Jordan Hooker February 2nd, 2018Understanding Human Morality”I fully subscribe to the judgement of those writers who maintain that of all the differences between man and the lower animals, the moral sense or conscience is by far the most important.” This quote comes from Charles Darwin’s Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, published in 1871. To this day, a great many scholars agree with Darwin in his claim.
But what truly is the origin of human morality? What is considered moral behavior and just how important is it for us humans? In simple terms, moral behavior is defined as the actions of a person who takes into account the impact of their effects on others in a sympathetic way. However, this does not truly explain the complexity of why morality makes humans unique. Understanding the evolution of human cooperation and that over time, consciousness, free will, and intellectual faculties like anticipation and reason gave way to the phenomenon of morality is essential for understanding what it truly means to be human and what it will mean for our future.
One reason human morality is unique is the simple fact that our brains have grown to be massive in comparison to other animals. The cognitive gap between humans and all other animals leaves no doubt that we are the intellectual deities of our planet. In fact, a fully grown human brain is about 1400cm3. When we compare this to our closest living relative, the chimpanzee, who is capable of sympathy, simplistic reasoning, and even sign language, we find that their 300cm3 brain size does not even compare. Darwin suggests that the moral sense, being a result of consciousness, is a necessary consequence of high intellectual power that any animal biologically successful enough will inevitably develop.
Although there is much debate on theHooker 1subject, it is generally agreed that this moral sense in humans came around about the same time humans began to develop grammatically structured language, around 50,000 years ago.As a result of our high intellectual powers, humans have developed a complex array of feelings in addition to rational thought. It is widely accepted that in order to be a moral animal, there must be a clear understanding of both sympathy, which other animals like chimps possess, and fairness, which scientific study has proven to be a uniquely human quality, and a major contributing factor to our success as a social species.
In addition, it is considered that there are three necessary conditions for moral behavior that only humans possess to the fullest extent. One: the ability to anticipate the consequences of actions. Only if I anticipate that pulling the trigger will launch the bullet and kill the man can that action be considered a moral decision. Only the anticipation of consequences brings about a moral action. This is also referred to as the ability to establish means and ends, and has ultimately resulted in the development of culture and human technology. The ability to anticipate the results of one’s work in the future and the long- term payoff is what has brought about the simple technologies of the Paleolithic era as well as the advanced technologies of modern society. Two: the ability to advance value judgements.
This can also be described as the ability to perceive certain objects or deeds as more desirable than others. Now, of course, animals generally make decisions based on what is best for their survival, but these decisions are almost entirely based on instinct or unconscious memory, whereas humans use rational decision making skills. Only if one can see that the death of his enemy will be good for his own survival in the future can the action of killing him be considered moral. This is related to establishing means and ends because value judgments for humans are almost never instinctively triggered, aside from, and for example, closing your eyes to avoid debris or flinching at a fake punch. Three: the ability to choose between alternative courses ofHooker 2action. In addition to making value judgements, we also have the ability to willingly make the wrong biological decisions, such as intentional drug overdosing, suicide, or mass murder. None of these actions contribute to the survival of our species, and are therefore not driven by instinct. These biological discrepancies, when directed at others, are the cause of almost all the world’s social issues.
Causing someone suffering can only be considered a moral action if you have the option to also not cause someone suffering, no matter the consequences. This is considered moral on the basis of free will. Sleeping or perspiration, by contrast, cannot be considered moral because they are natural functions our bodies undergo which surpass the bounds of free will (ie: we do not get to choose when certain bodily functions occur.)On the foundation built by our innate obligation for fairness, our cooperative nature, and our complex understanding of sympathy and empathy, humans all around the world have developed “moral values.” Some of these values, called “universal values,” are biologically shared by the bulk of humanity, and include instincts which tell us not to steal or not to murder just for the sake of stealing or murdering, as these generally do not contribute to the whole of human wellbeing. On a higher intellectual level, however, are cultural moral values. People generally accept standards based on how others will judge their actions as right or wrong. This is how common sets of moral values are and have always been formed.
People do as others like them do and not only conform, but usually learn to agree with the reasoning behind the moral standards set by their society. Successful sets of moral values that adhere to our biology, like many of the Ten Commandments, thrive and spread. This is largely because, even those people who are not Christian or have no idea what any of the Ten Commandments are still agree with many of the non-religious ones, as it is natural for the majority of people to avoid murdering and adultery. On the other hand, moral values that actively work against our survival as a species, such as humanHooker 3sacrifice, eventually die out.
Because moral values vary from culture to culture in this way, it is clear that sets of moral values within a society are not biologically determined, although they often are guided by the inner moral compass of mentally stable human beings. This phenomenon is a result of the “cultural evolution,” which is a uniquely human mode of evolution that surpasses biology. That is to say that modern morality has flown the perch built by evolution(keep?) Cultural evolution explains why there is a vast array of human cultures that have their own moral values when creatures like flies, seagulls, or housecats all around the world act the same as anywhere else in the world because they are driven by how their instinct determines their behavior, a biological function that humans have pushed to the back of the brain to serve as the engine of moral decision making rather than as an autopilot entity. While moral values are learned from a young age and generally accepted by the public, there are those who are unfazed by its cultural effects. These people, the sociopaths, psychopaths, and serial killers of the world, are usually very successful in modern human societies because of their ability to manipulate and imitate social moral norms, all the while having the ability to consciously work against them with little to no remorse.Much of human behavior is misunderstood, and psychologists, neuroscientists, and many others are actively working towards understanding its complex nature, especially regarding moral behavior.
A few theories exist to help explain it. The first, called “metaethics,” is essentially “why we do what we ought to do.” Metaethics encompasses theories such as “Divine Command” (God’s command decides what is morally justified), “utilitarianism” (moral decisions are based on what will benefit the most people), and “libertarianism” (moral values should be measured by the extent to which they maximize personal freedoms.) The second theory, called “normative ethics,” deals with rules or laws explaining what we ought to do. ItHooker 4discusses standards for right and wrong as it applies to the whole of humanity. The third and probably the most controversial theory is “practical ethics,” which discusses the application of moral norms to specific issues and situations. Practical ethics deals with issues like the questions “under what circumstances should abortion be legal?”, “when are civilian casualties justified?”, or “when should personal vendettas be allowed?” These theories have helped to explain the reasoning behind certain moral actions in human societies and the application of them in the future is imperative for understanding exactly why we make decisions in the fashion that we do and how it can psychologically affect our ideas regarding moral values.
Perhaps the most interesting of the moral values is altruism, which is defined as the “unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others.” Altruists tend to put all others above themselves. Nearly every human being is altruistic to some degree. Parents will almost always put their children’s lives over their own and siblings will often do the same for one another, but true altruists put everyone above themselves in the name of human goodness. Many altruists are humanitarians or charity leaders. Many civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela were altruists, working tirelessly for the good of all people while putting themselves at great risk. Many are highly regarded in religion like the saints of Catholic Church or perhaps most famous altruist of all, Jesus Christ.
In theory, an altruistic animal population benefits that population, although the genes of selfish members of the population thrive more often. This is because selfish animals benefit both from themselves and from the altruists contributing to their survival, while contributing nothing to the altruist in return. This gives the altruists a significantly lower chance of survival. However, the theory is contradicted in regards to humans. Humans can understand the benefits of altruistic behavior because it indirectly benefits the individual.
Human societies are built around forced altruism. Almost any paid job a personHooker 5can have benefits someone else, whether it is providing services, manufacturing goods, providing to the world’s food supply, and so on. If someone does not wish to contribute to society, they do not get paid and can therefore not contribute as well to their individual survival within human society. Thus, altruism is often required by moral laws. For example, Muslims have zakat, which is an obligatory charity tax Muslims must give to the less wealthy members of society. Unfortunately, many people take advantage of the emphasis put on altruism.
The extremely wealthy will often give to charity only to enjoy major tax breaks. Whatever the reasoning, it’s a win-win for humanity as a whole, because the money either goes to the less fortunate or is put back into infrastructure and improvement of quality of life for the general population. Traditionally, altruism in attributed to the activity of social insects, like ants, who work tirelessly for the good of the colony. When humans are altruistic, it is given the name altruism-m, “moral altruism,” whereas in ants, which work based towards genetically determined goals, it is called altruism-b, “biological altruism.”In contrast, there are people who lack any capacity for sympathy and empathy, and who are completely the opposite of altruistic individuals. These people, the sociopaths and psychopaths of the world, are dangerous because they lack the capacity to care about other human beings, often through no fault of their own.
These people are generally very selfish and many of them, like those who become serial killers, people would identify as evil. A test done on a few dozen students in which the students were asked if they would hit a fellow classmate in the face if the teacher gave them permission resulted in most of the students saying no, as their instincts and upbringing told them it was inherently wrong to hit another child for no reason. However, those at risk of psychopathy or sociopathy said that they would and that whether they hit the child or not were morally indistinguishable actions. As these sorts of people grow older, they develop anHooker 6understanding for human emotion, although they themselves do not feel it.
The reason psychopaths are so dangerous is because they are able to blend in and use others to their own advantage. Game theory suggests that there are probably two stable versions of human cooperation as a product of evolution. The first, called “strong reciprocity” is returning the favor when someone helps you, more often than not. The other, called “permanent defection” is continuous cheating, neglect, and strategic manipulation of the sympathy and guilt of others. Psychopaths, who are victims of the latter, thrive in the modern world, with all its confusion and moving parts. They are much more easily able to achieve their goals because there is so many more people to use to their own advantage without being recognized as distinctly different. A psychopath living a small village, on the other hand, would have a difficult time fulfilling his or her own selfish needs while avoiding the detection of others.
This is a result of the moral codes built by humans who look out for the population, the bulk of whom generally agree with morally correct activity.Having this scientific understanding of moral decision making is certainly helpful for creating laws and working towards further success and happiness among human populations. As everyone knows, however, there is unfortunately a great many people who stray from what most consider a “morally just path.” This is a tricky issue to discuss because, as mentioned earlier, so many groups of people disagree on moral issues, not only between different societies, but within them as well.
Some of these issues are shockingly disturbing and some of the most morally justified systems can be contradicted. For example, the Roman Catholic Church is an organization that throughout history has helped people all over the world. They are widely associated with moral values and by many of its followers are considered to be the only force against evil in the universe. Yet, the Vatican is an organization that excommunicates women forHooker 7trying to become priests, but does not question many male priests accused of pedophilia. They will excommunicate a doctor who must perform an abortion to save a mother’s life, even if that mother is a nine-year-old rape victim, but they did not excommunicate a single member of the Third Reich after World War II for committing mass genocide. While no animal can match us in our capacity for moral altruism, no animal can match us in our capacity for sadistic cruelty either. Consider the global organization of human trafficking. Even the worst people seem to be able to find enough collaborators to create a worldwide network of kidnapping, transporting, and selling people (mostly children) to even more evil buyers and creating one of the most profitable economies in the world, circulating tens of billions of dollars every year.
This utter lack of compassion among such a huge number of people shows that humanity as a whole has hard work ahead to create a more morally righteous world. On that note, consider the ethically low hanging fruit of radical Islamic ideology. There should be no reason to think that vailing women, demonizing homosexuals, encouraging and carrying out the murder of nonbeliever artists and intellectuals, stoning adulterers, and celebrating the exploits of suicide bombers will help to move humanity in a positive moral direction. Yet, nearly a quarter of the world population, whether they agree with them or not, subscribes to a religion in which these ideals, born from Sharia Law, are justified. Many claim that Muslim suicide bombings have little to do with the Muslim beliefs about martyrdom or Jihad, and that it is instead about loyalty to a specific radical group. However, when dozens of jihadists were interviewed, most of them, when asked if they would postpone a suicide bombing to help aid in a family emergency or help to save a friend, said something along the lines of “there is duty to family, but duty to God cannot be postponed.” Muslim teaching suggests that violent martyrdom coupled with devotion to God will reward a man and his entire family with a place in heaven.
So, to say that the behavior of MuslimHooker 8jihadists has nothing to do with religion is like saying that going out to a restaurant has nothing to do with being hungry.Alternatively, with the evolution of human cooperation, such advancements have been made in the world that humanity has managed to experience exponential growth in population size, technology, and social structure. Unfortunately, with all the success and flourishing of humans in large groups…comes those who seek to change, reform, and rise above. Along with pure and righteous morality, facilitated by the Ghandi’s, FDR’s, and Mother Teresa’s of our history, comes clouded and skewed morality. That is, moral values believed to be the correct course of action at a certain time or the only correct course of action in the world when they are in fact against the good of humanity as a whole.
Facilitated by people like Joseph Stalin, Osama Bin Laden, and Chinggis Khan, this form of morality seeks to work against, whether knowingly or unknowingly, the general consensus of cooperation amongst all as a means to create a better world. Consider the first example: Stalin. Joseph Stalin sought to build up Russia’s glory by instating a communist regime among its people. In order to make Stalin’s communism work, he had to force tens of millions of people from their homes and communities, strip them of personal possessions, or kill them if they refused. Stalin truly believed that he was making Russia, and hopefully the world a better place for all people to live. But, Stalin’s communism worked in the same manner of attempting to push a cube through a circle shaped hole.
..it would fit if you forced it in, but the sides of the cubes would be shaved off in the process. Those shavings of the cube in this scenario are millions of human lives that had to be sacrificed to make this system work.
Stalin signed kill or work lists, allowing for the execution or subjection to the gulags for thousands of innocent families. Analyzing Stalin’s actions in the modern world can only leave a rational person to think him clinically insane, an unethical monstrosity unfazed by the opinionsHooker 9of others and overtaken by his own moral values providing him ideas about a perfect society. Stalin was clearly working against the previously mentioned moral theory, utilitarianism. Now consider this same sort of moral dilemma…the creation and use of the first nuclear bombs. These bombs, designed and built by dozens of scientists and engineers over the course of years, was created consciously to end as many lives as possible in as short a time as possible.
Such men of science, understanding of the value of human life, actively blocked out their natural instincts to not kill and instead let their cultural morality and capacity for knowledge take over. In a chillingly similar way to Stalin, these men and women ironically created a machine that killed millions for the sake of improving the lives of many millions more. The difference of course being that the goal for which the nuclear bombs were created was reached, and a conflict was ended.While the ability to fluctuate and change our moral values has allowed for accelerated technological advancements in things like medicine and comfort, perhaps more importantly, a sense of clouded morality has provided us with even more necessary technology. World War II created a massive increase in technology, from the Nazis’ many survival advancement technologies to the US and Allied Forces’ making use of new forms of communications, which in turn greatly increased the evolution of the computers and brought about eventually, the internet.It seems as though no matter how it comes about, human cooperation, whether or not it be for or against the good of all people, is driven by moral values. This is why human society will only continue to grow and prosper. No matter what we do, our biology tells us to work towards something.
Though there is no solution to hate, corruption, and cruelty in the world, as long as people continue to possess and process an understanding of morality and why it makes usHooker 10uniquely human, the world can only continue to become a place of higher tolerance, cooperation, and success into the future.Thank You.Hooker 11