Two Universal Concerns of Every Moral System

Since consumer social apps are having a comeback (looking at you Clubhouse), I decided I would dive into some relevant philosophical papers for the consumer builders out there. Here's a TL;DR:

Two big-brained, scholarly dudes named Tim* and Philip** remind us that the original "social technology" was the invention of morality and ethic systems. What I loved about Tim's paper, aside from his fascinating deep dive into how varied moral systems likely exist for evolutionary reasons, was the bit about the two universal concerns of every moral system:

  • How to initiate and maintain cooperation amongst self-interested individuals; and
  • How to coordinate the activities of those individuals to mutual benefit

Morality, according to Philip, "appears to be a tool to guide how we act, how we respond to others’ actions and how we urge others to act, particularly in social situations." Obviously most of us probably don't feel like Aristotle in our day-to-day lives, but we do all still live within the same moral norms that have evolved for generations before us. Why is T+P's work relevant to consumer social?

  • First, if the OG "social tech" was in response to those two scaling problems, aren't these equally as relevant in today's online communities as they scale?
  • Second, what is a better way for social apps to define, measure, and access these two problems and if their products are either improving or worsening in these areas as they scale. Often times as we build social we lose sight of the human part of the "social technology" term.

The concept of 'moral ecology' (Tim's stuff) ties this all together — Social programs and many tech solutions are based on the assumption that the individual is the most important unit to measure. Think about how we typically address issues such as mental health, fitness, social mobility - with a focus on the individual. But if we, as humans, develop norms, culture and even our morality in a dynamic ecosystem, what is the real unit to measure for theories of change? As David Brooks wrote in his latest book, "science often seeks to disaggregate to correlate, but actual lives are longitudinal and relational." I am a strong believer that the platforms who focus most critically beyond the individual unit will win.

Hope you enjoyed my philosophical nerd-out, feel free DM me any thoughts or interesting reads on these topics.

*Tim Dean, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sydney; re: moral ecology

**Philip Kitcher, Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University; re: social technology