Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Supererogation

Rate this topic


aleph_0
 Share

Recommended Posts

Are there morally good acts that are not morally obligatory? In Objectivism, this concept would have to have special formulation, since at most one can say that a person has moral obligations to him and obligations to others are derivative from that. Still, we can abstract about any particular person, and ask if there is any context in which there is some action which it is not necessary for him to do in order to be moral, but which would be praiseworthy all the same.

Since morality in Objectivism is grounded in self-flourishing, the question might be equivalent to asking: Is there a line between living and flourishing, such that when you are within the range of flourishing, there are acts which increase your degree of flourishing? If there is such a line, then it seems like once you are flourishing, it is not morally incumbent upon you (as a moral obligation to yourself, in a sense) to flourish still more since the morality only demands that you flourish, and not necessarily reach some specific degree of flourishing.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Are there morally good acts that are not morally obligatory?

Seems like an artificial dichotomy exists between two separate, but connected, types of acts. Assuming "good" on Objectivist grounds, it seems that making (through productive effort) $100/week is good, $1000 is better, and $1,000,000 is great. Without qualifying context, the wealth producing individual is either more good or less good.

The confusion sets in when you add particular obligations and context. If he needs $475/week to exist, then it's bad. If it is through his own lack of effort or laziness, it is immoral(unproductive), if he uses the government to live off of, it's immoral(dishonest), if it is a temporary setback and he is living on his savings while he searches for a job, it's inconvenient.

If he makes a million an hour but hates his job and his life and would rather do something else but wants to prove to the world that he has value, then it's pathetic(second handed).

Likewise, if he makes $1000/week and doesn't work more because he spends the rest of his time attempting to build the world's largest model train set, which is his lifelong passion, then it's really great.

The italics demonstrate a tiny part of the subtlety of language that apply to value judgments. A lot of difficulty comes from trying to cram a multidimensional process onto a single line or a binary switch.

Reminds me of trying to deduce from existence exists that a man ought to pursue the biological sciences as a career.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That's a well-considered analysis. While I think about it, though, it leaves me still unclear about some kernel of the issue: suppose the person really wants to and can make more, and the costs of doing so are not too high, but out of weakness of will he chooses not to. But he's still making tons of money and able to live very happily. Has he done something wrong? If he had made the extra money, would he have done something good but not morally dictated by his nature in the way that it is dictated by his nature that it is moral for him to eat life-sustaining food?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That's a well-considered analysis. While I think about it, though, it leaves me still unclear about some kernel of the issue: suppose the person really wants to and can make more, and the costs of doing so are not too high, but out of weakness of will he chooses not to. But he's still making tons of money and able to live very happily. Has he done something wrong? If he had made the extra money, would he have done something good but not morally dictated by his nature in the way that it is dictated by his nature that it is moral for him to eat life-sustaining food?

So he chooses not to, but has regrets? Was there a reason for not choosing, can that reason not be set against the regret as consolation? Was he just irrational?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Let's just chalk it up to weakness of will. It would have taken some effort, he knows it would have been worth the effort, but he ultimately just didn't do it even though he thinks he should have or that it would have been better for him if he had done it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Supererogatory morality... interesting topic actually.

Here is an example to think about:

Suppose there is a train and there are three seats left. There is a pair of seats near the front of the train (lets assume the front of the train offers the advantage of being able to exit the train first) and there is one open seat near the back of the train. If you are walking and you are first in line to choose your next seat, and you notice there is a recently married couple behind you who would most likely want to sit next to each other. In a selfish viewpoint, it would be ideal for you to choose to sit in the front of the train as you can exit the train first and it offers you an advantage. At the same time, to take the pair of open seats at the front of the train, you are forcing the couple to split up and they would have to sit in separate seats for the train ride.

Are you now morally obligated to choose the less convenient seat in the back of the train for the "good" of the couple behind you? Are you morally wrong to choose to sit in the front of the train and make the couple split apart?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Let's just chalk it up to weakness of will. It would have taken some effort, he knows it would have been worth the effort, but he ultimately just didn't do it even though he thinks he should have or that it would have been better for him if he had done it.

Ewww..those are the worst kinds of regrets...the "what might have beens."

I'd be surprised to find, in a real life situation, that there were not some other issue involved. Willpower often seems like a circular answer to me for that kind of causation. More likely he had a fear of failure, or chose smaller more immediate pleasures over the long term meaningful ones. Either way though, it is immoral in the sense that he is less happy(have less pride) then he otherwise would have been, but not necessarily unhappy. He can think to himself, "I'm the sort of guy that usually gives things a pretty good try," instead of " I'm the kind of man who gives it everything I've got." The reward of morality on that level is self-perception.

There is no moral requirement to make money qua money, but there is to pursue value in general for the achievement of self regard. So if he chose to pursue something else, he would be fine, but if this was just a refusal to pursue value because "he didn't feel like it," or some other emotional reasoning, then there would be some opportunity cost, if you will, in floating along on little effort and less passion.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Supererogatory morality... interesting topic actually.

Here is an example to think about:

Suppose there is a train and there are three seats left. There is a pair of seats near the front of the train (lets assume the front of the train offers the advantage of being able to exit the train first) and there is one open seat near the back of the train. If you are walking and you are first in line to choose your next seat, and you notice there is a recently married couple behind you who would most likely want to sit next to each other. In a selfish viewpoint, it would be ideal for you to choose to sit in the front of the train as you can exit the train first and it offers you an advantage. At the same time, to take the pair of open seats at the front of the train, you are forcing the couple to split up and they would have to sit in separate seats for the train ride.

Are you now morally obligated to choose the less convenient seat in the back of the train for the "good" of the couple behind you? Are you morally wrong to choose to sit in the front of the train and make the couple split apart?

I see a flaw in this example in that there is an implied assumption of no gain on the part of the moral actor for letting the couple sit together. Sitting in the back is a minor inconvenience(usually) and seeing a couple sit together, or even avoiding their disappointed looks could be a larger value.

If he were a sociopath, or disliked them for other reasons, or was in a hurry, the relative values might change.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Suppose there is a train and there are three seats left. There is a pair of seats near the front of the train (lets assume the front of the train offers the advantage of being able to exit the train first) and there is one open seat near the back of the train. If you are walking and you are first in line to choose your next seat, and you notice there is a recently married couple behind you who would most likely want to sit next to each other. In a selfish viewpoint, it would be ideal for you to choose to sit in the front of the train as you can exit the train first and it offers you an advantage. At the same time, to take the pair of open seats at the front of the train, you are forcing the couple to split up and they would have to sit in separate seats for the train ride.

Are you now morally obligated to choose the less convenient seat in the back of the train for the "good" of the couple behind you? Are you morally wrong to choose to sit in the front of the train and make the couple split apart?

This is a very one-dimensional, mechanical view of self-interest, and it is not the self-interest that Objectivism holds to be the proper standard. It is quite possible for a self-interested person to derive (selfish) pleasure from letting a married couple sit together; indeed, if he has a proper spirit of good will and benevolence that comes from the kind of self-respect that Objectivism advocates, he probably will. This isn't to say that he should automatically give up a seat in the front (maybe he's injured and walking to the back pains him); it's up to his own context and value system, obviously, but there's no a priori reason why sitting at the front is *the* selfish act.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Are there morally good acts that are not morally obligatory? In Objectivism, this concept would have to have special formulation, since at most one can say that a person has moral obligations to him and obligations to others are derivative from that. Still, we can abstract about any particular person, and ask if there is any context in which there is some action which it is not necessary for him to do in order to be moral, but which would be praiseworthy all the same.

Since morality in Objectivism is grounded in self-flourishing, the question might be equivalent to asking: Is there a line between living and flourishing, such that when you are within the range of flourishing, there are acts which increase your degree of flourishing? If there is such a line, then it seems like once you are flourishing, it is not morally incumbent upon you (as a moral obligation to yourself, in a sense) to flourish still more since the morality only demands that you flourish, and not necessarily reach some specific degree of flourishing.

Certainly there are morally good acts which aren't obligatory in the sense that any of a number of alternatives that I could have chosen would have been a morally proper choice, but I wasn't obligated to pick one of them. A good example is perhaps choosing a major in college. I enjoy a multitude of fields, and I think that several of them could be the starting points for a happy, successful career and life. Obviously it's a significant decision which deserves a lot of deliberation, but if you're faced with a few good options and (not knowing the future) you aren't sure which one is best, I'd say you're not morally obliged to any, but choosing any particular one of those would be good. Of course, you're morally obliged to pick one that according to your best judgment will make you happy, and you're morally obliged not to irrationally dismiss (properly defined) superior alternatives.

I'd say that in Objectivism, if you consciously pass up an opportunity to further your long-term well-being, that is an immoral act. Rand talked a lot about the "radiant selfishness of being which demands the best in everything;" I'd say this question is really about that one of her claims. She's certainly clear that any failure to pursue the best is a betrayal of oneself. One isn't obligated to spend as much time as it takes to clearly define the best; search costs exist, and some things just aren't important, but consciously ignoring information that you already have about your self-interest is most definitely immoral under Objectivism.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This is a very one-dimensional, mechanical view of self-interest, and it is not the self-interest that Objectivism holds to be the proper standard. It is quite possible for a self-interested person to derive (selfish) pleasure from letting a married couple sit together; indeed, if he has a proper spirit of good will and benevolence that comes from the kind of self-respect that Objectivism advocates, he probably will. This isn't to say that he should automatically give up a seat in the front (maybe he's injured and walking to the back pains him); it's up to his own context and value system, obviously, but there's no a priori reason why sitting at the front is *the* selfish act.

Yea I definitely see where you are going with this.

It all depends on his values. If he values seeing a happy couple together at the mere price of having to sit at the back of the train, it would not be morally wrong of him to choose to sit in the back.

And I wasn't saying I support selfishness in a situation like that, I was merely providing an example of supererogatory morality to think about.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

a=a, it sounds like you think there is no exact cut-off between moral and not-moral-but-nice, that it's a smooth spectrum from neutral to shades of better choices, topped off at perfectly fully moral. No?

I see a flaw in this example in that there is an implied assumption of no gain on the part of the moral actor for letting the couple sit together. Sitting in the back is a minor inconvenience(usually) and seeing a couple sit together, or even avoiding their disappointed looks could be a larger value.

If he were a sociopath, or disliked them for other reasons, or was in a hurry, the relative values might change.

I've always thought these kinds of rationales were bad. I don't do many things just to avoid other people's disappointment or to see them smile--if I do, this is extremely minimal. I would do such things because I want to live in a society where people help each other when the cost-benefit analysis is so slight that actual money exchange for values isn't worth-while.

Certainly there are morally good acts which aren't obligatory in the sense that any of a number of alternatives that I could have chosen would have been a morally proper choice, but I wasn't obligated to pick one of them.

This picture sees each of the options as somehow equal, though, whereas I want examples where there are some options which are better than others though they are all basically good and moral. I want to know whether there is ever a case where you can have a set of options where some subset are not only moral but moral + something extra which is nice, but which has no moral character.

I'd say that in Objectivism, if you consciously pass up an opportunity to further your long-term well-being, that is an immoral act. Rand talked a lot about the "radiant selfishness of being which demands the best in everything;" I'd say this question is really about that one of her claims. She's certainly clear that any failure to pursue the best is a betrayal of oneself. One isn't obligated to spend as much time as it takes to clearly define the best; search costs exist, and some things just aren't important, but consciously ignoring information that you already have about your self-interest is most definitely immoral under Objectivism.

In this picture, there is only superbly, radiantly, starkly moral, and then flatly immoral. That doesn't seem right to me--can't there be people who do well enough? Eddie Willers or that construction worker friend of Roarks who probably didn't do everything he could, but did a lot, and that was pretty good. Maybe they chose to focus their minds on the best that they could achieve, but didn't focus as much as they could have.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I want to know whether there is ever a case where you can have a set of options where some subset are not only moral but moral + something extra which is nice, but which has no moral character.

The thing is, that nothing has NO moral character. (Yes, even decisions about optional values still have a moral character of some sort--it's just that their moral character is unique to your case and so philosophy doesn't have any direct recommendations to make.)

I think you're asking something like, if I vacuum my room but don't get out the crevice tool and do every little nook and cranny, have I done something morally wrong, because the only reason I didn't do it was because it'd be more work? No, because no one has an infinite amount of energy or only one value, and if I don't choose to spend my time on vacuuming the floor, it's because I'm going to use it on something else, even if it's only napping.

The problem with the original question is that there's no alternative use for the non-expended effort/time addressed. Ayn Rand even mentions hypotheticals like this in one of her essays where she discusses the typical way that people talk about government initiatives: "Wouldn't it be nice if everyone had health care?" Well, nice compared to what? Where's the funding coming from? Whose rights will be abridged to secure it? Etc. If you really don't want to expend the effort, then obviously you prefer a more relaxed lifestyle, yes? Or you're not that bothered about all the little nooks and crannies?

There's no "best of everything" without context.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

a=a, it sounds like you think there is no exact cut-off between moral and not-moral-but-nice, that it's a smooth spectrum from neutral to shades of better choices, topped off at perfectly fully moral. No?

Yes, but with the caveat that the particulars which define "more" and "less" moral for the individual are context based and therefore, varied. I think the issue you are referring to might be contingent to certain qualities in other moral codes. Specifically those in which duty to others(men or gods) are more central.

I've always thought these kinds of rationales were bad. I don't do many things just to avoid other people's disappointment or to see them smile--if I do, this is extremely minimal. I would do such things because I want to live in a society where people help each other when the cost-benefit analysis is so slight that actual money exchange for values isn't worth-while.

My experience has been different, I guess. I haven't known anyone who does not act on occasion for emotional values of the type I described. People do it more or less with differing intentions as well as different levels of consciousness about their actual motivations, but I can't think of someone who acts without regard to other people, even if there is no tangible gain or loss.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...