Why is "what's best for everyone" better than "what's only best for me (and my friends / family)"?

Does it need explaining or justifying at all? 

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Well, if I could be dictator of the world, I guess I could write the rules to benefit myself exclusively.  As it is, however, I am not the dictator, so I need to go with a set of rules upon which everyone can agree and to which the vast majority of people will adhere.  My personal security relies on the most widely applied safeguards to personal security.  In that sense, what is best for everyone is more likely to provide for my needs than what is best just for me.

Thanks Heather, I think that's the clunkiest title ever.  

It seems you are saying that:

You agree on a common set of rules and safeguards
If these are the best for everyone then by definition they are probably the best for you.  



I suppose I was really asking, which I wasn't able to make clear, in my clunky title:  in a group dispute, where multiple actors are involved, why is it better for everyone to be satisfied with the outcome rather than just you?  This is an important point which I see as axiomatic, so I want to make sure I've nailed it everyone's satisfaction. 

Well, my answer still applies.  If you try for an answer that is only to your satisfaction, you are very unlikely to achieve it because it is likely to be opposed by the greater group.  If you shoot for an outcome that pleases most of the people, then you are far more likely to succeed.  What's best for everyone may not be what's best for you, but it is more likely to be met with success.

Good point.  But what if I am big, tough and a bully?  Then I could just force my will on the others, and get my own way without having to care about their needs. 


I was about to ask, why is this the inferior choice?  But that means I'm seeking to support a pre-existing point of view, which by definition hasn't been supported yet, therefore can't be relied on, and that line of reasoning is rubbish. 

Is this an inferior choice, if you can get away with it?  Is it a sustainable choice?  Do you really get away with it?  What happens in the long term?  Without calling it inferior or superior, it's just a choice, with consequences. 

It's true that this behaviour was once seen as a noble heroic virtue - ie. colonialism, for example, or the millennia of wars fought over territory and each other's countries.  In Britain  we continue to enjoy the fruits of the wealth we made from slavery in the 18th century.  We have the Tate Gallery and half of Liverpool, for example.  However, it's naive and simplistic to assume that bad things never come with good things attached.  They nearly always do.  Except that the fruits we enjoy now are the exact ones that were originally intended by the wealthy slave-owning benefactors, so we are living directly off their immoral earnings to this day, 200 years later. 

@Simon - I think it is not an inferior choice if you can get away with it but I think you would be fooled to think you could.  You might be able to bully your way for a while, but eventually you'll get old.  Furthermore, you would need to be without love for anyone since your loved ones might become a target of attack when you aren't around to defend them.  In short, I think bullying your way is inferior in that it is a very very shortsighted strategy.

@ Heather  -  yes, we all need the cooperation of other people around us in order to get through life - almost every aspect of life.  A bully runs the risk of getting slapped down.  Life is almost always more difficult and troublesome if we behave in a morally poor way.  We all want our neighbours and peers to be happy with us, so therefore we want to try and behave in a morally acceptable way.  This is not the same as saying we want to do what the people around us might think we should do - in the end, every thinking moral person will seek to do what they themselves thinks is right.  If this means making a compromise in order to please somebody, then that may be the optimum decision.  On the other hand, we often do not have to compromise if we can just be tactful, courteous and respectful. 

@Simon - I like your wording here.  It gives me the idea that 'morality' is not just a society construct but also a measure of society.  Moral behavior is that which leads to the least social tension, and a 'moral society' is one without much internal conflict.

This leads me to a further argument against objective morality.  There are likely several social models that lead to minimal turmoil - and therefore no single solution to moral questions.  Furthermore, the only way to have zero social turmoil would be to erase individuality; although that seems to be a goal of many religions, I doubt there is anyone who thinks that is the optimum goal to which to strive.

Moral behavior is that which leads to the least social tension, and a 'moral society' is one without much internal conflict.

Sorry. I can't follow that logic. Take a society which reaches tension-freedom by evil means (propaganda, making dissidents "disappear," etc.). Wouldn't it be moral behavior to stand up and question that society, even at the risk of one's own life?

Do you think that a society in which dissidents disappeared would be one free of social tension?  I'm not sure propaganda is 'evil' if it works - this again goes to the depth of vision being employed.  If some propaganda can keep people calm through a short term bout of diversity, isn't it the 'right' thing to do?

I'm sure adjustments could be made to the hypothesis to keep the question open. Using drugs to control emotions, for example.

Propaganda, generally speaking, is a way of disseminating information not in the service of knowledge but in the interest of an authority or special interest. Even if the intent is good, it seems that the end doesn't justify the means.

Are you referring to the diversity propaganda in our own media nowadays. All about acceptance of others no matter how offensive and wrong-headed their views, all points of view being equally valid, etc.?

Sounds a bit 1984-ish.

This is an interesting part of the discussion, and one which I find is never mentioned or identified in all the atheist and philosophical material I have seen.  Christians however nearly always mention it, and they are right to.  

I see it as the distinction between pleasing society or maintaining social harmony; and doing the right thing.  

I believe that doing the right thing is more important than maintaining social harmony.  Problems require some tough solutions sometimes, as we are all aware, and sometimes eggs have to get broken, otherwise the problems may defeat us.  I believe that pleasing people comes quite low down on the list of priorities, although, of course, we have a duty to be humane and just.  

Pleasing people is not in itself likely to produce a solution to tough problems.  However, fixing things will always please people in the long run. 

Of course, social disharmony may reach disastrous proportions, and this is obviously a terrible thing.  

It is said that this was a common moral failure (without being judgemental) in Nazi Germany - people didn't speak out or take action because they were afraid of contravening what society was telling them or forcing upon them.  This is an extreme case, but not so extreme that it doesn't prove a point.  

I am reminded of what happened in Finland in the 90s.  They had a terrible recession and the country was plummeting head-first down the toilet.  The prime minister had a set of drastic plans which he believed would save the country, but which he knew would be so unpopular that they would get him sacked as prime minister.  So he chose to piss everyone off and lose his job, and thereby save the country.  

As for morality - what is seen as good - being a societal construct - I find that some parts are universal and some are more idiosyncratic. 

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Posted by ɐuɐz ǝllǝıuɐp on July 28, 2014 at 10:27pm 4 Comments

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