Saturday, September 10, 2005

Introduction: Making the World a Better Place

Why am I creating this blog?

Ultimately, it is because I want to leave the world better than it would have been if I were not here. This has been an interest of mine since I was in high school.

This interest drove me through 12 years of college, where I primarily studied on moral and political philosophy through undergraduate and graduate school. I also spent some time studying economics and history.

I studied moral philosophy because I discovered that this was where people went to study what "better" means. Clearly, before I could even try to make the world better, I needed to know what "better" was. Moral philosophers sought answers to questions like, What is 'better' anyway? How do I recognize it when I see it? Is there a fact of the matter, or is 'better' just a matter of opinion?

I studied economics because most of the debates that people were having on how to make the world better were economic issues. Is capitalism better than communism? Should we raise the minimum wage? What is the best way to control pollution? Should education be the responsibility of the government or of private entities? It is one thing to say that people have a right enough food to keep from starving to death, it is another to be able to say how they get that food.

I studied history because we cannot create laboratory experiments where we look at different ways of organizing society and see what works. The only 'laboratory' we have is to look at the past and to look at the effects that different options have had.

I spent 12 years in college. I never got my PhD because I ran out of money. Ethics, as a profession, does not have a lot of high-paying job opportunities. However, I did get an education, and I still have an interest in making the world better than it would have otherwise been.

Now, I have a few ideas of what ‘better’ is.

I put all that effort into learning this stuff. Now, I want to put it to use. I hope that, with all of that schooling and reading, I have picked up some useful ideas along the way.

I can start off by giving an outline of some of my core ideas that I will be defining and building on in the posts that will come.

  1. There is no God, at least not in any morally useful sense. God is not morally useful because we have no way to determine exactly whose idea of God is correct. If we cannot choose among different ideas of God, then our choice is arbitrary. This means that morality, based on God, is arbitrary, and not very useful. Some things we have to figure out for ourselves.
  2. There are moral facts. If somebody says, "Capital punishment is wrong," that statement is either true or false. If it is true, then anybody who says that it is false is mistaken -- and vica versa. Sometimes, the answer may be complex. Capital punishment can be wrong in one set of circumstances, but not wrong in others. Still, moral statements are true or false. Morality is the science of finding out which.
  3. There are no intrinsic values. There is no mysterious property of "rightness" and "wrongness" to be found in any action, intention, event, object, or state. This might be seen to conflict item (2) above. However, if you think about it, most of the objectively true and false statements that you make in a day have nothing to do with intrinsic properties. “I am in Denver” is an objectively true or false statement. However, being in Denver is not an intrinsic property.
  4. All value depends on desire. Without desire, there is no value, it is as simple as that.
  5. Moral value does not depend on the desires of the person making the evaluation. Whether capital punishment is wrong does not depend on whether the hangman gets off on killing people. It depends on whether capital punishment, or a desire to kill in certain circumstances, would help or hurt people generally if everybody had it. Nobody can answer this question by looking at their own likes and dislikes. It is quite possible for a person to like something, and for it to be wrong, simply because, if everybody liked it, the world would not be a better place.

That should be enough for now. I hope that I can provide something useful in the days to come.

By the way, I also answer questions -- those that have to do with right and wrong, good and evil. If you have any, let me know. I'll do what I can to answer them.

No comments: