Morality Part One – Defining our Terms
April 7, 2013
The most important discussion in any human society is that of morals; what are our morals, how do we enforce them, and from where do we derive their authority? How do we define morality and what authority do we use to derive that definition? Most importantly, when we have established what morality is, our moral authority, and what individual morals we believe should guide our society, how do we implement them in our day to day lives? This is especially important in nuanced moral systems. No global rule or law is always going to be 100% effective, as there are always reams of hypothetical situations where normally unethical or immoral would be moral or ethical in just this one case. In fact, these hypotheticals are a favorite tactic of the juvenile debater. The nuanced moral system, though, accepts that there will be situations where certain moral precepts take precedence, and some of these moral precepts will therefor be contradictory. The easiest way to understand this is to look at murder; we agree, universally, that murdering another human being is unethical and immoral. We also generally agree that freedom, liberty, are important and moral states to strive for. However, we necessarily truncate our freedoms to give authority to law enforcement to prevent, try, and bring justice to those who perpetuate murder. Freedom, in this case, and the want not to be murdered are in conflict so we ere on the side of greater freedom for the masses (in this case, not being murdered, as being murdered necessarily ends any kind of freedom a person might have) in favor of the individual freedoms of being able to kill anyone one may want to.
I’m treating this article series as a way of exploring the question of morality, from its base to its peak, to establish what I believe and to show why my beliefs, as they are rooted in secular (as in, not derived from the arbitrary assemblage of religions in the world) and data-driven (as in, derived from observing the behaviour of the world and how people actually interact with each other in the environment) decision systems, have a stronger case for being valid than the historical and traditional moral systems. The first reason that I think I can prove this is that traditional moral systems, derived from religious ideals and reactionary measures, are not effective on their own terms, even before trying to find universal terms. A morality system, as any ideological system, should be internally consistent, self-reinforcing, externally validated, and nuanced in the places where rules conflict so that decisions can be navigated ethically.
Now, to define our terms.
I am going to use the following definition for morality; “That which does the greatest good for the most people.” Good here is defined as those things that support, reinforce, or provide access to survival, enjoyment, and happiness in life in ways that do not diminish or infringe on others’ rights and their own happiness. Morals, in this system, are the Oughts – the rules that should be followed in an ideological sense. They are derived from an examination of the world around us and negotiated as we discover what rights and responsibilities we share as a society. Morals, in this sense, are personal responsibilities to the societal whole. To put it simply, they are how you, as an individual, should treat your Fellow Humans, the masses.
I am going to use the following definition for ethics; “The negotiation and implementation of moral precepts in individual relationships that provide the most advantage and least disadvantage to all relevant stakeholders as well as ensuring proper moral conduct through establishing rules and behaviours that preempt possible immoral action.” Where morals, then, are the Oughts of human interaction, ethics are the Is. Ethics are applied morals, methods and rules for implementing morals where the implementation may not be obvious. Ethics are about fair treatment under our agreed moral structure.
In places, I may refer to Justice ,such as in Social Justice. In these situations, Justice will be defined as “the implementation of Ethical decisions on a societal basis to create a more fair and more moral environment for those who have been marginalized, harmed, or excluded from full societal participation by the actions of society as a whole rather than the actions of particular individual(s).” So while Ethics by themselves negotiate was if Fair (or Equal) between Stakeholders (individuals or groups of individuals operating independently), Justice is the negotiation of what is Fair (or Equal) between Individuals and The Society. This includes how the State enforces ethical action, how society rewards or punishes ethical action, and how individuals are encouraged to respond to ethical action. While Justice does not always mean laws must be passed for all infractions, Justice is a society-wide problem that must be dealt with using overt, society-wide systems (such as education campaigns, conduct advisement, protocols, and, yes, laws). Where individually we bear the burden of being Ethical (treating our fellow humans morally and fairly), we as a society bear the burden of being Just (treating all of our fellow humans, collectively, morally and fairly).
Now, for other moral systems I will not be examining them directly. This is a bottom-up approach. To explain why, I reject the idea of a supernatural law-giver. Those moral systems that rely on supernatural agents providing moral guidance cannot show accuracy or truth through their supernatural laws, and the documentation that has descended from their supernatural law-giver has several elements that surround it that imply that the laws were created by men, not by any supernatural god, and reflect the societies of the time and place they were originally written. While non-supernatural (or historical, near historical) law codes do not make claims of supernatural origin (and, thus, being impossible for “mere” human endeavors to overturn) they are frequently rooted in systems that are demonstrably unfair for many that labor under their sway. Most commonly, women and people foreign to the system are disenfranchised, as well as those who are not wealthy or powerful enough to bend the strictest strictures within the moral system. To avoid disentangling the various hypocritical and unethical, immoral, or unnecessary laws within other moral law systems, I will be building this from basic precepts to moral suggestions and examinations without regard to society as-is. I will be drawing on sociology, biology, philosophy, and the data generated by the wide-variety of psychological, economic, and social examinations and studies in our modern sciences.
In the next installment, I’ll be laying my moral foundations – what it is to be good, what kind of good we should be pursuing, and why it is better for all of us to pursue these objectives together.