Are Morals built in or learned? Watch

TheNamesBond.
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Take for example an animal, a dog let's say, it loves it's owner, cares for it's owner and will protect it's owner if danger should come around, right off the bat we have morals, the dog would not hurt it's owner, it wouldn't just decide to rip out it's owners throat at happy hour, so there we have it, morals.

But can we say that morals only exist because we create them?

If you strip away everyhing, the only reason not to do a bad thing is because it will hurt or damage someome or something, and why does that hold importance?

Thoughts? Morals always interest me.
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TheNamesBond.
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Also take into consideration, religion, if you add religion into the mix then the you shouldn't do a bad thing because you'll go to Hell, if the foundation of morals don't exist then Heaven and Hell are the only reasons not to carry out what we call, negative actions.

And if that's so, then that adds an interesting element into this thought, religion was created to establish order, law and order, to create stability, I mean let's face it, without religion back in the day what's to stop Bob here taking that meat cleaver to your face and stealing your microwave?
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random_matt
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Learnt.
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XOR_
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(Original post by sklerty)
Who decides what's moral?
Erm, literally everyone/society.
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jamesbarry17
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Good and evil are built in.
Morality is learned.

Dogs don't have morals; only humans do. Morality is basically consciousness put into practice. Dogs don't have consciousness; only impulse. So their actions are not "created".
Humans, on the other hand, can conceptualise the future, and can conceptualise the consequences of our actions. The more we consider these things, the more they influence our actions (which I think is what "free will" alludes to), and so the more "moral" we can be.
We create morals, yes; but their foundation is the inextricable good and evil that is built into our nature, which we cannot change. It's like the gender and sex nature vs nurture debate. Yes, gender is a social construct, but we constructed it in a certain way because it is congruent with our nature. Same goes for morality. It is constructed, but we generally construct it in ways that are congruent with our human nature. If we didn't do that then we wouldn't function very well.

"If you strip away everyhing, the only reason not to do a bad thing is because it will hurt or damage someome or something, and why does that hold importance?" - this is a very deep question. Firstly, I think the 'reason' you posit there is legitimate but a very surface-level way of looking at it. The consequences of our actions are so much deeper than just hurting or bringing pleasure to someone or something. Bringing in refugees or homeless people to your country or home is a very quick way of doing good for the world if all we should think about is pleasure; but would that really serve pleasure in the long-term? (I mean, that's another debate to be had, but my point is that doing something immediately pleasurable does not necessarily bring goodness in the long-term, e.g. if bringing in refugees caused the country to eventually collapse; and on the other side of the coin, doing a "bad" thing that hurts someone in the immediate term can have overall positive long-term consequences.)

Your thoughts about religion, I think they relate to what I said about social constructs. I think that religion in general is fundamentally a socially-constructed moral framework predicated upon the natural good and evil I refer to.

I can talk more about why I think good and evil is built in and not the same as morality if you'd like. My theory is basically that evolution (as in, natural selection) has a hypothetical objective end point (it had a start, so surely in theory it has an end?) And if we were able to get to that end point (which we aren't, but we can do our best), good and evil would be absolute/objective. In practice, we aren't able to achieve maximum goodness, so sometimes we have to do the lesser of two evils, and so morality is relative.
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Onde
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Morals are ultimately a matter of personal taste, and come from having an ability to see that particular actions cause harm from our perspective.
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sopiut
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(Original post by XOR_)
Erm, literally everyone/society.
So morals are subjective and inconsistent and lead to people being hypocritical then?
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Drain-pipe
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Many complicated answers here, for me its biologically simple. In our calm unaroused state we are empathetic creatures that likely do not want to be hurt or unfairly treated. If this state is maintained, we will not likely want to hurt other human beings. The cases where morals break down, also show clear signs of empathy being removed or inhibited; ideas of otherness, dehumanization, physically removed actions and enflammed spouts of physiological stress all are examples of where empathy is inhibited and so we can no longer judge whether the individual/s we project our thoughts onto are deserving or not. Morality is just a word for a finely tuned mechanism of empathy
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Assembly
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I believe morality is both learned and internal, the two are not mutually exclusive in the sense that they both impacts a person's morality.

The argument for learned morality is (1) we acquire knowledge through the senses (2) people raised in different environments often have different moral values because of the different information their senses are exposed to; e.g. a man raised Muslim in Palestine is likely to have a different moral compass to a man raised secular in Norway (3) therefore, morality is 'learned' through the senses which are dependent on environmental factors. However, there is an element of inbuilt morality too; the case for this is (1) biological factors irrespective of the senses such as hormonal balance affects a person's feelings (2) a person's feelings informs their beliefs on particular topics within the sphere of moral philosophy (3) therefore, morality is also dependent on internal biological factors. Consequently, it follows that morality is both informed by the senses (which is 'learning' by sensory data) and 'built in' through biological functions/impulses.
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Assembly
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(Original post by jamesbarry17)
Good and evil are built in.
Morality is learned.

Dogs don't have morals; only humans do. Morality is basically consciousness put into practice. Dogs don't have consciousness; only impulse. So their actions are not "created".
Humans, on the other hand, can conceptualise the future, and can conceptualise the consequences of our actions. The more we consider these things, the more they influence our actions (which I think is what "free will" alludes to), and so the more "moral" we can be.
We create morals, yes; but their foundation is the inextricable good and evil that is built into our nature, which we cannot change. It's like the gender and sex nature vs nurture debate. Yes, gender is a social construct, but we constructed it in a certain way because it is congruent with our nature. Same goes for morality. It is constructed, but we generally construct it in ways that are congruent with our human nature. If we didn't do that then we wouldn't function very well.

"If you strip away everyhing, the only reason not to do a bad thing is because it will hurt or damage someome or something, and why does that hold importance?" - this is a very deep question. Firstly, I think the 'reason' you posit there is legitimate but a very surface-level way of looking at it. The consequences of our actions are so much deeper than just hurting or bringing pleasure to someone or something. Bringing in refugees or homeless people to your country or home is a very quick way of doing good for the world if all we should think about is pleasure; but would that really serve pleasure in the long-term? (I mean, that's another debate to be had, but my point is that doing something immediately pleasurable does not necessarily bring goodness in the long-term, e.g. if bringing in refugees caused the country to eventually collapse; and on the other side of the coin, doing a "bad" thing that hurts someone in the immediate term can have overall positive long-term consequences.)

Your thoughts about religion, I think they relate to what I said about social constructs. I think that religion in general is fundamentally a socially-constructed moral framework predicated upon the natural good and evil I refer to.

I can talk more about why I think good and evil is built in and not the same as morality if you'd like. My theory is basically that evolution (as in, natural selection) has a hypothetical objective end point (it had a start, so surely in theory it has an end?) And if we were able to get to that end point (which we aren't, but we can do our best), good and evil would be absolute/objective. In practice, we aren't able to achieve maximum goodness, so sometimes we have to do the lesser of two evils, and so morality is relative.
Hi James, i'd just like you to clear some things up about your opening paragraph on dogs, consciousness and morality. You claim that 'morality is basically consciousness put into practice'. This seems a bit vague to me; taking a piss is consciousness put into practice, everything we think and do is consciousness put into practice - the phrase 'consciousness put into practice' can apply to any human function outside of morality. If morality is 'consciousness put into practice', then it follows that all living beings that 'practice' their consciousness by being aware of their senses - which is what consciousness is (the state of being aware of one's sensory impulses) - has morality.

You also make the claim that 'dogs don't have consciousness, only impulse'; I don't see how this logically follows. The term 'conscious' in its infinitive form, to be 'conscious' means 'perceiving, apprehending, or noticing with a degree of controlled thought or observation' (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/conscious). Do dogs not have this ability? If one raises their hand to smack a dog, it's impulse after perceiving this information and wince, turn its head or back away in avoiding pain - it is after all a living, conscious being, is it not? If dogs are not conscious, it follows that they are unconscious - so are those dogs happily running after their owner's ball not conscious - how does that make sense? This also raises the question, can a being have an 'impulse' without being conscious? Your statement deems the nouns 'consciousness' and 'impulse' mutually exclusive by stating that dogs are not conscious, but have impulses. So, if something is not conscious, how can it have the impulse to do something? I know this analogy might sound a bit weird, but it gets the point across; Say if a stranger were to jump into a the suite of a dog, which was recently knocked into a coma, revving a loud chainsaw. Now, this dog is not conscious, so how can it have the impulse to jump away in avoiding the potential danger if it is unconsciousness and unable to perceive the potential threat through its senses?
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noname900
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I think most morals are learnt from society, yet some are in our nature due to what is evolutionary beneficial. Yet in saying that, I definitely think that environmental factors can override one's natural moral compass. I mean since the beginning of time, a mother learns to protect their children. Society doesn't need to say that they should. I definitely don't think we'd be here if we needed society to tell us how to act.
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I believe that there is such thing as natural revulsion. I argue that the same 'built-in' senses that stop us eating rotten food, also stop us from harming innocent people, being sexually attracted to pre-pubscent children, and lots of other morally reprehensible things. We just know not to do some things.

But there are lots of more complex ethical decisions we make as humans when deciding what consitutes right and wrong. Such as which political party to vote for, whether we need to buy fairtrade bananas and much more. These are things we can only make decisions on based on what we learn from experience.

So the answer is that it is a mixture of nature and nurture.
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jamesbarry17
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(Original post by Assembly)
Hi James, i'd just like you to clear some things up about your opening paragraph on dogs, consciousness and morality. You claim that 'morality is basically consciousness put into practice'. This seems a bit vague to me; taking a piss is consciousness put into practice, everything we think and do is consciousness put into practice - the phrase 'consciousness put into practice' can apply to any human function outside of morality. If morality is 'consciousness put into practice', then it follows that all living beings that 'practice' their consciousness by being aware of their senses - which is what consciousness is (the state of being aware of one's sensory impulses) - has morality.

You also make the claim that 'dogs don't have consciousness, only impulse'; I don't see how this logically follows. The term 'conscious' in its infinitive form, to be 'conscious' means 'perceiving, apprehending, or noticing with a degree of controlled thought or observation' (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/conscious). Do dogs not have this ability? If one raises their hand to smack a dog, it's impulse after perceiving this information and wince, turn its head or back away in avoiding pain - it is after all a living, conscious being, is it not? If dogs are not conscious, it follows that they are unconscious - so are those dogs happily running after their owner's ball not conscious - how does that make sense? This also raises the question, can a being have an 'impulse' without being conscious? Your statement deems the nouns 'consciousness' and 'impulse' mutually exclusive by stating that dogs are not conscious, but have impulses. So, if something is not conscious, how can it have the impulse to do something? I know this analogy might sound a bit weird, but it gets the point across; Say if a stranger were to jump into a the suite of a dog, which was recently knocked into a coma, revving a loud chainsaw. Now, this dog is not conscious, so how can it have the impulse to jump away in avoiding the potential danger if it is unconsciousness and unable to perceive the potential threat through its senses?
Hi, thanks for replying. I got a bit confused at the end there, but my perception is that you are asserting that dogs have the same fundamental thing that is 'consciousness' as humans have because they can 'foresee' things, which is true. But dogs' ability to foresee something such as being struck by a hand is purely explained, as far as I know, by the Pavlovian principle of classical conditioning. Yes, a dog may associate a raised hand with the future outcome of being struck by it; but they cannot communicate this; they are not truly aware of their senses in the way we are. If they were then I think they would have developed speech by now, though that's just a guess. Dogs are just like babies. Babies are not conscious; they run purely on impulses, or instincts, which are purely genetically functioning.

The bit I'm confused about is where you say that I said consciousness and impulse being mutually exclusive. What do you mean by that? Obviously conscious human beings have impulses, and morality would not exist if impulse did not exist - pain and pleasure, love and hate, are purely impulsive and uncontrolled. You cannot will yourself to feel pleasure. You're right, taking a piss - or rather, needing to take a piss - is not 'consciousness put into practice', but me asking myself "should I have a piss now or wait until the lesson ends?" is.
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Assembly
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(Original post by jamesbarry17)
Hi, thanks for replying. I got a bit confused at the end there, but my perception is that you are asserting that dogs have the same fundamental thing that is 'consciousness' as humans have because they can 'foresee' things, which is true. But dogs' ability to foresee something such as being struck by a hand is purely explained, as far as I know, by the Pavlovian principle of classical conditioning. Yes, a dog may associate a raised hand with the future outcome of being struck by it; but they cannot communicate this; they are not truly aware of their senses in the way we are. If they were then I think they would have developed speech by now, though that's just a guess. Dogs are just like babies. Babies are not conscious; they run purely on impulses, or instincts, which are purely genetically functioning.

The bit I'm confused about is where you say that I said consciousness and impulse being mutually exclusive. What do you mean by that? Obviously conscious human beings have impulses, and morality would not exist if impulse did not exist - pain and pleasure, love and hate, are purely impulsive and uncontrolled. You cannot will yourself to feel pleasure. You're right, taking a piss - or rather, needing to take a piss - is not 'consciousness put into practice', but me asking myself "should I have a piss now or wait until the lesson ends?" is.
Thanks for the clarification James. I do assert that dogs do have 'consciousness', but I do acknowledge that dogs do not have 'the same fundamental' consciousness as us humans. Perhaps I didn't make that clear in my original post, apologies for that. Of course, a dog has a different sensory experience to us - their sense of smell is different as well as their hearing, which means parts of their conscious experience is different to ours. But they are still 'conscious' because they have the traits of touch, sight, taste, smell and hearing that allows them to experience the phenomenon consciousness to begin with (all of these traits aren't necessary to be 'conscious', but they add to the sensation). This is the line of reasoning I propose to rebuttal your claim that 'dogs don't have consciousness'.

To clarify my point on mutual exclusivity, you claim that 'dogs don't have consciousness, only impulses'. I know I keep returning to this, but bear with me. Mutual exclusivity is when two concepts cannot coincide, and you state in the negative that dogs 'don't have consciousness' but they do have 'impulses' - which means that the concept of an 'impulse' is somehow operating separately from the idea of 'consciousness'. My rebuttal to this is that for a being such as a dog to have an impulse, it follows that it must first be conscious - the two cannot be separate and must coincide.

I would agree with your proposal of classical conditioning in explaining a dog's reaction to a raised hand, however, I would argue that for this classical conditioning to function a dog would have to be 'conscious' - that is to be aware of their senses and make make the mental inference of an incoming hit from the raised hand. My conclusion is this; I agree that the act of wincing is classical conditioning, but before we logically reach the act of wincing a dog must first be conscious to react impulsively in the way they have been conditioned. My reasoning follows these steps: (1) a dog would use the sense of sight to see the raised hand (2) a dog must be conscious to utilise their sense of sight (3) therefore, a dog is conscious because it used its sensory information to detect the raised hand and impulsively wince.

I hope that clears up my points of contention. The Pavlovian case study was an interesting read by the way!
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jamesbarry17
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(Original post by Assembly)
Thanks for the clarification James. I do assert that dogs do have 'consciousness', but I do acknowledge that dogs do not have 'the same fundamental' consciousness as us humans. Perhaps I didn't make that clear in my original post, apologies for that. Of course, a dog has a different sensory experience to us - their sense of smell is different as well as their hearing, which means parts of their conscious experience is different to ours. But they are still 'conscious' because they have the traits of touch, sight, taste, smell and hearing that allows them to experience the phenomenon consciousness to begin with (all of these traits aren't necessary to be 'conscious', but they add to the sensation). This is the line of reasoning I propose to rebuttal your claim that 'dogs don't have consciousness'.

To clarify my point on mutual exclusivity, you claim that 'dogs don't have consciousness, only impulses'. I know I keep returning to this, but bear with me. Mutual exclusivity is when two concepts cannot coincide, and you state in the negative that dogs 'don't have consciousness' but they do have 'impulses' - which means that the concept of an 'impulse' is somehow operating separately from the idea of 'consciousness'. My rebuttal to this is that for a being such as a dog to have an impulse, it follows that it must first be conscious - the two cannot be separate and must coincide.

I would agree with your proposal of classical conditioning in explaining a dog's reaction to a raised hand, however, I would argue that for this classical conditioning to function a dog would have to be 'conscious' - that is to be aware of their senses and make make the mental inference of an incoming hit from the raised hand. My conclusion is this; I agree that the act of wincing is classical conditioning, but before we logically reach the act of wincing a dog must first be conscious to react impulsively in the way they have been conditioned. My reasoning follows these steps: (1) a dog would use the sense of sight to see the raised hand (2) a dog must be conscious to utilise their sense of sight (3) therefore, a dog is conscious because it used its sensory information to detect the raised hand and impulsively wince.

I hope that clears up my points of contention. The Pavlovian case study was an interesting read by the way!
So now I'm really confused as to your definition of consciousness. "A dog must be conscious to utilise their sense of sight". So what of the simplest living organisms? Are bacteria cells conscious because they respond to environmental stimuli? If so then how do you make that fundamental distinction of consciousness that we have which dogs and bacteria don't?
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Assembly
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(Original post by jamesbarry17)
So now I'm really confused as to your definition of consciousness. "A dog must be conscious to utilise their sense of sight". So what of the simplest living organisms? Are bacteria cells conscious because they respond to environmental stimuli? If so then how do you make that fundamental distinction of consciousness that we have which dogs and bacteria don't?
Okay, let me explain. My definition of consciousness is 'perceiving, apprehending, or noticing with a degree of controlled thought or observation' (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/conscious). You raise a valid point about bacteria as they can, in fact, detect light and have a 'sense of sight' - which follows by my proposed logic that they're 'conscious'. I acknowledge this is an error in my argument, and I hand't thought about that - so thanks for bringing that to light. In light of your questions, i'd revise that argument, and instead propose the idea of 'controlled thought' found in the Merriam Webster definition I deem reliable. I would draw the 'fundamental distinction' of consciousness between dogs and bacteria in the sense that dogs have a brain, central nervous system and access to sensory information (including sound, hearing, smell, taste) at a much more complicated level than bacteria. This leads to them having 'controlled thought' in the sense that their senses combine to create a 'conscious' experience that is not controlled by 'impulse' alone. What do you make of this?

On a side note, do you might re-stating your definition of consciousness? If a dog isn't conscious, what is it, and how are humans conscious? I know those are loads of separate questions, but if you have time i'd really like to get to the bottom of this.
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jamesbarry17
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(Original post by Assembly)
Okay, let me explain. My definition of consciousness is 'perceiving, apprehending, or noticing with a degree of controlled thought or observation' (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/conscious). You raise a valid point about bacteria as they can, in fact, detect light and have a 'sense of sight' - which follows by my proposed logic that they're 'conscious'. I acknowledge this is an error in my argument, and I hand't thought about that - so thanks for bringing that to light. In light of your questions, i'd revise that argument, and instead propose the idea of 'controlled thought' found in the Merriam Webster definition I deem reliable. I would draw the 'fundamental distinction' of consciousness between dogs and bacteria in the sense that dogs have a brain, central nervous system and access to sensory information (including sound, hearing, smell, taste) at a much more complicated level than bacteria. This leads to them having 'controlled thought' in the sense that their senses combine to create a 'conscious' experience that is not controlled by 'impulse' alone. What do you make of this?

On a side note, do you might re-stating your definition of consciousness? If a dog isn't conscious, what is it, and how are humans conscious? I know those are loads of separate questions, but if you have time i'd really like to get to the bottom of this.
Well okay, what about the smallest animals with brains, like an ant? Neither dogs nor ants have 'controlled thought' as far as I can see, because they do not have the thing we generally know as 'free will'. Dogs cannot comprehend what they are doing, in that they can't conceptualise alternative courses of action and they can't conceptualise the future or remember the past. And so linking to morality, it is only the present moment which informs a dog's actions. A dog cannot think back to the past and consider what a past event might tell them about what they should do, and they can't consider the future consequences of a possible action to inform their choice; and so, they have no such thing as what people tend to call "choice", or "free will". I guess what defines consciousness for me is the thing we call free will, whatever the scientific explanation for 'free will' is.

By the way, this might just be a personal thing, but I don't believe dictionary definitions to be particularly useful to philosophical discussion in general. The definition you quote for consciousness is perfectly fine, but philosophical discussion relies on personal interpretations to have any real value.
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(Original post by TheNamesBond.)
Take for example an animal, a dog let's say, it loves it's owner...
It loves its owner because that's his source of food and warmth, should the dog be mistreated and he may well sink his teeth on him. Whatever morality may be, it always comes second to the instinct of survival because there is no higher command. Love is another one hard to define conclusively, sometimes little more than the command to procreate at play.
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I guess it depends what counts as 'morals' here. We have evolved traits such as altruism and empathy due to them having an evolutionary advantage (if anyone is unaware how learned behaviour becomes instinctual, look up the 'Baldwin Effect'), and a common non-religious argument for morality is that we aim to maximise pleasure/well being and minimise pain. While I think that definition isn't perfect, it certainly is better than getting morals for an archaic text.
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