Any working ethical system that actually works for human morality will entail trade-off’s. There are cases where different moral values conflict. You will encounter them often. You will have to make choices. What’s interesting is that when talking to most normal people who I’ve worked with, they’re extremely reluctant to discuss or recognize the need to make these kinds of trade-off’s. This may be a more specific case of the general aversion to moral awareness and the need for judgment both of your self and of others that it entails but I think it’s something else. Even when discussing specifically moral subjects on which people are happy to stake out positions, still no one recognizes trade-off’s have to be made.
I wonder why? A few hypothesises:
- Trade-off’s are socially costly/risky to discuss vs applause lights statements like “we should do good thing X we all agree on”
- Trade-off’s require a greater degree of ethical thought/development than simple black/white rules
- Most people either have no coherent moral framework or in some cases are developed enough to have a simple singular conception of the good. Very few get past that stage to the point where they have multiple competing values which they trade-off against each other.
Normal people value loyalty, practically and morally. They’re usually wrong to do so. My loyalty hierarchy at work goes like this:
- Loyalty to my ethics
- Loyalty to my clients
- Loyalty to my firm
Where a course of action contradicts my ethics, I will not do it consequences be dammed. Where I can tell a client what they want to hear, helping my firm get contracts but harming the client, I won’t. What’s interesting about this kind of ethical thinking is that it works just as well if you remove the word “loyalty”.
What loyalty means is acting differently towards someone because of your relationship or history with them. This is a good strategy for rent-seeking, but wrong morally and bad for the collective. You should treat people equally and fairly. This means telling people you’re “loyal” to that they’re wrong and standing against them in meetings when necessary, even if they’re your boss. This means firing or demoting low-performers, even if they’re your friends. Doing otherwise may be better for your career in most places (most firms are dysfunctional), but it’s not right.
Our society limits people’s scope of action to their lives. We ban post-death trusts, or at least do not give them the protection of the legal system. We do not allow the creation of corporations/organizations without a terminal human owner. We limit the ability of the past to control the present and future. No hands from beyond the grave.
Are we right to do so? I don’t know. Social questions are difficult. Every decisions spirals into a fractal of consequences and interactions, the tiniest change in initial circumstances creating a different fracture, different patterns and colours. (Not all effects are chaotic. Some things have predictable effects.)
Morally, I do not see why those who exist should have more rights than those who do not. Why the will of the living should matter more than that of the dead or unborn. Existence is morally arbitrary. The reasons we privilege it are practical, not pure.