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Sunday, February 24, 2008

On The Progress and Nature of Morality

Is there a single universal moral code that is binding on all people at all times and in all places? If so, how are differences in moral perspective to be accounted for? If not, how can people with different moral perspectives be expected to live in harmony and how is the notion of progress in ethics to be understood?

Yes and No. I am not a moral relativist on a person-by-person basis. I think there is a set of moral guidelines and principles that arise in the form of emergent complexity based on the activities of persons within societies and also within the framework of the human condition as a species. The principle of emergent complexity as I use it here involves a set of activities by individual actors and the presence of a feedback mechanism which discourages those activities which dampen well-being of the individual actors; and encourages those activities via repetition which enhance the well-being of the individual actors.

At the contemporary edges are new questions and ideas that emerge creatively from the former and new conditions based on past behavior (which stems from past conclusions). Based on this, over time moral perspectives will advance and change. Those perspectives which have been reinforced sufficiently well and over time will become common perspectives among a particular species of individual actors. Those perspectives which have been rejected sufficiently well and over time will die as common moral views. Differences in moral perspectives can be accounted for as the remainder of views vying for position which have not been universally accepted or rejected among a species.

I have given my interpretation of the progress of ethics as the gradual evolutionary changes whereby ideas are either accepted or rejected over time. As time goes on, more moral perspectives will be shared by the species as a whole. These common pillars of moral thought and behavior are the foundation upon which reasonable debate can be exercised, and harmony can be found among competing world views.
The appeal to a moral standard or lawgiver outside of the subject in question adds no value in my view (to the progress of ethics specifically; there are correlated benefits to believers and detriments to others which manipulates the ethical feedback mechanism), and actually hinders progress by introducing many more negatively charged ideas and behaviors than would occur naturally. This appeal also bolsters ideas which are consistent with the appeal (both helpful and harmful) by manipulating the feedback mechanism as stated previously. At the same time, an external appeal suppresses the natural creation of new ideas and behaviors, therefore stunting the evolutionary progress of ethics as a whole. The external appeal acts as a sticking point in time, one which attempts to halt progress at that specific time and place.

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