Perplexed

Perplexed's Comments

The Futility of Emergence

I think that the point is that emergence is in the mind of the observer. If the observer is describing the situation at the particle level, then superconductivity is not there regardless of the size of the collection of particles considered. But, when you describe things at the flowing-electric-fluid level, then superconductivity may emerge.

A funny argument for traditional morality

Right - but there are surely also ultimate values.

Those are the ones that are expected to be resistant to change.

Correct. My current claim is that almost all of our moral values are instrumental, and thus subject to change as society evolves. And I find the source of our moral values in an egoism which is made more effective by reciprocity and social convention.

A funny argument for traditional morality

My position here is roughly that all 'moral' values are instrumental in this sense. They are ways of coordinating so that people don't step on each other's toes.

Not sure I completely believe that, but it is the theory I am trying on at the moment. :)

A funny argument for traditional morality

I think you are right to call attention to the issue of drift.

Drift is bad in a simple value - at least in agents that consider temporal consistency to be a component of rationality. But drift can be acceptable in those 'values' which are valued precisely because they are conventions.

It is not necessarily bad for a teen-age subculture if their aesthetic values (on makeup, piercing, and hair) drift. As long as they don't drift too fast so that nobody knows what to aim for.

A funny argument for traditional morality

I think the argument is interesting and partly valid. Explaining which part I like will take some explanation.

Many of our problems thinking about morality, I think, arise from a failure to make a distinction between two different things.

  • Morality in daily life
  • Morality as an ideal

Morality of daily life is a social convention. It serves its societal and personal (egoistically prudent) function precisely because it is a (mostly) shared convention. Almost any reasonable moral code, if common knowledge, is better than no common code.

Morality as an ideal is the morality-of-daily-life toward which moral reformers should be trying to slowly shift their societies. A wise person will interpolate their behavior between the local morality-of-daily-life and their own morality-as-an-ideal. And probably closer to the local norm than to the personal ideal.

So, with that said, I think that your Christian friend's argument is right-on wrt morality-of-daily-life. But it is inapplicable, IMHO, to morality-as-an-ideal.

ETA: I notice, after writing, that Manfred said something very similar.

People neglect small probability events

I think you misinterpreted the context. I endorsed kin selection, together with discounting the welfare of non-kin. Someone (not me!) wishing to be a straight utilitarian and wishing to treat kin and non-kin equally needs to endorse group selection in order to give their ethical intuitions a basis in evolutionary psychology. Because it is clear that humans engage in kin recognition.

'Is' and 'Ought' and Rationality

I have tried to suggest that bacterial purposes are 'merely' teleonomic -to borrow the useful term suggested by timtyler- but that human purposes must be of a different order. ...

As soon as we start to talk about symbols and representation, I'm concerned that a whole new set of very thorny issues get introduced. I will shy away from these.

My position is that, to the extent that the notion of purpose is at all spooky, that spookiness was already present in a virus. The profound part of teleology is already there in teleonomy.

Which is not so say that humans are different from viruses only in degree. The are different in quality with regard to some other issues involved in rationality. Cognitive issues. Symbol processing issues. Issues of intentionality. But not issues of pure purpose and telos. So why don't you and I just shy away from this conversation. We've both stated our positions with sufficient clarity, I think.

People neglect small probability events

...seemed to me to be a kind of claim that a utilitarian could make with equal credibility.

Well, he could credibly make that claim if he could credibly assert that the ancestral environment was remarkably favorable for group selection.

... you're now saying that you feel noble and proud that your values come from biological instead of cultural evolution...

What I actually said was "my own (genetic) instincts derive a kind of nobility from their origin ...". The value itself claims a noble genealogy, not a noble essence. If I am proud on its behalf, it is because that instinct has been helping to keep my ancestral line alive for many generations. I could say something similar for a meme which became common by way of selection at the individual or societal level. But what do I say about a selfish meme. That I am not the only person that it fooled and exploited? I'm going to guess that most people do have that kind of feeling.

'Is' and 'Ought' and Rationality

... except possibly for the part about no prior metaphysical meaning.

I think I see the source of the difficulty now. My fault. BobTheBob mentioned the mistake of replicating with errors. I took this to be just one example of a possible mistake by a virus, and thought of several more - inserting into the wrong species of host, for example, or perhaps incorporating an instance of the wrong peptide into the viral shell after replicating the viral genome.

I then sought to define 'mistake' to capture the common fitness-lowering feature of all these possible mistakes. However, I did not make clear what I was doing and my readers naturally thought I was still dealing with a replication error as the only kind of mistake.

Sorry to have caused this confusion.

'Is' and 'Ought' and Rationality

...teleology in nature is merely illusory, but the kind of teleology needed to make sense of rationality is not - it's real. Can you live with this?

No, I cannot. It presumes (or is it argues?) that human rationality is not part of nature.

My apologies for using the phrase "illusion of teleology in nature". It seems to have created confusion. Tabooing that use of the word "teleology", what I really meant was the illusion that living things were fashioned by some rational agent for some purpose of that agent. Tabooing your use of the word, on the other hand, in your phrase "the kind of teleology needed to make sense of rationality" leads elsewhere. I would taboo and translate that use to yield something like "To make sense of rationality in an agent, one needs to accept/assume/stipulate that the agent sometimes acts with a purpose in mind. We need to understand 'purpose', in that sense, to understand rationality."

Now if this is what you mean, then I agree with you. But I think I understand this kind of purpose, identifying it as the cognitive version of something like "being instrumental to survival and reproduction". That is, it is possible for an outside observer to point to behaviors or features of a virus that are instrumental to viral survival and reproduction. At the level of a bacterium, there are second-messenger chemicals that symbolize or represent situations that are instrumental to survival and reproduction. At the level of the nematode, there are neuron firings serving as symbols. At the level of a human the symbols can be vocalizations: "I'm horny; how about you?". I don't see anything transcendently new at any stage in this progression, nor in the developmental progression that I offered as a substitute.

In case I'm giving the wrong impression, I don't mean to be implying that people are bound by norms in virtue of possessing some special aura or other spookiness. I'm not giving a theory of the nature of norms - that's just too hard. All I'm saying for the moment is that if you stick to purely natural science, you won't find a place for them.

Let me try putting that in different words: "Norms are in the eye of the beholder. Natural science tries to be objective - to avoid observer effects. But that is not possible when studying rationality. It requires a different, non-reductionist and observer dependent way of looking at the subject matter." If that is what you are saying, I may come close to agreeing with you. But somehow, I don't think that is what you are saying.

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