The biology of morality

  • #1
Ivan Seeking
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Some animals are surprisingly sensitive to the plight of others. Chimpanzees, who cannot swim, have drowned in zoo moats trying to save others. Given the chance to get food by pulling a chain that would also deliver an electric shock to a companion, rhesus monkeys will starve themselves for several days.

Biologists argue that these and other social behaviors are the precursors of human morality. They further believe that if morality grew out of behavioral rules shaped by evolution, it is for biologists, not philosophers or theologians, to say what these rules are.

Moral philosophers do not take very seriously the biologists’ bid to annex their subject, but they find much of interest in what the biologists say and have started an academic conversation with them. [continued]
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/20/science/20moral.html

I can see it now: The Church of Moonbear. :biggrin:
 

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  • #2
Moonbear
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http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/20/science/20moral.html

I can see it now: The Church of Moonbear. :biggrin:
:rofl: Please send your donations to... :biggrin:

Actually, I've always taken a related, but slightly different perspective on morality. I don't see it as something we have evolved beyond other animals. Every social animal has a set of rules they seem to abide by and enforce when broken, and human "morality" is just another set of social rules. What the excerpt posted here (haven't gone and read the full length story yet) leaves out is that in addition to these seemingly altruistic behaviors, these animals will also brutally punish members of their society that break the "rules." Cross into someone else's territory, or don't back down when challenged, and there may be a fight to the death. Since we still have a death penalty for breaking serious rules in human society, are we really all that different from other animals?

Will biologists choose the rules? No, I don't think so. We just observe them and the behaviors associated with them and the consequences to human health and social interactions as they change. We do influence them by being part of the society, but no more so than anyone else does, in my opinion. We may wish we had more influence, but doesn't everyone?
 
  • #3
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Moral philosophers do not take very seriously the biologists’ bid to annex their subject...
Mmm. I imagine witchdoctors don't appreciate weather forecasting too much either.
 
  • #4
Ivan Seeking
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Sure, well, just wait until the biologists inadvertantly reproduce the Ten Commandments! :biggrin:

To what degree can the rules for morality be written solely as a function of evolution? It may be an interesting problem to discern between evolved moral traits, and those acquired socially.

I wonder about another component of this. Do animals love, and hate, as we do? Even if animal behavior can all be reduced to this hormone, or that stimulated response, can't human reactions be reduced in a similar manner? Why would we be fundamentally different in how we feel about each other, or about our pets for that matter, as compared to how they feel? Frankly, I find it hard to believe that my cats don't really love me. :biggrin:
 
  • #5
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Is there really a distinction between moral traits selected throughout evolution and the so called morals derived from religion? Is morals really just a social construction?

One example could be that special feeling humans get when they are in the presence of a baby, making use want to pay more attention to it and take care of him or her. All babies are cute, no matter what or who they grow up to. This looks like something that has at least some contribution from evolutionary biology, as parents who pay less attention to their offspring have a greater chance of getting them killed and thus, not being able to pass down its own genotype. It might be so that such behavior towards small children have been selected against.

Is the only reason that people do not go around killing everyone in sight to get rid of the competition that they are afraid of becoming outcasts of society? From a strictly evolutionary standpoint, killing everyone around you (or even some) can serve as a negative factor towards the killer's particular set of traits.

Using the model of the prisoners dilemma from Game Theory, it can be clearly seen that cooperation in some areas and points in time is highly advantageous.

I am quit surprised that this subject has just recently caught wind in the press, since it is over 20 years since the BBC Horizon documentary "Nice Guys Finish First" starring evolutionary zoologist Richard Dawkins was aired. This subject is also briefly addressed at the end of "The Virus of Faith".

http://video.google.com/videosearch?q=Nice+Guys+Finish+First [Broken]
http://video.google.com/videosearch?q=The+virus+of+faith [Broken]

According to the Pulitzer Prize winner http://www.lauriegarrett.com/index_withintro.html [Broken], humans have a hard time viewing themselves as just another specie on the planet and just another part of the general ecology.

One of the reasons that some humans see themselves as special compared to other animals on the planet can be related to religion.

Ivan Seeking, if hormones makes use 'fall in love', why couldn't a similar process happen in other primates if these hormones have been selected through evolution if they aid our reproduction in some way?
 
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  • #6
The more social a species.. the more likely moral behavior centers will evolve.

While many species of monkeys will display these behaviors.. I highly doubt you will EVER see most species of shark displaying anything remotely resembling moral behavior.



Social creatures realize their need to rely upon each other to survive. The will develop behaviors to help others .. in effect helpign their own chances of survival.

unfortunatey.. monkeys may not realzie they cant swim.. acting on pure impulse to save their buddy. n the end only drowning themseleves... while a human who knows he cannot swim will call another who can.

the electrified food chain.. the monkey does not know the chain will not kill his friend.. and may not realize that his efforts will result in his own demise..
 

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