The Evolution of Ethics
Presenting ethics as a science is a daunting task. There is little hard evidence to show that ethical views are not subjective perspectives based on time, place, or belief. The existence of what might be called "moral knowledge" is nowhere to be found in popular philosophical thinking. If a theory of evolving ethical systems is to be taken seriously then there must be facts that can be translated into moral knowledge If facts exist, they have thus far eluded reasonable minds. Or, perhaps they have not totally eluded discovery. It would be unreasonable to expect a moral science to instantly appear fully developed. Scientific knowledge emerges first as an idea of the mind, and later as substantial knowledge. An example of this might be the early idea of a periodic chart of chemical elements. There was in the beginning an idea that the various elements might be related to each other in ways not easily seen. From this early notion developed the periodic chart revealing many hidden aspects of chemical interactions. Charting ethical evolution is no less difficult than the development of the periodic chart. In the social world where actions inspire reactions and sometimes overreactions leading to social conflict, inefficiency and poverty there exist, in theory, underlying principles of human behavior.
One must start somewhere to systematically track down all of the clues leading to a a solid science of ethical evolution. There are three possible approaches to ethical analysis that can be considered here. First, what could be called "emotional reactivity" lends important clues to the evolution of ethical systems. The evolution of ethical systems could be viewed as a spontaneous, self-organizing system. Here, strong emotions are necessary to produce powerful and enduring societies, but at the same time mechanisms must be in place to keep emotions in check. Second, self-organizing systems can be described in cybernetic terms. Human actions lead to reactions and sometimes overreactions in relation to factors of human reactivity. This leads to the third important aspect of moral evolution, charting moral knowledge based on the interplay of "reactivity," strong motivational forces, and cybernetics. Starting with first option the following can be discerned by observation.
Types of reactivity:
Visceral Reactivity: (emotional reactivity) Level 1 behavior. A new born child responds to the world viscerally. As the child grows older visceral responses are replaced with other types of responses more appropriate to the civilized world. For an adult, visceral reactivity would be found in at least two categories: 1. Environmentally triggered behavior such as being startled by a spider, or 2. Interpersonal situations that trigger behavior.
Cultural Reactivity: (In terms of stages of maturation, childhood, adolescence, adulthood.) Level 2 behavior Here raw urges and passions are shaped and refined. A child will express an urge at will such as blurting out a need in the middle of a conversation with several people. With time the child learns the consequences of acting on impulse in relation to achieving important goals (i.e. not being inappropriate during a job interview). If a person has aged but not matured, staying out of jail might be an important goal. For a person seeking acceptance in high society the goal might be avoiding offending an important person.
Moral Reactivity: level 3 behavior: Moral and religious training inculcates certain responses to moral situations. Lying or attempting to deceive another person might provoke a response of disgust and disdain. In the morally and religiously trained, a person might react strongly to inappropriate language or dress. Here an active consciousness of morality and issues of right and wrong are evident driving ones reactions to events around them.
Professional Reactivity: (disciplined and educated responses including occupational learning): Level 4 behavior To optimally reach one's goals both moral reactivity and cultural reactivity must be tempered with disciplined reactions that follow professional codes or instructions, formal training, education, or years of experience. The pilot of an aircraft is unburdened by his visceral fears when flying through a violent storm because his or her reactions correspond to a set of procedures established in early training. Disciplined responses maximize survival at all levels of existence. Through training and discipline people are able to exist outside a food chain that depends on gross responses to thrive. Here, a person exists beyond mere genetic definition.
Intellectual Reactivity: Level 5:behavior Level 4 behavior is closely aligned with level 5 behavior. Here a person does not always respond immediately to a set of codes, training, or social obligations. These are reasoned, intelligent responses. Intelligence, for arguments sake, can be divided into two parts. 1. Optimizing intelligence: Being brilliant or smart but self-serving Here a person bootstraps himself by his emotions to high levels of cultural, religious, or intellectual achievement. 2. Non-optimizing intelligence (being smart but not self-serving in thought or deed.) The use of genetic or behavioral templates to guide responses are rare here. Achievement in this world is slow, deliberate and well-reasoned. Passions and pleasures play a minor role in motivating a person here, but nevertheless they remain to a significant degree. Level 5 reactivity can also include a very sophisticated form of "emotional reactivity." Emotional reactivity is a highly sensitive and acutely perceptive view of social interactions. Successful and often very wealthy business people and professional diplomats hone their emotional skills in much the same way a professor hones his or her intellectual skills. Getting people to work together or finessing business deals in the millions of dollars very often turn on the most discerning insight into the emotions of a client or future business partner. The reactions of these people to and people around them are highly quantified and executed in their delivery. It is not a literate or mathematical quantification, rather and emotional and symbolic quantification that almost constitutes a language unto itself. It presence a valid form or reasoning and reactivity is evidenced by what these people achieve.
Visceral morality addresses the seminal ground of social morality It profoundly shapes the evolution of ethical systems. It is not morality learned from a book rather it is morality that is learned from experience. For example, you have been standing in a long line on a hot day at the supermarket. As you approach the check-out someone cuts in front of you. Depending on the amount of stress and fatigue in your daily life, you react with annoyance or outrage. When you react to a a perceived "wrong" such as this you experience visceral morality.
In this example, to say that a person has done something "wrong" is to say that he or she know the difference between right and wrong, or should know the difference. People generally learn right and wrong from the painful effects of the social feedbacks that scorn certain behaviors. An immature person might get away with cutting in line without noticeable reproach a few times. At some point, the people he or she is cutting in front of will speak up. It is only a matter of time before such confrontations will escalate to the point of heated confrontations. With time even the most insensitive person gets the idea it is easier to follow convention and custom than fight it. Here, the focus is on a person's behavior rather than on the words "right" and "wrong." Formal ethical theories focus on the words right and wrong rather on the situations in which they are defined. Formal ethical theory does not recognize that moral knowledge does or can exist, even though it is quite evident in everyday life.
Visceral morality is not necessarily a fair and reasonable reaction to a social situation. However, "perceived wrongs" that have some inherent wisdom are remembered in the social customs and laws. For example, alcohol abuse has a long history in the social memory. Each time someone abuses alcohol and causes problems that action reinforces and perpetuates the belief that alcohol abuse is wrong (bad behavior).
The way that people react involuntarily to certain social stimuli evidences the presence not only of an emotional predisposition but also a form of moral knowledge. It could be said that visceral morality is an expression of "moral knowledge" at the lowest level of its genesis in any society. This type of moral knowledge may not be as precise as higher forms of knowledge but it can be said to be the inspiration of more enduring ethical codes. There are two cultural mechanisms at work here. First, the culture imposes constraints on behavior in part because of the close proximity in which people live and work. Emotions that rise to an incinerate level need to be held in check by some mechanism of order and restraint. Second, these constraints are reinforced and perpetuated by voicing moral concern when held laws and customs are violated. A society is fundamentally a machine at its core that inspires "an order to things" to maximize social and individual survival
When adult persons are offended by a violation of custom their reaction plays an important part in a larger civilizing process. This is where cybernetics plays an important role in building societies survival of the species. From the very first time a person does something inappropriate he or she experiences unpleasant forms of cybernetic feedback. This feedback may be very subtle, or it may be stares that induce embarrassment and humiliation. It is a state of informational feedback that leaves a person uneasy and unsatisfied. The kind of feedback can run the spectrum from light annoyance to totally poisonous remarks that can have a deleterious effect on ones confidence and/or self-esteem.
There are numerous examples of potential areas of human conduct that can generate unpleasant responses. With time, people develop a sense of propriety in unfamiliar settings. Becoming an adult requires acquiring a certain amount of skill in ferreting out the boundaries of behavior. For example, once a person acquires a sexual interest in people any out of place gesture can provoke an explosive response. With time a young adult learns when and where to touch another person; when to be discreet and uninterested, when to mind their own business and so forth. It would be difficult to move from adolescence to adulthood without having a firm knowledge of behavioral protocols. It can be safely said that adults have moral knowledge of a wide spectrum of behaviors. Those who do not, are removed from society by the law and have an even more stringent set of rules imposed on their every action.
Customs and personal etiquette define the nature of social propriety. They define the lines of conduct that are acceptable or unacceptable for people to cross. People do not ordinarily learn where the lines of propriety are from a book, rather they learn it from experience. When people cross boundaries of acceptable behavior that imprudent action can trigger a visceral reaction in the lives of other people to counteract the intrusion. Violent and mean remarks can be the result of inappropriate actions and can trigger a series of escalating responses leading to injury or even death. In cybernetic terms this is known as "positive feedback" that leads to systemic breakdown or failure .
It important to understand the important role visceral morality plays as a cybernetic trigger that sustains the positive effects of social fission. There is a relationship between the inappropriate crossing of boundaries and the triggering of emotions that triggers a whole series of powerful cybernetic feedbacks.
The idea that visceral morality can exists runs counter to the conventional teachings of ethics, in general, deny that moral knowledge can exist. However, visceral morality can be considered a form of moral knowledge, however inaccurate it may be at times. Moral knowledge will not simply appear, it must be painfully extracted by a methodical process. Scientists could begin by designing a study to determine its existence of cybernetic triggers of all descriptions by categorizing and analyzing the hidden boundaries of social intercourse. Since there is not a lot of factual evidence, examples will have to do in the interim. An illustration of this might be two sorority sisters conversing in a video rental store about their night on the town. A middle-aged man who has no interest in the academic life is drawn to the conversation. He has an urge to interrupt the conversation because of some sexual attraction to the women or because he is immature and simply blurts out something, thus interrupting the conversation. On the one hand are the culturally and intellectually refined women who encounter a less refined man who, lacking sensitivity and experience, lets his emotions decide his actions. The reaction of the women might be sharp and distasteful to the intruding man. In ordinary social life, when the quiet enjoyment of people is violated, the harmony of their life is temporally shattered. This triggers a visceral response or informational feedback that can be gentle or outright poisonous.
Transgressing boundaries has a productive side to it. Human beings are also biological machines that have wired-in reactive tendencies. A person's acculturation or genetic make up illustrate this wired in aspect of humans. A living society generates an immense amount of interpersonal feedback to the point of social fission. A small example of social fission might be seen in the evolution of vibrant business areas of a city. When social fission occurs a small definable area takes on a life of its own creating an ambiance that is sought out by people from distant parts of a community. Fission might be thought of as controlled chaos in ana area where their is danger, adventure, intrigue and unusual sights to see. Here the overstepping of boundaries is somewhat liberalized. But, the principles are the same as more formal and sedate settings of life. Everyone learns boundaries by experience by overstepping boundaries, pulling back from them, and dealing with transgressions in a civilized way. It is not the violation of any particular boundary that is so important as how it is done and what it brings to the positive energy of an encounter. An immature or sexually desirous male who is aggressive in refined circumstances will generate a more negative response to his actions than a more worldly and diplomatic man interrupting the women. If the interruption of someone "brings to the table: an increase in harmony, understanding and enjoyment the situation can work. This again can be described mathematically in the electronic term known as impedance matching. Codes of etiquette help facilitate or "match" people and situations to maximized social interaction and minimize friction and conflict in the process.
There is a protocol for every possible social situation. The refined execution of the protocol can be analyzed in terms of it decorum. Knowledge which is learned by experience allows a person to successfully enter and leave conversations with many types of people. Protocols and appropriate decorum reflect the need to keep "social systems integral." Thus, the two women referred to above ideally should be able to exist insulated from intrusion from the outer world to maximize their quiet enjoyment at the video store. Societies can grow and prospers given that their subsystems are integral. In a large city there are thousands of integral and insulated subsystems at work in any given area of town.
The Cybernetic Trigger
Crossing a boundary triggers a cybernetic reaction of social feedback. An example of this might be seen in a large department store where there are no clear boundaries between the cash register counter and the rest of the show room floor. Inadvertently walking behind the counter and standing next to the cash register would naturally trigger the concern of the store clerk. Another example might be where a stranger inadvertently touches a woman causing her to viscerally and physically react because a boundary has been crossed and it is of great concern to her to thwart unwelcome advances early on in a relationship. In rough neighborhoods many street people strongly react if you accidentally bump into them. Here, unbridled emotions express themselves in the absence of police. An ordinary person might not recognize they had crossed a boundary and were beaten for the oversight. The opposite might be true if an unrefined person crosses a boundary and sits down for dinner in an upscale restraint. If their attire or language offends the waiter they might be ignored. If they are ignored their raw emotions will express themselves to the point they are physically removed from the restraint. Boundaries define levels of emotional reactivity evident in a complex society.
Vibrant societies need a finite amount of inappropriate boundary crossing, held within controllable limits, to give them meaning, romance, and depth. Wealthy people will dine in a rough neighborhood putting themselves at risk in the same way a mountain climber takes risks on the slopes. When boundaries are crossed and risks are known life can be seen much more meaningful since one slip may put a person could be in serious trouble.
When human beings are viewed as biological machines, cybernetic triggers play an important role in notifying a relative reactive machine in a change of state. Crossing a perceived boundary will trigger a wide spectrum of responses given differences in genes and acculturation. Scientifically this could be defined as a person's "reactivity" or predisposition to react to specific stimuli. A person's genes produce a wired-in response that with time is tempered with another wired-in response that derives from acculturation. As people mature they learn to restrain the powerful impulses reactivity can produce. Emotions can undershoot their intended target, they can overshoot their mark or they can be well-balanced responses. A culturally sophisticated person is able to respond to social stimuli in a way that minimizes conflict and maximizes social harmony and productive relationships. A balanced response does not trigger a cybernetic cycle. However, because it is so precise it communicates information and a civilizing force that can become model behavior for others to strive for. Each personal encounter sets up a cycle of actions and consequent reactions. The relationships of immature people are often fraught with intense emotions that trigger other strong emotions in an endless cycle of actions and overreactions. With age and experience excesses of emotions become more balanced. Thus the powerful force of acculturation on a person's wired-in impulses diminishes the likelihood that he or she will act in ways that are counter-productive to social and personal growth.
Behavioral Templates: The Relationship Between Ethics and Civilizing Force of Acculturation and Perhaps Genetics.
Human behavior generally follows what could be called "behavioral templates." Living is much more enjoyable if a person does not have to be alert to every danger; every detail of existence, every minute of the day. For example, you board an airliner with hundreds of people onboard. You are traveling with your friends. Your reactions are contingent on the actions and emotions of the other passengers. Your behavior is not focused, rather it loosely follows a behavioral template of "how to behave in public on an airliner." The pilot, on the other hand is expected to be fully "present" at the controls of the airliner. He or she must be focused, thinking and alert to any an all possible dangers that could affect the lives of hundreds of people. The pilot's routine derives from a very disciplined set of procedures. The contingent reality of the passengers has no place in the environment of the cockpit. The pilot's actions and reactions are finely tuned to be precise and well-balanced. Any over-reaction or an under-reaction might cause the airplane to crash.
The existence of behavioral templates (genetic or cultural predispositions) creates yet another problem. If a person's actions and reactions can be predicted, then that person can be exploited by an unscrupulous individual. Again, one must think of the human being, first and foremost, as a biological machine. This is to say that most of the actions and reactions of a human are exercised at the subconscious level following this or that behavioral template. Only a small percentage of human experience is disciplined; well-planned and thought-out. Because people are so predictable they invite exploitation Children invite exploitation from more mature adults in many ways, thus there are very strict laws to prevent this from occurring. People are vulnerable biological machines that need to have their identities expressed within the context of some larger more protective organization. Moral and religious codes of conduct fill the needs of people to belong to something that can guide them through the treacherous waters of life. The urge to survive in its many ways inspires the growth of moral and legal systems to protect the very vulnerable human machine from the excesses of itself
At each level of reactivity moral knowledge manifests itself. Discernment of right and wrong by an adult might involve assessments of right and wrong on all five levels. For example, at level 1 adults sense right and wrong based on a vague experience of "the general order of things" keyed to pleasant and unpleasant responses to their behaviors.
At level 2 interpersonal relationships evolve. Rewards and punishments for good and bad behavior become clear-cut even though good and bad are not written rules. A child learns behavior through participating in culture and experiencing a common educational system. Children must frequently stand in line at school. Cutting is line is not tolerated when there is supervision. This lesson "teaching the order of things" is reinforced and perpetuated throughout a persons lifetime. When an aggressive person cuts in line this behavior goes against the general order of things. Early childhood training and participation in "culture" predisposes a person to certain responses to certain reactions of people. It is inappropriate to cut in line but it is not inappropriate to complains about someone doing so. At this level the raw emotions of simply responding to social stimuli are shaped and tempered.
At level 3 People tend to align themselves with a variety of groups and associations. If one of these associations is a religion they align their beliefs with a formal set of behavioral rules. Strict adherence to rules predisposes a person to certain sensitivities that lead to powerful visceral responses when a rule is broken. Adultery and extramarital sex might provoke such a strong response while these sexual factors might not provoke the same response in the general population. Informal groups, clubs or associations can also align people's sensitivities to react to the internal rules of the group. In criminal societies informing on a member to the police would provokes an outrage much like explicit sex might provoke a religious extremist. Moral reactivity, thus, tends to be relative to time, place, and cultural situation. In each circumstance, the individuals are reacting to fairly established behavioral "wrong." Morality would forever remain at this level if it were not for higher planes of ethical discernment.
At level 4 the many mixed and conflicting feelings of visceral, cultural, and moral reactivity are responded to in a thoughtful disciplined way. Military personnel respond to environmental stimuli not in terms of their emotions rather in terms of their training. Airline pilots also respond in such a way. Knowledge to these people enters the conscious mind by way of training.
At level 5 Moral knowledge is determined by a matrix of competing sources of information. The stability of this form of moral knowing rests on a disciplined and discerning mind and discerning emotions. The propriety of an action is derived from a mix of reasoning, knowledge of theory related to behaviors and a whole galaxy of other knowledge's.
Please Note: there is a difference between the definition of ethics and the definition of morality.
It should be noted that the words morality and ethics are used almost interchangeably. However, there is a difference. Morality, at its most fundamental level derives from the visceral experiences of everyday living that comes with age, education, and considerable experience. When human experiences are shared they inspire a more formalized set of ethical rules. People in general care about the lives of other people and do their best to prevent tragedies in the past from afflicting generations in the future (paternalism). The spontaneous emergence of morality in the field of human experience is not totally without reason.
Moral Knowledge and Paternalism
Like a diamond, morality has many distinct facets. The subject of paternalism includes the protective concerns of wiser and more experienced parents as well as of a person's older brother, older sister, close friend or concerned neighbor. Take for example a young woman who has just begun a very rewarding career. She is well liked by most everyone and is a very good worker to a point. Lately, however, she has been coming to work late, excusing herself with initially credible excuses. Many established employers have seen it all, and some are quick to dismiss those who carry on in this way. A coworker who genuinely likes the woman and appreciates her talent approaches the tardy person with some strong advice to show up on time. This intervention is parental in nature. It address a fundamental problem of discipline and truth telling. Lying and exaggerating as to why a person has been late have consequences. An inexperienced person is unaware of the problems those before them have caused and the lies they have told to make light of their tardiness. In an environment where making a profit or providing a service is essential there is a finite toleration for behaviors that deviate from established norms. In the long term the working environment is a goldfish bowl of activity and intrigues that eventually become transparent to all. In this light, coworkers almost universally will take the high moral ground in an issue and present it to a new or inexperienced worker. The woman might brush off the suggestion to show up on time saying "who are you to tell me what to do," but it is not an issue of who is to say rather what has gone before that is to say a person can express a small bit of occupational wisdom. What is at issue is the nature of those in power to dismiss those who do not perform no matter how well they are a talking themselves out of trouble. Remember, throughout these writings the relationship between the presence of "power" and the threat of harm that underlies a significant number of moral concerns. Morality in this light, serves to educate people in the art of navigating the dangers and pitfalls of life.
Types of Morality
Six types of morality or moral responses have already been identified. These include visceral morality, cultural morality, doctrinal and religious morality, professionally based morality and intellectually based morality including non-verbal high-culture morality. These are but a fraction of the possible categories of moral responses, attitudes or ways of experiencing life. Learned behavioral responses can are summarized in these six categories. In each category the notion of right and wrong is affirmed and perpetuated by a systems of formal learning or rewards, incentives and punishments. Traditional ethical thinking sees no evidence of what might be called moral knowledge. The constant affirmation or censure of specific behaviors forms the foundation of human moral knowledge. The ways in which humans come to know right and wrong ar so numerous theory are difficult to know and chart in detail. The purpose of cybernetic ethics is to provide a platform of rational analysis on which the many details of moral knowledge are carefully examined. This is similar to creating an enormous chart of human actions and reactions given certain other social pressures, inducements, or dangers.
Occupationally based morality
The moral lives of most working class people is profoundly shaped by their occupational experience. For example, a Susan admonishes Lisa a graphic designer at a newspaper for surfing the internet during working hours. Susan is a worker of equal stature as Lisa but she takes the high moral ground in criticizing Lisa. What right does Susan have to declare that something is wrong with Lisa's work habits? A business might be thought of as a large organic machine that assembles the raw materials of information, talent supplies and management to produce an output that produces a profit or perpetuates the enterprise in a positive way. In this respect Lisa performs a job that must integrate well with other departments at the newspaper. Her performance good or bad has an effect on the newspaper. If Lisa slacks off in her work other people must pick up the slack. In the workplace employees are not always free to do as they choose. Bad work habits affect the lives of other people. Moral wrong is defined by the negative impact an action have on the lives of other people in the workplace. If Lisa is sloppy and careless in the design of her advertisements the poor quality of her work reflects badly on the newspaper. In the workplace it is often excellence and not personal freedom defines good and bad behavior. If Lisa has mastered her job description she is a craftsman in the finest of detail whenever the economics of the business allows. The way in which Lisa is able to deal with a multitude of issues before her,
Political Morality: Considerations of social and economic power.