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Posts tagged 'philosophy'

  • Private Languages

    Each one of us means, with our words, exactly what we mean; no more or less.

    When you are misunderstood it's often because the other's use of words places a greater significance on a given definition than you do.

  • Ritualized morality.

    People do certain things because that's how they were brought up. Communities raise children to act a certain way and to value certain behaviors because the communities that survived are the ones that shared rituals and values. Having an undercurrent of common beliefs is essential to extended survival because it cuts out a lot of the bookkeeping discussion that is generated by diverse communities.

    Kohlberg's stages of moral development are useful for understanding this next bit. In short, Kohlberg sees humans as having six possible perspectives on morality, in increasing order:

    1. Selfish, egocentric, only punishment-avoiding: For instance: autistic adults; toddlers
    2. Understand that others are people, too; look for self-interest/quid-pro-quo: Sociopaths; children
    3. Seek conformity; look for reputation as a "good person": Religious hypocrites; pre-teens
    4. Obey laws: Authoritarians; most adults
    5. Recognize that laws are social contracts: Democratic governments (ideally); political scientists?
    6. Seek and apply universal moral principles: Philosophers?

    (I would hypothesize a level above this last, wherein you would recognize that other intelligences in the universe could have a different set of universal morals, but it's hard to discuss that without knowing other real intelligences, and not just sci-fi suppositions.)

    (Also note, that Kohlberg splits the stages of morality into three tiers of two perspectives each.)

    In a society composed of mostly people in the second of the three tiers (phases 3 and 4), having standing ethical and moral frameworks is essential. In fact, given that children are born at phase 1, there will always have to be at least some bootstrapping ethical framework for them to scaffold off of if we ever expect a majority of people to hit the third tier. (It is questionable whether having a majority of people at the third tier is even possible.)

    In general, the people around you are going to be legalistic: what is right is what is comfortable, what I've been trained to do, and what my in-group sees as right. There will be norms they follow only because of habit, like praying even when they don't get anything out of it, and saying to others that prayer helps them. And there will be norms that they follow because they see them as "right", such as not stealing or being deferential to others; seeing the opposite of these things happen will get under their skin.

    In tight in-groups that have persisted through the post-industrial era of youth mobility, these norms generally persist, and they're innocuous as long as members of out-groups don't infringe on their territory. Generally, though, the 100-year old WASP village isn't going to be able to incorporate a huge influx of Pakistani Muslims, even if the latter group at the core has many of the same values viz. the importance of family, religiosity, etc.

    Tier 3 humans would recognize pragmatic practices that enable effective social bonding, which are useful to having peaceful social transactions. Having a certain number of tier 3s in a diverse region can enable the free-flow of people and transactions through the area, even if most individuals remain in tier 2. I can practice limited sharia law in your neighborhood, as long as, when I violate the larger social norms, I am able to defer to the overall social context, even if I am not capable of level five thinking.

    In terms of "burning up" morality, or "morality porn", I believe that the group most susceptible to these effects are those at level 3: they want to be known as a "good person", and not necessarily to do good, so they just need to hit a certain level of expenditure and/or public charity to satisfy themselves: "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others."

    Overall, then, there is a place for ritual: bonding, in-out group designation (in light of this, one should open one's dinner table to out-neighbors in order to lower those barriers), and the development of morality in children and the sustenance of moral actions in the under-developed. But overall, each person should strive to at least understand the role of the social contract, and dispose of those rituals and groupings that cause friction in practical life.

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