Duties, Rights and Altruism

If the moral landscape is defined by duties and rights, is there a place for altruism?


Deontology--In contemporary moral philosophy, one of those kinds of normative theories regarding which choices are morally required, forbidden, or permitted.  In other words, deontology falls within the domain of moral theories that guide and assess our choices of what we ought to do (deontic  theories), in contrast to (aretaic [virtue] theories) that--fundamentally, at least--guide and assess what kind of person (in terms of character traits) we are and should be.  (Wikipedia)


Duty--something that one is expected or required to do by moral or legal obligation: the binding or obligatory force of something that is morally or legally right; moral or legal obligation; an action or task required by a person's position or occupation; function; the respectful and obedient conduct due a parent, superior, elder, etc. an act or expression of respect.  (Dictionary)


Right--Just claim or title, whether legal, prescriptive, or moral; sometimes,  that which is due to anyone by just claim; legal guarantees, moral principles, etc.; adherence or obedience to moral and legal principles and authority; that which is morally, legally, or ethically proper.  (Dictionary)


It has been suggested in the literature that duties and rights are two sides of the same coin.  Duties are from the actor's viewpoint, and rights are from the victim's viewpoint.  For the purposes of this discussion, we will assume references to rights as a corresponding  short-hand reference to a duty not to violate the right, unless noted otherwise.


Have any international "world courts" in a number of decisions called into question the existence of duty?


Sources of normativity (oughts)/legitimacy?  Who/what says it is a duty/right?  Does the U. S. Constitution, including amendments and the Bill of Rights, create rights, or merely officially reaffirm them?  Same question for the UN.


Edmund Burke's opinion of a right: [Burke's liberty]...rejects theoreticians' and intellectuals' definition of "the rights of men", which legitimate license without limits.  Starting with a declared right only leads to rationalization, not rational thinking to develop a right.  It has been suggested that the term "right" is invoked like a "trump card" to cut off any further challenge (Wikipedia).



.....a.  Dictionary: Principle or practice of unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others (opposed to egoism): the philosophical doctrine that right action is that which produces the greatest benefit to others.

.....b.  Wikipedia (as an act): Pure altruism consists of sacrificing something for someone other than the self (eg. sacrificing time, energy or possessions) with no expectation of any compensation or benefits, either direct or indirect (eg. receiving recognition for the act of giving).  The issue of personal satisfaction or happiness  from undertaking/completing the act calls into question the possibility of pure selflessness.

.....c.  Batson (empathy based): a desire to benefit someone else for his/her sake rather than one's own; a motivational state with the ultimate goal of increasing another's welfare.

.....d.  SEP (evolutionary biology): an organism is said to behave altruistically when its behavior benefits other organisms, at a cost to itself.  The costs and benefits are measured in terms of reproductive fitness, or expected number of offspring.

.....e.  Host (internalist):  A freely chosen act to help, serve or benefit others entailing real (resources, time or physical well-being) sacrifice of self-interest and with no expectation of reciprocity.


If altruism is a virtue, is failure to act altruistically immoral?

Is political activism to help someone altruism, or is it getting someone  else  to satisfy your desires?

What are the mechanisms for resolving conflicts in duties and rights?  Critics of most  moral systems cite the absence of this mechanism.  Domain issues?  Measure?  The following are offered as examples of moral systems:


.....a.  Kant's Categorical Imperative provides a basis for a moral principle; "I ought never to act except in such a way that I can also will that my maxim should become a universal law...It (the Categorical Imperative) is concerned, not with the matter of the action its presumed results, but with its form and with the principle from which it follows; and what is essentially good in the action consists in the  mental disposition, let the consequences by what they may.  This imperative may be called the imperative of morality."  Both Kant and Rawls employ the device, "veil of ignorance" to assure objectivity in the forming of the principle and both disavow any allowance of considerationsof consequences.

.....b.  Consequentialism--Evaluating impacts:

..........Problem being addressed?  Problem of overdramatization?

..........Probability proposed solution will solve problem?  Problem of prediction?


..........Who is being helped and by how much?  Cost per "save"?

..........Who is making a sacrifice and by how much?

..........Who will be harmed (serendipitously benefited) by unintended consequences?

.....c.  Utilitarianism--Greater good for whom?  Greatest good for greatest number?  Greatest good for society?  Head (body) count or quality of support to some?


This topic is the suggestion of Gene who will lead us on its discussion.  Hope to see you all there.

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  • LB


    June 6, 2013

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