The Principle of Universitality

 

It was 2:00 PM, June 13, 2013. I'd just sat down to some television when my neighbor fired up his car's stereo to serenade everyone within three blocks with over-based music. I wanted to run out and scream at him, "What's the matter with you? Don't you understand playing music that loud is rude? Inconsiderate? WRONG?"

Then I paused. Why was it wrong? To be sure, his behavior was irritating but while it was certainly impolite was it wrong in an absolute sense? Being of a philosophic bent, I began pondering the question and wondered if there was an absolute test not derived from religious, moral or societal beliefs that could be used to determine where any given action was right or wrong. What resulted is what I call The Principle of Universitality.

Because the goal was to establish the right or wrong of any given activity without basing the judgement on any exterior influence, then the information for determining that activity's rightness or wrongness has to come from the activity itself. The solution was to employ the principle of universalism, the concept that if it's right for one person to go something then it's right for everyone to do it, and see it that created an internal inconsistency. Here's how it work:

 

Mr. Allen wants to do X to achieve goal Y.

Assume everyone does X.

If so, then does everyone doing X prevent Mr. Allen from achieving Y?

 

Let's apply this to my noisy neighbor. We'll call him George.

 

George wants to play loud music because listening to load music makes him happy.

If everyone around him plays their music just as loud then the collective noise will prevent George from hearing his music clearly and he won't be able to enjoy it.

 

Everyone doing what he did prevents him from achieving his goal. There is an internal inconsistency with his behavior therefore it's wrong. He might try turning his music up louder to drown them out, but then they all do the same and George is still denied what he wants. Therefore, playing excessively loud music outside is wrong. On the other hand, applying the same test to playing quiet music outside does not prevent the listener from enjoying his or her music because all the other neighbors playing music quietly doesn't create enough conflicting noise to interfere with his or her music.

To be sure, this is taking things to the extreme and I accept that it would never happen in the real world. But it does provide an absolute judgement on any activity without regard to any human value system. Let's try a few more examples:

 

I want to kill someone. Is that wrong?

If it's right for me to kill someone then it's right for everyone to kill. If everyone kills everyone then I'll be killed and I won't be able to kill anyone. Therefore killing is wrong.

 

This is stretching the test because I might be able to kill my intended victim before I was myself killed. However, it still provides insight as to the right or wrong of the activity without resorting to any particular religious admonitions or the law of the land.

 

I'm going to lie to avoid an uncomfortable situation.

If everyone lies, then everyone will know I'm lying and they won't believe me so the unpleasant situation won't be avoided. Therefore lying is wrong.

 

I'm going to cheat at cards to earn money.

If everyone cheats at cards, assuming at the same level of expertise, then cheating no longer provides an advantage and I've lost the guaranty of winning and earning money. Therefore cheating is wrong.

 

It would seen the Principle of Universitality is only re-establishing the mores most people already accept. The important issue is that it's doing so without resorting to any of the belief systems from which those mores derived.

However, the Principle of Universitality doesn't always support accepted morality. For example:

 

Mr. Brown wants to cheat on his wife.

If everyone cheats on their spouses, that doesn't interfere with them doing so. Therefore, cheating on one's spouse isn't wrong.

 

Granted, it might increase the divorce rate and it's certainly wrong from the point of breaking marriage vows and the laws of almost every religion on the planet, but from a purely logical point of view it doesn't fail the test. One might argue that the reason Mr. Brown wanted to cheat was the thrill of getting away with doing something wrong. If it wasn't considered wrong then he might not realize the thrill. In which case it would fail the Principle of Universitality. It would depend on what he was trying to achieve by cheating.

I am neither an expert in philosophy nor knowledgeable in logic. But it seems the Principle of Universitality does indeed provide at least a guideline as to wether an given activity is right or wrong on an absolute scale without evoking any human moral code.

 

 

 
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