2013 December 29 Sunday
Duck Dynasty And Conflicting Moral Codes

Hey duckies, some people think it is immoral to kill and eat animals. Other people sell duck hunting equipment. Some of the moral doctrine rewrites by the Cathedral really do clash with Christianity.

An evangelical Christian points out that there is, in fact, a tension between orthodox Christianity and homosexuality. Saying otherwise robs American society of an honest debate about how to reconcile sexual tolerance with religious tolerance.

My reaction: there is not a single universal moral code that all minds naturally recognize. Individuals differ in their moral beliefs in important ways. Different religious and secular faiths have different moral beliefs. There isn't some set of rules by which we can all get along.

Which moral gap is bigger? The one between Christianity and Islam? Or the one between right wing fundamentalist Christians and secular leftists? I ask this as a curious and concerned spectator.

I do not expect humanity to converge on a single universal moral code. Rather, I think there is a substantial chance that natural selection, genetic engineering, and the development of easier ways for people to watch narrow casted media feeds will cause groups to diverge on moral questions.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2013 December 29 10:14 PM 


Comments
S. Harris said at December 30, 2013 2:47 PM:

"My reaction: there is not a single universal moral code that all minds naturally recognize."

The only reason for this is because morals have to do with religion, and therefore any "morality" is subjective. This means that no universal code should ever be a "moral" one, but an ethical one.

There is a universal ETHICS code that all minds naturally recognize. Ethics are objective, universal and are understood by any sane or healthy human.

We all understand profesional ethics and not professional morals, and if you choose to ignore them ethics you get fined or go to jail or get your ass kicked or go to a mental hospital. This, for example, means that if you are a surgeon and you leave a piece of cotton inside the patient during surgery -whether because of distraction, negligence, ill will, profit, etc-, you are acting against ethics, because nobody who needs a surgery goes to submit to one expecting to come out worse, and everybody can understand that: catholic, muslim, orthodox or mormon; russian, american, chinese, iranian or nigerian; black, white, indian or oriental. It's the same if you walk up to anybody and tell him "I'm going to kill you just 'cause I feel like it" or "I'm going to rape your daughter just cause I chose to ignore her autonomy" or if you are a lawyer who knows your client has no chance of winning the case and you still keep him as client to continue getting money from him. Those actions are universally understood by humans.


This tells us that there can be very "moral" actions that are very unethical, like sending you to an eternal burning punishment for having been born with the "wrong religion", or "saving someone's soul" by torture during the inquisition or the crusades, or killing a woman for showing her face in public or killing in God's name: all very moral, but very unethical.

Also there can also be very "immoral" actions that are perfectly ethical, like drinking alcohol -for the muslim- or ignoring communion and confession -for the catholic- or eating pork -for the jew or muslim- or killing in your own defense -for a strict budhist- or voluntary euthanasia, or masturbating or having sex before marriage, etc. All those are immoral actions simply because they are religious-based and therefore SUBJECTIVE, but no action in this paragraph is at all unethical, is it?

Ethical behavior has to do with respecting a person's dignity and autonomy, and acting based on reason and freedom, not alienation, and above all learning that MY WELL-BEING DEPENDS IN GREAT PART ON THE WELL-BEING OF OTHERS. Ethics has to do with biofilia, and biofilia means love for life and its forms, and life does not only mean to exist, but to exist with some quality in your life. The forms of life are growth, health, education, nutrition, leisure, fitness, well-being, sex, reproduction, evolution, development, laughter, feeling loved, etc.

Randall Parker said at December 30, 2013 10:02 PM:

S. Harris, I do not buy this:

There is a universal ETHICS code that all minds naturally recognize. Ethics are objective, universal and are understood by any sane or healthy human.

No, Ayn Rand was wrong about that.

Have you read Adrian Raine's The Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Crime? Or how about research on cognitive differences between people on the political Left and Right? People reach different conclusions about right and wrong because of innate differences.

Mercer said at December 30, 2013 10:28 PM:

" different conclusions about right and wrong because of innate differences. "

I don't think this explains differences on gay marriage because twenty years ago hardly anyone supported it.

SmartDonkey said at December 31, 2013 9:38 AM:

"My reaction: there is not a single universal moral code that all minds naturally recognize."

I think this is because beliefs begin to diverge at a deeper more basic level, i.e. the meaning and purpose of life, etc. Religious folks often believe homosexual acts are offensive to God while secularists believe they aren't. We simply do not know which belief is in reality true. Hence the problem seems to be irreconcilable by humans due to metaphysical ignorance.

However I disagree that "There isn't some set of rules by which we can all get along.". I mean the whole homosexual issue - regardless of if the acts are sinful or not - politically speaking is based upon shallowness. Neither side says much about the reality of homosexuality in discussing this issue.

Anti-Homosexual attitude: Homosexual acts are offensive to God. Homosexual relationships are disgusting and meaningless.

Reality: The first statement cannot be proven. Homosexuals likely do find meaning in their relationships and said disgust could be and probably is to some extent a culturally learned reaction.

Homosexual attitude: Homosexual relationships are equivalent and just as important and meaningful as heterosexual relationships and everyone needs to adopt this attitude.

Reality: Two individuals that are physically the same gender obviously cannot have the same level of sexual polarity as a man and a woman. Not to mention the fact that such a relationship would not produce children which anthropologically speaking is the main reason societies have marriage. Furthermore the disgust that many feel towards homosexuality may not be entirely a product of culture and you cannot simply force everyone to have an attitude.

So the point I'm trying to make is that the mainstream views on homosexuality are shallow. The reality is more subtle and nuanced. The only possibility I see in reconciling this issue (and other moral issues) is for us to get over our shallowness. Conservatives need to recognize that claiming homosexual acts are offensive to God cannot be proven. Liberals need to recognize that homosexual relationships are not the same things as heterosexual relationships and the idea of homosexual marriage is silly. If this came to pass no one would even talk about this as an issue. Its dumb and not important.

Hence IMO - a reality based reconciliation of moral issues like this is indeed possible but most likely we are collectively way to stupid to do so.

S. Harris said at December 31, 2013 9:53 AM:

Ok Randall, here take a look and tell me what you honestly think.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5bW77UWwa4I

It's really not that complicated. There are enough things that are universally objective for all human beings, on which to base our behavior. The problem is that so many laws and codes are based -directly or indirectly- on religious morals.

See, I have a pretty good idea of what you don't want me to do to you, and I don't even know you, I have never seen you, I don't know what you believe in. I'm absolutely and possitively sure that you don't want me or anybody else to kill you, to rape your daughter, to prescribe an expensive medicine that will do nothing to cure you, to spill something on the freeway that makes your car skid out, to indoctrinate your son while you believe I'm giving him therapy, etc. Understanding this is simple, objective. This is called ETHICS, and unless you are feeling like joking or playing dumb, you will simpathize and agree with me, simply because as human you understand the implications of my actions or your actions or anybody else's actions on others.

Sorry, I don't mean to be so blunt nor do I intend to do any of the above to you or anybody, nor would I like anybody to do those to anybody else, either. I do not wish any of those to you. Best regards.

I hope you can really take some time to look at the whole video even though it's a little long.

The Lone Wolf said at December 31, 2013 11:35 AM:

People have fundamentally different morals because of both the uniqueness of their genes and the uniqueness of their environments. There are certain ethics that are near universal (I think everyone recognizes that rape, murder, etc. is wrong, even when their culture allows it, as in (e.g.) more conservative Islamic culture). And there are just fundamental differences in interests between groups, whether genetic, pseudo-genetic or class based. Certainly though I think it is important to try to find common interests with people and groups as much as possible.

Randall Parker said at December 31, 2013 8:46 PM:

Hi Sam,

I suspected that was you on your first comment. I am familiar already with your thoughts about atheism and ethics. I just watched your video. I have read Objectivists. I've read libertarians. I have been thinking for a long time about whether there is an objective ethical code. Let me point you to some problems with trying to get people to all recognize the same set of ethical beliefs and live by them:

1) The Dunning-Kruger Effect. Some people aren't competent to grasp the reasons why some ethical beliefs make sense. But they'll reject what more competent people advise them.

2) Lower IQ people commit more crimes. Why? Fewer neurons available to impose impulse control on emotional reactions? Less ability to model the impact on others of one's own actions? Fewer ethical thoughts? All seem likely to me.

3) Some people have innate reasons for criminality. See Adrian Raine's book for a pretty good survey on what is known about this subject today. For example, when he was at USC he and a guy at UC Irvine put psychopaths under MRI machines and found interesting patterns. I think psychopaths are just at one extreme. Some people have intermittent explosive disorder with what look like biological causes. You might be able to get them to agree with you when their brains aren't inflamed. But they'll still attack in a different mental state.

4) People really do feel differently about those who look more or less like them and who think more or less like them. Have you read the findings of Robert Putnam and other researchers on the lower levels of trust in societies with greater ethnic diversity? I think this is the result of genetic coding that makes people feel greater trust for those with are less genetically distant. Genetic theorist W. D. Hamilton thought altruism worked more strongly with those genetically closer because this has been selected for.

5) The innate differences in moral reasoning modules in the brains of conservatives and liberals. See Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion and a couple of other books have come out on this topic recently as well. John Alford and John Hibbing have studied innate differences between liberals and conservatives as well. I do not link to all of their work in that post.

So I see lots of signs that we have innate differences in moral reasoning and in how we model the work that make ethical disagreements, unfairness, and criminality inevitable.

Glengarry said at January 1, 2014 3:14 AM:

A fundamental difference is that the Cathedral moral code changes at a high rate.

The rate of change is likely to be due to being partly based on university programmes. Modern social science research has the built-in bias to be done in search of tenure and grant money or to sell books. Those who produce it are thus driven to routinely produce results that upset the apple cart or are outrageous and noteworthy -- vulgarized scientific revolution if you will. So, when worker's rights are played out, you have to find something else or be denied that grant. When moral philosophy becomes too settled, you have to invent counter-intuitive arguments and strange scenarios, and argue that the standard rules are inadequate, whichever they are. (One might make the argument that universities, due to these social problems of generating knowledge, are unsuitable for the task.)

The result of this high rate of change is interesting too: morals can't be internalized (even if we disregard the contents entirely). The list of taboos of political correctness, for example, continuously evolve. Cathedral zombies thus always have to look to their approved sources of propaganda to know how to behave and readily abandon what they are told is outdated, which in practice means they lack any inner morals. (Quite a useful feature, that, isn't it?) And there is of course a gleeful gotcha effect associated with this list. Moral reasoning is replaced by a twitter mob of outrage du jour.

Big Bill said at January 1, 2014 10:58 AM:

Smart Donkey, how do you define "ethics" as opposed to "morals"? Professional ethics seem to change with the times.

The Hippocratic Oath, perhaps the first set of professional ethics, has been amended/reduced several times.

The doctor-patient privilege (and the obligation of doctors to keep patient information confidential) has also been amended/reduced.

F=ma is objective.

E=mc2 is objective.

Ethics don't seem to be.

chris said at January 5, 2014 1:51 AM:

@S. Harris

"I'm absolutely and possitively sure that you don't want me or anybody else to kill you"

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2003/dec/04/germany.lukeharding

I guess the proposition that no one wants another person to kill them isn't universal.

destructure said at January 5, 2014 5:47 AM:

Mr Harris' moral code seems predicated on the Golden Rule -- Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you. He claims this is "objective". But nature doesn't seem to share this opinion as evidenced by the predator vs prey relationship. I suppose one could limit this moral code to homo sapiens only. However, this seems a rather arbitrary demarcation. At least, animal rights activists would certainly think so.

S. Harris said at January 6, 2014 4:09 PM:

Randall, I think you're not paying attention.

1. There's no such a thing as "ethical beliefs" there are only moral beliefs, so any healthy human being -unless mentally ill- is competent enough to grasp ethics. I think I've set enough examples to clarify, so I won't go into this any further.

2. People whose IQs are so low that cannot really understand ethics should be treated since we're talking about a mentally ill person. Nevertheless we're talking about an exceptionally low IQ.

3. There's nobody is born predestinated to be a criminal. Nobody has "innate reasons for criminality" as you claim. Nobody feels like being a criminal when needs are satisfied and when laws make sense. Over 95% of crimes are economically related. The remaining percentage is drug addiction related or mental illness, and drug addiction is not a crime is a condition for which people should be helped and not punished.

4. I think you prate excessively about how ethnically diverse societies, genetics and immigration is something undesirable, but that sort of talk seems to me comes only from fear and hate, which are very strong emotions, and I think you've said lower IQs react more emotionally. One really doesn't need type in caps to send an emotionally loaded message. To me religion seems more of a threat to our society's quality of life. Agreeing statistics are as elocuent as they are objective.

5. Again, there's no "moral reasoning". I think I've made it clear that morality is subjective since it comes from belief, from a religious feeling having to do with wanting to please a god. Therefore, yes, there are differences in morals, but they are not "innate". I really don't know what sort of things you feel so confident about calling "innate".

6. My name is not Sam, it's Sean. There's a homonymous coincidence I feel I have to clarify, but then again most bloggers use abreviated names or aliases.

Destructure believes that predator vs prey relationship is the only way for humans to live under, simply because he has probably grown in a highly competitive society, he is probably unable to imagine other type of human interaction. I am led to assume that he's never heard of the Amish and many other societies -past and present- with virtually 0% crime rate. So his narrow scope of possibilities seems a rather arbitrary demarcation. It's a typical tendency in believers of religions and other dogmas.

S. Harris said at January 6, 2014 4:35 PM:

@chris,

Thanks chris, I've also heard of things like this and worse. Many more.

I think I made myself clear when I mentioned healthy or sane people in order to act ethically. Acting ethically requires reasoning and freedom.

The link provided by "chris" is precisely the case of severe mental illness, so once again, people like this should be treated, cured simply because reasoning is impaired and freedom is alienated.

I do hope nobody here quotes again instances like this. Severe mental illness, the influence of bath salts or similar drugs, severe depression, psychological traumas, religious indoctrinations, are precisely what disables a person to act ethically. That's my whole point and I think "chris" has proved it. Thanks chris.


Mthson said at January 6, 2014 9:47 PM:

S. Harris said: "Nobody has "innate reasons for criminality" as you claim. Nobody feels like being a criminal when needs are satisfied and when laws make sense."


Some people's desires cannot be satisfied by civilization. The Wichita Massacre is useful for getting a glimpse into naturally occurring instincts that we don't personally have any experience with.

You're saying that can be cured, but there's a lot of evidence against that (see Randall's links) and not much for it. Most of the males I've known have such deeply rooted eusociality that they'd find it not just undesirable, but physically impossible to violently rape someone.


I appreciated your argument that ethics can be a more objective code than subjective morality.

But the Cathedral is nonetheless certain that it's relying on objective ethics when it, e.g., inserts subsidized housing into previously nice neighborhoods, which then radiate out violent crime. Or when it insists that affirmative action should be based on race instead of parental income, so that impoverished Asian-Americans get discriminated against.

In practical life, people's instinctual tendencies exercise a tremendous influence over their assessment of what's objective.

destructure said at January 7, 2014 7:40 AM:

Harris

"Destructure believes that predator vs prey relationship is the only way for humans to live under,"

Straw man. I never said it was the only way for humans to live. I said it goes against your claim that the Golden Rule was "universally objective".

"simply because he has probably grown in a highly competitive society, he is probably unable to imagine other type of human interaction."

That's an ad hominem. Base your arguments on logic and reason not what kind of society you think I may have grown up in.

"I am led to assume that he's never heard of the Amish and many other societies -past and present- with virtually 0% crime rate."

The Amish are homogeneous. Since you took exception to Randall's "excessive prat[ing]" that "ethnically diverse societies and immigration is something undesirable", perhaps you could give use some examples of 'ethnically diverse' societies "with virtually 0% crime rate."

"So his narrow scope of possibilities seems a rather arbitrary demarcation. It's a typical tendency in believers of religions and other dogmas."

First, that's another ad hominem. Second, your presumption that I'm religious is incorrect. And, third, you poached my phrase.

Check it out said at January 8, 2014 5:08 PM:

Ethics objective and morals subjective?

Never heard of that, but maybe there's some true to that. It's a fresh new view by Harris -whether Sam or Sean- and doesn't sound so crazy as many here try to make appear.

I don't know, but I think there are some things everybody must agree on when it comes to right and wrong humans are pretty homogeneous about that, even if we're far from having the Golden Rule around. So I have dissagree with destructure and agree more with Harris, except on his Golden Rule.

destructure said at January 8, 2014 7:30 PM:

Check it out

"I don't know, but I think there are some things everybody must agree on when it comes to right and wrong humans are pretty homogeneous about that, even if we're far from having the Golden Rule around. So I have dissagree with destructure and agree more with Harris, except on his Golden Rule."

How are you disagreeing with me? I haven't said whether there were any objective universal standards or not. I merely cast doubt that his Golden Rule was it. Which, by the way, is EXACTLY what you just said.

destructure said at January 8, 2014 7:31 PM:

Check it out

"I don't know, but I think there are some things everybody must agree on when it comes to right and wrong humans are pretty homogeneous about that, even if we're far from having the Golden Rule around. So I have dissagree with destructure and agree more with Harris, except on his Golden Rule."

How are you disagreeing with me? I haven't said whether there were any objective universal standards or not. I merely cast doubt that his Golden Rule was it. Which, by the way, is EXACTLY what you just said.

Randall Parker said at January 12, 2014 11:37 AM:

Hi Sean,

I've pointed you to evidence. You have responded by repeating incorrect assertions.

The vast majority of people with low IQs are not mentally ill. Robert Plomin (genetics and IQ researcher) found that the distribution of IQ on the left tail can be explained by frequencies of genetic variants and not due to illness. Exceptions exist. But most low IQs are just the result of a roll of the genetic dice in terms of which chromosomes each person gets from each parent.

Yes, there are people with differences in neuroanatomy that make them dangerous in a variety of ways. Adrian' Raine's The Anatomy Of Violence explains the evidence. Yes, there are innate differences in moral reasoning across the political spectrum and on other dimensions. Jonathan Haidt's book does a good job of summing up the evidence. Haidt also surveys a lot of research on how the human mind decides what is right or wrong. Most of that processing occurs below the conscious level. The conscious mind creates justifications for the emotional reactions and this happens even with people who imagine themselves to be highly rational. Your universal ethics code that all minds recognize does not exist.

You can tell me your beliefs, reassert them with confidence, and tell me I'm not paying attention. But I'm interested in evidence. Moral psychology researchers, criminology researchers, and psychometricians provide evidence. Their evidence does not support your beliefs.


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