T Nation

Is Morality Natural?

Comments? Thoughts?

Is Morality Natural?
Science is tracing the biological roots of our intuitive sense of what is right and what is wrong.

On Jan. 2, 2007, a large woman entered the Cango caves of South Africa and wedged herself into the only exit, trapping 22 tourists behind her. Digging her out appeared not to be an option, which left a terrible moral dilemma: take the woman’s life to free the 22, or leave her to die along with her fellow tourists? It is a dilemma because it pushes us to decide between saving many and using someone else’s life as a means to this end.

A new science of morality is beginning to uncover how people in different cultures judge such dilemmas, identifying the factors that influence judgment and the actions that follow. These studies suggest that nature provides a universal moral grammar, designed to generate fast, intuitive and universally held judgments of right and wrong.

Consider yourself a subject in an experiment on the Moral Sense Test (moral .wjh.harvard.edu), a site presenting dilemmas such as these: Would you drive your boat faster to save the lives of five drowning people knowing that a person in your boat will fall off and drown? Would you fail to give a drug to a terminally ill patient knowing that he will die without it but his organs could be used to save three other patients? Would you suffocate your screaming baby if it would prevent enemy soldiers from finding and killing you both, along with the eight others hiding out with you?

These are moral dilemmas because there are no clear-cut answers that obligate duty to one party over the other. What is remarkable is that people with different backgrounds, including atheists and those of faith, respond in the same way. Moreover, when asked why they make their decisions, most people are clueless, but confident in their choices. In these cases, most people say that it is acceptable to speed up the boat, but iffy to omit care to the patient. Although many people initially respond that it is unthinkable to suffocate the baby, they later often say that it is permissible in that situation.

Why these patterns? Cases 1 and 3 require actions, case 2 the omission of an action. All three cases result in a clear win in terms of lives saved: five, three and nine over one death. In cases 1 and 2, one person is made worse off, whereas in case 3, the baby dies no matter what choice is made. In case 1, the harm to the one arises as a side effect. The goal is to save five, not drop off and drown the one. In case 2, the goal is to end the life of the patient, as he is the means to saving three others.

Surprisingly, our emotions do not appear to have much effect on our judgments about right and wrong in these moral dilemmas. A study of individuals with damage to an area of the brain that links decision-making and emotion found that when faced with a series of moral dilemmas, these patients generally made the same moral judgments as most people. This suggests that emotions are not necessary for such judgments.

Our emotions do, however, have a great impact on our actions. How we judge what is right or wrong may well be different from what we chose to do in a situation. For example, we may all agree that it is morally permissible to kill one person in order to save the lives of many. When it comes to actually taking someone’s life, however, most of us would turn limp.

Another example of the role that emotions have on our actions comes from recent studies of psychopaths. Take the villains portrayed by Heath Ledger and Javier Bardem, respectively, in “The Dark Knight” and “No Country for Old Men.” Do such psychopathic killers know right from wrong? New, preliminary studies suggest that clinically diagnosed psychopaths do recognize right from wrong, as evidenced by their responses to moral dilemmas. What is different is their behavior. While all of us can become angry and have violent thoughts, our emotions typically restrain our violent tendencies. In contrast, psychopaths are free of such emotional restraints. They act violently even though they know it is wrong because they are without remorse, guilt or shame.

These studies suggest that nature handed us a moral grammar that fuels our intuitive judgments of right and wrong. Emotions play their strongest role in influencing our actions�??reinforcing acts of virtue and punishing acts of vice. We generally do not commit wrong acts because we recognize that they are wrong and because we do not want to pay the emotional price of doing something we perceive as wrong.

would you have killed the large woman stuck in the cave or allowed her to die with the others? If you are like other subjects taking the moral sense test, you would say that it is permissible to take her life because you don’t make her worse off. But could you really do it? Fortunately, there was a simpler solution: she was popped out with paraffin after 10 hours.

Hauser is a professor of psychology and human evolutionary biology at Harvard, and author of �??Moral Minds�?? (Ecco/HarperPerennial).

© 2008

[quote]FightinIrish26 wrote:
Comments? Thoughts?

[/quote]
It is as natural as anything that can or does happen in nature.

As soon as we became self-conscious beings we became aware of our actions on the world around us. Our innate sense of cause and effect lead us to the idea of “good” or “right” action.

I do not need science to tell me this fact. My ability to reason does this for me. Also it is extremely difficult to do “social science” experiments because humans change their behavior when they know they are being watched.

If some fat ass trapped me in a cave I’m strapping on my shoulder pads and getting into a 3 point stance.

There is no objective right or wrong.

[quote]Spry wrote:
There is no objective right or wrong.[/quote]

…unless it is done to me.

[quote]LIFTICVSMAXIMVS wrote:
Spry wrote:
There is no objective right or wrong.

…unless it is done to me.[/quote]

If I do ‘something’ to you you might think it is wrong.

I might think it were right.

We would both be holding SUBJECTIVE views.

While the question concerning the fatass is more rethorical here on T-Nation, the article is interesting in pointing out the readyness to kill passively, if your group benefits.

That is two edged sword.
In a overly complex world like ours, a system (not speaking of governments per se) can kill more easily without pointing the finger at anyone.

Generally, humans must always have some reason to commit murder, be it the dumbest bullshit (eg Religion).
If you’ve got a complex killing system and an idea how to explain, dehumanize or glorify etc, the bloodshed can begin pretty quick without anyone feeling particularly guilty.
That is why true wars always lead to immense suffering and can never be just (a claim which is often used as a “reason”)

But the question remains: why not kill? Why should nature hinder us in helping our genes tp spread, wouldn’t that be natural?

Cooperation is the key.
Our emotional capabilities go hand in hand with intelligence.
And the human ape cooperates to a degree that is unprecedented.
Cooperation can only function with trust. Be it a helping hand when building a house or a date to have sex next time her husband is gone.
Assessing that information is a truly complex feat, because unlike in lesser animals which stick together no matter what, human social behaviour is changing all the time.
Without restrains to our killer instinct, we’d never develop that far.

Seems natural. The majority finds murder repugnant, no? How many of us find rape and pedophilia unacceptable?

BUT… morality is a pretty complex subject so things like mercy killing, abortion etc. would probably throw a pretty big spanner into that particular situation.

[quote]AssOnGrass wrote:
If some fat ass trapped me in a cave I’m strapping on my shoulder pads and getting into a 3 point stance.[/quote]

lol

Debating morality is pointless. Do whatever it takes to survive.

[quote]The Greek wrote:
Debating morality is pointless. Do whatever it takes to survive. [/quote]

No term that politicians use so frequently is “pointless”.

I think you lost your way, the sex forum is one more down on the list.

Debating morality with these hypothetical situations is a moot point, as all of the variables are never known, and are subject to change. All that can be done is to make the most moral decision given the current information availabe. I’ll succumb to the argument anyways.

  1. Perfect example of why these hypotheticals don’t work. Ultimately, the lady was removed and everybody was saved. For the sake of this argument, we’ll assume that rescue was believed to be impossible at the time, in which case, the lady should be killed. It was her actions and stupidity that has sentenced the others to death. She is guilty of this transgression, while those stuck in the cave are innocent of causing any danger related to the incident.

  2. Again, there is no way to possible know beforehand that one passenger in your boat will fall off and drowned. Therefore, the moral decision is to try and save the others. I’ll still play along. Knowing that one of your own is going to die makes speeding off in the boat an immoral decision. The one in your boat is in no way responsible for the conditions of the other five. Selfish? That’s debatable, but immoral it is not.

  3. No different than two. The terminally ill patient is in no way responsible for the condition of the other three.

  4. The baby is now responsible for the condition of the others, as it is the variable allowing the soldiers to know their whereabouts. The baby is responsible for the danger, therefore is morally acceptable to kill it in order to save the others. The fact that the baby will die anyways is an unneccesary and confusing argument. It is no more acceptable to kill a terminally ill patient than it is to kill the baby for this reason.

I can argue why each of these situations is more clear-cut than you seem to think, but I do not think that most would necessarily act in these ways.

Morality is without doubt a by-product of nature, but morality in itself is not natural.

Why does morality exist?

Because we have freedom of choice, because we are not automatons, we have to have some means of deciding right and wrong.

But those things have to be taken in context of who and what we are. Because we have a particular nature (a rational animal), whatever is good for that rational animal is the ‘Good’. Whatever decreases the existence of you as a rational animal is bad.

So, morality being meaningless to a dead person, my survival as a rational being is utmost TO ME. So, each of those moral dilemmas mentioned above can be resolved.

Can’t you see how everytime you speak up you contradict yourself?
Often, multiple times?

Which means, in a nutshell, because someone gave it to us. (ie, your gawd)
Implying perhaps, that other animals might not have morality and also, that it serves a higher, obscure purpose.

This is a conversation stopper because now that you’ve played the Gawd-card, [Gawd did it-basta] dicussion is futile.

There is a distinct miconception about this Ann Raynd Crap you just won’t realize.
(you’re not alone though)
The “rational animal”[i]individual[/i] is but one side of the coin, the other is his species.

Which means, you can make a decision that benefits you but is bad for the species.
And vice versa.
The point is, your DNA isn’t exactly sure whom to support more.
Thus, making things interesting.

Your personal survival is not the only thing of interest. Never heard of someone sacrifincing himself for the benefit of others?
Putting the tribe ahead of your own goals is sometimes also deep in us.

The moment you realize this, Ayn Rant’s scribbles will leave your thoughts faster then a then a neocon can shout 9/11.

[quote]Schwarzfahrer wrote:
Can’t you see how everytime you speak up you contradict yourself?
Often, multiple times?

Why does morality exist?
Because we have freedom of choice, because we are not automatons, we have to have some means of deciding right and wrong.

Which means, in a nutshell, because someone gave it to us. (ie, your gawd)
Implying perhaps, that other animals might not have morality and also, that it serves a higher, obscure purpose.

This is a conversation stopper because now that you’ve played the Gawd-card, [Gawd did it-basta] dicussion is futile.

But those things have to be taken in context of who and what we are. Because we have a particular nature (a rational animal), whatever is good for that rational animal is the ‘Good’. Whatever decreases the existence of you as a rational animal is bad.

There is a distinct miconception about this Ann Raynd Crap you just won’t realize.
(you’re not alone though)
The “rational animal”[i]individual[/i] is but one side of the coin, the other is his species.

Which means, you can make a decision that benefits you but is bad for the species.
And vice versa.
The point is, your DNA isn’t exactly sure whom to support more.
Thus, making things interesting.

Your personal survival is not the only thing of interest. Never heard of someone sacrifincing himself for the benefit of others?
Putting the tribe ahead of your own goals is sometimes also deep in us.

The moment you realize this, Ayn Rant’s scribbles will leave your thoughts faster then a then a neocon can shout 9/11.[/quote]

Everything you said is false. Just by the fact that you exist and are alive gives you rights and morality was created so that you secure those rights. God is not involved.

A tribe does not exist. It is a made up name for a group of individuals and it is usually invoked when some members of the ‘tribe’ want something from the other members taxes, money, self-sacrifice, law abiding.

You have no head for metaphysics. A living thing may be in a species but the species does not exist seperately from the individuals in it. It is ascribing existence to groups in this way that unleashed abominations on the earth, like the worship of the Aryan Race or the Proletariat.

You are letting Goethe think for you.

Morality is learned. Survival is natural and ingrained in all people.

Morality can be manipulated by the powerful or persuasive. The weak of mind and body are most vulnerable.

Through observation and education or exposure to social convention most develop a sense of right and wrong and what is good and evil.

The psycopathic killer portion was interesting. I think they know from right and wrong and simply disregard it or lower the action in importance. I know many who thought little of killing and did it without remorse. Killing is different from murder however.

I’m (pleasantly) surprised that nobody has argued for objective morality yet.

[quote]FightinIrish26 wrote:
What is remarkable is that people with different backgrounds, including atheists and those of faith, respond in the same way.[/quote]

Which underscores the point that believing in the Flying Spaghetti Monster isn’t necessary to have core values that guide your life.

If religion = fairy tales + values and

If you can have values without religion,

Then there is no reason to believe in religion.

Given this, isn’t moral behavior simply selfish behavior? Regardless of whether or not you are trying to help others, isn’t it driven by the desire to avoid a negative cost to yourself?

I don’t completely agree with that and think truly altruistic behavior exists, but am curious what others think.

[quote]Headhunter wrote:
Everything you said is false.
[/quote]
Again, you never create a base from which you can build a sound argument.
I tried to give you an answer from a rather scientific perspective.

You try it once more through clumsy metaphysics, botching it badly.

en detail:

[quote]Headhunter wrote:
A tribe does not exist. It is a made up name for a group of individuals and it is usually invoked when some members of the ‘tribe’ want something from the other members taxes, money, self-sacrifice, law abiding.
[/quote]
great to include your favorite topics every time you open your mouth. Taxes, Altruism, Aryans…

A child is not born from nothing. You’re born out of a womb, so that means boom! there’s a mother and since she can’t impregnate herself boom! there’s a father, too.
There’s always a group.
We’re social animals, hh.
If we’ve evolved from spiders, (highly unusual, given they lack a lot of traits which can ever lead to higher intelligence) killing a male for instance, might be seen differently.

[quote]Headhunter wrote:
Just by the fact that you exist and are alive gives you rights and morality was created so that you secure those rights. God is not involved.
[/quote]
So how exactly I am given rights if there is no god and no universal, natural human morality?
Who created it, like you said? God is not involved? Then who did it?

[quote]Headhunter wrote:
You have no head for metaphysics. A living thing may be in a species but the species does not exist seperately from the individuals in it. It is ascribing existence to groups in this way that unleashed abominations on the earth, like the worship of the Aryan Race or the Proletariat.
You are letting Goethe think for you.
[/quote]
I think you didn’t bother to try to understand it.
Let me try again:
A individual wants to spread his DNA as much as possible and is equipped with certain behaviours to ensure the safety of his offspring and relatives.
At the same time, the general species can benefit from one individual or suffer.
A too immoral homo sapiens genotype was filtered out long ago, even if he happened to be at a serious advantage due to his asocial bevaviour. He didn’t share his food, killed his friend over his posessions etc.
In the end, either he or his offspring suffered from it.
Or in other words, a very antisocial behaviour’s advantages never managed to never overcome the disadvantages.

Because there is a universal moralic behaviour (read the article) in our species across the world, we can safely assume the fundamentals were determined at a very early stage of our evolution.

Again, this is very much undisputable and not really metaphysical. And it has zilch to do with the Proletariat, even less with your beloved Aryans.

Nope, I don’t believe it. And, I don’t want to make an arguement about hypothetical situations and Heath Ledger’s signifigance as the Joker.

[quote]Schwarzfahrer wrote:

There is a distinct miconception about this Ann Raynd Crap you just won’t realize.
(you’re not alone though)
The “rational animal”[i]individual[/i] is but one side of the coin, the other is his species.

Which means, you can make a decision that benefits you but is bad for the species.
And vice versa.
The point is, your DNA isn’t exactly sure whom to support more.
Thus, making things interesting.
[/quote]

Of course the DNA knows.

No such thing as group selection. Genes do not give a rats ass about the species. They are unable too.

Which is why Dolphins, Lions etc kill the young of their rivals in order to spread their genes faster.