One of the most common criticisms of Kindism is that it isn’t an all-encompassing, universal system of belief, but simply an anemic moral theory that fails to give the definitions it needs to do any philosophical work.
In this lengthy (very lengthy) post, I’ll address that criticism, giving the underpinnings of Kindism’s metaphysical, personhood, and metaethical views, clearly defining what is meant by “kindness” and related terms (“hope,” “love,” “justice,” etc.), and showing how Kindist presuppositions can guide actions. I’ll also explain the differences between Kindism and the common worldviews of secular Humanism and Christian theism, and why it is better at explaining purpose, morality, and knowledge than the latter.
Kindism is based on the philosophical supposition of metaphysical naturalism — the view that the natural world is all that exists. This view, which entails atheism (unless God can be defined in naturalistic terms) asserts that truth, beauty, knowledge, and, morality reduce to, or supervene upon, natural principles. On this view, the human being, or person if you will, is simply a biological lifeform–an animal, like any other–that evolved, due to natural processes, on planet Earth.
On Kindism, there is no qualitative difference between human life or “essence” (in fact, metaphysical naturalism / Kindism is eliminativist about “essence”) and the lives of other animals. We are all simply evolved living creatures inhabiting the planet Earth, each seeking (more or less) the same goals: survival, happiness, and health.
This view eliminates the arbitrary and indefensible concept of personhood, which puts Kindism in a superior position to secular Humanism, which tries to shoehorn the doomed concept, which is in actuality a holdover from Christianity, into a naturalistic conception of reality, with self-contradictory results.
This meta-Kindist view, which I’ll term the fundamental equality of all life, elevates non-human animal beings to equal worth with humans, finds common ground with Eastern philosophies like Jainism and Hinduism and eliminates the speciesist bigotry so endemic to Western philosophical systems like Christianity and secular Humanism.
On a broadly ethical level, meta-Kindism, rooted in naturalism, avoids Humanism’s nihilistic implications and implicit borrowing from Christianity by pointing to the natural functions, or teloses, of everything that exists, including living things and, by extension, human beings (for clarity’s sake, this approach, which borrows heavily from Aristotle views “telos” in a significantly different way than does Christianity. Instead of Christianity’s view of telos being imbued by an external designer (God), meta-Kindism views “telos” as a product of physical, biological, and/or cultural function). Each “kind” of thing has a different telos.
For instance, a Higgs boson has the telos of providing mass, a star has the telos of fusing elements, and a tree has the telos of engaging in photosynthesis. Complex or artificial objects may have several relevant teloses, which may be defined by nature, culture, or some combination of the two. For instance, a galaxy has the teloses of producing stars, producing black holes, and drawing mass together, a stick, used by a chimpanzee as a spear, has a telos of catching ants, and an elephant has the teloses of eating plants, relating well to its community, and socially interacting with its fellow elephants.
These teloses are each determined by a “properly functioning example,” defined as “a representation of an average, undamaged member of its kind.” These “proper functions” are defined by physics or evolution, though for artificial objects (such as cars or shoes) and more complex, social lifeforms (such as dolphins, chimpanzees, and humans), they may also be defined by culture.
For instance, a properly functioning example of an ant has six functioning legs, a solid exoskeleton, and a functioning brain that allows her to eat, procreate, and perform functions required of it by its colony. Any condition, such as fungus infection, injury, or death, that deviates from this properly functioning example is correctly classed as a disease or defect, and robs the ant of enjoying the telos of “anthood,” which can be said to be “bad,” or out of accordance with nature. Ants which conform to this properly functioning example can be considered “healthy,” fine examples of their kind.
A properly functioning human has, among other things, two legs, two arms, one beating heart, and a brain that allows her to think and behave rationally, take care of her own needs and the needs of her family, empathize with other sentient beings, relate well to others in her social group, to use reason to gain greater knowledge of herself and her world, and create cultural artifacts such as music, dance, and language.
Anything that causes a human to deviate from this properly functioning example, such as cancer, paralysis, schizophrenia, antisocial personality disorder, or death, is rightly classed as an illness or defect that prevents her from enjoying the full telos of what it means to be human. Things that take individuals away from the properly functioning example of “human” can be rightly said to be sick, bad, or tragic, and are things we seek to avoid. A human who comports with this example can be considered “healthy,” a good specimen of her kind.
Additionally, on a pragmatic level, this is the model that the medical community uses to determine disease, and has worked quite well in eradicating human suffering over the past few centuries.
What does any of this have to do with kindness or ethics, you ask?
To answer this question, let’s return to the idea of the meta-Kindist human telos, which is rooted in the properly functioning example of a human being. This properly functioning human being, as defined by evolution, possesses both a highly intelligent, rational mind (rooted in an advanced brain), the ability, desire, and need to participate in social relations (especially those involving love, sex, care, and kinship ties), and a strong sense of empathy, fairness, and (broadly defined) duty to oneself and one’s community.
Furthermore, this properly functioning human being also has desires, placed by both biological evolution and social / cultural relations (which supervene on biological evolution, which supervenes on physics): the desire to be healthy, the desire to be safe, the desire to be free from oppression, the desire to see one’s children, family, and community flourish, and the desire to be a virtuous person (although what “virtue” consists of is, admittedly, culturally contingent).
This properly functioning human, due to her brain: knows her desires, due to her rationality, is able to figure out a plan to reach her desires, due to her empathy, knows other humans and sentient animals have similar desires, and due to her capacity for social relations, desires for her community, species, and all sentient life to flourish. This plan will be in accordance with her telos, and, in fact, is the only plan in accordance with the telos of her kind.
This plan is synonymous with the Kindist conception of kindness (literally, in this case, “kind-ness” or “that which is in accordance with the properly functioning example of the human kind), and the character traits from which it flows serves as Kindism’s definition of the Kind Human, the ideal character type that perfectly fulfills the two imperatives of Kindism (“be kind!” and “don’t be unkind!”), the character type that all humans should seek to fulfill.
Given these things, Kindism is a type of virtue ethics (based on Aristotle’s virtue ethics, sometimes termed “kindism” by philosophers). As such, it is not concerned with specific acts or specific consequences, but on the character traits that spawn those acts. A kind person will perform kind acts, while an unkind person (a person who does not fulfill the properly functioning type of a human brain / mind) will not. The goal of Kindism is to become a kind person, kind acts will follow from there.
Now to address some other possible objections:
Aren’t selfishness, greed, hate, anger, violence, etc. also evolved human traits? How can you arbitrarily eliminate these from the human telos?
Well, yes, these are human traits given to us through evolution. However, these traits aren’t necessarily used for evil, in fact, they serve many good functions. For instance, selfishness can motivate us to become more industrious, more qualified, and more useful to our families, communities, and society, greed can motivate us to work harder, hate can motivate us to pursue justice against evil and those who practice it, fear can motivate us to avoid dangerous and damaging situations, and so on and so forth. Also, keep in mind that, on Kindism, the project of ethics is aided by reason, and reason can help us distinguish between exercises of the above traits that reach kind ends and exercises that reach unkind ends.
Can’t someone reach his goals by being unkind, for instance, stealing to satify his desire for a bigger home, slaughtering an animal for fun, unnecessary food, or sport, or murdering to avenge a wrong done to him?
Well, yes, but performing such unkind acts will take a man away from his telos of being a social, empathetic creature, which is “bad” by definition. In addition, the man’s community, upon discovering his deeds, will react negatively to the man’s unkind acts, ostracizing him from the community, placing him in jail, or otherwise damaging his social standing. As a social creature desiring community, this will go against the man’s desires, making it more prudentially compelling to be kind than to be unkind.
Doesn’t your view imply that “unkind” (evil, etc.) people are simply sick, not morally flawed?
Not necessarily. While all unkind acts and character traits go against the human telos, only some are caused by disease or illness. Certainly, much “unkindness” is caused by sicknesses or medical deficiencies: many violent or otherwise morally repugnant acts are triggered by mental illness, such as antisocial personality disorder, which leads to sociopathic behavior and sometimes murder or rape, or extreme cases of paranoid schizophrenia, which, in rare cases, can cause violent delusions. Such acts are indeed the manifestations of illness, and not personal moral failure.
In addition to mental illness, some unkind acts are caused by ignorance of the relevant facts surrounding a situation or beliefs that are factually incorrect. For instance, much of the prejudice against African-Americans, women, LGBT people, Native Americans, and others in Western society during the 18th and 19th centuries was due to the mistaken belief that such people were biologically inferior, religiously sinful, cursed, or created by God to be subservient, culturally inferior, or some combination of the three.
Once such faulty beliefs were exposed as incorrect, most people abandoned the unkind moral beliefs on which they were based and their “moral natures” (based on the properly functioning example) produced kind acts toward members of these groups. The fact that greater knowledge can lead to moral evolution is a positive aspect of Kindism that is absent from many other forms of moral thought, most notably Christian theism.
In addition, there are some cases in which unkind acts are the products of conscious individual (and even collective, as in the case of, for example, the Nazis) moral failings. In such cases, a properly functioning, mentally healthy, empathetic, etc., person can consciously choose to act in a manner contradictory to his telos, intentionally rejecting kindness in favor of unkindness. On Kindism, a person making such a choice is the most blameworthy of all, because he, unlike those who unintentionally do wrong due to mental illness or ignorance, consciously rejects virtue in favor of anti-virtue, he consciously chooses to abdicate his own humanity. This is Kindism’s version of “evil.”
What about the conflict between human and non-human animal worth?
This question is often put in terms of a hypothetical dilemma, like this one:
So, for example, imagine you are driving at 60 miles per hour down a two lane road. You come around a curve and suddenly see a baby lying in one lane, and an adult deer standing in the other. You don’t have time to brake, but only have time to swerve and decide which lane to drive in, and therefore whether to run over the deer or the baby. I’m assuming the right choice is to hit the deer, then to get out of the car and help the baby. Sure, it’s sad to hit a deer, but better to save a baby.
On Kindism, the “kind” thing to do, assuming there is no alternative that could save both, would be to hit the deer and save the baby. This, once again, has to do with the telos of humanity — we are “designed” (by evolution, of course, but still a “design” in a sense) to care for our “own”: our families, our social groups, and the members of our own species. Through reason, we can recognize that other species also have desires, wants, etc., and are thus deserving of kindness and moral consideration, but the drive to take care of our own is still present, strong, and forms an important part of what it means to be human.
Given this, a kind person should hit the deer and save the baby for the same reason that one should pay for his daughter’s cancer treatment instead of the cancer treatment. Within the human telos (indeed, within the telos of all sentient biological life), what “kind” x belongs to matters. One’s primary responsibilities and duties are toward one’s own “kind”: an individual’s immediate family before her extended family, one’s extended family before her wider community, her wider community before all of humanity, all of humanity before other sentient lifeforms, and other sentient lifeforms before non-sentient lifeforms and non-living things. All matter, all are important, all possess value and telos, but when unavoidable and consequential dilemmas arise, one’s responsibilities fall into this hierarchy. This is what follows from the “properly functioning example” and the principles of Kindism as a whole.
What is justice?
This is a very complex topic, and one which, in my opinion, requires an entirely separate discussion. To give a very brief explanation: on Kindism, “justice” is that which is most optimal toward reaching the goal of allowing all sentient beings to fulfill their teloses. The exact conceptions of this will vary somewhat between cultures, time periods, and situations, although some general principles (care for those that need it, non-enslavement, ahimsa or “non-harm,” non-aggression, etc.) will be present in all just societies.
Kindist justice is always distributive and restorative, aimed at creating a better, kinder society in which all beings can fulfill their teloses and unkind people can become kind, and not at simply punishing wrongdoers or executing “wrath” (this makes it superior to Christian and secular Humanist forms of justice). However, in rare cases retributive action may be necessary to aid in the wider project of creating a rare society. Once again, the goal of Kindism, and the virtue ethics that flows from it, isn’t to prescribe or proscribe exact actions, but to promote character traits that will lead to right action.
What about epistemology? How can we know what is true? What is “truth,” anyway?
Kindist epistemology is a secularist, evidentialist epistemology that responds to postmodernist critiques of the early modernist concepts of autonomous reason and absolute, necessary knowledge. Kindists recognize that each individual’s ability to reason is limited by her biology, her education, and her cultural background, and as such must be considered subjective. Also, given determinism (which I fully accept) and the lack of a necessary basis for knowledge, such as a god, knowledge is by definition contingent, and Truth, defined as “that which corresponds to reality,” cannot be known with certainty.
However, this need not cause the Kindist to reject reason and retreat into postmodernism or presuppositionalism, as there are two principles which still allow us, in a modernistic way, to gain knowledge, defined as “justified true belief,” of what is true, defined as “that which works” (such a pragmatic conception of truth is justified, as that which works is very likely to correspond to reality, and that which corresponds to reality is very unlikely to work; therefore truth [as defined here] gives us a decent approximation of Truth). These principles are:
The principle of aggregation: The idea that unbiased knowledge emerges from the aggregation of subjective viewpoints seeking truth. Mathematically stated, this principle asserts that as the number of truth-seeking viewpoints increases, the biasing effects of subjectivity decreases, allowing us to gain a more-or-less accurate picture of reality. This is because people’s subjectively held biases, presuppositions, cultural contexts, and opinions are not the same, but different, and when added together, cancel each other out, regressing us toward the mean, the average position that is likely very close to reality.
The scientific method: When a large number of researchers, each having her own gender, race, class, culture, biases, wants, etc. come together and scientifically investigate a specific phenomena, with the goal of discovering truth. Such a process of developing hypotheses, performing experiments, and replicating results, especially when it is carried out by a large number of researchers, each of whom have a variety of different perspectives, is very likely to lead to that which works, i.e., truth.
This can be seen in the practical results of science: cars, computers, life-saving drugs and surgeries, Mars rovers, air conditioners, and many other inventions and aids are the products of scientific inquiry, and all work to improve the lives of humans and animals around the world. We KNOW science works because its methods have been used time and time again when lives are on the line, to much success. Non-scientific methods of inquiry, such as tradition, religion, and authority, have nowhere near as successful a track record as science, so science should be preferred to all other known epistemological methods.
Science, when carried out in accordance with the principle of aggregation, leads to knowledge (as defined above) of truth, and truth, given the aforementioned principle, leads to a decent approximation of Truth. Science, in accordance with aggregation, is the only valid epistemological tool. Other methods may be useful in small-scale circumstances, but such methods do not lead to knowledge, only local function.
Anyway, that’s Kindism in a nutshell, and I believe it’s a viable worldview that solves some of the problems with common stances like Humanism and Christianity. I’d appreciate feedback, which you can post in the comments section below.