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Binding vs. Individuating morality

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VictorianoOchoa
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Binding vs. Individuating morality

Post by VictorianoOchoa » April 23rd, 2018, 10:11 pm

Hello everyone,

This is my first post. I look forward to conversing with fellow philosophers.

As per the topic, according to psychological rationale based on data, there is currently a theory that morality generally falls into two camps: binding and individuating. From my interpretation, binding morality pertains to "fitting in" while individuating morality pertains to "fairness to the individual." Although this theory has been criticized, based on materialist premises and a priori reasoning that follows neuroscience, there is also evidence that may support it. Although it may seem like a trivial distinction, some studies seem to classify each topic in separate camps, and some cultures (rural) are theorized to hold on to binding morality while others (generally more urban) hold moreso onto individuating morality. Of course, this idea is just a generalization, and generalizations of any culture may often speak to a lower common denominator, given the statistical regression of a high populace to the mean.

Some argue that binding morality is based on animal instincts of fitting in to survive, whereas individuating morality may not be as primally instinctual. This is not to suggest that one should necessarily refuse to be a part of a community, or seek to understand others. when fitting in, however, overrides a sense of individual morality, might it be the case that the two become contradictory?

Take, for example, the criminalization of African Americans. Many of them were stigmatized as criminals as a means of throwing them in jail, so that they could be used as slave labor (after the 13th amendment, which grants freedom to blacks, but only if they were not also criminals). During that time, blacks were thrown in jail for charges like loitering or vagrancy. This stigma has lasted to date, with a larger percentage of the black population in prison than the white population. In this stigmatization, perhaps binding morality would suggest that it is immoral for African Americans to seek to escape their subjugated stigma.

I am curious to hear your thoughts on the matter.

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Re: Binding vs. Individuating morality

Post by Eduk » April 24th, 2018, 1:35 pm

Reality cannot be changed by a poll to the contrary. By which I mean it is a famous logical fallacy to assert something is true because many people believe it is true.
Unknown means unknown.

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Re: Binding vs. Individuating morality

Post by Gertie » April 25th, 2018, 7:42 pm

I think it's important to understand our evolved pre-dispositions, including what our concepts of right and wrong are rooted in. I've not come across binding and individuating, tho I believe Moral Foundations Theory is an important early step in the right direction of trying to broadly categorise our evolved moral/social intuitions.

Having said that, there are problems. The current knowledge base it draws on is still rather limited (in terms of the evolved neurobiology), and other fields which could help elucidate (psychology, sociology, anthropology) are just beginning to take such ideas on board. And of course people are an extremely complex interactive mix of nature and nurture. So to reduce the 6 or so very broad categories of Haidt et al to two even cruder categories is obviously going to lose a lot of important nuance.

Personally I tend to see two basic evolved drives in our complex social species, our more ancient default (selfish) survival drive and our (moral) social drive which is a later adaptation, which are often in competition. There is an inevitable tension between an individual's own needs and desires and those of the group, which can hopefully be resolved consensually.

As regards our social drive, we have to remember that evolved when we lived in small groups where everyone knew and relied on each other, and strangers were potential competitors and threats. So our neural social bonding mechanisms evolved to work up close and personal (mirror neurons, reciprocal altruism, grooming/touch responses, facial recognition, learned signals and rituals, etc). And this legacy remains in social in-group and out-group dynamics. 'Fitting in' is certainly an important aspect of group dynamics and how we acquire our concepts of right and wrong individually and within groups, , but our evolved neurobiology is the basis for a range of social pre-dispositions which came to be the constituents of the abstract concept of morality - caring, emotional bonding, cooperation, loyalty, authority, purity, sense of fairness, justice, guilt, reputation, abhorrence of cheaters and so on. Which is then shaped by learning and experience (individual and cultural) in our 'plastic' brains which are 'designed' for flexibility from birth.

So to say morality 'generally falls into two camps' is to be very general indeed, to the point where I'd ask what's the point in squishing so much complexity into these two categories?

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VictorianoOchoa
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Re: Binding vs. Individuating morality

Post by VictorianoOchoa » April 27th, 2018, 8:04 am

Gertie wrote:
April 25th, 2018, 7:42 pm
I think it's important to understand our evolved pre-dispositions, including what our concepts of right and wrong are rooted in. I've not come across binding and individuating, tho I believe Moral Foundations Theory is an important early step in the right direction of trying to broadly categorise our evolved moral/social intuitions.

Having said that, there are problems. The current knowledge base it draws on is still rather limited (in terms of the evolved neurobiology), and other fields which could help elucidate (psychology, sociology, anthropology) are just beginning to take such ideas on board. And of course people are an extremely complex interactive mix of nature and nurture. So to reduce the 6 or so very broad categories of Haidt et al to two even cruder categories is obviously going to lose a lot of important nuance.

Personally I tend to see two basic evolved drives in our complex social species, our more ancient default (selfish) survival drive and our (moral) social drive which is a later adaptation, which are often in competition. There is an inevitable tension between an individual's own needs and desires and those of the group, which can hopefully be resolved consensually.

As regards our social drive, we have to remember that evolved when we lived in small groups where everyone knew and relied on each other, and strangers were potential competitors and threats. So our neural social bonding mechanisms evolved to work up close and personal (mirror neurons, reciprocal altruism, grooming/touch responses, facial recognition, learned signals and rituals, etc). And this legacy remains in social in-group and out-group dynamics. 'Fitting in' is certainly an important aspect of group dynamics and how we acquire our concepts of right and wrong individually and within groups, , but our evolved neurobiology is the basis for a range of social pre-dispositions which came to be the constituents of the abstract concept of morality - caring, emotional bonding, cooperation, loyalty, authority, purity, sense of fairness, justice, guilt, reputation, abhorrence of cheaters and so on. Which is then shaped by learning and experience (individual and cultural) in our 'plastic' brains which are 'designed' for flexibility from birth.

So to say morality 'generally falls into two camps' is to be very general indeed, to the point where I'd ask what's the point in squishing so much complexity into these two categories?
I would not disagree with you, and I don't think a solid interpretation articles would either, at least not much by much. Selfish drives may be equated to more of the binding morality (which is hypothesized in a paper to stem from what appears to be, to me at least, a purely selfish motive: fitting in). In fact, biding morality is almost equated with antisocial behavior in another study, and is perhaps indicative of spitefulness (incuring harm to one's self to harm another) in another. To me, these qualities all appear o correlate with the selfish drive.

Individuating morality, form my point of view, is a social drive. This one is concerned with fair treatment of all, regardless of one's disposition towards the one concerned.

And I do not intend to reduce morality to two cruder camps, but rather to create two overarching categories.

Have you read much on this theory? I have only read a few articles. It seems that you may have, given your knowledge.

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Re: Binding vs. Individuating morality

Post by Gertie » April 28th, 2018, 9:34 am

Welcome to the forum by the way :)

No I've not come across this Binding vs Individuating framing before. Do you have a link?

Personally I've found philosopher Pat Churchland's Brain Trust to be a valuable and accessible intro to where the science is at in terms of beginning to put together an account of the evolutionary under-pinnings of our social intuitions (which eventually resulted in the abstract concept of Morality), she also has some lectures on YouTube if you want to check them out. And then there's Moral Foundations Theory http://moralfoundations.org/ , which took an anthropological research approach and came up with a 6 broad categories of 'moral intuitions' which appear to be universal, tho obviously have played out differently geographically and historically. (Haidt then goes on to draw inferences I don't always agree with).

For me, these provide complementary rough early attempts to get a handle on creating a framework for understanding human morality. I imagine Binding vs Individuating is, as you say, an over-arching interpretation of such evidence and research. For me it perhaps puts too much emphasis on 'fitting in' as one of two types of moral motivations. Certainly that's a factor, and correlates with Haidt's categories of Loyalty and Authority as well as the selfish motivation to be thought well of (Reputation - rooted in being a trusted co-operator/reciprocator), and get on. This would be transposed against our Care/Harm impulses, and I'd add equality-fairness. See what you think -

MFT categories -
Moral Foundations Theory was created by a group of social and cultural psychologists (see us here) to understand why morality varies so much across cultures yet still shows so many similarities and recurrent themes. In brief, the theory proposes that several innate and universally available psychological systems are the foundations of “intuitive ethics.” Each culture then constructs virtues, narratives, and institutions on top of these foundations, thereby creating the unique moralities we see around the world, and conflicting within nations too. The five foundations for which we think the evidence is best are:

1) Care/harm: This foundation is related to our long evolution as mammals with attachment systems and an ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. It underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance.

2) Fairness/cheating: This foundation is related to the evolutionary process of reciprocal altruism. It generates ideas of justice, rights, and autonomy. [Note: In our original conception, Fairness included concerns about equality, which are more strongly endorsed by political liberals. However, as we reformulated the theory in 2011 based on new data, we emphasize proportionality, which is endorsed by everyone, but is more strongly endorsed by conservatives]

3) Loyalty/betrayal: This foundation is related to our long history as tribal creatures able to form shifting coalitions. It underlies virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group. It is active anytime people feel that it's "one for all, and all for one."

4) Authority/subversion: This foundation was shaped by our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions. It underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions.

5) Sanctity/degradation: This foundation was shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination. It underlies religious notions of striving to live in an elevated, less carnal, more noble way. It underlies the widespread idea that the body is a temple which can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants (an idea not unique to religious traditions).

We think there are several other very good candidates for "foundationhood," especially:
6) Liberty/oppression: This foundation is about the feelings of reactance and resentment people feel toward those who dominate them and restrict their liberty. Its intuitions are often in tension with those of the authority foundation. The hatred of bullies and dominators motivates people to come together, in solidarity, to oppose or take down the oppressor. We report some preliminary work on this potential foundation in this paper, on the psychology of libertarianism and liberty.

You could probably design experiments with groups to show different aspects bumping up against each other and draw particular conclusions. But my own preferred big picture framing as I said, is to see our evolutionary legacy as gifting us with both selfish and social impulses, the latter largely moulded by a tribal (in-group/out-group) context. Rooted in our up-close-and-personal neurobiological mechanisms, and honed by environment and learning. So our strongest bonds are with kin, then kith, then strangers where suspicion and hostility can easily kick in, 'othering'. A sort of 'diminishing returns with distance' model. Extending our empathy to strangers or 'the other' is tougher, like your African American example, and requires more thought and effort. It's a more 'thinky' process imo.

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Re: Binding vs. Individuating morality

Post by VictorianoOchoa » April 28th, 2018, 2:59 pm

Indeed, I think that it boils down to selfish vs. social drives. A tricky question may arise from this distinction, however. To what extent might either possibly influence each categorized foundation, if each categorization were to be defined objectively? For instance, although liberty and oppression are important to consider, would not the hatred of another, despite whatever wrong that person may have committed, be more selfish than social? Might each drive thus be better defined as a modality of intent, rather than a specific form of manifestation? (i.e. for liberty/oppression the intent is not to harm others, but to correct unjust behavior, despite how this may manifest) Of course, selfish animal instincts may make such a viewpoint difficult to foster. But would the viewpoint, or rather the intent that stems from the viewpoint, be a more accurate descriptor of what morality may actually be?

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Re: Binding vs. Individuating morality

Post by Gertie » May 2nd, 2018, 10:45 am

I agree the question of objectivity and what morality may actually be do arise once you've explained its roots in terms of evolutionary utility. This sort of explanation potentially undermines our whole notion of Morality as having a quasi-objective existence somewhere 'out there', which we can get right or wrong. It also does away with the need for a god as the grounding source of our moral instincts, and moral arbiter/law giver.

So we have to draw a distinction between analysing how humans came up with this abstract concept of 'Morality', Right and Wrong - the utility-based evolutionary , cultural, and psychological story behind it, and whether knowing all that, we can still come to some justified standards whereby we can judge whether something is Right or Wrong regardless of the happenstance of our species' particular dispositions.

So for example is it fine for modern people to mostly discard the Purity/Disgust category, but keep the Care/Harm category? If so why? What is the underlying axiomatic foundation for a modern concept of Morality which we could treat as 'objectively' grounding Right and Wrong?

I think most secular people would go with Harris's pithy axiom of 'The Well-being of conscious creatures'. Once you have a foundational grounding for Morality such as that, then you have a basis against which to judge actions and motives. And judge how well our natural pre-dispositions still serve us in our very different modern globalised world of inter-connected strangers.

Once that axiomatic foundation is in place, it soon gets very complicated. There are competing ideas of how to achieve the goal of maximising the well-being of conscious creatures (utilitarianism, deontology, virtue ethics, etc). There's the question of intent which you raise - does motive really matter or are consequences all that counts? How do you weigh different and often competing aspects of well-being against each other? What is the role of government, law and institutions, social contract theory and so on?

We can see how all this plays out in politics, with the Left emphasising cooperation, equality, progressivism and welfare, as opposed to the Right emphasising competition, merit, conservatism and individual freedom. And democracies tend to come up with a pick n mix compromise of these sorts of competing goals, a balance between individual and communal Goods. Hopefully as the evolved origins of our predispositions become part of our knowledge base, we'll come to some new consensus around Morality, and be better equipped to avoid our ingrained pitfalls.

As for motivation specifically, I'd say that while it's useful to have broad categories and note general patterns, we have to remember every individual is a unique and highly complex kludge of nurture and nature, the complexity being illustrated by the billions of neural connections unique to each of us. Our conscious thoughts and rationalisations for our actions can at best be a simplification, at worst kidding ourselves.

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