Columns / Discourse / May 10, 2017

Discussing morality in human nature

Where do morals come from and what are they? At Ungodly Hour, seven people (including myself) grappled with this question. If you want to discuss this topic further, Ungodly Hour will be from 1 to 2 a.m. in CFA next Tuesday morning. This is simply what we as a group talked about during our last discussion.

Where do morals come from? I brought up the point that humans inherently know what is bad. However, what I was interested in was if this ability developed because of nature or nurture. Are we born with a moral code, or is it a fusion of what our parents taught us with what we have learned over our lives? Everyone has their own moral compass of what is right and wrong, which is what makes it so hard to understand. Misha Zahid asked if “it come[s] from the human psyche?” If morality stems from the human psyche, then humanism comes into question.

We behave according to how we affect other people. Riley Nelson thought otherwise, saying “Everyone likes to think that they are always thinking about higher goods but about 95 percent of the population at any given time is just trying to get through the day.” So, going off of how we live for ourselves, the question of what we should do with our life in a moral perspective came up.

Do we live for the good of other people? Is there a moral imperative to our choices, to a larger scheme of our life rather than simply not hurting people? And then: is it necessarily wrong to hurt someone?

Joey Peterson mused that there would always be one person who does something different, something that to you is wrong beyond a shadow of a doubt. But someone’s got to do the horrible things because it represents the true embodiment of the awfully negative side of humanity. It’s a necessary thing, you can’t get rid of it. We’re able to say, “Don’t kill anyone” because someone killed someone before hand and that’s why we know it’s wrong.

Nelson argued that for us to know something is wrong we don’t need to have prior experience. Peterson used the example of a hot stove for his point. You need to be able to touch it to know that it’s hot and not touch it again. We order our whole existence around the knowledge that what we are doing is right, we always have to have some terrible thing to exist so that we know we are doing the right thing.

The next 30 minutes of Ungodly Hour were based off of what Nelson said next: “Bad is not necessary for good to exist.” Sachika Goel was the most vocal against this idea and said that bad is completely necessary for good to exist. She said that if we didn’t have any bad then we wouldn’t even have a definition of what good is.

Goel used the example of light, saying that you “would never know what light brings to you if you haven’t experienced darkness… they define each other because the lack of one will tell you how important the other one is.” Nelson’s response asked if good was the absence of bad or if bad was the absence of good. Durke posed that bad is not necessary for good to exist, but it defines good and our understanding of it. If only good existed then everything would be good, including what we see as bad. The problem is that we can never see this scenario, we will always know what is bad because of our morals. To have a life filled with good would be a life with no morals.

This is where we stopped. We may continue to discuss morals in Ungodly Hour next Monday or we may not, it all depends on you coming and wanting to talk.

Joel Willison

Tags:  column discourse human nature religion ungodly hour

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