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The Purpose of Life

& the general theory of ethics


Jack Brannigan aaaa
The Purpose of Life
The Purpose of Life

& the General Theory of Ethics
(a philosophical engineering approach)

Jack Brannigan

iUniverse, Inc.
New York Lincoln Shanghai
The Purpose of Life
& the General Theory of Ethics

Copyright © 2005 by Jack Brannigan

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To my wonderful children, who at times have to take a backseat to
my day job, my pet projects, and my seemingly endless and perhaps
hopeless work on my tennis game!
—Love Baba

And, to my beautiful wife and friends, who have patiently listened


to my wild ideas and took part in fruitful and provoking debates.
Contents

Author’s Credentials . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .ix


Prologue: Philosophical Engineering . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
The Purpose of Life . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
The Universe Doesn’t Turn Around Us . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Evolutionary Process . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
The Purpose of the Evolutionary Process . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
The General Theory of Ethics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
Morality Assessment Process . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
Key Elements of the Process . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32
Resources . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32
Communities, Collaboration, and Trust . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
Social Contracts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34
Process Soundness . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35
Killing Another Human . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36
Lying . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38
Stealing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39
Helping Ailing People . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41
Caring for Children . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42
Process Soundness Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42
Resolution of Some Ethical Dilemmas . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43

vii
viii The Purpose of Life

Birth Control and Abortion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43


Homosexuality . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45
Being Carnivorous (Eating Meat) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47
Health Care for the Elderly . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48
Stem Cell Research . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49
Pursuit of Immortality . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49
Using Drugs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51
Prostitution . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 52
Suicide and Assisted Suicide . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53
The Dilemma of Business Ethics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 55
Morality Assessment Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57
Purpose of Life and Theory of Ethics, Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . 60
Social Implications . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 63
Afterword . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67
Appendix . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71
Endnotes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 75
Author’s Credentials

The author, Jack Brannigan, has the following degrees:

• Bachelor of Science in Chemistry


• Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering
• Master of Science in Chemical Engineering
• Master of Business Administration
• PhD in Chemical Engineering (partially completed)

Jack Brannigan has more than fifteen years of experience as an engi-


neer and project and business manager. He is also an amateur theo-
retical physicist and philosopher. Other books by the author:

• Philosophy for Children[1]


• Secrets of Success and Happiness[2]

ix
Prologue: Philosophical
Engineering

For centuries, engineers have used their fundamental knowledge of


mathematics, chemistry, physics, and art to create practical solu-
tions for our everyday problems without total and complete under-
standing of all the intrinsic subatomic particle interactions. As our
fundamental knowledge of the materials, their building blocks, and
the interactions between materials and their building blocks has
increased, engineers have been able to build more complex and
advanced products. With this notion, I introduce a new concept:
Philosophical Engineers. The best way to define what this concept
entails is to describe what philosophical engineers can do. Philo-
sophical engineers can use known science, logical arguments, and
imagination to create practical solutions for our emotional problems
and provide answers to ethical dilemmas without having a complete
understanding or description of how and why the universe works
the way it does.
In order to understand why there is a need for philosophical
engineers, one must note it has been the engineers who have created
the practical solutions, not the scientists. While scientists are mainly
curious about how nature works, engineers are mostly concerned
about how scientific findings can be utilized to develop practical
solutions.1[3] This is the exact reason why philosophers—who are
mainly curious about why nature works in the way it does—have
not been able to successfully develop and market practical solutions

1
2 The Purpose of Life

for our emotional problems and why philosophical engineers can


fulfill that need.
The distinctive characteristics of philosophical engineers and
philosophical engineering products are:

• These products are based on the state-of-the-art scientific analy-


ses and logical arguments.

• Philosophical engineers will not pretend they know all the


answers to all questions when they don’t; there is no hocus-
pocus.

• They upgrade their products readily as new scientific results are


found, and the products are designed specifically to meet the
needs of a specific market at a given time.

These characteristics separate philosophical engineering products


from religious products (a set of beliefs and moral values). One may
argue religious products are also philosophical engineering products
that were communicated to people in a manner and a language most
appropriate for them at the time when these religions were formed.
This is true. However, the faith-based nature of religious products,
which were also most appropriate at the time because science and
logical arguments do not work effectively with uneducated people,
has led to its fatal flaw: inability and resistance to change. This resis-
tance to change has made religious products the “opiate of masses”
(that is, similar to the impact of opiates on a society; they signifi-

1. This concept was described nicely by Aubrey de Grey in an article


about him in MIT Technology Review: “(He) has the goal-driven ori-
entation of an engineer rather than the curiosity-driven orientation of
the basic scientists who have made and will continue to make the lab-
oratory discoveries that he intends to employ.”
Prologue: Philosophical Engineering 3

cantly impede the rate of progress), useless and irrelevant to the


needs of people in today’s environment.2
People today are certainly more educated, and they demand
complete scientific reasoning and logical arguments. Consequently,
religious organizations are going out of business in most developed
Western countries such as Norway and Sweden[4] and will inevita-
bly disappear from all societies as social welfare and education levels
improve in these countries3. I must emphasize the fact that religions
are now irrelevant to our emotional needs and have become an
impediment to our progress. This does not mean religions are a
plague and should never have been established. Most religions
served a great purpose by defining and enforcing moral values that
were very relevant and appropriate to the needs of their people at
the time and gradually improved the lives of people for whom they
were really designed and established.
The inevitable disappearance of religious organizations as social
welfare and education levels improve will create a huge vacuum in
societies. (This has already happened in developed countries such as
Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and parts of the United States.) How
do we define, promote, and enforce moral values that religious orga-

2. More than a century ago, Karl Marx pointed out that “religion is the
opiate of masses.” Marx’s comments were only about the numbing
influence of religious thinking, pacifying the masses and holding them
back from rising up against their oppressors, not about the overall
impact on human progress and evolution.
3. It is outside of the scope of this book to show this trend. Although, it
is obvious if one simply examines the depth of religions’ influence on
various societies and the social welfare and education levels in those
societies. For example, one can consider countries such as Pakistan,
Brazil, Spain, the United States, Germany, and Norway to investigate
the trend across the globe or simply consider various societies within
a country (such as the situation in various states in the United States
such as Louisiana, Arkansas, Kentucky, Texas, Indiana, and Maine).
4 The Purpose of Life

nizations have defined, promoted, and enforced for centuries? Insti-


tutions that create philosophical engineering products are the best
alternative to fill the vacuum created by the disappearance of reli-
gious organizations. Our body of knowledge has increased dramati-
cally over the years and will increase even more rapidly in the future.
This has and will enable us to provide increasingly better explana-
tions of the universe around us. Philosophical engineers can deploy
our growing body of knowledge to create the most compelling and
practical solutions to our emotional problems and resolve ethical
dilemmas. All we need to do is to let go of the past, open our minds
to alternative thinking, and move forward.
Introduction

Unlike many books that aim to offer a new theory or concept, I


have no intention of giving an extensive presentation of previous
philosophies on the purpose of life and ethics or discussing their
flaws and inadequacies. First, I am not a historian. My purpose is
not to present historical perspective on these matters. Secondly, I
think the inevitably long discussion about the flaws and inadequa-
cies of previous proposals will distract—and perhaps confuse—the
reader from the core concepts presented in this work. That said,
throughout this work, I have referred to scientific works needed to
support my arguments, and I present and discuss other popular and
relevant theories that may coincide or contradict with proposals
made here. This work is a philosophical engineering product created
for intellectual, open-minded individuals who respect science and
logic and are searching for scientific, logical alternative thinking
with practical implications to everyday life.
In this work, I have used an informal style and uncomplicated
language to build the logic for my arguments. I have also provided
real-life examples to help you, the reader, to better understand the
concepts presented.
The work begins with building the arguments for concluding of
the purpose of life. Then, from the notion of the purpose of life, the
general theory of ethics is derived and presented. Later, I will use the
proposed theory of ethics to offer a morality assessment process that
can be used to assess the morality of any complex action in any com-
plex circumstance.

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6 The Purpose of Life

When introducing the morality assessment process, I will first


present the key elements of the process that are used to determine
the morality of actions and conclude solutions. Then, I will show
the soundness of the proposed process by assessing the morality of
some globally accepted “good” and “bad” behaviors. Finally, I will
use the process to resolve some of the most complex and absorbing
ethical dilemmas of our time. I hope the conclusions of these discus-
sions offends no one because they are only the result of logical argu-
ments given the proposed reference point, which is derived from
scientific analysis and logical arguments. (The conclusions are not
based on my personal views or beliefs.) I tried to remain objective in
these discussions, and I hope I have presented facts from all sides.
To conclude, I will discuss the social implications of the philo-
sophical engineering concept, recognition of the purpose of life, and
the theory of ethics presented here.
The Purpose of Life

THE UNIVERSE DOESN’T TURN


AROUND US
The first important step in understanding the purpose of our life is
the realization the universe does not turn around us. Nothing
proves this more than the vulnerability of our existence. If life on
Earth could vanish when a rock of only one kilometer in diameter
hits the Earth, how important of a role could we have in this uni-
verse? My point exactly! And, the fact this has already happened to
our friends the dinosaurs tells us this is not just science fiction.[5]
Asteroids are not our only problem. Tsunamis, major volcanic erup-
tions, vicious new viruses (to name just a few) have the potential to
threaten our entire existence. In fact, it seems as if we are sitting on a
time bomb, and the clock is ticking. It may be ticking slowly, but it
is ticking.
The immediate implication of this realization is the importance
of any individual person to the universe is considerably small
(because the life of an individual is far more vulnerable than the
overall existence of life). One may object to this realization with this
question: If we are not so important, why do we intuitively feel so
important? I will address this objection completely at the end of this
chapter.

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8 The Purpose of Life

EVOLUTIONARY PROCESS
The second important step is the observation of the prevailing and
dominant phenomenon since the beginning of time, the Evolution-
ary Process.1 The Evolutionary Process encompasses all subprocesses
(for example, the evolutionary process on Earth), which are respon-
sible for all changes in our universe, from the seemingly random
physical changes in the early universe to the more systematic
changes observed on earth. Here is a very brief report of our inter-
pretation of the history of the Evolutionary Process:
Based on our observations and understanding, the universe at
very early stages in its birth, right after the Big Bang, consisted
of elementary particles (for example, quarks, electrons, leptons,
photons, and neutrinos) that were combined to build more
complex particles (protons and neutrons) that later evolved to
form the nuclei of all atoms. Neutral atoms were formed as
electrons linked up with hydrogen and helium nuclei. As the
universe cooled down, stars and galaxies were born. The Sun,
the Earth, and other planets in our solar system were born in
the Milky Way galaxy.[6] On Earth, simple molecules were
formed, followed by the formation of macroorganic polymers
and the formation of microscopic living cells and so on.2[7] (To
view an illustrative timeline of the history of the universe, visit
www.PBS.org.[8])
Here are some critical facts about the Evolutionary Process
based on our observations:

1. A process, by definition, transforms inputs into outputs through a


network of activities.
2. It is not in the scope of this book to dive into the well-covered topic
of biological evolution on Earth. For those interested, I recommend
The Ancestor’s Tale by Richard Dawkins.
The Purpose of the
Evolutionary Process

Before diving into the discussion of ethics and the morality assess-
ment, it is worthwhile to discuss the purpose of the Evolutionary
Process here, as the discussion and conclusions on the purpose of
the Evolutionary Process will assist in making and comprehending
the arguments on ethics and the morality assessment.
Professor Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene[12]
writes, “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we
should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil
and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”
Professor Dawkins, one of the most respected evolutionary biolo-
gists of our time, like some other scientists and philosophers,
implies that, because we have no evidence that evolution has a pur-
pose, we must then conclude evolution has no purpose.
These sorts of arguments are as erroneous as arguments that
claim the existence of things1 without any valid evidence for their
existence. Let me show you why this is the case:
Many theoretical physicists like Copernicus and Einstein, who
possessed extraordinary imagination, ascertained theories that
could not be proven right or wrong with experimentation or
observation using the apparatus available at the time. Only
years later were scientists able to validate these theories using

1. By things, I mean objects, events, entities, etc.

16
The Purpose of the Evolutionary Process 17

more sophisticated apparatus. Those who rushed to ridicule


Copernicus or Einstein and rejected their theories had only to
learn about their own ignorance years later.

Because of our limited knowledge and limited capabilities, there


has been (and there will be) unproven or unsubstantiated claims
that sound completely bizarre to us. In most cases, these claims are
simply false, but there are instances in which some of these claims
are indeed true. Thus, in cases where we lack valid, direct, or cir-
cumstantial evidence for the existence or nonexistence of things, we
simply must avoid drawing critical conclusions2 from their existence
or nonexistence until we can prove whether or not these things truly
exist. Otherwise, we may or may not believe the existence of these
things based on our intuitive disposition.
Similarly, we cannot argue against the existence of God, souls, or
angels simply because there is no evidence for their existence. Again,
as long as we do not draw critical conclusions from the existence of
God or souls, there is no harm in the belief or disbelief in these con-
cepts. We should have great tolerance for unproven concepts and
theories, regardless of how absurd they may appear to us. If history
has proven anything to us, it is that some of these theories and con-
cepts will be validated. It is also important we do not give validity or
invalidity to a theory because of the source of the theory. Note that,
when Einstein wrote his revolutionary paper on the Special Theory
of Relativity,3 which changed the world of physics and our view of
universe, he was an unknown clerk in a patent office. Also note that

2. By critical conclusions, I mean conclusions such as we should devote


our entire life worshiping God because we think God has created us.
3. In this paper, Einstein changed our conception of time and space. He
showed that time and space are not absolute, but it can expand or con-
tract, contrary to what everyone believed at the time.
18 The Purpose of Life

Einstein made claims, such as the universe being static4 (that is, it
does not expand or contract), which were later found to be false.
I have no idea about the purpose of the Evolutionary Process
(and have not come across any valid arguments and conclusions by
others) and have no direct evidence it has a purpose at all. However,
based on everything we know and have experienced, every process
we know of has an initiator and serves a purpose. So, although I
have no evidence the Evolutionary Process has a purpose, my own
intuitive disposition is that it must have a purpose. Furthermore, I
believe an initiator must have initiated the Evolutionary Process.
We may call the initiator God or preferably the Creator, so it is not
confused by the concept of God envisioned by the Judeo-Christian-
Islamic theologians. (Note that, to examine the purpose of life and
to derive the theory of ethics, I do not assume the Evolutionary Pro-
cess has a purpose or that Creator exists, so no critical conclusions
are drawn from my intuitive dispositions.)
In addition, the universe might be indifferent to humans, as
Richard Dawkins claims, but will it be indifferent to humans (or
species that evolve from us) sixty thousand or sixty million years
from now? Currently, we have a very narrow view of our origin,
position, and role in the universe. Partially this is because, until
recently, we had a very poor picture of our distant past and partially
because we have great difficulty imagining ourselves in the distant
future. Having calendars that date back only to 2,000 or 5,000 years
ago has significantly contributed to our misconception of our ori-

4. Actually, Einstein’s original equations in the Special Theory of Relativ-


ity revealed the universe is expanding; however, this idea was very hard
for him to accept. So, he introduced a parameter known as the cosmo-
logical constant in his equations to eliminate this prediction. Twelve
years later, Edwin Hubble, via observations, showed the universe was
indeed expanding. Einstein confessed the introduction of the cosmo-
logical constant was his greatest blunder.
The Purpose of the Evolutionary Process 19

gin, position, and role in the universe. Wouldn’t it be more appro-


priate to have a calendar that starts from the Big Bang, the
formation of our solar system or Earth, or the origin of Homo sapi-
ens at least? Nevertheless, in my view, as we evolve, our role and
importance in the universe will only increase.5 Again, this is my
belief, and I cannot prove it. But, as long as I do not draw any criti-
cal conclusions from this belief, no harm is done.
Evolutionary biologists have mainly focused on biological evolu-
tion on Earth. They have failed to recognize that biological evolu-
tion is simply a subprocess of a grander process, broadly ignoring
more than 10 billion years of evolution that preceded the biological
evolution on our tiny planet. This has led to their partial under-
standing of the universe and their partially accurate description of
life and its meaning or lack of it. In their efforts to refute and reject
the purpose of life as conceptualized by Judeo-Christian theologians
(that was a grand achievement on its own merits), Darwin and his
followers somehow concluded that life and the universe has no pur-
pose at all.
The evolutionary biologists’ observations and chain of reasoning
are not wrong. They are just incomplete. Consequently, they have
mistakenly concluded survival and evolution of genes as ends in
themselves. I have the following challenges for evolutionary biolo-
gists:

• How would a completely random and purposeless process create


a consistent trend of developing increasingly more complex
structures? Those blinded by faith did not see (or did not want to

5. Consider this parallel: An entry-level employee is dispensable to a


company, regardless of her potential. However, as the employee
advances and occupies higher-level positions (director, executive, vice
president, president, or chief executive officer), she will become
increasingly indispensable to the firm.
20 The Purpose of Life

see) the pattern of biological evolution that Darwin so master-


fully reasoned and illustrated. And, unfortunately, those blinded
by a false belief that an admission to life and a universe having a
purpose would defeat their century-old battle with the religious
concept of purpose do not see the purposeful pattern of evolution
since the Big Bang.

• Why do physical laws exist in the universe? Laws emerge or are


created to restrict the external degrees of freedom6 of structures.
They create the right environment where structures are forced to
behave more consistently and desirably.7 This, in turn, makes the
process, which creates the laws, more effective and efficient.
Without the physical laws, complete chaos would have domi-
nated the universe from the very start, and the Evolutionary Pro-
cess never would have taken place. Why does a purposeless
process have laws or create laws? Indeed, it does not. Only a pur-
poseful process requires and creates laws, that is, it is the purpose
that necessitates laws.

Indeed, it is impossible to find a purposeless process anywhere in


the universe that creates a consistent trend of developing increas-
ingly more complex structures. Furthermore, it is impossible to find
a purposeless process that requires or creates laws to purposefully
restrict degrees of freedom. As Sir Arthur Doyle, in the words of his
famous creation Sherlock Holmes has said, “When you have elimi-
nated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must
be the truth.”[13]

6. Degrees of freedom are the number of unrestricted and independent


variables a component or system owns that are free to be varied.
7. Indeed, by observing consistent patterns in nature, we recognize the
existence of a law. For example, by observing that negative and posi-
tive charges consistently attract one another, we recognize a physical
law. By observing drivers on a road that consistently drive slower than
sixty miles per hour, we recognize a social law.
The General Theory of
Ethics

While the purpose of life concluded here might not be satisfying to


all of us as long as we do not understand the purpose of the Evolu-
tionary Process, it has a colossal influence on our lives if we recog-
nize it as logically indisputable. This is because, once we know the
purpose of our life, it is easy to establish moral values. “Good”
behaviors are those that align us with our purpose, and “bad” behav-
iors are those that derail us from our purpose, that is, our purpose to
consciously participate and contribute to the Evolutionary Process
to build more complex structures.1 Thus, it is the emergence of con-
sciousness and freedom of choice that has led to the need for moral
values. Without consciousness and freedom, we would be automati-
cally doing what we are supposed to do. (It is not in the scope of this
book to discuss how consciousness and freedom have emerged. A
book by Daniel Dennett entitled Freedom Evolves[14] is recom-
mended for those who want to learn more on this subject.) One
may also wonder why consciousness has emerged. Without getting
into too much detail, when comparing humans with other animals
who lack consciousness (at least to our level), we can see our con-

1. From here on, to simplify the language, instead of stating the com-
plete description of the purpose of life as stated previously, I only state
“participate and contribute”…without noting “to build more com-
plex structures.”

21
22 The Purpose of Life

sciousness has dramatically enhanced the feedback aspects of the


Evolutionary Process in humans by enabling us to set more complex
goals, measure the outputs against our goals, and carry out very
complex actions accordingly (such as attempting to alter our DNA).
As noted earlier, processes with feedback loops are much more effec-
tive and efficient than those processes without feedback loops.
Hence, consciousness has emerged to enhance our ability to evolve
more effectively and efficiently.
The Evolutionary Process rewards us with the joys of being alive
and happiness when we unconsciously or consciously participate in
the process. If we enjoy living and are happy about being alive, it is
then our duty to fulfill our purpose and obey moral values.2 And, if
we do not enjoy life, we should exit.3 Albert Einstein said this
slightly differently, “The man who regards his life as meaningless is
not merely unhappy but hardly fit for life.”[15] (Of course, those
who are not gaining any joy from being alive may choose not to exit
because they dislike the consequences of not being alive anymore.
Needless to say, these individuals are not—or feel they are
not—obligated to fulfill their purpose, and they become a load on
the process.)
Furthermore, because we are part of the process (not only a prod-
uct of the process), then it is not only our duty to obey moral values
but also to make sure everyone follows them. This is because, as a
part of the process, we have a stake in its outcome. In other words,
as a mere observer or a product of the process, we would neither care
nor could impact the outcome of it. But, as a participant, we should
care greatly and could impact the outcome of the process. This is a
profound implication because, while it is everyone’s duty to follow
moral values, some may choose not to do so if there were no conse-

2. I will discuss later that, from this concept, we cannot argue and con-
clude that whatever brings us happiness must be moral.
3. I will discuss the morality of suicide in a later chapter.
The General Theory of Ethics 23

quences in this life or after this life.4 This will lead to the free-rider
problem, that is, the problem of having people who take a free ride
on others’ work, knowing or assuming they can get away with it.
These people are capable of distinguishing between right and
wrong, yet they knowingly make the wrong choices. On the other
hand, people who unknowingly contribute to the free-rider problem
are not free riders. They are ignorant. It is critical we distinguish the
two groups, as they require different treatment and solutions.
Fyodor Dostoevsky highlights the free-rider problem in his
famous work The Brothers Karamazov. Dostoevsky writes, “If there
is no God, then every action is lawful.” And, because every action,
such as murder, can’t possibly be lawful, he suggests the need for
God and religions as the only means to enforce moral values, that is,
to eliminate the free-rider problem. This is of course not true. The
emergence of consciousness and freedom has led to the need for
moral values, as discussed before. In turn, the need for moral values
has led to the need for social laws. Ultimately, social laws that
enforce serious consequences when moral values are not followed
are the best way to eliminate the free-rider problem. The free-rider
problem is very serious and can spread quickly. If it is spread suffi-
ciently enough, it can halt our evolution totally.
The free-rider problem is a natural consequence of the emer-
gence of consciousness. If we are enabled to make choices, we are
doomed to make some wrong or suboptimum choices (that is,
choices that derail us from our purpose or choices that align us with
our purpose less optimally than the optimum choices). Of course,
just because the free-rider problem is a natural consequence, that
does not make it a favorable phenomenon. As we know well, not all
natural phenomena are favorable. For example, an earthquake, vol-

4. Here, I have not suggested there are no consequences after this life,
although there certainly is no evidence there are any consequences. I
am definitely not an advocate of this idea.
24 The Purpose of Life

canic eruption, or new virus epidemic that may kill millions of


innocent people are certainly terrible natural events. So, while we
should embrace and promote some natural phenomena, we should
fervently try to avoid or eliminate others.
The theory of ethics offered here is not much different than one
of the most popular philosophies on ethics, Categorical Imperative
by Immanuel Kant. Kant argued that moral values are categorical
imperatives. In other words, morality is a matter of action and prac-
tical reason.[16] What has been added here is that reasoning must be
about the action’s alignment with the purpose of life. In addition,
moral values cannot be universal (as Kant proposed). The Evolu-
tionary Process and all of its subprocesses (such as biological evolu-
tion on Earth or cultural evolution in a certain country) are highly
adaptive and cannot be examined in isolation from their context.
Thus, when judging an action’s morality, the proposal offered here
is to reason the alignment of the action to the purpose of life in the
context the action is taking place.
While our theory of ethics is similar to Kant’s Categorical Imper-
ative, it is different than another popular philosophy on ethics, util-
ity maximization, that is, an action is good if it brings the greatest
happiness to the greatest number of people. The core idea is that
happiness is one goal that all rational beings have in common and
its desirability is self-evident.[17] Thus, utilitarians claim that,
because the goal is happiness, all actions promoting happiness are
right.
On the surface, one may argue, because we claimed the goal
(purpose of our life) is to unconsciously and consciously participate
in the Evolutionary Process and the Evolutionary Process rewards us
with happiness when we participate, then these two theories are one
and the same. But, this argument is false. This argument implies
one could only gain happiness by participating in the Evolutionary
Process and all happiness is gained in a known time-horizon. I never
The General Theory of Ethics 25

stated one could only gain happiness by participating in the Evolu-


tionary Process. Happiness or the perception of happiness (or at
least temporary happiness) may be achieved in ways that are actually
against the Evolutionary Process.
Happiness is not the goal or the purpose of life as utilitarians sug-
gest. Happiness is simply a reward given to us from time to time to
continue to pursue our true purpose. Let’s clarify this with an exam-
ple:
If you were to give your daughter $1 each time she gets an A,
she may get confused that her goal is to get as many of these $1
rewards as possible, while the goal you envisioned is for her to
work hard, learn, and become successful. The confusion here
may lead to problems such as cheating to get A or coming up
with shortcuts that bring short-term success (that is, getting an
A) by sacrificing long-term success. The problem here can be
resolved easily by talking with your daughter about exactly why
the money is being given to her.

Similarly, we should realize what happiness is and what purpose


it serves. The utilitarian philosophy is different than the theory of
ethics concluded here, even though these philosophies may coincide
at times. The pursuit of happiness as the ultimate goal can have very
dangerous implications. It can certainly lead to immoral behaviors
as we observe in societies that strongly believe in utilitarianism.5
Before moving to the next chapter, discussing the practical impli-
cations of the theory of ethics offered here, I should discuss altruistic
behaviors, which the opponents of the evolution theory see as a solid
contradiction to the theory of evolution. Altruistic behaviors are
those aimed at the well-being of others by sacrificing oneself. An

5. I will highlight some of these problems later when I discuss the


dilemma of business ethics.
26 The Purpose of Life

example of purely altruistic behavior is when a soldier bee stings an


intruder to defend its community but, as a result, dies. These behav-
iors are harder to pinpoint as purely altruistic behaviors in human
societies. For example, when a mother sacrifices herself for her child,
it cannot be identified as a purely altruistic behavior. The mother
may have done this to be considered a great mother in her commu-
nity (that is, to please the community members because the behav-
ior is expected of her) or to go to heaven (that is, to please God). So,
while the behavior on the surface appears to be altruistic, it may be
completely selfish. Hence, at best, we can identify these behaviors in
humans as pseudoaltruistic behaviors. Nevertheless, purely altruistic
behaviors exist in nature and cannot be denied.
The evolutionary biologists argue it is not the survival and flour-
ishing of a single gene that is important in the biological evolution-
ary process, but it is the survival and flourishing of a community of
the same genes or gene group. They explain the biological evolu-
tionary process designs the altruistic capability because, in certain
precise conditions, it improves the chances of survival and long-
term evolution of a gene group.
However, this theory fails to explain the altruistic behaviors of
individuals who sacrifice and risk their lives to save whales for exam-
ple. It neither explains why completely healthy individuals adopt
orphans from other countries (that is, not from their groups) instead
of propagating their own genes. Increasingly more humans behave
in these manners, so they cannot be brushed away as confused or
delusional just because they do not fit in our model of reality.
However, the theory of ethics offered here can completely
explain these behaviors. Individuals, who care about the well-being
of other animals or our environment, are not concerned about the
future of their gene group, but they are concerned (intuitively)
about the impact and fitness of human actions on the Evolutionary
Process. Similarly, actions of healthy individuals who adopt orphans
The General Theory of Ethics 27

are perfectly aligned with the purpose of life, although they are not
propagating their own genes, which are not necessarily superior to
the genes of the orphans.
Morality Assessment
Process

All normal1 humans have a notion of good and bad. After all, why
shouldn’t we? If the Evolutionary Process equipped us with con-
sciousness in order to enhance the feedback aspects of the process in
us, it must have equipped us with some internal sense to enable us
to use our consciousness properly. (It is because of this obvious
sense in us that some philosophers such as David Hume have pro-
posed that morality is a matter of emotion.[18]) In extreme cases,
such as killing an innocent man, our intuitive notion of good and
bad is unambiguous. Hence, the vast majority of normal humans
globally agree on the goodness or badness of actions in these
extreme cases. On the other hand, our intuitive sense is useless to
assess the morality of nonextreme actions such as drinking a moder-
ate amount of wine, moderate smoking, and the like. For this rea-
son, there is no global agreement about the morality of these
actions, which consequently leads to moral dilemmas. Additionally,
our intuitive notion of good and bad is not a useful reference point

1. By normal, I mean average or mean from the statistical notion of nor-


mal distribution. Normal humans are those humans who do not sig-
nificantly deviate in character from the average character of the
majority of humans. For example, a psychopath is not a normal
human. I will discuss the idea of normal in more detail in the discus-
sion on the morality of homosexuality.

28
Morality Assessment Process 29

to enforce moral values. Any individual who commits an immoral


act can always claim his intuition told him the act was indeed good.
So, in order to assess and enforce the morality of all actions, we
need something more than our intuitive notion of good and bad.
We need a valid reference point. Without a valid reference point,
the morality of any action cannot be assessed logically, regardless of
how obviously moral or immoral the action may appear to us. One
can argue indefinitely about morality or immorality of an action
without ever reaching a conclusion or agreement. Let us clarify this
with an example:
You tell your teenage son that killing an innocent man is
immoral.
He would ask, “Why?”
You would say, “Because the innocent man didn’t deserve it.”
He says, “So what?”
You say, “These sorts of actions adversely impact trust and col-
laboration.”
He says, “So what?”
And so on. So, you may finally try the Golden Rule (that is,
treat others as you want to be treated). While the Golden Rule
is a useful rule of thumb, it is not always relevant and does not
always give the correct answer about the morality of an action.
For example, the rule is irrelevant when assessing the morality
of smoking and gives the wrong answer when someone intends
to carry out an immoral action and does not mind the action to
be done to him. For example, in the case of the Columbine
High School shootings in the United States, the gunmen
intended for their rampage to end in suicide. If we use the
30 The Purpose of Life

Golden Rule to assess the morality of their actions, we have to


conclude it was moral!

Religious organizations have employed the concept of God and


directives linked to God to define, assess, and enforce moral values.
I will discuss the concept of God and whether God exists in a later
chapter. But, even if we assumed God exists, it is still vital to prove
God has given us explicit directives to follow certain moral values.
Unfortunately, there is no evidence that God has given us any
explicit directives at any time in the history of mankind. To show
there is indeed no evidence that God has ever given us any explicit
directives and the current directives linked to God are man-made is
outside of the scope of this work. Here, I make a brief attempt to
influence the views of those sitting on the fence on this matter:
All reasonable people should at least ask themselves these ques-
tions: Why would God make explicit directives 2,000 or 3,000
years ago and not now? Why is it that God seems to talk to a
single person, a “prophet” here and there, opening the door for
doubt, as opposed to sending a loud and clear message to all of
us? If God really wants us to obey certain moral values,
wouldn’t the “Almighty” God be able to teach us or demand us
in the most unambiguous way? One does not need to be Sher-
lock Holmes to see where the answers to these questions will
lead us: All explicit directives linked to God are man-made. As I
discussed before, thousands of years ago, it was necessary to
synthesize directives linked to God as it was by far the best
means of promoting and enforcing moral values, so there
should not be any resentment or disrespect for those who syn-
thesized these directives. The fact the concept of God and the
synthesized directives has, at times, been used for evil ambitions
and has created a hurdle to our progress now only highlights
Morality Assessment Process 31

the necessity of a grand movement to replace faith-based think-


ing.

Because there are no valid and explicit directives from God, we


must reject all synthesized directives linked to God. Lack of evi-
dence for the existence of God, inconsistencies in religious teachings
(that is, the synthesized directives linked to God), and irrelevance of
their teachings to current social problems have led the majority of
educated and intellectual individuals to defy religions and the moral
values these organizations defined.
As discussed in the proposed theory of ethics here, we thankfully
have a concrete, valid reference point: The purpose of life, which
can be employed to assess the morality of any action and resolve eth-
ical dilemmas. With our notion of purpose of life and theory of eth-
ics, we can establish a set of logical arguments to assess the morality
of any action in any circumstance. So, the aim is to assess the degree
of alignment of an action with the purpose of life or, in other words,
to evaluate the impact of the action on an individual’s and a com-
munity’s (or collective) contribution to the Evolutionary Process.2
Next, I will introduce the five key factors in determining the
morality of an action and proposing a solution. Then, I will show
the soundness of the process by assessing the morality of some glo-
bally accepted good and bad behaviors. Finally, I will employ the
process to measure the degree of morality of some of the most con-
troversial ethical problems of our time such as abortion and homo-
sexuality.

2. One may object I have merely replaced the concept of God with the
Evolutionary Process. This is a welcome criticism. The Evolutionary
Process can be observed and explored continuously, and valid conclu-
sions can be derived from our observations and analyses. This is quite
contrary to the concept of God…about which we do not have the
vaguest idea.
Appendix

Would we have different physical laws in different parts of the uni-


verse if simple structures (such as elementary particles) indeed cre-
ated physical laws?
This really does not need to be the case because ants, bees, and
flies have generally similar strategies and social structures around the
Earth. The strategies are similar but not identical as the physical
laws are because ants and bees have greater degrees of freedom than
elementary particles do. In addition, the environmental factors
across the Earth, which may favor one outcome over another, vary
more considerably than the environmental factors across the infant
universe. Here is a more detailed explanation.
The internal degrees of freedom limit the number of available
options for a structure. That is, the behavior of elementary particles
and more complex structures such as humans are constrained not
only by laws, which restrict external degrees of freedom, but also by
their internal or inherent degrees of freedom. One can understand
internal degrees of freedom as some sort of inherent limit of abili-
ties. For example, humans cannot fly (without the assistance of a
device). This is not only because of the law of gravity, but it is also
because humans do not have wings. In addition, a person driving a
1920s model car cannot go faster than seventy miles per hour. This
is not only because of the law against speeding, but it is also because
of the limitation of his car’s engine.
As the degrees of freedom (and hence the number of available
options increases or decreases), so increases (or decreases) the num-
ber of possible outcomes. For example, due to the limit of the

71
72 The Purpose of Life

degrees of freedom, there might be only five options available for a


structure: A, B, C, D, and E. Here, to make it simple, we assume
each option leads only to one possible outcome: option A leads only
to outcome AA, option B leads only to outcome BB…and option E
to outcome EE. The probability of an option being selected (and
hence an outcome to occur) depends on the structure and the envi-
ronmental factors. In our example, we can assume outcome AA and
BB each have a probability of ten percent to occur, outcome CC
and DD each have a probability of twenty percent to occur, and
outcome EE has a probability of forty percent to occur. Note that
some outcomes are more probable than others and the sum of prob-
abilities for all possible outcomes is 100 percent. That is, no other
outcome besides the listed outcomes will happen.
We (or even God) can never be 100 percent sure which exact
outcome will occur in advance of an event, although we can be 100
percent sure it will be one outcome from the list of possible out-
comes. We also may know some options are more probable than
others. This is why the universe can be determined and undeter-
mined at the same time. It simply depends on what one means by
determined. The number of options and outcomes is not infinite
because the degrees of freedom are not infinite. So, in that sense, the
universe is determined. But, depending on the degrees of freedom,
there are always a number of options available, and each option
leads to a different outcome. So, in that sense, the universe is unde-
termined. (Some outcomes may be favorable, and some may be
unfavorable to the Evolutionary Process, although all outcomes are
natural.)
Thus, because the degrees of freedom of simple structures are
very, very small, the number of possible outcomes is very, very lim-
ited. Because environmental factors, which were uniform across the
infant universe, further favored some outcomes more than others,
the same few outcomes (uniform physical laws) resulted across our
Appendix 73

entire universe. However, there could be other universes with differ-


ent types of elementary particles that possess higher degrees of free-
dom. There could be environmental factors in the other universes
that may have favored different outcomes, which, in turn, could
have led to the emergence of different sets of physical laws than the
ones in our universe.
Endnotes

[1]. Jack Brannigan, Philosophy for Children, Independent-


Book.com,
http://independentbook.com/.
[2]. Jack Brannigan, Secrets of Success and Happiness, Inde-
pendentBook.com, http://independentbook.com/.
[3]. Sherwin Nuland, “Do you want to live forever?” MIT
Technology Review (January 2005).
[4]. B.A. Robinson, “How many people regularly go to
church?” Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance,
http://www.religioustolerance.org/rel_rate.htm.
[5]. R. Schweickart, E. Lu, P. Hut, and C. Chapman, “The
Asteroid Tugboat,” Scientific American (November
2003).
[6]. Brian Greene, The Elegant Universe, New York: Vin-
tage Books, 2000.
[7]. Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor’s Tale, Boston: Hough-
ton Mifflin, 2004.
[8]. “Mysteries of Deep Space—History of Universe Time-
line,” Public Broadcasting Service (PBS),
http://www.pbs.org/deepspace/timeline/.

75
76 The Purpose of Life

[9]. “George F.R. Ellis,” Department of Mathematics and


Applied Mathematics, University of Cape Town,
http://www.mth.uct.ac.za/∼ellis/.
[10]. “George F.R. Ellis,” Department of Mathematics and
Applied Mathematics, University of Cape Town,
http://www.mth.uct.ac.za/∼ellis/.
[11]. Lee Smolin, “Loop Quantum Gravity,” Scientific
American (January 2004).
[12]. The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins, 1976, Oxford
University Press
[13]. Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of Four, New York:
Penguin Books, 2001.
[14]. Daniel Dennett, Freedom Evolves, New York: Penguin
Books, 2004.
[15]. Alan Lightman, Albert Einstein: Ideas and Opinions,
New York: Modern Library, 1994.
[16]. Roger Scruton, Modern Philosophy, New York: Pen-
guin Books, 1996.
[17]. Roger Scruton, Modern Philosophy, New York: Pen-
guin Books, 1996.
[18]. Roger Scruton, Modern Philosophy, New York: Pen-
guin Books, 1996.
[19]. Morton Davis, Game Theory, Mineola, NY: Dover
Publications, 1997.
Endnotes 77

[20]. Morton Davis, Game Theory, Mineola, NY: Dover


Publications, 1997.
[21]. John Waggoner and Dennis Cauchon, “Soaring costs
of senior care,” USA Today, October 5, 2004.
[22]. Sherwin Nuland, “Do you want to live forever?” MIT
Technology Review (January 2005).
[23]. R. Nicoll and B. Alger, “The Brain’s Own Marijuana,”
Scientific American (December 2004).
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thestory.html
[25]. Alan Dershowitz, Why Terrorism Works, New Haven,
CT: Yale University Press, 2002.
[26]. “Corporate Scandal Primer,” The Washington Post,
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/business/
scandals/primer/.
[27]. Alan Dershowitz, Rights from Wrongs, New York: Basic
Books, 2004.
[28]. Michael Shermer, The Science of Good & Evil, New
York: Times Books, 2004.
[29]. “Journal of Applied Philosophy,” Society for Applied
Philosophy,
http://www.blackwellpublishing.
com/journal.asp?ref=0264-3758.
[30]. Carl Sagan, Cosmos, New York: Ballantine Books,
1985.
78 The Purpose of Life

[31]. Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time, New York:


Bantam Books, 1988.
[32]. Jostein Gaarder, Sophie’s World, New York: Berkley
Publishing Group, 1996.
[33]. Roger Scruton, Modern Philosophy, New York: Pen-
guin Books, 1996.
[34]. Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1990.
[35]. Daniel Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, New York:
Simon & Schuster, 1996.
[36]. Brian Greene, The Elegant Universe, New York: Vin-
tage Books, 2000.
[37]. “Nova,” Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), http://
www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/.
978-0-595-34579-3
0-595-34579-4