In Part I, I made the claim that “It is self-evident that maximizing goal-fulfillment is the proper goal of morality because the consequences of that assumption directly lead to behaviors that mirror the current understanding of moral behavior.” I should have noted that self-evident does not mean obvious.
Russell Blackford made the comment “I actually doubt that there’s a single goal or anything that we can call a “proper” goal”. My response is “Well, yes, that is rather the point of what I am saying. If there were a single proper goal then I suspect that we would have discovered it already. My point is that the “proper” goal of morality is maximizing all goals — without exception (except those exceptions that necessarily follow from the goal of maximizing).”
But Kedaw’s question “How can you decide a child’s goals?” rather surprised me while providing an excellent lead-in for this part. My answer is both (huh?) “You should not decide another entity’s goals even if you could” and (the lead-in to this part) “You don’t need them decided”.
The mere fact that the child has goals (or, in Hume’s terms, desires) is, by itself, sufficient to answer any moral questions regarding that child (except, of course, those that specifically relate to the child’s goals or those of specific other people). The reason for this is because there exist a number of universal sub-goals which increase the probability of goal fulfillment for all primary goals (except in the specific circumstances, like lack of time, where pursuing them directly conflicts with the primary goal). If you wish, you could look at these sub-goals as the “proper” goals of morality but then you would have the enlarged problem of why each of them is a proper sub-goal AND the more important problem of how to choose or mediate between them when two or more of them conflict (which they frequently can do — thus leading to the most common “moral” dilemmas).
So, without further ado, let me introduce (my current list of) the core “universal” sub-goals:
- goal-evaluation correctness
- gain/preserve resources
- gain/preserve knowledge
- gain/preserve cooperation
- gain/preserve freedom
Those things that we consider morally “wrong” all block or violate one of the above. On the other hand, actions that block or violate one or more of the above may still be morally “right” if they are the action that blocks the fewest universal sub-goals (and/or goals) for everyone involved.
Kedaw’s question of deciding the child’s goals is morally wrong because it would violate the goal-preservation of the child. Allowing the child to regularly make itself sick on candy (without some very good “moral” reason) violates the self-preservation of the child (or, at the very least, the efficiency and resources of the child). Wire-heading and early life suicide both violate many of these sub-goals for both the subject and all people related to them. End of life assisted suicide may well violate fewer (or preserve more) of these sub-goals than the alternative. Abortion you can debate until you’re blue in the face but it’s going to come down to the specific circumstances of individual cases because there are so many goals on both sides that you’ll never disentangle it under the current societal conditions.
It’s important to note that the definition of each word and term in the list is it’s simplest and most common meaning. There is very little ambiguity here and any remaining should be resolved with reference to the goal of maximizing satisfaction of all goals.
People may wonder at the absence of some cherished sub-goals from this list (fairness, for example). I believe that this is the minimum necessary set of sub-goals in order to be able to derive any others. In addition, many other sub-goals that are perceived as critically important are equally difficult to define (fairness, for example) unless one defines them directly by derivation from the “proper” goal and the universal sub-goals. This will be the subject of several future posts.
Another way of looking at (re-framing) these sub-goals is as inalienable rights. Life (self-preservation), liberty (gain/preserve freedom), and the pursuit of happiness (all nine) should only be abrogated to prevent a much larger violation (and only when viewed from the largest perspective — such as the one that gives the correct answer of WRONG to the involuntary organ donor question).