Replies from readers have been enlightening. One ends up poking around in ego, alter ego, altruism, behaviors of many species in crisis, and consideration of genetic responses that preserve the species. The original question, “where does morality come from?” involves all the above subjects in one way or another.
To a large degree, morality derives from alter ego and genetic responses that preserve a species.
Perhaps the most vivid example of morality arising from alter ego is a soldier falling on a grenade to protect his fellow soldiers from harm. Another is similar: the suicide bomber (exempting mentally disturbed individuals of any nation). One can conjure many examples in many circumstances that have a trained obligation to give one’s self to protect another.
Alter ego does not require death or injury to be moralistic. Nuns give up a secular life to dedicate themselves to Jesus and God. Many provide bone implants to save another individual. Families may uproot themselves to favor the hardships of a family member, including selling the home and quitting jobs.
What all these examples have in common is that the people involved are trained to respond the way they do. Training is easily visible in the soldier who has his civilian alter ego torn down in boot camp replaced by a military code that puts the team first under every circumstance. Simple punishments like making the entire squad run ten miles because one member failed a group standard. The training embeds team morality so intensely that it is a matter of faith that a soldier is prepared to sacrifice himself. The suicide bomber is conditioned in the same manner.
Behaviors (morality) rooted in the alter ego include any social influence that becomes accepted over time. Examples are behavioral differences between classes, between races, between religions, between social issues, etc. One need only be receptive to a concept to allow unstructured training to occur, thereby establishing a code of morality.
The other source of morality is the behavior hard wired in any creature’s genetic code. Several philosophers and social scientists contend there is only one absolute morality: survival and propagation of the species. Strongest of the morality behavior is the urgency to have sex, thereby assuring the future of the species. One need not search far in the history of any group or nation to identify moral rules and traditions associated with sexual behavior. From Helen of Troy to Prince William of Great Britain, sex has obvious rules about who, when and where. The mariner will leave how to his readers. The commoners are not excluded from obvious rules that control sexual behavior. It may be that the reaction to homosexual marriage is that it seems to change rules of sexual propagation – a very important issue that seems averse to survival of the species. One must think hard about the issue to understand that it is a moral issue arising from the alter ego rather than a change in the genetic requirement for human propagation.
The mariner has found many curious genetic behaviors in other species and invites the reader to investigate a few. Understanding the genetic morality of other species will clarify one’s understanding about the influence propagation has on the social behavior of the species – including humans.
For a few examples, check out the angler fish, elk, mayfly, checkered whiptail lizard, and dolphin.