material evidence of an objective moral order?

A quote from the book Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper:

“….  a friend once asked me why it was that stories about an animal’s heroism – a cat that pulls her kittens from a burning building, say, or a dog that walks across fifty miles of an Iraqi desert to re-unite with the soldier who fed him – are so compelling.

I didn’t have an immediate answer beyond observing that I also loved those stories. A few days later, it occurred to me that we love them because they’re the closest thing we have to material evidence of an objective moral order – or, to put it another way, they’re the closest thing we have to proof of the existence of God.

They seem to prove that the things that matter to, and move us most – things like love, courage, loyalty, altruism –  aren’t just ideas we made up from nothing.

To see them demonstrated in other animals proves they’re real things, that they exist in the world independently of what humans invent, and tell each other, in the form of myth and fable.”

Yes – that resonates with me.   Though nature is harsh and much animal behavior is instinctive and geared toward self preservation and procreation (including human behavior), the qualities we laud as moral and altruistic may be seen throughout nature, in the form of the preponderance of natural relationships characterized by mutualism and commensalism, and those oriented toward family and community.

Please note however that I see a distinction between an objective moral order and cultural / societal traditions, which may overlap but are not the same content domain.  Cultural and societal distinctions are genreally about defining the group that belongs over against the groups that do not.   The qualities that I would consider to be those demonstrated by an objective moral order cross all boundaries of species,  race and colour,  religion,  creed,  national origin, or sexual orientation.

Highly recommend the book by the way – not for its philosophy (though I admire much of it) but for the lovely story of a kitten, blind from birth,  in both its life and development, and the way others were inspired, what they learned from this one little life.


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