Ethical and Social Decision Making

It’s impossible for me to determine how to act or how to feel, and this is because I’ve come to these conclusions:

  1. Knowledge, the intersection of truth, justification, and belief, is an impossible standard;
  2. Objectivity in morality is an impossible standard;
  3. Free will is unlikely, the study of the brain and the observation of the universe reveal that life is matter just like any other, abiding by predictable laws like any other.

Yet despite accepting these, I continue to act and feel, and it seems like I have a choice in the matter. This is disingenuous or hypocritical or dishonest. Remaining in control of one’s emotions is an ideal I work hard to live up to, yet I don’t believe there could be such a thing as being “in control” and I can’t see how emotions can be anything other than states of the brain. Coming to the right moral conclusion is something I value, but I can’t rationalize there truly being any such thing. How do I deal with this? Because I wake up every day and “make decisions” and try to “do the right thing.”


The reason that knowledge is impossible in the sense of holding a justified true belief is that there is no way of determining what is actually true, but only what you are justified and believe is true.

So, what I do to handle the how knowledge is impossible is throw out the impossible standard. I don’t know anything, but I do have something else, something akin to knowledge. I have justified beliefs, and that’s what I use to make decisions, out of a practical and human need.

Interestingly enough, I learned today that its possible to hold a invalid justified true belief. For instance, say you’re watching a football game, Rutgers vs. Penn State, on television. It is actually true that Rutgers is winning. But, you’ve been duped by the broadcaster, whose playing the game where Rutgers is winning, but it’s from last year. Therefore:

  1. You are justified in thinking Rutgers is winning,
  2. It is actually true that Rutgers is winning,
  3. You believe Rutgers is winning,

But we’re not tempted to say you know it. So, there must be something more to knowledge not captured by justified true belief. So it’s even more hopeless.

So, to live, throw out knowledge, the practical knowledge skeptic.

Objectivity and morality

The reason an objective morality is impossible is because of the is/ought distinction, the naturalistic fallacy, the fact that morality depends on the existence of conscious beings, is not part of reality. Objective morality would require a god, and I don’t believe in god, so I don’t believe there is objective reality. And even if there is, is it good because god says so or does god say so because its good? It’s still either shallow or unnecessary.

Instead, I also just throw out the impossible standard. I must just arbitrarily establish an end to morality, a first principle, and come to conclusions based on it. I think, like Mill, that happiness is the best first principle, the best end to human behavior. Why? Well, descriptively, I think people do act to become happy. And prescriptively, I think that happier states of mind are desirable, and human beings, being the objects of morality, ought value that which is desirable. It’s not objective, but it’s practical and human.

By throwing out two impossible standards, I use justified beliefs and an arbitrary but human first principle, happiness, to “make decisions.”

Determinism and reductionism

So I believe everything is likely predetermined. Not by any divine first mover or benevolent dictator, but instead by simple facts about how reality seems to operate.

  1. All events now are the consequent of prior events,
  2. All future events are the consequent of events now,
  3. Therefore, all events now determine all future events.

This avoids the first event debate, just because it isn’t relevant right here.


  1. I am, I am aware, I think, feel, and have a body,
  2. The processor which informs my body and feels is my brain,
  3. My brain is a physical object, a place where events occur, however complex.

Combine the two arguments and you have my naive deterministic reductionism. My brain is a place where events occur that take place wholly due to past events. Even if you dispute the first set of premises and tell me there are some random events, that still doesn’t give me choice, it’s just I’m hostage to the rolling of atomic dice.

When I deliberate, I accept that I ultimately won’t be able to freely choose my conclusion. I was just intended to deliberate, and if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t. I don’t see why determinism and deliberation are incompatible.


I’m going to write up my beliefs like this so I can explicitly identify what it is I believe, so that I can reflect and grow on it. This is not intended to be educational, rigorous, or groundbreaking, merely honest.