What is a morally upright life?
Is it relative, or do all human societies and cultures hold at least some things to be good?
I don't think right and true is "universal" other than what is right and true for people. A dolphin or a praying mantis may have alien perceptions of what is "good". So for this discussion I am going to limit it to human perception of right and good.
I've mentioned this before, but I found Haid's moral foundations to be a revelation. The idea that "anything goes" in a world without god-values just didn't sit right with me. Surely there are forces working within us, pre-bible, that drive us to good and spurn evil. There must be a reason we "universally" spurn some activities as unjust or disgusting.
Haidt's foundations, though different in application from one society to another, are universal in their generalized traits.
Let's take sanctity for example.
It may be symbolised as a white wedding dress, clean-shaven face, or the Arab constraints over the use of the left hand.
There is thought that this universal preference for sanctity came out of our scavenger roots. Don't eat yukky stuff, or rank meat. You'll live longer.
So when we meet people who are striving to live a sainted life, can we understand, as odd as their preferences may appear, that they are doing their best to meet a particular ideal?
Or if we meet someone who has repudiated or lost society's norms, that we recognize the source of our disgust and look deeper?
We're a social species and have found benefit in having society. Things that strengthen this scoiety ultimately benefit us individually.
Of course the selfish simply take and don't contribute and at some tipping point a society can break down and become dysfunctional.
As a species though I think the meme of society is winning.
Simon, there's been some interesting experiments (algorithms) where it is shown that collaborative groups can overtake individual selfishness.
Indeed, our human domination of this planet may very well come from our ability to work together.
I have say this before, and I know that you and I don't agree but, morality involves conscious choice, and the choice to act in a manner that increases someone else’s moral good, then, is a moral act, and its opposite is an immoral act.
The development of modern morality is a process closely tied to the Sociocultural evolution of different peoples of humanity. Morality is a product of evolutionary forces acting at an individual level and also at the group level through group selection.
They are sets of self-perpetuating and ideologically-driven behaviors which encourage human cooperation. And it changes (evolve).
Take the Georgian era in England. In fact, the period between the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 may very well have been the most debauched time in history.
People during the Regency were having a ton of sex, and a whole lot of that was before marriage. Divorce basically didn't exist in England until the 1850s, and even then only for wealthy men. So for people during the Georgian period, once you got married to someone you were pretty much stuck with them until one of you died of syphilis. But just like today, people wanted to make sure they were sexually compatible before marriage. This and the fact that birth control was basically nonexistent meant that by 1800 almost 40 percent of supposedly virginal brides were knocked up at their wedding. Almost 25 percent of first-born children were born out of wedlock completely.
At one point, only one of Mad King George's 13 children was legally married, yet he had at least 19 and possibly as many as 56 illegitimate grandchildren. And it wasn't like these kids were hidden away; his sons openly lived with (some of) the mothers of their illegitimate children, and it was common knowledge and reported in the press.
Prostitution was not only completely legal, guides were published every year informing men of where to find them, and what sort of things they were willing to do.
If it turned out you couldn't stand your partner after you married them, no problem; affairs were unbelievably common as well, especially among the upper classes. Spouses just turned a blind eye to the other's philandering. The Duke of Devonshire even moved his mistress into his home and lived openly with both her and his wife for 25 years, and everyone in the country knew about it. But women gave as good as they got, and the Duchess gave birth to a daughter she conceived during one of her affairs with the future Prime Minister Charles Grey.
19th century England makes the modern world look tame. Answering the title (What is a morally upright life?), it going to depend on where in the world you live, and in with era.
Morals aren't that complicated once you define the metric that is used to seperate moral actions from immoral actions.
As Simmon already brought up, we are a social species. Societies that work together - survive. Societies that don't work together - don't survive. Things like Altruism, Cognitive Empathy, and Theory of Mind are not unique to humans. We also see these in other social speices like dolphins, elephants, chimpanzees, and dogs.
So what is the metric universal metric? Well, things that promote human and animal well being - are good. Things that cause human suffering and harm - are bad. This is the basic metric used to determine the morality of actions (without having to appeal to outside sources like law, holy books, parents, etc.). Of course, all of this begs the question, what is human well being? Well, we can start with some very basic prinicples like; life is generally preferable to death. Pleasure is generally preferable to pain. Fairness is generally preferable to bias. Etc.
One could always argue that there is some outside source that informs ethics but the differnce is the things I just listed are universal and innate (assuming you have the neccissary mirror neurons and a developed pre-frontal cortex).
MadGiant, I appreciate your contribution. Your first criteria I would call integrity. Living true to your inner beliefs.
The Catholic Church was around during Georgian England, right? There must have been a lot of confessing going on. Wouldn't the act of confession be a rite of purification, sanctity?
Coded logic, further research points to a more complex brain activity than activation of mirror neurons. http://www.wired.com/2013/12/a-calm-look-at-the-most-hyped-concept-in-neuroscience-mirror-neurons/
Right and wrong is UNIVERSAL.
Enhancing one's joy is right, and robing one's joy is wrong--this is true not only among humans, even among animals. If any other animal tries to rob the joy of one, it will be met with stiff resistance!
One scripture defines true and eternal religion as "TAKING DELIGHT IN THE WELFARE OF ALL BEINGS." And this is something which everyone would agree.
Thanks Jgnat for the link it was a great read. I hadn't realized there was so much hype going on around mirror neurons. Peer reviewed scientific articles are a good way to sort out opion from facts.
There's a great one on the link between mirror neurons and Theory of Mind by Zarinah K. Agnew called The human mirror system: A motor resonance theory
Is it moral that female circumcision is an acceptable practice in some countries, whereas we can definitely say that this procedure (cultural norm in those countries) is absolutely detrimental to the individual. In what world could you possibly conceive female mutilation as being morally good? So, no, some cultures add nothing to the well-being of individuals that happen to be born in that country/culture/population. Yet, to undergo this ritual is seen as being morally upright. Something that ought to be done.