“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy is when men are afraid of the light.” ~ Plato
There was an interesting article in the New York Times ‘Opinionator’ yesterday that compared the views of optimistic Darwinians and pessimistic Darwinians on the concept of morality (“Moral Camouflage or Moral Monkeys?”). The author argued that pessimistic Darwinians feel that “[t]he great show we humans make of respect for moral principle they see as a civilized camouflage for an underlying, evolved psychology.
That psychology, in a nutshell, is that morality is simply the by-product of “the survival, not of selfish individuals, but of ‘selfish’ genes, which tend in the normal range of environments to give rise to individuals whose behavior tends to propel those genes into future.” Individuals come and go, but the argument is made that genetic code endures for centuries if not millennia.
The author notes: “A picture thus emerges of selection for “proximal psychological mechanisms”— for example, individual dispositions like parental devotion, loyalty to family, trust and commitment among partners, generosity and gratitude among friends, courage in the face of enemies, intolerance of cheaters — that make individuals into good vehicles, from the gene’s standpoint, for promoting the ‘distal goal’ of enhanced inclusive fitness.” Ain’t that grand?
I can’t help but wonder if the whole matter of human morality springs from a source much deeper than a pool maintained by natural selection. Could it be that the tragedy that Plato spoke about is what prevents man from understanding the true nature of his provenance? Is the wellspring of morality obscured by the obsessive compulsive tendency mankind has to try and get epistemological knowledge, like pigs rooting for truffles?
The Greeks had a term, “Gnosis,” which referred to the spiritual knowledge of an enlightened human being. It referred to the knowledge or insight into the divine, infinite and uncreated and it was obtained by both internal epiphany (intuition) and external epiphany (Theophany). I wonder if morality springs forth from the gateway to the infinite provided by Gnosis?
While I am astounded by the discoveries man has made over the last few centuries in particular I can’t help but wonder if the obsession with observing, cataloguing, and comprehending the finite, natural and material world is driven more by his fear of the dark than from his love for the light? Time will tell.
I seem to be offering more questions than answers in this post. Perhaps I am waiting for my thoughts on the matter to evolve. Or maybe I am waiting for an epiphany.
Either way, I truly hope that you have a fulfilling and generative day.