Is morality a biological or social construct?
The term morality, according to Eysenck(2009) can be described by Shaffer (1993) as:
"A set of principles or ideals, that help the individual to distinguish right from wrong and to act on this distinction.”
Morality is important to society as it would not function effectively, unless there was some kind of agreement on what is right and wrong.
There seems to be a universal human acceptance on what right or wrong should be. If you look cross culturally over time it seems to suggest we all follow a certain basic rule, one that, Matthew 7:2 from The New Testament sums up quite efficiently:
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According to Dobrin(2013), One rat had learnt how to release another rat that was trapped in a cage. Even when faced with a dilemma - to help free the rat trapped or to free chocolate also trapped in a cage: the rat would more often than not free the trapped rat first, if it did free the chocolate, it would always save some for the other trapped rat. This lead the researchers to believe that rats could show a sense of empathy.
An example of compassion within the animal kingdom can be explained by research conducted by Pruetz(2010). A young chimpanzee and her mother was attacked by a group of male chimpanzees, the two were brutalised and left for dead. A male acquaintance of the mother took care of the young chimpanzee until the mother had recovered enough and was able to care again.
This act of altruism from the male chimpanzee was remarkable, as male chimpanzees are known for their violent behaviour. According to Huffingtonpost(2012), a male chimpanzee had attacked and killed a three month old chimpanzee in a zoo in Los Angeles. There was no explanation for the brutal attack.
Could the behaviour described in the rat experiment and the behaviour of the male chimpanzee who helped the two injured, be classed as moralistic?
In nature it is understood that animals help other individuals to whom they may be genetically related. Or, they may help if their survival is beneficial to it. This is described as Kin Selection. It is a way of ensuring that an individual’s genes are reproduced. This could explain the behaviour of the animals above.
Science Daily(2012) states that to be able to prove empathy, an individual must show an understanding of someone else’s feelings and is driven by the goal of improving that persons wellbeing. Science Daily(2012) believes that there is no proof of this outside humans.
The behaviour of animals is easier to explain when in terms of kin selection and survival of the fittest, more so than in terms of moral behaviours.
This being said non-human animals obviously don’t reason explicitly about right or wrong but they do exhibit some aspects of human morality as mentioned above, that might be considered as our most noble, such as, they co-operate, help one another, share resources, keep each other safe and they love their offspring.
There was a time in history when our social living requirements we’re closely reflected in the animal kingdom for example,
humans used to live in small kin groups where good deeds were seen to be reciprocated.
Under certain conditions through time, humans have discovered a kind of desire to be good which stems from the mentioned reciprocal altruism. The need for sex also runs parallel to this which brings into light the Darwinian principles.
As time has progressed we no longer live in small kin groups or clans, so the pressure to be good is no longer as strong as it once was. Also on reflection, parallel to this is the decreased pressure for sex as it once...