Tuesday, December 11, 2012

445: The Art Not to be an Egoist 10

The picture I am drawing of the nature of man and the origins of morality leads to the questing: who makes the decisions in moral matters? Our feeling or our reason.

In his "Treatise of Human Nature" (1739) the Scottish philosopher David Hume comes to two interesting observations.

The first one is that not reason or ratio controls man, but his feelings and emotions. The second is when feelings and emotions are the cause of our actions and not our rational deliberation, then there can be no free will.

Whatever I decide in a moral situation, I always am motivated by the strongest feeling of emotion. This is the winner and our reason is just the one who tells us afterwards, why we decided this or that.

Hume's message is clear: Our moral decisions are not the results of rational deliberation, but they are based on our intuition.

The idea that our morality is intuitive and thus largely beyond our reason, is currently more popular than it ever was.

For two hundred years these ideas enjoyed mostly a modest shadowy existence in philosophy. Today, however, it is as if it were the philosophical fashion of our time.

We'll not discuss the problem of the Free Will now, tho it has become a hot issue these days. For now we'll focus on the question whether our morality is based on and driven by intuition or reason.

You can observe this in daily life. Rational arguments are often qualified as cold. We must open up for feelings and emotions. Who doesn't know the painful effect of the reproach "Oh my, you are so rational".

When you wonder what to decide, your friend could say to you"When it feels good, then it is the right decision."  This even brought us the concept of Emotional Intelligence.

Many neuroscientists are trying to demonstrate on the computer screen, that Hume was absolutely right: The dark pulse of our feelings and emotions lights up first before the rational part of the brain lights up.

Jonathan Haidt (born 1963) is a professor at New York University Stern School of Business.His research focuses on the psychological bases of morality across different cultures and political ideologies.

According to his view, moral judgments are mostly the products of quick, intuitive evaluations of scenarios with certain content. 

Moral reasoning is usually a largely post hoc phenomenon. People are, as Haidt says, "intuitive lawyers" whose reasoning usually seeks to vindicate the person's own intuition rather than openly assess the case from an impartial point of view.

In a previous lecture I said that there seems to be a relation between how you see the nature of man and your political ideology.

Haidt reasons more or less also along those lines, it seems. He showed that we organize our moral values according to our ideology.

It is not so that our ideological beliefs are the source of our moral standards. Rational arguments for them, for what is right or wrong, valuable of worthless, fair or unfair, just come afterwards.

But how far does our intuition go?Did  Hume actually had it right, when he said that in moral actions always and only the strongest feeling is the decisive factor? 

And it is true that, as Haidt, many neuroscientists and some psychologists believe that the brain only works as an advertising department that justifies the decisions of feeling afterwards?

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