Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur

Moral Systems

So I was reminiscing about some of the MBTI discussion floating around, particularly the interesting one in tpau's journal, which got into the topic of "moral systems". I asserted that I've gotten idiosyncratic about this, but that my beliefs are fairly strong. Which raises the interesting question that I've never asked myself in quite those terms: what are the moral rules I try to follow?

In rough order of priority:

Honesty. This probably defines my worldview more than anything else. This means honesty with myself, even more than honesty with others, because the first is a prerequisite for the second. It means honesty about both action and motivation -- not just what I do, but why I do it. It means honesty about consequences: being sincerely realistic about what I expect the results of my acts to be. I consider wishful thinking (and its dark counterpart, excessive pessimism) to be often the most dangerous form of dishonesty.

Empathy and Respect. I find that it's essential to be able to put myself into other peoples' shoes on a regular basis. This is a sort of variant of the Golden Rule. I don't precisely believe in the traditional version of the Rule -- "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" -- because different people don't necessarily appreciate the same acts. That which you view as an act of kindness may be an act of punishment to me. It's more important to have empathy for others: to try and understand what they want, and treat them as they would prefer. That isn't always possible; sometimes respecting the viewpoints of others would require a measure of personal dishonesty that I won't indulge in. But if I can at least understand where they're coming from, there is a basis for communication.

Courage. Life requires a measure of bravery. For me, some of that is completely day-to-day: throwing myself into the social fray sometimes requires a conscious act. More importantly, though, it means courage of my convictions. If I'm being both honest and realistic about what I do and what I want, then I should make a sincere effort to move matters towards the best outcomes I can see.

Moderation. I instinctively distrust extremes. Unbalanced ideology is the source of many of the world's ills, and unchecked appetite the source of most personal ones. I generally advocate moderation in all things. (Including moderation, when an honest evaluation of the situation requires an extreme response. That isn't often, though.)

Hmm. That may actually be it. I can think of lots of other principles I try to follow -- altruism, kindness, humor, etc -- but they generally seem to be emergent properties of the above. It's interesting to note that I tend to general modes of thought, rather than specific "do"s and "don't"s, very few of which I actually believe in universally. I'm fairly sure that some people wouldn't call these "morals", but they fit my working definition of the concept: universal rules of conduct which I try to follow myself and sometimes advocate to others as keys to "good".

I certainly don't manage to live up to my own rules consistently. But it's worth keeping them in mind, as goals to strive for...

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