Over the millennia, humanity has expanded and supplanted the basic set of moral capabilities found in our animal relatives. Justice expands the notion of fairness, honesty extends trust into the realm of language and generosity builds upon reciprocity. Moderation and prudence use imagined ideals to hold instincts in check. We have been able to do so because unlike other animals (as far as we know) humans can form ideals concerning how activities ought to take place. These ideal notions also significantly affect our motivations. It is because we can imagine different ways of doing things that we are capable of forming moral judgements at all: imagining ideal cases allows us to form a concept of what is good.
Imagination also allows us to form negative ideals concerning the wrong way to behave, and in the most extreme cases we judge certain actions evil. To kill someone for any reason but self-defence is usually considered murder, which is deemed evil. It is because we hold common ideals in respect of how we could or should behave that we have ethics, and this in part rests on abstract language skills that utilise imagination. Other animals use language, but they only name immediate things – prairie dogs have a word for hawk, dog, deer and antelope, and even adjectives for colour, size and speed; they do not have words for 'right' or for 'good'.
Part 9 of 23 in the Pentenary series.