Thursday, November 02, 2006

Moral Minds(less)

In today's 11/02/06 edition of the Detroit News is a science report titled "Morality May Be Instinctive" by New York Times writer Nicholas Wade.

It looks to me like they are saying that human morality evolved from animal feelings.

"Primatologists like Frans de Waal have long argued that the roots of human morality are evident in social animals like apes and monkeys.

The animals' feelings of empathy and expectations of reciprocity are essential behaviors for mammalian group living and can be regarded as a counterpart of human morality."

So it's ok to equate the instincts of animals with the choices of humans? Nope. Choice isn't even mentioned.

"Marc D. Hauser, a Harvard biologist, has built on this idea to propose that people are born with a moral grammar wired into their neural circuits by evolution. In a new book, "Moral Minds" (HarperCollins 2006), he argues the grammar generates instant moral judgments which, in part because of the quick decisions that must be made in life-or-death situations, are inaccessible to the conscious mind."

What is moral grammar? My dictionary says grammar is the study of the structure of words and their usage within a language, but this report treats grammer as if it is not dependent on language. Also, how can grammar generate "instant moral judgements which"..."are inaccessible to the conscious mind"? The article continues:

"The proposal, if true, would have far-reaching consequences. It implies that parents and teachers are not teaching children the rules of correct behavior from scratch but are, at best, giving shape to an innate behavior. And it suggests that religions are not the source of moral codes but, rather, social enforcers of instinctive moral behavior."

Wow! Not only do these folks not understand human nature, they don't even understand instincts. Instincts don't need enforcers! The idea of innate behavior means that no one is born tabula rasa. Parents, teachers and religions are merely "enforcers" of a thing I suppose we could call original grammar. Anyway:

"Both atheists and people belonging to a wide range of faiths make the same moral judgments, Hauser writes, implying "that the system that unconsciously generates moral judgments is immune to religious doctrine." "

How does one go about making moral judgements unconsciously? Does this mean Muslims' moral judgement systems are immune to Islamic doctrine? Really? Where are these ideas coming from? Of course:

"Hauser argues the moral grammar operates in much the same way as the universal grammar proposed by the linguist Noam Chomsky as the innate neural machinery for language. The universal grammar is a system of rules to generate syntax and vocabulary but does not specify a particular language. That is supplied by the culture in which a child grows up.

The moral grammar too, in Hauser's view, is a system for generating moral behavior and not a specific rules list."

Reading this article you would think a thing like human free will just doesn't exist.
There is so much cognitive fog in this article it's intellectually tiring. I'll just close by adding that Mr. Hauser is probably causing Darwin to roll over in his grave.
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