Is 'Humanity' a fiction?
#1
Here is an excerpt from a book chapter in Leo Tolstoy's 'The Kingdom of God is Within You'.

Quote:There is such a thing as a state, as a nation; there is the abstract conception of man; but humanity as a concrete idea does not, and cannot exist.

Humanity! Where is the definition of humanity? Where does it end and where does it begin? Does humanity end with the savage, the idiot, the dipsomaniac, or the madman? If we draw a line excluding from humanity its lowest representatives, where are we to draw the line? Shall we exclude the negroes like the Americans, or the Hindoos like some Englishmen, or the Jews like some others? If we include all men without exception, why should we not include also the higher animals, many of whom are superior to the lowest specimens of the human race.

We know nothing of humanity as an eternal object, and we know nothing of its limits. Humanity is a fiction, and it is impossible to love it. It would, doubtless, be very advantageous if men could love humanity just as they love their family. It would be very advantageous, as Communists advocate, to replace the competitive, individualistic organization of men's activity by a social universal organization, so that each would be for all and all for each.

It is worth taking a minute to study this, because it is similarly fallacious arguments that are used to argue against the separation of Church and State or religion and politics (asking rhetorically, how do we know where the domain of one ends and the other begins?) or even to argue that 'Science' and 'Religion' are themselves artificial labels on what is an inquiry into an undefined 'Truth'.

It turns out that there is a fallacy in the lexicons that fits this kind of arguments, though it is not very commonly cited. I'll leave this out there for a while for fallacy spotting in the meantime.
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#2
I don't know what fallacy it is, but this might be another example of this kind of "separate but equal" argument:

In God and Science - a discussion with Richard Dawkins, Lisa Randall and the Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, at 29' they are talking about the amazing scale of the universe, which from the very small to the very large with us in the "middle", and the rabbi says this:

Quote:This sense of scale is something that connects religion and science, namely, the concept of awe. But whereas science is fascinated with the extremely large and the extremely small, religion focuses on this middle ground. How can we humanise our our relationships? How can we build structures that honour human dignity? How can we respect the image of God that is each of us? And it's that moral ethical dimension, which is real, which is expressed by religion, which makes me say that there is something outside of science.
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#3
(18-Oct-2011, 04:01 AM)arvindiyer Wrote:
Quote:There is such a thing as a state, as a nation; there is the abstract conception of man; but humanity as a concrete idea does not, and cannot exist.

Humanity! Where is the definition of humanity? Where does it end and where does it begin? Does humanity end with the savage, the idiot, the dipsomaniac, or the madman? If we draw a line excluding from humanity its lowest representatives, where are we to draw the line? Shall we exclude the negroes like the Americans, or the Hindoos like some Englishmen, or the Jews like some others? If we include all men without exception, why should we not include also the higher animals, many of whom are superior to the lowest specimens of the human race.

So many mistakes here, its hard to start anywhere. But let me just focus on the big logical fallacies:

1. Slippery slope. This is the big one. Lots of natural categories are ill-defined at the edges. What matters is where we decide to draw the line, using evidence and reason. Biology has determined that we are all humans, using standards such as genetic distance. By Tolstoy's logic, you can plot the continuum from an adult human to an embryo and declare that adult humans do not exist.

Moreover, Tolstoy was confusing cultural variation with genetic variation. You can draw a multi-dimensional continuum across the human species (and we are one species by biological standards), demonstrating that various traits of each category mentioned by Tolstoy are often shared between groups at a greater frequency than within certain subpopulations within each group, thus relegating 'race' itself to being a cultural artifact (I'll give Tolstoy the benefit of the doubt and assume he was talking about the ethnicity and not the beliefs when he said 'Hindoo' and 'Jew', but you can see how much more of a cultural artifact that would have been).

2. The naturalistic fallacy. Ideas such as "higher animals" being "superior" to the "lowest specimens" of humanity hold the natural universe as depicting a moral ontology.

The third paragraph that Arvind quoted I'll ignore. It's just all over the place.

In my opinion, he was a great novelist, but Tolstoy was no philosopher and should have stuck to fiction.
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#4
(18-Oct-2011, 08:35 AM)unsorted Wrote:
Quote:This sense of scale is something that connects religion and science, namely, the concept of awe. But whereas science is fascinated with the extremely large and the extremely small, religion focuses on this middle ground. How can we humanise our our relationships? How can we build structures that honour human dignity? How can we respect the image of God that is each of us? And it's that moral ethical dimension, which is real, which is expressed by religion, which makes me say that there is something outside of science.

1. False Dichotomy, in order to draw a line between science and religion and lay claim as certain areas being religion's turf. Science is not just fascinated with the very large and the very small. In fact, thousands of scientists, perhaps most scientists, are working on things that are on a middle scale relative to our human perception.

2. Non sequitur: Even if you accept the first part, and consider science as only concerned about extremes in scale, the second part of the argument is a non sequitur. It is not about scale at all but about ethics. And of course, science has a lot to say about ethics, in fact, a lot more truth about it than religion ever can.
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#5
Loki's Wager is a rather evocative short-hand abstraction that comes to mind, of which all of the apologist arguments cited above can be treated as instances. This fallacy is named after an impish Norse deity who weaseled his way out of a lost wager of his head, by claiming that it was just his head and not his neck that he had wagered, and that it was impossible to determine where his neck ended and head began. Toolkit for Thinking offers this definition of the fallacy : "The unreasonable insistence that a concept cannot be defined, and therefore cannot be discussed." Indefinability is claimed by several tactics, which include establishing false equivalences between exceptions and the norm and deliberately conflating 'differences in kind' with 'differences in degree'.

In the excerpt above, Tolstoy takes pains to argue that 'humanity' is undefinable because it would then follow that 'humanity' cannot be a basis of further discourse on actual human welfare and cannot be the basis of any lasting civilizational project. He lays this Loki's wager in order to discredit humanism and offer instead his 'divine conception of life'.

It is a Loki's wager of sorts, on the basis of which theocrats within democratic dispensations claim the right to 'theological jurisprudence'. For them, the magisteria of the kingdom of this world and the 'Kingdom of God' are overlapping and therefore no civil institution, most notably marriage, can be truly considered outside of divine strictures. Theological jurisprudence is claimed as a general 'civil right' thanks to this gray area, when obviously it is a civil right like no other because it is not universal for all citizens in a multi-faith country!

It is in a Loki's wager that the Rabbi cited above claims ownership of science as well, by making the concept of 'awe' the defining concept, and placing Religion in the middle ground and Science at the fringes of his world, so that pretty much every point can be claimed for the 'larger middle'.

The Rabbi's argument reminds me of the tendency of many of our compatriots to compulsively and instinctively self-identify as 'middle-class', to feign modesty if they obviously belong to a higher income group having a lifestyle very different from what is ordinarily middle-class, or to articulate aspiration if they are not quite there yet. From everyday conversation, an outsider might end up concluding that everyone in India is 'middle class'!

What are the counters to Loki's wager? Wikipedia correctly identifies the content of this fallacy as 'over-specification' and an extreme form of equivocation. As a form of equivocation, it is a part of the contemporary weaseling arsenal. Like all equivocation-type arguments, sound working definitions are the remedy and pre-emption. Loki's wagers would be untenable if, prior to any discussion, to spell out what different terms are taken to mean 'for purposes of this discussion' even as the same word may have other connotations outside of the domain of the discussion.

Tolstoy places on himself the unreasonable requirement of having a catch-all definition of humanity before making any ethical claim and failing in this task doomed from the start, declares hastily that humanity cannot be the basis of ethical claims! Peter Singer on the other hand takes a reasonable working definition of humanity based on 'sentience' and clearly works out the consequences of applying this definition, the more controversial among which are euthanasia for those individuals who are not strictly sentient and extension of human rights to members of other species who are demonstrably sentient. This instance goes to show that working out the consequences of a definition, pending perfection of it, furthers the discourse more than pedantic haggling over an imperfect definition. What's more, once such a clear exposition of a definition is available, it is easier to propose and compare others, which would be impossible if indefinability is claimed in the first place.

The typical 'Science is a religion' or 'Science is one aspect of the quest of Truth that is religion' or its particular cultural variants like 'Rationalism is an approach that when fulfilled, tends to be Vedic', can all be forestalled with a working definition of Science emphasizing the Scientific Method and falsifiability. It is true that the very coiner of the term 'falsifiability', Karl Popper recognized a 'demarcation problem' where scientific enterprise may involve claims which are not strictly falsifiable, as explained here by Michael Shermer. Having acknowledged those examples which don't lend themselves immediately to the definition, we should recognize that does not take away from the wide applicability of the definition otherwise to the most widespread types of scientific enterprise which are unmistakably different from any religious activity.

An insistence on 'overspecification' , when decent working definitions can be sufficient for discussion, as shown in the examples above, can be seen as related to the so-called 'Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness' explained using a vivid anecdote by Dr. V S Ramachandran in this book excerpt (start reading from Para 3 of the linked page)

**********
Here is a couple of side-notes of historical interest.

- Tolstoy's place in history is earned mostly through his contributions to fiction, but the book being discussed 'The Kingdom of God is Within You' has itself been of significant historical moment. The book is vocally anti-clerical, liable to be considered heretical even by many contemporary churches, prescient if not prophetic about the World Wars, radically pacifist and borderline anarchist and has in nascent but already recognizable forms the concepts of 'community organization' and 'consciousness raising' as means of social change. He does resort to slippery slope arguments often though, like this archetypal one against the idea of 'moderate perfection' as against outright idealism. It is a harder to find a clearer example of 'slippery slope' than the following:

Quote:To let go the requirements of the ideal means not only to diminish the possibility of perfection, but to make an end of the ideal itself. The ideal that has power over men is not an ideal invented by someone, but the ideal that every man carries within his soul. Only this ideal of complete infinite perfection has power over men, and stimulates them to action. A moderate perfection loses its power of influencing men's hearts.

- Continuum-based arguments of indefinability have a long and fruitful history. An important historical argument is the one between the Atomist Democritus and the Stoic Chrysippus, which is recognized as a philosophical motivation for the development of infinitesimal calculus.
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#6
I beg your pardon, are we seriously thinking that *humanity* as a concept exists for real?
Oh boy. Oh Boy. OH BOY.
We do have serious problem. Thinking something is special makes you think it is special while it is not.
There is nothing called *snakishness* for snakes, *Chimpness* for our beloved brothers Chimps
and neither there is something called *humanity* for humans.

Tried and tested norms, thanks to Price & Maynard Smiths brilliant work, now uncovered as ESS,
gave rise to the *humanity*. By that standard, Elephants, and Monkeys exhibit humanity.

Albeit sometimes, in fact majority of the time -- humans don't. Take for example, we are after
destroying a millions of peoples mental peace - by telling them simply that their age old beliefs are
absurd and wrong, and shatter their point of existence.
A.K.A -- religion is bullshit. So, would that be humane?

I seriously doubt it. I firmly have the opinion that... humanity , like religion just what it is, bullshit with
some amount of evolutionary advantage to the believer.
In case of anyone wants to have an unemotional argument with me, I am more than ready to have so.
And, no I am no psychopath. I just realize that we are not important enough for the Universe to run.
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#7
(08-Apr-2013, 07:39 PM)LordPlaguies Wrote: I beg your pardon, are we seriously thinking that *humanity* as a concept exists for real?
Oh boy. Oh Boy. OH BOY.
We do have serious problem. Thinking something is special makes you think it is special while it is not.
There is nothing called *snakishness* for snakes, *Chimpness* for our beloved brothers Chimps
and neither there is something called *humanity* for humans.
....
And, no I am no psychopath. I just realize that we are not important enough for the Universe to run.

There was no claim of anthropocentrism or human exceptionalism or any teleological arguments anywhere in the thread so far. In fact, disavowals of Scala Naturae and of teleological arguments can be read aplenty in these forums. Further, there was no assertion anywhere here that there is some kind of objective, canonical and ordained 'humanness' which should define human conduct. In fact the purpose of this thread was to critique Tolstoy's positing of 'divinity' as a universal justification and standard for human affairs.

The concept of 'humanity' subsuming such things as universal human rights, is a useful one to widen the circle of solidarity to make it species-wide, though not objectively derivable from evolutionary history, so long as the perennially renegotiated conception of it happens in an inclusive manner which embraces the full diversity of the human condition. It goes without saying that there is no strictly objective humanity (just like there is no objective morality), but we would use that as an excuse to dismiss humanity as irrelevant at our own peril.
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