Abstract: 'A Complete Integrated Theory of the Fundamental Principles of Morality'

From: Marc Geddes (marc_geddes@yahoo.co.nz)
Date: Tue Aug 10 2004 - 01:20:26 MDT

O.K, boys and girls. Here's the quick summary of my
full and final theory of morality. This is also now
posted on my web-site as a part of my
'Libertarian-Transhumanist Philosophical Platform',
Version 2.0. I've expanded the first draft quite a
bit. A number of transhumanists are mentioned there,
including Eliezer. I don't want to mis-represent
anyone here, so if you think you see something
seriously wrong don't hesitate to e-mail me so I can
modify the offending section.

Abstract: 'A Complete Integrated Theory of the
Fundamental Principles of Morality'

Copyright Marc Geddes, August 10, 2004

The Equivalence of Mind and Morality: How Volitional
Consciousness Creates Values
Good and Evil are categories of value judgment about
various things. Value judgments imply ideals, or
goals towards which moral agents aim to strive. This
in turns requires consciousness and the experience of
conscious choice, which exist in minds. Since there
are no supernatural minds in existence in reality,
good and evil must be generated by the minds of
ordinary mortal beings, like humans. So Good and Evil
are not objective properties of reality in the same
way that mathematical or physical facts are, since
they are in part created by the choices that humans
make. But the choices that people make will be
heavily influenced by human nature itself. Minds
require brains shaped by our biological heritage.
Evolutionary psychology studies how human morals stem
from the forces of biological evolution. People's
choices will also be influenced by the social
environment. The theory of memes is concerned with
the spread of cultural ideas.

But exactly what is the nature of choice? Philosopher
Ayn Rand proposed that free will is a function of the
capacity to think rationally. In other words, one can
expand ones volitional consciousness (free will) to
the extent that one can think rationally. Developing
this idea, I propose that in this context rational
thinking makes the ability to imagine a number of
different possible choices and to rationally calculate
the consequences of each. It is the sense of time, or
ability to project one's imagination into the future,
combined with the creative and rational faculties to
imagine new possibilities and to understand the
consequences of each that generates morality. The
very essence of morality is rational choice. This is
a form of existentialist philosophy, the idea that we
are in the process of changing our very essence by the
choices we make.

The fallacy of moral skepticism and the existence of
moral universals
The fact that morality is generated by minds does not
mean that morality is wholly arbitrary. Moral
relativists will try to claim all morality is relative
to some particular cultural group or even individual
people. All moralities are equal they say. A few
people take this to the extreme and say that morality
is entirely relative to individuals. This is radical
moral skepticism.

But morality is not wholly relative. As explained,
the nature of a mind will be heavily influenced by its
physical substrate. In humans that is our biological
evolutionary heritage. Another point to note that
there is no such thing as a group mind. So human
wants and needs reside in individual minds, which
exist quite independently of social institutions such
as government.

There should exist general characteristics that
virtually all rational beings (like humans) have in
common, emerging from their basic natures. These
universals can form the basis for universal standards
of moral judgment, standards that all rational beings
can agree to. We can call these moral universals.
Three universal moral principles will be suggested in
the next two sections. Within the framework of a few
general universal principles, a broad diversity of
positive moralities would be possible. But they would
be judged by the established universal standards.

Interpersonal conduct: Egoism versus Altruism and the
difference between Rights and Values.
When considering interpersonal conduct, it is
important to draw a sharp distinction between Rights
and Values. Rights are our obligations to other moral
agents. Values suggest personal goals we can chose to
pursue. Just because moral agents have values, this
certainly doesn't necessarily give them the right to
impose these values upon others! As a general rule of
thumb, Rights are a guide to what we shouldn't do.
Values are more positive in that they suggest what we
should do. The theory of Rights will be explained in
the sections on 'Politics'. The following sections
discuss Values. The suggested ethical principles in
these sections are only intended as guides to
individual personal conduct, not legal principles.

Is it better to act in one's own rational
self-interest or for the benefit of others with no
expectation of personal gain? Egoist theories of
morality propose that a person's actions are not moral
unless they always produce such benefit for that
person. Altruists say the opposite: a person must act
selflessly for the benefit of others in order to be
moral. Neither egoism nor altruism is a good guide to
moral behavior. Altruism fails to take into properly
take into account the moral values of the Self (Moral
Agent), Egoism fails to properly take into account the
moral rights of others. A viable moral theory must
take into consideration the moral values and rights of
all moral agents.

The approach known as Utilitarianism is the right one.
 Here the moral values and rights of all moral agents
are taken into account. The idea is that we should
act in such a way as to maximize the overall
satisfaction of the wants and needs of all agents
potentially interacting with each other in some group.
 A mixture of altruism and egoism will be needed. On
the average agents will benefit from following this
morality, but sometimes they will need to make some
degree of sacrifice for others. In practice what is
happening is trade-offs between different values. In
the sections that follow the proposed moral universals
are meant to be applied in a Utilitarian sense: we
should be looking to maximize the overall value in a
society as a whole.

Perfectionist ethics
There is no reason for thinking that humans are the
end of the evolutionary process. On the contrary it
is likely that they were merely the beginning. It is
possible for beings to exist with cognitive and
physical abilities as far beyond those of humans as
humans abilities are beyond those of slugs. Since
values are generated by our capacity for imagination
and rational thinking, we could enhance meaning and
value by enhancing our innate abilities. The
Universal principle here is self-improvement.

It is a mistake to assume that what is natural is
necessarily good. Aids, small-pox and cancer were all
natural. Humans should regard reality as a work of
art in progress and aim to perfect themselves,
utilizing science, technology and critical thinking to
deliberately enhance human mental and physical
characteristics towards this end.

Humans should seek to transcend to Post-human states.
This does not mean a total alteration of human nature.
 Instead it means seeking to enable the positive
aspects of human nature to better flourish, whilst
countering the negative.

Transhumanist Max More was the first to develop these
ideas in a comprehensive way, through his Extropian
philosophy. The heroic idea of the super-man
'over-coming' through acts of will is strongly echoed
in the much earlier philosophy of Nietzsche, who also
used the metaphor of life as a work of art in

Immortalist ethics
Minds generate values. But minds cannot continue to
do this if minds cease to exist. The longer the
possible future before us, the greater the range of
choices open us, and hence the more potential meaning
and value. Long lives give us the potential to learn
more and encourage longer-range thinking, things that
will tend to make us more moral. It's clear that the
meaning of a person's life does in part depend on its
length. This can be taken as the grounding for a
Universal ethics.

Humans should aim to take those actions which enhance
their own survival prospects and avoid those actions
which degrade their own survival prospects. The
derived moral imperative is that humans should strive
to lengthen their life spans by making rational
life-affirming choices and pursuing radical life
extension technologies. It's possible that the risk
of death can never be reduced to zero, but can be
continuously reduced over an indefinite time frame
through a never ending application of ever greater
ingenuity and technology. Thus immortality in the
sense of indestructibility would be impossible, but
immortality in the sense of indefinite life span would
be possible.

The idea of attempting to ground a universal ethics in
an affirmation of life has been used by such notables
as philosopher Ayn Rand (although in an egoist sense,
versus a Utilitarian sense here) and German
philosopher Albert Schweitzer. I myself first
developed the ideas summarized here in an essay
published for the book 'The Scientific Conquest Of
Death' ('An Introduction to Immortalist Morality')

Epicurean ethics
Immortalist ethics and perfectionist ethics suggest
general universal goals for rational beings to pursue,
providing a standard for judging positive and negative
choices. Yet clearly a huge (in fact an infinite!)
diversity of sub-goals is consistent with these
broader goals. Since all such sub-goals are by
definition good, it would be a tragedy not to explore
as many of them as possible. All of us are unique.
To learn something new is to interact with it in a
unique way, and hence convey new meaning and value
upon it.

Given these points, more universal principles present
themselves: to value diversity, complexity and
novelty for their own sakes. In fact humans are
hard-wired to experience a certain amount of pleasure
in such things. An Epicurean Imperative expands our
horizons greatly. New knowledge, new art, new food,
new places, new people, all greatly enhance avenues
for positive experiences. Hand in hand with learning
and understands comes the value of tolerance. Because
such a diverse range of positive values are possible,
we must totally respect view-points other than our

Extrapolated Volition and Collective Volition:
Yudkowsky's arrow of morality

We can combine all the ideas in this section to obtain
an understanding of what morality is. What a person
currently values is not necessarily what is moral. As
explained, the ability to create and act upon one's
values is limited by the capacity for creative and
rational thinking relevant to imagining and
calculating future outcomes. The general nature of
rational beings with volitional consciousness (like
humans) establishes moral universals. The very
process of seeking values creates values.

If we lived long enough to think deeply (a requirement
leading to Immoralist ethics), acquired lots of
interesting life experience and knowledge (a
requirement leading to Epicurean ethics) and were
smarter and more imaginative (a requirement leading to
Perfectionist ethics) we would better be able to make
creative and rational choices. This defines a sort of
'arrow of morality' moving into the future.

Again, Existentialist philosophy is useful here. The
current meaning of our lives depends on the person we
should aim to become: our wiser, future selves. A
wiser possible future version ourselves represents our
'Extrapolated Volition'. In accordance with
Utilitarianism, this idea has to be applied on a
social level, as well as an individual level. Then we
obtain an arrow of morality for society as a whole,
the 'Collective Volition'. The terms 'Extrapolated
Volition' and 'Collective Volition' were first
developed and explored in depth by artificial
intelligence scientist Eliezer Yudkowsky.
Extrapolating Volition further and further into the
future defines increasing goodness. To seek values is
to create values and the created values further the
seeking. That's what morality is.


'The Libertarian-Transhumanist Philosophical Platform'

"Live Free or Die, Death is not the Worst of Evils."
                                      - Gen. John Stark

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