I’ve been teaching students about Adam Smith’s moral sentiments model, which derives from human instincts. Instincts often reside in that large part of human experience called the unconscious: we cannot direct nor stifle some urges that are not under rational control.
Moral sentiments give rise to moral norms (institutions) that are in well-socialized children are transmitted and internalized. That is not to say all moral norms are desirable. Here is Albert Einstein, reflecting on socially-embedded racial prejudices:
A large part of our attitude toward things is conditioned by opinions and emotions which we unconsciously absorb as children from our environment. In other words, it is tradition—besides inherited aptitudes and qualities—which makes us what we are. We but rarely reflect how relatively small as compared with the powerful influence of tradition is the influence of our conscious thought upon our conduct and convictions.
The injustice of racism we hope will be undone, but likely not by pontificating intellectually on the need for human rights (valuable as that is). Human rights will arise as more and more people come to experience a change in moral imagination—the “aha” moment in which the duck becomes the rabbit—and people come to feel that people of another race/culture/tribe/nation are equal humans.
[Thanks to Tony Martin for this link.]