How do we humans make decisions? Are they rooted on ‘beliefs’ or reason? What are, or should be, the principles on which all of our ordinary judgments be based? Are we free to make decisions? These are some of the questions we will consider when attempting to identify the possible source(s) of righteousness.
We intend to develop further previous incursions into the conscious processes underlying the search for meanings associated with unfamiliar environmental stimuli previously processed at subconscious levels. In so doing we will stress the importance of a rational, self conscious agency operating by seeking to be the first cause of its subsequent deliberative actions with the assistance of the language faculty. By subjecting the novelty experienced to a conscious a-priori analytical dissection followed by an a-priori synthetic dissection on its specifics we may arrive at a synthetic a-posteriori conclusion to guide the continuing search for the best adaptive solution to choose from pre-existing and available probable alternatives, what we have called ‘free will by consent’. We will highlight the interplay between beliefs and reasons and how we should strive to clearly identify the ‘thing’ we consciously will to produce or bring about, i.e., an end, as an adaptive solution to our immediate problem and to the world whenever/wherever the same problem may come up. This way ‘the end’ will guides my actions into deliberations about means of producing that result. Once I have adopted an end in this sense, it dictates that I do something about it and ideally I will act in ways that will bring about that ‘end’ according to first humanity principles. How so?
Our neuro-philosophy model of consciousness, following biopsychosocial (BPS) preservation guidelines, dictates what -other possibly interfering things- not to do so I am able to execute my choice plan. This way, the free will of every conscious rational being becomes a will that either argues for, or follows universal laws. Arguably our fundamental moral obligation is to act only on principles which could earn acceptance by a community of fully rational agents each of whom have an equal share in arguing in behalf of these principles for their community or state. These arguments, a post-Kantian extension of his “categorical imperatives”, represent goals to be nurtured when humanity, not the individual, is in search of proper responses to its real time existential problems. As such, it is an objective end, because it is an end that every rational being must have insofar as the individual is rational. Consequently, it should limit what I am morally permitted to do when I pursue my selfish and subjective negative ends…., as a goal. Many complex problems arise when we try to force the equality beliefs = reason = natural laws = universal laws. What is the difference?
Do we innately distinguish the self interest from that of others (humanity)? When we do, humanity in oneself is the source of a duty to develop one’s talents or to ‘perfect’one’s humanity. Or better, encourage that of others as when recognizing values that have met some standard of evaluation appropriate to persons. What comes first? Ideally there should be no conflict because true freedom does not imply being bound by no law, but by self-imposed ‘laws’ that are in some sense of one’s own rational/moral making. True autonomy, when individually applied, should ensures that the source of the authority of the moral law principles that binds self is one’s own rational will, i.e., one that operates in response to reasons, free from physically or psychologically imposed controls such as e.g., slavery, deranged obsessions or other medical thought disorders, etc.
However, it should be noticed a distinction between a will being determined through the operation of natural laws subconsciously controlling the biopsychosocial equilibrium and those operating in response to reasons in a normal conscious subject. The subjective conscious belief of being free is established empirically and, as such, cannot be subjected to a rational a-priori analytical scrutiny as an argument to invoke a Kantian Categorical Imperative. Are we ‘free’ when engaged in quotidian existential endeavors, here and now, trying to decide what to do, what to hold oneself and others responsible for? Can the existential constraints, when observed, still be justified in holding such behavior as conscious and autonomous free wills? If we consider the human species existence as a neo-Copernican reality and take into account the self evident fact of our species sensory and brain combinatorial limitations, it would not be as difficult to conceive of a compromise between pure and practical reason as Kant tried without much success when he introduced the muddled synthetic a-priori argumentation. This, because existential reality, however limited, is in our human brains and consequently humans are at the center of the universe and are the reason for all things, those that are and those that are not. Contrary to metaphysical logic claims, mathematics is a convenient language we humans invented, not discovered, to represent environmental phenomenal sensations, experienced as perceptual brain ‘feelings’ and represented as symbols or sentences when physically absent or ‘invisibilities’ below the threshold of sense detection. This is the rationale for an epistemontological hybrid conceptual model of real time, existential reality.
It is a foregone conclusion that there is no rational basis on which to root any belief that the natural world we experience is (or is not) structured according to some purpose by an intelligent Designer. But, there is also a rational basis on which to logically predict or believe that something, somehow, somewhere has caused the phenomenological structures and/or functions we, our brains, experience. To invoke self creation is living in convenient, sometimes perverse, denial because, deny it or not, we are all believers, rational thinking demands it! This does not mean we should not insist on the actual practice of science and technology to look, search and describe for us the phenomenal what and the practical ‘how’ but also speculate on the purpose of chemicals, cells, tissues, organs, creatures, environments, and so on from the micro to the cosmological levels of organization. And leave the noumenal what and why of the ‘design’ to metaphysical logic evaluation, when available, that should not exclude the search for answers outside the 4-d space time Minkowsky confinement imposed on our species, reason demands it. If there is a convincing reason, other than self-serving pre-judgments, it should become available for dispassionate analysis. We can use same argument to concede that while there is no rational justification for anyone’s belief that our conscious and free wills are (or are not) free, the subconscious accessing of higher order explanations are geared to search for the right casual chain that includes the origin, and for the curious (and retired ), also a continuing search for the first causes of things. All of this consciously and freely willed, operating according to a universal law, not imposed but one of which I, the individual, am the origin or author!
Yet, please notice that, according to the methodology rules of the game, an analytic a-priori scrutiny applies to a rational entity. Existential reality requires that the human rational agency must take the means to our individualized empirical ends not methodologically subject to a proper a-priori rational analysis. Thus there seems to be a conflict between the analytic claim characterizing standard philosophy methodology and the supposed synthetic conclusion that a rational agency also requires when conforming to a further, non-desire based, principle of practical reason such as the Kantian categorical imperative, deontologigal variation, claiming that there is ‘something’ (?) in the ‘rational synthesis’ which is an end in itself. In other words, the important thing was for Kant, not the rational solution to the individualized existential problem but instead that a free rational conscious will was the righteous source of moral authority. This abstract value was not necessarily related to value of the result intended in real time existence by the conscious willing. It would seem as if theoreticians often lose sight that they are biopsychosocial beings themselves with all of the existential implications on the priorities that subconsciousness defends and unfortunately only knowledge and good experiences can overcome. This is a fact of life the recorded history of mankind can testify to. Rousseau’s “Social Contract” conclusions on the innate good nature of man that the society of men corrupt carries an inherent contradiction because knowledge and predictable certainty of the few graced with a good upbringing, superior intelligence and access to possible unconventional revelation sources guiding their decision-making process as the backgrounds for righteousness is uncommon. Inferential knowledge from historical traditions, i.e., as found in scriptural writings, is also relevant and important and may not qualify as rational in the philosophical point of view. Different from ‘reason’, beliefs have two dimensions: a historical point of reference (tradition) and an existential emotionally-laden imperative associated with species survival (BPS equilibrium.) which at times counter each other because constancy of tradition is assumed and the dynamic evolution of BPS equilibrium cannot temporally synchronize.
We also need to distinguish between negligent and intentional behavior patterns beyond what is coded law. Do punishable life-patterns stem from various negligent failures of reason imposed by the political system or its total absence as imposed by health related inheritance? In addition we need to look into the question of whether revelation is dependent on traditional sensory input or is it transmitted from another source? God directly or a hypostasized, created, intermediary prophet?
If created as an epistemological model to mediate, what are the rules guiding the model, whose rules, whose reasons could be arrived at independently by any rational human being? In other words, these are ’laws’ which ought to ‘make sense’ to any reasonable person, and, as such, are basic, natural moral laws which, left to our own devices, we ought come up with on our own, e.g., things like prohibitions against murder, adultery, theft, lying and abusing flora and fauna. Can the laws of reason equate with natural laws? Are they grounded on BPS survival considerations? Are they connected as an inseparable epistemontological hybrid? Reason and revelation assist each other. The theologically inspired commandments and prohibitions become the equivalents of the secular ethical laws of nature. Reason alone has it that, with their guidance, man is able to work for a hypothetical salvation, he has earned it.
Intuitively and as Kant suggested, “..revelation, tradition and prophecy are all intimately related.” This, because revelation, if ever present to some, is supported, if nothing else, by acting in accordance with basic, reason-based moral ideals. Existence is itself an unknown (divine?) gift. Revelation and knowledge-from-tradition are distinct from reason-based knowing may ultimately be one and the same effort to satisfy the innate drive to explain our existence as to origins and destinations.
The order instituted by God, or an intelligent designer equivalent, whereby everlasting happiness is arguably achieved by man’s labors in fulfillment of the self imposed law. God beliefs supplements a secular natural law ethics (and/or a ‘Virtue Theory’ ethics) with a divine command theory for the purpose of increasing human survival potential as a species. Reason, in this way, is helped by revelation. What is natural law ethics? By the life, death and passion of prophets and their prayerful mode of facing them exemplifies that there is a time to give and time to receive.
Summary and Conclusions.
Any neurophilosophy model of human consciousness will eventually have to address the important issue of the decision-making process. We have detailed in three previous volumes what we think is at the core of existential human behavior in a real time, 4-dimensional Minkowsky world. We concentrated then on the bottoms up elements that transmit information from our internal (body proper) and 4-d external environment. These included genetic and memetic sources, all in place to guarantee the survival of the species, at least to reproductive age and included biological, psychic and social elements (BPS). This may be considered the subconscious phase strategies for maintaining a BPS equilibrium as in any other subhuman species.
However, when confronted with novel, unfamiliar environmental contingencies/stimuli, programmed solutions in genetic and memory data bases are necessary but insufficient to maintain a biopsychosocial equilibrium and we had to change shift and draw on ‘top-down’ self conscious strategies to improvise adaptive solutions. These included a completion of the analytic a priori scrutiny for content of new stimuli and a summary of the available neuro-humoral and neuromuscular resources for an effective execution of an adaptive response.
We now deal with what goes on between receptor and effector, how do we make decisions in response to new situations, what role do secular ethics and theological moral codes, i.e., logical, rational and beliefs play, respectively? What are the sources of righteousness? The answers have remained unanswered for centuries. In our brief discussion we draw heavily from Kant and St. Thomas Aquinos in orienting our own epistemontological hybrid approach.
Emmanuel Kant was one of the first serious philosophers to address the principle(s) on which all of our ordinary moral judgments are based when making decisions. Ideally, the judgments in question are supposed to be those any normal, sane, adult human being would accept. Today, we dare question the sufficiency of his overly optimistic ‘synthesis a priori’ conclusions about the depth and extent of real time existential moral agreement. What is important about his conclusions is that his foundational moral principle is anchored on the requirement that the decision flows from an individual person’s own free and rational will. But what about the complexities of quotidian human existence, such as what is revealed in human psychology, social interaction, political and religious passions, etc. How can they be framed as ethical obligations? How may a personal goal fit inside a frame of moral virtuosity and complete happiness by assuming the former is a condition sine qua non for deserving the latter? We posit that a biopsychosocial well being, in equilibrium with existential reality, as argued, is the best probable moral perfection most of us can hope for. A virtuous human life in conflict with self well being is the exception to the abstract, logical and universal moral law that rational thinking brings about when it cannot account for the theological guidance and inspiration for righteousness a few historical prophets experienced. But, the transfinite sources of righteousness even for those few need to be explained by any means, including faith, not necessarily described in its probable unintelligible complexity,
We have questioned in the preceding perambulating ramblings, the methodology that standard moral philosophy employs when evaluating the worth of beliefs and rationality when consciously and freely processing novel, unfamiliar environmental information as part of an integral view of a brain dynamics model when in search of appropriate meanings of novel contingencies. The latter precedes any subsequent effort to solve the particular, individualized problem at hand, as opposed to providing universal guidelines applicable to any innominate general human contingency in one’s existence. Once we identify the fundamental philosophical issues that must be addressed analytically a priori, i.e., without drawing on empirical observations of human beings and their behavior, we may then match the results with facts drawn from experience in order to determine how best to apply this principle to real time human beings and generate particular conclusions about how we ought to act then and hopefully anytime a similar issue comes up. Kant’s original emphasis on an exclusive a priori analytical method to establish fundamental moral principles seems lacking and in contradiction for it is common knowledge that our conscious free will is determined by practical considerations and various motivations, including negative ones, and may produce or not the right actions. Besides, secular ethical codes usually rely on empirical generalizations. A compromise between the logical requirements of an a priori analytical tool and existential reality is necessary.
Since observation cannot adequately establish the necessary conformity of rational wills to the Categorical Imperative, Kant cleverly regards the claim that they do conform as an example of an a priori synthetic claim, i.e., an a priori claim that is not analytic or conceptual because their justification cannot rely on observation. This is the questionable reason Kant held fundamental issues in ethics must be addressed with an a priori method because the ultimate subject matter of ethics is the nature and content of the principles that necessarily determine a rational will. Is an ‘a priori synthetic’ method a de facto an ‘a posteriori synthetic method? An a posteriori method seems ill-suited to discovering and establishing what we must do; surely it will only tell us what we actually do. For a posteriori considerations would thus result in a tainted conception of moral requirements, based on individualized BPS considerations. E.g., the idea of a good will is supposed to be the idea of one who only makes decisions that she holds to be morally worthy, taking moral considerations in themselves to be conclusive reasons for guiding her behavior. This sort of disposition or character is something we all highly value. Kant believes we value it without limitation or qualification. But, good will must then also be good in itself and not in virtue of its relationship to other things such as the agent’s own happiness or overall welfare.
What follows, as a parting shot, is an afterthought of what may seem like a neuroscientist attempt to navigate the unfamiliar waters of moral philosophy without a lifesaver and a faulty engine. But, one would expect that before addressing such question as what is a duty to act righteously one would have to know who is responding, under what circumstances and to what stimulus. Naturally, if one were to choose a ‘metaphysics of morals’ as a guide to the answer, it would have be an account of the nature and structure of existential moral reality, a categorization of specific duties and values for specific problems as they arise in real time existence. Metaphysical questions are scrutinized by established a priori methods. Conformity to moral requirements has formally nothing to do with a conscious, autonomous rational agency. We have all read newspaper accounts of the immoral behavior of perfectly rational agent! To say that what is really important is not the subject but his inner principles is an abstraction of questionable social value unless we deny that a man does not exist independent from the very circumstances that make him the man he actually is in reality. Furthermore, Is rational free agency to feel constrained to act in certain ways that we might not want to, or the thought that we have moral duties? A dutiful or action from any of these biopsychosocial motives, however praiseworthy it may be, does not necessarily express a good will because assuming an action has moral worth only if it expresses a good will, independent of the probable negative consequences, such actions have no genuine ‘moral worth’. Perhaps the motivational structure of a conscious and free rational agent be better arranged on the basis of duty priority under the unavoidable circumstances surrounding the individualized case, and this includes a consideration of the unavoidable human emotion concomitants. Translated into out brain dynamics model, the motivation should be predicated on the subject’s BPS viability. This should not be construed as ignoring the force of abstract moral requirements as reasons because arguably, they retain their reason-giving force under any circumstance and ergo, they have universal validity. In what universe free of conditions or circumstances, one may ask? Does it make sense that because of being ill informed, negligent or outright intentional in having antecedently adopted some conflicting goal for ourselves, we should be considered rational enough to understand the complex, the obscure, the unexpected, the unintelligible and act on it, simply because we possess a conscious and rational free will? This is an appeal for more conceptual development of hypothetical imperatives as a realistic conditional force, taking into account emotional and cognitive states the subject may or may not be in and in virtue of his conscious free desiring or wanting an end compatible with real time, ongoing biopsychosocial equilibrium and well being which Kant himself recognized as “natural necessities…and practical law”. Even then, there is no guarantee that “the ends we will we might not have willed, and some ends that we do not will we might nevertheless have willed”. Conscious, rational free agents will the necessary and available means to any ends that they will, what Aquinos called “practical rationality”. This way we are committed, albeit imperfectly, to the care and sustenance of our niche in the biosphere ecosystem, as the intelligent designer somewhere in transfinity cares for the entire universe.
We argue that the precepts of the natural laws direct us toward the universal good as well as various particular goods and thus provide the pure and practical reasons for us conscious rational beings to be aware and act pursuant to their benefits. We urge the appropriate professionals to transform this implicit awareness into explicit and propositional legislation free from strong emotions or evil dispositions. Natural law is that good is to be done and evil avoided, good is the pursuit of a healthy, happy and socially convivial life as implied in the biopsychosocial equilibrium (BPS).
But how is universal, natural goodness possible? For one might hold, as Aquinos did, “..that human beings’common nature, their similarity in physiological constitution, makes them such as to have some desires in common, and these desires may be so central to human aims and purposes that we can build important and correct precepts of rationality around them”. For something to be good is not that it stands in some relation to desire but rather that it is somehow “perfective or completing” of a being, where what is perfective or completing of a being depends on that being’s nature. The most appropriate response an existing real time conscious and free human to the goods available cannot be absolutely determined by any master legislation or philosophical method, but can be determined only by the involvement of the JudeoChrIslamic theological institutions or their equivalent secular appeal to the insight of the conscious rational and autonomous persons of genuine practical wisdom, the rightness of actions in rational agency, itself a moral value as argued. When we stress from the pulpit, the temple or the mosque the importance of that collection of features that make us distinctively human, and these include capacities to engage in self-directed rational behavior and thereby adopt and pursue our own reasonable ends, and any other capacities necessarily connected with these, then we are truly free.
Dr. Angell O. de la Sierra, Esq. In Deltona, Florida Spring 2012
2. Timmerman, Jens, 2007, Kant’s Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals: A Commentary. New York: Cambridge University Press.