• David S
    39
    Are we born with a certain set of morals or an inbuilt moral code or does this need to be learned, taught by experience?

    I’d like to believe the former (but where would the evidence be?) but think it is the latter.

    That being so what are the consequences for an individual?
  • javi2541997
    2.2k


    To be honest, I personally think it needs to be learned. There is an important concept inside Buddhism that is called "moral merit" which means the way of learn how to act appropriately towards life and others. Once we have learned morality we are more connected to Nirvana world or we pick up good results from "Cosmic justice" as "good Karma" etc...
    So yes I think Human Morals need to be taught and it is not inherent to us.
  • Alkis Piskas
    1.3k
    Human Morals need to be taught and it is not inherent to us.javi2541997
    Teaching moral values: Interesting subject!

    (BTW, why do you say "human" ... Are there morals other than human?)
  • javi2541997
    2.2k
    (BTW, why do you say "human" ... Are there morals other than human?)Alkis Piskas

    The title of the OP says "human morals" so I didn't want get off from the topic :yum:
  • SophistiCat
    2k
    The set of mental faculties with which we are born is rather limited, so in a literal sense, the answer to your question is, obviously, no. But in a less literal sense, it is not clear what exactly you are asking. Would we develop the same sort of morals if we were never taught any morals? A feral person's moral development would be very constricted, at best, but it hardly makes sense to talk about the morals of someone who is not even living in a society: where would they exercise their moral behavior? And for a typical person, moral development is impossible to disentangle from socialization, beginning with the family. Most morals are taught not through explicit instruction in moral maxims, but by example and ostension, which is how we learn most things as we grow up.

    Perhaps your question concerns so-called moral instincts. But even if there are such instincts (and there is a good deal of research in support of that idea), they won't amount to much if they are not given proper nurture and exercise, and that is impossible without social interaction.

    All of which is to say that, no matter how you look at it, morals, as they are usually understood - that is, a matured moral outlook, and not just a potential for developing one - have to be taught, even if implicitly.
  • T Clark
    9.8k
    When this subject comes up, I often discuss the work of Karan Wynn on the cognitive abilities of very young children. Here's a link to Wynn's publications page:

    https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=ZBkyZBIAAAAJ&hl=en

    Here's a link to an interesting 60 Minutes piece on her work with moral judgement in children:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FRvVFW85IcU

    It's 13 minutes long and it changed my thinking about human nature.
  • T Clark
    9.8k


    I neglected to link to you in my post above.
  • Alkis Piskas
    1.3k
    The title of the OP says "human morals" so I didn't want get off from the topicjavi2541997
    :grin:
    I didn't read the title, only your comment ... Then I should ask @David S ... Well, this food got cold now ...
    See, I mind about these things. Can't help it! :smile:
  • javi2541997
    2.2k


    Don't worry! It is ok, friend. I like your answer and I really appreciate the time you take to read my posts.
    To be honest, I don't even know why I wrote "human morals" :lol: I guess it was a reflex action or something similar!
  • Agent Smith
    7.6k
    inbuilt moral code or does this need to be learnedDavid S

    My guess would be that it's a bit of both. There's a moral instinct in every species; I say this because cannibalism isn't exactly popular in the animal world and morality seems to reduce to the distinction like (me) and unlike (me). Where humans have made a quantum leap is in reasoning to the fact that we're all alike in being living organisms and, as we all know, nobody wants to die and/or experience pain. There are exceptions though but since they're quite rare, we can hope to get it right in most all of the ethical issues we encounter.

    However, being rational about ethics can lead to inverse consequences e.g. one might find good reasons not to be moral or discover that it's better to be immoral.

    It's worth noting that from an evolutionary standpoint (re the selfish gene, according to some a misleading label), altruism (the highest form of good we know of) is ultimately selfishness (the worst form of evil we're familiar with). A fortiori, good is just evil in disguise, oui monsieur? Evil is trying its best to be good! Awesome!
  • Alkis Piskas
    1.3k
    Thanks.

    I don't even know why I wrote "human moralsjavi2541997
    Maybe because you have read it too many times that it became indelible in your mind! :grin:
    Indeed, how many times do we read about "human conscience", "human ethics" (1.2 million results in Google!) and so on, as if there's conscience, ethics, etc. other than human ...
  • David S
    39
    I didn’t think I needed to ‘qualify’ the ‘human’ when referring to morals. Inherent I guess in the way I phrased the question is what is instinct from birth versus what is learned. I know there is a good lot in the learned so language, understanding even teaching (or the assumption of a common understanding.) I already said I believe it is the latter, so learned. There are consequences I suggest if that is true. That is where I assumed the conversation might go.
  • 180 Proof
    9.8k
    I suspect, as with other higher-order metacognitions, h. sapiens are born with an aptitude for making moral judgments and for which degrees of competence can be learned through the vagueries of neonatal-childhood development and maturating life experiences.

    I elaborate more in this old post ...
    https://thephilosophyforum.com/discussion/comment/699762
  • David S
    39
    I think in part it comes from the fact we are social animals, not uniquely so of course but the co-operative element necessary in particular the long period relative to most other animals for a young infant to be fully physically and mentally developed relying on the family unit and the extended community. Language and codification of laws from both verbal and written teachings. Most will learn of the Ten Commandments but other traditions in far east like Taoism and Confucianism and Indian texts.

    Parents of course are important as are teachers to impart the strong sense of right and wrong. Most children learn what the word no means very early. There is a course an argument that in later life this can set a limitation on what an individual can achieve for their life but the early instruction is no doubt necessary and of value.

    In part I think morals are also part of the expression treat others as you would like to be treated. It is a simple statement but humans sense of self and once the theory of mind is developed at an early age knowing your views, thoughts and actions are different to others creates the internal thought process of how you act has a bearing on others, I guess the tap root of an individuals on sense of morals.

    The experience then of situations with others and outcomes from those relationships naturally develops an individuals own sense of behaviour and personal morals.
  • Tom Storm
    5k
    Are we born with a certain set of morals or an inbuilt moral code or does this need to be learned, taught by experience?David S

    Human morality is all over the place. We seem to have evolved towards empathy and, as a social species, it's to our advantage to cooperate. But on specific issues like killing, theft, infanticide, lying, sexual behaviours, marriage, role of men and women, whatever it may be, we vary greatly between cultures, and often within a single religion or culture. Religions have dominated this discussion for so long that many people are hard wired to consider morality as immutable even when religious morality itself is based on the subjective preferences of believers. For my money, humans create morality to facilitate social cooperation in order to achieve our preferred forms of order.
  • Benkei
    5.9k
    That is so cool. Thanks for sharing! Too bad most people get fucked up growing up.
  • universeness
    2.9k
    Are we born with a certain set of morals or an inbuilt moral code or does this need to be learned, taught by experience?David S

    I think this can be angled as 'to what extent could newborns be indoctrinated/moulded from birth?'
    Could a powerful totalitarian/autocratic organisation/group/individual, mould humans 'EXACTLY' to their specification. To install a belief system and a morality that was exactly as required by the will of the controlling source. Would there eventually be anomalies? Would one or two fully manipulated human minds from birth eventually understand that the imposed morality need not be blindly obeyed, it can be questioned and would such anomalies be inevitable and would eventually make the original intentions untenable. Even in the matrix films, the intended 'batteries,' rebelled.
  • I like sushi
    3.9k
    In short, it is ‘inbuilt’ but that is not to say nurture is thrown out completely.

    I say this because we are social beings and our success comes through cooperation and interaction. Without a similar guiding ‘moral disposition’ - we shall call it - among individuals we would struggle to function in social groups.

    Such qualities are not unique to humans though yet our level of complexity is something quite different probably due to our ability to hold multiple narratives in our head at once giving us a complex theory of ’minds’, rather than just ‘mind’.

    Note: Such a ‘moral disposition’ is fairly nebulous in form. Meaning different cultures will apply different weight to different ‘virtues and vices’ yet overall there is the undeniable common physical feature of empathy.
  • David S
    39
    @T Clark. Very useful reference. My take away from it is there is a natural bias from birth to like those that might treat others better and also are similar to you. It was surprising that it seems we might also have a preference to punish those that are bad to others. It is not really a moral code but an inborn instinct. What also was interesting is in younger children there is not a sense of altruism so it appears we learn to be possessive of things. The experience of teaching young toddlers they should share. The fact too your children will forego a larger share of something if it means others benefit too. The older a child gets the fact of shared value equally or even foregoing a larger share so altruism or a sense of fairness appears to increase. I don’t know but assume it’s ‘learned’ behaviour but learning by experience rather than being taught so it seems whilst we might have some natural moral code to favour those like us but also develop selfishness until older and the benefits of sharing and fairness.

    It seems therefore a natural moral code develops but there is also the inherited tendency to favour those like us with maybe a natural tendency to prejudice those that are different. I guess this is why an external set of codes being taught may be necessary probably. Interested to hear views on this aspect.
  • T Clark
    9.8k
    That is so cool.Benkei

    I agree. I first saw the show 10 years ago and I can't get it out of my mind. Whenever I see a baby, I think of how much more is going on in their minds than we can see.
  • Alkis Piskas
    1.3k


    Here is how I see the subject of the source and formation of human morality.

    On a first level, individuals have own --instinctive, innate (inherent)-- morality. That is, they are born with a basic morality and the foundations (factors, elements) on which it is formed. I don't think we can name them, since they are in raw form.

    Then, the morality / moral values of an individual are molded by various sources:
    - The individual's immediate, close environment , with family being the closest one.
    - Moral values that are taught to the individual, mainly by their parents and in school.
    - The individual's own knowledge that is gained by their interaction with the world. This is a quite wide and versatile source of course, considering also that it involves the individual's reasoning with which they examine and evaluate the truth and usefulness or importance of a variety of elements related to morality.

    There may be more sources, but these are what I consider as most important.

    One thing that I have to mention, which is central to morality is that humans are born good. That is, the human nature is good. This is evident, since morality has to do on a first level with survival, and then with well-being, pleasure and happiness, all of which are basic needs to every individual.
    However, external factors --originating from family and society-- as well as internal ones -- created by mental aberrations and lack of reasoning ability-- may cause individual to behave immorally.
    But even in these cases an individual has a lot of chances to restore their morality, in a lot of different ways.
  • T Clark
    9.8k
    It is not really a moral code but an inborn instinct.David S

    Speaking of language, in "The Descent of Man," Charles Darwin wrote:

    Human language is an instinctive tendency to acquire an art. It certainly is not a true instinct, for every language has to be learned. It differs, however, widely from all ordinary arts, for man has an instinctive tendency to speak, as we see in the babble of our young children; while no child has an instinctive tendency to brew, bake, or write.

    I think something similar could be true for moral understanding. In "What is an Instinct" William James wrote:

    Nothing is commoner than the remark that Man differs from lower creatures by the almost total absence of instincts, and the assumption of their work in him by “reason.”...[But] the facts of the case are really tolerably plain! Man has a far greater variety of impulses than any lower animal; and any one of these impulses, taken in itself, is as “blind” as the lowest instinct can be; but, owing to man’s memory, power of reflection, and power of inference, they come each one to be felt by him, after he has once yielded to them and experienced their results, in connection with a foresight of those results…

    …It is plain then that, no matter how well endowed an animal may originally be in the way of instincts, his resultant actions will be much modified if the instincts combine with experience, if in addition to impulses he have memories, associations, inferences, and expectations, on any considerable scale…

    …there is no material antagonism between instinct and reason…
  • T Clark
    9.8k


    Forgot to say - in order to notify someone that you have responded, you have to either use the @ function (see top of response box) or type @T Clark with double quotes (") on each side of the name. If you don't do that, people won't know you responded.
  • universeness
    2.9k
    The 'unsullied' as portrayed in Game of Thrones? Could such a group be easily created today?
    How accurate is this song from one of my fav bands, MUSE!


    Can a particular morality be indelibly marked on humans? I think the answer is no. I think there is some small aspects of 'what you are born with,' that influences morality. The majority of an individual's morality does come from nurture and the social/economic/cultural/political/traditional influences they experience BUT some 'inherent' aspect can also assert itself at any point such as an inherent cruelty or empathy, no matter how deep down it has been pushed.
  • Joshs
    3.9k


    When this subject comes up, I often discuss the work of Karan Wynn on the cognitive abilities of very young children. Here's a link to Wynn's publications page:T Clark

    Let me try and articulate what I think are problems with Wynn’s thesis:

    I think she begins with unexamined assumptions concerning concepts such as compassion , altruism and empathy. The question is , what is it about the way we think about certain aspects of human behavior that lead us to conclude from the fact that they are displayed in very young infants that they are ‘innate’?

    Do we leap to such conclusions concerning perceptual achievements of infants, or do we first look to see in what ways exposure to environmental stimulation in the womb and out of it may lead to the infant’s construction of perceptual skills?
    I dont think so, and I think the reason has to do with our woefully poor understanding of the relation between affective phenomena and perceptual-cognitive skills. We tend to think of emotions in terms of raw , dumb, reflex-like, pre-reflective and pre-rational bodily sensations and reinforcements. But new ways of thinking about affect show it to be inseparable from cognitive assessments, not just in the sense that all assessments and intentions presuppose affective tonality and motivation , but in that affects themselves are already intentionally meaningful forms of sense-making. From this vantage, the only aspect of morality humans inherit is the capacity , and need, to construe meaningful pattens in events. This alone explains why we care about and want to empathize with others who we recognize as like ourselves in some
    valuable fashion. The real feat of Wynn’s subjects isnt some ‘innate moral’ capacity , it is their
    conceptual recognition of others as like themselves. This is learned, not innate.
  • T Clark
    9.8k
    I think she begins with unexamined assumptions concerning concepts such as compassion , altruism and empathy. The question is , what is it about the way we think about certain aspects of human behavior that lead us to conclude from the fact that they are displayed in very young infants that they are ‘innate’?Joshs

    I checked the transcript. Altruism and empathy were not mentioned. Compassion was mentioned twice by an outside commentator, not Wynn. The video focused on children's behavior, not concepts. True, Wynn and others did indicate they thought the behaviors were innate. That doesn't seem like such a jump to me.

    Do we leap to such conclusions concerning perceptual achievements of infants, or do we first look to see in what ways exposure to environmental stimulation in the womb and out of it may lead to the infant’s construction of perceptual skills? I dont think so, and I think the reason has to do with our woefully poor understanding of the relation between affective phenomena and perceptual-cognitive skills.Joshs

    Again, the report doesn't mention affect or emotion. The focus is on behavior. Why would you jump to the conclusion that the behavior we see is related to events in the womb? These are very young children. They don't have language yet. Do you really think they were taught the behaviors they act out?

    the only aspect of morality humans inherit is the capacity , and need, to construe meaningful pattens in events.Joshs

    And the evidence for this is....?

    This is learned, not innate.Joshs

    Sez you. Not Wynn. I'm not saying every question is answered, but you haven't provided much to work with.
  • Joshs
    3.9k
    I checked the transcript. Altruism and empathy were not mentioned. Compassion was mentioned twice by an outside commentator, not Wynn. The video focused on children's behavior, not concepts. True, Wynn and others did indicate they thought the behaviors were innate. That doesn't seem like such a jump to me.T Clark

    I was focusing mainly on her paper , The Moral Baby’, which mentions empathy and compassion extensively i. the context of cognition.

    “There are several moral emotions, including guilt, shame, gratitude, and anger, but most developmental research has focused on caring about other people—sometimes described as compassion.”

    “The early emergence of the evaluation of social actions—present already by 3 months of age—suggests that this capacity cannot result entirely from experi­ence in particular cultural environments or exposure to specific linguistic practices, and it suggests that there are innate bases that ground some components of our moral cognition.”

    https://cpb-us-w2.wpmucdn.com/campuspress.yale.edu/dist/f/1145/files/2017/10/Wynn-Bloom-Moral-Handbook-Chapter-2013-14pwpor.pdf

    Why would you jump to the conclusion that the behavior we see is related to events in the womb? These are very young children. They don't have language yet. Do you really think they were taught the behaviors they act out?T Clark

    Many perceptual skills are directly related to stimulation in the womb. Fetuses in the womb can respond positively to singing and rocking by the mother, already forming a basis of attachment to her. Prior to the development of language , the infant is still a conceptualizing , sense-making , pattern recognizing being. These pre-linguistic capacities are more than enough for the infant to learn to empathize. with others.
  • T Clark
    9.8k


    A few weeks ago, we had a thread about mental processes that included discussion of Pinker's "The Language Instinct." Two explanations for how language develops in humans were discussed 1) Pinker's contention that there are genetically established brain locations and functions that code a universal grammar common to all humans and 2) A view that sees language as one expression of a more general cognitive ability. Both approaches include a major role for learning from experience, but the second puts a much heavier emphasis on empirical learning.

    Seems to me the discussion we are having here runs parallel to that one. Here, I am at least a tentative spokesman for the first view as it applies to moral behavior and you support one that is similar to the second view.

    You quote Karen Wynn:

    The early emergence of the evaluation of social actions—present already by 3 months of age—suggests that this capacity cannot result entirely from experi­ence in particular cultural environments or exposure to specific linguistic practices, and it suggests that there are innate bases that ground some components of our moral cognition. — Karen Wynn

    I see this as a very moderate expression of an argument for a genetic component to moral behavior. She doesn't make any definitive statement. She says her results suggest a genetic component. She says "...there are innate bases that ground some components of our moral cognition." That doesn't seem like any great leap to take from her studies. You, on the other hand, seem to reject even that moderate claim out of hand. You point out some hypothetical reasons why it might not be true, but don't provide any substantive refutation. I find that an unconvincing argument.

    Currently I am uncertain of the relative contribution of inherited abilities and learning to human moral behavior, but Wynn's claim that her results are suggestive of a genetic component makes sense to me.
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