The Rules behind the Moral Compass

The deceptively simple process of writing down a list of ethical principles does something very special. The list creates its own rules!
It is the very process of listing moral values that creates the rules that defines them. If one writes down a list of moral values and expects that list to be taken seriously, the moral values have to be: "Consistent with each other", have "Covered all the gaps" and be "Moral".
If they were not Consistent, did not Cover all the gaps and not demonstrably Moral, then they would have little credibility.
For example:
  • They have to be consistent with each other. One cannot say, (for example), "I will accept men and women as equals" and then declare that "All women should obey men and be subservient to them". The longer a list of moral values is, the more difficult it is to make it consistent, whilst a shorter list has to stick to more basic and fundamental statements.

  • There mustn't be any gaps. In practice if one starts with the basic moral principle of not harming people, it is difficult to diverge from a narrow range of moral values that are consistent with this. If one (for example) goes with the "Ten Commandments" and says, "I will not kill" and leaves it at that, then people are entitled to ask "What about harming people? Is it OK to torture them as long as you don't actually kill them?" etc, etc.

  • Moral values have to be moral. If a dedicated motorcyclist lists as his first moral value, the care and protection of his motorcycle, then people are entitled to query his basic moral values. Morality isn't defined by what it is, but by what it does. Moral values are how you measure the difference between right and wrong, between good and bad, between positive and negative actions.

The result is that instead of everyone "driving off" in entirely different moral directions as proposed by moral relativism, or being forced down the impossible to define narrow track of moral absolutism, the natural and inevitable constraints of the list gets everybody "driving" down a similar ethical road.
Creating a list of ethical principles, and abiding by the consistent rules that the list creates, is as near to defining 'universal' truths as it is ever possible to get.

Back to the New Site
'Celebrating our Common Moral Compass'

Aims of the Centre
The Moral Compass
The Case for a defined Moral Compass
The Rules behind the Moral Compass
Frequently Asked Questions
Moral principles defined: a decision-making perspective
Contact us