Moral Normative Psychology
Since a few days, I have been thinking about what normative ethics I actually employ in my practical life, consciously and unconsciously. How do I decide what to do in this or that situation, and how do I generally approach the question of how we ought to act? This post will be my preliminary attempt to formulate, or rather phrase, that normative ethics. I do not wish to claim for now that it is philosophically valid or that it has any realist status. I am merely observing myself as a moral agent (not that I am a perfect one) and noting down the broad principles that I see.
* One should aim to act out of good intentions and virtuous emotions. Compassion, empathy, courage, honesty, wisdom, justice etc. Not as a matter of dry philosophical abstraction but actually being driven by the particular intention and motivation, because we want to be a particular sort of person. Various persons will have various virtues as more dominant than others, and this will define their character as moral agents. With regard to individual circumstances, it would be a matter of asking how the relevant virtue should be exercised. "What would be the compassionate thing to do in this circumstance?" "What would be the empathetic thing to do?" "What would be the honest thing to do?" "What would be the just thing to do?" Answering these questions will not always be easy and clear, and often we may have to rely on rules of thumb like the Golden Rule or Rawl's 'veil of ignorance' thought experiment to determine that.
* Acting out of self-interest is morally permissible and often necessary, provided you act within your moral rights.
* As a moral and rational agent, it is evident to me (and most other people) that there are certain fundamental and universal rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled. These rights can be worked out from basic virtues of justice, equality and individual freedom, and for a rational person who is morally sensitive, these will appear to be almost intuitive. The exact formulation of these rights has grown with moral Zeitgeist, as we have become more and more sensitive to discrimination. (The Universal Declaration of Human Rights by United Nations is a good articulation for legal purposes.) Religious and cultural virtues that clash with these universal human rights should be rejected as primitive vestiges of our moral development.
* In matters where moral intuitions are unclear and applicability of virtues is unclear, consequentialist principle of increasing well-being can be used to determine the best course of action.