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I finished "Dialogues on Fundamental Questions of Science and Philosophy" by A. Pfeiffer on the tram today. I enjoyed it, and wish people more people would incorporate reason into their arguments. An enlightening discussion between 2 characters that weaves philosophical theories into science with the aim of arriving at the answer to the question of ethics. I saw an echo of my own growing-up mentality with regards to socialism i.e. well it's a good idea but what do we do with those pesky socialists?

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I feel my eyes didn't do it enough justice! I've stopped reading anything 'light' because I find it reflects in my thesis writing which is a badthing. But I do need to read stuff that's not thesis-related though!

It's quite a thin book though - ten dialogues, about a dozen pages each. It's also quite interesting. Kantian philosophy applied (or not applied) to animal behaviour. I like these kinds of books for how they don't make a distinction between science and the humanities, because really you can't have one without the other.

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Actually, I am quite disappointed in how both parties seem to be united in their disagreement against Kant's principles. I quite like the guy :(

No, both chaps seem to agree that the categorical imperative and pretty much anything Kant said was stuff and nonsense. The apply it to animal behaviour by discussing what makes human actions superior, if anything does. Kant, apparently (go easy on me, I've only read a couple of essays), believed that "action engendered by any directly experienced drive must necessarily be ethically inferior". Of the two talking, one believes that 'the striving for good indeed exists as an original impulse of the human heart', while the other refutes Kant, AND this guy, by saying 'Surely you do not assume that anything which distinguishes man from rest of the living world must needs be considered different in principle from the rest of nature?' - and gives the example of language, to prove how you can't free human beings' uniquer traits from the laws of biology. From this we launch into a discussion about if/how the reward motive guides behaviour which is one of my favourite bits because it's all about Pavlov.

Right at the start, though, things are even cooler. They use Kant here too, but apply his theories to quantum physics. It's quite an old debate actually, but it's what the book starts with - do elementary particles exist objectively? do they have individuality?

Bit tough to condense all this into a post, especially after just one reading, but hopefully it wasn't terribly anticlimactic :)

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one believes that 'the striving for good indeed exists as an original impulse of the human heart'

Which should leave to question as to what is "good". Good for whom? For himself? Or the community/society/humankind?

Coincidentally (and a bit off topic) just yesterday I saw a discussion by another philosopher, who claimed that one of the worst things that could be done in upbringing or educating small children is to give them rewards for good behaviour. Because eg if you drop something, by nature every 1.5 to 2 year old child would help you picking it up again (after you gave them a prompting look, maybe). But if you'd give them a piece of chocolate every time they'll do it, what would you think will happen if you'd then stop doing it?

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Which should leave to question as to what is "good". Good for whom? For himself? Or the community/society/humankind?

I believe for Kant it would be for humankind as a whole. But selfish gene theory puts an end to that for both humans and animals. Not that altruism doesn't exist in selfish gene theory, but I'm not sure you'll see species-wide altruism in any animal. I don't even think people are the closest to exhibiting it, bees and ants are more altruistic than we are due to their unusual genetics.

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^^so you don't agree then? ;)

I believe for Kant it would be for humankind as a whole. But selfish gene theory puts an end to that for both humans and animals. Not that altruism doesn't exist in selfish gene theory, but I'm not sure you'll see species-wide altruism in any animal. I don't even think people are the closest to exhibiting it, bees and ants are more altruistic than we are due to their unusual genetics.

Remember that the quote from Levis' post comes from the guy who disagrees with Kant.

And I admit I'm not so versed on such specific biological theories (maybe I need to read more into that topic), I guess it could make sense from an evolutionary viewpoint. If I contribute to the survival of my species as a whole, even if it doesn't help myself directly, it still can be beneficial for my genes in future generations. Obviously this is especially true when I'm helping close relatives.

But I think you're right that, compared to ants, a general group of human probably wouldn't form a raft to save their queen from drowning ;)

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Well all this is the ethical question isn't it? What is 'good', does it have an absolute value, can it be defined, can a universally applicable code of ethics be created etc.

The book doesn't answer the question obvs, but neither party manages to cover my POV, either. The person who DOES seem to be on my kind of track is Plato whose Republic I'm reading for the very first time (shhh, don't tell me what happens!). It's full of views that's all too easy to distort because everyone forgets it was written in 380 BC (even I had to look that up) when in actual fact it's remarkable that so much of what he says can be applied to the present state of society. BUT I digress...

Like the Republic, the problem with people's idea of 'reward' is that they see at as a physical concept without taking into account that it might be motivated by an internal mechanism. You don't have to reward a child with candy when s/he helps you with something, a smile and a thank you is positive reinforcement on its own. It's one that's likely to keep occurring when the child grows up and interacts with strangers. In that way human beings ARE trained to reinforce 'good' behaviour so maybe there is an innate set of 'rules' that govern ethical behaviour. IMO altruism, 'good' behaviour etc. are motivated by pursuit of reward/avoidance of punishment.

Game theory spends a lot of time working out the mechanics of altruism, and in people at least the behaviour isn't based on such pure thoughts. Turns out people with damage to that part of the brain which governs their perception of long term consequences are more likely to take less altruistic decisions. Probably reflecting a belief in some form of karma i.e. if you're cooperative, you're likely to receive assistance should you need it in the future.

The saving-lives kind of altruism I look at from the same perspective - avoidance of the guilt that is the result of inaction. I doubt many people rush into a dangerous situation KNOWING they're going to die and without the faintest bit of hope of both sides surviving.

As for insects, I figure it's just conformity to a different set of rules to those that govern human societies.

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Game theory spends a lot of time working out the mechanics of altruism, and in people at least the behaviour isn't based on such pure thoughts.
Good point - The prisoner's dilemma actually shows that people can actually NOT act altruistic (or just cooperative in this case), even if it's clear that it would be best for the group as a whole to do so.

The saving-lives kind of altruism I look at from the same perspective - avoidance of the guilt that is the result of inaction. I doubt many people rush into a dangerous situation KNOWING they're going to die and without the faintest bit of hope of both sides surviving.
That's an interesting thought, one I'm not sure whether to agree or disagree to.

On the one hand it's quite a bit cynical, and if everyone would rather not help others, why should they feel guilty for not doing so? Why is it a social(?) or biological(?) norm that there would be guilt to be felt?

On the other hand there ARE these cases that the more people are witnessing a person in despair, the less likely it is for anyone to actually help, maybe because if no one else is helping there's less guilt to feel if an individual doesn't help either, as he's just one of many. (I think that's called bystander phenomenon or so)

So maybe you're spot on with your explanation?

PS. night2day, UncleJoe, what's your take on this? :)

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The person who DOES seem to be on my kind of track is Plato whose Republic I'm reading for the very first time

His politics and ethics are certainly interesting, but wait until you get to his metaphysics. His theory of forms is... I guess I'll just say outdated.

Then again, I find most attempts at metaphysics to be a silly waste of time.

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