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Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

What are the scientific reasons why humans need morality to know what is good, bad or evil?

Asked by Hypocrisy_Central (21731 points ) June 17th, 2011

Taking evolution and natural selection into account, morality for humans to know what is good, bad or evil is useless. The lion does not feel it is wrong to go down to the watering hole and catch an old or sick wildebeest, or a young springbok and making a meal of it. The lion is not going to feel remorse for killing some springbok’s offspring, that offspring is feeding their cubs. The reason why lions do not routinely kill other lions would also lend the thought that they do not have hatred within the species as man does. If animals do kill member of their own species through accident or some other action do they feel the need to atone for the lost life? If a bunch of seals crushes a baby seal pup by accident, will any mourn?

Is morality hard wired in humans? What is the scientific cause or reason for human morality that other species did not get? Why does man’s morality extend to some species but not to all of them, not even his own species when most other species do not kill each other without cause?

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11 Answers

lillycoyote's avatar

Part 1 (I may be back for more, it’s an interesting question)

Most animals actually kill and fight for many of the same reasons humans do, or visa versa, maybe the other way around. They kill other species for food, as we do, and they fight and kill each other to protect themselves, defend their young, to defend and establish territory and over resources and to establish dominance. We’re not so different.

athenasgriffin's avatar

I think morality is probably something that evolved with civilization. As we began to congregate into large, organized groups, we had to develop a way to keep from killing each other .

broughtlow's avatar

It is written that is only one lawgiver. I would assume that this does not include man created laws like j walking and whatnot. Nor would I believe that what the individual deems right or wrong is also from God for obvious reasons. Animals and nature is beyond me, however, corruption effects everything in ways we can’t grasp. I must say, I have always found it ludicrous that individuals run around declaring things to be good and bad! To sum it all up, we are not the determining factors.

broughtlow's avatar

Ah, I neglected to mention science. Although a grand task for anyone to undertake, scientifically, the individual morality is simple to pin down there’s just numerous details! Laws are the easiest aspect to analyze. I mean, according to laws, morality differs by region. Stealing a pack of gum in the states would not have be the same consequences as others where you’d get your hand cut off. On an individual basis apart from physical law, I’m inclined to believe that it’s a matter of what agrees with you or does not.

poisonedantidote's avatar

Moral behaviour has survival benefits.

Human morals are quite simplistic really, If it has survival benefits for you or your clan it is good morals, and if it hurts the survival of your self or your clan it is bad morals.

Any bad morals you can mention will be detrimental to survival, even more so in an uncivilized work (the wild).

Murder: If I kill there is a chance I’ll be killed.

Stealing: If I steal food I will maybe be killed or stolen from.

etc..

At the very very core of human morals, is selfishness. Sure, our large brains have helped us develop complex arguments on the topic, but in reality, it all boils down to selfishness. If we call it good, it has selfish benefits of some kind or another, be it indirect or direct.

Imadethisupwithnoforethought's avatar

I have been tinkering with the theory that in early humans and our immediate ancestors, the females of the tribe would probably have been taken by the really strong men. If those men did not treat them and their children well, they would likely get a rock in the head as they slept. I imagine this would eventually select for nicer, yet still constantly improving, humans.

flutherother's avatar

If we don’t see morality in other animals it is because we aren’t looking for it. Man is not the only moral animal. What makes man different is the degree of organisation and scale of his societies where individual morality is disconnected from the actions of the group.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@athenasgriffin As we began to congregate into large, organized groups, we had to develop a way to keep from killing each other. I considered those while pondering the question. Many species gather in large numbers and while they would kill or harm another species to protect territory, young, the herd, pride, or group they are in, they don’t appear to murder each other arbitrarily, and no where close to the numbers humans do. If lowly animal can survive in groups in the same species without wanton killing among themselves why it is humans cannot. If two males of a given species were battling over the right to mate a female which human feminist would find appalling and immoral, and one of the males should receive a mortal would. Does the others in the group feel some injustice was done? Would they have any capacity to mourn the fallen combatant? Would the victor feel he did anything wrong in the death or the fight or guilt when he mounts the female knowing it cam by way of a death? No other animal in that group will try to bring the victor to justice because of the death because the death or the fight that led to it would not be wrong either. If humans were a product of the same nature, winning a mate by force or wrestling her away from a weaker one would be the natural order of business with nothing wrong about it. Should there be a death it would also be just the way things are. Humans see it as wrong for the most part, because of morality. Why is it that some develop morality and others didn’t? Those who would feel it as the animals are labeled sociopaths or worse.

@broughtlow It is written that is only one lawgiver. That would imply to some that man isn’t in charge, so for the spirit of this question nothing exist beyond man so all of his emotions, traits, etc came by some developmental or scientific process.

I mean, according to laws, morality differs by region. Stealing a pack of gum in the states would not have be the same consequences as others where you’d get your hand cut off. Why would that from a scientific angle? If I run into a great white shark off the coast of San Fran it will behave the same as a great white I encounter off the coast of Queensland even thought they are 1,000s of mile apart and not part of the same group or had any contact with each other. The one off San Fran will not think it shouldn’t eat me because of some arbitrary reason that the shark off Queensland will fail to see. Why is it humans who live apart from another group come up with a complete value system, for lack of a better word?

@poisonedantidote Human morals are quite simplistic really, If it has survival benefits for you or your clan it is good morals, and if it hurts the survival of your self or your clan it is bad morals. That is an interesting point. If it hurts survival of your group then it is bad morally for your group, but in general is it bad morally. If I am a member of clan ‘A’ and our infant mortality rate is way down, our numbers are increasing, and we became more efficient hunters. If we start to out hunt the game that is our staple because of disease or natural predators that might be keeping the numbers of the animals down but the scouting party see 45 mils over the foot hills is a valley teaming with game and we decide better to break came and haul everything over there than starve where we are. However, upon arrival we find clan ‘B’, a much smaller clan with one quarter the amount of warriors. They have three choices, if we let them take any, is to accept that they are taking second fiddle and will hunt what we leave after we have hunted first; leave and go find another place to call home; face decimation by resisting us. For us in clan ‘A’ it would seem the logical and moral to do whichever would make out clan strong and well fed, even if it meant killing off clan ‘B’. Whatever happens, clan ‘B’ more than likely is not very happy with it because their way of life is changed. Universally who is to say we of clan ‘A’ were immoral for taking and or wiping out clan ‘B’ to assure our survival?

athenasgriffin's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central Perhaps animals have their own brand of morality. Perhaps what humans have arbitrarily labeled as instinct is more complex. In my answer I was talking about morality as a concept, not morality as the typical person from any particular culture might see it. For instance, in America it would be considered immoral to do something that in Iran would be considered immoral not to do.

MarvinPowell's avatar

Morality isn’t hard-wired in humans. Its a social construct. Besides the fact that “good” and “evil” don’t truly exist, people do “good” actions because it most benefits them. Humans are a social society and we often need each other to survive. Going back to thousands of years ago, if there were a group of other people who stole food from your people’s land, the most logical thing to do would be to kill them, as they do not benefit you or your people. Today, we have laws to prevent such things, and people live by the order of these laws.

All “evil” is, is disorder. Chaos. While “good” is order and following the rules. It has nothing to do with “morality” or anything else. People will kill or murder if they have to, such as going to war or hunting down Bin Laden, yet still think of themselves as good people. Human beings can also have remorse in the most minor of actions, thinking of themselves as “bad” people for doing things that haven’t really hurt anyone, such as sleeping with a lot of people or acting in a way the community would not approve of, even if no one is hurt in the process.

Humans have no innate morality in them. All “good” is, is cooperating with others so we can survive. All “evil” is, is disobeying the law and order of the land. It is merely survival as it is much harder to survive life on your own. That’s why we live in communities and have grocers and garbage men and politicians and sales clerks, to make human life and survival much easier. Things like killing and stealing go against the order to make a proper community run. So we are taught not to do these things from a very early age. This isn’t even getting into different societies and things they do which would be considered “right or wrong” in other places.

There is no such thing as “universal morality.” Anyone who says so is either an idiot, a religious zealot, or both. We merely do what we have to do to survive. And well, raping and killing kind of makes it hard to get along and survive in a community together. That’s why post-apocalyptic movies are so interesting. When society collapses, so do the rules that held it together. When Rick Grimes shoots a group of marauders who want to raid and kill his group, is he “evil” for committing murder?

As @poisonedantidote said, humans beings are not good nor evil. No more so than wild animals. Human beings are merely selfish. Even in “civilized society,” few care about others outside their own family and social circles. This is also what dooms humanity and makes them closer to “evil” than “good.” As goodness is seen as cooperation, togetherness, and coming together to achieve more as a society than we ever could as individuals. However, evil is typically defined as selfish actions that do great harm to others at worst, and is indifferent of them, as best. Sadly, that is human nature.

If you want a simple answer: humans are inherently “evil” because most all of them are inherently selfish. And selfishness is the primary motive of evil-doing. Any acts of “goodness” usually come from either survival or guilt of inaction, at the most. People rarely do “good” things without benefit or gain from them. This is what makes “goodness” so admirable and highly esteemed. Other than it benefiting others, it is hard to be good! It involves sacrifice and putting others before yourself. Most things that are hard to do are held in high regard in society. Goodness (as in, cooperation and helping others) merely has more positive benefits in a society than negative benefits. While evil (as in, selfish behavior and living life lawless) is often detrimental to society.

Humans have had a good 5,000 years to get accustomed to this, so its no wonder ‘goodness’ and democracy is the way we are taught and ‘evil’ and anarchy is to be feared and rejected.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@MarvinPowell Its a social construct. Besides the fact that “good” and “evil” don’t truly exist, people do “good” actions because it most benefits them.
If I am reading you correct, you are saying that people behave, or act ”good” because scientifically benefits them somehow? I would concur that nothing good is in man innately.

Going back to thousands of years ago, if there were a group of other people who stole food from your people’s land, the most logical thing to do would be to kill them, as they do not benefit you or your people. Today, we have laws to prevent such things, and people live by the order of these laws.
So what is moral or not solely depends on who has the might to enforce it; being there is no ”good” or ”evil”?

Humans have no innate morality in them. Humans have no innate morality in them.
Agreed.

All “good” is, is cooperating with others so we can survive. All “evil” is, is disobeying the law and order of the land.
And the agreement departs….but scientifically I must agree because that is all that is left.

There is no such thing as “universal morality.” Anyone who says so is either an idiot, a religious zealot, or both.
Being this is a question that is rooted in science, I will not comment on the zealot part. However, would you say those who believe the so-called Golden Rule that is either innately wired in humans or developed fairly the same in any culture be they aware of other cultures or not, are making an unwise assumption? Many people believe that even as infants humans have a sense of right and wrong, good and bad.

We merely do what we have to do to survive. And well, raping and killing kind of makes it hard to get along and survive in a community together.
Really now? I If one is in a group that can kick butt and take names, they can do what they wish until someone is able to oppose them, or even defeat them. The Vikings raided Europe for a long time, the stole, raped and pillaged their neighbors and it was all good business. They did not have to make agreements with any of the poor saps they plundered, they had the might to do as they pleased to the other groups; same as the Mongol hordes in Asia. Scientifically ”getting along” is only a true necessity if you are weaker in numbers, power, influence or all of them. As powerful as the US is Uncle Sam still has to ”play nice” to a point, because we can’t wallop everyone at the same time. Sheer numbers would nullify superior training and advance weaponry.

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