Morality and amorality in humans and animals is a subject of dispute among scientists and philosophers. If morality is intrinsic to humanity, then amoral human beings either do not exist or are only deficiently human. If morality is extrinsic to humanity, then amoral human beings can both exist and be fully human, and may be amoral either by nature or by choice.
Any entity that is not sapient may be considered categorically amoral. For example, a rock may be used (by rational agents) for good or bad purposes, but the rock itself is neither good nor bad. In ontological philosophy, the ancient gnostic concept that the material world was inherently evil applied morality to existence itself and was a point of concern in early Christianity in the form of Docetism, as it opposed the notion that creation is good, as stated in The Book of Genesis. In modern science, however, the matter of the universe is often observed amorally for objective purposes.
Animals have long been thought to be amoral entities. However, research into the evolution of morality, including sociality and altruism in animals, has sparked new debate amongst many philosophers. Many animals display behavior that is analogous to human moral behavior, such as caring for the young, protecting kin, and sharing the spoils of the hunt. Generally speaking, if this behavior is a voluntary response to ethical norms, then animals do have morality; if animals are involuntarily following innate instinct, then they are amoral.
Human morality appears in adults and even children from a young age. However, some humans may be considered amoral. There is some debate as to whether the infant human being develops a moral sense—is moral education cultivated (from within) or implanted (from without)?
- Young humans
- Newborn human infants, like some animals, do not display any sense of empathy with their fellow creatures, nor answerability to obligation, nor guilt or remorse.
- Cognitive disorders
- Rejection of morality
- Philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche argue further that rational human adults may even be able to choose to be amoral by rejecting morality. If morality is bad, then it should be discarded. Yet if morality is bad, even asserting that it is bad invokes a kind of morality. Therefore, the truly amoral argument would reject morality for non-moral reasons. Similar to the phrase "If God does not exist, everything is permitted" in Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov (1880), Nietzsche, through his famous saying "God is dead," stated that the death of God will lead not only to the rejection of a belief of cosmic or physical order but also to a rejection of absolute values themselves — to the rejection of belief in an objective and universal moral law, binding upon all individuals. In this manner, the loss of an absolute basis for morality leads to nihilism. This nihilism is that for which Nietzsche worked to find a solution by re-evaluating the foundations of human values. This meant, to Nietzsche, looking for foundations that went deeper than Christian values. He would find a basis in the "will to power" that he described as "the essence of reality."
Human amorality can be understood through the example of meat eating. The people who eat beef cannot be considered immoral when beef eating is not condemned by their society as a crime, in spite of the fact that the emotional lives and complex psychology of cows have been acknowledged by researchers. Such facts are not considered by an ordinary person when eating meat, thus their approach towards the animal is neither moral nor immoral. Similarly, when slavery was considered a norm in Western countries, the attitude of slave-owners towards their slaves could be considered as amoral, as they used slaves majorly for economic purposes without any moral or immoral attitude towards them.
Humans may discard codes or systems of morality that have been purely socially constructed by their native cultures. If a rational human being can in any way override the capacity to establish notions of right and wrong, it is arguable that human beings have the ability to become amoral.
- Suspension of morality
- At times human beings willingly suspend consideration of moral values, although in a limited domain. For instance, a lawyer may choose to be amoral with regard to his client in order to avoid judging his client's guilt or innocence before the trial is complete. This is different from a complete rejection of morality if the lawyer continues to abide by moral laws and take into account moral considerations when he is out of the courtroom.
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