Archive for March, 2009

Moral development


Our moral thought is not an innate and fixed property, but is a learnt attribute that changes in our lifetime with personal development. Personal development in turn, is dominated by cognitive development. And there are two main theories relating moral development with cognition: the first one is Piaget’s theory, and the second one is Kohlberg’s theory. The basic idea behind both theories is that our moral thought changes with cognitive development. What we are going to show next, is the relation between moral development and Complexity. Moral development depends on cognitive development. Cognitive development is the result of an increase in cognitive complexity. And Complexity is a universal natural phenomena (see Complexity). So we are going to show how moral development is a particular case of the universal phenomena of Complexity.

Piaget’s theory can be summarised in the following table.

In Piaget’s theory, moral thought has two stages: heteronomous morality, associated with moral realism (’being subject to another‘s laws or rules‘),  and autonomous morality, associated with moral relativism (’being subject to one‘s own laws or rules‘). The stages are not mutually exclusive (e.g. most adults show a combination of both). The transition from one stage to the other is related with a transition from egocentric thought to a thought that contemplates other’s point of view. And it is also related with a change in social relationships, from unilateral respect (i.e. unconditional, absolute and one-way respect to authority) to mutual respect where compromises are reached.

Kohlberg’s theory can be summarised in the following table.

Kohlberg’s theory is a more sophisticated theory based on six staged of moral development, which in turn can be more generally grouped on three levels: pre-conventional, conventional and post-conventional.

Both Kohlberg and Piaget agree that cognitive development is a necessary but not sufficient condition for moral development, i.e. cognitive development sets a limit on maturity of moral reasoning, with moral development usually lagging behind cognitive development.

What is interesting to see is the relation between moral development and Complexity. Complexity, in general, is the integration of differentiated parts. Complexity is characterised for being relative, where complex systems can increase their complexity becoming more integrated and differentiated. In moral development we find the same changes. Moral development is the transition from one stage to another. Transitions are not arbitrary, but they follow a hierarchy from the simple to the complex. Although complexity is continuous, the concept of stages helps to model this continuity. So moral development is a transition from one stage to another, where each stage provides a new, more comprehensive and more differentiated perspective, integrated in turn with the preceding ones. Like all complex systems, moral development is also related with an increase in differentiation and integration.

When systems change in complexity, they also change on their properties. And we can also follow this change in moral development too. There are five variables that changes with complexity: rigidity/flexibility, dependency/autonomy, similarity/uniqueness, commonality/rareness and instability/stability. These are universal variables that can also be traced in moral development.

rigidity/flexibility – early stages of moral development are related with moral realism and absolutism, which are rigid forms of moral thought. In contrast, later stages are related with moral relativism, where there is more tolerance and acceptance of different points of view.

dependency/autonomy – early stages are based on externally given moral standards. In later stages of moral development there is an internalisation of moral thought.

similarity/uniqueness – In nature simple systems are more similar to one another, while complex systems are more unique. In moral development we find the same. On its early stages, moral thought is more similar and less differentiated. It is characterised by the simplification and generalisation of cases. On later stages, moral thought is based on a more personal evaluation of individual cases.

commonality/rareness – In nature complexity is more rare and less numerous than simplicity. In moral development we find the same. Everybody in childhood passes through the first stages of moral development (Kohlberg‘s pre-conventional stages and Piaget‘s heteronomous morality). Many adults do not attain formal operations (about 50 percent in fact)(Gross), which is a necessary condition for reaching Kohlberg’s stages 5 and 6. And only 10 to 15 percent of adults (Kohlberg, 1975) attain the highest level of moral reasoning (and not before their mid-30s). So higher levels of moral development are more rare than lower levels.

instability/stability moral behaviour on the early stages of moral development is based on simplified views which lack universality and are more inconsistent with and harder to adjust to the complexities of reality. This results in a behaviour that is more conflictive and unpredictable. On the other hand, at the higher stages of moral development, moral behaviour is more consistent, predictable and responsible, because the stages themselves employ more stable and general standards.


The relativity of Ethics


In a natural world Ethics might be objective, but it is not absolute. Just as it happens with morality, there is no ethical absolutism where can judge in a universal and unequivocal way what is ethical or not. Ethics is full of dilemmas and controversies: and this is because Ethics is also relative.

To illustrate the relativity of Ethics we are going to use the particular case of abortion. Abortion is the subjects of strong moral debates: is it right or is it wrong? Does it violate the sanctity of life, etc.? . But in the present we are not going to be concerned about the moral dilemmas of abortion. Moral dilemmas of abortion remains in the realm of subjective moral orders. In the present we are concern about the ethical dilemmas of abortion which are objective, practical and universal. The ethical dilemma of abortion is about what is the best thing to do? rather than what is the right thing to do, as posed by morality.

The ethical dilemma of abortion comes from the difficulty to determine what is the best interest for the mother and for the child. On one hand we have to evaluate the well-being of the mother: was the mother victim of rape, is her life at risk, is she under aged, or is she simply deciding to terminate the pregnancy because it doesn’t suit her project of life. On the other hand is the well-being of the baby: is it a fully developed baby or is it in its early stages, is the baby carrying an impairing  genetic disorder or is it a healthy baby, etc. And then there are also considerations about the prospects of life: is the mother mentally impaired and incapable of taking care of the baby on her own, is the mother considering abortion because she lives in abject poverty, is it going to be an unwanted child victim of neglect, etc.

Ethics then, is relative. It depends on all the circumstances that makes each individual case.  Ethics is also hierarchical: some things are more ethical than others and some are more unethical than others. How ethical or unethical action are, depends on the degree of well-being or the degree of destruction, pain and suffering they bring. For example, an abortion on a mother that is either under aged, mentally impaired, victim of rape or whose life is in danger is more ethical than an abortion done because it doesn’t suit someone’s lifestyle. And an abortion at the early stages of development, when there are just a few cells reproducing, is more ethical that an abortion at an advanced stage of development, when there is a young baby with a fully developed nervous system that is responsive to the environment.

Ethics is an objective problem about the consequences of our actions: the degree of destruction, pain and suffering or the degree of well-being they bring. Ethics is not a matter of opinion: the constructive or destructive effects of our action are objective and independent from our values or moral beliefs. But what it is arguable is how do we weight one against the other, and how ethical or unethical our actions are.

Moral subjectivity and relativism


Morality presupposes two things which are subjective: a moral order and free-will. In a monist universe the only universal order is Nature, and Nature is not a moral order but a neutral physical order of change. The idea of a universal moral order is a human construction that serves as a practical guide for human conduct. Morality is a social phenomena that arises from the need of social union and coherence. Morality makes sense within society. Outside society morality doesn’t exist.

Free-will, like the idea of a moral order, is also subjective. In a natural world everything responds to Nature so autonomous and independent behaviour is not possible (see Free-will).

Morality is subject to cultural relativism. Different cultures have different moral codes and different ideas of what is right and what is wrong. These differences are often incompatible: what is considered to be right in one culture might be considered wrong in some other. Examples of these differences are countless, like: death penalty, polygamy, female genital mutilation, funeral rituals, etc.
Morality is also relative in time. What was considered to be right or socially acceptable in the past is often considered to be wrong in the present. For example, slavery was widely practised by all societies since civilisation began. In some societies it formed an integral part of their social structure (e.g. Sparta). In all cases it was an instrument of wealth, power and status. It is only in resent times that slavery is being rejected and condemned by most societies (serfdom was abolished in Russia in 1861 but only effectively ended after the Russian revolution of 1917, and slavery in geisha houses was practiced in Japan until the end of second world war in 1945).
Cultural and temporal relativism are real and evident, but they are not a sufficient condition for the inexistence of a universal and eternal moral order in the world.  To believe in subjective and relative moral orders, doesn’t mean that there couldn’t be a universal one. Monism on the other hand, is a sufficient condition. In a monist universe the only universal order is Nature, and Nature is physical, not moral. Moral relativism is just a consequence of our existence in a natural world.

Moral development

The relativity of freedom


In a natural world free-will is not possible given that everything responds to Nature. Free-will would mean an autonomous behaviour, and an autonomous behaviour would mean a discontinuity in Nature. In a monist universe Nature has no discontinuities. So in a natural world nothing can behave outside Nature in an autonomous and independent way.

Nevertheless, it is possible in a natural world for thing to have certain degrees of autonomy. Indeed, this is what happens in our case. Although our behaviour is a natural behaviour, our behaviour has certain degrees of autonomy.

So our will might not be free in an absolute sense but it is free in a relative way. And the relativity of our autonomy and freedom is related to the properties of Complexity.

Complexity, in general, is a universal natural phenomena given by the integration of differentiated parts (see Complexity). Complexity itself is relative, and systems with higher complexity are characterised by higher flexibility and autonomy. For example, the evolution of higher  complexity on the human nervous system (in relation to other animals) endowed us with higher adaptability (phylogenesis); which was the key to the success of the human species.

In this case we are interested in the relativity of free-will and its relation with a particular kind of complexity: cognitive complexity. The relativity of freedom is related with a relativity in the degrees of cognitive complexity. For example, the development of cognitive complexity (ontogenesis) results in a thought that is more flexible and autonomous; which is manifested on being for example:
. Less dogmatic.
. More adjustable.
. More curious and open to change.
. More independent to external influence and pressure.
. More original, creative and free.

Higher cognitive complexity then, is related with higher flexibility and autonomy of thought, higher capacity to choose in an independent and autonomous way, therefore with higher freedom of will.

Absolute free-will is incompatible with Nature. Relative free-will on the other hand, is compatible with the nature of a monist universe where Complexity is a natural occurence.

The unreality of indeterminism


Indeterminism is the idea that events cannot be absolutely determined by causal relations given that particle physics is characterised by randomness. That is, if physics, at its most fundamental level, is characterised by randomness, then it is impossible to determine through causal relations the final states of events.

One implication of indeterminism, some argue, is that it makes free-will possible. If events cannot be absolutely determined through causal relations then events, like our will, might not be causally determined, and free-will is possible.

This is the argument that Compatibilists use to reconcile the otherwise incompatible views between libertarianism and determinism. Compatibilists sustain that even in a causal world free will is still possible, since there are certain elements of it which are not dominated by causality. Compatibilism is an attempt to rescue the possibility of free-will in a world dominated by scientific explanations. We are going to sustain that the argument of indeterminism to defend the possibility of free-will is fallacious on two aspects: it involves a misconception of the physical world (of particle physics), and regardless if events are causal or not, in a natural world free-will is not possible.

First of all we have to make a distinction between indeterminism and indeterminacy. Indeterminacy is a natural occurrence in particle physics. Indeterminism is a theory inspired on indeterminacy to explain the possibility of free-will. In particle physics there is a limit to what we can know about the physical world: this is what we call indeterminacy. As we said in one of our first premises, any variation in space occurs in its continuity and involves a transmission of information with a variation of energy. To make a measurement we need information from the event. And taking information from the even means a transmission of energy; which means an emission or absorption of energy from the event. This means in turn, that when we try to measure an event we are physically altering it. At large scales this variation might be negligible, but in particle physics it means that we cannot measure events without changing them. And this is what indeterminacy means: it is the impossibility to know physical events in arbitrary detail for there is a limit of the information we can receive without altering them. Indeterminacy takes the form of the uncertainty principle where we find impossible to determine simultaneously and with arbitrary accuracy complementary variables like time and energy, positions and momentum, etc.
Because in particle physics there is a limit of what we can know about physical world, events cannot be causally explained but they are described instead in terms of probability functions. Now, the first argument against indeterminism is that physical indeterminacy is a sufficient but not a necessary condition for it. The fact that we find it physically impossible to establish a causal connection between events does it mean that events are not causally connected.
We sustain that indeed, in a monist universe (as we explained in The unreality of causality) causality is a mental interpretation of the physical world, and not a world’s quality. So causal connections among events are a mental interpretation and not a physical relation.

But even so, indeterminsts seem to confuse indeterminacy with randomness. Even if events are not causally determined, this doesn’t mean that they are random. Nothing in the universe behaves randomly. Not even in the absence of causality. Randomness means lack of order. And Nature is the opposite: it is an order of variation on things. If indeterminism associates the possibility of freedom with randomness due to probabilistic descriptions of quantum mechanics, then this association is wrong. Indeterminacy is not randomness. Random events are characterised for having unpredictable outcomes. That is, they are events that lacks any relation, order or function between the initial conditions and their outcome. Throwing a dice for example, is a random event for there is no way we can predict its outcome; that is, there is no way we can follow a casual sequence of event from the dice in my hand down to the dice on the table to predict its outcome. A determinist would say that randomness doesn’t preclude causality. If we cannot predict the outcome of a dice, it is not because there is no chain of causal events determining it, but it is because the chain of events is so complex that it is unintelligible to us. But in particle physics things seems to be different. The indeterminacy of events in particle physics could suggests that causality might not form part of the physical world at all. And this is what some people take as the origin of our free-will. If events, at the most fundamental level of the physical world, are not determined by causal relations then free-will seems to be physically possible: and this is wrong as well. In a monist universe there might be natural events, like in particle physics where there is indeterminacy. But even these events are still natural, ordered and not random. They might not be causally determined, but this doesn’t mean that they can be random or free. Events would be following a natural order of variation under a Nature that is not causal.

The unreality of determinism


Determinism is the view that all events and actions are determined by causes. Under this view, if we could know at any moment and place all the causes that determines events, then, in principle, we could always predict them.

Such a view of the world precludes the possibility of free-will. If the world would be a deterministic world then our choices, rather than being autonomous and free, they are determined by causes. If we could know the all the causes that determines our choices then, in principle, we could predict them. And if our choices are predictable then they are not free. The only reason for which we cannot predict our choices, is that it is impossible to know all their causes.

Determinism comes from the view that all events in the world are ruled by causal relations. Causality in turn, is the idea that for every cause there in associated effect and vice versa. As we have seen in The unreality of causality, there are certain events, like in particle physics or complex systems, that cannot be explained in causal terms. Furthermore, even where events can be described in causal terms, causality is not a quality of the physical world but a mental interpretation of it. Causality is a subjective rationalisation of the physical world. Events in the physical world are not determined by a multiplicity of causes, but are the result of the behaviour of a unitary and continuous Space. So if the world is not ruled by causal relations then it is not a deterministic world.

Free-will doesn’t exist, not because the world is a deterministic world, but because a monist universe is a natural universe where everything responds to Nature; therefore, nothing can behave in an autonomous way independently from Nature.

Freedom is relative. We might not have a free-will, but we do have certain autonomy in our choices and decisions. And this comes from a quality of complexity. Complexity is a natural phenomena, and our will is the result of our mental complexity. Our choices are more autonomous and free in relation to the degree of cognitive and volitional complexity (see The relativity of freedom)