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Where does morality come from? One possible answer is that morality, as everything else, is a byproduct of interactions between physical matter. The same interactions that came together to produce our bodies and our consciousness, are also the ones that produced our morality.

Question: But if so, why then does our morality often contradict our bodies? If they are a byproduct of the same materialistic natural processes, surely these contradictions should not exist?


By contradictions, I am mainly thinking of two things.

  1. Instincts which we all have but are capable of recognizing as immoral.

For example, natural instincts such as anger, aggression, violence, etc. are all quite common and most people have them. Yet most people are also in a position where they are able to use their morality to judge those instincts to be frequently wrong.

But if both the instincts and the morality came to be naturally, why then does our morality contradict our instincts?

We don't see these other contradictions in nature. For example, is there an animal with eyelids, but no eyes? No, because the natural processes that give rise to these objects work together to avoid any logical inconsistencies. And yet, our morality does often directly go against our natural instincts, which would indicate that they are products of separate types of processes, i.e. that morality is not a natural process.

  1. Morality is self-independent, while natural evolution of life is not.

Scientific evidence suggests that human life has evolved via a process called natural selection, and the ultimate goal of natural selection is survival. Thus, the natural processes which produce our bodies are self-centered. What matters is me, and only me. What must happen for me or my offspring to survive for the longest time possible?

However, morality is different. It's self-independent, and, indeed, often self-hurting. For example, let us imagine a choice between the painless extinction of all human life for all time on one hand, and, on the other, an eternal process of immense suffering imposed upon an innocent child. In this case, many people would certainly choose to just end life as we know it painlessly, rather than impose infinite torture on a child. Yet this is an example of a morality which is not about survival, in fact, it is a morality which dooms all of us, and so how can it be a byproduct of natural selection, which is about nothing but survival?

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    The issue is thorny (has been discussed since the origin of philosophy). If we consider the argument: If morality comes from our body, why does it contradict it?" and if we agree with it (in this very very simplified form) we have to conclude: either (i) that morality does not come from the body, or (ii) that morality does not harm at the bodu but (in the long run) it drives it towards the best (that maybe is not only survival)... – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Mar 7 '18 at 17:54
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    "the ultimate goal of natural selection is survival" → Don't anthropomorphize. Natural selection is a selection pressure, but it does not aim to be so. Gravity is the attraction of masses, but it is crazy to think gravity wishes you to fall into holes. – Veedrac Mar 8 '18 at 0:58
  • Our morality is as it is because it survived its selection pressures, first biological and very recently social. That's it. That natural selection did not produce an intelligence solely intent on reproducing is not a violation of selection pressure. One does not say "if the ultimate goal of gravity is to bring things together, why are there orbits and galaxies rather than just one big black hole?" – Veedrac Mar 8 '18 at 1:03
  • I have rephrased the question more in line with philosophical usage. But if you object, I will restore your original wording. – Geoffrey Thomas Mar 8 '18 at 11:47
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    I'm not sure if it's correct to go as far as to say that morality "contradicts" our body, as it's a known phenomena that people that acts morally say that feel good afterwards. It may be easily said that our "instincts" are twisted due to our social evolution. On your last example, I don't think it's a good one, as it suppose a very specific kind of "morality". On a different note, "survival" doesn't necessarily mean self-survival - as shown in Chris Sunami's great answer to a question about morality and evolution. – Yechiam Weiss Mar 8 '18 at 13:24
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You assume that morality is a 'natural process' and therefore shouldn't result in a contradiction. Yet I would disagree that morality is the biological process that you are implying. While our bodies may be biological it does not follow that experience is biological, especially if you think a human can't simply be reduced to its biological parts. While the feeling of pleasure may be associated with a certain chemical, that does not mean that pleasure is that chemical, and what would it mean for a chemical to be 'pleasure'? Rather, experience is not a physical object, and even if you are reductionist about humans being solely biological, then somehow an experience is generated which is not physical. From here there is no contradiction: you have your body which has biological impulses for reasons of natural selection etc, but these do not correspond directly to the freak of nature that is non-material consciousness. That your experiences can then be reasoned with to produce something else non-material, morality, is of no bearing on the fact that the body which gave rise to these experiences due to natural selection (a process with no considerations of morality just what can reproduce will continue) has 'immoral' impulses. It may be an accident that natural selection produces both the ability to reason and to perceive emotions resulting in us being able to grasp morality but the way it has come about means the process of bodily impulses and morality are quite separate (unless you think morality is non-existent and is i actual fact solely an evolutionary tool)

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But if both the instincts and the morality came to be naturally, why then does our morality contradict our instincts?

It's possible that morality serves a different purpose than our instincts.

We don't see these other contradictions in nature. For example, is there an animal with eyelids, but no eyes? No, because the natural processes that give rise to these objects work together to avoid any logical inconsistencies.

Not necessarily

Scientific evidence suggests that human life has evolved via a process called natural selection, and the ultimate goal of natural selection is survival.

That is not an apt description because it implies a teleological goal. But there is no goal, it's just that living beings that die while not reproducing get sorted out. This does not mean that there can't be mutations that serve no purpose at all. As long as they don't worsen the fitness enough the living beings with that mutation can still survive.

Thus, the natural processes which produce our bodies are self-centered. What matters is me, and only me. What must happen for me or my offspring to survive for the longest time possible?

They aren't only self-centered because being not just self-centered can increase the fitness of a group. Take for example the "gay uncle theory". This can explain why the contradiction arises if morality is in fact reducible to a survival mechanism and not just f.e. a byproduct of cognitive features.

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