where do morals come from?

When debating with believers, the conversation inevitably comes around to morals. What’s moral? What authority do morals stem from?

That believers assign the authority to an external source, to me says that they do not know moral all on their own. They wouldn’t recognize a moral act from an  immoral one without their dandy list of rules – rules which largely do not deal with morals, but with worship and punishment of people who don’t follow those rules. And this punishment is pretty immoral.

So, where do morals come from?

They come from us, they evolved with us and as we embraced the morals, those were the people who thrived enough to breed. So, they were culturally taught and genetically reinforced.

The longer version:  humans are social animals and to live together, certain conventions of refraining from harming each other makes living in groups possible and refraining from incestuous behavior means the offspring are healthy.

We are happier belonging to groups and we increase survivability – it also allows us to specialize in labour and become more productive and allow for leisure time.

Harm covers a wide spectrum of behavior and decisions; in early days, being harmful meant you were expelled from the group and likely die without producing offspring.

The people who were willing to get along, lived to breed and passed this amiability down through the generations and these socially reinforced behaviours form the basis of our moral code.

Which is also why people from different cultures thought out history and today  have widely varying moral codes.

But convention isn’t a solo act – the disgust response plays a huge part in determining an individual’s morals – and this is also culturally – not exactly dependent, but culturally informed.

It’s repulsive to me to think of an 8 year old girl married to a 40+ year old man, but that’s a typical day in some countries. Theocratic countries……

We have an instinctive aversion to incest because that doesn’t produce healthy offspring – seeing couples of widely varying ages touches on this, but also, older people becoming parents – even with a young spouse – increases the chance of non-viable or non-healthy offspring.

Of course we’re not all instinct, because there’s a growing number of people who chose not to have children – that 6 billion plus people are enough in the world.

Other people think this is terrible and I suspect that much of that disgust is racist based.  Because the public and vocal proponent of not having children tend to be white couples and it’s religious white people who most object. So, I can only suspect that it’s concerns about white population numbers, not population numbers that’s behind this anxiety.

This is a stupid anxiety, since we are all humans, there are no subspecies. And, there’s less than 1% genetic difference between any two people randomly selected from any where on the globe. Yup, all the apparent physical difference really is cosmetic and skin deep.

People have other variations that allow them to have a diversity of moral views within the same culture as other people – and these are often religion influenced, as well as the tendency to be fundamentalist or moderate or open minded (which includes non-religious frameworks, like vegetarian, environmental, etc).

Problems and conflicts arise when one group thinks that their idea of morality is “normal” and should apply to everyone else.

These folks tend to want their morals to apply more to everyone else – sort of, do as I pray and not as I do.

There are no such thing as universal morals any more than there are universal rights. If there were, we wouldn’t be able to articulate them they’d be that ingrained and the same everywhere and throughout time.

And the idea of absolute morals, well, not all rules work with all situations.

Sometimes, you have to lie to spare someone’s feelings.

One thing that I noticed waaaaaaaaay back in college in the morals and ethics class that we looked at various schools of thought about morality, is that none of them, not one, factored in motivation.

They focused on outcome, impact on others, following a set of rules that didn’t allow for rule conflict.

What if stealing food saved a life? Still immoral?

If I saw a person drowning, and I jumped in to save them- moral thing, right? Probably. Especially if I didn’t know how to swim, I do, but that makes it kinda more heroic, eh?

What if that person celebrated surviving the event by harming or killing someone else? Even accidentally, say drunk driving home from a bar. Now, because I saved the first person, another person – or more  – died. Less moral now?

What I recognized the drowning person and knew they were rich? So I saved them to get a reward…. not as moral anymore…..

One action, many interpretations.

What if I let them drown because I was afraid or couldn’t swim? Immoral?

What if by letting them drown, all the future harm that they would have caused was prevented? not okay? what if they had a long violent criminal record that I had no way to know about?

Morals, make the best choice you can with the information you have available.

Think and Care.

Best foundation for any moral code.