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Thread: Moral Principles Learned via Social Osmosis

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    Default Moral Principles Learned via Social Osmosis

    Moral Principles Learned via Social Osmosis

    I came across this statement “for everything human beings do by intelligence rather than instinct, any course of conduct they choose when they might have chosen differently, is a moral action” in “The Metaphysical Club” by Louis Menand and it stopped me in my tracks. I had to study this statement and make a decision about its validity.

    I consider the words ‘moral’ and ‘ethical’ to be interchangeable.

    We all have the ability to do harm or to do good to other people; and we all are fully aware of that capacity. How can we know this? We can know this because we are capable of imaginatively placing our self into the boots of the other person?

    Young children know this, as is evident by there shouts of condemnation:
    “That’s not fair!”—“She won’t share!”—“He hit me and I didn’t do anything to him!”—“He promised!”—“Cheater, Cheater!”—“Liar, Liar!”—“It’s my turn!”

    I suspect most of us, adults and children; learn these ‘ethical principles’ through social osmosis (without conscious effort). We ‘know’ these principles of ethical behavior but often fail to practice them because there are always so many other forces pulling us in another direction.

    The forces pulling us into unethical behavior are many; for example, ego and social centric forces, self-delusion, selfishness, and especially because of our ignorance and the complexity of the problems we face.

    Webster defines educate as—to develop mentally, morally, or aesthetically [beauty] especially by instruction. Webster defines indoctrinate as—to imbue [infuse] with a usually partisan or sectarian opinion, point of view, or principle.

    I think that it is imperative for each adult to become conscious (aware plus attention) of the difference between these two terms--‘educate’ and ‘indoctrinate’--and also to recognize just how much of our attitude toward matters of ethics results from our education or from our indoctrination.

    I agree with the statement in the first paragraph, do you? I find it I to be staggering to realize this to be a fact, do you?

  2. #2
    Senior Member Array Rangler's Avatar
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    Jan 2009


    Quote Originally Posted by coberst View Post
    “for everything human beings do by intelligence rather than instinct, any course of conduct they choose when they might have chosen differently, is a moral action”
    I actually disagree with this statement.

    I feel it allows too much leeway for instinctual action. My belief is that all material action can be judged through a moral lens. Jealousy, hate, and fear are all instinctual, common emotions across cultures, and are all motivations for making less than rational decisions that lead to negative outcomes. I feel people should still be judged for these, both legally and socially.
    Last edited by Rangler; 03-15-2009 at 01:12 PM.

  3. #3
    Enigma Array Nadir's Avatar
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    Dec 2007


    How else would you learn them? Morals and ethics are a result of belonging in a society, or on a smaller scale, a social group -- they are a yardstick by which various forms of behaivour can be judged as appropriate or discordant within the confines of said society or group and in light of the rules. Moral behaivour is rewarded: unethical behaivour is punished but it slips through the cracks whenever it can (crime, collusion, forms of opportunism and go-getting, etc.). There's also a gray area where unethical behaivour is secondary to the primary, ethical motivator (basically "doing bad things for the greater good") or vice versa.

    Of course this behaivour is learned. The proliferation of above examples lead to a crystallization, and so called "moral principles" emerge. We learn by trial and error -- no one is born moral or immoral. You could say that everything we do from day one, above the instinctual level, is in a way touching a fence and seeing if it's electrical or not. If it's electrical, we are shocked and we withdraw our hand. If it's not, we keep doing it (because touching fences -- probing -- is what we do) anyway, until we are shocked again.
    Not really.

  4. #4



    We could learn morality through a science of morality if we had a science of morality. We do not have such a science because we have allowed religion to run off with our morality and give us Sunday school morality in return.

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