The Instigator
Nail_Bat
Con (against)
Losing
7 Points
The Contender
abard124
Pro (for)
Winning
14 Points

Fear of punishment is sufficient to explain morality

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 3/15/2009 Category: Society
Updated: 8 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 7,507 times Debate No: 7401
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (11)
Votes (3)

 

Nail_Bat

Con

The question of this debate is: Why should anyone even try to be moral?

Any other time you use the word "should", it is implied that the action will result in something desirable. "You should exercise three times a week [because that will help you stay healthy]". Even if the person agrees that the sentence is true, he or she only needs to follow this advice if they actually want the result.

When talking about morals, however, the implication is suspiciously absent. "You should not kill." Why? One rational answer is the fear of punishment. At the scale of person to person, we don't cross one another because we fear they might reciprocate the action (a derivative of the Golden Rule). At the scale of the state, we don't cross the laws because we fear imprisonment, or worse. At the scale of the spiritual, we don't cross laws because we fear we will be punished by a higher power.

In this debate, I will argue that fear of punishment is NOT a sufficient explanation for why anyone would prefer to act morally. I won't deny that there do exist some people who only refrain from theft and murder because they'd rather not go to jail, though.

Despite my stance as CON, I am giving myself the burden of proof. I framed the debate this way in order to avoid a pesky double negative.
abard124

Pro

Wow. I'm REALLY sorry that took so long. It was completely my fault.

Anyhow, I think my saving grace in this debate will be the fact that any time you are offered a reward for ding something, and then you don't do it, your punishment is that you do not get the reward.

My other saving grace will be that remorse is also punishment. That could well result from "man-made" evolution, so to speak. In other words, the homo erectus probably didn't care much about right and wrong, and felt no remorse. However, as civilization grew, and especially harsher penalties, those who didn't like the feeling of remorse were taken away, killed, imprisoned for life, castrated, you name it, but anyway, they couldn't have children, so that trait ultimately died out, at least for the most part. Back to the argument.

Anyway, there are 3 types of reinforcement: Positive (reward), Negative (punishment), and intrinsic (conscience). However, without reward, there can't exist punishment, and vice versa, and conscience speaks for itself. Every single thing you do in life is influenced by all three reinforcements (to some extent), and whichever one the subject feels is strongest is usually what they follow.

I am excited to hear your argument, as I'm sure it will be very good.
Debate Round No. 1
Nail_Bat

Con

No need to apologize! I'm really busy too this week so my arguments will be sporadic. Maybe I should have posted this debate next week...

I clarified in the comments section what I mean by "punishment", although I think we can have a good debate without focusing too much on one word. I am referring to pain that an intelligent agent inflicts on another in response to something they did.

Remorse is a big factor in my argument, but it is not the answer in and of itself. Remorse is simply a pain associated with an action that we consider wrong, so the question we need to ask is "What is the source or remorse?" A reasonable answer is that we fear punishment, either from others, from the State, or from a higher power.

If we act morally because we fear punishment, then morality is a direct result of the pleasure principle. Some have made the argument that everything we do is the result of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. To a degree this is true, directing our behavior is what pain and pleasure are for. However, there are so many layers between seeking pleasure and our actual decision making processes that it is fallacious to boil any human behavior down to just the pleasure principle. The idea that we act morally because we fear punishment seems a little too simple to me, if morality were that easy to understand we wouldn't be having debates like this.

Let's do an unofficial thought experiment. Imagine that, all of a sudden, murder became globally acceptable. Not God, not country, not even the family of the victim would reciprocate in any way. Could you bring yourself to kill another person? If remorse is simply grounded in fear of punishment, then we should imagine that killing another should be a perfectly acceptable, even if unnecessary, action. I am certain that a great number of people would not be able to commit murder even in these circumstances. Are these people all lying about their character? It's possible, but just like invoking the pleasure principle, it paints a very bleak picture of humanity.

Finally, if punishment is the source or remorse, then it follows that any atheist who refrains from an immoral action in a situation where there is no chance of being caught isn't truly an atheist at all.

My alternative to the source of morality is going to center around the idea of social groups, so it will help to give a little introduction to them in order to clarify my thoughts. We humans have two opposing social forces: one is a natural tendency to form groups. Whether its family, friends, religions, clubs, political parties or what have you, nearly all of us willingly belong to a number of social groups. A true, honest to goodness hermit is a pretty rare sight (but maybe that's because they don't leave their homes often…). There is also a tendency for us to repel others who are too "different". Supposedly there was an evolutionary advantage to having these opposing forces: the desire to group together allowed humans to survive beyond the means of any one individual, while the desire to repel helped ensure the creation of multiple, varied groups rather than one homogenous group.

Sometimes, a grouping of people will become well defined enough that it can actually be given a name and considered an entity. For a group to be "well defined", there needs to be a well understood rule that determines whether or not a person is part of that group. For certain kinds of groups, like clubs, this rule is simple: if your name is on a list, you're in, otherwise, get off our property. Other groups, however, are simply defined by a quality of the person. One does not need approval of anyone to become a Christian, for example, only the right beliefs.

This is an example of a "classification problem"; deciding whether X is Y. My philosophy is centered on the belief that this problem is unsolvable. There is no unambiguous, deterministic set of rules that will always yield the same answers for "is X a Y?" that any person would give. We use a combination of reason, experience, intuition, and pattern matching to determine whether one thing is another thing. In many cases we can't even explain exactly why we think that some X is Y, but we're darned sure that it is.

Because of the unsolvability of the classification problem, sometimes new members of a group will have a slightly different conception about what that group is. Over time, this can result in the modern incarnation of the group being completely unrecognizable compared to the older version. If the older version still exists, then the same word can no longer be used to describe both, and thus new terms will evolve and the group will split into multiple, distinct entities.

I've pointed out that social groups can be created, they can mutate, they can reproduce (split into factions), and obviously they can die if they are unable to hold on to their members. Because they have these properties, social groups are susceptible to the laws of natural selection. Hence, over time, you will expect to see social groups with more and more staying power. Religions, countries, political parties, and other such large social groups are the evolutionary leaders in this race.

What I believe is that morality, rather than simply being a set of rules, is the definition of one of the most significant and inclusive social groups we belong to: the "acceptable person" group. We take pride in being part of major social groups. Being excommunicated from any such group is one of the most psychologically painful things we can experience. Why do we not murder, steal, rape, and assault on a whim? Not necessarily because of punishment, but because when we do those things, we no longer fit our definition of an "acceptable person". The thought of no longer being part of this group is incredibly painful.

Of course we need to explain the people who do act immorally. Some people believe there is nothing wrong with taking money from others, as long as it is legal. The person who can make a buck by closing down a business loses no sleep over the thousands of employees who were laid off. The rest of us decent folk would not dream of being so callous.

The difference comes in how our definition of an "acceptable person" forms. As we grow, we form an idea of how a person is supposed to behave. Our parents impose their morality on us, as do our peers, our faith, the media, and all of society. We need to take in all of this information and formulate a model that separates the good from the bad. It is no different than any other classification problem, such as when a child tries to determine what a "dog" is by seeing several entities that others call a "dog". Because it is a classification problem, and because of the conflicting moralities we are all exposed to, any one individual may wind up with a view of morality that is different from any they've been exposed to.

Some people, for example, may start incorporating the idea that one should act in a way that benefits them, and if others are harmed because of it, it's their fault. This becomes part of their definition of a "how a person should act", and hence they are able to manipulate people in ways that others would consider immoral, without feeling any remorse. Others may feel that "its every man for himself", and the way a person should act is the way that keeps them alive. A person with this mentality may even go as far as killing another without remorse. For people like this, fear of punishment may be the only thing preventing them from committing murder, theft, rape, or assault.

I feel that this view of morality does a better job of explaining why we choose to act morally without oversimplifying it or making morality seem like a farce.
abard124

Pro

Wow. Once again, I took way too long. Also, I am on vacation in Arizona right now, so my access to my computer might be somewhat sporadic. So, don't expect immediate arguments.

In our brains, we have a kluge that it builds upon itself instead of changing. As a result, we still have a very strong egocentrism. Based on society today, it seems like our brains would be better suited to serve others before ourself, and some do, to some extent. However, the human brain is specifically formed for survival first and foremost, and survival often equates to greed.

In modern times, the greed is for a happy life and a good reputation. Some feel that more than others, but everyone feels it to some extent. Now, the punishment, whether intrinsic, extrinsic, or spiritual, will make their life (or perhaps death) less happy, and doing bad stuff will hurt their reputation. People hate that, and if you are of sound mind, it will cause you intrinsic suffering, which equates to a punishment.

Often, the contrapositive (If you aren't so great at geometry, converse of inverse; always same truth value as original) of a conditional statement makes it more clear or disproves it entirely. However, we must first get the subject in conditional form. We have "fear of punishment is sufficient to explain morality." As a conditional statement, that would be, "If one is afraid of punishment, they are moral." However, it is an interesting case, because you wrote "is sufficient," making it a biconditional statement (dear god, my geometry terms are bamboozling even the spell check. I need help). That would make it, "One is moral iff (if and only if) they are afraid of punishment." since it is biconditional, any of the four basic forms are true (Inverse, converse, contrapositive, and original). Let's test a few out. "One is immoral iff they aren't afraid of punishment." Well, I might as well get the hard ones out of the way first. Obviously this is purely hypothetical, as nobody of sound mind can be completely unafraid of punishment. But, to explain it, If you don't care about any forms of punishment, and by extension, reward, you will still satisfy the greed factor, so you will not be moral. But, again that is really hypothetical there. Now, let's switch it around again. Try, "One is afraid of punishment iff they are moral." Everyone is afraid of punishment, to some extent, but if they are moral, they definitely favor the alternative over the punishment.

I am excited to read your rebuttal.
Debate Round No. 2
Nail_Bat

Con

I think we may be getting into a confusing mess of terms here. "Fear of punishment is sufficient to explain morality" is equivalent to "If you fear punishment, then you are moral.". However, it is not equivalent to "One is moral iff they are afraid of punishment.". The topic would have to be "Fear of punishment is necessary to explain morality" for this to be true."

I described a type of person for which fear of punishment may be the only thing preventing them from acting immorally. For such a person, fear of punishment is enough to explain why they act morally. I also explained a more generalized system which accounts for people who act morally because of an internal desire to be a certain type of person.

Punishment and pain are not equivalent. The fear of not being a part of the "acceptable persons" group is a pain, but is it a punishment? (the classification problem rears its ugly head once again) Let's consider the act of touching a hot stove. It will cause pain, and the pain is a result of the action. I don't consider this to be a form of punishment, though, because it is the action that causes the pain, not an external agent.

Now let's consider an example that we'd both agree is punishment. A child smacks his younger sister, and his mother grounds him for a week. Here, there is an intelligent agent who classifies an action as good or bad and inflicts a pain on the acting agent.

It is difficult, but not impossible, for a person to punish him or herself. If a dieter slips up and has an extra slice of pie, they might choose to punish themselves but denying themselves any dessert for a week. Although the punishing agent and the acting agent are the same, the punishment is distinct from the action.

I explained that we are naturally inclined to feel pleasure in being part of a significant group and pain in being expelled from it. Performing an immoral action directly causes one to be somewhat or completely removed from the "acceptable person" group, which directly causes pain. Hence it is more like touching a hot stove than being grounded for taking the heads of your sister's barbie dolls.
abard124

Pro

abard124 forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3
Nail_Bat

Con

I guess my opponent is busy. I am too (in fact I should be working right now...). I will skip this round as well and if my opponent has any further arguments we can pick up in the last round.
abard124

Pro

abard124 forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4
11 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by abard124 8 years ago
abard124
I might do that eventually...
I'm pretty busy now, though.
Posted by Nail_Bat 8 years ago
Nail_Bat
If you want to pick it up again, you can make a new debate and challenge me to it.
Posted by abard124 8 years ago
abard124
I'm really sorry I never got back.
I was on vacation, and the debate expired this morning. I got back this afternoon.
Anyhow, I wish I'd had time to come back earlier, as this was a really interesting debate.
Well, I guess we got some rounds in.
Once again, sorry about that...
Posted by Nail_Bat 8 years ago
Nail_Bat
Oh bother.
Posted by Nail_Bat 8 years ago
Nail_Bat
Oh shoot, I mixed up my logic: Even if the topic were "Fear of punishment is necessary to explain morality" the statement "One is moral iff they are afraid of punishment" would still not be true. Oh well, it doesn't really change the argument at all.
Posted by Nail_Bat 8 years ago
Nail_Bat
Actually, let me define punishment a little more clearly. It is pain inflicted upon someone in direct response to something they did, which is distinguished from pain resulting from performing the action itself. (touching a hot stove and getting burned is not punishment, for example).
Posted by Nail_Bat 8 years ago
Nail_Bat
Any kind. Even guilt can be considered a kind of punishment that one inflicts upon themselves.
Posted by abard124 8 years ago
abard124
By punishment do you mean both intrinsic and extrinsic, or purely intrinsic?
Posted by rangersfootballclub 8 years ago
rangersfootballclub
I am not taking this debate up , well because it seems long and tiring to be honest.

But think about it , if i dont behave morally , then why should anybody else ? why should anybody do anything good ? the world and society is destroyed because people act stupid , simple.
Posted by Nail_Bat 8 years ago
Nail_Bat
I'm more or less asking why people behave morally. Or try to, at least. Sometimes.
3 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Vote Placed by wpfairbanks 8 years ago
wpfairbanks
Nail_Batabard124Tied
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Vote Placed by abard124 8 years ago
abard124
Nail_Batabard124Tied
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Vote Placed by s0m31john 8 years ago
s0m31john
Nail_Batabard124Tied
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