From Morality to Ethics

Before we consider the manifestation of morality in humans, let us consider more broadly what occurs in nature when cooperation and altruism has advanced to near perfect levels.Imagine there is an organism. This organism is a single celled organism. Through access to food and reproduction, it has become very numerous in a small area. In this instance, the principles of dynamic cooperation have resulted in an almost total ‘moral’ commitment to one-another. The group has been succesful at completly eliminating free-riding and betrayal behaivours. It has achieved perfect cooperation.It would make sense for such a group band very closely together, where each can maximise the benefit from the cooperative and altruistic actions of one-another, for example for defence or attacking prey. It also makes sense that rather than being a homogenous group, that they specialise in different roles. For example, some might become good at carrying food or energy to other organisms, allowing others to focus on different useful tasks on a full-time basis. Some might locate themselves at the edge of the group and do their very best to act as a hard barrier, in order to protect more fragile organisms.Now, next to this cluster of single-celled organisms, imagine a multicellular organism. It has multiple cells grouped closely together. It has specialised cells performing a great variety of functions, moving around internally. It has some cells acting as an external barrier to protect more vulnerable cell configurations within. It is in most meaningful ways, the same! Looked at in this way, multicellular organisms, including ourselves, are, quite literally, perfectly cooperating social groups of suborganisms.

When we see a social group of separate organisms, in a sense we see the partial equivalent of a larger organism. Or to put it another way, as it becomes more cooperative, a group of separate entities becomes, a kind of proto-organism in it’s own right.

(Note for the politically overzealous – this is intended as a biological observation not a normative political argument. It has no logical bearing on questions of balancing the individual with the group or society – that is a separate question.)


As humans we are highly cooperative – when we act we think not only of ourselves but also of the groups to which we belong and other in them. Our beliefs and culture are a result of our interactions and negiotiations. Our morality is expressed as part of this process. When humans negiotiate how society will work, they will develop, verbally or more formally, a set of principles which desrcibe prescriptively how the group *ought* to function, and how members of the group *ought* to behave. These principles are more formal, and more social in nature than personal morality. They exist in the human social environment, and are taught to children and new members. Here we shall call such principles “ethics”.

Ethical systems are aggregates or averages of the moral preferences of those within a group, skewed towards those who hold power in that group. So, we can imagine ‘adding up’ and ‘averaging out’ all the individual moral pyramids of people in the group, but giving weight to each according to much power that person holds. This result helps us visualise and imagine a society’s ethics.

In a society where everyone holds equal power, the resut is generally a ethical system (and consequentially a system of government or law) that values everyone equally. If power is held by those who are highly altruistic, it will also be reasonably equal. In practice power is not equally distributed, and the powerful are not always altruistic. Therefore the powerful will slant the ethical and political systems to match their moral (or immoral) priorities.

So, the ethics of groups (and soiceties) varies wildly. When individuals with non-cooperative, free-riding or even betrayal tendancies are able to gain a lot of power in a group, the ethical system usually perverts morality to provide benefits to the non-cooperative members driving the agenda. Whatever benefits them, becomes a prescriptive ethical code that others must follow. An abusive elder in a village, or a brutal dictator that crushes his people are obvious examples of this.

Where cooperative individuals are able to come together and negiotiate a broad aggregate cooperative pyramid, the result is very different. The result is a set of principles based on merit and cooperation. Members of the group are required to contribute to the group, but all members are treated as important and are respected. If the cooperative individuals are broad cross-section of the society, the aggregate cooperative pyramids results in a perfectly cooperative ethical system. This system also has the benefit of allowing all members of the society to thrive – as a system it tends to be very successful until it is corrupted.

In our modern world, most ethical systems are a compromise between the cooperative and non-cooperative ends of the spectrum. There is always a struggle for power, and cooperation varies accordingly. This is expressed in the great variety of ethical systems existing in social groups of all shapes and sizes. However, as the size of human groups has increased throughout history, so has the broadness of the more cooperative ethical systems formed. This is magnified by the fact that large societies are less stable and require very high levels of cooperation to survive. The result – ethics apply not only to family life or group of friends, but take abstract form such as laws, moral philosophy, religion and politics – systems that span nations or great civilisations.

With advancements in global communications of the last two centuries, we see for the first time ethical systems based on a broad cross-section of the entire human race. Principles have developed in religions and philosophy that award value to every living human. No matter what the human’s background, these recent cooperative ethics advocate that they ought to be valued not for our common interests with them, but by virtue of the fact that they are human. Over time, more explicit and elloquent justifications and explanations for consideration of every human have emerged, as a pro-human ethic has manifestated itself more clearly in concert with scientific understanding about the nature of the human species.


Some ethical systems have even gone so far as to suggest inter-species cooperation and altruism. At the more scientific end of the environmental movement, it is often pointed out that primates generally share a significant amount of genetics with humans. Other species, while being more distant relatives, are also genetically related in some way. Our collective cooperative pyramids, being broad as they are, and aggregated together as a society into an ethical system, are expressing themselves by placing value on other species.

Humanity stands dominant on Earth. The choice, the ability to shape our relations with the biosphere is our own for the first tme. And, for the first time, there is a manifestation of a greater process towards a kind of loose inter-species organism – an alliance of life of Earth.

Science has shown that Earth is probably one of billions of planets with life. As life develops on a planet, if it harbours enough life to reach a level of intelligence not unlike our own, one capable of the creation of technology, it reaches a critical juncture. It faces a kind of tipping point where either the intelligent species uses the technology to destroy the biosphere completely, or the planet’s biosphere successful transitions and becomes an entity in its own right. Earth is at that point – and humanity must choose what path it will walk.

We are at a fork in our road – two paths are before us. Down one is the subjegation of eachother, the subjegation of our brother and sister species, to our most selfish, hedonistic desires. Down the other is a cooperative strategy where humanity promotes the wellbeing of not only all humans, but our fellow species as well. Down this nobler road lies the dawn of Earth’s biosphere as a magnificant creature in its own right. A great tree of life, with humanity as its guiding force.

We decide this fate. Humans are the only creature with the cognititive ability to understand the safety and survival of life on Earth. We, as a species, are the brain of the biosphere. We watch out for eachother, ensuring that no human is forgotten or left behind. We watch over and care for all species. We are the stewards of the biosphere. We are the keepers of the protectorate of life.


If you choose to share in this concept, then you share in a new kind of ethical system. You share in an aggregation of the moral pyramids of millions or even bilions of altruistic people from all over the Earth into a ethical system – a moral creed of life. This is a system that values the protection of all people across the planet, and values the preservation of all species. This is the life-ethic.

The life-ethic gives meaning in personal, social and political life. It gives us the most basic directives that ethically guide a good human society:

Primary directive – The preservation of the human species and its genetic diversity
Secondary directive – The preservation of non-human species and their genetic diversity, prioritised based upon their genetic relations with humanity.

From these directives the it follows that a personal, social or political system is preferable where:

  1. It systematically preserves the human species, preserves human genetic diversity, and preserves the physical wellbeing of individual humans for their natural lifetimes.
  2. It protects the physical and mental wellbeing of every human. It should follow principles that are known to systematcally promote wellbeing, like fairness, justice and freedom.
  3. So long as it does not endanger the application of the first two principles, preserves all non-human species and their genetic diversity, starting with those species that are most closely related to humans.

In turn, it makes that when people come together their communities and the political systems should achieve the following:

  1. Security – Provide physical safety to all members, including protection from attack, clean water, nutritious food, unpolluted air, protection from oppression and slavery, and provides appropriate responses to external threats, natural disasters or corruption of human morality.
  2. Ecology – Preserve natural ecosystems in balance with environments for human use. Ensure they are protected from harmful pollution and adequate for the use of non-human life, preferrably without dependancy on signficiant human involvement.
  3. Knowledge – Facilitate effective decision making, requring accurate knowledge and unbiased deliberation. Towards this end, freedom of speech and freedom of information should be supported to the greatest extent possible, provided it does no great harm to the other four of these goals.
  4. Social – Grow a human society that promotes happiness, participation, authentic connections between humans, and love of these five goals.
  5. Economy – To the extent that enhances the other four principles, grow an efficient, wasteless, and ample productive industrial capacity to allow humans to fufill their own essential needs, while allowing them to also act as the biosphere’s stewards. This capacity supplies resources for promoting better security, ecology, knowledge and society.


What does this imply? Is it the government’s role to achieve this? Or the individual, alone and determined? The simple answer is this: neither. The political ‘red herring’, the immense distraction, of modern political history is the great battle between individualism and collectivism. Both camps would have you believe their extreme is the only way. And yet modern history tells us, no, screams to us, that if we neglect either, we have disaster. Without individual freedom and autonomy we have oppression, corruption and stagnation, yet without a government for collective action we have widespread exploitation, a lack of vision and complete impotence in tackling the big picture.

The life-ethic is not about the individual or the collective. This issue is secondary – there is almost always a need for some balance between the two. This because economic and political structures ought to depend on the moral imperitives of the situation, not the other way around.

If there is any level of human social existence where the life-ethic lives, it is in community. The community is vital to both the individual and their freedom, as well as the government and its effectiveness. If a community is in ruin, or if it is in the hands of the corrupt or power-hungry (regardless of ideology), then it serves to encourage failed government and failed individuals.

In the end, the potential to decimate humanity and life exists in every political camp – the problem is not a particular ideology, it is narcisism, sociopathy and sadism. Living the life-ethic is the antithesis to this decimation.

Living the life ethic is about citizenship – leading a noble life through a balance of the individual, government and community. A citizen must take responsbility for their own decisions and action. Yet as a citizen we must also contribute to our nation, and to humanity, even in the face of disapproval. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we must work with other like-minded to build the kind of community that can serve as an example and beacon of hope to others. A community that values and achieves in security, ecology, knoweldge, social wellbeing, and economics. This is your task.

Though our lives are short and our existence small in comparison the history of the planet on which we live, the life ethic manifests that existence as noble, makes us part of something greater – life.

Next – Virtue, Purpose and Knowledge

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