20 December 2006

Regarding Them Commentary: What About Morality?

Inference #2 fromRegarding Them Commentary: What About Objective Reality?: Given that cognitive scientists have found that actual moral concepts are not structured as rules with specific propositional structures (as in the ten commandments or an algorithm for solving all moral problems), but rather moral concepts are based on diverse literal body-based experiential conceptions; and given that morality is fundamentally about well-being at every level of human experience; then virtues, as the most common method of conceptualizing behaviors that lead to well-being, are a universal tool for conveying morality. (references: Moral Imagination by Mark Johnson, Varieties of Moral Personality by Owen Flangan and Philosophy in the Flesh by George Lakoff & Mark Johnson)

The universality of virtues is a scientifically testable assertion that is based on the reported experiences of the authors of The Family Virtues Guide, Linda Kavelin-Popov and Dan Popov, in the course of having traveled the world teaching about the virtues. Dan Popov is a scholar of world religions and in the course of his studies of seven of the world’s most popular religions he identified several hundred that are taught in all seven, and after co-authoring The Family Virtues Guide and traveling around the world, he has not found any religious traditions that do not teach most of the same virtues. Thus virtues may provide us with a set of tools for the development of universal human values that transcend all barriers to harmony and unity, like the diversity of rules for being religious.

The new three R’s, virtues for a Common Society: Respect is the combination of “re” the prefix for again, and the root “spect” which refers to seeing. Thus, I take the literal core of respect to be about taking another look at a person or situation. In the sense of a virtuous way of being respectfulness is the habit of taking second looks before you make judgments and interpretations about a person or a situation. Specifically, I am suggesting that the second look move us away from our propensity for defensive enemy thinking and intentionally guide towards reinforcing our concepts and habits that assume human unity through the language of virtues.

Responsibility is the combination of “response” and “ability.” Thus I take the literal core of its meaning to be about having the ability to respond. This is in distinction from the habit of reacting, which is what we all do when we are too harried to marshal all of our skillfulness in formulating an appropriate way of taking the most graceful or most respectful actions within our lives.

There were a number of interesting studies done on altruism that showed that even when people are holding in mind morality tales like the Good Samaritan they are not generally guided by the moral content of the story, but rather by what they perceive to be the constraints of their situation. If the subjects of the study felt pressed for time they were less likely to help. Although even some of those who were in the situation of having an abundance of time chose not to help, my guess is that they did so for reasons that would probably indicate they saw some other kind of limitation on their ability to affect the outcome of the other persons situation. I’m saying that when people are passing by someone in need, then it is their sense that they have the time, knowledge and others resources to help that empowers them to offer assistance, not just the emotional experience of compassion and, perhaps, empathy for the person. The compassion and empathy are prerequisite but not adequate to inspire helping behavior.

In order to shape our lives by the virtue of responsibility we have to ensure that we put ourselves into situations and groups that call us to be skillful and the best we can be. In this understanding of responsibility it is not simply a result of willful self-control, but also a product of the community context within which you are embedded.

Resourcefulness is the combination of “re” that prefix for again, again, the word ‘source’, and the word ‘fullness.’ Thus I take the literal core of its meaning to be the experience of being full of your source again. The source of your being, in every religious tradition that I am aware of, would be God, so the idea is to be full of God again, just like you were at some point before. This would be the moments in your life when you experienced grace or joy or bliss. Depending on the tradition, they describe the experience of being full of your source in different ways. In recent research in psychology they have come to refer to these kinds of experiences as optimal experiences or as their subjects, across many cultures and referring to a great variety of activities, have said, “being in the flow” or “fully in the moment.” Thus, even the humanists are referring to the same thing as the other more traditional religions.

Thus, we can all get down to some level of agreement on many, if not most, of the core concepts of what gives us well-being. Things like respect, responsibility, resourcefulness, freedom (lack of physical impediments to movement) or love (a nurturing warmth emanating from a being pretty much like me, only bigger.) My call to unity at the end of Regarding Them is based on the possibility that we can probably find at least a few core values that all people can agree on.

Regarding Them Commentaries:

Regarding Them Commentary: What About Objective Reality?

Regarding Them Commentary: What About God?

Regarding Them Commentary: What About Morality?


Anonymous said...

I have not been well following this series of commentaries, but I thought I must remark on your definition here of "love (a nurturing warmth emanating from a being pretty much like me, only bigger.)" First, I don't understand in what sense "bigger" is intended in the definition, and second, surely this is a limited definition of love? Merely a "warm fuzzy"? Nurturing is mentioned, but seems secondary to the warmth, which is rather opposite how I understand the concept of love.

I am told by another whom I believe to be wise in this way that love is a decision; your definitions of respect and responsibility seem closer to this definition.

Don Berg said...

The parenthetical comment regarding love was not meant to be a complete definition, but a reference to the primitive literal core from which further elaborations emanate. The first experience that would be used as the beginning of our conception of love would be as a newborn infant on our mother's breast. Thus, the literal experiential core of the concept of love is a nurturing warmth emanating from a being pretty much like me only bigger. The nurturance and warmth are not in any priority, for an infant they would be all part of a unified, undifferentiated whole experiential continuum.

No matter how you define love, in order to make sense to anyone else, you are going to have to make some reference to some universal literal core experience, like nurturing warmth, and then utilize metaphor to extend that core to encompass the more sophisticated behaviors and experiences that arise as a result of being a more developed grown person.

So you are correct to observe that it makes an impoverished definition, and I suggest that love is not only a decision, it is also a rose, a river, and a whole lot of other things that poets and psychologists have thought to call it over the course of many ages.

Anonymous said...

I must say I didn't read all your post; much to flowery for my taste (if you're trying to say something, say it "straight" and get to the point, don't go on and on about metaphors and elaborations and concepts and such). But I saw you mention "morality" and must recomend a 1 hour long talk show on Morality, by Jad Abumrad & Robert Krulwich, on WNYC's Radio Lab, avaiable for free download on iTunes as a podcast. You might find it's well worth your while; it's quite enlightening as to what we humans now call "morality."

You can also find a copy of it here: http://www.wnyc.org/shows/radiolab/episodes/2006/04/28

Don Berg said...

Thank you Aeneas, that was an excellent story by RadioLab.

Your suggestion assumes that all possible messages of interest or worth to you can be stated in a form that is "straight" and must be pointed. I am interested in dealing with the actual, real world in which many things are not "straight" and may not have a point, therefore attempting to fit such a world into langauge that is "straight" and pointed would either be a lie about the world or a lie about my interests. And I am not willing to lie more than I think I have to.