Friday, November 05, 2004

Virtue

Just blogging out loud for a bit...

The Good and the Bad
Good is not absolute. Good is defined for each of us by the sum of our personal experiences. The "good" is a part of our brain that is co-activated when we have positive experiences: we see a beautiful scene, make contact with a loved one, or eat chocolate cake. Similarly, the "bad" is that part of our brain co-activated with negative experiences like physical pain, emotional loss and bad smells.

There's not necessarily a fixed, physical "goodness center" in the brain. Our neocortex is a highly generalized pattern matching machine; good and bad are just patterns we extract from experience.

The more distant an action is from simple pleasure or pain, the harder it is to assign a goodness rating to that action. Nonetheless, we can still say that filing away recipes in alphabetical order is good because it will reduce the pain of finding the recipes later.

Naturally, precisely what a man defines as good or bad is as unique as his life experiences.

Ethics
Ethics is a set of principles we adopt to facilitate living with others. Ethics are not absolute either. In free societies, promotion of the "common good" is a social objective. The common good is a sort of an average of the individual good over the entire group. A individual's personal goodness almost always differs from ethical goodness, even if only slightly.

Since a person is not an invariant machine, her individual experiences will change her perception of good and bad. Good and bad are not fixed at the individual level, so good and bad cannot be optimally fixed at a social level. Ethics must be adaptable.

Morality
I'll define morality as the set of principles an individual uses to determine right and wrong. Individual moral codes and ethical or legal codes frequently diverge.

Since moral code is defines by personal good, moral codes are not absolute either. Sorry.

Virtue
Following society's ethical rules to the letter would be considered virtuous behavior. Is that all there is to it? If a person follows the rules under duress, is that still virtue? I'm not so sure. In my view, it is the thought that counts, and a good act performed for the wrong reason isn't good, though it is preferable to a bad act.

An autonomous automobile that that never breaks traffic laws might also be considered virtuous by some. However, the car cannot visualize the consequences of breaking those laws, and consequently make the choice to obey them. The robot car is generally good for us, but it is not virtuous.

Finally, is it not a virtue to be able to see the good exception to the rule of law?

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