“Words are the source of misunderstanding.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
“The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name.” — Confucious
If we’re to have a discussion about ethics and morals, I believe it to be important to have a clear definition for the terms being used. Too often, people use words with multiple meanings, or even invent new meanings for words. Sometimes, they conflate the meaning of words or attempt to use different words interchangeably. Usually, it is simply the result of imprecise or sloppy thinking, but sometimes, it is done deliberately by sophists seeking to use the semblance or reason and logic to justify a non-rational or sometimes an irrational position. Very occasionally it is done to provide greater clarity, and in such cases, the word is usually carefully and explicitly defined.
There are three types of behavior. The first type of behavior is autonomic or automatic behavior which is non-conscious and reactive. It is the direct response to specific types of stimulus to our nervous system. An example of such behavior is the unconscious response to pain (usually withdrawing or pulling away from the stimulus). The next type of behavior is volitionally created, but unconscious or subconscious. It is the result of conscious decisions or semi-conscious decisions repeated over time until the behavior is habitual or an unconscious or subconscious response to specific stimuli. Examples of such behavior include the collection of unconscious behaviors enabling a person to walk, ride a bike, drive a car, touch-type, play the piano or musical instrument, etc. The third and last type of behavior is deliberate, volitional behavior. Examples of this include conscious, deliberate decision making and the specific, intentional decisions and actions involved in creating unconscious, habitual behavior.
Volitional behavior is behavior which is voluntarily chosen. It is contrasted by non-volitional behavior, which is behavior in which there is no voluntary choice. Most volitional behavior ranges entirely volitional to almost entirely compulsory. Entirely compulsory behavior is non-volitional, i.e., the behavior is not deliberately controlled in the moment, but may be the response of habitual, unconscious, or autonomic behavior to stimuli. Mostly compulsory behavior is volitional behavior under duress. Such duress may include the threat of a loss of one’s
Volitional behavior is also of two kinds, optional, and obligatory. Volitional behavior which is optional involves decisions making between two or more options for which there is no sentimental judgment. A sentimental judgement includes judgments of “desirable, undesirable, and abhorrent”, and “Good, Neither Good nor Bad, i.e. Neutral, and Bad”. Such sentiments may also exist on a gradient, e.g. most desirable, more desirable, desirable, less desirable, least desirable”.
Obligatory volitional behavior also has two kinds: subjective which is born from individual sentiment, or objective which is causally tied: i.e., “to get this, one must do that”. It ought to be abundantly clear to any rationally thinking individual that all obligatory volitional behavior that is born of sentiment is subjective, and all obligatory volitional behavior that is descriptive of causal relationships is objective. Ethical prescriptions and proscriptions are imperatives which are inherently subjective. Causal descriptions are declarative or descriptive and inherently objective. Ethical imperatives are rational if the imperatives or rules are rationally causally related to the ideals which they purport to support or maintain. They are irrational if they do not.
That which is objective is evaluated by reason or observation and rational analysis. That which is subjective is evaluated by non-rational sentiment and rational analysis of causal relationships with sentimentally desired ideals or values.
Rational Ethics, properly understood, are ethical imperatives or prescriptive of proscriptive behavior which are objectively in an accurate or true causal relationship to one’s subjectively chosen ideals or values.
Morals are the Ethics which are imposed by the moral leaders of society upon its members. In most societies, morals are mostly democratically or collectively determined. Professional associations such as Bar Associations, Medical Professional Associations, Accounting Associations have ethical standards which are voluntarily chosen or agreed upon and adhered to by its members. These are typically referred to as ethics, but might just as well be regarded as morals, since membership in these associations and adherence to these ethical standards is typically necessary in order to find employment in such fields. Religions promulgate the morals of society, but most of such morals are typically attributed to divine fiat or dictate, especially in the Abrahamic traditions.
If you’re looking for a moral compass, you’re looking for an external source or sources to tell you what you should esteem or value, what Ideals you should hold to, rather than looking to your own sentiments. In order to determine what ethical standards of behavior you should adhere to, you should look at what it is you desire. You should evaluate your ideals and values. From there, you should work backwards and determine those actions and behaviors which are required to achieve or fulfill those ideals and values. When it comes to morals, you should at the very least determine what actions and behaviors you are obligated by society to adhere to in order to maximize your liberty and ability (freedom) to achieve your individual or personal ideals and values.
A sociopath is typically identified as a person who lacks a natural sense of empathy with others as a result of trauma (typically early childhood trauma), damaging those areas of the brain that under normal circumstances develop naturally in childhood. A psychopath is typically identified as a person who lacks a natural sense of empathy with others as a result of congenital abnormalities in the brain. Nevertheless, sociopathy can be “learned” or “conditioned” through desensitization to feelings of empathy. This process is typical among those without adverse childhood experiences who nevertheless go on to become serial rapists and murderers, often as a result of habitual viewing of violent pornography depicting scenes of rape and torture, etc. However, just as habituation can result in desensitization of the natural empathy a non-psychopath may begin with, there is some evidence to suggest that habituation can also help to train a sense of empathy in those who have experience significant adverse childhood experiences.
One of the ways that one can train their natural sense of empathy is by deliberately and habitually imagining situations from another person’s point of view and how those situations might make them feel. Another way to help train a natural sense of empathy is to meditate and seek to deliberately experience emotions, especially emotions such as anger, hate, fear, grief, loneliness, relief, peace, hope, gratitude, joy, and love. Listening to various pieces of music in various genres can help to spur various emotions, as well as watching various videos. This is perhaps the most challenging thing for people who are emotionally “shut down” or otherwise “disabled”, as it would be akin to teaching someone who is tone deaf to properly hear, or someone who grew up speaking Japanese to distinguish between the r and l sounds in English. The brain can be retrained in much the same way muscles can be retrained. It can take weeks, months, even years of concentrated and concerted effort to correct damage which occurred early in life, but it is usually possible, if one desires to do so.
I hope this helps.