December 2, 1976
A Journal Entry
Why should someone rationally desire to sacrifice himself for others? (E.g., the soldier and the grenade).
Concerning the first case, Hobbes gives as a good start, but merely this. It is to the advantage of all that each be so conditioned and trained that they would be altruistic and self-sacrificing at tines of trial and moral temptation. Thus, paradoxically, it becomes a natter of rational self-interest to submit to a system of education (indoctrination?) that will produce persons that will be motivated to cat fear others, despite great temptation and trial. (Cf.Michael Scriven. Bill Whisner [University of Utah, Philosophy] objects to this). But am I saying that one should be conditioned to act in such a way that he might not reasonably act if her were looking after himself'? Am I perhaps begging the moral point here? Am I, perhaps, bringing in Plato's "noble lie" that motivates the soldiers in battle? But onward. (77730).
So this is not, as Hobbes describes it, simply a case of giving up some freedom in exchange for greater freedom (or security); this is a case of submitting to training and conditioning so that, in time of great trial, one surrenders the freedom to be a coward for the sake of social benefit (i.e., living in a community oaf individuals willing to sacrifice for the good of all).
Now there seems to be a paradox here, If a person is strongly conditioned to sacrifice himself for the good of the group -- if, in fact, he is sufficiently conditioned that he "could not do otherwise" -- then the act is not free and, if not free, not moral.
In other words, at the moment of self-sacrifice, the individual "has no choice" – he would actually prefer to make the sacrifice than be a coward, because he has (tacitly at least), agreed to the bargain whereby any member would, if faced with such a condition, make the sacrifice.
Consider now the "Ring of Gyges case: The moral person is a person who is so conditioned that he simply will not take advantage of the ring. Now if this were strictly a matter of conditioning, this would not be a moral issue. The moral issue arises when one proposes that persons should be conditioned to accept self-sacrifice -- i.e., that it is desirable that people be so trained that, given the Ring of Gyges, they would not take advantage of it. In other words, if we say that one will follow his conscience and not be immoral if faced with an opportunity to get away with an immoral act, then to say that he was conditioned not to be immoral does not explain why he should not be immoral. However, we can correctly ask: "Why should one be so conditioned?" Why should such and such be the curriculum and aim of his moral education? On this ground we can raise the normative question. We can say that it is good that men be raised to act morally and prepared four self-sacrifice, and this can be argued on Hobbesian terms: i.e., that a community of individuals so instructed and thus equipped with such a conscience, is a better community for each to live in. Thus we arrive at the moral paradox: It is to the best advantage of individuals not to act directly to their personal advantage. (Cf. Garrett Hardin). This applies, of course, to everyday life, not solely to extreme cases such as the "Gyges" and "grenade" paradigms.
Of course, I have not offered an argument
here as to why. it is better to live in a community of moral altruists. For
this I would want to introduce a "good reasons" justification of the moral
point of view.
[Later: As I have posed the Gyges question in class, another justification for morality has developed: "the management argument." This is an elaboration of the old maxim, "a liar has to keep track of all his lies, while an honest person need only keep track of the truth." So even if Gyges did his evil deeds while invisible, he might be unable to "manage" his deceits. Much elaboration due here, of course. (2009)]
1 Upon achieving this ideal status, then to say that he is "moral" is not to say that the act was moral (in the sense of displaying a free choice to do right), but rather that the act displayed virtue -- i.e., that it was the act of a moral person. The moral approbation applies, not to the act, but to the achievement of conscience and will in the person.
Looking at this another way, one might say that a person may be so morally trained and has a sufficiently strong conscience that it is impossible, in fact, that he commit an immoral act. Nonetheless, one might say that "ought implies can and yet might not" in the sense that there are empirically conceivable and technically possible options. Now, in the case of our moral exemplar, his personality is such that it is "impossible" for him to do wrong. But the contingency resides in the circumstance viewed objectively. -- not from the point of view of his will and conscience. I.e., this is a situation in which certain less exceptional individuals could act several different ways, some of them contrary to moral duty. In other words, there are several courses of action which are empirically possible and consistent with the physical conditions and mental capabilities of the agent. The impossibility, then, resides, not in the objective circumstances, but in the character of the individual. It is, after all, the character that receives moral, praise or blame, not the objective circumstances. In short, the possibility lies in the objective circumstance; the impossibility lies in the moral character.
(This resolution, I seem to recall, is
similar to Kant’s treatment of "the antinomy of freedom").
Jock Glidden [a Weber State colleague] asks: What might be the difference between game-playing and the rationale of morality?
How about this:
Of course, there is much more to be said
in answer to the question. But this is, I believe, a significant ingredient
of the answer.
Excerpt from "The Ring of Gyges" --. The
Republic of Plato