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Moral Nihilism

billy rubin

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Re: Moral Nihilism
« Reply #75 on: February 11, 2020, 07:00:04 PM »
i will be concise . . .
i will be concise . . .
i will be better than i am . . .

 spoiler: i failed


I think we might conclude that a mind requires a particular level of consciousness to qualify for the name. It would warp the meaning of the word to claim that a flatworm or an ant have a mind, while to deny that dogs, dolphins, bonobos, ravens, etc. have minds seems much too restrictive.

i would assert that the dfinitions you listed are biased to describe a human mind, rather than mind in general. in fact, the second and third definitions specifically pertain to human brain function. in contrast, take the flatworm which you have mentioned. a planarian can learn to navigate a two-way maze. the flatworm has enough of a mind to distinguish left and right, remember the decision, and apply the learning to new experiences. what they do not have is a human mind, but it’s nonetheless a directing consiousness-- an awareness of their existence and their surroundings-- that can identify a choice, make a decision, and act on it.

or take the ant. ants learn their way around the world by basically counting their footsteps and remembering directions. but they also can learn to use landmarks to correct the cumulative errors, and combine this informtion to navigate. they don’t write sonatas, so if that is what a mind is, they don’t qualify. but they take information in from their world, process it, and apply it to novel  situations. that seems to me to qualify as a reasonable non-anthropomorphic definiotion of "mind."

i would define  “mind” more broadly than a human-focused analyst would, as just a term for the non-autonomous intformation processing activity of a nervous system, espcially as applied to learning and behavior. some organisms have more complex minds than others, and i suggest that a mind sufficientlly more complex than our own might look like nothing we could recognize as a mind at all.

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Whether you do acknowledge that or not, we might return to the question of whether meaning really exists. To me the statement "there is no meaning in the universe" is nonsensical because there clearly is meaning in the universe--that which is assigned by minds. It follows then that the claim that "morality has no meaning" fails as well. I already explained why I consider "objective meaning" to be inherently self-contradictory and therefore of no utility in understanding this topic.

I agree that from some mythical "objective" point of view, using the well-being of the species as a basis for morality is arbitrary. However, I think that the well-being of the species is as close to being "objectively" superior to any other basis for morality as we are going to achieve.

i don’t know what “objective” means.

to me, meaning exists only by assertion. to the extent that we assign value to our own assertions, then meaning exists to that degree. if i decide, a priori, that i believe in morality, on any foundation, then moral choices i make are meaningful--to me. if i choose not to believe, then moral meaning does not exist--for me. so the claims “morality has meaning,” or “morality has no meaning” have truth value only in light of the premises of the claimant. i would say that they have no external existence beyond that.

so sure, meaning exists, in that sense. i find meaning in the notebooks of leonardo da vinci. my cat finds meaning in his dinner. neither is a higher or a lower meaning than the other. similarly, there is moral meaning in any thought or any act, or not, depending on my own view, which need not be shared by anybody else.

Quote
I'll return to another earlier point as well--

. . . but if i decide that morality must be based on survival of a planetary ecosystem, rather than the continued survival of my own species, then the greatest moral act i could perform might be the extinction of the human race. after all, human beings are not good for a balanced, self-sustaining natural ecology. and so on.

I don't think this actually refutes the basis for morality that I've proposed. We know that in the past, the planetary ecosystem has been wiped out by the strike of a meteorite. The survival of the planetary ecosystem may at some point in the future be dependent on the intervention of Homo sapiens to prevent another such event. A morality based on survival of the planetary ecosystem is required to take that into account if it's going to be self-consistent. Regardless, our species is part of the planetary ecosystem, and a morality based on the well-being of the species would of necessity encompass ensuring the well-being of the ecosystem, as I said previously.

well, there isn't any way to “refute”  a moral system assigning human or planetary survival as the guiding principal, any more than there is a way to refute a moral system aimed at spreading the colour blue throughout the universe. to refute a moral system requires that it be compared for consistency with a superior frame of reference, one that can supply a standard against which it can be judged. if there is no higher frame of reference to use in assigning relative value, no moral system can be assigned a higher or lower value thn any other.  what would be the higher frame of reference that gives human survivability any value that exceeds the spreading of the colour blue? if i am the measure of my morality, then i vote for blue, and human survivability can be valued by other people to the identical degree, but no more.

to be more specific, on what basis is the survival of the human race of any importance? or comparatively, how is the survival of human beings more morally valuable than survival of planarians or ants? as human beings, we favor our own gene pool, because heritable traits that increase survivorship or fecundity are selected and increase in frequency in subsequent generations. we are hard-wired to look out for our kin, and by extension, to apply those mechanical traits to the well-being of our species over that of others. and the moral system of an ant might be identical, and equally valid, if we were smart enough to be able to ask one. looking out for humans over ants is like rooting for manchester city over manchester united.

if all moral systems are indistingushable in terms of meningfulness, then all are equually meaningful or non-meaningful. to me, this situation can be most conveniently described by saying that morals have no meaning.

but it would be just as correct to say that all morals are equally meaningful.
« Last Edit: February 12, 2020, 12:11:52 AM by billy rubin »


Into the distance a ribbon of black
Stretched to the point of no turning back
A flight of fancy on a windswept field
Standing alone my senses reeled
A fatal attraction is holding me fast how
How can I escape this irresistible grasp?

billy rubin

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Re: Moral Nihilism
« Reply #76 on: February 11, 2020, 07:10:13 PM »
by the way, this discussion reminds of th emost visually beautiful motion picture i have ever seen, tarsem singh's the fall



to film this scene, singh supplied a small village with enough paint to re-do much of their buildings-- in blue.

was it a moral act? if increasing the color blue has moral meaning, and i say it does, is it any different from saving the world from a meterorite?
« Last Edit: February 11, 2020, 11:24:04 PM by billy rubin »


Into the distance a ribbon of black
Stretched to the point of no turning back
A flight of fancy on a windswept field
Standing alone my senses reeled
A fatal attraction is holding me fast how
How can I escape this irresistible grasp?

billy rubin

  • humble azpirant to the throne3 of typos
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Re: Moral Nihilism
« Reply #77 on: February 11, 2020, 07:39:49 PM »
now i'm distracted. it's my day off.


if you have never seen this motion picture, you need to. my wife hates it because there's so much death. but the the use of composition, color, and motion is spectacular, especially because there is zero CGI. it's all real.

and i'm a sucker for the seventh, too.
« Last Edit: February 11, 2020, 08:46:07 PM by billy rubin »


Into the distance a ribbon of black
Stretched to the point of no turning back
A flight of fancy on a windswept field
Standing alone my senses reeled
A fatal attraction is holding me fast how
How can I escape this irresistible grasp?

Recusant

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Re: Moral Nihilism
« Reply #78 on: February 12, 2020, 03:13:56 AM »
i will be concise . . .
i will be concise . . .
i will be better than i am . . .

 spoiler: i failed


I think we might conclude that a mind requires a particular level of consciousness to qualify for the name. It would warp the meaning of the word to claim that a flatworm or an ant have a mind, while to deny that dogs, dolphins, bonobos, ravens, etc. have minds seems much too restrictive.

i would assert that the dfinitions you listed are biased to describe a human mind, rather than mind in general. in fact, the second and third definitions specifically pertain to human brain function. in contrast, take the flatworm which you have mentioned. a planarian can learn to navigate a two-way maze. the flatworm has enough of a mind to distinguish left and right, remember the decision, and apply the learning to new experiences. what they do not have is a human mind, but it’s nonetheless a directing consiousness-- an awareness of their existence and their surroundings-- that can identify a choice, make a decision, and act on it.

or take the ant. ants learn their way around the world by basically counting their footsteps and remembering directions. but they also can learn to use landmarks to correct the cumulative errors, and combine this informtion to navigate. they don’t write sonatas, so if that is what a mind is, they don’t qualify. but they take information in from their world, process it, and apply it to novel  situations. that seems to me to qualify as a reasonable non-anthropomorphic definiotion of "mind."

i would define  “mind” more broadly than a human-focused analyst would, as just a term for the non-autonomous intformation processing activity of a nervous system, espcially as applied to learning and behavior. some organisms have more complex minds than others, and i suggest that a mind sufficientlly more complex than our own might look like nothing we could recognize as a mind at all.

Quote
Whether you do acknowledge that or not, we might return to the question of whether meaning really exists. To me the statement "there is no meaning in the universe" is nonsensical because there clearly is meaning in the universe--that which is assigned by minds. It follows then that the claim that "morality has no meaning" fails as well. I already explained why I consider "objective meaning" to be inherently self-contradictory and therefore of no utility in understanding this topic.

I agree that from some mythical "objective" point of view, using the well-being of the species as a basis for morality is arbitrary. However, I think that the well-being of the species is as close to being "objectively" superior to any other basis for morality as we are going to achieve.

i don’t know what “objective” means.

to me, meaning exists only by assertion. to the extent that we assign value to our own assertions, then meaning exists to that degree. if i decide, a priori, that i believe in morality, on any foundation, then moral choices i make are meaningful--to me. if i choose not to believe, then moral meaning does not exist--for me. so the claims “morality has meaning,” or “morality has no meaning” have truth value only in light of the premises of the claimant. i would say that they have no external existence beyond that.

so sure, meaning exists, in that sense. i find meaning in the notebooks of leonardo da vinci. my cat finds meaning in his dinner. neither is a higher or a lower meaning than the other. similarly, there is moral meaning in any thought or any act, or not, depending on my own view, which need not be shared by anybody else.

Quote
I'll return to another earlier point as well--

. . . but if i decide that morality must be based on survival of a planetary ecosystem, rather than the continued survival of my own species, then the greatest moral act i could perform might be the extinction of the human race. after all, human beings are not good for a balanced, self-sustaining natural ecology. and so on.

I don't think this actually refutes the basis for morality that I've proposed. We know that in the past, the planetary ecosystem has been wiped out by the strike of a meteorite. The survival of the planetary ecosystem may at some point in the future be dependent on the intervention of Homo sapiens to prevent another such event. A morality based on survival of the planetary ecosystem is required to take that into account if it's going to be self-consistent. Regardless, our species is part of the planetary ecosystem, and a morality based on the well-being of the species would of necessity encompass ensuring the well-being of the ecosystem, as I said previously.

well, there isn't any way to “refute”  a moral system assigning human or planetary survival as the guiding principal, any more than there is a way to refute a moral system aimed at spreading the colour blue throughout the universe. to refute a moral system requires that it be compared for consistency with a superior frame of reference, one that can supply a standard against which it can be judged. if there is no higher frame of reference to use in assigning relative value, no moral system can be assigned a higher or lower value thn any other.  what would be the higher frame of reference that gives human survivability any value that exceeds the spreading of the colour blue? if i am the measure of my morality, then i vote for blue, and human survivability can be valued by other people to the identical degree, but no more.

to be more specific, on what basis is the survival of the human race of any importance? or comparatively, how is the survival of human beings more morally valuable than survival of planarians or ants? as human beings, we favor our own gene pool, because heritable traits that increase survivorship or fecundity are selected and increase in frequency in subsequent generations. we are hard-wired to look out for our kin, and by extension, to apply those mechanical traits to the well-being of our species over that of others. and the moral system of an ant might be identical, and equally valid, if we were smart enough to be able to ask one. looking out for humans over ants is like rooting for manchester city over manchester united.

if all moral systems are indistingushable in terms of meningfulness, then all are equually meaningful or non-meaningful. to me, this situation can be most conveniently described by saying that morals have no meaning.

but it would be just as correct to say that all morals are equally meaningful.

This demonstrates the usefulness of agreeing on definitions. The standard definitions that I've checked all refer to terms like "consciousness," "imagination," "thought," and other qualities that are mostly specific to human beings. Again, I don't think it's reasonable to claim that only human beings have minds, but neither do I think it's reasonable to claim that all multicellular animals have minds.

It looks to me like you're positing a non-standard definition of the word because you disagree with common usage. Where do you draw the line? Do all multicellular animals have minds? How about interesting animals like amoebas?

You tell me that you don't know the meaning of a word (objective) that has been used in this very discussion and in previous discussions of this topic. Are we to act as if the word doesn't exist because you claim that you don't know its meaning? If you're going to reject the standard definitions of words, it will make the discussion more difficult than it already is, perhaps to the point of making it impossible.

"expressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations."

"having reality independent of the mind"


Am I expected to adopt your idiosyncratic definitions and/or personal deletion of words for the purpose of this discussion? If not, do you have something else in mind?

It seems like you're attempting to deny the fact that we are a social species. We live and die through our interactions with other members of our species, and those interactions are not random nor arbitrary--they are governed by morality. I previously placed morality in this context: as something that pertains to people collectively. An individual's denial or acceptance of moral precepts does not negate or affirm those moral precepts.

To me, this fact can serve as a basis for understanding morality as something other than a purely arbitrary whim. I don't think one can reasonably deny that it exists in our species because it enhances our survival as a species: morality is clearly a trait that arose as our species evolved. Moral choices made by an individual are not just meaningful to the individual, but to people collectively. In the same way, an individual's denial of moral meaning is irrelevant to the larger question of moral meaning. You are not the measure of your morality, because though moral choices can be made by individuals, morality is something that is determined by humans collectively.

An assertion that the well-being of the species is not a superior frame of reference because you happen to prefer "spreading blue" fails when morality is understood as a intrinsic, evolved component of the existence of the species. An individual's rejection of the survival of the species as a superior frame of reference is irrelevant to that fact.

Claiming we might talk to ants, "if we were smart enough" to talk to them (and thereby show that "ant morality" is puts human morality in its proper perspective) is an appeal to absurdity. We're human beings, discussing human morality. This goes back to my initial post in this thread, in which I pointed out that moral nihilists think they can deny morality has meaning essentially because there is no god to give it meaning. People give morality meaning. Not some person arguing on the internet, people.
« Last Edit: February 12, 2020, 04:10:36 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


Davin

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Re: Moral Nihilism
« Reply #79 on: February 12, 2020, 02:19:54 PM »
I agree with Recusant.

The survival and well being of the individual is dependent on the species. If you're eating food that did not solely come from your own efforts, then you depend on society and have a vested interest in its success. If you drive a car, you didn't make that yourself. If you have boss, you're not paying yourself. If you're your own boss and are making money directly from other people or companies, that's not much different. If you're wearing clothes that you didn't make, or made but didn't create the fabric they are made from... etc. then you depend on society and the species. If you're arguing on an internet forum with internet strangers, I guarantee that you did fuck to create any of the infrastructure necessary to enable that, so you're depending on the species and society. And if you gain any enjoyment or your work requires the internet in any way, then you have a vested interest in the success of the species that created and maintains it so that it keeps maintaining the internet.

We are not alone doing things on our own and depending on only ourselves, we are part of and depend on the success of our species.
Always question all authorities because the authority you don't question is the most dangerous... except me, never question me.

billy rubin

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Re: Moral Nihilism
« Reply #80 on: February 12, 2020, 10:10:40 PM »
hi recusant


This demonstrates the usefulness of agreeing on definitions. The standard definitions that I've checked all refer to terms like "consciousness," "imagination," "thought," and other qualities that are mostly specific to human beings. Again, I don't think it's reasonable to claim that only human beings have minds, but neither do I think it's reasonable to claim that all multicellular animals have minds.

It looks to me like you're positing a non-standard definition of the word because you disagree with common usage. Where do you draw the line? Do all multicellular animals have minds? How about interesting animals like amoebas?

definitions for the same thing vary in quality and emphasis. i think any definition of “mind” that includes “human being” in it is going to exclude other organisms even if they satisfy all the requirements in every other way. if a defintion says that bagpipes are instruments played by scotsmen, then a frenchman picking up the same instrument won't have a set of bagpipes in his hands. the definition would be a poor one, and i think defintions of “mind” that specify only human beings make the same mistake.

but i would exclude animals from having a mind if they don’t physically possess the hardware. google tells me that a human brain has some 86 billion neurons, while an ant has some 250,000. so an individual ant is not going to be comparable in raw processing capacity to a human being. but does an ant have a lesser mind in the same way a human has a greater one, leaving out the requirement that it must be human? i think that it does, as well as do other insects. some examples:

-insects can learn. insects can take in and process knowledge—both implicit and explicit—to their own benefit. honeybees learn the locations of nectar, pollen, water, and nest locations from other bees, with specific measures of distance, dircection, and desirability, using various dances accompanied by sharing samples of the target. the dance language is instinctive, but the learners must consciously pay attention to the teacher and process the information. so insects can use mental capacity to percieve, store, and use information. attending to a dance is not automatic. the bees must be the correct age and not otherwise occupied. it must decide to learn, and many bees alongside it don't so choose.

-insects can teach. the volitional dances of bees transmit explicit knowledge, the sort that humans communicate by language—information coded in some way and transferred by sharing the code. but insects can also teach implicit knowledge, the kind that doesn’t use a code, but is transferred by observation or repetition. in human beings, it might be the act of teaching someone to drive a car, or to make a bed. foraging ants consciously teach other ants the location of resources by literally leading them there in an activity called tandem running. the knowing ant physically slows down and prods, pulls, and pushes a naive ant towards the target that the knowing ant is already aware of. once the naive ant learns the location, it can travel there on its own. so insects will consciously transfer knowledge of their surroundings to other insects who did not percieve it directly, and who are not using an instinctive mechanism to learn. this is the same thing that humans would say requires a mind, if a human was involved.

insects can innovate in novel situations. bumblebees can learn to pull a string to access a reward that is out of reach, and other bumblebees can learn the task by simply watching them. string-pulling is not a natural skill, but bumblebees that consciously pay attention can learn it, transfer it to other individuals, who themselves can transfer it further. this is what we call culture in human beings, and so the bumble bees have culture as well. unless we are going to specify humans-only in the defintion. i would say that you have to have a mind to have what we call culture.

insects can improve on what they learn. in humans we call it cumulative culture, the refining of skills. bumble bees that learn how to pull an object from another bumblebee are capable of improving on the task, by improving  the route they take to a reward. so not only is there teaching and learning, but a formerly naive learner can optimize the task beyond what is learned. in bumblebees, it consists of pulling a ball from one place to another. in human society, it might consist of a piano teacher being surpassed by his student.

so insects can learn, teach, innovate in novel situations, and improve on what they are taught,  in my opinion, this constitutes “thinking,” and “consciousness,” in any reasonable way we might define it. i don’t know about “imagination.” but because there’s no test that we could apply to look for it, i don’t see how we can evaluate whether an ant has imagination or not. so if thinking and consciousness are what generate a mind, then these insects have one.

i don’t think that amoebas have a nervous system at all, so i would have to say that if they do think, it’s different enough from what we call thinking that we might as well exclude them. but i think some insects most definitily think, and if thinking is what defines a mind, then insects can have one as much as i do.

Quote
You tell me that you don't know the meaning of a word (objective) that has been used in this very discussion and in previous discussions of this topic. Are we to act as if the word doesn't exist because you claim that you don't know its meaning? If you're going to reject the standard definitions of words, it will make the discussion more difficult than it already is, perhaps to the point of making it impossible.

"expressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations."

"having reality independent of the mind"


Am I expected to adopt your idiosyncratic definitions and/or personal deletion of words for the purpose of this discussion? If not, do you have something else in mind?

no, of course not. but sometimes people use “objective” when they mean “absolute,” or “descending from natural law,” or “having been found in a dictionary (!),” and you’ve used the word repeatedly without clarifying just what you meant. i asked you in an earlier post to define it, so thank you.  i’ve already shown how a defintion of mind that specifies only humans has been distorted by athropomorphism to the point where mind cannot be concieved of in other contexts, not by nature but by defintion. that doesn’t make sense or seem useful to me.

Quote
It seems like you're attempting to deny the fact that we are a social species. We live and die through our interactions with other members of our species, and those interactions are not random nor arbitrary--they are governed by morality. I previously placed morality in this context: as something that pertains to people collectively. An individual's denial or acceptance of moral precepts does not negate or affirm those moral precepts.

To me, this fact can serve as a basis for understanding morality as something other than a purely arbitrary whim. I don't think one can reasonably deny that it exists in our species because it enhances our survival as a species: morality is clearly a trait that arose as our species evolved. Moral choices made by an individual are not just meaningful to the individual, but to people collectively. In the same way, an individual's denial of moral meaning is irrelevant to the larger question of moral meaning. You are not the measure of your morality, because though moral choices can be made by individuals, morality is something that is determined by humans collectively.

An assertion that the well-being of the species is not a superior frame of reference because you happen to prefer "spreading blue" fails when morality is understood as a intrinsic, evolved component of the existence of the species. An individual's rejection of the survival of the species as a superior frame of reference is irrelevant to that fact.

i deny the unproven premise, recusant, the one upon which your argument depends:

morality is understood as a intrinsic, evolved component of the existence of the species.

says who, respectfully?

morality is enforced by cultures of human beings, generally by the winners of wars or genocides against other cultures.

i don’t deny that humans are social, or that i am subject to evolved social forces. what i deny is the assertion that somehow enhanced sociality is a more moral situation than increases in the colour blue. what you have done is elevated social cohesion to a position of  being “morally good.” but you have so far just asserted this over and over while never explaining why social cohesion should be regarded as a universal good. yes, it is a force that increases the number of human babies in the world, but is that "good," or is that just "adaptive?"

if what is adaptive defines what is good, i can point to many adaptive behaviors most human moralists reject.

on what basis does good for human beings overrule good for norway rats, except in the self-centered minds of human beings? when we assert morality-according-to-species-survival, we are  selecting a measure and claiming that there is a universal foundation that we all should automatically agree with. but it isn’t there. selecting species survival as good is only non-arbitrary within the limits of our species. this is logicvally the same as a nazi saying that what is good according to nazis must naturally overrule what is good according to jews. you are most certainly not a nazi, but you must see the logic here.

Quote
Claiming we might talk to ants, "if we were smart enough" to talk to them (and thereby show that "ant morality" is puts human morality in its proper perspective) is an appeal to absurdity. We're human beings, discussing human morality. This goes back to my initial post in this thread, in which I pointed out that moral nihilists think they can deny morality has meaning essentially because there is no god to give it meaning. People give morality meaning. Not some person arguing on the internet, people.

yes. i agree.  it's people that give morality whatever meaning it is capable of having.  i’ve already asserted that any particular meaning exists wherever and whenever someone says it does, and ceases to exist wherever and whenever someone else can force a different one. this is not an appeal to absurdity, but simply an observation of how real human societies work. your argument depends on one morality being the correct one—yours, where all others must be wrong-- because you say so. but everybody else with a different morality also asserts that theirs is correct, with the same justification that you have so far presented to support your own.

not all human moralities hold that the survival of the "human species" is the highest good. most tacitly assert only that the survival of their particular tribe is good, and let the rest of the world go to hell. christian morality looks forward to the destruction of the earth, and there are more christians than atheists in our society. it is inarguable that moralities differ, so they cannot all be correct, although all can be wrong. and so far as i know, there is no standard available that all parties will agree on. so when i say that morality is meaningless, i am pointing to the reality that none have greater or lesser meaning than any other, whether they agree or contradict.

« Last Edit: February 13, 2020, 03:00:06 AM by billy rubin »


Into the distance a ribbon of black
Stretched to the point of no turning back
A flight of fancy on a windswept field
Standing alone my senses reeled
A fatal attraction is holding me fast how
How can I escape this irresistible grasp?

Recusant

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Re: Moral Nihilism
« Reply #81 on: February 13, 2020, 03:20:58 AM »
. . . sometimes people use “objective” when they mean “absolute,” or “descending from natural law,” or “having been found in a dictionary (!),” and you’ve used the word repeatedly without clarifying just what you meant. i asked you in an earlier post to define it, so thank you.  i’ve already shown how a defintion of mind that specifies only humans has been distorted by athropomorphism to the point where mind cannot be concieved of in other contexts, not by nature but by defintion. that doesn’t make sense or seem useful to me.

Understood. You don't wish to use commonly understood definitions, so we'll leave it at that. I'll have to keep it in mind in future that you may have decided that some word used in a discussion means something different from what it is commonly understood to mean. That should be entertaining.

i deny the unproven premise, recusant, the one upon which your argument depends:

morality is understood as a intrinsic, evolved component of the existence of the species.

says who, respectfully?

We observe our closest related species exhibiting a relatively primitive morality. They are less dependent on instinct to guide their interaction than other animals are, and we have evolved further in that direction.  I don't think you believe human morality was handed down from the sky, and it must have come from somewhere. Where do you think human morality came from, if it didn't evolve?

i don’t deny that humans are social, or that i am subject to evolved social forces. what i deny is your assertion that somehow enhanced sociality is a more moral situation than increases in the colour blue. what you have done is elevated social cohesion to a position of  being “morally good.” but you have so far just asserted this over and over while never explaining why social cohesion should be regarded as a universal good. yes, it is a force that increases the number of human babies in the world, but is that "good," or is that just "adaptive?"

I'm not talking merely about "social cohesion," nor have I asserted that increasing the number of human babies in the world is in and of itself desirable from the point of view of the good of the species. I'm pointing out that the species stands in a superior position to any individual, or indeed to any particular fraction of the species. The species as a whole deserves more consideration than the whims of any individual or group. You may deny that, and if so, I don't think there is much more to be discussed on the issue.

where is the code of hammurabi for this belief?

I've advanced the well-being of the species as a means to evaluate moralities in general. I don't need no stinkin' Code of Hammurabi; it's a simple principle.

on what basis does good for human beings overrule good for norway rats, except in the self-centered minds of human beings? when you assert morality-according-to-species-survival, you are  selecting a measure and claiming that there is a universal foundation that we all should automatically agree with. but it isn’t there. selecting species survival as good is only non-arbitrary within the limits of what you control. this is logicvally the same as saying that what is good according to nazis must naturally overrule what is good according to jews. you are most certainly not a nazi, but you must see the logic here.

So here's where we are: Rats have minds, their point of view is equal to that of humans, therefore we humans have no "meaningful" way by which we might evaluate morality. There is no god, so morality is meaningless. Spread the blue!

yes. i agree. but it's people that give morality whatever meaning it is capable of having.  i’ve already asserted that any particular meaning exists wherever and whenever someone says it does, and ceases to exist wherever and whenever someone else asserts a different one. this is not an appeal to absurdity, but simply an observation of how real human societies work. your argument depends on one morality being the correct one—yours, where all others must be wrong-- because you say so. and everybody else with a different morality also asserts that theirs is correct, with the same justification that you have so far presented to support your own.

I haven't proposed a "morality" but a means by which it seems sensible to evaluate moral codes and their implications.

not all moralities hold that the survival of the "human species" is the highest good. most assert only that the survival of their particular tribe is good, and let the rest of the world go to hell. christian morality looks forward to the destruction of the earth, and there are more christians than atheists in our society. it is inarguable that moralities differ, so they cannot all be correct, although all can be wrong. and so far as i know, there is no standard available that all parties will agree on. so when i say that morality is meaningless, i am explicitly acknowledging that reality.

You say that morality is meaningless because of your conception of reality. That conception may be faulty, just as mine may be.
"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

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Re: Moral Nihilism
« Reply #82 on: February 13, 2020, 11:12:53 PM »
Understood. You don't wish to use commonly understood definitions, so we'll leave it at that. I'll have to keep it in mind in future that you may have decided that some word used in a discussion means something different from what it is commonly understood to mean. That should be entertaining.

lol

recusant, two of the three defintions for “mind” that you supplied specified “human beings” and “persons.”  but you have said that you want to include “dogs, dolphins, bonobos, ravens, etc..” as having “minds.” it seems that neither of us has an understanding of “mind” that fits with the dictionary defintions you propose. so i think it is already entertaining.

but i’ll concede the point: insects do not have minds. because most all the defintionss of “thinking” or “thought” that i read include "mind" in the defintion, i will also exclude thought from their abilities: insects cannot think, because they do not have minds, by definition.

however, they do have brains, and those brains are capable of fairly sophisticated cognitive function.

there's a wiki on it, in fact.

a discussion of  whether thinking is the same as cognitive function is one we might have at a later time.

Quote
We observe our closest related species exhibiting a relatively primitive morality. They are less dependent on instinct to guide their interaction than other animals are, and we have evolved further in that direction.  I don't think you believe human morality was handed down from the sky, and it must have come from somewhere. Where do you think human morality came from, if it didn't evolve?

i think any particular morality might derive from five sources, often more than one at a time:

--- natural selection, the evolution solution you mentioned
--- personal aesthetics and emotions, like sartre and camus, etc
--- making shit up, like your average joe
--- a deity, like the hebrews, muslims, pentacostals
--- a fixed characteristic of the physical universe, like nobody, but it's a possibility . . .

in my opinion, the various moralities human cultures follow come from natural selection and making shit up, crediting a deity afterwards. individuals who decide their own framing of right and wrong might credit any of the five. we could explore this further, if you're interested.

Quote
I'm not talking merely about "social cohesion," nor have I asserted that increasing the number of human babies in the world is in and of itself desirable from the point of view of the good of the species. I'm pointing out that the species stands in a superior position to any individual, or indeed to any particular fraction of the species. The species as a whole deserves more consideration than the whims of any individual or group. You may deny that, and if so, I don't think there is much more to be discussed on the issue.

whoa, there, my friend!

a species “stands in a superior position to any individual?” a “species as whole deserves more consideration than any individual or group?” seriously, lets skip the rest of the exchange and explore this idea. see, this stuff is why i have to ask you to define the words you use, not because i don’t know what they generally mean, but because you have specific usages in mind that aren’t always immediately understandable to me.

i do not want to put words in your mouth, so would you please explain why a species stands in a superior position and deserves more consideration than a group or individual? i’m thinking you might be talking philosophy or metaphysics, because you certainly aren’t talking evolutionary biology.

what do you mean?

Quote
You say that morality is meaningless because of your conception of reality. That conception may be faulty, just as mine may be.

yes, i'm wrong about all sorts of things, all the time. just ask my lovely wife. that's why i'm here, to find out better answers to my questions.


Into the distance a ribbon of black
Stretched to the point of no turning back
A flight of fancy on a windswept field
Standing alone my senses reeled
A fatal attraction is holding me fast how
How can I escape this irresistible grasp?

Recusant

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Re: Moral Nihilism
« Reply #83 on: February 14, 2020, 03:50:38 AM »
Spoiler: ShowHide
Understood. You don't wish to use commonly understood definitions, so we'll leave it at that. I'll have to keep it in mind in future that you may have decided that some word used in a discussion means something different from what it is commonly understood to mean. That should be entertaining.

lol

recusant, two of the three defintions for “mind” that you supplied specified “human beings” and “persons.”  but you have said that you want to include “dogs, dolphins, bonobos, ravens, etc..” as having “minds.” it seems that neither of us has an understanding of “mind” that fits with the dictionary defintions you propose. so i think it is already entertaining.

but i’ll concede the point: insects do not have minds. because most all the defintionss of “thinking” or “thought” that i read include "mind" in the defintion, i will also exclude thought from their abilities: insects cannot think, because they do not have minds, by definition.

however, they do have brains, and those brains are capable of fairly sophisticated cognitive function.

there's a wiki on it, in fact.

a discussion of  whether thinking is the same as cognitive function is one we might have at a later time.

Quote
We observe our closest related species exhibiting a relatively primitive morality. They are less dependent on instinct to guide their interaction than other animals are, and we have evolved further in that direction.  I don't think you believe human morality was handed down from the sky, and it must have come from somewhere. Where do you think human morality came from, if it didn't evolve?

i think any particular morality might derive from five sources, often more than one at a time:

--- natural selection, the evolution solution you mentioned
--- personal aesthetics and emotions, like sartre and camus, etc
--- making shit up, like your average joe
--- a deity, like the hebrews, muslims, pentacostals
--- a fixed characteristic of the physical universe, like nobody, but it's a possibility . . .

in my opinion, the various moralities human cultures follow come from natural selection and making shit up, crediting a deity afterwards. individuals who decide their own framing of right and wrong might credit any of the five. we could explore this further, if you're interested.

Quote
I'm not talking merely about "social cohesion," nor have I asserted that increasing the number of human babies in the world is in and of itself desirable from the point of view of the good of the species. I'm pointing out that the species stands in a superior position to any individual, or indeed to any particular fraction of the species. The species as a whole deserves more consideration than the whims of any individual or group. You may deny that, and if so, I don't think there is much more to be discussed on the issue.

whoa, there, my friend!

a species “stands in a superior position to any individual?” a “species as whole deserves more consideration than any individual or group?” seriously, lets skip the rest of the exchange and explore this idea. see, this stuff is why i have to ask you to define the words you use, not because i don’t know what they generally mean, but because you have specific usages in mind that aren’t always immediately understandable to me.

i do not want to put words in your mouth, so would you please explain why a species stands in a superior position and deserves more consideration than a group or individual? i’m thinking you might be talking philosophy or metaphysics, because you certainly aren’t talking evolutionary biology.

what do you mean?

Quote
You say that morality is meaningless because of your conception of reality. That conception may be faulty, just as mine may be.

yes, i'm wrong about all sorts of things, all the time. just ask my lovely wife. that's why i'm here, to find out better answers to my questions.


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 to claim that she was not a person, and did not have a mind, is definitely problematic. To hear her tell it, she was a person. She was just a gorilla though, so what did she know. So yes, my understanding of the concept of mind is not in exact conformance with the dictionaries. I'd concede the point that strictly speaking I'm incorrect in my usage. 

Your examination of "particular moralities" strikes me as a diversion. Regardless of which human culture you care to mention, you will find a moral code. Its particularities and the mythology associated with it don't change that. It's part of how we operate as a species. We're discussing the concept of morality here, not any particular moral codes, as I understand it. You seem to agree that human morality is an intrinsic, evolved component of the existence of the species since you state that it comes from natural selection and making shit up.

I agree with you in thinking myths are created to illustrate a moral code. To put some furniture in the room, so to speak. The room (a moral code) is always there though. Individuals operate using their own versions, sometimes lacking any focus at all except self-gratification, but it seems apparent that moral conception is integral to our species.

Quote
i do not want to put words in your mouth, so would you please explain why a species stands in a superior position and deserves more consideration than a group or individual? i’m thinking you might be talking philosophy or metaphysics, because you certainly aren’t talking evolutionary biology.

When I say that a species stands in a superior position, I mean that the course of the species through time is of more significance than that of any particular individual or group. A species is a greater entity than any individual or grouping of the species. Which brings me to the conclusion that a species deserves more consideration than individuals and groups.

As far as evolutionary biology goes, I'd say the same applies. Biologists may study individuals of a species, but in doing so they're almost always trying to learn about the species, because the species is more significant than the individual. This is just as valid when applied to our own species.

Earlier I claimed that "objective meaning" is an oxymoron. However, there is a question of whether we can to an extent divorce our perspective from our personal opinions while acknowledging that we will never entirely succeed: The concept of perspective requires the existence of somebody looking. I think it's useful to try to gain a wider perspective, but that's just, like, my opinion, man.

I'm going to loop back--

Perhaps some would dispute this, but it at least appears that instinct governs the behavior of most animals, including interactions within their species. Yes, insects can learn, but it's extremely unlikely that they're thinking about what they're doing; making choices about what they learn, for instance. They learn only as much as is required to achieve basic goals, and they do it instinctively. Why does instinct exist? To enhance the chances of survival of the species.

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.

I'd say that we can use this conclusion to evaluate a moral code from a fairly close approximation of an objective point of view. The measure of value being how well it serves its function. But again, just my opinion, bearing no more weight than any other person's. I don't think I have answers to life's deep questions, but I'm occasionally willing to discuss them.

« Last Edit: February 14, 2020, 04:40:23 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

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Re: Moral Nihilism
« Reply #84 on: February 14, 2020, 04:55:08 PM »
When I say that a species stands in a superior position, I mean that the course of the species through time is of more significance than that of any particular individual or group. A species is a greater entity than any individual or grouping of the species. Which brings me to the conclusion that a species deserves more consideration than individuals and groups.

As far as evolutionary biology goes, I'd say the same applies. Biologists may study individuals of a species, but in doing so they're almost always trying to learn about the species, because the species is more significant than the individual. This is just as valid when applied to our own species.

id like to parse this out for a moment, with yoyr permizsion. im ztuck in a service station for a bit and dont have a lot of time.

"species" is a taxonomic entity, not something that exists in nature except as a unit of convenience for systematists. in nature the functional unit is a breeding population, which will never correspond to any theoretical speciez and in many casez is not even easily diztinguished az being part of it.

therez nothing of "greater" significance about speciez when compRed to individualz, any more than a family or an order is of greater significance in any way than a species. at least that i know about. all are artificial categories that nature doesnt recognize. so im not sure what consideration a speciez deserves as a function of something.

biologists study organizmz , and group them into species as a means of conveniently lumping what theyre talking about. there are various different definitionz of speciez, and not all organizmz match up into them neatly. one definition specifiez succezzful interbreeding of members, and so vannot be used for azexual or fossil organizmz. others specify only gross  morphology, and ignore significant differences that separate subspeciez or cladez within the "speciez."

i once asked an ichthyologist what a speciez waz in her field, and she replied,

a speciez iz whatever a competent specialist in the field zayz it is.

at any rate, biologists typically study breeding populationz rather than species, unlezz theyre taxonomistz, as i was. what is significant about animalz to an evokutionary ecologist or a palaeontologist typically is a quite coarser grain than "species" can encompass.


Into the distance a ribbon of black
Stretched to the point of no turning back
A flight of fancy on a windswept field
Standing alone my senses reeled
A fatal attraction is holding me fast how
How can I escape this irresistible grasp?

Tank

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Re: Moral Nihilism
« Reply #85 on: February 14, 2020, 05:00:46 PM »
tl;dr

Do we have an answer yet?  ;)
If religions were TV channels atheism is turning the TV off.
“Religion is a culture of faith; science is a culture of doubt.” ― Richard P. Feynman
'It is said that your life flashes before your eyes just before you die. That is true, it's called Life.' - Terry Pratchett
Remember, your inability to grasp science is not a valid argument against it.

billy rubin

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Re: Moral Nihilism
« Reply #86 on: February 14, 2020, 05:02:59 PM »
lol

i m sorry

i think the clutter is mostly because of me. i find it hard to focuz


Into the distance a ribbon of black
Stretched to the point of no turning back
A flight of fancy on a windswept field
Standing alone my senses reeled
A fatal attraction is holding me fast how
How can I escape this irresistible grasp?

Tank

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Re: Moral Nihilism
« Reply #87 on: February 14, 2020, 05:41:34 PM »
lol

i m sorry

i think the clutter is mostly because of me. i find it hard to focuz

LOL!

I'm teasing. I suspect there will never be an answer, let alone one upon which at least 3 people agree!
If religions were TV channels atheism is turning the TV off.
“Religion is a culture of faith; science is a culture of doubt.” ― Richard P. Feynman
'It is said that your life flashes before your eyes just before you die. That is true, it's called Life.' - Terry Pratchett
Remember, your inability to grasp science is not a valid argument against it.

Recusant

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Re: Moral Nihilism
« Reply #88 on: February 14, 2020, 11:19:52 PM »
Spoiler: ShowHide
When I say that a species stands in a superior position, I mean that the course of the species through time is of more significance than that of any particular individual or group. A species is a greater entity than any individual or grouping of the species. Which brings me to the conclusion that a species deserves more consideration than individuals and groups.

As far as evolutionary biology goes, I'd say the same applies. Biologists may study individuals of a species, but in doing so they're almost always trying to learn about the species, because the species is more significant than the individual. This is just as valid when applied to our own species.


id like to parse this out for a moment, with yoyr permizsion. im ztuck in a service station for a bit and dont have a lot of time.

"species" is a taxonomic entity, not something that exists in nature except as a unit of convenience for systematists. in nature the functional unit is a breeding population, which will never correspond to any theoretical speciez and in many casez is not even easily diztinguished az being part of it.

therez nothing of "greater" significance about speciez when compRed to individualz, any more than a family or an order is of greater significance in any way than a species. at least that i know about. all are artificial categories that nature doesnt recognize. so im not sure what consideration a speciez deserves as a function of something.

biologists study organizmz , and group them into species as a means of conveniently lumping what theyre talking about. there are various different definitionz of speciez, and not all organizmz match up into them neatly. one definition specifiez succezzful interbreeding of members, and so vannot be used for azexual or fossil organizmz. others specify only gross  morphology, and ignore significant differences that separate subspeciez or cladez within the "speciez."

i once asked an ichthyologist what a speciez waz in her field, and she replied,

a speciez iz whatever a competent specialist in the field zayz it is.

at any rate, biologists typically study breeding populationz rather than species, unlezz theyre taxonomistz, as i was. what is significant about animalz to an evokutionary ecologist or a palaeontologist typically is a quite coarser grain than "species" can encompass.

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:

Homo sapiens is a name for a population of animals that share a very specific genetic heritage. That population exists "in nature."

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?
"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

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Re: Moral Nihilism
« Reply #89 on: February 14, 2020, 11:31:43 PM »
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.

i never met koko, but i worked for a while in the lab where washoe lived. she was generally not a nice chimp. i did work with nim, as a therapy human. he tore up my motorcycle helmet.

Quote
Your examination of "particular moralities" strikes me as a diversion. Regardless of which human culture you care to mention, you will find a moral code. Its particularities and the mythology associated with it don't change that. It's part of how we operate as a species. We're discussing the concept of morality here, not any particular moral codes, as I understand it. You seem to agree that human morality is an intrinsic, evolved component of the existence of the species since you state that it comes from natural selection and making shit up.

I agree with you in thinking myths are created to illustrate a moral code. To put some furniture in the room, so to speak. The room (a moral code) is always there though. Individuals operate using their own versions, sometimes lacking any focus at all except self-gratification, but it seems apparent that moral conception is integral to our species.

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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

Quote
I'd say that we can use this conclusion to evaluate a moral code from a fairly close approximation of an objective point of view. The measure of value being how well it serves its function. But again, just my opinion, bearing no more weight than any other person's. I don't think I have answers to life's deep questions, but I'm occasionally willing to discuss them.

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.


Into the distance a ribbon of black
Stretched to the point of no turning back
A flight of fancy on a windswept field
Standing alone my senses reeled
A fatal attraction is holding me fast how
How can I escape this irresistible grasp?