I recently wrote this paper for a graduate class in the humanities. I had to read Plato's "Symposium", which is a story in which Socrates sits down with 6 other men for a night of drinking when one of them suggests that to compliment the drinking they each ought to take turns praising the god of love, Eros, in their own particular fashion. My paper focuses on the role of thumos, or spirit, in Plato's understanding of love and of the Good, and argues that instead of the Good being equated with the Beautiful as Plato seems to conclude, that rather it is the human spirit itself (thumos) which ought to perform this basic function.


Enjoy, if you dare!

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Hey, well I'm thrilled someone besides "TrekJunky" has taken the time to read my paper, or at least most of it. I'm looking fwd to what else you have to say on it. I'm glad you took notice of the character (or lack thereof) of Alcibiades, he provides an amazing source for examination of some of these core issues. Very quickly, the argument Plato was trying to give was that if we take self-love as the essence of all values, we can end up with a narcissistic character that reflects everything that is wrong with the world. The way I look at it is that there is a middle ground between narcissism and altruism. As I mention in the paper, since we identify with others and take them in to our own sense of self, we can take this more inclusive sense of self as the source of values. I call this organicism, or organismic love (as opposed to the other-love of altruism and the pure selfish love of narcissism). Plato of course thought he had exhausted all the possibilities. He knew the source of values wasn't located in love of others (he goes to great pains to show that if we base our values on what others think of us, then we have the problem of what makes those others good judges of virtue), and he thought he had shown that it can't be love of oneself which provides the source of values either. So he abandons the project and goes for something like "love of pure love" in his Ideal Form of Beauty. I tried to show that he hadn't exhausted all the possibilities, and that he was really on to something in his examination of thumos as something like self-love, or a positive sense of self (or what I call organismic love).

I don’t think we can talk in terms of ultimate anything.


For what of better terminology I’ll use my husbands saying – we get a piece of shit and knock it into shape.


What I mean by this is that while we might imagine some great love – they are all transient sensations – that lead us to conceptualise a meaning of love.


People often break up relationships because they say they fell out of love – what’s that all about? 


Then you’ve got those who say love is a verb – something that we show in our caring actions towards others – partners, family, friends…


Then you’ve got romantic love and ‘pure’ love – of a child or your grandmother or something.


I know we’re dealing with philosophy here – but I like to break it down into physical events – such as hormone releases and primal drives.


I’ll have a read – I felt a sense of panic when the word thesis was mentioned – as I’m not sure I’ve got time to read a whole book right now… : )  but I’ll give it a shot – and might read a bit and come back with thoughts to ponder and discuss as I go along – as I don’t think I need to read the whole thing before posting – in order to stimulate interesting, thought provoking, meaningful and therefore valuable discussion.

I don’t think that love can be transcending in any way to reach a permanent and everlasting state.


Other than in the sense that we all might return to this same state from time to time throughout our lives.


Our biological and scientific understanding has grown so much since this was written – that it is rendered quite obsolete – although there is value in understanding it in it’s own terms in order to perhaps gain what they were implying in their discussions.


All our physiological hormonal reactions are meaningful in as much as they are useful to our survival – meaning to our interactions with others as well as protective from harm and starvation.


Our hormones produce the commonly named emotions that we all feel – but they are not based on an exact science to my knowledge.  It’s all very subjective – hormonal quantities and perception is slightly different in us all.


I’ve had some interesting changes myself in how my hormones are released by changing my thinking about topics and seeing things from a different perspective.


“What the bleep” although fanciful in many respects does have some interesting concepts – if you can weed out the crap.


Daniel Quinn comments in his book My Ishmael – that our more ancient ways of living were more in line with accepting our good and bad ways – our aggressive and disruptive behaviours were to be expressed on raids to neighbouring ‘tribes’ and our nice behaviour to be kept for our own tribe – for shared protection and hunting.  In other words – our closed groups lent themselves to keeping all our good feelings – now we aren’t allowed to express our bad feelings – because it’s not so easy to find the boarder of our larger countries to cross over and do some damage to vent or express our bad feelings.


Again Plato seems caught up with designing some ideal notion of emotional expression.  We do what we do because it works, not because it is an ideal creation, notion or invention.


Notions of courage or dishonour are value judgements – not real states – although someone might feel shamed if called un courageous.  People try out strategies until they find one that works – they might try a few each time and find that one or two work or none in which case they become more inventive or die out.


Are you implying that Navy Seals are all homosexuals?


It seems to me here that Phaedrus talks of creating an army to kill based in honour and love?


A tribe certainly has that bond – they love each other and without each other will die – so they fight to the death in war as they will die anyhow without their tribe.


Also this points to the idea that we are sheep – we follow each other – if one screams we all start screaming and so on…


It seems here that they talk about the idea of social constructs that shame people into being selfless.


So shame as key to virtue?


I disagree – shame is the key to resentment and anger.


Looks like these guys are just trying to work out ways to control others though extrinsic motivations that they can internalise and become self regulating – such as shame, fear, guilt, obligation, duty…


It seems that they have the belief that without these extrinsic motivations humans would have no reason to be good?


It’s all a construct though isn’t it?  I mean they take it that Alcibiades is really running from himself and is acting cowardly – but perhaps he just got sick of the crap and saw someone he fancied heading past the door and thought he might have a go and chat them up?


How can anyone know how are person gains their self value?  We all have different levels of personal value based in many different things – all unique – and all equally open to misinterpretation.


I used to value myself as a child because I knew my parents loved me and therefore I must be valuable.  Then as a teenager – this seemed to fade – so what now was my value?  Basically I became valuable for giving sex to others – not a great position to be in.  Once I’d found a loving and caring mate – my value was then in question – I needed then to contribute to society to feel valuable – so I did voluntary work in many areas – then I needed to prove something to myself so I went to university – to proof I had some intellectual value – then had children and felt I had no value because I wasn’t happy in my role.  I’ve since regained value from being able to be supportive to my husband, my children and my community.


Isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder?


Worthiness is totally conditionally dependant – and therefore is subjective opinion.


I think we can add much to their debate – as they still seem quite immersed in supernatural thinking about reality.


If we don’t accept our primal instincts as natural normal and acceptable then we will have problems being virtuous – as we may aim to suppress the sop called dark side without understanding it’s role.  This only seems to come up when we create a society that must be the peacekeepers – as opposed to using our traditional methods of peacekeeping – the erratic retaliation strategy which is self regulating and IMO part of our primal instincts.


We only lose ourselves into a bad mood of anger, rage or frustration, in context to our conscious mind which falsely believes that it is in control of our selves – it’s not – we are driven mainly by our unconscious primal brain and instincts.


We well might be aggressive when we perceive a threat to ourselves – there are many threats and we need some mechanism of protection – hence we still survive as a species – without it we might die out.


The language of non-violent communication might assist in situations where goals are in conflict – in that if we can talk about our needs – then we can better be creative together about how we can mutually meet our needs without anger, disgust or harm to others.


Shame required for moral behaviour – that’s why I hate that word - moral!


I’ve found that the longer I’ve maintain the same situation the less strong emotions I’ve felt – in terms of shame pride etc…  I’ve come to a much more balanced place – where I feel secure with my situation and can trust the responses that I’ll get.  Not many have this luxury.  Most these days have numerous partners, house mates, friends changing and jobs changing meaning that they are in continual changing circumstances – not allowing them to feel secure and settle with their self value.


I defiantly protect and feed my children because I see them as extensions of me.  In this way the boundaries of identity are blurred.


I think that Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting has much to contribute about the value of reason.


Why do we need to distinguish between worthy and unworthy people?  perhaps because the society they live in is one that values products and not support.


Meaning that value is subjective based on what support that person has given you in your life and what relationship you have with them, that is mutually beneficial.  Worthiness again is not universal.


Again self esteem is based on many factors internal and external – and isn’t actually something that is constant – it might at times not exist if we aren’t thinking about it at that moment.  but in the next we might feel bad, then in the next feel good again – like a river flowing always changing.


I think it’s normal to love our ‘tribe’ our close family and friends.  It’s normal to compete with anyone outside of that tribe.


All tribes are different and all tribes have different values and ideas of beauty.  What is beautiful for one tribe is ugly to another.  It’s OK to have difference.  The lie that is told to us in our mother culture – the ones that lock away the food so we are forced to work in this prison – also believe that there is only one right way to live – this is not true – based on this believe they have played annihilator all over the planet – you have 3 choices, assimilation, reservation or death – and then we lock up your food and force you to work in our system.


Perhaps if we want to make people behave better and act more morally, we should stop being so ridiculous and accept that we are here because we worked – ways that didn’t work died out and so we are left perfectly designed to work the way we are without modification or improvement.


These ideas of improvement are very recently in our history – 3 million years of evolution and about 3,000 years ago we had our ‘lock up the food’ revolution and now think that everyone is to be improved!


Deep seated cultural perception that our culture doesn’t have wisdom about how to live.


Identifying our culture – all the food is owned and under lock and key.


Putting food under lock and key is one of the cornerstones of our economy. Because if the food wasn’t who would work?


Second way to identify our culture – they perceive themselves to be members of a race that is fundamentally flawed and inherently doomed to suffering and misery. We perceive wisdom is rare, we’re surrounded by bad things and we live unsustainable lives.


Our utopian / idealistic systems would work if people were better than they are – traditional systems (3,000 years ago +) worked with people how they are; unimproved, unenlightened, troublesome, disruptive, selfish, mean, cruel, greedy, and violent – our modern mother culture systems aim to rely upon trying to improve people – as brought in about 3,000 years ago when we started to lock up the food.


A big effort Aaron.  Well done.  I was quite relieved that it wasn’t a book!  only 8,000 words or so – easy to get through…. : )

So shame as key to virtue?
I disagree – shame is the key to resentment and anger.

What we’ve got here is the need to find a middle ground. Of course, one can feel too much shame. If one is riddled by feelings of shame, how will he be able to allow himself to enjoy life? Everything will be perceived as a selfish act, and there is no way to feel self-worth if one denies the self. But one can be too self-indulgent as well. Shamelessness is no virtue, it is a sign that one will do anything out of selfish desire regardless of the consequences for others or for the long-term sustainability of one’s happiness. Shame is therefore one powerful way to look inside oneself and intuit whether what one is thinking about doing will be something one can be proud of or if it is a disgraceful act which will lead to suffering. One needs to appreciate what will actually lead to feelings of self-worth and what acts have only the illusion of happiness but aren’t fulfilling and are possibly self-destructive. Which brings me to your next question:

How can anyone know how are person gains their self value?
Isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder?
Worthiness is totally conditionally dependant – and therefore is subjective opinion.
Worthiness again is not universal.
Again self esteem is based on many factors internal and external – and isn’t actually something that is constant

Complete subjectivity is absurd. If this were true, then we would be completely understanding of atrocious acts. What is wrong with torturing babies if it’s what makes people happy? What did Hitler do wrong if he was only seeking his own idea of self-worth? What’s wrong with domination of others, or slavery for that matter, if it helps you preserve your own interests? We would hesitate to say that there is nothing really “wrong” with any of these things, that these actions are no more right than protecting innocent people and looking after the interests of our fellow man. Would you put brutal authoritarianism on a par with your own version of a just, egalitarian society? Of course you wouldn’t. There are some things which would more or less clearly be conducive to our sense of self-worth than other things. If you had the power, you would be less likely to rule over others with an iron fist like Stalin than you would be to use that power to empower others. Why should this be so? Because we have evolved to demand of ourselves that we treat others fairly and well. We need to feel that we treat others well in order to feel good about ourselves. It’s just a fact about our human nature. When we discover people who act as if they have no regard for this intuitive sense of right and wrong, we both feel justified in acting against them and we also feel that there is probably some reason why this person is acting so poorly. Maybe it was a bad childhood, maybe there are some mental problems, but whatever the reason, we feel that this person really would be happier if he would recognize that being good to others, for example, is good for him if for no other reason than that he would feel better about himself and be a happier person and experience life better and more fully. This points to the fact that we really have something deeply in common with each other, more than we have differences. When it comes to our human nature, there is little else that strikes us more at our center of being than the sense that we are good people through how we behave towards others. Certainly there is a great deal of constancy in this. We don’t suddenly switch from being horrible, destructive influences in other people’s lives to being compassionate, creative influences. Even as children we are often very thoughtful and caring and empathic. Otherwise there wouldn’t be such great joys in parenting, and we might kill all our young before they have a chance to continue the species.

If we don’t accept our primal instincts as natural normal and acceptable then we will have problems being virtuous – as we may aim to suppress the so called dark side without understanding it’s role.

Firstly, this points to the fact that you don’t believe that worth is entirely self-determined and subjective, or you wouldn’t be able to make such an objective claim about what will or will not lead to virtue. And again, there is a proper balance to strike. Sure, the “dark side” of our nature, the part that urges us towards competition, anger, even hate, these are all also thumotic emotions. They tell us to stand up for ourselves as individuals, to act selfishly to a point, to satisfy our desires for social status, for sexual gratification, for power and resources, etc. This is why I call our desires “organismic”, both because they are founded on the needs of organisms to survive and thrive in the natural world, but also because they seek to be gratified through seeing the self as being instrumental and good to the good and ends of the group organism. Were we not to have these “darker”, more competitive drives, our in-group would not stand a fighting chance against more aggressive out-groups. We don’t want to see ourselves as soft or weak, and we don’t want to feel vulnerable and threatened by others. We need to see ourselves as strong, competitive organisms capable of holding our own in battle in the natural world. We are and, as far as I see, always will be animals. If we think that we should give up competition entirely, we would be living in a fantasy world. We would become weak and we would quickly be subdued by a competitor. There is nothing virtuous about laying down and accepting defeat. Strength is a vital interest. We may easily succumb to being overly-cooperative. We may more easily succumb to being overly-competitive. To be ruthless, to show no mercy, to be a black hole of desire and selfish interest to the detriment of any others is to be a weak member of an organism. It means that any organism we become a part of would be working just for us, that we would be a drain on in-group resources. We would be like a virus, eating away from the inside everything we infected. This is a strategy which is unsustainable in the natural world as well. So again, there is a balance to be struck, a middle ground between giving in to our “primal instincts” and our selfish desires and acknowledging our social desires and our long-term interests. This is what Freud was talking about as the battle between the id and the superego, with the ego being the mediator, or perhaps the manifestation of the self between these two extremes.

Shame required for moral behaviour – that’s why I hate that word - moral!

A great part of what it means to be moral is just acting organismically, or for the in-group, or being social. It means how we relate to others. If you hate the word moral because it evokes feelings of shame, it is only because you feel that any feelings of shame are completely negative. But as I have been arguing, shame in moderation is a necessary element for self-regulation. Shame may be a manifestation of the power others have over us, but it also allows us to maintain power over others by working within the system and therefore accruing the benefits of belonging to the system. This is no less true even in our most intimate relationships, say between spouses. Were we to act shamelessly and, for example, cheat on our spouse out of some “primal instinct” for self-gratification, we would rightly evoke the wrath of our partner and would lose everything we had invested into that relationship. Feeling shame can motivate us to avoid repeating devious acts, or we can look at it from the other perspective in that feeling pride in ourselves and in our relationships can motivate us to do that which maintains those relationships, such as remaining loyal.

I’ve found that the longer I’ve maintain the same situation the less strong emotions I’ve felt – in terms of shame pride etc… I’ve come to a much more balanced place – where I feel secure with my situation and can trust the responses that I’ll get. Not many have this luxury. Most these days have numerous partners, house mates, friends changing and jobs changing meaning that they are in continual changing circumstances – not allowing them to feel secure and settle with their self value.

I think you are talking about sustainability here. Man, I had something really good to say to this but I’ve since forgotten it. Anyway, it’s still a good point and it strikes at the point I’ve been making that we know intuitively what will or will not lead to feeling self-worth. Oh, I remember! I was going to make the point that there is actually something to be said for having the strength to be able to be self-sustaining, to be individualistic, to retain the power of mobility in both physical and social settings and in our relationships with others. This is a trait I see as belonging to the youths, and may point us to the realization that the stronger we are and the more secure we are in a sustainable way in our sense of self, the less we may feel the need to be “tied down” or to have permanent, immutable relationships with others. This is a fun point to make, but it is clear that as we get older (and presumably weaker), we tend to desire more stable, committed relationships and find them more fulfilling than fleeting relationships. And in any case, I certainly do think that having some stable, long-lasting, even permanent relationships, e.g. with one’s family members or life-long friends, can be a terrific thing, because they can provide a sense of continuity and stability to one’s identity and in this way gives a recurrent theme and direction in one’s life narrative, as you and others have pointed out.

Why do we need to distinguish between worthy and unworthy people? perhaps because the society they live in is one that values products and not support.

Distinguishing between worthy and unworthy people within our in-groups is just the same as being able to distinguish between worthy and unworthy acts and desires within the self – we need to have a criteria for separating good from bad so that we can work towards the good and avoid the bad. And to the political point, this is just where morality does and should provide the basis for our political systems. A political system based on the idea that self-worth and the empowerment of the supposed in-group, one that is inclusive and works towards making an empowered, proud, strong-willed, self-confident populace sounds a lot better to me than one which is based on the value of resources and material which only the wealthy have access to, on material power, one which disenfranchises the middle and lower classes and robs them of power and feelings of being worthy and appreciated by the society, one which is exclusive on one hand but tries to unify us on only our most base (but not basic) needs and immediate gratification of our lowest desires on the other, and one which leads to the demoralization, demotivation, shame, despair, submissiveness and despondency of its citizens. What do you think?

So to add a little bit more to this idea of Thumos or "spirit" - I just wrote a little bit (as a response to someone on A|N) about how we might be more understanding of religious people if we can properly understand what they call "spirituality", "energy", or even "soul" in terms of thumotic motivation (well, I left out the Thumos part). Here is an edited version of what I wrote:


I've been working recently on an interpretation of "spirit" which, to us atheists, just means "motivation", but this concept, I believe, strikes at the heart of both the essence of values and is the direct cause of the inuitive "understanding" religious or "spiritual" people have of "energy" or "life-force". Motivation just is the life-force, the matter and energy set in motion which drives us, propels us, and urges us onwards towards all that is good and worthwhile in and about life. If you don't think this explanation is too "woo", which is how some people of a mind different than my own would feel, then perhaps this could serve as both a good explanation of this belief that your soon-to-be-ex-wife holds, and you could even let your daughter know that her mother is not completely off the deep end, but rather that she has taken something from reality and devised an explanation for it as best as she could, only her methods are seriously lacking. Some things are better understood if you understand the motivations (ah, there's that word again!) behind them. And it can actually help us to be so understanding. If I am right about this whole "motivation" thing, then this "strange energy wiccans believe in" is really something quite valuable if properly understood. If there is nothing wrong (or even something to be gained) from entertaining the idea of the life-force, or whatever you want to call it, and if you believe as I do that we can tap into our deepest motivations and desires to foster our life-force and enhance our motivations to their highest degrees, then perhaps this can work out just fine as a type of atheist "spirituality", one which can help us to engage with religious people more on their own terms and one which could help your daughter to understand and even get closer to (or even rescue!) her mother from the absurdities of irrational thought.

Here's the last bit of the previous conversation:

Also, I had forgotten to mention that the kind of "psychic energy" of which I was speaking about with this whole "spirit/motivation" business should theoretically be measurable. I have no idea how to devise such experiments, nor do I think they are possible with current levels of technology, but presumably it should be possible to measure how much energy is going into any kind of a system. Since we are talking about a very human kind of energy, something like charisma or the ability to, for lack of a better way of explaining, get people to feel happy or good about themselves, I assume it would be necessary to focus on the parts of the brain associated with happiness or positive self-concept and measure the strength of the firing of synapses or whatever.

And in answer to PRG's post, "vibes" or "feeling" can do a whole lot of work. Picture a rock concert. Music gets people "feeling" pretty good and highly motivated for enjoying life and everything that comes with that. The way I am using "spirit" just means our ability to do the kind of work associated with living and living well, meaning to be motivated, to have high "spirits", to be optimistic and positive about life and one's self image. To say that there is nothing to the whole idea of "spirit" as I have explained it is, in my opinion, not to get the connection I am making between "energy", "psychic energy", "life-force", "spirit", etc., and the ability to feel powerfully motivated in the way I have described.

And now I've finally gotten back to the real point of this group, which is ways to convince believers or fence-walkers, or at least ways to argue our case using the terms of the believers themselves. I recently responded to a girl's post here who said she is doing a final project for her senior year in high school on presenting the case for atheism to her largely theist (I'm assuming Christian) classmates. Here is the relevant part of my response:


On the topic of spirit, this seems (to me anyway) to be especially relevant to both a believer's beliefs and to morality and values. People have this vague idea of morality being associated with some "essence" of their character, something which speaks to them through their conscience. But while they see this as something supernatural, we obviously think that it is something natural, and something we likely have evolved to have. Animals display moral behavior as well. But getting more to my point, this thing called "spirit" or, worse, "soul", may be a manifestation of some deep set of motivations which may very well be interpreted as a "life-force" or an energy which drives us to live well. I think this is just a natural outcome of living things needing to be highly motivated and needing to feel powerfully motivated by life, and to feel it as deeply as if it were some amazing power which permeates "all of existence", simply as a matter of survival and natural selection.


There are some, maybe many people even here on this site who might dismiss all this as woo. I hope you're not one of them. My point is this. Play some rock music, get everyone going, and then express why we atheists can feel this powerful motivation coursing through our veins just as well as (if not better than) any religious or spiritual person. Tell them that this desire to be, to live and live well, and to be strong and to be a member of a strong group may just provide the foundations for morality and for all values. Tell them being good may be just what is good for life here on this planet, and that we need not appeal to the supernatural any longer to feel value and to feel motivated to be good people, for ourselves and the people we care about. Tell them that this drive may help explain why we feel we should be good even to people or animals or all living things, even if we don't know them or expect any reward other than personal satisfaction of fulfilling that deep psycho-biological drive to foster life and creativity. Tell them that happiness is a terrific motivator, and that sorrow dampens the motivation for life, and that we all desire to spread happiness and alleviate sorrow. Tell them all this, and they may see that we have a lot more in common with each other than they thought, that we are not "of the devil" or any such absurdities, and that they are welcome to join you in this life for this life, and maybe you've got a chance at really convincing a few people. But don't expect any miracles. ;-)

Here's another response, this one to a user's question if there was such a thing as a "power of thought":



I think we all can experience a power, an energy, a "life-force", or a "spirit", and that this is just something natural and not supernatural at all. It seems to me that we have evolved to feel powerful motivations for living life well, for believing ourselves to be good and worthwhile, for feeling like we have a sense of purpose and a meaning to our lives, purely as a matter of survival of the fittest. Obviously organisms who experience life this way would have a survival advantage over organisms who didn't, or who lacked such convictions, or were ambivalent about whether they were "good" and life was worth living. There is definitely a power in feeling and believing positively and creatively about oneself.

A few quick replies. First of all I entirely agree that the use of the word obviously is bad form, however this is not the way I would write if I was shooting for philosophical precision. But you're right, this claim may be far less obvious than I made it seem. I'll come back to this one.


What I really want to get at is your competing theory, what you call a "socio-environmental theory of human adaptation". Before I really get into breaking this down, I would first point out that we are speaking across each other. I am talking about a theory of values, and you are responding with a theory about metaphysics. I may for example agree with you that much (if not all) of our evolution is dependent on fitting into the social environment rather than the natural environment, and yet still argue that value (and thus the values of society) is something which is based in the desire to think positively about oneself and one's society. You seem to be making a separate moral claim, and this is what I want to flesh out.


You may be making one of two or three separate moral claims. First, you may be saying that morality and values are completely subjective and relative. But if this is the claim, then whether we want to accept being "more socially interconnected" is completely up-for-grabs; there would be just as much of a chance of any given individual accepting the opposite as the basis for his values, and this would render your claim about values being dependent on social interconnectedness invalid. Which leads me to believe that you are rather saying that values just are fitting in to a society, and any society is just as good as any other. This also presents an absurd conclusion, since then it is no more likely that a society based on more Western values of secularism, science, reason, democracy, truth, justice, etc., are any better than a society antithetical to these goals. They would just be different. But I don't think this is what you would argue either. So you see my need for clarity on your position.


It is also possible that you may be arguing a more nihilist perspective, or some difficult-to-conceive-of combination of any of the preceding theories. I would suggest we begin with the two distinctions I began with. We need to know whether values is something objective, subjective, or somewhere in between (as in, a little from both). You seem to be making the claim that values are completely subjective, which if you are, I will attempt to show you the absurdity of such a position (as I have already begun to do so). Secondly, we need to know whether values are completely relative, or if they are absolute. This is the more important distinction I think. We may very well both agree that values are completely relative, and I think if we do so this would go a long way towards explaining why someone might be tempted to conflate the two distinctions and conclude that values must also be completely subjective. But one might argue instead, as I do, that values are completely relative (and then come up with a sophisticated way of fleshing out what this means), and yet then argue that values are also neither completely objective or completely subjective, but rather somewhere in between, i.e. a little of both. Drawing all of this out is a perhaps a bit of a chore, but it seems to be a necessary one for any serious discussion on the theory of values.

This begs the question of what is considered to be a benefit and what is considered a harm. The question I am really addressing in this post (and in my paper) is, how is the word "good" defined? To say "what is good is what is for the greater good" is at least circular and self-dependent. Is what is good just what is good for fitting into any particular society at whatever point in space and time you find yourself? Or does it go beyond that?
I shouldn't have said that what I was trying to define was merely the word "good". I would define "good" simply as that which brings about the desired state in question, and bad that which is detrmiental to that desired state. The question I am really getting at is what is that desired state, i.e. what is morality, and what is it that we value. But it is hardly any answer to say that what is valued or moral is just what brings about any of these multiple desired states, be they pleasure, satisfaction, happiness, comfort, etc. The question is more, what is the best or highest desired state? What is most basic to what we value as humans? Is it pleasure? Is it happiness? Is it all of the above? But that doesn't strike to the heart of the matter. It is one thing to say, yeah, we value a whole range of things, and we each have to engage in this really complicated balancing act where we have to figure out just how much of each and in what proportions relative to each of the others we should pursue in order to bring about the most satisfaction from our lives. It is quite another thing to say, you know what one single concept captures the heart of the matter, what one single end we should always keep in mind towards which all these other ends are just the means towards that penultimate, most basic good which really captures the essence of what we as humans value? It's this: and then to fill in the blank with something that really might get at the heart of the matter. I think if this latter option is possible, then we should really try to get at it, and it would make our lives a whole lot easier if we could, both for how we live as individuals day to day and for how we might make our arguments to others (e.g. religious people) about what goodness and value and morality really are. I say that the concept of motivation is an incredibly powerful concept, one that, if properly understood, really might help pave the way towards this deeper understanding. I think it holds for anyone, anywhere, regardless of what society you belong to, or what powers you are or are not in possession of. I think it shows us the way forward, so that for any society, we can say that we should be striving towards enhancing this fundamental value, relative to the society and relative to each and every one of us. Seeking after this basic good is what is most fulfilling to us, and each of these other, lesser goods are really just a part of this ultimate value, and as means to that end. I think this is what it is all about. But admittedly I am still working out the details, and I am still in the testing mode. Perhaps when I emerge from this stage I will have to start again with an altered concept, or an altered goal. But I would very much like to see this one out to conclusion. So far I have seen little reason to doubt that I am right. I challenge all of you to show me why I might not be.

My husband is often shameless, which I see as a positive because he is able to do things for the good of everyone, without being constrained by social emotions like shame – based on limited perceptions on the world.


If it’s shameful to leave your group and spend some time somewhere else, so you can come back and share your income with the group – then the group will be stuck in this limited culture.


In my culture it’s shameful to earn lots of money, it’s shameful to enjoy sex, it’s shameful to generally enjoy life – even when it’s not at the expense of anyone.


That’s wrong IMO.


I think it’s worth applying science when thinking about morals – or at least critical thinking to dispel fear, shame, guilt, obligation and duty that are misplaced and based on false beliefs, either culturally, socially or personally.


Illusion of happiness often comes from our imagined future self or past self and not our present moment.  if I relax and ask myself if I’m happy or not, most often I’m quite contented.


I find it quite easy to find reasons for atrocious acts.


I would agree with you that well-being for all is a good aim to have.  Meaning that slavery isn’t included if someone’s well being is lessened by the experience.


It’s all about improvement to well-being – if an act isn’t contributing to well-being then it’s not moral.  But what if an act did contribute to overall well=being, but had a small detrimental effect on someone’s well=being.


Harris reckons that fairness is an act that gives us brain reward along with cooperation, compassion, kindness and altruism generally.


Harris also states that 1% of the population are psychopaths.  I’m really curious about how a person becomes psychopathic – is it genetic, acquired or environmental or a thought out strategies based on conditions present and needs needed?  I% is a huge number – it means that you are likely to know one or a few of them.


Most people – 99% perhaps agree that being good to others feels good and is good.


Children are nice.  They are very kind caring and in fact show us that humans are naturally wanting to cooperate, and be kind to each other.


Yes, I agree, it’s all very well feeling good about being altruistic, but when I comes to aggression, greed, lust etc we seem to want to avoid nature.


So what you are saying is that competition is what keeps us strong and viable?  And competitive traits are attractive for this reason?


True regarding shame and pride.  I was shamed a lot as a child.  I wasn’t given anything to feel proud about – although thinking about it, I did feel pride about some things with both my parents.  Interesting how our parents ‘control’ us in this way.


I think it’s really worth making an effort to think about the effects of shame and pride on children.  I don’t have a good habit around these emotions.  I would like my children to feel loved and free to be themselves – but it doesn’t seem that easy.


So there is much benefit in remaining loyal to those we love, even if we love them less at times… : )


I think you call this – responding to good behaviour and ignoring or showing displeasure at bad behaviour – only as you see it – good and bad – as who knows how to define good and bad – it’s all relative – although is suppose there are some standards we can live by – such as hitting is bad and kissing is good : )  my 2 year old does both very well…


My father too had a shameful up bringing – how can shamed parents bring in proud children?  It’s just not possible – shame and pride is something that is almost inherited – it’s so hard to break the cycle.


My husband has a good saying here – fake it till you make it – basically – fake feeling proud so that you’re children can inherit it!


Shame, guilt, kindness, fear, cooperation – are all feelings that have good and positive effects on our body chemistry – they are in fact our body chemistry – shame is a body feeling, set off from hormones – we need a balance of them – I’ve met lots of people who are lovely and kind and yet feel much shame – and others who do awful things and feel so proud of themselves.  I think we need a rule of thumb – on how to behave and feel good too.


I think it not useful to use spiritual words in the name of science or reality – they tend to confuse and misrepresent.  As well as show support to magical thinking.


I do agree that spirituality isn’t some strange thing only to be caught hold of by theists – we all have ‘spiritual’ experiences – it’s natural to have these experiences – I would just prefer as a non magical thinker, to have another word for them, that are more descriptive and in line with my world view.


Sometimes when I sit on a rock and look at the view, the sunset, the valley, or my kids playing – I feel a sense of peace and love a sense of inner contentment – achievement, serenity, surrender – when I lie on my back at night and look at the starts and think about all the galaxies out there, and just how many there are – I feel wonder, amazement, glory, overwhelming sense of awe and joy – at my life and my being, at my ability to feel as I do.


It’s great.  but I don’t want to call it spirituality for fear of being mixed up with some ridiculous magical thinker down the road who is living in a fantasy and threatens my sense of security when I know that they are voting in the same democracy that I live in!




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