Monday, September 12, 2005

Koala Brothers and Moral Philosophy

So B's latest video that he must watch every single day is The Adventures of the Koala Brothers, where an intrepid duo of koalas, Frank and Buster, fly around the Australian Outback in their plane each day looking for someone to help. Each episode they help out one of their Outback neighbors, helping Archie the Crocodile fix up his house or Ned the Wombat become a desert sea captain. Then after 2 episodes go by, all the characters gather to sing "The Helping Song". It's a fine video, all about helping, and I have a fun time trying to imitate the Australian accents. But there is one line in "The Helping Song" with which I disagree if taken out of context. The line is, "If you help others, they'll help you!"

Now, I don't disagree because I'm an old cynic who doesn't think others will reciprocate. It's just that I believe that getting future material rewards is not the reason to help others. And here we get to the moral philosophy.

When we claim that people should be honest, good, helpful, etc., we are not saying they should be honest and good because it will get them other stuff that they want. You are not supposed to be honest in business dealings due to practical business concerns (if people can't trust you, they won't work with you). You are supposed to be honest, we are utimately claiming, because it is a positive human virtue to be honest. What does this mean? It's similar to saying someone should be strong or fast or smart. They shouldn't be smart because that way they can think of ways to get stuff. The claim is that the most fulfilled individuals are smart, strong, brave, or caring. These virtues are good in and of themselves, not because of the possible evolutionary benefits - procuring resources, attracting a mate, etc.

This is a very strong claim actually. If being brave is a virtue in and of itself, then the opposite is likely true: being a coward is in and of itself a flaw in a person. So when you deceive someone, run away in cowardice, treat someone cruelly, you are in fact punishing yourself, even if you "get away with it" all the way until you die. If you engage in the worst moral crimes possible, murder, rape, torture, etc., your true punishment is that given the choice to be a worthy human, you chose to be a person who rapes and murders. This is the ultimate punishment for that person and nothing else follows it. You don't have to go to hell after death to be punished for your crimes, because committing those crimes was already it's own punishment. So heaven and hell are not the next stage of our lives. They are our current lives as we are living them. If our purpose in life is to be as good as we can be, then each step we take away from it - whether or not we ourselves even recognize it - is a step into hell.

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