Friday, August 31, 2007

What price virtue?

One of the seemingly yet-to-be-answered questions in Western ethics asks what is the quality that makes for real virtue?

Is it the quality of our intentions? Do we act from good motives or think the right thoughts?

Is it compliance with a norm or rule? Do the right thing!

Is it making a utilitarian contribution to society and the world?

In terms of markets, the question is often asked: if we pay somebody to do something and they response to our economic incentive, are they acting virtuously? Or just out of greed? Greed is presumed by many to be both unworthy and destructive of the common good. The Christian Apostle Paul wrote that the "love" of money is the root of all evil.

So, what are we to think of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's new experiment in New York City?

He will pay parents to be good: $50 for getting a library card; $100 to take a child to the dentist; $25 for attending partent teacher conferences; $100 per family for preventive health screenings; $150 a month for having a full time job.

Suppose a parent responds positively and changes his or her behavior to get the money. Is this change of behavior good or bad? For the parent? For the child involved? For New York City? For the World?

And, if the utilitarian consequences of such payments are good for all, then why should we care about the inner springs of motivation that bring them about?

I can see that at the level of society utilitarian advantages should be supported and the incentives that produce them applauded and used.

But should such a calculus be used at the level of the individual?

If we care about the individual and his or her perfection into a meaningful and happy life, then should not our conern for their motivations take a higher priority?

And their ethical orientation can't really be separated from their "ethos" - their culture and material conditions of life.

I feel that it can be right to change people's "ethos" with material incentives to trigger good and constructive behaviors that can become habitual and draw along with them a new sense of personal identity and accomplishment.

Afterall, sociologists have long observed that norms need to be reinforced and enforced by institutional arrangements of reward and punishment.

Steve Young

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is not about the need for enforcement or reinforcement of social and moral norms. It is the opposite, actually. What one can observe is: moral nad social standards erode. Especially when they are institutionalized, say: covered by more and more restrictive regulations. This is just the process of replacing principles by regulations: the more external the morality (etc.) is, the more it is the case of "them". "They" forbid, "they" punish and so on. This is the intellectually easier way of making decisions: not to bother what's moral. So the internal compass to keep one's internal standards is being replaced by the desire to play games, to check what's possible, what may be done without punishment and thus - what will be accepted by "them", i.e. by the authorities, (at the same moment being immoral).

Let us do the opposite: keep people responsible for their own opinions, motivation, decisions, actions and they grow really responsible for their social environments. Respect them and they will respect the others. But this process can not be enforced or declared. The formal part of it is the last one to expect.

What we need is the leadership and just some support from the communities and authorities. The moral leaders that attract people give them an opportunity to become better humans. The leaders in every group, company, society. The leaders sharing basic values Caux Round Table already share, proactive, visible. Everywhere. And diverse.

That means CRT address only two (very important) of many ways of such leadership: moral capitalism and moral government. There are many other ways such moral leadership should emerge to support 'Moral World'. And no individual can count them all.

Blessed is diversity. Blessed is variety.

What should we do? Lead. In many ways. Use whatever it takes to show how respect and morality supported by practical means (including moral techniques of influence) create more friendly (more moral) ways of working, making business, living, ways of being. Let us share the core values of moral world and let us be different.

(Please forgive me poor writing in English. It is not my native language.)