Why To Teach Morality - Moral Crisis

We Are In A Moral Crisis - Part 1

Better still, we are in many Moral Crises and the solution to perhaps even all of them, is the same. 

Pick a moral crisis, any moral crisis or modern problem.

Change is happening so fast. Politics Looks Broken. There is widespread criminality and lack of respect for the law.
Families have a hard time communicating. There is lack of civic engagement just when it is needed to address many problems. People have trouble seeing a desirable future. There is widespread cynicism and nihilism. Conspiracy stories run wild and respect for traditional sources of truth seem ignored. Relationships between men and women are so messed up that many on both sides want nothing to do with the other. Bullying, in its many forms has become more common. There is simply a lack of respect for ethical codes or even truth. Values seem rare. Many people do not even value families now.

Would you like a solution to just one problem? Maybe even more? Consider this.

Another very visible modern problem is widespread lack of critical thinking skills when we seem to need them the most. People seem so bad at basic logic and reason just when we are flooded with information, a lot of which is intentionally and dangerously wrong. That is remarkably basic. Really, just more widespread basic critical thinking skills could help with some of these moral problems. For all the importance of those skills, one has to wonder why they are not more common and better developed. Logic and reasoning are not hard, and developing those skills is not difficult with some basic training and practice. At least that problem seems solvable. We know what teaches those skills, or do we? What subjects are young students taught to develop logic and reasoning skills? Well, they are not taught it any more than what a person picks up from culture and culture is not really teaching those skills now, partly because they have been crowded out by STEM. STEM is great, the greatest producer of wealth and power in human history, but there are many things it does not teach. What subject does teach logic and reason then? Oh, that's philosophy, a subject widely considered archaic. It is seen as a study for advanced students interested in history. Yet, it is philosophy that teaches logic and reason, and they are not archaic. One must ask what else might philosophy offer that could benefit us in the modern world. Interestingly, one of the primary topics of philosophy is Ethics, the practice of morality. Wait a minute. Isn't that where this started? We are in a moral crisis or many of them? Is it perhaps because we do not teach the ancient wisdom of reason and ethics or is it just a coincidence? Civilization and even democracy were developed based on philosophy. Can either survive without continuing to teach philosophy and ethics?

Really, ethics are still taught. For that matter, they are taught by almost every institution. It shows their importance. Boy and Girl scouts emphasize it. 4H teaches it. Every social club like the Elks and the Masons teach morality. Heck, even marching band, sports, and martial arts teach it. Religions teach it, even if it gets buried sometimes. So how could there be any shortage of moral knowledge and ethical practice? But there is and many of those traditional sources are gone or greatly reduced. While science is a great authority of truth, it does not address ethics or even the value of truth for that matter. Morality sems to have been forgotten. Many times, it ahs been claimed that it isn't even necessary to teach it, that our innate knowledge will make us moral. Innate knowledge though is vague at best and still needs to be trained. Philosophy is about the problems and solutions that every generation encounters. It cannot be re-invented in each generation. It must be learned from the past.

There is another point that most people would not be thinking about, but as a student of human biology, I have. I was led to this issue of philosophy by looking for an answer to why population is declining in developed countries. Why are people not choosing to have families? There are certainly economic reasons, but they are not new. Based on reasoning that is unneeded here, I concluded that the problem could be solved by teaching the very basics of philosophy. Innate knowledge, instincts are well known but very subtle and for various reasons, people just do not often think of them, but humans have important and powerful instincts. You know them when they pull you back from doing something you aren't sure you should do. You may call them gut feelings or intuitions, but they come from the old understandings that evolution has learned and written in your genes. As a biologist, I keep in mind Conrad Lorenz's lesson about instincts. They arise when something happens to us that triggers or "releases" them. Danger releases fight or flight instincts. We do not have strong instincts to have children, though they often do develop with age. What nature has relied on is to give us a strong sex drive and the resulting pregnancy naturally releases nurturing instincts. So do babies and dolls, but now birth control does not always lead to babies and without babies, the desire to have babies develops slowly. Examining this I wondered if there was some other way to release those instincts to have a family. They are part of moral instincts, so the question is how to release moral instincts. Moral instincts drive us to find moral systems. I am pretty certain that teaching the basics of philosophy from a young age would do that. Offer the instincts a moral system and it will absorb it. It would not work for everyone. Some people just are not parent materials, but almost every one has moral instincts and they can be released and developed. Philosophy, its moral education is the only thing I can think of that would do it aside from pregnancy. It would effect other instincts as well, including powerful old survival instincts. 

Do not teach the history of philosphy or the names of those who explored it long ago, that is as boring as American History. Teach the basics of philosophy in the short simple phrases we remember that great thinkers meant to convey important thoughts. The first lessons should be about self discovery and understanding others. This is where grammar school students could be started. Ask them who they would want to be like or just what they do not like. A large part of development is about communicating with words to oneself and others. Always, as students get older, emphasize that anything they are told comes from someone that had to solve a problem they and others have had. They wanted to tell others after them how they could solve their own problems. those answers can solve many modern problems. 

Remember all the moral crises we face listed above? Philosophy was all about how people have understood and solved those moral problems in the past. Think about this, it would not even be expensive to teach it. Philosophy was considered the King of Knowledge in the past for a reason. If we are to have a future, we need to remember where we came from.

In many ways, isn't this what it's about? This whole story is about how humans can survive into a changing future. Morality is all about survival strategies and is perhaps the most important requirement for that survival, but are our moral tools enough for humanity to survive? If not, what can be done to ensure survival? The problem is two fold, as morality is about two parts. It is the combination of Moral Instincts and Learned Moral systems. There are reasons why using artificial selection to "enhance" moral instincts presents dangers, so this essay is about those learned systems. That needs to include both both the content and the teaching of the moral systems. Moral systems must be learned and they must be "taught". That is where the biggest problems may lie because there are so many biases, emotions, vested interests, and instincts involved in moral systems. So the questions include not just how to teach morality and even why, but how can you effectively teach morality without stepping on the many trip wires all around the subject? There is a way and it does not look too difficult for a few reasons including that part of our moral instinct is to look for and learn moral systems.