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Discussion 3 to Reflections on Ethics 61
Instinctive? Or Learned?

by: Bernardo Arroyo

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It is precisely the last sentence of Dan Hendricks' comments that I intend to examine with this discussion:

"... Just as a discouragement of murder, adultery, lies, and theft help our own human societies continue reasonably peacefully."

Yes, many of us feel that murder, adultery, lies and theft are wrong. But where does this feeling come from? From instinct or education? Among dogs for example, and I think among lions too, theft seems to be quite normal. Even if the dog from whom a bone is stolen is not happy about it and responds with a bite or a bark, dogs keep doing it. It doesn't seem to be instinctively programed against, like murder is, as you explained. They will steal every time they can get away with it.

Many humans do too. That is what I am wondering about. How much of our moral code is really automatic and comes from instinct and evolutionary advantage? How much of it is educational, deliberated, reasoned, evaluated, analyzed and transmitted from one generation to the next. Therefore also dependent on culture, educational level, intellingence, foresight, etc.

Is there a way to distinguish the two parts? Are we, sometimes, asking too much of people when they are simply being the human animals we all are? How do we apply the concept of fairness when some people are taught that some behaviors are valid and some other people are taught that they are not?

I'm not suggesting that we will somehow get to an overnight universal agreement, of course. What I intend to say is that we need to discuss and reason about morality. That we need a lot of education for kids on this subject, rather than to think that intuition and instinct will solve the issue. I'm saying that I think morality is much more an invention than a discovery (even if there are some evolutionary automatic fundaments); one that we need to work a lot on.