Education, Ethics, Ideologies, Values

A Question About Moral Explanations

I sometimes get the impression the less we understand a thing, the more firmly we believe it can be explained in moral terms.

For instance, the less we understand the causes for the rise and fall of nations, the more we are prone to believe the morality of their people causes them to rise and fall.  Or the less we understand meteorology, the more we are inclined to believe hurricanes are sent to punish our wickedness.

Do you think it’s possible moral explanations are humanity’s default explanations?  The sort of explanation we slip into in the absence of any other and better explanation?

4 thoughts on “A Question About Moral Explanations”

  1. I think if humanity has a default setting for things we don’t understand, it is childlike wonder. In a culture without a healthy appreciation of childlike wonder, we tend to succumb to an irrational fear of the unknown, which is the birthplace of all vengeful gods, and the subconscious, emotional framework for Cartesian duality.

    Apart from that, the view that people or cultures rise and fall on their moral virtue strikes me as very Occidental, with its roots deeply mired in evangelical myth, which presumes there is an invisible, objective judge who punishes or rewards us according to how much we try to please him.

    Oriental philosophy is free from this invention, and tends to allow for more variables of cause and effect as a result, from the mysterious and very personal workings of karma to the Taoist ideal of Te. We can still bring destruction on ourselves by building up “bad” karma or forgetting our true nature, but people are not perceived to be inherently good or evil. Only mistaken or correct.

    Just a few random thoughts.


  2. Very clever thought indeed. I tend to think of logic as our ‘default’ explanation. If we can explain something with dry logic we tend not to bother looking for any other explanation. There have been numerous attempts to link morality and the fall of nations logically. Morality is general based on consideration and respect for others, immorality on selfishness and greed. It is not difficult to imagine that a rise in greed and selfishness and a decline in consideration and respect can cause the collapse of the unified spirit in a collection of humans like a nation.


  3. I think you’re talking about Fundamental Attribution Error – western societies in promoting individualism have come to believe that dispositions matter more than situations. Personalities, including morality etc. are overemphasized in explaining things including the rise and fall of nations.


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