Sarah gave her reward challenge prize to Nick, allowing him to partake in a Chinese feast. She said this was merely a birthday gift and not an attempt to earn Nick’s help in future gameplay. In the world outside Survivor, that probably would have been fine, but since Survivor is an artificial game with its own system of morality, the gesture immediately put a target on her back. Even Nick was deeply suspicious and insisted that he didn’t “owe her anything”.
This suspicion of Sarah’s motives made me think about the roots of morality. For example, some people claim that gods are the only possible foundation for morality. This is not a wholly unjustified claim, because morality seems to have at least some connection to intelligence. (We generally forgive “immoral” behavior in animals or brain-damaged humans.) Therefore if no intelligence is guiding the universe, then there would probably be no morality in how the universe ultimately functions. Dig deep enough and the morality disappears.
However, it’s not clear why a fundamentally amoral universe means there would be no foundation for morality in humans. The fundament of the universe also lacks kidneys, yet almost no one argues: “If the universe doesn’t have kidneys, then there’s no reason for humans to use kidneys.” If morality is a part of humanity like kidneys or baseball, then it seems acceptable to say that it has similar biological or cultural foundations.
Along these lines, some scientists and philosophers seek the foundation of morality by exploring how it might have developed through natural selection. Psychologists such as Debra Lieberman and Carlton Patrick argue that much of morality is an adaptation of our physical disgust mechanisms. Other people look to humanity’s primate relatives for clues about how morality might have developed from factors such as genetic kinship and group cohesion.
There is also the Epicurean perspective. The Epicureans were a philosophical school of thought that began in Ancient Greece. In striking similarity to modern science, they believed that the universe was composed of atoms and void. The only foundation for human morality was our sensation (either intellectual or physical) that something was good. Although this might sound like an argument for hedonism, the Epicureans wanted people to honestly examine what truly gave them the most pleasure. Did wanton sex and overindulgence really give more pleasure than loving relationships and moderate consumption? The Epicureans argued that the short-term burst of pleasure from hedonism didn’t match the long-term pleasure of healthy living and deep conversations. I tend to agree.