Reading Living Morally- By Laurence Thomas

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anonymous66
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Reading Living Morally- By Laurence Thomas

Post by anonymous66 » December 26th, 2019, 9:37 am

It helps me to write about what I'm reading- so, here are my thoughts on the book Living Morally: A Psychology of Moral Character by Laurence Thomas. (It will probably be more a of a paraphrase of the book than anything else).

Preface- This book is not about trying to figure out what is right and wrong- it's not a theory of morality. Thomas wants to investigate moral motivations- and he assumes that to be moral is to be altruistic (other regarding). Other writers (Baier, Nagel, Rawls and others) presuppose that morality is motivated by self-interest. These other authors, says Thomas, seem to think that self-interest somehow leads to altruism- but Thomas sees their reasoning as a kind of sleight of hand. Thomas believes we are more altruistic than other philosophers suggest. He admits we are not completely altruistic- and that our ability to be altruistic is contingent on factors in our environment like: the parent-child relationships; companion friendships; our beliefs about how other people will treat us. Altruism is also like a natural gift or talent that can be improved upon by practice.

Thomas believes that "moral flourishing and human flourishing are inextricably linked".

Thomas argues that there is plenty of altruism to be found in our biological and psychological make-up- Here Thomas notes that he won't spend much time discussing self-deception or developing an account of the human emotions in general.

Here are some of Thomas' intuitions: "(i) social cooperation is the key to human survival; (ii) there can be no genuine cooperation in the absence of altruism; (iii)the very nature of both parental love and friendship would suggest that human being are capable of considerable altruism; (iv) the realization of altruism in our lives contributes to our living well."

Love is important in that it anchors our morality- "It is not because we are moral that we love... rather, it is because we love that we are moral". If love is a good, then morality is anchored in the good.

More to follow.

anonymous66
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Re: Reading Living Morally- By Laurence Thomas

Post by anonymous66 » December 27th, 2019, 8:04 pm

Chapter 1- Moral Character and Moral Theories
Moral character derives from social interaction- because we learn about ourselves and others through social interaction. It is through social interaction that we come to see ourselves and others as agents- only beings who see themselves as having agency can even have a moral character. The aim of this chapter is to discuss just how it is that individuals come to have a moral character- and how they maintain it. Thomas wants to give an account of just what it takes to lead a moral life and of how to acquire and sustain that moral life. Friendship and parental interactions are the 2 forms of social interaction that figure most prominently in Thomas' theory.

1. Persons of Good Moral Character.
People of morally good character are concerned with doing what is right. But, not all morally good people agree on what is right. They may disagree about the moral status of abortion, for instance. If we accept that someone is morally good- we can't infer from that judgment to determine what his or her stance on abortion might be. It is also the case that some morally good people think that not helping someone in need is itself a moral wrong, and others do no. Again, we can't infer from their status of "morally good" what their stance on the issue might be. (Lawrence isn't suggesting that there is no right answer to these questions).

Thomas points out that Socrates, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. are all thought of as having a good moral character- yet they all had different views on slavery- and slavery is an issue that virtually everyone alive today believes is wrong. "Still, as exemplars of good moral character Socrates and Lincoln present a for the thesis that persons of good moral character subscribe to the correct view concerning settled moral matters"- Thomas suggests that the issue of slavery is a settled moral matter- we know it is wrong.

One could argue that the reason that there is a difference of opinion between Lincoln, Socrates and MLKjr is because they are all from different time periods. But the issue of abortion suggests that even morally good people living within the same historical contexts have disagreements about moral issues.

At first glance, it does seem like people who are of good moral character should subscribe to the correct set of moral views. One might object that if someone didn't hold enough of the (objectively) right moral views then that person is not actually morally good- Thomas thinks that this is too stringent because "it ties having a good moral character to having moral knowledge".

Thomas argues that morally good people are those who actually do what is right as far as they understand what it is to do right. Sometimes people through no fault of their own, are unable to determine what is right- in those cases, their failures are not failures of character. A failure to do what is morally right is cannot be used to determine whether a person's character is flawed- no more than we can determine whether a person is mathematically inclined by looking at a few math problems that were done incorrectly.

Thomas also uses the example of dolphins. We cannot judge the moral character of people who lived 200 years ago- based on the fact that those people didn't understand that dolphins (because they have complex social interactions) are deserving of far more moral regard than those people living 200 years would think to give them.

What is most troubling, says Thomas, about the claim that we cannot make judgments about people's moral character based solely by the correct content of their moral views- is that we want to say that no morally good person could fail to "have the deepest moral disapprobation for both American slavery and Nazi Germany"- and how could we make that judgment if we can't actually identify morally good people based on their moral views?

Another means of support for the idea that all persons of good moral character do not have identical moral views is to point out that the supporters of the different moral theories (virtue ethics, utilitarian ethics, Kantian ethics, etc) don't argue that the supporters of the opposing theories have a bad moral character. Each of the above moral theories is defensible, and each has flaws- it cannot be said that only a person who is lacking in moral sensibilities would subscribe to such and such a moral theory.

There is one moral theory that is often associated with immorality- ethical egoism- because, thinks Thomas, it is characterized by people who are only interested in maximizing their own self-interests.

More to follow...

anonymous66
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Re: Reading Living Morally- By Laurence Thomas

Post by anonymous66 » December 28th, 2019, 8:37 pm

What Thomas wants to argue is "that a defining characteristic of persons of good moral character is not the correctness of their moral views or the possibility of moral knowledge, but the (moral) defensibility" of their views. How do we know if person's moral views are defensible? There is an objective and a subjective answer. The objective answer is when "(i) a person's moral views call for treating all innocent (full-fledged) persons in a minimally altruistic way; and (ii) the criteria by which a living being is determined to be a full-fledged person are grounded in the best scientific and socio-logical considerations available, and the criteria by which a person is determined to be noninnocent are not contrived. A view or piece of behavior is minimally altruistic if it takes into account the good of another without flowing from affection for that person or from a plan of life wherein one's primary aim is to do good for others- wherein one's mode of flourishing is defined primarily in terms of activities of this sort". In minimal altruism, one's primary mode of behavior cannot be to harm- harming for no good reason is always wrong.

The subjective answer is the same as above- except that (ii) is changed to reflect the fact that we get our initial beliefs from our parents and social environment. We may get false beliefs from our environment; we might even have experiences such that we never correct those incorrect beliefs- we may never question their plausibility. Subjectively, a person's moral views could be defensible, even though mistaken- if they are the best that could be expected, given that person's particular experiences. The reality is that a person's assessment of others may be not be informed by the best scientific and sociological evidence available- and that is not something we can blame him or her for.

A person living in New York City knows that using the word "******" is always offensive. No matter the person's views of black people, she knows that blacks resent the word. But a child who is raised in a hypothetical isolated community of entirely racists adults would not have the same knowledge. A child in this community would only be presented with images of black people doing deplorable things- and in the community, blacks are always referred to as "******". The child would believe that black people are properly referred to a "******" and that they are bad people. If those adults were also good to each other (it is hard to conceive of adults of this nature as not also having other severe character flaws) - then, Thomas believes, the child's views would be seen as morally defensible- but wrong. Thomas also argues that the child could not be considered to be a racist- because a racist is someone who wrongly believes that a group is inferior despite evidence to the contrary.

If this child did move to New York City later in life, then her views about blacks would quickly become indefensible. She would experience the reality that although there are morally despicable black people, it is not only black people who can have bad moral characters- and we would expect her to change her mind. We may make concessions for people whose beliefs form a core part of their self-conception. Constitutive beliefs of this sort are foundational to such an extent that we tend to use them to interpret our experiences- we are even inclined to dismiss experiences or events that are at odds with our constitutive beliefs rather than see those experiences as reasons to reevaluate our beliefs.

More to follow.

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Re: Reading Living Morally- By Laurence Thomas

Post by anonymous66 » January 2nd, 2020, 3:34 pm

Another example is that of women's view toward motherhood. For the longest time, women believed that it was their only real calling. Women bought into the idea to such an extent that they had a hard time seriously considering their artistic and intellectual talents. Even if she thought she had some talent in another area, to pursue that talent would be to deny her truest self. This deadly belief resulted in women being unmotivated towards any pursuit except motherhood. What Thomas wants us to see is that mistaken beliefs, if they are central to our self-concept, are resistant to corrective experiences. In the past, rather than viewing the talented women of the day as a reason to rethink views about women, many men and women discounted the contributions of those women. Those talented women were viewed as being frustrated because they didn't have the opportunity to raise children. "Or their work might be characterized as exceptional for a woman, but not up to the standards of a man". Some writings by women were dismissed as not worthy of reading, while similar thoughts expressed by men were viewed as deep insights that would inspire future generations.

"Any satisfactory theory of good moral character must seriously the fact that (i) even persons of good moral character can have mistaken morally relevant beliefs that are sufficiently constitutive of their self-concept that these beliefs have a high immunity to corrective experiences; and (ii) because a host of factors having to do with both personality and other beliefs, different persons will respond differently to like corrective experiences regarding the same constitutive belief." Some men might be shamed if they encounter a woman who is a brilliant mathematician- they might wonder just how a woman could do better. Other men might be be humbled, because their view that women cannot be better at math than men, is itself shaken. The issue is one of moral autonomy (to be explained shortly). Persons of good moral character are morally autonomous- the result is that they are better at responding appropriately to corrective experiences.

more to follow

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Re: Reading Living Morally- By Laurence Thomas

Post by anonymous66 » January 5th, 2020, 5:23 pm

Thomas goes on to say that although his way of describing a morally defensible view is compatible with severe differences on important moral issues, the account is far from empty. It may not settle the moral status of abortion, but it can tell us that American chattel slavery and the Holocaust must be wrong. Slavery is wrong because the slave owners kept black women as mistresses, their wives were jealous, the slaves nursed white children and cared for those children, sexual relations between slave and master produced fertile offspring, and slaves and masters spoke the same language- all this is evidence that slave owners could not deny that they believed that blacks are fully human- based on the evidence at hand, no one could reasonably deny that blacks are fully human. The same can be said of Jews- it was not possible to deny that Jews are fully human, says Thomas.

Now, says Thomas, lets go back to our consideration of Socrates, Lincoln and King regarding slavery. Because of context in which Socrates lived, it is not possible to make a negative judgement about his views regarding slavery. But for King, considering the historical context, to accept slavery would be inexcusable. It is also the case that Socrates did not believe slaves must be black. Socrates also did not assert that slaves lacked the mental and moral features of free people. The myth surrounding Lincoln is that he rose above his own personal beliefs and did what he thought was right for the United States. The reality, say Thomas, is that Lincoln did believe that blacks were naturally inferior to whites- and yet he agonized over the justification of slavery, while retaining his belief that blacks are inferior to whites.

Thomas notes that there is a difference between believing that blacks are fully human and believing that blacks are inferior to whites. "Whatever people may have been justified in believing about the intellectual abilities of blacks, they were never... justified in believing that blacks were less than fully human beings".

Thomas mentioned that one defining characteristic of persons of good moral character is the defensibility of their moral views- he also mentioned another feature- that of an altruistic character. Thomas invokes Aristotle here- "Aristotle remarked that the virtuous person is one who does the right thing, at the right time, in the right manner, toward the right objects..." Thomas will offer a sustained defense of his (Thomas') view of the altruistic nature in Chapter 2.

The other defining feature that Thomas wants to discuss is moral autonomy. Morally autonomous people are concerned with doing the right things for the right reasons- they want to be able to give reasons to justify their moral views-they don't appeal to popularity or arguments from authority. They have a deep conviction, not tied to obedience to any authority. Thomas argues that they are morally independent in thought and action.

Thomas contrasts the view of the morally autonomous with that of what he calls the morally nonautonomous. Morally nonautonomous people hold that right behavior is a matter of duty, obedience and upholding social order. Their views are strongly influenced by that of social institutions. They want their views to be socially acceptable- and if enough people disapprove, they will change their views. The nonautonomous, says Thomas are not concerned with being able to justify their beliefs and actions with reason- they are not concerned with doing what is right for the right reasons. The example that Thomas uses is that of a religious person who unquestioningly accepts the teaching of her religion- she might even take pride in her ability to accept her pastor's biblical interpretations.

The morally autonomous take the time to critically examine their own views, and even "revise then in light of newly perceived weaknesses and strengths". Because of this, the views of the morally autonomous change even while the views of the culture around them does not. Thomas argues that while everyone is influenced by their culture, the morally autonomous question the influence of that culture while the morally autonomous do not.

Thomas points out that in many areas morally autonomous and morally nonautonomous do agree (for instance, both groups probably accept that to kill innocent people is wrong). But, the views of the autonomous change as they reflect on the need for revision, while the nonautonomous fail to see this to change.

Here Thomas goes back to the religious. Some might argue that because religious fundamentalists are impervious to public opinion, they qualify as being morally autonomous- some fundamentalists do refrain from dancing and going to movies, after all, even though the majority around them think it's silly to hold those views. But, they should not be considered to be morally autonomous because they are bound to uncritically accept what their church teaches. They believe that God requires this behavior of them, and that God will punish them if they refuse. Their convictions, says Thomas are based on their belief that they will be punished if they don't comply. Ultimately, it's a fear of authority. It's not standing fast in one's convictions that determines moral autonomy, it's the reason for those convictions that matters.

anonymous66
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Re: Reading Living Morally- By Laurence Thomas

Post by anonymous66 » January 8th, 2020, 4:50 pm

p. 17
Thomas notes that we usually think of people as having a saintly, a good, a bad, or an evil moral character- where the assessment is a consideration of a person's moral behavior and good will (and there are gradations). Thomas proposes that when we add the concepts of morally autonomous and nonautonomous into the mix, then we need to add a new term- namely "anchored". A person has an anchored moral character iff that person has a good moral character and is morally autonomous.

Thomas tells us that he would like to use the word "anchored" but in this book he sometimes uses "virtuous" for clarity. He argues that morally autonomous persons of good moral character are morally better than morally nonautonomous persons of good moral character. The way we use the word "virtuous" suggests we believe to be virtuous is better than being good- so he uses "virtuous" as a synonym for "anchored".

In Thomas' view, the person who desires to do what is right and who also uncritically accepts the teachings of his church (because he believes the church leaders have a proper understanding of moral matters) has a good moral character, but is not morally autonomous. The person who does what is right because he wants to avoid punishment, guilt, etc. does not have a good moral character. The person who is both morally good and morally autonomous has a moral excellence that the nonautonomous does not- because the nonautonomous is following an authority, while the autonomous person is moral based on his own understanding of morality. The nonautonomous may be committed to morality, but is like the person who is does well on a math test, not because he understands the concepts, but rather because he memorizes the solutions.

A person who does understand why her answers are correct has a better understanding of math- and can do well when she encounters no mathematical concepts. In the same way the morally autonomous also does a better job morally than the nonautonomous when they encounter new situations.

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Re: Reading Living Morally- By Laurence Thomas

Post by anonymous66 » January 8th, 2020, 5:08 pm

P.19
Getting back to Socrates, Lincoln and MLKjr- each of them, says Lawrence was considered to be a moral exemplar because each is regarded as having an anchored moral character- they were morally good and morally autonomous.

A person can only be morally autonomous if she is proficient at moral deliberation. A person who held her moral convictions despite the fact that she was in the minority and without being able to defend those views would be merely reckless- not an independent moral thinker.

Moral proficiency is difficult to come by- it involves deliberation and the application of general principles to specific instances. If we accept that moral deliberation is successful only when it gives us a morally defensible answer, then it is obvious that it is not an easy task.

Moral deliberation is a consideration of which moral action among many possible actions, to take. A moral person is already committed to doing what is right, the only question is, which action is the right action?

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Re: Reading Living Morally- By Laurence Thomas

Post by anonymous66 » January 9th, 2020, 1:30 pm

p.20-21
Thomas notes that every moral theory is subject to what Thomas calls "opacity"- meaning that there are always exceptions to any formula or theory. One might think that helping others and telling the truth are good- but there are times when helping others is not kind (like when they don't want it) and telling the truth can be hurtful.

Thomas takes it as incontrovertible that there are morally good people who are not good at moral deliberation. Because there are no easy answers when one undertakes to deliberate about morality (there is no tried and true litmus test) it will always be tempting to uncritically accept the moral beliefs and/or teachings of one's culture (including secular or religious cultures). Good people might be concerned with doing what's right and also take comfort in doing what is popular or what is suggested by an authority, instead of working it out for themselves.

Thomas also notes that it is possible to perform a task well and also not be confident in one's ability to do so. It is sometimes the case that morally nonautonomous people are proficient at deliberation, but they lack the confidence to follow through. The morally autonomous person is proficient and confident.

The virtuous person (the good and morally autonomous person- per Thomas) are exceedingly good monitors of their own and others' social behavior. A person who lacks social monitoring skills could not be morally autonomous, as conceived by Thomas. People who genuinely want to help others can also be the same people who are always doing more harm than good. People who lack social social awareness (being unable to grasp the subtleties of social interaction) are also very likely to be unable to succeed in being genuinely altruistic.

So far, the 3 most important features of the morally anchored person, as identified by Thomas, are: 1. they have an altruistic nature, 2. they are morally autonomous (proficient at moral deliberation), 3. they excel at monitoring social behavior. One might object that because of the rigorous nature of these features, we are putting too much importance on reasoning, and not enough on an altruistic nature.

To further explore this objection- Thomas notes that the most profound examples of altruistic behavior (affection of children for parents, lover's expression of affection for the beloved), are actually spontaneous, and not the product of reasoning. The examples could be thought of as altruism at its best- maybe even because they did not require deliberation.

Thomas argues that the premise that altruistic behavior is most pure when it is spontaneous, is mistaken- because the specific examples we have in mind are expressions of a specific kind of love- and they are limited to very specific kind of relationship. Being altruistic to people with whom we do not have an intimate relationship is an entirely different matter.

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Re: Reading Living Morally- By Laurence Thomas

Post by anonymous66 » January 9th, 2020, 3:48 pm

p.24
It is in nonfamiliar relationships that reasoning becomes important. "For surely, being altruistic to the right person, at the right time, and in the right manner is anything but easy in nonfamiliar relationships..." at least when we're not talking about situations of imminent danger (like rescuing someone from danger). And we must remember, says Thomas, that not all motivations for performing a specific altruistic act are commendable. One example is helping women with math because one thinks that women are not the intellectual equals of men- or helping someone out of pity instead of respect.

It is good to help people, but it's important to examine our motives- including how others feel about our assistance. Communicating our morally commendable motivations can be tricky- it requires the use of reason. Thomas believes it is a mistake to think that the use of reason is peripheral to being altruistic. But, of course good will is also important- Thomas imagines that deliberative powers without good will wouldn't help anyone be moral.

Thomas combines Kant's insight that nothing is wholly good except a good will and Hume's insight that reason is the slave of the passions.

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Re: Reading Living Morally- By Laurence Thomas

Post by anonymous66 » January 10th, 2020, 11:55 am

p.26

Section 2. Moral Theory and Altruistic Motivations

Thomas suggests we can understand the debate between neo-Humean and neo-Kantians by considering their motivations to act within an altruistic formulation of morality. Neo-Kantians believe that motivation is reason-based, while the neo-Humeans believe it is based on desire. Neo-Kantians argue that there is no reason that desire need play a part- reason itself causes the moral action to be successfully altruistic. Neo-Humeans believe it is only ever desire that motivates people to moral action. On the neo-Kantian view, a morally anchored person is one whose rational self motivates them to do the right thing- it doesn't matter if humans are essentially egoistic or altruistic in their desire. On the neo-Humean view- the nature of humanity (egoism vs altruism) makes all the difference- and the morally anchored person is one whose altruistic nature is sufficiently realized.

Thomas wants to consider what follows if the neo-Kantians are wrong? Thomas admits he thinks they are wrong- and all is not lost if they are wrong. "[A] satisfactory account of human nature can be proffered from which it follows neither that the desires that characterize our motivational structure are essentially self-interested nor that such desires are fleeting if they should be altruistic. We can get such an account from evolutionary theory. Neo-Kantians might object and argue that desires are contingent- even if universal, or argue that we can't say which set of desires is better than another.

Thomas counters that the objection rests on an "ambiguity between something's being necessary, in this case a desire, and its being fleeting". Even if it is true that something isn't necessary, it doesn't follow that that thing is fleeting. Humanity's existence is contingent, but we are not fleeting. Things that are contingent can be quite resistant to change.

The second objection (we can't say which set of desires is better than another) only works if humans beings can't be said to have a human nature with some desires and not others being appropriate to the species. If human beings truly are a blank slate- especially with respect to desires- then any desire would be natural and appropriate. But evolutionary theory itself doesn't support the view. Thomas argues that the capacity to love and desire the well being of others is very much a part of human nature (this will be elaborated upon in section 3).

Neo-Kantians are suspicious of the neo-Humean view and want to know if there is anything that can be called a human nature- and they want to know if we can develop a proper characterization of it. They also want to know, if it is the case that humans have a human nature, then how do we know that nature isn't a Hobbesean self-interested one. The Humean conception only suggests that only desires can motivate a person to act- it says nothing about the nature of those desires- they could be base or noble, fleeting or consistent. At first glance the Humean view is consistent with the Hobbesean self-interested view of human nature. Thomas argues that we do have a human nature, and that we can articulate what that nature is- it is from this human nature that we can assess the rationality of at least some of our desires. He also argues that our human nature is consistent with an altruistic conception of morality. If Thomas' arguments succeed, then being at the mercy of our desires is not such a bad thing.

Thomas admits that nothing so far suggests that it follows that altruistic motivations have an inescapable grip on us. But, what does follow is that individuals who are unable to realize their altruistic motivations flourish less than those who do (a claim that Thomas follows up in Chapter 7). "Self-knowledge is one of the fruits of the moral life".

If the neo-Kantians are wrong, and it turns out that altruistic motivations are not a basic feature of human nature, then being altruistically moral would be all but impossible. Morality would be a burden. In fact, if such were the case, then human nature would be the reason that we are immoral. Thomas accepts that "ought implies can". We cannot be required to do that which is impossible for us to do- and we cannot be blamed for not doing what we cannot do.

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Re: Reading Living Morally- By Laurence Thomas

Post by anonymous66 » January 11th, 2020, 4:11 pm

p.30
Here Thomas considers the objection that sometimes we ought to do what we cannot do. But, explains Thomas, we cannot perform some tasks because they are beyond the reach of human powers. For instance, we can't (without aid) run faster than speeding locomotives or jump over tall buildings or swim on the bottom of the ocean floor. We all are at least somewhat affected by our upbringing- and we do tend to feel resentment if we believe we have been continually treated unfairly by others- especially if those others are people we have loved and trusted. A moral theory that requires we be able to physically do what we cannot physically do, or requires us not to be affected by our upbringing, or requires us to not feel resentment when we are continuously treated unfairly, would be untenable. It would be wonderful if we didn't have human limitations, but in reality it is not possible to measure up to the high standards required by the imagined moral theory- not being able to measure up to such a theory could not be considered to be a moral failing.

There are several ways of looking at this:
A- There is what a person cannot do because of some problem not of his own making- for instance, being born blind.
B- There is what a person cannot do because he is temporarily unable: i. because something happened to him- for instance, he was knocked unconscious or ii. because he voluntarily performed a previous action- for instance, he became too intoxicated to walk. It's also the case that we hold people accountable for those previous actions- for instance- he ought to have known better than to have become incapacitated.
C- There is what a person cannot do because no human can do it- for instance, leaping over tall buildings.
D- There is what some person might be able to do, but in general, is not what is reasonable to expect people to do- for instance, it might be possible to live a life devoid of any voluntary sexual activity (including masturbation)- but it is not reasonable to expect this of anyone.

Thomas argues that this range of abilities refers to both physical and psychological abilities and limitations. Like it or not, all children bear the effects of their parent's attempt at child-rearing.

Items C and D above might help us to understand the saintly or heroic person. Here Thomas considers Mother Teresea as an example of C.

Thomas' aim is to show that "ought implies can" is a defensible belief. Thomas believes that it doesn't make sense to suppose both that human beings have an essentially self-interested motivational structure and also that they can act in accordance with the requirements of an altruistic moral theory. Thomas proposes that we must either reject the idea that human's motivational structure is essentially self-motivated, or we must reject an altruistic conception of morality. Thomas rejects the idea that we are essentially self-motivated.

Thomas also rejects the idea that neo-Kantians can make a reasonable case for the idea that reason alone can motivate people to act in accordance with altruistic morality. The reason is this- the Kantian view suggests that no fully informed and fully rational person could make an immoral choice- and yet we have plenty of evidence that this is the case. Wicked people are not moral fiction. Thomas is not convinced by the argument that perhaps weakness of will is the problem. We have plenty of evidence that wicked people can act with resolve. Kantians could also argue that in order for reason to "work" (as far as morality goes) we need to be in the proper frame of mind. But if frame of mind is necessary, then it follows that moral reasoning is not enough.

Thomas argues that in accounting for immoral behavior, the Humeans do a much better job. The Humean position is that if altruistic motivations are not sufficiently realized in a person's life, then that person will not be capable of acting in accordance with the requirements of an altruistic morality. The Humean view, but not the Kantian one, views moral training and the factors of our social environment as being very important to our ability to ability to act out altruistic morality. This view considers moral training to be precisely what provides sufficient motivation to act morally. The power of the motivation of moral training is contingent on a person's ability to be receptive to that training.

Moral training is so important, says Thomas, it should shape our desires and habits very early in life. An argument for moral training is most convincing when it is grounded in our biological makeup- the topic of Chapter 2.

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Re: Reading Living Morally- By Laurence Thomas

Post by anonymous66 » January 15th, 2020, 1:08 pm

Chapter 2- The Biological Basis of Altruism

Thomas views love as a form of altruism. The capacity to love is essential to the survival and flourishing of the human species. Parental love is required in order for a child to flourish. Parental love is transparent as opposed to what Thomas calls opaque love. The view that Thomas presents here is one in which morality has biological foundations. Reluctance to this view comes from 1. A view of biological determinism and 2. The fear that if morality is biological, then altruism is merely an illusion. If sociobiology is only a matter of genes maximizing their numbers, then it is hard to see how this is compatible with altruism. Thomas will spend most of Chapter 2 arguing that biology is not incompatible with an altruistic morality.

Section 3: Morality and Sociobiology

Biological determinism is basically the view that most aspects of human behavior are strongly influenced by genetics. Thomas argues that just because some aspects of human activity are biologically determined, it does not follow that all aspects of human behavior are biologically determined. Consider our sex drive, says Thomas. Nearly everyone believes it is an example of biological determination. It is a powerful drive, with what sometimes seems a mind of its own. But it does not follow that people have no choice about when and why they engage in sexual activity. People give various reasons for why they refrain from engaging in sexual activity- and some people choose celibacy.

Thomas argues that there are enough examples available, that we can say "We have no reason to suppose that just because some aspects of a given human behavior are biologically determined, then thorough-going biological determinism obtains with respect to that activity". As the previous discussion suggests, to believe that since the sex drive is biologically determined, then all sexual activity is biologically determined- is to draw an incorrect conclusion.

The other reason that people are reluctant to believe that morality can have biological foundations is because it looks like, if biological foundations, then seemingly altruistic actions are actually selfish ones. Most people look at a sociobiological account of human behavior and come to the conclusion that the ultimate motivating force behind our behavior is the drive to maximize one's gene pool. If this is correct, note Thomas, then all appearance of supposed altruism is explained- for example, parents take care of their children because this maximizes their gene pool. If this is true, then it would seem that altruism toward non-relatives can't be explained by sociobiology.

One might object that if morality is explained by sociobiology, then it looks like the only reason parents rescue their children from danger is because they want those children to go on to continue reproducing. This is despite the fact that we believe that loving parents do care for their children and put their lives in danger to rescue them because of that love.

Mother Teresa appears to be a counter-example to the theory that altruism is about maximizing one's gene pool. Her altruistic behavior does not maximize her gene pool. And less extreme examples don't fit into the sociobiological view of morality, either. How does helping a stranger serve one's gene pool? How about donating to charity?

Thomas believes that he can show how sociobiology does not actually "take the altruism out of altruism". He starts by noting the difference between deliberate selfishness and unwitting selfishness. Motive altruism is intentionally bestowing a benefit on someone at some risk or cost to oneself without regard to future gain (foregoing a benefit can be thought of as incurring a cost). Unwitting altruism is unintentionally giving a benefit to another- there are no motives or intentions involved. Motive altruism is usually referred to as genuine altruism. Motive selfishness and unwitting selfishness are similarly defined. Motive selfishness is thought of as genuine selfishness.

"Of significance is that while unwitting altruism entails neither motive nor unwitting selfishness, unwitting altruism is compatible with unwitting selfishness. That is, individual X may gain from having unwittingly benefited individual Y, since benefiting someone at a risk to oneself does not entail a loss to oneself; indeed, it is compatible with a gain. An illustration of this will be given below. The charge that sociobiology takes the altruism out of altruism holds only if what is presented as motive altruism in fact turns out to be motive selfishness. Unwitting selfishness does not take the altruism out of altruism."

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Re: Reading Living Morally- By Laurence Thomas

Post by Terrapin Station » February 16th, 2020, 11:36 am

Morality is a factor of individuals approving or disapproving of interpersonal behavior--yaying or booing it, essentially, where we're talking about interpersonal behavior the individual considers to be more significant/important than mere etiquette.

The reasons behind this approval or disapproval are varied. They're not all going to boil down to anything like altruism or self-interest. Many will even be purely happenstantial--it's just a matter of that person's brain being in a particular state/working a particular way.

Many are sourced in evolutionary selection. But that also contributes to the reasons being varied. Different things have different evolutionary advantages in different circumstances.

At any rate, so the whole project of more or less trying to narrow morality down to a small number of motivations is bound to be doomed from the start--unless the aim is just to create a fiction one likes.

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