Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosophy]

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Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosophy]

Postby Dark567 » Wed Jun 23, 2010 3:49 am UTC

For the past couple of years I have been seriously trying to figure out the correct theory of ethics. As I thought about it more and more I moved from one system to another(i.e. Utilitarianism, Kantianism), never quite feeling like any system made complete sense and always feeling skeptical that I was right. I have sorted out my thoughts and finally established what I believe to be the correct moral system(or lack there of), why other moral theories exist and why this specific theory is correct. I would appreciate any criticism or comments, particularly if you find any direct holes in my logic. For the record I am an atheist and would prefer to keep that as assumption, there are plenty of other threads where we could debate the existence of god.

I want to be careful and distinguish between two different meanings when people discuss our morals. The first is descriptive morals, these are certain beliefs and cultural mores humans have that direct us on how to live our lives. These morals clearly exist; people have beliefs about good and evil and how to live their lives. This contrasts with normative morals. Normative morals directly refers to what is objectively right and wrong. These normative morals almost certainly do not exist.

Many of our descriptive morals are products of evolution(and the ones that aren't are cultural mores), but more importantly our desire to have and follow morals is also a product of evolution. This can be seen in the common altruism in many animals, particularly those that have kin relationships like humans(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altruism_in_animals). This also explains why humans favor family in moral decisions even when most of our normative moral systems can't justify favoring humans close to us. As we were evolving the only people we access to be altruistic to were those closest to us(another explanation is Richard Dawkins Selfish Gene). This theory of the basis of our descriptive ethics also accounts for the cases when people seem to be breaking this set of ethics. One of the most common causes of crime is poverty. People are likely to behave selfishly and commit crimes when they feel it is vital to survival, this of course fits with the evolutionary theory of ethics.

Evolution gives us a set of beliefs on what we "ought" to do. The problem is that there is no evidence that these beliefs are at all accurate. As such any belief in an objective "ought" or normative system of morals is committing a version of Russells Tea Pot. When you further think about it, the idea that for some reason there is some non-physical entity that makes some actions "good" and others "bad" seems absurd, as there is no other substance in the universe that is comparable to it.

Humanity's belief in ethics is a delusional product of evolution. Philosophers are reluctant to except nihilism, because we are evolved to believe nihilism is implausible. The fact that we have evolved to believe that it is implausible has no effect on whether or not it's true. Given the evidence, there are no normative ethics.
Last edited by Dark567 on Thu Jun 24, 2010 5:28 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosop

Postby infernovia » Wed Jun 23, 2010 4:08 am UTC

The problem with Nihilism is stasis and the self-defeating force it has, its a kind of life-draining belief. I mean, you can historically build up why each one of our traditions came into position, but that doesn't mean that they are useless, it means you to have a better picture of the past and the present.

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Re: Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosop

Postby Glass Fractal » Wed Jun 23, 2010 4:10 am UTC

This doesn't seem like a useful conclusion. You have to do something from moment to moment even if there is no objective good. You'll probably be a hedonist or pragmatist this way.

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Re: Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosop

Postby Dark567 » Wed Jun 23, 2010 12:51 pm UTC

infernovia wrote:The problem with Nihilism is stasis and the self-defeating force it has, its a kind of life-draining belief. I mean, you can historically build up why each one of our traditions came into position, but that doesn't mean that they are useless, it means you to have a better picture of the past and the present.


If you can explain why we have morals, why we want to have morals and that explains away our need to declare nihilism implausible. Given that, the best evidence points to normative ethics not existing. Yes our current moral traditions are useful for us to survive, thats why the were naturally selected and exist today. But that doesn't prove that we ought to survive. Evolution explains why we have our current set of morals and belief in morality, it can't tell us what we ought to do.

Glass Fractal wrote:This doesn't seem like a useful conclusion. You have to do something from moment to moment even if there is no objective good. You'll probably be a hedonist or pragmatist this way.


Right, you do have to do something, but the point is no action is immoral or moral. That is to say rape is not reprehensible and charity is not virtuous.

Really I am not concerned that much about the usefulness of the theory, I am concerned about the consistency and the correctness.
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Re: Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosop

Postby SnakesNDMartyrs » Wed Jun 23, 2010 10:33 pm UTC

Your logic is sound - essentially there is no objective basis for any theory of morality.

Nothing is right or wrong, only thinking makes it so. It really bothers me when people talk about things as if they are somehow objectively good or evil, completely unaware of their own evolutionary moral bias and the complete lack of moral objectivity :evil:

Even worse, society has rules of its own imposed on people with out their consent - hammering people in to a particular shape like a handler trains a dog.
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Re: Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosop

Postby Dark567 » Wed Jun 23, 2010 10:43 pm UTC

SnakesNDMartyrs wrote:
Even worse, society has rules of its own imposed on people with out their consent - hammering people in to a particular shape like a handler trains a dog.


Um, exactly how can something be worse without objective morals existing? For that matter why does anyones consent matter, there are no objective morals to make it matter?
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Re: Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosop

Postby SnakesNDMartyrs » Wed Jun 23, 2010 10:48 pm UTC

Dark567 wrote:Um, exactly how can something be worse without objective morals existing? For that matter why does anyones consent matter, there are no objective morals to make it matter?


How can't they be?

Once objective morals are removed from the equation you are left with moral subjectivity, not only is nothing inherently good or bad - everything is potentially good and bad.

Although I didn't explicitly state it, what you quoted was my own personal subjective judgement.
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Re: Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosop

Postby infernovia » Wed Jun 23, 2010 11:45 pm UTC

Or think about the term "useful." Now, lets say you are storing a lot of information, a lot of them trivial. Now, because you do not have any form of transcendence, the issue of "usefulness" cannot be raised anymore, so you store the trivial information.

Its not that everything becomes "worse," they just get separated from the object that was tied to it and proliferate like mad. For example, the application of communication becomes much more widespread once you have separated it from the thought that was underneath it. For example, sex happens more often after breaking its tie with reproduction. etc.

SnakesNDMartyrs wrote:Once objective morals are removed from the equation you are left with moral subjectivity, not only is nothing inherently good or bad - everything is potentially good and bad.

This is a pretty good line. Everything is good and bad, and every view is true at the same time.

So I found nothing to comment upon your post until here:
Dark567 wrote:Humanity's belief in ethics is a delusional product of evolution. Philosophers are reluctant to except nihilism, because we are evolved to believe nihilism is implausible. The fact that we have evolved to believe that it is implausible has no effect on whether or not it's true. Given the evidence, there are no normative ethics.

See, here you make the mistake of saying "delusional" when the mind represents everything as an illusion (as a phantom). So it was historically contrived, and probably tied to the belief in God and the idea of transcendence (or the idea of making the world your own, giving birth to the world).

So yes, it is true that Ethics do not exist. But the lack of ethics is not a drive to Nihilism.

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Re: Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosop

Postby Dark567 » Thu Jun 24, 2010 12:32 am UTC

infernovia wrote:O
See, here you make the mistake of saying "delusional" when the mind represents everything as an illusion (as a phantom). So it was historically contrived, and probably tied to the belief in God and the idea of transcendence (or the idea of making the world your own, giving birth to the world).

So yes, it is true that Ethics do not exist. But the lack of ethics is not a drive to Nihilism.


How does a lack of ethics not imply some sort of nihilism?

wikipedia wrote:Moral nihilism, also known as ethical nihilism, is the meta-ethical view that nothing is moral or immoral. For example, a moral nihilist would say that killing someone, for whatever reason, is not inherently right or wrong. This view can lead to amoralism.
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_nihilism)
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Re: Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosop

Postby infernovia » Thu Jun 24, 2010 2:52 am UTC

Amorality/Atheism is different from Nihilism. They concur at the point that God does not exist (along with it, ethics etc.). With Nihilism, it is a form of degeneration, it is the distinct lack of belief. Even the vengefulness of someone's belief can be counted as its lack (so even those who try to guilt people into morality can be seen as nihilistic).

Whereas with Amorality and Atheism, it is the denial of Ethics and God. Sometimes, this denial then leads them to question how the world is played. Which even with the lack of a superior being, they find it worthwhile to them (as their "will").

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Re: Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosop

Postby Izawwlgood » Thu Jun 24, 2010 3:23 am UTC

I find it curious that you linked a website citing altruism in animals, when not a single example given on the wiki accounts for true altruism, or can at least be reduced to misplaced survival practices. Altruism is an action which has no benefit to anyone but the recipient, and the closest thing that can be pointed to is the act of an animal adopting another baby animal (sometimes, curiously, of a different species) as it's own. This however, can easily be explained as misplaced or overactive maternal/paternalism. Penguins will often crush their own, or other, chicks, as they are over zealous in a grab to be a parent. Don't be misguided, every example on that wiki can be traced to a behavioral pattern aimed at increasing the chances for the individual to successfully reproduce.

I say this because it is interesting that people try to point to morality or justice as an evolutionary paradigm; it certainly has it's roots in such pressure, as society is shaped by our collective need to survive as social animals, but is in some scopes divorced from basic survival habits. Indeed, that is one of the things that makes human, and some interesting examples in higher primates, sense of justice so curious; it is in some rare cases truly the product of morality, not merely the product of biological evolution.
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Re: Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosop

Postby Dark567 » Thu Jun 24, 2010 3:36 am UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:I say this because it is interesting that people try to point to morality or justice as an evolutionary paradigm; it certainly has it's roots in such pressure, as society is shaped by our collective need to survive as social animals, but is in some scopes divorced from basic survival habits. Indeed, that is one of the things that makes human, and some interesting examples in higher primates, sense of justice so curious; it is in some rare cases truly the product of morality, not merely the product of biological evolution.


Where does this morality come from? It seems as if our sense of justice is so curious, because it biologically evolved. It explains many of the reasons why our morality doesn't fit into any logical formation of morality. Also even if some of our moral behavior is divorced from our survival(which I am not certain of), it could be the result of culture, somehow linked to a moral that survival does depend on, or also something that simply natural selection hasn't selected out yet(sometimes people forget that we are still in the process of evolving and aren't the absolute end product).
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Re: Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosop

Postby infernovia » Thu Jun 24, 2010 4:24 am UTC

The drive to cease to exist also exists you know. Its not just "survival" (which fails to account for people like Jesus, Socrates) or "reproduction" which fails to account for the Brahmin's desire to stop sexual activity out of their volition.

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Re: Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosop

Postby thc » Thu Jun 24, 2010 6:57 am UTC

infernovia wrote:The drive to cease to exist also exists you know. Its not just "survival" (which fails to account for people like Jesus, Socrates) or "reproduction" which fails to account for the Brahmin's desire to stop sexual activity out of their volition.

All of those things can be explained in terms of increasing survival. Even suicide: survival of an individual organism is an outdated concept. It's best to think about survival as "survival of genes."

Dark567 wrote:Evolution gives us a set of beliefs on what we "ought" to do. The problem is that there is no evidence that these beliefs are at all accurate. As such any belief in an objective "ought" or normative system of morals is committing a version of Russells Tea Pot. When you further think about it, the idea that for some reason there is some non-physical entity that makes some actions "good" and others "bad" seems absurd, as there is no other substance in the universe that is comparable to it.

What you're saying is (to me, at least) pretty self-evident. Yes, factually speaking, morals (probably) arose out of the need to survive. The problem I have with your theory is this: what is your point? What does it even mean when you say that moral beliefs are not "accurate"? If morals exist as a product of evolution, then the morals that exist are the morals that evolved to provide the greatest utility and the greatest chance of survival. In what way is having high utility morals not accurate?

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Re: Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosop

Postby Hedonic Treader » Thu Jun 24, 2010 8:41 am UTC

Some cultural phenomena (such as religious celibacy) can be better explained by memetic evolution rather than solely by genetic evolution. If your religion tells you to be a celibate, your genes may not be passed on, but that doesn't stop you from passing on your religious memeplex to other people's children. The question here is, are the memes adaptive enough in a given cultural/psychological context to propagate from host to host? If yes, this memetic fitness function may well override the genetic fitness function of the hosts.

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Re: Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosop

Postby Hedonic Treader » Thu Jun 24, 2010 8:48 am UTC

SnakesNDMartyrs wrote:Nothing is right or wrong, only thinking makes it so.

OTOH, there is clearly good or bad. If there weren't, you could submerge your hand in boiling water without second thoughts. It's clear that the ultimate cause of this affective valuation was evolutionary selection presssure against genes that caused indifference or even positive valuation for this degree of tissue damage. But knowing this doesn't take one bit away of the reality of your agony, or its badness, while you feel it.

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Re: Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosop

Postby Izawwlgood » Thu Jun 24, 2010 12:56 pm UTC

Hedonic Treader wrote:Some cultural phenomena (such as religious celibacy) can be better explained by memetic evolution rather than solely by genetic evolution.

While this is one explanation, I recall reading something about how the majority of people who took vows of celibacy also had many siblings. Indeed, single children weren't often shipped off to convents or abbey's; it was the surplus children who were. This not only removed the burden of feeding extra mouths, but brought respect and eventually free resources to the other siblings, which increased the likelihood of grandchild fecundity.

Dark567 wrote:or also something that simply natural selection hasn't selected out yet(sometimes people forget that we are still in the process of evolving and aren't the absolute end product).

A good point; I'm curious what sort of moral practices you consider to be currently in the process of being selected out (presumably for having detrimental effect on our genetic and mimetic fitness). The death penalty? Drug laws? Discrimination?
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Re: Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosop

Postby Dark567 » Thu Jun 24, 2010 1:16 pm UTC

thc wrote:
infernovia wrote:The drive to cease to exist also exists you know. Its not just "survival" (which fails to account for people like Jesus, Socrates) or "reproduction" which fails to account for the Brahmin's desire to stop sexual activity out of their volition.

All of those things can be explained in terms of increasing survival. Even suicide: survival of an individual organism is an outdated concept. It's best to think about survival as "survival of genes."


Yes, that is exactly what I am arguing, that survival of the genes is the cause behind most of our morality.

thc wrote:
Dark567 wrote:Evolution gives us a set of beliefs on what we "ought" to do. The problem is that there is no evidence that these beliefs are at all accurate. As such any belief in an objective "ought" or normative system of morals is committing a version of Russells Tea Pot. When you further think about it, the idea that for some reason there is some non-physical entity that makes some actions "good" and others "bad" seems absurd, as there is no other substance in the universe that is comparable to it.

What you're saying is (to me, at least) pretty self-evident. Yes, factually speaking, morals (probably) arose out of the need to survive. The problem I have with your theory is this: what is your point? What does it even mean when you say that moral beliefs are not "accurate"? If morals exist as a product of evolution, then the morals that exist are the morals that evolved to provide the greatest utility and the greatest chance of survival. In what way is having high utility morals not accurate?


I am saying normative moral beliefs are not correct. Our descriptive moral beliefs do exist to provide the greatest utility and survival. But that doesn't prove that utility or survival are good, in fact what I am arguing is that they aren't good, we have just evolved to belief that they are good. To say that it is important to survive or provide high utility, is to say that there are some morals that in fact have not evolved and come from some other source(i.e. god, Kantian Deontology etc.).

Izawwlgood wrote:A good point; I'm curious what sort of moral practices you consider to be currently in the process of being selected out (presumably for having detrimental effect on our genetic and mimetic fitness). The death penalty? Drug laws? Discrimination?


I am not sure, natural selection can work in very unintuitive ways. Discrimination is probably a fair example, another example discussed is society's viewing rape as immoral. Rape, particularly in areas without planning solutions, would be fairly good at passing it self on, which could explain its current prevalence. Now, that many societies have planning solutions this could be selected out(Granted society has made this immoral for quite a while now, but probably not as long as we like to think).
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Re: Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosop

Postby morriswalters » Thu Jun 24, 2010 2:14 pm UTC

Just an opinion mind you, but it seems to me that all morals can be thought of as abstractions of self interest. Life in it's simplest form desires to exist, not consciously, but much like a fire with access to fuel, that drive can be defined as self interest. A complex organism abstracts that self interest, because it has to, since once they form there has to be an overriding purpose, a gestalt so to speak. The more complex the organism the more complex the abstraction. Humans seem to have the most complex abstractions because they can !choose! to cease living. This implies the ability to abstract the possibility that self interest may have longer term goals then our immediate existence. What the ability to abstract like this gives us is the ability to extend the concept of self interest and to define it in terms of externals, in other words the ability to choose a course of action contrary to our immediate self interest. Ethics are a means to deal with the inevitable conflicts between self interest and the abstraction. The ability to abstract this way also gives us the ability to question our greater purpose and attempt to define that it. And for me that's what it's all about.

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Re: Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosop

Postby Dark567 » Thu Jun 24, 2010 2:31 pm UTC

morriswalters wrote: Ethics are a means to deal with the inevitable conflicts between self interest and the abstraction. The ability to abstract this way also gives us the ability to question our greater purpose and attempt to define that it. And for me that's what it's all about.


What I am arguing is that we are evolved to question and believe in our greater purpose, because believing in a greater purpose, even if there is no greater purpose, makes it more likely we will survive. This was chose by natural selection, as people who previously didn't have this belief didn't survive. And given the evidence, there in fact is no greater purpose.
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Re: Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosop

Postby infernovia » Thu Jun 24, 2010 3:48 pm UTC

thc wrote:All of those things can be explained in terms of increasing survival.

You are going to have to explain this. In what way did the first Buddha (Gotama) desire to abandon his family, his post as the king of the land increase survival (especially organic survival)?

thc? wrote:Even suicide: survival of an individual organism is an outdated concept. It's best to think about survival as "survival of genes."

What does "survival of the gene" mean? First of all, survival of an individual organism is obviously not all-encompassing because we are not immortal. But what does the "gene" mean? Perhaps those share the most amount of genes with you? But you can see that many great men annihilated or abandoned their family. But how similar is similar? When does the "survival of the gene" turn into "murder of alien gene?" If its just a matter of abstraction, wouldn't it be a better idea if you imagined everyone was your brother or sister or both? etc.

Izaawlgood wrote:While this is one explanation, I recall reading something about how the majority of people who took vows of celibacy also had many siblings.

This has nothing to do with people like Gotama who abandoned his kingdom, his family, to search for the truth. Or Heraclitus for that matter. Or Socrates. I am not arguing about those that are forced into these ideas to further growth, but those that follow this theory despite the immediate need for reproduction and survival. That it is a sublimation of those drives might be another story and probably is not what you are arguing anyway.

They do gain something, but it is not in the realm of "survival" unless you make it all encompassing (especially the idea of organic survival).

thc wrote:Yes, factually speaking, morals (probably) arose out of the need to survive.

On what grounds? Yes, many culture probably arose due to the need for a group to survive against hostile forces, but the culture the western world (the US) owns right now is not based on survival, but the excess of materials. In fact, its power is so great that there really are not many threats to its order, and all of THOSE ( Mutual destruction, etc.) are definitely not worried about by the society.

In fact, when the Christians that took apart the great powers that stood before ( Alexandria), I am sure survival was the furthest thing on their mind, probably Jealousy and revenge more like it. That they destroyed all of the old works as the work of heathens was probably due to their inability to overcome them in the first place, which gives them sub-optimal "survival" and "utility."

HedonicTreader wrote:OTOH, there is clearly good or bad.

You mean painful and not painful.

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Re: Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosop

Postby Izawwlgood » Thu Jun 24, 2010 3:55 pm UTC

infernovia wrote:This has nothing to do with people like Gotama who abandoned his kingdom, his family, to search for the truth. Or Heraclitus for that matter. Or Socrates.

All of which are quite rare in terms of the human condition, and none of which represent concrete, factual accounts of what occurred. A handful of exceptions (Wait, Socrates was married, wasn't he?) to the notion of celibacy does not for viable strategy make, when compared to the weight of institutionalized celibacy being documented as largely being filled with a membership consisting of younger siblings.
@Dark576: I think it goes without saying that rape is in no way a reasonable communal reproductive strategy, as it is akin to cheating, and many societies, especially animal ones, have very very stringent and harsh rules pertaining to cheaters.
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Re: Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosop

Postby infernovia » Thu Jun 24, 2010 4:13 pm UTC

"Quite rare" is not the same thing as "all of this can be explained by the idea of survival." For a lot of these people, the ability to limit the need of reproduction and survival (a sublimation of it rather than a repression) gave rise to their power.

when compared to the weight of institutionalized celibacy being documented as largely being filled with a membership consisting of younger siblings.

That has nothing to do with anything. And what about Tibet where it is the oldest sibling?

ape is in no way a reasonable communal reproductive strategy, as it is akin to cheating, and many societies, especially animal ones,

That makes no sense. Many animal societies exist with rape being perfectly common.

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Re: Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosop

Postby Izawwlgood » Thu Jun 24, 2010 4:22 pm UTC

infernovia wrote:That has nothing to do with anything. And what about Tibet where it is the oldest sibling?

Wasn't aware of that; I included sibling age rank to point out that many [European] societies practiced celibacy as a means for ensuring that the eldest child's offspring were successful. That in Tibet it is the eldest child's task to ensure their younger siblings are reproductively successful doesn't diminish the notion that celibacy != anti-evolution.
Izawwlgood wrote:That makes no sense. Many animal societies exist with rape being perfectly common.

No, many animals mating practice is akin to 'strongest male gets the female'. Rape implies the act of mating is against the wishes of the female; in the case of animals, the female is in estrus, and is actively ensuring her progeny will be able to secure mates of their own. Sexy Son Hypothesis.
In humans, rape has historically been used as a means for more violent societies to out breed from their smaller communities; it is no more a viable strategy than murdering your neighbor and stealing their homestead was a viable strategy in the Old West. Certainly, it happened, and some did it frequently, but they were met with harshly and cast out of the rest of society, precisely because their life strategy is akin to cheating. If you look at the list of so called altruistic habits on the wiki linked in the OP, you'll find that all of those strategies are acts of personal assurance of mutual investment, and none of them occur in the presence of an outed cheater.
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Re: Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosop

Postby infernovia » Thu Jun 24, 2010 4:51 pm UTC

That in Tibet it is the eldest child's task to ensure their younger siblings are reproductively successful doesn't diminish the notion that celibacy != anti-evolution.

That is a bad reproduction. It is not the eldest's task to ensure anything but to be a monk. It is now the parent's job to produce more than one child, which you know may may not happen (not evolutionary optimal, which is the entire point of this). And I never said anything to that sort, what I did say is that there is a list of many humans who sublimate the need for reproduction.

No, many animals mating practice is akin to 'strongest male gets the female'. Rape implies the act of mating is against the wishes of the female;

Thats what I am saying. The practice of many slugs, for example, is actually a jousting match between the two to see who will carry the next child (the loser carries the baby).

Certainly, it happened, and some did it frequently, but they were met with harshly and cast out of the rest of society,

Unless when they can't, see any warfare or any form of domination. I see your point though, that if the female doesn't desire mating, that society is going to have a difficult time surviving.

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Re: Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosop

Postby Izawwlgood » Thu Jun 24, 2010 5:20 pm UTC

infernovia wrote:That is a bad reproduction. It is not the eldest's task to ensure anything but to be a monk.

It's not bad reproduction if your actions increase the fecundity of your siblings. Which is what's happening in every case of an individual with siblings choosing to be celibate via a religious organizations mandates. Priests, Monks, whatevers, all bring honor/prestige/respect/wealth to a family, which means siblings are going to have an easier to rearing their own offspring.
infernovia wrote:It is now the parent's job to produce more than one child, which you know may may not happen (not evolutionary optimal, which is the entire point of this).

Surely you're aware that poorer societies have more children than wealthier societies...? The 'burden' of multiple offspring is typically a boon, rather than a hindrance to a family.
infernovia wrote:And I never said anything to that sort, what I did say is that there is a list of many humans who sublimate the need for reproduction.

My point was that just because some humans have (and incidentally, you haven't provided any who have surely done so whilst permanently removing themselves from the gene pool, as Gotama had lived as a prince for years and Socrates was married...), doesn't mean that it is in any way shape or form somehow linked to a higher calling of pure morality or some such; it is more likely the product of an evolutionary pressure in and of itself.

infernovia wrote:Unless when they can't, see any warfare or any form of domination.

Warring nations that did so were typically small, and ended up shrinking; a life of nomadism and tribal raiding precludes cultivating a robust and growing society, as well as developing ones own culture very far. There's a reason there are no large successful pillaging societies today. Furthermore, when the times were good (i.e., they could live agrarian lifestyles), they weren't out pillaging and raping.
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Re: Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosop

Postby Dark567 » Thu Jun 24, 2010 5:25 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:No, many animals mating practice is akin to 'strongest male gets the female'. Rape implies the act of mating is against the wishes of the female; in the case of animals, the female is in estrus, and is actively ensuring her progeny will be able to secure mates of their own. Sexy Son Hypothesis.
In humans, rape has historically been used as a means for more violent societies to out breed from their smaller communities; it is no more a viable strategy than murdering your neighbor and stealing their homestead was a viable strategy in the Old West. Certainly, it happened, and some did it frequently, but they were met with harshly and cast out of the rest of society, precisely because their life strategy is akin to cheating. If you look at the list of so called altruistic habits on the wiki linked in the OP, you'll find that all of those strategies are acts of personal assurance of mutual investment, and none of them occur in the presence of an outed cheater.


First off, the reason why we believe cheating to be bad, is also an evolutionary product. Both rape and our morality against cheating can be products of evolution, even if they conflict. The Sexy son hypothesis doesn't really rule out rape in animals, it says that females select the strongest male, this forces all of the non-strongest males to not pass on there genes or to rape for mates. This can cause a Disruptive Selection in which the only sets of genes that survive are the strong or the rapists.

Again I would like to point out that I think rape is now currently be selected against by our current society, but am just presenting it as a product of evolution.

I also find it interesting that wikipedia article you link to describes how female cheating could very well be a possible product of natural selection, even if we developed morals against. This could be very similar to the situation of rape.
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Re: Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosop

Postby infernovia » Thu Jun 24, 2010 5:50 pm UTC

Izaawlgood wrote: which means siblings are going to have an easier to rearing their own offspring.

Yes, this is true in the society that was created. But why does the society itself create it in this fashion? Why is there a need for someone to act celibate so that others can get wealth and respect?

Surely you're aware that poorer societies have more children than wealthier societies...? The 'burden' of multiple offspring is typically a boon, rather than a hindrance to a family.

Yes, but my point was fairly simple I thought. The older child is much more of a guarantee than the younger one (babies have a tendency of dying without proper medical care).

doesn't mean that it is in any way shape or form somehow linked to a higher calling of pure morality or some such; it is more likely the product of an evolutionary pressure in and of itself.

When did I say that? I said that the drive to reproduce and survive at the organic level (that is, creating more humans) doesn't account for the drives of people such as Gotama, Socrates. Their drive to reproduce and survive were then sublimated to something else and their focus was then transformed. A "higher calling" but not in the scope of "pure morality" anymore than "art for art's sake."

Gotama left his family, that he had a family, wealth, and was driven by those desires at one point of his life is of no issue (it doesn't contradict anything, it is irrelevant to the discussion).

Basically, I am calling bullshit on the whole gene thing, especially the need for it to be "the greatest good/utility." You guys are underestimating how much humans have tended to subvert, sublimate, repress, and reconstruct those drives. In fact, I don't disagree with most of what you guys have stated, just that you guys are attributing it to the wrong things.

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Re: Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosop

Postby ElPresidente » Thu Jun 24, 2010 6:17 pm UTC

In response to the OP (primarily).

Your problem is this: You're asking the wrong question.

"What is the correct theory of morals (or ethics)" isn't really a meaningful question. The deconstructionist artifice (and I say artifice advisedly, because it is basically a not-too-clever trick) is capable of reducing any coherent theory to essentialist building blocks; assumptions that cannot be meaningfully interrogated, or which the theory requires not be interrogated. In other words, all reasoning is "faith based" reasoning.

As an example, utilitarianism requires that one accept a priori that (in its purest form) "human happiness" is of moral value. Unless you think that is -worth something- the the entire utilitarian enterprise is fundamentally meaningless. To the point: You can't prove human happiness is, always and everywhere, worth something (worth something "morally", by the way; "of moral worth"). You either accept it, or you don't. And if you do and I don't, we can't talk meaningfully about utilitarian philosophy, because we'll always be talking past each other unless we're discussing that basic assumption itself... and if we are, we aren't having a useful discussion either because there aren't coherent arguments to be made.

In this sense, Kant had it right when he asserted the need for a first cause. Once we agree on that (whether it be Kant's God or any other) we can have meaningful conversations about morals. But the contrast between utilitarian and deontological (e.g. Kantian) moral philosophy cannot be resolved by reason because the fundamental assumptions are different. Human happiness itself is irrelevant to Kant; he is concerned with a person's thoughts, their will to action, rather than the action itself.

This doesn't mean that people can't or don't find particular formulations (Talmudic, Kantian, Benthamite, or otherwise) convincing and useful. It just means that there is no -positive- universal ethics unless one has exogenous Truth on which to rely; I don't think it is any impediment to a "normative", or immanent ethics, based on whatever concept.

Humanity's belief in ethics is not delusional (whether or not it is a product of evolution is not an interesting question; it probably depends mostly on an arbitrary exercise in line drawing). It is merely contingent.

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Re: Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosop

Postby Dark567 » Thu Jun 24, 2010 6:24 pm UTC

infernovia wrote:
Basically, I am calling bullshit on the whole gene thing, especially the need for it to be "the greatest good/utility." You guys are underestimating how much humans have tended to subvert, sublimate, repress, and reconstruct those drives. In fact, I don't disagree with most of what you guys have stated, just that you guys are attributing it to the wrong things.


First off, I am arguing there is no such thing as greatest good/utility. Thats the point of the discussion. Just because humans have been able subvert evolutionary drives doesn't mean that other evolutionary products are causing us to subvert them. This often happens with intelligence. We evolved to become intelligent and that intelligence often causes us to subvert our other evolutionary drives. This means that the outcome is still based off our evolution. Evolution does not alway produce traits that completely work in coordination with each other, sometimes these evolutionary traits conflict.

@ElPresidente:

I understand that there needs to be a first cause. I am asserting that there isn't one. Yes people can find certain formulations convincing, but they are wrong, and the usefulness of a theory has no bearing on its truth. I assert that there is no evidence for a first cause, and our constant belief in a first cause is due to evolution. Hence why I believe any normative ethical beliefs are a evolutionary delusion.
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Re: Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosop

Postby ElPresidente » Thu Jun 24, 2010 7:50 pm UTC

I was making a different distinction, though:

Saying that "there is no first cause" is the same as saying "there is no God", or "We have always been at war with Eastasia." It's a statement with content (a negation, sure, but that is content just as an affirmation would be). As such, it is vulnerable to the two chief weapons (amongst our weaponry are such diverse elements as...) of the post-Derridean thinker: "Why?" and "How do you know?" The point being, of course, that eventually, if you interrogate not only the initial principle "there is no first cause", but each successive explanation, one eventually arrives at a basic assumption the interrogated believes, rather than actually knows.

This, incidentally, is a fun way to poke fun at fans of Hitchens and Dawkins, if one is so inclined.

Now, there may BE no first cause. But there is a difference betwen the unknown and the unknowable, and moral philosophy as a discipline depends on the latter. Philosophy isn't like genetics, it's like Schroedinger's Cat. Dead cat? Live cat? It can't be stated in certainty, because we can't develop information about the system.

This is not nihilism! Nihilism is essentialist in the same way. It presumes a noncontingent negation which simply cannot be justified (because, once we start pretending to be deconstructionists, we can't justify anything that isn't contingent). Of course, none of us are actually like that. No one lives like a deconstructionist, because it is infinitely more rewarding to let some of those assumptions be and not muck it up by thinking about it.

But nihilism is not a solution to the Schroedinger's Cat dilemma, it's just a very simple way of saying "I'm just going to go ahead and assume that's a dead cat."

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Re: Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosop

Postby infernovia » Thu Jun 24, 2010 8:01 pm UTC

Dark567 wrote:Just because humans have been able subvert evolutionary drives doesn't mean that other evolutionary products are causing us to subvert them. This often happens with intelligence. We evolved to become intelligent and that intelligence often causes us to subvert our other evolutionary drives. This means that the outcome is still based off our evolution. Evolution does not alway produce traits that completely work in coordination with each other, sometimes these evolutionary traits conflict.

In which case now you have established evolution as not the notion of "survival," as "selfish gene" but the notion of "power," as "conflict," as "war." In other words, your establishment of evolution is simply the desire to historically reconstruct all value (to see their birth) and is no longer bound to the filial gene that evolution and the gene theory usually affiliates itself with.

So the "selfish" gene sees altruism as a benefit to one's kin... but what now of all the self-sacrifice to those that are not of one's biological kin? We have now removed the bond from the genetic relation between two individuals and now follow something else, an abstraction... no longer a genetic (or primarily, filial) master...

Someone says that survival is the base instinct, but is it really so? The terrorist that sacrifice themselves to annihilate the encroaching west, what of them? Certainly, they see their suicide and violence as a way to feedback against the destruction and violation of their customs. That their society will now become contested against is the point of their exercise.

Certainly, one can say this is evolution, but no longer of the primitive genetic kind. This argument based on evolution is just an exercise on the extension of an illusion, an abstraction to extend to almost all scenarios.

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Re: Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosop

Postby Dark567 » Thu Jun 24, 2010 8:26 pm UTC

ElPresidente wrote:Saying that "there is no first cause" is the same as saying "there is no God", or "We have always been at war with Eastasia." It's a statement with content (a negation, sure, but that is content just as an affirmation would be). As such, it is vulnerable to the two chief weapons (amongst our weaponry are such diverse elements as...) of the post-Derridean thinker: "Why?" and "How do you know?" The point being, of course, that eventually, if you interrogate not only the initial principle "there is no first cause", but each successive explanation, one eventually arrives at a basic assumption the interrogated believes, rather than actually knows.

This, incidentally, is a fun way to poke fun at fans of Hitchens and Dawkins, if one is so inclined.

There is a difference in believe "there is no god" and "there is a god". Yes they are both full of content, but they are still substantially different enough. Russell's tea pot exemplifies this. Is there or isn't there a tiny tea pot floating in the asteroid belt?

You can answer either "there is a tea pot" or "there isn't a tea pot". They are both full of content, but without any evidence the answer is obviously the latter. Why? because there isn't any evidence. How do I know? I don't for sure, but without evidence the probability is against it. This is exactly the insight that Dawkin's has which makes his arguments so consistent.

ElPresidente wrote:Now, there may BE no first cause. But there is a difference betwen the unknown and the unknowable, and moral philosophy as a discipline depends on the latter. Philosophy isn't like genetics, it's like Schroedinger's Cat. Dead cat? Live cat? It can't be stated in certainty, because we can't develop information about the system.

Right we can't know whether or not there is a first cause for morality, which is why by Russell's teapot we should assume there isn't any.
ElPresidente wrote:This is not nihilism! Nihilism is essentialist in the same way. It presumes a noncontingent negation which simply cannot be justified (because, once we start pretending to be deconstructionists, we can't justify anything that isn't contingent). Of course, none of us are actually like that. No one lives like a deconstructionist, because it is infinitely more rewarding to let some of those assumptions be and not muck it up by thinking about it.

But nihilism is not a solution to the Schroedinger's Cat dilemma, it's just a very simple way of saying "I'm just going to go ahead and assume that's a dead cat."


Moral nihilism does not assume the cat is dead, it makes no assumptions at all about non-moral things like cats being alive or dead. It simply states that all moral statements are false. It says "rape is good" is false. It says "rape is bad" is false. It states that any moral statement is false because morals do not exist.


infernovia wrote:In which case now you have established evolution as not the notion of "survival," as "selfish gene" but the notion of "power," as "conflict," as "war." In other words, your establishment of evolution is simply the desire to historically reconstruct all value (to see their birth) and is no longer bound to the filial gene that evolution and the gene theory usually affiliates itself with.

No, evolution as I intended is a notion of survival as a "selfish gene". I simple stated that the traits evolution and selfish genes produce sometimes conflict with one another. Thats it.

infernovia wrote:So the "selfish" gene sees altruism as a benefit to one's kin... but what now of all the self-sacrifice to those that are not of one's biological kin? We have now removed the bond from the genetic relation between two individuals and now follow something else, an abstraction... no longer a genetic (or primarily, filial) master...

Someone says that survival is the base instinct, but is it really so? The terrorist that sacrifice themselves to annihilate the encroaching west, what of them? Certainly, they see their suicide and violence as a way to feedback against the destruction and violation of their customs. That their society will now become contested against is the point of their exercise.


The products of evolution that cause us to survive can alls cause things like terrorism. An example would be something like loyalty. We may have evolved loyalty to help us survive, right? Well sometime when someone becomes loyal to a terrorist group that evolved sense of loyalty can override there evolved sense of self preservation.
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Re: Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosop

Postby infernovia » Thu Jun 24, 2010 8:32 pm UTC

The products of evolution that cause us to survive can also cause things like terrorism. An example would be something like loyalty. We may have evolved loyalty to help us survive, right? Well sometime when someone becomes loyal to a terrorist group that evolved sense of loyalty can override there evolved sense of self preservation.

As long as we have gone beyond the primitive gene theory that people have tried to describe.

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Re: Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosop

Postby ElPresidente » Thu Jun 24, 2010 9:04 pm UTC

Back when I was in school, we called it Occam's Razor, rather than Russell's teapot, but who's to quibble.

The problem with this sort of reductionist argument, and I include Dawkins, is that you don't actually know. It is merely the (empirical) indicators that you use, in your cognitive framework, that make it seem unreasonable that there's a teapot floating in the asteroid belt. Give me a couple of hundred million dollars and I could probably shoot one out there myself. Is it unlikely? I certainly think so. Is it impossible? Not at all. Is it easy to construct a cognitive framework where it's a reasonable possibility? Takes about five seconds.

Occam's Razor is a great practical tool. We all use it, knowingly or not. But it simply isn't good enough to say "the simplest explanation is the right one," because quite often, it isn't. Earth, air, fire and water is simpler than the periodic table, but not anywhere close to as good an explanation. Here's the quibble, in simple terms: You can't deploy empirical arguments against basic assumptions that do not admit empiricism.

Which is where I depart from Dawkins. I think his flying spaghetti monster really is about as likely as an omnipotent God, but I'm not going to rule out either one; each theory requires basic assumptions different from my own (practical) assumptions. But once you recognize that you're making that distinction based on empirical (what makes sense?) concepts, you can't challenge basic assumptions meaningfully, because you're back to arguing past, rather than with, your theistic or nonnihilist dialogic partner.

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Re: Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosop

Postby morriswalters » Thu Jun 24, 2010 11:02 pm UTC

Dark567 wrote:
morriswalters wrote: Ethics are a means to deal with the inevitable conflicts between self interest and the abstraction. The ability to abstract this way also gives us the ability to question our greater purpose and attempt to define that it. And for me that's what it's all about.


What I am arguing is that we are evolved to question and believe in our greater purpose, because believing in a greater purpose, even if there is no greater purpose, makes it more likely we will survive. This was chose by natural selection, as people who previously didn't have this belief didn't survive. And given the evidence, there in fact is no greater purpose.

My response is that evolution is a direct response self interest. We are not evolved to question or believe anything. It may be evolution tends to support generalists because generalist's may have a tendency to survive longer. Intelligence can be defined as the ultimate expression being a generalist. What intelligence does do is give us the ability and capacity abstract our drives very well. It also gives us the ability to think about the why. When we do so we are able to push the horizon of threat out further in time. This gives us more time to do something about it and increases the possibility of surviving the event. There are two greater purposes, the primary, the desire to survive, abstracted to mean survival of our kind of life, and the secondary, the search for the why of life. The ability to abstract the first leads to the second. And that is essentially unknowable. So for me the pursuit of the second becomes my purpose.

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Re: Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosop

Postby SnakesNDMartyrs » Thu Jun 24, 2010 11:35 pm UTC

(not evolutionary optimal, which is the entire point of this)

which gives them sub-optimal "survival"


Evolution does not work towards some kind of mythical 'optimal' amount of survivability - just something that works, even if only barely, will do fine.

Hedonic Treader wrote:OTOH, there is clearly good or bad. If there weren't, you could submerge your hand in boiling water without second thoughts. It's clear that the ultimate cause of this affective valuation was evolutionary selection presssure against genes that caused indifference or even positive valuation for this degree of tissue damage. But knowing this doesn't take one bit away of the reality of your agony, or its badness, while you feel it.


How is tissue damage to my hand always and forever objectively bad? You or I can subjectively judge it as bad, but that is meaningless when talking about objective morals - nothing is good or bad, only thinking makes it so. There would be no concepts of 'Good' or 'Bad' if it weren't for our ability to judge it, which is an arbitrary product of evolution.

ElPresidente wrote:The point being, of course, that eventually, if you interrogate not only the initial principle "there is no first cause", but each successive explanation, one eventually arrives at a basic assumption the interrogated believes, rather than actually knows.


You seem to be claiming that logical proofs of the non-existence of God are all circular?

ElPresidente wrote:The problem with this sort of reductionist argument, and I include Dawkins, is that you don't actually know.

ElPresidente wrote:Philosophy isn't like genetics, it's like Schroedinger's Cat. Dead cat? Live cat? It can't be stated in certainty, because we can't develop information about the system.


Logical proofs, like mathematical proofs, can be stated in certainty.
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Re: Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosop

Postby infernovia » Fri Jun 25, 2010 12:12 am UTC

Snakes wrote:Evolution does not work towards some kind of mythical 'optimal' amount of survivability - just something that works, even if only barely, will do fine.

And? I was using it in contrast to ideas similar to this:

Dark567 wrote:Our descriptive moral beliefs do exist to provide the greatest utility and survival.


Its not evolution but the survival and reproduction which others have espoused is the whole beginning of "morals" and "drives" that I disagree with. Once THAT limitation is removed, then the model will be complex enough to portray things in a more accurate fashion.

As I stated before, the history of human-kind is more complex than just a foray into survival and reproduction, you need to account for repression, sublimation, ressentiment, etc.

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Re: Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosop

Postby morriswalters » Fri Jun 25, 2010 1:18 am UTC

infernovia wrote:
Snakes wrote:Evolution does not work towards some kind of mythical 'optimal' amount of survivability - just something that works, even if only barely, will do fine.

And? I was using it in contrast to ideas similar to this:

Dark567 wrote:Our descriptive moral beliefs do exist to provide the greatest utility and survival.


Its not evolution but the survival and reproduction which others have espoused is the whole beginning of "morals" and "drives" that I disagree with. Once THAT limitation is removed, then the model will be complex enough to portray things in a more accurate fashion.

As I stated before, the history of human-kind is more complex than just a foray into survival and reproduction, you need to account for repression, sublimation, ressentiment, etc.

The model of self interest(or biological drive)becomes almost limitless in it's abilities to produce behaviors when you have the ability to abstract it. We rationalize when we abstract, what this implies in part is the ability to abstract correctly or incorrectly. This is in addition to the the biological drives. Given the possibility of failures of the underlying biological mechanism combined with the other two and you can explain any behavior.

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Re: Dark567's Theory of Evolutionary Moral Nihilism[Philosop

Postby G.v.K » Fri Jun 25, 2010 10:49 am UTC

Dark567 wrote:When you further think about it, the idea that for some reason there is some non-physical entity that makes some actions "good" and others "bad" seems absurd, as there is no other substance in the universe that is comparable to it.

Humanity's belief in ethics is a delusional product of evolution.


If you limit the argument here to what you are calling 'descriptive ethics', these things actually hold.

the non-physical entity that makes actions good and bad is our minds. probably there is no other substance in the universe comparable to our minds, although i really wouldn't know how to make that comparison.

from this phenomenological point of view, belief in ethics is not a delusion. i know that i have (descriptive) ethics. it cannot be doubted (in the Cartesian sense).

it's fairly unremarkable to say that my ethics are a product of evolution because you're using a framework in which everything is a product of evolution. ironically, just like in the past everything was the work of God.


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