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Andromeda66
07-11-06, 15:23
Who doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong? Yet that essential knowledge, generally assumed to come from parental teaching or religious or legal instruction, could turn out to have a quite different origin.
Primatologists like Frans de Waal have long argued that the roots of human morality are evident in social animals like apes and monkeys. The animals’ feelings of empathy and expectations of reciprocity are essential behaviors for mammalian group living and can be regarded as a counterpart of human morality.

Marc D. Hauser, a Harvard biologist, has built on this idea to propose that people are born with a moral grammar wired into their neural circuits by evolution. In a new book, “Moral Minds” (HarperCollins 2006), he argues that the grammar generates instant moral judgments which, in part because of the quick decisions that must be made in life-or-death situations, are inaccessible to the conscious mind.

People are generally unaware of this process because the mind is adept at coming up with plausible rationalizations for why it arrived at a decision generated subconsciously.

Dr. Hauser presents his argument as a hypothesis to be proved, not as an established fact. But it is an idea that he roots in solid ground, including his own and others’ work with primates and in empirical results derived by moral philosophers.

The proposal, if true, would have far-reaching consequences. It implies that parents and teachers are not teaching children the rules of correct behavior from scratch but are, at best, giving shape to an innate behavior. And it suggests that religions are not the source of moral codes but, rather, social enforcers of instinctive moral behavior.

Both atheists and people belonging to a wide range of faiths make the same moral judgments, Dr. Hauser writes, implying “that the system that unconsciously generates moral judgments is immune to religious doctrine.” Dr. Hauser argues that the moral grammar operates in much the same way as the universal grammar proposed by the linguist Noam Chomsky as the innate neural machinery for language. The universal grammar is a system of rules for generating syntax and vocabulary but does not specify any particular language. That is supplied by the culture in which a child grows up.

The moral grammar too, in Dr. Hauser’s view, is a system for generating moral behavior and not a list of specific rules. It constrains human behavior so tightly that many rules are in fact the same or very similar in every society — do as you would be done by; care for children and the weak; don’t kill; avoid adultery and incest; don’t cheat, steal or lie.

But it also allows for variations, since cultures can assign different weights to the elements of the grammar’s calculations. Thus one society may ban abortion, another may see infanticide as a moral duty in certain circumstances. Or as Kipling observed, “The wildest dreams of Kew are the facts of Katmandu, and the crimes of Clapham chaste in Martaban.”
Matters of right and wrong have long been the province of moral philosophers and ethicists. Dr. Hauser’s proposal is an attempt to claim the subject for science, in particular for evolutionary biology. The moral grammar evolved, he believes, because restraints on behavior are required for social living and have been favored by natural selection because of their survival value.

Much of the present evidence for the moral grammar is indirect. Some of it comes from psychological tests of children, showing that they have an innate sense of fairness that starts to unfold at age 4. Some comes from ingenious dilemmas devised to show a subconscious moral judgment generator at work. These are known by the moral philosophers who developed them as “trolley problems.”

Suppose you are standing by a railroad track. Ahead, in a deep cutting from which no escape is possible, five people are walking on the track. You hear a train approaching. Beside you is a lever with which you can switch the train to a sidetrack. One person is walking on the sidetrack. Is it O.K. to pull the lever and save the five people, though one will die?

Most people say it is.

Assume now you are on a bridge overlooking the track. Ahead, five people on the track are at risk. You can save them by throwing down a heavy object into the path of the approaching train. One is available beside you, in the form of a fat man. Is it O.K. to push him to save the five?

Most people say no, although lives saved and lost are the same as in the first problem.

Why does the moral grammar generate such different judgments in
apparently similar situations? It makes a distinction, Dr. Hauser writes, between a foreseen harm (the train killing the person on the track) and an intended harm (throwing the person in front of the train), despite the fact that the consequences are the same in either case. It also rates killing an animal as more acceptable than killing a person.

Source (http://www.tombraiderforums.com/www.nytimes.com)

Janny
07-11-06, 16:28
Suppose you are standing by a railroad track. Ahead, in a deep cutting from which no escape is possible, five people are walking on the track. You hear a train approaching. Beside you is a lever with which you can switch the train to a sidetrack. One person is walking on the sidetrack. Is it O.K. to pull the lever and save the five people, though one will die?

Most people say it is.

Assume now you are on a bridge overlooking the track. Ahead, five people on the track are at risk. You can save them by throwing down a heavy object into the path of the approaching train. One is available beside you, in the form of a fat man. Is it O.K. to push him to save the five?

Most people say no, although lives saved and lost are the same as in the first problem.

Of course most of us think that way, because in the first situation you don't actually throw the person to it's death. It's true, you still do contribute to it, but a bit more indirectly than by just pushing the person.

And imagine what the witnesses would say: "Hey, that dude pushed the fat guy right into the tracks!". They'll overlook the important part- you did save 5 people. In the other situation you'll hear "Hey, that dude saved 5 people by killing one!" Sounds better, no? You will after all care more for your own skin that for the others.

In the end, it's all about the way you and the people around you think, I think :D

JANKERSON
07-11-06, 16:42
The problem is that if you pushed the fat dude in the way to save the 5 people you would end up in jail for the rest of your life.

Draco
07-11-06, 18:18
The problem with scenario 2 is that the fat dude was never in danger until you put him into danger, thus voiding the value of the other 5 lives vs his.

In scenario 1, the sidetrack was already a potential danger, and it may infact have been the intended route all along.

Ultimately, scenario 2 can't be justified even to yourself, while scenario 1, statistically identical, is much harder to justify.

rika2
07-11-06, 19:04
The problem with scenario 2 is that the fat dude was never in danger until you put him into danger, thus voiding the value of the other 5 lives vs his.

yeah but still wouldn't it be better to push him? I'm sure he'd do the same...

Jade Rae
07-11-06, 20:26
yeah but still wouldn't it be better to push him? I'm sure he'd do the same...

And that makes it okay?

But it is true that if you have no moral basis, whatever it may be. Than in either situation mentioned above the only thing stopping you would be
-what will people think or -what'll happen to me? Or whatever alse you have time to think before the train smears them.

Why should you be concerned about other people's life, if you answer to no one? ;)

Dingaling
07-11-06, 20:32
Why were they walking on the track? That's just absolute idiocy. They should have known to take the bridge or at least the safest possible way to get to the other side of where they were going, not across a train track.

In the first scenario they should all die for walking on the track. In the second the 5 on the track should die because they're idiots and never learned their lesson from their first death. Kudos to the fat man for learning the lesson - don't walk on train tracks.

And of course, I'd probably be too far away to save anyone of course so they'd just die anyway :p To be honest, I really don't know what I'd do. They just shouldn't be walking on the tracks though, the idiots.

Jade Rae
07-11-06, 20:40
Dingaling, this is one of those "What iF" questions...although all admit it's not the most realistic...:)

Draco
08-11-06, 01:56
yeah but still wouldn't it be better to push him? I'm sure he'd do the same...

He wouldn't stop the train.