metaphysics of human morality
Many would argue that what makes humans different from animals is having morals. But hardly anyone ever asks why we have morals or why most humans even WANT morals? English literature has been enamored by the idea of whether humans are born with morals or we learn them. However from a metaphysical perspective, there are other questions that need to be discussed.
My three questions on morality are:
Why do humans have morals?
Why do humans want to have morals?
Do all humans have the same moral duties?
My interest in the topic of morals stems from another interest of mine, criminal psychology. Murderers make me wonder if humans are born with morals and are corrupted through life or if they had failed to learn morals in the first place. The fact that humans differentiate themselves as different from animals on the sole fact that we have morals make me wonder if murderers could even be considered “human.”
Luckily for me, Immanuel Kant has written a book on morality called Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals which is arguably one of the most important works of moral philosophy ever written.
We seem to be the only species to have evolved to have morals. It’s almost paradoxical, we want morals because we have morals and if we didn’t have morals we wouldn’t want them. Morals are actually pretty important for survival. but why do we have morals? Personally I believe it’s beneficial for us to have them because without them we wouldn’t be able to live in a society with other humans.
If a man shoots his dog because the animal is no longer capable of service, he does not fail in his duty to the dog, for the dog cannot judge, but his act is inhuman and damages in himself that humanity which it is his duty to show towards mankind. If he is not to stifle his human feelings, he must practice kindness towards animals, for he who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. (Kant, LE, 212 (27: 459)
This quote by Kant shows that the way people treat animals is the way they treat everyone else.
It seems like a huge evolutionary disadvantage to feel bad for killing something or feel guilty for doing something wrong but somehow we distinguish ourselves from animals from this sole trait alone. Why do humans want to have morals? Many philosophers would say that it’s to distinguish us from other parts of the natural world. Personally I think humans want to have morals because without them, we wouldn’t be able to accomplish much. Another reason why we want to have morals would be to say that we’re better than every other species on this planet. Lets be real, no matter how much you say you hate the human race, you must agree that we are much more accomplished than any of our closest relatives.
Most rational people can agree that all humans are equal (or at least should be), but does this mean that all humans have the same moral duties? According to Kant “our moral duties are not relative to the situation in which we find ourselves. So in one situation it might be okay to keep a promise “but in another situation (in which, for example, keeping a promise conflicts with a higher duty) I may equally well be morally obligated to break a promise.”
Ultimately, I do believe that all humans have morals, some are just weaker than others. I also believe that us as humans need morals to survive as a society. If we lived the same as animals, I wouldn’t be writing this blog post.