How should we act? What behaviour should we encourage others to have and how should we encourage this behaviour? What goals are worth aiming for? Answers to the forgoing questions can only come from individuals. This doesn't mean that everyone should do as he likes or that there is no place for ethics. Ethics is the art of imposing the will of one time or one person upon the will of a future time or different person.

Ideally we'd be looking for a ‘centre’ between different times and different people, toward which the will is constantly returning. A moral person would be strong and be able to hold to this centre.


We consider the realms of knowledge of what is, of what should be, and how we get there. The realm of 'what is' includes knowledge found elsewhere on this site: the theory of action, emotion, or sensation. Knowledge of 'what is' may give us opinions on how things 'should be.' It may also give us practical knowledge of 'getting there.' I make these divisions to make organizing the page easier, even though sometimes 'what is' and 'what should be' are immediately related, as in problem and solution.

These realms overlap and relate in a confusing way. I claim that 'knowledge of what is' 'should be': truth is an aim. I also consider what people currently believe 'should be' as part of 'what is': I try to describe what people want and why they act. It's enough to give me a headache.

What should be

What is the relationship between imperatives and experience/action?

What does it mean to wish that someone would act in a certain way? Desires for others' actions are different from the desires for one's own actions which are a part of one's personal decision making procedure. We need to find a way of mapping states of mind to propositions about the way the world should be. Something along the lines of:

  • Calmness, or pleasure — That the sources of such endure
  • Fear, pain, annoyance, or frustration — That the sources of such be removed
  • Love — That someone should have good things happen to them
  • Hate — That someone should be incapacitated, or even killed
  • Sneering disapproval - That someone should act in a different way
  • Wide-eyed admiration - That someone should act the same way as they are currently doing

Desire for others' individual action is a sub-case of desire for the state of the world.


It is desirable that people's sensations and emotions be correct. To the extent that such reflect external reality, we would wish them to be as truthful as possible. A true understanding of reality facilitates action, so the desire for truth can be justified by the desire for pleasure. It seems less absolute: if someone wanted to do bad deeds, we would wish him to be as impotent as possible.

This leads to an interesting question. In the broadest concern that I feel I can reasonably consider, we are considering the welfare of all conscious life during the infinite future. Our actions should be motivated by the deepest truth we can comprehend. If our deepest truth is that everything that can happen, does happen, then it doesn't matter what we do, because if increased pleasure and love is possible (say as a consequence of the Platonic ideas), then it will occur in some world in the grand scheme of things. In this case, being as broad-minded as possible in fact doesn't give any advice at all. This argument leads me away from believing in the block universe, or an unchanging truth.

I do not know what the ontological consequences would be of the extinction of all sentient life in the universe. Nevertheless, I am not about to kill myself and I don't want the world to be destroyed. This is what ethics comes down to, opinion, and my opinion is that we should do what we can to keep on existing. No length or intensity of pleasure would be worth eventual eternal destruction; and I would be willing to go through arbitrarily long periods of lack of pleasure in order to ensure either my continuance or the certainty of growth beyond a fixed system of living.

We believe that emotion is a consequence of the larger world. First, we can say what emotions are and when they occur (what is). I believe that emotions can only occur as a consequence of perception, as perception is all that matters. Whatever the case, I argue that emotions should occur as a consequence of perception, whether it be past, present or future; one's own, or another's. If there is an external world, then it would be foolish for emotions to occur solely as a consequence of the external world and physical reality. Most of the time the external world is being perceived, and there will be no difference between the effects of the two causes of emotion. But consider a gardener who was about to die, who had laid out a beautiful garden in the middle of a desert, hundreds of miles away from where anyone else lived. He would be wrong to be happy that he had imposed a form on reality which would continue beyond his death, if there'd be no-one around to see it. The needed perception is missing in this case.


We seek to discern which perceptions are desirable, as goals in themselves and as precursors to action.

An individual has many beliefs and desires. Some desires translate into instant action, like scratching an itch. There are various goals - knowledge, power, eating and drinking, copulation and defecation. Pleasure is the fulfilment of desires about one's own sensations. Conscious desire for pleasure is knowledge of goodness, as pleasure is good.

Description of self-centred pleasure seeking is a foundation for describing a broader, more altruistic ethics. Two people have some knowledge of each others' hedonistic desires. Seeking to satisfy them they will develop feelings of love and friendship, even though they may well have been equally competent at filling their hedonistic desires on their own. The whole world community is a closed, masturbatory system.

Whether pleasure be altruistic or not, we do not seek it just in the present, but also its security, that it continue into the future.

I don't know what pleasurable sensations have in common with each other. Is there something special about them, or is the only quality they share is that they are all desired states? If we desired toothache, would toothache be pleasurable in every sense of the word?

It does seem that what pleasurable sensations have in common is that they are a sign of good health. Getting a head rush by eating loads of sugar may not be good for your health, but the feelings of being awake, and enthusiastic and having lots of ideas are the same feelings that would occur with less intensity but over a longer period of time by someone who was alive and healthy. What is good health? It seems to be when someone is capable of doing things. However, it is not always pleasurable to do things. Taking exercise may be tiring, but the reward for this will be the increased energy and enthusiasm one gets at other times, even when they are not doing anything. Similarly, eating healthily will be good for your health, to the extent that a healthy, well-nourished individual will actually enjoy a packet of crisps more than an individual who never exercises and spends all his time stuffing his face with packet after packet of crisps. That pleasure is related to health and the ability to do things, but may be experienced in inactivity, is a paradox I haven't resolved.

Suppose they all shared some quality of pleasure, P. Then the absolute goal is to maximize P. I however am doubtful about this. The other option would be to view things finitely. Then we would wish that every desirable aspect of experience be in place. Again, doubtful. What about saying that physical sensations aren't important, and what matters is a sense of achievement? But achievement is always rooted in the real world, which we experience with sensations, informative and pleasurable and painful.


People may strive for certain goals. We may feel that what they are striving for isn't good. If we act on that feeling, we are striving to change what they are striving for.

The prime example of this is selfishness. Given the choice, I would choose for people to enjoy themselves after my death. I would certainly choose for people to enjoy themselves after other people's deaths. I ought therefore to encourage concern for the future after one's death and action on this concern, where the goal of continued pleasure will be satisfied more than it would be in the case that individuals are only concerned with pleasure in their own life-span.

I think that a good, noble person is aware of other people and what could be in the future and acts on this awareness, with the aim of increasing happiness. Goodness is not a on-and-off quantity: there are various levels of awareness and concern, radiating out from the present and the individual.

One question worth asking is whether honest happiness is being happy about something or whether it is an end in itself. If one can only be honestly happy when celebrating a certain fact or possibility about the world, that there is some state or mode of truth, then it behooves us to determine what such a fact or possibility could be. This is the old question: if you could create a cheap drug with no side effects which made the taker very happy, would it be a good thing for the drug to become freely available?

The word 'happy' should be abandoned. It rhymes with nappy, and has a similar meaning. If we could make a machine that people could be plugged into to make them 'happy', and a life-time would pass where everyone on the globe would be happy, but then there would be oblivion and no future, then the actions of the population are contemptible. They might be happy, but contemplating that possibility, we wouldn't be happy now.

It would be foolish to be solely concerned with the future. A future full of present misery but concern for the future is no future to be hopeful about at all.

If you are justifiably hopeful are you hoping for some state of experience? Once that state of experience is attained, there is no need for hope, and the actor will be perfectly happy forever. What would be such a state? As I often tell myself, while there is still that to be done, there shall be a doing mood. The human experience is so bound up with short term and long term goals that it's hard to imagine a final, Nirvanic state. I imagine that perhaps there is no best state, and of all the states that one might find oneself in, the best would be one involving goals and hopes for the future. It is as if at the end of time there is a Platonic ideal of goodness, shining down through the ages from the future, and when we are hopeful for a situation, that situation has acquired its glow because of the hope that might occur in that state of further states, which themselves are glowing. This chain of hopes goes on forever.

Imagine a 50 year old Venezuelan drug baron at his daughter's wedding. He is hosting a party. There is much laughing and feasting. He feels pride and warmth. He is healthy and surrounded by his friends and family.

Now when he was 20 years old should he have looked forwards to the possibility of him feeling that way, and acted accordingly? I'm not sure, but I can't help but feel that it's slightly petty to be only concerned about one's own emotions and feelings. How do I feel about the sentence 'At 50 you will feel happy and warm, at 70 you will die, and ten years later all your family will either be killed or starve to death, homeless.'

Fast forward to the future. That old farmhouse is a ruin. A wanderer walks through it, in the middle of winter. The theme tune to Schindler's list is not playing in the background. Sad music implies a memory of warmth. As for the wanderer, he has a headache and is shivering.

Satisfying human nature

We're animals at heart, and warlike and violent. However, war is pretty much a bad idea, so we should recognize and repress these instincts. They say that women are turned on by muscled, outgoing and lecherous men. However we don't fight over or rape women any more, and don't protect them with our fists, so these emotions should be viewed as relics the same way we should view the completist urge to finish reading all 20 pages of an inane thread on an Internet forum as a bad idea. We'd have to take into account all the facets of human nature and make sure they are constrained or satisfied. Some people don't get enough exercise in their everyday life, and need to exercise in some way. That doesn't mean that they should revert to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Some one may comprehend vast edifices of thought, and yet still enjoy a simple joke or pleasant melody, and aspire to give others pleasure in the meagre thoughts he manages to express through the narrow medium of speech.

Some possible ethical imperatives

  • Maximize the expectation of a time-weighted aggregate utility function
  • At any point in time, take the course of action which maximizes the probability of survival of conscious life into the infinite future

At this moment I incline towards the second. Of course, it should be noted that according to this criterion every action that anyone has ever done was, as far as things have worked out so far in that we still exist, perfectly ethical. Some refinement of this imperative may address this point. Obviously so far everything I have personally done has not killed me, but this does not mean that I cannot be killed.

How we get there

We wish to find social, cultural and political methods of encouraging correct emotion and action. To encourage someone to do the ethically prescribed thing, any source of motivation may be used. No source need be excluded from consideration, as in every case we shall be considering how the consequences will jibe with our ethical goals. Such may include:

  • Removing the ability to do the action. An example is deleting the games off of one's computer because he doesn't want to waste his time playing games. When the time comes he will regret the action, because he will really want to play the games he deleted. If deleting the games was indeed the right decision, then later on he will be glad he did it.
  • Novelty value. Following an ethical scheme because it's new and exciting. This happens with new year's resolutions, which no one keeps.
  • A desire to develop pride and arrogance. Someone might do something so he can tell himself what a great and noble man he is, and look down on other people with a warm and fuzzy feeling inside.
  • A desire to be accepted socially as a good person, to not be looked down upon as an idiot, a failure, or a glutton, but to have friends and to enjoy oneself in that way.
  • Intellectual curiosity. Someone might do something, not because they want to, but to find out how they will feel when they do it, as part of a phenomenological investigation which is found interesting.
  • A presentation of a moral code, that people can follow without thinking about what is good in every situation

Adherence to a moral theory

Sometimes our emotions are incorrect. It is still possible to imagine that we could create an overriding righteous structure modeling truth, which explains to us when our emotions are mistaken and when they were justified, according to when they were in harmony with the model. Standing outside like this, someone could look contemptuously upon others' attitudes and behaviour. But they should always realize that they themselves could be looked upon the same way. We might imagine two persons with two contradicting structures, each holding the other in contempt. There would be no way of knowing which structure was best, apart from the inclinations of the persons involved. (This is a hypothetical situation, because I don't even have one such structure.)

We would then say that emotions, such as hope, were justified when they were aligned to this righteous structure. There might be some proposition about reality that should rightly occur along with the emotion of hope. It would be sensible to feel excited, fearful, or miserable about some things and not about others.

In society

I have personal experience of Christianity and living in a society influenced by Christian morality. I'm interested in the idea of private virtue. Should you do something between you and God alone, not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing as it were, even if you don't believe in God? Can we imagine a society of people who all outwardly appear selfish, but are in fact all very good people, it's just never appreciated?

You can hold up a certain moral code or certain moral axioms as principles, but they might turn out not to be very good. This would be true if a society living by them found themselves in an unexpected and undesirable state. An example of such a moral ideal might be the 'sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll' ideal. This taps into a broader idea of a culture. An individual may have internalized a culture which is associated with certain institutions (Church of England) and moral codes (Christianity). Their love for this culture might come from unrelated reasons - like love for family members or happy times they've had which the culture comprise.

I am not claiming that one's ethical values may be tied up with the sense of belonging to a certain culture with the aim of deconstructing and destroying such. I recognize these feelings as part of human nature and they are neither good nor bad, apart from how we apply them. A culture can have positive and negative effects. Positive, such as the encouragement of childrearing, advancement of science and protection of the homeland. Negative, such as AIDS and heroin overdose (rock music), burning of heretics at the stake (Christianity), and slitting your wrists and bad fashion sense (Emo).


  • How does a small increase in happiness in a week's time compare to a large increase in a century's time? What is happiness?
  • According to [physics, two events can appear to occur in different orders to two different observers. Therefore what do we mean by increasing happiness in the future? What does 'future' mean? Our actions and beliefs in the world stem from what is most practical or reasonable considering the circumstances. That established, consider quantum mechanics. In the course of everyday life, we develop an intuitive understanding of linear time and Euclidean space. However, if you do things which rely on the properties of quantum mechanics, you are using a version of physics a truth about the world corresponding to which may include the idea of parallel universes. In time the acceptance of these parallel universes may become natural and reasonable. (I don't know if that is the case though. See physics for discussion.) What bearing does an infinitely branching future and past have on the question of ethics?
  • To know if our current beliefs are correct, it would be good to have some kind of process you could make yourself go through a question, analysing whether some opinion is correct or not. There are opinions I hold and taboos I break, but there are still opinions I solidly hold in common with most people. To start, we need to list some opinions which are very common, going against which being found very offensive. It would be a good sign if we found a lot, or all, of the opinions we considered being correct. This would be like painting a shape, and going over the edges, just to make sure we cover everything. We want to consider everything that should be refuted, and if there is more that we consider that is not refuted, that's probably a good sign. Activities commonly thought to be offensive, and that I think are too, are: killing (not murder: that word presupposes a moral colouring), rape, theft, slavery, suicide. A fear of the potential social consequences of considering the possibility that these activities are good may have retarded the development of explanations as to why they are bad. We should be careful in our criteria for what is a valid justification. A strong feeling that something is bad may be good enough. If this feeling is replicated across all times and all people, then we should accept it as true. Our beliefs are based on human nature, so if human nature says something, then that's what we have to accept. We shouldn't restrict ourselves to just one aspect of our natures in making statements, e.g. an explanation based in formal logic or something, as opposed to a desire to vomit, or the tendency to break out in tears.

In the future, we will float on a sea of anonymous knowledge. People will be more immune to bullshit; they will expect informational prose to be written with conventions that encourage truth:

  • Trying to avoid showing self-interest: disclosing when you have shares in a company; or avoiding praising yourself. It's generally recognized that people are not fair judges of themselves, and that's why pride and boasting is looked down upon so much. A rich person can argue in favour of socialism in a way that a poor person can’t. A Gentile can talk about anti-Semitism in a way that a Jew can’t. If I owned a private residential complex, I would ban billboard advertising.
  • There are many cases of indirect self-promotion which are very offensive when one realises what is going on, i.e. a desire to bask in reflected glory:
    • Someone praising a member of a political party of which he is a member
    • Someone praising the 'legendariness' of someone with a similar opinion to his own, e.g. a university lecturer or politician
    • Someone praising the genius of someone who does work in a similar field of study to himself, especially when no-one in broader society cares about the field in question. (I would give an example but no-one cares about the field.)
    • Name-checking famous people for no good reason
    • Talking about what wonderful people your family or friends are. It's high time that this kind of thing became as offensive in polite society as straight coming out and saying ‘Me, I am the greatest!’ If a man says ‘Oh, I'm very lucky to be married to such an amazing woman,’ it should be socially acceptable to retort ‘Shut the fuck up. Your wife's an ugly old bitch.’
    • Excessive use of buzzwords (‘open source,’ ‘object-oriented,’ ‘modern,’ ‘progress,’ ‘development’)
  • Trying to describe opposite points of view to your own as fairly as possible and disclosing all the relevant information.
  • Recognizing when what you are saying is privileged by people's dislike of the opposite opinion, and being careful to point this out, or refraining from stating your opinion in the first place. For example, I was watching this TV programme about conscientious objectors, some of whom had been shot for cowardice. Now the presenter concluded the programme by saying, there's an argument that these soldiers actually showed great bravery in disobeying orders and going against popular opinion, and weren't cowards at all, and that he found, all in all, that he agreed with that argument. That may be. Nonetheless, had he said that shooting them was the best policy, so that the burden of risking one's life in battle did not fall disproportionately on the bravest and most noble of the men, and the deaths of those who died in combat were more worthy of our remembrance, then he would have almost certainly been deluged with complaints from individuals whose relatives had been executed for desertion, and he would have very likely lost his job. We should bear the possibility of similar situations in mind.

Writers will feel compelled to follow these conventions, and will end up writing a fair argument even though they may have strong opinions on the question. If someone lays out an opinion and omits a significant contrary point (Al Gore claiming temperature follows CO2, when it's the other way round), then he looks stupid. It will therefore become conventional to try to look fair in one's arguments. People will easily spot sweeping historical statements and implicit assumptions, because they will be exposed to a lot of advocatory prose and contrary views. Because information and ideas will flow so freely, the way that message forums and blog comment threads are full of individual opinions, individual theorists will be less significant.

Killing is bad. We know it is bad, because it makes us angry to see others do it.

We need to apply the same kind of reasoning to everything. Either in this article for some of the important ethical recommendations about murder, theft, rape, and so on; or in other articles for more obscure ethics — the ethics of society, implemented in various ways (such as through violence, or through more peaceful means like running a business, or writing articles); or the ethics of technology, with questions like what are good design principles for computer software)

Broader perspectives

There are various sources for knowledge: religious institutions, academic institutions, and journalistic institutions. In the end, though, every individual's beliefs are based on internal processes. One may trust specific individuals, institutions or cultures to be accurate sources of belief. I can easily accuse Christians and Progressivists of being intellectually dishonest and irrational, but to be honest, there is no real way for me to know whether I myself am an honest person. All I can do is to lay certain facts into consideration, and note that from these I tend to draw the conclusion that some sources of belief aren't to be trusted: these facts being, that beliefs are helped to stay common by the prevailing culture, by the statements of respected and powerful authorities, by the fear of what might happen if one goes against those beliefs, and by the rewards (such as prestige, wealth or power) for co-operating with the orthodoxy.

Someone may have certain emotions about a situation and then later have different emotions about the same thing. Enjoyment may turn into regret, or pain may turn into pride. We accept the broader perspective as being more sensible and what we regret doing through the smaller perspective as an aberration from this standard of sensibleness. If we feel bad about how we've behaved at some occasion then that's probably a sign that there is some problem with our behaviour, even if we don't feel bad about it at other times.

A broader perspective can also be reached by contemplating the possibility of explaining to other people your beliefs and behaviour, and thinking about how they would feel. If you can steal someone's money, and potentially look them in the eye and say, ‘I took your money, for the greater good’; or kill someone, and potentially look in the eye someone who loved them and say, ‘I killed So-and-so, because the world's a better place without them,’ then perhaps your actions are okay. I don't think that such contemplation can ever be harmful to a search for truth and morality.

This is a general epistemological principle: Considering alternate thoughts can lead to new understanding. To summarize some of these these other thoughts:

  • How others might feel
  • How you might feel at other times
  • How orthodoxy and heterodoxy are treated by those in power

The only contradiction to this principle would be if one spent all one's waking hours considering inconvenient thoughts as opposed to other more epistemologically worthwhile activities. How one's hours should be apportioned I do not know, but as doubt about scheduling does not seem to recommend any one course of action over another, again, it's not something we need to worry about. (Except perhaps: how long we spend in the day planning… hmm… we seem to have hit the ordinals again.)

I think one is happiest when he is honest with himself and doesn't have niggling thoughts in the back of his mind. He should not just be honest with himself, but with others. He should be able to look every man, woman, child and animal in the eye without feeling guilty about his actions and desires.

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