Morality should be Moral

byOrphanWilde6y17th May 201363 comments


This article is just some major questions concerning morality, then broken up into sub-questions to try to assist somebody in answering the major question; it's not a criticism of any morality in particular, but rather what I hope is a useful way to consider any moral system, and hopefully to help people challenge their own assumptions about their own moral systems.  I don't expect responses to try to answer these questions; indeed, I'd prefer you don't.  My preferred responses would be changes, additions, clarifications, or challenges to the questions or to the objective of this article.


First major question: Could you morally advocate other people adopt your moral system?


This isn't as trivial a question as it seems on its face.  Take a strawman hedonism, for a very simple example.  Is a hedonist's pleasure maximized by encouraging other people to pursue -their- pleasure?  Or would it be better served by convincing them to pursue other people's (a class of people of which our strawman hedonist is a member) pleasure?


It's not merely selfish moralities which suffer meta-moral problems.  I've encountered a few near-Comtean altruists who will readily admit their morality makes them miserable; the idea that other people are worse off than them fills them with a deep guilt which they cannot resolve.  If their goal is truly the happiness of others, spreading their moral system is a short-term evil.  (It may be a long-term good, depending on how they do their accounting, but non-moral altruism isn't actually a rare quality, so I think an honest accounting would suggest their moral system doesn't add much additional altruism to the system, only a lot of guilt about the fact that not much altruistic action is taking place.)


Note: I use the word "altruism" here in its modern, non-Comtean sense.  Altruism is that which benefits others.


Does your moral system make you unhappy, on the whole?  Does it, like most moral systems, place a value on happiness?  Would it make the average person less or more happy, if they and they alone adopted it?  Are your expectations of the moral value of your moral system predicated on an unrealistic scenario of universal acceptance?  Maybe your moral system isn't itself very moral.


Second: Do you think your moral system makes you a more moral person?


Does your moral system promote moral actions?  What percentage of your actions concerning your morality are spent feeling good because you feel like you've effectively promoted your moral system, rather than promoting the values inherent in it?


Do you behave any differently than you would if you operated under a "common law" morality, such as social norms and laws?  That is, does your ethical system make you behave differently than if you didn't possess it?  Are you evaluating the merits of your moral system solely on how it answers hypothetical situations, rather than how it addresses your day-to-day life?

Does your moral system promote behaviors you're uncomfortable with and/or could not actually do, such as pushing people in the way of trolleys to save more people?


Third: Does your moral system promote morality, or itself as a moral system?


Is the primary contribution of your moral system to your life adding outrage that other people -don't- follow your moral system?  Do you feel that people who follow other moral systems are immoral even if they end up behaving in exactly the same way you do?  Does your moral system imply complex calculations which aren't actually taking place?  Is the primary purpose of your moral system encouraging moral behavior, or defining what the moral behavior would have been after the fact?


Considered as a meme or memeplex, does your moral system seem better suited to propagating itself than to encouraging morality?  Do you think "The primary purpose of this moral system is ensuring that these morals continue to exist" could be an accurate description of your moral system?  Does the moral system promote the belief that people who don't follow it are completely immoral?


Fourth: Is the major purpose of your morality morality itself?


This is a rather tough question to elaborate with further questions, so I suppose I should try to clarify a bit first: Take a strawman utilitarianism where "utility" -really is- what the morality is all about, where somebody has painstakingly gone through and assigned utility points to various things (this is kind of common in game-based moral systems, where you're just accumulating some kind of moral points, positive or negative).  Or imagine (tough, I know) a religious morality where the sole objective of the moral system is satisfying God's will.  That is, does your moral system define morality to be about something abstract and immeasurable, defined only in the context of your moral system?  Is your moral system a tautology, which must be accepted to even be meaningful?


This one can be difficult to identify from the inside, because to some extent -all- human morality is tautological; you have to identify it with respect to other moralities, to see if it's a unique island of tautology, or whether it applies to human moral concerns in the general case.  With that in mind, when you argue with other people about your ethical system, do they -always- seem to miss the point?  Do they keep trying to reframe moral questions in terms of other moral systems?  Do they bring up things which have nothing to do with (your) morality?