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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Integrity and the Foundations of Morality

#3.  Is Haidt's theory compatible with mine?

I've already applauded Jonathan Haidt on his score of the six foundations of morality. Let me summarize my Integrity Theory of Ethics and see how it might improvise with his.

I identify four dynamics in human nature and behavior--sociality, spatiality, temporality, ideality--each of which has an experimental scientific base. I do not mean to be exclusive nor dogmatic about these; they could be increased or expressed differently. However, I think they are falsifiable; I think they are useful for further inquiry; and I think they can be related to Haidt's six foundations. Another question is whether we are talking about one or many principles for ethics with which I will deal at the end.

I start with sociality which is the tension in our existence (human nature as dynamic) between individual self and social collective. I adopt Wilson and his study of ants as my prime authority. But I also liked Paul Seabright's The Company of Strangers and Marco Iacoboni Mirroring People. And of course the whole tradition of social psychology from Kurt Goldstein on. Wilson finds that in our evolutionary adaptation is the acquisition of traits for both selection as individual and as group. He also claims that this is a tension that will never be resolved as long as our species is around.

Then there is spatiality which is a dynamic tension between inner and outer space that is part and parcel with our symbolic behavior, our adaptation to our environment and knowledge of our world through artificial forms or images (language, art, religion, science). There are lots of good authorities on this especially in psychology and philosophy and more recently in neuroscience.  A new favorite for me is Terrence Deacon's The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of Language and the Brain.

Thirdly, there is temporality which is the dynamic tension between memory and projection. Memory of course, both unconscious and conscious, has been a prevalent focus of study for neuroscience especially using fMRI, as well as the use of memory in producing and projecting images whether on the wall of a cave or in an urban general plan. Intuition (direct experience) has always found the past and the future in the now stretching backwards and forwards at the same time. Memory is directly related to language, learning, cognition, imaging, and of course the recognition of self and others and of inner and outer space.

Fourthly, I propose ideality which is the dynamic tension between the real and the ideal or the virtual or the dreamt. (Though elsewhere I point out how one can say with Hegel that the Real is the Ideal, and with quantum theorists that the Real is the Virtual, and with Eastern religions that the Real is the Dream.) Politically this is the tension between the world as we find it and the world as we want it to be.  I think this dynamic tension cuts across and is a synthesis of the other three. I think it also connects to the dynamic tension between the universal and the particular, science and technology, transcendence and immanence.

I also think that consciousness (and here I take as my authorities Daniel Dennett, Consciousness Explained and Slavoj Zizek, The Ticklish Subject) is a function and product of human existence with these (and maybe more than) four dimensions. But David Deutsch is my mentor (after Merleau-Ponty) of human existence and consciousness as transcending, as the "beginning of infinity." For in our activity of dealing with the world in the company of others in the present, we open ourselves to an unlimited future.

I have discussed each of the four dimensions more at length earlier. I have also shown that each of them can explain the illusions that we must overcome in our progressive dance to infinity. The dimension of sociality gives rise to the illusion of supernatural agency (see Paul Bloom, "Is God an Accident?" in the Atlantic and also Descartes' Baby). The dimension of spatiality gives rise to the "illusion of the absolute" (Merleau-Ponty) or the "objectivistic fallacy" (Dewey) in our failure to distinguished the expressed from the expressing, the parlée from the parole. The dimension of temporality has us denying ambiguity and hoping for the "golden age" or for "utopia." And ideality combines all these in the confusion of the world as it is with the world as we want it to be, the idolatry of the particular as universal, eternity out there instead of in the now.

It is the integration of these dynamics in our action here, now, with others where we find the foundation of this-worldly ethics and politics. Human existence (the dynamic nature of human nature with its fourfold tension) is the principle of ethics and politics. The categorical imperative is the striving for integrity: the holding and dealing with the many tensions of our existence.

So how does this relate to Haidt's six foundations?

Here is an attempt.

What I am trying to show is that Haidt's six foundations of morality are not antithetical with my four tensions of human nature, and indeed confirm them. Loyalty and authority pertain to our groupishness.  Care and Fairness pertain to the empathic aspect of our interaction with others in expression. Liberation  from oppression pertain to our progression advance in time. And sanctity/purity to ideality and the world without evil.

Both the Theory of Moral Foundations and the Ethical Theory of Integrity can be useful to our politics as I will show in the next blog.

Finally I want to deal with Haidt's assertion that there is no one principle, but many for human morality.  I do agree with this. But at the same time I think there is one principle for ethics which is human existence, in all its dynamic complexity, itself. I also think it is important to distinguish between principles as expressions, e.g. moral maxims, and principles as the unexpressed source of human behavior in human existence.

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