Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A complex restatement of the Golden Rule

I've been interested in ethical philosophy for a long time now, in particular, how ethics interfaces with reason and logic.  These are just some off-the-cuff thoughts I jotted down in a restaurant after attending a blues workshop.  It starts from the following question:

How did humans become self-aware?

My basic answer: I am the only being that I know with certainty to be aware.  I am not always self-aware.  I only assume, through symmetry that others are aware as I am.

The belief (faith?) that others are aware, as I am, and that because they are aware, they can suffer, is the birth of morality.  Because I see the other not as self, but as equivalent to self, I regret the suffering of others.

Once you come to value the happiness of others, you realize a responsibility to help those others and to alleviate their suffering.  This is the birth of sin.  Too often, you will fail in your responsibility.  You will hurt the ones to whom you have an obligation.  You will cause suffering and author evil.

This is a long-winded explanation of the Golden Rule.

[Did awareness grow as an "emergent" property or has it always existed?  At what point does the evil in the world become so great that you cannot stand against it?  At such point, surely the only logical course of action is self-immolation.  (And evil often seems like a disease: it travels from person to person)

If I am right about 9/11, I'm pretty sure that point has long since come and gone.]

My observation is that certain people cannot comprehend the Golden Rule.  There is something that does not "click."  Can such people be held responsible for the evil that they author?  (I have also long since suspected that there is a huge "disconnect" or dissociation within most human brains (especially those of Europeans) such that we believe that we are doing good and that we are moral beings, even as we commit the most heinous crimes.  The right hand truly does not see what the left hand is doing.)

I have come to believe that statements of fact are a subset of moral or ethical statements.  Because a factual statement is a true statement and telling the truth is a moral act.  Those who do not value the truth have no reason to differentiate true from false statements. [This is questionable.  I'm trying to create an association between an ethical outlook and the production of "true beliefs" but it may well be that they are in fact two distinct classes of statement.]

However, (and to finally answer the question posed at the beginning) our understanding of natural selection makes our position as moral beings more comprehensible.  Acting morally requires tremendous application of intelligence and self-discipline because it is only through intelligence that we come to understand the moral imperative.

It is evolution through natural selection--in other words competition--that gave us our intelligence.  Those who can empathize--to see from the point of view of others--have a competitive advantage.  Those who can empathize also have the potential for moral agency.

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