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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