19. A Framework for Moral Decision-Making

“A man does what he must - in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures - and that is the basis of all human morality.”
John F. Kennedy

If morality is situation-dependent, then we must have a framework to support moral decision-making. To build this framework, we must synthesise all the previous elements into a mental system, which can allow for quick decision-making in all the possible situations that we could face. This framework consists of asking three questions that can lead to three outcomes. The three questions we should always ask ourselves before acting are: one, will this decision have a positive, neutral, or negative effect on my family or self (RP1 to 3)? Two, will this decision have a negative impact on my community (RP 3+)? Three, is it essential that I do this? After considering the three questions in order, you will know if you should do it, if you can do it or not as per your whim, or if you should not do it.

Question one serves to help focus your mind on the core of the purpose, namely your family’s survival. By seeking to understand the consequences of the decision on these most vital persons, you can better know if you should act. If the consequences of the decision are negative, skip to question three as the effect on your community can be ignored. However, if the consequences on your family are either positive or neutral, you should go on to question two. Once you have determined what effect the proposed action will have on your family (RP1 to 3), you must consider if the proposed action will harm your community.

This concern for the impact of our decisions on our community forms the second question we must answer prior to acting. This question is important as our community is a major contributor to our achievement of the purpose. By harming them, by extension, we harm ourselves. If the proposed decision will not harm them, and if the effect on ourselves or our families are positive, we should act. If the effect is neutral, then it is up to your inclination to act or not act. However, if the decision’s effects will harm our community, we have to ask one more question before we know how we should act.

Question three is “is this act essential?”. This question needs only to be asked if the foreseen outcome is either negative to yourself, your family, or your community. The essence of this question is the concept that the means justifies the end of achievement of the purpose. It is essential to physically harm, steal, or deceive to ensure your or your family’s survival; then it is moral to do so in that circumstance. Question three serves to act as a slow point in the decision-making process. Asking those confronted by it to carefully reflect if the action they are contemplating is absolutely essential. If there is another way to achieve the purpose that will not result in as negative an outcome, you must do that instead.

If one determines that the proposed act is indeed essential, then they should act. However, they should also be willing to accept the negative consequences which will follow. Have no illusion that while the ‘essential’ decision is morally right, it remains a choice between two evils. We must accept that the ethically right choice is often simply the choice which does the least harm. This willingness to do necessary evil is where Code varies markedly from the mainstream Judeo-Christian morality as espoused in the ten commandments or Kant’s deontological ethics, both of whom place the act ahead of the consequence.

Figure 14: The Framework for Moral Decision Making

To understand this framework better and to see how to implement it in practice, it will be useful to work through some illustrative examples to see how this system works.

Example 1: Kill or be Killed

The first scenario is relatively simple. While walking in the forest with another person, you are confronted by an armed individual. The person tells you that you must choose either yourself or the other person to be killed. He informs you that if you fail to choose, he will kill both of you. To decide, you ask the three questions.

Will this decision have a positive, neutral, or negative effect on my family or self (PL1-3)?

In this case, what we are asking boils down to who the other person is. If they have a higher Relational Proximity than yourself, i.e. if they are one of your kids, then it will harm your family (RP1-3). If they don’t have a higher Relational Proximity, then choosing them will positively affect your family as you will be alive. In this instance, there is no neutral choice possible. If the decision will harm yourself or your family, you go to question three, if not, you proceed to question two.

Will this decision have a negative effect on my community (PL3+)?

There is only one possibility in this circumstance: by choosing the other person, you will harm your community. As such, we move on to question three.

Is this act essential?

In this scenario, we can be confident that it is essential that we choose as not to choose will result in the worst outcome. Therefore, we know we should choose either ourselves or the other person to be killed. To determine which choice is morally correct, we rely on the prioritisation rules set out earlier. The person with the lowest Relational Proximity score must be chosen for death even if that person is you.

Figure 15: Kill or be Killed

Example 2: The Trolley Problem

For our second example, let us look at a more complex scenario. As introduced by Frank Chapman Sharp and or Philippa Foot, the Trolley Problem is the basis of the second example. We have already examined this scenario in the Prioritisation section; however, for clarity’s sake, let us return to it and use the three questions to determine the morally correct action. In the original form of this thought experiment, you are placed in the position of ‘driver of a runaway tram which can only be steered from one narrow track on to another; five men are working on one track and one man on the other; anyone on the track you enter is bound to be killed’. In this scenario, it is assumed that you must choose one or the other track. Which track do we choose? We begin again by asking the first question.

Will this decision have a positive, neutral, or negative effect on my family or self (PL1-3)?

In the context of the trolley problem, we are really asking if anyone on either track is a member of our family (RP1-3). If there is a family member (RP1-3) on one or more tracks, then the consequence of the decision on our families will be negative. If there is not a member of our family on either track, the consequences will be neutral. If the consequences are negative, as always, we skip to question three. If the consequences are neutral, we will proceed to question two.

Will this decision have a negative effect on my community (PL3+)?

In the trolley problem, as whatever choice you make, you will harm a person and you will necessarily harm your community. As such, we move on to the third question.

Is this act essential?

In the trolley problem, we are again faced with a choice of two evils. Either option will harm someone, so we must choose one of the tracks, and therefore, we must harm either the single worker or the five workers. Again, if we are here, we will rely on the prioritisation rules to determine the morally correct action. In this scenario, if we assume that the workers have the same Relational Proximity to us, we will choose to steer on the track with only one worker. This decision will be predicated on the greater potential which the five workers have to contribute to our IP achievement compared to the single worker.

Figure 16: Trolley Problem

Example 3: Gambling

Let us now move to a more mundane problem. Gambling is a popular recreation for many people; however, it is a crippling addiction for some. Using the moral decision framework, let us examine gambling and its morality. Gambling is defined by the Encyclopedia Britannica as “The betting or staking of something of value, with consciousness of risk and hope of gain, on the outcome of a game, a contest, or an uncertain event whose result may be determined by chance or accident”. We are here going to talk specifically about the wagering on games of chance.

Unlike in the previous examples where the decisions were absolutes, in the case of gambling and many other things, it is not possible to provide an absolute answer. In broad terms, every decision we make is a gamble. The world is governed by chance and fortune; therefore, there is always the risk of loss. In the specific case of the gambling of money on games of chance or uncertain events, it comes down to a judgement of the threshold for when harm is done.

If you are physically harming people, stealing, or lying to continue to gamble, you are obviously exceeding this threshold. However, it can be hard to determine in practice. As a rule of thumb, it is useful to practice openness and honesty if you choose to engage in potentially addictive behaviours. If you want to gamble, then by all means bet but be sure that you are open about it. Consider as your guide that if you are unwilling to tell your spouse or parents about your gambling, then it is inadvisable to place the bet.

It may be useful to consider your aim in gambling. Ask yourself: to what purpose am I placing this bet? If it is for recreation, then set the same limits on it as you would for all other entertainments. Place it last among your priorities as if befitting a luxury. This is more proper in relation to betting at a particular and occasional event where the entertainment consists of the game of chance such as at a casino or a horse racing circuit and is not principally concerned with financial gain.

If your aim in placing a bet is financial gain, then great caution should be exercised. Games of chance, as the old adage says, are designed so that ‘The house always wins’. Your chances of receiving a positive financial return, in the long run, are long and the temptation to chase your losses are high. Indeed, while all gambling can increase the risk of developing harmful behaviours, gambling motivated by greed carries the most significant risk.

Consider gambling as a recreational activity if you wish to do it. Set a small amount you can afford to spend as your limit and give your word to someone else not to breach it. This stratagem has the benefit of prompting sober judgment of the amount you wish to spend and placing the barrier of your word in the way of the temptation to chase your losses. If, however, these strategies fail to check your gaming carefully, consider your actions because you are likely heading towards harming your family or community, which is a breach of our duty.

With the elucidation of the framework for moral decision-making, we come to the end of this work’s third book. At this point, we have built what is hopefully a compelling and logically consistent system which should allow us to live our lives with purpose and with the confidence that comes from the knowledge of the correctness of our actions. In book one, we deduced the nature of reality as is presented to our senses as being one governed by causation, both explicit (calculable effect) and implicit (chance/fortune). With objects divided into two classes, those with independent agency (life), which we called beings, and those without, which we termed things.

From here, we inferred from the inherent sameness between beings that the purpose of life is to continue with the various divisions of beings (classes of species, species, individuals) seeking after this ultimate purpose in their unique manner. From this realisation, it followed that we as beings shared this purpose.

In book two, we examined how humans achieved this purpose, discussing the role, nature, and duties to the self, family, and community. In book three. we explored the conflicts that could occur between the duties which we had examined and presented the ethical system of our Code. This system consisted of a hierarchical system of prioritisation and a framework for moral decision-making. What is left now is to place what we have discovered into practice. Examining the various elements of human society from our system’s perspective to see what can be inferred about the correct opinions and behaviours, which we should evidence as we follow our moral system.

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