Moral Praxeology

Three different insights, mixed together, are making me see the world differently.

The first is Moral Foundations Theory. This says that there are several moral building blocks from which all systems and concepts of morality are built. These can be arranged and prioritized in many different ways, giving rise to different understandings of morality. Many of our conflicts in society stem from different understandings of morality, even though they are all made of the same moral building blocks.

The second insight is that human action is driven by ordinal processing. We can’t say that we like carrots 50% more than spinach. All we can say is that, at this moment, our desire for carrots trumps our desire for spinach, so we’ll choose carrots. An observer might note that we choose carrots 50% more often than spinach, but the choosing process isn’t based on that knowledge. We don’t weigh our desires: we sort and prioritize based on circumstance. X may usually trump Y, but it doesn’t always. We may not even understand why. I can see where this applies to the moral building blocks.

The third insight is that we have time preferences. We have both short term and long term goals, and they often conflict. Part of our priority sorting process involves deciding whether short term needs trump long term needs or the other way around. We will make different choices at different times and usually have many time frames to consider.

I believe that applying these three insights to the issues of the day will provide useful analysis and I hope to do this going forward. I am convinced that the passions behind many issues comes from differing choices regarding the priorities of moral foundations and timeframes. This may be overly reductionist, but time will tell.

NOTE: Not being tied to academic publishing, I have no need to reference and footnote the sources of various ideas. Nevertheless, the astute will recognize my intellectual debt to Jonathan Haidt, Ludwig von Mises, and Immanuel Kant.

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