The Basis of Individual and Social Ethics
In his life, both personal and social, man is in need of a number of non-material objectives. Every social system requires a number of objectives which are common between individuals, without which social life would be impossible in its true sense. For, social life means co-operation and attainment of common goals, both material and spiritual.
The common goals of some people may be material, such as commercial or industrial companies which are formed by a number of people providing the capital and others providing the labor.
But human society cannot be managed like a company, since its basis is quite different from that of a firm, This is of course, our view, while there are others like Bertrand Russell who think that the basis of social ethics is only individual interest. They consider social ethics as a kind of contract between individuals, which they uphold as the best means of safeguarding their interests. Russell gives the following example to illustrate his point. He says: "I wish to get possession of my neighbor' s cow, but I realize that if I do so, his reaction will be to seize mine, and another neighbor, too, may do the same. Thus, instead of getting a profit, I suffer a loss. So I consider it advisable to respect his right and let him keep him cow, so that I may.
Russell believes the basis of social ethics to be a respect for individual rights. We may say robbers, too, have the same relationship, in being bound together for robbing and enforcing some kind of justice among themselves, since they cannot act alone . That is why we say that Russell' s motto is at variance with his philosophy . His motto is humanitarian, but his philosophy is contrary to it By considering self-interest as the basis of social ethics, we are making it compulsory for an individual to co-operate with others since he fears their reaction if they possess similar power and strength. But if a man reached a stage where he was sure that others were too weak to hurt him, there is no need to observe those moral principles.
Suppose Nixon and Brezhnev to be equally powerful, In facing each other they calculate that it is to their interest to respect their mutual expectations But if each of them faces a weak nation, there is no necessity for such a respect. Russell's criticism of the United States in fighting Vietnam would then appear to be unacceptable!
In any case, their school of thought is injudicious, for, it permits the strong to constrain the weak, If the weak have no tolerance for constraint they must try to become strong. Politically this may be true, but it is not ethics, for, the weak cannot persuade the strong to act otherwise. Arbitrary conduct would seem permissible for the strong in the political school of thought,
Any school of thought may be based on the same common material goals, but it ought to suggest other ways of checking depravity. By saying that the causes of individual aggression should be investigated and then removed, these causes are not necessarily related to human or intellectual or educational constraints.
If you ask what barrier there is against the aggression of the strong against the weak, they may say: the society should be built from the beginning in such a way that there would exist no strong or weak individuals in it. If the sources of strength and weakness are discovered and removed, then all men will be at the same level, and because of their equality of power, they will respect one another. That is possible, according to them, by doing away with private ownership of wealth/property. Getting rid of ownership will put an end to human inequalities/ transgressions A society where all men have a common material goal, will be managed like a real co-operative enterprise in which there will be no injustice.
The school of Marxism is almost such a school, where no emphasis is laid on human spirituality and there is no talk of moral conscience etc, The emphasis is on ownership which, according to them, is the source of all wickedness and oppression. private ownership is replaced by state or societal ownership, so that each individual works according to his ability and receives compensation from the state or society in proportion to his needs . This is believed to be naturally conducive to establishment of peace, tranquility, justice and good morals will be established there. All evils, such as enmity, hatred and other complexes, are then expected to be removed, and all will live in brotherhood and equality.
But this is all wrong for the following reasons: It is actually shown that in societies where private ownership has been abolished, oppression, and deviation continue to exist. If the socialists were right in their reformatory claim, as soon as society is organized on a communist basis, it would be impossible for it to suffer corruption again. On the other hand, we have often witnessed that communist societies purge their own leading members from time to time. Private ownership, therefore, cannot be the only factor for gaining privileges.