A Source of Goodness

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In light of my last post (‘On the Nature of Morality’) I thought it fitting to present an alternative argument for the origin of our morality, this one with a very different approach to goodness than the first.

We need to establish what goodness is in order to create any reasonable system of morality, if we cannot do this then the system is not based on reason as such. We can begin with the observation that some acts are seen as intuitively wrong (e.g. murder, theft, lying), not always for the sake of anything else, simply because we see these things as wrong.

But what is wrong? And for that matter what is good? A satisfactory substitution for the idea of goodness is something that stimulates positive sensations upon the moral faculties. This is how we know that some acts are inherently wrong or right. Some acts are moral, some are not. So some acts stimulate the moral faculties, some do not. There must be a distinction between these, some quality that some acts possess but others do not.

All things appear to have a cause even if this is not strictly speaking the right way to look at the world. So all things in reality can be related to a cause even if it is not a true cause. We can postulate goodness and badness as real entities in themselves that lie within some actions. This is what causes the stimulation of the moral faculties (the stimulation must have what can be identifiable as a ‘cause’). These are known as Moral Carriers.

It makes more sense for all these Moral Carriers to have the same origin since they cause similar stimulation of the moral faculties. Whatever is the source of goodness is which has infinite potential (if all morals acts contain good then we could in theory have an unlimited number of them – hence we need a large source of goodness). It is therefore reasonable to postulate the existence of infinite goodness.

Such a source of goodness cannot have a spatial existence since it lies outside of the sensual realm. We could never hope to place infinite goodness somewhere since this would be completely illogical. Therefore the nature of this goodness must also be divinely simple hence goodness cannot consist of quanta. Therefore the only way goodness can be present in the sensual reality is if infinite goodness is reflected dimly in certain acts in our realm. There are certain intensities of this reflection and this is why some acts are more moral than others and some are more striking to us.

The reason goodness must be innate therefore is that we cannot comprehend that which has achieved infinite extension. Moral goodness is a reflection of infinite goodness. This has achieved infinite extension. Just as we cannot explain the infinite, we cannot explain a reflection of it. We must just know what moral acts are.

On the Nature of Morality

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Is it not so that all acts are followed by a consequence? Even if causation is but a product of the rational mind the world nevertheless appears to follow this law and I have yet to see an exception to it, thus the notion of cause and effect is a part of the way in which we view the world, its objective truth does not matter when we are considering morality.

It must also be so that no act could ever possibly be moral unless it was followed by either a good or bad consequence, and by good in this context I refer to it in the sense of progression and the pleasures. Repeat an act often enough and it will be remembered, the same goes to the consequence that follows. If the act of shooting citizens is repeated often enough the consequence that follows (the death of citizens) will become remembered as being directly associated with the act of shooting. Now I ask, does a child who has never fired a gun before, nor has been told of the implications, know that the act of firing will be directly followed by death? He will not (for the sake of the example we shall say that the child also has no foreknowledge of the affect that sharp moving objects have on people). It must be the case then that the child learns to associate act with consequence. The approach is inductive and such a relationship cannot be known a priori.

We can apply this approach to the whole of ethics, indeed it soon becomes clear (under this idea) that the raw act in itself is nothing to do with morality, it is the association of the act with a good or bad consequence. Of course there are cases where acts are difficult to distinguish from consequences. Murder is now called an act, one commits the act of murder, but the ‘act’ of murder can, as we have seen, be separated into the act of shooting (or whatever method is used) and the resulting consequence of the victim dying. It is the same with all ethical dilemmas.

This relationship between act and consequence I have called Moral Induction and leads to the formulation of a moral act (that which is a synthesis between act and consequence).

Moral Induction leads to the formation of universal maxims that are regarded as unchanging and objective. Over the course of a finite number of examples the act of murder is created, due to the negative consequence of the act there becomes something inherently wrong with murder, it is seen as a bad thing. However, this law is formed by an inductive method and hence it can never be proved beyond a doubt that it is objective. To do this we would need to see if the act of shooting was always associated with the consequence of death (or something equally bad), but this is impractical not to mention wrong. There is a much easier method to test the objectivity of such a moral law. We need only ask: are there ever any examples where the act of shooting (or something equally violent) do not lead to a bad consequence? Indeed it is possible to think of some, and from a utilitarian perspective pleasure need only outweigh pain for it to be so. If there are examples that disprove the objective law that a moral act is good or bad then the moral act is not objective and must be inductive. This is the case with all ethical dilemmas and hence morality is based on a finite number of observations and outcomes. Even though some circumstances disprove the law we will begin to associate act and consequence (and hence the goodness of the consequence with the act) if it happens enough times and is overall seen as good or bad.

It must be so then that things are only good or bad in relation to their effect on sentient beings. There is no moral worth in doing an act if it does not relate to the pain or pleasure of sentient beings. In saying this it appears that morality is a flexible thing, dependant on personal experience and circumstances. The innate sense of morality we feel when considering or doing a moral act arises from Moral Induction and is simply related to pain and pleasure – there is nothing objective in such morality. This being the case, might it not be possible to create a perfect society through tools such as education and psychology? Ethics does not have to be about the way the world ought to be, it could equally be about the way we want the world to be.

On evil

It appears that the definition of ‘evil’ is subjective to the individual user of the word, some would define it as the cause of suffering, others the disregard of morality and religious doctrine. But what exactly is it? Surely, in order for it to bare significance in debates and ethical theories, it must have some objective definition, or a meaning that everyone can accept.

The first question I would ask is whether or not the causes of actions (such as murder and degenerative diseases) are intrinsically evil in themselves. It sounds a rather bizarre question to ask, but this is not to say that such actions are not horrific and deeply saddening to all those involved. It is instead to ask whether we can really call such acts evil.

An action that is considered evil should only be thought of as such if it had a conscious being, capable of making rational decisions, behind it. Earthquakes and tsunamis which are often labelled ‘natural evil’ are not evil as such since there is no deliberate intention to harm people (unless you believe in an omnipotent God who wishes to bring pain upon this beloved creation). We may find the consequences of a volcano tragic and painful but in reality this is the extent of it, if there is no intention then there is no evil since there is nothing intending to cause harm.

However, what of the acts committed by rational, conscious beings. Surely they are evil? In my view, at least, an action such as murder is deeply unsettling and saddening, but it cannot be intrinsically evil. It must be, in fact, the intention of the person that is at fault, death can occur as a result of natural processes, but murder is down to evil thoughts and evil intentions.

But can an evil thought which is not carried through be as evil as one that is? Well, no. But an evil thought, one that is truly evil, will always be carried through due to the corrupted intentions of the individual. If for some reason they are stopped (by forces that do not appeal to their ‘better nature’ but instead prevent them from committing the crime by the act of restraining) then, and only then, is the intention and thought is still as evil as if they had carried the action through, despite avoiding the terrible consequences.

The hateful, destructive intentions of a being can be the only thing that is intrinsically evil without qualification, anything else is a tragic aftermath of that evil.

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