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Are You a Platonist, a Jeffersonian, or a Humean? 
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Post Are You a Platonist, a Jeffersonian, or a Humean?
In chapter Two of The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt lays out three possible views of the basic nature of our minds. He first cites Plato's amusing story in Timaeus of the creator god who created only souls, without physical form, but with perfect rationality. When that god needed a break, some lesser gods took over and designed vessels for those souls: first the heads (spherical, the most perfect shape), and then bodies to protect those heads from rolling around and injuring themselves. The bodies were also given "second souls" that were neither immortal nor rational, the source of all those "dreadful but necessary disturbances: Pleasure, first of all, evil's most powerful lure; then pains, that make us run away from what is good." To give the divine head a bit of separation from the gross passions, the gods invented the neck. For Plato, the purpose of living was clear: to make your reasoning mind exert control over your inferior passions. Actually, only philosophers could fully achieve this dominance of mind over body, and show lesser men how to get closer to it, which was job security for them. Haidt calls this view, which came down through the ages as a worshipful stance toward reason, the rationalist delusion.

Haidt chooses Thomas Jefferson to illustrate a middle way of shared responsibilities in the mind, "in which reason and sentiment are (and ought to be) independent co-rulers, like emperors of Rome, who divided the empire into eastern and western halves." Jefferson had embarked on a relationship with a married woman and so thought a lot about the proper roles of reason and emotions in areas of our lives.

David Hume wrote in 1739 that "reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them."

Haidt tells us of his own journey from rationalism to his enlightenment as a convert to Hume. Which view of human nature do you think is right? (You may abstain if you don't believe that we have a human nature!)



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Post Re: Are You a Platonist, a Jeffersonian, or a Humean?
He makes a good case for the Humean position, although I think maybe he goes a little too far in disparaging reason (which is perhaps an unfair way of putting it).

I wasn't quite sure why Hume said reason "ought only" to be the slave of the passions, rather than merely describing that it is in fact the slave.



Thu Jul 05, 2012 9:52 pm
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Post Re: Are You a Platonist, a Jeffersonian, or a Humean?
I'm a pure Platonist. Ethics is about using evidence to improve the world.

Hume's statement that reason ought only to be the slave of the passions, considered without qualification, is extremely stupid. It makes ethics the task of rationalising desire, unlike Plato's view that intelligence provides a rational understanding of the good, and of how instinct and custom prevent us from doing good.

Our passions say we should consume a lot at no cost. Our reason says this is not possible.


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Post Re: Are You a Platonist, a Jeffersonian, or a Humean?
Robert Tulip wrote:
I'm a pure Platonist. Ethics is about using evidence to improve the world.

Hume's statement that reason ought only to be the slave of the passions, considered without qualification, is extremely stupid. It makes ethics the task of rationalising desire, unlike Plato's view that intelligence provides a rational understanding of the good, and of how instinct and custom prevent us from doing good.


Morality, considered descriptively, is about much more than ethics--one of the principles Haidt sets out in the introduction.

It may be hard to understand the "ought to" in Hume's prescription. Haidt believes there is scientific evidence that if the emotive center of the brain becomes disabled, everything--both feeling and acting rationally--is screwed up, whereas with a damaged rational faculty, the effect is limited to a certain kind of thinking. So we "ought to" realize which is the rider and which is the elephant. I think it's important as well that Haidt isn't saying that passion or emotion is equivalent to hedonism. He's saying that we have moral intuitions keyed to emotions that precede our rationalizations. We just "know" that something is either right or wrong, good or bad. When certain cases are put before people, they have an extremely hard time giving reasoned answers for their judgments, a phenomenon that Haidt calls moral dumbfounding. This doesn't mean that the person has only a self-serving or hedonistic reason for his belief. In the example of sex between a brother and sister, we can clearly see that emotion actually is the "reason" behind the judgment that this incest is wrong. Emotional doesn't equal irrational.

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Our passions say we should consume a lot at no cost. Our reason says this is not possible.

The fact that we're so unsuccessful at following this bit of reason indicates the power of the emotional elephant. In this case, of course, the emotion is hedonistic.



Fri Jul 06, 2012 6:50 am
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Post Re: Are You a Platonist, a Jeffersonian, or a Humean?
DWill wrote:
It may be hard to understand the "ought to" in Hume's prescription. Haidt believes there is scientific evidence that if the emotive center of the brain becomes disabled, everything--both feeling and acting rationally--is screwed up, whereas with a damaged rational faculty, the effect is limited to a certain kind of thinking. So we "ought to" realize which is the rider and which is the elephant.


That was the only example I could think of to justify that statement. Hume must have had something else in mind to make that "ought to" conclusion.

And the example of the disabled emotive center provides compelling evidence for why it is in fact important, but not so much what the role of reason should be in a normal brain. After all, he does concede that moral reasoning can sometimes change your mind.



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Post Re: Are You a Platonist, a Jeffersonian, or a Humean?
Regarding the original question. Even after reading Damasio's "Decarte's Error" and half this book, my gut still tells me that I'm mostly Platonist while the rest of the world is Humean!



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Fri Jul 06, 2012 9:35 am
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Post Re: Are You a Platonist, a Jeffersonian, or a Humean?
DWill wrote:
if the emotive center of the brain becomes disabled, everything--both feeling and acting rationally--is screwed up
I watched Haidt's talk, but have not bought the book.

This example of defective emotion seeks to prove the case by the exception, and continue Harris's error of seeing morality through the limited prism of neuroscience.

The core of morality is based on rational logic: we do not harm others because it is contrary to our own long term interests, and generally also against our short term interests. We support rule of law because that is proven to be the best way to maximise human well being. Morality is much more a matter of reason than sentiment. In fact, where sentiment infects our moral calculations we often end up making decisions that have worse consequences than if we weighed the evidence and consequences objectively. (Actually a main parable in World War Z)

I have never been able to comprehend Hume's line about reason being slave to passion, or his other mad ideas such as skepticism about causality. But that is because I start from a Platonist premise, like Kant's synthetic a priori judgments as necessary conditions for existence.

It is true in an ultimate sense that we cannot base values on facts, in that we cannot prove it matters if humanity goes extinct or not, but this sort of logical nihilism is irrelevant to real moral debate. Once we latch on to an initial sentimental premise, such as that we do not want humanity to go extinct, then any ideas which logically flow from that premise are entirely rational except for the initial synthetic axiom.

I also don't understand the distinction DWill made between morality and ethics. Although the words have some differences of tone and usage, at bottom they mean exactly the same thing, guidance for good action.


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Post Re: Are You a Platonist, a Jeffersonian, or a Humean?
Dexter wrote:
DWill wrote:
It may be hard to understand the "ought to" in Hume's prescription. Haidt believes there is scientific evidence that if the emotive center of the brain becomes disabled, everything--both feeling and acting rationally--is screwed up, whereas with a damaged rational faculty, the effect is limited to a certain kind of thinking. So we "ought to" realize which is the rider and which is the elephant.


That was the only example I could think of to justify that statement. Hume must have had something else in mind to make that "ought to" conclusion.

And the example of the disabled emotive center provides compelling evidence for why it is in fact important, but not so much what the role of reason should be in a normal brain. After all, he does concede that moral reasoning can sometimes change your mind.

In my mind, Robert's post also came from the point of view of what "should be," rather than, descriptively and scientifically, what is (in the event that these are different). It'll be interesting to see how Haidt plays with that contrast in the book. Perhaps another part of "ought to" is the role that evolution has played (according first to E.O. Wilson in his controversial book) in determining our emotional constitution. If moral psychology is about evolved emotions, and we draw the reasonable conclusion that the emotions evolved ahead of our ability to reason consciously, then it might make sense to always keep in mind that our deliberate reasoning is piggybacking on our emotions, or at least being in important ways ordered by emotions.



Sat Jul 07, 2012 6:19 am
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Post Re: Are You a Platonist, a Jeffersonian, or a Humean?
LevV wrote:
Regarding the original question. Even after reading Damasio's "Decarte's Error" and half this book, my gut still tells me that I'm mostly Platonist while the rest of the world is Humean!

Well that is perfect! You capture the whole dilemma that Haidt speaks of. How incredibly difficult it is for us to believe that we, not just the other guy, are emoting as we offer our reasoning. Haidt attributes this trait to our being 90% chimpanzee. We're practiced tricksters.



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Post Re: Are You a Platonist, a Jeffersonian, or a Humean?
DWill wrote:
... Perhaps another part of "ought to" is the role that evolution has played (according first to E.O. Wilson in his controversial book) in determining our emotional constitution. If moral psychology is about evolved emotions, and we draw the reasonable conclusion that the emotions evolved ahead of our ability to reason consciously, then it might make sense to always keep in mind that our deliberate reasoning is piggybacking on our emotions, or at least being in important ways ordered by emotions.


As I read your post I sat here trying to think of a situation were morality is not tied to an emotion - or the consideration of an emotion of someone else. I can't think of any. I think there is very little doubt that emotions emerged first and then reason - the part of the brain that is involved with emotion is a much older part of the brain than the frontal lobes which is responsible for the executive functions (reason).

Anyone want a side trip? Here is a link to E.O. Wilson's TED talk -
http://www.ted.com/talks/e_o_wilson_on_ ... earth.html



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Post Re: Are You a Platonist, a Jeffersonian, or a Humean?
Saffron wrote:
emotions emerged first and then reason

Yes, but that begs the question of the origin of morality. The bulk of our morality is emotional. For example, our instincts teach us to love our friends and hate our enemies. But the question is whether the evolution of language and technology and empires produced a requirement for a morality that is different in kind, not just in degree, from instinctual morality. Does civilization require cooperation in moral qualities based on reason rather than emotion? This is a topic that I find fascinating in the morality of the Sermon on the Mount, in terms of defining a morality that is based on ideas rather than instinct. For example:
Jesus Christ wrote:
(Matthew 5:43-48 King James Version)
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.


DWill wrote:
How incredibly difficult it is for us to believe that we, not just the other guy, are emoting as we offer our reasoning.
That is where science and evidence are so incredibly important in assessing the worth of moral claims.

If one person says 'I wish to be Genghis Khan and give my genes to half of all humanity by force', or any of the other mass evil deeds of history such as Stalin's liquidation of the kulaks as a class, Hitler's attack on jews, etc, we have a right to say that based on objective evidence, such attitudes are evil. Our assessment is indeed based on an emotional attachment to human rights, but this emotional view is itself based on knowledge of consequences. Tyranny causes injustice and needless suffering, whereas respect for human rights causes increase of happiness. That is why we say support for human rights is good, whereas wilful violation of rights is a crime against humanity.

We had a recent related conversation in which I observed that all concepts of rights are at bottom metaphysical. Modern views regard metaphysics with contempt, so we have the perverse situation that secular defenders of human rights claim to justify their views without recourse to any metaphysical absolutes, even while claiming that rights are absolute.

Rights are never absolute, but are negotiated against emotional and rational criteria. It is always worth trying to articulate the presuppositions behind moral claims, as inevitably these go back to conflicting metaphysical views. For example, with illegal immigration, there is a fundamental conflict between the primacy of compassion and the primacy of law. But advocates of both sides of this debate seek to conceal their metaphysical views, because absolutes appear as offensive when expressed in public discussion.


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Post Re: Are You a Platonist, a Jeffersonian, or a Humean?
Robert Tulip wrote:
Yes, but that begs the question of the origin of morality. The bulk of our morality is emotional. For example, our instincts teach us to love our friends and hate our enemies. But the question is whether the evolution of language and technology and empires produced a requirement for a morality that is different in kind, not just in degree, from instinctual morality. Does civilization require cooperation in moral qualities based on reason rather than emotion? This is a topic that I find fascinating in the morality of the Sermon on the Mount, in terms of defining a morality that is based on ideas rather than instinct.

I'd say that the evolution of language and technology enabled our morality to go beyond the instinctual, so that the restraints of law and religion acted as brakes on some of the emotions that would prevent us from banding together in huge cooperative groups. I'm not sure that the ideal cited in the Sermon on the Mount has ever actually come into play, though, as a necessary ingredient for our civilization. It does represent a higher morality, but is there is evidence of its ever really having been employed?

Quote:
That is where science and evidence are so incredibly important in assessing the worth of moral claims.

If one person says 'I wish to be Genghis Khan and give my genes to half of all humanity by force', or any of the other mass evil deeds of history such as Stalin's liquidation of the kulaks as a class, Hitler's attack on jews, etc, we have a right to say that based on objective evidence, such attitudes are evil. Our assessment is indeed based on an emotional attachment to human rights, but this emotional view is itself based on knowledge of consequences. Tyranny causes injustice and needless suffering, whereas respect for human rights causes increase of happiness. That is why we say support for human rights is good, whereas wilful violation of rights is a crime against humanity.

To keep the focus on Haidt's book, I don't see that he is disputing that we have the right to judge that some moral claims are good, or evil. This isn't about relativism, as far as I can make out. He refers to a moral example in which Heinz steals a drug to save his wife's life. Although Heinz did something illegal, most people who judge this say that his action was moral, and they have no trouble saying why they think so (life comes before property). There is no moral dumfounding, nor would there be any for the examples you cite. Haidt's contention concerns the sequence of our thinking. We cite human rights not because we have referred to abstract notions and applied them to situations, but because we instinctively recoil at brutality. We then created abstract principles as a kind of enshrinement of values that have a very elemental basis. It seems natural, as language-wielding animals, for us to do this.
Quote:
We had a recent related conversation in which I observed that all concepts of rights are at bottom metaphysical. Modern views regard metaphysics with contempt, so we have the perverse situation that secular defenders of human rights claim to justify their views without recourse to any metaphysical absolutes, even while claiming that rights are absolute.

Rights are never absolute, but are negotiated against emotional and rational criteria. It is always worth trying to articulate the presuppositions behind moral claims, as inevitably these go back to conflicting metaphysical views. For example, with illegal immigration, there is a fundamental conflict between the primacy of compassion and the primacy of law. But advocates of both sides of this debate seek to conceal their metaphysical views, because absolutes appear as offensive when expressed in public discussion.

I take it from this that you disagree with Haidt's sequence, but I don't think I understand why there has to be a metaphysical base for us state that X is wrong or right. Can you explain that further?



Last edited by DWill on Sat Jul 07, 2012 11:43 am, edited 4 times in total.



Sat Jul 07, 2012 11:37 am
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Post Re: Are You a Platonist, a Jeffersonian, or a Humean?
I think most people can reason in the manner that Plato suggested and in the manner that Jefferson suggested, and in the manner that Hume suggested. People may have a tendency to favour one form, but I think most people can and do use all of them in some circumstances.



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Post Re: Are You a Platonist, a Jeffersonian, or a Humean?
bradams wrote:
I think most people can reason in the manner that Plato suggested and in the manner that Jefferson suggested, and in the manner that Hume suggested. People may have a tendency to favour one form, but I think most people can and do use all of them in some circumstances.

Haidt's makes an argument about human nature, though. He says that our characteristic is to intuit first and give strategic reasons second. It might be important to limit the topic to moral judgment, not reasoning in general. The conflict that does undoubtedly characterize all of our minds is that between desire and reason, which isn't quite the same as Haidt's metaphor of the conscious rider on the unconscious elephant, but is related to it.



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Post Re: Are You a Platonist, a Jeffersonian, or a Humean?
DWill wrote:
I'm not sure that the ideal cited in the Sermon on the Mount has ever actually come into play, though, as a necessary ingredient for our civilization. It does represent a higher morality, but is there is evidence of its ever really having been employed?
My view looks at this material against a long time frame. The Gospels contrast a morality based on emotion, giving primacy to selfishness and revenge, against a morality based on reason, giving primacy to love and objectivity. The argument, as I see it, is that human culture is captured in a maelstrom of emotion, and that salvation requires evolution out of emotion into reason as the basis of culture. The problem is that this is a call for messianic transformation, and the Bible observes that when Jesus advocated that (in the story), he was crucified. The resurrection is a signal of the long term necessity of the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount, within a recognition that our world is governed by the values of the crucifiers.
Quote:
Haidt... refers to a moral example in which Heinz steals a drug to save his wife's life. Although Heinz did something illegal, most people who judge this say that his action was moral, and they have no trouble saying why they think so (life comes before property). There is no moral dumfounding, nor would there be any for the examples you cite.
Well actually there is an immense amount of moral dumbfounding in this example. Most people will say it would be nice if wishes were horses and beggars could ride. But that is because it looks mean to observe that wishes are not horses. Most people would put life before property if asked, except they then vote for politicians who uphold patent law regarding intellectual property for pharmaceutical innovation, so the generic pirates who steal knowledge can be prosecuted. And if you think about it, patent law reflects a higher rational morality, based on the evidence that no company will put the investment into discovery of new drugs if it thinks it will not turn a profit. Emotional people will demand the right to steal their property, but judges support patent law because they respond to a higher rational morality than the immediacy of emotional situations.
Quote:
Haidt's contention concerns the sequence of our thinking. We cite human rights not because we have referred to abstract notions and applied them to situations, but because we instinctively recoil at brutality. We then created abstract principles as a kind of enshrinement of values that have a very elemental basis. It seems natural, as language-wielding animals, for us to do this.
That is speculative. In poor countries, defective children are allowed to die because the society cannot afford to keep them alive. "Instinctive recoil" from such practices tends to be a learned response. People have an "instinctive recoil" from eating cats, rats, dogs and cockroaches, but in poor countries these are delicacies. Brutality was regarded as great fun in days gone by, in gladiator fights, public executions and the like. Only once an abstract notion (do unto others) is widely taught do people come to claim that a moral theory whose origins are actually rational is based on emotion.
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I don't think I understand why there has to be a metaphysical base for us state that X is wrong or right. Can you explain that further?

Yes. At the base of all value judgments, there is an assumption that cannot be proved, an axiom. My view is that the core axiom of morality is that human life is good. But really, as Hume saw with his pitiless logic, this axiom is just a statement of sentimental emotional preference, a statement of passion, not reason.

Correct physical statements are those that can be proved true by observation and the consistency of natural laws. All other statements rely on something other than physical observation for us to assent to them as true in any ultimate sense. This 'something other' is our capacity to form synthetic judgments about necessary truths of experience, as Kant put it, following Plato.

If we want to say it is necessarily true that people should think human life is good in itself, then this 'goodness' does not derive from any physical observation alone, but interprets the evidence through the lens of our sentimental values. These emotional values are what make us regard anyone who disagrees as an inhuman monster. But this valuing of loyalty to our genetic kith cannot be justified by physical evidence alone. It draws in something other than the physical, namely moral ideals that can only be properly understood as metaphysical.


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Dave

• Seeking Reviewers - Contemporary Holiday Romance - Snowflake Wishes, Christmas Kisses

Mon Dec 02, 2019 11:51 pm

josette

• Seeking Reviews for the YA Romance Novel - Street Magic By Taylor S Seese

Mon Dec 02, 2019 10:50 pm

josette

• 173 Declared Democratic Presidential Candidates

Mon Dec 02, 2019 8:57 pm

KindaSkolarly

• Children's Book Reviewers Wanted - Meeting Kaia (Kaia the Fairy in the Garden)

Mon Dec 02, 2019 8:18 pm

AdrianvAuthor


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