Tuesday, 28 June 2011

A logical derivation of morals

Let’s look at human morals or, as co-opted by the church, Christian morals.

Too many apologists suggest that man without God is incapable of knowing moral behaviour and having morals. Then again it was God’s sting operation with ‘The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil’ (to give it its full name) that got us here. (I’m not sure where entrapment falls on the scale of moral behaviours as seen from an Abrahamic perspective.) For starters, you can’t have a knowledge of good and evil, you can only have an opinion, albeit that the majority of humanity, the majority of whom are not Christian, are in agreement on the most basic matters of moral behaviour.

How and why?

Ignoring for the moment the evolutionarily derivable behaviours that we can see in numerous species that, when placed in a human context, seem moral. And forgetting that the beasts of the land and the birds of the air are indeed capable of emotion and thus able to be affected by them. How can we get a moral code with little outside input? Can we achieve this with logic? I think we can. And logic, when discussed, then becomes part of our verbal heritage and takes on its own evolution.

Humans, as with most species are self-preservatory, this makes sense – look after number one. I’m not aware of any truly altruistic animal that will lay down its life wholly and exclusively for the betterment of the species. Would be interested to see examples if there are.

Humans as with many species rely on those closest to them for food, shelter and so on. So familial and then tribal affiliations are self-preservatory at the most basic level. Families and tribes are not likely to lay down their lives for the betterment of the species as a whole; the individuals may possibly lay down their lives for one another or for the family/tribe.

I mention species in both contexts because propagation thereof is ultimately a reason for self-preservation at a personal level. Even though self-sacrifice for the species as a whole could potentially be seen as achieving the same outcome when seen from the perspective of the species (although getting a hive-mind consensus could be tricky).

So, logical morals:

  • That which harms me is bad.
  • I live in a group whom I rely upon for the stuff of survival, so that which harms them is bad, as it will potentially harm me.
  • The group is made up of individuals, each being their own ‘me’, each adhering to the first rule. In order to ensure that none of the other individuals in the group harm me I should be seen to not harm them (the personal version of mutually assured destruction).
  • If I see the potential for harm to a family/tribe member and I can stop that from occurring with no danger to myself I should as the favour would be returned and they are indirectly instrumental to my survival.
  • If I see the potential for harm to a family/tribe member and I can stop that from occurring, but with likely danger to myself, I might, as the favour would be returned and they are indirectly instrumental to my survival. (This will depend on the weight of perceived emotional connection and intrinsic “value”.)

Tangent into the Trolley Problem taken as read.

I believe we can derive all moral/ethical decisions in this way (and some are so conceptual that we have to, it’s called the law). I’m not suggesting that we do derive our morals purely from logic tempered by emotional logic and self-centredness, just that we can.

If we can derive our morals through thought alone, without referring to faith (in fact in defiance of faith by being proud and greedy - self-centred - with a touch of sloth for good measure). And if we can show moral behaviour in animals with whom we share common ancestors, couldn’t either one of these, when pitted against the concept of a creator pre-programming us with these morals, be the victor when applying Occam’s Razor?

Bear in mind that Occam’s Razor calls for the simplest solution (not the most simplistic one) to be the most likely. Which is to say that the explanation that makes the fewest unsupportable suppositions is that which will, on balance, prove to be correct. If you pit either the concept of ‘evolved morality’ or the concept of ‘logical derivation’ against ‘God made us this way’ the result has to be anything but ‘religious morality’ – this is not sophistry, either one can be argued out fully and I encourage people to do so.

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