I cringe when Philosophers begin arguing Ethical Systems from First Principles. Codes of behavior built from argument based on mathematical rigour have a place in academia but are extremely dangerous when applied to the real world. People are not logical programs built from a rational base. They are a collection of hundreds of millions of years of gene based behavioral evolution and some thousands of years of mind based cultural evolution. Only the later of these is “perfectable”. One who thinks otherwise carries the shadow of Gulags Yet To Come in their eyes.
More so than the practitioners of many disciplines I’ve delved into, philosophers seem to place Humanity on a high pedestal of Rationality. I don’t. I see people as one more data point on a continuum of data points; a vector of traits which exist elsewhere but reach their highest expression (so far, and in our own biased eyes) in our species.
If you have decided by this point I am a follower of Richard Dawkins, then you are an astute observer and commendably well read. Dawkins changed our way of looking at evolution from one based on populations of individuals to one of populations of genes. Genes do not care about individuals (or anything else for that matter, so excuse my anthropomorphics). If a behavioral pattern kills 10% of a population but causes the other 90% to be fruitful and multiply, there will be more copies of the gene or genes (or memes if we are dealing with culture-based behavior) responsible for that behavior. Genes are the individuals which compete with each other and evolve. Not cells. Not tissues. Not wombats. Genes.
Altruism may be emphasized or de-emphasized by cultural traits and training but it can never be eliminated. It is a part of our hardwired animal program. Species with altruistic behavioral patterns will thrive at the expense of those which do not have them. It may be rather hard on an individual to throw themselves on a handgrenade or charge a machine gun nest, but by their action a larger number of the genes and memes expressed in them will survive and propagate than would otherwise have done so. It’s purely a numbers game.
I chose altruism as an example because it is currently under discussion, but the point I wish to make is a much more encompassing one. Human beings are not empty general purpose computers to be programmed at will to whatever happens to be the Perfect Ethics of the day. They come with a very large baggage of hardwired behavioral preferences which will make a mockery of the Perfectionist’s attempts to create the perfect “Your-favorite-ism” Man.
The attempt may be akin to bean-bag punching but this has never stopped Perfectionists from trying as we can see from Cambodia, Siberia, Dachau and Srbenica and Paris in the Ideological Centuries and the long line of religious pogroms stretching back into the mists of pre-history.