Re: Collective Volition: Wanting vs Doing.

From: Philip Sutton (
Date: Tue Jun 15 2004 - 08:00:37 MDT

Hi Jeff,

The idea that morality is simply "what works" doesn't feel right to me.

"What works" is really a description of "what persists". Throughout
human history some people have exploited other people. This behaviour
pattern has been very persistent - but it doesn't match with what most
people mean intuitively when they talk of morality.

I think the essense of morality is that it is a *corrective* or *antidote* to
what would otherwise occur if no action was taken - something that the
group acting under or propagating the moral code would find distressing.
(It requires an act of will to make morality have any effect.)

I think that humans can take lots of contrarian aspirations and make
moralities out of them.

I think your notion of the arrow of morality emerges when you narrow
down and focus attention on moralities that emerge and persist. These
moralities are, most likely, persistent and prone to spreading because
they 'work' ie. they meet the needs of lots of people through time and
across geography. But they are subset of all possible moralities.

My guess is that some of these persistent moralities emerge because in
any human population there are people who gain positions of power and
influence whose activities deliberately or inadvertently impact negatively
on others. Because of that, moralities emerge among the people most
likely to be disadvantaged that help them mobilise themselves to resist or
prevent the impact and also to act a tool for behaviour modification
amongst those are causing the negaive impacts.

I think there's another class of moralities that relate to personal growth or
self management ie. rlating to learning how to avoid major future regret
owing to an excessive weighting of current benefit.

If human society is becoming more integrated then I would expect at the
least some aspects of morality to converge but if human societies
fragmented again (eg. dispersal through space) then the moralities might
diverge again.

So while one might see some arrow of morality effects I think this is by no
means the universal explanation for moral dynamics.

Cheers, Philip

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