I believe that morality is derived from a combination of factors and sources.

Family, culture and religion definitely influence morality. Those "seekers" out there who actually read scripture, philosophy and literary classics for their insights into the human condition are also influenced by their quest. Finally, there's abundant evidence that evolution contributes a hereditary component to morality. Empathy and altruism have obvious survival value for social animals such as us humans and other primates.

But none of these factors are necessarily dominant, nor are they the same for everybody. For instance, scriptural influence can be undone by a personal quest.

The factor I find most intriguing is the evolution of empathy. In our tribal days, before religion existed, experience informed us of what hurt or angered us, and empathy told us that the same things probably hurt and angered others as well. This combination of experience and empathy is enough to instill a generalized "sense" of the Golden Rule between tribe members -- Do unto others as you would have them do unto you . . . because we need each other to survive. The Golden Rule, in practice, can be further distilled to: "Do no unnecessary harm."

Nobody is born with a moral code, of course, but empathy and experience are commonly shared by virtually all of us (except aberrant cases): it's part of the human condition. We start developing empathy as toddlers, maybe earlier. As we mature, this "moral intuition" matures: often without our realizing it. This moral intuition is the crux of the Hippocratic Oath and should be the essential principle of our laws. I believe it constitutes a moral substrate that is often more powerful, in some of us, than the morality we learn from other factors. I think this is because it's what we learn first-hand, through observation and experience. All the other sources I can think of are second-hand, from: other people, scripture, literature and authorities.

We actually see the power of moral intuition (and/or other non-religious sources of morality) at work when we consider religious reforms. We no longer tolerate slavery, the subjugation of women, battlefield excesses, child brides, or criminal punishments disproportionate to the crimes committed. These are all values upheld by the Bible, yet we've long since rejected them. In effect, our non-religious morality has overruled and usurped religious morality. Our non-religious morality actually decides what IS religiously moral.

If our own morality actually decides what is religiously moral -- why have religious morality in the first place?

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You certainly are a piece of work, I'll give you that. Keep believing it.
No, no. I said you were a piece of work. Keep on believing it.

Are you deleting posts now? After you called me a coward?
All morality is relative, what's good for the lion is not good for the gazelle.
Avoid those who are vexations to the spirit.
Hey Doug,

If all morality is relative, then tolerance looms large, doesn't it?

On the other hand, your other point is true too. Why tolerate when you can avoid?

But what if you can't avoid? High road all the way?

Or, maybe, politics all the way . . .

. . . Screw it. I'm going to say what I think.

You can't please everybody.
AE: no matter what you do or say, somebody ain't gonna like it.
Morality is a rather organic matter, isn't it? It changes with the age and culture. You know, I have been jotting down ideas for using our biology as a basis for morality which strongly incorporates our biological functions, survival and evolution. The way it's going in my head, these serve as a foundation, then society builds on top of that, since we evolved as a social species. From there, it also includes Mill's "harm principle," Social Contract theory, Rule Utilitarianism/Deontology and Kantian ethics, among others.

What I'm essentially trying to do is hash out an objective moral standard, because with the foundational items considered, I think a solid case can be made for the existence of an objective standard. I don't think this standard has to be immutable, but should be handled scientifically to make it compatible with new problems by improving the theory.

So no, I have to disagree that morality is relative merely because a variety of sources have weighed in on it. I think that in enlightened, secular countries, we're getting ever closer to an objective standard, since we're the ones with the fastest-evolving moral code. Objective morality doesn't need a deity to exist.
I think a solid case can be made for the existence of an objective standard.

Across the board? I have high doubts about that. But I'd be interested in seeing such a solid case made. Morality is subjective by its very nature, so I would think it hard to argue an objective nature.
Across the board. It would have to be dynamic, though. It would have to be dynamic to be able to respond to different situations. "Thou shalt not kill" is pretty good, but there are situations in which it's acceptable (think of Mill's harm principle, for instance). So when I say "objective," I don't mean vague laws set in stone. What I do mean is a robust system which can offer a practical method of morality using descriptive definitions, not normative. Normative claims, etc., ought to come afterward.

But no, morality is not subjective "by its very nature." Just because numerous sources claim a moral truth does not mean that morality is subjective. Yes, it is different depending on who you ask, but this does not preclude the existence or potential for an objective moral standard.
I get what you're saying, I think.
Like I said, I'm still pinning down the basics, so I don't have anything definitive to work with. At this point, it's all exploratory. In my philosophy notes, I have "biological basis?" scribbled in the margins throughout, but that's about it. Actually, this is the first time I've attempted to articulate my thoughts through any medium, so it's still considerably raw and difficult to explain properly.

I'm not sure which came first; my thoughts on an objective standard of morality or using biology as a basis, but at this point I suspect both are (to different degrees) necessary for the other to succeed.
Quite a hobby!

Wouldn't we already consider culture to carry the "objective" moral codes, whether we always agree with them or not? As an example, and more of an etiquette issue but you can see the corollary, we know that it isn't right (or polite) to belch at the dinner table because of an objective agreement in our culture.

I guess my question is, are you talking about centralizing existing morality into a single system, or will there be refinements possibly based on a biological foundation? Personally, I think it is a crime against humanity that we don't have nap time after lunch. I'd want to squeeze that in on the ground floor, if I could.
Now we get into things like cultural relativism. In the sociological sense, it means judging a culture based on its standards rather than your culture's standards, and is contrasted with ethnocentrism.

In the philosophical sense, it's different. A cultural relativist would make the following argument:

1) Different cultures have different moral codes.
2) Therefore, there is no objective truth in morality. Right and wrong are only matters of opinion, and opinions vary from culture to culture.

The premise works great for cultural differences. In the United States, we celebrate certain holidays. In China, they celebrate other holidays. Neither is objectively right nor objectively wrong, and neither is better than the other, but these are not moral comparisons, and there is no support in this that shows there is no objective morality. In fact, the whole argument is invalid because the conclusion does not follow from the premise.

If Cultural Relativism were true, the implications are as follows:

1) We could no longer regard the customs of other societies as inferior to our own. This is a good thing for the benign, such as the example with holidays, but baaaaad for malignant things, such as genocide.
2) We could no longer criticize the moral code of our own culture, since that code determines what is right and wrong and there is no objective standard to contrast with it. Moreover, we have no right to criticize it, for circular reasons.
3) The very idea of moral progress is called into doubt.

That's not to say that relativism is entirely bad, but it does show that it's a severely flawed theory. In fact, there is a culture-independent standard of right and wrong out there, and it works because all cultures value human happiness: "Does the practice promote or hinder the welfare of the people affected by it?" This question is integrally related to my theory.


Anyway, my answer is both, and neither. I want to completely revolutionize it by using biology and that which follows from it (especially insofar as it ultimately relates to social interaction) as a foundation for society. Many existing moral ideas do have merit and ought to be incorporated, THEN refined, based on what we understand about ourselves, our origins, how we function, how society functions, and why society is necessary.

My aim is not to simply argue for what we ought to do, but what we must do to maximize harmonious survivability, with an emphasis on reasonably maximizing human happiness within those terms. That would be the ideal, and morality would consist not of achieving it, but of striving for it. In my opinion, the best moral systems encourage high participation, not demand it. Like most moral theories, heroism is admirable, not required.

Before anyone says it, again, this does not entail authoritarian methods to force compliance. Frankly, I don't think there needs to be, because I think a good enough case can be made for it using reasoned arguments. If we discover a way to maximize the survivability of our species (and thereby ensuring the survivability of descending species) while maximizing happiness and personal liberty (not fully, but to a degree that promotes stability and makes life enjoyable), then oughtn't we base our society around it?


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