Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Two


You will remember that, in his wartime radio broadcasts, C.S. Lewis argued that Right and Wrong were a clue to the meaning of the universe. He said that nearly all human beings have at nearly all times agreed that there was a difference between Right and Wrong. They even mostly agree about what kinds of things were Right and what kinds of things were Wrong. That, said Lewis, suggested what kind of a Universe we were living in – one in which Right and Wrong really existed, and would have existed even if humans hadn't come along and discovered them.

No greater person that Terry Eagleton scoffs at this idea. "Unchanging human nature?" he says. "Unchanging human bollocks, more like." (I paraphrase.) People in olden times used to burn witches at the stake. We don't do that any more, except possibly in Texas. Morality has changed beyond recognition.

Not at all, sighs Dr Lewis, anachronistically. If we really believed in witches – if we thought that there were really people who, as part of a real pact with a real dark power, were really causing plagues and famines and crop failiures then we would probably think that they should really be executed. We've stopped hanging witches because we disbelieve in their existence. That represents an advance in knowledge; not a change in morality. [*]

I think that that one's morals include what one does, as well as what one thinks one ought to do. I would not be inclined to say "John is a moral person because although he cheats outrageously on his wife, he believes adultery is wrong; Fred is an immoral person because he cheats outrageously on his wife while espousing a philosophy of free love." If fidelity and promise-keeping are Good Things, then infiedelity and promise breaking are Bad Things, whatever may be going on in the head of the love-rat. I am uneasy with a definition of morality which says "People in the past thought it was moral to execute children for petty theft; not because they differed from us about morality, but because they differed from us about certain material facts (say, the degree to which children could make moral decisions, the degree to which they believed in predestination, the degree to which they thought God would make it up to them in heaven after they died.) The fact remains that they killed kids and we don't. Except maybe in Texas.

By the time you've excluded "witches exist" and "witches are bad" from your definition of morality (along, perhaps, with "throwing old ladies rivers is a good way of determining guilt" and "burning alive is an appropriate punishment for bad people") morality ends up meaning not much more than "you should do whatever you should do."

It might be that "we should do whatever we should do" does represent an essential core which all humans have in common and nothing else does. I personally am inclined to doubt that giraffes, pebbles and sea monkeys have even this minimal moral sense: I assume that all human beings have it. Lewis flirts with this idea in one of his interplanetary essays. It is possible to imagine an alien being which is very adept at building cities and atomic bombs, but is not (in a theological sense) a person because it has no sense of what it "ought" to do, no sense that "good" can mean anything other than "good for me". It is also possible to imagine a hamster or a maggot that does have that crucial "person hood", because it does have a sense that there are things which it "should" and "should not" do. In his fiction, Lewis uses the terms "hnau" for such ensouled beings. (Tolkien found it a useful term, and used it occassionally.) It is in this sense that I have sometimes wondered if certain newspaper columnists, liberal democrats, and (in particular) former prime ministers are really "people". Some of them behave as if they do not have a concept of morality which goes beyond "whatever I have an impulse to do at the present moment." Some of those same politicians may have the same thing in mind when they say that poor people are sub-human and bestial.

But (as is relatively often the case) Mr Lewis's argument remains compelling and thought provoking even if it doesn't quite stack up logically. If there really had been witches, would Matthew Hopkins still be a monster? Or would he suddenly become a hero? If there really had been a widespread communist conspiracy in the 1950s, would we conclude that history has slandered Senator Joe McCarthy? What if there were no witches and no commies but Joe and Matt had honestly thought that there were? 

Or: a question which has been worrying me more and more during a summer which has seen the closing of the News of the World, a massacre in Norway and three seperate riots at the bottom of my street. 

What if the Daily Mail were right? 

[*] It is interesting, if entirely irrelevant, that the great game of Chinese whispers which is the internet has widely disseminated Lewis's observation that if we believed in witches then we would probably believe in executing witches in the form "C.S. Lewis approved of the Salem witch craze" or "C.S. Lewis thinks that wiccans should be hung." Certain segments of the internet has also transformed "I shall use the Chinese term, Tao to refer to the core of morality which all religions have in common" to "C.S Lewis renounced Christianity and died a taoist". See also under lisptick, nylons and invitations. 

46 comments:

  1. It might be that "we should do whatever we should do" does represent an essential core which all humans have in common and nothing else does. I personally am inclined to doubt that giraffes, pebbles and sea monkeys have even this minimal moral sense:

    Pebbles and sea monkeys, no. I suspect that giraffes do have some sort of rudimentary moral sense, being relatively social animals and therefore having use for such a thing. Ferinstance, males compete for mates before the females come into heat, and once the dominance hierarchy is established, live peacefully. I imagine they feel a certain sought of oughtness about that hierarchy, in the same way we feel we ought not put our feet up on the boss's desk.

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  2. It sounds as though Lewis's definition of intelligent non-people fits quite well to C.J.Cherryh's kif. However, Cherryh seems to regard the kif (in her "Chanur" stories) as people - just not very nice people. Her hani characters (who are definitely people, only slightly different from humans) develop a modus vivendi with some of them, and also discover that the (quite human-like, if excitable, and usually helpful) mahen are capable of formulating plans which are morally wrong.

    Anyway. Look, it's no news that bad people (or at least people who do a lot of seriously bad things) exist. Trying to work out a moral system that doesn't admit this is going to get you nowhere. Joseph Stalin was, actually, around when Joe McCarthy was at his most influentially evil - and was, in terms of sheer numbers, a far worse person. You just can't go letting the one justify the other.

    (Heck, McCarthyism wasn't even an effective response to Stalinism. Which shouldn't be relevant to the moral discussion, but does make quick-and-dirty arguments easier.)

    And I think that most former prime ministers &c reckon that they have a sense of morality. They're just even better at rationalising things that fit their tastes to fit the specifics than the rest of us. Which is saying something.

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  3. Oh, now this is more interesting!

    What if the Daily Mail were right? Well, it still wouldn't make lying to try to drum up support for their cause right. I mean, assuming we reject utilitarianism out of hand, as we obviously ought to do, one doesn't simply judge an act on the balance of its consequences. Even if we believed in witches, it might be that killing them was an over-reaction because capital punishment is immoral (remember that Lewis was writing in a society which considered hanging murderers perfectly moral: his point wasn't 'killing witches, if there are witches, is moral' but rather 'you can't claim that morality was different then because we do the same thing now'): but the point there would be that morality has not 'changed beyond all recognition', but rather there has been a gradual but recognisable shift along a continuum, or what we might call 'progress'. As the author will be aware, but others may not, Lewis doesn't deny, indeed quite supports, the idea of moral progress -- and indeed uses this as evidence that we live in a moral universe, because the very idea of progress assumes movement towards an end. Progress, if it doesn't quite imply telos (not Telos and certainly not Cybus Industries), at least implies further movement in a continuing direction away from a starting point. A movement from treating the guilty harshly (hanging children who steal) to less harshly is not a break in the idea of what 'right' and 'wrong' are but a recognisable development from one idea to the other. So it's quite possible to think that moral progress has been made in that we no longer hang children, and for this not to invalidate but indeed support the idea that there is a universal right and wrong (for as soon as you start ranking moralities and saying 'we are more moral than those who hand thieving children' then you are of necessity supposing a universal moral rule, standing outside both moralities, against which both can be measured).

    As far a morality is concerned, is the author touching on the distinction between sophia and phronesis? Might we be able to coherently say that a belief in witches is a failure in sophia and executing children for petty theft a failure of phronesis? I admit I don't have the argument worked up, but it seems a line that doesn't obviously lead immediately to a dead end.

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  4. (And the comment about Dr Ward was a rather weak tag at the end of my point, which wasn't so much, 'Why doesn't Mr Rilstone give me what I want?' as, 'Why does Mr Rilstone persist in saying the same things over and over again when he knows they will do no good' -- but it seems I may have been hasty and that recapitulation was merely a prelude to a bold new direction. So I apologise. Damn it, why can't I learn patience now.)

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  5. (Also, I bought nearly every issue of Arcane back in the day: my first exposure to Mr Rilstone's writing, and I paid for every word.)

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  6. "By the time you've excluded "witches exist" ... from your definition of morality"

    Not sure if this just me being picky, or that I'm missing a point: Would you ever include that in a definition of morality?
    Surely that's either a question of fact (Does Barbara from work actually call herself a witch? Yes.) or perhaps a question of definition (By witch does one mean a hippy who engages in moonlit rituals, or someone who kisses the whiskery chines of bgeymen?)

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  7. Surely that's either a question of fact ... or perhaps a question of definition...

    Or deliberate mis-definition. Apparently, the Hebrew word which the KJV translates as "witch" was recognised as more correctly meaning "poisoner" as early as 1580.

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  8. "Apparently, the Hebrew word which the KJV translates as "witch" was recognised as more correctly meaning "poisoner" as early as 1580."

    I'm calling that. We don't like in a KJV-only world any more, we have many Bible translations from the original languages that have been executed with far more mature scholarship than was available to the KJV translators. If they all still translate as "witch" I think we have to conclude it's because that's what the word means.

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  9. Lewis meant by witch (in his example) "people who had sold themselves to the devil and received supernatural powers from him in return and were using these powers to kill their neighbours or drive them mad or bring bad weather". When it was pointed out to him by Sister Penelope that there actually really were modern witches he said that he thought he probably shouldn't mention that on the wireless in case it made people morbidly curious. (Actually, he'd met W.B Yeats and found his Crowley-esque posturing disapointing and ridiculous, so he certainly knew that there were people who believed in magick in the modern era. Charles Williams had met Crowley: you could build up a whole conspiracy theory.) My point is that the distinction between "this man sets fire to old ladies because he believes they are in league with Satan" and "this man sets fire to old ladies because he likes setting fire to old ladies" is quite a fine one. (Not that witches were really burned, of course. Witches were hanged, like pickpockets and poachers.)

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  10. According to Mr Strong the word "witch" in "thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" is "kashaph" which also turns up in contexts like:

    "Pharoah called the wise men and the kashaph and the magicians."

    "There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire [or] that useth divination , [or] an observer of times, or an enchanter or a kashaph."

    "Then the king commanded to call the magicians and the astrologers and the kashaph for to shew the king his dreams."

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  11. Sister Penelope was a nun who C.S Lewis corresponded with. The second interplanetary book is tactfully dedicated to her and her convent: "Dedicated to some ladies in Wantage." I mention this only so as to repeat the story that the Spanish (or it could have been Portugese) translater of Lewis's sci-fi books hugely improved this to "Dedicated to some wanton ladies."

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  12. In fairness, while witches were only ever hanged in England, in Scotland they were indeed burned (or more commonly strangled *then* burned).

    I feel like that's the set up for a joke with the punchline 'from which we get the term (insert excruciating pun)' but it's just some pointless historical pedantry.

    Ho hum.

    *post*

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  13. That all humans have had some sense of morality is not evidence that morality is intrinsic in the universe, just that it's intrinsic in humans. For it to be a clue about the nature of the universe, you'd have to exhibit some aliens with no evolutionary links to humans with a sense of morality.

    Actually, though, I think that sentient aliens quite probably would have something roughly corresponding to our ideas of morality. My guess is that, while part of the reason humans believe in ethical behaviour is evolutionary imperative (helping people you may share genes with survive helps ensure the survival of your genes), part of it is also a by-product of our capacity to empathise. Once you can imagine what it's like to be someone else, I think that it's only a very short step to wanting to help that person, and that's essentially what (a secular interpretation of) morality is.

    I don't imagine all possible aliens would have anything resembling our concept of morality, but I think that any species with the capacity to imagine itself in someone else's shoes probably would. Severely autistic aliens might well be completely amoral, but I doubt that's evolutionarily advantageous.

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  14. "People in olden times used to burn witches at the stake. We don't do that any more, except possibly in Texas."

    Most certainly in Texas:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satanic_ritual_abuse

    "If there really had been witches, would Matthew Hopkins still be a monster?"

    If pedophiles really did exist, would making oneself "Kiddy-fiddeler-Finder General" under cover of the London riots & publicly humilliating random people still be wrong?

    @Jacob: I am by no means a proper evolutionary psychologist; but I do recall reading one write, somewhere or other, that relating appropriatly to the objective universe is also, partially at least (large bits of the "objective" universe not being biological, etc) the result of our evolution.
    Wich rather takes us back to square one, as far as i can evolute.

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  15. What if the Daily Mail were right?

    If they're right that there's a Marxist conspiracy to sweep away our traditional values then I'd say join in or not, depending on what you think of the new values.

    If they're also right that the ultimate purpose of the conspiracy is to create chaos in order to promote tyranny as the lesser evil(*) then I'd say see the first answer, but keep an eye out for the wannabe-tyrants and be ready to oppose them. (My reasoning being that we already know from history that "traditional values" lead to tyranny, so we should continue to look for alternatives.)

    (*) I don't know if the Mail have actually suggested this, but it's a common theory among right-wing loonies.

    Or am I missing something? Does believing morality is absolute make this harder somehow?

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  16. That all humans have had some sense of morality is not evidence that morality is intrinsic in the universe, just that it's intrinsic in humans.

    It is evidence, it's just not conclusive evidence. Just like if I come home to find my budgerigar's cage door open, a few feathers on the floor, and a satisfied-looking cat, that's evidence but not conclusive evidence: just like in the Case of the Moral Intuition, there are other explanations.

    Mr Lewis did not, I think, ever present one single piece of evidence for Theism (let alone Christianity) as a single clinching argument that could be deployed to knock down any atheist rejoiner. He was too clever, and spent too long as an atheist, for that. Rather, he was convinced by an accumulation of circumstantial evidence, none of it in itself convincing but with a weight and variety that he at least felt mean that it proved Christianity at least to the level of reasonable doubt if not beyond it (he did think that a reasonable man could quite reasonably doubt Christianity, and felt that God would not hold such a mistake of fact against the reasonable man who had tried his best to come to a reasonable conclusion, but simply missed a turning along the way and ended up in the wrong place).

    Lewis is always more confident when doing apologetics than when giving positive evidence for Christianity, which he does tend to hedge around with 'Perhaps'es and 'this suggets's.

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  17. Also... I wonder if John Holbo's concept of the "two-step of terrific triviality" might be useful when considering the Mail's position on Marxist conspiracies? It's a surprisingly common technique:

    Say something that is ambiguous between something so strong it is absurd and so weak that it would be absurd even to mention it. When attacked, hop from foot to foot as necessary, keeping a serious expression on your face. With luck, you will be able to generate the mistaken impression that you haven’t been knocked flat, by rights. As a result, the thing that you said which was absurdly strong will appear to have some obscure grain of truth in it. Even though you have provided no reason to think so.

    (from this post at Crooked Timber.)

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  18. I showed one of your older pieces on this subject to my aunt when she came out with platitudes about "health and safety" and "political correctness gone mad" and she was persuaded by it and changed her mind.

    I know this is a very small thing, changing minds one at a time, but I thought it might be cheering.

    Also, I will read whatever you write on any subject because I love your style so much. Who else would mention the Silver Surfer in this article?

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  19. @Sam - You won't like it when Herbert Marcuse takes over. Intellectuals like you will be sent to the salt mines; Christians like be will be sent to mental hospitals; and even if you escape that, you won't be able to go to smart restaraunts any more: the only food allowed will be cold beetroot soup and turnips. And the TV won't show anything but soviet marching bands.

    You will probably see where I am going with the argument when I have put all 76 parts on line. But you will probably be the only person still reading.

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  20. Andrew - Maybe I could help get the revolution underway and then be shot as an anarchist once Marcuse appointed himself Commissioner of the People's Will? Or, failing that, I have some good recipes for cold beetroot soup. :-)

    Looking forward (probably) to seeing the rest of the argument.

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  21. What I can't understand is how to define the 'conspiracy' part of this 'Marxist Conspiracy' to include pretty much every non-centrist political position going. After all, if my exposure to the media in any given week was limited to BBC Radio 4 (in my, and I assume many others' case, this is not rhetorical) and I heard Melanie Philips on 'The Moral Maze', Peter Hitchens on 'Any Questions' and heard interviews with John Redwood and Bjorn Lomberg on 'Today', with perhaps a feature programme by Michael Portillo and then Roger Scruton on Desert Island Discs, I might not immediately jump to the conclusion that a Marxist Revolution was taking place?

    Regards

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  22. Re "kashaph" (or "chasaph", it seems) - oops. I was, frankly, going by one of the first things I found through Google, which was why I hedged with a good old weak "Apparently". On slightly more digging, it appears that the writer who said in 1580 that it meant "poisoner" maybe had a bee in his bonnet, holding that witches didn't exist, and witch-persecuting was all a nasty Roman Catholic habit. Which will teach me not to assume that a 16th century source wouldn't have anti-metaphysical prejudices. The other occurrences which Andrew turned up certainly suggest that kashaphs were diviners or mystics or something, and most translations seem to take it as "sorceress" or "woman who practices evil magic" or whatever. Sorry.

    (Which doesn't exclude the possibility that kashaphs were mostly into poisons and such. A fair amount of traditional magical practise seems to have involved good old-fashioned abusing your central nervous system with drugs or mortification or whatever until you started hallucinating, and slipping similar concoctions to people you wanted harmed must have been a profitable sideline for some.)

    Actually, though, I think that sentient aliens quite probably would have something roughly corresponding to our ideas of morality.

    Well, if they were even vaguely social creatures (and it's hard to run a civilisation otherwise), they'd need some kind of basic game-theoretical approach to managing cooperation. Imagining radical alternative ways of achieving this is an interesting exercise. Tolkienian orcs (or Daleks) might be one approach; a species hard-wired for submission to a very few dominant individuals might be able to collaborate most of the time, when not stabbing each other in the back in the hopes of rising up the hierarchy. The tendency to obey orders might compensate for the lousy lack of trust.

    Cherryh's kif are actually built on those lines; their empathy is crap, but charismatic leaders can get them all moving in the same direction for a while. (To a creature like that, "Show me your enemies!" is the basic protestation of loyalty.) One that begins to grasp the basics of iterative prisoner's dilemma can begin to re-shape their social patterns, and can certainly work more comfortably than most with more empathic species.

    Though I think some people would say that we're all assuming consciousness as a prerequisite for sapience here, which may be an error in itself...

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  23. To make perhaps a pedantic point, it isn’t really the case that we used to burn witches at the stake “in olden times” but stopped shortly after we stopped believing in them.

    In fact witch panics were at their height in early modern times, when everything seemingly supernatural started to be regarded as Satanic. Keith Thomas and other historians have theorised that this both epitomised and exacerbated a general decline shift from social ties to greater individualisation.

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  24. Phil Masters suggested: "we're all assuming consciousness as a prerequisite for sapience here, which may be an error in itself..."

    Eh? How so? What would it mean to have sapience without consciousness?

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  25. When asking whether this or that creature or hypothetical creature has a moral sense, the sensible thing to do is ask, 'What problem does possessing a moral sense solve, and is it the most efficient way to solve the problem?'

    I suspect an MRI would show the operation of a complex moral sense burns through a considerable number of calories that the body might better use to outrun predators and such. So it's unlikely that a giraffe has much of one, but it's probably the simplest way for the brain to figure out whether it's okay to shag the alpha-giraffe's harem, or whether the alpha might disapprove, and prevent the sort of action that might not work out in the beta-giraffe's best interests. An intuition that he ought not might at least encourage him not to get caught.

    Regards sapience and consciousness, a better way to frame the problem might be to consider a scale with qualia at one end and thinking about qualia at the other.

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  26. No, no, salisbury, that won't do at all. Your hypothetical giraffe is not in the least concerned with whether or not he should shag the alpha male's bird, but only with whether he can, and get away with it. That's not just a different question, but a question of a different kind.

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  27. The answer to the question of whether he should is obvious. Yes, or his genetic lineage stops abruptly.

    The problem is he can't do it out in the open, or his genetic lineage stops even faster.

    The urge to mate is, we might assume, strong. An emotion of equal or greater strength is needed to stop him having a crack willy-nilly.

    Fear might be the answer, but fear produces a stress response, which taxes the body's resources and damages the heart.

    Something akin to shame (the shame that adulterers feel) might be more efficient and effective.

    This similar to our moral sense of right and wrong, even if giraffes can't write essays on the matter.

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  28. What I can't understand is how to define the 'conspiracy' part of this 'Marxist Conspiracy' to include pretty much every non-centrist political position going.

    They don't have to - see the "two-step of terrific triviality", above.

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  29. Salisbury, every time you use the word "should" in the giraffe example, you are using it to mean "can gain the best chance of advantage by doing this". But that is not what we mean by "should" hen speaking of morality.

    Example: it I had the opportunity to spread my genes (and have a good time) by impregnating 100 beautiful women, and if I knew that there was absolutely no chance of by being caught or suffering any negative consequences, then I "should" go ahead and do it, in the giraffe's terms. But because I am human, I would not do it, because I "should" be faithful to my wife.

    The word "should" is spelled the same in both examples, but has completely different meanings. One is to do with game theory; the other is moral.

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  30. Well aware of the distinction.

    There's a famous moral puzzle--you're probably aware of it--where we ask a group of uni students what they think of a brother and sister having sex.

    Of course they say it's wrong, wrong, wrong, but one by one their objections are countered.

    The pair are sterile, so there's no chance of passing on a fatal pair of recessive genes. The act brings the two of them closer together, though they agree never to do it again. Etc.

    The students still think it's something they shouldn't have done.

    Chimps also, interestingly, don't mate with siblings. I doubt this is because they have considered the matter and decided that the risk of fatal congenital disease is too great.

    The biological (pragmatic) should and the moral should are the same should. Probably.

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  31. Interesting experiment -- I'd not heard of it before. But your conclusion "The biological (pragmatic) should and the moral should are the same should. Probably" doesn't remotely follow. At most you have shown that they are often (by no means always) aligned. But even if they point the same say they are not the same thing. They're not even the same kind of thing.

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  32. Sorry Mike, one other quick thing.

    The feeling that you shouldn't cheat on your wife--and the feeling that I shouldn't cheat on mine--is as pragmatic a feeling as you are likely to have.

    Male humans are fortunate in that they are likely to be able to pass on their genes via at least one female. Pity the average silverback gorilla, who sits back and watches while the bossman has all the fun.

    The acquisition of willing mates is, though--for the average adult male human--a laborious and often fruitless affair.

    Better use of one's resources to keep pleased the mate one already has.

    The feeling that cheating is wrong--a feeling which goes down to one's bones--is useful here.

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  33. We seem to be talking past each other here :-)

    When you say that cheating on your wife would be "wrong", you seem to mean "counterproductive".

    When I say that cheating on my wife would be "wrong", I mean WRONG.

    Isn't it clear that these are two different things?

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  34. @Phil Masters:
    "Which doesn't exclude the possibility that kashaphs were mostly into poisons and such."

    A view quite popular with drug-users.
    There is considerable evidence against the chemical-reductionist theory; just to begin with-
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alonso_de_Salazar_Fr%C3%ADas
    " Supposed ointments and powders proved to be fake materials, which the accused admitted contained harmless substances that they had cooked up in order to satisfy their persecutors and to substantiate confessions."

    @Gavin Burrows:
    "In fact witch panics were at their height in early modern times,...."

    The problematic term "modern" aside, that is quite correct, as far as I know.

    "....when everything seemingly supernatural started to be regarded as Satanic...."

    That, on the other hand, is a confusion of terms. One of the reasons conspiracies of black magicians started to seem more likely around then is due to the development of theories on heavier-than-air flight. People such as Frazier are fond of the theory that there is an absolute dividing line between "science" & "magic": that idea is, by now, superstition.

    "....Keith Thomas and other historians have theorised that this both epitomised and exacerbated a general decline shift from social ties to greater individualisation."

    That seems highly unlikely. A lot of the concepts driving the Great Witch Hunt were revivals of pre-medival mythology; & our Satanic Ritual Abuse scare very evidently had more to do with Freud than the rise of the bourgeoisie-in this case, even chemicals had a greater impact (the psychiatrists involved often facilliated victims "memories" by over-prescribing medicine).

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  35. SK: It is evidence, it's just not conclusive evidence. Just like if I come home to find my budgerigar's cage door open, a few feathers on the floor, and a satisfied-looking cat, that's evidence but not conclusive evidence: just like in the Case of the Moral Intuition, there are other explanations.

    Even if you're right to say that our moral intuitions are some evidence that morality is intrinsic in the universe, the Case of the Budgie isn't comparable to the Case of the Moral Intuition, because Lewis hasn't presented (AFAIK, it's been a while since I read Mere Christianity) a way of distinguishing his point from Jacob's view that morality is intrinsic in humans. In that case, our moral intuition is equally good evidence for both Lewis's point and Jacob's. To get evidence to which preferred one to the other, you would need something like aliens with a similar (or dissimilar) morality to ours, say.

    In the Case of the Budgie, it's more more likely that we see what we see because the cat ate the budgie than for any other reason, though other reasons are still possible, obviously.

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  36. What would it mean to have sapience without consciousness?

    I'm not sure. But then, I think that I have consciousness (which i'm equating to self-awareness here).

    I can imagine something akin to a very powerful computer with a very well-designed suite of programmes, which let it react to its environment, pursue specific goals, store information for rapid access, make complex plans for action based on complex internal models of its environment, and so on. Slapping an extra process on top of the rest which can interfere in their functions, making them less reliable, insist on hijacking the comms ports to have non-productive interactions with other computers, and get into lengthy waffling contests about metaphysical nonsens like the meaning of "should", sounds like a pretty pointless waste of resources, really.

    (I keep meaning to read Blindsight, by Peter Watts, which apparently attempts to depict a race of non-conscious but highly intelligent aliens.)

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  37. @Salisbury:
    Theres another well-known experiment
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_prison_experiment
    in which students were convinced to torture each other.
    If we asked a group of Middle-Eastern students why cousins getting married was especially romantic
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cousin_marriage_in_the_Middle_East
    they would also quite likely to run out of arguments-if "we" were persons in authority, such as researchers, that is.

    That aside, & more to the point, one suspects the reason you & Taylor seem to be missing each others points involves Platonism?

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  38. What would it mean to have sapience without consciousness?

    I'm not sure. But then, I think that I have consciousness (which I'm equating to self-awareness here).

    I can imagine something akin to a very powerful computer with a very well-designed suite of programmes, which let it react to its environment, pursue specific goals, store information for rapid access, make complex plans for action based on complex internal models of its environment, and so on. Slapping an extra process on top of the rest which can interfere in their functions, making them less reliable, insist on hijacking the comms ports to have non-productive interactions with other computers, and get into lengthy waffling contests about metaphysical nonsens like the meaning of "should", sounds like a pretty pointless waste of resources, really.

    (I keep meaning to read Blindsight, by Peter Watts, which apparently attempts to depict a race of non-conscious but highly intelligent aliens.)

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  39. @Phil Masters:
    Have you read Dicks "The Golden Man", by any chance?

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  40. "That seems highly unlikely. A lot of the concepts driving the Great Witch Hunt were revivals of pre-medival mythology..."

    Then surely the question arises why was that mythology arrived at then, and why were witch-hunts so much more a craze than in the past?

    "...& our Satanic Ritual Abuse scare very evidently had more to do with Freud than the rise of the bourgeoisie-in this case, even chemicals had a greater impact (the psychiatrists involved often facilliated victims "memories" by over-prescribing medicine).'

    Here you seem to be assuming that anything involving the tags 'witch' or 'Satanic' must have some universal explanation. That wasn't what i was suggesting, really.

    Perhaps more to the point, I can see how living as a social being can be conducive to empathy. But it seems to me a jump to go from 'empathy' to 'moral behaviour.'

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  41. Meant 'revived' not 'arrived'! (Think maybe it's getting late...)

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  42. Mike--I'm probably not being as clear as I should be.

    The feeling that you ought not cheat on your wife--I mean the same thing you do.

    You (feel like you) just shouldn't. Not because it's pragmatic not to, because you just shouldn't.

    So where does this powerful feeling come from?

    I'm suggesting it's adaptive. To grossly oversimplify, that human males (or more properly, some ancestor thereof) with a moral sense that cheating is wrong pass on more of their genes than males without.

    (This might sound awfully counterintuitive, but bear with me for the purpose of the example.)

    Mostly because we are terribly social animals, we have a lot of intuitions (you might say these are hardwired) about what will fly with the rest of our kin (and wider) groups and what won't.

    I suggest these are basically moral intuitions.

    Because we have language and therefore complex metacognitions ours are much more sophisticated than those of a giraffe, and we can talk about them.

    But I don't see why evolution would have designed a module that makes giraffes behave in herds and an altogether different module that makes us behave in groups when it could have just evolved one into the other.

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  43. I. Dall--the sibling sex example demonstrates that moral intuitions persist in the face of rational arguments to the contrary.

    The Stanford prison experiment shows that they are situationally dependent.

    The stuff on cousin marriage sounds fascinating, I'll explore. A speculation: such marriages are unhappy when the cousins have been raised in close proximity to each other.

    Not understanding the Platonism thing. Could you expand?

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  44. @Phil Masters:
    Plot summary:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Golden_Man
    It is not entirely impertinent to the subject.

    @Gavin Burrows:
    "Then surely the question arises why was that mythology arrived at then, and why were witch-hunts so much more a craze than in the past?"

    Arrived at is very much to the point, actually. By now, we have excessive details on how official, literate Western socity finally accepted witchcraft as a danger to itself. But we do not know why people, from widely divergent cultures, times, & places, insist on believing witchcraft exists to begin with. Might even be part of our biological evolution.

    "Here you seem to be assuming that anything involving the tags 'witch' or 'Satanic' must have some universal explanation. That wasn't what i was suggesting, really."

    But I am (well, as far as "witch" in the anthropological sense goes, anyway). Simply put, we want to hunt witches. Coherent scientific & legal systems keep us from doing so; civil war, invasion by the Turk, & drastic changes in scientific authority allows us to.

    @Salisbury:
    "the sibling sex example demonstrates that moral intuitions persist in the face of rational arguments to the contrary."

    Then what you call "moral intuitions" are what I would call "irrational phobias", best discarded.
    Which, fortunatly, they quite often can be.

    "The Stanford prison experiment shows that they are situationally dependent."
    It also shows that people in an educational context have to be open to manipulation; & that one might want to keep that in mind when performing sociological experiments on them.

    "A speculation: such marriages are unhappy when the cousins have been raised in close proximity to each other."

    Proponents insist that familliarity aids attraction. The Japanese have an entire incest litterature, much of which pokes ironic fun at the Western Catholic Churches ruling that all sexual congress with Catholic Clergy is incestuous.
    Situationally dependent, indeed.

    "Not understanding the Platonism thing. Could you expand?"

    That quite a few people-including, as far as one can tell, Prof. Lewis-would use the term "moral intuition" in much the same sense as they would "mathemathical intuition"; rather than "natural impulse".

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