Someone in a philosophical forum, asked: ”Is ethics necessary?”
It goes without saying that ethics is necessary in any society to underlay law and order. But it does not stop there. Ethological studies show that intelligent animals have a sense of ethics.
Ethics is, to a great extent, within standard deviation, something we tend to do. It’s necessary, because we are born, and raised, most of the time, out of love.
A “moderator” of the forum, “Spiral Out” spiraled my idea out, by declaring that many non-human primates kill young not related to them, just because they are not their own. He asked whether killing the young was my idea of ethical behavior.
I had said: “tend to”. From the killer ape’s point of view, the behavior is ethical. Why? It’s clear that killing the young will make the female more amenable, by terminating what the enraged male perceives as her unhealthy obsession with the baby.
Ethics, comes from the Greek “ethos”, just like moral, which comes from the Latin “mores”. Both “ethos” and “mores” mean the same thing: what is customary. Females, by the way, intuit all of this, and try to alleviate the problem with loving tactics to dangerous males, or by making alliances with other males: it’s very complicated, but they cope.
Yet, paradoxically, I also do believe that cruelty is a fundamental tendency in human ethics. By coincidence, I just wrote an essay about that. There is no contradiction, ever since all is fair in love and war. Cruelty is one dimension, goodness another. So is empathy. I made no mystery that the Good Side dominates, although, sometimes, the Dark Side is necessary.
Spiral Out then pirouetted, approving what I said, and proclaiming that is was precisely because of that he was a “moral relativist”. Well, I am absolutely not a moral relativist, and this is why.
Morality is not Special Relativity, with moving frames, here and there, and all uniform motions are relative.
Indeed, humans have always lived in groups. All advanced animals (no exception) cannot survive without a society. That society can be reduced to mommy (say with leopards).
The local social group, and even the species, or the environment constitute absolute reference frames for what is customary. Why? Simply because social, or species specific, or environmental survival forbids some behaviors. For example if apes killed all youngsters who feel unrelated, the species would die off. It is indeed observed that most advanced primates’ females have many sex partners, and thus an ethical modus vivendi was found.
In light of these absolutes, the social group, the species, the environment, ethics cannot be all over the place. Morality is actually, within standard deviation, and within standard circumstances, absolute.
How can morality be both absolute and relative? Before I call Quantum Theory to the rescue (it provides with a model), let me emphasize that morality is not a law. Morality is not a measurement.
Morality is, intrinsically, an average. Morality is the average of happenstances with moral significance, namely those that can enter said average.
The correct mechanical analogy is with Quantum Mechanics. In Quantum Mechanics, trajectories, and presence, are all over the place: they fill up all the accessible universe with complex waves. Those Quantum waves cannot be measured. However the probability of an occurrence is strictly determined. The latter is called a measurement.
Similarly, morality is strictly determined, as an outcome, although events of a moral character fill up the entire space that behavior can access.
SS assassinating civilians in extermination camps thought they were acting with superlative morality. However, they were wrong. Why? On a species scale, they were completely immoral, because, had other men in a situation of power behaved the same, exterminating whoever they could exterminate, humanity would have been exterminated.
As it turned out, they were even immoral relative to their chosen reference group: the Second World War, thus Nazism, exterminated more than ten million Germans.
The Quantum shows that not all that computes can be measured. The complex probability Quantum waves cannot be measured, only be computed with (after making the hypothesis of their existence). Only the end probability can be forecast, and measured. This has caused enormous confusion in Physics, so the point is not obvious. A similar confusion is at the root of the perception of moral relativism.
Is there a relationship between morality and the Quantum, beyond this analogy? Yes. Local morality, in the instant, as the expression of Free Will, is obviously a Quantum phenomenon. Thus the illusion of moral relativism is born out of the Quantum. And, like the Quantum, ends up with a classical world.
Hence Greco-Roman etymology correctly abstracted the wisdom of eons. and common sense. That morality, and a sense of justice is absolute is increasingly confirmed by ethological studies. Capuchin Monkeys, for example, have a very developed sense of equity. They get very angry when one of their fellows is treated better, for no good reason. They have been known to throw at the experimenter’s face whatever came handy when a lousy radish was offered as reward while the fellow next door got a delicious grape for the same task.
Thus, when the pitchforks come after the plutocrats, we will finally honor what we were born with.