Author Topic: Moral Nihilism  (Read 1740 times)

billy rubin

  • humble azpirant to the throne3 of typos
  • Corbu is My Homeboy
  • ***
  • Posts: 783
  • Gender: Male
  • i actually do not know what LætusAtheos means
Re: Moral Nihilism
« Reply #90 on: February 14, 2020, 11:47:58 PM »

How to proceed then? Eschew the word species in this discussion because I'm not qualified to talk about it, and anyway the word doesn't mean what you believe I think it means.  :lol:


lol

of course you're qualified.

this is the internet.



The principle can be established that for a man who does not cheat, what he believes to be true must determine his action.

Recusant

  • Miscreant Erendrake
  • Administrator
  • Wears a Colander Hat for Special Occasions
  • *****
  • Posts: 6488
  • Gender: Male
  • infidel barbarian
Re: Moral Nihilism
« Reply #91 on: February 15, 2020, 04:24:34 AM »
Spoiler: ShowHide
If an animal is capable of expressing a personality, to me that indicates something that can legitimately be called a mind. I don't know if all animals with that capability qualify as a person in the same way that human beings do, but I'm inclined to think that the most intelligent of them do. Take Koko the gorilla.


i think that definiton is a practical one, but the weakness is still the use of a human being as the measure. if the animal is different from us, it may still have the necessary cognition to behave in its own world with great complexity, sophistication, and success, using its brain, but it will never have a personality detectable to us. any definition of mind that requires humans as a baseline will never be able to examine cognition in other species, no matter how sophisticated. i would suggest that a miniature human being in a colony of ants would be regarded as a mindless animal too, by the ants.

We know that some animals exhibit behavior that can be understood as evidence of a mind. We also know that some do not exhibit anything like it. Moreover, they do not have the neural capacity that would support the components of a mind. We're not completely in the dark here, and presenting a fantastical hypothetical (ants thinking about whether another animal has a mind) carries no weight at all. I'm not buying something that smells of panpsychism.

there are morals that are instinctive, and there are morals that are not. the difference i'm pointing out is th eone between instinctive moral codes-- care for your offpring, be faithful to your mate-- versus all the various others:

Spoiler: ShowHide
Lev_11:10  And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you:

Deu_7:26  Neither shalt thou bring an abomination into thine house, lest thou be a cursed thing like it: but thou shalt utterly detest it, and thou shalt utterly abhor it; for it is a cursed thing.

Deu_17:1  Thou shalt not sacrifice unto the LORD thy God any bullock, or sheep, wherein is blemish, or any evilfavouredness: for that is an abomination unto the LORD thy God.

Deu_22:5  The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.


. . . and so on. none of the moral codes like ^^^these are evolutionary. they are strictly created, for various reasons. so morality goes quite a bit farther in human societies than evolution can take it. something else is going on in addition to it, which is where making shit up and aesthetics/emotions come in.

First, a when I say "moral code" I'm referring to "a set of rules or a code of conduct which governs how an individual should act within a community or group." Individual clauses are not "moral codes" in my understanding. Second, I'd say that while human morality is to some extent inspired and driven by our social instincts, it's created by people, and mostly consciously so. We frame our lives, from basic things like taking care of our children to arcane things like not wearing a mix of cotton and linen, in terms of morality. We think about moral questions, even about basic ones, while an animal like an ant that is driven entirely by instinct does not.

i don't distinguish between moral codes at a species level and particular moral codes than an individual might develop as being different in kind. species-level codes require evolution to develop, but humans modify evolutionary codes all the time, even as individuals. adolph hitler modified german moral codes to match his particular view with great success. had he won the war, his morality would now be normative for our species.

It sounds to me that when you talk about "species-level" morality, you're using the term in the same way that you so kindly corrected me on. Am I hearing it incorrectly?

Unless Hitler managed to kill outright any appreciable opposition to his regime in the world (doing a lot more than winning WWII, in other words) his dysfunctional morality would never become "normative" for human beings.

Spoiler: ShowHide
Quote
I'm going to loop back--

We also know that the influence of instinct in humans is considerably decreased in comparison to the overwhelming majority of species. In our species intellect has largely taken the place of instinct, though of course we haven't left it behind entirely. To govern interactions within our species, we've evolved the capacity to invent and use moral codes. So, moral codes have to a considerable extent replaced instinct in determining how members of our species interact. They serve the same purpose for us that instinct does in other animals, that purpose being enhancing the chances of survival of the species. Analyzing Homo sapiens from a dispassionate perspective which doesn't give our species a "special" place (a mythical position as a god's children) seems to lead inevitably to this conclusion.


evolution (at least natural selection) doesn't give two cents about the survival of the species. the species isn't even visible as a unit of natural selection. evolution cares only about diverse individuals within breeding populations, which are the real subsets of any theoretical species, and if a non-reversible characteristic has a positive selection coefficient in the short term but leads to inevitable species extinction in the long term, the species will go extinct.

You're very careful about how I use a word like species, but then you talk about evolution caring or not caring. We both know that it does nothing of the sort. I had no trouble understanding what you were describing though.  While I enjoyed your lesson, I think you understood what I meant when I used the word "species." I think it's worthwhile to agree on definitions where possible, to aid in communicating clearly, and it definitely helps to ask for definitions when there appears to be a failure in communicating.

Is the American Museum of Natural History incorrect when they say that "Natural selection is a simple mechanism that causes populations of living things to change over time"? They don't mention natural selection having anything to do with "diverse individuals." Am I incorrect to understand natural selection as an evolutionary driver that affects populations?

In any event, you haven't really addressed my point. Do you accept the statement that instinct serves a function in most animals which may be accurately described as helping ensure the survival of a breeding population? If not, on what basis do you deny its accuracy?

second, i don't see where humans have left instinct behind at all. all of the generalized human behavior we can talk about is mostly just dressed-up instinct. we go war for resources, while a band of chimps drives rivals away from the waterhole. we love our children and provide for their education, while a dog feeds her pups and teaches them to hunt. we like to say that reason governs our behavior and instinct only controls lower animals, but in reality all that is happening is that we are decorating our instincts with pseudo-rational justifications. watch a couple of red deer battle it out for a mate in the woods, then  go to the pub and watch the chavs preen for the dollie birds. same thing.

I actually said that the influence of instinct in humans is considerably decreased in comparison to the overwhelming majority of species breeding populations of other types of organisms. I believe that is correct. The behavior of most breeding populations of animals is determined entirely by instinct.  Human beings, while definitely being influenced by instinct, regularly act in ways that cannot reasonably be considered instinctual. I'd go so far as to say that most of what the average human being does each day has nothing to do with instinct. Driving a car, riding an elevator, typing on a keyboard, chopping wood with an ax, watching a theater performance, none of these things are instinctual. There's a lot more going on than "pseudo-rational justifications" for instinctual behavior.

i would suggest that the correct way to evaluate a moral code is to decide what you like. it doesn't go any deeper than that.

I didn't expect you to change your opinion. I appreciate the opportunity to discuss the topic.

lol

of course you're qualified.

this is the internet.

I'll repeat the question. Do you believe an individual member of a population of animals is of equal significance to the population as a whole, and should receive equal consideration? If so, why not just say that?
« Last Edit: February 15, 2020, 05:04:28 AM by Recusant »
"Religion is fundamentally opposed to everything I hold in veneration — courage, clear thinking, honesty, fairness, and above all, love of the truth."
— H. L. Mencken


billy rubin

  • humble azpirant to the throne3 of typos
  • Corbu is My Homeboy
  • ***
  • Posts: 783
  • Gender: Male
  • i actually do not know what LætusAtheos means
Re: Moral Nihilism
« Reply #92 on: February 15, 2020, 07:16:26 PM »
hi recusant


We know that some animals exhibit behavior that can be understood as evidence of a mind.

^^that says it all right there. a "mind" isn't a presence/absence faculty-- i've been saying all along that the idea of mind is much more complex than a dictionary defintion can handle, and that other organisms have something that we can call a mind in proportion to their neural complexity. you're reluctant to share the term "mind" with non-humans, which is okay. so i've switched to "animal cognition," which says as much as i think is necessary.

Quote
. . . Second, I'd say that while human morality is to some extent inspired and driven by our social instincts, it's created by people, and mostly consciously so. We frame our lives, from basic things like taking care of our children to arcane things like not wearing a mix of cotton and linen, in terms of morality. We think about moral questions, even about basic ones, while an animal like an ant that is driven entirely by instinct does not.

i think we use our big brains to decorate our animal instincts and call them morals, for the most part. taking care of our children is our lizard brain, not our cerebrum. not mixing wool and linen, or making marks on our bodies, or avoiding the houses of the sodomites in jerusalem are just local cultural roccocco slathered onto a fundamental animal protocol that we follow fairly blindly.

and i'll continue to take issue with the assertion that ants are "entirely driven by instinct." behavioral studies show that that is clearly not the case. here are the just the first search results from google scholar on the string "learning in ants," that show that simple instinct is insufficient to explain ant behavior:

https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/abs/10.1098/rspb.2007.0138
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1365-3032.1987.tb00756.x
http://learnmem.cshlp.org/content/20/8/417.short
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0096300307010971

we as humans, do think about moral questions. but nobody knows what an ant is thinking, and to say that it doesn't think is a species-centric assertion, not an observation. in my opinion, ants use a much less complex process of cognition to manipulate internal and external neural input in much simpler ways. in humans we call a more complex form of that same process "thinking." i don't care what we call it in ants, so long as we are aware that it exists. i don't think they're devising philosophy,but neither are they simple instinct machines.

Quote
It sounds to me that when you talk about "species-level" morality, you're using the term in the same way that you so kindly corrected me on. Am I hearing it incorrectly?

nope, you are correct. "species" is a complex concept, and you have to use the correct version for any discussion. i'd be delighted to open a whole new thread on what people mean by biological "kinds," if you're interested. technically, there is generally one and only one individual that everybody agrees belongs to any particular "species," and that one individual is a dead specimen in a museum tray or glass jar somewhere.

Quote
We also know that the influence of instinct in humans is considerably decreased in comparison to the overwhelming majority of species.

no. i see no evidence of that. what instincts are we suppressing?

Quote
In our species intellect has largely taken the place of instinct, though of course we haven't left it behind entirely.

no, for the same reason.

Quote
To govern interactions within our species, we've evolved the capacity to invent and use moral codes. So, moral codes have to a considerable extent replaced instinct in determining how members of our species interact.

no, again.

Quote
They serve the same purpose for us that instinct does in other animals, that purpose being enhancing the chances of survival of the species.

no. once again, "survival of the species" is not a drive in the natural world. it's an important distinction because there are forces of selection that operate at a higher level than that of the individual, but "species" is still beyond them.  a typical "species" consists of a vast archipelago of genetically isolated breeding populations that can potentially interbreed, but may never do so. they have no effect on each other, and natural forces treat them independently--unless they interbreed. natural selection acts only to increase representation of particular genes in subsequent generations, in order to make more babies that carry those genes. that's all it is. the unit is the individual, and the effects are seen in the breeding population, not the species.  selection acts only to make a particular gene more common in the breeding population.

it's certainly possible that "species" and "breeding population" can be the same group of individuals, but it generally isn't. thinking about the evolution of populations went through a major shift in  theory starting with ernst mayer in the 1950s, who first proposed that evolution took place in small isolated populations of a species, which then became the ancestors of all subsequent members. today we call it "punctuated equilibrium."

Quote
Analyzing Homo sapiens from a dispassionate perspective which doesn't give our species a "special" place (a mythical position as a god's children) seems to lead inevitably to this conclusion.

no. while denying it, it appears to me that you are continuing to elevate Homo sapiens to a special position in the natural world, one where natural drives such as instinct are not in force. i don't see it, recusant. we're animals, with big brains. we're not very different from animals with smaller brains, except in our own fancy.

Quote
Is the American Museum of Natural History incorrect when they say that "Natural selection is a simple mechanism that causes populations of living things to change over time"? They don't mention natural selection having anything to do with "diverse individuals." Am I incorrect to understand natural selection as an evolutionary driver that affects populations?

no, they were exactly right. but here is the whole defintion, from the previous paragraph, which includes the requirement that diverse individuals be present:

Those individual organisms who happen to be best suited to an environment survive and reproduce most successfully, producing many similarly well-adapted descendants. After numerous such breeding cycles, the better-adapted dominate.

natural selection certinly is an evolutionary driver, working on individuals that show diversity, and resulting in changes within breeding populations.

Quote
In any event, you haven't really addressed my point. Do you accept the statement that instinct serves a function in most animals which may be accurately described as helping ensure the survival of a breeding population? If not, on what basis do you deny its accuracy?

it helps to ensure the survival of individuals, and breeding populations containing these individuals survive better as a result. species survive better to the extent that they are interconnected as breeding populations.

Quote
I actually said that the influence of instinct in humans is considerably decreased in comparison to the overwhelming majority of species breeding populations of other types of organisms. I believe that is correct.

i disagree. i know of no evidence for that. i like chicks with big knockers. that is not an intellectual decision.

Quote
The behavior of most breeding populations of animals is determined entirely by instinct.  Human beings, while definitely being influenced by instinct, regularly act in ways that cannot reasonably be considered instinctual. I'd go so far as to say that most of what the average human being does each day has nothing to do with instinct. Driving a car, riding an elevator, typing on a keyboard, chopping wood with an ax, watching a theater performance, none of these things are instinctual. There's a lot more going on than "pseudo-rational justifications" for instinctual behavior.

i think the behaviour of most breeding populations is a mixture of instinct and cognition. humans drive a car, and a snail crawls across a leaf. neither act is specifically instinctual, but both organisms have it within their behavioural repertoire. humans perform specific behaviours in order to satisfy instinctual drives, and so do snails. a human decorates the nursery. why? to satisfy an instinctual drive to provide for the offspring. a snail deposits eggs in a small protected hole in the earth to satisfy the same type of drive. a human strikes out at a robber intent on taking his wallet. why? for the same reason that two ants struggle over a piece of food on the sand. just because we apply our big brains to our instincts doesn't mean we're not acting instincively. what's more rational about world war 2 than two ant colonies fighting over the remains of a dead grasshopper?

and sure, we as humans do things that aren't instinctive, like write a symphony. that's because we have big brains. but howler monkeys sing to each other in the treetops, and there are cultural aspects that imply creativity in ways that parallel humans. maybe creativity will be the next new way to try to separate humans from animals, now that tool-using, tool-making, and using-tools-to-make-tools have all gone by the wayside.

Quote
I'll repeat the question. Do you believe an individual member of a population of animals is of equal significance to the population as a whole, and should receive equal consideration? If so, why not just say that?

"equal significance? equal consideration?" you're using terms without defining them again. "significant" meaning what, how, and to whom? same for "consideration." what is the system of values that i should  use to answer your question?

two animals weigh twice as much as one animal. if you think weight is significant, then you have your answer. one animal possesses one genotype, and a species possesses a genepool. if a genotype is worth one dollar, and a genepool is worth three dollars, then a gene pool deserves more consideration than a genotype. i'm not dodging your question. you'e not defining your terms, and so your questions can't be answered.

here is my question.

in what way is any organism "significant?" what is the relationship you cite that provides a measure of "significance" that can value one individual less than two, or one individual less than all members of a given population, or less than all members of a given species?

why do you think a species is important in the first place, in order for there to be any reason to assign a value at all?

ill happily give you a value if you will tell me what coin it is we re spending.

by the way, thank you for this discussion. i appreciate the opportunity to clarify things like this in my own mind, and challenging discussions are useful for helping me understand when things i believe are true, and when i'm just talking rot

btw, i think our posts may have crossed while editing. feel free to ignore anything i've written that doesn't apply to your final thoughts.
« Last Edit: February 16, 2020, 12:40:00 AM by billy rubin »



The principle can be established that for a man who does not cheat, what he believes to be true must determine his action.

billy rubin

  • humble azpirant to the throne3 of typos
  • Corbu is My Homeboy
  • ***
  • Posts: 783
  • Gender: Male
  • i actually do not know what LætusAtheos means
Re: Moral Nihilism
« Reply #93 on: February 15, 2020, 09:20:15 PM »
tldr:

-- i think all animals with enough of a nervous system might have cognitive function. in humans we call it a "mind," and what it does is called "thinking." to the extent that we are willing to recognize similar functions in other organisms, they have minds and can think too. the difference is in complexity.

-- basic morals exist in human beings as decorated instincts which can be acted on by natural selection. we like to think of ourselves as higher in some way than lower animals, and so when we do the same things they do, we assign more pretentious descriptions.

-- humans have a more complex culture than other animals, and so we also have developed cultural behaviours that we lump in with our biologically-derived morals, without noticing the difference.

-- there is no biological mechanism that recognizes or acts on plants or animals at the level of the species. humans lump populations of breeding individuals into artificial groups that we call species, but nature is blind to that taxon except in rare instances.

-- there is nothing in the natural world that recognizes or acts on living organisms in any way that can be described as "the good of the species." the effects of natural selection and of the other types of evolution reinforce only greater representation of a particular characteristic in subsequent generations.

-- "significance" and "consideration" imply human judgments that nature does not make.


by the way, this conversation has ranged pretty widely and is pretty diffuse. perhapz we might focus on one or two of the issuse we ve touched on and return to the others at another time? i m easy, but i m also pretty boring, i think.
« Last Edit: February 17, 2020, 02:50:17 PM by billy rubin »



The principle can be established that for a man who does not cheat, what he believes to be true must determine his action.

Inertialmass

  • Banned
  • Made of Star Stuff
  • *
  • Posts: 54
Re: Moral Nihilism
« Reply #94 on: February 16, 2020, 10:15:42 AM »
ive been an atheist/agnostic most all of my life.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

billy rubin, why is your friend laughing so hard at your comment? Just curious.


Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

I just ran across this exchange.  Did Kev -- "billy rubin" -- ever explain to you Magdalena why his claim to being atheist/agnostic, at this Forum, is so funny?


 

Magdalena

  • Butterfly of Doom.
  • The Cure for Boredom is Curiosity. There is No Cure For Curiosity.
  • *****
  • Posts: 8861
  • Gender: Female
  • Angry hippies need to smoke cheap weed.
Re: Moral Nihilism
« Reply #95 on: February 16, 2020, 06:15:47 PM »
ive been an atheist/agnostic most all of my life.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

billy rubin, why is your friend laughing so hard at your comment? Just curious.


Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

I just ran across this exchange.  Did Kev -- "billy rubin" -- ever explain to you Magdalena why his claim to being atheist/agnostic, at this Forum, is so funny?

Hi Inertialmass, yes,
billy rubin explained everything to me via PM.

“I've had several "spiritual" or numinous experiences over the years, but never felt that they were the product of anything but the workings of my own mind in reaction to the universe.” ~Recusant

Davin

  • Don't Pray in My School, and I Won't Think in Your Church
  • *****
  • Posts: 7533
  • Gender: Male
  • (o°-°)=o o(o*-°)
    • DevPirates
Re: Moral Nihilism
« Reply #96 on: February 17, 2020, 05:13:25 PM »
"equal significance? equal consideration?" you're using terms without defining them again. "significant" meaning what, how, and to whom? same for "consideration." what is the system of values that i should  use to answer your question?
And for that matter, define what you mean when you use "answer" or "question". You use "defining" what does that mean? What do you mean by "system?" And while you're at it, define what "values" means. And if it's not too much trouble, what do you mean by "terms?"

 ;D

Always question all authorities because the authority you don't question is the most dangerous... except me, never question me.

TallRed

  • Padawan Learner
  • Posts: 7
Re: Moral Nihilism
« Reply #97 on: February 17, 2020, 10:01:36 PM »
"equal significance? equal consideration?" you're using terms without defining them again. "significant" meaning what, how, and to whom? same for "consideration." what is the system of values that i should  use to answer your question?
And for that matter, define what you mean when you use "answer" or "question". You use "defining" what does that mean? What do you mean by "system?" And while you're at it, define what "values" means. And if it's not too much trouble, what do you mean by "terms?"

 ;D
Worth the price of admission!

Bluenose

  • Kickin' Back With d'Holbach
  • ****
  • Posts: 1329
  • Gender: Male
  • Final approach to HMAS Melbourne CVS-21 (1980)
    • Native Fish Australia
Re: Moral Nihilism
« Reply #98 on: February 17, 2020, 11:33:28 PM »
Here's and idea:  Instead of creating our own idiosyncratic definitions of words, why don't we agree on using the dictionary definitions?
“The story so far:
In the beginning the Universe was created.
This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”

― Douglas Adams

+++ Divide by cucumber error: please reinstall universe and reboot.  +++

GNU Terry Pratchett


xSilverPhinx

  • Non Dvcor
  • Global Moderator
  • Silly Overlord With the Vorpal Blade
  • *****
  • Posts: 17363
  • Gender: Female
  • I Spy With My Googly Eyes...
Re: Moral Nihilism
« Reply #99 on: February 18, 2020, 01:50:06 AM »
Here's and idea:  Instead of creating our own idiosyncratic definitions of words, why don't we agree on using the dictionary definitions?

I think that's an excellent idea! Keeps those pesky goalposts from moving all the time. :grin:
Give no mercy to your fear.



Recusant

  • Miscreant Erendrake
  • Administrator
  • Wears a Colander Hat for Special Occasions
  • *****
  • Posts: 6488
  • Gender: Male
  • infidel barbarian
Re: Moral Nihilism
« Reply #100 on: February 18, 2020, 03:06:18 AM »
you're reluctant to share the term "mind" with non-humans, which is okay.

That is an inaccurate description of my position.


Spoiler: ShowHide
I'd say that while human morality is to some extent inspired and driven by our social instincts, it's created by people, and mostly consciously so. We frame our lives, from basic things like taking care of our children to arcane things like not wearing a mix of cotton and linen, in terms of morality. We think about moral questions, even about basic ones, while an animal like an ant that is driven entirely by instinct does not.

i think we use our big brains to decorate our animal instincts and call them morals, for the most part. taking care of our children is our lizard brain, not our cerebrum. not mixing wool and linen, or making marks on our bodies, or avoiding the houses of the sodomites in jerusalem are just local cultural roccocco slathered onto a fundamental animal protocol that we follow fairly blindly.

and i'll continue to take issue with the assertion that ants are "entirely driven by instinct." behavioral studies show that that is clearly not the case. here are the just the first search results from google scholar on the string "learning in ants," that show that simple instinct is insufficient to explain ant behavior:

https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/abs/10.1098/rspb.2007.0138
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1365-3032.1987.tb00756.x
http://learnmem.cshlp.org/content/20/8/417.short
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0096300307010971

The first link shows ants rejecting a new nest site and adopting another of equal quality. I'd say that their continued rejection of the first nest site was based on an instinctive protocol. Because the two nest sites were of equal quality, it certainly appears that there was no thought behind their adoption of one over the other.

The second link doesn't demonstrate thought on the part of the ants either. It does demonstrate an instinctive sense of time and an ability to determine that there was no longer food available at a location and time they had previously found it. Again, nothing that cannot be explained by instinct.

The third demonstrates learned response to a stimulus, and a different response to stimulus by ants with different tasks within the colony. The ability to learn very basic things is not inconsistent with instinctive behavior, nor is a difference in response by different castes of ants.

The fourth, as I understand the abstract, shows that humans can stimulate learning behavior in ants making the ants more efficient in their allocations of resources. Again, not inconsistent with instinctive behavior on the part of the ants.

we as humans, do think about moral questions. but nobody knows what an ant is thinking, and to say that it doesn't think is a species-centric assertion, not an observation. in my opinion, ants use a much less complex process of cognition to manipulate internal and external neural input in much simpler ways. in humans we call a more complex form of that same process "thinking." i don't care what we call it in ants, so long as we are aware that it exists. i don't think they're devising philosophy,but neither are they simple instinct machines.

The contrary claim that ants think in any way beyond following their instinctive protocols is not supported by the evidence you've presented. They are not machines, but neither do they demonstrate any ability to transcend instinct, or to act contrary to their instincts. Their behavior appears to be fully governed by instinct.

Quote
We also know that the influence of instinct in humans is considerably decreased in comparison to the overwhelming majority of species.

no. i see no evidence of that. what instincts are we suppressing?

For one, most animals have an instinctive fear of fire. We seem to have been able to suppress that instinct fairly effectively. Rather than fear fire, we've learned to respect it and use it. Human children generally don't fear fire, but have to either learn or be taught to respect it. Chimpanzees appear to show a similar tendency, which I think shows that with sufficient mental capacity, a species can act contrary to an instinct that formerly governed its behavior, and eventually lose the instinctive reaction entirely.

once again, "survival of the species" is not a drive in the natural world. it's an important distinction because there are forces of selection that operate at a higher level than that of the individual, but "species" is still beyond them.  a typical "species" consists of a vast archipelago of genetically isolated breeding populations that can potentially interbreed, but may never do so. they have no effect on each other, and natural forces treat them independently--unless they interbreed. natural selection acts only to increase representation of particular genes in subsequent generations, in order to make more babies that carry those genes. that's all it is. the unit is the individual, and the effects are seen in the breeding population, not the species.  selection acts only to make a particular gene more common in the breeding population.

it's certainly possible that "species" and "breeding population" can be the same group of individuals, but it generally isn't. thinking about the evolution of populations went through a major shift in  theory starting with ernst mayer in the 1950s, who first proposed that evolution took place in small isolated populations of a species, which then became the ancestors of all subsequent members. today we call it "punctuated equilibrium."

It depends on perspective. In the nihilist's view, the only things we can claim to know for certain are the thoughts and understandings in our own heads. Nothing that we believe we know is "really real." Going by this, if species exist only in our heads, then individuals exist in exactly the same way, and neither of them exist "in nature."

I don't think you're taking that position though. It seems to me you're claiming "in nature" as a stand-in for "in reality." The world exists, and we can to some extent understand it, however imperfectly. If so, then that is a position we both hold.

I agree instinct serves to enhance the survival of individual animals. Instinct thereby enhances the survival of species, however you choose to define the term. Species exist in nature, just as individuals exist. We observe the characteristics of species just as we do with individuals. I think you're tring to pull a half-nihilist, claiming that while individuals definitely do exist, species is a human concept and therefore species don't exist "in nature." The problem with that is, individual is just as much a human concept as species.

The perspective which sees a specific group of animals intertwined through heredity existing over multiple individuals' lifetimes is no more or less a true version of what occurs in nature than the perspective which sees individuals existing, unless one is claiming that only the most superficial and minimal perspective is correct.

Quote
Analyzing Homo sapiens from a dispassionate perspective which doesn't give our species a "special" place (a mythical position as a god's children) seems to lead inevitably to this conclusion.

no. while denying it, it appears to me that you are continuing to elevate Homo sapiens to a special position in the natural world, one where natural drives such as instinct are not in force. i don't see it, recusant. we're animals, with big brains. we're not very different from animals with smaller brains, except in our own fancy.

I have not made that claim. You made nearly the same assertion about my position in the very post to which you're replying, and I explained why that assertion was inaccurate.

Quote
Is the American Museum of Natural History incorrect when they say that "Natural selection is a simple mechanism that causes populations of living things to change over time"? They don't mention natural selection having anything to do with "diverse individuals." Am I incorrect to understand natural selection as an evolutionary driver that affects populations?

no, they were exactly right. but here is the whole defintion, from the previous paragraph, which includes the requirement that diverse individuals be present:

Those individual organisms who happen to be best suited to an environment survive and reproduce most successfully, producing many similarly well-adapted descendants. After numerous such breeding cycles, the better-adapted dominate.

natural selection certinly is an evolutionary driver, working on individuals that show diversity, and resulting in changes within breeding populations.

I think we're agreed that natural selection is a phenomenon which affects individuals, breeding populations, and species. I would say that it doesn't "care" about individuals any more or less than it cares about breeding populations or species.

Quote
In any event, you haven't really addressed my point. Do you accept the statement that instinct serves a function in most animals which may be accurately described as helping ensure the survival of a breeding population? If not, on what basis do you deny its accuracy?

it helps to ensure the survival of individuals, and breeding populations containing these individuals survive better as a result. species survive better to the extent that they are interconnected as breeding populations.

Are you claiming that the survival of a species is not enhanced by the survival of the individuals and breeding populations which comprise the species?

Quote
Spoiler: ShowHide
 The behavior of most breeding populations of animals is determined entirely by instinct.  Human beings, while definitely being influenced by instinct, regularly act in ways that cannot reasonably be considered instinctual. I'd go so far as to say that most of what the average human being does each day has nothing to do with instinct. Driving a car, riding an elevator, typing on a keyboard, chopping wood with an ax, watching a theater performance, none of these things are instinctual. There's a lot more going on than "pseudo-rational justifications" for instinctual behavior.

i think the behaviour of most breeding populations is a mixture of instinct and cognition. humans drive a car, and a snail crawls across a leaf. neither act is specifically instinctual, but both organisms have it within their behavioural repertoire. humans perform specific behaviours in order to satisfy instinctual drives, and so do snails. a human decorates the nursery. why? to satisfy an instinctual drive to provide for the offspring. a snail deposits eggs in a small protected hole in the earth to satisfy the same type of drive. a human strikes out at a robber intent on taking his wallet. why? for the same reason that two ants struggle over a piece of food on the sand. just because we apply our big brains to our instincts doesn't mean we're not acting instincively. what's more rational about world war 2 than two ant colonies fighting over the remains of a dead grasshopper?

and sure, we as humans do things that aren't instinctive, like write a symphony. that's because we have big brains. but howler monkeys sing to each other in the treetops, and there are cultural aspects that imply creativity in ways that parallel humans. maybe creativity will be the next new way to try to separate humans from animals, now that tool-using, tool-making, and using-tools-to-make-tools have all gone by the wayside.

Your reductive approach dismisses a wide range of behavior exhibited by human beings for which no instinctive basis can be discerned. Your example of a fairly closely related species exhibiting creativity shows that our mental capacity is a product of evolution, but does not demonstrate that our behavior is governed by instinct to the same extent that most other animals' behavior is.

I don't separate humans from other animals except in terms of degree. The evidence shows that we have at least one capacity to a greater degree than those of other animals, just as other animals have capacities beyond our own. This is the invention of ways to achieve things that other animals are capable of and beyond, by the use of our intellect. We can move about rapidly (even more rapidly than the fastest of the other animals). We can fly (even beyond our own atmosphere). We can perceive things beyond the normal range of our senses. I don't think we're the only animals that can invent things, but we clearly are able to invent things that none of the other animals can invent.

Quote
I'll repeat the question. Do you believe an individual member of a population of animals is of equal significance to the population as a whole, and should receive equal consideration? If so, why not just say that?

"equal significance? equal consideration?" you're using terms without defining them again. "significant" meaning what, how, and to whom? same for "consideration." what is the system of values that i should  use to answer your question?

two animals weigh twice as much as one animal. if you think weight is significant, then you have your answer. one animal possesses one genotype, and a species possesses a genepool. if a genotype is worth one dollar, and a genepool is worth three dollars, then a gene pool deserves more consideration than a genotype. i'm not dodging your question. you'e not defining your terms, and so your questions can't be answered.

Significance is a concept used by our species to differentiate things. You may claim that because it's a human concept, it has no "real" existence. This seems another instance of the half-nihilist move. Either concepts exist or they don't. If they do exist, then we must be able to determine which concepts provide a useful perspective on our environment and which do not.

The concept of significance provides a useful perspective on our environment. Note that I said "useful" and not "fool-proof," or "valid." There may not be any unequivocally fool-proof or valid concepts, but I think it is unequivocally useful to be able to differentiate things by their significance. Their significance to ourselves and our species. There is no significance other than that which animals apply. That doesn't mean that there is no "real" significance, as if mere animal significance is unreal.

Again, we're humans, talking about human morality here. We are as real as anything in the universe, and our understanding (however faulty) is a real understanding of the universe. Our continued existence as a species is evidence of that. If our understanding had no basis in reality we'd be essentially a species that had gone insane and we'd have died off long ago. We will eventually die off, and perhaps we're an evolutionary dead end. That may happen because our understanding is insufficiently in accord with the world, but even if it does happen that way, it doesn't negate everything we've understood up till now.

I reject solipsism because I think it's nonsensical (and useless) to deny the reality of the world in which I live. As I understand it, the nihilist view goes beyond solipsism to claim that not even our own thoughts have any basis in reality. It's a philosophical dead end, even more lacking in utility than solipsism. We are human beings. It's useful for human beings to perceive significance in the world, and that's all the justification for the concept that I need. Nihilism isn't useful for anything except perhaps as a justification for suicide or rejecting the validity of all moral codes. I'm not interested in achieving either of those goals.

I already explained why I think that a species is more significant than an individual member of the species. A species exists as an entity composed of individuals. It's more significant in the same way that a cat is more significant than a cat hair. The cat is a more significant entity than any individual cat hair if for no other reason than the cat has a wider range of influence on the world.

in what way is any organism "significant?" what is the relationship you cite that provides a measure of "significance" that can value one individual less than two, or one individual less than all members of a given population, or less than all members of a given species?

why do you think a species is important in the first place, in order for there to be any reason to assign a value at all?

ill happily give you a value if you will tell me what coin it is we re spending.

I think it is impossible to reconcile the nihilist position with the concept of value, or that of significance. That being the case, I don't expect you to agree that there is any such thing as significance. But I reject nihilism.

"significance" and "consideration" imply human judgments that nature does not make.

"Nature" is itself a human concept--a judgment by humans that there is such a thing as nature. However, unless you're going with the claim that nature makes some judgments, just not human judgments, then there is no basis to differentiate between natural and human judgments. In my opinion, nature does not make judgments; there are only judgments made by animals, including humans.

« Last Edit: February 18, 2020, 03:52:17 AM by Recusant »
"Religion is fundamentally opposed to everything I hold in veneration — courage, clear thinking, honesty, fairness, and above all, love of the truth."
— H. L. Mencken


Recusant

  • Miscreant Erendrake
  • Administrator
  • Wears a Colander Hat for Special Occasions
  • *****
  • Posts: 6488
  • Gender: Male
  • infidel barbarian
Re: Moral Nihilism
« Reply #101 on: February 18, 2020, 03:33:28 AM »
Here's and idea:  Instead of creating our own idiosyncratic definitions of words, why don't we agree on using the dictionary definitions?

Because dictionary definitions, while useful as a starting point and anchor, do not always convey all the possible legitimate ways of understanding the meaning of a word. Dictionaries are authoritative only in that they describe how words are most commonly understood. Worthwhile discussion can arise in regard to differing understanding. 

For example, billy rubin and I agree that the dictionary definition of mind is too restrictive in its human centrism. We both think that other animals exhibit evidence of having minds. We diverge in that I include only animals that are fairly intelligent, while I think he would say that nearly all animals have minds.

I think that perhaps eventually dictionaries will acknowledge that animals other than humans have minds. Meanwhile, referring back to a point I made earlier, I am not going to say that since Koko the gorilla isn't a member of our species she didn't have a mind, merely because of the species-centric definition presently found in dictionaries.
"Religion is fundamentally opposed to everything I hold in veneration — courage, clear thinking, honesty, fairness, and above all, love of the truth."
— H. L. Mencken


Davin

  • Don't Pray in My School, and I Won't Think in Your Church
  • *****
  • Posts: 7533
  • Gender: Male
  • (o°-°)=o o(o*-°)
    • DevPirates
Re: Moral Nihilism
« Reply #102 on: February 18, 2020, 02:51:53 PM »
Here's and idea:  Instead of creating our own idiosyncratic definitions of words, why don't we agree on using the dictionary definitions?

Because dictionary definitions, while useful as a starting point and anchor, do not always convey all the possible legitimate ways of understanding the meaning of a word. Dictionaries are authoritative only in that they describe how words are most commonly understood. Worthwhile discussion can arise in regard to differing understanding. 

For example, billy rubin and I agree that the dictionary definition of mind is too restrictive in its human centrism. We both think that other animals exhibit evidence of having minds. We diverge in that I include only animals that are fairly intelligent, while I think he would say that nearly all animals have minds.

I think that perhaps eventually dictionaries will acknowledge that animals other than humans have minds. Meanwhile, referring back to a point I made earlier, I am not going to say that since Koko the gorilla isn't a member of our species she didn't have a mind, merely because of the species-centric definition presently found in dictionaries.
There is a point, and I think it's been crossed, where having someone define what they mean by a word/term ends up being more work for one side than the other. If we look at the discussion, bill rubin here has you jumping through a lot of hoops, and getting you to do a lot of extra work, only to ignore what you've said and continue to claim that you think a term means something you've clearly said doesn't mean that in your usage. That's why we have the suggestion in the forum guidelines of taking the most generous interpretation. I think you've been honoring that, and I like to honor it, but billy rubin has been doing the opposite.

True, there are problems with taking only the dictionary definitions, but those problems tend to go away with the principle of charity and a few quick corrections here and there. There are also problems with making discussion dictionaries, like what we've seen here where one side seems to be asking for clarification on usages that are already clear based on the context of the usages for anyone with a reading level above grade school. Now I don't think that billy rubin is that terrible at reading, I think that billy rubin does not like to have its ideas actually challenged and uses this "define this for me" as an avoidance tactic to temporarily dodge things that directly challenge their claims.

I think the first time you clarified what you meant by mind, was clear enough to understand that you did not mean only humans. And yet... they seem highly resistant to accepting what you say you mean. Then there's the claims about you saying things that you've never said. Ignoring and avoiding direct questions that could clarify things and reduce the amount of work you're doing with all these needless paragraphs of clarification. But if they did answer those direct questions, it would pin them down and they seem to like being unclear and love these muddy waters they've created. I mean there's a lot of stuff going on here where billy rubin is demonstrating that they are not arguing in good faith.

I've had many discussions with nihilists who have no issues with understanding and using common terms. Even value is not something that nihilists have no concept of, if anything, they only need to qualify it. It is possible to understand what another person means and still not agree with them. However, billy rubin seems to be taking the tact they don't have the faculties to even understand you, therefore what you say is meaningless. It's like you're either arguing with a black hole or a pigeon, neither results in a useful discussion after a point. You seem to like stretching your muscles with the basic challenges here, so there's at least that utility. I like that too from time to time, and it's also personally useful to me to roll out the concepts I've been working on and/or haven't had to pull out in a while. I never got past the basic point with billy rubin of merely agreeing to the definition of a common term because they buried their head in the sand.

Always question all authorities because the authority you don't question is the most dangerous... except me, never question me.

billy rubin

  • humble azpirant to the throne3 of typos
  • Corbu is My Homeboy
  • ***
  • Posts: 783
  • Gender: Male
  • i actually do not know what LætusAtheos means
Re: Moral Nihilism
« Reply #103 on: February 18, 2020, 03:31:03 PM »
Here's and idea:  Instead of creating our own idiosyncratic definitions of words, why don't we agree on using the dictionary definitions?

Because dictionary definitions, while useful as a starting point and anchor, do not always convey all the possible legitimate ways of understanding the meaning of a word. Dictionaries are authoritative only in that they describe how words are most commonly understood. Worthwhile discussion can arise in regard to differing understanding. 

For example, billy rubin and I agree that the dictionary definition of mind is too restrictive in its human centrism. We both think that other animals exhibit evidence of having minds. We diverge in that I include only animals that are fairly intelligent, while I think he would say that nearly all animals have minds.

lol

i'd agree with all that. i don't think "mind" is a very useful term.

Quote
I think that perhaps eventually dictionaries will acknowledge that animals other than humans have minds. Meanwhile, referring back to a point I made earlier, I am not going to say that since Koko the gorilla isn't a member of our species she didn't have a mind, merely because of the species-centric definition presently found in dictionaries.

the problem with dictionary definitions is that they are by definition casual and temprary in nature, and don't encompass the nuances of terms that specialists in a field take for granted. in a technical discussion, a general dictionary definition will immediately be left behind.

i used to collect dictionaries, back before i lost most of my books in a series of floods. i had dictionaries of biology, palaeontology, physical geology, sedimentology, ecology, taxonomy, archaic slang, current slang, and so on. the same words appeared in different dictionaries with different definitions, depending on the interests and levels of background knowledge of the perceived audience. dictionary definitions are useful starting points, as you say, but they don't go far.

i never met koko, by the way, but i once worked as a therapy human in the primate institute that housed washoe. washoe most definitiely had a mind, not a particularly cooperative one. she could be a real bitch, as a matter of fact, and i wouldn't go into the cage with her.
« Last Edit: February 18, 2020, 06:32:45 PM by billy rubin »



The principle can be established that for a man who does not cheat, what he believes to be true must determine his action.

billy rubin

  • humble azpirant to the throne3 of typos
  • Corbu is My Homeboy
  • ***
  • Posts: 783
  • Gender: Male
  • i actually do not know what LætusAtheos means
Re: Moral Nihilism
« Reply #104 on: February 18, 2020, 05:47:38 PM »
hi recusant.

please forgive me if i am misunderstanding anything you have said here in this reply. i have difficutly in keeping more than a few thoughts in my head at any one time. my wife claims it was all the drugs i did when i was younger. maybe she's right.

anyway, here is a definition of instinct, pulled from wiki. it is subject to all the usual limitations of definitions:

Quote
Instinct or innate behavior is the inherent inclination of a living organism towards a particular complex behavior. The simplest example of an instinctive behavior is a fixed action pattern (FAP), in which a very short to medium length sequence of actions, without variation, are carried out in response to a corresponding clearly defined stimulus.

Any behavior is instinctive if it is performed without being based upon prior experience (that is, in the absence of learning), and is therefore an expression of innate biological factors. Sea turtles, newly hatched on a beach, will automatically move toward the ocean. A marsupial climbs into its mother's pouch upon being born. Honeybees communicate by dancing in the direction of a food source without formal instruction. Other examples include animal fighting, animal courtship behavior, internal escape functions, and the building of nests. Though an instinct is defined by its invariant innate characteristics, details of its performance can be changed by experience; for example, a dog can improve its fighting skills by practice.

the learning process that occurs in tandem running in ants does not fit this definition of instinct. it is not a fixed action pattern, it is not based on prior experience, and it is definitely based on the presence of learning. it is not an invariant innate characteristic that is improved by experience.

if tandem running in ants is going to be defined as instinctive, then i think that there is no behavior in any organism that cannot also be defined in the same way, using the suitable exceptions, and the term instinctive loses any useful meaning. i maintain that discovering this single exception to the statement that “ants are completely guided by instinct,” falsifies the assertion. but quibbling over the definitions is not useful. what is important is what they do, which is to display cognition.

Quote
For one, most animals have an instinctive fear of fire. We seem to have been able to suppress that instinct fairly effectively. Rather than fear fire, we've learned to respect it and use it

i think that any dog that lies by the camp fire to stay warm has accomplished the same thing, so humans are no excption here.

Quote
I think you're tring to pull a half-nihilist, claiming that while individuals definitely do exist, species is a human concept and therefore species don't exist "in nature." The problem with that is, individual is just as much a human concept as species.

i don’t see how nihilism is involved in this question. “definition” does not imply “value,” which is only part of the concept of “meaning.” i’m not asserting that.

but regarding species and individual, the “individual” does exist in the world and can be pointed to-- i can hold an individual in my hand.  "species" has no existence at the sme level. for example, the “species” of leopard frog absolutely is a human concept, one  that has changed in defintion repeatedly over time. there used to be a single "species" of leopard frog in north america, but currently there are fourteen. the individuals and their breeding populations have never changed. only their “species.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leopard_frog

there are thousands of examples of individuals and of breeding populatins that at one time constituted "species" and at other times haven’t. “species” is a fluid concept.

Quote

I think we're agreed that natural selection is a phenomenon which affects individuals, breeding populations, and species. I would say that it doesn't "care" about individuals any more or less than it cares about breeding populations or species.

i agree, so long as we avoid the word "species." natural selection is a mechanical process, like water flowing the quickest way downhill.

Quote
Are you claiming that the survival of a species is not enhanced by the survival of the individuals and breeding populations which comprise the species?

no, the "species" would cease to exist if the individuals and breeding populations used to define it cease to exist. but the survival of species is no more consequential than the survival of a genus, family, order, and class. species is a human-defined  taxonomic group which may be erased by a single publication in the scientific literature.

note that a nominal species can cease to exist through evolution even if there is no lack of survival of interbreeding populations.

loosely speaking,  a species is often synonymous with breeding population. i’ve already pointed out that in the real world, sometimes they are, and sometimes they aren’t. we are no longer speaking loosely, and so the distinction arises.

Quote
I don't separate humans from other animals except in terms of degree. . . . I don't think we're the only animals that can invent things, but we clearly are able to invent things that none of the other animals can invent.

i agree completely.

Quote
Significance is a concept used by our species to differentiate things. You may claim that because it's a human concept, it has no "real" existence. This seems another instance of the half-nihilist move. Either concepts exist or they don't. If they do exist, then we must be able to determine which concepts provide a useful perspective on our environment and which do not.

i am merely pointing out that if you aren’t going to define what you mean by “significance,” and how it might be ”useful,” whatever i substitute might or might not be what you mean. the existence of a nominal species is not at all significant to the existence of a breeding population unless they are the same.

Quote
I already explained why I think that a species is more significant than an individual member of the species. A species exists as an entity composed of individuals. It's more significant in the same way that a cat is more significant than a cat hair. The cat is a more significant entity than any individual cat hair if for no other reason than the cat has a wider range of influence on the world.

you have NEVER explained it until now, you have just asserted it.

that’s why i’ve asked for clarification. it finally appears that your definition of “significant” is “to have a wider range of influence on the world,” specifically in terms of enumeration (individuals versus group) or composition (parts versus whole ). so a pile of rocks is more significant than a single rock, and a tree is more significant than a leaf. i would guess that a world war is more significant than a single death? that works so long as we aren’t talking about the archduke ferdinand and his wife, where a single death caused a world war, and can be seen to have been equally “significant.” but now that i understand what "significant" means, to you, i can discuss it without misinterpreting you. im still not sure how it applies to "zpeciez" though.

Quote
I think it is impossible to reconcile the nihilist position with the concept of value, or that of significance. That being the case, I don't expect you to agree that there is any such thing as significance. But I reject nihilism.

i agree on the insignificance of significance. i see value and significance as local concepts that don't have any meaning that transcends local usage. i see nihilism as the only unbiased view of the universe. but in conversation i can work with any defintion of value or significance that can be defined, but every conversation will likely have a different one.

Quote
"Nature" is itself a human concept--a judgment by humans that there is such a thing as nature. However, unless you're going with the claim that nature makes some judgments, just not human judgments, then there is no basis to differentiate between natural and human judgments. In my opinion, nature does not make judgments; there are only judgments made by animals, including humans.

i agree with that.
« Last Edit: February 19, 2020, 07:04:46 AM by billy rubin »



The principle can be established that for a man who does not cheat, what he believes to be true must determine his action.