NEW ETHIC: A PROPOSAL
Our objective to formulate an ethic acceptable to all human beings imposed on us the necessity of drafting this outline in a manner as clear and concise as we know how. Philosophical and scientific jargon was either eschewed or, if judged unavoidable, explained in the text. In order to make the development unencumbered, we tried to present logical trends rather than personalities responsible for particular formulations of ideology at a given point in history. The text is preceded by a list of some of the linchpins constituting our conception.
The age of the atom, technology, and information, in which the proportions of the earth have shrunk and humankind could be annihilated at the press of a button, renders the formulation and adoption of a global ethic a compelling necessity.
It is not illogical to hold that a plane of absolute deontological right and wrong exists but, given the lack of agreement on its precepts, we have to be content with achieving consensus on an ethic for here and now based on reason and experience as our imperfect but still best guides.
A common/global/consensual morality, even though not supported by philosophical or religious absolutes, could at least help people understand more about the world they live in, ensure them a potential for the free development of their spirituality, and allow them to have more rewarding and satisfying lives.
Since human life is fundamentally goal-oriented, a teleological ethic appears well suited to account for it.
Human communication is pointless unless we assume that truth is ascertainable.
Human life is impossible without the postulate of genuine choice, and therefore of right and wrong conduct.
As free moral agents human beings are responsible for the intended consequences of their actions: this is strictly speaking the sphere of ethics.
The actual good or evil consequences of actions, while of crucial import, do not belong to the moral sphere properly so called–on this issue we break with the classic utilitarian approach.
Aggression, deceit, and the exploiting of perceived weakness constitute crucial preventable evils that hinder the attainment of a society where human beings can lead rewarding lives.
The effect of each wrong action committed tends to snowball, so that society eventually has to pay a high cumulative price for it.
Moral systems may be classified into two main underlying models which affirm contradictory values: Code One endorses hostility, deception, and exploitation; Code Two, benevolence and truthfulness.
Typically people subscribe to both codes at various times without realizing or admitting that they are mutually irreconcilable.
Code One, the morality of aggression, deceit, and exploitation, has had by far the deeper roots and stronger sway in the history of human affairs.
Code One represents an adaptation at the human level of some of the laws or operations (struggle for life, food chain) of the biota; it regards incessant strife, whether by brute force or cunning, as an example to follow.
Code Two may be regarded as a human revolt against the ruthlessness and guile of nature’s order.
An overall perspective discloses that Code Two, despite temporary setbacks, has been gaining in acceptance in human history.
At the level of individual cost/benefit calculation, Code-One conduct represents narrow, shortsighted self-interest, while Code Two stands for enlightened, long-term self-interest.
A negative correlation between recognition and merit — those least deserving receiving the highest honors and vice versa — is not unusual in society.
The New Ethic reconciles the age-old dilemma or chasm between selfishness and altruism.
Table of Contents
1.1. Something Is Wrong with the World
1.2. Two Contradictory Codes
1.3. Origins of Code One
1.4. Two as Countercode
2. Basic Terms Explained
2.1. Simplifying to Highlight Profiles
2.2. Code One: Parameters
220.127.116.11. Difficulties with the Word “Power”
2.2.4. Exploiting Perceived Weakness
2.2.5. Code One not Nature’s Way Pure and Simple
2.3. Code Two: Parameters
2.4. Paradoxical Cases
3. The Nature of Ethical Knowledge
3.1. The Importance of Ethics
3.3. Criteria of Absolute/Infallible/Scientific Validity in Ethics
3.3.1. Revelation and Religion
3.3.2. Conscience/Intuition/Gut Feeling
3.3.3. Lay or Political Authority
18.104.22.168. Social Science
22.214.171.124. Natural Science
3.3.5. Conclusions Concerning Moral Absolutes/Certainties
3.4. Consequentialism and Teleology
3.5. Scaling Down Our Objectives: Postulates and First Underlying Value
4. Which Code Is Right?
4.1. A Rational Code Binding for All Humans Can Be Formulated
4.2. The Aim of Prescriptive Ethics Is the Good of Human Beings
4.3. The Two Opposite Meanings of Self-Interest
4.4. Survival through Heredity or Survival after Death?
4.5. Progeny as Death, Survival, and Transcendence
4.6. Cooperation and Competition
4.7. Codes One and Two as Malice and Benevolence
5. Ethics and Onto/Anthropogenesis
5.1. The Beginning of the Story Must Be Filled in
5.1.1. The Personal Autobiography
5.1.2. The Autobiography of the Species
5.1.3. The Golden Age Myth Unites the Personal and Anthropogenetic Fictions
5.2. The Stories of the Morality of the Race and of the Person are in Fact Intertwined
5.2.1. Texture of the Earliest Recalled Experiences
126.96.36.199. An Inexplicable Munificence
5.2.2. Phylogeny and Ontogeny
5.2.3. Anthropogeny and Moral Ego Development
5.3. Individual Moral Development in the Context of the Moral Development of the Species
6. What Is Valuable?
6.1. In Extrahuman Nature Interests Conflict
6.2. Human Interests, Needs, and Values
6.3. Some Human Interests Are in Apparent Conflict
6.4. Is the World Big Enough for Six Billion Great Guys? Knotty Issues of Equality, Hierarchy, and Merit
6.5. Violence, Deceit, and Exploitation as Selective Advantages
6.6. Code One Boomeranging
6.7. Violence, Deceit, and Exploitation Becoming Counterproductive.
6.8. Identification Cannot Be Extended to the Whole Biota
6.9. Genetic, Learning, and Rational Aspects of Code One and Code Two
6.9.2. Learning: Environmental and Genetic Interaction
188.8.131.52. (a) Shifting Strategy
184.108.40.206. (b) Conation
220.127.116.11. (a) Impartial Reason
18.104.22.168. (b) Cost/Benefit Calculation
22.214.171.124. (c) Compromise of Expediency
6.9.4. Code One Supplanted by Code Two
6.10. Short-Term versus Long-Term Interests
6.11. Morality Is not Always Self-Sacrifice
6.12. Benevolence and Long-Term Self-Interest Coincide
7. Issues in Applied Ethics
7.1. The Game of “Who Is Right?”–What Is Right, and What Are Rights, Anyway?
7.3. Nature: Friend or Foe?
7.3.1. Respecting All Life Is an Impossible Goal
7.3.2. Optimum Realistic Limits of Respecting Life
126.96.36.199. The Ethics of Environmentalism
188.8.131.52. Is Cruelty to Animals Wrong?
184.108.40.206. Some Examples of Unnecessary Harm Done to Life Forms
220.127.116.11.1. Hunting and Fishing
18.104.22.168.2. Meat Eating, Animal Husbandry, Pets
22.214.171.124.3. Animal Experimentation
7.4. Celebrity, or the Cult of Nothingness
We appreciate constructive comments and suggestions. The authors may be contacted by email
1.1 Something Is Wrong With the World
Many of us have felt from time to time that we live in an upside-down world, where evil is rewarded and good deeds go at best unrecognized. Some literally get away with murder if they can afford to hire expensive lawyers, while hard-working citizens cannot earn a living wage; bloodthirsty dictators bask in the applause of ecstatic crowds, while those who stand up for human rights get thrown into prison. In fact, it has been said that the only place where virtue receives its just deserts is fiction. But on what grounds do we condemn such occurrences as unjust? Why do we think that what goes on in society is wrong or even absurd instead of merely acknowledging that this is the way the ball bounces?
One reason is that as a rule we are brought up to expect a type of order which as adults we subsequently cannot find in life. Superman, both self-effacing and honest, is assured ultimate victory in his storybook existence. But as children we are liable to overlook that without his supernatural powers he would not be able to get the upper hand, and that in the real world forthrightness and meekness are not necessarily combined with power. Superman captivates the popular fancy because magically he appeals to both basic underlying ethical systems: the worship of power and the code of mercy.
1.2 Two Contradictory Codes
In fact these two codes, “might is right” and “protect the innocent,” are opposed and irreconcilable. However, our culture blurs the differences and confuses the issues. Code One preaches war, Code Two advocates peace — so our civilization has come up with the idea of humane rules of conduct in warfare. Or: the contestants in the ring shake hands — a sign of friendship — and then proceed to knock each other’s brains out. A man who hates your guts might say “I pity you” or “I am worried about you.” Typically, the code of peace and cooperation is used to camouflage the code of hostility and aggression.
1.3 Origins of Code One
System One, which has had by far the greater sway in human affairs, is the codification — the setting up as a norm of conduct –of the struggle for survival. This struggle stands for much that takes place in nature where species is pitted against species in a ruthless and relentless strife. It is best exemplified by the food chain, which is set up in such a way that its members cannot even help destroying one another: carnivores are condemned to devour herbivores in a slaughter that perpetuates itself and whose end would actually spell the extinction of predators. Still this fight is exacerbated by rivalry between different groups of a species as well as individual members within those groups, presenting a picture of bellum omnium contra omnes, a war of each against all. Early human morality proceeds out of this background, establishing tribal and chiefdom hierarchies based on the number or enemies killed by the warrior and later the excellence of states on their conquests, on their ability to subjugate people, virtually all neighbors being regarded as foes.
1.4 Two as Countercode
Seen in this light, the appearance of Code Two, the ethics of compassion, may be regarded as a revolt against the natural order of things, against the ruthlessness reigning in the biota (though the issue is more complex; we will return to it below in 2.2.4 and 4.3). In fact, as more advanced methods of stock farming, agriculture, and record keeping permitted the rise of the great ancient empires, the so-called big man, local despot, or chief — whose authority was limited by crude means of control — was replaced by the god-king whose word was law and whose power over his subjects was nearly total. From that point on, history shows a gradual diminution of the domination of human being over human being, as god-kings give way to divine emperors; rulers who are only representatives of the Almighty; constitutional monarchs exercising power by the grace of God and the consent of the people; down to the democratic head of state who is supposed to carry out the will of citizens, the latter being seen, at least theoretically, as equal in rights. Though temporary setbacks, often due to disparities in levels of development — e.g., comparatively civilized Rome succumbing to barbarian invasions–abound, and paradoxical phenomena — such as the power of deceptive contemporary mass media over audiences — occur, the overall trend in favor of equity, tolerance, and rational accord is nevertheless unmistakable.
Prophets and sages, appearing as isolated beacons perhaps as early as 2,500 years ago, advocated equality against oppression. The great pyramidally structured, strictly hierarchical empires were in their heyday then: the prophets’ message was practically ignored at the time, yet it did not fall on fallow ground. But it has taken all those years to make a real impact on society.
2 Basic Terms Explained
2.1 Simplifying to Highlight Profiles
When we talk about two opposing codes of ethics, we are sorting out a vast array of tenets into two classes–you might say that there exist at least as many sets of moral beliefs as there are people on this planet–in order to bring the fundamental issues into sharper focus. To fit the context in each case, we used different terms above to characterize these codes. Now let us take a closer look at them.
2.2 Code One: Parameters
126.96.36.199 Difficulties with the Word “Power” For characterizing some of the tendencies prized in Code One, writers in the past have used such expressions as “the cult of power.” However, the word power has a great variety of meanings in English usage, so that identifying Code One with simply power as one of its central constituents may prove misleading; e.g., power does not necessarily imply domination. Noting the ambiguity of the word, some authors (Lasswell, Kaplan, Dahl) have drawn a distinction between power-to (akin to energy, strength, potency) and power-over, to signify domination, oppression, and coercion.
188.8.131.52 Power(-Over) Power-over is close to what we regard as pertaining to the essence of Code One. But the word power pure and simple might serve us in many instances if the context is sufficiently clear and if we consider that by Code One it is taken to be a moral value (characterizing actions as right or wrong, good or bad) instead of a physical property. To indicate the parameters of power(-over) as understood by us, it may be helpful to correlate it with other lexemes: (in addition to oppression, domination, and coercion) strife, violence, hostility, and cruelty are often used in standard vocabulary in a largely overlapping sense. In the course of our discussions of applied ethics we plan to cite many concrete examples, without which such conceptions remain vague and misinterpretable.
Code One in our scheme has a second main constituent: deceit. Deceit/deception in our sense usually occurs when an actor (A) attempts to make another actor (B) take what A believes to be X for Y. This short formula does not however cover all conceivable cases (e.g., lying by omission) of what we subsume under deceit. Numerous other definitions can be proposed, and objections against each can be raised on grounds of scientific purity and rigor — which are not available in the field of human conduct in any case — but our formula is generally serviceable and applicable. Ethologists and sociobiologists have traced the presumable origin and development of deceit back to the mimicry of plants and insects, through the broken-wing routine of birds and dogs faking injury, to planned deception resorted to by baboons and chimpanzees. Thus, like the quest for power, deceit appears deeply entrenched in nature. The invention of snares and traps is said to coincide with the dawn of civilization, and the art of manipulation continues to be a salient feature of contemporary culture. Historically, the positive ethical ranking attributed to deception and lying applies particularly to humans’ struggle with animals and to intergroup rather than intra group contention (rivalry). Solidarity with members of the same pack after all governs the behavior of even predatory mammals. But there is no mistaking the tribute paid to craftiness as exercised within the community throughout historical and literary records, and in fact a contemporary school of psychologists and anthropologists attributes great importance to deceit and manipulation in the development of social intelligence. Professors Andrew Whiten and Richard Byrne are today the most important exponents of this view, frequently referred to as the Machiavellian intelligence hypothesis.
This is a bare-bones indication of the ethically most relevant aspect of the vastly complex and intricate problems connected with the relationships between deceit and play, imagination, self-consciousness, imitation, etc. Here we must be content with asserting that in the great majority of cases it is possible to draw a boundary line between analogy, model, or scientific simulation on the one hand and deception on the other.
2.2.3 Exploiting Perceived Weakness
A third category in Code One may perhaps be best characterized as a combination of power-over and deceit: taking the path of least resistance, exploiting, taking advantage of a perceived weakness, of ignorance, gullibility, old age, debility, or handicap of some sort, the attitude that right conduct is whatever you can get away with. The quality may at first seem misplaced among traits touted as admirable. But this would be to overlook the positive assessment of widespread practices and attitudes growing out of hunting and animal domestication and applied to another culture, subculture, race, age group, sex, or social class and individual. Here again the code seems firmly embedded in the biological mechanisms and processes of natural selection and fitness maximization.
2.2.4 Code One not Simply Nature’s Way
We sketched above a rough outline of Code One. It should be pointed out that Code One represents a more or less conscious, explicit, even reasoned set of ethical standards or prescriptions on the human plane, based on a type of human conduct which in turn characterizes some biological regularities observable from the level of simple organisms to the social behavior of nonhuman anthropoids. But we are not asserting that Code One literally sets up nonhuman biological behavior as a model to follow. The issue is more complex; notably, the emphasis in Code One is on the individual self, while in the natural process it is on the offspring. We will return to this aspect of the question below (4.3).
The glorification of Code-One values has enjoyed periodic revivals in the history of ideas, particularly in certain aspects of the back-to-nature movement, not the least pernicious example provided by Nietzsche’s noble beast.
2.3 Code Two: Parameters
They line up in sharp contrast to Code One. From one point of view they cluster around the concept of nurture and caring. Another important aspect is cooperation, involving harmony, consensus, and accord. A third salient feature emphasizes nonviolence, peace, and humility. Understanding, sympathy, empathy, respect, and affection account for yet another component. Last but not least, in opposition to the corresponding parts — deceit and exploiting perceived weakness — in Code One, Code Two enjoins truthfulness. The relevance of truthfulness, honesty, and sincerity here will be seen if we consider that lies take advantage of trust; deceit is by its nature destructive. These terms are overlapping, as indeed they should be if our claim that they express a fundamental attitude is correct, if they can be labeled as systems instead of a sundry assortment of items.
Some of the essence of Code Two is grasped by the maxim familiar to us in the formula “Do to your neighbor as you would have him do to you.” Variants of it started to appear in texts in different parts of the world about 5,500 years after the invention of writing, that is, well before our era, though many millennia after religious rites were presumably first celebrated. It was realized by philosophers at least since St. Augustine that the golden rule, as it is commonly called, or principle of reversibility, as it is technically referred to, can lead to absurdities. For example, a masochist might prefer to be treated roughly. Many improved versions have been suggested, the most famous being Kant’s categorical imperative: “Act so that you can will the principle of your action to become a universal law.” The desired superiority of the Kantian rendering is universalizability — it tries to eliminate incongruities such as the one mentioned above, and it is indeed logically more explicit than the Bible’s sentence. But it does not take care of all possible technical objections either. The popular version has the advantage of being simple and striking; arguably its message is not missed by most persons. Reflection shows that universalizability — general applicability — is a prerequisite implied in the golden rule. Let us take another often-cited counterexample. Suppose I am a judge. Since I do not wish to be incarcerated, I should not sentence a dangerous criminal to prison. But if the defendant is, say, a murderer, he has violated the golden rule in the first place because he killed someone, although he would not want to be killed. Or: the individual who would like people to throw her/him a banquet every time she/he feels like it cannot be accommodated because society lacks the necessary resources for everyone to be treated in this manner. In other words, it is pretty obvious that the rule has to be accepted by everyone in order to work. By breaching it you opt out of the “moral community.” This is the reason why the golden rule is eminently suited for being advocated by a universal, global, or common and consensual ethic. Actually, the counterexamples cited by the detractors of the golden rule prove that its thrust is nearly unmistakable, for they demonstrate that the objectors understand its intended message.
Here we will not enter into a semantic analysis, but will merely propose that for a reflecting person the message of the golden rule is sufficiently clear, and that its basic meaning can be rendered even by such questions as “How would you like it if someone did that to you?” “What if everyone did that?” in turn is a short colloquial rendering of the categorical imperative.
From the viewpoint of the aspiration for a more humane world order, Code Two may indeed be characterized as a revolt against the ruthlessness reigning in the cosmos. Using the language of individual cost/benefit calculation, it corresponds to long-term self-interest. In biophysiological terminology, it indicates the transference of control from the gene to the central nervous system. These constitute three aspects of the same phenomenon, contributing to a coherent theory.
2.4 Paradoxical Cases
Though the two codes assert fundamentally irreconcilable values, paradoxical cases occur frequently in a society where issues have long been confused and, due to underlying inconsistencies, actions considered right by the same code often appear to run at cross purposes. Consider the case of professional secrecy. Attorneys/doctors protect their clients/patients (Code Two) by treating their revelations/illnesses in confidence, but keeping a secret is essentially a lie by omission (Code One). The reason for the seeming contradiction is the general underlying ambiguity of a social order where persons are penalized for what they cannot help. In a society run by Code Two, there would in fact be no need for secrecy.
Above we listed some empirically distinguishable features of the two codes in question. These will be helpful. In our inquiry into the criteria for adopting the right ethical standards we will suggest (in 4.7) an alternative approach which will provide a partial shortcut to this nomenclature.
3 The Nature of Ethical Knowledge
3.1 The Importance of Ethics
The vast importance of ethics is indicated by the fact that much of life consists of a series of choices.Choices are made between alternatives, and one alternative will have to be favored over others in the practice of choosing. This means that there is right and wrong conduct. The choice may involve matters that do not strike us as significantly moral (e. g., “Should I have another piece of cake?”), yet reflection will disclose that there is no fundamental difference between moral and supposedly nonmoral choices: all choices have to do with ethics; it is only in their relative importance that they differ.
Choice means freedom, and we all want to be free, yet in entails doubt too — trepidation. Is there a way to rid ourselves of a lurking sense of guilt over no matter what we do, of a vague feeling that we should have acted differently? While there is no magic escape from the intellectual process of weighing alternatives, the moral dilemma can be considerably eased. We should not have to vacillate between two opposing sets of values, so that our actions remain forever suspended between the commendable and the condemnable.
The attempt to find a basis, an Archimedean fixed point for ethical theory, has come under increasing suspicion and fire by contemporary moralists. This mistrust is understandable if we look at all the false claims and self-serving arguments that have been advanced in favor of one view or another. Yet we cannot avoid making choices. Jane, unable to make up her mind whether to marry John, may think that she has opted for no choice, but in fact she has made one — celibacy, for example, at least for the time being — with inevitable and unalterable consequences. And without presuming that some choices are better than others human life would be simply impossible. Furthermore, there has to be a reason why a choice is preferable. Thus we cannot get away from the premise that morality needs — indeed has — some sort of foundation, not necessarily eternally fixed and absolute, but providing us with reliable criteria of right and wrong.
3.3 Criteria of Absolute/Infallible/Scientific Validity in Ethics
3.3.1 Revelation and Religion
The thesis that a perfect intellect — for which past and future are an open book and by which all things are known and weighed simultaneously — could formulate ethical rules of absolute validity is not in the least illogical. In fact, much of religious doctrine operates on the assumption of commandments of absolute validity laid down by an omniscient God. By no means all known religions have however recognized one perfectly good, omniscient, and omnipotent deity, and religiously based ethics have in the past backed sharply differing values among them. Torture and human sacrifice were part and parcel of some rites, while such practices are abhorrent to other faiths. Fudging such differences may be done with the kindliest motives, but it would be overlooking vast amounts of plain evidence to deny them. On the other hand, it does seem that religious ethical prescriptions have been converging to some extent and will continue to do so. Nevertheless, differences remain, and, particularly in their concrete application, have so far proved insurmountable. A great deal of armed conflict, exacting a considerable toll in human lives, is fought on religious grounds in the world today. As up to this point we have not decided whether this is morally wrong, here we have to anticipate the conclusion that the loss of human lives is regrettable. This being the case, we are left with the hope that, unless and until harmony between religious faiths can be accomplished, a valid basis for ethics can be found at least around a core that does not contradict any religious beliefs or one independent of them that does not unnecessarily offend any particular religious system.
3.3.2 Conscience/Intuition/Gut Feeling
There has been a trend in the history of ideas asserting that conscience forms a reliable guide to what is right or wrong. This position of course has an elusive side, since it cannot be established with complete objectivity whether people who claim to be prompted by their conscience tell the truth. Yet indications are that what is called conscience, intuition, gut feeling, or some kindred faculty, counsels different persons different things. Some serial killers do not appear to be bothered by their conscience, and a list of persons boasting of deeds — whether murder, assault, manipulation, or chicanery — that many others condemn would fill countless pages.
3.3.3 Lay or Political Authority
If we turn to authority as embodied either in the force of custom handed down from generation to generation or law, regulation, or order imposed from above, we find a considerable variety of practices whose only common denominator might be that they tended to protect the privileged. Here we are not concerned with legal systems democratically arrived at — which indeed show much less divergence — but authoritatively prescribed ones.
184.108.40.206 Social Science Particularly since the 19th century, attempts have been made to study ethics from a scientific perspective. This approach aims at descriptiveness rather than prescriptiveness — i.e., it regards and explains ethical systems as they are instead of what they should be. Nevertheless, it often implies value judgments. Psychological theory for instance may indicate avenues of therapy which in turn may likely distinguish between right and wrong conduct. Social science (sociology, political science, ethnology, developmental social psychology, cultural anthropology) can make and indeed has made valuable contributions to normative ethics, but typically it does not claim that its pronouncements have absolute validity and is not interested in deontological ethics, i. e., in actions being intrinsically right or wrong.
220.127.116.11 Natural Science As far as natural science is concerned, we have to consider in the first instance exponents of the theory of evolution who saw an ethical dimension implied in their findings, most importantly Darwin himself. Discounting the social Darwinists of the late 1800’s (Spencer, Fish, Sumner, etc.), in their majority not trained biologists, many of whose claims were discredited, we come to the contemporary sociobiologists. Prominent 20th-century sociobiologists do claim general scientific validity and thereby lend the prestige of natural science to their theories. There can be no doubt that genetics has a significant contribution to make to the study of human conduct. But it must be stated in all fairness that at this stage their theories concerning human morality are tentative, and that individual sociobiologists are not in complete agreement with one another. Some of them (e. g., Dawkins) attribute great importance to the cultural factor and believe that human conduct cannot be predicted or fully explained on genetic grounds. Many scientists, moreover, affirm that ethical questions actually lie strictly outside the scope of their disciplines. We do not exclude the possibility that ethical issues can be judged in an exact scientific manner, but the knowledge and tools to do so are as yet lacking. Such prospects lie in the distant future.
3.3.5 Conclusions Concerning Moral Absolutes/Certainties
In the brief, skeletal review above we asked if uncontroversial criteria could be found as to which of the ethical systems we called basic — Code One or Code Two — we ought to adopt. We found that no such answers were currently available in the fields of deontology (which asserts intuitively certain ethical knowledge), revelation, intuition, authoritarian command, or science. This is not equivalent to saying that none of their claims are valid but that they probably do not have a chance of being generally accepted by the very sources that formulate them (representative classes of deontologists, theologians, intuitionists, authoritarian lawmakers, or scientists) within the foreseeable future. Thus the problem with these criteria is not merely that they do not have a chance of being accepted globally by the majority of the earth’s population — deontological ethicists or scientists may well object after all that validity in their fields cannot be decided at the ballot box as it were — but, more basically, that agreement cannot be reached among a representative group of their own peers who are recognized as experts in their respective fields.
3.4 Consequentialism and Teleology
Since ancient times, philosophers interested in ethical issues have taken a different approach from that discussed so far, one whose relevance is pretty obvious: instead of looking at deeds as right or wrong absolutely or intrinsically, or because of received tradition or authority, they dealt with them at least partly according to the good or bad consequences they result in. This consequentialist type of ethics gained increasing credit as historically focus came to be shifted from the hereafter to the here and now and from an absolute to a relative human perspective. Causality and hence the preoccupation with consequences are essential to the scientific method; therefore it is not surprising to find that the age of the rise of science gave a boost to ethical consequentialism.
As an independent moral philosophy consequentialism was first expounded, under the term utilitarianism, in the late 18th century. Utilitarianism has been criticized from numerous points of view, but its greatest weakness may be that, as presented in its classical form, it could either remove personal responsibility (if only consequences count, intentions are irrelevant)–thereby becoming merely descriptive–or penalize people in an arbitrary manner (the consequences of some actions cannot be accurately assessed by the individual at the time of performing them).
Although utilitarianism has been historically rejected by those who held that actions are right or wrong in themselves irrespective of the consequences, when we examine this issue paying less heed to labels and partisan controversies, we find that theological ethics — moral criteria founded on revelation, that is, on divine command — have their consequentialist side too. The categories of good and evil are proclaimed by God who rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked, in the next world if not in this life, which means that they are not unrelated to consequences. More fundamentally yet, advocates of even the most strictly deontological theories of ethical philosophy will not deny that in acting we have to will the right consequence, we have a purpose (telos) in mind which — even if we dismiss mere emotional/physiological happiness, pleasure, or satisfaction over having done the right thing as the motive — may consist essentially in bringing about what is just, equitable, good, from the point of view of the person performing it; it has to meet with the approval of the agent.
Thus in one very important sense all ethics present varieties of consequentialism. This is because humans are teleological (purposive) beings. As we have said, much of life is a series of choices, and each choice has an end, a purpose: the result aimed at. While the insight that all ethics are in a sense teleological does not amount to denying the existence of an eternal and absolute ethics, and will not settle all arguments between deontologists and consequentialists, it offers a provisional or limited solution of the problem. It means that all ethical problems can be approached from a teleological-consequentialist point of view, since right conduct even for the deontologist has to imply the intention to please the lawgiver (God, etc.), i. e., it ultimately has to meet with the approval of the agent. We do not have to choose between incommensurable criteria of validity. Ethics thus is considered as a field of endeavors to achieve an end.
This end has to be preferred by the agent. The quip of the amoralist that evil acts are impossible to commit because one always has some good in mind — we always choose that which under the circumstances seems the best solution to us — capitalizes on this. But unless we try to embrace psychological determinism, which is pragmatically a nonoption for human beings, it simply means that what is defined as good in one ethical system may be seen as evil in another. The Christian idea of sin as an action known to be wrong but performed in spite of that must be on the right track here.
3.5 Scaling Down Our Objectives: Postulates and First Underlying Value
As we stated above, any particular group/theory may have the word on what the absolutely correct, valid ethics is, but we cannot identify this group — at least we cannot agree on it. Clashing paradigms are undeniably being proposed regarding the ultimate nature of reality. Suppose one were to advance the proposition that human life is a mistake presently being corrected by the development of computers that are/will be replacing humankind/mind? Our common-sense grasp of morality is admittedly subjected to great pressures by such challenges. The point however is that, no matter how our picture of the universe might change, we cannot do without as it were an interim ethical system, a minimalist basis of consensus. We are confronted with choices in our daily lives, we in fact opt for some kind of values in any case. And realizing that finality (purposiveness, intentionality) expresses the deep nature of human life, we can assert with confidence that an ethic formulated with consequences in mind at least constitutionally fits human beings, so to speak. This means that on the one hand we have to be more humble, we must scale down our objectives, yet on the other hand we cannot throw morality out the window.
First, though, we must explicitly recognize some postulates, a starting point we have so far taken for granted. Without them we cannot construct any ethical system at all. As this cannot aspire to be a treatise on epistemology, they will only be given brief mention here. We have to assume that truth is ascertainable and the world is real. We have to trust reason and experience even while allowing that human reasoning has its limitations, and that experiences need to be consistent in order to be trusted. Moreover, we have to posit human freedom because responsibility has no sense without it (even though we recognize that the problem of freedom versus determinism remains a philosophical enigma).
These epistemological, metaphysical, and logical postulates given, rationally the first value is life, as without it there is no playing field for ethics to operate on. As long as we do not commit suicide we implicitly posit life as a value upon which all other values depend. If therefore life is an underlying value, recalling that, for want of a better one, we must opt for consequential ethics, we may conclude that any action aimed at supporting life is right. At this point we are taking life in a generic sense.
Let us sum up our considerations as presented above. Ethics is of vast importance. We cannot avoid making choices. Unless we assume that some choices are better than others, human life becomes impossible. This means that ethics must have some sort of basis. But an absolute point of reference for what is inherently right or wrong is not available in that it remains controversial, and agreement on it is not in sight. This leads us to evaluate actions by their intended consequences, which is in fact a profoundly human approach. Ethics is a field of endeavors to achieve an end that must be seen as good by the agent. Scaling down our objectives, we still have to adopt some epistemological and logical postulates: the world is real; truth is ascertainable; reason and experience are limited but valid guides. Moreover — even though it presents a philosophical enigma — we have to recognize free will for, if all actions are determined, it is pointless to urge people to adopt a given conduct. Further, we must accept life as a primary value, since life is the precondition of action. In an ethical system where the intended good/bad effects count, actions supporting life will therefore count as right ones.
4 Which Code Is Right?
4.1 A Rational Code Binding for All Humans Can Be Formulated
A discerning student of ethical theory has remarked recently that, given the limitations of human knowledge, we will never know if one of us has the correct ideas about ultimately right and wrong conduct; thus we are condemned to play a game of basketball with blindfolds on as it were, not being able to tell if anyone has actually scored any points. This then made him despair of the chances for a common morality as well.
The outlook need not be so grim. True, we have no incontestable absolutes, no scientifically demonstrable theory even, concerning morality. Absolute morality is surrounded for us by a blanket of clouds, just as Olympus was protected from the gaze of mortals. Yet judging the morality of actions by their (intended) consequences, and empirical (though not strictly scientific) evidence about life on earth can provide us with ethical rules that are valid for every human being. These will be relative in that they are related to the ends of humans but not relative at all in the sense that noncompliance with them would be indifferent to the good of humans. It is possible to demonstrate their validity to the extent that it is possible to make considered judgments on a great number of other issues where certainties are also lacking.
4.2 The Aim of Prescriptive Ethics Is the Good of Human Beings
In an ethic where absolutes and certainties are not given, we have to look at actions from the point of view of their intended effects. The underlying value being life, actions supporting life will be seen as right. Actually, for reasons only partially explained above and further developed later (6.8),life here will have to mean human life. Furthermore, as we said, given human psychology, it is self-evident, almost tautologous that the end of an action has to be seen as good by the actor. If the aim of human life is the good, the aim of prescriptive ethics in turn must be to help human beings achieve it. We are therefore interested in actions inasmuch as they can benefit people.
Benefit, interest, advantage though are “soft” words, i. e., in spite of their superficial plainness their meanings are far from self-evident. In a sense, as we said, we cannot help but do what we think best for us; thus from this point of view we act always out of self-interest, but manifestly it can please people at times to help others even at great cost to their health, careers, or wealth; e. g., they can “get more out of” seeing to it that a poor child has warm clothing than putting the same money in the bank. Dismissing psychological questions, we may define interest as concern for one’s material resources. This though is a behaviorist definition, and mental life is an indispensable part of the human condition; therefore, interest will have to include a sense of satisfaction or, if you wish to phrase it thus, concern for one’s mental resources as well.
Human consciousness is individual, and for this reason rationalist moral philosophers tend to consider the good of the individual in the final analysis, even while recognizing social or common interests. When we allow that humans are social beings we nevertheless have to acknowledge that empirically humans turn out to be agents who look out for themselves rather than others or, to put it in another way, are on the whole more pleased by helping themselves than their fellows. This is simply an experiential datum, unrelated to what they ought to do. For better or worse, human society does not substantially resemble the ant colony, where the social interest always automatically comes first — some sociobiologists who happen to be entomologists make one of their mistakes there.
4.3 The Two Opposite Meanings of Self-Interest
Evolutionary or biologically-based ethics usually emphasizes the need for cooperation and as a rule regards the altruism in cooperation as ultimately egoistic because the donor gets rewarded in the end (cf. 6.9.1). Biologists speak of the “selfish gene.” The gene is said to be selfish though by favoring its own offspring. As a matter of fact the organism suppresses itself, it commits suicide as it were, in the interest of the offspring. Death here is seen as an evolutionary correcting (selective) mechanism that enables the next generation to improve its fitness in the struggle for survival.
The biologist’s optic on this issue presents almost the opposite of the traditional view, for which care of the offspring is an aspect of altruism–certainly it would be unusual to praise deadbeat fathers as selfless because they do not support their children. From a strictly selective, evolutionary standpoint, the survival of the self is of course not without “value,” since my organism, as long as it remains a potential progenitor, can further the reproductive process; however, it has value only insofar as it furthers reproduction.
For the biologist “purpose” is a sort of metaphor, since taken literally the term is of course altogether misapplied to natural selection. The reputed TV scientist’s favorite approach, “How would I act if I were a mollusk, a plane tree?” etc., was meant to dramatize the force of natural selection by anthropomorphizing it, making it palpable for the lay viewer. Teleology in the biological scientist’s vocabulary is to be understood in a very special acceptation: mother nature is a “blind watchmaker” that functions by results, not by purpose in the commonly used sense of the word. Conversely, some evolutionary ethicists mistrust purposiveness — which implies free will — regarding human beings as well. At least some biologists imply that humans do not really know what they are doing; when they ascribe motives to their actions they rationalize (here meaning: give specious explanations); it is actually the voice of the gene that speaks through them, unbeknownst to them. This then on the one hand ostensibly arrogates a superhuman status for biologists, while on the other hand undercuts their own theories, as they do not operate outside the human fold, and if human reasons are bound to be rationalizations in the negative sense, theories may lack all truth-value even coming from scientists.
We do not dispute that there are profound, far-reaching similarities between all living things — denying it would be analogous to believing in a Ptolemaic earth-centered universe. On the other hand, humans have in certain respects emancipated themselves from the natural order; the gap between them and even the closest group of anthropoids should not be underestimated. The extent of this emancipation is debatable and unclear. But humans have become individual agents, with more concern for their own personal survival than for the survival of their genes through their progeny. Already in extrahuman mammalians and more ancient classes, such as fish, the instinct for the survival of the self can outweigh that of the progeny. Offspring in fact may even be destroyed by parents. At the human level, the increasing prevalence of contraception and abortion manifestly disproves the contention that behavior simply obeys the promptings of the genes as those promptings are widely interpreted by biologists. Abortion could be biologically explained by conceptions such as the Gaia hypothesis, but these do not fare well with scientific consensus. Biologists almost unanimously posit a blind watchmaker instead of a provident overarching principle assumed to operate according to the Gaia hypothesis.
4.4 Survival through Heredity or Survival after Death?
There appears to be incontrovertible scientific evidence for natural selection. But whereas this process focuses on the offspring, in human consciousness the center of concern has been transferred from the offspring to the personal self, with the result that human beings only partly, mediately identify with their descendants, i. e., regard them as the direct continuation of their selves. The more developed and complex the consciousness, the more discrete, autonomous, and self-contained it is apt to become. In humans the urge for the perpetuation of life has been partly transposed into the belief in the hereafter — personal immortality. Burial of the dead, to be sure, is restricted to our species. Those with the means to do so have been not infrequently far more preoccupied with their own survival in the next world than with their survivors in this one. To pharaoh his children seem to have mattered less than physical preservation beyond the grave and the voyage to the abode of the dead. The attainment of lasting fame through, for example, artistic creation is another aspect of this striving. The immortality of their compositions is a persistent theme with poets. In this manner the human psyche builds parallel structures substituting the processes of nature.
4.5 Progeny as Death, Survival, and Transcendence
For the sociobiologist the cell’s self-sacrifice — suicide — in favor of what is called reproductive advantage is usually seen as a sign of consummate egoism. It indeed is evidently a tool of natural selection and fitness maximization. However, the death of the cell and, particularly starting with the higher vertebrates, the care of the young introduce an Achilles’ heel into the grim struggle for life — the relentless battle of each against all that largely constitutes the model for Code One. Death and care of the young fit into the larger picture of the struggle for life, which serves natural selection. But the unconscious self-sacrifice of the cell, of the parent organism in favor of the offspring, represents also at the same time the first step towards transcendence that, through nurture and protection of the young, cooperation within the colony, pack, and group, and ever-increasing identification with other members of the species, eventually embracing the whole race may, at the human level, lead to the undoing of the very struggle for life that brought it into existence in the first place.
4.6 Cooperation and Competition
Symbiosis in the strict sense, i. e., a mutually supporting interspecific relationship, though certainly not the rule, is actually fairly widespread in nature, and recent research has yielded many striking, unexpected cases of it. Symbiosis may be called an example of interspecific cooperation. Similarly, the somewhat metaphorical description given by contemporary biologists, of organisms, including humans, as huge vehicles composed of symbiotically collaborating genes, stresses the importance of cooperation.The tendency of some biologists and evolutionary ethicists to regard parasitism in the widest sense of the term, including the food chain, as an example of cooperation, is however absurd — or, if you wish, confers a completely different meaning on cooperation. Here we wish to debate issues instead of words. To say that a baboon cooperates with a leopard when the leopard attacks and devours it is to twist the standard meaning of cooperation.
By contrast, when biologists, anthropologists, or ethologists argue that intraspecific, intragroup cooperation was, at least initially, a form of competition, they may well be correct. This type of cooperation is prevalent in human society. Nations, ethnic groups, tribes, ideologies, religions, associations, teams, etc., etc. intricately divide the human race, establishing loyalty and cooperation within and competition without. Even football fans belonging to the same religion pray — to a supposedly all-knowing and just God who can track the merits of each side better than any mortal — for the victory of their respective, opposing teams. Life indeed may be looked at as having a competitive and a cooperative side, and cooperation with some can be sought in order to compete with others, but to conclude from this that cooperation amounts to a type of competition is a palpable fallacy.
It might be argued that competition is so deeply ingrained in the human psyche as to be ineradicable and so basic to human affairs as to be indispensable; that, moreover, even limiting it would on the whole result in more harm than good for mankind. Unquestionably in business competition is nearly always preferable to monopoly, but that is not equivalent to saying that it is good per se. Certainly in the last century or so the system that has proved most advantageous to wide segments of the population in industrially advanced countries is a mixed economy with redistributive features and a social safety net. This could correspond to the conditions at which the economy can most effectively operate at the present stage to the relative advantage of the majority. Allowing this, a great deal of latitude is left for finding the best structure.
4.7 Codes One and Two as Malice and Benevolence
From the point where higher awareness and consciousness make their appearance in living beings, there is a common element in the development that started, at the unconscious level, with the self-suppression of the organism in favor of its offspring. What nurturing, protection of the young, and cooperation with members of the same group — family, clan, tribe, nation, association –have in common is benevolence toward the object of their attention. We agree with the biologist or evolutionary ethicist when he/she may claim that this benevolence is ultimately selfish insofar as, using our terminology, it proceeds, arguably in all cases without exception, from an identification with its object. Progressively wider extensions of this lead to identification with the entire human race, good will toward all, which is essentially the message of Code Two. (We actually anticipated this by including the golden rule in our parameters in 2.3 above.) Correspondingly the substance of Code One consists in the refusal to empathize, the resolve to see in women and men the other, the alien, enemy, and opponent: malice, ill will toward all. To coordinate the two definitions/descriptions we have given for Code One, we can say that aggression, deceit, and exploitation constitute crucial means by which malice is exercised/manifested.
Looking at the respective codes from the perspective of intention simplifies the scheme presented above (2.2 and 2.3) as an empirical inventory of values and countervalues. Responsibility and consequently culpability are a function of intention: actual consequences lie outside the ethical sphere, though of course they constitute the end of actions, and they actually improve or impair society.
Having established that the aim of prescriptive ethics — in the absence of absolute standards — is the good of human beings, the right action is one performed with the benefit of human beings in mind, and if Code Two is the system of good will it must be the right ethic.
There are many paradoxical cases though — often resulting from deep-seated and complex self-contradictions in society — in which good intentions do not in fact aim at the true benefit of the recipient. Thus there is not a perfect correspondence between malice and power, deceit, and exploiting perceived weakness on the one hand and benevolence and equality, honesty, and equity on the other hand. A frequently cited example is the well-intentioned lie (e.g., a terminally ill patient’s diagnosis withheld by the physician). In our view, no lying is needed in an ideal society. But people do not always understand where their well-considered long-term interests reside. Ignorance in such cases can be, but is not always, a legitimate excuse — to be reasonably well informed may be seen as a necessary part of good will. This emphasizes the importance of education, well-founded knowledge, and reflection. There is much to be said for the Aristotelean notion of virtue as a habit and the contemporary revival of virtue ethics associated among others with the name of MacIntyre. Virtue, though, must be pivoted to fact. The correct sequence is not to implement training that will result in desired habits but convincing persons through evidence that making a habit of certain types of conduct is desirable.
4.8 Interpersonal versus Intrapersonal Applicability of the Codes
In our preceding discussions we referred to the two codes principally in connection with actions as they affect other persons. It is crucial to point out though that the correspondence of Codes One and Two with malice and benevolence respectively applies substantially to actions as related to the self as well. Our premise is that reflectively considered long-term self-interest and benevolence coincide. Violent, deceptive, and exploitative conduct toward others in one’s own shortsighted selfish interest — out of self-love as one might see it at the moment — presents a perfect analogy with the drug addict, glutton, and reckless driver indulging in their passion out of apparent, ill-considered self-interest but actually damaging themselves over the long term in the vast majority of cases.
Unless we suppose that as human beings we are capable of making valid judgments, ethics has no significance. But if our moral approval/disapproval is more than a mere gene-driven, automatic, or instinctive response to stimuli, we ought to be able to distinguish cases deserving of our compassion, and consequently assistance, from those that are not. In this manner we can rise above both the inclination to regard other people’s offspring as competition for our own children and each member of the human race as a challenge to our interests, a competitor, an object of hatred: self-love should not be fundamentally different from the love of humanity.
The ideal is not love for others and hatred of oneself or altruism matched by self-sacrifice, but love or benevolence toward all including oneself, preserving a balance between legitimate self-interest and the interests of other human beings. This will be further developed in 6. 11 below.
Conversely, malice is always harmful. In persons who construct their world on Code-One values aggression can paradoxically turn against the subject: they will damage their own property, mutilate themselves, and even commit suicide out of blind fury. Malice toward the self may be seen as a sort of affective-system short circuit, breakdown, or crash caused by persistent frustration or alternatively by violent trauma, often sustained in early childhood, presenting a case par excellence where psychotherapy may yield beneficial results.
5 Ethics and Onto/Anthropogenesis
5.1 The Beginning of the Story Must Be Filled in
5.1.1 The Personal Autobiography
Knowing what it means to be human cannot be grasped without the subjective experience of consciousness. And perhaps the most curious aspect of individual human consciousness is that the path to its beginnings is snipped off by nature. Our memories of prenatal experience are blank: we might attempt to explain this by the fact that we had no linguistic competence at the time, without which we could not have any organized recall–although this itself is a dubious explanation. But people generally are unable to recall their postnatal experiences regarding the first two and a half to three years of life and often beyond, either; that is, they are left in the dark, introspectively speaking, about a period during a considerable part of which they already possessed fairly adequate verbal skills. One may conjecture that this lacuna has some selective significance.
The crucial narrative, which arguably serves for each of us as the key and prototype for all other stories, must therefore be prefaced by external evidence, substantially hearsay evidence, typically by asking our parents as the most competent source, “Tell me what I was like then.”
And so we can set about reconstructing the events, to a certain extent fabricating a narrative that has no directly — subjectively –experiential beginning.
5.1.2 The Autobiography of the Species
An analogous condition holds for the race. Hermeneutics and postprocessualism may exaggerate the tentative character of historical knowledge, but they are correct in pointing out its difficulties. The reconstruction of human prehistory is however fraught with the most palpably fundamental problems. Since by definition we are dealing with preliterate societies, written records, which provide the best insight into conditions, are altogether lacking. Archeological evidence is scarce; it may surprise the lay reader that most parts of the world are still poorly known in this respect. The researcher’s reconstitution of social conditions amounts to educated guesswork, often strongly colored by personal preconceptions. Ethologists and primatologists grope for clues by studying our closest presumed anthropoid relatives, though we are not directly descended from them.
Just as older children or adults ask their parents about their beginnings, the ethnologist queries members of more or less isolated surviving nonindustrial cultures, “What was I like then?”
Even when given in good faith, the answers are not necessarily instructive. Some parallels should probably hold. But there is no proof that a technologically relatively undeveloped contemporary tribe exhibits patterns of conduct that existed in the paleolithic and mesolithic. Let us point out just two important reasons why ethnographic evidence cannot be safely relied on. (a) Surviving nonliterate bands, tribes, and chiefdoms have subsisted in marginal zones; therefore, they do not reflect mainstream conditions prevailing in prehistory. (b) Probably none of them has been completely isolated from the influence of industrial society: ethnographers had to be content with their informants’ idealized and filtered accounts of precontact times, what they gathered being closer to folklore than to fact.
5.1.3 The Golden-Age Myth Unites the Personal and Anthropogenetic Fictions
The tendency has been to project the ideal age both into the dawn of humankind and that of the individual human being. The objective blank is filled out with a nostalgic, occasionally saccharine invented content. Both childhood and early humankind are invested with the image of innocence and a paradisiac state of harmony. The romantic fantasy of childhood innocence is paralleled by the romantic fantasy of harmony in an unspoiled state of nature.
A miscellany of psychological structures and tendencies contributes to this belief. At the personal level, as existentialist metaphysics rather strikingly puts it, the for-itself (consciousness) turns to the past in an attempt to find the plenitude of being (roughly, self-assurance); members of the environment bear it out, if for no other reason, to obey the selective biological tendency for seeing young members of the race in a favorable light. At the level of the species, the myth of the golden age serves, among other things, the didactic purpose of turning a utopistic social conception into a historical precedent: the unspoiled, paradisiac state tends to be built on Code-Two principles dimly envisioned.
It should be noted, though, that we have had another, contrary strain as well. In child rearing, this is manifested as the view that youngsters are almost incorrigibly mischievous and therefore must be strictly disciplined — much of traditional education used to be in fact built on this premise. Concerning the dawn of humankind, this outlook has been associated with the Hobbesian ignoble savage whose life was “nasty, brutish, and short.” Both of course represent extremes. Educational theory has been meandering through progressivism and neoconservatism on a path that it would be out of place to follow here. As for prehistory, the Rousseauan noble savage and the underlying golden-age conception were reinforced in mid-century, with the realization of the perils of racism, the importance of environmental protection, and the excesses of industrialization. Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael exemplifies the considerable popular appeal of this revival.
As Marvin Harris’s classic 1968 account, The Rise of Anthropological Theory, attests, directions change with remarkable frequency in the field. They have continued to do so since that date. Despite this rapid succession of changing fashions as well as contemporaneously held irreconcilable views, one reaches a relatively firm ground of consensus as regards our primate, particularly anthropoid relatives: they are said to exhibit high degrees of hierarchy, intragroup dominance, intergroup violence, competitiveness, and deceitfulness. They are bullies and cheats, with a tendency to seize short-term advantage. They cannot trust each other and are therefore permanently at war, living within shifting groups characterized by temporary alliances.
Contrast this with the peaceful, egalitarian, scrupulously fair forager and hunter-gatherer prehistoric human emerging typically from the palette of the mid-century anthropologist, who is (justifiably) repelled by colonialist exploitation, the ruthlessness of social Darwinism, the crimes perpetrated by nazi racism, and the destructiveness of the atomic age — and you end up with an unsolvable puzzle. A chasm of this magnitude between early hominids, shall we say, the Australopithecus, and hunter-gatherers is hardly explicable or credible; just as it seems unlikely that those supposedly peace-loving, egalitarian, and democratic tribesmen could at one point be persuaded to submit to the dominance of authoritarian leaders and engage in constant warfare. In fact, Morton Fried, for example, in his influential work on the evolution of political society, has a hard time convincing the reader that this could take place.
If the anthropologist insists on such a radical difference between, on the one hand, simple foragers and hunter-gatherers and, on the other hand, both our common primate ancestors and modern humans before the rise of liberal democracies, drawing a deep U-shaped curve, he or she may be forced, like Christopher Boehm, to advance the equally improbable hypothesis that prehistoric human foragers surpassed us in sophistication, political maturity, and foresight by moral sanctioning, which did not change — hierarchically disposed — human nature, but instead kept alpha types under control by what he calls its “counterdomination.”
Boehm’s is not the majority view, which has instead been gradually pulling away from the position that prehistoric civilization was at any time characterized by truly egalitarian social formations. On this road, discernible since the 1980’s, we may point to the studies of Cashdan, Collier and Rosaldo, Flanagan, and Feinman as signposts.
Meanwhile, the overidealized image of prehistoric humanity has been discredited from another angle by Lawrence Keeley’s recent (1996) book, War Before Civilization. Keeley marshals an impressive array of evidence, concluding that “if anything, peace was a scarcer commodity for members of bands, tribes, and chiefdoms than for the average citizen of a civilized state.”
The mobile, foraging and hunting-gathering lifestyles of early civilization made the accumulation of wealth substantially impossible and personal property often more of a burden than an advantage. Generally, one surmises that resources must have been relatively abundant, while the knowhow for storing surpluses, largely lacking. But the assumption that in these subsistence economies, as they are customarily labeled, intense cooperation was an ineluctable necessity is probably mistaken. Chimpanzee bands have a lower subsistence level than foraging humans, yet they show only rudimentary cooperation. The argument that they would be better off if they cooperated is true, yet adaptation does not work this way, as selfish and deceitful chimpanzees can become dominant in a group. The supposition that early human bands exhibited perfectly smooth and untroubled cooperation by necessity is unwarranted.
It is extremely improbable that early human bands lacked aggressive, self-seeking alpha types, or for that matter that they would have been able to keep these in check with a level of political savvy surpassing modern humans in sophistication and maturity. It is much more likely that their comparative equality was due in large measure to prevailing cultural and economic conditions. It was not the sophistication but, on the contrary, the crudeness of their system that hindered both the ideological formulation and the practical enforcement of authoritarian power. Efficient and effective enforcement requires discipline, planning, a chain of command as well as the exclusive use of weaponry whose production would surpass the average person’s skill or means. It is thus a concomitant of the division of labor and specialization. Inequality of power needs inequality of wealth to rely on. The invention of writing and record keeping facilitated the imposition of slavery and the development of hereditary land ownership. These factors together with others must have worked in tandem.
Thus a considerable amount of equality characterized much of prehistoric culture as compared to later ages, but this is not because the people of that period were less prone to dominance or more inclined to peace than we are. Gravesites and fossils of the period show a high percentage of violent deaths, many injuries inflicted on humans by conspecifics, and evidence of cannibalism. It is nevertheless also reasonable to conjecture that cooperative behavior among prehistoric humans was much more widespread than it is among our surviving nonhuman anthropoid relatives, as the extraordinary spread and evolutionary success of our species may well have been furthered by such traits. Finally, whereas we believe that in broad outline the entire human past, particularly since historical times, indicates increasing levels of cooperation, temporary setbacks and regional disparities have likewise been an accompaniment of this process.
5.2 The Stories of the Morality of the Race and of the Person are in Fact Intertwined
It is not the case, then, that we totally lack all reliable objective understanding of prehistory, or that all the indications we gather about our own — amnesically programmed — early life are false, or that the self-narrative we construct and keep reconstructing as adults consists solely of a string of self-delusions.
5.2.1 Texture of the Earliest Recalled Experiences
Case histories suggest that the first actual recollections of individuals center around two critical events. On one side is the memory of having been constrained by a superior force; on the other side, of having been the object of unmerited munificence.
18.104.22.168 Paternalism/Maternalism The medium of interpersonal contact for the child is the parent. Care of the offspring represents, in our scheme, the main access route through which Code-Two conduct appears. In humans concern for the welfare of the child is actually mitigated by the parent’s direct, unmediated self-interest — survival of the self may equal or take precedence over survival of the offspring — yet the parent’s motivation in forbidding is usually benevolent. Nevertheless, subjectively infants experience it as a negative outside force they protest, impulsively by crying, at first; from their point of view it is a Code-One phenomenon, an act of coercion.
22.214.171.124 An Inexplicable Munificence Corollary to the traumatic memory of parental force is the awareness in the subject of having been the recipient of an unmerited and unrepayable gift. We can speculate that the initial postnatal reaction to maternal/paternal love is to take it for granted. But as time passes, young children are bound to notice the one-sided nature of the relationship between them and the parents. They mainly get, the parents mainly give. As a narrow-mindedly rational — egoistic –arrangement, this simply does not make sense. The generosity seems totally undeserved.
Consequently the growing child and, to some extent, as a legacy, the adult, are typically torn between the ambivalent attitudes of resentment and gratitude toward the parent, whose constraint and kindness have both been experienced as irrational. The resolution of this conflict is provided by an understanding of the role of Code Two as presented in our scheme.
5.2.2 Phylogeny and Ontogeny
An insight into the experiential gap surrounding the genesis of the moral sense at both the levels of the species and the individual is offered by joining the evidences of evolutionary biology and developmental psychology. Recapitulationist ideas, appearing already in ancient Greek philosophy, achieved their best-known formulation in Haeckel’s biogenetic law. Subsequent research has modified Haeckel’s theory, affirming only that the earlier stages of individual embryonic development show resemblances to ancestral groups. It nevertheless roughly indicates the phylogenetic progression of the organism’s ancestral species.
5.2.3 Anthropogeny and Moral Ego Development
The suggestion cogently presents itself that stages in postnatal development fit into a larger picture: if, on the one hand, the embryo goes through some of the earlier stages of the embryonic development common to vertebrates up to homo sapiens, on the other hand the cultural development of humans from the paleolithic to the present may be repeated in the individual child growing up today. From our point of view, it is of course specifically the development of the moral sense that is relevant here. Stages of individual ego formation in fact appear to bear out the large outlines of such a thesis.
Owing to the neotenous character of the race and the isolated condition of early child rearing, the infant is not suited for asserting its will by physical force. Cubs, pups, nestlings frequently compete for food and may even nudge each other out of the breeding place, causing the death of their siblings; this option is not open to the human infant. It is therefore subject to a superior force, crying being its nearly sole “weapon.” But there is considerable agreement among developmental psychologists that the infant psyche is self-centered, initially perhaps not being able even to distinguish clearly between self and the external world or to attribute intent to others. This sense of being one with the world because the limits of the self are unknown or at least blurred, as well as the perception that it and the mother constitute a single being — said to be characteristic of infancy and the early years –furnish some objective grounds for the sense of harmony and security traditionally attributed to childhood. Correspondingly, the state of oneness or affinity with the environment, ascribed to times at the cradle of civilization, may have a factual basis in what Habermas’s terminology calls a symbiotic relationship between early humans and nature, i. e., a lack of clear separation between subject and object. Notwithstanding these circumstances, the myths of paradisiac harmony and innocence surrounding both the dawn of civilization and individual life are essentially, if not devoid of, low on merit: to feel oneself part of the universal butchery is not harmony, and ignorance is not innocence.
In what is sometimes referred to as the premoral stage, posited by the Piaget-Kohlberg school of cognitive developmental psychology, the young child submits to superior authority just as, one would say, a neolithic tribesman might submit to the authority of the tribal chief.
One notes also a striking similarity between the importance of the role as opposed to the individual ego, in mythologically oriented cultures on the one hand, and in the supposed conventional moral stage, emphasizing stereotypical images of role behavior, posited by the Piaget-Kohlberg school, on the other.
Moreover, it is remarkable that the rise of individualism in history, which championed a political democracy at least theoretically built on the equality of all citizens as well as universal rights, has a concurrent level emphasizing the social contract and universal rights in Kohlberg’s scheme of ego development. We should not expect neat correspondences in any case; whatever homologies do exist, as pointed out by the followers of Habermas and Eder, are not likely to be merely coincidental.
What Kohlberg sets up as the highest stage of moral development is much more disputable. It is characterized by self-chosen ethical principles that are divorced from good or bad consequences, i. e., deontologically valid. However, Kohlberg says that if the actor violates these principles, guilt results. Thus — as he himself states — conscience is the directing agent. The trouble with this theory is at least twofold. (a) The sense of guilt itself is a (psychological) consequence; therefore, we are not in the realm of inherent right or wrong irrespective of consequences. (b) Conscience recommends and forbids different things to different people. Self-chosen principles, if detached from their consequences in the extramental world, could recommend murder, aggression, assault, etc. This system is based on the Kantian concept of duty and the categorical imperative (“act so that you can will the principle of your action to become a universal law”). Ironically, the categorical imperative only amplifies what, with some reflection one infers, has to be implied by the golden rule, which earns a comparatively low rating on Kohlberg’s scale; and actually all the concrete examples Kant uses in favor of it emphasize good consequences resulting from its adoption.
We made a reference to Kohlberg’s theory because it enjoys wide acceptance in academic ethics and shows some affinities with our views. But we must state that we part company at what it takes to be the highest stage of moral development. Self-chosen ideals are fine insofar as they postulate free will, which no prescriptive ethic can do without. However, when the ideals are severed from consequences one opens a Pandora’s box. The reliance on duty sounds inspiring; it is an appeal to heroism and, beyond Kant, Nietzschean self-overcoming. On this particular point we agree with Rorty who says that the disenchantment involved in the loss of heroism is worth the trade-off.
Evidence, common sense, and logical inference support the judgment that in its main lines the cultural development of humanity is echoed in the stages of mental maturation traversed by the individual. The resemblance exists in broad terms; it would be obviously impossible to assign precise historical dates corresponding to the chronological age or stage of moral development of the individual. In the first place, the shift from violence, deceit, and exploitation we have discerned is not seen as a smooth, uninterrupted ascent by us. It is rather an arduous journey with many detours, lacking a determined end fixed in advance; and the moral maturation of the individual is fraught with crises, personal calamities, and distractions. The assumption of an invariant and inevitably forward movement from stage to stage, postulated by the cognitive developmental school, is implausible and unwarranted.
5.3 Individual Moral Development in the Context of the Moral Development of the Species
The historical development in which, to use one formulation, the revolt against nature as a theme gets stronger in comparison with nature itself, reflects that it is an “adult” who is continuously reconstructing her/his past. An adult, that is, who has a relatively rational and mature view of his/her moral situation.
The external facts of one’s life constitute some objective guideposts, and the stream of consciousness transpires in one definite way. But past external reality is irretrievably lost, and no archive preserves the inner experience. Therefore, a continuous process of reinterpreting and, in some sense, reinventing the past is needed at the individual level.
Much of the same holds for the cosmic process and the history of the species, which unravel and can never be definitively recaptured. A continuous reassessment has to take place. This has so far changed in emphasis with every succeeding generation. However, postmodern doctrine tends to exaggerate the inventive element in these interpretations. The narrative has to go on something that cannot be changed at will.
In the order of things, it is generosity which replaces narrow selfishness rather than the other way around; anti-nature displaces nature.
The expansion of the realm of rationality, which is equivalent to the expansion of the human order, proves on the whole and despite all the attendant pitfalls, to be positively correlated historically with the development of technology.
The historical outcome of the development of technology involves globalization: familial and tribal ethics give way to national and eventually universal ethics.
Returning to the issue of human nurture: “taking care” generalizes a way from the literal to the figurative, from real soil and real blood to “blood” and “soil,” thereby giving rise to the historical unfolding of a universalized version of the golden rule, generalizing from one’s literal family (nature where you favor your own blood) to a situation in which the golden rule becomes actualized in history because we can discover ourselves in a stranger.
In summary, we posit that the ontogenetic/anthropogenetic parallelism fits into our picture of human morality gradually emancipating itself from rules of behavior largely characterizing (extrahuman) nature.
6 What is Valuable?
6.1 In Extrahuman Nature Interests Conflict
Ethical problems may be treated diachronically, that is, as changing through time, and synchronically, in their structure. Taking first the diachronic perspective, adopting the evolutionary theory of succeeding morphological and physiological changes by natural selection, interest will mean survival in its broadest sense, including the survival of the self, offspring (both linear and collateral), kin, group, and possibly even species. The evolutionary process is thus clearly directed at life, even if interest is a metaphorical or projective term one must use here in characterizing a mechanism which is blind. In the same, admittedly anthropomorphizing usage, we may then refer to life, even at the extrahuman level, as a value, and the “right” action will be that in favor of the survival of the self, offspring, etc. The progenitor “wants” the good of the descendant, protecting its life. Two competing parents, each watching the interests of her/his progeny, perform the “right” act by fighting for their respective offspring, and this may lead to the mutual extinction of the children’s lives. Obviously, we have a conflict of interests.
Survival — life–is the “goal” at the animal level; yet quality of life is already an obvious consideration at earlier evolutionary stages; roughly, the more evolved the organism, the lengthier the development into adulthood and the longer the period of nurturing. The parent wishes to raise a vigorous, happy young, capable in turn of continuing the lineage. All this is seen in an evolutionary context as fitness maximization. Presumably conation enters into the awareness of all animals starting with vertebrates at the latest, but from the biological viewpoint the “purposiveness” is merely an epiphenomenon of the selective process which works by success/failure, not intention.
6.2 Human Interests, Needs, and Values
As stated above (4.2), at the human level interest and good become more controversial, sometimes seemingly imponderable, and quality (not just maintaining or prolonging life) a much more important consideration. Whoever has good will regards its object’s life as a value; this follows from our premises. But should her/his goal be to satisfy — within his/her competence — all that the person who is the object of the benevolence perceives as a need? Manicheans believed all matter to be essentially evil; bodily appetites therefore had to be curbed. Some hold even today that evil spirits dwelling in people ought to be cast out by, e. g., whipping those so possessed. The revealed absolute knowledge they claim to rely on could be correct. But it is opposed by other appeals to absolute, certain, or authority-backed knowledge. Therefore, we said, we have to retreat to empirical consequences relative to the more proximate and verifiable interest of humans. The practice of starving a child, appealing to the higher good of spiritual cleansing, must be weighed against the permanent damage this may inflict on her/his health. We would say that considerations of health in this case are more primary and verifiable than a greater but experientially obscure benefit; in addition, a longer life expectancy will help the child in his/her quest of the good life. Generally the infliction of mental or physical harm, suffering, torture with supernatural justifications does not pass muster; it contradicts as well the theological notion — subscribed to by numerous, though not all, religions — of a benevolent deity. A perfectly good God presumably would not equip people with principles of rationality that are out of whack with the real world.
What we referred to as the scaling down of objectives tempering our ethical ambitions, reducing the area within which we can confidently distinguish between right and wrong, and restricting it to consequences, is a frustrating choice. We all feel from time to time that certain acts are outrageous, contemptible, etc., irrespective of the consequences. It is just that the intuitive convictions people have on these matters vary widely and cannot be validated. We have to be content with less. On the other hand, all that people may want, every passing fancy they entertain and temporarily see as good for them, cannot be accepted as possessing ethical value: some persons typically succumb to momentary or short-term allurements, such as alcohol, drugs, smoking, overeating, reckless driving, or sexual encounters that present health hazards, all of which offer satisfactions that, in the long run, are outweighed by drawbacks. Thus at the outset we can appreciate that there are clearly priorities. Lasting and harmless satisfactions have to override fleeting and harmful ones.
Being at peace, a sense of serenity, even helping others are considered valuable experiences by people; in fact by all people, we would submit, at least some of the time. Many subsidiary goods or different ones could be cited that are compatible with them and, like them, do not necessarily conflict with other people’s goods and, consequently, interests: security, rewarding work, intellectual insights, artistic beauty, satisfactory health, a comfortable home, etc. Under “quality of life” usually environmental factors are listed, but more broadly we could say that all these and many others contribute to a person’s quality of life. To be sure, depending on nature and nurture, individuals appreciate different things in different degrees; needs are not easily delimitable, clear-cut phenomena. Some persons have unrealistic expectations, overweening ambitions that they experience as needs, perhaps just because they were brought up to expect their attainment. Notoriously, fraudulent advertising may create needs in consumers which do not make their lives more rewarding when satisfied.
6.2.1 Hierarchy of values — precedence, priorities, conflicts
The phrase “the end justifies the means” has long constituted a point of contention in moral philosophy. Are we allowed to do something that is wrong in order to avoid a greater evil? One oft-cited example is that of the WWII American flyer whose plane has been shot down. He bails out over enemy territory and takes refuge in a convent. When the Gestapo come and ask the nuns whether they are sheltering a fugitive, should they deny it and thereby tell a lie, or should they admit the truth? Strict deontologists, notably Kantians, advocate the second option. Utilitarians, who judge by consequences, are divided on the issue. Act utilitarians, holding (with Bentham) that the right action is the one that will produce the most welfare or benefit, say that it is permissible, e. g., to break a promise if doing so results in no harm to anyone. But the fact is that to foresee the consequences of an act is not an easy task, and the apparent absence of any immediate harm is not a reliable yardstick. Rule utilitarians therefore maintain (with John Stuart Mill) that one should abide by the rule or principle general adherence to which will result in the greatest good. Their reasoning is that even though breaking the promise does not seem to harm anyone, abandoning the principle may very well cause more ultimate damage down the line. This again turns out to be a matter of short-term versus long-term consequences. The rule utilitarian wishes to factor in the eventual repercussions and ramifications, claiming that the cost of abandoning the principle will start to accumulate and prove to be higher at some future point.
Joseph Fletcher (1905-92), who took the extreme view that the end always justifies the means, rekindled public interest in this controversy. According to his situation ethics there is only one overarching rule, love (agape as distinct from eros). In section 4.7 we asserted that benevolence, good will toward all humans, may be regarded as the essential motivation for Code-Two conduct. This resembles the situationist perspective up to a point, but there are important differences. Love is an emotion, whereas benevolence in our context stands for an approach based on rational considerations. While we recognize that it would be commendable if people always acted out of love, is it realistic to expect them to do so, or does it amount to asking them to be superhuman? The emotional component in our makeup is rooted in evolutionary structures we often cannot master.
Conversely, love alone is a bit indistinct as well as insufficient as a guideline. We have emphasized throughout that action must be informed — good intention does not excuse an act that has bad consequences if information reasonably accessible to the actor could have prevented it. Further, Fletcher’s scheme largely overlooks what is called enlightened self-interest. It posits agape as the summum bonum, but this might be unconvincing for someone who does not share the author’s religious background.
In exceptional cases circumstances sanction the commission of even heinous crimes. Suppose that a person possessing a nuclear device that could wipe out all life on earth tells you that unless you murder someone he or she will set off the device. In such a predicament the rule, normally invoked against murder in the broadest sense with the interest of future humanity in mind, clearly would not apply. Given the existing conditions, the rules against both deceit and the use of force and restraint, if not violence, must be suspended in some instances. The example of the WWII flyer is one of these. But quite commonly violence, deceit, and exploitation are wrongly justified with the claim that they avert some greater ill. War is a typical case in point. So are many “white” and what have come to be referred to as “blue” lies (the latter told by police). It has been proposed not only by a number of philosophers but also by some biologists, sociologists, and political scientists that cooperative instead of competitive strategies have a greater chance of producing favorable results on the average even for the self-interest of individuals. The “prisoner’s dilemma” is a favorite illustration used. Controversy over the issue continues. The name of Robert Axelrod has been prominently associated with it. However, in Axelrod’s 1997 book, The Complexities of Cooperation, the alternatives have become so intricate and tangled as to suggest that his particular approach might prove a dead end.
Some genuinely well-meant and proximately beneficial activities actually obstruct the road toward a better world because people fail to take into account their wider logical and global implications, or because prevailing circumstances make the application of ideally preferable rules impossible. For example, the confidentiality of communication to a lawyer, doctor, or pastor and many aspects of privacy in general are praiseworthy in society as it is today, but only because persons can be blamed or embarrassed by facts that they cannot help and are not responsible for. Ultimately the answer lies in an open instead of secretive system. Thus frequently we have to take a step backward as it were before we can move forward.
Let alone love serving as the motive of all action, which is a virtual impossibility, even rational benevolence based on or agreeing with well-understood self-interest cannot solve society’s problems without a study of the far-reaching implications of our actions. It is indispensable but not enough to say “just mean well,” trusting that things will then take care of themselves. Moreover, we believe that without a global consensus by a sizeable majority on what constitutes right conduct along the lines we have indicated and actual observance of its biddings much well-meant activity will be futile in a world order that works at cross purposes. Saying that people who fail to abide by the basic prohibitions against mendacity and violence even in clear-cut cases “opt out of the moral community” may be too optimistic a way to put this, since there exists no society at present whose members could be characterized as partaking in a well-functioning moral community. John Rawls’s earnest references to the “well-ordered society” sound like irony today. And it is naive or irresponsible to expect that any community can cut itself off from the rest of the planet to form an isolated well-ordered society. The social contract as conceived by Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and their successors is, and was even largely meant to be, a metaphor. An actual explicit commitment in good faith by informed members of the world community comprising all humanity might be up to the challenge of creating a coherent system of applied ethics that will work. Indeed, a sort of global social contract is needed, otherwise isolated good actions will remain heroic protests against injustice that may vanish like flashes in the night.
6.3 Some Human Interests Are in Apparent Conflict
The needs mentioned above do not necessarily oppose other people’s needs, although of course in some cases they imply limits and mutual compromises. But what of the contention that warfare, domination, power over others, inflicting pain, outwitting and defeating our fellows, are also appreciated by people? In fact, they are constantly asserted as values, although this is blurred and covered up in ordinary parlance, where both war and peace, domination and equality, honesty and craftiness are seen positively at different times, the same motive being referred to by a different term, according as it is supposed to be virtue or vice. We cannot sweep under the rug the fact that human beings at this point in evolution do derive satisfaction out of harming each other. Buttressing these we have Code One, which takes as its model the universal fight for survival, pitting even members of the same species against one another.
6.4 Is the World Big Enough for Six Billion Great Guys? Thorny Issues of Equality, Hierarchy, and Merit
Thus people’s interests come into apparent mutual conflict, and this is based on structures profoundly embedded in humans. Peace on earth is for Christmas and the Sunday sermon, but for ordinary weekdays the watchword is “fight.” The rat race resumes on Monday. Self-made fat-cats assure us that everyone can do what they have done, but in fact if everyone were a millionaire a million would be worth correspondingly less. For every competitive winner there has to be a loser. Popular books on “self-respect” tell readers that they are great. One who has read/seen/heard the book/video/cassette has become, by paying an astonishingly low price, a member of the team, he/she has the key to success. But if she/he is great, others, the uninitiated, the out-crowd, inevitably have to be small. And the question is: is the world big enough for six billion great guys, each bigger than the other?
No. Yet people are not equal in the sense of being the same. They differ widely in ability; the suggestion that each individual has some specific talent, compensating for a lack of aptitude in other areas, amounts to a — possibly well-meant — fib. In the moral sphere it does not make sense to propose that a slave trader has the same merit as someone who has spent her/his life assisting others. But allow for a scale of differences, and experience will teach you: the result is that everyone finds plenty of reasons for feeling superior to others, whether on moral, religious, intellectual, esthetic, etc. grounds–the list of justifications could go on. And historically recognition has been accorded disproportionately to persons rich in Code-One virtues: aggressiveness, manipulation, chicanery.
To obtain the most salutary social results, the best approach as demanded by justice is that people should be regarded as equal in certain important respects, such as ethnicity, sex, age, and religion, and that generally they should be judged by the same criteria, not on a sliding scale. Yet owing to the fact that, e. g., age, sex, or health considerations call for differential specific treatment in certain cases makes the formulation of comprehensive standards an intricate task. In Kant’s categorical imperative the modifier principle (of the action) serves the purpose of eliminating this absurdity, i. e., misinterpreting moral equality as calling for literally the same treatment. This would be just as absurd as requiring physicians to prescribe the same medication for all their patients, irrespective of their condition. Particularly in our highly complex contemporary society, where the division of labor and specialization contribute to the diversification of needs, justice requires action adapted to the circumstances. A negatively phrased version, limited in application, is more easily arrived at: persons should not be discriminated against for what they cannot help being or doing. We intend to take up concrete cases respecting the issues of equality, hierarchy, and merit in the sections devoted to applied ethics.
6.5 Violence, Deceit, and Exploitation as Selective Advantages
We can assume that strife is a selective mechanism. We may also conjecture that great disparities in power and wealth fitted historical patterns of past ages. In periods when the means of production were undeveloped, vast physical effort was needed just to sustain life. Surplus wealth barely sufficed to provide training and instruction for a tiny ruling and managerial class who possessed the skills and learning to administer public and economic order. As recently as a few hundred years ago literacy was limited to a class of professionals. Ruthless, unremitting struggle is likely a pre-, extra-, and protohuman biological necessity, and translated into the human sphere as warfare, oppression, and class privilege, may have been, to some degree, inevitable and temporarily even beneficial accompaniments of culture.
In a parallel way, we can assume that deceit, prefigured in mimicry, has had its selective evolutionary function continuing into anthropogenesis. Advantages secured by deception have even led a group of developmental psychologists to devise, in the late 1950s, the so-called Mach scale of personality characteristics, for measuring the Machiavellian behavior of children in interpersonal relationships. They assumed a high correlation between manipulation and social intelligence. Since the late sixties, numerous psychologists, anthropologists, neurophysiologists, etc. have conjectured that “intelligence began in social manipulation, deceit, and cunning manipulation” (our emphasis). As mentioned previously (2.2.2), Byrne and Whiten have been the main spokespersons for this “Machiavellian intelligence hypothesis.”
In the third place, the behavioral option of exploitation, taking advantage of whatever is perceived as a weakness, is also clearly entrenched in natural strategies and is presumably selective in origin. Exploitation may be traced to parasitism and helotism, evidenced, e. g., in aphid-farming ants; it continues to be a preferred human recourse. Culpability and ridicule in society are often assigned to vulnerable persons, too weak, gullible, or sensitive to protest innocence or retaliate in kind. Guilt is the privilege and turf of the powerless; it is socially assigned to them.
These three strategic options: violence, deceit, and exploitation, are intricately intertwined and mutually dependent in society. Together they form the basis for Code-One ethics.
6.6 Code One Boomeranging
At a certain point the Code-One system starts to boomerang. Its inherent dangers and tendency to backfire can best be pictured by imagining a society whose every member is thoroughly moral in his/her unflinching dedication to Code One. As concern power-over, aggression, and violence, the result would outdo the Hobbesian state of nature — nature itself does not operate exclusively on them — even parents and children being locked in deadly combat. It would wipe itself out. If we take deceit, the result would be near-complete breakdown. The liar in society is substantially a free rider. She/he can operate only as long as statistically people have an expectation, based on experience, of being able to count on truthful answers to their questions. If no one tells the truth, no answer can be trusted, and civilization — education, institutions — breaks down. As for the unlimited exploitation of weakness: if it were put into practice, you literally could not turn your back to people for fear a knife might be thrust into it; all guilt being attributed to the weakest, the strong would get away with literally anything, i. e., in this respect too the free-for-all for inflicting harm would result in havoc.
Discounting these extremes — where adoption of Code One would be uncompromisingly perfect, leading to quasi-total social breakdown — as impracticable, could we not assume that the solution lies in taking the middle road, a sort of happy mean between Codes One and Two? After all we said that power-over, deceit, and exploitation have most likely played a role in natural selection, which is a corrective mechanism. They keep us on our toes but, should we get rid of them, would it not turn the human race into a bunch of supine, spineless decadents, such as were responsible — at least according to people having scarce acquaintance with the subject — for the fall of Rome? Would we not become like dodos, fated to extinction because bereft of natural enemies?
We do not have definitive, infallibly certain answers to these questions. But we submit the following considerations.
6.7 Violence, Deceit, and Exploitation Becoming Counterproductive
In today’s world, where the fate of the human race hangs by the press of a button — that controlling nuclear missiles — one lie could cause irremediable consequences. Aggression no longer relies on bows and arrows that kill single individuals and have in the past at worst decimated the human race. Using modern technology, exploitation could be centrally organized and globally administered. These threats, posed by the three main varieties of Code-One behavior, have become real today.
Considering the problem from the viewpoint of biological selection, conditions have likewise changed in contemporary society. Persons eminently responsible for the advance of technology — scientists — are not on the whole noted for their manipulative social conduct, their ability to deceive; on the contrary, persons with exceptional endowments for abstract thinking tend to have modestly developed social skills and do not at least typically enjoy great wealth or political power.
The spread of literacy, the achievements of the information age have wrought dramatic demographic changes. A continuously growing segment of the earth’s population have sufficient knowledge to make their own decisions economically and politically. This will hopefully continue the democratic trend and will lead to the introduction of ever more direct forms of democracy. Power-over and leadership, arguably necessary in the past, become hindrances to the public, and thereby individual, good when people have a working knowledge of conditions and realities in the world that surrounds them. Leadership is for cattle; rational beings can make up their minds on the merits of evidence pro and con (see 7.5 below). Regarding the judicial system, progress cannot be measured by lawyers who more and more astutely twist the truth, but on the advance of techniques that establish objective fact.
The conclusion that the selective advantages of violent, deceptive, and exploitative behavior have faded at the human level, that the corresponding system of morals has been rendered obsolete by the turn human evolution itself has taken, seems indicated, although this sketchy outline can only suggest and lays no claim to proving it. Code Two, we said, represents subjectively a revolt against nature; it is a measure of humanity’s emancipation from nature. But we also stressed that its rudimentary beginnings are already found in extrahuman nature. It is a gradual unfolding that can also be seen in the larger picture of humanity as part of the evolutionary process whose apparatus adapts to changing conditions. Violence, deceit, and exploitation become less and less serviceable under those new conditions.
Yet we do not envision this as a mere passive response to objective necessities on the part of humans. We do not propose to solve the enigma of free will versus determinism. The most likely explanation of this riddle is that the cognitive approach to it is characterized by concepts that cannot adequately tackle reality as it is; yet no one so far has been able to come up with a conception that would satisfactorily replace the traditional terms, however well worn they are. The best formulation we can propose is that subjectively history is carved by human will or that nature’s requirements and human purposes interact. Certainly we are not historicists in the Marxian context of humankind having a determined fate.
6.8 Identification Cannot Be Extended to the Whole Biota
The question whether humankind is separate from or part of nature has a merely lexical side. We may adopt a terminology by which, seen in a larger picture, humankind remains part of nature. But inasmuch as it is a part of nature, it is irreconcilably opposed to much of the rest of nature, for nature’s own manner of operation is strife. An extension of self-identification, until it includes our entire species, is a possible goal. It has been proposed that our empathy should be widened to cover all life, indeed the cosmos. This can be qualified as anything from a well-meaning but unreflective romantic fancy suited for the world of fairy tales to self-deceit and outright hypocrisy. As the brilliant evolutionary biologist George C. Williams so eloquently puts it, “A century of biology confirms [Thomas H.] Huxley’s thesis: the universe is hostile to life in general and human life in particular; the evolutionary process and its products are contrary to human ethical standards; human survival and ethical advance can be achieved only in opposition to the cosmic process.” The biosphere is massively evil, i. e., unfriendly to humans, and this cannot be remedied by sentimental or unctuous talk. You cannot persuade the virus of infantile paralysis to mend its ways. Thus, despite all the undeniable similarities, we have to recognize a certain break between us and other living beings. (The issue is further explored in section 7.3.)
This however should not be interpreted to mean that the earth is a playground we can frolic in and abuse at will. What is at stake is more than just sustainability and the depletion of its resources. It amounts, e. g., to a betrayal of the trust of creatures too ignorant to realize that the kindness showed to them is fraudulent. We would not wish to suggest that this attitude necessarily carries over into human interpersonal conduct, but the time may come to realize that it would be preferable to take advantage of advances made, for instance, in agriculture to resort to alternate ways of nutrition (see 126.96.36.199.2).
6.9 Genetic, Learning, and Rational Aspects of Codes One and Two
The conflict between humankind and nature and between Codes One and Two may be seen in the following light. For the sake of clarity and simplicity, we distinguish between three levels of operation in the issue of self-interest versus altruism:
Evolution acts in the interest of fitness maximization in the offspring, through gene, individual, kin, collateral, group, and possibly species selection. It may be noted at this point that, after decades of being downplayed by most biologists as a negligible force, group selection has been making a comeback, spearheaded by Professors David H. Wilson and Elliott Sober. This development is not without relevance to ethics, as Wilson and Sober argue that group selection is favored in evolution where differences between individuals are small which at the human level means that it can occur where equality is observed. In their scheme altruism within the group is accounted for as a strictly evolutionary selective phenomenon.
This picture would still posit intergroup rivalry, strife within the human species. But the same reasoning that substantiates group selection can be extended to lead to species selection, which in fact is affirmed by the above-mentioned authors. Thus the concept of evolution working for the good of the species, “the survival of the species,” discredited since the publications of Hamilton and Maynard Smith in the sixties and seventies, would gain new currency. Wilson and Sober’s conclusions are viewed with skepticism by some geneticists: according to Professor Lawrence Hurst there is no logical reason for supposing the existence of any species-wide mechanism that would give rise to increased species fitness. If on the other hand their theory is correct, cooperation involving the totality of humankind has some hereditary basis.
6.9.2 Learning: Environmental and Genetic Interaction
Challenges by the environment cause generational adaptive changes at levels where learning begins to play a part (from higher awareness to human consciousness). Behavior patterns change in significant respects:
188.8.131.52 (a) Survival Strategy Survival strategies tend to shift from descendant in favor of self.
184.108.40.206 (b) Conation Simultaneously cooperative strategies — e. g., group loyalty — may also be reinforced. Here conation — including, at a point, human will–enters into the picture. At these stages the individual organism may have to fight some outdated genetic propensities. To be sure, acquired characteristics are not inherited, but evolution (mutation and recombination) in turn ultimately strengthens learned behavior patterns by adaptation. This partly explains the collision of Code Two with Code One. Emotional structures tie groups together into cohesive units, and such motives may prompt the individual to make sacrifices for family, kin, clan, tribe, or group. This behavior pattern may be seen as belonging to the cooperative side of inherited human nature, which is gradually strengthened by learning.
220.127.116.11 (a) Impartial Reason Purely rational (experiential, mathematical, statistical) evidence can induce human beings to admit that a narrowly self-seeking argument they would otherwise prefer to use is wrong and must be discarded. Reason in this way is impartial. Concrete instances in which reason in fact overrules self-serving/emotional arguments abound. This is not to allege that they comprise the majority of cases, or that such admissions are easy to make.
18.104.22.168 (b) Cost/Benefit Calculation On the other hand, reason is the field of cost/benefit calculation. The individual human being as a conscious rational agent is motivated by her/his self-interest, defined as concern for one’s material and mental resources.
22.214.171.124 (c) Compromise of Expediency At the level of emotionally detached reason itself, the human being can reflect that as a complete person he/she is subject to emotional needs, that she/he has structures at work in him/her inherited from earlier stages of evolution that are not responsive to reason.
Thus in a human being reason can counsel different strategies. Long-term reflective reason comes down in favor of Code-Two conduct; however, this is true only provided a large enough majority of social players abide by its rules.
6.9.4 Code One Supplanted by Code Two
In the scheme presented above, inherited behavior patterns are superseded by learned patterns, and learned patterns are overruled by rational considerations as each stage becomes obsolete and gives way to a subsequent one. These changes from one stage to the next are of course partial, and learned behavior itself is eventually indirectly absorbed into the inheritance of the genes. But the ethical aspect of the process — overstated here to help bring out its significance — tells the story of Code One being supplanted by Code Two.
Evolution is blind or, figuratively speaking, it only has hindsight as it builds slowly, painstakingly on past results that have proved adaptive. By contrast, human beings have foresight. Evolution’s inherent modus operandi cannot dispense with agonistic activity — strife — and mutual destruction. Even within a given population, the evolutionarily stable strategy has to include retaliation: its members are embroiled in a perpetual tit for tat. The eusocial insects present only a seeming exception to this rule, for the insect colony is perhaps more properly seen as one individual with its members phenotypically discrete or scattered: the feats of ants, wasps, and bees cannot be duplicated by other organisms. The one true exception would be constituted by human society, once its members realized that mutual relations can be nonzero sum not only in the limited sense in which they may apply in nature, but to the extent of eliminating strife.
6.10 Short-Term versus Long-Term Interests
We have repeatedly stated that all human acts are bound to be selfish in the sense that, no matter how altruistically persons try to behave — inclusive of sacrificing their lives for others — the act ultimately must satisfy them; i. e., the individual agent is the final link in the chain.
Reflection militates against the adoption of Code-One conduct as the system to be adhered in society today. Code One in this context favors narrow, short-term self-interest, whereas Code Two is counseled by long-term, enlightened self-interest.
There is no question but that people’s satisfactions are in apparent conflict. Even nonaggressive, peaceful interests can be mutually limiting because, to start with, sustainable growth imposes limitations on the consumption of the earth’s resources. Concerning violent impulses the case is more evident yet. Here we can have mutuality of a kind: a chain of vendettas; righteous pillars of society, on the grounds of protecting their families, acquiring ever more formidable lethal weapons; this is the familiar logic of the arms race as well, of the fraudulent, hypocritical justification of war as an instrument bringing about peace. But the essence of Code-One conduct is the will to do harm to others, in other words, perpetual consequential evil; therefore, the good society should strive to avoid it.
No doubt Code-One conduct yields benefits for the winner, and when we call these benefits short-term, we have to allow that they may well last a lifetime at least for some persons in some cases. But the very nature of Code-One pleasures is that they need a loser. You might say, as people often have said, that war is jolly good fun; however, for one thing, experientially the fun element is greatly reduced once actual hostilities start and, for another thing, it tends to lead to retaliation. In some cases, again, the cost of war may be light, and the resulting domination over the loser relatively, seemingly secure. Yet a social system built on domination has an inherent flaw that constantly threatens its security: it is like a house built on sand or a wooden structure internally gnawed by termites.
Theorists of liberal democracy have long recognized that certain safeguards are needed to protect what are rather optimistically called the inalienable rights of persons belonging to — typically oppressed — minorities. Rawls makes a plausible point in condemning utilitarianism for its ideal of maximizing welfare: what if a majority get a kick out of tormenting a minority? This is not an academic question but a frequently encountered situation, as many people indeed appear to take delight in inflicting pain on the defenseless. The solution nevertheless cannot be furnished by deontological ethics, since the criteria by which the wrongness of such acts are affirmed cannot be founded — established or justified absolutely to everyone’s satisfaction — and the fact remains that, experientially, some people find no fault with discrimination per se. Rather, it should be realized that no one can feel truly secure in a society where individuals and groups can be singled out to be blamed or ridiculed for what they cannot help. The scoffers may easily find themselves on the wrong side: in the final analysis, the welfare — in the present case, life without preventable fear — of all demands that no one should be submitted to unjust treatment.
You can cite examples of hierarchical social systems that survived for millennia. But those were past millennia. The myth of upper-class superiority that was fed to the unprivileged may have convinced the latter of the legitimacy of the extant power structure; it may have satisfied them. The deceit — e.g., the divine origin of kings — practiced upon the masses was in a way a defensible arrangement for a smoothly working society of the time that yielded some benefits even for the lowest class that would not have been available to it at the hunting-and-gathering stage. Lies were lies four thousand years ago as well, yet in some sense possibly a necessary means of social cohesion. Today correct information is becoming available for ever widening segments of the earth’s population. To be sure, the media are rife with falsehood, but on the whole the information explosion is resulting in a percentage of knowledgeable people unparalleled in history. Concurrently, technological progress is making it possible for similarly growing numbers of people to enjoy the advantages of a quality of life that the premise of equality demands for all.
It is unlikely that the happy-dolt hypothesis — the contention that, the purpose of society being the production of satisfied people, it is best to delude them with pleasing lies, tranquilizers, etc. — works out in reality. It may have done so at past stages. But in present circumstances it is typically a solution that boomerangs, resulting either in a class of deluders where the deluded would not actually be permitted to lead rewarding lives, or to a chaotic situation that would eventually destroy humankind itself. Truth is tough to face, but all things considered it is still our best ally.
We allow that well-intentioned mendacity occurs — one classical example is the terminally ill being withheld their true diagnosis. Obviously, in most cases well-intentioned lying and violence do not yield good long-term results, and the balance historically favors peace and veracity. But, since we have posited that culpability depends on the intention, does it follow that, as long as the person can truthfully plead ignorance, he/she is not guilty? No. The condition of being well informed within one’s possibilities is a duty. Just as if you throw the wrong switch, thereby causing a train crash, you are not innocent, superficial good intention does not provide a blank pardon; the acquisition of a reasonable amount of information is part of the good intention.
6.11 Morality Is not Self-Sacrifice
The rule that persons should enjoy freedoms to the extent that it is compatible with the freedoms of others is logically implied by the golden rule. Ideally, all actions toward others should be benevolent, i. e., accomplished with the good of the person concerned in mind. But this is not equivalent to claiming that all actions should be self-sacrificing, or even that the best action is necessarily the one that involves self-sacrifice. It is a fault common to a certain type of moralizing constantly to urge, and expect from, others what we would not do for them. You can hardly find a more narrowly egoistic person than the one who always takes the high road in preaching altruism to others. This type of moralizing has in fact dominated Medieval and modern (as opposed to ancient Greek) ethics; it has led to an equally harmful reaction at the other end of the scale on the part of popular psychology, which is eager to offer sales-price absolution to guilty consciences, in effect urging people to be greedy and ambitious.
A society where people invariably place their neighbors’ interests above their own would not work out well. To be sure, it would be better than the one we have now, but it does not represent an ideal and would not be practically desirable. In a variety of ways people are more competent at handling their own business than they are attending to the needs of others. Sacrificing, even limiting one’s interests is not always required either, as fortunately countless interests are common human ones: instead of being mutually limiting, they are mutually enhancing — clean air, unpolluted water, efforts for avoiding floods and other disasters are often mentioned among these — actually in a well-functioning social system, built on Code-Two values, citizens can mutually benefit in an untold number of ways without sacrifice.
Thomas Aquinas taught that the love of neighbor does not precede the love of self. We mention this neither as an endorsement nor a repudiation of scholastic philosophy but rather an illustration that, formulated with due reflection, even a staunchly orthodox religious doctrine need not be based on one-sided altruism that leaves out the legitimate interests of the self. It is easy to fall into the error of interpreting Code Two in a way that insists on self-abnegation, but such conduct is not rational. Montaigne had a point in remarking that those who pride themselves on altogether denying their bodily appetites are liable to fall the deepest. It is correct to say that Code-One and Code-Two values are incompatible; however, benevolence toward others does not mean hatred for oneself, just as, conversely, aggression and violence toward others does not necessarily imply being kind and gentle toward oneself: the aggressiveness of bullies often turns against itself, becoming literally self-destructive and suicidal.
6.12 Benevolence and Long-Term Self-Interest Coincide
The most remarkable feature of a social system based on Code-Two values is that good will and long-term, well-considered self-interest coincide in it. The woman/man who does not lie, try to get ahead by manipulation, does not wish to take advantage of or dominate others is indeed widely considered a fool in a society bent on power-over and deceit, in a society where seeing oneself in a magnifying mirror and one’s neighbor in a reducing glass passes as a measure of “self-respect.” Self-esteem or self-respect of that type, much touted as it is by some educators, psychologists, and counselors, leads nowhere, for the simple reason that everyone cannot be bigger than everyone else. If you look around in the world today, you will find that the countries with the highest quality of life and, incidentally, the highest living standards, are those whose citizens are relatively most willing to refrain from ruthless competition, to respect each other’s freedoms, to provide for the weak, elderly, and disabled, and even to contribute toward the welfare of the disadvantaged elsewhere. Which furnishes empirical evidence that those who abide by Code-Two values turn out to be no fools in the end.