Friday, 13 January 2012


Arnold Lakhovsky - The Conversation (Wikipedia)
Scientist – “The universe is a mechanism...”
Philosopher – So you are a mechanism.
Scientist – “and is essentially mathematical...”
Philosopher – So you are essentially mathematical.
Scientist – “as well as being rigidly deterministic...”
Philosopher – So you are rigidly deterministic.
Scientist – “and all events can be explained by causes...”
Philosopher – So you can be explained by causes.
Scientist – “operating via natural laws...”
Philosopher – So you operate via natural laws.
Scientist – “and even our opinions are the result of natural laws...”
Philosopher – As is that opinion.
Scientist – “and even moral law is merely a matter of genetics.”
Philosopher – Not necessarily.
Scientist – “What?”
Philosopher – Moral law could just as easily have shaped genetics.
Scientist – “That’s absurd.”
Philosopher – What caused our genetic disposition to moral behaviour?
Scientist – “That’s easy - evolution.”
Philosopher – Genetic evolution or moral evolution?
Scientist – “Well...”
Philosopher – What if evolution itself is subject, among other things, to moral law. What if moral law, the logic of looking after your own kind, shaped genetic evolution? What if the gene is merely a causal tool in the overriding logic of moral law such that even the double helix was shaped by it?
Scientist - "But moral law isn't scientific law."
Philosopher - No but genes may have evolved to reflect the moral law of looking after your own kind. Moral law may have come first - genes second.
Scientist – “Time for another pint?”


rogerh said...

We start with a good old mechanist from whence we move to determinism. The world we see looks like a statistical aggregation of underlying determinism.

Our philosopher has added nothing useful so far and so lobs in a diversion - moral law. Now I doubt quarks etc have any morality or that morality is a law of nature so how does 'moral law' squeeze in?

But life forms show morality says the philosopher. What we do see is that life forms have evolved to live long enough to reproduce and sometimes enhance the chances of their offspring - otherwise they are no longer life forms. No morality here, just statistics. But still our philosopher drones on about some mysterious moral law as applied to atoms and molecules - let him go and build a 'moral-o-scope'.

Now morality or something like it plainly arises in human society but seems to follow-on from the 'staying alive and reproducing' forces we started with. Our noble scientist has the best idea - another pint.

Demetrius said...

Given that genes mutate and have done to the extent that our DNA patterns are many and various might there then be variations in our perceptions of moral law?

A K Haart said...

rogerh - I think moral law is where the scientist and the philosopher should look for common ground. Moral law is a natural phenomenon where cause, effect and logic seem to come together in an interesting way which should be explored.

It’s an area where I prefer not to take sides – hence the post.

D - well I'm sure there are boundaries or extremes as there are to most natural phenomena, but how they originate I'm not sure.

rogerh said...

D - Interesting point, perhaps aquatic creatures and land creatures have a different inbuilt morality although how to tell what it is seems hard to do.

AK - Plenty to do. It seems some detailed logic modelling of insect brains has been done but applications seem aimed at robots rather than minds. Perhaps that's where the funding is. Interesting to see if morality emerges from silicon.