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LostInParadise's avatar

To what extent do you think our moral codes are governed by our reasoning ability?

Asked by LostInParadise (18296 points ) May 1st, 2014

There are two extreme views. On one end, there are those who say that our sense of right and wrong is purely instinctual. We act first and justify it later. On the other end, there are those who say that we use our intellect to guide our actions.

I think it is a combination of both. We are born with a sense of what is right and wrong, but this can be shaped by our intellect. For example, it is natural to distrust people who look or act differently from us, but our sense of reason can intervene to say that this distrust is unwarranted.

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14 Answers

Symbeline's avatar

However which way it goes, one thing I’m certain of is that emotions have a lot to do with it.

josie's avatar

They are inseparable. Morality as concept does not exist until there is a reasoning creature to discover it.

flutherother's avatar

My personal view is that our moral code is based on our ability to empathise with others and not on our reasoning ability. Reasoning comes later to codify what our instincts have already told us. As someone once said; ‘feeling predicts intelligence’.

ragingloli's avatar

For most people on earth, to no extent whatsoever.
Emotion and instinct govern “moral codes”. Reason is only a tool to rationalise already existing ones.

thorninmud's avatar

I agree that reason and “the gut” work together on this, but the gut is in the driver’s seat. Reason is often recruited to provide some justification for what is ultimately an emotional response. This leads to the kinds of weird arguments one hears in the debates over same sex marriage, for instance.

There have been interesting studies on this using the runaway trolley dilemma. The results demonstrate that peoples’ moral calculus can have little to do with reasoning.

Cruiser's avatar

I believe the sense of right and wrong and further reflected through our moral compass is a reflection of the environment we were raised in and currently live in. I say this because IMO our behavior can be influenced by our peers and one’s moral compass can be potentially influenced as a matter of social acceptance and even for ones survival. Also people under the influence often say and do things they would not say or do sober.

dappled_leaves's avatar

It’s difficult to disentangle the two when our first moral code is formed when we are children – so a combination of pure instinct and indoctrination. As adults, I find that we’re split into those who love their assumptions and cling to them without question, and those who want to explore their own minds and the experiences of others. In the former, the moral code remains that mix of pure instinct and indoctrination. In the latter group, it is all down to reason and choice.

LostInParadise's avatar

I have been reading Steven Pinker’s book The Better Angels of Our Nature, which made me think about this. For those of you who are so convinced that our morality is purely instinctual, how do you account for the huge change in our behavior, starting in the 17th century, the period known as the Enlightenment or Age of Reason? Before that time, slavery was not considered wrong. It is condoned in the Bible and accepted by Aristotle. All kinds of barbaric ways of killing people were employed like drawing and quartering, disemboweling and burning at the stake. There was no concept of animal rights. People engaged in cat burning and bear baiting for amusement. It is only fairly recently that corporal punishment of children has been denounced. The idea of universal human rights first made its appearance during the Enlightenment. There is certainly still a great deal of cruelty, but not on the same scale as previously. Clearly biology is not destiny.
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ragingloli's avatar

@LostInParadise
those subjected to slavery were not considered human. they were “the other”.
and it is indeed instinctual not to care about those outside of family/village/town/nation/race
only once people started to see those slaves as fully human did they start to care, and that is because of the emotional connection established based on that “human family” consideration.
It is the same with animal rights. humans were seen as completely apart from the animal kingdom. only once humans started to realise that animals are closer to humans, more similar to humans than previously believed, did that emotional connection form, and only then did people start to actually care about animal well being.

ucme's avatar

My personal moral code developed naturally, mostly through following my mother’s.

Bill1939's avatar

Instinctual behavior that facilitates the survival of the individual or the group in which the individual is a member seems moral. However, it is more likely amoral when the behavior requires no executive mental functions. Instead it would be reflexive.

Cultural indoctrination, through which the use of reward and punishment attempts to condition responses, may support or augment instinctive acts or oppose them. Sexual behavior is a prime example of actions a culture might wish to control. Behaviors not arising from genetic imperatives are likewise encouraged or discouraged. Acceptable actions are deemed moral and the unacceptable immoral.

Emotions generated when an impulse arises may stimulate conscious awareness of the impending action. At this point executive intervention may be possible. Desires that have been operantly conditioned to elicit fear may be repressed without executive intervention. Or the executive aspect may rationalize the situation and permit the impulse to be acted upon despite the potential consequences.

Impulse control reflects the degree to which an individual’s character has evolved. This is what determines whether one does the right (moral?) or the wrong (immoral?) thing in any given situation. Better than the fear of punishment, which in most instances is not considered until after the fact, is an awareness of the potential effect that one’s action could have on another.

Dan_Lyons's avatar

To what moral codes do you refer?

LostInParadise's avatar

I use the term moral codes in a very loose sense to refer to refer to all the rules that we use for determining if something is right in a moral sense.

@ragingloli , I agree with what you say, but it leaves open the question of why the change in perspective occurred. Might it be that a greater capacity for abstract reasoning made it easier to shift points of view? Could it be that greater secularism forced people to come up with reasons for things that they previously took from the Bible?

Coloma's avatar

Well..I think they ARE goverened by intelligence, minus pathology.
Example.
Yesterday a friend of mine, who is a loyal and solid person, but short on intellect, went fishing while we were hanging out at our local river.
She caught a Shad, and me, being the nature nut told her, “that is a Shad, not a trout and you should release it.”

She insisted she HAD to take a picture and save it for her boyfriend to see, because it was the biggest fish she had caught in years.
I attempted to tell her, that, it was considered an inferior eating fish and she should release it, not to mention it was suffering.
She refuted my higher knowledge of the situation and proceeded to rip the hook from the poor things face, string it up and let it moulder away for an HOUR, in the shallows, without dying.
All attempts to “educate” her as to the FACT, this was NOT an edible fish, and it should be released, were met with stubborn ego.

I had a REALLY hard time watching this fish die, for NO good REASON!
Of course, when she took it home, the boyfriend told her it was an undesirible species for eating.
I am on the verge of distancing from her because she is so UNTEACHABLE!
That poor damn fish woke up happily leaping from the river and ended up strung up and slowly dying for hours, for nothing but EGO, all because she is UNREASONABLE!

Pffft!

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