Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Ethics

Inside the Neanderthal mind

How science can inform ethics
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Why is it wrong to enslave or torture other humans, or take their property, or discriminate against them?

That these actions are wrong, almost no one disputes.

Why are they wrong?

A Moral Starting Point published February 2015 by Michael Shermer 

For an answer, most people turn to religion (because God says so), or to philosophy (because rights theory says so), or to political theory (because the social contract says so).

In The Moral Arc, published in January, I show how science may also contribute an answer.

My moral starting point is the survival and flourishing of sentient beings.

By survival, I mean the instinct to live.

By flourishing, I mean having adequate sustenance, safety, shelter, and social relations for physical and mental health.

By sentient, I mean emotive, perceptive, sensitive, responsive, conscious, and, especially, having the capacity to feel and to suffer.

Instead of using criteria such as tool use, language, reasoning or intelligence, I go deeper into our evolved brains, toward these more basic emotive capacities. There is sound science behind this proposition.

According to the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness—a statement issued in 2012 by an international group of prominent cognitive and computational neuroscientists, neuropharmacologists and neuroanatomists—there is a continuity between humans and nonhuman animals.

And sentience is the most important common characteristic.

The neural pathways of emotions, for example, are not confined to higher-level cortical structures in the brain but are found in evolutionarily older subcortical regions.

Artificially stimulating the same regions in human and nonhuman animal brains produces the same emotional reactions in both.

Attentiveness, decision making, and the emotional capacity to feel and suffer are found across the branches of the evolutionary tree. This is what brings all humans and many nonhuman animals into our moral sphere.

The arc of the moral universe really is bending toward progress, by which I mean the improvement of the survival and flourishing of individual sentient beings.

I emphasize the individual because that is who survives and flourishes, or who suffers and dies, not the group, tribe, race, gender, state or any other collective.

Individual beings perceive, emote, respond, love, feel and suffer—not populations, races, genders or groups.

Historically, abuses have been most rampant—and body counts have run the highest—when the individual is sacrificed for the good of the group.

It happens when people are judged by the color of their skin, or by their gender, or by whom they prefer to sleep with, or by which political or religious group they belong to, or by any other distinguishing trait our species has identified to differentiate among members instead of by the content of their individual character.

The revolutions for the rights in the past three centuries have focused almost entirely on the freedom and autonomy of individuals, not collectives—on the rights of persons, not groups.

Individuals vote, not genders.

Individuals want to be treated equally, not races.

In fact, most rights protect individuals from being discriminated against as individual members of a group, such as by race, creed, color, gender, and now sexual orientation and gender preference.

The singular and separate organism is to biology and society what the atom is to physics—a fundamental unit of nature.

The first principle of the survival and flourishing of sentient beings is grounded in the biological fact that it is the discrete organism that is the main target of natural selection and social evolution, not the group.

We are a social species, but we are first and foremost individuals within social groups and therefore ought not to be subservient to the collective.

This drive to survive is part of our essence, and therefore the freedom to pursue the fulfilment of that essence is a natural right, by which I mean it is universal and inalienable and thus not contingent only on the laws and customs of a particular culture or government.

As a natural right, the personal autonomy of the individual gives us criteria by which we can judge actions as right or wrong: Do they increase or decrease the survival and flourishing of individual sentient beings?

Slavery, torture, robbery and discrimination lead to a decrease in survival and flourishing, and thus they are wrong.

“You can’t just say, ‘This is the way it is, therefore it ought to be that way.’ You’ve got to have good reasons,” says Michael Shermer, referencing the common “is-ought fallacy” most famously explained by David Hume.

(David Hume is the same ironic philosopher/scientist who replied to the social contract of John Locks’s related to government:

” Is this contract applicable to the peasants and artisans who barely can survive of their miserly income and are unable to leave the country?” )

“Well, I claim that we do have good reasons: Democracies are better than autocracies. Free markets are better than tyrannical, top-down economic systems. There are certain things we know work. You can measure it!”

(What about social State systems that value fairness among all the citizens? And provide a minimum level of dignity to survive, preventive health care, affordable education… You can measure it?)

“Learn but Do not imitate animal kingdoms”: Spinoza (1632-1677), part 4

Context of the period:

Bento Baruch Spinoza was born in current Netherlands (Holland), lived and died there.  Holland had acquired its independence: It kicked out the Spanish army, thwarted a British navy landing, and forced a French expeditionary army during Louis XIV to retreat.

At the age of 24, Bento was ex-communicated by the Sephardi Jews who had immigrated from Portugal to Amsterdam: He believed that God is a philosophical concept:  When the body dies so does the spirit.

He had to live far from Amsterdam and earn a living, polishing lenses for microscopes, telescopes and corrective glasses.  Holland was the wealthiest nation in Europe and enjoyed the largest merchant navy.

Spinoza was the contemporary of the scientists Descartes, Thomas Hobbes, Isaac Newton, Galileo, Leibniz, Huygens… and the famous painters in Holland such as Vermeer, Velasquez, Van Ruysdael, Rembrandt, Jan Steen, Emmanuel de Witte, Frans Hals, Jan Wynants, Judith Leyster, Georg Flegel, Peter de Hooch, Van Ostade, Albert Cuyp, Lambert Doomer

The only published book for Spinoza while alive was “Principles of Descartes Philosophy, 1663″.  All his other works were published posthumous such as “Ethics” and “Theologico-Political Treaties”…

He spoke Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, some French, Latin, and Hebrew.  He was annoyed that he could not read in English because of the many published manuscripts in that language.

Animals to Spinoza are real animals and not disguised human beings to emulate or imitate.  Man has to make the efforts to be distinguished from the animal kingdom, otherwise, an ignorant man commits the same stupidities when he succumbs to prejudices that tie him down.

Every specie has its natural libido, instincts, and essence.  Mankind should not emulate or imitate the animal and plant kingdoms.  For example, we do not have to emulate the carnivorous needs for survival or how the big fish eats the smaller ones:  waging wars is an imperfection in mankind natural behavior; waging wars in NOT an intrinsic instinct in man’s nature.

It is difficult for a man to change from a “guard dog” to a “hunting dog”:  These transformations are rare, though feasible for a short while to some extent.  But, these changes do not lead to natural joy corresponding to the individual own natural inclinations.

It is only when we realize that the changes were faked and not adequate transformation for our individual happiness that these valiant attempts to changing our nature increase our knowledge and extend richer perspectives to our improvement.  Know your vital natural constitution and rights.

We cannot spin a spider web, done easily by a spider:  A spider cannot spin a lousy web because it is not in his nature to spin otherwise.  So is man: Man cannot do a worse job once he acquired the necessary skills and knowledge.  With the main difference that man has to keep up exercising and thinking to producing the same quality of higher quality products:  That is in the essence or “nature of mankind”

The moment we try to imitate animal kingdoms we are bound to fail and even set up programs that dehumanize mankind.  For example, governing a community as ants or bees do cannot correspond to mankind nature bound to evolve, reason, and seek joy instead of playing the passive games of obeying unnatural laws, guidelines, and rules.

Liberty consists in knowing what is fully useful to our individual natural constitution and thus, increasing our individual power to gaining higher levels of joy and happiness.  Desiring what is not in our natural temperament  such as following faked trends, does not lead to happiness.

Man can discriminate between the joy of a drunk and the joy of a philosopher who comprehended a complex idea:  The joy of a drunk is an addiction dependent on alcohol while the joy of a philosopher or a scientists is a feeling of increased power that frees him from being subjugated to superstitions and man-imposed laws and regulations that are at odds with his nature.

Mankind has this faculty of imitating his neighbors’ desires and he is good in acting parts contrary to his nature.  Before a man can comprehend his own nature, we cannot say that an imitation is good or bad in altering man’s natural power.  That is why, only constant efforts to increasing our knowledge of “who we are” can give us the power to judge what is good and what is bad for us, for our survival, and for acquiring happiness.

Man is an integral part of nature:

First, man has nothing exceptional to place him above nature’s processes:  He is devoid of any free-will independent of his natural living essence.

Second, man is in constant trade with his biological and social environment (cultural and natural).

Third, man shares in this infinite power that characterizes nature and thus, man is endowed with sizable amount of potentials for acquiring higher levels of power.

Nature creates no exceptions and mankind is NOT an exception to nature’s processes, reality, and laws:  Mankind is NOT an “empire within an empire”.

Man follows nature’s course and his actions can be explained by the mechanism of his efforts and activities.

Mankind is not guided by this abstract notion of free-will:  There are no reasons to feel indignation by another man’s laughing or crying behaviors.

There are no reasons to emulate or imitate the animal kingdoms; what we need is to comprehend the vital natural rights of all species and how we are same but different.

What we desire are NOT what we lack or imagine that we are lacking to satisfying our life fulfillment:  Our desires are the effects of our efforts that led to what we are and who we are; our desires are never the cause for our feeling of missing anything.

For example, when we desire a home it is because we feel the need for more comfort and security to go ahead with our drive to perfecting our happiness and contentment.

When desires are imitations of what other people claim to desire then, we are Not acquiring what our personal nature requires and wants:  Our spirit is subjugated by external factors that we failed to control their affects.  We didn’t invest the necessary effort to “knowing ourselves”.

We are in essence constantly in a state of preparing to undertake an action or planning an activity in order to preserving our life and increasing the capital of survival as long as possible.

Our essence is to developing our power for conserving our potentials to live and searching for what is useful to our body and mental development capacities.

What is essential to us is what our desires produce in reality to develop our nature.  We learn whatever is necessary to our natural conservation.  Thus, life is defined as a qualitative perception of what we feel as joy and sadness and we interact with our community according to our level of natural development.

Virtue is to acting according to our own nature.  Conjoint development of body and mind, as a unit,  is the natural inclination of mankind.  Weakening the body will never liberate the spirit and quell our natural passions for survival.

Knowing yourself can be reduced to the essential knowledge: “What external factors (in nature, society, institutions…) are altering and influencing our real natural desires for self-preservation and development?

No, the body is not commanded by the spirit and neither the spirit by the body:  There is no separation but unity for doing the necessary efforts to live, to developing our natural capabilities in order to enjoying life and be happy.  The potentials of what the body is able to accomplish are not fully known; how a sane and well-conserved body can affect our mental potentials is still vastly undiscovered.  The kinds of feats of sleep-walkers are not accounted for.

You neglect the well-being of your body and your spirit is negatively affected. You neglect exercising your cognitive and emotional capabilities and your body is negatively affected. A general body fatigue is the interaction of afflictions of the body and mind; a depressed mood is the interaction of adverse influences on the body and mind.

Our natural personality is created by the combined efforts we exert on our body and mind.  The environment and society are external factors that constantly interact with our essence to live and form who we are.

Inequality in aptitudes among individuals are closely related to our constant efforts to interacting with the environment, people, and the changes in perceptions that we form of our potentials, of nature, and of the universe.

There are two founding principles:  Refusing tyranny and refuting superstitions. It is impossible for an individual to abandon his natural rights.  In order for a citizen to obey laws he must retain the legitimacy of keeping his power intact to resisting tyranny and defending his vital natural rights. A happy individual has the right to fighting all kinds of superstitions. ”

The greater is the joy, the greater the perfection of our passions.

This is my rule and my resolution: I will eat and drink in moderation of whatever pleases me.  I will partake in cultural activities that I like.  I will participate in games that I love to do and that do not harm others.”

Yes, the individual spirit dies with the body but it is the spirit we communicated and disseminated while alive that keeps mankind evolving.




March 2023

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