This article continues the discussion of the practical application of the ten moral principles described in the article, Principles to every day life and the advantages of living by those principles.
[NOTE: Moral principles only pertain to individuals and how they must choose to live successfully. This article and the next two are the application of moral principle to one's relationships with others. Technically, the philosophical name for those principles is politics. Philosophical politics is not about governments, government policies, or political parties or politicians, but about moral relationships between individuals in a society.]
Moral Principles Are Practical
Moral principles are reality based. They are determined by the reality of physical existence and our own natures as human beings. The purpose of those principles is to guide our choices and actions to achieve success as human beings and to be all we can be. The ultimate purpose of moral principles is the enjoyment of our lives.
The principles article says, "The only moral relationship between individuals is reason." It is true that reason is the moral way for human beings to relate to one another, but what that means is not obvious.
One way to understand what that means is to consider what other ways human beings might deal with one another. They might use force or the threat of force to influence others, or they might use deception or lies in dealing with others, or they might attempt to influence others by appealing to their feelings, their sentiments, their fears, their gullibility, or their superstitions. These are all methods that attempt to influence others to make choices or to act on some basis other than thinking. They are all appeals to something other than an individual's own ability to think and reason, which is why they are immoral.
You And Others
Why would you be interested in others at all? There is probably no single answer to why we are interested in others because that interest depends on the particular relationship we have with others. Nevertheless, there are some general reasons others are important to us.
The first is the fact that other human beings are the only other creatures on this planet that have the same kind of nature each of us has. All human beings have the same basic physical requirements, and all have the same psychological requirements, they all must learn, think, make choices, and, live their lives in the best way they can to be successful and happy in this world.
Though the variety is endless, we all have similar experiences, growing up, learning, becoming adults and becoming responsible for ourselves, choosing what we want to do with our lives, which for most of us means what we will do for work, finding love, raising families, and enjoying our recreations; while our objectives and aspirations will be vastly different, they are all human objectives and aspirations.
The fact that all moral human beings are also productive, producing either products or services that are important to our lives is the reason all human beings are a real value to others. Being the same kind of beings, the advantage of trading with one another and voluntarily cooperating with others in things from which all participants profit is obvious.
While the entire world of nature is interesting and a source of endless learning and experience, it is the world created and produced by human beings that is of real importance to us, because it is a world only human beings could make real.
The world science and technology which makes every material aspect of human society, from the clothes we wear to vehicles that transport us; the world of commerce where all the things humans produce are made available to us; the world of culture from language to the arts is a strictly human world; the world of literature that makes available to us all the record of human history and the glories of human imagination and most of all the incredible variety of human imagination and creation.
Only human beings can share and understand each others' thoughts, only human beings can appreciate each others' ambitions and admire each others' accomplishments, only human beings can love each other for what we are. Only human being can make long-term plans and work together to fulfill them. Only human beings make friendships based on the value we find in each other. Only human beings are capable of the highest of human relations, romantic love.
How We Deal Morally With Others
In every relationship with other human beings, the moral individual never uses any of the immoral methods described earlier: they won't use force or threats, they won't use deception or lies, and they won't attempt to sway others by appealing to things that bypass their thinking, like their feelings, their sentiments, their fears, their gullibility, or their superstitions.
In most cases, a moral individual will not attempt to influence others at all. Others have their own minds to learn, think, and choose how to live their lives. Instead of trying to persuade others to believe and think what we do, if we are moral, we'll try to learn what others believe and think to understand the choices they make, to better appreciate them, no matter how much we disagree with what they believe and think. That certainly does not mean we have to agree with them, or disregard things they choose and do which are morally wrong, it only means it is not up to any individual to correct any other individual except in the rare case when someone else's actions are a real threat to us.
[NOTE: This is the entire subject of the next article in this series: "Mind Own Business."]
When Persuasion Is Appropriate
In those cases when persuasion is appropriate, the only form of persuasion that is moral is using reason, careful description, explanation, and demonstrations, to help others understand why your point is correct and good for them. Some cases where persuasion is called for are the following:
[NOTE: The reason moral persuasion is ever appropriate is because it is being done with the honest view that it is for the benefit of the individual one is trying to persuade. Honest persuasion only appeals to another's own ability to learn and think. Persuasion is not compulsion. No matter how well you explain things or how well you make it possible for another to understand a point, it is still up to that individual to choose what to believe and think. If someone just refuses to be persuaded or just cannot be convinced, it may be disappointing for you, but you must accept the fact that every individual must think and choose for themselves and bear the consequences of those choices.]
Selling and business deals often require the use of persuasion to overcome difficulties arising from misunderstanding about the nature of a product or service and its value to a prospective customer. A good moral seller will know everything he can about his product, will attempt to know everything he can about his customer's needs and desires, and as clearly and honestly as he can, explain how his product will meet or exceed the customer's needs and desires. Everything good or superior about the product is both reasonable and honest to include. Anything more than that, any attempt to hide anything about the product, any appeal to the customer's vanity, fears, or anything irrational that does not help the customer to make a true rational evaluation of the product is immoral.
Encouraging a friend who asks for help or advice, so long as it has been asked for. There is nothing wrong with asking a friend if they would like your advice or help, but, if the answer is no, then it is no. It is wrong to badger or scold someone who chooses not to be told what to believe, think, or choose by someone else. If you should have the opportunity to help a friend you believe is making a wrong choice, is doing something that is self-destructive (even if it's only damaging your friendship), or has come to believe something very wrong, it is not your job to correct your friend, and certainly not to judge him or make him into a better person. If you are successful in helping your friend he might be a better person, but only because he chose to be. The only help you may morally offer is, just as in selling, to present as clear an explanation of what you believe the problem is or solution to the problem could be with answers to any questions your friend has. If your not doing it to help him at his request you shouldn't do it at all.
Resolving differences between friends, meaning between yourself and a friend, differences between others are theirs to solve, unless you are asked, are usually not serious, but occasionally such differences can strain a relationship. Differences in opinions between you and friends are not important unless they directly affect your relationship and what it is based on. Very often friendship is based on mutual interests. If the difference in opinion involves some aspect of that mutual interest, and you are certain you friend is mistaken, your attempt to explain your friend's mistake may resolve the difference. If it does not and it is important enough to you both, you must be willing to let the friendship pass without animosity.
Resolving differences between family members also means between yourself and other family members, and only differences you have with particular family members. One of the worst mistakes that can be made is to, "take sides," in any family squabble. Whatever the difference is, from a misunderstanding to a pending decision that will affect others, your only concern must be to provide as clear an explanation as possible for your position to any family members who are interested. It is not up to you to change what they think, only to provide them with facts and explanation. What they will do with that information is up to them. You must make it clear, you have no personal stake in what they think or choose, and that your only interest is in the truth, and for their sake.
One BIG word of caution when dealing with relatives. Relatives often will attempt to appeal to your feelings, especially feelings of "obligation" or even "guilt." "It's for the sake of the family," or, "you have an obligation to your ____ (fill in the relative to be gratified: father, mother, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, etc.) There is no such obligation. No one is born into this world with an obligation to anyone else except to be honest and not take advantage of anyone else, as they are trying to take advantage of you. Most children are thankful for all their parents provided them and usually choose to do things for their parents when they can. They are acts of love, NOT OBLIGATION.
One of the most common mistaken sentiments is, "we have to see so'n'so," because they are family. It does not matter what accident of birth made someone else your relative, and there is no reason you are obligated to have anything to do with anyone if you see no real value in that individual, whether they are a relative or not. I have no idea how many people endure the association of despicable, hateful, and unreasonable people they would never spend a second with if they were not a, "relative." Relatives are not a special category of people holding some mystic mortgage on your life.
The special case of children and their parents, because only parents may morally determine a child's other relationships. A parent is obligated to care for, nourish, and nurture one's child, but there is a problem if that obligation seems like some kind of demand on the parent. To a moral individual the loving care of a child is not an obligation but something nothing could prevent them from doing. Love truly is exception making. What in any other circumstance would be obligation or self-sacrifice, in the context of love becomes opportunity and self-fulfillment, whether it is love for one's reason for living (a husband or wife) or love for one's child.
But a child is an individual human being with his own mind, own ability to learn, think, and choose. All of those things remain to be developed when the child is born and a parent will do all he can to see that the child is able to develop all of these while protecting the child from those things that could harm the child until the child is old enough to protect himself. When the child has learned enough to understand, a parent must use reason as much possible to explain everything the child does not understand, especially when it concerns things a child does or does not want to have or do.
Before your child is able to understand reason, those things you know would be harmful will require you to force to prevent the child from doing. This never means inflicting pain, and usually not frightening or intimidating behavior. Playpens and harnesses are very useful for a child's safety. There is nothing wrong with letting a child know your disapproval when your child does something wrong, but the child must understand it is not the child you disapprove of, but what the child has done. As long as that is your attitude, the child will know the difference.
During the course of a child's life, your relationship with your child will become more one of reason and less one of coercion until your child has reached the age when you only use explanation and reason. If your child wants to do something you don't want him to do, if it requires something of you, your transportation, money, written permission, do not forbid the child doing what you disapprove of, simply withhold your contribution. The child should never ever assume you will make available whatever he wants.
So long as the child is dependent on you for his food, clothing, transportation, health-care, and is living in your home, you decide how those living in your home must behave, for the sake of your own happiness and comfort must conform as well as your child's. He'll eat what you provide, wear what you buy, go where you are willing to take him, and see the doctor and do what he recommends, as the price for enjoying all the things you provide. As soon as he begins to provide those things for himself, he is the one that will decide those things, even when you disapprove. Until he is entirely on his own, however, it is still your home and you determine what will and will not be tolerated.
In general human relationships do not require persuasion, and whatever intercourse takes place between human beings for their own enjoyment or profit is reasonable, because every participant is using their own reason to decide what to do and say. From simple conversation, telling stories, joking and entertaining one another, to sharing common experiences to unusual ones. The enjoyment of other human beings is potentially endless, so long as those relationships are moral ones.
Concern For Others
The life of other individuals matter to us because we share the same kind of nature, the same kind of experiences, the same kind of problems, and the same kind of aspirations. The particulars of our experiences, problems, and aspirations are as different as we are from each other, but it is our desire to enjoy our lives, to succeed and achieve all we can as human beings, to be the best human being we can be that we have in common. We love to see others succeed, to achieve their goals, and enjoy their life, and we are disappointed when others do not succeed or do not enjoy their lives or suffer in any way because we know that is not what living as a human ought to be. But it is only others as individuals with which we are concerned.
It is not others as members of some abstract concept like, "humanity," or, "mankind," or, "society," or, "community," with which we are concerned. In any collection of human beings such as these there is always a mixture of decent (moral) human beings and despicable (immoral) human beings, those who are productive and honest and those who are parasites and cheats. To be concerned with such a group is to have the same valuation for the productive members of the group and those who prey on them. It is having the same concern for the decent woman who is raped and the vile individual who raped her. It is a moral contradiction.
The record of human beings as, "humanity," or, "mankind," is the record of incredible evil, cruelty, war, crime, and moral failure. It is the record individual human beings that is the record of human achievements and accomplishments that have provided every good thing modern human beings enjoy, from the blessing of science and technology to the arts.
It is the very nature of human beings that makes them interesting and different, and it is their differences that makes them interesting and enjoyable. If you have ever been in a situation where everyone seems to think, believe, and be interested in the same thing, you know just how boring and stultifying that can be. In reality, even those who seem to be just like others, are not just like anyone else. The differences might not be so apparent when a group of individuals devoted to the same interest like a sport, or hobby, an ideology, or a particular kind of music or genre of literature are together, but there will be differences.
As much as we enjoy the company of those who share our own interests and views, (and it is very unlikely anyone is going to share all our interests and views), those with very different interests, whose thinking, beliefs, choices, and behavior are very different from our own are often the most interesting of individuals. Yet, it is those people most individuals have the most difficulty with socially.
The reason is that most individuals cannot have a relationship with others on a purely rational basis. Most people are not content with others living their own lives as they choose, as though what someone else thinks, believes, or does is a threat or personal affront to them.
Does that mean we should never judge others? It does not mean that at all, but you have to be very careful about what the judgment means. Remember, morals only pertain to individuals as principles for guiding their own beliefs, thinking, choices, and actions. Morals are not for judging others.
Are they a threat to us or ours, either physically or psychologically? For psychologically healthy adults, it is only potential physical threats that have to be considered. But for our children, the real threat of other's teaching things that are wrong or untrue or attempting to influence our children's behavior in any wrong way must be judged as the danger it is.
What value others actually are to us must be judged. In most casual associations most people will be interesting, but for closer relationships, some people will be demanding of our time or other things, or simply boring, or even annoying. The judgment in such cases is not moral, not about a "fault" in others, but about how we value our own time and interests. To whatever degree we actually find pleasure or value in others we should enjoy their association, but to whatever degree we find the association with others a detriment to our own values and purposes, such associations should simply be avoided without rancor or a censorial manner.
While it is not necessary except when someone else's thoughts or behavior have a direct influence on ourselves or our loved ones, one may judge others morality only as a matter of objective observation. If others are living immorally, if their life choices and actions are self-destructive or likely to lead to failure and unhappiness, there is no reason to pretend one does not see what is an obvious fact. So long as one keeps in mind that others must determine for themselves what they choose to believe, and think, and do, it is not anyone else's prerogative to interfere in how they choose to live their lives.
So long as another's immorality does not directly affect us or ours, no matter what relationship we have with them, their life is theirs and they must learn the consequences of their choices, and will. One very important point is, others immoral thoughts and choices do not obligate you in any way, either in your choices or expression of your own values and beliefs. If others are offended by your own moral choices and actions, that offense is entirely of their own making. The converse is also true: if you are offended by anyone else's moral choices and actions, that offense is entirely of your own making.
Independence And Morality
For a very long time I emphasized independence as a fundamental attribute of individual morality. But moral principles do only pertain to individuals and an individual's moral state is not determined by how he relates to others. It is just the opposite; it is one's moral state that determines how he relates to others.
In his relations to others, the moral individual is independent and regards all others as independent individuals and judges all others entirely on their own choices and actions. Others may choose to "join" things or identify themselves as members of some collective or other, a race, an ethnicity, a religion or ideology, a nationality, or some other organization. None of those things are what any individual is, however. Every individual is whatever that individual chooses to learn, believe, think, do and make of himself. Nothing else, not his ancestors, his history, where he was born, the color of his skin, his language, his sex, or any organizations he belongs to makes him either better or worse or anything other than what he has made of himself.
In any social situation, the moral independent individual is the only one capable of true social relations and the only who deserves them. Only the moral individual has no reason to interfere in others' lives or desires anything from others except what others freely offer in exchange for that which is of value to themselves. Only the independent individual, who recognizes no obligation to anyone else or any obligation of others to him, is able to enjoy others being exactly who they are while being exactly who he is.