Morality is Honesty: The Science of Ethics
The question ‘what is morality’ has needlessly baffled mankind for centuries, if not millennia. Morality seems to have little root in objective reality; it is usually perceived as a form of localized cultural preferences, along with certain dances, songs and costumes, or as a set of arbitrary rules handed down from some unverifiable but imposing cloud formation.
However, morality is not a subjective preference. It does not require a divine stamp for proof, universality or absolutism. It does not change throughout time. It is, in fact, as constant and absolute as gravity.
Human beings can act in defiance of morality, of course, but that does not make morality any less real or absolute. A man can act in defiance of gravity and try to fly by running off a cliff, but neither his madness nor his fall do anything to disprove the existence of gravity.
The truth of the matter is that morality is a science, a form of honesty, or logical theory which conforms with verifiable and empirical facts of reality. It is predictable, provable and can be identified and propagated without reference to any divine foolishness or cultural preferences. Morality is, in fact, a subset of the scientific method, and it is high time that it was subjected to the same rigour, effectiveness and respect as the rest of science.
The elegance and power of the scientific method is that it is a set of principles for determining truth that accept that physical entities have objective properties – and that laws determined as true for a particular set of entities must be true for all those entities. Furthermore, the scientific method also states that any logical subset of those entities must have specific properties common to all the entity-subset. In more plain English, this means that atoms are matter, and frogs are matter, therefore frogs are composed of atoms. Furthermore, if frogs which live in trees are called tree frogs, then all tree frogs must be frogs which live in trees.
Human beings, of course, have particular properties as well, the most important of which is that man is a rational animal, endowed with free will. Therefore, it is a truism to say that any conceptual property applicable to any particular human being must also be applicable to all human beings. In other words, if I say that human beings have only one head, then I cannot say that an entity with two heads is also human, unless I am willing to change my definition.
Now, since a human being is defined as a rational animal with free will, then it is impossible for anyone to argue that free will is a property of only some humans, but not others. In other words, it cannot be possible for Person A to exercise his free will, while not possible for Person B to exercise hers. Either all human beings can exercise their free will, or none can. Unless compelling and objective physical evidence can be found differentiating human beings into different species – such as those between men and apes – then the truth of reality is that all humans can exercise their free will.
It follows from this that it is a logical contradiction for one person to subject another to violence, to force another to obey under threat of force. If Person A enslaves Person B, then Person A is saying: I am human, and must be free to exercise my free will; this person is also human, but must not be free to exercise his free will.
Since this proposition is a logical contradiction, it can be dismissed as false without further investigation, just as if a biologist defined a mammal as a warm-blooded creature, but then argued that, for five minutes, a single lizard was also a mammal. It is impossible. This biologist might scream this proposition from the rooftops, and take other scientists hostage and force them to sign documents agreeing with him, but that wouldn’t make his proposition any more true.
Taken as a simple science, problems of morality are really not that difficult to solve. Human beings can own property – thus all human beings can own property. If a man steals from another, he posits a contradiction: As a human being, I can own property; as a human being, you cannot. The same goes for all other violent crimes, from rape to murder to assault. It is the creation of a ‘special exception’ rule which utterly contradicts reality. You are a mammal, I am saying, but I want to temporarily classify you as both a human being and something else – and then I want to classify you back as a human being again. Thus I will steal your property from you – and then try to evade you, since I know you will want your property back.
But of course a thief cannot change the physical, biological nature of his victim, who remains as human as he is throughout the encounter. The mammal never becomes the lizard, even for an instant, and so the thief is utterly wrong in what he is doing.
This elemental dishonesty is the essence of immorality. Immorality is acting contrary to reality in a manner that simultaneously denies other people the very right you are asserting. If you stop your car and ask me for directions, and I accidentally give you incorrect information, that is wrong, but not immoral, since I am not exercising my ability to accidentally give incorrect information while simultaneously denying that you have or deserve that ability. If I rape someone, however, I am simultaneously saying that I have the right to free choice, while my victim does not. It is the simultaneous nature of my irrationality that differentiates immorality from just being incorrect.
The reason that simultaneity is the essence of morality is that it is impossible to ignore – and so, since it is being ignored, irrational malevolence must be at its root. A man cannot steal a watch without wanting to own it – and yet as he steals it, he knows that his victim also wants to own it, since he does not simply ask for it directly. Thus he is simultaneously asserting and denying the right to property. Mad irrationality!
However, if I make an honest mistake in giving you directions, I am not simultaneously denying your ability to make an honest mistake – as you have probably done by asking someone as incompetent as me! Thus this is a simple mistake, not a malevolent contradiction.
To take a more commonplace example, we have all met people who are intolerant of mistakes in others, but are very forgiving about their own shortcomings. This is hypocrisy, wherein a double standard is being applied. However wrong this is, it is not immoral, since it does not pass the test of simultaneity. I am not simultaneously criticizing you and forgiving myself, since that is physically impossible. (This is why immorality is only possible in action, not in thought or word.) If I am a biologist, and I categorize a salamander as a mammal, and then as a lizard again, I am not a very competent biologist, but I am not utterly mad, as I would be if I categorized a salamander as both a lizard and a mammal simultaneously. Indeed, if I said that categorization was important, and then immediately destroyed such categorization by the insertion of opposite instances – i.e. a warm-blooded lizard – I would be more than wrong. I would be directly assaulting rationality and reality, and so would be judged corrupt and malevolent.
Thus there is an essential difference between sequential contradiction and simultaneous contradiction. They are both incompatible with the facts of reality, but only the latter is immoral.
The fact that morality is based in reality is often alluded to in moral clichés. The idea of the ‘golden rule’, or that one should treat others as one would like to be treated, is obviously based on the universality of reality, and so morality.
The common complaint of the wronged – ‘how would you like it if I did that to you? – also falls into this category.
Kant’s famous dictum that one should only act as if one’s actions created a general moral rule is also related to the idea put forward here. However, none of the above moral theories tie into any physical facts of reality. None of them reference basic biological truths. Due to this crucial omission, no historical moral theory has ever become scientific, and the basic facts of moral reality have remained obscured, and subjective, and futile.
If moral rules are a simple recognition of reality, then they are not subjective – and they must be universal, as are all laws derived from physical reality.
The only question then remains: if this is all true, then why has it never been expressed before? The simple – and sad – answer is that rules are always ignored for the false benefit of those who break them. Sane human beings always benefit from the recognition of reality. Since the morality of humankind has always been defined in mad opposition to physical reality and simple logic, there is really only one conclusion that can be drawn. Sadly, what mankind generally calls ‘reality’ is nothing more than the manipulations of madmen.
Stefan Molynuex, is the host of Freedomain Radio (www.freedomainradio.com), the most popular philosophy site on the Internet, and a “Top 10” Finalist in the 2007-2010 Podcast Awards.