First, I request that contributors to this thread be in agreement with the following assertion: Human morality is specific to humans and is not Platonically/heavenly perfect, eternal or true in any natural or supernatural way other than as it might pertain to human individuals and societies. If you disagree with this assertion, I hope to see your analysis somewhere else. Such a separation may be just the thing that will keep supremely confident folks from falsely strumming each others beautifully tuned instruments.
What is morality? On what is it based? Where does it come from? How does continually (almost daily) revised Darwinian theory fit into the idea of morality? Much has recently been written on this forum about these questions. I'd like to attempt another take on things, and hope—perhaps futilely—that it appears inviting for further discussion. First, some quick definitions for the purpose of this discussion:
Morality is something that is commonly fought by certain people, though it often involves simple, everyday situations. When the answer to a situation is clear and obvious, then to do otherwise issues a private challenge to morality itself. When the answer is fuzzy, difficult or convoluted, chances are that such an answer relies on ethical consideration. Ethical consideration tends to corral attention to various or disparate circumstances attempting to align themselves into morality as it's perceived. People generally agree on moral issues and often disagree about ethical consideration.
I'd say that morality is clearly—though of course not perfectly—defined in modern societies. Theft, acting negligently or recklessly, harming others or their property, subjective killing (i.e., murder), etc. etc. all are heavily codified in print and tradition (court precedence) and punishments for the most part are appropriate according to the sensibilities of most people. Now we can drop back down one or two levels, switching from the macroscopic to the microscopic. What is morality to the individual? What causes one to follow its principles and what causes one to ignore them?
I've heard that if you place an ant into an environment that has ample food, water and—apparently—every other life necessity, the ant will starve to death. This is because individual ants have what amount to strong psychological needs involving working and socializing in specific ways. When they are kept from doing so, I suspect the result is comparable (if only distantly) to a toddler needing the attention of its parent, or even a fully grown and educated person needing the psychological support of family and friends. I bring this up not to compare cross-species moral systems, but only to emphasize that our views on reality are, by necessity of survival, not at all objective. In many ways we act like ants, failing to consider implications of—or even reasons for—our actions. Individuals of our species have lived and acted, for the most part, as we've needed to live and act rather than as though we act always out of divine-like moral perfection. I'm trying to emphasize that our morals are specific to us, not to nature as a whole. We feel their need and presence, we live by the laws they've inspired. Morals, in my definition, are not very flexible. But they are biological-cognitive constructs only. They hold no sway anywhere but within our souls. That's a level of literality that is perhaps unnecessary for this discussion. We can instead focus on real-world morality, as it pertains to humanity as a whole and as individuals.
In a general sense, morality obviously plays a key role in bridging the individual with the group. Human individuals rely on working together in order to survive, and instinct allows for and even dictates a need for empathy at times and lack of it at other times. It's such a strongly needed instinct that human societies have taken it away from the individual and placed it in public trust, in a sense. Now that we have laws and punishments, most of us don't really need to focus on morality. We do need to be informed about laws, and we need to consider ethics. Morality is fairly cut and dried. Ethics are anything but.
For anyone who might still be with me, I would next suggest that morality not be seen as though informed by anything such as spirituality or supernaturalism. I hope we can view it in light of exactly what it is. There's really nothing vague or mysterious about how our early instincts and eventual laws got to where they are today. We're repelled by looking down from a high height and we're horrified by the sight of a person being beaten or stabbed. Both tendencies are beneficial to us and our survival. Without them, societies wouldn't exist.
I don't know exactly how this sort of analysis might be useful, but it seems obvious to me that self understanding never hurts. I may see morality differently from how it's commonly spoken about, and hope to have my thoughts shot down by anyone who has even a minimum of ammunition. Please come after me, as I honestly don't want to walk around with false ideas rattling around in my head. At the same time, I propose that this thread be a polite discussion. If someone makes a point that seems flagrantly mistaken, let's just let it go in this thread with a simple correction. Let's play nicely for a while at least, while we look at morality on a slightly deeper level than how it's usually described and discussed. If any or all of my definitions seem incomplete or mistaken in some way, please explain. I don't think anyone is going to go after your throat for clarifying how you see the world of morality.