The Value of "Benefit to Humanity"
According to Kant ' s perspective:
“The greatest moral perfection of man is to do his duty, and that from duty ” ,
as he states in the Introduction to the Metaphysical Elements of Ethics. In reality, however, fulfilling one's duty does not guarantee an outcome of goodness:
“ Many of the worst crimes in history have been committed by men who had a strong sense of duty
just because their sense of duty was so strong ”. (1)
History provides various examples of people committing acts of evil - believing that they were doing the “good cause ” of fulfilling their duty. Among them is the example of the European settlement and the Australian Aborigines , a case clearly illustrating the destructive impact of “ goodwill ethics ” on people's lives.
After about 200 years from the start of the tragedy inflicted on the indigenous people , the Prime Minister of Australia , Mr Kevin Rudd (2008), formally apologised to the indigenous generations by the name of the government , and part of his speech revealed the background-connection between morality, religion government.
The Stolen Generation
The speech focused on the “ Stolen Generation ” where Aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their families by the “welfare men” and given to the custody of churches. He cited the story of an Aboriginal woman, who was taken from her mother when she was 4 years of age:
“She stayed at the mission until after the war, when she was allowed to leave for a prearranged job
as a domestic in Darwin. She was 16. Nanna Fejo never saw her mum again.
After she left the mission, her brother let her know that her mum had died years before, a broken
woman fretting for the children that had literally been ripped away from her.
Nanna Fejo ' s is just one story. There are thousands, tens of thousands of them: stories of forced
separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their mums and dads
over the better part of a century ” . (2)
The 'welfare men' were honest in fulfilling their duty, and the whole plan of action for removing children from their families was based on “ goodwill ” . Both religious and government authorities at that time, were honestly fulfilling what they regarded as their “duty” towards God. Their goal was educating the forcefully removed (rather kidnapped) children the principles of a 'better civilisation', 'better worship', 'higher spirituality', etc. The case of the “ Stolen Generation ” in the Australian history – was in Kantian terms “morally justified ”. Needless to say, such way of thinking leads to absurdity, because what was considered as “good action” led to harm and to destruction of tens of thousands of families, and to great physical and mental abuse of thousands of children. Kantian morality leads us to the absurdity of the idea that "goodwill" can lead to evil consequences.
Jihadists “System of Goodness”
The Jihadists have a very strong belief that it is their duty to act in the way they do: perceiving jihad as a duty or a divine task, which cannot be paralleled. They fulfil the condition of having 'sincere will' to fulfil their duty before God - and nothing for them can be more “good” than that.
A jihadist's can argue that the will to obey God, is a good will. How then to judge one's fulfilment of duty as being good? “Good” – for whom? If goodwill prompts to action, then each action has two components: the acting and the acted upon. The question reappears again: can an action considered as good to someone, result in evil consequences?
Another manifestation of the tendency for separating the evaluation of morality of an action from its consequences – is the phenomenon of revenge – deeply ingrained in the Middle Eastern mind (Eye for the Eye). Revenge is regarded as fulfilling one's 'moral duty' – and this is practiced even in societies beyond the Middle East. For them, such actions of moral duty do not have to be pleasurable - and accidentally, this view happens also to be found in Kantian view, that fulfilling duty must not be evaluated with reward of pleasure (for self and others).
Reconciliation in the Middle East
Can the future situation in the Middle East witness something similar to what took place in Australia and other countries, which reached reconciliation in its society? Reconciliation between any two or more fighting parties in the Middle East can bring benefit to all sides. A simple logic would say - as the Dalai Lama mentioned - that it is better to have more friends than enemies.
It is possible to expand one's circle of humanity to include others, and people are very good at doing that, as the process of evolution tells us. The Australian reconciliation brought about huge social benefits in various aspects - so what prevents people in the Middle East from being open to mutual benefit and reconciliation? Again, it is the system of values which dominates people's mind.
Shared among Middle Eastern beliefs are two Kantian concepts: first, the "duty" at all costs (with no responsibility for the consequences) - and also the belief in the "Truth" as the highest value. In reality we have in the Middle East as many Truths as religions and factions, each patenting the Truth for itself.
In the Middle Eastern mind the value of Goodness to do one's duty is the practical expression of the goodwill to serve the Truth, which is God. Consequences of actions do not count in reality.
In contrast, in the Australian example of reconciliation, the highest value which was considered the "shared Humanity". In the Middle Eastern ethics, however, humanity does not play any role; more important than Humanity of the individual is whether the individual sides with the Truth, being God - and if not then that individual is siding with the enemy is the Truth.
But the Australian example provided a proof of the possibility of making a shift from the past and its painful values – towards mutual benefit and sharing humanity. There is a need for revolutionary philosophers who put 'benefit to humanity' enshrined in the social value system instead of 'My-Truth' - as the only reference.
'Benefit to Humanity 'as a Value
'Religious Truth' as a value
The Neo-Kantian system suggests 3 basic values as what essentially influence and motivate people. In his book “Truth, Beauty and Goodness”, Howard Gardner of Harvard University explains that although
“…our conceptions of these three virtues have shifted over time”, however, “… these virtues remain
the crucial bedrock of our existence - even in light of postmodern skepticism and the side effects of
technological advances on our attention spans and ways of thinking” (3).
Generally speaking, the neoKantian system of the three values remains dominant in Western philosophy, despite the problem of lack of a comprehensive definition of Goodness. One can easily perceive a sense of incoherence in the Western System of Value - between the subjective values of Beauty and Goodness and the objective nature of the Truth. Mixing the subjective with the objective in the same structure of the three values - creates incoherence within the system.
Some philosopher, such as Hermann Cohen and Bertrand Russell, preferred differentiating “Value” from “Truth:
“When we assert that this or that has 'value'”, says Russell, "we are giving expression to our own
emotions, not to a fact which would still be true if our personal feelings were different."
(Russell 1949, 230). (4)
The widely accepted NeoKantian system of values was questioned by Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (5) -
a Japanese educator who was deeply concerned about the values employed within the Educational System in Japan prior to the II W W. Makiguchi argued, that the word “Value” characterises human activity, and that it has impact (benefit or loss) on people's life. Our action of “Goodness” and development of artistic products of “Beauty” - this can be created by people, and therefore can be considered as essential values. On the other hand, "Truth" cannot be 'produced' or 'made' by human activity. “Truth” reveals objective facts, while “Value” - on the other hand - relates to a subjective human dimension.
For example, a statement of fact - such as: “this is a flower” describes an objective “truth” or “fact” while a statement of value, that: “this flower is beautiful” describes a subjective impression.
Makiguchi's contribution to the system of values was in clarifying that: truth becomes valuable only when we employ it to create benefit - or to create a shared gain - in our human reality. In Makiguchi's system of values (Beauty, Goodness and Benefit), coherence is maintained by making a clear distinction between the words “truth” and “value”:
“In confusing truth with value and treating them as being alike and equal, Western pragmatism,
[Makiguchi] contended, makes the false assumption that if a thing is true it is beneficial to man.
Experience does not support such an assumption. On the contrary, experience tells us that some
things that have no usefulness to human life are true”. (6)
Exposing and defeating Evil Actions
A system of values, which allows for the belief that fulfilling one's duty is "good" regardless of the resulting impact (on the domain of social consequences of one's action) - this system is based on separating Cause and Effect of action. Without a complete definition of what is "good", actions of "evil" can find a way to manifest, assuming own justification, as being based on "good intention".
In Makiguchi's system of values (Beauty, Goodness, and Benefit) - the concept of Goodness is based on subduing evil through preventing harm and imparting joy. This is enhanced by the enshrinement of the value of Benefit (for self&others) - excluding thus any contradiction between the benefit gained for oneself and that of others because both sides can mutually experience a benefit.
The concept of "Mutual Benefit" as a value - reveals the message, that 'we can benefit together', and it does so, by referring to the principle of interconnectedness. The principle of Interconnectedness is impartial, and this means that creating loss (instead of benefit) - is also mutual (as no one wins and both suffer). Whenever the mind arrives at this truth of interconnectedness, it can surmount inner powers of thinking in terms of mutual benefit rather than mutual destruction. This opens the potential for subduing evil through the determination of putting the value of Benefit (own benefit linked to others') - as a power to pursue.
What is the criterion of judging actions?
Many recorded actions of evil were motivated by what is "right" or "wrong". But, if the criterion of one's actions is not on based on right or wrong - rather, is based on cause and effect, or "either beneficial or destructive" (to self&others) - then a remarkable shift can be achieved in one's attitude in judgment about behaviour and action. The self-satisfied arrogant justification of being "right" - is dismissed and replaced by whether one is contributing to the wellbeing of society.
(1) Ethics, page 247, P.H. Nowell-Smith, 1954, (Penguin Books) – quoted in “Two Kinds of Values”, L.M. Loring p. 51
(2) Transcript of former Prime Minister of Australia, Mr. Kevin Rudd, on 13 February 2008 - speech of apology to indigenous Australians.
(3) Truth, Beauty, Goodness, Harvard Gazette, Howard Gardner probes the enduring values that matter, 2011.
(4) Bertrand Russell, Ethics. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
(5) Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, Value Creation Society:
(6) Makiguchi, Philosophy of Value, p. 20. Quoted in “The Value Creator”- p.55 -56, Dayle M. Bethel. Published by Weatherhill Inc New York, Tokyo. 1994. ISBN 0-8348-0318-6