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Bloggingheads 07-27-2008 09:04 AM

Sentimental Mood Edition
 

fedorovingtonboop 07-27-2008 11:56 AM

Re: Sentimental Mood Edition
 
I think Jesse might want to read "The Blank Slate" by Stephen Pinker and Mike Gazzaniga's new one "Human" because those pose a pretty pretty damn strong argument in favor of universal innate morality.

threep 07-27-2008 12:39 PM

Re: Sentimental Mood Edition
 
Chapel Hill what what

AlphaMoose 07-27-2008 02:51 PM

Re: Sentimental Mood Edition
 
Watching it now, but those first couple of minutes rank among the most akward things I've ever seen.

Happy Hominid 07-27-2008 04:12 PM

Re: Sentimental Mood Edition
 
Hi Fed. As a huge Pinker fan and, in particular, The Blank Slate, I'm not convinced that Pinker would totally disagree with what Jesse seems to be saying. It's more of a mechanistic difference in how they see things.

So, to correct myself, Pinker would perhaps disagree but what is being disagreed with is not a diametrically opposed way of viewing morality, but a case of whether there is a genetically imposed moral area in the brain or whether it's just another part of our genetically imposed learning capacity and that, de facto, moral intuitions will arise or the society will either never get off the ground or it will fall flat in a short time.

I don't think either of them has enough empirical evidence at this point and they would probably both agree to that fact.

Happy Hominid 07-27-2008 04:14 PM

Re: Sentimental Mood Edition
 
Yeah. Will stopped doing that as you will see. It was bizarre. It was like he couldn't hear Jesse, yet he didn't say he couldn't hear him.

jimM47 07-27-2008 04:32 PM

Political Correctness
 
Will and Jesse talk about Political Correctness, and defend it, presumably from conservative critics. I think, though, that, when they characterize Political Correctness as consisting of, and only consisting of, the stigmatization of certain norms of behavior, they give short shrift to the position of their opponents.

What opponents of Political Correctness find most grating about it is the extent to which it forecloses the possibility of actual factual discussion. It creates the possibility that a statement may be an accurate description of reality, but that because that reality is inconvenient for advocates of certain norms, it becomes something incorrect to inquire about — it is literally incorrect politically, but not factually. I think critics of Political Correctness chafe most at the extent to which it is the use of social stigma to enforce a noble lie.

As an example, I am reminded of Lawrence Summers, who was compelled to resign as the president of Harvard after suggesting that disparities between men and women working in the sciences might be caused, in part, by innate differences. That statement is factually correct: we have not seen evidence ruling out that hypothesis, and even have reason to believe it is true in some small measure. Regardless, the utterance of the statement was deemed to be socially harmful to the goal of increased gender equity, so it was condemned as being politically incorrect.

All this is not to say that the noble lie aspect of political correctness is morally indefensible. One can certainly posit scenarios in which members of an in-group might be in some small way innately superior to members of an out-group, but in which widespread knowledge of this disparity would lead to discriminatory behavior drastically out of proportion with the actual difference, leading to bad outcomes for all concerned. Even if we value the search for truth above all else, we might still choose a temporary noble lie if the bad outcomes caused by knowledge of the innate in-group-out-group difference would retard the process of knowledge-seeking.

Still, my libertarian impulses cannot help but rise to the surface here, since the idea of the noble lie enforced by social stigmatization by the majority strikes me as being dangerously paternalistic, and prone to a slippery slope that sees it used in situations in which consequentialist logic does not add up to properly justify it. Thus I am curious to hear a good libertarian like Will praise Political Correctness while remaining silent on what I think of as its most salient and anti-libertarian feature.

eric 07-27-2008 05:10 PM

Will Always Blue
 
Not metaphorically, but he always looks a little like a Zombie, kind of gray/blue, in contrast to his guests, who look like they have red blood cells in their viens.

Must have brains!

bjkeefe 07-27-2008 05:38 PM

Re: Political Correctness
 
JimM47:

A good essay.

I'm with you that PC-speak and the PC police can go too far. I have my own pet peeves in this regard; e.g., I dream of banning the icky suffix -challenged, I'm beyond tired of the overuse of words like community and folks, and I still wonder why we now have to say Asian when we're talking only about people from China and Japan, and not Indians, Pakistanis, Russians, Arabs, Persians, or Turks.

All that said, I think it's more good than bad to frown on the use of a lot of derogatory terms and the idle raising of related topics. Many, if not most, people who claim that they would like to "speak plainly" about "facts" really have little more than a wish to sustain stereotypes. Many, if not most, would like to explain highly complex societal phenomena by reaching first for easy generalizations like skin color, gender, or ethnic origin. I grant that it has become harder to talk about some things that shouldn't be immediately stigmatized, but it really seems to me that it's not at all impossible. You just have to be a little more careful about how and when you say certain things, and maybe willing to risk a little initial heat.

On the particular case of Summers: I don't really want to open up a long debate on this, since I'm not well-informed on the matter. I do want to say one thing, though. It was my impression at the time, from reading in between the lines, that many people were unhappy with him for a variety of other reasons, and that his "sexist" comment really was more of a convenient excuse than the sole reason for his ouster -- kind of like throwing Al Capone in jail for not paying his taxes.

jimM47 07-27-2008 06:12 PM

Re: Political Correctness
 
Quote:

All that said, I think it's more good than bad to frown on the use of a lot of derogatory terms and the idle raising of related topics. Many, if not most, people who claim that they would like to "speak plainly" about "facts" really have little more than a wish to sustain stereotypes.
I certainly agree that some who run afoul of Political Correctness are simply trying to cloak their racism/sexism/homophobia/xenophobia/etc and failing to elude detection — maybe those people are even the majority. But in my mind there is very clearly legitimate speech that is chilled or condemned by Political Correctness that should not be.

In determining which category someone falls into context matters immensely, and my problem with Political Correctness is not simply that it often gets it wrong, but that it has a systematic bias towards getting it wrong. Because it relies on social pressure, Political Correctness is least likely to stifle the very type of speech that is most likely to be cloaked racism: writing, and particularly anonymous writing. In contrast it tends to be employed most against the very types of speech that are most likely to be honest inquiries unmotivated by prejudice: in person speech by people putting themselves and their reputations on the line, particularly in an academic setting.

Your point on Summers's ouster is well taken, though I think the incident is still relevant. Even though his politically incorrect statement may have been merely the ostensible reason for his departure, it was still an important enough incident that it could serve as a convenient excuse. Al Capone getting hauled in for tax evasion still demonstrates that tax evasion is considered wrong enough to be punished.

Michael 07-27-2008 07:07 PM

Re: Sentimental Mood Edition
 
Pardon me: but is Jesse´s hair GREEN?! or am I just watching this too late at night?...Please advise ---anyway, you two really helped me understand your topic...Thanks

bjkeefe 07-27-2008 07:18 PM

Re: Political Correctness
 
jimM47:

Very good response. I especially agree with this:

Quote:

Because it relies on social pressure, Political Correctness is least likely to stifle the very type of speech that is most likely to be cloaked racism: writing, and particularly anonymous writing. In contrast it tends to be employed most against the very types of speech that are most likely to be honest inquiries unmotivated by prejudice: in person speech by people putting themselves and their reputations on the line, particularly in an academic setting.
It's a problem, no doubt. The only thing I can say is that while there are hurdles to talking about uncomfortable topics, it's generally not impossible to do so. It just requires a little more work. Admittedly, some of that work involves rather tiresome prefatory disclaiming and forelock-tugging.

I'll also grant the possibility that specific locales may feature especially hostile environments, and may even be prohibitive in some cases. That's a shame, and the only thing I can say here is what my mama always told me: Who ever told you that life was going to be fair?

Which is not to say that we should ever give up trying to make it more so.

One good thing about our current technology is that it's now a lot easier for someone to get controversial ideas out there in ways that make retribution less of a risk. So, to those hemmed in on the stereotypical university campus, where the humorless liberals won't let you say bad things about anybody except rich white men, and you don't yet have tenure, I say, start a pseudonymous blog. If the ideas have merit, they'll find support.

Happy Hominid 07-27-2008 07:28 PM

Re: Political Correctness
 
Not only that, Jim, but it also creates the famous "chilling effect". If I know little about the Summer case (and that is so), then I come away with the conclusion that it is dangerous for me to make this particular PC statement. It may well have been other issues that got him canned, but not in MY mind.

I don't see a way to defend PC talk ever. First of all, I'm huge on freedom of speech and I don't just mean it in the Constitutional sense. There are many arenas where true free speech gets stifled with the shrug - "this isn't a Free Speech issue" (note the upper case). People are a little too testy about defending their "free speech free" zones (think of blogs, churches, homes, etc).

Secondly, I agree with Jim's noting that PC can prevent us arriving at facts.

So, what's the answer to prevent what BJ fears if you don't have a certain amount of PC? How about simply acknowledging that facts about how the world IS, should not make us conclude that it's the way the world ought to be or how we ought to treat people?

Bloggin' Noggin 07-27-2008 07:40 PM

Re: Sentimental Mood Edition
 
Can we please note a few things about the cognitivist/rationalist side of the philosophical debate over morality (as opposed to whatever debates may go under that name in psychology)?
First, as I see it, the cognitivist says that moral judgments make cognitive claims. From this, it in no way follows that "feelings" are not involved. If my body is out of balance, I will have a certain "feeling" of being out of balance and about to fall. This feeling will be the basis for a judgment that I am out of balance and about to fall -- a fully cognitive judgment.
And despite Jesse's rejection of cognitivist accounts of emotion, he gives a seemingly rather cognitivist account, which makes the "feeling" part of the emotion correspond to a kind of evidence for a certain judgment -- in much the way that my sense of being out of balance is evidence for the judgment that I am really out of balance -- here:
http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/128...9:31&out=12:40

In his example the feeling of fear is a sign that there is something dangerous around. And creatures like ourselves, not only mammals, but self-conscious mammals, are capable of distinguishing between cases where our fear is rational (an indication of a genuine danger) and where it is irrational (e.g. fear of plastic spiders). And to the degree that we are rational, we can discount this misfiring signal in action -- and perhaps even train ourselves with practice not to be afraid after all.

Second, can we please distinguish between saying that moral claims are statements about reasons and that correct moral judgments identify a certain kind of reason for action from the quite different claim that our moral judgments are all reached through REASONING. A baseball player does not throw each pitch by reasoning. Rather, he throws by what we sometimes call "instinct", but what is really "second-nature" or habit. Someone who tried to reason out every single throw would be a worse pitcher than a four year-old. But it doesn't follow that there is no reality beyond my instinct itself that determines whether I have reason to throw in some different way. Ultimately physics and the rules and strategy of baseball are going to determine whether I should retrain my "instincts" or not. The question for the rationalist is not whether every moral decision is conducted by REASONING, but rather whether our moral dispositions are responsive to whatever moral reasons we have.

Will recognizes that much economic knowledge is "tacit knowledge". A good businessman may develop a "sense" of where a good opportunity lies that he could not spell out. The fact that the good businessman can't spell out his knowledge very well doesn't make it any less knowledge. (Same goes for a good scientist, guiding his students into more promising research project or away from unwarranted interpretations of the evidence.) But in the case of morality, as soon as we show that much moral understanding is tacit, we must for some reason conclude that it is guided by absolutely nothing.
Again, Will recognizes in the Hayek diavlog that much information is socially dispersed. If you are trained as a physicist, a bunch of norms and "best practices" are more or less programmed into you, and a lot of factual claims from other disciplines are fed to you that you simply don't go out and verify for yourself. You could easily tell a story of scientific norms that makes them look just as random and unjustified as moral norms. You are going to inherit and even unconsciously imbibe many of your scientific norms from previous generations of scientists. No individual is in a position to justify (or even fully grasp all the scientific norms he's following. If you are going to present how the Romans thought about blood sports as evidence for the non-existence of moral facts, then one should be able to present the way they thought about physics as evidence that physics is culturally relative as well. Of course that will strike Will and Jesse as silly, but that's just because they are begging the question against moral realism.
I'm not clear what the philosophical significance of "nativism" is -- certainly it has very little to do with the realism/anti-realism debate. The EP types who believe morality was itself designed by evolution are just as likely to regard that as a reason why we can't trust our moral intuitions. In fact, I think a moral realist is probably better off assimilating "the moral sense" to the businessman's "profit sense" or the scientist's "sense" of what theories are promising and which are not or the baseball player's "sense" of whether he's hit the ball out of the park or not.

Finally, when Will and Jesse get around to the question of normativity, Jesse suggests that, depending on what "we" want to do as a society, we may be able to determine which moral norms are better than others. But that "we" is precisely where he begs the question. Will speaks of what "we" want as being a matter for negotiation. Is that fair and impartial negotiation or strong-arm negotiation? If what "we" want is determined only by the dominant class or the men or the non-slaves, is that really what "we" want?

How we get from individual reasons/ individual ends to social reasons and social ends is precisely what morality is about.
Morality must be self-enforced to some degree (I mean most people must to some degree be their own moral policeman). If I am a slave, do I have any kind of reason (beyond pure self-interest) to enforce (on myself) any supposed duty not to run away? If not, then the moral claim is false -- even though everybody in the society believes that it is true. Suppose that morality claims to have authority over us on the grounds that it is impartial -- that it takes everyone's interest into account, including my interests. Then, if my interests as a slave have not actually been taken into account, I have no moral duty not to run away and the claim that I do is false -- despite the anthropologist's claim that "it is immoral for slaves to run away in society X."

Ocean 07-27-2008 08:41 PM

Re: Sentimental Mood Edition
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Bloggin' Noggin (Post 85242)
Can we please note a few things about the cognitivist/rationalist side of the philosophical debate over morality (as opposed to whatever debates may go under that name in psychology)?
First, as I see it, the cognitivist says that moral judgments make cognitive claims. From this, it in no way follows that "feelings" are not involved. If my body is out of balance, I will have a certain "feeling" of being out of balance and about to fall. This feeling will be the basis for a judgment that I am out of balance and about to fall -- a fully cognitive judgment.

I think you need to distinguish between "feeling" referring to sensory/perceptual experience and interpretation (like being out of balance) from the "feeling" associated with the experience of emotions.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Bloggin' Noggin (Post 85242)
And despite Jesse's rejection of cognitivist accounts of emotion, he gives a seemingly rather cognitivist account, which makes the "feeling" part of the emotion correspond to a kind of evidence for a certain judgment -- in much the way that my sense of being out of balance is evidence for the judgment that I am really out of balance -- here:
http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/128...9:31&out=12:40

My interpretation of what he said is simply that the emotion arises first and then the feeling is what links to the secondary cognitive part of the judgment. His "criticism" of rationalists had to do with not acknowledging the emotional origin of the sequence.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Bloggin' Noggin (Post 85242)
In his example the feeling of fear is a sign that there is something dangerous around. And creatures like ourselves, not only mammals, but self-conscious mammals, are capable of distinguishing between cases where our fear is rational (an indication of a genuine danger) and where it is irrational (e.g. fear of plastic spiders). And to the degree that we are rational, we can discount this misfiring signal in action -- and perhaps even train ourselves with practice not to be afraid after all.

Before our more developed psychological functions can process the perceptual stimulus of a spider, a more primitive area of the brain triggers an automatic physiological response of fear with its attached to preparation for action. Our ability to analyze these stimuli and ultimately, perhaps "cancel" the instinctive reflexive response is a posteriori. With training, the brain can learn to distinguish between the plastic spider and the real ones. At the level of sensory processing, the image of the plastic spider is sent to the "safe" area, and not trigger the response at all. But the first time ever that you saw a plastic spider, not even knowing of their existence, you probably had the same fear response as with the real one.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Bloggin' Noggin (Post 85242)
Second, can we please distinguish between saying that moral claims are statements about reasons and that correct moral judgments identify a certain kind of reason for action from the quite different claim that our moral judgments are all reached through REASONING. A baseball player does not throw each pitch by reasoning. Rather, he throws by what we sometimes call "instinct", but what is really "second-nature" or habit. Someone who tried to reason out every single throw would be a worse pitcher than a four year-old. But it doesn't follow that there is no reality beyond my instinct itself that determines whether I have reason to throw in some different way. Ultimately physics and the rules and strategy of baseball are going to determine whether I should retrain my "instincts" or not. The question for the rationalist is not whether every moral decision is conducted by REASONING, but rather whether our moral dispositions are responsive to whatever moral reasons we have.

There are some interesting studies that are somewhat related to this point. Juvenile delinquents were interviewed and asked about the reasons why they committed a crime. Almost all of them had some more or less rational justification for it. However, when describing the details of the crime itself, there was no evidence that they reasoned first and then acted. It was mostly a retroactive process. People need to justify their actions. Even when they plainly make a mistake, the tendency is to find a reason to justify it. I think Jesse refers to these justifications as reasons. A judgment reached through reasoning would be different in that it presumes a deliberation process before the judgment.



Quote:

Originally Posted by Bloggin' Noggin (Post 85242)
Finally, when Will and Jesse get around to the question of normativity, Jesse suggests that, depending on what "we" want to do as a society, we may be able to determine which moral norms are better than others. But that "we" is precisely where he begs the question. Will speaks of what "we" want as being a matter for negotiation. Is that fair and impartial negotiation or strong-arm negotiation? If what "we" want is determined only by the dominant class or the men or the non-slaves, is that really what "we" want?

I agree with this one. Jesse talks about making these decisions as if it was that simple...

Quote:

Originally Posted by Bloggin' Noggin (Post 85242)
How we get from individual reasons/ individual ends to social reasons and social ends is precisely what morality is about.
Morality must be self-enforced to some degree (I mean most people must to some degree be their own moral policeman). If I am a slave, do I have any kind of reason (beyond pure self-interest) to enforce (on myself) any supposed duty not to run away? If not, then the moral claim is false -- even though everybody in the society believes that it is true. Suppose that morality claims to have authority over us on the grounds that it is impartial -- that it takes everyone's interest into account, including my interests. Then, if my interests as a slave have not actually been taken into account, I have no moral duty not to run away and the claim that I do is false -- despite the anthropologist's claim that "it is immoral for slaves to run away in society X."

I think the problem here has to do with definitions. When the definition of morality varies so much depending on context, it is most likely that we are using the wrong definition. It appears to me that the definition of morality has to include the process of resolving contradictory sets of values.

travis68 07-27-2008 09:27 PM

Re: Sentimental Mood Edition
 
I am surprised that they didn't discuss what causes an emotion. Is emotion outside our cognitive processing? I'm pretty sure that we can change many of our emotional reactions by changing how we think. For example: if you highly value some object, you will react emotionally to its destruction. If you change how much you value it, you will not react emotionally. Emotion often seems primary because the cognitive assessment or valuation happens so quickly that the cognitive aspect that often precedes emotional reactions is not recognized consciously unless you train yourself to be sensitive to it.

Emotions might be saliency indicators that something is happening which we find highly significant and emotions motivate the organism to respond. So an emotion indicates how much you value something. Emotions are based on moral values.

I don't think that Prinz's example of priming people with disgust contradicts my view. Considering that emotions summon resources for a response, the experimental result is not surprising.

piscivorous 07-27-2008 10:01 PM

Re: Sentimental Mood Edition
 
If emotions are based on moral values explain how it is that Hitler loved Eva Braun and his dog Blondi.

fedorovingtonboop 07-27-2008 11:39 PM

Re: Sentimental Mood Edition
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Happy Hominid (Post 85216)
Hi Fed. As a huge Pinker fan and, in particular, The Blank Slate, I'm not convinced that Pinker would totally disagree with what Jesse seems to be saying. It's more of a mechanistic difference in how they see things. .......

I don't think either of them has enough empirical evidence at this point and they would probably both agree to that fact.

yeah, you could be right but it's a really complicated yet, like you implied, vague discussion because research is just getting started in this type of thing. i'd have to re-read both books and then listen again (which i'm way too lazy to do) but Jesse just struck me as being pretty "squishy" in certain areas.
however, the first thing that came to mind was Pinker's list of universal human traits in the footnotes of his book. picturing the hundreds of examples makes the other side seem pretty weak to me. if anyone hasn't tried "Human" - it's freakin' sick - definitely one of the better (pop) neuroscience books i've read and it's dense as can be. not an easy read to be sure.

Ocean 07-28-2008 12:02 AM

Re: Sentimental Mood Edition
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by travis68 (Post 85247)
Emotions might be saliency indicators that something is happening which we find highly significant and emotions motivate the organism to respond. So an emotion indicates how much you value something. Emotions are based on moral values.

Technically emotions are a primary response. A stimulus may be, for example identified as noxious and this one in turn triggers a set of physiological responses that prepares for the appropriate action. The apparent disagreement seems to be that "cognition" may affect this mechanism at different steps. For example, we can desensitize to certain noxious stimulus and over time stop reacting. Or we can have cognition interfere at the level between preparation for action and action itself ("biting your tongue" for example). A valued object becomes an extension of ourselves, in a sense, so that when there is threat of loss, or any other risk, we respond with the same repertoire as if the threat was directed at us. Here is where evolutionary psychology gives us some hints. Since we can react to all possible stimuli, we tune out those that have no consequence, and react to those that are relevant (salient) for our safety and well-being. This a very primitive response that we share with other animals. The main difference is that we have a more elaborated mechanism to select what's relevant, and a wider range of modified responses. Cognition, moral values, act at the level of object qualification and at the level of moving into action, modified action or deflecting action. The basic automatic emotional response is separate and primary. You can't really say that emotions are based on moral values. Perhaps the right sequence could be: moral values may make an object (or idea for that matter) valuable, and therefore it becomes an object to be protected. If there is a threat to this object, the automatic emotional response is triggered. We prepare for action, but perhaps another set of moral values condemns that action. If this moral principles prevail, we don't act as we would spontaneously and instead we take a different course of action. However, the value that we give to objects, is most often determined by other factors that have nothing to do with morality.
But this refers to the mechanics of emotional response and its relationship to morality. A different aspect is how moral values are developed.

Wonderment 07-28-2008 12:53 AM

Re: Sentimental Mood Edition
 
Quote:

Finally, when Will and Jesse get around to the question of normativity, Jesse suggests that, depending on what "we" want to do as a society, we may be able to determine which moral norms are better than others. But that "we" is precisely where he begs the question. Will speaks of what "we" want as being a matter for negotiation. Is that fair and impartial negotiation or strong-arm negotiation? If what "we" want is determined only by the dominant class or the men or the non-slaves, is that really what "we" want?
I thought Jesse suggested that "we" can only ask the question as individuals. He says that and explicates it here:

http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/128...5:20&out=56:17

Happy Hominid 07-28-2008 01:33 AM

Re: Sentimental Mood Edition
 
I'll look into it. Thanks for the heads up.

Eastwest 07-28-2008 04:11 AM

Re: Sentimental Mood Edition
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Michael (Post 85238)
Pardon me: but is Jesse´s hair GREEN?! or am I just watching this too late at night?

No, it's not green. It's blue.

EW

(I just figured he was out-of-the-closet-gay.)

Bloggin' Noggin 07-28-2008 07:27 AM

Re: Sentimental Mood Edition
 
Here is a clear case of Will and Jesse both totally misreading the question of moral reality by psychologizing the question: http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/128...0&out=00:28:03

The question (as I said above) of whether there is a moral reality which ought to guide (some of) our moral reactions IS NOT, NOT, NOT the same question as whether we have a built-in moral sense. Only an a question-begging assumption that there is no such thing as moral reality could lead to so obvious a conflation of totally different questions.

Nothing is more obvious from experiment and experience than that we do not have a good sense for probability. Even experts in probability are liable to make stupid mistakes in estimating probability in ordinary life. Does it follow that there is no reality that OUGHT to guide our ascriptions of probability?

If I believe that current physics is getting at physical reality, am I somehow committed to the view that modern physics was inevitable or that every culture in the world is just as "right" about physical reality as is "the modern West"? (I'm not suggesting that the West is morally superior to other cultures -- only pointing out that there is no reason to suppose that moral reality must be equally understood by all cultures.
Maybe this confusion is simply a part of the "quick and dirty" version for us, the public. But it IS a HUGE confusion.
I can see how psychologists might be confused about this kind of thing, but it's depressing to see contemporary philosophers confused about it.

Another huge confusion is Will's when he assumes that conservatives should be most upset by relativism. Actually, relativism tends, if anything, to support a fairly conservative attitude toward moral norms. It's the reformer who has got to persuade people to make difficult changes in the name of moral, but non-conventional concern -- to treat black people more equally (even where they are sufficiently in the minority that you could continue to oppress them) and even to rectify past injustices at some expense to one's own future prospects.

Jay J 07-28-2008 09:24 AM

Re: Sentimental Mood Edition
 
Hi again Bloggin,

I want to go on record as saying that what you offer in this post is wisdom. Our purported lack of a distinctive built-in moral sense is not the same question as whether or not there is a moral reality.

I liked your post so much that I hesitate to add this caveat... see I just don't know if we mean the same thing by "moral reality." I'll go out on a limb and say that the diavloggers, by 'moral reality' are meaning something similar to what I mean in our long-running thread.

Hopefully since we've been around a couple of times on this one, I won't be out of line using the ambiguous term "metaphysical" to describe what the participants are getting at with the concept of moral reality.

So do you think it would be beneficial at this still early stage of the discussion to get the meanings out on the table?

I don't hear the participants as saying that moral systems can't be rational, or even universalizable in principle.

andythornton 07-28-2008 09:35 AM

Re: Sentimental Mood Edition
 
This dingalink is way too childish, right?

AemJeff 07-28-2008 09:51 AM

Re: Sentimental Mood Edition
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Bloggin' Noggin (Post 85291)
Here is a clear case of Will and Jesse both totally misreading the question of moral reality by psychologizing the question: http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/128...0&out=00:28:03

The question (as I said above) of whether there is a moral reality which ought to guide (some of) our moral reactions IS NOT, NOT, NOT the same question as whether we have a built-in moral sense. Only an a question-begging assumption that there is no such thing as moral reality could lead to so obvious a conflation of totally different questions.

Nothing is more obvious from experiment and experience than that we do not have a good sense for probability. Even experts in probability are liable to make stupid mistakes in estimating probability in ordinary life. Does it follow that there is no reality that OUGHT to guide our ascriptions of probability?

If I believe that current physics is getting at physical reality, am I somehow committed to the view that modern physics was inevitable or that every culture in the world is just as "right" about physical reality as is "the modern West"? (I'm not suggesting that the West is morally superior to other cultures -- only pointing out that there is no reason to suppose that moral reality must be equally understood by all cultures.
Maybe this confusion is simply a part of the "quick and dirty" version for us, the public. But it IS a HUGE confusion.
I can see how psychologists might be confused about this kind of thing, but it's depressing to see contemporary philosophers confused about it.

Another huge confusion is Will's when he assumes that conservatives should be most upset by relativism. Actually, relativism tends, if anything, to support a fairly conservative attitude toward moral norms. It's the reformer who has got to persuade people to make difficult changes in the name of moral, but non-conventional concern -- to treat black people more equally (even where they are sufficiently in the minority that you could continue to oppress them) and even to rectify past injustices at some expense to one's own future prospects.

But surely, if there's some analog of physical reality underlying morality, there's no reason to consider it's existence independently of human psychology. (As I read that sentence back, I see it contains an internal contradiction.) Why should we assume than an independent, objective place where morality can be measured independently of psychology is even worth considering? The idea just seems to come freighted with a lot of unnecessary baggage, and seems (to me) to beg for an application of Occam's Razor.

By unnecessary baggage, I mean I don't see how the idea stands alone. It needs some kind of supporting structure against which its calibrations can be measured. What is that?

By contrast, if you assume that morality is entirely subjective (based in psychological phenomena) - for example starting with self-interest and empathy then filtered through cultural norms - you don't need to assume the existence of, or build from scratch, some sort of objective superstructure (moral reality) in which the system hangs.

If you do assume that ideas of morality follow as a self-organized consequence of human psychology, doesn't it make sense to argue from psychology?

Ocean 07-28-2008 10:31 AM

Re: Sentimental Mood Edition
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by AemJeff (Post 85298)
But surely, if there's some analog of physical reality underlying morality, there's no reason to consider it's existence independently of human psychology. (As I read that sentence back, I see it contains an internal contradiction.) Why should we assume than an independent, objective place where morality can be measured independently of psychology is even worth considering? The idea just seems to come freighted with a lot of unnecessary baggage, and seems (to me) to beg for an application of Occam's Razor.

By unnecessary baggage, I mean I don't see how the idea stands alone. It needs some kind of supporting structure against which its calibrations can be measured. What is that?

By contrast, if you assume that morality is entirely subjective (based in psychological phenomena) - for example starting with self-interest and empathy then filtered through cultural norms - you don't need to assume the existence of, or build from scratch, some sort of objective superstructure (moral reality) in which the system hangs.

If you do assume that ideas of morality follow as a self-organized consequence of human psychology, doesn't it make sense to argue from psychology?

Thank you AemJeff.

Depending on our professional biases we tend to view these topics from different perspectives. The philosopher may indulge in analyzing the world of mental abstractions. The psychologist studies how and why that mental abstraction was produced. But the bottom line is that it is very difficult to ignore the "psychological" aspects of anything we think if we really want to understand the mechanics of it. "Psychologizing" which is used in such a derogatory way is exactly what you need to do in order to examine this aspect of morality. If you want to look at the external function of morality, or compare it across cultures, without looking at its genesis within an individual, then you can more or less ignore the more purely psychological aspects.
The construction of a moral reality sets the direction in which a culture that endorses that morality attempts to go. The good of the one versus the good of the many is a classical knot in morality, both theoretical and practical. What we know as judeo-christian morality, regardless of the religious implications, has set the tone for the western world. However, we are far from reaching that kind of moral development. Why is that? If you don't look at the tight ties that we still have to our more primitive, instinctual modes of behavior (psychological phenomena), you can't understand where we are stuck. Again, both levels are necessary, the formulation of an external moral goal, and the understanding of how psychological phenomena (and cultural derivatives) presents obstacles to achieving that goal.

Bloggin' Noggin 07-28-2008 10:38 AM

Re: Sentimental Mood Edition
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Ocean (Post 85245)
I think you need to distinguish between "feeling" referring to sensory/perceptual experience and interpretation (like being out of balance) from the "feeling" associated with the experience of emotions.

And what is this distinction I am to make? Jesse suggests that when I feel certain "fearful" sensations, I use that as an indicator or a "sign" that I am in danger, as I use certain hard to describe "vertiginous" feelings as indicators that I am out of balance. The "vertiginous" feelings may fire off even when I am actually not ready to fall (when I am lying in bed, for example), and the fearful sensations may fire off when I am not in danger (when there is really nothing to fear).
You (and Jesse) may feel there is some distinction to be made here (which would presumably make emotions less cognitive in some way), but my point is that this distinction has not been either made or justified.


Quote:

My interpretation of what he said is simply that the emotion arises first and then the feeling is what links to the secondary cognitive part of the judgment. His "criticism" of rationalists had to do with not acknowledging the emotional origin of the sequence.
My point is that Jesse is turning the rationalist into a strawman if he thinks that rationalists (e.g., Aristotle or even Kant himself) could not admit that our initial moral responses were "gut reactions" -- in the same way that our immediate responses to just about everything is a "gut reaction". You see a ball speeding toward you. If you have never been trained to catch, your reaction might be simply to flinch. A trained catcher's "gut reaction" is to reach out in just the right way and grab the ball from the air in a way that he simply doesn't have the time to reason his way towards. Or, to take Malcolm Gladwell's example, a normal museum visitor might look at a certain kouros and respond with admiration, or perhaps with wonder at it's old age, while an experienced collector might have the gut reaction that "there's something fishy about this" -- without being able to analyze it.
Emotions deal in "Gestalten", grasping the whole "lay of the land" at once from numerous, perhaps widely distributed tiny cues -- and thank God they do! Reasoning is obviously much too slow a process to guide us second-by-second. They also have a hard time learning directly from abstract reasoning or from report -- they need to learn from experience. But none of this means that these reactions are non-cognitive. None of it proves that careful reasoning couldn't show us how to retrain ourselves so that we (for example) feel fear only when we are actually in real danger -- as an athlete can first reason out the best way to catch a ball and then through careful experiential retraining, unlearn bad habits and eventually make this better way to catch a ball "second nature."

Quote:

Before our more developed psychological functions can process the perceptual stimulus of a spider, a more primitive area of the brain triggers an automatic physiological response of fear with its attached to preparation for action. Our ability to analyze these stimuli and ultimately, perhaps "cancel" the instinctive reflexive response is a posteriori. With training, the brain can learn to distinguish between the plastic spider and the real ones. At the level of sensory processing, the image of the plastic spider is sent to the "safe" area, and not trigger the response at all. But the first time ever that you saw a plastic spider, not even knowing of their existence, you probably had the same fear response as with the real one.
Perhaps I should have picked a different fear: for example, consider the very shy person who knows perfectly well in an intellectual way that people won't "bite his head off" if he talks to them, but who nevertheless is terrified of speaking to people. I had in mind someone who was still horrified by plastic spiders even when he knew they were plastic -- or horrified by real but harmless spiders when he knows perfectly well that they are harmless. These fears are "irrational" precisely because the "feeling" of fear is not merely a feeling but rather a kind of "warning light" or siren that says "danger! danger!"

Quote:

There are some interesting studies that are somewhat related to this point. Juvenile delinquents were interviewed and asked about the reasons why they committed a crime. Almost all of them had some more or less rational justification for it. However, when describing the details of the crime itself, there was no evidence that they reasoned first and then acted. It was mostly a retroactive process. People need to justify their actions. Even when they plainly make a mistake, the tendency is to find a reason to justify it. I think Jesse refers to these justifications as reasons. A judgment reached through reasoning would be different in that it presumes a deliberation process before the judgment.
To say "I had a reason to do that" is not the same as to say "I reasoned my way to doing that." Some after-the-fact explanations of reasons for instantaneous decisions will match reality pretty well and others will not at all. Suppose a mathematician sees a problem and without any conscious calculation comes to the right answer "in a flash of insight". Afterwards, he works through the calculations and proves that his instantaneous vision was correct. This after-the-fact calculation seems to justify his claim to have "seen" the correct answer -- even though we all know perfectly well that he didn't (consciously) work through this entire hour-long calculation on his way to the answer. There WAS a reason for him to come to that answer, and he seems to have "seen" that reason, though he didn't do much REASONING ahead of time.

Clearly when the after-the-fact "justification" turns out to depend upon a lot fo distortions of actual events, the claim that there was a good reason to act as you did is unsupported. Someone who is constantly on the look-out for slights may think he had a reason to be angry when you "looked at him funny". Someone else of a more confident, but mild-mannered disposition may believe he had reason to be angry. In neither case did someone "reason his way to anger", but the second person's claim is more immediately credible.

Bloggin' Noggin 07-28-2008 12:28 PM

Re: Sentimental Mood Edition
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by AemJeff (Post 85298)
But surely, if there's some analog of physical reality underlying morality, there's no reason to consider it's existence independently of human psychology. (As I read that sentence back, I see it contains an internal contradiction.) Why should we assume than an independent, objective place where morality can be measured independently of psychology is even worth considering? The idea just seems to come freighted with a lot of unnecessary baggage, and seems (to me) to beg for an application of Occam's Razor.

By unnecessary baggage, I mean I don't see how the idea stands alone. It needs some kind of supporting structure against which its calibrations can be measured. What is that?

By contrast, if you assume that morality is entirely subjective (based in psychological phenomena) - for example starting with self-interest and empathy then filtered through cultural norms - you don't need to assume the existence of, or build from scratch, some sort of objective superstructure (moral reality) in which the system hangs.

If you do assume that ideas of morality follow as a self-organized consequence of human psychology, doesn't it make sense to argue from psychology?

Let's back up a bit. I am NOT primarily offering a particular picture of moral reality. Rather, I am criticizing an inference made by our diavloggers.
Here is the inference:

If moral realism is true (i.e., if there is such a thing as moral truth), human beings must have a built in "moral sense" whose purpose is to detect moral truth.
What principle is this inference based on? Well, apparently, it is based on this principle:
If there are true claims within a certain subject-matter, then human beings will have a built-in ability to detect the truth in this subject matter.

My previous post shows that this principle is ridiculously implausible. There are radio waves, but human beings have no built-in sense for radio waves.

Perhaps they are relying on some narrower principle. What is this narrower principle?
Be careful, though: if you restrict it entirely to moral discourse and moral reality, then you are simply begging the question.
Again, I am NOT here claiming that moral reality is exactly like physical reality in every respect. I am simply pointing out that a certain inference made by our diavloggers is a truly rotten inference.

A quick comment on this:
Quote:

By contrast, if you assume that morality is entirely subjective (based in psychological phenomena)
Here, you appear to confuse two quite different notions of "subjective"
In one sense, all of psychology is "subjective" -- it concerns what is going on in peoople's minds. But it DOES NOT follow from this that psychology is "subjective" in the sense that whatever you think about it is correct. There is a psychological reality which is independent of what people think about it: for example people may believe in the Oedipus Complex, but that doesn't mean that the Oedipus Complex is a psychological reality. Commonsense psychological views may be wrong in various ways as well.
Moral reality may well be psychological, but it doesn't follow that moral reality is identical with our beliefs about moral reality. Moral reality may not be identical with our moral norms, even though moral reality lies within the psycho-social realm.

Bloggin' Noggin 07-28-2008 12:43 PM

Re: Sentimental Mood Edition
 
Ocean,
You seem to object to my use of the word "psychologizing" on some very general terms. What I meant is that the diavloggers start with a non-psychological claim (there is a moral reality to which some moral claims correspond) and they identify it with a very particular view about certain psychological mechanisms.
My claim is that this identification is wholly unwarranted. Moral realism could easily be true even if the particular psychological claims they identify it with are false; and moral realism could be false even if there is a specially selected "moral sense".

I'm certainly not claiming that psychology has absolutely nothing to do with morality or moral reality. I'm simply saying that eitehr one of the following views could be true without the other:

A) Human beings have evolved with a "purpose-built" moral sense (something like our linguistic sense).
and
B) Some moral claims are literally true, and true independently of whether people happen to believe them or accept them as their own norms.

AemJeff 07-28-2008 01:08 PM

Re: Sentimental Mood Edition
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Bloggin' Noggin (Post 85311)
A quick comment on this:

Here, you appear to confuse two quite different notions of "subjective"
In one sense, all of psychology is "subjective" -- it concerns what is going on in peoople's minds. But it DOES NOT follow from this that psychology is "subjective" in the sense that whatever you think about it is correct. There is a psychological reality which is independent of what people think about it: for example people may believe in the Oedipus Complex, but that doesn't mean that the Oedipus Complex is a psychological reality. Commonsense psychological views may be wrong in various ways as well.
Moral reality may well be psychological, but it doesn't follow that moral reality is identical with our beliefs about moral reality. Moral reality may not be identical with our moral norms, even though moral reality lies within the psycho-social realm.

I need to think about the first part of your respsonse. Regarding the above, it's possible I'm abusing the term I (it wouldn't be the first time), but what I have in mind is that there's no external yardstick, no way to fix a quantitative judgment that could stand empirically.

Three olives is more than two olives is a different kind of assertion than rape is a greater crime than theft.

cragger 07-28-2008 01:14 PM

Re: Sentimental Mood Edition
 
The point that we can modify responses to emotion through mechanisms that imply cognition seems obvious enough, but the argument that emotion is a primary response (to a stimulus) in an emotion -> action line gets into some circularity once you recoginize the way in which specific stimuli can become attatched to emotional triggers as you discuss. This implies some mechanism which I will call cognition at a subconscious level which comes into play before the emotion is triggered, thus emotion is not a "starting point" or primary response connected directly to the stimulus. Other activity must precede it.

This is not to suggest a simple "perception -> subconscious filter -> emotion -> conscious/subconscious filter -> action -> rationalization of the action and emotion" model is a sufficient understanding of what takes place. I think that this does offer some degree of understanding and is a typical human attempt to linearize a more complex system in order to be able to grasp it and gain some insights. Throw in our human Predictably Irrational behavior (previous diavlog plug) and stir. The model leaves a lot of questions regarding the majority of our actions, which we take without a strongly perceived emotional component, and even a more complex and accurate model of our behavior and moral sense doesn't really address the subject of the existance of an objective morality external to our flawed moral senses as BN noted previous to this posting.

The diavlog however was concerned pretty exclusively with moral sense however, the determination of how we do act, rather than the more philosophical question of an external moral ideal of how we should act. I found it odd that Prinz seemed to say that should one direct his behavior according to an idea of moral behavior, rather than in accordance with an internalized emotional response, that one was not acting morally. That acton would become moral only when the individual and/or society emotionally coupled it. Perhaps the issue is simply one of nomenclature, since he discussed evolution of morality under conscious control.

Emotivist, rationalist, and theist philosophers have been wrestling over ethics for some time, and it is certainly interesting. As are the comments on this diavlog taken in whole, kudos to the community. It appears that the forum discussion has been largely in the realm of the emotive and rational ethicists, the latter perhaps in the question of external moral ideas as well as internal, emotive moral senses. Since I have added little to the discussion, I pose a question for consideration:

The theists posit an externaly determined absolute morality through the appeal to higher authority - an action is moral if it is in accordance will the Will of God (e.g. killing is wrong because God decreed "Thou shall not kill", and not simply as a "practical" matter). I note a strong (and I suspect evolutionary psychological) similar human tendency to defer to human status/authority (e.g. killing is not merely acceptable, but a moral imperative if the tribal chief, king, party leadership, etc. decree it for some group of people). The resulting dissonance exists despite the majority, at least here in the US, claiming to hold to specific theistic belief.

The question is whether theism really fits within the emotive model of morality, rather than being a seperate category. Since stress fits within the negative feelings that we are wired to reduce and avoid, we absolve ourselves of a sense of stress over moral decisons, conflicts, and delimmas when we abrogate these decisions to a higher authority as well as gaining the comfort of acceptance in an existing community.

This seems to fit within the diavlog discussion of people tending to emotionally internalize local cultural norms, that there is an "emotional reward" as well as a potential practical reward to subjugating onself to the group norms of morality however arbitrary and dissonant those may be cognitively.

Comments?

travis68 07-28-2008 02:24 PM

Re: Sentimental Mood Edition
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by cragger (Post 85316)
The diavlog however was concerned pretty exclusively with moral sense however, the determination of how we do act, rather than the more philosophical question of an external moral ideal of how we should act. I found it odd that Prinz seemed to say that should one direct his behavior according to an idea of moral behavior, rather than in accordance with an internalized emotional response, that one was not acting morally. That acton would become moral only when the individual and/or society emotionally coupled it.

This gets to their contention about sociopaths that see moral values as simply rules to follow. I think the intuition is that unless someone is emotionally attached to some value, we don't really trust their commitment. If you just see it as a rule to follow, you might not be as diligent in following the rule compared to someone with an emotional commitment to the rule.

travis68 07-28-2008 02:44 PM

Re: Sentimental Mood Edition
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by cragger (Post 85316)
This is not to suggest a simple "perception -> subconscious filter -> emotion -> conscious/subconscious filter -> action -> rationalization of the action and emotion" model is a sufficient understanding of what takes place.

I completely agree that our knowledge of the brain doesn't allow us much confidence to speculate about these ideas and fMRI studies are pretty much worthless at this stage in the technology. I also am in agreement that there must be some processing that occurs before an emotion is triggered, and this is where I disagree with Ocean.

I think it's quite clear that a person's moral judgment about the morality of homosexuality can change over a lifetime. The emotions expressed also change, perhaps from a feeling of outrage to one of indifference. For me, I think it's clear that the emotions *follow* the change in the moral judgment. The evidence that I have is that people's emotions change after they change their way of thinking about something. I am curious to see whether anyone disagrees with that.

Bloggin' Noggin 07-28-2008 04:53 PM

Re: Sentimental Mood Edition
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by AemJeff (Post 85315)
I need to think about the first part of your respsonse. Regarding the above, it's possible I'm abusing the term I (it wouldn't be the first time), but what I have in mind is that there's no external yardstick, no way to fix a quantitative judgment that could stand empirically.

Three olives is more than two olives is a different kind of assertion than rape is a greater crime than theft.

Your initial interpretation of "subjective" is "psychological" or "having to do with mental states -- the first of these is your parenthetical gloss on "subjective." You then seem to move to something like what you offer here: where people disagree (or rather appear to disagree) about a "subjective" issue, neither is right and neither is wrong. As I pointed out with my Oedipus Complex example, this inference is bad. And that point about the inference is my main concern.

I wonder whether you would be willing to admit that being raped is a greater harm than being deprived of say 50 dollars -- because I think its being a greater crime is dependent upon its being a greater harm. Would you at least concede that a tiny scratch on the finger is a lesser harm than being drawn and quartered?

AemJeff 07-28-2008 07:34 PM

Re: Sentimental Mood Edition
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Bloggin' Noggin (Post 85345)
Your initial interpretation of "subjective" is "psychological" or "having to do with mental states -- the first of these is your parenthetical gloss on "subjective." You then seem to move to something like what you offer here: where people disagree (or rather appear to disagree) about a "subjective" issue, neither is right and neither is wrong. As I pointed out with my Oedipus Complex example, this inference is bad. And that point about the inference is my main concern.

I wonder whether you would be willing to admit that being raped is a greater harm than being deprived of say 50 dollars -- because I think its being a greater crime is dependent upon its being a greater harm. Would you at least concede that a tiny scratch on the finger is a lesser harm than being drawn and quartered?

Quickly, on the definition of "subjective," I think I was referring to it in terms of "psychology" as a way of saying that moral judgments reference nothing that exists independently of mind, no outside standard. That's an awkward exegesis, which probably means that I didn't choose my phrasing very well.

I've quoted what you said about the inference you're talking about for reference:
Quote:

If moral realism is true (i.e., if there is such a thing as moral truth), human beings must have a built in "moral sense" whose purpose is to detect moral truth.
What principle is this inference based on? Well, apparently, it is based on this principle:
If there are true claims within a certain subject-matter, then human beings will have a built-in ability to detect the truth in this subject matter.
And the following is what I've most directly been responding to:
Quote:

Only an a question-begging assumption that there is no such thing as moral reality could lead to so obvious a conflation of totally different questions.
"If there are true claims..." seems like an important condition, here. Part of my argument is that I don't see a reason to make that assumption, quite the reverse. To have me drawn and quartered would indeed be a great harm. To cut my finger would be a lesser harm. These can measured by the degree and the permanence of the damage done to me, as an organism. But degree of harm isn't necessarily identical to a measure of morality. Wonderment and Thus Spoke Elvis, to use names we're familiar with, would disagree on whether inflicting bodily harm on an enemy captive in a time of war was a moral act. It's easy to imagine scenarios where someone felt greater harm from the loss of fifty dollars vs. being raped. It would be extraordinary, but there's no reason it couldn't be true. I think there are metrics that we can use as yardsticks, and I think some of them probably carry more force than others. I can easily bring myself to believe that there could be "global" value that we all share, but I don't think that's inevitable.

My aim has mainly been to assert my belief that assuming an underlying moral reality seems to be the more difficult case to make. And if you don't make that assumption, then there is a different set of rules by which we would evaluate morality than otherwise.

Ocean 07-28-2008 10:31 PM

Re: Sentimental Mood Edition
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by travis68 (Post 85326)
I also am in agreement that there must be some processing that occurs before an emotion is triggered, and this is where I disagree with Ocean.

For me, I think it's clear that the emotions *follow* the change in the moral judgment. The evidence that I have is that people's emotions change after they change their way of thinking about something. I am curious to see whether anyone disagrees with that.

I missed all these very interesting comments due to work! Of course interesting stuff happens at work too...

There are so many comments I would like to respond to that I decided to start with this one because it is easier (I think), and also addresses others.

These "brain" processes don't occur in a linear sequence (serial type). It is more like a parallel circuit in some portions, then convergent, and then divergent with a series of other parallel parts. The example of fear is a good one because it is easier to illustrate. The simplest way is dangerous stimulus leads to fear, fear leads to preparation for action, and then some decision about the action or simply an "impulsive" act.
The first part is the stimulus, whatever that is. The information enters the sensory areas and it goes around through association areas collecting previous information stored about the object that originated the stimulus. The object is measured and classified in the many categories it may belong to. In case of a spider the categories may be: small thing, animal, moving object, etc. For the fear response what matters is whether it belongs to the category of dangerous. And how dangerous. Once the dangerousness criteria is met, it triggers the fear (emotional) response. This basic sequence dangerous stimuli triggers fear response is a very primitive response. It is previous to any cognition. It exits in the most simple living forms. More developed animals have made these sequences more complex a various levels. We (humans), have developed an elaborated system of processing information from the external world. This refers to the afferent arm, the sensory-perceptual level. One of these sophistications allows us to change the classification of an object from dangerous to non-dangerous and viceversa. The mechanism by which we do this could be conscious desensitization (retraining sort of), as when you overcome a fear to spiders, or unconscious. An example of an unconscious mechanism would be when the change in classification occurs from a non-dangerous to dangerous and there is no apparent reason. Social phobia or extreme shyness may be one case. What about a moral value at this level? Perhaps overcoming prejudice, xenophobia, may be a way of changing that classification. But once something is in the dangerous group, it will trigger an emotional response.
A special situation is when someone has been exposed to frequent, repeated, massively dangerous situations and becomes "numb". It is as if the capacity for response has been depleted. But that enters the pathological realm.
What about the actual emotional response? Can that be changed? For example a response to a minimally dangerous object is different from the response to an imminently lethal danger. Can we train ourselves to modulate the response? Yes, we can. But the change is evident mostly in the efferent (outgoing) arm.
The fear response initiates a number of physiological changes that prepare for action. Adrenalin flows, heart beats fast, pumping more blood for the muscles to be able to fight or run, etc. Can we change this part of the response? Yes, we can train ourselves to selectively respond in certain ways, delay the response, deflect it, etc. A this level, we can stop the action and decide what is the best action. What action ensues depends on the conscious deliberation that occurs, or by unconscious modifications of the original spontaneous response. Some of these modified responses can be adaptive while others are maladaptive.
The above is a simplification. In reality at the sensory/perceptual level there are connections with the emotional part of the brain, and also connections with the "cognitive" areas, which start to process this simultaneously, in parallel.

I think that one of the aspects brought up in the diavlog is the effect of a background emotional tone on decision making, including moral judgment. If someone is particularly irritable, he/she will be more likely to be "tougher" or stricter than he would be if in a good mood. This is rather obvious and has more to do with the application than the creation of the moral principles.

To summarize, we are talking of morality as some conscious mechanism that makes us do what is "right" and refrain from what is "wrong" in spite of, and working against an automatic, instinctual or learned response to do otherwise. This modulator of our behavior can work at the sensory / perceptual level by making us change our mind about the qualities of an stimulus, or at the outgoing level, by modifying the action that would spontaneously ensue the emotional response. It appears that the modification at the level of action is a less developed form of morality and is closer to just "following the rules". The modification at the categorization level is a more mature morality because it represents an internalization of the essence of the moral rule. At this level, there would be no negative emotion triggered and no action that needs to be contained.
Gosh! I wanted to be brief... but this is close to my field after all...

travis68 07-29-2008 01:37 AM

Re: Sentimental Mood Edition
 
@Ocean: Thanks for the response. I agree broadly with what you say. Reflecting further on my previous statement that emotions follow moral judgment, I think I failed to take into account the possibility that one can have an emotional response and control it and act contrary to the emotion. So in that case, emotion is not following moral judgment. In that situation, it seems that we are at war within ourselves and are holding two different values simultaneously. I am thinking of an example such as homosexuality where a person intellectually agrees that there is nothing wrong with it but at an emotional level is still discomfited by it.

Ocean 07-29-2008 12:32 PM

Re: Sentimental Mood Edition
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by travis68 (Post 85393)
@Ocean: Thanks for the response. I agree broadly with what you say. Reflecting further on my previous statement that emotions follow moral judgment, I think I failed to take into account the possibility that one can have an emotional response and control it and act contrary to the emotion. So in that case, emotion is not following moral judgment. In that situation, it seems that we are at war within ourselves and are holding two different values simultaneously. I am thinking of an example such as homosexuality where a person intellectually agrees that there is nothing wrong with it but at an emotional level is still discomfited by it.

That's exactly right. It's the struggle between our instinctual tendencies and our best judgment. Moral norms set the boundaries that define what is acceptable behavior from what is not.

Bloggin' Noggin 07-30-2008 07:48 AM

Re: Sentimental Mood Edition
 
Hi Jeff,
Sorry my responses are so long in coming these days. I recognize that we were all taught in high school that there was no moral truth, and that this dogma has taken on the status of common sense -- of the blindingly obvious, even -- as a result. But before our high school teachers taught us this, it was a bunch of arguments made by philosophers (like A.J. Ayer) against the prevailing commonsense moral realism. The arguments offered by those philosophers were based upon assumptions that we now recognize to be false and unworkable in every other sphere of knowledge. We need to re-confront the question with an open mind.

Quote:

Originally Posted by AemJeff (Post 85369)
Quickly, on the definition of "subjective," I think I was referring to it in terms of "psychology" as a way of saying that moral judgments reference nothing that exists independently of mind, no outside standard. That's an awkward exegesis, which probably means that I didn't choose my phrasing very well.

Here you attempt to straddle the same chasm you attempted to straddle last time -- this time with the aid of the very expansive term "external". Consider the question of whether I am in pain. Surely that is a question that concerns mental states --something that "depends on the mind". Does it follow that there is "no external standard" whether I am in pain or not? Well, if YOU are attempting to determine whether I am in pain or just faking it, then the standard of whether your guess is right or not is certainly external to you and your mind. There is a fact of the matter about whether I am in pain -- an empirically determinable fact about whether I am in pain, for which non-mental facts are certainly relevant evidence (e.g., is an arrow sticking out of my shoulder? do my cries sound real or fake?)
Let me concede for the sake of argument (and because it seems plausible) that if there are any facts that underwrite some moral norms and not others, they are psycho-social facts.
It does not follow from the claim that the psychosocial facts in question are the facts about what norms people believe.

Quote:

I've quoted what you said about the inference you're talking about for reference:

And the following is what I've most directly been responding to:

"If there are true claims..." seems like an important condition, here. Part of my argument is that I don't see a reason to make that assumption, quite the reverse.
You seem to interpret me as making that assumption myself. Rather, I am attributing the WHOLE CONDITIONAL -- the whole "if-then" statement to Will and Jesse. They are assuming that someone who believes in moral realism is committed to a certain claim about human beings possessing a certain psychic "module". My claim is that they are completely wrong in thinking that the moral realist is in any way committed to such a claim.

You seem to be saying "if we suppose from the get-go that moral realism is false (based apparently on your conflation of "mental" with "non-factual" or "rationally indeterminable"), THEN the best way to interpret moral realism is as an attempt to make some claim about a "moral module" in all humans. Maybe once we get to a genuinely sound argument against moral realism, this will be the best interpretation of the bee moral realists had in their bonnets. But it is still clearly a huge distortion of what they actually MEAN!

If I claim that I am Jesus Christ, it is certainly possible that I just mean to make some kind of metaphorical claim. But the mere fact that you find my claim crazy (or even the fact that it really is crazy) doesn't show that I don't mean exactly what I say.

What I've been saying all along is that Will and Jesse, rather than offering any kind of argument against moral realists, simply argue against somebody else, all the while claiming that they are arguing against moral realism.

W & J claim to be offering an argument against moral realism, but that their argument actually begs the question against moral realism, because only someone who already thinks moral realism is false would interpret moral realism to mean what they take it to mean.
Your reaction perfectly underwrites my claim. W&J offer an argument against moral realism that is based on conflating it with something else. You attempt to justify their substitution on the grounds that moral realism is implausible to begin with -- before their argument is ever offered. In that case their argument against moral realism is indeed question-beggingly dependent upon an assumption of what they intended to prove (that moral realism is false).


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