Moral objectivism and human nature

Can moral objectivism be reconciled with the fact that some unethical behaviors are “human nature”?

[ 11/Feb/21 ]

Depends what one means by both “moral objectivism” and “human nature”.

To me it is clear that all morality starts with a choice.

If one takes the position that having any value at all is predicated on having life, then doing what is necessary to maximise the probability of continued existence becomes #1 priority. When one looks deeply into the many dimensions of strategy and context possible, then first and foremost among moral constructs is cooperation with other agents in protecting the life and liberty of all. And that gets deeply complex, as all levels of structure have necessary sets of conditions required to maintain that structure in that context. And at higher levels of structure the constraint necessary are often very context sensitive; so simplistic approximations that worked for lower levels of structure often require modification.

As to human nature, that too is deeply complex and deeply context sensitive.

The evidence is beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt that humans are sufficiently complex that no human being can be fully conscious of their own (or anyone else’s) “nature”, and we must all, of necessity, use simplifications that have proved useful in the past (but may be subject to failure in changing contexts). That leads to a requirement to respect any diversity that is not a significant threat

It only gets more complex from there.

The fact that all humans begin in total ignorance is all the reconciliation that is required.

At its best a life enquiry leads to a reduction in the levels and magnitude of ignorance.

[followed by 19 Feb 21 – morality due to the flaw of pain]

It seems clear to me that you are both right and wrong, depending on how deeply you look at it.

It seems clear to me that evolution works on all levels of what is present simultaneously.

Pain is a necessary tool in learning to avoid destruction.

Human beings, more than any other animal, are both individuals and community members, at multiple levels, simultaneously; and both aspects are critical to our survival. Surviving as individuals, at the expense of our group, leads to extinction (that is a good definition of cancer, individual cells in our body surviving in ways that kill off the entire colony of cells – us).

What works, is surviving as individuals as part of our groups. Apply that as broadly as possible.

We have many levels of “human nature” that can be triggered in certain contexts, that come from our deep evolutionary past. At the cultural level that can be deeply complex, and subject to the same strategic sorts of selection pressures of individual and group survival.

Ethics is, in the evolutionary sense, the sum of all of these multiple levels of selection. So of course, it does involve in part our likes and dislikes, and it can also involve our choices, and our choices are influenced by our beliefs, and our beliefs come in part from culture, in part from experience, and in part from our own ability to consider, contemplate and choose how we interpret what is present and what is possible.

So one can look at history in terms of the strategies that tend to survive both at the individual and the group level, and one can look at the sorts of strategies that have led in the past to individual and group death (both at the biological level, and at the level of ideas and cultures).

When one takes such things to the deepest levels of strategic considerations in domains that allow for very high technologies, and for indefinite life extension; then it becomes clear that solving the biochemical aspects of life extension are trivially simple compared to the social aspects of creating sufficient respect for life generally that potentially very long lived individuals actually have a reasonable probability of living a very long time.

In this deep strategic sense, complexity is always based upon cooperation, and competition always tends to reduce complexity. Competition can be powerful only if it is built upon a cooperative base. Our current reality is that such a cooperative base must now be global (actually universal, but that means going very deep into strategy).

So ethics/morality seems to be a set of “ideas” that have been sufficiently coherent to have allowed for the survival of those complexes in the conditions of our past.

The conditions of our future seem to hold the possibility of fully automated production (which reduces the relative value of labour) and indefinite life extension. So many of the systems of organisation and thought that worked in our past (labour/capital, markets, …) will no longer work in the future. The degree to which that applies to many of the existing systems of morality more generally is one of the greatest questions of our age.

To me it is clear, that the markets system of values, and the creation of money as debt, are fundamentally and permanently broken by the advent of fully automated production, and we need fully automated production to solve a large set of existential level risks that have no other reasonable set of solutions. So to avoid going the way of the dinosaurs in the long term, we need fully automated production. Given that, the market systems that have (arguably) worked reasonably well in our recent (last few hundred years) past, are no longer fit for purpose. Solving that set of issues, while allowing for indefinite life extension generally, while retaining reasonable degrees of freedom, demands high degrees of responsibility.

Complexity demands boundaries for its existence. So while complexity enhances the classes of freedom possible, it also necessarily imposes responsibilities (limits in some domains), on all individuals, to be alert to any class of choices that pose a significant risk to life or liberty at any time scale. That becomes deeply complex in the strategic sense. In such a context, freedom without sufficient responsibility, sufficient awareness of the necessary boundaries for survival, necessarily self terminates.

So we all have multiple levels of incentives and desires that were tuned by evolution to the conditions of our deep past (both biological and cultural) and not all of them are necessarily relevant or useful to our future. If you look at some of them too closely or too narrowly it can be deeply disturbing; yet if you look broadly enough, we are still alive, despite all the multiple levels of threat present; so there is hope and possibility.

We need many more people to be on that journey to taking that deeper and broader view, and to become aware that liberty always results in diversity, and that the survival of liberty itself demands a respect for any and all diversity, provided that it is not posing and unreasonable and direct threat to existence.

Any way one looks at it, morality and ethics are a fundamental part of that!

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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