Rational Ethics Summary Page

This page provides an index to and summary of content on this blog related to the topic of ethics. This page will be updated, as new, relevant material is added.


Blog entries on this topic are (in order of publication):

The following are some (mostly short) glossary entries on relevant topics:


Some might consider it arrogant for me to write about the structure of morality, and the nature of correct behaviour.

Please note that I do not consider myself a person of particular moral superiority. I make a fair effort, but I'm sometimes lazy, and I often find myself confounded by my own stupidity. I do not presume to know more about what constitutes moral behaviour in specific circumstances than the average reader of my work. Indeed, the nature of my thesis on morality entails that I can not know significantly more than others on this topic, as such knowledge is impossible without a cultivated moral science, which does not at present exist.

What I do profess to know and understand better than many others is the possibility of a moral science, the general form that such an empirical endeavour must take, and some of the very fundamental properties that morality must exhibit. (If this is arrogance, then so be it, but let a more pertinent test of my work be: is it correct?) This understanding follows directly from my investigations into the foundations of scientific method. My writing on ethics is not to prescribe how to behave, but to inform on how to know how to behave.


Ethics might seem to be a peculiar matter to focus on, for a blog about scientific method, so I'll take a moment to explain. The founding principle behind my writing on this blog is that there is no better method to learn about anything than science. If a thing is meaningful - has consequences - science can measure it, by virtue of those consequences. The scope of science is without limit. 

It is often said that science has nothing to say on the matter of what constitutes moral behaviour. If correct, this leaves us with only one option: morality has no meaning, it is a non-concept. It seems to me absurdly trivial that this is not so. Anyway, only a moderate amount of reflection is required to prove it. Thus, it is equally trivial to prove that science can guide us - in fact, is the optimal guide - concerning moral prescription.

Furthermore, it can be shown that (1) morality and rationality are identical and (2) morality is a subset of science (possibly a unique subset, depending how we choose to define science). The identity of morality and rationality is established in Is Rationality Desirable?

My first blog post on this topic, Scientific Morality, was about the theoretical foundations for a moral science. It builds an argument from 2 uncontroversial claims:
  1. morality is doing what is good
  2. goodness is a property that exists only when minds are present

Item (1) is just a definition. Item (2) has overwhelming empirical plausibility, so I did not initially outline its logical foundation, though in a later piece, Crime and Punishment, I show its logical necessity (the argument is very simple, and short, so you could miss it if you're not paying attention). I discuss this logical argument in greater detail in Practical Morality, Part 2, under the sub-heading, 'Honesty As A Meta-Virtue.' 

Crime and Punishment explores various arguments pertaining to the relative merits of absolutist v's consequentialist philosophies, and - in accord with the earlier work - finds in favour of some form of consequentialism. This finding is applied to the social problem of dealing with crime, to arrive at some very broad conclusions.

Scientific Morality was theoretical in nature, and may have seemed to many as detached from reality - maybe, conceivably correct, but too far out there to be worth figuring out for certain. To address this, Practical Morality (in two parts), discusses some pragmatic consequences of correct moral realism. Part 1 describes how moral science can exist as a worthwhile field of study. Part 2 illustrates how merely recognizing the validity of moral science - even before any new data becomes available -  can have major impacts on society.

The two parts of Practical Morality look further into the correct form of consequentialism one should adopt. We pin it down sufficiently to give it a name: Realistic Moral Relativism.

In Practical Morality, Part 1, I devote some time to demonstrating that though morality derives from selfish decision criteria, this does not entail a license to behave antisocially. The social contract is a mechanism that intermixes the values of different people, such that the good of others is also good for me. In subsequent online discussions, elsewhere, several people have objected to my description of the social contract, insisting that it does no more than legitimize government, and has nothing to do with general interpersonal relationships. It is true, the Wikipedia page on the social contract currently discusses little else but the (possible) legitimacy of the authority of the state. But to me, this blinkered view is analogous to the situation that would have arisen had Newton defined gravity to be the mechanism that makes apples fall to the ground, then insisted that by definition, gravity has nothing to do with the motions of the planets. Examination reveals the effects I discuss to be due to an identical mechanism to that legitimizing government. Indeed, government is straightforwardly a special case of organized interpersonal morality.

Practical Morality, Part 2 introduces two main theses: (i) that government policy must be evidence based, and (ii) that while many fear that a selfish basis for morality might lead to rampant antisocial behaviour, it may very well be that the incoherent insistence that morality must be non-selfishly based has a much worse effect. 

Fear of science argues that a more widespread understanding of moral realism would reduce the popular suspicion that science is in conflict with decent behaviour, and reduce the tendencies of many to seek moral guidance from superstitious tradition. It is argued that a good way to approach this desideratum is for scientists themselves to gain better understanding of the relationship between science and morality.

For The Near Future

Coming soon on this blog, I'll try to address the following issues:

  • The correspondence, if any, between correct consequentialism and classic utilitarianism
  • The correspondence, if any, between correct consequentialism and political libertarianism
(Spoiler alert: the answer in both cases is, not much.)
  • Some necessary aspects of the nature of human decision criteria
  • The limited insight offered by the classic thought experiments in the philosophy of ethics

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