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Moral Principles Learned via Social Osmosis

  1. Oct 23, 2008 #1
    Moral Principles Learned via Social Osmosis

    I came across this statement “for everything human beings do by intelligence rather than instinct, any course of conduct they choose when they might have chosen differently, is a moral action” in “The Metaphysical Club” by Louis Menand and it stopped me in my tracks. I had to study this statement and make a decision about its validity.

    I consider the words ‘moral’ and ‘ethical’ to be interchangeable.

    We all have the ability to do harm or to do good to other people; and we all are fully aware of that capacity. How can we know this? We can know this because we are capable of imaginatively placing our self into the boots of the other person?

    Young children know this, as is evident by there shouts of condemnation:
    “That’s not fair!”—“She won’t share!”—“He hit me and I didn’t do anything to him!”—“He promised!”—“Cheater, Cheater!”—“Liar, Liar!”—“It’s my turn!”

    I suspect most of us, adults and children; learn these ‘ethical principles’ through social osmosis (without conscious effort). We ‘know’ these principles of ethical behavior but often fail to practice them because there are always so many other forces pulling us in another direction.

    The forces pulling us into unethical behavior are many; for example, ego and social centric forces, self-delusion, selfishness, and especially because of our ignorance and the complexity of the problems we face.

    Webster defines educate as—to develop mentally, morally, or aesthetically [beauty] especially by instruction. Webster defines indoctrinate as—to imbue [infuse] with a usually partisan or sectarian opinion, point of view, or principle.

    I think that it is imperative for each adult to become conscious (aware plus attention) of the difference between these two terms--‘educate’ and ‘indoctrinate’--and also to recognize just how much of our attitude toward matters of ethics results from our education or from our indoctrination.

    I agree with the statement in the first paragraph, do you? I find it I to be staggering to realize this to be a fact, do you?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 24, 2008 #2
    I'm mostly writing in the [thread=266211]other current morality thread[/thread] but I thought I'd drop in here. I don't agree with that first statement at all. Not only do morality and the exercise of intelligence not seem connected to me, morality seems most similar to an instinct to me.

    But I do agree that the words "moral" and "ethical" are interchangeable, at least in modern English.
  4. Oct 24, 2008 #3

    I think that we have an emotion for appreciating the well being of another. What we do with that emotion would be a job for our imagination and reason, i.e. our intelligence.
  5. Oct 24, 2008 #4
    I do agree with that to some degree. I think that we have a sense for what is right and what is wrong in a given situation. I think that we use imagination and reason to codify what that sense tells us into moral principles that are easier to apply to complex situations, and certainly for how to plan to behave morally.

    But I think that what allows one to carry out a plan to behave morally is self-discipline and integrity, which frequently gets called "moral fiber". And that seems like something closer to the realm of emotion than reason, though perhaps it's a third thing of its own right.
  6. Oct 25, 2008 #5
    I would say that the emotion of fear will lead me to develop a rational response and the emotion of morality will, in the same manner, lead me to develop a rational response. My character will be reflected in any action to which my reason leads me.
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