A DISCLAIMER: I have been working on this post for weeks now, and I still can’t seem to get a proper order of thought here. There are a lot of things to address, and although at first I thought the order would be paramount, it seems there is no ideal order on how to address everything in this topic. So please bear with me and read through the ENTIRE post before commenting, just in case I address your concerns in a different section. I’ve taken the liberty of trying to make subtitles for the sections as well, so if you get confused, check those subtitles out and see if you can find what you’re missing in a different section. Thanks and enjoy!
Introduction: In Part 1 of this discussion, I addressed the issues with entity-based morality, the idea that a higher power is the source of moral standards. Regardless of the possibility that a higher power could be the source of morality, I have illustrated why such a morality is not reliable on a societal basis, at the very least in a society of multiple religions and belief factions, which is becoming more and more prevalent and practically expected in our world. So with entity-based morality eliminated as an option, what does this leave us as far as answers to the question – What is the origin of morality?
Well, if the source is not outside of us, or ‘above’ us, we can look at the opposing alternative, that morality comes from man itself. Now, man is certainly a free-thinking and individualistically-thinking being. How do we attribute universal moral constructs to such a manipulative-minded creature? We must remember that man is also animal, that we too have animalistic instincts and intuitions which shape us as social and individual beings. It can be proposed that these instincts are the central source of core moral constructs for humanity. In order to analyze how a moral construct can come from instinctual reaction, let us use an example of a universal moral standard and explain where that moral standard comes from in terms of instincts.
Morals and Instincts: First, we must identify a universal moral standard, some line of moral conduct amongst man which has always had some defining factor which cannot be crossed. One of the most universally accepted moral restrictions that man puts upon its societies is that murder is wrong. I will define murder here as the purposeful killing of another human being. In all societies in recorded history (at least all the ones I’ve ever heard of), from a flogging to banishment to death itself, there has always been some punishment for killing another human being in cold-blood upheld by the social order, or the government, of that society. Even among other species, it can be observed that most animals can distinguish their own species from others, and make a point not to kill their own kind.
This parallel between both animals and humans finding murder to be a taboo suggests that the core morals of man are not just morals, but instincts, specifically instincts of survival. The threat to the survival of either the individual, the community/society, or the species as a whole creates the need for certain acts to be either avoided or forbidden. Murder is the threat of the survival of the individual, mass murder is a threat to a particular community or society, and societal murder – which we know as war – threatens the entire species of man. In this, murder is a wrongdoing against the instinct of survival, and so is avoided by animals and forbidden and punished by man. The same can be said of theft. If an animal has the mentality of ownership (either ownership over other animals such as an alpha in a pack species like wolves, or ownership of property such as a wolf’s den or hunting grounds), that thing which said animal owns is necessary for that animal’s survival. For an animal to lose its territory is to possibly lose the ability to hunt safely, or loss of that animal’s status in its communal group could cause a loss in food consumption or permission to mate. Man has the same mentality, even if the thing which is owned is not necessary for the human’s survival (like a video game console or a book). The core instinct, the foundation of this moral standard, is that what one owns, one must protect as one’s own from being forcefully taken, in order to survive.
Morals and Emotions: The separation of man and animal in terms of instinctual constructs versus morals is that of emotions. Humans, with emotional projections and a sense of pure self, can project these founding moral constructs onto situations and objects which are not essential to survival. Emotional attachments to non-essential objects (again, such as a video game console or a book) allows man to project the instinct of theft as wrong onto non-survival related situations and items. This is not to suggest that non-survival situations of theft are not wrong, but merely to show that, just because morals are based on animalistic instinct does not make our morals the same as animal instincts. Emotion is the basis of the evolution of instincts into morality. This makes morality a new stage of instinct, a natural phenomenon that, like emotions, can be specific to the individual. Although two people can agree that murder is wrong, they can argue about whether capital punishment is wrong. Why is this? The reason is two-fold.
First, such exceptions to the rule may exist because such situations have survival of the individual, society, or species trump the moral standard itself. Although murder is wrong according to instinctual morality of survival, there are situations of man killing man which are justified by man himself. That does not make the act itself moral as opposed to immoral, but allows for less severe retaliation and punishment for the act. Self-defense is a prime example. If someone comes to murder you, you cannot escape, cannot reason with the assailant, and have no known hope of a third party intervening, what do you do? You protect yourself to the utmost in order to survive. At times, this want for survival against someone wanting to kill you in cold-blood may result in you killing the assailant. Is it wrong that you killed? Under instinctual morality, yes it is. However, the conditions under which you killed not only were for your survival, but are emotionally empathetic to other human beings, and so the moral implications of you killing that other person are lessened. The same can be said of capital punishment, which permanently removes a threat to society from the species as a whole. Abortion can also be justified as a survival method of the mother in some instances, and can also be seen as a culling mechanism to avoid overpopulation, and therefore starvation and death within the species.
Second, each person has their own emotional ideals regarding murder, as well as different premises on which to logically deduce when murder is justifiable. This is what I call the personal facet of morality, and where the facets of morality come into play in the human realm.
Morals and Facets: I have already slightly outlined my premise of facets of morality in a poem by the same name (which you can read by clicking the image above). Here I will attempt to give more context and explanation to these facets and what they mean on the whole construct of morality. First to list the facets:
- Personal morality: one’s individual ideal of the core values of moral conduct, and when, where, and how to implement that core value on specific situations. This standard is both influenced and directly determines through compilation of all the other facets.
- Familial morality: the moral values upheld by the small family community, a combination of agreed upon social and personal moral standards within the family.
- Spiritual morality: morality based solely on emotional input, and typically also influenced by religious affiliation. This facet is very hard to influence, but has great influence on the other moralities, especially familial and personal.
- Social morality: the moral standards which a society is bound to follow. This is enforced through laws, and is directly influenced by the majority consensus of the personal morals of the population of that society, or by the personal moral standards of the few of the population who rule over the society (depending on the established governmental system of that society).
Let’s return back to the idea of murder and put it into the perspective of the facets, beginning with personal. An individual’s experiences in life can and will always influence how that person thinks, feels, and reacts to given situations. This creates the emotional stimulus each person feels toward a moral construct and the specific situations that construct can be interpreted in. There can be a person who has had multiple abortions, but who is against capital punishment, or a person for capital punishment but who is adamantly against any form of war. These influenced mindsets are also a product of the other moralities. Individuals can have positive or negative experiences with their society, their family, and their spiritual lives, which can determine if they agree or disagree with the other moral facets on any given issue. Personal morality is very much based on the influence of the other facets on any individual. But that is not where personal morality ends.
Familial and social moralities are built from the framework of individual moral standards, just as personal morality is built upon familial, spiritual and social. Spiritual is a difficult morality to incorporate into this give-and-take, and typically spiritual morality is based on entity-based moral constructs (as discussed in part 1). It is possibly the only moral facet which essentially stands alone in terms of influence, and instead is its own influence on the other facets. But for familial and social, they are far more fluid and dependent on each other as well as personal morality. Family in particular is highly influential, as it changes and adjusts in each generation, depending not only on the social morality of the times, but also on the prior familial moralities of both people coming into a new family through marriage. The moral standards that both parents agree with to teach their children may not be what they individually agree with completely, but compromises are sometimes made, or contradictions are accepted by one or both parents.
Social morality is essentially the same thing as familial, but on a societal scale. Some societies function with the government as the parents, making all the rules without the input of the children being influenced. Other societies function with the government as only a part of the whole parental unit that is the people of the society itself, and all those in that society work together to compromise (and sometimes contradict) the moral standards decided to rule the household of the society, the agreed upon personal moralities of each individual in that society. In the end, however, social morality is what determines how one can act within that society itself, and solidifies the moral code of that society through laws. Social morality is what governs the people and punishes the people in terms of a moral standard.
However, this is not the end-all, be-all. Because social morality is specifically influenced by the majority determination of the people of that society, or by the specific moral standards of a few over the people (a theocracy or monarchy), the people still have the power to either influence the change of that social morality or overthrow the power which determines the social morality in order to balance the social morality into something more acceptable to the people.
Morality – Static or Fluid?: In the end, morality is not a concrete, or static, topic. Even with a universal moral standard (like murder is wrong) established by instincts, the fluid nature of man and man’s emotions demand that we as a species recognize and understand morality as fluid also, because morality is partially influenced by our emotions, as individuals, as social groups, as societies. There is a line that can be crossed by people, which is worthy of punishment, but WE are the ones who determine where the most specific of those lines fall. We are the ones who must determine as individuals, as families, and as societies, if murder can be justifiable in any way (self-defense, war, capital punishment, abortion, etc.). It is up to us, and the sooner we recognize this, the sooner we can address it for what it is, and find the most acceptable balance for all people.
Don’t judge me for the lame-ass ‘fin’ ending. I didn’t know what else to close with. XD Please share your views below. Let me know what you think of my deductions here, especially about the moral facets and the fluidity of morality itself. Thanks for reading! Cheers!