Here is a cut and paste from the Beyond Morality Group:
As a moral relativist, I have spent a lot of time on A/N shooting down
the attempts of others to create a universal moral code. I think it's
sort of a fool's errand, but here I go:
All organisms demonstrate a tendency to avoid harm. Even amoeba will
avoid aversive stimuli. This is one of the basic premises of behavioral
psychology's operant conditioning. Behaviors that yield pleasing results
tend to be repeated. Behaviors that yield aversive results tend to not
If we stop right there, we have an argument for hedonism. But, we are
not amoeba. Humans are social animals requiring the assistance of other
humans in order to survive in the natural environment.
Other social animals like wolves, lions, and buffalo will predictably
behave in ways that promote the health and safety of the group over the
health and safety of the individual. These animals engage in what might
be considered benevolent behaviors even without the benefit of higher
To my knowledge, humans are the only species capable of true empathy.
Empathy does not mean sympathy. Many species demonstrate sympathy. But,
empathy requires the extreme complex ability to cognitively attempt to
see through the eyes of another. With huge effort, we can put our
collective ego aside and truly understand the world from the perspective
of someone (or something) else.
Research on feral children has shown that empathy is a learned behavior.
Empathy is an extremely difficult cognitive skill that few humans try
master. If humans regularly employed this skill, conflict with each
other and the destruction of other species could be virtually
So there it is. My theory is that empathy is the highest human good, as
it is an extension (actually a giant leap) of the natural tendency for
social animals to engage in behaviors that benefit the survival of the
I haven't spent a huge amount of time on this, so please have at it. I
would love to have some of you egg heads dissect my flimsy logic.... ;-)