On the Nature of Human Values

There was a philosophy meetup yesterday, May 29. Below is the outcome.
Human values for me (this is an assumption) relate to the consciousness as such but in a very special way. 1) In short and very roughly, consciousness reflects things as being the same in time. Having perceived things as same allows us to register changes. The logic is pure and simple: if I don’t see this changing thing as the same (unchangeable in a way) I cannot see changes in it either, because, in this case, one thing (in its previous state) disappears and another (in the next state) appears instead. 2) Values, in turn, in essence, are “things” which are always the same. Yo can change your values or your interpretation of a value but the nature of a value as you “value” it right now – to be the same in eternity. 3) Thence, the assumption: somehow essential sameness of values is responsible for that aspect of consciousness which is to reflect things as being “same.”
Whether this is for real or not, and if it is – how it works? That was totally in fog for me. What became clear yesterday is that value in essence is “of absolute value” in perception of that individual to “value” it. It is the logic of value. It is not compromised by anything until you start to think it over. But I am not talking about thing as subject of thinking but as subject of consciousness. A value is an absolute there. So, my assumption becomes a very concrete one: a thing becomes that of consciousness if and only if it becomes a value! And now a multitude of examples swarm in my mind! Just one: we remember only those things we are interested in – a daily life observation… And I am happy and grateful to my interlocutors!

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Queen Mary University of London Libarary bought a copy of my book!

Culture vs. Copyright in one of the libraries of the Queen Mary University of London!

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The Only Source of Human Morality

In my previous posts on the subject it was repeated several times over what I knew about morality from cultural studies, particularly from a philosopher Vladimir Bibler. We need to distinguish between morality as such and something which cannot be translated in English exactly, something pertaining to ethics, morals, conscience. Let it be conscience.

Sources of human morality

By Olga Gessen

Morality vs. Conscience


The difference is that morality as such is a code to follow, a set of rules, formal and stringent, a recipe for a “right” behaviour of some kind. Conscience, on the contrary, pertains to the personal choice which cannot be determined by rules.

One can argue that our choices are based on rules. Say, there is a commandment “You shall not kill.” Let call it a rule. Follow it and your conscience will not bother you. But what if following the rule is not possible? Say, you either must kill a killer or allow killing? What if two rules contradict one another? Say, you have to steal or let somebody die from starvation or disease? What if there is no rule fit the situation, not at all? What if following a rule just doesn’t seem right? Finally, what if you do not realize what rule is applicable here and now even if there is a rule out there, objectively? All these situations demand personal decision and personal responsibility. All of them challenge your conscience.


Those situations were explored in many books, plays and movies. And somehow we always sympathize with the “right” choice of a hero but that rarely coincides with following a rule. Or it does when the following is ultimately difficult, dangerous, challenging. How do we know what is right and wrong in such situations? The answer is: Somehow. More specifically, just a bit? We feel somehow which choice is more human, more honourable, honest, decent, etc. That’s it. It justifies itself and doesn’t require or even tolerate any outside reason or cause for itself. We just adore a hero capable of heroic conduct and, maybe, even try to follow it, turning the hero into a role model and her conduct into another code.

The Third Area?


Now. It appears that there is yet another, the third area in human conduct which pertains to morality. Something like “humane feelings.” Those are sympathy, empathy, altruism, compassion, etc. They seem to relate to morality but neither to following codes, nor to hard choices of conscience. What are they? Is there any relationship between the feelings and two others, morality as such and conscience?

I believe there is. I think feelings are just the other aspect, other side of any human action. Whether you follow a rule or make a choice, feelings are involved. All kinds of them. Actually, only totally automated act doesn’t involve feelings. But, as soon as an obstacle happens in the way of automated, habitual action, a requirement to overcome the obstacle and thus to make some choice invokes feelings.

And the next question will be where the feelings and a conduct based on them come from? Altruism, compassion, consolation… Let me remind you, dear reader, how all this started. There is a trend to explain those by “positive science.” Human feelings within this approach are forms of animal-like “adaptive” behaviour. I’ve met some proponents of the idea, that’s it.

On Adaptation

OK, there are some forms of chimps’ behaviour discovered there, some in experimental situations, some in natural environment that we can interpret as altruism, compassion, etc. They are. And those forms, probably, were generated in the course of evolution as means to adapt in a group life. Perhaps.

The thing is that humans do not adapt the way animals do. Humans invent tools, develop speech, relationship, skills, arts, etc. all that in relation to say some new activity. In general, every time when an animals have nothing to do but to adapt to changed circumstances humans reinvent themselves so that they could overcome circumstances. Moreover, when humans live in stable conditions and objectively have no need to change anything they still do. They do the same: create new things, tools, develop speech, relationship, etc. That is, humans break out of environment they had adapted to constantly.

Images of Culture

So much for the adaptation. Let’s turn back to “moral feelings.” Say “compassion.” What or better say “Who” you are thinking first of when you hear “compassion?” I believe, that will be Jesus. An image of culture representing the ultimate compassion. There are, of course, others out there. And there are other images representing other “moral feelings.” Self-sacrifice in the name of humanity? Prometheus. Courage in the name of truth? Giordano Bruno. I actually mentioned the role of a cultural hero in this respect in the very beginning. This is how the human feelings are created, spread, get personally adopted . . . and become personal feelings. They all get created against adaptation, they are just the opposite.


So, in the end, who we humans must thank for our morality? The answer is: ourselves.

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Is The World Limited or Unlimited?

The First Antinomy of four Immanuel Kant’s Antinomies (from the Critique of Pure Reason) is:
The world has a beginning in time, and is also limited as regards space.
The world has no beginning, and no limits in space; it is infinite as regards both time and space.

Kant offered a logical reasoning to substantiate both, thesis and anti-thesis. It has always been my understanding that Kant tried to reveal limitations to human cognition. As if he told us: These problems are beyond our abilities to solve, don’t even try, waist no time. Do what is doable. And that is logical.

Trying to convey the idea to my neighbour, a very smart girl a few days ago I, all of a sudden, understood there could be another conclusion, as logical as the Kant’s one and derived from the same antinomy:

If it is logically proven that the world can be limited and unlimited at the same time why then we don’t conclude just that? World is limited and unlimited at the same time! Go ahead now, research it as you wish: As limited or as unlimited! Why not?

We know that light can behave as a wave or as a stream of particles and the performance depends on the practical conditions, experimental or not. But we cannot tell whether light is wave or stream of particles! The very question now seams to be incorrect.

What about the world? Now I believe its performance in a experiment depends on how we understand it (either limited or unlimited) and respectively frame the experimental conditions. Then we can learn how the world performs when it is supposed to be limited and how it does if supposed to be unlimited. Experiments of both types will tell us something real…

What do you think? I like that.

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Culture vs. Copyright is a Finalist at The 2015 USA Best Book Awards!

Category: Philosophy

Culture vs. Copyright by Anatoly Volynets
Total Knowledge


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Sources of the Human Morality (take 2)

I revisited the question with the honest intention to act as a dialogist (a human being valuing dialogue above all) who I consider myself to be. That approach requires to presume that whatever your opponent says makes sense. You are to understand what the sense is and then relate to it.
That is not the same as idea of “tolerance.” Not at all. As a dialogist I am not obliged to agree, to OK everyone’s right to one’s position, point of view, idea, opinion, etc. No, I am obliged to tell what I think about it. The hard aspect of it is “to think.”
Well, it is hard. I am not up to the task yet but there are several questions I would like to ask my opponents and myself. The questions I am sharing and this is it, for now.


    • A “scientific” claim in question is that human morality in some its main features, such as altruism, sympathy, empathy, etc. can be observed in the behaviour of humans’ closest relatives – Chimpanzees and others. That behaviour is interpreted as tools for adaptation. Hence, human morality is interpreted as adaptation too. That reasoning is, in the first place, to deny God as the source of the human morality.


    • What does it give us if we have discovered similarities between two phenomena? Say, sea mammals look very similar to fish – what comes out of it?


    • Even if we prove that human morality is rooted in the animal aspect of human life how does this refutes God? Couldn’t He be the source in both cases?


    • If human morality is rooted in the animal aspect of human life doesn’t this mean that we deny humans authorship or ownership of their morality and transfer those to animals, “animals in humans” – to be accurate. That is, such an approach is hardly “humanism” but something like “animalism,” isn’t it?


    • Suppose humans inherited their morality from animals. Are there any specifics in “animal morality” and “human morality?” What are they? Or these are not important? If so, why?


    • There are some animal behavioural patterns interpreted as “animal altruism” or “animal consolation.” Obviously, we term those patterns this way for we understand them as such in our own, human life. That is, human morality is rather a key to understand some of animal behaviour but not the other way around.


    • Furthermore, I suspect we will not find animal altruism going down to one-cell animals, or even higher up from amoebas, not even in all mammals. That means this feature just pops up once in behaviour of certain species. Why don’t we ask what is the source in that case? If some scientists deny us humans the ability to develop morality on our own, what then about those animals being the first to perform patterns of “moral behaviour”?


  • There is a tradition (It is mostly Kant) to distinguish between morality and ethics (=conscience). Morality is interpreted as a set of rules of conduct to follow. Ethics (maybe morals, am not sure) pertain to something like “pure humanity” which is not a rule or code or anything formalized but deployed in situations where no rule can be applied. Say, you have to kill in order to prevent a murder. Whatever is done in this case, a killing will happen. So, you need to decide all by yourself what to do and take the entire responsibility upon yourself. These kind of actions we term human in full meaning of the word. In fact, they, by pure logic, run against “adaptive behaviour,” that is, against any biological interpretation… So, what about the nature of so understood ethics?
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Sources of Human Morality

I am engaged in an ongoing discussion right now, at the eve of a meetup. My opponents are looking for sources of human morale in biological adaptation. I had an impression in my scientific life that such a reduction was very well thought over and long forgotten. I am mistaken.
The discussion brings in several topics but am not sure I can address all of them at once. Let me try and see.
1) Suppose I try to find connection of human morale to human evolutionary predecessor’s behavior. Suppose. Shouldn’t I determine how that connection works, what it exactly is, etc.? My opponents just postulate that: idea of good is rooted in physical pleasure. But why, how, in whose pleasure? How far back in evolution you want to go to follow that “pleasure”? Who do we inherit it from? From our direct nearest predecessor? Sounds reasonable. Now, how did we developed these ideas? Did we have a chance to look something over in the predecessor’s behavior? Or we built the idea of good on our own “pleasures”? Either way, you need to explain the rout from the “sense of pleasure” to the “idea of good,” don’t you? 2) That is, you need to determine what idea vs. sense is, right? I had an illusion that idea is a human prerogative. My opponents protest against that. So, according to them the idea as such is also inherited. Then again, what “the idea” is? Or let’s answer another question: Which creature was the first to introduce that mysterious subject? Ape? Wolf? Brontosaurus? Amoeba? 3) What that introducer must be able of to come up with ideas? Wasn’t that a speech necessary to formulate ideas?… 4) Anyway, I someone wants to find a connection between A and B, one must determine what A and B are specifically in respect to that connection. If one just insists that B brought nothing new to compare with A how then they can be connected? It is just A and A and what do we research here? 5) To sum it up – the first take, if we do not seek and see specifically how humans are different from animals then we don’t actually talk about different species here and use “evolution” and “adaptation” as abstract explanatory principles as successfully and effectively as other thinkers use God for that purpose. And the latter is much more preferable for one reason at least: It tells us something about who we are.

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Things, metaphysics & consciousness

Meetups-meetups! What is “a thing”? For Aristotle whatever thing is it is a conjunction of form and matter. Matter cannot exist without form nor can form exist without matter. A form: 1) makes a thing “this” or “the same,” regardless changes; 2) is what I know about this thing. I see “this sheet of paper” moving from one place to another. It is the same still while being folded. It is the same sheet being torn into small pieces because the pieces are of that sheet. It is still the same if burnt out, the ashes are of that sheet of paper… How is it “the same”? It is the same for my consciousness! The form (which makes that matter to be the sheet of paper under investigation) is my knowing of the form, fact of my consciousness. Now, remember Aristotle’s illustration for syllogism: Humans are mortal, Kai is human, consequently Kai is mortal? The syllogism is evidently about forms. So, where did we arrive to? All of the logic (which supposedly helps us to navigate in the real world) is about facts of consciousness. How about that?

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What about “evil consciousness?”

Some time ago I posted a very short essay based on one meet-up talk – about interrelations between conscience and consciousness. In short: consciousness may be interpreted as seeing myself from outside, as if I have to pairs of eyes, one looking at things, another one observing myself looking at things. An assumption that seems natural is that “second pair of eyes” is brought up in communication with other people. That requires to accept others as equal which means to have conscience. And vice versa: to accept other people I need to know that I do just that, that is, to be conscious.
The question brought up then was: what about “evil consciousness”? Theoretically, according to the above, such phenomenon as “evil consciousness” is not possible because that would mean for an evil individual to deny others as equal = to not accept them = to deny oneself of another pair of eyes for that matter and thus to become unaware of … what? OK, unaware of something whatever it is, to be “not-quite conscious” whatever that could mean.
When I wrote the previous assay that conclusion seemed to contradict mere facts of existence of “consciously evil” people. But does it? Really, can we deem an individual fully conscious if one does not see others as equal? One looks at other human beings, who objectively are of the same species, but one does not see that reality, one sees some other “unreal reality” where other people are not the same! So, does this one posses normal human consciousness? This individual is evidently lying to oneself, misses out some features and makes up another ones…. That is, “evil consciousness” is some kind of fantasy running from reality and in doing so denying itself. Evil person is an air monger, (s)he does not look at things but dreams about them. Unfortunately these dreams guide actions.

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Morality: Relative or Universal?

I think Kant was the first to separate ethics & morality. My understanding is that morality equals a code of conduct. The codes develop by religion, customs, tradition, etc. Ethics develop when there is no right solution according any code and therefore some rules will be broken anyway (Vladimir Bibler). The responsibility in such a case rests with an individual’s conscience entirely. Ethics is something like “ultimately human unformalized way of conduct” which, metaphorically speaking, “falls in between moralities” and brings new moralities up.
Again: It is important to keep in mind the above noted difference for you cannot bring up, as some say, “the highest level of moral development” (a quote from a comment at a meet-up “Morality: Relative or Universal?”) through indoctrination. It “develops” in action when the entire responsibility is yours.
Evidently great many people conduct truly ethical feats, great or small. We know examples from revolutionary wars, arts, area of political & social reforms, even everyday life. Every time when someone prefers to tell the truth against profit or fear of punishment one behaves ethically. It is pure and simple and requires not functional explanation.
Some think that “rules” for humans’ and other species’ survival could be understood the same way. But “human survival” never meant physical survival. Rather it means preservation and development of humanity as such. This is why people would die for their values. That happens oftentimes even when a challenge comes from inside, not from outside. Like the case of Galileo. And the action which leads to such a situation we perceive as ultimately human, ethical, heroic, etc. We feel without a doubt that “human cause” is advanced there.
One may say people able for a real human action are not majority, or say, majority of those tested. But who counted that? People act ethically more often than it seems because human values, as I mentioned, are not functional, they are values in themselves. “You shalt not kill” is broken constantly and massively but humankind had survived, multiplied & developed. So, maybe it is not so very terrible to kill? It is. Why? Because it is ultimately inhuman. I believe, Aristotle would insisted that prohibition of murder is a truth which is evident in itself and requires not outer justification.

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