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  #81  
Old 12-12-2011, 10:28 AM
thouartgob thouartgob is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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Originally Posted by Sulla the Dictator View Post
Interesting how in your mockery of sanity,
my mockery is of the very mockable notion that liberals and progressives are in the habit of thinking that restricting the use of the word EVIL is the ONLY weapon to use in engaging "everything wrong with the world" when examples of "dead evil-doers" abound. Dead at the hands of liberals and progressives leading western democracies.

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you seem to be suggesting that it is as absurd to consider a terrorist evil as it is to consider an abortion doctor evil.
I would suggest reversing the order of the previous statement as a statement of my thoughts on the subject.

I would also say that there is a lot of rhetoric about comparing abortions to a holocuast and the Nazi regime and I would suggest saying that doctors who perform a legal medical procedure that can save the life of a woman is the same EVIL as Hitler is preposterous.
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  #82  
Old 12-12-2011, 11:01 AM
stephanie stephanie is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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Originally Posted by Simon Willard View Post
I have not read Prof. Wolfe's book, so I can comment only on this diavlog. I am surprised how muddled the presentation was. He wants to avoid using the word "evil", especially as a noun, preferring the adjective form as somehow less provocative. The word was, however, used freely in this discussion, and without any attempt at definition.

It is asserted that Hitler really was evil, but the Axis of Evil isn't really evil. Well, how do we really know this? Where is the ground of Truth?

Ideas can be partly good and partly bad. That's a fair point, but rather trivial. If we can't define "evil", can we define "bad" instead? If there is such a thing as "bad", should we be upset at those who fight against it? Or shall we drop the good/bad distinction altogether and just not worry about anything?

I don't know what the goal is here. I don't see rational thought at all. I see word games. Show me the rational thought.
I like Alan Wolfe a lot, but I largely agree with this.

Hmm -- thinking about it, I think my problem is that Alan seemed to be using the term in a confused way, not much different than those who he was criticizing. I think "evil" does have a meaning, but we need to be clear about what it means, and primarily I think what it means, its usefulness, is in the context that Alan excluded from his discussion. Specifically, it relates to individual behavior, and, particularly, is a moral or theological term. It gets into why bad acts occur.

I don't think it makes a lot of sense to inject it into the discussion over foreign policy not because Hitler was evil (although sure he was) and we are using it too broadly if we say Saddam also was evil (why is that too broad? not due to anything about the actual meaning of evil, if I understood Alan's argument correctly). Getting into a debate about the evilness of Saddam vs. Hitler seems idiotic. If WW2 was justified and Iraq not, IMO, it's not because of the personal evilness of their leaders, but because of the particular threat presented and reasons for the wars, the just war analysis. Alan hinted at this when he said that leaders could be very, very bad and be expansionist, but the issue here is not the misuse of evil -- Hitler would have been just as evil even if he's been more limited in his expansionist aims, but all else had remained the same. It's that we are mixing up categories.

One problem with the mixing up of "evil" and foreign policy is that evil is generally understood in a theological sense as a personal turning away from the good in some sense. It presents a question relating to individuals making choices for which they are personally responsible. Thinking of foreign policy in these terms may make us feel better about what we have to do, but I don't think it helps in terms of the issues we face there -- basically, how do we deal with dangers facing the US and others we want to protect? That's because "evil" focuses on the personal choices, the moral culpability, but when we are talking about why nations do things, why people in certain types of governments tend to act in ways we find undesireable, we aren't assuming that it's just a matter of personal choice, but that context matters. An individual within Nazi Germany may do horrible things for which he or she is morally culpable, but the question in a foreign policy perspective is the more pragmatic one -- is it likely that the same person, on average, would have acted differently under different circumstances.

Indeed, this seems to fit in with neo con theory well enough, as when we claim that western values are preferable and make the world safer, we aren't saying that the individuals who live under western values are just better people naturally. We are saying that the nature of the society in which you live makes a difference.

Assuming that it's all about "evil" assumes that the foriegn policy problem is just inidvidual bad people and not anything more complex or difficult to get rid of, and that's wrong not because the word "evil" is overused, but because it misidentifies the problem.
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  #83  
Old 12-12-2011, 11:05 AM
stephanie stephanie is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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Originally Posted by Ocean View Post
But the gist of it is that the term evil has been used in a way (intentionally or unintentionally, I'm not getting into that discussion) that elicits a primitive form of fear and rejection. It's the essence of evil, all bad and corrupt and ungodly. Once you accept that your enemy or rival embodies such essence of evil, you become the rightful warrior, god's sword in a certain way. These archetypes are dangerous, because once adopted it's a battle of life and death, or even worse, mixed in with ideas of mission and destiny. These are all abstract heroic concepts that stimulate emotions and drive action, but they tend to obtund reasoning. You're fighting monsters unable to reason, who are only driven by their corrupted malignant evilness. There's no road to negotiations, to understanding, or to finding common ground.
I think this is true, but I didn't think Alan made this point well, if this was his point (which it may have been, in part).
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  #84  
Old 12-12-2011, 11:13 AM
stephanie stephanie is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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Originally Posted by Simon Willard View Post
Fair enough. But this is all still trivial, in the sense that everyone chooses words every day to maximize their persuasive effect. And why should we not do so? What would be the point of language otherwise? There's no theorem that says extreme language works the best. Quite the contrary; when you go too far with language, people tune you out rather quickly.
I agree with this.

To perhaps shorten the point I was trying to make in my extended diatribe above, the problem with "evil" in foreign policy discussions is that it's a side step of the justification for the use of force. If someone is "evil," the good must oppose him or her, regardless of the broader discussion about when force can and should be used.

I do agree with you that complaining about the overuse of the term "evil" is not really the issue, though. The issue is that it's a confusion of categories. Also, it's -- I think -- a failure to be clear about what "evil" is when we talk about it in the correct context, the moral or theological one.

This is actually related to the point raised toward the end of the diavlog, about whether it's bad to try and explain bad acts by pointing to things that might make them more likely. Seems to me that the reaction by many to that is based on this confusion of categories. Pointing to something as a potential cause does not mean that the person who acts based on that reason is not morally culpable. Traditionally, that you think you have a reason for what you do doesn't make one not "evil," it makes one human.

But to a certain extent this relates to a debate within moral philosophy or, primarily, theology about what evil is, and demonstrates how out of context the focus is.
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  #85  
Old 12-12-2011, 11:26 AM
stephanie stephanie is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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Originally Posted by Ray in Seattle View Post
Western values that emerged from the ideas of the enlightenment and the US Constitution, etc. said that such non-defensive violence is morally wrong (evil).
You are making two arguments here:

(1) Morality is relative.

(2) "Evil" is merely the term for what we consider "morally wrong."

I don't think that's what it conveys to many (although I think the latter claim is related to how I'm arguing for its use). More significantly, I think you've essentially gotten rid of the argument for "evil" as the definition of when we should and shouldn't use force in a foriegn policy context. Lots of things are morally wrong from my perspective. We don't have the right to attack every country or leader that does morally wrong acts. We do have the right to attack some of them.
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  #86  
Old 12-12-2011, 12:29 PM
Ray in Seattle Ray in Seattle is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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Originally Posted by stephanie View Post
You are making two arguments here:

(1) Morality is relative.

(2) "Evil" is merely the term for what we consider "morally wrong."

I don't think that's what it conveys to many (although I think the latter claim is related to how I'm arguing for its use). More significantly, I think you've essentially gotten rid of the argument for "evil" as the definition of when we should and shouldn't use force in a foriegn policy context. Lots of things are morally wrong from my perspective. We don't have the right to attack every country or leader that does morally wrong acts. We do have the right to attack some of them.
After watching the very good diavlog between Maggie and Jessa - I purchased the Kindle version of Gladwell's "Outliers" - which Jessa referred to in the discussion. (Gladwell, Malcolm (2008-10-29). Outliers: The Story of Success. Hachette Book Group. Kindle Edition.)

In Chapter Six (p. 161) "Harlan, Kentucky “DIE LIKE A MAN, LIKE YOUR BROTHER DID!” Gladwell tells of a guy on trial for murder. He had been repeatedly taunted by some construction workers one day. He went home and came back with his shotgun and killed several of the workers which he did not deny in court. Only one juror of the twelve voted to convict him. One of the eleven "not-guilty" jurors when questioned afterword said that the accused "would not have been much a man" if he had not taken his shotgun and killed a few of them.

I do believe morality is relative. I am claiming that (IMO) only one thing justifies the use of force against others. That is in self defense against an initial violence. I agree that it is my own parochial view. I use it and think of it as "morality" because I believe that logically it is the only means of making the world a less violent and happier place to live out one's life. And conversely, when people allow for exceptions - i.e. the use of violence to coerce or intimidate others non-defensively such as to correct a non-violent insult - then there remains no reasonably consistent way to draw a line between violence that is "moral" and that that is not. It simply becomes a matter of "my use of violence is justified" and my enemy's is immoral.

I don't understand why those who claim to value peace and non-violence would not only disagree with this view - but would have almost no ability to discuss their reasons for their disagreement - would show almost no evidence of having considered this question in a way that would allow them to discuss it intelligently - would even avoid the discussion by claiming that they've "had that discussion before" and the use of other such escape clauses.

(I don't put you in that category. You appear to be willing to try to justify your beliefs on any topic - our disagreements notwithstanding.)
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Last edited by Ray in Seattle; 12-12-2011 at 12:57 PM..
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  #87  
Old 12-12-2011, 01:19 PM
stephanie stephanie is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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Originally Posted by Ray in Seattle View Post
I do believe morality is relative.
I think this relates to the confusion that often prevails about the use of the term "evil." It gets used in a few different senses:

(1)(a) in an absolute moral sense -- "evil" as the opposite of (or absence of) good.

(1)(b) is the culpability issue -- if an "evil act" is one which is objectively wrong (my (1)(a) sense), then one has acted evilly when one does an evil act with no excuse.

(1)(c) is an extension of (1)(b) -- often we are willing to say that certain acts are so extreme that no excuse is imaginable, which is when we start getting into the uses of "evil" that Ocean seemed to be talking about -- the idea that we aren't talking about ordinary human acts, but something so monstrous that it cannot be understood without presuming a difference between the actor(s) and other humans.

On the other hand, there are more casual uses of the term that fit with (but are not limited to) more relative notions of morality:

(2)(a) with respect to personal behavior -- "morally depraved" -- but this tends to assume that the person is violating agreed-upon or known moral standards. As St. Paul might say "I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want."

(2)(b) is the way I think you are using it, to mean "morally depraved" according to the subjective standards of the speaker, not the person whose actions are spoken of. I do not think this is the common way of using it in public dialogue. Usually I think more is meant to be conveyed.

(2)(c) is closely related to (2)(a) and (2)(b) but doesn't distinguish between them and yet is a more common everyday use. Basically, "really, really bad." It doesn't set aside the nature of what is being complained about as a specific type of moral wrong, but an intensifier of the condemnation.

Quote:
I am claiming that (IMO) only one thing justifies the use of force against others. That is in self defense against an initial violence.
Fair enough, but I don't see how this fits into the "evil" discussion.

I guess it would if you are saying that unprovoked violence is "evil" and is the only "political evil" worthy of the name. IMO, focusing on the term "evil" there is just confusing and distracting, as when we call Hitler or even Saddam evil, I don't think the main point is simply that they were willing to use unprovoked violence. It's something about the scale, etc.
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  #88  
Old 12-12-2011, 01:40 PM
Simon Willard Simon Willard is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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Originally Posted by stephanie View Post
To perhaps shorten the point I was trying to make in my extended diatribe above, the problem with "evil" in foreign policy discussions is that it's a side step of the justification for the use of force. If someone is "evil," the good must oppose him or her, regardless of the broader discussion about when force can and should be used.
I don't completely recognize the connection between evilness and the justification of force. I would use force when it's beneficial to use force, without direct constraint by religious considerations. I mean, if there are religious considerations, (and I'm not denying there are) they flow for me into the calculation of what's "beneficial".

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Originally Posted by stephanie View Post
I do agree with you that complaining about the overuse of the term "evil" is not really the issue, though. The issue is that it's a confusion of categories. Also, it's -- I think -- a failure to be clear about what "evil" is when we talk about it in the correct context, the moral or theological one.
Talking to Ocean has convinced me that I don't have the same response to the word "evil" that some people do. Perhaps it's because I'm not intimately immersed in religious traditions. I certainly do consider "evil" to be a stronger word than "bad", but I haven't grasped this business of word "categories". Categories come from context. I don't think of isolated words as being heavily fraught with categories. I use metaphors freely.

Anyway, I think it's important for everyone to understand that words don't have the same effect on all people.

Last edited by Simon Willard; 12-12-2011 at 01:49 PM..
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  #89  
Old 12-12-2011, 02:17 PM
stephanie stephanie is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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Originally Posted by Simon Willard View Post
I don't completely recognize the connection between evilness and the justification of force.
I should read Chapter One of the book (at least), but I think it's related to the use of "evil" in political rhetoric. Usually when we start talking about leaders or countries as "evil" or (especially) comparing them to Hitler or the Nazis, the argument is that a use of force against them is justified. I think it may be, but not because they are "evil" -- it's a confusion of categories.

Ocean's point is relevant here, because often the point of injecting the label "evil" into the conversation is to say that whoeveritis must be stopped and cannot be stopped by other means, we cannot put the foreign policy issue into a pragmatic framework, based on interests and incentive. It's a black and white moral one, the only answer to which is force.

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I would use force when it's beneficial to use force, without direct constraint by religious considerations.
I'm not talking about religious considerations (unless by that you mean the general framework about when force is justified).

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Talking to Ocean has convinced me that I don't have the same response to the word "evil" that some people do.
But it's important that the use of the word "evil" and the shock when people resist the characterization or the conclusions the characterization is supposed to lead to makes it clear that your reaction is contrary to what is actually being said with the usual political rhetoric use of the term. When Saddam is described as evil (and I don't object to that, I disagree with that focus of Alan's argument), you are expected by the describer to have the kind of reaction Ocean is talking about. That's the point of it.

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Perhaps it's because I'm not intimately immersed in religious traditions.
I don't think it's religion that is injecting this "extra" meaning onto the term, but simply how the term is used. It's the meaning that the person using the term intends to convey. That you don't have that reaction doesn't change it's rhetorical meaning, how the term is employed.

Indeed, when we focus on the religious use you have to be clear what you mean too, because it is possible to use "evil" in a much more neutral way than it is usually heard (due to the more causal English use as well as some other kinds of religious uses) within the context of a theological discussion. I'd point to my categories (1)(a) and (b) in my post to Ray -- "evil" could just mean contrary to good and an "objectively evil" act be one that's wrong, even if not especially extreme in scope. However, it's clear this is not how the term is used in political rhetoric.

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I certainly do consider "evil" to be a stronger word than "bad", but I haven't grasped this business of word "categories". Categories come from context. I don't think of isolated words as being heavily fraught with categories. I use metaphors freely.
It's not the word, it's the nature of the discussion. This goes back to whether we are talking about the justification of force, however, which I think we are. Debating whether someone is "evil" is not the correct question whether discussing whether to use force. However, it often seems to be brought up as a way to avoid the issues that one would normally discuss (like whether it is beneficial, however one defines that) in considering the use of force. It gets trumped by focus on the sheer Evilness of that which must be stopped, any means necessary. That's one part of what I mean by confusion of categories. Contrary to Alan's argument, I see no harm in calling Saddam evil, certainly no merits to the "not as evil as Hitler" defense. I simply don't think Saddam's relative evilness vs. Hitler is relevant to whether Iraq was or was not a smart war or determinative of its justification.

On the other confusion of categories point, I think people often insist that acts or people are Evil in order to say they cannot be morally justified or excused. That's where people get upset about the considering of reasons for the actions of terrorists or some such -- as if by saying that they are more likely to attack us if we do X or Y that we are saying that that somehow lets them off the hook, makes them not morally culpable, their acts not "evil." My point is that when we are talking foreign policy, I'm not especially interested in the personal moral culpability of the terrorists. I am interested in ways that we could make attacks less likely.

For example, I often think Bob is wrong in his assumptions about what would, but that's different from the suggestion that by pointing out possible causes that we are saying terrorists are not morally culpable. I don't think the latter is Bob's point at all, and it seems disingenuous to me when people react as if it is. That reaction is often in connection with a claim that causes must not be relevant, because that denies "evil."

Last edited by stephanie; 12-12-2011 at 02:21 PM..
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  #90  
Old 12-12-2011, 05:53 PM
ledocs ledocs is offline
 
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Default Re: Thanks, but no thanks. Beyond Good and Evil is Evil

STD said:

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An important thing to consider here is that Alan Wolfe seems to be ignoring the role success has in determining who is "better or worse". Put Hitler in North Korea instead of Germany, surround him with vastly more numerous Chinese, an advanced South Korea, and 30,000 of America's finest and he'll be just as "harmless" as Kim Jong Il. Give Idi Amin the resources of Nazi Germany with the same balance of power that Hitler faced, and you'll probably get something equally monstrous and probably more bizarre.
To the contrary, I thought that was his main point, that "evil" considered as a term that would lead to military action, should be reserved for those cases in which there is a grave and immediate threat to US security or to Western security, say. So Khadaffi was in some sense "evil," but the Obama administration prudently avoided using this language, because Libya did not pose a major security threat to any country, and certainly not to the US. In other words, the language of "evil," under contemporary conditions, would be reserved for great powers.

Similarly, Saddam was evil in some sense, but Wolfe thinks it was not helpful to apply this adjective to him, because to do so implied immediately that Saddam posed a threat to the US or the West that he did not pose, or because allowing UN inspectors to determine whether he posed a military threat became, as a result of the unfortunate "framing" of "evilness," a form of appeasement.

I don't think Wolfe was saying anything more than that we should be pragmatic in our use of the word "evil," that this language tends to blind people to doing sensible cost-benefit analysis. Wolfe implied, by referring to himself as a "liberal hawk," that he favors humanitarian interventions to resist or overthrow tyrants, when the costs can be kept to a minimum, as, presumably, was the case in the Balkans and Libya, per Wolfe. I don't think there is anything profound going on here. It's all quite banal. Wolfe, like Wright, is a "progressive realist." It would have been interesting to hear more about why Wolfe is not a fan of Peter Singer.

I think bhtv needs to hear from some "irresponsible" voices on the Left, like that of Alexander Cockburn.
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Last edited by ledocs; 12-12-2011 at 05:58 PM..
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  #91  
Old 12-12-2011, 06:37 PM
sugarkang sugarkang is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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Originally Posted by Ocean View Post
This is so you, SK. Soooo you.

And this is the reason it's so useless to respond to anything you say. You're loaded with such disgraceful inability to generate respect from others.

How could I take what you say seriously when you use any opportunity to spit out hostility against those who disagree with you?

Oh, well, I could have anticipated the end of this conversation with you.
1. It was a joke.
2. I respect quite a few people here who hold ideologically diverse opinions.
3. Ignore list again? New Year's Resolutions are coming up.
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  #92  
Old 12-12-2011, 07:00 PM
sugarkang sugarkang is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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Originally Posted by miceelf View Post
Ignoring emotions in order to do the rational thing isn't usually sociopathy. It can be in very specific circumstances. usually, however, it's "maturity" or "being objective"
Setting aside the fact that I meant it as a joke, the rational thing is the same as the emotional thing.

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As to feelings on what is moral. if we called them 'thoughts on what is moral' it would change your argument a great deal, but not much else.
All those thoughts on what is moral has emotion driving them. Disgust for abortion is an emotional response. Protecting women's right to choose is a stance driven by emotion. Just because you've talked about it a million times and can therefore discuss it dispassionately doesn't mean that you lack emotions. At one time or another in your life, you decided to take a position. You had feelings about it and that determined your positions. You describe your reasons through what we call rationality, but they are ultimately slaves to how you felt in the first place.

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I am not convinced that emotions are all there is when it comes to morality.
You don't have to be convinced. However, Hume proposed the theory over two hundred years ago and now we've got substantial empirical evidence. If you've missed Haidt on the subject in two diavlogs, a conversation with John and George, articles in Reason, NYT, Andrew Sullivan and elsewhere, and an alternative hypothesis by Jesse Prinz, it might be worth a look.

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At least not as "emotions" or "morality" are usually understood. In fact, your example of various religious beliefs and the fact that people born into belief systems usually stay there is an example of things other than emotions determining beliefs.
I'd say it bolsters it. My Irish Catholic buddy still has a knee jerk negative reaction to gay marriage, even if he's ultimately in favor of it. Traditions and social practices give you the values that you hold dear. And when presented with moral issues, it's those traditions that call the emotions from within.

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It also ignores that most atheists, at least historically (if not today) were brought up as believers in one religion or another. (and among religions that aggressively proselytize, conversions from other religions and from no religion are also common). Although I was brought up and remain a Christian, the substance of my Christianity has changed substantially from when I was a teenager. I am not sure that "emotion" is any more useful a way of understanding such changes than is "experience" or "rational disputation."
Sure, but there are Chinese people who don't grow up with any kind of monotheism and they don't have the same moral sentiments as Americans. When I say rationality has emotion behind it, I'm not saying that it ends up illogical reasoning. Reasons can be many, but with sound logic. As a simple example, compare short term vs. long term goals, like spend money to take kids to Disneyland or allow money to compound interest for their college fund. You can give valid reasons for either, but what you choose will depend on how strongly you feel about one or the other.
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  #93  
Old 12-12-2011, 07:01 PM
stephanie stephanie is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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Originally Posted by miceelf View Post
I am not convinced that emotions are all there is when it comes to morality.
Nor am I. I think the issue is that there's no firm base on which our arguments ultimately rest -- we all have assumed starting points, that can't supported with anything concrete beyond "this seems right" or faith or some such. I'm not saying this must be God -- it could be some kind of utilitarian idea or a secular version of do unto others or a broadbased notion that we are all, as humans, part of the same family and should approach each other with empathy. I think based on these starting points (including religious ones) we can reason to such things as natural rights and our other moral ideas. On the other hand, I think we probably actually reason in the opposite direction -- our cultures inculcate us with certain ideas that we then reason about and come to the best grounding for we can. IMO, this is not the same thing as saying it's just emotion, but obviously emotion plays a role, and we can't say that it's somehow purely reason.

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At least not as "emotions" or "morality" are usually understood. In fact, your example of various religious beliefs and the fact that people born into belief systems usually stay there is an example of things other than emotions determining beliefs. It also ignores that most atheists, at least historically (if not today) were brought up as believers in one religion or another. (and among religions that aggressively proselytize, conversions from other religions and from no religion are also common). Although I was brought up and remain a Christian, the substance of my Christianity has changed substantially from when I was a teenager. I am not sure that "emotion" is any more useful a way of understanding such changes than is "experience" or "rational disputation."
Yes -- I'd say that part of this is the ability to reason and our personal reactions to thing. Part is the fact that we have overlapping and inconsistent cultural ideas that may combine in a variety of ways. One reason I like reason is that even though it is largely influenced by the existing culture it also provides a critique on the culture, a separate lens from which to view the cultural norms (and the turnabout of the culture on the religion also).
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  #94  
Old 12-12-2011, 07:06 PM
miceelf miceelf is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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Originally Posted by sugarkang View Post
I'd say it bolsters it. My Irish Catholic buddy still has a knee jerk negative reaction to gay marriage, even if he's ultimately in favor of it. Traditions and social practices give you the values that you hold dear. And when presented with moral issues, it's those traditions that call the emotions from within.
This seems to suggest two things: 1) emotion as proximate cause, as mediator for something else, and/or 2) there's something other than emotion at work, else why would he be ultimately in favor of it, in spite of his emotoinal reaction?
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  #95  
Old 12-12-2011, 07:54 PM
Simon Willard Simon Willard is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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Originally Posted by stephanie View Post
I should read Chapter One of the book (at least), but I think it's related to the use of "evil" in political rhetoric. Usually when we start talking about leaders or countries as "evil" or (especially) comparing them to Hitler or the Nazis, the argument is that a use of force against them is justified. I think it may be, but not because they are "evil" -- it's a confusion of categories.

Ocean's point is relevant here, because often the point of injecting the label "evil" into the conversation is to say that whoeveritis must be stopped and cannot be stopped by other means, we cannot put the foreign policy issue into a pragmatic framework, based on interests and incentive. It's a black and white moral one, the only answer to which is force.
OK, Stephanie, here's how I would try to smoke out this Wolfe guy. I would ask him if he would be troubled by an appeal, by Roosevelt to the American people, to engage in war against an "evil" Hitler-led Nazi regime. I'm not enough of a historian to know if FDR actually tried to cast the Nazis into this category, but I'm simply going to rely on Wolfe's own singling-out of Hitler as being unquestionably evil. If Hitler or the Nazis really do fall into this category, I don't know why such an appeal by FDR would be beyond the pale.

Besides, we do know that Roosevelt lied to the American people in various ways to spur a reluctant US to war. And the judgement of history (admittedly written by the victors) is that the US effort to completely destroy the Nazis and Germany's infrastructure was a good thing.

Given that there may be situations like this, how does one know which situations may justify this mixing of categories for their rhetorically persuasive effect. Isn't it simply a political matter? If I wanted to vilify the people of, say, Iceland with such heated rhetoric, I doubt my words would get much traction! But I will not rule out any option to persuade my countrymen with fraught language if that's what I think will help my persuasion succeed in an extreme situation.
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Old 12-12-2011, 09:24 PM
stephanie stephanie is offline
 
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OK, Stephanie, here's how I would try to smoke out this Wolfe guy. I would ask him if he would be troubled by an appeal, by Roosevelt to the American people, to engage in war against an "evil" Hitler-led Nazi regime.
Based on what he said, why wouldn't he be?

I think Alan was saying that it makes sense to talk about "political evil" but that we aren't rigorous enough in our definition. My argument is that when we talk about "evil" we aren't rigorous in that way, because we are fundamentally talking about something else. Alan seemed to be saying that it was wrong to call Saddam evil and not Hitler, because Hitler was evil in a way that called for intervention -- the ideas of the threat, of expansionism, perhaps of the Samantha Power type arguments (I agree with Wonderment that a diavlog on that topic would be interesting), etc.

My response -- although I admit I should check out his book first -- is that the problem isn't that we are too loose about "evil" and it ends up not related to the kinds of political problems that lead to the use of force/intervention. It's that by using the term "evil" we are really talking about something different, the category error, and something that is often not well defined or used in the same way by people. Thus, there's nothing wrong with calling Saddam evil and the "as evil as Hitler" argument is silly or pointless. The mistake is in thinking that calling Saddam evil means that you've made a valid argument for war.

There's also a more general problem with the way that terms like "evil" are used in our rhetoric that is related to this, but I don't agree with Alan's approach to it as I understand it. I simply do agree with him that he's talking about the problem that exists.

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Given that there may be situations like this, how does one know which situations may justify this mixing of categories for their rhetorically persuasive effect.
I don't get the "justify the mixing of categories" thing. When I say there's a category error, I mean one is not addressing the issue one claims to be addressing. If one is supposedly talking about reasons to use force and starts with "so and so is evil," that simply is a failure to address the issue.

I don't really think we should use terms like "evil" as loosely as we do, at least without being clear what we mean. However, I think when we are in a war we generally will, it's almost impossible not to, as a society. Again, I think this goes to that diavlog a while ago with Scott Atran about the impossibility of approaching war rationally.
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Old 12-12-2011, 10:17 PM
Simon Willard Simon Willard is offline
 
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The mistake is in thinking that calling Saddam evil means that you've made a valid argument for war.
I think you just boiled the whole discussion down to "Calling people names doesn't prove anything". I can't argue with that. But have we wandered away from Wolfe's thesis?

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When I say there's a category error, I mean one is not addressing the issue one claims to be addressing. If one is supposedly talking about reasons to use force and starts with "so and so is evil," that simply is a failure to address the issue.
I accept this.
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Old 12-13-2011, 12:12 AM
Diane1976 Diane1976 is offline
 
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Given his performance as a politician and the resulting prime minister of Canada, "the Evil of Banality" would also have been a propos
My feeling is that Michael is a good academic and an intellectual who has received significant international recognition, but he was an awful politician.

The Liberal Party seemed to think they found a new Trudeau, but there was such a difference. For one thing Trudeau was not only an intellecutual, he was a smart political activist. For another thing, Trudeau loved this country and made personal sacrifices for it, which most Canadians don't recognize.

He made himself hated in his home province of Quebec and in the West, mainly by bigots on both sides, in accomplishing the patriation of our Constitution. He was a courageous man who stood up for what he believed, even at personal and political cost, and for the country. Ignatieff spent most of his life out of it, and I never felt he really cared about it. He just thought if might be interesting to be prime minister.
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Old 12-13-2011, 02:22 AM
sugarkang sugarkang is offline
 
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why would he be ultimately in favor of it, in spite of his emotoinal reaction?
Counter emotions.
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Old 12-13-2011, 06:22 AM
miceelf miceelf is offline
 
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My feeling is that Michael is a good academic and an intellectual who has received significant international recognition, but he was an awful politician.

The Liberal Party seemed to think they found a new Trudeau, but there was such a difference. For one thing Trudeau was not only an intellecutual, he was a smart political activist. For another thing, Trudeau loved this country and made personal sacrifices for it, which most Canadians don't recognize.
Yeah, my impression as well. God, I miss Trudeau.
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Old 12-13-2011, 06:23 AM
miceelf miceelf is offline
 
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Counter emotions.
Possibly. But why not possibly counter thoughts or experience?
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Old 12-13-2011, 11:27 AM
ledocs ledocs is offline
 
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Default Re: Thanks, but no thanks. Beyond Good and Evil is Evil

In support of my interpretation of what Wolfe said:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/09/bo...ok-review.html
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Old 12-13-2011, 12:40 PM
Ray in Seattle Ray in Seattle is offline
 
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This seems to suggest two things: 1) emotion as proximate cause, as mediator for something else, and/or 2) there's something other than emotion at work, else why would he be ultimately in favor of it, in spite of his emotoinal reaction?
I don't wish to interrupt your discussion but if I may add - most important behavior decisions involve a range of emotional drivers. For example, have you ever had to put down a beloved pet? They were in pain and you felt a responsibility to end the pain which caused strong emotions. And yet killing the pet that you loved so dearly caused equally strong emotions in the opposite direction.

If we are adults such dilemmas usually cause us to deliberate using our reason. The results of those deliberations will give rise to additional emotional forces. When we finally make the decision - we yield to the net strongest emotions at that moment.

Depending on our ability to use reason in such emotionally charged situations - the emotions generated by our deliberations can have a beneficial (reasonable) effect or not. If we are not so capable at reasoning then we may simply use our logical efforts to justify what our previous strongest emotions wanted us to do - thereby adding to the existing emotional consensus.

The stronger our previous emotional drivers point to one particular candidate - the less likely we will use reason to find the most objectively logical behavior candidate and the more likely we will use our reason to justify the candidate our strongest emotions have already selected.
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Old 12-13-2011, 12:54 PM
miceelf miceelf is offline
 
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If we are adults such dilemmas usually cause us to deliberate using our reason. The results of those deliberations will give rise to additional emotional forces. When we finally make the decision - we yield to the net strongest emotions at that moment.
I still think we may be using "emotions" differently. I think that my definition of emotions may be more narrow than yours, which seems to include things I'd consider not-emotions- beliefs, thoughts, rational weighing, etc.

Which is fine, but I suspect the difference may be less substantive than related to defintions.
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Old 12-13-2011, 01:56 PM
stephanie stephanie is offline
 
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Default Re: Thanks, but no thanks. Beyond Good and Evil is Evil

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In support of my interpretation of what Wolfe said:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/09/bo...ok-review.html
Thanks -- I agree. Here's one bit from the review that I think is worth quoting as part of this discussion:

Quote:
The word “evil” is foreign to realism, which looks with suspicion upon moralizing rhetoric. But the more important word in Wolfe’s title is “political.” Individual wickedness and criminality are deplorable, Wolfe argues, but political evil is many orders of magnitude more dangerous: “Organized into a movement or state and motivated by a cause that gives them passion and purpose, practitioners of political evil are capable of carrying out violence on levels that far surpass those realizable by any lone individual.”

Fortunately, horrible as it is, political evil responds to political imperatives. “Politics is, and always will be, the best means of dealing with it,” Wolfe writes. “When confronted with political evil, we are better off responding to the ‘political’ rather than to the ‘evil.’ ” Coping with political evil, then, requires thinking like a politician, not a missionary or a soldier or a lawyer; it requires a savvy assessment of the facts on the ground and a willingness to deal with them — quite literally, since unsavory deals are in the very nature of politics.
My problem with this continues to be the category error. Basically, Wolfe is trying to redefine "evil" so that it makes sense to talk about in light of the kinds of political objectives he thinks we should have. But the problem is that when people use the word, they bring all kinds of baggage to it, so that the way he redefines it isn't going to be convincing. I think it works better to just point out that evil is a separate question.

However, it's entirely possible reading the book might convince me I'm wrong. I admit he's not gotten his fair hearing from me yet.
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Old 12-13-2011, 01:59 PM
Ray in Seattle Ray in Seattle is offline
 
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I still think we may be using "emotions" differently. I think that my definition of emotions may be more narrow than yours, which seems to include things I'd consider not-emotions- beliefs, thoughts, rational weighing, etc.
I do not consider those (beliefs, thoughts, rational weighing) to be emotions. Yet they all produce emotions when engaged. That's how the brain makes behavior decisions. The point I am making is that none of those (beliefs, thoughts, rational weighing) or some you left out such as instincts and predispositions - have the ability to control human behavior directly. They contribute to behavior decisions by the strength of the emotion signals they produce when they are consulted.

Edit: A better way to say that is that they contribute to behavior decisions by the strength of the emotion signals that arise automatically (intuitively) in the brain in response to certain environmental situations we encounter. There's no little man in the brain asking for advice from our neo-cortex.

The important thing is that there is no direct connection in brains between our logical processes and our behavior. Logical conclusions must first generate emotion signals that get weighed along with emotion signals from many other sources in the brain to produce behavior.

I don't use the term emotion in quite the same way as you but I'm not sure how important that difference is. I view an emotion as a change in body/mind state.

Seeing an aggressive intimidating person approaching us can cause the emotion of fear - which is a change in pulse rate, sweating palms, shaking knees, release of adrenalin in our blood, etc. That, in turn, can cause behavior - such as lowering our gaze as we pass them so as not to challenge them. That behavior can happen completely non-consciously.

Feelings, BTW, are not emotions. They are our conscious awareness of our emotional state. Such as would be shown by telling our friend after we passed the person that, "That guy scared the crap out of me."
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Old 12-13-2011, 02:47 PM
miceelf miceelf is offline
 
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I do not consider those (beliefs, thoughts, rational weighing) to be emotions. Yet they all produce emotions when engaged. That's how the brain makes behavior decisions. The point I am making is that none of those (beliefs, thoughts, rational weighing) or some you left out such as instincts and predispositions - have the ability to control human behavior directly. They contribute to behavior decisions by the strength of the emotion signals they produce when they are consulted.


Ah. I misunderstood. The above was what I was thinking about when I suggested the possibility that emotions were mediators of other causes.

(such as:
THOUGHTS --> EMOTIONS--> DECISIONS)

I took you to be disagreeing with that possibility, which drove my further elaboration on where I thought the disagreement was.
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Old 12-13-2011, 02:51 PM
Ray in Seattle Ray in Seattle is offline
 
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THOUGHTS --> EMOTIONS--> DECISIONS

I took you to be disagreeing with that possibility, which drove my further elaboration on where I thought the disagreement was.
Thanks for clarifying. There's nothing more fascinating (or difficult IMO) as the human brain contemplating its own operation.
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Old 12-13-2011, 02:58 PM
stephanie stephanie is offline
 
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I do not consider those (beliefs, thoughts, rational weighing) to be emotions. Yet they all produce emotions when engaged. That's how the brain makes behavior decisions. The point I am making is that none of those (beliefs, thoughts, rational weighing) or some you left out such as instincts and predispositions - have the ability to control human behavior directly. They contribute to behavior decisions by the strength of the emotion signals they produce when they are consulted.
I think people will generally agree that emotions play a role in decision-making. The question is if they do so to the exclusion of all else.

Ultimately, I think the discussion is about whether there's an ability to really have a discussion about moral matters or whether it's so purely subjective that there's no meaningful ability to do so. One question is whether there's something going on beyond our reaction to outside inputs (which results in emotion, among other things), something that we can say is held in common among humans. That's what "reason" would be.

I'm not sure I understand what you are getting at re emotions not having the ability to control human behavior directly. Are you proposing another input (like reason, like some kind of "choice")? Or just talking about methodology?

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Old 12-13-2011, 03:12 PM
Ray in Seattle Ray in Seattle is offline
 
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I think people will generally agree that emotions play a role in decision-making. The question is if they do so to the exclusion of all else.
Herein I believe, lies the essential difference in our views. What you are saying is equivalent - iMO - to saying something like . .

I think people will generally agree that gasoline plays a role in the operation of internal combustion engines. The question is if it does so to the exclusion of all else.

i.e. I am saying that emotion is the fuel in the brain that drives decision-making. In that regard I am saying it is the proximate cause of behavior - and yes, to the exclusion of all else (as the proximate cause). I am saying that reasoning has no ability to directly drive behavior. It can only do so indirectly by the strength of the emotions that arise from its conclusions.

I believe this view is supported by some of the most current neuroscientific evidence and theories. And it also accounts for much behavior by intelligent persons that is not so logical.
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Old 12-13-2011, 03:14 PM
sugarkang sugarkang is offline
 
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Possibly. But why not possibly counter thoughts or experience?
Because your counter thoughts, insofar as they are directed, are governed by how you feel. Your past experiences are emotional experiences.
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Old 12-13-2011, 03:34 PM
stephanie stephanie is offline
 
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Herein I believe, lies the essential difference in our views.
I think you might be jumping to conclusions about my views.

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i.e. I am saying that emotion is the fuel in the brain that drives decision-making. In that regard I am saying it is the proximate cause of behavior - and yes, to the exclusion of all else (as the proximate cause).
I'm not following this. Fuel isn't the sole component in a car running, for example.

Of course, you have injected a couple of other terms into the discussion, in particular "cause" and "proximate cause."

To me, proximate cause is a legal term. I'm not sure what you mean to convey by it outside of that context.

"Cause" seems to me to be addressed well by Aristotle, who broke it into material, formal, efficient, and final causes. If I'm understanding you, I think you are saying the emotions are the efficient cause?

Quote:
I am saying that reasoning has no ability to directly drive behavior. It can only do so indirectly by the strength of the emotions that arise from its conclusions.
But if reasoning affects the emotions which result, you may be making a distinction that doesn't exist. But here I think you are arguing that we don't act based on our understanding that something is right or wrong. We do based on our emotional reactions. Reasoning is perhaps just a way of justifying the emotional reactions or explaning them to ourselves?

The reason I'm not certain that is what you are saying is that you didn't seem to be saying emotion to reason to action, but reason to emotion to action. The question then is where the emotion comes from. (I suspect it's more emotion to reason to emotion to action, really, as far as that goes.)

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I believe this view is supported by some of the most current neuroscientific evidence and theories.
I think we are somewhat outside of the scientific evidence and into philosophical issues, at least in part.
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Old 12-13-2011, 03:36 PM
miceelf miceelf is offline
 
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Thanks for clarifying. There's nothing more fascinating (or difficult IMO) as the human brain contemplating its own operation.
Oh, I am contemplating how other brains work. My own simply deals with revealed truth.

;-)
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Old 12-13-2011, 05:36 PM
Ray in Seattle Ray in Seattle is offline
 
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I'm not following this. Fuel isn't the sole component in a car running, for example.
Yes, but it's explosion provides the force underlying the vehicle's motion. In a similar way emotion provides the force underlying behavior.

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Of course, you have injected a couple of other terms into the discussion, in particular "cause" and "proximate cause." To me, proximate cause is a legal term. I'm not sure what you mean to convey by it outside of that context.
You may have a good logical reason to believe that if you get hit by a speeding truck you could get hurt. This could be based on your understanding of physical laws such as the conservation of energy. Or perhaps you have a learned belief based on once actually seeing someone hit by car. Or perhaps, like most of us, our parents taught us never to cross a street without looking both ways (another learned belief). But whatever combination of those or other factors apply in your case - the proximate cause of your stepping out of the way of that vehicle is the emotional fear of that vehicle hitting you that arose in your mind from those sources.

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But here I think you are arguing that we don't act based on our understanding that something is right or wrong. We do based on our emotional reactions.
Yes - although your use of the term reactions suggests that you are using emotion in the popular, not the scientific sense. All emotions are reactions. A better way to say it is that the brain has multiple circuits that automatically produce emotions in response to environmental situations that we encounter in our moment to moment lives. The integration of those emotions pushing in various directions produce our behavior. Our reasoning capacity is simply a set of such circuits that have evolved extraordinarily in humans. But just like our instincts and beliefs - only the emotions that result from that reasoning process can affect behavior decisions.

Example: If you belief stealing is wrong, would that keep you from taking a quarter out of a blind person's cup? How about if you saw a drug dealer drop a hundred dollar bill in the weeds before speeding away on his motorcycle - assuming you knew you'd see him again and could return it ?

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Reasoning is perhaps just a way of justifying the emotional reactions or explaning them to ourselves?
Yes, in many cases. In other cases reasoning can come up with novel behavior candidates.

All behavior is the result of the brain intuitively predicting that the result of that behavior will be a net benefit to its survival - as measured in the only currency the brain comprehends - emotional rewards or penalties. Or, that's another way of saying that we do what we do because our brain predicts we'll feel better as a result than from any other behavior we might choose. In some cases a novel reasoned behavior candidate might win - or not. It depends on what other emotional sources are in the mix and how strong they are.

You may be certain that three lions went into that cave - and three came out over the next several hours. Are you willing to bet your life on it?

Quote:
I think we are somewhat outside of the scientific evidence and into philosophical issues, at least in part.
Reconciling the two is the fun part.
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Old 12-13-2011, 05:39 PM
Ray in Seattle Ray in Seattle is offline
 
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Oh, I am contemplating how other brains work. My own simply deals with revealed truth.

;-)
Of course.
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Old 12-14-2011, 06:15 PM
stephanie stephanie is offline
 
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In a similar way emotion provides the force underlying behavior.
This discussion started with you making a claim about emotion as opposed to logic compelling action. I'm trying to understand the full extent of your claim. Basically, is there any meaningful role for reason at all? Is it possible to have a meaningful discussion with another about morality? It's not clear to me what you are arguing, although sometimes it sounds as if you've decided the answer to my second question is no.

I mentioned that proximate cause is a legal term.

Quote:
You may have a good logical reason to believe that if you get hit by a speeding truck you could get hurt. This could be based on your understanding of physical laws such as the conservation of energy. Or perhaps you have a learned belief based on once actually seeing someone hit by car. Or perhaps, like most of us, our parents taught us never to cross a street without looking both ways (another learned belief). But whatever combination of those or other factors apply in your case - the proximate cause of your stepping out of the way of that vehicle is the emotional fear of that vehicle hitting you that arose in your mind from those sources.
I don't think this is actually true in all cases. We are so aware that we don't want to be in the path of a car, that we would move out of the way before necessarily perceiving any emotion at all. Perhaps we are using "emotion" differently.

It's also not a use of "proximate cause" that is consistent with my understanding of the term. Again, the term refers to legal causation and you seem to be getting at something else. Legally, something can be the proximate cause and yet not the immediate motivator in the sense you seem to be trying to get at.

Quote:
Yes - although your use of the term reactions suggests that you are using emotion in the popular, not the scientific sense.
It does seem as if we are using "emotion" differently. If there is a definition of the term as you are using it, some source that you are relying on, let me know, as that might add clarity.

Quote:
All emotions are reactions.
This gets to a question I posed earlier. My impression was that you were arguing for an absence of real input from human reason, that we are in essence merely reacting to external inputs. I don't think you answered that.

In part, this goes to whether there is something that we as humans add that allows us to understand what we perceive, to know things, to allow us to be confident that what we experience bears some relationship to what others experience. Ultimately, this is what allows us to have real discussions, meetings of the mind. If we believe that reason plays a role, there's some degree of objectivity possible. You seem to be arguing that's not so, but I want to make sure that I'm understanding your position properly.

Quote:
Example: If you belief stealing is wrong, would that keep you from taking a quarter out of a blind person's cup?
My opinion? It certainly could, depending on how firm the belief is. However, it might work in practice with the use of emotions -- doing something I believe is wrong makes me feel bad. I don't think that means that the belief is not the cause of the behavior. (My actual view is that habituation plays a large role in why we do or don't do what we believe is wrong.)
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Old 12-15-2011, 11:34 AM
badhatharry badhatharry is offline
 
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This is an interesting discussion. I've been gone this week and have been reading the back and forth with interest. So I thought I'd dive in here to ask for some clarification.

Quote:
Quoting Ray in Seattle:
Western values that emerged from the ideas of the enlightenment and the US Constitution, etc. said that such non-defensive violence is morally wrong (evil). We shaped our domestic and external policies with other states around the principle that violent coercion and intimidation are immoral; that persuasion and negotiation are the acceptable (moral) way to relate with others. As those ideas became more widely institutionalized in law much of the world (to the extent they adopted those principles) became a less violent, more productive, healthier - and essentially an overall happier place to spend one's life. You and I are the beneficiaries of those ideas - and of the millions of our ancestors who died to defend them.
So how did the enlightenment values take hold? Why did people see them as superior to the notion that might makes right? You say that it is emotions which cause people to behave in certain ways. Is it that as enlightenment values became more and more popular they were taught to the young...the young saw people react to non-defensive violence in emotionally charged ways and learned that this is not good? I realize that this is probably all gradual but how long does it take for these changes in society to take place or deteriorate?

Do you think that a person witnessing non-defensive violence in say 1200 would have a different emotional response to it than you would?

Do you think there may be some innate attraction to enlightenment values?
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Old 12-15-2011, 01:09 PM
Ray in Seattle Ray in Seattle is offline
 
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Originally Posted by badhatharry View Post
This is an interesting discussion. I've been gone this week and have been reading the back and forth with interest. So I thought I'd dive in eher to ask for some clarification.
I don't want to create the impression that I see myself as some great thinker who has all this stuff worked out - and therefore I see it as my mission to "enlighten the masses". I do find these topics interesting and so I've done a lot of recreational, if not avocational reading, and a lot of thinking about it. (One of the first books I read that got me into this stuff many years ago was Bob's - The Moral Animal. I have my 1995 first Vintage edition sitting right here on my shelf.)

But my interest in discussing this is to understand what others see - or don't see - and where I missed something or adopted some belief that just doesn't make sense from other perspectives. I see my comments as my current best guesses (that could certainly be wrong) - not as my "revealed truth".

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So how did the enlightenment values take hold? Why did people see them as superior to the notion that might makes right?
I'm guessing that the shrinking world due to travel and communications and philosophical thought and the widespread printing of ideas, what that did for education, the emerging middle classes of tradesmen in advanced states and their rising expectations, a profound disgust with an effete and indulgent monarchy, etc. all converged to make it the right time and the right place (late 1700's France) for those ideas to emerge and start to take hold.

If people find that incorporation of those ideas into their belief hierarchy gave them better lives than their parents and grandparents - then I think people will naturally adopt those ideas and nurture and protect them. I'm reminded of the large numbers of Arabs in E. Jerusalem who have said they'd leave and move to Israel if their area became part of Palestine in any future settlement of borders.

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You say that it is emotions which cause people to behave in certain ways. Is it that as enlightenment values became more and more popular they were taught to the young...the young saw people react to non-defensive violence in emotionally charged ways and learned that this is not good? I realize that this is probably all gradual but how long does it take for these changes in society to take place or deteriorate?
I think that we are evolutionarily disposed (genetically predisposed) to develop hierarchies of beliefs in our mind that give us our identity as well as a roadmap for how to survive in our world. We need to know that eating a certain plant will make us ill and others will heal us, etc. We need to know that praying to a certain God in a certain way will give us an afterlife in heaven. We need to know what our society expects from us and what we should expect from it. I'd say that development (the process of maturing into adults) for humans is the process of populating our minds with a hierarchy of beliefs - appropriate for our society, culture and environment - with their attached emotional markers. It becomes that roadmap, that personal handbook for survival that becomes our identity (and induces our behavior). It takes many years and many mistakes to create that resource. Naturally anyone would protect it from challenges if they could.

The beliefs in the hierarchy are mutually self-supporting - which helps gives them permanence in our own mind during our own lives. If one is negated it can affect many others. We have an emotional reaction if someone challenges those beliefs - like when someone tells a believer that their God is a myth. It's a physical reaction that one can feel in their gut. People can and will react with violence (physical, rhetorical, otherwise) to such challenges (which are actually challenges to their identity).

Within one's society many of those beliefs are cultural - that is, they are shared by most others. Parents teach them to their children because they naturally want their children to live long happy lives if possible.

Added: Parents also want their children to assume a similar identity which I believe is obviously adaptive. If that identity helped the parents live long enough to reproduce it would also probably help their children to do the same.

All that gives those beliefs permanence from generation to generation. Cultural beliefs can be very persistent - even in societies like ours where freedom of thought, speech and religion is guaranteed and even encouraged.

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Do you think that a person witnessing non-defensive violence in say 1200 would have a different emotional response to it than you would?
Yes. I don't think anyone expected to live long relatively happy lives as we do. Death at early age from disease, conflict, a ruler's whim, aggression of others, etc. was the norm. They did not see it as an injustice to be corrected - but as the system they lived in. They didn't try to change it so much as they tried to adapt and live as long as possible within it using whatever means were available to them. Which is really what humans always do. Sometimes ideas emerge that create new ways to adapt.

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Do you think there may be some innate attraction to enlightenment values?
Yes. Evolution gives us the ability to cooperate peacefully with others as well as to attack others and defend ourselves using violence. I think the fear/defense/aggression centers in the human brain (the amygdala in the ancient limbic system as I understand it) is capable of producing the strongest behavior-producing emotions.

The areas where cooperation-producing emotions arise can not produce emotions that are equally strong. And so I think cooperation is possible as long as there is no threat to survival that can be resisted. Under threat I suspect that the violence-producing emotions take over. They actually release neurotransmitters into the blood stream that create a state of conflict in the mind and that prevent cooperation-producing emotions from arising. I think that also accounts for many of the symptoms of PTSD.

Added: This is what I believe accounts for Pinker's observation of the overall reduction in violence over the last few centuries. We have created these islands of cooperation where millions of humans can live their whole lives without facing a serious violent threat. These islands were relatively safe for a long time and have weathered many threats like WWII - but IMO we are now threatened by our own success. Our vast wealth requires the consumption of oil - which is largely owned by people who see us as enemies and who are arming themselves to destroy us (thereby protecting their own non-enlightened cultural belief hierarchies) using the dollars (and influence) we give them in exchange for their oil. (Catch 23?)

(I'm still working on a reply to Stephanie but it is more of a challenge as we seem to be speaking two different languages.)
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Last edited by Ray in Seattle; 12-15-2011 at 02:40 PM..
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Old 12-15-2011, 02:19 PM
badhatharry badhatharry is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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Originally Posted by Ray in Seattle View Post
I don't want to create the impression that I see myself as some great thinker who has all this stuff worked out - and therefore I see it as my mission to "enlighten the masses".
You haven't created that impression in me. I believe that those who take the time to ponder these issues should give voice to their ideas. It's not that anyone has 'the answer'. As you say, it's the conversation that is important. I've been reading an account of Kant's life and this is what is said at the end of one chapter.

"Certainly he offered to philosophy and psychology the most painstaking analysis of the knowledge process that history has ever known."

But that does not mean he has all the answers and in fact his accounts of how knowledge can exist are fertile ground for specualtion, which is what you are engaged in. What good would it do to slog through Kant and not have anything to say about him at the end, except 'I agree!' ?

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If people find that exposure to those ideas gave them better lives than their parents and grandparents - then I think people will naturally adopt those ideas and nurture and protect them. I'm reminded of the large numbers of Arabs in E. Jerusalem who have said they'd leave and move to Israel if their area became part of Palestine in any future settlement of borders.
So we are not automatons. We can reason that some ways are better than others. But you would say that we feel these things rather than reason about them. Of course, sometimes our feelings might have us choose less freedom rather than more. The Afghanistan woman may see the Western way of life too frightening to contemplate and may choose, because of her fear, to remain chattel to her husband but rationalize this as rejection of western ways.

But let's take an example closer to home. Let's take a woman in the 60's who based her life on the idea that she would be a homemaker and wife and would be satisfied doing so. Then Betty Friedan came along and told her she was a prisoner of the chauvanistic culture and that she was missing out on real fulfillment and should eschew safety and challenge herself in the male dominated world.

This woman could go a couple of ways. She could tell Betty to shove it and concentrate on her family and raise her kids as she had planned. I suppose depending on how happy she was they would decide if she had made the correct decision and they would have opinions about a woman's role based on their feelings about their mother's choice.

Or she could buy Friedan's narrative and go try to make her way in the corporate world. Why would she do this? Would she do it based on her feelings that Betty is right? She could leave her kids in daycare and they could end up feeling like victims of her ambitions or enjoy the freedom being away from mom afforded them.

But here is where questions about morality come in. What should we do? Don't we have to decide that based on how things turn out? even before they do turn out? Doesn't a mother have to envision what it will be like to leave her kids or shun her freedom before she actually ever does? Does it always depend on what she thinks will make her feel the best?

And certainly there is a place where short term feelings are put on the back burner in favor of long term feelings like "hey, I may have not had all the fun I wanted but I did the right thing". Is that a feeling, too?

It seems that your way of thinking puts a lot of faith in the wisdom of feelings.
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Last edited by badhatharry; 12-15-2011 at 03:23 PM..
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Old 12-16-2011, 01:03 PM
Ray in Seattle Ray in Seattle is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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Originally Posted by badhatharry View Post
So we are not automatons. We can reason that some ways are better than others. But you would say that we feel these things rather than reason about them.
Your concerns are similar to Stephanie's so I'll try to respond to both of you here. I apologize for not being able to make myself clear so far on this point. I suspect my problem has been that I'm trying to get down into the details of my explanation - perhaps anticipating objections at that level. From re-reading both your objections / concerns with my premise I can see that I have not made myself clear at the basic level of stating my premise.

My premise is that the proximate mechanism by which behavior decisions are made in the brain is a mechanism that is driven by emotion (or emotion signals). I call these signals "intuition". Intuition can be described as a non-cognitive "knowing". The important part of this premise is that this decision - at the moment the brain commits us to some behavior choice - happens non-consciously and is the product of intuition.

A large portion of the behavior decisions we make every day occur without conscious notice. Yesterday afternoon I was driving home. My vehicle speed was set at the 55 mph limit by my cruise control. I started watching the steering wheel. Every few seconds (about 4 sec intervals) my hands would move the steering wheel an inch or two to the right or left. As we all do while driving I had intuitively (without thinking about it) set a brain task state to keep my vehicle centered in my lane.

As my eyes noticed any tendency to drift out of that center position my brain would anticipate and correct for it with those quick steering corrections at about 4 second intervals. This required no reasoning. It was an automatic control loop that my brain operated intuitively without any need for me to be cognitively aware of it. (Although I was aware of it while I was observing it because I wanted to describe it here. Still, the corrections were automatic and were not the result of my conscious awareness.)

That is an example of one of thousands of similar behaviors we execute continuously in our lives. I fully accept that reason is often employed by human brains prior to many of our behavior decisions. There are many of those decisions we make every day that benefit from cognitive brain activity - such as reasoning, deliberating, planning, etc. But cognition can not be in control of the process.

For one thing cognition is sequential. Our conscious cognition can only focus on one topic at one time. Cognition is also relatively slow compared to intuition. Intuition can control multiple behavior tasks concurrently and uses minimal energy resources. Walking, driving, speaking - things we do continuously in our lives all require fast multitasking and could not possibly be controlled by the cognitive brain. It's way too slow and uses too much energy. Try to recall the mental load when you first got behind the wheel of a car. You over-steered, you jerked between too fast and too slow, etc. Thinking about those things to control them just doesn't work very well. Like skiing or playing a guitar - you do not start to become competent until you can stop thinking about it and allow your intuitive mind to take over.

I can keep my car in its lane and if my cruise control is off I can also use my feet to slow down, speed up or maintain a fairly constant speed with the gas and the brake pedal. I can do those things while my cognitive brain is completely focused elsewhere - listening to C-SPAN or talking to my wife through my bluetooth phone.

Let's say my wife calls and asks me to stop at the market and pick up some coffee beans. After I disconnect but while I'm still driving, my brain starts reasoning. Which stores will I pass and which ones are closest to the highway, which stores will likely have the beans we like? Then, picking one store, which exit should I use, etc? Let's say I chose the Safeway in Silverdale (because that's just what happened yesterday.)

Why did I pick it? Because it was the most logical and therefore I had no other choice - since my human brain like Mr. Spock's can only choose the most logical behavior in any situation? I'd suggest that I chose it because my intuitive brain - having had the experience of thousands of such similar events in my past (where I had to interrupt a trip to get something at a store) knew from those experiences that I would be happier choosing a store that was conveniently close to the highway. Also, that if I failed to think about that - I could find myself wasting a lot of time and gas in traffic going to a store that was further from the highway. My intuitive brain was quite concerned that I did not put myself in that (emotionally) uncomfortable and frustrating situation.

You could say that I made the most logical choice because I had a bias for logical conclusions - and that would be partially true. I'd say a more accurate description of what happened is that my intuitive brain called my cognitive brain into action to find the most logical behavior choice in that situation - logical for the intuitively beneficial purpose of saving me time, gas and frustration - as well as making my wife happy. None of that involved any conscious choice. Like my steering corrections that kept on as I was thinking through the "market selection" problem, I simply found myself going through my mental list searching for the market nearest the highway.

My intuitive brain accepted that logical conclusion and executed the behavior it called for because it predicted that decision would give me the best outcome in terms of my state of happiness and well-being as a result - compared to any other choice at that time. That is a more complete version of how I believe all behavior decisions are made by human (and any complex animal's) brain.

The intuitive brain is concerned with such matters and is very good at (non-consciously) integrating predictions of my future emotional state into a decision. The logical brain is not so good at it. Another example is the nerd (like me in high school) trying to talk to a pretty girl - by thinking about what to say - instead of allowing his intuitive brain the freedom to have some fun.

Much human activity requires both intuitive and logical wisdom. And so we have evolved with the intuitive brain as the decision-maker - which was there long before primates started to have an ability to reason. In modern humans it intuits the need to call for cognitive assistance - which is a recently evolved resource we have - based on successful experiences in the past in similar situations. It then judges how much to trust the logical conclusions based on the risk of being wrong and also on its past experience in similar situations.

In that way our human brains combine both logical and emotional (intuitive) wisdom to come up with optimum behavior choices. If evolution ever created such a creature in the universe as a Mr. Spock - I'm sure that lineage would die off pretty quickly. It wouldn't even be able to drive a car.

I have my fingers crossed that this helps you both see what I'm trying to say. If you still have doubts - see if you can find an example where a human brain makes a purely logical behavior choice that is not for the intuitively judged purpose of increasing the net happiness and well-being of the person making the choice. I'd say living organisms making such choices do not exist except perhaps in Eugene Roddenberry's imagination.

Added: I just remembered that Jonah Lehrer - in his book "How We Decide" offers a very good exploration of this question. It's a fun book to read and would be a great introduction to recent advances in the scientific understanding of human behavior.
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Last edited by Ray in Seattle; 12-16-2011 at 06:42 PM..
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