Let’s suppose Darwin is sharing his findings for the first time with Socrates about what he calls “Zoral” behaviour and imagine how a conversation between them would unfold.
Darwin: I have discovered a unique set of behaviours that humans have. I call it Zoral Behaviour.
Socrates: Zoral behaviour?Tell me more, what exactly does it entail?
Darwin: Well basically, it is a unique set of behaviours that humans have developed during the evolutionary process which has led to the overall survival and flourishing of the human species. Behaviours such as nurturing offspring and co-operation among groups. Behaviour that is directed towards the flourishing of the group and not fulfilling individual pleasures. Evolution has endowed man with a unique Zoral sense which is the motive feelings that drives survival and puts the group over the individual. “Zoral sense” names a set of innate traits that, in appropriate circumstances, move the individual to act in specific ways for the flourishing and survival of the species.
Socrates: Sounds fascinating Darwin, as you know my concern has always been with answering the question of what is the good and virtuous life? Perhaps your biology holds the keys. Let me summarize what you have said to avoid confusion. Zoral behaviour is a unique type of behaviour that humans have developed during evolution. It is behaviour that stems from a strong feeling within the individual to cooperate with the group in order to ensure the survival of the human species and to increase it’s flourishing.
Socrates: Tell me Darwin, is Zoral behaviour good? Is it morally good?
Darwin: Yes it is.
Socrates: Why is Zoral behaviour good?
Darwin: Well because it leads to the survival and flourishing of humans.
Socrates: Wait Darwin I think you might be creating a circular argument. You have already defined Zoral behaviour as behaviour that leads to humans flourishing. So now what you are saying is behaviour that leads to human flourishing is good because it leads to human flourishing. How do you come to the conclusion that human flourishing is good from your empirical observations?
My question to put it to you another way then – why is any behaviour that leads to human flourishing good?
Darwin: Well because human flourishing is the highest good. Isn’t it obvious that the survival and flourishing of human beings is a good thing?
Socrates: I definitely feel that way however how I feel is not a measure of whether something is the case. My feelings simply tell me what my mental subjective state is, and from my history I can tell you that they have often led me astray. So saying human flourishing is good because we feel it is good- is invalid. The central question Darwin is why is human flourishing the highest good? What part of your empirical observations have led you to the conclusion that human flourishing is the highest good?
Darwin: I don’t know, I guess then simply because certain human behaviour leads to human flourishing it does not necessarily follow that the behaviour is good, unless one has already assumed that human flourishing is good. Which just begs the questions.So to say something is good cannot depend on our own subjective feelings, nor can it be derived from our empirical observations.
Yes, If…men were reared under precisely the same conditions as hive-bees, there can hardly be a doubt that our unmarried females would, like the worker-bees, think it a sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters; and no one would think of interfering.
Socrates: Yes which is why all the great thinkers such as Plato, Immanual Kant, have realised that if moral goodness is to objectively exist it cannot be empirically found in nature alone. Morality transcends nature and we use it to interpret and judge our empirical observations. If morality is to be universal it cannot be the product of a particular contingent biological history. Universe morality cannot be a result of particular history that could have turned out differently, a history that only turned out like this by chance. If morality is to have the weight and obligation which we give it, it simply cannot be a product of chance. Nature alone cannot give us a secure basis for good and evil, right and wrong.
Darwin:So what is basis of morality? There is no way any human being can make sense out of life without assuming moral values and duties exist. It is the basis of our laws and legal systems; the basis of our constitutions and human rights. So I cannot for one moment think that the entire edifice of what is right and wrong hangs on an illusion. I must know from where do moral values and duties come?
Socrates: My disciple Plato presented a theory of forms. He said there is a world of forms or ideals where moral values and duties exist, they are unchanging, eternal, absolute and unchanging. In fact each moral value such as goodness, beauty, justice, courage would have its ideal in the platonic world of forms.
Darwin: It seems to solve the problem in that the moral values have an objective existence that does not depend on human experiences. However it raises other problems. Firstly, if each moral value such as goodness, courage and justice exists would not immoral values also have their own ideals? Dishonesty, cowardice, hatred they would also exist. Which raises the problem of why then should I choose courage over cowardice – if both exist in this silent world of forms. What obligation do I have in choosing the ideal of courage rather than that of cowardice. Secondly, how can for example, the ideal of justice itself be just? We always refer to people and their actions as good or bad, just or unjust. A will and ability to choose seems to be a precondition for morality. How can impersonal (without a will and mind) ideals themselves be good or bad? Thirdly, if they do exist how would we know about them?
Socrates: insightful observations Darwin, that’s a problem that Plato could not solve and it seems to imply a dualistic fundamental reality. Where good and bad values both exist objectively and the choice between the two becomes arbitrary. On how we know about the world of ideals- Plato suggested that our souls are eternal and existed in the world of forms before we are born. And we access knowledge of the forms through recollection, they are innate and not derived from experience but rather our experience acts as a catalyst to allow us to recall them.
Darwin: So Plato’s theory in some aspects gets it right but not entirely. What is our other option?
Socrates: The Algerian thinker St. Augustine thought he solved the problem when he said the good is God. The good is rooted in the uncreated, universal, eternal character of a personal God. And God’s commandments to us tell us what our moral duties are. How happiness ought to be obtained.
Darwin: But did Plato not debunk grounding the good in God? He asked Euthyphro – Does God will and desire the good because it is good, or is the good good because God says and desires it? If you go with the first option then it means what is good does not depend on God in any way – God simply recognizes what is good and wills and desires it. In other words you could have what is morally good without God.
Socrates: Go on..
Darwin: If you prefer the second option then what is good becomes arbitrary, if God demands and desires humans to rape another then that would be good simply because God has said it is.
Socrates: So you have a bit of a dilemma then, if you go with the first option – you no longer need God for what is morally good to exist. If you go with the second option then what is good becomes arbitrary because raping babies can be be good if God says it is. Correct?
Darwin: That is what Plato said.
Socrates: I would like to suggest a third option. God’s character and nature is the good. Which means what God wills and desires is always in line with his character (which is perfectly good). It is impossible for God to will and desire that which is different or in contradiction with his character (which is perfectly good).
Darwin: So what you are saying is firstly, God wills and loves the good because HE is good and not because IT is good. Secondly it is impossible for God to will and desire and command something that contradicts his nature. Therefore what is good is still dependent on God’s nature and it is not arbitrary. God could never say it is good to rape babies because it would be out of line with his character.
Socrates: Yes Plato himself in the Republic admits, “But surely God and the things of God are in every way perfect” and further on adds “Then it is impossible that God should ever be willing to change; being; as supposed, the fairest and best that is conceivable…”
Darwin: It seems then God’s character firmly secures the existence of what is morally good and right. Zoral behaviour is good because it leads to human flourishing which is good because it is in line with the character and will of God which gives us the basis for morality.
Socrates: Absolutely correct Darwin, next time I would like to hear more about evolution by natural selection