Evolution of Morality

One of the main reasons I am a consequentalist (rather than believing in natural rights) is that I suspect that intuitive morality is an evolved module meant for my genes' good, rather than a window onto absolute truth. I have very strong feelings about right and wrong. I also have very strong feelings about how much fun it is to eat a bowl of chips that's in front of me. Given my skepticism about the correctness of the latter feeling, it seems hypocritical to not be equally skeptical about the former feeling.

So the parts of my intuitive morality that disagree with others I treat as a personal preference about the type of society I would like to live in, rather than that which everyone ought to want to live in. Hence I think arguments about the negative consequences of those different moral codes are much more worthwhile than arguments about whose morality is right. (Although I often slip into the latter, sadly.)

It used to be that the only book I knew on the subject was Matt Ridley's The Origins Of Virtue. But it looks like there are now several more:

So, yeah. If you believe in evolutionary psychology, and you also believe your moral intuitions reflect a window onto objectively correct natural rights, then unless you have an argument for why objectively correct natural rights should exactly correspond to the intuitive moral sense produced by evolution, you have some cognitive dissonance to resolve.

You are not a rational creature. You are a moist robot, designed by little gnomes living deep inside you to carry out their fiendish goal of survival and reproduction. Not to be happy. Not to be unbiased. Examine your instinctive behaviors with your conscious mind whenever possible, to make sure they are actually serving your goals, not just the gnomes'.

Share this

Non Sequitur

So the parts of my intuitive morality that disagree with others I treat
as a personal preference about the type of society I would like to live
in, rather than that which everyone ought to want to live in. Hence I
think arguments about the negative consequences of those different
moral codes are much more worthwhile than arguments aboutwhose
morality is right. (Although I often slip into the latter, sadly.)

Patri, with respect, this makes no sense. Why does morality's subjective ontology mean that arguments about the "negative consequences of... different moral codes are more worthwhile than arguments about whose morality is right"?

By using the term "negative" you're simply reintroducing morality at the back end. What counts as a negative consequence must, by your beliefs, be as subjective as what counts as an immoral belief. Or do you think otherwise? Some people think slavery's negative--some don't. Some think stealing's negative. Some don't. Some think utility's positive. Some don't.

I don't mind people believing morality is subjective. It certainly makes more sense than what I believe. But even if morality's subjective, that's not an argument for consequentialism by any means.

Scott reminded me of that

Scott reminded me of that trope that "the natural law keeps burying its undertakers."

Because there is far more

Because there is far more agreement about evaluating consequences than evaluating morals.

So evolved moral instinct is weak

On the one hand you're pushing these books which say that moral instincts are like our eyes and our ears - evolved. On the other hand, you claim that there's very little agreement on morals.

The latter appears to be evidence against the strength of the former. After all, most people have two eyes and two ears. And yet, according to you, morality is all over the place, no agreement. This suggests that moral instincts are not, after all, all that tough.

My personal view is that some moral instincts probably are evolved, but that there is a big psychological difference between somebody who is making decisions as an individual (and thus employing his evolved moral instincts) and someone who is sitting somewhere in an armchair and making world-spanning pronouncements about the way things ought to be. The latter person is engaging in fantasy and any connection between his pronouncements and his moral instincts is dubious. People who sit around arguing about the state of the world tend to forget that they are doing something at best remotely connected to the real-world social navigation that depends on moral instincts. They tend to model morality on what they are doing (sitting around arguing with each other about the world), and the even go so far as to define morality as what they are doing, saying things like, "I view claims of morality as statements of how the person making the statement would like the world to be."

It's a bit like saying, "I view prices as statements of how the person making the statement would like prices to be." It isn't. Sellers want market-clearing prices to be infinite and buyers want them to be zero. Nobody actually wants prices to be what they are.

However, when people sit around fantasizing with each other, then, sure, in that case what they are doing is fantasizing. Just as they say.

Sellers want market-clearing

Sellers want market-clearing prices to be infinite and buyers want them to be zero. Nobody actually wants prices to be what they are.

Sure, everybody likes the buy things for nothing. But somehow you never find people making a zero bid in an auction. I would like everyone to bow to my every whim and be eternally gratefull at the same time. But if i actually want any part in shaping the moral landscape, i might have to come up with a better offer.

There is?

There is? That's far from evident. Sure, we all agree certain consequences are positive, but a big part of the question is what we're willing to give up to get those consequences. And once you look at that question, you're back into a morass of disagreement. Pretending such disagreements don't exist is not a "worthwhile" means of argument.

And there isn't far more agreement about evaluating consequences, so far as I can see. We are not all Lockean natural law theorists, true. But we're not all utilitarians either. Nor does it seem more people agree on utilitarianism than rights theories. Indeed, I suspect the only way you can fabricate such widespread agreement is by being extraordinarily vague about the position you think people agree on--hence the fuzzy term "consequentialism" instead of the more easily criticized "utilitarianism."

That's one prong of my criticism. The second is, even if it's true that there is more agreement on consequential theories than deontological theories, it still doesn't follow from morality being subjective that it's more worthwhile to argue one than the other. Morality may be subjective. Consequences may be a more worthwhile locus to argue. But the two claims have nothing to do with each other.

I like this topic, and would continue it at length, but Constant shares my views on it, and is a more tenacious debater than I, and so I won't repeat him.

Whoa

I have never met a smart guy who did not disagree with me even on many aspects on thing we broadly agree about. And you're a smart guy. So, let's say we probably agree about a lot, though not necessarily everything I've written here today.

Fair Enough

To be sure, I do disagree with some things you've said in this thread. But they're too minute to be worth our time.

Even I may not agree by the way

In some respects I've been playing along, in order to achieve communication. For example, I've mostly neglected my view that natural rights does not really require detailed evolutionary support. We might use our brains to rediscover natural rights in each generation, or we might rediscover natural rights gradually over several generations and preserve our discoveries culturally. It is not essential that it be genetically transmitted. I also view natural rights as something that we might, in principle, in some generation not discover. That would not stop it from being natural rights, because natural rights is even then a good fit to us, even if in that generation nobody wears it. Its being a good fit for us, for the kind of creature that we are, is in principle independent of our intuitions, so I don't really go along with Patri's intuition reductionism, and I didn't stress this and may not even have mentioned it. (And "a good fit" is vague language that I could crystallize but that would take a long time, but one aspect of its being a good fit is that this would tend to encourage people to rediscover it. The explanation in terms of ESS makes this explicit: that some strategy is an ESS is an explanation of why it became established - but since it is the cause, then it was the ESS even before it was established. That is, the ESS was "a good fit" even before the species "wore" it.)

How did you decide what a

How did you decide what a 'good' fit was before deciding on a moral system? I bet you didnt use a ruler. Evaluating consequences perhaps?

I'm not sure of what you mean

If you're asking what my personal history is, my political development, then I had largely (though not exactly) my current political views long before I started thinking about where these views come from. Stealing, even by the government, even for welfare, seemed to me intuitively to be an injustice and wrong. That was not my first intuition. My first intuition involved not really thinking about the basis of people's property rights and just sort of treating the property that people owned as a gift from heaven. I didn't actually think it was a gift from heaven: I simply didn't think all that much about where it came from. After I started thinking about it, then I realized that the welfare state involved stealing, for a little while I was okay with this. I thought, a small wrong is committed but a greater good is served. Those poor need the money more than the guy who earned it. What changed was that I started acknowledging the the guy earned it, I started really feeling in my bones the injustice of taking it from him. At some point I just realized, "if it's wrong it's wrong".

That was all many years before I started thinking about natural law. It was all very naive and intuitive. It was not consequentialist.

Well, that kindof sounds

Well, that kindof sounds like me. Except that i would like the emphasize i take my intuition 'as is', certainly not as offering any sort of window upon truth.

Window on truth


Well, that kindof sounds like me. Except that i would like the
emphasize i take my intuition 'as is', certainly not as offering any
sort of window upon truth.

My stance has shifted over the years. Initially I was naively intuitive. Then I read philosophers, like Nietzsche, and I started thinking about morality as merely an expression of the will to power of some class. There was slave morality and master morality, and Europe was currently dominated by slave morality, and master morality was better than slave morality (or so Nietzsche had me believing). Well, I haven't thought about Nietzsche in years and each time I re-read him I was sure I had completely misunderstood him the previous time, so I don't know what I would say about him now. But many points stay with me. One is the realization that morality comes from somewhere and does not just drop from the sky, and that it might be possible to investigate the origin of morality.

Now what some people do - like you, apparently - is think that the bedrock reality is individual intuition. I think I called this something like "intuition reductionism" earlier. But I think there's more going on here. I think the intuitions themselves come from something else. I'm not talking about political intuitions - those, as I pointed out, are dubious (including libertarianism - my view is that the libertarians managed to get it right). I don't trust those. I am talking about the intuitions that guide us in our day to day interactions with other people. Unless they're in mobs (in which case the power of their number goes to their heads) or have the backing of the state (power again), communists, nazis, libertarians, democrats, and republicans all behave the same way. None of my neighbors has ever snuck into my house. I have never snuck into theirs. And I have no idea what their politics are. I know communists and they have never seized so much as a paperclip from me to fund the proletarian revolution. So, politics and personal behavior are in essence in different worlds. The way to bring them together is to give some political group overwhelming power, for example by allowing them to seize control of the state. Then you will start to see communists imposing communism, and so on.

And no, I don't think we are now merely obeying the current state. Respect for the property of others is no more the invention of the state than is money. Something else is going on. And intuitions are merely one cog in the wheel. They are not the bedrock reality, they arise because of something else. To be blunt, the reality that precedes and causes our intuition that it is wrong to steal, is the reality that it is wrong to steal.

 

Now what some people do -

Now what some people do - like you, apparently - is think that the bedrock reality is individual intuition.

I have no idea what that is, but judging from the context, i get the impression you overlooked a negative somewhere in my post.

And no, I don't think we are now merely obeying the current state. Respect for the property of others is no more the invention of the state than is money. Something else is going on. And intuitions are merely one cog in the wheel. They are not the bedrock reality, they arise because of something else.

I could not agree more.

To be blunt, the reality that precedes and causes our intuition that it is wrong to steal, is the reality that it is wrong to steal.

Blunt indeed. Is it just me or is there not even an attempt to contruct a causual link? If you want me to take that as an axiom, please say so explicitly.

Just because all humans breathe, does that make breathing 'true', or just something that makes sense for all similar arrangments of reproducing molecules?

People all denounce killing, even killers do. The incentive is the same for anybody who has any sort of goals to pursue in this life. That makes perfect sense just by itself, why add this extra abstraction of morals as platonic forms?

What insights will i gain? I cannot think of any. All i get is more questions. How do i find these truths? (i guess that explains the appeal of this worldview: i bet you wouldnt mind telling me). Is there a set of nontrivial moral truths that is not rife with internal inconsistency?

I was recapping

Blunt indeed. Is it just me or is there not even an attempt to contruct
a causual link? If you want me to take that as an axiom, please say so
explicitly.

I constructed the causal link previously. For example, I wrote:

The explanation in terms of ESS makes this explicit: that some strategy
is an ESS is an explanation of why it became established - but since it
is the cause, then it was the ESS even before it was established. That
is, the ESS was "a good fit" even before the species "wore" it.)

If you understand what an ESS is, then you know how and why it causes people to adopt it. That a strategy is an ESS is an objective fact about the world and the species which precedes and causes the actual adoption of the strategy by individual people, and an intuition is a psychological mechanism by which a strategy could be adopted. Thus the fact that a strategy is an ESS can precede and cause the appearance, in an individual person, of an intuition corresponding to it.

People all denounce killing, even killers do. The incentive is the same
for anybody who has any sort of goals to pursue in this life. That
makes perfect sense just by itself, why add this extra abstraction of
morals as platonic forms?

I'm glad you think it is so amazingly simple. I don't think it is that simple, and I find it necessary to use game theory just in order for me to understand to my satisfaction how a particular law might appear over and over throughout time.

What insights will i gain? I cannot think of any.

I imagine the reason you think you can't gain any insights is that you think you already understand fully what's going on. I don't think your theory explains it. Here, I will take apart your theory. You say that people denounce killing even if they are killers because they have "goals to pursue in this life." Well... and? What if my goal were your death? Then wouldn't I denounce the failure to kill you? If not, why not? And you have said nothing about precisely when killing is, or is not, okay. Isn't it okay in self-defense?

All we have is your assurance that it all "makes perfect sense". Such an assurance is no theory.

Any theory that tries to account for the intuitions that people have is inevitably going to have to dig deeper. I don't claim that I have dug deeper here in these comments, but I think that any theory that digs deeper is going to use tools that you are characterizing as "platonic forms". Tools like the concept of an ESS.

I think the biggest

I think the biggest disagreement we have is still terminology.

I do not characterize your use of game theory as elevating morals to platonic forms. I really appreciate the use of game theory to give insights into moral questions. One interestig insight is that a bunch of moral, such as aversion to killing of the same species, can probably be found with any living organism in this universe with the cognetive abilities to utilize such a sentiment. It is a 'law of nature' in that regard, yes. The only part where is do not follow is where you go from 'is' to 'ought'.

I imagine the reason you think you can't gain any insights is that you think you already understand fully what's going on. I don't think your theory explains it. Here, I will take apart your theory. You say that people denounce killing even if they are killers because they have "goals to pursue in this life." Well... and? What if my goal were your death? Then wouldn't I denounce the failure to kill you? If not, why not?

You are unlikely to have the bargaining position to get away with stating that goal. And if you want to kill me, you would like to make sure you live to see it through. You might argue a specific case for killing me, denouncing random killing would still be the rational thing to do.

And you have said nothing about precisely when killing is, or is not, okay. Isn't it okay in self-defense?

I didnt say anything about it, because i consider the 'ought' part an entirely seperate discussion. But people who kill in self defence have nothing to fear from me, no.

I do not go from is to ought

The only part where is do not follow is where you go from 'is' to 'ought'.

I have nowhere used the word "ought", except one time when characterizing a view I was making fun of. So what you're doing here is putting words in my mouth. You are taking what I have said, and adding in what you think I have implied - something about "ought". The is/ought divide is in a sense a trivial matter, but in another sense not so trivial in that it would take a long time really to explain the point. Suffice it to say, I am unimpressed by the supposed importance of the is/ought gap. This is one of the products of Hume, who also attacked causation and induction. Notice that scientists have not stopped talking about causation and they have not stopped making predictions about the future. This puts into question the supposed importance of Hume's attacks on causation and induction.

To give an example of a response to Hume, one answer to Hume's point about induction is that scientists are not actually applying induction. In fact they are inventing hypotheses and testing them. The hypothesis is not claimed by anyone to logically derive from the evidence. Rather, it is tested by the evidence. So Hume's attack on induction did not turn out to be a debilitating attack on science. Similarly for his attack on causation. Scientists talk about causation all the time.

Why then, should his point about the is/ought gap be a debilitating attack on natural rights? In fact, I claim it is not. However, really to demonstrate this would take a really long time for me. (Somebody else might be better at it.)

I have nowhere used the word

I have nowhere used the word "ought", except one time when characterizing a view I was making fun of. So what you're doing here is putting words in my mouth.

Not really. When i say 'ought' i am ofcource not referring just to those combination of letters, but i am referring to normative statements. When you say: 'it is simply wrong to steal', how is that not a normative statement?

This puts into question the supposed importance of Hume's attacks on causation and induction.

Is/ought and causation/induction are two different things.

The continuity of the world i live in is something i happily accept as an axiom. Something ingrained in my nature. Perhaps you could concieve of creatures that when they see a tiger, they just shrug and expect it not to be there anymore when they blink their eyes: i dont think any such creatures even made it into the fosile record. I know that is not an argument for continuity, but im not claiming the world is infact continuous, i am one hunderd percent agnostic about that. But it is an assumption i cannot help but make. An assumption anybody not in a mental institution is making every second of his life.

Like i said, if you wish to accept natural law as an axiom, be my guest, but be frank about it, because ought just doesnt follow from is without assuming a link between the two.

is/ought

Not really. When i say 'ought' i am ofcource not referring just to
those combination of letters, but i am referring to normative
statements. When you say: 'it is simply wrong to steal', how is that
not a normative statement?

You are relying on something Hume wrote a long time ago. This is not something you, or anybody in the last century, came up with. You are cribbing from Hume. You are taking Hume's philosophy as unquestioned background. I am questioning it.

Is/ought and causation/induction are two different things.

Actually they are three things and they are quite similar, which should hardly be surprising since the same man produced all three. You can clearly see the same signature thinking in all three arguments.

However, like I said, I am not prepared to argue this point. I am simply going to limit myself to mentioning that I am unimpressed by this skeptical attack on morality, just as I am unimpressed by these skeptical attacks on causation and induction, and for similar reasons. (To repeat, I am not saying that Hume was wrong that induction was deductively invalid; I am saying that it just doesn't matter, since science is doing fine, and if you really want to argue the point scientists are doing hypothesis testing, which is not the same thing as induction and so Hume's critique does not apply, and this renders it not all that important.)

Like i said, if you wish to accept natural law as an axiom, be my
guest, but be frank about it, because ought just doesnt follow from is
without assuming a link between the two.

But I don't. You are making stuff up.

You are relying on something

You are relying on something Hume wrote a long time ago. This is not something you, or anybody in the last century, came up with. You are cribbing from Hume. You are taking Hume's philosophy as unquestioned background. I am questioning it.

Hume has nothing to do with this paragraph, which was about you making normative claims or not. Hume didnt invent the normative claim. Answer the question please: are you, or are you not, making normative claims?

However, like I said, I am not prepared to argue this point. I am simply going to limit myself to mentioning that I am unimpressed by this skeptical attack on morality, just as I am unimpressed by these skeptical attacks on causation and induction, and for similar reasons. (To repeat, I am not saying that Hume was wrong that induction was deductively invalid; I am saying that it just doesn't matter, since science is doing fine, and if you really want to argue the point scientists are doing hypothesis testing, which is not the same thing as induction and so Hume's critique does not apply, and this renders it not all that important.)

The reason induction and causation survived is because people take them as axioms, conciously or not. But Humes criticism of them not being rationally defensible is still perfectly valid up to this day. Its the same thing with is/ought. Most people will axiomatically connect the two. The problem is they then have this tendency to dress it up in convulted logic to hide the assumptions they make and their inevitable arbitrarity. 'Because i say so' is just so terribly unfahionable in ethical discourse, not in spite of, but because that is exactly what it is all about.

There's far more agreement

There's far more agreement on the non-agression axiom.

One of the main reasons I

One of the main reasons I am a consequentalist (rather than believing in natural rights) is that I suspect that intuitive morality is an evolved module meant for my genes' good, rather than a window onto absolute truth

Natural right means that morality derives from man's nature. While I don't equate evolved genetic morality with natural right, you should realize that there is no obvious contradiction between natural rights and the evolution of morality. Beside, we are not simply shaped by our genes.

So, yeah. If you believe in evolutionary psychology, and you also
believe your moral intuitions reflect a window onto objectively correct
natural rights, then unless you have an argument for why objectively
correct natural rights should exactly correspond to the intuitive moral
sense produced by evolution, you have some cognitive dissonance to
resolve.

Not at all, natural rights can be objectively defined, with respect to man. That is by the way the objectivist or rothbardian claim. So even if we rely on our moral intuition to understand objective morality (the most defensible view of ought according to DF I think) we don't necessarily have a cognitive dissonance. However jusnaturalist generally don't claim that morality can be observed by intuition. The objectivist for example claim it comes from reason.

You are not a rational creature.

Then what is the point of arguing?

I don't have very good arguments for morality. Like most philosophical or metaphysical ideas it is easier to come up with criticisms. My current argument for morality is to actually wait in a debate until someone says "Why should I be moral" and then scream Gotcha ! It's insanely hard to argue against morality without making normative statement. Is language and discourse that important ? Yes, it even precedes logic in mathematics.

It's insanely hard to argue

It's insanely hard to argue against morality without making normative statement. Is language and discourse that important ? Yes, it even precedes logic in mathematics.

But is patri arguing against morality? I dont think so. Analyzing morality and 'practicing' it are two different things.

I think morality is an emergent system, closely tied to evolution. But that doesnt mean 'it doesnt exist', just like emotions arnt any less real just because 'they are just chemicals in your brain'.

I view claims of morality as statements of how the person making the statement would like the world to be. A motivation for that can help with persuasion, for instance by explaining how your cause is my cause, but any attempts at logical links between the two are invariably hilarious to me.

But that doesnt make such claims redundant: if they were, people wouldnt be making them all the time. Trying to stake out moral territory is an important part of the game. But i try to do it without disgracing logic. Just stating your preferences and describing the consequences of going with them or not (threats of physical violence being one possible tactic) is much more intelectually honest.

I am referring to absolute

I am referring to absolute morality. Arguing it against it is a minefield.

Im not sure what you are

Im not sure what you are saying. Id say its a fools errand: you can not disprove nonexistance, and on whom is the burden anyway?

I don't have very good arguments for morality. Like most philosophical or metaphysical ideas it is easier to come up with criticisms.

I tend to interpret that as a hint..

Do you have a good argument

Do you have a good argument for the use of logic ?

One that is good enough for

One that is good enough for me. It neatly fits in with some other basal axioms to form by far the richest internally consistent worldview that ive ever encountered.

Absolute morality on the other hand tries to answer questions that already follow from said worldview. In the best case it would lead to the same conclusions, but in practice it has nothing to offer but inconsistency.

Consistence depends on

Consistence depends on logic, you cannot defend logic on the ground of consistence.

I am in fact perfectly

I am in fact perfectly comfortable with that. Note that I am not defending logic, i am defending why i take logic as an axiom. Im not trying to prove there is any 'objective truth' to logic.

Morality is not personal preference

I view claims of morality as statements of how the person making the
statement would like the world to be. A motivation for that can help
with persuasion, for instance by explaining how your cause is my cause,
but any attempts at logical links between the two are invariably
hilarious to me.

That's a popular idea but in error, I think. An individual person does not select an entire world. So this is one of those fictions, like the fiction of the social contract, which seem to explain the world but really only "explain" it in the sense that any myth "explains" the world. All a person worried about morality does is decide what he will do, and one of the most common concerns that people have when they are trying to decide what they will (individually) do is whether what they are doing is "wrong", "unjust", and so on. Let me repeat the important point: they are making a decision about a particular act which they individually (or, possibly, in concert with some other people) will do. Morality is the background against which they make that choice. They make the choice based on what they understand to be right and wrong.

This is what people undeniably do. You might have theory that, at the same time as they are making choices based on their understanding of right and wrong, they are also choosing right and wrong based on what they would like the world to be, but since they are not actually choosing the world, this is at best a dubious speculation.

You might object that governments really do choose the world, or at least choose the laws for the country, and that democratic governments allow populations to participate in this choice of the world. Indeed that is the case (to an extent - unintended consequences aside; even if people, through unintended consequences, fail to choose the world, at least they think they are choosing the world when they participate in democratic politics).

So your theory of right and wrong - that it is how the person making the statement would like the world to be - is in tune with democracy, since in a democracy, people do, or at least do to a certain extent, or at least think they do - really select the world, or rather, the laws.

But it is not in tune with the way that a sense of right and wrong develops in evolution, and it's not in tune with the way in which moral customs arise in society. Morality develops in the context of disputes. It's not until Person A and Person B find themselves in a conflict that some resolution occurs, which then might serve as a model for future dispute resolutions (precedent). And of course, someone who is in the habit of habitually accepting the short end of the stick whenever he comes into conflict with someone else will not do well in the long run, and neither will someone who tries to take everything for himself. Neither of these is a good strategy in the long term.

Anyway, the resolution of a dispute is not the personal preference of either one of the two parties to the dispute, except by accident (if one of the parties prevails completely). Actually, it's a lot like market prices. Everyone who sells shoes would love to be able to charge a million dollars per shoe without any drop in sales, and everyone who buys shoes would love to get them free without any drop in the availability of shoes. But nobody gets quite what they want. Just as price is a bit of a compromise between what the buyers and sellers want, so is morality a bit of a compromise between what two people want. Of course, the simple phrase "a bit of a compromise" hides (in the case of prices) the real mechanism by which prices are determined (supply and demand curves get us closer to the real picture), and similarly in the case of morality.

Your tone sounds like you

Your tone sounds like you are disagreeing with me, but it seems we agree more than we disagree.

To summarize my view: When people make statements of morality, they are communicating their preferences. When people make judgements of morality, they are weighting their options, largely based on what other have communicated to them. Part of it is probably instinctive as well.

The outcome is indeed very much a compromise.

The problematic part is that the language of communicating ethics is one of absolutes. People feel like they are not being persuasive enough when they say: 'if you do x, i will to y to you.' Theyd rather say 'x is wrong'. They like to give their statements an air of generality, and that is of cource a clever strategy if you are arguing a case that does indeed have a high degree of generality. 'random violence if wrong' works, because if you commit random acts of violence, you make more enemies than just the victim and his friends: everybody has an interest in supressing people that commit random violence. Passing it off as something written between the stars is pretty easy, because there is no opposition.

I see no reason to believe there is anything more than that to such statements. I might pretend i do toward others, if such is the language i need to speak to make a point to them, but at least i can be honest with myself. But im probably just weird: i do not miss god in the slightest either, and determinism is totally compatible with my ego.

I think we disagree

The outcome is indeed very much a compromise.

The "outcome" is morality itself. Morality itself is (loosely speaking) a compromise. So morality is not anybody's preference. It is a compromise between conflicting preferences.

The problematic part is that the language of communicating ethics is
one of absolutes. People feel like they are not being persuasive enough
when they say: 'if you do x, i will to y to you.' Theyd rather say 'x
is wrong'.

I disagree, because the wrongness of x does not reduce to "if you do x I will do y to you". There is more to it than that. In fact there's quite a lot to it. And finally, people generally aren't even aware of all there is to it. So, no, it is not a way of saying "if you do x I will do y".

Analogously, if someone says, "the price of Apple Inc stock today is X", they are not saying specifically what they will do. They are saying something a bit more complex, such as, "market conditions are such that if you offer X for Apple stock, you can easily find a seller who will agree, and he will agree roughly because even though he would prefer it, nobody else is going to offer him a significantly higher price" - and that's just for starters. A real explanation of what market prices are requires a lot of time and effort. Are people going to give two-hour lecture on economics every time they want to say "the price of A is B"? No - and they probably would not even be able to give that lecture.

Similarly with morality. When people say "X is wrong', to really fully explain what that actually was, would take at least two hours, probably more like full-credit college course. And they probably would not even be able to teach that course. But they know what's wrong just as they know what the price of Apple stock is. A market price actually is something pretty complex, and so is wrongness, and both because it would take too long and because they don't actually know, people just say "price" and "wrong", they make the simple statement and leave it at that. It's not to give it persuasive force. It's because it's monstrously inconvenient and possibly even beyond their ability to do otherwise.

I agree with what you are

I agree with what you are saying here. Indeed statements of morality more than just a proxy for your preferences: it is much more complicated than that. Your example about stock pricing is a good one. Like i said, i do not disapprove of the terminology of 'right' and 'wrong' if i want to discuss ethics with somebody. Often, those concepts are very capable of conveying what i want to say.

But at least when discussing meta ethics, id like to be more precise about what we mean when we use the phrases right or wrong. A mere communication of preference is indeed not sufficient, but it is an crude attempt towards obtaining a deeper understanding of the complex game called ethics.

I prefer that to the socialist or objectivist method (most ethical systems really): pick a few points that you like and raise them to the status of axiom, and then try to pretend you didnt. That is how you Practice ethics (apparently), not how you increase your Understanding of it.

Patri's argument makes no sense to me

So, yeah. If you believe in evolutionary psychology, and you also believe your moral intuitions reflect a window onto objectively correct natural rights, then unless you have an argument for why objectively correct natural rights should exactly correspond to the intuitive moral sense produced by evolution, you have some cognitive dissonance to resolve.

That doesn't make any sense to me. I have to twist the meanings from my natural reading in order to try to concoct something that sort of makes sense.

As I would normally read you, your argument is exactly as logical (exactly as illogical) as, "If you believe in evolution, and you also believe that the behavior of individual cells in the body reflect a window onto healthy bodily function, then unless you have an argument for why the healthy human body's functioning should exactly correspond to the behavior of individual cells produced by evolution, you have some cognitive dissonance to resolve."

That makes no sense. To put it into a nutshell, you're saying that believing that A is A produces cognitive dissonance to resolve.

In order to try to make some kind of sense of what you wrote down, I find myself forced to give your words a weird meaning. The main weird alteration that I need to make is to how I will interpret "objectively correct natural rights." You are treating it as some sort of target out there in the cosmos with no link to human instinct, something which I am not even sure what to call. God? Eternity? But that's not the way it is normally meant.

After all, there is an objectively correct way to play chess. It does no depend on my own personal opinion. I might be wrong. But chess exists, the rules of chess exist. They are objectively real. And at the same time, chess, is a product of artifice.

And similarly, lions and tigers and bears are real, they are not the product of someone's imagination. They exist objectively. And they are the product of evolution. Shall I feel cognitive dissonance about this?

Frankly, I see the material points you raise about evolution as strong evidence in favor of natural rights. It clinches the matter and buries forever that idea that morality is a matter of personal preference. Products of evolution are not a matter of personal preference. If you have what you call a "moral intuition" which differs from someone else's, then at least one of the two is surely not a product of human evolution (unless you think people diverge - a point you have not made so I will discount it) - contrary to the whole gist of what you're saying, which is that moral instincts are the product of evolution.

 

If you have what you call a

If you have what you call a "moral intuition" which differs from
someone else's, then at least one of the two is surely not a product of
human evolution (unless you think people diverge - a point you have not
made so I will discount it)

But people clearly diverge. There is nothing inconsistent with "morals are evolved" and "people have different morals". It's just an evolutionarily stable set of strategies, the equivalent of an mixed strategy in game theory. And those are known to be a common result of evolution.

And this point also serves to counteract the correspondence between evolved morals and there being an absolute moral code. Absolute moral codes are, in my experience, generally portrayed as single and universal. So the fact that evolution has produced multiple incompatible sets of morality is evidence against our intuitions representing a viewpoint onto a single universal moral code.

Yess

But people clearly diverge.

That is evidence against the strength of evolved moral instincts. Actually, it isn't, and you think people diverge because you're looking at college students and the like arguing with each other in cafes about the state of the world. Any connection between such fantasy-weaving and moral instincts is at best dubious. Remember the difference between revealed preference and stated preference. Same thing here. Stated preference is a lot of hot air.

There is nothing inconsistent with "morals
are evolved" and "people have different morals". It's just an
evolutionarily stable set of strategies, the equivalent of an mixed
strategy in game theory. And those are known to be a common result of
evolution.

Yes. But then your argument has been reduced to a faint shadow of its former self. Evolution no longer goes against natural law, it merely fails to support it. The actual evidence you're using against natural law is not evolutionary psychology, but your personal observation that "people clearly diverge", which you can see for yourself on the Internet and did not get from any evolutionary pschologist. So the evolutionary psychology stuff is a wash.

Except it isn't, really. What evolutionary psychologists have been discovering has been commonality after commonality. (If an evolutionary psychologists has discovered divergent evolved moral instincts, I am all ears. [added: but just looking at the title of one of your books suggests they have found common instincts: "Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong ". Key word is "universal".]) This leads me to think that the supposed divergence you observe has little relation to people's actual moral sense, which is revealed in their personal behavior, not in their gaseous emissions at the dinnertable.

If you want to bring up the fact that some people are actual criminals and thus violate any norms I might call "natural law", we can have that conversation.

"One of the main reasons I

"One of the main reasons I am a consequentalist (rather than believing in natural rights) is that I suspect that intuitive morality is an evolved module meant for my genes' good, rather than a window onto absolute truth."

As opposed to your reasoning module?

"I have very strong feelings about right and wrong."

Why you have have strong feelings about something you don't think exists?