I received many useful comments on my poster summary of the cultural utility of my proposed universal moral principle “Evolutionarily moral acts are altruistic acts that also increase the benefits of cooperation in groups”.
No one admitted to thinking my ideas were crazy, most seemed to think my general thinking was sensible, a few graduate students flatly told me they thought my conclusions were correct, and one said he thought it would influence the direction of his research.
On increasing the clarity of my presentation, perhaps the most useful suggestion was that I should put stronger emphasis on my point that the domain of science was left behind in determining group ultimate goals (such as increasing well-being and rejecting Evolutionary Morality’s Dark Side). Thanks John! As I agreed, science is silent on what people’s ultimate goals ought to be and evolutionary morality’s utility is only in guiding selection of enforced cultural norms in order to best meet group goals, specifically through increased benefits of cooperation in groups.
On where I might be factual wrong, the three most useful comments were, first, my remarkable claim that my moral principle explained (was the underlying principle of) virtually all past and present enforced cultural norms and, second, my definition of altruism includes some human behaviors that are not culturally altruistic, such as a person accidentally doing something that is costly to himself and benefits others. It was also suggested that I clearly define the characteristics of counter-examples to my evolutionary morality principle in terms of a past or present enforced cultural norm. That is, is my surprising claim about virtually all past and present enforced moral standards falsifiable? Or have I defined things such that I can claim that any enforced cultural norm shares my universal moral principle? Suggested counterexamples to my claimed moral principle included female circumcision and enforced moral obligations to obey a mad king. Third, I should be clearer how “groups” are defined. Thanks lunch ‘group’ on Thursday! I plan to address all these issues in future posts.
The funniest comment I got, though I did not think so at the time, was from a philosophy doctoral student who dismissively referred to my proposed moral principle as “contingent”, as if that reduced it to something that belonged in the refuse bin. I said something to the effect no, it was not contingent on anything. Later, another philosophy doctoral student explained to me that the dismissive comment could be based on my proposal only being valid in our physical reality. It might be invalid in a universe with different physical laws. This makes it second rate compared to moral principles based on pure reason which is the preferred basis of moral principles in philosophy. That is, my moral principle is ‘second rate’ because it applies only in this universe!
I was able to explain my position to several knowledgeable people including two internationally known philosophers and an internationally known neurobiologist. All appeared to think my position was, at least at first glance, sensible, and without obvious fatal flaws. That was very encouraging. My experience at the conference was very rewarding.
Finally, Erice, Sicily is a beautiful, charming place and I recommend it. The ancients picked a wonderful site for a temple to the goddess Venus.
Here are our esteemed speakers.
Click on the image of my poster to open it in a new window in which you should be able to enlarge it enough to read it easily.
The next pictures is the view from the break room at the lecture hall. It is a wonderful facility. The other pictures are just ones I liked.
Here is the 1600’s church that has been converted into a lecture hall.
And here are Norman and later castles built on the ancient site of the Temple of Venus in Erice, Sicily.