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Mukesh Adenwala

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Given that morality in humans is embedded, what rules can be laid down that would preserve and enhance such morality in society?

The `Blank Slate' argument now stands modified as the cognitive psychologists now claim. We are born with certain tendencies and proclivities, some of which are known. Morality is one of such tendencies we all are born with. We also know that such embedded morality is lost rather steeply in some societies and some individuals. It may be useful to ask under what circumstances our embedded morality takes a beating establishing a lower than `normal' moral order.

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    Apr 11 2012: Why should it be assumed that morality is embedded in us? I think it is product of culture, even in the case of primitive tribes. Without the knowledge and philosophical traditions bequeathed to us by our long line of ancestors, we would be similar to wolf packs at square one, trying to engender morality in each individual.

    We have the moral capacity, but not the concepts stored in our brains. John Locke and Machiavelli embraced different accounts of human nature; I tend to believe it children's actions have no moral meaning at all. They eventually take on a moral dimension because their brains have the capacity for it, just as it has the capacity to go from 2D to interpreting 3D.
    To protect such a tradition, it is first important to treat this as a fact.

    There are all kinds of social undercurrents at work that cause children to develop a distorted worldview. Apart from the extremities of violence & sexual abuse, I have seen other examples of bad behaviour which rubs off on kids in a really bad way. If we can get society to be highly sensitive towards such influences, things will get better.

    1) Saving Face
    - Adults in a heated argument don't care whether they are right or wrong, they just want the last word/winning argument. Children absorb these mannerisms.

    2) Class/Racist/Sexist undertones
    - Ever recall the teacher who, when faced with a crying kid, says "Are you a boy or a girl? boys don't cry." These are the kinds of stereotypes that try to tell children what is the social norm, even if there is no moral basis in it.

    3) Religious indoctrination
    - Religious texts may once have been useful in converting and taming barbarians, but its absolute morality as defined by adherence to God's laws doesn't give much space for moral debate.
    • Apr 11 2012: It has now been established that we are not born as Blank State and develop (or fail to develop) various traits, including morality, in accordance with our experiences. It has been shown that primates and even mammals have capacity as well as tendencies for moral behavior displayed in the form of empathy, fairness, reciprocity, care, purity, loyalty, etc. That we are born, inter alia, with these tendencies or "first draft" of morality - which gets revised with experiences - is evident from lecture of Jonathan Haidt at http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/jonathan_haidt_on_the_moral_mind.html Thus we do have moral basis for behavior at birth.

      Thank you for rightly pointing out some of the valid reasons for degradation of our embedded morality. The point as well as the problem is that one can find all sorts of behavior outcomes when experience of an individual encompasses or excludes any or all of the factors that you mentioned. It is not at all necessary that people who as children (and even later) are exposed to warring parents, or nagging or assertive or biased teachers, or various religions are necessarily or even generally moral or otherwise. It seems that during our growth some kind of transformation of our emotions as well as our understanding takes place. One thing is certain that as we grow, we end up acquiring and organizing our preferences and biases in hierarchical order and only some of them are revised to a limited extent during our life times. I do not know of any certified method that can direct this transformation in the general direction of given ends. Till the time such research can more authentically inform us, we need to find our own answers through debates and discussions.
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        Apr 14 2012: Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. I do agree that we all have a "first draft" of morality embedded within us. I just think it is a very primitive version of morality, one that could not possibly stand on its own, just as no man (well, for most men anyway) is an island. We certainly need more debates and insights to further drive our understanding of morality.
        • Apr 14 2012: Thank you for reply. You are right on two counts. First, as my friend put it: `what we possess is not a codified rule book of morality but and innate sense of morality. An ability to intuitively sense what is right and what is wrong.' Next, yes, we need to discuss this at length so that as many nuances there of are understood. Only then we may be able to integrate such a knowledge in our actions.

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