Monday, May 10, 2010

My Moral Framework

I recently completed an assignment on my values and moral framework. As I scored fairly well (23 out of 25) and that ethics and morals are a subject that interest me, I decided to share my essay with you. Would enjoy any feedback, positive or negative.

"1. Introduction

An ethics and moral framework is an important component of any worldview. It enables us to make choices on how we should act and how we should interact with others (Thiroux and Krasemann, 2009). As there are many frameworks in the world, choosing one requires exploration of what each individual values and then a comparison to find a framework that incorporates those values.

2. Personal Values

The following are the values that I have identified as being of importance to myself. I hold each of them in the same regard.

2.1 Truth

Truth is a fairly expansive value. I am applying ‘truth’ to cover all types of truth; be they personal, historical, scientific or any other kind. The main reason for valuing this is that I believe that to determine the best course of action in a specific situation or the best way to live in general, an individual needs as much true information and as little false information as possible. This is demonstrated in Appendix 1; if you have incorrect information, you are more likely to draw incorrect conclusions. I have discussed this issue in regards to creationism (Appendix 2). As stated, I believe that denying evolution and promoting creationism in its place is spreading misinformation, thus promoting people to draw conclusions on other issues that could possibly be incorrect.

2.2 Equality

The equality I speak of is slightly different from the normal concept of equality; that all men (or people) are created equal. I do hold that everyone should be treated equally. However, there are differences, often subtle, between men and women, between people of different ethnicities and between people of different cultures and countries. The equality that I value is that an individual is judged as an individual, not by the various groupings they belong to. For example, women on average have lower physical strength than men (Martini, 2006). If a woman is applying for a job that requires physical strength, she should not be judged by her gender’s average physical strength, but by her own personal strength.

2.3 Liberty

Liberty is defined as the ability of an individual to act occurring to their own will (Carrier, 2005). Before including it as a value of my own, I would add a qualifier; provided their actions do not infringe on the liberty of others. Preventing an individual from infringing on the liberty of another (i.e. stopping a person from killing another) is an action I would say is permissible, as the killer is violating the liberty of the victim in the first place. An example of my value is my position on drug legalisation and use (Appendix 3). My opinion on this issue is that anyone should be allowed to consume any substance, provided they do not interfere with others while under the influence. For example, a person who drinks alcohol yet does not harm anyone while intoxicated should be allowed to continue drinking. The simple potential of alcohol contributing to violence in some individuals is not sufficient to disallow others from using it.

2.4 Altruism

Defined in the ethical sense, altruism is the idea that individuals should take actions that help, benefit or otherwise improve the lives of others, possibly even with detriment to one’s own life (Carrier, 2005). Altruism can be derived into two categories; reciprocal altruism and true altruism (Appendix 4). The reason I put forward that altruism is a value worth having is that the significant majority of humans want to both live and to avoid suffering (Appendix 5). Following from these observations, it could be concluded that if everyone wants to avoid suffering, it should be in our best interest to work together and consider the suffering of others as equally as our own. Example being that if you are in a well-off position in life, considering others who are not as well off and trying to help them is something you should strive to do.

3. Framework

The following is the framework that I found to fit best with my values. It should be noted that, as the framework was not constructed by me, it is not a perfect fit.

3.1 Secular Humanism

Defined simply, is a worldview that places value on the progress and betterment of human life, without having to lean on supernatural ideas (Carrier, 2005). While having specific tenets (Appendix 6), these are not rigid rules that cannot be changed but more a guide on how to live. As to what Secular Humanism is in terms of morality, I personally see it as a combinational approach between utilitarianism and virtue ethics. Why I considered Secular Humanism to be the best fit with my values is as follows.

Truth is perhaps the most obviously compatible with Secular Humanism. Points one, two and four of Appendix 6 all demonstrate a commitment to search for truth and to always demand factual support for claims. Equality seems to conform with points five and seven; treating people equally and by their individual abilities would help to reduce inequality and the suffering caused by it. Point six seems to espouse liberty; that individuals have autonomy over their actions by making them responsible for them. Finally, altruism is demonstrated in points two, three, five and seven as they ask us to take into account the well-being of the entire human race, rather than just ourselves.

The final critical point of why secular humanism is my framework rather than simply humanism is that secularism is what works best for everyone (Appendix 7). As stated, secularism prevents a religious majority from imposing their will, good or bad, on a minority who do not share their religious convictions. It does not suggest that people should not have religious beliefs, just that their beliefs are personal in nature and do not apply to everyone.

4. Conclusion

While more being a guide than a perfectly constructed moral and ethic system, secular humanism still has a lot to offer humanity. It should be noted, however, that secular humanism does not require everyone to follow its rules; just to respect the opinions of others.

6. Appendix

Appendix 1

Taken from HBS300: Ethics – Frameworks and Decisions Discussion Board: 4.1 Earthquake in China.

“We make the best decisions we can with the limited amount of information and brain power we have at our disposal. Sometimes it turns out good (as it did in this scenario), sometimes it turns out bad.

The only way we can make sure that our decisions go in our favour is by making sure we have as much good information and as little bad information as possible.”

Appendix 2

Taken from ‘Creationism and the spreading of misinformation’ (Bishop, 2010a).

“So on one side of the coin, we have experts saying that evolution is correct. On the other side, we have ‘experts’ saying that evolution is incorrect. How is your average individual, with very little understand of how science actually works, going to be able to tell the difference between the two? From the laymen perspective, it could seem like scientists are ‘divided’ on the issue of whether evolution is right or wrong (more accurately, indicated by the evidence or not). This is possible the main reason I choose to speak out against creationism/other pseudoscientific claims whenever I get the chance; it spreads misinformation among the general population. And being most people have very little time/interest in going to check if a claim is true (assuming they would even know where to start), a fair number of individuals will accept what these groups say as truth.

Being ignorant of a subject is bad enough, but lying to disprove it is infinitely worse.”

Appendix 3

Taken from HBS300: Ethics – Frameworks and Decisions Discussion Board: Drug Legalisation in Australia

“An individual is responsible for his or her own actions, even if their actions are being influenced by other factors, in or out of their control. (example being mentally ill; even though they may not be in direct control of their actions, we still lock them up if they harm others).
Following from this premise, one can draw the conclusion that ingesting any substance is permissible, so long as the individual accepts responsibility for the actions they take while under the influence.

Example being the difference between happy and angry drunks; if you know you get angry when under the thrall of alcohol, you should not drink.”

Appendix 4

Taken from HBS300: Ethics – Frameworks and Decisions Discussion Board: Virtue Ethics

“Well, I would divide altruism into two types; reciprocal altruism and true altruism. Reciprocal altruism is helping others so that they may help you at some point. True altruism would be helping others at a detriment to yourself that may never be paid back (or with no intents for it to be paid back).”

Appendix 5

Taken from HBS300: Ethics – Frameworks and Decisions Discussion Board: Earthquake in China

“1. Everyone wants to live.
2. Everyone wants to avoid suffering.

I perfectly understand that neither of those are entirely universal (though near enough). Also, premise 1 overrides premise 2 (i.e. ending someone’s life to prevent their suffering is not okay, unless of course they want to have their life ended).

Yes, those two premises are my opinion. But others opinions would overrule them if I had to deal with those people (i.e. if I was in a disaster situation like the one described and someone said 'I'm in too much pain. Just leave me to die', I would consider respecting their wishes). They are just general rules I go by until presented with exceptions.”

Appendix 6

Taken from ‘What is Secular Humanism?’ (Stevens et al., 2010)

“Secular Humanism is a term which has come into use in the last thirty years to describe a world view with the following elements and principles:

• A conviction that dogmas, ideologies and traditions, whether religious, political or social, must be weighed and tested by each individual and not simply accepted on faith.

• Commitment to the use of critical reason, factual evidence, and scientific methods of inquiry, rather than faith and mysticism, in seeking solutions to human problems and answers to important human questions.

• A primary concern with fulfillment, growth, and creativity for both the individual and humankind in general.

• A constant search for objective truth, with the understanding that new knowledge and experience constantly alter our imperfect perception of it.

• A concern for this life and a commitment to making it meaningful through better understanding of ourselves, our history, our intellectual and artistic achievements, and the outlooks of those who differ from us.

• A search for viable individual, social and political principles of ethical conduct, judging them on their ability to enhance human well-being and individual responsibility.

• A conviction that with reason, an open marketplace of ideas, good will, and tolerance, progress can be made in building a better world for ourselves and our children.”

Appendix 7

Taken from ‘A Response… But No Apology’ (Bishop, 2010b)

“Our government is secular, as stated in Section 116 of the Constitution:

“The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.”

This part of the constitution is incredibly important; it is what keeps the religion that is held by the majority (Christianity in Australia) from imposing its will on the minority (Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists etc.). Statistically speaking, the amount of representatives in the government would more or less reflect the averages of the population; we have a majority of politicians being Christian. If it were not for this law, there would be nothing stopping them from passing laws that restrict other religions and promote Christianity. The same goes the other way of course. In Japan, where around 65% of the population is non-religious, they are prevented from passing laws that restrict those who are religions by Article 20 of their Constitution:

“(1) Freedom of religion is guaranteed to all.
(2) No religious organization shall receive any privileges from the State, nor exercise any political authority.
(3) No person shall be compelled to take part in any religious act, celebration, rite or practice.
(4) The State and its organs shall refrain from religious education or any other religious activity.”
This is the fairest system one can have in place, as it prevents any majority, be it religious or atheist, from imposing their views on the minority. This a major problem with any dictatorship, be it an atheist or religious one.” 

7. Bibliography

BISHOP, J. R. 2010a. Creationism and the spreading of misinformation. Lord Bishington's Thoughts [Online]. Available from: [Accessed 21/04/2010].

BISHOP, J. R. 2010b. A Response... But No Apology. Lord Bishington's Thoughts [Online]. Available from: [Accessed 21/04/2010].

CARRIER, R. 2005. Sense & Goodness Without God: A Defence of Metaphysical Naturalism, Bloomington, Indiana, AuthorHouse.

MARTINI, F. H. 2006. Fundamentals of Anatomy & Physiology, USA, Benjamin Cummings.

STEVENS, F., TABASH, E., HILL, T., SIKES, M. E. & FLYNN, T. 2010. What Is Secular Humanism? [Online]. Council for Secular Humanism. Available: [Accessed 24/04/2010].

THIROUX, J. & KRASEMANN, K. 2009. Ethics: Theory and Practise, Pearson International Education."