We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Sometimes I think morality is purely culturally-defined, and sometimes I think there is "natural law." Most of the time I simply try to adhere to God via the Ten Commandments and Christ's teachings (Mark 12:28):
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."
If you are a Christian, those are the revealed word of God. If not, they are cultural. I know when I have done wrong because I feel guilt and shame. Sometimes I feel guilt and shame even when I haven't transgressed in any meaningful way. That's me, not God.
It would seem apparent to anyone who's raised or spent much time around children that Lewis was on to something. It would do little good to teach children that something was "wrong" if there weren't some ground for that admonition to make sense. Why else would they know what "fair" is, or what it means to share?
My opinion, obviously, is that Natural Law not only exists but is transcendently evident; humans, after all, know that they exist, and that humanity carries responsibility.
My clumsy attempts to explain and characterize this are embarrassingly limited by my own intellect, I realize. The best I can do is to notice that there is a reason why cops and nurses and psychologists can almost always tell when somebody is lying; in fact, why else would lie detector machines work if the subject himself didn't know?
Nonetheless, the best stuff around for the argument of Natural Law can be found in the work of J. Budziszewski. Here's a well-spent 30 minutes on youtube:
"For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them . . . ." Romans 2:14-15
Or, you can just do what the liberals in Seattle do--"it's all relative". Moral law is a decision made on the spot depending on the goals of the moment. Except sometimes it comes around and bites them in the arse--then you know what white man? Yup, you guessed it--it's your fault!
I would say that people in all cultures prefer justice over injustice, honor over dishonor, love over hatred, and truth over lies(footnote). Cultures differ how they weight these and in whether the individual or the group is the focus. I recall midnight dorm discussions with people from a culture who were all in agreement that it was better to cheat (passing exam answers to a friend from their country who would not otherwise pass) than for one of their number to suffer the dishonor of not passing. Cheating or lying within their own tribe was "right out" for them however, even if it would result in personal dishonor.
So the basic principles are the same in all cultures, the weighting and tradeoff between them is conditioned by culture and upbringing.
Having taught children for ten years and in the process of raising two of my own, I take great comfort in a child's natural ability to demonstrate notions of personal possession and unfairness--they are keenly aware, independent of an adult informing or showing them, when someone steals their property or treats them unfairly. However, they may need guidance in extending such feelings towards others (i.e., don't steal from others) or making such "feelings" abstract rules.
Of course, I dare any self-declared moral relativist to ACT as if all morality was truly relative. Good luck.
Lewis took some effort to illustrate various common principles from cultures around the world in A of M. Yet beyond the simple generality of moral law, which could at least theoretically have several causes, he considered it important that human groups have the universal experience of knowing we fall short of our own standards. (Emphatic note: this applies to groups, not individuals. In every place and time there are individuals who are not troubled by this in the least.)
We do put the principles in differing hierarchy and express them differently.
As to cultural conditioning of morality, I would say that there is considerable flexibility around the edges, and that it can be demonstrated rather easily. That doesn't really touch the central question.
Assistant Village Idiot
I agree that there are universal morals that is human nature and that each culture modifies the application of those morals. The question to Jesus was " who is my neighbor". Jewish law made strangers welcome. Jesus applied the golden rule to everybody.
Another proof of the universality of standard morals is the lack of variety in morals world wide. If morals were simply cultural there should be all kinds of systems of morals; same as religion, dance and music, language, food, etc. It is hard to imagine a different set of morals. Blick