|Ethics and Morality |
The Good Person
The Common Good
One ethical argument is that group interests should have priority over selfish interests. An investigation of ethics must consider this argument and develop metrics for the common good. No-one should assume that it is easy to define the common good. In political battles, clearly divergent if not contradictory ideas of the common good prevail and efforts to achieve consensus are difficult to impossible. The ethical implications are profound.
Michael Sandel asks What’s the Right Thing to Do? He teaches political philosophy at Harvard and offers the most popular course on campus -- Justice One of his intellectual anchors is Jeremy Bentham who wrote Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation in 1780. Bentham proposed a utilitarian test to evaluate the morality of any action: ask the question will my action produce the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people? John Stuart Mill later argued that respect for individuals rights as "the most sacred and binding part of morality" is compatible with the idea that justice rests ultimately on utilitarian considerations In simple terms, the two arguments compare individual interests with group interests.
Sandel also reviewed the philosophy of Immanuel Kant who argued that reason tells us what we ought to do, and when we obey our own reason, only then are we truly free. Kant’s ideas seem oddly unrealistic in the 21st century. Reason is in short supply. Every person assumes that he or she is more reasonable than others who disagree There is no consensus about the “common good.”We know that some humans are bad and will harm others as a matter of course; their behavior will not be altered by rational argument or laws and must be constrained by force. Some of these bad people arrive in positions of authority and power. Some bad people are elected, even to the highest positions in government where they can do much harm without insight or remorse.
We know that the audience, the "public", is made up of different groups with vested interests that conflict. We know that everyone invents stories that support their own point of view. Everyone deceives others and there is no absolute truth. We know that the voting public contains individuals with different mental abilities and that most humans have distinct limitations on what they can and will understand
Human destiny as a species still lies with the programs in the old brain that offer only limited empathy and understanding and insist on the priority of local group survival at any cost. Individuals can transcend the old programs by diligent learning and practice but individual effort and learning does not change the genome, so that there can be no enduring civility without the persistent and relentless initiation of new humans into a rational and compassionate world order. Whatever we value about civilized human existence - culture, knowledge, social justice, respect for human rights and dignity must be practiced anew and stored as modifications of each person's neocortex.