Ethics and Morality

The Good Person

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Empathy and Love

Empathy is the ability to recognize the sentience and suffering in another being. Empathy is the basis of high-level altruism that does not depend on the barter principle. The ethic of empathy is the Golden Rule: do onto others, as you would have them do to you. Empathy depends on knowing that the other person feels pain as much as you do or will feel happiness as much as you do if they are well treated. If another human is grieving, you feel their suffering and offer help. If another human is injured, you stop everything to help them and you treat their injured body with care to avoid increasing their pain. This ability to feel the experience of others in your own consciousness is one of the great accomplishments of brain evolution.

There is no doubt that more empathy is better than less. There is little doubt that empathy is one feature of human nature that competes with other more powerful and more adverse features of human nature. Empathy is not evenly distributed among humans, nor is any individual constantly empathetic towards others. Some humans lack empathy and are selfish, impulsive and do harm to others with no remorse.

The human tendency is to treat only a few other humans well, members of your immediate select group, and to be suspicious of and hostile towards everyone else. Empathy can turn on in one situation and turn off in another. Once a group establishes that outsiders are enemies, empathy is turned off and members of the group treat the outsiders cruelly as if they were non-human.

You might observe that children are naturally empathetic and that this feature of their nature can be cultivated by well informed, empathetic adults. A the same time, you will notice that children are naturally possessive, competitive, and fight often. Observant parents and teachers will realize that encouraging empathy and discouraging conflict is a challenging task that is never complete.

Love

Love is often identified as the solution for human conflict. You might argue that genuine love requires big empathy. But, the word “Love” is fuzzy, because it refers to any and all the emotive and cognitive forces that bind people together. Love includes different ingredients such thoughts, feelings and several emotions. Love is not a single emotion nor even a coherent mix of emotions. Love is a biosocial complex inflected at different levels of intensity and meaning. Sometimes, love is just a word that fails to have much meaning.

Romantic love is temporary glue that sticks two people together and is most evident in younger people choosing a mate. Successful bonding creates feelings of contentment and a sense of long-term commitment to the partner. The essential feature of falling in love is a fascination with one other person coupled with a drive to be with them and to protect them. This exclusive focus is deviant from all other social involvements that require lower intensity attention to many people. Both lovers will tend to fell euphoric and powerful; their devotion can overcome all obstacles and accomplish wonders.

Falling in love is not a smooth ride. There are existential love problems. As soon as a couple falls in love, the freedom of each is constrained. The progression of the bond requires the exclusion of other mates and is regulated by a potentially destructive force, jealously. The lover’s problem is not letting the other person exist as a free being. As humans become more conscious and more sophisticated in their understanding of relationship, a deep paradox emerges. While pleasurable feelings, tenderness and concern tend to occur in the early stages of falling-in-love, the pleasant feelings soon diminish and are interrupted by more routine, negative feelings that emerge in the mix and will often dominate the couple’s experience. Lovers will display a variety of emotions: affection, laughing, crying, anger, fear and grief will all be displayed in the course of a romance. Jealousy is another cognitive-emotional complex that accompanies love. When you examine the experiences of lovers, you identify flaws in empathy – it is temporary, conditional and can be replaced by conflict and hate.

The problem of freedom versus captivity continues to plague more insightful married couples and is not resolved by the marriage ceremony enforced by moral authority that insists on life-long fidelity. Women will often feel trapped in servitude and will hunger for more self-determination. Men will feel trapped and obligated to relinquish most personal choices in favor of wife and children. A person who is no longer free replaces the more desirable and alluring person with the freedom to say no to an aspiring mate.

Even deeper challenges facing couples involve the underlying assumptions of the self. Every human has an overriding sense of his or her own importance. There is prevailing sense that I am the center the center of the universe and what I believe to be true is true always and forever. When two people form an intimate, dyad they confront each other with this deeply imbedded premise. Their interactions are necessarily tense because each has the same conviction that "I am center of the universe." The primordial conflict among self-centered human beings is about whose version of the universe is the most valid.

One model of altruistic love is maternal devotion to children. The ideal mother is deeply bonded to her children, is self-sacrificing and unusually attentive to the needs of her children. While romantic love briefly contains the elements of maternal love and may lead to lead to marriage, pregnancy and life-together, the biological basis appears to be short-lived leaving the bonded couple needs other motivations and constraints to sustain their relationship. The ideal mother attracts a supportive man and sustains his interest in the children by providing affection, sexual favors and sharing the labor of maintaining a home. The ideal mother’s love for her children tends to be less conditional and lasts a lifetime, but the love of the father or fathers of the children is conditional and may be short-term. The ideal father provides protection and support, devoting all his resources to one mother who has given birth only to his children.

Home should be the refuge where each family member feels safe but often becomes the battleground where diverging interests and experiences conflict. The family formula sends males and females on divergent paths that guaranteed little common ground, except at home, evenings and weekends. The different worlds are also full of other humans who appear to be attractive, available and will more compatible because they share work schedules and environments. There is no couple commitment that blocks interest in other potential mates. The search for an alternative mate and fantasies about other lovers continue daily in the minds of every happily married couple. As discrepancies in the couple's experience accumulate and conflicts escalate, the partners create distance that protects each from the other. Once the home is no longer a safe refuge, dysphoric feelings dominate and the relationship is in peril. Most humans will tolerate unsatisfactory relationships for a while, but eventually a threshold of no-return is reached and the relationship collapses. This is an avalanche effect. The timing of the avalanche is unpredictable, but once it starts to move, no one can stop it and the relationship is over.


  • The Good Person: Ethics and Morality by Stephen Gislason is a book in the Psychology & Philosophy series, developed by Persona Digital Books.

    Ethics is about the interface between selfish interests and actions and the common good. Both good and bad tendencies are innate properties that have useful functions, were not invented by modern society and are not going to change until the construction of brain changes. The dialogue between good and bad in human affairs is constant, predictable and universal. When a baby is born, the family and local community begin to teach the emerging being what is going on here and now. They provide the local language, costumes, customs beliefs and the local science and technology. All adult humans have an ethical standard and a technology to teach. While the local culture has an obvious impact on the appearance and behavior of emerging adults, the constant innate features of the human mind are pervasive and persistent. The variance in mental abilities within a local group will often be greater than inter-group variance.

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