The morality of government

The right to bear arms

The morality of war


Who owns land?


The right to independence

American independence

Basque independence

Northern Ireland

Countries by population

The free market


Crime and punishment

The health industry



Morality is a set of rules used to determine whether someone's behaviour is good or bad. The same description also applies to law; but morality is personal, voluntary, and often unwritten, whereas law is agreed on by a group of people, enforced, and usually written.

We grow up with a vague sense of morality absorbed from our families and from society in general; but it seems rather inadequate to rely on tradition and intuition for something so important. Is there any objective way we could work out what morality should be?

Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, the answer is no. I haven't been able to think of a way to do it, and I haven't heard of anyone else who's succeeded convincingly. Moral rules are not laws of nature; the whole concept is a human invention and seems to be fundamentally subjective.

In trying to research morality on the Web, I come up against the interminable waffle and wordy humbug so typical of the social sciences in general, but I extracted one seemingly useful idea from an article on Kant: that we should follow rules that we'd be happy to see followed universally.

I doubt that Kant and I would agree about much, but I like this one idea and I'll run with it.

Why are most social scientists so unreadable? One theory is that they fear writing clearly and simply, because then they'd be done in a few sentences and no-one would pay them for it. Another theory is that they're muddled thinkers and poor writers, who couldn't write clearly and simply to save their lives.

My own morality

Here are some simple rules that I propose for universal application. I generally manage to follow these rules myself; I wish the rest of you would do so...

  1. Don't use force on innocent people for any reason.
  2. Don't take or use the property of innocent people without their permission.
  3. Innocent people are defined as people who follow these rules.
  4. People are defined as intelligent creatures capable of understanding these rules.

The supplementary notes below are of less practical importance than the basic rules, but serve to fill in some details.

Treatment of guilty people

However innocent you think you are, there are probably some people in the world who would judge you guilty — by their own morality. And, while you may feel that your morality is superior to theirs, you can't prove it. So, while it's hardly feasible to avoid any use of force in any circumstances, try not to inflict unnecessary suffering even on guilty people, and hope for similar mercy when you're found guilty by someone else's strange rules.

Treatment of very young humans

Babies and toddlers don't count as people in this context, because they can't understand the rules.

However, bear in mind that anything you do to children, your parents would have been entitled to do to you. So don't abuse them. But you can of course use force on them for their own protection.

Abortion is a controversial subject, but I don't understand why. If my mother had decided to abort me, it wouldn't have bothered me at all, because I wouldn't have had the slightest idea of what was going on. If I'd been aborted, I'd have been deprived of my whole life, but so what? If it didn't bother me — and it wouldn't have done — why should anyone else worry about it?

I suppose the process of abortion — unless it's performed very early — causes the fetus some brief physical discomfort, perhaps even pain; but if not aborted it would surely experience similar distress in the course of normal birth.

The same kind of argument applies to infanticide (killing babies after birth); but people are more squeamish about infanticide than about abortion, and perhaps it's socially desirable that they should be, so I won't complain about it. By the time a woman gives birth, in most cases she should have had enough time to decide whether she wants the child or not.

Treatment of animals

Maybe someday we'll encounter superbeings who regard us as we regard animals. Will we be happy for them to treat us as we treat animals?

It seems to me that we're morally entitled to use force to prevent animals from attacking us. Maybe we're entitled to use some degree of force to persuade animals to behave themselves in human society.

I doubt that we're morally entitled to torture or kill animals for fun, or even for medical research. I dislike the tactics of animal rights activists, but I think we'd look better to the rest of the universe if we did our medical research on human volunteers.

As for eating animals: I'm not a vegetarian, but I have to admit that I probably ought to be. I kill no animals myself, except for the occasional insect; but this is a rather weak defence.

I don't see anything wrong with eating animals (or even humans; remember Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land?) that have died a natural death; but deliberately killing animals for meat doesn't look good, and keeping them in cramped and unpleasant conditions all their lives before killing them looks even worse.

And finally

If you think you can improve my morality in some constructive way, feel free to let me know. If you just disagree with it, I can only shrug. I can't prove that mine is better than yours; and I don't think you can prove that yours is better than mine.