Thursday, December 17, 2009

On Hasnas' Response to Sandefur's Response to Hasnas

Hasnas does an excellent job responding to Sandefur. Especially in his clarifying the distinction between a spontaneous and a constructed order. His observations have clarified for me that Sandefur seems to think that a spontaneous order must be made up of spontaneous orders to be a spontaneous order -- which makes as much sense as saying that environments must be made of environments to be environments. Not complex orders are spontaneous orders.

There is one thing I disagree with Hasnas -- and that is where he is in agreement with Sandefur -- which is on the issue of the evolution of morals.

As Marc Hauser has demonstrated in "Moral Minds," morals evolved. Frans de Waal talks about ethics among apes in "Good Natured," showing the origins of many of our own morals. So certainly morals evolved. Now, at this biological level, with morals as instincts, that evolution is slow enough to work as a stationary set of grounded moral principles. But it is a set that will likely not make either Hasnas nor Sandefur happy. Nevertheless, such instincts are sufficiently complex -- and often have their own paradoxical opposites -- that they set the groundwork for what Hayek partially (in)correctly understood as the origins of morals, and how they evolved: at the level of culture, tradition, and spontaneous order. Let me give an example.

In our original, tribal state, it is good to love one's tribe and to hate anyone not in one's tribe. Those who thought otherwise about other tribes ended up with spears through their bodies by those who practiced this. However, humans are also xenophilic -- this is likely a result of the kind of outbreeding we see in chimpanzees today, where the females leave their troupe when they become sexually mature, to join another troupe -- which helps prevent inbreeding. So humans are naturally xenophobic and xenophilic. As we developed larger and larger social groups, from small settlements to cities to empires and nation-states, our xenophilic tendencies were more adaptive than were our xenophobic tendencies. Along with this came our morals -- it is not ethical to murder, rape, and steal from one's family and tribe, and those morals were expanded along with the expansion of who we considered to be in our tribe. Those who consider all the world to be in their tribe thus have a hard time stomaching wars of any kind. This kind of expansion of morals is spontaneous, and was not legislated by anyone. Constructed legislation has in fact more often stood in the way of this natural evolution than is has helped. More typically, as I noted before, it follows society to where society has already gotten.

Now, as our morals evolve in this spontaneous fashion, another thing begins to emerge: moral reasoning. This is what we see in Plato and Aristotle, who begin to reason about the morals already present. And to critique them. Hasnas argues that moral reasoning comes first. It does not. It is a recent addition. A welcome one (sometimes), but a fairly recent one. It can only emerge out of the moral spontaneous order. Which is itself rooted in (and cannot become untethered from) our moral instincts.
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