Hi, I am interested in critical analysis/discussion of the principles of objective ethics. The text below is loosely based on the book “Cult of Freedom & Ethics of Public Sphere” (with permission). I find it convincing enough to become the basis for universal morality. And what do you think?
- What is freedom?
We may talk about freedom endlessly, because freedom has no boundaries and can’t be comprehended by reasoning alone. It can be only defined by contradiction, for example, as an opposition to violence, or as an opposition to determinism - causality, regularity, repeatability. We can definitely say however that freedom is the property of the Universe and what’s more, the movement which is going in the Universe is ultimately directed to freedom. This direction is manifested in the emergence and accumulation of the unpredictable, new. By this fact, freedom differs from randomness.
- Nevertheless, science has shown that freedom is a fiction because everything in the world obeys the laws. Feeling of a free will is simply a tricky illusion. In reality, there is no will at all and any action has its direct cause. Is this true?
Of course not. Free will is real just like the existence of self is real. One without the other is not possible. As for laws, science is limited by determinism because everything else could not be studied. And the “everything else” is exactly what “freedom” actually is, and all that comes along, such as ethics.
- And what is ethics?
Man, as a particle of reality, is drawn to freedom but this is not enough for ethics to emerge. Ethics requires mind which can cognize causation. Knowledge of the consequences allows man to set goals and act intelligently. The right actions make the world freer. We can say that ethics are manifestations of freedom in society or that ethics is freedom augmented by mind.
- Science insists that ethics, as it obviously exists, is derived from the laws, such as the laws of evolution, survival, cooperation, etc. Within scientific perspective, there could not be objective ethics because ethics always serves the subject - a person or a group. Are the scientists wrong?
Yes. Neither freedom nor ethics can follow from the laws. Only false ethics, which justifies violence in the name of survival, can follow. Objective or true ethics can only be based on freedom.
- Why do we call such ethic “objective”?
Because freedom is objective just like determinism is. They are two sides of the objective reality.
- If that’s so, then ethics should naturally follow from reality. Isn’t that a contradiction?
Yes, ethics follows from the objective reality, but at the same time it does not. This is one of the many paradoxes of freedom, thanks to which it could not be studied. Ethics requires us to improve reality, to perfect it, to make the world more free. Obviously, such a goal is both related and not related to reality.
- But how can moral duty arise from the facts of reality? How should we deal with the problem of “is/ought”?
There are some facts of reality from which moral duty could arise. These facts are consequences of freedom itself. However, since we can’t study freedom, no ethical norms could be deductively derived from these facts. As a result, we have moral duty but no indication about what this duty is.
- What are examples of these facts of reality?
For example, the existence of will, the ability to cognize the world and the capacity to act in humans.
- How does moral duty arise from them?
Man must initiate his will, explore the world and change it by his actions.
- Can we choose not to follow this moral duty?
We can’t. Man is an active subject, he cannot but act. And by acting, he follows at least something - either the laws of determinism or freedom. We can’t choose determinism because it’s not a choice - we would follow forces. Accordingly, we have only one “choice” - to follow freedom.
- But how should we find the correct behavior if freedom could not be defined?
From its opposition to determinism. Violence is always a consequence of determinism, the laws of nature. Therefore, in order to find the norms of objective ethics we must learn how to abandon violence, how to overcome it.
- Why does violence arise from the laws of nature? Isn’t it possible to commit violence by own evil intent?
It is not. Man has mind, and mind chooses freedom. Only when a man follows instincts or obeys to external forces, he does evil.
- But does mind really want to be free? Many minds are looking for new ways to do evil!
We should not confuse mind with reason. Reason is evolutionary machine aimed at survival. Mind, on the other hand, is primarily knowledge, search for new and creativity. By perceiving the world around us, mind transcends its determinism, using knowledge as a tool to establish freedom. If a man lives as his instincts tell him, or obeys to his whims, or follows the orders of others, he is nothing more, but a rational and deterministic animal. Only someone who consciously strives to be free is a man.
- But how can man abandon violence? He has to live!
Overcoming determinism, including death, is an endless task. The mind of the individual and the collective intelligence of the whole society is aimed at solving it.
- Still, how is it possible to abandon violence now? How to behave?
The only way is to follow the norms worked out by the general agreement, the consent of all members of the society. People can reject violence only when they choose to agree with something voluntarily.
- But can people agree to do evil? Or be wrong? Or cheat?
They can if they will not follow objective ethics. According to objective ethics, the contracting parties must follow their “sense of freedom”, seek absolute justice, strive to eliminate violence and try to get to a situation where everyone - and all together - is free as much as possible to be oneself. This situation reflects the objective state of the society, in which all of its members are at the highest possible “social distance” from each other - they do not affect each other and they are maximally free from each other.
- This is an abstraction! How can such situation really exist and be objective?
This situation depicts an “absolute” freedom, which is the ultimate goal. Although this goal is unachievable, freedom in practice is achieved by movement towards this goal. Along the way, people improve reality and make the world freer - absolute freedom gives us direction. With respect to abstractions and objectivity, all concepts are abstractions but they can be objective if they relate to what is actually there independently of the subject. No matter how paradoxical it sounds, our own existence is objective. Similarly, the existence of other people is objective, and so the existence of a distances between people. In other words, absolute freedom either objectively exists or may exist. Even if it exists only in conjunction with its opposite - determinism.
- But relationships between people, and thus freedom and violence, always depend on a subjective opinion! What does it have to do with objectivity?
Everything that we see in this world is a consequence of our “subjective” opinion. We are not given anything else. However, it does not mean that there is no objectivity. Objectivity is just a consequence of the general agreement, in fact, it is a contract. For only what objectively exists may be a basis for consensus. One person can make a mistake, all - never. This is the only absolute criterion of truth, which verifies everything around, including the laws discovered by science.
So, if we all agree that the objective reality and its laws exist independently of us, there is no reason to stop at freedom. Objectivity of ethics is exactly the same consequence of general consensus. If true ethics was not objective, it could not be normative and people would not obey its norms. Voluntary consent makes norms of ethics compulsory. Otherwise, they become moral violence.
- But how can all of us agree if everyone is free to be themselves? Doesn’t freedom mean that everyone chooses what is good and what is bad?
This is another paradox of freedom. Yes, everyone is free to have his dissenting opinion and this is the common opinion which everyone must accept. Individual freedom is the only possible basis for the universal consensus, but at the same time, individual freedom is possible only when everyone agrees.
- So, is objective ethics the same social contract?
Not the same. It is a different approach to the social contract. It not only explains the past evolution of the society, but also indicates a direction to the future. It makes the behavior, which the best representatives of humanity have been practicing implicitly and unconsciously, explicit and conscious. The correct social contract is the real basis of a free society, not a hypothetical model, designed to justify the violence of power.
- Social contract assumes that people waive part of their interests. Why would they agree?
Because the alternative is violence. Objective ethics requires general consensus and, for the sake of it, waiving the part of interest that infringe on the freedom of others. This way the practical ethical norms, including the norms of the contract itself will be found. Contract is infinite, just like the movement towards freedom is.
- But what is the problem if the alternative to agreement is violence? Some people like violence!
Participation in the contract is the only way to find freedom and, therefore, to become a man. An animal may be animal, but man searches for the meaning of life and the only way it can be found is in freedom. By expressing oneself, creating something new, overcoming determinism, man creates freedom for himself and for others, and realizes his purpose on earth. His assessment as a person is only possible through others, by agreement with them.
- And what measures must be implemented to those who do not want to agree?
Again, practical norms will be found by the contract. Those who prefer to be unethical, immoral and evil, those who commit violence will be subjected to the measures agreed upon and found by free people. We can’t say what those measures could be however, because the social contract does not yet explicitly exist. At the initial stage, while objective ethics has not spread widely enough, they will likely resemble the compulsory education of the ignorant.
- But how freedom is possible by coercion?
Another paradox. Education is not coercion, coercion is a consequence of the rejection of freedom.
- But people will never accept the fact that others may behave immorally! Consensus is likely to be based not on freedom, but rather on love/kindness/morality/god’s will!
That’s what we are talking about. Everyone has their own opinion and that is the only thing common to all. As for love, it belongs to personal relationships and is inappropriate in the public sphere because it infringes on the freedom of strangers. As with all of the above, it is subjective, because everyone understands it differently.
- How to convince people that everything that has been said is truth? May be it’s all a mistake?
Trying to convince in freedom is meaningless. Those who have mind want freedom without any convictions.
- But there are people who do not believe in freedom. For example, there is such a doctrine as hard incompatibilism!
The criterion of truth is also a criterion of mind. However, doubts is a characteristic of mind. An obligatory doubt in freedom is also a paradox of freedom.
- So… as long as there is no contract, not only objective ethics and freedom do not exist, but the truth itself. So, all that had been said above is just a lie?
Yet another paradox. If the criterion of truth is consensus, then by agreeing with this proposition we certify the validity of the idea of consensus. Ethics requires us to agree with what was said!