But all of these admonitions and legal restraints are negative. "Thou shalt not do this and thou shalt not do that." Is morality then simply the absence of certain specified behaviors? Or is it a positive entity in its own right? Exactly what is morality?
To help us answer that, we might first ask, "What is the source of morality?"
The Rabbi will tell you morality is an attribute of God imparted to man at his creation, and that, after Adam's fall, the directions for its maintenance were given to man by God in the holy scriptures. The preacher will tell you morality resides in a conscience that has been installed in man by God, and that wayward behavior is the result of not following the dictates of one's conscience. The agnostic will tell you that you have to develop your innate morality by practicing tolerance and compassion for your fellow human beings.
But is morality an inherent attribute of man, or is it instilled in man by the dictates of religion? If we look at man in the raw state, in an environment where he is unrestrained by law – such as Washington DC – we find that theft, mendacity, and sexual promiscuity are rampant. It would seem that man is not by nature a moral animal.
On the contrary, such environments reveal man to be an anti-social, selfishly grasping creature devoid of any concern – let alone compassion – for his fellow humans. Man in his natural state is not a nice person.
Where then did morality come from? It was born of necessity. When man invented agriculture 100,000 years ago, civilization became a possibility. The cultivation of plants, particularly grains that could last through the winter without spoiling, freed man from the constant and frenetic search for food. Over several thousands of years, man gradually morphed from a hunter to a farmer.
But being a farmer meant living in close proximity with other farmers, and the aggressive belligerence that served the hunter well was a liability in this new environment. The survival advantages of farming over hunting were, however, so great that some of the more intelligent early farmers devised a solution.
Certain rules were developed and agreed upon by all the farmers in a community. "You can't take your neighbor's land or his slaves or his wives. You can't kill your neighbor to get his land or his slaves or his wives." And every farmer was made to understand that the security of his own life and property rights was insured only by his reciprocal respect for the lives and property rights of others. These fledgling republics were the genesis of civilization.
Morality then can be seen as an imposition by civilization on man's natural selfishness and anti-egalitarianism. But it is more than that. Those who are intelligent and perceptive enough to appreciate the advantages of civilization not only accept the imposition of morality, they actively cultivate morality in an effort to sustain and improve civilization.
Morality then is the proactive pursuit of intelligently directed self-interest. In other words, it is personal responsibility.