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Senior Scientist, Johnson Matthey


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Can we unify our moral code?

From Haidt's talk, for humans there seems to be five moral pillars: harm, fairness, ingroup, authority, purity.
From de Waal there seems to be the possibility that non-human conscious creatures exhibit moral attributes too.
Saxe found that our interpretation of others actions within the moral realm stems from a source of brain activity that is not necessarily maximised in everyone - and I presume this is easily observable by those who have higher related brain activity.
Sam Harris argues that there are moral truths that can be answered by science and Dan Ariely presents an excellent example where he has done just that - by testing the harm and cheating principles.

With all of this under consideration: could we begin to organise a set of moral principles (possibly under Haidt's pillar set) which we can openly discuss in depth order to evolve our moral standards?

Topics: morality

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    Apr 29 2012: Being a research scientist, you cite many experts and their findings. So to offer an opinion without sufficient research to 'back me up' would probably be pointless. But since this is TED I will anyway. For me, moral codes are cultural phenomenon that attempt to express fundamental human truths such as: we love our children, we find a mate, we hate thieves, we look for friends, we seek to be free, we don't like to be deceived, etc. We look at different moral codes from different cultures and see many similarities, yet expressed differently. Why do we seek a unified code? Why would we want one? Is it because the codes themselves are disharmonious to humanity, or is it the exercise by individuals of their respective 'code' who use them as justifications for their own nefarious ends? Various fundamentalistic and militant religious sects come to mind as examples. Currently, in my opinion, it is our diversity that makes us great. A scientifically determined 'moral code' applicable to all has the potential for homogenization and a further dilution of the fantastically varied human experience. Too many cultures have already been decimated under the banner of 'we have the correct morality'. Scientifically determined or not.
    • Apr 30 2012: Why indeed would we want a unified moral code?

      A unified moral code is a requirement if we are to move into the future. People are traveling more and more for a variety of reasons. A unified moral code will be necessary to inform a more unified and equitable system of jurisprudence to facilitate travel and commerce. A unified moral code will increase trust and reduce ignorance and fear. A unified moral code will ensure no one is ever again subjected to abuse merely on the chance of where or to whom they were born.

      Diversity is not always a wonderful thing. Just as our diversity makes us great it also inhibits communication and cooperation between social and religious groups. Diversity can also be the root of ignorance and fear. Also, not all groups are created equal; some social groups are deeply disturbed. The members of these morally reprehensible groups would probably, given the opportunity physically and intellectually, leave those groups. Unfortunately, indoctrination can allow a human to feel very satisfied within social groups that when viewed from the outside are abhorrent.

      Everything on Earth has a beginning and an end, including cultures. Currently, many are born into dysfunctional and abusive cultures. Why should any human suffer just because they were born in one place instead of another or to one set of parents or another? If a culture or religion thinks keeping women as chattel is acceptable, should that group be preserved? Better to ask should we artificially preserve a culture if that culture prevents those born into those groups from flourishing.

      Cultures flourish or fail on their own. As the members of a culture discover competing cultures, they will, given the opportunity, decide how they wish to live their own lives. There is nothing anyone can do to prevent the death of a culture when the children of that culture are free to determine for themselves whether the culture into which they are born serves their best interests.
      • May 1 2012: How? All this fancy arguing for what? How could you possibly move towards a unified moral code? That removes the human element. Your running away from your pain. Blaming the way the world works for whatever happened to you. But you can't decide that human mistakes should be eliminated, that injustice should be eliminated, to do so would also eliminate the human race.
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        May 1 2012: Thanks Ethan for responding to my comment. Your points are clear to me and very organized. But I disagree entirely. All the best.
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      May 1 2012: "Too many cultures have already been decimated under the banner of 'we have the correct morality'. "

      This is true.........

      At first glance of the question Enrico presented I thought, of course!!

      Then, as I read the comments, I saw both sides of the issue......

      No wonder it is under debates.

      But couldn't we find a happy medium?

      I like the idea of overlapping........still, to have unity in moral code would mean unity in many other issues we face globally as humans.

      Hmm........this is a very interesting topic.

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