Volitional Morality and Action Judgement

From: Michael Roy Ames (michaelroyames@yahoo.com)
Date: Thu May 13 2004 - 14:17:40 MDT

Dear SL4;

Prompted by Michael Anissimov's recent post "American Humanists Association
2004 conference report - complete!" and the replies to it...

I would like to comment on volitional morality, particularly in reference to
the actions of: drug consumption (drinking), risk taking (gambling),
hedonism (binging) and commercial exchange (profiting).

In Western society the default mental models of all these ideas involve
voluntary actions. From the point of view of volitional morality, it is
erroneous to classify voluntary actions by volitional beings as morally
negative if the action does not effect anyone else. To the extent that an
action does effect others, there can be a judgment of moral value by
identifying what the effects are, and how others evaluate those effects.

In plain language:

* Actions that effect ourselves alone are morally neutral.
* Actions that effect others in a way they disapprove are morally negative.
* Actions that effect others in a way they do not care about are morally
* Actions that effect others in a way they approve are morally positive.

It is only possible to have a morally negative or positive action when it
effects others. This implies that volitional morality has something to say
about actions as they effect others, but nothing to say about actions in and
of themselves.

Adhering to volitional morality would seem to require that individuals'
choices effecting themselves alone to be respected. Even, or perhaps
*especially* when the choices are not those that the person standing in
moral judgment would make. Additionally it would seem that it is erroneous
to classify voluntary transactions between volitional beings as morally
negative, as long as the transactions effect only the parties involved.

In reference to specific situations, it would follow that:

* Drug consumption is morally neutral. (eg. drinking alcohol).
* Drug consumption followed by actions that put others at risk without their
permission is morally negative. (eg. drinking and driving).
* Drug consumption followed by actions that benefit others is morally
positive. (eg. coffee for air-traffic controllers)
* Risk taking is morally neutral. (eg. playing poker for money)
* Risking the lives of others without their approval is morally negative.
(eg. Playing 'Chicken' with a loaded school bus)
* Risking the money of others with their approval is morally positive. (eg.
Stock broker)
* Hedonism is morally neutral. (eg. binging on choco-chip ice-cream)
* Hedonism that negatively effects others is morally wrong. (eg. Having a
massage & pedicure instead of chairing the board meeting)
* Hedonism that positively effects others is morally positive. (eg. Having a
massage & pedicure on a day off)
* Commercial exchange cannot be morally neutral (AFAIK) because commercial
exchange does not occur unless there is a perceived benefit.
* Commercial exchange that is forced is morally wrong. (eg. monopoly
* Commercial exchange that is free is morally positive. (eg. garage sales,
street sales)
There is more to say about volitional morality than can be fit into a short
post. (Eg: http://sl4.org/archive/0309/7097.html)  Especially pertinent is
the aspect of informational availability - how much a being knows about
something affects their opinions and decision.  Therefore how much
information should be gathered before coming to a decision?  Also there is
the puzzle of intelligence differential.  How would the application of
volitional morality work out when beings of vastly different intelligence
interact?  Important stuff, worth discussing!
Michael Roy Ames

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