Why should i be moral

some key points of the why should i be moral section


Morality as a social contract

·         The question ‘why should I be moral?’ asks for a justification or morality. One answer is ‘because it is in your self-interest’

·         People naturally act on self-interest. To act rationally, according to one view, is to take the best means to one’s end

·         We can argue that an agreement with other people to act morally is in one’s self-interest. Morality protects us from harm and enables trust. Although it constraints what we do in perusing our self-interest, the benefits outweigh the costs.

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Morality as a social contract

·         The argument describes morality as a means to the end of self-interest. It therefore assumes that what is in our self-interest can be described independently of what is morally good.

·         This assumption can be challenged. For example, if what is in our self-interest is getting what is truly valuable, we cannot know what self-interest is without relying on ideas of moral goodness.

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Morality as a constitutive of self-interest

·         Plato presents himself with the challenge that acting immorally, when one can get away with it is in one’s self interest.

·         He argues that this view overlooks the state of the soul of the immoral person, who is ruled by desires in conflict with reason, which leads to unhappiness.

·         Happiness is having a harmonious soul, which means that reason must be in charge and desire restrained. But reason recognizes what is morally good and pursues it.

·         We can object that the kind of reason needed for a harmonious soul is prudential, a careful consideration of how best to satisfy one’s desires. This may not be the same as acting morally.

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Morality as a constitutive of self-interest

·         We can also object that acting morally may not lead to a happy soul. In this case, we have no reason not to act immorally if that will make us happier.

·         We can also object that we should not be moral because it is in our self-interest, but because other people matter.  Only this can explain why acting immorally is important while acting against our own self-interest may not be.

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Morality as overcoming self-interest

·         If self-interest is irrelevant to morality, to argue that it is reasonable to be moral, we need to develop a theory of reason that is independent of self-interest. One such as Kant’s.

·         Kant argues that morality cannot be based on happiness. People are made happy by different things, but morality is the same for everyone. And happiness can sometimes be morally bad.

·         We are able to make choices, Kant argues, that are not ‘caused’ by our desires. We only praise or blame creatures that have this power of the will.

·         Reasoning about what to believe works independently of our desires and is ‘universal’ (the same for everyone). Reasoning about what we ought to do-morality- has the same properties.

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Morality as overcoming self-interest

·         Kant concludes that it is irrational to act on a choice that not everyone could act on. He makes this test the standard of what it is morally right or wrong as well.

·         We can object that even if reason can tell us what is morally right, it can’t motivate us to act morally. Unless we want to act morally, we won’t.

·         Hume argues that morality is based on sympathy, which grounds our feelings of approval and disapproval and motivates us to act morally.

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Morality as a social contract II

·         The Prisoner’s Dilemma is a fictional case set up to show the difficulties of always acting on self-interest.

·         Basing morality on self-interest faces the problem of the free rider – someone who takes advantage of other people being moral. If it is rational to act on one’s self-interest, then it is rational to be a free rider when one can rather than be moral.

·         If morality is a real, but tacit, agreement, this may explain some aspects of our moral practices. However a real agreement may favor the powerful over the powerless, and so may not justify morality.

·         Gauthier argues that morality is a hypothetical agreement – an agreement we would make, if we had the choice, because it is rational to do so.

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Morality as a social contract II

·         He argues the situation without morality is like a Prisoner’s Dilemma, that the agreement must be fair in order to be stable, and that individuals are best able to judge their own self-interest.

·         He argues that, to solve the free rider problem, we must agree to change our motivation, but we can argue that if self-interest is the reason for the agreement, self-interest will always be a stronger motivation than a disposition to be moral

·         We can object that morality as an agreement for mutual advantage will leave out disabled people, animals and the environment.

·         Scanlon argues that it is better to understand morality as an agreement based on the value of justifying our behavior to over people.

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Morality as a social contract II

·         Rational egotism can argue that self-interest is getting what you would want if you were completely rational. This defines self-interest independently of morality.

·         We can object that the definition fails, because people could still want what is bad for them; and that it is incomplete, because being treated morally is part of self-interest.

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Morality as constitutive of self-interest II

·         On the view that people are essentially social, my self-interest involves good relations with others, and these relations are good for both myself and other people.

·         Aristotle argues that to understand the best life for us, we need to understand human nature.

·         What is distinctive about us is our capacity to reason. So the best lives for ourselves is one lived in accordance with reason.

·         This involves having desires and emotions, and making choices, that are reasonable. If we do, we will also have good relations with other people.

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Morality as constitutive of self-interest II

·         Nietzsche objects that people are unequal, and it is right that the ‘higher’ types treat ‘common’ people how they see fit. Morality is an expression of a herd instinct, and not part of the very best life for the most noble people.

·         Aristotle can argue that morality can properly involve self-interest. Just as a real friend both cares for his friend and benefits from the friendship, a morally good person cares for others and understand that a moral life is best for them.

·         Nietzsche objects that morality (as we know it) is motivated by fear. Furthermore, it is an expression of instincts, and so trying to give it a rational basis is hypocritical.

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Morality as overcoming self-interest II

·         Kant argues that reason on its own can tell us what we ought to do, because it is only rational to act on a choice that everyone can act on.

·         We can object that acting irrationally is to defeat what you want to achieve, so reason must appeal to what someone wants to recommend how to act.

·         Scanlon argues that we have reason to justify ourselves to other people, while Mill argues that we have reason to promote everyone’s happiness. Both views argue that it is reasonable to act morally, independent of our self-interest.

·         Scanlon argues that our desires rest on reasons, what is good about what we want. We can object that in giving reasons, we are still appealing to desires. If someone sees no reason to act morally, we can only appeal to their desires and emotions. Nietzsche argues that reasoning is just an expression of our instincts, not a justification.

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Morality as overcoming self-interest II

·         Psychological egoism claims that we only ever act on self-interest. We can object that we don’t always do what we want; even if we did, we don’t only want our self-interest; and finally, if we get pleasure from acting unselfishly, this does not make our pleasure the reason we act unselfishly.

·         If Nietzsche is right, moral values are not objective, but invented; morality should not constrain ‘higher’ people; and morality deceives us about our natural inequality.

·         Hume argues that sympathy and self-interest are not in tension, so the fact that self-interest is stronger than sympathy should not worry us. However, we need to correct this bias in our feelings of sympathy so that we feel sympathetic towards people we don’t know as well as other people do.

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Morality as overcoming self-interest II

·         If moral motivation reflects natural dispositions, rather than reason, we cannot argue someone into being moral. However, we can still criticize someone immoral for being immoral.

·         We can object that sympathy is too narrow to encompass all morality, as it only motivates us towards what is pleasurable and useful, and morality includes commitments which are neither.  

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