Thursday, May 3, 2012

Student Feedback on Moral Sense Colloquium

Editor’s note: The following are comments from students (of St. Francis College) who attended a recent Moral Sense Colloquium. The ASEBL blog posting of 17 March details the colloquium and speakers. The comments have been edited only for grammatical clarity. These comments do not represent the opinions of the Editor or the Editorial Board of ASEBL Journal and are provided as Guest Postings.
“A question that Dr. Kristy Biolsi proposed during her presentation was, ‘Does one have to be self-aware to be moral?’ In my opinion, humans must be self-aware to be moral. Hypocrisy would reign in a society where self-awareness was insignificant or disregarded. Since people speculate that morality is learned, I believe the first step is recognizing one’s self. Dr. Sophie Berman quoted Descartes as saying ‘All sane people know they have a body.’ Once a rational being can reason that she has a body, she becomes self-aware. Furthermore, once she is self-aware, a sense of morality will ensue.”

“A claim that Dr. Berman made which I found interesting was that humans are free, but held accountable for their actions. For example, humans are held accountable for unethical actions by the legal system. But since this is a moral-sense colloquium, it can be viewed as humans being held accountable by a higher power: God. Animals, on the other hand, are not held accountable for their actions in a justice system. In support of Dr. Berman’s claim, animals are not rational beings and will not be held accountable for immorality since animals are incapable of being moral or immoral. Since humans are the only rational beings on earth, they have a higher expectancy for moral-sense understanding.”

“I actually went into the Colloquium having a tight grasp on what I felt moral sense was, but after, I was rather unsure. I know that one’s moral sense isn’t inherited but can be learned from social situations. I don’t agree that morality is a level conscience, but I agree that it is to be determined by the human experience. The most relatable argument, in my opinion, came from Dr. Nolan. I agree that the basic human drive is primitive but is also weighed by cause and effect. The reward and punishment system does seem related, similar to cooperation versus selfishness and altruism versus spite. How will what I do for you ultimately affect me, and do the means justify the end? I think everyone makes a choice; it’s just dependent upon the chooser.”

“There has been some research by the Darwinian psychologists and they claim to have been developing a unified theory of human nature. Underlying all of human behavior, they say, is one fundamental commandment, the same law which shapes the lives of all the birds and beasts.”

“There is evidence to prove that science and philosophy should be studied closely together. There are many questions that can be asked to bring philosophy, psychology and especially biology together.”

“Human beings are different than any other being – we have the ability to make choices. Therefore, because our intuition allows us to make moral acts of right and wrong, we have full control over what we should and should not do.”

“Morality is what we know to be right from wrong. As human beings, moral behavior becomes questionable in different scenarios. For example, is there a distinction between moral behavior done to avoid punishment or earn reward? As humans, this becomes a choice we make. It is subconsciously done and choosing to commit acts to avoid punishment – is that being moral? Is it being moral that we do things because we are rewarded for them?”

“If we define moral behavior as doing the right thing, wouldn’t the intent become necessary? In other perspectives in psychology, there is also the question of are we human beings born into morality or is moral behavior developed over time?”

“Evidence shows a moral sense is innate and can be seen between the interactions of other species, such as dogs and their ‘play pose’ or chimpanzees and their apologetic grooming. The only downfall present when it comes to animal psychology and morality is that if a moral sense is defined as the ‘intent’ to do the ‘right thing,’ we may never truly know the intricate workings of morality in the mind of other animals.”

“Dr. Sophie Berman’s philosophical approach to the question of morality was harder for me to truly understand. From what I could gather, she spoke of nature showing us a world of inequality where the strong triumph over the weak. However, when it comes to human beings, they have a choice and the ability to make decisions regarding the morality of their actions. For people, it isn’t simply a matter of being triumphant over a weaker opposition, like a lion taking down a gazelle. Instead, we have an infinite freedom of choice, possibly from a divine being, that allows us to go against the basic law of nature that basically says, do whatever you need to in order to survive.”