Is human morality learned?

Is human morality learned?


Man is born with no moral instinct whatsoever, only a survival instinct. This is neither good, nor evil, it simply is. If you doubt this, observe the behavior of very young children and infants. They are the most profoundly selfish humans to exist. Which is normal and correct at that developmental level.

Morality is nothing more, and nothing less, than survival behavior for groups. It is a set of rules we agree to follow so most of us can get along well enough most of the time that we usually don't kill each other over our problems. I agree not to murder you and steal your shit, and you agree not to murder me and steal my shit, and we both agree to protect the other if a third party tries to do that. In this way, both our lives are better.

But morality must be taught to children via careful, patient instruction. Morale sense must be carefully cultivated, because it is not innate, and often times moral behavior, which is survival behavior for groups, runs counter to the survival instinct, which is merely survival for the self.

Yet the moral person can see, despite the apparent contradiction, survival can often be assured by adhering to the group rather than merely being concerned for the self. But it is specifically because this is often counter-intuitive that morale sense must be taught.

I believe there are universal moral principles, and there are cultural moral principles. Western culture is more individually oriented and Eastern culture more family and community oriented, and the moral principles tend to reflect that difference. But those of different ancestral heritage raised in the opposite culture apparently adopt the cultural norms of there residence. However, altruism seems to be an evolutionary process. We are interdependent; therefore, altruistically serving others may indeed be self-serving, since it serves the collective good and reflects positively on the person serving. Reciprocal altruism is an adaptive behavioral trait of social animals (reciprocity norm), and consists of the expectation that helping another will lead to obtaining needed help in the future (enhances the survival of the individual; which enhances chances of procreation). And humans are evolving to be less destructive to one another; which seems to be a moral issue involving evolution.

"Our ancestors were far more violent than we are, that violence has been in decline for long stretches of time, and that today we are probably living in the most peaceful time in our species' existence. ... Until 10,000 years ago, all humans lived as hunter-gatherers, without permanent settlements or government. ... The archeologist Lawrence Keeley, looking at casualty rates among contemporary hunter-gatherers, which is our best source of evidence about this way of life, has shown ... (an) almost a 60 percent chance that a man will die at the hands of another man, ... (when compared to) the 20th century, there would have been two billion deaths rather than 100 million." (

Gazzaniga indicated that "we have thousands, if not millions, of wired-in predilections for various actions and choices" (p. 44). "Humans may have undergone a self-domestication process in which overly aggressive or despotic others were either ostracized or killed by the group. Thus, the gene pool was modified. ... An area of the pre-frontal cortex has actually been found that inhibits self-interested behavior" (p. 157).


"The Ethical Brain: The Science of our Moral Dilemmas," by Michael S. Gazzaniga is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, he heads the SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind, and is the Director of the Summer Institute in Cognitive Neuroscience, and President of the Cognitive Neuroscience Institute. His career has included beginning and developing Centers for Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of California-Davis and Dartmouth, and founding the Neuroscience Institute and the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, of which he is the Editor-in-Chief.

Partly, but not entirely.

All humans (excluding psychopaths) are able to read and be affected by the emotions of others. We feel sad if we see others feeling sad, and happy if they are happy.

If we see someone feeling sad, we feel compelled to help them - at least a little bit. The manner in which we do so is taught, but the urge to do so is innate.

Humans also have an innate sense of fairness. If we see someone being cheated or stolen from, most people will be indignant or enraged. This is especially true if we find out we've been conned or stolen from.

Sure, finer points - like how to comfort someone - are taught to us. However, most humans also have a moral instinct. We're a communal species by nature, and it shows.

It's a combination. Evolved behavior and values are found in social animals because social animals lacking social behavior (e.g., cooperation, rules of precedence, etc.) don't survive so well as social animals that have social behavior. So over time a kind of morality/ethics is selected for. A good example: the social structure and rules of a wolf pack. A wolf pack is far from being an anarchy.

Humans are social animals that also generate human culture (memes), which themselves evolve rapidly. Memes add an overlay of morality, but the basic morals and ethics precede culture (cf. wolves).

A very interesting book in this regard is The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge, by Matt Ridley.

In the same way science is learned.

Developmental psychology points in this direction.

Specifically this: Lawrence Kohlberg - Wikipedia

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