Cathy Yang

If you were told that you could live your life in a near-perfect manner, would you believe it?

The logical answer is no. As Susan Wolf points out, living life as a “moral saint” is not the good kind of life to live. A “better” person doesn’t mean being “morally better” since for every good action, another more “morally good” initiative can be taken. This does not mean that humans should stop caring about their values. It is simply important to distinguish a boundary between being morally perfect and being human. After all, mankind is innately selfish. This selfishness is part of human nature but can be put into doing greater good. By channeling these innate behavioral patterns into methods of fostering productive relationships, the human species advances. While this appears obvious, parochialism and egocentrism flood society, contaminating values. Disagreements arise over the basis of moral foundation. What is right vs. wrong divides groups, resulting in a broken, inefficient world. Yet, pareto efficiency suggests that the correct allocation of resources, time, and effort, results in an incredibly efficient population with upper limits impossible to define. If society advanced as one, humanity will only get stronger till it reaches a point of the unachievable.

So how can we achieve that point? In order to cooperate, a basis moral foundation must be set. There are two main routes: a religious, metaphysical route or a logic-based, scientific route. Many religions offer a unified way of thinking among all believers. However, the logic-based scientific route offers no definitive, correct answer. Sam Harris attempts to connect philosophy and science, stating that moral values are merely facts about the wellbeing of the conscious mind. The question then arises as to how much you trust your consciousness. The human mind is powerful yet deceptive. Josh Greene elegantly explains the manual vs. automatic mode of the brain. The manual mode is our logical, more intellectual viewpoint, whereas the automatic mode is our emotional reactions, separating us from machines and other animals. Yet, in many cases, our brain leads us to automatic mode, where when dealing with complex problems, we tend to preach statements based on how we feel rather than the logic behind it. The power of emotion over many of our choices is something that makes us human, but also vulnerable to error. For example, a conundrum known as “valuation by prototype” points out that when presented with something tragic, we often treat the problem with the same weight even though the quantity of the stimulus increases. Logic tells us one thing, yet emotion tells us another. Which one do we follow?

Uniting humanity under a common cause has been a goal not only for effective altruists, but for numerous social justice movements throughout history. As technology advances and we grow closer to answering impossible questions, it is important to have a moral foundation to fall back upon as we advance into an unknown. As values are put to the test through the choices we need to make, the question becomes harder: how will you define your values?