lets talk about MORALITY

In a lot of the books I ready the concept of “natural law” comes up.  For a lot of people the idea of “natural law” justifies certain socially accepted behaviors or is simply used to explain the necessary moral code of a civilized society.  I wonder to myself is the “natural” law really “natural” or is it simply a concept of morality developed in the minds of men.

One one hand I would say that it is obvious that natural law is a man made concept and that basically all laws are when it comes to governing morality.  For example, we can look at the use of drugs.  Some societies praise the use of certain drugs, even in excess, and see it as an attemp to connect with God.  Other societies, such as our own, view drug use in excess as generally immoral. (Though some may disagree)  There are other examples of man made morality – such as homosexuality, gender roles, sexuality, greed, etc.  For each of these topics people have varying and changing understandings of what is right or wrong.  This isn’t natural – since natural implies an idea is biologically programmed into us.

Even the most extreme sins do not always seem to be naturally accepted as universally immoral.  Many ancient tribes (the US today?) considered murder in the form of military conquest as perfectly acceptable.  If the sin is justified – it seems that almost anything can deemed moral.  Natural law seems to go right out the window.

However, while I would for the most part argue that Natural Law is basically man made that doesn’t mean that there is no truth found in them.  Also, just because people have broken and skewed the natural law deosn’t mean they still do not exist.  While perhaps not naturally, that is biologically, programmed within us – perhaps the natural law does serve as a best practices guide for a civilized society to flourish.

I guess what I’m getting as is: Who cares if the “natural law” and our since of morality is man made?  It is no less valid as a behavioral governing system in either case.  Many modern inventions are not “natural” to us biologically, but our no less significant, important, or valid because so.  However, a deeper and more important question lingers – which set of laws, which set of moral guidelines do we accept as truth?  Buddhist or Toist Principals, western ideals, Christian values, US law?  Which and why?

Varying Code of Ethics
The fact is that human beings code of ethics differ.  Personally, I often preach the concept of individual and personal freedom (personal property rights), but others argue a Zeitgust movement is more appropriate.  Ask a Buddhist monk and he may tell you that minimalism and ridding yourself from earthly desires is the path to enlightment and the cure for all suffering. People could argue all day about why one method or ideology is better than another or which would be more effective, etc. 

For example, I would truly love to live in a world where everything was equal, we all shared resources, and we all lived together peacefully (as argued by proponents of the Zeitguist Movement); however, I think this system fails to take into the flawed nature of men – tendancies toward greed, excess, ambition, laziness, and incentive.  Some people would say that I’m wrong and people could change if they were only raised to think differently – I can’t say either way for sure.

All I’m Saying
All I’m saying is that I don’t think any of us know for sure.  What human nature really is, how much of it is natural and how much is learned behavior.  Which set of guiding principals are closest to perfect – or is the perfect world one in which we can choose the one that is right for us?


9 thoughts on “lets talk about MORALITY

  1. theworldaccordingtomarc

    Natural Law is that which we can agree upon as common to our human condition, in the ABSENCE of personal experience. We all eat, drink, breath, etc. The reason Natural Law is a cornerstone of some morality and political philosophy is precisely because of its objectivity, cutting through the subjective vagaries of human emotions like guilt, anger, avarice, empathy, sympathy, etc. Of course, human behavior is driven in large part by these emotions, so when you try to go from Natural Law to morality, it hardly suffices. Our experiences and their powerful positive and negative reinforcements shape our values and thus much of our politics. For example, if a person overwhelmingly experiences success in life, why would they ever value egalitarianism? Why would they ever want to “dumb-down” their life to what some one or some group define as “equal”? They would have to value life reduced to a least-common-denominator. This is contradictory to life itself. Life moves on, creates, invents, grows, while all the while suffering and exhulting along the way. Ghandi said one’s capacity to exhult is directly proportional to their capacity to suffer. Egalitarianism is an example of an Unnatural Law, because nowhere in nature is it found except in the contrived human condition, with dire consequences: e.g. France is so wrapped-up in egalitarianism that they have, in large measure, conditioned life out of their people. Industriousness is so penalized by government as to render it masochistic. A WWII/Normandy Invasion guide last year told me he could/would work more to make more money, but the government would simply confiscate the majority of it and redistribute it. They work/live for the state and it is “getting on with death”, not “getting on with life” (to quote Andy Dufresne in the Shawshank Redemption). It is NOT what America (nor life itself) is about.

  2. jon

    Interesting post (and interesting comment by Marc)

    One thing I read recently that left an impression on me was the idea that the should/ought statements make most sense when you add the goal at the end of the statement. “You should …. if you want X” “You should never … if you don’t want Y”.
    So, for instance “You should avoid egalitarianism if you want to maximize economic growth”. (That may not be entirely true – since broad-reaching education of citizens is likely to be critical to long-term economic growth and productivity of a society). But that type of thing. To me, this approach takes the ‘oughts’ off of Stone Tablets and allows us to evaluate them logically in terms of our top priorities. The question then shifts to what our top priorities should be.

    Marc, your comment sounds a little like Nietzsche’s idea of the slave morality vs master morality — only the weak (or in this case, the unsuccessful) would want egalitarianism. I agree that going too far with divvying up resources would discourage industriousness – but I’m still motivated by the idea that “I am my brother’s keeper” – or at least, I want to help to prevent my brothers from falling through the cracks. (And from what I’ve seen, life in France is nothing to sneeze at).

    1. Atticus Finch

      I like the “I am my brother’s keeper” thing. I think that most people would probably agree that we shouldn’t let the lower class “fall through the cracks”, but I guess the question comes to mind is who’s job is it to distribute that wealth? The Government? The People? Socialist may say the Government, a Libertarian would say the people. I say neither is perfect so the answer must fall somewhere in between. That’s just a side note though…

  3. Rattlesnake

    I’m glad I came across this post. Morality is a subject that I’ve thought about A HELL OF A LOT, but I still don’t know exactly what I think about it.

    With regards to natural law, how I see it is that I am (as is everyone else) entitled to certain rights, just because I’m intelligent enough to recognize that I am entitled to them. I guess it depends on whether or not you believe in a “higher authority,” and which “higher authority” you believe in. People who think the state is the highest authority tend to be idiots and/or brainwashed. People who believe in God (in the religious sense) or some sort of diety tend to derive what rights they believe they have from the doctrines of their religion (I would think). People like me, who don’t believe in a higher power (but belive that perhaps “God” exists in some form, as in the laws of physics or something), are just here for the ride, I guess. I’m not really sure how else to put it. But that also means I don’t answer to anyone but myself, and what I recognize as my inalienable rights (which I don’t think are subjective, but rather evident upon objective, rational analysis (having said that, some things are not as black and white as others)) are more important to me than what the government says the law is. However, those rights also come with responsibilities, and in a perfect world, people would have to face the consequences of their failure to carry out their responsibilities. Natural law is something that inspired much of what is in the US Constitution, which is one of the reasons (if not the only reason) I believe in American exceptionalism.

    That is also the basis of my morality. I think it is a moral imperative for people to consider the effects their actions have on other people. As I said before, it isn’t always black and white as to what is moral and what isn’t. I am quite certain though that it is not any single person (or group of people)’s job to determine what is and what isn’t; and that, with most issues (but not all), it is a personal matter that the state shouldn’t be involved in.

    As for the flawed nature of men, it is one of the reasons socialism doesn’t work.

  4. philebersole

    I think there is widespread agreement among individuals and cultures as to what morality is. At least I don’t know anyone who (no matter what they did themselves) would advocate promise-breaking over keeping your promises, cheating over honest dealing, treachery over loyalty, etc., and I find it hard to imagine such a person. What people do in practice is, of course, a different question.

    Where we humans disagree, as I see it, is where the exceptions lie. There are ethical dilemmas—the obligation not to steal vs. the obligation to provide for your loved ones, the duty to tell the truth vs. the duty to defeat the enemies of one’s society, etc.

    We argue about where our sense of morality comes from, but most people have it, in some rudimentary form. There are people in the world without any sense of morality at all, but the rest of us recognize them, shun them and call them sociopaths.

  5. Pingback: Best of 2012 – January « BlogTruth

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