Might Makes Right

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The term ‘Might Makes Right” means that whoever is in power determines the rules a society must follow. In other words, the leaders use their might to determine what is right. What we constitute as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ depends on the environment we live in and the rulers who determine them.

Everyone has difference opinions about what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Some people follow a religious text, others follow their own personal beliefs, and some refuse to accept that there is any right or wrong way to begin with (I belong to this last category BTW). Nonetheless, since there are so many differing opinions, how can any of them be implemented? After all, surely some of the ideas of what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ would contradict or conflict with other ideas.

‘Might Makes Right’ means that the strongest – those who rule over a society or its subjects – get to determine what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. The strong defeat the weak, and thus the strong are able to implement their moral ideals into a society, which others then follow. If these moral ideals are broken, then the disobeyer is punished.

There are two ways we can look at ‘Might Makes Right’. One is on a small scale and another is on a larger scale. On a small scale, imagine a parent and child. The parent gets to determine what is ‘right’ for the child. Parents have different rules they make for their children to obey – some may make them eat only healthy foods, some may make them wash their hands or pray before every meal, some may punish them for getting bad grades. Each family has rules that are a little different from one house to the next. Basically. the parents use their might (i.e. intelligence, physical strength, age, money) in order to enforce their idea of what is ‘right’ for the child, or what rules the child must obey. Even though the child can disobey, this usually results in a punishment which is meant to deter the child from further disobedience. Whereas in one house a child may be punished for staying out late, in another house there may be no curfew at all. The rules that parents set differ, but nonetheless the parents exert their ‘might’ to determine what is ‘right’.

On a larger scale, this applies to government, or whoever rules or exerts authority over society. The government gets to determine what is ‘right’, meaning what rules, laws, and punishments must be exacted. In some countries, say the United States, the government uses its ‘might’ to make people pay taxes. In another sense, the US government has determined that economic freedom is a ‘right’ and thus the US has a free-enterprise market. Whereas in North Korea, the government has used its ‘might’ to create an isolated military dictatorship, which is views as ‘right’.

This ‘Might Makes Right’ policy not only applies to the physical world, but it can also apply to a spiritual one. God, for example, is apparently the only being that can set forth what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. In the Bible, God gives numerous commands about what is morally right and should be done, and what is morally wrong and should be avoided. But why do people listen to God? Because God has might. If God did not have the super-natural powers he supposedly has – then would anyone listen to him? I am not a Christian nor do I really believe that there is a God, but I admit that the only reason Christianity has an ‘objective morality’ that people follow is because people are afraid of God’s wrath. If you disobey God, he may punish you. God’s ‘might’ is what makes people obey his laws – his concepts on what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Without his ‘might’, very few, if anyone, would listen to God and obey him.

Those who rule are those that get to decide what is right or wrong. This done not mean, however, that morality is necessarily subjective. A person can believe, for example, in an objective morality set forth from God (i.e. Christianity). However, if the ruling group is an atheist state, then Christianity morality means little because it cannot be implemented. Even if it may be an objective morality, the rules of a society ultimately determines what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, because they have the power to enforce their views. So, ‘Might Makes Right’ simply means that a persons ‘might’ determines what shall be considered ‘right’. Therefore, next time you think ‘oh this is the right thing to do’ or ‘oh this isn’t right’ – remember that your concept of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ were probably forced onto you by society.

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Criticism on Utilitarian Ethics and the Categorical Imperative

The Utilitarian ethical view states that “a morally right action is one that produces more good or fewer bad consequences for everyone than any other action that could be performed it its place” (Velasquez, 467). In other words, the Utilitarian ethical view believes that a morally just action is one that results in the greatest amount of happiness and pleasure for the greatest amount of people. It is somewhat similar to the consequentialist viewpoint, in that Utilitarianism states an action should be judged by its consequences. However, Utilitarianism is focused not only on the doer of the action, but on everyone who would be effected by that action.

There are essentially two different types of Utilitarianism; Act Utilitarianism (which is associated with Jeremy Bentham) and Rule Utilitarianism (which is associated with John Stuart Mill). Act Utilitarianism states that an action is morally good if it provides the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest amount of people regardless of “rights violations” or “injustices” (Velasquez, 471). In other words, Act Utilitarianism states that the general happiness of the collective is more important than the rights or liberties of the individual. If punishing an innocent man leads to the greatest amount of happiness (whereas releasing the innocent man would lead to less happiness), then under the Act Utilitarian guidelines an innocent man must be punished.

The other version of Utilitarianism is Rule Utilitarianism. In this version of Utilitarianism, there are an established set of “rules”, and the “rules” that lead to the greatest amount of happiness are the ones that are morally justified. In other words, when making an ethical decision, one should think “which rule should I obey that will lead to the greatest amount of happiness?” Whereas Act Utilitarianism is rather chaotic and subjective; Rule Utilitarianism has a little more order and stability. The main idea of Rule Utilitarianism is that there are established rules in a society that one must follow, and when making an ethical decision, one must choose which rule will best lead to the desired consequence (i.e. the greatest amount of happiness). Of course, the major implication with Rule Utilitarianism is that the “rules” themselves may be flawed.

Immanuel Kant had a somewhat different approach to ethics than the Utilitarian method. Kant’s main ethical idea was the categorical imperative. However, before discussing the categorical imperative, it is important to note that Kant believed a ‘morally good’ person will act morally because it is the right thing to do – not because of its intended consequences. In other words, the Utilitarian’s believed that an action must be judged by its consequences (i.e. how much happiness it produces), but Kant believed that an action is moral regardless of its consequences, and regardless if it produces happiness or not. In fact, Kant believed that a morally good person will not act in “self-interest, nor [in regards] to pleasure or enjoyment” (Velasquez, 484). Of course, since “pleasure and enjoyment” are not to be considered in the making of an ethical decision, this automatically separates Kant’s ethics from Utilitarianism (since Utilitarianism believes that all actions must be judged on the amount of pleasure and happiness derived from said action).

This categorical imperative states that an action is morally justified if “(1) it is possible for everyone to do the same [action] for the reason, and (2) [if] I am willing to have everyone do the same [action] for the same reason, even toward me” (Velasquez, 486). In other words, before we do an action, we must ask ourselves “what if everyone did that?”, and if the answer is “yes”, then the action is probably morally right. However, we must also ask ourselves if we would be fine if everyone we knew did this same action too– even towards us. If the answer to both of these questions is “yes”, then the action is morally justified. Kant’s categorical imperative also asserts that essentially everyone is equal, and that therefore people should be as ends in themselves, rather than as means for some other purpose. So, the major difference between Utilitarianism and Kant’s categorical imperative is that the former bases the morality of an action on its specific consequences (i.e. happiness), whereas Kant’s ethics are not focused on consequences but on the nature of the action itself. Also, Utilitarianism comes as a very collectivist themed morality – because it takes into account the greatest amount of happiness accumulated from the greatest amount of people. Kant’s ethics on the other hand tend to be more individually based, since each individual must not commit an action based on how well it will help the community, but on whether or not the action fits the requirements of the “categorical imperative”.

Personally, I dislike both the Utilitarianism view and Kant’s view. Utilitarianism (both Act and Rule) is too idealistic and illogical in my opinion. Judging an action based on the amount of “happiness” it produces seems rather impossible, since there are so many different people in the world with so many different feelings and personalities – how is one supposed to calculate the ‘happiness’ that an action produces? No to mention that Act Utilitarianism essentially states that the rights and liberties of individuals are nonexistent – and that any innocent person can be sacrificed or abused as long as it results ‘in the greatest amount of happiness’.

I dislike Kant’s ethics too, mostly on the basis that his ethical guidelines are a little too idealistic and illogical. Everyone in the world has differing tastes, personalities and qualities, so to believe that there is an action that “everyone can do” is absurd, because this would imply that every person is the same. However, I do think Kant’s categorical imperative has a little more substance and plausibility than Utilitarianism. So, if I had to choose one of them, I would choose Kant’s ethics (although personally I think my own ethical views are closest to Ethical Egoism). I prefer Kant’s ethics because they seem more secure and plausible in the real world, whereas Utilitarianism is too utopian and idealistic in nature. When making an ethical decision, it is much easier for me to ask myself “what if everyone did x action?” and “would I be content with so and so doing x action towards me in a similar circumstance?” These questions are much more discernable and solvable than asking myself “which action will lead to the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest amount of people?”

Also, I like how Kant stresses the idea that people should be treated as ends in themselves, and never as a means. Utilitarianism on the other hand (especially Act Utilitarianism), essentially allows for the destruction and abuse of any person so long as it results in the ‘greatest amount of happiness.’ Under Utilitarianism, abuse and decimation can occur so long as more people are happy with it (the abusers) than those who are discontent with it (the abused). For example, under Act Utilitarianism, it would be morally justified to discriminate against a minority group so long as the majority of citizens are ‘happy’ or ‘receive pleasure’ from abusing said minorities. Kant, on the other hand, essentially has an ethical code similar to the golden rule, or the ‘treat others as you yourself would want to be treated’ saying. This, in my opinion, leads to a better society than one that bases all their morally right actions on some form of collective happiness. However, I think both ethical viewpoints are flawed and, to some extent, overly idealistic and implausible. Although if I must choose between the two, I would have to go with Kant and his categorical imperative.

Good and Bad

‘Good’ and ‘bad’ are just arbitrary human creations, used to describe a subjective feeling towards a particular action, thought, idea of state.

When one believes that words such as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are inherently objective – one immediately limits themselves to a world of restraints. Not to mention that most people and their ideas on what constitutes ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are largely a result of culture, religion, or society – in other words, what is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad’ has already been defined by someone else and their idea has been imposed on you.

Disregard any belief in an inherent ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and accept the terms for what they really are – namely a series of sounds that represent a subjective feeling of either acceptance or disapproval.

Don’t let others opinions on what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ limit you.

On Obligations

You have no inherent obligations to anyone. Any ‘obligations’ you have are ones that you have forced yourself to believe and accept. There is no scientific law or mathematical formula saying that you should be loyal to this, or must fulfill a duty for that – you have no obligations to anyone; society, family, nation. Your ‘obligations’ are only as real as you believe them to be

Self-Destruction

The only justifiable form of destruction is self-destruction.
After all, you own you. You are technically your own property. If you wish to destroy something it might as well be yourself.
I mean, take for example the Buddhist monk Thích Quang Duc, who burned himself alive in 1963 as an act of protest.
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Thích Quang Duc was discontent with the South Vietnamese government, so what did he do?
But did he bomb a building? No.
Did he take a family hostage? No.
Did he launch a series of guerilla attacks against the government? No.
Did he vandalize any property? No.
So what did Thích Quang Duc do? He burned himself. Rather than destroy someone else, or someone’s property, Thích Quang Duc initiated an act of self-destruction. He hurt no one but himself. Can you imagine how much better the world would be if every terrorist and every radical took out their anger not on others – but only on themselves?
Self-destruction is the only justifiable form of destruction. If you are going to hurt someone, or try to destroy something – it might as well be yourself.

Monism and Ethical Egoism

Monism is the belief that everything is ultimately one (a belief that is central to Hinduism). You, me, animals, plants, nature, the universe – monism basically states that everything is one – that we are all one body and that all contradictions or differences are merely a result of illusion.

Now, for the sake of the argument, lets say that this is true – that everything ultimately is one. That there really is no difference between you and me, but that the difference we do perceive is merely an illusion. We are all one!

Okay, then technically by this logic, by doing what is in my best interest I am also doing what is in everybody else’s best interests.

If everything is one, then by helping myself am I not also helping others? They say we should ‘help others’, or ‘put others before yourself’. But if we are all one and the same, then technically it makes no difference if I act in self interest or for the ‘sake of others’. If we are all one, then by acting in self-interest I am also acting for the interest of the whole.