Archive for category Philosophy
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.