Friday, 22 July 2011

Logic as an amplifier for morality

What I would like to talk about today is a rather simple, if provocative, statement: that morality is only partly inherent, and the negative utilitarian morality that most easily follows from the logic of more suffering = bad feels absolutely non-intuitive if you look at it more closely.
Humans naturally have no qualms about killing and eating animals, despite how most animals have more matching genetic bases in their DNA than non-matching bases. Animals feel pain, suffering and some can even recognise themselves in a mirror. But looking at tribes and religions, you can see that no one up to modern times actually cared much about animals (tribes kill animals indiscriminately for food instinctively, religions often describe animals as having been made for humans to eat).
Most governments these days, even the very liberal ones, use punitive laws, which make absolutely no sense given the old adage: two wrongs don't make a right. Increasing the amount of suffering in the world is always wrong, so punishing people by deprivation in jail is wrong (though I would agree that removing them from the populace is necessary to stop the suffering of other people BUT NOTHING MORE THAN THAT). 
Stanley Milgram's experiments show clearly that humans do not always put their morality above authority - even with no action taken towards themselves, no loss of anything, or gain of anything, people could be persuaded to give electric shocks to others. If one realises that suffering is simply bad, then it seems strange to lose your morality and inflict it because an authority figure commands it (various genocides can be attributed to this simple flaw in human psychology).
Racism is only thought of as wrong today due to the large amount of social conditioning we have amassed over the years.No racism is not inherent, but the drives that create it are this way. If you are in a different, competing group to someone, you will eventually grow to hate them, or at least feel a large amount of hostility towards them. This has been demonstrated with studies on children in a camp environment.
Sadism (Schadenfreude)
Humans have some degree of Schadenfreude in-built, and as the Stanford Prison Experiment shows, hatred against a differing group can build up to almost sadistic levels. Humans do not always feel empathy - especially not for those who are different, or perceived as 'evil'. This makes no sense from a negative utilitarian point of view.

Why is Negative Utilitarianism superior? Because it works on the simple premise that, again, suffering is bad, and anything bad we should necessarily want less of in the world. Now I've argued elsewhere that perhaps morality isn't as soundly based on logic as we think it is, but currently I am a Negative Utilitarian because I cannot rid myself of my empathy, and because I believe that the fact that I could have been born as someone else (as far as I know) means that I should care about other people/animals.

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