First, and perhaps most importantly, Jonathan Haidt gives a TED talk on the differences in moral thinking between liberals and conservatives. I think liberals in particular will find this to be an interesting challenge to some of their preconceived notions. (19 min) Haidt also has a book on this topic, titled The Righteous Mind., which I have not read. Haidt is in the territory of moral relativism, cautioning us against the presumption that someone else's view must be wrong.
Next, in another TED talk, Frans de Waal explores moral behavior in other mammals: (17 min) He has written The Age of Empathy, which I have not read.
and Jessica Pierce describes some additional instances of animal morality that we have observed.
Finally, in this debate between Sam Harris and William Lane Craig, the origins of morality are explored. Harris is describing and defending the ideas that he has put forth in his new book, The Moral Landscape, which I am still reading. Harris' position is that morality stems from the well-being of conscious creatures, and that once we accept this assertion, morality can be objectively examined, even if it is neuroscience is not yet advanced enough to make this a practical matter in many cases. Harris' ideas challenge both the conservative notions of morality from God or other authority, as well as the liberal notions of moral relativism. Craig's position is the traditional theological notion that morality comes to us from divinity. Unfortunately Craig's opposition is largely focused on his refusal to accept that Harris has any basis to assume that well-being has any relationship with morality. While I recommend seeing the entire thing for fairness and context, in my opinion it is Harris and his ideas that makes this video worth the two hour investment.
My personal take is that there is value in all of these. Haidt seems to describe morality as it is actually implemented by different people, and de Waal describes that natural origin of our moralistic impulses. I think the conservative ideas of morality sanctify principles that preserve the group in the face of extreme adversity. Probably these are behaviors that served us well in our more tribal past, but it does not seem to me that those ideas still serve us well now. I'm sure it will take you less than 10 seconds to think of several examples where authority and morality were at direct odds with each other. In-group thinking is valuable when groups compete, and destructive when they lose the opportunity to cooperate. Finally, purity would have been valuable in a time when medicine, sexual education, and contraceptive care were not available, but in modern times puritanical thinking seems to act to the detriment of women more than it accomplishes anything else.
Finally, while I embrace the idea of the equivalence of many different cultural values, I think Harris is right that there is an objectivity, or at least some objective elements, to morality. To say that it is abhorrent to stone rape victims to death, and to say that it is proper - these are not morally equivalent positions. We do not live in a world where all moral opinions are equal.
Overall, I am still exploring and refining my ideas on human morality, and have much more reading to do.
What do you think?