Measurable effects of morality, part 1

In an objective moralistic paradigm, people would have to base their judgement of morality on reality, and measurable effects rather than on personal feelings. The relationship between feelings and morality is an established link, so although feelings do play a role, feelings often also play a role in why people violate moral codes. I simply want to illustrate here that morality can be, to a certain extent, measured, using the yardstick in Morality as a characteristic, that morality is based on what’s best for society.

If we take basics, murder; rape; theft in it’s various forms, and assault in it’s various possible forms. These are considered crimes in most countries, and therefore are violations of the rules of right and wrong, which would make them immoral. These crimes have a measurable effect on society. As these crimes have drastically increased over the last half century, in many nations where we have, or had, reasonably good statistics on crime rates, society has changed. From 1950s Texas where the key stayed in the ignition, and the gun rack in the rear window was stocked, to the modern age where insurance companies require an alarm; immobiliser and some sort of tracking device. In South Africa, people have gone from leaving their houses unlocked, to having rapid lock gates that lock as they slide shut, just in case someone is chasing you into your house. This shows a measurable impact of violent crime on society, if for no other reason than a lack of trust in human goodness. This measurable effect shows that in some way, people aren’t as cohesive a culture, we don’t trust each other, we won’t invite strangers into our houses, and our children have less freedom. These are measurable effects on society of the particular crimes, which makes morality an objective issue, not a subjective one, since the effects impact a larger group, and affect reality, not just one persons subjective feelings.

Other areas of morality can be examined. Countries generally don’t have laws against greed, because we feel that would hinder our freedom of choice. This is subjective, but the measurable effects of greed are the fact that while 40% of the worlds resources are in the hands of 1% of the population, many people don’t have enough resources to survive. Sure, one could use the “survival of the fittest” argument, and I’ve heard that, more than once, but consider the possible effects of reducing the human gene pool. Different people, often racially divided can show different levels of resistance to disease, as illustrated in Jared Diamond’s Guns; Germ and Steal. So by reducing the gene pool, we could increase the chances of human extinction, by reducing the gene pool, so it isn’t in human beings best interests to engage in activity that puts an unnecessary amount of resources in the hands of few, while vast numbers of people die.

In various morality studies, tests often involve moral questions where people are asked to, in some way or another, cause the death of few to save many, generally people will choose to save many. Exceptions to this rule, generally have to do with extremes, people are asked to commit an act that goes against their subjective feelings towards others, which over-rides objective utilitarian response, for example, a mother is asked to kill her child so it’s crying won’t attract the killers who want to kill the group she is hiding with, or throwing the old man off the life raft to save the kids, instead of not helping him onto the life raft because that would cause the death of the kids. Only when subjective takes over from utilitarian does the majority chose few over many. Thus the objective response is generally in favour of the majority. If we were asked to take 90% of the wealth away from the 1%, we’d be causing them no harm, and causing huge good for many. Unfortunately, people subjectively don’t want to sacrifice their chance at being unnecessarily wealthy and will kick against the greater good.

We have an example of what is generally defined as immoral being measurably immoral, and we have an example of what is generally called by many, for want of a better term, tolerable immorality. In each case, we have measurable results to support the immorality based on a framework of morality that transcends time and space. Perhaps science can answer at least some moral questions.

This post is already longer than intended, I will continue with the subject of measuring morally good, and immeasurable subjects, in the next post.

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