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PostPosted: Tue Feb 24, 2004 12:36 pm 
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Brad, I'm looking for an explanation of why love is reasonable. What is it in human nature that makes love reasonable. I believe that it is.


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If there is no ethical imperative to avoid harming others, what else is there to be ethical about?


I'm looking for a reason for the imperative, why is the imperative reasonable. I believe Aquinas explains that. I also believe it has something fundamentally to do with the four transcendentals of Being: True, Good, One, Beautiful.

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Last edited by elendil on Tue Feb 24, 2004 12:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 24, 2004 12:40 pm 
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bradhurley wrote:
jim stone wrote:
Bush Sr. ran as an environmentalist president,
and strengthened the Clean Air and Water Act,
for which he earned the undying contempt
and ridicule of environmentalists.


He also got shortchanged by the media on his environmental record. I went to a few of Bush Sr.'s climate change speeches when I worked as a journalist, and I sat right next to the environmental reporters from the NY Times and the Boston Globe. I was amazed when I read their newspaper stories the next day: it was as if we'd listened to different speeches. Both of those reporters had a knee-jerk negative opinion of Bush, and most of their articles were devoted to presenting environmentalists' reactions to the speeches rather than the substance of the speeches themselves. I was always skeptical of the presumed "liberal bias" of the media, but that experience made me think twice. The NY Times thought twice too, as they later reassigned that particular reporter to cover the IRS, and he resigned.

… But he wasn't an environmental villain, and certainly not the ideologue his son is.
He said that in 1993, in an interview with the New York Times.


Thanks so much for injecting real experience into this armchair environment. I didn't care much for Bush, Sr. but it's refreshing to see monolithic attitudes about Republicans rebutted at times. NY Times has little credibility to me, except in the broad scope and resources of their newsgathering capacity, which remains impressive. Agenda, agenda, agenda.

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 24, 2004 12:46 pm 
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jim stone wrote:
bradhurley wrote:
jim stone wrote:
I think nature sucks, personally.


So much for the biophilia hypothesis. :)


It just killed off or maimed most everybody I loved.
But it's fine with me that you love nature,
as long as you don't go all mushy on me.


Jim, you'd probably relate well to this, from Richard Dawkins:

"The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive; others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear; others are being slowly devoured from within by rasping parasites; thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst and disease. It must be so. If there is ever a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored.
. . .
In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference."

at least insofar as it may touch on the personal misfortunes that have befallen you and your loved ones.

That said, I've been a bit puzzled at those times you've said -- or anyone's said -- something like "I'm no fan of nature", and recounted those misfortunes. Maybe it's just because nature, even indifferent and sometimes harmful as it may be, has always held a powerful fascination for me, and that fascination has led to so much discovery and pleasure.

I guess I wonder: though you dislike hearing mushy views of Nature's grandeur, is your feeling toward Nature any less sentimentally derived than, say, the feelings of a Berkeley tree-hugger? Perhaps it is, but it would be interesting to hear how so.

(Also, it seems easier to fault people -- moral actors -- for the incredible suffering delivered at our own hand, to our own kind as well as to other beings, and to the environment. It's easier, for me, to stand in judgment of our own actions and to find us wanting than to feel slighted by an indifferent Nature. Yet I love people, all the same. Often, anyway. . . )

I've seen my share of misfortune, including a grandmother who was affected by stroke at age thirty in what sounds like nearly the same way your sister was devastated, and who lived with us for most of the rest of her life. And I've seen a great deal of suffering and pain in my career in cancer research:if you've ever had to tell a parent that you have no other treatment options for their child, who is doomed to die, you'll have known how cruel Nature can be. Yet I seem unable to hold Nature -- amoral, indifferent, powerful -- responsible for those misfortunes. It isn't *malicious*. It isn't purposeful, nor, I guess, culpable (my reading in moral theory isn't fresh enough for me to remember how one might find an amoral entity culpable of what may derive from it, though). It just *is*. And its is-ness includes such an intriguing, fascinating, affecting, and life-giving power, as well, that it's hard for me to imagine actively disliking, or even being indifferent to, capital-N Nature. Even though it can be so horrid, too.

I suppose this must be at least in part an aesthetic appreciation (it's hard to admire the moral qualitites of an amoral entity, after all, though I suppose one may fault its amorality). For those whose aesthetic sense isn't so tickled by Nature, and who've also suffered loss, well, I can see how one might be angry either at God, for a believer, or Nature, for those who don't believe. It's just never occurred to me to feel wronged by Nature. Before I'm branded a tree-hugging sentimentalist, though, I should say that I also don't feel especially loved or even considered by Nature. Mostly, I'm fascinated and awed, and I like feeling fascinated and awed, so . . . there you go.

I've found myself in the quandary that Wombat has described; you can make an argument for working to protect the environment from many philosophical stances, some more or less attractive than others, depending on the person and the situation. I'm not entirely sure where my primary sympathies lie, despite thinking about this stuff a fair bit. It gives me a little comfort, at least, that though there are a number of ways to defend a strong environmental stance convincingly, there aren't very many convincing arguments for continuing to exploit the environment to the extent we do now, scientific or philosophical. Problem is, many of the remedies seem to get in the way of How We've Always Done Things, or of immediate comforts: two areas in which humans (and all things Natural) are loathe to affect much change, especially if such change is needed quickly.

About the long-term viability of the environment (and thus ourselves, who apparently need a healthy environment to thrive in the long term, too): I hope, but I'm not very optimistic. Have to try, though.


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 24, 2004 12:51 pm 
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Wombat wrote:
Caj wrote:
If there is no ethical imperative to avoid harming others, what else is there to be ethical about?

Caj


I don't making a habit of guessing at what Elendil thinks, but I suppose what puzzles him here is that the future generations consist of beings who don't yet exist and he's puzzled about how you can harm something that doesn't exist.


A "being" that doesn't exist? Maybe a "maybeing"?

But then, just about every ethical problem involves some consequence that may or may not happen in the future. So I suppose we'd still be stuck believing in nothing if we didn't consider those future events or people as "real," or at least relevant to ethical consideration.

Then again: some people believe the rapture will happen any day now, and probably don't believe that there will be future generations to suffer our garbage.

Caj


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 24, 2004 1:06 pm 
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thanks for this, Herbi. I especially like the
part about 'rasping parasites.' And
the stuff about what's going on as Dawkins writes,
the thousands of animals being eaten alive,
this, projected backwards for hundreds of
millions of years is so unspeakable to me
that I view it with horror.

Also, Buddhism. The Mahayana, especially when it gets
to China and mixes with Taoism, which is romantic
about nature, is pretty congenial to nature.
But the Buddha himself isn't a big fan of
nature, indeed, Indian philosophy isn't
very pro-nature. That is, nature is principally
the field of conditioned phenomena, things that
arise and pass away again, which the Buddha
identifies as samsara, the field of suffering.
It's entirely made up of transient things,
attaching to them takes one to despair,
and because everything is transient it is in
a way unsatisfactory and vulnerable. (For instance unpleasant
experiences are unsatisfactory because they
are unpleasant, and pleasant experiences
are unsatisfactory because they are transient.)
Above all there is no refuge from suffering
available in the field of the conditioned,
in samsara, that is, in nature.

One finds this negativity about nature in Hinduism,
too, where the natural world is sometimes viewed as
illusion, Maya, that masks the truth that the
only reality is God, which is characterized by
being, consciousness and bliss.

I think it rained more in China, you see, than
in the north of India, and nature was viewed
as more benign. I suppose deep philosophical
perspectives on nature can be determined by
how much people get to eat.

I'm trying to commicate a point of view, of course,
not persuade anybody. And if you'all have more
positive feelings about nature, that's
fine with me. Go ahead, like Nature.
And when you're reborn as a frog,
remember what I said. But then it will
be too late. Best


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 24, 2004 1:20 pm 
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All the more reason to care for nature now, so that the frogs of today can enjoy all they were meant to be. I'd hate to be a dying flower in your garden, old duffer. :wink:


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 24, 2004 1:29 pm 
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Lorenzo wrote:
All the more reason to care for nature now, so that the frogs of today can enjoy all they were meant to be. I'd hate to be a dying flower in your garden, old duffer. :wink:


Point taken. And I think we should protect it for
the sake of future sentient beings, too. But for
me it's an engineering problem, principally.
I agree that nature is interesting,
especially physics.


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 24, 2004 1:30 pm 
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Can I choose the animal I'm reborn as? Because I'd rather be a raven, if that's okay. Always have wanted to fly, and it's got to be more fun than hopping.

Or a parasite. I guess they probably have it better than the animals on which they prey. So yeah, maybe a liver fluke or something . . .

I see how Buddhism and some other philosophical and religious traditions might not inspire positive feelings toward Nature, certainly. I always wondered about the New Age-y type of Buddhists I've known, who wax sentimental about nature, since the Buddhist philosophy I studied (only academically, not as practitioner) didn't seem too hold much truck with those feelings. We had a guest lecturer for a couple weeks, a Zen master who was the head of one of the major Zen monasteries in Japan, who was at pains to knock out of our young Western heads any view of Buddhism as soft or sentimental or fuzzy (though it was hard for me to think of some of those koans as anything other than fuzzy). He also had a habit of smacking you with a stick, or slapping the table all of a sudden, too, so I didn't know what to make of him, really. . .

Your point about one's belly (and, I might add, pocketbook) determining, in part, one's view about nature is, of course, one of the biggest hurdles any environmental plan faces. There are real concerns about justice and fairness, especially for third-world countries; they see we have our good lives and how we got there, and it's easy to see how they might resent any suggestion that perhaps they should help reduce pollution (and ready economic benefit and so on) or population levels and so on. Any sound environmental policy has to address more than just the environment, but things like justice, economic and technological advancement, and simple but essential issues such as the availability of food. It's complex, and tough. But it's essential work, too, in the long run.

But if possible: definitely a raven. Even with the carrion-heavy diet, theirs seems a pretty decent life.


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 24, 2004 1:34 pm 
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elendil wrote:
Brad, I'm looking for an explanation of why love is reasonable. What is it in human nature that makes love reasonable. I believe that it is.


Except in cases where it is inappropriate, for whatever reason, or expressed inappropriately, as with incest (if that ever really flows from love), what on earth could make it unreasonable?

Perhaps it flows in some sense from something more fundamental but, absent an answer to my question, it doesn't need to be derived from other things. Explanation has to end somewhere and if we don't know when to stop we are in danger of spilling over into nonsense.

Obviously, I'd be interested in any attempt to 'show that love is reasonable', whatever that might mean. But, right now, asking why love is reasonable seems a bit like asking why it is reasonable to breathe. I'd change my tune if I thought that sociopathic amoralists like (in some moods, anyway) Neitszche and Steiner had coherent moral outlooks but I don't think that they do.


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 24, 2004 1:41 pm 
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Jim, ever read Huysmans Against Nature? Sounds like just the book for you. :wink:


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 24, 2004 1:57 pm 
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elendil wrote:
Brad, I'm looking for an explanation of why love is reasonable. What is it in human nature that makes love reasonable. I believe that it is.


Sorry, can't help you there. I don't think love is necessarily reasonable and in fact often flies in the face of reason. And yet people love because they can't help loving.

There are biological explanations for love, which can be divided into proximate and ultimate explanations. An ultimate explanation would describe the evolutionary reasons why love exists: i.e. that love evolved in humans because it led to sex and long-term bonding, which led to offspring who survived and passed on this tendency to love. From an evolutionary perspective a love of non-human things like cities, tin whistles, music, and so forth is just a byproduct of this capacity for love that initially evolved as a prelude to sex and caring for offspring that require a long time to reach maturity. Parental bonding is also seen in other animals whose offspring take years to reach sexual maturity.

Proximate explanations for love would focus on the mechanisms through which we feel love, the effects of hormones, the sequence of biomechanical events that occurs when we see someone we love, and so on.

Whew, I've spent WAY too much time on this thread during a busy day at work and am getting dangerously close to my self-imposed lifetime limit of 500 posts on the Chiff and Fipple Forum. I'll check in again tomorrow.


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 24, 2004 3:02 pm 
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Oh, Brad, you're SO romantic! smiley

Thanks for the book reference, Wombat

You wanna be a raven? OK, I'll put in a word
for you with The Void.
Zen sometimes tends to be ungentle,
more Japanese than Buddhist.
The idea, of course, is to shock you
into not-thinking so that you
see things as they are.
The Buddha didn't hit people
with a stick, however. Buddhism isn't a nice
religion, the central message is
pretty terrifying; it's tough enough
without people beating on you.

As I see it, maybe the universe as it is is better
than nothing at all, but not much.
This is compatible with extraordinary
compassion, it turns out--but one must be
careful, obviously. There is the old
story of Ho Tai, the bodhisatva, trudging
through the market with a huge bag
over his shoulder. A man steps up
and asks:

What is the teaching of Buddhism?

Ho Tai heaves the heavy bag off his
shoulder on to the dirt.

What is the practice of Buddhism?

Ho Tai heaves the bag back up on
his shoulder and trudges away. Best


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 24, 2004 3:29 pm 
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Jim - This has got to be eating into your oboe practice time. :)


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 24, 2004 4:17 pm 
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jim stone wrote:
As I see it, maybe the universe as it is is better
than nothing at all, but not much.

"He turned to speak to God
About the world's despair,
To make bad matters worse,
He found God wasn't there.

God turned to speak to him,
(Don't anybody laugh),
God found he wasn't there,
At least not over half." -RF



:Dwhoops


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 24, 2004 5:32 pm 
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What a grand read you guys. Realy. I haven`t had anything to say that Brad hasn`t already said. He puts fourth my thoughts much more elequently then I ever could. But I would like to add just a little from the perspective of a noncity person. I guess I am in aue of nature, and humbled and elevated and totaly emotionaly over whelmed by nature. It is very uncompromising indeed and takes little heed of us lowely humans.
I spent about 20 years at the tiller of my small sail boat dealing directly with her day in and day out and there was never any mystery. The quality of your reactions determined how long you got to play. There were never any shades of grey. Stricktly black or white. Now that I am dealing with horses and horse farming it is the same game different board. I lost a good friend a couple of weeks ago. A 6 year old Belgian draft by the name of Andy. Great horse. Got kicked in the shoulder which shatterd every bone in the area. I used to kinda laugh at the mad hatters tea party that feeding time is but not anymore. One of my favorite horses killed another one of my favorite horses. It was naturel. I don`t think we have to love nature to understand its meaning or to realize what it has to teach us. We just have to own up to the fact that we have the ability to understand our impact on it and we have the ability to modify our behavior to achieve a better balance with in this unforgiving system. We alsa have the ability to understant our impact on not only future generations of our own species but of all life on the planet. To me it is simple; you either build or distroy. We don`t realy get to blame anything on anybody. We either act responsibly or not. If not then we justify it by either blaming the problem on someone else or deny our own culpability for that distruction. We in the more affluent countries have made the decision that our own daily comfort, our ability to do just about anything we want to, our notion that power and control are an exceptable alternitive to inlightenment will just have to live in the bed we have made. Of course those who are victimized by our life syle lay in the bed we made for them.
Why we feel we have to seperate outselves from emotion has always been a mystery to me. It is part of what we are and nobody knows the answer to that question. But I think the mysteries of life is realy what its all about. And we have little time to ponder them because of the way we have decided to live our lives. No system is right or wrong, it just is and wont be. I think nature will be around long after we have consumed ourselves and all our high faluten word games will be meaningless. But we should remember that if this species ends it will be because we bring it to an end, and knew we were doing it, and didn`t realy care. Which is weird because I believe we choose life, and in fact what life and where and when. There are no accidents and we infact create our own reality.
We are the experential part of all that is. The tactile system of that which we seek. I don`t know that, I just feel that. No answer there for you elendil, though I think I`m getting to know you better :)

Tom


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