THE FUNCTIONAL BASIS OF ETHICS
Key Words: Ethics, government, society, functional, innate,
Elbert W. Russell Ph.D.
Philosophy has been unable to provide politics and law an
adequate basis for ethics. The primary obstacle to the
development of any ethics is the naturalistic fallacy. This can
be overcome by using a functional approach, that accepts the
separation between fact and value in the creation of a normative
system. Norms are a system of rules, largely social, that
regulate human behavior and organize society. This prescriptive
normative system is ultimately derived from innate human
motivational imperatives. These exist as primitive prelinguistic
givens (natural categorical imperatives). As givens they are not
derived from information (fact) and so do not violate the
naturalistic fallacy. Innate motivations provide the basis for
ethics by determining the ultimate intrinsic ends of humans.
Utilization of information by intelligence creates the means,
mostly social and political, for these intrinsic ends. Ethics is
the discipline, that uses human science information and theory to
create the appropriate means, physical, social and legal.
THE FUNCTIONAL BASIS OF ETHICS
The development of ethical theory in philosophy has been
forestalled for a century due to what is commonly called the
fact-value gap. In addition there is a comparable problem in the
human sciences such that there is no rationally adequate means
for determining the basis for social values, politics and law.
The Philosopher's Dilemma
About two and a half centuries ago, Hume (1748) demonstrated
that ethical terms or values cannot be derived from factual
"naturalistic fallacy"; by which he meant that it was a basic
philosophic fallacy to claim that "good" could be derived from
any concepts obtained from nature, especially science. In order
to create a basis for ethics
"naturalistic fallacy" himself. He avoided the fallacy by basing
ethics on a primitive attribute the "good" that could not be
defined by any other terms and was not derivable from scientific
was considering "good" or any moral term to be a primitive term.
Philosophers have largely rejected the primitiveness of such
R.H. Hare (1952) was able to formulate this separation of
fact and value more precisely than
his concept states that fundamental ethical concepts can not be
logically derived from information about the factual world. In
essence, value and information are two discrete aspects of the
This fallacy confirmed a dilemma, which has obstructed
further development of ethics. The dilemma is simply that one
cannot derive the axioms of a deductive system from within that
system. This has been known since
propositions or foundational concepts for ethics could be derived
from within any ethical system.
The other horn of the dilemma was introduced when Hume and
system could not be obtained from information derived from
without the system, that is factual knowledge. This, of course,
meant that the basis for an ethical system could not be obtained
from either within or without the system. Since this apparently
encompassed all possibilities, the conclusion was that it was not
possible to derived or justify the basic propositions of any
ethical system by any rational means.
Consequently, philosophers have struggled with the problem
of deriving basic ethical concepts for a century without success.
The field of metaethics appears to have been developed to deal
with this problem. However metaethics has only refined the
understanding of the difficulty. Philosophy attempted to
circumvent this dilemma by examining the "common language" basis
of ethics. However, of course, although ethical terms are part
of language and may be derived from language, this does not
Another approach has been through examining the linguistic
function of ethics through the work of Toulmin, (1950), Urmson
(1956) and Hare (1952). Hare's concept, that ethics are
prescriptions, states ethics in the form of its linguistic
function. While this may be an exact description of ethical
terms it does not justify any particular system.
Finally in desperation philosophers have apparently
advocated the metaethical concept that good is what the fully
rational person after thorough investigation decides is good
(Baier, 1958) by presenting "good reasons" (Toulmin, 1950).
However, this theory is shipwrecked on the rocks of ethical
relativity. Simply listening to two fully rational people, who
are arguing on each side of various subjects such as abortion or
capital punishment, quickly destroys this theory. Both are fully
rational and both can present good reasons, nevertheless, they
continue to reach opposing ethical conclusions. Of course, each
side believes that the other side is not "fully rational" and has
not presented "good reasons".
These attempts to resolve this dilemma imply that unless
resolved this dilemma means that discussions of ethics by
philosophers can have no ultimate foundation and so philosophers
have nothing substantial to contribute to society other than to
state that all ethics are relative. Relative ethics is rationally
self destructive. Any basis for stating that all ethics is
relative is by this reasoning also relative. Thus, it is not
The Human Scientist's Problem
During the same period that philosophy realized its dilemma,
the human sciences, especially sociology, were examining the
function of ethics or morality in social life. This began with
the work of Sumner (1906), a contemporary of Moore (1903).
Although sociology and anthropology have been extensively
concerned with ethics, different terms were used, such as
"folkways" (Sumner, 1906), "norms", "normative system" "mores",
"customs", "standards", "codes" (Landis, 1956; Roucek,
1978)"social control" (Landis, 1956; Roucek, 1978) and
"institutions" (Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan, Swidler, & Tipton,
1991). Psychology also has a field devoted to the study of
morality (Darley & Shultz, 1990). These sociological terms are
often synonymous with the philosophical terms and both philosophy
and sociology appear to use the term "value" in a somewhat
The human scientist's examination provided a greatly
increased understanding of the function of ethics or morality in
society. However, in spite of this different understanding the
human sciences arrived at the same impasse as philosophy. They
could provide no way of determining the basis for a social,
political or legal normative system. In psychology there have
been several periods in which there was a spate of articles
advocating that psychology should become more involved with
ethical problems (Lowe, 1959). Although most psychologists
agreed with this, the enthusiasm died when no adequate method of
determining the basis for ethical analysis could be advanced
At the present time major members of sociology have
recommended that sociology become more involved in the study and
application of ethics to social problems. However, again the
works by Bellah, et al., (1996), Etzioni, (1996) and Wolfe (1989)
present no adequate method for determining a foundation for the
ethics. Wolfe (1989) believes that people in a society should
make their own moral rules but does not indicate how it should be
done. He implies that each community should make its own
morality. However, neither he nor any human scientist would
support the morality that some communities have constructed in
the past or in the present. The other authors failed to surmount
the same ethical obstacle. Consequently, it appears that in
spite of a different approach, the human scientists have
encountered the same dilemma that has stymied the advance of
ethics in philosophy. The basis for ethics appears to be
relative, which provides no stable basis for any ethics.
Thus, unless resolved this inability to establish a
invariant foundation for ethics or normative systems means that
human scientists have no basis for suggesting changes in society
or law. As such, they have nothing substantial to contribute to
society other than to state that all ethics are relative.
Function as a Basis for Metaethics This paper proposes that a
change in the orientation of metaethics to that of the function
which ethics plays in human society, would begin to provide a
solution for the major problems hindering the development of a
theory of ethics. Many of the elements in this approach have
already been proposed (Campbell, 1985; Jordan, 1949; Malinowski,
1944; Maslow, 1954; Mayr, 2000; Wallach & Wallach, 1990; Wilson,
1978). The problem for this paper is to demonstrate how these
elements combine to provide a justifiable metaethical basis for a
Function in Philosophical Ethics
In philosophy a functional concept of ethics was proposed in
the 1950s (Hare, 1952; Jordan, 1949; Urmson, 1956). It was
demonstrated that ethical language can be analyzed from the
viewpoint of its function. Toulmin (1950) proposed that one
should "... look at the function of moral statements in our
ordinary use, rather than to defend a particular theory about
them". (Binkley, 1961, p. 107). Urmson (1956) examined the term
"good" from the aspect of its function as a method of grading.
Hare, (1952) proposed that ethical terms were prescriptions which
were used to guide human conduct.
The problem with this philosophical functional approach to
ethical terms was that it is individualistic. That is each person
must rationally decide what is good and what he/she should do in
any particular situation using functional ethical language.
However, this still does not provide a basis for creating
prescriptions, since the decision is relative to the individual.
Function in a Normative system
The human science conception of ethics also had a
prescriptive function for behavior. Consequently, the human
sciences have examined ethics in terms of the function that
various moral terms play in society and in human behavior
(Bellah, et al., 1991; Landis, 1956; Sumner, 1906; Wolfe, 1989).
These human sciences have demonstrated that mores are
societies system of rules, which constitute a normative system.
Such norms enable social life to exist (Bellah et al., 1991)
Landis, 1956; Roucek, 1978).
From this point I will attempt to use the term "norms",
"morals" or "normative system" rather than "ethics" for the
existing mores of a society. The term "ethics" will apply to
theoretical normative systems rather than to existing ones.
Ethics is the general term used to discuss all moral or value
terms. The primary purpose of ethics is to critique and to design
the normative system of a society. The term "metaethics" is used
to discuss the origin and nature of both a normative system and
Social control or regulation. The sociological concept of a
normative system is that it is the primary means for social
regulation or control of its members (Roucek, 1978). The term
"social control" has a long history in sociology (Roucek, 1978).
It has been used, with somewhat different meanings, by different
sociologists (Janowitz, 1978, pp 26-41.). Even when not
explicitly used, social control is implied, as in the definition
of an institution, as patterns of behavior, which are "...
enforced by social sanctions, both positive and negative."
(Bellah et al., 1991, p. 10).
At present the term "control" carries negative connotations
for many people. However, here, the term "control" is used in its
broadest sense to include any psychological, social or political
activity that directs, guides, regulates or influences a person
to perform or refrain from performing certain actions. It is used
the way the term "control" is used in reference to the activities
of an air traffic controller.
As Roucek (1978) states: "Social control may be either
informal or formal. Informal social control is exemplified in the
functions of folkways and mores. Formal social control is
exemplified by the explicit establishment of procedures and the
delegation of specific bodies to enforce them (laws, decrees,
regulations, codes)" (p. 11). As such, a normative system
includes all control methods used by society (Bellah et al. 1991;
Janowitz, 1978; Roucek, 1978).
Secondarily, control functions as the organizing force in
society, providing structure to organizations and institutions.
Through its regulative power a normative system provides not only
the rules for individual members behavior but it establishes the
very organization of a society. Every organization, whether
business, social or governmental, has rules to regulate the
behavior of its members and this regulation provides a
governmental structure to the organization (Martindale 1978).
Individual morality. Social directives face two directions.
One is toward the individual actor and this has been endlessly
analyzed by philosophy. The second direction, which is the one
emphasized in this writing, is toward society. Although an
individuals moral concepts guide ones behavior, to a large extent
morals or ethics are derived from social norms through formal
law, rules and informal mores (Bellah, et al., 1991). While
people create some of their own self controlling morals or
"ethics", only a small part of a person's moral system originates
with the individual.
This social concept of ethics and norms requires a change of
perspective for metaethics from the individualistic approach
(Bellah et al., 1991; MacIntyre 1966; Roucek, 1978, p.3,) to a
social approach (Bellah et al., 1991; Jordan, 1949; MacIntyre
1966). The essential ethical controversies are generally, not
concerned with the question of how I as an individual should act,
but with the question of how the society should be designed or
redesigned in regard to its institutions and its laws
(Friedlander, 1978; Jordan, 1949). The question is not "should I
steal" but "should society condemn stealing in its mores and
laws". As such, it is more accurate to model ethics on law than
on an individual's conscience. No one thinks that laws are
individualistic or that they are something that a person can
Control and Ethical Systems
The functional approach of this paper contends that a
normative system is basically a control system or in ethical
terms, an imperative system.
A computer analogy. As a model or analogy computer
processing can demonstrate some necessary features of a control
system (Simon, 1992). Computer processing requires two systems to
obtain any organized output. These two systems are the
information system, that is data or facts, and a control system,
the system of commands.
In normal use a computer is not completely self sufficient,
rather humans are part of the command system in that humans tell
the computer what commands to use. However, when the computer
program has been designed to be self regulating a combination of
both information and commands are required to direct its
operation. In this case the operation of the computer is produced
by an algorithm which combines commands and facts. The
application of a command is usually based on an item of fact. For
instance an algorithm may state: "If there are more than 10 items
in category X go to C, if not go to D". Here, the information or
truth aspect of the operation (the number of items in category X)
is a fact that the command uses to make a decision. The command
does not operate as a fact within the system.
Although commands interact with information, neither the
commands nor the facts are derived from the other. Information
and control are not interchangeable in the operation of a
computer program. Commands are "do" statements, that is,
imperatives. Information statements in themselves, do not require
the computer to do anything. The end of the algorithm is to
produce an output, that may be to answer a question or to control
a physical process, such as telling the printer to "PRINT".
It should be noted that commands can be stated as facts or
information. In the computer language "Basic" the command "LIST"
states the commands as information statements. A command when
listed, is information and can be treated as information. The
listing can be used to examine and modify the commands.
Nevertheless, in the form of information, the statements do not
function as commands. They can not do anything.
The normative means system. Information, in the computer
analogy, is equivalent to truth or fact in philosophy or science,
while the command statements are equivalent to ethical or moral
imperatives. Normative terms control human behavior in a manner
similar to the way commands control the computer.
A major obvious difference between computers and people is
that the computer must obey the command while the human need not
do so. The situation that humans do not need to obey a command,
accounts for much of the difference between computer imperatives
and the various kinds of ethical concepts.
Basic ethical terms. Although ethical terms have varying
definitions, there appears to be a general understanding of the
nature of major ethical or normative concepts. This discussion is
designed to demonstrate that all aspects of a normative system
are related and not to argue for any specific definitions.
An imperative simply commands without providing a
justification for the commanded action. Rather, it gains its
force through pure, and in a broad sense, irrational authority.
It also assumes that the recipient of the command has no choice.
Throughout its history, ethics has been aware of the basic
nature of the imperative. Kant accepted the primariness of the
term when he used it as the central working concept in his moral
theory. Pure imperatives, of course, have no factual content
In contrast, normative terms along with the imperative
element was an implied choice (Stevenson, 1946). Most ethical
terms such as "should" imply that there may be disagreement
(Blake & Davis, 1964, p. 456). Thus, in order to persuade people
to perform the commanded course of action, reasons need to be
given. This is the justification of the imperative. To change the
imperative form into a persuasive normative form, the statement
is changed from "do it" to "You should do it". (As usually used,
"ought" is equivalent to "should"). Here, a normative statement
using "should" will be called a directive, which is equivalent to
a prescription as used by Hare (1952).
The "should" directive contains all the primary elements of
a social normative directive. The term "should" has three major
elements: an imperative, the recognition of choice, and an
implied reason for obeying the imperative. Two of these three
elements are described by Segerstedt (1948) as being basic
elements in social norms. The element of choice is also the
reason that norms have been called "prescriptions" rather than
imperatives(Biddle & Thomas, 1966; Hare, 1952).
As methods of social control, directives are given to
individuals with the implied understanding that directives need
to be justified. Consequently, the directives must be supported
by presenting adequate reasons, at least by implication.
Values and what is termed "good" are also directives.
However, values are social attitude directives. They are the
means that society uses to control or regulate the attitudes of
its members and so their behavior. To call some act or object
"good" or valuable directs the listener to have a pro-attitude or
positive attitude toward that act or object. "Bad", of course,
indicates that one should have a con-attitude or negative
attitude (Nowell-Smith, l954) toward the designated object. Thus,
ethical terms are interrelated. They are social directives, rules
or prescriptions that function to regulate the behavior of the
members of a society.
Logic of ethics. There is a logic in ethics or norms that
has been known, in one form or another, since the ancient Greeks
(Hare, 1952; Kant, 1781; Toulmin 1950). This is the means-ends
logic. Kant (1781) used a form of this logic in the concepts of
hypothetical and categorical imperatives. The primary person to
discuss the logic of ethics (norms) has been Hare (1952). For
this discussion the logical structure of normative terms is
Roughly, the means - ends logic is the following. If A is an
end and B is used to obtain A then B becomes a means to that end.
This relationship may be expressed in a "should" statement. For
instance: if A is the end and B is the means then one "should"
use B to obtain A.
The same logic applies to values. If A has intrinsic value
and B is used to obtain A then B becomes a means and acquires
instrumental value. As a concrete example: If a tractor is used
to farm and farming is a good end then using a tractor is good as
a means to that end.
Means interact to form a system so that there is a series of
ends - means steps in which each level is justified as a means
for a higher level end. A tractor is a means for the end of
farming and farming is a means for the end of producing food.
Food is an end for survival and enjoyment. An end for a lower
means may become a means for a higher end.
This means-ends logic forms a hierarchical arrangement in
which each lower hierarchical level is derived from a higher
level, since ends determine what is a means. The hierarchy can
become very complex, since several items may be means to a single
end or a single item may be a means to several ends. For
instance, there are hundreds of instruments used in farming. All
of these are means for farming. Also, farming may be a means for
items in addition to food, such as material for clothing or
chemicals for plastics. Nevertheless, in the hierarchy the lower
level ends are means to the higher level ends.
An important point here is that information or facts
determine what is a means for each end. In the illustration above
it is the fact that a tractor can be used for the end of farming.
It is this fact that makes it a means.
As an ethical construct the means-ends chain must begin with
an ethical directive. Then values and shoulds are transmitted
down the means chain. For instance, in the above illustration: If
farming (means) is required to produce food and food is good
(end) then farming for that end is good and if a tractor (means)
is used to farm and farming (now an end) is good then using a
tractor for that end (means) is good. The same chain is true for
shoulds By beginning the chain with a normative or ethical
directive facts make the entire chain a normative hierarchy.
Thus, fact or information and ethical directives are
combined to determine the normative means for an end. The
normative system would not function if fact and directives did
not stay distinct. From a metaethical point of view the
fact/value distinction is necessary for norms to function. All
instrumental normative propositions require at least one factual
proposition and one normative proposition (Hare, 1952). While
they must stay separate, the two work together to direct and so
control human activities.
The Primitive Source of Ethics
The original directive, as an ethical axiom, is not derived
from the means-end hierarchy and it can not be derived from that
hierarchy. The source of such axioms lie in the nature of humans,
which includes their social nature. This source is what
philosophers call a "primitive" basis for a system. Like
sensation it is observable but not derivable from any other
The Function of a Society
The concept of a functional social normative system explains
how a society regulates the behavior of its members and organizes
the structure of a society but it does not provide an ultimate
basis, that is the axioms or premises, for the normative system.
This basis can be found in the nature of society, that is,
in the reasons for having a society at all. All societies are
supported and maintained by its members because the society helps
fulfill their motivations. A society does not last if it does not
fulfill the motivations of its members or at least the dominant
part of the society. Thus, fulfilling the motivations of a
society's members is the central function of a society. Thus, the
primitive basis for societies normative system is provided by the
basic motivations of humans. An understanding of the motivational
system of the individuals in a society is the method for
determining what the particular design of a society should be and
how its normative system should be designed.
Human Motivational System
In recent years, the human sciences have been developing a
better understanding of the human motivational system. This
motivational system is quite complex and only partially
understood. It is derived from human evolution. Although
initiated by such psychologists as Maslow (1954), only recently
have inroads been made by biologists and other psychologists in
the understanding the basic, that is inherited motivations(Buss,
1991; Cosmides & Tooby, 1987; Damasio, 1994; Harper, 1989; Plomin
& Rende, 1991). There is not space in this essay to deal with
this subject in any detail. Nevertheless, the knowledge that is
now available is sufficient for the purposes of this general
theory of ethics.
Motivations are prelinguistic imperatives. Human
motivations constitute the imperative driving force for human
activity. They are also the basis for the inhibition of behavior
and so for control mechanisms (Goleman, 1995; Goldsmith, 1991,
pp. 95-100, Smith, 1992). Thus, motives both energize and control
This motivational system is distinct from the human language
system. A motivation is a prelinguistic imperative. The essence
of motivation is not talk but doing. An animal that has no
language ability is impelled to seek food by its motivations. The
human motivational system originally evolved as a non verbal
system, which impels humans to act at a prelinguistic level.
Innate and learned motivations. For the purposes of
metaethics the most important distinction is between two kinds of
human motivations, innate and learned. Innate motivations have
evolved. Learned motivations are derived from the innate
motivations through various learning mechanisms.
It is accepted in all psychological theories that learned
motivations are derived from and are dependent upon innate
motivations. (Buss, 1991, P.461; Harper, 1989). It is also clear
that the relationship is not simply that of either innate or
learned motives (Damasio, 1994; Harper, 1989). Almost all overt
motivations are partly, perhaps largely, learned, first through
childhood socialization (Gandhi, 1978) and later by direct
teaching (Lottich, 1978). Thus, a major proportion of human
motivations are learned, at least in part.
Human desires, as the manifestation of human nature, have
often been proposed as the basis of ethics. In particular, Hume
(1748) proposed that ethics consisted in the rules that were
necessary for society to enable each member to fulfill her/his
desires and needs. Kant (1781) attacked this concept by pointing
out that if human nature changed morality would change. He
insisted that if moral discourse had any validity its concepts
must be universal and binding no matter what were our tastes or
Kant's error was that he conceived of human nature as being
entirely composed of learned motivations. If it were true that
all motivations were learned desires, they would be changeable
both within the person and from one person to another. As such,
they would obviously be relative and could not form a stable
basis for any ethics.
However, the human sciences have developed a more complete
understanding of human motivations than the knowledge available
to Hume and Kant. Ethologists and psychologists have demonstrated
the existence of invariant innate motivations (Buss, 1991;
Cosmides & Tooby, 1987; Goldsmith 1991; Plomin, & Rende, 1991).
Innate motivations are simply not changeable.
Subjective perception of motivations. Motivations may be
viewed from two perspectives, subjective and objective. From a
subjective perspective a motivation is felt as a desire. For
instance in regard to the motivation of hunger the person feels
hungry and desires food. In this way motivations function as
From a subjective point of view there is no derivation of an
imperative from facts. I do not derive my motivation from
knowledge. I am hungry; I feel hungry. Motivation is not
knowledge but a subjective primitive imperative.
The subjective approach of feeling and desire is the basis
for Utilitarianism. However, people can not subjectively
differentiate innate desires from learned desires. Consequently,
an ethics can not be based on subjectively felt desire. This was
one of the errors of Utilitarianism. Subjective desires may
provide ethics with its impulsion but not its guidance since
motivations may be learned and learned motivations are relative.
Objective knowledge about motivations. The second source for
understanding motivations is that of objective or external
knowledge derived from psychological studies. This is knowledge
about motivation. From the objective factual view a motivation
can be studied as an item of knowledge. The study of motivation
is now an active field in psychology (Buss, 1991; Damasio, 1994;
Goleman, 1995; Plomin, & Rende, 1991). It is known that humans
are compelled by their motives, innate and learned. This
knowledge can be used to distinguish innate from learned
motivations and so provide a knowledge basis for all human
motivational activities, including norms.
Information and intelligence. Another aspect of motivation
concerns its relationship to information or knowledge. The only
information aspect of pure motivation is to identify the things
toward which the individual is being motivated, the end of the
motivation. For instance hunger is the motivation directed
toward the end of food. Knowledge of food is information.
Imperative motivations require information to function. Each
imperative motivation is aimed at some general aspect of the
world. Such an aspect consists in information about objects that
is learned through experience or teaching.
Humans can use objective linguist concepts concerning a
motivation to fulfill the pure prelinguistic imperative
motivation. They can set up farms and stores to enable people to
fulfill a subjective motivation. In this case the objective
knowledge concerning the subjective motivation is a means for
fulfilling the prelinguistic motivation.
In order to obtain or fulfill these ends the organism needs
to have and utilize information. The ability to utilize that
information is intelligence. This body of knowledge is the means
that the society and the person uses to fulfill his/her innate
motivations and to design the society that can fulfill those
The Natural Categorical Imperatives
This understanding of motivation provides a means for
determining the premises for ethics. To determine the premises
for an ethical system, Kant (1781) used the concept of a
categorical imperative. He attempted to demonstrate that there
were certain a priori ethical imperatives that existed in the
nature of rationality. These imperatives were absolute,
unchallengeable and required particular actions of the
individual. While there were major problems with his system
(Wolff, 1969), Kant did demonstrate that an ethical system could
be constructed on the concept of categorical imperatives. Thus,
the concept of categorical imperatives could provide the premises
of an ethical system.
In this present study a categorical imperative may be
defined as a directive that is ultimate, universal, and
unchallengeable. It absolutely requires humans to seek certain
objects. Initially these imperatives function on a prelinguistic
Such categorical imperatives exist in the psychological and
the social nature of humans. As such there are actually two
general forms of human categorical imperatives: the requirements
for the functioning of a society and the innate motivational
mechanisms of humans.
Social cohesion categorical imperatives. Certain social
organizational arrangements are necessary for any society to
exist and function. These social requirements have been advocated
by some philosophers (MacIntyre, 1984). These arrangements are
necessary, universal and imperative and their requirement exists
logically prior to a society's normative system. As such, the
requirements are social categorical imperatives. The social
imperatives are crucial for social cohesion. These are necessary
since society and its products constitute nearly the complete
means to human ends (Goldsmith, 1991).
Motivational categorical imperatives. The second basis for
ethics consists in human innate motivations. These constitute
motivational categorical imperatives, that exist in the
psychological nature of humans. The set of human innate
motivational mechanisms is the imperative driving force for human
activity. Since the set of innate motivations established by
human genes is the ultimate motivating force for humans, its
imperatives are ultimate and logically primitive. Since such
innate motivations are universal among humans, these imperatives
are universal. Since they do exist as part of human genetically
determined nature, which does not change, they are unchangeable.
Thus, human innate motivations are natural categorical
One group of natural categorical imperatives are, in fact,
directly related to social cohesiveness. These are the set of
affiliative, motivations which enable animals, including humans
to live in a society. These motives evolved as a form of social
regulation to insure the survival of animals especially humans.
While many social motivations are learned means to more basic
affiliated motivations others are innate and therefore are
categorical in nature.
Here we can return to the computer analogy. In this
analogy the basic drives of humans are like the "wired in" or ROM
commands. They are part of the computer's built in makeup and are
unalterable except by rebuilding the computer. They determine
what and how the computer can use programs. This innate human
nature is the ROM chip for humans.
Social organization imperatives are derived. Although social
cohesion requirements form a type of categorical imperative,
ultimately even the social requirements of human existence are
dependent upon the innate motivational nature of humans. For
instance, the moral concept that lying is wrong, may be a
requirement for the existence of society. However, if humans were
like some animals that do not live in societies lying would be
The entire group of innate social motivations is necessary
to support a society's existence. If people were not innately
motivated to live in a society the requirements for the existence
of a social organization would have no imperative force. Thus,
the social categorical imperatives have a more basic source in
the innate motives of humans.
In addition, the basic social organization imperatives could
only provide a minimal structure or form of a society and not the
content. The social organization imperatives direct the
organization of society but these imperatives do not specify the
ends of that organization. They do not specify what people should
seek for themselves as human animals, such as food or love. The
content of society is provided by innate motivations.
Ethical axioms are not derived. This concept, that the basic
human imperatives are innate motivations, does not mean that as
linguistic statements ethical axioms (categorical imperatives)
are "derived" from innate motivations in any manner. They are
descriptive not logically derived. There is no derivation of
value from fact. This is the crucial point in this metaethics.
The natural categorical imperatives are created by evolution and
exist in human genes prior to language or knowledge about them
both historically and linguistically. Thus they can not be
logically derived from any information, fact or language process.
They are what epistemologists call "primitive".
Since innate motivations as natural categorical imperatives
do exist, one cannot meaningfully ask whether a person should
have these motivations any more than asking whether the sky
should be blue or a cormorant should hunt fish. One may
legitimately ask how one ought to fulfill the hunger drive but
one may not legitimately ask whether one ought to have a hunger
drive. These innate imperatives existed prior to any linguistic
normative system and so they are givens for human existence and
for the human normative system.
The point, perhaps over emphasized here, is that knowledge
of a motivation does not mean that the imperative quality of
motivations is in any way logically derived from fact, that is
information. These imperatives are not a form of Moore's (1903)
The Means System
Using the logic described previously the natural categorical
imperatives in conjunction with information about the world
create a normative means system for society and its members.
As an innate motivation, a natural categorical imperative
requires a certain end, generally external to the individual.
This is the object or category of objects that the person seeks
or toward which the person's act is directed (Jordan, 1949). As
such the categorical imperatives determine their own intrinsic
ends. Intrinsic ends are usually general, in the sense that a
number of different specific objects may fulfill the requirements
of the end.
The intrinsic ends, which are general, do not directly
establish the means to the ends. Knowledge, that is facts,
concerning a situation is necessary to determine the means. An
object that is used to obtain an intrinsic end constitutes a
means to that end. This is the beginning of the hierarchy of
means that has previously been discussed.
Information basis for ends and means. While the ends for a
system of ethics are determined by human innate motivations, the
means to obtain those ends require information concerning the
external world including the society. Much of this information,
which is often scientifically derived, has already been
incorporated into the knowledge base and the normative system of
existing societies. This information includes all human knowledge
that is relevant, including an understanding of the human
motivations. Humans use this information to design their own
means and it is used by society and government in the form of
tools to design and build the physical aspects of society. The
social and political means are also built into society in such
forms as institutions, business organizations, government and
Society is the primary means to human ends. Society is the
means to almost all human ends. Humans obtain their food,
shelter, entertainment, sex and friendship through society. As
such intrinsic ends apply to the design of society. Since a
society is the means to human ends, a society should be designed
so that the intrinsic ends of its members should be the ends of
the society. To a large extent this already exists. For
instance, an entire division of society, called agriculture, is
the means for producing food, which is an intrinsic end of
Ethics as a Means System
Ethics in its applied form should be incorporated into
social institutions, such as governments, universities and
corporations, whose function would be to scientifically examine,
criticize and justify a society's structure including its
normative system. This normative system would be designed to
insure that ethics properly acts to fulfill its members innate
motivations. As such, applied ethics is or should be a major part
of society's means system used to fulfill the intrinsic ends
commanded by the innate motivations that exist in human nature.
The application of knowledge and intelligence, especially
science, as a means to human welfare is the function of ethics
This concept of ethics would become the basis for the
incorporation of ethics into the workings of a society (Jordan,
1949). The mechanism of such incorporation is primarily through
the lawmaking system of a society, that is its legislative
government. This incorporation requires a knowledge of both the
ethical system and the political and social mechanisms that
operate in a society. In addition incorporation requires a
mechanism for transforming that ideology into the form of society
such as legislation and law. This mechanism is primarily
government and other institutions. The government establishes
laws and enforces them through its legal system. This theory
would enable philosophy and the human sciences to design a good
society and government.
There are several possible objections to this theory of
natural categorical imperatives that must be addressed. Most of
them are not cogent and the few that are somewhat convincing can
Relativity of Motivations
Many philosophers such as MacIntyre (1966, p. 268) claim
that the concept of human nature can not be used as a basis for
ethics because human nature is relative to history and culture.
However, this does not constitute a major objection to this
ethics since MacIntyre is incorrect. The human sciences have
established a nonrelative concept of basic human nature in the
form of human innate psychological mechanisms (Buss, 1991;
Plomin, & Rende, 1991). Although many of the concepts in this
field have not yet been settled a large body of general concepts
recognizes that human nature consists in a core of innate human
motivations that are determined by genetics. As such this human
nature is not relative to history or culture. This innate human
nature is sufficient to provide the basis for a nonrelative
theory of metaethics.
Another objection to the concept of innate motivations has
been that these motivations are changeable due to evolutionary
processes (Campbell, 1985). While, in theory, this is true, in
practice it is not even a remotely meaningful objection. Human
evolution is extremely slow in producing even minor changes. The
origin of human species "Homo Sapiens" was at least 100,000 years
ago (Stinger & Andrews, 1988; Wenke, 1990). Genetic markers set
this origin at about 200,000 ago (Cann, Stoneking, & Wilson,
1987, p.186). Although there have probably been some superficial
genetic changes in the species, the primary components of human
nature including basic motivations could not have changed. Mayr
(1970) states "...the tremendous ecological evolution of man ...
has taken place with out biological evolution. Cro-magnon man,
who entered history 30,000 years ago, differs physically from
modern man no more than do various modern races of man from each
other" (p. 403).
Consequently, the human genetic makeup has not significantly
changed for at least 30,000 years and probably not for about
100,000 years. It has certainly not changed since the
agricultural or neolithic revolution began, which was only about
10,000 years ago. This slowness of genetic change means that the
genetic constitution of humans will not change to any meaningful
extent through natural processes for at least another 10,000
years. Thus, from the point of view of any meaningful ethical
theory the genetic make up of humans is fixed and unchangeable.
Conflicts Between Innate Motivations
Another stronger objection is that since there are more than
one innate motive there may be intrinsic conflict between them.
Then this theory provides no way of resolving the opposition. In
a contradictory situation, according to this theory each of the
motivations are wrong from the point of view of the other
motivation. This is potentially a compelling objection and
indicates a circumstance that must be resolved. There are
evidently two major sources of apparent contradictions between
innate motivations: situational and intrinsic.
Situational conflicts. By far the most common apparent
contradiction is situational. Such a conflict occurs in
circumstances in which the activities of some people are
destructive to the innately determined ends and even lives of
other people. In such situations, one person's or group's innate
motivations may appear to conflict with the ends of another
group. Such occurrences include famine, overpopulation, war,
class conflicts, pollution etc. In other words, this category
includes most of the major problems of human existence. However,
it is the situation and not human intrinsic motivations that are
in conflict. Many peoples coexist with a relatively low amount of
violence, indicating that under the right circumstances this is
In the situations where people harm others, there is no
intrinsic contradiction within the person between the innate
motivations. It is the learned motivations or means that are
contradictory. Consequently, this is not a meaningful objection.
The contradiction is not within the person but in the
construction of society. Parts of a society or between societies
are in conflict and so should be changed (Jordan, 1949). The
ethics derived from innate motivations and the use of science and
intelligence can create ways to change these situations. In
regard to famine produced by overpopulation the ethical problem
is how to control the number of people so as to eliminate
These situational conflicts, in truth, present an argument
for this theory of ethics and not an argument against it. The
concept of innate motivations is the basis for an ethics that
constitutes a means of determining what are situational wrongs.
This ethics utilizing science should provide the guidance for the
alleviation of these situations.
In addition, this concept that the situation is wrong and
should be changed provides a solution to many of the traditional
ethical paradoxes or problems that philosophers are so fond of
presenting. These problems usually involve situations that place
an individual into impossible moral conflict. For instance,
"Should a person steal when his or her family is starving and the
person is unable to find work?". The answer is that the entire
situation is wrong and the social situation should be changed so
that these conflicts no longer exist (Jordan, 1949). The wrong
lies in the society that allowed such a situation to exist.
When people are put in such situations their actions to save
themselves or their families are amoral, not immoral. Society has
placed them in a situation that is outside of the moral normative
system. They can not be held responsible in this situation and so
can not be subject to ethical criticism. In such a situation the
person's individual loves, i.e. ultimately their innate
motivations to protect their family, will probably determine
Intrinsic conflicts. The second reason for objecting to
this ethical concept of natural categorical imperatives is, from
the point of view of justification, more potent. This is the
argument that there appear to be some intrinsic contradictions
between some of the innate intrinsic motivations, that is, within
the person. However, in normal situations each innate motivation
applies to a different area of life so they are not intrinsically
However, some maladaptive contradictions within individuals
may be due to mutations. A genetic mutation in some few
individuals could produce motives and behavior that are in
contradiction to other innate motivations and/or to group
cohesion. Probably schizophrenia and possibly some tendencies to
criminal or psychopathic behavior may be such "bad" mutation
produced innate mechanisms.
These mutations are quite unusual and they are obviously so
destructive of the organism and/or group life that in practice
they are not a major objection to the theory. The ultimate answer
to this objection is that humans have evolved a group of innate
motivations that were designed to protect the group from
individuals who are destructive. These motivations eliminated
those destructive members. In order to maintain a society, the
rights of the vast majority of individuals and the need to
maintain the integrity of the society take precedence over any
genetic maladaptions of individuals.
Relevancy of Ethics to Human Sciences and Government
The ethical concepts in this writing, obviously, are too
general to provide answers to specific ethical and political
problems. Such a discussion is beyond the scope of this paper.
However, the ethical concepts discussed in this paper do
provide a basis for obtaining the answers. This theory places
the human and political sciences along with philosophy directly
in the ethical evaluation process and its answers are directly
relevant to law and human behavior. The social function of the
human and political sciences is to design a good society. As such
this theory establishes ethics as a major aspect of the human
endeavor. Since this ethics is derived from human innate
motivations the solution to ethical problems is a function of
human and political science as well as philosophy.
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