AN EMPIRICAL APPROACH TO MORALITY Essay Research — страница 5

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to have received much analysis. In analogy with the previous discussion of “rights”, we propose a distinction between prima facie self-interest and overall self-interest. An action is defined to be in an individual’s prima facie self-interest if its immediate consequences increase the individuals happiness. In order for an action to be in an individuals overall self-interest, its cumulative effects over the lifetime of the individual must result in a positive balance of happiness over unhappiness. In literature and in life there are numerous examples of people who commit murder because it is in their prima facie self-interest, but discover at later times that the action was not in their overall self-interest. As an opposite example, people who engage in civil disobedience

are aware that such action is not in their prima facie self-interest, but may believe that it is in their overall self-interest because its long term beneficial effects on society will increase their personal happiness. Civil disobedience is an (extreme) example of the ethically important observation that many people have developed a “conscience” that leads them to feel happiness when their actions increase the happiness of others (note 2). (It should be recalled from the beginning of this section that we and using a broad definition of happiness as “the only thing desirable as an end.”) A society which has adopted an empirical approach to morality has chosen moral rules which a large majority believe will promote the happiness of its members. It therefore follows that it

will be in the overall self-interest of most of its members to act morally most of the time. In those situations when this is not the case, however, we must agree with other ethical writers that consequentialist morality does not support an argument that persons should act against their overall self-interest. This leads to the third question, “How can others be persuaded to act morally?” From the preceding discussion it is clear that the way to persuade others to act morally is to convince them that it is in their overall self-interest to do so. What are some of the factors that affect an individuals overall self-interest? We consider the general problem of corruption as an example. An individual is offered a bribe to take an action which violates the moral, and possibly the

legal, rules of his society. (For grammatical simplicity we assume it is a male.) He may feel that it is in his prima facie self-interest to accept, since spending the money could give him happiness. However, as a rational person he knows that other factors must be considered in determining whether acceptance of the bribe is in his overall self-interest. These factors are of both an internal and external nature. The dominant internal factor is his conscience. How much unhappiness would the knowledge of such an immoral action cause him over an extended period of time? Clearly, future pangs of conscience are a rational consideration in contemplating moral actions. There is also an indirect, internal consideration. Participation in corrupt practices is likely to encourage corruption

by others. Rational persons will include the negative effects of living in a more corrupt society on the happiness of themselves, their children and other loved ones in their evaluations of overall self-interest. A number of external factors would affect a decision on accepting a bribe. These would include the probability of exposure, the degree of social condemnation which would result from exposure of the action, and potential punishment by fines or jail if the action was illegal. While acceptance of a bribe has been used as an example, the factors affecting overall self-interest in that case would apply to a variety of moral decisions, e.g., using public funds for personal purposes or disseminating false accusations about a political opponent. We have argued that in a society

which has adopted an empirical approach to morality, most persons will act morally most of the time. The discussion of overall self-interest above suggests a number of moral positions an empirical society would adopt in order to persuade even more of its members to act morally more of the time: (a) It would emphasize an approach to education which results in children developing a conscience which causes them happiness when they act morally. (b) It would promote as a societal norm the condemnation of actions which violate the moral rules. (c) It would allocate appropriate resources to increase the probability of detection of immoral actions which affect the public welfare. (d) It would devise a system of penalties which tries to achieve a balance between deterrence and