Since the purpose of moral principles, or ethics, is to guide human choice and behavior that will lead to success and happiness, rather than human failure and misery, it is important to understand why such principles are needed and the foundation of such principles.
Mind and Morality
It is the human mind that makes moral principles necessary and determines what moral principles are. The human mind consists of three interdependent faculties: volition, rationality, and intellect.
Volition is the ability and necessity to consciously choose all one thinks and does. Volition should not be confused with what is mistakenly called "free will." Volition means that in order to think or act a human must choose to do so. Obviously volition only pertains to things that can be chosen. Biological functions, reflexes, and the behavior of the autonomic nervous system are automatic as they are in all the higher animals. All overt behavior and all thinking must be chosen.
Rationality is the ability to reason or think, that is to ask and answer questions and make judgments. Thinking requires volition because what one thinks and what one thinks about must be chosen, conversely choice requires thinking to determine which choices are best within the context of one's knowledge, which of the three attributes of the mind is the most important.
Intellect is the ability to gain and store knowledge. Knowledge requires reason to determine what is and is not true (and therefore genuine knowledge) and volition to make those judgments and to choose to make the effort to learn. The reason knowledge is the most important aspect of the mind is because knowledge is all there is to think with or about and neither thinking, and therefore choice are possible without. The limit of one's knowledge is the limit of their ability to think correctly and the limit of their ability to choose correctly.
These three, however, are not three different things, but three aspects of the same phenomena we call the human mind. Every thought we have is a volitional act, a conscious choice, and is the manipulation of knowledge. Not everything that goes on in our consciousness is thinking, however. Much of our consciousness is occupied with feelings, and imagination, and even "day dreams" which might or might not include thinking. Often the word mind is used to include these other aspects of our consciousness, but technically they should not be included, because those kinds of things apparently occupy the consciousness of other creatures as well. Strictly speaking, what distinguishes human consciousness from all other creatures is the unique mental function of thinking which is volitional, rational, and intellectual—that is, choosing to reason about what is known.
The First Two Moral Requirements
The first two moral requirements are determined by two aspects of the human mind, the intellect and rationality. Because a human being is a volitional being and must live by conscious choice a human being cannot live without knowledge about that which is available to choose and what the consequences of those choices might be. The necessity of gaining knowledge is the first moral requirement of human nature.
The necessity of gaining knowledge is the first moral requirement of human nature.
To make choices a human being must know how to reason about what he knows, using what he knows, to make judgments about what is true and not true and what is good, and what is bad. He must learn how to reason correctly and must use reason in all he chooses in thought or action. The necessity to use reason correctly is the second moral requirement of human nature.
The necessity to use reason correctly is the second moral requirement of human nature.
All Human Failure Is Moral Failure
Except in those cases where an individual suffers from unforeseen disaster beyond their control, the failure and unhappiness of most people is the consequence of their own wrong choices and wrong behavior. In most cases, wrong choices are the consequence of ignorance (lack of knowledge) and stupidity (the inability to think correctly).
There are different levels of raw mental ability, but it is not ability that determines an individual's moral character, but what they do with the ability they have. Someone is not ignorant because they do not know as much as someone else. An individual is ignorant if they have not learned all they possibly can. Most people could learn hundreds of times more than they do; the fact that they do not is a choice and is immoral. Someone is not stupid if they cannot reason as well as someone else, someone is stupid if they have not learned to reason as well as they possibly can and do not apply their ability to think as rigorously as they can about everything they think, choose, and do. Most people could reason much more effectively than they do; the fact that they do not is a choice and is immoral.
Most people are incredibly ignorant just because they do not make the effort to learn as much as they possibly can about all they possibly can. Most people are phenomenally stupid because they never learn how to reason and think clearly. Ignorance and stupidity are not innocent human shortcomings, they are the consequence of immoral choices. Stupidity and ignorance are not thrust on anyone. There is no excuse for being stupid and ignorant. The stupid and ignorant live miserable lives appropriate to their own choice not to be anything else.
Ignorance is the result of learning just enough to get by in a society made easy by the creators and producers that provide the products and services that are simple enough for even the ignorant and stupid to use and enjoy. Most of the people in American society have no idea how the things they use and even depend on, are produced, or even how they work. Except for a handful of Americans who work in the computer and IT (Information Technology) fields, most people have no idea how a computer works or what skip-frequency or packet-switching are, which all their phones and wireless devices depend on, or how an internal combustion engine, or even an electric motor works. How many TV viewers understand how a television works? They know how to get the beer out of the refrigerator, and even that the refrigerator needs to be plugged in, but have no idea how a refrigerator actually works.
Ignorant stupid people can never be as successful in their lives as they could be, and every day will suffer materially and emotionally for their moral failure to learn all they possibly can and to think and reason as well as they possibly can.
Learning and thinking are not easy, but life is not easy, at least a life worth living is not easy. The ignorant and stupid are not innocent, they have chosen to evade the requirements of their own natures because they deem them too hard, but the consequences are much harder, and they deserve them.
The Beginning Of A Moral, Successful, Happy Life
The ruthless truth is harsh, but accepting the truth is the first step toward success. If your own life is not the success you would like it to be, if you are not happy, the first step to correcting the unhappy path you are on is to admit that your problems are your own making.
It does not matter where you are now, you do not live in the past. You cannot cancel the consequences of past wrong choices, but you can begin making right ones. You must begin making right ones even if, at the moment, you are bearing the consequences of your past wrong choices. Things will only improve when you begin making right choices, otherwise things will only get worse.
Obviously your life will be better the more you know. The whole scope of your life is determined by how much you know. You cannot even think about what you do not know; you cannot make choices about that of which you have no knowledge; and you cannot even appreciate the things you see and experience every day if you do know what they are and how they relate to everything else. The less you know, the smaller your life, your experience of it, and your enjoyment of it are. The first step to a moral, successful, happy life is to learn all you can about as many things as you can.
The first step to a moral, successful, happy life is to learn all you can about as many things as you can.
Knowledge will do you no good if you do not know how to use it to think. If you really learn you will already have learned to think about what is true and not true and what real knowledge is (understanding) and false knowledge is (superstition and credulity).
Correct thinking is using knowledge to address questions and find answers to every issue of life. All of our wrong choices are either the result of ignorance or of incorrect thinking. Once we have knowledge we must learn how to use that knowledge to make right choices in all we think, choose, and do. The second step to a moral, successful, happy life is to learn how to think correctly about everything you choose and do.
The second step to a moral, successful, happy life is to learn how to think correctly about everything you choose and do.
[NOTE: Learning and thinking cannot be separated from one another in practice. All learning involves thinking as the means of organizing what one learns and relating it to other knowledge. Thinking itself is not terribly complex, although philosophers and academics have muddled the nature of reason almost to obscurity, with such wrong concepts as, "Critical Thinking." The next article, "Correct Thinking: Basic Principles Of Clear Reasoning," addresses the principles of thinking correctly.]