Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Rationality and Morality

In much of popular culture, the solely rational creature has portrayed as a malevolent and amoral force. AI, composed of pure intellect, is often depicted as trying to eliminate humanity. The sociopath, deprived of human emotion but still with mental faculties intact, murders in cold blood. It must appear, then, that to be purely rational is to be amoral, or worse, immoral.

But is this really true ? I am inclined to believe otherwise, that a purely rational being would be more moral than a normal human.

First, it must be evident that rationality is a prerequisite for morality. A non-rational creature cannot be moral nor immoral. It may be wrong to kill another sentient being, but a tiger killing a human is at best a regretable affair. This is because there must some element of concious choice before any act can be considered moral or vice versa.

If rationality is indeed required for morality, is it then the sole basis for moral behavior ? Could it be that something else is required, for example, an innate human conscience ? I doubt this.

Arguably, conscience guides us in making moral decisions. It is a built-in and instinctive sense of morality. But, precisely because it is instinctive, conscience ceases to be either a sufficent qualifier of morality or even a neccessary condition of morality. In clearer terms, a person acting solely on the basis of conscience appears to be acting morally, but is internally no different from an animal or an automaton. For the same reason, I hold that conscience is not neccessary for moral behavior, since it does not contribute to the concious moral decision process.

Since I have accepted only rationality as a basis for morality, I must be prepared to defend this view from a number of attacks. One such attack is the egotist principle, which argues that to be rational is to pursue one's own interests. It would then be rational to betray moral considerations if one's interests can be maximised.

I would argue that it is irrational to betray morality, because in doing so one's self-interest is actually reduced. Although the betrayer gains from his departure from the moral, in doing so, by reciprocity, he is himself subject to the immoral/amoral depredations of others. It is inherently more rational to obey the moral laws and to live in a moral society.

Hence, I would conclude that a purely rational being would be more moral than a normal human.

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