Obligations and Duties

By Mark English

In an aside in a recent piece on moral intuitionism, Daniel Kaufman remarked that he was unsure whether “there really are such things as moral obligations and duties.” [1].

I think I understand what he is getting at here, but rather than trying directly to address his question, I want to sketch out – very briefly and impressionistically – a way of thinking about duty and obligation, within which such a question wouldn’t normally arise.

Social life is clearly dependent on individuals adopting certain conventions, playing, as it were, by certain rules. The successful use of language, for example, involves adopting the phonological, syntactic, pragmatic, etc. conventions of a certain linguistic community. This is not a matter of obligation or duty, of course, just simple necessity.

But within a (necessarily convention-based) community there will be expectations that might be seen as involving duties or obligations; which have, in other words, a moral dimension. Take truth-telling. Does one have an obligation, when using language, not to use it to deceive one’s interlocutor?

Well, put it this way: if your interlocutor finds out you are deceiving her, she will not be happy. In other words, there is a general reciprocal expectation of truth-telling. You tell me the truth, I’ll tell you the truth. If this perceived obligation is thought to be breached, the communication (or attempt at deception) fails, and the perpetrator of the breach is sanctioned in some way (shamed or ostracized, say).

Of course, the lie may not be picked up (immediately or later), in which case the communication succeeds – at least from the point of view of the speaker. The technical conventions that make language possible clearly do not preclude its use in deception, and it has even been suggested that language evolved at least in part because it made possible new and sophisticated means of deception and manipulation.

There is, however, a general expectation of truth-telling upon which all communication – including deception – depends.

Take another example: the (often spontaneous) convention of forming queues at bus stops or shop counters. The person who breaks the convention, who pushes in, is disapproved of (and sometimes humiliated and forced to go back to the end of the queue).

Even this trivial example can be described in terms of obligations and rights. One is obliged to wait one’s turn; and, if one has been waiting in line, one has a right to be served before the transgressor. Or again, no one has a right to push in (except perhaps in certain circumstances).

To me, obligations, duties and rights are no more mysterious than this: they arise naturally as a necessary and intrinsic part of social life. They are all about conventions and expectations, and these conventions and expectations are perfectly real though fluid, often changing over time or from sub-group to sub-group.

Another example. Parents are almost universally considered responsible for caring for their children, but what do adult children owe their parents? There is room for many points of view here. Basically, any perceived or felt obligation is going to be dependent on a whole range of factors, some relating to general beliefs and expectations, some to the nature of the particular parent-child relationship under consideration.

I am involved with visiting my old and very frail mother (who is in a care home) on a regular basis, and this could be seen as fulfilling a duty (and a promise). But, if it is a duty, it is the kind of duty that Cordelia talked about in relation to her father, King Lear:

“Good my lord,

You have begot me, bred me, loved me: I

Return those duties back as are right fit…” [2]

Those who are familiar with the play will know that the talk of duty is not quite what it seems, but is Cordelia’s way of expressing a deep and genuine love for her father. (The audience sees this immediately, but not – tragically – her father.)

Duty, in other words, can in some contexts take on a richness and a warmth of meaning which is totally absent from most academic discussions of the concept.

Context is crucial here. According to my account, duties and obligations and rights only ever exist within specific social contexts and are, in effect, generated by social interaction. There are – unsurprisingly, given the logic of reciprocity etc., and our shared biology – patterns and commonalities within and across cultures, but every actual act or expectation is situated.

Of course, you could also see duties and obligations as existing in (or deriving from) some kind of religious or Kantian moral realm. But going there would involve postulating some kind of spiritual reality over and above the normal social world, and so moving beyond the naturalistic framework I am working within.

Now, there are just a couple of further points I want to make.

One is that our actions (and our selves) will – and should – be judged in general and not just in moral terms. You can’t really separate the moral from other aspects of life. The question of what I should do and the (related) question of what sort of person I should strive to be are not just moral or ethical questions (in the usual, fairly narrow, sense of those words).

Take the dutiful son or daughter. Are they necessarily making better choices than their less caring siblings? It may well be that someone might be judged as dutiful and caring, but lacking in other desirable qualities, like adventurousness or ambition, for example. After all, a bit of ruthlessness is sometimes a good thing, don’t you think?

There is (I am suggesting) no separate domain of ethics or morality. Human existence is a relatively seamless whole. You can abstract away from the whole (as occurs in discussions of religious or philosophical ethics, or in deontic logic), but, to the extent that you do, you are moving away from the human world or at least distorting it.

Sciences like physics have had tremendous success in using simplifying abstractions. But such theoretical approaches (deploying abstract models, etc.) don’t work so well in the social sciences – and certainly not in the realm of moral discourse.

One last point relates to an issue I may come back to in a future essay: the all-encompassing (from a human point of view) power of the social world.

Some may say that by focusing on the descriptive and the social I have not been doing justice to the normative side of things or that I am claiming somehow that moral duties are just social phenomena. But there is no ‘just’ about it. The value-laden social and cultural world is more powerful and all-pervasive than we often realize, more an intrinsic part of our thinking and deliberating than our (typically Cartesian) thoughts and deliberations lead us to think it is.

Our very personhood is utterly dependent on social context. Just look at how children deprived of social and cultural input turn out; or what strict solitary confinement does to a person.

In fact, the social and cultural world creates and sustains us, exhibiting potencies, properties and powers not unlike the (merely imagined) powers of an absolute deity. But this is a topic for another time.

NOTES

  1. “Intuition and morals,” The Electric Agora, September 21, 2015.
  1. William Shakespeare, King Lear, Act 1, Scene 1.

21 Comments »

  1. First, let me commend the two Dans for the wonderful Mass Effect header. Makes me want to do a Krogan dance:

    Mark,

    Fascinating essay. This in particular caught my eye:

    “Take the dutiful son or daughter. Are they necessarily making better choices than their less caring siblings? It may well be that someone might be judged as dutiful and caring, but lacking in other desirable qualities, like adventurousness or ambition, for example. After all, a bit of ruthlessness is sometimes a good thing, don’t you think?”

    We sometimes engage in a related sort of evaluation, it seems to me, especially when we feel the person has otherwise made important contributions to society. For example, looking past an artist’s personal failings with respect to their familial duties in light of the contribution made by their art. In the absence of some sort of counterbalancing contribution such as this, however, I think we tend to not so easily forgive. We acknowledge the value of the qualities instrumentally if they result in something we value, but not so much for their own sake. Is something like this what you had in mind or am I misunderstanding you?

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  2. I enjoyed the essay and found little to disagree with as far as it went. For example I agree with this paragraph:

    “Some may say that by focusing on the descriptive and the social I have not been doing justice to the normative side of things or that I am claiming somehow that moral duties are just social phenomena. But there is no ‘just’ about it. The value-laden social and cultural world is more powerful and all-pervasive than we often realize, more an intrinsic part of our thinking and deliberating than our (typically Cartesian) thoughts and deliberations lead us to think it is.”

    But then wonder how you would fit some measure of autonomy into this model. I agree that to a large extent our person-hood is dependent upon social context, but do we have no capacity whatsoever to see beyond our social and cultural influences? If we do have some capacity to transcend these influences for the ‘better’ what sort of life method do you see if any as promoting such transcendence?

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  3. Hi Mark,

    The social and cultural world which created and sustained me also provided me with plenty of obligations which don’t feel obligated to fulfil. The obligation to close ranks with my peers against the outsider. The obligation to enforce uneven gender roles such as making women look after my house, the obligation to discourage behaviours such as homosexuality, bisexuality etc. I don’t feel my personhood in any way threatened by ditching these obligations.

    These obligations are all ‘real’ in the same sense that you are saying obligations are real.

    But I feel, for example, that my obligation to see to it that my children are properly looked after as real, in a sense that I don’t think that those other obligations are real.

    If there is no distinction, then we are back to square on with respect to morality. We are back to asking what is the purpose of morality. Is the purpose just to behave in the way that evolution shaped us to behave? I would say obviously not. Is it in order to get the best result for ourselves personally? Well that is not really what most people mean by morality.

    Is it to get the best result for the greatest number of people? If so, then why would we want to do that?

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  4. Thanks Michael.

    “In the absence of some sort of counterbalancing contribution [….] I think we tend to not so easily forgive. We acknowledge the value of the qualities instrumentally if they result in something we value, but not so much for their own sake. Is something like this what you had in mind or am I misunderstanding you?”

    You are making a point about how people generally judge others, and the point is certainly relevant to mine. Your assumption seems to be that people think the uncaring behaviour is wrong but can be, as it were, excused in exceptional circumstances. And certainly a lot of people think this way.

    My point was a bit different, more radical perhaps (though I hesitate to use the word). And I was not so much concerned with how most people think as with how some people (like me, for example!) think. Or how one *could* think about the issue in question (which I see in more general terms than the way you present it – i.e. *not* just in instrumental terms).

    Say your dedicated artist was a failure as an artist either because he was incompetent or just unappreciated. I don’t know that that failure should have any bearing on one’s moral evaluation – though one may well consider him a fool for devoting himself to something he was not good at or that didn’t earn him any money or recognition or whatever.

    Or say the ‘uncaring’ son or daughter lives the sort of life that doesn’t produce any even potential public goods like art or discoveries. Who is to say their life choices are ‘wrong’ (unless of course they are doing obviously anti-social things)?

    The way I see it is that we can have very different scales of values. Caring and sharing and so on gets a lot of lip service, certainly. And then you have people like Ann Coulter!!

    But, seriously, I just see all these very different possible scales of values (some based on Christian-humanist ethical priorities, some not).

    Personally, I try not to judge where I don’t have to judge.

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  5. I have finally got around to Graeber’s Debt: the first 5000 years – he mentions among other things “primordial debt theory”, eg of children to parents, of “the living to the continuity and durability of society”, and to the gods. He is very interested in the relationship between debt, obligation, equality and morality – the 20th century trap is thinking “on one side is..the market, where we all start out as individuals…who don’t owe each other anything. On the other is the logic of the state [and in many cultures the family], where we all begin with a debt we can never truly pay.”

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  6. sethleon2015

    On the autonomy question, I don’t know that it’s really a problem. As individuals we are all relatively autonomous in a meaningful sense of that word, and I don’t think my ‘model’ (as you put it) is incompatible with this.

    You ask: “… do we have no capacity whatsoever to see beyond our social and cultural influences? If we do have some capacity to transcend these influences for the ‘better’ what sort of life method do you see if any as promoting such transcendence.”

    We can only “see beyond” the social and cultural influences via those influences and inputs, by utilizing cultural inputs (like language, learned concepts and methods, etc.). I am not proposing a method but obviously a good education helps (though defining what kind of education is good or best is always going to be controversial).

    I have a bit of trouble with the question of whether ‘I’ or ‘we’ have some capacity to transcend social and cultural influences but I think it can make sense to talk like this. You could very reasonably say that someone who grew up in a lousy environment and turned out fine in the end ‘transcended’ that early environment. (Who knows why this happens? Genetic and related factors; a lucky encounter or realization? … No doubt a complex combination of factors anyway.)

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  7. Hi Robin

    But there *are* distinctions between the examples you give, and my approach would involve looking at each specific example and discussing it. (For example, I would question whether some of your examples fit the ordinary notion of obligation or duty at all.)

    Is this then “back to square one with respect to morality”? Maybe. I’m not claiming to take anyone to square two. I don’t think you can get to square two. I don’t think there is a square two!

    You say: “We are back to asking what is the purpose of morality.” But I have trouble figuring out what this thing is which has this purpose you are asking about. I accept that moral systems exist and are not just useful but necessary. But you seem to be talking about morality as something more abstract and self-contained.

    You continue: “Is the purpose just to behave in the way that evolution shaped us to behave? I would say obviously not. Is it in order to get the best result for ourselves personally? Well that is not really what most people mean by morality.”

    Sure, words like ‘moral’ pick out certain aspects of our behaviour, and most moral talk involves making judgements of a certain kind. I said in the essay that some perceived duties are more universally recognized and embraced than other perceived duties.

    That said, I like the way you bite the bullet on this issue (e.g. your point about utilitarianism).

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  8. Thanks for bringing this up Mark, since I did find the discussion for Daniel Kaufman’s original post to end far too quickly. It does seem that the “social” morality that you’re presenting is slightly different from the original post’s intuitive morality. There’s nothing wrong with this (and this is your post!) though we may also find it helpful to acknowledge that a micro to macro ascension has been made.

    For Daniel’s original “micro” post, I sought to explain morality by means of two standard human dynamics. The first of them was “empathy,” or how we tend to take the presumed sensations of others (especially the negative), upon ourselves. The second of them was “theory of mind,” or how we tend to feel good/bad based upon our perceptions of what others (or we ourselves) think about us. Thus I believe that morality becomes entirely lost without these traits.

    To step this up to your “macro” form Mark, we may simply consider interactions between more than one person. There can of course be repercussions for cutting ahead in line, being caught in a lie, and so on, given that others do have their own interests to tend. Furthermore given that this macro side should naturally have a more normative nature, people also tend to use it to decide that morality represents actually good/bad. (I’m still revelling in Daniel Kaufman’s rejection of this notion to dantip, saying “…it is folly to think that a moral theory can provide some sort of mechanical way of assuring a correct answer.”)

    To now take my own position home, I’ve submitted that morality is based upon qualia, and so vanishes without empathy and theory of mind sensations to drive it. But if we would also like to define a “true good/bad” for any given subject, and so use this understanding to better lead our lives and structure our societies, qualia itself could provide such an answer. Thus I propose a perfectly subjective form of utilitarianism, and believe that it will ultimately become the foundation upon which our still primitive mental and behavioral sciences shall become developed.

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  9. I agree with: “There is (..) no separate domain of ethics or morality. Human existence is a relatively seamless whole.” And also where you wish to expand this, toward the end of your essay. But that doesn’t mean we cannot discuss ethics – or other aspects of social behavior – in a localized focused way.

    Let’s consider a rudimentary example: obeying traffic laws. This behavior looks simple – I respect the community, I fear punishment – but it’s actually complex. It has an economic dimension, and those who doubt this are welcome to break the law before a traffic cop on their way to work. Again, the ethics of obeying traffic laws seem so simple, that many people wouldn’t say there is any ethic to the behavior. But if one drives through a red light, striking and killing a pedestrian, the decision to drive through the red light is part of the ethics involved in the manslaughter. If one argues, ‘I didn’t see the light turn red,’ then the lack of mindful attention is still very much involved in the ethical responsibility for the harm caused. It would seem that traffic laws have no political dimension, but the legislative debates over the speed limit, from the ’70s through the ’90s, is prima facie evidence that this is untrue. During those debates, economic issues (insurance, etc.), issues of community responsibility and of individual rights, practical logistics of highway maintenance – all were invoked. Even behavioral studies by psychologists, concerning likelihood of risk-behavior at differing speed limits. Certainly engineers were consulted to determine physical effects of collisions at different speeds.

    The point is this: We can locally focus on the psychology of traffic law response; the logistics of it; the politics it may involve; the sociology and culture surrounding it; or the ethics of it. In fact we do, in various fields of study and research. It is well to bring all these studies together, and it is well to recognize they all originate in a single complex phenomenon. But the localized focus may help us see the importance in details that the larger view may miss.

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  10. Hi Mark,

    Thanks for responding. I am sure I could have phrased things more clearly and/or used better terminology (i.e., ‘model’), so I appreciate that you attempted address my intended meaning.

    I agree that at base there is no separate ethical or moral domain, but I also think we can make progress in understanding our situated expectations, and to some degree the role that our cultural conventions play in motivating those expectations. I also think we can to some degree evaluate those conventions noting those that many are necessary to be a functioning part of the social world, but also noting those that may be holdovers and unnecessary or even harmful in a current or changing context.

    In your comment to Robin you indicated that you don’t think we can get to ‘square two’, so maybe you don’t think we can ‘ethical’ or moral progress. You also indicate however that our actions should and will be judged. Based on your essay I’m guessing you think there isn’t any real standard by which these judgments ‘should’ be based, just the context of the socially and culturally ingrained rules you referred to?

    I agree you on the topic of education feeling it is big part of the ‘progress’ in understanding I was referring to. I’ve been reading a fair amount of Dewey lateIy and like much of what he has to say. I was looking for some more of your ideas from a personal framework if you have one on how you think we can best educate ourselves to make use convention without being entirely at it’s mercy.

    Many thanks.

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  11. Hi Mark,

    You say: “We are back to asking what is the purpose of morality.” But I have trouble figuring out what this thing is which has this purpose you are asking about. I accept that moral systems exist and are not just useful but necessary. But you seem to be talking about morality as something more abstract and self-contained.

    Perhaps you are reading a little too much into my question, which was about the purpose of morality.

    If you find moral systems useful and necessary, what do you find them useful and necessary for? In particular, what are they useful and necessary for, that would not be better handled by reasoning which dispensed with the concepts of obligations, rights, good, bad etc?

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  12. David, you mention Graeber’s work on the history of debt. The trouble with these sorts of books is that by and large the only people motivated to write them – and Graeber seems to fit this description – are people with a particular ideological axe to grind, and so what you get is inevitably a very slanted or distorted account.

    Sounds very interesting nonetheless.

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  13. Eric, thanks for the comment, but I have the sense that you really want to talk micro (as you put it) rather than macro. Which is fine, but not exactly my focus here.

    One thing puzzles me in what you said. Isn’t there an inconsistency between your endorsing Daniel’s comment that “it is folly to think that a moral theory can provide some sort of mechanical way of assuring a correct answer” and your own attempt at building a theory?

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  14. ejwinner

    I certainly didn’t intend to suggest that “one cannot discuss ethics – or other aspects of social behavior – in a localized focused way.” In fact, there is not much you can say about the “seamless whole” of human existence without breaking it down into parts or aspects.

    Your example illustrates this issue nicely. The only point I would make is that it is not quite as “rudimentary” as it could be insofar as it raises the question (which I avoided in the essay) of laws and regulations and so, by extension, the complex question of the relation between morality (which is generally seen as informal and implicit) and explicit, formal systems of rules and sanctions. The moral obligation is, you could say, to drive safely (irrespective of the laws).

    In the essay I was talking about perceived moral obligations. Legal obligations are, I would suggest, quite a different kettle of fish.

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  15. sethleon2015

    Your focus seems to be more on ‘progress’ than mine is. I am just trying to see things clearly – and rather than hoping or aiming for social or moral progress would be delighted if things didn’t get worse!

    Certainly there are many unfortunate customs or conventions which have outlived their usefulness. Often they die a natural death, sometimes they might need to be actively resisted. I would look at these things case by case.

    Why I am a bit pessimistic is that I see quite harmless and generally positive conventions and practices also falling by the wayside which suggests to me a certain degree of social breakdown. In some respects we are going backwards.

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  16. Robin, I’m not sure what you’re getting at with this question about “the purpose of morality”. I have admitted that ‘systems of morality’ or value systems are an intrinsic, necessary etc. part of life.

    You ask: “If you find moral systems useful and necessary, what do you find them useful and necessary for?” Well, I can’t even imagine human life without them (in some form).

    You continue: “In particular, what are they useful and necessary for, that would not be better handled by reasoning which dispensed with the concepts of obligations, rights, good, bad etc?”

    Concepts like obligation and rights are crucial to what I am talking about. They arise naturally via social interaction: these sorts of notions (based on certain understandings and expectations) constitute in large part what morality is. I am just not seeing what you (apparently) are seeing is wrong with this approach.

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  17. This was a great question for me Mark:

    One thing puzzles me in what you said. Isn’t there an inconsistency between your endorsing Daniel’s comment that “it is folly to think that a moral theory can provide some sort of mechanical way of assuring a correct answer” and your own attempt at building a theory?

    Though I don’t think I’ve said anything to contradict the following statement, it’s such a nonstandard position that apparently others do find it difficult to accept of me:

    *MY*THEORY*IS*NOT*MORAL*!

    Like reality itself, my theory can in fact be extremely immoral. Actually it’s the “like reality” part that matters to me. I’ve linked before to where Massimo Pigliucci told me that while virtually everyone else frets about morality, my own ideas are instead “instrumental.” (Of course at the time he mustn’t have know how happy I would be with this observation. Could it eventually reach a dust jacket? 🙂 ).

    Seriously though, I don’t mind the concept of morality, and think that I’ve even accounted for Daniel’s “clean” version of it pretty well. What I do mind is that in practice this term seems to not only be used in Daniel’s manner, but at the same time to represent the notion of actual good/bad itself. Though philosophers in general may not mind the net effect of this situation (or more likely, see no such “bastardization”), I believe that this has not only held philosophy back, but related areas of science as well.

    Consider the position which I find myself in today. I’m essentially told:

    >Eric, you can’t bring your “reality theory” into the realm of philosophy, because as philosophers rather than scientists, we do not explore the nature of reality. Yes we do have deontology, virtue ethics, utilitarianism, and so on, but these are all moral theories.

    >>Well okay, but could you then direct me over to the branch of science which is responsible for theorizing the true realities of good/bad?

    >Sorry Eric, but science doesn’t theorize that sort of thing either.

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  18. Mark,

    Thanks for the reply. You bring up an excellent point. In America, law is what often passes for public ethics, although the decision to abide by it is personal ethical choices. Nonetheless, there is no inner necessity to equate legal norms with ethical norms, and we all know that occasionally the two conflict. That’s a different discussion; but it would make an interesting discussion.

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  19. Hi Mark,

    Robin, I’m not sure what you’re getting at with this question about “the purpose of morality”.

    Without meaning to sound facetious, what I am getting at with the question is to find out what you think the purpose of morality is.

    If I had some implement and asked someone “what is the purpose of this?” And they had only told me that it was useful and necessary and that they couldn’t imagine life without it then I would still not know what the purpose of the implement was.

    You have given at least one example where talk of duty is not only unnecessary, but is the cause of suffering. As you point out, when Cordelia talks of duty and what is right, she is really expressing a deep and genuine love for her father, but her father tragically, cannot see this. So wouldn’t there have been a better chance of her father seeing her love if she had talked of love and not duty?

    When we teach our children about telling the truth we often do it using a story of a boy who meets a horrible death because people thought his cries for help had been a lie, because he has lied thus so many times before. So we can dispense with the idea of there being any sort of obligation to tell the truth and simply say that it is a practical thing to do in most instances.

    If the only thing keeping me from abandoning my children was some sort of undefinable feeling of ‘obligation’ then what sort of relationship would I have with them? Again here I can completely dispense with the concept of obligation because it has no meaning in this context, and think about the real reasons I am continuing to look after my children rather than getting myself free and enjoying the things I can’t do now.

    Take your example of queues. What exactly is the purpose of “waiting your turn”? Who does it benefit? If there is a long queue and I don’t have much time then surely it benefits me to push in at the front. Do we wait our turn in order to gain a longer term benefit? The good opinion of others? A stable and orderly society? Avoid violence? Or because we like other people and do not want them to be inconvenienced? More probably, these reasons figure in different combinations for different people.

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  20. Hi Robin

    Yes, Cordelia should have talked of love (just like her sisters). It would have saved such a lot of fuss and bother. (And we would be without one of the masterworks of the Western canon.)

    In the context of the play, what she is doing is refusing to play this grotesque game of fawning and flattery that her sisters embrace with such enthusiasm (wildly exaggerated protestations of love, etc.), and therefore she is not only being true to herself but true to her father (as he eventually comes to realize).

    My point was that in Cordelia’s case, these ideas of bond and duty were inextricably bound up with her love. (See also paragraph below on parenting and “cherishing” certain duties.) Our typical ideas of love could be seen (in many cases) as sentimental and debased by comparison.

    On your question about “the purpose of morality”, I am still not happy with it as a question because it seems to imply that “morality” is a self-contained thing, and I am also uneasy with the comparison with an implement though I am open to the possibility of seeing moral instincts and behaviours, etc. in instrumental terms. I suppose you could say that the moral or social instincts and the implicit value systems and behaviours associated with them are prerequisites for social life, but it may be more natural to say that these things *constitute* important aspects of social life.

    The essay was a response to DK’s remark. I am saying something like: duties and obligations exist in the sense that people act and feel and think in certain ways: specifically they feel themselves (and see others) as having obligations and duties.

    Now you are saying (I think) that it might be better if people didn’t talk in terms of obligations, or maybe you are saying it would be better if people didn’t think or feel like this.

    But this is how we (often) do think and feel, and I don’t see how you can escape it (or why you would want to).

    When we think that people *should* wait their turn in the queue, play by the rules or pull their weight or children *should* behave themselves and not run around screaming in coffee shops and so on, we are (are we not?) imputing obligations to them. If you want to be a part of the team, respected, treated well or whatever, you have to (i.e. you are obliged to) behave in a certain way.

    Substantively, this seems not all that far from what you are saying when you talk about crying wolf or reasons for queuing (though I would probably want to talk more about instincts and intuitions and less in terms of conscious reasoning).

    A few words on your other example: looking after one’s children. Parenting comes easily to some people, not so easily to others. But it certainly makes sense to me to conceptualize it (at least in part) in terms of duties and obligations: you have a child, and, except in exceptional circumstances, you are seen by others to have certain responsibilities and obligations to care for that child, and normally you would feel yourself to have certain duties and responsibilities. These duties may be conceptualized and felt by different people in different ways: they may be cherished; they may be only reluctantly embraced; they may be resisted and denied; or – in certain cases – just not felt at all (or only felt via social disapproval or through being taken to court).

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  21. Hi Robin,

    Apparently “the purpose of morality” isn’t simple. I would hope for us all to ponder this further, though I’d love to hear your thoughts on my own such explanation:

    As I’ve said, morality exists as a product of our empathy and theory of mind sensations. So here its purpose should simply be that evolution found it effective for us to share the sensations of others somewhat, as well as to be concerned about what others think of us. I’m sure that you did already presumed this yourself. In addition we humans seem to use morality as an actual tool ourselves, so you have every right to ask its purpose in this regard.

    When we see someone cut into line ahead of us, we do naturally find this disrespectful. This may be interpreted as a personal attack and so we also tend to think bad things about this person. Knowing this as a theory of mind punishment in itself, a potential line cutter may indeed reconsider or try not to be noticed. (Here some may ask about blatant line cutting. In general I’d say that there is still the same ToM punishment, though it may be overcome with positive ToM sensations such as “I am strong, while you are weak,” and especially while drunk.)

    So the morality I observed from Daniel’s post, was a biological circumstance that consists or empath and ToM sensations (micro). Then the morality I observed from Mark’s post, was a social tool that does effectively help govern us (macro). Here you may ask why philosophers worry about sociological concepts such as these? Well perhaps they don’t, and so perhaps I should take up the name “Scientist Eric.” But while philosophers do at least have an “ethics” branch (though it is “moral” rather than “instrumental”), science has nothing of the sort. Given the circumstances, shouldn’t philosophers agree to expand their field into science more readily than scientists into philosophy? Well hopefully at least one side will make progress. Right now I’d say that we need more critics like yourself to question standard conventions.

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