I do everything I can to be right. And if not right, then at least consistent. I try to think of every counter argument, and come up with a response. If I can come up with a response to every counter argument that I can think of, that’s enough. It’s as close to being right as I feel I can get, and it’s adequate.
Except that it’s not quite adequate.
It’s only until I debate my friends that I realize that I was overly ambitious about my ability to find counter arguments. As a human, I tend to do this often. It’s not enough to just think your way out of a problem, you have to bounce it off of someone else.
I was discussing “positive duties”. Positive duties mean you should do something, negative duties mean you shouldn’t. For instance, you have a negative duty to not set the building on fire, and you might have a positive duty to rescue the people inside.
For clarification, I don’t mean: that you don’t have a choice. I mean: this is the rule and you SHOULD follow it. You don’t have to, but then you’re breaking the rule.
I was of the opinion that there is no positive duties that make sense. My logic is that positive duties are imaginary and consist of things that people just wished other people would do, and make a rule out of it. Such as, “People have a positive duty to give me ice cream”. It was apparent to me that no such rule existed! I reasoned that if anyone and everyone could make up rules, there was no way to distinguish between legitimate rules and bogus ones. And in all likelihood, they were all bogus.
I do believe in negative duties, such as don’t hit and don’t steal. Those seem intuitive to me and I made the assumption that they weren’t made up by a person, instead they were the rules of nature, therefore it was neutral and objective.
Then my friend brought up positive duties to children. Do we have an obligation to raise them, if we brought them into this world? I would certainly think so. That’s a positive duty. It also has serious implications. If I bring a child into this world, do my parents and siblings also have a duty to help out? How about the village? I don’t necessarily want the village to help me, so I would hope that there is no such rule. The conundrum is that this rule seems to come from nature.
The most important things to remember when fleshing out your moral code:
- Come clean.
Admit when you are wrong. this will help people relate to you and accept when you are right and it helps them identify the areas you are known to be right and areas you are known to be wrong.
- Think deep and hard.
I think of ethics as a big mountain range, and the smoother it is, the more consistent it is. sometimes it winds up slanted, but that’s still better than a bunch of exceptions, and exceptions to exceptions. Being right is hard, being consistent is a compromise. It’s easier and usually right-ish.