Sunday, April 12, 2009

Another Look at Philosophy and Morality

I read an interesting article in New York Times by David Brooks, entitled the end of Philosophy.
Socrates talked. The assumption behind his approach to philosophy, and the approaches of millions of people since, is that moral thinking is mostly a matter of reason and deliberation: Think through moral problems. Find a just principle. Apply it.
But the problem with this approach is that “it has been hard to find any correlation between moral reasoning and proactive moral behavior, such as helping other people. In fact, in most studies, none has been found.” Instead, a new view likens moral thinking to aesthetics. "As we look around the world, we are constantly evaluating what we see. Seeing and evaluating are not two separate processes. They are linked and basically simultaneous."

Think of what happens when you put a new food into your mouth. You don’t have to decide if it’s disgusting. You just know. You don’t have to decide if a landscape is beautiful. You just know.

Moral judgments are like that. They are rapid intuitive decisions and involve the emotion-processing parts of the brain. Most of us make snap moral judgments about what feels fair or not, or what feels good or not. We start doing this when we are babies, before we have language. And even as adults, we often can’t explain to ourselves why something feels wrong.

In other words, reasoning comes later and is often guided by the emotions that preceded it. Or as Jonathan Haidt of the University of Virginia memorably wrote, “The emotions are, in fact, in charge of the temple of morality, and ... moral reasoning is really just a servant masquerading as a high priest.”

The article reminds me of Yano's opus, which goes:
Nangangaral sa kalye ang isang lalake/
Hiningan ng pera ng batang pulubi/
Pasensya na para daw sa templo/
Pangkain lang po sabi ng paslit/
Talagang di ba pupwede?
Lumipat ng pwesto ang lalake.

Banal na aso, santong kabayo/
Natatawa ako hihihihi.

Photo: Ben Crowe, Flickr, Creative Commons

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