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Should Morals be Adaptive?

May 29, 2012

“The best of us did not return” – Viktor EFrankyl


One fundamental question of moral philosophy is should a set of values help groups survive? How important is it for a moral system to result in the survival of those who adhere to it? I can think of a few categories of maximands which crop up in moral systems from time to time:

1. Survival based morals, like “do not steal”, “do not kill”, “cooperate with one another”, etc help groups compete against other groups.

2. Good life based morals help individuals find happiness and personal enlightenment.

3. Divine command based morals are morals which have little bearing on happiness or survival, but people follow them because a higher being commands it.

I don’t think these three approaches can be totally reconciled, but most religions are a mix of the three goals. I consider the Shakers to be a bit of a failure, since their beliefs did not propagate themselves. I think that human life is inherently valuable, and a moral code should improve the quality of life for those who hold it. If a moral code is unsustainable, that limits its ability to spread to human beings, which in my mind is the ultimate goal.

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