Monday, April 02, 2007

Can Virtue Be Taught?

Virtue is both inherent to humans and a matter of learning. Where built-in virtue ends, social conditioning begins.

Social primates require the benefits of a group to survive. Certain rules of conduct that aid in the continuation of the group become preferred. The chief advantage of social groups is mutual aid and reciprocity. By combining their efforts and cooperating, the group members achieve far more than they would alone. Behavior that facilitates this is to some extent built-in. Facial expressions convey emotional states, allowing other members of the group the opportunity to empathize. Being able to tell if someone is in pain or scared helps bind the group together; a person could rush to the aid of a sick friend or dispel the source of fear. Seeing these traits in others and recognizing them as noble or virtuous acts may also be part of our biology, an inherent morality.

Virtue can also be taught. Empathy and human emotions serve as the biological standard, but they have limits. Tribalism involves suspending empathy. Exclusively employing empathy to their own group but denying other groups the same luxury may be a biological boundary. Empathy need not have evolved to be used on the many multitudes of humans, just one small group.

Undermining empathy and emotions by teaching is also possible. Molding a mind to be even less receptive to ostracized groups, as in nationalism or racism, means the person does not factor in the feelings of others in their actions. Fortunately, a group could raise its children to accept all humans as sources of emotion. A child could learn to associate with others by using empathy. Explaining to children that the way they feel is the way other people feel, no reservations, no exceptions, makes it possible for a human to empathize with any other human - be they friend or foe, hated or loathed - simply by reading their emotions and imagining themselves in their place. The exact degree to which virtue is inherent or learned is unknown, yet the ability of humans to train their young beyond the scope of their instincts remains impressive.



Blogger Drunken Tune said...

You've been tagged with a Thinking Blogger Award from Philaletheia!

03 April, 2007 00:11  
Blogger Sylvana said...

A coherent voice among the babel and chatter of the "world wide web" where so much is now commercialized and so many sites are tied in to the advertising dollar. More and more sites are being "dumbed down" to be comprehensible to the "average" American. Those that can learn from these types of musings are those most likely to find the work beyond their understanding. *sigh*

05 April, 2007 20:13  
Blogger Delta said...

yet the ability of humans to train their young beyond the scope of their instincts remains impressive

While I don't have plans to have kids in the near future, when we make that decision I plan to think long and hard during that 9 months as to how I want to raise them. Every experience, perhaps especially the early ones, can be very important on the formation of the child's outlook on life. And I want my child to be as open-minded to new ideas and compassionate towards other people as possible.

06 April, 2007 10:08  

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