Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Some Foundational Speculation About Morals

KL sends a quote, and some thoughts:

"The more researchers learn, the more it appears that the foundation of
morality is empathy. Being able to recognize -- even experience vicariously
-- what another creature is going through was an important leap in the
evolution of social behavior. And it is only a short step from this
awareness to many human notions of right and wrong, says Jean Decety, a
neuroscientist at the University of Chicago." [WP]



KL continues:

I give much credit to Ken Binmore for having already formalized the connection between empathy and morality: "We are all players in the game of life, with divergent aims and aspirations that make conflict inevitable.

In a healthy society, a balance between these differing aims and aspirations
is achieved so that the benefits of cooperation are not entirely lost in
internecine strife. Game theorists call such a balance an equilibrium.
Sustaining such equilibria requires the existence of commonly understood
conventions about how behavior is to be coordinated. It is such a system of
coordinating conventions that I shall identify with a social contract...Such
coordination is facilitated with the aid of a fictional game that will be
called the game of morals. The game of morals that I shall study is a twin
for the game of life except that it offers the players extra moves that are
not available in the real world. To be precise, each player has the
opportunity to appeal at any time to the device of the original
position...Once the game of morals has been introduced to serve as an
Archimedean point, it is possible to define a 'fair social contract' in the
game of life. A fair social contract is simply an equilibrium in the game of
life that calls for the use of strategies which, if used in the game of
morals, would leave no player in the game of morals with an incentive to
appeal to the device of the original position. A fair social contract will
therefore be an equilibrium in the game of morals, but what must never be
forgotten is that it must also be an equilibrium in the game of life -
otherwise, it will not be viable. Indeed, the game of morals is nothing more
than a coordination device for selecting one of the equilibria in the game
of life...I am one of those who are persuaded by the biological arguments
that attribute our relatively big brains to the pressing needs of a thinking
animal who lives in a society along with other thinking animals. I therefore
see morality as being intrinsic to our nature. It is because we need the
ability to empathize with others that we have developed a sense of personal
identity - not the reverse...The chief function of the 'I' is to act as a
mirror of others in our own minds and to reflect the manner in which we are
similarly mirrored in the minds of others...This is why game theory is so
important if we are ever to understand what lies at the root of being
human...What lies inside our heads is a result of biological and social
evolution. Insofar as these processes are complete, we think as we think and
we feel as we feel, because it is in equilibrium for such thoughts and
feelings to survive in the game of life...It seems evident to me that
empathetic identification is crucial to the survival of human societies.
Without it, we would be unable to find our way to equilibria in the games we
play except by slow and clumsy trial-and-error methods."

1 comment:

Juris Naturalist said...

So, it took 200 years to discover what Adam Smith made plain in Theory of Moral Sentiments.

Kevin seems to find the foundation for individuality in a collective instead of the other way around. How can I empathize with you if I don't first concern myself with me?