What makes us Human?

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Pythagorean
 
Reply Tue 4 Mar, 2008 01:20 pm
@Aedes,
Aedes wrote:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Pythagorean

I don't believe it is aware of what it is doing as a real human would be aware.


This response means that you're not responding to my hypothetical scenario, though. I posited a group of chimps that IS aware, that has complex language, technology, is able to philosophize and think abstractly and rationally, and can communicate using language.

For my scenario to be worth pondering (and worth a response), then you have to imagine the scenario in which such a thing is possible. Because I'd argue that the ONLY thing that causes people to claim that reason or self-awareness or creativity is "what makes us human" is that these features happen not to be shared by other animals -- but if we suddenly discovered that they were shared by others, then you'd suddenly have to find another way of defining us. So my argument is that humans have to be defined by the ONE THING that cannot possibly be imagined in other animals -- and that is how we are biologically defined.

As I've said before, many times, this conflict lies at the very root of all philosophy -- the fact that we can't stand being things.


I think I understand you now. I would say if there exists a "group of chimps that IS aware, that has complex language, technology, is able to philosophize and think abstractly and rationally, and can communicate using language", then I would certaintly consider them to be human beings. And I think that society at large would also consider them to be human.

I would say that it is possible for there to be different varieties of human beings. And it's my intuition that we are not the only beings in the universe who posess such human-like sensitivities. Human biology may be necessary but it is not sufficient.


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Are you saying that there are full humans and partial humans? Certainly this example is of a biologically defective human, but it's still without any possible argument a live offspring of our species. It's as human as anything else.


I don't understand how it can be as human as anything else. We would certainly not treat the disabled as we treat those who are non-disabled. As a society we take away certain rights from mentally handicapped persons. The rights that we take away are in their origins the rights of man as outlined by early modern philosophers. Therefore those mentally handicapped persons are essentially deprived human rights, and justly so, since they are mere wards of a humane society and not capable of the full use of human reason.



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I have to side with the existentialists here:

Existence comes first. Essence second. You have to define a human by the most universal feature, not by an idealized essence.


I too have been considering the existentialist position in pondering this question. And while it is true that they hold existence to be prior to 'idealized' essence, they, as I recall, held historical authenticity not biological form to be the defining trait of man.

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Your argument that I've quoted looks very much like Aristotle's metaphysical ideas, which I find to be not a very useful way of understanding things anymore. A human being IS a material thing. We can describe non-material things like abstract thought as unique elements of the human experience -- but unless it's universal among all humans, sick or well, it cannot be said that this is what it means to be human.


I wonder what in particular has changed that renders Aristotle as obsolete? It would seem that even a physicalist conception of man and cosmos must come to terms with at least some of Aristotle.

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Even if we were entirely explained in biological terms, it wouldn't matter. It doesn't change the fact that we feel and we experience. The biological mechanisms are incidental to discussions like this -- I think we can take them for granted and still have a conversation about meaning. But if you're going to define humans based on an essential quality, you have to alternatively and adequately define all the members of our families and communities who lack that quality.


I would maintain that the mentally handicapped etc. are deprived of a full human nature by their organic defects.

--
 
Aedes
 
Reply Tue 4 Mar, 2008 03:37 pm
@Pythagorean,
Pythagorean wrote:
I would certaintly consider them to be human beings. And I think that society at large would also consider them to be human.
And if these thinking, rational, linguistic creatures were not just chimps, but also included zebras, porpoises, and macaws, would you consider all of them to be human beings?

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And it's my intuition that we are not the only beings in the universe who posess such human-like sensitivities.
I agree. But that is different than being an actual human.

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I don't understand how it can be as human as anything else.
Because 1) it is the offspring of human parents, and 2) we're all different in various ways; and in every population different traits have different distributions. This one happens to be an extreme example.

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As a society we take away certain rights from mentally handicapped persons.
That is not a philosophical deprivation, though. It's a practical one. We also don't allow blind people to drive and people with seizure disorders to fly airplanes, but that isn't outlined by modern philosophy.

Quote:
Therefore those mentally handicapped persons are essentially deprived human rights, and justly so, since they are mere wards of a humane society and not capable of the full use of human reason.
Uh, not quite. I can tell you that today alone I've had more than 10 patients with a fair amount of dementia who are not "mere wards of society", who live independently, who enjoy rights, and have severe impairment of their reasoning.

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I too have been considering the existentialist position in pondering this question. And while it is true that they hold existence to be prior to 'idealized' essence, they, as I recall, held historical authenticity not biological form to be the defining trait of man.
They held neither if I recall -- it was existence without qualities.

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I wonder what in particular has changed that renders Aristotle as obsolete? It would seem that even a physicalist conception of man and cosmos must come to terms with at least some of Aristotle.
Aristotle used logic to fill in blanks that have since been filled in by observation. He looked at things like a puppy turning into a dog as having innate cause and direction, he looked at the circular motion of planets as having an inherently circular motive, etc. And he was teleological. It was a great achievement for someone who didn't have the tools to study it more mechanistically, but it's not relevant now. The only Aristotelian thought that I feel still pertains in the present is his ethics -- and that's because there was a very elegant psychological insight in it.

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I would maintain that the mentally handicapped etc. are deprived of a full human nature by their organic defects.
What limits do you place on a full human nature? If you're the tallest then you're not the shortest, if you're the strongest then you're not the quickest, etc. There are a whole range of attributes among us, and we all have a full human nature -- because we're all human first and foremost.
 
Quatl
 
Reply Tue 4 Mar, 2008 04:25 pm
@de Silentio,
Humans are beings who share statistical similarity to an "ideal" genome and it's phenotype; Which while not existing in any one of us is a sort of "average." (ideal here has no moral connotations)

Beyond this definition, there be dragons Smile
 
Aedes
 
Reply Tue 4 Mar, 2008 09:56 pm
@Quatl,
Quatl wrote:
Humans are beings who share statistical similarity to an "ideal" genome and it's phenotype; Which while not existing in any one of us is a sort of "average." (ideal here has no moral connotations)

Beyond this definition, there be dragons Smile

Hehe, if I accused Pythagorean of being Aristotelian, I can now accuse you of being Platonic.

There is no "ideal" genome.

In fact it's impossible to even hypothesize what an ideal genome would be. Human populations are finite, partially isolated, have differential selective pressures, and have non-random mating. So while the genetic diversity in the world is a temporal departure from common ancestry, it is not a departure from some kind of metaphysical ideal.

All you can do is look at the phylogenetic tree and see where the branch points of diversity are. Mitochondrial DNA has been traced all the way back to a hypothetical "Eve". If you could trace chromosomal DNA back you might find a small ancestral population that lies at the root of all subsequent human diversity. But that doesn't make it ideal, because diversification happens both as an adaptive effect and simply because of change over time.
 
Pythagorean
 
Reply Tue 4 Mar, 2008 10:26 pm
@Aedes,
Aedes wrote:
And if these thinking, rational, linguistic creatures were not just chimps, but also included zebras, porpoises, and macaws, would you consider all of them to be human beings?


Yes, as long as they are, as you described them, "groups of [animals] that IS aware, that has complex language, technology, is able to philosophize and think abstractly and rationally, and can communicate using language". I would add that since humans as we know them are not infinitely intelligent then there could be some overlap, meaning they could be more intelligent e.g. super-human zebras etc.

Aedes wrote:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Pythagorean
And it's my intuition that we are not the only beings in the universe who posess such human-like sensitivities.

I agree. But that is different than being an actual human.


Since I define being a human as being basically an intelligent 'reasoner', then there can exist variations within sets of (as yet unknown) human-like species. For all such reasoners I will grant human "rights", that is, the normal status within society. If they can reason like the healthy humans that we are familiar with then they obtain human status.

Are you saying that a being who posesses such powers of reason should be denied full human status -?

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Because 1) it is the offspring of human parents, and 2) we're all different in various ways; and in every population different traits have different distributions. This one happens to be an extreme example.


Being the offspring of mentally normal parents is not enough to fulfill the requirement of being fully human. The kind of difference that occurs when one is not capable of performing basic mental abilities is categorically different than the mere differences of personalities. Existence within a human body is not enough. Doctors refuse feeding tubes to mentally non-functional patients according to laws that are written expressly for such occasions. And can you think of anything that speaks more loudly against your definition of a human being than legally allowing one to expire (to remove the feeding tube)?

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That is not a philosophical deprivation, though. It's a practical one. We also don't allow blind people to drive and people with seizure disorders to fly airplanes, but that isn't outlined by modern philosophy.


Whenever rights are denied it is the legally sanctioned removal of a philosophical insight i.e. 'the rights of man'. These are matters of law and statute, they are not willy nilly decided by old ladies and bearded old woods-men.

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Uh, not quite. I can tell you that today alone I've had more than 10 patients with a fair amount of dementia who are not "mere wards of society", who live independently, who enjoy rights, and have severe impairment of their reasoning.


A "fair amount of dementia" is a relative phrase, good doctor. I might add that as a society faces greater aging populations in its ranks it may begin to go slack in its prior, much lauded, commitments to humane values.

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They held neither if I recall -- it was existence without qualities.


I beg to differ. Actually, there are as many different positions within the so-called "existentialist" movement as there were individual philosophers. However, none of them held to the idea that biology determines what it is that makes us human.



Quote:

What limits do you place on a full human nature? If you're the tallest then you're not the shortest, if you're the strongest then you're not the quickest, etc. There are a whole range of attributes among us, and we all have a full human nature -- because we're all human first and foremost.


The determination of who gets counted as human and what falls short of being fully human can not be quantified. I'm sure that one who makes such a decision (such as a doctor or a judge) will find it to be a painful decision to have to make. It has nothing to do with being tall or strong or different. Furthermore, I don't believe that a plausible ethical system can be drawn from an essentially physicalist conception of humanity.
--
 
Quatl
 
Reply Wed 5 Mar, 2008 04:57 am
@Aedes,
Aedes wrote:
Hehe, if I accused Pythagorean of being Aristotelian, I can now accuse you of being Platonic.
There is no "ideal" genome.
In fact it's impossible to even hypothesize what an ideal genome would be.

Heheh, I guess my "no moral connotations" disclaimer wasn't strong enough. I suppose I could try to rephrase the statement without Plato's vocabulary, perhaps "stereotypical phenotype." But you are correct that the "ideal genome" (however it's phrased) is a silly proposition. That's actually the point.

The request to define humanity is a bit silly.

The topic is too broad, as this word is used to describe a huge swath of our experience. Humans as creatures, humans as agents (moral and otherwise,) aspects that humans are "supposed" to share, etc.

Aedes wrote:
Amazing how so many abstract philosophical debates, in the end, are an issue of ambiguities in language. And sometimes presenting a question a certain way makes it seem like there is a one question / one answer relationship. But as you say the original question "What makes us human?" hinges entirely upon what the original poster means by "makes", "us", and "human".

yep
 
Aedes
 
Reply Wed 5 Mar, 2008 09:13 am
@Pythagorean,
Pythagorean wrote:
Since I define being a human as being basically an intelligent 'reasoner', then there can exist variations within sets of (as yet unknown) human-like species.
We're sort of wasting our breath with this debate, since what it boils down to is that human is a quality for you and for me it's the name for the type of thing we are. You probably have a different term to refer to all members of our species, but for you it is different from the word "human".

While I understand your point of view I think it leads to some big conundrums, because your view is exclusionary (and can only define humans vaguely and based on an ideal). It therefore has ethical implications that can easily be a justification for mistreatment (and it has time and again in the past). Even though this isn't your intent, your view justifies discrimination against "lesser" members of our biological species because their handicaps are given ethical and metaphysical status rather than purely practical import.

My argument that a human is synonymous with a member of the biological entity Homo sapiens doesn't solve any ethical problem, because it doesn't make an ethical argument -- but it doesn't create ethical problems either, as I am convinced your argument does. I simply devalue any metaphysical and ethical overtones that may divide the concept "human". I thing that humanism and humanitarian ethics come from empathy, and a sense of shared participation in this human experience, and most of us extend this even to mentally incapacitated humans.

My medical background isn't the main source of my view -- I look at this from the point of view of my family, who fell victim to a genocide in a society where there were humans and subhumans, and a society that practiced lethal eugenics en masse. And my point of view is naturally informed by my experience in the medical profession, in which it does me and my patients absolutely no good to regard their humanity differently. Everyone is a human to me, whether they can reason or not, and I will not decide on their metaphysical worth based on what I think is happening in their head.

Quote:
can you think of anything that speaks more loudly against your definition of a human being than legally allowing one to expire (to remove the feeding tube)?
It sure seems simple when you look at it like that, but having been in this situation with a fair number of patients recently I think that this situation only supports my argument. Why? Because MANY patients, especially those with chronic diseases or the elderly, will openly declare and legally document that they would prefer to die than to have x, y, or z interventions. I had a patient die just about a half hour ago with the same circumstance -- he hadn't written it down, but he'd expressed his opinion to his loved ones who communicated it to me. So sending him to the hospice instead of the ICU was actually done to 1) respect his autonomy when he had been able to express it, and 2) to treat his real illness, which was terminal, incurable, and excrucuating -- and thus medically better managed with palliation.

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Whenever rights are denied it is the legally sanctioned removal of a philosophical insight i.e. 'the rights of man'.
I completely disagree with this. No one is denied things like freedom of religion, liberty, life, pursuit of happiness, which come from philosophical ideals. Custodianship (i.e. decision making proxies) does not exist because someone is denied rights -- it's a purely pragmatic issue. Withdrawing life-support, like feeding tubes or ventilators, has only to do with the fact that the patient is on life support and not able to sustain life independently -- so while the upshot may be (but isn't always) death, the decision itself is about degree of medical care to forestall the outcome of an ultimately fatal illness. Being permanently incapacitated and unable to eat would be a fatal illness were it not for medical interventions, and the decision is about the humanity and logic of the medical intervention. Most other things you think of as rights are pragmatic and not philosophical.

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A "fair amount of dementia" is a relative phrase, good doctor.
Would you like me to give you their Folstein mini mental state exam score and cite the medical literature as to its functional implications? Or would you prefer if I phrase things in a more vernacular way so that the participants in this thread can follow?

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I might add that as a society faces greater aging populations in its ranks it may begin to go slack in its prior, much lauded, commitments to humane values.
I agree with you insofar as care of the elderly is extremely expensive, and society is going to have to make practical decisions of how their care can be paid for.

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I beg to differ. Actually, there are as many different positions within the so-called "existentialist" movement as there were individual philosophers. However, none of them held to the idea that biology determines what it is that makes us human.
I didn't say they did. I said they were inclusive and not exclusive, and they disapproved of moral and metaphysical divisions within humanity based on secondary qualities.
 
prolix
 
Reply Wed 5 Mar, 2008 02:18 pm
@Aedes,
Sorry to jump in late.. However, I would have to disagree with you Aedes. There are ideal genomes, if only in comparison to other genomes, depending on the environment where an adaptation takes place.

To answer the question presented by the original post..

I believe that what makes us human can be defined as every shared difference between humanity and all other species. I'm sure there are many shared differences. Anything beyond that would be speculation. IE.. soul, morality, consciousness, reasoning..
 
Aedes
 
Reply Wed 5 Mar, 2008 06:44 pm
@prolix,
prolix wrote:
There are ideal genomes, if only in comparison to other genomes, depending on the environment where an adaptation takes place.
That's not true, because there are genetic differences that are phenotypically silent. Each amino acid can be encoded by two or three different codons (nucleotide triplets). So you can have mutations that are synonymous, i.e. they produce the exact same amino acid. This means that you can have multiple genomes producing the exact same organism.

Furthermore, a population CANNOT survive unless it is genetically heterogeneous. And if it has to be heterogeneous, then there cannot be a single ideal.
 
Pythagorean
 
Reply Thu 6 Mar, 2008 02:25 am
@Aedes,
Aedes wrote:


...your view is exclusionary (and can only define humans vaguely and based on an ideal). It therefore has ethical implications that can easily be a justification for mistreatment (and it has time and again in the past). Even though this isn't your intent, your view justifies discrimination against "lesser" members of our biological species because their handicaps are given ethical and metaphysical status rather than purely practical import.


What a cutting comment this is! Maybe you could elaborate a little. Shouldn't handicaps be given ethical consideration by society? My view does not inherently 'discriminate against "lesser" human beings' nor does it entail 'ethical implications that can easily be a justification for mistreatment' but only through a misunderstanding of my position (which is a common enough position) could one conceivably conclude such a thing. I say this because I believe that my view gives them a kind of dignity that from your view it would seem impossible for them to have.

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My argument that a human is synonymous with a member of the biological entity Homo sapiens doesn't solve any ethical problem, because it doesn't make an ethical argument -- but it doesn't create ethical problems either, as I am convinced your argument does. I simply devalue any metaphysical and ethical overtones that may divide the concept "human". I thing that humanism and humanitarian ethics come from empathy, and a sense of shared participation in this human experience, and most of us extend this even to mentally incapacitated humans.


I do not withdraw 'empathy' from mentally incapacitated humans. And I wonder how one can construct empathy and 'a sense of shared participation in this human experience' at all from a mere biological or material definition of human beings? I think, with all respect, that it is from your position that ethical difficulties are in fact created. I just don't know how one constructs a non-hedonistic moral frame-work from it - how do you quantify morality?

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And my point of view is naturally informed by my experience in the medical profession, in which it does me and my patients absolutely no good to regard their humanity differently. Everyone is a human to me, whether they can reason or not, and I will not decide on their metaphysical worth based on what I think is happening in their head.


I don't say they are not technically human, I say rather that they don't reach the full human potential that is available to healthy humans. Which is why we state the fact that they are "mentally disabled" in the first place. Their technical locus within the human familiy is secured but their ability to enjoy life as normal is impaired therefore they are lacking some human qualities.



Quote:
It sure seems simple when you look at it like that, but having been in this situation with a fair number of patients recently I think that this situation only supports my argument. Why? Because MANY patients, especially those with chronic diseases or the elderly, will openly declare and legally document that they would prefer to die than to have x, y, or z interventions. I had a patient die just about a half hour ago with the same circumstance -- he hadn't written it down, but he'd expressed his opinion to his loved ones who communicated it to me. So sending him to the hospice instead of the ICU was actually done to 1) respect his autonomy when he had been able to express it, and 2) to treat his real illness, which was terminal, incurable, and excrucuating -- and thus medically better managed with palliation.


But since his biological constitution did not alter, the cause for the allowance of his death was therefore based upon a non-biological criterion of what it means to be human. He was still technically a human when he was allowed to die. If we hold to your position, then he was 'killed', if however, we hold to my position then we could say without any equivocation that he was humanely allowed the death of his body.

Aedes wrote:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Pythagoras
I beg to differ. Actually, there are as many different positions within the so-called "existentialist" movement as there were individual philosophers. However, none of them held to the idea that biology determines what it is that makes us human.



I didn't say they did. I said they were inclusive and not exclusive, and they disapproved of moral and metaphysical divisions within humanity based on secondary qualities.



You did not say they were inclusive you said they disallowed ideal qualities. To hold a rational metaphysical belief is not tantamount to 'exclusion' (whatever that may really mean) as far as I know.

I think maybe it's time to stop using proxy arguments for a dispute which is essentially about the possibility or viability or belief in non-material qualities and the opposite position which would deny such a possibility: or perhaps "Qualities vs. Things".

I will look forward to that discussion! Smile
 
Aedes
 
Reply Thu 6 Mar, 2008 07:55 am
@Pythagorean,
Pyth, I'll respond thoughtfully to your points, but I'd like you to concentrate on this idea, to which I think you'll agree:

I do acknowledge that there are unique features of human cognition, abstraction, communication, and reasoning, that while not present in ALL people of our species, is indeed unique to us and qualitatively sets us apart.

You must (I'm sure you do) acknowledge that there is an easily defined entity in nature that we call Homo sapiens, which simply describes the kind of animal we are.

You call the first one human. I call the second one human. We disagree on this point. For all I know we agree on everything else.

So maybe the real debate is what do I call that phenomenon you refer to as human, and what do you call that phenomenon I refer to as human?

Pythagorean wrote:
What a cutting comment this is! Maybe you could elaborate a little. Shouldn't handicaps be given ethical consideration by society?
I think that society's job is to protect handicaps from unfair treatment in light of their unique needs, not to regard them as ethically special. They're ethically the same as anyone else -- but they're very vulnerable.

Quote:
My view does not inherently 'discriminate against "lesser" human beings' nor does it entail 'ethical implications that can easily be a justification for mistreatment' but only through a misunderstanding of my position (which is a common enough position) could one conceivably conclude such a thing. I say this because I believe that my view gives them a kind of dignity that from your view it would seem impossible for them to have.
Your view can give them that dignity, but it can also set them apart as subhumans or justify discrimination. Why? Because from the start you put them in a different classification and ethical category, and this can be used for good or for ill.

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I wonder how one can construct empathy and 'a sense of shared participation in this human experience' at all from a mere biological or material definition of human beings?
I don't construct it from that definition. I construct it from other factors that are immaterial to our biological definition.

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I think, with all respect, that it is from your position that ethical difficulties are in fact created. I just don't know how one constructs a non-hedonistic moral frame-work from it - how do you quantify morality?
This schema of mine is non-moral. In other words, with an all-inclusive view of what is human, I leave no room for morals to interpose themselves in some kind of fracture line in "humans". Besides, there's an abundance of evidence that humans make visceral moral judgements, then retrospectively moralize about them. This is probably true for ALL moral philosophers, though they didn't realize it -- which is why you could get Kant and Mill both to say that murder is bad using completely different rationale. Morality is something we philosophize about, but it's not something we actually create out of philosophy. I don't think morals inherently come from how we define humans -- I think people who discriminate are viscerally discriminatory and/or ignorant and justify it with their own definition of humans.

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I don't say they are not technically human, I say rather that they don't reach the full human potential that is available to healthy humans. Which is why we state the fact that they are "mentally disabled" in the first place. Their technical locus within the human familiy is secured but their ability to enjoy life as normal is impaired therefore they are lacking some human qualities.
I don't disagree with this. The difference is for me that to be "technically human" is still to be "human", which was the original question.

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But since his biological constitution did not alter, the cause for the allowance of his death was therefore based upon a non-biological criterion of what it means to be human. He was still technically a human when he was allowed to die. If we hold to your position, then he was 'killed', if however, we hold to my position then we could say without any equivocation that he was humanely allowed the death of his body.
I disagree, but my disagreement is based on medical ethical standards in which passive euthanasia (withdrawal of care from a dying patient) is considered almost universally acceptable, while active euthanasia is not considered acceptable. But honestly death is not the be all and end all of ethics and morals in these situations, and this is about weighing the acceptability of suffering versus the acceptability of death.

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I think maybe it's time to stop using proxy arguments for a dispute which is essentially about the possibility or viability or belief in non-material qualities and the opposite position which would deny such a possibility: or perhaps "Qualities vs. Things".
I believe in non-material qualities, but I also believe that they are cognitive constructs that we make, and they don't exist independently. Our brains are wired for pattern recognition. When you regard the pattern of Homo sapiens with abstract and complex thought, reason, and language, you assign this to the quality human. I recognize the same pattern as you; I just don't synonymize it with the concept "human", which I restrict to the Homo sapiens entity. Make sense?
 
Pythagorean
 
Reply Fri 7 Mar, 2008 02:38 am
@Aedes,
Aedes wrote:
Pyth, I'll respond thoughtfully to your points, but I'd like you to concentrate on this idea, to which I think you'll agree:

I do acknowledge that there are unique features of human cognition, abstraction, communication, and reasoning, that while not present in ALL people of our species, is indeed unique to us and qualitatively sets us apart.

You must (I'm sure you do) acknowledge that there is an easily defined entity in nature that we call Homo sapiens, which simply describes the kind of animal we are.

You call the first one human. I call the second one human. We disagree on this point. For all I know we agree on everything else.

So maybe the real debate is what do I call that phenomenon you refer to as human, and what do you call that phenomenon I refer to as human?


I do agree. You have stated things clearly. You synthesized our views somewhat. And this makes me think that our disagreement might lie in the degree to which we consent to the notion that science is completely sufficient in itself when it comes to providing, or seeking, answers to the question.

I perceive there to be a seperation between the hard sciences, as we now know and practise them, and notions of reason or intelligence that cannot be subsumed by those sciences. I do feel however that I can, with some measure of plausibility, reconcile your pragmatic conception of humans to a greater unity. Because I cannot distinguish between your phenomenon and mine. My definition has a shape - of which yours has a place therein - the shape of which you have referred to as 'hierarchical'. (Philosophically, I can't seperate 'matter' from 'intelligence' at all, i.e. the universe is organism. Then again, perhaps 'intelligence' itself is quantifiable "stuff", in which case the universe is contrived artifice and the scientist a god! (excuse my rambling but I couldn't resist..!!Smile)



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I think that society's job is to protect handicaps from unfair treatment in light of their unique needs, not to regard them as ethically special. They're ethically the same as anyone else -- but they're very vulnerable.


Protecting them from unfair treatment is ethical behaviour on the part of the society which does so. I am not quite sure what you mean by 'ethically special' or 'ethically the same as anyone else'.

The ethical act of protecting the mentally handicapped from unfair treatment is evidence in and of itself that society cannot bear any lack of distinction between normal, healthy humans and mentally disabled ones. It is the ethical and humane society which formally and legally categorizes the mentally disabled as such. This type of policy is at the very center of the welfare state as it exists today.


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Your view can give them that dignity, but it can also set them apart as subhumans or justify discrimination. Why? Because from the start you put them in a different classification and ethical category, and this can be used for good or for ill.


I do not put them in a different classification and ethical category. It is their mental defect which does this. The fact that disabled persons can be abused by low-lifes within any society is the reason a humane society will formally classify and protect them through legal methods. It is a great many things that can be used for good or ill.




Quote:
This schema of mine is non-moral. In other words, with an all-inclusive view of what is human, I leave no room for morals to interpose themselves in some kind of fracture line in "humans". Besides, there's an abundance of evidence that humans make visceral moral judgements, then retrospectively moralize about them. This is probably true for ALL moral philosophers, though they didn't realize it -- which is why you could get Kant and Mill both to say that murder is bad using completely different rationale. Morality is something we philosophize about, but it's not something we actually create out of philosophy. I don't think morals inherently come from how we define humans -- I think people who discriminate are viscerally discriminatory and/or ignorant and justify it with their own definition of humans.


In that case I would be curious to discover where it is that you think that morals do come from? Do morals come from religion, for example? - and do you think they are to be found in equal levels within all societies -?


Quote:
I believe in non-material qualities, but I also believe that they are cognitive constructs that we make, and they don't exist independently. Our brains are wired for pattern recognition. When you regard the pattern of Homo sapiens with abstract and complex thought, reason, and language, you assign this to the quality human. I recognize the same pattern as you; I just don't synonymize it with the concept "human", which I restrict to the Homo sapiens entity. Make sense?


I think I follow you. You seem to be following a purely practical path.

I do wonder as to how you would characterize the nature of these 'cognitive constructs' though. For example, if we 'make' them ourselves, and they do not exist independently, then how is it possible that they seem to be publicly, universally, communicated with such apparent ease? Do you think it possible that human thought could be ultimately a kind of physical "stuff" which is then formed into words and more definitive thought and reflexible ideas?

Smile

--Pyth
 
Edvin
 
Reply Fri 7 Mar, 2008 07:38 am
@de Silentio,
Quote:

then how is it possible that they seem to be publicly, universally, communicated with such apparent ease?


Are you sugesting that an unambiguous communication equals some sort of objectivity?
Just wondering.
 
Aedes
 
Reply Fri 7 Mar, 2008 08:35 am
@Pythagorean,
Pythagorean wrote:
our disagreement might lie in the degree to which we consent to the notion that science is completely sufficient in itself when it comes to providing, or seeking, answers to the question.
Maybe, maybe not. Science answers certain questions extremely well, and others not at all. If the question "what does it mean to be human" implies that humans are an entity and not an experience, then science answers that better than anything. If the question implies that humans are an experience and not an entity, then science only helps to clarify the boundaries of that experience, but is really not all that explanatory.

Quote:
The ethical act of protecting the mentally handicapped from unfair treatment is evidence in and of itself that society cannot bear any lack of distinction between normal, healthy humans and mentally disabled ones. It is the ethical and humane society which formally and legally categorizes the mentally disabled as such. This type of policy is at the very center of the welfare state as it exists today.
I think you and I are arguing different sides of the same coin -- our disagreement is rhetorical here and not philosophical.

Quote:
I do not put them in a different classification and ethical category. It is their mental defect which does this.
So are you then saying that if a mental defect comes from a biological phenomenon, and ethical category is determined by mental capacity, then ethics are founded in biology? That seems to be the opposite of what you've wanted to convey.

Quote:
In that case I would be curious to discover where it is that you think that morals do come from? Do morals come from religion, for example? - and do you think they are to be found in equal levels within all societies -?
To answer this I'd steer you to the article I linked that is in the Ethics forum here somewhere. Moral decisionmaking has a very strong psychological basis and perhaps even a biological basis. While overlap isn't perfect between all societies, it is extremely strong. So I believe (and with evidentiary support) that morals are largely innate, are influenced by experience (be it family or religion or whatever), and are explored and justified in philosophy. But I do not believe for a second that morals originate in philosophy or religion -- after all, philosophy and religion are human projects.

Quote:
I do wonder as to how you would characterize the nature of these 'cognitive constructs' though. For example, if we 'make' them ourselves, and they do not exist independently, then how is it possible that they seem to be publicly, universally, communicated with such apparent ease?
Because biologically, psychologically, and evolutionarily, we have a great deal in common with one another. But majority opinion doesn't equal absolute truth -- it only equals conventional truth; and this is subject to change.

Quote:
Do you think it possible that human thought could be ultimately a kind of physical "stuff" which is then formed into words and more definitive thought and reflexible ideas?
That may be necessarily to define what thought actually is, but it's not sufficient to explain what it means for us. A physical explanation is like a recipe, but reading the recipe doesn't give you the actual taste of the cookie.

Smile
 
Pythagorean
 
Reply Fri 7 Mar, 2008 04:41 pm
@Aedes,
Aedes wrote:


So are you then saying that if a mental defect comes from a biological phenomenon, and ethical category is determined by mental capacity, then ethics are founded in biology? That seems to be the opposite of what you've wanted to convey.


No, I'm saying their not fully human which makes their well being dependent upon an ethical society. The ethical onus is placed rather upon those members of society who are fully human.

I would add that I think that if ethics were a mere biological function (not implying this is what you believe) then it wouldn't pose so much difficulty in producing an ethically perfect or near-perfect society. It is precisely due to the difficulties we face when dealing with 'qualities' - that they are 'vague' as you said before - which prevents us from easily determining or achieving high ethical standards.

Quote:
To answer this I'd steer you to the article I linked that is in the Ethics forum here somewhere. Moral decisionmaking has a very strong psychological basis and perhaps even a biological basis. While overlap isn't perfect between all societies, it is extremely strong. So I believe (and with evidentiary support) that morals are largely innate, are influenced by experience (be it family or religion or whatever), and are explored and justified in philosophy. But I do not believe for a second that morals originate in philosophy or religion -- after all, philosophy and religion are human projects.


I remember that article, Steven Pinker. Perhaps he's worth a second look.

What about evil? Do you think that evil can originate in philosophy or religion? Certainly human beings posess an innate capacity for evil since it is only human actions which can properly be termed as evil or morally wrong. Is everyone then born good?

Quote:
Because biologically, psychologically, and evolutionarily, we have a great deal in common with one another. But majority opinion doesn't equal absolute truth -- it only equals conventional truth; and this is subject to change.


Sorry for my poor wording on this. I don't mean to say majority opinion but rather: how would you characterize a cognitive construct when it holds true for all people at all times, is universally applicable, and can be ever communicable to all people? By this I am implying they might be types or forms that can transcend particular situations. I guess this leads us back to the discussion of the nature of (certain) qualities - which seem to occur in the same form in different places and times -are the same in different contexts- and are directly knowable and communicable.

Quote:
That may be necessarily to define what thought actually is, but it's not sufficient to explain what it means for us. A physical explanation is like a recipe, but reading the recipe doesn't give you the actual taste of the cookie.

Smile

Unless to feel is virtually the same as to know, perhaps? The phonomenological 'experience' of knowledge, maybe?

Just a thought Smile
 
Teena phil
 
Reply Fri 7 Mar, 2008 05:25 pm
@Pythagorean,
Well, technically what make us human is our biological make up. Just as with any other animal, whatever makes us different or sets us apart is (in) our biological make up. Homo sapiens, humans, whatever you want to call it.
In short, the same things that make a cat a cat make a human a human.

& thats referring to the biological make up of a healthy human. It doesn't mean that people with certain illnesses or abnormalities are excluded from the category, but thats why its called abnormalities in the first place. You can have a dog born with one leg & you're not going to call it anything else other than a dog, but its an abnormal dog. I don't really think these things need to necessarily fit into the definition.

I guess you can also say things such as morality, ability to self reflect/reason etc etc but thats quite vague considering we cant fully define those things or say if other animals possess it (& to what extent). Either way it's still set somewhere in our biology.
 
de Silentio
 
Reply Fri 7 Mar, 2008 08:06 pm
@de Silentio,
I had an agenda with this topic, but I am embarrased to admit what it was now. You all have taken this to a level far beyond what I expected (I don't know why I expected less!).

If anyone would like to know, I will tell you what the exercise is all about.

Very nice discussion.
 
Aedes
 
Reply Fri 7 Mar, 2008 08:12 pm
@Pythagorean,
Teena wrote:
In short, the same things that make a cat a cat make a human a human.
Exactly. The problem, though, with abnormal is how to define it. Even in medicine, with advanced diagnostics, the same genetic condition affects different people vastly differently -- cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, and Huntington's disease are three great (and common) example.

Pythagorean wrote:
No, I'm saying their not fully human which makes their well being dependent upon an ethical society.
It just comes down to words. I'd say that they ARE fully humans, who incidentally cannot participate fully in society. And therefore societal ethics, by regarding them as fully and morally human, places the honus of altruism, custodianship, and policymaking on those who are capable of that role.

Quote:
What about evil? Do you think that evil can originate in philosophy or religion?
No. I think that most mass "evil" (like genocides and pogroms) puts on the cloak of a religious or philosophical justification, but it almost always originates in particular societal circumstances. Niall Fergusson wrote a phenomenal book about this with respect to the first half of the 20th century. I just don't think that an otherwise peaceful society can be spurred to violence and evil solely based on exposure to a philosophy. Why? Because those philosophies don't arise let alone gain traction in otherwise peaceful, stable societies.

Quote:
Certainly human beings posess an innate capacity for evil since it is only human actions which can properly be termed as evil or morally wrong. Is everyone then born good?
Mother Teresa had the physical capacity to hold a gun and pull a trigger. Evil has to do with actions, not thoughts. I can, right now, entertain the thought of herding everyone I dislike into a van and sinking it in a river. Does that make me evil just because I've had the thought? Evil happens when some kind of inhibition is surmounted and the action happens. That inhibition may be consciously moral, but I think it's more visceral than that. That's why there were people who went through whole campaigns in the Civil War and in WWII without ever firing their gun. That's why the police and the military need to train recruits on first person shooter video games so that they can overcome an inhibition to harm and kill other people. That's why there's an abundance of evidence of how exposure to media violence influences behavior in children. In other words, the evil act is easy to think of and easy to perform -- the hard part is getting over that inhibition.

Quote:
how would you characterize a cognitive construct when it holds true for all people at all times, is universally applicable, and can be ever communicable to all people? By this I am implying they might be types or forms that can transcend particular situations.
That's a very very hard thing to hypothesize about, of course, but there ARE some commonalities discussed in that Pinker article that seem to be transcultural. His argument, which seems very compelling, is that there is a biological and evolutionary basis. He gives an example of an experiment in macaques that shows something very reminiscent of human morals: a starving macaque, which can obtain food by pressing a button, will not press that button if it also causes another macaque nearby to receive an electric shock. In other words, in this monkey, witnessing another monkey suffering inhibits a behavior more than starvation stimulates it. Clearly that's something we'd expect in nearly all humans as well. So is this macaque using reason and philosophy to inform a moral choice? Or is this reaction somehow psychologically innate to it as it is to us?

Quote:
I guess this leads us back to the discussion of the nature of (certain) qualities - which seem to occur in the same form in different places and times -are the same in different contexts- and are directly knowable and communicable.
That quality may be embedded in our brains, a psychological state that has been clearly advantageous to our evolutionary ancestors.
 
Pythagorean
 
Reply Sat 8 Mar, 2008 09:24 pm
@Aedes,
Aedes wrote:

No. I think that most mass "evil" (like genocides and pogroms) puts on the cloak of a religious or philosophical justification, but it almost always originates in particular societal circumstances. Niall Fergusson wrote a phenomenal book about this with respect to the first half of the 20th century. I just don't think that an otherwise peaceful society can be spurred to violence and evil solely based on exposure to a philosophy. Why? Because those philosophies don't arise let alone gain traction in otherwise peaceful, stable societies.


Well, it's a complex question and a very good response. Of course I pose the question of evil, of its nature and origin, because its existence might seem to necessitate principles that are not easily reducible to pure pragmatism or materialism. That there may be something in the animal man as I have conceived him that is reflective of a causal force somehow.

I would say that the basis of group activities such as pogroms and genocides may be located within an instinctive alpha male trait which men who live in societies which are farming or industrial societies (societies requiring continuous physical exertion - testosterone societies) posess. Due to a lack of moral uprightness these vulgar people revel within their jealous and lower impulses and exploit the traditional mores- be they philosophical-intellectual or religious -of their own society. And if tight competition for resources is also present, then it becomes easier for greedy men to obtain personal gain at the expense of minority groups or the general peace. I believe that wherever one man can envision his gain at the expense of others then group violence, however complexly it is ultimately asserted, is possible. This case, of course, obtains in all parts of the world in every nation.

Quote:
Mother Teresa had the physical capacity to hold a gun and pull a trigger. Evil has to do with actions, not thoughts. I can, right now, entertain the thought of herding everyone I dislike into a van and sinking it in a river. Does that make me evil just because I've had the thought? Evil happens when some kind of inhibition is surmounted and the action happens. That inhibition may be consciously moral, but I think it's more visceral than that. That's why there were people who went through whole campaigns in the Civil War and in WWII without ever firing their gun. That's why the police and the military need to train recruits on first person shooter video games so that they can overcome an inhibition to harm and kill other people. That's why there's an abundance of evidence of how exposure to media violence influences behavior in children. In other words, the evil act is easy to think of and easy to perform -- the hard part is getting over that inhibition.


It doesn't suprise me that men in war will be seized with fearful paralysis and those are certainly interesting facts to consider.

Modern war is war on an industrial scale undertaken with the assistance of industrial machinery. The psychology and the commonly found ferocity of adult men is complex and non-linear. Most men, I have found, who have been exposed to hard physical labor over the course of their lives have develped a killer instinct to some degree at least. The act of murder of course is quite common in American society. I would speculate that this, in part, has to do with the dynamics of achievement in the real world, I mean the stress that's placed upon individual success and the horrors associated with destitution and failure. There are things that men must perform everyday if they are to survive (pscho-physical activities) of which I am sure that some of them find much more difficult to perform than they would cold-blooded murder, as harsh as that may sound.

Quote:
That's a very very hard thing to hypothesize about, of course, but there ARE some commonalities discussed in that Pinker article that seem to be transcultural. His argument, which seems very compelling, is that there is a biological and evolutionary basis. He gives an example of an experiment in macaques that shows something very reminiscent of human morals: a starving macaque, which can obtain food by pressing a button, will not press that button if it also causes another macaque nearby to receive an electric shock. In other words, in this monkey, witnessing another monkey suffering inhibits a behavior more than starvation stimulates it. Clearly that's something we'd expect in nearly all humans as well. So is this macaque using reason and philosophy to inform a moral choice? Or is this reaction somehow psychologically innate to it as it is to us?


If a metaphysical idea could exist it may be that it is an organic "thing" organically connected to the biology of he who uncovers it. If a monkey can be moral I see no inherent difficulty with equating his reason and his philosophy with what is psychologically innate to it. I wouldn't deny the monkey his metaphysics after all.

I'm being sillier than usual here, but I have a reason. I've been thinking about why it is popular to believe that humans should be viewed as material things and why the older ideals of reason and the possibility of metaphysical truth is largely rejected as an intolerant ancien regime, as it were. Anyone who holds that there exists the possibility for a rational metaphysics is obviously not going to attempt to negate or refute the hard sciences, since they can easily be subsumed therein. Also, I definitely enjoy and am stimulated by much of the technical discussions that you make (that I can understand!). The question I have is, what makes metaphysics so ideologically unfavourable and out of step? I do agree that it is so out of step and I don't mean to take a radical left-turn here but I think I am aiming more at the heart of the central question as regards the status of man.



Quote:
That quality may be embedded in our brains, a psychological state that has been clearly advantageous to our evolutionary ancestors.


But how do you account for the fact that they effectively form and reform to the most obvious aspects of the world? How can you eschew the epistemological questions? You have made allusions as to the danger of posing such ultimate questions but not to their being fundamentally irrational questions.
 
Pythagorean
 
Reply Sat 8 Mar, 2008 09:38 pm
@de Silentio,
de Silentio wrote:
I had an agenda with this topic, but I am embarrased to admit what it was now. You all have taken this to a level far beyond what I expected (I don't know why I expected less!).

If anyone would like to know, I will tell you what the exercise is all about.

Very nice discussion.


I would very much like to know the meaning of the original exercise.
 
 

 
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