Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Could you, in good conscience, recommend your morality to other people?

"What a trivial question, of course!"

Could you, in good conscience, recommend your morality to other people, no matter what circumstances you find yourself in?

Imagine you're a utilitarian ends-oriented altruist - the sort of altruism Comte proposed.  And imagine you're in a society of such Comtean altruists.  Isn't there a point at which the best ends are achieved, not by preaching altruism, but by preaching greed?  Isn't there conceivably a point where the marginal utility of an additional altruist is less than the utility of greed?

In a nonideal society, can you even be certain of the utility of an additional Comtean altruist?  Should a Comtean altruist -ever- teach Comtean altruism?  The ends justify the means, after all; how certain are you of the utility of altruism?  If you're not certain, should you ever bring it up?

If you're an atheist who believes in doing no harm, should you encourage -any- kind of altruism?  You don't believe in a soul - don't you do some harm to people by encouraging them to give up some of their well-being?  Does it increase overall utility to instill guilt in somebody about their own relative state of well-being? On an individual basis, aren't you doing harm by doing so?


  1. It's an interesting question. On the one hand, with enough thought we might not want to - even Buddhist monks (for example) cannot realistically expect everyone to live by their code, else they wouldn't be able to keep living the lifestyle to which they are accustomed. On the other hand, if we don't recommend our own morality for others, it makes it mighty likely that others *will* act in noxious ways. Governments come to mind.

    1. Hm. I'm going to put up a second version to try to address some of this.