What is [interpersonal] moral legitimacy, and do we need it?

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    Simon Paynton

    It would be interesting to know how John Rawls arrived at his principles of justice, from (presumably) first principles.  I’m not sure what justice even is, or its relation to fairness: are they the same thing?

    According to Michael Tomasello, fairness means to treat everyone with respect and give them their due.  So it can be looked at a lot of different ways.  One way is “maxmimum benefit and minimum harm available to them” which respects somebody’s right to thrive and to be treated with respect.  With the “available” it also implies “their due”.  There is also the fairness of how to divide up resources according to the person, which is related, or is a subset of that.



    Yep Simon I agree it would be interesting but, to be honest I am not familiar with the subject of justice and legal theory. But from my little knowledge its pretty abstract & for me complicated!

    I was mainly concerned as to how one on a pragmatic level how ordinary people like myself work out ethical problems in everyday life.  Which I think you can use ideas such as R.E.

    As a process of thinking, to arrive at ethical conclusions.

    I watched this short YouTube Video by Massimo Pigliucci. Which helped me get an idea of R.E







    If someone asks an atheist where we get our moral authority, we can say, in a world of people, it’s “the law of cause and effect”. If we do “this”, this happens; if we do “that”, that happens. Our primary value is the maximum flourishing and minimum harm available for each person. See how it all ties up?

    That’s basically utilitarian ethics, is it not? “The greatest good for the greatest number.”

    Thought problem: Suppose you could eliminate the threat of Icelandic terrorism by deporting all Icelandic visitors and rounding up all Americans of Icelandic descent and detaining them permanently in a Guantanamo prison.

    What does utilitarianism say about this.

    We know what John Rawls has said: “Each person possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of society as a whole cannot override. For this reason justice denies that the loss of freedom for some is made right by a greater good shared by others. It does not allow that the sacrifices imposed on a few are outweighed by the larger sum of advantages enjoyed by many. Therefore in a just society the liberties of equal citizenship are taken as settled; the rights secured by justice are not subject to political bargaining or to the calculus of social interests.”



    Simon Paynton

    That’s basically utilitarian ethics, is it not? “The greatest good for the greatest number.”

    It’s similar, but not the same.  “The greatest number” is quite capable of leaving some people with nothing.  “For each person” gets round this.

    “My” version of utilitarianism (which is the same as Peter Singer’s) would deal with the thought problem by not deporting or rounding up anyone.  This is an artificial situation, because the world doesn’t work the way the problem supposes.  But this version sticks up for human rights, the right of the individual to flourish.



    Veil of ignorance thought experiment by John Rawls.


    Maybe another Intuition pump for atheist to arrive at ethical answers?

    I don’t think it the same as utilitarianism


    Simon Paynton

    @brightsky – unfortunately we can’t construct a perfectly fair society.  But this thought experiment is a good way to arrive at principles I think.



    Yep Simon I agree with what you say completely.

    However there is some scientific evidence which shows that countries who try to use egalitarian social policies have better social outcomes.

    One book I read which tries to demonstrate this is ” The Spirit Level” which you may have already read!


    Although some people have commented that total equality is impossible. The Pareto distribution for example.

    Or as you & others have pointed out variation within species is one of the 4 ways that evolution occurs!

    But although we may have to accept that at some fundamental level have to accept differences.

    As an atheist maybe one should try to help the suffering.

    The difference principle by John Rawls.


    I would be interested to see what your views on this is as in previous post you have described your own theory of thriving based on evolution! How does fairness relate to thriving?


    Simon Paynton

    How does fairness relate to thriving?

    Fairness relates to thriving because natural selection is relative.

    I haven’t read The Spirit Level but it is on my list for when I get round to studying fairness.  Tomasello calls it a “cooperativisation of competition”.  Thank you for the link on Justice as Fairness, I’ll take a look.

    I do know that there are different varieties of fairness: equal shares, shares based on effort put in, shares based on status etc. that are accepted according to the context.

    “Giving someone their due” covers a lot of different circumstances, not just sharing out resources.


    @ BrightSky  – This is a great post. There is a book called “The Quest for a Moral Compass” by Kenan Malik (a global search for ethics and moral truths) that you might like to check out. I think you have it Simon? I think it is a great book but not everyone does.



    OK thanks Reg I will have a look to see if its on Kindle!



    I think that Kant’s Categorical Imperative could be made useable with two steps: 1.  introduce a heirarchy of imperatives:

    Simon that completely loses the point of the imperative. If some imperatives are less imperative than others (I don’t even know how that is possible) then you would suddenly have to introduce a moral normative sub-system into both the reasoning for which belongs in which hierarchy (why does this moral law belong in this heirarchy), and another moral normative sub-system into the lower hierarchies in which case “why is violating your universal law acceptible at this level”. You’d be introducing two normative sub-systems into a moral system that in reality is a way to avoid normative ethics.

    If you do that, you totally lose the whole value of deontological ethics, the universality of moral laws and you take away most of the personal choice in formation of moral laws. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to merge any normative ethics or golden rule or christ-morality or “living and thriving” into the categorical imperative…nor even almost any other deontological moral system. It’s not really going to budge. You dig it or you don’t. You can tinker a little and maybe try to pull a bit of it into another system…but the categorical imperative is out of reach.



    Its a theory ( not a law) to test a persons stage of moral development. There are 6 stages By prof Lawrence Kohlberg.

    I have a lot of major issues with his 6 stages, not because they don’t individually shed light on different responses to moral problems, but because he creates a ladder when one development stage proceeds the next one. His data (and even further study until now) is not strong enough in both the categorization of the reasoning behind answering moral questions (usually theoretical ones), the change in decision making in individuals over a long period of time (haven’t found any study with enough test subjects over at least 20 years), it leaves out a lot of other explanations that transcend the six developmental stages and it looks to western-democratic-socialistic-human-rights-based-theory-of-justice at the top, which makes the development category biased both in the people who conduct the study, the people who make up the study and the patterns of behavior that is studied. It seems that in many countries the sixth level of moral development is well out of reach for the majority of people. Still, it is a great introduction to the varieties of the explanations behind justification of decisions on moral problems.


    Simon Paynton

    that completely loses the point of the imperative.

    This is the problem with a lot of moral philosophy in my opinion – we’re arguing about an artificial construction that doesn’t exist, and doesn’t work in real life.  If we wish to keep it coherent, we can exclude imperatives that are sometimes necessary to break, e.g. in the case of stealing.

    Kohlberg’s 6 stages” – there is another one I prefer, which is:

    1) egocentrism, doing as one pleases;

    2) following conventional rules;

    3) following one’s own rules.

    These can be mixed and matched in a mature adult.


    Simon Paynton

    @davis – “deontological ethics

    – why is something a duty, in real life?  I think there are two kinds:

    1)  role-based duty – living up to role ideals (respecting cooperation)

    2)  humanitarian-based duty – to treat others with respect and fairness.

    Both are evolved, in the sense that 1) is an example of cooperation, and 2) is an evolutionary result of human cooperation and interdependence.



    I have read that are a variety of approaches in deontology.

    Ranging from a Kantian absolutist one to more moderate approaches.
    For example Kant famously wrote this.

    Better the whole people should perish,” than that injustice be done (Metaphysics of Morals Kant 1780)

    Injustice= breaking a categorical imperative.

    Absolutist conceptions of deontology ( Orthodox & inflexible in my opinion!)


    You know the common known question,” if lying is always wrong. Then would you lie if Nazis came looking for Jewish children hidden in your house?”
    An absolutist deontologist would tell the truth and let the Nazi take them.

    However in my opinion there are alternatives.

    Moderate Deontology

    Example here.

    Sliding scale threshold deontology


    is one  moderate approach. For example in this case you will break the duty to tell the truth as saving lives is for you more important. But in other circumstances you would hold that duty of telling the truth.

    • A person may even find it helpful to look at other moral frameworks.
    • I guess you could develop pluralist thinking. One which considers; deontological, consequentialist, virtue ethical approaches. When thinking about this stuff.
    • I read about some of these ideas from the University of Stanford website link below.
    • They have good references to journals & books at the bottom.
    • This reply was modified 4 years, 5 months ago by  Brightsky. Reason: Spelling errors
    • This reply was modified 4 years, 5 months ago by  Brightsky.
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