Saturday, March 22, 2014

Can morality be reduced to a scientific description? - part 2

If C1 is valid (from part 1), there is no reason to maintain that morals arise from well-being and suffering. That could be considered a bottom-up approach where the tail wags the dog. On the contrary, if C1 is valid, morality can exist independent of any experience of the agent.

Morals are not derived from well-being and suffering (ethical naturalism) but, are applied to instances of well-being or suffering so that moral action is achieved in the face of these experiences (ethical nonnaturalism). In other words, morality is applied to experiences, not derived from experiences. (C2) Thinking that they are derived from experiences constitutes a misunderstanding of what morality is. Morality is a value system that determines how a person should react to certain circumstances and how a person shapes the events within their sphere of influence so that desirable outcomes are obtained. Ethical naturalism confuses an "is" (what most people want or desire - descriptive) with an "ought" (a universally true moral statement - normative). For example, pedophiles can state that pedophilia is desirable for their well being but, this does not make pedophilia morally right. A majority of people can agree to torture babies but, that does not make it morally right. The fact that both cases are considered morally wrong is confirmation that ethical naturalism is difficult to practice, even by those who espouse it.

It has been maintained by Richard Dawkins that altruism is a quality that has been developed through the process of evolution and is embedded in the genes of people because if people help each other, the species has a better chance of survival. If the quality of altruism gets passed down, this further perpetuates the preservation of the species. One expression of this concept was in the work of R. A. Fisher and J. B. S. Haldane called kin selection. An agent will make sacrifices in order to protect the preservation of the species (provided the benefit to the preservation of the species is greater than the loss to the individual making the sacrifice). This could be called vertical altruism in that it is most commonly from an older generation to a younger generation. Another expression of this concept is reciprocal altruism. If agents cooperate in survival, the preservation of the species has a greater chance for success. This could be called horizontal altruism. This results in agents working together to form a conglomerate morality that pragmatically "works" for their culture. In time, societies evolve. As this happens, morality continually improves as knowledge increases and the desire for the "greater good" prevails. This benefits the species as a whole and the species is preserved.

First, every subsequent example of physical conflict undermines this theory, provided the competition for resources is not an issue and communication of ideas continues to proliferate. In other words, there is less and less reason for violent confrontation because continued cooperation helps to overcome any lack of resources and communication more widely distributes the idea that altruism is best for humanity. Even though this is true, there are copious examples of conflict that have nothing to do with competition for resources. Many conflicts are for purely military strategic reasons or for religious reasons. If Dawkins were right, conflicts based on these reasons would continue to diminish until they stopped existing because the alleged evolutionary force of altruism inherent to people would override any forces that compete with it. Moreover, no one would seek power to the extent that they construct weapons of mass destruction. If nuclear warfare were to break out, much of the species would be eliminated thus, diminishing the chances of survival for the victors, if there were any. From an altruistic perspective, mass warfare makes no sense because one group is eliminating fellow humans that they rely for existence, even if it is indirectly. This surely must mean that altruism is not nearly the driving evolutionary force that Dawkins thinks it is. Evidentially, altruism does not seem to be the case to the extent that it is actually preserving the species.

Second, examples of people taking risks undermines the altruism idea. If altruism really were an evolutionary part of human makeup, then all people would increasingly realize the corollary that taking risks undermines altruism. The less risks people take, the less altruism is actually necessary. Yet, people continue to do all sorts of things that are potentially fatal. For example, terrorists flew commercial airplanes into the World Trade Towers. In the aftermath, many people rushed into the infernos to rescue people. If the towers weren't there, there would have been less injury to the human race. There was risk involved in building them. There was risk involved in bringing them down. There was risk involved in saving the people in the buildings. So, why do people build skyscrapers to begin with? Such buildings really have nothing to do with the preservation of the species. There are certainly less risky ways to accomplish the same task without creating something that increases the need for altruism. In other words, altruism should spark people to minimize the need for altruism but, people continue to engage in potentially fatal activities. Some risks are taken merely because they can be taken, such as mountain climbing. Every insect or animal that could potentially harm humans should be removed from existence or at least quarantined so that they can still exist but, cause little or no damage. Many of the risks that people take are for the purposes of finding ways to make life more convenient. However, this is a new phenomenon. Mankind existed without modern conveniences for millenia.

Third, euthanasia and abortion undermine the altruism argument. If altruism for the sake of preservation of the species were really so genetically engrained in people as Dawkins believes, there would never be a question of the dignity of life. A pregnant woman may choose to abort the pregnancy when she perceives that her quality of life will be diminished. However, it is not known what impact the unborn child will have on the preservation of the species. If the altruistic drive proposed by Dawkins were really the case, there would be no abortion for cases when the child will not affect the preservation of the species but, could potentially perpetuate it. In fact, the reverse should be true in a purely evolutionary, biological system; that the parent would make sacrifices to ensure the well being of the child. The idea of kin selection is that the older generation makes sacrifices for the younger generation provided the benefit to the younger generation is greater than the risk to the agent making the sacrifice. From a purely evolutionary perspective, any child that is going to imperil the lives of the parents (such as the physically or mentally impaired) should be eliminated because this injures the preservation of the species. Yet, parents will go to any lengths to provide life for children who will clearly do not preserve the species. Since there are examples of abortion merely for the convenience of the mother and of parents sacrificing for children who do not contribute to the preservation of the species, clearly, something other than purely biological motives are at work. Moreover, why do people sacrifice for the elderly and dying? There is no evolutionary advantage for doing so. People have expended significant effort to protect the quality of life for those who are dying. Conversely, euthanasia is advocated by some people even for cases when a person is suffering emotional stress. Again, this is done under the guise of protecting the dignity of life. A not unrelated problem is the issue of suicide.The notion of the dignity of life is not related to the preservation of the species. Dignity is not needed for the species to survive. In fact, it seems taxing on the strongest in some cases.

The previous three points are accumulating into one overall point.

P5. Dawkins, et al, maintain that moralistic altruism is an outworking of the preservation of the species. People are genetically predisposed to help each other.
P6. There are examples of conflict for esoteric reasons that hinder the preservation of the species.
P7. There are examples of risk taking for esoteric reasons that hinder the preservation of the species.
P8. Dignity of life and quality of life are esoteric concepts that can impede the preservation of the species.
C3. Conflating moralistic altruism and biological, evolutionary forces is unjustified. Ethical naturalism is an inaccurate system of description of morality.

Again, it seems that agents are acting on some force other than purely biological forces for the preservation of the species. Thus, the moralistic altruism mentioned by Dawkins is not the same thing as the genetic drive to preserve the species. Carrier even objects to Harris' qualifier of well-being and suffering  by pointing out that Harris is describing something less moral than prudential. If this is the case, Harris' "well-being and suffering" is not an adequate description of the basis for morality. Do well-being and suffering pertain to the preservation of the species, something numinous or both? C3 implies that well-being and suffering do not pertain merely to preservation of the species. Something else is going on especially in cases of P5-P8. Harris and Carrier might be ok with that, although not if they are approaching the situation from a physicalism perspective. As stated earlier, physicalism will not allow any room for something numinous. However, the cases in P5-P8 suggest that something non-physical is going on. Agents are acting on situations that are not purely biological and physical. For example, discrimination is a moral issue. It is wrong to discriminate against someone. Likewise, slavery is wrong. It is wrong to enslave someone else. These are moral issues. They are the way things ought to be. However, they do not pertain to the preservation of the species. Humankind has persisted in the face of these immoral situations.


C1, C2 and C3 build a cumulative case against the description of morals by Carrier, Harris, Dawkins, Dennet, et al. In the end, the case for ethical naturalism (EN) is guilty of special pleading. EN proponents want to disassemble morality into disparate ethical components, take them from their non-empirical source and port them into the world of methodological naturalism to be subject to the language of scientific quantification. However, they ignore that human agents (merely evolutionary developed biological machines in the EN view) are acting on something axiologically higher than preservation of the species and survival of the fittest. In other words, it is inconsistent to say that science can quantify morality but, then ignore actions by people that have nothing to do with the raw evolution of the species. If science can quantify morality, then there should never be any actions by people that are like P5-P8. If P5-P8 are undeniable, then those actions are not necessarily reducible to the language of science and the EN assertion is at least presumptuous and at most, blatantly false.

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