Life Driven Purpose, pg 55

Oct 11, 2016

“I think most believers are good people. Although religious doctrine is generally irrational, divisive, and irrelevant to human values, some religions have good teachings sprinkled in with the dogma, and many well-meaning believers, to their credit, concentrate on those teachings. Surveying the smorgasbord of belief systems, we notice that they occasionally talk about peace and love. Who would argue with that? Sermons and holy books may encourage charity, mercy, and compassion, even sometimes fairness. These are wonderful ideas, but they are not unique to any religion. We might judge one religion to be better than another, but notice what we are doing. When we judge a religion, we are applying a standard outside of the religion. We are assuming a framework against which religious teachings and practices can be measured. That standard is the harm principle. If a teaching leans toward harm, we judge it as bad. If it leans away from harm, it is good, r at least better than the others. If a religious precept happens to be praiseworthy it is not because of the religion but in spite of it. Its moral worth is measured against real consequences, not orthodoxy or righteousness.”

–Dan Barker, Life Driven Purpose, pg 55


Discuss!

29 comments on “Life Driven Purpose, pg 55

  • That standard is the harm principle.

    What principle do we use when there are disagreements among groups and individuals about which things cause harm and which things do not?



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  • @ PeacePecan 1

    Good question, PeacePecan. I would add that the question “what causes harm?” is less confusing than this one: “what IS harm?”. One man’s meat is another man’s poison.

    Most believers are good people? I am not even sure that most atheists are good people. What does he base that on?

    (Don’t get me wrong; atheism is to be preferred to theism, obviously.)



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  • Most believers are good people?

    I think it would be more precise to say that most people think they are good people, or perhaps that they try to be good people, based on their own understanding of what “good people” means.

    I think for many theists, belief in the existence of a “higher authority” satisfies my question above. God as mediator, ombudsman (conceding that there’s still the issue of “which god”). I’m not sure who or what fills that role for atheists (and why).



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  • “We might judge one religion to be better than another, but notice what we are doing. When we judge a religion, we are applying a standard outside of the religion. We are assuming a framework against which religious teachings and practices can be measured. That standard is the harm principle.”

    Then you go on to apply to religion a standard outside religion:

    “If a religious precept happens to be praiseworthy it is not because of the religion but in spite of it. Its moral worth is measured against real consequences, not orthodoxy or righteousness.”

    Orthodoxy may not be a legitimate standard for you but it is a universally recognised religious standard. To judge a religion by its own standards is to, in part, test orthodoxy.



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  • Mike Tea #4
    Oct 12, 2016 at 10:05 am

    “We might judge one religion to be better than another, but notice what we are doing. When we judge a religion, we are applying a standard outside of the religion. We are assuming a framework against which religious teachings and practices can be measured. That standard is the harm principle.”

    Then you go on to apply to religion a standard outside religion:

    An example of this, would be criticising Jehovah’s Witnesses for refusing their children certain medical treatments.
    By their own dogmas this is virtuous.
    By the standards of sustaining and improving the quality of human health and human life, or reducing human suffering, it is damaging.

    “If a religious precept happens to be praiseworthy it is not because of the religion but in spite of it. Its moral worth is measured against real consequences, not orthodoxy or righteousness.”

    Orthodoxy may not be a legitimate standard for you but it is a universally recognised religious standard.

    This is not so. Even within particular religions and denominations, there is a diversity of views and interpretations. There are no “universally recognised religious standards”, except perhaps in the minds of individual self-centred believers.

    To judge a religion by its own standards is to, in part, test orthodoxy.

    It will test the self-consistency of the orthodoxy, and the consistency of its application by its followers, but that is entirely independent of objective evaluation of effects on people.
    Hence the conflicts in societies between followers and promoters of dogmas, and those supporting the secular physical and mental rights and interests of human citizens.
    Religions generally put the interests of promoting the religion and particular gods, before the interests of humans.

    Here is another example.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-37604951

    Indian police are investigating the parents of a 13-year-old girl who died last week after undertaking a religious fast for 68 days.

    Police in southern Hyderabad city told BBC Hindi they want to know if Aradhana Samdariya was forced to fast.

    Her parents have insisted she voluntarily fasted as prescribed in Jainism, one of the world’s most ancient religions.

    The case has sparked a debate about the practice of religious fasting in India.

    Reports said Aradhana lived for 68 days on boiled water. Two days after she called off her fast last week, she was dead.

    “The parents – Laxmi Chand and Manshi Samdariya – have been booked under culpable homicide [causing death by negligence] and Juvenile Justice Act [cruelty against minors],” the spokesperson said.



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  • Most people are good, in principle; obviously society would cease to function were that not true.

    Bad behaviour increases with population density, in modern countries; particularly Islam, which
    is a 7th century relic that somehow survives in all its rottenness. Humans seem to have always
    had a uniquely cruel and vicious streak that has been moderated by the rise of law and order.
    Against which we must admit the growth of mass murder in warfare.

    Is there a definitive answer? Yes, but with very serious qualifiers.



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  • Re JimJFox “Most people are good, in principle”: Not so sure about this. We have both good and bad aspects inside of us, nobody is just “good” or “bad” (independent of how this is defined).
    And re “obviously society would cease to function were that not true”: Not sure about this, either. You might think of society as the correcting factor that ensures that people do more “good” than “bad” to each other (e.g., by imposing sentences on people who behave “badly” according to the specific society’s standards). In this way, you would consider one function of society (the regulatory factor) as having developed as a consequence of the good / bad in all of us.



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  • Morpheus,

    Nice to e-meet you. Very well said. I agree, although I would have phrased it this way: there are good people and bad people and there is everything in-between. Here’s a marvelous quote, one of my favorites. Most people on this site and in the scientific and psychiatric community are opposed to what is being suggested here. These communities appear unwilling to consider the possibility that the ethical character is an inborn disposition, as opposed to a product of environmental influences only. They dismiss this as metaphysics – which it may in fact be.

    The problem – I must confess – is proving my point. In any event, I’d like readers to at least read the passage and see if it doesn’t speak to them, if it doesn’t have a ring of profound truth.

    The question has been asked what two men would do each of whom had grown up quite alone in the wilderness and who met each other for the first time. Hobbes, Pufendorf, and Rousseau have given opposite answers. Pufendorf believed they would affectionately greet each other; Hobbes on the other hand, thought they would be hostile, whilst Rousseau considered that they would pass each other by in silence. All three are both right and wrong; for precisely here the immeasurable difference of the inborn moral disposition of individuals would appear in so clear a light that we should have, as it were, its rule and measure. For there are those in whom the sight of man stirs feelings of hostility in that their innermost being exclaims “not-I”. And there are others in whom that sight at once arouses feelings of friendly interest and sympathy; their true nature exclaims “I once more!”. There are innumerable degrees between the two.
    —Schopenhauer, Parerga and Paralipomena II, On Ethics



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  • Dan #9
    Oct 13, 2016 at 3:23 am

    . Most people on this site and in the scientific and psychiatric community are opposed to what is being suggested here. These communities appear unwilling to consider the possibility that the ethical character is an inborn disposition, as opposed to a product of environmental influences only.

    That is simply not so!
    Evolved reciprocal altruism and self-sacrifice by individuals for the good of the community, are well documented in evolutionary biology, and behavioural psychology.
    This includes the percentage balance between altruistic and selfish individuals in the survival prospects of particular communities.

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/altruism-biological/



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  • Dan

    The question has been asked what two men would do each of whom had grown up quite alone in the wilderness and who met each other for the first time.

    This has to be one of the most ill-formed and least informing, anthropological/psychological thought experiments. I’m sorry to see it again. Humans are born prematurely with poorly formed brains at birth. The feral child in reality fairs very, very badly in most contexts. This profoundly misunderstands our immediate need for enculturation of some sort as moulding context for the expression of our phenotype. It misapprehends the profound importance of very early experience.

    As for varieties of character. We are hugely various. That is possibly our greatest strength. Neural diversity. Do you rather want to be able to claim not that some folk have zero or no empathy or acknowledge others’ cortisol abused brains in infant-hood, but that some are innately evil?



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  • phil rimmer #11
    Oct 13, 2016 at 5:53 am

    The question has been asked what two men would do each of whom had grown up quite alone in the wilderness and who met each other for the first time.

    This has to be one of the most ill-formed and least informing, anthropological/psychological thought experiments. I’m sorry to see it again.

    It does seem to suggest that some newborn, can exist independent of learning from its mother, or that the mother can successfully raise him in isolation, independently of a social group or social support – thus producing a child/man with no concept of social skills.



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  • With regard to the two men meeting: here I would expect innate aggressive behaviors to come forward. I think suspicion and/or hostility would be the likely result. Inborn suspicion and readiness for hostility are, I think, highly conserved as powerfully adaptive behaviors. Example one: for early hominids in particular, anyone or anything that was “other” represented a potentially fatal interaction. The next group to be encountered may attack to claim resources and to eliminate competition. In the modern era, I hypothesize that aggressive behaviors such as racism and bigotry would have biological roots in this programmed behavior (or predisposition, if you prefer). The beauty of modern, advanced, secular societies is that this programmed behavior can be overridden by sound reasoning and cultural conditioning. On the other hand, watching today’s latest American national political dysfunction may falsify this last argument, 🙂 leading me to example two:
    Mr. Trump typifies the hyper-aggressive tail of the inborn aggression curve. Robert Hare’s research and writings on psychopathy are spot on here, especially “Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work”. Hare makes the case that many highly successful business people are in fact psychopaths. Some of these “captains of industry” are what he terms noncriminal psychopaths. Their coldness and control give them the ability to make business decisions that harm many, without compunction. By contrast, Hare suggests that his other category, criminal psychopaths, fail due to instability, especially poor impulse control. These individuals land in prison and are often habitual offenders. If you consult Hare’s PCL-R (Psychopathy Checklist, Revised) Mr. Trump shows most of the traits of psychopathy, at the very least Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It is beginning to appear that he lies at the boundary between criminal and noncriminal psychopathy. His impulsiveness (witness his frequent lashing out, symptomatic of narcissistic rage) has landed him in frequent trouble lately due to his greatly enhanced visibility. The “monster can’t hide” anymore.
    Returning to my argument, Hare hypothesizes that psychopaths are conserved in the population because under extreme duress these individuals have a much greater chance of survival, hence their behavior traits are selected for. Thankfully, these individual are at the tail of the curve.



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  • Alan4D 10, Phil, others

    I am sorry that you didn’t like my quote. I did.

    “Evolved reciprocal altruism and self-sacrifice by individuals for the good of the community, are well documented in evolutionary biology, and behavioural psychology.”

    So empathy and sympathy are in fact inherited? are innate? This would support, at the very least, the a priori nature of the moral character, although I don’t think that anything in the brain actually causes us to feel empathy; empathy, in my opinion, causes neural-physiological correlates to become manifest. Muscle doesn’t cause strength. The need, the desire to lift, and the act, caused muscle to be formed, which produces strength. The need to stand upright produced the development of increased muscular strength and skeletal changes. Increased strength did not produce the ability to evolve in this way. The part of the brain that Phil insists causes empathy or sympathy does not cause those emotions. Empathy is a mystery still. These emotions are primary, and they produce activity in the brain – and everything produces such activity, activity that can be detected and observed.

    I suspect that the feelings, the need, the acts, of sympathy and altruism, precede and produce neural activity.

    Would you also agree, Alan, that antipathy and the absence of altruism are inherited traits?

    -Dan (the fool on the hill)



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  • Phil,

    “This profoundly misunderstands our immediate need for enculturation of some sort as moulding context for the expression of our phenotype.” —PR

    Straw man. We do need moulding, yes. And you’re also taking that exquisite quote too literally.

    And let me ask you this: can you “mold” the trunk of an oak tree with your bear hands? Well the character is analogous to that tree. And like the tree it needs light and water; it needs to be exposed to these elements. (I admit that I can’t prove that the moral character is innate. I wish I could. Maybe I will provide good evidence one of these days.)

    Take care, my friend.



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  • Dan

    The part of the brain that Phil insists causes empathy or sympathy does not cause those emotions. Empathy is a mystery still.

    No. Professor Simon Baron Cohen the UK’s expert on autism details the ten or so components that we know so far that constitute what he calls the empathy circuits. Empathy is a naturally occurring and innate emotion-type attribute mediated often by oxytocin with numerous triggers and roots. It evolved from mammalian nurturing of the young pacifying and bonding, into a means of enhancing social mutuality to achieve co-operative ends. Professior Frans de Waals illuminates its animal roots.

    Zero degrees of Empathy, SBC

    The Age of Empathy, FdW

    Nor have I ever indicated a part of the brain that “causes empathy” (though a couple of years ago I discussed how mirror neurons may train infants to read and experience the feelings of their parents via their body language.) I have recently discussed the familiar neural mechanism for intellectually vetoing automatic actions.

    We have disussed many times before that sympathy is a culturally learned attribute, formed on the substrate of the emotion-like empathy but built substantially using reason.

    Do you retain ANY of this stuff ever? Or is this faux ignorance? An insistence that neurscience doesn’t in fact talk about astonishingly complex systems of overlapping and intermingled functions but rather discrete little boxes that issue caring and hateful edicts.



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  • @dan

    can you “mold” the trunk of an oak tree with your bear hands?

    Ignoring the hilarious mis-spelling, the answer has to be an emphatic Yes. You just have to take long enough, don’t be impatient. Just like you can grow cubical watermelons, or hexagonal oranges, you can constrain a growing tree to take on any shape you care to impose.



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  • Bare hands. Sorry. You missed my point, Ohoo.

    I don’t know enough about autism to refute your claims, PR. Nor do I wish to.

    But this is hopelessly vague. Naturally occurring and innate?

    Empathy is a naturally occurring and innate emotion-type attribute mediated often by oxytocin with numerous triggers and roots.

    Then you write this:

    …sympathy is a culturally learned attribute, formed on the substrate of the emotion-like empathy but built substantially using reason.

    A contradiction or did I miss something? Is empathy so different than sympathy? Perhaps it is. Empathy is more intellectual, less of a feeling than sympathy.

    Reason and sympathy have nothing to do with each other. Nothing! (Let’s keep it simpler and forget about empathy. Empathy is vital, but not as interesting – scientifically or philosophically – as sympathy. By the way, many people have reason and no sympathy. Many people can sympathize but have hardly any ability to reason.)

    What causes sympathy? You are vague, ambiguous and, if I am not mistaken, inconsistent. And if you agree that it isn’t “caused by the brain” then what does cause it? What exactly is sympathy? I don’t claim to have the full answer; do you?

    I do remember, and disagree (although you contradicted yourself, I think); sympathy is most definitely not culturally learned. Only behavior is learned. (I cannot prove this at this time.)

    (Empathy is aided by sympathy, but may not require it. Different animal. I need to look that word up, however.)



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  • P.S. Empathy is innate but sympathy is learned? Who said that? That’s funny. How do those brain maps show the difference? Is empathy dark yellow? Is sympathy bright orange?



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  • Phil,

    Quick question about autism:

    Are people with autism less able to feel empathy because they are lacking the components that constitute the empathy circuits, or are they lacking the components that constitute the empathy circuits because they are less able to feel empathy?



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  • Dan,

    I’m “on the spectrum” of autism though very mildy. I have cognitive errors about reading a few specific facial expressions and I had a lot of misunderstanding of what was going on between people when younger. I chose against physics (which I found easy) to become for a while an actor. I studied people very closely and every day out and about. Though aspie I became what I have subsequently termed a house-trained aspie. I find my emotional responses are the equal of others now, but I may be brought to tears as much or more by words than a trembling lower lip.

    Their might be quite a cluster of symptons that prevent empathy its full normal expression, for instance, the successful reading of the specific muscle language of others. (I’m also very poor at identifying voices, and need others to anounce themselves on the phone. I have a terrible memory for faces. I have a great memory for other kinds of detail. I frequently merge two people into a single identity on the basis of small shared facial features.)

    People lack components perhaps through failing to develop them at key times. This is entirely a neural wiring issue.

    Developmentally it is significant that expression of autist symptoms quite often occurs either through, or from about the end of the great brain growth spurt, when our associative corteces are formed and the ferocious pruning back of the new tangles begins (the terrible twos onwards).

    The association of synaesthesia with autism is a strong indicator of this period of problem.

    http://network.autism.org.uk/good-practice/evidence-base/synaesthesia-autism

    Synaesthesia is mooted to be a problem of mispruned wiring in the newly grown (overgrown) associative corteces giving wrong category sensations to specific stimulus. It is notable that autist synaesthetes have touch sensations when seeing objects rather than when seeing other people touch objects. (This, is the youthful purpose of mirror neutons, feeling (as in touch-feel) what others touch. Having another’s toothache. In modest ways, mind reading. My childhood miswiring stops me reading other other people’s )



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  • Sorry, failed to edit the remaining spelling errors due to crappy multitasking abilities, breakfast, phone and typing.

    and

    I do remember, and disagree (although you contradicted yourself, I think); sympathy is most definitely not culturally learned.

    I don’t believe I made any such mistake unless it was a writing error.



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  • Dan #15
    Oct 13, 2016 at 7:41 pm

    And let me ask you this: can you “mould” the trunk of an oak tree with your bare hands? Well the character is analogous to that tree.

    Any tree can be moulded if you start when it is young, and work at it over time.
    Ship-builders in the middle-ages used to shape oak trees for decades, into the forked trunks and forked branches they used for the ribs of wooden ships.

    Modern gardeners shape espalier fruit trees to grow against walls and fences.

    http://www.starkbros.com/growing-guide/article/espalier-fruit-trees

    Espalier is the ancient horticultural art of pruning and training a tree or shrub to grow flat against a support, creating a living sculpture. According to American Garden History, espalier was originally used to create outdoor “walls” in Europe during the Middle Ages and was also planted in interior courtyard walls to prevent late frost bud-kill.

    Other records show this technique dates back to ancient Egypt, where hieroglyphs of espaliered fig trees have been found in tombs dating back to 1400 B.C.



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  • Phil, Alan, others

    Nice photo, Phil.

    Sympathy is the one on top.

    It (sympathy or compassion) is identification. That is, in my excellent opinion, the only way to adequately do justice to it. That identification with another’s pain (or joy) is a sympathetic (moral) relation of Being to Being. It is still a mystery.

    Empathy (below) is closely related but there is no real sorrow or pity. I think that word was created at a much later date, but I could be wrong.

    I may have been mistaken about your “contradiction.”— But you said of empathy and sympathy that one was learned and the other was innate. What is your basis for this?

    I will “torture” you with this once again. Read it carefully. I understand that there is a suggestion of permanence; but doesn’t our own experience with others support the fundamental premise of stubborn refusal, of obduracy, of recalcitrance? That is the character itself that we may be up against. They are like machines, or hypnotized patients. You know that this is true.

    “The motives suggesting loving-kindness [sympathy], which stir so deeply a good disposition, can, of themselves, effect nothing in a heart that listens only to the promptings of Egoism. If it be wished to induce the egoist to act with beneficence and humanity, this can be done but in one way: he must be made to believe that the assuaging of others’ suffering will, somehow or other, surely turn out to his own advantage.

    What, indeed, are most moral systems but attempts of different kinds in this direction? […] To make a real improvement, it would be necessary to transform the entire nature of the individual’s susceptibility for motives. Thus, from one we should have to remove his indifference to the suffering of others as such; from another, the delight which he feels in causing pain; from a third, the natural tendency which makes him regard the smallest increase of his own well-being as so far outweighing all other motives, that the latter become as dust in the balance. Only it is far easier to change lead into gold [or bend an oak with one’s bare hands] than to accomplish such a task.”



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  • fadeordraw

    He does seem rather superficial, doesn’t he? They got rid of the YouTube lady. (Forgot her name.) Maybe this guy will get booted too.

    (Nice photo. You look like a movie actor. Is that you?)



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  • To Dan Barker:

    When we judge a religion, we are applying a standard outside of the
    religion. We are assuming a framework against which religious
    teachings and practices can be measured. That standard is the harm
    principle.

    It is not only ONE religion, the problem is ALL religions. When people can be made to believe in absurdities, they can me made to commit atrocities. (Voltaire)



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