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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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  • Jun 1 2012: Morality, as with everything in existence, is in constant change.

    There is no perfect answer (not even this one denouncing perfect answers), no one way to do things, not even a reason to do things. We make them up, and they're in constant change. Steering away from religion, my research has shown me that punctuated equilibrium serves to explain not only biological evolution, but the changes in societies, ideas, different moral and ethical codes, and everything that comes with it.

    Its not a gradual change towards a better future, as with biological evolution, its specific developments in short periods of time, in response to the needs of the place and time. And even though you're better than the previous generation, you're worse than the next; as with ideas.

    But this isn't a new idea, people have been arguing about it for ages, literally (which in a sense further proves the point), and its brought together beautifully in the philosophy of Roberto Mangabeira Unger, False Necessity, emerging in the 70s, which is the subconscious framework for a great majority of people's minds today, and it washes any idea of a "universal code" away.

    On another note, from a psychological perspective, there's enough evidence (both in literature and in life experience) to show that the moral codes we develop as individuals are a mere response to what is around us:

    You see that being nice helps, you do it.
    You see that stealing from your neighbour is wrong, so you don't.
    But what if he's just sitting on the cure to cancer?

    The lines get fuzzy, and this is where Kant really fails in seeing reality. It's as beautiful as some of Plato's ideas on truth and ideas, but just as limited in that its ideal. No one actually follows any moral code for the entirety of their lives, and if they do, then they've sadly missed the point to life, change, and development. Racism, sexism and other -isms still to come and go, were true/right to those of the time; aren't we glad they managed to grow?

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