October 19, 2012

On Good and Bad - 1

1. On Good and Bad - 1
PS. My eye problems


This is about good and bad, from my chapter 11 of "On 'The Logic of Moral Discourse'", and originally, in Dutch, from a note of mine to Multatuli's Idee 423.

It is called "On good and bad - 1" in the title, because I had this anyway, and it is well to reproduce it before "On good and bad - 2" that will be somewhat more abstract, alhough I also will clearly say what I think good and bad are.

And yes, I do think that these are fairly objective things:

One can indulge in wishful thinking as much as one pleases, but one is born a human being, with a human constitution, in a human society, and about each and all of these, and their value and purpose, something can be said with far more support, historical evidence and well-foundedness than most relativists want to hear or acknowledge.

To state my line of thought (and see On a fundamtental problem in ethics and morals):

The ends or purposes of human society - what makes them survive, if they do, as biological entities, and also why human beings would and do want to engage in them - is to make human life more bearable, less difficult, more pleasant, more rewarding, than it is if one lives by oneself or only with one's family.

The means by which a human society works are mostly cooperation, human groups, enlightened self-interest and self-control on the part of the members, at least one ideology or religion to provide common ideas, values and ends, and a moral code acording to which one must behave to escape punishment and
the exercise of power on the part of the leaders.

None of the above is a statement of value: it is about as objective as a similar statement about a bee hive: That it exists to help bees survive, and gets maintained because of innate programming, and not only helps bees, but also plants and animals.

The difference between a bee-hive and a human society - and see Mandeville's Fable of the Bees - is that a human society is a much more intricate, conscious creation, the ends and contents of which are too a much larger extent dependent on human design, imagination and individual human choice than is a hive of bees for bees.

And I also think that
human beings to some extent have a free will, that allows them to make choices about what they do and do not do, because this capacity allows them better to survive in independently changing environments, with many natural enemies, parasites and dangers. Bees and other animals, like the human animal, have the capacity for choice as well, except that they have far fewer adequate representation of their environment to exercise it on.

So here are some more specific ideas about a more precise rationally defensible meaning of 'good and bad'. This is a better version than previous ones, with more links that explain the meanings of the terms I use, and there also is an Endnote.
1. On Good and Bad - 1

10. What are good and bad in clear English and not too many words?

What follows is a simple explanation of good and bad in everyday terms, in which I attempt to keep things simple, namely in terms easily understood pleasure and pain and the social cooperation to cause these, while also I attempt to list most relevant assumptions. It has been translated from a Dutch note I made to idea 423 of Multatuli and has been slightly rewritten.

What we are concerned with - in simple terms - are human happiness and suffering, human pleasure and pain, human well-being and misery, and how these may be caused by human acting and non-acting, all in human society. (See my Norms and Society and W. Tatarkiewicz's "Analysis of Happiness").

10.1. Good:

Premiss: The good is mostly concerned with cooperation: The general end of living together in society is to enable human beings to cooperate to further the end of increasing each others happiness and decreasing each others suffering.

Reason for this premiss: Human beings are social animals and have the increasing of their own  happiness and decreasing their own suffering as a personal end. They are capable of increasing happiness and suffering of others by deliberate action based on relevant knowledge or assumed facts.

Briefly, human beings are social social animals that try to cause happiness and prevent misery for their friends.

The end of cooperation is to increase each other's happiness.

There is a personal good and a moral good. My personal good is what I wish for my self. My moral good is what I desire other people to be and have and the kind of society that enables people to be and have what I desire them to be and have.

Here is a list of what is - named - good:

- To try to realize shared ends by peaceful cooperation
- To find knowledge by rational means and considerations
- To give others what they reasonably deserve
- To share fairly
- To speak honestly
- To base plans on rational knowledge
- To act on the basis of free and kept agreements and promises
- To solve conflicts by mediation of some objective others

All of these modes of acting are good because they are forms or coditions that enable human beings to cooperate towards the end of increasing each others' happiness and decreasing each others' misery.

The bad is what goes against the good.

10.2. Bad:

The bad is mostly concerned with opposition and the effort to decrease another's happiness or increase another's misery.

Reason for this premiss: Human beings are social animals and have the increasing of their own  happiness and decreasing their own suffering as a personal end. They are capable of increasing happiness and suffering of others by deliberate action based on relevant knowledge or assumed facts.

Briefly, human beings are social social animals that try to cause misery and prevent happiness for their enemies.

The end of opposition is to increase another's unhappiness.

There is a personal bad and a moral bad. My personal bad is what I wish will not happen to me. My moral bad is the misery and suffering I cause others. Thus, what is morally bad requires knowledge of others and of human society.

Here is a list of what is - named - bad:

    - To try to prevent the realization of ends of others by non-peaceful opposition
    - To find superstitions by irrational means or considerations
    - To withhold from others what they reasonably deserve
    - To share unfairly
    - To speak dishonestly
    - To base plans on false ideas   
    - To break made agreements and promises
    - To refuse to solve conflicts by mediation of some objective others

All of these modes of acting are bad because they are forms or conditions that enable human beings to harm, hurt or hinder others in realizing their ends or of increasing anothers' misery.

It is worth the effort and serves intellectual clarity to indicate some of the factual assumptions involved in the above description of good and bad.

10.3. Factual assumptions

In the above explanation of good and bad several factual assumptions are involved.

Factual assumption: Human beings may deliberately choose to do good or bad. Reasons to do bad - to oppose, harm, hurt, deceive etc. - are the enjoyment of another's misery (Schadenfreude), antipathy, being a stranger, being of another race, acting in one's own interest - are in general terms: The bad I do to another is some supposed good of myself. And such a good may be based on illusions.

Factual assumption: Human beings know what pains and pleases human beings, in very many -circumstances and usually. Reason: Members of the same species can quite well understand or guess the feelings, needs and motives of others of the species, simply by analogy to themselves.

Factual assumption: It is true of most social groups that the members of the group try to support the group and themselves by doing good to each other in the group and by doing bad to non-members of the group. The bad that the members of a group do socially against the members of other groups usually is considered a great good inside the group.

Factual assumption: For most human beings the good is or consists in conformism to the norms of the group of which one is a member. (English: "If in Rome do as the Romans do". Dutch: "Doe maar gewoon dan doe je al gek genoeg." Norwegian: "Du skal ikke tenke at du er noen".)

Factual assumption: The only systematic way to act succesfully is based on rationally and empirically founded guesses. People have true knowledge, but most of it is limited to their own direct environments and experiences, and otherwise consists of logical, linguistic or mathemathical truths. Science and rational philosophy consist mostly of more or less well-supported guesses, though there is a quite reliable criterion to distinguish sense and nonsense: Real knowledge of one's natural environment can be transformed into effective technology - and all belief that does not lead to technology that works independently from belief in or knowledge of the technology is almost certainly illusion.

For fair sharing there is a fundamental criterion or example:

Usually, the division of k similar things over k persons is typically fair, especially if - and to the extent that - the persons and the things are similar. (Even very small children seem to find this quite comprehensible and acceptable, as one may find out when dividing chocklats between toddlers.)

10.3. Good and bad in practice

It is not difficult to agree in general terms what good and bad are in practical terms, to a considerable extent (as long as one abstracts from self-interest and group-interest):

Good in practice:

- To try to realized shared ends by peaceful cooperation
- To find knowledge by rational means and considerations
- To give others what they reasonably deserve
- To share fairly
- To speak honestly
- To base plans on rational knowledge
- To act on the basis of free and kept agreements and promises
- To solve conflicts by mediation of some objective others

Bad in practice:

- to lie, to deceive, to mislead
- to fight
- to oppose
- not to coooperate peacefully and by rational agreement and discussion

- irrationality
- ignorance
- false beliefs

- impracticable values
- impracticable plans

Of these forms of doing bad the first group is mostly done consciously, and the rest often at least in pary unconsciously, though it also is a fact that much irrationality and ignorance is maintained actively, namely by refusing to consider evidence or to find relevant knowledge.

Average people tend to believe they "know" that the ideology of their own group is true and that the leaders of their own group are noble, honorable men and women who want the good and try to realize it, and believe they "know" that the ideologies of other groups are not true and that the leaders of other groups are liars and frauds, and avearge people act on the basis of those beliefs, with loyal patriotism, brave chauvinism, and great pride.

Such a false faith in the own pretended excellence is an article of faith of almost every human social group, for these are kept together and coordinated and motivated by such faith, and are based on the human hormones and genes that make humans into social animals. It seems to involve the same sort of sentiment and genetically based hormonally founded process that keeps hordes of hyenas together, and that makes the members of the own hord exemplary good and the members of other hordes exemplary bad, all merely on the basis of groupmembership and mutual similarity.

Practical problem: A large majority of human beings is mostly irrational and unreasonable, and more inclined to do bad than to do good, except where it concerns the members of their own group, and even then it is normally true that

"the good that one does do
is that bad that one does not do"

(Wilhelm Busch), and also that the good that is done is often done out of fear for sanctions if one does something bad, and not because one desires to do to the good or desires not to do the bad.

Main reason: The great majority of human beings is not very intelligent; does only feel their own interests that mostly coincide with what they feel is in the interest of their group; and knows that doing what is bad often is easier, more pleasorable or more profitable than doing what is good, especially if the doing of what is bad is a social event and concerns the members of another group in which case it often is regarded as the highest good a human being can do, and is socially rewarded and admired (as patriottic, loyal, social).

In the end, the only solution, if it can be achieved before the human average under corrupt or stupid leadership murders humanity due to group loyalities and fanaticism, is this:

To learn how the human brain works and improve it intellectually by some kind of eugenetics, available to all. Take note that I do not say: improve morally, because it is much easier to agree objectively about what is and causes human intelligence and how it can be stimulared and increased. For more, see my sketch of Mencius on good and bad. (Even so, the causes of self-control are also interesting. Even those who can be rational and reasonable and are willing to try to be so need the self-control to practice this also when this is difficult - as it often is.)

Assumption: Intelligent people are sooner, easier and more prepared to cooperate, if only because of a clear understanding that this serves their own interests.

In general terms (and see my Dutch essay Multatuli en de Filosofie):

The bad in the world is unnecessary suffering, and is caused mostly by human incapacities - to think rationally and to act reasonably and honestly. It is not complicated, in th end: Everybody knows to a very large extent what pleases and pains his fellow human beings, and everybody knows what a human being needs to lead a tolerable life.
Everybody knows that false ideas, however well intended, if made the basis of action, will mostly lead to misery, if not for the actor then for his fellow human beings. Therefore everybody should, if only because of a clear understanding serves their own interests, try to the best of his ability to understand things in a rational way and to do what is good - where doing what is good means at aleast: To consciously try to prevent unnecessary suffering and to help those who help those who do suffer.

10.4. Fundamental problems about good and bad:

It would seem to me that what I just sketched in general and simple terms is clear enough to be understood, and should find wide agreement.

Now, supposing that the basis of what is good and bad are so easy to explain in simple terms:

What withholds so very many human beings from doing what is good, and why do "the world", "society" and people so often act so badly against other people? Why is such a great part of human history a history of horror, cruelty, persecution, enslavement, murder, deception and exploitation?

There are three general reasons

A. The radical difference between self and other
B. The radical difference between members of one's group and others
C. Personal and human incapacity and weaknesses such as wishful thinking, ignorance, lack of self-control and prejudices from religions or ideologies

A. The radical difference between self and other

Every human being only feels his or her own feelings and own body; every human being in the end only knows his or her own beliefs and desires really and undeniably (and even that only in part); and every human being must guess about everything else. Every human being in the end lives in his or her own personal world based on his or her own brain; feels only his or her own body; and has no direct access to most of the reality which he or she is part of, like all other human beings.

And indeed it really is difficult to find true or probably true knowledge about oneself, others and reality, while real knowledge about human beings and human societies are made more difficult to obtain because people lie a lot about human beings and human society, and what they believe and know themselves about these, and do so because of self-interest, fear, ignorance, ideological motivations, or wishful thinking. 

B. The radical difference between members of one's group and others

It is an empirical fact that human beings tend to regard and describe groups of humans as if these are animated organisms like themselves, even if they know this must be mostly or wholly nonsense; it is an empirical fact that human beings understand themselves in in terms of social (political, religious) groups of which they are member (by accident or choice); and it is an empirical fact that the vast majority of human beings are loyal followers of leaders and ideologies whose ideas of good and bad tend to coincide with conformism to the supposed interests of the group of which they are a member.

And this makes for a fundamental problem:

For the vast majority of human beings it is good (and: desirable, laudable, exemplary, patriottic, religious) to do bad to non-members of one's group, especially if this serves the interests one's group or one's leaders.

Good and bad change their sign when membership of the group changes: What is good for the members of one's own group often is doing bad to the members of other groups, because this serves the interests of the group or the leaders, or conforms to the illusions the members of the group share about themselves and others. And note the following basic important point for the understanding of good and bad i.e. the conscious causing of pleasure or pain to others: Apart from the change of sign, the meanings of good and bad remain just the same. What Our Boys do to Your Boys is good, but if Your Boys do the very same to Our Boys it is bad, and conversely.

This is true of political and religious creeds (persecutoion, repression, delusion, propaganda); business and barter (deceptionn); race and gender (discrimination); sport and games (hooliganism); and xenophobia and feelings about foreigners: The moral judgments of the large majority of people tends to be relative to the group, and is derived by way of self-interest or conformism from the ideology of the group. The great majority of humans chooses to do good to the members of their own group, and that good often consists in doing bad to the members of other groups.

The great majority of human beings act and think as if they are totalitarian ideological apes, whose behavior and beliefs can be predicted with probabilities close to certainty from their membership in groups, for their behavior and beliefs are mostly based on conformism, and feelings of solidarity and loyalty: Their good tends to be what the conformists and leaders of their group claim to be good, and often is the doing to members of other groups what would be considered bad if done to members of their own group. Incidentally: Possibly the least harmful example is the ordinary daily common deception that is the basis of business - as e.g. Mandeville's, Fable of the Bees explains very well, if perhaps a bit cynically, and therefore also rather adequately and realistically.

Hence, the Dutch philosopher and writer Multatuli was quite right when he asserted that the basic problem of humanity is that of lying - though he was not clear about how much lying, posing, posturing, pretending, acting as if, hypocrisy, and conforming is involved in the ordinary playing of roles that are the basis of being social in a human way. And indeed, here lies the fundamental difference between the minority that tries to be humane to all or most human beings, and the great majority that tries to do be so only to the fellow-members of their own groups, from lack of intelligence, lack of character, or lack of courage: The vast majority of human beings will give up their personal responsibility and personal accountability if these contradict the social roles they are playing, which give them social benefits, money, power or status. 

The general principle here has been quite adequately put into German words as "Unsere Ehre heisst Treue!" i.e. "Our honor is loyalty!", which happens to be motto of the German S.S. On the basis of this "human-all-too-human" moral principle millions of people have been murdered, locked up and persecuted, and this moral principle, which in fact consists in the conscious surrendering of any individually maintained moral norm is the fundament of much of the ordinary social acting of ordinary human beings - as is well illustrated by e.g. the many horrors of the 20th Century. (Note 7)

C: Personal and human incapacity and weakness

Moreover: Whoever is able to withstand the ordinary social illusions, delusions, deceptions, propaganda, madness and fanaticism of political parties and religion and also does not succumb to cowardly conformism, remains restricted by his own intellectual limitations, lack of personal courage, lack of individualism and lack of character - all of which are true to some extent for everyone, since noone is perfect.

Apart from rare moral heroes, for the great majority Ovidius statement holds: "video meliora proboque; deteriora sequor": "I see the better and agree it is better; I do the worse" - because this is more convenient, more pleasant, easier, more pleasurable, more profitable or more conforming to current social prejudice.

The small minority of humane individuals who do not automatically and loyally conform to the norms and behavior that is common in their communities - that usually accords with "right or wrong - my country!" - often is considered mad or bad, or else very stupid or very intelligent, and in the last case also uncommonly courageous and quixotic.

In general terms, the following diagnosis of humanity from 1618 is true:

Ach, waren alle mensen wijs             O, if only all men were wise
En deden daarbij wel                           And also acted well
Dan was de aarde een paradijs         Then the earth would be a paradise
Nu is zij vaak een hel                            Now if often is a hell
-- Dirck Jansz Coster, 1618

Sections Chapter 11 On The Logic of Moral Discourse

Endnote of October 2012:

It would seem to me that the above is a rather fundamental explanation, especially in conjunction with the many clarifying links, mostly to my Philosophical Dictonary.

Note that it is mostly empirical and factual, while insisting on their being room for human choice, freedom and design, and without dogmatically insisting on a specific set of human values or ends, beyond such as enable human groups to exist and keep existing and human ends to be served.

I will try to add more links, and I know that my Dictionary badly needs reformatting at various places, and indeed have found a way this may be feasible, with such eyes as I have - and what needs reformatting is especially the size of the fonts, which have run wild at some places because of mistaken settings I used, during the second half of 2011.

And I will make a series of this topic, On Good and Bad - since there is a need for it, and I have not seen my kind of position stated as well by others. It also is sorely needed, because currently in the West the majority of the population has been raised in the hypocritical postmodernistic delusions that everything is relative, there is no truth, and all morals are as equal as all truth: relative to group interests, subject to groupthinking, and in factual tendency totalitarian and as intellectual position stupidly or dishonestly relativistic (for the practical and logical position of the relativists is that since all morals are relative his morals are best: relativism is the first refuge of the scoundrel).

I think that is all dangerous
delusion, that is  very well fit to prepare for a far more repressive totalitarian state than has been the case in the West since 1945 - until 2001, for then the rot, relativism, repression and giving up of basic human rights and  freedoms, such as habeas corpus, and the right not to be spied upon by the state's secret police.

For the moment I will not make more links because of what is said in the next and final section.


Maarten Maartensz

P.S. My eye problems

                  PS: Any necessary corrections have to be made later.