Deep pragmatism seeks common ground. Not where we think it ought to be, but where it actually is.

With a little perspective, we can reflect and reach agreements with our heads, despite the irreconcilable differences in our hearts.

We all want to be happy. None of us wants to suffer. And our concern for happiness and suffering lies behind nearly everything else that we value, though to see this requires some reflection.

We can take this kernel of personal value and turn it into a moral value by adding the essence of the Golden Rule: your happiness and your suffering matter no more, and no less, than anyone else’s.

Finally, we can turn this moral value into a moral system by running it through the outcome-optimizing apparatus of the human prefromal cortex. This yields a moral philosophy that no one loves but that everyone “gets”—a second moral language that members of all tribes can speak.

· · ·

Morality enables individuals with competing interests to live together and prosper.

In the modern world we need something like morality, but one level up. We need a kind of thinking that enables groups with conflicting moralities to live together and prosper. In other words, we need a metamorality.

A metamorality will help us resolve disagreements among groups with different moral ideals, just as ordinary, first-order morality resolves disagreements among individuals with different selfish interests.

If we acknowledge that our tribal feelings can’t all be right, and yet aspire to resolve our differences in a principled way, then we need some kind of “ism,” an explicit moral standard to guide us when our emotional compasses fail.


This text was adapted from the book Moral Tribes, by Joshua Greene (2013).
Joshua Greene has no connection with this web page.