Sunday, 8 July 2007

What is Morality?

Can we define morality in objective terms, without falling back on subjective speculations? - Yes, I believe we can. Indeed, not only can we define it as such, but we do define it as such.

The fact that civilized societies are able to create courts of law, that rely on ethical codes of morality, is an example of where morality has been objectively defined.

The fact that we can define a moral framework of ethical codes, does not mean that everyone behaves ethically. If they did, we would not need courts of law or a police force to protect the public from unethical behavior.

Morality is not a noun to explain a thing, like cat or dog... It's a verb like science or politics. As such morality is a higher level concept, into which moral codes based around man's nature integrate. For example, one ethical code under the 'umbrella' of morality; is the moral right to defend one's person against the initiation of force from an assailant. Another moral code, would be the right to defend one's property against theft and that includes the indirect form of theft known as fraud.

Because morality is a complex higher level concept, means that a morality arrived at, based around human nature; was not easily arrived at. To arrive at a complex set of laws, rules and regulations all based around a moral framework, that mirrors human nature, has required a long history of scientific and philosophical understandings of that nature. Indeed, the more backward a society is, by definition, the less ethical its moral framework... Meaning, the less out-of-sink that framework is with humanity's physical, psychological and philosophical nature.

The very reason we can define a moral framework in the first place, is because the universe in which we live, consists of universal constants. The fact that these constants exist, is the fact that enables us to objectively define laws of nature. The fact that man is part of nature, means that, mankind can be defined in terms of universal constants too.

But, where does the need for a moral framework as a set of ethical codes, come from in the first place? - It would be too simplistic to say it is in our genes. But moral ethics do seem to have genetic precursors, that would allow us to arrive at moral codes of behavior. It is these genetic traits that could be said, are the catalysts that lie as the foundation for morality.

We know for example that wild animals are apparently capable of altruistic behavior. We also know that this 'altruistic' behavior is really a selfish trait at the level of the gene. Thus, what appears to be an altruistic act, for example a monkey in a tree, calling out to warn the rest of the troop of danger, and in doing so puts itself in danger; is only apparently altruistic. What creates this behavior is the genetic prerogative... that is, the genes desire to pass on their information to offspring (of course, when I say the genes desire, it is just a metaphorical statement, genes are mindless and don't really have desires).

Now, in certain natural circumstances. The most efficient way for genes to pass themselves on, might be for certain monkeys to sit in trees and act as look-outs, even if in doing so a percentage of monkeys risk getting eaten by eagles.

That is enough about the evolutionary process. I only brought it up as a demonstration of precursors in nature to moral ethics. If monkeys have the gene that gave them the natural prerogative drive to act altruistically, then it is reasonable to suppose that mankind still caries that genetic trait. If this is true we should expect to see apparently altruistic acts in humanity and indeed we do. When we see suffering, we often act altruistically as good Samaritans to ease that suffering. Indeed, the need to give money to charities. Also, what about the altruistic act of a mother saving her child from a dangerous predicament. If we did not have the altruistic trait within us, we would live in a World without doctors, nurses and firefighters (only the most cynical would claim they are doing it, just for the money).

Previously I said: 'The very reason we can define a moral framework in the first place, is because the universe in which we live, consists of universal constants.' Well, I previously gave you an example of one of those universals... the need to behave altruistically towards other human beings. It is a universal because as I previously said it has a precursor in nature.

The reason we can build an ethical code based round the altruistic necessity, is exactly because it is a necessity.

Morality is a complex subject and in describing just one aspect of the moral prerogative, through altruism, this article has barely scratched the surface.

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