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Evolving morality.

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11/8/2015 5:28:31 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
Humans are social animals, and for any society to function the individuals that comprise it have to behave within a framework. However how individuals come to be a society rather than a collection of random individuals varies greatly in the animal world.

In the case of ants and bees it seems they are genetically programmed to perform their assigned roles. An ant or a bee doesn't have to learn how to do its job in the nest or hive because it is incapable of behaving in any other way other than to do its job. The advantage of that approach is that it can be done with a very small brain - an ant has about 250,000 neurons.

But humans have about 20 billion neurons and uncountably many interconnections between them, and human society is much more complex than an ant colony. Genetic pre-programming can't work for us because there isn't enough information in our DNA. Instead we are pre-programmed to follow rules, but not with all the rules to follow - most of the 'rule set' we will have to learn after we are born.

The rule sets themselves develop by a process almost identical to biological evolution. A rule will occasionally be changed for some reason (convenience, accident, 'seems like a great idea at th time') and the changed rule is then tested by being lived by - essentially it's mutation and natural selection. If the changed rule assist the society to survive the new rule will tend to 'stick'. If it hinders the society's ability to survive then not only will the rule change be lost but the society with that rule change will also be lost.

Thus the only rule sets we are likely to find in the real world are those which assist the society living by them to be stable. Such rule sets have no special merit other than they promote stability. A rule set may be unfair, misogynistic, xenophobic or venerate mime artists but if it promotes stability it can be out there.

The upshot is that if we do nothing we will get rule sets - 'ethical systems' - that promote stabilty, but are not necessarily 'nice'. I think that means we have a duty to intervene. Humans can use their intelligence to design ethical systems that are better than the one the blind, mindless process of Darwinian evolution can do.

The natural selection of ethical systems has only one criteron - stability. If we want other criteria to count - say, fairness or repect for life - then we will have to do that ourselves as a conscious deliberate process.

(Note I got through all that without using the words good, bad, subjective or objective!)