We have come to discover that a high level of serotonin (the leadership chemical, and what falls during depression) improves one's ability to think abstractly.

Some of our greatest gains in thinking about ethics that make us able to deal with a wider and more varied culture have come from abstract framing of fairness: Kant, Mill, etc.

At some point is that approach itself somewhat problematic? Have we passed that point? Are we just making higher demands on those less well equipped to deal with life, and is that not in itself unfair? Where can this stop, or can it be mitigated in some way? (These are just stops along the way, and not separate questions I would like to ask.)

It seems to me that people in the modern world are either drowning in detail they cannot accommodate or aspiring for a sense of order through abstraction they cannot attain or maintain. Is this just a subjective impression, or is it something philosophically addressable?


A few quick points and arrows, since there's something very interesting around you're hitting upon here. (I wonder if you can't draw it out a little bit further?)

There might be a line of inquiry here around the world-historical role of philosophy: perhaps to what extent it actually arrests thinking/abstraction (or did historically, this is something Deleuze for instance is curious about); and on the other hand how philosophy "hides" its real-structure-in-the-world behind the indeterminable complexity of the concepts it proliferates.

The accelerating complexity of the world is (more or less plainly) coupled with a reduction of the scope of ethics to theories of (efficient, agile) administration. This is something Baudrillard is particularly concerned with; and framed as a more general historical phase-shift is something Foucault is also curious about (his concept of governmentality would be something to investigate around this.)

Too quickly -- perhaps Virilio's ideas about the weaponization of speed could be relevant here as well. Negative Horizon seems maybe an interesting text to investigate in this direction, in terms of how to "live" an ethics after the Disaster, after the traumatic disappearance of distance. He seems particularly urgent in terms of crafting life-practices, though again there is a sterility here, a strangely "terminal" or administrative ethics, even though it is operating in a chaotic milieu of continuously exponentiating powers. Whereas of course there are other kinds of ethical visions entirely (which it might be worth returning to Spinoza to see clearly.)

  • I will try to refine the question. But thank you for the list of touchpoints. I think your third paragraph is kind of where my brain was in writing this. What seems to be simplification in ethics may always make it harder for those that need help with it, and easier for those who never did need that help -- and then allow folks on the upside to raise minimal expectations. That may have something to do with the capable seeing the difficulty in administrative puzzles, rather than real questions.
    – user9166
    Dec 9 '14 at 23:48
  • You say 'are we just making higher demands on those less equipped to deal with life, and is that not in itself unfair'? Who is the 'we' making higher demands? If a highly intelligent person can 'see' that the people in the modern world are drowning in detail they can not accommodate do they have an ethical duty to help? If they just comment on this 'from a distance' that would be hypocritical.
    – 201044
    Aug 16 '15 at 15:27
  • @Joseph Weissman- All roads lead to Spinoza, eventually. Regards,
    – user37981
    Nov 7 '20 at 23:38

I don't think that's a good characterisation of serotonin's role in leadership: https://www.forbes.com/2010/10/07/brain-science-neurobiology-leadership-managing-hormones.html

I see our most important ethical theories as founded in intersubjectivity. Kant's categorical imperative. Rawl's theory of justice. AO Wilson's development of our understanding of eusociality.

And not just in ethics. In the Buddhist metaphor for dependent origination, sunyata, and interbeing Indra's Net. And the idea of peer-to-peer reality. Objectivity is just reified intersubjectivity.

Like that, the Private Language argument can be understood and set in context: language is a kind of shared intelligence, which imposes salience landscapes on how we engage with the world that develop and extend our understanding of the differences between things participatorily, from whether blue and green are different, to understanding why qualia are not a meaningful idea (details here).

"either drowning in detail they cannot accommodate or aspiring for a sense of order through abstraction they cannot attain"

This is about having efficient and effective salience landscapes, to facilitate cognitive grip. I like Vervaeke on this, and recovering our understanding of the role and importance of wisdom. When we have a good model of our self and the world, a heurustic explanatory overlay, it makes things tractable: chemistry forms units of explanation reducible to particle physics but more efficient in it's area, and in biology there is the 'unreasonable ineffectiveness of mathematics' exactly because this field is about systems that amplify the complexity of systems beyond that of chemistry alone (ie. it's systems that harvest Gibbs free energy to maintain local complexity).

Also multi-level selection, and game-theory applied to ethics, make sense of the non-individuality of ethics. And the intersubjective picture makes sense of Deleuze's virtuality, and interdiscursivity in general framed as translating between the realities of communities embodied in different modes of life (salience landscapes).

So I look at Singer's 'expanding the circle of moral concern' as a way to act ethically which expands our reality, and invites more beings into participation with our reality-creating discourses. That is moral progress, which deepens our engagement with reality, in ways that extend and develop what it is to be.

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