over the past two weeks, i have been grateful to receive a modest amount of feedback on my previous article ‘vaulting the is/ought barrier’. most of the feedback came from the forums where i posted summaries of the article, but i was excited to get some feedback directly in the comments here as well (thanks brian!).
one criticism in particular brought my attention to a pretty serious error in how i’ve presented my argument. the commenter pointed out that the following sentence from my article is actually very unclear:
if we can identify one aim that is not just common, like hunger (we’re all aiming to fill different bellies), but actually shared by at least the vast majority of our entire species (with dissent being statistically negligible) , no larger context would be needed.
so i edited the sentence, so that it’s meaning was clearer, but once i’d done that, i realized that this sentence is wrong! somehow i’ve messed up my own theory!
so to clarify what the problem is (cuz the sentence really is a garbled mess)–this sentence states that the universal aim must be one specific aim shared by all–an aim toward the well-being of our species as a whole–like a single construction crew all working on the same building. but the universal aim is actually the aim of each of us toward our personal well-being–more similar to a bunch of separate construction workers working on their own separate buildings. the universal aim can’t be a single shared aim toward the well-being of our species as a whole. it’s a rudimentary part of our genetic inheritance–its an essential quality of the evolutionary process–and evolution simply does not work like that (for slightly technical reasons that you’re likely to either already understand, or find really boring to read about–and possibly both).
as i explained on the forum where this mistake first became apparent to me, this is one of the drawbacks of never having shared my theory with others or even written everything all in one place before. what i’ve ended up with is a fully developed theory that i have no idea how to present to people. and i’m finding that there are certain revisions that i’ve made to the theory over time that i haven’t actually applied to all of the various ways of putting things that i’ve been carrying around in my head for years.
so, sorry for the confusion.
but this is not actually a problem for my theory. taking into account that the universal aim is toward personal well-being, my theory implies a prediction about what we will learn from the scientific study of human well-being; namely, that the optimal well-being of the individual requires the holding of socially positive attitudes like empathy, a base-line level of unconditional respect, and compassion. these (and other) constraints on what “personal well-being” can mean for a human, result from the fact that we are social animals interacting in a highly complex, increasingly interconnected environment. the modern deluge of technology that tends to make intercultural communications simultaneously easier and more necessary (or at least more desirable) continues to reinforce these constraints.
to put it in terms of the construction worker metaphor, we’re all working on our separate buildings, but they’re all so close together that there’s no way to build them properly without coordinating our efforts.
so that’s that.
i should also mention that it has recently been brought to my attention (by another commenter on another forum) that my concept of ‘the universal aim’ is nearly identical to albert schweitzer’s concept of ‘the will to live’ which he employs toward similar–yet sufficiently dissimilar–ends.
end of addendum.