Where DO we get our morality from?

Definitely not the religious books- not me.

So then why do I have compassion? Why is it that the majority of the people around me are compassionate also? Why is it that we rally behind our gay brothers and sisters who are in the minority when most religious books want them dead?

If the basis of our morality is the opinion of the majority, then, as pointed out in another blog post just before this one, wasn't Hitler correct in murdering the Jews? The US and the rest of the world intervened, yes, but what if there was a more powerful country than all the other countries that supported Hitler? What then? Would the Holocaust be legitimized in that case?

And what about animals? I believe eating them is just wrong. But I'm in the minority and the pain they go through is seen justifiable by most humans on this planet. So is my morality flawed or are the meat eaters like the Nazis (no offence to anyone in this site).

I'm really confused about this. So let's bitch about it. *grin*

Views: 39

Comment by Misty: Baytheist Living! on April 3, 2010 at 4:52am
Well, I wouldn't equate eating animals to killing Jews.
For one, I eat living things to stay alive. It's in my evolutionary programming. My life would benefit in no way from killing a human in anything but self defense or for consumption (under extreme circumstances.)
Also, I like to know that the food I eat is killed in a humane method. Gassing a load of terrified and tortured people (or animals) is not a method I'd financially support. I would no more eat tortured Jews than I would tortured chickens. We buy from some Trader Joe's thing.

I guess that's where I get MY morality.
I understand that suffering is a basic part of life.
Currently there is a pinched nerve in my shoulder. This makes it agonizingly painful to take a deep breath. I'm not kidding. I can't even sleep at night. But since my family needs to eat, I have to go to work.
I suffer so that others may live. Eventually I'll die so that others might claim my stuff, breathe my air and consume what I would have otherwise consumed.
Death isn't a huge deal to me. Everyone and everything is going to go through it eventually.
Pain and suffering on the other hand.. well, I freaking don't like it.
That means I don't want to create it for anyone/thing else.
I can't always help that fact, though.. so I minimize it whenever possible.
It isn't perfect, but that's the way life on this planet is set up.
My morality also tells me that there is something disturbingly wrong with procreation.
Humans are the single most destructive force on the planet.
Our species is in no way endangered.
There are plenty of children out there NOW that need homes.
Giving in to a biological urge for the sake of sating a feeling that is nothing more than evolutionary programing that has outlived its use (and in fact harms the very set up it came about to preserve) is immoral to me. Resources are limited. Our environment is beyond the threshold of what it can support. Having kids causes suffering..I'd even go so far to say that it's way more destructive to currently living plants, people and animals than meat eating.
That's just my opinion, though.
Comment by NatureBoy on April 3, 2010 at 5:38am
Hmmm...this is one of those questions(like "what is love"?) that is not easy to answer. Sure! We know what morality means.....but to set a definite standards, it is not easy. Certainly, one person's view is different than others. To take your example of eating meat, I do not believe it's morally wrong. I'm perfectly okay with it....but you and many others are horrified by it.
Now, then...what does it mean? Is it that you are right.....or, am I? No, of course not. Well, as I see it. In this point of view, morality isn't an issue here. We, humans, ate meat since the dawn of our existence. So, it is just natural thing to do. We don't condemn people for eating meat.(except for some few religious denominations...hehe). Other than that, vast majority of people accept it......

Addressing your second example regarding Holocaust, now this is a horse of a different color. Now, you've reached "morality zone". Killing of human beings is not natural. I can't see anyone who condones murdering people(when we go to war, killing is expected)....but killing innocent Jews? They were innocent folks minding their own businesses. They didn't deserve to die......anyway....
I think you hit the nail right on its head. The key word here is "majority". If majority of the people act, behave, and accept it(whatever may be), I don't think it is considered as "immoral"........hmm, hope this makes any sense?? Huh???

And as for, "Where do we get our morality from?", I learned it from my parents, relatives, friends, teachers, school, society~~~~~~~~~~~~Simply put! My upbringing has a lot to do with it when dealing with morality. =^.^=
Comment by Misty: Baytheist Living! on April 3, 2010 at 2:10pm
My morality was literally sculpted as I became an adult.
When I cast off any belief that the Bible was a moral compass, I was then obligated to make one up for myself.
This is what I came up with.
1) Don't be a dick.
2) If being a dick is ever a matter of subjectivity, refer to either the golden rule, or what a mindful, competent, average person would prefer.
Comment by Shine on April 3, 2010 at 5:57pm
I highly recommend Sam Harris' recent TED talk.

Sam Harris: Science can answer moral questions

Unlike a lot of modern western philosophers, he does not advocate moral relativism. While he does not endorse any supernatural absolute morality, he does argue for an objective nature to the application of our values to promoting human welfare.

Really, I think that the moral absolutism v. moral relativism split is a false dichotomy anyways. I think that there is an objective measure based upon human reason by which we determine moral truths. However, I do not think that this "objective measure" is necessarily anything immaterial, transcendent, or supernatural. Human reason--while perhaps intangible or conceptual--is becoming more and more quantifiable with advances in neuroscience and brain imaging.

I guess I think of morality like a mathematical equation. Human reason is the fixed, immutable formula by which we calculate morality. Different variables will produce different outcomes. For example, infanticide and the exposure of disabled babies was not considered immoral by certain cultures in the past. Today, however, we obviously abhor the thought of killing babies. But look at the cultures who advocated such practices: they did not have the medical capabilities to properly care for disabled children. Life as a disabled child in the ancient world could have meant endless suffering and untold anguish. Today, we have such a better capacity to treat and even cure certain disabilities that it would be unconscionable to just kill a disabled newborn.

What changed? I don't think people have changed so much in a few thousand years to explain such a 180 degree change in moral truth. I think that in the case of infanticide, the variables now (modern medical technology, corrective surgery, drug therapy, pain relief) calculate in the moral formula of human reason to produce a different outcome than the variables of the past (no medical treatment, no pain management, guaranteed suffering).

I suppose that it still borders upon moral relativism and is an imperfect analogy, but it's a work in progress. ;) I think it at least removes the situational aspect that plagues moral relativism; if human reason and the ultimate goal of human welfare are our benchmarks, we can still judge and evaluate the actions of other cultures. Otherwise, the strict cultural moral relativist has to accept anything that another society condones within itself because morality is then always relative to whatever society it encompasses; we would be barred from criticizing barbarous practices and human rights violations of other societies. Is that really something we could live with? It is only an accident of birth that I exist in the privilege of the free world; I will not condone someone else's persecution just because their society condones it. I think that we can judge other cultures are "wrong" using reason and human welfare as our objective measures.
Comment by Chetan D on April 3, 2010 at 8:40pm
Thanks for the comment people!
Y'all are sexay for responding.

I thought about this on my drive home today (luckily, Canadian drivers are sane-er and so I didn't kill myself) and realized that morality is a function of the end goal of our lives or of our civilization that we have subconsciously engrained into our heads.

The culture we live in at the present time dictates that end goal- Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and Carl Sagan were my primary influencers. I'm sure a lot of you have your sources but in the end what we see as morally correct is dependent on where we perceive or wish society is headed.

So I guess what Shine says makes sense to me.

Also, on the other hand, to make s#it easy on us, what Misty said makes a lot of sense too- do the right thing and don't be a dick! As Natureboy put it- learning from sane parents makes a huge difference too, if not all.

I've watched Sam's TED speech. It's pretty freakin awesome. But sometimes he comes across as rather culturally insensitive- he may have to work on that. I work with a lot of Arabs and they're mostly level headed people- and so are most of the arab people (Egypt, Lebanon, etc are some of the most liberal countries in the world- just look at their hot models!!). But I do agree with Sam. A proactive objective approach to human morality through scientific means is definitely the right choice!
Comment by NatureBoy on April 4, 2010 at 6:08pm
Canadian drivers??~~~~LA drivers are CRAZY!!!!!! lol
Comment by B. on April 4, 2010 at 7:54pm
Chetan, haven't you explored philosophy? The entire discipline of ethics is devoted to establishing what morality is and where it comes from. Many great thinkers have tackled the question and presented impressive discourse offering solutions.

Read Aristotle for the purpose of life.
Kant for the definition of morality.
Ayer, Hume, Mackie for the arguments of subjective moral theory.
Ayn Rand, Bertrand Russel for objective moral theory.

And there's others of course. God, there's a horrific number of people that devoted themselves to merely entertaining "what is reality" and "what is good"..

Anyway, I'm generally a rational objectivist (without being an all-out Randroid). I don't think the will of the majority determines what's good. I think morality is objective, because it exists in an objective world, and the axioms are life (in the most ideal Aristolean sense, Eudaimonia!) and death, such that whatsoever forwards a person's life is the moral "good" and whatsoever destroys it is "bad". This is necessarily extended to interactions with others, since one cannot forward their own life at the expense of another's since the destruction of a person's life falls into the aformentioned morally "bad" category.

I don't believe eating animals is wrong, and I don't really understand how anyone feels that way. I think it's a gross denial of reality to be a vegetarian or vegan. I think the most common argument for it is the inhumane treatment of animals for mass-production of meat and goods... but I mean, I buy the organic, free-range, grass-fed, hormone-free beef so that rule is non-applicable. If you remove the poor treatment is it miraculously right to eat animals? It was right all along (objective moral truth!). Arguing for their "pain" is far-fetched. Any attempt at equalizing animals with humans does far too much credit to them, and far to great an injustice to us.
Comment by Chetan D on April 6, 2010 at 12:39am
It seems to me like writing a book on morality, ethics, etc is like writing a book on love.

I wonder what Rand's position would be on how to tackle global warming...
Comment by B. on April 6, 2010 at 10:00am
There's lots of books on love -- but "love" also isn't this ludicrous spiritual experience the romantics have made it into. It's an evolutionary programmed psychological state that results from normal physiological & biochemical changes within your body.
Ethics & morality are far more difficult to tackle, since they're essentially unmeasurable. Nevertheless, that doesn't mean no one's produced anything good on the topic. To discount the entire discipline on the premise that subject is difficult is just quitting before you start.

Rand would probably be a global change denialist, and feel the goals of the environmental movement are anti-human-progress. She was a bit nutty, and that's generally the position -- however blatantly idiotic -- held by her most avid followers these days.
Comment by Chetan D on April 6, 2010 at 4:34pm
I never said it was difficult. Functional Analysis is difficult- not philosophy.

I've read Aristotle- a slave owner who believed men should lead virtuous lives- the definition of virtue being held into place with axioms that are too vague.

Rand wasn't worth reading- when an entire basis for human existence is framed around pure Laissez-Faire capitalism, that's evidence enough that she isn't worth reading.

I've read Chomsky, Gandhi, Tolstoy Zinn to name a few. I'm a bit of a Chomskyan.


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