RE: 'reason' and ethics; was computer pain

From: Stathis Papaioannou <>
Date: Fri, 29 Dec 2006 19:53:24 +1100


Let me make it clear at this late point in the debate that, just because I don't believe there is any absolute morality, I don't thereby think it is OK for anyone to do any horrible thing they want. I have my own values, as it happens broadly in agreement with what you have outlined below. I judge actions reasonable or unreasonable given that a certain end is desirable, but only my values will tell me what this end is, and the values themselves are beyond reason: they simply are what they are.

Stathis Papaioannou

> Date: Thu, 28 Dec 2006 16:51:08 +0900
> From:
> To:
> Subject: Re: 'reason' and ethics; was computer pain
> OK Stathis, I happily concede your point in relation to our word 'logical', but not in relation to 'reason'. Logic belongs to the tight-nit language of logico-mathematics but reason is *about* the real world and we cannot allow the self-deluding bullies and cheats of the world to steal *our* language!
> I like the way Dr Dorothy Rowe, a psychologist and writer [ another useful Australian export **] puts it: "Power is the ability to get others to accept your description of the world." The cynical manipulators and spin doctors have no qualms about abusing language, in big part because they have no intention of accepting responsibility for all their actions. Of course none of us is guiltless in this regard but it falls to us who stand well away from the levers of power to speak the truth. We who are forced to watch as OUR hard earned tax dollars and investment savings [superannuation savings for example] get splurged on grand projects, invasions, and so forth, have a duty to SAY what is right. We may be wrong about some details but we sure as hell are not wrong when insisting that the truth be told.
> I certainly agree also that, in the case of the person standing on the parapet, what he or she believes about what they are doing - if we can find it out - should cause us to try different methods of persuasion. Quite how one would tackle the 'logic' of the superhero's thinking, I don't know, perhaps offer to make improvements to his cape to improve the effect? :-) Whatever the details, I think that one aspect of the interaction that either type would require is the establishment of rapport, some degree of mutual empathy; not easy.
> The economist preparing to make war not love is very like the supposed scientists cooking up ever more 'attractive' tobacco products 'for our smoking pleasure'. I think that the only way people can bring themselves to do this is by cutting themselves off from those others who will become the victims. This is like so many other situations where a group or social class cuts it/themselves off from another class of persons. It may seem 'reasonable' where everyone involved in the planning agrees that there is no real alternative, or that the potential disadvantages accruing from not doing so will be too heavy a burden to bear. But it also entails a denial of empathy, and a closing off from a part of the world, an objective assertion that 'they are not us and we are not them'. This contains within it also a diminution of self, something that may not be recognised to start with and perhaps never understood until it is too late.
> Regards
> Regards
> Mark Peaty CDES
> ** who probably, like so many others, left Oz because not enough people could put down their bl**dy beer cans long enough to actually listen to what she was saying.
> Stathis Papaioannou wrote:
> Mark,
> I would still draw a distinction between the illogical and the foolish or unwise. Being illogical is generally foolish, but the converse is not necessarily the case. The example I have given before is of a person who wants to jump off the top of a tall building, either because (a) he thinks he is superman and will be able to fly or (b) he is reckless or suicidal. In both cases the course of action is unwise, and we should try to stop him, but in (a) he is delusional while in (b) he is not. It isn't just of academic interest, either, because the approach to stopping him from doing it again is quite different in each case. Similarly with the example of the economist, the approach to stopping him will be different depending on whether he is trying to ruin the economy because he wants to or because he is incompetent or making decisions on false information.
> Stathis Papaioannou
> ________________________________
> Date: Thu, 28 Dec 2006 01:15:34 +0900
> From:<>
> To:<>
> Subject: Re: 'reason' and ethics; was computer pain
> And yet I persist ... [the hiatus of familial duties and seasonal excesses now draws to a close [Oh yeah, Happy New Year Folks!]
> SP: 'If we are talking about a system designed to destroy the economy of a country in order to soften it up for invasion, for example, then an economist can apply all his skill and knowledge in a perfectly reasonable manner in order to achieve this.'
> We should beware of conceding too much too soon. Something is reasonable only if it can truly be expected to fulfil the intentions of its designer. Otherwise it is at best logical but, in the kinds of context we are alluding to here, benighted and a manifestation of fundamentally diminished 'reason'. Something can only be 'reasonable' it its context. If a proposed course of action can be shown to be ultimately self defeating - in the sense of including its reasonably predictably final consequences, and yet it is still actively proposed, then the proposal is NOT reasonable, it is stupid. As far as I can see, that is the closest we can get to an objective definition of stupidity and I like it.
> Put it this way: Is it 'reasonable' to promote policies and projects that ultimately are going to contribute to your own demise or the demise of those whom you hold dear or, if not obviously their demise then, the ultimate demise of all descendants of the aforementioned? I think academics, 'mandarins' and other high honchos should all now be thinking in these terms and asking themselves this question. The world we now live in is like no other before it. We now live in the Modern era, in which the application and fruits of the application of scientific method are putting ever greater forms of power into the hands of humans. This process is not going to stop, and nor should we want it to I think, but it entails the ever greater probability that the actions of any person on the planet have the potential to influence survival outcomes for huge numbers of others [if not the whole d*mned lot of us].
> I think it has always been true that ethical decisions and judgements are based on facts to a greater extent than most people involved want to think about - usually because it's too hard and we don't think we have got the time and, oh yeah, 'it probably doesn't/won't matter' about the details of unforeseen consequences because its only gonna be lower class riff -raff who will be affected anyway or people of the future who will just have to make shift for themselves. NOW however we do not really have such an excuse; it is a cop-out to purport to ignore the ever growing interrelatedness of people around the planet. So it is NOT reasonable to treat other people as things. [I feel indebted to Terry Pratchett for pointing out, through the words of Granny Weatherwax I think it is, that there is only one sin, which is to treat another person as a thing.] I think a reasonable survey and analysis of history shows that, more than anything else, treating other people as things rather than equal others has been the fundamental cause and methodology for the spread of threats to life and well being.
> You can see where I am going with this: in a similar way to that in which concepts of 'game theory' and probabilities of interaction outcomes give us an objective framework for assessing purportedly 'moral' precepts, the existence now of decidedly non-zero chances of recursive effects resulting from one's own actions brings a deeper meaning and increased rigour the realms of ethics and 'reason'. I don't think this is 'airy-fairy', I think it represents a dimension of reasoning which has always existed but which has been denied, ignored or actively censored by the powerful and their 'pragmatic' apologists and spin doctors. To look at a particular context [I am an EX Christian], even though the Bible is shonk as history or any kind of principled xxxxxxological analysis, it is instructive to look at the careers of the prophets and see how each involved a seemingly conventional formative period and then periods or a whole life of very risky ministry AGAINST the establishment because being true to their mission involved the prophet denouncing exploitation, greed and corruption.
> So let me wave my imaginary staff and rail from the top of my imaginary mountain:
> 'Sin is against reason! And that's a fact! So THERE! And don't you forget it, or you'll be sorry, or at least your children and their children will become so! Put that in your pipes all you armchair philosophers!'
> Regards
> Mark Peaty CDES
> Stathis Papaioannou wrote:
> Mark Peaty writes:
> Sorry to be so slow at responding here but life [domestic], the universe and everything else right now is competing savagely with this interesting discussion. [But one must always think positive; 'Bah, Humbug!' is not appropriate, even though the temptation is great some times :-]
> Stathis,
> I am not entirely convinced when you say: 'And the psychopath is right: no-one can actually fault him on a point of fact or a point of logic'
> That would only be right if we allowed that his [psychopathy is mostly a male affliction I believe] use of words is easily as reasonable as yours or mine. However, where the said psycho. is purporting to make authoritative statements about the world, it is not OK for him to purport that what he describes is unquestionably factual and his reasoning from the facts as he sees them is necessarily authoritative for anyone else. This is because, qua psychopath, he is not able to make the fullest possible free decisions about what makes people tick or even about what is reality for the rest of us. He is, in a sense, mortally wounded, and forever impaired; condemned always to make only 'logical' decisions. :-)
> The way I see it, roughly and readily, is that there are in fact certain statements/descriptions about the world and our place in it which are MUCH MORE REASONABLE than a whole lot of others. I think therefore that, even though you might be right from a 'purely logical' point of view when you say the following: 'In the *final* analysis, ethical beliefs are not a matter of fact or logic, and if it seems that they are then there is a hidden assumption somewhere'
> in fact, from the point of view of practical living and the necessities of survival, the correct approach is to assert what amounts to a set of practical axioms, including:
> * the mere fact of existence is the basis of value, that good and bad are expressed differently within - and between - different cultures and their sub-cultures but ultimately there is an objective, absolute basis for the concept of 'goodness', because in all normal circumstances it is better to exist than not to exist,
> * related to this and arising out of it is the realisation that all normal, healthy humans understand what is meant by both 'harm' and 'suffering', certainly those who have reached adulthood,
> * furthermore, insofar as it is clearly recognisable that continuing to exist as a human being requires access to and consumption of all manner of natural resources and human-made goods and services, it is in our interests to nurture and further the inclinations in ourselves and others to behave in ways supportive of cooperation for mutual and general benefit wherever this is reasonably possible, and certainly not to act destructively or disruptively unless it is clear that doing so will prevent a much greater harm from occurring.
> It ought to be clear to all reasonable persons not engaged in self deception that in this modern era each and everyone of us is dependent - always - on at least a thousand other people doing the right thing, or trying to anyway. Thus the idea of 'manly', rugged, individualism is a romantic nonsense unless it also incorporates a recognition of mutual interdependence and the need for real fairness in social dealings at every level. Unless compassion, democracy and ethics are recognised [along with scientific method] as fundamental prerequisites for OUR survival, policies and practices will pretty much inevitably become self-defeating and destructive, no matter how well-intentioned to start with.
> In the interest of brevity I add the following quasi-axioms.
> * the advent of scientific method on Earth between 400 and 500 years ago has irreversibly transformed the human species so that now we can reasonably assert that the human universe is always potentially infinite, so long as it exists and we believe it to be so
> * to be fully human requires taking responsibility for one's actions and this means consciously choosing to do things or accepting that one has made a choice even if one cannot remember consciously choosing
> * nobody knows the future, so all statements about the future are either guesswork or statements of desires. Furthermore our lack of knowledge of times to come is very deep, such that we have no truly reasonable basis for dismissing the right to survive of any persons on the planet - or other living species for that matter - unless it can be clearly shown that such killing or allowing to die, is necessary to prevent some far greater harm and the assertion of this is of course hampered precisely by our lack of knowledge of the future
> This feels incomplete but it needs to be sent.
> Regards
> Mark Peaty CDES
> I agree with you as far as advice for how to live a good life goes, but I guess where I disagree is on the technical matter of what we call reasonable. Peter Jones said that a system of economics designed to create universal poverty is not reasonable. I would agree *given* that the purpose of an economic system is not to create poverty. If we are talking about a system designed to destroy the economy of a country in order to soften it up for invasion, for example, then an economist can apply all his skill and knowledge in a perfectly reasonable mannner in order to achieve this. The human values driving an economic system, although we can predict what they might be in the majority of cases, are subjective states and are beyond reason: this is what I want, this is what I like, and you can't tell me otherwise. This stands in contrast to empirical statements such as "the Earth is flat", which is true or false independently of what anyone thinks or wants.
> Stathis Papaioannou
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Received on Fri Dec 29 2006 - 03:53:42 PST

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