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Is there true charity in the world?
Posted: 08 November 2013 11:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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Write4U - 08 November 2013 06:20 PM
Rupert - 08 November 2013 10:28 AM

Let me be sure I understand. You’re saying that I’ve made a mistake about my true motivation, right? Does that mean that you are positing some kind of notion of an unconscious motivation?

I believe there is an entire scientific discipline that deals with this very question It is called Psychology.

There was one occasion when I studied first-year psychology, in my undergraduate years.

Could I please ask, what are your reasons for thinking that I’m mistaken in thinking that my action was motivated by a desire to reduce suffering? And what are your conjectures about what the real motivation is?

Write4U - 08 November 2013 06:20 PM

It is proper to ask ourselves what motivates our actions. Don’t forget, in your example both rationalizations are beneficial in general.

Which two rationalizations are these? And what exactly is the evidence that they are indeed rationalizations?

Write4U - 08 November 2013 06:20 PM

IMO, ultimately I do what is good for me, it is a natural law for living things, it is the natural extension of “survival instinct” and allows for the evolution of species.

Obviously given that I’m a product of many millions of years of natural selection you’d expect me to be disposed to behave in a way that’s well-calculated to enhance my prospects for passing on my genes. The statement that I do what is good for me requires more examination. For one thing, you’d want to be clear about exactly how we evaulate which outcomes are good for me.

Let’s try this thought-experiment. Suppose someone gave me a choice between two futures. In the first future I will correctly believe that I have prevented some suffering and experience a mild “inner glow”. In the second future I will falsely believe that I have prevented a much larger amount of suffering and experience a much more intense “inner glow”. (And I will forget that I was presented with this choice.) I claim that I’d go with the first one, because I’m more concerned about actually preventing suffering than just stimulating the release of dopamine in my nervous system.

Write4U - 08 November 2013 06:20 PM

But thought is a biochemical process and limited by its own physical abilities. We can be so easily fooled. Can we trust our own senses, interpretations and actions based our interpretations?

More often than not we can trust our senses, and we can also get a pretty good idea of the circumstances under which we can’t.

You’re trying to put forward a claim that I’m mistaken about my true motivation, right? So offer reasons why I should believe you. What are the reasons why I am most likely mistaken about my true motivation, and what are your conjectures about what my true motivation is?

Write4U - 08 November 2013 06:20 PM

The following may not seem related at first but it does illustrate the fundamental moral problem of deciding which is “good” and which is “bad”.

It illustrates how you need to consider far-future consequences of your actions as well as near-future ones, sure.

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Posted: 09 November 2013 02:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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Rupert,

Write4U - 08 November 2013 06:20 PM
But thought is a biochemical process and limited by its own physical abilities. We can be so easily fooled. Can we trust our own senses, interpretations and actions based our interpretations?

More often than not we can trust our senses, and we can also get a pretty good idea of the circumstances under which we can’t.

You’re trying to put forward a claim that I’m mistaken about my true motivation, right? So offer reasons why I should believe you. What are the reasons why I am most likely mistaken about my true motivation, and what are your conjectures about what my true motivation is?

I am doing no such thing. I was making observations in the course of the general discussion. At no time did I say you were wrong. I was trying to expand the parameter of the simple example you gave, which could be argued from both viewpoints that the action is virtuous in itself and at the same time the outcome is positive by resulting in less suffering. In your example both motivations are positive and motivationally satisfying.

Write4U - 08 November 2013 06:20 PM
The following may not seem related at first but it does illustrate the fundamental moral problem of deciding which is “good” and which is “bad”.

It illustrates how you need to consider far-future consequences of your actions as well as near-future ones, sure.

And then we come to the famous train switch dilemma. And the question of forced morals (such as in scripture) and the question why some can find pleasure by inflicting suffering (sadism), which would be the other end of the spectrum.
Apparently the brain allows for a wide range of motivations, some which are much deeper than a spontaneous decision to “ease suffering”, by sticking a dollar bill in a box.

I guess I am trying to stress the limitations of mechanistic biochemical functions in the brain, rather than a spiritual insight which motivates our thinking.

There are plenty experiments which can fool the brain in all sensory processing. Optical and auditory illusions, tactile and neurological feelings.

http://www.diffen.com/difference/Ethics_vs_Morals

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Posted: 09 November 2013 07:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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My main motivation in bringing up the example was to get clearer about why Lois thinks we can often be mistaken about our true motivations. It sounds as though you agree I’ve probably got reasonably good insight into what my true motivations are.

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Posted: 09 November 2013 09:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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Rupert - 08 November 2013 12:35 AM
Write4U - 08 November 2013 12:20 AM

You are rationalizing that the motivation is to help alleviate suffering, but the reality is the knowledge that you made a difference makes you feel good.

I don’t understand why these two propositions are supposed to be inconsistent with one another.

 

Thus the decision to help is constructive and morally good and the pleasure you experience from that is a selfish motivation.

But I’m not motivated by the thought “If I do this, I’ll feel good afterwards.” That may be true but it is not what’s driving the behaviour. I’m motivated by the thought “If I do this, less suffering will take place.”

A hard determinist would say you can’t know what your actual motivation is.  It’s lost in a sea of determining factors that brought you to the point of doing what you have decided will help.  You can’t know exactly which factor(s)  brought you to that decision. What is good about what you do when you contribute is your conscious intention to do good, but you can’t be sure where that intention springs from and I’m not sure you can take credit for it. No doubt your conscious motivations are pure, but there are unknown motivations you are unaware of. I admit it is a difficult concept to understand.

Lois

[ Edited: 09 November 2013 09:08 AM by Lois ]
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Posted: 09 November 2013 11:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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Lois - 09 November 2013 09:06 AM

A hard determinist would say you can’t know what your actual motivation is.  It’s lost in a sea of determining factors that brought you to the point of doing what you have decided will help.  You can’t know exactly which factor(s)  brought you to that decision. What is good about what you do when you contribute is your conscious intention to do good, but you can’t be sure where that intention springs from and I’m not sure you can take credit for it. No doubt your conscious motivations are pure, but there are unknown motivations you are unaware of. I admit it is a difficult concept to understand.

Well, a hard determinist would say I can’t take credit for anything at all. And I wasn’t necessarily trying to say that I can take credit for it.

But it sounds to me like you were putting forward a claim that I’ve made a mistake about what my “true” motivation is, and I’m just wondering, how could you know. I mean, do you think that generally people have pretty good insight into what their motivation is, or do you think that’s not the case?

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Posted: 09 November 2013 12:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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I believe Lois is quite correct.  While we all “know” that we know what our motivations are, most in-depth psychological testing seems to show that much of our behavior is driven by unconscious motivations/desires/drives of which we are completely unaware.  Of course, you may be an extremely rare person, Rupert, who has no unsconscious drives so knowe exactly what motivates his actions, but it pretty unlikely that you are so different from almost all of us.

I agree that it’s annoying for me or anyone to think that I’m not completely in conscious control of my behavior, but that seems to be the case.

Oh, and I have about 27 units of lower and upper division psychology courses.  I pretty quickly realized that taking them was a good way of raising my grade point average. smile

Occam

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Posted: 09 November 2013 04:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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Occam. - 09 November 2013 12:27 PM

I believe Lois is quite correct.  While we all “know” that we know what our motivations are, most in-depth psychological testing seems to show that much of our behavior is driven by unconscious motivations/desires/drives of which we are completely unaware.  Of course, you may be an extremely rare person, Rupert, who has no unsconscious drives so knowe exactly what motivates his actions, but it pretty unlikely that you are so different from almost all of us.

I agree that it’s annoying for me or anyone to think that I’m not completely in conscious control of my behavior, but that seems to be the case.

Oh, and I have about 27 units of lower and upper division psychology courses.  I pretty quickly realized that taking them was a good way of raising my grade point average. smile

Occam

All right. Well, you have the advantage of me in having taken more units of psychology.

When we did first-year psychology we didn’t talk very much about unconscious motivations, as far as I remember, but I did also once study Freud as part of a philosophy course. But Freud’s views are pretty controversial these days.

So could I ask which experiments you have in mind? And do you have any thoughts about which unconscious desires might have been in play on this particular occasion, or is it just not possible to know that?

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Posted: 09 November 2013 05:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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Rupert - 09 November 2013 07:57 AM

My main motivation in bringing up the example was to get clearer about why Lois thinks we can often be mistaken about our true motivations. It sounds as though you agree I’ve probably got reasonably good insight into what my true motivations are.

I don’t have the qualifications to make a judgment either way. I know just enough to ask questions.

Such as, how do you know that someone is suffering?  And when you see suffering, do you suffer an empathic response?  Is it at this point that you say, “we must do something about this suffering” and you reach out to lend a helping hand?

IMO, one must first be aware that suffering is taking place. This information is provided by the senses and processed in the mirror neural network.

Which is more effective, reading an article about a tsunami that killed 100 thousand people 3000 miles away in another country, or seeing a single picture of a village under water and a dog swimming, looking for its master who was washed away?  Which is the more powerful image that would motivate you to take some action to alleviate this kind of horrific suffering.

Then there is the example of a person placing himself in real danger to help. When asked why, they usually respond, “there was no time to think, I just acted, but now that you ask me, looking back at the situation, I must have been a little crazy to do what I did.”

After Katrina I recall my outrage looking at a picture of a man wading through waste high water with a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk, with the headline of ‘theft is rampant in the stricken area” and a rant on the people who were taking advantage of disasters should be arrested.

Well, duhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.  The guy in the picture lived in the stricken area (was a victim) and merely did what he needed to do to survive. Should he have left money or a promissory note?

OTOH, millions of people also saw this article and were motivated to make donations to help alleviate the suffering. Clearly the same picture caused different emotional mirror responses. One was designed to sensationalize a tragedy, the others were from empathy and a desire to relieve the suffering.

My interest is in finding at what level these emotional responses which motivate our actions are experienced and how they may be influenced by “false perceptions” or “intentional misinformation”.

[ Edited: 09 November 2013 05:54 PM by Write4U ]
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Posted: 09 November 2013 08:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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Write4U - 09 November 2013 05:33 PM
Rupert - 09 November 2013 07:57 AM

My main motivation in bringing up the example was to get clearer about why Lois thinks we can often be mistaken about our true motivations. It sounds as though you agree I’ve probably got reasonably good insight into what my true motivations are.

I don’t have the qualifications to make a judgment either way. I know just enough to ask questions.

Such as, how do you know that someone is suffering?  And when you see suffering, do you suffer an empathic response?  Is it at this point that you say, “we must do something about this suffering” and you reach out to lend a helping hand?

I used to support Schistosomiasis Control Initiative in the past. That charity focuses on neglected tropical disease. Since that time I’ve seen some pretty nasty video footage of people who suffer from such diseases. But I hadn’t seen the footage at the time, my decision to donate was mainly motivated by the fact that charity evaluation organizations which I regarded as reliable had come to the conclusion that this was a cost-effective health intervention.

More recently I have been supporting a meta-charity called Effective Animal Activism. I believe that my donation will help to raise funds for other charities such as Vegan Outreach and the Humane League, who will use the money for the purpose of doing online ads making people more aware of the conditions animals experience on modern farms and encouraging them to become vegetarian or vegan, or at least reduce their consumption of animal products. I believe that if more people become vegetarian or vegan as a result of my doation, then fewer farm animals will come into existence, the strongest effect being on broiler chickens. I have read information about what the life of a broiler chicken is like and I believe that it is better if less of them come into existence. I’ve seen video footage of suffering factory-farmed animals in the past, sure. Probably not all that much about broiler chickens specifically. I can’t really remember.

So it’s not really a case of the suffering entering directly into my experience. I have access to information that I take to be reliable that the suffering is taking place and make a considered judgement, and I try to spend my money where I believe that it will do the most good.

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Posted: 09 November 2013 10:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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So, would you classify yourself as acting on sympathy or empathy?

btw, I admire your active participation, regardless of the fundamental cause for your motivation.

[ Edited: 09 November 2013 10:26 PM by Write4U ]
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Posted: 09 November 2013 10:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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Write4U - 09 November 2013 10:22 PM

So, would you classify yourself as acting on sympathy or empathy?

btw, I admire your active participation, regardless of the fundamental cause for your motivation.

Thanks.

I just checked the dictionary definition of the two words and I’m not really sure what you think the important distinction is. I suppose the main thought is “It would be unfortunate if some sentient being had to endure suffering as a result of my doing nothing”.

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Posted: 09 November 2013 11:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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Rupert - 09 November 2013 11:05 AM
Lois - 09 November 2013 09:06 AM

A hard determinist would say you can’t know what your actual motivation is.  It’s lost in a sea of determining factors that brought you to the point of doing what you have decided will help.  You can’t know exactly which factor(s)  brought you to that decision. What is good about what you do when you contribute is your conscious intention to do good, but you can’t be sure where that intention springs from and I’m not sure you can take credit for it. No doubt your conscious motivations are pure, but there are unknown motivations you are unaware of. I admit it is a difficult concept to understand.

Well, a hard determinist would say I can’t take credit for anything at all. And I wasn’t necessarily trying to say that I can take credit for it.

But it sounds to me like you were putting forward a claim that I’ve made a mistake about what my “true” motivation is, and I’m just wondering, how could you know. I mean, do you think that generally people have pretty good insight into what their motivation is, or do you think that’s not the case?

I don’t think anyone can know all the factors nor can we have any particular insight as to what our true motivations are. We can know what we are consciously aware of and we can assess those we know about, but I think those we know about are not even the tip of the iceberg. We like to think we know, but we can’t possibly know which of millions of possible factors are in play or which ones take precedence in any situation. That is something beyond our ability to know, IMO. It’s not a matter of whether you have made a mistake. My contention is that you can’t know because most motivating factors are not available to your conscious mind. We are not capable of “making a mistake” because we lack full knowledge. It’s not just you—it’s everyone.  You may well have made a good guess, but I still say you can’t have enough information. There are too many competing and conflicting factors and we are not aware of what they are or how they work or which takes precedence. It sounds as if you are upset with me for taking this position,  but I think it is impossible for anyone to know, not just you. But you are entitled to your opinion. If you think you know, then you think you know. I just don’t think we will ever yknow the truth about our motivations. I hate to think I’ve hurt your feelings, but IMO, that’s the case with everyone, including me. I am not conscious of what my motivating factors are any more than anyone else.

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Posted: 10 November 2013 03:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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No, no problem, not upset. Just curious about your views.

Is there any particular theory about the unconscious that you subscribe to, like are you a Freudian?

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Posted: 10 November 2013 09:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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Rupert - 10 November 2013 03:48 AM

No, no problem, not upset. Just curious about your views.

Is there any particular theory about the unconscious that you subscribe to, like are you a Freudian?

I don’t label myelf that way. i came to take the deterministic view pretty much on my own (not counting unconscious factors), before I even knew there was a philosophical concept known as determinism. The idea just struck a chord with me and answered so many questions about human nature and why we act the way we do. It just seems right to me to accept that our conscious minds are not that much in control. Other factors control our decisions.

Part of what led me to think this way was that I messed up my life with poor decisions when I was young. I missed great opportunities and put myself into a bind I could not get out of.  I also thought I should have known better than to make the life changing decisions I made. But when I learned more about the philosophy of determinism,  I realized that given who I was at the moment of decision making, what my background was, my environment, my experience, even my genes, the decisions I made were inevitable. I had no way to step outside of my determining factors and make better decisions.  Then I realized that no one has that ability and people who seem to make “better” decisions for themselves are products of different genes, experiences and environments over which they also have no control. We shouldn’t beat up on ourselves too much.  We have much less control than we have been led to believe.

While studying more about how the deteministic view works, I learned that both Freud and Einstein were determinists,  for what that’s worth. 

There are some interesting essays about determinism on http://www.determinism.com, the site of The Society of Natural Science, which is “devoted to exploring the psychological, sociological and religious implications of determinism.” it’s an interesting site that explains and discusses many aspects of determinism.

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Posted: 10 November 2013 10:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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Some quotes about determinism


“Everything is determined, the beginning as well as the end, by forces over which we have no control. It is determined for the insect as well as the star. Human beings, vegetables, or cosmic dust, we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible piper.”
- Albert Einstein 
 

“We like to forget that in fact everything in our life is chance, from our genesis out of the encounter of spermatozoon and egg onward.”
- Sigmund Freud 

“The initial configuration of the universe may have been chosen by God, or it may itself have been determined by the laws of science. In either case, it would seem that everything in the universe would then be determined by evolution according to the laws of science, so it is difficult to see how we can be masters of our fate.”
- Stephen Hawking 

“The first dogma which I came to disbelieve was that of free will. It seemed to me that all notions of matter were determined by the laws of dynamics and could not therefore be influenced by human wills.”
- Bertrand Russell 
 
“I’m a victim of coicumstances!”
- Curly Howard

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[ Edited: 10 November 2013 03:42 PM by Lois ]
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