10. About evolution, comapssion and morality
Previous - Next - Contents
The evolution of life on earth has largely progressed through one simple
natural process : survival of the
A species that adapts well to the environment prevailing at the time flourishes
and develops. A species that struggles gradually declines and disappears. This
rule also applies within a single species itself. The stronger members will
dominate and set the trend for future growth, weaker members decline and die
With the emergence of us, the human species, on earth (and our increasing
awareness of the world and wider environment around us), this basic but
rather ruthless rule of survival does not quite agree with our dawning and
gradually increasing humane inclination.
It has therefore been (and still is) in our nature to somewhat modify it,
soften its edges so to speak - primarily within our species, but increasingly
towards other species (like animals, plants, trees) as well - through our notions
of compassion and morality (ethics).
Here is how the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau has defined these :
|Compassion :|| "Do good to yourself with as little possible harm to
"Do unto others as you would have them do unto
These are concepts which by no means have been fully realised by us in this
world. But it are goals to strive for, for this how we ultimately will define
ourselves as true human beings.
Many philosophers (as well as others) have pointed out that Religion is
not the foundation of ethics, morality. It is rather the other way around :
ethics provide the foundation for Religion. Religion of course has been a
successful vehicle spreading morality over time and through large region of the
world to a wide audience. But (in due course) it has also started to misuse and
corrupt the very principle of morality by giving it a selfish slant and
using it as an instrument of crowd control :
- "We know you are suffering and have a miserable
"but be good in this life and you will go to Heaven, (be reborn in a
higher class, a higher human being)"
"on the other hand if you do not behave you will go the
Hell, (be reborn in a lower class , or as a monkey)"
A believer who respects ethics merely in the hope of Heaven or fear of Hell is
not virtuous, but simply selfish and prudent. As Immanuel Kant has
expressed it :
"An action is good only on
condition that it does not depend on the result expected from that
I personally believe that most members of a formal religion these days are so to
speak "in good faith". But those carrot and stick are inevitably always in one's
In this regard the conscious atheist has an undeniable advantage.
He does not believe in a hereafter or in any reward or punishment for his
actions. When he does good he is therefore more likely to do it in the right
spirit as defined by Kant.
Next Page -
Top of Page
The various quotes included in this section are derived from The Little Book
of Philosophy by André Comte-Sponville. As I have mentioned earlier
in this Blog it is a delightful book which I wholeheartedly recommend to
Copyright © 2010 Michael Furstner