Stathis Papaioannou wrote:
Jef Allbright writes:
> Moral and natural laws.
> > > An investigation of natural laws, and, in parallel, a defence >
of ethical objectivism.The objectivity, to at least some > extent, of
science will be assumed; the sceptic may differ, > but there is no
convincing some people).
> As ethical objectivism is a work-in-progress > there are many
variants, and a considerable literature > discussing which is the
I agree with the thrust of this post and I think there are a few key
concepts which can further clarify thinking on this subject:
(1) Although moral assessment is inherently subjective--being relative
to internal values--all rational agents share some values in common due
to sharing a common evolutionary heritage or even more fundamentally,
being subject to the same physical laws of the universe.
That may be so, but we don't exactly have a lot of intelligent species
to make the comparison. It is not difficult to imagine species with
different evolutionary heritages which would have different ethics to
our own, certainly in the details and probably in many of the core values.
Imagine? Don't you know any women? :-)
(2) From the point of view of any subjective agent, what is "good" is
what is assessed to promote the agent's values into the future.
(3) From the point of view of any subjective agent, what is "better" is
what is assessed as "good" over increasing scope.
(4) From the point of view of any subjective agent, what is increasingly
"right" or moral, is decision-making assessed as promoting increasingly
shared values over increasing scope of agents and interactions.
From the foregoing it can be seen that while there can be no objective
morality, nor any absolute morality, it is reasonable to expect
increasing agreement on the relative morality of actions within an
expanding context. Further, similar to the entropic arrow of time, we
can conceive of an arrow of morality corresponding to the ratcheting
forward of an increasingly broad context of shared values (survivors of
coevolutionary competition) promoted via awareness of increasingly
effective principles of interaction (scientific knowledge of what works,
extracted from regularities in the environment.)
What if the ratcheting forward of shared values is at odds with
evolutionary expediency, i.e. there is some unethical policy that
improves the fitness of the species? To avoid such a dilemna you would
have define as ethical everything improves the fitness of the species,
and I'm not sure you want to do that.
If your species doesn't define as unethical that which is contrary to continuation of the
species, your species won't be around to long. Our problem is that cultural evolution
has been so rapid compared to biological evolution that some of our hardwired values are
not so good for continuation of our (and many other) species. I don't think ethics is a
matter of definitions; that's like trying to fly by settling on a definition of
"airplane". But looking at the long run survival of the species might produce
some good ethical rules; particularly if we could predict the future consequences clearly.
Further, from this theory of metaethics we can derive a practical system
of social decision-making based on (1) increasing fine-grained knowledge
of shared values, and (2) application of increasingly effective
principles, selected with regard to models of probable outcomes in a
Rawlsian mode of broad rather than narrow self-interest.
This is really quite a good proposal for building better societies, and
one that I would go along with, but meta-ethical problems arise if
someone simply rejects that shared values are important (eg. believes
that the values of the strong outweigh those of the weak),
Historically this problem has been dealt with by those who think shared values are important ganging up on those who don't.
problems arise when it is time to decide what exactly these shared
values are and how they should best be promoted.
Aye, there's the rub.
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