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Valar Qringaomis

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Monday, January 19, 2015

Anthropocentric truths and nonanthropocentric truths

The Believer - Interview with Jonathan Haidt

"Some people need to think about things, need to understand things, need to reason about things. Many of these people go to graduate school in philosophy. But most people, if they don’t have a reason for their moral judgments, they’re not particularly bothered...

Reason is the press secretary of the emotions, the ex post facto spin doctor...

Reason is still a part of the process. It just doesn’t play the role that we think it does. We use reason, for example, to persuade someone to share our beliefs. There are different questions: there’s the psychological question of how you came by your beliefs. And then there’s the practical question of how you’re going to convince others to agree with you. Functionally, these two may have nothing to do with one another. If I believe that abortion is wrong, and I want to convince you that it’s wrong, there’s no reason I should recount to you my personal narrative of how I came to believe this. Rather, I should think up the best arguments I can come up with and give them to you. So I think the process is very much the same as what a press secretary does at a press conference. The press secretary might say that we need tax cuts because of the recession. Then, if a reporter points out to him that six months ago he said we needed tax cuts because of the surplus, can you imagine the press secretary saying: “Ohhhh, yeah, you’re right. Gosh, I guess that is contradictory.” And then can you imagine that contradiction changing the policy? ...

For me it all hinges on the distinction made by David Wiggins between anthropocentric truths and nonanthropocentric truths. If anybody thinks that moral truths are going to be facts about the universe, that any rational creature on any planet would be bound by, then no such facts exist. I think that moral truths are like truths about beauty, truths about comedy. Some comedians really are funnier than others. Some people really are more beautiful than others. But these are true only because of the kinds of creatures we happen to be; the perceptual apparatus—apparati—that we happen to have. So moral facts emerge out of who we are in interaction with the people in our culture...

These are truths in which how people respond is the most important piece of evidence. You could never say that person X is really hot even though nobody thinks so [Ed: in response to some people finding Drew Barrymore hot but not others, but there being less disagreement about Catherine Zeta-Jones and George Clooney]. I think about it this way. One of my favorite quotes is from Max Weber: “Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun.” So I think that with morality, we build a castle in the air and then we live in it, but it is a real castle. It has no objective foundation, a foundation outside of our fantasy, but that’s true about money; that’s true about music; that’s true about most of the things that we care about...

We need justifications for our moral beliefs; we don’t need them for our aesthetic beliefs. We can tolerate great diversity in our aesthetic beliefs, but we can’t tolerate much diversity in our moral beliefs. We tend to split and dislike each other. I recently wrote a paper on moral diversity, addressing the fact that many people, especially in academic settings, think that diversity is a virtue in itself. Diversity is not a virtue. Diversity is a good only to the extent that it advances other virtues, justice or inclusiveness of others who have previously been excluded. But people are wrong when they say that everything should be more diverse, even, say, rock bands. It’s an error, an overgeneralization. I’m sorry—back to your question. And this relates to the distinction between moral pluralism and moral relativism. I subscribe to the former, not the latter...

There are at least four foundations of our moral sense, but there are many coherent moral systems that can be built on these four foundations. But not just anything can be built on these four foundations. But not just anything can be built on these four foundations. So I believe that an evolutionary approach specifying the foundation of our moral sense can allow us to appreciate Hindu and Muslim cultures where women are veiled and seem to us to lead restricted lives. These are not necessarily oppressive and immoral cultures. Given that most of the world believes that gender role differences are good and right and proper, they are unlikely to be wrong, by which I mean, they are unlikely to be incoherent or ungrammatical moralities. We in America, especially liberals, use only two of these four bases. Liberals use intuitions about suffering (aversion to) and intuitions about reciprocity, fairness, and equality.

But there are two other foundations—there are intuitions about hierarchy, respect, duty… that’s one cluster. And intuitions about purity and pollution, which generate further intuitions about chastity and modesty. Most human cultures use all four of these bases to ground their moral worldviews. We in the West, in modern times especially, have to some extent discarded the last two. We have built our morality entirely on issues about harm (the first pillar), and rights, and justice (the second). Our morality is coherent. We can critique people who do things that violate it within our group. We can’t critique cultures that use all four moralities. But we can critique cultures whose practices are simple exploitation and brutality, such as apartheid South Africa or the American slave South...

You have to look at any cultural practice in terms of what goods it is aiming for. Veiling, or keeping women in the home, is usually aimed at goods of chastity and modesty. Not all human practices are aimed at moral goods. Sweatshops, child pornography, child slavery, the slavery of Africans in the American South—none of these is aimed at goods provided by any of the four foundations. These are just people hurting and exploiting others for their personal monetary benefit...

The women that I spoke to in India—while there was a diversity of opinion, most of them do not see it as American feminists see it; they did not see veiling as something imposed upon them, to oppress them, to deny them freedom. In contrast, most black slaves in the American South were not happy about their position. And many slave owners knew that what they were doing was wrong, or at least they were ambivalent about it. Now you might say: well, maybe the women have been brainwashed? So there are two tests you can do. The first is to ask: do the people who appear from the outside to be victims endorse the moral goals of the practice? The second test is: how robust is this endorsement? Even when they learn about alternative ways in other cultures, do they still endorse it? So while you might have found black slaves in the South who were so brainwashed that they accepted their status, I believe that if they heard about other countries where blacks were not enslaved, they would not insist that blacks ought to be enslaved...

These four pillars are a product of evolution. How do you respond to the age-old philosophical question that you can’t derive an “ought” from an “is”? Darwinism gives us a descriptive story of why we might endorse things that come out of them. How do you get the claim “one ought to treat people below you kindly” out of this “don’t harm people” module that’s in place because of its contributions to biological fitness? That’s the puzzle. Because when you do put your foot down and say that a culture ought not to act in a certain way, how are you getting that “ought” from a purely descriptive story about pillars of morality that evolved for nonmoral reasons?...

Liberals have an impoverished moral worldview, and that conservatives somehow have a richer moral life...

If we were in a Muslim country, or a Catholic country where much of social and moral life was regulated in accordance with the purity and hierarchy codes, then it would be very reasonable to ban gay marriage. But we are not in such a country. We are in a country where the consensus is that we grant rights to self-determination unless a limiting reason can be found. So in this case, I think conservatives have to give. It is right to legalize gay marriage...

It would help if liberals understood conservatives better. If I have a mission in life, it is to convince people that everyone is morally motivated—everyone except for psychopaths. Everyone else is morally motivated. Liberals need to understand that conservatives are motivated by more than greed and hatred. And Americans and George Bush in particular need to understand that even terrorists are pursuing moral goods...

Bush is Manichean. He really believes that we are in a battle of good vs. evil. Now I think strategically that he led us into disaster. But I never believed for a moment that this was about oil...

Being in an academic environment, I’m very frustrated with how people view conservatives—as moral monsters whose only goal is to pursue evil. It’s a little like the prochoice, prolife debate, where the prochoice faction looks at the other side as though all they want to do is oppress women—...

Liberals want to understand conservatives as motivated only by greed and racism. They think that conservatives just want to hurt minorities and get money. And that completely misses the point...

BLVR: OK, then let’s bring this back full circle. What do you think of Julie and Mark and their consensual sex in the south of France. Is it wrong?

JH: It’s fine with me. Doesn’t bother me in the least. Remember: I’m a liberal. So if it doesn’t involve harm to someone, it’s not a big deal to me. Liberals love to find victims, and incest cases are usually ones in which someone is being harmed. But that’s the trick of the question. They’re both adults, and it’s consensual. So liberals have an especially hard time trying to justify why it’s wrong. But I wrote the story, so I know the trick."
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