Do Actions Derive From Morals, or Positive/Negative Feedback

January 2, 2010Category: WritingTags: , ,

Do all actions derive from positive and negative feedback? IE, consequences? I maintain it does. Example:

Take a normal average person. Ask him or her if he would rob a bank. The probably answer is no. Ask him why, and you’ll probably get the answer of ‘it’s wrong’. However, an honest man might answer, ‘because of the consequences of doing it … jail’.

Both of these are valid reasons, because people Do have a sense of right and wrong. Everyone has his or her moral code. However, the threat of immediate consequences is also a large incentive. That is the basis for the justice system; we prevent people breaking the law by imposing punishments. Now, second example:

Take the situation from above, but in this theoretical world, the law is suddenly changed, and it’s legal to rob banks. Would the average people do it? And this is immediate, not in the future after the law has been changed for a very long time. (Basically so we assume people don’t have time to change societal morals) Ask the same person from above, and the answer is probably the same. They won’t. Because it’s wrong.

This would seem to prove that actions are determined by other then consequences at least part of the time. However, we must look deeper. Where does the very concept of right and wrong come from? It comes from positive and negative feedback. It comes from parenting, when parents teach their children what is wrong. And those children are taught that, by consequences. Example:

A child steals a cookie. The parents find out, express disapprove by yelling, or giving the child the ‘disappointed’ speech, and then they give a punishment. Alternate description: Child does an action, and then receives negative feedback from the parents.

The negative feedback can be a punishment, or even just expressed disapproval. Verbal, the parent telling the child it is wrong. A frown could also express disapproval. Pain isn’t always needed, although it is one of the most powerful negative feedback tools available. It is by that expression of disapproval, the negative feedback that the child learns what is wrong. And conversely, positive feedback enforces what is good. Example: A parent smiles and tells a child how proud they are of him or her, after a good action. Our moral code, our internal idea of right and wrong, is taught when we are children, and is taught by positive and negative feedback.

Follow this to adulthood. A person is governed dually by internal moral code, and the threat if immediate consequences. A person doesn’t rob a bank, because they will be punished, but also because they believe it is wrong. And since that belief was taught by negative feedback, it follows that all of our actions are determined by feedback.


As a side observation, all Morals are taught by positive and negative feedback. However, I am not saying that there are not ultimate, or correct, morals. Another way to prove that morals are taught, is the fact that everyone’s moral code is so different. A blatant example being the Aztec culture of central America during certain periods, which as a society believed cannibalism to be morally correct. If there was a higher absolute moral code and it was just inherent in people, said society would have rejected cannibalism immediately. (Or we would realize that cannibalism isn’t bad). Again though, I am not saying that there aren’t Real higher morals. Just that people are Taught there morals (initially) by positive and negative feedback. And I’d also note that there are some cases where people change there own moral by self evaluation. However, it is a rare occurrence.