The Golden Rule
- We say moral principles must be universal: what applies to you must also apply to me. Why do you think this is?
- What do we use moral principles for?
- To make our lives better, I suppose.
- Our lives individually or our lives among others?
- Since we live among others, it wouldn't make much sense to live the best life ourselves if it didn't give us the best life in the society we live in.
- Do you think it is possible that the best life for ourselves could be not the best life for the people we live with?
- That depends on the kind of society. A society that punishes people for living good lives wouldn't be the place to live the life best for us individually.
- Ok. Let's say then a moral principle is not about making the best life in a bad society. Neither the best life for the individual nor the best for society.
- Then what is it?
- When we speak* we first have to agree on the meaning of words. Moral principles are the words we are going to use to talk about how we live together. Moral principles lay the foundation we are going to build on, establish first that we are going to cooperate at all before we work out how best to cooperate.
- Give me an example.
- Property is not a moral principle, because the rule, everyone is free to not share what he has, is not something everyone will ever voluntarily agree to. Agreement will have to be forced.
- So if use of things is to become a building block of society, as words we use when we talk of perfecting society, then everyone will have to agree. Do you see how this can work?
- Provisionally, yes. As words change their meaning in time, so our foundations can change in time. If we for example start with the rules, no possession without use, no selling oneself up for hire in exchange for receiving the necessities of life, we have a determination of how things will be used all can agree on.
- Not everyone.
- Not in a society that punishes people for living good lives. That is not our concern here at the moment.
- What is our concern again?
- Universal principles of behavior. Whether they are possible.
- And you are tying to show they are possible.
- What do you think?
- We're not asking that any existing society of people universally agree, only that without any change in human nature people could agree, given the chance.
- Then moral principles are possible.**
The Deviant Path
- Once they have been established, and everyone's basic needs satisfied, moral principles can be universally observed, but only in creative societies where they are the common foundation for individual development. Where every creative act of every individual begins with and is founded on the same principles, to disregard them means destroying what has been collectively said and learned and built upon them, means having to begin again in speechless ignorance and incompetence. The feeling of guilt is the creative person's awareness of self caused incompetence. Unchanging societies organized around a division of labor lack shared foundation; each role benefits from altering present arrangements in its favor, causing moral principles, if attempt is made to institute them, to be disregarded. What appears to be guilt in uncreative people is only their fear of being caught.
- Say I am one of those guilt-free, track-covering, uncreative people who are incapable of following moral principles. What do we do about people like me?
- First, let's give you a definition. You follow rules. Second, you know that always following rules is not good, you understand that you might not want to give a man back his gun when he asks for it angry at you and drunk. Together, "follow rules" and "but not always" allow you to do anything, and what you do is discover what works to make it easier for you to go on doing what you do. For you there is no world outside doing. You don't look at the consequences of anything you do except as they increase the efficiency or not of what you do.
- Then I am creative too, in a devious sort of way.
- So what are you going to do about people like me, rich, confident, sure we are leading creative, fulfilling lives? How are you going to block our development?
- You present us with two problems. Once you've developed, found each other, prospered with each other, acquired the instruments of oppression necessary to force all the rest of us into following rules against our wishes, then we face the practical problem of revolution. The other problem is not letting things get to that point, depriving those on the deviant path access to power.
- By not allowing them to organize.
- That's to be determined, but our provisional moral rules, no possession without use, no selling oneself for hire in exchange for receiving the necessities of life, might work to prevent association of doers for the sake of doing. It would have to be tried. Our admission of ignorance here is axiomatic. Axioms are foundational knowledge, in this case what we need to know about ourselves and life before we go about looking for moral universals.
- And that is?
- Follow rules to make our lives better and for no other reason. If we said we were confident of our rules untested we would be doers for the sake of doing, set on our rules and merely maximizing our ability to practice them. We'd all be on the deviant path.
Continued at: Killer Metaphysics
** On Humanism And Morality, Noam Chomsky