Monday, July 26, 2010

Which came first the morals or the egg?

How do we learn right from wrong?  Is our human morality a genetic trait following the patterns of evolution?  Or are we born as nothing more than an amoral being and like a sponge, soak up our moral attitudes from our environment?

In school as we begin studying human development and psychology we're taught the thoughts of those like Freud, Piaget, and Kohlberg who espouse the theory that humans are born as simply an amoral animal, that humans have no sense of right or wrong until they are taught by experience and environment.  Obviously we are affected by our environment and our morals and ethics are definitely shaped by parents, community, and culture but is there more?

Are we born with some level of discernment of good and bad, right and wrong?  Professor Paul Bloom from Yale says yes.
Babies possess certain moral foundations — the capacity and willingness to judge the actions of others, some sense of justice, gut responses to altruism and nastiness. Regardless of how smart we are, if we didn’t start with this basic apparatus, we would be nothing more than amoral agents, ruthlessly driven to pursue our self-interest.
In this article his article,  The Moral Life of Babies, he describe the studies that have been done in the area of inherent morals in babies.  Babies were put in different scenarios demonstrating people receiving help and being hindered in different actions and the babies were observed for their reaction.  Its a very interesting article.  I don't think it really answers the question completely though.  It may show that inherently as we are born we have a sense of right and wrong but it doesn't explain the foundation of right and wrong.  How does the baby "know" that the helper produces a better response than the hinderer?

On Barbara O'Brien Blog, she explain the Buddhist view of morality:
The Buddhist view is that moral behavior flows naturally from mastering one's ego and desires and cultivating loving kindness (metta) and compassion (karuna).
 The foundation teaching of Buddhism, expressed in the Four Noble Truths, is that the stress and unhappiness of life (dukkha) is caused by our desires and ego-clinging. The "program," if you will, for letting go of desire and ego is the Eightfold Path. Ethical conduct -- through speech, action and livelihood -- is part of the path, as are mental discipline -- through concentration and mindfulness -- and wisdom.
So basically I think our morals are a bit innate.  Not in the instinctual sense but in the fact that as we are closer to our pure subtle mind, we are naturally a more moral being.  As we succumb to the afflictions of samsaric existence we must learn and train ourselves to return to that clear light mind and hence return to our inherent moral behavior.  What do you think?