Is ethical judgment really quick multiplication?

When we discern someone’s moral character, we seem to grok it in a way that almost immediate. We see one or more proclivities, and then boom—we simply grasp that its bearer is disordered.

According to Kant, the immediacy of our grasp is an illusion. Our sense of wrong is not an immediate presentation, but an inference that arises only at the tail end of a certain procedure. The procedure is remarkable in that it is a purely formal algorithm—it assumes nothing and uses only the data given to it to make its determination.

  • Formal algorithm for character evaluation (FACE): To evaluate someone’s moral character, imagine how she would feel living in a society made entirely of her clones, each actualizing the same proclivities as the original. Would the cloned original be happy?

This is the mental calculation that lies behind our intuitive grasp of someone’s character and the proclivities that constitute it. It is a sizable calculation, but it is purely formal—it does not add any evaluative content or test the person against any material norm. It simply multiplies and externalizes the stuff that is to be tested and has it live with itself.

What is needed is a “merely formal” procedure of evaluation, one that makes its determination without assuming it as a material principle. (Cf. the problem of “synthetic a prior judgments.”) As an example, let’s say we meet a person and she reveals the abiding proclivity of being a practiced liar. Her basic life MO for goal acquisition is to promise X in order to get favor Y without the slightest intention to keep her promise. We immediately grasp that this person, a freely choosing self-character architect, is ethically disordered. But our insight is not being read off of her character, proclivity, or act. When we grasp the disorderedness of her character, we do so by “letting it play itself out” in an emulation, which produces consequences that we can assess for value.

This is an impressively clean and modern (Baconian) procedure. The best way to learn about something is by assuming as little as possible, being receptive, cataloging facts, running controlled experiments, and taking accurate measurements. The method for theoretical knowledge is the method of concomitant variations—seeing how changes in one factor correlate to changes in other factors. If an increase in A is reliably correlated with an increase in B, then then it is scientifically reasonable to say that A is causally related to B.

The situation for practical knowledge is more difficult because there is no empirical test for ought other than feeling. How can we infer an ought from an is without merely assuming it? The FACE algorithm provides a solution. None of proclivities being tested are prejudged. The person who bears them is simply made to live inside a population of clones, and her happiness is measured.

The FACE algorithm is a procedure that evaluates an individual by universalizing his proclivities. This procedure of character-determination looks to be none other than the famous Kantian procedure for determining whether is action is moral. The two are the same, because a proclivity is just a maxim of action in biologically stored form. The character of a person is something we cognize in this way. Of all a person’s attributes, it is this one that determines the core self that we feel lurks behind all the person’s varying moods.

For this reason, it is appropriate to see people, simply in their mere being, in their having proclivities/maxims of action, as system promoters. Everyone is promoting, even selling, themselves as a believer in some specific kind of social cohesion. Each personality type is fundamentally different by virtue of the social form that it promotes. Each personality type is a seed crystal that, if combined with a million copies of itself, would yield a determinate flavor of being-a-socially-determined-person, or being-in-a-society.

Every attitude makes sense to us (though we don’t realize that this is the method) as a seed crystal that makes also a kind of lattice-as-unity when it is universalized. By character we really mean lattice seed. Character is not a monadic property. Its meaning and value are determined solely by the kind of social organism that it produces.

Kant’s categorical imperative was really just a seed character evaluator all along. The person is a seed, and the categorical imperative evaluates the seed according to whether or not it creates a healthy lattice organism. Kant is evaluating the person under the social by multiplying that person and having him experience the world he would secrete if he were everyone.

The collective human interaction can be treated as a unit—no less that my body, a 37.2 trillion-cell lattice, can be treated as a unity. I really believe that my body is a unity—especially when I locomote around in space. Moreover, the “I” that owns it feels to be a unity—a deep, transparent, time-traveling one whose position in space is always “inwards.” My body (well, the 0.001% that I falls under “my” volition) is a unity and its interests exist on a higher order than the mechanical ones of quantum chemistry that determine everything. The unified volition and perception of the agentive subject is an alien that is often counterposed to the material activities that sustain it. The intentional, agentive, and epistemic subject is run by interests that cannot be composed from the laws that are running its parts.

Now that type-level distinctness is settled, what about evaluative priority? It really does seem that a holon is always evaluated by referring it to the higher order that contains it. The propriety of a cell’s actions is determined with reference to the whole organism. So also the propriety of a person’s actions is determined with reference to the social organism. All this “individualism” crap is really nonsense. How can competing norms be evaluated except by referring them to some standard? The standard of any holonic level can only be determined by inspecting the results on the next higher type level. Kant method of universalization seems to be his way of reaching the transcendence necessary for evaluation, or of reaching the metalanguage from within the object language.

Footnote: Assuming as little as possible

This does not mean that we can assume nothing a la radical skepticism. There is a theoretical minimum that must be assumed before our receptive learning can take place. Among them: we must have a resting positive intentionality towards the target of our inquiry. To study object a, there must at least be something intended by a. The conditions that allow for the situation we call “subjective apprehension of an object” (aka experience) include metaphysical assumptions about that object. This startling conclusion follows simply from the starting point of representationalism. My being impacted modifies my consciousness/contents and these contents, as raw, do not as yet present an object for me—as everyone now knows thanks to this over-appreciated viral video. That is, there is a difference between the undergoings of consciousness and recognizing an object, not least of which is the intentionality of the epistemic relation that separates subject and object. Under representationalism, the difference between the two is subjective processing. The subject receives impressions and then does something to them. It is the subject itself that makes undergoings into an epistemic intentionality relation to an object. Necessary acts by the subject become necessary features of the object, and these give rise to necessary beliefs about the object. These are necessary assumptions that cannot be abstained from. To learn about an object, we must at least include all the metaphysical assumptions that permit thetic or positional consciousness of the object. These conditions are the topic of Kant’s First Critique.