Tribal Morality

This article is pending a rewrite to be brought up to newer quality standards.

Professor Banana of MIT (Monkey Institute on Treeology) giving his annual lecture on Tribal Morality and how it pertains to Ookarianism.

Tribal Morality (or as I like to call it, Monkey Morality or Jungle-based Social Ethics) is a system of morality that seems to be most in line with the human sense of right and wrong. Tribalistic morality accepts human intuition as the best arbiter for moral decisions and their application. There is no egoistic needs, utilitarian maxiums, hedonic calculus, or cognitive imperatives to run each actions through, merely the acceptance that an action falls in line with the human sense of what is moral and what is not. Due to the sheer chaos and failings of all moral systems in creating an objective, standardized measurement of morality that aligns with our intuition, it is best we accept that no measurement is possible and just move along with our intuition alone. To add further complexity to a system is to increase the amount of flaws in it. Any ethical move that increases complexity has a great chance of increasing flaws and distancing itself away from what is seen to be true in regards to morality: Human intuition. There are few, if any, rational people willing to state that a human's intuition on morality is wrong (they may state other's are wrong, but a man would never attest he is wrong in his moral values). To summarize, Tribalistic Morality accepts that human intuition (rather than reason, a maxium, or personal want) is the best arbiter for morality there can be.

What is intuition?

The intuition is not the conclusions about morality one comes to. Nor is intuition the logical assumptions human make in finding morality. Intuition, in the moral sense, would be the value axioms we hold to be true. These moral axioms are what controls the validity of moral propisitions. The statement "Murder is wrong" has a moral proposition in it. "is wrong" is describing murder. The wrongness of murder comes from our own intuitive moral axioms on murder and are not based in any form of logic. If one tries to justify that murder is wrong due to the fact that human life is valuable, then they'd merely be shifting the explination for the moral statement's validity from murder being outright wrong to murder being wrong because human life is valuable. If someone then claims human life is valuable due to the fact that they are a human, then they'd be shifting the explination for the moral statement's validity from murder being wrong due to human life being valuable to murder being wrong due to the fact that human life is valuable and human life is valuable because I am a human and I am valuable, thereby making me inclined to protect human life. This can go on forever and ever, but eventually each person will have some intuitive axiom (or set of intuitive axioms) to guide the moral choices that he makes. Those intuitive assumptions about morality be many and close to an action (such as murder being outright wrong, stealing being outright wrong, and lying being outright wrong with no further justification) or there is a higher value that an action's moral worth derives itself from (such as human life being valuable, human consent being valuable, or certain intuitive truths being valuable.

Moral superiority and moral conflict

There simply is no denying that one's own morality is the best one (after all, if a person's morality wasn't the best one, that person would attempt to find something better and would not subscribe to the current morality that he holds as the absolute moral system).[1] Due to this fact, other moral systems that are not based in intuition will always fail. One can devise up a moral scenario that our intuition would get right, but our secondary systems would get wrong. For example, the issue of sacrificing a little girl to be tortured forever if we would receive a cure to all other pains in greater society seems to be a great trade off under a utilitarian system, though, the subscriber to Kantian ethics would deny this due to the fact that sacrificing little girls to be tortured forever is wrong in itself and could never be accepted ever. The mere fact that there is a debate and disagreement shows that the utilitarian system has trouble with it. If we go with the deontological route with this, we would still find ourselves in a moral conundrum as to allow for the pain of so many people is a largely disagreeable mode of thinking that, in the end, would not be accepted by many as a moral choice due to conflict with the intuition. However, Tribalistic morality accepts that, yes, we will not ever all agree upon what is right or wrong, but at least our tribe (who we identify ourselves with) will be able to. The tribe may say that it is worth sacrificing the girl or it is not worth sacrificing the girl. There will be discrepancies with tribes, but, in the end, this is irrelevant as only the tribe one subscribes themselves to is correct as the tribe aligners with the personal morality.

Rebuttal to moral systems

Now of course, this entire system in stark contrast to the usual scientific notions of morality with there being one and one only truth to a matter. Entire systems have been created to try to standardize ethical behavior in such a way that it will be agreeable between all people. Kantian Ethics is a very stark example of this. Although these systems may assert themselves as the one and only truth, they fail when put up against human intuition, an intuition that is always right in regards to moral decisions. We defeat contrived moral systems with human intuition all the time. Egoism fails due to scenarios in where acting in alignment with egoism goes against what human's perceive as right and wrong. Utilitarianism and Kantian ethics fail for similar reasons (Although, Kantian ethics has problems in using logic as a justification as this too doesn't align with what humans intuitively value). If one tries to discredit Tribal Morality with scenarios that are based in intuition, one would fail as the tribal morality is intuition.

Tackling a concern

Some may claim that I am using the fact that there is moral disagreement as proof that there is no objective morality, a fallacious argument only used by those philosophically stunted. Now, of course, it is reasonable to see WHY someone would come to this conclusion. I am enumerating that other systems have disagreements and that seems to support this seemingly "nonobjective" morality scheme I am purposing. The failure of the systems isn't to show that I am right in my notions though, it is to merely show that adding complexity to a system of moral rules only causes problems. The claim is based on the empirical facts that these systems have moral conundrums and problems that simply do not align with human intuition (the final arbiter of moral judgment). The concern too that my morality system is "nonobjective" would too be ridiculous. It is absolutely and utterly true that all people have a moral position on actions and recourse. This, for the most part, comes from intuitive knowledge on morality that is seemingly innate in us. The contents of the morality that people suppose is not what is being universalized, but instead the recognition of intuition as the final arbiter of all moral choices. While yes, this would mean that the value of moral statements will lie in the observer (and his or her own tribe, we will get to that though), that fact alone is not disturbing. Utilitarianism and Egoism are very willing to universalize certain intuitions, but not certain moral actions (on the account that these systems are highly variable per person). All that is being done is one goes a step further to universalize the value of the intuition. The only foreseeable problem with this is sustaining social interaction with such a system (but that is what the "tribal" in "tribal morality" is meant to do, this will be elaborated upon later).

The justification of intuition as the moral arbiter

The value of intuition is rock solid and with little justification needed. To confirm the viability of intuition as the best ethical system, all one would need to do is run through ethical dilemmas and find a scenario where intuition fails them. It won't fail. One can be conflicted about a scenario, but in the end, given time and enough thought, One will find a way out. People will eventually come to a conclusion about the trolly problem no matter what. People will come to a conclusion about what friend to side with in an argument no matter what. People will come to a conclusion about right and wrong no matter what. People always will come to these conclusions rather they admit it or not. If someone is exposed to a dilemma, that person will eventually solve it. This is the nature of intuition. People may give what they believe are "rational" justifications to these issues, but these rational justifications are always predicated on certain intuitive axioms. If someone says that killing is wrong so he would allow the train to go ahead, that person has introduced the moral axiom of "killing is wrong" from intuition to be able to justify the action. If someone says that he would kill the sole person rather than the five due to the fact that one death is much preferable to five, that person has pulled the moral axiom of "less deaths is better" from the intuition. Even if one could justify actions in a way that aligns with an ethical system, that person would, in the end, would absolutely be pulling from the intuition. To remove intuition from the equation would be to take value away from moral statements. To take value away from moral statements is to make moral statements nullified. A valueless proposition is not a proposition. It is equally as pointless as saying "X is Y" in a case where we don't know what X or Y is. Neither X or Y have value associated and assigned to them so "X is Y" means nothing. Egoism is only true if one values the self and that comes from intuition, Altruism is only true if one values others and that comes from intuition, Utilitarianism is only true if one values over all societal happiness and that comes from the intuition, Kantian Ethics is only true if one values logic as a total arbiter in all scenarios and that propensity towards logic, like in the other scenarios, only finds itself valuable due to the intuition claiming logic is value. Ethical systems that live on top of intuition merely add filters that are likely to cause more problems than fix as these filters try to act as if they are the intuition, but they are not.

Introducing the tribe as a solution to social interaction

Now pure intuition alone is something that will contradict when in relation to other people. Two people can easily come to different conclusions about the nature of morality and what is good and what is not. The entire definition of good and bad can be entirely dependent on the difference between two people. A people can believe it is totally ethical to murder children and another can not. This amount of chaos is not practical though, so some system that both respects the intuition and allows for some level of consistency should be sought after. This is where the tribal aspect of tribal morality comes in

Tribal morality's tribal aspect comes from the fact that a group of people (the tribe) confirm morality. A tribe is merely a consensual union of people for whatever purpose. A work environment is a tribe, a social group is a tribe, a home ownership association is a tribe, and a good nation is a tribe. All tribes that exist are there for the enforcement of rules. Your local church may have dictated a rule against drinking on Sundays. If you are a member of this church (and also assuming this is the only rule they have enumerated), then it is now morally wrong to drink on Sundays. You may think it is morally permissible, but you yourself have surrendered some moral judgment abilities to another group by contently working with that group. This methodology can be applied to many aspects of life. Now, one may suppose a situation in where the church has gone Let totally haywire to try to destroy this methodology. Let us say the church has said that it is morally mandatory to kill any child you see. This assertion may be damning at first, but one must realize that when an entity changes its properties it is not the same entity as it was before. This church is not the same as the church you once consented to, it is structurally different due to the fact that it has dictated a new regulation and moral law. Thus you would need to consent to this NEW church that holds a similar form to the old one in all but one traits. Let's say that you intuitively say that murder of children is wrong and that the benefits gained by working with said church are not worth the moral sacrifice made. You then could then choose not consent to being apart of this new church and keep your morality. You have willingly exiled yourself from the tribe due to the fact that the tribe has changed.

One may state the that the church is a different entity from before because of one rule change is an incorrect assumption. A critic, if defeated or given the fact the new church is a different entity, may also claim that this position of consenting status changing due to changes in the church is incorrect. To those, I will tackle the issues in order that they were stated.

  1. When an entity changes properties, it is not the same entity as it once was. It may have properties similar enough to the naked eye that we linguistically call the entity by the same name, but, on a deeper level, it is not fundamentally the same entity. If I take the GNU/Linux operating system and remove the Linux Kernel and rather replace it with the BSD kernel, would it be the same entity as before? Obviously not, it'd at that point be GNU/BSD as we have swapped out a component. Since GNU/Linux is NOT GNU/BSD (they're not numerically identical) we would treat them as if they're different entities. Let us now suppose we have GNU/Linux but the version of the program wget in it is version 1.20. Let us say we update wget to version to 1.21. Of course, we'd still call this entity GNU/Linux as the two traits that define it, having GNU utilities in it with a Linux Kernel, is still the same, but, the GNU/Linux with the updated version of wget is a different version than the one running the older wget. It is a different entity entirely. So now, we can supposed GNU/Linux = GNU/Linux as false due to the fact that the first GNU/Linux is, in reality, GNU/Linux/wget-v1.20 while the later is GNU/Linux/wget-v1.21. Now, the name reflects the change in the over all system. Of course, there isn't a name for every software combination out there (who would come up with that?), but nonetheless we find that they are different.
  2. To continue with the GNU/Linux being the example (specifically updating wget), we can find our solution to this problem. Let us assume that this version of GNU/Linux asks before updating a program. Let us assume that wget-v1.21 changes some configuration files on the system. If GNU/Linux requests to update from wget version 1.20 to 1.21 it must have valid consent. If received, then the user has agreed to the change and is fine with it. Let us now suppose that GNU/Linux decided to be an unethical actor. The methodology of how GNU/Linux decides to enforce an update is irrelevant, let's just say it does. In this case, the user, unaware to the changes at first, is still under the impression that GNU/Linux was GNU/Linux/wget-v1.20. This assumption, while inaccurate to reality, doesn't mean that the user has consented to wget-v1.21 and its consequences on the system. This user is still consenting to GNU/Linux/wget-v1.20, an entire different version of wget that, notably, does not touch your configuration files. When the user realizes that their GNU/Linux/wget-v1.20 has turned to GNU/Linux/wget-v1.21 without consent. Merely by consenting to GNU/Linux/wget-v1.20, the user didn't, in the end, consent to GNU/Linux/wget-v1.21 and also the alteration of his configuration files. This violation may go against the user's wishes and therefore may prompt a willingness to change as it went against the moral intuition of going against consent. Of course, in reality, wget-v1.21 didn't do this (at least to my knowledge). To apply this to the church example though, if the church decides to go ahead with the decree that everyone must kill children, the member of the church would be given the option to consent to that again even if unknowing to the claim until damage is done. If a church member is a member of a pre-child killing church, but the post-child killing church has ended up killing children (as they do), and the member is then offered to "upgrade" to the new church, that member may deny due to the differences.

Punishment under a tribal system and dealing with defector

Let's go back to the original church that merely decreed no drinking on Sundays. If you agree to this rule and then violate it, you have effectively nullified your consent to the good and bad of the church unless you operate within the rules of recourse that happen with that church. You yourself have infracted upon an agreed upon rule. If the church finds out, they have a moral obligation to offer punishment for said action (but only if that punishment is something you agreed to by joining the Church). Most institutions that are civil offer repentance and promise to not break a rule again instead of fines or violence as punishment. A church, in all likelihood, would request that you repent for your actions, and if you did, you could be clean of the crime committed. By operating through the consented to channels of recourse that happens, an individual is still consenting to the Church despite breaking rules. Now let us assume a scenario in where you didn't repent. That church may end up exiling you from the tribe for your rejection of the system you agreed to as a whole, nullifying your tribal agreement. In essence, when one legitimizes a tribe, they legitimize that tribe to have moral authority over oneself. If one doesn't agree to said moral authority, they simply don't agree and should be free to leave at any time. Any non-consensual set up (such as cultish churches, freedom denying nations, and abusive social situations) do not have power over you due to your lack of consent in the matter.

Two Tribes; Two moralities. Are they equally valid?

Now let us say we have two tribes that fundamentally disagree. Let us say that one tribe is that of a pedophilc ring of sex crazed degenerates who can, and will, abduct children to satisfy their desires. Let us say that the other tribe is a group of lawful citizens of a town who work, act, and do in a civil matter that operates on a principal of respect that most of us can identify. Most of us would align ourselves with the tribe of lawful citizens due to the fact that our moral intuition says that pedophilia and abducting children is wrong and lawful consent is right. Most of us find ourselves on that side due to the fact that we are people who value consent and safety of the vulnerable: moral intuitions baked into us. If one aligned themselves with the pedophile ring though, they'd be participating in a group that doesn't value consent of those involved (specifically the children). A tribe without consent is not a tribe, but a corrosive environment. Let us say though that this factor can be overcame and that those children abducted are treated as a resource rather than a valuable set of people for future generations (something that most people would agree is horrible). In that tribe then, yes it would be right to do those things, but to other tribes, it would not be[2]. The lawful citizen's tribe would see such actions as despicable and may see it as absolutely necessary to do something about the situation (as they find a moral imperative in the action). This would lead to their side being correct in their moral actions to persecute the pedophiles as the lawful citizen's tribe's collective intuition and the tribal consensus would say it is. Now let us apply this principal to another scenario. Let us say we are in the modern nation of Zimbabwe and we have a tribe of White farmers and a tribe of black nationals. The blacks believe that they are totally in the right to take the white man's farm land despite the fact that these people have been naturalized, core citizens in their communities for ages. Both tribes believe they are fundamentally right in claiming ownership of the farmland that the white man currently has control over. Would it be moral for the blacks to take the white man's land? Probably not. If the intuition of the black nationals is that people can own property (a very common stance by most accounts), then they'd be violating their own intuition by attacking the whites due to the fact that the whites are, by definition, people. One may say that this group views whites as not people and therefore can easily be exploited, but this is not a moral claim, but an empirical one. Empirical claims can be falsified. One could prove that there is more similarity between the whites and the blacks to qualify the whites as people by definition of the blacks. In such a case, the blacks would simply be going against their own moral intuition by being hostile towards the whites as the whites are people. If we say that the tribe says that only tribe members may own property, then these people would be able to willingly operate, but the white tribe may secede then as the new, black-only property tribe. Attacking another tribe for the purpose of claiming their people and property violates a notion of consent and is therefore immoral.

Consent is a very important issue for tribal ethics as it is the predicate of creation of a tribe. This is due to the fact that if a tribe forces itself upon another in such a way that violates the intuitive morality of those that are being acted upon, then the tribe itself would be immoral. If I am forced into a pedophilc tribe as someone who believes pedophilia is wrong, then I would believe the tribe to be illegitimate and immoral and, thus, wouldn't want to interact with it naturally. A tribe therefore cannot form under corrosion or disrespecting of the individual's intuitive morality. The only proper way for an individual to forfeit morals would be if that individual agreed to. If one agrees murder is wrong, but aligns oneself with a tribe of murderers (while being in knowledge that these people were murderers), they'd be putting their moral values aside for the gains in the tribe. This would then make murder morally right under the conditions that allowed for that tribal agreement to form. If I as an individual see that my intuitive morality is much more powerful than the benefits gained by aligning myself with an amoral tribe, then it will become right to forfeit such a tribe as the tribe's situation as a whole has changed due to my situation changing, therefore making it a new entity entirely. An unconsentual engagement can never be one that works out due to the fact that the unconsentual tribe would go against the intuition of the person's morals, therefore not legitimizing it.

Example of a moral trade off

Let us say I align myself with the United States with full knowledge that their greater actions are immoral. Let us also say that I am not being coerced to align myself with the United States (as in I'm not being threatened with deprivation of what I find valuable such as Life, Liberty, and Property that I already own). Let us say also that the benefit of joining the United States is military protection and infrastructure. If I think in my mind that the physical benefits of military protection and infrastructure are worth the moral issues associated with the United States (lets say corruption as the moral issue) and decide to sign on to becoming a United States citizen, then I have willingly forfeited my moral sway and intuition against corruption in return for military protection and infrastructure. That willingness is half the fair deal. If I was lied to or misinformed about the United State's corruption (let's say that I was told that the United State's corruption didn't exist) and I signed on, I would have signed away my moral intuition for a good that doesn't exist, immediately making the agreement nullified as I had signed the contract to a separate entity (one that sadly doesn't exist).

Is this Meta-ethical or normative ethical

In all likelihood, this would seem to be a meta-ethical justification for why we believe certain things, but the aspects on consent being the most important value (for practical reasons at least) is both meta-ethical and normatively ethical.

Is this moral nihilism?

No. Due to the fact that morality hinges on the intuition, a tool that we clearly put value in as concepts like deduction and induction come from intuition and are valid in our philosophical and non-philosophical lives, we can say that so too is the morals we derive from intuition valuable. If we are to deny the value of morality because it comes intuitively, then we must also deny the value of deduction and induction too as those things (seemingly at least) come from the intuitive mind.


The Tribal ethical system seems to be the most viable method of Ethics that man can come up with due to it hinging on an ultimate arbiter. Most critiques of this system likely will be towards the value of consent. This article will be a living document and, with time, will be expanded to refine certain logical and grammatical factors and counter contrarian points to what has been enumerated.


  1. [The religious believer may complain that this doesn't take into account that God's judgement is the final arbitor for good and evil. Ignoring the burden of proof on a theist to assert the existance of a God, one would still have a problem: The Euthyphro Dilemma. Is the good loved by Gods because it is good, or is it good because it is loved by God? Accepting either solution is bad for the theist as it would either reduce the power of God (as it makes an umodifyable creation, Good, thus reducing God's power) or would make good a meritless thing that only exists to serve a God, something that would make the question of why is God's goodness the goodness worth abiding by aparent along with bringing the entire idea of ethical consistancy that a Divine Command theory would offer irrelevent. If goodness can be changed at any time by the whim of a God, what does that mean for the consistancy of God. Also too, if God is good and God defines good, then is there any value in God at all? If God is merely good because he says so, then that really does not give much credence to him being an actual good actor and, thus, humans could find their own good. If this problem too is ignored, we could find a marraige between Tribal ethics and Religion: God built man with good enough intuition to find good rather than God himself handing it out. Although this marriage would make Tribal Ethics merely a practical model of human ethics rather than the absolute system that we go by (as there would still be an objective Good within God, just that we cannot see it).]{#1}
  2. [Though, I will say those acting pedophilically are acting illogically if they hold any value in something like the human life, any human life, even their own, in any high regard. Pedophilia, being a destructive, harsh, and often corrosive action upon a person, rejects a notion of consent by dehumanizing the victim. This treats a victim as a resource. Children produce fully grown humans, something that a pedophile would have some regard for. To stomp out an earlier stage of something is to effectively kill the later stages with it too, this is especially true in a Child's case as most humans (including yourself) have grown to a position that is or at least closer to fully fledged human maturity than before. A pedophile depends on not only their human life, but other human lives to be able to exist. If that pedophile values his own existence (and judging by pleasure seeking behavior, he does) he should logically come to the conclusion not to harm children due to the fact that he values human lives. Of course, most pedophiles won't come to realize this contradiction, and if presented it, would likely justify their own behavior in ill ways that are akin to telling a farmer that a tomato seed is equivalent to a fully grown tomato. Since an earlier stage of existence is not a later stage of existence (and all the traits that come with both), we must conclude this person is wrong. Once all good arguments for such contradictory behavior have been exhausted, sheer, animistic emotional and disagreeable intuitive values will be all that's left, nothing more than an animal. A harmful, rabid animal is not accepted into the tribe and is, in most cases, put down by those in the tribe instead.]{#2}