Ontological Morality

This article discusses a moral position derived by an argument from ontology. It’s not about moral ontology.

The Ontological Argument has many flavors but it goes roughly as follows:

  1. A good thing which is real is better than a good thing which is not real.
  2. Therefore, existence is a good property. (Actually, a Great-Making Property)
  3. A perfect being is a being that obtains all good properties.
  4. Therefore, a perfect being exists.

In addition to its employment as an argument for God, the ontological result that existence is a moral quality provides a useful moral framework.

We can call this ontologically derived moral framework Ontological Morality. In theory it seems to be a close sibling of De Facto Morality or De Facto Rights, which I have previously discussed. Here are some implications of this moral framework:

  1. Life has moral value.
  2. Sustainability, endurance, and durability are signs of moral quality.
  3. Conservatism has a moral quality to it, where conservatism is defined as a value for durable institutions.
  4. Long-run economic solutions are perhaps more justified than short-run solutions.
  5. Age may have a moral component, ceteris paribus.

Two open questions are the topics of moral accumulation and probabilistic morality, under this framework:

  1. If some structure instantiates at some time, does it accumulate morality over time or was it moral from the beginning?
  2. Even if the latter is true, is it appropriate to perceive or expect the former?
  3. If two events could sustain but one is more likely, is it a more moral choice?

Another interesting question is whether we can stretch Ontological Morality into a version of or support for De Facto Morality or Natural Morality:

  1. Is something morally justified just by virtue of its existence (barring a defeater)?
  2. Is the is-ought problem invalid? In contrast, is it valid to say that whatever exists is moral, whatever should be will be, and, perhaps most controversially, whatever has been is what should have been?
  3. Are we in the Best of All Possible Worlds?

Why Support It? This framework leads to optimism about the future and contentment with the present. It allows us to value some things we traditionally value, like human life. It supports certain social, political, and economic views, and it gives us a logical way to advocate for moral claims about how the world should be. It also seems to solve the is-ought problem.

Why Not Support It? Because depending on how this framework is applied, it might suggest that some apparently immoral things have some kind of moral quality about them. For example, if I say whatever should have been is that which was, am I supporting the Holocaust? Even if I am just saying that in light of human nature and free will the Holocaust is the least bad event it could have been, it still seem like very shaky ground to be on.

Moreover, it gives kind of a not-really-solution to the is-ought problem because it seems to say that things are already optimal, no reason to change them. Then again, if you like Eugene Fama maybe you area already comfortable with that kind of reasoning.


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