Re:Theft as a basis of ethics
« Reply #15 on: 2011-02-06 16:05:25 »
Okay, now that I'm finished with the transcribing, perhaps we can take a better look at this. I'm personally going to take a break from this for the rest of today at least, so I hope some others might jump in here with any suggestions. I might also try sending a message to Scary Dave to let him know where we are on this idea. I haven't actually talked with him before, but I figure it's worth a try. I'd like to know if other people out there in the intertubes have taken a liking to his message as well.
Re:Theft as a basis of ethics
« Reply #16 on: 2012-08-26 16:18:22 »
I've been reviewing some of this lately, and I continue to think that the church of virus has some very workable principles. What I think we have lacked is some universally understandable metaphorical act upon which to pin these principles. I think Dave provides that with his theft as a basis of ethics. Personally I've tended to start with murder myself. It seems like the most quintessentially sinful act that any system of ethics ought to include. Of course definining it completely can seem tricky for people of differing moral traditions. Surely consensual mercy killings seem out of the field for me whereas the Roman Catholic tradition would keep them in play for their purposes. Not to mention issues of abortion etc. I of course wouldn't seek to include the Jain concepts of killing and murder within my own in any case but I would want to seek a way to actually discuss these issues in an intelligent manner with all of them.
Hence I metaphorically come back to theft as a basis for ethics. I think almost everyone who has engaged in a market economy and the necessity for communities to endorse such a morality for it to make sense in the first place can appreciate theft as a basis for morality. I also think we can easily employ our virtues and sins to easily explain the morality/immorality of theft generally. Furthermore I think once we understand the act of theft, which everyone necessarily engaged in such community building can, it's very easy to intelligently extrapolate this metaphor into other sinful acts, be they basic fraud, murder, or even genocide.
The thing I've often admired about the Viran principles is that they indicate mental attitudes, states of mind, and intellectual functioning and as such point to the very memetic roots of our ethical functioning. What they don't really provide in and of themselves is some metaphorical action by which we can meaningfully build from and which can also be rationallly criticized by such virtues and sins.
So I would hereby propose, not as another virtue or sin, but rather as a metaphorical model from which we may build from these ethics into more useful execution these sins and virtues in our daily lives. Theft as a basis for ethics does this - both as something which can be rationally criticised (not all acts of theft are necessarily sinful if otherwise problematic) and rationally extended (murder as a theft of life, rape as a theft of choice, etc.) into other acts we conventionally consider sinful.
While I do prefer to consider the virtuous side of humanity in an optimistic vein, I do think for those of us with the audacity to define/redefine morality and ethics the way we do a certain ethic of first doing no harm comes prominently to mind. Therefore I accept that a theft based ethics focussing on our sins should come first. I expect better and more interesting things to follow, however a foundation of doing no harm (or as little as possible) would naturally come first.
I've been reviewing some of this lately, and I continue to think that the church of virus has some very workable principles. What I think we have lacked is some universally understandable metaphorical act upon which to pin these principles. I think Dave provides that with his theft as a basis of ethics. <snip>
<snip> While I do prefer to consider the virtuous side of humanity in an optimistic vein, I do think for those of us with the audacity to define/redefine morality and ethics the way we do a certain ethic of first doing no harm comes prominently to mind. Therefore I accept that a theft based ethics focussing on our sins should come first. I expect better and more interesting things to follow, however a foundation of doing no harm (or as little as possible) would naturally come first.
[Fritz] I guess the question that come to my mind is if Theft is the basis of wrong/Sin, them would Altruism be the basis of right/Virtue
Though kinship is the most basic and widespread bond between human beings, the bond of reciprocity is almost as universal. In his description of the Victorian moral view, Sidgwick lists a person's duty to show kindness "to those who have rendered services to him" immediately after the duty to be kind to kinsmen. Among the Ik, the mutual-assistance pact known as nyot survived when the family itself was breaking up. Westermarck says: "To requite a benefit, or to be grateful to him who bestows it, is probably everywhere, at least under certain circumstances, regarded as a duty." Since Westermarck wrote, anthropologists from Marcel Mauss to Claude Levi-Strauss have continued to stress the importance of reciprocity in human life. Howard Becker, author of Man in Reciprocity, finds our tendency for reciprocity so universal that he has proposed renaming our species Homo reciprocus. After surveying these and other recent studies, the sociologist Alvin Gouldner has concluded: ''Contrary to some cultural relativists, it can be hypothesized that a norm of reciprocity is universal.
It is surprising how many features of human ethics could have grown out of simple reciprocal practices like the mutual removal of parasites from awkward places that one cannot oneself reach. Suppose I want to have the lice in my hair picked out. To obtain this I am willing to pick out someone else's lice. I must, however, be discriminating in selecting whom to groom. If I help everyone indiscriminately I shall find myself grooming others who do not groom me back. To avoid this waste of time and effort I distinguish between those who repay me for my assistance and those who do not. In other words, I separate those who deal fairly with me from those who cheat. Those who do not repay me I shall mark out to avoid; indeed, I may go further still, reacting with anger and hostility. Conceivably it will benefit me and other reciprocating altruists in my group if we make sure that the worst ''cheats" are unable to take advantage of any of us again; killing them or driving them away would be effective ways of doing this. For those who do all that I hope they will do, on the other hand, I will have a positive feeling that increases the likelihood of my doing my part to preserve and develop a mutually advantageous relationship.
Let us take individually these outgrowths of reciprocal altruism. The first and most crucial is the distinction between those it is worth my while to assist and those it is not. Of course, if we all wait for each other to begin, we shall never get going. Initially someone has to remove someone else's parasites without knowing if there will be a return. After a bit of this, however, the track record of each member of the group will become clear. Then I can stop helping those who have not helped me. This requires a sense of what amounts to sufficient repayment for the help I have given. If I take an hour meticulously removing every louse from someone else's head, and she refuses even to look at my head, the verdict is clear; but what if she hurries over my head in ten minutes, leaving at least some of my lice in place? No doubt the practice of reciprocal altruism can tolerate rough justice at this point, but we would expect that as human
powers of reasoning and communicating increased, decisions as to what is or is not an equitable exchange would become more precise. They would begin to take into account variations in circumstances: If, for instance, I can remove your few lice in ten minutes, should I demand that you spend the hour it would take to get rid of the multitude on my scalp? In answering this kind of question we would begin to develop a concept of fairness. More than two thousand years ago the Greek historian Polybius observed:
. . . when a man who has been helped when in danger by another does not show gratitude to his preserver, but even goes to the length of attempting to do him injury, it is clear that those who become aware of it will naturally be displeased and offended by such conduct, sharing the resentment of their injured neighbor and imagining themselves in the same situation. From all this there arises in everyone a notion of the meaning and theory of duty, which is the beginning and end of justice.
To say that the duty to repay benefits is the beginning and end of justice is an overstatement; but that it is the beginning is plausible. To "repay benefits" we should add the converse, "revenge injuries"; for the two are closely parallel and generally seen as going together. In tribal ethics the duties of gratitude and revenge often have a prominence they lack in our culture today. (I am not saying that they are not important motives in our society. They are; but we are less likely now to praise vengefulness as a virtue, and even gratitude no longer ranks as high among the virtues as it used to.)
Many tribal societies have elaborate rituals of gift-giving, always with the understanding that the recipient must repay. Often the repayment has to be superior to the original gift. Sometimes this escalation rises to such heights that people try at all costs to avoid receiving the gift, or try to pay it back immediately in order to be free of any obligation.
In the Western ethical tradition, too, gratitude and revenge have had a leading place. The investigation of justice undertaken in Plato's Republic gets under way by dissecting the popular view that justice consists <snip>