Steven Forde kindly left a comment on a recent post devoted to his conference paper. He tantalizingly suggested that more may be forthcoming. To keep the matter at the forefront of the blog, I will reply here.It is true that "moral" behavior is selected for, but I don't see in Darwinism how it's selected because it's moral. If "immoral" behavior led to success, that would be selected for instead. If you mean simply that whatever serves the common good is moral, then bees are moral even though they behave robotically. My point is simply that, to the extent we serve the common good due to emotions that have evolved, we are robotic too to that extent.Or are you arguing that bees really are moral, even though robotic?There are two issues here that need to be teased apart. One is the question of what makes a behavior genuinely moral. The other involves the question of determinism: if our moral behavior and emotions are selected for, does that mean they are “robotic”. Connected to this is the question whether robotic behavior can be in some sense moral.On the first, I reply that a behavior can be genuinely moral in a number of ways. It might be moral because it conforms to some moral standard (perhaps transcendent) that defines moral behavior. I doubt that there is selection for some behavior because it conforms to some standard of divine right, unless the Divine Legislator is actively intervening.A second way that a behavior could be genuinely moral is that done out of a moral motive. This might be a purely rational motive (as in Kantian ethics) or it might lie in some moral emotion such as compassion or a sense of fairness. If such actions are genuinely moral, then they may be selected for precisely for that reason. A person likely to act in accord with moral reason or moral emotion may well be more likely to form and sustain strong cooperative communities. Someone who feels guilty about cheating and ashamed to be caught at it will very probably make a better partner and citizen.If such communities promote reproductive success, then moral motives will be selected for. Again, actions are not moral because they are selected for; they are selected for because they are genuinely moral.A third way that an action can be moral is if it is logically moral. As an unreformed Platonist, I hold that justice is an idea. Whenever there is a range of choices and the chooser is tempted to do what he ought not to do, there the situation involves logically moral choices. This is true whether we are talking about honest bankers or honey bees.A honey bee worker ought to serve the Queens offspring exclusively, taking her Darwinian interest into account. She will get more of her own genes into future generations that way than she could by any other behavior. However, she is reproductive capable and may be tempted to birth and tend her own sons. If she and enough of her sisters get away with this, the hive will collapse. So yes, I think that bees can be moral (and immoral) in this sense, even if robotic.One may well insist that only actions that are consciously moral are genuinely moral. I would not object, though I would insist that the logic of genuine morality is present even in merely robotic creatures.As to the second question, I am underwhelmed by the case for determinism. While I don’t think that a determinist view of the Kosmos can be ruled out, neither can it be ruled in. What is most important is that it is useless. Even in physics it is questionable. In biology, let alone ethics, one can only proceed by speaking of probabilities and options.The fact that a behavior is selected for does not at all entail that it is robotic. Our emotions are doubtlessly selected for and this precisely because they make it possible for us to make good choices. If the baby needs a bath but the kitchen is on fire, an emotionally healthy human being knows what to do with the bath water. If the fascist at the door asks me whether I have seen any Jews, and indeed I have because three of them are hiding in my upstairs closet, my response will not be in any meaningful sense “robotic”. I may well be tempted to do the wrong thing out of fear for myself and my family. I will be capable of doing the right thing if I am a morally enabled person. What I will do is up to me and that is what being a moral person amounts to.
My understanding of Plato is that he believed ideas exist independently of human minds. How does that square with an atheism that rejects belief in transcendent, immaterial realities.?
Perhaps it doesn't. How sure are you that Plato knows best?
I never thought Plato knew best. But it appears that the discussion starter-does:
As an unreformed Platonist, I hold that justice is an idea.
Moral behavior is that which empowers one to flourish. The process of flourishing may mean learning how to help others flourish and how to get along with others of one's clan or tribe for protection and for teamwork. Those who reciprocate behaviors within a group and between groups may have a better survival rate than those who live alone or who alienate others.
Needs change. An infant mammal needs a mother for nutrition and warmth, a mother and baby need protection and steadfastness of a father. Thus a bonding may occur. Growing into adulthood, an individual in a healthy family learns how to function in a healthy team relationship. As one grows older, there is a return to dependency and different human tribes have different customs, depending on circumstances. A migrating group may have overwhelming challenges if caring for and transporting elderly. Those cultures may have a different view of morality than those who are less transient.
There is no need of a "Divine Legislator". Morality evolves out of the natural needs; in the case of mammals, they need another to survive. Reptiles have no such need. I understand some dinosaurs nested and raised their young. I don't know if they had a moral evolutionary process or not.
Altruism isn't unique to Homo sapiens.
Is Animal Altruism Real? Feb 5th, 2013
I see too much evidence of some humans behaving as if by robotic tendencies. People do and say things that make no sense and if you ask them how they arrived at their conclusions they don't seem to be able to make any sense at all. Based on these many experiences, I am inclined to believe humans do not have free will. Many act out of instinct or compulsion. When working with court appointed boys to the ranches, they had what we called "dislogic thinking." Many times they did something wrong, they knew they were wrong and did it anyway. Some of the boys would be getting along well with the other boys, doing well at school, participating with good attitudes, and then go do some stupid thing. Questioned, they had no explanation. Similar behavior occurred with their parents. Go figure.
In the case of hiding Jews, perhaps that was robotic behavior ... not being able or willing to sit blindly and quietly by as people were dominated. Taking the risk to save the victims from tyranny is not a good way to survive in a fascist environment. The rescuers had to react out of a stronger feeling, such as compassion, or an instinct to protect the helpless.
"I may well be tempted to do the wrong thing out of fear for myself and my family. I will be capable of doing the right thing if I am a morally enabled person. What I will do is up to me and that is what being a moral person amounts to."
Protecting one's own family and not choosing to protect the jews may be a moral act or an instinctive one. Protecting victims and putting one's own family at risk may be a moral act or, it too could be an instinctive one. Who makes the decision? Who takes the risks? Who benefits?
Oh yes, human behavior is complex. In the face of fascism, one acting alone is folly. If a group joins together and stands shoulder to shoulder, back to back, and has a vision of the kind of world we want to leave our children, then plain old common sense and courage, and energy can bring about change.
That is why I would like more of the general public to read some of the fine work that comes out of these atheist sites. Some cannot hear the appeal. Some don't know for sure how they feel and have no incentive to take a stand. Others know very well what the consequences will be if we allow the believers take over our government and businesses and Earth. We shall all surely roast to death, leaving behind a scorched Earth.
True golden rule morality was indifferently selected by nature. Those of the species that randomly acquired altruistic traits took better care of their young. Because of this their young had a better chance to survive. This provided a natural advantage for altruistic traits over non-altruistic traits to become endowed into the species. Moreover, those of the species having altruistic traits more readily cooperated with each other enabling them to better survive through teamwork in hunting, building and defending themselves. Eventually, they outnumbered the tyrantically oriented and killed them in self-defense. Therefore, altruism (compassion) became a feature of the species through the process of natural selection driven completely by survival. This does not mean that altruistic people don't have it in their DNA to be more prone to altruism than others. They do have it in their DNA to be more prone to altruism than others and this is exactly why nature selected them. There remain people who are not prone to altruistism and who are even sociopathic. Society keeps them in check by way of making them follow laws that are founded in the golden rule. These people try to have their agendas served by making their desires sound right to the masses. Historically, they haven't stood the test of time.