Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Anthology of secular ethics


Our moral lives are rooted in our interests and our agreements. If we want to explain our moral lives, from gut-level moral perceptions to moral discourse intended to persuade others and ourselves, we need not go beyond very thisworldly interests and agreements. Hence morality is, broadly speaking, politics.

If morality is politics, it is ugly. It is not true that there are moral truths all rational agents must agree upon. This does not mean anything goes. But quite a lot things can go. Not every way of life is stable and successful in reproducing itself. But there are invariably many competing ways of life, which support different moralities, in our moral ecologies.

Attempts to provide a basis for morality, from stories about the will of the gods to sophisticated moral philosophies, are attempts to transcend politics. Interests and agreements are plural and fluid. Morality is something we care about very deeply, so it must be made more secure than that. It must be based on something higher.

One of the functions of discourse about the basis of morality, then, is to conceal the nature of morality.

To say that morality is partly concerned with concealment is not to deny that it is useful. Honesty and openness might be wonderful in an idealized academic context, but real human groups cannot function without deception. Our interests almost always demand a measure of concealment, deception, and coercion. Our moralities, because they typically condemn these as vices, allow us to make efficient social use of deception and coercion. It is best if our vital vices remain hidden.

Understanding the nature of morality requires some critical distance to morality. A more amoral perspective can help. This is only so, naturally, if we want to understand what is going on with morality. More often, we are interested in morality as moral actors. We want to persuade or reassure people (including ourselves) about taking a certain course of action. We want to engage in apologetics for our own deep moral commitments. Presenting morality as transcending politics is a temptation that is hard to resist. After all, it appears to work.

Secular moralists are often very similar to their religious colleagues in this regard. Philosophers tend to retain many implicitly Capitalized superstitions even when they find no use for one of the old favorites, God. Chief among these is Reason—reason as something transcendent, rather than a useful cognitive tool.

Our moralities are all very thinly supported by reasons. It is more accurate to think of our moralities of having causes. These causes make who we are, including our interests and agreements, and hence our moralities. We can be reflective about our moral convictions. But there can be many different points of reflective equilibrium, even for wide reflective equilibrium. We still have a moral ecology, where many ways of life are stable upon reflection as well as other small perturbations.

An intellectually coherent scientific naturalism must come to grips with moral ecologies and moral pluralism. It must act against the desire to make morality transcend politics. By doing so, however, naturalism renders itself socially useless, perhaps even dangerous, in many contexts.



c. The Is-Ought Problem
The first philosopher who persistently argued that normative rules cannot be derived from empirical facts was David Hume (1711-1776) (1978: 469):

In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remark'd, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God or makes observations concerning human affairs; when of a sudden I am surpriz'd to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is, however, of the last consequence.

It is this unexplained, imperceptible change from 'is' to ‘ought’ which Hume deplores in moral systems. To say what is the case and to say what ought to be the case are two unrelated matters, according to him. On the one hand, empirical facts do not contain normative statements, otherwise they would not be purely empirical. On the other hand, if there are no normative elements in the facts, they cannot suddenly surface in the conclusions because a conclusion is only deductively valid if all necessary information is present in the premises.

How do Darwin and Spencer derive 'ought' from 'is'? Let us look at Darwin first, using an example which he could have supported.

1. Child A is dying from starvation.
2. The parents of child A are not in a position to feed their child.
3. The parents of child A are very unhappy that their child is dying from starvation.
4. Therefore, fellow humans ought morally to provide food for child A.
Darwin (1930: 234) writes that "happiness is an essential part of the general good." Therefore, those who want to be moral ought to promote happiness, and hence, in the above case, provide food. However, the imperceptible move from 'is' to ‘ought’ which Hume found in moral systems, is also present in this example. Thus, Darwin derives ought from is when he moves from the empirical fact of unhappiness to the normative claim of a duty to relieve unhappiness.

The same can be said for Spencer whose above argument about the survival of the fittest could be represented as follows:

1. Natural selection will ensure the survival of the fittest.
2. Person B is dying from starvation because he is ill, old, and poor.
3. Therefore, fellow humans ought to morally avoid helping person B so that the survival of the fittest is guaranteed.
Even if both premises were shown to be true, it does not follow that we ought to morally support the survival of the fittest. An additional normative claim equating survival skills with moral goodness would be required to make the argument tenable. Again, this normative part of the argument is not included in the premises. Hence, Spencer also derives 'ought' from 'is.' Thomas Huxley (1906: 80) objects to evolutionary ethics on these grounds when he writes:

The thief and the murderer follow nature just as much as the philantropist. Cosmic evolution may teach us how the good and the evil tendencies of man may have come about; but, in itself, it is incompetent to furnish any better reason why what we call good is preferable to what we call evil than we had before.



To this point, Joyce has essentially been answering a scientific question: has morality resulted from natural biological selection? After reaching an affirmative answer to this question, he devotes the last two chapters, and the conclusion, to a philosophical question: what difference should this make to the contents of our ethics, or to our metaethical views?

Some think that associating evolution and ethics leads to "evolutionary ethics," of which the most notorious example is "social darwinism" -- a view that Darwin himself never held -- which sees evolution as a moral force that we should allow to do its work unfettered. Social darwinists argued against social welfare, on the grounds that those who are not fit enough to survive in the marketplace should not be assisted in reproducing.

Joyce argues that social darwinism and more contemporary versions of what he calls "prescriptive evolutionary ethics" by Robert Richards, Richmond Campbell, Daniel Dennett, and William Casebeer all fail, although he does not think that they can all be brought down by invoking either the "naturalistic fallacy" or the rule against deriving an "ought" from an "is". Joyce gives rather more space than necessary to showing why this is so. Although there are admittedly counter-examples to the rule that no "ought" statement can follow from an "is" statement, the counter-examples are essentially, as Joyce himself says, "logical tricks". Since anything follows from a contradiction, "You ought not steal" follows from a contradiction. But so what? Tricks aside, Hume's puzzlement over how an "ought" could follow from a series of "is" statements was well-founded. Oddly, in a book that is otherwise precise to the point of pedantry about exactly what the naturalistic fallacy is and whether an "ought" can be deduced from an "is", Joyce twice (pp.145, 191) refers to utilitarianism as an example of naturalism. Since utilitarianism is generally regarded as a normative, and not a metaethical, theory, it is compatible with any metaethics. Sidgwick was an intuitionist utilitarian. J.J.C. Smart is a noncognitivist utilitarian.

In Chapter 6, "The Evolutionary Debunking of Morality," Joyce discusses the reverse of the view that we should take evolution as our moral guide. The debunker regards knowledge that some of our specific moral beliefs are the outcome of natural selection as casting doubt on their claim to be preceptions of moral truth, or moral fixed points with which no sound normative theory would clash. As elsewhere, Joyce states his own position cautiously. He has not argued that any moral belief is innate, but only that we have a "specialized innate mechanism" for acquiring moral beliefs, so that we are born ready to see things in a normative way. As he puts it, "moral concepts may be innate even if moral beliefs are not." It is the idea of a sweeping moral skepticism, not of debunking particular moral beliefs, that primarily interests Joyce. Of course, the mere fact that a capacity has evolved cannot be sufficient to debunk it. Knowing that our capacity for mathematics is the result of evolution does not lead us to doubt that 1 + 1 = 2. But as Joyce points out, the best possible explanation of this capacity is that it helps us to survive by tracking the real world -- if we see three leopards enter a thicket, notice two leaving, and therefore conclude that it is safe to go into the thicket, our reproductive prospects will be diminished. As we have seen, however, there are good explanations of our capacity to make moral judgments that do not assume that it is a faculty for perceiving some truth about the world. Moreover, Joyce argues, there is no fact about the world that can vindicate the inescapable authority that moral judgments purport to have. He concludes: "our moral beliefs are products of a process that is entirely independent of their truth" and while they might happen to be true, we have no reason for thinking that they are. Thus Joyce embraces something like John Mackie's metaethical "error theory," with the difference that whereas Mackie thought our moral language is mistaken because no moral propositions are true, Joyce defends only the more modest claim that we are not justified in endorsing any moral proposition.



Assuming that conflicts between morality and self-interest are possible, one can coherently ask the question, "Why should I be moral, especially when it conflicts with my self-interest?" Those of us who already accept the authority of the moral point of view are tempted to dismiss the question as nonsensical, since from the moral point of view, it is a truism that a person should do what is morally required. However, such a reply would be superficial. The point of asking "Why should I be moral?" is to question the authority of the moral point of view in the first place. If one answers the question by saying, "Because the moral point of view requires that you be moral," the questioner could simply ask, "Why should I adopt that point of view?" This leads to a very common objection to atheistic ethics. According to the objection, if atheism is true, then moral behavior is not rationally required. Indeed, in the event of a conflict with self-interest, moral behavior may even be positively irrational for an atheist.

Although Martin discusses the related issue of the atheistic account of the motivation for being moral, he does not directly address the atheistic justification for adopting the moral point of view. This is significant, since clearly motivation does not entail justification: even if you strongly motivated to do such-and-such, that says nothing about whether you are right to do so. Unfortunately, this renders Martin's comments about the former largely irrelevant to the latter. One is still left looking in Martin's book for an atheistic justification for adopting the moral point of view.

This leads to the follow-up question, "On the assumption that God does not exist (and the assumption that conflicts between morality and self-interest are possible), how likely is it that the demands of morality will converge with self-interest?" Unfortunately, given both assumptions, it seems highly unlikely that the demands of morality will converge with self-interest for everyone all of the time. Why? Because if atheism is true, then metaphysical naturalism is probably true. (Although atheism is logically compatible with the existence of supernatural beings other than God, the prior probability of the supernatural given atheism is low. Metaphysical naturalism has the highest prior probability of all atheistic hypotheses.) If metaphysical naturalism is true, then there is no God and no life after death. And if there is no God and no life after death, then there are cases in which the cost of moral behavior greatly outweighs the benefits. In such cases, why wouldn't a person be justified in satisfying their own self-interest instead of the demands of morality? Unfortunately, as far as I can see, Martin doesn't discuss this question.



d. The Naturalistic Fallacy
But evolutionary ethics was not only attacked by those who supported Hume's claim that normative statements cannot be derived from empirical facts. A related argument against evolutionary ethics was voiced by British philosopher G.E. Moore (1873-1958). In 1903, he published a ground-breaking book, Principia Ethica, which created one of the most challenging problems for evolutionary ethics--the 'naturalistic fallacy.' According to Michael Ruse (1995: 223), when dealing with evolutionary ethics, "it has been enough for the student to murmur the magical phrase 'naturalistic fallacy,' and then he or she can move on to the next question, confident of having gained full marks thus far on the exam." So, what is the naturalistic fallacy and why does it pose a problem for evolutionary ethics?

Moore was interested in the definition of 'good' and particularly in whether 'good' was a simple or a complex property. Simple properties, according to Moore, are indefinable as they cannot be described further using more basic properties. Complex properties, on the other hand, can be defined by outlining their basic properties. Hence, 'yellow' cannot be defined in terms of its constituent parts, whereas 'colored' can be explained further as it consists of several individual colors.

'Good,' according to Moore, is a simple property which cannot be described using more basic properties. Committing the naturalistic fallacy is attempting to define 'good' with reference to other natural, i.e. empirically verifiable, properties. This understanding of 'good' creates serious problems for both Darwin and Spencer. Following Bentham and Mill, both identify moral goodness with 'pleasure.' This means they commit the naturalistic fallacy as good and pleasant are not identical. In addition, Spencer identifies goodness with 'highly evolved,' committing the naturalistic fallacy again. (Both Moore's claim in itself as well as his criticism of evolutionary ethics can be attacked, but this would fall outside the scope of this entry).



I think I would still say—part of my position on morality is very much that we regard morality in some sense as being objective, even if it isn’t. So the claim that we intuit morality as objective reality—I would still say that. Of course, what I would want to add is that from the fact that we do this, it doesn’t follow that morality really is objective.

I’m saying that if in fact you’re Christian then you believe you were made in the image of God. And that means—and this is traditional Christian theology—that means that you have intelligence and self-awareness and moral ability… it’s a very important part of Christianity that our intelligence is not just a contingent thing, but is in fact that which makes us in the image of God.

What I would argue is that the connection between Darwinism and ethics is not what the traditional social Darwinian argues. He or she argues that evolution is progressive, humans came out on top and therefore are a good thing, hence we should promote evolution to keep humans up there and to prevent decline. I think that is a straight violation of the is/ought dichotomy…I take Hume’s Law to be the claim that you cannot go from statements of fact—“Duke University is the school attended by Eddy Nahmias”—to statements of value—“Duke University is an excellent school.”

Ed [Edward O. Wilson] does violate Hume’s Law, and no matter what I say he cannot see that there is anything wrong in doing this. It comes from his commitment to the progressive nature of evolution. No doubt he would normally say that one should not go from “is” to “ought”—for example from “I like that student” to “It is OK to have sex with her, even though I am married.” But in this case of *evolution* he allows it. If you say to him, “But ‘ought’ statements are not like ‘is’ statements,” he replies that in science, when we have reduction, we do this all the time, going from one kind of statement to another kind of statement. We start talking about little balls buzzing in a container and end talking about temperature and pressure. No less a jump than going from “is” to “ought.”

My position is that the ethical sense can be explained by Darwinian evolution—the ethical sense is an adaptation to keep us social. More than this, I argue that sometimes (and this is one of those times), when you give an account of the way something occurs and is as it is, this is also to give an explanation of its status. I think that once you see that ethics is simply an adaptation, you see that it has no justification. It just is. So in metaethics[4] I am a nonrealist. I think ethics is an illusion put into place by our genes to keep us social.

I distinguish normative ethics from metaethics. In normative ethics I think evolution can go a long way to explain our feelings of obligation: be just, be fair, treat others like yourself. We humans are social animals and we need these sentiments to get on. I like John Rawls’s[5] thinking on this. On about page 500 of his Theory of Justice book, Rawls says he thinks the social contract was put in place by evolution rather than by a group of old men many years ago. Then in metaethics, I think we see that morality is an adaptation merely and hence has no justification. Having said this, I agree with the philosopher J.L Mackie[6] (who influenced me a lot) that we feel the need to “objectify” ethics. If we did not think ethics was objective, it would collapse under cheating.

If we knew that it was all just subjective, and we felt that, then of course we’d start to cheat. If I thought there was no real reason not to sleep with someone else’s wife and that it was just a belief system put in place to keep me from doing it, then I think the system would start to break down. And if I didn’t share these beliefs, I’d say to hell with it, I’m going to do it. So I think at some level, morality has to have some sort of, what should I say, some sort of force. Put it this way, I shouldn’t cheat, not because I can’t get away with it, or maybe I *can* get away with it, but because it is fundamentally wrong.

We’re like dogs, social animals, and so we have morality and this part of the phenomenology of morality, how it appears to us, that it is not subjective, that we think it *is* objective…So I think ethics is essentially subjective but it appears to us as objective and this appearance, too, is an adaptation.

Within the system, of course, rape is objectively wrong—just like three strikes and you are out in baseball. But I’m a nonrealist, so ultimately there is no objective right and wrong for me. Having said that, I *am* part of the system and cannot escape. The truth does not necessarily make you free.

There is no ultimate truth about morality. It is an invention—an invention of the genes rather than of humans, and we cannot change games at will, as one might baseball if one went to England and played cricket. Within the system, the human moral system, it is objectively true that rape is wrong. That follows from the principles of morality and from human nature. If our females came into heat, it would not necessarily be objectively wrong to rape—in fact, I doubt we would have the concept of rape at all. So, within the system, I can justify. But I deny that human morality at the highest level—love your neighbor as yourself, etc.—is justifiable. That is why I am not deriving “is” from “ought,” in the illicit sense of justification. I am deriving it in the sense of explaining *why we have* moral sentiments, but that is a different matter.

I think ultimately there is nothing—moral nihilism, if you wish.



R[ussell]: You see, I feel that some things are good and that other things are bad. I love the things that are good, that I think are good, and I hate the things that I think are bad. I don't say that these things are good because they participate in the Divine goodness.

C[opleston]: Yes, but what's your justification for distinguishing between good and bad or how do you view the distinction between them?

R: I don't have any justification any more than I have when I distinguish between blue and yellow. What is my justification for distinguishing between blue and yellow? I can see they are different.

C: Well, that is an excellent justification, I agree. You distinguish blue and yellow by seeing them, so you distinguish good and bad by what faculty?

R: By my feelings.

C: By your feelings. Well, that's what I was asking. You think that good and evil have reference simply to feeling?

R: Well, why does one type of object look yellow and another look blue? I can more or less give an answer to that thanks to the physicists, and as to why I think one sort of thing good and another evil, probably there is an answer of the same sort, but it hasn't been gone into in the same way and I couldn't give it [to] you.

C: Well, let's take the behavior of the Commandant of Belsen. That appears to you as undesirable and evil and to me too. To Adolf Hitler we suppose it appeared as something good and desirable, I suppose you’d have to admit that for Hitler it was good and for you it is evil.

R: No, I shouldn't quite go so far as that. I mean, I think people can make mistakes in that as they can in other things. If you have jaundice you see things yellow that are not yellow. You're making a mistake.

C: Yes, one can make mistakes, but can you make a mistake if it’s simply a question of reference to a feeling or emotion? Surely Hitler would be the only possible judge of what appealed to his emotions.

R: It would be quite right to say that it appealed to his emotions, but you can say various things about that among others, that if that sort of thing makes that sort of appeal to Hitler's emotions, then Hitler makes quite a different appeal to my emotions.

C: Granted. But there's no objective criterion outside feeling then for condemning the conduct of the Commandant of Belsen, in your view?

R: No more than there is for the color-blind person who's in exactly the same state. Why do we intellectually condemn the color-blind man? Isn't it because he's in the minority?

C: I would say because he is lacking in a thing which normally belongs to human nature.

R: Yes, but if he were in the majority, we shouldn't say that.

C: Then you'd say that there's no criterion outside feeling that will enable one to distinguish between the behavior of the Commandant of Belsen and the behavior, say, of Sir Stafford Cripps or the Archbishop of Canterbury.

R: The feeling is a little too simplified. You've got to take account of the effects of actions and your feelings toward those effects. You see, you can have an argument about it if you can say that certain sorts of occurrences are the sort you like and certain others the sort you don’t like. Then you have to take account of the effects of actions. You can very well say that the effects of the actions of the Commandant of Belsen were painful and unpleasant.

C: They certainly were, I agree, very painful and unpleasant to all the people in the camp.

R: Yes, but not only to the people in the camp, but to outsiders contemplating them also.

C: Yes, quite true in imagination. But that's my point. I don’t approve of them, and I know you don't approve of them, but I don't see what ground you have for not approving of them, because after all, to the Commandant of Belsen himself, they're pleasant, those actions.

R: Yes, but you see I don't need any more ground in that case than I do in the case of color perception. There are some people who think everything is yellow, there are people suffering from jaundice, and I don’t agree with these people. I can't prove that the things are not yellow, there isn't any proof, but most people agree with him that they’re not yellow, and most people agree with me that the Commandant of Belsen was making mistakes.

C: Well, do you accept any moral obligation?

R: Well, I should have to answer at considerable length to answer that. Practically speaking -- yes. Theoretically speaking I should have to define moral obligation rather carefully.

C: Well, do you think that the word "ought" simply has an emotional connotation?

R: No, I don't think that, because you see, as I was saying a moment ago, one has to take account of the effects, and I think right conduct is that which would probably produce the greatest possible balance in intrinsic value of all the acts possible in the circumstances, and you’ve got to take account of the probable effects of your action in considering what is right.

C: Well, I brought in moral obligation because I think that one can approach the question of God's existence in that way. The vast majority of the human race will make, and always have made, some distinction between right and wrong. The vast majority I think has some consciousness of an obligation in the moral sphere. It's my opinion that the perception of values and the consciousness of moral law and obligation are best explained through the hypothesis of a transcendent ground of value and of an author of the moral law. I do mean by "author of the moral law" an arbitrary author of the moral law. I think, in fact, that those modern atheists who have argued in a converse way "there is no God; therefore, there are no absolute values and no absolute law," are quite logical.

R: I don't like the word "absolute." I don't think there is anything absolute whatever. The moral law, for example, is always changing. At one period in the development of the human race, almost everybody thought cannibalism was a duty.

C: Well, I don't see that differences in particular moral judgments are any conclusive argument against the universality of the moral law. Let's assume for the moment that there are absolute moral values, even on that hypothesis it's only to be expected that different individuals and different groups should enjoy varying degrees of insight into those values.

R: I'm inclined to think that "ought," the feeling that one has about "ought" is an echo of what has been told one by one's parents or one's nurses.

C: Well, I wonder if you can explain away the idea of the "ought" merely in terms of nurses and parents. I really don’t see how it can be conveyed to anybody in other terms than itself. It seems to be that if there is a moral order bearing upon the human conscience, that that moral order is unintelligible apart from the existence of God.

R: Then you have to say one or other of two things. Either God only speaks to a very small percentage of mankind -- which happens to include yourself -- or He deliberately says things are not true in talking to the consciences of savages.

C: Well, you see, I'm not suggesting that God actually dictates moral precepts to the conscience. The human being's ideas of the content of the moral law depends entirely to a large extent on education and environment, and a man has to use his reason in assessing the validity of the actual moral ideas of his social group. But the possibility of criticizing the accepted moral code presupposes that there is an objective standard, and there is an ideal moral order, which imposes itself (I mean the obligatory character of which can be recognized). I think that the recognition of this ideal moral order is part of the recognition of contingency. It implies the existence of a real foundation of God.

R: But the lawgiver has always been, it seems to me, one's parents or someone like. There are plenty of terrestrial lawgivers to account for it, and that would explain why people's consciences are so amazingly different in different times and places.

C: It helps to explain differences in the perception of particular moral values, which otherwise are inexplicable. It will help to explain changes in the matter of the moral law in the content of the precepts as accepted by this or that nation, or this or that individual. But the form of it, what Kant calls the categorical imperative, the "ought," I really don't see how that can possibly be conveyed to anybody by nurse or parent because there aren't any possible terms, so far as I can see, with which it can be explained. It can't be defined in other terms than itself, because once you've defined it in other terms than itself you've explained it away. It's no longer a moral "ought." It's something else.

R: Well, I think the sense of "ought" is the effect of somebody’s imagined disapproval, it may be God's imagined disapproval, but it's somebody's imagined disapproval. And I think that is what is meant by "ought."

C: It seems to me to be external customs and taboos and things of that sort which can most easily be explained simply through environment and education, but all that seems to me to belong to what I call the matter of the law, the content. The idea of the "ought" as such can never be conveyed to a man by the tribal chief or by anybody else, because there are no other terms in which it could be conveyed. It seems to me entirely....

R: But I don't see any reason to say that -- I mean we all know about conditioned reflexes. We know that an animal, if punished habitually for a certain sort of act, after a time will refrain. I don't think the animal refrains from arguing within himself, "Master will be angry if I do this." He has a feeling that that's not the thing to do. That's what we can do with ourselves and nothing more.

C: I see no reason to suppose that an animal has a consciousness or moral obligation; and we certainly don't regard an animal as morally responsible for his acts of disobedience. But a man has a consciousness of obligation and of moral values. I see no reason to suppose that one could condition all men as one can "condition" an animal, and I don't suppose you'd really want to do so even if one could. If "behaviorism" were true, there would be no objective moral distinction between the emperor Nero and St. Francis of Assisi. I can’t help feeling, Lord Russell, you know, that you regard the conduct of the Commandant of Belsen as morally reprehensible, and that you yourself would never under any circumstances act in that way, even if you thought, or had reason to think, that possibly the balance of the happiness of the human race might be increased through some people being treated in that abominable manner.

R: No. I wouldn't imitate the conduct of a mad dog. The fact that I wouldn’t do it doesn't really bear on this question we're discussing.

C: No, but if you were making a utilitarian explanation of right and wrong in terms of consequences, it might be held, and I suppose some of the Nazis of the better type would have held that although it’s lamentable to have to act in this way, yet the balance in the long run leads to greater happiness. I don't think you'd say that, would you? I think you'd say that sort of action is wrong -- and in itself, quite apart from whether the general balance of happiness is increased or not. Then, if you're prepared to say that, then I think you must have some criterion of feeling, at any rate. To me, that admission would ultimately result in the admission of an ultimate ground of value in God.

R: I think we are perhaps getting into confusion. It is not direct feeling about the act by which I should judge, but rather a feeling as to the effects. And I can't admit any circumstances in which certain kinds of behavior, such as you have been discussing, would do good. I can’t imagine circumstances in which they would have a beneficial effect. I think the persons who think they do are deceiving themselves. But if there were circumstances in which they would have a beneficial effect, then I might be obliged, however reluctantly, to say -- "Well, I don't like these things, but I will acquiesce in them," just as I acquiesce in the Criminal Law, although I profoundly dislike punishment.



I do not believe my theory differs very much from that of many or most people. There is a sense that my life, actions and consequences of actions amount to nothing when I am considering the value of an infinite universe. Our emotional responses to acts or states of affairs we believe have positive or negative value occur when we are narrowly focused on “the here and now”, on the people we interact with or know about, ourselves, and the animals, plants and material things that surround us in our daily lives. In our daily lives, we believe actions are good or bad and that individuals have rights. These beliefs are false, but we know this only on the occasions when we engage in second order beliefs about our everyday beliefs and view our everyday beliefs from the perspective of infinity. Most of the time, we live in an illusion of meaningfulness and only some times, when we are philosophically reflective, are we aware of reality and the meaninglessness of our lives. It seems obvious that this has a genetic basis, due to Darwinian laws of evolution. In order to survive and reproduce, it must seem to us most of the time that our actions are not futile, that people have rights. The rare occasions in which we know the truth about life are genetically prevented from overriding living our daily lives with the illusion that they are meaningful. As I progress through this paper, I have the illusion that my efforts are not utterly futile, but right now, as I stop and reflect, I realize that any further effort put into this paper is a futile expenditure of my energy.


1 comment:

  1. Some one will cry, "foul", very soon.