An Attempt to Control ‘Psychopaths’: One Possible Origin of Religion and Why that Attempt Did Not Work Part 6

I was not happy with this post, feeling that I did not explain all that I could nor did I cover some points I should have.  All additions and corrections are in red.

In this post, I want to cover values, virtues and vices, intentions and outcomes with a less brief look than earlier at virtue ethics and divine command ethics and a summary of my notions on ethics.  With this, the very short excursion into ethics will end.

Ethics is a vast area, and we have barely crossed its borders, but a least some knowledge of it is required when tackling issues of social and political philosophy.

We defined values earlier on and, for the purposes of these posts, virtues can be defined as good values and vices as bad values, leaving aside for the time being any definition of good and bad.  It may be that there is no absolute good nor absolute bad.  I think that we, as rational creatures, are working towards definitions of good and bad, but that we may never reach such definitions.  We have definitions of relative goodness and relative badness.  An issue to highlight is that what may seem to me to be obviously good is bad to someone else.  As an example, according to most Abrahamic religious traditions, it is quite clearly a  bad thing not to believe in the Abrahamic God (or rather a version from Judaism, from Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox Christianity, or from Islam) and that any and all non-believers will be eternally punished for non-belief.  This conviction (that is a value) has often led to a further conviction (an additional value) that is it good to save people from that punishment by forcing such a belief (in God) onto other people, and this has led to some of the most disgusting crimes perpetrated on humanity, such as genocide.

Can a belief be forced on a person?  Is it ethically right to do so?  These two questions will be dealt with in the next post.

We have had a brief look at Virtue Ethics before, but need to have a more in-depth look.  From the above, virtue ethics is about acquiring or (already) possessing good values and their use and the way of living derived from them.  Virtues are seen as your character and will be the way you behave.  There is no Vice ethics (that I have heard of) as living a way of life based on bad values is thought to be highly implausible if not impossible by advocates of virtue ethics.  In the Western world, virtue ethics is on a revival and has been since the middle of last century.  It is, however, an ancient form and is embedded in many cultures all over the world.  The Western world’s main types are based on Aristotle, sometimes Plato or on modern thinkers who reject what the ancients claimed as virtuous, but accept the idea of ethical behaviour springing from the possession of modern virtues.  ‘Virtue Ethics’, edited by Roger Crisp and Michael Slote is both a good introduction and an in-depth critique of virtue ethics.  It will give an excellent introduction to modern western virtue ethics as well as some c50challenging works.

Also, it is possible that what is a vice to one person is a virtue to another, and the possession of a vice may not be recognised as such.  An amusing illustration can be seen where comedians David Mitchell and Robert Webb performed a sketch as SS officers, and Mitchell’s character has noticed that his cap badge is a sh=kull, prompting him to ask of Webb, “are we the baddies” (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hn1VxaMEjRU)?

The preceding does highlight the relativity of values.  And this relativity of values underpins the notions of moral and cultural relativity.  Moral and cultural relativity are two major problems as any and all moral codes and cultures are counted as equals.  In practical terms, people who are part of one culture (whether they want to be or not) will be treated as how a member of that culture is supposed to be treated, for example, if a woman transgresses the moral code of certain cultures, her life is forfeit.

 Also, there is the possibility, it may seem, that virtues can be used in the service o0f bad causes.  I courage is a virtue (and I have yet to see anyone argue it is not), can it be denied that Spartan Hoplites had courage, yet served one of the most ruthless, nastiest regimes ever.  Virtue ethicists do have arguments covering these sorts of issues and often speak of incontinence, while others will deny that the Spartan Hoplites truly had courage.  I consider this a weakness in virtue ethics.

It is possible that there is only one set of universal values, but this poses the issue of what they are.  Various virtue ethics systems have tried to come up with a complete set without there being (a complete) agreement between them, suggesting, perhaps, there is no such set.  Also, it should be emphasised that could the possession of what appears to be a virtue not be a hindrance to action in certain circumstances.  Take two values that can be considered contradictory but each of which would have its supporters as virtues; obedience to (true) authority and independence of mind.  Both have drawbacks.  The first requires a judgement of what or who is the authority to obey, and the second can prevent action that is beneficial to the community.  If, say, you were very independent-minded and you came across a coach crash, and there were casualties, and already one person had placed him/herself in charge, would you really disobey the person’s order to call for an ambulance?  Is it more virtuous to obey or be independent-minded?

To me, I would think this would require judgement (or perhaps merely guesswork) and is a whole big new issue to be dealt with in the next post.

To have a complete list of virtues raises many questions, and one of these is how many virtues are there?  To which the reply might (flippantly) be, how long is a piece of string?  Could there be dozens, hundreds, thousands even?  Virtue ethicists have considered this, of course, and often see this as a weakness in their systems and have tried to limit the number (possibly ending up with a dogmatically held list, or with missing virtues) or have considered there to be fundamental and derived virtues, that is, some are primary virtues with others being secondary or tertiary (or nth derivative), derived from the primary.

As rational beings are complex, I can see no issue with an open-ended list of virtues.

I do have a concern with the use of single words or short phrases (call them simple descriptions) being used to describe complex concepts.  Often we think we know what the simple description means, but the actual concept may be subtly or even very unlike the actual concept intended.

 As an example, well-being is often the simple description used by virtue ethicists, but this is actually quite complex and to appreciate this, please see https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/well-being/ for a discussion of well-being in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

A difficulty I have with virtue ethics, in general, is that virtues are internal, that is, in the character (part of the mind) of the holder and, as such, cannot be seen.  What can be seen are the actions of a person and from these actions we can (supposedly) infer what virtues are held.  I have another difficulty here in that the possession of different values could produce the same actions.  The intentions, that is what are our motives for actions, cannot be seen by others (we are the only witness) and can only be inferred from our actions.

Some people see the provision of morals as the purpose of religion; they want a set of values that are imposed on at least the group s/he belongs to and often on the whole of humanity.  This is, rather simply, divine command theory and is as ancient a type of ethics as virtue ethics.  To disobey divine commands is either implicitly or explicitly to defy the will of the divine commander (usually with horrendous punishments for doing so).  I will suggest this is an attempt to keep psychopaths in line as in the case of simple religion in Part one with the same consequences as before, only worse as a complex religion will generally have more significant numbers of people following it.  For the non-psychopath, values stop being lived that is active values cease to be treasured and defended and explained and reflected upon and rejected and transferrable and become dogmas to be followed blindly and without reflection (in this I follow the lead of JS Mill in his discussion of holding live opinions in ‘On Liberty’).  To the psychopath, the supposed target of these, they instead become weapons to be used.  Further, as these are divine commands, they can be interpreted by the clergy for their own ends and this could include bad deeds, such as having people killed for possession of the ‘wrong’ values.

I hope I have briefly demonstrated the danger of such an approach and will expand on it further in subsequent posts.

To conclude this post, I will just give some of my notions about ethics.  This is nothing as grand as a system but merely notes.  None of it is original; all of it is borrowed even if I no longer remember from whom.  I think I need to set it out.

Firstly, we are born with instincts and dispositions, and, if we are not psychopaths, with empathy.  The instincts will include such things as are needed for self-survival.  They will include instincts which give us our self-worth, without which, and in combination with our empathy, we would not value others.

Empathy is an instinctive value.  It may need practice to use it, but it is instinctive.

Altruism is one of our added values (but we are disposed to have it), but can only arise if we have empathy, and is needed for the kind of social animal that we, as primates, are, and it further allows us to build constructive relations with other groups in simple societies and to build complex ones.  It does also mean that such societies can be exploited by psychopaths by them mimicking what is required by members of these societies.  Empathy and altruism cancel out selfish values (even instinctive values) and take us beyond them.

We add values, using empathy and reason (and other instincts and disposed values) through passive learning, active education (by one’s own efforts and by those of your family, friends, society and religious groups among other individuals and institutions) and by reflection on values already held or proposed by someone else.  Values can be imposed and this may be benign in the case of young children or malignant in the case of imposing (say) racist values.

I have an instrumental approach to the main theories, taking what I think is useful from them.  From Kant, the maxim that people should be treated as ends in themselves and not merely as means to an end is one to be followed, but I think derives from empathy anyway.  His notion of duties is very instructive in instructing what you should do, if you do not know

I was not happy with this post, feeling that I did not explain all that I could nor did I cover some points I should have.  All additions and corrections are in red.

In this post, I want to cover values, virtues and vices, intentions and outcomes with a less brief look than earlier at virtue ethics and divine command ethics and a summary of my notions on ethics.  With this, the very short excursion into ethics will end.

Ethics is a vast area, and we have barely crossed its borders, but a least some knowledge of it is required when tackling issues of social and political philosophy.

We defined values earlier on and, for the purposes of these posts, virtues can be defined as good values and vices as bad values, leaving aside for the time being any definition of good and bad.  It may be that there is no absolute good nor absolute bad.  I think that we, as rational creatures, are working towards definitions of good and bad, but that we may never reach such definitions.  We have definitions of relative goodness and relative badness.  An issue to highlight is that what may seem to me to be obviously good is bad to someone else.  As an example, according to most Abrahamic religious traditions, it is quite clearly a  bad thing not to believe in the Abrahamic God (or rather a version from Judaism, from Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox Christianity, or from Islam) and that any and all non-believers will be eternally punished for non-belief.  This conviction (that is a value) has often led to a further conviction (an additional value) that is it good to save people from that punishment by forcing such a belief (in God) onto other people, and this has led to some of the most disgusting crimes perpetrated on humanity, such as genocide.

Can a belief be forced on a person?  Is it ethically right to do so?  These two questions will be dealt with in the next post.

We have had a brief look at Virtue Ethics before, but need to have a more in-depth look.  From the above, virtue ethics is about acquiring or (already) possessing good values and their use and the way of living derived from them.  Virtues are seen as your character and will be the way you behave.  There is no Vice ethics (that I have heard of) as living a way of life based on bad values is thought to be highly implausible if not impossible by advocates of virtue ethics.  In the Western world, virtue ethics is on a revival and has been since the middle of last century.  It is, however, an ancient form and is embedded in many cultures all over the world.  The Western world’s main types are based on Aristotle, sometimes Plato or on modern thinkers who reject what the ancients claimed as virtuous, but accept the idea of ethical behaviour springing from the possession of modern virtues.  ‘Virtue Ethics’, edited by Roger Crisp and Michael Slote is both a good introduction and an in-depth critique of virtue ethics.  It will give an excellent introduction to modern western virtue ethics as well as some c50challenging works.

Also, it is possible that what is a vice to one person is a virtue to another, and the possession of a vice may not be recognised as such.  An amusing illustration can be seen where comedians David Mitchell and Robert Webb performed a sketch as SS officers, and Mitchell’s character has noticed that his cap badge is a sh=kull, prompting him to ask of Webb, “are we the baddies” (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hn1VxaMEjRU)?

The preceding does highlight the relativity of values.  And this relativity of values underpins the notions of moral and cultural relativity.  Moral and cultural relativity are two major problems as any and all moral codes and cultures are counted as equals.  In practical terms, people who are part of one culture (whether they want to be or not) will be treated as how a member of that culture is supposed to be treated, for example, if a woman transgresses the moral code of certain cultures, her life is forfeit.

 Also, there is the possibility, it may seem, that virtues can be used in the service o0f bad causes.  I courage is a virtue (and I have yet to see anyone argue it is not), can it be denied that Spartan Hoplites had courage, yet served one of the most ruthless, nastiest regimes ever.  Virtue ethicists do have arguments covering these sorts of issues and often speak of incontinence, while others will deny that the Spartan Hoplites truly had courage.  I consider this a weakness in virtue ethics.

It is possible that there is only one set of universal values, but this poses the issue of what they are.  Various virtue ethics systems have tried to come up with a complete set without there being (a complete) agreement between them, suggesting, perhaps, there is no such set.  Also, it should be emphasised that could the possession of what appears to be a virtue not be a hindrance to action in certain circumstances.  Take two values that can be considered contradictory but each of which would have its supporters as virtues; obedience to (true) authority and independence of mind.  Both have drawbacks.  The first requires a judgement of what or who is the authority to obey, and the second can prevent action that is beneficial to the community.  If, say, you were very independent-minded and you came across a coach crash, and there were casualties, and already one person had placed him/herself in charge, would you really disobey the person’s order to call for an ambulance?  Is it more virtuous to obey or be independent-minded?

To me, I would think this would require judgement (or perhaps merely guesswork) and is a whole big new issue to be dealt with in the next post.

To have a complete list of virtues raises many questions, and one of these is how many virtues are there?  To which the reply might (flippantly) be, how long is a piece of string?  Could there be dozens, hundreds, thousands even?  Virtue ethicists have considered this, of course, and often see this as a weakness in their systems and have tried to limit the number (possibly ending up with a dogmatically held list, or with missing virtues) or have considered there to be fundamental and derived virtues, that is, some are primary virtues with others being secondary or tertiary (or nth derivative), derived from the primary.

As rational beings are complex, I can see no issue with an open-ended list of virtues.

I do have a concern with the use of single words or short phrases (call them simple descriptions) being used to describe complex concepts.  Often we think we know what the simple description means, but the actual concept may be subtly or even very unlike the actual concept intended.

 As an example, well-being is often the simple description used by virtue ethicists, but this is actually quite complex and to appreciate this, please see https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/well-being/ for a discussion of well-being in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

A difficulty I have with virtue ethics, in general, is that virtues are internal, that is, in the character (part of the mind) of the holder and, as such, cannot be seen.  What can be seen are the actions of a person and from these actions we can (supposedly) infer what virtues are held.  I have another difficulty here in that the possession of different values could produce the same actions.  The intentions, that is what are our motives for actions, cannot be seen by others (we are the only witness) and can only be inferred from our actions.

Some people see the provision of morals as the purpose of religion; they want a set of values that are imposed on at least the group s/he belongs to and often on the whole of humanity.  This is, rather simply, divine command theory and is as ancient a type of ethics as virtue ethics.  To disobey divine commands is either implicitly or explicitly to defy the will of the divine commander (usually with horrendous punishments for doing so).  I will suggest this is an attempt to keep psychopaths in line as in the case of simple religion in Part one with the same consequences as before, only worse as a complex religion will generally have more significant numbers of people following it.  For the non-psychopath, values stop being lived that is active values cease to be treasured and defended and explained and reflected upon and rejected and transferrable and become dogmas to be followed blindly and without reflection (in this I follow the lead of JS Mill in his discussion of holding live opinions in ‘On Liberty’).  To the psychopath, the supposed target of these, they instead become weapons to be used.  Further, as these are divine commands, they can be interpreted by the clergy for their own ends and this could include bad deeds, such as having people killed for possession of the ‘wrong’ values.

I hope I have briefly demonstrated the danger of such an approach and will expand on it further in subsequent posts. To conclude this post, I will just give some of my notions about ethics.  This is nothing as grand as a system but merely notes.  None of it is original; all of it is borrowed even if I no longer remember from whom.  I think I need to set it out.

Firstly, we are born with instincts and dispositions, and, if we are not psychopaths, with empathy.  The instincts will include such things as are needed for self-survival.  They will include instincts which give us our self-worth, without which, and in combination with our empathy, we would not value others.

Empathy is an instinctive value.  It may need practice to use it, but it is instinctive.

Altruism is one of our added values (but we are disposed to have it), but can only arise if we have empathy, and is needed for the kind of social animal that we, as primates, are, and it further allows us to build constructive relations with other groups in simple societies and to build complex ones.  It does also mean that such societies can be exploited by psychopaths by them mimicking what is required by members of these societies.  Empathy and altruism cancel out selfish values (even instinctive values) and take us beyond them.

We add values, using empathy and reason (and other instincts and disposed values) through passive learning, active education (by one’s own efforts and by those of your family, friends, society and religious groups among other individuals and institutions) and by reflection on values already held or proposed by someone else.  Values can be imposed and this may be benign in the case of young children or malignant in the case of imposing (say) racist values.

I have an instrumental approach to the main theories, taking what I think is useful from them.  From Kant, the maxim that people should be treated as ends in themselves and not merely as means to an end is one to be followed, but I think derives from empathy anyway.  His notion of duties is very instructive in instructing what you should do if you do not know from instincts or such phenomena as love, friendship, etc. I do think people should be acquiring virtues, but, as you can only see actions and not intentions, remain a form of consequentialist.

I regard various forms of utilitarianism as useful filters for judging what to do, where it is not clear. Firstly, apply reverse utilitarianism, that is what causes the least misery.

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