The Primacy of Will
It doesn’t matter what I think is moral, or what other people think is moral. All that matters is what I want, what other people want, and how we can cooperate to get what we want. That is the primacy and sociality of human volition.
So let us replace ethical language with volitional language:
- Ask not, “Should I do this?” but “Do I truly want to do this?”
- Ask not, “Does this make me a good person?” but “Does this reflect my True Will?” (The True Will is what maximizes idiosyncratic happiness over a lifetime.)
- Ask not, “Is this ethical?” but “Is this what we really want?” or “Is this a positive-sum game?” or “Is this what will increase our common well-being in the long term?”
Decisions are not morally right or wrong; they are rational or stupid. Actions are not ethically good or bad; they are purposive or impulsive. Goals and outcomes are all we care about; values and principles are just heuristics to achieve them.
Do we need moral judgments to solve problems in the world? It’s hardly useful to call people “bad,” “unethical,” and “morally bankrupt” when we can describe them as “truth-hiding,” “self-centered,” and “unwilling to cooperate.” Effective cooperation doesn’t require normative statements. Nor does it require a sound ethical theory. All it requires is the reality of human will and emotion.
Sure, what I’m proposing here could be seen as an ethical theory, namely, a form of consequentialism. But using this label only invites idle philosophical debate. Instead,
what we should havewhat we truly want are debates about how the world works, what actions and policies produce what outcomes, and what outcomes are most desirable in the long term. These debates require science, not ethics.
Importantly, problems are not solved through moral judging and ethical theorizing, but through rational decision-making and purposive action-taking. Hence, again, the primacy of will.
Update: We do seem to need ethics (1) when individuals lack the ability to cooperate with others (the problem of how to treat little children, senile elders, the mentally disabled, and non-human animals) and (2) when long-term effects on well-being exceed individual life spans (the problem of intergenerational justice). But is it useful to treat these problems as ethical issues? Problem 1 is about the psychology of empathy/compassion; problem 2 is about the biology of altruism (kin selection). Without the reality of empathy/compassion and altruism, we wouldn’t even be able to acknowledge that our treatment of non-cooperative beings and future generations demands rational consideration. But why move beyond such consideration towards moralization? Again, what matters is (1) how we want to treat toddlers, mentally handicapped people, and animals and (2) how much we want to sacrifice for our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and all of future humanity.