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The Genesis of Morality

We all have moral compasses that are influenced by everything around us. Our age, race, gender, religion (or lack thereof), political affiliation, local culture and societal norms all play a part in how we define our set of morals. But everyone is individual, and thus our compasses are unique.

Is there a true base for morality that isn't tied to religion, politics, or society? Can you find a universal root that can be ascribed to from all walks of life?

From constant pondering and discussion with others, I've come to the conclusion that empathy is the genesis of morality. Our miraculous gift of putting ourselves in each other's shoes and viewing the world in different perspectives is the doorway to morally sound decisions. While the exact machinations of the reasoning behind historical villains can be debated for hours, you can chalk up many infamous immoral acts such as the Holocaust, the Crusades, and the Kony abductions to a lack of empathy, a complete disregard for the victims. If more people learned to see what their neighbor sees, the world would be a much more cooperative place.

(I just want to make one point perfectly clear: there is a difference between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy is the mutual agreement based upon emotions or feelings. Empathy is putting yourself in another's perspective to gain an understanding.)

But that's just my opinion. What's yours?

Topics: empathy morality
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    May 8 2012: It occurs to me that people think that selfish greedy people are not moral. Selfish, greedy people, even murders are moral. They are just operating under a different set of morals.

    Empathy may impact your moral behavior but it is not the only thing that does. Abuse, hatred, culture, circumstances, even genetics all contribute to moral behavior.

    There seems to be a preferred morality where we love one another and contribute to each other, but I suspect that within each of us is the capability of survival. And for some of us, that could mean if it is my (kids) life or your life, I win. And some people because of their circumstance operate at that level of survival morality on a daily basis.

    All senscient people are moral.
    • May 9 2012: Could it be argued that the abuse and hatred stemmed from a lack of empathy? If the person/people empathized with the person in question, would the abuse have existed?

      And where does culture get its morals from?


      Just thought I'd offer some more food for thought.
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        May 9 2012: You could argue it but I think you will always find an exception. I think so many variables come in to play such as quantity and duration of abuse vs empathy as well as when in neural development the empathy/abuse occurred. You might be using empathy as a panacea that will fix everything. It doesn't.

        Culture gets its morals from the immediate needs of the society/culture. For many cultures, stealing is not a moral act. However, stealing food during famine may be overlooked, and depending on the intent (feed children) may even be considered moral. Stealing from the music industry in pirating music may be justified by the incredible gap in resources allotted to music creators/distributors. Good questions.
        • May 9 2012: By no means is empathy a panacea. Empathy in and of itself isn't compassionate it, it isn't nice or good. It may lead to these traits in making decisions, but empathy alone is simply a "mechanism" that gets the ball rolling for a morally sound behavior (most of the time at least).

          Where did the notion of stealing originate from? And why does the exceptions come into play when is comes to starving children?
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        May 10 2012: OK I really didn't want to go there but you brought it up. It is difficult to discuss morality without discussing ethics. Ethics is kinda like the philosophy of moral behavior and it gives us a language to discuss differences in what is considered moral behavior. So the stealing example is a common one to illustrate differences in morality based on intent. But some could argue that the differences are between male and female morality. I had to look to find it but you could look up male and female morality at
        http://www.iep.utm.edu/ethics/#SSH1b.iii
        You might see why I say that empathy is not the true base of morality.

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