Moral judgement emerges any time the following conditions exist:
A moral subject exists.
Moral subjects are entities that experience consciousness and there is some way in which they have a preferred existence (i.e., they have ‘well-being’).
A moral actor exists
A moral actor is any entity that is A) capable of approximating the well-being of a moral subject (e.g., they can imagine what it is like to be another conscious creature or in some way appreciate its well-being) and B) is aware and can comprehend that their actions may impact the well-being of a moral subject C) is capable of determining their actions.
When a moral actor considers how their actions might impact the well-being of moral subjects, a moral judgement exists. When the actor acts on such judgement a moral action exists.
The complexity of well-being corollary
(All other things being equal) where well-being is easy to decide, morality is easy to decide; where well-being is difficult to decide, morality is difficult to decide.
Torturing a human to death against their will over many years for no reason is not a moral action. Determining whether a terminally ill patient experiencing a moderate amount of suffering each day should be allowed to terminate their own life is more difficult to decide.
The complexity of integration corollary
(All other things being equal) where combining the well-being of consciousnesses in order to weigh the impact of actions is easy to decide, group decisions of morality are easy; where it is unclear how to weigh consciousness as a group, morality is difficult to decide.
For instance, all things being equal, if you can save 10 people or 1 person from a burning building, the most moral thing to do would be to save 10 (the integration of consciousness is easy in this case). But how do we compare the discomfort of chicken consciousnesses against the pleasure that humans experience from eating chickens and chicken products (this is more difficult to decide)?
The complexity of predicting future impact corollary
(All other things being equal) where predicting the complete outcome of our actions is easy to do, morality is proportionately easy to decide; where fully predicting the outcome of our actions is difficult to do, morality is correspondingly difficult to decide.
How is morality objective?
There are various ways in which this conception of morality may be thought of as objective:
- Well-being, although subjectively appreciated by the being in question, seems to be an objective phenomenon (i.e., people genuinely experience better and worse states of well-being).
- Acting with the intent to improve the well-being of conscious creatures is the thing that makes an action moral. In that sense moral action has an objective reality, I think (i.e., the person actually intended a specific outcome for that reason). The person may be mistaken in predicting the impact of their actions, so a moral action may not actually be effective in its intended outcome (to avoid decreases in well-being and produce increases in well-being).
- There exists some set of actions which would legitimately improve the well-being of conscious creatures and some set of actions which would legitimately degrade the well-being of conscious creatures. That set of possible actions seems objective to me. However, because we don’t have access to this set (or landscape) in any direct way, morally minded creatures are constantly interrogating others for:
- Their state of well-being
- The kinds of things that alter their well-being
- Their assessment of the future impact of actions
Well-being is often difficult to decide. Integration of well-being is often difficult to decide. However, once people agree on functions of well-being and integration, then morality may be considered independent of the person running the calculations, so it is also objective in that sense.
For example, a moral actor is quite often a moral subject when they are making moral judgments. In a given group scenario involving multiple actors and subjects where the actors each share the same well-being and integration functions, the resulting moral calculation will always be the same (i.e., it would be the same regardless of who is making the calculation, irrespective of their personal feelings or biases).
Grounding the ought
The ‘ought’ in this conception of morality is derived from an appreciation of the well-being of conscious creatures. If we care about the well-being of conscious creatures, then we ‘ought’ to act morally since our actions may impact that well-being. An entity that truly doesn’t care about the well-being of conscious creatures can be said to be acting a-morally (for instance, a shark killing and eating a human). An entity which acts in contravention of their moral judgement is being immoral.
- Morality Transcends Religious Belief
- Science is as substantive as religion in helping us to derive morality’s ought
- Truth in Ethics and Epistemology: A Defense of Normative Realism
- The Best Argument for Moral Realism?
originally posted here