We have a deeply seated inclination to think that people deserve what they get. Specifically, we are inclined to think that the bad things that happen to other people are their responsibility, while good things that happen to other people are circumstance. We are also inclined to reverse the axis of responsibility in the case of ourselves – we think we are the engineers of our fortune and that circumstance is what causes our misfortunes. I don’t know what current evolutionary psychology theory is on the subject, but I can think of several reasons why these inclinations would serve us well. What I want to talk about here though is how these ideas are important for how we interpret ‘good’.
This post ties into many of my previous ones. It ties to the ones in which I have talked about how our morale concepts are often tied to Christian preconceptions, it ties to my posts on how good is about ‘what we should do’, and it ties to my many posts on freedom.
I think that we intuitively tie the goodness of individuals to their circumstance. We think that people in bad circumstance did something to deserve that circumstance (I.e. they are the cause of their misfortune in a moral way.) However, we are unwilling drink this bitter drought in the case of our own self. We can see this kind of mentality reflected in the Christian idea of heaven, or in the Indian concept of Karma. The good and bad are believed to get their recompense in the end.
This idea ties into my previous posts about freedom because it actually turns out that our self-concept closely mirrors my proposition of freedom. The difference is that I think being free means doing what we shoulddo, while what we intuitively think is that we are responsible (I.e. do freely) for our circumstance, as opposed to our actions. I do not think that the beneficial outcome of our actions (the quality of our circumstance), is necessarily correlated with the freedom of our actions.
Good is not about being in good circumstance in a material sense, I think. Though trying to be good in our actions can have positive outcomes, there is no necessary relation. Being good, or appearing to be good, often leads to being respected in one’s community. However, it is quite a different thing to act for respect in a community and to act towards doing the right thing. I do think acting towards good is to seize one’s own freedom, and I think that being free can be quite beneficial. However, the benefit is not really that much in an individual’s visible circumstance, at least not in any immediate sense.
Let me know what you think,