think that unless ethics is based on "absolute universal truths" there is no value on anything, so scientists should become all irrational and stop doing anything with honesty. Or, only with such "universal absolute truths" can we trust anything anybody does. Again, nothing can be "absolute universal truth" if any animal can have some basic version of it.
        4. Is it fair to say that to you anything other animals can have in common with us becomes automatically subjective and meaningless?

        Is that a fair summary now? Did I understand your point(s)?

        (I am so tempted to start asking questions, but better wait. If you confirm can we take one at a time?)
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      Apr 14 2012: Agree.
      If we are looking for some charter - some code of conduct, we will fail.
      In opperation the context of our decisions is local to the situation.
      Rules create 3 things - winners, losers and cheats. They are set up to leverage some degree of advantage.
      WHat I look for are causal truths - stuff that can be traced right back into the machinery and observed to be true in every case.
      Reciprocity and empathy need no rule because they is inherent in our make-up. It requires no enforcement in the healthy human. If they are failing in a human, it indicates a disease that should be addressed.

      I don't mind dogma or codes of conduct - but only insofar as they identify generalities that require a lot more examiniation before they can be trusted. One must treat them with the utmost of suspicion because the error contained in the assumptions is the fuel of exploit and unballanced advantage taking.

      IF the word "ethics" is to be successfully incorporated in any productive discourse, we must first understand teh dynamics of "advantage" .. before that is defined, there can be no honest statement that uses the word "ethics". And when you hear it you should pry open the mouth that uttered it to look for the liar. SAme with the word "god".
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        Apr 15 2012: I agree Mitch. Divine law. Inalienable rights. Decided by men or supposedly by various gods or religious different gods - we need to very careful.

        In my opinion belief in absolute divine instructions is one of the terrible byproducts of religion.
        From no blood transfusions or avoiding modern medicine to entrenching inequality and tribalism.
        • Apr 15 2012: You could say the same thing about cars. Look at the number of auto accidents! We could reduce that number to zero by banning all automobiles.
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          Apr 15 2012: Benjamin, Cars are a physical reality - we can certainly discuss them as there are no assumptions and all is there to examine. I have done my best to analyse your proposition from a number of different angles. But the word "ethics" is structuraly rendered imaginary by virtue of unresolved assumptions imbedded in the concept.
          What I do find, however, is that all terms that propose constraint of future acts are attempts to influence the agency of a living thing. One has to gain absolute perception of motive, and motive is, by nature, inaccessible. Therefore unreliable. To use some shade of "ethic" to influence the examination of motive is a further channel for corruption of clarity.
          I bring your attention to the key words "ought" and "ban". These demonstrate a desire for agressive over-rides of the free agency of individuals, I must assume that your motives are to enhance your own personal advantage at the expense of the rest of humanity.
          In this light, I can say - firstly, there is no "Real" ethics - only imaginary self-classifications that are referred to as "ethics" and that this reference is neither DEscriptive nor PREscriptive - it is PROscriptive.
          And for the record, I have as a matter of conscience, not owned an automobile for some years now - my physical health has improved greatly through this. SImilarly, the removal of television from my life has contributed to improved mental health.
          There is much in our community that we can do very well without.
          My attention is now on religion, law and money - I suspect they are all superfluous in the healthy human. But I will not make conclusion until my analysis is published and undergoes critique.
          I hope this helps your journey - I applaud your effort!
        • Apr 16 2012: > "firstly, there is no "Real" ethics"

          OK then, if I meet you, I can kill you. End of discussion.
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      Apr 16 2012: HEya Obey No1,

      Highly recomend you change your handle from a statement to a person.
      It will help by being vulnerable - those who attack you make themselves as naked as your name - by their violation of you - that all can see for what it is - and then real discourse happens. And then you claim your power.

      And your power is your regard and love for others.

      Benjamin is lost in dogma, He does not truly know who he is, he uses faulty semantic logic and makes videos about his delusions .. this is a call for guidance.

      IT may be that he lacks the machinery of empathy .. usually this is the sociopath, the psychopath or the unresolved autistic. They all talk of absolutes of domination. THe cutting of the Gourdian knot.
      But the Gourdian knot must be unravelled - no sword can do this task. Only empathy can do it.

      We have a long way to go and not much time.

      We start with our self.

      I have some math and some good insight to see that it is by refering to our core self that all things are done.

      I do hope that BEn finds his way out .. it's just local minima after all ;)
      • Apr 16 2012: Hello children and welcome to Informal Logic 101. Today we're going to learn about the "Ad Hominem Fallacy" ...
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          Apr 16 2012: Ben, ethics is all "hominem".
          And you are right - it is a falacy.
          This always happens with words that are based on unresolved assumptions - they are like the orouborus - the head goes seeking, but finds only its tail.
          The seeking is necessary - much can be found, but when the concept collapses, you have a better idea of teh core assumption - and that is where the seeking must turn next.

          In this we talk "about". The words inscribe a circle around the mystery, but cannot enter it.

          The topic was always about you.

          WE all have this propensity to say "what if" .. it is an essential and intrinsic part of how we function. However, "what if" is not "is". and the endless loop of "what if" always finds itself trapped in absolutes and extremes.

          However, life is not about extremes, it is about balances.

          If you meet me, sure, killing me is an option, but you won't do that - it simply won't serve your advantage.

          The word which the great Orouborus of "ethics" circumscribes is the word "advantage". THat is the mystery that you must unravel in your quest.

          I think you will do well.
  • Apr 17 2012: No point in arguing with Mitch Smith. Given that there is no common ground, no real ethics and thus no humanity, the only way to deal with such a creature would be force on the brute animal level. Which means since there is no immediate issue making that force necessary, not dealing with him at all is the answer. If TED had a way to mute somebody, I'd have muted him already.
  • Apr 16 2012: > "Can I ask - is there a difference between "beware" and "do not"?"

    "Beware" is still short for "You should beware.'

    To try to get rid of all moral judgements is inhuman.

    Generally speaking, domination or in other words, lack of respect for people's free agency is wrong. Calling it wrong isn't dominating others. Moral judgements are an essential part of clear thinking.
  • Apr 16 2012: > "Tell me exactly where do I suggest that we should forget reason before developing our ethics. That I can point to the "environments" or "circumstances" that lead to our evolution of some basic instincts does not mean that I suggest in any way that in order to develop our ethics we should forget reason. Does it?"

    Ethics being reducible to animal instincts doesn't leave room for saying we "should" do anything. That's the problem.

    > "That I can recognize our origins, our evolutionary history, our relationship with the rest of nature, does not mean I propose the dismissal of reason either. Does it?"

    You do seem to have embraced a theory that excludes any possibility of reason itself being not merely useful but true. Evolution could only provide useful, not true.
    • Apr 16 2012: Benjamin,

      Show me exactly where did I reduce ethics to animal instincts. The reduction only happens in your straw-man, not in the science. So, for the N+1 time: finding basic instincts towards empathy, for example, and explanations about how these developed through evolutionary history does not mean that we have all it takes for ethics to develop within those instincts. It just means finding basic instincts underlying our tendencies and the possibility for those principles that you love as axioms. Clear enough now? There is much more to ethics than the instincts below its roots. Ethics is still a long way forward (or upward, whatever).

      Reading Plantinga instead of science won't help you much if you are going to discuss evolution (if you got Plantinga's argument directly from him, who knows, it could have been a third source). To discuss evolution you have to understand science. Philosophy about science without the proper scientific knowledge is mere mental masturbation.
  • Apr 15 2012: I am afraid you are conflating (confusing?) ethics and morality. Many philosophers have done the same through history. The two, however, are not the same.

    Although I have my own quarrels with de Waal and believe he has a tendency to exaggerate the implications and to read way too much into the evidence he offers, I do want to point out that he was not talking about ethics in chimpanzees and other non-human species. He was talking about a "moral sensibility" and I don't believe he made any claim that a sense of morality was rooted only in instinct.

    Yes, I agree with you that ethics is rule-based and thus prescriptive. That's why we hold members of various professions (such as doctors, lawyers and others) to "ethical" (but not "moral") standards such as those set forth in each profession's adopted code of professional conduct. So when a lawyer, say, acts unethically by disclosing a privileged communication from a client to a third party, that lawyer is subject to disciplinary action and possible disbarment. We don't, however, discipline doctors or lawyers professionally when they act immorally by, for example, cheating on their spouses

    Morality is a much broader concept than ethics and is neither prescriptive nor descriptive. It asks us to have compassion (not pity) and to put ourselves psychologically and emotionally in the position of the other.

    Two philosophers, Simone Weil (the radical French Marxist atheist who later became a Christian mystic) and Iris Murdoch (the Oxford don and novelist) each wrote very beautiful, and I think very insightful, essays on moral thought and awareness. Simone Weil's concept of "attention" to others as described, for example, in her essay "The Love of God and Affliction" is very powerful and moving, even for a non-believer like me.

    Bottom line: I think you and de Waal are talking past one another that only adds to the confusion.
  • Apr 15 2012: > "Ethics is a way-up-there word that simply means "the kinda guy you are"."

    It most certainly does not! In that case, it would be impossible for someone to ever behave unethically.

    Seriously ... start, first chapter, Coleridge at the waterfall, yeah.
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    Apr 14 2012: HAve another look at this one - I think it will help:

    Here is the basis of "empathy". The mutually static nature of the physical "self" is the starting point for all human communication.
    Our "instincts" are all at the service of maintaining the optimal body state - with the exception of the sex drive.
    Whatever actions we take in the world must all work to optimise our body state or we will die.
    In this way, instinct is the absolute basis of "morality" (if such a word has any meaning whatsoever).
    It is by our mutual acknowledgement of the instincts in each other that defines us as social animals.
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    Apr 13 2012: WHen you say the word "ethics" it's like describing ants from a hot air balloon.
    Ethics is a way-up-there word that simply means "the kinda guy you are".
    If you want to use pseudo math to describe such generalisations, you would do better to say:
    Ethics = (mutual advantage / personal advantage). Which, although still rubbish, is far more succinct than what Either Jesus or Confusious had to say about it. And even more succinct still, you could simply say Ethics = reciprocity.
    To do any better than that, you will have to get into the detail.
    The detail resides in the machinery - and it is no more than machinery. Certainly, it is wonderful machinery, but none the less.
    The machinery consists of how the social animal expands the field of perception in the individual - by co-opting the perceptions of others through communication.
    It is the quality of that communhication (by word and deed) that determines the quality of the ethic.
    If you infer some kind of ideal in the word "ethic" then it would translate to a consistency of low-noise communication on the part of the individual. However, the individual can contrive to falsify such consistency - a thing we call "reputation". Falsification of such kinds requires concealment. In this way, a person can be regarded as a reliable "pillar of society" with all the benefits of high ethical regard, but in secret be a vile paedophile.

    It is in the quality of our expanded perceptive field that our agency is enhanced - good information leads to effective results. An ethical communication will result in increased agency in the other - this is the basis of reciprocity. And it's just machinery.
    On top of this, all communication is facilitated through resonant empathetic pairs - they exist only in your head. It is true tha matched empathetic pairs converge between individuals, but will never attain perfect convergence - the senses are noisy, the cognitive machinery is noisy and the motor systems are noisy.
    Ethics = least error.