Monkey Morality?

I only have time for quick blogging today, so why not have a look at this article from The New York Times? It discusses the evolutionary origins of morality. Here’s the opening:

Some animals are surprisingly sensitive to the plight of others. Chimpanzees, who cannot swim, have drowned in zoo moats trying to save others. Given the chance to get food by pulling a chain that would also deliver an electric shock to a companion, rhesus monkeys will starve themselves for several days.

Biologists argue that these and other social behaviors are the precursors of human morality. They further believe that if morality grew out of behavioral rules shaped by evolution, it is for biologists, not philosophers or theologians, to say what these rules are.

Moral philosophers do not take very seriously the biologists’ bid to annex their subject, but they find much of interest in what the biologists say and have started an academic conversation with them.


A couple of points. First, do chimpanzees know they can’t swim? Their willingness to risk drowning to save others might just be an instance of not knowing their limitations. The business about not pulling the chain that shocks a companion is more interesting.

Moving on, I’m instinctively on the side of the scientists in any fight pitting scientists vs. philosophers and theologians. In this one, however, I’m not so sure. Certainly biology has much to tell us about certain aspects of morality, and I have no doubt that we are learning something significant about human behavior from studying chimpanzees and gorillas. Biology might be able to tell us why the ability for moral reasoning evolved and why there seem to be certain moral universals across cultures. But I don’t see how biology crosses the is/ought boundary. Biology can bring to light facts that are relevant to moral reasoning, but determining how people ought to behave requires extra assumptions that are not themselves scientific in nature.

On the other hand, I will say categorically that theologians, as theologians, have nothing to contribute to a debate about morality. Religion, at least of the monotheistic sort, tends to prefer bald assertion about morality over actual reasoning.

The article takes up this issue near the end:

Philosophers have another reason biologists cannot, in their view, reach to the heart of morality, and that is that biological analyses cannot cross the gap between “is” and “ought,” between the description of some behavior and the issue of why it is right or wrong. “You can identify some value we hold, and tell an evolutionary story about why we hold it, but there is always that radically different question of whether we ought to hold it,” said Sharon Street, a moral philosopher at New York University. “That’s not to discount the importance of what biologists are doing, but it does show why centuries of moral philosophy are incredibly relevant, too.”

Biologists are allowed an even smaller piece of the action by Jesse Prinz, a philosopher at the University of North Carolina. He believes morality developed after human evolution was finished and that moral sentiments are shaped by culture, not genetics. “It would be a fallacy to assume a single true morality could be identified by what we do instinctively, rather than by what we ought to do,” he said. “One of the principles that might guide a single true morality might be recognition of equal dignity for all human beings, and that seems to be unprecedented in the animal world.”

Dr. de Waal does not accept the philosophers’ view that biologists cannot step from “is” to “ought.” “I’m not sure how realistic the distinction is,” he said. “Animals do have ‘oughts.’ If a juvenile is in a fight, the mother must get up and defend her. Or in food sharing, animals do put pressure on each other, which is the first kind of ‘ought’ situation.”

I find de Waal’s answer hard to follow here. I don’t see the relevance of his examples to the question of determining proper behavior among human beings in various situations.

One other issue caught my eye:

Dr. de Waal’s views are based on years of observing nonhuman primates, starting with work on aggression in the 1960s. He noticed then that after fights between two combatants, other chimpanzees would console the loser. But he was waylaid in battles with psychologists over imputing emotional states to animals, and it took him 20 years to come back to the subject.

I guess psychologists don’t own pets. When I watch my cats it sure as heck looks like they have emotional states. When I take them to the vet they are unhappy and sullen, and I think they experience those emotions in much the same way I do. By contrast, when I take out the little bag of cat treats from my pantry, they are very happy indeed.

Why should we be reluctant to attribute emotional states to animals? Dogs and cats can be taught some pretty sophisticated behaviors and learn to respond to large libraries of commands. If they have that kind of brainpower, why should genuine emotional states be beyond their ken?

And chimpanzees and gorillas are considerably more sophisticated than dogs and cats.

Anyway, the article has a number of interesting points to make , so I recommend reading the whole thing.

Comments

  1. #1 Looney
    March 20, 2007

    We always warn our children who are headed for UC Berkeley: Don’t leave your chem. lab experiments unatteded to use the toilet, because someone else will foul them. When you are determined to be the best, and grading is on the curve, …

    25 years of high tech experience tell me that scientists aren’t necessarily the best ones to be theorizing on morality.

  2. #2 The Ridger
    March 20, 2007

    My dog knew she couldn’t swim (she was an English bulldog). I would imagine chimpanzees can figure it out if they don’t know it.

  3. #3 Gordon S
    March 20, 2007

    Looney,

    I can’t find the link right now, and I have to head to work, but there are a number of studies that show a strong correlation between higher frequency of cheating on exams and religious colleges.

    Add that to higher rates of divorce, murder and assault in more religious areas, and it’s quite silly to claim the moral highground on much of anything from secular folks.

  4. #4 Looney
    March 20, 2007

    Gordon, I wasn’t claiming a “moral highground”.

    There is also no way to use “cheating on exams” as a measure for correlating anything. We can only use self-reported cheating rates. A quick Google search, however, turns up papers like this,
    which certainly tempt me to claim the moral high ground!

    And yes, the rate of divorce, murder and assault among the Amish is appalling.

  5. #5 Another Jason
    March 20, 2007

    Why should we be reluctant to attribute emotional states to animals?

    Because that makes us feel less guilty about all the pain, suffering and death we inflict on them to satisfy our desires to hunt them, eat them, wear their skins, and use them to test harmful products.

  6. #6 windy
    March 20, 2007

    We always warn our children who are headed for UC Berkeley: Don’t leave your chem. lab experiments unatteded to use the toilet, because someone else will foul them. When you are determined to be the best, and grading is on the curve, …
    25 years of high tech experience tell me that scientists aren’t necessarily the best ones to be theorizing on morality.

    Hey, Looney.
    Are you accusing scientists of faking all the results on animal morality, and if not, what the fuck does cheating at Berkeley got to do with whether non-human primates have morality or not?

  7. #7 Looney
    March 21, 2007

    Windy, the assertion was that Biology was above morality and could therefore make unbiased statements about it. Last I checked, Biology was done by Biologists and Biologists are human and humans are rather pathetic on the morality front. There is no special exemption for scientists. Thus, I am just being a skeptic.

  8. #8 abelian jeff
    March 21, 2007

    An excellent book on the evolutionary development of morality is The Moral Animal by Robert Wright. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in evolutionary psychology.

  9. #9 George Dickeson
    March 21, 2007

    Contrary to what the article implies, most contemporary philosophy agrees with the idea that morality can be explained in Darwinian terms.

    His analysis of the is-ought problem misses the point. A Darwinian explanation of morality doesn’t generally make ought claims, instead it simply provides an explanation for why our brains make them.

    He does do a good job of wrapping up the views of Singer, Prinz and others, but for some reason he wants the reader to think that philosophers all believe in some fundamental uniqueness about humans (eg. that morals are a uniquely human trait). In practice, this is not the case at all.

  10. #10 Greta Christina
    March 21, 2007

    “Add that to higher rates of divorce, murder and assault in more religious areas, and it’s quite silly to claim the moral highground on much of anything from secular folks.”

    But we need to remember that correlation doesn’t prove causation. I’m inclined to think that the “higher divorce/crime rates in religious areas” doesn’t mean that religion makes people immoral… but rather, that poverty (and its many related curses, such as bad schools) lead to all of the above — more divorce, more crime, AND more religion.

    I agree that religion doesn’t give anyone the moral high ground. But we atheists don’t have the moral high ground, either.

  11. #11 Greta Christina
    March 21, 2007

    Here’s what puzzles me about Dr. de Waal’s answer:

    “morality developed after human evolution was finished.”

    Huh?

    I thought evolution, pretty much by definition, was never finished. If a species is around, that species is, by definition, responding to the pressures of natural selection — even if it hasn’t significantly changed in millions of years. (Which I’m not sure is even true of humans, anyway.)

  12. #12 Gordon S
    March 21, 2007

    Looney said: “25 years of high tech experience tell me that scientists aren’t necessarily the best ones to be theorizing on morality.”

    And he also said: “Gordon, I wasn’t claiming a “moral highground”.”

    It’s pretty obvious you were. For fun, though, I’d love to see you attempt to reconcile those two statements.

    Greta Christina said: “But we need to remember that correlation doesn’t prove causation.”

    I know, but it still suggests a negative correlation between relgiosity and positive moral behaviour that has to be explained by people such as Looney.

  13. #13 Duke York
    March 21, 2007

    25 years of high tech experience tell me that scientists aren’t necessarily the best ones to be theorizing on morality.

    True that. Just compare the rates of pedophilia among Nobel-Prize winners and Catholic priests! I mean, when Stephen Hawking was arrested for doing meth in a Colorado Springs motel room with a gay hooker, I thought science would never recover.

    Duke

  14. #14 Duke York
    March 21, 2007

    The trouble with the philosopher’s squalling about “you can’t go from ought to is” is that is is all we have. What else could we possible draw any distinctions of?

    Consider:

    One of the principles that might guide a single true morality might be recognition of equal dignity for all human beings, and that seems to be unprecedented in the animal world.

    “So tell me, Mr. Prinz, why might the recognition of human dignity be a basis for morality.”

    (Assuming some form of pragmatism here; change the changables for whatever other philosophical stance you want and the argument’s the same.)

    “Because we’ve seen that societies that don’t recognize human dignity have worse results than those that do.”

    “I’m sorry, Mr. Prinz. That’s not philosophically valid. You can’t go from the is of better results to the ought of human dignity. Come back with an argument that doesn’t use any of those pesky facts!”

    And that’s the real problem: how could a philosopher ever present anything that isn’t facts? If Mr. Prinz comes back and asserts that “Human dignity might be a consideration in moral philosophy” we can just dismiss this because we won’t let the fact he made an assertion interfere with the real business of moral philosophy.

    When Hume came up with this distinction, he had a very good point. There is a valid is/ought distinction: Just because Europe is now enslaving half the world doesn’t mean it ought to. Just because the thief is alone doesn’t mean he ought to steal the necklace. What we see among philosophers now is a smoke-screen, a retrenchment as they try to keep back the hordes of is’s that threaten their domain.

    One place where you can go from “is” to “ought” very easily is in design. If you have a golf club, you can go from the “is” of how it’s formed to the “ought” of a perfect golf swing without any of this ridiculous “is/ought” distinction.

    The thing is, we are a designed mechanism, just as surely as the golf club. We have a proper function that allows us to live with each other and get what we want from life, just as golf clubs have a proper function to hit golf balls. We can study how we are formed to deduce that proper function, which is what all this talk about evolution is.

    The reason this is so controversial (apart from the philosopher’s rear guard) is the priests and politicians have always been subverting that proper function to pay their salaries and mobilize armies.

    Duke

  15. #15 Frank
    March 21, 2007

    Duke York-

    You said:

    “True that. Just compare the rates of pedophilia among Nobel-Prize winners and Catholic priests! I mean, when Stephen Hawking was arrested for doing meth in a Colorado Springs motel room with a gay hooker, I thought science would never recover.”

    It seems that in society today is is acceptable to Catholic bash. Did they do wrong? Yes. Do you know about what the RC Chruch has done about the problem? I bet not.

    I see a piece a week about a public school teacher sexually abusing a student on the local news. _Aybody_ who does this to kids should go to jail, but I don’t hear anybody calling for what the NEA is going to do about what I teacher are doing to kids in public schools.

    By the way, what is your source for your claim. I know you were being a bit sarcastic, but that was poor form.

    OK, I’m ready for it, flame away!

  16. #16 Looney
    March 21, 2007

    OK, my brain is still a bit foggy, but let’s take this one step further:

    As we all know, Orcs and Elves share 97.2% of the same DNA. Evles are known to be quite altruistic, whereas Orcs aren’t. Fortunately, biology has no trouble to explain this due to the different environments that Orcs and Elves evolved in.

    As I said, I have 25 years of experience in R&D. Some very high IQ people have extraordinary difficulty to explain what happened in a simple system right in front of them – that they intelligently designed. Biologists, however, have not the slightest problem in explaining what happened in a vastly more complex system a million years ago which they barely understand. In fact, evolution can explain anything without hesitation. So could Douglas Adams.

  17. #17 Fred
    March 21, 2007

    Frank said: It seems that in society today is is acceptable to Catholic bash. Did they do wrong? Yes. Do you know about what the RC Chruch has done about the problem? I bet not.

    You mean “what the RC Church has done now that they were caught.” Because what they did first was ignore the problem completely, then they tried to cover it up. Doesn’t sound very moral to me.

    And yes, I know what they’re doing about the problem: They’re paying out millions of dollars.

    As for the one or two instances of teachers sexually abusing students, from what I’ve seen, it’s VERY different. First of all every one that I have seen (I’m talking national news) it’s been male-female, and it’s been consensual. (I don’t mean that to sound anti-gay, I mean that as opposed to the hetero kids in the Catholic cases who were forced into homosexual acts.) And there wasn’t an attempt at a cover up, with transferring the teachers, etc.

    Furthermore, I’d characterize the abuse problem with Priests as “rampant,” whereas I wouldn’t use that word with teachers. Each Priest, of which there were many, abused several kids, whereas each teacher, of which there were a small handful, abused only one. Neither is good, but it easily explains the Catholic bashing you mention.

    Me? I say where were these teachers when I was in school? Some of them are hot! But Priests? No thanks.

  18. #18 Joe
    March 21, 2007

    @Looney, The students who sabotage experiments are not scientists, they are those who want to go to med school and don’t really have what it takes without (they hope) cheating. When I went to grad school we had 1,000 students in intro chem, approximately half declared themselves pre-med. Four years later, a few dozen went to med school. The rest were just desperate.

    Before legit premeds and meds jump on me- I am saying that it is the losers who cheat(ed).

  19. #19 Frank
    March 21, 2007

    Frank-

    “And yes, I know what they’re doing about the problem: They’re paying out millions of dollars.”

    Apparently you do not. They are turning them over to the police for criminal procecution and assisting the in procecution of the criminals. On top of paying millions of dollar.

    “(I’m talking national news)”
    Because national news editors are unbiased? No Catholic bashing is acceptable so lets make a national story about it. Local public school teacher bashing? No we cannot have that! I see a piece a week locally but nothing in the national media. Am I seeing a local problem only. I doubt it. A news search will pull up a 6 to 12 stories a day about public school teachers abusing students. What is the NEA doing about it.

    While you may characterize one as rampant, I characterize both as unacceptable. It is only the treatment in the national news that I see as different.

    “whereas each teacher, of which there were a small handful, abused only one”
    No read up a bit. There are serial abusers in the teaching profession (and I will bet other professions also).

    And your last comment is simply tastless.

  20. #20 slpage
    March 21, 2007

    I never really got the whole ‘animals have no emotions’ business. Like Jason, I am a cat owner, and one of my old cats (who died 2 years ago at age 17) used to like to ‘explore’ the tops of doors and cabinets and such. In order to do this, he would ‘ask’ me to pick him up (by meowing and assuming a particular stance), then use my hands as a platform on which to stand and explore. When he was done, he would, literally, look over his shoulder, then allow himself to fall backwards onto my chest. I do not know of any other way to describe that act then to say that my cat ‘trusted’ me to catch him. The anthropocentric crowd says that I am engaging in anthropomorphization and that is a no-no. Yet they will turn around and claim that animals DON’T have emotions or ‘know’ concepts like trust. Isn’t that anthropomorphizing the phenomenonas well?

    Anyway, frankly, I have little regard for what philosophers or theologians have to say about much of anything.

  21. #21 Duke York
    March 21, 2007

    Frank said:

    It seems that in society today is is acceptable to Catholic bash.

    “Catholic bash”? Excuse me? Pointing out that a wealthy, powerful religious organization isn’t a perfect paragon of virtue is not bashing. I don’t think it’s even possible to bash an organization; you have to bash people. You might bash them for being part of the organization, sure, but you can’t bash an organization itself. Using such politically loaded terms to defend one of the rich, oldest and bloodiest organizations in the history of the world as if it were a 14-year-old boy beaten up for being (say) homosexual is truly despicable. My apologies in advance if that wasn’t what you are trying to do, but that’s what it looked like.

    Do you know about what the RC Chruch (sic) has done about the problem? I bet not.

    Well, Frank, as far as I know, the RC Church gave the pederasts complete forgiveness for their sins (literally), the shuffled the boy-rapists off to other parishes where they continued the boy-raping. They then forgave this new batch of sins, and repeated, until someone had enough temerity to go to the police — Imagine! A secular organization expecting to have authority over the mother church! — and then they paid the accusers off because they knew they’d lose in court and they wanted save what little is left of their terrible reputation.

    And they expect their sheep to believe that the priests are going to heaven because they confessed, repented and muttered some prayers in Latin to a dead woman.

    Is that about what the Catholic church did? I admit that I don’t know too much about the scandals, and from your little “I bet not”, I think you think you know more. So enlighten us. Show us what the bride of Christ is doing. We’ll probably show you she’s doing it because she got caught with her hand in the cookie jar (“cookie jar” being a euphemism for… well, you know), but I’m willing to admit I might be wrong.

    And you didn’t address the main point. Do you honestly think there is a higher percentage of illicit activity among Nobel-laureates than among priests? Among scientists, among atheists in general, among secularists, than among priests? If you want to be respected, give us some numbers rather than snide insinuations, otherwise…

    Well, I should stop now. I don’t want to Catholic bash.

    Duke

  22. #22 Another Jason
    March 21, 2007

    Frank,

    It seems that in society today is is acceptable to Catholic bash.

    It seems that in the minds of some, telling the truth about the Catholic Church now qualifies as “Catholic bashing.”

    Do you know about what the RC Chruch has done about the problem?

    Yes, I do know. The Catholic Church systematically tried to hide the sexual abuse of children by its clergy. From the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer prize-winning coverage of sexual abuse in the Boston Archdiocese:

    For decades church leaders kept horrific tales of abuse out of the public eye through an elaborate culture of secrecy, decepetion, and intimidation. Victims who came forward with abuse claims were ignored or paid off, while accused priests were quietly transferred from parish to parish or sent for brief periods of psychological counseling.

  23. #23 MarkP
    March 21, 2007

    Looney said: As we all know, Orcs and Elves share 97.2% of the same DNA. Evles are known to be quite altruistic, whereas Orcs aren’t. Fortunately, biology has no trouble to explain this due to the different environments that Orcs and Elves evolved in.

    It is very encouraging to finally see an evolution denier be upfront about using fiction to support his position. Kudos for honesty.

    As I said, I have 25 years of experience in R&D. Some very high IQ people have extraordinary difficulty to explain what happened in a simple system right in front of them – that they intelligently designed. Biologists, however, have not the slightest problem in explaining what happened in a vastly more complex system a million years ago which they barely understand.

    Ok, maybe this is news to you, but thousands of scientists, working in concert, and sharing information over decades are able to gleen a lot more information and understand far more complicated scenarios than a lone researcher in a lab, however high his IQ. That’s why the scientific system exists.

    In fact, evolution can explain anything without hesitation. So could Douglas Adams.

    That’s a statement only someone colossally ignorant of the evidence could make. Here’s a hint: don’t get your science from shrill, blonde, Republican transvestites.

  24. #24 JS
    March 21, 2007

    “And yes, I know what they’re doing about the problem: They’re paying out millions of dollars.”

    Apparently you do not. They are turning them over to the police for criminal procecution and assisting the in procecution of the criminals.

    Not until 2005 they didn’t. In point of fact, Growas a major player in the coverup

    On top of paying millions of dollar.

    “(I’m talking national news)”
    Because national news editors are unbiased? No Catholic bashing is acceptable so lets make a national story about it. Local public school teacher bashing? No we cannot have that! I see a piece a week locally but nothing in the national media. Am I seeing a local problem only. I doubt it. A news search will pull up a 6 to 12 stories a day about public school teachers abusing students. What is the NEA doing about it.

    While you may characterize one as rampant, I characterize both as unacceptable. It is only the treatment in the national news that I see as different.

    “whereas each teacher, of which there were a small handful, abused only one”
    No read up a bit. There are serial abusers in the teaching profession (and I will bet other professions also).

    And your last comment is simply tastless.

    Posted by: Frank | March 21, 2007 01:42 PM

  25. #25 Morten
    March 21, 2007

    Jason, I think you “ought” to reconsider your rather silly dismissal of the examples of chimps drowning during attempts to save others.

    “First, do chimpanzees know they can’t swim? Their willingness to risk drowning to save others might just be an instance of not knowing their limitations.”

    Of course, the point is not whether chimps “know” that they can’t swim or that they risk drowning. Generally animals are very aware of their limitations, although not necessarily at a very conscious level. Natural selection has seen to that.

    The point is, that chimps are afraid of and hate water – that’s why water can be used to keep them in their enclosures – and the fact that they are willing to disregard their fear and hatred of water in order to help another chimp in distress is therefore in my opinion strong evidence that they feel an overwhelming urge to do so. Why not say, that they feel that they “ought” to help.

    Actually, I don’t really get this is-ought dichotomy. I believe many of our moral judgements are strongly based on emotions – probably like those of chimps – with rational reasoning playing a minor role. If I see someone in danger, I will instantly feel, that I ought to help, not because of any rational arguments and certainly not because I adhere to the teachings of some moral philosopher or – god forbid – any theologian.

  26. #26 Davis
    March 21, 2007

    A news search will pull up a 6 to 12 stories a day about public school teachers abusing students. What is the NEA doing about it.

    This is a false equivalence. The relationship between the NEA and individual teachers is not at all analogous to the relationship between the Catholic Church and individual priests.

    And unless I missed something, there’s no systematic campaign to cover up abuse by public school teachers.

  27. #27 JS
    March 21, 2007

    “And yes, I know what they’re doing about the problem: They’re paying out millions of dollars.”

    Apparently you do not. They are turning them over to the police for criminal procecution and assisting the in procecution of the criminals.

    Not until 2005 they didn’t. In point of fact, Grossayatollah Ratzinger was a major player in the coverup. And I’ve yet to see the Church turn in a priest who wasn’t outed by the press first. If you can document such an occurrance, I’d be mucho grateful.

    A news search will pull up a 6 to 12 stories a day about public school teachers abusing students.

    I call bullshit. 6-12 stories a day is around 300 +/- 100 stories pr. month. While a Google News search gives 350 from the last month for teacher+sexual+abuse+student, this number includes stories about misbehaving children abusing drugs and stories about teenagers abusing other teenagers.

    If we instead search for teacher+”sexual abuse”+student, the count drops to around 180 – already this is at the low end of your estimate. Further, this still includes stories about teenageres abusing other teenagers, abuse at private schools, duplicate stories, wrongful accusations, the odd unrelated story, etc.

    Let’s be very conservative and assume that such hits account for only 10 % of the total hits – that means that the count is ten percent lower than the lower boundry of your claim. More likely, if we exclude the stories that cover private schools, we’ll be something like 20-30 % below your lower boundry.

    Also notice that Google News tracks near enough anything that any so-called ‘publishing house’ cares to print. Most likely there’ll be items from Fux News, WorldNutDaily and glittering tabloid ‘newspapers’ inflating the hit count. But OK, you didn’t specify that the stories had to be from reputable sources, so I suppose it’d be unfair to exclude those.

    Amusingly, while doing this google search, I also came across this story.

    While you may characterize one as rampant, I characterize both as unacceptable.

    I call red herring fallacy.

    It is only the treatment in the national news that I see as different.

    I smell an argument from personal (and willfull) incredulity. But just to make the point absolutely, agonisingly clear, I shall point out the difference: Teachers who abuse students are fired within a couple of years. Most, if not all, of the priests currently on trial or convicted continued their abuse for a couple of decades.

    Furthermore, their background organisation knew about it – not just that it was happening in general terms, they had specific, detailed knowledge of individual cases. And they covered it up.

    You are attempting – explicitly – to equivocate the admittedly reprehensible activities of individual teachers with a centralised, organised coverup of systematic abuse of power, obstruction of justice and aiding and abetting rapists, carried out by a multi-billion euro organisation.

    Oh, and some of the teachers are actually aquitted of the charges against them. I’ve yet to hear about a priest who was.

    Additionally, I call base rate fallacy and tu quoque fallacy.

    “whereas each teacher, of which there were a small handful, abused only one”
    No read up a bit. There are serial abusers in the teaching profession (and I will bet other professions also).

    Base rate fallacy again.

    Please note that this is the first and last post in this thread where I am going to do your homework for you by researching your claims. Your claims, your burden of proof.

    Oh, and the link in your second post is broken.

    – JS

  28. #28 Fred
    March 21, 2007

    Frank, I happen to be good friends with someone who was repeatedly abused by a Priest as a kid so I think I have a pretty good idea about what the Church did about it. My info isn’t just from the news. Where does your info come from?

    And are you saying that you see 6 to 12 stories a day about teachers sodomizing and having oral sex with their students? I’d like to see some links please. I’d think if it was that rampant it would make some kind of news outlet other than local. (And why do you think local news isn’t biased, but only national news is? Who do you think owns the locals?)

  29. #29 Richard Wein
    March 22, 2007

    The trouble with the philosopher’s squalling about “you can’t go from ought to is” is that is is all we have. What else could we possible draw any distinctions of?

    The fact that there is no alternative way of getting to the conclusion you want does not make an irrational inference any more rational.

    Once we accept some basic moral values, such as “equal rights for all”, we can derive a more detailed moral code from those basic values, combined with our knowledge of the world. But the most basic moral values cannot be rationally justified. We hold those values not because they are justified but because we are conditioned (whether by nature or by nurture) to hold them.

  30. #30 Ginger Yellow
    March 22, 2007

    Hmmm. Without seeing the study itself, I’m skeptical about the Rhesus monkey claim. Even chimps, which have enormously more developed social awareness and tendency to altruism, are only *likely* to behave altruistically towards known kin. Non-kin altruism isn’t unknown, but it’s rare. I’d be very surprised to see such a degree of altruism in monkeys outside of an immediate kin relationship.

    As for De Waal’s comments, he’s without equal in the world of chimpanzee behaviour and culture, but I’ve avoided his more recent books on the origins of morality. Partly it’s because of an aversion to the more presumptuous claims of evolutionary psychology, but also he does seem to be confusing is/ought too much.

    “Animals do have ‘oughts.’ If a juvenile is in a fight, the mother must get up and defend her. Or in food sharing, animals do put pressure on each other, which is the first kind of ‘ought’ situation.”

    This is missing the point. Just because some behaviour is pscyhologically or evolutionarily “necessary”, that doesn’t make it a moral “ought” unless your morality is based exclusively around what’s good for the propagation of your genes. I doubt most people would subscribe to such a moral system.

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