What about Morality and Ethics?

Ideas of right and wrong, good and evil, are found in all societies, though they differ in their expression among different peoples.

What is held to be a human right in one society may be regarded as anti-social by another people, or by the same people in a different period of their history.

American Anthropological Association, 1947 Statement on Human Rights

Central to the life of any social species is the rules of acceptable behaviour.

For most species, these rules seem to be baked into their genes.  This is not the case with humans.  Our ability to partially transcend our genetic predispositions forces on us the complex task of collectively agreeing upon rules for right vs. wrong, acceptable vs. taboo, honorable vs. abusive, worthy of praise vs. deserving of punishment, legal vs. illegal, and, ultimately, for determining who is one of “us” vs. who is the “other”.

As much as we often like to think otherwise, the merit of our own set of ethics and morals (and the laws that emerge from these) is neither unchanging nor universal.  Nor is any set of ethics, morals, and laws consistent, either in principle or in practice.  The view of the appropriateness any set of rules varies widely, not only between societies but also between factions within our own society.  There is no clear way to decide which set of rules is superior to others.  This uncertainty has made ethics, morality, and the law a topic of never-ending interest to philosophers and the source of age-old unbridgeable disagreements, disagreements that have sometimes led to great suffering.  It also means that there are no reliable experts on the subject to turn to for authoritative guidance.

This is not to imply that there is no difference between, for example, an ethics of universal compassion and one that supports human sacrifice and slavery. The rules we impose on ourselves and upon others have important practical consequences on our lives and theirs.

It is just that the consequences of any moral code are hard to foresee.  Choosing a set of morals and writing a set of laws involves making trade-offs that will privilege some people at the expense of others.  This means trying to find an appropriate balance between the conflicting benefits (and harms) of individual freedoms and social stability.  Judging the comparative merits of differing ethical systems requires a careful investigation of these consequences both for individuals and society as a whole.  An effective PostPandemic Curriculum will provide the skills to conduct this sort of investigation.

Ethics and morality, right and wrong, emerge from the circumstances of the culture, the history, the technology, and the beliefs of a society, a group, or even a single person.  As with culture, history, and beliefs, human morality and ethics are inherently variable and nuanced.  To make proper sense of them requires one to look through the difficult lens of dispassionate neutral critical comparison of assumptions, context, and consequences, using core concepts related to human genetics, cognitive biases, logic, risk analysis, and game theory.

As it relates to morals and ethics, the goal of a PostPandemic Curriculum is to give people the concepts, tools, and language to assess and productively debate the implications of possible moral codes, ethical norms, and laws.  Promoting any specific set of morals, ethics, and laws as being inherently superior would conflict with this goal.