Toward a Provisional Rational Decalogue
Religion is often claimed to be necessary for morality. But the Bible says all kinds of barbaric things (such as death by stoning). Holy wars, be it in Europe or the Middle East, are always the bloodiest way to destabilize a society.
As always, these seem to be based on a foundation of deeper questions about morality itself that remain unanswered by skeptics, and without which most of this remains completely arbitrary.
GW: Since God does not exist, we humans must “pretend to be God.” We must devise Correct Universal Ethics, which is mostly stable but flexible enough to change when there are good reasons. Well done, Michael! Your moral principles show progress from the Ten Commandments. I would make a few tweaks however.
MS: No one knows for sure what is right and wrong in all circumstances for all people everywhere...
GW: Michael, are you sure about that? “Any person X should not rape any person Y.” Isn’t that correct in all circumstances for all people everywhere? I think so. If you disagree, then describe and justify the circumstances for which it would be incorrect.
MS: 1. The Golden-Rule Principle: Behave toward others as you would desire that they behave toward you.
GW: Some sadists desire that they be beaten before, during, or immediately after sex. So should sadists do that to others? I don’t think so. I prefer “Do not harm others, except when it is necessary to prevent a greater harm or to produce an overriding benefit.”
MS: 3. The Happiness Principle: It is a higher moral principle to always seek happiness with someone else’s happiness in mind, and never seek happiness when it leads to someone else’s unhappiness through force or fraud.
GW: I prefer an alternative like this: “Among available actions, select the one which will maximize the average benefit-to-harm ratio and minimize the variance in that ratio for the entire group of persons affected by your action, including yourself.”
MS: 4. The Liberty Principle: It is a higher moral principle to always seek liberty with someone else’s liberty in mind, and never seek liberty when it leads to someone else’s loss of liberty through force or fraud.
GW: I think this one is too vague. The government should sometimes force a loss of liberty on some people in response to their actual or attempted coercion or harm of others.
MS: Liberty is the freedom to pursue happiness and the autonomy to make decisions and act on them in order to achieve that happiness.
GW: In general, this is a good idea as long as the pursuit of liberty doesn’t lead to too much harm to the common good. In the USA, we have too much liberty, e.g. the liberty to own as many “assault rifles” as we want, the liberty to pollute the atmosphere as much as we want, and the liberty to produce as many children as we want. It’s too much liberty and it is killing us.
MS: 6. The Reason Principle: Try to find rational reasons for your moral actions that are not self-justifications or rationalizations by consulting others first.
GW: Yes! But when consulting others try to ensure that they are thinking rationally about the problem or decision also. The best decision is the one reached by the consensus of a group or community of rational thinkers.
MS: . The Responsibility and Forgiveness Principle:...hold others fully accountable for their moral actions and be open to forgiving moral transgressors who are genuinely sorry and prepared to make restitution for their wrong doing.
GW: What is forgiveness? Well one definition is “withholding or reducing just punishment.” We should NEVER withhold a just punishment, and we should only reduce a just punishment by a little, maybe 10% at most. Suppose that a man murders his spouse and receives a just sentence of 30 years in prison. It would be wise to reduce this sentence up to 10% (3 years) for the presence of one or more mitigating factors such as taking the witness stand and telling the whole truth, pleading guilty, exemplary behavior in prison, testifying against co-conspirators, paying compensation to victims. But sentence reduction more than that will likely be counterproductive and harmful. (But also, the sentence should be increased up to 10% for aggravating factors.) I believe science would demonstrate the value of this plus-or-minus 10% rule. It is testable.
MS: As well, the sense of justice and revenge is a deeply evolved moral emotion that serves three primary purposes...
GW: Yes, I agree with all those purposes. In addition, when an offender is justly punished, it reduces the likelihood of vigilantism, especially from the victim, their family and friends.
MS: 8. The Defend Others Principle: Stand up to evil people and moral transgressors, and defend the defenseless when they are victimized.
GW: Absolutely! The bully should be defeated by the community. This was fully apparent in Ukraine. When Putin first attacked Ukraine, the world community should have immediately mounted a counter attack. The war would have been over and Putin defeated in a week.
I agree with all of these! However, it is worth asking, why SHOULD anyone follow these principles? Especially if it is one’s own interest to do otherwise? It is rational to do what is in one’s self interest and irrational to sacrifice one’s own well being, or groups well being, for the benefit of others.
I certainly do not strive to live this way (selfishly rational), and do strive to the moral life, but I’m just curious, on a philosophical level, how we get to the “ought” in these principles?
I just want to sincerely say thank you for writing and publishing this, and your books. These concepts and dissemination of them do contribute to improving and enhancing the human condition.
All of these involve others. Does this mean morality is not relevant if you live on a desert island?
6. Consulting others is a futile exercise, because people will always have differing ideas about what we should or should not do.
I am wary of describing competitiveness as "immoral," and that's even after applying the force or fraud limiter. In and of itself, it's just a human trait, present in varying quantities, and it can produce both positive and negative results from a moral perspective.
3. True happiness can only come from within.