Evolution of human morality

Here’s a short clear article on the science of morality by Dick Swaab published in NRC Handlesbad. Swaab is a professor of neurobiology at the University of Amsterdam and is associated with the Nederlands Institute for Neuroscience. He writes a weekly column for NRC Handelsblad. (See the original at The evolution of human morality).

Moral laws were not invented by religions but taken over by them, after they had evolved for social animals, including man. These rules promote teamwork and mutual support within a social group. They act as a social contract imposing many restrictions on the individual.

Darwin’s moral psychology (1859), consequently, was not based on an egotistical competition between individuals but on social involvement within the group. During the course of evolution, the benefit of helping each other developed from the loving care exhibited by parents towards their offspring. This was then expanded to apply to others of their kind according to the principle: do unto others, as you would have others do unto you. At a certain moment sympathising with the other became a goal in itself. Finally, this product of millions of years of evolution turned into a cornerstone of human morality that was recently, a couple of thousand years ago, incorporated in religions. It is thus rather cynical to ascertain that having a common enemy is the strongest stimulus for community spirit, a mechanism that many world leaders have exploited.

Preferential treatment

Inherent in the biological aim of morality – promoting cooperation – is the notion that members of your own group receive preferential treatment. First of all, there is the loyalty to one’s own family, the blood relatives and the community, as a moral duty. Once the survival and health of the nearest and dearest are assured, then the circle of loyalty can be expanded: “First food, then morality,” as playwright Bertolt Brecht wrote. Nowadays, we are doing so well that the circle of loyalty has expanded to include the EU, the West, the Third World and animal welfare, and even our enemies since the Geneva Convention of 1949. The necessity for doing so was, however, already noted much earlier. In the third century BC the Chinese philosopher Mozi sighed when he saw all the destruction caused by war: “What is the path to universal love and mutual benefit? When no one covets other countries as his own.”

Although tests show no significant difference in the moral choices made by atheists or believers, the Intelligent Design (ID) movement claims that moral behaviour is something unique to man and derives from religion, especially Christianity. In professor Cees Dekker’s book about Intelligent Design (2005) the ID-adherent and editor of books on theology and science, professor Jitse van der Meer says, “(…) humans are the only primate which can think about moral standards”. Biologist Frans de Waal, an expert in this field, has shown that people don’t usually think at all about moral acts. Action is taken quickly and instinctively from a strong biological basis. Then humans think up a reason for what they unconsciously did in a flash.

Biology

Our moral values evolved over the course of millions of years, based on unconscious universal values. Moral behaviour is evident already early in development, which together with the moral behaviour of animals forms an argument for the biological basis of this behaviour. Young children comfort family members in pain before they have developed the ability to talk or to think about moral standards, just like primates comfort each other. When adults pretend to be sad, a child of 1-2 years old will comfort them. And not only children; pets also displayed comforting behaviour during the same experiment.

Chimpanzees can display altruistic behaviour, just like children 18 months old, without being rewarded in the short or long term. They can pass another chimpanzee a stick or give a child a pencil, simply because the other can’t reach it. They will also repeat this action, without receiving any reward. So the roots of our altruistic behaviour extend a long way back.

There is thus no basis for what the ID-adherent Van der Meer says (in Dekker et al., 2005): “Good behaviour has no biological basis, but has to be learned because it is not inborn and thus things can go wrong.” It is incomprehensible that the wonderful primate studies conducted by De Waal and others on the biological basis of social behaviour fall under what ID-adherent and molecular biologist professor Henk Jochemsen in Dekker’s boek (2005) describes as “the reduction of the life sciences and social sciences into specialties of biology”. Putting your viewpoints a little more into perspective wouldn’t hurt, ID-adherents!

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36 responses to “Evolution of human morality

  1. Mammals are cool. My cat was good company when I was laid up for a week with the flu. The movie “Planet Earth” (which I have yet to see) follows a few families of different species as they migrate across oceans or continents.

    Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate” is a brilliant & accessible volume showed that most human behaviour (human universals, including altruism I presume) is innate, not learned.

    Religion codifies the most elevated archetypes of human moral aspiration, and some adherents do not like the purity of this vision to be brought down so earth. Human morality stems from our relationships with each other, not abstract rules to please a remote deity.

    The concept of innate morailty challenges the doctrine of original sin, but my personal experience, and that of many others, is of a deep moral reformation (akin to the 12 step programme) due to the amazing grace of God. Without knowing his love I would be selfish and self-destructive.

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  2. I also enjoyed Pinker’s “The Blank Slate” and agree with you about religion (and today other institutions as well) codifying moral rules.

    However, I just can’t understand what you say in the last para. I think we all have “transcendent” experiences – but I have never felt the need to drag gods or the supernatural into mine.

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  3. Ropata, I have to agree with Ken regarding your last paragraph. I was reading your comment agreeing with everything you wrote but got to that last paragraph and had to wonder why it is that I am not selfish or self-destructive given that I don’t “know God’s love”. The odd thing is that I used to be a Christian and I can honestly say that I feel that I am less selfish, more understanding and even less self-destructive now than I was then (this could be down to the mellowing effects of age).

    That said, I have no doubt that for some, turning to God (or at least the belief in God) can trigger major changes in the way you live life. But I don’t believe it’s actually the result of the existence of a real God.

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  4. Planet Earth – loved the visuals, loathed the voice-over. Visually it is absolutely stunning.

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  5. Ken,

    Many ethical theorists have suggested that this kind of Darwinian account of ethics actually support some form of Nihilism: The claim that all moral claims are false.

    Suppose its true that belief in a moral code enhances survival and hence reproductive fitness. Suppose its also true that human moral awareness evolved by darwinian evolution unguided by God. Then it seems to follow that people believe in moral principles because doing so enhances survival, not primarily because they are true.

    In fact if the moral beliefs were all false and fact there were no objective moral properties, one on this account would still believe in them because belief in such properties enhances survival.

    An appeal to Ockhams razor then would suggest that the existence of morality is superflous. One can account for humans morality without postulating the existence of objective moral properties, one can make sense of morality in terms of it being an illusion that enhances survival.

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  6. Matt – your “ethical theorists” can’t be very ethical if they believe “that all moral claims are false”, can they?

    1: It’s very naive to interpret evolution to mean that everything about individuals, especially members of an intelligent species like ours, is only there because it enhances our survival. One of the things about our species is intelligence, which has arisen by evolution, but which enables us to, in many ways, transcend evolution and “nature.” Your old mate Richard Dawkins often gives the example of the conscious use of birth control by humans as way of showing how this naive interpretation is wrong.

    Our intelligence enables us to develop moral logic and principles – and to accept moral rules. Nothing to do with evolution.

    We can accept some moral “rules” as “true” because they are objectively based. They are based on the facts of our existence as an intelligent, sentient species.

    2: What the hell have razors got to do with it – Ockhams or otherwise? Really, there can be very few people who see “morality as superfluous.” surely it’s part of being human? Of belonging to an intelligent sentient species. And I think most people do think morality enhances our survival. But why do you say morality is an illusion?

    I have written in more detail of the science of morality in the following articles (and would welcome your comments on them):

    Human Morality I: Religious confusion
    Human Morality II: Objective morality
    Human Morality III: Moral intuition
    Human Morality IV: Role of religion
    Human Morality V: The secular conscience

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  7. The claim that all moral claims are false.

    I wouldn’t have thought so. To me it simply says that the origins or basis of morals lie in group sociology, etc., rather than theism, etc. That is, the claims are neither true nor false, just that the basis for them is not in theism.

    You could in fact make exactly the same argument for “blindly” accepting moral codes according to some religion, as you for “blindly” acting according to evolved instinct.

    As Ken mentioned, you’ve also left out the possibility of learning what is instinctive (so we’re aware of it), and reasoning what is a good fit to our present way of living, etc.

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  8. • Matt – your “ethical theorists” can’t be very ethical if they believe “that all moral claims are false”, can they?
    Ethical theory is theorising about ethics not necessarily theorising under its influence
    What the hell have razors got to do with it – Ockhams or otherwise?
    Ok compare two theories, on theory (a) there exists moral properties in the world , believing in the existence of these properties enhance survive, therefore evolutionary pressures lead to human beings believing in these properties. (b) There does not exist any moral properties in the world, however believing in such properties leads to survival therefore evolutionary pressures lead to human beings believing in these properties.
    It seems that (a) and (b) would both explain the empirical data equally well. However (b) is simpler because it postulates less entities. Therefore from the perspective of the empirical evidence plus ockham’s razor (b) is the better scientific theory.
    . But why do you say morality is an illusion?
    I don’t say this, I am suggesting however that a scientific account of morality such as the one you mention in the post above would suggest this.

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  9. Heraclide, You could in fact make exactly the same argument for “blindly” accepting moral codes according to some religion, as you for “blindly” acting according to evolved instinct.

    I agree, many atheists argue that humans have evolved a tendency to believe in non existent gods because such beliefs enhance ( or used to enhance) human survival. I am simply suggesting the same line of reasoning applies to ethics. I don’t think either argument is correct, but if people accept the former why not the latter.

    The argument applies wether the belief is instinctive or not

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  10. Ken, does your world come crashing down if there is no objective morality?

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  11. I agree, many atheists argue that humans have evolved a tendency to believe in non existent gods because such beliefs enhance ( or used to enhance) human survival.

    No, this is not what I was saying and you should know that, indeed I find it hard to believe that you don’t.

    Try swapping “evolution” and your reference to “G-d” or religion, e.g.

    Suppose its true that belief in a moral code enhances belief in G-d. Suppose its also true that human moral awareness was handed down by G-d unaided by evolution. Then it seems to follow that people believe in moral principles because doing so enhances belief in G-d, not primarily because they are true.

    I have to be honest I get tired of the way some religious people try re-work others’ words to suit themselves and that you have to painfully spell things out for them to avoid them butchering what is written. I can only presume they feel the “have” to “change” others words that don’t suit them because to leave them as they stand is a threat to them.

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  12. Well I’m buggered if I can understand the reasoning of people who don’t believe in a creator but apparently do believe he created a set of moral codes that are included in the laws of the universe.
    Presumably these people believe that these same moral codes hold for any and all sentient life in the universe, but surely the article this post is about points clearly to a biological basis for morality, so different biology should have different morality.

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  13. I must confess that I have never understood this “Either morality is objective or it is a meaningless illusion.” argument. Why is it so unfathomable to some people that moral propositions, while not referring to some eternal, Platonic realm, are human constructs that we developed (and continue to develop) based on our moral instincts, cultural and societal wants and needs, historical contingencies etc.? Seen in this way, morality would not be “objective” in a super-human way, but would nonetheless be meaningful to us.

    As I see it, morality in all its various forms is a product of the human mind (both individually and collectively) and as such “exists” within the community of human beings who have agreed to accept and enforce a specific form of morality within this community.

    Now, if one wants to complain that this account reduces morality to a mere illusion because it is not “objective”, I would point out that the same reasoning applies to similar products of the human mind like e.g. the Highway Code or tax laws. However, I am pretty sure that replying to the Highway Patrol or the Tax Office with “I do not need to adhere to this regulation because it is not objective and therefore an illusion.” is not an approach that proponents of an objective morality would take. And it is easy to see why: because our societies have agreed upon said regulations and furthermore have agreed to punish anyone who does not adhere to them. So it seems that this “illusion” is not so illusory after all.

    I would venture that the same process is at work regarding moral propositions: society has agreed on a core of moral principles whose violations are subject to punishment, thus taking on a very real form that people will take into account when planning their behaviour.

    In my view, such an explanation of morality has two fundamental advantages:

    1.) It has no need to invoke enigmatic “objective moral values”, whose nature is completely unknown, whose existence has never been reasonably shown and furthermore would require to postulate human beings to possess an equally enigmatic “moral sense” which is used to somehow perceive these objective moral values; and

    2.) It can elegantly account for changing moral values and opinions over time, something which is a serious problem for moral objectivists since it would inter alia imply that our “moral sense” is fundamentally unreliable.

    IMO, the fact that actions are not “right” or “wrong” on a cosmic scale in no way renders morality meaningless within our human sphere. Rather, I would propose the opposite: if there really were “moral facts” out there, it would mean that some actions are right or wrong no matter the context. What if it turns out that one “objectively right” kind of action is, say, slavery? There would be absolutely no way for us ever to change this verdict. Anyone who stood up against slavery could be dismissed, because his moral stance is objectively wrong. Thus, “objective morality” would deprive us of our autonomy and turn us back into a child-like state where we obey orders that we do not really understand and are impotent to change.

    And this also cuts the other way: if slavery were “objectively wrong”, we could simply discover this fact and leave it at that. There would be no need to argue about why slavery might be wrong, e.g. based on concepts like “freedom” or “dignity”. All discussion about these issues would be utterly superfluous and it would simply become a matter of discovering the orders that tell us how to behave.

    To me, it is such a view which renders “morality” meaningless.

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  14. Matt
    1: You have a real thing about Ackam’s old razor at the moment, don’t you. It’s just inappropriate here.
    2: “I am suggesting however that a scientific account of morality . . . would suggest this [that morality is an illusion].” That’s a strange reaction. Surely in science we deal with the facts of reality and draw conclusions from them – not start with a preconceived “suggestion.” The article quoted above surely shows that a scientific approach does not consider morality an illusion – no matter how much you want it to.

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  15. Heraclides:
    Try swapping “evolution” and your reference to “G-d” or religion, e.g.
    Suppose its true that belief in a moral code enhances belief in G-d. Suppose its also true that human moral awareness was handed down by G-d unaided by evolution. Then it seems to follow that people believe in moral principles because doing so enhances belief in G-d, not primarily because they are true.

    That would be a good argument if it were analogous to what I argued but it isn’t. In the first paragraph you actually swapped the word “reproductive survival and reproductive fitness” not evolution, for the word God. Moreover, in the second sentence by removing unguided evolution, a process which selects for reproductive fitness, with creation by God, a process that does not necessary select for this purpose, you take away the basis for the conclusion.

    Perhaps instead of veiled insults you can respond to my argument. Which was as follows: Compare two theories, on theory (a) there exists moral properties in the world , believing in the existence of these properties enhance survive, therefore evolutionary pressures lead to human beings believing in these properties. (b) There does not exist any moral properties in the world, however believing in such properties leads to survival therefore evolutionary pressures lead to human beings believing in these properties. It seems that (a) and (b) would both explain the empirical data equally well. However (b) is simpler because it postulates less entities. Therefore from the perspective of the empirical evidence plus ockham’s razor (b) is the better scientific theory.
    Why on scientific grounds would you support (a) over (b). I can understand how one could reject this if you allowed other information from ethics say or theology to be used in the adjudicating the theories but on scientific grounds alone why should you accept (a) over (b)?

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  16. Ken

    1: You have a real thing about Ackam’s old razor at the moment, don’t you. It’s just inappropriate here.

    No I don’t scientific critics of religion do, I am simply applying their methods to other phenomena. But i am interested Ken, Ockhams razor is a principle of scientific reasoning, whats your problem with it? Your not going to start getting “anti-science” are you.

    2: “I am suggesting however that a scientific account of morality . . . would suggest this [that morality is an illusion].” That’s a strange reaction. Surely in science we deal with the facts of reality and draw conclusions from them – not start with a preconceived “suggestion.”

    That would be interesting if I had started with a “preconcieved suggestion” but I actually offered an argument. I proposed to rival evolutionary accounts of the origins of morality and suggested that use of scientific methods ( empirical evidence plus ockhams razor) favoured the one that entailed nihilism.

    The article quoted above surely shows that a scientific approach does not consider morality an illusion – no matter how much you want it to. Actually, I am aware of other “scientific approaches” that do push this line, on the very same grounds the other in the argument above cites and I have offered an argument that these approaches provide better scientific theories of morality.

    Perhaps you can answer me why (b) is not a superior scientifc theory of morals to (a).

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  17. Iapetus

    I must confess that I have never understood this “Either morality is objective or it is a meaningless illusion.” argument.

    except that I did not offer an argument anything like that in the above comments thread.

    As I see it, morality in all its various forms is a product of the human mind (both individually and collectively) and as such “exists” within the community of human beings who have agreed to accept and enforce a specific form of morality within this community.

    Because this kind of cultural relativism is problematic. As I and many others have argued elsewhere.

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  18. Matt – responding to your question “Perhaps you can answer me why (b) is not a superior scientific theory of morals to (a).”

    Taken at face value there isn’t any theory there is there? Only a and b? I assume you are referring to your previous comment replying to Heraclides, though.

    But it’s not much better – you may as well has stuck with a and b alone. You haven’t proposed any scientific theories to compare at all – just vague statements. You just can’t apply an idea like Ockam’s razor to vague statements. You need structured and detailed theories with evidence and validated against reality. That’s why I am telling you that this razor is irrelevant – and I believe you only drag it in to make your proposition look sciency.

    What you need to do is test your propositions against reality. Just investigate what the nature of our moral intuitions and moral logic are. There is currently a lot of material from the science of morality being reported now – and it makes interesting reading. None that I have seen is suggesting that morality is purely an illusion. I think those are your words or interpretations.

    Could you quote and/or hyperlink , and name the scientists whose work has produced the conclusion you claim. I would love to follow it up.

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  19. There’s probably not much point in me commenting further in this thread, Iapetus is putting my opinion better than I could.
    I do think though that the logic of just about any argument that argues against the existence of God can be used to argue against the existence of universal and objectivity morality, and I agree that Ockham’s razor would be near the top of the list.
    Ken, why do you see a need for objective morality? I see no justification in science.

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  20. Matt,

    Make all the excuses you like, my point is fair. You can just as easily make the equivalent argument that people “believe” in particular morals because it backs their belief in G-d, not because those morals are true.

    Regards “veiled insults”, trying to frame people for things that they haven’t done is a poor response and in my eyes a tactic admission that you have no sound response to make.

    Both the arguments (not theories, which they are not) are actually “equal” in merit in the absence of further substance, and in the absence of further substance neither is favoured.

    The comparison you present is trivially reduced to “there exists moral properties in the world” vs. “there do not exist moral properties in the world”, by pointing out that the latter portions are functional identical and can, and should, be dropped. (Since they are identical terms in both, they can’t contribute a difference to the comparison.)

    A note to here is that this shows that your argument has nothing to do with evolution itself, as evolution drops out out of the comparison when redundant parts are removed.

    If you “don’t get” this, try rewriting your statements as formal logic and simplify the comparison by removing common [i.e. redundant] terms. (To prevent butchering of this: I’m using ‘simplify’ in the mathematical sense of simplifying equations or logic.)

    Don’t you claim to be a “philosopher” and user of “pure logic”? I would have thought a student of that would spot what this comparison reduces to before presenting this to me.

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  21. I think human history has a (telic) thread of moral evolution. It’s a very difficult project for our species.. there are some interesting papers and books suggesting the same. (also new age types think we’re going to hit a cusp of consciousness around 2012 😛 )

    A somewhat relevant quote

    For long centuries, God perfected the animal from which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of Himself. He gave it hands whose thumb could be applied to each of the fingers, and jaws and teeth and throat capable of articulation, and a brain sufficiently complex to execute all of the material motions whereby rational thought is incarnated […] Then, in the fullness of time, God caused to descend upon this organism, both on its psychology and physiology, a new kind of consciousness which could say “I” and “me,” which could look upon itself as an object, which knew God, which could make judgments of truth, beauty and goodness, and which was so far above time that it could perceive time flowing past […] We do not know how many of these creatures God made, nor how long they continued in the Paradisal state. But sooner or later they fell. Someone or something whispered that they could become as gods [… ] They wanted some corner in the universe of which they could say to God, “This is our business, not yours.” But there is no such corner. They wanted to be nouns, but they were, and eternally must be, mere adjectives. We have no idea in what particular act, or series of acts, the self-contradictory, impossible wish found expression. For all I can see, it might have concerned the literal eating of a fruit, but the question is of no consequence.

    — C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

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  22. Andrew W – “Ken, why do you see a need for objective morality? I see no justification in science.”

    I find people often misunderstand me on this. I don’t actually talk about “objective morality” as such – but about an objective basis for morality.

    So while I agree with what Iapetus has said I add to that the idea that we can say there is an objective basis of some moral positions deriving from the objective fact of our existence as intelligent sentient beings.

    I think we can derive from this some moral positions – such as slavery is wrong. Because we see it harms and violates the rights of individuals. Similarly gender discrimination, hostility to homosexuality, etc.

    Now, at any one time humans may not all agree with such positions – after all slavery had strong economic support (and hence often strong religious support). But there were still individuals who could work it out logically for themselves.

    There is a great film about a member of the East German Stasi – who works out what was morally right in a specific situation, despite it conflicting with social mores. (Can’t remember the name of the film at the moment). That’s an example to me. Similarly people who understood gender discrimination, apartheid, segregation, etc., was wrong – even though they were accepted by society around them.

    I discuss this in Human Morality II: Objective morality. I think a lot of the scientific study of morality concentrates on moral intuitions – but some scientists are also considering an objective basis for universal moral concepts. I point this out for Steven Pinker in Pinker on morality.

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  23. Well, I guess if that means that morality is a product of biology and you think that social sentient beings will have a similar morality as a result of convergent evolution, I guess we’re not too far apart. But while such morality might have an” objective basis” in the biology of social animals, in no way would that come even close to being “objective morality” as I think it would logically be defined.
    Would your ” objective basis” morality apply to a sentient robot? How about a species of hermits?

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  24. Andrew – could you give me your definition of “objective morality”? I myself have trouble understanding what people like Matt mean. When pressed it usually comes down to meaning moral intuitions, in practice. I get this from vague terms like “moral laws written on the heart of man by god”, etc.

    I guess that any social species which is intelligent will have an objective basis for some moral concepts. I don’t know what you mean by “species of hermits” but sentient robots I would say yes. I guess one day we will know from experiential evidence.

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  25. You are the second person to recommend that specific article.

    What I want is a simple, 1 sentence, definition.

    Perhaps Matt could give us one – after all he is arguing for “objective morality” isn’t he?

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  26. I see no point in trying to rephrase what Dr Berggren has said: “by objective morality is meant a moral view which claims that there exists a morality which is external to human beings. Much like the existence of a law of gravity, there is a moral law which exists independently of any conscious being. Hence, morality is not a human fabrication – it merely awaits to be detected. In contrast, subjective morality denotes the view that moral views are nothing but human opinions, the origin of which is biological, social, and psychological. Without conscious beings, there would be no such thing as morality. Furthermore, on the subjective view, it is not possible to deem a moral opinion “true” or “false” – since such assessments require some objective standard against which to assess.”

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  27. Matt,

    “except that I did not offer an argument anything like that in the above comments thread.”

    My remarks were not specifically directed at anything you wrote, but rather general in nature.

    That being said, is this another point of difference between you and the other TM people? If so, I have the impression that you disagree with them about a rather broad range of topics.

    “Because this kind of cultural relativism is problematic. As I and many others have argued elsewhere.”

    Problematic in what regard?

    Philosophically, I fail to see how my stance is more problematic than yours, considering the tremendous, unresolved difficulties of moral objectivism with regards to

    1.) Ontology: what are “objective moral values/propositions” supposed to be? What is their nature and exactly how are they incorporated into the fabric of reality?

    2.) Epistemology: how do we perceive objective moral values/propositions? How do we discriminate between genuinely objective moral values/propositions and ones we might strongly believe in, but which are nonetheless not objective?

    3.) Sociology: how does the objectivist account for and explain the (often radical) changes in moral opinion throughout history?

    If you mean “problematic” on a more practical level, the objections has more weight. It might be a psychological fact about human nature that religions and the concept of an objective morality handed down from an outside source which is often associated with them provides an important pillar to anchor a specific morality in a society. Seen in this light, religion would act like a prosthesis for morality and thus be a very useful enterprise.

    However, I would argue that this idea of the necessity of a religious foundation for morality is not tenable.

    First of all, there are many, many people, including but not limited to eminent thinkers like Russell, Einstein, Freud, Nietzsche and Feuerbach, who did not adhere to an objective morality but nonetheless did not feel that they were morally adrift.

    On the other hand, religious justifications and theological foundations have failed time and again throughout history to prevent the most perverse developments of morality and politics. Quite to the contrary, precisely this conviction of being in possession of an unshakable justification has frequently led to intolerance, fanaticism and all the unpleasant consequences that tend to be associated with such attitudes.

    Of course, religions are systems of orientation that combine different functions. Even if a religious foundation of morality is not necessary from a theoretical or practical point of view, it does not automatically imply that religion has become redundant. In a society where religious convictions, rites and customs are deeply rooted and intertwined with the rest of culture (although considerably less so throughout the Western World in the course of the last 200 years), the erosion of this religious heritage can cause significant crises of orientation for some people.

    However, we do not have the option of preventing such crises by turning back the wheel. It would be futile to try and thwart the human quest for knowledge, which has in large parts led to an erosion and abandonment of the old, medieval worldview and the religious convictions associated with it.

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  28. Alison,

    Try Baraka. No voice at all!, just excellent cinematography. The only full-length film I can remember watching that is only “pictures”. Sounds off-putting, saying it like that, but my memory was that it was stunning. A visual poem in some ways. Reviewed here

    Ken,

    While I’m on the subject of films, perhaps Mendy: a question of faith might appeal? It’ll be interesting to see if the sex/drugs/etc. gets in the way of the theme as the synopsis puts it, opening “his eyes to the possibilities of finding transcendence and spirituality in everyday life” as opposed to his (former) repressive Jewish faith.

    I still think that Maori TV manages to put on some of the best movies and I’m still annoyed that the local film reviewer for the paper consistently ignores their movies. Goodness knows why. Maybe he has something against “art house” efforts?

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  29. Arrgh. Ken, could you close the second a tag for me…!!

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  30. Also forgot to say this is on Maori TV this Saturday at 9pm. Writing too late at night to be getting things right in one shot…! 🙂

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  31. @Ken. The film with the stasi agent might have been “Des Leben der Anderen” (The lives of others in english I think). I don’t remember the details very well except that I really enjoyed it.

    Heres a link http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0405094/

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  32. Yes, Nick. I think that’s the one.

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  33. I actually find the classification of “morality” into “objective morality” and “subjective morality” rather artificial. Reality is usually a lot more complex than such simple classifications imply.

    For example – those who talk most about objective morality are usually the theistically inclined. Somehow they attribute the existence of objective right and wrong to their particular god(s).

    In practice, though, this can boil down to an extreme form of subjective morality or moral relativism. Morals come from, and are reinforced by, their particular holy book, their priests, Imams, ministers, fathers, etc., etc.

    Morality is imposed. And it depends on the particular culture, church, mosque, cults leaders, etc. That is nothing more than moral relativism.

    On the other hand when morals are derived through reason and intuition, and reinforced by intelligent, open discussion and investigation, we often find a wide area of agreement. We can agree on declarations such as that on Universal Human Rights. This gets described as “subjective morality”, no gods are involved. But notice that the charge of moral relativism seems very weak in this case.

    Moral relativism seems to be very much a characteristic of those who promote “objective morality.”

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  34. Did I say you don’t define what you mean? Perhaps you could point to where I said this, I don’t recall the instance.
    Matt mean. When pressed it usually comes down to meaning moral intuitions, in practice. I get this from vague terms like “moral laws written on the heart of man by god”, etc.
    No I was refering to a comment Ken made as follows at https://openparachute.wordpress.com/2009/09/14/evolution-of-human-morality/
    Andrew – could you give me your definition of “objective morality”? I myself have trouble understanding what people like Matt mean. When pressed it usually comes down to meaning moral intuitions, in practice. I get this from vague terms like “moral laws written on the heart of man by god”, etc.
    In the post I provided I actually did give a detailed explanation of what I mean by objective morality. Nowhere have a defined it the way Ken states above. Moreover no Christian philosopher or theologian I am aware of defines it the way Ken states which actually involves a conflation between epistemology and ontology.
    “an immaterial, eternal necessary object ” a form” exists, and this can be known only non empirically via some form of immediate intuition.” I must lack this form of ESP then as I’m unable to detect this “immaterial, eternal necessary object ”, I have to make do with the morality I gain from biological, societal, and psychological inputs.
    I am going to defend Ken here Platonism cannot be dismissed simply by calling it ESP. The point is this, take claims like
    Its wrong to rape children for fun.
    These claims seem to be intuitively obvious for many people; to suggest that you need to argue for them seems mistaken if you need an argument to convince you of this then something is wrong with your moral awareness. Moreover its hard to see how one could argue for this, to do so one would have to appeal to some further moral claim such as “its wrong to harm people” or “its wrong to have sex without consent” and so on, and then a person can ask what arguments there are for these claims and so on. For these reasons it seems plausible to suggest that people can immediately recognize certain moral claims as in some sense self evident. It also seems to be the case that one does not know these things empirically, its not like wrongness has a colour, weight, taste or texture or sound which we see hear or touch when we here about children being raped. The same issues come up with basic truths of logic such as IF A then B, A, Therefore B. One simply “sees” that this is true and the seeing is not sensory perception such as hearing touching or tasting.
    None of this is incompatible with the claim that morality comes from biological and Psychological imputs. Presumably human beings psychology has evolved or been created to form beliefs in this manner, and also we need social interaction to aquire it just as we do with Mathematics and logic.
    What I see problematic about Ken’s position is how it coheres with his rejection of theism I agree with you that I do think though that the logic of just about any argument that argues against the existence of God can be used to argue against the existence of universal and objectivity morality
    If Platonists like Ken reject theism because it there alledgedly is insufficient empirical evidence for Gods existence then they owe us an argument more powerful than those usually provided for Gods existence, from purely empirical premises to the conclusion that objective moral principles exist, or in Kens case, immaterial platonic forms.
    Basically he adopts a skeptical stance towards God which he would not adopt in other spheres of life because it leads to the absurd conclusion that the raping of babies is not objectively wrong.

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  35. Matt – “If Platonists like Ken” You misrepresent me – yet again. Just give up on that, Matt. it’s not going anywhere.

    And don’t be silly Being sceptical about a god doesn’t mean that “the raping of babies is not objectively wrong.” That’s childish.

    We are all sceptical about gods – it’s just that I am sceptically about at least 1 more that you are. Many people think I am numerically closer to the truth – yet I don’t go around raping babies – and I imagine you don’t either.

    However, it’s easy to imagine someone using their god, and its divine commands which he or she is privy to, to justify raping babies and much else in society. Plenty of examples of that.

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