A moral creed

Over at Sophistpundit, a commenter challenged the eponymous blogger to state his own moral ideals, since he was so free in his criticism of the ideas of rationalism.  Brave beyond words, Sophistpundit agreed.  Here is a sample of his must-read “Moral Philosophy“:

My understanding of how morality works in practice is owed entirely to the theories of moral sentiments of David Hume and Adam Smith, and theory of moral education of Protagoras.

The theories of moral sentiments, as one might imagine, depict morality as something that is felt by the individual. I find some actions repulsive, while others fill me with warmth. To Hume and Smith, the driving force behind the moral sentiments is sympathy, which is our tendency to feel what we imagine we might feel if we were in the situation of the person we observe. For example, if we witness an act of charity, the good feeling we get from our sympathy to the one receiving charity will for this reason tend to reflect well on the one committing the act.

Hume emphasized that we only make moral judgments about people’s character. Actions are judged only in as much as they are seen to reflect more general characteristics. I very much believe this to be the case. In economics we talk about how people look for certain signals to overcome problems of information asymmetry. It makes sense to me, therefore, that actions would be seen only as signals, to be used to better judge the sort of person we’re dealing with. This isn’t limited to moral judgments, either; we rely on such signals to determine a person’s competence as well. If technician who you have known and relied on for years makes a mistake, you will probably believe it if they attribute it to missing a night of sleep. If someone else with a poorer track record makes the same mistake, however, it will be reflected very differently in your judgment of them.

Read the whole thing — anyone who responds so boldly to a commenter deserves all the traffic his site can bear.  And while at the site, read up from this particular post, particularly the bits on science and the “basic framework.”  Good stuff.


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