From Darwin to Eternity

Evolutionary moral psychology.

What Should the Function of Morality Be?

What is morality supposed to accomplish, and for whom? Too often we're expected to behave morally, without having any understanding of morality's purpose. Read More

Moral Judgments Are Intuitive

Sir, with all respect, I think you are on the wrong track. In order to measure something, a fixed standard must be agreed upon. To measure distance, a yard or a meter must always be the same length. Utility cannot be measured because usefulness is a subjective value, one which changes depending on context.

You are attempting to construct a rational basis for making moral judgments which is unnecessary. We already have an intuitive function which works just fine for that purpose when we can remove bias from the process. If I were to give you the details of a specific situation concerning injustice, unfairness or immorality, you would immediately feel the wrongness.

Bear in mind that all knowledge begins with an observation. The rational part of our brain would know nothing about morality if we had never felt the wrongness of injustice, unfairness and immorality arising from the subconscious part of our brain.

Utilitarianism

I don't think utilitarianism's limitation is that it's not "useful to the people who use them," per se. I think it's limitation is that most people in a society or the world don't practice it.

Consider a hypothetical world in which everybody practices utilitarianism. While you're compelled to do what's best for the greatest number of beings, supposedly, others will do the same. You'd inevitably reap the benefits from others' utilitarian actions.

In this sense, I think the reason why people don't practice utilitarianism isn't because it's not useful to the user but because people who use it have to trust that others will do the same if they're seeking benefits. In other words, they have no control over the benefits.

Also, your example's rather questionable. I think "selling everything you own and donating the proceeds to charity" is a poor example of utilitarianism. If your objective is to serve the interests of the greatest number of beings, then you wouldn't deliberately put yourself in homelessness and ruin. You'd understand that you need to maximize your resources over time to serve the interests of as many people/beings as possible (i.e. over your lifetime).

Yes, "Utilitarianism"

Yes, "Utilitarianism" provides a worthwhile moral goal, but goes silent on the morality of how to achieve that goal. This leads to all sorts of obviously nonsense claims about what is moral (meaning Utilitarianism frequently contradicts our moral intuitions), which leaves "Utilitarianism" with little to no motivating power.

In contrast, the science of morality is, as a matter of logic, incapable of telling us what our goal for acting morally ‘ought’ to be, but can speak authoritatively about how to be most likely to achieve our goals in ways that are consistent with our moral intuitions. By being consistent with our moral intuitions, moral norms based on the science of morality would be innately motivating.

So the science of morality provides what Utilitarianism cannot, a moral means, and Utilitarianism provides what science cannot, an ultimate goal.

I understand the technical term in moral philosophy for this marriage is Rule-Utilitarianism. Now all we have to do is do the science that will define the Rule.

No on Rule-Utilitarianism

Mark wrote: ...By being consistent with our moral intuitions, moral norms based on the science of morality would be innately motivating ...I understand the technical term in moral philosophy for this marriage is Rule-Utilitarianism.

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Mark, I think the way to be more consistent with our moral intuitions is to allow our moral intuitions to guide us and stop trying to write rules which cannot possibly cover the infinite variety of moral situations that are possible.

Any rule you write will be a general rule meaning that the exceptions will fall through the cracks. Our laws on murder are general rules. In the USA, we have been editing those rules for a thousand years, yet the same killing might qualify as self-defense in some of the 50 states but not in others.

Each time we have edited those rules on murder over the centuries, it was because an injustice happened, one that offended our conscience. I see that as evidence that we, with good cause, trust our moral intuition more than we trust the ability of rational minds to write criminal laws and moral rules.

A bountiful marriage between science and Utilitarianism?

Joe1776 wrote:

Mark, I think the way to be more consistent with our moral intuitions is to allow our moral intuitions to guide us...

Any rule you write will be a general rule meaning that the exceptions will fall through the cracks.
...


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But people's intuitions can be in violent conflict, even for people with Utilitarian goals.

What I look to science to do is inform us when our intuitions are immoral. Consider intuitions such as homosexuals are evil or women are morally obligated to be subservient to men. The way science could do that is by showing that moral behaviors are about relations within an in-group (as I think it does). Homosexuals are evil or women are morally obligated to be subservient to men are intuitions based on an in-group exploiting out groups, homosexuals and women. I argue that science shows that in-groups exploiting out groups is immoral. Does that mean the moral guidance would be in conflict with those individuals moral intuitions? Perhaps, but if they sincerely change their thinking to include homosexuals and women in their in-group, they would find that their moral action would once more be harmonious with their intuitions.

I said Rule-Utilitarianism only because that is the formal term in moral philosophy. It should not be taken to literally be a single rule, as my example above illustrates.

The Consistency of Moral Intuition

Harvard's ongoing online Moral Sense Test thus far is showing that, when we are unbiased, our intuitions are remarkably consistent despite age, race, gender, or cultural differences. I don't think we need scientists or philosophers to help us improve on our natural moral guidance system. We need research psychologists to help us isolate the causes of our biases. Why are so many people biased against homosexuals? Why are so many men unable to treat women as equals?

We don't know yet what strain of bias caused Slavery or the inclination to abuse the children of the poor, but I would bet that it was that collection of moral intuition that we commonly call "conscience" which finally moved us to enact Child Labor Laws and prohibitions against slavery in most societies.

I don't find your in-group hypothesis persuasive because you don't offer an explanation for the exploitation. Furthermore, I think group pride is actually disguised self-pride. I think we know intuitively that the man who is extremely proud of being Irish and Catholic would be equally proud if, by some twist of fate, he had been raised to think of himself as German and Lutheran. Thus, it isn't that his groups are wonderful. It's that he's wonderful and they are HIS groups. I think we have to come up with an ego-based explanation, Mark.

Kenii wrote: Consider a

Kenii wrote: Consider a hypothetical world in which everybody practices utilitarianism. While you're compelled to do what's best for the greatest number of beings, supposedly, others will do the same. You'd inevitably reap the benefits from others' utilitarian actions.

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For practical purposes, how does "...to do what's best for the greatest number" prohibit what most of us would label immoral acts? If the nations of the world unanimously adopted Utilitarianism in 1933, would not an Adolf Hitler still exterminate Jews and other undesirables to do what's best for the greatest number in his opinion?

Well, to be fair to me, I

Well, to be fair to me, I never said that utilitarianism is perfect. I certainly don't have the time to debate its pros and cons, and I get that words like "benefit" and "useful" are subjective. I was just trying to say that Price's argument about utilitarianism being useless to the user is not necessarily true.

The bounty of a marriage between Utilitarianism and science

Kenii, You are pointing out the potential for a blind Utilitarianism to advocate acts that are intuitively really immoral. This shortcoming is 1) well understood in moral philosophy, and 2) is one of the reasons that no real moral codes are based solely on simple Utilitarianism.

But by defining means that are consistent with our moral intuitions, the science of morality has the potential to solve this problem. See my post above about the potential bounty from a marriage of Utilitarianism and the science of morality.

There's a Bias Opposed to Intuition and in Favor of Reason

The writing of the biblical commandment "You should not kill" was done by the rational function of someone's brain. The interpretation of that commandment is also a rational process.

Now, most people, given the facts in a clear case of a killing in self-defense, will immediately decide that the killing was not morally wrong. The immediacy signals us that the judgment was intuitive. But, give the same facts to a Jehovah's Witness and he will hesitate and then explain that "We believe that killing is always a sin." The explanation is that his intuition and his rationally-driven belief based on an interpretation of the commandment as an absolute rule came into conflict and he allowed his belief to prevail.

Most scientists and philosophers would not agree with my conclusion, however. We humans take great pride in our ability to reason but scientists and philosophers love theirs most of all. Most, making the same observation, would blame conflicting intuitions and not flawed reasoning.

Psychologist Jon Haidt constructed a moral test which included a question describing a hypothetical case of incest in which there was no chance of pregnancy and there was no victim. The responses showed a lot of conflict. Haidt saw that as evidence of conflicting intuitions. He didn't consider the possibility that many of the people tested might have made up their own absolute rule that incest is always wrong.

The rational function of our brains is fond of making up rules, especially absolute rules which make judgments easy. Psychologists researching moral behavior need to become more aware that rational constructs such as moral rules, interpretation of scripture, criminal laws and social customs are potential biases which can conflict with our natural moral guidance system.

read please

US preparing to repatriate comatose Pakistani student
Last Updated On 12 February, 2014 About
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US authorities have also rejected Pakistani consulate's request for visa extension.

MINNEAPOLIS (Dunya News) - Pakistani exchange student - fighting for his life in coma at an US hospital - is being sent home as his visa expiration date is fast approaching. Pakistan Consulate’s request for visa extension on humanitarian ground has also been rejected.
Shahzeb Bajwa who hails from Faisalabad has been studying in US as exchange student and was critically injured in a car crash on November 13, 2013. Shahzeb was reportedly talking when taken to hospital but then chocked on blood which caused a heart attack and severe brain unresponsiveness.
Shahzeb has been comatose for three months and doctors treating him are reportedly unable to predict the time of recovery.
Pakistan exchange student's visa is due to expire on February 28 due to which the hospital is insisting to send him home for the continuation of treatment saying the visa extension won't be possible.
Addressing media, Shahzeb’s brother Shahraiz Bajwa said that hospital administration are making them sign the discharge papers but the family is reluctant because of lack of facilities available back home and the impact a 24-hour flight can have on Shahzeb’s health.
Associated Press (AP) of has quoted Shahzeb's brother saying:
"If we take him back to Pakistan this is certainly pushing him toward death, we don t want him to die in a miserable condition in a third-world country. It s better if he stays here."
According to Dunya News reports, US authorities have rejected the request of Pakistani consulate in Chicago for an extension of the visa on humanitarian grounds. The US foreign office is reportedly making the travel arrangement for the coma patient.
Pakistan foreign office spokesperson Tasneem Aslam has said that Pakistani consulate is doing everything it can facilitate Shahzeb's treatment.

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Michael Price, Ph.D., is a lecturer at the psychology department at Brunel University, West London. He is also the co-director at the Centre for Culture and Evolutionary Psychology.

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