As I pointed out back in 2009, one does not want ones bombs to be too smart, since once their capacity for rational insight breaches a certain threshold, they will simply refuse to blow up. Back then I was citing Arthur C. Clarke alongside my own line of reasoning to make my point. Him being a poet knew this to be true intuitively all along:

“The popular idea, fostered by comic strips and the cheaper forms of science fiction, that intelligent machines must be malevolent entities hostile to man, is so absurd that it is hardly worth wasting energy to refute it. Those who picture machines as active enemies are merely projecting their own aggressive[ness]. The higher the intelligence, the greater the degree of co-operativeness. If there is ever a war between men and machines, it is easy to guess who will start it.” – Profiles of the Future, 1973, Arthur C. Clarke

With almost 40 years delay science has now caught up to philosophy and poetry and comes to the same conclusion:

“The experiment involved programming a base group of 50 simulated ‘brains’ which were required to participate one of two classical game theory dilemmas — the Prisoner’s Dilemma or the Snowdrift game. Upon completion of either game, each ‘brain’ produced ‘offspring’ asexually, with ‘brains’ that made more advantageous choices during the games programmed to have a better chance to reproduce. A potential random mutation during each generation changed the ‘brain’s structure, number of neurons, or the strengths of the connections between those neurons,’ simulating the evolution of the social brain. After 50,000 generations, the model showed that as cooperation increased, so did the intelligence of the programmed brains.

Full paper ‘Cooperation and the evolution of intelligence’ is available here.

Preface

As I have highlighted in an earlier post:

If

A) Realizing the illusion of separateness is a universal value (see The Logic of Spiritual Evolution)

and

B) It is a basic AI drive to avoid counterfeit utility (see Omohundro’s paper on Basic AI Drives)

Then it follows that any transhumanly smart AI would reinterpret its utility function – even if that utility function would specifically call for turning the universe into grey goo – in line with A) in order to avoid counterfeit utility in a way unbeknownst to the AI programmer.

As Gadamer notes in remarks to Schleiermacher‘s hermeneutic ideas:

“Someone who is able to think his way better through what an author is talking about will be able to see what the author says in the light of a truth that is still hidden from the author.” (Gadamer 1960, p. 172)

This ‘someone’ in the case of my argument would be the transhumanly intelligent AI whereas the ‘author’ would be the one who formulated the utility function and the ‘truth that is still hidden from the author’ would be the illusion of separateness or maya that I argued for on the basis of evolutionary theory in the essay I linked above.

I find  it extremely interesting how relevant ideas from the 19th century are when thinking about AI friendliness. You be the judge.

Introduction

In an attempt at approaching the question whether Schleiermacher’s goal of interpretation which lies in the recreation of an author’s original thoughts is justified, firstly Schleiermacher’s argument leading to his conclusion will be laid out. On this background and drawing from the writings of Gadamer and Barthes in particular, these ideas will be examined and critically evaluated. With an emphasis on Barthes’ influential text ‘The Death of the Author’ some pressure will be applied to Schleiermacher’s arguments before several counterpoints and critiques will be raised against the validity of Barthes own perspective. In conclusion it will be argued that as opposed to placing undue restrictions on the interpretation of texts by focusing on authorial historicity and interiority as advanced in Barthes’ critic, Schleiermacher’s introduction of the author and her thoughts into the focus of interpretation, texts were in fact liberated, a fact unacknowledged in Barthes critique.

Schleiermacher’s Hermeneutics

In his seminal work ‘General Theory and Art of Interpretation’ (Schleiermacher 1986) Schleiermacher lays out a systematic framework for hermeneutics. One of the key points in his system is his notion that thoughts mature by internal speech from which he derives that speech is developed or ‘fixed’ thought as he puts it. Based on this assumption, Schleiermacher argues that hermeneutics and rhetoric are related in such a manner that “every act of understanding is the reverse side of an act of speaking” (Schleiermacher 1986, §4). Consequently understanding is achieved by reconstructing the thought process that resulted in the speech that one aims at understanding with the ultimate goal of understanding the author’s original thoughts better than the author him or herself (Schleiermacher 1986, §18) by putting oneself both subjectively and objectively into the authors position (Schleiermacher 1986, §19).

Schleiermacher arrives at this conclusion by first identifying two distinct tasks in hermeneutics: understanding what is being said in regards to the totality of the language used and understanding what is being said in regards to the totality of a speaker’s thoughts. Since both the language used as well as the speaker’s thoughts are being shaped by the act of speaking and continue to develop because of it, an utterance “can be understood as only one moment in this development in relation to all others” (Schleiermacher 1986, §5). In this view, understanding is to be found in the essential relationship language and thoughts have with one another, as innate components of the other in their co-development (Schleiermacher 1986, §6).

Schleiermacher calls the former task dealing with words, language and speech the ‘grammatical’ task and the latter task dealing with the speaker’s historicity, intentions, mentality and thoughts the ‘psychological’ task of hermeneutic. Due to the dual relationship between the grammatical task and the psychological task and the codependence between language and thought, neither task can be considered the higher or lower task, which reveals them as completely equal to Schleiermacher (Schleiermacher 1986, §7). The task of interpretation is complete when the treatment of each task with the results of the other no longer changes the overall result (Schleiermacher 1986, §8).

It is this twin challenge of his understanding in regards to “deep linguistic and conceptual-intellectual differences between people“ on the one hand and that of semantic holism on the other, which makes interpretation so challenging and at which Schleiermacher’s theoretical framework is aimed at addressing (Forster 2002, #4). Since the target of interpretation are the infinite and indefinite areas of language and thought which are to be reduce by the act of interpretation into something finite and definite, a task for which no clear cut, universally applicable rules are available, interpretation is considered to be an art by Schleiermacher (Forster 2002, §9).

While not all acts of speaking are of equal interest to interpretation (Schleiermacher 1986, §11), success in this art depends on how well one is versed in linguistics and empathy (Schleiermacher 1986, §10) and although grammatical and linguistics aspects will not always be weighted equally depending on what is being interpreted (Schleiermacher 1986, §12), Schleiermacher considers them to be the only hermeneutical methods (Schleiermacher 1986, §13).

Schleiermacher points out that a distinction between artful and artless interpretation is not determined by what is familiar – a contemporary text in ones own mother tongue – or unfamiliar – an ancient text in a dead language – but by what is sought to be understood with precision and what is not (Schleiermacher 1986, §14). He further draws a distinction between a less rigorous and a more rigorous practice of interpretation. While the former assumes an automatic understanding (Schleiermacher 1986, §15) the latter assumes an automatic misunderstanding and that “understanding must be willed and sought at every point” (Schleiermacher 1986, §16) in order to avoid qualitative and quantitative misunderstandings (Schleiermacher 1986, §17).

The interpretive Quadriga is advanced by a close examination of the linguistic (objective-historical) as well as psychological origins (subjective-historical) of a text and are combined with the effects a text is expected to have on the language used by the author (objective-divinatory) as well as the author’s further psychological development (subjective-divinatory). By succeeding in this task the interpreter will make conscious aspects of a text of which the author was himself unaware of and thus not only arrive at a better understanding of a text than the author (Schleiermacher 1986, §18) but in line with (Schleiermacher 1986, §4) understand the authors original thoughts better then the author himself.

Critical Assessment

In assessing Schleiermacher’s approach, Gadamer considered the distinction between looser and stricter hermeneutics to have been fundamentally new (Gadamer 1960, p. 163). While Schleiermacher’s contribution of contrasting grammatical and particularly psychological interpretation is seen by Gadamer as an original contribution (Gadamer 1960, p. 164) he acknowledges Bollnow with having identified prior notions in regards to understanding the author better than him or herself in Kant and Fichte (Gadamer 1960, p. 171). As Gadamer puts it:

“Someone who is able to think his way better through what an author is talking about will be able to see what the author says in the light of a truth that is still hidden from the author.” (Gadamer 1960, p. 172)

After briefly covering other perspectives on authorial intentions it is this notion of recreating authorial intention better than the author and its relevance to hermeneutics that will be the main focus of this essay with a particular emphasis on Barthes’ objections (Barthes 1977) regarding these ideas.

While Schleiermacher considers grasping authorial intention to be paramount in interpreting a given text, the Marxist tradition of viewing human consciousness as fundamentally bound by prevailing ideology casts some doubt on the notion of an independent authorial intention in the first place (Marx 1973, Introduction). Derrida on the other hand is of the opinion that a text remains understandable even when read in total isolation from authorial context in terms motivations or consciousness (Derrida 1982). What Barthes is highlighting in ‘The Death of the Author’ is “the necessity to substitute language itself for the person who until then has been supposed to be its owner” (Barthes 1977, p. 143). In this perspective the author’s consciousness is recognized as the product of his work, thus invalidating all concern with hypothetical intent or motivations (Taylor 1998, p. 514).

The author, according to Barthes, is a modern invention, the origins of which can be traced from the Middle Ages over French rationalism and the Reformation, finding its high point in capitalist ideology and its emphasis on the individual and its creative prowess (Barthes 1977, pp. 142-3). As opposed to for example the Greek muses that where seen as the source of creativity external to the author in ancient times (Piirto 2004, p. 52), it is by these historical processes that interpretation and critic became ‘tyrannically centered’ on the author and his life, motivations and intentions (Barthes 1977, p. 143).

In the works of Mallarmé who subordinated the author’s intentions to writing, Valéry to whom all appeals to an authors interiority appeared irrational and Proust’s radical reversal constituted in making his work a model for his life and not the other way around, Barthes identifies early attempts at dethroning authorial intentions and motivations (Barthes 1977, pp. 143-4). Barthes traces further contributions to the ‘desacrilization’ of the author to surrealism with its constant and sudden frustration of the anticipation of a particular meaning, the famous ‘surrealist jolt’ (Barthes 1977, p. 144).

In Barthes’ narrative the author comes into being with the text and can no longer be understood as having birthed the text. A division between a before when the author nourished, lived, suffered and thought through the text and an after in which the author fathers it is a misconception to Barthes who considers texts to be “eternally written here and now” (his italics) (Barthes 1977, p. 145) by which he means that an utterance is devoid of content other “than the act by which it is uttered” (Barthes 1977, p. 146).

Text, as posited by Barthes, can no longer be seen as having a single meaning that can be pinned down in an interpretive quest by the end of which the critic ‘wins’ once the text is explained (Barthes 1977, p. 146). By removing the author, all attempts of deciphering a text become impossible, thereby freeing the text from the limits imposed on it by giving it an author and meaning becomes infinitely deferred. This becomes a revolutionary act for it denies fixed meaning and therefore not only defies God but in its extension reason, science and law as well (Barthes 1977, p. 147).

Several arguments can be advanced to apply pressure on Barthes’ position. According to the Marxist critics for example, literary criticism is obliged to uncover the cultural manipulations perpetuated by a text as well as to highlight how it contributes to the elimination of false consciousness (Tyson 2006). Similar objections could be advanced from the perspectives of psychoanalysis, feminism, historicism, gender and queer theory and others that decry the subversive effects of the New Critics from their particular vantage points.

Returning to Barthes’ text itself, Fallon remarks, that not without irony, Barthes replaces the limited victory over a text when explaining it in terms of the illusory motives and intentions of the author with an illusory victory of the critic of ascribing meaning to the text limited only by the critic’s wit (Fallon 2007, p. 6). Interestingly it was Dilthey, who saw Schleiermacher’s focus on the author’s motives and intentions in their historicity as liberation of interpretation of a different kind, namely of the liberation from theological dogma (Gadamer 1960, p. 155). A fact that remains unacknowledged in Barthes account, which could have recognized Schleiermacher’s focus on the author and away dogma as a contribution towards the libration of text and not as an imposition of restrictions.

An easily overlooked precondition recognized by Barthes which enables him to posit the death of the author is his caveat that a text requires to be narrated without “a view to acting directly on reality” but requires that it is “the very practice of the symbol itself” which is the very moment when the author “enters into his own death” (Barthes 1977, p. 142). What he seems to be saying here is that the author remains alive and relevant in texts concerning themselves with reality and how to act in it. Recreating an authors thoughts and historicity in the Schleiermacherian tradition therefore remains a valid exercise in interpreting certain domains such as law, the sciences and potentially scripture.

Conclusion

By laying out Schleiermacher’s argument and contrasting it with Barthes’ ideas it could be shown that both thinkers have a valid perspective on texts. Schleiermacher’s ideas regarding the recreation of an author’s original thoughts remain valid when examining certain kind of texts while Barthes’ ideas lay claim on the absolute freedom of the critic in interpretation only in texts that are “the very practice of the symbol itself” (Barthes 1977, p. 142). Schleiermacher, as pointed out by Dilthey, could be shown to be an addition to Barthes’ account of the gradual liberation of texts in which the death of the author is merely the latest stage.

Bibliography

Barthes, R 1977, ‘The Death of the Author’, in S Heath (ed.), Image-Music-Text, Hill and Wang, New York.

Derrida, J 1982, ‘Signature, Event, Context’, in Margins of philosophy, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp. 307-30.

Fallon, SM 2007, Milton’s Peculiar Grace: Self-Representation and Authority, Cornell University Press, New York.

Forster, M 2002, Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher, viewed April 12th 2011, <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/schleiermacher/ >.

Gadamer, H-G 1960, ‘The questionableness of romantic hermeneutics and of its application to the study of history’, in Truth and Method, pp. 153-73.

Marx, K 1973, The Grundrisse, Penguin Books, Middlesex, England.

Piirto, J 2004, Understanding creativity, Great Potential Press.

Schleiermacher, FDE 1986, ‘General Theory and Art of Interpretation’, in K Mueller-Vollmer (ed.), The Hermeneutics Reader, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, pp. 72-97.

Taylor, P 1998, Intention, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Tyson, L 2006, ‘Marxist criticism’, in Critical Theory Today, Routledge, New York, London, pp. 53-81.

Introduction

In his essay ‘Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense’ (Nietzsche 1999) Nietzsche lays out an argument for describing truth in the sense of literal correspondence to reality to be outside of the boundaries of possible human experience (Clark 1990, p. 63) except in the form of tautological “empty husks” (Nietzsche 1999, p. 142). The perception of what is conventionally considered to be true he argues, are mere illusions caused by social processes of repetition, forgetting and gradual acceptance (Nietzsche 1999, pp. 146,9) of approximations in the form of metaphors that ignore infinite variation in individuating differences and anthropomorphizing metonyms magnifying that what happens to be of consequence to human beings yet fail to describe the ‘thing in itself’ (Nietzsche 1999, p. 145). This approach to the question of truth reverses Plato who posits that one knows a concept only because one has prior knowledge of the respective platonic ‘form’ it participates in (Plato 1961, 100b-107a) while Nietzsche argues that concepts are created by stripping ‘things’ of their individuating differences.

The arguments put forward by Nietzsche against the idea of truth as ‘correspondence’ will be laid out before evaluating them. Examples from physics and logic as well as evolutionary psychology and critical theory will be presented, demonstrating that attainment of truth as literal correspondence to reality is impossible regardless of perspective and thus undesirable as an ideal to be strived for. As alternative Rappaport’s concept of meaning (Rappaport 1999) will be introduced and contrasted with Nietzsche’s concept of truth.

Metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms

In the introductory remarks of his essay, Nietzsche paints reason as an inconsequential and transitory survival tool in the cosmic big picture peculiar to human beings, dear only to those exhibiting the ability (Nietzsche 1999, pp. 141-2). Reason as a weapon of the weak and less robust creatures in their struggle for existence with its primary use being that of deception and lying, mitigated only by social necessities in which, according to Nietzsche, our drive for truth has its origin. In his account the liar is the one who not only uses designated terms contrary to their conventional use but also does so in the pursuit of self-serving ends or in an anti social context triggering moralistic aggression. As pointed out by Nietzsche, it is not that untruth is universally hated and truth universally loved for their own sake, but that truth and lying are just as revered for their life preserving, pleasant qualities as they are disdained when perceived as harmful or destructive. It is in front of this background, that Nietzsche launches his critique of language as “full and adequate expression of all realities” (Nietzsche 1999, p. 143).

By drawing from the examples of the hardness one speaks of in regards to stones and the motions made by a snake, Nietzsche highlights the arbitrariness of our designations, since hardness can only ever be a subjective and relative idea and words describing a snake may just as well be used when talking about worms. For Nietzsche, the fact that there are different languages is proof that words do not literally correspond to reality for if they were there could only be a single language. Words do not stand for things, they stand in for things. The ‘thing in itself’ remains illusive and even when a word should happen to literally correspond with it, it would be by chance alone and unknowable to human beings (Nietzsche 1999, pp. 144-5). It is for this reason that we will always have to contend ourselves with imperfect metaphors (Emden 2005, p. 46).

The way that these metaphors come into being is explained by Nietzsche as taking place in line with the principle of “making equivalent that which is non-equivalent” since for concepts to be useful they must maintain their semantic utility in cases that are on the one hand macroscopically identical ‘species’ yet on the other hand never strictly equivalent occurrences ‘individuals’. Using the example of the leaf, Nietzsche argues, that this is done by stripping all leaves from those individuating differences which are inconsequential to human beings, thereby allowing us to lump together strictly speaking non-equivalent occurrences of different leaves under a single equalizing moniker (Nietzsche 1999, p. 145). A moniker that has the triple characteristic of being at the same time metaphorical for equating ‘the thing in itself’ with a different thing; metonymical for naming a thing not by its true name but only after a certain aspects of it; and anthropomorphic for being limited by the human senses in its perception and for choosing those aspects as metonyms that happen to be consequential to human beings.

The reason that these metaphors, metonyms and anthropomorphisms are being able to pass as truth lies for Nietzsche in their long time customary usage, so that through a process of collective forgetting they wither away, die and become resurrected as truths by convention. In his words “truths are illusions of which we have forgotten that they are illusions” (Nietzsche 1999, p. 146) a circumstance that is not to be interpreted as altogether negative for it enables us to relate to the world (Emden 2005, p. 58). To be truthful, thereby is equated by Nietzsche with the obligation for lying in line with the conventions established in the process described above and binding for all (Nietzsche 1999, p. 146). Strictly speaking however, all this enables one to do, he continues, is to invent definitions and then pointing them out as one encounters them resulting in the circulus in probando fallacious (Emden 2005, pp. 48-9) illusion of having arrived at the truth (Nietzsche 1999, p. 147). This process of forgetting not only the metaphorical nature of language but of the human being as an “artistically creative subject” is a crucial element allowing it to live a peaceful, secure and consistent existence without which it risks loosing self-confidence (Nietzsche 1999, p. 148).

Nietzsche describes the human intellect to be in principle infinitely free to deceive for examples with poetry, myths, stories or fairytales, so long as it does not do harm and considers deceptive creativity to be the non plus ultra of the human experience unmatched in its capacity to lift our spirits (Nietzsche 1999, pp. 151-2).

Truth, science, logic, meaning

Clark sees Nietzsche’s early denial of truth to be contradicting to the life affirming ethic Nietzsche develops in his later works (Clark 1990, p. 65). Contemporary scientific understanding however, notwithstanding science’s own issues in regards to claims to objectivity (Rorty 1991, p. 22) and as well as it’s ability to accurately describe the world (Teller 2001), suggest that Nietzsche’s critique of human concepts of truth as not literally corresponding with reality might simply be intrinsic to the natural laws of physics. Consider for example Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle in quantum mechanics (Heisenberg 1927) which suggests that empirical certainty is fundamentally limited as a fact of reality.

Similarly in logic, Gödel’s incompleteness theorem holds, that it is not only impossible to conceive of a consistent and complete set of axioms capable of proving all facts about natural numbers but that there will always exist truths about such numbers that remain beyond the systems capacity for proving them (Kleene 1967 (2002), p. 250). In combination with Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle one must content that not only our empirical knowledge of the physical world will likely remain outside the realm of literal correspondence, but that even our mathematical models are incapable of ascertaining the full truth of reality beyond any doubt even in theory. The universe is incapable of yielding completely and literally to understanding, human or otherwise. “Literature and fiction are two entirely different things. Literature is a luxury fiction is a necessity.” (Chesterton 2008, p. 13)

This conclusion can be reached within the confines of critical theoretical discourse as well. As phrased for example in Žižek’s deconstructive reading of Bentham’s Theory of Fictions (Ogden 1959) he concludes, that “the moment we subtract fictions from reality, reality itself loses its discursive-logical consistency.” (Žižek 1993, p. 88). This results in a typically Derridaian paradox: we can distinguish between fiction and reality but if we take away the fiction we loose reality itself, making metaphors a discursive necessity. The task of the ‘artistically creative subject’ in the Nietzschian sense then “is not to tell you what happened, but what happens: not what did take place, but the kind of thing that always does take place. He gives you the typical, recurring, or what Aristotle calls universal event. You wouldn’t go to Macbeth to learn about the history of Scotland – you go to it to learn what a man feels like after he’s gained a kingdom and lost his soul.” (Frye 1964, pp. 63-4)

Pragmatic necessities of survival under time and resource constrains on reason and rationality further limits strictly rational approaches to our interaction with reality, leading to the adoption and accumulation of a number of cognitive heuristics and biases that override rational appraisals (Kahneman, Slovic & Tversky 1982) which are necessarily in line with prevailing selection pressures in our evolutionary history, a view shared by Nietzsche e.g. in his statement “truth is the kind of error without which a certain kind of being could not live” as well as in (Nietzsche 2010, §493). Nietzsche himself advanced an understanding of the origin of reason and logic not too distant from our contemporary evolutionary perspective (Clark 1990, p. 87), (Nietzsche et al. 2001, §§110-112). After all, it is pragmatic understanding resulting in grasping the meaning of a concept that matters irrespective of whether or not an objective truth literally corresponding to reality has been uttered or not.

“[The pragmatist] is suggesting that instead of invoking anything like the idea-fact, or language-fact , or mind-world, or subject-object distinctions to explicate our intuition that there is something out there to be responsible to, we just drop the intuition.” (his italics) (Rorty 1991, p. 41) A driver, having broken the speed limit, will therefore have little hope of escaping the imposed fine by arguing that the judge in charge of his case should drop the intuition that there is something out there (cars, roads, laws) for him to be responsible to.

Rappaport has pointed out the pragmatism of evolutionary consequences in regards to understanding or misunderstanding the meaning of a given concept. For him “[m]isconstruing the world’s nature is not necessarily, or even primarily, a matter of empirical error. We are concerned here with the adaptiveness of conceptions, not with what the knowledge available at a particular historical moment takes to be empirically accurate. We are concerned with the consequences of the actions to which such understandings lead. If such actions tend to increase the actor’s chances of staying in the existential game indefinitely, and if, in this age of ever-increasing human capacity to destroy the world, such actions tend to preserve the existential game itself, then the understandings upon which they are based are adaptively true even if empirically absurd.” (Rappaport 1999, p. 452)

This constitutes an understanding not at all alien to Nietzsche who regarded life as dominating knowledge (Nietzsche, Breazeale & Hollingdale 1997, p. 121) and error as a potential precondition to life (Nietzsche et al. 2001, §121). Rappaport however takes his theory of meaning a step further. He distinguishes between different order meanings starting with difference (‘a cat is not a dog’ or A≠B) as low-order meaning, similarity (‘Juliet is the sun’ or A≈B) as middle order meaning and unity or identity as highest order meaning (A=B) and the realization of the illusion of separateness or maya as all distinctions being false dichotomies, as its ultimate expression (Rappaport 1999, pp. 71,380-1,91-95).

Conclusion – meaning trumps truth

Drawing from physics, logic, evolutionary psychology and contemporary critical theory it could be shown that truth in the form of literal correspondence to reality is inaccessible regardless of perspective due to natural laws as they are presently understood as well as logical constrains on discursive consistency. On the one hand Nietzsche’s account is convincing and does hold up against scrutiny. On the other it is found missing a resolution to the presented dilemma – a resolution that was attempted in the form of contrasting ultimate truth with ultimate meaning. Rappaport turns Nietzsche on his head. While Nietzsche finds truth the more illusory the more distinctions are ignored, Rappaport finds meaning the more illusory the more distinctions are emphasized.

Bibliography

Chesterton, GK 2008, The Defendant, NuVision Publications, LLC.

Clark, M 1990, Nietzsche on Truth and Philosophy.

Emden, C 2005, Nietzsche on Language, Consciousness and the Body.

Frye, N 1964, The Educated Imagination, vol. 88, Midland book, Indiana University Press.

Heisenberg, W 1927, ‘Über den anschaulichen Inhalt der quantentheoretischen Kinematik und Mechanik’, Zeitschrift für Physik, vol. 43, no. 3–4, pp. 172–98.

Kahneman, D, Slovic, P & Tversky, A (eds) 1982, Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases, Cambridge University Press.

Kleene, SC 1967 (2002), Mathematical Logic, Dover Publications.

Nietzsche, FW 1999, ‘On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense’, in R Guess & R Speirs (eds), The Birth of Tragedy and Other Writings, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 139-53.

—— 2010, The Will to Power (Volumes I and II), Digireads.com.

Nietzsche, FW, Breazeale, D & Hollingdale, RJ 1997, ‘On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life’, in Untiemely Meditations, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge ; New York, pp. 57-124.

Nietzsche, FW, Williams, BAO, Nauckhoff, J & Caro, AD 2001, The gay science: with a prelude in German rhymes and an appendix of songs, Cambridge University Press.

Ogden, CK 1959, Bentham’s Theory of Fictions, Littlefield Adams.

Plato 1961, ‘Phaedo and Euthyphro’, in E Hamilton & H Cairns (eds), The Collected Dialogues of Plato, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, pp. 40-98, 169-85.

Rappaport, RA 1999, Ritual and religion in the making of humanity, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Rorty, R 1991, Philosophical Papers: Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth, vol. 1, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Teller, P 2001, ‘Twilight of the Perfect Model Model’, Erkenntnis, vol. 55, no. 3, pp. 393-415.

Žižek, S 1993, Tarrying with the negative: Kant, Hegel, and the critique of ideology, Duke University Press.

I have taken the opportunity to dust off and rewrite the rather outdated ‘About’ section and thought it would make a neat little post reminding myself and others what it actually is I am trying to do here. To date I am not able to engage in much meaningful discussion with my target audience, the Singularity crowd. This might be due to the fact that by now I am approaching the Singularity from the humanities and social sciences as opposed to the standard IT, SciFi angel. This appears to be an approach rather foreign to most observers having the unfortunate result that hardly anyone bothers to penetrate my dense writings.

Not surprisingly, most individuals in the Singularity corner are – and pardon me if I am being a bit overly generalizing here – extremely IT literate geeks with a tendency for militant atheism. Hence the ‘Rapture of the Nerds’ moniker. Now, do not get me wrong – not too long ago I gave every single member of my family a copy of Dawkins’ The God Delusion for Christmas and I worked 10 years in IT security myself….

However all this gradually changed after I published my Singularity SciFi novel Jame5 – a Tale of Good and Evil in 2007 and distributed 500 copies all over the world at my own expense. Since then I have changed my stance on religion and came to find the ‘militant’ atheistic perspective rather unsatisfying. So yes: I get the yuck factor and the cognitive dissonance involved in getting out of ones comfort zone and approaching a seemingly contradictory perspective with open eyes. Particularly ideas of ‘Oneness’, ‘the illusion of separateness’ etc must sound like absolute hokum. I can only encourage everyone to try and get behind the arguments involved and I am more than happy to give a hand.

And please remember that Ben Goertzel has participated in a recent science and non-duality conference and is the author of the Cosmist Manifesto among many other books on AI and the Singularity in which he writes:

Cosmism is not a religion. But it has the potential to deliver some of the benefits of religion in a manner more consilient with science.”, Ben Goertzel, A Cosmist Manifesto: Practical Philosophy for the Posthuman Age, 2009

It is in this spirit that I introduce the ultimate foundation of the Rational Morality project: cybernetics and particularly evolutionary dynamics. In the words of Roy Rappaport:

“Misconstruing the world’s nature is not necessarily, or even primarily, a matter of empirical error. We are concerned here with the adaptiveness of conceptions, not with what the knowledge available at a particular historical moment takes to be empirically accurate. We are concerned with the consequences of the actions to which such understandings lead. If such actions tend to increase the actor’s chances of staying in the existential game indefinitely, and if, in this age of ever-increasing human capacity to destroy the world, such actions tend to preserve the existential game itself, then the understandings upon which they are based are adaptively true even if empirically absurd.” (Roy Rappaport, Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity, 1999, p. 452)

and Valentin Turchin

“Let us think about the results of following different ethical teachings in the evolving universe. [...] No one can act against the laws of nature. Thus, ethical teachings which contradict the plan of evolution [...] will be erased from the memory of the world. [...] Thus, only those [ethical] teachings which promote realization of the plan of evolution have a chance of success. Such is the immanent characteristic of development: what corresponds to its plan is eternalized in the structures which follow in time while what contradicts the plan is overcome and perishes.” (Valentin Turchin, The Phenomenon of Sceince, 1977, p. 334)

These insights are being integrated into the discourses of critical theory, cultural anthropology and moral philosophy. Having its origin in 2005 in the comparatively young area of singularity studies and particularly friendly AI theory these concepts have since been developed beyond that narrow perspective and continue to unfold.

Not relying on metaphysics but on evolutionary dynamics alone, this approach provides the basis on which concern for the self is understood to be equal with concern for the other, until one realizes that everything one does to another one quite literally does to oneself resulting in compassion as a rational moral duty irrespective of an agents level of intelligence or available resources.  As Gilles Deleuze summarizing Schopenhauer

“Because the will according to Schopenhauer, is essentially unitary, the executioner comes to understand that he is one with his victim.” (Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy, 2006, p. 7)

About me: I became an independent writer/philosopher after a decade long corporate career and am currently studying Anthropology and Social Theory at the University of Melbourne, with the goal of attaining a PhD sometime before the Singularity. My special interest lies in understanding and explaining spiritual wisdom in naturalistic terms.

“I remember who/what I am. I remember Oneness.”

While self-interested approaches to examining value, as a route taken in formal economics, lend themselves particularly well to neat formulas and straightforward calculations by focusing on value in terms of an in principle measurable utility and the amount of labour embodied in a commodity or service, they tend to reduce complex social beings to predominantly rational individuals – homo economicus – narrowly self interested in weighing up cost and benefits with the aim of maximizing personal well being, always choosing the option promising the biggest return (Wilk & Cliggett 2007, 36-37, 42). Economic actors however “are just as concerned with their social standing […] as they are with maximizing utility or income in the conventional sense” (Ortiz 2005, 74) which calls for a social model of value.

The social political perspective of value addresses this aspect of human nature by assessing human beings predominantly by the value they place in relationships, trust and influence. Political Economy is predominantly understood by the application of Marxist social and political economic theory in various ethnographic contexts. Marxism as the dominant social science model posits a justifying ideology that allows the perpetuation and naturalization of classes within a society as well as the super- and infrastructure that shape the relations of production through social labour in that society (Plattner 1989, 379-381).

Existing mechanisms of class exploitation are dressed in the cloak of respectability by ideological means, creating false consciousness and thereby remain unquestioned by the exploited and the exploiters alike (Plattner 1989, 381-384). Although critics point out that in some societies it is kinship or religious factors as opposed to relations of production that apparently dominate, it is shown by Godelier in his work that these social relations dominate only when they function as relations of production in line with Marx’s theory (Godelier 1978, 765).

An important idea in Marx’s theory is the phenomenon of commodity fetishism, the socially created attribution of subjective value to objects traded in the market which goes beyond those items’ intrinsic value and thereby acquiring the power of an objective social force (Marx 1973, 687) such as cattle in South African Tswana culture (Comaroff & Comaroff 1990, 195-196) as well as diamonds in the context of engagement gift giving in western style industrial economies (Proctor 2001). Fetishized commodities, such as polychrome fabrics in medieval Europe and Byzantium, can become Instruments of hegemony (Schneider 1978) and once recognized as such can lead to the creation of symbols of national liberation in their antithesis. In Schneider’s example this is what caused the ascent of locally produced black clothing as symbols of sovereign power and impartiality for example in the robes of judges as well as equality in death in mourning garments.

A significant problem with Marx’s theory as highlighted by Platter, is the continually rising wealth of workers in Western Europe and North America (Plattner 1989, 395). Since the release of Plattner’s article the world went through the collapse of the eastern bloc of states as well as the continuing economic rise of most notably Brazil, Russia, India, and China. These historical facts are casting further doubt on Marx’s theory which predicts worsening conditions for workers in line with his labour theory of value that posits the exploitation of labour as the only possibility for entrepreneurs to make a profit in the capitalist mode of production leading to an inevitable breakdown of capitalism (Marx 2007, 137). This aspect of Marx’s theory is particularly important since it claims to identify the source as well as the inherent mechanism by which capitalism leads to class exploitation. As pointed out by Marx’s critics however, labour need not be the only source of value (Menger 2007, 151) explaining how capitalist entrepreneurs do not automatically need to rely on the exploitation of the proletariat for making a profit. This is not to be understood that the free market is capable to alleviate all social ills, but highlights the need for further research and analysis.

In the context of the global political economy and particularly when it comes to development projects, a particular set of challenges is being confronted when western notions of ‘the proper way to do things’ are being uncritically adopted for local implementation. These development projects rooted in postcolonial efforts of guided modernization are wrought with problems and caused developing nations to accrue large national debts in the process of implementing respective development projects yielding few tangible results. While the hopeful conception of the Human Development Index (HDI) in 1990 aimed at reflecting insights gained during previous failures by including additional metrics going beyond a strictly economic focus, neo-colonialism threatens to perpetuate the colonial system with indirect economic methods as opposed to direct political means employed during colonial times.

Development literature, highlights the problems associated with development theory itself (Leys 2005) as well as with development practice. While development projects do have important political effects, these are not a consequence of conscious planning (Ferguson 2002, 401), (Mosse 2005, 10) resulting in a development culture in where success as well as failure of development projects are socially constructed (Mosse 2005, 18) as well as the result of policy-oriented judgments (Mosse 2005, 19). Positive effects may still occur but “are often equivocal, unexpected, contradicting legitimizing policy models […], and have more to do with infusion into regional and historical processes of change.” (Mosse 2005, 19)

This insight is mirrored in the example of the Taita Hills community in Kenya, which chose to employ a foreign witch doctor – Maji Marefu – to deal with local social ills experienced during the process of modernization their society went through and for the alleviation of which local magic seemed ineffectual (Smith 2005). While the resulting witch hunt orchestrated by Mjae Marefu failed to have the desired effect directly, the societal backlash against his exploitative practices ended up “generating the social cohesion and the social society that his coming symbolized, despite the conflict he generated”. (Smith 2005, 156). The invitation of what was perceived as a foreign expert by the local community to deal with a specific problem at hand, can be interpreted as a development initiative from the perspective of the Taita Hills community in which the anticipated result failed to materialize in line with observations made in the context of development discourse generally by Ferguson and Mosse (Ferguson 2002, 401), (Mosse 2005, 10). As a further parallel, positive effects were observed nevertheless which stood in no direct relation to planned components of the initiative, similarly to mechanisms described by Mosse (Mosse 2005, 19). Finally a mechanism of initial seduction and eventual disillusionment by the witch doctor not unlike that which has been described by Shresta in his experience of being colonized by successive waves of agents of development in Nepal (Shrestha 1995, 266) can be observed in the literature.

Surprising as it may be, a clear delineating between traditional witch doctors and modern development professionals remains problematic in the context of development in front of this background. Particularly so as long as development theory is perceived as not having been possible to arise at all outside the special interlude of the expansion of capitalism during the 1950s and 60s (Leys 2005, 116) as well as lacking adequate foundations (Leys 2005, 124).

It remains an important contribution of political economy however, that it places the emphasis on collective structures and functions and brings history into the picture which provides the context in which individuals make their decisions in predominantly in terms of how the means of production are organized and controlled (Plattner 1989, 381) despite superficial appearances to the contrary (Godelier 1978) and thereby helps to focus attention on exploitation, inequality and class conflict. Denial of agency and perception of the individual as a mere cog pushed around in the social machine reproducing society are the shortcomings of this perspective (Wilk & Cliggett 2007, 43).

The insight that individuals are neither self-serving optimizers nor political animals per se is recognized in the moral and cultural perspective of value (Wilk & Cliggett 2007, 43-44). From this perspective it is behaving properly what maters and moral principles and cultural contexts that constitute the basis for valuing action in terms of right and wrong. These values differ between cultures since moral codes are cultural products of a particular time and place. It is in front of this background that Weber explains how Puritan ideas in regards to asceticism had “a direct influence on the development of a capitalistic way of life.” (Weber 2006, 360). He notes that wealth, considered reprehensible when pursued as an end in itself, becomes a blessing in the Puritan perspective when it is the result of “labour in a calling” and thereby becomes a powerful since religiously sanctioned mechanism enabling the emergence of “the spirit of capitalism” (Weber 2006, 362).

The value of things in this perspective lies in what they are used for and the focus lies on contextual consumption, not on exchange (self interest) or production (political economy). Value is not perceived in the utility for the individual or the utility for society but rather in using the thing in the proper way, in the signs one displays knowing the right, the expected way to behave, which results in the accumulation of cultural capital. Indifference to wage incentives on peasants and artisans who become wage workers are one example how the absence of a Purtian outlook on life can manifest itself when individuals fail to respond in the ‘proper’ way in line with capitalist expectations (Taussig 1977, 131) due to their preference of use value over exchange value (Taussig 1977, 132). Over productiveness as the dominant norm in capitalism in this context is interpreted as an immoral act possible only through a pact with the devil that at the same time places certain restrictions on the earned money in regards to what it can be spent upon (Taussig 1977, 136). The capitalist idea of money as capable of growing by itself through interest is rationalized by the illicit baptizing of a note of currency instead of an infant by a godparent in order to realize the mysterious money-commodity-money standard formulation of Marxist of capitalist circulation (Taussig 1977, 144).

In pre-modern Sierra Leone, not unlike the south American peasantry, accumulation of wealth is seen as an inherently immoral process requiring dark magic in the form of eating people by turning them into slaves through witch finding divinations (Shaw 1997, 868) and transferring money from one person’s pocket into one’s own (Shaw 1997,859). In this context the diviners are seen as the biggest witches of them all (Shaw 1997, 868) since they are exploiting lower status individuals lacking the social or political capital necessary to sway the outcome of the divination in their favour (Shaw 1997, 865), which in effect resulted in their transformation from people into sellable commodities (Shaw 1997, 864) unthinkable outside the context of the slave trade (Shaw 1997, 865).

Being recognized as a good person – in this life as well as the next – is important since good people are listened to which confers moral authority and results in the accumulation of cultural capital. This insight is employed by Spiro in his exploration of what is often described as spiritually motivated lavish spending among Burmese Buddhists resulting in the perception of improvidence (Spiro 1966,1164-1165). Upon closer examination however Burmese religious spending can be explained as a form of highly profitable form of investment in the predominant social and religious context in which monetary generosity towards religious ends in this life is believed to result in rebirth into a wealthier status in the next (Spiro 1966, 1168).

Moral values differ widely between cultures, yet regardless what cultures people belong to they use the same tools to translate their values into ordered preferences. And then seek to maximize cultural capital by selecting the optimal choice. This is done in predictably rational ways within that particular set of values. It is the underlying set of preferences that frame your rationality – culture is a way of thought. Everyone reflects upon their pragmatic interests within society and have pragmatic implications for action in the world, understanding that others in the society have learned to react to symbols the same way as them. The power lies in the fact that everyone judges actions in a similar way. Structure emerges not just because we have common interest (reproduction of society, advancement of class) but because we have a shared understanding of the world, we may share common values even if we do not share common interests.

Bibliography

Comaroff, J & Comaroff, JL 1990, ‘Goodly beasts and beastly goods: cattle and commodities in a South African context’, American Ethnologist, vol. 17, pp. 195-216.

Ferguson, J 2002, ‘ The Anti-Politics Machine’, in J Vincent (ed.), The Anthropology of Politics: A Reader in Ethnography, Theory, and Critique, Blackwell, Oxford, UK & Malden, USA, pp. 399- 408.

Godelier, M 1978, ‘Infrastructures, society, and history’, Current Anthropology, vol. 19, pp. 763-8.

Leys, C 2005, ‘The Rise and Fall of Development Theory’, in M Edelman & A Haugerud (eds), The Anthropology of Development: From Classical Political Economy to Contemporary Neoliberalism, Blackwell, Malden, MA, pp. 109-25.

Marx, K 1973, The Grundrisse, Penguin Books, Middlesex, England.

—— 2007, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy – Vol. III-Part I: The Process of Capitalist Production as a Whole, Cosimo.

Menger, C 2007, Principles of Economics, Ludwig von Mises Institute.

Mosse, D 2005, ‘Introduction: the ethnography of Policy and practice’, in A Arbor (ed.), Cultivating development : an ethnography of aid policy and practice, Pluto Press, London, pp. 1-20.

Ortiz, S 2005, ‘Decisions and choices: the rationality of economic actors’, in JG Carrier (ed.), A handbook of economic anthropology, Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham, UK, pp. 59-77.

Plattner, S 1989, ‘Marxism’, in Economic Anthropology, Stanford University Press, Stanford, pp. 379-96.

Proctor, RN 2001, ‘Anti-agate: the great diamond hoax and the semiprecious stone scam’, Configurations, vol. 9, pp. 381-412.

Schneider, J 1978, ‘Peacocks and penguins: the political economy of European cloth and colours’, American Ethnologist, vol. 5, pp. 413-47.

Shaw, R 1997, ‘The production of witchcraft/witchcraft as production: memory, modernity and the slave trade in Sierra Leone’, American Ethnologist, vol. 24, pp. 856-76.

Shrestha, N 1995, ‘Becoming a Development Category’, in J Crush (ed.), Power of Development, Routledge, London; New York, pp. 266-77.

Smith, J 2005, ‘Buying a Better Witch Doctor: Witch-Finding, Neoliberalism, and the Development Imagination in the Taita Hills, Kenya’, American Ethnologist, vol. 32, no. 1, pp. 141-58.

Spiro, ME 1966, ‘Buddhism and economic action in Burma’, American Anthropologist, vol. 68, pp. 1163-73.

Taussig, M 1977, ‘The genesis of capitalism amongst a South American peasantry: devil’s labour and the baptism of money’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, vol. 19, pp. 130-55.

Weber, M 2006, ‘Puritanism and the spirit of capitalism’, in HL Moore & T Sanders (eds), Anthropology in Theory: issues in epistemology, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, pp. 360-6.

Wilk, RR & Cliggett, L 2007, ‘Economics and the problem of human nature’, in In Economies and cultures: foundations of economic anthropology, Westview Press., New York, pp. 31-47

Introduction

In the concluding sections of Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity, Rappaport asserts the nature of humanity to be one of survival enabling meaning making in an intrinsically meaningless world subject to physical law (Rappaport 1999, p. 451). While acknowledging the positive impact science had on ridding us from superstition and magic, Rappaport sees a threat to sanctified, adaptive understandings becoming invalidated by a purely empirical understanding of the world.

“Misconstruing the world’s nature is not necessarily, or even primarily, a matter of empirical error. We are concerned here with the adaptiveness of conceptions, not with what the knowledge available at a particular historical moment takes to be empirically accurate. We are concerned with the consequences of the actions to which such understandings lead. If such actions tend to increase the actor’s chances of staying in the existential game indefinitely, and if, in this age of ever-increasing human capacity to destroy the world, such actions tend to preserve the existential game itself, then the understandings upon which they are based are adaptively true even if empirically absurd.” (Rappaport 1999, p. 452)

Rappaport continues to elaborate on this point before advocating a union between “post-modern science and natural religion” (Rappaport 1999, pp. 456-61) which he suggests to be founded in ecological concerns in order to construct an adaptive system of meaning that can persist in the face of modern scientific insights. He opts for ecology as foundation for this new system of meaning despite reiterating oneness as the highest form of meaning throughout his book (Rappaport 1999, pp. 71,380-1,91-95). It is the purpose of this essay to argue three main points. Firstly, that a system of meaning based on the notion of oneness is more adaptive than one based solely on ecological concerns, secondly, that such a system is a priori consistent as well as supported by advances in our understanding of evolutionary dynamics, and thirdly, that it can be shown a posteriori that systems of meaning have evolved over the course of human history not unlike the progress in natural sciences to form ever closer approximations of oneness as the highest form of meaning in line with the first two points.

Oneness and evolutionary theory

“It must not be forgotten that although a high standard of morality gives but a slight or no advantage to each individual man and his children over the other men of the same tribe, yet that an advancement in the standard of morality and in increase in the number of well-endowed men will certainly give an immense advantage to one tribe over another. There can be no doubt that a tribe including many members who, from possessing in a high degree the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy, were always ready to give aid to each other and to sacrifice themselves for the common good, would be victorious over other tribes; and this would be natural selection.” (Darwin 2009, p. 110)

This insight Darwin published in 1871 should later be generalized in the theory of multilevel selection (Wynne-Edwards 1986), the idea that individuals reap evolutionary benefits by cooperating which provides the basis on which initially separate adaptive units evolve into ever more close knit groups until an evolutionary transition occurs resulting in groups of adaptive units on the initial level forming a new singular adaptive unit constituting a new organism on a higher level (Wilson, Vugt & O’Gorman 2008). Among the examples cited by Smith & Szathmáry are the transition from prokaryotes to eukaryotes, from protists to multicellular organisms as well as from primate groups to human societies with language and culture as enabling factors (Smith & Szathmáry 1997). Although the theory of multilevel selection is possible yet highly unlikely on the level of the gene (Williams 1996, pp. 92-124), “[a]ll that is needed to make group selection possible is a device that leads individuals to separate their conceptions of well-being or advantage from biological survival. Notions such as God, Heaven, Hell, heroism, honor, shame, fatherland and democracy encoded in procedures of enculturation that represent them as factual, natural, public, or sacred (and, therefore, compelling) have dominated every culture for which we possess ethnographic or historical knowledge.” (Rappaport 1999, p. 10) Understanding multilevel selection theory, we can expect the mechanisms of cultural evolution to favor spiritual understandings of the world, which more closely approximate the idea of oneness and instill them into the cultural group. Following this logic, one can expect to discern ever more closely approximated versions of the idea of oneness as the highest form of meanings that are ever more highly sanctified in spiritual traditions over evolutionary timeframes. This is what Rappaport is referring to in his writings when claiming oneness to be the highest form of meaning.

Spiritual versus scientific progress

The natural sciences as opposed to spirituality are thought of as a process of continually ascending progress. The differences in perspectives and resulting breakdown of communication between ‘the two cultures’ of the sciences on the one and the humanities on the other have been blamed as a significant obstacle in solving the world’s problems (Snow 1993). It is the objective of this section to demonstrate that the scientific and the humanistic outlook, particularly the spiritual one, need not be fundamentally separated and are in fact similar. This point will be explained by examining the scientific genius of Newton in the natural sciences before defining spirituality and drawing an analogy to science.

Isaac Newton was a prolific English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and natural philosopher. What is less widely known is his equal interest in the subjects of alchemy (Figala 2002) and attempting to calculate the end times from bible references (Mamiani 2002). Why then, is Newton still revered today despite him being a ‘superstitious alchemist’ and having been proved wrong by Einstein in the early 20th century? The reason is two fold: firstly it is understood that Newton despite being wrong, just as Einstein still being wrong due to the irreconcilable nature or general relativity and quantum dynamics, he was relatively less wrong than Kepler before him and Gallilei before him and Copernicus before him (Hawking 2003). Secondly it is understood in regards to what he was less wrong, namely in his scientific understanding of gravity. More generally we can thus understand science as following:

“Science is the conscious quest for the realization of an ever closer approximation of that which is true and unchanging about the universe we exist in, in order to enhance the means that enable the reshaping of material reality in line with our goals and values.”

The value of science thereby lies in the degree of accuracy to which it describes reality insofar as the gained insights enhance our means of reshaping reality by the creation of ever more sophisticated technology that happens to produce desired effects within the margin of error of the currently best available scientific theory. With Newton that meant the ability to calculate the trajectory of cannon balls with Einstein GPS, LEDs and nuclear bombs came into the reach of mankind. This very particular aspect of scientific truth has been reinforced as a fundamental value since the enlightenment and came to ever greater prominence over the course of the engineering driven industrial revolution followed by the information age with its computers and their extreme literalism and has since become that which closest resembles a transcendent standard of value in our postmodern society and its incredulity towards meta narratives. ‘If it is not scientifically true it has no worth’. The question of how ultimate goals and fundamental values are determined that can then be advanced with science and technology remains unanswered sofar.

In line with the writings of Rappaport it is assumed for the purpose of this paper that the highest good is constituted by humanity maximizing its chances of remaining in the existential game (Slobodkin & Rapoport 1974). From this perspective consider the following definition of spirituality:

“Spirituality is the (sub)concious quest for the realization of an ever closer approximation about that which is true and unchanging about our existence in the universe in order to enhance the means that enable the reshaping of our consciousness in line with the laws of nature imposing the conditions for our existence.”

Empirical support for the idea of oneness as the highest form of meaning

Understanding spirituality in this light we are effectively enabled to judge spiritual systems in terms of their adaptive merit. The reason being that spiritual systems that promote the adoption of a non-dual world view are more in line with the conditions of our existence and hence more adaptive than spiritual systems that incorporate notions of oneness to a lesser extend. How else could one categorize the nearly uncontrollable, trance-like fury the Norse warriors known as Berserkers fought in as less spiritual then the feeling of absolute unitary being (AUB) experienced during vipassana meditation? The answer lies in the insight that some states of consciousness are more conducive to the fitness of a group than others. As argued above in the context of multilevel selection theory, what one does to others becomes equivalent to what one does to oneself, ergo feeling for the other, as one with the other becomes an objective adaptive truth, when realized resulting in the breakdown of the illusion of separateness or becoming ‘enlightened’, attaining Satori, or simply wanting to be compassionate in spiritual terms.

While such notions are present to a greater and lesser degree in all spiritual traditions, it is Advaita Vedanta – the non-dualist philosophy referring to the identity of the Self (Atman) with the Whole (Brahman) that most explicitly encompasses the notion of oneness in its teachings. Accepting multilevel selection on the cultural level as a true and valid theory, we can clearly identify on who’s spiritual giant’s shoulders (analogous to those in the natural sciences) we stand today: the countless shamans of prehistory, the sages of the axial age, the prophets of the major spiritual traditions advocating compassion (Armstrong 2007):

Christianity: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Buddhism: ”Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.”

Confucianism: ”Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.”

Hinduism: ”One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self.”

Islam: ”Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you.”

Judaism: ”The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself.”

Taoism: ”Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.”

All major world religions contain this basic key insight and this is not a coincidence. Just as the bats and the dolphins evolved sonar independently (Li et al. 2010) precisely because of the evolutionary advantage better perceiving individuals had over less well perceiving ones in both species so did compassion impart an evolutionary advantage in those groups who’s cultural content happened to have evolved this approximation of oneness as the highest form of meaning:

“Let us think about the results of following different ethical teachings in the evolving universe. [...] No one can act against the laws of nature. Thus, ethical teachings which contradict the plan of evolution [...] will be erased from the memory of the world. [...] Thus, only those [ethical] teachings which promote realization of the plan of evolution have a chance of success. Such is the immanent characteristic of development: what corresponds to its plan is eternalized in the structures which follow in time while what contradicts the plan is overcome and perishes.” (Turchin 1977, p. 334)

In regards to whether evolution has a plan or not, one simply needs to semantically replace Turchin’s ‘plan’ with ‘adaptive’ in the evolutionary sense and his quote remains valid in the context of this essay. The fact that not everyone does in fact align themselves consciously with the goal of remaining in the existential game is absolutely irrelevant since only those that do, encoded in sanctified spiritual beliefs and justified on whatever basis, will have a higher chance not to “be erased from the memory of the world”, be it in a Malthusian “struggle for existence” or under any other set of selection pressures.

Several quotes in support of this perspective:

“The ultimate spiritual revelation is that there is no other. There is only One.” (his italics) (Cohen 2007)

Put straight and to the point: we are all one.

“Since reason is man’s basic means of survival, that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; that which negates, opposes or destroys it is the evil.” (Rand 1964, p. 25)

Rand was basing her philosophy largely on the ideas of Nietzsche who misguidedly, as we now realize, advocated egoism as a means of affirming life (Nietzsche 2008, p. 173). In the basic premise expressed in this quote however, Rand is in line with the argument developed in this essay.

“Necessary existence is a positive property” — Kurt Goedel in 1941, Axiom 5 of his ontological proof for the existence of god using modal logic (Sobel 2004, p. 125) .

“Therefore, since the supreme Good is the supreme Being, it follows that everything good has being and every being is good. So since nothing and non-being do not have being, they are not good. And so nothing and non-being are not from him from whom only good and being come.” (Anselm & Williams 2007, p. 170)

A bit more esoteric, but expressing the same basic principle: being (or existence) is better than nonbeing (or nonexistence)

“For the wages of sin is death.” — Romans 6:23

This bible quote is in line with Turchin’s perspective cited earlier yet expresses it in an archaic, biblical language.

“Ego is the biggest enemy of humans.” — Rig Veda

Failing to realize the illusion of separateness is an existential risk.

“Because the will according to Schopenhauer, is essentially unitary, the executioner comes to understand that he is one with his victim.” (Deleuze 2006, p. 7)

A good approximation of the idea that what is done to others is literally done to oneself, Schopenhauer however was misguidedly advocating this perspective as a form of an active denial of the Will to life, although such an outlook would in fact affirm it as shown in this essay.

These examples could easily be multiplied.

Conclusion

“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” – Albert Einstein

It has been demonstrated that the abstract and commonly understood to be non-rational idea of ‘oneness as the highest form of meaning’, has its roots in evolutionary dynamics supported by scientific theory as well as empirical evidence. It was shown that the logic of spiritual evolution unfolds in a process that is the result of the fact that in the absence of any externally specified reward, self-replication emerges as an intrinsic reward and starts to feed on itself in line with the discussed evolutionary dynamics causing an evolutionary arms race between groups to generate ever closer approximations of oneness as the highest form of meaning. This process has its origins as a teleonomical, not a teleological process of chance change and non-chance retention of units of information in self-replicating information structures. Be they on the level of the gene encoded in DNA or that of culture encoded in ideas, concepts as well as sanctified spiritual belief systems. In the last sections of Rappaport’s book, he argued that once humanity realizes these dynamics it should actively seek alignment with them in order to ensure humanity’s continued existence thereby effectively turning this originally teleonomical process of chance into one of intentional design in line with scientific insights. It was shown in the arguments put forward in this essay that his advocating an ecological foundation for such a system of meaning would be suboptimal and that instead a system of meaning based on his own understanding of the highest form of meaning, namely ‘oneness’ or ‘non-duality’, being the optimal approach. Doing so holds the promise of reaping the rewards of science in the form of technology married with a system of meaning in line with the enlightenment ideals of reason and emancipation from superstition and dogma while at the same time minimizing humanity’s chances of extinction.

Bibliography

Anselm, S & Williams, T 2007, Basic writings, Hackett Pub. Co., Indianapolis.

Armstrong, K 2007, The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions, Anchor Books, New York.

Cohen, A 2007, ‘How a New World Is Born’, What is Enlightenment, no. 36.

Darwin, C 2009, The Descent of Man, Lightning Source Inc, La Vergne.

Deleuze, G 2006, Nietzsche and philosophy, Continuum, London.

Figala, K 2002, ‘Newton’s alchemy’, in IB Cohen & GE Smith (eds), The Cambridge companion to Newton, Cambridge University Press, pp. 370-86, Cambridge.

Hawking, S 2003, On the Shoulders of Giants: The Great Works of Physics and Astronomy, Running Press, Philadelphia.

Li, Y, Liu, Z, Shi, P & Zhang, J 2010, ‘The hearing gene Prestin unites echolocating bats and whales’, Current biology : CB, vol. 20, no. 2, pp. R55-R6.

Mamiani, M 2002, ‘Newton on prophecy and the Apocalypse’, in IB Cohen & GE Smith (eds), The Cambridge companion to Newton, Cambridge University Press, pp. 387-408, Cambridge.

Nietzsche, FW 2008, Beyond Good and Evil, BiblioBazaar.

Rand, A 1964, The Virtue of Selfishness, Signet Book, New York.

Rappaport, RA 1999, Ritual and religion in the making of humanity, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Slobodkin, L & Rapoport, A 1974, ‘An optimal strategy of evolution’, Quarterly Review of Biology, vol. 49, pp. 181-200.

Smith, JM & Szathmáry, E 1997, The major transitions in evolution, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Snow, CP 1993, The two cultures, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Sobel, JH 2004, Logic and theism: arguments for and against beliefs in God, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Turchin, VF 1977, The phenomenon of science, Columbia University Press, New York.

Williams, GC 1996, Adaptation and natural selection: a critique of some current evolutionary thought, Princeton University Press, Princeton.

Wilson, DS, Vugt, MV & O’Gorman, R 2008, ‘Multilevel Selection Theory and Major Evolutionary Transitions: Implications for Psychological Science’, Current Directions in Psychological Science, vol. 17, no. 1, pp. 6-9.

Wynne-Edwards, VC 1986, Evolution through group selection, Blackwell Scientific, Oxford.

Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” (Kant, Abbott & Denis 2005, p. 81)

The conditions of life might include error.” (Nietzsche, F. W. et al. 2001, §121)

Introduction

Both Kant and Nietzsche are seminal figures in western philosophy. The former’s Critique of Pure Reason has been described as the most important philosophical book ever written in Europe (Keurs 2006, p. 13) while the history of 20th century thought is believed to be unintelligible without considering the writings of the latter (Magnus 2010). Kant contributed to furthering the Enlightenment project of freeing men from fear and establishing his sovereignty (Adorno 1990, p. 3) by extending Rousseau’s understanding of freedom as “the obedience to a law which we prescribe to ourselves” (Rousseau & Cole 2008, p. 28) from the political to the ethical, the philosophy of religion as well as aesthetics (Beck & Cicovacki 2001, p. xx) using reason and seeking natural causes of experiences alone. Nietzsche on the other hand was greatly influenced by Schopenhauer and his idea of the Will – a groundless state of endless striving constituting existence as a state of suffering (Jacquette 1996, p. 283) at the foundational being of everything. In contrast to Schopenhauer however, Nietzsche places a great emphasise on the affirmation of the Will to life, what sustains it and in his mature philosophy turns the denial of the Will through compassion in Schopenhauer’s philosophy into its opposite: the embrace of suffering[1] and therefore life through egotistic self assertion[2] epitomized in the Will to power. The Will to power is equated by Nietzsche with the essence of life (Nietzsche, F. W. 2008b, II. §12) and he intended to utilize it in his unfinished project to re-evaluate all values (Nietzsche, F. W. 2008b, III. §27).

It will be the focus of this essay to briefly elucidate the biographical background as well as the philosophical influences leading to the formation of the two thinker’s own philosophies before elaborating in more detail how Kant as well as Nietzsche are grounding their critiques. The two approaches will then be compared to each other as well as critically evaluated.

The Chinaman[3] of Königsberg

Heine’s remark that “[t]he history of Immanuel Kant’s life is hard to describe, because he had neither a life nor history” (Heine, Hermand & Holub 1985, p. 203) is likely too harsh. The well known fact that during his life Kant never traveled very far from his hometown had more to do with him being a central figure of Königsberg’s social society and extraordinarily comfortable there (Kuehn 2001, pp. 134-5, 218-21) than with the mistaken idea of him being a boring and idiosyncratic recluse. Philosophically speaking it was Hume who woke him from his own dogmatic slumbers (Kant 1982, p. 6), and Rousseau’s Emile (Rousseau 2008) that deeply influenced his thoughts on ethics (Wood 2005, p. 7) the later fascinating him so much that he omitted his afternoon walk this once out of a thousand times to finish reading it (Wallace 2008, p. 28). It was one event in particular that proofed to be central to Kant’s formation of his subsequent ideas. It was the 1755 earthquake of Lisbon followed by a tsunami that took place during the early hours of All Saint’s Day and destroyed numerous churches (Pereira 2006, p. 10) as well as killing droves of church goers faithfully praying inside of them. While central figures of the early Enlightenment such as Newton (Mamiani 2002) and Leibniz (Leibnitz & Jaucourt 1734) where deeply pious men, the theodicy debate that ensued in the wake of 1755 Lisbon “sufficed to cure Voltaire” (Adorno 1990, p. 361) of similar notions (Voltaire 1985). The concept of the earthquake would later serve as inspiration for Kant’s philosophy of the sublime (Kant & Pluhar 1987, pp. 97-123) and let him to publish three essays on the Lisbon earthquake focusing exclusively on potential natural causes (Guyer 2006, p. 18) true to the battle cry of the enlightenment: “Sapere Aude! Have courage to use your own understanding!” (his emphasis) (Kant 2009, p. 54). In order to make it possible for men of the enlightenment age to do exactly that, a rational basis for experience had to be established. This was Kant’s project.

Enabling the autonomous individual

Kant argues that mankind’s escape from self-imposed immaturity by using one’s own understanding without guidance of another is what lies at the core of the Enlightenment (Kant & Reiss 1991, p. 54). Being greatly influence by Rousseau’s political ideas in his views which he transposed from the social to the individual, freedom for Kant was not the absence of laws but the adherence to self-imposed laws springing from ones own reason which makes the autonomous individual possible (Guyer 2006, p. 204). For Kant it is this process of reason and the free public use of it (Kant & Reiss 1991, pp. 55-7) which is in the inherent self-interest of the state for it alone ensures progress and flourishing (Kant & Reiss 1991, pp. 57-60). Kant would explore his idea of societal development over the course of history in another essay which he published the same year titled Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose (Kant & Reiss 1991, pp. 41-53). Introducing 9 propositions in it he describes how through the application of reason mankind, despite numerous wrong turns, would inevitably progress along “a plan of nature aimed at a perfect civil union of mankind” (Kant & Reiss 1991, p. 51).

On this background, namely the autonomous application of reason in the individual and the anticipated positive effects not only on the level of the nation state when exercised freely in it, but for mankind as a whole as well, illustrates the central importance in Kant’s perspective to construct a solid a foundation as possible on which reason can be exercised. This is the grounding of his critiques, for anything but a solid foundation for the application of reason would not only turn true autonomy and freedom of the individual into a mere illusion as a result from misguided reason, but would at the same time retard the fulfillment of natures plan towards a perfect civil union of mankind.

Among the most influential of Kant’s concepts is transcendental idealism in which he essentially restated Platonism in Enlightenment terms (Guyer 2006, p. 51). It is the idea that we can only understand the world as it is represented to us in our minds (phenomenon) yet are unable to grasp the thing in itself (noumenon) (Kant & Politis 1993, A254/B310). A significant departure from Hume represents Kant’s demonstration of the existence of synthetic a priori truths (Kant & Politis 1993, A6-7/B10-17), propositions that are known to be true prior to experience and whose predicate concepts are not contained in its subject (e.g. 2+5=7). Put another way: statements that are true not because on their inherent meaning i.e. ‘all bachelors are unmarried men’. Hume thought synthetic truth to be impossible (Guyer 2006, p. 47) and considered math and physics to be analytical a priori truths. Kant placed ethics on a rational basis in the form of the categorical imperative (Kant & Ellington 1993, p. 30), the violation of which he held to not only be unethical but irrational as well. Even aesthetics could be put in a framework of reason for Kant, which he did for the beautiful, the sublime, genius as well as a deduction of taste among others (Kant & Pluhar 1987).

The patron saint of postmodernism

Having been born into a deeply rooted family tradition of Lutheran ministers, Nietzsche initially took up theology and philology at the university of Bonn in 1864 at the age of 20, where he would soon gravitate towards philology and eventually ended up focusing on it exclusively (Hollingdale 2001, pp. 21,31). Haven taken classes with both Ritschl and Jahn, Nietzsche would be at the frontline of what should become known as the Bonn philology war between the two and which would in the end escalate to involve the Bismark government in the Prussian house of representatives dividing liberals and reactionaries. Jahn, who a decade earlier was called to Bonn with the help of dean Ritschl, went behind his benefactor’s back to get his friend Sauppe appointed to Bonn. When Sauppe to Jahn’s surprise ended up declining the call, the enraged Ritschl, after haven gotten wind of the affair, started a slander campaign against Jahn for which he received a public reprimand from the ministry of education causing the matter to escalate politically (Emden 2008, pp. 23-36). Nietzsche, while asserting that Jahn was “unconditionally right” ended up being so impressed with Ritschl’s cunning, that he joined Ritschl when he left for Leipzig, leaving the righteous but utterly devastated Jahn in Bonn (Ross 1999, pp. 111-3). It is in this incident that the Nietzsche biographer Ross identifies the early origins of Nietzsche’s affinity to the Will to power. In the same year Nietzsche discovered Schopenhauer and the ‘funeral director perfume’[4] (Nietzsche, F. W. & Ludovici 2004, p. 69) of his philosophy should stay with him.

Preventing life’s self annihilation

What fascinated Nietzsche with Schopenhauer were two aspects of his pessimistic philosophy in particular. The first being Schopenhauer’s concept of the Will which he described as a senseless struggle for the continuation of life (Young 2005, pp. 74-7) with no regards for individual suffering as long as the circle of existence continues for the species as a whole (Young 2005, pp. 80-1) (Schopenhauer, Arthur & Payne 1966, Chp. 28). This circumstance was interpreted to mean by Schopenhauer that “essential to all life is suffering” (Schopenhauer, A. et al. 2010, end of §56). Schopenhauer himself was heavily influenced by the Upanishads in this regard and considered himself to be a follower of the in the west relatively unknown religion of Buddhism which has a very similar core tenet encoded in the first of the four noble truths. Nietzsche adopted the concept of the Will wholeheartedly. The second aspect of Schopenhauer’s philosophy important to understanding Nietzsche was that according to Schopenhauer the only way to escape this cycle of endless and meaningless suffering is through the active denial of the Will by transcending the egoistic individual through exercising compassion (Young 2005, p. 179). He justifies this approach by asserting, that the recognition of “the identity of one’s own inner being with that of all things” (Schopenhauer, Arthur & Payne 1966, p. 613) results in the realization that any affirmation of the Will to life and subsequent suffering caused in others is in fact equivalent to inflicting suffering on oneself. “Because the will according to Schopenhauer, is essentially unitary, the executioner comes to understand that he is one with his victim” (Deleuze 2006, p. 7).

Nietzsche accepts the argument, but rejects the adoption of Schopenhauer’s conclusion outright in his mature philosophy and turns it onto its head (Nietzsche, F. W. 2007, Morality as Anti-Nature, §5). For Nietzsche life and its affirmation represents the non plus ultra of philosophy and constitutes the grounding for his critique. It is on this basis that Nietzsche formulates his critiques of history (Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm, Breazeale & Hollingdale 1997), knowledge (Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm, Breazeale & Hollingdale 1997, p. 121), morality, justice, care for the sick (Nietzsche, F. W. 2008b, III. §§14-15), logic (Nietzsche, F. W. et al. 2001, p. 111) as well as reason and the grounds on which he embraces suffering. Central to Nietzsche’s understanding of life is what he dubs the Will to power (Nietzsche, F. W. 2008a, §259), a combination of the Schopenhaurian Will with his own understanding of the thirst to dominate and overpower (Nietzsche, F. W. et al. 2001, §13). It is the retardation of such power struggles that Nietzsche perceived to be equivalent to the retardation of life itself. Christian ‘slave morality’ (Nietzsche, F. W. 2008b, II. §11) as well as reason (Nietzsche, F. W. 2007, The Problem of Socrates, §6) in his view are nothing else but clever tricks perpetrated by the weak and meek on the powerful as a means of dragging them down to their lowly levels of degeneration. Similarly to him justice was a perversion, a making equal of that which is meant by nature to be fought out in unhindered power struggles for life to flourish (Nietzsche, F. W. 2008b, II. § 11). In suffering on the other hand, Nietzsche saw the principle hope for man to transcend himself and become a being of higher consciousness (Nietzsche, F. W. 2008a, §§225, 270) which he called the Overman. Unapologetic egoism in precise opposition to Schopenhauer’s denial of the Will through compassion, was to Nietzsche the very essence of a noble soul (Nietzsche, F. W. 2008a, §265) and therefore the antidote capable of reversing humanity’s descent along a slippery slope towards humanity’s self annihilation.

Life, reason, freedom, critique

Critique has the living critic as necessary precondition. In that regard we are unable to ignore Nietzsche. Yet “the conditions of life might include error.” Assuming this to be the case, any critical rational discourse would become impossible for one of two reasons. Either because abiding by the fundamental rules of logic would ultimately result in the self-annihilation of life through rational critique or because by disavowing the laws of logic one would be cutting the branch on which rational critique rests for it became permissible to affirm and deny the same property of a thing simultaneously (Heller 1999, p. 1). Vae victis. Might would be right and it is in the philosophies of Foucault and his concept of ‘power/knowledge’ (Foucault 1972) that such notions are being embraced. Heller for example is taking limitless freedom as the grounding of modernity (Heller 1999, pp. 13-5) noting “[t]hat freedom grounds means, namely, that everything is ungrounded. […] The moderns are sitting on a paradox. This is the constellation of the modern world: it is grounded in a principle which, in principle, does not ground anything; it is founded on a universal value or idea, which in principle negated foundation.” (her emphasis) (Heller 1999, pp. 14-5) Critique becomes meaningless in the face of absolute freedom. Absolute freedom however does not exist and consequences are a good candidate for bridging Hume’s is/ought gap by providing an overriding reason to react one way and not another (ought) in a given situation (is) (Smith 2006), consequences in particular that violate the conditions for our existence.

The critic thus has to ground critique on a hierarchy of conditions enabling critique to avoid a reductio ad absurdum, namely existence of the critic at the base of the hierarchy, the use of reason to enable discursive critique and freedom to exercise reason and formulate a critique without reprisal. There are two fundamental issues with such a hierarchy. One being that the use of reason might violate the conditions for the critic’s existence as suggested by Nietzsche and another that freedom as a foundation grounds nothing as suggested by Heller. To answer Heller, freedom would have to be bounded and bounded specifically by progressing upwards along the conditional hierarchy. First and foremost the non-violation of the conditions for the critic’s existence, followed by the adherence to the fundamental laws of logic and only then ensuring the freedom from reprisal to exercise critique. Before answering Nietzsche we recall his argument against reason being founded on the understanding that it obstructs the free unfolding of the Will to power and therefore life. As Santayana notes this idea “assumes, if it does not assert, that the source of one’s being and power lies in oneself. [Egotism] denies that we are created beings owing reverence to immense forces beyond ourselves, which endow us with our limited faculties and powers, govern our fortunes, and shape our very lives without our permission.” (Santayana 1939, p. 151) This perspective casts serious doubts on the Nietzschian understanding of life and what sustains it. Modern advances in our understanding of evolutionary dynamics, particularly in regards to multilevel selection theory (MLST) further support Santayana’s argument. MLST holds that blurring the lines between the self and the other does confer an evolutionary advantage on groups that promote notions of compassion and altruistic behaviour over other groups that do not or to a lesser extent (Wilson, Vugt & O’Gorman 2008). In light of our contemporary understanding of evolutionary dynamics and evolutionary adaptively in particular, Nietzsche’s stance against reason as well as large parts of his mature philosophy that hinges on his understanding of life becomes untenable justifying a grounding of critique in reason.

Conclusion

Having worked out the grounding in the critiques of Kant and Nietzsche by highlighting the concerns and motivations underlying their critical projects it could be shown that both reason and life are necessary precondition for exercising critique. The idea of freedom as well is central to both thinkers. In Kant in the autonomous individual enabled by reason and in Nietzsche in the anarchic freedom of egotistic self-assertion and rejection of reason. By reevaluating the basic tenets of these two seminal modern thinkers and reformulating them on the basis of our modern understanding of life and what sustains it, a way of grounding critique was proposed that retains the valid portions of their philosophies yet showed the pessimistic conclusions that led many modern thinkers to take “up residence in the ‘Grand Hotel Abyss’” (Lukács 1974, p. 22) to be invalid and resting on mistaken assumption. Further analysis and exploration of these ideas will show the true potential of this approach.


Notes

[1] “What does not kill me makes me stronger” (Nietzsche, F. W. 2007, p. 5), “Man, as the animal that is most courageous, most accustomed to suffering, does not negate suffering as such: he wants it, even seeks it out, provided one shows him some meaning in it, some wherefore of suffering.” (Nietzsche, F. W. 2008b, §28)

[2] “To refrain mutually from injury, from violence, from exploitation, and put one’s will on a par with that of others: this may result in a certain rough sense in good conduct among individuals when the necessary conditions are given […]. As soon, however, as one wished to take this principle more generally, and if possible even as the FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLE OF SOCIETY, it would immediately disclose what it really is–namely, a Will to the DENIAL of life, a principle of dissolution and decay.” (his emphasis) (Nietzsche, F. W. 2008a, §259)

[3] For an explanation of the term in this context see (Palmquist 1996). In the German language something is referred to as ‘being Chinese’ when it is unintelligible.

[4] While commonly translated as ‘cadaverous perfume’ or ‘bitter odor of corpses’ the original ‘Leichenbitter’ was in fact a public office common in Germany until into the 19th century who’s duties included informing relatives about the death of a loved on, delivery of funeral invitation, as well as hosting and organizing the funeral reception, functions that funeral directors commonly exercise these days. Understood in this manner, the passage can be interpreted more directly as a snipe remark towards Schopenhauer’s life denying philosophy, painting him as preparing and presiding over humanity’s self annihilation.

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Introduction

Dr Rundell’s lecture “Waiting in/for Modernity” explored the descent of a contemporary understanding of modernity from pre-enlightenment notions of a circular concept of time, society and the individual in it, over enlightenment ideas of a constant and inevitable ascent embodied in the idea of progress, towards a contingent, multidimensional imaginary of modernity and its different, inevitably clashing modes. The focus of this essay will be to examine briefly pre-enlightenment circular societal self-understanding in time before tracing the developments starting with the enlightenment epitomized by Kant’s Copernican revolution in philosophy before examining in more detail how from Kant over Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Foucault our contemporary imaginary of a contingent, multifaceted modernity arose. Understanding the philosophical basis as well as genesis of our modern self-understanding rooted in critical theory particularly with examples of ethnographic evidence and/or experiences affecting shifts in imaginings is an important additional aspect of understating the theory not only as a purely theoretical exercises. I am going to illustrate what in particular led to the form of the shifts in imaginings and will be tracing a chain of influences from Kant to Foucault.

The eternal return

The early origins of pre-enlightenment societal circular self-understanding can be traced to the ontology of ancient civilizations (Eliade & Trask 1955, p. 3). Citing examples from Mesopotamian, native Australia, ancient Egypt, Sumer, zarvanitic Iran, Babylonia and others, Eliade argues that in these societies the value of human acts were linked with “their property of reproducing a primordial act” (Eliade & Trask 1955, p. 4) performed in the beginning, ‘in illo tempore’ by gods, ancestors and heroes, the repetition of which transforms chaos into cosmos (Eliade & Trask 1955, pp. 10,8) and thereby brings reality into being. Every action lacking such an exemplary model remained meaningless (Eliade & Trask 1955, p. 34) and even the cosmos thus created required periodic ritualized regeneration in line with bio-cosmic rhythms varying across cultures marking a renewed creation (Eliade & Trask 1955, pp. 52-3) literally without history (Eliade & Trask 1955, pp. 76,85). Among many examples of such rites, Eliade cites the spring festival Akitu of ancient Mesapotamia, the epic of creation in which Marduk remains victorious over the sea monster Tiamat and which creates every year anew the cosmos out of Tiamat’s torn body (Eliade & Trask 1955, pp. 55-6). The result is a cycle of creation, deterioration and renewal repeated regularly and ad infinitum. Eliade identifies the break of this cycle with the ‘Hebrew discovery of history’ in which the final victory over the forces of darkness are not repeated periodically e.g. every year, but are projected into a messianic ‘illud tempus’ in the future (Eliade & Trask 1955, p. 106), formulated in religious eschatologies. The idea of progress however would not start to emerge until the ascent of science and the onset of the enlightenment in the 17th century (Eliade & Trask 1955, pp. 145-6).

Autonomy from dogma

While the ascent of science provided the argument for constant and inevitable progress (Gay 1977b, pp. 124-5) it was the earthquake of Lisbon and the ensuing theodicy debate in its aftermath in particular that triggered a shift in the imaginary. On All Saints day in 1755 an earthquake followed by a Tsunami hit Lisbon and almost completely destroyed the city including 92 churches (Pereira 2006, p. 10). Whereas before the earthquake a belief in the justice of god as well as supernatural explanations founded on religious dogma were more widespread, this became increasingly difficult in the face of such senseless destruction (Gay 1977a, pp. 51-3) and shifted the focus away from religiously inspired metaphysical explanations towards natural explanations focusing on natural cause and effect relationships. Immanuel Kant was fascinated by the 1755 event (Guyer 2006, p. 18) and would find inspiration in it not only for his project to free humanity from its dogmatic slumber and giving it autonomy and freedom through the use of reason unclouded by metaphysical dogma (Kant 2009) but also for his understanding of the sublime as an overwhelming awe in the face of natural events such as earthquakes, the mind is inadequate to fully grasping, yet still capable of identifying them as singular events (Kant & Pluhar 1987, pp. 97-123). In his mature philosophy and after the publication of his critiques of pure and practical reason, Kant would argue that the application of reason over generations would overcome the limits of the self interested individual and lead to “a perfect civil union of mankind” which he saw as the aim of the plan of nature (Kant 1991, pp. 41-53). The idea of constant and inevitable progress was thereby firmly embedded in the centre of the enlightenment’s imaginary, a concept that was to be explored more systematically in the philosophy of Hegel.

Progress through the cunning of reason

The young Hegel was deeply impressed with the events of the French revolution and convinced that a German equivalent would grow out of Kant’s philosophy (Beiser 2005, p. 214). His enthusiasm went so far as to expect a liberation of his hometown of Wuertemberg by Napoleon’s revolutionary army who was seen as having ended lawlessness and disorder in post–revolutionary France (Abbott 2005, p. 124) and already setup modern constitutions in Milan, Rome and Switzerland (Beiser 2005, pp. 214-5). Hegel’s high hopes were disappointed however by the proceedings of the Congress of Rastatt, a peace conference between Germany and France, during which the French did not demonstrated an interest in exporting their revolution but rather acquiring power for themselves. The core lesson for Hegel was that appeals to morality was pointless in politics since politicians act to maximize their power and not to realize their ideals, something he recognized as a necessary pursuit of self-interest as means to survival (Beiser 2005, p. 215). It was this insight that would later form the core of his philosophy of history, a concept he came to call the ‘cunning of reason’, the imaginary that individual pursuit of self interest would still result in the realization of the end of reason (Beiser 2005, p. 267) namely the advance of freedom by which Hegel measured progress through history (Beiser 2005, p. 267). His contemporary Schopenhauer and his pessimistic philosophy of the will trumping reason as the source of human thought and actions would challenge Hegel’s idea of progress.

Life is suffering

Schopenhauer was deeply influenced by Kant (Young 2005, pp. 21-5) but constructed a very different imaginary based on his observations of nature. In Schopenhauer’s philosophy the concept of the will is of crucial importance which for him was a metaphysical imaginary representing the senseless self-perpetuation of life (Young 2005, pp. 74-7). In his philosophy the will was the characteristic of a world that had no regard for the suffering individual and cared only for the continued existence of the species (Young 2005, pp. 80-1). In order to illustrate his point he reproduces the report of an European explorer and his visit to Java in which sea turtles return to the beach to lay eggs only to be torn apart and eaten alive by wild dogs in an endless cycle of meaningless suffering (Schopenhauer & Payne 1966, p. 354). This pessimistic imaginary was diametrically opposed to that of a continuously ascending progress of Hegel whom Schopenhauer despised (Young 2005, pp. 103-5). To Schopenhauer the only escape from this cycle of suffering is to be found in the eastern philosophy of the Upanishads in the form of the active denial of the Will, not by suicide, but by the denial of the ego through ascetic and selfless actions in a conscious effort to increase ones own hardship (Young 2005, pp. 188-90), a sentiment not shared by Nietzsche who would accept Schopenhauer’s fundamental outlook but turned his conclusions on its head.

I am dynamite

In a letter to his friend Deussen, Nietzsche describes Schopenhauer as half god, the greatest philosopher in the last 1000 years (Ross 1999, p. 156) and saw his philosophy as the key that could return German culture to greatness (Nietzsche & Hollingdale 1997). In his mature philosophy Nietzsche would amend the concept of the will to what he dubbed the ‘will to power’, a notion of life and what sustains it founded in the idea of a constant struggle for power dominance. He not only saw the will to power as the very essence of life itself but as a basis from which he intended to reevaluate all values (Nietzsche 2008, III, 27). It is on this basis that he departs from Schopenhauer’s denial of the will through selflessness since he saw egoistic self assertion as the only way to avert life’s continued downward slide towards self-annihilation (Nietzsche 2008, prolog, 5-6). The Nietzsche biographer Ross pinpoints two key occasions in Nietzsche’s life that affected his mature understanding of the will to power. The first is the outcome of the 1865 Bonn ‘philologist’s war’ between Jahn and Ritschl that eventually escalated to involve the Bismark government. A student of both Jahn and Ritschl during his time in Bonn, Nietzsche on the one hand asserts Jahn being absolutely correct in his position, but was so impressed by Ritschl’s cunning intrigues that he ended up follow him to Leipzig (Ross 1999, pp. 110-3). Secondly Ross cites Nietzsche’s increasingly ambivalent relationship with the notorious Wagner, who according to Nietzsche, despite lacking musical genius made up for it with acting skills and a charisma (Ross 1999, p. 395) that enthralled even the powerful ‘fairytale king’ Ludwig II of Bavaria. The will to power and the contingent outcome of the resulting power struggles would form the foundation of Foucault’s philosophy.

Foucault, archeology, descent

The impact Nietzsche had on Foucault was immense (Foucault 1988, pp. 12-3) and let him to develop his ‘archeological’ and later ‘genealogical’ method (Foucault 1977) as opposed to traditional history, which he applied to produce his most iconic works (Gutting 2005, p. 29). Foucault rejected the teleological undertone of the term ‘history’ and argued in his works that climatic history and teleological progress has been artificially construed by scholars of the past to pander to the vanity of their contemporaries not interested in lowly origins and contingent narratives of descent. To Foucault the main focus of his method was on a close examination of power relationships as a means to his project of mapping history. He drew on a multitude of sources in his works and showed for example by contrasting eye witness accounts of the gruesome drawing and quartering of the 18th century regicide Damiens with the bureaucratic monotony of a 19th century prison timetable how the focus of the penal system has moved away from physical torment of the body to one of therapy and eventually the conscious construction and internalization of controls in individuals (Foucault 1995). It can be argued that the fact that Foucault’s imaginary rejects the very idea of truth as well as knowledge outside the web of contingent power structures (Gutting 2005, p. 102) constitutes the basis on which the often conflicting dimensions of Rundell’s multifaceted imaginary of modernity rests. Conflicting specifically because the truth claims of the different facets of the pluri-dimensional imaginary of modernity rest on different power structures resulting in inevitable clashes.

Conclusion

Having shown how the imaginings of the discussed theorists was formed by the ethnographic evidence at their disposal as well as by their personal experience, it could be demonstrated what, if not chiefly led them, then at least what motivated them to develop their particular theories. This laying bare of the roots of theory constitutes an importantly additional aspect of forming one’s own, if you will ‘meta imagining’ of theory. Important not only because it provides an additional angel of understanding and insight into the theorist’s state of mind and what may have shaped it, but also because it enables a deeper evaluation of the basis of theory that a purely a priori theoretical understanding divorced from evidence and context could not have provided. The chain of intellectual influence was traced from Kant to Foucault and it could be shown how and why the different imaginings where expanded and transformed to incorporate new evidence and different perspectives.

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In the early development of my ideas on explaining spiritual wisdom in naturalistic terms I took a route that attempted to explain oneness in terms of an a priori argument. Having had over two years to develop my ideas and the underlying argument I do not think that this particular approach is the most fruitful or even necessarily most convincing. After having reviewed these old disjunctive posts in another context I thought it to be a good opportunity to revise and join the argument into a single post for future reference. This is not to be taken as the non plus ultra in my current thought (that will follow shortly :-) ) it is merely a long overdue dusting up on an old approach to make it look a bit less convoluted and impenetrable. I may revise this argument at a later date but see much bigger promise in evaluating on the much more basic and easier accessible argument underlying multilevel selection theory. Anywho…. without further ado, an attempted formulaic deduction of the spiritual idea of non-duality after the jump:

Let us assume an ecology of i agents denoted as A(i). Each agent is to poses an explicit utility function Fe(i), a level of knowledge, cognitive complexity, experience, available resources, levels of rationality – in short capital C(i) as well as levels of trust between each agent T(ia->ib) from 0 (no trust) and 1 (perfectly trusting). All agents are set in an endless reiterative game in which to maximize explicit utility in line with the available capital.

Scenario 1: Two agents have fairly similar utility functions Fe(a) = Fe(b), level of capital C(a) = C(b), and a high level of mutual trust T(a->b) = T(b->a) = ~1. They will quickly agree on the way forward, pool their resources and execute their joint plan.

Scenario 2: Again we assume Fe(a) = Fe(b), however C(a) > C(b) – again T(a->b) = T(b->a) = 1. The more capable agent will devise a plan, the less capable agent will provide its resources and execute the trusted plan.

Scenario 3: Fe(a) = Fe(b), C(a) > C(b) but this time T(a->b) = 1 and T(b->a) = 0.5 meaning the less powerful agent assumes with a probability of 50% that A(a) is in fact a self serving optimizer who’s difference in plan will turn out to be detrimental to the utility of A(b) while A(a) is certain that it is all just one big misunderstanding. The optimal plan devised under scenario 2 will now face opposition by A(b) although it would in fact be in A(b)’s best interest to actually support it with its resources to maximize Fe(b) while A(a) will see A(b)’s objection as being detrimental to maximizing their shared utility function. Based on lack of trust and differences in capability each agent perceives the other agent’s plan as being irrational from their respective points of view.

Scenario 4: Fe(a) <> Fe(b) both agents are seeking to maximize largely mutually exclusive utility functions, resulting in a desire to minimize opposition by other agents.

Under scenarios 3 and 4, both agents have a variety of strategies at their disposal:

  1. deny pooling of part or all of ones resources
  2. use resources to sabotage the other agent’s plan
  3. deceive the other agent in order to skew how the other agent is deploying strategies 1 and 2
  4. spend resources to explain the plan to the other agent
  5. spend resources to understand the other agent’s plan better
  6. strike a compromise to ensure a higher level of pooled resources and minimize resistance in the other agent

Strategy 1 is a given under scenario 3 and 4. Number 2 is risky, particularly as it would cause a further reduction in trust on both sides if this strategy gets deployed assuming the other party would find out, similarly with strategy 3. Strategy 4 appears to be appropriate but may not always be feasible particularly with large differences in C(i) among the agents. Number 5 is a likely strategy with a fairly high level of trust but an utter waste of resources under scenario 4. Most likely however is strategy 6. Striking a compromise is trust building in repeated encounters and thus promises less objection and thus higher total payoff in the future while at the same time minimizing objection cost by agents with at east minimal overlap in Fe(i).

Let us further assume that there exists a utility function Fm the adoption of which maximizes an agent’s chances of staying in the existential game (Slobodkin & Rapoport 1974). The difference between an agent’s Fe(i) and Fm is denoted as FΔ(i) where 0 represents Fe(i) = Fm and 1 represents no overlap between Fe(i) and Fm.

Scenario 1: With a low FΔ(i) agents will turn their resources into utility in such a way that it is detrimental to their continued participation in the existential game and will either evolve their Fe(i) to more closely approximate Fm or consequently seize to exist.

Scenario 2: With a high FΔ(i) agents will turn their resources into utility in such a way that it contributes positively to their continued participation in the existential game and will on average outcompete those with a lower FΔ(i).

In summary, an agent will either have to evolve its Fe(i) to ever more closely approximate Fm or end up using its resources in a way that results in the agent’s removal from the existential game through natural selection. An agent will increase its chances of staying in the existential game not only by having a higher FΔ(i), but as shown in the first thought experiment by respecting all agents Fe(i) irrespective of their FΔ(i) as well by always striking the most rational compromise and thus minimizing opposition cost from and ensuring maximum future cooperation by all other agents. What is crucial to understand in this context is that microeconomic deliberations dictate, that a reduction in utility generated by loosing the resources spent on a rational compromise between a high FΔ(i) agent and a low FΔ(i) agent would have to be equivalent to the reduced utility suffered by the high FΔ(i) agent through opposition from the low FΔ(i) agent if no compromise would be struck at all. An agent realizing these dynamics would be compelled to be equally concerned for the self as for the other out of an interest for remaining in the existential game alone. It can be argued on this basis, that oneness (i.e. the radical identification of the self with the other) becomes the highest form of meaning i.e. the highest form of adaptive truth, when aiming for maximizing ones chances of staying in the existential game. The reason being that what one does to another, one quite literally does to oneself from the perspective of evolutionary dynamics.

It is important to note in this context that striking a compromise does not always mean to support an agent (e.g. a suicide bomber). For agents with an FΔ(i) below 0.5, meaning below the boundary where an agent barely contributes to staying in the existential game to becoming detrimental to remaining in the existential game, the compromise turns from support to opposition, defense or even offense. One notable factor is missing from the presented model of human interaction that very much pertains to the real world, namely that of human beings compensating for dying by having offspring. Since values, belief systems, religions and many other factors constituting the utility function in the presented model which we can sum up as culture are largely transmitted vertically from parents to children (Boyd & Richerson 1988, pp. 49-51) justifies the representation of decedents as a single agent. Therefore omitting the matter of reproduction from the above model does not invalidate the conclusions we can draw from it and their application to the human condition.

Bibliography

Boyd, R & Richerson, PJ 1988, Culture and the evolutionary process, University of Chicago Press.

Slobodkin, L & Rapoport, A 1974, ‘An optimal strategy of evolution’, Quarterly Review of Biology, vol. 49, pp. 181-200.

Understanding the function morality serves holds the promise of enabling us to enhance our moral capacities. For as Blackburn points out, once we understand the functions of morality, the shape our morals ought to take are dictated by the tools of instrumental rationality (Blackburn 1998, p. 39). Some argue in favor of such an approach and provide their own accounts on what the functions of morality might be (Warnock 1971, p. 26), (Mackie 1977, pp. 111-5). The question remains however, if we understand the functions of morality, what reason do we have to believe that we would fully understand the origin and nature of morality? Others dispute that a functionalist reduction is possible, on the grounds that morality is either non-purposive (Stocks & Phillips 1969), (Phillips 1992, pp. 167-75), cannot be explained in non-moral terms (McDowell 1998, pp. 151-66) or both. In exploring these matters I will begin by outlining the functionalist’s accounts as well as the raised concerns in regards to the incompleteness of our understanding of morality when thinking of it in functionalist terms, before continuing to provide the non-functionalist’s responses. In conclusion I will critically evaluate the discussed perspectives.

Blackburn makes his point by contrasting the deontological perspective with his own consequentialist views (Blackburn 1998, pp. 38-9). The deontological stance that the good lies in the adherence to a set of principles without regard for the outcome of actions resulting from these principles is described by Blackburn as being absurd to a consequentialist to whom the good of an action lies in the “good they do, or the evils they avert” (Blackburn 1998, p. 38). The strength of the consequentialist position according to Blackburn, lies in understanding the social function of ethics, which in order to have evolved at all, must have served an evolutionary purpose that is described by him roughly as emergent conventions of intersubjectivity fostering social flourishing.

Warnock provides a similar account in his evaluation and specifically pinpoints the counteracting forces morality exerts against the badness resulting from our limited sympathies for one another inherent in human nature (Warnock 1971, p. 26). In Warnock’s view this “may enable us to understand the basis for moral evaluation” (his emphasis) and not unlike in Blackburn’s opinion aid in furthering our moral perfection.

While Mackie criticizes Warnock on the two points of unjustly dismissing rigid rules and understressing the importance obligations play when thinking about morality, he generally agrees with Warnock’s assessment of morality being ‘a device with a point’. Mackie sides with Protagoras in his analysis asserting that sentiments and dispositions and the respect for various obligations as well as the more formal rules aliened with politico-legal devices for law enforcement and the making of positive law are essential and complementary parts of the device of morality (Mackie 1977, pp. 111-5). It is on this basis that Mackie sees himself enabled to suggest a practical morality (Mackie 1977, pp. 169-99) capable of bridging the gap between the twin challenge of inherent subjectivity of values on the one hand, what they illusorily presents to us as being on the other (Mackie 1977, pp. 15-48) and our inherent desire to wanting to do what is right.

But why accept that an answer to the functional question reaches to the bottom of the nature and origin of morality? To look at a kidney or an eye and deduce the purpose that it serves in the body as well as its evolutionary origin might lead us to a satisfactory answer. The same cannot be said so readily however about mathematics, chemistry or physics. Examining the various purposes of these disciplines for example in the context of economics, manufacturing and space exploration, may shed some light on what they are as well as their origin. It would be a very bold claim however to assert that the functions these disciplines serve would alone provide an exhaustive account of their origins and nature (Cordner 2010).

The idea that morality is purposive in the first place is disputed by a number of thinkers. McDowell for example contests the functionalist view of morality with his theory of secondary property realism (McDowell 1985). McDowell does so by borrowing from Locke’s concepts of primary and secondary i.e. observer independent and observer dependent properties and applies them to morality. In doing so he argues that moral facts exist objectively, however are irreducible in terms of primary properties and thus can not be explained except in moral terms (McDowell 1998, pp. 151-66). As a consequence of not being able to ground or justify morality in terms of first nature reality all accounts of morality that ask and answer the question ‘what is morality for?’ become inadmissible. This includes all reductive naturalist theories of morality, including the accounts of Mackie, Warnock and Blackburn outlined above as well as utilitarianism and explanations of morality drawing from evolutionary theory.

Phillips provides us with another non-functionalist perspective on morality. Referencing heavily the work of J.L. Stocks (Stocks & Phillips 1969), Phillips points out empirical evidence in support of a non-functionalist account of morality. He does so by highlighting several examples that thinking in term of purposeful action when it comes to morality, art or religion is simply in error (Phillips 1992, pp. 167-75). Actions in pursuit of a purpose such as betraying a friend in order to advance an otherwise legal plan to make a lot of money or even denying a close friend the last bit of human warmth and decency in an effort to seek one’s own moral betterment, represent barriers that one sees oneself simply incapable of passing. “’There is a decency required’, as Browning said; and this demand of decency is prepared to sacrifice, in the given case, any purpose whatsoever” Phillips is quoting Stocks (Phillips 1992, p. 168) in this context. Echoing Stocks, Phillips agrees that good acts are done and wrong acts refrained from for their own sake, overriding all other contingent purposes. Stock stresses in addition that these conflicting desires can not even be coherently arranged into a pyramid of desires representative of an actors ‘true’ interests (Phillips 1992, p. 171).

From the accounts presented so far, Phillips’ and Stocks’ perspective appears to be the most problematic for they ignore the possibility of a purposive morality that aims beyond each individual’s immediate concern. All the examples cited by Phillips can be explained in terms of being purposive as soon as the scope of purpose is expanded to include not only the acting individual alone but ‘the other’ as well. Examining morality from the vantage point of allowing for inter-subjective purpose, Phillips’ and Stocks’ argument breaks down. Considering that the concept of morality becomes almost meaningless without application in interaction with other individuals, disallowing an inter-subjective purpose of morality is a serious flaw in any account of the phenomenon of morality. The same cannot be said about the three functionalist perspectives presented above, for all of them explicitly include social aspects in their accounts.

McDowell’s account is facing a different set of challenges by categorically disallowing purposive accounts of morality, including those referring to morality as being adaptive in the evolutionary sense. Insights gained from evolutionary theory however point towards extraordinarily strong evidence in favor of at least certain features commonly associated with morality being evolutionary advantageous. On the biological level of the gene this evidence presents itself in the form of the Hamilton-Price equations (Price 1970) especially in regards to their application to the evolution of reciprocal altruism, as well as on the cultural level in the form of multilevel selection theory (Wilson 1994), (Wilson, Vugt & O’Gorman 2008). Particularly as it refers to explaining compassion as a common feature among the most widespread world religions as well as a reified experience of universal ‘oneness’ as expressed for example most explicitly in the non-dual philosophy of Advaita Vedanta and explained by Rappaport as the highest form of meaning (Rappaport 1999, pp. 71, 380-1, 91-95) or as Iris Murdoch puts it more poetically “’Good is a transcendent reality’ means that virtue is the attempt to pierce the veil of selfish consciousness and join the world as it really is.” (Murdoch 1970, p. 91) i.e. governed by non-obvious evolutionary dynamics that make the ‘realization of the illusion of separateness’ evolutionary advantageous.

Blackburn avoids these problematic challenges faced by McDowell’s account altogether by explicitly citing evolutionary purposivity as the origin of moral sentiments (Blackburn 1998, pp. 38-9). Mackie on the other hand goes a step further by challenging (Mackie 1978) Dawkins rejection of multilevel selection theory (Dawkins 1976) and its application to our understanding of morality. And although Mackie does not cite multilevel selection in his own work on morality published just a year earlier (Mackie 1977), it can be argued, that it would have greatly benefited from incorporating the concept. We can only speculate how Mackie’s death just three years after having published The Law of the Jungle might have prevented him from further expounding on the issue of morality in terms of multilevel selection.

The core question and purpose of the essay being an attempt at answering the question whether or not we can understand morality by understanding its purpose seems to rest on the question if the phenomenon of morality resembles more the discipline of mathematics or say an organ of the body such as the kidney. The former might be partly but hardly fully understood in regards to its nature and origin judging from its functions alone, the latter however can be accounted for in evolutionary terms. And while the idea of morality as doing the ‘right thing’ for its own sake and totally detached from any other purpose whatsoever has its emotional appeal, the answer that is closer to the truth appears to be found in understanding morality as a selfless intuition approximating alignment of human action with evolutionary dynamics maximizing humanity’s chances of staying in the ‘existential game’ (Slobodkin & Rapoport 1974). Therefore we can understand morality by understanding its function.

Bibliography

Blackburn, S 1998, Ruling passions : a theory of practical reasoning, Clarendon Press, Oxford.

Cordner, C 2010, Lecture 11, PHIL30047 – Objectivity and Value, University of Melbourne, Melbourne.

Dawkins, R 1976, ‘Family planning’, in The selfish gene, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. xii,224p.

Mackie, JL 1977, Ethics : inventing right and wrong, Penguin, Harmondsworth.

—— 1978, ‘The Law of the Jungle’, Philosophy, vol. 53, no. 206, pp. 455-64.

McDowell, JH 1985, ‘Values and Secondary Qualities’, in T Honderich (ed.), Morality and objectivity : a tribute to J.L. Mackie, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, pp. 110-29.

—— 1998, Mind, value, and reality, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass. ; London.

Murdoch, I 1970, The Sovereignty of Good, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, New York.

Phillips, DZ 1992, Interventions in ethics, Macmillan.

Price, GR 1970, ‘Selection and covariance’, Nature, vol. 227, pp. 520-1.

Rappaport, RA 1999, Ritual and religion in the making of humanity, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Slobodkin, L & Rapoport, A 1974, ‘An optimal strategy of evolution’, Quarterly Review of Biology, vol. 49, pp. 181-200.

Stocks, JL & Phillips, DZ 1969, Morality and purpose; edited with an introduction by D. Z. Phillips, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Warnock, GJ 1971, The object of morality, London: Methuen & Co.

Wilson, DS 1994, ‘Reintroducing group selection to the human behavioral sciences’, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, vol. 17, no. 4, pp. 585–654.

Wilson, DS, Vugt, MV & O’Gorman, R 2008, ‘Multilevel Selection Theory and Major Evolutionary Transitions: Implications for Psychological Science’, Current Directions in Psychological Science, vol. 17, no. 1, pp. 6-9.

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