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

Samantha Atkins sjatkins at mac.com
Sat May 7 01:14:53 UTC 2005

On May 4, 2005, at 12:57 PM, John-C-Wright at sff.net wrote:

> 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.

Really?  I don't see much of an effective denunciation of any such  
thing.  Most seem to build on the natural conditioning by extending  
the set of others we consider ourselves related to. "All men are  
brothers" and such.  This is by no means counter to evolved  
conditioning.  You seem to want to disown evolution or denigrate its  
effects.  I don't see why you might believe this is necessary.

> 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.

Actually he said his message was only for the Jews in one part of  
scripture.  I always found that disconcerting.

> 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.

What various religions say and what people actually live by and can  
live by when it comes to ethics are quite different things.  I don't  
agree that such pious idealisms are definitive of morality.

> 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.

Surely you see this isn't exactly fair to what was said.

- s

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