Does everyone have different morals? This question provides a surprising look at our moral intuitions and a problem. The problem occurs because of the nearly universal answer: yes. Almost everyone believes that everyone has different morals. But, if everyone has different morals how come everyone has the same belief about everyone having different morals?!
Seeing differences is easy. And, it’s probably even adaptive. Humans evolved to live in small groups and project those groups. Any differences would mean threats to that and so seeing differences was a benefit. Today, things are quite different. Everyone is connected to everyone else is a myriad of ways. In the world we live in, we can no longer afford to focus on differences. We have to see the fundamental similarities that do exist below the surface. We have to find these and work to cultivate an attitude of commonality.
Doing this means looking for the underlying reasons why people believe and act they way they do. It also involves the willingness to reflect on our own beliefs and actions and reevaluate them in light of new evidence if necessary. These are difficult thing s to do but are the most important skills to learn from a course in ethics.
One problem with finding the answers to these questions is that our brains are not evolved to understand or answer these questions. We evolved to survive in small fairly isolated groups and not to see fundamental similarities among all humans. But, we don’t live in isolation. We act in ways that affect others in many ways; some seen and some unseen. We simply cannot afford to believe that we each as individuals create our own morality. This fundamentally narcissistic belief will only further isolate us from one another and perpetuate the surface differences that already cause so many problems in the world.
Ethics is about the examination of something deeper than these surface differences. It is about seeing down to what binds us all together as human beings. We all value truth telling, we all value caring for our young, we all value safety and security and wish to avoid a situation where indiscriminate killing is the norm. Yes, how we implement these moral principles varies from culture to culture. But, we are already seeing a convergence among various peoples on a common view of morality. If all goes well, this convergence will continue to grow and strengthen the connection we share with every other human being on the planet.
We decide as a community of fundamentally similar human beings what counts as right and wrong. We recognize together that an action is wrong for fundamental reasons of intent and harm. We share a fundamental core of moral beliefs because of who we are on a fundamental level. We are all wired up the same in terms of what makes us conscious beings. That doesn't mean we are identical and it doesn't mean variation won’t continue. But, variations do not define us and do not define our morality.