Response to Pinker’s “Finding a non-moralistic solution” on bigthink.com
The development of a fool-proof method of administering medicine seems to be at odds with the conclusion of Mr Pinker’s article in this week’s N.Y.T. magazine and paradoxically, I find myself at odd with both.
To sum up the arguments set forth in the article “The Moral Instinct”, a quote by Anton Chekhov “Man will become better when you show him what he is like”, suggests that human beings, learning from their mistakes, will do the right thing once they’ve understood the process whereby they do wrong. As a variant on the old Socratic “ Know Thyself”, this would entail human beings taking responsibility for their actions, which the above-mentioned non-moralistic solution – to my mind – goes against. It may be the most “cost-efficient” in terms of probable consequences but it does nothing to cause individuals to be more responsible, which is what the article suggests.
On the other hand – and this is where I find myself oddly at odds with both postulates – I don’t happen to agree that human beings do learn from their mistakes. To illustrate the point let me compare the “moral” sense to something else that doesn’t really exist in the real world, but would seem to be just as necessary for survival: the healthy sense. We all have a variety of factors to consider to keep us on track for a long and healthful life. In fact we have more than enough information now that could result in a large number of people living long past their usual use-by dates. As made evident by the many ways in which we make ourselves unwell, it would appear that no matter how much we learn about our physical selves, we’re not very good (responsible?) about putting the information to use, mostly because the decisions we make (where are Mr and Ms Damasio when I need them?) are made on a pre-conscious level. Whatever attributions we make – rationalisations – are justificative, not preventive.
To sum this idea up: go ahead and develop as many fool-proof ways of preventing humans from making mistakes that cause pain to others, because their “sense” of responsibility will need a whole lot more developing before they can be trusted to make non-moralistic “moral” choices.