# A Possible Ethical Imperative Based on the Entropy Law

## Abstract

**:**

**1959**, 47, 678–696) proposed a Thermodynamic Imperative similar to Kant’s Ethical Categorical Imperative. In this paper, after describing the concept of ethical imperative as elaborated by Kant, we provide a brief discussion of the role of science and its relationship to the classical thermodynamics and the physical implications of the first and the second laws of thermodynamics. We finally attempt to extend and supplement Lindsay’s Thermodynamic Imperative (TI), by another Imperative suggesting simplicity, conservation, and harmony.

## 1. Introduction

“Thermodynamics is a funny subject. The first time you go through it, you don’t understand it at all. The second time you go through it, you think you understand it, except for one or two small points. The third time you go through it, you know you don’t understand it, but by that time you are so used to it, it doesn’t bother you anymore.”—Sommerfeld (see Angrist and Loren [1], p. 215)

“It is the privilege of man’s moral genius, impersonated by inspired individuals, to advance ethical axioms which are so comprehensive and so well founded that men will accept them as grounded in the vast mass of their individual emotional experience. Ethical axioms are found and tested not very differently from the axioms of science. Truth is what stands the test of experience.”

“We may call it the thermodynamic imperative since it is suggested by the principles of thermodynamics. In brief, and in simple language, it urges all men to fight always as vigorously as possible to increase the degree of order in their environment so as to combat the natural tendency for order in the universe to be transformed into disorder, the so-called second law or principle of thermodynamics.”

“Almost every man of science, whether he be historically minded or not, is obliged to do a certain amount of retrospection, because his own investigations bring him face to face with the work of some predecessor, or because of academic conventions…The fundamental questions ‘When did that happen? Where?’ are easy to answer. The questions ‘Why?’ and ‘how?’ are more difficult of course, yet they are still comparatively easy for later periods.”

## 2. The Role of Science

“Scientific progress continually reminds us that dogmas are for doubting, orthodox opinions are for factual rebuttals, established facts are for disconfirming, wild conjectures are (sometimes) for entertaining, beautiful thoughts are often (alas) for unthinking, and world authorities are for deflating.”—Ziman [15]

“Most of the great laws, however, have a strong element of a priori about them. They are the way we know things must be rather than the way we have observed them. There is a certain myth among scientists that the great laws of science are derived by induction from observation and tested by the confirmation of predictions. This may be true of the small laws, but it is not really true of the great ones, which are derived on the whole from identities that we discover in our imaginations.”

- “…a system for ordinary morality, those standards of conduct that apply to everyone as moral agent.”
- “...the art of living well.”
- “…special morally-permissible standards of conduct that apply to the members of a group simply because they are members of that group.”
- “…a field of philosophy (the attempt to understand ethics, in one or more of its other senses, as a rational undertaking.”

- “We must study particulars and not abstractions: after all biologists do not study the nature of life: they study living things and likewise physicians study not the concept of illness but sick people…
- A scientist will shun an explanation which while it has outwardly the form of an explanation, does no more in fact than interpret one unknown in terms of another…
- A scientist will take evidence from all quarters likely to be informative, not excluding introspection, for no good would come of self-righteously abjuring such an important source of evidence.
- A scientist must be resolutely critical, seeking reasons to disbelieve hypotheses, perhaps especially those which he has thought of himself and thinks rather brilliant.”

## 3. Classical Thermodynamics: The First and the Second Laws

“The task of the theorist is to bring order into the chaos of the phenomena of nature, to invent a language by which a class of these phenomena can be described efficiently and simply. Here is the place for ‘intuition’ and here the old preconceptions, common among natural philosophers that nature is simple and elegant, has led to many successes. Of course physical theory must be based in experience, but experiment comes after, rather than before, theory. Without theoretical concepts one would neither know what experiments to perform nor be able to interpret their outcomes.”—Truesdell ([31], p. 52)

- An isolated system is a system which does not exchange energy or matter with the outside environment. And an adiabatically isolated system is one in which the transfer of heat and matter are excluded, but other forms of energy can be transferred across the boundaries (Denbigh [34]).
- A closed system is one in which only energy is exchanged with its environment. Earth is an example of such a system.
- An open system is one in which both matter and energy can be exchanged with the environment. (Remark B13)

**Postulate**

**I.**

**Postulate**

**II.**

**Postulate**

**III.**

**Postulate**

**IV.**

“The basic extremum principle of thermodynamics implies that $\mathrm{dS}=0$ and that ${\mathrm{d}}^{2}\mathrm{S}<0$, the first of these conditions, stating that the entropy is an extremum and the second stating that the extremum is, in particular, a minimum.”

“There is a fact, or if you wish, a law, governing all natural phenomena that are known to date. There is no exception to this law—that is exact so far as we know. The law is called the conservation of energy. It states that there is a certain quantity, which we call energy, that does not change in the manifold changes which nature undergoes. That is a most abstract idea, because it is a mathematical principle; it says that there is a numerical quantity which does not change when something happens...It is important to realize that in physics today, we have no knowledge of what energy is...It is an abstract thing in that it does not tell us the mechanism or the reasons for the various formulas.”

“No one knows why energy is conserved, and no one can be completely sure it is truly conserved everywhere in the universe and under all conditions. All that anyone can say is that in over a century and a quarter of careful measurement, scientists have never been able to point to a definite violation of energy conservation, either in the familiar everyday surroundings about us, or in heavens above or in the atoms within.”

## 4. Brief Remarks on Possible Ethical Aspects of the Entropy Law

“Even when the individual believes that science contributes to the human ends which he has at heart, his belief needs a continual scanning and re-evaluation which is only partly possible... And if we adhere simply to the creed of the scientist, that an incomplete knowledge of the world and of ourselves is better than no knowledge, we can still by no means always justify the naive assumption that the faster we rush ahead to employ the new powers for action which are opened up to us, the better it will be.”—Norbert Wiener [42]

“In any naturally occurring process, the tendency is for all systems to proceed from order to disorder. The maximum entropy of Clausius is the state of complete disorder or thorough randomness, out of which no return to order is practically possible because it applies to the universe as a whole; nothing short of an inexpressibly improbable revolution could reverse the process and decrease the entropy. From this point of view, the trend from order to disorder with production of entropy is inexorable. The second law always wins in the end. A gloomy outlook indeed! But, there is perhaps a silver lining in the cloud.”

“...while we do live we ought always to act in all things in such a way as to produce as much order in our environment as possible, in other words to maximize the consumption of entropy. This is the thermodynamic imperative, a normative principle which may serve as the basis for a persuasive ethic in the spirit of the Golden Rule and Kant’s categorical imperative.”

**TI.2.**

**One ought to do things, in so far as possible, in such ways that the consumption of entropy is maximized ([3]).**

**TI.1.**

**One ought to do things, in so far as possible, in such ways that the production of entropy is minimized (Remark B33).**

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new and universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

**TI.1.**

**We ought to do things, in so far as possible, in such ways that the production of entropy is minimized.**

**TI.2.**

**We ought to do things, in so far as possible, in such ways that the consumption of entropy is maximized (Lindsay [3]).**

“I ask once again, let us, the dreamers of the East and the West, keep our faith firm in the Life that creates and not in the Machine that constructs—in the power that hides its force and blossoms in beauty, and not in the power that bares its arms and chuckles at its capacity to make itself obnoxious. Let us know that the Machine is good when it helps, but not so when it exploits life; that Science is great when it destroys evil, but not when the two enter into unholy alliance.”

## Conflicts of Interest

## Appendix A

_{e}S is the change in the entropy due to interactions with the external world, and d

_{i}S is the entropy generation due to irreversible processes occurring inside the system. Now the entropy law is simply stated as:

_{irrev}) to the change of entropy content of a reversible process (dS

_{rev}) such that (see Aoki [67], p. 168):

## Appendix B

**Remark**

**B1.**

**Remark**

**B2.**

**Remark**

**B3.**

**Remark**

**B4.**

**Remark**

**B5.**

**Remark**

**B6.**

**Remark**

**B7.**

**Remark**

**B8.**

**Remark**

**B9.**

**Remark**

**B10.**

**Remark**

**B11.**

**Remark**

**B13.**

**Remark**

**B14.**

**Remark**

**B15.**

**Remark**

**B16.**

**Remark**

**B18.**

**Remark**

**B19.**

**Remark**

**B20.**

**Remark**

**B21.**

**Remark**

**B22.**

**Remark**

**B23.**

**Remark**

**B24.**

**Remark**

**B25.**

**Remark**

**B26.**

**Remark**

**B27.**

**Remark**

**B28.**

**Remark**

**B29.**

**Remark**

**B30.**

**Remark**

**B31.**

**Remark**

**B32.**

**Remark**

**B33.**

**Remark**

**B34.**

**Remark**

**B36.**

**Remark**

**B37.**

**Remark**

**B38.**

**Remark**

**B39.**

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Massoudi, M.
A Possible Ethical Imperative Based on the Entropy Law. *Entropy* **2016**, *18*, 389.
https://doi.org/10.3390/e18110389

**AMA Style**

Massoudi M.
A Possible Ethical Imperative Based on the Entropy Law. *Entropy*. 2016; 18(11):389.
https://doi.org/10.3390/e18110389

**Chicago/Turabian Style**

Massoudi, Mehrdad.
2016. "A Possible Ethical Imperative Based on the Entropy Law" *Entropy* 18, no. 11: 389.
https://doi.org/10.3390/e18110389