The rational tail and its emotional dog (and its practical ethical implications)

 

Deutsche Version: Der emotionale Hund und sein rationaler Schwanz (und deren praktischen ethischen Implikationen).

Youtube Version

This is a title of a ground-breaking article by the brilliant evolutionary psychologist Jonathan Haidt.

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Research on moral judgment has been dominated by rationalist models, in which moral judgment is thought to be caused by moral reasoning. Four reasons are given for considering the hypothesis that moral reasoning does not cause moral judgment; rather, moral reasoning is usually a post-hoc construction, generated after a judgment has been reached. The social intuitionist model is presented as an alternative to rationalist models. The model is a social model in that it de-emphasizes the private reasoning done by
individuals, emphasizing instead the importance of social and cultural influences. The model is an intuitionist model in that it states that moral judgment is generally the result of quick, automatic evaluations (intuitions). The model is more consistent than rationalist models with recent findings in social, cultural, evolutionary, and biological psychology, as well as anthropology and primatology.

He contrasts moral rationalism, according to which objective moral truths stem from human reason with moral intuitionism as championed by the Scottish enlightenment philosopher David Hume:

His most radical statement of this position was that “we speak
not strictly and philosophically when we talk of the combat of passion and of reason. Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them” (Hume, 1739/1969, p. 462).
The thrust of Hume’s attack on rationalism was that reason alone cannot accomplish the magnificent role it has been given since Plato. Hume saw reason as a tool used by the mind to obtain and process information about events in the world, or about relations among objects. Reason can let us infer that particular action will lead to the death of many innocent people, but unless we care about those people, unless we have some sentiment that values human life, reason alone cannot advise against taking the action. Hume argued that a person in full possession of reason yet lacking moral sentiment
would have difficulty choosing any ends or goals to pursue, and would look like what we now call a psychopath.

He then went on giving cogent empirical arguments why our moral feelings first come about through non-rational and irrational processes and are only rationalized in hindsight and most often unconsciously.

If moral reasoning is generally a post-hoc construction intended to justify automatic moral intuitions, then our moral life is plagued by two illusions. The first illusion can be called the “wag-the-dog” illusion: we believe that our own moral judgment (the dog) is
driven by our own moral reasoning (the tail). The second illusion can be called the “wag-the-other-dog’s-tail” illusion: in a moral argument, we expect the successful rebuttal of an opponent’s arguments to change the opponent’s mind. Such a belief is like
thinking that forcing a dog’s tail to wag by moving it with your hand should make the dog happy. The wag-the-dog illusion follows directly from the mechanics of the reasoning process described above. Pyszczynski and Greenberg (1987) point out that by going through all the steps of hypothesis testing, even though every step can be biased by self-
serving motivations, people can maintain an “illusion of objectivity” about the way they think.

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He then said something very relevant for Christians, and more generally for everyone genuinely seeking to follow the Golden Rule:

The bitterness, futility, and self-righteousness of most moral arguments can now be explicated. In a debate on abortion, politics, consensual incest, or on what my friend did to your friend, both sides believe that their positions are based on reasoning about the
facts and issues involved (the wag-the-dog illusion). Both sides present what they take to be excellent arguments in support of their positions. Both sides expect the other side to be responsive to such reasons (the wag-the-other-dog’s-tail illusion). When the other side fails to be affected by such good reasons, each side concludes that the other side must
be closed-minded or insincere. In this way the culture wars over issues such as homosexuality and abortion can generate morally motivated players on
both sides who believe that their opponents are not morally motivated.

Culture war, intolerance and bigotry

As can be expected, these lines have caused a lot of heat for they tend to infuriate every culture warrior on both sides of the great divide. But this has a strong explanatory power.

This explains why both Christian and atheist extremists forget all basic rules of human decency when affronting each other by using emotional bullying, ridicule and constant mockeries. They are convinced that reason is on their side, that those disagreeing with them are either morons or profoundly wicked people, and that they deserve to be treated in the rudest manner.

dogFight

As he himself expected, Haidt provoked a great furor as he wrote an article pointing out the numerous biases dominating the thoughts of most militant atheists yearning for the destruction of an entity called “Religion”.

I consider the following principle as being a moral ground rule which ought to govern every heated debates or clash of worldview:

it is always wrong to mock, ridicule or bully a respectful and kind opponent, regardless of how offensive and reprehensible some of his or her ideas might be.

Cognitive psychology can be a great help to better understand our own biases but it will never do one thing: making for ourselves the decision to always strive to follow the Golden rule no matter what.

 

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Tribalism, love and God’s shameless ploy: a response to Cyngus and Valdobiade

A fellow called “Cyngus“ took me to task for having pointing out that influential evolutionary psychologists like Joshua Greene think, from an atheistic standpoint, that any objective morality is an illusion.

His response was very emotional and confused and I reproduced it here:

Dear Lothar,

Glad you mention Joshua Greene, he is a very smart guy and he discovered that the human brain is evolved for tribal life. The morals of a tribe applies inside the tribe, outside the tribe you can lie, kill and rape. Read your Bible, God condoned lack of morality of his chosen tribe, the Israelites, when it came to deal with other tribes.

God’s “objective morality” told his people to hate his enemies, then there came his beloved son “Jesus” who put his foot in the mouth of his father by saying: “love your enemies”. Isn’t that cute? But don’t fall for this trick, it is used to make the whole humanity be like one tribe under the same old crappy God. Don’t want to be in the “tribe” of God, then burn in hell.

Think about that: “Love your enemies”. In order to have enemies you have to hate, be hated or both. If you stop hating your enemies by saying that you love them, you have a chance to make them drop the guard. With their guard down you give them your love, if they don’t accept it, you send them in hell. Such a mischievous plan of “Jesus is love” could be thought only by the “tribe” of Christians.

Try to use your brains when you read the Bible. You quote a lot from Bible in your blog, but you don’t think, you just interpret it to serve your own Christian “denominated” tribe. You have no morals if your morals are to serve an immoral God.”

Since the whole comment reeks of rudeness, lack of respect and incoherence in thinking, I wanted to utterly ignore it.

But then another blogger called „Valdobiade„ came along and urged me to write a response, saying that:

I found the comment rough too, but the idea that seems true in the comment is that “love”, in Christian sense, is used to “divide and conquer”.

Many Christians denominations are understanding “love” in such a way that are put at odds with each other. You can even say that some Christians are enemies and they will love their “enemies” with the condition of the “love” as they interpret by their Christian denomination.

Another idea I found true, is that up to Jesus, God did not say to love the enemies but destroy them. However, even if Jesus said to love enemies, it did not change the fact that we become “enemies” by ignoring the “love”, thus those who don’t accept the “love” will be destroyed.

I don’t find this “love” being fair. Please make new post about this kind of “love”. I’d like to read your opinion.

Thanks.

There are many things I could go into here.

Glad you mention Joshua Greene, he is a very smart guy and he discovered that the human brain is evolved for tribal life. The morals of a tribe applies inside the tribe, outside the tribe you can lie, kill and rape.“

This is only one part of the story. Whilst it is clear that the inner demands of morality are stronger within our own tribe or in-group, we also dispose of a strong sense of empathy wich allows us to feel and understand the pain of all other human beings or for that matter sentient animals.

Read your Bible, God condoned lack of morality of his chosen tribe, the Israelites, when it came to deal with other tribes.“

Here Cyngus speaks like of a fundamentalist of THE whole Bible where God is consistently portrayed as a tribal deity and an evil monster.

But that’s demonstrably false. I view the Bible as a collection of human thoughts about God reflecting the worldview, fears and hopes of people at that time and I see there contradictory views on God’s morality, tribalism, exclusivism, forgiveness, sin and so on and so forth, as well documented by Thom Stark in his book „The Human Faces of God“.

Seeing the Old Testament as a consistent book containing only evil things is exactly the way Nazi theologians interpreted it during the Third Reich.

.

God’s “objective morality” told his people to hate his enemies, then there came his beloved son “Jesus” who put his foot in the mouth of his father by saying: “love your enemies”. Isn’t that cute? But don’t fall for this trick, it is used to make the whole humanity be like one tribe under the same old crappy God.“

This emotional outburst is certainly very efficient rhetorically, but rationally I fear it rings rather hollow. Actually, it’s even hard to understand what the argument is supposed to be.

“ When God teaches us to love our enemies, it is a shameless ploy so that he will impose His dictatorship upon all of us.“

Really? Would he need to teach us love in order to become our absolute tyrant? Is it not a much more likely explanation that Jesus was moved by genuine compassion transcending tribalism as he taught that?

At the very least Cyngus and his fellow antitheists have the burden of proof to show why Jesus was being manipulative as he uttered such statements.

Don’t want to be in the “tribe” of God, then burn in hell.“

I completely reject hell as being a place of eternal suffering.

That said, I believe that God created us as free beings and that he won’t force anyone to get to heaven if she does not truly desires Him and even believes that live is more meaningful if it is limited in time.

Think about that: “Love your enemies”. In order to have enemies you have to hate, be hated or both. If you stop hating your enemies by saying that you love them, you have a chance to make them drop the guard. With their guard down you give them your love, if they don’t accept it, you send them in hell. Such a mischievous plan of “Jesus is love” could be thought only by the “tribe” of Christians.“

Given my conception of hell, I don’t feel threatened at all by this new outburst.

Try to use your brains when you read the Bible. You quote a lot from Bible in your blog, but you don’t think, you just interpret it to serve your own Christian “denominated” tribe.“

I view the Bible as a collection of religious texts, similar in its nature to books from many religious traditions. I analyse it critically and see both truths and errors within its pages and I quote it in the same way I quote Christian authors such as C.S Lewis or John Wesley or even Muslim authors.

Cyngus has just written an unproven assertion about my person.

Since he knows almost nothing about me, this leads to the strong suscpicion I think of himeself as possesing some extra-sensory perceptions (I should probably contact the CSICOP to investigate his case.)

You have no morals if your morals are to serve an immoral God.”

I agree there are many religious persons who do that and I constantly criticize them on my blog for that sin. I will quote C.S. Lewis here:

„The ultimate question is whether the doctrine of the goodness of God or that of the inerrancy of Scriptures is to prevail when they conflict. I think the doctrine of the goodness of God is the more certain of the two. Indeed, only that doctrine renders this worship of Him obligatory or even permissible. „

Frankly speaking there are quite a few atheists I love to read and feel challenged by, but Cyngus and all bullying village antitheists don’t belong to them.

Now back to „ Valdobiade“

I found the comment rough too, but the idea that seems true in the comment is that “love”, in Christian sense, is used to “divide and conquer”.

Many Christians denominations are understanding “love” in such a way that are put at odds with each other. You can even say that some Christians are enemies and they will love their “enemies” with the condition of the “love” as they interpret by their Christian denomination.“

Actually almost all modern Christian denominations agree that you not only have to love (in an intutively human sense) the people in other Christian groups but in non-Christian movements as well.

Another idea I found true, is that up to Jesus, God did not say to love the enemies but destroy them.“

No, as mentioned above you will find both conflicting trends within the pages of the OT, and of other Near-Eastern religious texts, or about Zeus in the Greek mythology for that matter.

However, even if Jesus said to love enemies, it did not change the fact that we become “enemies” by ignoring the “love”, thus those who don’t accept the “love” will be destroyed.

I don’t find this “love” being fair. Please make new post about this kind of “love”. I’d like to read your opinion.

Thanks.“

https://i0.wp.com/patrickwanis.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2007/09/Why-people-reject-love1-199x300.jpg

I don’t want to give the impression this is an easy question for any Christian. According to my view, hell is not a place of eternal torment but the utter disappearance of persons not desiring to live eternally with God. God does want them to be saved, but if they refuse He is not going to violate their will. God’s Love always respects the decision of its object but wishes to offer him or her eternal bliss.

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