Why Should We Be Good?

Discussion in 'Ethics, Morality, & Justice' started by orthogonal, Jun 23, 2002.

  1. orthogonal Registered Senior Member

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    While hiking in the mountains a few days ago, I puzzled once again over a reoccurring question of mine; Why be good?

    I’ve considered a number of possible answers to this question over the years. A favorite answer in the past was prompted by Jean-Paul Sartre’s contention that since man is condemned to be free, the full responsibility of his actions rests alone upon his shoulders. In his Existentialism and Human Emotions, he soberly writes:

    “ We are alone with no excuses. Man must choose. Not to choose is also to choose...Man cannot find an omen in this world by which to orient himself, because a man will always interpret an omen to suit himself...There is a universality of man; but it is not given, it is perpetually being made. I build the universe in choosing myself.”

    Immanuel Kant calls upon our sense of duty. He asks us to appreciate that the actions of each individual combine to produce a society. Plato made a similar observation in Book Eight of his Republic:

    ”Societies are not made of sticks and stones, but of men whose individual characters, by turning scale one way or the other, determine the direction of the whole.”

    All right, I understand this much. Still I have to wonder why I shouldn’t simply let other men do the heavy lifting in creating a good society. Why not let all the other fools keep to “the straight and narrow,” while I go about exploiting their society for personal profit? When called upon to assist my neighbor at a barn-raising, why should I risk hurting my back lifting the timbers? No one could tell if I’m lifting my share of the load or if I’m actually resting on the load. As long as the wall goes up, what does it matter if I make a personal effort? Why not let the other chumps hurt their backs? A hawk among hawks starves, yet a hawk among doves will grow fat. Since most men are doves, wouldn’t I be a fool not to exploit their softness? Petty criminals and organized crime bosses alike, share this view.

    While thinking of the analogy of the barn-raising, I remembered that a friend recently told me that as a young woman she was made to study the violin. Her heart wasn’t in it though. She especially hated to practice. Unfortunately she belonged to an orchestra. A girl who sat next to her in this orchestra was in the same predicament. This girl taught my friend to lift her bow ever-so-slightly over the strings. As long as their bowing was visually convincing, since they didn’t make a sound the conductor / teacher couldn’t single them out for their poor performance. Since the overall sound of the orchestra was little diminished, what difference did it make that they were not contributing?

    The thought of playing a musical instrument suddenly brought to mind a passage from a book I read some months earlier. The book, Reverence, by Paul Woodruff, considers the virtue of reverence; a virtue the author believes has been recently neglected. The passage from this book that sprang into my mind was:

    ”Why should I be reverent? If you have to ask, you are hopeless. You are like a cellist who begins to play the Bach suites, stops suddenly and asks, ‘Why should I play the right notes’?”

    Hmm…interesting. Is this a fitting analogy for one who asks, “Why should I be good”? Woodruff remarks that one cannot step outside a practice that one is engaged in. One easily could play the wrong notes, but then one ceases to produce a Bach suite. Unlike my friend, we can’t go through our lives with our bow slightly lifted. As Sartre said, “Not to choose is to choose.” As long as man lives, he must choose his actions. If we play the correct notes we produce a thing of beauty. We produce a beautiful life. Should we choose to play the wrong notes, beyond the assault on the ears of others, we squander the pleasure we might have from creating a thing of beauty. Wrong notes are discordant only because man intrinsically knows what the right notes should sound like.

    J.S. Bach humorously noted that organ playing, "...is nothing remarkable..., all one has to do is hit the right notes at the right time and the instrument plays itself." Yet we’ve all heard the results of such music. Though technically correct, we often think such a performance is missing soul, or emotion. An ethical life might also be achieved by mechanically hitting the right notes at the right times. We may go though our lives never actually hitting the wrong notes, yet a life spent merely avoiding debt and prison is not one I consider particularly inspiring or beautiful. It isn’t enough that we merely abide by the law. It isn’t enough that we avoid doing harm to others. Benevolent men transcend the law with their every action, and find ways to bring joy to the lives of others. Benevolent men lovingly hit the correct keys at the correct time; they play the notes with emotion, and they take joy from creating this beauty.

    My best thoughts seem to come to me while I’m hiking. Unfortunately, I tend to forget most of them by the end of my hike. My above thoughts ended abruptly when I crossed paths with a bull Moose. This is the third Moose I’ve seen already this summer. The Moose started me off on an entirely different strain of thought, but that’s another story. At least it’s another thread.

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    Michael
     
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2002
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  3. Adam §Þ@ç€ MØnk€¥ Registered Senior Member

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    My reasons:

    As in another thread I'll provide the quote: "Honous is virtue's reward". Now, I'm not 100% sure about what these are, but I'm trying to do it anyway.

    As for letting other people carry burdens, letting problems be handled by other people... What would you do if you saw some guy trying to rape a woman? Let someone else handle it? Hope someone else handles it? Walk on by? Not me. Important tasks or burdens are not for "other people".

    But still, why?

    I could say it boils down to "Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you." But to me, although a good general rule, it seems selfish. Like we should only behave in a civil manner because that's what we want for ourselves from others. So that old maxim doesn't cut it for me.

    I think, in the end, what it comes down to for me is my personal belief in humanity and the advancement of humanity. We can either remain animals, clubbing each other over the head for a deer corpse, or we can be civil and reach the stars. Does that mean law and order? No. Law is for people who can't control themselves. What it means is living up to that ideal, of leaving behind the clubs and reaching for the stars, and making it your own personal responsibility to contribute in some way toward that future. Even if your contribution consists of merely refusing to be the worst of what humanity has to offer.

    Some day I'll figure all this out thoroughly and write it down or something.
     
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  5. (Q) Encephaloid Martini Valued Senior Member

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    Orthogonal

    Great post. In my opinion, and my own personal experience, I've cared very little of what other people have thought of me and my efforts. I've always done what I felt needed to be done simply for my own pleasure and my own device. My efforts have always been for the self, not for others.

    Using your example, If asked to help raise a barn, my first thoughts would be, "What's in it for me?" If no financial gain were apparent, I would ask if raising the barn would somehow benefit me in other ways. I would instead work hard in order to satisfy my own interest as opposed to being just another dove. If I didn't know how to raise a barn, I would gain the experience and knowledge by doing so. I would therefore appease by own selfishness while helping another. I would never turn down the opportunity to help others, but I would always find reasons to justify doing so. In that way, I could conjure up the strength and determination to do a good job while expanding my own realms.

    If there was another 'hawk' who was not doing their part in sharing the burden, I wouldn't care. I would know that individual was gaining nothing in not doing so. They would not benefit in any way. Their lives are and would continue to be empty. In their minds, they are not asking themselves the same questions and searching for the same justifications. They are simply trying to avoid anything that may be considered hard to do. They take the path of least resistance. They are, in my opinion, the irrational.

    The next question to ask oneself is, "Would you help raise the barn of the hawk?"

    I would help raise his barn for the reasons mentioned above however, I would never ask the hawk to help raise my barn and neither would the other doves.
     
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  7. wet1 Wanderer Registered Senior Member

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    orthogonal,

    Daggum, you pose some of the damnest questions and thoughts. The idea of barn raising came from olden days when it was simply more than one man could do himself. So they would hold a barn raising. Supper, dinner, whatever, it was turned into a social gathering where few opportunities existed for social interaction with your neighbors.

    The other side on this function was the idea that there would come another day and another barn raising where one of your neighbors had the same problem. You were expected to come help with his barn raising because the community had come to help you with yours. In a sense you had already received your "What's in it for me." Either that or someday you would be putting up your own barn and so you had a sort of credit coming.
    Some of the original "good neighbor" policies.

    I have long agreed that you must make choices or by default you have made a choice. The thing is if someone else chooses for you it may well not be to your liking and advantage.

    Why be good? Indirectly I think civilization has prospered and hence man himself from the unselfish actions of others. Many will argue that it was not the unselfish acts but the greed that set some on the road. A good case in point was the manufacture of the pistol. There is an old saying that goes somewhere along the line of, "God made man but Colt made us equal." Colt made money to many peoples regret. In the same line, it allowed us to protect ourselves from the poisonous snake.

    Not all cases in point are like this though. Many religions espouse the idea that you should help your neighbor or those less fortunate than you. Ever notice the feeling you have after you have helped someone? That feeling tells you what is right. Some call it conscience; others call it that little voice in your head. Matters not, it is still there. Some learn to ignore it and thereby lose a great joy in life. As always, you must choose...
     
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2002
  8. Bebelina kospla.com Valued Senior Member

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    What goes around comes around, it's as easy as that.
     
  9. Adam §Þ@ç€ MØnk€¥ Registered Senior Member

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    That's the same a "Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you". My problem with it is that it seems to imply that you should do good because you want other to do good to you. Why would we need that reason to do good? Why not just be good because it's right?
     
  10. Xev Registered Senior Member

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    No, Bebe, it isn't. No good deed goes unpunished.

    The reason to be good is simple egotism. Nobody is worth my sacrificing my ethics or honour for.

    Virtue is not only its own reward, it is its own punishment. Yet my ego will not let me sacrifice my ethics.
     
  11. *stRgrL* Kicks ass Valued Senior Member

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    Ill agree, sorta. I do good, because it makes me feel good. When I do bad, I feel like sh*t. I dont like to feel like sh*t, so I try not to do bad things. Its for my own personal gratification, not anyone elses.

    Take care

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  12. Bebelina kospla.com Valued Senior Member

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    Well, since I'm a firm believer in karma

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    , then "what goes around comes around" is a simpler way of saying it. Although doing good is not only for the personal benefit, it is to benefit others too, which then contributes to increase the whole well being of the entire world, which then, of course, comes back to me in the end. So it is selfishness on a more subtle level, or a guarding of the wellbeing of all, including self.
    The sorry state that the world is in now, is proof that not so many see the point of doing good, or that they have a very twisted view of what good is.
    That is the main problem today, to define what is good.

     
  13. orthogonal Registered Senior Member

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    Hej Bebelina,

    This is something I've been wondering about. Do you think the problem with violence in the world comes more from our misunderstanding of what is good? Or do you think that most of us already know what is good and our problem stems more from our inability to act in the way that we already know we should?

    Tack sa mycket,

    Michael
     
  14. Bebelina kospla.com Valued Senior Member

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    On some level, everybody instinctively know what is good, but this sense can have been so clouded by a bad childhood for example, or other outer input, that it is hardly functional.
    Some people have gotten so used to feeling unhappy that it has become their permanent state of mind, which makes them almost totally unable to feel empathy and compassion for others, which then can result in seemingly cruel actions.
    Needless to say, nobody needs love more than these people. And also, they are the most difficult to give it to, because they don't even know that they need it.
    They are simply not aware of their own inner state of suffering, which makes them equally unaware of others.
     
  15. Xev Registered Senior Member

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    Oh bah! Really, I think you are all over-philosophisizing. That which is good helps, that which is bad harms.

    Morality consists simply of avoiding doing harm to others, while pursuing one's own happiness and doing good.

    One can commit the most evil acts out of the purest and best motives. Such happens when one fails to be logical and skeptical.

    Logic and skepticism can save us from much evil. That is why they are moral acts, and honourable.

    To live ethically is to be honourable, and to live ethically is this:

    To first refrain from harming others.
    To protect the weak, and to render what assistance you can to those who need or desire it, yet not revel in their weakness. To seek to improve oneself, and to keep an open mind to one's faults. To control oneself with the aforementioned reason, logic and skepticism. This is often the greatest battle. To fight against injustince, and not to cringe before the expression of power. One in fact will accumulate power in this way, but not a power of the regular sort.

    For such a life no recompense is given, it must be desired simply for what it is. It is its own reward.

    As I said, no good deed goes unpunished. And I read too much Camus and Nietzshe.



    Wet1: I find this to be a more apt philosophy:

     
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2002
  16. Tyler Registered Senior Member

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    Interesting thread. And an excellent few posts in the beginning here!


    "Why be good?"

    Do you mean in general? Do you mean all the time? Or do you mean at any given oppurtunity?


    "All right, I understand this much. Still I have to wonder why I shouldn’t simply let other men do the heavy lifting in creating a good society. Why not let all the other fools keep to “the straight and narrow,” while I go about exploiting their society for personal profit?"

    It's selfish. So why not be selfish? If everyone was society would likely collapse. But hwy not you in particular? No reason. Just a personal choice. Would you rather be good and helpful or not helpful. Do you get joy from helping others? Do you hold helpfulness as a high value in a person? In the end, every human being does what they want to do. Whether you would rather spend your time doing something more personally enjoyable or spend your time being helpful to others is just a personal choice, which is the greater of the two to you?


    Xev;

    "Yet my ego will not let me sacrifice my ethics."
    You've been reading more Nietzsche!



    orthogonal;

    "Do you think the problem with violence in the world comes more from our misunderstanding of what is good?"

    To suggest that we can 'misunderstand' what is good is to suggest that there is an ultimate truth of good. Are you religious? The rest of your posts would seem to indicate an incredibly logical and rational ability in you, which would lead me to believe you understand what an ultimate truth of good would mean.



    Beb;

    "On some level, everybody instinctively know what is good, but this sense can have been so clouded by a bad childhood for example, or other outer input, that it is hardly functional."

    You're entering a whole new dimension into this arguement that the rest of the people involved in it (Xev, Ortho, Wet1, Adam...) don't believe in.
     
  17. Bebelina kospla.com Valued Senior Member

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    Exactly what of that don't you believe, and why?
     
  18. Xev Registered Senior Member

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    Tyler;
    Very true. A fact for which I place sole responsibility on your head.

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    Bebelina, kindly keep such discussions involving karma, instinctive goodness, inner states of suffering for which one is unaware and what all where they belong - Eastern religion or parapsychology.

    I would much appreciate it if you refrained from hijacking this thread with such silliness. If you wish to discuss why Tyler does or does not believe in them, I would ask you both to keep it to another thread.

    I'm quite interested in this one.

    Thanx.
     
  19. Bebelina kospla.com Valued Senior Member

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    There is no way to discuss such an issue as 'why we should be good'( or any other issue either, for that matter), without involving our personal beliefs, you have yours and I have mine, but that doesn't mean that we can't discuss a topic from different point of views. By doing that we will even enrich our personal beliefs to a wider extent.

     
  20. Bebelina kospla.com Valued Senior Member

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    And....

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    I didn't ask Tyler of karma, but of that specific sentence he had quoted.
    He can answer for himself too?
     
  21. Tyler Registered Senior Member

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    "There is no way to discuss such an issue as 'why we should be good'( or any other issue either, for that matter), without involving our personal beliefs, you have yours and I have mine, but that doesn't mean that we can't discuss a topic from different point of views. By doing that we will even enrich our personal beliefs to a wider extent"

    The only point we can discuss it from and all be on the same stage is logic. And then it becomes a debate to see who can follow the logic through.

    However, I will grant you that hearing different opinions does enrich us. That does not mean that there is any feasible way for us to debate though. You're talking about magic while I'm talking about trying to figure out what the logic is. My 'personal belief' on this issue is nothing. I have no 'belief'. All I have are logical conclusions. The only 'belief' I have is that there is no god and therefore no ultimate underlying morality. And the only reason I hold this 'belief' is because I see no reason to hold the other option. In fact, my 'belief' is not so much a 'belief' as a lack of belief.


    "I didn't ask Tyler of karma, but of that specific sentence he had quoted.
    He can answer for himself too?"

    I'm sorry, I don't follow. Could you rephrase this?
     
  22. Kenshin Guest

    Why be good?

    This is a simple question.

    I think being good can make yourself happy. It does not matter if you are doing more than others and feel disadvantaged.

    Being bad can bring misfortune to yourself. For example, if you have done something bad to others, they will do the same to you.
     
  23. Bebelina kospla.com Valued Senior Member

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    Is arrogance good? Is to believe you alone hold all the answers good? Is being condensending toward others good?
    I don't think that, but some of you seem to.
    Tyler has stated that greed is good in a another topic anyway.

    To believe that you have no belief a a selfdeception on a very high level. Humans are very subjective in their perception, all we experience is interpreted through our personality filters, which involves beliefs of the reality we are perceiveing most of all.



     

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