Friday, July 29, 2011

Morals and morality

Do animals have morals?

I don't think so. The concept of right and wrong or good and bad is a human concept. This is not to say some animals don't analyze; I'm convinced that they do. But they analyze how to steal nuts from other squirrels, not whether it is right or wrong to do so.

I believe your "moral code" -- the list of things you personally think are ok to do or not ok to do -- stem from your personal values, and values are beliefs. What we believe to be true changes over time, as we gain new experiences and are offered new proofs. Working backward, when our beliefs are changed, our values (things we believe in) adjust to acommodate our new beliefs, and thus, too, our personal "moral code" is adjusted as well. This is my own reasoning and it may not coincide with your own reasoning.

When we are young children, we don't really have much of a moral code yet. We are mostly concerned with getting what we want, and if we want a cookie being held by another baby, we don't think twice about taking that cookie. We have no more guilt than the squirrel, I say. Soon we learn that certain things are right and wrong, good and bad, acceptable and not acceptable. This comes from our parents teaching us and from other babies punching us in the face.

What I am trying to say is that I believe our "morals" are learned over time and not something we are born with. This probably flies in the face of many of your basic religious teachings about a child being born knowing right from wrong in his heart, but I have not really witnessed a small child being anything other than your basic barbarian, morals-wise.

Since we all have different parenting, life experiences, and environmental learning experiences, I believe it is reasonable to say that our value systems (and hence our morals) are different. Some of us believe it is wrong to do this or that thing, and others don't think the same thing is wrong at all.

What we believe to be right and wrong certainly affects our behavior. For example, Baptists don't make love standing up, because they fear someone will walk in and think they are dancing. Dancing is wrong to a Baptist. Maybe Relax Max is different. Maybe he doesn't think dancing is wrong and so he might occasionally slap his tickle uprightly. Or, perhaps, he just doesn't care if people see him or not. It's a judgement call.

In my next posts on this subject, I want to explore things like whether your idea of right and wrong is superior to mine; whether society can tell us what is right and wrong; whether it is possible for you NOT to judge someone else's morals (even if you think you are tolerant or broad-minded); whether a person can have ambiguous morals (he can't); and, most importantly, why a fictional character in a book cannot POSSIBLY have a moral code that isn't based on the author's true belief system.

Please come back. This one will invoke debate.


  1. I look forward to it.

    I haven't answered your comments from yesterday yet, but I intend to. I got sidetracked by life.

  2. I have to agree with you that babies are born totally self centred. It's a type of survival instinct, I feel sure. It takes a while to teach anything different, and of course what they learn to be right and proper depends on who is doing the teaching.



Related Posts with Thumbnails