[extropy-chat] In defense of morality as opposed to self interest

John-C-Wright at sff.net John-C-Wright at sff.net
Wed May 4 19:57:30 UTC 2005

Keith Henson says: "... minds, having been built by genes, are biased in certain
very  predictable ways.  "Be nice to relatives more or less in proportion to how  
closely they are related."  "Don't fight with strangers unless they are
competing for the same short supply resources you need to feed relatives."

I admit to being puzzled here. Mr. Henson seemed to be talking about the way men
act when mere natural prudence, but not morality, dictates their actions. The
moral maxims of the world specifically denounce what Mr. Henson here is claiming
is the universal (gene-based) moral maxims. For example, the Buddhist is urged
by the Enlightened One to renounce all aggression, not merely aggression against
neighbors. The Stoic holds that all men, not merely one's neighbors, are the
Sons of Zeus, and contain the Divine Fire that makes them reasonable creatures.
Jesus ordered his disciples to turn the other cheek when struck; he did not say
turn the other cheek when a Jew strikes you, but Romans and Sammaritans are
outsiders: them, you should strike back. 

In trying to make the case for a biological and evolutionary cause for morality,
one must be careful to identify what the moral thinkers of the ages actually say. 

If Mr. Henson is making that point that men often or usually ignore the demands
of morality, and put their selfish desires, or the honor of their community,
before the common good they may have with others and outsiders, well, that is
surely true. Prudence often tempts men to look at their self-interest in an
exaggerated fashion, and passion often tempts men to look at their tribe and
nation with eyes blinded by love. 


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