Sunday, April 13, 2008

From whence cometh it?

After two days, I remain satisfied that my moral framework provides adequate coverage; that is, it outlines the broad strokes of what I believe to be a moral standard that men and women can live their lives by. I hope to track down some of the finer details as I go along, but today I just want to investigate the possible origin of this code.

Obviously, at one level it comes from Porter Stansberry. But Stansberry's original point is that he sees his version of the moral code as self-evident. I even think, given the caveats in my second post, that he would believe this of my extended version as well. But is it self-evident? Is it, in his words, truly "objective?"

There is at least one way in which this standard is undeniably objective, and I believe it is probably the reason Porter felt confident in his original assertion. It is clear to me that every human being on the planet would want this standard of behavior to apply to those with whom they have a business relationship. They might not expect it to actually happen, but if they did expect" fair play," they would expect this very behavior. Things get more complicated in other relationships; but in business dealings, we all certainly desire, even if we don't anticipate, this sort of fair dealing.

Now, why would business relationships have this interesting characteristic of serving to clarify moral dealings between humans? I contend that it is because there is the expectation that a business deal is supposed to be entered into by two parties that want to maximize the benefit each receives from the transaction. That is, when I enter into a business deal, my goal should be to maximize my benefit; and I expect the same from my partner. Business works best when both parties believe that they have received maximum value from the transaction. If it turns out that each party feels this way, then there is an incentive to repeat the deal again in the future. Thus, a fair business deal maximizes long-term benefit by reducing the work of finding a good deal in the future. Once you have found a good partner, you no longer need to search for one.

Thus, it is the case that business relationships have the clearest incentive for mutual benefit.

Please note that I am not saying that every business deal redounds to the shared mutual benefit of both parties. Nor am I saying that no one tries to take advantage of the other party in business. What I am saying is that there is a powerful incentive in business dealings to find a place of mutual benefit and fair play consistent with the morality I outlined. And so it is in this arena that we can most clearly believe that such a moral code is in some real way "objective."

But that's not really true, is it? Let's be honest, what we really want in a business relationship is one in which the benefit clearly accrues to our side, with a partner that simply doesn't recognize that they are at a disadvantage. Then, we get our share, and part of theirs as well. If you don't believe me, think of some area where you have great passion. Then imagine having to enter into a partnership with someone who stands in opposition to you passionately-held belief. If you must be in this partnership, you are going to want to have the maximum benefit to your side, and you do not care whether the other side gains anything at all, as long as they believe they are gaining benefit, so that you can continue to take advantage of them for as long as possible. See?

So even here, where the advantages of a mutually beneficial pact are clear, most, if not all people will choose an unequal relationship if one presents itself. Nonetheless, we all know that we desire such behavior be exhibited towards us. Where does such an expectation and desire come from? Does it arise from an evolutionary advantage, or does it come from somewhere else?

I just wish enough people read my blog to generate comments. Oh, well.

1 comment:

Andy said...

You claim to read a lot. If you do, you would enjoy immensely Dr. Michael Shermer's "The Science of Good and Evil," that deals with the questions you are asking.

Also, have you ever read Ayn Rand? Objectivism is probably a more accurate and elegant explanation of morality than the non-aggression principle.