Where does the sense of morality come from?

Anonymous wrote:

On the askanatheist website, the article on morality says, “atheists have no motivation to be moral other than their own innate sense of morality.” My question is, where dooes this sense of morality come from? You’re claiming you have it, but how is it that you have it?

14 Responses to Where does the sense of morality come from?

  1. The Atheist says:

    > where dooes this sense of morality come from? You’re claiming you
    > have it, but how is it that you have it?

    I think that our sense of morality comes from a couple of places. One is our ability to empathize; to “sense” the feelings (pain, joy, etc.) of others. It “hurts” us when others hurt, and so we don’t want to hurt others. The second origin of morality is reasoning (the same reasoning that applies to game theory): we agree not to hurt others if they agree not to hurt us.

    Where do you think it comes from?

  2. Bobby says:

    Morality is relative to consciousness, we do not have an innate sense of morality, we don’t.
    Some ideas may be moral to a group of people and completely immoral to another; certain tribes in Africa, married men in this tribe offer their wives to their guest. Now the point of coexisting is innate within our specie, such as other animals: group of elephants, wolves, etc. But if any from the same specie or different shows threat of any kind gets eliminated or scared off, this is the same with us. These things are programmed within our evolved nature. Now the discussion is that where does this programming come from?!! Hmmmm, I think we should refer to the “mental research” discussion :).

  3. The Atheist says:

    Welcome back, Bobby!

    > Morality is relative to consciousness, we do not have an innate sense of morality,
    > we don’t.

    Interesting position – but can you offer anything to justify it? Can you refute my claim: that morality originates from our ability to empathize combined with our ability to reason?

    > Now the discussion is that where does this programming come from?

    I’m not sure, but are you agreeing here that morality is indeed the result of “programming”? If so, then we can discuss the origins of the “programming” and I’ll present evidence that it is the result of evolution and that it has nothing to do with sentience.

  4. Bobby says:

    Hey man! No I’m not at all disagreeing with you, it is absolutley evolution. But again evolution is as a ripple in a lake that is still going. That ripple had to be initiated, it is no way self initiated, that is not the nature of this universe. I agree with you totally here, because even though I belive in divine presence I also beleive in evolution, the divine is NOT a magician; convetional religion.
    Add yoursefl to my site so you can post comments there also.

  5. The Atheist says:

    > Hey man! No I’m not at all disagreeing with you, it is absolutley evolution.

    Gotcha. Then we’re in agreement on evolution (and probably scientific knowledge in general – judging from our past discussions.

    > But again evolution is as a ripple in a lake that is still going. That ripple had
    > to be initiated, it is no way self initiated, that is not the nature of this universe.

    But if the ripple was caused by God, then who caused God?

    > Add yoursefl to my site so you can post comments there also.

    Will do! Thanks for the invitation :)

  6. Bobby says:

    We haven’t yet understood or recognized the mystery of this realm our realm the universe, we don’t need to yet understand what’s beyond if anything. Let’s say the “ripple” was triggered by divine power, why is it necessary for us to know where that power came from? Or who created it? Or what is it exactly? The ego of the mind astonishes me daily with new angles to present it self. This entity, the divine (if exists) is running and sutaining this universe and what’s beyond 24/7! We truly feel that we have enough understanding to grasp the mind of the divine, its crazy. I here it all the time “you know God (thank you for capitalizing the “G”) must feel this was about this circumsatnce, etc.” You know what I mean, we compare our brain power to its. And the divine doesn’t need us as much as we need it, this planet can explode tommorow and that wouldn’t cause a blemish on the universe; it the divine has the power to create one, he can create many more, and how do we know that this is the only time a planet like earth has been created? Or how do we know that there isn’t another planet similar to earth in every respect , in a solar system just like ours in every respect that exists. But our ego, man.

    This post I guess is irrelevant to morality, you wanna continue this under “mental research”?

  7. The Atheist says:

    Sounds good, let’s move it. Go ahead and repost it in Mental Research and we’ll pick it up there.

  8. Interesting question.

    Take ‘killing is wrong’ as an example of morality.

    If there was an evolutionary reason for us to develop ‘compassion’ in the form of a desire not to kill, then it’s clear it will be part of the human psyche (and it’s easy to argue that there was a reason – don’t kill as it hurts the tribe, if the tribe suffers, you suffer).

    But ah, we’re caught up in ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ again. Shall we define them? Tricky isn’t it (for we freethinkers). In actual fact, once our star is gone, and we’re all dead, it won’t matter one little bit who went on a killing spree and who fed the poor.

    ‘Morality’ is relative. Killing is ‘wrong’ because we’ve evolved to do what’s best for the individual – ourselves – our genes, which often involves doing what’s best for the group. And that means no killing, stealing, etc. (Then again, some of us do steal/ kill etc. so perhaps we have the ability to gauge the harm an action will have to some extent, and perform ‘immorally’ if we feel we will cause little damage.

    There is no inherent ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ – just what serves our interests, or the interests of the group.

    Think about that for a second. If there’s no god, there IS no right and wrong.

  9. The Atheist says:

    Well said! I would only offer a few clarifications:

    It is evolution, rather than our personal decisions, that gauges how much we (collectively on average, not individually) tend to act for the benefit of our group and how much we tend to act in our own individual interest. Human morality has evolved in such a way that the balance of self vs group was optimal… over evolutionary time (100,000’s of years).

    Human society has changed immensely over the past 10 thousand years or so. We now live in large cities and have more complex lives. Is the mix of self vs. group actions still optimal? Maybe not. Our solution? Development of complex social norms, religions, etc, to re-align our actions to be more optimal.

    I think there is indeed right and wrong – just not in the cosmic sense as you correctly pointed out. When we’re gone we’re gone, and nothing we did will have mattered. But while we’re still here, it matters right now at present. We care that we don’t hurt others. It is our nature to care – our nature which has evolved.

    I find it curious that some Christians argue that the only thing that stops them from killing and stealing is their belief that it would be a violation of divine law and God would punish them. Funny, atheists don’t kill and steal (there is a disproportionately small percentage of atheists in prison) even though they don’t believe that a cosmic right or wrong exists. Isn’t it a higher morality, to act in a moral way without the threat of punishment, than it is to act in a moral way simply to avoid punishment? I think it is.

  10. I’ve always thought so too. Yet another example of the childishness of their faith.

    When it comes to right and wrong, ‘morality’ only exists as far as our psychology has evolved to protect our personal interests. Thus killing is ONLY wrong because it impacts us negatively (whether as an individual or a society).

    There’s more on top of that – a socially based right and wrong. Jewish people don’t eat shellfish. Simply because they were a desert people with no knowledge of how to select and prepare shellfish. Their society’s customs ‘evolved’ (you know ‘meme’ theory?) to protect them.

    And more again on top of that – personal morality. A good friend of mine, a biologist, will say wiping out an entire population of animals to make a home for humans is ‘wrong’, whereas I say it doesn’t really matter either way.

    The common factor is that morality is subjective – what if we evolved with the need to kill our parents when they reach the age of 45? To do otherwise would no doubt be considered ‘immoral’. My point is simply that there are real reasons for all of our morals. Some of them are no longer necessary, but there’s a basis for all of them, and it generally comes down to conscious or subconscious personal interest.

  11. The Atheist says:

    > When it comes to right and wrong, ‘morality’ only exists as far as our psychology
    > has evolved to protect our personal interests. Thus killing is ONLY wrong because
    > it impacts us negatively (whether as an individual or a society).

    Agreed.

    > There’s more on top of that – a socially based right and wrong. Jewish people don’t
    > eat shellfish. Simply because they were a desert people with no knowledge of how
    > to select and prepare shellfish. Their society’s customs ‘evolved’ (you know ‘meme’
    > theory?) to protect them.

    Not everything we do is beneficial. In his book, “Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon,” Daniel Dennett draws a comparison between a lancet fluke which infects an ant’s brain and causes it to behave in a way that will maximize its chances of being eaten by a sheep, and a meme which invades the human psyche and causes us to do things that are not beneficial (example: suicide bombers blow themselves up). Some of the Jewish dietary laws might not be particularly beneficial.

    I think the prohibition of shellfish shows that Jews were indeed familiar seafood, or else they would have no knowledge of shellfish and would not have prohibited it! Besides, the land of Canaan was pretty close to the coast. But you might be right: spoiled seafood can be dangerous and the prohibition might have arisen as a protection against it.

    > And more again on top of that – personal morality. A good friend of mine, a biologist,
    > will say wiping out an entire population of animals to make a home for humans is
    > ‘wrong’, whereas I say it doesn’t really matter either way.

    Right and wrong have different meanings when talking about them from different perspective. To avoid equivocation, let’s use a capital Right and Wrong when talking about it from a cosmic perspective, the perspective of what it will mean after the sun becomes a red giant. Similarly, let’s use a minuscule right and wrong when talking about human judgment.

    I think we humans do have a since of right and wrong (for reasons we discussed). Right here, right now, things do matter to us, even if they don’t mater in any cosmic sense. Wiping out a population of animals might be wrong, even if it’s not Wrong.

    > The common factor is that morality is subjective – what if we evolved with the need
    > to kill our parents when they reach the age of 45? To do otherwise would no doubt be
    > considered ‘immoral’.

    That’s disgusting!
    Just kidding – I totally agree :))

    Morality is even relative from society to society and from person to person. Janes find it repulsive to kill any animal for any reason while others think killing for food is fine. The fact that morality is relative is evidence that it is not divinely inspired. I would expect divine morality to be universal, not relative.

    > My point is simply that there are real reasons for all of our morals. Some of them
    > are no longer necessary, but there’s a basis for all of them, and it generally comes
    > down to conscious or subconscious personal interest.

    I agree, allowing for the exceptions that Dennett points out (see above).

    Another consideration: traits that we have evolved over evolutionary time (hundreds of thousands of years) can become quickly obsolete in historical time (a few thousand years). For example, we have evolved a tendency to gorge ourselves when food is plentiful to prepare us for times when food is scarce. But for wealthy societies, food is never scarce for most people. The result is that these people become overweight and suffer the associated health problems. That doesn’t mean that gorging is not a useful trait, it only means that we haven’t had time to adapt to nearly instant (instant from an evolutionary perspective) environmental changes.

  12. theist says:

    reply to: “I think that our sense of morality comes from a couple of places. One is our ability to empathize; to “sense” the feelings (pain, joy, etc.) of others. It “hurts” us when others hurt, and so we don’t want to hurt others. The second origin of morality is reasoning (the same reasoning that applies to game theory): we agree not to hurt others if they agree not to hurt us.”

    You say that atheists have a more noble morality, so then how can you argue that this “more noble” sense comes from what amounts to being punished (it “hurts” us…) or being rewarded (“agree not to hurt…if they agree not to hurt us”). This does not sound any more noble than even your most simplistic view of theists ONLY being moral to avoid eternal punishment and gain eternal rewards.

  13. The Atheist says:

    theist,

    Would it be OK to move this discussion to the new thread I started for you? If “yes”, please repost there. If you prefer not, then I’ll respond here. Let me know your preference. Thanks for the thoughtful comments!

    — AskAnAtheist.org (was TheAtheist)

  14. Leonito says:

    Talking about morality doesn’t imply that it exists. There is not such thing like morality.

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