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Why Be Moral? (Part One)

Posted by spritzophrenia on June 15, 2010

The cafe worker leaves the till open while she gets my coffee. No-one would see me take some money, and I’ll probably get away with it. So why should I do the right thing? While you’re pondering this, you could listen to Motorhead | I’m So Bad (Baby I Don’t Care).

The strip below is a simple and effective look at morality via game theory. It’s totally yoinked from webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.

The “why be moral?” dilemma has been much discussed in philosophy, and has exercised my mind for many years. Part Two is coming, with some thoughts of my own. Meantime, what do you think?

5 Responses to “Why Be Moral? (Part One)”

  1. Iain said

    I think that Game Theory demonstrates the pragmatic roots of morality nicely, and also shows the inherent paradox about how what seems rational is not always what is ideal.
    Now I would actually argue that what is truly rational is to do what is ideal, so I tend to think that “true” rationality and morality overlap (in fact, I think that moral thinking is essentially just a subordinate process to reasoning, but I won’t go into that controversial area just yet).

    I think that morality, in terms of it being a series of “ought” imperatives, is actually a deceptive endeavour that tends to hide implicit goals. Why “ought” i do something? Well, usually I ought to do it in order to achieve a particular end.

    So IF you want to live in this world with other people, and IF you want to flourish, then you OUGHT to live in such a way that both your and their goals manage to work themselves out as best as possible. This always means compromise, we don’t always get what we want. You can see how that relational approach to goal-seeking looks very close to game theory, and it also produces a lot of OUGHTS that seem quite close to classical moral tenets. To live morally, then is to help yourself and others to flourish in an imperfect world of compromises and conflicting goals. To do otherwise would be to defeat yourself and others and help nobody to get what they want. (That would be irrational, hence why I think reason and morality are linked)

  2. […] Why Be Moral? (Part One) […]

  3. Anne said

    “…to flourish in an imperfect world of compromises and conflicting goals.” Yes, and unfortunately that is so counter to how we as a culture do business and have relationships. Too often it’s threatening when there are conflicting beliefs, and not enough creativity and courage to develop a new set of goals that include each person’s goals (which when accepted can lead to collaboration and I think great accomplishment). Great thing to bring up, thanks.

    • Thinking of business Anne, (which I know is your focus) I understand Adam Smith came up with his ideas around capitalism because he believed that people tend to screw each other over, and that capitalism is a system that allows for this and maximises the best outcomes “in an imperfect world”.

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