Morality Begins With Self-Interest

Philosophies of right and wrong often involve high-minded ideals. But morality has humble, honest beginnings. Long before reasoning about ethics, as infants we simply pursue self-interest – seeking to satisfy our own needs. Only once fed, nurtured, and secure in our well-being can we expand compassion to others. Morality emerges from ensuring one’s own survival first.

Infants Develop a Sense of Justice Through Action and Reaction

Newborns experience cause and effect, forming their first notions of justice. When hungry or in need, an infant cries out instinctively – their only control over the world. This prompts the caregiver to restore balance by feeding or changing them. With repetition infants equate their actions to satisfying needs. By simply causing reactions, they learn to restore equilibrium, eventually learning this as ‘justice’. Justice is incorporated into a definition of ‘morality’ when we see the needs of many overlapping with our own.

This primal pattern is the foundation for lifelong morality. Our adult ethics build upon these earliest lessons that needs spur reactions spurring resolution. Before complex philosophy, morality is learned through the simple infant loop of distress to expressed control to equilibrium.

Morality Is Rooted in Subjective Experience, Not Universal Principles

This infant foundation reveals morality stems from subjective experience rather than universal principles. Right and wrong are learned in the context of family and culture, not defined absolutely. For the infant, morality is about restoring personal equilibrium through fulfilling needs. As we mature, morality expands to incorporate caring for others’ equilibrium too, but remains tied to situational realities. It evolves as we balance different needs, not by adhering to fixed top-down rules. This relativistic morality, learned before conscious recollection, manifests in localized notions of fairness and justice based on the interplay of different equilibriums. It finds no absolute answers, only contextual balances.