Episode 190 – Erik Mostert
An interview with Erik Mostert about the source of moral belief and Erik’s theory that we need to keep in mind our animal nature.
Here is a link to Erik’s article in Areo Magazine.
Here is a link to David Gillespie’s book Taming Toxic People
You can follow Erik on twitter @erik_mostert
Here is the graph about spindle neurons:
Below are my notes of Erik’s article:
- Science caused change in religious beliefs once they became undeniable.
- Therefore religious moral codes are unreliable.
- If we abandon religious moral codes, what are we left with?
- Jordan Peterson and Ben Shapiro say the stories in the Bible provide important moral guidance even if they are just stories.
- Erik says he could make up fables which illustrate underlying moral principles but don’t pretend to be true.
- Peterson and Shapiro claim atheists derive their moral code by osmosis from the Christian culture they are immersed in AND atheists could not have arrived at secular moral principles without religion.
- But, Erik says we had morals, laws and norms before the 10 commandments. Religion did not invent love and compassion.
- Religions claim on the high ground is overstated. Christianity condoned slavery.
- Slavery shows why flexible moral codes are needed rather than fixed rules.
- So, if we haven’t relied on religion, how do we arrive at an atheistic moral code?
- David Hume said just because we do doesn’t mean we ought to. Peterson says our sense of morality is subjective in that it varies depending on what we are taught. If we grow up in a cannibal society we will think it is moral to be a cannibal. We of course find it immoral. It seems to show you can’t derive ought from is.
- If we want to build a stable society (a goal) we know things like co-operation and fairness are better than the alternatives. If we accept we are apes, then we should accept Sam Harris’s moral ethic of maximizing wellbeing.
- Globalisation has created a melting pot of rival groups. If we recognize our identity as apes it will help us shake off our attachment to our sub group identities.
- It is time for us to identify as apes not nations or religions.
Ideas I would like to add are:
These 7 Rules Could Be The Universal Moral Code Shared by Every Culture, Study Finds
These cooperative behaviours and rules – the proposed universal moral code – are the following: helping family, helping your group, reciprocating, being brave, deferring to superiors (respect), dividing disputed resources (fairness), and respecting prior possession (property rights).
That aside, the universal code also means that conduct in opposition to the cooperative behaviours is considered as morally bad: neglecting kin, betraying your group, free-riding (not reciprocating), cowardice, disrespect, unfairness, and theft.
Does Sam Harris’s ethic of maximizing well-being take into account my “animal desire” to favour my genetic off spring and those likely to carry similar genetic code?
What makes us different to the apes?
Becoming bipedal, with a resulting narrowing of hips, leading to premature births, leading to greater need for group co-operation to raise babies, followed by control of fire which 1.allowed cooking which meant less energy was required for the digestive tract which allowed for the brain to expand and 2. created more time for socializing and a need to develop social skills.
Our brains have developed a larger anterior prefrontal cortex and larger temporal poles and we have a much higher spindle neuron count. This is what makes us human. When people suffer Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) they suffer progressive destruction of the spindle neurons and people lose the ability to transmit information from the amygdala to the aPFC.
FTD results in an almost complete loss of empathy, social awareness and social self-control. They no longer feel compassion, regret or shame. They can tell right from wrong but have a slow and insidious loss of moral rationality. More than half of FTD patients become involved in criminal activity. They become psychopaths. We evolved the spindle neurons a mere 100,000 years ago. The base human condition may well be psychopathy.
The Greeks in the 6th century BCE attempted to reason from first principles as distinct from relying on mythology.
Socrates died 399 BCE and exposed the Euthyphro dilemma which I haven’t heard Peterson address