On Philosophy

July 28, 2006

More On Community Ethics

Filed under: Ethics,Political Philosophy — Peter @ 12:40 am

This post expands on the ideas presented in these posts: 1, 2, 3, 4, but you don’t need to read them first. All you need to know are the two principles that are the foundation of this ethical system: it is ethical to act in the best interests of the community and unethical to act against those best interests (other actions are morally indifferent). Additionally it is unethical to remove someone from the community against their will, which prevents ethics from mandating that we treat some people badly in order to benefit the rest of the community, because this would be equivalent to removing those people from the community.

Today I will answer the questions “what kind of social structures should we aim for if we want to be maximally ethical?” and “how should we treat people not in our community?”

1: The Problem of Politics

Most ethical codes judge social systems to be more or less ethical depending on the kind of rules they create. For example almost all ethical systems would judge tyranny as a bad way of structuring society, since tyrants will generally make rules that promote only their own wellbeing, and are likely to be disastrous for the people living under them. So what kind of political system would the ethics presented above favor? Well obviously one that encouraged compromise, but unfortunately I have no idea how to create a system that mandates compromise, or is able to determine when the compromise is fair. At this point you may think I am going to claim that democracy is the most ethical system, but I’m not. Democracy violates both ethical principles given above. Democracy has the power to effectively cut people with minority views out of process of government, which goes against the second principle. Additionally the majority does not necessarily know what is best for the community as a whole, and even if they know it they may not choose it. Democracy is suited to a system of utilitarian ethics, where we strive only to increase the total happiness, and little else. What we want is a way to guarantee that the best decisions for the community are being made. The best decisions are generally made by a single well-informed person (since an expert can almost always make better judgments than the majority), who is properly motivated. Thus I propose a conditional monarchy. By this I mean that one man or woman is given unlimited power (except where constrained by certain universal human rights), but they can only keep the office (and the power) if they maintain some kind of community wellness index above a certain level. Designing the wellness index itself is a task best left to social scientists, of course. Selecting the new ruler when an old one fails can be done by any number of methods. If you think that such a system isn’t ethical I ask you to seriously consider why you feel that way. Do you believe that ethics mandates that we give everyone power? Generally I think that power should be given on the basis of ability, and not given out to those who may use it poorly (such as the majority).

2: The Problem of Strangers

A potential problem with the ethical system we have been considering is how it mandates that we treat strangers. Since a stranger isn’t a member of our community do we have ethical license to treat them as poorly as we wish? I would argue that we don’t, not because the stranger is currently a member of the community, but because they are potentially a future member of the community. In essence this is the reverse of the principle that we shouldn’t remove anyone from the community, the principle that we should expand the community by adding new members whenever possible. Adding members to the community is beneficial because their wellbeing is added to the wellbeing of the rest of the community, and thus everyone ends up better off (generally of course, see the post on punishment). An exception to this is when resources are scarce and the community can’t afford to support any more members, but in that case does it really seem unethical to chase off strangers? Another exception to the derived principle that we should add new members to the community is the case of having children, because initially newborns don’t add anything to the wellbeing of the community. As a whole the community needs enough members to survive, but not so many that its resources are depleted, and thus ethics can’t mandate the principle that no one have children or that everyone have six or seven, for obvious reasons. However, since people have a varying number of children, a couple deciding on their own to have many or no children isn’t a problem. And thus it seems to me that the benefits to the community in most cases of potentially adding a new child are pretty much a wash, leaving it up to individual couples if they want to have children and how many they want to have.


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