“Whatever moral rules you have deliberately proposed to yourself. abide by them as if they were laws, and as if you would be guilty of impiety by violating any of them. Don’t regard what anyone says of you, for this, after all, is no concern of yours.”
Epictetus, the Enchiridion
The morality in this system stems from the Purpose being fundamentally consequentialist. An act is right or wrong only if it promotes or harms your Individual Purpose’s achievement, namely the long-term welfare of your family. This results in a stern morality stripped of all feel-good platitudes and pleasant lies. Depending on the situation, it requires and justifies great acts of kindness, humility, and self-sacrifice as well as acts of almost inhuman viciousness. The end always justifies the means for the end is nothing more than the survival of the species through your family’s survival.
However, this is not a blank check allowing us to do whatever we like. Instead, it is a robust morality that demands that we examine each of our actions to see if it promotes our purpose. It requires a level of introspection in each of us, as we ask how each action will affect our families our communities and ultimately each living thing. It must be emphasised that this is not a morality that gels with the Judaeo-Christian morals many of us have grown up with. While many of the actions that support your family’s or community’s survival indeed resonate with the Christian ideals at times, the logic of alignment with the Purpose leads to actions as being right, which would be considered evil under Christianity and vice versa.
The morality of the Code rests on the pillar of ‘Perspectivism’. Perspectivism is a system of ethics which places the achievement of the Individual Purpose of the being at the foremost of moral consideration. In its simplest form, it can be expressed as meaning that an act which contributes positively to the achievement of the Individual Purpose by either supporting the family, community or your own survival is ‘good’. In contrast, those acts which impede the achievement of your Individual Purpose or harm your families, communities or own survival are ‘bad’. What is essential to recognise in the conception of Perspectivism is that the act’s morality is entirely based on the individual. An act can be right if it enhances the achievement of the individual’s IP even if it harms another being. It judges the intended consequence of the act on the individual, their kin, and their community as being of greater importance than the effect on the others.
As every living thing has an equal value at the universal level with the relative value being entirely dependent on the subject and the achievement of their IP, every being is engaged in a kind of Hobbesian ‘war of all against all’. This results in the continuation of existence often being predicated on the destruction of other beings. This reality is apparent when we consider that each breath we take, every morsel of food we eat, and every movement we make results in harm to countless other beings. This harm is undoubtedly an evil to those who are harmed, yet as it is necessary for our survival and, by extension, the achievement of our purpose, it is a good to us. This duality of effect is unavoidable in any moral decision where a choice must be made between harming another or being harmed oneself. To the one harmed, the act was an evil, yet to the one not harmed, the act was a good. We can only reconcile this duality of harm if we recognise that morality is predicated on perspective.
This focus on the perspective of the subject is an accounting of the fact that morality is anchored to the subject actor’s perspective. This Perspectivism means that what is good is good because, from the standpoint of the agent, the act will or is at least likely to promote the achievement of their Individual Purpose. Conversely, what is bad is bad as it harms the agent’s achievement of their Individual Purpose. An example of this is when a wolf hunts and kills a deer. The wolf kills to eat and survive or feed its pack so that they may survive, and by extension, it may achieve its Individual Purpose. This act is right from the wolf’s perspective, irrespective of the consequence on the deer or the deer’s Individual Purpose.
In the same way, if your child was freezing to death, it would be ‘right’ to take a blanket from another person even if this would lead to that individual’s death. The act would be ‘right’ as it promoted your child’s survival and thus, the achievement of your Individual Purpose even though it resulted in the death of another human being. In both cases, the being harmed would suffer evil from their perspective, but the other would possess a good.
Perspectivism sits on the foundation of the unity of the value of life, recognising at once that all living things have equal value and that the universal nature is one of conflict between individual organisms. This understanding of the universal nature requires an acceptance that the survival of one individual often requires the death of another. This necessity is not wrong but is merely a fundamental element of the nature of existence. It is the duty of all individuals to strive for continued existence. An acceptance of this reality should not lead to a fatalistic resignation but to a striving for life.
All living things are compelled by the purpose of life in the same way we are. When we kill a living thing to survive, we do good in so far as it contributes to the achievement of our Individual Purpose by aiding the survival of ourselves, our families, or our communities. In the same way, when we prevent ourselves and our own from being harmed, we also do right. However, in addition to this, we recognise that other beings are driven by the same impulse as us. Therefore, we accept that in the same circumstances as we would be right to harm another, the other would be right to harm us.
We may best explain this through an analogy. The grass seeks after its survival and the continuation of its species in the same way as all living things. In the pursuit of its Individual Purpose, it will, through its automatic cellular defences, kill many micro-organisms, which, in pursuing their own continued existence, could harm it. The grass does not consider the aims or interests of the things it kills any more than the micro-organisms consider the interests of the grass. It kills without thought to survive and reproduce. But what of the animals who eat the grass to survive?
Let us take a sheep for example. A sheep survives and achieves its Individual Purpose by eating and, in some cases, killing grasses and other plants. It does this without considering the plant’s welfare any more than it considers the micro-organisms that are killed by its hoofs or immune system. It acts merely as necessary to survive and reproduce and does right consequently even though this action results in the death of a multitude of living beings.
The sheep may then be preyed on by other animals who kill to survive and reproduce just as the sheep and the grass did. This circle of harm is right. The inherent equality of value of each individual being from its perspective, coupled with the innate drive to achieve the purpose of life, justifies survival. If it is necessary to kill any living thing, including a fellow human to survive or protect those we are bound to protect, then it is right to do so. This rationale is as valid if the person is attacking you or yours or is simply in possession of an object that is essential to your or your family’s survival. It is the agent’s perspective that defines the right action, not the perspective of the other. This precept is not to be taken to mean that perspectivist morality promotes action without consideration for the effect on others.
Quite the opposite, Perspectivism is intimately concerned with the consequences of actions. To act without consideration for the likely reaction of other beings or the long-term effect of the action would be to act recklessly. While being entirely focused on the welfare of the individual, Perspectivism will, through the enlightened self-interest of the adherent, lead inexorably to the increased welfare of their family, kin, community, and all other sentient beings.
This outcome is indeed the only one that can germinate from the soil of Perspectivism if adequately understood. As any person whom the conception takes root in will find themselves unable to act otherwise as they will realise that their selfish interests are served by acting in the ‘good’ way and are harmed in acting in the ‘bad’ way. To explain this, we must understand the consequences of our acts. To determine if an act harms or helps, it is not enough to only look at the immediate effect. It is necessary to look at the broader long-term effects as well.
It also helps if we consider our proposed actions to be normative in nature, which means that we assume that the propositional right action will be the default action taken by all people in society. Therefore, an action must be consistently right, i.e. in all similar circumstances, no matter the moral actor or the victim, the action must remain correct. In this way, if you are right to harm a being (animal or plant) to eat it or use its by-products, another being must be right to harm you for similar reasons. If you are right to lie to protect yourself, then another is right to lie. If you are right to steal, then another is right to steal in similar circumstances, and so on. When dealing with non-sentient beings, this is mostly academic. If we harm one or not is primarily dependent on our want.
The non-sentient being’s existence is, to us, primarily one of expediency. If harming it will benefit us, we will harm it. If preserving it benefits us, we should preserve it. As the non-sentient lack the ability to do us harm, except in the moment, we naturally consider them as ‘resources’ for want of a better term. We should use them for our benefit, recognising that if our positions were reversed, then they should do the same to us if it would benefit them. This conclusion is not to be seen to be an argument for unsustainable exploitation. Unsustainable exploitation is self-defeating for even if you personally benefit, eliminating the resource will harm your community and or family in the long run.
With sentient beings who will be referred to as ‘persons’ from here on, the situation is different. The difference is not with their inherent value (which is not different) but merely in their potential to repay the harm done to them. This potentiality is what makes it generally wrong to harm them. Humans are the only species we know of thus far which can be referred to as a sentient as we mean it here. Their sentience gives them this enhanced harm potential. They both collectively and individually remember the harm that is done to them and can repay that harm at a later date. When you consider the consequences of harming a human, you will quickly perceive that risks exist, which do not with the non-sentient being. If you injure a person, they, their kin, or community members are highly likely to seek revenge. This potential makes the potential for harming them to result to harm to you, your family, or your community much greater than it does with non-sentient beings. The risk is so significant that there is only one situation where the gain outweighs the potential harm, making it right to harm them. That being any situation where not to harm them would result in greater harm to yourself, your family, or your community.
Further to this is the relation of the individual and their family to the community. The community exists to support the individuals and their families, which make up the community. The individual citizens join in the community for the benefits of mutual protection and the pooling of resources and skills to promote their Individual Purposes’ collective achievement. The corollary of this pooling of resources and security is that an attack on one citizen must, by necessity, be an attack on all. This mutual obligation creates a reciprocal form of collective morality within a community whereby citizens and visitors refrain from harming other individuals due to the implicit threat of retribution by the whole. This collective retribution is the basis for all law. If someone harms my family or me, then the community must revenge me. In the same way, if I harm my community, then the other members are obliged to revenge themselves upon me.
A good action would therefore be one that both contributes positively to your family’s welfare and contributes to or at least does not harm the community’s welfare. A bad action, therefore, would be one that harms your family’s or community’s welfare. At this point, it is worth clarifying the term harm and harming.
Harming means any action that damages an individual’s achievement of their Individual Purpose. Generally, an individual can be harmed in three main ways: physically, through deception, and through theft.
An individual can be physically harmed in several different ways. You can harm someone by physically attacking them. Or by not acting when you could to prevent them from being physically harmed. You can harm someone by withholding food, clothing, or shelter from them when to do so would lead to them being harmed. You can harm someone by using communication or lack of communication to cause them to harm themselves. The consequence of each of these actions is the same in that, through conscious action or inaction, a being is physically harmed. The consciousness of the harm being caused is important. To harm without knowledge is not a matter of morality but instead of law. For us, it is sufficient to say that once an individual becomes aware of the harm they are causing, they are bound by the moral law to prevent it unless compelled by duty to their family, community, or self to inflict it.
Physical harm by its very nature hinders the being’s achievement of their Individual Purpose. Of course, how much harm is done depends on the severity of the injury done to them. To be clear, when we talk of harm, we are not talking about the infliction of pain. We are talking of an injury that prevents an individual from permanently or temporally carrying out their duties to their kin or community. Why this is a wrong can be seen from the flow of harm, which harm to an individual entails.
When an individual is physically harmed, the injury is not limited to them alone, it flows to their family and their community. Take a young person whom, in some personal dispute, is killed. The first to suffer are their reproductive family (their children and spouse) if they have them. They lose a provider and a protector, reducing their chances of survival. They lose the individual’s knowledge and support; they lose everything they could have been to them. In short, their chances of achieving their Individual Purposes are reduced.
Next, their birth and family-in-law are harmed as their death prevents further children from being produced. By preventing them from assisting his brothers or sisters or nephews and nieces, the physical harm done to them reduces the chances for the family to survive and achieve its purpose. Next, their community is also harmed.
Their death removes the individual from the community, weakening it through the loss of their productive efforts, removing their ability to protect or contribute to the community and diminishing it by their loss. The community loses any benefit the person may have provided in the future. In this way, the harm done to one member of a community affects the whole.
This harm is amplified further if considered as a categorical imperative. If everyone in a community was to, at whim, inflict harm on others, we must ask what the consequences would be to any one individuals’ survival. The consequences of unrestrained violence or the rule of the strong over the weak is tyranny. The strong do as they will, and the weak suffer what they must to borrow a line from Thucydides. To judge the pernicious effect of this anarchy, we need only look to those areas of the globe where there are civil war and disorder. In every case, we can see a strong correlation with disorder and want.
The more prevalent violence is in a community, the greater the risk is involved in all activities. The greater the danger, the greater the share of total productive resources which must be directed into security instead of productivity. We can see this instability premium if we look at the cost of doing business around the world. In areas where violence is common, business costs are greater compared with similar low violence countries. It can, again, be seen in the size of military expenditures by nations, as the risk of conflict increases the percentage of the nation’s productive capacity, which is expended on security can be reliably seen to increase. We can even see this insecurity premium at the micro-level. As individuals, we start to spend more of our own resources on alarms, cameras, and security barriers as the perceived risk of crime increases in our area. As we can see, violence or the infliction of physical harm on persons (sentient-beings) is generally harmful, it behoves us to restrain ourselves unless the consequence of not acting is that harm would be done to our community, our families, or ourselves.
Harm Through Theft
Another way in which we can be harmed is through the theft of our property. Before discussing this form of harm, we must define what we mean by both the terms theft and property. Property is defined as the rights possessed by an individual to the benefits and or use of a thing or being. In this conception, an individual’s ownership of something or being is, in essence, the mutual recognition by members of a community of the terms under which a person may enjoy the benefits of said item. What those terms are is a matter for the community. However, in most societies that I am aware of, there is at least a nominal relationship between the production of one’s body and ownership. It is to be understood as both the fruit of items and labour. If I possess a plot of land, then my property is the fruits of that land as defined in my community. If I use my body, which I own, to produce something, then I own the fruits of that labour either in whole or in part. If you take my labour and then withhold payment, then you steal from me as surely as if you stole an object from me.
Theft is, therefore, the prevention of the rightful enjoyment of property rights to the detriment of the rightful owner. This definition is sufficiently robust to cover the enjoyment of someone’s property in a manner that does not cause detriment to the owner such as hiking through it, sitting on a seat or stoop set outside one’s residence, or making use of abandoned clothing or structures. While, at the same time, establishing a sufficiently high bar for the protection of property.
Theft is a form of harm as it harms an individual’s achievement of their purpose through depriving them of resources by which they would provide for their family and support their community. This is as true of the theft of a pin as for the theft of a person’s life savings. In each case, the affected individual has been harmed, though the severity differs. The true effect of theft is similar to the impact of personal harm in that it makes survival harder. In the case of physical violence, it is the use of their body that the individual is deprived of. In the case of theft, it is the individual’s property or the production of their body which they are deprived of. In both cases, the effect is to increase the cost of production of any item reducing supply, increasing want and making survival harder.
If you were a farmer, would you invest in expensive farming machines or other productivity improvements if you were likely to have them stolen? Would you build for the long-term if you could be thrown off the land at any time? Theft is pernicious in that it takes from the productive and gives to the unproductive.
Again, consider the effects of theft on both the individual and the community. Suppose if theft were carried to the natural extreme and became universal. With widespread theft, I could not be sure of the enjoyment of my property or of the payment for my labour. If I grow food, I cannot be sure that I will be able to use it to feed my family. If I work for another, I cannot be sure that they will pay me for my labour. This uncertainty makes it much more challenging to survive and disincentivise investment in or work for the future.
This harm to the achievement of the IP is the argument against theft except, as with physical harm, if the consequence of not acting is that harm would be done to our community, our families, or ourselves. By not stealing, except in these circumstances, we can help enhance the achievement of our own Individual Purpose and positively contribute to the commonweal.
Harming Though Deceit
The third form of harm is that done through deceit. Deceit is a cousin to the first forms of harm, often accompanying or preceding them. Deceit harms through leading others to make decisions which are against their interests. Deceit harms by requiring the imposition of protection against deception. These can take the form of simply the loss of productive time as individuals are forced to spend time to confirm the veracity of information. It can take the form of loss of productive potential as resources are used to create procedural or legal protections against deceit. It can take the form of lost opportunities as the potential for deception increases the risk of investments, the cost of doing business, and reduces the incentive to collaborate with others. If taken to an extreme, it leads to civil strife as we become uncertain about who can be trusted, damaging social cohesion and the rule of law.
It is not hard to see the harmful effects of deceit in any community. We need only to look around at our own lives. We can see the benefits that accrue to those who are trusted, and conversely, the disadvantage and the opprobrium, which affects those who are not. We feel the frustration of the time wasted as we wade through contracts trying to see if there is some deceit when we get work done or take a new job. We feel the sting when the deceitful pull the wool over our eyes. We feel frustrated when that guy at work leaves the work for us to do and deceives the bosses about how busy he has been. We are frustrated by politicians who mortgage the truth for their careers.
Deceit is pernicious and harmful in a family and a community. It seduces us into taking the easy path by allowing us to hide behind lies. It excuses us in our failures with the idea that we can hide them from others. It makes every decision harder—every assessment chancier. Deceit is like a fire lit in a forest. It seems like a good idea until it grows out of control.