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.

Views: 18

Comment by Atheist Exile on November 27, 2009 at 9:17pm
LoL, I'll bite . . . Who is John Galt?

Let's see . . . Why, yes . . . there are many elements of Ayn Rand's objectivism! Very astute, B. I didn't recognize it myself.
Comment by Atheist Exile on November 27, 2009 at 9:19pm

I deleted your post my mistake!!

As I recall, you said something like, "This is John Galt speaking."

Sorry for the ACCIDENTAL deletion of your post.
Comment by Gaytor on November 27, 2009 at 11:22pm
"morality is not absolute, but relative and constitutes any set of behaviors that encourage human cooperation based on their ideology. Biologists contend that all social animals, from ants to elephants, have modified their behaviors, by restraining selfishness in order to make group living worthwhile." Source

Maybe I'm low-browing it, but morality is seen in the animal kingdom (there are examples listed in the wiki link). Society as a whole decides morality. Sometimes on a scale larger than even a country. Bosnia for example. We eventually said that the immorality of Milosovic's actions couldn't be tolerated. So sources such religion, customs, and the like will eventually not be tolerated. Other examples... China is being pushed into treating there people better due to social pressures. It's not an exact law or doctrine, it's the desire to get along and eat better and have better toys. Saudi is looking at making marriage illegal under 18. I don't think that;s the Qu'ran or their culture speaking to them.

Morality does not come from any book, but rather is regulated by the greater good of society. Objectivity or subjectivity depends on the scale that we are talking about only. My two cents.
Comment by Atheist Exile on November 28, 2009 at 8:42am

This relates to survival HOW?
Comment by Gaytor on November 28, 2009 at 11:55am
If you step out of line far enough in a given society, they will take you out. Ask Saddam and his sons.

In order to have a larger and healthier society we have to find benefits from each other. The amount of land required to have people be 100% independent of one another doesn't exist. So... we must find ways to get along. The benefit is if you find ways to get along, you find sexual partners, you can feed your offspring, and have more offspring. If you are immoral according to societies standards you end up in jail, dead, or are less likely to attract a partner. Leading you to being less likely to pass on your genes, thus less likely to survive. Benefit the greater good or be less likely to survive. No set doctrine, but effected by the local and the whole of humanity.
Comment by B. on November 28, 2009 at 12:06pm
ack! deleted!

Anyway, I do believe in an objective source of reality -- and it is that defined by Rand's "Objectivism", even though I wouldn't consider myself any sort of objectivist. I think assigning a subjective designation to morality insists either a misinterpretation of the concept or a faulty definition of morality.

Christians insist on inventing a moral code that umbrellas morally-inconsequential matters, namely premarital sex and homosexuality. They assign each as morally "wrong" based on arbitrary values that, when questioned, will lead you on a wild goose chase to nowhere. Only two ends are possible: either you refuse to ask "why" or you know better, but accept on faith that as unnatural as it is to believe so, sexuality is bad.
And so it goes with all their definitions and reasoning.

Consequently (and tragically so) believers are under the ludicrous impression that should you remove God from the equation, morality disappears along with him. Nevermind that murder is wrong all on its on because it interferes with the life of another, a Christian cannot actually wrap their head around the concept of valuing another person for their own worth, since a) they have only ever attributed value to an imaginary dad in the sky and b) if they ever valued others, it was only because they were "brothers and sisters in Christ" and removing Christ removes their worth.

Our "morality" has evolved with our species, and it is key to our survival. We recognize that murder is wrong because killing members of our tribe a) weakens the tribe b) pisses people off. A weakened tribe has less food, less territory and animosity in a group puts yourself at risk (humans really like revenge). The same goes for stealing.
As a result, we must acknowledge that our moral code defines all things increasing our survival as good, and all those decreasing it as bad.

HOWEVER, our species has evolved to establish highly complex societies. There's an unwritten moral code for almost every action. What do we do about child pornography? Illegal drugs? How do we establish the driving age? Drinking age? Voting age?
This doesn't invalidate our fundamental moral code or insist on a subjective interpretation. Instead we cater to what we always have: the tribe. What will piss the least people off? What will keep the most people safe? After all, alcoholic consumption is not exactly a moral issue (though some Christian sects would argue that)

At the end of the day, it is still most prudent to live in such a way that maximizes your personal gain/survival. This is the only moral code worth adhering to and if examined closely, will give answers to the "subjective" questions I listed above.
Comment by Atheist Exile on November 28, 2009 at 7:07pm
Hey B.,

In my late teens and early twenties, I read Ayn Rand's "Rational Selfishness" and novels but have only read a little bit about Objectivism as a formal philosophy. I just looked it up on Wikipedia and found that survival is indeed the source of morality (under the heading of Ethics: Rational Self-Interest).

Actually, I suspected that Marxism and Communism had philosophical parallels to my notion of survival as the objective source of morality. I didn't even consider Ayn Rand and Objectivism. Because I've actually read (over 30 years ago) a lot more of Rand than of Marx, I'm sure that's here I derived much of my thinking on the topic.

I really like your writing style.

How was your birthday and that Cajun food? I live in the Philippines, so I'm envious of your culinary options in the U.S. :-)
Comment by Atheist Exile on November 28, 2009 at 7:18pm
Hey Gator,

I find nothing in your comment I disagree with but find myself wondering if your examples are amenable to a survival-based (survivalism?:) analysis. As I was trying to express in my original post, morality gets politicized when divergent interests come into play. Would it make a difference if all parties agree to the premise that survival is the prime directive and the touchstone of ethics?
Comment by Atheist Exile on November 28, 2009 at 7:23pm
Hey again, Gator,

Yes, I see your point. I'm beginning to think that morality and ethics will always play second fiddle to politics and exclusionary self-interests. We're doomed.


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