Re: "Morality?" - Composite Reply

Max More (
Sun, 12 Oct 1997 13:19:26 -0700

At 12:47 PM 10/12/97 -0400, Delmar England wrote:
>Ergo, "morality" is a concept of superior being and subordination of
>individual. If I am mistaken about this, fine, show me and will appreciate

Delmar, way back in the first issue of Extropy magazine (in1988) I wrote an
article called "Morality or Reality" in which I took a position like yours.
While I still agree with much of what I wrote there -- especially about the
way in which what most people call "morality" is ungrounded and
anti-individual -- I no longer find it an adequate view. I agree completely
with you whenever morals are founded on a higher authority, whether a
mythical god, an earthly leader, faith, or a false philosophical idea (such
as found in Kant).

However, when I now talk of "rational values" (not "objective morality") I
mean values that are internally self-consistent and which are carefully
reasoned out based on certain deep desires and goals that I believe most
people share. If someone, after careful thought, genuinely does not share
basic values of survival and flourishing, then I cannot argue with them.
The basis of our ethics fundamentally differs. In that sense, morality is
not objective or universal. Since I think that almost everyone, if they
dumped their religious beliefs, would come to broadly similar ethical
conclusions, I do think that ethics can be rational.

[Another way to put this, fanciful but helpful: If there really were
vampires, and there survival really did depend on drinking the blood of
humans (in such a way that it killed them and there were no alternatives
like blood banks) then it would be *right* for vampires to attack humans.
It would also be *right* for humans to defend themselves. Differences in
nature produce different behaviors that are good for the beings that do
them. Given that humans have essentially the same nature, such moral
divergence is unlikely. If our AI's emerge as radically different from us
in terms of basic motivations, then some of their rational morality may be
quite different from ours.]

This is not to say that ALL values can be rationally supported in terms of
more fundamental values and goals. Many higher-level (more derived) values
will be context-dependent, and others (matters of taste) will be arbitrary.
I suspect that even those who have divergent fundamental values may be
potentially open to argument, since I'm not certain that any values are
truly fundamental. They may simply be values that are most securely
embodied in a network of values (rather than foundational building blocks
supporting everything else).

If you wish to continue seeing ALL possible approaches to morality as
anti-individualistic, I think you need to explain why this approach fits
your characterization.

> Suppose, however, that I am not mistaken; that the concept, morality, is
>actually a support of anti individual oppression, would not exposing the
>myth of morality go a long way toward the promotion of individualism? Is
>individualism your preference? If so, how do you propose to promote the
>idea? "Moral argument?" If so, your choice, but when I observe, The
>Crusades, The Inquisitions, Jonestown, Waco, world wars, on and on and on as
>"resolution" of "moral arguments", I'm inclined to take a different approach.

All of those episodes were drived by religiously derived morality. It is
fallacious to condemn all morals on the basis of morals founded on
religion. What about utilitarianism? Though I am not and never have been a
utilitarian, I see that it has NOT led to the nasty kinds of event you
mention. In fact, it has historically been associated with things like
liberation of women, opposition to pointless harsh retributive punishment,
and increased political freedom.

>>I also have to agree with Max that this is pretty esoteric stuff,
>>irrelevant to everyday use.
>Then so is individualism and freedom.

I don't believe I said that morality was irrelevant to everyday use.
Arguing about what things are ethical *can* produce results, though
generally mostly with people who are educationed, informed, and reasonably
rational. What I *did* say, is that we can probably produce more results by
encouraging generally rationality than by arguing for particular moral views.


Max More, Ph.D.
President, Extropy Institute:,