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A discussion on morality and its understanding

The Basis of Morality Tim Madigan on scientific versus religious explanations of ethical behaviour. If he acts for the good of others, he will receive the approbation of his fellow men and gain the love of those with whom he lives. How does one best understand the origins of human morality? There is still a popular assumption that religion and morality are synonymous. This is not surprising, since almost everyone is a discussion on morality and its understanding within some type of religious community, which teaches various rules for how to act, and sanctions these rules by claiming they were created by a deity.

And yet, it is by no means self-evident that our sense of right and wrong, and the codes of behavior we are expected to follow, come from a supernatural source. The following analysis will criticize the claim that morality comes from and is sanctioned by a deity or deities, and will present a naturalistic alternative view regarding the origins of our moral sense.

Such practices are presented as being beneficial to society, and also as having good practical effects for those who adhere to them, usually by having some sort of ultimate pay-off after death.

To ask questions about the origins of moral principles was often taken to be the same thing as raising questions about either the existence or the goodness of the supernatural beings who had supposedly given these tenets. Socrates found this out when, in 399 B. He did not convince the jury, which sentenced him to death — an act that has generally been thought to have been highly immoral. There are problems with the claim that morality comes from a divine source.

I will list and briefly examine a few objections, before then looking at some arguments for the origins of morality which do not rely upon the existence of a divinity. How do we know this Law Giver exists?

For most people, the existence of God is something they learn from earliest infancy. They seldom think much about it but if they did, they would find that the arguments traditionally given to justify this existence have serious flaws. There are many such arguments and I will not examine them here, as it would need a separate article, or even a book. The philosopher Michael Martin has written two such books, which I recommend: Suffice it to say that no argument for the existence of a transcendent deity has proven to be generally persuasive or has withstood rigorous philosophical analysis.

If the existence of God cannot be proven, how can one argue that morality is grounded in his commands? Darwin raised a powerful objection to this claim that God exists because we just feel that he exists: But it cannot be doubted that Hindoos, Mahomadans and others might argue in the a discussion on morality and its understanding manner and with equal force in favour of the existence of one God or of many Gods, or as with the Buddhists of no God. This argument would be a valid one if all men of all races had the same inward conviction of the existence of one God; but we know that this is very far from being the case.

Therefore I cannot see that such inward convictions and feelings are of any weight as evidence of what really exists.

This leads to the second question raised by a Divine Command Theory. If God does exist, how do we know that he is good?

Many acts attributed to divinities in various societies seem barbarous. Why, for instance, did the gods of Ancient Greece place a curse upon the head of baby Oedipus, dooming him to kill his father and marry his mother? Why did the Hindu god Shiva continuously destroy civilizations? If such acts were performed by human beings, we would not hesitate to castigate the perpetrators.

Ewing expressed this criticism nicely: Socrates asks Euthypro a seemingly simple question: Is an action moral because the gods decree it, or do the gods decree it because it is moral? For instance, if the gods should decree that all left-handed people be slaughtered, would it be right to do so? Such a question cuts to the very heart of all divinely sanctioned ethical systems, for it shows that mere belief in the gods or a god is insufficient to justify following their dictates.

Morality takes precedent over divinity. Perhaps not coincidentally, Euthypro never grasps this point, while Socrates was a discussion on morality and its understanding a few days later for his impertinence. The English philosopher John Stuart Mill raised a further criticism, by addressing those who claim that God, although the creator of the world, is not responsible for all the evils found within it.

It seems hard to square a benevolent creator with the infliction of a discussion on morality and its understanding suffering, the permission of moral evil, the prosperity of the wicked, and the misery of the innocent. I will call no being good, who is not what I mean when I apply that epithet to my fellow creatures, and if such a being can sentence me to hell for not so calling him, to hell I will go.

Why should we follow divine commandments? Must we follow these divine rules out of compunction? If we break them, will we be punished eternally in some fashion? This is surely a powerful sanction for inculcating moral codes. But it also seems to imply that one follows these rules out of fear. Yet if this is so, what does it say about humans? Are they not capable of taking responsibility for their own actions without constantly looking up over their shoulders to see if God is watching?

As Mill pointed out, evils occur even with religion. Why assume that its absence would lead to even greater atrocities? The absence of religion would present an opportunity for people to take full personal responsibility.

If morality, then, is not founded on the dictates of some divine source, from where does it arise? Perhaps it is perfectly natural. In The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin addressed the development of a moral sense from a naturalistic perspective: Yet he avoided public discussions of religion, since he knew that it would be difficult enough for his theory to be accepted by the scientific community. The general public, weaned on the age-old teachings of Christianity, would be even more reluctant to accept that the human species was not specially created.

In a letter he wrote in 1880, Darwin spelled out his own views on religion and science: It has, therefore, always been my object to avoid writing on religion, and I have confined myself to science. In his Autobiography he repeats the objections to the Divine Command Theory raised earlier.

Why, he asks, should one accept the Bible as divinely- inspired, rather than other holy books, such as the Koran, the Analects of Confucius or the teachings of the Buddha?

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And if one does decide that the Bible is superior, how can it be understood? Are the stories of miracles to be taken literally or only figuratively? He critiques specific doctrines of Christianity, especially the doctrine of hell: And this is a damnable doctrine. There is certainly much evil in the world, but it is not just evil for humans — why did the deity create so many species and why for millions a discussion on morality and its understanding years preceding the emergence of humans did they suffer?

Some have attempted to explain this in reference to man by imagining that it serves for his moral improvement. This very old argument from the existence of suffering against the existence of an intelligent first cause seems to me a strong one; whereas, as just remarked, the presence of much suffering agrees well with the view that all organic beings have been developed through variation and natural selection.

Both claim that coming to grips with our moral sense involves looking not toward heaven but rather toward our fellow members of the animal kingdom, particularly the three great apes. Rachels points out that the argument for the co-existence between science and religion is itself a great comedown for theology. Traditional religion drew much of its strength by explaining the universe. Darwin provided a rival theory which gave alternative answers, especially regarding the relationship between human beings and other animals.

To men he gave souls, free will, rationality, and moral judgement, the other animals he created as lesser beings. Against the background of this picture, any attribution of moral qualities to animals would seem impossible.

What is needed, in order to make such attributions possible, is the substitution of a different picture. Darwin provided the new picture, and tried to show that once it is adopted the view of animals as at least partially moral beings follows naturally. We can envision a 3-step process of morality, in which reciprocal behavior spreads to more and more members of a given society: In discussions of morality, Rachels asserts, it is a mistake to hold, as many religions do, that we begin with step 3.

The biblical story of the Good Samaritan is an excellent example of this. The Samaritan belonged to a social group which was on the worst possible terms with its neighbor, the Judeans, yet he freely chose to treat a victimized Judean — complete stranger — as he himself would wish to have been treated had he been robbed and abused.

This is a symbolic representation of stage 3 morality. The parable serves the further purpose of encouraging such behavior. When their theologies become fossilized, or when their priests become more concerned with preserving power than with encouraging benevolence, they are often capable of keeping humans on a lower stage of morality.

As Socrates discovered, raising questions about religious authority can have deadly repercussions. He draws a connection between the moral sense and the development of reasoning capacities, which he claims are not unique to humans: Such reciprocal altruism will not occur when individuals are unlikely to meet again. It requires good memories and stable relationships, conditions which occur mainly in the primates.

The principle of parsimony, he states, holds that if closely related species act the same, then the underlying process is probably the same, too. Much, if not all, of what constitutes human morality can be found by closely studying the social practices of our fellow primates.

Probably they see certain others as extensions of themselves, and the distress of those resonates within a discussion on morality and its understanding. De Waal speculates that primates look at each other as sentient beings. The capacity to care for others is the bedrock of all of our moral systems.

The rules which arise from such a capacity nurture and expand upon it, but they are not its foundation. Other conditions for morality can be found in non-primates who have the capacity for rule-learning, internalization of commandments and guilt-like behavior when such commandments are disobeyed.

But no species has developed these traits to the extent that humans have. However, there is a limit to how much we can learn by observing fellow animals.

The Definition of Morality

It is hard not to be anthropomorphic when examining them. I call this the Doctor Doolittle Problem — until such a time as we can talk to the animals, we cannot really know what it is that they are sensing.

The Basis of Morality

Also, what are the normative implications of such findings? De Waal, on the other hand, states that the sharing of meat is an important social function for both humans and many other primates. Evolutionary ethics is a controversial field.