My Instinct is to say the Morality is not Instinctive

Part of an ongoing conversation:

wrf3 writes

“I hold to the rules of logic … because without them communication with others is impossible, and because they are required for coherence with the natural world. In other words, if I want my bridges to keep standing, there are certain mathematical forms that I must follow. If I want to talk to you, there are also certain forms that I must follow.”

Very good: do you also want to be honest with me when you talk to me? Do you want me to be honest to you? Do you want to be honest to yourself in your own thinking when you use the rule of logic on logical propositions, or when communicating, or when building bridges? Because you could of course choose to deceive yourself, use rhetoric rather than logic, communicate lies and nonsense, and let the bridges fall.

My question specifically is about this conversation. Do you want me to be honest with you when we discuss this matter, to tell the truth, not to play rhetorical tricks or change the subject, and not to pretend I have won the debate if I lost it?

If so, what it is you are wanting when you want that?

I submit that what you are wanting is that I adhere to a moral standard we both tacitly acknowledge as having authority over us. Since I did not make it up and neither did you, and I never agreed to it and neither did you, the common sense conclusion is that it is not manmade. Since this rule applies no matter what the laws of physics are, it is not a rule deduced from any empirical perception, any more than the rules of logic or math.

“We generally think it is wrong to break one’s word because that is uncooperative behavior and we, as a species, realize that our biology works better when we cooperate…”

So, if I were a Martian, or a ghost, or a robot, or some other creature with a slightly different or very different biology, would it be morally right for me to break my word in that circumstance?

What makes you think the biological origins are inventing something rather than perceiving something? My eye is a biological organ, but it perceives light, it does not create light.

“You’ve taken a biological fact and enshrined it in mysticism, because you don’t understand the underlying mechanism.”

My theory about the origins of the perception of the moral order of the universe has not the slightest hint mysticism to it. Puh-lease.

But, even granting your argument about the biological origins of morality, what makes you think that cheating at chessgames is not a Darwinian survival trait?

One would think that games existed only so recently in cosmic history, and to be so unrelated to survival chances, that there was no time for a natural selection for good sportsmanship to develop any statistically significant numbers in any particular bloodlines?

(Also, which bloodlines are prone to cheating? Blacks? Jews? Chinese? By your theory, scientists should discover the good sportsman gene, find out which races have it, and sports clubs, for their own self protection, expel any members with that gene, since, by your account, they have no moral rule to follow aside from what that gene programs them to do.)

Or are you saying that, due to a natural selection pressure for cooperation and altruism and honesty, men are naturally and instinctively honest the same way birds are naturally able to fly and build nests? If so, the theory does not fit the observed facts: there were four murders in my local newspaper today, and lies in every section of the paper except the sports section.

Ah, but if you argue that Darwinian selection also selects for non-cooperation and dishonesty, then all we are left with is a statement that humans both have a dishonest instinct and an honest instinct. In my example above, where we agree to a chessgame, and I break my word, and we did not agree to a rule that I ought not break my word, what is the source of any objection you might make to my behavior if I lie?

If you (in the hypothetical) say to me, “But we agreed to the rules that this game would not allow castling, and you broke our agreement” and I say, “But we did not agree to the rule that I should not break agreements,” your response cannot be, “But the laws of Darwin say that you should have an instinctive desire to be honest, ergo to be cooperative, ergo to be a good sport,” because then two things will happen: (1) I will say “But the laws of Darwin also equip me with an instinct for aggression and deception — what makes the Darwinian law of dishonesty more imperative than the Darwinian law of cooperation?” (2) I will break your skull with the jawbone of a smilodon, kill your child and eat his brains, and drag your widow off to my cave and father ten children on her, so that I win the Darwinian competition for survival and reproduction.

Just kidding. I would not actually do that. For one thing, you might be spry and strong. For another thing, you cannot actually believe that the Darwinian struggle bestows any authority on my instincts to make them the legislator of rules I ought to obey whether I am inclined to obey or not, because by that logic, Ghenjis Khan is the most moral man of all time, since his selfish genes can be found spread farther and wider than any other man known to history.

Which leads to my final question. Consider my hypothetical of the two chessplayers. I won’t you me and you as an example, so let us call them Spassky and Kasparov. They agree to play a variation of chess where no castling is allowed. In the ninth move, Kasparov castles. There was no formal agreement to the a stated rule that both men should keep their word.

Do you agree that Kasparov has a general obligation to be honest, and that breaking his word is a violation of that imperative?

If so, the would the obligation exist if, bitten by a radioactive spider, the genes controlling Kasparov’s instinct for cooperation were marred, so that they no longer influenced his glands and nervous system?

In other words, if morality has a biological basis, once the organ or gene or physical substratum creating the instinct fails, is the moral obligation gone?

If so, then in what why is following a moral rule different from following a natural inclination or instinct? Are there two instincts, one governing selfish and dishonest desires, and the other governing tribal and social interactions which urges selflessness and honesty? If there are two instincts, on what grounds do we chose what we ought to do?

If not, then there are situations where a man ought to obey certain moral rules despite the lack of an instinct to obey them. In the situations where the instincts are giving us shortsighted or wrong information, on what grounds do we chose what we ought to do?

“But it’s possible to show what morality is and how it arises in a purely materialistic framework.”

Not even slightly. All one can show is that, given an moral imperative, such as that a man ought to survive, certain secondary moral imperatives, such as that such-and-such behavior, if it aids him to survive, therefore is also something he ought to do.  Such arguments assume what they are trying to prove.

Indeed, your argument would seem to imply that cheating at chess is bad because it hinders my survival rate. Let us suppose in our hypothetical that Spassky is sterile and Kasparov has twelve children and made donations to a sperm bank. No possible outcome of their chessgame, whether Kasparov cheats or not, has even the slightest effect on their survival and reproductive chances.

Please show me in what way the moral rules of the universe are arbitrary and manmade, like the rules of chess, and can be set aside by mutual agreement, like the rules of chess. Are the rules of logic arbitrary and manmade? Spassky and Kasparov agree that it is morally correct to boil puppies alive and despoil the graves of their fathers, does this make it morally correct? Is it morally correct for them but not for others? Neither the puppies nor the dead can get a vote in this. Can the rules of morality be changed even for those who cannot participate in the process of making new rules?

You say

… Tacit agreement to have an honest conversation on this topic is evidence that we recognize that cooperation is beneficial to both of us. The “Prisoner’s Dilemma”, when iterated, has higher payoffs over the long term when the players cooperate. It’s mathematical, based on biology.

What do you mean when you say we both recognize that cooperation is beneficial to the both of us? Are you claiming that I am under no duty whatsoever to be honest with you in this conversation? Because I solemnly assure you that the payoff goes very much in the other direction. I will win both the admiration of my readers and a sense of cheap superiority by answering you in a Dawkins fashion, with rhetoric, lies, snappy answers, ad hominem, sarcasm, and bad comedy.

But even granting this highly dubious assertion, am I under a moral obligation to seek my own long term benefit? For, if I am not, what becomes of our tacit agreement?

Why should I be honest, when honesty is not cost effective, is clearly not pleasant in the short term, and most likely not pleasant in the long term? None of this produces in me an obligation to be honest, and none of this explains the primary and irreducible fact of psychology of which we are both aware: you and I both, as moral men, are aware of times when the moral imperative is not in our best interest, long or short, or even the group’s best interest.

I would not kill an innocent child to save a tribe, even if it were my own tribe. I would not shove an old lady past childbearing years out of a lifeboat to make room for myself, even if she were not a blood relation.  All civilized men would agree with these examples.

You either have to find a different basis for morality than the prisoner’s dilemma, math, biology, or say that the civilized men in these examples are making the wrong moral choice. Or can you reconcile the two?