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First, I understand the argument that "you don't need heaven or hell to be moral". That's not the question.

Second, this question is about atheists and non-religious people.

You see many of these people doing good things in their lives continuously with no promise of heaven or any self-benefit. Someone might spend their life working on something that may be only useful in the next century without gaining any benefits. Someone might use all their wealth to help others live better lives with no benefit to themselves whatsoever. Someone sacrifices their own lives or limbs for their country without any promise of going to heaven.

So, I understand that you don't need the promise of heaven to do these things. People do them because they look at them as goals (helping others) instead of means to get to their goal (heaven, being closer to their god, etc). I get that. I also think the same way.

The question is, how does this way of thinking construct in someone's mind? And why?

Have you ever thought of this?

I can answer it in evolution terms: We are evolved creatures and our main difference with other creatures is our brains. We are the most (known) intelligent creatures on earth. Our intelligence allowed us to stop living by Darwinian principles and try to change our own course of evolution. This made us aware of other values, besides maximizing the probability of passing on our genes to next generations. Values such as the long term survival of our kind (as opposed to Darwinian evolution's blind force), importance of non-physical concepts such as ideologies, countries, etc. So in terms of evolution, our intelligence allows us to develop values which cannot be explained in the personal benefit->act relationship.

BUT philosophically, how do these thoughts/values construct? Where do they come from? That's the question.

I would really appreciate if you could help.

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  • Are you asking "why did humans evolve the moral values that we did"?
    – Xodarap
    Oct 31, 2012 at 23:51
  • More or less from the philosophical point of view.
    – Sinead
    Nov 1, 2012 at 0:04
  • 4
    Nietzsche might be one place to go for a good understanding of the "real" stakes of this problem -- the Genealogy of Morals in particular sounds like it might answer your questions pretty directly.
    – Joseph Weissman
    Nov 1, 2012 at 3:33
  • 3
    Nietzsche may answer the questions, but I wouldn't expect those answers to be correct.
    – Rex Kerr
    Nov 1, 2012 at 11:34
  • let us continue this discussion in chat
    – Joseph Weissman
    Nov 1, 2012 at 16:03

2 Answers 2

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There are a number of recent (by philosophical standards) works by people such as Marc Hauser and Jonathan Haidt on this topic. In brief, morality appears instinctive (and is evident as a sort of proto-morality in some social animals), and rather ad-hoc. (E.g. in an out-of-control car you should swerve to hit only one person instead of two, if you can; but you should not throw one person who would not be hit in front of a car in order to prevent it from hitting and killing two.) As far as I can tell, the source of much (maybe all?) morality is these instincts, and we're then left to rationalize and organize matters as best we can.*

More detail (and an interesting read) can be found in Jon Haidt's recent book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.

Unfortunately, I don't think moral philosophy has adequately caught up with recent findings in let's call it moral sociology or moral evolutionary biology, so there's not yet a classic source to turn to to answer your question, on either the "let's abstract away from the detailed moral answers and come to a universal-like understanding of morality based on evolutionary constraints of social animals" or "starting from all these evolutionarily-instilled intuitions, let's build a logically-consistent-as-possible framework for moral behavior and reasoning" fronts.

*Just because the instincts are the source of morality doesn't mean that they dictate morality, just as our instinct to eat doesn't dictate cooking. Nonetheless, ignoring those instincts when discussing morality is probably about as wise as deciding that one can avoid eating because one doesn't like cooking.

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Let good be the conservation of the potential of being.

Let bad be the waste of the potential of being.

Let evil be the corruption and perversion of the potential of being.

Let love be the emergence and perpetuation of the potential of being.

Call this Objective Morality!

True modern morality is that we do not “violate the innocent” (or those “inculpable”.)

This essentially relies upon the premise that we all have free will, we each intrinsically own the right to ourselves, and we have the right to bargain ourselves, or our properties/labor as a commodity.

In theory, as long as we don’t mess with others (destructively interfere), we have every moral right to our own business! In practice, man is savage and bestial and must be dealt with as so. That is, laws regulations and cultural norms deal with our tendency to “violate” each other.

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  • I’m shocked this response to the title question is generating negative responses. However one might not like it, these are elemental distillations of morality. How might one disagree? May 5, 2023 at 12:12
  • What's "the potential of being", how can you conserve something that sounds like it's taking place in the future. But at least that part makes sense you declare a goal and the value of actions develops in relation to that goal. Why you would call this obviously subjective thing objective though? And how anything of that rest of "libertarian" philosophy is related to that or follows from that is completely unclear apart from the fact that they are mostly subjective assertions.
    – haxor789
    May 6, 2023 at 0:14

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