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Thread: The ethics of distinct organic systems

  1. Top | #11
    Deus Meumque Jus
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    Quote Originally Posted by MxM111 View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by rousseau View Post
    I'm going to jump over a few barriers here and interrelate ethics with physics. The primary question is this:

    - can any distinct organic system be fully altruistic towards another

    Now to define my terms:

    Organic Systems - I'm taking this to mean any living entity, group, or organization. So it could mean any individual organism, or any group formed by living organisms - corporations, governments, countries, religions, etc

    Being Fully Altruistic - We'll take this to mean that the behavior of any given organic system, whether individual or a group, is sacrificial beyond what would provide a socially acceptable mutual benefit

    To re-state the question given the definitions, we're looking at any type of system, whether an individual or group, that wants to sustain itself across time while competing with other systems for resources. The question is - can any distinct system be truly altruistic towards another, defined by my definition above.
    Of course they can. I once saved a mouse from manhole. Despite of (small) risk of being infected and despite the fact that probably this mouse would run and do mousy things which are not quite beneficial for the city and me. And even I now would use mouse poison without any problem to fight mice near my house. But if I see another mouse somewhere in the city clearly suffering I will probably save it again.
    Our discussion has progressed beyond the original point now. Your example seems to fall outside the bounds of my definition - this is an example of you doing something with minimal cost, and potentially a benefit pending on who's observing, or just your own conscience.

    Closer to my point, ask yourself the lengths you'd go to save the mouse. If a friend in another city two hours away asked you to make a Saturday drive to recover it from a manhole, would you do it? This sounds ridiculous, but that's primarily what I'm aiming at. Most of what we do that is 'ethical', or 'sacrificial', is only 'just sacrificial enough' within the bounds of social custom. Eventually social custom frees us from the need for additional sacrifice. A mutually agreed upon code that gets us off the hook from doing more than we need to.

    So, the answer to your question is yes. Now, why is it important?
    It's important because it has far-reaching implications on both human behavior, and human systems. Think, for example, if the bureaucracy behind the Catholic Church is able to extinguish itself because that would be the 'moral' thing to do (don't get too caught up in this example). My OP would imply that it is physically impossible for the church to not try to sustain itself, regardless of circumstances.

    Or consider a corporation who's existence depends on exploitation of the environment. If my theory holds true, the internal logic of such corporation has to continue it's exploitation until someone or something destroys it.

    Or consider the behavior of individual people, it would have implications on a wide range of things we do.

    The central point being that ultimately we're constrained by competition of resources. Not necessarily that we're selfish, but rather that a complete, cohesive unity is likely a pipe dream.

  2. Top | #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Politesse View Post
    Sure. Look at, for instance, animals in captivity who end up fostering baby animals of other species.
    That's an interesting example and I'd be interested in diving into it further before drawing too many conclusions from it about ethics. I would assume some kind of net, genetic benefit in this case. Maybe an example of the animal being unaware that it's a different species, and the overarching maternal instinct having more benefit than the cost of rearing a non-child now and then.

    If you're not making conscious moral decisions in the first place, it's easy to do something "commendable" without realizing it.
    Sure, but this is an aside from the OP, which is about being excessively commendable.

    I think most of what falls under 'commendable' behavior is usually just people who are doing what any reasonable person would do under the same circumstance. For instance, you save someone from a burning car not because you're a hero, but because you're not a complete asshole. The question isn't so much about whether we're selfish, but rather the limits of this kind of altruism. In other words, can we truly be ethical beyond what's expected socially, and if so, how much.

  3. Top | #13
    Mazzie Daius fromderinside's Avatar
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    I sense a nexus between organic systems, evolved systems, and whether consciousness is necessary. I certainly don't think lack of consciousness makes any action or course of action easy or less praise worthy.

    That being said I sense this discussion is threatening to move away from rational discourse into empirical discourse.

    For instance one can replace 'reasonable' with 'normally behaving' and come to a fitness statement rather than a morality statement.

  4. Top | #14
    Deus Meumque Jus
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    Quote Originally Posted by fromderinside View Post
    I sense a nexus between organic systems, evolved systems, and whether consciousness is necessary. I certainly don't think lack of consciousness makes any action or course of action easy or less praise worthy.
    Not clear on this. I think because my definition of 'organic system' was pretty much ad hoc, not sure what you're referring to by 'evolved systems' in it's relation to it, and how consciousness comes into play. Are you referring to consciousness of an individual, or consciousness of a larger system?

  5. Top | #15
    Mazzie Daius fromderinside's Avatar
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    I paired organic with evolved which makes system nexus with consciousness pretty clear.

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