Sunday, November 25, 2007

Morality Modality

Here's a link to 5 questions that rate your "morality." Be sure to click the link in the first paragraph to read the article that accompanies the quiz; it's a rather interesting piece on the study of what makes us moral, the difference between moral codes and moral behaviors, and the anthropological underpinnings of our morality.


The questions on the quiz are the usual "would you kill a crying baby to save ten people?" type. It would be interesting to see whether a person's morality changes as their life circumstances change. I answered "yes" back in college to smothering the baby. Tonight, now that I'm a mother, the notion of harming anyone's baby to save my own life feels absolutely monstrous--to the extent that I'm ashamed to admit ever having answered that dilemma in the affirmative. Whether that makes me more moral, I'm not sure from the perspective of my 9 other hypothetical at-risk compatriots, but it sure does make me more empathetic from a maternal perspective.

Which may prove the author's point that "The deepest foundation on which morality is built is the phenomenon of empathy, the understanding that what hurts me would feel the same way to you...[that] what does, or ought to, separate us [from animals] then is our highly developed sense of morality, a primal understanding of good and bad, of right and wrong, of what it means to suffer not only our own pain—something anything with a rudimentary nervous system can do—but also the pain of others. That quality is the distilled essence of what it means to be human."

Which raises the issue of how to impart empathy to humans, and whether it's even possible even if we knew how. Nancy Eisenberg has written extensively on teaching, or perhaps cultivating, empathy and "prosocial behaviors" in kids. It's pretty interesting stuff, in terms of how to raise kids with a moral center; how to nurture the seed of empathy that is present in all children. Equally interesting is the body of work by Lawrence Kohlberg, which includes his three levels of moral development. Thank you,

The levels feel like they should be age-related, but nota bene that we all know adults stuck in the pre-conventional "what's in it for me? How do I avoid punishment?" stage quite familiar to parents of small children and adolescents.

Anyway, the article is a quickie read, it's a quickie quiz, and it's a neat jumping-off point for really examining where you feel like you're sitting in the moral landscape.

1 comment:

Vigilante said...

I scored 100% right on all of the questions!