Premodern and Postmodern Converse Again

Post ambles up to Pre, who’s paging through a magazine.

Post: I’ve been thinking about your question, and I think I know the answer.

Pre: About where the Bigger Rule comes from?

Post: Yes. I think it has to do with survival. Survival of the fittest. Man has been on this earth for millions of years, and he has survived as a species by dwelling in groups, in tribes.

Pre: Okay.

Post: Well, to make a tribe work, people have to think of the needs of others before their own. By looking out for the Tribe, each human ensures his or her own survival.

Pre: So, you’re saying the Golden Rule comes from the instinct for survival.

Post: Exactly. Over millions of years, it’s become hard-wired into us. If the tribe is harmed, we might suffer. So my neighbour’s good becomes my own. I hate being robbed, but over time, I hate the Tribe being robbed too. Over thousands of years, these things become a kind of impulse within us. Religious types call it the conscience. But it’s really an evolved survival instinct.

Pre: So universal morality is a kind of biological instinct?

Post: Yes.

Pre: As far as I know, when we talk about instinct in animals, we mean an impulse in them which they always obey. Birds always migrate, they don’t need to be trained to do so.

Post: I know that.

Pre: Well, if right and wrong is really just an instinct, why do we need to be told to obey it? Why are we always exhorted to do the ‘right thing’, if, in fact, the right thing is a natural survival instinct?

Post: Well…we’re more evolved than those animals. We need reasons.

Pre: OK. Let’s say we give people reasons. We tell them they ought to obey this survival instinct for certain reasons. Why ought they obey the survival instinct?

Post: Because it’s better to live than to to die.

Pre: Who decides that?

Post: Well, it’s instinctual, dummy.

Pre: So what you’re saying is that the Instinct not only urges us to survive, but comes with it’s built-in morality?

Post: Huh?

Pre: It’s one thing to have the sense that drinking water is needful to stay alive. This is the instinct. But why I ought to obey that instinct, why I ought to want to listen to its promptings to keep me alive is something else. Being thirsty is one thing, wanting to keep living is another. Are you saying that blind instinct tells me it is better to live than to die?

Post: No, we just know that.

Pre: In other words, there is something that comes before or outside instinct, which tells us to obey instinct. There is some Law inside us which tells us it is better to live than to die, that it is a good thing to survive, that life is worth preserving. And because of this Law, we obey the survival instinct.

Post: I guess that’s true.

Pre: In which case, we’re back to where we were. Why do human beings have this thing inside them which tells them certain things are right, certain things are better, certain things are good, including preserving the human race and obeying the survival instinct?

Post: I don’t know.

Pre: For that matter, if the Golden Rule is really an instinct, why is it that we have to choose between instincts? If you hear a man being mugged, you have to choose between the instinct for self-protection, and the instinct to help. If you are being urged to choose between instincts, that can’t be the instinct itself.

Post: OK, fine. If the Golden Rule is not an instinct, then what is it? I suppose you’re going to say it’s something to do with “the soul”, and that sort of thing.

Pre: I haven’t said as much; I’m wondering what you believe. Do you think we have a soul?

Post: Yes, in the sense that we have an evolved kind of consciousness. We’re aware of ourselves.

Pre: What do you mean by evolved consciousness?

Post’s cell begins bleating out a tune, and he mouths “Later”.

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