Sat, 4 Oct 1997 11:10:01 -0400 (EDT)

In a message dated 97-10-02 18:54:26 EDT, Delmar England writes about
morality, and says:

> If I have erred in my deliberations and calculations, please
> point out the wheres and whys of the flaws and I shall be
> grateful.

Let me attmpt to earn a little of your gratitude . . .

> The concept, morality, is probably the most popular topic of
> conversation in the world.

For a reason: We want to know what we OUGHT to do, in addition to what we CAN
do. This is natural for any volitional being. That we do indeed
consistently seek moral rules seems to be strong empirical evidence that we
in fact have a "free will."

> I understand cause and effect, that all actions have
> consequences. I understand that consequences to my liking I call
> good, and those I do not like, I call bad. Does not every
> individual do the same? I hear "morally right" and "morally
> wrong", but it fits not in my thinking. I can grasp right as
> proper means suited to a specific purpose. By the same token, I
> can grasp wrong means for a specific purpose. But purpose is a
> matter of individual choice is it not? So, is a "moralist" simply
> saying that what is suited to his purpose is called moral and
> that which is not is called immoral? If not his purpose, whose?
> Or what's? Can we have "good or bad" without purpose?

It seems you are saying that "good" and "bad" are simply "what I like" and
"what I don't like". You say that "purpose is a matter of individual choice"
-- but whence comes your choice? That is the question asked by moral
philosophers. So far, you seem to say that there is no OUGHT, there is
simply IS. In this view, the ultimate possibility of moral choice completely
evaporates: No set of values is better than another. That way lies the ennui
of modern existentialism and the poverty of so-called post-modernist
relativism Moral philosophy posits at least the possibility that we can have
some rational control, or at least some rational insight into the OUGHT.
Perhaps we do end with the moral nausea of existentialism, but we shouldn't
head straight for the philosophical alka-seltzer without examining our

> There are those that say that what is according to "God's will"
> is moral; that which opposes is immoral. Alas, it appears that
> "God's will" is a diverse thing and the differences of opinion
> follow suspiciously along individual lines. One might say that it
> is immoral to eat a hot dog while another disagrees, but holds
> that it is moral to exterminate all non believers. Thus does
> "good and evil" cover a wide "moral and immoral" range" of
> differences.

Those who point to a supernatural authority for moral order MAY follow an
irrational morality: As you point out, this method is ultimately grounded on
a dictat: "Good is good and bad is bad because god (or mom, etc.) says so."
Most folks who see morality in these terms do not engage in any rational
analysis of their morals and ethics, but simply seek a pre-designated,
authoritative code of conduct that need not and should not be questioned.
However, there are, in fact, some rational religious moral philosophers who
are willing to honestly search out the logical bases of a theological
morality. These people will ultimately admit that their morality is based on
authority and submission: They ultimately admit that they follow certain
rules because they believe this is some god's or gods' universe and those
supernatural beings set the moral and ethical rules for the lesser beings who
inhabit that universe, like landlords dictating the terms of a lease to their
tenants. This conclusion is ULTIMATELY irrational, but only because it is
susceptible to non-moral scientific and metaphysical validation and, so we
see so far, fails that test.

> Then there are those who consciously and verbally dismiss such
> mysticism as "God's will", yet cling no less tenaciously to the
> idea of morality than the most devout believers in formal
> religion. When pressed for an answer to the question of reference
> for claims of moral or immoral, they are at a loss to provide it.
> Some say that which is consistent with life is moral; that which
> is inconsistent with life is immoral. This leaves a lot of
> questions unanswered. If one is talking about just bare survival,
> there still remains the question of personal choice. Beyond this,
> choices, decisions and actions comprise an active life. To just
> say that "life" is a standard not only denies personal choice,
> but totally ignores the elements that make up an ongoing life. To
> prepare a list of "moral or immoral" things and attempt to
> validate such a list is venture that many include in their daily
> routine. Thus by inference do they fall right back into the
> mysticism of "God's will" and a set of "oughts" for one and all.
> The "oughts" and "shoulds" fill the air and air seems to be their
> only filler, for "ought" is recognition of "not is", and the
> twain shall never in reality meet.

I missed a step in your reasoning here, I think. While I think that a
morality simply based on "life" as an ultimate value is unacceptably
impoverished for conscious beings, one can develop _A_ rational morality
based on it. One could say that life is good, non-life is bad and then
rationally derive at least some ethical rules based on such a premise. The
problem with such a simplistic moral philosophy is that all life forms are
not capable of moral judgment. In such a system, one would encounter large
areas of endeavor where no moral calculus -- i.e. determination of relative
good and bad -- is possible, as you point out. But it is one possible
rational moral system, but in a very real sense, it is not the BEST one,
because it does not yield sufficiently rich guides for action in practical
terms. This is, in fact, the basis of my criticism of modern radical

> The issue can be illuminated by a simple observation and a brief
> question or two: The terms, good and bad, have no definitive
> meaning except in the evaluation of means in respect of a
> particular end.

This statement seems to assume the conclusion of your inquiry.

> Suited or unsuited is the question that answers
> the question, good or bad.

This is the classic critique of purely utilitarian moral philosophy, and one
I believe has much merit. Utilitarianism is a good methodology for ETHICAL
and LEGAL analysis, but answers no ultimate moral questions.

> So how does this "morality" stuff get
> into the picture? Is the particular end by individual creating,
> or is it a claim of discovery existing independently of
> individual creating? If the former, then all individuals and
> their ends chosen are no less viable. All arguments of "morality"
> are pointless.

Here we see what I call "the metaphysical fallacy" in moral philosophy: You
seem to question whether moral principles EXIST apart from moral actors in
some REAL sense, i.e. you look for them as in some way PHYSICAL referents
"outside" moral actors and, naturally failing to find them, conclude that no
rational or "objective" morality can exist.

> On the other hand, if it is claimed the end reference purpose for
> "moral" or "immoral" is discovered outside of self or
> independently of any individual, whether the alleged source is
> called "God", "Nature", whatever, is immaterial. A purpose
> existing independently of individual creating necessarily implies
> a volitional source existing independently of individual.

With all due respect, wrong again. Here you assume the conclusion you
criticize, i.e. that morality must be grounded in the will of a superior
moral actor and, naturally failing to find such a moral super-being, conclude
that no "objective" morality can exist. We could call this "the theological
fallacy" in moral philosophy.

> Thus
> one must claim personal values as the basis for "morality" or
> concede a "superior being" as source. I know of none who claim
> the former. Although not named and often vehemently denied, this
> leaves the latter, i.e, the concept, superior being, as the root
> of "morality." From the concept, superior being, comes the
> concept, inferior being. This is inevitably followed by
> subordination and rule. Since history books and daily newspapers
> tell of the horrendous consequences, I need not elaborate here.

So it seems that, having assumed only two possible sources of morality and
failing to find them, you reject the possibility of an objective morality.
In his post, Gary Lloy points to another possibility; that moral principles
arise naturally from the interaction of beings capable of moral choice:

In a message dated 97-10-02 22:25:49 EDT, Gary writes:

> As I see it, morality is a strong individual statement of universal intent,
> by which others are able to, with reasonable accuracy, predict our future
> behavior.
> If, for example, I state that theft is morally wrong, you can be
> sure that I will not steal from you, or anyone else, even if the
> circumstances were such that I would probably not get caught.
> If you make the same moral commitment, this moves us in the direction of
> being able to peacefully coexist, making both of us safer. Such a
> commitment, being universal (I will not steal from *anyone*), is a
> unilateral offer to all others to join in peaceful coexistance, making all
> safer. It is in our individual interests to make such commitments. And it
> very well may be instinctive to do so, as well.

This is neither morality from authority, nor is it the non-morality of
complete relativism. Interestingly for extropians, it is the morality of an
agoric system of freely interacting moral agents, a spontaneously developed
"natural morality." One CAN rationally derive real moral principles simply
from the way volitional agents interact over time. It is "objective" in the
sense that the moral principles that spontaneously arise from a "moral
marketplace" of free actors are independent of the actors themselves: The
principles are "true" apart from which particular actor we may consider,
subject or object. Such principles do not fall prey to the metaphysical
fallacy, because they are not "real" in the sense that they have some
existence apart from the process of interaction itself. But, even though
they aren't "real" in a metaphysical sense, they are capable of objective
verification because we can test the propriety of any particular principle
without regard to viewpoint.

Extropian transhumanism brings an important new element to a view of "natural
morality" thus derived from the principles of free interaction of moral
agents. Once one rejects the notion of an immutable ceiling on human nature,
the possibility that the analysis can be short circuited by actors in a
permanently "superior" position disappears. If one accepts that not all
humans are created equal and that the span of a human life is ultimately
limited, then one can say that principles of moral interaction can be deduced
from a system of freely interacting moral agents, but that ultimately the
humans with the most power will be able to dictate final goals or first
principles (depending on how you look at it) of the system. In other words,
one can end such an analysis in the conclusion that what is best for the
strongest is "right". Thus one can conceivably derive fascism from, for
instance, the ideas of Nietzsche. But when the "moral interaction game"
becomes effectively eternal and unlimited, the system becomes, in a sense,
"morally closed", because no moral actor can be assured of a permanently
superior power position. Thus one rationally derives basic moral values of
tolerance and reciprocity from the very nature of the world of interacting
volitional beings.

Greg Burch <>----<>
Attorney ::: Director, Extropy Institute ::: Wilderness Guide -or-
"Good ideas are not adopted automatically. They must
be driven into practice with courageous impatience."
-- Admiral Hyman G. Rickover