Humans can differentiate between what is good from what is evil, what is right and what is wrong. They can understand and even decide what a just act from an act of unjust is. But how do they do that?
We like to believe that this thinking or perspective is independent of our surroundings, but the truth is we learned all of this. Interaction and socialization molded our behaviors from the minute we opened our eyes for the first time. Family, friends, schooling, sports we play, teachers, people we work with, the language we speak or learn, the religion we grew up learning or one we practice, basically everyone and everything we interacted with in life. Morality can be described as an intuition of what is right, just, fair, or sound.
Our actions, thoughts, and feelings all revolve around and evolve with our sense of morality. For instance, killing someone for any reason is considered wrong and unjust, while punishing someone who has killed someone is deemed right and just. Morality is acutely engraved in our everyday lives. A society without morals is driving in a city without signals. Can you even imagine the chaos?
Sense of morality would differ from culture to culture and community to community, but it is said that the basic structure is there in all societies irrespective of demographics.
Picture the following; you reward a child with a chocolate bar when they finish a task. The same child is told that another child is not getting that chocolate bar even though they completed it. In the majority of cases, you will witness the first child sharing the bar. You will also notice how the child will be astounded if another child receives more chocolate for completing the task. This shows that sense of morality spurts at an early age. Now why the child reacts this way is something we need to ponder about? Where did the child learn this from?
Humans survive and live on their ability to socialize. Take Newborns only; they survive if they are taken care of and if someone attends to them when they are crying. Most of our thoughts and actions are a reaction or response to the people we interact with. Animal kingdom lauds humans for the level of cooperation they extend to species. By nature, we are both supportive and self-centered; perhaps we can say morality evolved into backing our cooperative social relations and correcting our somewhat deceitful tendencies.
However, can we conclude that morality can only be an outcome of evolution?
Even though genes influence numerous human traits, morality is different as it is influenced by our nature and the culture we were brought up in.
Moral guidelines and values differ in different cultures, and they also alter over time. We can see this from how the attitude towards slavery changed over time. Almost a century ago, having slaves was the norm. People were grown up believing the practice of how to become better slaves. There was absolutely nothing immoral about it. However, when people started talking about the exploitation of slaves, we witnessed a move of how wrong it is to own a human.
Hence, we can derive that morality has been fashioned over time from both our genes and our culture, not just one. This evolution has molded our brains to look out for each other, counter those who harm us, create moral parameters that let us coexist.
Do animals (non-human species) have a sense of morality?
Natural observations in the open and in a controlled environment confirm that animals, too, do have a sense of morality. For example, a lot of animals’ actions show that they are looking out for their kind. This can be observed when they nurse their offspring or care for them to a certain age, for example, Orangutan, penguins, and elephants. Ants will look out for other distraught ants carrying food particles. Chimpanzees share a strong bond of a community if they are working towards a shared goal. They form alliances to fight back or when hunting.
Mostly Humans comfort each other when hurt. Chimpanzees also try consoling the “victim” by hugging, grooming, and kissing. The behavior reduces stress levels. This shows that understanding emotions another body experience leads to caring for the person when in need. This ability: Empathy, would not require mindfulness in language or thinking.
But even though we can observe traces of morality in non-humans, it does not imply that the sense of morality is on par with humans. It strongly advocates that morality is an artifact of evolution. As behaviors observed in non-humans are also found in humans, it propels us to think that humans survive and thrive due to these behaviors.
What role does the brain play in determining morality?
the understanding of the brain in determining morality is mostly based on:
1. Observe and people who have had brain lesions. Neuroscientists have observed changes in their moral behaviors.
2. MRI scanners and electrophysiology (EEG) also help in studying morality. What happens is that neuroscientists present children or adults with tasks that involve a moral decision and then observe the brain regions when participants perform.
3. We can also observe chemicals in the brain and see whether they play a role in determining morality.
Using indications from neuroscience, developmental psychology, and evolutionary biology, we can argue that sense of morality is not derived merely from cultural learning, passed on to us from families, friends, colleagues, or the environment. Sense of Morality is a product of evolution from generations that came before us, altering and modifying to propel cooperation and socialization. Development psychologists have shown how morality is awakened in us as toddlers when we believe in equal rewards and sharing. We also see whereby parts of the brain and brain chemicals play in inferring a sense of morality in our decision-making.
We also see how morality is viewed. Our interactions with surroundings are uniquely defined, steered by the exceptional human reasoning and intellect that encourages us to think of those even outside our community.