What Is This?
Stuart W. Mirsky
Kirby Urner
Join Us!

Stuart W. Mirsky (Stuart W. Mirsky is the principal author of this blog).
Last 10 Entries:

Sean Wilson's Blog:

Ludwig Wittgenstein:

Search Archives:
Every Entry

Duncan Richter's Blog:

Entries in Society (2)


An Evolutionary Biological Theory of Morality  

Have recently finished reading James Q. Wilson's book, The Moral Sense, which presents an anthropological/sociological account of (and case for) the role of moral judgments in human experience. He argues that morality, or moral valuing, is grounded in four basic capacities we humans have because of our natures, reflecting the kind of creatures we have evolved into over the eons. We are, he reminds us, fundamentally social creatures and this requires certain capacities which we have developed as a species. He lists these as sympathy (caring about others in some cases), fairness (preferring equitable outcomes to inequitable ones), self-control (the capacity to restrain our desires and needs in order to attain our goals) and duty (the capacity to recognize situations in which we must subordinate our needs to requirements defined by others). He argues that these four competences, which most humans share because of genetic inheritance, provide the bedrock on which our social structures are built. He then proposes that the moral claims, beliefs and judgments we make arise as a function of the various culture-specific schemas that human beings develop in the many different societal groups that humans form.

These social forms of life may all be quite different across the planet because there's lots of room for variation, both because of environmental demands and the stickiness of practices which manifest as social conventions, but, he suggests, there are also certain core similarities among most humans which form the ground on which all social phenomena and institutions stand, i.e., the four capacities/competences he identifies as the basis for social groupings. . . .

Click to read more ...


Value and Moral Choice

Begins to consider the basis and justifications for making moral claims and relates this to the role of valuing and the nature of lawmaking itself.

Valuing is that added step we take concerning our needs, desires, preferences and so forth, when we arrange the possible things we can acquire or do along a hierarchy of choice. It’s an aspect of the reasoning process. Without the ability to differentiate and prioritize in this way, we could not act based on reasons but could, at best, be reactive, impetuous creatures only, choosing this or that in accord with the moment’s stimuli. And so it is with most of our animal brethren. But as you go up the evolutionary hierarchy, as you get to the point where an entity can think about its world and imagine a future, while remembering a past in relation to its present, the capacity to engage in this kind of thinking, to set values and act on them, becomes possible.

Can a dog value its food? Or its owner? Or the time allotted to it in the local park to run free in the open air? It seems difficult to imagine a creature with no more than a dog's capabilities valuing anything at all. It can certainly want those things and behave accordingly. But, to the extent it cannot think of them conceptually, cannot hold an idea of them in the abstract in its head, it seems odd to say that it it is valuing them.

And yet there is no great difference between a dog’s desire or need for its food, or for open air play, and our own . . .

Click to read more ...