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Morality — Biological or Philosophical?

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 7 years ago | from the monkey-see-monkey-do dept.

Science 550

loid_void writes to mention The New York Times is reporting that Biologists are making a bid on the subject of morality. "Last year Marc Hauser, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard, proposed in his book 'Moral Minds' that the brain has a genetically shaped mechanism for acquiring moral rules, a universal moral grammar similar to the neural machinery for learning language. In another recent book, 'Primates and Philosophers,' the primatologist Frans de Waal defends against philosopher critics his view that the roots of morality can be seen in the social behavior of monkeys and apes."

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I think its Genetical actually.. (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18433917)

they have done many studies recently that links anger to genetics among other human behaviors. So yes i think it would be biological. Look what the drug companies are doing with these depression fixing drugs. Is it not actually fixing your morality? Yes it is.

Re:I think its Genetical actually.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18434243)

I think its Genetical actually.

No. It's actually gravitivical.

Genetics (2, Funny)

Mark_MF-WN (678030) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434643)

Well, everything about the mind is inherently genetic. But depression drugs fixing your morality? I wasn't aware that chronic unhappiness was immoral. So the seriously depressed are evil, bad people? Thanks for that awesome insight!

Towards a Multi-Dimensional Morality (3, Interesting)

Alien54 (180860) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434787)

Look what the drug companies are doing with these depression fixing drugs. Is it not actually fixing your morality? Yes it is.

Doubtful, depending on your own definition of morality and ethics.

For example, it is possible to generate a coherent system of ethics and morality based on the axiom of "survival". However, to keep it from degenerating to the level of Daffy Duck (It's MINE I tell you! MINE! All Mine!!), you have to make it multidimensional, including such things as art, money, culture, sex, family, tribes, ecology, etc. as separate dimensions. Such sophistication is probably not hard wired into the biology.

Of course, you are free to delineate your own list of dimensions and definitions thereof. For example, I would definitely include Geek as a tribe, seen well in the rival clans of Torvalds vs Gates. Such an exercise is useful, and possibly educational.

Somebody think of the Gays! (0, Troll)

heauxmeaux (869966) | more than 7 years ago | (#18433921)

I don't feel immoral - therefore it's biological to be me - not philosophical.

All well and good (4, Insightful)

mymaxx (924704) | more than 7 years ago | (#18433929)

for explaining why the brain seeks out morality, but says nothing of why any given action is moral or not.

Re:All well and good (4, Insightful)

catbutt (469582) | more than 7 years ago | (#18433971)

Well the "why" tends to be pretty simple and straightforward, until you bring religion into it and then its generally pretty arbitrary.

Re:All well and good (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434063)

Even with religion brought into it, the why is usually a pretty straightforward "it protects the continuation and procreation of the culture". "Bad" moral decisions are simply anti-survival, and there's enough competition between religions and cultures for evolution to do the rest.

Re:All well and good (1)

catbutt (469582) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434205)

"Bad" moral decisions are simply anti-survival
Well, I'm not sure I agree that they are always anti-your-own-survival. Giving your life to save someone unrelated to you is generally bad in Darwinian terms, but "good" morally.

I think humans came up with words to describe the sort of person who would do such altruistic things, and gave them the word "good" or "moral".

I think it's clear that in some cases there are Darwinian benefits to be "moral", but in as many if not more cases, it does not benefit someone. If it benefitted us in all cases, we'd all be moral, and there wouldn't be much need to make up a word for it.

Re:All well and good (3, Insightful)

inviolet (797804) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434317)

Well, I'm not sure I agree that they are always anti-your-own-survival. Giving your life to save someone unrelated to you is generally bad in Darwinian terms, but "good" morally.

According to which moral code? Altruism?

Have you noticed that Altruism is the code that everyone wants everyone else to practice? And have you ever considered the final implications of a sacrifice-the-good-to-strangers principle?

Re:All well and good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18434415)

And have you ever considered the final implications of a sacrifice-the-good-to-strangers principle?

We don't have to consider them. Just look around you. Look at the German concentration camps, the Russian gulags, the Chinese reeducation centers, the Cambodian killing fields, and at Ground Zero in New York City.

Haha. My CAPTCHA was "deadly." How appropriate.

Re:All well and good (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434369)

Well, I'm not sure I agree that they are always anti-your-own-survival. Giving your life to save someone unrelated to you is generally bad in Darwinian terms, but "good" morally.

Thus my emphasis on the evolution of cultures and religions as opposed to individuals or families; "good" morally is about survival of the group, not survival of the individual.

I think humans came up with words to describe the sort of person who would do such altruistic things, and gave them the word "good" or "moral".

Well, to that end, everything we write about is just words that humans "came up with".

I think it's clear that in some cases there are Darwinian benefits to be "moral", but in as many if not more cases, it does not benefit someone. If it benefitted us in all cases, we'd all be moral, and there wouldn't be much need to make up a word for it.

In EVERY case moral behavior does benefit *somebody*. The somebody isn't always readily apparent, but always exists.

Re:All well and good (3, Insightful)

Fastolfe (1470) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434409)

Few people would outright give their lives to save another, but many would risk their lives to try and save another. Heck, even dogs risk their lives to save their friends/owners. This is a survival trait in socialized species.

Re:All well and good (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434545)

Is the dog making a moral decision or acting on instinctual loyalty(or something else...)?

Some one MOD this man up! (1)

Lord Lemur (993283) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434727)

Very important distintion about the GP post. Risk != Give. By and large when people risk their lives they don't actully lose them. As a whole that then increases the survivability of the social group. Thus Morality in that sense has a group evolutional advantage. The group with fire fighters will out produce the group without.

Re:Some one MOD this man up! (1)

Philosinfinity (726949) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434795)

Dawkins also explains this in his "Selfish Gene" theory, where genes (rather than organisms) are the active replicators. The theory is interesting and explains certain animal behaviors, like when certain squirrels let out an alarm to alert the rest of the group when danger is around, often sacrificing it's own life. Because the genes are the replicators, this trait ends up saving a large number of genes with each organism that gets out of harm's way.

Re:All well and good (1)

mahmud (254877) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434473)

I think it's clear that in some cases there are Darwinian benefits to be "moral", but in as many if not more cases, it does not benefit someone.

You should have been more careful when reading the post you replied to:

...the why is usually a pretty straightforward "it protects the continuation and procreation of the culture". "Bad" moral decisions are simply anti-survival, and there's enough competition between religions and cultures for evolution to do the rest.
(emphasis mine)

You have to understand that evolution does not only apply to individuals. It also applies to groups. Moral behavior benefits group's survival. If there is a gene in the group A which allows that group to have victory over group B lacking that gene, by having some members of group A sacrifice their own lives voluntarily (being heroes), then group A prospers, and the self-sacrifice gene lives on. Do you need any more examples?

The only way any morality could have arisen was either through biological natural selection or cultural selection, where moral standards acted as memes that granted their bearers competitive advantage.

Re:All well and good (1)

EsbenMoseHansen (731150) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434715)

I think I heard once from an evolutionary biologist that computer models shows that group selection is a very weak force compared to individual gene survival. If this is true, the group survival bonus is not an explanation.

Re:All well and good (1, Insightful)

Dachannien (617929) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434425)

In general, religion provides a reason why people should follow a moral code, but the moral code itself is generally based on eliminating threats to reproductive fitness of other members of society. In some cases, some parts of the moral code are separated by several degrees from those origins. For example, "don't steal food" is a fairly direct result of primitive morals - the punishment for stealing food among some social species is death at the claws/teeth of the packleader - but stealing has grown as a concept since then to include lots of things that arguably don't hinder anybody's ability to reproduce and care for their children.

Religion, on the other hand, has its roots in superstition - where things people are afraid of, like storms, the sun, floods, other natural features that can kill you, and non-deadly anomalies involving those features such as eclipses, become anthropomorphized. A connection between these fears and the pre-existing primitive moral code was inevitable once primate intelligence evolved to the point where such abstract connections as "he died in the flood because he stole food from Og's family" could be made.

Now, once religion became organized, things became different. Taking the Roman Catholic church in the Dark and Middle Ages, for example, the Pope and other church leadership were generally regarded as being even more powerful than various kings in Europe, because they wielded the power of judgment over the souls of those kings. There were many cases in those times - and many cases even today - where people take advantage of religion to convince people to do things differently than they otherwise would (blowing up children used as decoys in a car bomb, for instance), but the fundamental morality of religion is still based upon group-selective advantage from a time even before superstition.

Re:All well and good (1)

Philosinfinity (726949) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434525)

There was actually an article that stated that some evolutionary biologists believe that the initial religious beliefs were actually hard wired into the brain. If (and i do stress the if) both account are true, then it would make a sense to some degree. If I can find the article I will link it.

Re:All well and good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18434061)

You're thinking in the wrong terms. Morality isn't some kind of thing that's out there that you need to "seek out", it's an opinion that needs to be formed. As such, why makes no sense in general terms, only individuals can answer why about their particular opinions.

Re:All well and good (1)

beckerist (985855) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434479)

I have 2 lines of thought:
  1. Morality [reference.com] is defined as: conformity to the rules of right conduct; As it is generally POSITIVE, biologically, to sustain one's own species, I could assume that morals are biologically inherent to successful social creatures. If your species thrives merely by numbers (which is hard to argue against [xist.org] with us humans these days!), morals would help individuals in the group cope with "group rules," thereby advancing the group as a whole.
  2. Though, if one argues that "laws" (political, not biological...this could actually apply to both!) are merely a philosophical, intangible set of ideas applied to a large group to control said group, the idea of "morality" would merely be philosophical. Anything done instinctively is simply attributed to genetics, and the fact the bad "not beneficial" genes were weeded out during the evolutionary process. Morals are strictly a human creation, therefore implying a metaphysical, or philosophical angle.

Re:All well and good (4, Insightful)

Bonker (243350) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434095)

I've always considered that basic morality is always biological.

In otherwords, the sin itself is the punishment. Murder harms the species' ability to propogate. Theft harms the species' ability to care for its children. Incest harms the species' viability.

An aversion to 'basic' sins is evolutionarily advantageous.

All other morality is an offshoot of this behavior combined with humans' abilities to recognize (and sometimes fatally mis-recognize) patterns.

People who eat uncooked pork die horribly of trichnella (sp?) parasite infection. Ergo, certain meats are 'unclean' and therefore not kosher.

People who eat lots of meat and fats suffer more heart attacks and strokes. Ergo, you don't consume meat and dairy (the milk of its mother) at the same time.

This is all the room we require for 'onerous' morality to spawn given humans ability to harmful overcategorize.

When a population begins engaging in lots of promiscuous sex with another population, such as during a rapacious, pillaging invasion, it tends to spread diseases between the two. Everyone on both sides gets herpes strains they're not immune to.

Ergo, sexual conduct as a whole must be bad, right?

We know today that's silly and more harmful than helpful. However, semites still don't eat pork, even if it's been properly cooked.

Re:All well and good (2, Insightful)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434145)

The why of any moral code is ultimately that which any given society feels is a social rule that is important enough to be ingrained and enforced. Religion serves as a powerful tool to do this, by creating a sort of unseen power at the top of a dominance hieararchy. Ultimately, however, morality is the creation of the people that adhere to it, though there is obvious utility to embedding such precepts into the religious and mythical aspects of a society's makeup.

Re:All well and good (2, Insightful)

spikexyz (403776) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434211)

The why is survival of genes. The people are around you are more likely to share the same genes as you and if the biological goal is to allow your genes to surivive then helping those around you will help that goal. In todays world where we spend a lot more time with non-family people this is a little misguided from it's original intention but nonetheless explains the why.

Re:All well and good (1)

paeanblack (191171) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434367)

for explaining why the brain seeks out morality, but says nothing of why any given action is moral or not.

What is the difference between actions that are "morally good" and actions that are "useful for highly social animals to express in densely populated communities"?

Don't kill. Don't steal. Love thy neighbor. Suppress nonconformists. These are beneficial traits for social creatures.

Try this... (2, Interesting)

rmdyer (267137) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434373)

From physics: It is easier to destroy a thing than to create or maintain a thing (in the face of entropy, the one-way stream).

Therefore a moral would be that "constructive" ideas, thoughts, works are better than "destructive" ones. Work against the stream. Being lazy is the devils work. Etc, etc.

Constructive'ism:

      * To conserve what can be conserved.
      * To help those that need help.
      * To maintain, that which can or needs to be maintained.
      * To build, that which can be built.
      * To seek out, that which can be found, and to determine the limits of all knowledge.

All these are "good" in terms of a positive impact on society and individualism.

The flip side is being destructive, the lazy path. Consider all the amount of "positive" work lost when the planes stuck the twin towers on 9/11. Making a bomb is easy compared to the work to build that which a bomb can destroy.

This is one way to measure moral'ness.

Re:All well and good (1)

vertinox (846076) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434467)

for explaining why the brain seeks out morality, but says nothing of why any given action is moral or not.

Actually, I saw the same article in Digg and would like to point out the same thing that I saw there... What they describe as morality is actually altruism which is not the same thing.

Again...

Morality != Altruism

And what the article describes is altruism and not morality. In fact, morality is often at odds with altruism. Altruism is quite apparent as a biological feature of homo sapiens (and other primates) and in fact if you don't have it then you are basically a sociopath which is about 1 out of a 100 persons.

The text book definition of altruism is of course "Altruism is selfless concern for the welfare of others." which is basically by no means related to morality when it comes to rules for society.

The chimp sees another chimp drowning and jumps in to save it. The same thing happens to humans and is most likely an evolutionary trait that helped our species survive.

Morality is that god or law or society says you must jump in the water to save the other chimp or we'll punish you. (Which there are bystander laws these days from my understanding)

Secondly, morality often comes into conflict with altruism... Where say you see another chimp starving but in order to feed him you have to steal food from another more wealthy chimp.

It is immoral, but at its instinct level it would be altruistic to see a chimp too that (which is why many view the Robin Hood fantasy as a good thing), but the other chimp may disagree and fight back leading to violence which other chimps may step in and enforce the rule of law which is morality.

Necessary distinction (1)

JeanPaulBob (585149) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434519)

That gets at an important distinction we need to make when we're talking about this subject. There are the moral principles themselves, and there are the creatures who think about or attempt to live by those principles. So, the various questions to ask:

1.) Where do the moral principles themselves come from? What is their nature?
2.) Why do human beings care about morality?
3.) How do human being learn about moral principles? To what extent (if at all) is morality hardwired?

So, if you're going for an evolutionary explanation, you'll probably answer 2.) by saying that at least the desire to be moral comes from a biological mechanism. (You may say that the principles themselves are also hardwired.) And you'll probably answer 1.) by saying that the content of the moral principles simply reflects that which is evolutionary advantageous. Things that tend to damage the community "fitness" tend to be regarded as "immoral".

If we look at sociopaths, we would then say that they have a broken mechanism for 2.).

And if you're going to accept this explanation of morality, you have to give serious consideration to whether the phrase "That was wrong" really belongs in your vocabulary. In this view, it's hard to see how you can claim that "evil" actually exists. You can say that a murderer, a genocidal maniac, or a rapist harm the community's chances of survival, and that you don't like it, but that's really about it. Any feelings of moral repugnance you may have are of little significance. If you meet a sociopath who just doesn't care, then there's nothing you can appeal to that would let you condemn them--you can't justify why they should care about community survival.

I'm not saying this is a reason to reject the explanation. If that's the way it is, then that's the way it is. But we should think clearly about these implications.

Re:Necessary distinction (1)

Philosinfinity (726949) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434697)

So, if you're going for an evolutionary explanation, you'll probably answer 2.) by saying that at least the desire to be moral comes from a biological mechanism. (You may say that the principles themselves are also hardwired.) And you'll probably answer 1.) by saying that the content of the moral principles simply reflects that which is evolutionary advantageous. Things that tend to damage the community "fitness" tend to be regarded as "immoral".
Good call, except that there is a requirement that the community is necessary for survival. Currently, I believe we live in such a society. However, if it becomes necessary to harm the community to ensure the individual's survival, only those with a weaker moral phenotype will survive. Not that it refutes anything you said, but it is an interesting addition.

And if you're going to accept this explanation of morality, you have to give serious consideration to whether the phrase "That was wrong" really belongs in your vocabulary. In this view, it's hard to see how you can claim that "evil" actually exists.
This actually assist my world view, which is a nice change from most moral theory. Without proof of evolutionary morality, I would have to be in the nihilist camp, as I doubt any serious conversations can be had about good or evil actions.

Re:All well and good (3, Interesting)

kripkenstein (913150) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434551)

All well and good [...] for explaining why the brain seeks out morality, but says nothing of why any given action is moral or not.
As even the summary states, one suggestion is that the brain is wired for a 'moral grammar', that is, not for particular moral values, but for dealing with moral issues. In that case there is no attempt to say anything about why an action is moral or not.

Anyhow, there is an assumption in your question, that actions are, in fact, moral or not. This is debatable. Philosophers have argued both sides.

Minor aside about TFA: it says "There are clear precursors of morality in nonhuman primates, but no precursors of religion." Well, actually this is debatable. Researches have seen some monkey or ape - I can't remember which type, exactly (a variety of baboon, perhaps?) - displaying what *might* be interpreted as 'sun worship'. That is, when the sun came up, they 'greeted' it with a quite unique celebration (jumping around and making noise, mostly, but in a distinct manner). Obviously this is an interpretive leap, but to me at least it seems about as reasonable as saying there are precursors of morality in primates. That is, I think both are just fine, so long as we understand 'precursors' can be something quite different from the human version.

Morals (1)

Mark_MF-WN (678030) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434713)

It's just instincts. We instinctively consider violence against others to be wrong. We instinctively consider helping others to be good, especially family and those who resemble them. More specifically, we feel empathy when other people suffer, and that conditions us to avoid actions that might lead to that suffering, almost as surely as if that suffering had affected us. That's the purpose of the empathy response, it's what makes "do unto others ...." a basic biological imperative.

Another religious debate :-( (-1, Flamebait)

ranton (36917) | more than 7 years ago | (#18433951)

Queue the relgious arguments. Everyone knows that God tells us what morality is. Why does science keep working on the question of morality when we already have an answer? Not really a very good answer, but it was good enough for people 2000 years ago it should be good enough for me.

--

Re:Another religious debate :-( (1)

VirgilsEgo (1078553) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434099)

I can only guess that you are being sarcastic here? If you actually believe that morality based on religious laws from 2,000 years ago are good enough for you, then surely you must believe that slavery is all right, it's acceptable to stone non-believers to death and women are property. After all, it was good enough for people 2,000 years ago... Please tell your post was sarcastic.

Re:Another religious debate :-( (1)

jackv (1068006) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434349)

isn't the idea of morality different to what is considered to be good or bad at a given point?

Re:Another religious debate :-( (1)

Philosinfinity (726949) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434571)

Yes and no. From a purely philosophical view, morality (more accurately Morality) is a universal set of binding principles. Relativism and subjectivism both cannot be allowed because they can ultimately reduce to individual ethics and thus nihilism.

Re:Another religious debate :-( (1)

VirgilsEgo (1078553) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434637)

Not according to most definitions. I pulled this from Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] Morality refers to the concept of human ethics which pertains to matters of right and wrong -- also referred to as "good and evil" -- used within three contexts: individual conscience; systems of principles and judgments -- sometimes called moral values --shared within a cultural, religious, secular or philosophical community; and codes of behavior or conduct morality.

Personal morality defines and distinguishes among right and wrong intentions, motivations or actions, as these have been learned, engendered, or otherwise developed within each individual.

The Beginning of Morality. (5, Funny)

frogstar_robot (926792) | more than 7 years ago | (#18433993)

Morality got started when we finally figured out that it isn't nice to throw poop at one another.

Re:The Beginning of Morality. (3, Interesting)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434023)

They say that a defining characteristic of self awareness is being able to recognize that the figure in the mirror is you - it requires the concept of self. I wonder how much more awareness is required to recognize that doing things to other people that would make you feel bad is itself bad.

Re:The Beginning of Morality. (1)

catbutt (469582) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434115)

I think you refer to the concept of "empathy", and I'm not sure how being able to recognize yourself in the mirror plays into it.

But any animal that is able to care for its young is capable of some form of empathy.

Re:The Beginning of Morality. (1)

Captain Splendid (673276) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434255)

I'm not sure how being able to recognize yourself in the mirror plays into it.

But if we can't empathize with ourselves, how can empathize with others? Or, until you see yourself as a thinking, feeling human being (as opposed to some dumb animal that exists at the level of an auomaton), you'll never have the capacity to see others for what they are.

Re:The Beginning of Morality. (5, Interesting)

inviolet (797804) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434375)

I think you refer to the concept of "empathy", and I'm not sure how being able to recognize yourself in the mirror plays into it.

If you aren't aware of the self object, you can't project it into imagined future states. If you can't project the self into imagined future states, and choose among them, then you are not volitional (aka free-willed aka proactive). If you aren't volitional, then morality doesn't apply to you.

A deer, for example, does not contemplate her welfare in the coming winter, and make decisions about how to lay up food or migrate; she relies on hard-coding. So even if we could speak to her, she wouldn't understand the idea of right or wrong or choice.

Science (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18434201)

I wonder how much more awareness is required to recognize that doing things to other people that would make you feel bad is itself bad.
Cause and effect within a closed system?

Bad event -> Bad reaction -> Bad event... eventually it gets back to you.

Re:The Beginning of Morality. (2, Funny)

UbuntuDupe (970646) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434287)

They say that a defining characteristic of self awareness is being able to recognize that the figure in the mirror is you

bool figure_is_self()
{
  bool output=TRUE;
  for (int i =0;i<10;i++)
  {
  Action = random_action();
  perform(Action);
  if (foward_observe != mirror(Action) )
  output=FALSE;
  }
  return output;
}
Did I just program self-awareness?
 

Re:The Beginning of Morality. (1)

StewedSquirrel (574170) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434645)

Empathy is observed in most community-based species. I'm sure it evolved as a "glue" to hold communities together.

If a species was entirely lacking empathy (sociopathic) they would be totally unable to create cohesive social units. Males would mate and then move on. Females might have a different biological imperative to rear their young, but as you go to simpler species you notice that they don't even have this urge. They simply pop out some eggs and let them float down the river and go on eating (or die immediately).

The more advanced the species, the more developed the empathy... first to familial and child rearing and later to social community and mutual protection, and even later to an abstract sense of empathy for any individuals which appear to be in harm's way.

Stew

Re:The Beginning of Morality. (1)

Seumas (6865) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434079)

If you would believe religious nuts, morality comes from baby jesus and baby jesus alone. People who are agnostic or atheist can not, according to these religious nuts, possibly have any morals. This is illustrated by the question you always hear them ask: If you didn't believe in jesus, why wouldn't you just go out and start killing people?

Re:The Beginning of Morality. (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434141)

If you would believe religious nuts, morality comes from baby jesus and baby jesus alone.

1. Not all religious nuts are illeterate southern baptists.

2. Not all religious nuts are even Christian.

3. The grand plurality of Christians in this world (about 53% of them) would say that morality comes from the Magisterium, as revealed by Jesus Christ the King, to the Apostles, and today is voiced by the Pope in certain very rare circumstances.

Re:The Beginning of Morality. (1)

PachmanP (881352) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434463)

Religious nut or not, I'm still waiting for a good answer to this question.

Re:The Beginning of Morality. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18434203)

Morality got started when we finally figured out that it isn't nice to throw poop at one another

Wait...that's bad?!?!

Re:The Beginning of Morality. (4, Funny)

PitaBred (632671) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434225)

...it's not nice? Damnit, now how am I supposed to communicate on slashdot...

Both (1, Insightful)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434003)

Morality -- Biological or Philosophical?
Allow me to be the first to say that it's both biological and philosophical.

What remains to be seen is where the one starts and the other begins.

You might be able to prove to me that great apes & monkeys have this sense of "humanity" or--for lack of a better term--"monkey-anity." Like the basic tenants of it where you don't kill babies or you starve yourself if it saves someone like you.

But I'm going to find it hard to believe that monkeys have an advanced sense of specific morals like you should or shouldn't file share because it helps or hurts the artists.

I haven't read both these books and I've only briefly read the article but I would find it interesting to understand how our morality evolved or how localized concepts came about. I guess it also has implications connecting us to animals which I don't have a problem with because I don't eat or kill these animals. This news might anger some people but don't tell me that you've never seen a good dog adhere to morals that seemed to be ingrained in them.

I'd like to see this area explored but I think the biggest issue is that morals are often anecdotal or localized making them hard to quantify or generalize. It's the same way with the human race, so don't be so surprised. More power to these researchers even if all they are doing is documenting cases of basic morals in animals.

Re:Both (1)

Otter (3800) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434233)

But I'm going to find it hard to believe that monkeys have an advanced sense of specific morals like you should or shouldn't file share because it helps or hurts the artists.

Frankly, after all the "Music and movies suck so that's why it's so important that I steal them!" comments I've read here, I'm wondering when some of you idiots are going to catch up with the monkeys.

Incidentally, not to pick on the submitter but in general: when people throw capital letters at completely inappropriate words (like "Biologists", in this case), is there some logic to it that I'm missing or is it just random? It's not like they're German speakers, because they don't do it for every noun.

Robert Pirsig's "Lila" (1)

Alaren (682568) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434307)

Robert Pirsig (author of "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance") says quite a bit about morality in the sequel, "Lila."

He basically suggests that we underutilize the term "morality," applying it only to social patterns that dominate static patterns of biological quality. He suggests that biology does the exact same thing to static patterns of non-biological quality--and that intellectual patterns do the same thing to social patterns.

All of this occurs in a bid for increased freedom and versatility.

This is why high-quality intellectual patterns like democratic revolutions can be more moral than social patterns like an established government, while the government in turn is more moral than purely biological patterns of "survival of the fittest."

Wonder what these researchers would say to that...

Re:Both (1)

StewedSquirrel (574170) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434333)

The key word is empathy

That is what is engrained.

We imagine "what would I want done if that was me" and we act in that way.

There is NO hard-wired morals, simply a hard-wired sense of empathy. It varies in different individuals. Some people are cripplingly empathic so they won't even go outside for fear of stepping on a bug. Others are sociopathic, meaning they have zero empathy and will act with ultimate selfishness in every situation.

As for "morality", that is merely a construct created to appease our sense of empathy.

Stew

Re:Both (1)

suv4x4 (956391) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434581)

But I'm going to find it hard to believe that monkeys have an advanced sense of specific morals like you should or shouldn't file share because it helps or hurts the artists.

You.. you're pushing the lack of opinion on P2P sharing in monkeys as some sort of intelligence clue? You don't have to go far in history before massive online sharing existed to see your example is inappropriate.

As for "morality", in my opinion a "moral" is purely a cultural phenomenon built on top of our more basic behavior in emotions.

You can discover those behaviors in many of the "higher" animal species: compassion, pitty, shame, but equating this to moral is quite shallow.

Morals have differed widely throughout the human history, and they differ today between the different cultures as well. Moral systems aren't just about "being a great fella to everyone".

Very frequently your morals may require to hurt or limit the rights of someone. Many current religions dictate morals that directly conflict with the western culture.

In fact even within the western culture, certain environments (like the military) frequently dictate your morals.

Whether you'll feel remorse for killing/torturing someone you "ought" to, is usually a battle between multiple moral systems (ex. military and civil) which are in conflict with each other.

Furthermore, morals may built upon biological behavior, but can easily shape or override them. The worldview and moral understandings of a human may change severely multiple times during the span of his life.

For example going into a certain type or cults may lead to you believing the best you can do for yourself and your fellow cult buddies is commit a mass suicide, something which overrides the most basic instinct of all (survival).

Here it comes . . . (1)

scottennis (225462) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434041)

Your Honor, my client is not guilty by reason of a genetic deficiency that prohibited him from acquiring moral acuity.

Re:Here it comes . . . (1)

sconeu (64226) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434171)

Shamballa Greene, is that you?

[Law&Order reference for the rest of you]

Re:Here it comes . . . (1)

debrain (29228) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434297)

Ahh ... mens rea [wikipedia.org] , actualization of culpability that is imbued upon us by that good old presumption of non-determinism commonly referred to as free will [wikipedia.org] .

To wit, if all was predetermined, there could be no criminal responsibility at law, because there could be no choice from which we could recognize an individual's guilt. That person had no choice, it was predetermined, and so they never made a choice to do something wrong, rather they are a product of their environment (however complex that may be).

However, that wouldn't stop us from recognizing pleasure and harm, recognizing that certain individuals in society have caused harm and are likely to enter into a pattern of causing harm, and that removing them from general population is deemed to be to the benefit of society in general. This is an alternative justification for the prison system, devoid of the philosophical hurdles of presuming free will, culpability, and reform.

Make no mistake, I'm just describing the arguments here ... it makes for a great philosophical discussion over a pint or several of Wellingtons.

Re:Here it comes . . . (1)

ndogg (158021) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434433)

Which would give some sufficient reason to lock him up for the rest of his life. Psychwards ain't no picnic.

Re:Here it comes . . . (1)

suv4x4 (956391) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434631)

Your Honor, my client is not guilty by reason of a genetic deficiency that prohibited him from acquiring moral acuity.

The judge could reply he has the same deficiency and call him guilty anyway.

Morality? Meaningless. (-1, Troll)

stratjakt (596332) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434045)

We all decided that religion is all stupid, and with it concepts of good and evil. We, as a society, do what we want and can rationalize just about anything.

Re:Morality? Meaningless. (1)

FudRucker (866063) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434267)

i think people are smart enough to figure out what is right & what is wrong without the idea of god & religion, i think binding morality with god & religion created a weakness = when people know it is wrong to steal and rape & murder with out having to believe in a higher power...

Re:Morality? Meaningless. (5, Insightful)

misanthrope101 (253915) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434661)

Yeah, that must be why religious people are so much more moral. Oh, that's right--they aren't. Belief that there is a right and a wrong isn't linked to belief in a divine being, despite what people who believe in divine beings tell you. I'm an atheist, and I recognize right and wrong. There are many countries (most, in fact) with a relatively lower percentage of believers (than in the USA) but whose morality is not noticably worse.

It may sound persuasive to you to say that not believing in God means that there is suddenly no right or wrong and we can do anything, but real atheists, with very few exceptions, don't really believe that. And for every exception (Pol Pot and Stalin come to mind) I can give you more examples of people who thought God wanted them to commit atrocities. Hitler, Torquemada, Jim Jones, David Koresh, and so on. Yes, some power-mad wackos are atheists, but the fact that there are also plenty of power-mad wackos who believe in God should tell you that the atheism isn't the root of that particular problem. It happens that there are murderous psychos in the world, some who believe in God and a few who don't, and all of them bring their own beliefs, or lack thereof, to the table with them.

And we don't really think you're stupid, any more than you think people who believe in Shiva or Mithra are stupid. Yes, Dawkins is mouthy. He's one Oxford zoology professor who is rather vocal about his atheism. When the President of the USA says that religious people whouldn't even be considered citizens (like Bush Sr. said about atheists when he was President) then you may have a case. But even then, it falls a bit short of true intolerance or persecution. Dawkins is entitled to his beliefs. If Christians enjoy the right to think that Dawkins deserves to roast for all eternity in a lake of fire, I think he's entitled to think this is a crazy, illogical, and sadistic doctrine.

Morality != Religion (2, Informative)

FMota91 (1050752) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434701)

I am moral, but not religious.

If I do (or don't do) something for someone else, benefiting that other person, then I have done some good. I do not do good for love (or fear) of a god or any god-like entity, I do it because I am moral.

I'll agree that what certain religions consider good or bad is somewhat debatable, but at the very least, they give immoral people some sense of duty (towards their god/gods/goddesses).

But my point here is that morality and religion are disjoint concepts: even though religion may instill some morality, one can be completely moral and completely atheist.

Re:Morality? Meaningless. (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18434755)

No "we" didn't...and I would not want to live in your country. The United States was founded on laws that encourage and sometimes mandate morality. Those would be based on biblical principals. It is too bad this country is heading so far away from those that the founding fathers would have a hard time recognizing this country. Both sides of the isle suck at it. Both sides having serious moral problems. Yet neither side is looking at why that is, they are too busy pointing fingers.

The problem is that the word "morality" is loaded (4, Interesting)

catbutt (469582) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434053)

with all kinds of religious ideas and such.

If you just think of it as a cooperation strategy, with "moral" being defined as "behaving in a way that benefits others", it's all quite simple, and it should be obvious that animals have a form of morals too.

Re:The problem is that the word "morality" is load (1)

StewedSquirrel (574170) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434357)

The word used in the article is "emapthy".

They demonstrated a clearly ingrained sense of empathy.

Morality is simply a social construct we create in order to better frame a universal set of actions expected to appease the empathic response of most people.

morality is still entirely a social construct.

Stew

Re:The problem is that the word "morality" is load (1)

bug1 (96678) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434513)

Morality is doing what you think is right, ethics is doing what society thinks is right.

Morality is only loaded with religious ideas if you are a religious person, or believe in those religious ideas independently.

"moral" being defined as "behaving in a way that benefits others"

"behaving in ways that benefit others" is almost altruism (which is putting others needs before your own), its the opposite to egoism (putting your own needs before others).

Altruism can be moral and ethical, egoism can also be moral and ethical, it depends on the individual and the society.

No Kidding (3, Interesting)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434067)

Humans are social animals. All social animals, whether wolves, lions, chimps or humans have rules of conduct. Human codes of conduct tend to be much more complex, but that's because humans live in far more complex social structures than virtually any other social animals. What seems, in my view, to be ingrained into our neural wiring isn't a specific moral code, but the need to fit within a hieararchy, and this requires rules.

Re:No Kidding (2, Funny)

darth_MALL (657218) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434173)

I beg to differ.
I brought a lion to a party I went to once and that son of a bitch was anything but social.

Re:No Kidding (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18434329)

Humans are social animals.

Social? I'm a Slashdotter, you insensitive clod!

Re:No Kidding (2, Insightful)

oGMo (379) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434417)

All social animals, whether wolves, lions, chimps or humans have rules of conduct. [...] [O]ur neural wiring isn't a specific moral code, but the need to fit within a hieararchy, and this requires rules.

This is circular reasoning: you presuppose all social animals have "rules of conduct" to show that we have "rules of conduct". Plus, even if it were sound logic, it's more of a semantics game to avoid the word "morality" than anything else.

Re:No Kidding (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18434573)

Well, what requires humans to act sociably and be part of a society and hierarchy? Surely if every single human being was highly individualistic and anti-social, there would be fewer problems in the world, because there would be none of those little complexities of social life. And all our illusions of inexorable progress throughout history would be revealed to be just that: illusions.

An older idea... (1)

Dinosaur Neil (86204) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434157)

In his book, The Moral Animal, Robert Wright used evolutionary psychology to explain how morality developed and why, back in 1995. It's an excellent read up until the end when he tried to close on an optimistic note. Up to that point, he presented a pretty cynical view of human motivation...

Definitely a fascinating read and an interesting topic. Combined with Pascal Boyer's Religion Explained, one could end up feeling the urge to find a remote cabin in Idaho and stockpile it with food and guns, and withdraw from the world.

Re:An older idea... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18434257)

Or as a Slashdotter would do find a a parental basement stock it up with Caffeine and porn and withraw from the world.

Has to be partly biological (4, Insightful)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434161)

I don't see how you can argue there isn't a biological component to the sometimes vague concept that is morality. Extremes tend to highlight fundamental truths which are muddled in the averages.

1. There are obviously beings who are born sociopaths, which no amount of positive socialization or negative reinforcement can temper.

2. There are obviously beings who are born moral/ethical, which no amount of negative socialization can remove.

Re:Has to be partly biological (1)

linguizic (806996) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434401)

Everything humans do is "biological" as we are biological entities that have been shaped by a specific evolutionary history. The way this article is framed it reduces down to the stupid nature/nurture argument, which everyone should know by now is a false dichotomy. Like nearly every false dichotomy, this frame elicits an overly simplistic view of the debate. EVERYTHING in nature is the result the interactions between an organism's genes and it's environment (which includes other genes, specific cells/hormones within the organism and as well as the input from the senses). What Hauser argues is that there is a universal human morality encoded by our genes that allows us to parse out the specific morality or our society which is a subset of all possible moralities within universal morality.

Re:Has to be partly biological (1)

StewedSquirrel (574170) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434443)

I think there is a clear biological component to this.

Social animals MUST have a sense of empathy. Any social circle comprised exclusively of sociopaths would quickly degrade into... well something other than a social circle.

Social circles and cooperation are essential to the formation of intelligence and communication.

Therefore, any evolution of intelligence and communication inherently require animals that have an ingrained sense of empathy.

There is no implied moral code. There is no implied "absolute right and wrong", but simply a vague biological urge to "do unto others" that varies depending on individuals and age, just as the amount of hair on someone's head varies by the individual and his age.

Stew

Not so obvious (1)

BadMrMojo (767184) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434499)

1. There are obviously beings who are born sociopaths, which no amount of positive socialization or negative reinforcement can temper.
2. There are obviously beings who are born moral/ethical, which no amount of negative socialization can remove.

How are these two assertions obvious?

You can't prove something as fact ("He's bad and no amount of positive or negative reinforcement can temper that") with negative proof ("That's true because he's always been bad and always will be."). All it takes is one good choice by your 'bad' person and this is proven to be false. No matter how many bad choices he makes, it is still just a theory which hasn't been disproven yet.

Additionally, there is no way of observing whether a person is making immoral choices through their actions. There's always the matter of doubt as to whether the person was actively deciding to do what was bad or simply trying to do what was good and failing.

Saying that bad brain chemistry absolves someone from any responsibility for any particular action is a dangerous thing. Similarly, people who make good decisions deserve praise for their decision itself, rather than praise for being the puppet of 'good' brain chemistry.

Outcome != probability.
I, personally, prefer to think of biology as a factor in probability - with bad biology increasing the likelihood that a bad person will make bad choices, but each individual making their own decision whenever presented with a choice. Practically speaking, sometimes the odds are skewed to the point where they're insignificant enough to call it obvious in everyday conversation, but not for idealogical proofs.

Not only monkeys either (1)

Flying pig (925874) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434197)

Anybody with an interest in behavioral science who has spent time around dogs knows that, much as the religious Right likes to dismiss it (because they want humanity to have a unique place in the universe - Christian humility doesn't count here), dogs have behavioural patterns that it is easiest to interpret in human terms, still without excessive anthropomorphising. They may have them at the average human two year old level, but they have them. And is it surprising? Over the vast periods of time that cover the evolution of modern animals, there must have been a huge amount of opportunity for genetic makeup to develop which produced governing mechanisms of social behaviour. For dogs, the development of a pack-based society with strong internal rules seems to have worked out rather well, if only because it has fitted in in a kind of symbiotic way with human society. Currently we in the West seem to be in the middle of a vast experiment to create a society which rejects those mechanisms and regards only selfish individual behaviour as having merit. I wonder how it will all turn out? Tears before extinction time, I suspect.

Kirk vs. The Gorn (1)

Asshat Canada (804093) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434217)

Someone had to say it.

Interesting discussion, be careful (4, Insightful)

StewedSquirrel (574170) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434249)

This is an interesting discussion and I've heard this argued many times as theory, especially by those pushing a religious interpretation of "absolute morality".

On the other hand (and as TFA points out), the key word is empathy. Without empathy, social structures cannot exist. If everyone and everyone is solely self-interested, groups of cooperating individuals could never thrive as they would be destroyed internally by conflicting self-interest.

However, to claim that there are *specific* moral rules that are hard-wired is a bit silly, since it can be evidenced that there are a great many cultures in human history that use generalizations to appease the natural sense of empathy, while doing acts that would otherwise trigger an empathic reaction.

For example, cultures which practiced human sacrifice justified it by either portraying those sacrificed as "not quite human" or as "chosen by god" (being an honor, not a sacrifice). The Moors in Spain categorized Christians as "infidels" and were therefore justified in burning them by the thousands. The Nazis convinced their people that Jews were "subhuman" and people therefore often felt vindicated at sending them to their death. Blacks in pre-civil war America (and some time afterwards) were also seen as "subhuman" (legally, actually 1/3 of a person) and therefore slave owners were justified in treating them as domesticated animals.

Even today, we see the phrase "not quite human" bandied about to refer to criminals, especially murderers and sex offenders, to appease people's sense of empathy when calling for them to be "skinned alive" or "sliced into little pieces" as two well known political bloggers recently and eloquently demanded of pedophiles caught in the act.

However, our sense of morality is not so solid as one might think. Using the same example, for almost a thousand years, pederasty was not only a tolerated condition, but actually an expected behavior amongst social elite. Not only was it accepted by it was celebrated. Death has been similarly consecrated into social norms in past societies with warrior cultures killing merely for the sake of killing and maintaining their warrior culture.

Our sense of empathy may be ingrained. In fact, it may be essential to our humanity, but empathy is not so firmly defined as a set of "thou shalt not" rules and can't be assumed to imply those either.

I still contend that the (often religious) argument "all humans have some hard-wired moral rules" is a sham, created to perpetrate the spread of ignorance on controversial topics. We should always question our judgments using our intellect... because that is really what separates us from other mammals.

Stew

Unsure of the "why" but pretty sure of why (1)

Rylfaeth (138910) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434259)

Completely side-stepping the science vs religion argument that is waiting to erupt, I feel like the most base morality does have a place in society and is probably biological in origin. For instance, one moral tenet might be "don't be an asshole to other people". The biological programming behind this may simply be that humans have instincts similar to animals that recognize (after millennia of trial and error) that if you intentionally prey upon someone else, you will eventually run into another creature that will fight back (and potentially win). As human beings, since we don't have to naturally prey on each other in terms of eating each others' carcasses for nourishment, other sorts of (morally unnecessary) preying upon humans often will do nothing but cause unneeded conflict in both people's lives.

It seems like a philosophical moral concept (i.e. "the golden rule"), but the reality is that if you're an asshole, you may well get stomped to the curb (or worse). Same goes for other extremely base moral concepts... in fact, trying to vocalize other examples of what is considered moral behavior, I realize that the majority of it boils down to the aforementioned tenet. When not taken to dogmatic extremes, it appears that almost all basic morality illustrates circumstances where if you commit a certain act, you may face uncomfortable repercussions; if you simply treat some situations with restraint and / or respect, you will easily avoid said uncomfortable repercussions.

-Rylfaeth

Re:Unsure of the "why" but pretty sure of why (2, Insightful)

StewedSquirrel (574170) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434397)

This is expressed in the article with the phrase "empathy".

I think it is reasonable to assume that social animals have a sense of empathy. After all, a social structure without emapthy would quickly decay into chaos. It's an evolutionary trait to cause cohesion in communities.

Beyond that sense of empathy, it is hard to see any "hard wired" set of morality. That sense of empathy gives us a vague "do unto others" urge, but it can obviously be overridden by conditioning, etc.

Stew

Nature Vs. Nurture? (1)

rbf2000 (862211) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434275)

Isn't this just another case of Nature Vs. Nature? That is a huge discussion in terms of child rearing, with no side being the clear winner because there are aspects of both that effect how people act.

I don't see any difference here. There are some things that are most likely inherent biologically, such as the fear of being chastised for doing something against the societal norm. Of course, that norm has to be put in place by society, but the fear is a function of biology.

There are some criminals with seemingly no morals that lack something in the brain that would cause them to have this valid fear.

two different meanings for "morality" (1)

mrpeebles (853978) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434277)

If I kill someone, we can discuss it in the context of morality in the sense that society places a moral judgement on my action, whether it was murder, self-defense, execution, warfare, etc, and we can ask about the details of that judgement. It seems like biology is beginning to have a heck of a lot of interesting things to say in this discussion.

We can also discuss it in the context of morality in the sense that we can argue over whether I should have killed that person. This question seems to be inherently unscientific. Biology can certainly motivate this sort of discussion- for example, if killing is a behavior that natural selection has placed in our genes, this might be intensely interesting to discussing whether I should have killed a particular person. But ultimately, whether I should have killed that person is a scientifically boring question (unlike whether I will kill another person, which could be very interesting.)

It seems like this article doesn't make this distinction, but talks almost exclusively about the former type of discussion.

Quotes (1)

Himring (646324) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434279)

These from memory:

"The two things that amaze me are the starry hosts above and the moral law within...." -Kant

"The great paradox is humanity's deep desire to do right, and their total failure to do so...." -Lewis

Self Interest (2, Insightful)

Grashnak (1003791) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434305)

Its my belief that morality evolved out of the painful realization that if we could do something to someone else, then it stood to reason that other people could do it to us. When early man came to this realization, he also discovered to his surprise that it wasn't quite so funny when it was his house being burned down, his wife screwing the neighbour, his guts in a pile on the ground, or his loot disappearing over the hill on some other guy's horse. Most moral codes boil down to some version of the Golden Rule (treat others like you would want to be treated). This leaves aside wacky religious rules that really have nothing to do with morality and everything to do with imposing a social structure on people (ie - pray on Sundays).

eh... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18434311)

the roots of morality can be seen in the social behavior of monkeys and apes
!!

It's a good thing we're not descended from monkeys and apes then, isn't it?

Doesn't stop at morality... (1)

Bamafan77 (565893) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434339)

Free Will, addiction, sexuality, etc. Increasingly all these "soft" subject areas have been found to have at least some biological basis. Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) somewhat humorously refers to people as "moist robots" [typepad.com] .

I find this to be another offshoot of the whole "nature vs nurture" thing. All of these things are partially biological (and thus uncontrollable) and partially learned. I think the problems come when people insist it's either one OR the other.

Determining "Rules" (1)

OddThinking (1078509) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434379)

From the article:

[Biologists] believe that if morality grew out of behavioral rules shaped by evolution, it is for biologists, not philosophers or theologians, to say what these rules are.

It may be true that the biologists should be the ones to "say" (i.e. determine) what the rules for acquiring a moral is, but I would think philosophy would have a little more to say about what should be a moral (beyond, say survival of one's genetic line).

Neither. (1)

Trespass (225077) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434411)

It's aesthetic. Some patterns just please us better than others.

Universal morals (4, Interesting)

Stalyn (662) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434427)

This is basically Chomsky (Universal Grammar) but applied to morality. So human morality has some universal set of rules which are isomorphic to some biological mechanism/structure in the brain. The reason that there is a common "universal morality" is not because these moral statements are True but rather we all share a common mechanism for creating these statements. A mechanism that was shaped by evolution.

moral judgement != behaviour (1)

wikinerd (809585) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434439)

I have had the opportunity to meet Dr Hauser via a direct transatlantic videoconference link with Harvard, while he was presenting his newest research conclusions to our private university here in EU. He explained to us the Web questionaire he used, his methodology, and various moral dilemmas he devised to find patterns in moral judgement, and how brain damage to specific areas of the brain altered this judgement. I think that from his findings it is obvious that there is physiological basis of morality, but I am afraid that many people may confuse judgement with behaviour. Hauser's research (at least the part he presented to us) focuses on moral judgement, which may not predict moral behaviour in all cases, so have this in mind when you delve into his research, that judgement and behaviour are two different things. Hauser demonstrated that all humans share common moral judgement, but the actual behaviour exhibited may not correspond to it due to various situational factors.

Re:moral judgement != behaviour (2, Insightful)

StewedSquirrel (574170) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434709)

I believe, having read a little of this research, the term "moral judgment" is disingenuous.

The absolute construct that he has demonstrated is empathy. In other words, feeling for other people as you might feel yourself in the same situation. This is a biological imperative for animals to be able to live in a close-knit social group, as sociopathic selfishness would quickly cause the social groups to decay into anarchy and ultimately separate.

The "moral judgment" seems to me to be just a consistency of reasoning that ultimately stems from this biological imperative toward empathy.

The concept that there are hard-wired moral "conclusions" is silly.

The concept that there is a hard-wired root to our desire to FIND conclusions is very salient.

Stew

Old news! (1)

OriginalArlen (726444) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434493)

The single most life-changing book I ever read was Beyond Freedom and Dignity [amazon.com] " by the psychologist B.F. Skinner [wikipedia.org] . His earlier work on Behaviourism (in a nutshell - science can only speak of observable phenomena. Internal mental states are not, in general, accessible. Humans are composed of atoms and molecules that are subject to the same physical laws as the rest of the world) was criticised by some as suggesting that human behaviour is deterministic, in the sense that it's determined entirely by (a) genetic make-up and (b) learned responses to environmental stimuli. Various religious nutters said this left no room for freedom (of will), dignity - the sense that we are some transcendent sense "Good" because we obey the morals of the society we happen to have been born into. He simply pointed out that "morality" ultimately means "that which enables genes to propogate is good. That which prevents or harms it is bad."

That really seemed like the end of the argument to me back in 1990, so much so that I jacked in my psychology degree, dropped out of university & left rural Ireland for London and a job scouting for rock bands.

Neither (1, Insightful)

sking08 (1078569) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434559)

Morality is neither a product of biology or philosophy. It is a product of culture and society. What may be "moral" by one person's or culture's standards may not be by others. Ex: The eating of cattle/red meat in Hindu culture versus the American, or even to say one society's soldier is another's terrorist. Morality and ethics beyond that point do not exist. They, like time and space are perceptions/concepts of consciousness.

A single process? (1)

mothlos (832302) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434561)

To say that our brains evolved 'morality' is looking at a complex object and assigning it a single value. Morality can be explained as a combination of individual preferences combined with group association.

We have preferences and so do other people. Also, in order to work as a group we have to care about the preferences of others. It should come as no surprise whatsoever that we have parts of our brain which respond well when we fulfill the preferences of others. If we didn't we would be anti-social and it is much more likely that even if we aren't directly targeted by other humans, we wouldn't get their help and thus these traits are reinforced in the population.

The big questions about morality are how plastic our preference creation process is and how our empathy develops. I would venture to say that even though our brain is wired for the processes needed for morality that the connections with other thoughts and behavior can vary greatly even with identical genetic predispositions. Once again, we find that the nature/nurture debates of last century are largely meaningless and that the reality is that nature+nurture, indivisible, is the correct path.

Books on morality (1)

darjen (879890) | more than 7 years ago | (#18434743)

Not that I have read that many of them yet, but here is one of my favorite books on ethics and morality, free online version: http://www.mises.org/rothbard/ethics/ethics.asp [mises.org]

as if i knew (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18434761)

These arguments are interesting,... if one is interested in them.

My suspicions are that they can all be "diagonalized," i.e., shown to be infinitely foolish by a deeper, more infinitely foolish reasoning.

If I had a real job (and weren't such a coward), I might be more respectful of those that don't hold their chains so tightly.

-- but wadda i know??? .....
I wasn't there, but according to historical legend....

"Late in 1977, Adele [Godel's wife] became incapacitated due to illness and so could no longer cook for Gödel. Due to his paranoia, he refused to eat any food at all and thus died of "malnutrition and inanition caused by personality disturbance" in Princeton Hospital on January 14, 1978. He weighed 65 pounds."

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurt_G [wikipedia.org] ödel#Death [nasty umlauted url] .....
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