Imagine you knew for certain that after each life you would be re-incarnated randomly as any creature on this planet. How would you define justice? Who and what would you include as deserving of it?
If this belief was adopted as the hegemonic dogma on this planet, what changes do you imagine would take place in our relations with each other, with animals, and with the not-yet-conceived?
Random new-births would mean that we would lose our private goods in death, but would re-inherit all the public goods we owned in common. Would we re-produce a society where a minority owned and passed onto their own children, the majority of the world’s wealth, priveledge, and opportunity?
My Optimal Ethic Generator is similar to Rawls’ ‘veil of ignorance’. Rawls noted that people would only be motivated to produce a fair, and therefore just, set of social relations if they were ignorant of their own position within that set of social relations.
We tend to promote systems of relations we think will benefit us. The only time our intrinsic motivation to serve our own narrow self interest promotes justice , is when the only way to serve our interests is to promote justice.
As in the case of Freud’s siblings, if we cannot secure greater benefits for ourselves, our next best bet will be to ensure no-one can have more than us, and seek an equal distribution of benefits. Where we are ignorant of our own holistic inheritance, we will not be able to promote the interests of people with our particular holistic inheritance. We will be motivated to act as if we cared about others, as without knowledge of who we are, we are the others, for all planning purposes.
Empathy may motivate us occasionally to relieve our empathic suffering by relieving other’s suffering, but more often we just turn away, numb ourselves to their condition, and do nothing. Empathy is not a reliable motive, especially when it conflicts with our self-interest. We like to keep what we have. We are not happy sharers by nature. Self-interest is the most reliable motive for action.
The ‘tobacco-debate’ is a clear example of human nature. Ultimately appeals to goodwill and empathy do not work. Enforced laws are needed, ‘speed-humps’. Once people are compelled to do the right thing they usually accept it, as they know it is the right thing to do in principle, and now they have an immediate and concrete motive to do it, the risk of penalties.
The lesson which Hume already taught us? Combine personal cost-profit-motives with appeals to empathy and goodwill, and you will get people acting as if they are rational, and as if they really care about justice in principle.
Perhaps one day my Optimal Ethic Generator will become the hegemonic dogma, or we will employ hypnosis or drugs to induce Rawls’ ‘ ‘veil of ignorance’ during law making processes and political elections.