Concept/Content defining morality / nest parasitism: reed warbler feeds cuckoo chick in its nest
Information caption A reed warbler feeds a cuckoo chick that has parasitized its nest. Should a biologist consider the cuckoo's behavior "immoral"? Biologists must have a working concept of 'morality' even to identify the relevant behaviors. Invoking a value judgment threatens to prejudice the whole endeavor. The biologist's proper approach is thereby indifferent and fluid, contingent on definitions of ethics identified by others. Biologists may encounter multiple conceptions of what is to be explained. Different benchmark definitions may yield separate, complementary explanations. Of course, biologists are accustomed to addressing the "same" phenomenon on multiple levels of organization: molecular and cellular, physiological, populational, ecological, evolutionary. Biologists have thus developed a suite of explanations which apply to different aspects of moral behavior.
Inquiry caption How do we define scientifically which behaviors are moral? For example, here a reed warbler feeds a cuckoo chick that has parasitized its nest. Was it "wrong" for the cuckoo's parent to lay its egg in the reed warbler's nest? How do we characterize whether this is a moral question or not? Perhaps you can suggest a scientific definition of moral behavior? How do we ensure that any such definition does not express a value judgment or introduce bias?
[Follow-up:] Who studies and conventionally defines morality (in a professional sense)? How might one borrow or make use of their expertise?
Target Concept: Biologists borrow from other disciplines in characterizing behavior as moral.
Photographer H. Olsen
Credit public domain [wikipedia]
SIZE in pixels [file size] 426x600

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