>Does universal morality exist?

>*Everyone (with the exception of a few weirdos) believes that murdering for the sake of murdering is wrong.
*Every culture has a limit on the number of women one can marry (yes, some say you can have 10 wives while others say only one, but there is still a limit), therefore suggesting that it is wrong to simply sleep with or marry any woman one pleases.
*If we make a promise to someone and break it, we try to justify it. However, if one breaks a promise to us we feel wronged, therefore implying that breaking a promise/treaty is unjustifiable.
*If there was a person drowning in a nearby creek and we had the ability to save them without any threat to our own lives, everyone would probably do it (again, with the exception of some weirdos)
These are the arguments of a theorist known as C.S. Lewis. He argues that universal morality exists even among different cultures. Now I ask whether or not his arguments are strong?
Is there universal morality?


  • >We don't have the evidence to say for certain but what evidence does exist suggests that we aren't born with moral values. So why do we have shared morals? There are two reasons. Firstly, we can reason just as did Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau when they were thinking about the state of nature and what that implied about human nature. Hence we're able to reason that such things as murder would not fulfil our emotional desires i.e. we aren't born with a taste for pain, and we fear possible reprisals. Secondly, no group of people is today completely segregated from the global exchange of information, cultural norms etc (other than for short periods of time). In fact for most of history there were cultural exchanges far and wide. Even the Americas were influenced by developments elsewhere in the world prior to 1492 when Columbus discovered the New World. The vikings actually crossed the Atlantic and may even have left settlers in America. So it is perfectly possible for moral values to cross borders and take a hold in different cultures. Freud and Marx both believed that as cultures progressed/changed morals would change in response to a changing society.Hence my argument is that there are shared morals within the world but in general they are all flexibly held and vary accross different regions and groups within each society. There are similarities because we share similar circumstances, we share similar sets of information, and we are all influenced by one another in what is kind of a flexible global culture.

  • >Thanks! I recently broke away from the Christian teaching for lots of inconsistencies concerning the identity of God; arminianism vs. Calvinism, and the subjectivity of God's will. C.S. Lewis is considered one of the greatest thinkers in the Christian sphere and I have never been able to explain why there are so many similarities in morality amidst the world. I have been studying thinkers like Rousseau, Locke, and Hobbes just this semester and it never even crossed my mind that their thinking could explain the reason for our "morals"… Geanette

  • >I would agree mostly with you Rob. The only thing that I'm not sure about is if morals are in general flexibly held, I'm not sure exactly what that means either. I think it would be difficult to persuade someone to drop their morals or adopt yours, but maybe I'm interpreting your statement incorrectly. I think shared morals stem from the realization that adopting them would lead to greater happiness. I'm suggesting the utilitarian approach here. I think the next question that should be asked is if morality is innate or not.Keinst

  • >By 'flexibly held' I simply mean that they always change. We tend to think of innate and absolute moral values because most of our morals are shared and fairly unchallenged. Yet even something as bad as rape only becomes morally bad when you believe it is so. Anthropologists discovered that if a child is raped in a culture where it is socially acceptable or even thought of as an act of love then they do not develop any psychological complexes or feel scarred in any way. Yet if you take that child and place them into a Western society and give them counselling for what our moral values state to be 'wrong' then voila all those psychological problems emerge.As for the comment about happiness I agree. Though I would expand it a little to equal the following: pursuing the maximisation of positive feelings and minimisation of negative ones. If anyone has an argument as to how any one of our purposes in life does not come down to that then I would really like to hear it.

  • >Right vs wrong is not subjective. Look through history, the similarities are more striking than the diferences in morality. Also look at the way we disagree people very rairly say i think steeling from, hitting, murdering that person was the corect thing to do they generaly try to make an excuse i had to steel from him i needed to eat, i had to hit him before he hit me, i had no other option but to muder him he was sleeping with my wife. This shows we are following an internalised standard which is very similar throughout the world even very militeristic societys such as sparta had similar rules and we even grade societies based on there adherance to this internalised standards. Look what happens if there is genoside or religious intolerance it is almost always chalanged. we alow countries into the UN EU NATO etc based on there adherance to these standards. If right and wrong was subjective wouldnt we expect to see a much grater variation in what is considered and wouldnt we expect international coperation to be much harder to achieve?Tom C

  • >You raise good points but it's all about degrees, definitions of different concepts and where boundaries lie. I think there are some morals that all of humanity shares. But this does not mean they are not subjective for as you mention people can find circumstances to justify acting in a different way. The most commonly cited 'evil' is said to be the holocaust. Yet one could argue based on racial ideology that in sum total humanity would be better off without the Jewish religion and/or people. If there is an argument for this, no matter how weak and 'morally wrong' it seems to us, then it means that the morals we adhere to on this subject are subjective. If they weren't then Hitler would have ascribed to them.

  • >The very fact it has to be justified makes my point even the NAZI's didnt say it is right to kill people they said we have to kill this group because we believe they are inferior and are planning to take over civilisation controling money power etc. you see they had to come up with a reason to make what they believed wrong acceptable even a good thing to do. look at the interviews with the NAZI criminals they almost always say we had to deel with the jews they practicaly never simply say we beleive it is right to kill they had to come up with a loophole to get around the moral argument. 'We arnt born with a tast for pain' Please corect me but are you arguing for inborn atributes that we dont like pain doesnt that imply a moral basis somwhere inate within us?You seem to be looking at specifics of morals to prove your point take a look at the wider picture. We are more than capable of ignoring our morals and if subjected to the corect stimuli we can even forget they are ther e.g. Hitler Youth, dont forget the strenght of indoctrination and aclimitisation. isnt it supprising that populations which develop in either relative or complete isolation tend to develop similar rules even when they seem counter productive? a good example is marrage and pro-creation with only a very small number of exceptions societies sponser the idea of marage sometimes monogomy sometimes poligomy even though in terms of genetic diversity it makes much more sence for us to have children with as many people as possible. Acting like most animals ensuring that the strongest procriate and the weekest dont? The argument that morals travel is not very strong as prior to mass transport the majority of populations had very little traveling and we found similar morals or reasons for not adhearing to them in societies wherever we traveled to.Tom C

  • >Everything has to be justified. You are not opposed to murder simply 'because'. You are opposed to murder for many reasons such as: you don't want to be killed yourself, you expect that the victim will have wanted to live, you want to avoid making the victim suffer, etc etc. Use of these justifications allows us to differ in opinions. For example pacifists believe violence should never be used. I on the other hand think that violence has its uses; there is such a thing as a just war and even a just fight for just reason. The world is not simply split into good and bad or right and wrong. Both parties are usually in the right on some level. Hence the Nazis did say it was right to kill people. They just did not say it was right to kill all people. They were not justifying what they thought to be wrong for Hitler did not believe it was wrong. As for why people hold broad moral consensus and therefore sometimes struggle to justify their logic, please read back to earlier in this debate. "Please corect me but are you arguing for inborn atributes that we dont like pain doesnt that imply a moral basis somwhere inate within us?" An emotional basis yes; a moral basis no. There is a disctinct difference."We are more than capable of ignoring our morals and if subjected to the corect stimuli we can even forget they are ther e.g. Hitler Youth, dont forget the strenght of indoctrination and aclimitisation."Correct. We are capable of forming moral values and then changing them, or acting in complete opposition to them due to unforseen circumstances. "isnt it supprising that populations which develop in either relative or complete isolation tend to develop similar rules even when they seem counter productive?" Not really. As I said earlier, we have biological and emotional similarities, as well as similar minds, hence we are able to reason in similar ways. This does not mean we automatically do reason in the same way but it makes it more likely. And 'complete isolation' is impossible in today's world, but if you want to look back into history then you can see that different groups of people have indeed developed different morals. They are still similar in that people oppose arbitrary murder and things like that. But there are many reasons why we all adopt those values. Indeed without those values a society would destroy itself and leave no trace to history anyway. Yet there exceptions even to that, for social leaders have often been given the power and authority to arbitrarily murder. continued …

  • >To emphasize the point we saw relatively secluded societies of early man develop very similar tools such as hand axes. These were remarkably similar and yet we know that technology was not exchanged. Do you think that was because we shared thoughts? Of course not. It was because we share similar brains and therefore reason in similar manners. We were able to work out how useful hand axes could be individually and without communication. "a good example is marrage and pro-creation with only a very small number of exceptions societies sponser the idea of marage sometimes monogomy sometimes poligomy eventhough in terms of genetic diversity it makes much more sence for us to have children with as many people as possible. Acting like most animals ensuring that the strongest procriate and the weekest dont?" Wrong. Monogamy was the most logical solution in evolutionary terms. To quote Peter Watson from 'Ideas: A history from fire to freud' "A final consequence of bipedalism was that females could only give birth to relatively small brained offspring – because mothers needed relatively narrow pelvises to be able to walk efficiently. From this it followed that the the infants would be dependent on their mothers for a considerable period, which in turn stimulated the division of labour between males and females, males being required to bring back food for their mates and offsrping. Over time this arrangement would have facilitated the development of the nuclear family" Basically, the family is useful for individuals and society as a whole.

  • >Essentially I agree with Rob. On the whole we will mostly agree on right and wrong (especially when looking at examples like you gave; it's easy to be black and white on those). Yet even if we all agree most of the time, that doesn't make morality objective.James

  • >I don't believe for a second that we're born with a moral code, however we are born with an ability to calculate in our own way what is wrong and what is right. The mechanism to do so will almost always yield the same results (what you might call a moral code). Essentially we'll always come to very similar conclusions. Under this reasoning, there is no need for any religious text to tell us how to behave. Everyone can determine appropriate behaviour more subjectively (more appropriately to the circumstance) than any religious black and white (and often contradictory) text can. The problem with looking to the Bible or the Qu'ran for moral support during a dilemma, or to ask "what would Jesus do?" is that neither have an informed opinion on the actual circumstances, or a view to the consequences. Asking what would Jesus do, allows you to project your own ideas about morality into the mind of "Jesus". As such Jesus will always agree with you, no matter what you decide. (This is backed by a thorough scientific investigation that shows that God always agrees with you, no matter what your opinion, good or evil. I'll look it up and provide reference later).James

  • >This will be my last reply i dont have that much free time at the moment and this seems to be taking up rather a lot of it.I am opposed to Murder simply because it is wrong. Rob, you are coorect that i dont want to be killed myself and pain is not much fun, but i think it is inately wrong to murder even if it doesnt hurt or the person has no family etc it would still be wrong. Opinions are not the same as morals e.g. i am of the opinion that anybody caught in Ugg boots should have them confiscated not a moral descision i just think they look so horible that they should be removed, i am of the moral persuasion that giving to charity is good as it is our duty to help people. Hitler didnt believe it was wrong because he was fundementaly warped / wasnt in touch with his concience. To get others to agree he had to make arguments so that they could circumvent their own moral objections. Good gosh no i am not arguing that we dont like pain is a moral point. We dont like pain because of a piece of genetic knowledge that pain = dammage = inablity to compete etc. that we dont murder cheet steel etc that is moral e.g. i had my house broken into at uni and some of my things stolen this was upsetting it hurt i didnt know what it would feel like untill it happend but even before this i knew it was wrong to steel. We will simply have to agree to differ about changing our morals i simply dont think they change we just choose to ignore them at times when it is convinient like the no trespas sign it is still trespasing if i go over the area but i choose to ignore it. I can see no argument either of us can make which will make the other change there mind.the flaw in the axe vs marriage argument is that the axe design is very usefull and similar minds will come up with similar soultions to problems where as monogomy realy isnt in terms of genetic diversity and also evolution it makes much more sense to have the strongest have many children by many partners but society has limited itself in this sence why? The argument you put forward is floored humans have always been tribal if looking compleatly at logic it would make sence that after weening, children could be looked after by older members of the tribe who are no longer capable to hunt gather or protect the tribe? this doesnt seem to be the case instead you get settled family units why? because we all need to LOVE it is inate within us and is the highest of all morals to love. I believe this is because God is Love and he made us in his likeness.Tom C

  • >Ok I can understand you won't have time to reply back to this again but I'm just going to make the most of that (-:I agree that morals are not the same as opinions. But they are very close. A moral is based on a personal sense of right or wrong. It is more firmly held than an opinion because it is used to form a set of principles/rules by which you govern your life. As people can often have different opinions about what's right and wrong this means that we do not hold any 'universal' sense of morality, just shared morals. Tom C: "Hitler didnt believe it was wrong because he was fundementaly warped / wasnt in touch with his concience. To get others to agree he had to make arguments so that they could circumvent their own moral objections."My reply: Firstly, you cannot simply say that anyone without your views of what is moral must be like Hitler and therefore insane. Secondly, Hitler started with no power in a group with only a handful of members. Hence he clearly was able to construct good arguments (as he wasn't able to dish out favours). Now you might agree with someone who had sightly different moral values but would you agree with someone who had values that completely contradicted yours?Of course you thought it was wrong to steal before you were stolen from. You knew it would feel bad and you had been raised in a culture in which this value is the norm.Your arguments on the family are simply those put forward by radical Marxists, which have since been proved wrong. Marriage is a social mechanism to enforce and support monogamy. Monogamy is extremely beneficial to society as it is the basic structure of civilisation and also provides stability, controlling emotions such as jealousy and lust that can lead to violence and social breakdown. It is no shock that couples who agree to start having threesomes often soon start to have relationship difficulties. Monogamy is conducive to trusting and co-operative societies. Having parents look after their own children is also beneficial. As Aristotle once said, allowing everyone to share all things will mean that everyone will neglect all things. In order to provide the greatest background for a child it is necessary for them to have a loving and supportive home. This has been proved many times in psychological experiments to be with the parents.

  • >yea universal morality does exist but its is lost due to not so good experiances..If a child is being brought up in an environment where his dad is sleeping with every other women or if his siblings are doing that even wouldn't hesitate to do so..everyone is born with moral values but whatever happens later decides what he is going to be like

  • >Hi Amogh, thanks for commenting.It's hard to argue against your logic for it can't easily be proven either way. To some degree I'm inclined to disagree, but to some degree I'm inclined to agree.Babies are very maleable, far more so than at any other stage in our lives. Smile at a baby when he/she does something usually seen as bad and they will keep doing it in the belief that what they are doing is good. Hence a baby's morality is clearly not fully developed at birth.However it depends partly on how morality is defined. The fact that a baby takes happiness from the smiles of others suggests some sort of belief in good/bad. This may simply be that good is what makes a baby feel good, and bad something that makes the baby feel bad. Smiles make the baby feel good, and so making others happy is an almost immediate 'moral virtue' that we all try to pursue. It takes a baby time to understand things like death, and that others feel pain and pleasure just as he/she does. However the baby's own sense of pain and pleasure will most likely have developed in the womb. And indeed it has been proven that feotuses learn through the mother's experiences while in the womb. For if Mozart and Beethoven is consistently played to the feotus, the baby becomes more likely to develop a love of and talent for classical music.So in some primitive way yes I guess you could say it exists.

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