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.


mysticservant said…
Good principles. I use these when in a slightly more material consciousness, but in heightened states I just use whatever appears to be the Divine impulse.
puzzled said…
good food for thought...what about the the things that are morally wrong but dont have any dire immediate saying the proxy of a friend when nobody could catch you and declining the request of a friend risks losing that friend...I think most of the time we are not in any kind of confusion how to act but our preferences of relations or attachments are what a good humane religious philosophy or a myth will be more helpful.
Awais Aftab said…
@ puzzled

Yes, you are right, our preferences of relationships do matter, and often provide the background in which moral decisions are taken.

Btw, I don't think saying proxy is morally wrong. Attendance is a man-made rule, and i'd personally be a consequentialist when it comes to such things.
puzzled said…
honesty is not a virtue and truth should only be spoken if its suits you.
attendance could be man made rule but what about being honest truthful and courageous.
Awais Aftab said…
Honesty is a virtue, but it is not the only virtue. There are other virtues, like Compassion. Different situations require applicability of different virtues (of course, that depends on a person's assessment). Speaking the truth vs watching out for your friend. What virtue you pick, it depends on you, but I wouldn't so presumptuous as to say that any of these is morally wrong.

1) You could either say a lie, which would have no ill consequence and would help your friend.
2) You could speak the truth, which would harm your friend, and the only thing you would gain would be your sense of self-righteousness.

If I have to choose between these two, and I think "what sort of a person do I want to be?", I would go for the option 1. I want to be the sort of person who helps out a friend by speaking an inconsequential lie, and this is entirely compatible with my moral sense.

You could pick option 2 if you prefer, which wouldn't be 'immoral' either. Depends on you.

Now, consider the same proxy scenario, but in this case, your friend is a murderer and wants a fake alibi. Obviously, marking a proxy in this case is no longer morally neutral, and it would be wrong to mark that proxy.

But here too, I must stress, every case deserves an individual analysis of moral applicability. To me, morals are not rigid; they are flexible. The aim is to act out of good intentions and virtuous emotions, the exact manner and applicability of which will vary from one situation to another.
Komal said…
Not that it's particularly important, but I would not say attendance by proxy, since it involves lying.

Dishonesty always seemed to me like a core problem: like a vice that underlies other vices.