Morality informs countless aspects of our lives, from the way we interact with others to the way we think about ourselves. But does our concept of morality objectively reflect absolute ideals of good and evil, or is it a shifting, arbitrary rulebook that varies from culture to culture?
Yes, morality is relativeShow moreShow less
Our definition of what is right and wrong has changed dramatically over time, and will likely continue to do so.
Moral maxims like "it's wrong to kill" and "it's good to share" exist to promote survival, both for individual people and the human race as a whole. As times change, our definition of morality does the same.
Morality is not a collection of absolute truths that exist in a vacuum, removed from humanity. Rather, our sense of right and wrong is inexorably linked with mankind’s survival. More specifically, morality exists as a way to promote the longevity of both individual people and the human race as a whole. Countless moral maxims we still follow today have persisted for thousands of years because they help groups stick together and function harmoniously. Looking at the most long-standing moral rules, it is easy to see why. The notion that it’s wrong to kill helps community members function harmoniously, free from the threat of unnecessary war or violence. Likewise, the idea that it’s good to share allows communities to pool resources in times of need.
Regardless of what rules a given society chooses to live by, having a shared moral code unites individuals and builds community in the process. However, as times have changed, moral rulebooks have done the same. For example, in modern society, we value diversity and empathy more than ever before, because in our newly globalized world, broadening our collective horizons to understand the experiences of others will help us survive and prosper. Similarly, we have largely rejected archaic moral norms that run contrary to science, since we see that technological advancements will advance our species as well. In this way, we can see that morality is neither absolute nor arrived at arbitrarily. Rather, by creating and upholding moral “rules,” communities increase their chances of survival.
There are numerous accepted moral rules that cannot be accounted for with a purely survivalist outlook. For example, our society considers rape as morally wrong. However, from an evolutionary perspective, it could increase the chances of reproduction, and hence, the survival of the human race.