A Four-Dimensional Fractal Approach to Ethics

How the fractal nature of the integral four-quadrant model can help (dis)solve the paradoxes within ethics.

Hanzi Freinacht
45 min readAug 31, 2022

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Many years ago, shortly after having discovered Ken Wilber’s very useful four-quadrant model, it occurred to me that, within ethics, there are basically four (not three, not five, but four) main branches or schools of thought if you don’t count amoral philosophies such as nihilism (but these cannot be used normatively, only in a larger “meta-ethical” context). Having noticed that oftentimes things come bundled in four, just to fit snuggly into the four quadrant model, of course made me wonder whether or not the four schools of ethics would somehow align with Wilber’s model.

Spoiler alert: I can already reveal that the answer to that question is that the four schools of ethics fit very well into the four quadrants!

The reason this is interesting is that the four-quadrant model is very good at guiding us towards resolving, or dissolving, apparent paradoxes. And in philosophy, the different schools of ethics have usually been at odds with each other with no resolution in sight. Hence, the four quadrant model might come in handy here.

The four schools of thought within ethics are: rule-based ethics, consequentialism (or utilitarianism), virtue ethics, and contractualism (or social contract theory). In the following, I will not only show how each of these corresponds to the logic of one of the four quadrants; I will also show how seeing this pattern can help answer many puzzling questions within ethics.

From there on, you can construct ethical solutions at a much more complex level and in a more coherent manner — i.e., you can become more ethical, do more “good”. That’s what this is about.

The Big Three and Wilber’s Four Quadrants

In his books, Wilber speaks of the so-called “Big Three”: Truth, Beauty, and (normative) Goodness. The idea about these three separate domains of inquiry has run through Western philosophy as a red thread since Plato introduced the triad 2500 years ago — until Wilber finally broke with the tradition and added a fourth. Kind of.

In Europe during the medieval period, scholastic thinkers provided a more systematic treatment of these three concepts and began referring to them as the “transcendentals” (i.e. properties of being). Ontologically speaking, the transcendentals are what is common to all beings, indeed to all being. Cognitively speaking, they are initial foundational concepts since they cannot be traced back to anything preceding them.

The three transcendentals have remained prominent within Christian theology, particularly in Catholic thought, yet these three distinct properties of being have in many ways also been a fundamental feature even within modern secular Western philosophy. If we take Immanuel Kant’s three critiques, for example, they can be seen as inquiries into each of the transcendentals:

  • Kritik der reinen Vernunft, 1781 (truth)
  • Kritik der praktischen Vernunft, 1788 (goodness)
  • Kritik der Urteilskraft, 1790 (beauty)

Karl Popper is perhaps most famous for his philosophy on science, but he also contributed to metaphysics with his three worlds model. This is a way of looking at reality that involves three interacting worlds:

  • World 1: Objects. The realm of states and processes as typically studied by the natural sciences. These include the states and processes that we seek to explain by physics and by chemistry, and also those states and processes that subsequently emerge with life and which we seek to explain by biology. (Truth)
  • World 2: Subjects. The realm of mental states and processes. These include sensations and thoughts, and include both conscious and unconscious mental states and processes. World 2 includes all animal, as well as human, mental experience. Mental states and processes only emerged as a product (or by-product) of biological activity by living organisms, and so only emerged subsequently to the emergence of living organisms within World 1. Mental states and processes are the products of evolutionary developments in the World 1 of animal brains and nervous systems, but constitute a new realm of World 2 that co-evolved by its interaction with the World 1 of brains and nervous systems. (Beauty)
  • World 3: Intersubjectivity. The realm of the “products of thought” when considered as objects in their own right. These products emerge from human “World 2” activity, but when considered as World 3 objects in their own right they have rebound effects on human World 2 thought processes. Through these rebound effects, World 3 “objects” may — via World 2-motivated human action on World 1 — have an indirect but powerful effect on World 1. In Popper’s view, World 3 “objects” encompass a very wide range of entities, from scientific theories to works of art, from laws to institutions. (Goodness)

As you can see above, each of these worlds correspond to one of the big threes introduced by Plato.

Jürgen Habermas, the perhaps greatest social theorist alive, similarly acknowledges the existence of these three separate worlds. He has written that:

“With any speech act, the speaker takes up a relation to something in the objective world [Truth, World 1], something in a common social world [Goodness, World 3] and something in his own subjective world [Beauty, World 2].”

—Jürgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity (1987).

He also argues that each of these worlds has its own “validity claim” which are:

  • Propositional truth (referring to an objective state of affairs, World 1)
  • Subjective truthfulness (or sincerity, World 2)
  • Normative rightness (cultural justness or appropriateness, World 3)

Given the distinct properties of each of these worlds’ validity claims, it also means that none of them can be reduced to the others. Each of these validity claims must be exposed to its own particular kind of evidence. In a way, this is what David Hume pointed out regarding the naturalistic fallacy, the philosophical notion that later would be named Hume’s Law where he argued that you cannot derive an “ought” from an “is” (i.e. getting truth mixed up with goodness).

Max Weber, the father of modern sociology, emphasized the differentiation between the big three in his definition of modern society. According to Weber, modernity’s primary ambition is to separate objective experiences, ethical evaluations, and personal preferences from each other — that is, the modern separation between science, politics, and religion.

The inability to separate the big three has been a source of philosophical quarrels and misunderstandings throughout Western thought for centuries. And whenever two opposing groups have emerged on one topic or the other, membership has usually relied on whether one favored either the interior (subjective, beauty, and goodness) or the exterior (objective, truth) dimensions of reality. Notable examples are the medieval debate of the problem of universals, or the later secular philosophical debate between rationalists and empiricists. The latter was exactly what Kant tried to resolve with his three abovementioned critiques.

But despite the modern project’s quest to separate the three domains, and Hume’s assertion that you can’t derive an “ought” from an “is” more than 250 years ago, still to this day and age, people tend to mix up the different validity claims and emphasize one domain at the expense of another — with much confusion as a result. The century-old lack of understanding between the natural sciences and the humanities, for example, is mainly derived from the fact that the former works within the exterior, objective domains of Popper’s World 1, and the latter primarily within the interior, subjective and intersubjective domains of Popper’s Worlds 2 and 3.

This is where Wilber enters the picture.

Wilber’s Four Quadrants

Many of my dear readers are already familiar with Wilber’s four quadrants, so I’ll keep it brief. To those of you who still don’t get it after my presentation here, I’ll recommend you look up the four-quadrant model and Wilber’s integral philosophy elsewhere — or simply ask in the metamodern community online. Plenty of metamodernists come from the integral scene.

Now, if you look at the model below, you can see that Wilber has added a fourth dimension to the classic three-dimensional one. In a way, it’s kind of an open goal: If you have intersubjectivity (Popper’s World 3), you ought to have interobjectivity too. Makes sense right?

But apart from that, what exactly does the model describe, and what is it that makes it so elegant that it has all but literally amassed a cult-following?

Well, let me explain: If you look at the margins of the model above, you will notice four different categories: individual, collective, interior, and exterior. These are the four fundamental properties of reality, according to this model, which in four different combinations add up to four separate dimensions. They are as follows:

  • Interior / individual: The transcendental idea of “beauty”, which corresponds to Popper’s World 2 of subjective truthfulness, belongs to the upper left, subjective quadrant in the model above. That is because this is the dimension of the individual’s inner mental experiences, including aesthetic experiences (as the saying goes, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”). Consequently, the upper left quadrant is about the states of affairs that can be stated in “I-language”: the realm of consciousness, phenomenology, psychology in many of its modes, and spirituality.
  • Interior / collective: The transcendental idea of “goodness”, World 3, belongs to the lower left, intersubjective quadrant. This is the dimension of normative rightness, of social constructed reality of symbols and discourses. These properties belong to the interior left half of the four-quadrant model, just like beauty, since they cannot be accounted for objectively. But since questions of ethics and symbolic meaning is not just about single individuals, but the relation between individuals, it belongs to the collective half of the model. The lower left is therefore concerning state of affairs that can be stated in “we-language”: the realm of culture, ethics, hermeneutics, and symbols.

So far, so good.

The transcendental idea of “truth”, World 1, has as mentioned been split into two separate dimensions in the four-quadrant model. That is because in this world of propositional truths, of objective state of affairs and physical objects and events, there is, like in the abovementioned interior dimensions, both an individual and collective dimension with two very different validity claims. The first one (exterior/individual, upper right) is that of classic empirical science, think Newtonian physics, scientific method, particle physics; the second (exterior/collective, lower right) is that of the systems sciences, think meteorology, ecology, evolution theory, chaos theory.

  • Exterior / individual: The upper right quadrant is thus the dimension of objective matters that can be assessed individually: empirical facts that are true in-and-of-themselves; states of affairs that can be stated in “it-language”.
  • Exterior / collective: And finally, in the lower right corner, this is where you find the inter-objective quadrant. This is the dimension of objective matters that can only be understood systemically (viz. the collective lower half of the model); state of affairs that can be stated in what might be termed an “its-language”: what are the systems that create the ebbs and flows of economies, weather, living organisms, ant colonies, and so forth. What makes an ant colony into just that? It’s not a matter of simply adding up the list of 30.000 ants. It has to do with how the relatively simple behaviors of each ant together create something that is not exactly “one thing”, but exists quit objectively nevertheless, as a set of relations: the colony. The system. The whole.

Let me elaborate on this distinction a bit. The upper right quadrant is about individual objects and events that can be observed and understood, for instance, through the scientific method of isolating phenomena and analyzing the results (both of which are about separating things into their smallest individual constituents in order to gain understanding). The lower right quadrant, on the other hand, is about the phenomena that emerge from the interaction between those individual objects and events; about the wholes rather than the parts. Remember hearing the saying that “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts”? This means that the whole, i.e. the phenomenon that emerges from the interaction of the individual objects in the upper right quadrant, cannot be derived from or reduced to the mere sum of its constituting parts. The holistic understanding required to perceive the interobjective phenomena of the lower right quadrant runs counter to the reductionism of the objective upper right and is exactly why we are dealing with two different dimensions with two different sets of validity claims.

The thing is that the two exterior dimensions have their own very different forms of validity claims, just like the two interior ones. Understanding how a single particle behaves is drastically different from how billions of particles behave in a complex phenomenon like a weather system (or just any statistical mechanics). The same applies to the difference between understanding a single human organism, and that of millions of humans interacting in a society—particle physics operates within another language than meteorology; biology within another than economics or sociology.

The systems sciences cover a broad array of theoretical fields such as chaos theory, complexity science, cybernetics, and so on. Compared to classical physics, which can trace its roots back to antiquity, systems science is relatively new. Charles Darwin, with his theory of evolution, can be said to be one of the first chaos theorists, but it was not until the 20th century that systems science emerged as a discipline of its own. It is therefore not strange that modern Western philosophy has not made the distinction between the two exterior dimensions before the second half of the 20th century.

(Wilber’s “Integral” is, in a way, the result of new age spirituality marrying systems science. Kind of. So it is not surprising that it is here we find the break with the tradition of the big three.)

If you are still struggling to wrap your head around the four-quadrant model, you can take a look at the illustration below where I have plotted a few examples of how different academic disciplines, methods, and thinkers can be positioned within the four quadrants:

And by “rationalism” here, I mean the philosophical tradition of emphasizing people’s own rational thinking in finding out what’s true. I.e., it emphasizes the truth of rational thinking, of our conscious processes, not of the facts in and of themselves.

What I want to emphasize above is the position of ethics in the lower left corner of the four quadrants. This shows, what Hume stated 250 years ago, namely that you can’t derive an “ought” from an “is” — or in Wilberian integral language: don’t derive a “we” from an “it(s)”.

Now, my intention here is not to teach integral theory, others have done a far better job elsewhere. All of this is only to prepare you for my inquiry into how the four quadrants’ puzzling fractal nature can help us in ethical matters.

Fractal nature? Yes, this is where the four quadrants start to get really interesting. You see, each of the four quadrants can be split into four additional quadrants. In fact, the four quadrants should not really be understood in absolutist terms, but rather in relative terms. That is, ethics remains an intersubjective field relative to physics or psychology, but within the domain of ethics itself it, in turn, contains elements that, relative to each other, are either subjective, intersubjective, objective, or interobjective. It’s like a fractal: each time you zoom in, the same pattern emerges over and over again — but with new information emerging at each level.

But before I move on to demonstrate how, let me first introduce you to the four schools of ethics.

The Four Schools of Ethics

It is commonly agreed upon that normative ethics can be divided into three major categories: Deontological Ethics, Teleological Ethics (or “consequentialism” which will be the term I use in the following) and Virtue Ethics. I would argue, however, that deontological ethics ought to be divided into two separate schools, namely: rule-based ethics and contractualism.

Before I explain why this is, let me first introduce the four schools of ethics. If you’re already familiar with these, just skip ahead. I’m not saying anything you can’t find in a school book. And obviously, all I’m offering here is pretty basic and only touches the surface. If you want a more in-depth understanding, look stuff up, study, and come back in two years a wiser and nerdier person.

Rule-based Ethics

Rule-based ethics is perhaps best explained by Kant’s categorical imperative. The categorical imperative signifies an absolute, unconditional requirement that asserts its authority in all circumstances, both required and justified as an end in itself. Kant’s first formulation of the categorical imperative is as follows:

“Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.”

And the second formulation goes like this:

“Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.”

The second formulation is interesting because it takes human life as a value — an end in itself and not only a means — into account. This is, of course, the foundation of the idea of human rights.

The categorical imperative is quite similar to the so-called Golden Rule, historically found throughout most literate pre-modern cultures:

  • In its positive form stated as: “One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.”
  • In its negative form stated as: “One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated.”

According to Kant, it is not the consequences that determine whether an action is right or wrong, but the principles behind it. Stealing and lying are not wrong because such acts tend to hurt people, or that people generally do not like being stolen from and lied to, but because these acts violate certain logical (and tautological) principles. For example:

  • It is wrong to steal because the concept of “stealing” in itself implies that there exists such a thing as property rights — otherwise you wouldn’t steal but merely take. This means that by declaring that you or anyone else stole something, you simultaneously imply that an ethical principle was broken, namely the right of property.
  • It is wrong to lie because the act of speaking in itself implies conveying what one believes to be true. If you do not tell the truth, you violate the implied premise that by speaking you are passing on correct information. Consequently, if lying became a universal law (categorical imperative), speech would be rendered meaningless — which I guess we can agree defeats the purpose of speaking.

According to Kant, these are contradictions in a conceptual sense, and thus philosophically erroneous because they undermine the very basis for their own existence.

These are examples of moral absolutism, i.e. the idea that certain actions are intrinsically right or wrong regardless of the consequences, but also the intentions behind them. According to Kant however, no action can possibly be conceived as morally sound without “a good will”, and the consequences of an act cannot be used to judge whether it is based on such a good will since good consequences can arise by accident from an action motivated to cause harm and vice versa. A person thus has such a good will only when they act out of respect towards a moral law, and because they have an inclination of duty to do so. Therefore, the only thing that is truly good in itself is a good will. This also asks one of the greatest questions within rule-based ethics: Is it the intention, i.e. the will to do good, or the conduct according to morally good rules that matters the most?

The second formulation of the categorical imperative has the problem that it potentially collapses into an infinite amount of rules handling exceptions, i.e. “lying is always ok when…”. It does not advocate what exactly any universal law should entail, only that one’s conduct should be in accordance with it in any similar situation, thus allowing the universal law to lie or steal in situations where one would like it to be a universal law. For example, who wouldn’t want it to be a universal law to always steal food and give it to the starving? This line of thought allows an endless regress without violating the good will or the maxim to have a certain conduct to be a universal law. Endless regress is however an unfavorable philosophical position since it puts us back to square one and leaves us just as ignorant as before about how to handle ethical dilemmas.

The greatest problem though is that the potential bad consequences of good principles are ignored and that any work around this problem tends to land in some kind of consequentialism — the opposite of rule-based ethics.

Kant’s categorical imperative is based on the concept of universalizability, which means that an action is morally sound if an action could become a rule which everyone would act upon in similar circumstances. But the problem remains that it does not say why anyone would want their actions to be universalized, or why anyone should bother acting morally, in the first place? This, however, is a job for the next branch of ethics to give an answer to. Let’s have a look at contractualism.

Contractualism

Contractualism, or social contract theory, revolves around the idea that the foundation of our governments and their legal frameworks, and the social rules we conform by, are derived from implicit social contracts or unspoken agreements that we have entered into with each other because we have a self-interest in everyone upholding them and because they serve the common good. This also means that the social contracts are negotiable, just like the authority of governments, and that the rules can change over time.

The most famous social contract theorist is perhaps Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who wrote The Social Contract in 1762, from where the name of this school of thought is derived. Other famous classic social contract theorists are Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. The main questions addressed by these thinkers are the origins of society and the legitimacy of the state, and how people have voluntarily consented, either explicitly or implicitly, to yield some of their freedoms — and submitted to the authority of the state (or other larger social whole) in exchange for protection and privileges.

The point of departure for most social contract theories is a heuristic examination of the human condition absent from any political authority. According to Hobbes, the “state of nature” is a condition that is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”, due to a “war of all against all”, as the “natural condition” entails everyone having unlimited “natural freedoms”, a “right to all things” including the right to do with others as they wish. From this starting point, Hobbes wishes to demonstrate that rational individuals voluntarily would consent to give up their natural freedom to cause others harm (if others did the same) by forming a political authority in order to obtain the benefits of protection from civil strife.

This marked an important departure from medieval natural law theories that used to give precedence to obligations over rights. The question of the relation between natural and legal rights is an important aspect of social contract theory. Legal rights are those bestowed onto a person by a given legal system, while natural rights are those not contingent upon the laws, customs, or beliefs of any particular culture or government, and therefore universal and inalienable. Natural law theory challenged the divine right of kings and became an alternative justification for the establishment of a social contract, positive law, and government—and thus legal rights — in the form of classical republicanism. Hobbes, however, objected to the attempt to derive rights from natural law, arguing that law and rights, though often confused, signify opposites, with law referring to obligations while rights refer to the absence of obligations.

Retaining only the central notion from Hobbes that individuals in a state of nature would willingly come together to form a state, Locke’s conception of the social contract is that individuals in a state of nature would be morally bound by “the law of nature” not to inflict each other harm. However, without any government to protect people against those seeking to injure or enslave them, they would agree to form a state that would act as a “neutral judge” to protect their “lives, liberty, and property”—the three natural rights according to Locke, contrary Hobbes’ notion of the single natural right to do as one wishes. Another major difference between Hobbes and Locke is that while Hobbes advocated near-absolute authority, Locke argued for inviolate freedom under law, with the legitimacy of the government derived from the citizens’ right to self-defense. Rather than a state of nature, in which each individual acts as judge, jury, and executioner, the right of self-defense is transferred to the state to act as an impartial, objective agent.

Rousseau claims that the existence of inalienable rights is unnecessary for the existence of a constitution or a set of laws and rights. His idea of a social contract is that rights and responsibilities are derived from a consensual contract between the government and the people. The aim of the social contract is to determine whether there can be a legitimate political authority since people’s interactions in a society seem to put them in a state far worse than that of a state of nature. Rousseau’s version of social contract theory is based on an unlimited, indivisible, and popular sovereignty as the foundation of political rights. Rousseau differs from Locke and Hobbes by arguing that a citizen cannot pursue their true interests egoistically, but needs to subordinate to the law created by the citizenry acting as a collective. Only with the existence of a direct rule by the people as a whole in lawmaking is liberty possible. But as people often do not know which conduct benefits the greater good, the role of the legislator is to advocate the values and customs promoting this — summed up by Rousseau in this paragraph:

“Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will; and in a body we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole.”

Hence, enforcement of law, including criminal law, is not a restriction of individual liberty since the citizen explicitly agreed to be constrained if, as a private individual, he did not respect his own will as formulated in the general will. Because laws represent the restraints of civil freedom, they represent the leap made from humans in a state of nature into “civil society” according to Rousseau. (Note: “civil society” in this classical language of philosophers did not mean football clubs and local community gatherings, but more something like “a peaceful, functional, and civilized society”).

Although the Sovereign’s edicts may be arbitrary and tyrannical, Hobbes saw absolute powers vested in government as the only alternative to the anarchy of a state of nature. Alternatively, Locke and Rousseau argued that we gain civil rights in return for accepting the obligation to respect and defend the rights of others; giving up some freedoms in return for others. The central premise of social contract theory is that law and political order are not natural but human creations. The social contract and the political order it creates are simply the means towards an end — the benefit of the individuals involved — and legitimate only to the extent the government fulfills its part of the agreement. According to Hobbes, citizens are not obligated to submit to the government when it is too weak to act effectively to suppress factionalism and civil unrest. Locke argues that citizens can withdraw their obligation to obey or change the leadership through elections or other means, including, when necessary, violence, when the government fails to secure their natural rights. Rousseau, on the other hand, was more concerned with forming new governments than with overthrowing old ones.

The concept of inalienable rights was criticized by Jeremy Bentham (the founder of modern utilitarianism) and Edmund Burke (the “father” of conservatism) as groundless, claiming that rights arise from the actions of government, or evolve from tradition, and neither can provide anything inalienable. Another criticism of natural rights theory is that one cannot draw norms from facts. As mentioned, this is the is-ought problem, or the naturalistic fallacy, also known as Hume’s law.

More recent contributors to social contract theory who deserve to be mentioned are John Rawls and Robert Nozick.

John Rawls’ contribution to contractualism is an approach whereby rational people in a hypothetical “original position”, setting aside their individual preferences and capacities under a “veil of ignorance”, would agree to certain general principles of justice and legal organization. By asking the individual to propose which rules should govern society in a situation where no one knew where or in which social class to be born, Rawls believed we could come closer to an answer to what a just world should look like.

In opposition to Rawls, Robert Nozick proposed the idea of a minimal state, “limited to the narrow functions of protection against force, theft, fraud, enforcement of contracts, and so on”, arguing that when a state takes on more responsibilities than these, rights will be violated. To support the idea of the minimal state, Nozick presents an argument that illustrates how the minimalist state arises naturally from anarchy and how any expansion of state power past this minimalist threshold is unjustified since it violates the Lockean rights of liberty and property and since any redistribution of wealth must be based on consent in order to be justified.

Where Rawls to some extent bases his theory of justice on Kant’s first formulation of the categorical imperative’s proposition that one should ask what one would want to become a universal law, Nozick’s entitlement theory, leans towards the second formulation which sees humans as ends in themselves and never merely as means to some other end — even the end of the common good.

To sum up, contractualism is about the implicit as well as explicit rules under which we collectively, more or less voluntarily, have agreed to submit in order to protect and promote our own and others’ interests, whatever these may be in a given society. The greatest ontological problem is the issue of natural versus legal rights. From where exactly are rights to be derived, and how are they justified? And what about the individuals who are not, or do not have the power (minorities, the unborn, animals), to negotiate the social contract?

Virtue-based Ethics

Virtue-based ethics can be traced back to Greek antiquity and is one of the oldest moral philosophies. Virtue-based ethics is not concerned with labeling actions good or bad, but rather with determining the moral character of agents. For example, rather than asking whether lying is right or wrong, it is the concern of whether a person is honest or dishonest that is important here. A knife is neither good nor bad, but either sharp or dull. Similarly, a horse can be said to be strong or fast, simply calling it “good” would be meaningless to an advocate of virtue-based ethics.

The go-to name for virtue ethics these days has become Alasdair MacIntyre. Since the 1980s, he has been bridging his way back to Aristotle’s thinking, claiming that a relevant version of virtues can be reconstructed in our day and age by looking at what the rules of each craft, art, or game require of their respective participants for these to fulfill the purpose inherent to that game. This is, argues MacIntyre, more in line with the insights of 20th-century sociology, which emphasizes that people are always embedded in meaningful contexts. Take away that context, and you’ll have a hard time knowing what would be the “good” thing to do. Define the context (“we’re playing chess”) and at least you’ll be able to see what some of the relevant virtues are. In chess, for instance, honesty means not cheating or intentionally distracting your opponent, and so forth. If you win the world chess championship with the help of the edge your cleavage gives you, it’s not an expression of the game of chess in its ideal form. And so, virtues are learned together with real, human skills in real, living settings. (But, as you will see in the sections below, my own expositions emphasizes that the virtue must always be observed in the behavior of specific person, regardless of how it affects the game being played in this particular instance — don’t be fooled by surface appearances; on a deeper level my view aligns with MacIntyre’s, at least as far as I can see.)

Virtue ethics has been rather neglected since antiquity but has enjoyed somewhat of a comeback since the second half of the 20th century, especially among feminists. The ethics of care is a normative ethical theory developed by feminist scholars — notably Carol Gilligan, also a developmental psychologist with stage theories of personal development similar to my own. It holds that moral action centers on interpersonal relationships and care or benevolence as a virtue. This school of thought emphasizes the dilemma that certain behaviors are regarded as virtuous regardless of whether it benefits the greater good, or obeys certain universal principles. For example, the virtue of parenthood is judged on the basis of how well one succeeds in caring for one’s children — not how well the overall consequences of one’s conduct serve the greater good of children in general, or if any action therein is in accordance with some universal principle. You may be an altruistic person if you seek to spend most of your time helping poor orphaned children, and you may be an honest person if you never lie or steal, but you are nevertheless a bad parent if you neglect your own children because you spend too much of your time helping out at the orphanage or let your own children starve because you do not wish to steal food for them. You may be altruistic and law-abiding, but you are not a virtuous parent. The same can be said about the virtue of being a loyal friend. The whole concept of friendship is about caring more for a specific person than for a stranger. If you show everyone else the same amount of care as your friends you might be considered altruistic, but you are not loyal.

Again, virtue ethics is not concerned about universal principles or overall consequences. The terms “good” or “bad” have by some virtue-based moral philosophers even been proposed to be abandoned altogether. Instead, the moral emphasis should be on which terms are used to describe the action itself, and thus the moral character of the agent conducting them in that setting.

Consequentialism

Consequentialism is a class of ethics that includes a large number of sub-categories such as utilitarianism, rule consequentialism, state consequentialism, ethical egoism, ethical altruism, two-level consequentialism, and negative consequentialism, that all have in common that it is the consequences of an action or rule that are the ultimate basis for any normative judgment. Each of these mentioned forms of consequentialism emphasizes the individual versus the collective to varying degrees, and many of them combine elements from the other three main schools of ethics. In the last regard, utilitarianism is consequentialism in its purest form. This class of consequentialism can be summed up by the mantra “the greatest good for the greatest number”. The main idea here is that the proper course of action is the one maximizing overall happiness and reducing overall suffering.

But it should be mentioned that recent developments in consequentialist ethics have departed from this mantra and simply focus on reducing the suffering prevalent in the universe. Here, an underlying influence is Buddhist philosophy and spiritual insight. My own comrade, Magnus Vinding, counts among these thinkers. He in turn often refers to Brian Tomasik, a dude who really wants to reduce suffering in the universe, judging by his prolific and diligently made output about everything from the suffering of shrimps to the question of whether even atoms might suffer. He wants the whole hullabaloo to cease altogether.

But for simplicity’s sake, let’s stay with the most well-known and established forms of this ethics. Utilitarianism is often seen as related to hedonism, the idea that pleasure is the only intrinsic good and that one should strive towards maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain. Ethical hedonism is the idea that all people have the right to do everything in their power to achieve the greatest amount of pleasure possible for themselves and that every person’s pleasure should far surpass their amount of pain. Utilitarianism does differ from this line of thought by adding the crucial aspect that what matters is aggregate happiness; the happiness of everyone and not just the happiness of any particular person. According to Jeremy Bentham, the father of modern utilitarianism, the fundamental axiom is: “the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong” He even introduced a method of calculating the value of pleasures and pains, which became known as the hedonic calculus. John Stuart Mill, a student of Bentham’s, on the other hand, rejected this purely quantitative measurement of utility and argued that certain kinds of pleasures are more highly valued than the pursuit of other pleasures. According to Mill, the pleasures of the intellect are intrinsically better than those of mere sensation.

Preference utilitarianism as advocated by John Harsanyi rejects hedonistic utilitarianism as it is far from obvious that everything we do is motivated by a desire to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. He also rejects Mill’s idea of ideal utilitarianism, since it is just as evident that the goal of “mental states of intrinsic worth” cannot be seen as a primary preference by most people. He says that “in deciding what is good and what is bad for a given individual, the ultimate criterion can only be his own wants and his own preferences.” So: help the greatest amount of beings get what they wish for as much as possible.

Rule utilitarianism is the attempt to bypass the common critique of utilitarianism: that what is good for a greater number can be bad for some individuals, and that the consequences of a certain action often cannot be predicted. As such, this sub-category of consequentialism emphasizes that we should act according to certain rules we know usually lead to the greatest good. Rule utilitarians argue that following rules that tend to lead to the greatest good will have better consequences overall than allowing exceptions to be made in individual instances, even if better consequences can be demonstrated in some instances. This does cause the problem, however, that it in practice becomes hard to differ from deontological (or rule-based) ethics and that it shares the same problem of endless regress as the categorical imperative: namely that collapse eventually occurs, because for any given rule, in the case where breaking the rule produces more utility, the rule can be sophisticated by the addition of a sub-rule that handles cases like the exception. This process holds for all cases of exceptions, and so the rules will have as many sub-rules as there are exceptional cases, which, in the end, makes one seek out whatever outcome produces the maximum utility. In the end, we are left with the same ethical dilemma that we started out with and rule utilitarianism does not provide any answers a basic utilitarian approach would not have given us after all.

So, we have four major schools of normative ethics: rule-based ethics, contractualism, virtue-based ethics, and consequentialism. Each, I would claim, come with its own validity claim:

  • The validity claim of rule-based ethics is that an action has to be in accordance with universal principles that can be justified a priori and deduced from self-evident premises derived from the action itself in order to be considered ethically valid — ultimately regardless of context.
  • Contractualism’s validity claim is that the rules regulating our conduct have to be based on a priori principles that must be mutually agreed upon by reference to the relationship between actors in order to be considered ethically valid.
  • The validity claim of virtue-based ethics is that an action cannot merely be judged as good or bad in itself, but what matters is the moral character of the agent which can only be judged a posteriori, and then only by reference to a description of the action or property itself viewed through the lens of its particular social context.
  • Consequentialism’s validity claim is that actions can only be considered ethically valid if the outcome of these a posteriori happen to have preferable consequences overall, and then only by reference to some collective end based on the relationship between all actors.

Identifying these four validity claims takes us to the next step in this inquiry, namely how to apply the integral model to these different perspectives on ethics.

How The Fours Schools of Ethics Fit into Wilber’s Four Quadrants

Now we have finally reached the exciting part where I get to demonstrate the fractal nature of the four quadrants. When we zoom in on the lower left quadrant (the dimension of intersubjectivity, of which the domain of ethics is part) we can divide the quadrant into four sub-quadrants — one for each of the four schools of ethics.

In the model below you can see where I have positioned each of the four; and in the following I will explain why.

As you can see in the model above, rule-based ethics has been placed in the upper left quadrant of the intersubjective ethics sub-quadrant. The upper left quadrant is the dimension of Popper’s subjective World 2, the domain of Wilber’s “I-language”. It is interior and individual — relatively speaking. That is, relative to the three other schools of ethics.

Before we go ahead, please note that what follows is extremely counterintuitive to almost all readers. Whereas several authors, including Wilber himself, have discussed the fractality of his model, none have taken the full consequences of it: each time you zoom within the model, the nature of the four quadrants change. Fractality is not sameness, but self-similarity. So, we are studying questions like: Given that philosophy is a unified field that can be approached from four quadrants, and given that ethics is the lower left quadrant of philosophy, what then is the upper right quadrant of the lower right quadrants of philosophy? What is the right that is within the left, and the up that is within the down? It’s a kind of sudoku, just with philosophical concepts.

Before you know it, some very strange, but ultimately highly logical patterns appear. It is very important to keep this in mind before you start thinking “bUt tHiS sChoOl of eThIcs iS …” Instead, you need to think “what is this school of ethics in relation to this other school.” Zooming is not straightforward: every time you zoom, the quadrants twist and turn — just like a fractal, if you zoom in on any part of it.

Okay, let’s go:

Rule-Based Ethics

  • Why interior? Rule-based ethics belongs to the interior half of the four-quadrant model since it is concerned with ethical reasoning proceeding from theoretical deduction a priori, rather than observation or experience a posteriori. (A priori knowledge is knowledge that is acquired independently of any sensory experience, as opposed to a posteriori knowledge which is derived from experience.) The universally valid principles that rule-based ethics is looking for can thus only be found by gazing inwards and by determining through deductive logic what constitutes sound moral reasoning.
  • Why individual? Rule-based ethics belongs to the individual upper half since it focuses on the ethical validity of singular actions, categories of actions or properties in themselves. Unlike contractualism where it is the relationship between individuals that determines whether an action is ethically valid, rule-based ethics does not need to take the social context into consideration. It merely seeks to determine whether this or that action is ethically valid in itself. This is what gives rule-based ethics the “self-referential” tag.
  • Tags: “a priori” and “self-referential”.

Contractualism

Contractualism has been placed in the lower left quadrant; the dimension of Popper’s intersubjective World 3, or Wilber’s domain of “we-language”. Contractualism is thus interior and collective.

  • Why interior? Contractualism belongs to the interior left half since knowledge about the social contract, just like its deontological cousin rule-based ethics, can only be attained through deduction a priori. The social contract is not a piece of legislation, like a country’s constitution, that we can learn about through our experience of simply reading it. Only through heuristic thought experiments, like that of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau, or by simply trying to unravel the social logics of a community by gazing inwards towards the hidden discourses and social imaginaries of a culture, can we deduce why we have the rules we have and whether they are sufficiently justified and upheld.
  • Why collective? The reason why contractualism belongs to the collective lower half is because of the inherent social aspect to this school of thought. This is where it differs from its deontological cousin, rule-based ethics, and the reason why I believe it is important to sharply distinguish between these two forms of deontological ethics. Contractualism is not really interested, unlike rule-based ethics, in finding out what is ethically valid in absolutist terms. It is the relation between individuals (or individuals and groups of individuals) that determine the ethical validity of actions, and furthermore the ethical validity of institutions (which per definition are relational or collective state of affairs). This is what gives contractualism the “relational” tag.
  • Tags: “a priori” and “relational”.

Virtue-Based Ethics

Virtue-based ethics has been placed in the upper right quadrant, Popper’s objective World 1, Wilber’s “it-language”. Virtue-based ethics is thus exterior and individual.

  • Why exterior? Virtue-based ethics belongs to the exterior half of the model because its ethical claims are derived from actions and properties in the objective world that we can only learn about a posteriori. Obviously, we can only assert that a knife is sharp or that a horse is fast after having observed, in the physical world, whether that is the case or not. The same applies to whether someone should be considered a good and caring parent: you have to glean the virtue (or lack of it) from their behavior. Whereas rule-based ethics is concerned with whether honesty is a virtue or not, which must be established a priori, virtue-based ethics is more concerned with whether a person is honest or not — which obviously, only can be established a posteriori.
  • Why individual? What virtue-based and rule-based ethics have in common, however, is that they are both concerned with singular actions, properties or categories. Reasoning within virtue-based ethics does not, much like rule-based ethics, need to take the social context in which an action takes place into consideration. Virtue-based ethics thus earns the “self-referential” tag because the ethical qualities of an action or property is simply derived from the action or property itself and not from its relation to any other entities. (Although MacIntyre’s form of virtue ethics derive virtues from social contexts to justify their existence, this is actually a way of using the relational logic of contractualism to create a more solid foundation for virtue-based ethics. More about this later.)
  • Tags: “a posteriori” and “self-referential”.

Consequentalism

The last of the four major schools of ethics, consequentialism, has been placed in the lower right quadrant. Just like virtue-based ethics it also belongs to the objective dimension of Popper’s World 1, but in the four-quadrant model it belongs to the separate dimension of interobjectivity, Wilber’s domain of “its-language”—the dimension missed by the classic “big three” model.

  • Why exterior? Consequentialism belongs to the exterior right half of the model since it can only be determined whether an action is good or bad after having observed the consequences of that action. Thus, induction, rather than deduction, is the method employed by this school of thought. That means consequentialism, just like virtue ethics, gets the a posteriori tag.
  • Why collective?: Consequentialism belongs to the collective lower half of the model because of its inherent relational and collective nature. Just like social contract ethics, the ethical validity of actions within consequentialism is determined systemically. That means that ethical reasoning is not derived from observing and evaluating the action itself, but from its interactions and interconnectedness with a greater whole. Few consequentialists would argue that it is just about maximizing the good consequences and minimizing the bad consequences for a single individual. Utilitarianism, for instance, is fundamentally about the greater good: the greatest good for the greatest number. Since such an outcome can only be determined by considering the relation between multiple actors, this school of thought earns the “relational” tag.
  • Tags: “a posteriori” and “relational”.

How the four schools of ethics complement and collapse into each other

It should be obvious by now that “taking sides” regarding which school of ethics to follow is a foolish endeavor. The same can be said of any impulse to entirely discard one or more of the schools. Obviously, all four schools have important perspectives to offer. But the question still remains how exactly to use them and how to manage and reconcile their differences. Just knowing about the four schools and how they fit into the fours quadrants does not in itself suffice to resolve ethical paradoxes.

In the following I will attempt to show not just how the four schools complement each other, but also how they depend on each other and ultimately collapse into each other.

Rule-based ethics and consequentialism can, in a way, be said to be the “two major” categories of normative ethics. Typically when we are having ethical disagreements or tricky ethical dilemmas, it is because one side subscribes to the Kantian branch of deontological ethics and the other to some version of pure utilitarianism. It is also the apparent incompatibility between the two in our contemporary thinking that is the reason we are still discussing silly hypothetical thought experiments like the trolley problem and so on.

If we look at the four tags we have identified using the four-quadrant model we can see why: rule-based ethics is a priori and self-referential, consequentialism is a posteriori and relational — the exact opposite. (Contractualism and virtue-based ethics are of course also direct opposites in this regard, but they are in way more back-up solutions to the “two majors”. More about this soon.)

In the following I will show how the “two major” schools, rule-based ethics and consequentialism, ultimately dissolve into each others logic, and I will show how the “two minor ones”, virtue-based ethics and contractualism, do not make sense without each of the two major ones.

A) Rule-based ethics is ultimately teleological

It is impossible to entirely divorce rule-based ethics from consequentialism. When you follow Kant’s advice and ask if you would want a certain type of action to become the basis for a universal law, the answer will ultimately rely on a posteriori conditions — and these stem from one’s experiences with the objective world.

Just think about. Lying is tautologically erroneous, yes, because it contradicts the very foundation the act itself rests upon, which would, if becoming a universal law, render speech meaningless. So far so good. But why would we want to avoid that? Who says making speech meaningless is bad in the first place? To fully answer that we would eventually have to resort to consequentialist argumentation and talk about all the bad things that would happen if speech ceased to be a reliable thing in our lives. (Oh, and by the way, isn’t “speech being rendered meaningless” also the description of a consequence, rather than any abstract principle, to begin with?) You get the picture: In order to formulate a pure principle or ideal, you must always depend on some implicit idea of the consequences of not following that principle.

The thing is, at the exact point where rule-based ethics reach philosophical bedrock (that is, the point where our perpetual questioning “why, why, why?” takes us no further), we land in the opposite camp, in the very place that on a surface level appears to contradict the way we have been reasoning up until then.

We may well ask rule-based ethics questions such as: Why ought universal laws to be considered a good thing? Why should actions not be carried out if they contradict themselves? Why should one treat other people the way oneself wants to be treated? When attempting to go beyond the philosophical bedrock, the answer is ultimately found in the consequences of such conduct and the need of sound principles to guide us in relation to that. And when asking what the point of a “good will” is truly about, the answer must ultimately be that it is to have good consequences for other people; otherwise, what would the intrinsic value of a so-called “good will” consist of? The “good will” must in the last instance be concerned with wanting to do good to others and wanting others to fair well. These are consequences. Arguing against that, without pulling god into the equation, renders the notion of a “good will” quite meaningless, or at least makes it appear rather empty. After all, what is the worth of some good will acting in accordance with some higher principles, if it is not in relation to something else in the objective world?

Here the critics of rule-based ethics have a point. To firmly ground rule-based ethics in the real world, it will need assistance from consequentialism with its a posteriori quality, pulling rule-based ethics out of its a priori void, and with its relational aspect, attaching these principles to a more solid social context.

Curiously, the same kind of philosophical structure appears when we attempt to push consequentialism beyond its philosophical bedrock. Let’s have a look at that.

B) Consequentialism is ultimately deontological

Consequentialism cannot be divorced from rule-based ethics either. In the end, consequentialism is ultimately based on deontological principles. In the case of utilitarianism, for instance: the principle of utility — which is to be deduced a priori, not induced a posteriori. Simply put: “So maximize happiness and minimize suffering for as many as possible. Sure. But making that argument is not in and of itself a maximization of happiness and minimization of suffering, is it? You just made it up, out of thin air.”

Once more, the same structure of thought appears from the dissolution of rule-based ethics, which after a series of “why, why, whys” takes us towards the utmost foundation of consequentialism. When asked why one would like utility to be the measurement of ethical conduct, for instance, you cannot use objective arguments; you cannot point at empirical results themselves and show how good all the consequences are. You need a principle that is subjectively valid in order to anchor these results in something meaningful; you need, to resort to deontological ethics in order to get the whole thing to make sense.

Why some consequences are to be considered good can only be answered in relation to certain principles defining what is good to begin with. Why should we act in accordance to maximum societal utility? Because of the principle of universalism, and the principle of treating others the way oneself wants to be treated. What is ultimately good is found within oneself, not out there among the objects of the world.

The reason that we are still wrestling with the same ethical dilemmas century after century is that we have been accustomed to assuming that the world of ethics is flat; that a linear logic permeates the world of normative ethics, so when you reach the end of a world corner (the place where you hit philosophical bedrock), you simply fall of the edge. But the world of ethics is not flat. It is round, spherical. Or, rather, toroidal (donut-ical). The moment you hit the edge of one world corner, you end up at the beginning of another. We all need to stop being ethical flatearthers. We must all become ethical donuts.

C) Virtue-based ethics and contractualism also depend on each other

Remember that virtue-based ethics received the self-referential tag? (The reason why it was positioned in the upper individual half of the four-quadrant model) That is because this school of thought is focused on determining the ethical value of actions in themselves. But whether a type of action should be seen as a virtue or a vice more often than not depends on the social context.

If we take a Viking society, for example, loyalty to one’s own tribe and raising one’s children to become fierce warriors would be considered virtues in those days; in a modern humanistic, democratic society, on the other hand, such an upbringing would be considered child molestation and racist—both vices, if you’re unsure. In the U.S. it is not uncommon for a lot of people to consider tax a form of theft; in Sweden, on the other hand, people often say that they are happy to pay their taxes. And in some Middle Eastern countries, most people think the greatest vice is to insult and criticize the one and only true religion, whereas in other more secular countries, being critical of religious dogma and other authorities is considered one of the greatest virtues.

Any social contract needs to take into account what people consider virtues. If the majority of the population consider taxes theft, well then there’s certainly very little basis for the creation of a welfare state. And if most people are religious fundamentalists, creating a secular free-speech society is very unlikely to work.

So, on one hand the social contract depends on what people actually consider virtues and vices to begin with, and on the other hand, the virtues themselves depend on whatever social contract is in place. The two are intimately connected and cannot really be conceptually separated.

But why would I call virtues and contracts the “minor schools of ethics”, you may ask?

Well, it is difficult to determine whether something is a virtue or a vice without at least considering some aspects of rule-based ethics and consequentialism. Is sharpness a virtue when it comes to knives? According to which principles? Or what observations? You get it. Without rule-based ethics and consequentialism, virtue-based ethics would simply appear rather empty.

The same can be said about contractualism. This school of thought can answer why one is to act morally in the first place, and which obligations are reasonable to expect from others. But released from any aspects of consequentialism or rule-based ethics, this line of thought would, just like virtue-based ethics, appear rather empty and ultimately quite meaningless. It is, after all, concerned with justifying both the rules and potentially good or bad consequences of our actions.

As with virtue-based ethics, contractualism needs both principles and consequences to make sense. A social contract needs to be based on principles in order to function, and if the purpose of a social contract was not to provide good consequences to its subjects, what would be the point?

What’s it all good for?

So, what are we going to do with these insights? Well, I believe that beyond the benefit of better seeing how the different theories on normative ethics complement each other and fit within an integral framework, this model can also be used as a practical guide when making ethical decisions.

For example, the upper individual schools of ethics in the four-quadrant model, rule- and virtue-based ethics, are suitable for, yes, individual decision making, whereas the lower collective two, contractualism and consequentialism are suitable for, surprise, surprise, collective, that is, political decision making. Let me give you a few examples.

On an individual level it is often very difficult to know the full consequences of one action or the other when you are prompted to make an ethical choice. It can therefore be preferable to simply base your actions on sound principles you already know are ethically valid. We may be in a situation where we are tempted to tell a benevolent lie, a lie intended to benefit the person deceived and other people included. We cannot be sure, however, that our intentions will have the desired consequences. After all, the truth has a tendency to come back and “bite you in the ass”, as the saying goes. As such, as an individual you might better just follow the well-proven principle of telling the truth — in the long run, it will most likely pay off for everyone included. Besides, calculating the consequences for all beings in all times of each of our actions is… a costly and time consuming endeavor. We’re better off with rules of thumb, with virtues: “I am the kind of person that…” (such identity statements have, by the way, also been shown to have the highest effect on actual behaviors — calculations next to nil).

Things are a bit different on the collective level however. (And no, this is not where I am going to defend the common practice of lying among politicians, although it sometimes can make sense from a utilitarian calculus.) On a societal level, a more utilitarian approach to decision-making is often more productive since we have more statistical and scientific knowledge at our disposal. If you look at the actual results in politics, you will notice that the utilitarians are more likely to have their way—even despite losing debates to those who base their argumentation on rule-based ethics. For example, it is easy to win the moral high ground by arguing that it is principally wrong to tax people (the Right), or that it is principally wrong to close the borders for people in need (the Left), but in the end, the solutions that materialize in the real world are more often than not based on utilitarian considerations simply because they tend to be more practical — that is, have the best overall consequences.

So where do the two “minors” fit into this? Well, virtue-based ethics and contractualism can in a way be used as “back-up” doctrines when you need to double check if what you are doing is sound and reasonable.

You may have felt a slight resistance when I said that utilitarian solutions with the best overall consequences tend to prevail in politics. Obviously, we could make decisions about redistributing the wealth of rich countries to poor countries and thus have even better overall consequences. But this is where we need to consider the social contract.

When making political decisions it is very important to ensure that, whatever you are doing, it is in accordance with the social contracts in place. If your decisions are guided by some narrow-minded form of utilitarianism that people find appalling, it can easily backfire. You may come up with this brilliant utilitarian calculus of redistributing most of your citizens’ wealth to good causes, but if that goes against the majority’s sense of justice they are very unlikely to play along — and the well-intended consequences will never materialize anyway.

Similarly on an individual level: Figuring out whether your actions should be considered virtues or vices, or both, is a good way to ensure that you are not guided by a too rigid form of Kantianism. You may choose to follow the divine principle of truthfulness and thereby feel that the only right thing to do is to reveal the location of the Jews when the Nazis come knocking on your door. You might be honest, yes, but you are also a snitch.

When it comes to combining consequentialism and virtue-ethics, this is where things get interesting for political metamodernism. Skilled politicians and statesmen have all tended to pay attention to both utilitarianism and social contract theory. Virtue-ethics, on the other hand, is a school of thought that has been more or less hibernating since antiquity and only quite recently has become relevant again. As such, we have been less trained in using this kind of thought productively. But it is not a coincidence that virtue ethics is back. The kind of consequentialism metamodern politicians and activists ought to pursue should not only make sure their utilitarian calculus do not violate the limits of the social contract. Metamodernists should expand upon these narrow notions of statecraft and develop the idea of how we create the best possible conditions for virtues to emerge. Just think about. How could we create a society where virtues such as truthfulness, generosity and kindness would spontaneously emerge in abundance? Such consequences go beyond the simple utilitarian calculus regarding how many resources we could possible redistribute to where it is needed the most without people protesting too much. The combination of consequentialism and virtue-based ethics would take us from a society where people accept their submission in return for mutual interest, to a society where our inner spontaneous inclination for altruism is maximized and unleashed.

Here is an overview of how to combining the various schools of ethics:

  • Rule-based ethics + virtue-based ethics: Good for personal decision-making.
  • Consequentialism + contractualism: Good for political decision-making.
  • Rule-based ethics + contractualism: Best overall principles.
  • Consequentialism + virtue-based ethics: Best overall consequences. (Of interest for metamodern politics)

Adding one of the minors can help us avoid the most notable shortcomings of a too rigid application of Kantianism and a too instrumental application of utilitarianism. And in the case of consequentialism and virtue-based ethics, we get an additional ethical doctrine within politics — one I think is crucial for the creation of a listening society. More about this in my upcoming book.

Even More Fractal Ethics…

I bet some readers are still thinking about the fractal nature of the four-quadrant model that I showed you before and may be asking, what happens if we zoom in one additional level? Congratulations, you’re a true nerd and may save the world one day.

Could I help myself trying to gaze into the fractal? Of course I couldn’t. Am I going to write another 10.000 words about it in this article to make sense of what I saw. No I’m not. That will be the topic of a future book on metamodern ethics that I will write one day, hopefully before I die.

If you are familiar with some of the key concepts from each of the four schools of ethics, however, I can briefly show all strivers for ethical mastery out there what I found and how it fits into the four quadrant model:

(And yes, this is also deeply counterintuitive, but there are arguments to back these suggestions up, just not ones we’ll get into today.)

As I said, this is going to be the basis of a future book of mine. But, since we cannot know if I am going to drop dead before that, I just wanted to throw the main ideas out there — maybe some of you will beat me to it and put together an even better metamodern four-quadrant understanding of ethics before I ever finish my book. And we may all be better off for it.

Thank you for tuning in. May you all bestow goodness upon the world and each other, in all four quadrants.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian, and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on Facebook and Twitter, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here. See www.metamoderna.org for more content.

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Hanzi Freinacht

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