March 1, 2015

Evolution and theories of morality

Although I have other classes I could focus on, I like to use my Intro to Psychology course for a look into what I am learning in the classroom. Professor G does not shove atheism/evolution/anti-religion down our throats.  She teaches in a matter-of-fact way, drawing from examples in everyday life, filtering it through her worldview.

Last week, she covered the concepts that humans learn in different stages of their lives.  (For the record, I have no beef with Piaget’s theory of cognitive development.)  After this, we delved into moral development (we're studying Kohlberg's theory).

Morality is a pretty tricky concept, whether you believe in God or not.  To me, it seems like the Kohlberg theory says "The height of morality is selflessness," and when I suggested that to Professor G, she agreed.  Unfortunately, this knowledge is completely useless since my textbook could not even offer a solid definition of what morality is.  When I got home, I referenced the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  It says:  "The term ‘morality’ can be used either 1) descriptively to refer to some codes of conduct put forward by a society or, a) some other group, such as a religion, or b) accepted by an individual for her own behavior or 2) normatively to refer to a code of conduct that, given specified conditions, would be put forward by all rational persons."

Morality is talked about in the classroom as if we all agree on what morality is/what moral behavior is, but this could not be further from the truth.  In today’s world, morality is subjective.  As small as the world seems to be in modern times, it is still so big, and a lot of the time, one person’s morals clash with another’s.  As it is, morals seem to be largely a matter of personal opinion and feeling.  In order for morality to be 100% objective, there would need to be a standard to base morals on, like a law that reaches to every corner of the earth.  Such a thing doesn’t exist, does it?  There isn’t someone who can lay down the law and say “This is right – this isn’t."

I mean if everyone would look to God as the authority, this would all be quite simple.  But not everyone believes in God, and even the people who do believe in God tend to disagree on what they think He says is right.  So the entire concept of trying to get everyone to adhere to morality with no standard and no solid definition of morality is ludicrous.  What now?  What do the atheists and believers in evolution say?  What do the believers in God say?

If you’re vague on evolution, Berkeley has a basic overview of evolution from an evolutionary perspective and Answers in Genesis has an article on evolution from a creationist/young earth perspective.  I am not going to comment on how evolution can or cannot explain why we even have any concept of morality (see Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy again for morality from an evolutionist’s perspective, specifically section 2.1, and the Answers in Genesis contributor Dr. Jason Lisle’s creationist perspective) but you can think about it for yourself, read both perspectives, and think about the moral challenges we face every day.

Just for kicks, here’s one of Kohlberg’s dilemmas:
In Europe, a woman was near death from a special kind of cancer. There was one drug that the doctors thought might save her. It was a form of radium that a druggist in the same town had recently discovered. The drug was expensive to make, but the druggist was charging ten times what the drug cost him to make. He paid $400 for the radium and charged $4,000 for a small dose of the drug. The sick woman's husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the money and tried every legal means, but he could only get together about $2,000, which is half of what it cost. He told the druggist that his wife was dying, and asked him to sell it cheaper or let him pay later. But the druggist said, "No, I discovered the drug and I'm going to make money from if." So, having tried every legal means, Heinz gets desperate and considers breaking into the man's store to steal the drug for his wife.
1. Should Heinz steal the drug?  Why or why not?
2. Is it actually right or wrong for him to steal the drug?  Why?
3. It is against the law for Heinz to steal. Does that make it morally wrong?  Why or why not?
4. In thinking back over the dilemma, what would you say is the most responsible thing for Heinz to do?

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