(Original post by there's too much love)
What is it to act morally?
Are there objective truths?
If so why should one follow them?
If not why should people follow subjective ones?
If there are no subjective or objective moral truths there are no moral truths surely? (in case you answer that there aren't any o or s truths morally).
You just gave me a few essay titles.
WHAT IS MORALITY?
The answer to the question 'what is morality' lies, i believe, in the palm of science. Miller gives a handy bite-size summary: “In evolutionary terms, a moral person is simply one who pursues their ultimate genetic self-interest through psychological adaptations that embody a genuine, proximate concern for others” (note the 'genuine' here). Mill thought morality was about consequences, Kant thought it was about universal maxims. They were both right, and the evidence is in our brains, where both types are represented. When people all over the world are asked about the trolley/footbrigde problem (http://www.wjh.harvard.edu/~jgreene/)
, they consistently have the same response. Joshua Greene put people in functional mri’s while asking this problem, and shows specific parts of the brain universally light up: the Dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex being the utilitarian side of the brain and the medial prefrontal cortex, the area of social emotions/feelings.
The results of the scanning show that the ‘medial prefrontal cortex’, the area of social emotions and feelings, is most immediately activated when a subject is faced with a moral issue. The rationalization which occurs after the emotive response is assumed merely acts as a lawyer hired to defend a particular case. The primacy of emotion in our response to moral or taboo subjects suggests that our moral stances on particular issues are highly influenced by the wider norms of the society and system of thought in which we have grown up. Our morality, then, is more flexible in its division of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ than many people would like to think.
ARE THERE OBJECTIVE TRUTHS?
I am not a moral realist - I don't believe there are fixed imperatives engraved in to the stratosphere or that God has given us a list of 'do nots' which have somehow become 'objective'. There is just too much that is wrong with the idea of an objective morality. If we establish the universal 'do not kill', for example, then should we sit flaccid whilst a crazed terrorist guides the aircraft you are sitting in headfirst towards a massive crowd of people? What abot abortion? Should we allow a horrifically disabled baby, with a disease which causes it a lot of pain, to be born in to a household which will not care for it properly?
The point is that if there was an objective morality then it would be far more clear. But the reality of moral dilemmas are much more wooly. If I could point to a near-universal in human beings, which seems to be present in all but psychopaths, we seem to have the 'golden rule' etched in to us. As it has probably evolved for social/genetic benefit, its not an objective 'law', but its as close as you're going to get: do for others what they would have done to you. Humanitarianism.
WHY SHOULD PEOPLE FOLLOW SUBJECTIVE ONES?
Look at the question 'why should people obey laws', and you have part of my answer. The avoidance of a state of disaster. Do you think the human race would survive for a week if people had no inhibtions or a sense of respect for each other. We follow rules because we are selfish.
The other part of this question is asking why we should be 'nice' to each other. Maybe it would make it clearer to ask why we ARE nice to each other in the first place. Understanding that morality is an evolved cognitive construt doesn't mean that we immediately regress back to a state of dystopia. I'll end with Greene's conclusion to illustrate this. p.s look out for the word 'humanity'.
"My goal as a scientist, then, is to reveal our moral thinking for what it is: a complex hodgepodge of emotional responses and rational (re)constructions, shaped by both genetic and cultural influences, that do some things well and other things extremely poorly. My hope is that by understanding how we think, we can teach ourselves to think better, i.e. in ways that better serve the needs of humanity as a whole."