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Ch. 8 - The Felicity of Virtue 
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 Ch. 8 - The Felicity of Virtue
Ch. 8 - The Felicity of Virtue



Tue Feb 25, 2014 12:58 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 8 - The Felicity of Virtue
I've been traveling a lot lately which usually leads to reading more and commenting less. But there's so much to digest anyway. Anyway, I always like to see words of wisdom from ancient texts—the older the better! In this case, Haidt brings out the "Teaching of Amenemope," an Egyptian text from around 1300 BCE. Was this culture monotheistic at that time?

Quote:
Plow your fields, and you’ll find what you need,
You’ll receive bread from your threshing floor.
Better is a bushel given you by God
Than five thousand through wrongdoing. . . .
Better is bread with a happy heart
Than wealth with vexation.

The biggest surprise from this chapter is the idea of virtue of the Ben Franklin variety, where practice makes perfect (or at least better) is the kind that both driver and elephant will take in. But today's moral instruction imparts only explicit knowledge, facts that the rider can state. Such facts aren't taken in by the elephant and so will have no effect on our actual behavior.

Haidt says, "Trying to make children behave ethically by teaching them to reason well is like trying to make a dog happy by wagging its tail. It gets causality backwards."

Is this true? Do we behave less morally/ethically in the modern era?


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Post Re: Ch. 8 - The Felicity of Virtue
This sentence in Ch. 8 encapsulates for me one of this book's most important themes. If the science bears it out, the implications of this statement may be far-reaching for the human race.

". . . because our genes are, to some extent, puppet masters making us want things that are sometimes good for them but bad for us (such as extramarital affairs, or prestige bought at the expense of happiness). We cannot look to genetic self-interest as a guide either to virtuous or to happy living."


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Post Re: Ch. 8 - The Felicity of Virtue
geo wrote:
This sentence in Ch. 8 encapsulates for me one of this book's most important themes. If the science bears it out, the implications of this statement may be far-reaching for the human race.

". . . because our genes are, to some extent, puppet masters making us want things that are sometimes good for them but bad for us (such as extramarital affairs, or prestige bought at the expense of happiness). We cannot look to genetic self-interest as a guide either to virtuous or to happy living."


Exactly what that awful genetic determinist Richard Dawkins said!



Mon Apr 07, 2014 4:31 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 8 - The Felicity of Virtue
Dexter wrote:
geo wrote:
This sentence in Ch. 8 encapsulates for me one of this book's most important themes. If the science bears it out, the implications of this statement may be far-reaching for the human race.

". . . because our genes are, to some extent, puppet masters making us want things that are sometimes good for them but bad for us (such as extramarital affairs, or prestige bought at the expense of happiness). We cannot look to genetic self-interest as a guide either to virtuous or to happy living."


Exactly what that awful genetic determinist Richard Dawkins said!


And Dawkins also pointed out that we can to some extent rebel against our genes. Using birth control, for example, we can sidestep the purpose of sexual urges. So maybe not so determinist after all.

I think it was Paul Bloom, being interviewed by Robert Wright, who talks about giving our selfish genes the finger. I love it. Learning how to manage, or even just sometimes influencing, our inner elephant is empowering. By the way, was this the same Bloom who wrote that article that DWill linked to some time ago?


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Last edited by geo on Mon Apr 07, 2014 8:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.



Mon Apr 07, 2014 6:14 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 8 - The Felicity of Virtue
That was the same Bloom. He appears to think there's quite a lot that genes help determine, but the emphasis is on the word help.

It's also interesting to set someone like Frans de Waal into this debate. If we are "good by nature," as he claims, then we actually don't work against our genes, per se, when we act in the interest of others; we're using our genetic make-up there, too. How about that? It means that getting our genes into the next generation isn't the only command genes are giving us.

I have to confess, I can't personally relate to getting my genes passed on, I guess because this is an entirely unconscious mechanism. It's done by trickery, such as sexually attractive features of the other gender. If someone ever asked me, I'd say I don't care at all whether my genes get passed on--and I don't. But it's not up to me, scary thought.

On your first question, geo, about our moral performance today, I tend to think we could be somewhat better morally, when you consider that the circle of moral inclusion has widened a lot. Practices, attitudes, and beliefs that were once the norm, no longer are; we give moral standing to more people and condemn cruelty. Steven Pinker's last book influenced me on this subject and gave me a bit of hope (even though I didn't get through it all).
One thing I believe is very effective at teaching morality is fictive literature. If you think about it, it's very hard to write a story without positive moral content, excluding the Marquis de Sade. This is what Hitchens would say when asked where we are to get moral instruction if it isn't from religion.
I saw a survey that reported young people, even the highest achieving students, rarely read for pleasure. So that lessens my hope a bit.



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Post Re: Ch. 8 - The Felicity of Virtue
DWill wrote:
I saw a survey that reported young people, even the highest achieving students, rarely read for pleasure. So that lessens my hope a bit.


I just saw this today:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/ser ... story.html

I know I read too much crap on the Internet compared to actual reading



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Post Re: Ch. 8 - The Felicity of Virtue
wow! the parallel between Amenemope and the bible was pretty glaring!



Quote:
(Proverbs 22:20): "Have I not written for you thirty sayings of counsel and knowledge?" (ESV)

(Amenemope, ch. 30, line 539): "Look to these thirty chapters; they inform, they educate."[28]


Comparison of texts

A number of passages in the Instruction of Amenemope have been compared with the Book of Proverbs, including:

(Proverbs 22:17-18):"Incline thine ear, and hear the words of the wise, And apply thine heart to my doctrine; For it is pleasant if thou keep them in thy belly, that they may be established together upon thy lips"

(Amenemope, ch. 1):"Give thine ear, and hear what I say, And apply thine heart to apprehend; It is good for thee to place them in thine heart, let them rest in the casket of thy belly; That they may act as a peg upon thy tongue"[49]

(Proverbs 22:22):"Rob not the poor, for he is poor, neither oppress (or crush) the lowly in the gate."

(Amenemope, ch. 2):"Beware of robbing the poor, and oppressing the afflicted."[49]

(Proverbs 22:24-5): "Do not befriend the man of anger, Nor go with a wrathful man, Lest thou learn his ways and take a snare for thy soul."

(Amenemope, ch. 10): "Associate not with a passionate man, Nor approach him for conversation; Leap not to cleave to such an one; That terror carry thee not away."[49]

(Proverbs 22:29):"[if you] You see a man quick in his work, before kings will he stand, before cravens, he will not stand."

(Amenemope, ch. 30):"A scribe who is skillful in his business findeth worthy to be a courtier"[49]

(Proverbs 23:1):"When thou sittest to eat with a ruler, Consider diligently what is before thee; And put a knife to thy throat, If thou be a man given to appetite. Be not desirous of his dainties, for they are breads of falsehood."

(Amenemope, ch. 23): "Eat not bread in the presence of a ruler, And lunge not forward(?) with thy mouth before a governor(?). When thou art replenished with that to which thou has no right, It is only a delight to thy spittle. Look upon the dish that is before thee, And let that (alone) supply thy need."[49] (see above)

(Proverbs 23:4-5):"Toil not to become rich, And cease from dishonest gain; For wealth maketh to itself wings, Like an eagle that flieth heavenwards"

(Amenemope, ch. 7):"Toil not after riches; If stolen goods are brought to thee, they remain not over night with thee. They have made themselves wings like geese. And have flown into the heavens."[49]

(Proverbs 14:7):"Speak not in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of thy words"

(Amenemope, ch. 21):"Empty not thine inmost soul to everyone, nor spoil (thereby) thine influence"[49]

(Proverbs 23:10): "Remove not the widows landmark; And enter not into the field of the fatherless."

(Amenemope, ch. 6): "Remove not the landmark from the bounds of the field...and violate not the widows boundary"[49]

(Proverbs 23:12):"Apply thine heart unto instruction and thine ears to the words of knowledge"

(Amenemope, ch. 1):"Give thine ears, hear the words that are said, give thine heart to interpret them."[49]

Christ in Egypt :wink:



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Post Re: Ch. 8 - The Felicity of Virtue
youkrst wrote:
wow! the parallel between Amenemope and the bible was pretty glaring!


Haidt gives the one example. I didn't realize there were so many more.

If you think about it, it's not really surprising. We know the Old Testament is comprised of various older texts from different cultures. It does seem inconsistent with the idea of the Bible as divine revelation, but hey whatever, right? :tease:

Haidt goes on to discuss the difficulties of each side in the culture war to find value in the ideas of the other side. For example, if you are pro-choice, do you value the opinions of the other side? Heck no, to some extent we want everyone else to think like we do. Haidt says, "If you prefer diversity on an issue, the issue is not a moral issue for you; it is a matter of personal taste."

One of my biggest struggles is to accept that some people want to believe in this God thing, whatever it is. Even to the extent of believing that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God and the the earth is 8,000 years old. But heck, I don't really want everyone to think like me, do I? A scary thought.

So live and let live. That's probably in both the Bible and the Teaching of Amenemope?


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Post Re: Ch. 8 - The Felicity of Virtue
DWill wrote:
It's also interesting to set someone like Frans de Waal into this debate. If we are "good by nature," as he claims, then we actually don't work against our genes, per se, when we act in the interest of others; we're using our genetic make-up there, too. How about that? It means that getting our genes into the next generation isn't the only command genes are giving us.


I've wondered if human altruism is all biological, and we just come up with various explanations that mesh with the way we already are. Then again, humans do have the extra dimension of cultural evolution that apes don't have, and as Wright says in The Evolution of God, we seem to be progressing, or evolving on that front. So do we two kinds of morality, one that is purely biological and one that is purely cultural? If civilization collapsed, wouldn't we slip back into a more primitive state? Does Pinker address that question?

DWill wrote:
I have to confess, I can't personally relate to getting my genes passed on, I guess because this is an entirely unconscious mechanism. It's done by trickery, such as sexually attractive features of the other gender. If someone ever asked me, I'd say I don't care at all whether my genes get passed on--and I don't. But it's not up to me, scary thought.


Even scarier, I've already passed on my genes. My genes have no use for me any more. :hmm:

DWill wrote:
One thing I believe is very effective at teaching morality is fictive literature. If you think about it, it's very hard to write a story without positive moral content, excluding the Marquis de Sade. This is what Hitchens would say when asked where we are to get moral instruction if it isn't from religion.
I saw a survey that reported young people, even the highest achieving students, rarely read for pleasure. So that lessens my hope a bit.


There was a recent study that showed that reading literature supposedly increases our ability to empathize, so I think you're on to something here.

We flew through the Salt Lake City airport a couple of days ago. As we were changing gates, we came to a part of the airport where they had about a hundred (maybe several hundred) iPads set up. Each station had a credit card scanner so that weary travelers could sit there and shop? So here's an example of commerce herding people like sheep to do what the companies want—shop. Reminds me of a phrase I heard a couple of years ago: we are amusing ourselves to death. On the other hand, most of the iPad stations were unoccupied.


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Post Re: Ch. 8 - The Felicity of Virtue
In my very non-expert view, there can be no doubt that our sociality, and therefore our capacity for positive caring, is genetic. Primates that have some of the came capacity are a clue. For some reason, it's the more negative things about us that we "suspect" of being based in genes.

Quite a number of years ago I read a prescient book by Paul Goodman called Amusing Ourselves to Death: public discourse in the age of show business, published in 1985. I guess the title might have become a catch-phrase.

Back to add a part about what Pinker says in The Better Angels of our Nature. I don't recall him speculating about a "collapse" of civilization, but he does acknowledge that some big disruption could occur, and that might result in more lawlessness and crime. But he doubts that even that would cause us to revert to thinking that women should be used as chattel, watching animals suffer is good sport, public torture and execution are good means of social control, others can be enslaved, etc. Really going back to ground zero morally might take some fairly unimaginable near-extinction event with total loss of the record of our civilization.



Last edited by DWill on Tue Apr 08, 2014 9:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: Ch. 8 - The Felicity of Virtue
DWill wrote:
In my very non-expert view, there can be no doubt that our sociality, and therefore our capacity for positive caring, is genetic. Primates that have some of the came capacity are a clue. For some reason, it's the more negative things about us that we "suspect" of being based in genes.


Thanks for your comments, DWill.

Maybe the main purpose of cultural morality is to provide group cohesion. Those with shared values can relate to one another. But those shared values are probably more or less universal and based on individual (genetic) morality. At least the basic tenets of morality such as do not kill, do unto others, help others. I've heard the Mormons in Salt Lake City have an amazing social network.

Plato talks about justice in his dialogue, Gorgias. I'm reading about it now in Will Durant's THE STORY OF PHILOSOPHY. There's some difficult concepts about justice versus strength that I don't quite grasp. But this paragraph seems to address the dynamic of social justice versus individual justice. (I take justice here as an aspect of human morality.)

Durant wrote:
He points out that justice is a relation among individuals, depending on social organization; and that in consequence it can be studied better as part of the structure of a community than as a quality of personal conduct. If, he suggests, we can picture a just state, we shall be in a better position to describe a just individual. Plato excuses himself for this digression on the score that in testing a man's vision we make him read first large type, then smaller; so, he argues, it is easier to analyze justice on a large scale than on the small scale of individual behavior. But we need not be deceived: in truth the Master is patching two books together, and uses the argument as a seam. He wishes not only to discuss the problems of personal morality, but the problems of social and political reconstruction as well. He has a Utopia up his sleeve, and is resolved to produce it. It is easy to forgive him, for the digression forms the core and value of his book.

DWill wrote:
Back to add a part about what Pinker says in The Better Angels of our Nature. I don't recall him speculating about a "collapse" of civilization, but he does acknowledge that some big disruption could occur, and that might result in more lawlessness and crime. But he doubts that even that would cause us to revert to thinking that women should be used as chattel, watching animals suffer is good sport, public torture and execution are good means of social control, others can be enslaved, etc. Really going back to ground zero morally might take some fairly unimaginable near-extinction event with total loss of the record of our civilization.


I guess the question remains, is it cultural morality that has led us to understand that women and men are equal and that animals should not be abused for sport? I like to think these are innate, and that we only need to formulate a society that can accommodate the way we want to be. Maybe it's a diseased society that leads us to a depraved condition in which we can regard women as something less than human or to derive some kind of twisted pleasure in killing animals for sport. Certainly one aspect of hatred/fear of outsiders is very tribal. An example of our genes distorting our view of reality, as Wright would say.

Speaking of killing animals, I have to mention something I saw that turned my stomach. The killing of giraffes for sport? I want to believe this is a horrible joke. Actually, I'm not going to post the link because it's too disturbing. I only want to understand how anyone can think it's okay to shoot giraffes for fun? Who are these people and what culture could produce such depraved individuals?


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Post Re: Ch. 8 - The Felicity of Virtue
Quote:
Speaking of killing animals, I have to mention something I saw that turned my stomach. The killing of giraffes for sport? I want to believe this is a horrible joke. Actually, I'm not going to post the link because it's too disturbing. I only want to understand how anyone can think it's okay to shoot giraffes for fun? Who are these people and what culture could produce such depraved individuals?


I hope one day a felony can be charged to a human being that kills any animal for sport.



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Post Re: Ch. 8 - The Felicity of Virtue
ant wrote:

Quote:
Speaking of killing animals, I have to mention something I saw that turned my stomach. The killing of giraffes for sport? I want to believe this is a horrible joke. Actually, I'm not going to post the link because it's too disturbing. I only want to understand how anyone can think it's okay to shoot giraffes for fun? Who are these people and what culture could produce such depraved individuals?


I hope one day a felony can be charged to a human being that kills any animal for sport.



Attitudes towards animals differ widely within and between countries. Your comments bring to mind an experience I had some years ago with a young Mexican family who had just moved to my old neighborhood in Toronto. We were looking at a front page newspaper story they couldn't believe. The story was about a man being arrested for cruelty to a dog. They thought that if someone could be arrested for cruelty to a dog, AND be a front page news story, then they must surely be living in Paradise!.



Wed Apr 09, 2014 1:33 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 8 - The Felicity of Virtue
ant wrote:
Quote:
Speaking of killing animals, I have to mention something I saw that turned my stomach. The killing of giraffes for sport? I want to believe this is a horrible joke. Actually, I'm not going to post the link because it's too disturbing. I only want to understand how anyone can think it's okay to shoot giraffes for fun? Who are these people and what culture could produce such depraved individuals?


I hope one day a felony can be charged to a human being that kills any animal for sport.

Ant, I wondered whether you mean killing the animal solely for pleasure and then not eating the meat, or simply the act of killing a wild animal regardless of whether someone is fed with the meat. There are a lot of deer hunters in our area, and with a few exceptions, they eat the deer they kill. But is the act of liking the hunt and the kill wrong in itself? Is it much better to let someone unknown to us kill domesticated animals to provide our meat?



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