For those interested in having a physical copy of this website (with slight deviations), click on this link: Why and Because – The Art and Science of Moral and Ethical Understanding.
The nice thing about having a blog, is the ability to respond to people. I’ll add to this post as new reviews come in.
1st review: Great
“Lawrence Sheraton is a genius! Great Book”
[My Response: I’m not sure who this is from but my first thought was “Thanks Mom :-)”
I’ll take the compliment and place the first statement in the category of hyperbole and the second in good judgement.]
2nd Review: Intriguing, but pretentious and dismissive
This does have some interesting philosophical ideas. It talks about some research surrounding ethics, and it broadly mirrors my own positions in this regard (i.e., in viewing the avoidance of harm and fairness as the most important ethical principles). It also seeks to improve society, which is always welcome.
However, it also has some issues:
1. First, most of the relevant material seems to be available online at the author’s blog. It seems to be hard to justify paying money for the Kindle version, at least, with that being the case. [Response: Yes. I published EthicsDefined.org years before Why and Because – The Art and Science of Moral and Ethical Understanding. My priority is to reach as many people as possible and some people prefer books, some e-readers, and some websites. Blogs are free, e-books, and hard copy books are not. The proceeds from book sales (if they ever become something of significance) will go to supporting the EthoLiberal Society.]
2. It engages in slight misrepresentation of certain research. For example, Haidt’s research on ethics identified six moral principles, but Sheraton only recognizes two. That’s perfectly fine, but it’s misleading to present Haidt’s research as supporting Sheraton’s ideas. [Response: When I wrote this book in 2008 (published the website in 2010, and the book in 2017) Haidt’s moral principles in 2008 numbered 5, which are the one’s I noted in both the website and book. I fully acknowledge Haidt’s 5 moral pillars and I agree with his assessment that they are all present in every culture and even in the animal kingdom to some extent. We differ in how we interpret his data. Haidt added a 6th moral metric relatively recently, I believe relating to Liberty which I felt was an attempt to keep his ideas fresh. His 6th principle only adds a 4th item to the moral sphere and that is irrelevant to the two ethical pillars I focus on when defining the innate abilities we have that transcend time and culture (harm/care and fairness/reciprocity). Also, his sixth and newer principle was not part of his www.yourmorals.org study, which is referenced in the book.]
3. The big downside is that it’s both pretentious and condescending. [Response: Why?] Merely reading this book will help you make others moral people [Response: No, but better understanding of ethical reasoning will help you detect moral arguments and relate your ethical analysis to them better] – but, as Sheraton helpfully tells us, only if we can convince ourselves first. [Response: Yes. To effectively argue an ethical point, you need to first analyze it yourself, using introspection and good questions. Once you have that bit in hand, you can engage other people.] Ethical reasoning, we are told, is simplicity itself! [Response: There is a paradox to ethics. Ethical knowledge “know-how” is innate. Ethical Understanding “know-why” is a skill that needs to be developed. Ethical understanding can be helped or harmed by cultural influences. Cultural memes are so powerful, they can subvert one’s intrinsic ability for ethical reasoning. Unraveling this paradox is what a good portion of the book is about.] Everyone is endowed with infallible innate ethical reasoning, [Response: “Infallible” – NO; “innate” – Yes.] and any actions that are contrary to Sheraton’s conception of ethics are the result of cultural interference. [Response: I don’t offer any of my own conceptions of ethics, i.e. value judgements in the book, outside of my views on gay marriage, which is used to make a point about how purity/sanctity memes can warp people’s ability to derive ethical truth with something that is pretty simple to evaluate from an ethical perspective. The focus of the book is defending the idea that ethical knowledge is innate, ethical understanding is key for deriving ethical truth in every circumstance, providing a mythology for doing so, and shining light on the elusive obvious fact that cultural memes have authority over people’s mental models of the world, and these memes warp ethical judgement.] Conservatism, religion, and assorted other elements of human experience are relevant mainly as obstacles to Sheraton’s perfect ethical reasoning. [Response: Cultural memes that warp ethical judgement are everywhere, just like bacteria. Just like bacteria, some keep us healthy and some make us sick. Ethical understanding is required to inoculate yourself from bad memes. I did not invent the Golden Rule, that’s pretty old. I think this reader missed many key points I labored to make throughout the book. This may be a failing on my part for not having better communicated my points, or maybe their personal frame is such that they could not see the points I was trying to make. Regardless, I would encourage others to read the book and share their conclusions. Criticism is like a honing stone if you view it the right way, some of it is valid, some is not, but it will make you sharper if you engage with in properly. I appreciate the input.]
– What happens when one’s innate sense of ethics leaves one torn between two sides of an issue. [Response: This is address but not in great detail. Ethical deliberation weights the good and the bad. Difficult ethical matters are not B&W/Good or Bad, they exist in the gray-scale, where only better or worse best describe thoughts, actions, and options. Sometimes there is no right or wrong course, only a better or worse course given the information and options at hand. If you continuously approach a better arch, you will end up in a better place.]
– How one decides which objects or creatures are worthy of being considered for ethical reasoning by analogy. [Response: This is a function of one’s empathetic response to “others”, be it individuals, groups of people, animals, other living things, and even non-living things like issues of “the commons”, etc. Ethics is circumstantial (not to be confused with relative), so each circumstance has to be evaluated to determine the right course of action.]
– What the proper meaning of “this” is in “how would I feel if this were done to me.” [Response: “This” is whatever is being evaluated. In an moral context, it is the potentially unethical act in question that is being done to someone or some “other” entity. By asking this question, you are using the Golden Rule and your innate power of introspection to test a fundamental premise (the Golden Rule) with regards to core ethical considerations relating to harm/care and fairness/reciprocity. Doing this allows you to derive ethical truth.]
– Why ethical reasoning based on the Golden Rule (basically what Sheraton is advocating) should be considered independent of culture, when different cultures vary in what they would have done unto them. [Response: A large portion of this book goes into great detail on this very issue. Cultural memes are ethically relativistic; and that’s a problem. Cultural memes are tools. Haidt’s 5-moral pillars (6 if you prefer his new set) are the tools that societies use to enforce ethical principles AND provide additional social control over matters of convention (non-ethical matters). Ethical principles are those society ought to promote and defend. They are innately knowable, they transcend time and culture; which makes the useful to resolve cultural conflicts. Social progress occurs when cultural memes more closely reflect ethical ideals. Societies decay when ethical principles are subverted by submission to authoritarianism, in-group bigotry, and purity memes that conceal the misdeeds of those claiming moral authority. A culture is king model of ethical understanding is a shallow understanding of ethics. A full understanding of ethics provides the insight that ethics transcend culture and time. It’s universally and innately knowable.]
– And assorted other issues that come along with asserting that an issue that humans have wrestled with for millenia is both trivial and something that everyone innately knows the answer to. [Response: Science has given us answers to many millennia old questions. There are a few key insights in this book that add to these age-old debates. I’ve provided a proof for innate ethical knowledge, “I feel, therefore I know ethics.” I’ve provided a context for the application of the Golden Rule. It should be asked to answer questions related to harm/care and fairness/reciprocity. I’ve provided an answer to the paradox, “If everyone is born with the innate knowledge of ethics, how come the understanding of ethics is so varied among people and cultures.” The answer is knowledge and understanding are not the same thing, AND cultural memes have authority over us and can subvert our ethical insights. Individuals have the power to affect cultural memes, but cultural memes affect individuals on a constant basis, from birth, and are exerted by everyone we know in various ways. Introspection is a powerful tool to unlearn the bad stuff and derive the correct course irrespective of the group or authority figure you are confronting. There are likely more insights, but you’ll have to read the book 🙂]
One suspects that one thing, at least, is true: until you can convince yourself that Sheraton’s sense of morality is correct, you likely will not be able to find that innate sense of morality that he mentions, nor even begin to convince others of it. [Response: If this person read the book completely, they would have use the term ethics :-/]