We need to talk about ethics, on a meta-level

When children scream “that’s not fair!”, they do so considerably louder and with much more fervor than when screaming “I am hungry” or, if ever, “I am tired!” – A scratched knee can draw both blood and tears, but the pain of “unfairness” will cause a wailing to be heard ten blocks down the street. Why is that? This might turn out to be one of humanity's most pressing questions.

Jan Brueghel the Elder, Bath of the Nymphs

Jan Brueghel the Elder, Bath of the Nymphs

“Unfairness” hurts. Humans are born with an “ethical feeling”, a “drive” if you will. The ethical feeling is comparable to the desire for food, sex or safety. To understand humanity, society and ourselves, we need to understand ethical feelings. We need to understand how ethical feelings are organized. We need to understand what causes ethical feelings, how we can predict them and, yes, how we can manipulate these ethical feelings, both in others and ourselves.

Ethical feelings are at the core of what causes a group of people to give special protection to families, but also drives what causes another group to kill anybody with a “wrong” belief system. When there is a war to be started, professionals shape the public's ethical feelings accordingly. And often ethical feelings are what forces politicians to end their wars again.

People have killed others and sacrificed themselves to satisfy ethical feelings. I believe that the future of humanity and every person’s individual happiness both depend on understanding the structure of ethical feelings.

We have spent too much energy on haggling over what is right and wrong. It’s time to talk about why and how people come to these ethical conclusions. You may think that this thing is “good” and that some other thing is “evil”. I don’t disagree, not here, not now. I would like to discuss a different question with you, a meta-question. I want to pinpoint what factors made you call a thing “good” or “evil”.

We need to talk about ethics, on a meta-level.

We need to talk Meta-Ethics.