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There’s no such thing as morals or values!
Posted: 14 August 2012 03:10 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Most of us here might agree to some extent that morals and values are not an absolute concept conscripted by some law of science or god. But what I’m not so sure of is how some of us defend them in the absence of these as still being somehow innate, unique, or special—especially granted to human beings. I think the only morality and values that exist are ones that we convene to.

Genetics may play a role in some (not all) animals to enhance conditions indirectly that favor better social behaviors. But even to judge that morality has been favored to enhance any species is false. In some environments, like ours, it happened to suit or fit the environmental circumstances that led to our survival so far. It is only a contingency, however, not a necessity that socializing, altruistic behaviors, etc., may help foster survival for some animals over others.

It is not popular to admit but the most vile crimes you can think of do not differ from the most angelic acts. Although I recognize this, I can’t help but notice that I feel that I have a much stronger impulse to ‘be good’ over the people who seem to claim that they are believers, Christians, mystics, et.al. .

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Posted: 14 August 2012 04:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Wrong, wrong, wrong.  Evolution favors that which benefits the species.  Social species benefit the group as a whole in preference to themselves.  Examples are ants, bees, chimps, lions, fish that swim in schools, killer whales, and humans.  These behaviors are genetically programmed into us.  With humans we do have two competing drives, self-interest and group-support.  Because we aren’t purely one way or the other like ants or wolverines helps our observations and conclusions to become a bit confused.  Morality, that is, group interest in humans is, I believe, to a good part genetically determined.  While there are many who tend toward self-interest, either the groups gradually weed them out or the group slowly dies.

It is not popular to admit but the most vile crimes you can think of do not differ from the most angelic acts.

I don’t understand this statement at all.

I can’t help but notice that I feel that I have a much stronger impulse to ‘be good’ over the people who seem to claim that they are believers, Christians, mystics, et.al.

And I’m sure they feel the same about you.

Occam

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Posted: 14 August 2012 04:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Occam. - 14 August 2012 04:02 PM

Wrong, wrong, wrong.  Evolution favors that which benefits the species.  Social species benefit the group as a whole in preference to themselves.  Examples are ants, bees, chimps, lions, fish that swim in schools, killer whales, and humans.  These behaviors are genetically programmed into us.  With humans we do have two competing drives, self-interest and group-support.  Because we aren’t purely one way or the other like ants or wolverines helps our observations and conclusions to become a bit confused.

I am not sure if I am understanding you correctly here, Occam, but what you’re saying here sounds like a group selection, which most scientists agree doesn’t exist. But again, maybe I am not following you correctly.

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Posted: 14 August 2012 05:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Selfishness is the seed of all life, regardless. We take our personal selfish comforts from the womb and base our social interactions on how they prove to work to accomplish all that we desire. Depending on the animal, we may require essential nurturing. In fact, without sufficient minimal nurturing as babies, we can be severely damaged and, at worst, die. I already agreed that there are indirect means for us humans or other social animals to have genetic predispositions to encourage better social behavior. The fact that we have the genes that create the neurons for a period of development that extraordinarily enhances our ability to recognize faces and easily remember them is one of those examples. What does it mean, however, to be considered naturally altruistic? From my personal experience, it is NOT the altruistic, soft, fluffy, giving people who win. Rather, it is those who naturally receive and continue to encourage others to do so who win. And why, how, and when, anyways, is being concerned for the others an intrinsic value? As atheists, for what most of us are, are we not no more significant to the universe than say a rock? And if it is no different to be a selfish, altruistic, or even indifferent rock, why does it matter?

Morality is just conventions. Even if we had genetic disposition for whatever reason to be forced to be moral by our nature, how does that make us somehow superior in your mind other than an imaginary religious-like ego?

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Posted: 14 August 2012 05:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Sorry guys, I’m slow at responding. The last response was in response to Occam’s words.

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Posted: 14 August 2012 05:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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No, Occam, I am reading it correctly. What you’re describing here is a group selection. Evolution doesn’t favour that which benefits the species, but that which benefits the genes. (If you’d like to discuss why I believe the the gene-centered view of evolution is the only and correct level at which evolution operates, let me know.) Your assertion that “social species benefit the group as a whole in preference to themselves” is certainly wrong. We know that the act of altruism in our species which doesn’t happen as a result of inclusive fitness is quite unusual. In bees it’s a little more complicated, nevertheless, it can also be argued that the bee behaves “altruistically” for its own (or rather its genes’) “selfish” reasons—again, I can elaborate on this if you’d like me to.

I am also not sure what you mean when you say that humans have “two competing drives, self-interest and group-support.” Why should they be competing? It’s quite possible that supporting your group can be beneficial to you and therefore to your genes. Acts like a suicide to protect the group, for example, are a little more difficult to explain as an adaptation, but we shouldn’t forget that suicide bombers are usually manipulated into believing that their acts will be beneficial to them by people who possess manipulative traits which could have evolved as adaptations.

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Posted: 14 August 2012 05:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Scott Mayers - 14 August 2012 05:01 PM

And why, how, and when, anyways, is being concerned for the others an intrinsic value? As atheists, for what most of us are, are we not no more significant to the universe than say a rock? And if it is no different to be a selfish, altruistic, or even indifferent rock, why does it matter?

Morality is just conventions. Even if we had genetic disposition for whatever reason to be forced to be moral by our nature, how does that make us somehow superior in your mind other than an imaginary religious-like ego?

Well, I admit that this is a simplistic argument for ethical depravity, but I don’t buy it. Finally, everyone is looking at least for their own personal happiness. There are some ways it is better to gain happiness, and some ways that people look to gain happiness that are unskillful and will in fact more likely create misery. This is sufficient to say that there are facts about happiness and the good life about which we can be wrong. And happiness and the good life are traditional foci of ethics.

One may ask, why is it good to gain happiness? But that question answers itself, since it is the sort of thing we all look for.

One may also ask, what constitutes happiness? This is a more interesting question, and one that deserves a great deal of thought.

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Posted: 14 August 2012 06:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Scott Mayers - 14 August 2012 03:10 PM

Most of us here might agree to some extent that morals and values are not an absolute concept conscripted by some law of science or god. But what I’m not so sure of is how some of us defend them in the absence of these as still being somehow innate, unique, or special—especially granted to human beings. I think the only morality and values that exist are ones that we convene to.

Genetics may play a role in some (not all) animals to enhance conditions indirectly that favor better social behaviors. But even to judge that morality has been favored to enhance any species is false. In some environments, like ours, it happened to suit or fit the environmental circumstances that led to our survival so far. It is only a contingency, however, not a necessity that socializing, altruistic behaviors, etc., may help foster survival for some animals over others.

It is not popular to admit but the most vile crimes you can think of do not differ from the most angelic acts. Although I recognize this, I can’t help but notice that I feel that I have a much stronger impulse to ‘be good’ over the people who seem to claim that they are believers, Christians, mystics, et.al. .

I am also confused by the vile crimes/angelic acts statement.

It seems that people behave in whatever way they can get away with - genetics and social constraints are the “boundaries”.

My view is basically that there is no moral code inherent in the universe, but most (not all) people who are of the age of reason can accept that we need some code of behavior in order to prevent our lives from being totally chaotic.

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Posted: 14 August 2012 07:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I believe our problem, George, is mainly one of semantics, explanations, and qualifications.  I try to avoid long winded posts, and that allows misinterpretations of what I’ve written.  I believe that, if we could sit down and discuss it face to face, we would pretty quickly see that we were talking about the same situation but just using different words and coming from it from different angles.  I’m not talking about group selection, but it was the easiest shorthand to talk about the topic from that view (a more precise statement of my views would have required many, many more words).

Occam

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Posted: 14 August 2012 07:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Scott Mayers - 14 August 2012 03:10 PM

...
It is not popular to admit but the most vile crimes you can think of do not differ from the most angelic acts….

You guys must be reading this out of accent. I’m saying that there is no difference between good or bad (acts, behaviors, values, or things) ‘out there’ in the Universe. From the perspective of an ant, we are an evil murderer in respect to killing one of its own. Since we are just matter and energy, the life of a single pebble is as morally relevant as a billion human lives! If this is too nihilistic for you, don’t be sad—I don’t fear a pebble is going to take us on any time soon.

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I eat without fear of certain Death from The Tree of Knowledge because with wisdom, we may one day break free from its mortal curse.

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Posted: 14 August 2012 07:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Scott Mayers - 14 August 2012 07:27 PM
Scott Mayers - 14 August 2012 03:10 PM

...
It is not popular to admit but the most vile crimes you can think of do not differ from the most angelic acts….

You guys must be reading this out of accent. I’m saying that there is no difference between good or bad (acts, behaviors, values, or things) ‘out there’ in the Universe. From the perspective of an ant, we are an evil murderer in respect to killing one of its own. Since we are just matter and energy, the life of a single pebble is as morally relevant as a billion human lives! If this is too nihilistic for you, don’t be sad—I don’t fear a pebble is going to take us on any time soon.

Ah, thank you for clearing that up.

I see what you mean; in the big scheme of things, nothing matters.  I definitely agree.

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Posted: 14 August 2012 10:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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mid atlantic - 14 August 2012 06:58 PM

It seems that people behave in whatever way they can get away with - genetics and social constraints are the “boundaries”.

And otherwise - buy a gun.  zipper

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Posted: 14 August 2012 10:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Scott Mayers - 14 August 2012 07:27 PM

Since we are just matter and energy,

Oh no, such a ‘just’ sentence again…

We are a highly organised form of matter and energy, that took about 4 billion years to develop, in a process that we do not know if it exists elsewhere in the universe.

For a tiger eating, let’s say, Einstein, he is ‘just’ food. What does that say about the tiger? At least he is not a physicist…

So what does it say about you, when you say ‘we are just matter and energy’? May I use your body as compost for my garden? Or could it be that you in your real life do not see it this way at all. And if this is true, why are you saying it here?

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Posted: 15 August 2012 05:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Scott Mayers - 14 August 2012 07:27 PM

I’m saying that there is no difference between good or bad (acts, behaviors, values, or things) ‘out there’ in the Universe.

I don’t understand what the words “out there in the universe” are supposed to add. Is there a difference to acts being good or bad depending on their position?

If you mean something like, “from the point of view of the planet Neptune”, then of course your conclusion follows without argument. The planet Neptune has no point of view, hence trivially all of its points of view are the same: they are null.

Scott Mayers - 14 August 2012 07:27 PM

From the perspective of an ant, we are an evil murderer in respect to killing one of its own.

An ant doesn’t have this sort of “perspective”. Indeed, it’s not clear that an ant has any sort of “perspective” if by that term we mean the ability to conceive of things in ways. More specifically, an ant lacks the concepts “evil” and “murderer”, and hence in no sense has a perspective of anyone with regard to such terms.

Scott Mayers - 14 August 2012 07:27 PM

Since we are just matter and energy, the life of a single pebble is as morally relevant as a billion human lives!

OK, the first part of this sentence is a non-sequitur. What does our being “matter and energy” have to do with moral relevance at all? Why can’t matter and energy—of a certain kind, arrayed in a certain fashion—have moral relevance? And are we in fact just matter and energy? Are we not also cells, brains and thoughts?

The second part of this sentence is false. A pebble isn’t “alive”; it has no “life”. We are alive, so we are the sorts of things that can have moral relevance. Indeed, we are the sorts of things that have moral concepts and can engage in moral reasoning, which distinguishes us from rocks and ants. It is also the sort of thing that gives us moral relevance that rocks and ants lack.

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Posted: 15 August 2012 09:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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I’ll not quote someone specific because several people have chimed in good thoughts already . . . but I think that there’s an angle that’s worth looking at concerning the whole group selection vs. self-interest thing. I think that it is true that self-interest in a group will generally overpower group interest when there’s a big conflict, especially from a genetic point of view (I agree George). I remember not too long ago reading a Steven Pinker essay debunking many of the reasons why group interest theories don’t work in looking at evolution. But, I think that it’s easily viable if group selection happens when there is very little or no conflict with genetic self-interest. So, morality as an aspect of group selection becomes a behavior which is metaphorically stacked on top of self-interested behavior. If this is the case, then in conflicts between genetic group interest and genetic self-interest, self-interest wins out in the long run - this is distinct from those interests in an individual view. Individuals will use what behaviors seem appropriate to them, and evolutionary rules still apply to who gets to pass on genes, whether any particular individual is altruistic or not.

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Posted: 15 August 2012 08:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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GdB - 14 August 2012 10:19 PM
mid atlantic - 14 August 2012 06:58 PM

It seems that people behave in whatever way they can get away with - genetics and social constraints are the “boundaries”.

And otherwise - buy a gun.  zipper

Yes!

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