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Theories of Moral Philosophy | Efferent Nerve Processing
Home » The Hierarchical Theory of Moral Philosophy and how it relates to Efferent Neural Information Processing

The Hierarchical Theory of Moral Philosophy and how it relates to Efferent Neural Information Processing

Abstract: Hierarchical Systems Theory dictates a particular theory of moral philosophy. This hierarchical moral philosophy provides a link with the evolution of efferent information processing. In other words, the key to this theory of moral philosophy is in the proposition that connects morality with those neural mechanisms and processes that assimilate, evaluate and determine behavioural action – there is an hierarchical structure to an evaluative process ranging from innate behavioural needs to conceptually grounded ideologies, which in their totality, come to determine what actions are best suited to what purpose.

Read ‘The Hierarchical Theory of Moral Philosophy and how it relates to Efferent Neural Information Processing’ as a PDF.

In the nervous system, efferent nerves, otherwise known as motor or effector neurones, carry nerve impulses away from the central nervous system to effectors such as muscles or glands. The opposite activity of direction or flow is afferent. Afferent neurones, otherwise known as sensory or receptor neurones, carry nerve impulses from receptors or sense organs towards the central nervous system.

Theories of Moral Philosophy do not usually relate to the evolution of efferent neural processing

The evolution of efferent neural processing determine actionable behaviours are evaluated

Clearly, a great deal of brain processing follows from afferent neural activity. Let us call the entirety of this activity, ‘afferent thought’.

Similarly, prior to efferent neural activity there is significant brain processing. Let us call the entirety of this activity, ‘efferent thought’.

Afferent and efferent thought are not distinct either anatomically or in terms of processing. Rather, these are simply terms of reference to illustrate some kind of conceptual distinction.

Below, I will categorise the structure of ‘efferent thought’. These processes I call the ‘categories of action’. Until now, these processes have been the subject of, ‘ethical’ enquiry and to theories of moral philosophy.

Introduction to the hierarchical theory of moral philosophy

To understand ethics, first and foremost, is to understand behavioural choice. It is not, primarily, to consider or evaluate what it is right to do, or what it is to lead a good life.

Ultimately, behavioural choices are made. Only after this is understood, can one be drawn to contemplate the nature of what it is best to do. In this secondary endeavour one tries to determine what, why, and to whom a particular behaviour is of benefit. Such considerations lead to judgments about, or to the apportioning of value to behavioural positions. Their purpose is to grant individuals an equitable or stable behavioural and contemplative stance i.e. to secure a moral identity and subsequently, to create the foundations for principles of ideology.

This notion that ethics is about behavioural choice rather than about making judgments as to what behaviours are right or wrong presents a problem of efficacy, for what then, is it “to be ethical”. To be ethical, is commonly regarded as meaning; to be consistent with agreed principles of correct moral conduct i.e. Being ethical is about behavioural evaluation and judgement. Alternatively, I suggest that to be ethical is to apply due consideration.

What does it entail to apply due consideration to behaviour choice?

Overview – Historic perspectives regarding theories of moral philosophy

Over centuries, philosophers have theorised about the relevant benefits of particular moral and behavioural stances and attempted to identify principles that explain behavioural choice. Characteristically, these attempts have tried to decipher the nature and substantive values that link the apparent, trichotomous nature of the human psyche, variously articulated in terms of human reasoning, feeling, and desiring. Of the three, most emphasis has focused on the unique human characteristic of reasoned behavioural choice in terms of its relationship to the emotions. Much less thought is given to primitive desires that respond to the basic bodily needs and functions.

In ‘The Republic’, Plato suggests that through the main social classes there correspond three parts of the soul, those being, reason, spirit, and desire. Desire corresponds with the basic appetites of, for example, hunger, thirst, and sex. The spirit of emotion or the ‘act of being spirited’ includes such things as anger, conscience, and shame. Reason is that cognitive process that rules spirit through self-control and strength of will, and inhibits desire to its basic physical requirements. In Plato’s trichotomy of influences, a good individual is one that promotes the harmonious relation between these three aspects of the human soul, with reason ruling over spirit and self-control inhibiting desire to its essential physical requirements.

Alternatively, central to Aristotle’s ‘Doctrine of the Mean’ (from Nicomachean Ethics) is the thesis that explores the mean between excess and deficiency through an attempt to determine a more inclusive relation between reason and feeling. Whilst the ‘Platonic’ position emphasises the inhibition of feelings through reason presenting an antagonism of the two, Aristotle gives credence to feeling when its expression is more or less appropriate to the situation.

Hume maintains a relational stance between reason and feeling in ‘Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals’: Through reason, humans have the capacity to relate their feeling experiences with other individuals. This relation imbues them with a unique sense of ‘sympathy’ and sense of humanity. It is this sense of sympathy that enables humans to formulate the concept of what constitutes virtuous behaviour and consequently, to prescribe moral judgements. My understanding, however, is that Hume’s account indirectly usurps the role of feeling in morality, because in his account, sympathy is a construct of reasoned assertions about feeling. This stance enables Hume to conceive of the notion of fixed general moral standards founded on objective utilitarian qualities, which effectively subjugate the operation of one’s sympathy. In this view, as sympathy is a recognitional construct or some form of emotional empathy, the acknowledgement of its sentiments are merely a respectful nod in the direction of human desires and passions.

In ‘Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals’, Kant excludes all consideration of the individual human’s inclinations and feelings in favour of a concept that emphasises duty bound actions, which for him are a formal requirement in respect of moral law and pure reason. Kant’s position makes it requisite, the denial of the needs of the individual self in respect to the benefit of others and of society as a whole.

In contrast, Mill, in ‘Utilitarianism’, commits to the view that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to promote unhappiness, where happiness constitutes pleasures in absence of pain and vice versa. In order to counter arguments that such a view of life would propose that there is no higher end than pleasure, Mill distinguishes between higher and lower pleasures. He draws a distinction between the “qualities” or hierarchies of pleasures: “Human beings have faculties more elevated than the animal appetites, and when once made conscious of them, do not regard anything as happiness which does not include their gratification.” (II.4). Consequently, Mill acknowledges the spirits and desires of man, but much like Plato, regards them as subservient to the ‘higher’ reasoning pleasures of creative, literary, artistic, and intellectual enquiry.

Both Freud and Nietzsche view morality as a mechanism of repression. For Nietzsche, this repression is societal, where morality serves to rationalise and legitimate the institutions of the social classes. For Freud, morality is an internal compensatory response to the frustrations of desire. With both these contrasting views, the symptom of morality is interpreted as a negative constraint on the needs and desires of the individual. These views express an antagonism between the reasoning behind moral ideals and the emotive needs and desires of the individual. In Nietzsche’s view, our moral choices are an attempt to impose our will on the external world. In Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis, the moral conscience or ’super-ego’, is an internalisation of external authority. The ‘id’ is our impulsive desires and wants. The rational ‘ego’, is that which attempts to exact a balance between the impractical hedonism of the id and the unattainable ideal of the super-ego.

In the 20th century, Russell espouses the idea (1935, Religion and Science) that when it comes to judgements about whether one or other moral stance is good, the lack of rational evidence either way calls for any given stance to appeal to the emotions and to employ the kind of rhetoric that will arouse similar emotions in others. For Russell, the question of ‘values’ lies outside the domain of reasoned knowledge so that when we assert that something has ‘value’, we are giving expression to our own emotions and not to a fact which would still be true if our personal feelings were different. Consequently, an ethical stance in Russell’s view is not one whose primary function is to convey knowledge. Rather, his emotivist stance presents ethical discourse as an essentially non-rational activity whose language tends toward the expression and evocation of feelings and emotions. Hare concludes in ‘The Language of Morals’, that any given moral reasoning must ultimately commit to a morality premise than cannot be empirically verified. This requires the commitment to a ‘decision of principle’ that is not founded on a statement of truth or fact, but rather requires our sentiments and passions to motivate. In other words, human reasoning is an incomplete stratagem to ethical conclusion and that the demand for behavioural conclusions befall the defensive insecurities of the passions for temporary resolution.

Philippa Foot (1958, Moral Beliefs) adds further consideration and weight to the importance of basic human needs by suggesting that purely innate universal desires and physical requirements demand of humans to seek those conditions that maintain ‘good’ physical health and functioning – There is a call to satisfy ones basic needs, like for example, avoiding physical injury. Similarly, and at the other end of the scale, there are other human needs like the need for a sense of meaning in ones life, or for the need to care for family and the wider social group, or to feel that one is making a valuable contribution or providing a good service to others. These aspirations come to define our concepts of virtuous behaviour and endeavour, both to the cause of self-interest and to the functioning of a healthy body and society.

When reviewing the catalogue of opinions that philosophers have expressed over the centuries, it is unclear that there is a viable ‘dialectical’ Hegelian reduction of possible alternatives, which might enable us to achieve a new and more informed understanding as to how mankind might prioritise behaviour when there is conflict of reason, feeling, and desire. Assessing reason in the absence of feeling is a form of applied logic and in being so is devoid of ‘sensitivity’, whilst feeling without reason is devoid of any ‘civilised’ reference points and explanation. In conclusion, this brief historical exposition reveals no principles to clarify the nature of behavioural evaluation. We are left to muse over the relative value of the trichotomy of influences in the selection of behavioural choice.

The trichotomous nature of behavioural choice

Looking at their contributions over centuries, it is notable that philosophers appear not to contest the trichotomous nature of human behaviour choice. These might be paraphrased as follows:

    1. Humans have a call to act to satisfy physiological demands and the primordial urges of raw innate needs and desires.

    2. Humans too, like many other animals, develop feelings and emotions as a response to environmental influences. These feelings elicit behavioural responses.

    3. Finally, humans alone can call upon powers of deduction or inference to guide their behaviour. In doing so, they are able to assess the potential merits of conflicting behaviours and reach an informed decision as to which is the preferred course of action to take.

Philosophers also recognise that in choosing to act, humans are faced with a trichotomy of influences that are competing and vying for expression. The problem has been in identifying underlying principles to help guide human behavioural choice. Without such principles, we are simply hostages to and often victims of popularised or emotive rhetoric. It is little comfort that we must rely on our intuitions and in faith in order to make behavioural choices, which we might reason and believe to be ethical.

The relevance of Hierarchical Systems Theory to the trichotomy of influences

In providing a reductive explanation of phenomenal experience, it is significant that Hierarchical Systems Theory tells us there are 3 distinct systems categories. Might it be possible that these 3 categories also explain the trichotomy of behavioural influences and provide philosophers with the coherent principles that explain the underlying dynamics of behavioural choice?

1. What does HST’s first of three systems categories explain about innate desires?

Organisms evolve over generations and in the process, develop bio-chemical and bio-mechanical diversity.

What is the purpose of bio-diversity?

Hypothetically, for any given system structure, the cessation of bio-diversity would be indicative of an exceptional adaptive state. Such an all-embracing structural state would arise only if there were no active potential to drive further structural adaptation. That there is continuous bio-diversity, therefore, is reason to conclude that the ultimate objective of bio-diversity and of evolving organic systems is to continue adapting until an absolute all-embracing structural adaptation be realised; whatever that realisation might be.

Any given bio-diverse organism represents, therefore, a transitional state: It is a product of evolution and its systems structure will continue evolving further. Being a product of evolution, an organism’s transitional state is a physiological expression that embodies all its previous environmental interaction. Every transitional state is the product of all past experience. As its current structural state is an expressive adaptation that incorporates all of its past environmental adaptations and world view of experience, all physiological structures are a legitimate interpretative proposition; of what is, if not definitively, an all-embracing structural adaptation.

How do these principles of Hierarchical Systems Theory relate to ethics?

Adaptive physiological structures are what determine innate activities and the primordial behavioural urges. These behaviours are the observable actions that express a system’s interpretive proposition of an ultimate and all-embracing systems state.

At any given moment, an organic structure may have numerous innate intentions competing for behavioural expression. Their combined function is prescriptive of the system’s interpretative version of what it is to be an absolutely stable state.

All animals, including humans, possess these innate and primitive calls to action. These behaviours respond to all the different senses, such that we might be wary of black and yellow stripes, cautious of vivid red berries, alert to articulated and dissonant sounds (including consonants), revile to noxious smells, but also respond with more sophistication to such things as the smell of water, a lush green landscape, to a warm glowing fire etc.

2. What does HST’s second of three systems categories explain about feeling?

When an individual organism assimilates environmental experience on a realtime basis, it is capable of expressing behaviours that are adaptive. However, there is no compulsion to adapt behaviour if past and present interpretations of experience are identical and where there is no impetus that might promote the reappraisal of behavioural responses. Conversely, there is a compulsion to adapt behaviour if interpretations of past and present experiences do differ. Realtime varying interpretations of experience demand behavioural reappraisal.

The neural processes involved in the reappraisal of past interpretations of experience generate an experiential sensation. This sensation is the phenomenon known as ‘feeling’. Thus, following its experiential interpretations, an animal is compelled to adapt behaviour through the evocation of its feelings.

How is feeling relevant to ethics and to theories of moral philosophy?

Through the evocation of feelings, the many sensations of experience are what guide the behavioural decisions of animals. Inevitably, experience generates a continuous narrative of changing sensations competing for behavioural expression. In addition to this narrative, innate desires also seek behavioural resolution. From this dichotomous conflict their ensues a juxtaposition of competing value: The value associated with an all-embracing structural adaptation and that of an all-embracing behavioural adaptation.

Additionally, the evolution of innate structural adaptations and those capabilities associated with behavioural adaptation are intimately entwined. They both have a competing effect over the other. This leads to complex behaviours and physiological adaptations.

Hierarchical Systems Theory tells us that humans have no analytic access to the processes that generate the phenomenon of our feeling but that our feelings do call us to action. Additionally, our innate desires call us to act too. Both have a significant impact on behavioural decisions. Typically, the feelings we experience are given the term ’emotions’. Note however, that emotions are conceptual interpretations of feeling types and are, consequently, not equivalent. Emotions are just a convenient way of referencing different classes of feelings. But feelings, like colours, come in infinitely subtle shades and hues.

3. What does HST’s third of three systems categories explain about reasoning?

Whilst the relationships of contextual experience generate an individual organism’s feeling, Hierarchical Systems Theory explains that the relationships of conceptual realisations are what generate an individual human’s reasoning.

It is a requirement that any conceptual construct be stable. This is so, because every concept of reality must include, as part of that reality, a concept of the entity responsible for generating that concept in the first place. That entity, is the individual that is in possession of the concept. Consequently, any individual’s concept of reality includes the essence of their sense of themselves. Therefore an unstable conceptual construct is fundamentally objectionable to the individual experiencing it.

Despite this powerful requirement for stability, an individual’s thought processes are compelled to reappraise its conceptual construct when its concept of reality is demonstrably recognised as being in conflict or inconsistent.

Notably, reappraising thought processes such as these appear to the individual, to apply only processes of reason. This appearance, though, is false – Practical reasoning itself is merely the instrument of action for the reappraisal of conceptualised reality and in being so, is a process by-product: In practice therefore, human reasoning, however powerful its logic, will avoid mental propositions that do not support an individual’s concept of reality. Individuals would rather twist reason than allow it to alter their conceptualisation of reality.

Within these parameters, humans have the motivation to act according to what each individual “reasons” as supportive of their concept of reality, where reasoning is not intrinsically a faculty of logic or truth.

Reason is presently the highest known form of influence in ethical discourse. But note, like learning, reason is a by-product of a more fundamental systems process. This process, which is the guardian to reason, demands a stable concept of reality however biased that process is required to be.

Processes of reason and logic are complex, sometimes counter intuitive, conflicting and so forth, and yet an individual’s motivation to act according to reason is, nonetheless, mitigated further by their spirit of feeling and their innate desires. Each separate function has it own behavioural agenda. When individual humans have cause to act, these trichotomy of influences bear down on the individual. Without knowledge of these influences, the individual is facing a cocktail of unknown values and aesthetic consequences.

Unlike the processes that lead to feeling and innate desire, conceptual processes are open to analytical access. That the reasoning that humans attribute to those analytical processes seem unassailable means that humans give great weight on the calls to action that are generated by conceptual thought. Should humans uphold the value of conceptual decisions above those calls to action that are generated by feelings and innate desires?

How should humans evaluate what is the right cause to action?

The evaluation of what is ‘right’

We have a broad articulation of the trichotomous nature of the human psyche that is involved in behavioural choice. Humans possess desires, feelings, and concepts: The physiologically innate needs, the emotions that we conceive to understand through their association with our feelings, and finally the concepts that we maintain with reasoning. Each plays out to a different and sometimes conflicting tune.

It is evident that none of the trichotomy of influences is submissive by default. Despite this, for hundreds of years, there has been considerable bias to the view that decisions founded on reason are the higher moral aspiration.

Why is this the case?

One might desire water in a desert, but to deny another of a precious water resource that you carry on your person would ‘not be consistent’ with your concept of what it is to be human (i.e. what it is to be human, is a concept integral to one’s concept of self). It is a painful realisation when your reasoning tells you to give away some water to another, but during the reasoning process, you develop and reinforce a sense of moral ideology which is consistent with your elected stable concept of reality. Conversely, to deny another of water and retain a water resource for your own exclusive consumption is reasoned as basal: To do so, is to deny your sense of humanity in order to feed your core thirst desires and to some extent, requires the rejection and then reappraisal of your original concept of self. Such denial seems dark and cold. Is it any wonder that philosophers have continued to bias in favour of reason for their founding principles to morality. To do otherwise is to be forced to dismantle and realign each of their concepts regarding self and reality. The conclusion is that it seems morally preferable to deny core needs than to deny the self. Why? Because our concept of reality is constructed from reason and not from our emotions or desires.

On the justification of behaviours

On occasion, when I have walked into my living room, I have found my dog ‘Impy’, curled up on the sofa. Impy knows the sofa is out of bounds and before I have made any utterance, he looks at me sheepishly with head lowered, sagging droopy eyes glancing up at mine as he climbs carefully and slowly down with his tail between legs, back curving downward.

I might conclude that he displays in this manner because he feels ‘guilty’ for having sat where he is not allowed. However, his behaviour cannot be attributed to his own ‘sense of duty’ or to his evaluation of what is ‘right and wrong’. Whilst he is undoubtedly experiencing something, it is I that is tempted to attribute what he is experiencing to the emotion humans call ‘guilt’. Nevertheless, one can reason that he is experiencing the feelings that humans attribute to guilt.

Of course, words like ‘guilt’ are vague terms of reference. Such terms are our human way of conceptualising and then verbalising about the phenomenon of feelings which we experience, relate to, and interpret. Humans attribute many emotions to the phenomenon of our feeling, but note, these attributions entail conceptual reasoning.

Analysing guilt

The feeling that humans attribute to the emotion of guilt relates to the enforced appeasement of self-interest. Its roots lie in the dynamics of a social hierarchy where dominance affects social status and with it, mating, feeding, preening, and sheltering opportunities. Arguably, societal dynamics that lead to feelings of guilt have an objective purpose:

Animals have to make decisions that, one can reason, effectively amount to the assessment of self-interest. My dog’s interest is to sit on the comfort of a sofa. This is in conflict with his recognition that I am dominant in our ‘group’ and I demand his appeasement through the rule of ‘not sitting on the sofa’. But he will attempt to get away with any behaviours that service his interests and will display regret, when caught out, for violating individual and group authority. Interestingly, Impy does not think, ‘sitting on the sofa will disrupt the dynamics of my family group’. He thinks only of servicing his own interests, which are a matter of weighing up the need for comfort with the desire not to be chastised. The decision that my dog is to make is quasi-moral – The decision depends on his assessment of the merits of his desires and feelings, and do not include the merits of a stable concept of reality.

On the other hand, the dominant animal’s interests are frequently serviced simply by the minor’s appeasement display. This apparent ‘remorseful’ appeasement is usually justice enough for the dominant because it reaffirms the demands that are implicit in the nature of the social hierarchy. However, such appeasement is not really indicative of the recognition of ‘remorse’. The behaviour is not indicative of the presence of ‘the concept’ of emotional ‘regret’, which the appeasing animal experiences and is communicating. Rather, it is simply an expression of a feeling, which only humans recognise to be characteristics of remorse and whose associated behaviours tend to mitigate the harm that could be inflicted by the dominant one.

A distinction between emotion and feeling

There is a distinction between the feelings of animals, and those of humans. For nonhuman animals in this example, the pursuit of self-interest is mitigated by what transpires to be, the benefits of group interaction. Effectively, animals make decisions, which, if they were human, could be interpreted as moral or ethical – in this example; the denial of self-interests for the benefit of the group.

Guilt is a conceptualised description of a feeling; a description that embraces the fullness of the feeling’s experiential context. This description defines just one of many types of feelings that animals experience. It is difficult to argue with any conviction that feelings and experiences such as joy, fear, surprise, sadness, anticipation, wonder, disappointment, remorse, and jealousy are the preserve of humans alone. Nevertheless, to interpret such feelings as ‘emotions’, is to apply human conceptions that apportion descriptive terms of value and relation to feeling phenomena. A nonhuman animal does not place terms of value and relation to feelings. Feelings are experienced and that is the end of it. There is no contextual conception for animals.

Whilst feeling and behaviour has factual function for all animals, the tendency of every human individual’s creative reasoning capability is to play a game that entails describing terms of reference to those feelings and from that, formulating the individual’s evaluative moral identity. The nature of this game causes doubt and confusion because the dynamics of the mechanism of our feelings remain outside of our conceptual analysis – conceptual analysis is confined to relational interpretations or inferences between what is felt and what is objectively experienced.

Whilst humans obey the same principles of self-interest and social dynamics, they are unique in having the capability of analytical creativity. They are able to question, evaluate, and apply reasoned concepts to emotive responses: So I might ask, “Is it fair to get off the sofa because someone senior to me tells me to? What are the reasons? What are the arguments that I might pursue to maintain my self-interests over the group? What are the benefits, risks, or alternatives available to me?” There is a complex misappropriation of the core instincts that would normally drive the behaviours of humans. We disassociate our feelings from their related emotions by using our faculties of reason. We can re-evaluate our self-interests, our sense of duty, and manipulate. The behavioural choices that humans make are determined by weighing up juxtaposed feelings and interpreting our emotions with complex conceptions of individual, social, and environmental consideration. In this manner, we assess the nature of value and lend credence to our sense of judgment and to our chosen course of action.

The Principle of Relational Ethics

The reason why I introduced my dog was to indicate a relationship between the human concept of morality and non-articulated nonhuman feelings and behaviours. From the simple organisms to the most complex, there are evolving if not understood directives behind behaviour. One might argue, quite reasonably, that there is justification behind the behaviour of systems that are not even alive; for do not those that pursue the fundamental principles of physics seek the ‘laws’ that appear to qualify, and thereby ‘justify’, all systems’ behaviours?

Similarly, moralising is a process that seeks to apply laws that mean to justify human behavioural choice. But what are the principles of morality with which to make these judgments?

Recognising the trichotomy of influences and the nature of their dynamic relationships enables certain conclusions to be drawn. For example, one can state that

Reasoning is a by-product of the processes that maintain conceptual reality.
Consequently, there is nothing implicitly moral about decisions derived from reason.
Therefore, every possible behavioural consideration from the trichotomy of influences should be assessed on its own merits and understood on its own terms in the evaluation of choice.
Individuals will defend with absolute conviction, by verbal, physical, and all possible means, the reasoning that purports to service their stable concept of reality, however twisted it may have become.

We cannot rely on our reason to establish any fundamental moral positions. This is because reason is a function of our desire for a stable concept of reality and is subject to the accuracy of that concept. This explains why there are as many moral stances as there are concepts of reality. All ‘bad acts’ are validated by the proponents of that action if their concept of reality provides the reasoning to validate it – Any individual’s concept of reality can easily become twisted by circumstance.

If one cannot use reason to gauge the quality of our moral stance, what are we to do to determine fundamental or universal moral principles?

On the evolution of morality

Reasoning tends to be highly regarded for its capacity to guide ‘good’ behaviour, because of its assumed basis in logic. The value attributed to reason exists because human behavioural decisions utilise reason for the purposes of maintaining compliance with individuals’ concepts of reality, which have to ‘make sense’. In this way, reasoning appears to be at the heart of decision making, but in truth, is a slave to the individual’s concept of reality as it evolves from one moment to the next.

If one is to accept the devaluation of reason in this manner, what can one conclude is morality if anymore than a human construct designed to institute compliance with stabilising conceptualised values?

One might legitimately argue that morality is no more than a human construct to validate dogmatic conceptual ideals. One might believe that there can be no more depth to morality than that it aligns to general principles relating to our ‘sense’ of humanity. Should one conclude that there is no moral high ground to which man might aspire?

Yes, behavioural choice is determined by fundamental principles relating to the trichotomy of influences, but morality is an entirely different discourse. Whilst ethics translates to objective understanding and to the phenomenon of behavioural action, morality relates to the subject of values that extend beyond attainable knowledge.

The substance of moral subjectivity

Hierarchical Systems Theory informs us that the process of conceptualising reality is what enables an individual to become aware of their consciousness. In this regard, a concept is not necessarily a verbal statement but is formed by the systematic interpretation of understandings in terms of the relationship between learning and experience. Because of the relationship between conceptualisation and consciousness, the process of trying to locate and uphold a moral imperative through conceptual realisation, is formative in the evolution of an individual’s consciousness. In other words, seeking the correct call to action affects the essence of an individual’s consciousness.

In this manner, morality is an aspirational process that determines the nature of the evolution of our individual consciousness and that influences all those conscious entities in whom an individual has contact.

The essence of conscious experience is evolving in reaction to the development or in reaction to the discovery of, what one might term ‘universal moral principles’. These in turn, modulate our concepts about the world in which we live. Thus, we can expect morality to evolve as an intrinsic element of our conscious experience.

Is morality the intrinsic property of consciousness in all its forms? Does relating ethics, theories of moral philosophy, and moral epistomology to Hierarchical Systems Theory create a relationship between physical properties and the intrinsic property of consciousness?

There is no reason to suppose that the trichotomy of influences is all there is to decision making. After all, before humans evolved, there was no trichotomy. Instead there was only a dichotomy of influences. According to Hierarchical Systems Theory, there will be further evolutionary stages that will eclipse our current ethical motivations. The proposition therefore, is that there is a ethical viewpoint and ultimately, a vision of morality that will over shadow all current human understanding.


Plato – The Republic

Aristotle – Nicomachaen Ethics

Hume – An Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals

Kant – Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysicsnof Morals

Mill – Utilitarianism

Nietzsche – On the Genealogy of Morals

Bertrand Russell (1935). Religion and Science. OUP.

Alfred Ayer (1936). Language, Truth and Logic. V. Gollancz ltd: London,

Charles Stevenson (1944). Ethics and Language. YUP: New Haven, CT.

Richard Hare (1952) The Language of Morals. OUP: Oxford.

Philippa Foot (1958/9) Moral beliefs. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 59

Reference article as:
Pharaoh, M.C. (2011) Theories of Moral Philosophy and how they relate to Efferent Neural Information Processing. Retrieved online: http://mind-phronesis.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/ethics-efferent.pdf

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