Friday, July 22, 2016

The Morality of Obligated Morality

From guest blogger, Patrick.

My mother has a phrase (probably took it off a bumper sticker somewhere) be nice because it feels good to be nice. While she is extremely clichéd she has a point. It feels good to be nice. I believe part of that swelling of our hearts when we act out of compassion or kindness towards others because it’s not mandatory. It’s easier to do nothing and move on, but we do it anyways for the sake of others. An interesting example that demonstrates my point is paying people to give blood. All my teachers ever will gape when I say this, but I forgot where the study was done but what I do remember was that a study was done and less people gave blood when they were paid to do so in comparison when people volunteered to do so. I don’t hold doors for people or smile to strangers because it’s expected of me, but because it’s not expected of me. The value in kindness is derived from its voluntariness.

                As much as I respect Singer’s bleeding heart and have great admiration for a man that not only preaches morals, but follows them too; I believe obligated morality would be a tragedy. Humans are self-interested and tend to overlook those in dire need for petty gain, but forcing people to change is not truly changing people. The world has many problems, but if people don’t consciously decide to make changes to the world around them on their own but rather are forced to by officials they will feel oppressed. Rightly so I might add. So called oppression is in the name of the greater good, but I feel like we’ve heard that line from dictators before? Ignoring the political debate to return to the original point; morality can’t be forced. If it becomes mandatory it is no longer morality.


Bryan Li said...

Hi Patrick,
I enjoy very much about you thoughts on how morality should not be mandatory otherwise we may lost sense of happiness. Financial incentive often is a quickest way to make overcome more effective, yet your example of paying blood indicated that things are not alway work in one standard.


Mark said...

From a consequentialist perspective, though, morality can be forced. At the very least, it can be induced. Like Stockholm Syndrome! (kidding...)

But seriously though, even if everyone was moral and enjoyed it (did it because they wanted to), the world would be a pretty awful place. Contrary to one of the fundamental norms in philosophy, bad things are sometimes pretty good. There's a case where so much charity was given to an African village that the people in that village stopped working, thus stagnating their condition and preventing future improvement.

Alex Sorensen said...

Patrick, I think you brought up some interesting points about our obligation to act morally to others. I personally agree with you, that morality cannot be forced and that humans are, at our core, selfish (in order to survive). Therefore I think morality is supererogatory. But let me bring up another point for the other side, that we are morally obligated to act morally to others. In the end it may end up showing morality is supererogatory, but here goes. An approach is to present a utilitarian argument. For a utilitarian, morality is assessed in terms of consequences: the correct action is the one that creates the greatest utility (typically happiness) for the greatest number. A utilitarian argument for obligations to people we do not know would be rather straightforward. The first step would be to estimate the utility generated by accepting a specific obligation to people we do not know, such as rendering aid to an intoxicated person who is about to become the victim of sexual assault. The second step is to estimate the disutility generated by imposing that specific obligation. The third step is to weigh the utility against the disutility. If the utility is greater, then such an obligation should be imposed. If the disutility is greater, then it should not.

This approach, obviously enough, rests on the acceptance of utilitarianism. There are numerous arguments against this moral theory and these can be employed against attempts to ground obligations on utility. Even for those who accept utilitarianism, there is the open possibility that there will always be greater utility in not imposing obligations, thus undermining the claim that we have obligations to others.

Rei Koinuma said...

I think you bring up an interesting concept that morality should be a supererogatory concept. If so the concept of moral obligations is a fallacy. I think this appeals to our deeper moral intuitions in the sense that we deem people who undertake kind actions independently rather than out of necessity as of a higher moral standard. I feel that this is a viable criticism of consequentialism, as it fails to adhere to this intuition, whereas deontology and virtue ethics do.