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Re: [evol-psych] An Evolutionary Theory of Right and Wrong - NYT review of Moral Minds

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  • Jay R. Feierman
    Phil Roberts, Jr.: I recently presented a paper in which I argued precisely that, that our moral norms issue from an implicit theory of rationality in which
    Message 1 of 37 , Nov 2, 2006
      Phil Roberts, Jr.: I recently presented a paper in which I argued precisely that, that our moral norms issue from an implicit theory of rationality in which 'being rational' is simply a matter of 'being objective'.
      Jay R. Feierman: We have an evolved set of a priori, logical rules of reasoning in our brains. When we follow these rules in our decision making processes, we are being rational. These rules allow us to process information in ways that under natural conditions, usually maximize the adaptive value of the information. (Information = "that which is necessary to make decisions.")When these a priori rules of reasoning are working properly, they bias out behavior in adaptive ways. They don't work well in persons with Schizophrenia, which is why so much of the behavior of someone with Schizophrenia is maladaptive.
      There are many a priori, logical rules of reasoning by which we make decisions. For example, one of our rules is "(1) If it is either A or B and (2) it is not A, (3) therefore, it is B." However, moral norms are more than just having our behavior conform to our evolved, a priori, logical rules of reasoning. I could reason, "(1) I am hungry and have no bread and (2) You have more bread than you can eat and (3) therefore, I am going to take some of your bread."
      There is nothing illogical about the above sequence. It is both rational and objective. However, simply taking something from someone else is not moral. Most of us would not do this except in a life or death situation. I knew a man who told me that he killed another man, who was a stranger, for a potato in Budapest during World War II, as he had not eaten in a week. I think it is better to see our moral norms as evolving so as to facilitate both kin based altruism and reciprocal altruism. Whereas one does not have to be rational to engage in kin-based altruism one does have to be rational to engage in some complex forms of reciprocal altruism to figure out relative values.
      Our evolved, a priori, logical rules of reasoning evolved to bias our behavior in an adaptive way. Objectivity means an accurate depiction of something else. However, our evolved, a priori, logical rules of reasoning did not evolve to help us be objective. Rather, they evolved to allow us to maximize our reproductive success, which often requires us to be non-objective. At certain times our evolved, a priori, logical rules of reasoning get shut off and our behavior becomes determined almost entirely by our moods. Therefore, it is fair to say that our moral norms at times depend on our rationality but not always and sometimes not at all.
    • richfaussette
      See msg 30762 from 2004 for a discussion of relative ego value as a concept of self worth prompted by Phil s theorizing. Here it is reproduced below. Jay and
      Message 37 of 37 , Nov 19, 2006
        See msg 30762 from 2004 for a discussion of "relative ego value" as a
        concept of self worth prompted by Phil's theorizing. Here it is
        reproduced below. Jay and Phil's discussion is below it:

        Re: [evol-psych] RE: Gene-culture coevolution theory of altruism

        --- In evolutionary-psychology@yahoogroups.com, "Phil Roberts, Jr."
        <philrob@i...> wrote:
        'An increase in cognitive objectivity (knowledge, cognitive
        competence, wisdom, intelligence, etc.) "facilitates" an
        increase in valuative objectivity (valuative impartiality)
        I like this and have always been intrigued by Phil since hbe-l days.
        Assessments of *ego value relative to other individuals* have become
        decoupled from natural selection. The cognitive assessments we make
        and the reality we create to place ourselves within social
        hierarchies comfortably with a minimum of ontological anxiety have
        become strong enough to override formerly instinctive reproductive

        *The prime consideration of conscious ego value assessments is the
        management of ontological anxiety generated by one's social worth and
        right to life within a group, not reproductive success.*

        Instinct is loosened with consciousness to provide us with the
        ability to override the rigidity of instinct to make conscious
        choices. But the adaptiveness of instinct once lost must be regained
        by learning. The essence of religious discipline is the attempt to
        make adaptive learned behavior intuitive - which it no longer is.

        Else why would religion (the Gitas, Judaism, Zoroastrianism,
        Catholicism, Mormonism) have to have rules constantly exhorting
        people to achieve reproductive success if it was a cognitive

        Kids who kill other kids in school and then kill themselves have made
        their domination of those other kids even for that brief moment,
        their means of achieving the consciously perceived absolute ego value
        they have always been socially denied. They are not concerned about
        the ultimate reproductive cost of their behavior, only the very brief
        but devastatingly real cognitive benefit.

        The cognitive pursuit of relative ego value overrides the genes. It
        was meant to. The maintenance of rigid adaptive instinct precludes
        the expansion of the behavioral repertoire and the development of
        consciousness. We think of ourselves, not our progeny.

        All formal religion contains a personal discipline for abandoning
        our 'selves' to instinct so that we can take what was formerly
        instinctive and internalize it once again, only this time, by
        conscious choice because our instincts derived from our genes have
        necessarily been loosened to provide the cognitive freedom
        consciousness requires.

        rich faussette

        --- In evolutionary-psychology@yahoogroups.com, "Jay R. Feierman"
        <jfeierman@...> wrote:
        > Jay R. Feierman: I suspect that the concept of self-worth (which
        you need to define formally) is present only in a very few species
        and is most likely a reflection of some type of subjective evaluation
        of one's relative reproductive value.
        > Phil Roberts, Jr.: Yes. Why do you suppose it is present in only
        a few species, and possibly only in man to any significant degree?
        > Jay R. Feierman: The only species I'm sure it is present in is
        Homo sapiens. Perhaps it is only present in species which engage in
        complex, reciprocal reciprocity. In baboon societies, where one does
        not have the specialization that one has in human societies, a minute
        of grooming may be able to be reciprocated by a minute of grooming.
        Baboons are not specialists, like we are in complex societies.
        > Jay R. Feierman: I've assessed my own self-worth numerous times
        in my life but I'm biased and not objective about the assessment. My
        bias generated certain beliefs, which biased my behavior in a
        predictable way. I found it quite helpful, as it probably led me to
        do things that I might not have done if I had a more accurate opinion
        of my self worth.
        > Phil Roberts, Jr.: It sounds like you are of the opinion that
        nature has introduced a bias into your self-appraisals toward a
        somewhat exaggerated conception of your self-worth because an
        excessively objective appraisal would actually be maladaptive.
        > Jay R. Feierman: I believe that is correct but I also believe
        lots of things which are not true.
        > Phil Roberts, Jr.: If being more optimistic and willing to try
        things is adaptive, why wouldn't Mother Nature just build it in as a
        given, endowing us with the maximum amount of self-worth possible,
        and just use fear as an inhibitor where we might be biting off a
        little more than we can chew? Why not just use animal appetites
        counter-valenced by fear? That's the way its done in most other
        species, wouldn't you agree?
        > Jay R. Feierman: We believe things about ourselves which are not
        true. To give you a very personal example. I have a high level
        government security clearance. To get the clearance, among other
        things, I had to have an extensive background investigation, which
        gets repeated each five years. My relatives, neighbors, co-workers,
        supervisors, employees, etc. were all interviewed by the
        investigators. I have the right to get a copy of my background
        investigation and see what all of these people have said about me
        over the years. Yet, I have never wanted to do that, as I don't want
        to know. I'm happy with how I see myself and I don't want to be
        disillusioned by knowing how other people see me. That may tell you
        something about self worth and about me. Being more optimistic and
        willing to try things is not always adaptive. One has to strike a
        balance between one's abilities and the abilities of those with whom
        one is competing. I've applied for some high level jobs and have
        gotten them and I've applied for some other high level jobs and not
        gotten them. The last time a very high level job came up that I might
        have been qualified for, I decided not to apply because I didn't want
        the disappointment of not getting it, as each time I didn't get a
        particular position, it lowered my sense of self worth. As the song
        goes, one has to "know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em,"
        if you area poker player. Humans don't just use animal appetites
        because we have more tools in the toolbox, meaning in our head.
        > Phil Roberts, Jr.: I think of feelings of worthlessness as
        originating IN PART from a cognitive appraisal of one's worth based
        on one's life experiences. When negative, Mother Nature has opted to
        identify this appraisal with a sensation of unpleasantness in order
        to encourage the organism to take remedial action. This is because an
        organism that thinks its existence is of no value is going to be LESS
        MOTIVATED to do those things necessary to keep itself alive (the
        converse of the increased motivation you have already acknowledged to
        result from positive self-worth appraisals).
        > Jay R. Feierman: I agree with much of that. The sensation of
        unpleasantness may be the feeling of depression with its accompanying
        low self-esteem. However, depression often doesn't encourage the
        organism to take remedial action. That is a decision motivated not by
        the depression.
        > Phil Roberts, Jr.: This remedial action might be in the form of
        obtaining empirical evidence that one is indeed of worth, or it might
        be in the form of developing aggrandizing fantasies that one is of
        worth (e.g., that God is intensely concerned with the smallest
        details of one's life; or that one has the one true inviolable
        perspective on how science should be done in all paradigms [Jay], or
        that one has discovered the keys to the kingdom of a full fledged
        science of the mind [Phil]; etc.).
        > Jay R. Feierman: There are many types of remedial actions one can
        take if one is depressed with low self-esteem, which I think is the
        same as what you are calling low self worth. Unfortunately, when one
        is depressed, one is rarely creative and trying to develop anything
        is creative. I don't believe it is possible to pull oneself out of
        Major Depression or the depressed phase of Bipolar Disorder by
        creative remedial actions. However, when one is not depressed,
        creatively motivated behavior can add to one's sense of self-worth,
        especially if what one creates receives recognition as being a
        valuable contribution to a particular discipline.
        > Phil Roberts, Jr.: I should also point out a technical detail
        here. Although it is my contention that 'feelings of worthlessness'
        are maladaptive, its not so much THE FEELING that is maladaptive,
        since the pain part of the feeling is merely a means of getting the
        organism to take corrective action. So technically I suppose you
        could say that the feeling itself is actually adaptive.
        > Jay R. Feierman: Feelings of worthlessness, like low self-esteem
        may both be vestiges of adaptations, if they bias behavior in a
        predictable way and that way was adaptive in the environment of
        evolutionary adaptation (EEA). They may not be currently adaptive at
        the individual level in modern, industrialized societies. Again,
        depending on what is causing the feelings of worthlessness or low
        self-esteem, Major Depression or something else, corrective actions
        may or not be possible and may or may not help.
        > Phil Roberts, Jr.: Rather, it's more THE APPRAISAL that one is
        worthless that is maladaptive.
        > Jay R. Feierman: What if one really is worthless? By worthless I
        mean no good to anyone, including oneself. That's where belief in God
        may help.
        > Phil Roberts, Jr.: However, all in all, I maintain that human
        beings would be better off if these feelings weren't necessary in the
        first place, if we all were simply endowed with the maximum amount of
        self-worth possible, suitably adjusted to take account of kin
        selected valuing of others.
        > Jay R. Feierman: That's like saying that human beings would be
        better off if feelings of pain weren't necessary in the first place.
        We should be endowed with the most self worth we can garner for
        ourselves, plus what we distort through self-deception and believing
        things about ourselves which are not true.
        > Phil Roberts, Jr.: But it should be understood that when I try to
        make the case for the maladaptiveness of feelings of worthlessness, I
        am referring to the combination of the cognitive component and the
        affective component taken as a whole.
        > Jay R. Feierman: I'd be very cautious about proposing that a
        particular cognitive/feeling state, such as thoughts and feelings of
        worthlessness, which is not that uncommon in humans, at least
        transiently, is maladaptive. I have felt worthless one time in my
        life. The feeling lasted several hours and was not associated with
        Major Depression. As a result of that feeling, I have modified my
        behavior in such a way that it most likely will not happen again.
        Therefore, the feeling for me was adaptive, although I felt terrible
        for several hours. What led to that feeling was my behavior, which in
        retrospect was maladaptive.
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