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Morality. How? Why? What?

  1. May 17, 2003 #1
    What is morality? How did it come about? Why does it exist? We humans are moral creatures. Along with our intelligence it is one of the things that separates us from animals. We have a sense of right and wrong. We have a sense of justice. A moral code develops in us from a young age without any need to be taught. Without anyone having to tell us we know instinctively that we should not hurt another person, that we should not steal from someone else. The moral code also covers sexual conduct and numerous other things. Our morality primarily deals with the way we treat one another.

    This moral code is expressed through our faculty of conscience. Our conscience guides us. It is the reason why we have a guilty conscience if we do something we know is wrong. Our conscience is the reason why nations everywhere make laws that are in harmony with righteousness and justice and why people live according to good principles.

    So where did morality come from? For the believer it is difficult to separate many philosophical questions from religion. The Bible provides answers to many of the deep questions that have baffled philosophers. There is of course a Biblical answer to this particular question. The Bible tells us that God designed us with his moral laws written on our hearts: "I will put my law in their minds, and write it on their hearts" - Jeremiah 31:33. And the well known verse: "Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness" - Genesis 1:26. Our creator gave us an inbuilt moral code and a conscience to guide us. It is part of our design to enable us to live according to God's laws for the benefit of all. For the believer the answer is simple and satisfying.

    But what about the evolutionist or at least someone who doesn't believe in a creator? Does the theory of evolution have an explanation for our sense of justice? Where does a sense of right and wrong fit into a battle where the strongest survive? How do philosophers answer the questions I posed at the beginning of this thread?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 17, 2003 #2
    You have committed a breach of Rule 2. See below.
  4. May 17, 2003 #3
    What is culture, if not a "system of beliefs" superimposed over reality? And how does culture develop, if not through the "adaptive process" of thinking? ... And why be so hasty to throw yours and everyone else's heritage away? These so-called "myths" served a genuine purpose in their own time, and can still be an invaluable resource to the human mind if, we allowed ourselves to digress ... you know, just a little?
  5. May 17, 2003 #4
    Morality is, at least in practice, on this world, in this life, a cultural thing. Each culture has its own set of morality codes and is taught to children at a very young age either directly by observation and interaction.
    It is true the humans are social animals and left on their own will form societies as a nateral behavior. These societies will have by necessity there own moral codes.
    Animal societies from ants and bees to the great apes all have codes of societal behavior that in essence are moral codes. Should an individual of that society, just as in mans, break the moral code, whether learned or instintive, it will be punished even to death.
    That we must be taught our own societies moral behavior code is a result of man having no instincts. We have to learn everything and are not born knowing anything. A large part of bring up children is civilizing them, teaching them how to properly interact with other members of their particular society. That being said in order not to break LA's rule 2, the question remains, why.
    If, as anthropologist say, we have no instincts, are born knowing nothing and must learn everything, why are we social beings and form societies with moral codes, a sense of good and bad, right and wrong?
    Here I have to agree with you at least in principle that it is part of spiritual makeup. In my belief system I would say the our created souls and the holy spirit with us guide and lead us to form societies, moral codes, religion and secular and reigious rules or laws. In short we are social, moral and religous beings be cause God made us that way at least in part in his image. The also logical necessitate given the above that God is logical rational and moral.
  6. May 17, 2003 #5
    As LogicalAtheist has demonstrated so clearly, morality is an abstract set of rules we are taught which may or may not have any relevence in any particular situation. Although historically people have considered only humanity to possess morality, this is clearly not the case as zoologists and others continue to confirm.

    One man in New York, for example, was discovered to have raised his daughter locked in a room. He never spoke to her or interacted with her in any real way except to feed her and clean up after her. Such children die before puberty and never learn to speak much less take care of themselves. Similarly, attempts to reintroduce many animal species into the wild using young who are not raised by a parent have proven difficult. Deprived of even a minimum set of rules for conduct such animals have a difficult time learning how to hunt, socialize, mate, and raise young.

    Arthur C. Clark once commented that everything above the intelligence of an earthworm loves to be petted. Although this is an exaggeration, it does get the point across. People and animals deprived of a minimal amount physical contact will first fail to thrive and then quickly die. The more complex and intelligent the animal, the more physical contact and affection it requires. Likewise, the more abstract rules or learned behavior it requires.

    As I said in the beginning, morality is a set of abstract rules which may or may not be relevent to any particular situation. Thus, abstract rules can contradict the need for physical contact and affection we require. B. F. Skinner provided a graphic example of this with his daughter.

    He placed her in an isolation box, a sort of glass aquarium with rubber gloves built into it, because the abstract rules he believed in said this was for her own good. Rather than listening to his own natural inclinations to hold his daughter close and be more affectionate, his morality told him the "right" thing to do was to put her in this box. As a result, she spent many years in therapy.

    So, you ask why we are social beings possessed of morality. We are such beings because we are the decendents of pack hunters and, further back in time, apes. To some extent morality provides us with the ability to adapt to changing conditions by expanding upon the abstract rules we must have to survive. In turn, what prevents morality from totally dominating our lives and forcing humanity down dead ends leading to extinction is the reality of our physical selves, including our emotional lives.
  7. May 17, 2003 #6
    Morality obviousely comes from evolution. While in jungle killing own kind is OK (hmmm..., only human specie does that, by the way), killing and stealing in SOCIETY is not good for survival of SOCIETY.

    Just a natural selection and survival of fittiest society, dude.
  8. May 17, 2003 #7
    Re: Re: Morality. How? Why? What?

    Many species kill their own kind. What are you talking about? You have spiders that eat babies and animals that live in packs fighting and killing to be the leaders.

    About morality:
    I believe that if anything is right or wrong, it is because of the existence of feelings. I think that we have developed this sense of morality because of our knowledge of our own feelings. I don't think that a computer could ever comprehend morality or conscience...
    Last edited: May 17, 2003
  9. May 17, 2003 #8
    And feelings come from genes (basic instincts) and education.
  10. May 17, 2003 #9


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    I think the education part is also very
    important. Human societies have evolved
    for phousands of years and accordingly
    developed a great amount of internal
    stability methods to hold them together.

    Live long and prosper.
  11. May 17, 2003 #10
    From an evolutionary viewpoint, morality
    may be mostly the word we give for the concept of understanding the difference between good and bad behavior and the practice of good, this may primarily come from the seek pleasure avoid pain instinct and as the complexity of the species increases translate more into an understanding of good things versus bad things, behaviors that lead to good or behaviors that lead to bad, or morality.
    Animals learn from experience that actions that lead to bad are to be avoided, and good things that come promote a recreation of whatever actions they were doing before, like the superstitious baseball player who must swallow his chew 5 seconds before batting to hit a home run.
    There could also be a gene for empathy toward one's like species(giving animals human name's often increases empathy for them). Omnivorous animals are still less likely to eat their own species.
    But what might take science a few thousand years to fully understand was captured long ago:"I will put my law in their minds, and write it on their hearts" - Jeremiah 31:33
  12. May 17, 2003 #11
    And yet what is it about mankind's behavior that's not abstract? If everything is "perceived" with the mind, then everything emanates from the mind. Look around you. This whole "concrete jungle" which we now see before us was brought about by only one thing, the "abstract process" of man's thinking.

    So what could that possibly mean? ... That man is nothing "but," a mythological construct. Therefore, if he wants to do "what is right," then he had better seek the "proper guidance" (wisdom) from within. Hmm ... does that mean it's possible to suffer a guilty conscience?

    Does anybody here know of Joseph Campbell? If not, then you're missing out on this whole question of existence, and the essential role mythology has played in its development. Recommended reading: The Power of Myth. Transcripted from popular television series on PBS, and now available on DVD.
  13. May 17, 2003 #12
    A Zen master might hit you on the head with a stick for such a solipstic statement as if to say, "Here, does that feel abstract!" Words only have meaning given a context and when you start talking in terms of Oneness and Unity they becoming meaningless. Instead, what matters increasingly, again, is how we communicate our attitude.

    Joseph Campbell understands this simple truth and his motto is, "Follow your bliss."
  14. May 17, 2003 #13
    Or, if I were to punch you in the nose ... And yet, without consciousness, whether I be dead, asleep, or totally unresponsive, "I" wouldn't feel anything. Neither am I in anyway saying external reality doesn't exist, only that its perception is an entirely "inside job" (i.e., whether it feels that way or not). Hey if I didn't have a brain, I can assure you (or could I?) that I wouldn't feel you whacking me with a stick!

    Does this sound altogether different than Lifgazer's theory? I'm not sure that it does. Just worded a bit differently. And yet what it's really all about is your point of reference. Do "you" exist outside of yourself, as an external reference point or, does that "you" exist within? This can make a big difference in terms of accountability. And it's like Harry Truman said, "The buck stops here!"

    I agree ... absolutely!
  15. May 17, 2003 #14
    "External" and "internal" are just concepts. Without air, you can't breath. Exactly where "you" start and end is debatable. That is another reason a Zen master might hit you on the head, to demonstrate and get across that what you feel and experience is more important than any abstract thoughts on the subject.
  16. May 17, 2003 #15
    If it weren't for the fact of mirrors, I would have to agree with you. And by Jove that would be an external reflection of an "internal awareness," by which I project my identity into the image (form) that I see in the mirror.

    And besides, breathing is done subconsciously, and is not part of your awareness, "consciously."

    You also need to understand that this is a scientifically "biased" forum, and that science would pretty much dismiss the Zen master due to the "subjective nature" of feelings and experience. I'm not saying I would, mind you!

    EDIT: Changed persona to "identity."
    Last edited: May 17, 2003
  17. May 17, 2003 #16
    Is it your persona, or just your self-image? Ancient peoples have had verious beliefs about where human consciousness resided. The ancient Greeks believed our minds inhabited our hearts, others believed it was in our stomachs. Certainly we now know it is in our brain, but without external sensory feedback braincells begin acting aborantly, firing randomly. No sensory input, you're dead.

    A behavioral scientist might argue that your "internal awareness," sense of self, and free will are just phantoms, you are just a walking computer. Of course, a cognitive scientist might take umbrage at such a suggestion. Personally, I couldn't care less either way, I gotta live with the situation even if some could prove to me I'm really a mindless cog in some machine.

    What is certain, again, is I need the microscopic mites on my eyelashes to see, the ones on my skin to live, the air that I breath, the food and water I consume, the love and attention my mother gave me as a baby. Where exactly you might care to draw the line between me and not me, perhaps, is debatable but those needs are not.
  18. May 17, 2003 #17
    Royce, you are supporting a "Blank Slate" view, and so of course, I must disagree with you. I recommend "The Blank Slate: the Modern Denial of Human Nature", by Steven Pinker. He clears up the whole "Nature vs. Nurture" contraversy quite well, IMO (and I haven't even read the whole book yet).
  19. May 17, 2003 #18
    To whom is this certain? It's not certain to me, and yet I still see? This is all knowledge, of the aftermath, and doesn't affect one bit my "conscious ability" to perceive. Unless of course I were in the "conscious act" of eating which, I'm abouts to go do right now.
  20. May 18, 2003 #19
    Perception is more than what we taste, touch, smell, and see. The one sense you cannot live without is feeling and among our feelings is certainty which extends beyond the other senses through both space and time.
  21. May 18, 2003 #20
    Are you talking about emotions, in the sense that they validate our awareness? I think Jung said something to this effect, that our feelings are on the opposite pole of our thinking process, and are what "validate" our thoughts ...
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