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The psychology of moral belief.

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The psychology of moral belief.
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mknormanPosts: 58Joined: Sun Apr 05, 2009 7:01 am

Post The psychology of moral belief.

In the following excellent video:



Andy Thompson makes a compelling case for the psychological basis of religious belief.

I think that many of the points made apply equally well to moral belief. Namely, we're adept at imagining disapproval without the need for imagining a disapprover, even though this is an incoherent thing to do. Our origins as social beings has caused us to evolve this 'sense of right and wrong' which is really just a 'sense of approval or disapproval'.

This bears on the question of, "Is morality objective or subjective?," in that I don't think that the askers of that question can coherently define 'morality,' and the reason that they think they can is due to reasons analogous to the ones presented in the above video.

Agree? Disagree? Discuss. :D
Mon Apr 27, 2009 5:42 am
OzymandyusUser avatarPosts: 986Joined: Sat Mar 28, 2009 8:02 pm

Post Re: The psychology of moral belief.

I watched this earlier. I think calling this the psychology of moral belief is quite the misnomer. That morality is dependent on these same mechanisms is what many religious people WANT to think we are saying and keeps them believing in God because of fear that it might be true. They Want to think that morality only exists because of belief in God (which this sort of equivocation would imply). Most of us immediately reject this idea that morality is just a sense of approval, but not on these cognitive pathway grounds but on practical grounds.

What would it mean if all society really enjoyed torturing people? We could undoubtedly raise people to love torture and to practice it (in fact, perhaps this is good description of Abusive parent -> child abuse -> abusive parent cycles that we see) but would that make it Good (even if the individuals think so)? Isn't there something absolutely inherent in humans that makes them dislike being punished unfairly and dislike experiencing pain?

I think this video explains well why we ascribe these sorts of 'moral feelings' to God, or why some say moral truth is something only God can be giving us... but I don't think they imply an actual truth about morality.

Edit: Whoa, too many beers, that was damn near incoherent. Apologies. But hooray for drinking on the Lord's day!

To be honest, it probably IS true that some of our tendencies to internalize and exalt the importance of approval/disapproval for behavior is part of these cognitive mechanisms (perhaps not the ones he describes, but definitely for assigning them to an external valuer). However, that does not mean that we don't share many base values, it just means that we need to be careful that we do not give too much authority to our 'moral intuitions' that are often merely informed by our upbringing and cognitive development.
And in an instant all progress towards the sublime, the great and enduring in man fell away and became a monkey's trick.
Mon Apr 27, 2009 6:31 am
mknormanPosts: 58Joined: Sun Apr 05, 2009 7:01 am

Post Re: The psychology of moral belief.

Ozymandyus wrote:Edit: Whoa, too many beers, that was damn near incoherent. Apologies. But hooray for drinking on the Lord's day!

To be honest, it probably IS true that some of our tendencies to internalize and exalt the importance of approval/disapproval for behavior is part of these cognitive mechanisms (perhaps not the ones he describes, but definitely for assigning them to an external valuer). However, that does not mean that we don't share many base values, it just means that we need to be careful that we do not give too much authority to our 'moral intuitions' that are often merely informed by our upbringing and cognitive development.


I'll wait for your sober response before replying. :lol:
Mon Apr 27, 2009 7:08 am
WolfAUPosts: 564Joined: Wed Mar 18, 2009 12:56 pmLocation: Australia

Post Re: The psychology of moral belief.

I agree with quite alot of the points being made (ie our 'conscience' is largely using empathy to predict whether others will approve or disapprove).

On the issue of torture, I think the issue is valid, however raises the issue of the golden rule ('do unto others', a philosophy hardly unique to Christianity), If we enjoy torturing people, but hate the thought of being tortured ourselves or the thought of people torturing people we care about this can conflict with some basic human logic, and creates a problem of 'who do we torture?' since the people being tortured and people who love them will not want for it to be them.

This logic also applies to things like killing for pleasure, rape and slavery. All of which, almost always the victim is unwilling and those who care are opposed. With slavery, most nations used slaves from other countries, with rape/killing, usually only the commoners or slaves were fair game, even if there was no laws against it if you touched a noble you would be killed (thus making it an issue of who has power).

I'm not arguing in favour of it, its just interesting ways society have tried to maintain a working double standard of 'we can to you but you can't to us'.
Mon Apr 27, 2009 8:53 am
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