Instinct vs Morality

Like the rest of the animal kingdom, humans don't need a moral edict to ensure that we will reproduce as a species. Biological evolution could not help but select for those individuals that exhibit a biological imperative toward reproduction. We experience the imperative as a sexual urge. The urge kicks in when we experience a developmental surge in hormone production – years before society has decreed that we are ready for marriage.

Most animal parents do not need a moral edict to ensure that they will provide sufficient aid to their offspring. Any species in which the young must learn surival skills could not have continued if instinct had not guaranteed protection, nurturance, and training – usually by females, sometimes supported by assistance from males. We experience the instinct to nurture as love.

If we are fortunate, we find sexual partners, usually of the opposite sex. If we are particularly fortunate, we continue to love those whom we have chosen. Most of us make families. No need for a moral edict – instinct suffices.

Many animal species experience greater safety when they congregate in groups of varying sizes – we experience this as a social urge to join communities. Many animal species exhibit an instinct toward altruism – ants carry this instinct to an extreme, but ants can afford to do this because the colony members who sacrifice themselves are not the reproductive members. Human societies set up rules to ensure beneficial intracommunal interactions and hierarchies to guarantee leadership. Humans invented morality in an attempt to ensure that others would behave in a manner beneficial to the community – in accord with instinct for some and counter to personal urges for others. Most societies invented religion to ensure cooperation. Some societies value human rights, some violate the rights of weaker members.


Individuals in any animal species survive to reproduce by virtue of instincts that ensure individual survival – taking food, killing prey. We don't eat because of moral edicts – we experience hunger. Some of us attempt to satisfy our hunger for material things by taking what is not ours. Humans invented laws and punishments to deal with selfish acts – any act where we disregard a higher right.

Early human societies, just like modern agrarian economies in the developing world, benefited from reproduction. This explains why the Bible emphasizes reproduction and 'not spilling one's seed on barren ground'. However, by the Middle Ages, children without a supportive father were a drain on the community. This explains the shift toward emphasis on marriage and family; whereas marriage was initially a contract to ensure political alliances.

Unfortunately, fundamentalists and many religionists presume to dictate how all of us should live our lives – even those of us who do not find satisfaction through the church-wedding-before-sex, heterosexual, two child formula. I consider it immoral to selfishly insist that other people sacrifice their happiness to religionists' outmoded, neurotic rules. Fundamentalists want us to behave like emotional ants.



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2 comments:

Miguel Picanco said...

Fairly well thought out.. but comes across as nearly as santimonious as religion. They dictate that we should do X since god just happens to exist. You dictate that we should do anything we desire or "experience" via whatever instinctual impulse strikes us since human values and rights just happen to exist. Why?

It is no wonder at all why so many people who fear their instincts turn to religion for guidance - the secular/atheistic community offers evolutionary psychology, generalized utility, and nihilism. We're going to have to do much better than that!

I have a hunch that focusing on morality as a method instead of a rigid code might fruitful. Have you at least checked out Fyfe's Desire Utilitarianism? It seems to hold some promise in terms of explaning values and the sense of objectivism in the form of refining the decision process instead of introducing rigid codes.

atheistethicist.blogspot.com

salient said...

Hi, Miguel, thanks for your comment.

"You dictate that we should do anything we desire or "experience" via whatever instinctual impulse strikes us since human values and rights just happen to exist."

That's not what I am saying at all. You probably read the post too quickly to see what I actually said. I did not want to spell my point out directly, so the post's style probably did lend to misinterpretaion. I'll try to be more direct:

I am basically saying that some of the positive "family values", which religionists rant on about, have no need for moralistic edicts because emotion pushes us toward the behaviors. These emotions are a result of biological selective pressures. They are ancient -- witness birds' mating for life.

I'm also saying that moral custom is partly dictated by prevailing societal needs.

No, I have not read Fyfe's Desire Utilitarianism. If it's available on the Internet, then I shall.

I think that the people who fear their instincts do so because they have been taught by religion to fear instinct (at least, if it deviates at all from the narrow moralistic formula).
One problem with such religious attempts to channel people into rigid patterns is that it comes with the cost of making them generally fearful.

I think that very few people turn to religion as thinking, educated adults. Most Western atheists grew up embedded within religious cultures and surrounded by religious messages. Statistically, educated, intelligent adults are more likely to be turning away from rigid religionism than toward it.

"the secular/atheistic community offers evolutionary psychology, generalized utility, and nihilism."

I don't think that most religionists even know what secular humanism offers, let alone know any theories of moral philosophy or psychology. They merely believe and parrot the prevailing religionist messages that "absolute moral truths" exist and that atheists merely want to deny these "truths" so as to practice immorality -- "laissez faire moral relativism".

I think that religionists are utterly incorrect because I think that moral outrage lies beneath much of the recent upsurge of atheism and vocal secular humanism. In other words, I think that many secular atheists are highly moral -- just not in the narrow religionist mode. Even the name of your blog supports this point.

"We're going to have to do much better than that!"

I agree.

Still, secular humanist could formulate the best moral code in existence, but it would not necessarily help. It's difficult to educate people who won't listen because they have been indoctrinated into closed-mindedness.