Friday, April 27, 2007

Relativism and Economic Justice

A few people have always been obsessed with the tantalizing idea that one can commit wrong actions without being evil. (Or, perhaps, being "evil" but still a rational and morally good person.) They are faced with a question: how can I, a rational person, treat someone else as I would not truly like to be treated? Isn't that the true definition of a bad act - acting in opposition to the Golden Rule? How can I hold myself to a different standard? And how would society work if everyone did that?

Well, we alway have done that and we always will. The world can seem pretty fucked up but it still runs. People enjoy themselves and feel like they are accomplishing things. People live by the following rules: I was born in this country and my parents did well, so I enjoy riches while others scrape by. If we only have enough food for my family or yours, my family gets the food. If my country enters into a war with another country, then they deserve death and we deserve life. Our interests are more important then their interest because what matters is whether we (and the ones we love) are alive. What else could matter? (Well, I suppose we could value the species as a whole, or some feature in the species, perhaps - "the good", "excellence", "arete" - whatever you want to call it. But that's a different discussion.)

But can we consider any of these economic facts to be morally right? If they aren't, is acting as a normal citizen somehow wrong?

To what degree can we hold ourselves to a different standard - that those of us with more economic accomplishment or "merit" are worth more?

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