The evolution of human morality.

May 19, 2012 § 3 Comments

This is a reply to a post (which is a reply to my comment) titled “Why morality stems from law, not the opposite; why the moral of different cultures are very similar and why there is not an ‘absolute’ moral” by Miguelinileugum You can read the original post that I commented on here.

Humans have a “morality” which seems to be inherent in humans, most likely the result of genetic traits and cultural adaptations. In the above post, Miguelinileugum makes the argument that morality stems from law, as the title would suggest. I’m assuming that by “law” she means the societal establishments which enforce practices and appropriate behaviors, as we are all familiar with the term to be.

This argument reasons it is as such because “society needed a common law, and the ones who complied with the law had less problems with society.” However, the argument does not take into account the existence of moral principles before the existence of common law, or how the formation of laws was established.

Throughout human history, in various different cultures from around the world, societal groups have established laws, which all manage to resemble each other. Countries and societies have established laws such as “no stealing,” “no murder,” et. cetera. Miguelinileugum regards the commonality to be because “requirements of a stable society are the same.” However, this does not take into account the establishment process of societal laws, nor the ancient historical purposes of tribes, and what could have caused our morality in such an establishment.

Ancient tribes, for instance, worked in a mutually beneficial arrangement, which has happened since before human existence, into the times of our ancestors Homo erectus, Homo neanderthals, and before. These mutually beneficial relationships, in a group stance, establish not only the ideas of individual natural selection, but now establishes principles of group selection.

Group selection suggests that the individual groups working against other groups—because of the mutually beneficial relationships within each—begin to be “naturally selected” as an individual would on a single-organism scale.

More mutually-beneficial relationships within a tribe, and the more “trust” within a tribe, the more successful the tribe will be, in competing with other tribes, each also aiming to be the most successful and established. We’ll disregard the previous advancements to a tribe’s relationship, and assume that in one particular group, the beginnings of “moral principles”—which include the mutually-beneficial practices of no murder and no theft—begins to surface.

Within a group, one who murders another member is destroying the mutually-beneficial relationship which benefits the entire group. Knowing that the group is aiming to overcome other groups, this member is doing a disservice, and would likely be removed from the group to prevent further conflict, where that individual would most likely not have an established life, and would die. Meanwhile, the tribe is setting itself up for the advancement of moral principles, and the current members, as well as the future members, would now take into account the disservice and distrust that goes along with such actions (whereas the same situation with other examples like “no theft” also take place).

Over a period of millennia—let us not forget that Homo erectus, our most recent ancestor, lived for over one million years—these principles establish themselves into our genetic makeup, just as has been established with other human characteristics.

When larger groups begin establishing, such as the beginnings of societies, these same principles are established in a common societal law. At this point, the evolved human principles and morals are written, and are to be known by each individual, and have appropriate punishments for each offense which is written.

I’m not, however, saying that all established laws at this point are moral, as there would also be cultural differences which occur (such as racism and sexism, which would still be evident from past tribal establishments). Over time, though, as we have seen within the last few hundred years, societal laws change based on the societal morality that begins to change.

The counter idea would assume that the already established laws would establish prinples into society. Laws do not cause morality, as those who pass laws must first have seen the change in society to have the need to change the laws. If everything were about laws, there would be no rebels going against the principles of law, or the already established laws would enforce the “moralistic principles” onto all of society, which doesn’t happen.

Moral principles are established with the advancement of cultural philosophies, which are followed by the establishment of common law, which reflects the changing principles of culture for a group. Common law does not establish moral principles in society.


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§ 3 Responses to The evolution of human morality.

  • I agree with your reply, the morality don’t stems directly from common law but in an indirect way.
    (Yes, is very frustrating that two entire pages of argumentation only serve to clarify a point; and even more if you receive a ridiculously-small-in-comparison reply).

    I’m following your blog and I’m going to read all your previous posts, thanks for this ridiculously long reply (it’s not a sarcasm, I’m glad to have interested someone about something).

    • Trizo says:

      Ha. Well thank you.
      I love discussions, regardless of how long they are. I tend to write ridiculously long replies… Sorry about that!

  • Incanto says:

    Well, I would actually disagree. Lets take your example that was based on murder under consideration. You have a tribe and you are saying that since one tribe competes against another, it is beneficial to have as many people as possible therefore murder is bad. This does make sense until you start talking about handicapped people, or people who lost and arm or something. A part of the group that in the end only weakens the group as a whole. According to your idea which is based on competition, that person would be a weakness. Being a weakness you have the reason to execute that person. This is not what we would consider moral but that is the way it works. In case you do not believe me – think about the Mongolian time where the mongols had conquered about half of the world – why? because of cannibalism. The weakest person would be killed and eaten by the rest – not moral but it helped the group as a whole succeed. Lets look at the pretty much same example just from today. You have the Al Qaeda, yet again another group. They send out people to start killing themselves (of course just to kill as many others as possible) but anyways, they are sent out on suicide missions, this again is unmoral but it benefits the group as a whole. Therefore I think you cannot say that morals are part of genetic traits. They are taught to people at a very young age and they manifest within these people.

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