Why do we have a sense of right and wrong? | INFJ Forum

Why do we have a sense of right and wrong?

Discussion in 'Philosophy and Religion' started by TinyBubbles, Jun 26, 2010.

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  1. TinyBubbles

    TinyBubbles anarchist

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    have you ever wondered why people in general have this innate ability to distinguish right actions from wrong? i've heard it said that it is purely due to cultural and/or religious indoctrination, but is it really?

    it seems like, from an individual point of view, it's much more advantageous to have NO conscience, no ethics, no sense of morality - that way you can just do whatever it is you want to do, it would make you that much more liberated in your choices - yet the natural consequences of that would be that you'd be limiting OTHERS' freedom and choices, and most of us learn from childhood through to adult to compromise between our needs and those of others'. we do this naturally, usually, and the vast majority of us develop into so called good people, who wouldn't seek our own pleasure if it resulted in harm to others. but why? is this something genetic in us? is it logical, from a social point of view, to cooperate rather than conflict - seek consensus rather that individual control? WHY do we feel pressured to do the right thing, and feel ashamed when we do the wrong? if it's all subjective, it shouldn't matter anyway...... right?
     
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  2. Skathac

    Skathac <font color=#27A601>Community Member</font>

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    Honestly other than what you've already mentioned there isn't too many other things I can think of as to why. Maybe it is as simple as a good soul just knowing what they have to do and what they shouldn't. Whenever I have hurt someone in life or even considered doing so I did feel shame but also I felt hurt, I can't attribute this to anything other than my upbringing and conscience.
     
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    TinyBubbles

    TinyBubbles anarchist

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    :hug: appreciate your input Corey :)
     
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  4. Teaist

    Teaist Newbie

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    The way I see it, even though I am certain that there are objective moral standards do exist, it's hard to deny that a huge amount of what 'feels right/wrong' is due to experience (i.e. the input of culture, upbringing, socialisation, past emotional experience, etc.). For instance, I regularly get strange looks from people when I suggest that their standards of modesty for clothing are almost purely cultural, and bring up contradictory standards from other cultures to drive home the point.

    But I do agree with you that some things seem more hardwired. IIRC there is some evidence from experimental psychology that even very young children have a rough 'moral' sense, but I'd have to do a lot of digging to check up on this and decide whether the research is sound. So, about your question, there are a few possibilities that spring to mind:

    It does seem that if each individual favours others' wellbeing over their own, society as a whole benefits. It seems obvious that, even in small groups, cooperation is beneficial to survival, and cooperation is much easier when everyone is nice to each other. So, perhaps natural selection favoured humans who behaved 'did the right thing' and helped each other? I'm a bit of a sceptic about how it could work in practise through mutation and the like, but I guess the possibility is there. Anyway, on its own, the idea that morality evolved in this way makes sense of the fact that we seem to feel an innate pull towards 'doing the right thing', but it does not provide any reason for why 'the right thing' is actually right. Thus, on this explanation alone, there is no inherent reason why you shouldn't hurt others if it brings you personal gain.

    Another possibility is that humans are designed to have some type of 'moral sense', or conscience, which allows us to know right from wrong independently. Assuming this to be true, it appears that this sense can be damaged just as sight, hearing, etc, can be damaged, and it is not infallible - otherwise, there is no way this explanation could account for the multitude of different moral judgments that are made even within a culture.

    On its own, the 'conscience explanation' it still leaves you trying to figure out what the morality that your conscience 'sense' actually is. Is this what you're asking? As a Christian, I favour the 'conscience explanation' and posit that the 'moral stuff' that it senses is part of God's character. My position is hardly in vogue these days, though! Sometimes I read explanations where morality 'just is how it is' in a similar way to basic mathematical truths.

    Ah well, I've rambled enough - I've got the flu, so I doubt I'll make any sense. By the way, when you ask whether an action would be 'logical' or not, what do you mean? I'm guessing you're thinking of means-end reasoning, but I don't want to assume.
     
  5. Flavus Aquila

    Flavus Aquila Finding My Place in the Sun
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    If we didn't - as a species - have a sense of right an wrong, I imagine we would have wiped ourselves out into extinction long ago. Just think of the historical examples of what happens when people with weak morals get into leadership positions (I won't name them, but they are pretty obvious). Imagine no one had morals. Eventually a few irascible characters would kill everyone else off.
     
  6. Satya

    Satya C'est la vie
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    Even primates have morality. It provides an evolutionary advantage through social cohesion. Those who can cooperate together can better compete than those who try to do it alone or against the grain.
     
  7. Shai Gar

    Shai Gar Guest

    We do not have a sense of right and wrong. We have a sense of enlightened self interest. We know what will hurt us through repercussion, and what will benefit us.
     
  8. Flavus Aquila

    Flavus Aquila Finding My Place in the Sun
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    True. Every action has consequences.
     
  9. Shai Gar

    Shai Gar Guest

    a good chapter and beginning for my Rights of Man
     
  10. NeverAmI

    NeverAmI Satisclassifaction
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    Theological commitment first and foremost, superstitions, self-survival, social commitment, and sometimes the limbic system just likes to play games.

    Depending on how far ahead one thinks, it is obvious that one cannot ALWAYS provide for oneself in all situations. Therefore, it is beneficial to have social commitments agreeing that someone would help in a time of need and vice versa, otherwise known as friendship.
     
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  11. invisible

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    many humans are born with the ability to feel the pain of others, when we (complicated and complex things that we may be) are able to personally interpret their experience as painful.
     
  12. enfp can be shy

    enfp can be shy people vs the bad people?
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    Yes, it's not 'innate', because feral children don't have it. Many complex enough animals have it, but that's only as long as they carry on the community traditions of their peers (which becomes a generational loop). If they are to be separated at birth, and taught by another culture, they'll adopt its principles.

    Why such cultures appear; perhaps because they are stronger? Why did a brain evolve with so many cells in it, and didn't the cells remain as separate organisms? Sure, those cells within the brain aren't always better off, some of them die or are tortured by too much electricity. But on average they are stronger that way than the average 1-cell organism.
     
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  13. tovlo

    tovlo Well-known member

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    Morality is a running theme through the developmental psychology class I'm taking, so I was inspired to pull from the text to address your question.

    I don't know the answer to the question of why, however development of a sense of morality does seem a universal issue. People may arrive at different structures of morality, but they all seem to go through a process of defining that inner moral structure. Perhaps presentation of some theories related to moral development will contribute to consideration of the why.

    Morality is always discussed in my development text in the context of the development of cognition. It is first noted in children at about the age of 2. They begin to speak in terms of "good" and "bad", share toys, help others, and cooperate in games. Adults notice this behavior and begin to hold children responsible for their behavior. Soon children begin to be able to state moral rules such as "Don't take things without asking" or "Tell the truth."

    Empathy and self-conscious emotions play a large role in moral development at this stage. Children are able to identify with what another person may be feeling and also to experience the self-conscious emotion of guilt (an expression of personal responsibility and regret).

    Most theories of moral development agree that a child's morality is first externally controlled by adults, and then, later, by inner standards. According to these theories, truly moral acts do not just conform to expectations, they are actions chosen out of compassionate concerns and principles of good conduct.

    One theory about moral development notes that preschoolers distinguish between moral imperatives (rules which protect people's rights and welfare), social conventions (customs determined solely by consensus, such as table manners) and matters of personal choice (choice of friends, hairstyle and leisure activities). They tend to judge moral imperatives as more wrong than actions in the other two categories. They judge rigidly however. They make judgments on obvious features of a situation while ignoring other more subtle, but important information.

    By the school-age years, children take into account increasing numbers of variables to link and clarify moral imperatives and social conventions. They begin to distinguish social conventions with a clear purpose (not running in school hallways to prevent injuries) from ones with no obvious justification (crossing a "forbidden" line on the playground). They regard violations of purposeful social conventions as closer to moral transgressions.

    At this age, they also begin to realize that people's intentions and the contexts of their actions affect the moral implications of violating a social convention.

    Lawrence Kohlberg developed 6 stages of moral development which influence how people consider adolescent moral development. In the preconventional level (stages 1 and 2), children accept the rules of authority figures and judge actions by their consequences. Actions that result in punishment is bad. Those that lead to rewards are good. This level of reasoning decreases in early adolescence. In the conventional level (stages 3 and 4), individuals continue to regard conformity to social rules as important, but not for reasons of self-interest. They believe that actively maintaining the current social system ensures positive relationships and societal order. Stage 3 reasoning (a desire to obey rules that promote social harmony which occurs primarily in the context of close personal ties) increases through mid-adolescence and then stage 4 reasoning (beginning to take into account a larger perspective of societal laws) rises over the teenage years until, by early adulthood, it is the typical response. Few people have been observed to travel past stage 4, but the post-conventional level (stages 5 and 6) moves beyond support for society's rules and laws. People at these stages define morality in terms of abstract principles and values that apply to all situations and societies.

    In early adulthood, the idea of epistemic cognition (our reflections on how we arrived at facts, beliefs, and ideas) begins to come into play. When mature, rational thinkers reach conclusions that differ from those of others, they consider the justifiability of their conclusions. When they cannot justify their approach, they revise it, seeking a more balanced, adequate route to acquiring knowledge. A study of college student's thought processes revealed the following patterns of thought maturation.

    Dualistic thinking: dividing information, values, and authority into right and wrong, good and bad, we and they.

    Relativistic thinking: viewing all knowledge as embedded in a framework of thought. Aware of a diversity of opinions on many topics, they gave up the possibility of absolute truth in favor of multiple truths, each relative to its context.

    Commitment within relativistic thinking
    : instead of choosing between opposing views, they try to formulate a more satisfying perspective that synthesizes contradictions.


    Berk, L. (2010). Development through the Life Span. (5th ed.). Boston: Pearson Education, Inc., Publishing as Allyn & Bacon.
     
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  14. just me

    just me GONE

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    It is the normal way of life; normalcy meaning those mentally capable that are not mentally challenged. Understanding "normal", it is the way of life.

    Many forms of life learn to work together. Many learn there is safety in numbers. Some other creatures may have the intelligence to understand moral good and/or bad, but we may be able to better see it in the individual than the entire species. Those same species may act in what we see as immoral ways at times, but there are exceptions and great it is to see one or more.

    There are always exceptions to rules in humanity. Some may never show much morality at all, and may choose rather to live life for their own selfish means. This does not always define one of a lesser mentality, though one would like to think it does. In actuality, maybe they do have a lesser mentality after all; lacking in understanding. Maybe they are just selfish. I do not know.

    As tovlo quoted, our moral understanding starts externally influenced and matures into the internal views. Maybe some folk never mature fully. I often wonder.
     
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