Jamieson, Ch 2: Human Morality



          a.       “A type of system of social control”

2.       “Morality is a behavioral system, with an attendant psychology, that has evolved among some social animals for the purposes of regulating their interactions”

          a.       A “naturalistic” account

3.       Do non-humans have moral systems?

          a.       See Bekoff “Wild Animal Justice” for how widespread morality is in the animal kingdom

          b.       Jamieson says: “Whether moral systems exist among other animals is controversial, but it is clear that precursors to such systems exist among many species of social mammals”

4.       Evolved because “relentless self-seeking behavior on part of each individual can lead to disaster for everyone”

5.       Morality (along with the use of state power and authority–law) can help avoid Thomas Hobbes “war of all against all” in a “state of nature”

          a.       No productive work as can’t be sure to capture benefits of labor

          b.       Strike first before one struck by others

          c.       Such life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”

6.       Building blocks for moral systems (abilities and dispositions needed)

          a.       Sympathy, empathy, generosity, ability to appreciate situation of others

          b.       Ability to control one’s own behavior by suppressing impulses and desires

          c.       Disposition to reciprocate (especially important and deep in our nature)


          d.       Together they can bring us from Hobbes state of nature into cooperative societies that can accomplish great things


7.       Mother nature favors those who have tendencies to cooperate and reciprocate (as well as pursue own interests)

          a.       Under many conditions, groups of organisms will do better than those who do not have these tendencies


8.       How moral systems get up and running:

          a.       More people cooperate with others, more others cooperate with them

          b.       Kindness begets kindness, which begets kindness and so on

          c.       Sympathy becomes more vivid and stronger

          d.       Expectations grow

          e.       Reciprocity becomes normative

          f.       Reason gets involved to work out details of implementing reciprocity and as a device for imposing order and consistency

          g.       Becomes possible and even irresistible to care about others who are in no position to reciprocate

          h.       Start asking what kind of person should I be and what should society be like?

          i.        Start making trans-historical and trans-cultural judgments

          j.        Becomes possible to critique ourselves and society morally

          k.       To project ourselves out of present situation and make claims about how we should act if we were in other circumstances


9.       Morality and reason

          a.       “Unlike other systems of social control, such as custom, with morality the demand for reasons is always in order”

          b.       “Morality always involves doing what we have good reason to do”

                    i.        Leaves it open if morality involves what we have the “most reason to do”



          a.       Amoralism, theism, relativism


11.     Amoralism

          a.       There is no such thing as right and wrong;

          b.       Moralities emerged as Jamieson describes, but no reason we should be bound by any of them

                    i.        No more reason to be bound to morality than to worship Aztec gods or believe laws of Babylonian science

          c.       Opts out of morality; will do exactly as he pleases


          d.       Amoralists are not existential, authentic heros (like Bonnie and Clyde, James Dean, and mafia hit men) who have a morality (though it is different from the morality of those around them), and have integrity and loyalty


          e.       Amoralists are like Dirk

                    i.       Other people’s interests or suffering do not provide reasons for him to act one way or another

                    ii.       Sees a hurt person on side of road matter of indifference whether he helps him or kicks him in the head

                              (1)     does whatever he feels like

                              (2)     no response is the right response

                    iii.      Even if hurt person is his father or best “friend”

                              (1)     Could Dirk have friends?

                    iv.      Even if Dirk is lying hurt on side of road, having been beaten and robbed and ignored by passers by, he can’t feel wronged or that he was treated unjustly, or even resent those who torture him

                              (1)     Can’t have moral emotions

          f.       Amoralists seem almost like sociopaths


12.     Theism

          a.       Morality comes only from God

          b.       Since God has no place in Jamieson’s story about origin and development of morality (morality is a human construction in a world controlled by natural selection), they reject his claim that what he has described is morality

          c.       Sartre: “if God is dead, then everything is permitted”


13.     Two reasons for “theism”

                    i.        W/o God, morality has no content (there would be nothing right or wrong)

                    ii.       W/o God we would not be motivated to act morally


14.     God and moral motivation

15.     If there is no moral motivation, then there is no morality (everything is permitted)

          a.       Ought implies can

          b.       Can’t act morally if we are not motivated to so act

          c.       So if we have no motivation to act morally, then we can’t act morally and if we can’t then it is not true that we ought to act morally

16.     But neither God, nor belief in God, is required for moral motivation:

          a.       Some people are motivated to act morally because of their belief in god but some people are not (atheists and agnostics are often motivated by morality)

          b.       Even those who are motivated to act morally by belief in God might still be motivated to act morally if their belief in God ceased


17.     God and the content of morality

          a.       It is God who gives content to morality through divine commandments

                    i.        What is right is obeying his commands

                    ii.       What is wrong is disobeying them

          b.       Thus w/o God, there can be nothing right or wrong


18.     Two different reasons God’s commands may be right

          a.       One: Actions right in virtue of being commanded by God

                    i.        Rightness constrained by nothing but God’s will

                    ii.       Objection: But then

                              (1)     Murder, torture, rape would be right as long as God commands it

                              (2)     The view of Jihadists, Crusaders, terrorists, and cultists who do horrible things in the name of following God’s commands

                    iii.      Reply: These people are wrong about what God commands

                              (1)     Jamieson: How do we know what God’s commands are? How can we justifiably claim to have more insight into God’s commands than these people?

                    iv.      Reply: Since God is good, he can’t command us to do evil

                              (1)     Jamieson: The appeal to God’s goodness has no independent force since goodness defined by whatever he commands

                              (2)     Saying “God is good” has no content, since whatever God commands is good by definition; like saying an ounce of gold weighs an ounce

          b.       God commands us to do those acts that are right independently of his commands

                    i.        Here it is the independent standard of rightness, not God’s commands, that gives morality content.

                    ii.       God conforms his commands to morality, he does not shape morality through his commands

                    iii.      This leaves Jamieson’s conception of morality intact: God is not necessary for the content of morality.


19.     Jamieson is not criticizing religious people who believe in God, but those who have a very specific view about the relation between religious commitments and morality, i.e., that God is necessary for morality


20.     Relativism

          a.       Relativism starts from observation that different societies and historical periods judge different actions right/wrong

          b.        Rejects the view that morality has resources for critically assessing the views of ourselves and others and that it is possible to project moral judgments across times and societies

          c.       Moral claims can’t transcend the moral system of speakers own society

          d.       Morality is like custom or etiquette, culture bound

          e.       Wrong to condemn the moral standards of other societies and worse to try to impose own morality on others

                    i.        Imposition of Christian morality on native peoples


21.     Objections to Relativism


22.     Relativism is self-contradictory

          a.       It can’t object to intolerance without itself being intolerant

          b.       If it is part of the culture of one society to try to impose its moral views on others, then the relativist who objects to this is being critical of another culture’s cultural practices and standards

          c.       Denouncing attempts to impose ones moral views on others involves the same sort of trans-cultural moral judgment relativists claims we cannot make


23.     Relativism ignores the difficulty of specifying which cultural norms apply to which people, for people belong to multiple and crisscrossing cultural groups

          a.       E.g., 17 year old Togo girl in U.S. trying to avoid female genital cutting


24.     Relativism points us in wrong direction when trying to locate grounds/reasons for moral judgments

          a.       Reasons have to do with interests at stake, harms that would be caused, precedents that would be set

          b.       Cultural membership can be relevant to how we assess these factors but is not of central moral importance


25.     Relativism makes criticizing one’s own cultural norms a mistake

          a.       Those who oppose patriarchy, slavery, in a culture where these practices are the accepted norm, are (according to relativism) simply wrong.

                    i.        The abolitionist in a slave society is wrong

                              (1)     “But surely it is not the abolitionist, but the relativist who is wrong”


26.     Relativism makes moral progress impossible


27.     While relativism is useful in getting us to pay attention to diversity in moral practices, there is less disagreement in morality than it might seem

          a.       E.g., Eskimo female infanticide


28.     Fact and importance of diverse moralities should make us humble about our ability to understand, much less improve, morality of others.