Philosophical Multicore

Sometimes controversial, sometimes fallacious, sometimes thought-provoking, and always fun.

My Moral Assumptions

Posted by Michael Dickens on January 6, 2010

This is an attempt to list my most basic moral assumptions. I think that all of my moral beliefs follow from these.

0. Logic works the way we think it does.
1. If a moral goal is shown to be best, then it should be accepted.
2. That overall happiness should be maximized is the best moral goal.
3. It is morally better to behave in line with the best moral goal than out of line with it.
4. If an action is morally better than another, we should perform it.
5. Common perception of overall happiness being maximized is consistent with reality, or at least as close to consistent as we are going to get.

I may add to this list in the future.

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5 Responses to “My Moral Assumptions”

  1. Rob F said

    #2 is ambiguous. Does it mean total happiness? Or does it mean average happiness?

  2. Rob F said

    Total utility runs into the problem of Nozick’s Utility Monster, where a single individual (the Utility Monster) is able to convert resources into utility better than anything else. Since the individual generates the most utility from any resource, taking resources from other people and giving it to the UM will always generate more utility. Since total utility sums every individuals’ utility and uses that to determine group utility, and since maximizing group utility is the goal, all resources should givin to the UM. From this it follows that the situation where one individual (the Utility Monster) has all the utility and everyone else has none is the most moral situation as it has the highest total utility.

    If you equate utility with happiness, the UM applies to your assumption #2.

    • Firstly, no such UM exists in this case. If it did truly maximize happiness in a single individual at the expense of all other individuals, then that would be morally acceptable. However, due to the nature of happiness, it is likely that this is impossible. Happiness in an individual is limited; also, it can be argued that our conventional concept of a centralized happiness would in fact not maximize happiness, because happiness is more efficient if it is shared amongst as many people as possible. If this UM truly did exist, though, then it would indeed be a morally legitimate entity. However, I see no way in which such an entity is possible in practice.

  3. phynnboi said

    1. Best when? Where? For whom? How do you know?

    2. How do you know when an action maximizes overall happiness? What if there’s no consensus as to which action does that?

    3. This would seem to follow from the first three, so isn’t really an axiom. (Is it supposed to be one?)

    4. Again, seems to follow from the first three.

    5. What if there is no common perception?

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