Today I am going to talk about morality from a scientific perspective. What I am about to say is nothing original, but described well here. But then why write this post at all ? There are two major reasons :

  1. I was once thinking about three laws of freedom. Thinking it was trivial, I never bothered to write it down and now I can’t remember the third law no matter how hard I try. It also seems that the thought was original because it seems not to be documented anywhere on the web.
  2. This post is also for those who need to see the math to understand anything 🙂

So the content I am mentioning below is entirely hypothetical. However, it would be useful to understand the concepts at a theoretical level.

So imagine that someone discovers an instrument that can measure happiness of an individual. This, by itself is a questionable concept. What constitutes happiness ? Is it contentment ? Is it bodily pleasures ? Forget all that and think about it as an abstract ‘something’ that we are all constantly looking for. Furthermore, let us assume that happiness can be added, subtracted, multiplied etc once we bring it to such a system. Now, it would be possible to measure the happiness of all the people in this world. Let it be : ΣHp ( Net Happiness )

We can plot the Net Happiness over time of all the people in this world in the graph as shown:


Here t1 is the moment under consideration and t2 is the instant at which all sentient beings ceases to exist ( Big Crunch ? ). Now assume that t1 is the only point you have free will and based on the decision that you make, the Happiness Graph can change to f(t) or h(t). g(t) is the graph if you have no free will. I argue that, that action which maximizes the net happiness of every sentient being in this world [shown by region under h(t)] is the right action. Every other action is a wrong action. That is, we need to take that action at t1 that maximizes the area under this graph (action that corresponds to h(t)) . That is, the value that needs maximizing is this :

Net ΣHp = \int_{t1}^{t2} f(t) \, \mathrm{d} t

I also argue any action that causes this Net Hp value to be lower than the area under g(t) is an evil action. Any action that causes the happiness graph to have an area greater than area under g(t) is a good action.

Implications :

  1. Clearly good actions can be wrong actions. For example, assume a scenerio when you learn that the whole world is going to end in a few minutes. You see a beggar on the street looking for a days food. You realize you have about 100 bucks on you. Giving the begger 50 bucks would be a good action. But the only right action is to give him all your 100 bucks (assuming happiness increases linerly with money given).
  2. It must be understood that inaction can also be an action. For example, suppose one nihilist has trapped himself in a room where you cannot enter. He has access to a nuclear bomb that if activated will destroy this entire world and kill everyone in this world. Your only option is to kill that person. Here, your inaction will result in the death of everyone in this world. Assuming that if the world goes on there is more happiness to be had for everyone it means you are being evil with your inaction.
  3. I have assumed here that one unit of happiness given to one person is same as one unit of happiness given to any other person. For example, one unit of happiness given to one man, woman, black, caucassian, hispanic, aryan, jew, hindu, muslim, christian etc is the same as one unit given to any other.
  4. While it is possible for two view-points/philosophies to be equally valid, it is not very probable.
  5. Assuming that human beings cannot see all the possibilities ahead, the simplest approach we can take is a greedy approach. For example, it is believed that Helene Hanfstaengl persuaded Adolf Hitler away from suicide after the failure of his first revolution. Afterwards, he went ahead and killed many million people. It is unclear what would have happened, if she had chosen at that point not to do that. However, it may not have made any sense for her not to save someone’s life given the information she had.

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Joji Antony

What’s up, I’m Joji. I’m a software engineer living in Bengaluru, India. I am a fan of technology, programming, and football.

2 thoughts on “Morality”

  1. “In the strict formulation of the law of causality—if we know the present, we can calculate the future—it is not the conclusion that is wrong but the premise.”

    – Werner Heisenberg

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