An Essential Foundation for Morality

Let’s put our minds together and assemble a basic system of morality that has a solid and logical foundation.

The reason why? It seems that most common individuals rely on an intuitive morality which they gained from those around them - they are usually trying to connect with a social group, hence why they adapted the morality. Because of this, their basic moral principles are flimsy and likely to change depending on their mood and other variables.

Another reason why, is because finding a “moral deficiency” in another person is usually the result shadow-archetype construction - to support our ego. This goes for all people, and there isn’t much we can do to prevent this inner-flaw and bad logic in our unconscious minds.

So, in order to avoid as much human error as possible, I think it is essential for there to be a reference point for all morality that is built upon firm and solid logic - logic that can be as irrefutable as possible, done with a priori knowledge.

To help us avoid any paradoxes, contradictions, or insolvable infinities, I think that we must first clarify a few philosophical givens that must be taken for granted as true before we can continue any further. These “philosophical givens” are the “bear essentials”, the building blocks, from which we will construct our system of morality. When dealing with the logic of morality, these philosophical givens must be considered unconditional facts - unlike the logic of metaphysical philosophy in which the validity of these “philosophical givens” could still be called into question.

The Philosophical Givens are:

  • I exist
  • Others also exist
  • These “others” are similar to me, being that they also have emotions, thoughts, feelings, and needs as a human being
  • Our similarity with each other is close enough to consider us “equals” as human beings, excluding conditional differences

Would you agree that these philosophical givens are true, and also mandatory for an accurate system of morality?

Now that we have established these philosophical givens, let’s define the purpose of morality with the philosophical givens in mind.
Here are some possibilities:
-The purpose of morality is to maintain the equality of individuals as human beings.
-The purpose of morality is to project an optimum amount of well-being for all people.

What are some “basic moral principles” that we could agree upon? Some that come to mind are:
-Don’t kill other people
-Don’t intentionally cause physical pain to an unwilling person
-Don’t steal from other people

What are all of your thoughts?

This is probably not the purpose of you thread, but have you considered that rational moral systems based on a priori principles are not the best way to go?

Why not base your values on your experiences? The whole world you experience as the philosophical given, and not a couple of impoverished “a priori” notions.

This may be true for some, but it’s not necessarily because they don’t have a rational build moral system, it’s because they just don’t think enough about their lifes and their values in general.

If you must build a system, what about, “take care of yourself” as the first principle. What good can you do if you can’t look after yourself to begin with?

Suffering is the only thing that we know of on an ‘in itself, a-priori’ basis.
Suffering must be the basis of morality- its minimization.

The first three are pragmatically useful and commonsensical enough to appeal to all. The last one needs more clarification on “equal” though - not all people are equally tall, of course… but referring back to point 3), not all people are equally emotionally intelligent, thoughtful, resilient or self-sufficient. Does everyone receive an equal moral consideration, or is it weighted to account for inequality? Do the weakest take priority in moral considerations, or are the strongest actively handicapped (to take an extreme example)?

You could have the inverse of those:

  • The purpose of morality is to permit all people to excel to the peak of their ability
  • The purpose of morality is to minimise suffering for all people.

However, I think your point is fundamentally flawed. While morality can (and I think should) be built upon firm and solid logic, there is no reference point - your choice of purpose is not founded on reason but will. And that, in no small part, is derived from an intuitive morality gained from those around you.

I don’t trust relying on my personal experiences without accidentally letting personal incentive slip in and making the morality biased.

It doesn’t necessarily seem like a moral as much as it is common sense, but I can see how you would apply it into morality. It is difficult to consider the wellbeing of others unless you have first attended to the wellbeing of yourself

Basically, I am trying to find a system of morality built on solid logic in order to avoid “mob law” - “Fred is guilty because we don’t like Fred” or “Fred is innocent because we like Fred” would be an example of “mob law”. Whether Fred is actually guilty/innocent should rely as much as possible on solid logic, and not just whether people like him or not.

When I mentioned “equal” I was referring to “equal as human beings” or “Everybody has just as much of a right to live as anyone else”. The characteristics of those people are certainly not equal. Like you said, some people are taller, smarter, more emotional, etc - but those people shouldn’t be denied the right to live because of those characteristics.

Although a system of morality based entirely on logic is probably not possible, it should still be recommended that it be as logical as possible.

Makes sense if you want to make a universal morality, I guess. I wouldn’t make one to begin with, there’s nothing wrong with your moral decisions being biased. In fact i think it’s inescapable even if you would manage to create a morality that is rational and unbiased. The bias would slip in in the practical application. Law is a good example of this, see lawyers twist and turn every word of a rule inside and out to slip in their bias. The moment you use language, words, you’ll have interpretation. You just shift the bias into another game, a more tiresome game.

Yeah, taking care of you own welbeing spills over into morality, and probably a lot further than you’d think. “How altruïsm can arise out of it’s opposite.” Making it explicit is also a lot less hypocritical.

I like the idea of this thread.

First we should come to a consensus on the gals and purposes of our moral system. I think you touched a nerve with promoting widespread well-being and happiness, but i would also add that it should promote the happiness of each individual, otherwise it might not appeal to every individual.

i would argue that Spock is wrong because from the perspective of each individual, personal needs outweigh the needs of the group.

this may complicate things in that this allows moral judgments to be taken or not on a basis of utility, but this need not make a universal or logical foundation impossible. We can still describe the creation of morals on a case by case basis in terms of parameters.

… i’ll try to think on this and post more later

I understand… but what you end up with is “Fred is guilty of X because he committed X - and we don’t like X”. It’s a step in the right direction, and it’s the basis of legal systems, but your dislike of X cannot be solid logic - you have to start with irrational (or rather, a-rational) axioms.

It’s a good - maybe even necessary - starting point for a universal morality; the question of how to address factual inequalities in an ideally-equal system is one of the most fundamental issues of morality.

I keep pressing this point, because… it needs adressing frankly.

We have a legal system, why exactly do we need another rational universal system of morals?

Does anyone believe such a thing can work? People won’t follow it if we don’t force them to, and at that point those that follow it will be forced to adapt. If we force them to follow it, we have law basicly.

And doesn’t law adres equality enough allready? Do we really believe pushing equality harder will make the world a better place? I don’t want to sound crude, but at some point it’s probably better to accept there are inequalities and allways will be inequalities. A morality system that doesn’t account for this is just a life-denying system.

Is this just a theoretical exercise?

Is that the US legal system you’re referring to? The UK legal system? Sharia? Which do you prefer, and why? Which is closer to moral?

Legality is a living example of how shaky attempts can be to apply logic to morality.

All legal systems address it, to varying degrees and in varying ways. The matter in question is not whether to, nor even to what extent, but how to address it.

Double post deleted

I wasn’t referring to a legal system in particular. I see legal systems and morality as two different things, with different origins and goals. Legal systems aim to organize a country, are institutionalized and enforced. Morality originates in groups of people living together, and are is not directly enforced by an institution. I know the distinction is to some extend arbitrary, they often get mixed. Still I think it’s an important distinction to make if you’re talking about creating an universal morality. It’s should be clear what exactly we are trying to do. My point was, if we have a legal system, why do we need an system of universal morality (keeping in mind that they are not enforced)? If we want to discuss everything, including legal systems, then we have a whole other discussion alltogether.

I don’t think it’s a particular good idea to mix morality and law btw.

I’m only really familiar with continental european law systems, which relies more heavily on codification of laws, as opposed to the common law systems of the UK and the US which rely more on case law. There are a whole host of problems with the codification system. We also use jurisprudence to some extent, and I think that method usually gets the finer results. I’d say common law systems are the better legal systems because they are more flexible to evolve with societal change. It has imo not a whole lot to do with being closer to moral or not. If we’re talking morality i’m even more opposed to codification, which is essentially what we’re trying to do here.

I agree, of course, that law should try to tread all citizens equally. Morality is, as i’ve tried to point out, something else.

In my country we have an overarching court that can, when asked, test all laws to the principle of equality and non-discrimination, and distroy them if they don’t make the test. Thus it’s the highest principle. I’m not sure what to make of it, it can get pretty ridiculous pretty fast. Laws are littered with inequalities, which is to be expected if you want to write laws that are somewhat adjusted to particular circumstances. The equality-principle is then wattered down with conditionals otherwise it has no chance to work. It’s something in the line of “the law should tread people in similar circumstances the same”. “Similar circumstances” is then of course again open to interpretation, which give the judges the desperately needed space to avoid some of the most ridiculous rulings… And this is the simplified version, It’s actually a lot more complicated.

Well, I think you get the picture, and why i’m opposed to the codification of universal morality and the equality principe in morality. People and circumstances are different, things change… morals can’t be systemized.

firstly; a basis for equality!

I agree with op in the way I think he meant it, though I would go more for a more abstract version. Any sentence you write down can be pulled apart in some way ~ no matter what it is. in all cases we need a fundamental basis to work from which can then be referred to in all other ethical statements.

What is society constructed of? First we have the environmental sphere, then we have the individual sphere, neither of which is absolute and both are fully interactive. Secondly we have the occupants of said spheres, we can truly say that only person ‘x’ can occupy the individual sphere, so there is nothing to distinguish as to what is better and what is lesser in a persons.

This then agrees with the premise that in essence we are all equal. After that there are only environmental effects and societal conditionings which determine our differences, overall are genes are affected by these things ~ and that is what makes one person ‘better’ than another [after all we have the same brains and capacity thereof].

So we have our equality premise even though there is great differences between individuals.

We can then go on to say that success deserves rewards, even though that is based on our inequality. What we must have then is a way in which the whole thing turns a circle whereby a balance is arrived at, for example;

  1. Essentially there are a limited amount of slots at the top for successful people.

  2. it is true that we all should have the potential to get there.

  3. Once we do, we then have the right to pass it on to our children.

  4. 3 denies 2 and 1! Our children will not have the same qualities as we have, and we deny the potential for others to be successful.

In order for this to be realised, it means there must be a mechanism by which success is allowed for universally. This denies the handing down of wealth, and increases the impetus on fair education.

Ok I hope I have helped tackle the equality basis as it is fundamental to all others!

If for example we didn’t have an equality basis, this would give us variable results to all other basis e.g. can a higher person treat a lesser person badly, indeed if a murder occurred then is it lesser for a beggar than a rich man, this list goes on and one and would be almost impossible to work out any universal basis for law.

I don’t understand the term ‘excluding conditional differences’. Conditionality is a crucial ‘given’ of our existence, and so it’s my view that it’s necessary to establish this when forming a basis for morality. The way the bullets are written, it appears that you’re implying we have an inherently independent existence, which is not the case.

I don’t think you’ve provided enough in the ‘givens’ arena to justify proceeding to the ‘purpose of morality’ arena. The fundamental agreement to seek (if such a thing is possible, which it isn’t, lol) is whether ethical principles are independent of human experience or whether they’re human contrivances. IMO, if that isn’t established up front, there will always be that two-forked path.

I’d agree. They are intimately entwined, but not in a sense that allows us to draw conclusions of one from the other.

I’ll drink to that.

With the “how” of equality (regarding morals, rather than the law) I was thinking more along the lines of “to what extent do we compensate the inequalities in a system of morality?” For instance, should adoption of a morality ideally lead to equal improvements for all (under the assumption that all are equally deserving) or to greater improvements for the most disadvantaged (under the assumption that this will increase social equality in this and subsequent generations)? If the latter, do you allow that the most advantaged may have to surrender something, or specify that no-one must lose as long as some can gain?

Everyone must loose something.

The lesser loose in terms of privilege, the greater loose by giving to the lesser. It needs that balance or else the greater are stealing from the lesser.

Difficult question, because my views on morality are very much a work in progress, this is part of the reason why i’m here.

One option i have eleminated is adopting rationally created systems of universal morals, that’s probably obvious by now :mrgreen:.

And i also don’t think looking for general irrational axioms and building a system on that is the way to go. People just don’t agree on these. Putting such a nice theory into practice would mean a serious handicap for me. Morality is not so much something that is created by someone in thought, it’s something that grows organically (to use a stupid word) out of groups, situations. Tough one person can have a defining impact on a group morality.

So it’s not just something I can controle, and say this is what’s going to be moral as of now. Theorising in general about morality is of little use then. Therefor notions of equality go out of the window too, because we’re not thinking in general terms anymore. This would only be an option if their was a chance that everybody in a group would accept a certain system of morals. I haven’t seen this happen in any group i’ve been a part of. And even then, there are still several different groups i frequent…

So i’m very much a moral particularist, assessing different situations, getting into a dialogue with different individuals, being aware of different moral climates. I’ll tell the truth to my friends… and I’ll lie to my boss if necessary.

But this isn’t enough, because as peachy rightly alludes to in his OP, you’ll get swayed back and forth if you only rely on your intuïtion and constantly adapt to different situations. Seasickness. The only thing that is left is my experience with different situations and evaluating what i want and what i like less, taking into account the context i live in… this is basicly what i’m doing now, defining my values.

I think it goes without saying that there are nonsensical aspects of the legal system. Some laws really do not have any logic behind them.
For example, why is public nudity illegal? I can understand why people feel the need for it to be illegal, even I would find it abnormal for people to be nude in public, but what is the logic behind it?
Nudity is natural, we are all nude under our clothes. Why do we feel that nudity is something to be ashamed of? One explanation is that nudity can result in sexual suggestions - if one person sees another person nude, they are more likely to think sexually. However, in cultures where being nude in front of others is common, such sexual suggestions are usually non-existent or not nearly as present as they are in our society. You get used to being naked and seeing other people naked, and at that point there is really no difference between being clothed and not being clothed. You could even say that nudity being unacceptable is what caused there to be sexual suggestions in the first place.

I wouldn’t say that the point of constructing this system of morality is to force it on other people; for me its purpose is to resolve my own mental confusion - how can I form any morality at all if there is no logical base for it?

Of course, I wouldn’t support any life-denying system of morality - and “forcing” equality upon others would perhaps be just as great of an inequity as the original inequities themselves. A moral system built on solid logic would hopefully “weed out” these human errors and shortcomings.

Yes, I would say that it is just a “theoretical exercise” and nothing more.

I don’t understand the term ‘excluding conditional differences’. Conditionality is a crucial ‘given’ of our existence, and so it’s my view that it’s necessary to establish this when forming a basis for morality. The way the bullets are written, it appears that you’re implying we have an inherently independent existence, which is not the case.

Basically, I was trying to aim for the idea that “we all start out with a clean slate. We are all human beings at birth; one human being is not more morally superior/deficient than another. But what an individual does from that point on can leave them subject to morality.” The “conditional differences” are actions that a person has made. For example, Tom and Bob were both born as human beings and one was not morally superior to the other - but later in life, Bob killed a person and Tom didn’t; based solely on the condition that Bob killed somebody and Tom didn’t, Bob is morally deficient in comparison to Tom.

What exactly did you mean by “inherrently independent existence not being the case”? What do you mean?

Without having looked into this particular case, i’d say it’s because we live in a civilised world. We have to stay credible in our civilised role in society. Imagine a cop or a judge being naked, would people still be as convinced by “the higher principles” they have to uphold. The same can be said in varying degrees for most people in society, we all have our roles to play. There’s nothing logical about how our civilisation came to be, but in the given context the rule is probably “logical”, it makes sense. We don’t live in the jungle.

It all comes back to this I think, you seem to be trying to view things from a timeless, contextless perspective and evaluate things logically from there. ('Nudity is natural" implies “this is what man is, and that is the measure of things, regardless”)

Ok, that’s one way to go. You start from an “ideal” - literary - basis and try to deduce a morality logically. You can also start form the world and you experiences. Maybe deciding one way or the other, and seeing the different consequences can lift some of the confusion.

The world doesn’t conform to logic. Every rational build system of morality is therefor doomed to be life-denying, I think. I’ll take the human errors and shortcomings.

Ok fine. Maybe it’s not a bad idea try see it through to it’s final consequences, to satisfy you doubts. You certainly don’t have to believe me on my word, I wouldn’t.