Tuesday, 24 August 2010

The Absence of Morality

This was supposed to be a comment adding to a discussion on morality being had over here but I think technology is rebelling against me forcing me to reword it slightly and post it here instead. Forgive anything I missed, like I said, it was supposed to be a comment:

Each generation’s attempt to convince itself that it has distanced itself from the previous is ultimately proven to be nothing more than self delusion. Sure some things are done differently and some attitudes change, but ultimately people remain the same. But the nature vs nurture argument goes far more deeply than the individual and his parent/guardian/custodian/mentor. We’re talking about learned behaviours on macroscopic scale where an entire society has grown up thinking that x is bad and y is good. This is reinforced with each generation. Irrespective of the tool with which this is enforced, these laws begin, over time and in cultural memory to gain some manner of ‘higher authority’. That authority, however, is perceived.

In utilising the term 'ethereal morality', while probably not the best choice of words, I was merely pointing towards this perceived ‘higher authority’. As an atheist myself, I see any kind of ‘morality’, when couched in such terms, to be counter-intuitive. More than that, I see them as a dangerous beginning towards a path to theism. Once x has been generally been admitted to be morally unsound then there’s nothing to keep y and z from quickly drifting into that same category as well. Just add a bit of religious dogma to grease the wheels . . .

I terms of evolution as well – it’s no surprise that we are actually less likely to rush headlong into all-out war than ‘societies of old’, this actually supports the idea that anything that could be referred to as ‘morality’ has evolved through a need for continued survival. While human culture has changed drastically over thousands of years, human beings have not evolved. We are still homo sapiens. We are still the same species.

Societies developed from the need for continued existence – chances of which were far greater when individuals dwelt together in packs. Like any pack with any species, ‘laws’ have to be followed in order for the pack’s survival. It will soon become apparent in any primitive pack anywhere in the world that arbitrary killing is going to be detrimental to the pack’s survival. That, I believe is why we have what could possibly be interpreted as a ‘shared moral outlook’, at least on certain issues in many parts of the world.

There have been many explanations as to the benefits of altruism in an evolutionary erspective. I don’t profess to be particularly knowledgeable on this and I don’t really have the time to brush up right now, but a quick glance here will give an overview of some of the main arguments.

Ultimately, I see nothing special or superior in altruism to signify a greater morality. If ‘morality’ is something more than an aide to living in an aggrandised pack, then where does it come from? In my opinion you’d have to either concede to some kind of higher power – not something that I’m willing to do and I’m sure that you’re not either – or to concede that it is a fallacy to attribute certain types of behaviour or lack there of, to something other than an evolved common sense.

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