# In moral philosophy, how do researchers perceive what is right and wrong (and why)? (For humanity, as a whole) [closed]

My question considers what our definition of right and wrong is (i.e. what's the basis of deciding what right and wrong), along with the origin of right and wrong.

In other words, what is the most common idea behind right and wrong across all religions, philosophers, and beliefs?

My idea is as follows:

As circumstances are different for everyone, right and wrong is also different. What it implies is that there is no universally acceptable right or wrong.

Since there isn't a universal right and wrong, humans cannot have a definite moral compass for their actions.

However, as a physical system, humanity needs order and peace (essentially, a low-energy stable state). A low-energy state is preferred for almost all physical phenomena - so, should humans also strive to achieve this stable state?

Here, I face another question - is humanity meant to live in peace, or are conflicts, in some way, necessary for the development of us as a civilization?

In such cases, all actions should be taken according to maximum benefit for everyone. Here's an analogy using math:

Consider an equation, say
f(x,y) = 7x⁴ - 4y³ + x² - 8y + 5, [f(x,y) is the consequence] and x+y is the maximum "potential" of the cause [i.e. what the maximum capability to take action is, based on circumstances] - say, x+y=10.

[Here, the coefficients and powers of the variables in f(x,y) indicate how "important" they are to the result of the action.]

For "maximum benefit", either f(x,y)>0, f''(x,y)=0, f'''(x,y)<0 [which means that net gain is positive, and the action has the maximum rate of growth (case 1)] Or - f'(x,y)=0, f''(x,y)<0, f'(x±h,y±h)>0 (h is an independent constant) [which means that the action has the maximum net gain at present, and will continue to grow regardless of the circumstances (case 2)]

Substituting y=10-x in f(x,y) yields 7x⁴ + 4x³ - 119x² + 1208x -4075 = f(x).

For no real value of x, case 1 or case 2 is satisfied. This means that the action, i.e. f(x,y), is bound to yield negative consequences. To resolve this, the coefficients and powers of variables need to be changed. (i.e. The importance given to each variable should be altered to yield maximum net gain)

This was merely an attempt to express cause and consequence using mathematics. (though real-life equations are found to be much more complex). Is there a way mathematics and calculus can be used to make rational and ethical decisions?

In this case, is it better to discard the existing framework of right and wrong, and adopt the method of "maximum benefit"?

What are the logical fallacies associated with my idea? Thank you for letting me know.

• War is father of all and king of all; and some he manifested as gods, some as men; some he made slaves, some free Heraclitus Commented Jul 13 at 6:59
• Reality is not different for everyone. There are facts and a statement is true if it agrees with facts. Then there are values... some more subjective, others less so. Commented Jul 13 at 7:43
• Just made your equations more readable Commented Jul 13 at 8:22
• Kimaya Deshpande - Don't get discouraged with "Close" votes. It is kind of normal. People have different concepts of right and wrong. Commented Jul 13 at 15:59
• If you have a magnetic moral compass, it might vary depending on where you are, but you can always calibrate it to true. All of life turns on the axis defined by the two poles: birth and death. Commented Jul 15 at 2:22

The most common idea is called Common Sense Convergence. Although there are variations, in general humans tend to move towards, adopt, favor, defend and justify things that work for them and feel harmonious to them as physical, living, social, communal, esthetic and usually pleasant beings. These tendencies arise from physics, biology, ethology, anthropology, ecology, psychology and basically all the other -ologies including technology.

Although there is a range for the settings of the moral dials, they are not all equally good, or even sustainable. As an analogy you could ask, "What is the best temperature for a public building?" Values very close to 21C would be common, and 11C is unlikely unless it is an ice rink, and 31C is above the threshold where humans can stay for 8 hours(*), so the workers would die.

The cold of space and the core of the sun are not "just as good", and I think that sensible people know this. The choices for healthy and sustainable morals are likely to be right under our noses, but some people are simply not seeing them. Kant tried to say something like, "project your choices in to the future and see what will happen", which is basically an Engineering mindset. Winging it though, is as unlikely to succeed as randomly pushing metal parts together is likely to create a jet engine. Since we've succeeded pretty well there, and we know a lot about psychology, I think that we can converge on something that will work, if we wish to do so. Will is actually the thing that impedes moral convergence. Ants have no problem getting along, they are incredibly successful.

(*) Wet Bulb temperature - it's an analogy, don't pick it apart.

• Speaking of airplanes, it is good to keep in mind that "The Largest Room in the World is the Room for Improvement" Commented Jul 13 at 11:39
• Winging it..pushing metal parts together to create a jet engine Also The cold of space and the core of the sun are not "just as good" +1. About common sense convergence ... not so sure. Unless the definition of common sense is what is not common Commented Jul 13 at 12:06
• @Rushi right, because it is about morality, the definition must be paradoxical, by definition :-) Commented Jul 13 at 15:18

"What is the most common idea behind right and wrong across all religions, philosophers, and beliefs?"

There isn't one. There is a huge variation. This is the central question of what is referred to as metaethics. There have been many thousands of books written on the subject over the centuries. If you study for a degree in philosophy you can expect to take several lecture courses on it. There is a very brief introduction to the subject in articles in the Stanford Encyclopedia and the Internet Encyclopedia.

While there is no general consensus, there are many distinct identifiable positions, with many variations on each. There are different ways you might categorise them, for example:

1. Moral cognitivism. There are moral facts. Moral judgments, such as X is good, or X is right, or you ought to do X, are capable of being true or false.
• 1.a. Platonism. Moral truths are transcendental and eternal and are known by intuition.
• 1.b. Divine command theory. Moral facts are true because God says so.
• 1.c Deontological theories. Moral truths arise from considerations about agency, freedom, rights, etc.
• 1.d. Naturalism. Moral truths can be fully understood as statements about natural properties of things.
• 1.d.i Virtue theory. There are properties such as courage, wisdom, justice and self-control that are morally virtuous.
• 1.d.ii Cornell realism. Moral facts are natural but they cannot be reduced to non-moral natural facts or identified with any particular combination of natural facts.
• 1.d.iii Reductionist naturalism. Moral facts are identical with some natural property. E.g. within utilitarianism, what is right is identified with what promotes the greatest happiness. There are many variations of this kind of theory.
1. Moral non-cognitivism. There are no moral truths as such. Moral judgments are speech acts but do not state propositions.
• 2.a Expressivism (or emotivism). A moral judgment is an expression of a positive attitude.
• 2.b Prescriptivism. A moral judgment is a prescription.
• 2.c Kantianism. Kant is difficult to categorise because his philosophy often involves trying to combine apparently conflicting positions into a unity. Moral judgments are more like commands than propositions, but via the categorical imperative they are objective and are binding everywhere and on everyone.
1. Moral skepticism. There are no moral truths and we are mistaken in thinking that moral judgments mean much of anything.
• 3.a Error theory. Moral judgments appear to state facts but they are erroneous.
• 3.b Relativism. Morality is nothing more than cultural norms. (Some relativists are not entirely skeptical.)

The above list is not meant to be complete and there are many variations and nuanced positions that cross the boundaries. As to your other questions:

"Circumstances are different for everyone". Unless you are a moral relativist, moral laws are meant to be universal.

"Humanity needs order and peace". Stability of a community is desirable, at least up to a point. Virtue theorists may defend their position by saying that virtues such as justice, wisdom, etc., are just those behaviours that are necessary for a community to thrive.

"Maximum benefit" suggests you are assuming some kind of utilitarianism. This is only one position among many and is open to a great deal of criticism.

It is impossible to answer this question without identifying the subject of this qualification (right or wrong).

1. A human individual or a group of human individuals
2. History of humanity as a whole
3. Physical world that includes humans
4. The Architect and maintainer (God or Simulation Theory)

Basically, if you look from below (the human view), or if you look from above (The Creator, the Creation, the purpose of the World) - you will often get the opposing answers to this question.

• Maybe not opposing. But almost certainly v different. +1 Commented Jul 13 at 16:13
• BTW your list should start within 1 itself: eg. good of individual vs good of family, etc. Commented Jul 13 at 16:15
• One more point: In nuanced universe-origin-n-end accounts there can be complementary "gods", eg. Brahma creates, Vishnu sustains, Shiva dissolves. Between them there is never a disagreement. But the devotees of each habitually quarrel and misunderstand the 'other guy'. This can be taken as a personified form of fundamentally conflicting good-bad goals Commented Jul 13 at 16:22
• @Rushi - "Between them there is never a disagreement" - I think this is still a human view on Gods. But if you really try to get into God's head, one common "wrong" would be stale water. You don't want to waste electricity if there is no progress. Commented Jul 13 at 16:31
• Perhaps both sides could agree on some things? "When there is righteousness in the heart, there is beauty in the character. When there is beauty in the character, there is harmony in the home. When there is harmony in the home, there is order in the nation. When there is order in the nation, there is peace in the world." - Confucius Commented Jul 13 at 16:47

There's also the "Golden Rule".

The Golden Rule is the principle of treating others as one would want to be treated by them.

Source

There are various sayings and translations that have a similar root, for example:

"Don't do unto others what you don't want done unto you." ~ Confucius
"Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire." ~ Confucius

I believe that the "root" is you, and "you" implies raising, self-development, and empathy. Empathy assumes development, and, as any kind of human-oriented development, it is subjective. Yes, there are rules, but there's also a human factor.

For instance, pain. Pain is a subjective experience, and cannot be directly observed by those who are not experiencing it at this moment in that environment, or did not experience it in past at all. With more experience gained, you develop pain empathy, but the most or everyone has different level of pain.

Would you like to feel more pain?
Would that allow you let another feel more pain?
Would you find more pain appropriate or right choice in the end?

Humanity involves collective cultures , societies and civilisation that humans have built. There are different moral and ethical values. Therefore we can not talk about absolute right and wrong for every homo sapien who is part of the humanity and therefore there is no absolute right or wrong for the humanity.

However , there are different alignments based on society and culture. There are cities , villages , religions , classes, castes etc which are aligned in their own way. They have different purposes. Within this framework there is a sense of right and wrong. That which is aligned with its group is right and that which is not aligned with its group is wrong.

This is so because without alignment humanity can not exist. How this alignment came to be is a very deep religious and philosophical question.

Mathematics and calculus can be used in certain situations for the benefit of humanity but it is useless for making ethical decisions.

• Groups can perform better or worse, within themselves and in interaction with other groups. It's like saying there's no best way to play basketball, but some teams do well and end up winning the championship... Commented Jul 15 at 10:48