Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A utilitarian view of justice? (part 2)

From the reader, additional ideas about this post on utilitarian morality:

I sent this in because of a discussion I was having at that time with my husband.  He is an uber-empath who is extremely open minded, except when it comes to psychopathy.  He’s afraid of you and worries when I read your blog, which cracks me up (I think he worries that psychopathy is contagious …. would that it were, lol)!  We were talking about whether you could have a morality not based on empathy, and to my surprise, he disagreed that such a thing was possible.  “Disagree” is putting it mildly - he was deeply repulsed by such an idea, which surprised me because he’s normally very open.

To him, morality and empathy go hand in hand, in the same way that for religious people morality and god go hand in hand (both he and I are atheists).  Oddly, he sees how ridiculous (wrong) is it for religious people to impose their god-oriented morality on non-believing people, but he doesn’t think twice about imposing a morality based on empathy on the world. I am less convinced that empathy is necessarily a part of morality, and am more of a utilitarian, which is why I am interested in the utilitarianism of pre-modern cultures and decided to send this into you. 

Fyi, I very much share your instinctive fear of crazed mobs, most especially when they are fueled deeply felt sense of righteousness. I have seen groups of people in the clutches of religious fervour and other deeply felt emotions, and it is frightening beyond belief.

My response:

I think your analogy is spot on. Your husband's perspective is very interesting and hard for me to understand (but I lack empathy, so...). I can't even really reason out what the connection is between empathy and morality for most people. We don't do "bad" things because we feel the pain that our victims feel? What if there is no victim? Also, we sometimes do hurt people but for "good" reasons. For instance, we punish children, even though they are hurt when we do, for their own "good". Where does that assessment of "good" come from if not from a utilitarian point of view? This is especially true when you consider all the limitations of empathy. Might as well construct a view of morality that values the needs of your own loved ones and tribesmen over everyone else... 

32 comments:

  1. Read here about the morals of M.E....
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2523150/High-flying-lawyer-claims-successful-shes-psychopath.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. she's unlikely to actually be a lawyer since she does show her face in the documentary. So...she'd be quickly identified by colleagues.

      More likely, she is concentrating on earning a living from being a sociopath.

      Delete
    2. James Fallon is a neuroscientist, and he shows his face plenty. Pretty sure she's a lawyer.

      Delete
    3. I bet this chick gets a kick out of watchin everyone speculate about her.

      Delete
  2. The reason you can't have empathy based morality is that feelings are subjective and the human tendency to project what they are feeling onto other people completely confuses the issue at hand.
    An obvious example. Many pedophiles believe that children are actively seducing them. While perhaps a child who has been repeatedly abused and has a brewing personality disorder would do this, it is far more likely that a prepubsescent child who has not been exposed to prior sexual activity is "responding" to a pedophiles advances because they need attention or the pedophile has groomed them well. I bring up this example to illustrate the danger of an "empathy" based morality. The pedophile might actually believe that the child has sexual longings they need to have fulfilled and that it would be "empathetic" to do so.

    Empathy does offer power motivation on a personal level to behave in a pro-sopcial manner, but how can one tell if they are simply projecting their own experience on the one they are supposedly "Empathizing" with. Lots of people think they empathize with their pets. It's not that empathy is useless- it's that it is subjective and destined to be somewhat contaminated by prior experiences.
    Doing something because it feels kind roughly corresponds with Kohlberg's level 3 (of 6 levels) morality. It is typically present in well behaved children between 8-18. It is replaced when the understanding that society requires a uniform set of standards that goes beyond doing what feels "nice".

    Empathy is a tool, but feelings of any sort are subjective and for that reason must be applied after they have been cross referenced with logical thinking and community standards. Where it is very useful is in helping a grudging individual find the motivation to act altruistically for the sake of the community when it is not in their own best interest. For example- asking a rich person to give money to feed starving children is more likely to be met with success if empathy can be engaged.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maybe in the digital age we can hope to a time when computers will be the arbiters of morality that is cool to the touch and objective-an end to hysteria of partisan emotional hallucinations-a time when empathy can be a level playing field without power plays, and for those who are not 'blessed' with empathy, a time when their gifts will be realized and utilized rather than ostracized and feared.

      Delete
    2. I'd have to disagree there Mach; I think empathy is precisely why most people have an understanding of morality in the first place. It makes people aware of and sensitive to others' needs and makes them more likely to want to act in a caring and well-meaning manner toward other people. I think it's no coincidence that a great many of the world's traditional moralities (largely based in religion) are obsessed with putting others before oneself and treating others with dignity and justice. It was only later that philosophers would use logic and reason to formulate new systems of morality that were based on such abstract notions as 'rights', 'utility', 'justice', 'virtues', ‘imperatives’, individuals' 'might' and the like.

      Admittedly, not everyone who has empathy behaves ‘morally’ (in many cases far from it), but it must surely be relevant that those individuals lacking in empathy spend a great deal of their time on Earth behaving in such a manner that most would consider ‘immoral’.

      Of course, trying to base a universal system of morality on empathy would be impossible, as you pointed out, but as somebody who rejects the notion of objective morality anyway, for me at least this is not a major issue. I suppose the very fact that the philosophical approach yields so many different versions of morality is what convinces me there is no single right way of doing things.

      But to return to empathy, the average person is unlikely to deeply consider a logical or philosophical approach to morality. You can take your hedonic calculus and your categorical imperatives and shove them where the sun don't shine, for all the influence they have on most people's ethical decisions. Though they may have loose guiding principles or religious beliefs to adhere to, when it all comes down to it the primary way most people decide how to do the 'right' thing is based on their feelings, whether they be selfish or, more often than not, empathic. This said, I should stress that I'm not advocating the notion that morality *should* be based on empathy, just stating that it largely is.

      Delete
    3. Empathy (for those who experience it) is the gateway for moral action. But it's not the path. It is the first influence most people have that causes them to consider behavior that is not rooted primarily in self interest. But feelings are subjective and likely contaminated with our projections based on individual experiences. So empathy alone is a really lousy foundation for any sort of moral framework/philosophy.
      Empathic experiences can motivate individuals to action that is far more profound than they could comprehend through moral reasoning. But misinterpreted emotion that is called empathy can cause people to do some very destructive things. Without the discipline of moral reasoning, it's going to be problematic in the long run when changing circumstances change the dominant feeling state of whatever masses they influence.

      But that's ok. Empathy can be a door to morality the same way that infatuation can be a door to love. In both cases, love and morality can be accessed through other less emotionally satisfying paths- but are aided in the beginning by a rush of feeling that is somewhat akin to training wheels. At a certain point you have to take off the training wheels and stick to moral reasoning as the deciding factor in forming personal standards of morality.

      Classic example of being led astray by empathy: marital affairs. "but it felt right"

      Delete
  3. Would someone mind explaining just what the hell empathy is supposed to be?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. heres my crack at it-it is when two nervous systems link up, when both belly's rumble at the same time, when there is mutuality of being, which is non verbal, which functions on a basic level- feeling anothers pain etc. Now a lot of this stuff is physical ('my heart is breaking' 'my head is splitting'), fear and excitement twisting in the stomach, but sociopaths and psychopaths lack this aspect to their cognition-being primarily verbal, it also explains why the non empathic have such problems with metaphor. Does this help?

      Delete
    2. Not really.

      I think this whole empathy-thing is really just self-righteousness under a different guise.

      Delete
    3. everyone knows what empathy is, it's just that some people need a little mood music to get it going

      Delete
    4. I dont think thats true. I dont understand it. I think I either have way too much, or the kind that doesnt quite fit with the general understanding of it. If that's true for me then that's true for lots of people.

      Delete
    5. Yeah, their primarily verbal, beginning to get it. It doesn't seem possible for an empath to truly understand a sociopath and vise versa. We're 2 different creatures, and unless you've really walked in their shoes, it's impossible to truly grasp. Looks like we're all gonna just have to live with that. Maybe in the next life we'll experience something different than we experience now. If there is a next life and there is karma.

      Delete
    6. Speaking personally when the neurotypical try and get all 'empathic' and close to me I freak out-it feels like an assault on the virgin soil of my psyche...my working hypothesis is that we on the spectrum have not bonded with other humans, instead we bond with landscape, ideals or even our own twisted reflections. As a result when it comes to feeling others pain, happiness or joy we feel uncomfortable, it is alien, it feels like a violation, an incursion on our inland empire.Because of that the circle of humanity is always shut to us...and empaths become obsessed with trying to draw us in/out-a frankly doomed pursuit in my experience-it just makes me rabid and feel confined. Any better?

      Delete
  4. Are sociopaths ever feminists? Would a sociopath make a good feminist?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. how can you expect a sociopath to advocate for the rights of women when they don't respect the rights of other people?

      Delete
    2. Female sociopaths appeal to my feminist side.

      Delete
    3. Yes they can be, As long as they are the leader. They make good and strong leaders, who can empower and advocate well for their groups.

      Delete
    4. @Mechavell, is not that they don’t respect other people’s right. No, they just think other people (each individual) are capable to defend their own rights. But, if they are the leader, they take charge for everyone.

      Delete
    5. I would think some would be feminists. If nothing else, I would imagine they would certainly be willing to advocate on their own behalf. I just don't see a sociopathic woman submitting to an oppressive man. The giggling nanny poisoned her husband the day after he raped her.

      Delete
    6. fair enough, anon. But I'm guessing most sociopaths have no interest in bra burning unless it is part of a larger, more macabre demonstration that has nothing to do with the human rights of any demographic. ;)

      Delete
  5. A woman like Hilary Clinton would be a sociopath and a good feminist.

    ReplyDelete
  6. All right, this is really cool, but:

    1.Sociopaths do have a conscience.

    2.Sociopaths can feel empathy.

    3.Sociopaths can very well feel a very broad range of emotions.

    4.Sociopaths like to fancy themselfs that they don't have the above.

    5.Sociopaths are not actually "sociopaths", they are just a bit different.

    6.Sociopaths are pretty stupid. They don't have a mind that "cuts". They are "surface" creatures.

    6.Doctors that treat sociopaths are really stupid people also.

    7.If any of the so called sociopaths would came into a east European country, like for example Russia, they will be "cured" probably in less then a day.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. #5 is golden.

      I've actually heard of sociopaths using this as a legal defense.

      Delete
    2. @Emapthy-Free:
      Would you mind explaining how that would be a legal defence; wouldn't any admission of 'mental illness' (for want of a more accurate word) reduce the degree to which one can be held legally responsible for actions?

      Just as a point of interest, is your username supposed to be a play on the name of the absurd 'victim recovery' website "Psychopath Free", or is the similarity just coincidental?

      Delete
    3. I was being sarcastic.

      I don't know why I chose this name. It just seemed good at the time.

      Delete
    4. @Empathy-Free

      Hey, stop being silly.

      Delete
  7. They don't cure sociopaths in Russia.

    They take sociopathy to the next level.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, the level of healing. It's a bit extreme actually.

      Delete
  8. Is Ian Watkins a psychopath or a sociopath? Smart (first class honors), charming yet manipulative and lacks remorse or empathy...

    http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/dec/18/ian-watkins-dangerous-sex-offender-encountered

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ian_Watkins_%28Lostprophets%29

    ReplyDelete

Comments on posts over 14 days are SPAM filtered and may not show up right away or at all.

Join Amazon Prime - Watch Over 40,000 Movies

.

Comments are unmoderated. Blog owner is not responsible for third party content. By leaving comments on the blog, commenters give license to the blog owner to reprint attributed comments in any form.