In his Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, Immanuel Kant claimed that morality can be summed up in one ultimate commandment of reason (imperative) from which all duties and obligations derive. He defined an imperative as any proposition that declares a certain action (or inaction) to be necessary; a hypothetical imperative as one which compels action under given circumstances/hypotheses (i.e. if I wish to quench my thirst, I must drink something); and a categorical imperative as an absolute, unconditional requirement that asserts its authority in all circumstances, both required and justified as an end in itself. It is best known in its first formulation: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”
Perusing the list of “universal” sub-goals, one of them immediately leaps out as being suitable to be that one ultimate commandment (as well as being the one for which this blog is most criticized for not arguing against it’s negation more strenuously). “Cooperate!”, in the sense of “Maximize your participation in cooperation” is a maxim that should become a universal law. It correctly handles the edge case where an entity shouldn’t be expected to participate in it’s own demise and avoiding its opposite, selfishness, is what a number of comment authors appear to be basing their morality upon. Further, since maximizing cooperation is itself a goal, all of the other “universal” sub-goals immediately come back into play.
This blog started this series focused upon the goals of “fulfilling everyone’s goals” and “fulfilling my goals” because they answer the questions of “Why should I be moral?” and “Why should I cooperate?” I would greatly appreciate any comments on whether (and if so, how) it would be more effective to start with cooperation instead. I have started with cooperation in other venues but quickly found that the other “universal” sub-goals are still needed to solve many moral conundrums and that I was not given enough rope (time and attention) to delve into and prove the basis for the “universal” sub-goals after revealing the “key” to be cooperation.
I have not focused on selfishness because one of its opposites (self-sacrifice) is frequently also the opposite of cooperation. Also, many people (such as Kedaw and Sloan below) lump self-interest in with selfishness as something that negates morality.
This blog contends that a) morality is based upon the goal “Maximize goal fulfillment for everybody”, b) self-interest is based upon the goal “Maximize goal fulfillment for me”, and c) selfishness is furthering self-interest at the expense of morality. Kedaw has the slightly different take that morality is limited to “acts that deserve praise” — meaning acts that further the goal of fulfillment for everybody (cooperation) at the expense of self-interest. I believe that this is incorrect because it discourages self-interest in cases where it is more than justified and may induce individuals to inappropriately self-sacrifice even when the results are lessened cooperation and goal fulfillment for everyone (e.g. those that exert control through guilt after “self-sacrifice” or those who get off on self-negation). Further, I would expect that saying that morality is restricted to acts that “are not self-evidently in your self-interest” will quickly lead to hiding one’s own self-interest which will lead first to less knowledge about motivations and then less information about trade-offs and finally fewer goals fulfilled for everyone.
Mark Sloan has similar views on acts that are “morally praiseworthy.” He cites the example of a soldier throwing himself on a grenade, killing himself but sparing his friends from injury (but not death). He acknowledges that this action eliminated any chance of the soldier fulfilling any more goals while his friends wouldn’t necessarily have been injured enough to cause any goal fulfillment problems (and even acknowledges that the action was “not prudent”) but still believes that it was morally praiseworthy.
My question is “Why would any action that decreases goal fulfillment be worthy of any praise?” If the soldier believed that he was saving other lives plus injuries at the cost of his own (i.e. causing a net increase of goal fulfillment) but was mistaken, then I would call his intentions moral and praiseworthy (but the results of his action remain imprudent and effectively immoral).
I could agree with the distinction of “morally praiseworthy” if it meant furthering morality at the expense of self-interest but morality must be furthered (unlike in the soldier example). Sloan’s second example of Bill Gates only being “socially admirable” while heading Microsoft and not achieving the status of “morally praiseworthy” until he started to give his fortune away is fine as long as “socially admirable” includes “moral” in its connotations. (As a side-note: Steven Pinker began an excellent article on The Moral Instinct – that I highly recommend – by asking “Which of the following people would you say is the most admirable: Mother Teresa, Bill Gates or Norman Borlaug?”)
Tomorrow I will continue on the subject of cooperation with an explanation of The Distinction Between Enlightened Self-Interest & Morality and several of my answers to my last challenge When Is It Rational To Be “Immoral” (so leave your answers in the comments before then).