Morality and the state of nature:
- Just as we can distinguish between why people are moral and why they should be moral, we can also distinguish between 2 types of morality,
- In a descriptive sense, morality just referes to whatever set of rules ans expectations a particular society or culture (or perhaps even just an individual) has at a particular time.So we talk about the 'moral code' of this society or that person.
- In a normative sense, morality means that set of rules and expectations 'objective correct'. For instance, we might say that the moral code of 18th Century England permitted owening slaves. But hthis was nevertheless morally wrong.
Morality as a social contract: (1)
Morality is a conventional agreement for our mutual advantage:
- If we expect people to be moral, we need to have some idea of why they would. So we need to know why people do things.
- One obvious answer is ‘self-interest’ – people will do what they think will benefit them in some ways. So one answer to the question ‘why should I be moral?’ is that, in some way, being moral is in my self-interest. In other words, I will benefit from being a moral person and acting morally.
- We can develop this answer to argue that morality is, in fact, an agreement about how to behave, an agreement that people have reached because they realise that certain ways of behaving, which we call moral, are in their self-interest.
- This view understands morality as a means to an end; the end, for each person, is doing what is best for themselves. However, if you ask people ‘why did you do that?’, they don’t always cite some benefit to themselves. They may give some other reason, e.g. ‘I thought it would help him’. This raises the questions – what reasons do we act on and what reasons should we act on?
Philosophers have given different theories of reasons, some arguing that rationality is just a matter of pursuing your self-interest intelligently, others arguing that we have reasons to act in ways that aren’t about self-interest.
Morality as a social contract: (2)
Self-intrest and rational egoism:
- The answer, that one should be moral because it is in one’s self-interest, has the advantage of simplicity. First, it is obvious that individuals are motivated by their self-interest.
- Second, this doesn’t need justifying: it would be strange to ask the question ‘why should I do what is in my self-interest?’. The basic desires to stay alive and stay free of pain and the more complex desire for happiness are part of human nature.
- Morality can require that, at times, we give up something we want for ourselves for the sake of someone else. But we cannot assume that people are interested – or as interested – in other people’s well-being as they are in their own- Perhaps we would help each other when it is no cost to ourselves; but if there is a competition between getting what one wants and helping others, we cannot assume that people will sacrifice their self-interest and be altruistic.What is ‘reasonable’ here? There is a particular view of what it is rational to do, usually adopted in economics and politics when trying to predict what people will do.- If people are motivated by self-interest, then it is rational for them to do what benefits themselves. A rational person is someone who selects the means to their end of self-interest. - They will consider what they need to do to get what will benefit themselves, and then, if they can, do it. A simple example: I’m thirsty, I want a drink (my end). I know where to find water, so I go there (my means) and get the water.- This ability to work out the right means to that end defines what rationality is, on this view. People are ‘rational egoists’.
Morality as a social contract: (3)
Towards an agreement:
- Being rational, we can see that it is very much in our self-interest that other people do not harm us – physically, or emotionally, or financially – when pursuing their self-interest.
- It would be good if there were constraints on what other people did, constraints that they followed. On the other hand, it looks like it is not such a good thing to be constrained oneself.
- If by stealing people’s wallets I could get rich without much work, this looks like a good means to benefiting myself. But if I am constrained not to steal, then this easy path to wealth is no longer an option. So perhaps I ended up poorer, which is not in my self-interest.
- We can see how this problem could be solved: we need to agree not to do things that would harm other people in exchange for them not doing things that harm us. While that means that my self-interest will suffer a little, it would be much worse for me if other people harmed me.
- Another example: suppose I want a house to live in, but I can’t build one on my own. I need the cooperation of other people to help. It would be a very good thing if I could trust other people to cooperate if they say they will. Perhaps someone agrees to help me build my house if I first help him build his.
- Despite the extra work for me, I decide it is worth it – after all, having a house is better than having no house, even if I have to build two houses – his and mine – to get my house.
- But can I trust him to help me build my house when we have finished his? From his point of view, it is a lot of work to help me build mine, and he gains nothing because he already has his house!
Morality as a social contract: (4)
-I might decide that, because he is self-interested, I shouldn’t trust him. So I don’t help him build his houseSo we both end up without houses. Again, we can see how to overcome this: we need to be able to trust other people to keep their word, so that we cooperate together on projects that will benefit us both.
Morality as an agreement:
- Agreeing to live by the rules of morality – and then actually doing so! – solves the problems that acting on rational self-interest raises.
- Knowing that someone else will act morally means that we do not need to fear them harming us or breaking their word.
- The benefits this brings are very large, but the costs of signing up to the agreement ourselves are, by comparison, relatively small.
- There are certain ways in which we can no longer pursue our self-interest, but we are protected from harm and able to achieve more benefits for ourselves through cooperation than we could achieve alone.
- Of course, it is only worth signing up to if it does in fact produce cooperation. But people will only cooperate (willingly) if they feel that the agreement is fair.
- Being self-interested, no one wants to sign up to an agreement which benefits other people more than it benefits them – because then they will be at a relative disadvantage.
- So the agreement must be fair – not because otherwise it would be immoral, but because otherwise it wouldn’t work.
Morality as a social contract: (5)
Can we articulate are self interest indecently of morality:
- The argument so far has assumed that we know what self interest is. Or if not what it is exactly, then at least it makes sense to talk about someones self interest without mentioning reality.
- The assumption is that people can think about and pursue their self-interest without thinking about what is morally good or bad, right or wrong.
-They then realise that an agreement with other people about ways to behave will help them achieve what is in their self-interest.
- Their self-interest is independent of this agreement, and the agreement is just a means to the end of self-interest which they already had. This agreement is the basis of morality.
- But is this assumption right? If we try to say what is in our self-interest, can we do so without either explicitly or implicitly drawing on ideas about what is morally good? Suppose we say, for example, that your self-interest is being happy.
- Then this is open to the objection that sometimes, getting what makes you happy is not actually good for you, that it is possible to be made happy by things which will harm you.
- For example, someone might think that he is happy getting good marks without much work by copying essays off the internet.
- He feels happy, but later, he realises that he has not learned as much as he would have if he had worked out his own thoughts. So he starts doing this, and he feels a ‘truer’ happiness of real achievement.
Morality as a social contract: (6)
The prisoners dilemma:
- If everyone acts on their self-interest, it may seem that we will each do the best for ourselves.
- But we can show that this is false, and that one great advantage of morality, for everybody, is that it creates trust and cooperation.
- The Prisoner’s Dilemma is a fictional scenario invented in the 1950s. Suppose two men, Adam and Barry, are arrested for a crime, and held in separate rooms for interrogation.
- The prosecutor only has enough evidence to charge them with illegally possessing a gun, but if he can get one of them to confess, he can charge them with armed robbery.
- Adam is told this: ‘If you confess, your sentence will be reduced because you have helped the prosecution. In fact, if you confess and Barry doesn’t, we’ll let you go free, but Barry will serve 10 years in prison for armed robbery. If Barry confesses and you don’t, you will serve 10 years in prison, and he’ll go free. If you both confess, you’ll get a lighter sentence of 7 years each. If neither of you confess, then you’ll be charged with illegally possessing a gun, and you’ll both get 2 years in prison.’ Barry is given the same deal.
- So there are four options: If Barry and Adam confess they both get 7 years, if Barry confesses and Adam doesn't Barry gets 10 and Adam is free (vice versa if Adam confesses). If neither of them confess they will each get 2 years.
Morality as a social contract: (7)
The 'free rider' problem:
- The Prisoner’s Dilemma shows that cooperating can be better than everyone acting out of self-interest. Suppose that, realising the benefits of morality, we agree with each other to act morally. Now we know that, by and large, we can trust each other.
- Suppose now that Barry doesn’t confess, trusting that Adam won’t confess either. Adam suspects that Barry trusts him not to confess – so now the options Adam has to choose between are either not confessing, and getting 2 years, or confessing and walking free.
- This means that if Adam has good reason to think that Barry trusts him, he is better off acting self-interestedly. Everyone acting morally is better than everyone acting self-interestedly.
- But if everyone else is acting morally, it is even better to act self-interestedly – at least if you can get away with it.-This is called the ‘free rider’ problem – someone who does this gets the benefits of morality (other people trust him, do things for him), but he doesn’t bear the costs of acting morally, because he cheats people. It turns out that whether I have reason to conform to the expectations of morality depends on whether I can get away with acting immorally when other people are acting morally.
- If I can, then I have more reason to act immorally than to act morally. Morality as an agreement is in everyone’s self-interest, collectively, to set up. But once it is set up, it is in each person’s self-interest, individually, to get away with breaking the agreement, if they can avoid punishment. Is there some way we could describe morality as an agreement that will help solve the free rider problem.
Morality as a social contract: (8)
Exactly what kind of agreement could morality be?
It may seem beside the point to talk about morality as an agreement – it clearly isn’t. We have never agreed to be moral, and nobody ever asked us.
A tacit agreement
- Some philosophers respond that morality can be understood as a tacit – an unspoken – agreement.
- This view is defended by people who want to explain why we have the particular moral practices we do.
- So, for example, why has there been a ‘double standard’ about sex? In many societies, it is seen as morally bad for a woman to sleep with many men, but more acceptable for a man to sleep with many men.This seems very unfair. We can explain it if we think of our moral code as a tacit agreement between people who had or have power, in this case, men.
- If morality is this kind of agreement based on power, then it is not an agreement for the mutual advantage of everyone.
-So you only have reason to be moral if you are one of the powerful people morality benefits. So if we take a realist approach to morality being an agreement, it may turn out that we don’t have reason to be moral.
Morality as a social contract: (9)
- To argue that it is rational for me to be moral, I need to imagine me in that situation; and the same for you.
- But we know that people are very different in power and ability – perhaps it would be more rational for powerful people to agree among themselves to enforce a morality that isn’t equally in everyone’s interests.
- However, Gauthier argues, this situation will be unstable – the people who are not treated equally could threaten to upset the agreement.
- A stable agreement must be one in which no one feels coerced or cheated.
- For the argument to work, individuals must be the best judges of what is in their self-interest and how to achieve this.
- Suppose that I thought I always made bad decisions – I might, then, feel it was rational for me to ask other people to decide what I should do.
- I could choose to submit to morality for this reason. But this isn’t how Gauthier understands the agreement – each person agrees because they think it will be the best for them.
Morality as a social contract: (10)
What do we agree to?
- We saw above that thinking of the agreement to be moral in terms of the Prisoner’s Dilemma leads to the free rider objection.
- If I am motivated by self-interest to agree to morality, then presumably I am still self-interested after making the agreement.
- But my self-interest will then lead me to be immoral when this is in my self-interest and I can get away with it. Realizing this, will we really trust other people? And if we don’t, then we haven’t got an agreement to be moral at all.Gauthier argues that we can solve this problem if what we agree to is not simply to act morally, but to change what motivates us. We agree to adopt a new disposition, the disposition to be moral.
- In other words, we agree to become people who will not act on self-interest when this conflicts with acting morally.
- (Perhaps it makes little sense to talk about choosing a motivation. But Gauthier is not trying to tell a realistic story, but justify morality. What he argues is that it is rational to have this disposition to be moral.)
- We can still object, however, that if our motivation to be moral rests ultimately on self-interest, it will not be strong enough to get us to act morally when this conflicts with self-interest.
- Human psychology doesn’t respond as well to these arguments about justification as it does to immediate self-interest. If this is right, then Gauthier’s story about why we ought to be moral cannot tell us why we are moral.
Morality as a social contract: (11)
- Further objection to the view that morality is an agreement for mutual advantage is that it is only rational to make this agreement with people from whom you can benefit.
- This is in danger of leaving out some people, e.g. people with disabilities.
- If the cost of treating them morally is greater than the benefits that result from their cooperation, then it is not in our self-interest to include them in the agreement. - But then we have no reason to treat people with disabilities well. One possible response is that including them in the agreement is a kind of insurance – I could become disabled, and then the cost of being left outside the agreement would be very high.
- So I have reason to make sure the disabled are covered by the agreement to act morally, since I might be disabled one day.This reply won’t work for other cases, though. Does morality cover how we treat animals or the environment? We cannot make an agreement with animals or the environment.
- We can, of course, make an agreement with other people to treat animals and the environment in certain ways. But why would we? What do I gain from how people treat animals? What do I gain from people not exploiting or polluting the environment (as long as it isn’t near me)?
Morality before the agreement: If morality is the agreement we make, then there are no moral rules for making the agreement. Gauthier agrees with this – the only reason the agreement needs to treat people equally is that it is more likely to break down if it doesn’t. Is this right?
Morality as a social contract: (11 1/2)
Life goes on despite a great deal of unfairness. If I think that I will do better ignoring morality when it suits me, it is not obvious that I am wrong.
- Rather than arguing that the agreement is based just on self-interest, we could say that the agreement is itself a moral agreement. It expresses what morality is about, and signing up to the agreement is an expression of our commitment to morality, not an expression of self-interest.
- This view is defended by Thomas Scanlon. He uses the idea of agreement to explain what morality is: 'An act is wrong if its performance under the circumstances would be disallowed by any set of principles for the general regulation of behaviour that no one could reasonably reject as a basis for informed, unforced, general agreement’. (What We Owe to Each Other, p. 153)
- If I behave immorally, I am acting in a way that I cannot reasonably expect other people to accept. The motivation for being moral, then, is not self-interest, but wanting to be able to justify our behaviour to each other.We have reason, says Scanlon, to want to live with others on terms that they accept (or at least, that they would accept if they were being reasonable)
- We could argue that this is in our self interest, or that we have a natural desire to live together with other people, or we could argue that reason demonstrated that we have a duty to live this way (as Kant would argue).
- Whichever answer we give, on this view, morally doesn't depend on self-interest alone. Rather, what is in out self interest can only be understood in terms of what is morally right.
Morality as a social contract: (12)
Rationality and self interest:
- The defender of view that morality is a means to self-interest can reject these claims
- Let us focus on ‘true’ happiness again. Yes, it is true that we cannot say that self-interest is getting whatever makes you happy.
- We must be able to evaluate our desires into ‘good’ (contributing to self-interest) and ‘bad’ (harmful to self-interest). But we can do this without using moral evaluation. Instead, we need to beef up our idea of rationality. - Rationality helps discover the means to our ends. But it can be more than this. Rather than talk about what is ‘truly valuable’, we should say this: what is in my self-interest is getting what I would want if I were completely rational.- Being ‘completely rational’ means knowing all the relevant facts about my desires and their consequences in the real world, and selecting the best means to fulfil my desires.- This definition doesn’t refer to any moral values, only to my desires.
- However, it provides a standard for evaluating my desires as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, viz. whether I would act on this desire if I were fully rational. So it is possible to articulate self-interest independently of any moral considerations.
- Is this a good definition of self-interest? Suppose someone feels very depressed.
- What they want, above all, is for the pain to stop. What would they want if they were completely rational?
Morality as a social contract: (13)
- Would they continue to want to die or would they want to live?Can we answer this question without appealing to what is ‘good’, e.g. without saying that life is good, so it is more rational to want to live?
- Or again, suppose someone is obsessed with collecting every European stamp, and they sacrifice even friendships to pursue their hobby. Is this irrational? Is it in their self-interest? Or would it be better for them if they preferred friendship to stamps. Second, is the account of self-interest complete?
- Scanlon argues that part of our self-interest lies in being treated morally.
Having other people respect you, having the right to expect other people to be able to justify their behaviour to you – these are valuable.
- But we cannot explain their value in terms of some other benefit, such as getting what you want.
- It is in our nature as rational creatures to justify our behaviour to each other.- It is in our self-interest, then, to have this capacity respected, for people to behave towards us in ways that we cannot reasonably reject.
1. The egoistic assumptions chime with popular views about our psychology: people are generally out for themselves. They want to maximise pleasure over pain.
2. This view explains the motivation of non-saintly individuals to co-operate with one another. Why would ordinary people who are not moral fanatics bother to fall in line? Because their lives are better off if they do.
Morality as a social contract: (14)
1. It’s not clear whether this account of moral motivation will cover all cases. Babies, for instance, can’t act reciprocally and yet we feel that we have moral obligations towards them. Although that might be true, we might think the pay-off comes later: when we’re older we’ll need people to look out for us. But surely we can’t stretch this to animals? They won’t ever be able to reciprocate and so on what contractual basis can we be said to have obligations towards them?
2. It’s not clear that people who act morally out of self-interest are being moral. Isn’t it just a strategic decision unashamedly aimed at improving one’s own lot in life? The moment the costs of participation outweigh the benefits, people will cease to act morally. Look at what happens in natural disasters: ‘every man for himself’ indicates the suspension of moral concerns. (Cf. Kant’s ethics: he explicitly denies that people who act out of inclination are acting morally. Morality, on the contract account, certainly emerges as something less noble and worthy.)
3. Relatedly, the problem of free-riders. Although it’s in my interest to live in a moral state as opposed to the state of nature, it’s not obvious that it’s in my interest to abide by the rules. It’s definitely in my interest for everyone else to: but then the alleged explanation for why I should be moral is lost. It’s not because it’s in my self-interest – free-riding is in my self-interest.
4. The view cannot account for the origin of morality: since a contract presupposes the existence of some moral values, we cannot explain the origin of morality in terms of a contract..
Morality as a social contract: (15)
5. Although egoism is superficially plausible, it is rife with problems. Firstly, psychological egoism is not a scientific hypothesis by Popper’s standard of falsifiability. A proposition that cannot be falsified is pseudo-science. Secondly, human beings are motivated by a broader range of factors than just pleasure and pain. (Cf. Hume on sympathy.) Thirdly, personal ethical egoism – the view that we should pursue our personal self-interest – doesn’t sound like a credible account of morality.
Morality as overcoming self interest (1)
Kant: Morality is based on reason
- Self interest is irrelevant to both what we morally ought to do and why we ought to do it.
- Immanuel Kant argued that morality was based on reason alone, and once we understood this, we would see that acting morally is the same as acting rationally.
- Kant argued that morality, by definition, must help us decide what to do.
- When we are choosing how to act, we know that our self-interest or happiness influences our choices.
- However, happiness can’t be the basis of morality. First, what makes people happy differs. If morality depended on happiness, then it was right to do would change from one situation to the next. But, he argues, morality is the same for everyone.
- Second, sometimes happiness is morally bad. For instance, if someone enjoys hurting other people, the happiness they get from this is morally bad. It is bad to hurt someone; it is even worse to hurt someone and enjoy it.
- But if morality was about producing happiness, we would have to say ‘if you’re going to hurt someone, it is better to enjoy it – at least that way, someone is happy’. Which just seems wrong.
Morality as overcoming self interest (2)
- For example, you have £20, and there’s a book and a CD you really want to get.
- But the CD is £13.99 and the book is £7.99. Despite the fact that you want £20 to be enough for both, it isn’t and you know this.The same is true, Kant argues, for reasoning about what we ought to do. Morality is independent of what we want. Third, it is rational for everyone to believe that £20 is not enough for both the CD and the book. What it is rational to believe is ‘universal’ – the same for everyone.
- This ‘universality’ is just a feature of reason; reason doesn’t vary from one person to the next. So when it comes to what it is rational to do, this is also the same for everyone. It is only rational to do what everyone can do. Morality is also the same for everyone. This last point leads Kant to a moral test for our choices. When I choose to do something, my choice may depend on other people behaving differently.
- For instance, if I want to steal something, I can only do this – by definition – if someone else owns it.
- However, if everyone stole whatever they wanted whenever they wanted it, then the system of ownership would break down. (Imagine everyone walking into shops and simply leaving with what they wanted…)But if no one owned anything, then it would be impossible to steal from them! So I can only steal if other people don’t steal.This must go against reason, Kant argues, because acting rational means acting in a way that everyone can act. Categorical Imperative: 'Act only on the mxi through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law) This test of reason is also the test of morality: you should act on only those choices that everyone else could also act on.
Morality as overcoming self interest (3)
- Kant's theory says that you should be moral because it is station; being immoral is being irrational.
- It is reasonable to confirm the expectations of morality even though morality disregards self-interest as irrelevant because morality is based on reason and shows us what it is rational to do.
Motivating reasons and morality (Kant):
- Kant asserts that it is not only happiness and desire that can influence our choices, so can reason. But is this true? If it isn’t, if reason cannot motivate action, then to act morally I would have to want to.
- Telling me that I ought to be moral or that it is rational to be moral will not motivate me.
- When we are trying to give people motivating reasons for doing something, we can argue, we appeal to what they want and what they care about.
- Appealing to something they don’t care about will make no difference to their decision. Whenever we make a choice, we always do so on the basis of something we want or care about.
- For example, unless I want not to steal, the argument that it is irrational to steal will make no difference to me.
- In response, we can point out that when we say to someone ‘but stealing is wrong’, this is a consideration that will influence their decision.
- Arguments about what we morally ought to do motivate us, even when we want to do something that is morally wrong. So isn’t Kant right?
Morality as overcoming self interest (4)
- Not necessarily. Perhaps thinking about what we morally ought to do influences us because we care about what is morally right.
-Someone who doesn’t care about morality will not be influenced by our saying ‘but stealing is wrong’. Reason on its own doesn’t motivate us.
Is moral motivation a reflection of natural disposition:
- If reason cannot mutative us, does this mean that morality must be based on self-interest?
- Only if the self-interest is the only thing that motivates us. But we don't have to accept all this.
- Just because we are only motivated by what we want, this doesn't mean that all we want is some benefit for ourselves. Most people care for other people and their happiness, they want to help, or at least not to harm, other people.
- It is these desires that motivates us to act morally.
Morality as overcoming self interest (4)
Hume on sympathy:
- David Hume argues that at the heart of morality are feelings of approval and disapproval.
- To say something is morally wrong is to disapprove of it; to say it is right is to approve of it. Why do we have these feelings?
- Well, let us start with the question of what kinds of thing we approve or disapprove of. Hume argues that we approve of what someone does, or of their character, if we find it pleasant or useful to other people.
- We approve of what helps people and what makes them happy.
- We could think, then, that this is because it is in our self-interest for other people to behave like this. I approve of what you do because it helps me or makes me happy.
- But, Hume argues, this can’t be right. First, we approve and disapprove of actions that have absolutely no effect on us personally, e.g. events we read about in the papers happening on the other side of the world.
- Second, we can distinguish between what is morally right and what is in our self-interest.
- So we don’t always disapprove of something that harms us, e.g. if you and I apply for a job, and I don’t get it, you do, I don’t disapprove of your success.
- Or again, if I need some money, and you get it for me by stealing it from someone else, I don’t approve of what you’ve done.
- Third, we don’t try to persuade people to feel approval or disapproval for a particular action by considering how it affects them, but for example, how it hurt or helped someone else.
- The origin of our feelings of approval and disapproval, says Hume, is sympathy
Morality as overcoming self interest (5)
What reason recommends:
- Suppose someone has no desires at all, there is nothing they want.- However, they are rational. Will there be certain actions that they should do, and others they should avoid, just because they are rational? We can argue that there are not.
- If you have no ends, nothing you are seeking to achieve, then reason has nothing ‘to work with’. Whether an action is rational or not depends on what one is trying to achieve (is the action a good means to the end?); and on whether this end ‘helpful’ or ‘harmful’ to other ends one has.
- For example, why should I eat? Because I am hungry – I want food; or, if I have lost my appetite, because I want to stay alive. Suppose I don’t want to stay alive – should I eat?
- Well, we can still ask why I don’t want to stay alive, e.g. because my life is painful – and then we can ask whether dying is the best means to my end of ceasing to feel pain, especially in relation to other ends I might have, e.g. being happy.
- The same kind of considerations apply to moral actions. Why should I not steal? Because I want to avoid prison, because I do not enjoy other people getting angry with me, because I feel guilty if I do, or perhaps simply because I care about other people.
- In any case, we need some answer like this, one that cites a particular end I have, to decide what it is rational to do. Without citing any particular end, we cannot say whether an action is rational or not.
Morality as overcoming self interest (6)
Reason before desire?
- Perhaps this is too quick. We can always ask why someone desires something. For instance, suppose you want to do well in your studies – why? Presumably because you think that success will be good, better than failure.
- There are different answers to how or why success is good – you might think it will help you go to university, and this will help you get a better job.
- Or you might think knowledge is valuable for its own sake. You might simply enjoy it. Whatever your further thoughts on success, your desire to succeed is backed by a belief about what is good. This belief about what is good provides your reason for your desire.
- This insight provides a theory about what it is to be rational (a theory that is quite different from Kant’s). When deciding what to do, our attitudes to each option is informed by reasoning.
- T M Scanlon argues that we have: ‘ the capacity to recognize, assess, and be moved by reasons… every action that we take with even a minimum of deliberation about what to do reflects a judgment that a certain reason is worth acting on.’
- To have a desire, to want to do something, is not simply an ‘urge’. If we think carefully about our desires, we can distinguish an urge to act, a feeling of unpleasantness, but also a sense that what our desire is for is good in some way. Imagine someone who has an urge to read philosophy but can’t see anything good in it.
Morality as overcoming self interest (7)
- This would be very unusual, and it would be strange to say that they want to read philosophy.
- This shows that our desires respond to reasons. So if you can show someone the reason for being moral, e.g. that other people deserve to be treated well, then they can acquire the desire to act in this way.
- If this is right, we can motivate people to act morally without appealing to what they already want, but by appealing to reasons.
- Suppose a self-interested person does not see any reason to be moral – can we argue that he is insensitive to reason?
- There are many motivations that we share with the selfish man, and we will appeal to these to try to demonstrate that there are reasons to be unselfish.
- But this is all we can do – appeal to desires and emotions that we share.
- Nietzsche goes further and argues that, on the whole, reasoning and giving reasons is a reflections on one's instincts and desires, nothing more: 'most of a philosopher's conscious thinking is secretly guided and channelled into particular tracks by his instincts... demands for the preservation of a particular kind of life.'- Our values, our commitments, do not rest on reasoning; reasoning is an attempt, often a falsifying, deceiving attempt, to justify our values when they have and can have no justification as they are simply expressions of instincts.
Morality as overcoming self interest (8)
- Any view that justifies morality in terms of reasons that are not to do with our self-interest faces a general challenge: that human beings only ever act in ways that promote their own self-interest, a view called ‘psychological egoism’.
- If psychological egoism is right, there is no point in appealing to anything apart from self-interest in order to get people to act morally – it can have no effect on them.
- Psychological egoism argues that whatever action you look at, you will find something that the agent has gained – or thought he would gain – from doing that action.
- It doesn’t matter how altruistic the action seems to be – giving money to charity, spending time comforting people who are in distress, etc. – there will always be something ‘in it’ for the person, and this is really why they do it.- Any action will reveal an underlying self-interested motive.
- Why should we believe this? Psychological egoists point to two things.
- First, when someone does an altruistic action, such as giving money to charity, they are doing what they want to do. And so they are getting what they want, they are satisfying their desires.
- Second, they get pleasure from what they do, a sense of satisfaction, that buzz that comes from ‘doing a good deed’.
- Alternatively, they may do what they do in order to avoid feeling guilty. In either case, they do what they do because it brings them pleasure or helps them avoid pain – and this is what motivates them.
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Objections to Psychological egoism:
- However, we can object that people don’t always do what they want – they sometimes do what they feel they ought to do, even when this conflicts with what they want to do.
- The psychological egoist can reply that they must be doing what they want to do; after all, no one is forcing them, e.g. to give money to charity.
- This reply shows that the egoist is saying that acting voluntarily and doing what you want are the same thing. But this assumes what needs to be proven, viz. that only our desires can motivate us, and reason can’t.
- If reason can motivate us, then sometimes when people act voluntarily, they are doing what they believe is reasonable, not what they want to do.
- Second, we can object that even when we do what we want, this doesn’t mean that we are acting on self-interest. Altruism – unselfishness –is the desire to help other people, even at a cost to oneself.
- Even if people always do what they want, this doesn’t show that what they want is always something for themselves.
- We can want good things for other people, and can choose to give up good things for ourselves in order to help other people get something good.
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Pleasure and desire:
- Suppose the psychological egoist is right that we always have a feeling of pleasure, or avoid guilt, when acting unselfishly.
- This doesn’t mean that the reason why we act unselfishly is in order to get this feeling. If you ask someone who is giving money to charity why they doing so, they will probably say ‘in order to help other people’.
- The psychological egoist claims this answer is false – that the real answer is ‘in order to feel good about myself’. But this is a confusion.
- Just because the person gets pleasure from the action doesn’t mean that what they really wanted – what they were motivated by – was the pleasure they would get.
- To desire pleasure is a particular desire; just as desiring pleasure is distinct from desiring knowledge, it is also distinct from desiring to help other people.
- If the psychological egoist is right, we only have one kind of desire – the desire for pleasure – and so there is really no distinction between wanting pleasure, wanting knowledge, wanting to help.
- But we say that helping someone in order to feel good about yourself and helping someone because they really need it are quite different.
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Moral motivation as a reflection of natural dispositions: implications for ethics:
- If Nitetzhce's theory of how morality is based on natural dispositions is right, then the implications for ethics are considerable.
- First, he argues that there are no objective values - that values are invented, as expressions of instincts. - - Second, he argues that we are not by natural equal. The best human beings most go 'beyond good or evil' in their lives.
- So morality (as we think of it normally) does not have the importance or authority we thought it did.
- Third, a morality of equality id an attempt to deceive us about our natural inequality.
- Moral values and 'moral' motivations are mostly deceptions, weakness trying to masquerade as reason, and (normal) morality is an attempt to control those who are naturally stronger and better.
Sympathy and self-interest:
- If sympathy is basis of morality, can it be strong enough to counter self-interest when the two come into conflict?
- Sympathy, says Hume, ‘is much fainter than our concern for ourselves’ (Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, § V, Part II).
- But, he argues, sympathy is not in fundamental conflict with self-interest. Helping others gives us pleasure, both at the time and in memory.
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- If you could choose to be either self-interested or sympathetic to others, if you are wise, you will chose sympathy.Hume echoes an argument from Aristotle, that the quality of our relations to others is central to our personal happiness.
Sympathy as the foundation of morality:
- Nevertheless, we may think that making sympathy the foundation of morality will lead to biased action. After all, we feel sympathy much more for people we know and love than people we don’t.- Surely we are right to think that morality requires that we treat people equally in certain ways, whether we are close to them or not.
- Hume agrees, and so he supplements his account of sympathy. When we are making moral judgments, we should put aside our personal connections to the people involved ‘and render our sentiments more public and social’.
- Notice that there is a distinction between sympathy and like or dislike. We can think that someone we dislike is still a morally good person; and that someone we like behaves badly.
- This shows that we can distinguish our feelings of sympathy, which is about people in general, from our personal feelings. But to do so, says Hume, ' in order to pave the way for such a sentiment, and give a proper discernment of its object, it is often necessary, we find, that much reasoning should precede.'
- What reason does here is not create sympathy where there was none. But it can appeal to our feeling of sympathy and redirect it.
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- For instance, we can reason that there is no difference between a child starving in some distant country and a child starving in our street.
- And this can motivate us to give to charity, even though we don’t personally know about the people the charity helps.
Sympathy and argument:
- If morality is based on reason, then someone who acts immorally is acting unreasonably. But if morality is based on sympathy, it seems that we cannot necessarily say this. It is not rationally obligatory to be moral, it seems. If we say to someone ‘you must do this’ or ‘you mustn’t do that’, is this legitimate? Don’t we have to say ‘if you want to be sympathetic, you must do this’? – in which case, the person could say ‘I don’t care about sympathy’.
- But how serious is this objection? While we can’t say that this person is irrational, we can still say that they are immoral, cruel, selfish, or whatever. Is it a stronger criticism that someone acts irrationally than that they act selfishly? However, it is true that we cannot argue someone into morality.
- If appealing to their sympathy, and then also to their self-interest (since the two are connected), doesn’t work, then nothing will. But there will be very few people for whom this doesn’t work. Somebody who is completely without sympathy will be a sociopath; and we don’t reason with sociopaths, we either lock them up or treat them as mentally ill! To lack sympathy is to cease to be fully human in some way.
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Does all morality stem from sympathy?
- Sympathy disposes us to approve of what is pleasurable and useful, and to disapprove of what is painful and useless.So, if morality is based on sympathy, then what is morally good must either be useful or pleasurable. But many people have thought that morality includes commitments that are neither.
- For example, within religious moralities, there is often an element of self-denial, the idea that in ourselves we are sinful, and it is only through God’s love and forgiveness that we have value.
- These thoughts, and the life of penitence and self-sacrifice that they can motivate, seem neither pleasurable nor useful, and do not seem to express sympathy.And so Hume rejects them – they should be no part of morality. But is this too quick? Religious people can have great integrity and wisdom, and through their self-sacrifice can contribute a great deal to the happiness of others.
- But, they would argue, it is not possible to keep the integrity, wisdom and self-sacrifice (since they are useful) and simply get rid of the idea of self-denial. The connections run too deep.
- The point can be made more generally. We sometimes value things as morally good quite independently of the pleasure or use they bring
- . For example, we might say that someone has led a ‘worthwhile’ life in fighting for a cause they really believe in (e.g. saving the rainforests) – even if the battle causes them stress and in the end they don’t succeed. - If this is right, then Hume’s view that morality should always aim at the useful and pleasurable seems too narrow.
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Strengths of Kant:
1. Kant’s view seems to explain a number of moral intuitions. For example, we typically think that we can’t make an exception in own case. If we think it’s wrong for people to do x, then it’s wrong for us to do x too. Again, we think that the force of moral judgements is different from that of judgements about what you’d merely like to do: when it comes to morality you have to do it. So a strength of Kant’s position is that it explains in theoretical terms a number of our commonsensical views about morality in general (cf. the other views that confound these same points).
2. Kant seems to correctly identify the source of moral worth: it’s not in consequences and it’s not in purpose or thing you’re trying to achieve. It lies in the motivation behind one’s action. (NB: Aristotle might be able to agree here: he thinks we act virtuously when we do the right thing for the right reason at the right time etc.)
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1. Why is Kant so dismissive of people who do the right thing out of inclination? He says that inclinations vary and so a person may end up not doing the right thing because of a change in their inclination. That’s can’t be the whole story, though, because when inclination and righteousness coincide the person’s action would have moral worth. Reply: Kant’s principal point is that a person who acts out of inclination is not responding to the morally relevant factors of the situation. To be morally motivated is to respond to those factors.
2. What should we do if two conflicting maxims both ‘pass’ the categorical imperative? We can’t fulfil conflicting obligations and yet we’re obliged to do both …
3. Schopenhauer’s criticism: Kant’s view collapses back into egoism. The reason charity is obligatory is that we would want to benefit from it ourselves. But then the conflict of wills lies partially in terms of our desires for what we want ourselves. The contemporary Kantian Christine Korsgaard writing in the Sources of Normativity claims that to act irrationally (i.e. on a maxim that doesn’t ‘pass’ the categorical imperatives) threatens our integrity and identity. That is to say, if you don’t do it you effectively cease to exist as you are. Your very being is on the line. But then, doesn’t my acquiescence rather depend on whether I care about being me? (NB: line of reply here: in order to care or not to care, I must in any case be me!)
Morality as constitutive of self interest: (1)
4. Much depends on the maxim we take our action to be expressing. It might turn out that it’s impermissible for me to not give to charity, but entirely permissible to feed my family. You may charge me with failing to give to charity (which Kant claims is inconsistent), but I insist the maxim of my action was to feed my family (which is consistent).
5. We need obligations to make up for our lack of natural inclination. We don’t characterise matters in terms of obligation when there is a natural inclination. We’re not obliged to eat, for instance, or to respire. But we may be naturally inclined: the attachment of obligation gives rise to resentment and then resistance. Kant, then, has fundamentally misconceived the character of effective ethical instruction.
Plato's argument: the moral soul:
- The most famous defence of the view that morality is constitutive of self-interest is given by Plato (Republic, Bk. 1, 2, 4).
- He is discussing justice, but his argument applies to being a morally good person generally. His argument is psychological: if you act immorally, your mind (or ‘soul’) will not be at peace, but at war with itself.
- Plato wants to answer this challenge: Suppose that morality is an agreement between people each out to get the best for themselves.
Morality as constitutive of self interest: (2)
- Then people who are in a better bargaining position will bias the agreement to favour themselves. If this is ‘unfair’ or ‘unjust’, so what? If they can get away with it, there is no reason for them not to.
- Acting ‘unjustly’, in the sense of disregarding the interests of other people while pursuing one’s own, will make one happy.
- Of course, you have to get away with it. If you can force people to live according to rules that suit you, or if you can get away with breaking the rules of morality, great; if you can’t, if you break the rules and get caught and punished, then you won’t be happy.
- The point is, you have no reason to act morally, if you can get more for yourself by acting immorally. No one who is rational and self-interested would act morally if they can get away with cheating.
The virtuous soul:
- Plato responds that this argument ignores the state of the soul of the person who would act in this way.- Plato notes that we commonly experience internal, mental conflict, and we can think of this as different ‘parts’ of the soul pulling us in different directions.
- A common conflict is between what we instinctively want to do and what we think, on reflection, it would be best to do. So our souls have a ‘desiring’ part and a ‘rational’ part.
- We are happier when there is no conflict between these two parts. This can only happen, Plato says, when reason is in charge.
Morality as constitutive of self interest: (3)
- Our desires can get us into all sorts of trouble, they have no idea what is good for us. A happy soul is one in which desires are restrained, and happy to accept the rule of reason.
- The desires of someone who is immoral are out of control. Each desire pushes for its own fulfilment, whether or not this is what the person needs.
-They aim for more and more or some desires, particularly forceful or ‘lawless’ ones, may outgrow others. The person may not recognise their situation.
- When ruled by desire, how we conceive of what is good is skewed – which is why we think that getting whatever we want will be better than acting morally. But this is simply a mistake.
- By contrast, in a virtuous person, reason is in charge. This has three effects.
- First, they know what is morally right and good. (Plato believes that morality is objective, and known through reason.)
- Second, with reason in charge, they are motivated to act morally and not immorally.
- But third, and this is the crucial point for our argument, with reason in charge, they are happier, because a life without inner conflict is a happier life than one in which parts of the soul fight each other for supremacy.
- Rule by desires, therefore, cannot provide happiness as securely as rule by reason.
Morality as constitutive of self interest: (4)
- Virtue theorists, like contract theorists, maintain that it’s in your interest to be moral: they argue that possessing and exercising the virtues is constitutive of a eudaimon life.
- That is, in being virtuous one realises the happy and worthwhile life one has always wanted.
- The appeal to our self-interest, to what I want and care about, makes it look like virtue ethics is just a species of egoism.
- If the only reason I have for cultivating and exercising the virtues is so that my life is worthwhile, am I not straightforwardly an egoist: a person who aims at his own good in his actions? Aristotle does think so.
- The egoist is conventionally thought of as a rather unpleasant and distasteful character.
- He appraises possibilities in terms of how they will affect him; he’s only motivated to act when he can see his benefitting from the action in some way (e.g. giving pleasure or avoiding pain).
- We know that some proponents of egoism argue that it doesn’t imply selfishness: an heroic teacher may prevent a man being attacked outside a nightclub (selfless?) out of a desire for heroic fame and all the glories that follow from it. But however helpful such an action may be, this seems more like scheming than acting well.
Morality as constitutive of self interest: (5)
- The virtues = excellent character traits. Character traits are dispositions patterns of judgement, feeling and desire.
- A woman’s courage, for example, is not always manifested: you might not know that your friend is courageous until the two of you are trapped in a fire and she enters a blazing room to find a way out for the two of you. In this she reveals a concern for her life and for yours, a commitment to do the right thing despite danger and strength of will. There are many character traits: vices as well as virtues.
- Aristotle argues that virtue is the mean between two opposing vices (e.g. courage is flanked by cowardice and rashness). The cognitive virtue required for full virtue is practical wisdom: the capacity to make accurate judgements about the best thing to do.
- A worthwhile life = a life we can be proud of, a life we would chose for our own, a successful, fruitful life. Conceptions of eudaimonia abound: Aristotle notes that some people think it’s a life of carnal pleasure (i.e. gratifying the senses), others money and other still honour (reputation/social esteem).
- We can certainly point to cases of people who appear to be motivated by those sorts of thing. But Aristotle thinks the truly worthwhile life is the life of virtue and contemplation.
- Justification for this claim? The function argument: the function of a human being is an activity of the part of the soul with reason: a virtuous person performs such activity with excellence.(Actually he says we need more than that – we need some money, friends and good looks. But, this still doesn’t look all that plausible: has he really identified the pinnacle of human aspiration?
Morality as constitutive of self interest: (6)
.... He'd reply that there may be particular things we want, but we might not want them at any price. For example, I might wish to be wealthy but would I want to achieve that through conning people?)
What is the relationship between virtues and a worthwhile life?
The relationship = (i) the virtues are constituents of a good life in their own right; and (ii) the virtues facilitate our excellent response to situations. Although we tend to think of moral actions (doing the right thing), (i) implies that part of being a good person consists in having the virtues at all. The idea may seem implausible, but think about a person who desperately wanted to support his daughter by attending her ballet performance but is prevented by an accident on the motorway. It would have been better had he been there, but surely he remains a decent dad?
Today people dispute whether there is just one good life: we tend to be pluralists, acknowledging different realisations of good lives. And it’s important to note that there may be some worthwhile lives that are not necessarily moral lives. Think of a great artist, for instance, who neglects his family for the sake of his art. Does his shirking of familial responsibilities diminish the value of his life overall? (Worth thinking about artists of all kinds whose work we cherish. How many of them keep up with their friends, are nice to their mothers etc.?!)But even if we reject a single conception of eudaimonia, we might nevertheless accept that there are virtues and vices. We could still then argue that we should be moral because being moral is constitutive of one kind of worthwhile life.
Morality as constitutive of self interest: (7)
1. Virtue ethics rings true: it seems true to say that we integrate a broader set of concerns into our outlook on the world than pleasure and pain. Aristotle has a nice line about friendship: ‘his friend is another self’ (NE IX.4). What he means is that I incorporate my friend’s concerns into my own: I will share his sorrows etc. That sounds about right. So unlike contract theory and Kant’s ethics, which conceive of moral rules as externally imposed, virtue ethics demonstrates how moral concerns are continuous with our personal concerns. This is a more realistic portrait of morality than the artifice of a law-based conception of ethics.
2. Again, we tend to attribute character traits to people: we say that Martin is stingy (never buys a round); and we say that Becky is indefatigably optimistic (she sees the sunny side in everything). Some of these traits we think are deplorable: stinginess; others we think are applaudable: tireless optimism. We also think that we should strive to develop some traits and not others: e.g. I should develop some guts and speak up at meetings.
3. Both Kant and Hobbes think that what matters is that we do the right thing (though Kant further stipulates that we should do it because it’s the right thing to do). But we noted that character and sentiment matter to us: it’s reasonable to be hurt if we learn that a friend (or ‘friend’) only visited us in hospital because it was the right thing to do, because he had to, he was obliged to etc.
Morality as constitutive of self interest: (8)
3... contiued Rules are supposed to make up for absences of inclination: people are inclined to speed and so we have rule against speeding – but we’d actually prefer people to be naturally disinclined to speed in the first place. Rousseau says somewhere that you can always spot a society in decline: it makes lots and lots of laws. Why does it need to? Because it has lost a spirit of unity and cohesion.
1. Gilbert Harman argues that there are no character traits and, since virtues constitute a subset of character traits, no virtues either. He points to the Milgram experiments and the Princeton Good Samaritan experiment and suggest that aspects of situations, as opposed to stable traits of character, determine what people do. (Harman’s wrong: if you want to know why look up Jonathan Webber (British philosopher) who has published some very readable papers on the topic.)
2. Virtue ethics is idealistic. As Aristotle himself admits ‘it is no easy task to be good’ (NE II. 9). But if ought implies can (i.e. you can only be obliged to do what it is in your power to do), then it looks like I can’t be obliged to be moral (since almost all of us will fall short). But this is not an either/or situation (how can anyone be expected to do something they can’t. Kant ‘ought implies can’.) : it’s not as if we are either angels or devils. Socrates says in the Phaedo (the dialogue that documents how Socrates spent his last day, culminating in t very moving death scene) that he believes there are very few, if any, truly good or truly bad people: almost all of us are somewhere in between.
Morality as constitutive of self interest: (9)
2... continued But virtue is like Polaris (north star): it is that upon which are attention is fixed and which allows us to navigate the choppy waters of life. Virtues are idealistic but there are suppose to be, Aristotle says to be virtuous you have to hut the mean to make excellence choice and have an excellent life. I.e. courage is between cowardice and rashness.
3.3. Virtue ethics doesn’t provide clear guidance. That’s not completely accurate: Aristotle does give some hints (NEII.9). But nevertheless we don’t have any rules: there’s no Ten Commandments here. This, of course, only stacks up to being an objection if we make it a necessary condition for an accurate account of morality that it provide us with rules. And actually there is good reason to think that rules are pretty limited. Barry Schwartz tthinks we need virtues, not rules! ‘Aristotle thought that practical wisdom was the key to happiness, and he was right.’ ‘the two things that matter most to happiness are love and work’. ‘Well, to love well and to work well, you need wisdom. Rules and incentives don't tell you how to be a good friend, how to be a good parent, how to be a good spouse, or how to be a good doctor or a good lawyer or a good teacher. Rules and incentives are no substitutes for wisdom. Indeed, we argue, there is no substitute for wisdom. And so practical wisdom does not require heroic acts of self-sacrifice on the part of practitioners. in giving us the will and the skill to do the right thing -- to do right by others -- practical wisdom also gives us the will and the skill to do right by ourselves.’
Morality as constitutive of self interest: (10)
4.. Virtues appear relative to communities. The worry here is that there is no one independent set of virtues. Aristotle thinks wittiness a virtue and boringness a vice: we don’t think of those as morally praise- or blameworthy. The danger here, as with all kinds of relativism, is to justify to the person standing in front of us her obligation to do something. It looks like we’re limited to saying, if you want to be one of us, you’ll do this. But what if she doesn’t want to be one of us?
5. Note the citations at the head of this summary: Socrates thinks that possessing the virtues makes a lifeeudaimon; Aristotle disputes that. How can a person being tortured be happy? Aristotle thinks that a virtuous person can be unhappy (if she suffers terrible misfortune, say). The most we can say about a person who merely possesses the virtues is that they are not bad and miserable people: they may not be happy, but they still have something.
6. There’s no such thing as human nature. Sartre disputes the claim that human beings have a nature: if there is no such thing as human nature, then the function argument doesn’t go through. But just what did Sartre mean and does it really lock horns with what Aristotle has in mind?
state of nature (1)
- Hobbes argued that to understand political society, we first need to understand its components – people.
- We then need to understand the agreements that form society, and from these agreements we will understand the form and status of the state.
- Imagining a state of nature, said Hobbes, helps us understand what human beings are like simply as human beings.‘Self-preservation’ is our most fundamental desire; and if there is no law or authority to override our acting on this desire, no one to tell us how or how not we may try to stay alive.
- So Hobbes argues that in a state of nature, we have the right to use our power however we choose in order to stay alive.
- However, second, our ‘natural right’ conflicts with other people’s natural right. Usually, if I have a right, someone else has a duty.
- For example, if I have the right to life, everyone has the duty not to kill me; if I have the right to what I own, everyone has the duty not to steal from me.
- But because in the state of nature, no one has the authority to say how or how not to exercise the right to stay alive, if someone judges that in order to stay alive, they will kill someone else or steal from them, then they have a ‘right’ to do this, and each person judges individually how best to do this.
State of nature (2)
-They have no duty not to kill or steal. So each person’s right to self-preservation conflicts with everyone else’s.
-Third, each person must eventually rely just on themselves, on their strength and intelligence. This will lead to a state of war, not in the sense that people will always be fighting each other, but that everyone will be disposed or ready to fight if they need to, and will live in a state of ‘continuall feare, and danger of violent death’.
-The state of nature is ‘solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short. (Leviathan, Ch. 14)
Morality as a social contract (5.5)
- We can argue that only ‘true’ happiness is in one’s self-interest. But how can we make a distinction between a superficial feeling of happiness and ‘true’ happiness?
- In the case above, we mentioned the value ‘achievement’. Perhaps you are only truly happy when there is something of real value in your life. Self-interest, then, is getting what is truly valuable.
- If this is right, then we can’t talk about self-interest without talking about what is truly valuable. Some values will be moral values, e.g. the value of achievement involves the moral value of honesty – cheating doesn’t lead to achievement. So we cannot say what is in someone’s self-interest without knowing what is morally good.
- In that case, morality can’t be an agreement we would make for the sake of self-interest, because self-interest is not something we can meaningfully specify independently of or prior to what is morally good.
Morality as a social contract (6.5)
- What should Adam do? If Barry confesses, then it is better that Adam confesses as well (he’ll get 7 years rather than 10). If Barry doesn’t confess, then once again it is better than Adam confesses (he’ll go free rather than get 2 years). So, from a purely self-interested point of view, Adam should confess.
- Barry is thinking the same thing. So Barry also confesses. Because they both confess, they get 7 years.
- But it would have been better for them both not to confess, and only get 2 years each. If both of them act rationally from a self-interested point of view, the result is worse than if they had trusted each other to act in a way that benefited them both!
- This clearly shows that acting only on one’s self-interest can lead to worse consequences for oneself than cooperating with others, even when there is a cost to cooperation. For Adam and Barry, not confessing meant giving up the possibility of freedom. But if they could trust each other to do this, they would both be better off (getting 2 years) than they are in a situation in which they cannot trust each other and they both confess (getting 7 years).
Morality as a social contract (8.5)
A hypothetical agreement:
- We want to show why it is rational to be moral, where being moral is mutually advantageous.
-To show that it is rational, we don’t need to show that morality is an actual agreement, only that if we could make such an agreement, we should.
- Morality is a ‘hypothetical’ agreement, an agreement we would or should make because it is rational to do so. The point of looking at it this way is not to explain our moral code as it is, but to justify morality.
- To show that it is rational to conform to the expectations of morality, David Gauthier argues that the situation without morality is like the Prisoner’s Dilemma – even if we try to cooperate with each other, because we are self-interested and can’t trust them, we will both end up in a situation which isn’t as good as it could be.This will motivate us to agree to morality.
Morality as overcoming self-interest (1.5)
- So if morality is not based on happiness, but it can help us decide what to do, then there must be something else that is capable of influencing our choices apart from happiness.
- And Kant argues there is – reason. We are able to think about and reflect on different actions, and decide between them. We are not ‘forced’ by our desires to act this way or that, we have a power of will that is distinct from desire and the pull of happiness.
- So what is the connection between reason and morality? First, this capacity to choose freely is necessary for morality – animals and young children simply act on their desires, and so we don’t think they are capable of acting morally.
- Yes, their actions can have good or bad consequences, but because they don’t make choices in the right sense, we don’t really praise or blame them in the same way we do adults.
- Second, says Kant, reason works in a way that is independent of our desires. This is easy to see when doing maths or science.
Morality as a constitituive of self-interest (4.5
Objections to Plato
Objections to Plato:
- Plato’s argument makes several assumptions that we can challenge.
- First, he thinks that desires are unable to regulate themselves, that they are in some way ‘blind’ to what is good. Is this right? This description seems to fit bodily desires and obsessions (e.g. with money) better than others, e.g. those involved in friendship. Do desires necessarily get out of control? Plato can respond that desires, by their nature, do not involve consideration for the person as a whole. This kind of reflection is part of reason.
- Second, we can object that the kind of reason needed is prudential, not moral. An immoral person needs to think about how to act in their self-interest, and this can involve reasoning. But why think this reasoning will lead them to act morally? Plato assumes that having reason in control automatically means acting morally. This is because he believes that if we reason well, we will realise that acting morally is truly good. But that still doesn’t mean it is in my self-interest. As the argument stands, a prudential immoral person could be happiest.
- Third, Plato argues that only the rule of reason can secure the absence of inner conflict that is the mark of true happiness. We could reply that a little conflict could be worth it in order to satisfy certain desires.
Objections to Plato (2)
Finally, the answer to why we should act morally is that we achieve a moral and happy soul. But does acting morally always produce a moral soul? Does acting immorally always produce an immoral soul? Suppose that acting morally does not make my soul better – I remain in conflict and I resent having to act morally. Since I am not being made happy, then perhaps I would be better off not conforming to the expectations of morality. I may not be as happy as someone with a moral soul, but I will be as happy as I can be. In this case, it is still an open question why I should behave morally, rather than get away with immoral acts which promote my self-interest if I can.
Overcoming self interest 5.5
Kant’s reply is that it is only rational to do what everyone can do. And there are constraints on this, so reason can say what we should do without referring to what we want. Why think that we must all behave in the same way in order to be rational?
- Because ‘universality’ is the nature of reason. What is rational is rational for all, not relative to one person or another.
- We can agree that this is true about what it is rational to believe, as we saw above, but disagree that it is true about what it is rational to do.
- Acting irrationally, we may respond to Kant, is doing something that defeats what you want to achieve. So it is relative to what you want.
Hume (overcoming self interest)
- Third, we don’t try to persuade people to feel approval or disapproval for a particular action by considering how it affects them, but for example, how it hurt or helped someone else.
- The origin of our feelings of approval and disapproval, says Hume, is sympathy.
Hume Sympathy (2)
- It is just a fact – a fact of human nature – that we feel pleasure at other people’s pleasure and pain at their pain.
- Would you, could you, deliberately tread on someone’s toes for no reason? Can you look at someone in pain and be completely unmoved?
- Sympathy is the root of approval and disapproval, and the root of moral motivation. We conform to the expectations of morality because we care about other people.
- We don’t have to justify that care any more than we have to justify self-interest; it is just as natural to care about other people as it is to care about ourselves.
- Of course, sympathy can come into conflict with self-interest, and on many occasions, self-interest will win.
- But that’s a different point – it doesn’t show that we don’t feel sympathy. In fact, it shows that we must, or there would be no conflict!