Some questions about ethics

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Some questions about ethics

Post Number:#1  Postby Achim Rohde » May 6th, 2017, 1:19 pm

Hi everybody,

thanks for the opportunity to expose my views on this forum. I always wondered about some questions related to ethics and never found a satisfactory answer until I decided to change my approach to ethics from scratch. I felt like Copernicus (without thinking I am as important) who gave a simple explanation to the confusing movements of the planets by transferring the centre of motion from Earth to the Sun.

One of those questions was: why are animals always considered beyond ethics and never made responsible for their deeds except one single animal: man. What makes the difference? I know the standard answer: man knows whether he is wrong or right - an animal doesn't. Let me say at this point that a dog too knows very well if he done something wrong and he shows it very clearly. On the other hand, what about the Yanomami of Brazil? Are they responsible when they kill members of other clans or not? I think most people would deny it but Yanomami are humans though and should therefore be held responsible. So, it seems a very difficult task to draw the boundary between responsible and irresponsible beings and even more difficult to find a rational basis for that delimitation.

Here is another moral dilemma: did you notice that whenever you are told to do an unselfish thing they can't give you a fair reason for it. On the other hand when they give you a reason for a moral deed it always turns out to be a selfish reason. Is this not striking?

So, there are some inconsistencies about ethics and morality. These things have preoccupied me for a long while but now I think I have the solution.

To be continued
Achim

-- Updated May 7th, 2017, 12:30 pm to add the following --

Here is my attempt to give a solution to the inconsistencies in ethics.

First let's consider a moral commandment, for instance Kant's famous categorical imperative. As long as we don't presuppose the existence of higher beings all known commandments necessarily are man-made. If that is so, they only express man's free decision and nothing else. So, any commandment to mankind is a commandment of man directed to himself - a free expression of his own will. Every time one says: "I should ..." they actually mean: "I want to ..." or "Someone else wants me to ...".

Consequently, whenever we ask ourselves: "What should I do?" we actually mean: "What do I want to do?" or "What does mom (the teacher) want me to do?" Religious people mean: "What does God want me to do?" The same if we ask ourselves which beings are to be held responsible and which not, it's always our free decision, no matter how hard we try to hide behind a God or another authority. Most people prefer to hide behind an impersonal instance saying: "We are not allowed to ..." but who is "we"? One cannot command oneself a thing one does not want to, at best there can be two instances inside ourselves which contradict each other, one of them called conscience.

In short, as long as there is no instance "above" man, and so far there is no evidence for that, all moral commandments are in fact man's own free decisions.
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Some questions about ethics



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Re: Some questions about ethics

Post Number:#2  Postby John Bruce Leonard » May 9th, 2017, 9:43 am

Achim Rohde wrote:As long as we don't presuppose the existence of higher beings all known commandments necessarily are man-made. If that is so, they only express man's free decision and nothing else.


Achim Rohde, you raise some interesting questions. Perhaps we can start here. You assert a binary distinction between two kinds of commandments: divine or man-made. Yet it would seem there is a third possibility which you have tacitly disregarded: morality as founded on nature, the nature of the human being. This is neither divine—for the nature of the human being might exist in the absence of all gods—nor is it artificial—for it precedes and brings about all acts of men. Such natural morality, if it existed, would be neither the imposition of heaven, nor the invention of man: it would be the discovery of him who fully comprehends human nature.

Do you allow for this third possibility?
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Re: Some questions about ethics

Post Number:#3  Postby Achim Rohde » May 9th, 2017, 10:03 am

John Bruce Leonard, in my opinion what you call "natural morality" is a real thing. I met such people during my life but it's a shame they are such a rarity among humans. But in my view these naturally moral persons do the same what others do: they do what they like most - in their case: to be friendly and helpful and cheering up everybody. IMO these are the most happy people on earth because they receive love from all sides. But I doubt you can educate all people to be like them you must be born like that: a genuine angel. You can find them most likely in rural places where simple life is at home.
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Re: Some questions about ethics

Post Number:#4  Postby Felix » May 9th, 2017, 2:21 pm

Achim Rohde: One of those questions was: why are animals always considered beyond ethics and never made responsible for their deeds except one single animal: man. What makes the difference? I know the standard answer: man knows whether he is wrong or right - an animal doesn't. Let me say at this point that a dog too knows very well if he done something wrong and he shows it very clearly.


I think it's a difference of degree not of kind between man and other animals and it is not reason alone which makes the difference.

Achim Rohde: Here is another moral dilemma: did you notice that whenever you are told to do an unselfish thing they can't give you a fair reason for it.


Yes, because empathy transcends the power of reason. And empathy can be cultivated.
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Re: Some questions about ethics

Post Number:#5  Postby -1- » May 9th, 2017, 7:55 pm

Achim Rohde wrote:: Here is another moral dilemma: did you notice that whenever you are told to do an unselfish thing they can't give you a fair reason for it.


Felix wrote:
Yes, because empathy transcends the power of reason. And empathy can be cultivated.

My feeling, Felix, is that Achim meant not a favour in "You should" but an order. A mother says "you should have given half your sandwich to (your starving sister, for instance, who left her sandwich at home)", but it's not an appeal to empathy that Achim talks about, but a straight order, given as an appeal to morals.

My response to Achim is that I ought to have realized this phenomenon sixty years ago, and therefore spend my last sixty years of my life (of the total sixty-three) oppressed by guilt, for not being able to satisfy the selfish demands by others... I think the healthy response sometimes is to tell the morally superior off. Just tell them to bugger themselves, and I never internalized that insight, until today.

Thanks, Achim, they say the teacher appears when the student is ready. Or the other way around in your case, I guess.

----------------

The theoretical answer is dead easy: there is personal morals, that are in-born, and are genetically passed down; they are the self-sacrificing attitude, and actually that is selfish too, since people and warm-blooded animals will always save the lives of those who have the greatest potential to pass down the genes or the derivative of it of an individual to future generations; Thus, a man or a cat will save his or her kitten / children from fire at the risk of themselves dying, etc, since the kids are his / her hope to carry on his / her on genome or derivatives of it.

Then there is social morals, which are moral codes enforced by society, and they serve the purpose, also by natural selection and passing on the codified behaviour (albeit not by genes, but by law books and etiquette books, or by oral tradition and enforcement) of making sure the survival of the community.

The community is a superstructure made up of humans, much like humans are made up of body cells; the community itself is a super-organism, and displays characteristics of individuals, such as striving to survive, gaining power, gaining mass, and being selfish. It does not display some biological characteristics, such as diploid offspring production, instead, it multiplies more like amoeba, via a similar process to cell-division or self-fragmentation. It is a cruel and to its component humans uncaring entity, like it can start wars and it can enforce the death penalty. Of course we think of those as human activities, but if you think about it hard and long enough, then human activities are enforced by human body cells, so the analogy stands, and you can extrapolate easily to digest the concept of a super-human communities made of individual humans having its own needs and will and activities that don't exactly serve the purpose of the individual humans who carry out the orders by the community.

Such examples are the sexual restrictions placed on individual humans, for instance, or the fact that the code says "don't kill" yet for executing others someone has to kill them and get away scott free, as he is a part of the community that functions as the executed will of the community.

The above are extreme examples, to illuminate what a stronghold community's will has over individuals, but the upshot is, that your boss says, "you should have cleaned up that mess before starting to weld the two iron pieces", and there you go.

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Re: Some questions about ethics

Post Number:#6  Postby John Bruce Leonard » May 10th, 2017, 8:56 am

To Achim Rohde

Achim Rohde wrote:John Bruce Leonard, in my opinion what you call "natural morality" is a real thing. I met such people during my life but it's a shame they are such a rarity among humans. But in my view these naturally moral persons do the same what others do: they do what they like most - in their case: to be friendly and helpful and cheering up everybody. IMO these are the most happy people on earth because they receive love from all sides. But I doubt you can educate all people to be like them you must be born like that: a genuine angel. You can find them most likely in rural places where simple life is at home.


Achim, you appear to be speaking of a person’s temperament. I agree there is a wide variety of human temperaments, and I agree furthermore that it would impossible to educate all human beings to any single temperament alone. With the idea of human nature, I am, however, indicating something else.

Consider this. If I present you a Bulldog and a Great Dane, you will call them both dogs, notwithstanding the great physical differences between them. If I ask you how you can possibly liken two such dissimilar beasts, you might tell me, and rightly so, that despite their lack of resemblance, they both have common qualities belonging to all dogs, such as trainability, the habit of barking, acute hearing, a healthy interest in bones, etc. Would you also call all human beings human beings, despite the great differences between them of temperament and character? And if so, what are those characteristics which make all of them human beings?

To -1-

-1- wrote:The theoretical answer is dead easy: there is personal morals, that are in-born, and are genetically passed down... Then there is social morals, which are moral codes enforced by society...


-1-, you propose two sets of morals, personal morals and social morals, and you seem to trace the origins of both back to evolution. This leads you to speak in terms of “codified behaviour” where Achim spoke in terms of “commandments.” Are we to take our “codified behaviour” as imposing commandments on us? What is the status of these genetic or in-born characteristics with regard to morality? Ought we in all cases to obey them? Or is it sometimes desirable or even obligatory to resist or oppose them?
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Re: Some questions about ethics

Post Number:#7  Postby Spectrum » May 10th, 2017, 11:59 pm

John Bruce Leonard wrote:...
-1-, you propose two sets of morals, personal morals and social morals, and you seem to trace the origins of both back to evolution. This leads you to speak in terms of “codified behaviour” where Achim spoke in terms of “commandments.” Are we to take our “codified behaviour” as imposing commandments on us? What is the status of these genetic or in-born characteristics with regard to morality? Ought we in all cases to obey them? Or is it sometimes desirable or even obligatory to resist or oppose them?

I have been proposing a Moral and Ethics Framework & System grounded on Moral Absolute Laws reasoned from evolution and empirical evidence.

These Moral Absolute Laws [theoretical ideals] are the 'oughts' but they are not enforceable but merely to be used as guides, i.e. also fixed goal posts or fixed lighthouses.

'Ought' cannot be 'IS' but they can exist and work complementarily like Yin-Yang.
What "IS" is to be processed and maintained within the Ethical system.
It is like a ship [one or a fleet] near the coast, it uses the fixed lighthouse as a guide and chart its own course depending on the circumstances and its own state potential.

The Moral Absolute Laws are the ideal and no one is expected to achieve them in practice. Maybe by chance one can reach that absolute target but it is not expected to be a regular thing, e.g. no [zero] murder were committed in June 20.. in location X.
What is critical is the emphasis on the Moral Gap management process and one must always ask the question why one's personal standard, actual performance are always far from the ideal. Establishing a continuous improvement mechanism to narrow the various Moral and Ethical gaps will contribute the overall moral competence of the average humans.

The difficulty is how to implement such a Framework and System? The other is how to derive grounded absolute moral laws as guides based on evolution?
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Re: Some questions about ethics

Post Number:#8  Postby John Bruce Leonard » May 11th, 2017, 2:13 am

Spectrum wrote:The difficulty is how to implement such a Framework and System? The other is how to derive grounded absolute moral laws as guides based on evolution?


Intriguing, Spectrum. Perhaps we can start from the second question, as it seems the more fundamental of the two. How does one derive moral laws from evolution?

Let me mention a potential complication. You have asserted a distinction between fact and value, between the “Is” and the “Ought.” Evolution appears to pertain to the “is” and not to the “ought”; it is a fact, not a value. How do you propose then to derive a set of “absolute moral laws” from it?
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Re: Some questions about ethics

Post Number:#9  Postby Spectrum » May 11th, 2017, 3:51 am

John Bruce Leonard wrote:
Spectrum wrote:The difficulty is how to implement such a Framework and System? The other is how to derive grounded absolute moral laws as guides based on evolution?


Intriguing, Spectrum. Perhaps we can start from the second question, as it seems the more fundamental of the two. How does one derive moral laws from evolution?

Let me mention a potential complication. You have asserted a distinction between fact and value, between the “Is” and the “Ought.” Evolution appears to pertain to the “is” and not to the “ought”; it is a fact, not a value. How do you propose then to derive a set of “absolute moral laws” from it?

I have the answers but as I said it is not easy to explain it in a few posts.

Let me introduce one absolute moral maxim [Laws are different from maxims], i.e.

'Killing another human being is not absolutely permissible, no ifs nor buts'

As I had stated this is merely an ideal guide which is not enforceable. It is abstracted from empirical evolutionary elements.

    Reasoned from empirical evidence;
    1. It is empirical evident no species of living things emerged for the purpose to be extinct. ALL species will strive to survive at all costs till the unavoidable & inevitable, e.g. if a large meteor crash onto Earth.
    2. Thus the human species strives to survive at all costs.
    3. If killing another human is permitted as a universal rule, then the human species will have the potential to be extinct, which will contradict 2.
    4. Thus to ensure 2 and not contradicting potential, it is necessary and imperative to establish the absolute moral maxim,
    'Killing another human being is not absolutely permissible, no ifs nor buts'
    5. This absolute moral maxim will ensure the survival of the human species as far as human morality is concerned.

The above is one methodology of how we derive grounded absolute moral maxims [ought] from empirical evidence [IS]. The same process will be carried out to establish absolute moral laws.
Note this absolute moral maxims/laws are only theoretical ideals as guides which are not enforceable at all.

The next is to impute 'values' into both the absolute moral maxims and the practical standards for implementation. Note the subject of axiology [another complex field to deal with].

Btw, the above is merely a clue but to understand the whole Moral & Ethical Framework and System, a lot of work is needed to ensure its integrity and feasibility.

-- Updated Thu May 11, 2017 2:54 am to add the following --

Correction ;

'Killing another human being is absolutely not permissible, no ifs nor buts'
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Re: Some questions about ethics

Post Number:#10  Postby John Bruce Leonard » May 11th, 2017, 8:36 am

Spectrum wrote:I have the answers but as I said it is not easy to explain it in a few posts.


I have no doubt, Spectrum. I hope you will have patience with me, then, if I fail at first to understand, and if I introduce issues which seem to me problematic, but which to you are perfectly clear. With your permission, I am going to be very thorough in my questioning, so as to give you the opportunity to more fully explain your idea, and me the opportunity to more fully comprehend it.

If you do no not mind, let us for the moment limit ourselves to the single maxim you have introduced: “Killing another human being is absolutely not permissible, no ifs nor buts.” For the time being, I am interested more than anything in your method for deducing or inferring these maxims.

Spectrum wrote:[This ideal guide] is abstracted from empirical evolutionary elements.


I want to consider the status of this abstraction, given the distinction between the “is” and the “ought” that you have asserted above. Now, that distinction indicates that the “is” and the “ought” are heterogeneous categories, two fundamentally different kinds of thing. What is their peculiar relationship? It seems that you believe it admissible to derive an “ought” from an “is,” a moral imperative from an empirical fact. Is it fair then to say that “is” implies or can imply “ought”?

Spectrum wrote:2. Thus the human species strives to survive at all costs.


Is it permissible to ask whether this “at all costs” is justified, or must we merely accept it? Can one legitimately inquire whether there are conditions in which it would be better for the human species not to survive?

You derive a moral maxim applicable to an individual human being from the evolutionary striving of the group to which that individual belongs. Your starting point is not the individual, but the collective. I understand your reasoning to be as follows: if the species perishes, the individual perishes with it; hence the individual is contingent on the species, the species is more fundamental than the individual. Is this correct? What determines your choice of the particular collective by which you take your bearings? Why do you select the species, rather than a smaller unit—say, a country, a people, a race—or a larger unit—say, primates, mammals, or life as such?

I have asked many questions here, Spectrum. This was done out of the desire to comprehend your idea, but it has the danger of course of simply making our conversation unmanageable and dispersive. I suggest then the following: let us proceed in the present manner, until such a time as one or both of us decides that the conversation cannot be reasonably pursued in so many directions at once. Thus, if you would like to restrict yourself to a limited number of my questions, or even to a single point, by all means do so without worrying about my reproaching you for it.
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Re: Some questions about ethics

Post Number:#11  Postby Achim Rohde » May 11th, 2017, 1:01 pm

What I wanted to show is that moral claims of adults addressed to other adults are actually the expression of personal desires in the disguise of superhuman commands (categorical imperatives). In the past, leaders could reinforce their commands by ascribing them to God. Some weaker processes without implying God are happening until our days. These are relics of olden times but still effective. Even more: many moral commandments like "Be altruistic." are themselves the expression of selfish desires. I hope you agree the claim to share with the poor is not an unselfish claim from the side of the poor.

The same with praise and blame. An article in a newspaper opened my eyes, it was something like: "According to a survey most children find their grandparents great." And do you know why? As the children answered because they were given money by their grandmas and grandpas. I don't want to say these children are little monsters, they are humans and as humans they tend to praise those who are of use to them and that's OK and quite natural. I only wanted to emphasize that moral claims like "be altruistic" or moral praise and blame like "he is a good (or bad) fellow", are themselves, strange as it might be, interested and not unselfish expressions. I was astonished myself when I made this discovery.
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Re: Some questions about ethics

Post Number:#12  Postby Gertie » May 11th, 2017, 2:09 pm

John B L

Let me mention a potential complication. You have asserted a distinction between fact and value, between the “Is” and the “Ought.” Evolution appears to pertain to the “is” and not to the “ought”; it is a fact, not a value. How do you propose then to derive a set of “absolute moral laws” from it?


I've been thinking about this, here's how I see it.

I think it is possible to find an axiomatic grounding for Oughts - and necessary now that we're coming to understand that what we call 'morality' is actually a word for our evolved predispositions, not an objectively existing thing in itself (discoverable through God, Reason or whatever). If we can't find some new grounding to cohere around we're apt to get unanchored in a fractured po-mo world of relativity and fake news, fake truths, fake meaning.

I suggest we simply accept that consciousness, experiential states, has special subjective properties which bring value and meaning into the world of 'stuff'. I call them qualiative states, the ability to suffer, be happy, and all states in between. Conscious beings have a quality of life, and our quality of life matters to us. Individually and universally.

Harris summed this basis for Oughts up neatly as 'the well-being of conscious creatures', I think this works.

Deriving all-purpose absolute rules for Oughts is a problem though, because subjectively experiencing beings while having much in common will have have different goals, needs and priorities - what matters most to me achieving a fulfilling quality of life will vary in some ways to you, and sometimes will be in conflict. And how do you objectively quantify and weigh against each other subjective quality of life issues?

So while on a personal one-to-one level the platinum rule works as a rule of thumb, it gets very complicated trying to organise a large society around the well-being of its constituent subjects. We can agree things like murder and theft are going to be mutually disadvantageous to our well-being, but there will be much blurrier lines around things like the extent to which we pool our resources for mutually beneficial projects (infrastructure, defence, welfare, education, etc). We currently deal with where to draw these blurry lines via a mishmash of cultural legacy, notions like Rights, and ongoing politics, where we reach a rough consensus via voting. And enforce/reinforce them them through law, institutions, cultural narratives and archetypes, education (formal and parental), social mores, etc.

Messy, but it's hard to think of a better way.
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Re: Some questions about ethics

Post Number:#13  Postby John Bruce Leonard » May 11th, 2017, 3:37 pm

To Achim—

Achim, you seem to be proposing two different views of morality. On the one hand, you state that all moral claims are nothing but “man’s free decision.” That is to say, I presume, that man, supposing he is only self-aware, can choose his morality from out of the entire range of possible moralities. On the other hand, you state that moral claims are nothing but the expression of selfish desires. Yet if morality were a perfectly free decision, one could choose to be unselfish, which possibility you appear to dismiss altogether. Therefore you seem to hold that morality is, so far from being a free decision, absolutely determined by an inescapable and often camouflaged self-interest: morality is in fact a kind of slavery.

Or does this seem incorrect in some way?

To Gertie—

I find your first paragraph quite insightful in its recognition of the relation between the decay of “objective morality” in our day and the rise of shamelessly subjective ideas of meaning. I moreover suspect that any view of morality which is not in some way “messy” is almost surely chimerical, so I hardly regard messiness as an objection to your point of view. Indeed, I applaud you for beginning, rather than with fleshless abstractions, with the actual matter of human life and society.

I assume by Harris you are referring to Sam Harris? It seems to me Harris is rather begging the question with his ideas of “well-being” and “suffering.” As a good scientist, he takes these concept as given, and builds his reasoning from there, while perhaps this is the precise contrary of what we ought to do here. Let me ask you this, Gertie: how do you understand “well-being”?
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Re: Some questions about ethics

Post Number:#14  Postby -1- » May 11th, 2017, 11:18 pm

I have been asked some questions regarding commandments, genetically passed on moral behaviour codes, and social morals.

Here's a bit of a clarification:

1. Genetically passed on moral code is not something the individual can alter. This is codified in genes, not in words or in a book or by some great mind, in my view.

2. Social morals are more like commandments, inasmuch as both can be broken or acted against.

4. Social morals and DNA-driven morals can be conflicted; the DNA-driven morals are always triumphant in this battle. For instance, one will always steal a loaf of bread if his or her child is suffering from hunger, and one will cheat on his husband (or wife, as the case might be) if a tempting enough opportunity presents.

5. Social morals are community-specific, although there are some that are inter-community constants. Don't ask me which those are.
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Re: Some questions about ethics

Post Number:#15  Postby Spectrum » May 12th, 2017, 1:09 am

John Bruce Leonard wrote:
Spectrum wrote:[This ideal guide] is abstracted from empirical evolutionary elements.

I want to consider the status of this abstraction, given the distinction between the “is” and the “ought” that you have asserted above. Now, that distinction indicates that the “is” and the “ought” are heterogeneous categories, two fundamentally different kinds of thing. What is their peculiar relationship? It seems that you believe it admissible to derive an “ought” from an “is,” a moral imperative from an empirical fact. Is it fair then to say that “is” implies or can imply “ought”?

The 'ought' and 'is' are dualistic and their relationship is like the Yin-Yang complimentariness.

Image

Deriving "ought" from "is" is like deriving pure principles like those of mathematics, geometry, physics, etc. e.g. a perfect circle ought to have such and such measurements properties. With such measurements humanity can get utilities out of it even there is no way of creating an absolute "perfect" circle empirically.

I would not say 'is" implies "ought" but that ought is justified by evidences and reason from what is empirical.

Spectrum wrote:2. Thus the human species strives to survive at all costs.


Is it permissible to ask whether this “at all costs” is justified, or must we merely accept it? Can one legitimately inquire whether there are conditions in which it would be better for the human species not to survive?

"at all costs" till the inevitable and unavoidable is the default that is programmed in the DNA of the individual living thing. If we bring in the Bell Curve, there will be a small percentile of exceptions [e.g. damaged DNA, etc.], but the majority are programmed DNA wise to survive at all costs [ironically even risking their own life & death] with the expectation that on average the species survives to the inevitable.

You derive a moral maxim applicable to an individual human being from the evolutionary striving of the group to which that individual belongs. Your starting point is not the individual, but the collective. I understand your reasoning to be as follows: if the species perishes, the individual perishes with it; hence the individual is contingent on the species, the species is more fundamental than the individual. Is this correct? What determines your choice of the particular collective by which you take your bearings? Why do you select the species, rather than a smaller unit—say, a country, a people, a race—or a larger unit—say, primates, mammals, or life as such?

As I mentioned earlier the observation is what we observed of all species [not individuals] of living things.
There are variations between the individuals [some commit suicide, give up life easily, etc.] but in general it is always the species that drives the survival at all costs and this is already programmed in the DNA of the living thing.

Why I used "species" is because the human species is evident a very distinct species with special mental abilities. If the higher primate can expedite their evolution to be like humans, I would group them within the same collective in consideration of Morality issues.

Yes the species [DNA wise] is more fundamental than the variable individual [s], this can be supported by empirical evidences. Note the insects, e.g. bees and ants, when attacked individual fighter bees or ants will be sacrificed for the sake of the colony and therefrom the species. It is not obvious in humans but a fine comb analysis can reveal such a program is also inherent in humans as species.
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