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Thread: MORALITY IS BIOLOGICAL

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    Contributor ruby sparks's Avatar
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    MORALITY IS BIOLOGICAL

    Claim: morality (for living things) is biological and/or biochemical.

    A weaker version of the claim could be to say that the basis of morality (for living things) is biological.

    Example: ‘continued existence is right’.

    This would mean that moral facts are biological/biochemical facts, and physical facts inasmuch as the laws of physics apply to living things. Variety and complexity in morality would then be due to and explained by biological variety and complexity. In other words, morality would be relative to biology. Morality would be sociobiological where a social species is concerned.

    Furthermore, under the above claim, morality would not depend on the experiencing, by this or that species, of propositional attitudes towards or beliefs about what is either right or wrong. In other words, a behaviour could be independently right or wrong in relation to a biological fact, rule, drive, urge or desire (eg 'continued existence is correct', which is offered as a fact that is independent of species) independently of whether or not (a) that fact/rule/drive/urge/desire is consciously felt/experienced/understood by the living things to which it applies, and/ or (b) there are moral attitudes about the behaviour by this or that organism or species.

    This claim is in addition to saying that morality is consequentialist (as described in another thread), pragmatic (that the relevant consequences are practical consequences) and relative.

    In total, morality, at least for living entities, is consequentialist, pragmatic, relative and biological.
    Last edited by ruby sparks; 02-23-2020 at 04:46 PM.

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    Mazzie Daius fromderinside's Avatar
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    The topic has already been more adequately framed than from such as "existence is right".

    Morality and Evolutionary Biology https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/m...iology/#EvoMet

    Whence morality? That is a question which has troubled philosophers since their subject was invented. Two and a half millennia of debate have, however, failed to produce a satisfactory answer. So now it is time for someone else to have a go…Perhaps [biologists] can eventually do what philosophers have never managed, and explain moral behavior in an intellectually satisfying way.[1]
    This passage epitomizes a growing theme in the popular and scientific media, echoing claims made forty years ago with the emergence of sociobiology, when E.O. Wilson suggested that “the time has come for ethics to be removed temporarily from the hands of the philosophers and biologicized” (Wilson 1975, 562). For their part, moral philosophers will hasten to point out that they are not primarily in the business of “explaining moral behavior” in the sense of causally explaining the origins of our capacity for moral judgment or of various associated emotional and behavioral dispositions. If a moral philosopher asks “whence morality,” she is more likely to be concerned with the justification of moral principles or the source and nature of obligation. Still, there are important potential connections between the scientific explanatory issues and philosophical ones, opening the way for profitable interdisciplinary inquiry.
    Section 1 provides an overview of the issues and a sketch of the connections between them, highlighting important distinctions we will need throughout. Sections 2, 3 and 4 then go on to explore critically the three main branches of inquiry at the intersection of morality and evolutionary biology: Descriptive Evolutionary Ethics, Prescriptive Evolutionary Ethics, and Evolutionary Metaethics.
    I submit your "...at least for living entities, is consequentialist, pragmatic, relative and biological." ... woefully falls short.

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    Super Moderator Bronzeage's Avatar
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    If you want this kind of discussion, you should offer a definition, or at the least and example of morality for consideration.

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    Veteran Member Wiploc's Avatar
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    MORALITY IS BIOLOGICAL

    Claim: morality (for living things) is biological and/or biochemical.

    A weaker version of the claim could be to say that the basis of morality (for living things) is biological.

    Example: ‘continued existence is right’.


    I see the claim, but I don't see the argument in support.

    A single counter-example should suffice to refute.

    First, let's point out that many moralities are pro-death. Pro-lifers, for instance, kill doctors. Muslims kill sisters after they've been raped. Jehovah killed most everybody.

    So I'm guessing your claim is really something more like, "The one true morality is biological."

    Still, if we take your claim that continued existence is right, then, again, a single counterexample will refute:
    • Kevorkian would have to be wrong in all cases.
    • It would be wrong to put our dogs down when their continued existence would be miserable.
    • People with motor-neuron disease (like Steven Hawking had) would be wrong to want to suicide rather than be trapped in the solitary confinement of their minds, unable to communicate with anyone else.
    • Asrael (in the movie Dogma) would be wrong to think that nonexistence is better than eternal Hellfire.


    (Sorry about the formatting. This is one of those instances when the quote button doesn't work.)

    None of those work for me. I don't agree that continued existence is always right.

    Nor is it obvious that biology is always right.





    In total, morality, at least for living entities, is consequentialist, pragmatic, relative and biological.



    Consequentialism: I'm more than halfway onboard with this.

    Pragmatism: I've heard of this. I would entertain an argument, or a link to an article. I'm not trying to derail this thread.

    Relativism: I read some Ruth Benedict. She was confused. And of course I talk to Christians who equivocate on this term endlessly. The result is that I don't even know what is attempted to be suggested by this word. I don't even know of an antonym besides "non-relative." I know a lot of people oppose relativism to absolutism or objectivism, but those discussions start out in the swamp and just stay there.

    Biologicalism: I don't get it. If it's not just an attempt to bypass the is/ought barrier, I don't see the point or appeal.

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    Veteran Member Wiploc's Avatar
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    It looks like we've covered you up in a dog pile of negative responses.

    I posted before seeing those others. I'm just trying to help you tee off; I'm giving you opportunities to expand on your position, explaining, defending, selling.

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    Formerly Joedad
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    The OP states the obvious, as plainly as saying that water is wet. I don't see how it can be understood and explained any other way.

    I might add a brief discussion about economics as morality certainly has an economic component, but yes, it's dictated, not decided.

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    Contributor ruby sparks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wiploc View Post
    Biologicalism: I don't get it. If it's not just an attempt to bypass the is/ought barrier, I don't see the point or appeal.
    I meant, for example, 'the continued existence of the organism in question is right (or good if you prefer)' or its genes, or its kin, colony, group or tribe, possibly even species, but with the organism itself or perhaps its genes as being priorities.

    In your case it would be 'my continued existence is right and/or good', as it would be in the case of an abortion-performing doctor who some anti-abortionists might want to kill.

    Clearly, there are exceptions, suicide being the most obvious, especially suicide for an organism that has not reproduced first. There might be different ways to explain that. That the organism is sick or unhealthy in some way, for example. This type of explanation is often permitted for moral questions, such as that there are people who do not think it is wrong to kill others merely for pleasure, such as psychopaths.

    I'm not saying that that is the reason for the exception.

    There is altruistic suicide, where the continued existence of another or others takes precedence, usually relatives or members of a group or colony. Several species appear to do this.

    Or it might be selected because the alternative is otherwise unendurable or pointless suffering, yes.

    The bottom line might be genes. I doubt they ever commit suicide. For them the rule may be absolute. It could be said that in the end, organisms are merely gene-vehicles.

    As for the is/ought barrier, yes it might collapse that. It would also decouple 'morality itself' from 'attitudes (about morality)'
    Last edited by ruby sparks; 02-23-2020 at 10:22 PM.
    "Let us hope that it is not so. Or if it is, let us pray that the fact does not become generally known."

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    Contributor ruby sparks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by T.G.G. Moogly View Post
    The OP states the obvious, as plainly as saying that water is wet. I don't see how it can be understood and explained any other way.
    One other possible way would be the sort of moral realism that would say there are externally independent, objective moral facts that do not even depend on living things, but that are discovered by them.

    I'm not a moral realist (I think, it's hard to be sure in philosophy since there seem to be so many versions of every ism) so to me it is like saying water is wet, ie stating the obvious. But that ain't so bad. At least it offers a clear, simple answer to a key question about morality, and some would say potentially explains all moral issues.
    "Let us hope that it is not so. Or if it is, let us pray that the fact does not become generally known."

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    Mazzie Daius fromderinside's Avatar
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    Water is wet? Water is a fluid, can be empirically shown to be so. But only our senses tell us water has the quality of wetness which is 'proven' by circular argument. One can see the problem with wetness when one touches the fluid water verses when one touches another fluid mercury. Most of the indicators of liquid wetness are missing in the touch of mercury.

    I don't want to get into squabble about peripheral issue discussions of quality when discussing properties of morality vis a vis the physical definition of life, living, or moral imperative.

    I'm just opening a door on the daemons of discussing quality when discussing the claim: morality - a quality - using for living things - a quality - as an descriptive sleight of hand for empirically defined biological and/or biochemical things.

    Are we going to substitute qualitative for empirical description when we discus morality in a shame discussion or are we actually going to root morality - provide an empirical description of that term - in biological entities.

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    Contributor ruby sparks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fromderinside View Post
    Water is wet? Water is a fluid, can be empirically shown to be so. But only our senses tell us water has the quality of wetness which is 'proven' by circular argument. One can see the problem with wetness when one touches the fluid water verses when one touches another fluid mercury. Most of the indicators of liquid wetness are missing in the touch of mercury.

    I don't want to get into squabble about peripheral issue discussions of quality when discussing properties of morality vis a vis the physical definition of life, living, or moral imperative.
    Good point. I read 'saying water is wet' as meaning 'making a statement of the obvious' (eg 'morality for living things is biological'), but as you say it's arguably not a good way to say that.


    Quote Originally Posted by fromderinside View Post
    I'm just opening a door on the daemons of discussing quality when discussing the claim: morality - a quality - using for living things - a quality - as an descriptive sleight of hand for empirically defined biological and/or biochemical things.

    Are we going to substitute qualitative for empirical description when we discus morality in a shame discussion or are we actually going to root morality - provide an empirical description of that term - in biological entities.
    I'm not sure exactly what you mean, or where you're coming from (although I know you often seem to come from this direction) so I can't answer.

    But I did say in the OP that either morality itself or at least the basis for it is rooted in behaviours about which the organism need not have any propositional attitudes. For example, when a fox eats a chicken, it is (probably) not thinking about the morality of that.

    Humans may well be the only species that ponder or agonise over the moral rights and wrongs of what they do. Other living things just seem to do stuff.

    Granted, we can't read their minds (if they have them).
    "Let us hope that it is not so. Or if it is, let us pray that the fact does not become generally known."

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