Faith in the absence of the supernatural, part 2

In the previous post, I talked briefly about how religious faith must ultimately include some element of faith in people, and how that element leads to its pitfalls. The same could be said of secular faith, although the pitfalls are different. I, myself, have admittedly kept stumbling into them throughout my life, and my hiatus in posting on this blog is largely due to my struggles with relentlessly betrayed and tarnished faith.

 I will be talking about different kinds of faith, and it helps to distinguish between them.

There is faith in the existence of entities with some concrete (as opposed to abstract) component, be they people, gods, institutions and other social constructs, and inanimate objects. An explorer at sea may hold faith in the presence of land beyond the horizon; a good person living among hypocrites may hold faith in the existence of honest people, knowing himself to be one; and burglars may hold faith in the possessions of the house they are about to break into. Although I do entertain the possibility of different entities whose existence I have not confirmed, and enjoy exploring how these entities may fit into the world, I do not act on the basis of such entities’ existence.

Concepts – abstract entities – do not require this sort of faith. Anyone who may envision them has discovered them and is assured of their existence. This is, perhaps, the greatest strength of nonreligious morality: one may dismiss the notion of a timeless, immutable god, but one cannot deny the existence of timeless, immutable moral principles. One may only challenge them on moral grounds. There are those who will certainly claim that these principles are human inventions; but that would be like saying that the circle and the exponential function are human inventions, yet assuredly, the space defined by all points equidistant to a given point would still exist, and the decay of radioactive substances would still occur, in the absence of humans. We understand these concepts, yet we are not their creators – merely the creators of our own understanding, our own interpretation of them.

There are other kinds of faith concerning entities: faith in their actual and potential properties; faith in their actual and potential processes (either actions that these entities carry out or phenomena that they undergo). I have faith in certain potential properties and processes, provided that I am assured of the existence of the entities to whom they pertain, though I rely on evidence, rather than faith, to assess whether properties or processes of any given kind exist.

As with entities, properties and processes that have some concrete component require faith. I am happy to envision their possibility (and may thus discover them to exist) but  cannot act on their basis unless I know they exist. By contrast, as with abstract entities, I know that abstract processes and properties exist as soon as I confirm their logical consistency.

In short, I do not hold faith that some concrete entity exists, existed or will exist; that some concrete process happened, is happening or will happen; or that some entity or process had, has or will have certain properties. Rather, I hold faith in the potential for processes to occur, for entities to arise and for them to take on certain properties. This is what fundamentally distinguishes religious from secular faith – the former deals with actuality, whereas the latter addresses potential.

Morality, as I define it, is the organization of one’s own intent. In order for intent to arise, there must be an imagined situation – however concrete or abstract – towards whose realization the intent exists. Faith in potential situations, then, is faith that can drive the mind to bring about these situations. Whereas religious faith often assumes that supernatural entities will bring about such situations even without human intervention, secular morality assumes that the supernatural does not exist, and so, the only moral agents in the world are sentient creatures.

This has a tremendous implication: whereas religion may give comfort to believers in the form of great, protective deities, those who adhere to secular morality acknowledge no such deity, and believe we must fight in the name of our principles within a world that offers no supernatural safeguards. It is ultimately the responsibility of good people to bring about definitive good, and no divine hand is assumed to descend from the heavens to rescue our toils should we fail. Moreover, we do not have the comfort of a deity that can forgive our crimes; if we commit wrongs, we must settle them with those who were wronged, and should those people die before we can fulfill our duty to them, we must find a way to redeem ourselves against those similarly wronged. There is always the possibility – the extreme scenario – that we will simply be unable to redeem ourselves, particularly in the event that our own actions cause irreparable harm to our own moral reasoning and our ability to act on it. All this intensifies our desire to ensure that we are doing the right thing in all our actions, and therefore improves, through practice, our ability to pursue moral reasoning.

Faith in potential situations is rightly limited by our understanding of the world. Certain things – such as squaring the circle – simply cannot be done. Complexity theory can show other problems to be intractable using the currently available algorithms. In our physical existence, once we place ourselves into a given scenario, we may not be able to secure the desired outcome for it. If we had somehow found ourselves in Hiroshima on the 6th of August, 1945, an hour before the atomic bomb fell, no amount of preparation could have prevented our deaths. Likewise, we may place ourselves into a losing position during a fight, or find ourselves striving to keep a doomed business afloat, unaware of its impending collapse. Yet given the best of our knowledge, we have faith that success is attainable.

Faith is absolutely essential; without it, nothing would get done. We would not stride into the world to accomplish our plans, and would not come to build the means to verify their feasibility, were we not endowed with our faith to begin with. To engender the assumption that things cannot be done unless they have already been done is to forsake innovation on one’s part; and in a world littered with trinkets of past innovation, all demonstrating of the success of innovative thinking, this is a deeply false assumption to make.

If one begins with faith, rather than skepticism, in potential situations, one is able to examine all of them, both to assess their validity in different contexts (for instance, whether they can manifest in different worlds) and to determine their moral value. One can therefore understand far more than . Indeed, one can envision  and . .

A crucial aspect of religion is that there exists a potential situation, such as passage into the afterlife, that people can bring about or prevent through their moral actions. Hindus and Buddhists believe in moksha, the escape from the endless cycle of death and rebirth that defines worldly existence (samsara) in Hindu cosmology; they do not assume they will automatically attain moksha in a finite number of lives, and so they strive towards attaining it by doing good deeds and developing the right state of mind. The pagan Norsemen sought to die in battle and thus potentially arise in Valhalla, whereupon they would train ceaselessly in preparation for an apocalyptic war. Zoroastrians and Jews believe in an eventual Day of Judgement in which the worthy dead will be resurrected and live immortally. Christians and Muslims likewise believe in the Day of Judgement, as well as the judgement of individual souls upon death. Even ideological faiths, such as the Marxist and Fascist branches of Socialism, assume the possibility or the inevitability of some process that will lead to the triumph of the ideologies’ (pseudo)moral tenets throughout the world, and the judgement (in the practical rather than moral sense) of both collaborators and reactionaries. Ultimately, in these narratives, morality itself (or its ideological proxy) has an impact on the world, either through its manifestation as concrete pursuits (such as the cataclysmic battle against evil) or by its own merit, irrespective of such pursuits (as in the judgement of souls about to enter an afterlife). Without such overarching moral processes, one has no reason to interact with the supernatural other than for the satisfaction of mundane desires, be they the quelling of supernatural threats through ritual sacrifice or the provision of a good harvest through prayer.

[work in progress]

As an example, my own faith lies chiefly in potential processes, specifically in my ability to gain an accurate understanding of right and wrong, universally, and to follow it unflinchingly; to support good in all its forms, wherever it manifests, and to oppose evil in all its forms, wherever it manifests. Though I do not believe in any afterlife, I do believe the present life, by serving as a manifestation of abstract ideals, is rendered sacred, and so I carry out judgements upon myself by reasoning about my actions (past, present or future), and am open to the fair-minded, good-intentioned judgement of others.

I have tremendous faith that good can manifest ubiquitously in the world, and that the good may bring about the complete dissolution of evil; that, while such an outcome is far from certain, it is available for the virtuous to pursue. I further believe that I can aid this process by cultivating good and opposing evil within and by way of my every action; that I can build virtue within myself and manifestations of good – be they acts of compassion, inspiration, violence against evil or any other noble pursuit – outside of myself, while refusing to pursue whatever actions might contribute to the manifold causes of evil. Rather than take the consequentialist belief that “the end justifies the means”, I recognize that every means is an end in and of itself, to be judged with the same determination as the overarching goal it leads to, and so I refrain from evil entirely.

Believing in the absolute victory of good, I therefore have faith that good people can, with adequate knowledge and the wisdom to apply it, bring about the definitive triumph of good. This does, in principle, assume that there are enough good people in the world to do this – and so it clashes with my natural skepticism. It also assumes that populations of good people can self-perpetuate, which may be an incorrect assumption in the event that certain feminine traits that drive women to pursue evil, such as hypergamy, are ubiquitous among women. However, it would not be far-fetched to assume that the top 2% of the population in regrards to moral ability, be they male or female, enjoy either the absence of inborn evil desires or the capacity to transcend these desires. This top 2%, if it became organized as a community, would hopefully be able to bring the world out of its corrupt state. This is not something that can be done by coercing the immoral (coercion is evil, as I will set out to prove) or showing to the amoral that (manipulation is evil, as I will also set out to prove), but by mutually strengthening those who are moral, providing them with aid in their pursuit of justice, kindness, understanding and devotion.

Moral reasoning is an essential part of this process; indeed, without possessing moral reasoning, one can never ascertain one’s goal. The unrestrained pursuit of moral enquiry is thus essential for the development of authentic moral goals.

[work in progress]

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Faith in the absence of the supernatural, part 1

Among liberals and certainly in the wider culture, one of the greatest misconceptions I encounter regarding morality is that morals can only be dictated by a divine entity. Liberals tend to use the term “ethics”, which are subjective and based on the liberal’s own likes and dislikes, to distinguish their morals from those of abrahamic religions, which their adherents consider to be objective, and which are ultimately (if I understand correctly) grounded in the likes and dislikes of a god. I want to discuss a third category of morals, which are objective but do not depend on a specific individual’s likes and dislikes, and attempt to peer into the rich but subtle differences between them and religious morals.

My concern, as always, is that secular individuals are given no means to affirm and apply their morality in the modern Western world. We may hold faith in justice, honour, truth and devotion, but in attempts to discuss this faith, we may be met with liberals who, hating our morals for the lack of their own, will be quick to suggest that morals are simply a mental fabrication and chastise us for adhering to them. We may find evil individuals who commit various forms of injustice, deception and betrayal in their day-to-day lives, and they will cheerfully repeat the liberals’ message for their own benefit. We may also find cowards who do not wish to face their own level of immorality, and would rather change the subject to something nicer when we begin to discuss moral values. Such people do not want morality to be codified because its lack of immutable evidence benefits them; it is far easier to discourage a moral individual who has nothing but his own accosted words than one who may always gain respite in the shadow of a sacred tablet. By contrast, religious people, having access to communities that bear the stated (if not in all cases practiced) purpose of cultivating morality means they can much more easily avoid discomfort if and when they deal with the above people. The temples of secular morality are very much vine-strewn stone circles in the jungle at present, bereft of trails to guide the devout through the myriad threats of the wild, and if one encounters predators in one’s pursuit of understanding, one finds one’s self fighting them alone, stranded in an unwelcoming wilderness.

Because most people classify morality as either liberal or religious, with all the associated connotations, liberals will tend to see us as religious, whereas the religious will tend to see us as misguided liberals seeking conversion, and so many moral secularists will walk past their fledging temples seeing only vine-covered boulders, failing to consider that these temples might themselves be furnished into mighty edifices, in whose safety and serenity all pilgrims from afar might revel. It takes an identity for that purpose, and such an identity can only be formed by wedging non-religious morality apart from both liberalism and religion, distinguishing the features that denote the fundamental, necessary architecture of such temples.

One of the crucial differences between religious and non-religious morality is that of the nature of faith. To a religious individual, faith deals heavily with the concrete world. One has faith in the existence of a god or gods, in the supernatural actions that such gods have enabled, and in the overall character of such gods. Lacking direct evidence of these gods’ very existence, one must further have faith in people: in those who wrote the religion’s holy books or first started its oral tradition, in those who bore witness to any miracles (perhaps millenia ago) and in those who are said to have had a direct connection to god or the gods. Some religious individuals may also hold faith in aspects of the abstract world, such as the concepts of justice and truth. I say “some” because there are those who, on believing that a powerful and highly knowledgeable supernatural entity exists, will supplicate to that entity out of a primal fear that stifles reasoning and thus adopt whatever concepts of justice and truth the entity’s priests are supposedly imparting on its behalf. To a non-religious individual who strives for morality, however, faith, as concerns morality, is purely about abstract concepts. One has faith in justice, and so one pursues it in one’s every action. One has faith in the truth, and so one pursues it in one’s every thought. To have faith in these things is, ultimately, not merely to believe in their existence, but also to value them, to devote one’s self to them and wonder at their manifestations.

Religious faith contains some pitfalls that do not show up in its counterpart. Notably, it encourages intellectual submission to potential con artists (narcissistic cult leaders being an example that most religious people would accept) and it depends on certain cosmological details - which may or may not be validated by future investigation - to be true, whereas morality can be largely independent of cosmology. I further wish to describe how one can have faith, and develop a profound sense of morality, without taking on any particular religious worldview, and suggest that religious morality, which one ascribes to supernatural beings, is ultimately based on a universal morality that does not require such beings to exist; a morality that, like mathematics, is always valid simply because its conclusions follow from its axioms. Finally, I want to argue that any plausible benevolent gods must behave according to such a morality, and that they themselves cannot dictate the nature of morality - at best, they can select the properties of a world they create or operate within in such a way that only certain aspects of morality are applicable in that world.

My intention is not to discredit or insult religious people. I should mention that I am not an atheist according to the modern meaning of the term, i.e. a militant atheist opposed to all religion, and I would not even consider myself one in the etymological sense, i.e. someone who holds no faith. I am certainly opposed to organized religion because it inevitably fosters corruption and abuse, and see this as one of the fundamental problems with religious morality. The Catholic Church is a prominent example. The current pope is known for his support and cover-up in favour of child-molesting priests, as well as for having had Vatican guards arrest his butler after the latter was found with incriminating evidence against the Vatican in his apartment. Several former popes became notorious for their crimes and immoral behaviour, most notably Pope Alexander VI, who gave out fiefs to his family, had several married mistresses, poisoned his political enemies and supported slavery in the newly discovered West Indies. Other popes were known to perform child sexual abuse, kill off their pawns in political intrigues and accept bribes in exchange for spiritual forgiveness in order to fund their lives of carefree luxury; one was even said to toast to the devil.

Indeed, it is the evil pervading the Catholic Church that triggered the reformation, and this only after centuries of the wholesale perversion of the teachings of  Christ, who had himself been persecuted for these teachings by the Jewish religious establishment in his own time. Throughout the history of religion, similar schisms have arisen on smaller scales for similar reasons. Soto Zen, for instance, arose after its founder, Dogen, grew dissatisfied with the internal politics at the Zen temple where he initially trained.

Corruption tends to appear in any community whose prosperity hinges on its reputation, for when it becomes more profitable to produce this reputation out of cheap and easy falsehoods, rumours and the silencing of critics, malicious leaders will do so without a shred of conscience to daunt them. In modern times, such communities include ideological establishments like academia and political groups (both left-wing and right-wing). The seeds of corruption may blossom in any institution, sown by malevolent hands that have eluded the scrutiny of the good, and to place blind faith in a (potentially corrupted) institution, rather than subject it to relentless moral scrutiny of your own, is to cement its degradation.

If one attempts to pursue one’s religious faith without the benefit of an organization, one can either do so either with the aid of a mentor (as happens in all new religious movements), with holy texts, or on one’s own, heeding the murmurs of one’s conscience. Throughout all of this, one may either believe or disbelieve that what one witnesses is genuinely divine. And in this process, one’s own reasoning intercedes.

If one’s mentor descends from a series of scholars, and is not in direct contact with divinity, then one must question whether his knowledge may be merely a bastardized form of the original teachings, or whether the source of his lineage had indeed been in contact with divinity, and as such, whether its information can be trusted. This is not a matter to gloss over; Wikipedia lists a number of people who have, throughout the centuries, claimed or were claimed to be messiahs of some sort, and provides predictably larger listings for individuals claiming to be incarnations of god, the Son of God or the Islamic Mahdi, often concurrently. Certainly, most (and arguably, on closer inspection, all) of them had to be false. One can assume there were many who claimed to be the Messiah in ancient Israel, and indeed, several are listed on the relevant Wikipedia page; there is little to distinguish Jesus from them apart from the extraordinary tale of his resurrection. Likewise for every other religious leader who claimed any sort of divine heritage. Whether the faithful treats someone as a messiah, a person whose contemporaries mistook him/her for one or a downright charlatan ideally depends on the faithful’s own sense of judgement.

Furthermore, even if one has no teachers whose connection to divinity can be examined critically, one is faced with the possibility to learn of divinity from holy texts. Inevitably, unless one believes these texts were materialized by a divine entity, they have been written by people, and the actions of these people must themselves be judged as the actions of people, with the application of critical thinking.

Lastly, there are those who, going without books and teachers, strive to come to an understanding of supernatural divinity on their own. Such people must ultimately interpret what is divine and what is not, always bearing the risk of interpreting things falsely.

In all these cases, people must apply their own judgement of truth and falsehood in order to ascertain whether the teachings they’re receiving are indeed divine. Yet in addition, they must apply their judgement of right and wrong. It is indeed the case that, once someone has adopted a religion, one might contend to follow it uncritically; but before choosing that religion, or indeed before adopting novel aspects of that religion, one judges them, and does so with one’s own sense of morality.

Consider a religion that unquestionably “upheld” moral “values” such as deception, betrayal, greed, ridicule, worldly pride, cruelty and, to make the case even more compelling, incest. Unless you have grown desensitized to these attitudes in some way, you would immediately recognize their iniquity and reject the religion, and you would be acting out of your own interpretation of morality in doing so, irrespective of the fact that morality itself is objective. Therefore, religious faith inevitably passes through the filter of one’s moral reasoning.

I want to argue that the same moral reasoning can lead to faith in the absence of the supernatural. In part 2, I will be describing this seemingly uncharted form of faith, which is particularly suited to moral agnostics / atheists and which forms the fabric of my own spiritual life.

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An attempt at a definition of morality

Before one can discuss morality, one must define it, and thus give shape to what would otherwise be a nebulous psychological phenomenon. The definition I will use for it focuses on a person’s intent; I could call my own moral philosophy either a “deontology of intent” or a form of virtue ethics, in that I stem from the assumption that certain intents are inherently right and others are inherently wrong.

I will use the following definitions of actors, bodies, environments, experiences, intents, actions and gestures for the purposes of this theory.

An “actor” is anything that can manifest experiences, intents and actions. A “body” is the interface between an actor and its environment, and is considered to be an inalienable part of the actor; this includes a robot body operated continuously by telepresence and providing sensory input to the actor, but not a computer being used transiently. An “environment” relates to an actor in that it comprises everything apart from the actor that can be perceived by the actor.

An “entity” is anything that can be perceived or imagined. An “experience” is the perception or imagination of one or more entities. This includes internal entities such as emotions – which reflect states of the actor  – and external entities – which reflect states of the actor’s environment. An “emotion” is, for that matter, any internal experience whose manifestation can be the immediate trigger for an intent’s fulfilment or unfulfilment and that may elicit innate behaviour (both intents and gestures). I make the assumption that experiences can be true, false or meaningless (e.g. the content of nonsensical verbal statements), but that actors are only capable of inferring, rather than directly knowing, whether an experience is true or false or how likely it is to be either. Thus, even if a person knows, say, a mathematical fact, one must distinguish between said mathematical fact and the actor’s own understanding of the mathematical fact.

I define a phenomenon as “driving” another if the latter progresses while the former manifests. Thus, the state of the driving phenomenon is irrelevant to the act of driving, whereas the state of the driven phenomenon is relevant. For instance, suppose that a piston in a pump moves up and down, causing water to flow out of a tank. We want to completely empty the tank. Should we stop working the pump before that happens, the water we have taken out of the tank does not return to the tank, i.e. the state of the tank is conserved. When we return to working the pump, we will only have to empty the remainder of the water from the tank. However, we can do this irrespective of whether we left the piston at the top, the bottom or somewhere in the middle of its shaft.

An “action” is that which drives an imagined or performed sequence of gestures. I define a “gesture” as the process through which an actor shifts their interface from one state to another (i.e. causes [often unconsciously] imagined experiences of the actor’s own interface to become perceived); walking, reaching and voluntarily secreting a substance are all considered gestures. Actions and gestures can be fulfilled or unfulfilled based on whether they elicit imagined external experiences – a person will know they have successfully reached for something if they have moved their hand to it and are feeling it, for instance.

An “intent” is that which drives an imagined or performed sequence of actions that leads to the perception of an imagined emotional experience. An intent is fulfilled or unfulfilled if the imagined emotional experience is perceived, and unfulfilled if it is not perceived at the end of the sequence of actions. Thus, emotions drive intents. Also, the fulfilment or unfulfilment of intent generates an internal experience (whether or not it is unique to the individual intent that originates it is arguable) that may in itself be perceived, and so the fulfilment or unfulfilment of one intent may serve to drive the fulfilment of unfulfilment of another.

A “classification mechanism” is, as I define it, a process whereby some entities or experiences are regarded as manifestations or instances of other entities or experiences by virtue of sharing common properties. For instance, walking is a form of travelling, which encompasses many entities that share common properties with walking. An ideal classification mechanism extracts similarities between things irrespective of the contexts of these things (for they would not otherwise be individual “things” separate from their contexts).

A “selection mechanism” is a process whereby some entities of the same type are opposed and others are supported. For instance, attention is a selection mechanism, in that it supports certain entities (internal or external) for further processing and opposes others. Decision-making is also a selection mechanism, in that it supports certain intents (or actions) for further processing and opposes others. I believe that at least three separate (but by no means dissimilar) selection mechanisms exist, addressing entities, experiences, and actions/intents, and I can see arguments for the existence of separate selection mechanisms for internal and external entities, as well as for actions and intents, but this is beyond the scope of this text. A selection mechanism for intents, termed “moral reasoning”, generates support for intents deemed right and opposition to intents deemed wrong, whereas a selection system for experiences, termed “factual reasoning”, generates support (belief) for experiences deemed true, and opposition (disbelief) to experiences deemed false.

According to these definitions, and thus according to my understanding of the mind, imagined emotions drive intents, intents drive actions and actions drive gestures. Gestures lead to changes in the actor’s interface (this being the goal of the gestures) that in turn lead to changes in the actor’s environment (this being the goal of the actions) that cause the actor to perceive the imagined emotions; and this is how intent is fulfilled. Other cognitive processes, such as selection (e.g. action / intent selection, attention to experiences) and classification (e.g. object recognition) play into this and will receive mention here to the extent that they relate to morality.

Consider that no experiences can be both true and false; no intents can be both right and wrong. That is, a selection mechanism cannot generate both opposition and support to an intent or experience. Two contradictory experiences cannot both be true, and two contradictory intents cannot both be right. The mechanism cannot generate support for both. All true experiences are consistent with each other and all right intents are consistent with each other. The mechanism can support all at once. Furthermore, any experience (any intent) that is true or false (right or wrong) irrespective of circumstances is inherently true or false (right or wrong). An ideal selection mechanism will therefore always generate support for inherently true (or right) experiences and opposition to inherently false (or wrong) circumstances. Factual and moral reasoning, if they function effectively, ultimately lead us to an understanding of what is inherently true and false, inherently right and wrong. All this is important to my definition.

The definition of a (hopefully) objective morality

I define morality as the organization of an individual actor’s intent to ensure the fulfilment of all good intent, in all actors, and opposition to all evil intent, in all actors. I define a good intent as one that is inherently right and an evil intent as one that is inherently wrong. When I say “all intent”, I literally mean every single intent that is ever to be produced.

For an intent to be inherently right, it must be completely fulfillable by all actors when the world is in a given, stable, possible set of states (by “stable”, I mean that the world predictably returns to this state). Also, as stated above, in order for it to be inherently right, it must not be wrong under any given circumstances. Interesting observations can arise when one considers a world of two mutually exclusive states, each of which allows only one of two inherently good intents to be fulfilled; I will discuss them in a later post on moral dilemmas.

In order for an intent to be inherently wrong, it must either:
1. be fulfilled by the unfulfilment of another intent. (“cruelty”)
2. require the unfulfilment of a good right intent for its fulfilment. (“callousness”)
3. be fulfilled by the fulfilment of another intent that follows rule #1 or #2. (“cruel collusion”)
4. require the fulfilment of another intent that follows rule #1 or #2. (“callous collusion”)

Criterion 1 can be logically deduced. Because all right intents are consistent, if an intent A is right, then any intent B that is fulfilled by the unfulfilment of A is wrong. If intent A is wrong, then intent B is fulfilled by the unfulfilment of intent B. However, the unfulfilment of intent A requires the existence of intent A, and so intent B requires the existence of a wrong intent for its fulfilment. But an ideal selection mechanism must generate opposition towards wrong intents.

This opposition prohibits the fulfilment of intent B, as successful opposition to an intent eliminates it and prevents its reappearance. In more pragmatic terms, this shows that all forms of malice – ridicule, physical torture, setting people up for failure – are evil, which should already be obvious. This also offers a beautiful alternative to malice for opposing evil – a person can, rather than derive fulfilment from the unfulfilment of a wrong intent, oppose that intent because of its very existence, and try to guide those who truly wish to redeem themselves as well as fight against those who demonstrably have no intention to do so.

Criterion 2 can also be logically deduced. If intent A is good, then any intent B that requires the unfulfilment of intent A for its own fulfilment is inherently wrong.

Criteria 3 and 4 follow from the fact that if A is fulfilled B, and B is fulfilled by C, then A is fulfilled by C.

Immediate conclusions

Because of this defintion, greed, the pursuit of renown and social status or any other competition for limited resources cannot be regarded as good, as the fulfilment of any such intent in some actors prohibits other actors from fulfilling it themselves. By contrast, the pursuit of understanding, compassion, true love and justice can be regarded as good as they meet the above criteria for good intents. We can also regard the pursuit of deception and ridicule (including self-deception and self-ridicule) as evil, because they cause the unfulfilment of other intents. One can say that any intent to deceive and ridicule, to inflict pain, to create perpetual unfulfilment by selling drugs, or callously coerce one to act against one’s will, is evil.

Some might mistakenly believe that any intent to oppose evil would be inherently wrong by this definition. However, the aim of opposition is not to prevent the fulfilment of other intents; it is to eliminate the intents themselves. For instance, suppose that someone has a craving for fruit, but realizes that all fruit in the area is poisoned. In opposing and thus extinguishing their desire for fruit, one merely gives it up, rather than holding it up in one’s own mind to ridicule it and savour its unfulfilment. If we did savour the unfulfilment of our own desires, we would most likely be doing the emotional counterpart of thinking “Hahaha! what a stupid thought! I’m not acting on you, thought! Neener neener neener, stupid thought not doing anything!” in our own minds, which never happens, as far as I am aware (perhaps some people with schizoid personality disorder behave this way, though). This is an important point related to how people should carry out discussions, which I will examine further in a later post.

Only when dealing with another agent that possesses evil intent must one act against the agent itself. For instance, an alcoholic may need to be prevented from drinking; a psychopath would need to be killed in order to keep him from scamming people. Even in this case, one would remain good if attempting to act against the alcoholic or psychopath strictly for the purpose of opposing evil intent and fulfilling good intent (such as preventing people from being conned), without leading to the unfulfilment of any good intent in the process. In general, one can oppose and even kill their enemy for a variety of good reasons. One cannot torture their enemy without feeling some measure of malice.

This is what I set out to be the definition of an objective morality. I look forward to hearing good-natured critiques of it. In the next several posts, I will go into the aspects of this morality in greater detail and show how they relate to the actions that many would recognize as immoral. Perhaps we will finally have a comprehensive and consistent theory of morality by the end of the blog, one that might actually help to revitalize the modern moral wasteland.

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An introduction

I am writing this blog for the benefit of whoever practices moral reasoning in their daily life, to encourage you in your pursuits, provide you with support against whatever evil you confront and create opportunities for earnest discussions on morality. All too often in the world, those people who wish to do good find themselves stifled by those who cannot think past their own petty interests, and I wish to help remedy that situation in whatever way I can.

At the present time, the western world is dotted with special interest groups representing various demographic groups, including religious communities, but no groups that promote solidarity and mutual aid specifically among those who wish to exercise morality, for the purpose of enforcing morality, regardless of their religion or lack thereof. I do believe that a movement striving towards these aims is necessary, first because, at present, there are no proposed moral codes for communities of non-religious but moral individuals to employ, so that those of us who desire to treat each other honourably have to approach potential friends, neighbours, lovers, employers and business partners without really having any inkling of whether these people claim to profess any moral principles, and second because we can do far more to oppose corruption as a movement than as scattered individuals.

The consequences of the lack of such a movement should be evident to those who aspire for morality: the world is plagued with falsehood, treachery, malice and disdain, simply because many people lack the capacity for morality and so have allowed these things to seep through all aspects of private and public life. In the private sphere, all too often, people make no effort to intervene when crimes occur and somehow expect the police and the courts to work on their behalf whenever they find themselves in jeopardy. Workers intoxicated with greed and conformity happily join corrupt institutions and look the other way when potential whistleblowers or talented individuals that threaten their bosses’ egos are harassed into leaving, with no serious legal recourse against the perpetrators or callous bystanders. Good men naively fall in love with evil women, then find themselves with no legal recourse to fight against their wives when these commit adultery or paternity fraud; indeed, rather than defend the victims, the family courts are ready to strip them of their assets and income, practically enslaving them in the process of no-fault divorce when the women they loved decide to desert them.

Looking at the public sphere, we see the bankers who led the most recent economic collapse give themselves bonuses to sate their primitive greed while most people look on or at the most grumble quietly about the issue. We see corporations such as Wal-Mart and ASDA sweeping in to destroy local businesses entirely because common people, driven by petty self-interest, are unwilling to make the sacrifice to shop at their usual outlets when the cheaper corporate option becomes available. We see government agencies, such as the federal reserve and intelligence agencies, that exist primarily to further the wealth and influence of their leadership, and “prestigious” universities that routinely act against the truth for the sake of profit. The corruption of these institutions exists because of the inherent evil of the people who work in them – because, in a culture of narcissism, such people and their sycophants are praised, not eliminated.

The most damning evidence of the effects of immorality comes from a research article from 2009, “the desire to expel unselfish individuals from the group”, which shows how more than a hundred psychology students fiercely wanted to remove an altruistic person (really a computer program) from a common investment fund made up of five people (one student and four AIs masquerading as humans) because the person’s generous investment practices were making the students feel bad about their own selfish practices and those of the other AI participants. It should come as no surprise, then, that workplace bullying, whose perpetrators are often fundamentally evil and whose targets are often people of integrity, is rife in such sectors as academia, teaching and medicine – places that good people join in the hope of doing good, and that evil people join in the hope of hiding behind their reputations.

If you wish to devote your life to loving, teaching, learning from and fighting alongside the good, honouring the wishes and beliefs of those around you, you will find yourself in opposition with the current legal and social environment. If people verbally harass you, and you justly fight them for it, with evidence of their harassment to support you, the courts will in all likelihood fine you and let those who harassed you run loose. If you instead bring the evidence to the courts without attacking the culprits, the courts will ignore you, as verbal harassment is not a crime. If you bring evidence that certain people are malicious in nature (for instance, neuroimaging evidence of psychopathy), the courts will likewise ignore you and patiently wait for the psychopath to commit several more crimes before being dragged to their doorstep by the police. If cowardly bureaucrats lie to you and pervert the rules of their institutions in order to cover up for the management’s disreputable though not illegal actions, and you have evidence you can bring to the courts, the courts will, once again, have to ignore you. Indeed, if anyone inflicts even the worst of psychological abuse on you or someone you know, even to the point of driving a person to suicide, their actions will not be regarded as criminal and they will in all likelihood not get any prison sentence. The law is set against, not for, morality, and having faith in people means that, should they ever exploit your good faith or treat it with disdain, acting against you, you have (at present) no legal recourse, while the perpetrators do have legal recourse against you should you choose to physically retaliate.

Imagine, however, if deception, manipulation, adultery, ridicule, harassment and other forms of psychological abuse resulted in criminal penalties (if they could be proven via recordings), or if (more radically) the victim were at any time allowed to challenge the perpetrator to a gun duel for the more serious or persistent of these crimes. In the former case, good people would be able to fight evil on an even footing and oppose the spread of corruption in any institutions they joined. In the latter case, which is certainly far more violent, cowards would be put in their place in the dank corners of humanity, and most evil individuals would be imprisoned or killed as soon as they exposed themselves. If no laws against psychological abuse and moral crimes exist, it is primarily because, as of now, the notion of morality in the private sphere is almost absent from public discourse, and so no one is actually campaigning on the issue.

Any movement that campaigns against corruption as a whole must do so in both the public and private sphere. Institutional corruption is nothing more than the corruption carried out by packs of evil individuals, and the political intrigues that cause institutions to become corrupt can be stopped when the evil individuals who engage in them move into prisons rather than up the corporate ladder. People who wish to expose evil must have a legal right to take recordings of all they observe, and this must be enshrined as a basic human right. Whistleblowers must be protected not simply from the immediate threat of retaliation from the employer, but also from the risk of being blacklisted in their industry, knowing that other people of integrity await them with open arms in institutions and communities that can truly demonstrate their culture of integrity. Good people must have the means to vote not on which elected officials will ostensibly represent them, but on the actual policies through direct democracy, and must come together to solidify their position, as a demographic, in the economy, by working together and refusing to take up employment in immoral institutions. I would much rather work for good people and noble principles than for a high salary and dental benefits, and I know every other moral person out there feels the same way; as individuals who engage in moral reasoning are more determined to immoral individuals and more effective at working together, we can achieve a lot more than our detractors by banding together.

All this serves as a set of arguments that we, as individuals who value morality, need to reshape the corrupt world in which we live so that it facilitates rather than hinders our cultivation and manifestation of virtue. When a good person discovers the truth, the corrupt should be prevented from censoring them. When a good person has pledged to love someone eternally, with all their heart, they should receive justice for the pain of betrayal if their love is mistakenly given to an adulterer or serial monogamist. When a good person, seeking to inspire and aid everyone, finds an evil individual whose nature drives them to humiliate, lie and exploit, they should have the means to destroy that individual for these very reasons – because clear evidence can be given that the individual deliberately humiliated, lied to or exploited someone, as well as because neuroimaging can show that this individual is by nature malevolent, a psychopath.

I understand that, just as there are many people who do not wish to engage in critical thinking, there are those who find no interest in pursuing moral reasoning, believing that their emotions, or the emotions of others (particularly in-group members or authority figures), are the only things that ought to drive their behaviour. Some of these people espouse various forms of liberalism, craving the freedom to do whatever they like while having as few responsibilities as they can get away with, whereas others espouse traditional conservatism, craving the responsibility to make everyone do what certain other people (or deities) like, but assuming, sometimes falsely, that these people’s likes and dislikes stem from a better understanding of morality. Both liberals and traditional conservatives hold a certain degree of influence in western culture. But there are also people who, by nature, are driven towards a deeper understanding of morality, looking beyond mere likes and dislikes, and who find it painful to live in a world in which to give love, act with courage or share knowledge often means squandering them all on those who simply absorb them and carry on living selfishly, with no regard for what they had been shown or given. I would argue that both liberals and conservatives have a voice in western societies (even if some who class themselves as “conservatives” are economically liberal), but it seems that those whom I address are still a disparate group with no real sense of identity – which is perhaps fitting for a group that thinks objectively, but not very practical if we are to achieve the sort of world that we believe is right.

I write this blog, then, in an effort to help create a sense of community among moral individuals, to encourage others to write their own blogs (or other resources) to eventually discuss how we can make the world a haven of justice and noble endeavours, and most importantly, to act on the ideas we develop and actually devote our lives to bring the world into the better state we envision. The biggest challenge, as I see it, is to create a political force working under the banner of morality that is both incorruptible (this is not as difficult as it may seem) and sufficiently populous to have any meaningful political impact (which is really at the heart of the problem). The universal principles we honour can only manifest in the world when we bring them about, and when we prevent others from impeding them. All this can only happen if we become a political force in our own right.

I should note that I am an atheist, and believe that absolute moral principles can be revered, honoured and fought for in the absence of deities or other divine enforcers, but hope that religious people will still find interest in this blog. I believe that at least one true moraity – one that is universal and logically coherent – exists and can be ultimately fully understood and applied, although there might not necessarily be creatures to manifest it, in the same way that the various aspects of mathematics are universal and logically coherent, and can be ultimately fully understood and applied, although the physics of the universe we live in might only rely on part of them. I will also argue later in this blog that if gods did exist, then their volition would be subject to this universal morality rather than this universal morality being subject to their volition, proving that people can reach an understanding of morality without the guidance of a god or priesthood. I will attempt, in parts of the blog, to develop the theory of an objective morality, as well as to elaborate on applications of that theory in designing an AI that can manifest morality (which is not as difficult as it sounds) and perhaps bolster the small population of non-religious moral individuals in the world.

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