A Deist Ethical Framework

We’ve examined the flaws with theist and atheist ethical framework, so it is now time to consider whether a deist assumption can result in something better.

We’ve also defined the basic purpose of behavior in a simulation as:

  1. Making life better for as many other players as possible.
  2. Making civilization progress towards higher degrees of development and complexity.

Our default speculative assumption could then be, that actions that increase the chances of these purposes being attained are good, and actions that decrease the chances of these purposes being attained are bad. “Good” and “bad” can serve as synonyms for “aligned with the purpose” and “at odds with the purpose”.

Let us try to formulate specific rules from this speculative assumption. Perhaps with a few leaps of faith we can come up with something worthwhile?

First, our purpose requires us to make something, yet we are born as helpless babies with no skills to make anything. This is a problem. And it leads us to the first ethical rule, without which no others would be possible:

First commandment — develop skills and improve your ability to do things.

Second, our purpose requires us to help others and to help the world, but these goals might contradict each other. This leads us to the second ethical rule:

Second commandment — carefully balance the effects of your actions on yourself, your family, your community and your world.

Note the change in granularity here. We started with you and the world, but to really balance the two we have to further subdivide “the world” into a few levels of proximity to you. There is no objectively correct way to do so, but perhaps the most intuitive division is:

  1. You.
  2. Your family and closest friends.
  3. Communities to which you belong (your favorite club, your co-religionists, your nation, etc).
  4. The world as a whole.

Given this division, we can try to elaborate on what it means to “balance” the effects of your actions using the following two rules:

Third commandment — prioritize the well-being of people closer to you over that of people farther from you.

Fourth commandment — be tolerant of, and considerate to, all people regardless of proximity to you.

We can then ask whether the way you could balance these things is fixed throughout your life, or whether it changes with your station in life — clearly children are selfish and have no capacity (or capability) to take care of others; and clearly people who are successful have more capability to help others than people who are unsuccessful.

This suggests that the balancing act we engage in must also be fluid throughout our life — the goodness of our actions depends on our capabilities at the time these actions were taken. Thus, we can derive the following rule:

Fifth commandment — take care of yourself alone when your capacity is barely sufficient to do so, and direct any excess capacity towards your family, then your community, and then the world.

Note that this formulation addresses several anomalies we often observe around us. First, it shows that a person who remains selfish even when he has the capacity to help himself AND help others — is acting in a bad (=childish) manner. Second, it shows that a person who can’t even pay their own rent yet joins revolutionary organizations that try to better the world — is acting in a bad manner too (he is merely a child pretending to be a grownup).

Behavior that is good requires one to address these 4 levels in the right order:

  • Take care of yourself until you cease being as burden on others.
  • Once you have developed excess capacity beyond what is necessary to take care of yourself, start a family and take care of yourself AND your family.
  • Once you have developed excess capacity beyond what is necessary to take care of yourself and your family, start putting some effort into bettering your community and the life of people in groups you belong to.
  • Once you have developed excess capacity beyond what is necessary to take care of yourself and your family and your community, start putting some effort into bettering the world as a whole.

Stalling on one level when your capacity already allows you to move to the next level is bad. Moving to the next level before you have truly taken care of the current one is also bad. Progressing along the levels in natural order is good.

Next , we have to define what it means to be considerate towards all people. A complex society (which is in line with our purpose within the deist assumption) requires that interactions between people maintain a certain level of decorum; the tribal approach of treating your tribe as family and any other tribe as mortal enemies does not allow a society to grow beyond a tribal level of complexity. Thus, we must define the following rules for dealing with strangers in a complex society:

Sixth commandment — treat strangers with respect, kindness, compassion, and a socially acceptable level of decorum.

Seventh commandment — don’t initiate nor be complicit in aggression towards another individual, his liberty or his property, unless he has committed an act of aggression that justifies it.

And we must also define some rules for dealing with groups of strangers in a complex society:

Eighth commandment — strive to treat individuals as individuals and not as members of a particular group; respect the socially-accepted rights of all individuals regardless of group affiliation; and do not punish individuals for the sins of a group they belong to.

Ninth commandment — work to improve the relationship between various groups of individuals and minimize enmity between groups.

Note that here we’ve introduced, for the first time, some standards that do not flow directly from other elements of the framework (and may not be objectively defined).

“Socially acceptable” is one such standard, and it is used here because the phrases like “treating someone with respect” mean different things in different cultures. The standards we define here have to allow some level of adaptability to the time and location in which they are practiced, but it is generally safe to assume that — even in societies as polarized as the United States in the 21st century — we still have a pretty good commonly-accepted idea of what it means to treat someone with respect in a particular culture.

Finally, we need to define the last rule, which relates less to your relationship with others, and more to your relationship with the universe as a whole:

Tenth commandment — strive to progress civilization forward, welcome responsibility, and prioritize achievement over short-term comforts.

People are happiest when they take responsibility and achieve meaningful goals. Some level of comfort and pleasure along the way is necessary, but a focus on pleasures and comforts leads to a life that feels hollow and meaningless. We can thus state, definitively, that prioritizing achievement over comforts is generally good, and prioritizing comforts over achievement is generally bad — even if a certain balance between the two is always necessary.

In summary, the new ten commandments are:

1. Develop skills and improve your ability to make things.

2. Carefully balance the effects of your actions on yourself, your family, your community and your world.

3. Prioritize the well-being of people closer to you over that of people farther from you.

4. Be tolerant of, and considerate to, all people regardless of proximity to you.

5. Take care of yourself alone when your capacity is barely sufficient to do so, and direct any excess capacity towards your family, then your community, and then the world.

6. Treat strangers with respect, kindness, compassion, and a socially acceptable level of decorum.

7. Do not initiate nor be complicit in aggression towards another individual, his liberty or his property, unless he has committed an act of aggression that justifies it.

8. Strive to treat individuals as individuals and not as members of a particular group; respect the socially-accepted rights of all individuals regardless of group affiliation; and do not punish individuals for the sins of a group they belong to.

9. Work to improve the relationship between various groups of individuals and minimize enmity between groups.

10. Strive to progress the world forward, welcome responsibility, and prioritize achievement over short-term comforts.

If one starts from the deist assumption, these ten commandments may not be the only ethical framework one can arrive at. But they are certainly one relatively-complete set that is consistent with the initial assumption.

How would you think these compare to Moses’ ten?

A non-random person having non-random thoughts.

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