Stefan Molyneux’s Ethics: Universally Preferable Behaviour

UPBI’ve been reading Stefan Molyneux’s book Universally Preferable Behavior: a Rational Proof of Secular Ethics. While I agree with his ethics, which fit admirably with what I would consider the true ethics of Jesus, and find his discussion of the “null zone” of inverted ethics of collectives to shine a light on what may be the greatest “elephant in the room” of our time, I have some niggling issues with the book.

Stefan puts science on a pedestal in this book. For example, he says in the introduction that “the reason that scientists do not need a government or a Vatican is that scientists have an objective methodology for resolving disputes: the scientific method”. But scientists do have a government (academia) and a Vatican (the Royal Society), and even a protestant church (the National Academy). The scientific method is to science what the free market is to economics. In truth, academia is often a lot more like the managed socialist economies of the west than the sink or swim free markets of the past.

A similar point, that “we do not judge the value of scientific experiments according to … some utilitarian optimization – they are judged in accordance with the scientific method” is also (sadly) idealistic. I remember in the eighties, my boss at the time, a brilliant mathematician, telling me that one of the other scientists had shared a paper with him, complete with conclusions, with blanks left for the numbers we would get when we ran the experiment. The man in question also happened to be a cabinet minister in charge of post secondary education.

Another statement that Stefan makes, I find so obviously untrue that for me, it undermines his arguments: “I am fully open to the proposition that there is no such thing as ethics at all, and that all systems of ‘morality’ are mere instruments of control, as Nietzsche argued so insistently.” Stefan clearly has a lot more respect for the Nihilistic philosophers that I do. Frankly, I find the idea that “all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated” to be absurd.

I also dislike the portrayal of our ancestors as egocentric: “For countless generations, mankind lived in a kind of egocentric womb of self-imposed ignorance: the world was flat, the sun, moon and stars revolved around him, ancestors beckoned to him from beyond the mists of death, and thunder was the anger of the gods. Burrowing out from this narcissistic womb of subjective interpretation required the labour of millennia.” Ignorant, yes; narcissistic, perhaps; but egocentric? Egocentric, to me, implies a degree of consciousness that I don’t think people had.

Stefan also implies that “we” have a traditional Christian view of religion: “there exists in our minds an imaginary entity called ‘God,’ and this entity is considered perfectly moral … [but] continually and grossly violates the edict that ‘violence is wrong’ by drowning the world, consigning souls to hell despite a perfect foreknowledge of their ‘decisions,’ sanctioning rape, murder, theft, assault and other actions that we would condemn as utterly evil in any individual.”

While this might be a majority view in America, it certainly isn’t universal. A great many Christians tend toward deism, following the lead of Saul of Tarsus, who famously said “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” They don’t believe that the creator of the universe is identical to Yahweh, the vengeful god of the Old Testament, any more than they believe God is the Semitic god El/Yahweh, who was married to Asherah and ruled over Anat, Baal, Dagon, Moloch, Mot, Yam, and entire pantheon of lesser gods.

I will have more to say on this book. The flaws I’ve pointed out are minor compared to the value it offers by exposing the immorality of the institutions (the system) we’ve all been born into. If you want to explore the concepts of morality, nonagression, and voluntarism, I suggest you read UPB for yourself. You can buy the Kindle edition for a minimal fee ($1); you can also read it online for free.

About jimbelton

I'm a software developer, and a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and I blog about movies, books, and philosophy. My interest in religious philosophy and the search for the truth inspires much of my writing.
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3 Responses to Stefan Molyneux’s Ethics: Universally Preferable Behaviour

  1. Bonsai says:

    Hello! I am keenly interested this topic and read your post . . .twice. I wasn’t sure what “the unethical system were all born into” was exactly. Before I say more I’d like some clarification please.

    • jimbelton says:

      Good question. I’ll be writing more. Stefan’s classic example of a “null zone” is mandatory taxation. You and I know that theft is wrong, ethics say it is wrong (thou shall not steal), but we are forced to pay taxes that we never agreed to to the state. The null zone is that we are told that complying with the state is virtuous, whereas complying with a common thief is cowardly.

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