Suppose that a majority of people in a democratic society believed in Immanuel Kant’s moral axiom that there is only a single categorical-imperative, and it is: "Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time, will that it should become a universal law". Kant was a famous German philosopher who also said that, "There can be nothing more dreadful than that the actions of one man should be subject to another". However, he believed also that if an action is not done with the motive of duty, then it is without moral value. Some people have construed his maxim to mean that society should act only on that same single categorical-imperative – this is interpreted generally as duty to others – that there should be no limit on an individual’s obligation to society. People must collectively provide whatever it takes for the welfare of others.
What if public welfare subsidies stall the lower class from adhering to the work ethic and educational values of the middle class (i.e., gaining human capital), so that they can migrate from one level to the other such as has happened in the past before the welfare state? Gross and irrational selfishness in human beings is all too common. A simple sort of stupidity exists if the successful business person or employee who takes a good living from the world, cannot find in their lives, the required love and grace through charity toward other people in need. The miser and the robber baron we deem a deviant to moral normalcy, yet condemning selfishness and individualism, and thereby the marketplace seems a colossal mistake.
A limit to one’s moral obligation to others does exist. One cannot be obliged to give to a level of self-destruction. If it could be shown that an idea of political obligation led to autocratic states with a record of human rights abuses itself, then otherwise fine-sounding ideals must be set aside. Perhaps in a democracy the whittling away of individual liberties by the expanding welfare state could lead to the very destruction of civilization.
The trouble with selling “liberty” as the most important political paragon in the world is that it is a value-neutral ideal. It basically says, “There you go, you have borders that can’t be breeched and your social obligations are limited, now go do what you can with your life.” Many moral and political theorists find this wanting. In response to this critique, many apologists for liberty sell it simply as the best bread making machine in town, certainly economic conservatives promote it as that.
Liberty is one of the pillars of Western Civilization
We have social obligations and biological needs that supercede individual choices, and this rests on our human nature as set by natural selection over millions of years. Even the Einsteinium-Spinozian god is not needed to explain human behavior. We know how we became moral; we weeded the monkey out of us by killing the psychopath over the thousands of millenniums on the hot grassy plains. We did it with violence and we did it for the tribe's safety. The psychopath learned deception or died. We are the great deceivers. We have obligations also to fend for ourselves . . . to not be parasites . . . we have a duty to think for ourselves and to not be a conformist, for example, mental parasites. We have a responsibility to keep up with science and to make decisions on evident facts and not according to faith, ideology or wishful-thinking. In modern terms, we are required to understand that an education doesn’t necessarily mean knowledge and this actual creative frontal-lobe thinking requires puzzle solving. What can we agree on morally to resolve the dispute between altruism and individualism? Is there such a thing as pure altruism? After all this history, the ego in us whispers against such an event. Natural Selection seems to admit a dual, almost mutually-exclusive, dynamic: a dominating egotistical xenophobic chimp-like fault-setting in human nature which is adjusted upwards to a socially-driven egalitarianism in a hunter-gatherer situation of archaic homo sapiens. What this means for modern humans is that human nature proves both egoism and altruism have a place in our repertoire.
Benedictus Spinoza maintained that men who are governed by reason, desire for themselves nothing which they do not also desire for the rest of humankind, and consequently, are just, faithful and honorable in their conduct. Aristotle said, we should behave to friends as we would wish friends to behave to us. Confucius said, what you do not want done to yourself, do not unto others. Arthur Schopenhauer wrote, hurt none, but, as far as possible, benefit all. Jesus preached, all things whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do even so to them. From the Old Testament there is, what is hateful to you, do not to your fellow men. * In Koran, no one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself. In Sanskrit, do nothing to others which would cause you pain if done to you. From the Buddha, hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. From Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism, regard your brother’s gain as your gain, his loss as your loss. The examples from Hesoid to Bertrand Russell of this universal moral reciprocity has the authority of every great moral thinker since antiquity. **
From the point of view of evolutionary psychology, some of this sentiment (and even much of it perhaps), began historically as inhouse religious "us and them," as I have explain in many other articles; however, I certainly think that's not true of Spinoza, Russell, Rawls or Kant and in this regard, it can apply to all of us who embrace enlightenment. We define reciprocity in two ways: Tit-for-tat (I help you now because I can,--you need it, --you do the same for me, if and when, in the future, I so need it), and secondly with trade: I give you a bag of rice or wheat for a gold coin (or whatever): the free market is a vast form of human reciprocity.
If moral reciprocity is to be expected to take a hold of the world in a universal manner, several events need to occur. The duty of others’ welfare cannot be forced on the individual and therefore laissez-faire trade is essential to human freedom and morality. Every institution, private or public, should practice moral reciprocity without coercion from state, tribe or society. A strict and short code of human rights need be applied to every single person. Everyone of us is to have sovereignty over our minds and the consequential adjuncts it entails, including the right to own property. The cost of moral reciprocity is far less than applying a morality like, ‘The social redistribution of wealth’ or ‘The kindly subjugation of the democratic peoples of the world by the bloated modern welfare state.’
No appliqué of words about freedom is going to limit the growth of the oligarch and it’s bureaucracy in The New Ancien Régime. A crusade for a work-ethic means little if the middle-class ceases to exist. The state-dependant population in our mismanaged myopia today dispatch their glances with uxorious eyes to the state, just as it once did to the church, mosque or temple. The state will morph to serve its master, which was once the common people but is now ever-incrementally the political class.
The single most important thing we can do universally: Whatever rights you would ask others to grant to you, grant also to them. Discussed further in Altruism versus Selfishness, and see also, The Nurture Assumption (1999), The Origins of Virtue (1998), The Bonobo and the Atheist (2013), The Evolution of Morality (2005), The Righteous Mind (2012), (my response to Righteous Mind) (2021), A Thousand Brains (2021), (my response to A Thousand Brains) (2023), Moral Origins (2012) and The Moral Animal (1995).
BTW: In The Evolution of Morality, Richard Royce’s moral scepticism: —if it is all innate emotionalisms (moral emotions) which don’t require belief per se, it is then barred epistemic foundations and should be treated as a harmless fantasy—rings hollow. This is so academic (only a tenured philosopher could get away with this argument) and is as false as Wittgenstein’s ridiculous view that language, not idea, is at the root of most philosophic confusions. Joyce adheres neither to reason or science nor to Popper’s criterion. In fact it implies that innate morals illicit only one kind of righteous behaviour in Homo sapiens and that empathy cannot be expanded into the entire human family and indeed, stretched to global human rights for all. A bonobo could have given a better argument than that and I believe has, in the book, The Bonobo and the Atheist. His arguments in The Evolution of Morality, and elsewhere, sometimes referred to as Moral Error Theory, claims to expose or at least deflate my central thesis on ethics as argued in Moral Reciprocity, Epistemology, Reason & Religion, and other articles, that with many thinkers who endorse atheism (or at least skepticism) and defend the evolution of morality in evolutionary terms, (such as Dawkins, Hawkins, Ridley, De Waal, Sapolski, Pinker, Haidt, Wright, to name a few), is a philosophical compromise in moral theory like a compatibilists’ argument in the free will debate. It appeals to locked-in determinists who have sold long-term for short. They have not considered all the data, (especially from primatologists and have been unduly influenced by bad philosophy of the last century, and really even from the time of Hume. Joyce holds (generally) that humans, like all mammals have an evolutionary origin, and therefore, objective truth, in regards to morals and ethics are outright invalid. His claim is to refute human ethical metaphysical-explanations on what are clearly values of a self-aware creatures, for if robots or bonobo chimps had it, there would certainly be moral accountability among them and theirs to some extent; moreover, since race itself is an illusion and we now know humans are all one species, there are objective and basic commonalities of us and ours, i.e., a basic human nature which underlies the human species.
* Rabbi Hillel the Elder, c. 110 BCE, d., 10 CE, popularly acknowledged for the adages: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me and being for myself, what am I, and if not now, when?” & “That which is hateful to you, do not do unto your fellow. That is the whole Torah, the entire law; the rest is commentary; now go and learn.”
** “This is the sum of duty: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.” (Mahabharata, 5, 1517.) Hinduism (Brahmanism), around 300 B.C. “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” (Udanavarga, 5, 18 - early Bhuddist writings). “Surely it is the maxim of loving-kindness: Do not unto others that you would not have them do unto you.” (Analects, 15, 23) Confucius, around 500 B.C. “Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.” (T’ai Shang Kan Ying P’ien. around 1000 B.C.) “That nature alone is good which refrains from doing unto another whatsoever is not good for itself.” (Dadistan-i-dinik, 94, 5 Zoroastrianism). All summed up from Godless.
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