[extropy-chat] In defense of moral standards (Was: In defense of moral relativism)

Keith Henson hkhenson at rogers.com
Fri May 6 00:52:04 UTC 2005

At 08:44 PM 05/05/05 +0200, Giu1i0 Pri5c0  wrote:
>I am making a moral judgement indeed, and one in which I believe quite
>strongly, but I am not claiming any objective status for it.
>Of course I appreciate that this moral judgement is a product of my
>life-history including the culture I was raised in, but so what? - I
>am still willing to defend it.

It is even more a statement of the evolutionary history of your genes.

>Now if by "objective morality" we mean a shorthand for something like
>"the ensemble of moral statements on which the vast majority of sane
>individuals raised in civilized societies would probably agree", I can
>use the term without problems (even if we would have to define much
>more precisely the terms "sane" and "civilized").
>But please let's not mix morality with (meta)physics. Morality has
>just nothing to do with the Big Bang, the laws of mathematics and
>logic, the laws of physics, or anything that I can consider really
>fundamental in the universe as it is presently understood by science.

If you think biology/evolution is part of the whole objective universe, 
then willy nilly so are the products of minds running on brains constructed 
by evolution.

>Morality is fundamental to us of course, but "2+2=4" and "Thou Shalt
>Not Kill" are exemples of two classes of statements so fundamentally
>different and unrelated that I just cannot see any point in trying to
>mix them.

They are not as different as you might think.

For one thing, "Thou Shalt Not Kill" was understood to mean don't kill the 
people in your village who you are either related to or engaging in 
reciprocal acts with.  The same bible describes in detail killing all of 
some other set of tribes including the children (except they virgin girls).

Book of Numbers, from The holy Bible, King James version Chapter 31
7: They warred against Mid'ian, as the LORD commanded Moses, and slew every 
8: They slew the kings of Mid'ian with the rest of their slain, Evi, Rekem, 
Zur, Hur, and Reba, the five kings of Mid'ian; and they also slew Balaam 
the son of Be'or with the sword.
9: And the people of Israel took captive the women of Mid'ian and their 
little ones; and they took as booty all their cattle, their flocks, and all 
their goods.
10: All their cities in the places where they dwelt, and all their 
encampments, they burned with fire,
11: and took all the spoil and all the booty, both of man and of beast.
12: Then they brought the captives and the booty and the spoil to Moses, 
and to Elea'zar the priest, and to the congregation of the people of 
Israel, at the camp on the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho.
13: Moses, and Elea'zar the priest, and all the leaders of the 
congregation, went forth to meet them outside the camp.
14: And Moses was angry with the officers of the army, the commanders of 
thousands and the commanders of hundreds, who had come from service in the war.
15: Moses said to them, "Have you let all the women live?
16: Behold, these caused the people of Israel, by the counsel of Balaam, to 
act treacherously against the LORD in the matter of Pe'or, and so the 
plague came among the congregation of the LORD.
17: Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every 
woman who has known man by lying with him.
18: But all the young girls who have not known man by lying with him, keep 
alive for yourselves.

Both "Thou Shalt Not Kill" and "kill every male among the little ones, and 
kill every woman who has known man by lying with him" are consistent with 
the interest of genes.

Our extending "Thou Shalt Not Kill" to those outside our little tribe is a 
side effect of a long time of plenty caused by technology advancing the 
economy, particularly the food supply, faster than population growth--or so 
I think.

If you find this analysis depressing, you are not alone.

Keith Henson

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