Our morality is derived from three primary aspects of our nature. Self, society, and reason.

Self is the easiest component to understand. Something happens to us that we dislike we take to be bad. Something happens to us that we like we take to be good.

Society takes this simple concept of good and bad and projects it to others. There is evidence that our brains are wired to internalize the actions and conditions of others (see mirror neurons). We internalize these observations and empathize with them. Sometimes quite strongly. Due to this internalization of other peoples condition we project our sense of what we consider good or bad for ourselves to their condition. And depending on how connected we feel we consider this harm to other to be good or bad as we would to ourselves.

It is this connectivity that is at the heart of our tendency to for societies. As these social groups grow and expand they we begin to extend our ability to learn and reason things out into our moral sense of right and wrong. We take the simple concepts of right and wrong relating to self and those around us and fathom that there may be other actions which may be right or wrong and that circumstances can change things as well. This becomes the starting point of our forming complex codes of ethics and eventually laws.

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"Society takes this simple concept of good and bad and projects it to others. There is evidence that our brains are wired to internalize the actions and conditions of others (see mirror neurons)."

Could you possibly also speak of memes here?
So this does not allow for absolute morals? Excellent.
So what came before self and society?

From the perspective of self, why do we dislike that thing we took to be bad? Why do we like the things which happen which we consider good?

The answer has to be something more than that society instills those values in us because that logic would be circular.

As far as I'm aware, the ultimate source is the advantage morality conveyed on our ancestors. Our ancestors evolved in a world where inter-species and intra-species conflict was fierce and far more common than it is today (though far less destructive). A society of individuals who had similar morals and were able to individually internalise those morals, would be better equipped to survive in that world.

But I don't think reason played a large part at that stage. At least not in an analytical sense. Then reason would have then been the same sort of reason many people still apply today; if something seems to make sense and works, any explanation it provides is a good one. So if sacrificing a goat precedes a good harvest, since the gods control whether or not a harvest is good, clearly the gods were pleased with the sacrifice. The logic is sound so it's reasonable to accept the conclusion (sacrificing goats = good harvest) as long as you accept the assumptions (gods control the harvest, gods like sacrifices).

However today we can apply analytical reasoning to similar situations. We spend less time on pointless rituals (though we still have many). We end up with even better yields. And more goats.
As I see it, morality is a basic survival trait. Individuals (of any species) do those things which increase their chance of survival, and avoid those things which decreases those chances. Creatures who don't follow this pattern die out, quickly.

At some point, these individuals develop cooperation as a survival trait. Those who work together are more likely to survive than those who don't. This may be as simple as protecting one's offspring.

As cooperative groups increase in size, the cooperative survival trait of protecting the status quo of the whole group develops. Groups that weed out uncooperative individuals survive better than those who don't. Individuals that think in terms of what is best for the group have, by that action, strengthened the survival of their group and therefore themselves and/or their offspring.

This trait is so ingrained, that "sane" individuals don't have to think about it. I don't have to say to myself, "I better not go on a shooting rampage, because if I do the other members of my group will probably eliminate me from the group, thereby decreasing my survival chances. Furthermore, that action harms the group and therefore myself." I don't have think about it, because I just know it's wrong.

This also explains why we, here, are such immoral heathens. To a human's not-so-advanced mind, our minority viewpoint threatens the status quo and therefore group survival.
Any heard animal develops a code to live by, protecting the heard you live in is part of survival strategy. The more "intelligent" and "Civilized" we become the more details this code needs to allow for survival.

Religion gives a reason for these codes but observation on animals with social structures and societies of non religious people also need rules to survive.

Morals are for survival not to please a god.
mostly our concept of good and evil or right and wrong is derived from a comparison of what we experience to an ideal fantasy world that is largely hidden from consciousnes much as our ideal of beauty. this idea is a combination of religion culture tradition and family in addition to our personal experiences. Coming to a rational understanding of our place in the world and what we should and should not do to keep ourself safe and happy takes a lot of intro-spection and digging to root out the B.lief S.ystems imposed upon us without our conscious awareness.
An important issue is what atheists and others with a naturalistic worldview can contribute to understandings of morality. A starting point is what we may actually share in common with people who have supernatural worldviews. One way of attempting to assess this empirically is to see how people across different worldviews and religious backgrounds respond to moral dilemmas. Marc Hauser reviews and discusses some of this research in Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong. Some tentative research findings do not show much significant difference between atheists, agnostics and people who profess various religious beliefs. A salient and longstanding divergence in conceptions of morality is that between 'deontological' views (epitomised by Kant) and the utilitarian and consequentialist views which stem from people like Jeremy Bentham and John Stewart Mill. One might suppose that atheists would generally converge towards the latter. In recent years neuroscientists have pitched into the debate, and there are some challenging contributions from Joshua D Greene that can be googled on the web.
A more philosophy based on reason is going to come into conflict with other philosophies based on reason, because as Kant pointed out (pretty effectively in my oppinion) we can not know the world objectively so pure reason is impossible.

At the same time, an intuition or natural selection based morality is not sufficient to establish a moral guideline because "what feels right" can be rationalized and explained away. I contest that because moral philosophy is so subjective, we can not expect to create a unifying theory behind it. So basically what I'm saying, is that we can learn about our own morality, but not the morality of human beings in general in any meaningful way.
"moral" excuse me.
By a careful study of history and a careful observation of the world as we know it (and believe, there are many people with a great knowledge of many parts of the world that few Americans will ever get to see.) After mixing all the above and constantly challenging one's beliefs (read "keeping an open mind") I believe a person can make some generalities about the morals of humanity. The "key word" is GENERALITIES and not truths carved in stone. The issue is quite complex and if you want to converse on the subject you'd better start with defining your terms and reaching an agreement of the rules. I'd like to recommend a very good book, it is "Dialogues on Natural Religion" by David Hume. We unbelievers can get a lot of ammo out this little philosophical work that changed the course of history by it's effect on religious writers of the times and of the future. Of course most people didn't and haven't read the book and that's why morons such as Billy Ghraham, and Oral Roberts, and a host of others keep babbling about a "loving God." I do not mean to give the impression that this book is the know all-end all.
Our morality is derived from the metaphysically given as it relates to our survival according to our specific biological needs.




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