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View Full Version : Humans: Are we moral and evolved, or animals with a thin veneer of civilisation?



Alex Caine
July 31 2012, 02:06:27 PM
So, this came from a debate I had at work today with my colleague. These are put simply and without much depth, as I'm hoping people will elaborate.

View 1)

Humans are basically good deep down, and given the absence of law, order and governance (and by extension the consequences for disobeying said laws), most people will try to be morally upstanding, still treat people well and generally be "good".

View 2)

Humans are still basically animals. Most of our behaviour and adherence to Law comes from fear of punishment, rather than a genuine belief that is the right thing to do. Given the breakdown of society, humans would revert to selfish base instincts, putting themselves first and foremost.

Personally, I believe the second. I look at places where "civilisation" has broken down, and the acts that are committed there in order to survive or even just for the hell of it.

Is there much literature on this, or any major studies? What do you folk think?

Lallante
July 31 2012, 02:15:11 PM
Short answer - View 1

Long answer - the premise is impossible but both views have elements of truth (the way you have formulated them means they are not mutually exclusive). Humans have evolved to attempt to impose order on anarchy, society on individuals etc. There is no such thing as the "absence" of law, order and governance in their broadest senses as if you take two any two or more persons and leave them to interact, a degree of tacit undertstanding will arise between them that is in effect a sort of "law, order or governance". Two feral kids in a cage together will quickly decide "this is my side, thats your side, if we keep on our respective sides and dont steal each others food we dont need to fight". Thats a sort of order at its most basic level.

The references you make to the break down of society are interesting but miss the point - there is so much violence and cruelty in places like somalia because of the -break down- of society NOT the -absence- of society. People still want to live in concentrated population hubs like cities, and own consumer goods, even though the social structures needed to sustain these modes of living are absent, and thats what creates scope for the chaos you observe. People are scared and desperate so they act immorally. This isn't because they are naturally immoral and selfish but because the modes of living they understand (e.g. the society they had pre-collapse) no longer apply and they know nothing else. These kinds of situation are self-sustaining because the lawless chaos still has SOME order, albeit in the form of "rule of force" strong groups.

Taking as the counter example every population of "indigenous" people at first contact we have on record - they always live in carefully structured "law abiding" (even though they may not have formalised or even explicitly statable laws) societies. Ordered societies obviously spontaneously arise almost ubiquitously throughout humanity.

If we found a new continent, untouched by the rest of the world, and there were people there living in somalia-like chaotic evil, then you would have good evidence for your Proposition 2. As it is, situations like somalia only arise when something collapses leaving a vacuum - they dont evolve by default.


The key thing to remember is that whichever view you think is "natural" for humans (1 or 2), there are obviously still going to be many people who fit the other paradigm. For every mugger there is a good samaritan and vice versa.

The only proper test of the "true" nature of humans would be to take a sufficiently large sample size of newborn infants, allow them (somehow sustaining them without nurture) to grow up isolated from other humans (including each other), society, technology etc. then introduce them to a situation which allowed for either compassion or selfishness towards another human (the first other human they had ever met). Only the "first encounter" would really prove anything, as after that the "law, order and governance" aka society would have kicked in, even if only at a basic level, and the subjects reactions would be coloured by their past interactions not just their own "inherent nature".

Basically your question could be restated in a slightly different form as the unanswerable question - "do humans learn compassion or is it inherent?". Its obvious that humans in groups tend towards compassion (coordination, order, society etc) but that doesnt tell us much/anything about the inherent nature of the individual.

Dark Flare
July 31 2012, 02:20:06 PM
Somewhere between the two, with large variance on an individual level imo.

I also think environment has a huge amount to do with it. When people don't have to fight for resources they're going to be less violent. When people do have to fight for things they need to survive, things get nasty.

On the whole I don't think it's possible to generalise as widely as the question requests, the world is too diverse.

Seamus
July 31 2012, 02:20:47 PM
Was going to say "obviously 1" seeing as groups of animals are naturally good natured towards each other, evolution and all. Also the only people ive seen who do blatantly nasty stuff basically come across as retarded to me.

Then I thought about it and read lalls reply, and my wild optimism crashed into a fertilizer-barge of realism :(

Alex Caine
July 31 2012, 02:25:31 PM
The two views were deliberatly not mutually exclusive....I fully expect most to hit the middle ground here.

Thats an excellent point about the "breakdown" of society vs the "absence" though, and one I hadn't considered.

Smuggo
July 31 2012, 02:27:11 PM
Not sure you can really say it's one or the other as they're both linked. Living and working in a society obviously has a number of survival advantages for us. So you could say all the things we do to make that society function better are simply us exhibiting our selfish survival instinct.

Now most "good" things people do could arguably be linked in some way to the survival instinct, as anything that essentially acts as a way of strengthening social bonds and maintaining social norms could to some extent improve your own survivability, even if only in a very small way.

Even if morality is an evolved trait we have developed for survival reasons, we've also evolved to believe we are doing a good thing when we act morally. So I guess the key question is does it really matter if it's just something we've evolved in order to help us survive or us actually wanting to do good things. They're effectively the same thing.

Lallante
July 31 2012, 02:31:17 PM
Somewhere between the two, with large variance on an individual level imo.

I also think environment has a huge amount to do with it. When people don't have to fight for resources they're going to be less violent. When people do have to fight for things they need to survive, things get nasty.

On the whole I don't think it's possible to generalise as widely as the question requests, the world is too diverse.

Isn't he basically asking for your view in the absence of environmental factors

Lallante
July 31 2012, 02:35:29 PM
My gut feeling is that most people are 'genetically' reasonably compassionate and then some people learn to be selfish instead as a result of environment/nurture (/lack thereof). As I've said we cant test this empirically but it makes sense from a social-evolution point of view. Its undoubtedly true that the most selfish least-compassionate people (who often end up criminals) usually have childhood trauma or other extreme environmental factor such as drug addiction involved, or an outright mental disorder.

inora aknaria
July 31 2012, 02:37:39 PM
Hobbes's the leviathan (life is nasty brutish and short)
Locke's two treatises of government

I feel like these are the two books I remember reading/learning about when discussing this question in a political theory course (as well as in hs)

I'm sure there are more, I just remember these from European history.

tapatalk

Lallante
July 31 2012, 03:01:23 PM
Hobbes's the leviathan (life is nasty brutish and short)
Locke's two treatises of government

I feel like these are the two books I remember reading/learning about when discussing this question in a political theory course (as well as in hs)

I'm sure there are more, I just remember these from European history.

tapatalk

And the arguement and conclusion they reached was....?

untilted
July 31 2012, 03:08:52 PM
false dichotomy spotted: humans -> social behavior / animal -> antisocial behavior - as there are quite few species that show (atleast basic) social behavior, the assumption that there's an antisocial "natural state" falls flat on its face.

the actual question should be: which mechanisms help to sublimate agressive tendencies before they errupt in deadly violence?

and here's exactly the connection to lall's pont of the difference between break-down and "absence" of society. in the case of a break-down the common mechanisms to deal with agression may or may not be anymore applicable*. rituals that were legitimized to solve confrontations peacefully may not be legitimate anymore. this violence is usually just a phase, after the transition there will be new rituals in place to sublimate agression. but take a transition extreme/long enough - instead of adaption it will be a paradigm shift (which might as well traumatize everyone used to before-the-transition increasing the potential for agression again)


*) just to show how basal this is, take the behavior of dogs in a park.

if they are off the leash they will quickly sort themselves out, establishing their own temporary order. sure, they will likely need their space to do so, but in the most cases it will quite peaceful.

now take the same scenario, but the dogs are on the leash. their core behavior (/instincts) isn't used to this. instead of the possibility to sort them out like usual, they are now in a situation with limited movement, which increases the likelihood of actual agression a lot.

Alex Caine
July 31 2012, 03:08:57 PM
Hobbes's the leviathan (life is nasty brutish and short)
Locke's two treatises of government

I feel like these are the two books I remember reading/learning about when discussing this question in a political theory course (as well as in hs)

I'm sure there are more, I just remember these from European history.

tapatalk


And the arguement and conclusion they reached was....?

I know Hobbes' work, and i'm not too convinced it applies here. It's obviously VERY old for starters, and heavily based on a Christian-centric view of things.

Chapter 13 is the most relevant here, and contains the quote referenced above..."Of the Natural Condition of Mankind, as concerning their Felicity, and Misery" and contains the famous quotation describing life in the state of war of every man against every man as "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."

Hobbes is certainly of the opinion that the natural state of man is dog eat dog, every man for himself. But as stated, I am not really sure that this would apply to modern day so much.

You also have to keep in mind this was written during the English Civil War, and he likely saw some very brutal things. At that point, it likely DID seem that things were very bad indeed.

Hel OWeen
July 31 2012, 03:30:56 PM
Short: Two, with emphasis on Humans are still basically animals.

Long: Humans are not good or bad, that's a definition/judgement we deliberatly created ourselves. We are animals and therefore we're mainly driven by egoism. "Egoism" in its real meaning, not the negative notion it meanwhile has. Self-serving, self-centered. You do everything that seems to be an advantage to you and/or your social group (offspring, family, community, friends).

The interesting difference between collapse and absence of society is that the former did know the concept of "property", while the later often doesn't. Take the already mentioned discoveries "indigenous" people. "Yours" and "Mine" is often unknown. I seem to remember at least one tribe which doesn't even know the concept of numbers/counting.

Property is where the evil starts. More property equals better chances in life. An evolutionary advantage. The collapse of a society won't change that concept. Some still have and a lot do need. That's when things go south until the number of mankind is reduced so much that there's enough free resources to grab for everyone = no need for (deadly) competition.

Just look at the current state of the world. There's enough wealth to feed us all, yet people starve everywhere. There's enough technology to avoid any further pollution, yet mankind goes the "cheap way" until forced (by law) to do otherwise and keeps polluting land, sea, air. We perfectly know that the way we massively use current renewable resources will deplete those sooner or later, yet we don't tune down the usage so that they have a chance to regenerate. We'd rather leave a void there and move on to the next resource spot.

Dark Flare
July 31 2012, 03:32:59 PM
Somewhere between the two, with large variance on an individual level imo.

I also think environment has a huge amount to do with it. When people don't have to fight for resources they're going to be less violent. When people do have to fight for things they need to survive, things get nasty.

On the whole I don't think it's possible to generalise as widely as the question requests, the world is too diverse.

Isn't he basically asking for your view in the absence of environmental factors

No. Not unless you see society and government as an environmental factor. I was talking purely of the literal environment. The ground, the weather, the resources. I'm assuming this argument is based on people on earth, as the OP doesn't state otherwise.

Lallante
July 31 2012, 04:52:29 PM
Somewhere between the two, with large variance on an individual level imo.

I also think environment has a huge amount to do with it. When people don't have to fight for resources they're going to be less violent. When people do have to fight for things they need to survive, things get nasty.

On the whole I don't think it's possible to generalise as widely as the question requests, the world is too diverse.


Isn't he basically asking for your view in the absence of environmental factors

No. Not unless you see society and government as an environmental factor. I was talking purely of the literal environment. The ground, the weather, the resources. I'm assuming this argument is based on people on earth, as the OP doesn't state otherwise.
I interpret the question as asking about our "nature" i.e. inherent or genetic traits, as opposed to "nurture" i.e. learned (from parents, society, government) etc.

Lallante
July 31 2012, 05:04:33 PM
Short: Two, with emphasis on Humans are still basically animals.

Long: Humans are not good or bad, that's a definition/judgement we deliberatly created ourselves. We are animals and therefore we're mainly driven by egoism. "Egoism" in its real meaning, not the negative notion it meanwhile has. Self-serving, self-centered. You do everything that seems to be an advantage to you and/or your social group (offspring, family, community, friends).

The interesting difference between collapse and absence of society is that the former did know the concept of "property", while the later often doesn't. Take the already mentioned discoveries "indigenous" people. "Yours" and "Mine" is often unknown. I seem to remember at least one tribe which doesn't even know the concept of numbers/counting.

Property is where the evil starts. More property equals better chances in life. An evolutionary advantage. The collapse of a society won't change that concept. Some still have and a lot do need. That's when things go south until the number of mankind is reduced so much that there's enough free resources to grab for everyone = no need for (deadly) competition.

Just look at the current state of the world. There's enough wealth to feed us all, yet people starve everywhere. There's enough technology to avoid any further pollution, yet mankind goes the "cheap way" until forced (by law) to do otherwise and keeps polluting land, sea, air. We perfectly know that the way we massively use current renewable resources will deplete those sooner or later, yet we don't tune down the usage so that they have a chance to regenerate. We'd rather leave a void there and move on to the next resource spot.

I dont really understand the point you are trying to argue for. People are greedy even in the absence of personal property.

Alex Caine
July 31 2012, 05:11:39 PM
Somewhere between the two, with large variance on an individual level imo.

I also think environment has a huge amount to do with it. When people don't have to fight for resources they're going to be less violent. When people do have to fight for things they need to survive, things get nasty.

On the whole I don't think it's possible to generalise as widely as the question requests, the world is too diverse.


Isn't he basically asking for your view in the absence of environmental factors

No. Not unless you see society and government as an environmental factor. I was talking purely of the literal environment. The ground, the weather, the resources. I'm assuming this argument is based on people on earth, as the OP doesn't state otherwise.
I interpret the question as asking about our "nature" i.e. inherent or genetic traits, as opposed to "nurture" i.e. learned (from parents, society, government) etc.

This is more what I was going for, but both angles are interesting tbh.

ValorousBob
July 31 2012, 06:05:21 PM
I don't have a good answer for this thread, but any of you guys that are interested in human morality should read The Lucifer Effect by Philip Zimbardo. Zimbardo is the psychologist who did the Stanford Prison Experiment and the book is about how almost anyone, even very good people, are capable of doing terrible things. It's a pretty interesting book.

Zeekar
July 31 2012, 07:48:37 PM
I hate to say this but Lallante is pretty much spot on.

We humans have developed as animals that are highly dependent on the social network around them. We actually have brain receptors that are responsible for our social behaviour ( honestly dont ask me for a source im too drunk right now ) so people would receive pleasure from performing social behaviour and we have genes that are directly associated with them or if there is a lack of that gene a person is more inclined to ruthlessness and dictatorship via hormone that gene produces (source: http://www.nature.com/news/2008/080404/full/news.2008.738.html)

Also i am not sure if viewing a society as an completely external factor is ok since we are creating it as it is it creating us one can not exist without the other.

definatelynotKKassandra
July 31 2012, 09:04:12 PM
Also i am not sure if viewing a society as an completely external factor is ok since we are creating it as it is it creating us one can not exist without the other.

INdeed - if one is going to talk about the 'innate nature' of human beings, you have to recognise that man is an innately social animal.

lubica
July 31 2012, 11:24:29 PM
Cannibalism in extremis, right or wrong?

Varcaus
July 31 2012, 11:26:28 PM
Cannibalism in extremis, right or wrong?To likely to end badly for whoever is snacking imo.

lubica
July 31 2012, 11:38:22 PM
Cannibalism in extremis, right or wrong?To likely to end badly for whoever is snacking imo.

The snack might object, but its busy being nutritional.

Seriously, when do you suspend civilizational norms (as neither morals, nor civilization will help you much if you're dead, imo) and just worry about survival? And I'm not talking about Bear Grylls.

Varcaus
July 31 2012, 11:40:18 PM
Cannibalism in extremis, right or wrong?To likely to end badly for whoever is snacking imo.

The snack might object, but its busy being nutritional.

Seriously, when do you suspend civilizational norms (as neither morals, nor civilization will help you much if you're dead, imo) and just worry about survival? And I'm not talking about Bear Grylls.

When you die either by sticking to civilized norms. The exception being I suppose if your relgious and belive something better will be there when you croak.

Sponk
August 1 2012, 12:13:12 AM
Cannibalism in extremis, right or wrong?

Depends whether I consider the other person part of my tribe, or fuck you long pig.

RazoR
August 1 2012, 12:57:14 AM
Science tells us that dolphins are next to homo sapiens in intelligence (average, that is).

Well, i think that we are the same monkeys that went through a couple of thousands years of civlizing through judicial, religious and ~moral~ conditioning to keep us from turning on each other and instead farm that wheat and milk those cows.
And yet we are way far from achieving actual moral conscience as a group. Just looking over news headlines shakes whatever faith i could have in the human race.

Even the so-called beacons of civilization do little more than just press their values based on glorified primitive instincts on other cultures. I honestly believe that buddist monks got it right with keeping out of this senseless routine and just chilling in peaceful places burning their sandal sticks. As opposed to getting a paper-pushing job, going to a gym that is filled with what could be engineering equipment with an escalator at the entrance because fast-food is less nutritious than it is addictive and harmful, buying an iphone that connects you to an ocean of rumors about movie stars playing in waste of screen time that only to sucks money out of people instead of encouraging and enlightening them and so on.

We could have bases on moon and mars by now but instead we keep crawling in the same cesspit barking at each other over petty values.

That's why i love cats and dogs. Except yourkshire terriers and the likes that can't even bark at a criminal.
Because they have an excuse for not advancing their society.

So i have a dog that has a laika for grandmother and a wolf for granddad (too bad the father was a useless lab but the mother decided she couldn't be arsed to find something else to breed as she died 2 months after giving birth), internet that contains immense amount of useful information if you actually have the intelligence to seek out and process it and a case of vodka to forget all the sorrows in the world and relax in a warm company of people i respect.

SAI Peregrinus
August 1 2012, 01:28:30 AM
An interesting thing to remember is that fear of ostracism is often greater than fear of death. Soldiers in wars are probably the most common example, they die rather than leave the group that is fighting.

RazoR
August 1 2012, 01:56:12 AM
I always thought it comes from survival instincts that force people to either sit in the trench, often crying for mama, or do what they are told if orders make sense (because then less people die, yourself included).

JForce
August 1 2012, 04:04:59 AM
It helps to remember that free will doesn't exist, in that your mind doesn't make decisions based on inputs - the decision has already been made the moment the inputs hit your brain.

So whilst I think there's a degree of truth around societal groupings being beneficial, it's important to remember that it's beneficial to THE INDIVDUAL. The fact that it's beneficial overall to the group is a side-effect, not the primary purpose of the behaviour.

The behaviour is always driven by instinct, which is a way of saying "option 2".

Lallante
August 1 2012, 10:16:58 AM
Cannibalism in extremis, right or wrong?

in extremis, of dead bodies not killed by you? seems legit.

in extremis, by killing people? not legit

Hel OWeen
August 1 2012, 11:17:20 AM
I dont really understand the point you are trying to argue for. People are greedy even in the absence of personal property.

I agree with that statement.

My point however was that the concept of property is the problem, not property itself (="owning something"). You can't be greedy if nobody owns something/everbody owns everything. "Greed" is the ugly step-child of "property" and once porperty was invented, greed was there, too.

RazoR
August 1 2012, 11:25:52 AM
Property was invented the first time a monkey took a stick.
Let's not mix greed with nourishment and security.

Lallante
August 1 2012, 11:28:42 AM
Cannibalism in extremis, right or wrong?

in extremis, of dead bodies not killed by you? seems legit.

in extremis, by killing people? not legit

in extremis, by keeping people alive and milking their blood (/any other tissue that regrows) at a rate which they could sustain indefinately? Better than legit!

Lallante
August 1 2012, 11:29:23 AM
I dont really understand the point you are trying to argue for. People are greedy even in the absence of personal property.

I agree with that statement.

My point however was that the concept of property is the problem, not property itself (="owning something"). You can't be greedy if nobody owns something/everbody owns everything. "Greed" is the ugly step-child of "property" and once porperty was invented, greed was there, too.

Thats a bit of a truism though because it reduces to: Wanting more stuff is a result of stuff existing. Well duh

lubica
August 1 2012, 02:56:08 PM
Cannibalism in extremis, right or wrong?

in extremis, of dead bodies not killed by you? seems legit.

in extremis, by killing people? not legit

in extremis, by keeping people alive and milking their blood (/any other tissue that regrows) at a rate which they could sustain indefinately? Better than legit!

in extremis, ie a plane crash on top of a snowy mountain in the middle of winter storm season, no hope of rescue before supplies run out. There is a fat chick in the corner that got injured and can't move (she stubbed all 10 toes or something), but is otherwise stable and will probably outlast everyone else due to her sikrit wepn (she's fat). Kill her to let the other 10 people survive a bit longer, thereby increasing their chances to live, or not? To be clear, yes, murder.

Lallante
August 1 2012, 03:00:40 PM
Cannibalism in extremis, right or wrong?

in extremis, of dead bodies not killed by you? seems legit.

in extremis, by killing people? not legit

in extremis, by keeping people alive and milking their blood (/any other tissue that regrows) at a rate which they could sustain indefinately? Better than legit!

in extremis, ie a plane crash on top of a snowy mountain in the middle of winter storm season, no hope of rescue before supplies run out. There is a fat chick in the corner that got injured and can't move (she stubbed all 10 toes or something), but is otherwise stable and will probably outlast everyone else due to her sikrit wepn (she's fat). Kill her to let the other 10 people survive a bit longer, thereby increasing their chances to live, or not? To be clear, yes, murder.

No. Thats stark utilitarianism thats worthy of a particulary extreme fascist regime but not seriously contemplated by anyone normal surely?

lubica
August 1 2012, 03:04:58 PM
Cannibalism in extremis, right or wrong?

in extremis, of dead bodies not killed by you? seems legit.

in extremis, by killing people? not legit

in extremis, by keeping people alive and milking their blood (/any other tissue that regrows) at a rate which they could sustain indefinately? Better than legit!

in extremis, ie a plane crash on top of a snowy mountain in the middle of winter storm season, no hope of rescue before supplies run out. There is a fat chick in the corner that got injured and can't move (she stubbed all 10 toes or something), but is otherwise stable and will probably outlast everyone else due to her sikrit wepn (she's fat). Kill her to let the other 10 people survive a bit longer, thereby increasing their chances to live, or not? To be clear, yes, murder.

No. Thats stark utilitarianism thats worthy of a particulary extreme fascist regime but not seriously contemplated by anyone normal surely?

So, you'd let everyone starve to death, including the fat chick despite the fact that she has no ability of saving herself at all? Moralistic fascism right back at ya.

Irrelephant
August 1 2012, 03:09:39 PM
I would tend to 1, but then again good and bad are totally subjective and influenced by your surroundings. I read some interesting material a while ago called the law of one. While the source is highly eyebrow raising (channeled from some outer space whatever) it contains the best explanation of the universe i have come across so far. What we call good and evil they call service to others and service to self. Both paths will lead to the same conclusion eventually, so neither of them is truly wrong. The conflicts that result are seen as a catalyst accelerating evolution.


My point however was that the concept of property is the problem, not property itself (="owning something"). You can't be greedy if nobody owns something/everbody owns everything. "Greed" is the ugly step-child of "property" and once porperty was invented, greed was there, too.

You could also argue that greed was the reason for the concept of property in the first place. Judging by how well communism did i would say the concept of property is not the problem.

Lallante
August 1 2012, 04:09:24 PM
Cannibalism in extremis, right or wrong?

in extremis, of dead bodies not killed by you? seems legit.

in extremis, by killing people? not legit

in extremis, by keeping people alive and milking their blood (/any other tissue that regrows) at a rate which they could sustain indefinately? Better than legit!

in extremis, ie a plane crash on top of a snowy mountain in the middle of winter storm season, no hope of rescue before supplies run out. There is a fat chick in the corner that got injured and can't move (she stubbed all 10 toes or something), but is otherwise stable and will probably outlast everyone else due to her sikrit wepn (she's fat). Kill her to let the other 10 people survive a bit longer, thereby increasing their chances to live, or not? To be clear, yes, murder.

No. Thats stark utilitarianism thats worthy of a particulary extreme fascist regime but not seriously contemplated by anyone normal surely?

So, you'd let everyone starve to death, including the fat chick despite the fact that she has no ability of saving herself at all? Moralistic fascism right back at ya.

You have no idea if you would starve to death or not. For all you know the storms will clear and a helicopter will land the next day. If there is no prospect of imminent rescue you will die pretty damn quickly anyway.

Even in the impossible situation where you can be absolutely certain killing the fat chick is a decision that means life or death for 10 people, I'd still say it was immoral. You'd still get done for murder (which might be reduced to voluntary manslaughter or by a defence of diminished responsibility or duress of circumstance)

Alex Caine
August 1 2012, 04:26:35 PM
Regarding the cannibalism:

Would I eat somebody that died in the crash to not starve to death? Almost certainly. I can't actually see myself having any issues at all there.

Would I kill the fat injured chick for food? In your circumstances, dunno. It'd be WRONG, certainly, but it's hard to say how you;d act when the survival instinct kicked in. If said fat chick was dying though? Probably would, yeah.

cheeba
August 1 2012, 05:16:37 PM
When faced with the Actual possibility of death, people will do extreme things. Especially if their children are threatened. I doubt many of us in fhb have ever been in that situation.



While a poor parallel to draw, consider any blockbuster tv show concerning survival. Lost, walking dead etc. We enjoy these shows as they sometimes probe the dark side of our humanity. A common theme in all these shows is how easily man will kill his fellow man in order to better the survival of himself or his kin.

Humanity is Lord of the flies at it's core.

Shaikar
August 1 2012, 11:07:09 PM
The answer to the topic title is "yes", if anything.
I say if anything because "moral and evolved" is horrifically wooly and vague.

SAI Peregrinus
August 2 2012, 01:03:10 AM
The answer to the topic title is "yes", if anything.
I say if anything because "moral and evolved" is horrifically wooly and vague.

Restating the original: Are we ( moral and evolved ) xor ( animals with a thin veneer of civilization ). Which is true? Are both/neither true?
As opposed to: Are we moral and (evolved or animals) with a thin veneer of civilization, or any of the many other ways to misunderstand the question.

So:
Moral and evolved.
Clearly we are evolved. So is every other life form on Earth. So we can consider this part to simply ask if we are moral.

Animals with a thin veneer of civilization.
Clearly we are animals. We have a veneer of civilization, how thick or thin that is is up for debate, and varies by region and circumstances.

I think cheeba touched on an important point above:
"...how easily man will kill his fellow man in order to better the survival of himself or his kin."
Society is an artificial kin group, and the willingness to do terrible things/die for a kin group gets extended to society in extreme cases. Wars, heroism, etc, it's all "save the tribe" instinct. What's interesting is how the perception of what tribe one is in can change. I've known soldiers who have put themselves in danger for their fellow countrymen, yet would get in fights with those same countrymen over liking the "wrong" sports team.

ValorousBob
August 2 2012, 05:21:11 AM
When faced with the Actual possibility of death, people will do extreme things.

I think it's way WAY easier than that to get people to do extreme things. People will do extreme things based on purely societal pressures even if there's little or no physical (pain, injury, death, etc) consequences for them.

Irrelephant
August 2 2012, 11:18:07 AM
Clearly we are evolved. So is every other life form on Earth. So we can consider this part to simply ask if we are moral.


But some life forms are more evolved then others. Key difference in this context is that most animals fail self awareness tests. So imo there is no question if humans are more evolved then animals, we are at the top of evolution on this planet. How big of a margin that lead is and how high we rank overall is another question. We prolly are still total nublets in the grand scheme of things. :p

SAI Peregrinus
August 2 2012, 09:54:35 PM
Clearly we are evolved. So is every other life form on Earth. So we can consider this part to simply ask if we are moral.


But some life forms are more evolved then others. Key difference in this context is that most animals fail self awareness tests. So imo there is no question if humans are more evolved then animals, we are at the top of evolution on this planet. How big of a margin that lead is and how high we rank overall is another question. We prolly are still total nublets in the grand scheme of things. :p

You are displaying a fundamental misunderstanding of the theory of evolution. Beings are never "more evolved" or "less evolved", they are only "more fit" or "less fit" for a particular environmental niche. We are quite fit at modifying the environment to suit our needs, but a tapeworm is far more fit for the niche of living in the gut of a mammal than any human.

If by "evolved" one means "evolved to a state where the set of herd/tribe behaviors called 'morality' are inherent" one should say so. The question is ambiguous as stated, and aspects of the debate so far indicate confusion. For example, there was debate over whether environmental factors should be considered. Since the definition of "evolved" must include environmental factors the idea that excluding them could answer the question indicates confusion.

Irrelephant
August 3 2012, 11:10:18 AM
You are displaying a fundamental misunderstanding of the theory of evolution. Beings are never "more evolved" or "less evolved", they are only "more fit" or "less fit" for a particular environmental niche. We are quite fit at modifying the environment to suit our needs, but a tapeworm is far more fit for the niche of living in the gut of a mammal than any human.

If by "evolved" one means "evolved to a state where the set of herd/tribe behaviors called 'morality' are inherent" one should say so. The question is ambiguous as stated, and aspects of the debate so far indicate confusion. For example, there was debate over whether environmental factors should be considered. Since the definition of "evolved" must include environmental factors the idea that excluding them could answer the question indicates confusion.

When it comes to physical evolution you are right, in the context of this thread it is rather meaningless. Looking at the evolution of the mind makes more sense, unless brain == mind for you.

smagd
August 3 2012, 01:45:07 PM
Altruism seems to be the more natural option for a human (http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2107961,00.html), as opposed to say monkeys with similar levels of intelligence:


The behavior of the kids, while impressive, was less important than the consequences of that behavior — and that's where you see the real payoff of sharing. In the majority of cases, children who got either instruction or rewards from others or who correctly imitated the moves they observed improved their performance and moved on more successfully to the next stages.

This reflects highly efficient solutions for game threory (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prisoner's_dilemma#Strategy_for_the_iterated_priso ners.27_dilemma).


The best deterministic strategy was found to be tit for tat, which Anatol Rapoport developed and entered into the tournament. It was the simplest of any program entered, containing only four lines of BASIC, and won the contest.

Maybe evolving altruism over still existing animal behavior just gave us an edge in conquering the world.

Some of the still existing animal behaviors are maybe just there to balance us becoming couch potatoes... oh wait....

PS: I'm not sure whether I'd rather argue either altruism or animal behavior is more of a result of environmental influences. Maybe it's a case of kids being more likely to be taught how to be civil while the older you get, the more likely a human is to be taught that aggression brings rewards.

Frug
August 3 2012, 03:54:51 PM
So my opinion on this question is that it's a false dichotomy. At our core we're both moral and brutal. I generally hate humans and humanity for the constant stupid and awful shit we do, but I also must admit we span the gamut and sometimes i get all teary eyed at what we do.

I also don't think basic animal behavior is the opposite of morality. The most disgusting, inhuman acts involve higher reasoning with a cold disregard for suffering.

Altruism seems to be the more natural option for a human (http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2107961,00.html), as opposed to say monkeys with similar levels of intelligence:


The behavior of the kids, while impressive, was less important than the consequences of that behavior — and that's where you see the real payoff of sharing. In the majority of cases, children who got either instruction or rewards from others or who correctly imitated the moves they observed improved their performance and moved on more successfully to the next stages.

This reflects highly efficient solutions for game threory (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prisoner's_dilemma#Strategy_for_the_iterated_priso ners.27_dilemma).


The best deterministic strategy was found to be tit for tat, which Anatol Rapoport developed and entered into the tournament. It was the simplest of any program entered, containing only four lines of BASIC, and won the contest.

Maybe evolving altruism over still existing animal behavior just gave us an edge in conquering the world....

PS: I'm not sure whether I'd rather argue either altruism or animal behavior is more of a result of environmental influences. Maybe it's a case of kids being more likely to be taught how to be civil while the older you get, the more likely a human is to be taught that aggression brings rewards.

Recent studies have looked at altruism in animals and found it to be more prevalent than we thought. Specifically in rats (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=jailbreak-rat) of all creatures. There is a fairly solid biological basis for altruistic behavior. IIRC the best explanation for it is that we are wired to feel suffering when others do (we already know that our brains are wired to mimic the muscle movements of other people when we watch them move, so it's presumably an extension of this system to feel pain and emotion), and we help others in order to alleviate our own discomfort.



You are displaying a fundamental misunderstanding of the theory of evolution. Beings are never "more evolved" or "less evolved", they are only "more fit" or "less fit" for a particular environmental niche. We are quite fit at modifying the environment to suit our needs, but a tapeworm is far more fit for the niche of living in the gut of a mammal than any human.
The implication of what is meant by "more evolved" in this context should be clear. They are talking about evolving higher reasoning/mental faculties. In that respect we are the most evolved creatures on the planet. It's not really important to get technical about the nature of evolution to fit specific tasks.

Rami
August 4 2012, 08:12:28 PM
I have to align with the group who see morality as an extension of group survival structures and an integral part of evolution as a species. Primates and dolphins already show considerable signs of 'pre-morality' behaviour such as reciprocal altruism. It is suggested that Dunbar's number (the maximum amount of relationships one can maintain, set at approximately 100-200) is a key point at which a species will develop moral structures. This is merely to effectively survive in such large groups and I do suspect that our closest rivals in the realms of intelligence will develop more advanced moral systems if they continuously reside in such large social groups (although to date none have).

If anything sets us apart it is our ability to reflect upon ourselves and our society. Not to be mistaken with self-awareness, rather self-inspection. Whether we gained this by 'accident' as the right social and physiological factors were present, or whether this is a next stage in social evolution I'm not sure.

Morality however, is not 'special' in my opinion, it's simply another effective method of group control that we required.

Bartholomeus Crane
August 5 2012, 07:17:42 PM
I think you have to be careful to overlay the idea of 'altruism' on top of animal behaviour. And, for that matter, on top of human behaviour.

The essence of some recent studies into altruistic behaviour in animals, is that it isn't actually altruistic as such, more like calculated behaviour now with the expectancy of greater rewards in the future. I.e., the refrain from taking 'selfish' advantage of another animal now because they have come to expect or know positive rewards from that later on.

Frankly, I think the same holds for humans, as fellow animals as well. Why do most humans care for their children? On the one hand you can argue this is because of pressure from society. I think there's good reason to attribute at least a portion of that behaviour to that. Then there are those who say so that it is done because of special 'mother-child' feelings and the like. I don't personally care much for that argument. And finally there are those that argue that having a child, especially for the mother, is a 9 month investment for the future reward of having offspring ready to take care of you when you are old and feeble. Frankly, I think there's a lot to say for that argument.

Overall though, however you wish to define it, there is, in my view, little evidence for systemic altruism, or humanism, philanthropy etc. in mankind. Mankind is not a noble beast. I believe that at its essence he's quite calculated, and instinctively selfish. The veneer of civilisation just serves to encode and encourage 'noble' behaviour as a means of making co-habitation for large numbers possible. And that changes the calculation. You can argue that that makes (certain types of) society moral and evolved, but not, I think, humanity itself.

Aramendel
August 5 2012, 10:43:35 PM
Both points are wrong. As has already been said, basic animal behavior isn't the opposite of moral behavior or being selfish and valuing your own benefits before anything else. Animal behavior is neutral.

Morality is a purely human construct. This is because it needs intelligence to even exist. Basically, our intelligence can (with an unspecified success rate) override our animal instincts and allow us to act in ways which are very different to animal behavior patterns. But this can go in both directions, positive and negative. The opposite of human moral behavior is human immoral behavior.

If you classify this as "good" and "evil" and ask which side a human leads towards more I would say "good" with a few caveats. It isn't strictly that humans are good, but more that they prefer to create instead to destroy (because it also helps them in the long run). Humans are selfish without a doubt, but they are not always completely selfish. Not because we are noble, but because total selfishness is just as destructive as total altruism. If being totally selfish would give us higher survival rates we would not be social animals, as definatelynotKKassandra points out, but quite literary "lone wolves".

JForce
August 6 2012, 06:44:58 AM
Last 3 posts nailed it.

Aramendel
August 6 2012, 07:51:06 AM
To elaborate more, I think the "Monkeysphere (http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Monkeysphere)" principle applies.

The closer persons are to us (and I do not mean genetically), the more likely we are "good" to them. Out of pure self interest. Lets say there are no laws - you would be free to go to your neighbors house, dash his brains in and steal his stuff. But even if you had no morals whatsoever you still would hesitate to do it. Because if everyone would do it you would very likely become a victim eventually too. It is in ones own self-interest not to be completely selfish. It is quite simply not beneficial for average joe to be "evil". I believe this is something we know instinctively.

However, this instinct breaks down for larger groups of people. Evolution simply hasn't had time to catch up with our population growth. But it is in the long term still beneficial not to bash in the head from a guy from another city or country or continent. Which is why we have "morals" and laws. When evolution became to slow to adapt our behavior we created our own "mental" evolution, society.

Rami
August 6 2012, 09:52:53 PM
Whilst I agree with your point I don't think we invented morality, rather it's a natural step when, as you say, social groups grow beyond what person-to-person relationships can reliably control.

Aramendel
August 6 2012, 10:42:32 PM
I might have been unclear there - I wouldn't say we "invented" morality either, it is something which evolved - just not biologically, but mentally. It is part of our "mental" evolution.

I wouldn't say it is 100% "natural", though, because it can also be influenced. An example for that would be the increased environmental conscience we have nowadays compared to 50 years ago. Or the woman rights and black equality movements in the 1960s. Those were changed by people who said "Hey, what we are doing isn't okay" and convinced enough people. I would say it is part naturally and part intentionally made.

Bartholomeus Crane
August 7 2012, 08:08:57 AM
I'd be very careful with words like 'morality' in questions like this. Describing something as 'moral', leads to describing something else as 'immoral', and quickly the discussion devolves into 'good', 'evil', 'bad', etc. Those are value judgement from the perspective of societal constructs, and they have very little to do with all of this.

Overall, Humanity, as just any other animal, is trying to achieve the best 'fit' within its 'environment'. Humans are 'pack animals', 'social beasts', 'herd animals', and not without reason, as we're not equipped for a 'lone wolf' existence (no big teeth of claws) and have learned that there is safety in numbers. Much of this is instinctive, some of it is genetic. But the development of our intellectual capacity has outreached our genetic/evolutionary development. Many of the old instincts we still posses, but the social structures have become much more important. This was a natural progression as numbers first increased then exploded. Simply put, the environment changed and humanity adapted to that changed environment.

Now, against that background, is humanity natively moral, i.e. noble, i.e. good? In my opinion, no it isn't. The old selfish instincts remain, but to some extend (and less in some than in others) they are overridden by the realisation that in order to best fit within the environment it is more profitable to exhibit socially acceptable behaviours than otherwise. Note that 'to best fit within the environment' can mean different things to different people as well.

For example, to sire a lot of 'successful' offspring (the original meaning of 'fitness') is an instinctual behavioural trait. For the male of the species it is inherently selfish (requires little or no effort), for the female of the species obviously less so. And so, within both the animal kingdom and within human society you see a lot of social constructs, instinctive or constructive, that pressure towards some sort of balancing out of the effort. Elaborate dances etc. in birds increases the effort on the male bird, and provides the female bird to select the most proper male, thus introducing 'ritual' into the 'selection of the fittest' (as important as survival of the fittest) aspect of the Darwinian dance of life. It is pretty much the same for humans, only, because of a much greater brain capacity these 'rituals' are much more complex.

Note that with an increase in numbers, these rituals have also become more complex and numerous. Which gives pause for thought if you consider the alarming rise in numbers on this earth and what that means, and must mean, for the societal constructs humanity keeps building for itself and their direction.

Hel OWeen
August 7 2012, 03:35:03 PM
Morality is a purely human construct. This is because it needs intelligence to even exist. Basically, our intelligence can (with an unspecified success rate) override our animal instincts and allow us to act in ways which are very different to animal behavior patterns.


I don't think this argument is valid anymore. There has been a greater focus on behavioral studies for animals over the last years, which have lead to some quite surprising results. Those findings include:

* Animals being more intelligent than we "allowed" them to be in the past.
Most impressive study I remember was about Ravens. Those beautyfull birds showed an amazing degree of intelligence. One experiment that showed that these birds "think" rather than act out of instict or simply repeat from memory (i.e. learned by watching parents) was a setup where in order to get hold of some food, the raven had to
- use one little stick to reach another longer stick
- manipulate the longer stick so it became a hook
- use that hook to reach the otherwise unreachable piece of food
That involves some very complex ahead thinking.

Although this isn't the one I saw, it shows the principle (sequential tool usage): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZE4BT8QSgZk&feature=related

* Social interactions between groups, which even includes "punishment" for "not well-behaving" (=moraly bad) members of that group

It is my opinion that the (monotheism-stemed) arrogance with which we described us as "the crown of creation" didn't allow animals to have intelligence, regardless of the facts.

Frug
August 7 2012, 07:05:28 PM
Morality is a purely human construct. This is because it needs intelligence to even exist. Basically, our intelligence can (with an unspecified success rate) override our animal instincts and allow us to act in ways which are very different to animal behavior patterns.


I don't think this argument is valid anymore. There has been a greater focus on behavioral studies for animals over the last years, which have lead to some quite surprising results...Are you claiming that animals being able to use tools and show higher cognitive abilities than semi-autonomous entities implies that they're capable of making moral value judgements?

Even if that was the case, its possibility in some animals doesn't invalidate his argument, which goes beyond those three sentences. There is a distinction between impulsive instinctually driven behavior and behavior governed by higher reasoning. On the off chance that a crow might think to itself "I could steal that shiny tinfoil, but it would be wrong because it's not mine" it doesn't change that the crow needs these faculties which certainly don't exist in all animals...

Unless you actually think they're all that smart.

Hel OWeen
August 8 2012, 10:21:09 AM
Are you claiming that animals being able to use tools and show higher cognitive abilities than semi-autonomous entities implies that they're capable of making moral value judgements?


As already stated, "moral" is a difficult term. Armandel implied that "intelligence" is a mandatory prerequisite for "moral". Animals aren't intelligent, therefore animals aren't moral. I wanted to show that at least the first point isn't as clear any longer as we've led to believe for a long time. "Animals != intelligent" was treated like an axiom and never questioned for a long time. Now that scientists look into the matter, they find that this claim isn't true.

Does that make animals "moral beings"? I don't know and I guess that highly depends on how you define moral. I perhaps need to preface my definition of moral with stating that my view on mankind is basically Hobbes' Man is a wolf to men. All good behavior has its traits in evolutionary advantages gained from them.

As an example of my point of view: You didn't learn from your parents -> you die early -> your genes don't spread. So to not waste time and time again explaining that to every juvenile hothead, create "moral" -> "Thou shalt honor your parents" (translated: "Listen the fuck to their orders!")

Animals (I seem to remember a documentary about apes, although not chimps) have been observed to reward & punish members of their groups for good or bad social behavior. "Social" as in it doesn't benefit the acting animal itself, but the group as a whole. There seem to be norms that should be followed and sanctions for not doing so. Is that already "moral"? I don't know.


Unless you actually think they're all that smart.

To be honest - I don't know. I'm lacking any expertise in that matter. But I'm sure that for a long time (and due to stupid :religion:) we far overrated "human intelligence" and at the same time and because of the same reasoning underrated animal capabilities.

BTW, found the documentary I saw. Watched it on arte (http://www.arte.tv/de/3377148,CmC=3377154.html). Unfortunately (for this forum) the video is in German:
Raben - unterschätze Genies (Raven - underestimated geniuses), part 1/4 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZNJ-TQk927o)
Part 2/4 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SLuRPkCwp3A)
Part 3/4 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rTiH8iNpQCc)
Part 4/4 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AdsiIQUag2I)




[Off topic]
In the "Argue with style. Avoid these logical fallacies."-thread, amongst other points, the following principle for a good discussion was posted:


4. The Burden-of-Proof Principle
The burden of proof for any position usually rests on the participant who sets forth the position. If and when an opponent asks, the proponent should provide an argument for that position.

The problem I (and I'm sure others as well) often face in an international surrounding like here on FHC, that our sources are in a language which at least some of the participants don't speak. For online articles there are at least some translation services available, which give a rough impression of the link posted. For videos/other media, that's not possible.