1: An Introduction
Let’s talk about honesty.
Why is a good person honest?
Because a part of what goodness means, is to care about others.
If you care about other people, you’re honest with them.
Honesty shows respect.
2: Introducing someone who doesn’t like you
The degree to which someone lies to you is proportional to their disdain.
If they truly felt you were important they’d tell you the truth.
If you matter to them, they’ll know the truth matters to you.
But you don’t matter to a liar.
That’s why they’re happy to go on lying.
Narcissism, self-interest and indifference is the world liars occupy.
It’s the very air that they breathe.
3: The moral context
Honesty is a moral imperative.
Morality tells us to nurture those around us, to care for them.
You cannot nurture someone by lying to them.
In fact, the very opposite is true. Lies undermine and disempower. Lies weaken those who are lied to. That’s why the powerful lie. It reinforces their power.
Even ‘lying to protect’ patronises. It implies you know better than the person you’re lying to. It implies your superiority; their inferiority.
Yet morality tells us that in ourselves, as individuals, we are all equal.
Our actions, not our attributes, determine our moral worth.
We are equal whatever our ethnicity, origins, class or education.
Being honest with others recognises that equality.
It says, “You are as deserving of the truth as me.”
5: Facts = Power
It places the full facts at your disposal and allows you to base your decisions and actions on these facts.
Facts make us strong.
Look at our technology, our incredible industrial society – all powered by fact.
Look at our engineering, our medicine, our science.
Look at the machines we build.
None of this would have been possible without facts, without honesty, without truth.
Engines don’t run on lies.
6: A flourishing human being
To be genuine with people, to be honest with them, is a signpost of morality.
Who would consider a liar a flourishing human being? Who would think them moral?
Who would want their closest friends to be liars? Or their partner? Or their child?
A person’s honesty is what we all admire, not their snake-in-the-grass deceits.
7: The truth will set you free
Being honest with others encourages honesty in return. It encourages an environment of clear-sightedness in which we can exercise our powers of thought and decision-making to the full.
Honesty is something to which we should all aspire.
Honesty fuels integrity.
Honesty sets us free.
See also the previous article in this series: A short conversation about lying.
For a detailed discussion of the parallel topics of propaganda and lies, see Ethical Intelligence by Luke Andreski:
Twitter & Facebook: @EthicalRenewal
1: An Introduction
Let’s talk about populism.
Populists pretend complex problems have simple answers. They like things so simple they become stupid. They like binary choices.
Populists demand you ‘take sides’. But isn’t it better not to take sides? Or at least not sides predefined by someone you may not wish to trust?
2: Divide and Rule
Polarisation is an authoritarian tool. It allows the manipulative to divide and rule.
But do we want to be divided, or ruled by immoral people?
Surely we have better things to think about, such as:
– Asserting our shared humanity
– Reversing environmental breakdown
– Creating a just and sustainable world?
Yet populists love division.
They like to polarise.
They like an enemy. If no enemy’s handy, they’ll make one.
They like to act the victim, no matter how rich or powerful or privileged they are.
But, by creating ‘an enemy’, victims are precisely what they tend to produce.
It’s one of the great ironies of modern politics: pretend victims, mostly powerful, privileged and wealthy, creating real victims: usually the powerless and the poor.
4: Base Instincts
Populism appeals to our worse instincts.
It appeals to emotions of hatred, resentment, rage, tribalism, ‘us’ and ‘them’.
Some instincts are good – but not all of them. They were developed over millions of years for a hunter gatherer existence…. but we are no longer hunter gatherers. Now we live in cities and inhabit virtual worlds. We exist within a complex web of connection, communication, interaction, participation.
In this complex modern world we need our better instincts to be brought into play:
Populism doesn’t care about caring. Compassion isn’t on its agenda.
Populism ignores facts. Predictably, therefore, populists dislike experts.
Experts know stuff. People who know stuff are a nuisance if you want to manipulate others rather than inform.
Populists, on the other hand, exaggerate, hype up, overblow, dissimulate and deceive.
For the rest of us this can be confusing. It distracts from the facts.
But for the populists it’s useful. It keeps them in the public eye. It all makes news.
“Forget facts!” populists declare. “Just LOOK AT US.”
Into our eyes… Not around the eyes… Into our eyes.
Soon we are mesmerised by the show. We can’t see that they’ve got their hands on our voting cards or their spiteful little fingers scrabbling at the grey matter within our skulls.
While we’re distracted populists get on with achieving what they want to achieve.
Populists like to smear, slander, denigrate and accuse.
They love to lie. Why not? They’ll say anything to make themselves popular.
And the tribalism they encourage forgives lies. Being part of the tribe becomes more important than integrity. The tribalised forget their own morality. They forget the importance of being honest.
Of course, for the populists, the lie’s not the thing.
They don’t care about lying – in fact, they like it.
The lies not the thing… The objective’s the thing:
– Grubby ambition
– Ugly greed
– Pretending to serve others while serving only themselves.
Why let the truth interfere with objectives like these?
8: And more lies
And yet…. would you be happy if your brother, sister, father or mother were a liar?
Would you be keen to be known to be a liar yourself?
Is lying the example we want to set our children, our colleagues or our friends?
And, if not, we have to ask ourselves, “Is it truly acceptable – if we think about it for just a moment – for a President or a Prime Minister to be a liar?”
I’m sure it’s becoming clear from this discussion that populism is immoral.
Populists are serially dishonest, serially unreliable, serially self-serving, serially in it for number one.
They deny equality, kindness, our shared humanity, our compassionate human nature.
They create dissension, division, hatred, bloodshed, even war.
How can that possibly be moral?
How can it be moral to manipulate others rather than seek to explain – and, with honesty and accuracy, seek to persuade?
10: Resisting Populism
How do we resist populism?
At present it seems all-powerful – in the ascendant. It’s everywhere.
Populist leaders seem able to get away with anything…
One thing we can try is morality.
Not an old-fashioned, out-of-date, archaic morality – but a morality designed to tackle the issues of the 21st Century.
And the advantages of morality?
It’s hard to attack, slander or smear.
How can you condemn someone for being moral?
Morality is about caring for others.
How can you attack someone for caring for others?
Morality is about our shared humanity. Populism is about divide and rule.
11: A simple message
And morality’s message is simple:
- Morality 1st
- Integrity 1st
- Honesty 1st
- Make Humanity Great Again.
How can populism compete with that?
www.ethicalintelligence.org “The ethics of common sense”
Twitter & Facebook: @EthicalRenewal
For a detailed discussion of the parallel topic of propaganda, see Ethical Intelligence by Luke Andreski:
Morality – A critical success factor for business and society?
Luke Andreski – Graham Williams
There can be little doubt that we have reached a point in our history which is marked by profound ethical issues.
We face the acceleration of AI, an environmental crisis, the potential for future conflict over resource, probable large-scale migrations and an ascendancy of populist authoritarianism in politics across the world.
In parallel with this, another disturbing change has occurred. Morality has become unfashionable. It is no longer cool – and now carries with it connotations of ‘moralising’, of self-satisfaction or superiority, of being ‘moralistic’ or ‘preachy’. It’s as if, in the world of realpolitik and commerce, ethics no longer matter. Effectiveness and profit have taken morality’s place. ‘What’s in it for me?’ has become our guiding principle.
Yet this is a guiding principle which places our world in jeopardy. ‘What’s in it for me?’ cannot provide a solution to the major challenges which our businesses, our economies and even our species now face.
In addition to compassion, truth is at the heart of any moral code. If we cannot see our world clearly, if we are unable to separate reality from fake news or ideology, then how can we navigate our way towards personal, business or wider societal success? The reverse is also true. As our society drifts away from honesty, so it increasingly attacks it: a vicious circle we see all around us. It is now common to say, particularly of our politicians, that ‘everybody lies’. This then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Lying is normalised. We see this amongst some of the most prominent politicians of today’s world. A willingness to lie is no longer considered a quality which debars them from office. And the more they lie, the more they hate the truth. To quote George Orwell, “The further society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.” A wonderful example of this is seen in this interview with Michael Gove, the British politician campaigning for Brexit and the re-election of the Boris Johnson government:
It is also replicated in the many attacks we see from populist politicians on journalism and the press. Populism disdains experts and facts.
“To assert that everybody lies becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Lying is normalised.”
In collaboration with Graham Williams, a writer and consultant based in Cape Town, South Africa, I’ve been looking at how we can reassert the value of morality, honesty and compassion in a business context, and also for society as a whole. In a series of articles for Phase3 Consulting and HRZone I’ve argued for the value of ethics specifically within business. In my book Intelligent Ethics I expand this argument to society as a whole; and in his powerful work, The Virtuosa Organisation, Graham takes a similar approach.
There are so often situations in the marketplace where “business considerations” take precedence over ethical considerations – an either/or solution. Our contention is that this is a mistaken dichotomy. Business considerations (efficiency and profit) are in fact enhanced by adopting an ethical approach. Unethical practices exist in many toxic workplaces, including all forms of discrimination and exclusion, harassment, overt or unconscious prejudice and bullying – and tackling these can only benefit the performance, reputation and, ultimately, the profit of the business.
Leadership, training and coaching responses all too often fall into the ‘compliance’ and ‘rules’ category, when what is needed is:
- Development of an intrinsic ethical maturity and value base
- Encouragement of a learning, growth and mastery journey
- Nurturing of appropriate application in the context of the situations faced and their community impacts
To assist with this, we have drawn together a map of ethical best practice, outlining a set of cultural, process and human capital considerations for business leaders, a framework for:
- Providing a quick overview of the ethics landscape
- Moving from a rules-based to a values-based mind-set
- Guiding people how to behave positively and effectively, overcoming a bystander mentality
- Entrenching an understanding that ethics is an important bridge in aligning behaviours with core values
“Business considerations (efficiency and profit) are in fact enhanced by adopting an ethical approach.”
We hope you find this guide useful.
1: An Introduction
Cooperation is at the heart of all life. Competition is just a side-show.
In our bodies, 37 trillion cells cooperate. Multi-celled organisms are cooperative endeavours. Bacteria cooperate. Herds, flocks, shoals and swarms cooperate. Families, tribes, cities, nations cooperate…
2: The Basis of Life
Before multi-celled organisms can compete the cells out of which they are made must collaborate: each cell cooperating with others to form the organism itself. Cooperation is a necessary precondition for competition. Even single-celled life achieved complexity through symbiosis – in other words, through cooperation.
3: An Act of Selflessness
Having offspring in any species and ensuring their survival is an act of selfless cooperation, with no guarantee of future benefit for the parent organisms. Individual selflessness is widespread – found throughout nature. Is it the gene, then, which is selfish? Acting competitively on behalf of its strain?
Yet genes have no agency. They merely encode patterns. They are passive devices for passing information down generations. Only when genes are embodied in the individual do they gain agency… and individuals cooperate. Selflessness and action for the common good are encoded in our genes.
5: Social Cooperation
Cooperation is at the heart of society. Our billionaires could not become billionaires without roads, energy supplies, infrastructure, education, government research, the innovations of others… i.e. without other people.
Economic competition is sustained by economic cooperation: by agreements, rules and laws.
Selfishness and private greed – sustained by the ideology of competition – in fact stifle competition, depriving the economic cycle of hoarded wealth.
Private greed is the enemy of both cooperation and the cooperative impulse: the rich are less charitable than the poor (see https://www.thelondoneconomic.com/news/environment/poor-people-really-are-more-charitable-than-the-rich-according-to-new-research/28/06/).
7: Communication = Cooperation
Even language is a cooperative construct. We would have no words, no poetry or literature without the cooperative act of establishing meaning. Our minds are products of cooperative interaction with others. Sentience is a group activity. ‘Others’ define us and help us make sense of our world.
8: An Ideological Error
It is a misinterpretation of nature to highlight competition above all things. The notion that competition is the basis of life or society is an erroneous ideology. The ideology itself could not exist without cooperation. Society, science, technology and language are all cooperative acts.
In summary: we need each other. We are all in the same boat. Competition is the smaller part of what we can offer one another and our society. Cooperation is the builder of our world – our greatest and most valuable skill.
Think of what we have achieved through cooperation: medicine, space flight, the internet, smart phones, immense cities which sustain vast numbers of cooperating individuals, an incredible technological civilisation…
Think of what we have yet to achieve – together.
www.ethicalintelligence.org “The ethics of common sense”
Twitter & Facebook: @EthicalRenewal
For a detailed discussion of cooperation, see Ethical Intelligence by Luke Andreski:
1: An Introduction
Let’s talk about propaganda.
Democracy can only thrive on clear thinking and facts.
Deceit, lies, misdirection and misinformation undermine clear thinking – distract us from the facts.
For our decisions to be sensible, we need to see what’s truly in front of us: we need to be observers of the real world.
Propaganda blurs the real world.
Propaganda, through its lies and disinformation, is an enemy of democracy.
2: A functioning democracy
It is not propagandistic to say that any enemy of democracy is an enemy of the people.
The purpose of democracy is to devolve power to the people, to us.
It is a mechanism for removing power from authoritarians, dictators, demagogues and bullies.
Propaganda disrupts that mechanism. It seeks to give authoritarians, dictators, demagogues and bullies free rein.
3: A sensible vote
How can we vote sensibly without clear thinking and facts?
Propaganda ignores facts, hinders clear thinking.
Propaganda uses language manipulatively: to coerce us; to trigger decisions or beliefs we would not otherwise adopt.
It is a tool for control.
4: Taking back control
How does propaganda work?
It hijacks our instincts and psychology for the purposes of others.
It attacks our autonomy by sidestepping our powers of analysis.
It activates automatic and predictable responses.
It makes us a pawn in someone else’s game.
Do we want to be controlled? Do we want to be pawns?
5: Detecting propaganda
What does propaganda look like?
– manufactures ‘enemies’
– polarises viewpoints: “Are you with us or against us?”
– it’s emotive
– it doesn’t want you to think: it wants you to react
– it oversimplifies, giving answers so simple they rapidly become stupid
– it hypes up and exaggerates, attempting to trigger your automatic response.
6: Other traits
Propaganda is often dishonest, aggressive or abusive. Name-calling, denigration and smearing are its calling card.
It exaggerates grievances, shouts about ‘offence’.
Propaganda pretends it’s ‘one of us’.
It likes to be folksy when really it’s a tool for manipulating ‘folk’.
And, because of its disconnect from fact, it is often absurd.
7: Idols and their enemies
Propaganda inverts victimhood. The propagandists may be part of an elite; they may be powerful, rich and well protected; but they will still assert they are being ‘picked on’, they’re the ‘scapegoats’, they’re victims of other people’s conspiracies.
Since propaganda doesn’t like facts (it’s aim is control, not communication) it fixates on personalities rather than their actions. Some it puts on pedestals. They can do no wrong.
Some it smears and denigrates. They can do no right.
But from a moral perspective actions are what counts. Personality is irrelevant if what you’re doing is wrong.
8: Countering propaganda
How do we counter propaganda?
– Recognise (its nature as propaganda)
– Analyse (its manipulative intent)
– Publicise (the fact it’s propaganda)
– Identify (its sources and their motives)
– Demolish (with ridicule, clear thinking and facts)
The RAPID acronym helps us react to propaganda rapidly. Don’t wait. Act.
9: An alternative message
Propaganda appeals because it’s simple.
We would all like to live in a simpler world.
Yet there’s an alternative with an equally simple message.
A message as simple as:
- Integrity 1st
- Honesty 1st
- Compassion 1st
- Make Humanity Great Again.
These words are effective, humane and moral. When you’re faced with propaganda, bring them to the forefront of your mind. Assert your freedom and identity. Resist.
www.ethicalintelligence.org “The ethics of common sense”
Twitter & Facebook: @EthicalRenewal
For a detailed discussion of propaganda, see Ethical Intelligence by Luke Andreski:
I’ve made the case for the importance of morality to the functioning of modern society in my earlier WordPress article (here). However, it is also important to recognise that morality is not subject to relativism. It is not a pick and choose affair. Morality, whatever its originating cultural background, expects universality and consistency – and it operates according to its own internal logic.
In researching morality over the last two years, I have been able to identify a number of rules which invariably apply to or work within morality. I now document these as follows:
i. Morality requires a source of potent authority
Without this, any assertion of duty or moral obligation rings hollow. “Why? Why must I? Why ought I?” A potent authority behind the moral imperative is needed. Intelligent Ethics takes this from life itself – the source of all meaning, the essence of what we are.
ii. Morality applies to all human action
Morality encapsulates all other human activity. It is the primary and ultimate determinant of what we ought or ought not do. Everything sits within the moral context – even if, from within this context, it can then be assigned to the categories of morally insignificant or irrelevant.
iii. Morality is universal
In affirming a moral code you are also affirming that it is universal. Our core moral aims are applicable to all. It is the duty of all humans to be moral, wherever or whomever they are. It is their duty, and it is also their right.
iv. Morality necessitates and requires freedom
If you are not free you are unable to be moral. If you have no choice, if force or threat leave you no alternative, then your actions becomes amoral – devoid of moral content. Moral assessment and judgement then applies to whatever or whomever is coercing or controlling you. There is of course a sliding scale of freedom, and only the totally enslaved will be totally devoid of moral responsibility. If you have even a fraction of freedom then you are to that same degree responsible for your choices and your actions.
v. Morality cannot be enforced
Coercion and morality are inversely proportional: a person’s ability to be moral diminishes in direct proportion to the level of coercion used against them.
vi. The restriction of the freedom to be moral is a sin
If freedom is necessary for morality then the restriction of the freedom to be moral (or immoral) can only be a sin. It is therefore the duty of the ethical to morally enable others – to seek their freedom. To coerce or force others so that they are unable to make choices (even if this is the choice to be immoral) directly conflicts with the logic of morality – for as soon as a person is coerced to be moral they lose ownership of their actions and moral judgement ceases to apply to them. Explanation, education, encouragement and example are the tools of the ethical – not force.
vii. Morality requires an act of commitment
Because humans are free (see IE16 in my book Intelligent Ethics) we are free to be moral or immoral. If we wish to be moral then we must, of our own free will, commit ourselves to the authority of our morality. In doing this we accept that our personal whim and impulse are secondary to the direction and derivations of our moral code. We choose to accept the universality of the moral imperative and to live in accordance with our core moral aims. We choose to become moral beings.
viii. Morality requires consistency
A person cannot choose to be moral as and when it suits them, since this would effectively place their interests from one moment to the next above the authority of their morality – and thus denude their morality of authority or power. Morality without authority ceases to be morality (see IE15 in Intelligent Ethics and i, above). Further, on a purely practical level, a person who is unreliable and inconsistent is likely to be immoral in the sense that they cannot be trusted, particularly not in matters of importance or when it ‘comes to the crunch’.
ix. Morality requires honesty
If we are to know that a person is moral, and that we can trust them to act morally, then they must be honest. Dishonesty is not only immoral in itself (conflicting with our core moral aim to nurture others), it also undermines any claim by the dishonest upon being moral, having moral intentions or having acted morally. As with those who are inconsistent, you cannot trust the dishonest, particularly not in matters that matter.
x. Actions speak louder than words
Actions have greater moral weight than the words that explain or surround them or the protestations of those claiming to be moral.
xi. Actions speak louder than good intentions or motives
Actions have greater moral weight than the motives or intentions behind them. Motive and intention have a bearing in our evaluation of a person’s morality, but the person’s actions are the most important determinant of their moral worth.
xii. Intentions and motives speak louder than words
Accepting xi above, the intentions or motives which lead to an action nevertheless have greater moral weight than the words that excuse, explain or surround the action. Using your ethical intelligence to establish the intentions and motives of others is therefore essential in making moral decisions or determining a moral course.
xiii. Actions speak louder than inclinations
A person’s inclinations may be immoral, but if they are able to override these inclinations and their actions remain moral they can remain a moral person. For example, someone may have an inclination to exploit others which they cannot rid themselves of. However, if they succeed in suppressing that inclination and their actions remain moral, then their moral worth is the same as someone who has acted in a similarly moral way but has never had this inclination.
xiv. Words must always be measured by actions, and actions must always be assessed in relation to motive and intention
As x, xi, xii above.
To demonstrate relationships between the following rules, I include them below as an image:
And continuing in my original format:
xxii. Past immorality must be redressed
As noted above (xx), the immoral can always become moral by undertaking moral action. Yet this does not mean previous immorality can be forgotten. The formerly immoral must still feel shame and regret for their immoral actions and seek to make reparation and restitution for any harm they have done. Only thus do they begin to ‘nurture others’ in accordance with our core moral aims (Intelligent Ethics, 1-xviii.i). Similarly, those who are aware of the past immorality of others may wish, for a period, to treat them with appropriate caution and care. This is pragmatic common sense, and pragmatism and common sense are also tools of the ethical.
xxiii. Moral wrongs are not eclipsed by greater moral wrongs
Because event a is more wicked and bad than event b this does not mean that event b can be discounted or lost from our moral calculations. All immorality must be challenged and addressed by the moral.
xxiv. Attributes are morally neutral
Ethnicity, colour, gender, sexual orientation, educational background or social status, birthplace, intelligence, talent, appearance and all the other attributes applicable to human beings are morally neutral. Your attributes do not determine your moral worth. Your moral worth is determined by the actions you take in furthering the human mission: in enabling your own flourishing; in enabling the flourishing of others, in enhancing the flourishing of humanity as a whole; in ensuring the flourishing of all life; and, to the extent that your capabilities and opportunities permit, in sharing life with the solar system and the stars.
xxv. Inaction equals action
If it is within your power to alter or facilitate the altering of a situation or sequence of events in the world around you, and you decide not to take advantage of this power (i.e. to do nothing), then this is morally equivalent to your exerting this power: the inaction is equal and equivalent to the action. Inaction may indeed be the moral course, but this must be a moral course consciously decided upon with full recognition of its impact. Similarly, to turn a blind eye to an immoral act or decision is as culpable as to knowingly witness and collude with that act or decision. This is because all human activity or inactivity sits within a moral context, and inactivity cannot exclude itself from this.
xxvi. Morality is inclusive
Morality excludes no one. Anyone, anywhere, at any time can be moral or become moral. They merely have to undertake moral action and desist from immoral action… and thus begin a moral life.
In morality there is no ‘us’ and ‘them’; there is only ‘all of us’, and we are all capable of being moral.
Ethical Intelligence and Intelligent Ethics are available from Amazon in paperback and ebook format:
US and International:
Freedom is an essential element of human flourishing. It is also a fundamental prerequisite for any form of moral code. If you are not free, then it is not your choice whether you are ethical or not. You have been intimidated or coerced into your actions. In so far as you have no choice, you have no responsibility. Your behaviour is restricted to doing as you are told under threat of pain, deprivation or death. You may choose to die rather than act immorally, but this is a hard decision to make. If you do not, if you live on, and if the scenario of enforcement is often repeated, then even this small degree of choice recedes: obedience becomes imprinted upon your psychology. You are truly a slave.
Resistance is harder still if those you love or who depend upon you suffer also for your acts of rebellion. Under such conditions, ethical choice is virtually eliminated. Survival and the minimisation of suffering for yourself and for those you love prevails. Moral decisions outside of these constraints become the least of your worries. It is therefore at the heart of ethics, and of anyone who lays claim to morality, that we commit to human freedom: that people are sufficiently sustained and liberated to be able to make moral choices, even to the extent that they can choose whether or not to be moral. Ethics without freedom is a hollow shell.
Yet we must ask how this reconciles with the deterministic view of human nature held by some philosophers and many scientists. What of our increasing understanding of the genetic and neurological causes of human behaviour and the ever-improving ability of sophisticated software to predict our actions and decisions?
There are two immediate answers to these questions. Firstly, a deterministic account of the universe which excludes all possibility of randomness, chance and choice is by no means set in stone. In fact, from a scientific perspective, our ability to prove determinism, to predict everything and to fully exclude all elements of randomness and spontaneity is receding rather than drawing closer. Chaos, complexity and quantum mechanics do not greatly contribute to the case for free will, but they do undermine a philosophy of brutalist determinism.
Secondly, even if human actions, in conjunction with the physical environment in which they operate, are in principle open to deterministic explanations, the scale and scope of these explanations will be so great that no human consciousness could comprehend them in their totality. We are embedded in our universe, looking at it from the inside out, and are therefore faced with a structural limitation upon how much of that external universe we can encapsulate within our minds, how much we can personally causally explain. There are limits to the data our brains and minds can process, and those limits are necessarily smaller than the totality of all there is to be known. This is true – and will always be true – even of our most powerful computers. In simple terms, the universe is bigger than our minds, and the entire picture is therefore both practically and in principle out of our reach. As a result, since we can’t know everything, our minds have no choice but to employ an assessment-and-decision-making process.
The argument becomes:
- As individuals we only have access to a finite amount of data.
- That data isn’t sufficient for us to be able to create causal explanations for all the events in our environments or to predict with any certainty the precise outcomes of our actions.
- Therefore it is a function of our minds to act as if we are free: to assess the data we are able to access, to make decisions based on the limited knowledge we have to hand, and to act accordingly.
In other words, our cognitive limitations require a decision-making mechanism whether or not the universe is causally determined. I cannot fully know the causal outcome of alternative actions, therefore I must make my best assessment and choose the action I am to take. Even in a rigidly deterministic universe our minds would be unable to operate as they do if it were not for this assessment-and-decision-making mechanism. Even if we could prove that our world is utterly deterministic and fundamentally predictable, the structure of our minds means that we have no option but to operate as if this were not so. In fact, this assess-and-decide ability is what freedom feels like. Allow us to use it and we feel free; take this power away from us and we feel enslaved.
This is also reflected in the fabric of the human world. Our societies operate on the assumption that free will exists. We are asked to make choices, or coerced by laws or punishments not to. Some behaviours are rewarded while others are discouraged, all on the basis of the choices we are presumed to have made. Most of our religions, all of our laws and all of our codes of behaviour assume we have choice. The way we live our everyday lives reflects this. Those of us who are not coerced or enslaved live as if we can make choices, as if we are free. We act and react to others as if they are free also: we judge them negatively or positively for the choices they make. Even in a fundamentally deterministic universe it is hard to see how society could operate differently – how society could function without assuming that those of us who are not coerced or enslaved are free. An assumption of free will appears to be a functional necessity of the social realm.
Evolutionarily, it can also be argued that our nervous systems and brains have evolved to provide precisely this: the ability to assess the state of the world around us, to register changes in our environment, and to permit an interrupt between immediate response and considered decision. If the world were fundamentally causal and predictable, why evolve this organ of assessment and choice? Why not stick to more autonomic and reactive lifeforms, possessed of a portfolio of built-in responses allowing for the various predictable events in a deterministic and predictable world?
This decision-making mechanism in semi- or fully sentient beings has demonstrable survival value and evolutionary worth. Why else would it be so prevalent in the more complex lifeforms on our planet?
The evolutionarily evolved interrupt between immediate response and considered decision sets us free. It privileges us with the ability to choose whether to obey our instincts or not; whether to gorge or fast; whether to strike out or to extend the hand of peace.
We are capable of choice:
Stone: Kicked by child
=> Reaction: stone skitters away along the road.
All causal. No interrupt.
Adult human: Kicked by child
=> Interrupt of cognition
=> Assessment (it’s only a child)
Speak gently to child about inadvisability of kicking strangers
Shout at child and reduce poor mite to tears.
The more we know about the adult, the child and the environment which they inhabit, the more we will be able to predict how the adult will behave. However, it is impossible that we will reach the position of always knowing enough to invariably predict all human actions or reactions – and the more complex the interaction between individuals and their environment the less reliable will be our predictions. Our minds are not built to hold in immediate awareness all the data we would need in order to predict everything. Our brains therefore must assess on the basis of limited information, and must make choices based on that assessment.
The nature of our minds and the limitations of our knowledge mean we must act as if we are free. This adoption of freedom – an ability to assess data and make decisions – is unavoidable, whether or not there are deeper, causal explanations for our behaviour which might in principle be found.
Our human interactions, our moral codes and our societies have evolved on this basis – upon the assumption of free will – and they, too, could not function without it.
Intelligent Ethics takes human freedom as both existential and axiomatic. Intelligent Ethics asserts our right to exercise this freedom, deriving our entitlement to freedom from our inherent equality as sentient beings.
Intelligent Ethics affirms our right to be free.
Please also see:
“Intelligent Ethics” (recommended by former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams): www.amazon.co.uk/Intelligent-Ethics-Luke-Andreski/dp/1794618732
“Ethical Intelligence”: www.amazon.co.uk/Ethical-Intelligence-Luke-Andreski/dp/179580579X.
I am exploring the topic of what makes an excellent project manager, potentially for an article on this blog.
Is it knowledge? Character? Experience?
Thoughts and suggestions at any level of detail and however factual or intuitive are welcome!
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