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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Religion Against Ethics?

I am putting the finishing touches on a presentation I want to offer to TED when they open up applications.  The title is "My Holy Grail: A Universal Ethic."  I might also call it "Why an ethical person does not need religion" and/or "Why many of the most religious people are not ethical."

In my presentation, I reject moral relativism by discovering an invariable structure for truth, including moral truth, in the uniquely homo sapiens way of coming to terms with our environment.  This structure is uncovered in experimental biology and psychology, most recently in the developing new disciplines of neuroscience and evolutionary psychology.  (See Terrence Deacon's latest book on the brain's evolving capacity to use symbols.)

I also reject moral certainty.  The way we approach truth is by "conjecture and selection" (Karl Popper).  We imagine models or theories in ways that can be falsified through experience and then we test them and ask others to do the same.  Through the testing we either reject the theory, refine it, or accept it as true--provisionally, not absolutely.  We are realists using experience to know and move in our universe by solving problems we encounter or set up from out previous solutions.  But we are also idealists using symbols--images, models, theories, ideas--to pursue knowledge and adaptation to our environment.

Our organism adapting with its environment, mediated by media, establishes us in a whole bunch of tensions that can lead to both pitfalls and victories.  By pitfalls I mean fallacies, mistakes, errors, evils, setbacks, i.e. expressions and actions that hold us back and actually undermine our human existence.  By victories I mean insights, truths, findings, discoveries, goods, advances, i.e. expressions and actions that lead us on to the progress and growth of our humanity.

I put this structure of our human way of knowing and being into an ethical/political model that shows many of the tensions and explains both setbacks and victories for humanity.  I attempt to show that the model meets the criteria of a good scientific theory.

As part of the elegance and consistency criteria of the model, I try to formalize it to show an invariable structure that unites many dimensions of human living and acting in the universe.

As a part of the comprehensiveness criteria of the model, I try to show how all previous and present ethical/political theories relate to and can be explained by this model.

As a part of the testability for this model, I try to use the model to deal with current big ethical and political issues, e.g. bio-technology, economic disparity, community building, earth change, war and peace, crime and punishment, population growth and urbanization, artificial intelligence, and postmodern religion.

So....  since this structure is universally available (we live it after all), a person with an evolved homo sapiens brain does not need a religion or a philosophy or any special training, beyond good nourishment within a loving community (which I realize is no small matter), to be ethical.  In fact, I argue that "conscience" is nothing more or less than the inner awareness or consciousness of knowing and acting in the world with us all the time.  No need for special revelations from on high or for dictates from authority or from some absolute mind or holy book.  (Though I hasten to add that mythology and fiction, including gods, goblins, gremlins, ghosts, can stimulate consciousness and even moral behavior.)

At the same time, this structure and its awareness is somewhat elusive because it is not usually focused upon when we go about our daily life and action in the world.  In some sense it is most experienced when we are focused outside through our language and images and symbols.  It is only in the secondary reflection of meditation, art criticism, and philosophy that we bring it into focus.

It is this obvious but illusive character of the structure of our behavior that sets up the underlying fallacy of fallacies, sometimes called the "objectivist fallacy" (Dewey) or the "illusion of absolute" (Merleau-Ponty) or "true belief" (Hoffer), or "historicism" (Popper) and many more.  I see it as "misplaced principlism"where one confuses the structure of human knowing and acting with its formulations.  These formulations, including theories, models, explanations, emerge from that structure (religion, art, policy, science), may even attempt to articulate that structure (philosophy including epistemology and ethics), but are NOT that structure.

Often people motivated by religion are morally certain victims of misplaced principlism.  They take the formulations that they have imagined or inherited as absolute.  They are principled in the wrong place and that leads to all sorts of mischief.  Just read "God's Jury" by Collen Murphy.  War, torture, racism, genocide, totalitarianism are inhumane, violate the principle of our human being in the universe.  They and other atrocities can all be attributed to the fallacy of moral certitude which is often sanctified by religion.

Such religiously motivated people are usually antiscientific as well because they see advance in truth as infallible, not-to-be challenged propositions rather than as continually to-be-refined and verified-in-experience propositions that often conflict with previously accepted ones.  They are therefore usually pessimistic with human life and history, hoping for the return of a nostalgic past or the arrival of a utopian future from some outside intervention or death.  They often abdicate personal responsibility for the sordid parts of our past and for our collective future.  (See David Deutsch on this.)

This is why I say that many of the most religious people are unethical.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Santorum is such a perfect foil (I said "foil"!) for me.  An antithesis to my ethical worldview.

I just read today that in his book on the family he spoke of Nietzsche as preparing the way for moral relativism and Hitler (and recently for Obama whose secularist theology is not based on the Bible).  He is want to describe everything which he opposes as somehow leading to Hitler and Nazism.  So I do not want to follow the same course with his brand of theocracy.  [However, it is interesting, isn't it, how people tend to decry in other people exactly what you can find in them.  I suppose I do it myself due to some subconscious rejection of my own foibles that I cast on others.]

Spinoza (we are about to see "New Jerusalem: the Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza") was arguably the intellectual conduit to modernism including the Enlightenment and the scientific revolution. Friedrich Nietzsche I would argue was the intellectual conduit to postmodernism including Evolution and the information revolution.  (I really can't see any evidence that Santorum read Nietzsche, much less understands him.)

Nietzsche, while attacking the prevalent Christian morality of his culture (and ours), was no moral relativist.  He was a man of reason attempting to find explanation in nature without appealing to some revelation from outside nature.  So I guess that makes him a secularist.  However, he did see in human existence the basis for truthful and moral behavior.  It is just that he did not put the "truth" or the "good" in laws or propositions uttered by gods or men, but in the dynamic and progressive drive of humanity to seek the truth and the good.  He was the opposite and is an antidote to totalitarianism of the right or the left.

His insights leading to those of Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Dewey, Popper, Rorty, Bourdieu, are the basis of an open society, not one hemmed in by the idolatry of language, constitution, law, religion.

I'll take Nietzsche over Santorum any day.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Catholic?

Rick Santorum, now challenging Romney to head the Republican ticket, is almost a caricature of what I oppose in my ethical model which I call Integrity.

He exemplifies moral certainty (which Cullen Murphy describes in God's Jury, the history of the Inquisition and the making of the modern world).  He bases his morality and his policies on the Bible which is God's Word to him.  He pretends that the USA is founded on Christianity and that the nation is and should be a Christian.  He condemns secularism as an evil opposed to Christianity and the nation.

He believes that he has a duty to oppose artificial birth control (condemned by the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy), "radical feminism" (which removes women from their proper role in the family), military women in combat (because it is naturally distracting to men), pre-natal examinations (since they could result in abortion), abortion (which is murder because human life is fully present, a soul infused, when the egg is fertilized), government support of the poor and aged (because that should be left to God and family; and socialism is evil),  homosexuality (because it is forbidden by the Bible and the Church), gay marriage and the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" in the military (because it condones homosexuality).  He wants to minimize government role in economic policy, but maximize it in cultural policy (e.g. related to women, gays, sexual mores).

His passionate sincerity and moral certainty are unquestionable.  He is the "good Catholic" as the current Pope, the Bishops, and most clergy would define that.  But, as Catholic journalist E.J. Dionne has often said,  Santorum is far from being a Catholic in the tradition of Pope John XXIII, Archbishop Romerro, Dan Berrigan, Telhard de Chardin, Karl Rahner, Rosemary Reuther, Jack Egan, Dorothy Day, Graham Greene, Dominick Crossan, Thomas Merton, David Steindl-Rast, and the American Bishops who sent the Pastoral Letter on the American Economy.  He does not know, probably because he was never taught, the rich Catholic tradition of social teachings which he castigates as a Marxist heresy called "liberation theology."

Ironically, though he condemns the theology of the secularists, he has no theology.  Theology is the questioning of religious doctrine and ritual in the light of reason in order to bring the Church in dialogue with the contemporary world towards a continue transformation of Church and World towards a free, just, and open society.  He does not know theology, he only knows dogma as it has been approved by authority.  He is a Catholic ideologian without a Catholic theology.

Like George Bush, he is not evil.  He is a likable, nice guy and a true believer.  But his true belief and moral certainty would be a near occasion for evil policies in the world as it was for George Bush who permitted two wars killing hundreds of thousands of people, condoning torture, increasing an obscene disparity in wealth, capitulating to big corporations leading to a huge economic downturn for ordinary people (not the very wealthy), a further sacrificing of the health of the planet, and a disparaging of science.

As Eric Hoffer pointed out long ago and Cullen Murphy today, it was true belief and moral certainty that led to the Inquisition, the Holocaust, and most wars of genocide.  Cardinal Torquemada, Innocent III, Bloody Mary, Pius XIII, Benito Mussolini, Generalissimo Franco, Adolph Hitler, Joe McCarthy were all Roman Catholics and supported by the official Roman Catholic Church.  Many of them were pious in their private lives and nice people socially.

Obama's people attacked Romney for having no "core."  If that means not having absolute principles, true beliefs, or moral certainty, then I think that is a good thing and I hope Obama has none either.  If that means pragmatically putting religious values to the test of humaneness and making sure that no principle gets in the way of treating others humanly, go Romney.  I don't mind your Mormonism as long as you don't pretend America has to be Mormon and as long as it does not obstruct your sense of human fairness here and now.

We sure don't want another sincere, true believing, nice-guy Christian in the White House.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Problem of Evil

The other evening we watched Slavery by Another Name, a PBS presentation based on the book by Douglas Blackmon.  Anyone who could watch this without tasting disgusting evil has little sensitivity or reason.  How could you not condemn the perpetrators, those who made profit by keeping African Americans in abject bondage even after “emancipation”?  How could you not condemn community leaders, even Teddy Roosevelt (formerly one of my heroes), who, like the banal Eichmann, refused to acknowledge, must less stop, this atrocity?

And how could you not praise Blackman and PBS for letting us know this part of America, land of the free?

There is a problem of evil that has nothing to do with a good, omnipotent god creating or permitting bad things on earth while supposedly forbidding them in heaven.  Rather it has to do with our new understanding of physics, social conditioning, and neuroscience.  Recognizing the determinism in science even quantum and emergent physics, the role of the environment in shaping behavior, and the modular nature of the brain, do we let people, including ourselves, off the hook? 

(Recall the joke about the judge who said to the murderer, when he claimed in his defense that he was predestined to this crime, “I’m sorry, I am predestined to sentence you to life in prison.”)

Is there evil that must be opposed vehemently?  What makes it evil?  And when are we practicing and being evil while attributing it to others: terrorists, communists, criminals, racists, anarchists, Republicans, atheists?  Can we hold people, institutions, and nations accountable?  And ourselves?  Should we not make those southern aristocrats, plantation owners, and businessmen who perpetrated such horrors on African Americans pay for their actions?  Should we make amends for our and our ancestors’ silence?  Or just forget it?  Like the Holocaust, Vietnam War, American Indian and Armenian genocide, Japanese brutality, Dresden, Hiroshima.  Just chalk them up to our naturally selected proclivities for violence, selfishness, righteousness, domination!

Elsewhere I have argued for an ethical model based on the structure of our humanity, our existence in the world, as revealed through biology, psychology, and neuroscience.  Good behavior enhances that structure.  Bad behavior diminishes it.  Evil is much more than breaching the customs of a culture, much more than desecrating religious codes of some holy book, and much more than breaking the laws of civil society.  Evil is violating existence itself, destroying that which makes us human, obstructing our collective progress, and devastating our common future. 

Some philosophers of science following Plato have argued that evil is lack of knowledge.  They argue that our way of dealing with evil, whether earthquakes or wars, is knowledge by problem solving.  But I prefer to say that lack of knowledge is a source of evil—especially when we neglect or refuse that knowledge. 

Evil can be attributed to acts, persons, institutions, and situations.  An act that treats another as an object for personal gain is a violation of one’s own dynamic relationship with others as co-creators.  A mine owner identified by a pattern of behavior that cohorts with a justice of the peace to arrest a black man and sell him to that mine owner to work off a fine is an evil person.  An institution is a complex pattern of behavior involving many persons with stable rules.  An institution, like an economic system that depends on slave labor or unequal wealth creation is evil.  So is a church whose rules keep women or races in a subordinate position and that legitimizes and sanctifies ignorance.

Here is the problem, really crisis, of evil.  Evolution, accidentally or by some overseeing “Providence” if you want (I don’t!), has brought us to a point where we can take responsibility personally and collectively, for our past and our future, for the place and condition of our very being.  It comes with the power of reflection, the ability to think scientifically, to choose freedom with our existence. 

I am not saying we are totally, unconditionally free or powerful or thoughtful.  I am saying that we together in association can take responsibility to become free, thoughtful, and powerful.  Freedom and power and thoughtfulness are not granted by the state, by the church, by aliens, by angels, by gods, or by nature.  They are achieved through thought and action with others of our species.  Wise people have indicated this for as long as we can remember, but it is only since the Enlightenment, the Age of Revolution, and the New Science that this is dawning on our species globally. 

We live in a time and space in which we can acknowledge our past and shape our future to achieve a world in which people can become free and powerful and thoughtful or its opposite.  It is an awe filled responsibility. 

There are acts, persons, institutions, and situations that are evil—that obstruct human progress, that undermine the dynamism of human existence.  However, because ours is an ambiguous existence, evil is not absolute. Acts can be forgiven, persons can change, institutions can reform, and situations can transition.  To demonize a person or an institution is just another evil. 

Some politicians and pundits pander to the ignorant and the fearful, using hateful labels and slogans about the other side even though they know better, because it increases their ratings and profits “from the base.”  In doing so they promote popular ignorance, fear, and even violence.  These panderers indeed are most despicable.  But even they are not absolute evils to be dehumanized as they do to others.   

Anger towards these people, institutions, and situations, as found in Slavery by Another Name and often on talk radio and stump speeches, is appropriate.  We must do all we can to stop their injustice, but never participate in their belief and action that would make an enemy an object, a thing, an alien—a “devil.”  When we do this we become them and participate in their evil—as Malcolm X came to understand with his growth in Islam.  Indeed all institutions including religion are to be judged and reformed by the standard of our humanity and our capacity for progressive understanding and love. 

Let human morality not be founded in or judged by the oracles of the gods.  But let the oracles of the gods be founded in and judged by human morality.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

From Nothing?

Philosopher Martin Heidegger asked it as have many before him:  "Why is there something rather than nothing?"   Well Quantum Physicist and Cosmologist Lawrence Krauss answered it in his book "A Universe from Nothing."

I read the book once and need to read it once again.  But I think he shows how it could have happened without appealing to any supernatural being or event.  Though it is still quite full of wonder.

He demonstrates that we live in a "flat" universe where the average energy, including gravity, is zero, how empty space can fill with energy that can give rise to virtual particles through quantum fluctuations, that particles of matter and anti-matter self-destruct unless one of them falls into a black hole.  All that seems to be born out by the discovered and verified laws of physics.

Then he speculates with other theorists that our universe is part of a multiverse with infinite, or at least indefinite, paths of possibilities. Eternity really has no meaning without space and time and space-time emerges in a quantum universe.

The bleak side of it all is that in a few trillion years our universe will spread out so far and so flat as to return to the nothing it came from.

Well, I don't understand all that.  But I'm starting to get it.  I dare everybody to read it with an open mind.

As Darwin and following biologists have demonstrated, the development of life, mammals, and humans without recourse to some extraneous outside nature event, so Krauss is showing the same for matter, space, time, our total universe.

I suppose some will find this bad news and so will not accept the science.  That is their prerogative. William James spoke of the need of both tender minds that value emotion, poetry, religion and tough minds that value reason in science.  Krauss I think brings the two together in this statement: ". . . we continue to marshall the courage to live meaningful lives in a universe that likely came into existence, and may fade out of existence, without purpose, and certainly without us at the center."

This, the courage to face reality, I believe is the real courage to be. It is the faith that is ultimately the source of meaning, the basis for truth, love, and morality.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Quotes on Religion in America

It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.
Thomas Jefferson

The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion . . .
George Washington, Treaty of Tripoli

This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it.  John Adams

The most detestable wickedness, the most horrid cruelties, and the greatest miseries that have afflicted the human race have had their origin in this thing called revelation, or revealed religion.
Thomas Paine

It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal god and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious, then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.
Albert Einstein

Religion, comprises a system of wishful illusions together with a disavowal of reality, such as we find in an isolated form nowhere else but in amentia, in a state of blissful hallucinatory confusion.
Sigmund Freud

Religion is the end of love and honesty, the beginning of confusion; faith is a colorful hope or fear, the origin of folly.
Tao Te Ching

A celibate clergy is an especially good idea, because it tends to suppress any hereditary propensity toward fanaticism.
Carl Sagan

If you believe in the existence of fairies at the bottom of the garden you are deemed fit for the bin. If you believe in parthenogenesis, ascension, transubstantiation and all the rest of it, you are deemed fit to govern the country.
Jonathan Meades

A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.
Albert Einstein

When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? It is because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence. So a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party or partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind.
~ J. Krishnamurthi

We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing all-powerful God, who creates faulty humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes.
~ Gene Roddenberry

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Ethics of Divine Love

So now let me put on my Jesuit theology hat.  Steven Hawking in Brief History of Time indicated that scientists were approaching the Grand Unified Field Theory of Everything and, when achieved, would look into the "Mind of God." He was confronted and assured his followers that, like most scientists, he did not find use for any entity outside or beyond nature and was just using the phrase as "a metaphor."

Well, of course, metaphor (e.g. symbol, image, model) is all we have to advance knowledge.  According to Karl Popper, John Dewey, and all students of scientific method, we use our imaginations to make conjectures and then check them out by making predictions that can falsify the models we postulated.  The question is: is the metaphor "God" at all useful in our post enlightenment, post modern world.

Earlier I discussed morality from an evolutionary psychologist point of view.  Moral rules preserve and advance the species by helping us get along with other people.  Those rules are legitimated through laws and sanctified through religion.  And from what I read there are three orders of "other people": 1) family, tribe, spouse for reproduction, protection, and emotional support, 2) friends and community (including neighborhood, congregation, service club, association) for social relevance and intellectual support, 3) city, state, civilization for cultural, artistic, and scientific education and support.

Ethics is a critique of the moral rules so that 1) we can adapt to changing and new environments and 2) we can satisfy a personal and collective yearning, wonder, hope for knowledge (including moral knowledge) and further growth as human beings.

The model for a universal ethic that I have postulated I call "Integrity" and find it in the structure of our human knowing and acting in the world as we discover it through science and express it philosophically.

Just as ethics is a critique of moralities (e.g. comparative moralities in history or the operating ones in our culture), so is theology the critique of religions, their expressions, institutions, rituals.  Theology means "study of god/s" and is taught in seminaries and divinity schools.  The "God" hypothesis is problematic.  It is not a scientific statement because it cannot be falsified (Popper) and it is often a hindrence to science by blocking the search for universal explanation.  In that sense I could argue that literal theism is immoral since it impedes the human moral imperative.

Supernatural entitites by definition (admitting of no explanation in nature) are pretty useless for actual knowledge though quite a delight for fantasy and fiction.  However, because gods can incite imagination and imagination is a vital part of science, there may be a way to reflect on religion and thus do theology as a useful human venture.  Can one be an non-theist and a theologian?  In my theological tradition, I will try to do that now.

The definition of God that I like most is the one in the Johannine tradition that "God is Love and we who live (and act) in love, live in God and God in us."  This ties into Paul's morality that there are three key virtues, "faith, hope, and love and the greatest of these is love" and Luke's indicator of the ideal community: "see how they love one another." And then there is Matthew 25, the beatitudes, which is love for the least of these.

But what is love?  If I can provide an explanation of love--especially through science--maybe I can vindicate theological thinking that God is Infinite Love and the purpose and meaning of human existence. Though I am not sure I care about vindicating theological thinking.  I am more interested in using the imaginative aspect of theology to further our human quest and prospect.

Human thinking, action, and existence are about relationships, relationships at all levels, micro and macro.  We use our symbolic capacity--images, words, models, metaphors, formulas--to discern, develop, and verify relationships.  The arts and sciences are primary means by which we exercise this capacity.

We can use the three orders I described above to define "love" as a uniting relationship among people.  In the first order, there is affective and erotic love--that of family and admirers.  In the second order, there is friendship love--that of companions and colleagues. And in the third there is transcending love--that of mystics, poets, seekers, and adventurers.

The third order of love is linked to the search for universal explanation and to progressive knowledge and transformation of the world or what David Deutsch calls the "beginning of infinity."  Infinity refers to the ongoing reach of ideas, the progressive search for explanation, the totality of relationships.

Perhaps here is a moment to resurrect the theory of Omega Point advocated by Teilhard de Chardin and Frank Tipler.  Dennett I think rightly criticizes Chardin by inferring an inevitable progressive intentionality and directionality in Evolution.  Tipler is criticized for giving Omega Point, occurring at the Big Crunch, unwarranted characteristics.  Both identify Omega Point with God--one that is becoming through the progress of universal understanding or explanation.

Bernard Lonergan analyzes human understanding in scientific method and discovers infinity in the "unlimited and unrestricted desire to know" and defines Being or God as the objective for the unrestricted desire to know.  The notion of God is our experience of our collective and progressive search for knowledge of our world and for unity in our relationships.  This notion can be identified with universal truth and love and is beginning of infinity.

I think this notion gives meaning to the God metaphor without postulating some supernatural entity or order beyond or above nature, that is, should one want to use "God-talk" (e.g. theology) at all which I seldom do.  More important to me is the commitment to thought and action that will progress our knowledge and relationships which we make by continuing to question, to think, to problem-solve, to act, and to keep learning, never settling for old language and answers especially in the form of creeds and institutions.  That, I think, is the "faith"beyond the religions and moralities to which great prophets, philosophers, and poets have pointed us.

And so, as a non-theist and a theologian, I think there can be a place for God-talk in good philosophy and science if you recognize its metaphorical character.  Nevertheless, I want my church or temple to be without revelations from angels and gods, without creeds or infallible pronouncements, and without an institution that pretends to be founded by God.  I want the clergy, not as conduits of infallible pronouncements or mediators to truth, but guides to faith in existence/truth/love, encouraging us to go on searching and exploring even without finding.

I guess that makes me a unitarian, universalist, catholic.  In faith a universalist accepting the ambiguity of diversity; in hope a unitarian trusting that unity will eventually be achieved, and in love a catholic, inclusive of all without condition. If God-talk leads to this, so be it. But when God-talk gets in the way of this (as it often does), then I disdain it.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Just finished Robert Kurzban's book, Why everyone (else) is a hypocrite: Evolution and the Modern Mind. Pleasant, fast read.  I thought it might be useful for my project in New Ethics.  And it was.

But if you've already read as much as I have in neuroscience and evolutionary psychology (Gozanniga, Pinker, Dawkins, etc), you will find it pretty much a summary of the findings for a modular brain.  It is another good attack on the Cartesian dualism we've inherited culturally and biologically along with the illusion of a wizard of Oz "self" behind all the curtains.  And it is a rather fun critique of self-deception, self-control, self-help, self-interest, and even self-actualization with all their silliness.  It certainly helps to explain what's happening in the Republican primary debates and an electorate desperately wanting purity, certainty, righteousness.

Inconsistency is a well-evidenced way of the brain for a lot of evolutionary adaptations related to diverse modules, some conscious, some not, with very diverse functions developed in the course of natural selection.  What is seen as hypocrisy in others, is often just what we would call "flexibility" in ourselves.  Knowing this makes me a bit less judgmental.

However, when Kurzban does do some ethical reflection, he finds that in the long run hypocrisy is not good for the species.  Morality was developed primarily because we need to live and act with other people to survive and thrive, i.e. achieve "reproductive advantage." Rules were developed to limit other people's negative behavior.  When rules were not applied to all (e.g. not to the sovereign or some elite), they could not be sustained.  So people are held accountable to the rules through publicity.  We can be as inconsistent as others allow us to be.  That's the extent of liberty, e.g. do your own thing as much as you want as long as you don't harm others (meaning as much as others allow you.)

His is not a very deep ethical reflection, but I suppose mirrors what most people say--and maybe even live by.  Kurzban does believe that some antidote to hypocrisy is found in linking your speech and action to consistent mutually agreed upon principles.

I find that Kurzban is somewhat inconsistent himself (though I certainly do not judge him a hypocrite!).

  • While he denies a unitary self, he does an awful lot of "I" talk.  
  • He makes morality mainly a negative act, a condemnation of others harmful (to me) behaviors.  Maybe--but I think an ethics can be created on a more positive basis--which is what I am trying to do in my attempt for a "universal ethics."
  • Principle based rules can I think lead to rigidity, i.e. the consistency of religiously based war and torture.
  • His "reproductive advantage" criterion is certainly good evolutionary biology, but I think doesn't show the new option beyond simple reproductive advantage that our evolution for reproductive advantage is providing us.
  • He adopts a sort of naturalistic fallacy (Hume's "ought" from "is") without showing why or how.  
  • Maybe saying the same thing, his is a pretty static view of human existence, ironically more machine-like than organic, much less emergent.  
I argue in my "Integrity: the Search for the Universal Ethic" that good human behavior is more than non-hypocrisy to be achieved by simply limiting other people's behavior; that while there is no "real" or "being" self, there is a "becoming" self; that while integrity is not an achieved reality, it is an achievable reality and even a being-achieved reality.

Much more later.