Human Morality; A Philosophical Take (Part 1)

Before going through the following piece, you need to know that this kind of discussion is not everyone’s cup of tea. It could be dense for some (but not for others) and requires a unique approach to it. Having said that, enjoy reading!

Human morality has always remained a very fascinating concept to me. The interesting dichotomy that I see when I analyze morality is the simplicity with which the notion of good and bad is accepted in mainstream and the extreme complexity that is inherent to morality, however obvious it may apparently seem. It has always been a matter of great difficulty for me, personally, to gather my haywire thoughts on the topic and a topic too that can potentially stretch to great lengths once one starts to ponder upon it. The fundamental principle that almost acts as the cornerstone for my philosophy on morality is that, generally, it is safe to say that morality, with its generally accepted interpretations and perspectives, is largely and quite significantly a hollow phenomenon. Right from the outset though, I find it hugely important to state that this preceding declaration does not, by any means, validate numerous heinous acts that are wrong in themselves and which are also considered ‘morally wrong’ by the mainstream interpretation e.g., murders, robberies, vandalism etc.

This irony brings me to my next point, which is partly an attempt to settle this apparent contradiction, that there has to be a different perspective on morality which has to be different than the prevalent interpretation to ensure a greater and more well-formed understanding of so subjective a topic. The driving factor behind all these actions needs to be understood. The more one delves deeper into its root cause, the more is one faced with complications and the more it hurts the noble fabric of morality upon which our societies are based. To strengthen my point about our understanding of morality, in its current form, being flawed, I’d like to refer the reader to recall all those events and moments, from historic ones to a person’s seemingly insignificant daily interactions, and see if one fails to find any ethical and moral flaw (according to its largely accepted notions) with the things being done, the matters being dealt with, the issues being handled and the problems being addressed.

To further the argument, I’d like to introduce the concept of evolutionary psychology and how I find its stark connection with the topic under discussion. Evolutionary psychology is a relatively new branch of psychology that traces the causes of human actions to the evolutionary process of development through which the human brain has seen its transformation. A phrase from an anonymous source, “the whispers of the thousand generations”, seems to clearly explain the causes of human actions according to evolutionary psychological reasons. The reptilian brain, the amygdala (the fear center of the brain) and so on are the more primitive parts of the brain which trigger the fight or flight responses and could possibly be termed as the brain’s emotional centers. This branch of psychology helps to explain the causes of human actions in quite simple and sensible ways and it is due to this very fact that I find it helpful to incorporate it in our attempt to understand morality as it is human actions that define morality, making an inextricable connection between the two.

It is a common understanding, mostly on the basis of human observation, that the majority of the population generally lacks the ability to think clearly on a purely rational basis. What causes us to be so emotional in our mindsets that shape our way of live is a whole another topic to be discussed, which would, though, make for quite an interesting discussion. But I believe I am not going out on a limb here when I declare that we are driven mostly by our emotional rather than the rational center of our brain. It is in the nature of mankind to seek comfort, to find solace and I think that is the broader reason that leads us collectively to succumb to our emotions as, otherwise, one has to face the harsh realities, doing which, in itself, requires immense courage. Having established this fact, it should not be disputable to say that all our actions are affected primarily by emotions rather than rational basis of thinking and that this arc of emotional thinking extends its effects to our understanding of morality as well. It is this emotional foundation upon which the way we practice morality in our life can be explained. This is one of the perspectives that can be of great help in developing our understanding of the multidimensional concept of morality.

Morality: A Concept Null and Void?

An emotionally charged human brain is harmful for numerous reasons but two specifically stand out, with regards to this voyage into the realm of morality: 1) a person loses the ability to differentiate clearly between right and wrong in any given situation and 2) it kicks in the most primal instinct of a human being to survive. The first concern is, I think, more easily understandable but the second one is a lot more complex, especially when it is tried to be understood in combination with the first reason. The human being, having gone through a significant period of evolution, is still a slave to its primal instincts and that’s what makes me confident in claiming that mankind collectively has not yet reached a stage in its evolutionary development that allows us to fully cherish such a noble concept like morality. It should not be dubious, thus, to say that the weakness of the human evolutionary process (so far) trumps our ability to do justice with morality every single time.

Either morality is a concept null and void or, if I am going to be gracious in my assessment, it’s not void in and of itself but only something that the human species does not deserve at the moment. Morality, as it is described in its current sense of idea, is a noble concept where the interests of a person more deserving than you are always preferred and that there should be no pursuit of self-interest at the expense of another person’s self-interests. And that there is a clear black and white distinction that can be made to conclude things as good or bad and right or wrong. The contradiction of this theoretical concept explained just now with the reality of the world is so striking that I find it baffling, to say the least, and quite amusing. For instance, just have a glance at the global political scenarios and the underlying mechanisms and variables affecting them. On the part of countries, there is largely no concept of pursuing something that is only in the interest of the other party and not in the interest of self.

Due to the fact that morality is presented as a noble concept, but, simultaneously, is a concept that is taken for granted, one would assume that everyone follows it practically and not just talks about it, directly and indirectly, in every other piece of conversation. The truth, however, gives a complete opposite picture to what has just been said. I’d go so far in my position and argue that we don’t have even a semblance of morality in our practical action, daily interactions and general attitudes. Along with the fact that morality does not play any role in our actions, it is also worth noticing at this point what actually drives our actions instead of morality. It is, quite apparently in my observation, the pursuit of self-interest that’s predominantly the primary motive behind our every other action. So predominant, in fact, that any other motive is actually negligible. That’s not to say that you will not find plenty of examples in your surroundings, and maybe even related to yourself, that contradict my observation. The fact that you would see some people that would apparently not be involved in absolute pursuit of self-interests is due to other reasons that can be associated with anything but nobility of character. If you go deeper into the psychological motives, you would find out that it’s not morality that is causing them to behave in such a way but something else that restricts them from going after their self-interest (in many cases, their own lack of discipline, work ethic etc.) and it is only after they find out they are restricted is when they wear the garb of noble morality. That is, though, a topic which deviates from our main course of thought. It will thus, be discussed at another point in time.

At this point, a few arguments could be floated in opposition to all what has been said above:

  • Morality does not mean sacrificing your self-interest. Thus, it is unjustified to relate it with actions that are taken with self-preservation as the primary goal.
  • Everyone is not subject by nature to the highest ideals of morality i.e., considering supreme morality in everything that we do, otherwise, we would be flawless.

These arguments surely are, at least somewhat, substantial and thus, they need to be, and will be, attempted to be addressed in detail to develop a deeper understanding of the extremely thought provoking and attention-worthy phenomenon.

The next part of this text will explore:

  • Connection between altruism (selflessness) and morality.
  • The absolute subjective nature of morality.
  • Transactional Morality
  • The unavoidable human incompetence to be moral in everyday life.

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