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Honors Thesis Archive

Author Marie Alice Rote
Title The Supplemental Nature of Moral Principles
Department Philosophy
Advisors Don Reed, Jeff Ankrom, and Miguel Martinez-Saenz
Year 2003
Honors University Honors
Note Passed with Distinction
Full Text View Thesis (147 KB)
Abstract This paper examines the biological origins of morality that allow it to reach a level that is supplemental to our biological needs. Initially, the inherent desire for survival motivates all human action. Reliance on others for one's survival is the fundamental connection between biology and morality. Starting with an evolutionary account of morality, this paper shows how moral sentiments are biological and the roots of moral behavior. From this basis, moral sentiments are refined into a mechanism responsible for the survival of a group of individuals. When a group acts as a moral agent, where moral principles are the fundamental ideas within the group, then a group is able to provide for the needs of all of its members. Reaching this state enables a group not only to survive, but also to flourish, where groups can be relatively secure in both their immediate and future survival. The progress made from biological animals to moral humans is through an underlying understanding of moral principles and their relationship to the functional nature of society. From this evolutionary perspective, moral principles are supplemental because they are based in, but not found explicitly within our biology. Moral principles also appear to be supplemental in relation to the development of moral reasoning within individuals. Through cognitive development, individuals become capable of higher levels of moral reasoning. At the highest levels of moral reasoning, a person becomes a moral agent, having an explicit understanding of the principles that enable societies to function. Reaching this level of moral reasoning is beyond what is necessary for individuals to fulfill their societal obligations, but beneficial in reassuring the functional nature of society. By looking at cognition as the product of the evolution of the human being, moral principles are a luxury earned through our social adaptations.

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