Saturday, November 07, 2009

Interests vs. Ethical Values

The same people who will cheer a single-payer or public option health reform, will fall silent when the suggestion wanders toward abolishing the gambling system known as stock exchanges (even if individual stockholders get a refund), and will likely voice outrage at the proposition that the inheritance laws that are the pillar of our financial caste system has no real philosophical basis.

Similarly, it is easy to find the veritable legion of "family values" advocates who are multiple divorcees, middle-aged prudes who committed "youthful indiscretions," or reformed drug users who want to lock up teenage experimenters and throw away the key.

Greed? Hypocrisy? Fear? Individualism? Not really.

At the heart of all this is a vast confusion between one's own interests and a moral philosophy that emerges out of disinterested reasoning. It's the difference between nominal Christians' churchgoing for fear of hell and Emmanuel Kant's notion that what is good is worth doing for its own sake.

When people cite a "principle" that obviously feathers their own nest, rather than an ethical imperative, they are giving voice to an interest, not an ethical value.

Interests are all about what is convenient and consistent with one's way of life. Ethical values are what is good, whether or not we like it.
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