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Thread: Values and Reason

  1. #1
    schlemiel Faust's Avatar
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    Values and Reason

    Suppose the way I approach a controversial subject in order to curtail my ignorance and take a more confident stance is to wade through key arguments and facts, aggregating to the point where the issue is simplified down to a mere value judgement. At this stage, reason appears divorced from judgement, but it would be more interesting to me if it wasn't. Do you feel that your values are dictated entirely through environmental/cultural determinism? Do they have any biological root, or rather, are your values representative of a different nature than other people? Do we all ultimately value the same things, such that all that actually differs is intangible symbols we merely take to represent a value due to conditioned distortion? Can a value be 'reasonable'? Must our values apply equally to others as to ourselves in order to be 'valid' or 'true' (a value statement in itself)?

    Forgive the amateur nomenclature.

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    schlemiel Faust's Avatar
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    When anyone describes themselves as 'amoral', I can never believe them -- I'm moral in spite of any rationalization on my part to the contrary. It is deeply ingrained, which I think is the case for most values. But sometimes this doesn't happen, and what may seem like a wholly self-defining value could change in an instant. I can't find profound validity or confidence in my values, really, under scrutiny. Maybe they fall on a whim, or I keep them out of habit. I suppose I want to explore how you feel, or reason, you've arrived at the values you all possess.

    For clarity -

    Do you feel that your values are dictated entirely through environmental/cultural determinism? - We know that values can be regionally mapped. Whether one associates with traditional values over progressive may depend on environmental conditioning, much the way it does for inane preferences. That is, reason has little to no impact. This perhaps applies more accurately to groups than individuals, but may be understated -- environmental determinism is a concept not widely favored by Social Science circles, not since the days of Ellen Semple. The new mantra is that humans determine their environment, not the other way around. Both could be equally true. That there are outliers in any region may be irrelevant as these have been conditioned through exposure to some form of group-think or another.

    Do they have any biological root? - Values could reflect brain structure. It's deceptively easy to intuit that hyper-individualists would still, in general, identity with remarkably similar set of values regardless of where in the world they happen to be raised, and by the same token, it's difficult to imagine a familiar person being of a significantly different nature than they are as you now know them. I don't know of any evidence to support this sort of biological determinism, of course, and the difficulty is that our brains develop through time. I'm more open to the idea that our natures can change, but are less flexible over time -- that is, our minds develop favoring certain values (such that we can "choose" ourselves over time) and eventually rigidly maintain that 'nature' into adulthood ('nature' being a sort of snapshot of our biological selves in time, which I guess is a pretty sloppy definition).

    Do we all ultimately value the same things? - Such that we merely differ in our preference for intangibles, like philosophy, as means to the very same end. I suppose in this case, the 'end' is always self-serving.

    Others are self-explanatory.

  3. #3
    Mistress Mischievous Lilith's Avatar
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    I'm tempted to say 'amoral' is a word invented to sugarcoat people's extreme apathy.

    With your points above, I'm confused as to where to draw the line between values and preferences. There's a very fine line right there and I'm just about convinced I'm heading to a slippery slope.

  4. #4
    igKnight Hephaestus's Avatar
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    Amoral is a null word. Morals come from within. They are personally dictated and felt. A person cannot be amoral because a moral value system is entirely self lead. The set of their values might be ethically (externally) construed as an empty set, but this is actually a judgement of what is in the intersection of either an ethical system and (observed) moral system of the person being judged, or, more likely, the intersection of the moral system of the observer and the person being observed. But even if a person's moral system was from a stance of perfect observation and absolute objectivity, empty, that would just be what the person's moral system was, and they would be clearly operating within it. They wouldn't be amoral, but more perfectly moral than anyone else whose system was not an empty set because they couldn't be immoral. They could never go against their own personal ideology.


    I think values can be initially strongly shaped by environment and indoctrination. Pavlovian conditioning can create extremely strong aversions. And conditioning can be undone as the environment changes. To some degree, it can be directed, but in the long run, it can't be completely predicted.

    Part of this is because values can be deliberately chosen and instilled. Self-lead choices about what to believe, over time become first habit, then ingrained. It follows the same pathway by which indoctrination works, but because it can be self-chosen, adds some chaos to the output of an externally imposed indoctrination program.

    I don't think all values are the same between people and cultures, but I think there are enough that some common primal laws show up. Concepts like murder, and theft (within your group). Theft from those outside of the group being seen as a wrong, not so common. I think most of the commonly held values are self-protective ones--ala Locke's hypothesis. We agree to give up certain rights of action against others if they agree to give up the right to do those same actions unto us. If enough people don't want a particular interaction inflicted on them, the that group's code of ethics incorporates the rule that people won't do that to each other, and decide how severely to punish cheaters.
    --Mention of these things is so taboo, they aren't even allowed a name for the prohibition. It is just not done.

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    If you are ever unfortunate enough to encounter, and deal with, a true psychopath, you will know the meaning of "amoral."

  6. #6
    Senior Member Starjots's Avatar
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    Do you feel that your values are dictated entirely through environmental/cultural determinism?
    Dividing source for values into three categories, I come up with instinctive (biological root), environmental/cultural and rational or nature vs nurture vs reason. It seems obvious to me that most values rest on an instinctive base and slightly less obvious that rational values are possible.

    Do they have any biological root, or rather, are your values representative of a different nature than other people?
    Young children have well defined personalities very early which indicates strong preferences or values. I believe almost all parents will tell you this. This seems to be a strong argument for a strong biological root. The second is our species being social instead of solitary, which would by itself drive most of our values.

    Do we all ultimately value the same things, such that all that actually differs is intangible symbols we merely take to represent a value due to conditioned distortion?
    I think we do value the same things, and that is whatever the chemical reward system nature has installed in our brain. Some call it happiness. However, I think it is much deeper than a conditioned distortion. Being adaptable creatures there are many paths to internal reward so it is more than symbols. On the other hand, not all paths are equally effective for the individual and may be conditioned distortions (advertising).

    Can a value be 'reasonable'?
    Nature vs nurture vs reason - is there such a thing as reason when it comes to values? I believe absolutely yes. These reasonable values but begin with understanding what is derived from nature and nurture and the degree which these values fail or succeed. This is what reason is about - predicting and modifying the future based on best available information. Even in accepting or rejecting cultural values we can use reason to estimate their efficacy. In a more pure sense, it should be possible to derive a higher set of values based on instinctive (very hard to change) and cultural values.

    Must our values apply equally to others as to ourselves in order to be 'valid' or 'true' (a value statement in itself)?
    Values mirror the ecological niche we occupy, and at the moment this is global. The dividing line between us and them becomes more dangerous all the time, even if one subscribes to doing things for purely selfish reasons. I can imagine values which differ from person to person or culture to culture that can co-exist and are equally valid but values which lead to war (which can escalate to species annihilation) or environmental destruction are not valid - again, even taken from a selfish point of view.

    Forgive the amateur nomenclature.[/QUOTE]

    Quote Originally Posted by Faust View Post
    I can't find profound validity or confidence in my values, really, under scrutiny. Maybe they fall on a whim, or I keep them out of habit. I suppose I want to explore how you feel, or reason, you've arrived at the values you all possess.
    I guess every system rests on some assumptions, and to me the assumptions include (1) if I have a value, I must consider the impact on myself if others have the same value (2) there is enough to go around, i.e., us and them thinking is a local optimization and not a global optimization.

  7. #7
    schlemiel Faust's Avatar
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    With your points above, I'm confused as to where to draw the line between values and preferences. There's a very fine line right there and I'm just about convinced I'm heading to a slippery slope.
    There's a difference?

    The terms are a too ambiguous I guess, but I would not be terribly precise in defining them. Leaving it for others to draw distinctions.

    Part of this is because values can be deliberately chosen and instilled. Self-lead choices about what to believe, over time become first habit, then ingrained. It follows the same pathway by which indoctrination works, but because it can be self-chosen, adds some chaos to the output of an externally imposed indoctrination program.
    That could have been another question. I once asked members on intpc whether they think they can choose to alter their core beliefs. Most said no. I'd wager they would for values too.

    I like your thoughts on a-morality.
    Last edited by Faust; 01-28-2014 at 12:20 AM.

  8. #8
    igKnight Hephaestus's Avatar
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    I think it strange to believe you can't change your core beliefs or values. The reason I find it strange is because my core beliefs and values have changed over the course of my life. However it does raise an interesting paradox in line with that old concept that only those who have a soul would be concerned with whether or not they had one.

    The issue is this. Let's say you think you should care about issue X. You even think you should have a particular belief about it, but you don't feel that belief in the same way you might have an aversion to stealing or a soft heart for small baby animals caught in storm drains. You dedicate your mind and attention to learning about that issue and practicing caring about it. You volunteer to work on the issue. At some point, you realize you are passionate about it.

    But, one could argue that you cared all along, and that you already had that value. It's a bootstrapping problem--don't you in some manner have to already have that value to care that you don't feel like you have that value?

    Not necessarily. It depends on the motivation. What if your initial motivation is to join a social group? There is a social group that is bonded on a common value. You don't feel that value as part of your own, but you do value being part of a tightly knit group, so you do as above, but for the purpose of being part of that social group. In the end, you voluntarily choose indoctrination that creates values you've chosen to value in pursuit of adhering to a value already held.

    Ironically, my initial angle when thinking about the chaos element that causes uncertainty in indoctrination, was rebellion. People actively choose to defy ethical codes, and one of the ways that they do so (especially when young) is to choose an opposing value to embrace. This is clearly related to acquiescing to indoctrination to fulfill another core need/belief/value.

    So, while I have doubts that a person can choose to change their core beliefs in a direct manner--though they can certainly nurture a weak belief into a strong core conviction--I am confident a person can change them indirectly as consequences of how they choose to uphold existing core beliefs.

    On reflection, I believe a person can choose to actively reject previously held convictions as well. Again, this certainty comes from life experience, but in this case, that is the means by which I think previously held convictions are most commonly overturned. We have words like 'recant' for a reason. It's because that's something people do when they learn things that shake their previous perceptions.
    --Mention of these things is so taboo, they aren't even allowed a name for the prohibition. It is just not done.

  9. #9
    schlemiel Faust's Avatar
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    I think it strange to believe you can't change your core beliefs or values. The reason I find it strange is because my core beliefs and values have changed over the course of my life. However it does raise an interesting paradox in line with that old concept that only those who have a soul would be concerned with whether or not they had one.
    Maybe it's in the way I framed the question. I don't remember if it had religious undertones exactly, but suppose you're an atheist, and you've done your homework in terms of figuring out where your religious convictions lie. Could you simply 'will' yourself to believe in God? That should be feasible as a mere choice, but it's a rather a slow-going one, as though the mind itself transforms through experience and decision-making, and in fact its 'state' dictates your beliefs. I guess the learning process does this.

  10. #10
    Senior Member Starjots's Avatar
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    So Faust, what are your answers to these questions?

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