Map of morality


The elements of morality are related to each other in various ways.  Below is a simplified diagram showing some of the elements and how they are linked.  

Text map

This diagram can be translated into a text map.  

Below is a simplified text map of morality.  Each concept is directly related to the ones in the following brackets.  





Structure of morality  

Morality can be thought of as similar to mathematics, in that (at least at this interpersonal level) it consists of a collection of facts, logical relations between the facts, and principles (of thriving cooperatively) arising from this situation.  

The moral principles outlined above are simply necessary when people live by collaborating together in small groups.  Probably, a computer could be programmed with those facts and goals, and would arrive at the same principles.  

In the map above, we can identify an “empathy” cluster, a “fairness” cluster and a “cooperation” cluster (Bekoff and Pierce 2009).  

All of these are normative – expected by others around us – but some components of morality also have ethical content – they represent what is considered the best of moral behaviour, since they are directly concerned with primary goals/values (cooperative thriving).  The corresponding interpersonal moral principles, concerned with maximising goals in a cooperative way, would probably consist of: helping in response to need, fairness, reciprocity, and at least in the West in the 21st century, personhood and human rights.  




Objective morality and human rights


... the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.

Paul the Apostle – Romans 2:15


We all need some kind of moral authority to refer to.  This makes perfect practical sense, as morality can be considered the art of living well.  Religious people are able to refer to God as the authority, which is perfectly valid, except that opinions vary widely over what “God” thinks is the right thing to do.  

We may construct objectivity by several different means, for example:  

  1. the universal ethics that all healthy people feel in their hearts (in fact, every healthy individual member of any Homo species).  
  2. ethical principles that achieve what are universally considered the “highest” values.  

Currently in the West, the highest value seems to be “thriving”, in that human rights are considered paramount in every situation.  (See Perfect Compassion.)  Other ethical systems may prioritise other values, such as “controlling female sexuality”, some cultural values, or perhaps “warriorship”, “loyalty”, etc., whatever it might be.  

If we prioritise human rights, we are saying that people are the most important thing.  

If we combine these two kinds of objectivity, and choose cooperative thriving and fairness as our primary value, then we arrive at Perfect Compassion, and by extension, human rights and unconditional love.  This has the automatic corollary that encouragement and enforcement of some kind are necessary, in order to help prevent people from defaulting on their moral obligations.  

Moral realism and the sense of objectivity

A moral realist might say, “it is the case that” X moral statement, e.g. “it is the case that I am responsible for the consequences of my actions”, or “it is objectively true that I am responsible for the consequences of my actions”.  

Someone who is not a moral realist might say, “it is the case that I have a sense that” X moral statement, e.g. “it is the case that I have a sense that I am responsible for the consequences of my actions”, or “I have a sense that it is objectively true that I am responsible for the consequences of my actions”.  

Evolutionary ethics attempts to explain the evolutionary source of this psychological moral sense.  




Map of cooperation

The concepts are arranged by association with each other:  

See also


from the beginning modern humans possessed early humans’ second-personal morality for face-to-face interactions with collaborative partners, so they did not have to create an “objective” morality from scratch, only scale up their existing second-personal morality to fit a cultural way of life.  ...

Cultures build on top of individuals’ natural morality a cultural morality encouraging conformity to norms designed for maintaining social order in particular ways of life.  

Michael Tomasello – “A Natural History of Human Morality




The moral compass

Left-hand side constructed by symmetry with the existing right-hand side.  The right hand side can be considered “ethical” as it conforms to Perfect Compassion.

See also: Perfect Compassion; narcissism and the moral compass; moral identity; cooperation; competition

Small groups

you = me  

Self-other equivalence as part of a shared collaborative endeavour; mutual respect and deservingness; fairness; impartiality

we = me

Identification with the group; “I am a member of Team X, cooperating with other X”; “our goals are aligned”


you > me

Altruism; service; deference

we > me

Joint self governance; partner control; moral self-governance; following norms.  In making a commitment to collaborate with other individuals, or in making a commitment to the group’s morality, we relinquish some personal control to the team, group, or “we”, and its goals; and since “we” consists of self and others, this is internalised as a sense of responsibility to others to uphold the associated role ideals, standards, or norms.  


you ≠ me  

“I do not respect you”; “I am not treating you as an equal”; unfairness; partiality

we ≠ me

Out-group members; “I am not one of ‘us’;” “I am not one of ‘you’”; “we are not in a cooperative relationship”; “we do not share the same goal”; “I have no commitment to you”; “your rules do not apply to me”; “I do not follow your norms”


you < me   

“I take from you”; “I come first”  

we < me

“I am dominating the group”; despotism; tyranny; “I make the rules”