Virtue vs Nobility

 
RoseTylerFan
 
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RoseTylerFan
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31 May 2018 03:45
 

The origin of moral behaviour.

According to virtue theory, moral behaviour is learned. We are born without a sense of good and wrong and acquire it later in life, the same way we learn facts about the world. Thus we should more moral as we get older. The word virtue comes from the Latin word vir, an adult man.

Nobility theory claims morality is in our genes. It is an instinct. Children are good by nature but can become evil later in life, due to toxic influence from other people. It is also possible becoming more cynical is a part of the aging process. Maybe that’s why some former young rebels “sell out”.

I prefer nobility theory. Virtue theory gives bad people an excuse. They may have lacked proper role models to learn how to be a good person. But nobility theory doesn’t allow such a justification. Except congenital psychopaths, everyone was once a child with flawless moral sensibility. It’s his fault to have wasted this potential.

There is however an important caveat. Our moral instinct works for our ancestral environment, a hunter-gatherer band of about 50-100 people. In a global civilization of 7 billion people, it still needs some personal effort to make sure it works correctly.

Which theory do you support?

[ Edited: 31 May 2018 04:24 by RoseTylerFan]
 
NL.
 
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NL.
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31 May 2018 09:42
 

Thoughts in no particular order:


- I think we can safely say at this point that there is no black and white answer to the nature vs. nurture continuum. Almost all traits appear to be a complex mix.


- When you say ‘it’s his fault’ regarding people who become, at least in the eyes of others, ‘morally corrupted’, I will just add here that many people (myself included) would largely disagree with this statement due to the nature of determinism and lack of traditional free will. I realize this is a huge area to introduce into the conversation, although unfortunately I don’t think arguments about why people are not ultimately responsible for their nature or nurture (at any point in life,) make sense without this. So, again, apologies because that’s a very big side topic to wade through in order for my opinion on that one to make sense, but if you have any interest, reading Harris’s Free Will might be a good starting point (it was for me at least.) [If you have already been through all those arguments and still have a solid belief in libertarian free will than I’d be interested to hear why, although again, this is a huge side topic, albeit one that is necessary in order to understand each other’s POVs on this topic.


- I’m not sure if you are older or younger than me, but I suspect we are from different generations, as I only ever heard the word ‘sell out’ used ironically (I was a nihilistic 90s youth.) See - Freak of the Week by Marvelous 3, Sell Out by Reel Big Fish, Zooropa in general, Bart Simpson as a burned out rock star with Milhouse yelling “It used to be about the music!” and so on. I am actually kinda surprised at hearing that word used earnestly, this is a bit of a new paradigm for me. I think the thing is, much of what is labeled ‘selling out’ is the inevitable ‘I sound like my parents!’ effect that tends to happen as idealistic youth mature and collide more and more with reality. Ideals are wonderful, and precious, and people should hold on to them. But there’s also the phrase “young enough to know everything” for a reason - reality often does intrude on such ideals, and pragmatism has to play more of a role as one gets older and takes on more responsibilities. The hippies, for example, had some lovely ideals but also a problem with trashing the environments they lived in at the expense of other inhabitants and spreading various diseases such as hepatitis via their ‘enlightened’ way of living. I think it would have been extremely egocentric if they didn’t eventually realize this was a problem and really not beneficial for themselves or others. On the other hand, many of the ideas they had that were ‘workable’ in the real world very much lived on and became incorporated into modern society, so that it’s not a matter of people ‘selling out’, it’s a matter of this being the ‘new normal’. I highly doubt there are many 60s flower children who reversed their stance on civil rights, women’s right to contraception and to work, and so on. These things just don’t seem rebellious any more because they’re commonplace.


I think the activist youth of today sometimes take up positions that are obnoxiously egocentric (as youth are wont to do,) and also do things that are extremely brave, such as risking prison to expose animal cruelty. My guess is that stances that are more ‘youthful fashion of the moment’ will go the way of bell bottoms, and stances that clearly address grave moral ills, such as the abuse of animals that happens in this country, will become a ‘new normal’. I sincerely hope that in 20 years people are not risking their future and careers to expose animal abuse, because any facility housing animals for commercial use will be required to have an open door policy or even internet monitoring the way that daycares do today. Does that mean that in 30 years anyone will have ‘sold out’, or just that things change with time? I’d say it’s the latter.


- I do not believe in total moral relativism - I think there are many ways a person can behave immorally - but I also think it’s worth noting there are many ways too be moral. At least to my mind. It’s not a one-size-fits-all system, people have different takes on what constitutes ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behavior and to some degree those various takes all have a part to play in a larger ecosystem. For example, as a rule I would not agree with your take that rebels constitute what is ‘good’ - at least not as an across the board statement. If everyone was a rebel, we would live in anarchy, which would harm many people and actually be a bad thing. If no one was a rebel (in a responsible way), real ills would never be addressed. Sometimes ‘goodness’ is more about balance within the big picture than any one particular way of being. Diversity is a beautiful and necessary thing, after all, so long as everyone has at least some consideration for their fellow humans.

 
Brick Bungalow
 
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31 May 2018 10:31
 

Are you asking which theory is more accurate or which theory is more useful? Or, just our personal preference for whatever reason?

In my opinion we cannot make meaningful progress unless we consider the truth value of a claim or theory as primary.

Between these options I think virtue theory has more correspondence with the available facts.

 
hannahtoo
 
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31 May 2018 14:06
 

I don’t agree that there is such a thing as “a child with flawless moral sensibility.”  Like NL, I see humanity shaped by both nature and nurture.  Each component has yin-yang aspects as well.  For example, the nature side includes both selfishness and compassion.  These characteristics aid survival in different situations.  So if there is a famine, you may catch a fish and eat it all by yourself and live another day.  But in a less dire time, when you find an orphaned child, you may care for it with your own family.

No matter the source of a person’s reasons for behavior, if she contradicts those of society, she will need to change her ways or suffer…or occasionally convince society to change.

 
GAD
 
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31 May 2018 14:32
 

We have a base code (Nobility Theory) because it’s very useful for survival, everything is learned/experience (Virtue Theory). People get confused here when they learn/experience and then think, I shouldn’t have done that or I should have done that, that gives the impression that you were violating some built-in hard-coded morality vs a basic OS that requires input (experience) and a Database (knowledge) to build useful applications.

 
 
RoseTylerFan
 
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01 June 2018 11:40
 
NL. - 31 May 2018 09:42 AM

For example, as a rule I would not agree with your take that rebels constitute what is ‘good’ - at least not as an across the board statement. If everyone was a rebel, we would live in anarchy, which would harm many people and actually be a bad thing. If no one was a rebel (in a responsible way), real ills would never be addressed. Sometimes ‘goodness’ is more about balance within the big picture than any one particular way of being. Diversity is a beautiful and necessary thing, after all, so long as everyone has at least some consideration for their fellow humans.

If we ever reach moral perfection, rebels will no longer be necessary. Read Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men, the Last Men’s society is close to my definition of moral perfection. It’s true that not everybody can be a rebel. Someone has to be a doctor, a lorry driver, a cleaning lady. But everybody should stand up to evil when he experiences it.

I think the activist youth of today sometimes take up positions that are obnoxiously egocentric (as youth are wont to do,) and also do things that are extremely brave, such as risking prison to expose animal cruelty. My guess is that stances that are more ‘youthful fashion of the moment’ will go the way of bell bottoms

Don’t you agree that the adult world brainwashes children with evil ideologies like Nazism, Islamism or Bolshevism? Would they invent it themselves?
Activist fashion is another ideology like these. Following fashion is learned behaviour by definition. I despise 2010s culture, but if I were more conformist, I would follow it. I don’t follow it because I’m true to my real self.

I think moral progress comes from individuals who retained enough of their original nobility to stand up to society.

 

[ Edited: 01 June 2018 11:42 by RoseTylerFan]
 
NL.
 
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01 June 2018 21:50
 
RoseTylerFan - 01 June 2018 11:40 AM

If we ever reach moral perfection, rebels will no longer be necessary. Read Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men, the Last Men’s society is close to my definition of moral perfection. It’s true that not everybody can be a rebel. Someone has to be a doctor, a lorry driver, a cleaning lady. But everybody should stand up to evil when he experiences it.


I agree that people should have standards, but feel that’s not the same thing as being a ‘rebel’, at least if you’re going by the standard dictionary definition. Since you used the word ‘lorry’, though, I’m assuming you’re not from the US… ‘rebel’ is another word that I tend to only hear used ironically here (I painted my mailbox a shade that was .5 shades different than what the HOA allows! I’m a rebel man!). Possibly it never totally caught on here because the Southern soldiers were called the ‘Rebels’ during the Civil War, I dunno. Maybe what you’re picturing would translate more to “principled nonconformist” in US-speak, and I agree that it is important to dissent if you think a true ill is being done.

Don’t you agree that the adult world brainwashes children with evil ideologies like Nazism, Islamism or Bolshevism? Would they invent it themselves?


I’m not sure where you’re from - if this is a problem in your area then I am truly, extremely sorry. It’s not that I feel this never happens, but the idea of a child being indoctrinated into Neo-Nazism, ISIS-esque thinking (which is what I think you mean by ‘Islamism’), or Bolshevism (a term that I, admittedly, had to Google just now) is so far out of my orbit that it’s hard for me to speak to. I mean yes, of course, I think there are childhood situations that are atrocious, whether a child is being raised by neo Nazis or to be a child solider in the Congolese War… but it’s hard for me to say that the ‘adult world’ brainwashes children with these ideologies when literally no part of the ‘adult world’ where I am does any such thing. If you are in a different situation, then yeah, that is very serious, of course.

I think moral progress comes from individuals who retained enough of their original nobility to stand up to society.


I think in some cases this is true - abolishing slavery, for example. In other cases I think moral progress is made largely for pragmatic reasons (these are not my original musing lest I plagiarize, btw, I’ve heard / read these from people like Steve Pinker and Jesse Prinz). Kings had a vested interested in the productivity of their serfs, and it was unhelpful to them if their subjects were continuously murdering and / or at odds with one another over vendettas, and so many norms of civil society formed around this. Commerce means that frivolous wars are bad for business (remember that wars between Western European countries were almost constant until relatively recently,) and that perspective taking is necessary for the decidedly non-enlightened goal of being able to advertise and more persuasively sell things to people. (That trying to take the perspective of another person in order to make better commercials actually leads to a bit more empathy seems to be an unintended side effect of this dynamic.)


I think that being unrealistically idealistic can do more harm than good. The Founding Fathers of the US, after all, were not unchecked romantic dreamers - they built all sorts of checks and balances into the Constitution because they saw men as fallible and given to various weaknesses of human nature. If they had simply decided to sit back and let utopia unfold, I think things would have taken a very different turn. As Hawthorne said: The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison.


I will add a caveat to this - I think it is entirely possible that the most moral decision for an individual is stoic idealism to the very end. If you look at Christianity - Christ died on a cross, beaten, humiliated, and physically overpowered. He was not a Greek god who led his people to victory in war or some such thing. I have respect for people who eschew all forms of worldly pragmatism or ‘means to an ends’ thinking in the service of an ideal - but again, I think the story of Christianity (and many other spiritual traditions) have something to say about that way of being. I think they point to the idea that it shouldn’t be undertaken with the expectation of worldly reward or victory, because those are themselves pragmatic goals. If it’s done for the sake of an ideal, it’s for the sake of an ideal only, not for moral progress (i.e. victory) or any other kind of pragmatic concern. If you believe in something - be it an ideal, God, the inner goodness of people, and so on - you demonstrate your true belief in it by relinquishing control and showing faith in the power of whatever you believe in. If one feels the need to be in the driver’s seat all the time - in the name of God, other people’s Inner Goodness, or anything else, it kinda indicates that you don’t really believe in it at all. Jesus, after all, kind of got the last laugh now that billions of people follow his teachings, even if he was seemingly defeated in a worldly way.

 
RoseTylerFan
 
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02 June 2018 03:20
 
NL. - 01 June 2018 09:50 PM

it’s hard for me to say that the ‘adult world’ brainwashes children with these ideologies when literally no part of the ‘adult world’ where I am does any such thing

No, I haven’t met such an adult either. But in general, most human cultures fall short of my moral standards. For example children often empathize with animals, but later they learn to treat animal suffering as acceptable because it’s not a human. So I will maintain that on average, children are more morally sensitive than adults.

[ Edited: 02 June 2018 03:29 by RoseTylerFan]
 
hannahtoo
 
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02 June 2018 05:27
 
RoseTylerFan - 02 June 2018 03:20 AM
NL. - 01 June 2018 09:50 PM

it’s hard for me to say that the ‘adult world’ brainwashes children with these ideologies when literally no part of the ‘adult world’ where I am does any such thing

No, I haven’t met such an adult either. But in general, most human cultures fall short of my moral standards. For example children often empathize with animals, but later they learn to treat animal suffering as acceptable because it’s not a human. So I will maintain that on average, children are more morally sensitive than adults.

When I was a kid, I once peeled a snail.  I just wanted to see what was underneath the shell.  (It looked like the soft part of the snail, but shaped like the shell.)  My curiosity overcame any notion I may have had about hurting the snail at first.  Though I realized immediately afterwards that I had killed it, and felt regret. 

As I said before, I see innate human moral motivation as mixed and situational.  In my example, my natural curiosity was later supplanted by my natural empathy.  As an adult, I’ve seen many children step on ants to gleefully squash them, like a game.  And just as many onlooking children telling them not to squash them.  I remember coming across a young boy, down by our neighborhood creek, carrying a harmless snake tightly in his grip—he’d probably had an exciting time catching it, and now he was sorta crushing it without knowing.  This “hunting” instinct seems particularly strong in boys.  Many small humans love to pursue and catch animals. 

As a volunteer at a nature center, I have many opportunities to teach kids about watching wildlife, instead of chasing, snatching, or smashing it.  Most children will listen and learn, as their empathy is praised, and their curiosity is satisfied by watching, while their urge to touch or snatch the animal is brought under control.

 
NL.
 
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02 June 2018 07:23
 
RoseTylerFan - 02 June 2018 03:20 AM
NL. - 01 June 2018 09:50 PM

it’s hard for me to say that the ‘adult world’ brainwashes children with these ideologies when literally no part of the ‘adult world’ where I am does any such thing

No, I haven’t met such an adult either. But in general, most human cultures fall short of my moral standards.


That’s interesting - what are your moral standards? And do cultures ‘fall short’ if they have a pressing pragmatic need for certain behaviors, such as vendetta or tribally based ‘law enforcement’ in impoverished countries without infrastructure and government law enforcement?

For example children often empathize with animals, but later they learn to treat animal suffering as acceptable because it’s not a human. So I will maintain that on average, children are more morally sensitive than adults.


I agree with Hannah’s thoughts on this topic. I don’t think very young children are moral or immoral so much as amoral. They are a bundle of impulses (if you ever visit a daycare that does not have an appropriate teacher-to-child ratio for a room full of 2-year-olds, you will see what I mean.) They might pet a puppy or pull his tail. They might share with a friend or snatch a toy out of her hands. They might approach someone with an affectionate hug in one mood and run up and hit them angrily in another.


As kids get older they tend to be fairly ‘rule bound’ about morality, usually whatever morality they happen to be taught by caregivers and society (And if society tries to teach them to ‘think for themselves’, they will tend to be rule bound about this as well, ha ha! People sometimes try to get around the fact that kids tend to parrot adults by talking up individuality, but they will pretty much just parrot your thoughts on individuality if you do this - it’s just where they are developmentally.) I think they do have a genuine sense of right and wrong at this age (around, say, 6-12,) but also live in a very small world, in terms of perspective. Spend thousands of dollars of money and time raising a 7-year-old, save for months to take them on a fun vacation to the beach when you would rather have gone to Vegas, and they will still howl, with the righteous indignation of a persecuted saint, that everything is so unfair and you are so mean because their brother got the last sip of Coke or a bigger ice cream cone or it’s too hot or too cold or they are too tired or too bored or whatever the case may be. And again, I think that’s fine - that’s how they’re ‘supposed’ to be at that age, developmentally. Adult morality and concern takes a long time to grow and develop.