Interaction of reason and emotion as foundation of secular morals

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15 minutes presentation in seminar of freedom of religion 2009-02-20

  1. Religious and secular morals
    • Religions tend to assume monopoly on morals
      • Atheists assumed immoral beings
      • Secular society assumed to lead to chaos
      • Kick stones or old ladies, no difference
      • Raping and killing bad only because there is a god that has forbidden those
  2. Reasons presented for religious morals
    • Omni-potence, omni-science, creation, stability of content -> All weak
    • Content-based reasoning: this shows only our ability to select
    • Selecting good and bad -> irrelevant both cases
    • Exception: fanatics going against conscience

  1. Secular morals: reason and emotion
    • These are left when absolute / godly moral is found without basis
    • Vary from person to person, time to time -> subjective
    • But no random variation -> common patterns
  2. Only rationality?
    • "Rational decisions" (traditionally "good")
    • "Emotional decisions" (traditionally "bad")
  3. The fallacy of 100% rational decision
    • "Banana shopping failure" of emotionally handicapped people
    • Fallacy of evil robots taking over the world
    • Nazis: Fact of evolution -> only strongest should survive -> weak/defective should be killed
  4. Types of questions
    • Continuum from factual questions ... fact/moral ... moral
    • "God created all living species" (100% factual / rational)
    • "Taxes should be decreased" 25% moral?
    • "Capital punishment should be abolished" 50% moral?
    • "Thou shalt not kill" 100% moral?
  5. Emotions present in all moral decisions
    • Better in explicit form than implicit (hidden below 100% rational argumentation)
    • Emotion / Will / Conscience / Moral feelings
    • Wikipedia: "Conscience is an ability or a faculty that distinguishes whether one's actions are right or wrong. It leads to feelings of remorse when one does things that go against his/her moral values, and to feelings of rectitude or integrity when one's actions conform to our moral values."
    • Martha Stout ("The Sociopath Next Door") conscience as "an intervening sense of obligation based in our emotional attachments."
  6. Rationality is good tool in pre-analysis
    • Preparing the facts for emotion/will to decide on
    • Mistaken facts or false logic can lead to fallacious moral decisions
    • Eg. "Taxes should be decreased"
      1. What are the effects? (rationality)
      2. Do we want those effects? (emotion/will/conscience)

  1. Nature/mechanism of moral emotions
    • Brains science of emotions
    • Brain areas: Limbic system (hypothalamus, cingulate cortex, hippocampi)
      • With the arrival of night-active mammals 180 million years ago, smell become dominant sense
      • Olfactory lobes gradually formed the neural blueprint for what was later to become our limbic brain.
    • Chemicals: testosterone, estrogen, dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin, and vasopressin
      • Alteration with rats, one can induce love, binding etc.
    • Cultural/learned effects
  2. Origin/explanation of moral feelings/conscience
    • Genetic/inherited effects
      • Evolutionary psychology
      • Eg. The problem of Altruism
        • Seeming contradiction with darwinian "battle of survival"
        • Resolved in evolutionary psychology by inclusive fitness models (W. D. Hamilton et. al.)
        • Revision to simpler original Darwinian fitness
        • Kin selection
        • Evolutionary game theory (non-kin group interactions)
        • Memetic selection
    • Interplay between genetic/inherited aspects
    • Moral variation and common patterns
      • Like genetic differences and similarities

Conclusion: Kicking stones or old ladies does consist of movements of atoms at the lowest level but for a human being is makes a moral difference.

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