Nature is, as Alfred Lord Tennyson said, “red in tooth and claw”. It has no morals. Morality is a human construct that usually reflects our social norms. As such, morality is formed by an amalgam of influences from family, religion, culture, evolution and the arts. This amalgam of influences varies from person to person and is relative to our exposure to, and experience with, these influences.

Almost half the human race subscribes to a religion that claims morality is objective because it is handed down by (an Abrahamic) God. Most of the rest of us believe that morality is relative and subjective. Can morality be objective without being handed down by God? It’s commonly claimed, by the religious, that it can not – that, without God, morality has no authority.

Nature may not have any morals but it does have a prime directive that compels all living organisms: Survive. We eat, drink, breathe and procreate for survival. At all levels: genetic, individual, cultural and across species, survival dictates the terms of life. Survival is a basic, objective, fact of life: shouldn’t morality conform to it? Could there be a more objective, fundamental, basis for morality? If so, what is it?

Morality, because it is a human construct, can only be relative. There are no objective morals "in the wild" waiting to be discovered. Unlike morality based on scripture, morality based on survival enjoys a solid, objective, rationale: those things that best enhance and promote survival are better than those things that don’t. Though survival is objective, any moral value derived from it would still be relative because, in the end, we decide, as individuals, what best conforms to the prime directive. Even the utilitarian "greatest good for the greatest number" creed suffers from this relativity: who decides what is the greatest good or who the beneficiaries should be?

But at least we would have an objective standard -- a source -- for morality that reasonable people can agree is elemental and objective. So, assuming we formulate morality based on survival, what would the differences and consequences be for us as a species?

Let's take North Korea and Iran, for example. Both are unstable, rogue, nations with nuclear ambitions. Wouldn't survival be best served if we stripped them of nuclear capabilities? Perhaps. But politics would blur the lines -- just as it does now. Morality is conspicuously absent from much of politics. What holds survival value for one nation might not be the same for another nation or for the planet. The prime directive is too easily forgotten.

For an example of individual morality, take human rights, for instance. Equality, protection of property, pursuit of happiness, freedom and justice: these can all be seen as necessary to best promote peace and prosperity; both of which are survival values. This morality would still be relative and subject to interpretation (emphasis and implementation).

So, the survival values and morals derived from the prime directive are subject to interpretation: objectivity is immediately lost. The prime directive is probably most useful as a starting point and as an objective test for moral validity: if there's no survival value in a proposition, it's not a moral one. In theory, it should be far better to have an objective source for morality but, in practice, I don't see a significant difference.

Anyway, that's my fledgling ideas on a moral system based on an objective source: the survival instinct. What is morally good offers survival value. These ideas developed out of a discussion with T|A member, Frink. Frink maintains (if I understand him correctly) that morality itself is objective and can be standardized into a system of objective morality. I, however, just don't see how there can be an objective set of morals "out there" . . . the best we can do is base our subjective morality on an objective standard. I've chosen survival as that standard.

Tags: morality, morals, objectivity, prime directive, values

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