I think that if you:
- Believe in the existence of other people, and that they are creatures who experience pleasure and pain just like you.
- Believe that you are no more worthy than anyone else.
- Feel bad if others feel bad.
that all other essential morality can be logically derived.
If you have this essential seed, and you are able to correct your behavior as you gain knowledge and experience in different kinds of relationships with people, you will grow into a good person in many different ways.
1 is kind of a bridge between emotion and reason. It’s axiomatic, in that it’s something that must simply be accepted, but it’s easy to accept. If you strongly feel 2 and 3, it’s definitely the safest choice.
As for 2 and 3, I suspect primary caregiver before the age of 5 is probably the most significant factor, followed by genetics.
If you don’t feel 2 and 3, then it’s logically acceptable to conclude that morality is silly.
If you feel 2 and 3, and still believe that morality is silly, then you have probably rationalized something you should not have, or simply haven’t thought things through all the way.
If you feel 2 and 3, then the realization that others often act immorally and get away with it really shouldn’t affect your morals at all. You inherently do not, and can not, derive pleasure in winning something at the expense of others.
There are a few things in life that are inherently competitive, like getting a job, or fighting a war. In times like those, you can still take comfort in doing so fairly, though you may take no pleasure in winning.
There are times and situations where people who do not follow 1-3 can be safely relied upon to do specific things: they have something to gain by doing so. But they cannot be trusted for anything else.
Maybe the moral ground isn’t high or low ground, and maybe morality isn’t quite the right word for it then, either. But it is certainly a different ground.
I feel it’s a beautiful ground. Not of perfect people, but of people who strive to be perfect. It’s permanently under siege, and it doesn’t seem to last forever, but it’s wonderful while it lasts.