For as long as I can remember, I’ve heard people debate the morality of particular actions. Many times they were domestic and foreign policy actions of either the Australian state or some other state, often the U.S. There were so many debates and so few consensuses that, for a long time, I had the impression that morality was too complicated to ever be properly understood and that we’d have to debate these actions and disagree about them forever. Fortunately, though, it seems to me now that we can in fact have a complete moral code if we live by only three principles of morality.
First, if something’s wrong for you it’s wrong for me, and if something’s right for you it’s right for me. This, as Noam Chomsky has said, should be the core of any serious moral code, and has a clear relation to Immanuel Kant’s principle of Universalizability.
Second, it’s immoral to deliberately act or fail to act when you know that the consequences of your decision will cause avoidable harm to another person or other people. Therefore, for a person’s actions to constitute immoral behaviour, (1) the person must be aware that the consequences of their decisions are harmful to others, otherwise what they did was an accident and accidents, though they can be damaging, can obviously never be immoral, because there’s no intent. (2) Despite this knowledge, they must deliberately behave in ways that bring harm to other people, whether by causing or simply allowing it to occur. (3) The harm which they inflict on others must’ve been avoidable, otherwise no one can be responsible for an unavoidable outcome.
Third, as much as they can, people should, but don’t have to, help others and contribute to the common good for the benefit of all. While not a moral obligation, this is one of the chief means by which solidarity’s cultivated and humankind makes progress, since it promotes caring about one another, helps to reduce, and perhaps one day eliminate, the many barriers by which the world’s people have long been divided, and myriad other benefits.
I feel that a person with and committed to these three principles has a complete moral foundation to deal with any situation the world can concoct. Although, as always, I’m open to the idea that I’m wrong, and happy to discuss situations which people think cast doubts over or disprove the moral framework. For the moment, though, I don’t see any good reason why these principles shouldn’t be enough to guide people through their lives and stick to, or at least be conscious of, what’s morally right and wrong for a person to do in whatever circumstances they face. Hence, in my view, a complete moral framework can indeed consist of just three basic principles.