Reinventing Morality

  1. Philosophy Forum
  2. » Ethics
  3. » Reinventing Morality

Get Email Updates Email this Topic Print this Page

hue-man
 
Reply Tue 6 Jan, 2009 06:47 pm
Science and Morality:

Reinventing Morality
 
Aedes
 
Reply Tue 6 Jan, 2009 09:25 pm
@hue-man,
Another great article on the subject from the NY Times Magazine, I've linked it here before:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/13/magazine/13Psychology-t.html
 
Didymos Thomas
 
Reply Tue 6 Jan, 2009 09:42 pm
@Aedes,
In what way have scientific advances helped us to reinvent morality? Or, in what ways do you envision scientific advances reinventing morality?

I'm thrilled with the psychological progress of modern society. I find myself criticizing modern society so much that sometimes I lose sight of the advances. Medicine is one of the great beneficiaries of modernity. I hope we can put this material to use. I just wonder if our advances change morality; it seems that our advances change the way we understand the execution of morality, but do these advances change what we understand to be moral or immoral or amoral?
 
Aedes
 
Reply Tue 6 Jan, 2009 09:58 pm
@Didymos Thomas,
DT, I think what is meant here is that 1) our discussion of morality has been reinvented, and 2) our understanding of ourselves as moral beings has been reinvented.

And a major upshot is that we can look at our moral traditions in a new way, and understand how something innate to us has found its way into vastly diverse traditions.
 
Didymos Thomas
 
Reply Wed 7 Jan, 2009 03:09 pm
@Aedes,
In what way have we reinvented the discussion, though? I see new psychological jargon, but have we just replaced one set of terminology for another? And what about our understanding of ourselves as moral beings has changed? Again, the science and accompanying language, but what else?

Aside from the new language and new methods what has changed? I guess what I'm getting at is daily life, the way these advances influence our daily conduct. What are we to draw from these advances as moral agents?
 
Aedes
 
Reply Wed 7 Jan, 2009 03:28 pm
@Didymos Thomas,
Didymos Thomas;41082 wrote:
In what way have we reinvented the discussion, though?
Traditional ethics has been a discussion of what ought we to do, how ought we to make decisions, and how do we justify moral judgements.

The new discussion asks this question: is there something innately moral to us?

This is a completely and totally different kind of question. It presumes that morality exists below any conscious or rational level, and all prior discussions of morality from a philosophical point of view have in truth been distillations of this innate morality. Morality isn't just a metaphysical and social concept anymore, it's a biological concept that has been extrapolated into metaphysics.

Quote:
And what about our understanding of ourselves as moral beings has changed?
We understand that morality is not necessarily something that can be discussed prescriptively, which has been the whole project in probably all of religious and philosophical ethics the world over. Everything from Confucius to the Bhagavad Gita to the Nicomachean Ethics have been a series of prescriptive discussions of how we ought to decide, what we ought to do.

But how can we have been prescriptive with out first having a descriptive ethics? Instead of "what ought we to do" or "how ought we to decide", shouldn't the first questions be "what do we do" and "how do we decide"? We're finally understanding those latter questions.

Quote:
I guess what I'm getting at is daily life, the way these advances influence our daily conduct. What are we to draw from these advances as moral agents?
Who ever said they should be moral agents? The whole point is that it subverts prescriptive ethics, which frankly has not really influenced moral decisions and behavior either. Sure, utilitarianism and deontology have influenced law, but show me how Kant or Mill have influenced moral decisionmaking in daily life??

Again, the presumptuousness of ethics as a prescriptive field of philosophy has not exactly influenced daily conduct either. What's changed is that we now understand why.
 
Didymos Thomas
 
Reply Wed 7 Jan, 2009 03:37 pm
@Aedes,
I see what you mean now, thank you.

Just one question: haven't people been asking the questions "what do we typically do" and "how do we typically decide" for at least a thousand years?

It seems to me that these questions are the beginning for a great deal of moral discussion. Buddhism begins with these questions and moves from there. Now, the science seems to offer a great deal to anyone asking those questions, but the questions do not seem to be anything new.
 
nameless
 
Reply Wed 7 Jan, 2009 03:50 pm
@hue-man,
Science is finding more and more every day that the universe/all, at any moment, is One, like a tapestry.
That there is no definitive point where one person (or anything else) 'ends' and another 'begins'.
Teaching this cutting edge science in school might make the notion of predation on one's fellow beings obsolete; who do we really harm in the harming of others?. Win/win will replace win/lose.
Mystics, who have 'known' this for millennia, are not known for their violence or misanthropy...
In this light, 'morality' appears to evolve.
 
Aedes
 
Reply Wed 7 Jan, 2009 07:04 pm
@Didymos Thomas,
Didymos Thomas;41096 wrote:
Just one question: haven't people been asking the questions "what do we typically do" and "how do we typically decide" for at least a thousand years?
Not that I'm aware of. Other than Buddhism do you have examples?

Quote:
Buddhism begins with these questions and moves from there.
It's not the same, though. Granted Buddhism has psychological insight that's absent from any other ancient religion, largely because it's so focused on thought rather than ritual. But still they're not asking the psychological questions analytically. The earliest moral precepts in Buddhism, like the Eightfold Path, are discussed in contraposition to the "what do we do". It happens that the Buddhist idea of suffering has psychological merit, but they don't present that as the result of some kind of inquiry.

Rather, we are told how we ought to think in contrast to how we do think. Much as in Judaism we are told to eschew idolatry, etc.

Perhaps both idolatry and Buddhist-style suffering could be seeds for further study, but that's not the direction these traditions went.
 
Didymos Thomas
 
Reply Thu 8 Jan, 2009 05:03 pm
@Aedes,
Aedes wrote:
Not that I'm aware of. Other than Buddhism do you have examples?


Yeah. None that are quite as analytical as Buddhism, but sure. Don't moral notions arise because someone notices a certain way in which humans tend to act that the person despises? It seems to me that we are just getting better information about the way man acts with science, which is great.

Aedes wrote:
It's not the same, though. Granted Buddhism has psychological insight that's absent from any other ancient religion, largely because it's so focused on thought rather than ritual. But still they're not asking the psychological questions analytically. The earliest moral precepts in Buddhism, like the Eightfold Path, are discussed in contraposition to the "what do we do". It happens that the Buddhist idea of suffering has psychological merit, but they don't present that as the result of some kind of inquiry.

Rather, we are told how we ought to think in contrast to how we do think. Much as in Judaism we are told to eschew idolatry, etc.


Isn't the whole of the tradition presented as an inquiry? The Buddha develops his dharma through inquiry, meditating on the problem of suffering, and in teaching suggests that practitioners do the same - discover these moral precepts on their own.

http://ccbs.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-ADM/silva.htm wrote:
Vipassana, or insight meditation, also starts with concentration exercise susing appropriate objects on which one focuses. In this procedure, however,once a certain level of concentration is achieved so that undistracted focusing can be maintained, one goes on to examine with steady, careful attention and in great detail all sensory and mental processes. Through this contemplation, one becomes a detached observer of one's own activity.The objects of this contemplation are classified as fourfold: body,sensations, mental states, and "mental objects"--for example, various moral and intellectual subjects. The aim is to achieve total and immediate awareness, or mindfulness, of all phenomena. This leads, it is claimed,eventually to the full and clear perception of the impermanence of all things and beings (Majjhima Nikaya, I, 1888-1902; Samyutta Nikaya, V, 1884-1898).
Quote:


Aedes wrote:
Perhaps both idolatry and Buddhist-style suffering could be seeds for further study, but that's not the direction these traditions went.


What direction did Buddhism and Judaism go? I know for a fact that Buddhism went in the direction of studying suffering and developing practices, essentially through trial and error, for the cessation of suffering. And I'm pretty sure that Jews have devoted some attention to ways of addressing man's tendency to be idolatrous, ect.
 
Didymos Thomas
 
Reply Thu 8 Jan, 2009 07:29 pm
@Aedes,
Aedes wrote:
Not that I'm aware of. Other than Buddhism do you have examples?


None that are overtly analytical. But I wonder: where do we get moral notions in the first place? Don't we begin by noticing something that humans tend to do, and then wonder why they do it, and then wondering how they might be compelled to act otherwise?

Aedes wrote:
It's not the same, though. Granted Buddhism has psychological insight that's absent from any other ancient religion, largely because it's so focused on thought rather than ritual. But still they're not asking the psychological questions analytically. The earliest moral precepts in Buddhism, like the Eightfold Path, are discussed in contraposition to the "what do we do". It happens that the Buddhist idea of suffering has psychological merit, but they don't present that as the result of some kind of inquiry.


Buddhism does not approach psychology analytically? I'm no expert, but I've read some of this guy's writings:
Thubten Yeshe - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

And I recall some things attributed to the Buddha. He suggested that practitioners should not believe something because he, the Buddha, said it. Instead, practitioners should discover truths for themselves as the Buddha had done meditating for forty days.

Here is a passage from an interesting article I've found:
Quote:

Vipassana, or insight meditation, also starts with concentration exercises
using appropriate objects on which one focuses. In this procedure, however,
once a certain level of concentration is achieved so that undistracted
focusing can be maintained, one goes on to examine with steady, careful
attention and in great detail all sensory and mental processes. Through
this contemplation, one becomes a detached observer of one's own activity.
The objects of this contemplation are classified as fourfold: body,
sensations, mental states, and "mental objects"--for example, various moral
and intellectual subjects. The aim is to achieve total and immediate
awareness, or mindfulness, of all phenomena. This leads, it is claimed,
eventually to the full and clear perception of the impermanence of all
things and beings (Majjhima Nikaya, I, 1888-1902; Samyutta Nikaya, V,
Buddhist psychology: A review of theory and practice
1884-1898).
 
Aedes
 
Reply Thu 8 Jan, 2009 08:14 pm
@Didymos Thomas,
Didymos Thomas;41252 wrote:
Don't moral notions arise because someone notices a certain way in which humans tend to act that the person despises?
Moral judgements, i.e. what we judge, is a wholly different issue than the question of how we form judgements.

Quote:
It seems to me that we are just getting better information about the way man acts with science
Again. it's a different question.

Quote:
Isn't the whole of the tradition presented as an inquiry? The Buddha develops his dharma through inquiry, meditating on the problem of suffering, and in teaching suggests that practitioners do the same - discover these moral precepts on their own.
Still, that's not the same question. The Buddhist approach is contemplative, but not systematic. And the question in Buddhism arises from a priori assumptions (the Noble Truths are assumptions) that are arrived at through contemplation.

Quote:
The aim is to achieve total and immediate awareness, or mindfulness, of all phenomena. This leads, it is claimed, eventually to the full and clear perception of the impermanence of all things and beings
This is revelatory and somewhat mystical contemplation of metaphysical truths. And in this statement it assumes the conclusion of impermanence. It doesn't study the process of thought that predisposes to that conclusion. It assumes that that conclusion will be reached with the correct approach. This is the opposite of the scientific question.

Quote:
What direction did Buddhism and Judaism go?
A lot of ritual and a lot of mysticism, but not systematic study of the original problems. I use those words acknowledging how diverse these traditions are (and I have to include Christianity as a downstream inheritor of some Jewish ideas).

The only exception I can acknowledge is Talmudic law within Rabbinic Judaism, but even its situation is not analytical -- it's more like judicial case law.
 
Didymos Thomas
 
Reply Thu 8 Jan, 2009 08:28 pm
@Aedes,
Aedes wrote:

Still, that's not the same question. The Buddhist approach is contemplative, but not systematic. And the question in Buddhism arises from a priori assumptions (the Noble Truths are assumptions) that are arrived at through contemplation.

This is revelatory and somewhat mystical contemplation of metaphysical truths. And in this statement it assumes the conclusion of impermanence. It doesn't study the process of thought that predisposes to that conclusion. It assumes that that conclusion will be reached with the correct approach. This is the opposite of the scientific question.


Even the Four Noble Truths are not assumptions in Buddhism: they are something to be discovered, experienced, by the practitioner. But we were talking about morality, not Buddhist metaphysics. And it seems to me that Buddhism does ask the questions "what do we do" and "how do we decide": "The aim is to achieve total and immediate awareness, or mindfulness, of all phenomena."

The Buddhist approach is not scientific, but the questions are the same, and there is certainly something systematic about the practice. After asking the questions :what do we do" and "how do we decide" Buddhist practice move into modifying what we do and how we decide: Buddhism does have answers already, but none are assumed, they are all something for the individual to discover. Even impermanence.

Perhaps this would be of interest:
Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive Shop
 
Aedes
 
Reply Thu 8 Jan, 2009 08:44 pm
@hue-man,
DT, maybe this isn't innate to you if you don't think about science much, but science is not a kind of question -- it's a kind of method. The same question can be asked and answered in many ways. But the scientific approach is the only one whose answer illuminates the way we humans think about morality. Of course on the other hand it gives no insight into moral conclusions -- but we don't turn to science for that.
 
Didymos Thomas
 
Reply Thu 8 Jan, 2009 09:01 pm
@Aedes,
Aedes wrote:
DT, maybe this isn't innate to you if you don't think about science much, but science is not a kind of question -- it's a kind of method. The same question can be asked and answered in many ways. But the scientific approach is the only one whose answer illuminates the way we humans think about morality. Of course on the other hand it gives no insight into moral conclusions -- but we don't turn to science for that.


That's the thing, though - I never said that the Buddhist approach was scientific. I said that Buddhism does ask those questions, and approaches them analytically ("what do we do?" "how do we decide").

The scientific approach is not the only one that illuminates the way humans think about morality: Buddhist meditation does this as well. Is the Buddhist method as reliable as the scientific method? Not even close. That's why I'm excited about the science.

Oh, and from that last link you can access the full text of each book, including audio of the books. I recommend both.
 
paulhanke
 
Reply Thu 8 Jan, 2009 09:15 pm
@hue-man,
hue-man wrote:
Science and Morality:

Reinventing Morality


Quote:
A group of patients with damage to a small region in the ventromedial frontal cortex has been examined with respect to moral reasoning. These patients are otherwise normal by available criteria. If confronted with the hostage example, most people will say that it is morally wrong to kill the specific person singled out randomly. We would enter into a complex set of moral issues to decide what to do. Instead, those with the ventromedial lesion, which appears to impair the connection between our emotional system and our rational system, have not the slightest hesitation in agreeing that the specific person should be killed to save the rest. They have become good utilitarians.
(Stuart Kauffmann, Reinventing the Sacred)

Damage to the prefrontal cortex increases utilitarian moral judgements
 
Aedes
 
Reply Fri 9 Jan, 2009 08:05 am
@Didymos Thomas,
Didymos Thomas;41361 wrote:
I said that Buddhism does ask those questions, and approaches them analytically ("what do we do?" "how do we decide").
I agree that the roots of this question exist within Buddhism. But the endpoint of this question is an ethical guide in Buddhism, not a generalizable understanding as in science.
 
MuseEvolution
 
Reply Tue 13 Jan, 2009 12:16 pm
@hue-man,
I've not read much of Buddhism, but while what I have read says much about how our decisions lead to suffering, and how by negating desire we can alleviate that suffering, I've seen nothing discussing why human beings have natural tendencies and urges to create suffering in the first place. Why we would be "given" or why we would develop desires naturally if it is best for us not to have them (and therefore, question whether or not an end to suffering should be sought).

In a Christian religious context, simply replace "suffering" with "sin."
 
 

 
  1. Philosophy Forum
  2. » Ethics
  3. » Reinventing Morality
Copyright © 2024 MadLab, LLC :: Terms of Service :: Privacy Policy :: Page generated in 0.03 seconds on 04/21/2024 at 12:49:59