[Robin Allott. 1991. Journal of Social and Biological Structures. 14(4) 455-471.]

Objective Morality

Robin Allott


ABSTRACT

An objective basis for morality can be found in an evolutionary account of its origin and development. Morality is a key factor in the success of human groups in competition or co-existence with each other.A group's moral code represents an increasingly rational pattern of behavior derived from the collective experience of the group handed down from generation to generation. Group selection is a controversial idea for animal evolution but it is inescapable in accounting for human evolution under the influence of language and the accumulation of cultural patterns. Further, morality has an objective physiological and neurological basis in so far as it exists to moderate the expression of the array of genetically-derived emotional patterns. Emotions represent the combination of action tendencies (neural motor programs) with (physiologically-derived) affective concomitants. The relation between emotion, empathy and morality is important. Empathy (a special form of perception still largely unexplained) has a key role both in the formation and cohesion of human groups and in the observance within groups of a moral code. Ultimately observance of moral rules depends on recognition by each individual of an integrating purpose in his/her life. In so far as the moral code is directed towards achieving this integrating purpose, morality for the individual becomes objective.


I present an evolutionist approach to a rational, objective morality, of the individual and of the group - and of the group of groups. The classic evolutionary forces are still operating - famine, disease, population pressure, migration, natural catastrophes. Moral systems are also under continuous test from a rapidly changing political, social, cultural and technological environment, Evolving morality has to respond to the interaction between the changing environment and the continued - still necessary - existence of the 'primitive' behavioral patterns.

W.R. Urban puts the fundamental question very clearly: "can any such purely mechanical and unconscious forces as those described by the term natural selection be conceived of as sufficient to explain the origin and development of moral customs and sentiments? Present opinion is overwhelmingly in the negative... the inadequacy, not to say the absurdity, of such an explanation". (Urban, 1931, pp.100,102)

In order to attempt an answer to Urban's question, we must consider a number of aspects:
1. What is 'morality'?
2. The relation of morality to evolution
3. Individual morality - the relation to emotion
4. Group morality - the relation to empathy
5. The motivation of morality: purpose
6. The relation of morality and language
7. The relation of morality and science

What is morality?

A moral being is one who is capable of comparing his past and future actions or motives, and of approving or disapproving of them (Darwin 1871:88).

. . . an Indian Thug conscientiously regretted that he had not strangled and robbed as many travellers as did his father before him" (Darwin 1871/1981, p.93)

Some answer is given by Darwin's discussion of morality in the Descent of Man. Morality consists of codes of behavior which the members of a society feel they ought to follow, but the content of codes can vary greatly. Morality is a specifically human attribute. Whereas ants, and some other animals, may appear to act in a way which resembles the following of a moral code, completely instinctive behavior is something quite different from the observance of a moral code. Morality has to be distinguished from custom and manners on the one hand and law on the other, though morality may become 'fixed' as law, and custom or manners may come to have a sense of obligation attached to them. Why humans should have morality and animals do not (if they do not) leads one into the field of self-awareness, consciousness, tradition, language. In brief, the distinction between human morality and animal behavior depends on the distinctiveness of human cognitive, linguistic and social abilities. The issues are similar to those which arise in discussing the relation between human language and animal communicative abilities.

The content of morality cannot be sharply defined. For example, would one say that there is a morality of driving a car? Apart from law and highway codes, there is a sense of what is good driving practice and what is not; contravention may result in feelings of guilt or of anger at the contravener. Perhaps the 'imperious word, ought' (to adopt Darwin's phrase 1871, p.70) best delimits the area of behavior within which morality is found

A more traditional approach to saying what morality is focuses on the vocabulary of morality: words such as good, bad, fair, right, wrong, just, should. must, will. This approach can lead to what Hare describes as the 'descriptivist' error - the idea that by listing the purely linguistic use of such words one can come to understand the nature and functioning of moral rules. Another traditional approach is in terms of values. Morality is treated as a subdivision of a more general subject of 'value' (Perry 1926/1954) which leads to discussion of relative values -- the structure of values -- the moral system rather than individual moral rules. Again this tends to become a purely linguistic discussion, not readily relatable to biology or evolution. Value itself is a slippery concept.

Not surprisingly, I prefer to approach the subject in terms of morality as behavior -- of the individual, of the group or of the group of groups (international society). In this I share Kekes' (1989) view that the emphasis placed in modern philosophical ethics on choice or will is misplaced. Goodness, Kekes argues, lies in the development of natural capacities, fostered by good tradition; what makes a tradition good is that it fulfils certain objective conditions: men have needs, determined by nature, which have to be fulfilled if they are to lead satisfactory lives. Morality thus is to be approached not in terms of an abstract 'good' or 'utility' or 'pleasure' but in terms of survival and a productive life, for the individual and for the group.

Evolution and Morality

There seems no doubt that, in a broad sense, morality has evolved and its significance has been in its contribution to survival (Maxwell 1984). But how should one deal with Urban's objection that natural selection, in its ordinary sense, surely could not have been the origin or promoted the development of moral customs and sentiments? Natural selection classically operates through the differential survival of more adapted individuals and their offspring.

This has long been seen as a problem. As Darwin (1971/1981, pp. 163, 165) put it: how within the limits of the same tribe did a large number of members become endowed with these social and moral qualities, and how was the standard of excellence raised?.. it seems scarcely possible... that the number of men gifted with such virtues... could be increased through natural selection, that is, by the survival of the fittest.... Although a high standard of morality gives but a slight or no advantage to each individual man and his children over the other men of the same tribe, yet.. an advancement in the standard of morality will certainly give an immense advantage to one tribe over another... a tribe [including men with self-sacrificing qualities]... would be victorious over most other tribes, and this would be natural selection.... A man.. roused to sacrifice his life for the good of others.. might... do far more good to his tribe than by begetting offspring with a tendency to inherit his own high character.

Darwin and later Julian Huxley both saw competition between groups as the main force in the evolution of human behavior. "Morality is one element" in the success of tribes supplanting other tribes," Darwin wrote (p. 166). To which Huxley (1926, p.47) added:

The later history of mankind... has been one of the rapid rise and equally rapid extinction, not only of one group-unit after another, but of one type of group-unit after another....Natural Selection in man has fallen chiefly upon groups, not upon individuals, and differences in the nature and organization of human groups are determined chiefly by what we can best sum up as differences of tradition in the widest sense of the term.

Moral systems originated and advanced in human groups, then, because of the operation of a process of group selection. Group selection is a controversial topic in relation to 'animal altruism' (Alexander & Tinkle, 1981), and the attack has extended to group selection in relation to humans. Trivers (1985, p.67) calls this "the group selection fallacy... which claims that selection has operated at a higher level than the individual... favoring traits that allow these large units to survive" (Trivers 1985: 67 ) He based this largely on David Lack's (1966, p.303) treatment of the subject in relation to birds, to wit: "The most powerful argument against group selection is that it is unnecessary, because all the instances for which Wynne Edwards 1966 invoked it can be satisfactorily explained, or seem likely so to be explained, through natural selection (including kin selection)". But whether this a sound basis for denying group selection as a force in human evolution is doubtful. Lack specifically ruled out the extension of the argument to humans. Indeed in an earlier book (1961, pp.120, 122) he invoked group selection as the basis for the evolution of ethical values, writing that:

For most people today, the greatest difficulty in natural selection is the origin of human values.... In this connection,... much of man's behavior could have been evolved through its contribution to the survival of the group to which he belonged.... Natural selection could operate through selection of the tribe, pack or other social unit provided that, on balance, the social behavior in question increased the chances of survival of the group, and hence of the individuals comprising it and their offspring".

Clearly one must beware of what has been called 'zoomorphism' - the unthinking extension to humans of conclusions drawn from animal behavior. Whether or not group selection can operate for groups of animals, it appears plausible, as many distinguished biologists have recognised, that it can operate in relation to humans. Thus, Barash (1982, pp. 112,114) writes that "an unequivocal rejection of group selection seems unwarranted...kin selection is simply a special case of group selection"; Dobzhansky (1951, p.79) observes that "Mendelian populations, rather than individuals, are the units of natural selection and adaptation"; and Mayr (1989, pp. 79-80) concludes that "there is a great deal of evidence that human cultural groups, as wholes, can serve as the target of selection... This form of selection is of such special importance because, in contrast with individual selection, cultural group selection may reward altruism and any other virtues that strengthen the group, even at the expense of individuals".

Morality could advance as a consequence of the selective survival of human groups which developed behavior better adapted for defense of the group and also for the maintenance of peace, order and coherence within the group. The readiness of individual members of the group to observe whatever were the moral rules of the group would be reflected in the pattern of gene-frequencies in the group. Wilson has quoted experiments with dogs (Scott and Fuller, 1965) showing the ease with which selection can over a short period mold behavior. There seems no reason why, over prolonged periods, patterns of behavior, conformity, and docility in a human group would not come to reflect genetic as well as non-genetic influences.

One can speculate about likely stages in the development of morality -- a possible evolutionary sequence. The stages proposed below are based on ideas presented in later sections that individual morality exists to control expression of genetically- based emotions and that group morality operates via empathy (which allows one to see the group as an extension of oneself) to regulate, in relation to the group, expression of transferred emotions (those originally motivating the individual's own behavior).

I find a seven-stage scenario useful:

(1) vertebrate or earlier - set patterns of action - motor programs - pre-wired sequences for a variety of situations (rapid response);
(2) appropriate physiological preparations for the execution of action patterns, which can be seen as precursors of later emotional accompaniments to action;
(3) for humans before the development of language, there would be unself-conscious action patterns plus feelings, that is, a range of emotions;
(4) with increasing ability to remember past events and action, to classify present situations and to predict future events, situations or processes. there would be increased subtlety in the modification of the pre-set action patterns;
(5) the emergence of language would result in increased ability to record and recall the past, to communicate past experience to others,and to forecast to others the likely future; the expression of action patterns would be further modulated in the light both of one's own experience and memory and of the experience and memory of others; this would allow the prescription of behavior, primarily from parent to child, and a broader formation of 'tradition';
(6) group selection would lead to 'survival of fittest' tradition between groups, that is, the formulation of adaptive 'moral' codes both for the individual and for the group, based on the collective, accumulated, transmitted experience of the group;
(7) survival of the group would be dependent on the regulation of group-structure (young-old, male-female), on the extent of communication within the group, and on group behavioral patterns generally; groups otherwise equal in physical and intellectual abilities would survive in competition by having a 'better' moral code; if morality evolved in this way, to serve the maintenance of group structure and group survival, many central moral issues are unsurprisingly related to sexual behavior or or killing, both in the distant past and at the present time (capital punishment, abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality).

Let's look at this scenario a bit more carefully.

Emotion and Morality

At the beginning of the evolutionary sequence leading to the development in humans of individual and group moral codes, there are the primitive action programs -- the primitive repertoire of behaviors associated with the emotions.

Darwin (1872/1965) suggested that emotional expressions are evolutionary remnants of previous adaptive behavior, persisting (even uselessly) in a mild form (e.g. snarling as a sign of aggression). Later theorists of emotion agree with Darwin on the primordial character of the emotions: emotions are more primitive than cognitions. Plutchik (1987, p.305)says that "the very first living organisms had to emote... [and] these actions are still part of the human behavioral repertoire". Frijda (1986) finds counterparts in animals for most of the behavior patterns and facial expressions he discusses in humans. Emotions serve an adaptive role in helping organisms to deal with key survival issues posed by the environment. The adaptations are both internal (physiological preparations for action) and external (behavior related to key events in the environment). The adaptations represent tentative solutions to problems (Plutchik, 1987); our emotions are the product of our evolutionary-biological heritage (Izard, 1977); emotions must serve a purpose for survival (Frijda, 1986).

But how should one describe and categorise emotions more specifically? Historically, the descriptive literature of emotions is large and according to William James (1890/1950, p. 448) "one of the most tedious parts of psychology". However, we can all be our own experts on the emotions; we can, if we wish, observe and identify our own emotions as we experience them. And there is great uniformity between individuals and across cultures in the phenomena of the different emotions. The appearance in all languages of words like angry, afraid, and happy suggests that the words represent universal experiences. Izard (1977) observes that there is no sharp dividing line between 'reflexive' or 'intuitive' behavior and emotion. FA. Hayek elaborates (1952, p. 97):

'Needs' [hunger, thirst and the like] resulting from the spontaneous vegetative processes of the body are... closely related to, and sometimes practically indistinguishable from, another kind of attitudes or sets such as fear or rage, which, though usually caused by some sensory perception, also consist of a disposition for a certain range or type of actions... It would be difficult to decide whether the sexual urge provoked by a sensory impression is in this sense a 'need' or an 'emotion'... Both [needs and emotions] involve not only a disposition of the organism towards a certain class of actions but also a special receptivity for certain classes of stimuli".

Emotions are accompanied by bodily changes and often by incipient bodily action. Darwin (1872/1965, p. 349) traced the emotions as expressed in man back to the emotions expressed in animals of many different kinds - "even insects express anger, terror, jealousy and love by their stridulation". He described (p.239)the typical bodily action which, for example, accompanies rage: "The body is commonly held erect ready for instant action.... the teeth are clenched or ground together... Few men in a great passion... can resist acting as if they intended to strike or push the man [with whom they are enraged] violently away. The desire, indeed, to strike often becomes so intolerably strong that inanimate objects are struck or dashed to the ground... ". But, Lorenz (1966, p. 240) adds, "even highly irascible people... will refrain from smashing really valuable objects, preferring cheaper crockery". Emotion thus is associated with a tendency to specific action, a readiness for that action -- but the action may be moderated or wholly restrained.

Every emotion has characteristic triggering situations. Expression of the emotions varies in terms of the stimulating situation and of cognitive and experiential factors. This variability in the expression of the emotions, from the full execution of the pattern of action associated with the emotion to as little as a transient facial expression, is what provides the link between emotions and morality. J.Z.Young (1978, p. 76) has pointed out that "cognition and emotion are never wholly separate, because of the interaction of brain processes" (and see also Ortony, Clore & Collins, 1988). The cumulative experience of the individual, the individual's learned interpretation of situations associated with particular emotions and the collective experience of his/her group, as formulated in moral prescriptions, determine what pattern of action will in fact be associated with experience of particular emotions.

Although there has been ample description and classification of emotions, the academic study of emotion has until quite recently been limited. However, in the last few years a more scientific approach has been developing, based on the idea that what matters in emotion is not so much the feeling as the action tendency characteristic of the emotion. According to Frijda (1986) and Izard (1977), 'action tendency' and 'emotion' are one and the same thing; inner experience is to a large extent awareness of action tendency, of desire to strike, or to flee. The essential function of emotion is to be sought in its organizing effects.

This new approach moves on to consider the neural basis for emotion as a provisional pattern of action. "The vital link in the emotion process," Frijda (p. 470) writes, "is that between the situational meaning structure and modes of readiness action change; the links must be largely pre-established by the structure of the organism, in many instances pre-wired links to pre-wired programs". Discrete emotions can be differentiated in terms of their neurophysiological underpinnings, their facial patterns, and their experiential-motivational characteristics.(Izard 128).

These ideas have been made more specific in the form of motor theories of emotion such Nina Bull's. Plutchik (1980, pp. 353-354) quotes from Bull's "Attitude Theory of Emotion" (1952) that "emotion is conceived of as a sequence of neuromuscular events in which a postural set or a preparatory motor attitude is the initial step", adding that Bull and her associates, using hypnotized subjects, found consistent bodily postures reported when certain emotion words such as fear, anger, disgust, triumph or depression were suggested . . . [subjects] could not change their emotional feelings unless their postures were allowed to change. . . . Skeletal muscle activity as well as visceral activity was found to be involved in emotional feelings and . . . different emotions had different postures or impulses to action associated with them. Though the research was carried out some years ago, there has been neglect of motor factors and no adequate recognition of the importance of the muscular or motor system in emotions (Zajonc & Markus, 1984, p. 90).

If, on this view, emotions are only the affective concomitants of specific action-tendencies produced by modifiable pre-wired motor programs and what matters is not so much the feeling but the specific action program, then one can see why emotions were at the origin of the development of morality. Morality operates on the (universal) range of emotions in the human and on the different impulses to action (response) which flow from these emotions. It seeks to modify the absolute and relative strength of the different emotions and to modify the links of the emotions to action (or other response or expression of the emotions) and to influence perception of the emotion-triggering situations. Moral rules seek to control the parameters of the programs. Much behavior, particularly in more primitive times, is emotional in origin. Where action is emotionally indifferent, pragmatic or purely habitual, there is no need for moral regulation. But where action is emotional in origin (the result of very ancient patterns of defence, attack, desire etc), morality can operate to avoid the otherwise maladaptive effects, for the individual or for the group. There is no need to command "Honour thy father and thy mother" unless there is an emotion which may lead to not honouring the father and the mother.

By its relation to the emotions, morality has a physiological and neurological basis.But the content of the moral rules is also increasingly rational, reflecting the cumulative successful experience of the group. Members of the group acquire the moral rules perhaps by a process analogous to 'imprinting' (Eibl-Eibesfeldt, 1975); the individual applies the system pre-rationally, experiencing it as a system of obligation (habit plus a sense of guilt: see Lorenz on the behavior of his greylag goose Martina [1966: 58]).

Empathy and Group Morality

No society is healthy or creative or strong unless that society has a set of common values that give meaning and purpose to group life (Kekes 1980). Empathy is seen both as the foundation of the unity of feeling which forms an aggregation of individuals into a coherent group and as the source of the effectiveness of the group's code of behavior, the group morality.

Empathy is a term with a broad meaning. There are a number of forms of behavior or experience which can be treated as aspects of empathy or as involving empathy: sympathy, liking, imitation, reflection, assimilation, identification, love. In particular, there is no very sharp distinction between empathy and sympathy, though writers have attempted to separate the two by arbitrary definition. Much of earlier discussion of sympathy related in fact to what we now would treat as empathy. The convenient practice is to use the term empathy to cover the whole range of similar capabilities by which one individual is able to appreciate the feelings and point of view of another, or of a group to which he or she belongs.

Sympathy has been extensively written about in books on ethics (e.g. William James) largely as a result of the emphasis placed on sympathy by Hume (1739/1969) to wit:

No quality of human nature is more remarkable, both in itself and in its consequences. To this principle we ought to ascribe the great uniformity we may observe in the humours and turn of thinking of those of the same nation. The minds of men are mirrors to one another; they reflect each others' emotions" (p. 366). Hatred, resentment, esteem, love, courage, mirth and melancholy; all these passions I feel more from communication than from my own natural temper and disposition. (p. 414)

Empathy is also a widespread phenomenon in the animal world: flocking, schooling, mobbing. It is said to be essential for group behavior e.g. Plutchik, (1987, p. 41): "If group behavior is to function in an organized way, there must be empathic signalling of emotional states so that survival-related actions can be taken in concert". In human society, a number of factors can contribute to the unity of the group -- physical similarity, language, contiguity -- but empathy is essential, whether or not the other factors are present. As Philip Allott (1990, pp. 57-58)observes: "Our consciousness flows into and out from the societies to which we belong, and the boundaries of our personal identity are affected to a similar extent. The survival of our societies becomes as important to us as the survival of our selves because our societies are part of ourselves".

In the broad sense given to it, empathy is not separately acquired or the product of a particular evolutionary process. It appears to be a fundamental, primordial aspect of perception, part of the process by which one relates one's current perception to the already formed structure of one's experience. According to Edith Stein [an early writer on the subject who became a Carmelite nun and died in Auschwitz], "empathy is a kind of act of perceiving sui generis... the experience of foreign consciousness in general... This is how man grasps the psychic life of his fellow man". (1917/1970, p. 11).

The scientific exploration of the process of empathy has not got very far; some think it cannot be explained. (Wispé 1987). Others think that motor mimicry is primitive empathy (Bavelas et al., 1987), and if we could explain imitation we would be on the way to explaining empathy. William James illustrates this, first quoting (p. 464) Edmund Burke: ("This man [Campanella]... was very expert in mimicking such as were in any way remarkable. When he had a mind to penetrate into the inclinations of those he had to deal with, he composed his face, his gesture, and his whole body, as nearly as he could, into the exact similitude of the person he intended to examine; and then carefully observed what turn of mind he seemed to acquire by the change" and then Gustav Fechner ("When I walk behind someone... and imitate as accurately as possible his gait and carriage, I get the most curious impression of feeling as the person himself").

The quotations from Burke and Fechner indeed suggest a close relation between bodily posture and action and the perception of the feelings of others. It seems that there is something more surprising and subtle about perception than has yet been realized -- something still to be discovered. We seem able to structure ourselves to reproduce the emotional and mental patterning of another, a transfer or transduction of the other, which in its extreme form becomes complete identification with the other.

There is general agreement that empathy (sympathy) has an important relation to morality. Hume (1739/1969), again, says that "to discover the true origin of morals... we may begin with considering anew the nature and force of sympathy. We shall not doubt that sympathy is the chief source of moral distinctions [including] our sympathy with the interests of society". Feinberg and Strayer (1987, p. 392) add that "empathy plays a central role in the model of morality". However, group morality manifests itself in a number of different forms. Group morality can be seen as a Chinese-box of moralities: individual, mother/child, nuclear family, extended family, clan/tribe, nation, inter-nation. The content of group morality may apply to individuals within the group in relation to themselves (e.g. temperance, modesty), or to individuals in relation to each other (avoiding anger, spite), or to the group as a collectivity in relation to individual members of the group or of other groups, or in relation to other groups as collectivities. The content of morality at these different levels will be different; the essential difference flows from the certain mortality of the individual human being in contrast to the (potential) immortality of the group. In our attitude towards the collective situation and actions of the group, we primordially extend to the group the emotions and impulses to action which originally related to ourselves as individuals. Moral sensibility appears to be related inversely to the level at which a moral code is applied. The moral system of the nation-state is more primitive than that of the individual, of the family or of subsidiary social groups (local governments, companies, clubs, parliaments). One might term this the principle of 'inverse morality'.

Besides being an essential element in the felt unity of the group, empathy plays a principal role in the observance of group morality. In a group, morality is not optional. Usually, by some form of empathetic 'imprinting', the individual as a child will have introjected the morality of the group. The group will act against contraventions of the moral code in ways which depend on the importance to the group of the particular aspect of the code which has been contravened. Disapproval by the group of the contravention of the moral code will be felt by the individual concerned as an effect of his/her empathetic attachment to the group. Beyond this, morality may be concretized as law. Many of the acutest controversies in modern jurisprudence are about the relationship of law and morality (see Antony Allott, 1980). In the last resort, law (or at any rate criminal law) draws its authority from the moral code operative in the group.

Empathy, as such, does not of course determine the content of the moral code in any group. As our discussion of the relation of morality and evolution has suggested, a group's moral code in the long run must be related to the behavior needed for the group to survive in competition with other groups, including behavior aimed at maintaining the order and unity of the group. The moral code - the behavioral patterns of the group - ultimately are the product of the nature of the competition among groups. Such competition may take a variety of forms. It may be by elimination, suppression or absorption of competing groups. More profitably, competition may be by imitation or identification with competing groups or by self-remolding. Competition then becomes a contest of form-changing systems. The content of group morality is progressively more rationally related to the real features of the world of competing groups. What actually survives if a group survives, is a stable pattern of behavior, and in the early evolution of groups a stable pattern of genetic variation. Modern issues of importance which cannot be explored here are the moral relations of inter- penetrating groups and the accommodation of apparently conflicting moralities of groups at different hierarchical levels.

Motivation of morality

Emotions are primary motivations of behavior (Tomkins, 1970, p. 3), moral codes exist principally to exert control over action flowing from emotions; empathy is a major factor in the acquisition and observance of moral rules. But beyond this use of the term 'motivation', there is the much more topical question of why the individual should accept a particular moral code or any moral code. Is ethics, as a practical matter, dead or dying, along with traditional religion in some parts of the world?

Both 'motivation' and 'purpose' are controversial terms, often misused or misunderstood. Boden (1978, p.1) puts the matter thus: "To make an explanatory appeal to purpose... is regarded by some psychologists as at best tender- minded and at worst a capitulation to 'the subjective, anthropomorphic, hocus-pocus of mentalism' (Boden quoting E.G. Boring). Rejection of 'motivation' as a term has been equally common. Nevertheless in the context of morality 'motivation' and 'purpose' are useful words. Observance of moral codes may once have been, may in many cases still be, almost unconscious or mechanical but once humans become conscious or self-conscious about morality, they are bound to ask what is the justification for the moral rules, for the current moral code, or any moral code? Why should one restrict one's absolute freedom or limit one's own pleasure? The observance of moral rules has a cost in lost immediate satisfactions.

A vigorous attack on traditional morality has been in progress for a considerable time. In the 19th century there was the polemic of Nietzsche (1886/1926, pp. 122 ff.): "The essence of all morality is that it is an enduring constraint; we are fastened in a straitjacket of duties from which we cannot struggle free. Morality today in Europe is a morality of the herd, a morality of slaves". More recently, the attack has taken a less emotive form: "Once one has grasped that morality is the product of a long, directionless process which has its being solely in its adaptive nature for humankind (taken individually), then we must accept that morality is simply a subjective phenomenon, with no being or reality outside the human dimension" (Ruse, 1987, p. 37).

One can list various types of motivation which do, or may, lead individuals to accept and seek to observe the morality of their group. There may be childhood imprinting of the moral rules of the family or group, leading to a prerational application of the code, operating rather like post-hypnotic suggestion -- automatic moral responses to predetermined situations. A variant or support of this takes the form of religious endorsement of moral principles -- religious sanctions reinforcing introjected moral reflexes. Or morality may be rationalized as the pursuit of happiness, pleasure or utility -- high level ethical theories perhaps, rather than practical motivations. Or moral behavior may result from prudence or superstition -- following the rules for fear of something worse (like Lorenz's goose). More generally, moral behavior may flow from a desire for a worthwhile, productive life, a rational desire of the individual to survive and avoid bodily or mental damage. This may be associated with empathetic identification with the group, its survival and prosperity.

The association of religion and morality is an ancient one. "Men have created in the world innumerable sorts of gods," Hobbes (1651/1909, p. 81) wrote, "and this fear of things invisible is the natural seed of that which everyone in himself calleth religion". Breasted, the Egyptologist, described the ancient Egyptian idea of the Last Judgment as 'the dawn of conscience' (Johnson, 1979, p. 15). Cerny (1952, p.88) elaborates: "The judgment takes place before Osiris and his forty two assessors. In front of Osiris a balance is set up attended by the god Anubis, while the wise Thoth calculates on his scribe's palette the result of the weighing of the dead man's heart against Truth. If the result of the weighing was satisfactory the deceased was entitled to life and happiness in the kingdom of Osiris ; but if the test was unsatisfactory, the deceased was destroyed by the 'devourer of the dead', a monster waiting by the side of the balance, a mixture of crocodile, lion and hippopotamus". Other religions have followed the same pattern. The decline of religion has weakened this type of motivation: "In its death-throes", Schopenhauer (1851/1970, p. 197) wrote, "we see religion clinging to morality, whose mother it would like to pretend to be. In vain! -- genuine morality is dependent on no religion, although religion sanctions and thereby sustains it".(Schopenhauer 197). Despite Schopenhauer, religion and its relation to morality still seem quite vigorous.

Hobbes (1651/1909, pp. 120, 128) took an essentially pragmatic view of morality and law: "These are the Laws of Nature, dictating Peace, for a means of the conservation of men in multitudes. There be other things tending to the destruction of particular men, as drunkenness and all other parts of intemperance which may therefore also be reckoned amongst those things which the Law of Nature hath forbidden. The final cause, end or design of men (who naturally love liberty and dominion over others) in the introduction of that restraint upon themselves (in which we see them live in commonwealths) is the foresight of their own preservation"

On this view, one can see moral codes as a pre-scientific formulation of rules for the achievement of a satisfactory life for the individual and the group, based on a continually improving perception of the nature and situation of the human being and the human group; morality is thus necessary both for the individual and the group. Evolving morality is a process of revising the Manual - the Encheiridion of Epictetus - for the best management both of the individual and of the group. But besides change there has also been continuity.There has been great uniformity of ideals of personal morality over an immense period from the era of the Egyptians and Hammurabi, in different religions, in distant countries and in different forms of society. The mass of traditional morality is in practice still valid despite the changing and extending possibilities of action resulting from improved communications, advancing technology and changing economic organisation. The vast majority of individuals in any group in fact continue to observe, or seek to observe, the morality of the group and to judge others by the same moral code.

The objective necessity of morality has been demonstrated by life over many generations. However it is not open to immediate rational demonstration. Morality is concerned with remote consequences. The problem is that we have no easy way of seeing the long-term or otherwise distant consequences of following or not following moral rules or showing the consequences for ourselves, for our family or for the group to which we belong. What can we say to the immoralist who claims total moral freedom, who asks: Why not lies? Why not intemperance? Why not promiscuity? Why not theft or fraud? Why not murder? Why not cruelty?

One answer may be: In the absence of morality, you are in a world of powerful, clever, unpredictable animals. Only by understanding others can you protect yourself. Others in the group will only be predictable to the extent that they follow the same moral rules and are moved by the same emotions. A group's morality is concerned not only with how an individual should judge his own action but with how other members of the group, and the group collectively will judge the individual's actions and respond to them. Judge your own action so that you are not judged by others. Others will do unto you what you do unto them. So do not do unto them what you would not want them to do unto you. An individual who rejects the morality of the group rejects empathetic membership of the group and empathetic recognition by others of his membership of the group. The individual becomes a moral parasite living on the morality of the group which he does not observe. To him a different level of morality will apply -- the more primitive kind of morality applied to those not members of the group, to outlaws and outcasts. By asserting your unlimited moral freedom, you risk losing your own freedom.

Besides the immoralist, there is the pessimist who can find no justification for morality because everything is painful, hopeless and doomed. So, following Schopenhauer, Hartmann argues in his Philosophy of the Unconscious (1867) that the existence of the actual world is due to an irrational act of unconscious will; that pains exceed pleasures; satisfaction is brief but dissatisfaction is enduring; evils are chosen to avoid greater evils; there is no prospect of material improvement in the future, only increased misery. His practical conclusion is that we should aim at the negation of the will to live, not simply each for himself but universally, by working towards the end of the world process and the annihilation of all so-called existence. (discussed by Sidgwick, 1902, pp. 282-283) The pessimist asks why be moral, when acting morally or acting non-morally all comes to the same set against the blackness of the human situation. Though few may be as extreme as Hartmann, many adopt a similar but weaker version: "Life is short. What difference does it make? What other people may think of you does not matter. Enjoy yourself while you can". Beyond the content of morality, the possible motivations for morality, there remains the issue of the integrating purpose underlying the conscious observance of moral rules, the relation of morality to the limitations of human life.

Purpose and Morality

If we can identify an integrating purpose, then morality -- as a way of conducting life to achieve the purpose -- becomes rationally defensible. According to William James (1890/1950, p. 667), the physical sciences lead to "the notion of a purposeless universe, in which all the things and qualities men love are but illusions of our fancy attached to accidental clouds of dust". But science is a form of our ignorance as much as it is a form of our knowledge. To seek to confine the totality of existence to the sketch-outline offered us by science is a mistake about the character of science and about the significance of human evolution.

In the absence of consciousness, the course of the world is in fact purposeless and meaningless because purpose and meaning are attributes of consciousness. Once consciousness has evolved with its power to simulate or model the future, purpose or meaning is introduced into the world. Expectations about the future become part of present reality and affect the process of present reality, of which the human brain with all its abilities is a part. As Lorenz (1966, p. 52) puts it, the human is the one creature capable of reflection, of seeing himself in the frame of reference of the surrounding universe.

We are in an extraordinary situation -- reflecting ourselves, reflecting each other, and reflecting existence that includes us. The excitement of our brief individual existence is the opportunity we are given to take part in what is, and to comprehend as much as we can of the immensity in time and space. There is nothing necessary or predictable about the universe -- it could all be quite other. We happen to be part of this particular pattern. That we should search for a purpose is inevitable. "Men," Schopenhauer (1851/1970, p. 96) reminds us, "have an absolute need for an interpretation of life".

What should the purpose or direction be? Mere preservation of ourselves or of our species is nothing special. Every living thing, throughout the world, seeks to continue in being. Without mind, reproduction, birth, life and death, could go on for ever with no more significance than the rain falling or the wind blowing. With the human mind, we have been given a privileged point of view, an observatory. From this high tower we can look for a more universal purpose. The evolutionary process which has led to consciousness has created the possibility of purpose and direction not only for ourselves as individuals but also for our species and indeed for all life, as Julian Huxley (1926, p. xii) has observed.

For the individual, purpose must be related to the situation in which the individual finds himself. "To our amazement," Scophenhauer (1851/1970, p.51) notes, "we suddenly exist, after having for countless millennia not existed; in a short while we will again not exist, also for countless millennia; our consciousness is as it were a lightning-flash momentarily illuminating the night". The essential situation of the individual is consciousness and mortality.

For the individual, then, the purpose must be to find something, construct something between nothing and nothing: not name or fame but some contribution: not "a footprint in the sands of time" rapidly swept away, but a structure, a pattern resulting from the individual's life, suitable to be preserved in the rocks of time; at the minimum to make some difference, not just to be recognised, rewarded or renowned in the ephemeral present. Rather than being an interchangeable, featureless atom, each individual can contribute an enduring element of pattern, a physical pattern, a thought-pattern or a behavioral pattern to last within the group, the potentially immortal group. If so guided by this integrating purpose, each individual can look for a fragment of real immortality.

If purpose for the individual is thought of in this way, then morality becomes rational and necessary. Its content will be determined by the over-riding purpose. The rules of morality which the individual observes must then be such as to help to preserve both the individual per se for long enough to make his/her distinctive contribution and also the group to which the individual looks for his/her fragment of immortality. Actions become right or wrong, good or bad, objectively.

Postscript: Sources of Further Inquiry in Language and Science and International Morality

Two important questions remain: How best could one deepen the scientific understanding of morality? How could the account of the evolution of morality in this paper be applied at the inter- societal level? These are large questions; comment can only be very tentative.

Language and morality are related organically and by analogy. Language is a source of group unity and difference; language codifies and transmits moral rules. Language is also a parallel evolutionary/cultural process to morality, entailing acquisition, change, dialects, genetic relation, universals and potential universality. We should exploit the parallelism: insights from systematic study of the origin and development of language should be applied to the much less-disciplined study of the origin and development of morality. Language has a motor/perceptual substructure (R. Allott, 1989a) and so also has morality through its relation to emotion and empathy. Diversity of moralities is as prominent a feature of the world as diversity of languages (Allott, 1989b) and also has to be explored. (There already is an international Language Origins Society (LOS). Perhaps there should also be an international Morality Origins Society.

Science has a similarly complex relation to morality. There is a widespread feeling that ethics as a subject is not to be taken seriously, and that value judgments have little status in a world in which the weightiest pronouncements are those which can claim the stamp of scientific authority (Almond, 1990, p. 129) On the publication of The Origin of Species, scholars believed that for the first time a really scientific ethics could be erected. John Morley went so far as to say "the next great task of Science is to create a religion for humanity" (quoted by Huxley, 1926, p. 235). Nearly a century later, Du Nouy (1947, p. 227) looked for "the transformation of moral ideas into facts that can be assimilated to scientific phenomena since they are linked to evolution". More recently, sociobiologists have shared the desire to relate science and morality. "A science of sociobiology," writes Wilson (1975, p. 129),"if coupled with neurophysiology, might transform the insights of ancient religions into a precise account of the evolutionary origin of ethics and hence explain why we make certain moral choices instead of others at particular times".

Perhaps these aspirations are not completely vain. Science can also be seen as a system of increasing rationality, as a direct influence on morality via technology, as the means for exploring the physiological and neurological substructure of morality, and even as in itself a system of international moral values -- to wit, the scientific virtues of truth, patience, industry, clarity, prudence, open-mindedness, generosity, humility.

There is a natural transition from study of morality in terms of its relation to language and science to the issue of the future of morality at the inter-societal level. Waddington's (1942, p. 18) view that whatever morality evolution has produced so far must be 'good' is not constraining. The reality is that there is no world-wide system of morality. At the highest (inter-societal) level, the content of the morality is most impoverished. Individuals acting in the name of nation-states follow patterns of behavior very different from those they would observe in their relations with colleague-citizens. Darwin and many others over the centuries have deplored this. However, pious hopes for change have not been realized. Lorenz's (1966, p. 204) description still fits parts of the international scene: "Our extramundane observer.. would unavoidably draw the conclusion that man's social organization is very similar to that of rats which, like humans, are social and peaceful beings within their clans, but veritable devils towards all fellow-members of their species not belonging to their own community".

How could the analysis of the evolution and development of morality be applied at the inter-societal level? This paper has argued that morality exists to modify the expression of basic emotions and that it depends directly on empathy between members of the group. Emotions expressed in action in inter-state relations are essentially the primitive emotions found in every individual -- but there is no similar empathetic sense necessarily operating between nations which speak different languages and have different histories. The motivation for a superior moral code is less impelling between nations than within small communities. Death is inevitable for the individual but not so obviously inevitable for the nation.

Nevertheless there are signs of an incipient international morality. Although the young often ignore or dismiss traditional moral rules, "whether they recognise it or not, they have not renounced values -- they have merely found a new focus for them. A whole new range of issues has displaced the old as subjects for moral reasoning and moral reaction: race, environment, human rights, terrorism and political oppression" (Almond, 1990, p. 129). People in many countries would now agree that, as a general principle, disputes between nations 'ought not' to be settled by warfare; humankind 'ought not' pollute the environment, destroy other species, destroy the forests, destroy the ozone layer, be unnecessarily cruel to other living things. Because of technology, television, ease of travel, the development of English as a universal language, there is now the possibility that empathy can extend across nations and continents, producing, as De Nouy (1949, p. 260) put it nearly half a century ago, "a new solidarity, unaware of distance, of mountains, of oceans".

But this potential international morality still lacks the motivation and sense of purpose which can give life to individual and group morality. Group selection, while it may in the long run produce 'better' moral codes for the individual and the group, has no obvious application at the level of the world-system, the group of all nations. Or perhaps we should see in the forms taken by incipient international morality referred to above, the motivation and purpose which can make inter-societal morality a reality. The new force is not group selection but species selection. If absence (or deficiencies) of a world inter-societal moral code can now threaten the existence of the human race -- and it can, in nuclear catastrophes, AIDS, destruction of the ozone layer, poisoning of the seas and the forests -- then there is reason to construct a world moral code, and reason to make sure that it is observed. At the level of the group of all groups, the human race, as well as at the level of the individual, morality could become objective. And this world-objective morality would reside not in the institutions, the bureaucracies, the apparatus, but in the individual. The many levels of morality, stretching up to the morality between societies, between states, would be integrated within the individual consciousness.

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