Sunday, January 31, 2010

Regarding the "Golden Rule Ontology"

I had been making two assumptions when developing the idea of an ethics based on the apparent existential ontology of the "Golden Rule" being part of our universe. Underlying my previous discussions were three ideas:

The first is a reason to have a system of ethics in the first place; the second is -- having decided that a system of ethics is a good thing to have -- why that would be done within a scientific framework; and then finally deciding on that, how exactly it would be done.

(And as you can see above, underpinning my reasoning for having ethics is the definition of "good"...)

A discussion on the Facebook group "Faith Interface" with a Mr. Peter Grice brought this to light, and resulted in his disucssion of how we justify ethics (and/or morals). He posits a "presumption of [objective] morality" when talking about naturalism -- a thorny problem in naturalist philosophies. I myself subscribe to a theistic source of conscience (as seen in previous blog posts), BUT...

I wonder if we do better with a more complicated theistic justification, when a simpler one might do: sort of an Occam's Razor of supernatural presumption, when attempting to find the basis for our innate sense of right and wrong.

It's tough to examine our own conscience, our "moral compass", since it would seem to be part of our consciousness. And the source of _that_ remains very elusive.

I forget where I first read some cosmologist's idea that consciousness would be found to be more fundamental to the universe than we currently regard it. At a most basic level, we regard the universe as "I" and "everything else". So to consider ourselves as part of that "everything else" would be to rebel against the very situation we ordinarily perceive -- even though that "everything else" includes other people with other minds, that (we assume through shared experience) regard the universe in the same way we do.

Indeed, some naturalists seem almost embarrassed that self-awareness should exist at all, much less arising from some of the fine structure of the universe. So when Clayton talks about the non-determinism in QM, he's talking about effects -- such as wave function collapse -- that would seem to be affected by an observer. But if the observer's consciousness is somehow part of of the experiment, that leaves us with another kind of "non-determinism": the observer's own mind.

So my first point is this: We aren't talking about an either/or, but a gray scale of naturalism vs. supernaturalism. So the preposition of "least supernaturalism" -- that things tend to happen by natural processes: given two explanations for a phenomenon, the one with the least amount of supernatural influence is more likely to be the correct explanation.

Meanwhile, the lessons of AI research -- as well as all cognitive sci. -- is that our minds are very enigmatic things. If people take the time to consider their own consciousness, we can't help but intuit our own minds as "supernatural". Some Cog. scientists think our minds are simply the emergent properties of our brains -- but that doesn't explain where the "I" that we all have comes from.

So, I propose that the ultimate least amount of supernaturalism we must necessarily regard in our universe is determining the source of the "'I' mystery". So if we can incorporate that _source_ into justification for having a system of ethics, it should (if I'm right) follow the principle of "least supernaturalism".

1 comment:

  1. ...and you know, looking at this a few years later (now), I see that I didn't complete the thought.

    The idea is that conscience is a fundamental part of our consciousness, which could be more fundamental to the universe than we realize.

    And we know people _do_ tend to have functioning consciences, when they can afford to have them. One example: almost all movies coming out of Hollywood would have impenetrable motivations, if we didn't have consciences.

    Then there are factors in government that require conscience (and, in some cases, could use a lot more of it -- as well as recognition of conscience in others). For example, take juries. I don't think they would work if the jurors didn't have consciences.

    So I don't mind appealing to our God-given consciences on occasion. One such appeal is the assertion that having a rational system of ethics is "good".

    (I don't think this is as much of a stretch as some theologians' ideas about what is "properly basic", ahem...)