What makes something moral or amoral?

I feel like we've had this discussion a million times on Think Atheist in some way shape or form. I should know the answer already. Without a holy book to tell me what to do or how to act I do feel pretty.....lost.

Can I admit that out loud? Yes I feel lost. I feel pulled in many directions on a number of issues and I really don't know how to resolve this turmoil. 

So my question is really that simple:

What makes something moral or amoral?

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very young children have an innate moral sense, before they have been socialised by culture or society or religion or other people.  They instinctively try to help, and prefer the good guy over the bad guy.  Sorry Dr Bob but it's you who's not up on the research.

And I call BS.   I'd love to see a citation.   I'd also love to know what parent allowed their very young child not have contact with other people so that I can call social services and have their kids removed.

Every parent knows that you have to teach siblings to share, and that you frequently have to deal with at least small bouts of jealousy, fighting, etc. 

I hope you can see the evolutionary reasons why all individual living beings seek health in all ways. 

You do know about the obesity epidemic in America, right?   About smoking, drug addiction, drinking to excess, risky behaviors,, etc.?

Thanks for the articles, Gallup, I can use them in my research. 

In addition to Gallup, I've done my homework.  These are easily digestible. 

Very young children prefer the good guy:

http://phys.org/news/2010-05-psychologists-babies-wrong-months.html

Very young children have a well-developed moral sense: 

http://email.eva.mpg.de/~tomas/pdf/Tomasello_etal_2012.pdf

a better representative of the human species would be children—before they have become fully normative beings. Nevertheless, even without internalized norms, human children are more generous with valued resources than are their great ape relatives. In one fairly direct comparison, both Silk et al. (2005) and Jensen et al. (2006) found that when pulling in food for themselves, chimpanzees did not care whether this also resulted in a companion getting food. In contrast, Brownell, Svetlova, and Nichols (2009) found that even 2-year-old children—well before they selfgovern through social norms—chose to pull food to themselves more often when that also meant food for their companion. Chimpanzees will in some situations help others gain access to food (Melis et al. 2011b; Warneken et al. 2007), but only if the helper has no possibility of obtaining the food herself.

Perhaps of most importance for the current account, human children share the spoils after collaboration in speciesunique ways. Thus, Warneken et al. (2011) presented pairs of 3-year-old children with the same task presented to chimpanzees by Melis, Hare, and Tomasello (2006b): a board they had to pull in together, with food either (i) predivided on the two ends of the board or (ii) clumped in the middle. Unlike the apes, children collaborated readily in both of these situations. Even more striking, in a direct comparison of species, Hamann, Warneken, and Tomasello (2011) found that 3-year-old children shared resources more equitably if those resources resulted from their collaborative efforts, rather than from parallel work or no work at all, whereas chimpanzees “shared” (allowed the other to take) to the same degree (and infrequently) no matter how the spoils were produced (see also Melis, Schneider, and Tomasello 2011a).

Check out the rest of the article if you have the time, there are other examples.  Search through it with the key-word "children". 

"You do know about the obesity epidemic in America, right?   About smoking, drug addiction, drinking to excess, risky behaviors,, etc.?

These people are seeking to feel good in the moment but they're not thinking about the long-term consequences. 

This goes to prove my wider point.  There is an imperative, put in place by evolution in all living things, to seek health, to seek to feel good, to seek well-being.  These fatties, binge-drinkers, junkies, smokers and thrill-seekers are just trying to feel good. 

Can I ask you, Dr Bob, what's your position exactly?  Is it:  1) morality is a part of the fabric of the universe;  2) morality is put into the hearts of people by God;  3) morality is learned from religion;  4) morality is learned from other people. 

If 1) or 2) then you shouldn't have any problem with innate morality.  If 1), that's ridiculous, because as @_Robert_ points out, human morality only exists within human beings. 

Another quote from some book, I can find the title if you need me to.  It's that bastard Darwin again. 

During the voyage of the Beagle when the young Charles Darwin first encountered the "savages" living in Tierra Del Fuego, he was amazed to realize that "some of the Fuegians plainly showed that they had a fair notion of barter ... I gave one man a large nail (a most valuable present) without making any signs for a return; but he immediately picked out two fish, and handed them up on the point of his spear." 

When the test was repeated with 21-month-old babies they were asked to take a treat from one of the rabbits. Most took the treat from the unhelpful rabbit, and one even gave the rabbit a smack on the head as well.

I love it. 

- very young children have an innate moral sense, before they have been socialised by culture or society or religion or other people.  They instinctively try to help, and prefer the good guy over the bad guy.  Sorry Dr Bob but it's you who's not up on the research.  

My cat wants to "help" and I suspect children want to "help" in the same sense. Actually, they just want to participate. As for preferring the good guy over the bad, how do they manifest this preference at a very young age.

Is it moral to eat BBQ'd humans?

Only if all you have left at Donner Pass is BBQ sauce.

Mmm...does it come with Kentucky Fried Chicken gravy?

It's not surprising you're confused. Morality is sort of like an orchestra. There are many component parts, emotional, practical and even instinctive. If we all operated on exactly the same moral code, we'd have no conflicts or disagreements.

The idiot Pat Robinson recently came out stating to a mother that a baby's death was probably gods plan to prevent another Hitler. Other than the obvious thought that if God was so keen on destroying baby Hitlers, how come Adolph slipped through, it's an insane statement. Most morally inclined people would agree.

Here's an example of how your emotions shape your own views on morality.

You are in a maternity ward. There's a chubby little baby there, and a big knife next to it. You are informed by an unimpeachable source that you must stab the baby through the heart, or it will grow up to be another Hitler. Can you do it? Can you visualize yourself picking up the knife and stabbing?

Here's an example of how your instincts shape your morality.

You are introduced to a man, who has great looks, fun personality and a great job. You are also advised (by the unimpeachable source) that he is your full brother, given up for adoption without your prior knowledge. Could you feel romantic towards him? Would you agree to date him knowing it would become incestuous?

Here's an example of how practicality shapes your morality

You have a child and you are both literally starving. You see a merchants stand, laden with food for sale. The merchant doesn't notice that a couple of packages of food have dropped off his stand. You can reach them without him noticing. Do you take them to feed your child?

In the bible, there's a story about God ordering Abraham to slay his baby, to which Abraham agrees.

The bible appears to be quite comfortable with incest (Noah's family repopulating humankind after the Flood is one example)

The bible states one of the absolute rules (commandments) is that you don't steal. No leeway is given.

Belle, if you have a specific problem that you'd like to get outside input on, then either state it on the forums or PM someone you trust to give you thoughtful insight. But if you want an external rule book on the subject, consider this. Would you be able to follow that specific list of rules without qualm? I think not :)

You are in a maternity ward. There's a chubby little baby there, and a big knife next to it. You are informed by an unimpeachable source that you must stab the baby through the heart, or it will grow up to be another Hitler. Can you do it? Can you visualize yourself picking up the knife and stabbing?

Considering that the source is unimpeachable, I'd have a duty to kill the baby, I suppose. However, the stabbing bit seems needlessly cruel.

Here's an example of how your instincts shape your morality.

You are introduced to a man, who has great looks, fun personality and a great job. You are also advised (by the unimpeachable source) that he is your full brother, given up for adoption without your prior knowledge. Could you feel romantic towards him? Would you agree to date him knowing it would become incestuous?

Let's make it a sister. I could tell her of my knowledge and she is attracted to me, we could simply agree not to have natural children. We could adopt.

Here's an example of how practicality shapes your morality

You have a child and you are both literally starving. You see a merchants stand, laden with food for sale. The merchant doesn't notice that a couple of packages of food have dropped off his stand. You can reach them without him noticing. Do you take them to feed your child?

Without appealing to his sense of charity first? Why?

The bible appears to be quite comfortable with incest (Noah's family repopulating humankind after the Flood is one example)

What was the alternative?

That's my point, Unseen, morality is a fuzzy area. As to Noah and incest? Why spare ribs of course :)

Only God Himself can do the rib trick. Noah and his close-knit bunch had no choice but to make the best of severely limited options. Reminds me of that Faye Dunaway/Jack Nicholson scene in Chinatown. 

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