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CONTEXT

To change behaviour it helps to understand all behaviour as best we can. Several articles examine the reasons for us behaving as we do – the various forces and principles that determine our actions. The article on biological values describes the way that, unsurprisingly, our conscious and deliberate human behaviour is grounded in our unconscious and mindless biological history. The article on moral psychology extends this theme by looking at unconscious human motivation, the psychological origins of our human moral intuitions. The article on morality is an introduction to ethics as the study of the principles and rules that govern right action with a brief overview of the world’s major moral theories. Two articles, purpose & value and science and morality explore the relationship between the world of science and the world of values. All these articles are then drawn on to investigate the role of practical or applied environmental ethics  in our collective human management of sustainability and the world environment.

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It is better to live than not live

Aristotle’s biological imperative

Biological necessity trumps logical necessity

(see Life as agency)

Human mindful values evolved out of, and are grounded in (share characteristics with) mindless biological values

Anon

Life is better than death
Health is better than sickness
Abundance is better than want
Freedom is better than coercion
Happiness is better than suffering
Knowledge is better than ignorance[6]

Steven Pinker (an expression of human values that are grounded in biological values)

You can’t get ethics out of nature

Yuval Harari – a delightful (and unwitting) double-entendre in the debate ‘Nature vs. Humanity’ with Slavoj Žižek https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jjRq-CW1dc

 

Values reduce to facts about human well-being’

Sam Harris ‘The Moral Landscape’

Biological values

Values are the major drivers or motivation for individual behaviour and we treat them as mostly originating internally, either as gut reactions, (intuitions, conscience) or our own deliberations. In contrast, ethics or morality (defined formally as the study of right action and its rules or principles) is more societal – implying principles of conduct, or codes of behaviour. These tend to originate externally from, say, parents, schools and the law.

These ideas are linked in complex ways so the words ‘ethics’ and ‘morality’ are used interchangeably and we often encounter talk of ‘moral values’ as principles of right and wrong or good and bad – the human ethical attempt to resolve potential clashes of value by establishing absolute norms.

The article on life as agency argued that life becomes more scientifically coherent when we consider it as matter in process. That is, it is most meaningful when we explain it, not so much in terms of its material composition but, rather, in terms of its ultimate agency – its disposition to survive, reproduce, and flourish (the biological axiom).

The biological goals[3] expressed in the biological axiom resemble aspirational values and are manifest in the behaviour of all organisms, including humans. As universal biological goals they demonstrate what can be termed biological values – what, in human-talk, we would call, not only values, but ‘choices’, ‘preferences’, ‘interests’, or ‘purposes’.

Of course, many organisms do not have minds, and this means that biological values may be ‘mindless values’, which sounds like an oxymoron (extending the conventional meaning of ‘value’ beyond its traditional realm of human minds) which is the reason why many people immediately reject the idea of nature having values. However, the expression ‘biological values’ also suggests that values can be manifest in behaviour (not just words and minded representations), and that human (minded)values are just one form of biological value.

Though word meanings cannot be changed by fiat, in science it is possible to refine categories and concepts to better represent the world; and that is what is being proposed here in regards to the notion of value. It is an intuitive usage that is already quite popular.

From this perspective the biological axiom, as a foundational statement of biological agency, is simultaneously a declaration of fact and of value. It describes not only what all organisms do, but also the ends or goals to which they are drawn – the reasons for their activity: it describes the universal and ultimate[2] biological values that motivate all living organisms . . . even the human reasoning faculty that can critically examine these motivations.

Biological agency is grounded objectively in these biological values. Though human reason can, as it were, rise above our biological intuitions (codes of behaviour are often created specifically for this purpose) it cannot transcend our biological agency. Reason is not apart from biological agency, but a sophisticated extension of it, so human ethical exceptionalism is, in this sense, a form of speciesism.

Biological values are not recommendations for behaviour, or moral judgements about behaviour, they are objective statements about the way organisms are.

This article argues that human values are a uniquely human (mindful) expression of biological values. This challenges the common assumption that values are mind-dependent by making the controversial claim that all life expresses ‘values’ (the biological values of biological agency) while human values express their minded evolutionary extension – the application of reason to biological values.

The acceptance of the reality of biological values provides us with a more compelling scientific account of nature since the assimilation of human values to biological values acknowledges the uniquely mindful properties of human values while at the same time recognizing that they evolved out of, and share major characteristics with, their mindless evolutionary antecedents.

Life & non-life

Life is not passive as a rock or chemical is passive. Living organisms have the propensity to respond to both their internal and external conditions in a manner that is conducive to the fulfilment of the ‘goals’ expressed in the biological axiom.

Using human-talk, we can say that the ends or goals of life constitute a universal set of ‘values’ that give all life an objective ‘direction’ or ‘point of view’.

Principle – life expresses its agency as ends towards which it is directed – the goals of the biological axiom. These goals, though often mindless, constitute rudimentary ‘preferences’ or ‘values’ that give all life a primordial ‘point of view’

Principle – this ‘direction’ inherent in all life means that organisms do not ‘have’ values (as representations), they are objective manifestations of value. For an organism to exist without value is to deny its existence: values are a biological necessity.

Biological values & human values

Biological values are one expression of the biological agency summarized in the biological axiom. The reasons for the acceptance of biological agency – the reasons why we should regard organisms as being real agents and not just agent-like – are spelled out in the article on life as agency and are briefly summarized below.

The ‘values’ expressed in the biological axiom are very different from the mindful objects of human intention. Indeed, the idea of mindless values is counter-intuitive because values, almost by definition, are mind-dependent. It is therefore no surprise that we explain the use of humanizing mindful language (human-talk, when applied to non-human organisms) as cognitive metaphor.

Though the difference between being minded and mindless seems absolute, the difference between biological and human values is not so clear-cut – because biological and human values have features in common.

This idea of partial likeness is analogous to the way that physical structures (like the wings of bats and the fins of whales) may be appear totally different while, at the same time, sharing an underlying similarity (the pentadactyl limb) that demonstrates their common evolutionary history. Human values, too, bring with them their evolutionary baggage.

Goal-directedness as a propensity or disposition, even in mindless organisms, is like an unconscious behavioural flexibility that ‘strives’ towards the goals of the biological axiom. We find that in nature this agency more closely resembles our own as organisms approach us in evolutionary relationship. Its extreme expression is found in the uniquely conscious human values that we describe using the language of human intentional psychology. In a world where species are immutable and discrete the minded values of humans are unique and special.  In a world of descent with modification from a common ancestor, human values are, as it were, a subset of all values.

Principle – Biological values are the ultimate ends or goals towards which all organisms (including their structures, processes, and behaviour) are directed (biological axiom). Human values are a highly evolved and uniquely human (minded) manifestation of biological values

Aristotle noted that changes in nature were usually ‘for the better’. By this he meant that nature behaved as though it were aware of its circumstances, responding with appropriate adjustments to its structures and behaviours. It exhibited what today we call functional adaptations.

Functional adaptations may be more or less efficient. A heart may be healthy or defective, and there will be circumstances that may help or hinder the attainment of biological values. We do not regard these value judgements (constantly made by biologists) as ‘a matter of opinion’ because they are based on the objectivity of the biological axiom.

It has already been argued (life as agency) that biologists still today study organisms assuming that conditions can be ‘for the better’ or ‘for the worse’, not because they are reading human values into the lives of non-human organisms, but because they intuitively recognize that circumstances can be for or against an organism’s ‘point of view’ as demonstrated by its behaviour. Biological ‘values’ are goals that are real, universal, and objective within nature: they are not the reading into nature of human subjective judgements.

That the goal of a spider web is to catch flies is an objective fact; the scientific challenge is to account for this without imputing human cognitive faculties to the spider.

Once the reality (objectivity) of goal-directedness in all life is accepted, then it is clear that organisms confront situations that can help or hinder the attainment of these goals – conditions may be objectively ‘better’ or ‘worse’. In other words, the circumstances of existence can produce both casualties and beneficiaries where ‘casualties’ and ‘beneficiaries’ are not a matter of human subjective assessment, but objective facts in relation to the biological axiom.

Is this characterization of biological values just the lazy and uncritical use of metaphorical language combined with unwarranted subjective judgement – and therefore inadequate science? Or does it have a foundation in the real world?

This is a hard pill to swallow. When we say that an organism ‘benefits’ from something, we are making a value judgement – and values, it is often assumed and argued, are a cardinal case of judgements imposed on the world by human minds. Values do not reside in the world, they only exist in human minds.

It is argued here that science would be better served if the notion of ‘values’ were extended beyond minded creatures to all creatures: that values are best represented scientifically as present in nature by degree, not present in humans and absent in all other life. Of course, word meanings cannot be changed by fiat but, in science, it is possible to refine categories and concepts to better represent the world; and that is what is being proposed here.

But minded qualities cannot be present in mindless organisms . . . so what are we to resolve this dilemma?

Minded & mindless

We dismiss the idea of values being extended beyond humans to other organisms because of the conventional semantic connection of values with the mindful human conscious deliberation we associate with human brains.

When taken at face value this distinction is unproblematic. The idea of an oak tree having values is absurd because an oak tree has neither a mind nor a brain. To use the language of mental states in relation to an organism with no cognitive faculties is straightforward contradiction.

So, when we find ourselves using the language of human mental states in relation to organisms that do not have mental faculties, our solution is to treat such usage as unguarded (anthropomorphic) human-talk with no basis in reality – it is cognitive metaphor.  So, when we say, ‘the purpose of the heart is to pump blood‘ or ‘that plant needs watering‘ we are describing the heart and plant in metaphorical and teleological ways as though they have human intentions, when clearly this is just a figure of speech.

But, on closer inspection, these examples are not so clear-cut as they might, at first, appear.

Philosophical complications associated with the distinction between the minded and the mindless have dogged biological science from its Aristotelian inception, and they haven’t gone away. Most significant are controversies about the use of mind-related words like ‘purpose’, ‘design’, ‘knowledge’, ‘memory’, ‘learning’, ‘reason‘, and ‘value’. The quick and obvious conclusion . . . that we simply persist in reading our own mental states into nature, needs review.

Over time philosophers have warmed to the idea that, for example, there can be ‘reasons without a reasoner‘ (Dan Dennett), ‘purposes without conscious intention‘ exhibited by organisms that are ‘for without foresight‘ (see article on biotelological realism), that there can be ‘knowledge without a knower‘ (David Deutsch), and intricate design without a conscious designer . . . because there is in nature ‘competence without comprehension‘ (Dan Dennett).

Why do philosophers return to this seemingly indefensible position – this attribution of mind-like properties to nature?

The following arguments are provided in defense of a concept of objective biological values – that the notion of value be scientifically extended beyond humans to other organisms, recognizing that human values are a minded subset, or specialist evolutionary branch, of universal biological values. 

Human-talk

To quickly dismiss, as cognitive metaphor, our use of the language of human intentional psychology when applied to non-human organisms does not stand up to closer scrutiny.

We use the human-talk of anthropomorphism (cognitive metaphor) for many reasons. Certainly, there is our willingness to view the world through our human perceptions . . . our anthropocentric cognitive bias. Sometimes, as in non-scientific literature, we might use human-talk for effect, as literary embellishment. Then, as Darwin noted, it is often just easier, so we use it for the convenience of brevity since to do otherwise involves extended explanation.

The reasons why anthropomorphism requires critical review are listed below as the metaphor fallacy, the agency error, the inversion and conversion of reasoning, and the absence of technical vocabulary.

Nature does not value with its mind, it ‘values’ with its behaviour. We, as reason-representers, can acknowledge that all life – mostly mindlessly, wordlessly, and without reason – demonstrates a propensity to survive, reproduce, and flourish as a biological value. When we use the language of intentional psychology in relation to mindless organisms this is not because we think that all organisms experience cognitive states, but they do exhibit behavioural orientation or ‘goals’.

We do not have a word for a mindless value (an apparent oxymoron) but that is what biological agency expresses. ‘Propensity’ or ‘orientation’ does not suitably connote a connection based on evolutionary relationship. The kind of agency being insinuated, but not said, when we say that a plant wants water is not the as if (unreal) human cognitive agency but the universal biological agency expressed in the biological axiom.

Once it is realized that the underlying intent of such minded language is grounded in mindless universal biological values, rather than human intentions, then it is easier to understand not only how the literal interpretation of such language as metaphor is mistaken, but how this entails both an inversion and conversion of reasoning.

Metaphor fallacy

We discount the likeness between the minded and mindless in nature by assessing this relationship using the logic of metaphor. That is, we assume that because biological agency and purpose is mindless, it follows straightforwardly that its agency is only ‘as if’ agency because in a metaphor one of the relata is figurative (unreal).

The metaphor fallacy, by tradition, interprets the relationship between biological and human values using the logic of a literary device, the metaphor, in which one of the relata is always figurative (unreal). Thus the likeness we observe between the minded and mindless (based on biological agency) is necessarily cast into an as if (unreal) relationship rather than a similarity resulting from real evolutionary connection (the evolutionary connection between biological and human values).

If this real evolutionary likeness were expressed as a literary device, then the simile would be more appropriate.

Agency error

When we say that a plant ‘wants’ or ‘needs’ water we are missing the point when we translate this language literally. On closer examination, it is clear that – in spite of the literal meaning of the words – we are not attempting to communicate our conviction that plants experience intentional mental states, but that they share with ourselves the universal biological agential disposition to survive, reproduce, and flourish.

There is certainly a form of biological empathy involved here – but not a communion of like minds, rather a recognition of shared biological values.

Inversion of reasoning

An inversion of reasoning incorrectly assumes that since biological values can only be understood (represented) by human minds, then they only exist in human minds, and are therefore a creation of human minds. But, though the goals (‘values’) of non-human organisms are not spoken or thought; they are demonstrated in their behaviour.

The biological values expressed in the biological axiom existed (were real) long before humans evolved. That is, biological values in nature are real, not the as if creations of the human mind.

As Aristotle observed, mindless organisms are objective demonstrations of the most fundamental value of life – the biological imperative – that it is better to live than not live (better to exist than not exist). Though an objective biological necessity, this is clearly not a logical necessity. 

Conversion of reasoning

Human values did not emerge in humans without any connection to their evolutionary origins.

Human values evolved out of pre-existing biological values rather than the converse claim – that biological values are a fiction (cognitive metaphor) invented by the human mind.

Thus, biological values are not a metaphorical creation of human values: human values are a real evolutionary development of biological values.

Technical vocabulary

There is also a lack of scientific vocabulary needed to describe the unique modes of biological agency expressed by each individual species (so we resort to the vocabulary of our own species). If we treat the vocabulary of human intentional psychology as human-specific (which we mostly do) then in a scientifically ideal world we should treat all species equally, providing each with its own agential language. This is impractical, so we fall back on human-talk. That is, we use cognitive metaphor in the absence of the technical agential terminology that is needed to appropriately describe each individual species.

Values & morals

Morality and ethics are often treated as interchangeable concepts, but a useful distinction may be drawn between values and morals.

Morals are strongly associated with ethics and shared codes of conduct that tell communities what is right and what is wrong. These codes are established by institutionalized deliberation, most notably within religion and society (i.e. they are acquired from the church and theology, parents, schools, legal system and so on).

Values arise internally but they may be either personal and subjective, or universal and objective.

The biological values described on this web site are universal and objective while morals (codes of conduct) may vary from place to place.

Many human values are expressed in a mindless, unconscious, impulsive, intuitive, or instinctive behaviour. These include our reflex responses of attraction, disgust, etc. that are discussed in the article on moral psychology

But of special interest there are the collectively agreed principles or codes of behaviour that are greatly facilitated by institutions communicating through language. These are human ethical systems.

There appears to be a biological and conceptual continuum between our intuitive behavioural responses and behaviour that is guided by conscious deliberation – between values and morals.

We tend to describe formal individual and collective prescriptive externally derived behaviour as ‘morality’, which generally takes the form of rules or codes of behaviour that state what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ (e.g. it is wrong to steal).

Values are more personal and abstract internal drivers of behaviour that are not so rule-bound and open to judgement about right or wrong (I am afraid of heights, I like white wine, and I mix with people who are honest).

Individual values and morals often coexist in a state of tension with morality controlling our impulses. Our ‘will’ provides the impetus for our behaviour (our wants, needs, and attitudes are the motivators for reason) but reason can be used to override values. Moral codes (consider the ten commandments) are usually a way of regulating our unreasoned biological values – our greed, lust, envy, hatred and so on – that may ultimately not serve our long-term interests. These are passions inherited from our evolutionary ancestry that served us in times past but which our reason now recognizes as being in conflict with a human-apt operation of the biological axiom.

The biological axiom is a statement of value because it describes the universal and ultimate goals of all organisms, including humans. It says the way organisms are, not what they should be. It does not make recommendations, or moral assertions and is therefore not a form of ethical naturalism in its usual sense.

As reasoning animals we may choose not to conform to biological intuitions, inclinations, temptations etc. But this does not mean that biological values exist passively or are morally inert: they express powerful and universal biological agency.

It is tempting to think of morality as a human exercise of ‘pure reason’ that transcends (is uninfluenced by) either God or nature. (Singer, p. 3) But reason itself arose in an adaptive biological context, providing us with the luxury of assessing alternative paths of behaviour – but these are all, ultimately, subordinate to our biological values.

 

Principle – Human values are grounded in universal biological values that may be regulated using the uniquely human form of conscious deliberation we call reason.

Clearly many of the values that we inherit from nature (e.g. our potential for extreme violence, a desire for sugar and salt, sexual lust, envy etc. etc.) are not necessarily ‘good’ but this does not mean that decisions about right and wrong have nothing to do with our biology, that reason somehow transcends nature. Our inclination to make ethical judgements that run counter to our biology is itself a manifestation of our biology, as is reason itself.

We now know that our notion of ‘the good’ is ultimately derived from the biological axiom. The belief that ethics somehow transcends our biology harks back to the time when codes of behaviour were delivered to humanity by Gods. Today we know that if we wish to account for our behaviour we have no alternative but to look to our genetically inherited makeup and our cultural norms – our biological agency as modified by our biologically given reason.

In the absence of supernatural influence, we must ask Yuval Harari (see above) ‘If ethics does not emerge from nature, then where else could it come from?

Part of this assumption (there are no values in nature) lies in the traditional philosophical domination of science by physics and mathematics. It is certainly extremely difficult to get values out of physics, but relatively easy to get values out of biology – as demonstrated in this article.

Mind & value

The article on biological agency resisted the excision of (minded) human intention from mindless (non-human) intention on five grounds which are equally valid when applied to one of its embedded notions, that of value. Just as nature exhibits rudimentary (but real) purpose, so it expresses rudimentary (but real) value.

All life is predicated on the necessity of the ultimate values inherent in its agency. To deny these values is to deny life itself. Denying the biological necessity of the biological axiom is logically possible, but it is biologically incoherent in the same way that our human desire for health and happiness is not logically necessary, but self-evident. Reference to plant ‘needs’, for example, while using the (non-literal) language of human psychology are, in fact, an empathetic acknowledgement of the biological values inherent in all life, not just those in human minds.

Proximate values, those incidental to ultimate values, may be resisted (as is the case with human morality), and even ultimate values may be negated, but only in extremity: both animal[1] and human suicide is rare though not unknown.

It makes scientific sense to regard human values as a uniquely minded evolutionary branch, outcome, or development of biological values: to treat human values as grounded in biological values.

Principle – we make value judgements (using non-literally-intended but minded language) in relation to non-human organisms, biological structures, processes, and behaviours, not by reference to human intention but to the biological values expressed in the biological axiom

We are victims of a traditional inversion of reason . . . because animals and plants do not have minds, then they do not have values. But minded and mindless values are biologically interrelated since the former evolved out of the latter. Scientifically they are not so cleanly separate and distinct as our language would have us believe.

It is important to recognize that, biologically, human values are a highly evolved and unique form (sub-set) of the more general biological values from which they are derived. We might treat human values as categorically distinct, but biologically they are just one evolutionary form of valuing as an evolutionary branch that has diverged from the main trunk of biological values.

Fact & value

The statement by Yuval Harari at the head of this page expresses simultaneously the competing ideas presented in this article. On the one hand there is the widely accepted view that there can be no mind-independent values (values are subjective). On the other hand, the view expressed here, that human agency and human values are a highly evolved (minded) form of biological agency and biological values (values are objective).

As already stated, the universal biological axiom is, simultaneously, a statement of both fact and value. It describes what organisms do (fact) while also describing their goals as a behavioural orientation, ‘biological value’, or mindless ‘point of view’. The quotes here indicate the lack of vocabulary and struggle to convey the close connection between mindless behavioural orientation and its evolutionary development, minded orientation.

The claim that all life is an expression or manifestation of value (that the meaning of ‘value’ is more scientifically coherent when applied to all living organisms, not just humans) has far-reaching intellectual implications whose significance can be easily overlooked.

There is a long tradition in philosophy, most clearly articulated by Scottish Enlightenment philosopher David Hume (1711-1776), who observed that a deductive argument must have values in the premises if it is to have values in the conclusion . . . that no normative conclusion can be validly derived from factual premises. In other words, we cannot move deductively from the way the world is to the way it ought to be. Hume’s claim gave rise to a famous dictum in philosophy known as ‘Hume’s guillotine’, which expresses this more succinctly as a logically necessary condition: ‘You cannot derive an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’. That is, a moral judgment, a prescription, or value cannot be derived from something factual, a description: you cannot make judgements about what should be based on what is.

The significance of Hume’s claim, if compelling, is that it creates a clear demarcation between fact and value and, by extrapolation, between science and ethics. It is also influential in creating a boundary not only between the sciences and humanities but, indeed, between humans and nature. It is a precept that has a firm grip on the Western intellectual tradition, which is inclined to treat facts as empirically verifiable – true or false – and values as more a matter of sentiment – of feeling and attitude.

Immanuel Kant (1724– 1804) seemingly agreed with Hume by saying in his Critique of Judgment (First Introduction, X240) that ‘. . . to think of a product of nature that there is something which it ought to be . . . presupposes a principle which could not be drawn from experience (which teaches only what things are).

Much later, Cambridge philosopher G.E. Moore (1873-1958) in a slightly different context claimed that any connection between a normative property (like goodness) and a natural property (like pleasure) is open to doubt (his ‘naturalistic fallacy’). Or re-expressed as the ‘open question argument’, that no moral property can be identical to a natural property. 

Together these eminent philosophers represent a popular intellectual tradition in science and philosophy today – a tradition that places a gulf between facts and values- a carry-over of the former philosophical school of British Empiricism.

In the 21st century it is now evident that human values, however refined by reason, are nevertheless grounded in the universal biological values that are expressed most succinctly in the biological axiom. As Hume also perceptively observed, ‘Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them‘  (Treatise on Human Nature 2.3.3 p. 415), this being an acknowledgement of the grounding of human value in the instinctive demands of the biological axiom, no matter how these are constrained by reason.

Both Kant and Hume preceded Darwin by about a century. Their thinking preceded Darwin’s theory of natural selection by about 100 years at a time when it was assumed that species were discrete and immutable, not a consequence of descent with modification from a common ancestor.

With the decline of religion, we now realize that it is to biology that we must look for the foundations of morality, and that our reasoning faculty is just one, albeit extremely important, component of the biological toolbox that we use to evaluate and prescribe. Just like purpose and design in nature, values ‘bubble up from the bottom, rather than trickle down from the top’ (sensu Dennett when referring to design in nature).

Normativity is about evaluations of right and wrong, good and bad, better or worse. How does the discussion so far square with the view that we cannot infer the way things ought to be (a subjective value) from things and processes that are this or that way (objective scientific facts)? How can a moral judgment, a prescription, be derived from something descriptive?

The feeble filtering valuation of physical constants that applies to inanimate nature, that reduces possible outcomes, takes a giant stride with the emergence of agential matter that can reproduce itself. Conscious valuation is superimposed on this foundation. The functionality of the mind is simply an extension of the functionality of nature, albeit a much more elaborate one.

Like the purpose so evident in biological agents, value proceeds from within living organisms as an imminent faculty: life and value are intimately and inexorably intertwined.

The common-sense support we intuitively feel for Aristotle’s biological imperative and Steven Pinker’s moral injunctions at the head of this article can be understood, not in terms of the arbitrary subjectivity of our human values, but as the biological necessity that we conform to objective (mostly mindless) biological values of the biological axiom, even when modified by their servant, reason. Indeed, we cannot get ethics out of biology . . . because it is biology that gives us our ethics.

Human agency and its values are best understood scientifically as a highly evolved, specialized, and minded form of objective biological agency.

Principle – human values are grounded in biological values: that is, they are just one manifestation (not totally different from, but an elaboration) of universal biological values. 

Principle – the moral goals that are justified by moral reasoning are grounded in proximate human values (needs, wants, desires) that are, in turn, grounded in ultimate biological values (survival, reproduction, flourishing). Reason can over-rule biological values, but it cannot ignore them. That is,  the moral justification (the reason) why reason be selected as the ultimate arbiter in ethics is itself a thick concept that combines both fact and value

Moral realists like De Lazari-Radek & Singer (following Sidgwick) justify reason as the source of objective morality by claiming that reason can provide us with self-evident rules that ‘lead us cogently to trustworthy conclusions‘ that are ‘mutually consistent‘ and that we can ‘. . . clearly and distinctly apprehend to be true‘ so that there can be ‘ . . . no conflict between two intuitions‘.[4]

Like any claim to resolve ethical dispute this is tantalizingly attractive. But just as such realist philosophers might disclaim Natural Law proponents by pointing out that facts cannot imply values; so it might equally be pointed out that reason can never divest itself entirely of value. There is no such thing as morality viewed from the point of view of the universe. Moralities bear the imprint of life because they arise out of life – not out of inanimate matter.

Commentary

At its most abstract, primordial, and universal, value can be glimpsed in events of the universe that are not random and chaotic. It arises in the universe out of the natural order resulting from its regularities (constants or laws). It is these regularities that give matter a rudimentary ‘direction’ – just the earliest twinkling of a ‘point of view’.

This rudimentary directionality inherent in the universe was dramatically focused when life emerged – its existence predicated on biological agency as the capacity to survive, reproduce, and flourish – the biological values that ground all life, including that of humans (biological axiom).

Biological agency, under evolution, has taken different physical forms (species) which each express agency in their own unique, and mostly mindless, way.

Human agency, like that of other organisms, is constrained by its physical organization, but is characterized by the unique development of minds and their motivating representations (attitudes, beliefs, intentions etc.). These representations may be unconscious and individual (intuitive or instinctive – see moral psychology), but they are also a consequence of both individual conscious deliberation (personal values) or agreed social norms and codes of behaviour (ethics).

Human agency is thus defined by its conscious and unconscious values as mental representations that are superimposed on universal biological values and made public through both language and behaviour. Human values are therefore generated both internally (from internal biological factors) and externally through institutionalized language (from sources like parents, schooling, religion, and the law).

The fact that we can detect forms of value across such physical extremes (the matter of the universe and human communities) is a reflection of the continuity of the universe and biological evolution.

The conceptual distinction between the minded and mindless seems abrupt and absolute while organisms exist within a physical and biological continuum resulting from cosmic evolution and, within the living world, descent with modification from a common ancestor.

We quickly accept the abrupt distinction between minded and mindless while ignoring the factors that the two hold in common.

This is a hard pill to swallow because of a conventional refusal to accept the scientific validity of converse reasoning. Only since Darwin have we realized that the unique mindful properties of humans have arisen out of characteristics that we share with other organisms.

It is mindless concepts over which minded ones are superimposed. Human agency, values, learning, memory, reason, knowledge, purpose (etc.) are the uniquely minded evolutionary developments of characteristics that are grounded more generally in nature. These general characteristics are not a metaphorical human creation but a result of real evolutionary connection. Science may come to recognize this, but present semantic convention does not.

Organisms are, of their very nature, manifestations of value. For an organism to exist without value is to deny its existence. Biological values are part of what it is to be a living creature: they are the engine of biological activity, the driver of agency, and a biological necessity.

Only humans are consciously aware of the biological values of non-human organisms, not the organisms themselves. But this does not mean that humans create these values or read their own values into nature. Biological values are demonstrated in the goals of organisms as expressed in their behaviour and are most succinctly summarized in the biological axiom which notes the universal propensity of living matter to survive, reproduce, and flourish. To this can be added the ultimate biological imperative alluded to by Aristotle that ‘it is better to live than not live’. The biological axiom and biological imperative are statements of the inherent disposition of all life – they are statements, not of logical necessity, but of biological necessity.

The sharp distinction between the minded and mindless in nature is not reflected in a similar sharp distinction between organisms that value and organisms that do not. Instead, we see universally shared biological values that have evolved by modification from ancestral conditions to be expressed through the diversity of physical forms we see in the community of life. Notable among these are the conscious human values associated with morality and the faculty of reason.

The biological axiom is a statement of both fact and value since it simultaneously describes what organisms do and what they are drawn towards. Biological values are the ends or goals towards which all organisms, their structures, processes, and behaviour are ultimately directed (biological axiom), while human values are a human-specific (minded) evolutionary development of biological values to which have been added the faculty of reason. We make value judgements in relation to non-human organisms (using non-literally-intended but minded language) not by reference to human intention but to the biological values expressed in the biological axiom.

Human values arose out of universal biological values and this is why the idea of an oak tree, for example, having values, is not absurd. Both oak trees and humans share the (mindless) values expressed in the biological axiom. It is not as if oak trees have values, just that oaks do not share those uniquely human intentional (minded) ones.

In adopting this perspective on values we come to realize that it is biological values that are ultimate values while human values are a proximate means to their ultimate ends. Humans pursue the ultimate ends of the biological axiom through the proximate ends of happiness and wellbeing while human morality is superimposed on this universal life value, acting as a brake on the natural instincts and intuitions inherited from are evolutionary past.

The prevailing view today is that moral discourse is, of necessity, restricted to those organisms capable of conscious and rational interests and choices, namely humans –  although some concession is sometimes made for sentient animals that can experience comfort and pain. Whether organisms other than humans can have ‘interests’ will be discussed elsewhere in the article on environmental ethics which explores the possibility of extending the ethical domain beyond its current anthropocentric domain to include the entire community of life.

There are many reasons why we ignore the universal biological values: the human arrogance of the inversion of reason and metaphor fallacy and the fact (only appreciated since Darwin) that we ignore the physical (genetic) continuity and connection, the graded organic complexity, of the community of life. The sheer complexity of a value-graded world is enough to make us turn away.

We can, however, acknowledge the anthropocentrism of our human value system in several ways: by noting that our much-vaunted reason is ultimately driven by our evolutionarily grounded passions or will – our universal biological values.

Biological normativity is the playing out of both unconscious (mindless) and conscious (mindful) goals in the face of circumstance. Though underlying biological values are universal, they will ‘play out’ differently according to the biological agent. The physical structures and behaviours (‘strategies’) adopted by a spider to obtain its food and produce offspring are very different from those of a sea urchin, eucalyptus tree, or human.

Humans, though they adhere to the biological axiom, are not consciously motivated by its (ultimate) precepts. We are not mentally preoccupied with perpetuating our genes or even with the immediate problem of survival (our lives do not seem under threat), instead we pursue the more immediate (proximate) goals of happiness, wellbeing, and flourishing.

Epilogue

- summary of claims that are argued in more detail in the articles What is life?purpose, biological agency, human-talk, being like-minded, biological values, and morality.

In biology we treat organisms as autonomous agents, even though we know that they could not exist without their environments - that they are part of a physical continuum. What makes the matter of a living organism a special kind of matter - very different from the inanimate matter of, say, a rock - is its capacity to respond to circumstance in an integrated and unified (goal directed, purposeful, agential) way. This biological agency is grounded in the universal, objective, and ultimate biological values of survival, reproduction, and flourishing (biological axiom).

Biological agency
The goal-directed behaviour of all living organisms is an objective fact.[41]  It is this behaviour that is the source of the objective (mind-independent), universal and ultimate goals (see biological axiom below) referred to here as biological agency. These emergent properties of living organisms arose in nature in a naturalistic and causally transparent way that did not imply either forward causation or the intentions of humans or gods. They are the properties that distinguish the living from the inanimate and dead. Since the mind-independent properties we call 'goals', 'agency' and 'purpose' preceded people in evolutionary time, they therefore existed in nature in mindless form.

Many philosophers and scientists regard 'purpose' and 'agency' as mind-dependent words such that non-human organisms can only display, at best, purpose-like and agent-like behaviour.

The brief points below (discussed in detail in other articles) outline: first, how mindless purpose and agency are possible; second, how to discriminate between the minded and mindless in both language and the world; third, why it is scientifically more appropriate to treat organisms as genuine agents rather than being agent-like; fourth, the reduced need for the euphemistic, obfuscating, and semantically vexed language of function and adaptive significance.

The biological axiom
The many proximate goals we see manifested in the behaviour of organisms are unified (can be summarized) in the universal, objective, and ultimate predisposition of all organisms to survive, reproduce, and flourish - referred to here as the biological axiom - sometimes expressed in more abstract terms as 'fitness maximization'.

The biological values (generalized goals) of the biological axiom are universal because they are expressed by all living organisms. They are ultimate because they represent the summation of all proximate goals. They are objective because they are a mind-independent empirical fact.

It is typically organisms[43] that express the autonomous agential unity of purpose needed to express biological agency and values.

As open and dynamic agential systems, organisms regulate and integrate their flows of energy, materials, and information. In the short-term (one generation) this behaviour occurs over a lifecycle of fertilization, growth and development, maturation, reproduction, senescence, and death. Over the long term (multiple generations) all organisms, as products of natural selection, display species-specific adaptive design and the potential to evolve new forms when heritable variation, transmitted to phenotypes via the chemical DNA, is subject to environmental selection.

It is the short- and long-term autonomous agency of individual organisms that we intuitively recognize as uniquely identifying life in all its diversity.

Forms of biological agency
The forms in which biological agency is expressed are as many as the species that have evolved by descent with modification from a common ancestor and are therefore related to one-another by degree.

In considering the complications of agency related to minds there are five modes of being:

mindless inorganic agency - the ordered 'behaviour' of inanimate matter

mindless biological agency - behaviour not mind-directed (also found in minded organisms)

unconscious minded agency - as mind-generated but intuitive or unconscious behaviour

conscious minded agency - as behaviour that is a consequence of conscious deliberation

collective or cultural agency - that is behaviour motivated by socio-cultural norms.

Biological & human agency
Universal biological agency and human agency are not mutually exclusive characteristics in the way that organisms with minds are distinct from those without minds. Rather, human agency is just one evolutionary expression (albeit complex and minded) of biological agency.

The reality of biological agency, goals, purpose, and values
Because the goals of biological agency can only be understood by (represented in) human minds, it is often assumed that they can only exist in human minds – that they are therefore a creation of human minds - that only humans can be agents with goals, purposes, and values: that non-human organisms are, at best, only agent-like. In fact, rather than biological goals being an invention of human minds, they are the substrate out of which the goals of human agency evolved.

Goal-directedness in nature is real, and without understanding what organisms (including their structures, processes, and behaviors) are ‘for’ (their goals, values, and purposes), biological explanation becomes an incoherent listing of dissociated facts.

Anthropocentrism
Consider the sentence, The design we see in nature is only ‘apparent’ design. We say that design in nature is ‘apparent’ (not real) because it is not human design, it is not created by human minds. But nature and organisms are replete with (real) designed structures in real patterns more complex, beautiful, and ordered than anything created by humans. Mindless nature ‘created’ the universe’s most miraculous and intricately integrated structure, the human brain, which provides us with conscious representations of nature’s real design.

The problem is that, for many people, ‘design’ (and other words like ‘purpose’, ‘reason’, ‘knowledge’ and ‘value’) are minded words like ‘want’ or ‘need’: these words cannot be used meaningfully outside the context of the human mind.

Thus arises the metaphor fallacy. The word ‘design’ cannot be used to describe nature because it implies that nature is minded (which is clearly an error), but because nature's mindedness is unreal does not mean that the design is unreal.  Our anthropocentrism simply refuses to countenance the possibility of mindless design. But, following philosopher Dan Dennett's mode of expression . . .  'purpose’, ‘reason’, ‘knowledge’, ‘value’, 'design' and many other concepts attributed to human intention 'bubble up from the bottom, not trickle down from the top'.

The usual scientific solution to such a problem would be to devise a technical vocabulary that discriminates between nature's real and mindless design and the minded artefacts of human creation.  Such a threat to human dignity, it appears, just cannot be countenanced.

The language of biological agency
If biological agency is real, then how is it possible to proceed scientifically as though it does not exist?

Biological agency is currently described using the minded intentional vocabulary of human agency. Since most organisms do not have minds this is then correctly treated as either cognitive metaphor (unreal) or simply a useful agent-like heuristic device (equally unreal). However, the unreality implied by the notion of a metaphor is then mistakenly conflated with the unreality of biological agency.

This presents a serious scientific dilemma. How are we to communicate the reality of biological agency?

The reality of biological agency can be recognized by either: developing a new vocabulary of technical agential terms that account for biological agency, or, by acknowledging that human minded agency is evolutionarily grounded in (shares mindless characteristics with) mindless biological agency. That is, the meanings of the concepts of minded agency (like 'knowledge', 'reason', 'preference', 'value' and so on) are taken to include mindless properties.

Proximate & ultimate goals
So, for example, since human agency is a minded evolutionary extension of mindless biological agency, human minded goals are only proximate goals that serve the ultimate and mindless goals of biological agency.

So, for example, we humans eat for minded proximate ends (taste and smell stimulation and the satiation of hunger), that have the mindless ultimate biological end of survival. We have sex for minded proximate ends (orgasm, physical and emotional warmth and gratification), but also for the mindless ultimate biological end of reproduction. We desire the overall minded proximate ends of happiness and wellbeing, which serve the ultimate and mindless biological end of flourishing.

Human & biological values
Human values express a perspective, intention, or point of view. In a world of perspectiveless facts, like the world of physics and inanimate matter, there can be no logical grounds for value. However, the goal-directed characteristics of biological agency (as expressed in the biological axiom), give life a direction, behavioural orientation, and flexibility that is not available to inanimate substance but which cannot be ignored. This warrants scientific recognition.

Scientifically this behavioural orientation also resembles a form of value like a confusingly mindless and objective 'point of view'.

This form of mindless agency could be given its own terminology but since no such terminology exists, and since mindless value is the evolutionary precursor to minded value, it is referred to here as biological value whose characteristics of biological agency called the three ultimate biological values.

If this characterization of life has merit, then it expresses a (mostly) mindless and objective biological normativity (as goal directed behaviour) that is grounded in the ultimate, universal, and objective values of biological agency.

Biological values that are represented in behaviour. Human values are also represented in behaviour but this begaviour may be unrelated to the mind, unconscious (instinctive), or a cosequence of conscious deliberation (reason).

It has been customary to deny or ignore biological agency, or to downgrade its reality by referring to it as being agent-like. The outcome has been that life, in effect, has been accorded the agential status of inanimate matter. Evidence now indicates that this is no longer scientifically acceptable.

Aristotle's normative imperative
To deny biological agency and its values of survival, reproduction, and flourishing, is to deny nature's intrinsic (biologically necessary) behaviourally objective resistance to death, and this is not acceptable to biological science.

Aristotle maintained that the ultimate goals of biological agency drive us to the conclusion that – ‘It is better to exist than not exist‘, and ‘it is better to live than not live’ – referred to here as Aristotle’s biological normative imperative.

Why do organisms have the propensity to survive, reproduce, and flourish? . . . ‘Because natural selection made them so‘ (Armand Leroi[40]). Critically, and in apparent contradiction, this is not what organisms need to do, or ought to do (human minded values); it is the way that they are (biological values). It is out of these mindless values that evolution forged minded values.

Aristotle's normative imperative - the propensity of life to resist death - is an objective fact: it is not the projection of human subjective values onto life. Humans may make a minded and contestable value judgement, that 'it is good to live', but mindless organisms do not make value judgments, their biological 'normativity' is expressed in the way that they are. Similarly my preference for white wine over red wine is not a moral injunction - something I 'ought' to do - it is simply the way I am.

This characterization of life draws attention to problems that have plagued biology from its earliest days - the confusing relationship that exists between human minds and biological agency.

Minded & mindless agency
By anthropocentric intellectual tradition we refuse to accept that agency (including its purposes, values, reason, knowledge etc.) is present in nature by degree. Instead, we are convinced that these characteristics are mind dependent. How could an oak tree possibly express value?

But biological agency is like sexuality. We accept that sexuality exists throughout the community of life, even though it is expressed in a diversity of behaviours and physical forms. Because human sexuality is expressed in a uniquely human way does not mean that only human sexuality is real, and that the sexuality of other organisms is only sexual-like. An oak tree expresses value through the physical and behavioural means of its own unique agency. This is nothing like human value, but it is connected to human value through the shared characteristics of biological agency.

We both confuse (fail to distinguish between) and conflate (treat as being the same) the universal and objective ultimate values of biological agency, and the uniquely minded values and goals of human agency.

Since there is no technical terminology to describe the expression of biological values we fall back on the human vocabulary of intentional psychology.  And, since many organisms do not have minds, this human-talk (anthropomorphic language) is understandably dismissed as cognitive metaphor - which ignores its evolutionary grounding in biological agency.

In other words, we mistakenly presume that biological agency must be minded agency, like human agency – that mindedness is a precondition for agency in living organisms. It is probably for this reason that we mistakenly infer that the unreality associated with the application of minded language to mindless organisms (cognitive metaphor) translates comfortably into the unreality of biological agency. That is, we conflate the simple distinction between the minded and the mindless with the complex distinction between biological agency and human agency. It is not that biological agency is a subjective creation of the human mind (cognitive metaphor or heuristic), rather that the proximate and uniquely minded goals of human agency evolved out of, and share characteristics with, the universal, objective, and ultimate mindless goals of biological agency.

Purpose created minds: minds did not create purpose.

Purpose

The goals of agents establish not only their individual purposes but the purposes of their structures and behaviours.  Agency and purpose preceded people, so it is more likely that agency and purpose created people, rather than people creating purpose and agency.

Anthropomorphism (human-talk)
The use of anthropomorphism as cognitive metaphor in biology arises for many reasons including: the convenience of brevity, our cognitive bias, and the attraction of literary flourish. However, it is more likely a consequence of a lack of technical vocabulary to describe biological agency, and our empathy for other living creatures (our recognition of biological agency) that is mostly at play here. Anthropomorphism is an intuitive acknowledgement of our evolutionary connection to nature.

We humans have given precedence to human agency by developing a uniquely minded vocabulary (that of intentional psychology) to describe the uniquely human expression of biological agency. An objective science would develop parallel vocabularies to describe the unique agencies of every species – an impossible task. We use minded language (cognitive metaphor) in relation to non-minded organisms not because we believe they have cognitive faculties , but because we intuitively recognize the grounding of cognitive faculties in biological agency (biological simile) and because we do not have the technical scientific vocabulary needed to describe the agency of each individual species.

Anthropomorphic language interpreted, not literally, but in terms of its intended meaning, describes a relationship between humans and non-humans that is a real likeness based on descent with modification (biological simile grounded in evolution, not cognitive metaphor grounded in a literary device).

The evidence for agential, teleological, and normative realism in nature is cashed out when we examine specific cases.

Human minded valuation brings with it the subjective 'ought' of ethical universality. The following cases illustrate the objectivity of biological values . . . the 'ought' of human valuation is replaced by the 'is' of biological 'value'.

We say that a plant wants water, not because we think that plants experience cognitive states (human agency), but because we intuitively appreciate the significance of survival for all life (biological agency). It is not as if a plant wants water, rather, in terms of the biological agency that plants share with humans they depend on water for their survival. The agency being communicated here is not as if or even like, but the same as our human biological dependency on water. In this sense a plant needs water for exactly the same reasons that humans need water.

We say the purpose of eyes is to see, not because eyes were an intentional creation of God, or that their purpose is a projection of our own intentions, but because, from the perspective of biological agency, we understand the agential significance of sight for all organisms that have eyes. It is not as if the purpose of eyes is to see but, conversely, given the nature of biological agency, eyes have obvious and objective agential significance.

We say a spider knows how to build its web, not because we believe that spiders are consciously aware of the principles of web construction, but because we are amazed at how, without our cognitive powers, spiders instinctively build something as intricate and purposeful as a web, using information that is passed mechanically, and with meticulous precision, from one generation to the next in their genes. Even though the capacity for web building is an adaptive trait encoded in genes, rather than a cognitive attribute, it is a manifestation of biological agency that is so sophisticated that we rightly associate it with our own agency. It is not as if a spider knows how to build a web, rather, that web building (biological agency) is extraordinarily like (and biologically related to) our human cognitive capacity to learn, remember, and apply accumulated knowledge (human agency).

Human values are highly evolved and uniquely human (minded and therefore subjective) values that are, as it were, superimposed by evolution on objective biological values. We can therefore make a distinction between, on the one hand, mindless biological agency, purpose, and value and, on the other, minded human agency, purpose, and value bearing in mind that human agency is a specialized form of biological agency.

This interpretation of agency, purpose, and value constitutes a radical philosophical realism that implausibly contradicts the mainstream philosophical and scientific view that values, agency, and purpose are creations of human minds and therefore exist only in human minds - a view leading to the conclusion that the language of human intentional psychology (which includes the language of agency, purpose, and normativity), when applied to non-human organisms, cannot be scientifically justified, and must therefore be treated as cognitive metaphor.

It is argued on this web site that, from a scientific perspective, human agency is a form of biological agency and that resort to its description by using the uniquely minded language of human intentional psychology is a form of anthropocentrism

Biological values, human values, & ethics
The words 'ethics', 'morals', and 'values' are often used in a loose and interchangeable way. However, a useful distinction can be made between three key elements: values (as abstract, universal, general, or aspirational objectives – the importance, worth, or usefulness of something - including behaviour - preferences, attitudes, or feelings); goals (as specific objectives of individual organisms); and moral or ethical judgments (as human judgments of right and wrong often made universal by reason and thus countering egoism).

The three universal, ultimate, and objective values of the biological axiom are the drivers (determine the behavioural orientation) of all organisms. The multitude of proximate goals pursued by all organisms are strongly related to, among other things, physical structure, time, place, and circumstance.

For example, the overall behaviour of a crab expresses the universal and ultimate biological values of the biological axiom through a multitude of proximate goals that relate to its physical form - its pincers, swimmer claws, its place under a rock in the sea, the nearby presence of food and mates, and so on. Values may be expressed as both individual preferences or integrated collective behaviour (e.g. an ant colony), but not as shared as symbolic representations.

Human moral (ethical) judgments are universalized in resistance to egoism and collectively formulated into codes of behaviour expressed in spoken or written language. Proximate goals may vary from person to person, and from time to time, which can lead to conflicts when there are competing proximate ends. Biological values are not like this. Though proximate goals can override biological values (we can foil our biological need to reproduce by using contraception) but reason is always a means to an end and since the ultimate ends of organisms are biological ends, reason is always, ultimately, a response to these ends, even when it ignores or overrides them. While objective biological values are the ultimate ends or goals towards which all organisms (including humans) are directed, human values are highly evolved and uniquely human (minded and therefore more subjective) values that are, as it were, superimposed by evolution on objective biological values.

It might be claimed that human values, when subjected to the furnace of detached reason, have given rise to formal behavioural codes or ethical systems that have divested themselves of both God and nature - that ethics emerges out of pure reason (which demands that we universalize moral language, and allows us to acknowledge truths that do not have survival vaue), not supernatural command or empirical fact.

But the human reason used in moral judgment is a thick concept (it is both descriptive and evaluative). If reason is the 'ability to use knowledge to attain goals'[41] then the universality implied by its 'ought' statements is not derived from dispassionate logic, or mathematics - the point of view of the universe - but from the universal values of the biological axiom. The biological axiom is itself a thick expression; it is both a factual description of the way organisms are, and an evaluation expressed as a factual behavioural orientation. Reason based on the point of view of the universe is a denial of life.

The denial of biological agency
Scour biological textbooks, or the web, and you will find little, if anything, about biological agency, biological values, or the purpose that pervades everything in nature.

The denial of real biological agency, purpose, and value rests on at least five related confusions and errors concerning the distinction between and confusion related to, on the one hand, organisms with minds and those without minds and, on the other, biological agency and human agency.

First, an inversion of reasoning that incorrectly assumes that since biological goals (values, purposes etc.) can only be understood (represented) by human minds, then they only exist in human minds, and are therefore a creation of human minds . . . that biological agency is not real.

Second, converse reasoning that treats biological agency, purpose, and value as an unreal fiction (cognitive metaphor) invented by the human mind, rather than the converse - that human agency evolved out of real and mindless biological agency.

Third, the metaphor fallacy. The treatment of anthropomorphic humanizing language (human-talk) as metaphor or, more specifically, cognitive metaphor.[42] This fallacy interprets the relationship between biological and human agencies using the logic of a literary device, the metaphor, in which one of the relata is always figurative (unreal). This forces the real evolutionary likeness between biological agency and human agency to be treated as an 'as if' (unreal) likeness, rather than a similarity resulting from real evolutionary connection. Were a literary device the appropriate mechanism for making this comparisonIn then in strict literary terms this would be more like a biological simile than a metaphor.

Fourth, and related to the third, we make an agency error – whereby anthropomorphic language (the language treated as cognitive metaphor) is interpreted literally as claiming that mindless organisms have cognitive faculties. Under closer inspection it is evident that, in general, such language is not, in fact, referencing minded human agency (human cognitive faculties), but the mindless biological agency that is a consequence of shared evolutionary ancestry.

Fifth, that science is forced to use the language of cognitive metaphor, not so much for literary flourish, an inherent cognitive bias, or for its convenience, but more because of our intuitive identification with non-cognitive (objective) biological agency, and the lack of non-human agential scientific vocabulary to describe this agency.

Anthropomorphic analogical language is, in general, not trying to convey the as if language of cognitive metaphor, but the real likeness of biological simile (the result of evolutionary connection).

From an evolutionary perspective human agency evolved out of (is a subset of) biological agency and thus the proximate minded and therefore (often) subjective goals of human agency, are subordinate to the ultimate objective goals of biological agency.

In sum, we have yet to scientifically accept that biological agency is not a metaphorical creation of human agency: human agency is a real evolutionary development of biological agency.

Historically, this philosophical confusion has been perpetuated by a pre-Darwinian anthropocentrism that understood life as Special Creation, rather than evolution with modification from a common ancestor.

If we regard anthropomorphism as cognitive metaphor or heuristic, then we not only devalue, but deny, the real evolutionarily graded agential reality of the organisms, structures, processes, and behaviours that unite the community of life.

If biological agency, goals, purposes, and values are real then their investigation can be transferred out of the realm of philosophical speculation and into the domain of scientific explanation.

First published on the internet – 1 March 2019
. . . 27 July 2022 – updated and the title changed from ‘Biological normativity’ to ‘Biological values’
. . . 4 August 2022 – added criticism of reason as the source of objective morality (the point of view of the universe)
. . . 5 August 2022 – added Epilogue

 

The Community of Life
Showing biological divisions, geological ages and major evolutionary events
Courtesy Evogeneao https://www.evogeneao.com

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