Do you believe that there is an absolute and objective "good" or "bad" in nature or do you believe that everything is relative and subjective?

Thanks for the question Bruce. First...I can only speak for humanity. I cannot speak for all of Nature. For humans, however, I believe there are values hierarchies that plot along a spectrum, and I’ve included a first draft of a chart that describes that spectrum below. The idea here is that there are indeed absolutes…but those absolutes intersect in different ways, at different times, in different people…to be expressed as what someone will inevitably perceive as a “relative and subjective” difference. In other words, the contexts of culture, time-in-history, underlying belief system and so on shape how a given values hierarchy (and how it is actualized) plot along the spectrum, and how it is understood. But although the perspectives on a given values hierarchy may shift — be refined over time, be critiqued, be valorized or devalorized, etc. — the position of that values hierarchy is actually pretty fixed.

To appreciate the backdrop of concepts from which this chart was derived, see this article: Functional Intelligence

I hope this was helpful.

Does a right exist if no one defends it?

Ah. Good one.

I think the answer to this question depends on the level of moral maturity involved. An immature person will tend to disregard the rights of others unless someone (or some thing) is present to enforce or defend those rights. A moral grown-up, on the other hand, will recognize the importance of such rights even if there is no one and no thing present to enforce or defend those rights. This is true of most ethics. The morally mature person may choose to work hard whether their boss or coworkers are watching or not, because they believe it is the right thing to do; whereas the morally immature person may only work hard to impress upon those watching them that they are indeed “a hard worker,” or to reap some sort of advantage or reward. Really what defines being an adult has a lot to do with this willing acceptance of societal expectations without expectation of reward (i.e. simply because it is prosocial), while refining one’s own conscience to act in the spirit of those expectations on the other. A child, in contrast, might only follow the letter-of-the-law while someone is watching, and be excited and thrilled to deviate from societal expectations if nobody is looking.

These contrasting levels of moral maturity quickly become evident in contexts like driving a car: the mature person “drives carefully and responsibly” out of compassion for their fellow human beings, polite consideration that reflects prosocial intentions, and acknowledgement that the rule of law is necessary on public roads to prevent utter chaos and death; the immature person thinks the rules don’t apply to them, that other people’s safety doesn’t really matter, and that their own self-gratification and arbitrary impulses should guide their driving habits. In such a situation, the moral adult has little fear of police presence on a highway, whereas the moral child tends to be a bit more angry and fearful in the midst of their egocentric rebellion. So we might say that, for the moral toddler at least, a right may not exist if their is no one to defend it.

Thanks for the question.

How would you criticize W.D. Ross's works about the prima facie duties or moral guidelines?

Thanks for the question Zahin. On the whole, I agree with Ross on nearly everything, so it would be difficult to criticize him in any substantive way. One area in which I think he could have explored and elaborated a broader foundation was in the prioritization of duties (with the aim of resolving conflicting obligations). I do think there are clear avenues of achieving this — and indeed for any situation — via meta-ethical principles (in the form of consistent values hierarchies) and synthesis (how fulfillment impulses for primary drives interact, etc.). That said, the reliance on a developed moral sense (what I refer to in my own writing as “moral maturity”), inclusive of moral intuitions and self-evident responsibilities, is ultimately a sophisticated and nuanced arbiter of such conflicts, and this is precisely what Ross seems to promote. So…I can’t really be all that critical. IMO, Ross pretty much nails it, it’s just that his exploration is incomplete.

My 2 cents.

Is is possible to have the moral high ground… and be wrong? Examples?


Well that’s probably a very accurate description for just about every codependent action. The person acting as enabler (or “unskillful helper”) is certain they are acting out of compassion, caring and a strong desire to help…and therefore they think they have the “moral high ground” in taking a given action. The problem is that they are really just facilitating a destructive, abusive, compulsive, often hopelessly enmeshed downward spiraling relationship — that is, they are wrong in both their belief about where there motivations are coming from, and what their actions will achieve.

Some examples….

1) The parent who keeps giving their child sugar whenever the child throws a tantrum about wanting more. This isn’t loving at all…it’s indulgent and destructive. But the parent often is thinking something like “My child is suffering and needs my love! I must give them sugar to prove that I love them!”

2) The physically and emotionally abused partner who keeps returning to the relationship because they believe something like “My partner is wounded and hurting, and my abandoning them will make things worse! They don’t mean to be so abusive…they are just in so much pain they can’t help themselves….”

3) The friend of an alcoholic who “doesn’t want them to drink alone,” because that could lead to some very bad decisions…and so procures “good quality booze” to bring over to their friend, so they can get drunk together. You know…safely.

And so forth. In each case, the enabler/supporter rationalizes their actions based on what they believe is the “morally right” thing to do for the person they care about. They feel justified, and will even aggressively defend their decision. But they are really just perpetuating harm — in part out of ignorance and lack of skillfulness, but also in part because they are trying to heal something broken and wounded within themselves via that other wounded person.

My 2 cents.

How do you perceive relativism concerning religion, morality, and life in general? Do you believe in relativism in life? Why or why not?

Thanks for the question Dida. Here’s the current state of my thinking on this….

1) From the perspective of ignorance — the result of a lack of personal experience, or an absence of careful introspection, or an incomplete education in the history of sociology, philosophy, art, science, religion, etc. — all positions, assertions, insights and so forth may appear to be relative. In reality, they are not, and appearances can be deceiving…much like the shadows on the wall in Plato’s cave.

2) After a requisite amount of experience, introspection, education and integration, it becomes apparent that there are indeed many different positions along a given continuum of ever-increasing efficacy and certainty. At one end of that continuum are unskillful, uninformed, impulsive and conditioned/reflexive responses and actions that lack efficacy and certainty…despite feeling “relatively” true to the person acting them out — we might call this the “conditional” end of that continuum. At the other end of the continuum is highly refined, skillful, informed, carefully considered responses and actions that have a much higher level of predictive efficacy…even though the person acting them out may still have doubts; this is the more “absolute” end of the continuum. And all along that continuum are incremental shifts that lean in one directly or the other. I think research into the Dunning–Kruger effect sheds some light on this process across many different areas.

3) From a subjective point of view — or even across an entire homogenous culture — it can be difficult to appreciate why a given aesthetic, or value, or ethical standard, or cultural expectation seems so contradictory to those of someone else, or those of another culture. But again, this seeming begins to erode via emotional, intellectual, relational and indeed spiritual development that incorporates intersubjective and intercultural perspectives and experiences. The more absolute truths emerge not from an homogenous, sheltered and self-absorbed or protective existence, but from an open, engaging, porous synthesis through intimate interactions with others, empathic immersion in their experiences, and a fair amount of courage.

4) Thus mature wisdom tends to become more and more integral and integralizing — more able to suspend certainty in favor of holding all apparent contradictions lightly and compassionately until their fundamental ground (in shared, essential characteristics) becomes clear. Ultimately, this unitive process results in an enduring perception of the common underpinnings of seemingly divergent perspectives. But it is quite difficult to return to the cave and explain this illumination — and it takes time to free oneself from old emotional habits and modes of thinking that persist from earlier stages of development.

My 2 cents.

Is the aim of all religions to teach only moral values?

Thanks for the question. In my opinion, it is not the primary aim of religions to teach moral values. Often, religious institutions will, over time, elevate moral correctness or dogma to an excessive level — seemingly just so that adherents can be more easily controlled, or to create a standard of conformance that qualifies as the appearance of being religious. But when we read the scriptures of the world’s spiritual traditions, it rapidly becomes clear that there is much, much more being discussed there than “100 things we must do,” and “100 things we must not do” in order to be a moral person. Instead, the focus is often on a much more subtle development of character, or a specific quality of faith, or a transformative change in attitude, or ways to develop discernment and wisdom, or a clearly defined avenue to “all spiritual truths” — moral and otherwise. So morality, as such, really becomes a secondary property of spirituality; advanced moral values are a natural outgrowth of spiritual maturity — evidence of our progress, if you will — rather than a central aim.

My 2 cents.

Is it true that morality is the tool used by the ruling class to restrain people? Do we need to be moral people?

Yes, morality has been a tool used to manipulate people — within all levels of society, not just the ruling class. And yes, we need to be moral people. The key is simply to be moral “for the right reasons.”

To elaborate, I have a number of habits, goals and choices that I believe to be moral. The question is, how did I arrive at these, and why am I committed to them. For example:

- Am I just blindly following what I have been taught, or what familial or cultural expectations demand of me?

- Am I motivated mainly be fear, guilt, attachment to comfort, or avoidance of personal pain?

- Do I even understand why I believe in certain values? Do I have any justification for them at all?
How skillful am I? What is my level of predictive efficacy in executing my chosen course? Do outcomes from my decisions and actions align with my intentions?

My contention would be that if I am not being motivated by love and compassion — for myself, for others, and indeed for all of planet Earth and the very essence of life itself — then my “moral” framework is counterfeit. It is not really grounded in my own moral convictions and perceptions. And if I then am unable to reify compassionate outcomes in my own life, or be helpful in doing the same in the lives of those around me — and do so via means that likewise conform to these orientations — then my level of skillfulness and discernment is insufficient for me to justify my own level of morality; I am not “being a moral person” in my own eyes. These are the fundamentals of my own ethical framework.

However, these fundamentals are not dependent on what anyone else believes, or what society expects, or what the ruling elite (or anyone else in a position of power) uses to manipulate others. They issue from my own inner contemplation, intuition and insights, and it is my own rigor in holding myself accountable that matters most to me…not how I am perceived by others. In this sense, “needing to be a moral person” becomes a quality of character that itself is grounded in loving kindness.

As a final note, I just want to point out that the current “ruling elite” in the United States have a demonstrated knack for moral hypocrisy, and for an “any means justifies our ends” lack of integrity. There appears to be no basis for their moralizing than a lust for power and wealth. This is often true of anyone who holds a position of power and influence for too long, and becomes corrupted by it.

My 2 cents.

Does existentialism imply moral relativism?

Not at all. Existentialist thinkers have tended to resist what we might call deference to the “oughts” of normative ethics — or any idea that there is a moral ordering to which humanity is obligated to submit or conform — but at the same time they also tend to elevate certain virtues regarding how a person lives: virtues like authenticity, engagement, follow-through, avoiding self-contradiction and so on. So we could describe the central tenet of existentialist “ethics” as actively choosing a consistent ethical framework with which to engage the world, and then sticking to it. Again, however, this is not done out of social obligation or reflexive conformance, but because an existentialist chooses to do this as a reliable expression of who they are. As a subtler distinction, if an existentialist is committed to being “free,” and resists being subjugated to the impositions of culture, they must nevertheless operate within cultural boundaries towards their chosen outcome, but again will do so by their own choice, and according to their own reasons. So in this sense, an existentialist, a humanist and a Jesuit could conceivably all appear (from the outside) to be operating according to the same moral convictions…but really have quite different interior pathways for arriving at a given decision.

My 2 cents.

What's the root of immorality in the world?

Here would be my top six root causes of immorality, in no particular order:

1. Ignorance (often of the damage being done and/or a better way to accomplish the same ends).

2. Lack of empathy or concern for others (and consequently putting one’s own ego, whims and desires first).

3. Willfullness — knowing what the constructive or kind thing to do is, and simply not doing it out of spite, immaturity, uncontrolled destructive impulses, anger, nihilism, despair, woundedness, etc.

4. Feeding the wrong wolf within: constantly reinforcing antisocial and injurious habits.

5. Systemic perversion of the good — environments that encourage self-destructive, antisocial and morally corrosive behaviors (by amplifying fear, perverse rewards, dysfunctional relationships, etc.) and perpetuate systemic oppression and coercion.

6. Drowning out our inner Light, and thereby losing our moral compass. That is, not listening to the quiet, still voice within that is grounded in love, and instead being blown hither-and-thither by the desires of others and demands of a materialistic world.

My 2 cents.

Why is it immoral to hate people because of their religion? Religion is a number of views which you consider right. Isn’t it okay to judge people based on their views and their decisions?

Well, first off hate is generally either counterproductive or destructive — it very rarely helps alter an undesirable situation. In fact I would say that hate reliably makes everything worse for everyone involved. Also, hate most often issues from fear, ignorance and deep personal wounding…rather than, say, a place of clear-headed righteous indignation or concern for the well-being of others. When we watch children lash out at someone and scream “I hate you!” we instinctively know, as adults, that they are just hurting and irrational little toddlers. Hate therefore requires us to examine our own situation — our own hearts, reflexive prejudices, uninformed reactions, etc. — to see what needs healing. It doesn’t indicate anything about the object of our hate…anything at all, really, except that the object reminds us of our own immaturity, lack of compassion, and lack of skillfulness.

As for religion having some special class in terms of the judgments, prejudices or condemnations that may inspire fear and discomfort, I think the problem arises when we lump a bunch of folks into one big bucket. When we say “all white people are X,” or “all Americans are y,” or “all Muslims are z,” we are applying a generalization that is usually a) not very accurate or insightful, or b) has lots of individual exceptions. In other words, a particular “white American Muslim” won’t actually conform to any of the projected stereotypes — in fact, a LOT of them won’t. So what is the point of such generalizations? Generally, it is to create an “Us vs. Them” mentality, or an “ingroup vs. outgroup” orientation, that helps us feel better about ourselves, and perhaps a little more powerful. It assuages our insecurities and props up a weak and vulnerable sense of self. Unfortunately, this is precisely what leaders of hate groups and hate movements are counting on to gain more followers. And why do they want more followers? To empower themselves, because they are feeling the same vulnerability and insecurity.

So how can we address our own sense of fear, vulnerability, discomfort, confusion, insecurity and weak sense of self that leads us to hate a particular religion? That is a much larger conversation, but I would say it begins with educating ourselves about different cultures and peoples, traveling abroad, making friends with a different worldview and breaking bread with them in their homes, taking a long hard look at our own reflexive beliefs and attitudes, and beginning to heal some of our own emotional brokenness and loneliness. In my personal discipline, called Integral Lifework, the objective is to nourish every dimension of our being so that we won’t feel insecure, disempowered and hurting…and this process of self-care can go a long way toward healing the need to hate anyone or anything.

My 2 cents.

Is there a necessary connection between meditation and morality? Is enlightenment linked to goodness? Is there a possibility that an enlightened person still do bad things?

A difficult question to answer — because there isn’t really a universal or absolute correlation between any of the events, qualities or outcomes described in the question. The answer to all three is really: “Sometimes.” Sometimes, with the right kind of meditation, for a person who is receptive and genuine in their intentions, morality is nudged in a more mature direction by meditation alone. In my Integral Lifework system, however, most often meditative practice would only address one or two of thirteen dimensions that require our attention, care and nurturing — and without engaging all the other dimensions as well, moral growth is a lot less likely. And even then, there will still be many moments of choice when a person must intend to grow, change and integrate their transformational experiences — rather than ignore, reject or suppress them (which can indeed happen) — so that moral maturity is emergent. In the same way, a person’s awakening to unitive consciousness/love-consciousness will sometimes inspire them to be kinder and more considerate of others as an organic consequence — to, in effect, develop skillfulness in their compassion — and sometimes, depending on their inherent character, require more deliberate cultivation. But here again there will be choices about whether an intentionality anchored in “the good of All” is acceptable, embraceable, or actualizeable. Again a person’s native propensities inform what is most likely: are they naturally prosocial? Do they have a mental illness? Are they perceptive? On the autism spectrum? Abused as a child? There are a lot of factors in play, and consistent focus over time is another hurdle in this regard. Once again multiple dimensions of a person come into play. But very often, at each stage in the processes of interior development and exterior operationalization, if a person turns away from the difficult realizations they are facing, they sometimes can and do act out in destructive ways towards themselves or others. So at any point along their journey, the option to drop out, act out, or backslide is always present — and usually less inadvertent that previously, because awareness and awakeness has increased. Here again, though, a choice. Over and over…so many choices. In my experience, most folks (myself included) will shy away from embracing really difficult ahas at one point or other…delaying or denying…and that itself can lead to difficult periods in which all three aspects of the question seem like a disconnected or arbitrary struggle — with lots of negative consequences. But…well…this only sometimes becomes a serious derailment or journey’s end.

My 2 cents.

What are some of the principles of moral creativity?

I discussed the importance of moral creativity in my book Political Economy and the Unitive Principle. So it's nice to have the opportunity to promote the concept.

In a general sense, moral creativity indicates both the preconditions for moral development, and the ongoing synthesis of moral maturity; it describes an aspect of the human condition in which our collective beliefs, aspirations, values and strength of character shape the trajectory of our society over time. In a meta-ethical sense, it is akin to saying "we create our own moral realities," but this does not mean those realities are purely subjective, arbitrary or relativistic. As an example, I write in Political Economy and the Unitive Principle:

"If we accept the belief that a cohesive and compassionate society, a just and moral society, is desirable and worthwhile, we tend to assign moral weight to this belief. So it follows that the degree to which we are willing to invest in society - from the perspective of embracing collective responsibilities - may depend on our relationship with that basic assumption, the quality of our imagination, our capacity for love, and whatever innate proclivities we possess to make such an investment. In essence, it will depend not only on the quality and quantity of affection for our fellow human beings, but also on our creative capacities for expression."

Expanding on this basic idea, I would assert that mature moral creativity represents an intersect between functional intelligence and advanced moral development; in other words, it indicates a high level of self-actualization and integrity in our ability to operationalize our values hierarchy, while at the same time being primarily motivated and guided by inclusive and "wise" moral sensibilities. But there's the rub: this can't happen in a vacuum. The conditions that support the development and expression of all moral imagination are social, cultural and systemic in nature - in order for mature moral creativity to thrive, it must be intersubjectively and interobjectively excited and reinforced. So there is a synthesis of factors that depends on both nature and nurture.

Now this might still be considered a fairly abstruse explanation, and it is dependent on a lot of other concepts that I've developed over time they may not be familiar. So I'll offer yet another way to approach the importance of moral creativity....

Let's say moral function runs along a spectrum. At one end of the spectrum is emotionally repressive, antisocial and destructive conditioning that is rooted mainly in fear, and is centered around amplifying and justifying individual egoic impulses (I/Me/Mine). At the other end of the spectrum is a emotionally expressive, prosocial and constructive mutually affirming interplay that is rooted mainly in love (agape), and is centered around amplifying and enhancing collective well-being. In this context, moral creativity describes both the consequence and supportive conditions of this mutually affirming interplay; it is a semantic container for the generative and expressive social dynamics of a compassion-centered moral function, patterns of thought and behavior that invite ever-enlarging and more inclusive arenas of action and intention. So, instead of limiting moral judgments to black-and-white dualism, a vast array of subtle variables and perspectives can be included - ambiguity and uncertainty among them. As such, mature moral creativity can become a self-reinforcing upwards spiral toward the greatest good, for the greatest number, for the greatest duration...rather than a downward spiral into the freezing wasteland of an isolated, atomistic, self-serving ego that can't help but oversimplify and reduce moral judgments to vacuous polemic. At is my contention that this is the fundamental belief that can (even if it is not self-evident to the skeptic) generate its own positive consequences. As is the case with most assertions regarding prosociality, the proof will be in the pudding.

Lastly, we might still ponder: why is moral creativity socially dependent - or in any way conditional? Shouldn't it flow naturally and effortlessly from an individual's state-of-being, regardless of conditions or precursors? In rare instances, and with sufficient strength of character, a person of high functional intelligence and advanced moral orientation could operate as a rebellious non-conformist in a less developed, unsupportive society - at least for a while. But the interpersonal tensions such a contrast will inevitably produce most often lead to mistrust, derision, ostracism and conflict - a consequence at the heart of the saying "a prophet is never welcome in their home town." In order for advanced moral function to bear fruit - that is, to instigate an advanced morally creative synthesis - there must at a minimum be sufficient social acceptance of a majority of goals and values represented by the proposed moral position, so that it can be collectively reified. This is, in fact, an extremely critical consideration, and it is why the fortified islands of I/Me/Mine that are supported by individualistic, economically materialistic cultures are so antagonistic to human development. It is also why - and this is a main thrust of my book - advanced political economies will ultimately fail without careful attention to the issue of moral creativity.

My 2 cents.

Comment from Jeff Wright: "This is a comprehensive and also very clearly stated answer / analysis. A lot of the explanatory effort hinges on deconstructing an individualist paradigm of intelligence and social action / agency (and consequently creativity and morality).

Regarding “a prophet is never welcome in their home town”, this brings to mind a Sufi story about another side of this phenomenon, a town where, it seems, everyone is a prophet. A town where, it seems, it’s more or less clear to all that morality is an emergent, collective property of the community....

From (Helminski, Living Presence, p.125)

A Sufi came to a remote village where he knew no one. After meeting some people he found that those of this village had an unusual hunger for spiritual knowledge. They invited him to share his knowledge at a gathering they would arrange. Although this Sufi was not yet fully confident that he could transmit spiritual knowledge, he accepted their invitation. Many people attended that gathering and the Sufi found his audience to be extremely receptive to what he had to say, and most significantly, he found that he was able to express the teachings he had received with an eloquence he had never before experienced. He went to sleep that night feeling very pleased.

The next day he met one of the elders of the village. They greeted each other as brothers, and the elder expressed his gratitude for the previous evening. The Sufi was beginning to feel very special. He even reasoned to himself that he had been guided to this village to impart the wisdom that he has accumulated through his long years of training and service. Perhaps, if these people were sincere, he could stay with them for a while and really offer them some extended instruction in the Way of Love and Remembrance. They were certainly a deserving and sincere community. Just then, the elder invited him to another gathering that evening.

The villagers assembled again that evening, but this time one of them was chosen at random to address the gathering. He, to, gave a most eloquent discourse, full of wisdom and love. After the meeting the Sufi again met with the elder. "As you can see," the elder began, "the Friend speaks to us in many forms. We are all special here and we are all receptive to the Truth and so the Truth can easily express Itself. Know that the "you" who felt special last night and the "you" who felt diminished tonight are neither real. Prostrate them before the inner Friend if you want to find wisdom and be free of judging yourself harshly."

I also think your line of analysis here is refreshingly beyond Wilber (known as an “integral” theorist and even biasing this field of concern) and his seeming fixation on individualism as the site of development of consciousness (moral intelligence, etc.).

A great story - thank you Jeff!

Yes, I think it is hard to break free of individualistic thinking when one’s surrounding relationships and culture are constantly reinforcing and elevating that perspective. In fact this phenomenon (with Wilber and other thinkers) would be an example of precisely what I’m alluding to in my answer. I think there is a tacit understanding of this when folks express sentiments about “operating within the Zeitgeist” or “navigating the contemporary noosphere,” but language itself can begin to exclude important possibilities due to such bias. And of course most of the time I think we are relatively unaware of this phenomenon and its impact on our own insights and development - fish in the sea and all that.

Comment from Jeff Wright: "All true. I think we have most to gain theoretically by regarding individualistic and collective thinking / intelligence as dual, complementary, and co-constituting. I’ve seen nothing in Wilber’s recent missives indicating an awareness of this issue. On the contrary, it has been centered around a kind of projection where individuals of a certain level of conscious development (according to his way of thinking) are (collectively) projecting an unhealthy influence on society as a whole. But in my view this gets pretty close to the sociological theory of “moral panic” and its “folk devils”, which mirrors the conservative right’s construct of immigrants as blameworthy problem-causers.

Meanwhile theories of collective moral intelligence seem undeveloped across the board .. moral panic theory is a gesture in that direction, but I’ve not found much in either sociology or social psychology that comes to grips with this. I believe it’s currently emergent knowledge, that’s still in the zone of not having a recognizable formulation. One of the difficult issues (and avenues of approach) to emergent knowledge is determining in what ways current conditions are unique and in what ways they recapitulate past historical situations (such as the “gilded age” and plutocracy of the industrial revolution of a century ago, followed by emergence of labor power and social welfare governance).

This potentially opens the way for an analysis of the current clash of value paradigms that can validate concerns while questioning specific interpretations, for groups and individuals in multiple political groupings. Meanwhile, the blind spots — the water surrounding the fish — need further articulation. You’re doing that with your analysis of the structural conditions surrounding consciousness, moral creativity, and other modes of understanding.

Do you know of any relevant work regarding this question of emergent social knowledge and its boundary phenomena?"

Jeff great observations and I think you might enjoy the European tradition of “social anthropology,” especially in its qualitative methods around precisely the area you seem to be narrowing in on here. Social anthropology operates entirely differently than the “cultural anthropology” studies we have in the States - or than the emphasis on quantitative analysis in sociology. Again, imagine intersubjective methods to evaluate anthropology of social knowledge (cultural constructions and narratives, etc). In any case I think this may be one place to look. If you find some interesting reading, please let me know - I think you’re onto something. :-)

What are the philosophical responses to emotivism?

I will approach this from my own framework regarding moral judgements.

To reduce moral judgements to any one thing is, in my view, an error. Why? Because they represent - realistically, pragmatically, observably, developmentally - a much more complex intersection of factors. These might include:

1. Innate, genetic predispositions (for example, a prosocial disposition vs. an antisocial one)

2. Learned and integrated responses from modeling observed in childhood (family of origin, peers, etc.)

3. Predictably observable, cross-culturally consistent stages of moral development (Kohlberg et al)

4. Conditioned conformance to societal norms (to facilitate survival, acceptance, social agreement, etc.)

5. Intuitions informed by emotional sensitivity and empathy, somatic responses, spiritual insights, intellectual leaps of deduction and synthesis, etc.

6. Conclusions and convictions that result from s reasoned analysis of prosocial efficacy (utilitarianism, virtue ethics, etc.)

7. Inculcation of formalized belief systems (religious education, military codes-of-conduct, study of philosophy of ethics, etc.)

Now of course most people do not consciously synthesize their values hierarchy - but neither do they reflexively adopt a rigid, unchanging one. So there is a spectrum of convictions, learned behaviors, experiences, insights and so forth that fluidly shape and maintain each individual’s moral thought-field. In addition, most moral responses are context-sensitive, and moral judgements in-the-moment will shift based on the relationships involved, being observed by others, the expectation of social obligation and reciprocation, current mental or emotional state, and so forth. These variables are what inevitably generate tensions between our ideal self, our perceived self, and our actual habits and proclivities as reflected back to us by others.

So can we really - with any intellectual honesty - maintain the meta-ethical position that individual moral judgements can be reduced to subjective emotions, or collective moral standards to a consensus agreement around such reactions? I really don’t think we can. In fact I think it would be a particularly foolish oversimplification.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

Is calculated neglect the most powerful, most destructive weapon that no one sees, talks about, hears about or recognizes?

Thanks for the A2A Carl. Oh yes, absolutely I think you are correct. Calculated neglect (twin sibling to deceptive manipulation) is the Pit yawning behind the spectacle - the Abyss of Despair just beneath the superficial surface of panem et circenses. In terms of identification and disclosure, I think these are known threats to human well-being - and indeed human existence. But they are artfully concealed and (routinely) rhetorically dismissed. I find religious language from the Judeo-Christian tradition quite useful here. The references to the tactics and evidences of the Beast in Revelations, for example, align with surprisingly accuracy to globalized capitalism. And of course the warnings about evildoers in Proverbs are really…well…they are also spot on. In other words, whether one is religious or not, there is clear evidence that this kind of “evil” has been clearly identified - described in careful detail - for millennia. It’s just that we’ve gotten out of practice at recognizing it. We have, culturally and individually, lost our capacity for discernment.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

In what sense the acts of conscience related to intersubjectivity?

Thanks for the A2A. I think this is an interesting question. Intersubjectivity means different things in different contexts, but here are some possible correlations within various domains:

- If you subscribe to the multilevel selection theory of evolutionary biology, the prosocial genetic programming that enables our ability to experience a personal “conscience” may itself have been a consequence of group selection. The implication here is that development and fitness are facilitated by socially productive relationships, which, in turn, are facilitated and reinforced by that conscience. Here we see active adaptation at work over time, though not with same personal, conscious engagement identified in other domains.

- What is considered appropriate and efficacious as an “act of conscience” is learned via interpersonal relationships, family-of-origin modeling, and cultural conditioning. Our personal felt experience of “conscience” may still be a consequence of the prosocial genetic programming just described, but our actualization of conscientiousness in the day-to-day is almost certainly guided by our emotional, social and psychological interdependencies, which define the milieux and desired outcomes of how our conscience operates in the world. In a psychosocial sense, then, application of conscience undergoes intersubjectivity through our interaction with others and with our environment. And in this case it might be viewed as an active adaptation or conscious learning curve.

- In a philosophical or theory-of-mind sense, intersubjectivity is also key to developing and exercising conscience. In this instance, however, the very substance of what constitutes both “a conscience” and “an act of conscience” would be created through our particular thought community. That is, as a more passively received inculcation, memetic propagation or manifestation of reflexive groupthink - rather than an active adaptation or consequence of social navigation. This could be viewed as a substantially unconscious process.

- In a spiritual context, intersubjectivity is one way of elaborating the interplay between ground of being, spiritual awareness and knowledge, a felt intuition of what is right or good, and the mental processes that integrate these input streams into discernment. “Conscience” in this domain becomes more active and reflective, leading through its application-in-action to skillfulness and wisdom, so that “acts of conscience” may embody agape.

In this way we can see intersubjectivity playing out across four distinct domains: consciously active adaptation; unconscious, multi-generational genetic adaptation; unconscious group acceptance as reflexive conformance; or the active interplay between being, spirit, intuition and mind.

My 2 cents.

From Quora:

Can you demonstrate that gratitude is a basic, universal moral obligation?

I would tease this question out into four separate parts:

1. Is the response of gratitude a collectively useful, prosocial trait or cultivated habit? Absolutely. I think the more grateful people can be for all aspects of their existence (indeed, even suffering if it is instructive), the more happiness they are likely to experience consistently, and the more harmonious and cooperative civil society will be.

2. Does a gratitude response automatically invoke direct reciprocity? This is a bit of a stumbling block for me. Some people will be inspired to reciprocate, but it seems burdensome to make this an automatic “rule.” Reciprocity may be expected as a more generalized social guideline (for example, “do unto others as you would have done unto you), but immediate payback seems both awkward and forced; it seems more legalistic than constructively relational. Also, the desire to reciprocate may be expressed towards others (i.e. “give it forward”), towards that person’s conception of their group (their family, community, culture, nation, etc.), or towards that person’s conception of the Divine. So I think the answer here is a qualified “no.”

3. Is direct reciprocity a reasonable moral expectation? Indirect reciprocity, as a more generalized societal expectation of normalized behavior, sure. Direct reciprocity, as an interpersonal rule, again no.

4. Where should either gratitude or reciprocity originate? For me this is the crux of the matter. If my gratitude - and any attempts at reciprocity - aren’t an authentic expression of who I am and how I genuinely feel, then I am thinking, feeling and acting artificially. At the same time, I also believe that gratitude and a desire to reciprocate should be prominent aspects of my character; they should be virtues that I cultivate.

In practice, then, my primary obligation will be to have integrity with my own character and the virtues I esteem. And complying with that obligation is its own primary reward. Concurrently, because I am a social creature and dependent on my community and relationships for every aspect of my existence (including the inculcation of the very virtues that I value), I will actively aim to engage all of society - inclusive of strangers, enemies, friends and family - with an equivalent quality of gratitude and reciprocation. As an operational ideal, I would not want to reprioritize how my own character was expressed according to who saved my life, or how much money I owe someone, or how attractive I find someone, or how long they’ve been my friend, or what bad things they’ve done to me in the past. Why? Because that would mean I am adapting who and how I fundamentally am to every situation in a chameleon-like way…and that smacks of insincerity and, frankly, duplicity. Either I am living according to my values, or I’m not. In day-to-day decisions, of course, I will most likely shift the intensity and duration of this self-expression, connection and relating according to the type of relationship and level of intimacy I have with a given person. But, specifically in terms of lending money, I would still be guided more by the level of need, the immediacy of crisis, the efficacy of what I am being asked to give vs. other ways I could help, etc. than by some previous event that implies indebtedness.

My 2 cents.

From Quora question:

Which of society's rules are most important to follow and when are most Americans afforded the freedom to break them?

From Which of society's rules are most important to follow and when are most Americans afforded the freedom to break them? Quora A2A

Thanks for the A2A and clarification [that this is for your 7th grade class] Dean.

For that age group I would probably structure the most important societal rules and expectations this way, in the format of MostImportant/WhenBreakable:

1. Be Honest /except when it puts self or other in disproportionate danger or creates excessive harm.

2. Have Integrity (aligning actions with expressed intentions and exercising discipline to follow through)/except when the probable outcome clearly contradicts your desired outcome.

3. Be Kind & Do No Harm (in intentions, words and actions)/except when it is necessary to defend your liberty and personal sovereignty - or someone else’s .

4. Practice Generosity & Charity /except when objects of your compassionate effort become exploitative or abusive.

5. Take Responsibility (for own well-being, consequences of own choices, harm perpetrated, lies told, own failures of integrity, etc.)/except when the situation is truly out of your control.

6. Engage in Civic Participation (voting, self-educating about issues, attending community mtgs, signing petitions, lobbying for causes, community organizing, various forms of activism, speaking truth to power, civil disobedience, etc.)/except when it substantially interferes with items 1–5.

7. Obey The Rule of Law /except when it actively contradicts or excessively compromises items 1–6.

My 2 cents.

Should truth matter? Why?

From "Should truth matter? Why?" Quora A2A

Thanks for the A2A Steve McKerracher.

Let's take a look at some of the statements used in this question:

"The value of an honest search for truth."

"The acceptance of a comfortable delusion."

"Looking for sound arguments."

"Is ignorance bliss?"

What strikes me in these statements is the implication of specific values, and the importance of a clear values hierarchy in navigating a "sound" resolution to this question. For example:

Is tolerance and acceptance more important that proving a truth?

Is being kind and compassionate more important that being right?

Are honesty and integrity more important that tact, nuance or political efficacy?

Is a desire to know something - and relieve one's own ignorance - more important than personal relationships?

Is prioritizing the precise and accurate more important that conveying "the general idea" in our communication?

Perhaps you see where I am going with this....but to clarify: Suppose I have an aging relative with dementia who keeps insisting that her friend, who died some years ago, is alive and well, and in fact called her earlier that very day. No matter how gently I try to correct her misconceptions, she will likely become extremely despondent if I contradict what she believes to be true, and in all likelihood my correcting her will not change her perceptions or her recollection. Which means that, in this instance, "the truth" is incredible unproductive and pointless, even to the point of doing harm.

And of course there are times when an honest search for truth has value, and should be a priority - that seems clear from centuries of human beings operating with that assumption, and thereby producing some pretty amazing gifts to society: wonderful music and writing, scientific discoveries, profound ahas of insight, great feats of engineering...all as a result of one path or another toward some personally pursued truth. But there are also times when the search for truth has resulted in real horrors of experimentation, bizarre and destructive behaviors, the mass murder of other human beings, alienation and isolation of individuals and groups, a horrible callousness of heart and so on. And what is the real difference between these two kinds of consequences, both resulting from "an honest search for truth" in the eyes of the seeker? I think the qualitative difference lies in the values hierarchy that is being operationalized.

For me, love - as expressed in compassion, kindness, understanding, patience, generosity, empathy, etc. - is the driving force behind *all forms of truth that matter to me*. If something is true, but does not in some way facilitate my compassionate relationship with others, then it may be interesting, and even exciting, but it isn't vitally important. There are many intellectual, physical and spiritual pursuits that are quite stimulating in how they help us encounter truth, but when I begin to become immersed in them, I will ask myself: how does this improve the quality of my relationships? How could it improve the quality of human existence? Will it heal or enhance the quality of the natural harmonies of Earth's ecosystems...or any of the many other things that I care deeply about?

In the same way, integrity and followthrough, emotional openness, critical thinking, self-doubt, humility, and a whole host of other qualities and actions are tied into truth because truth resides fairly high up in my values hierarchy. But love - agape - is at the very top. Do I occasionally flounder a bit and invert my priorities? Sure, and I feel contrite when that happens. But those priorities must remain my compass in the both the calm and storms of life. They have to be, or I would lose my way entirely, becoming disconnected from the fundamental reasons why truth - and an honest search for truth - are important.
So for me, the honest search for truth begins with love, and love is intrinsic to all meaningful truth. They are cofactors in the journey of growth and discovery. And because ignorance can result in a lack of skillfulness in how I exercise compassion towards others, ignorance becomes the enemy of love, and truth its closest friend.

My 2 cents.

What is the weakness of a low morality individual?

In answer to Quora question "What is the weakness of a low morality individual?"

Thanks for the A2A Mizael Pena. In contrast to many answers here, I do not believe morality is subjective or relative. In my worldview, there are certain moral absolutes. However, as the differences between the answers so far seems to point out, there is a moral sensibility regulated by the group, which we would call "ethics," and individual morality, which is one's personal moral compass to navigate right and wrong. The latter moral compass may be influenced by culture, but is ultimately regulated by conscience, discernment and reason; whereas the former ethics are a matter of intersubjective agreement, and are regulated by social norms and expectations to conform.

So I will address your question about individual morals rather than societal ethics.

The "weakness" of an individual with a low sense of morals is that they are unable to judge right from wrong. Contrary to what some have opined - i.e. that this allows for a "flexibility" that can be favorable - this is actually a serious defect in character that will ultimately result in the either the misery of the individual, those in relationship with them, their immediate community, or ultimately larger and larger circumferences of social groups, depending on how much influence this individual can exert. The reason for this is simple: the evolution of the individual conscience into a prosocial compass was very likely (according to current evolutionary theories accounting for group selection) a way to enhance the fitness of the group in terms of survival over time. Groups that cooperate, think collectively, help each other, protect weaker or more vulnerable members and so forth have had a much higher rate of success in hostile environments and when competing with other species. We see this in modern studies of other primates as well. Individualism, as relatively modern invention, doesn't support group fitness in the same way, and is likely the result of our technological and social abstraction from the realities of basic survival, and a consequent suppression of many healthy prosocial instincts.

In this context, reactions that seem altruistic, kind, loving, forgiving, accepting, charitable, self-sacrificial and so forth make a lot of sense: they evolved to help our species survive. And as we abandon those highly successful reactions in favor of self-interest, we are likely putting homo sapiens at extreme risk for eventual extinction. More practically speaking, however, the negative impact of such "low morality" (i.e. lack of a governing conscience) is mainly a destruction of social bonds; if a person is not trustworthy, lacks integrity, consistently disregards the well-being of others and has no restraint with respect to hurting others, then they will disrupt the cohesion of every relationship in which they are even cursorily involved. And it is the acknowledgement of this destructive impact that leads society to brand such people "sociopaths" or "psychopaths" or "narcissists," because if "low morality" is consistently demonstrated, it is considered pathological and dangerous to the community.

But what causes this "weakness?" It could be many things - an abusive childhood, prolonged exposure to traumatic experiences, a mental disorder, a genetic defect, the consequence of drug or alcohol abuse, or simply extended isolation from a supportive community and a consequent sense of alienation or lack of belonging around fellow human beings. And as I mentioned, it is this last factor - isolation of the individual - that has been amplified by modern technology, a profound separation from Nature, a culture of affluence and consumerism, and ideologies that celebrate individualistic self-interest.

My 2 cents.

How do you (as a person) decide what is ethical and what isn't?

In answer to Quora question "How do you (as a person) decide what is ethical and what isn't?"

Thank you for the A2A.

For me this is about *agape*, about finding the most skillful way to express compassionate affection for myself and everyone and everything around me. Many approaches to ethics are too small, IMO...too self-referential or anthropocentric. If we are to act ethically in all relationships then we need to appreciate that we are in relationship with everything and everyone around us - not just what or whom we choose. So the larger and more inclusive my loving kindness can be - the more it can encompass and appreciate - the more my ethics will be guided by complex interdependencies that clarify my values hierarchies.

In terms of the mechanism of decision-making, I would say introspection, meditation, humility, openness and neutrality are key. And when I can approach each situation as unique and deserving of my conscious attention, the better my chances are to apply these tools. Over time, with experience, we can develop reliable discernment.

For a more detailed discussion of the topic of operationalizing values hierarchies, I recommend this article: Functional Intelligence. If you are feeling really adventurous, I would also recommend this one: Managing Complexity with Constructive Integralism.

My 2 cents.

What are the forces that created a society with little to no trust among it's members?

In answer to Quora question "What are the forces that created a society with little to no trust among it's members?"

Great questions and thanks for the A2A. Off the top of my head:

Commercialistic capitalism. This system is built on deception, manipulation, exploitation and theft. It also encourages people to rely on individualistic wage slavery and consumerism to feel "financially secure" in a self-isolating and egotistical way, undermining our reliance on community (i.e. "each other"). It also encourages cut-throat, unethical competitiveness among both workers and consumers. And it replaces mutual trust with contractual and financial obligations that center around protecting private property - and so we are surrounded by boundaries to what other people own, so that all of life orbits around each person's ego-projection "I/Me/Mine."

**Representative democracy.* When you abstract governance from the people, they disengage from each other and from investment in their own political process and oversight of their community. This "delegation" of responsibility and interest in governance tends to undermine collective decision-making and communication in any polity.

Technology. Whether it is technology that allows people to communicate without face-to-fact interaction, or to isolate themselves in their homes (or rooms) to do professional work or watch entertainment, the result is a lessening of human interaction and a perception that "trust" is less necessary in day-to-day life. It insulates us from each other.

What all of these elements share is their inherent disruption of cooperation, bonding and sense of interdependent relationship. They undermine trust because they replace dynamics that require trust with legal contracts, money, convenience, comfort, static role-based relationships (instead of trust-based ones), affluence and technological power. This is why a person feels okay to scream insults from their car at a stranger, or push past someone else to get a better place in line, or self-righteously vote to reduce their tax burden, or be rude to a customer service representative over the phone - because these systems and innovations have distanced them from their fellow human beings, making them feel (falsely) that they do not need to rely upon them.

My 2 cents.

What are the forces that created a society with little to no trust among it's members?

In answer to Quora question "What are the forces that created a society with little to no trust among it's members?"

Great questions and thanks for the A2A. Off the top of my head:

Commercialistic capitalism. This system is built on deception, manipulation, exploitation and theft. It also encourages people to rely on individualistic wage slavery and consumerism to feel "financially secure" in a self-isolating and egotistical way, undermining our reliance on community (i.e. "each other"). It also encourages cut-throat, unethical competitiveness among both workers and consumers. And it replaces mutual trust with contractual and financial obligations that center around protecting private property - and so we are surrounded by boundaries to what other people own, so that all of life orbits around each person's ego-projection "I/Me/Mine."

Representative democracy. When you abstract governance from the people, they disengage from each other and from investment in their own political process and oversight of their community. This "delegation" of responsibility and interest in governance tends to undermine collective decision-making and communication in any polity.

Technology. Whether it is technology that allows people to communicate without face-to-fact interaction, or to isolate themselves in their homes (or rooms) to do professional work or watch entertainment, the result is a lessening of human interaction and a perception that "trust" is less necessary in day-to-day life. It insulates us from each other.

What all of these elements share is their inherent disruption of cooperation, bonding and sense of interdependent relationship. They undermine trust because they replace dynamics that require trust with legal contracts, money, convenience, comfort, static role-based relationships (instead of trust-based ones), affluence and technological power. This is why a person feels okay to scream insults from their car at a stranger, or push past someone else to get a better place in line, or self-righteously vote to reduce their tax burden, or be rude to a customer service representative over the phone - because these systems and innovations have distanced them from their fellow human beings, making them feel (falsely) that they do not need to rely upon them.

My 2 cents.

Is Capitalism morally justifiable?

In answer to Quora question "Is Capitalism morally justifiable?"

Capitalism is morally justifiable to someone whose altitude of moral function is (by almost any standard) immature, delusional or stunted. If someone believes that individuals operate in an antisocial vacuum and according to purely self-serving impulses, then they have invested in a 3-year-old’s rigid emphasis of I/Me/Mine egotism. And this level is where capitalism functions best.

On the other hand, as we mature through adolescence into increasingly prosocial expectations and relations, we tend to recognize the importance of sharing, compassion, community, compromise, and indeed altruism. Part of growing up is (usually) coming to appreciate that no one operates in isolation without complex interactions and interdependencies with others, and that the only truly satisfying moments in life are a consequence of these trust relationships and communal experiences. As a consequence, a more mature moral orientation engages the world with empathy, kindness and generosity, and relaxes the self-absorbed and protective I/Me/Mine fixation of ego. Again, this is really about growing up. And once we grow up, we realize that capitalism seems to flourish at a rather banal, childish and emotionally stunted level of moral function – according to a very narrow definition of what is beneficial (i.e. “greed is good”) that doesn’t take into account a broader wealth of human experience, relationships, courage and love.

As a consequence of the cognitive bias inherent to willfully childish morality, there is a lot of misleading information, revisionist history and ideological distortion in pro-capitalist rhetoric. I’ll try to set some of it straight.
Here are some assumptions expressed in support of capitalism that are factually incorrect:

1. Capitalism has improved the quality of life for people all over the Earth. Actually, it was widespread public education (and scientific experimentation and technological innovation driven by that education), in concert with democracy and expanding civil rights, that has improved the quality of life for people all over the Earth. It is the feedback loop of democracy, education and civil liberties supported by the rule of law that created the middle class and stabilized economic opportunity for more and more citizens. Even innovation isn’t mainly from capitalism; if you carefully analyze what has done the most good for the most people – be it a new scientific understanding, a new vaccination, a new technology, etc. – it is almost always a result of academic research at public institutions or government-funded research, not innovation that resulted from free markets. These leaps forward have indeed been made more efficiently and effectively by a single product of capitalism: mass production. But that’s it. That’s the only real contribution capitalism has made to humanity’s progress – the rest came from the Enlightenment and the evolution of democratic civil society thereafter. It can also be confidently argued that even the success of “free markets” in producing wealth was a result of the flourishing of this civil society – for “free markets” don’t exist in the wild, they are created by civic institutions and the rule of law. So again, it is the Enlightenment that really should receive primary credit for amplification of the common good…not capitalism.

2. The benefits of profit-driven productivity outweigh its negative externalities. This declaration is as ignorant as it is arrogant. It’s why the rabidly pro-capitalist peeps are still denying climate change (sigh). It’s why that farmer a few years back ate spoonfuls of pesticide every morning to prove how safe it was. It’s why Ayn Rand thought cigarettes were her “Promethean muse,” dismissing any negative health impacts (until she contracted lung cancer). In order for the prevailing strain of growth-dependent global capitalism to keep producing wealth, it requires four things: a) unlimited, easily-accessed natural resources; b) a continuous supply of cheap labor; c) a growing consumer base whose affluence is also increasing; and d) no accountability (and no cost accounting) for negative externalities – and ideally no acknowledgement of them. Unfortunately for the pro-capitalist ideologues, it is extremely likely that none of these conditions will persist for more than another fifty years or so. Why? Well for one, the negative ecological externalities (climate change, loss of biodiversity, resource depletion, disruptive pollution, species extinction, etc.) resulting from human industry are increasingly interfering with productivity – and doing so quite directly. And for another, the affluence that supports a growing consumer base is directly at odds with cheap labor in our global economy, and these two dependencies will inevitably collide. And, finally, large numbers of people are waking up to the fact that the traditional engines of commerce are destroying the planet and need to be more accountable to their impacts – which will change the available opportunities and cost accounting for capitalist enterprise.

3. The “tragedy of the commons” has been empirically validated. In reality, it has not. This is a thought experiment in the abstract, and its "inevitability" has been soundly debunked by the work of Elinor Ostrom. Check out her research on successful self-governance of the commons in the real world (common pool resource management) which relies neither on private property nor State management of land and resources, but on local, community-based solutions.

4. Private property in an exchange economy produces freedom. This is ridiculous. Private property restricts freedom – 99% of everything around us is privately owned and we can’t use it, access it - or sometimes even touch it. That’s not freedom, it’s a world of fences that corral us into the few remaining spaces that are still publically owned (or the spaces we ourselves privately own). Exchange economies likewise benefit those with the most resources and influence who can game the system for their own benefit, deceiving both consumers and workers into believing that “working and consuming” is what life is all about. But being a wage slave is not freedom. Having Type II Diabetes from eating fast food is not freedom. Becoming addicted to cigarettes is not freedom. Premature disease and death from industrial pollutants is not freedom. Having lots of cool stuff you can buy on the Internet may feel like freedom…but it’s just a poor substitute for the real thing.

5. The theory of labor appropriation as a “natural law” is sound. This is laughable. Locke based this on a naïve misconception of Native Americans and other hunter-gatherer societies. In reality – as validated by decades of careful research – hunter-gatherer societies frequently have no conception of private property or of appropriating property by adding value with labor. Locke was simply wrong.

6. Capitalism is not violent, coercive or fraudulent. This is so misinformed it’s just silly. State capitalism has either been directly responsible – or has engineered the perfect conditions – for most of the military actions around the globe since WWII. Industrial capitalism has resulted in the violent, lethal or injurious exploitation of workers since the beginning of the industrial revolution. Capitalist expansion has created endless varieties of forced appropriation of land, resources and indeed labor – from outright slavery to sweat shops. Capitalist commercialism is responsible for defrauding millions of consumers through false advertising, creating artificial demand, outright deception and fear-mongering, and deliberate theft. And to say that corporations haven’t used coercive force to intimidate workers and consumers is to ignore about half of the available history on consumer and worker rights.

7. Capitalism is morally neutral. Hogwash. Please see points 1-6.

The common thread here, you will notice, is that pro-capitalist idealists tend to avoid more complex and nuanced views of the world, holding rather blindly to a cherished individualism and economic opportunity for the privileged class, and loudly resisting when anyone questions their oversimplified definitions of negative liberty. Again, any moral justification for capitalism invokes a sort of immature blindness to the prosocial realities that likely helped human societies flourish since the dawn of our species (at least that’s what most of the research in group selection and prosocial genetic dispositions seems to indicate). But if we allow capitalism to continue destroying our society and the planet, humans will become a sad footnote in the annals of the extinct.

In closing, I recommend you read my latest essay for more clarification on many of these issues: The Goldilocks Zone of Integral Liberty: A Proposed Method of Differentiating Verifiable Free Will from Countervailing Illusions of Freedom.

My 2 cents.

Are religious and non-religious people inherently different when it comes to morality?

In answer to Quora question "Are religious and non-religious people inherently different when it comes to morality?"

Question details: "Most of us know it's wrong to steal or kill, but if a person believes there's a supernatural entity keeping an eye on him, would he try harder to resist the urge to do either?"

Thank you for the A2A. I believe you may be asking the wrong question. Perhaps you see spirituality as "belief in a supernatural entity" that keeps an eye on people. I think there probably are "religious" people who operate this way, but personally I think that orientation is pretty immature. It's a 5-year-old's view of an authoritarian "God." I think the more interesting question is: does spirituality itself inform morality in some unique way that a person who resists their own spirituality can't access? But that is not what you asked. So I would say that prosocial impulses are, and always have been, a genetically programmed result of group selection and evolutionary fitness. Which means that human beings as a species have access to the same "conscience," regardless of spiritual insights or religious affiliation. What religion has historically provided is a formalized, institutionalized, often dogmatic form of moral education and social enforcement. And I'm sure that has benefited some people who for some reason have limited access to their own moral compass - but, in general, no more than any other social constraints would. Perhaps, for some, fear of the "Boogeyman in the closet" (i.e. a Devil or other evil force) or deferential respect for a benevolent Deity may have some impact on personal discipline, so that moral commitments and guidelines are adhered to more enthusiastically. It's also true that someone's religious devotion - their love and faith - could encourage a more conscious intentionality that aligns with moral beliefs. But this same devotion could also be arrived at by, for example, a secular humanist who feels compassion for other people, and so aspires to a higher standard of moral conduct, and actively invites others to hold them accountable to that standard. So, in this sense, a "religion" can be invented by almost anyone to systematize and reinforce their values. But I would say that profound spiritual experiences, deeply felt spiritual connections, and an intimate relationship with spiritual intelligence all contribute to a clearer and more refined values hierarchy, so that someone who relies upon these dimensions of being not only can hear their conscience more clearly, but attain insights that evolve their moral perspective beyond social expectation or religious dogma, and mature their mind and heart in the light of skillful compassion.

My 2 cents.

What is the moral degradation/breakdown of societies?

Quora answer to: "What is moral degradation/breakdown of societies?"

Thank you for this A2A.

There are many ways to approach this question. Here are a few that may be fruitful for you to pursue:

1. In evolutionary terms, "moral degradation" is simply antisocial behavior that spreads to more and more people in a given circumstance or environment. This would be the opposite of "prosocial" behavior, which many researchers have proposed is an evolved trait that has helped us survive as a species since we started walking upright.

2. In broad spiritual terms shared by many esoteric traditions, "moral degradation" is either the amplification of the individual ego to the detriment of compassion and kindness, or a willful resistance to the charitable inclinations that result from relinquishing an egoic self.

3. In equally broad psychological terms, "moral degradation" is a developed or innate inability to access or experience emotions that regulate destructive behavior - emotions like empathy, guilt, trust and love - that then results in...well...destructive behaviors.

4. In an historical context, what has often been referred to as "moral degradation" is the abandonment of practical disciplines necessary for individual or collective survival, in favor of excessive hedonism, animalism, or impulsive self-indulgence.

As to the factors that have contributed most to moral degradation, I suspect the following have been the most influential:

1. The elevation of greed, acquisitiveness, selfishness, indifference and exploitation that is so feverishly celebrated in market capitalism.

2. Institutions that enforce dogmatic, tribalistic groupthink to maintain their own power.

3. Self-absorbed individualism (atomism) that does not appreciate the social context in which it exists (and without which it wouldn't exist at all).

4. The persisting confusion and ignorance about the relationship (or lack thereof) between highly destructive and disingenuous "religiosity," and highly constructive authentic spirituality.

5. Affluence that has not been earned, has no awareness of the negative externalities that have sustained it, and sidesteps moral accountability because of its position of privilege in society.

6. Resource scarcity without any hope of changing the situation.

And finally, for examples, just look to what gets the most attention in mass media, as this often illustrates a "moral breakdown" that corresponds to much of what I have defined above.

My 2 cents.

Is always the rational decision the best decision?

From Quora answer to "Is always the rational decision the best decision?"

Thank you for the A2A.

The research of Antonio Damasio and others has shown that what we believe to be "rational" is a complex synthesis that involves many elements - including emotion. In fact, he has found that people who are emotionally impaired (the emotional centers of their brain are damaged, for example) have a much more difficult time making decisions - if they are able to make them at all. So "rational" is not quite as pure in its execution as the Western traditions of philosophy and science have proposed that it is. We also find that human beings are excellent "rationalizers," in that we tend to post-justify purely emotional, instinctive, intuitive or impulsive decisions with what we believe to be "sound reasoning." And, once we've made a decision, we will tend to defend it and incorporate it into an ongoing bias, often in fairly irrational ways. With this in mind, for many years now I have been advocating a more multidimensional approach to decision-making. Here are some highlights of that approach:

1. Developing awareness around our personal values and how to best reflect those values in our responses, choices and our governing intentions.

2. Learning how to recognize and incorporate the many different areas of intelligence and wisdom available to us in a balanced way: our rational faculties, our emotional intelligence, our intuitive capacities, our spiritual perception-cognition, our social (participatory) resources, our knowledge from experience, and so on.

3. Suspending complex ideas or decisions in a "neutral holding field" that allows us to keep gathering and integrating information about a given subject without coming to a decision.

4. Learning how to look inward for answers through introspection and meditation, rather than depending on external sources of information, insight or discernment.

These are discussed in more depth in my various writings, but with respect to your question you can see that a decision that is "rational" is only part of the mix, and certainly a decision that is only rationally based is probably not the best decision if it doesn't include these many other avenues of insight and discernment.

My 2 cents.

Is the United States morally good?

From Quora answer to: "Is the United States morally good?"

No, the United States government is not morally good. Though I'm sure many people working in our government aspire to do good - even some of the politicians - they are constrained by the following corruptive pressures, all of which could loosely fall under the heading "the coopting of democracy by special interests:"

1. **Distorted political campaigns** - huge (in the billions, as I'm sure you're aware) amounts of money spent by very few individuals to influence election outcomes and the political priorities of parties and candidates.

2. **Rampant clientism and cronyism** - the quid pro quo of backroom deals resulting from "access" granted the wealthiest supporters, sometimes to the point of their being appointed to influential government positions.

3. **Plutocratic legislation** - legislation at all levels of government written by corporations (rather than legislators) to protect their own interests.

4. **Weakened or corrupted regulatory and judicial power** - the ability to countervail the agendas of special interests or their influence has been diluted by the appointment of ideologically sympathetic judges, by the evisceration of existing protective laws, and by active lobbying that discourages regulatory enforcement.

Now if these special interests (in largest part plutocrats) had the promotion of our collective well-being as their core agenda, then the answer to your question might be "yes, it's good!" But they don't. In our current State capitalist system, these elites have demonstrated time and again that they are much more interested in engineering the best possible means of enriching themselves. And, as history documents, this has meant exploiting, enslaving and putting workers at risk; consuming natural resources until they are depleted; caustically polluting water, air, food and other necessities of life; and creating an ever-larger gulf between the rich and the poor. Greed is not good, it is incredibly destructive. But this is how capitalism has always worked, and despite decades of reforms driven by a few courageous leaders, grassroots activism and widespread civil unrest, the tyranny of commercialistic plutocracy keeps marching on.

So even though the U.S. Constitution is a pretty darn "morally good" Constitution, and democracy has proven itself to be a "morally good" system when it functions properly, and we have many folks in our government who aspire to be "morally good," all of this has been undermined by relatively few callous, self-serving, egotistical power-mongers who thrive unchecked within corporate capitalism. It is much easier to destroy than to create. And, as a result, in the course of amassing ludicrously huge amounts of money in unethical ways, the plutocrats have created generations of poor people, people with lung cancer, obese children with Type II Diabetes, people addicted to prescription drugs, poorly educated people, people who vote against their own best interests, a domestic populace armed with increasingly lethal weapons, astounding levels of consumer debt, sweat shops and prison factories all around the globe, a few wars to expand resource and labor availability, foreign populations increasingly radicalized by what they view as U.S. imperialism...and of course climate change. The special interests did it all, and none of it has been "morally good." Well, except for the fact that I can get almost anything I could want delivered to my home in two days using Amazon Prime; I guess that was worth sacrificing the Constitution, democracy, and the well-being of all humanity.

My 2 cents.

(P.S. If you are interested in some source material that supports what I've said, I'd be happy to provide it. Just be specific about what you would like to know.)

Can one conduct series of moral acts (each one 100% moral) to arrive at cumulative result that somehow is not moral?

In answer to Quora question: "Can one conduct series of moral acts (each one 100% moral) to arrive at cumulative result that somehow is not moral?"

Thanks for the A2A. I think there are several approaches to answering this question, which can be separated into two broad categories:

A) Weighing your actions and their results according to your own values.

1. Assessing them based on your intentions for each act having integrity with your values.

2. Assessing them based on measurable outcomes of each act having integrity with your values.

3. Assessing them based on your awareness of a cumulative outcome as it is being shaped over time, and your adjustments in response to that awareness, in accordance with your values.

B) Weighing your actions and their results according to widely held moral framework (conventional social mores, the rule of law, religious dogma, traditional values, etc.).

1. Assessing them based on the consistency of your intentions aligning with that moral framework.

2. Assessing them based on the quality of outcomes resulting from your actions over time as viewed within that framework.

3. Assessing them based on your awareness of a cumulative outcome and demonstrated effort to align that outcome with what is "moral" in that framework.

In reality, we all involve a little of everything listed here in our moral judgements. So the real question, in my view, is which approaches you are choosing to emphasize, and whether you are really doing so consciously and persistently. Depending on which approaches you choose, the answer to your question could be a confident "yes," or "no," or a more tentative "possibly yes and possibly no."

This is how we might navigate our conclusions about a parent who has allowed a close relative to abuse their child. Let's say that, from all accounts (including their own), that parent appeared to be loving, kind, and moral in their parenting...but they were not able to react to the signs that their child was at risk and remedy the situation accordingly. Did they ignore the signs out of fear? Did they not recognize the signs? Did they recognize the signs, but not believe what they were seeing out of a blind affection for the abusive relative? Did they not have sufficient power in the situation to protect their child? How did they weigh what they perceived against the well-being of the child? And what impact did the abuse actually have on the child? What were the intentions and awareness of the abusive relative? And so on. Depending on which combination of approaches are used to evaluate the parent's actions, they might be exonerated as being moral, or accused of being immoral, or be viewed as having done their best at being moral...but failing.

My 2 cents.

How do I stop feeling guilty about the conflicting urges in my human nature?

Answer to Quora question: "How do I stop feeling guilty about the conflicting urges in my human nature?"

Thank you for the A2A Ning Ng.

My answer is offered in deliberate contrast to what some others have stated here who seem to subscribe to moral relativism.

If you're actions are guided by a hierarchical values system where one or two values reign supreme over all others, then all you will need to do is discern how best to fulfill those primary values with all other values, thoughts, actions and intentions. The only conflict you will experience would be a lack of clarity about this hierarchy - once you are clear, there will no longer be tension.

For example, if your primary guiding intention in all things is to enrich yourself, and to do so from an egoic/solipsistic perspective where only your own welfare and satisfaction matter, then you need not be altruistic and can abandon those feelings as subordinate to your primary objective in life. Generous or altruistic feelings may still occur, but it will be easier to dismiss them as unimportant to your dominant self-serving values, and easier to feel less guilt about them.

However, if your primary guiding intention in all things is to be kind, loving, compassionate and affectionate to all conscious beings, hoping that everything you do for yourself will actually benefit others because you care about them (as, for example, a mother avoids alcohol when she is breast feeding, or a brother strengthens his body because he wants to be able to help his physically disabled sister, etc.), then any impulses toward greed and manipulating others will naturally attenuate in subordination to your primary values. Again, you may still experience selfish, egoic urgers, but it will be much easier to laugh at them or otherwise shrug them away.

Of course, good intentions do not guarantee we will not make mistakes, or will not lack skillfulness or discernment in some new, unexpected situation. Therefore, first and foremost, mistakes and miscalculations are much more common when we are tired, depleted, stressed, depressed, confused and so, again, taking care of oneself to avoid these conditions is quite important, and is part of acting toward yourself in ways that ultimately benefits others. And, if we are truly invested in being compassionate, we must also practice the same patience, acceptance, forgiveness and understanding towards ourselves that we believe embodies loving kindness towards others - especially when we make mistakes!

So as you can see it is simple to resolve conflicting urges if we prioritize our values and aim to live our lives according to those values. This perspective and practice is an aspect of what I call "Functional Intelligence," and you might enjoy reading this linked essay on the topic.

I hope this was helpful.

Moral Development: What influences and drives moral development?

In answer to Quora question: "Moral Development: What influences and drives moral development?"

Thanks for the A2A Jeff. Great question as always. :-)

This is a complex question in my view, but here are some top-level "influences and drives" as I see them:

1) Societal expectations are a strong influence, and for someone wired to please others or who is driven to conform socially (as many of us are), this can become an internalized motivating force as well - for good or ill, depending on the culture in which we are immersed.

2) Family, peer and mentor modeling and programming are also a strong influence, and can likewise be internalized as a motivating force.

3) Prosocial tendencies, which according to a growing body of research appear to be evolutionary and genetically predisposed, will also drive and influence moral development.

4) Spiritual practices can both expose us to new strata of moral development, and experientially validate those strata. For example, practicing gratitude and generosity, or encountering peak experiences in meditation, or aiming to relinquish egoic selfhood in favor of more inclusive and compassionate being.

5) Multidimensional nourishment (that is, nurturing every aspect of our being in a balanced, harmonious way) has a profound influence on moral development because it creates a stable, safe foundation for each transition into a new, more sophisticated and unitive moral orientation.

6) Our closest relationships (with partners, family, children, etc.) tend to challenge us to advance morally - if they are healthy and constructive relationships! They can likewise impede our moral development if they aren't.

7) Personal experiences of both moral success and failure will, over time, help us understand where we operate in the moral spectrum, and where we might desire to operate, introducing new perspectives and goals.

8-) New memes that shift our moral sense up a notch can have a surprisingly robust influence. For example, the golden rule meme, the "pay it forward" meme, the mindfulness meme, the "judge not lest ye be judged" meme, the "an it harm none, do what thou wilt" meme and so on.

Ultimately, it seems to be the maturation of our own being across multiple dimensions - along with the expanding appreciation of our interconnectedness with all things and the felt sense of affectionate compassion accompanying that appreciation - which ultimately propels us toward higher, more inclusive and constructive moral imperatives. All of the "influences and drives" that I listed are merely doors into that process, or stepping stones within it.

My 2 cents.

Why do we care so much about people being real or authentic?

In answer to Quora question: "Why do we care so much about people being real or authentic?"

Thanks for the A2A.

In my view authenticity (or genuineness) is a moral as well as aesthetic characteristic, and is akin to integrity and transparency in contrast to attitudes and behaviors which deceive, or are synthetic and shallow, or are simply dishonest in emotional as well as intellectual and factual ways. Consider that there is emotional honesty, intellectual honesty, artistic honesty, factual honesty and even spiritual honesty, and all of these are valued both culturally and have proven to be prosocial traits that enable improved evolutionary fitness for us highly social and interdependent humans. Thus many spiritual traditions encourage us to find our True Self, just as our fellow artists will encourage us to find our authentic creative voice, and our closest friends and family (and any competent psychotherapist) will encourage us to be emotionally honest with ourselves and with them, and a well-educated person will expect us to be intellectually honest - adhering to certain guidelines of critical thought or scientific reasoning - when discussing complex topics. Thus if we avoid such authenticity we will be perceived as either superficial or a fraud - someone who does not really know what we are talking about, or who isn't in touch with our underlying emotions and motivations, or whose identity and persona are constructed from expedient social conventions rather than actual experience or a depth of self-awareness.

However, although authenticity is an almost universal spiritual, artistic, philosophical, therapeutic and scientific standard, it is certainly not a culturally universal standard. In some cultures, the ability to deceive other people is considered clever and valuable; just examine some of the folklore from around the globe, or the practices of advertising and marketing in Western capitalism, or the writings and practices of Gurdjieff and his followers, or the deceptions and dishonesty of everyone from politicians and televangelists to used car salesmen and people in bars who want to get laid. I would say that culture often persuades people to abandon authenticity and integrity so that they can achieve short-term "successes." In the long term, however, authenticity and integrity lead to a much deeper, more enduring and more profound relationships, and a much deeper, more enduring and more profound fullness of being.

From Psalm 7:
"Behold, the wicked man conceives evil
and is pregnant with mischief
and gives birth to lies.
He makes a pit, digging it out,
and falls into the hole that he has made.
His mischief returns upon his own head,
and on his own skull his violence descends."

My 2 cents.

Why do people keep getting more and more destructive and evil?

In answer to the Quora question: "Why do people keep getting more and more destructive and evil?"

Thanks for the A2A.

I'm not sure I entirely agree with how you stated your question - I think we humans are, as individuals, probably as "destructive and evil" in part, and as "compassionate and creative" in part, as we ever were. As an increasingly homogenized global culture and species, however, I could easily agree that we are collectively becoming more "destructive and evil," in terms of the scope of our impact en masse, and callousness and lack of compassion you describe at a societal level. I find this condition easily attributable to five central factors:

Exploitative, growth-dependent, highly commercialized corporate capitalism and its attendant consumerism. In service of this brand of capitalism, we have become conditioned to over-consume to the point of harming ourselves, each other and our environment. We have also become conditioned to care more about our own immediate gratification, and this arrests our development in an I/Me/Mine egocentric immaturity which, in turn, disconnects and isolates us from each other. This flavor of capitalism also rewards us for inverting our prosocial values and priorities, allowing material things, competitiveness and urgent acquisitiveness to have primacy over everything else (i.e. our other natural impulses like kindness, generosity, collaboration, compassion, self-sacrifice, etc. are suppressed or ignored).

Industry and technology. Our destructive capacity as a species - either intentionally or incidentally - has ballooned over the course of the industrial and technological revolutions. We simply have a lot more destructive power because of our new toys. These revolutions have also inherently separated us from any relationship with the natural world, so that many people have no concept at all of where their food, clothing or any other goods come from. So, in combination with factor #1, our actual destructive impact has accelerated, while at the same time we tend to care a lot less about that impact.

Increased urbanization. As people live in increasingly concentrated urban populations, the perceived and actual competition for the same limited resources becomes amplified, and, in combination with factors #1 and #2, this exacerbates both isolation from our fellow humans and separation from nature, and consequently reinforces our indifference to both our own destructiveness and the suffering it causes.

Information overload and accelerated change. The information revolution has produced far more information than human beings can parse in an orderly way, and the industrial and technological revolutions have exponentially expanded that deluge of information by accelerating the process whereby much information becomes less valuable or out-of-date, and ever more new information becomes the most important. Without a comprehensive, values-based filtering mechanism to help us evaluate new information, we simply can't cope with all of this. So many people will tend to revert to simplistic, black-and-white, tribalistic groupthink as a protective response; they will blindly follow the herd rather than thinking independently or critically. This, in turn, amplifies the I/Me/Mine impulses that undermine a broader social cohesion and the collective will to do the greatest good for everyone in a thoughtful, conscious and wisely compassionate way.

Increasing population. The more people their are, the more the first four factors are amplified, to the point where we have crossed a "tipping point" with respect to recovering harmony with the natural world and each other. I suspect we have a very rough patch ahead of us as a species.

In response to your last point, "why can we not do the same," we can. We can make a choice to escape the irrational thrall of consumption, to live simply, to actively care about the natural world and our fellow human beings, to not have children (or to raise them in a developing country where they will not contribute to the consumption and destruction cycles of developed economies), to advocate positive changes in political economy, technology and urban development, to evolve our moral consciousness beyond the I/Me/Mine reflexes of a toddler, to limit the quality and quantity of information we expose ourselves to, and to practice the prosocial traits that have created communally supportive human culture for millennia. We can exercise compassion, and we can influence positive change, and we can grow in wisdom - but of course it all begins with our own personal choices and the values and relationships we encourage in ourselves.

I hope this was helpful.