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Show ALL Forums  > Science/philosophy  > Is morality a product of evolution?      Home login  
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 rockondon
Joined: 2/21/2007
Msg: 9
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Is morality a product of evolution?Page 2 of 2    (1, 2)
Yes, definately.

Man is a social animal in a social setting and moral behaviour is beneficial for the species. Morality continues to evolve as well - our shifting moral standards portray commonly accepted practices from a millenia ago are now considered atrocities in modern civilized society.

Some anti-evolution types like to argue against any suggestion of a natural morality and insist that morality can only come from their pro-slavery handbook. I look forward to hearing their input on the matter.
 desertrhino
Joined: 11/30/2007
Msg: 10
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Is morality a product of evolution?
Posted: 6/2/2009 2:13:58 PM
Russ just invoked Godwin's Law. >>ignore.
 Gwendolyn2010
Joined: 1/22/2006
Msg: 11
Is morality a product of evolution?
Posted: 6/2/2009 2:22:11 PM
Let's differentiate between "morality" and "ethics." The dictionary might say they are synonymous, but for my purpose, associate "morality" with religious edicts and "ethics" with social/cultural mores.

For example, some religions say homosexuality is immoral, but there is nothing in nature that defines homosexuality as being "wrong." Ever seen a male dog hump another male dog or cows mount cows? It happens all the time.

Ethical aspects are claimed by religion, but they were first social prohibitions. The big ones--don't kill, don't lie, don't steal--are claimed to be handed down from a god, but in reality, those rules were put into place to help humans grow and prosper as a species.

The real purpose of life is to allow the species to continue: we are here to procreate and to protect the young to insure further procreation (we don't always do a good job of protecting the young, though). It is the reason why we have family bonds on personal and community levels.

For a family and a community/village to do well, you have to have order and a measure of trust. Co-operation is the best way for people to get along and insure that trust, so be kind to your neighbors. It is also why we protect our homeland but wage war on "them." Civil wars are the worst types of wars.

However they are defined, morality and ethics are not a product of biological evolution, but of cultural/social evolution. We are no more civilized than were our ancient ancestors.
 JustDukky
Joined: 7/8/2004
Msg: 12
Is morality a product of evolution?
Posted: 6/2/2009 3:12:22 PM
If I remember my definitions correctly, ethics are sets of prescribed, prioritized moral rules. Morality is not prioritized, nor prescribed, but consists only of what one ought to do to maximize pleasure & minimize suffering. It could be considered situational ethics if you have a set of moral rules you abide by, but set the priority order on the fly.

The ten commandments are an ethical code, as is the Hippocratic oath, but one need not abide by a specific ethical code to behave morally.
 JustDukky
Joined: 7/8/2004
Msg: 13
Is morality a product of evolution?
Posted: 6/2/2009 3:27:25 PM

Compassion does nothing for anyone, actions do


That goes without saying, but compassion is the parent of compassionate action, just as greed is the parent of theft. Being greedy does no harm (to others), but stealing will. To imply that compassion is "useless" misses the point of the thread. This isn't a discussion of deontology vs utilitarianism. Frankly, I doubt most animals would know or care about the difference.
 JustDukky
Joined: 7/8/2004
Msg: 14
Is morality a product of evolution?
Posted: 6/2/2009 3:42:08 PM
I said the following on the "aliens & evolution" thread. It is what prompted the creation of this one. I therefore feel it's relevent to post it here as well.

It is my contention that serving self-interest arose earlier in our evolution owing to the competition for resources in the struggle to survive. As we came together in groups, the people who could work cooperatively with their fellows out-bred the selfish ones because it was more efficient and the per capita production of a collective (like an extended family, or tribe) outstripped the per capita production of "selfish" individuals. Compassion for one's fellows was likely the "glue" that could bind a collection of individuals into a more productive entity that consequently would reproduce more often than the "loners."

As we gathered together into cities, and people were less likely to know or trust their neighbor, the selfishness that had been declining owing to natural selection could again take hold as the "loners" discovered they could simply take what was freely given by the compassionate "fools". In garnering more resources for themselves, they were now the ones better able to reproduce. The trust in one's fellows had to disappear (again as an evolutionary consequence) and "society" again became a collection of selfish loners, led by the ones most competent at conning the resources away from their "subjects" (or the one with the biggest club, who knew how to use it).

I feel that evolution has not stopped at this point and the final pages of our story have yet to be written. I suspect that we will eventually see (from our intellectual evolution) that compassion & fairness are simply more productive and build caring societies based on that premise.

A good indicator of that would be whether other more advanced societies have done so. So if we meet extraterrestrials, who want to eat us, I'm probably wrong. If they want to greet us as friends, then my assumptions regarding evolution are probably right and we'd be the bad guys if we didn't live by a compassionate ethic.
 scorpiomover
Joined: 4/19/2007
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Is morality a product of evolution?
Posted: 6/2/2009 4:26:36 PM
RE Msg: 17 by JustDukky:
The ten commandments are an ethical code, as is the Hippocratic oath, but one need not abide by a specific ethical code to behave morally.
That's interesting, because the ten commandments are in the Old Testament, and they are 10 laws that are taught to the people of the Old Testament, as 10 laws that consist of what one ought to do, to maximise pleasure and minimise suffering, just not in the short term, like not raping a girl who has a mafia don for a grandfather. That one would DEFINITELY maximise your suffering, but not till she tells her grandpa what you did.
 JustDukky
Joined: 7/8/2004
Msg: 16
Is morality a product of evolution?
Posted: 6/2/2009 5:50:09 PM
It is important to note that my reference to evolution includes social evolution. Our next great step doesn't necessarily have to be coded into our genes (but it helps), it could simply be a general intellectual realization that we are more productive working cooperatively than competing with one another, combined with an expansive enough view to see (as Schweitzer did) that ALL men are our brothers (and women, sisters), as close to us as our family (i.e no more "outsiders" from the tribe; everyone belongs).
 scorpiomover
Joined: 4/19/2007
Msg: 17
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Is morality a product of evolution?
Posted: 6/2/2009 5:57:04 PM
RE Msg: 23 by themadfiddler:
I think you may be misstating a concept in evolutionary theory to state that primates are more "evolved" than fish in a sense that they are "higher up" the ladder. A more correct approach might be to state that they exhibit more evolutionary complexity and more variation of mechanisms.

In that sense, humans have more complexity of morality than primates.
Then by the Baconian method, I could say that "complexity and variation of morality" is caused by evolution, but NOT morality. But even so, I'd STILL need to prove that such an increase of complexity and variation of morality is observed on every increase in evolutionary complexity and variation of mechanisms, in every single evolutionary change, right throughout every case.

Are they "more moral?"

Insufficient data to form a comparison...human morality is different than primate morality is different from lion morality, etc. It's just different, more or less complex views of the universe depending on more or less levels of sentience and more or less complex behavior and needs and responses to their environments...
If morality is just "different" for diferent organisms, then since you and I are different organisms, our morality is equally valid if it is different, and so would a serial killer like Hannibal Lecter be entirely justified for killing people who are "rude", and so would anyone who kills to become famous, and so would a mugger who takes peoples' money to get rich. That's their morality. It's just a different morality, and different moralities are equally valid for different organisms, which they are.

Does that make it any clearer?

As we became more complex organisms, our behaviors and responses to certain stimuli required more complex social arrangements and responses = we developed morality.
No. It doesn't make it any clearer to me at all. This isn't clear thinking to me.

This to me displays the same sort of logic that would be applied if I was sick, and I went and got leeches applied to me. The leeches would draw my blood. I know that when I've given blood, I get a head rush from the lack of blood, that makes me feel euphoric. I know that the lack of fluids drives my body to drink a lot more than usual automatically, and to sleep and rest more than usual, without trying. I know that doctors recommend in most cases of illness to drink plenty of fluids and get plenty of rest, especially bed rest, because that does speed the healing process a lot. I therefore know that if I am sick, and I am have leeches applied to me, that I'll get much better than if I had not, and I'll feel a lot better. If I didn't apply critical thinking such as by applying the Baconian method, then I'd conclude that leeches do indeed heal most illnesses.

But I know that such thinking is flawed. It's a byproduct of the leeching that I get better, not BECAUSE of the leeching.

In the same way, unless I can prove beyond any doubt that morality goes hand-in-hand with evolutionary steps, in exact proportionality, then I haven't proved morality is caused by evolution, and I'm probably making the same sort of mistakes as I might have made with leeching and healing.

I'm not going to state categorically that morality is DEFINITELY nothing to do with evolution, until I've equally proved that for sure, and I haven't got any evidence of that yet, and so the issue remains open for me. But I don't think that I should just agree with an idea, just because it sounds good. That would be an easy cop-out for me, without doing all the proper scientific investigation and analysis. That would be accepting ideas blindly.

RE Msg: 25 by JustDukky:
It is important to note that my reference to evolution includes social evolution. Our next great step doesn't necessarily have to be coded into our genes (but it helps), it could simply be a general intellectual realization that we are more productive working cooperatively than competing with one another, combined with an expansive enough view to see (as Schweitzer did) that ALL men are our brothers (and women, sisters), as close to us as our family (i.e no more "outsiders" from the tribe; everyone belongs).
I'm tempted to agree, as it's a nice, easy comfortable concept. But then, I'd need to pin social evolution on something, like time. Then I'd expect that social evolution to be unformly increasing over the centuries, in EVERY society, and it isn't. We still see many murders today. More people have been killed with guns in the last 100 years, than all the time previously. So I'd have a hard time stating that.
 NotGorshkovAgain
Joined: 4/29/2009
Msg: 18
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Is morality a product of evolution?
Posted: 6/3/2009 9:45:28 AM

who has more enjoyment...the guy with the big screen tv and the buddies over to watch the game or old Aunt Matilda trying to watch her daily soap on the old B+W stuck on the kitchen counter?

The guy with the friends, of course, rather than the old woman sitting by herself. I don't see that having anything to do with the size of the tv, though - or even the presence of one.
 scorpiomover
Joined: 4/19/2007
Msg: 19
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Is morality a product of evolution?
Posted: 6/3/2009 3:09:37 PM
RE Msg: 27 by themadfiddler:
You are describing fallacy of "Cum hoc ergo propter hoc" - The fallacy is to assert that because two events occur together, they must be causally related.
Quite. Just because morality occurs and evolution occurs, even if they seem to be occuring together, doesn't make them related. That's exactly the point I was making. Sorry that I was so long-winded about it.

We can observe the behavior in primates (our nearest relatives), pack animals, and tribal cultures and then examine ancient cultures through archaeology and see the development of increasingly complex moral codes develop over time.
I did state before that we should use the Baconian method to examine all cases, and so I would agree that we should do that. However, I am simply not convinced that moral codes have become increasingly complex. I'd say that more laws have been made in the UK over each year, and that each new law is often made to give the impression of keeping promises that the government made in election time, but not doing so, by deliberately making the law more confusing. But that is not the same as making it more complex.

This is not an ad hoc assumption, it is observation of data.
If you mean that it is your opinion that the above is true, then I would agree that this is your opinion, and I simply am not convinced. If you mean you have the exclusive truth, then I would remind you that any exclusive truth is against POF rules, and you would not break them, so I can only surmise you meant "IT IS MY OPINION THAT...".

However, you are quite welcome to follow Bacon's method, to present an exhaustive list of all species and all societies in history, to state how evolved each was, and to state their morality, and how complex it was. If you can show a clear proportional relation between each case, I'd be only too happy to read it and confirm your results.

I'm not stating that I know with 100% surety what the origins of morality are...I am hypothesizing
Fine. But if you don't make that clear, then people might think you mean to say that you have 100% conclusive proof, and some of us want to see that proof. If you don't have that proof, and that's clear from your post, you'll avoid these entanglements.

(or rather I am restating what I understand the current position of anthropological science to be).
I'm not sure that I'd be that impressed, unless I read the proof personally, or I personally knew the athropologist who stated it, and knew that he would never make any claim that he was not 100% sure of. I don't accept things just because someone said so. Sounds too much like blind faith.

However, morality also varies from culture to culture and is highly dependent upon the cultural majority and what moral "memes" have been established.
I've found that morality is so dependent on the mindset of the society, that it's very difficult to make comparisons between cultures at all. For instance, under the situation of causing the ruin of your employer, suicide would seem madness to us. Not committing hari-kiri would have seemed insanity beyond belief to the ancient Samurai. It makes it very difficult to compare moralities.

I for one do not subscribe to universal morality. I have seen no evidence of it, at least in the sense most theistic people mean when they talk about it.
The Samurai were theists, as are Christians who are completely anti-suicide. Yet they had very different ideas of morality. I therefore believe that when people talk about morality in an absolute fashion, like paedophilia, which many atheists and theists talk about as being absolutely wrong, they are simply taking up the moral view that they have the exclusive view, and everyone else has to toe the line, usually because that is the message of their society, and IMHO, such belief in exclusivity of truth is a cornerstone of our society.

As far as I can determine, morality is a constructed concept. How it was constructed does seem to be up for discussion,
I'm not so sure. I'd agree that paedophilia is a constructed concept, because many societies believed that sex with children was OK. I'd agree that banning murder except for war is a constructed concept, because I've read that assassination was socially acceptable in Naples in Machiavelli's time. But I'd claim that things like the basic principle of murder and the basic principle of some sex being not OK, may NOT be constructed concepts, because as far as I've read, every human society has some kind of laws against murder and against sexual congress, just that different societies say which forms of murder and which forms of sex are permissible, and which forms of murder and which forms of sex are not allowed.

but science certainly offers some ideas.
Can science only come up with ideas? Isn't Romeo and Juliet an idea? No? Then what difference does it make WHO comes up with ideas?

Science might be able to prove if some idea is true or not, by sticking to scientific principles like the Baconian method. But apart from that, I don't see what help a scientists will be, as his job is NOT to be imaginative. His job is to deal with evidence, not new ideas.

I'm all for science helping us. I'm just against science making itself a religion, by appointing scientists as priests. Priests suggest where morality came from, and say that we should accept what they say on their say-so. IMHO, good scientists suggest nothing, and say we should only accept what they say, on the evidence, by repeating their experiments, and proving what they say for ourselves.

When we tell science what to do, then science is our tool, it can help us, and it is our friend. When science tells us what to do, then it becomes our master, and we are its slaves, then it is our oppressor.
 scorpiomover
Joined: 4/19/2007
Msg: 20
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Is morality a product of evolution?
Posted: 6/3/2009 4:27:16 PM

I don't think we are in disagreement, just as usual a slight difference in expressing it
Good. I know that I was coming off a bit strong. A good friend said today that I'm very intense. I was worried that you might take it for more than that. I'm glad that we can see eye-to-eye.

Incidentally, I'm not sure, but it wouldn't surprise me to find out that morality is affected by evolution.
 quietcowboy
Joined: 12/25/2007
Msg: 21
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Is morality a product of evolution?
Posted: 6/3/2009 5:02:52 PM
Empathy might be part of our evolution, I don't know. I'm sure that it is the largest part of morality. In the animal kingdom, morality is mostly doing things that best allows the host to pass along their DNA to the next generation. Things like not picking a fight that will get you killed or that lessen your chances of living a long and "re" productive life are the code to live by. Morality in this sense varies according to the tools that a species is blessed with.

Morality as we know it is ever changing and really are the rules a society deems best to progress. Religion can and frequently does contribute to what these rules are, but even in society where religion is diverse in beliefs, there still is "morality".

I think the biggest challenge the civilized(aka moral) world now faces is how to deal with immorality. What does a "moral society" do when faced with a group or individual that refuse to play by moral rules. Do you violate(as example do a moral society execute or torture) your own morals to remove or punish them?
 Twill348
Joined: 12/20/2008
Msg: 22
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Is morality a product of evolution?
Posted: 6/4/2009 3:30:44 PM
"The article also points out: The review also shoots down the idea that religion is necessary to make people choose to engage in altruistic behavior — or do something that benefits others at your own personal expense. Religion has no monopoly on good behavior."

That sounds prety iffy. Where did they find the "religion free" humans to study this on? Sounds like overreach.
 JustDukky
Joined: 7/8/2004
Msg: 23
Is morality a product of evolution?
Posted: 6/4/2009 4:03:36 PM

Where did they find the "religion free" humans to study this on?


We're not an endangered species you know; half the people I associate with are similarly "religion free" (I would guess from my own experience that a third of the general public are atheist or agnostic. - you can at least double that figure if you include the "I'll go to church when my daughter gets married." crew as "religion free")

I'm guessing there must have been a big enough sample from which they could make a valid statistical inference (assuming they did the study properly).
 JustDukky
Joined: 7/8/2004
Msg: 24
Is morality a product of evolution?
Posted: 6/7/2009 9:06:37 AM
I don't understand how equate morality with evolution.


First, let's define evolution:

"Change in the genetic composition of a population during successive generations, as a result of natural selection acting on the genetic variation among individuals, and resulting in the development of new species."

Now let's generalize the concept with a few slight changes:

"Change in the composition of traits of a population during successive generations, as a result of natural selection acting on the genetic variation among individuals, and resulting in the development of new species, subspecies and genetically programmed behaviours."

Now let's consider other, older species. Some evolved to function in cooperative social groups. Slime mold, bees, ants, etc. tend to function as a socially cooperative unit to garner & process resources more efficiently than the individuals could, while others evolved as "loners", who compete for resources with their own kind, often fighting with and killing them on sight. They may even find it advantageous to eat their own young. (slight digression: Ants & humans are similar in behaviour terms: the social group works cooperatively together, but will often make war with other colonies of their own species in the never-ending competition for resources.)

Now let's call the gene (or set of genes) that engender the trait of cooperative behaviour a "conscience" gene and again the gene(s) for selfish behaviour the "psychopath" gene.

The idea that society becomes more or less "moral" over time becomes entirely dependent on natural selection and which gene(s) promote better reproductive success. Current society (I believe) has had more reproductive success with the conscience gene(s) and consequently has "formalized" the genetically determined behaviours into moral codes to live by. So morality may not be an objective right/wrong so much as what has yielded more reproductive success over time. This also explains why some people who have never even read an ethical code will live "instinctively" by some of the rules. Thou shalt not eat thy brother, nor have kids with thy sister or mother being 2 of them.

You might want to do a little reading on Evolutionary Psychology if you're curious.
 scorpiomover
Joined: 4/19/2007
Msg: 25
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Is morality a product of evolution?
Posted: 6/7/2009 12:49:10 PM
RE Msg: 41 by JustDukky:

I don't understand how equate morality with evolution.
First, let's define evolution:

"Change in the genetic composition of a population during successive generations, as a result of natural selection acting on the genetic variation among individuals, and resulting in the development of new species."

Now let's generalize the concept with a few slight changes:

"Change in the composition of traits of a population during successive generations, as a result of natural selection acting on the genetic variation among individuals, and resulting in the development of new species, subspecies and genetically programmed behaviours."

Now let's consider other, older species. Some evolved to function in cooperative social groups. Slime mold, bees, ants, etc. tend to function as a socially cooperative unit to garner & process resources more efficiently than the individuals could, while others evolved as "loners", who compete for resources with their own kind, often fighting with and killing them on sight. They may even find it advantageous to eat their own young. (slight digression: Ants & humans are similar in behaviour terms: the social group works cooperatively together, but will often make war with other colonies of their own species in the never-ending competition for resources.)

Now let's call the gene (or set of genes) that engender the trait of cooperative behaviour a "conscience" gene and again the gene(s) for selfish behaviour the "psychopath" gene.
OK. Then let's look ata gene that increases the ability of a group of species to travel faster, say longer legs. In 2 sub-species, one co-operative, and one competitive, that gene increases the ability of any organism of the co-operative sub-species to protect its group, and increases the ability of any organism of the competitive species to catch its own young more. This, the same gene is both a "conscience" gene, AND a "psychopath" gene. Moreover, under different circumstances, the same gene might act co-operatively as a "conscience" gene, such as in lions protecting the herd, and act competitively as a "psychopath" gene, such as in the same lions eating the cubs of their lionesses that came from other lions, in the very same organism, from the very same gene.

However, even with that concept, we'd STILL need to define morality as co-operative behaviour, and immorality as competitive behaviour, and that would make it an abstract definition, entirely separate from our notions of morality.

The idea that society becomes more or less "moral" over time becomes entirely dependent on natural selection and which gene(s) promote better reproductive success. Current society (I believe) has had more reproductive success with the conscience gene(s) and consequently has "formalized" the genetically determined behaviours into moral codes to live by.
Actually, society has more reproductive success with competition, because that eliminates people with less healthy genes, and that increases the overall health of the herd, which increases its adaptivity, which is the whole point of evolution according to Darwin. Co-operation, by comparison, increases the numbers, by increasing the numbers of runts, who just cannot adapt quickly to the environment. Co-operative behavioural mechanisms can increase the overall effectiveness of humans, but only by changing the nerve pathways of humans, which are not automatically encoded into our genes, making them entirely non-genetic, and this, not dependent on the general concept of natural selection, not without considering such a wide view of natural selection, that genes become the minority effect.

So morality may not be an objective right/wrong so much as what has yielded more reproductive success over time. This also explains why some people who have never even read an ethical code will live "instinctively" by some of the rules. Thou shalt not eat thy brother, nor have kids with thy sister or mother being 2 of them.
In order for that to be valid, we need something above random expectation, in environments where eating one's brother or having sex with your sister is considered meritorious. In our society, having eating any human is likely to find you ostracised by society, and imprisoned, making it a huge disadvantage from a "selfish gene" point of view. Having sex with your sister is likely to cause any women who find out, to reject you automatically, making it at odds with any form of natural selection. However, sibling incest is still pretty common, a lot more than one might expect, given just how disgusting our society regards it.
 JustDukky
Joined: 7/8/2004
Msg: 26
Is morality a product of evolution?
Posted: 6/7/2009 1:33:53 PM
You made some good points that I started to rebut, but since that would take too much time, I'll simply say:

Aahh!!!...Yer mother wears army boots!!!
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