Gibney’s essay (link and notes below) is already such a good summary of this framework that I can’t add much. At the moment all I can think of is a label for a concept he uses but doesn’t seem to have a name for. In my mind, the concept of “relavantism” is extremely useful.
You only need 39 digits of pi to calculate the circumference of the universe to within the width of a hydrogen atom. So, a memorable list of digits is enough to relate the biggest thing we know about to the smallest thing we know about. It is therefore safe to say that the 40th digit of pi is irrelevant.
At least, it is in that context. The important thing is to consciously elevate awareness of what is relevant to a good conclusion in whatever context you’re working with. There is always a cutoff beyond which things just don’t matter.
When it comes to morality, to put it simply, one must first exist before one can be relevant to the decision. There might not actually be an objective source for morality in the natural world, but there is the extremely practical fact that if you die you don’t get to be moral anymore. If you don’t exist you’re irrelevant.
So what you, or we, or all of us OUGHT to do is objectively dependent on what will keep us alive. Any other goal will result in our extinction sooner or later. If we’re extinct, we can’t be moral, so it is right to not go extinct.
Well, it isn’t “right” in the sense that you can’t still freely disagree without being objectively wrong. But it is “right” in the sense that if you disagree too strenuously, or for too long, you’ll die and nobody will have to think about your opinion anymore.
- The Euthyphro Dilemma
- “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?”
- “…perfectly frames the question of whether or not there is an independent source for morality, beyond what gods or human beings say that it is.”
- Hume’s “definitive argument” was that “…this subjective nature of moral values as something different than objective facts about the world…”
- “So when Hume said there can be no ought derived from an is, he didn’t mean it can never be done; he simply meant it cannot be done without a want.”
- “In fact, a survey of the literature reveals that there are eight so called naturalistic fallacies that include various interpretations of Hume and Moore, and none of them actually preclude an objective source of morality coming from natural human desires.”
- “So if we are to find an objective and universal basis for morality, we must therefore find an objective and universal want.”
- “Whether we realize it or not, our moral wants are being selected through evolutionary processes. Which ones will survive? The wants that lead to long term survival.”
- “…survival is the thing that must be desired on its own account. Prior to existence – or after it is extinguished – there are no human desires.”
- “We are alive. We want to remain alive. We ought to act to remain so.”
- “Can a person act to survive at the expense of others? Not for very long, and not if she has a choice, for she would eventually be faced with fighting nature alone…Can groups act to survive at the expense of other groups? Not for very long. We need vast connections of cooperation to ensure the progress of civilization that provides us with robust diversity and adaptability…Can species act to survive at the expense of other species? Not for very long. We are enmeshed in a complex web of life that makes up a supportive ecosystem.”
- “To reiterate, there is no supernatural force that dictates anything must follow rules for survival, but this blind and unsympathetic arbiter of the selection process within our universe means that this is the ultimate judge of all actions.”
- “As we finally come to recognize this, will it mean we have to change all our previously held moral beliefs? Of course not, although we would if we discovered we were on the path towards extinction.”
- “What traits do we currently believe will lead to survival over the long term?
- “Suitability to an environment.”
- “Adaptability to changes in the environment.”
- “Diversity to handle fluctuations.”
- “Cooperation to optimize resources and reduce the harm that comes from conflict.”
- “Competition to spur effort and progress.”
- “Limits to competition to give losers a chance to cooperate on the next iteration.”
- “Progress in learning, to understand and predict actions in the universe.”
- “Progress in technology, to give options for directing outcomes where we want them to go.”
- “…anyone that takes a big bet on a non-diversified strategy will eventually lose everything…So even if we become confident about the direction we would like to go, humans should not be lured into racing there using existentially risky behavior.”