Morality is Justification

Okay, aside form the whole nihilism debate, the biggest argument that seems to plague this forum is the whole moralist realists/evolutionary moralists vs. a various assortment of amoralists and proponents of selfishness disagreement. I think it’s somewhat safe to say that both Cyrene and Joker are major flag bearers for either camp on this forum. I would just like to outline a few personal ideas which I hope can be applied here.

First off, morality is justification. That’s it. It isn’t really much more. Imagine, a moral predicament that requires you to indirectly skew the catastrophic events of a runaway train to kill one man in order to save five. In terms of utilitarianism, this works. The moral thing to do is to sacrifice the one man’s life to save five men’s lives, it’s a matter of arithmetic. Now, imagine that you must stop the runaway train instead of redirect its course and the only way to do that is to push a fat person off of a cliff so that his carcass may cease the train. Pretty brutal, huh? Yet, technically speaking, you still only had to kill one man to save five. The math still adds up, yet there is still something within us that cringes at the thought of killing someone directly than letting a progression of events a go a certain way.

This is a testament to the conscious mind’s need to make sense of things and the unconscious mind’s compulsions and emotional outbursts. Evolutionarily speaking and psychologically speaking, we are equipped with an innate revulsion to man-handling what would appear to be a poor, innocent fat dude. Yet, from the utilitarian standards we’ve constructed to make sense of or to justify our unconscious reactions, we’ve created a double-standard. When asked to rationalize such a strange dislike for sacrificing one person to save five others even when it seems okay by a certain set of standards, rational individuals usually come to a loss.

So we are all born with unconscious predispositions that bubble up with little regard to logic or reason. They just occur because from an evolutionary standpoint they benefited the survival of our species. Can you even remember a time when an emotion or feeling didn’t come about like a knee-jerk reaction? They just burst up from our unconsciousnesses based on cognitive stimuli. It is through post-cognitive processes that we consciously calculate a justification for our reactions, if not to adequately rationalize for an observing audience then to at least rationalize for ourselves. When we are confronted with mysterious phenomena, we usually try to figure out how and why it occurred. Intrinsic emotional responses are no exception.

One could then say that emotion precedes reasoning. The unconsciousness reacts to perception, consciousness reacts to unconscious operations. Now, the million dollar question is: what is morality, is it the unconscious reaction or the conscious justification? I think what the moral realists are trying to say is that morality is morality, no matter what form it comes in. If I have an unconscious predisposition towards not only recognizing the faces of children that look more like me, but also taking a greater liking to those faces because of the genetic implications, then that is moral. The justification of certain behaviors in contrast to the denouncement of an opposing set of behaviors can be considered moralization. Much like rationalizing the why’s and how’s of external phenomena, moralization explains the why’s and how’s of internal phenomena. I should note that variations in how societies moralize explains moral relativity and contrasts in different cultures.

To an amoralist, however, moralization is not the identification of morality, but rather the fabrication of it. To an amoralist, our unconscious knee-jerk responses always serve selfish goals; it is when we try to deceive ourselves and others through the justification and moralization of these inherent reactions that gives rise to what ought to be defined as morality. Amoralists and moral realists can actually agree on the overall reactions we have to certain stimuli as well as the implications of those reactions. What they can’t agree on is what the definition of morality actually is.

I personally like the idea that morality is just justification. I could explain why I prefer this but then that would make me justify and rationalize an innate emotional response of mine. :smiley:

Morality is just an expression of non-cognitive attitudes. Hume pointed this out hundreds of years ago but Kant got in the way. The whole realism vs relativism thing is nonsense: neither recognise that the point of moral activity is to express what we approve/disapprove of, in order to try and get people to agree with our likes/dislikes.

Is it just me, or is ILP actually making significant philosophical headway compared to everywhere else in the world???

Topics like these are very good! =D>

I mean, I’m not being modest here. I’ve been to a university and studied in philosophy there. I’m sorry for going off topic, but I think it’s temporarily appropriate.

I’ll get back to this OP soon.

I think that perhaps now I have the answer we’ve been waiting for.

“Morals” are neither the unconscious reaction to nor the conscious justification for actions. Rather, “morals” are the “Moral Lessons” that children learn when we are young. Are you a Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Taoist, Atheist, or Agnostic? It doesn’t matter, the “Moral Lessons” stay the same.

In our culture, they run as deep as “Thou Shalt Not Kill” or “Do unto others as they would do unto you” (The Golden Rule). These are what stay the same.

I strongly agree/side with Joker on his views of amorality. Morality is just another delusion of humanity–it is man-made. Take away the “Moral Lessons” and you have no more “morality”.

It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3. :wink:

I’m reading the “God Delusion” right now, and one of the the things that Dawkins does is try to frame things around “natural selection”. That basically if something existence in humans there must be an evolutionary perspective that goes along with it. Always.

For morality he lists four different evolutionary possibilities. So in one regard, morailty is just like everything else human: a means for human genetic material to survive.

So you’re saying that morals are cultural and societal products, constructed by and for the status quo? Surely you’d agree that there are certain innate feelings within us all that transcend cultural orientation. Are you saying we are “blank slates”, subjects to our environment? Okay, I’ll buy that. Even then, though, they aren’t morals. If a person is inscribed from the day he is born with certain feelings he is expected to have–dictated by the status quo–then all that means is that he receives certain emotions due to psychological development. Psychological development and personality development are contingent upon many factors, evolutionary and societal ones included. Either way, it doesn’t so much matter where those reactions come from, what matters is what they result in.

I think the emotional responses we have to external stimuli, despite its determinants, are not in themselves morals. Unconscious operations can’t be considered as such. Instead, it is the conscious thought processes that come after these reactions that can be deemed as morality. Morality isn’t a reaction so much as a justification for the engagement of certain actions, actions determined to be necessary on the basis of the emotional responses. The complications begin when emotional responses in themselves stimulate other emotional responses. Either way, how these responses are built, whether on the foundations of memories or evolution, are of little importance when discussing morality itself.

I would pretty much agree with what realunoriginal said;

I think so, like the Westermarck effect as that helps evolution. Richard Dawkins pretty much nailed it with his Moral Zeitgeist.

Essentially, yes they are.

The only innate need that people share is the unbridled instinct to survive. However, when people are explicitly psychologically traumatized, sometimes death is their only escape from a life personally deemed “not worth living”.

Not just that, people are a product of both genetic composition and environmental experiences.

Your conclusion sounds rather opinionated. Personally, I wouldn’t make that kind of a judgment.

Situational development is both infinitely complex, and simple, in its causes and effects.

I agree with you on the highlight I marked as bold; you are correct. However, the problem with judging things based on emotional responses is reasonable sometimes and unreasonable at other times. We may be able to predict how people are going to react emotionally under different contexts and within certain circumstances, but emotions are reflective of something “indescribable” about human experience. I don’t think that human actions will ever be 100% clear, but they are 100% understandable in the sense that we can learn from our mistakes.

Yes, when people discuss morality, they often forget about how emotionally charged we all are. That’s why I like to discount “unemotional”, “logical”, and “analytical” support/arguments for or against “moral” positions. They commit a different kind of fallacy when attempting to understand pragmatic moral context.

Anyone who disagrees with my and apparently the ops essential conesus, that at least part of morality is evolved for adaptive reasons, is demonstratably wrong. They are demonstratably wrong because: we can show mental adaptations that use complex neuromachinery, we can put people under MRI’s, put them in contextual situations, and watch the shit that goes down in the brain, when specialized machinery responds to adaptive tasks we likely had to face, and happens unconsciously in 200,000 people who can’t explain its root, from over 100 different societies, we don’t have to sit back and let people deny that morals are largely biological.

You are now demonstratably wrong. Its like saying there is no sun, I can point out massive evidence to the contrary so much so that any sane person couldn’t deny it any longer. Anyone who disagrees with me on this subject IS wrong.

The debate isn’t whether morals are socially learned or biologically (theres so much evidence for the biological for some specific moral sentiments that we can’t deny it to any extent) the question is to what degree does societial input effect, operate, influence our innate moral grammar. (like, all people are born with adaptations to learn a language, a universal grammar where all languages obey abstracted rules in a lot of ways) we have the same for moral codes, but specifically, we find a lot of shit that is common in all humans. (like a revulsion to manhandling an innocent person).

(well theres a lot more questions then that, like how does heritability effect personality including moral sentiments and so forth and so on. but not connected to the point I was making)

On top of all that we could also use comparitive ethology, rhesus monkeys starve themselves when it comes down to shocking other rhesus monkeys for food. Theres plenty, plenty of examples where theres no way it could be the result of ‘social learning’

Its directly a falisifiable, demonstratably false claim, and its seriously annoying for anyone to make it.

In experimentations people come to moral conclusions and work back to justify them, often finding they can’t. In many cases moral judgements and emotions are too wraped up to even attempt to extract them, somtimes moral judgements are emotional reactions, which is why experiments show we randomly come to moral judgements and then try to explain them.

For example, if you ask someone why they think incest is wrong if no one finds out, there was no chance at pregnancy envolved, niether of them get hurt, people don’t always know they can’t always explain but cross culturally people feel its wrong and reply that it is wrong to questioners. The reason is we most people anyway, have innate, specialized neuromachinery for avoiding incest (its a moral call for people) but its an emotional, and unconscious stimuli that comes out of nowhere, like rage if someone slapped you in the face, its contextual.

Just the same in the trolley experiment you talk about, people arrive at the conclusion automatically that pushing a fat person into a trolley is wrong, they can’t explain why they think that when asked, when in MRI, the emotional part of the brain is in a vicious struggle, while making the decision to push a lever, the emotional part of the brain is silent.

Emotions and morality are somtimes so bound up in one another that you couldn’t seperate them if you really tried. Our aversion to incest is a moral sentimemnt in most people, its also an emotional response, unconscious that comes out of nowhere.

Surely you’re correct that morality is largely the cognition after emotions, but its more then that, if you could imagine the emotional part of our brain as a giant handful of wires, imagine another giant handful of wires on top of that one, and thats would be our ability to form moral codes and so forth. When one goes off its so tied up in the other system to actually try to diffrentiate between one or the other would become an insane mess.

I agree that there are some universal morals and some which are not. Like said above there is overwhelming proof of some “human” morals. I have noticed on this forum it’s usually a either/or battle. Here is some very bad evidence that culture plays a role too. All I could find in little time:

The problem is with half of the equation I mentioned before about “environmental experiences”. Try to explain to an individual who was born in a cave and never came out for his/her entire life that there is a “sun”. It’s not as simple as you may like to think Cyrene.

To some people, the debate is still about social roots vs. biological roots. Their concerns are reasonable, aren’t they? If they’re not, then would you restate why again a little more specifically–I haven’t seen where your points culminate to an all-expansive proof yet.

For certain examples you already did, for example, directly manhandling a person and throwing to their death whether thats right or wrong (a moral sentiment) is largely biologically determined in ways which other actions aren’t because we have mental mechanisms to avoid manhandling innocent people (an adaptation). The evidence for this is overwhelming; fMRI evidence, + 200,000 people responding roughly the same without ability to explain why.

People have incest avoidance mechanisms which are largely biological, and our moral sentiments that incest is wrong at large is biological. demonstratably so.

Two examples of morals which are not ‘just’ taught to us through society, but which we have innate mechanisms for.

Which I already explained clearly in other posts. So people suggesting otherwise should be quicker to denounce the evidence in a rational way, or quit ignoring it.

Those are reasonable conclusions, but I don’t hold them in absolution, except in how they ultimately relate to the instinct for human beings to survive.

After all, some people do get manhandled and killed; some people are also incestuous.

sigh and some people don’t get angry, some males don’t like women.

But you wouldn’t suggest that humans in generally, and cross-culturally, have universal mechanisms for getting angry under certain circumstances and having sex with women. Its not a coherent point to make, just because somthing isn’t universal in all situations doesn’t mean its biological, infact, few biological mechanisms if anything are universal in all humans, and that includes eyes, and fingers, which are also adaptations.

We only have to show that all normal humans come equipped with specialized (neuro)machinery to solve an adaptive task, once that criteria is met we can call X an adaptation whether its an eye, a moral sentiment, or whatever. and we can show that humans have such for incest avoidance and the manhandling innocents.

Its not surprising people engage in incest, as incest avoidance mechanisms largely work on co-habitation as children.

People can have a biological mechanism meant to take cues from the environment, if such cues aren’t present, why on earth would you expect it to function properly? And, when it does get the proper cues, incest avoidance is high with incest being low. On top of that you can make predictions about whose most opposed to incest out of males/females and inspect those predictions based on evolutionary logic as well.

For example, children have adaptations to learn a language, if those environmental cues aren’t there during a critical time in development(humans interacting/speaking for the baby to watch) they end up fucked up an unable to learn language as efficiently as a normal person, if at all. Other adaptations can just as easily depend on environmental stimuli.

Things don’t have to be universal to be biological, only universal potential under X circumstance to engage in X adaptive behavior.

But how do you differentiate the taught mechanisms from the biological ones. An fMRI can show you what parts of the brain light up under certain circumstances, but can it determine whether or not those mental frameworks are solely based on evolution? (That’s not a rhetorical question, I really want to know.)

For me, personally, when I think of morality, I immediately think of it as an exclusively conscious procession of thought. I think my problem here is that I’m making too clear of a distinction between consciousness and unconsciousness; certainly there are layers of semi-consciousness and automated response systems in the brain.

In fact, Cyrene, do you know whether or not modern day psychologists still differentiate consciousness from unconsciousness? If so, by what standards do they make this differentiation?

Could it be said that one of they major differences between humans and animals is that we harbor biologically based mechanisms that are more adaptable? That is, the innate predispositions to certain stimuli which are rigid and absolute in animals, for us takes cues–as you said–from the environment more freely, adapting according to necessity or even conscious dictate. Just a thought.

It doesn’t seem like that much of a major difference between human animals and other animals. In fact, the differences are subtle, yet intricate between “mammals”.

I’ll get into this eventually but you can compare sexes for example.

first you need to postulate likely adaptive problem that humans had to face. Then look for evidence for that claim. For example: Females have pregnancy sickness to prevent damage to fetuses, evidence would be that pregnant mothers get sick when they eat foods that contain chemicals that harm fetuses (they do) thats evidence.

A mental one could be for example, a device to prevent raising someone elses children in males. To test this, take a bunch of males and females and ask them which children out of this large amount of photos you would help out, morph the faces of one child with the *person either male or female, deciding on the child, and see the results.

Males will pick the child whose face has been morphed with thiers almost everytime. They didn’t notice the faces were morphed and couldn’t pick them when asked in other parts.

Then you shove males and females into fmri’s and watch what happens in the brain. When for some reason these wildly different responses go off, its not a stretch to postulate that males have specific neurmachinery to detect children based on facial resembelence. (theres a lot of other evidence males do this).

Its not nearly as simplistic as this but i’ll get back to you.