Morality as a scientific field
Morality is about what actions can lead to a highest expectable
This field of inquiry might be split into two questions.
One question is, what are the logical connections (causalities) by
which someone's actions influence effective circumstances or other
situations that people will face.
The second question is how these circumstances will affect their
Since all these things (actions, circumstances and happiness) are
observable, and the very object of morality is how actions influence
happiness in this way, this suffices to make morality a genuine
field of science.
This call for considering
morality as a science, and more precisely, for the
same reason, to a consequentialist (utilitarian)
view, has ready been made by other authors, especially by Sam
Harris. Unfortunately, while he had the merit to have claimed it
loud by repeating and reexplaining this same remark over and over
again, it is a pity that he hardly went any further in the effective
study of this field. But we are going to present an effective start
of such a work here. And the obsessive repetition of a single
elementary principle without going further, is a philosopher's mania
rather than a scientific work.
So, let's go a little further. We said, the issue can be split into
2 questions. Let's have a look at the second one: how do
circumstances affect happiness ?
One may assume this question to be obvious, and its answer as
directly accessible to our senses, just as we said that the measure
of happiness is directly accessible to our senses: to know what
someone needs for being happy, it would suffice to ask the question
: "What do you need to be happy ?"
Assuming this measurement tool to be correct and thus focusing on
the first question (what actions can better lead to specified
concrete consequences) as the hard part, the science of morality is
reduced to something quite practical, far from the mysteries of
psychology, a field where scientific methods can fully apply as all
the relevant elements and causality relations are, in principle,
accessible to our senses and understanding (and, just like in any
other sciences, the only problem is that they are very complex).
This may be seen as encompassing all applied sciences for how their
specifications of how to produce specific individual tools and
objects. But a crucial aspect is how actions from several, many or
all individuals can connect and interact together to globally lead
to such wanted outcomes.
This is the field of economics and politicial science.
In this sense, the science of morality is quite old, and already
took note of readily available solutions.
Concretely, a typical solution to find out and provide what objects
people may best need for their daily life, is to put them in a
supermarket and let them choose what to buy. But this would only
address the needs currently satisfiable by buying something, which
are not all needs.
Anyway, supermarkets are but a particular case of a general
principle of self-help that already works in many areas (and more
reasearch can be done to still extend its efficiency to more areas),
so that the self-awareness of one's needs (if correct) motivates the
actions that lead to the optimized consequences (with no need of any
explicit measure of individual or collective welfare by outside
Economic and political sciences are dealing with the global flow of
actions as resulting from everyone's strive for their respective
goals, and how well this all leads to the accomplishments of the
expressed goals. So, these fields can in good approximation be
considered as synonymous to the science of morality. Or, they can be
seen as another aspect of the same more general science. This more
general science is the science of how politico-economical systems
and individual actions in these systems affect a sort of global sum
of the satisfaction by everyone of their respective wants.
Inside it, the political and economic questions are to compare these
satisfactions as depending on the system or the policy, for a fixed
set of behaviors; while the morality questions are to compare the
effects of different possible behaviors of an individual inside a
fixed politico-economic system.
Sometimes both questions may coincide, when individuals have the
power to change the system or policy.
In other ways, we can consider morality as more general than
economics, as it includes the consideration of all actions and their
consequences (including among people who interact informally, maybe
because they know each other well, disregarding the formal rules of
the more global society), while economics and politics deal more
specifically with the only actions that go through collective formal
processes (markets...) and are concerned with the formal rules of
society as a whole.
However, as I already explained in other texts and
will develop in Part IV, new economical and political solutions can
be developed through technology, extending their usefulness beyond
their traditional scopes, so as to make the economic and political
fields nearly as general as morality.
So, the problem with economics and political science is that they
are currently far from perfect and need to be further worked on.
Now let's come back to the second morality question (what do people
need), that we suggested to dismiss as trivial : this is the
"self-responsibility hypothesis" assuming everyone's needs to be
expressed by their respective intentions or wills (opinions about
one's own needs). For practical purposes, economic theories often
hold this self-responsibility hypothesis as true.
Now, is it possible to disagree with the self-responsibility
hypothesis, and build a morality system over some negations of it ?
Such a view is paradoxical as it presents a conflict of opinions: it
puts forward an opinion about people's needs that is in conflict
with their respective opinions about their own needs. This view is
quite bold as requires :
How can this be ?
- an effectively present (measurable) definition of what someone
would need, in conflict with the concerned person's own opinion;
- a concrete means by which this other opinion wins (is
satisfied) against the person's own will.
We can observe three methods (conceptions of other's needs and their
associated "solutions") that have already developed on a large
scale: the Socialist method, the Buddhist method, and the
The Socialist method involves 3 ingredients: a fool, a doctor
and a coercion system.
The doctor's role is to define the fool's needs in contradiction
with the fools own opinions (wants).
The role of the coercion system is to keep the fool's life under the
However there is a limit to this system, as the doctor is but a
human just like the fool, and thus can be mistaken as well. As the
doctor's errors would lead his will to harm the fool's needs (while
the fool's foolishness only harms himself), this is rather called
Thus its reliability somehow requires 2 more ingredients: a
meta-doctor and a meta-coercion system.
The role of the meta-doctor is to find out whether the doctor is
sane or mad.
The role of the meta-coercion system is to give the means for the
meta-doctor to defeat the coercion system ifever the doctor is found
to be mad.
Examples such coercions already in force:
So, the doctor's role is usually played by the government, the
meta-coercion system is given by democracy (assumed to be enough,
but quite miserable in practice), so that the meta-doctors more or
less coincide with the fools themselves. This way of closing the
chain of doctors and coercion systems into a loop, saves us from the
need to specify meta-meta-doctors with meta-meta-coercion systems
and so on ad infinitum. But it turns out when following the chain of
dependencies of the socialist coercion system, that after its
"democratic" meta-coercive system, it has two meta-meta-coercive
systems, one is constitutional, and the other one is educational,
thus only differing from the Buddhist method by the compulsory
nature of public education.
- The free and compulsory nature of the public education system.
(The public funding is a form of coercion as it is based on
taxes, while if the student was not fool and really needed this
education he could just borrow the money for his studies; this
alternative self-responsibility solution may require a sort of
insurance for the case of an unpredictable misfortune in looking
for jobs after this)
- Other forms of compulsory social security
- The war on drugs
- Possible forms of sexuality regulations
- Employment regulations that do not let people to work the
amount of time they want, or wages regulations that force some
people to remain jobless if they are not productive enough to
get a job with the legal wages.
With the Buddhist method (or rather, a method more or less
followed by many religions), the fool is called a "disciple", the
doctor a "Master", and the coercion method is purely dialectic. It
goes as follows:
Here again, the meta-doctor is the disciple himself, who is free to
follow the master of his choice, or to follow none and keep his own
mind, as Buddhism is tolerant and openly acknowledges the diversity
of ways and the disciple's personal responsibility in making his own
choices (so as to save the Master from any responsibility in case
his guidance would be wrong). (But other religions with a similar
method don't so liberally recognize the value of this meta-coercion
- The Master claims to have got a direct perception of the naked
reality (called Awakening, Enlightenment or the like) while the
disciple would be living in illusion;
- The disciple starts trusting the Master more than his own
- The Master claims that the satisfaction of desires leads to
- The disciple, trusting this, makes a tabula rasa of his own
Note that such a method develops more as a sefish than a moral work,
as most of the work is the one done by the disciple to change his
own will for the sake of some assumed better personal happiness.
The Christian/Muslim method is the simplest. The fool (pious
person) just needs to express his wishes to God in prayer. Then if
these wishes don't happen to be fulfilled, he will conclude that
they were not God's will.
No coercion system is needed, as God is assumed to be omnipotent
anyway (or to say it otherwise, God's will is redefined as the
outcome of the vacuous coercion system identified as destiny), so
that even the attempt to wonder what this coercion system could be,
would be condemned as blasphemy (a doubt towards God's omnipotence).
For the same motive of blasphemy prohibition, no meta-doctor can be
Now let us sum up the whole field of research in morality by the
list of the main questions it is made of, some of which will be
later examined in more details:
- What is the range of goals that should be seeked for, and
their respective importances: human happiness, animals
happiness, God's happiness (through worship or anything else),
afterlife purposes, environmental preservation
- How valid are the above traditional methods to correct the
expression of needs, from their natural form to any more correct
expression of the real needs (specifying the direct
circumstancial conditions of happiness);should such corrective
methods be abandoned or further worked on, and can such methods
be done sufficiently correctly and obtain worthy enough
accomplishments compared to the coercitive works and collateral
damages associated with risks of errors and other perverse
effects (with the people's tries to avoid this coercion)
- By which means and towards which forms can and should the
system be changed, and what laws would need to be adopted,
either now or in later circumstances or systems. For example,
can a system help to "make people more rational" by better
informing them on what intermediate purposes they should follow
to more efficiently serve their expressed ultimate needs ; how
morally efficient can be works to improve the system, as
compared to works to develop personal moral actions inside the
- As innovations and revolutions (hopefully towards better
systems) cannot go on forever but will have to converge to some
form or stability sooner or later, and anyway cannot be
everybody's task, what are the main features of morality issues
(the right rules, principles...) to be expected in the world,
first in some near future, then in some ultimate system, in
terms of one's actions in a fixed system (out of exhaustion of
the needs for improving the system) - because the very purpose
of legal systems is to forbid evil actions and try to prevent
them from happening.
See also: Origins
of evil and how to cure them