Posts Tagged ‘moral behavior’

In today’s excerpt from Why Jews Should NOT Be Liberals (2001, rev. 2006), Larry Sternberg returns to the issue of free market capitalism, its benefits, and what part a good Jew should play in the system….

Most observers of American politics would agree that between the two competing political doctrines of liberalism and conservatism, when it comes to promoting, encouraging, stimulating, praising, expanding, and identifying themselves with the free market, capitalistic system, it is conservatism that captures the prize. Of course, liberals welcome the fruits and benefits of the free market, but it is mostly to their liking because it creates sufficient wealth for their redistribution schemes and not because it is the most natural and productive system yet devised by man. Still liberals continue to want to tinker with it, to control it, and when necessary, to intervene with their own pet programs and ideas….

Green Bay Tea Party with signs

Green Bay Tea Party practicing free speech and the right to peaceably assemble in protest

Conservatives, on the other hand, seem to be generally more in favor of permitting people to spend their money as the individual sees fit. They are content to permit the free market to do its wondrous work, and with the “invisible hand” doing its thing, they sit back and enjoy the fruits of their endeavors….”

Yeah, I’d say that about sums it up. No profound insights, but a pretty fair assessment, I think.

So, what does this have to do with American Jews being liberal? If we agree that it is the conservatives who do the best job of growing the free market; and if we agree that the free market is the best system yet devised by man to spread the wealth created among all the participants; and if one of the cherished goals of Judaism is to help solve the problem of poverty, then doesn’t it follow that American Jews should be the foremost champions of growing the free market, and to do this they should be conservatives?

[…] The link between Judaism and capitalism is well described by Ellis Rivkin in his book, The Shaping of Jewish History. Rivkin wrote that it was the onset of capitalism beginning in the late seventeenth century that began to bring freedom to European Jews…. Where Jews participated in the creation of a capitalistic society as in America, they enjoyed a high degree of equality from the outset. Where capitalism failed to gain a secure foothold,… Jews were either expelled or persecuted….

The history of Jews in the modern world makes explicit the connection between individual freedom and developing capitalism. And yet, there seems to persist the notion that somehow capitalism breeds too much greed and selfishness, and we Jews must be the guardians against such evil spirits. It is okay for us Jews to become wealthy and to accrue power and influence through the workings of our marvelous free market, but we’ve got to protect society and the poor and the children from the evil inclinations that must reside in those “other rich and powerful” folk. Apparently, only wealthy Jews (and liberal Democrats) possess that kindness of spirit that entitles them to possess the wealth they accumulate. So we Jews must continue to support the liberal cause because that is the only doctrine that seems to be consistent with our Jewish calling of Tsedekah, and which can control the evil impulses of those other rich guys….

lots of large denomination bills

A Whole Lotta Gelt! Moolah!

Where Jews should be making their contribution to our market economy is by exhibiting the highest morality in their dealings with others in the business world. Our capitalistic system depends on honesty, integrity, and the carrying out of one’s promises. It is when fraud and deceit enter the picture that the worst excesses occur, and when people begin to doubt the value of our system. If Jews who are already so prominent in the business world would stress the positive aspects of the free market and set great examples of honesty in their business dealings, they could do more to help the economy grow and provide jobs than any government program existing. In the process, they would also demonstrate some of the basic morality of our Jewish religion.”

We have seen several examples of “fraud and deceit” in our capitalist society over the past several years — e.g., the Enron debacle, WorldCom, Bernie Madoff, recent scandals involving banks & securities firms, etc. They are actually quite few, when you think of how many businesses, business executives, and big-time investors there are out there. But, they are an embarrassment of sorts and serve as poster-children for corporate greed & corruption, which the socialists and free market skeptics point to as justification for their suspicions & accusations. Let’s not forget, though, that greed and corruption are rampant in socialist/communist nations, too. They just don’t have as much money to steal.

I think it behooves all free-marketers to accept Sternberg’s exhortation, though, especially those of us with a religious worldview that encourages moral, ethical behavior in all aspects of our lives. We must do our level best to act honorably and with moral integrity in all business dealings.

Last time (Part 1 & Part 2), Beckwith & Koukl demonstrated how the evolutionary approach to explaining morality actually denies it. Now, for an even bigger problem…

Why Should I?

This third observation uncovers the third and most serious objection to the idea that evolution is adequate to explain morality. One question can never be answered by any evolutionary assessment of ethics: Why ought I be moral tomorrow?

One of the distinctives of morality is its ‘oughtness,’ its moral incumbency. Assessments of mere behavior, however, are descriptive only. Since morality is essentially prescriptive — telling what should be the case as opposed to what is the case — and since all evolutionary assessments of moral behavior are descriptive, then evolution cannot account for the most important thing that needs to be explained: morality’s ‘oughtness’.

Chimpanzee in deep thought

Chimpanzee in deep thought

One question really needs to be answered: Why shouldn’t the chimp (or a human, for that matter) be selfish? The evolutionary answer might be that when we’re selfish, we hurt the group. That answer, however, presumes another moral value, that we ought to be concerned about the welfare of the group. But why should that concern us? They would say ‘because if the group doesn’t survive, then the species doesn’t survive.’ But why should we care about the survival of the species?

Here’s the problem. The responses intended to explain morality ultimately depend on some prior moral notion to hold them together. Based on an evolutionary view, it is difficult to explain why we should not be selfish, or steal, or rape, or even kill tomorrow without smuggling morality into the answer.

The evolutionary explanation disembowels morality, reducing it to mere descriptions of conduct. The best the Darwinist explanation can do — if it succeeds at all — is explain past behavior. It cannot inform future actions. But prescription, not description, is the essence of morality. As we have seen, evolution may be one explanation for the existence of conduct we choose to call moral, but it gives no reason why we should obey any moral rules in the future. If one countered that we have a moral obligation to evolve, then I’ve won my point. If we have moral obligations prior to evolution, then evolution itself can’t be their source.”

Hah! I love it.

Earlier in the chapter, the authors point out:

Evolutionists may be right when they say that we’re not compelled to adopt the morality of evolution. The danger of social Darwinism, however, is not that society must adopt the law of the jungle but rather that it is allowed to. The exploitation of the weak by the strong is morally benign according to Wright’s evolutionary view of morality.

What Darwinists cannot do is give us a reason why we ought not simply copy nature and destroy those who are weak, unpleasant, costly, or just plain boring. If all moral options are legitimate, then it’s acceptable for the strong to rule the weak. No moral restraints would protect the feeble, because moral restraints simply wouldn’t exist….

Bongo is not a bad chimp; he’s just a chimp. No moral rules apply to him. Eat the banana, Bongo.”

Chimp sitting and eating

Bongo the Chimp finishes his banana

In my last post (Part 1), Koukl & Beckwith explained why morality entails more than mere conduct; motive and intent are also parts of the equation.

Denial by Neo-Darwin

This leads us to the second problem, which runs much deeper than the first. When morality is reduced to patterns of behavior chosen by natural selection for the survival value, then morality is not explained; it’s denied. Wright admits as much. [This is a reference to Robert Wright, journalist and author of The Moral Animal — Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology.] Regarding the conscience he says: ‘The conscience doesn’t make us feel bad the way hunger feels bad, or good the way sex feels good. It makes us feel as if we have done something that’s wrong or something that’s right. Guilty or not guilty. It is amazing that a process as amoral and crassly pragmatic as natural selection could design a mental organ that makes us feel as if we’re in touch with higher truth. Truly a shameless ploy’.

Evolutionists like Wright are ultimately forced to admit that what we think is a ‘higher truth’ or morality turns out to be a ‘shameless ploy’ of nature, a description of animal behavior conditioned by the environment for survival. We’ve given that conduct a label, they argue: morality. But they say there is no real right and wrong.

Comtemplative chimp

Contemplative chimp

Does Bongo, the chimp, actually exhibit genuine moral behavior? Does he understand the difference between right and wrong? Does he make principled choices to do what’s right? Is he worthy of blame and punishment for doing wrong? Of course not, Wright says. Bongo merely does in a primitive way what humans do in a more sophisticated manner. We respond according to our genetic conditioning, a program ‘designed’ by millions of years of evolution.

Philosopher Michael Ruse admits that evolution and objective morality are at odds: ‘Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate that when somebody says, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves…. Never the less… such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction… and any deeper meaning is illusory.’

The evolutionary approach does not explain morality: it denies it. Instead, it explains why we think moral truths exist when, in fact, they don’t.”

Go here for Part 3.

Every once in awhile, you hear someone trying to describe how evolution/Darwinism — really, the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis — explains “morality”. Often the explanations involve recent observations of “morals” (or the rudiments thereof) among one or another type of animal — elephants, whales, birds, cats, dogs, apes, etc. But, IMHO, there is always something missing. The naturalistic philosophers and scientists never really explain the concept of the transcendant, objective morality. At best, all they can do is suggest why certain individuals or communities — human or perhaps not — may adopt a certain code or guidelines to live by. Why is that?

Rather than try to piece something together myself, I’d like to address this issue, at least in part, by quoting from a couple philosophers. (Don’t worry; they are quite readable for us layfolk.) The next three posts will constitute a passage — roughly 3 pages’ worth — from Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air (1998), by Francis C. Beckwith and Gregory Koukl. Hope you enjoy it!

More Than What You Do

Recent studies have attempted to show that animals exhibit rudimentary moral behavior. In one case, a group of chimpanzees ‘punished’ Bongo, a ‘selfish’ member of their band, by withholding food from him. Apparently the moral rule was this: Chimps shouldn’t be selfish.

Chimp eathing a banana

Chimp eathing a banana (ooh-ooh! yum!)

This assessment has serious problems. First, drawing conclusions about animal morality simply from behavior reduces morality to conduct. But true morality also entails nonbehavioral elements, too, like intent and motive.

We can’t infer actual moral obligations from the mere fact of a chimp’s conduct. We can observe that chimps in community share food and that when they do they survive better. But we can’t conclude from this that Bongo ought to share his bananas or else he’ll be immoral because he hasn’t contriguted to the survival of his community.

Further, in fixing blame we distinguish between an act done by accident and the same act committed on purpose. The behavior is the same, but the intent is different. We don’t usually blame people for accidents: If the boy didn’t intend to trip the old lady, we don’t fault him.

We also give attention to the issue of motive. We withhold blame even if the youngster tripped the elderly woman on purpose if the motive is acceptable: He tripped her to keep her from running in front of a train….

Motive and intent cannot be determined simply by looking at behavior. In fact, some good behavior might turn out to be tainted, depending on the motive and intent: giving to the poor when one wants to be well thought of, instead of having a genuine concern for the recipients. Indeed, it seems one can be immoral without any behavior at all, such as plotting an evil deed that one is never able to carry out.

Morality informs behavior, judging it either good or bad; it’s not identical to behavior. Rather it is something deeper than habitual patterns of physical interaction. Therefore we can’t draw conclusions about animal morality simply based on what we observe in their conduct.”

Go here for Part 2 and Part 3.