Why Be Moral?

11 January 2015

This week we're asking the question: Why Be Moral?  But what kind of question is that?  Morality is a good thing.  Immorality is a bad thing.  A person should always do good things and never do bad things.  Doesn't everybody agree?

Well, judging by people's behavior, not necessarily.  But we also have to be careful not confuse 'ought' and 'is'.  People do behave immorally.  But they shouldn't.  Everybody knows that - at least in their heart of hearts. 

That implies that immoral behavior is irrational or insincere or hypocritical or something.  Couldn't there be situations in which a person fully weighs the pros and cons, and sincerely and rationally decides that the best thing for him to do, all things considered, is precisely what morality forbids?  In other words, what do we make of situations in which morality tells you to do one thing, and self-interest tells you to do something different?

Many people are psychologically inclined to elevate their own self-interest above all else - including morality.  For people like that, when morality and self-interest come into head-to-head conflict, morality loses out.  But rationally speaking, that's not how it should be.  Rationally speaking, morality should always trump self-interest.

But imagine there's an open, unguarded bank vault, with lots and lots of cash, staring you in the face.  You could really use that money.  And ther's an iron-clad guarantee that if you take it, no one will ever know.  Where's the rationality in not taking the money?

If you take the cash, you're a moral skeptic, someone who believes there are no facts of the matter about right and wrong.  Sure, that would make us free to do whatever we want, without having to worry about morality.  But denying that there's any objective right and wrong seems pretty desperate.

There's actually a lot to be said in favor of moral skepticism.  But for the sake of our argument, I'm willing to stipulate that it would be morally wrong to take the money in the situation we just imagined.  I'm even willing to stipulate that that's an objective and inescapable fact.  So: does the bare fact that something is objectively morally right or morally wrong, automatically give you a reason to do it or not do it?  

That question presupposes that the only thing we ever have reason to do is pursue our own self-interest.  But surely there's more to rationality than calculations of naked self-interest.  For example: when I go to my doctor and he sees I have an illness that's treatable with certain medicine, he gives me the drug.  Why does he do that?  Because he cares about my well-being and wants to cure me.  He's acting in my interest, not in his own interest - at least not exclusively.  And he's acting rationally.  So no -- behaving rationally doesn't just mean acting in your own self-interest.

So now we've come up with a distinction between two different kinds of reasons: self-regarding or egoistic reasons, and other-regarding or altruistic reasons.  Self-regarding reasons are rooted in considerations of naked self-interest.  Other-regarding reasons are rooted in our concern for others.  Morality may not always give us self-regarding reasons to do what it commands, but it does give us other-regarding reasons to do so.  Problem solved.

Or not: how do we balance self-regarding reasons against other-regarding reasons, when the two conflict?  Who says that altruistic reasons always trump the selfish ones?  Many people believe moral considerations always override selfish concerns.  But why do they?  There are also people who just don't care a whit about the well-being of others.  They might be selfish in the extreme -- but is that really irrational?  If you can be totally self-regarding, and still be rational, won't the other-regarding considerations that morality depends on just fail to move you?  

Tune in to hear what our guest, James Sterba from the Univeristy of Notre, and an audience of young philosophers at Pacific University's 16th annual Undergraduate Philosophy Conference, have to say on these issues and more.

Comments (36)


Guest's picture

Guest

Friday, September 14, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

A better question to ask is"

A better question to ask is" Would you like people to behave morally with you? All the time or half the times?. If you answer with yes- all the time, then don't you think (most) others, if not all, would answer the same?
If the case is that everybody wants to be morally treated all the time then this does not imply that everybody needs to behave morally towards all others all the time? At least, the principle of reciprocity, even when not symmetric, is good to think about and hope for.

Guest's picture

Guest

Friday, September 14, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

In my opinion, this

In my opinion, this discussion is victim of an evident amalgam: Morality and Ethics have nothing to do with rationality, at least for "sane" people, since they potentially can behave morally or immorally, as opposed to a clinically retarded person (suffering from insanity), who does not distinguish right or wrong because of incapacity, not because of rationality: he/she is amoral, the notion of morality is not "encrypted" in his/her consciousness. For a sane person, (and by sane I mean not rational but subject to Morality/Immorality), Morality is a duty, at least as it stipulates: Morality is "applicable" in absolute terms: one cannot be half moral or 75% of the times moral, he/she is either moral or immoral. Moving on to the notion of self-interest, it is, in my opinion, another amalgam here since self-interest is not motivated by morality, but by personal satisfaction, always: the anecdote mentioning the dentist is rather candid, since the dentist is being paid and even if he/she didn't charge anything (which almost never happens), he/she would be satisfied that you went to see him/her, having de facto an ulterior motive, which is fulfilling his/her personal satisfaction: I would say that self-interest is deeply "encrypted" is a person's rationale: the best thing humans can do is to allow growing cognition of morality whenever they can in their decisions and more importantly in their actions, but this is too difficult since the majority of humans tend to favor "easy" or "pragmatic" actions, which are essentially immoral, rather than altruistic ones. It is true that my views are rather cynical and maybe too harsh on humanity, but I think that though cynical perspectives, one can accomplish harder things, like sticking to being moral at all times, which is idealistic in cynical terms, but challenging in a Humanitarian/Philanthropist perspective: Humanitarian for hope, Cynical for Actions, and Morality is "applied" throughout actions, and not through Ideas.

Guest's picture

Guest

Friday, September 14, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

You have missed one category.

You have missed one category. Or, maybe you did not miss it and I did, when reading your post. OR, maybe you were waiting to see if some philosophic nerd would step forward and challenge your dualism? More on that later. I'll write about something more mundane (yet, arguably, related) just now. It is Saturday, September 15, 2012. My home is unusually quiet at this hour, 6:00 p.m. That could change any moment now. This is, of course, football season in my hometown. "The" Ohio State Buckeyes played California today. I do not know who "won" because I had other matters to attend to , and, frankly, I do not give much of a flip about it anyway.
My wife participates in (orchestrates?) a tailgate party at a small local bar in our area. She makes sure people get fed, by organizing what would otherwise be total mayhem---thus her coveted title: Kitchen Nazi. She was critically ill about a year ago: end stage liver disease. But, she fought back and has now re-assumed her kitchen nazi role. Today began at 10:30 a.m. for her, and ended at about 5:00 p.m.---not so long for most able-bodied humans. But, those hours are long for her now-and that is why my home is currently quiet. She is sleeping. At twelve o'clock tonight, she will be wide awake.
Morality and immorality are eminently subjective terms. Consider the madness currently going on in Muslim countries. And reflect upon WHY that madness IS going on. If you cannot get my drift, please do some homework, and realize the inherent emnity between Christianity and Islam.
I promised(?)---well, no, not really---that I would dispel the morality/immorality dualism. The in-between condition, that is more egregious that either of its neighbors, is amorality. When individuals, cultures and nations choose to be amoral: neither good nor bad outcomes are worthy of notice---we have serious problems. I believe this is what is going on right now. Why would otherwise rational humans blow themselves up to murder others?
Hatred is cumulative. And warlike faiths, such as Christianity and Islam, seem to have more than their share of emnity. Don't point fingers unless you are ready to have them pointing back at you.

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, September 15, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

The German philosopher

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)) believed that morality was just a fiction used by the herd of inferior human beings to hold back the few superior men.

mirugai's picture

mirugai

Tuesday, September 18, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

THE MORAL MINORITY

THE MORAL MINORITY
Morality is an absolute, objective imperative. Ethics are socially imposed rules of conduct. A philosopher can deduce these by simply looking around.
Two big issues for us are: 1. when is it OK to act immorally or unethically, and 2. how to behave if you live in an immoral democracy (a Pope once pointed out that just being a democracy doesn?t make a nation?s actions moral; a democracy can be immoral), where you have contracted with the majority to A. let them have their way (so long as certain minority rights are protected -- usually only those the majority agrees to protect, anyway), and B. take some responsibility thereby for their bad acts, as a contract-or.
Re 1. : It is undeniably immoral to kill another being for your pleasure alone. But we meat-eaters get so much pleasure from eating meat, that we come up with ways to ameliorate our guilt -- ?humanely raised,? ?free range,? and the oxymoronic ?humanely killed,? ?they have a great life and only one bad day,? etc. These ameliorations allow us to enjoy our pleasures, sort of!
Re 2 : Our country is doing all kinds of terrible things, in our name, as contract-ors. Voting for/against stuff, and demonstrating has done no good. So, what can we do, those in the ?moral minority?? Some say (me included): draw a circle around friends and family, and make sure everyone is fed, clothed, housed and cared for. Buddhists say, I believe, stop drawing circles, and renounce (or better, accept as an entirety) any distinctions, including the political.
I would like to hear from you posters, on the subject: ?Overcoming the Contract.? Any takers?

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, September 18, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

This Way

This Way
When you take wrong out of your life,
There is no question of morality,
And right becomes the Way.
Finding true by removing the untrue
Is the right Way too.
=

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, September 18, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

Rationality and reason have

Rationality and reason have very little directly to do with morality. Rationality is simply recognizing and expecting the relationship of cause and effect - there is no moral implication. Reason is just a tool - you can use it to deduce morals, or not. The French Revolution enthroned Reason in the place of God (literally, at a ceremony in Notre Dame) - and led directly into the Reign of Terror - carried out by rational people with their reason fully intact and functioning.
So why be moral? To say that it makes ones life better, or that it makes others' lives better, or that it makes society function better, is merely to make variations on Utilitarianism...which will fail the moment one sees, via one's reasoning, a greater good for oneself, or someone else, or society, in being immoral. Thus vigilantiism, terrorism, etc. A rational person, or society, will then use reason to justify the immoral behavior.
Thus all forms of morality based only on humanity, on human rationality and reason, ultimately come to relativism, and thence to ruin.
Why be moral? The only final answers are two: 1) because there is a God, who is just, who calls us to be moral; or 2) because it is useful - until it isn't.

Guest's picture

Guest

Thursday, September 20, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

All good. Dr. S. said most of

All good. Dr. S. said most of what has been stated on this post topic. Morality is either convenient. Or not. There you are---in less than, what? Fifty words? Looks like...
(On a different note: people talk too much---they keep hitting things, while driving and talking on their mobile phones; or forgetting that they are driving, while texting about things that could wait; or forgetting that they are walking in traffic, because they are sooooo wrapped up in talking on their phones. What happened to personal responsibility? Does anyone know---or care?)

Guest's picture

Guest

Thursday, September 20, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

An ancient mathematician

An ancient mathematician argued that the series of numbers 1, 2, 3,... has no end because for any number N there is a greater number, N+1. All he actually proved was that we cannot represent the greatest number, if indeed it exists. (Adding 1 to the greatest number might be comparable to trying to walk north from the North Pole).
Morality, too, makes sense only as long as it remains in the practical realm. Sigmund Freud and Henry Sidgwick laid the foundation for the modern interpretation of morality in recognizing that there are three moral systems operating simultaneously within each psyche. The Id appeals to self-interest and recognizes unfairness to oneself. The Ego appeals to the conscience and the public good, leading to utilitarianism. The Super-ego appeals to universal principles, scriptures or authoritarian leadership but does not accept them as absolute in practice (despite some professions to do so).
When there is a conflict within these systems, people use several mechanisms of resolution including rationalization, reasoning, relying on myths or raw instinct, etc. Rationalization and myth are particularly treacherous because they mostly serve (and in the case of myths, are almost always designed) to make immorality appear moral.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Wednesday, September 26, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

So much has happened since

So much has happened since September 15, 2012. The world is becoming more dangerous. Islam is becoming more insistent that all others respect it---or else. I exchanged ideas with a dear friend this evening, concerning democracy; electoral process and associated issues. We agreed that the democracy we knew (or were taught as children) is rotting. We also agree that there is a small core of folks who subscribe to a "new enlightenment", which may effect change early enough to avert the cultural holocaust that is facing us all. We talked about the ridiculous state of political campaigning---for him, it is entertaining..he lives in another country; for me, it is reality..I live in the United States.
So, what has all of the foregoing to do with morality? Read the above comments again. Slowly. I said a lot had happened since September 15, 2012. I suppose I should have said: September 11, 2012: that was the day the murderers struck in Libya. To me, THAT has everything to do with morality. To others, I guess, not so much...
HGN

Guest's picture

Guest

Friday, September 28, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

Some people here are

Some people here are confusing failed states' politics, related to Middle Eastern politics, with a broad and objective definition and interpretation of Morality. Politics are essentially utilitarian- they are interchangeable and adaptable to the various situations they face and are faced with. Islam and Christianity should NOT be perceived in a Moral optic. They may incorporate Moral like commandments, or theological theories that exhort Moral behavior, but the way they are being applied is terribly immoral. Christianity's immorality is much more subtle than Islam's: that's all. And that's for two main reasons. First, Extremism/Frustration in all sects within Christianity have relatively been "absorbed" since the Crusaders' periods, to the war of the peasants in the XVI th century in Germany, to the Cromwell's conquest of Ireland and Wales (for Religious Purposes). Muslims are still in a phase where this frustration is yet to be "absorbed". And it is Unfortunately inevitable. The Second Reason is that some Islamic Koranic Concepts are controversial, within Islamic societies, and are subject to ambiguities, like the Concept of Jihad for example, some people insist on the idea that the Jihad is to kill off Western phraseology in order to get to Heaven- this is of course dangerous and the person subject to this terrible and frightening idea will be willing to commit the most terrible atrocities. He/She is therefore "immorally moral"- immoral in the eyes of the West and the liberal Christians/Muslims, and moral when it comes to adhering to Fundamentalist institutions and beliefs. These "people" are being subject to propaganda from countries like Saudi Arabia and other Western Countries which support Saudi Arabia's Wahhabi movement-which is a terrifying proselyte fundamentalist tribe settled originally in Saudi Arabia. Religions and Morals have nothing to do with each other- and I would even say that it is immoral to limit Morality on Religious premises, even less on political ones. Why be Moral? For these extremists, it is for them to gain Heaven, like for any other religious person who thinks Morality is based on how Religious one can be, but How to be Moral makes all the difference here.. Some people kill in the name of God-Christians and Muslims- Jews don't because they are subject to a Diaspora philosophy and rationale. Some author once said, without God, everything will be permitted, I say, without God, nothing immoral can be legitimized.
Note: I am not trying to criticize anyone in particular in this debate and I apologize in advance if my statements come off strong. It is just that I have led a life in Syria where in which I witnessed all this. And now I am living in the United States. Therefore I am trying to incorporate my personal experience as objectively and exhaustively as I can in this debate.

Guest's picture

Guest

Friday, September 28, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

What if we are already in

What if we are already in Heaven Karin,
And the only reason to be moral or good
Is because heaven is.
I like to think of the Universe this Way,
As good, as God, as just, as right,
As One is truly All,
=

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, September 29, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

It seems that the moral

It seems that the moral universe, like the physical one, has four dimensions: selfishness, lovingkindness, righteousness, and context.
The golden rule, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you," derives its meaning from selfishness. In addition, the golden rule implies a second moral dimension, which I will call lovingkindness, though it could just as easily be called benevolence, compassion, charity, caring, or some such. The first two dimensions create a plane on which, with the proper axioms, could be constructed a moral geometry. But, just as surveyors and cartographers encounter problems and fall into error is they assume a Euclidean plane, philosophers need a third dimension -- righteousness -- which implies empirical standards of right and wrong, and justice.
Physical space would be lifeless, were it not for time. Similarly, the moral universe is meaningless without context. What would be the moral implications of taking money from a bank vault if one were guaranteed getting away with it? Well, what is the context? My daughter once came upon wads of cash spilling out of a bag in the parking lot of a department store. Although bank bands were on the wads, she was hurrying to work, so she turned it money in at the department store. Should she have done more? Would a slight change in the context have had any moral implications?

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Saturday, September 29, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

Kudos to Karim. A voice of

Kudos to Karim. A voice of reason in a world of, sometimes, seeming chaos. His comments remind me of a book I have read by a Lebanese survivor, Nicholas Nassim Talib (or Taleb). His musings and notions dealt with probabilities and chaos, but were written in language accessible to average, interested readers. NNT has since written at least one more book, I believe. In any case, we should all welcome clear thinkers to debates, dialogues, discussions and, yes, out-and-out arguments. Another thinker, Alan, (NKA) Leslie, Combs has said we ought to be able to talk things through; to reach agreement and/or consensus on our intractable differences.
Alan, (yes, I know him...), is partially correct---his logic is substantive, in a perfect world. But, alas, this world is no longer perfect. I am not convinced that it ever was. But, as I stated: kudos to Karim. And if it does not offend too much: Allah'u'abha. Yeah. I have been around some...

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, September 30, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

Michael this is your personal

Michael this is your personal opinion, and I respect that. But I don't see any true relevance to the Topic Why be Moral? To me, the answer to that question should portray an authentic attitude..coming from inside the person and directing his/her way to righteousness and not dictated by religious principles and thoughts: we owe our moral actions to ourselves, not to external subliminal factors like Religion. Religion could, and that's just my opinion, give a certain person hope or a steady piece of mind, and that's ideally. Unfortunately, Religion nowadays is a a tricky concepts: where in which, countries and new ideologies depend on them and legitimize their worst actions and philosophies through the Propaganda, portraying something which one cannot really object to (Religion), since it is a taboo in Middle Eastern countries and other parts of the World plus it has always become a habit to commit atrocities in the name of God in these regions. People nowadays tend to put forth Religion-driven actions (regardless of their Moral value) before questioning the true Morality within them. In essence, Moral conducts are not up for debate, unfortunately, Religious principles are that way, nowadays ( and even since their first rise)- bottom line, Religious/Ethnic Wars always lead to the destruction of the "enemy", which is always considered profane. impure. Ethical/Moral Wars lead to courts, which I think is much more Civil and Moral, Simultaneously. We owe our Morals to our Civism, not to our Gods.
Thank you Harold for your nice comments. I believe the book you are talking about is the Black Swan-the Unpredictable Swan. I am Christian actually but I can also say Alla Hu Akbar. (God is Mighty)

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, September 30, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

When One finds One's true

When One finds One's true self
One finds the true Universe.
And Once the truth is found,
One can no more do wrong to any One or thing as is everything,
Because it only harms One's own true self.
Morality is universal self Onderfull goodness,
Self preservation.
Be One.
=

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, September 30, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

Interesting points, Karim and

Interesting points, Karim and Harold. Of course much evil has been done in the name of religion - and in the name of science, and in the name of one or another philosophy, and in the name of nationalism, and in the name of almost anything one can imagine. It would be a mistake to therefore say that all these things must be put aside to find morality. They are part of the history and discovery of morality, at the very least.
It all comes back to this - if our morality comes from within ourselves, however much we wish otherwise, it will always be relative, and therefore always be a matter of convenience in the end. "Context," as Arvoasitis points out, will ultimately rule. Now context is of course important - but given that we are rational creatures, with the ability to reason, context can very easily be used to help us rationalize. "Sure, it was wrong to do x, but it was right for me this time because of y." And x and y become unassailable because it all comes from inside. "Who are you to say your insides are better than mine?"
I think Jefferson (no mean philosopher himself) recognized this well enough, which is why he grounded the Declaration of Independence in a Creator, and declared the rights of people to be inalienable because they come from that Creator. He declared this to be simply self-evident. He recognized, rightly I think, that to try to prove these things by philosophy and reason, beyond all rational objection, would be to spin around endlessly and get nowhere. One has to have solid ground somewhere, and that ground cannot be merely the reason, philosophies, opinions, or popular will of a person or any number of people. Our democracy is ultimately founded on his insight. We may think it is "rotting," and that is possible, but then again people a hundred years ago thought the same...and very likely people a hundred years from now will look back on our time as a golden age. I'll wager this "rotting" democracy will still be going on.
The bottom line remains the same: the answer to "why be moral" cannot lie simply within ourselves, either as individuals or as societies. If it does, we will drift with every passing wave.

Guest's picture

Guest

Monday, October 1, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

Very interesting points

Very interesting points Nathan, and I agree with you on certain things. But what if a person is Atheist: does he/she not know how to distinguish between right or wrong? Is he/she not apt to be moral? An Atheist has nothing to Rationalize, in terms of Moral context-the one thing he/she rationalized, obviously, is the negation of God.From his/her inner self, the person decided to lead a life with no regards to any God. Moving on to the question of Contexts- which I think is pertinent but lacks solid decisive arguments. A person can also justify/rationalize (I associated Justify and Rationalize for the sake of my arguments- and which are by the way concomitant in this debate) his/her immoral actions by blaming God himself -" I committed this crime, does that make me immoral? Am I not a creature of God? Why would he want me to commit this crime". Our moral duty is hence related to our own decisions to act morally- when I mentioned our Inner selves, I wasn't referring to the subjective perception of Morality (by each person's belief)- which would of course essentially annihilate Morality- since Morality has to remain objective- where in which people have to abide by it- and not vice versa, otherwise we would all be moral. Moving on to the concept of Context, I think that if we ought to consider the doxa, or the common opinion on morality a rule, and hence thinking of righteousness as the majority (equating Majority to Morality), then again, we will be destroying Morality. If I live in a world where everyone steals and I don't, I would see myself stealing in order to conform (as humans tend to conform to each other and more importantly to the majority, but our context now forbids us from stealing ( at least as a current Moral rule) and I would like to think (ideally or not) that stealing would always be wrong-no matter the context. It also depends on the gravity of the "felonies"- if I live in a world where everyone steals, I wouldn't do so-I wouldn't be pragmatic and abiding by the "common way of living" but I would be moral-at least vis-a-vis of myself. Of course, if I live in a jungle where we have to kill in order to survive, I wouldn't hesitate to kill, it would be a reflex and I would just have to do it if I want to live ( paraphrasing Spinoza, the ultimate goal of a person is to persevere in his being). In order to avoid living in a jungle, or in like some regions in the world currently, we have to let our Morality shine from within us-If of course we agree on the premise that human nature is kind. As for the concept of Democracy, it has been earned and fought for for centuries and still has (in certain regions of this World)- the French Revolution for example that brought Democracy came from an Intellectual Revolution, inspired and motivated by Reason, and if I want to give up my Intellect and Reason- I would be simply replacing a Democracy with a Theocracy. I do not agree with Jefferson when it comes to the topic of Democracy- since he is basically putting forth a premise that could be either wrong (if God turned out to be non-existent), dangerous (since people are no longer questioning their moral behavior and only relying on something already given), or simply decadent (since it no longer allows political reforms for the years to come).

Guest's picture

Guest

Monday, October 1, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

One

One
When the subject is the object
And the object is the subject
Then One is the other
And the other is just One.
Is

Guest's picture

Guest

Monday, October 1, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

Karim: you're right that an

Karim: you're right that an atheist can be as moral as anyone else - and therefore, an atheist can rationalize his/her own behavior much like anyone else. When I was an atheist, I still thought of myself as a moral person - and I rationalized my immoral behavior, when I committed it, by use of context, much the way most people (even "religious" people) do. I think the elimination of a God-given standard simply makes the daily rationalization so much easier. That is my experience and my perception.
People can of course abuse any context to justify themselves, even God-context. Paul spoke to this argument in Romans 9 - if, for example, Pharoah was put on this earth to be the foil for Moses, should he not then be free of responsibility? The answer is no - because he made his own choices, in full knowledge of the word of God that was before him. Our freedom of choice exists, even if a higher being knows beforehand what those choices will be. Religions differ on this, of course, as do philosophies - but Christianity at least does not allow the escape from responsibility.
I haven't read Spinoza, but I'm not sure that the ultimate goal of a person is, or should be, to persevere in his own being. Jesus said, "he who seeks to save his own life will lose it." Which one is right? In practice we place very high honor on those who give up their lives to preserve something or someone else - the opposite of self-preservation, or selfish genes. Would that not be morally superior?
As for democracy, the basis on which it is founded is critical. Yes, the French Revolution attempted to found a democracy based on Reason and an Enlightenment view of humanity...it descended very quickly into dictatorship, the Terror, and then a return to absolute monarchy in the form of Napoleon. It was only sixty years of hard experience, and the defeat of Napoleon III by the Germans, that finally gave democracy a lasting foundation in France. We did better, in part I think because we did not attempt to anchor our young republic solely on human reason.
This is not a rejection of reason, but a recognition of what reason is...a tool, not a master. This is why Jefferson's (and many others') reasoning did not create a Theocracy, but the world's most successful democracy. If we assume that Reason is the highest standard, and of course our leaders are the most reasonable and rational of us, then it follows logically that they should have unlimited authority. And if, as the Enlightenment suggests, people are basically moral and good, then the majority must always come to the right decision. In both cases, if finally follows just as logically that those who do not conform to the leadership, or to the majority, should and must be compelled to do so...in the words of Rousseau, they 'must be forced to be free.' Reason tempered with experience, however, tells us that people are not basically good, and that given power they will tend to seek more, and abuse what they have. Government must therefore be limited - which requires a standard above the government, above the leaders, above the majority, that binds them all. This was the key insight that made the whole experiment work.

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, October 2, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

Nathan, I would say.that in

Nathan, I would say.that in every ideal democracy, and none of the world's current democracies qualify in my opinion, as the American Democracy imposes its democratic model on the whole world, being irrevocably, in its eyes, the only authentic one: somehow the imposition is sometimes harsh: the 2 two Atomic bombs, not that long ago, thrown at Japan's "Axis of Evil", but one has to ask oneself, what was Moral and not Evil about that, neglecting one of the primordial military protocols- which is to distinguish between Military Targets and Civilians. Moving on to the Vietnam War (and the huge losses of American lives, the intervention in Afghanistan to counter the Soviet expansion (which as you know vanished 23 years ago), the Israeli Lobby in the US that controls most of the Media and has an impressive control over presidential and other forms of political campaigns- wouldn't you say- and these statements were put forth by an American Political Thinker by the way- Noam Chomsky in his book "Failed States". I may have drifted away from the debate but I think mentioning this is relevant since you consider that the American Democracy is successful. It may be successful domestically, but the ethnocentrism in American Foreign Policies makes it hard to believe that they want to spend Democracy and Civilization abroad- American Foreign Policies, are, in my opinion, imposed unequivocally, to the World. And that is a lack of Meta-Democracy, a Democracy which transcends and goes beyond the individual nations- even if this concept does not exist, it doesn't mean we can't cogitate about it.
About what Jesus said "he who seeks to save his own life will lose it."
I think that human nature is not good, at heart. I believe that human instinct is far more selfish and dark than what Jesus believe. We are not what Jesus think we are. That is when I assumed my Atheism- and always will-until the day I die. I wouldn't want to be alienated into something I am not. Christianity has created an anti-world not suitable for its main audience: Humans. The ones that die for a cause are faced with their life-fulfilling purpose slipping from their hands: Hitler died for his own purpose- he was the opposite of Moral. As for the person dying for someone else, I would say that he/she is doing this for personal/emotional reasons, I don't see any Morality in that. If a person dies in order to save another life, I would have tremendous respect for that person, but that does not mean I would see him/her as more moral than others- maybe more brave, not more moral.
Now to the idea of which supersedes which: Reason or Religion: I would definitely go with Reason-You can Rationalize Religion, but Religion cannot Rationalize You.
1/Whatever I clearly and distinctly perceive to be contained in the idea of something is true of that thing.
2/ I clearly and distinctly perceive that necessary existence is contained in the idea of God.
3/ Therefore, God exists. Descartes logically proves God's existence.
If I want to use Reason, I can prove God- God can't prove himself to me unless I Rationalize his existence. Therefore, to me, Reason is the Tool and the Master.
In the question of the Governments, I would propose 4 to 5 instances that should hold our civism together and attempt to work our way through the Ideal Democratic Regime: and the Instances go from the most simple to the most philosophical:
1) Regulatory Economic and Social Policies ( to avoid the Deregulation that the World witnessed in the 2008 First Financial then Economic worldwide Turmoil).
2) The Unilateralism of the World Politics- with no real Country that police the world. Along with No military intervention but solely Humanitarian intervention and letting countries transit to Democracy at their own pace.
3) Fair Legal System
4) Moral System where Morals are thought collectively, being essentially driven from each one's inner self to ensure civism and World peace and should be portrayed in the first 3 instances (especially the third one)
5) (Optional) Religions which can comfort (individually or collectively) the people and direct their lives.
I know this model never ought to happen and I know how Idealistic and Naive I am on this- but it doesn't really hurt to think that way, or does it?

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, October 2, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

Foundations

Foundations
If your looking for the foundation of morality in Democracy look no further than freedom.
In philosophy, remove any uncertainty or doubt as was Decartes method. Once the truth or "I" is found, as he found, don't let any uncertainty ( as he did) back in again.
As for physics or science, the great Einstein reduced the universe to his famous equation e = mc2, and then like Decartes got lost again. Equal or = is the equation, the truth he was as most are still searching for. The equation that unites us all. The truth that lie hidden in the foundation of mathematics = IS the same as the truth that lay hidden in ourselves.
Religion: God is One.
Justice: Beyond fairness is absolute. To find it remove her blindfold, keep her equality or balance but throw away her scale.
Why be moral? For freedom, equality, unity, justices, balance, vision, sight, or light; for truth, for health, for I, You, It They Them, For One or All.
The truth shall set us free.
=

Guest's picture

Guest

Wednesday, October 3, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

This post has generated much

This post has generated much discussion. From morality to democracy, as though they are joined at the hip---Siamese twins, if you will---or even if you won't. Morality remains an outgrowth of human experience.We make the rules, we have the gold, ergo, beginning and end of story. Truth frees no one---it only sets us up to comply OR fail to comply. And, help us if we do not. (heaven has nothing to do with it) Democracy is rotten, IMHO. That is why it holds no influence in places that have never known it. Decay affects more than teeth.

Guest's picture

Guest

Friday, October 5, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

Syndicated columnist, Cal

Syndicated columnist, Cal Thomas, was holding forth today in our local "news"paper. He said that
morality is a free-for-all. Using the Arnold Terminator meltdown as his example, he illustrated the futility of living a moral life in a world gone mad with indulgence. Thomas rightly illustrated that there are mistakes, which most of us make; and intentional indulgences, which we hope no one will find out. Maybe. The Terminator has written his incredible true life story, figuring to make some more money from his "mistakes". Thomas---not my fave thinker---did make a good suggestion: don't buy the book. I'll go him one better: don't bother reading it, unless life is insufferably boring for you.
This post could go on, virtually forever, and never get to a solution acceptable to all who advocate a moral life.
Here is a question to chew on: is morality based on theological; philosophical or cultural foundations? I am curious--though my curiosity is not profound. (hint: If you said, well, it is all three, then you must have already written a book about it, yes?---If so, let us all know, please. I'd rather read your book than the one mentioned earlier.)
Best Regards,
PDV.

mirugai's picture

mirugai

Saturday, October 6, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

This has been the most

This has been the most interesting and provocative forum. Karim's views are so well-stated and thoughtful, and, best of all, provocative; I hope you will stay in touch in our blog. Much about the sources of morality has been explored. But my first day query still sits unaddressed (maybe no one is really interested -- and that is no complaint against any of you; more a complaint about me): 1. when is it OK to act immorally, and 2. how do we behave in an immoral democracy, having contracted with the majority to live with what they want.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Sunday, October 7, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

Hello, mirugai. In answer to

Hello, mirugai. In answer to your two-part query: 1) When you are certain you have either cause or standing. Consult Black's Law Dictionary if you are uncertain about the meanings of those terms. 2) See response #1. One behaves out of a sense of purpose, justice and moral sensibility. The majority is easily swayed because they just know what they want. They are frequently wrong. We have both lived long enough to know this. But, don't kill your neighbor for being an asshole---standing and cause will fail you here.
Hope you are well. I'm not doing badly myself.
Neuman.

Guest's picture

Guest

Monday, October 8, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

Thank you for your nice

Thank you for your nice comments Mirugai. I would say that the debate has diverted from the original statement into a more broad and more consistent evaluation of Morality in today's Politics-you shouldn't blame yourself, I think the implications of the present debate are more relevant and adequate, considering contemporary issues in Politic lack of decent governance, not just due to a lack of transparency in the Political Actors' policies, but other factors interfering leave little room for Morality- like the Persistence of Authoritarian regimes, having little left of their popular support, in committing crimes against humanity. As for the question of Immoral Democracy- I would say that the phrase "immoral society" is more adequate since a Democracy cannot be moral or immoral- it can only be authentic or not, as for its traits of true Democracy (Freedom of Speech, Association, Plurality in Political Representation, just to name a few. A person can be moral or immoral.
A law abiding citizen can abide by the laws which could portray unjust practices that could lead him/her to seek revenge (essentially immoral) in order to restore Justice (which is morally legitimized since fairness can be based on luck- on comparisons between people and not necessarily to make Morality triumph. But for the sake of the argument, we will assume that fairness encourages moral behavior. The citizen mentioned above has a choice of leading a frustrated life or fight for what he believes is his/her Moral duty. I am making an allusion to the movie "Law Abiding Citizen" ( with Jamie Fox)- which is poorly directed by the way but the idea behind that movie correlates well with the 1st issue proposed by Mirugai.
Which also helps me transit to the other issue-the one related to "Immoral" Democracy. I would say that in order to resolve the issue of majority, human nature should format and restore itself in a way not to consider the Majority the Norm. Hence what I am saying is that, unfortunately, or not, Majorities will always have the last word on deciding what's right and what's wrong, sometimes wrongfully, but at other times rightfully.
The only good thing we can hope for is the following:
1)The Sustainability and the Implementation of fair laws in the " Most Democratic countries", hopefully set as an example to follow or even to surpass.
2) The Right Advocacy, held by Non-Governmental Organizations when it comes to Humanitarian issues-and by right I mean Independent (preferably) from any affiliation with any government or corporation , Genuinely concerned about the atrocities which we are witnessing today in some regions of the world.
3) Through the help of Social Media and any other form of "Authentic" Media (like Citizen Media) and not those Blood Sucking Media Conglomerates, we can stimulate Activism wherever and whenever needed.

Guest's picture

Guest

Friday, October 12, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

Lots of stuff in the news in

Lots of stuff in the news in the past month about morals/morality. Pundits of all stripes are weighing in on this timely issue. I have noticed a cycle. Not many of us complain about lies and other forms of dishonesty---until there is a presidential election on the brink. Local appointed and elected officials do their nefarious deeds and seldom are brought to account---unless the election cycle dictates. Morality is so situational and seemingly meaningless to the masses, until an important political event is imminent. Come on now. Think about these remarks. Consider your own observations. You must have noticed something? If you did not forget to look...

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Thursday, January 15, 2015 -- 4:00 PM

With no time to read all that

With no time to read all that has been posted here:
Time is the contrarian. It is asymmetry, or sub-symmetry. By being, just a little, out of sync with what would dominate the universe with symmetry repetition and replication, it offers an opportunity for meaning more encompassing still. Not by intruding or imposing itself upon the world as just another paradigm or super-symmetry commanding obedience, but as a loss or departure that is only real in the world as a responsibility of its worth being recognized, even if only as an inadequacy to what otherwise seems to rule. Below all the probabilities that physicists calculate as potential symmetry in the world of energy space and matter there is quite arguably an impossibility not super-symmetrical but sub-symmetrical to it. If so, this would explain why the laws of physics cannot find a point in time beginning or ending it. It is because there is no one time there is begun or ended it. It is loss worthy of recognition as that uncompleted symmetry and responsibility of the worth of that loss being recognized as that incompleteness to the laws that would obligate things as they are if not so uncompleted. The cruelty of the world should, I suppose, be reason enough to subscribe to a kinder moral regimen. But it is far more persuasive that each of us is most intrinsically the breach in the symmetry of law that supplies the term most deserving our recognition of the inadequacy of that law. And if that breach is only real in departure, if only in the smallest term of our being rigorously unconvinced of the completeness of the law, and if only articulate in the freedom this changing of our minds offers from the tyranny of its supposed symmetry completeness and perfection, then morality is that freedom and once begun cannot be less encompassing, real or articulate, than the supposed law. But what else is reason if not such recognition?

enigmaramus's picture

enigmaramus

Monday, January 19, 2015 -- 4:00 PM

Banks, pharmaceuticals and

Banks, pharmaceuticals and morality?: In the case of bank vaults being left ajar, we know the results of that experiment and the cost to tax payers. No one gone to jail and no end in sight. 
As for medicine: what can we know about drug efficacy (trial results: side-effects, participants, placebo, data manipulation, etc.), or potential motivation for the u$e of a particular drug? 
Oh, I get it... You're being rhetorical... and I'm being a cynic.

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Tuesday, January 20, 2015 -- 4:00 PM

For a philosopher the moral

For a philosopher the moral motive is to understand and to be understood. Nothing could be less unilateral. The only thing unilateral in it is the critique each thinker must bring to the inevitable impediments consensus brings to it. Similarly, we all critique moral consensus as a way of realizing our part in the community project it is. Language is not mine, and yet if I do not respond to perceived inaccuracies and collective censorship or distortions I am failing the language, letting it slide into an edifice of ignorance. Morally, consensus is at least as inept as egotism and selfishness. And so I must have my own sense of what is as moral for others as for myself. The point is not that either it is unilateral or collective, but that it is only through individual responsibility that the community of speakers or moral agents, respectively, gets it right. But this requires an act of critique and a responsiveness to critique as mutually competent and honest as either individually or collectively we tend to err. It is because I am not alone that I must act as if I were, and because I perceive error as if I were alone that I must act as if I were not. And it is not that I know better, but because the world can only respond to what tries to know and do better. This does not mean that the world suddenly swings from one critique to another, but that it reveals its limitations as a context of meaning or moral sense in meeting the reasoning critical of it. Consensus is no more the be-all and end-all of language or morality than is individual perspective prejudice or willfulness. It is the dynamic of betraying the rational competence, or lack of it, of each in the drama of the critical act and the response of adaptive consensus that gives us the context of rational and moral judgment. The final term is neither consensus nor individual fiat. It is change, guided by a recognition of a need to learn. The context of that need is why be moral.

doug.pinkard92@post.harvard.edu's picture

doug.pinkard92@...

Monday, January 26, 2015 -- 4:00 PM

When the guest informed us

When the guest informed us that "the poor" (a group he did not define) have much greater need than "the wealthy" (ditto), was I being asked to assume that after clothes, housing, and somewhere between 1,750-3,000 calories per day of food (divided roughly into 90% carbohydrates, 5% protein, and 5% fat, according to the World Health Organization), there are needs that the former have in much greater abundance than do the latter--presumably because their "needs" for yachts, private planes, and limousines have been met already?

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Monday, January 26, 2015 -- 4:00 PM

Usually, the 'former' means

Usually, the 'former' means the first in a series of two, not the last, and so most proximal. But I do not suppose we are meant to think the poor, by any definition, have such things as yachts, private planes, and limousines, or are in need of them. I think what they are in need of is a square deal. I think of the parable of the sedan chair. An ambitious man works very hard in youth, he does all the things others do, but on top of, and in great diligence, he builds a sedan chair. When he is done he takes up the seat and demands to be carried in it. As he is carried away he leans out of the window and pronounces, "I earned what I have!" Well, maybe, but it sure looks like a free ride to me!
It is all too easy to confuse doing the right thing with doing good. Doing good requires a damn sight more of us than just doing the right thing. Doing the right thing is little more than not going out of our way to do the wrong thing. It is a devious trick of upper classes, by any definition, to paint doing the right thing, to paint not going out of their way to do the wrong thing, as doing good. Even as bending over backwards. Working people are the only real source of wealth. The only reason they don't have it themselves is because there are systematic institutions tending to drive them into subsistence. After all, if they're not dead, if all their nutritional requirements are met, they are not in need. They have enough. Right? But whose enough is it? Driving the most productive portions of society into poverty is tantamount to eating our seed-corn. The reason America is in debt and faces seemingly insurmountable fiscal problems is because its most productive sectors are impoverished. America had better bankers when they were paid only a few times the average wage than now when they are paid several hundreds of time as much. It is a perverse market in which the buyer wants to price to go up. Is sauce for the goose poison for the gander? Why does the principle of thrift at one end of the social strata somehow become a moral requirement of extravagance at the other? Shouldn't we expect at least as good a deal from our ruling class as they do of the working class? It is not doing good to see to it there is economic justice, it is a vital investment in a prosperous future for all. The current crop of elites have clearly lost the meaning of that equation, and don't really fathom the point of investment. The rich can't be trusted with wealth.

xknightlightx's picture

xknightlightx

Thursday, February 5, 2015 -- 4:00 PM

Right and wrong is

Right and wrong is situational because right and wrong varies from situation to situation. We can only know what is right up to a point. Even the law can be wrong in the right situation.
Why be moral? because first of all, it is a sign of life within life to be someone who doesn't rely on their bullshit instinct such as sex. If a guy or girl feels the need to have sex, it is wrong to seduce someone only for the sake of getting pleasure. We should all be making something better out of what we have. Many of us have the ability to postpone pleasure and if you can't do that then that is a type of weakness because post poning pleasure is part of our reasoning ability. Without it, you wont always leave the things you are supposed to.
Being moral helps. Btw, when I say we should be moral, I'm not saying we should follow the bible to a t. Im saying we should do what is right and good.
However,  finding out what is right and good requires reading/predicting  a situation. You are only responsible for what you can do.
Everything has value and our minds have limits, so even when we know we should be moral, I understand we cant always be that way, especially since influences in this world arent organized enough to prevent weaknesses from developing  many minds .
The ability to overcome all  is a sign of life within life. ( just as part of the difference between happiness and satisfaction is the  It is a sign that we are more than just  animals and slaves to a system of controll and influences we live under.
There is something to be proud of in taking the extra miles to do something that will make others happy.  Being immoral can also mean being a slave to your own feelings. There is a type of strength, a type of reasoning involved of moving past your feelings and making something better out of it.
In the end, we are all atoms and If we can find a way to create a world where all the good we have done has allowed us to create a permanent hope that will ensure that any atom that becomes part of a human being will live a good life, then  that is the ultimate reason to become good. To ensure that in our possible future, after we die, we will e happy, even if we dont remember. 
btw good and bad are not always subjective, they can be objective too.
Immorality has value to, but There is a way to make it contain it.

Charles Osborne's picture

Charles Osborne

Thursday, March 5, 2015 -- 4:00 PM

Couldn't there be situations

Couldn't there be situations in which a person fully weighs the pros and cons, and sincerely and rationally decides that the best thing for him to do, all things considered, is precisely what morality forbids? 
This was one of the great questions in The Republic--and also Augustine and others. Where I personally start is with the question whether what we ought to do is ipso facto moral, or whether morality says to do one thing, while "doing the best thing" is another. 
Plato and Kant have an ideal sense of morality (and therefore a correct sense), but Bonhoeffer (perhaps in a more Augustinian tradition) has a realistic sense of morality. He says we should always do what we determine (to the best of our ability) to be right--using the tools that faith gives to us (prayer, Scriptures, counsel, discussion, education, divine revelation, etc.) so that we are always in the end asking what God wants us to do--as he reveals this to us, in any given situation.
Thus Bonhoeffer had no trouble saying that when Nazis ask us where the Jews are hidden, we should lie for all we are worth. And he had no trouble blowing up Hitler and his pals with a bomb. These were not easy choices for a pastor of the flock--but they were for him clear and decisive. They were things God demanded of him in such situations.
Purity of heart is to will the will of God (as Keirkegaard put it), but in the real world this requires judgment. Rules may make such judgments quicker, but like the courtroom our moral lives are subject to new evidence, so we always have to decide what rule applies (does our love for Nazis surpass our love for innocents?)
But morality based on faith need not be religious faith. Faith is just the set of beliefs and choices that we always put first (Tillich). The real puzzle is how it comes to pass that all people in all times and places tend--given experience and knowledge of the world--to revert to similar moral beliefs, unless there is something wrong with them (sociopaths, etc.) Nobody ever presented medals to the soldier who threw down his weapon and went over to the enemy to help kill his friends, no matter where he came from. (C. S. Lewis)

Charles Osborne's picture

Charles Osborne

Thursday, March 5, 2015 -- 4:00 PM

Is it relevant to note that a

Is it relevant to note that a supermarket checker goes to prison for setting her own salary, while the Officers and Board do not? Is that the reason they make so much more than the workers?
The rich can't be trusted with wealth.
Neither can anybody else--that is why we have laws and regulations (and watchdogs and fences).

 
 
 

Blog Archive

2018

November

October

September

August

July

June

May

April

March

February

January

2017

December

November

October

September

August

July

June

May

April

March

February

January

2016

December

October

September

August

July

June

May

April

March

February

January

2015

December

November

October

September

August

July

June

May

April

March

February

January

2005

December

November

October

September

August

July

June

May

April

March

Why Be Moral? | Philosophy Talk

Offline

Philosophy Talk is under maintenance

Error

The website encountered an unexpected error. Please try again later.