In the previous post, we asked the question, “How do you know if your definitions of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are correct?”
If you didn’t read that post, I highly recommend that you go back and read it now. We are going to build off it, so getting the most out of this post depends on you reading the previous one.
For those that read it, here’s a quick re-cap:
- The ancient world operated out of a very different, and very flawed moral code.
- Their civilizations were often built on slave labor, prejudice, and exploitation.
- However, their morals were justified by their understanding of the world.
- Furthermore, if we went back in time to teach them our moral code, they would have balked at it, claiming it was too “abstract, impractical, and idealistic” to work in the real world.
- How do we know we aren’t any different? Are we blind to our moral failings as well?
- How do we know we haven’t written laws and built portions of our society on a faulty moral code?
- Where do our definitions of “right” and “wrong” come from?
- And ultimately, how do we know that our definitions of “right” and “wrong” are correct (or complete)?
People often ask, “What is the right thing to do in this situation.” But very few ask, “How do I know this is the right thing do in this situation?”
Your definitions of “right” and “wrong” dictate your every action. They dictate everything from what kinds of clothes you where, to your career, to who you marry (or don’t marry).
Yet, for something that affects so much of our lives, very few people stop to ask if their understanding of “right” and “wrong” is accurate.
It would be like using a map to navigate through a dangerous territory, but never asking where the map came from, or who made it, and if it can be trusted.
We treat our morality like it’s a given. As if it where a compass that could never lie. But where did that compass come from? Who built it? By what standards? And where is it pointing?
However, before we can explore this question, we need to address the first part of the question: “How do I know my definitions…”
Most people never think to ask this question, but it is vital.
Were you born with your moral code?
Did your parents teach it to you? Or your school? Or church? A sacred text?
Where did they get it? And how do you know they are right?
Or do we simply “know” right from wrong based on how we feel? Is it something inherent to our “intuition”? Do we make decisions because something feels right (or wrong)?
Where Did You Get Your Definitions Of “Right” And “Wrong”?
Everything in nature has a survival mechanism. There is something inside every living thing that equips it to survive.
Tigers are born knowing how to survive. They have sharp teeth, powerful claws, and keen hunting skills.
Birds instinctually know how to fly (even if they have to be pushed out of a nest).
But, humans are unique in that we are not born with innate, instinctual survival skills and assets.
We don’t have keen hunting skills. We aren’t born with great strength and sharp claws. We aren’t magically endowed with agricultural knowledge.
We are born completely vulnerable to the world, wholly unequipped to survive, except for one thing: Our minds.
We are born completely vulnerable to the world, wholly unequipped to survive, except for one thing: Our minds.
Our minds equip us to not only survive, but thrive. How? By learning, and then applying what we learn to better our lives.
We observe seeds falling to the ground, and then notice plants growing in the same spot.
We learn how to craft tools and weapons that allow us to hunt.
And we learn how animals behave to effectively track them.
Our minds take the information our senses give us, and synthesizes it into useable knowledge.
In the philosophical world, this is called reason.
Reason, or the act of synthesizing data from your senses into useable knowledge, is the foundation of all human survival and advancement.
But it goes further than that. Reason is our only means of gaining knowledge of anything.
Without our senses, would we be able to do anything? No. We would be lost in a dark, silent, empty void. We would have no way of knowing if we were moving our limbs, making noises, or anything.
Conversely, if we had our senses, but lacked the ability to synthesize that information, we wouldn’t be able to survive as well.
We would be like those unfortunate souls left in a vegetative state. Their senses are sending information to the brain, but their minds aren’t using that data for any purpose, much less for their betterment.
If this is true, then our definitions of “right” and “wrong” come from the same place: reason.
The Headwaters Of Truth, Knowledge, and Morality
We’ve established that reason is our only means of knowing anything. Which means we must learn our definitions of “right” and “wrong.”
We observe the world, we see certain actions, and deem them “good” or “bad.”
However, some will argue that “right” and “wrong” can be felt. And that we are born with it, or it is innate to our soul.
For example, beating children “feels” wrong. Helping the poor “feels” right.
But a feeling is not knowledge. Your feelings can’t give you any new information other than what you already know. Your feelings can only inform you of what you already believe.
Let me say that again: Feelings can only reveal what you already believe. They do not bring you any new information about the outside world.
Feelings only reveal what you already believe. They cannot teach you how to survive or better your life.
Feelings cannot give you the knowledge necessary to survive and thrive. They can drive you to discover that knowledge (hunger is a powerful feeling), but merely wanting food does not give you the ability to gain food.
If we are cold and wet, we cannot simply wish for shelter. We must learn how to build it, and then we must build it.
If we are hungry, we cannot simply wish for food. We must learn how to grow it, and then we must grow it.
If we are lonely, we cannot simply wish for companionship. We must learn how to obtain it, and then we must obtain it.
How does this affect our definitions of “right” and “wrong”?
We cannot use our feelings to define morality. Our feelings merely tell us what we already believe about morality.
If something “feels” wrong, it doesn’t mean your emotions know something you don’t. It doesn’t mean your emotions are imparting new knowledge to you.
Therefore, “it just feels right” cannot be a valid argument.
Getting To The Core of Morality
Our advancement in life depends on our observations of reality, and learning how to use those observations to our advantage.
This tells us two important facts about life: First, everything that betters human life is a product of someone’s mind.
Secondly, it teaches us that everything that betters human life requires action.
Someone must observe reality, learn how it works, and utilize that knowledge to grow food, produce water, build cars, manufacture airplanes, and invent the Internet. Learning does not produce these things by itself. You must also do things.
Francis Bacon once said, “Nature, to be commanded, must first be obeyed.”
A famous philosopher expounded on this statement by saying, “Reality, to be successfully lived in, must be acknowledged.”
This means we must base our observations of the world on what the world actually is, not what we want it to be.
Many of the problems in the world are caused by a simple logical error. People have placed an “I want” before an “it is.”
Meaning, they want to command nature without understanding it. And they want to live in reality without acknowledging it. Both of which will produce bad fruit.
What does any of this have to do with anything?
Many of us have developed moral codes based on what we want to be true, and not what is true.
Many of us have developed moral codes based on what we want to be true, and not what is true.
Let’s take the concept of healthcare as a basic human right as an example.
Many people feel healthcare should be a basic human right. This is a noble goal. It feels wrong that money should determine if someone gets treatment or not.
However, by classifying healthcare as a basic human right, we are saying that people are born with a right to healthcare, and that the government must protect this right (i.e., guarantee access to healthcare).
But, healthcare, like all human values, requires thought and action to produce.
We want free healthcare because we don’t like the idea of other people suffering. But healthcare isn’t free. It may seem free to you, but it can’t be free. Its impossible for it to be free.
Someone, somewhere thought up the procedure or medicine. Our medicine was produced by observing reality, learning how to manipulate it to our benefit, and then doing the actions necessary to make the medicine.
Healthcare literally can’t be free. It cost someone time and energy.
However, if we want to enforce “healthcare as a human right,” then we must guarantee every individual access to healthcare.
This means we must either force doctors and researchers to work for free, or we must forcibly take money from others to pay doctors and researchers.
“Alright,” some of you might say, “I’m okay with that.”
But what happens if those doctors refuse to work? Even if you pay them? What happens when the pharmaceutical companies refuse to participate, and close their doors? Who will provide medicine then?
If healthcare is a right, then the government can’t let this happen. Since the government must guarantee access to healthcare, if people refuse to perform the actions necessary to produce healthcare, the government must force them to do so.
By declaring healthcare a human right, we are ignoring reality and refusing to acknowledge how these services come into existence.
Eventually, this system will fail. It will only survive as long as people are willing to be part of the system. If they decide not to participate, you must either force them to work (at gunpoint), or healthcare disappears.
Once the doctor says, “You have no right to my mind, and the products of my thought” you no longer have a doctor.
There is no way around this. The universal healthcare model blatantly ignores how human values are created. It puts an “I want” before an “it is.”
The universal healthcare model blatantly ignores how human values are created. It puts an “I want” before an “it is.”
And it only functions as long as the producers consent to supporting people who believe reality can be bent to their feelings.
This may seem harsh, but I challenge you to discover any way that healthcare is not the product of another human’s mind and actions.
And then I challenge you to find a way to actualize your belief in a way that doesn’t depend on the exploitation of another human being.
You can’t, because everything that advances human life is the product of our minds and actions. Healthcare doesn’t grow on trees independent of human action. Literacy isn’t download into people’s brains. Food doesn’t fall into our laps (unless we’re Isaac sitting beneath an apple tree).
Everything that advances our lives, from surviving to thriving, depends on our ability to think and act.
Clipping The Wings Of Humanity
Since reality is real, and we cannot change it simply by wanting it to change…
And since people must use their minds to survive and thrive…
We can define “good” as those things that advance life, and “bad” has those things that destroy life.
This means that every “good” action is one that advances life. And every “bad” action is one that takes life.
We cannot will “good” things into existence. We must create them.
By the same logic, we cannot stop a person from pursuing their own survival and well-being.
It is like clipping the wings of a bird, and then expecting it to survive. Or de-clawing a tiger and releasing it back into the wild.
This means that people have a “right” to utilize their minds to advance their lives, free from external coercion. Any attempt to limit a person’s ability to advance their life is the same thing has clipping a birds wings, or declawing a tiger, and releasing them back into the wild: We are sentencing them to death.
Since “good” things advance human life, and bad things hinders human life, any attempt to limit a person’s ability to pursue their own survival and wellbeing is “bad.”
In my previous post, I said we’d discuss some tools to help us determine if our definitions of “right” and “wrong” are accurate.
We’ve been using them in this post. They are 3 questions every person must answer to develop an accurate moral code:
- What kind of world do we live in?
- How do I know the answer to the above question?
- What do the answers to questions 1 and 2 tell me about how I should live (i.e., what is right and wrong)?
What Kind of World Do We Live In?
Here we ask the basic question of reality. Does reality exist independent of human thought? Or does it change when we want it to?
Does the rain stop because we want it to?
Does food offer itself to us when we’re hungry?
Does fire appear when we are cold?
No. Reality is real, and our wants and desires don’t change it. This means we are prisoners of reality and the laws of nature.
How Do I Know What Kind of World We Live In?
As we have seen, all human knowledge comes from our minds. We observe reality and learn how the laws of nature work. Then we use that knowledge to pursue things that will better our lives.
We aren’t born with agricultural knowledge. We do not have instinctual hunting skills. If we want to survive, and thrive, we must use our minds to learn how.
How Should I Live My Life?
If we can agree that human life is valuable, then we must conclude that “good” is anything that advances human life, and “bad” is anything that hinders human life. And that it is “bad” to inhibit another person from advancing their life.
Taking It Home
In my previous post, I said we’d discuss some tools to sift through our ideas. These 3 questions are those tools.
Take your definition of “right” and “wrong” and run it through these questions.
If you think free healthcare is “good” or “right,” what does that say about your belief of the world?
Is your belief consistent with the nature of reality? (Does healthcare grow on trees? Are people born with the knowledge to perform brain surgery?)
Is your belief consistent with how we achieve “good” things? (Does it accept that all “good” things in life are the product of someone(s)’s mind and actions? Or do “good” things just magically appear because we want them to?)
Does your belief hinder a person’s ability to pursue their own survival and well-being? (Do laws force people to act a certain way or bar them from activities that would advance their lives, assuming those actions don’t harm others?)
Finally, does your belief require the extortion of other people to execute?
Healthcare (the poor unfortunate punching bag of this blog series) cannot be a human right.
Socialized healthcare requires the extortion of other people to execute. Plain and simple. There is no way around this.
It ignores how healthcare services are produced. And it ignores reality by assuming that healthcare can be achieved apart from human effort.
Or, even more nefarious, it assumes that we have the right to forcibly use other people’s minds and actions for our own betterment.
Winston Churchill once said, “The problem with socialism is that at some point you run out of other people’s money.”
Even though he’s right (from a practical stand point), I would go a step further and say, “The problem with socialism is that it requires the exploitation of some individuals for the betterment of others… and eventually your run out of other people’s money.”
Any system that requires other people’s money to operate (and not the money of the person seeking the service) necessarily requires people who are willing to be extorted.
Socialism only works if people are willing to be slaves. Once they’ve had enough, and they stop producing the good thing you want, that good thing vanishes, and the socialist state collapses.
No amount of legislation and protesting will change that. No amount of screaming for “change we can believe in” will create healthcare when doctors refuse to work.
Everything we value depends on human thought and effort. And any attempt to survive ignoring this fact requires a willful rejection of reality and the exploitation of others.
We may not like the conclusions reality forces us to make. But not liking those conclusions doesn’t change them. The only things that changes our living conditions are thoughts paired with actions.
This means we have to abandon our idea of universal healthcare (as enforced by the government). It means we have to accept that even though a universal healthcare system is more convenient and “better” for some people, it requires that we use other people’s minds and actions for own betterment.
If we are to build a better world, we must accept reality for what it is. We cannot wish universal healthcare into reality. Like everything else, we must observe reality and learn how to use what we learn to achieve what we want.
And universal healthcare fails the reality test. It only works as long as some are willing to be extorted.
As soon as the wealthy decide they don’t want to pay for your healthcare, they’ll move out of the country.
Then it will only work as long as doctors are willing to work for free. Once other people’s money and other people’s labor dries up, universal healthcare ceases to exist.
Therefore, we can conclude that universal healthcare is wrong and evil because it requires the willful restriction and extortion of other people’s minds and labor.
This does not mean humans can’t be charitable. People can still help the poor. But it has to be completely voluntary. If it isn’t, charity just becomes a nicer word for extortion.
This Is How You Know If Your Definitions Are Correct…
How do you know if your definitions of right and wrong are correct?
- Do they align with reality? Or do they depend on our wishes altering reality?
- Do they recognize that everything necessary for man’s advancement are a product of our minds and labor? Or do they presume that knowledge (the ability to survive) are innate in man’s consciousness, or that good things magically appear without thought and labor?
- Do they protect everyone’s ability to pursue their own survival and well-being? Or do they intentionally restrict it by presuming that some have the right to benefit from other people’s labor?
This way of thinking may be foreign to many. That’s alright. And if you think I’m wrong, then I have to ask, how do you know you’re not reacting like the ancients would’ve reacted to our current moral standards?
What if we’re blind to our immoralities because our current moral code is incomplete?
Are we certain that conveniences aren’t overwriting our logic? If we’re used to universal healthcare, are we certain our desire to keep our health coverage (in its current form) isn’t blinding us to the immorality of where it comes from?
Will people 1,000 years from now look at our system, see that it depends on the extortion of other humans, and judge us no different than we judge slave owners?
Is Your Worldview Really Your Own?
Here’s another thing to notice, everyone has answers to these questions. But not everyone has thought about their answers.
We must believe something about the nature of reality… but is it something you’ve thought through? Or something you’ve picked up from your parents or peer group?
If you don’t take the time to think through these questions yourself, you are letting other people’s answers influence your morals.
Think about that. If you don’t formulate your own opinions on the nature of reality, how we know the nature of reality, and what that means for our lives, you can’t call yourself a “free thinker.”
Why? Because you’re letting someone else think for you. If your understanding of the world is implicit, then you’re letting other people determine your worldview.
Lets take this a step further. If we acknowledge that all human survival and advancement comes from our actions… And if our actions are determined by what we believe… Then we are letting other people tell us how to live our lives.
Every decision we make… every job we choose… the person we marry… the place we live… the friends we have… everything… could be controlled by other people.
If you are not thinking about these questions, your thoughts are not your own. Your actions are not your own. Your life choices are not your own. They are someone else’s.
Is that what you want?
That is why philosophy is so important. It isn’t an esoteric discussion of how many angels can balance on the head of a pin.
It asks the most important questions humans could ask: What makes life “good,” and how should I live it?
There was a lot to digest in this post, but I hope you found it helpful.
At this point, I challenge you to run different ideas and policy positions through these 3 questions. You might find it… illuminating.
Thank you for reading.
Originally published at www.seanedwards.com on February 3, 2017.