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     Morality and ethics are concerned with right and wrong ways to behave.  One such way is to, always, above all else, look out for one's self interest.  Its opposite, altruism, places the interests, welfare, happiness, and perhaps even survival of other people or living things above one’s own interests. Michael Shermer, in his 2004 book The Science of Good and Evil, characterizes religion as "a social institution that evolved as an integral mechanism of human culture to encourage altruism and reciprocal altruism, to discourage selfishness and greed, and to reveal the level of commitment to cooperate and reciprocate among members of the community."  Generally present in some form in all major religions and in cultural heritages throughout the world, is a behavioral recipe known as "The Golden Rule." (See Figure #16a.)

     English philosopher John Locke described this (in 1690) as an "unshaken rule of morality, and foundation of all social virtue."  The positive version, stated in the above worldview theme description in one variation, was part of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.   Confucius, in the 6th century BCE, is generally credited with the negative version of this universal principle: "Do not do unto others what thou wouldst not they should do unto you."  The Jewish sage Hillel provided a slightly different version in 30 BCE: "What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbor." 

     In comparing both versions, ethicists generally prefer the negative formulation, for, as philosophy professor Steven M. Cahn puts it, "It does not imply that we have innumerable duties toward everyone else."  About that negative formulation Cahn goes on to say, "[it] is not the supreme moral principle since it does not prohibit actions that ought to be prohibited."  He suggests that, by following it, a masochist might inflict pain on others.  In similarly finding fault with the Golden Rule, another asked, "How would you feel if a million Soviet troops stormed your Reich capital?"  While not perfect, in the search for a concise, easily understood supreme moral principle, the Golden Rule is one of the best choices.  (See worldview theme #42 "Ethical Orientation" for some other ones.)

     Why do some people often behave altruistically, while others rarely or never do?  In analyzing research on the evolution of moral behavior by anthropologist Donald E. Brown,  Shermer identified twenty-nine traits that "contribute to a behavioral expression of the Golden Rule."  Included in this list are fairness, cooperation, co-operative labor, food sharing, hospitality, promise, reciprocal exchanges,  turn taking, and empathy.   Empathy—"fellow feeling" or imagining that you are in the other person’s shoes and experiencing his or her feelings, struggles, etc.—is one of the more important pre-requisite traits in this list.  Emotionally immature people, in particular those who after experiencing so much pain as children have learned  how to block it, may not feel compassion for



others' pain.  Many believe childhood experience and genetic endowment basically wire neural connections in the brain and play a key role in one's ability to empathize.  After studying mirror neurons, some neuroscientists believe empathy can specifically be traced to neural networks with mirror properties.

      The Golden Rule is a simple recipe for human behavior. Another equally recognizable one from human history is embodied in "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."  Together these provide the following prescription for moral behavior: "You should cooperate first.  If others cooperate continue to do so. If someone defects, you should defect in similar fashion. But if they start cooperating again, you should also."  Interestingly enough, this is basically the TIT for TAT strategy—a computer program of interest to political scientists, those studying human nature, and the evolution of ethical behavior.  This program achieved such success in tournaments involving non-zero sum "cooperate/defect" games, that some speculate its mental equivalent was important in the evolution of cooperation.  A winning strategy is defecting on the last move: if you plan on never seeing someone again, you cheat or behave badly! 

     Human nature may require distinguishing "insiders and outsiders"—those you treat right and those you don't.  As a 2007 Time article "What Makes Us Moral" reports, "This kind of brutal line between insiders and outsiders is evident everywhere."  Its existence is no surprisesociologists made a similar community vs. society distinction in the late 19th century.

     How distinguishing "insiders and outsiders" and ethical behavior evolved in humans over a long period of time can be described using a pyramid.  (See Figure #16c.) When people were little more than animals their behavior was dictated by self interest in meeting basic survival needs—shown at the pyramid's base.  Among pre-civilization humans, ethical behavior extended to include family and biological relatives.  As culture developed and survival pressures eased, ethical behavior was extended greatly, moving up the pyramid, to eventually include community, tribe, regional neighbors, ethnic group, and nation.  Today, at the top of the pyramid, are those who feel a sense of belonging to the whole human species and behave accordingly.  Use of the phrase "all human beings" in the opening sentence of the statement of this "Golden Rule..." worldview theme connects those who value it with those at the pyramid's top.

     For many a "Village Ethic of Mutual Help" is logically part of the Golden Ruleit was for David Starr Jordan.  In his 1894 book The Factors in Organic Evolution, he saw a weaker ethic "Live and Let Live" being strengthened with a "Law of Mutual Help" to become "Live and Help Live."  For Jordan, this was a simple way of describing the jump from the Silver Rule to the Golden Rule.  Besides mutual help, inherent to worldview theme #16 is Good Samaritan type behavior (Figure #16b). Behaving this way requires extending trust to complete strangers.

Figure #16a

Expressions of The Golden Rule                in Other Religions

Islam: "Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you." from the Prophet Muhammad's Last Sermon

Jainism:  "Just as pain is not agreeable to you, it is so with others.  Knowing this principle of equality treat others with respect and compassion."              from Suman Suttam verse 150

Buddhism: "Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful." Udana-Varga 5:18


Hinduism: "This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you." Mahabharata 5:1517

Figure #16b               Parable of the Good Samaritan       

 [He] said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied, "A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho.  They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead.  A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.  Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.  But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight.  He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them.  Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him.  The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, 'Take care of him.  If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.'  Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers' victim?"  He answered, "The one who treated him with mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."                                                         

—from the Bible,  book of Luke 10: 29--37




Figure #16c

Ethical Behavior Evolutionary Pyramid

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