Building the Moral Community

It is not especially remarkable that people with similar values can cooperate. The real challenge is how people get along, or not, when they have only partially overlapping or even significantly antagonistic dreams. We use strategies such as selfishness, altruism, ducking big loss, deception, reneging, coercion, walking away, and on occasion seem willing to sacrifice our own interests for the opportunity to inflict damage on others.

We need not assume we are morally superior, or desperate, to live well together. Reciprocal moral agency involves granting others intelligent and self-interested moral status equivalent to our own. Beginning from that foundation we have a clear chance to reach joint strategies that neither party has reason to change. John Nash received a Nobel Prize for proving this always possible. Finding RMA may not be easy, and numerous examples from domestic violence to volunteer work to the causes of the Second World War and from literature are analyzed to show how it can be done.

Being able to see the world roughly as others do is difficult. But that is probably no more challenging than honestly framing our own views of what is real, valuable, and actionable. Sometimes it is worth reflecting and negotiating, and sometimes that is a waste of time. Communities are the context in which we search for mutual better worlds. They are also the result of many reasonably like-minded folks doing so.

There is no neurobiological evidence for a “seat of conscience” in the brain that conforms to ethical principles. But there is evidence that several regions work in concert to support reciprocal moral agency instead of other approaches. Agent-based computer models are consistent with this approach. There is even a plausible case that morality is an evolutionary process and that humankind is making slow progress.

Chapter 1. Morality and Ethics

  • Morality is what we do together to make the world better; ethics is what we say about that.

Chapter 2. Moral Engagements

  • The basic unit of morality is two agents, each with two alternatives that influence each other.

Chapter 3. Simple Moral Choice

  • Self-interest and altruism are better ways to resolve moral engagements than is walking away; contempt is worse.

Chapter 4. Complex Moral Choice

  • Deception, coercion, and reneging are mediocre moral choice rules; reciprocal moral agency is best.

Chapter 5. Simple Moral Engagements

  • In most situations moral engagements are mutually rewarding; it is immoral not to pick the best.

Chapter 6. Complex Moral Engagements

  • There are some popular but difficult circumstances that should be avoided or restructured is possible.

Chapter 7. Framing

  • We always and only act based on our immediate, value-drenched, future-leaning sense of the world.

Chapter 8. Common Sense Patterns

  • Our sense of the world is systematically imprecise and often at odds with others.

Chapter 9. Reframing and Bargaining

  • Moral engagements should be justly and optimally structured before decisions are taken.

Chapter 10. Moral Community

  • Moral engagements are nested within communities, but the basic building block is the same across levels.

Chapter 11. Failure to Engage

  • Working at the level of abstract principles dilutes moral behavior and undermines community.

Chapter 12. Moral Progress

  • The world is slowly becoming more moral because of community: neurobiological, computer simulation, and evolutionary evidence.

Appendix A: Equilibrium Finder

  • Use this spreadsheet to identify reciprocal moral agent solutions to all moral engagements.

Appendix B: Inventory of Engagements

  • List of all 78 possible moral engagements and their outcomes using various decision rules.