Where Do We Get Our Rules From?

August 28, 2006

I think that CIE is going to give me tons of great material for my blog. I mean, tons of it. Which makes perfect sense, because CIE stands for “Common Intellectual Experience.” And my blog is nothing if not common, and only slightly intellectual.

Anyway, lets talk about laws. More importantly, moral laws. Why do we do what we do? Why do we label one thing bad and one thing good? Simple question, right?

What are our options? The most prevalent answer is, “Well, duh, God gave us the laws as written down in our sacred texts. He told someone to do something, so we do it. ‘Nuff said.”

Option two: we someone have an innate moral goodness in us. As the one question on an AP Bio test said, “Humans are inherently perfect and do not need to evolve anymore.” In other words, all men are angels.

Option three: men are both good and bad. Our moral norms result from years of psycho-social-biological evolution. Things like altruism, the golden rule, and love result out of the evolutionary process itself because they lend an advantage to humanity. They just MAKE SENSE.

Option four: there is a general trend towards complexity in the universe. For this complexity to occur, humans must move beyond “red in tooth and claw” and begin to follow written down codes of conduct and laws. We act better because it’s in the very nature of the universe for this to happen (eventually). Every time we help someone out that can’t return the favor, we act in accordance with some kosmic principle.

Now, you can pick and choose out of those options. Let me just say I lean towards some mix of option three and four. Option one makes no sense, unless you believe in a higher power that writes malevolent writs on stone tablets. Couldn’t he just MAKE us do what he wants? “But God works in mysterious ways!” In that case, better to just take him out of the picture. Not to say he doesn’t exist. Just to say that he doesn’t add anything to the discussion.

Option two makes a little sense, except for the obvious fact that humans do horrible things. We rape. We pillage. We steal. We cheat on tests. We are NOT angels. We are NOT the apex of evolution. To hold the view that humans are somehow non-animal is folly. We aren’t a blank slate to write the greatness of the future on (wouldn’t that greatness come from the past anyway?). We have billions of years of evolutionary history hardwired into our biology.

Three makes sense from a physicalist view. Yes, we do have laws. But someone had to write those laws down (if we take God out of the picture). So, how did that person come up with the laws. Doesn’t it make sense that most of us originally followed these laws anyway, and that someone wrote them down so that EVERYONE (even the lowest common denominator) would follow the laws. Not to say that these laws don’t evolve. What’s okay in ancient Mesopatamia is NOT okay in 21st century America.

Add a dash of theory four in and you have a teleological theory saying that we move towards higher levels of “goodness.” Not that we’ll ever be perfect, but that we strive towards perfection. Why? Because that’s the way the universe is going. Despite the second law of thermodynamics, we find quarks to atoms to molecules to macromolecules to cells to organisms to humans to families to cities to civilizations. If that’s not teleological, then I don’t know what is.

I just had to get this all out. When the CIE teacher asked mw why I thought I was moral, I said, “Because I feel good when I do good and feel bad when I do bad.” Then she asked, “Well, why do you feel that way?” I replied, sheepishly, “Because that’s how we evolved.” I felt like that was a lame explanation. So here’s the real McCoy. My real explanation. The one I would have liked to give, given the time.

Thanks for reading.



One Response to “Where Do We Get Our Rules From?”

  1. Dave in the West said

    good answer. it is kinda funny that we never know that up front though… thats because we suck

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