Universal Morality?

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There seems to be an evolutionary continuum through deep time where no earthly living entity has been created independently of the Other—there is always a common ancestor. We humans have evolved from a long line of life’s wondrous and intricate play on interdependencies. Our physical essence has come to be through the incessant stacking upon stacking of entities—protocells to prokaryotes to eukaryotes to fish to amphibians to mammals—to form who we are.

Human life’s trajectory would benefit if we always remembered this reality with every thought and with every action. If we did, would we perhaps avoid creating alienating, estranging concepts of Otherness—human Otherness, nationalist Otherness, and animal Otherness—and instead embrace Otherness and wholeness at the same time? It would certainly take generations to reimagine and reorganize our human selves and our resulting institutions and moral structures, but selves and institutions have been reimagined and reorganized before, and it is certainly not out of the realm of possibility.

We can look toward evolutionary theory as an alternative understanding to religious and spiritual beliefs to excavate a moral framework within ourselves—one that is in us and of us, between our neighbors and rising up from our relationship with place.

If the ability of employing moral judgment to govern human behavior is a result of evolution, then the capacity for morality is humanly universal, in that it represents a range of species-typical behavior. Each culture normalizes and moralizes a somewhat different set of behavioral possibilities from within that universal range; each society fills its ethical toolkit in somewhat different ways, but against a universal background. We humans all evolved with the ability to respond and take action in regards to the Other via our sensory, emotional, and intellectual adaptations. All animals and plants have done this, but their adaptations have been varied. In human beings, the rational thought tool supported the development of complex language, giving us the ability to gather and organize an immense amount of information with which to assess which behaviors are acceptable within a certain community and which are not. In another sense, human morality is relative (to place and time) in that each cultural or social group has the freedom to apply these adaptations—which have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years and have become amazingly intricate and complex—to organize and reorganize their specific cultural oughts and ought nots.

To read more visit original article: An Ethical Journey Into Deep Time

  • Anja Claus

    As Senior Editor, Anja guides the development of Humans and Nature Press Digital as well as co-edits submissions to this publication.  She spearheads the Questions For a Resilient Future's Cosmos series—a series focused on reimagining our inter-connections with off-Earth environments.
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