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The Nature of Morality

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  • Daniel N. Washburn
    In a previous post Mike began to ask questions about the nature of Morality. Here is my current take on the subject. A lot of my ideas derive from christianity
    Message 1 of 3 , Feb 25, 2006
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      In a previous post Mike began to ask questions about the nature of
      Morality. Here is my current take on the subject. A lot of my ideas
      derive from christianity but none of them depend on it. Hence this is a
      purely psychological theory of ethics.

      Of course Right Behaviour is part of every conception of a sacred social
      order, hence a fitting topic for the Sacred Landscape list.

      Dan

      Ethics and Empathy - Notes on the Nature of Morality

      Rules - what I know I should do in order to play the game correctly
      Desires - what I actually want to do

      Conflict between rules and desires - For the game of Poker, I may want
      the money, but I know I’m not supposed to break the rules to get it.

      Common moral rules: don’t lie, cheat, steal, or make out with your
      neighbor’s spouse.

      What makes these moral rules as opposed to the rules of a game like
      poker? With moral rules there is still the conflict between rules and
      desires. I may be tempted to steal office supplies from my company but I
      know that I am not supposed to do it. Why is No Stealing a moral rule?

      You can bow out of a game of poker but there are certain games that we
      inevitably play as part of being a human being.

      make decisions
      eat
      sleep
      move around
      have sexual feelings
      interact with others
      make a living
      love

      A moral rule is one that forbids damage to oneself or another human being.

      You damage me when you lie to me, because I can’t make good decisions
      based on lies.

      You damage me when you cheat, because you win and I lose in an unfair way.

      You damage me when you steal, because I need the cash and property to
      take care of me and mine.

      You damage me when you seduce my spouse, because you are wrecking my
      home and my family.

      Ultimately moral rules are based on empathy.

      The Golden Rule shows this foundation in empathy clearly: Do unto others
      as you would have them do unto you.
      If they do it to me, I will be hurt.
      If I do it to them, they will be hurt.

      I understand how they will feel as a result of my actions and care how
      they feel, because I know how it feels to me.

      This is the basis of the extension of moral rules to all of mankind, not
      just my country, my tribe, my friends, my family. Without empathy there
      would have been no creation of a set of moral rules.

      The interplay between current feelings of empathy and moral rules:

      No empathy and belief that rules don’t apply to them: nuke the arabs

      No empathy and rules do apply to them: love to nuke the arabs but its
      against the rules

      Empathy and rules do apply: can’t nuke the arabs, they are our brother
      and sister human beings.

      Empathy, with love: what can I do to help the arabs heal and be happy,
      the poor darlings have been desperately hurt.

      Can’t I kill the killers and maim the bad guys?

      No, you have to have empathy for them even though they are a danger to
      you. They are not a special class of people exempt from the moral rules.
      You can’t lie, cheat, steal, or kill them at your whim.

      We have good moral values when we actually want to do what the rules
      tell us to do about damaging and healing ourselves and other human beings.

      Jesus says go beyond the rules
      stop wanting the bad and start wanting the good
      love your neighbor
      love your enemies

      Paul says you will die out from under the law if you accept the way of
      Jesus. Love/empathy is the basis for morality. If you love, you will not
      need the law, the set of rules to remind you to do the right thing,
      because you will naturally want to do the right thing.

      Moral rules are based on empathy for others. They are the set of rules
      for doing minimum damage to people in playing the game of being human.
      Far better, though, that we love our neighbors and actually want what is
      best for them, rather than have to follow a set of rules.

      In teaching morality then, teaching empathy is just as important as
      teaching moral rules.

      Question: How do you teach empathy?
      Question: How do you teach love?

      Dan
    • Daniel N. Washburn
      In arguing about ethical relativism with Einar I have been saying that morality is genetically based in human beings. Here is a development of that idea. Some
      Message 2 of 3 , Oct 10, 2006
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        In arguing about ethical relativism with Einar I have been saying that
        morality is genetically based in human beings. Here is a development of
        that idea. Some of the framework is taken from Jonathan Haidt’s work on
        the social pschology of morality.

        Moral values are not handed down by God and they are not inherent in the
        nature of the universe. They are an instinctually based part of human
        nature that evolved during our 2 million years in nomadic
        hunter-gatherer groups to help us survive.

        Morality evolved as a way of maximizing group effectiveness. The more
        effective the group, be it baboon troop, human family, or extended clan,
        the more it will preserve the life of its members and hence their
        ability to reproduce.

        Definition of Morality – a set of genetically based values that maximize
        the effectiveness of a group’s ability to preserve human life.

        The six basic moral values:

        1. Honor the group – Patriotism, nationalism, civic pride, team spirit,
        family love.

        2. Keep the group orderly (minimizes disruption) civility, honor,
        purity, sacredness ==> virginity, monogamy, no adultery, no promiscuity,
        no vulgarity, no out of control rage, no killing within the group.

        3. Respect the hierarchy – follow the rules, reverence authority, have
        ambition, strive for leadership

        4. Divide things evenly (within hierarchical level) – no cheating, no
        stealing.

        5. Tell the truth to the group. Don’t lie. The group needs accurate
        information to effectively deal with threats and to promote trust.

        6. Sacrifice for the group. Risk your life in time of war. Give up
        personal pleasure to nurture children and other members of the group.

        It is my contention that these 6 rules are part of the instinctive
        equipment of all human beings. They are cross culturally valid. Twin
        studies that compare fraternal and identical twins should yield some
        information on how much genetic determination there is in moral behavior.

        Re 1 Honor the Group: We all know that dissidence in a democracy is what
        it is all about. We have a duty to criticize what we see as wrong. But
        with a war on the love-it-or-leave-it mentality of the Patriotic spirit
        overrides good sense, our instinctual nature kicks in and we all sing
        God Bless America together.

        Re 2 Keep the Group Orderly: The Iraq war may be promoting promiscuity.
        Couples may be working overtime to replace the soldiers lost in war.

        Re 4 Divide things evenly: Why aren’t people more outraged by the make
        the rich richer agenda of the Republican party? Perhaps because there is
        a hierarchical stratification to the divide things evenly rule. We
        expect the lions to take the lions’ share.

        In this scheme our sense of the sacred is part of the keep things
        orderly rule. Purification comes before revelation. And revelation says
        that there is a divine order and perfection that pervades all things.
        Ergo celibacy as a religious commitment. Keep things serene with
        emotions under control, that is the way to achieve the revelation of the
        divine order of the group.

        One way of looking at people is to see what groups they belong to. What
        are the norms of these groups and how do those norms compare with the 6
        moral rules?

        There is a genetic basis for loyalty to the corporation one works for.
        It is a major group in one’s life. Dissatisfaction with modern life may
        stem in part from the fact that the corporation is not giving adequate
        group support. Employees are seen as interchangeable, transitory, and
        replaceable. In the modern workplace workers hop from job to job. Temps
        are used more and more to do the corporation’s work. Unions have been
        pretty much broken and disbanded. Jobs are going overseas, which shows a
        lack of corporate commitment to the group. There is crime at the top of
        the corporate hierarchy. The bottom line is valued more than people. The
        corporation may engage in environmental abuses and human exploitation.

        E-mail may be the solution to many of these corporate troubles. A brief
        weekly e-mail from the chief executive to all employees of the
        corporation demonstrating caring, honoring group moral values, and
        discussing the competitive situation could deepen company loyalty, raise
        morale, and reduce turnover. Even lay-offs or out-sourcing can be made
        acceptable by presenting them within the framework of sacrifice for the
        group.

        Dan
      • einar kvaran
        hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm lotta stuff to think about here. Starting with the definition [always a good place to begin] ... values that maximize the
        Message 3 of 3 , Oct 11, 2006
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          hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm
          lotta stuff to think about here.
          Starting with the definition [always a good place to
          begin]


          --- "Daniel N. Washburn" <danw@...>
          wrote:

          > Definition of Morality – a set of genetically based
          values that maximize the effectiveness of a group’s
          ability to preserve human life.
          >

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