||conscience / "The Remorse of Orestes, or Orestes Pursued by the Furies"
||painting by Adolphe Bourguereau, 1862. The sentiment of remorse was considered by Darwin (among others of the period) to be deeply expressive of moral sentiments. See Descent of Man, p. 91.
In Greek mythology, Orestes is persuaded by his sister, Electra, to kill his mother to avenge the murder of their father, which he does in a fit of passion -- only to later regret his action.
||This 1862 painting by Adolphe Bourguereau portrays a scene from Greek mythology, "The Remorse of Orestes, or Orestes Pursued by the Furies." Orestes was persuaded by his sister, Electra, to kill his mother to avenge the murder of their father, which he does in a fit of passion -- only to later regret his action. The sentiment of remorse was considered by Darwin and others of his period to be deeply expressive of moral sentiments (Descent of Man, p. 91.) What elements might be required historically for an organism, such as humans, to be able to experience such remorse or conscience? How, from a biological or evolutionary perspective, might we have developed the capacity to feel moral duty?
Charles Darwin proposed four interrelated features. First, Darwin observed that animals could evolve societies, structured (he assumed) by a social instinct. Second, with multiple instincts, behavior might not always accord with social benefit. But memory, Darwin thought, would help resolve such conflicts as the organism learned to regulate its instincts, making the social instinct primary. Third, the use of language would allow organisms to communicate their needs clearly to one another. Fourth, repetition would lead to habit, and a spontaneous sense of what one "ought" to do.
In what ways do you find this account informative? —In what ways insufficient or incomplete?
Target Concept: Darwin proposed the moral sense as an inevitable outcome of four elements: social instinct, memory, language and habit.
||Adolphe Bourguereau, "The Remorse of Orestes, or Orestes Pursued by the Furies," 1862 (orignal at the Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia)
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