The Three Justifications for Morality

Morality, defined here as conformity to how one ought to act, has three different foundations throughout history. They are God imposed, State imposed, and self-imposed. All three of these theories are also theories of ownership because it is only through ownership that proper action can be dictated. Ownership is defined here as the ability to execute exclusive control on an object. This includes your body. So, who owns you? Our perceptions about ownership have defined our lives in the past and our legal structures that subsequently evolved. It is through our understanding of this history of ownership that we can seek to liberate ourselves and achieve true freedom and flourishing.

The first ideas of morality come to us from religion. These ideas are God imposed, most notably in the Western European world as the Ten Commandments, and they have been implemented and followed throughout our legal systems to a large extent. My concern here is less with the history of the legal systems and more with the ideology that governs our recognition of authority when it comes to dictating morally correct action. In the God imposed theory of morality, we are all owned by God. Jesus is our shepherd and we are but lambs, and language of the like. The very mentality of the religious believer is that the individual is incapable of knowing right from wrong; only God can know such things. So, in order to be virtuous, I must do what I am told by God. God controls my fate, and it is only by his grace that I shall make it into heaven, lest I be cast into hell. God has the power to dictate how you ought to live, and this can only be established through the recognition and acceptance of God’s ownership over your body.

Of course, it may also be argued that God has given us freewill, and we have the capacity to choose our actions. This may be technically true, but God still dictates which choices are correct and incorrect. We lack judgement over our own actions, a fundamental necessity of ownership. In the religious view, we are no different from a cow owned by a farmer. We may choose when to eat grass and where, but our choices are limited by the fence around the field. Yes, the fence may offer us protection from predators, but it also prevents us from eating whatever grass we may desire, and it has also deprived us of the choice to erect our own fence should we choose to have one. We are not autonomous creatures that own ourselves.

The second idea of morality comes from government. Sometimes called rights, the government dictates to us what actions we can take, and which ones we cannot. The punishment and reward systems are not as prolific as those in religion, namely freedom from jail is heaven and jail is hell, however, they do still exist. Instead of listing commandments, the government grants rights. Governments take a more positivistic approach; they tell you what you are allowed to do, and if it isn’t listed, you cannot do it. In some legal traditions, most notably common law, it was understood that if the law didn’t explicitly forbid it, you were allowed to do it. This interpretation has since given way to the more explicitly positivistic approach in which the government allows you certain freedoms through rights. An example of this is with the U.S. constitution. When the first amendment was written, James Madison marveled at its relevance. He argued that the right was superfluous because nowhere in the constitution did the government have the capacity to regulate speech. This interpretation has since been turned on its head and every free speech battle has been about what the first amendment allows the citizens to do and not what power is given to the government by the constitution.

Governments steal from their citizens through taxation and asset forfeiture, they limit services we can provide or receive, they decide who can provide what services and how through licensing, they mandate how we can receive medical care, they dictate what constitutes money, and they regulate what we are allowed to put into our bodies. Again, it could be argued that we have the freedom to decide these things because we have the freedom to vote, but this is even less reassuring than freewill. At least with freewill we can make choices on a daily basis. With voting, we get a choice maybe once every two, four, or six years. And even then, politicians rarely keep their campaign promises. We are owned by a schizophrenic, sociopathic master, with no regard for our wellbeing, and every incentive to sell us out as chattel to the highest bidder. We are not just cows in a fenced in field anymore; we are in the back of a semi-truck on our way to the slaughterhouse and all we get to decide is who is driving the truck.

Finally, we come to our final theory of ownership, and thus basis for morality; self-ownership. I am the only being capable of moving my fingers to type this article. I am the only being capable of blinking my eyes, turning my head, or walking a mile on my legs. You can put a gun to my head and force me to do these things, but you cannot control my body as I can. No being on the planet is capable of exclusively controlling the body of another living creature. I cannot will a rabbit to eat grass, a gazelle to run from a lion, or a person to read this article. I can use force or the threat of force to compel action. I can use compelling speech or coercive deception to compel action. However, I have no capacity to will action from another being. This is because self-ownership is self-evident, it is a priori, and it is a condition of reality. Once we recognize this, no other basis for morality is possible save our own self-imposed one.

I am not arguing for moral relativism, i.e. the idea that every individual has their own morality and thus can to whatever they feel is right at the given moment. No, I am arguing for a morality that acts in accordance with our observed reality, the one that demonstrates that every living being owns his, her, or its body, and to try to compel action from another necessarily requires force or coercion, which violates the self-ownership of the being actively being compelled into action. You are the only person that can decide to use your eyes and your brain to read and interpret this article. If I put a gun to your head and force you to do it, I am violating your ownership over yourself. Your exclusive control over your body is being violated by my threat of complete destruction lest you choose to comply with my dictates. My actions would be immoral because they do not comport with reality. Indeed, they violate the evidence of reality.

Self-imposed morality, or a morality based upon self-ownership, dictates that in order to be moral, we must act in accordance with reality. Reality very evidently shows that you own your body and I own mine. For anyone to attempt to violate that ownership, they must aggress against us, and thus their actions are immoral. This is where the concept of the non-aggression principle is derived. It states that the initiation of the use of force is morally wrong. This is a valid moral principle because the initiation of the use of force always results in a violation of someone’s self-ownership.

Self-imposed morality also gives us the freedom to decide for ourselves how we ought to act. We are limited only by the immorality of aggressing against other living beings. We are free to decide what relationships we value, what labors to pursue, what virtues to embody, and how happiness is best experienced. Religion is unnecessary, however, you are free to follow one as long as you or your congregation are not violating the non-aggression principle. Governments are also not necessary, however, should you and your neighbors choose to form a voluntary coalition with common goals, you are free to do so as long as you do not aggress against anyone. You are free to make or earn your bread as you so choose. You are even free to characterize this state of existence as anarchy, and I encourage you to do just that.

What I Would Like to Know

We know that religions evolved all across the world in different cultures as a way to describe the things that could not be easily understood and as a way to codify morality among the people. We know that the races are biologically different. We also know that religions evolved to some extent along racial lines. We know that IQ has a biological component, although we do not fully understand what it is. What I want to know is to what degree genetics influences our cultures and our religions. Is religion an outward projection of our values based upon evolutionary pressures, is it an internal understanding of who we are as a race of people, is it some combination, or is it something else entirely?

We know that cultures are defined entirely by the people that inhabit them. Europe and the United States are very different from China and Japan, and different still from sub-Saharan Africa and South America. Christianity is different from Buddhism, which is different from Hinduism, which is different still from Islam. Christianity permeated Europe and subsequently the world from the proliferation of Western civilization across the globe, but when you look at pre-Christian religions in Europe, you find a different representation of the White man. Without getting into those specifics too much, I want to know to what degree are the Gods of these religions representations of the ideals of the specific races that created them. I also want to know to what degree the values of each of these religions reflect the innate or biological characteristics of the races that value them.

A recurring theme in all religions seems to be an idea of transcendence. Some religions describe it as the soul, and others describe it as a state of nothingness. While there are many different descriptions of this idea, its consistency across the races is indicative of our underlying unifying traits as humans. I want to know if there are biological underpinnings of this idea as they are so prevalent across the different races.

The last thing I want to know is the impact of IQ on religion and culture. We know there is a biological component to IQ, and given that the races have very distinct cultures and race is an effect of biology, to what extent does intellectual capacity impact the complexity, adherence to, and enforcement of religion. Take for instance that in Christian nations in the West there is large tolerance for other religions and even atheism, while in Muslim countries in the Middle East non-believers are put to death. How does intellectual capacity affect this, as well as if there is a biological component is something I find profoundly intriguing. We know the average IQ in the West is 100, while it is 85 in the Middle East. This clearly indicates that the intellectual capacity of citizens in the West on average is greater than it is in among the citizens of the Middle East. Is this entirely biological, cultural, religious, a combination, or something else entirely?

These are challenging and controversial questions, and I feel comfortable asking them because of the degree of freedom I have where I live. I know that if I am ever going to find the answers to these questions, I will have the easiest time in a society in which challenging ideas are not shunned or people that have them are not black listed. That is a society in which individual freedom and pursuit of the truth are the greatest ideals. That society is a state of anarchy. It is my hope in answering these questions I can understand what will be the most likely vehicles for bringing about a state of anarchy. Perhaps it is that anarchists are simply a different subspecies of people. It feels like it at times. Regardless, it is my hope that all of humanity can unite behind the ideal of human flourishing!

What Idols Do You Worship?

What is religion if not the worship of idols? Let’s have a look at two of the most prominent religions in the world, Christianity and Islam. In Christianity you idolize Jesus Christ, and in Islam, you Idolize Mohammad. These men are touted as the idealized version of what a man can become at his greatest. This will not be a critical analysis of the differences between the religions’ idols and therefore their differing outlooks on the world and how to live, although that would be an interesting topic. Instead, we are going to discuss the idea of idol worship.

Christianity and Islam forbid the worship of other gods, and they both claim the supremacy of their respective god over the dominion of man. They present their respective saviors as the idealized version of man, and all followers of the religions should seek to be just like this one man. I ask you, is this idea of just one ideal compatible with humanity? How many people have you met that are exactly like other people? Are most people even that similar, or do we all have unique personalities with different perspectives and perceptions of the world? You may argue that Jesus or Mohammad had attributes that their worshipers are seeking to portray, but that is not what the religion advocates. It says the traits of these men are the exact traits you should achieve, and if you do not you will not receive salvation/reach paradise. This leaves little variability in the actions of the faithful. They must do exactly what is written in their holy texts, or they will not be like their Idol.

Does this make sense for humans? Should we all seek to be the same? This is one of the reasons why I find the ancient pagan religions of the Greeks and Romans, or even the modern religion of Asatru to be more appealing. They have many gods, and you as the individual can choose to worship whichever god or gods suit your personality or interests. The gods were also not perfect, but they aspired to be better. This is very reflective of human beings. We are all flawed, but the degree to which we aspire to better ourselves speaks to our character as individuals. When you overcome your fears or you achieve goals in the face of adversity, you are improving as a person. You get stronger and better. You are not ever going to be perfect, but at the end of the day you will know you have gotten better.

I ask you, what idols do you worship? Who do you idolize? I idolize the best version of myself. This is not a conceited statement; it is a commitment to self-improvement. As I grow as a person, I aspire to be better every day. My understanding of what that means changes and improves daily because I am changing and improving daily. Who I am today is far better than I was ten years ago, and who I will be in ten years is a better man than I am now. I know this because I seek to achieve a virtuous life every day, and every day I deepen my understanding of what that means and how I am doing in my pursuit.

I know I am not as financially successful today as I thought I would be a decade ago, but I know I am a better man. I have more strength, both physical and mental, more courage, more empathy, more knowledge, a deeper understanding of the world around me and the people in it, I have far more hope for the future, and I have a far deeper understanding of who I am as a man. I also know that as long as I continue pursuing self-improvement, I will become a great man by my own standards, and that is all any of us can ask for.

Seek out your ideals, discover your idealized self, and start practicing at the altar of self-improvement every day. You will find happiness, love, meaning, and self-fulfillment, but if you do not understand what these ideas mean, you will be lost in the dark. Instead, find the light within yourself, discover what it is that makes you special, and seek to make yourself better!

The Curious Case of a Meaningful Life

Life is a series of random events. Your life has been a series of random events. You did not choose when you were born, who your parents were, or where you lived. You did not choose the house you grew up in, the school you went to, or the food you ate. You may have gotten to choose your friends, but that was limited by where you lived and what school you attended. As you grew up, you may have been able to express more preferences over the food you ate, who your friends were, the classes you took, or the extracurricular activities in which you participated, but you were still limited by the location of your house and your family, as well as their income. If you graduated high school, you may have faced the first real choice that was all yours; going to college.

Don’t get too excited, though, because like all the other events in your life, this one was not all of your doing either. The choice to go to college is dependent upon your intellectual aptitude, as is the college you go to. If you don’t like school, college is a bad idea, so you don’t go. If you like school, but aren’t intellectually gifted, Harvard is out of the question. Even if you are intellectually gifted, Harvard is expensive and may be out of the question anyway. You are also limited by your personal interests. If you love graphic design, going to a school that specializes in engineering would probably not be the best idea. Let’s say you do decide on a college that suits you, what then?

From that point on, all of the friends you make, and even if you find someone special and marry them, all depends on the fact that you chose that particular university. Let’s say you are a trained engineer upon graduation. You are not likely to get hired on somewhere as a Cold War Historian. Your current and future job opportunities are restricted to engineer, lest you get retrained or receive advanced training in a related field. You could also do something that is a far simpler occupation, like selling men’s shoes, but that would be far less money, so the choice is not likely to be made.

Did you find someone special along the way? Did you get married? Are you planning on having kids? The kids you have with your spouse are a random combination of your DNA, so even though you chose to have kids, you do not get to choose the kids you have. Did you choose your neighborhood, or was it the most affordable option in the nicest neighborhood outside of the city in which you work? Did you choose the route you take to work every day, or is it simply the fastest option given the outlay of the roads? Did someone cut you off on your way? Did they do this to spite you, or did they do it because they are a bad driver in a hurry? Did it make you late to work or cause a collision? These are all random events. You have some choice in the matter, but the vast majority of the circumstances surrounding your choices are out of your control. So, why am I bringing this up?

The human brain is a pattern recognition machine. It is so good at taking the randomness of our environment and organizing and codifying it to make sense of everything that when we see certain patterns or symbols regularly we stop consciously recognizing them. We do this with stop signs on a regular basis. If one said “Spot,” would you notice? Probably not. This is also why traffic cones and signs are bright orange; you are more likely to notice the change. But, how is this relevant to the topic at hand?

We like to believe that everything happens for a reason. The truth is, we ascribe meaning to all of the random things that happen to us. This is how we cope with a reality that is completely random and chaotic. We seek order externally, and we create it within our own lives. We have places for our dishes, our cleaning supplies, our clothes, our garbage, and even the rooms in which we sleep every night. We set up schedules so our bodies can operate optimally, and so we can interact with other people effectively. We eschew randomness at every opportunity. We even avoid people that are flakey and cannot show up on time or cancel on plans often. If you are like me, you have found that the more regimented and regular you can make your life and behaviors, the greater your functionality and chances of success are. These are choices I have made, and I value them. I have chosen to give them meaning.

Another, and possibly detrimental, occurrence when trying to make sense of our random world is to believe in a guiding power. God, or some other spiritual entity, has a plan for all of us, and what happens to you is what is best for you according to their plan. This is an incredibly dangerous mindset to cultivate as it takes away the agency you do have for the choices you make. If some supernatural entity has the control over the things in my life, then it doesn’t matter what choices I make. Everything happens for a reason, and it is all according to his plan. So, I will just go along for the ride. We become passengers in our own lives. I would argue this leads to a great deal of dissatisfaction and unhappiness. While we may not have complete control over our lives, there is great power and self-satisfaction in knowing we have the capacity to make the best possible choices for ourselves within the circumstances before us. Let that empower you.

As we progress through the randomness of life, remember, anything that has meaning in our lives does so because we have chosen to give it. A meaningful life is something entirely of our own creation. Take time to think of all of the people, places, events, and objects in your life that you value. Why do you value them? What is the meaning or significance they hold in your life? How have they changed who you are, and was it for the better or worse? How have you impacted the lives of others? Are you a meaningful person in the lives of other people? If you are, know that you are because they have chosen to make you so. We may live in a world of random events, but there is strength and power in knowing we have the capacity to choose how those events and people impact our lives. Use that power to make your life better. Give meaning to the events that make you better, and give meaning to the people that give you meaning in their lives and want the best for you. Your flourishing is within your own capacity.

How Can You Have Morality Without God?

If you are an atheist who has ever argued for objective morality, you have inevitably been asked the question, “Without God, how can you have morality?” This is a common question, and it is one that is pervasive from believers toward the non-believers. It is an important question to answer, both for the sake of establishing a sound moral theory without religion attached to it, and for the sake of preventing grand-scale physical conflict such as a holy war. In order to begin, I will establish that morality must be deducible from reality otherwise it is meaningless. Then, I will explain why this is actually a good thing from the religious perspective. Finally, I will touch on how this recognition will help stop massive violent conflict.

I have already established that morality can be deduced from reality with my article The Moral Framework. Now, I will explain why this must be the only rational case for morality in order for it to have any meaning. The religious will proclaim that morality comes from God, and they will cite the Ten Commandments and other proclamations within the Bible as evidence. I ask you this, do you know the difference between right and wrong? How do you know? Let’s take murder as an example. We can all agree that murder is wrong, yet, how do we know? Do we know it is wrong because God says so, or do we know because, either we have some inherent sense that we wouldn’t want to be killed so killing must be bad, or because we can prove it through a moral framework? If right and wrong are dependent upon dictates from God, then right and wrong are completely arbitrary and meaningless dependent solely upon God’s whim. God could just as easily proclaim that murdering people over seven feet tall is a good thing as they reach too close to heaven. I think we can all agree that this would be ridiculous. However, if morality is determined objectively, as in deduced from reality, then God’s proclamation that murder is wrong is an observation of reality, it is a declaration of what can be understood, not a dictate to be accepted mandatorily. This frees morality from dependence upon religion and places it openly in the realm of objective reality, and even the religious are better for it.

The Bible states that we are created in God’s image. If this is the case, and we as individual humans have the capacity to reason and deduce a sound moral theory from reality, then God has this ability as well.  When God declares that murder is wrong, he must be deducing this fact from observed reality and sharing his conclusions with us so we know right and wrong before we are able to deduce it rationally ourselves. Now that we are able to reason for ourselves and prove that murder is wrong from our own observations or reality, does this not bring us closer to God? I ask this question to believers in order to better understand them. I am not a believer, so I can only speculate. It is my hope that I am correct and recognizing our capacity to reason and acting upon it does in fact bring people closer to God.

Lastly, I want to explain how recognizing objective universal morality can end some of the worst and longest lasting conflicts of all time. In fact, it can end all war. Holy War is waged largely on the principle, “My God is greater than yours and he wills me to kill you.” The Crusades were about his, and the violence that comes out of the Middle East from Muslims today is also based upon this idea. Muslims fight each other over this idea, and they have the same God. Governments go to war with each other, using their citizens as cannon fodder for the same faulty reasoning. These are all representations of belief in irrational morality. “Because God wills it,” or “Because the government voted on it,” are not sound moral frameworks upon which to base action, let alone a series of actions that results in the deaths of thousands, if not millions of people. When we free ourselves from irrational belief systems, we are able to start our journey of human flourishing.

If we can recognize that there is an objective moral framework, one that deduces morality from observed reality, we can end violent conflict on a mass scale. No longer will countless human lives be thrown away at the altar of irrational belief systems. Why people believe in irrational belief systems is a discussion for another time, however, I will leave you with one final idea. Anarchy, sweet though it is, cannot prevent irrational belief systems from forming. However, it can rid us of the coercive and destructive belief systems we are currently subject to, and for that, I am forever enthralled. It is my hope, dear reader, that you will join me in my captivation.