Biological Survival and The Hedonic Response
Ethics is the study of the nature of proper choice and conduct, specifically as such choice and conduct affects sentient beings; it is sometimes referred to as moral philosophy. It tries to identify methods for properly choosing actions which are the “best,” “optimum,” most “ethical,” or most “moral” out of the available possible choices; to put this in prescriptive ethical terms, it tries to describe that which one “should” or “ought to” do.
It would be pointless, however, to attempt to prescribe how human beings should make choices in the absence of understanding how they actually do make choices; to ignore how humans actually do make choices is to ignore reality and thus to venture into mysticism. The only empiricorational approach is to observe and understand how humans actually do make choices and then to examine the possibility of uncovering methods for optimizing this process.
The activities of all sentient beings, i.e., all beings which experience pleasure and pain, are guided by the experience of pleasure and pain, in such a manner that they are driven toward pleasure and away from pain. This fundamental, inescapable drive may be referred to as the “pleasure/pain response” or the “hedonic response.”
All biological organisms which can feel pleasure and pain are driven toward pleasure and away from pain. Due to the mechanism of biological evolution those things which tend to enhance survival tend to be biologically associated with pleasure, and those things which tend to hinder survival tend to be biologically associated with pain. Creatures which found pleasure in contra-survival things, or pain in pro-survival things, would tend to live shorter and have less opportunities to replicate their genetic variations – variations which would give rise to contra-survival pleasure/pain associations. Creatures finding pleasure in pro-survival things and pain in contra-survival things, however, would tend to live longer and therefore have more opportunities to replicate their genetic variations which give rise to pro-survival pleasure/pain associations. It would not take many generations at all before a pro-survival hedonic response was essentially universally present amongst all descendants; there have been billions of years of biological evolution on Earth.
It is important to note, however, that pleasure and pain are not and can not be the ultimate criteria of the survival value of an activity or thing. A drug, for example, may induce a great amount of immediate pleasure – even euphoria – but the same drug taken to excess may also lead to overdose and death. Furthermore, there are some individuals who take a sort of “masochistic pleasure” from the experience of certain forms of pain. Thus it can be seen that while the hedonic response originated as an essentially automatic survival mechanism, there are many situations where survival considerations go beyond the mere reaction to pleasure or pain.
If pleasure and pain were the ultimate criteria of survival, it would never have been necessary for life to evolve beyond the simplest of sensory organisms. It is ultimately the responsibility of conceptually conscious beings, such as humans, to learn to properly evaluate the true survival value of various activities and things. It is important to recognize that such proper evaluation does not come automatically, but requires honest, integrated effort.
The pleasure/pain response, i.e., the hedonic response, guides the activities of all creatures which are capable of experiencing pleasure and pain, but it operates differently in purely sensory, perceptual, and conceptual consciousness. Purely sensory consciousness merely reacts in automatic response to the sensory pleasure or pain of the immediate moment. Perceptually and conceptually conscious entities, on the other hand, make all choices by selecting, from the recognized available options, that option which is mentally associated with pleasure or pain in such a manner that the thought of choosing it provides the chooser with greater immediate pleasure or less pain than the thought of choosing any other option; this is the hedonic response, as applied to both perceptual and conceptual entities.
Perceptually conscious entities (including very young humans) are unable to modify their own mental associations, except in relatively rudimentary ways, and thus their thoughts and activities are automatically determined by biological instinct and social conditioning. At the level of conceptual consciousness, however, it becomes possible for the mind to intentionally modify its own internal integrations and associations, thus potentiating a degree of choice which is both quantitatively and qualitatively beyond that of lower levels of consciousness. Conceptual consciousness allows human beings to intentionally modify their own thinking and behaviors far beyond both their inherent, inborn biological instincts and their learned, social conditioning. Thus human beings possess “free will,” in a way that lower creatures do not, and it is their conceptual ability which makes free will possible.
This is not to say that human choice is simply random in nature; nor is it undetermined or outside of the physical laws governing the universe; after all, the mind is a product of the brain, a physical structure operating according to physical laws. “Free will” simply means that human conceptual consciousness allows humans to understand their own choices and choice-making processes in ways which other, non-conceptual animals simply cannot and that this leads to a qualitatively different type of choice-making. Even with conceptual abilities and the understandings which come with them, however, humans still do make all choices by selecting, from the recognized available options, that option which is mentally associated with pleasure or pain in such a manner that the thought of choosing it provides the chooser with greater immediate pleasure or less pain than the thought of choosing any other option. In the next section we will see, that humans even have the ability to modify their minds to quite a large degree regarding the hedonic value derived from the thoughts of choosing various options.
Value Standards and Conscience
Scionics recognizes pleasure, happiness and positive feelings and emotions as the only things of intrinsic positive hedonic value; likewise, pain, unhappiness and negative feelings and emotions are the only things of intrinsic negative hedonic value. Those things which lead to the increase of positive hedonic value or the decrease of negative hedonic value are of instrumental positive hedonic value; those things which lead to the decrease of positive hedonic value or the increase of negative hedonic value are of instrumental negative hedonic value. (Sometimes an instrumental hedonic value can become associated with pleasure over time, in such a fashion that it becomes pleasurable in its own right. This is obviously a beneficial occurrence.)
The term “hedonic value,” without the modifiers “positive” or “negative,” generally refers to positive hedonic value. The term “hedonic disvalue” can be used as an alternative term for “negative hedonic value.”
The term “value” can be used in several ways. Ayn Rand has defined a “value” as “that which one strives to gain or keep;” generally speaking, such values are desired because they either are of intrinsic or instrumental hedonic value. The term “value” can also be used to indicate one's standards for determining that which one strives to gain or keep. “Valuing” can also be used to indicate the act of desiring or striving for such things. The term “disvalue” can be used as an antonym for any of these uses of “value.”
The term “conscience” is used to refer to the feelings and emotions which are associated with ethical choices. The conscience may technically be defined as the psychological mechanism which provides the immediate emotional pleasure or pain that is associated with the thought of choosing some option. It provides the emotional content associated with the act of valuing or disvaluing something. One's value standards and one's conscience are thus two aspects of the same process.
Whereas lower-consciousness beings have an essentially automatic standard of value, conceptually conscious beings have the ability to examine and modify their value standards and their conscience. Such examination and modification can proceed essentially non-volitionally, unconsciously, mystically, or unintentionally, or it can be carried out volitionally, intentionally and empiricorationally. It should be obvious that a volitionally, intentionally directed empiricorational approach will be most effective in guiding one in the pursuit and acquisition of hedonic value.
In some ways, the human conscience shares characteristics with the human ability to speak. One is not born with either grammatical language or a conscience, yet over time one acquires both as one's conceptual mind develops. Human infants can vocalize and communicate such simple things as pleasure and displeasure, just as lower animals can, but while humans do not speak an actual grammatical language when they are born, they do have the nascent conceptual faculties and linguistic abilities necessary to eventually acquire any human language. In a similar fashion, one is not born with a conscience, but eventually develops one in conjunction with, and as a result of, one’s conceptual mind.
As one develops as a child, one must learn to obey any number of commands or rules, frequently with the promise of some reward or the threat of some punishment. The child desires the reward or fears the punishment, but resents having to bend to the will of an external authority. In other words, children do not like being told what to do, but want to do what they want to do. In order to resolve the psychological conflict between the child’s resentment of the external commands, on the one hand, and the need to comply with them, on the other, the child begins to internalize these commands, i.e., to psychologically integrate them into his or her conscience as though they actually originated from his or her own internal desires, rather than from some external authority.
This process of internalization has the psychological effect of causing increasing acceptance of these commands, as they become increasingly experienced as a reflection of one’s inner will or inner authority, rather than that of some resented external authority. Many of these commands are issued in the interest of the child’s safety and well-being. The less that such commands are resented and resisted, and the more they come to be internalized, the more readily will the child carry them out. Thus the child eventually comes to “automatically” carry out various beneficial actions without the need for constant supervision or external commands.
There can also be a hidden, detrimental aspect to this process, however, due to its largely subconscious nature. In addition to internalizing commands which actually promote the child’s well-being, the child can also unknowingly come to internalize other commands which do not. It is also possible for the child to develop the psychological habit of unquestioningly accepting external authorities; this habit, if unchecked, may well be carried on into and throughout its adult life, and can be quite dangerous if the “commands” of the external authority are not in one's best interest. This dangerous psychological habit of the acceptance of external authority is unfortunately quite prevalent among human beings.
One can avoid the inherent dangers of subconscious command-internalization and unquestioned authority-acceptance as one begins to mature and develop in one’s conceptual faculties, provided that one exerts the disciplined, honest effort necessary for the intentional empiricorational examination of the internal commands and judgments of one’s own conscience, as well as those of all external authorities, regardless of the source. In this way, one’s conscious, conceptual mind becomes fully engaged in the process of choice, potentiating the development of a mature, objective, reality-based conscience (rather than an immature, subjective, blind-faith-in-authority conscience) and a much higher degree of choice.
The human capacity for free will thus extends far beyond the freedom to follow the arbitrary feelings generated by a shadowy, nebulous consciousness and conscience, to the much greater freedom of actually authoring one’s own mind, and one’s own conscience. Thus the heart of Scionics Ethics – and the conscience of the Scion – are not based in the dark world of mystical thinking, but in the brightly illuminated world of empiricorational thinking.
The Guiltless Empiricorational Pursuit of Maximum Hedonic Value
The hedonic response ultimately governs the choices and actions of all conscious, sentient beings, including humans. Hedonic value, in one form or another, is the ultimate and inescapable goal of all action. To deny this is to deny an aspect of human nature and reality itself; to act against this is to act against one's well-being, self-interest and survival.
It might seem impossible to act as though hedonic value is not the goal of all action since the hedonic response governs all action. Such anti-hedonic action is only possible, however, when one has an erroneous, mystical, non-reality-based conscience and value standard; such value standards are, in turn, based upon erroneous, mystical, non-empiricorational views of reality.
One who firmly holds a non-mystical, empiricorational and reality-based view of reality and who holds a corresponding conscience and value standard will naturally and guiltlessly act in ways empiricorationally calculated to maximize one's well-being, survival, and self-interest; in other words, to maximize one's hedonic value. This leads to an important psychological and cognitive principle: the guiltless, empiricorational pursuit of maximum hedonic value. In the next section it will be seen how this is negotiated in the context of society, i.e., in situations where others are involved.
We are limited and fallible beings, and as such we are subject to making occasional errors in judgment. One may calculate some action as being instrumental to one's attainment of hedonic value, but because of unforeseen circumstances or simple miscalculation the action may deliver hedonic disvalue instead. Such errors do not make a person “immoral” or “sinful,” but merely fallible; to the contrary, the conscious effort to increase hedonic value is always “moral” and “virtuous,” provided the effort was made in the honest belief that the result would be positive.
Many religions and other schools of thought often erroneously hold various forms of hedonic value to be “sinful” or “wrong.” There is, however, no reality-based reason to assign a negative label to any pleasure or hedonic value provided that it is honestly expected to be unlikely to lead to a greater net hedonic disvalue. In much the same way, many religions and other schools of thought often erroneously hold various forms of hedonic disvalue to be “virtuous” or “right.” There is no reality-based reason, however, to assign a positive label to any pain or hedonic disvalue provided that it is honestly expected to be unlikely to lead to a greater net hedonic value.
Honest errors in judgment do need to be dealt with and compensated for, but that applies in every aspect of human endeavor, ethics included. Honest effort is always virtuous, and the guiltless empiricorational pursuit of maximum hedonic value requires honest effort; this honest effort tends to be richly rewarded with happiness, success and well-being.
Social Rights and Duties: The Non-aggression Principle
Just as many religions and other schools of thought hold that various forms of hedonic value are “sinful” or “wrong,” so too, many schools of thought also hold the pursuit of self-interest to also be wrong. Such thinking holds that one should adopt an altruistic approach towards life, sacrificing one's own interests to the interests of others.
Rather than simply espousing either a purely self-interested or a purely altruistic ethics, or some hybrid of both, on the basis of abstract principles derived from “authority,” the only proper approach is to proceed empiricorationally, observing and understanding the nature of actual human interaction. A reality-based understanding of how humans actually relate to one another will provide a solid, reality-based foundation upon which to construct a method for optimizing such interactions.
An individual would naturally and justifiably be expected to resist attempts to force him or her to serve another individual. Such resistance to enforced servitude has been observed throughout history, with the degree of resistance being dependent upon such factors as the degree of servitude and hardship which is attempted to be imposed, the degree of force being used or available to impose such servitude, and the resources available available to resist such imposed servitude.
It is thus demonstrable that individuals strive for personal freedom and uncoerced self-determination. One can only enjoy freedom and uncoerced self-determination when other individuals refrain from infringing upon one's freedom and self-determination; this is an empiricorational fact. These facts lead to the recognition in Scionics philosophy that if one is to live in society with others then one's most fundamental social right is that of freedom and self-determination and one's most fundamental social duty is that of respecting and refraining from infringing upon the freedom and self-determination of others. This specifically means that no individual or group of individuals may ethically initiate force, fraud or coercion against another. This may be expressed in a more colloquial fashion as “Live and let live.” It may also be referred to as the “non-aggression principle,” where “aggression” is defined as “the initiation of force, fraud or coercion against others;” this is the fundamental ethical principle of Scionics. (Note that “non-aggression” in this sense is different from “pacifism.” Pacifism holds that one should never use force in any situation at all. The principle of non-aggression, however, does allow for the use of force as a means for self-defense, for example.) All other rights and duties (such as the right to own personal property, for example) spring from these fundamental ones.
The non-aggression principle and the principle of the guiltless, empiricorational pursuit of maximum hedonic value are non-contradictory and complementary principles. The non-aggression principle is based upon the empiricorational recognition that one can only enjoy freedom and uncoerced self-determination when other individuals refrain from infringing upon one's freedom and self-determination. These two fundamental principles can be integrated into one “meta-principle” which encompasses psychological and cognitive aspects, as well as ethics – the “meta-principle” of Scionics ethics: “the guiltless, empiricorational and non-aggressive pursuit of maximum hedonic value.” This meta-principle of Scionics ethics essentially describes the Scionic mode of operation.
Scionics philosophy also recognizes that while rights and duties may be considered to be inalienable in theory, they are not inalienable (or not inviolable) in practice, i.e., social rights are often violated and social duties are often shirked. There are obviously times when an individual might feel that if would be in his or her self-interest to infringe, in some way, upon the rights of another. In such a case, however, one would need to consider the possible repercussions of such an act, not only from the person immediately affected but also from others in society or from society at large, in an attempt to protect the rights and enforce the non-interference which is essential to civil society by means of punishment, deterrence and recompense. The protection of rights is the only empiricorationally valid role of government, as shall be seen later, in 1.7 Politics.
It should be noted that violations of the rights of others are very infrequently committed by individuals who are firmly committed to a disciplined, empiricorational approach to reality. A disciplined commitment to empiricorationality results in the most comprehensive and accurate understanding of reality and one's activities within reality. This engenders a level of competence far beyond that of those with a mystical, non-reality based approach to reality. This extreme level of competence almost always makes it unnecessary to resort to actions which violate the rights of others.
Love and Compassion
The empiricorational study of the nature of human interaction reveals that there is more to such behavior than the merely cognitive recognition of the social value of following rules based upon rights and duties, or the fear of social reprisal for not following such rules. There is also an emotional influence upon such behavior which can be understood in terms of love and compassion.
It may at first seem that the empiricorational pursuit of maximum hedonic value, i.e., self-interest, would lead one to pursue hedonic value exclusively for oneself. There are many times, however, that one makes choices intended to provide hedonic value for others, irrespective of any consideration of right, duties, or related issues. This leads directly to the concept of love.
The term “love” is used in different ways in different contexts. The following discussion will use the term to mean “the state of deriving hedonic value from the hedonic value of another.” In this sense of the term, all else being equal, the more that one loves a person the more that the thought of benefiting that person provides one with hedonic value; when this is the case, one is operating in the “mode of loving conscious relation,” introduced in 1:2 CONSCIOUSNESS. To put this in plain, non-technical words, it makes one happy to make loved-ones happy.
We are finite, limited beings, with limited resources and abilities. Thus while in principle one might love all humanity, or even all life and all of existence, in practice one is limited as to where one can focus one’s resources and efforts. One may imagine that one feels “universal love” but one's limited resources and abilities dictate that the application of one's love, i.e., one's resources and efforts, must not be indiscriminately distributed if they are to be employed wisely, to maximum beneficial effect; this requires the wise, empiricorational allocation of ones resources and efforts.
The foundation of love (like the foundation of the hedonic response) is ultimately rooted in survival dynamics, of which there are various types. These survival dynamics include one's personal survival as an individual, as well as the survival of one's gene's through one's offspring and other relatives; they also include the drive for the survival of other humans or humanity in general, of other species of life, or even of the environments or other factors necessary to the survival of human or other forms of life.
There are situations when the survival dynamics of one individual will be in agreement or harmony with those of another; the extent of such agreement or harmony is the extent to which such individuals can be regarded as allies. There are other situations when the survival dynamics of one individual will be in opposition or conflict with those of another; the extent of such opposition or conflict is the extent to which such individuals can be regarded as adversaries.
The extent to which one regards another individual as an ally, all else being equal, is the extent to which one tends to feel a degree of love for the other. The extent to which on regards another individual as an adversary, all else being equal, is the extent to which one tends to feel a degree of hatred for the other. It is not necessary or desirable for such love or hatred to overwhelm or override one's empiricorational assessment of another as an ally or an adversary. It is much more useful and preferable, upon experiencing love, hatred, or any other emotion, to empiricorationally evaluate the situation which elicited the emotion, and to then act based upon this evaluation rather than upon “blind” or non-empiricorationally evaluated emotion. (Note that it is often said that “love is blind,” just as one can be “blinded by hate;” any emotion, in the absence of empiricorational evaluation, can produce epistemological and ethical “blindness.”) Emotion can be used as a tool for an immediate “intuitive” feeling about something but it is insufficient as a standard of truth or action.
There are times when, upon empiricorational assessment, an emotion should be suppressed (not repressed) in the interest of mental clarity; there are other times when the force of emotion can be tapped or even intentionally increased to stimulate effective action; in many instances a situation could be best dealt with by intentionally and creatively replacing one's initial emotional response with a more appropriate emotional response. The intentional modification of one's emotional responses may seem unnatural and difficult but it is a skill which can be developed over time until it becomes a second-nature habit; methods for this will be discussed later in this writing.
Compassion is very closely related to love and is based upon the recognition of the suffering of other. Compassion is emotional displeasure at the thought of the suffering of another and emotional pleasure at the thought of the relief of such suffering. Compassion can impel one to actions which avoid harming or alleviate the suffering of others. Compassion can lead to charitable or kind behavior. (It is important to realize that it would be a violation of one's right to freedom and uncoerced self-determination if one were forced to engaged in charitable behavior against one's will; charitable behavior is ethical when freely chosen, but it is unethical to force a person to be charitable.)
The more that one empiricorationally integrates reality and emotion and the more that one responds to situations with love and compassion, the more effectively and competently will one pursue and attain hedonic value, for oneself, for one's loved ones, and for the world at large. Thus the path of Scionics philosophy is filled with the maximum possible love, compassion and happiness.
It should be noted that the non-aggression principle of “Live and let live,” i.e., the principle of refraining from the initiation of fraud, force or coercion, is the minimum behavioral requirement of ethics. While it may be considered “more ethical” to go beyond this principle to acts of altruism, charity and the like, this is not an ethical requirement; such acts should be solely based upon voluntary personal choice and should never be required by others in any way.
Just as the metaphysics and epistemology of Scionics are firmly based in reality, and hence in philosophical naturalism, so too is Scionics ethics. The ethics of Scionics are based upon the nature of reality and the nature of the beings which inhabit that reality and are capable of ethical choice. An opposing view would be “ethical supernaturalism,” the view that ethics should be based upon supernatural rather than natural considerations. Scionics recognizes, however, that the “supernatural” is a flawed and unreal concept, and that ethics must be based upon reality rather than non-reality. Scionics ethics, as embodied in the guiltless, empiricorational pursuit of one's maximum hedonic value and the non-aggression principle is the ultimate, invincible form of ethical naturalism.