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Are You a Platonist, a Jeffersonian, or a Humean? 
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Post Re: Are You a Platonist, a Jeffersonian, or a Humean?
Robert Tulip wrote:
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.

This still relies on the idea that there is a dichotomy between reasoned moral judgment and emotion. I don't see how you'll get anywhere with this when scientific understanding has passed this by. A divorce of moral reasoning and emotion is impossible in the sense that emotion usually gives rise to moral reasoning. The reasoning will be an attempt to give socially acceptable or useful justification to an emotional reaction. The identification of love with reason rather than emotion also seems rather strange to me.
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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.

Moral dumbfounding is a specific term Haidt thought up to describe people's failure to come up with logical reasons for their decisions about certain kinds of moral problems. You've run your own way with it.
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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.

It's true that 'instinctive recoil' is conditioned by cultural experience. I'm not even sure that Haidt uses the word 'instinct.' I just mean by it that we acquire certain automatic reactions. Whether these are learned or innate doesn't make a difference.
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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.

But don't disparage 'sentiment' or 'passion', since both evolved to aid us in survival. Reason comes in afterwards, also to aid us in survival by being of usefulness to the core of automatic responses that form the biggest part of our constitution. Certainly Hume did not denigrate emotion, either.
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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 moral reasoning is post hoc rationalizing coming from intuition or emotion, the 'truth' doesn't have to be anywhere in statements themselves. The truth can be in the emotions or sentiments--but not if you hold such a negative view of the kind of cognition that emotion really is. Traditional philosophy doesn't seem to hold all the right cards anymore.
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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.

You really are a Platonist.



Sat Jul 07, 2012 10:34 pm
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Post Re: Are You a Platonist, a Jeffersonian, or a Humean?
DWill wrote:
the idea that there is a dichotomy between reasoned moral judgment and emotion. I don't see how you'll get anywhere with this when scientific understanding has passed this by.
Honestly, I find that an astounding comment. You may be familiar with Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Fast thinking relies on emotion, getting us immediately out of a situation where we have to react, whereas slow thinking relies on reason, in which we carefully weigh all the factors of a decision against the evidence and the likely outcomes. Law courts use this distinction between snap and considered judgments as a matter of course, so deprecating it as unscientific seems rather shallow.
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A divorce of moral reasoning and emotion is impossible in the sense that emotion usually gives rise to moral reasoning. The reasoning will be an attempt to give socially acceptable or useful justification to an emotional reaction.
And sometimes that reasoning will be sound and sometimes it will be unsound. Sound reasoning is dispassionate, impartial, evidence based and logical. Unsound reasoning is passionate, biased, prejudiced and illogical. There is a difference.
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The identification of love with reason rather than emotion also seems rather strange to me.
If love is reverence for the identity of something, it can be a completely rational thing. The context of the Sermon on the Mount was an unconditional love, whereby a spark of divinity is seen in everything, even in things that are corrupted and evil. It is a rational abstract love, not an emotional partiality.
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Moral dumbfounding is a specific term Haidt thought up to describe people's failure to come up with logical reasons for their decisions about certain kinds of moral problems. You've run your own way with it.
My use seems compatible with Haidt's as I understand him. You are saying people get dumbfounded when asked to explain why stealing drugs is wrong. I just think this example fails to consider the situation at all coherently, as to why people regard rule of law as more important than individual exceptions. 'Just this once' is the start of a slippery slope to relativism.
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we acquire certain automatic reactions. Whether these are learned or innate doesn't make a difference.
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Yes it does make a difference. Innate reactions are hardwired into our genes, whereas learned reactions are taught and so in principle can readily be changed by rational argument.

But don't disparage 'sentiment' or 'passion', since both evolved to aid us in survival. Reason comes in afterwards, also to aid us in survival by being of usefulness to the core of automatic responses that form the biggest part of our constitution.
Sentiment is the basis of 'fast thinking' and is essential for all quick responses. But building a theory of morality on immediate reactions is fraught with peril. It makes far more sense to consider views very carefully and build on precedent.
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If moral reasoning is post hoc rationalizing coming from intuition or emotion, the 'truth' doesn't have to be anywhere in statements themselves. The truth can be in the emotions or sentiments
I'm finding that statement hard to comprehend. Moral reasoning is not post hoc, it starts from universal principles that have been refined by long precedent and experience and assesses actions against this framework. 'Post hoc' implies we newly invent our moral response after every event instead of having a consistent and coherent moral compass.


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Post Re: Are You a Platonist, a Jeffersonian, or a Humean?
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Honestly, I find that an astounding comment. You may be familiar with Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Fast thinking relies on emotion, getting us immediately out of a situation where we have to react, whereas slow thinking relies on reason, in which we carefully weigh all the factors of a decision against the evidence and the likely outcomes. Law courts use this distinction between snap and considered judgments as a matter of course, so deprecating it as unscientific seems rather shallow.

This can all be solved if we remember the title of the book, The Righteous Mind. Haidt was going to use the word 'moral' instead of 'righteous,' but wanted something that would "convey the sense that human nature is not just intrinsically moral, it's also intrinsically moralistic, critical, and judgmental." The book is not about general reasoning, but about our minds being in a divided state as we behave morally however we do, and then present the reasoning for that behavior. The divided state refers to the controlled processes of moral reasoning against the automatic processes of intuition, which is ruled by emotion. Haidt's metaphor is the rider and the elephant.
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And sometimes that reasoning will be sound and sometimes it will be unsound. Sound reasoning is dispassionate, impartial, evidence based and logical. Unsound reasoning is passionate, biased, prejudiced and illogical. There is a difference.

Right, the reasoning may be sound, in that it doesn't contradict facts or is based on emotional preference, or unsound in that it does. In a transcript of an interview about the incest scene, the subject gave several reasons that were challenged by the experimenter as wrong factually. The subject kept falling back to a new defense, and he even would abandon a defense as he spoke it and realized it didn't make sense. This was all an experimental design to force people who said the brother and sister were wrong, into moral dumbfoundedness. None of reasoned, evidence-based justifications could work because of the constraints worked into the example. It really was a "harmless taboo violation." The subjects had to be responding from their strong intuitions about incest and offering their "reasoned" justifications after the fact. Note that their reasoning wasn't bad because it was emotional; it was bad because it skirted the facts. We shouldn't say that any of them were wrong in their judgment just because they couldn't give a reasoned answer. Sometimes that's just he way it is with our moral judgments: they reside deep in our emotions, though we're reluctant to admit it.
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If love is reverence for the identity of something, it can be a completely rational thing. The context of the Sermon on the Mount was an unconditional love, whereby a spark of divinity is seen in everything, even in things that are corrupted and evil. It is a rational abstract love, not an emotional partiality.

But obviously love, to have come into existence at all, needs to have been emotional; that's all I meant. We get into problems when we talk about a dichotomy of reason and emotion precisely because we do judge emotions by standards of reason and rationality. If a man comes into the police station and reports he killed his wife, shows no emotion whatever about the act, and passes a test of mental functioning, we still don't conclude that he is rational. Not to show awareness that one has committed a serious moral violation is irrational. Note: I don't believe in "rational abstract love."
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My use seems compatible with Haidt's as I understand him. You are saying people get dumbfounded when asked to explain why stealing drugs is wrong. I just think this example fails to consider the situation at all coherently, as to why people regard rule of law as more important than individual exceptions. 'Just this once' is the start of a slippery slope to relativism.

This is the problem with relying on someone else's summary, I guess. I said that in the "Heinz" example, people were not morally dumbfounded because the justification they relied on most often worked for them and really couldn't be challenged on a factual basis. They would say that human life could be seen as a higher cause than property, so Heinz was not immoral in his action. We shouldn't get hung up on your slippery slope assertion because this author isn't--at this point in the book, at least--making an argument about right and wrong moral alternatives.
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Yes it does make a difference. Innate reactions are hardwired into our genes, whereas learned reactions are taught and so in principle can readily be changed by rational argument.

I disagree with your "readily." Some cultural beliefs are so strong and persistent that changing them is hard, indeed. They become an integral part of the elephant. If they can be changed, is it by rational argument that this will most likely happen, or by a more empathic approach--"talking to the elephant,"-- that gets into the Humean source of our principles? Haidt quotes Hume on this point: "And as reasoning is not the source, whence either disputant derives his tenets; it is in vain to expect, that any logic, which speaks not to the affections, will ever engage him to embrace sounder principles." It can be hazardous to open ourselves to the deeper sources of another's principles, because we might find ourselves changing unexpectedly.
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Sentiment is the basis of 'fast thinking' and is essential for all quick responses. But building a theory of morality on immediate reactions is fraught with peril. It makes far more sense to consider views very carefully and build on precedent.

Haidt, as well as other scientists who call themselves moral psychologists, isn't out to 'build a theory of morality'--at least I don't think he is. He wants to be able to ascertain what is really going on in our minds when we make moral judgments, which any theory-building then would need to be based on. The ends of these scientists are probably quite different from those of traditional philosophy.
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I'm finding that statement hard to comprehend. Moral reasoning is not post hoc, it starts from universal principles that have been refined by long precedent and experience and assesses actions against this framework. 'Post hoc' implies we newly invent our moral response after every event instead of having a consistent and coherent moral compass.

You can say that moral reasoning is not post hoc if you want. It isn't so much that I'm asserting that it is, as that I'm trying to present the assertions in this book. And so far, he's making sense to me as well. One of Haidt's three principles is Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second, which says pretty clearly that our moral reasoning is the rider serving the elephant. Regarding 'universal principles,' you've already said that morals are often not universal but specific to culture. Morality gets into us somehow, merges with our feelings about who we are, which are emotional. Our moral response is not our verbal expression of principle; it has already happened before we speak, in most of daily life. We don't need to make up our response anew at each occasion; it's just the opposite--we have a very reliable means for doing morality through intuition, and as a result a moral compass that is also reliable.



Last edited by DWill on Sun Jul 08, 2012 12:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Sun Jul 08, 2012 12:31 pm
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Post Re: Are You a Platonist, a Jeffersonian, or a Humean?
DWill wrote:
The book is not about general reasoning, but about our minds being in a divided state as we behave morally however we do, and then present the reasoning for that behavior. The divided state refers to the controlled processes of moral reasoning against the automatic processes of intuition, which is ruled by emotion. Haidt's metaphor is the rider and the elephant.
You quoted Haidt in the intro thread as saying “the mind is divided, like a rider on an elephant, and the rider’s job is to serve the elephant. The rider is our conscious reasoning…the elephant is the other 99 percent of mental processes—the ones that occur outside of awareness but that actually govern most of our behavior.” Where does he get this from? The elephant's job is to serve the rider. He has it backwards. Good morality is logical, with the elephant serving the rider, while bad morality is illogical, with the rider serving the elephant. Is he saying there is no good and bad in morality?
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experimental design to force people ... into moral dumbfoundedness. None of reasoned, evidence-based justifications could work ... their reasoning ... was bad because it skirted the facts.... moral judgments ... reside deep in our emotions
That example gives me the impression that Haidt is trying to show he can prove black is white, as long as he hedges around the nature of colour enough and is rude enough to the people who say black is not white. Cajoling people to admit that sometimes incest might be okay looks to be an unethical experiment, aimed more at the capacity to undermine people's principles through casuistry.
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I don't believe in "rational abstract love."
Well then you are not a Platonist. :heart3: :lovers: :lovers: :(love): :heartpump:
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moral reasoning is the rider serving the elephant.
No, that is absurd. Morality aims for good results. Good results come from elephants serving riders. The good result occurs when the rider has trained the elephant and can easily get it to obey, for example using a piece of grass as a tether. Good results come from contestability, discipline, careful analysis and training, not from letting elephants run amok.

The conflict between rival moral views is often over means rather than ends. Most people support the golden rule, but what they are willing to do to others varies. Most people want a prosperous and stable society, but their ideas of how to progress towards that goal vary widely.


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Post Re: Are You a Platonist, a Jeffersonian, or a Humean?
Robert Tulip wrote:
You quoted Haidt in the intro thread as saying “the mind is divided, like a rider on an elephant, and the rider’s job is to serve the elephant. The rider is our conscious reasoning…the elephant is the other 99 percent of mental processes—the ones that occur outside of awareness but that actually govern most of our behavior.” Where does he get this from? The elephant's job is to serve the rider. He has it backwards. Good morality is logical, with the elephant serving the rider, while bad morality is illogical, with the rider serving the elephant. Is he saying there is no good and bad in morality?


Haidt is making purely descriptive arguments about the relationship between emotions/intuitions and reasoning. He's not making any ought statements that I recall (which is why I unclear about that Hume quote), except for noting that when the emotion centers of the brain were damaged, it also affected reasoning ability.



Mon Jul 09, 2012 8:05 am
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Post Re: Are You a Platonist, a Jeffersonian, or a Humean?
I see it that way, too, Dexter. There are cross-purposes with Robert and Haidt. They're not on the same page, or however else we might put it. Perhaps later in the book, Haidt comes closer to "should" statements, but right now he's showing us the results of an investigation that has a strong bearing on human nature.



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Post Re: Are You a Platonist, a Jeffersonian, or a Humean?
As a relative newcomer to this list, I cannot say with certainty that I belong to any of the three camps discussed in this thread but I have thought for some time about Haidt's arguments pertaining to the underlying science and philosophy guiding its application. It seems to me he argues that intuitions come first and that our emotions motivate and guide the rational arguments we make in defense of our intuitions. Thus, if a particular proposition or position elicits a positive reaction from me then the position I take in subsequent reasoning is "can I believe this?" and I will look at all available information through the lens of selecting evidence which does support my favored position (Kahneman in Thinking Fast and Slow describes the heuristics underlying such a selection). If, on the other hand, the position evokes a negative reaction my analysis becomes "must I believe this?" and my unconscious filters lead me to select evidence refuting the position (while avoiding seeing any supportive data lying about). So we use rationality in daily life to justify our beliefs and to wonder why the idiots on the other side fail to see the obvious supporting evidence so apparent to us.



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Tue Jul 10, 2012 4:36 pm
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Post Re: Are You a Platonist, a Jeffersonian, or a Humean?
scotchbooks wrote:
As a relative newcomer to this list, I cannot say with certainty that I belong to any of the three camps discussed in this thread but I have thought for some time about Haidt's arguments pertaining to the underlying science and philosophy guiding its application. It seems to me he argues that intuitions come first and that our emotions motivate and guide the rational arguments we make in defense of our intuitions. Thus, if a particular proposition or position elicits a positive reaction from me then the position I take in subsequent reasoning is "can I believe this?" and I will look at all available information through the lens of selecting evidence which does support my favored position (Kahneman in Thinking Fast and Slow describes the heuristics underlying such a selection). If, on the other hand, the position evokes a negative reaction my analysis becomes "must I believe this?" and my unconscious filters lead me to select evidence refuting the position (while avoiding seeing any supportive data lying about). So we use rationality in daily life to justify our beliefs and to wonder why the idiots on the other side fail to see the obvious supporting evidence so apparent to us.

Thanks a lot for your post. Robert Tulip also refers to Kahneman's book, so I need to get a hold of that. I don't know if it makes a decisive difference that Haidt is talking specifically about positions we would call moral. It's probably hard to find any position that doesn't have something to do with our making a moral choice. But you're correct that he does believe that 'intuitions first' is the rule. Robert has interpreted this as some kind of advocacy position, but Haidt is just trying to use science to figure out the reality of our nature. Doesn't mean he's right, but he is trying to describe what is, not telling us what should be.

Some people seem to think that Haidt must be denigrating reasoning, reversing what they would like to think is the true proportion of consciously controlled reasoning vs. unconscious processing. It depends how you look at it, though. The unconscious base is earlier, for sure, and has a lot to do with our survival ability. But the capacity added later, the rational capacity that added so much volume to the hominid brain, must also have contributed a great deal to our species' ability to survive, and it also defined what it is to be human, obviously. So you could say that the 1% was a damned important 1%, and you'd be right. But Haidt's proportion of 99% elephant to 1% rider doesn't necessarily have to be accepted; it's not based on any quantification that I know of. It's a metaphor--an effective one, I think. You could pick 50/50 and defend that, I suppose. Haidt just thinks that our moral decision-making has a lot of similarity to other more or less automatic processes that have evolved. Those processes give us a springboard for the reasons we provide for our moral preferences. We aren't necessarily lying or dissembling as we make these statements. It can be important, though, to recognize that there is a degree of determinism and non-rationality to our morality.



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Post Re: Are You a Platonist, a Jeffersonian, or a Humean?
I'm posting an answer to your original question: Humean. I have been persuaded - actually, it didn't take much persuading, I was most of the way there before I began reading the book.



Fri Aug 03, 2012 7:29 pm
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