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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Sources of Morality and its Study

#1 The question has to do with the role of "reason" in morality and its study.

Haidt, Tancredi ("Hardwired Behavior"), Gazzaniga ("The Ethical Brain") and others have demonstrated the subordinate role that reason plays in moral decision making and behavior. But what Haidt seems to mean by "reason" is what Gazaniga ("Who's in Charge") calls the "interpreter module."

The point is that there is morality: genetic and culturally determined values and principles that shape ideas on how to behave and that influence behavior itself in a specific situation, history, and association. And there is the study of morality or ethics: a critical inquiry into the antecedents, sources, and foundations of morality and moralities.

The sources of morality can be found in genes, memes (culture), and direct experience through science, especially evolutionary biology and neurscience, anthropology/sociology, psychology/phenomenology.

Here is how I diagram it with the notion of "reason" at the different levels of inquiry.



All students of human behavior question the notion of "free will" which many neuroscientists call an illusion, though a necessary one selected for human functioning.  For sure most of our decisions are made for "subliminal" reasons (see Leonard Mlodinow, "Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior") or wired responses to situations (Haidt, etc).

We might discern three types of unconsciousness before things rise to open consciousness: 1) the "wired" or evolutionary adaptive responses like fight or flight, 2) the "unconscious" e.g. Freud's id or Jungian archetypes or Haidt's evolutionary adaptive ideas, and 3) the "subliminal" e.g. Freud's superego, marketing ploys to our adaptive ideas. Personally, I prefer Merleau-Ponty's notion of the pre-conscious which does not deny the unconscious, but puts it in the context of our adaptation and expression to the world through symbolic forms. For M-P neither the conscious expressed nor the pre-conscious expressing are secondary; but one is ground to the other.

At any rate, our conscious argument for a certain course of action is subsequent--an interpretation or justification of a behavior that comes out of the unconscious.  So we are not in charge of our behaviors.  Or are we?

Gazzaniga also holds that conscious awareness arises and belongs not to any one module, but is found throughout the brain and maybe consists of the very complexity of the diverse modules.  (This I think fits more with M-P's notion.) And while individual free will may be an illusion, responsibility is nevertheless an important factor of social functioning.

Moreover, I would argue in a long tradition from Socrates, that freedom and responsibility (not "free will") are acquired progressively over the course of our lifetime and over the course of our species existence through thinking in a social context about what we are doing and where we are going and what we want to be, on acting based on that thinking, and then on thinking about that, and so forth for as long as we exist.  And also by holding each other accountable for the consequences of our thinking and action--which is where politics comes in; because there must be a space where we can think and act together and hold ourselves accountable.  My own freedom (again not "free will") is dependent on that shared space, time, and sociality.

Which leads us to #3 question to Haidt and more to myself: how does his Theory of Moral Foundations jive with my Ethical Theory of Integrity?  Next Blog.  (I'll save #2 for the last one.)

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