Morality and the Moral Question: A brief Look

I get my limits from a rational consideration of the consequences of my actions. That is how I determine what is moral. I get it from a foundation that says my actions have an effect on people around me and theirs have an effect on me. If we are going to live cooperatively and share space we have to recognise that impact, and that my freedom to swing my arm ends at their nose. I have no right to impose my will on somebody else’s will in that type of scenario. I get them from an understanding of reality, not an assertion of authority.
-Matt Dillahunty.

It is very complicated to set-up a world where everyone lives in the best manner possible. We all retain an element of immorality; that is in essence why the question or morality even exists. A work in progress is the appropriate term here, but based on a solid moral compass that exists in all of us, whether this is skewed, faulty, or otherwise. This is a long way from total depravity without rules however, and or delusion.

We’ve all done things that embarrass us, but as a work in progress most of us try our best to live the best way possible. This can be rendered faulty by perverse ideological frameworks and mental illness.

What is Morality?

Morality (from the Latin moralitas “manner, character, proper behaviour”) is the differentiation of intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are good or right and those that are bad or wrong.[citation needed] Morality can be a body of standards or principles derived from a code of conduct from a particular philosophy, religion, or culture, or it can derive from a standard that a person believes should be universal. Morality may also be specifically synonymous with “goodness” or “rightness.”
Moral philosophy includes moral ontology, or the origin of morals, as well as moral epistemology, or what is known about morals. Different systems of expressing morality have been proposed, including deontological ethical systems which adhere to a set of established rules, and normative ethical systems which consider the merits of actions themselves. An example of normative ethical philosophy is the Golden Rule which states that, “One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.”
Immorality is the active opposition to morality (i.e. opposition to that which is good or right), while amorality is variously defined as an unawareness of, indifference toward, or disbelief in any set of moral standards or principles.


Allegory with a portrait of a Venetian senator (Allegory of the morality of earthly things), attributed to Tintoretto, 1585

Allegory with a portrait of a Venetian senator (Allegory of the morality of earthly things), attributed to Tintoretto, 1585


Morality then is an open source project, it’s a wiki.

Free Will is an illusion

Free Will is an illusion

The ideal church, the ideal behaviour, the ideal love?  Are these achievable? The perfectly fashioned coffee mug. Morality is the method we have chosen to maximise the well-being of our lives. The desire for objective anything is an illusion, a desire for some ideal that doesn’t really exist. However, Platonic purity that we can somehow access. The pristine ideal. If we could only get to that, to burrow to that. We could clone that ideal and move forward.

Together we have chosen to maximise the experience of our lives, and the lives and experiences of other people, and the way we behave that makes the most people experience the most amount of joy and happiness in life. If we inhibit that in others in ways we simply can avoid then that becomes a moral question.

There are different ways that could objectively be used. Getting along with each other as a large scale society. Morality has to be about accomplishing a goal of living up to particular values you have. The values are subjective in some way because they are relative to those who hold the values. If Crocodiles set the moral codes then crocodile shoes would certainly be morally bad. Cows and hamburgers are another analogy. We are then evolving social creatures creating small social groups that have created large scale social structures that we term ‘society’. Understand that as well as the biological imperative to be altruistic in order to further individuals and the species we have a kind of mass subjectivity that is set ultimately by the originators of that morality. A society cows would resemble a society most moral to them.

This can often be compared to objective health and fitness. There are objective ways to increase your health and fitness for example. Not smoking is scientifically and objectively a better route to take for your physical health and well-being, and consequently of others. Objective ways to fulfilling a healthy body.

Given that we can agree on a certain set of value judgements, and what most of us want, then we can agree what most of us want is:

• A Happy life
• A Long life
• To Find love
• To minimise pain


The Moral Zeitgeist

Morality evolves. It is an open source project. This is why societal structures like democracy exist, and why we strive for a better method. It is also why communism as seen in Soviet Russia largely failed.

Behaving in a moral fashion is a way of maximising our well-being. There are ideas that the bible presents as moral that are actually counter to those objectives. It is important to analyse whether those ideals match what reality teaches us.

The reason we have moral standards in society is because those standards are productive to society and the well-being of humanity.

Calvinism and Total Depravity in Christianity

A central doctrine is that you are pre-determined whether you are going to hell or heaven or not.

The central assertion of these points is that God saves every person upon whom he has mercy, and that his efforts are not frustrated by the unrighteousness or inability of humans.

“Total depravity,” also called “total inability,” asserts that as a consequence of the fall of man into sin, every person is enslaved to sin. People are not by nature inclined to love God but rather to serve their own interests and to reject the rule of God. Thus, all people by their own faculties are morally unable to choose to follow God and be saved because they are unwilling to do so out of the necessity of their own natures. (The term “total” in this context refers to sin affecting every part of a person, not that every person is as evil as they could be).[76] This doctrine is derived from Augustine’s explanation of Original Sin.[77] While the phrases “totally depraved” and “utterly perverse” were used by Calvin, what was meant was the inability to save oneself from sin rather than being absent of goodness. Phrases like “total depravity” cannot be found in the Canons of Dort, and the Canons as well as later Reformed orthodox theologians arguably offer a more moderate view of the nature of fallen humanity than Calvin.[78]


If all moral values were suspended for a day. Would people act out or do terrible things? Certainly some people would if there were no consequences, but many people wouldn’t.  I am all for societal reasons for punishing bad actors but there is also a biological imperative which compels us to act altruistically.

Total depravity without rules and law is great for the thief but really harmful for the victim. A zero sum game where one persons gain is another persons loss. Society simply doesn’t benefit.

Evolution of Morality

The development of modern morality is a process closely tied to sociocultural evolution. Some evolutionary biologists, particularly sociobiologists, believe that morality is a product of evolutionary forces acting at an individual level and also at the group level through group selection (although to what degree this actually occurs is a controversial topic in evolutionary theory). Some sociobiologists contend that the set of behaviors that constitute morality evolved largely because they provided possible survival and/or reproductive benefits (i.e. increased evolutionary success). Humans consequently evolved “pro-social” emotions, such as feelings of empathy or guilt, in response to these moral behaviors.

On this understanding, moralities are sets of self-perpetuating and biologically-driven behaviors which encourage human cooperation. Biologists contend that all social animals, from ants to elephants, have modified their behaviors, by restraining immediate selfishness in order to improve their evolutionary fitness. Human morality, although sophisticated and complex relative to other animals, is essentially a natural phenomenon that evolved to restrict excessive individualism that could undermine a group’s cohesion and thereby reducing the individuals’ fitness.[15]

On this view, moral codes are ultimately founded on emotional instincts and intuitions that were selected for in the past because they aided survival and reproduction (inclusive fitness). Examples: the maternal bond is selected for because it improves the survival of offspring; the Westermarck effect, where close proximity during early years reduces mutual sexual attraction, underpins taboos against incest because it decreases the likelihood of genetically risky behaviour such as inbreeding.

The phenomenon of reciprocity in nature is seen by evolutionary biologists as one way to begin to understand human morality. Its function is typically to ensure a reliable supply of essential resources, especially for animals living in a habitat where food quantity or quality fluctuates unpredictably. For example, some vampire bats fail to feed on prey some nights while others manage to consume a surplus. Bats that did eat will then regurgitate part of their blood meal to save a conspecific from starvation. Since these animals live in close-knit groups over many years, an individual can count on other group members to return the favor on nights when it goes hungry (Wilkinson, 1984)

Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce (2009) have argued that morality is a suite of behavioral capacities likely shared by all mammals living in complex social groups (e.g., wolves, coyotes, elephants, dolphins, rats, chimpanzees). They define morality as “a suite of interrelated other-regarding behaviors that cultivate and regulate complex interactions within social groups.” This suite of behaviors includes empathy, reciprocity, altruism, cooperation, and a sense of fairness.[16] In related work, it has been convincingly demonstrated that chimpanzees show empathy for each other in a wide variety of contexts.[17] They also possess the ability to engage in deception, and a level of social politics[18] prototypical of our own tendencies for gossip and reputation management.

Christopher Boehm (1982)[19] has hypothesized that the incremental development of moral complexity throughout hominid evolution was due to the increasing need to avoid disputes and injuries in moving to open savanna and developing stone weapons. Other theories are that increasing complexity was simply a correlate of increasing group size and brain size, and in particular the development of theory of mind abilities. Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion suggested that our morality is a result of our biological evolutionary history and that the moral Zeitgeist helps describe how morality evolves from biological and cultural origins and evolves with time within a culture.

Sam Harris

Sam Harris

Sam Harris

Challenging the age-old philosophical notion that we can never get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’, Harris argues that moral questions are best pursued using, not just philosophy, but the methods of science. Thus,

science can determine human values” translates to “science can tell us which values lead to human flourishing. It is in this sense that Harris advocates that scientists begin conversations about a normative science of “morality”.

If our well-being depends upon the interaction between events in our brains and events in the world, and there are better and worse ways to secure it, then some cultures will tend to produce lives that are more worth living than others; some political persuasions will be more enlightened than others; and some world views will be mistaken in ways that cause needless human misery.
― Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values

Just as there is no such thing as Christian physics or Muslim Algebra, we will see tht there is no such thing as Christian or Muslim morality.
― Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values

We must continually remind ourselves that there is a difference between what is natural and what is actually good for us.
― Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values

We will embarrass our descendants, just as our ancestors embarrass us. This is moral progress.
― Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values

Despite our perennial bad behavior, our moral progress seems to me unmistakable.
― Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values

Faith, if it is ever right about anything, is right by accident.
― Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values
The point, of course, is that science increasingly allows us to identify aspects of our minds that cause us to deviate from norms of factual and moral reasoning—norms which, when made explicit, are generally acknowledged to be valid by all parties.
― Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values
Meaning, values, morality, and the good life must relate to facts about the well-being of conscious creatures—and, in our case, must lawfully depend upon events in the world and upon states of the human brain. Rational, open-ended, honest inquiry has always been the true source of insight into such processes. Faith, if it is ever right about anything, is right by accident.
― Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values


Matt Dilahunty



One of Dillahunty’s recurring themes has been the superiority of secular morality over non-secular morality. His key contentions on the issue are that secular moral systems are inclusive, dynamic, encourage change, and serve the interests of the participants, whereas non-secular moral systems only serve the interests of an external authority.  He touched on the subject again at a lecture at the 2013 American Atheists Convention in Austin: “They say we’re immoral, when we’re the only ones who understand that morality is derived from empathy, fairness, cooperation, and the physical facts about interacting in this universe. They’ve broken their moral compass and sacrificed their humanity on the altar of religion. They say we’re lost and broken and in need of salvation, when we’re the ones who are free.”Dillahunty holds the view that advocating infinite reward or punishment for finite deeds is “morally inferior”.

Richard Dawkins and the biological imperative. The natural Moral Compass.



Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins


Selection has favoured genes that cooperate with others. In the fierce competition for scarce resources…there must have been a premium on central coordination rather than anarchy within the communal body.

— Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, p. 47

The best strategy for an individual depends upon what the majority of the population are doing. Since the rest of the population consists of individuals, each one trying to maximize his own success, the only strategy that persists will be one which, once evolved, cannot be bettered by any deviant individual.

— Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, p. 69

Biological Determinism

What we mean by morality is the well-being of thinking creatures. As physical beings in a physical universe, our actions have consequences that are dictated by physical laws, they are not merely products of our mind. Why do we care about avoiding harm? When we talk about morality we are already conceding that we have a concern about well-being. To some extent it is subjective to your personal desires and interests, but once we acknowledge that peoples desires and interests have a fixed point then the moral objective is exactly that. In many ways then mass subjectivity is objective.

Moral Relativism

I reject moral relativism. If a particular culture or society deams a moral act to be correct and another one not then that i reject wholly. There can absolutely be an overal moral truth. It is beyond boundaries that we must look, and beyond Nationalism and limited tribal viewpoints and structures. The well-being of humanity is what is important.

Reigious peoole will try to claim morality is objective in order to shut off debate. Christianity (lots of denominations). Their solution to this problem. I am aware of no objections to secular moral systems that are both true and that those problems are solved by appealing to religious morality. Religious moral systems are not moral systems at all. There is no inherent mechanism involved, np path to discovery as to the why or morals. This is gods command etc. No more a solution to a problem than saying that the objective source is a book where the author is dead and we should appeal to those moral actions as laid out in the book.

The universe exists outside of us, independent of us it does what it does independent on what we think about it. It is our job not to fabricate those things that make us feel comfortable, but to actually use tools to figure out and observe things on what is actually true in the universe. Coming up with some proclamation that you absolutely know what it is (see religion) does not solve the problem. It simply gives you a convenient illusion on the nature or reality.

In modern moral psychology, morality is considered to change through personal development. A number of psychologists have produced theories on the development of morals, usually going through stages of different morals. Lawrence Kohlberg, Jean Piaget, and Elliot Turiel have cognitive-developmental approaches to moral development; to these theorists morality forms in a series of constructive stages or domains. Social psychologists such as Martin Hoffman and Jonathan Haidt emphasize social and emotional development based on biology, such as empathy. Moral identity theorists, such as William Damon and Mordechai Nisan, see moral commitment as arising from the development of a self-identity that is defined by moral purposes: this moral self-identity leads to a sense of responsibility to pursue such purposes. Of historical interest in psychology are the theories of psychoanalysts such as Sigmund Freud, who believe that moral development is the product of aspects of the super-ego as guilt-shame avoidance.
– Wikipedia
Kohlberg Model of Moral Development



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