Re: [evol-psych] An Evolutionary Theory of Right and Wrong - NYT review of Moral Minds
- 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.
- 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 email@example.com, "Phil Roberts, Jr."
'An increase in cognitive objectivity (knowledge, cognitive
competence, wisdom, intelligence, etc.) "facilitates" an
increase in valuative objectivity (valuative impartiality)
IRRESPECTIVE OF ITS ADAPTIVENESS.
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
--- In firstname.lastname@example.org, "Jay R. Feierman"
>you need to define formally) is present only in a very few species
> Jay R. Feierman: I suspect that the concept of self-worth (which
and is most likely a reflection of some type of subjective evaluation
of one's relative reproductive value.
>a few species, and possibly only in man to any significant degree?
> Phil Roberts, Jr.: Yes. Why do you suppose it is present in only
>Homo sapiens. Perhaps it is only present in species which engage in
> Jay R. Feierman: The only species I'm sure it is present in is
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.
>in my life but I'm biased and not objective about the assessment. My
> Jay R. Feierman: I've assessed my own self-worth numerous times
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.
>nature has introduced a bias into your self-appraisals toward a
> Phil Roberts, Jr.: It sounds like you are of the opinion that
somewhat exaggerated conception of your self-worth because an
excessively objective appraisal would actually be maladaptive.
>lots of things which are not true.
> Jay R. Feierman: I believe that is correct but I also believe
>things is adaptive, why wouldn't Mother Nature just build it in as a
> Phil Roberts, Jr.: If being more optimistic and willing to try
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?
>true. To give you a very personal example. I have a high level
> Jay R. Feierman: We believe things about ourselves which are not
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.
>originating IN PART from a cognitive appraisal of one's worth based
> Phil Roberts, Jr.: I think of feelings of worthlessness as
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).
>unpleasantness may be the feeling of depression with its accompanying
> Jay R. Feierman: I agree with much of that. The sensation of
low self-esteem. However, depression often doesn't encourage the
organism to take remedial action. That is a decision motivated not by
>obtaining empirical evidence that one is indeed of worth, or it might
> Phil Roberts, Jr.: This remedial action might be in the form of
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.).
>take if one is depressed with low self-esteem, which I think is the
> Jay R. Feierman: There are many types of remedial actions one can
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.
>here. Although it is my contention that 'feelings of worthlessness'
> Phil Roberts, Jr.: I should also point out a technical detail
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.
>may both be vestiges of adaptations, if they bias behavior in a
> Jay R. Feierman: Feelings of worthlessness, like low self-esteem
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.
>worthless that is maladaptive.
> Phil Roberts, Jr.: Rather, it's more THE APPRAISAL that one is
>mean no good to anyone, including oneself. That's where belief in God
> Jay R. Feierman: What if one really is worthless? By worthless I
>beings would be better off if these feelings weren't necessary in the
> Phil Roberts, Jr.: However, all in all, I maintain that human
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.
>better off if feelings of pain weren't necessary in the first place.
> Jay R. Feierman: That's like saying that human beings would be
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.
>make the case for the maladaptiveness of feelings of worthlessness, I
> Phil Roberts, Jr.: But it should be understood that when I try to
am referring to the combination of the cognitive component and the
affective component taken as a whole.
>particular cognitive/feeling state, such as thoughts and feelings of
> Jay R. Feierman: I'd be very cautious about proposing that a
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.