In this five part series for Critical Mass, Luke Andreski, author of Intelligent Ethics and Ethical Intelligence, explores the nature of morality and what that tells us about how we should act in an amoral world. In his final article he tackles the crucial question of why anyone would choose to live an ethical life.
Function, form, autonomy
We’ve discussed the function and form of morality.
We’ve discussed its source of authority.
We’ve discussed freedom, and how free choice is the counter-intuitive bridge between individual autonomy and moral authority.
We’ve said that with THIS form, THIS function and THIS commitment, the scope of what morality can say is fairly well defined.
Not any aggregate of words can be attributed to morality.
Morality’s function and form must be complied with by any guidance which claims to be moral.
Twisting the truth
Only words which affirm life, freedom, a right to equal treatment and equality of opportunity can be considered genuine expressions of morality. The truth-twisters may contort language as much as they wish but morality will never tell you it’s good to harm other living creatures, exert unequal power over others or deprive innocents of their freedom. Morality will always tell you that to kill an innocent who does not wish to die is wrong, that slavery is wrong, that having great wealth while others suffer deprivation is wrong.
This guidance isn’t arbitrary. It can be straightforwardly deduced from the nature and function of morality. A sentience unification system has to say things with the capacity to cross all borders and unify autonomous sentients of all kinds.
Having said all this, a critical question remains to be answered.
No matter what morality is, and no matter what it says, why should we be moral?
Just because you accept that life – the very essence of what you are – is a compelling source of moral authority, this does not mean that you have to be moral. After all, morality also says you are free.
In fact, morality requires our freedom, otherwise it doesn’t work.
No one says an inanimate object or a machine should morally have done this or shouldn’t have done that. No one tells a hammer it was wrong to strike a person’s head rather than the carpenter’s nail. It’s only to the autonomous agent holding the hammer that moral judgement applies.
So, if we are free, morality is an option for us.
One of many.
Why is it an option we should choose?
Some people say the question of why we should be moral answers itself.
We should be moral simply because it’s the right thing to do.
To suggest you need a reason for being moral demeans your integrity. You should be moral for morality’s sake.
For me, this answer is insufficiently compelling.
“Be moral because it’s moral to be moral” seems pretty circular. It would be like answering the question “Why use the scientific method?” with “Because it’s the scientific thing to do.”
Self-interest and others
There are other, better answers.
Mostly these come in two forms:
👉 Because it’s in your self-interest
👉 Because it’s in all our interest
And there’s a rarer, third form:
👉 Because you want to, out of compassion or love
In my view there’s no reason not to use a combination of all these forms. After all, if morality is a universal sentience unification system, then it has to have a wide basis for its appeal. We need reasons to be moral which are able to convince the widest possible range of temperaments and minds.
So, in answer to the question ‘Why be moral?’ I’d like to put forward a selection of reasons, in no specific order, and which is by no means a complete list, but which, in combination, seem persuasive to me.
Reasons to be moral
How about these?
l. Because compassion and kindness sit right with you.
ll. Because the idea of integrity appeals to you.
lll. Because being honest, decent and compassionate is good for your self-esteem.
lV. Because you DON’T WANT TO BE greedy, selfish or dishonest – and morality shows us how to avoid those things.
V. Because you want what’s best for us all more than just what’s best for you.
Vl. Because, for you, other people matter too.
Vll. Because all living creatures matter to you.
Vlll. Because morality connects you to all of life.
lX. Because you love our beautiful biological world and want it to thrive.
X. Because morality is an essential survival factor for our species.
Xl. Because if you treat other people ethically it encourages them to do the same, to the benefit of us all.
Xll. Because morality helps civilisations cohere.
Xlll. Because morality gives us a framework in which we can trust other people and they can trust us.
XlV. Because if you act morally toward others, they’re more likely to act morally towards you.
XV. Because morality gives us a purpose which is greater than our own petty impulses and desires.
XVl. Because it feels good to be part of something greater than ourselves.
XVll. Because morality affirms our connection to all other rational autonomous sentients.
And there’s more:
XVlll. Because morality offers us a tool for peaceful interaction with other communities, other nations, other cultures.
XlX. Because morality offers us a route to peaceful interaction with other sentient species, genetically enhanced intelligences and autonomous, intelligent AI.
XX. Because morality gives us a shield against the propaganda and lies of self-serving politicians and rapacious corporations.
XXl. Because morality gives us a measure by which to assess the claims and suggestions of others.
XXll. Because morality offers us a rational and humane basis for our actions.
XXlll. Because morality gives us a sense of centredness and purpose in an increasingly chaotic world.
And last but by no means least:
XXlV. Because you want your children to inherit a fairer, happier world.
There you have it. As a rational, autonomous person I find these reasons compelling. Why wouldn’t I choose to adopt a sentience unification system if it’s better for us all while also offering me a sense of connectedness and self-respect?
Why wouldn’t I wish to be moral and urge others to be moral if it’s an antidote to the appalling chaotic mess and potential self-destruction humanity is constructing for itself?
Why wouldn’t I commit myself to sustaining and nurturing all living things, and life itself, when life is at the very heart of what I am?
It makes sense to me.
Both selfishly and selflessly, I’m convinced I should be moral.
And, for these same reasons, I commend this universal sentience unification system to you.
Luke Andreski is a founding member of the @EthicalRenewal and Ethical Intelligence collectives. His books include Intelligent Ethics (2019), Ethical Intelligence (2019), Short Conversations: During The Plague (2020) and Short Conversations: During the Storm (2021).
Intelligent Ethics is available here.
Luke is a founding member of the @EthicalRenewal collective and author of Short Conversations: During the Plague (2020), Intelligent Ethics (2019) and Ethical Intelligence (2019).